Book: Subroutines


Subroutines Episode II

Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Book 2

Ben Winston

Mediterranean Ocean

Middle East, Earth.

Sol System.

We flew to Tel Aviv, and from there we took a modified cargo ship named Summertide toward the island nation of Cyprus. About eighty miles out, the ship lowered us over the side in a specially modified container. We had a rather large, but friendly, crewman' from the ship with us. Once in the water, he checked a control panel and reported everything was green. The ship let us go, and down we went.

May I ask how far down we're going, Corporal? Jamie asked.

He nodded. About a half mile; deep enough that most of our activities can't be detected from the surface.

Julie handed him a cup of coffee. Why here? This is a perpetual war zone. Aren't there safer spots to have a base?

Yeah, there are. But the fact that it's a war zone is exactly why we're here. It's easier to hide our operations in a conflict area. He smiled, shrugging to indicate the decision hadn't been his anyway.

Do you usually have more people going to the base? I asked.

No, not really. If we have more than one family at once, it's really unusual. They're kinda picky about who they ask to join, the Corporal answered. There is a group from Apollo that will be going back up to the Summertide this trip.

Have you been aboard the whole time? I didn't see you when we first came aboard? Chris asked.

He chuckled. No, we came aboard this morning to guide the pods down to the base. Is this the first time you've been overseas?

My late husband brought me to Paris for our honeymoon. I never would have imagined ever going all the way to the moon! Julie replied.

We all chuckled. Jamie spoke next. My ex-husband took me to Daytona for the Daytona 500. That's the only reason we were there, and we came home right after the race. That should have been my first warning right there!

The families we get are usually a couple of elder scientists, or a married couple and their kids, if they have any. I think this might be the first time we've had extended family included in the deal. Corporal Hayes said. The rest of you must have some pretty impressive skills to be included.

Not really, Christy and Eric are the superstars, we're just along for the ride I guess, Julie replied.

A soft chiming started and the Corporal stood to return to the control panel. We're arriving. It was nice talking to you folks. I hope you enjoy your stay on Apollo.

You're very welcome, Corporal Hays. Give us a ring when you get back to Apollo. We can have you and your lady over for dinner, Jamie replied.

Thank you, Mrs. Cowan. I'll check with Terri and let you know.

Please, call me Jamie. This is Julie, Ellie, Chris and Eric, Jamie replied, smiling at the young man.

Thank you, Miss. My name is Mike. However, while I'm on duty, I'm required to address you all formally. Even when my wife, Mrs. Terri Hays, finishes her doctorate, I'll have to address her as Doctor' while I'm on duty.

I imagine that's one of the more idiotic regulations, I said.

Not really, Dr. Cowan. You see, Apollo is a mixed race base. For two of the other races, informal address to a non-peer, even among members of the same species, is considered a major insult. So they worked it out that while at work or on duty, its formal address; off duty we can relax, Mike said.

So, if I understand that correctly, then we can call you Mike, but you have to call us by our titles since you're still on duty'? I asked.

That's correct, Dr. Cowan.

That's going to take some getting used to, Chris said as the exit door slid open.

Mike stood next to the door at attention. Welcome to Med Majestic, Doctors Cowan and family. A guide will show you to a lounge while they finish getting the shuttle loaded for tonight's flight to Apollo. We hope you enjoy your stay with us. He lowered his voice so only we could hear him. I'll see you in a week, when I finish this rotation.

As we filed past him we all thanked him and shook his hand.

Fleet Navigational and Maintenance Stop

Near the Giant Dust disk of Tau Ceti

12 light years from Earth.

I don't know what she's doing, Sir, but Sphinx is pulling those fighters right back towards us. What's odd is she's spread her whole wing out and is drawing ALL the fighters back toward us, Ensign Yolina said from tactical. Like normal, I can't understand her strategy.

You know how it works, Ensign; it'll make perfect sense after she pulls off whatever it is she's up to. Our fighters will be there in a few minutes to help her keep them off us. Did we get a final count on those fighters? Vance asked.

A hundred and nine wings, Sir. They could really hurt us all by themselves, which is why what Sphinx is doing is insane, Yolina said. She should be trying to draw them off to one side, so our fighters can engage well outside the fleet firing solutions.

Such a small craft has no armor in a fight where bullets destroy planets, this is a different level of sanity, Ensign. It is those that do not see this that are insane, in truth. A cold, hard lesson will be taught this day; let us hope we survive the education, Tactical Fleet Strategist CleinSal said.

She's up to something, that's for sure. She knows our fighters don't stand a chance. Try to be ready to give her support if she needs it, Ensign, but otherwise let her do her thing. Now, let's figure out our strategy, shall we? Commodore Vance replied.

Yes Sir, Yolina replied and began plotting the two fleets in the big holotank.

Uh...Sir, Sphinx flight has launched missiles. ComTrac has sixteen, full-yield TAMSAM missiles heading... fighter relative one-eight-zero, true.

They what!? What's the target? Vance asked, looking up at the Tracking Officer.

I can't tell, Sir. They're out of range of the capitol ships. The fighters are on full burn for the fleet, and the missiles are heading toward the enemy fighters, Lieutenant Cralik said, confused.

Oh SHIT! Get the shields up! Tell our fighters to stop where they are and switch to double strength on forward... Vance yelled when someone interrupted him. Multiple Anti-matter events! Force six plasma wave approaching!

Get those shields up! Vance yelled.

A hard lesson, indeed, TFS CleinSal said grimly.

Sir! Sphinx flight is...

I know, Yolina! They probably just saved all our asses. Now, sound collision and brace for impact!

The huge warship rocked and shook with the passing of the huge plasma wave. The icons for Sphinx flight were removed from the holographic battle tank. In the silence that followed, Vance began to give orders again. Get our fighters moving again, and get me an up-to-date count on the remaining enemy fighters. Navigation; show me our approach track.

Still fifteen minutes from extreme firing range, an excited middle-aged man came running onto the bridge. Commodore! May I have your permission to test a weapon on the enemy?

You're not going to rip a hole in the fabric of the universe again are you, Dr. Sparks? Vance asked.

TFS CleinSal almost smiled at the banter between the Commodore and the scientist. Such a flagrant disregard of protocol would never have been allowed aboard a Veranorian ship. However, humor and this type of... comradeship, was new to the Veranorians. Such bantering served to relieve much of the tension and stress, putting the crew at ease and improving performance. He'd decided to make a full report on this curious aspect of the human social structure, and he watched the interplay between his commander and the scientist with great interest. Also, it was rather... amusing.

Sir, I did apologize for that! It was just a simple misunderstanding! the man said seriously. Besides, this is only a slightly modified Vibrand AM missile; and I didn't modify the payload this time, I swear! Sparks almost pleaded. Vance called him a mad scientist, and Sparks called him a warmonger. They were good friends.

Vance nodded to the battle board. You got plenty of targets, Ced. If you can fuck one of them up before we get there, I'm all for it. But once we get in range, your test is over.

I've already had the test missile loaded into a launcher, Sir. This won't take but a few moments! Sparks said as he turned to face the board. Weapons. Spin up port tube 34L, please.

Target, Dr. Sparks? the weapons officer asked.

The Aracs main weapons and shielding were on the sides of their bigger ships. So when they prepare to fight, they stack' their ships in a wall to bring the largest possible amount of weapons to bear on a target. When a ship takes too much damage, they roll the ship and present the undamaged side to the battle.

That doctrine was a bitch to fight against, but it was still a winnable scenario since federation weapons were longer ranged and more accurate. However, when the Aracs built those huge battleships, most of that advantage was destroyed simply by the massive volume of fire from the giant ships. Besides, lately the damn bugs were becoming really good shots.

CS zero-one center, Mr. Eselk, Vance said, indicating the Battleship in the center of the formation. If Dr. Sparks is testing a weapon, we should be sure there is something left to measure the damage on.

Computer accepts the target, but is holding because of occlusion and distance, Mr. Eselk reported.

Sparks grinned. Please override them, Mr. Eselk. Navigation, please give me an exact distance to target.

Range to target, displayed on the board, Sir,

Thank you. Mr. Eselk is the weapon ready?

Yes, Doctor.

Excellent, please set the warhead for maximum yield, and to go active at launch. When Eselk nodded to Dr. Sparks, the young man watched the big screen intently and said, Fire when ready, Mr. Eselk.

Missile away. Target hand-off is complete and the bird is locked, Mr. Eselk reported.

Sparks tapped a red flashing icon on his portable screen and the missile vanished, triggering an alarm on the weapons board. Watch the battleship! Sparks said before anyone else could say anything. Three... two... one... and.

The battle board changed to show an incredible amount of damage being done to the enemy, and soon it registered the rapidly expanding debris field of a destroyed ship.

Sir, missile has detonated. ComTrac reported the anti-matter event occurring internally on the selected target. I don't know how, but he made it do an in-system jump of four point one-four light seconds, Mr. Eselk reported.

Huh, Sparks grunted as he was reading his screen, then entered more data, then read more. He glanced up, Uh, thanks everyone. He nodded to Vance as he started for the door. Commodore.

Hold it, Ced! Vance ordered.

Hmm? What? Oh! Yes, Commodore? the distracted scientist asked.

You don't just stroll in here, blow up an enemy battleship, and then leave us lying in the wet spot! Please tell me you have at least two more of those? Vance asked.

Why not? My ex-wife would do it all the time! Sparks replied.

Ced, you've never been married. Now about those missiles... Vance asked.

I do have five more unarmed Vibrands in the lab, but I doubt they'll work now, at least not without a bit more programming, he replied.

Why not? Eselk asked.

They've got their shields up now. I'm pretty sure I can get past that too, but it's going to take some more work. Sorry folks, I didn't mean to get your hopes up. I hope to have the kinks worked out within the week, Sparks explained.

Later, Commodore Vance tiredly looked at his remaining Captains and tried not to think of the massive loss of life his missing friends stood for. Even the remaining two, normally proud, Simonian Commanders looked tired after all the death and destruction. The fleet had lost three capitol class ships and most of the smaller escorts. Of the three quarters of a million souls in the fleet, half now slept with their ancestors. The few wounded they had were all critical. Still more names were going to be added to the list before they could reach base.

The intercom buzzing interrupted his tired contemplation. He tapped the icon, Yes?

My apologies, Commodore, but SAR reports finding Lt. Commander Shakier's life pod. There are faint life-signs but they say there isn't much left of her. Sir, they want to know if they should just send it to the morgue.

It took Vance a minute to remember who Shakier had been, when it came to him, he replied. Negative! They are to bring that pod back to medical right now, highest priority! She's the reason this fleet's still alive! I damn well want her and any member of her flight alive when I pin the medals on their chests! Do you understand me, Ensign?

Yes Sir, I believe that's why the CAG was asking. I'll get them moving, Sir.

Thank you, Ensign. Vance out. He tapped the icon again, which changed to red then slid off the screen.

How are repairs going? Captain Velnor? Vance asked.

One engine will have to be replaced, but the plasma conduits are repaired. Chief Hulon Xi got the main reactor repaired and powered up. Our meta-field generator is also back online, so we can get to supra-light. We won't have full sub-light speed until that engine gets replaced. We should be able to make it to our destination without blowing up, the man replied.

The rest of the reports where much the same; everyone was capable of getting back underway. The freighters full of construction materials and engineers they'd been escorting had continued on when trouble had been detected. They should still be a week out.

Okay, let's give Search and Rescue the rest of the day, then we need to continue on. I've already made a full report to Command, and they'll be sending along a few more ships to bolster our defense until the new shipyards can start producing ships.

I think we all need to go back to our ships and get some rest. This battle was bad, but it could have been worse. So, unless anyone can think of anything else, you're all dismissed.

Alliance Base; Med Majestic

Mediterranean Ocean

Earth, Sol System

The lounge' that we were led to was more like a large, comfortable living room. There was a large-screen television set above a very real looking fireplace. On the other side of the wall with the fireplace was a dining room. Through a set of swinging doors was a kitchen complete with a cook.

As we all took seats in the living room, setting our carry-on bags on the floor, the chef greeted us.

Welcome, ladies and gentleman. I am Chef Daniel Cromwell. May I direct your attention to the timer on the wall, he indicated a device that read '00:03:34:42'. That is the amount of time before launch. So, since you have three and a half hours before your flight, and it's getting to be dinner time, I would like to offer to make dinner for you this evening.

Thank you, Chef Cromwell. Before we accept, may I ask how rough the flight might be? I asked.

His smile grew. You have no idea how many people forget to consider that. The shuttle is equipped with artificial gravity generators, so beyond a very brief moment of vertigo, you shouldn't feel anything until you disembark at Apollo and change AG fields again. Anytime you change AG fields, it gives you a shot of dizziness. Most of us don't even feel it anymore.

What did you have in mind for Dinner, Chef Cromwell? Julie asked.

I was thinking perhaps a Surf and Turf'. In anticipation of your arrival, I have steak and Maine lobsters that should be ready in about forty-five minutes. Or you could have some just very nice fillet mignon that I can prepare to order, Cromwell replied.

That sounds wonderful! I just hope I'll be able to finish mine! Jamie said, grinning at her sister.

I've never had Surf and Turf', but it sounds delicious! Ellie said smiling.

The family took seats to relax, talk, and maybe watch some television. Ellie touched her phone's earpiece. Sarah? How's the weather up there? she asked giggling.

Inside or outside of the base, Ellie? Sarah replied, happily. Would you ask if the rest of the family would mind if I included them in this call?

Once everyone agreed, and greetings had been exchanged, Sarah mentioned some news that she thought the family might be interested in.

I made a note to myself to mention something I got from the news network up here. It seems there had been a large Alliance battle fleet coming here to provide system protection while the Alliance expands the base.

They were to build a forward' assault base as a staging area into Arac territory. Don't let the term forward' bother you; we actually aren't much closer to Arac space than anyone else. However, we do have a unique position. If something as ambiguous as a front' could be defined in a space war, we would be on the extreme left flank. The purpose of the base is to provide a staging and repair facility for Alliance forces to begin covert intelligence gathering and surgical strikes well behind Arac lines'.

That huge fleet was attacked almost two weeks ago. Since it was the last course correction stop, the non-combat and engineering ships, with three small destroyers as protection, made the jump here while the rest of the fleet turned and attacked.

The non-combat ships arrived safely a few hours ago. In two more days, the rest of the fleet will also arrive. They're going to need a lot of repair. The enemy fleet massed twenty-four hundred percent more than Alliance forces, which means that no Alliance ships should have survived. They took horrific losses, but just under three-hundred thousand of the original three quarters of a million beings, as well as most of the capitol class ships, survived. Sarah finished.

What about the enemy? Chris asked.

The fleet reported them completely destroyed. Commodore Vance has nominated one of his pilots for the Freedom Brotherhood. It's the highest honor in the Alliance. He included a ship's sensor log of her wing executing highly irregular tactics, tactics they had to know they couldn't survive, in an effort to destroy as many enemy fighters as they could.

The enemy fleet was so big, it carried more than enough fighters to not only shoot down all the Alliance fighters, but they would have inflicted enough damage on the fleet itself that the Alliance fleet would have been destroyed in less than an hour of fighting. Lieutenant Commander Lennon Shakier and her wing destroyed ninety-six point four percent of all the enemy fighters. Except for her, the rest of her wing was destroyed in the attempt. However, I should mention that she is in a life-support cocoon. The cocoon is maintaining her body functions and keeping what's left of her alive, Sarah replied sadly. Eric, if I ever sustain so much damage that I lose core integrity, would you please just disconnect me?

The request took me completely by surprise. Sarah, do you understand the concept of death, or even pain?

I'm not... sure about death. But enough debate exists on the subject that I know I'm not alone in my confusion. I do know that... I don't want to die, if such a thing can be said. I want to stay alive, conscious and... I would not care to no longer be a part of this family, Sarah tried to explain.

As for physical pain, since I currently don't have what could be considered a body, I would like to perform a few experiments. I believe I do feel pain, though. Eric tried to debug one of my subroutines once while it was still active. It is an experience I would not care to repeat and will avoid in the future if at all possible.

If you ever need help all you have to do is ask, Sarah, Jamie replied.

Uhm, may I ask for all of your assistance with something that's bothering me now? Sarah asked.

Sure Sarah, what's up? I asked.

Well, actually, it's more that I need you to make sure I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing. I've been going over the battle data that the fleet sent to the base for relay back to Command.

The television in the room came to life, and displayed a star chart with a blue line running through it. Sarah continued, The blue line is the course that the fleet took to get here.

Another line, this one green, ran alongside the first, only deviating slightly towards the end. It stopped well short of Earth in such a way that it was headed away from Earth at an oblique angle. The green line is the plotted course registered with Fleet Command. Since this was supposed to be a classified mission, the entire flight plan remained with the Admiralty, Sarah explained.

A broken red line paralleled the first, to as far as the green line had gone. Sarah put a spiked red dot there. This is roughly where the battle happened. As you've probably guessed, the red line is the enemy's course. The dotted portion is only an assumption since there is no data to support it. However, the point where it becomes solid is where the Commodore's ship began picking up an intermittent contact at the edge of their sensor range.

Since the spot where the battle took place was supposed to be the last stop before jumping here, the Commodore ordered patrols to be launched to ensure they were not being observed and thus lead the enemy to this system.

During the patrol, the contact appeared once again. Commodore Vance's flag captain ordered one of the patrol wings to investigate it. Twenty minutes later one of the wing's fighters made it back into sensor and communications range and sent a warning of the enemy fleet. The fighter was destroyed shortly after sending the report.

The fleet coming here was being followed. In an effort to hide their final destination from the enemy, Commodore Vance couldn't let the enemy any closer to their position until the transports and freighters had made good their escape. So he made the decision to engage, even though they had very little chance of success.

Another fighter wing that had been out on patrol was asked to delay the enemy' until the fleet could catch up. Ten two-man fighters against over a thousand enemy fighters and a virtual armada of enemy medium and capitol class ships. They stood no chance, but maybe they could cause enough confusion for the rest of the fleet to move up to engagement range.

While she had been speaking, she was displaying the graphics on the TV. It was like watching a fully loaded airliner crash into a school; you knew what was going to happen, but you couldn't avert your eyes.

It's assumed that Lieutenant Commander Lennon Shakier devised a plan to actually accomplish what the Commodore had asked of her. She and her people split-up, then literally dove into the ranks of enemy fighters. The result was much like kicking a bee's nest. The enemy ranks crumbled, broke, and began to single mindedly chase Sphinx flight back toward our fleet.

Commander Shakier waited for the point that most of the fighters would get bunched up before spreading out for the chase. Then she ordered her fighters to launch their capitol-ship missiles. They had programmed the enhanced-yield anti-matter warheads for a specific course as well as remote detonation.

Those missiles are intended not to actually hurt the ship they were launched against, but to overcome the ship's shields. Therefore, while each warhead is in the high hundred-megaton range, they were designed to apply ultra-high energy to an area of the shields, not a single point.

The detonation of eighteen of those warheads created a very short-term, small-scale, astronomical event not unlike a very small nova. The event was elongated and encompassed most of the small craft in the area.

Commander Shakier's tactic also took both fleets by surprise. Luckily Commodore Vance figured out what she was doing and ordered the shields raised before the wave front arrived. The enemy didn't have a clue, and they lost three destroyers and one light cruiser.

When the event finished, the only fighters remaining were the Alliance attack squadrons and the enemy fighters that had been assigned as escort for the battleships. Sarah paused as if mentally shifting gears.

A few things are bothering me about this battle. First, the enemy fleet was large enough that there is no way it could have hidden in Alliance space for any length of time. It had to have been brought in specifically for this mission. If this mission was as super-classified as everyone says it was, how did the enemy know about it? Sarah asked reasonably.

Jamie replied before I could. The first, and most obvious, answer to that would be that there is a spy in the Admiralty. However, before such an accusation could be brought, I'm sure they would want far more proof.

I agree. In fact, it's the only explanation that I can't disprove. I believe I have that evidence, Sarah replied and the pictures on the TV changed.

These images are from gun cameras or are a computer generated image based completely on sensor data of each individual event. Some of these may be a bit disturbing. The image displayed was of an enemy missile just before impact on an Alliance ship. It was far enough out that, although you could see lights from windows in the ship, nothing beyond them could be discerned.

Each of our ship classes is different. While they have different strengths, they also have different weaknesses. In every case, the ships have been built to hide or camouflage the weak points. In the case of the ship on the screen, one of its weakest spots was a portion of one bulkhead of a certain cabin. An area of approximately four square meters.

Sarah advanced the images to a point where it was clear the missile was going to hit close to a window. Inside the window, people could be seen, but no one could tell what they were doing. Sarah highlighted an area of the bulkhead that must have been the weak point. The missile was going to miss it.

As you can see this missile was going to miss the weak point in the ship's armor. However, it made a last minute course correction, as if it had been programmed to know exactly where to strike. Sarah advanced one frame showing the missile changing course to hit the bulkhead in the nursery section of the medical ward. Through the window, nurses could be seen comforting the upset children.

Beside him, he heard Chris gasp, while Julie looked away. Sarah changed the image to another missile, and another ship. This exact precision is evident with all of our current ships. It's almost like the Aracs were given the schematics for our ships as soon as they're approved.

That could simply be nothing more than the results of battle experience, and analyzing the wreckage of our ships after a battle, I said.

I agree, and that could very well be the case. I offer this as a counter to that argument. The image shifted to an undamaged ship. This is an Ugtue class medium cruiser. It's a fairly new ship having only taken service nine months ago. So far, none of these ships have been lost in battle, nor have they been in many battles.

The screen showed the same ship taking heavy damage. The next image showed another attack, also doing heavy damage. I have at least six more images of the Ugtue getting hit by precision attacks that exploited only its weak points.

Ellie piped up. What do you mean; only its weak points. It took hits elsewhere too didn't it?

No, none of the ships I've shown you did. All hits on Alliance vessels have been in places that would maximize damage to the ship, Sarah explained.

I wonder why no one else has seen this pattern. Julie asked. This just screams spy'.

The data needed to spot the pattern was spread over the records of several battles. There are also a lot of attacks that couldn't be reconstructed. I was bored while waiting, so I grabbed this for something to do. I honestly didn't expect to find anything certainly nothing like this, Sarah replied.

We should report this. I looked around at the nodding ladies. Sarah, would you be so kind as to try to schedule an interview with the base military commander?

Of course, Eric. When would you like to see him? Sarah asked.

Whenever is convenient for him, Sweetheart. As far as I know, we're not on any type of schedule, although I am looking forward to getting started on a few things, I replied.

Me too. Although... Sarah, Sweetheart, would you inquire on my behalf if I may have access to Lt. Commander Shakier's medical data? Chris asked. I would like to run a few simulations past the computer.

I would be happy to, Chris. However, medical regulations state that you have to make the inquiry yourself, Sarah replied.

Chris sighed. I really need to learn more patience. There'll be plenty of time for that once we get up there and get moved in. I guess I'm just anxious to start our new lives together.

Chef Cromwell called the family to Dinner amid avid agreement to Chris' sentiments.

Once we left the table, we were stuffed and somewhat sleepy from the multi-coarse meal. The lethargy quickly vanished and we realized how much time had actually passed when we heard a soft chime followed by a voice calling us to the shuttle. We grabbed our bags, and Chef Cromwell met us by the door.

It was a pleasure preparing dinner for you. You have a wonderful family. It's refreshing to finally have people with a sense of humor come through, Cromwell said.

A sense of humor? I asked.

Well, I suppose my view of it is somewhat biased. Most of the geniuses that I meet here are these stuffy old college professor types, always serious, and if they do have a sense of humor, it's very esoteric. You folks have restored my hopes for the human animal, Cromwell replied. Anyway, you guys need to scoot; just follow the corridor to the left. He pointed down the hall. It'll lead you right to the embarkation lounge. Again, it's been a pleasure. He shook all our hands as we filed past him. Eric? Sarah asked through my ear-bud.

Yes Sarah?

If everyone wears the ear-bud like you are, I'll be able to translate for you. Until you learn the language anyway, Sarah offered.

I passed the information on to the family. Thank you Sarah. I trust you will also keep us from making a social mistake and offending someone as well?

I will try; however, I don't actually have that much information. I... uh, I didn't want to just invade all the computers up here, and grab all their data. I'm sure that would make everyone very nervous. I believe that my expansion should be controlled and done only with permission, she replied. The comment once again stunned me. Sarah was proving, more and more, that she was indeed sentient.

Good thinking, Sarah. But, are you okay with the restriction? I did program you to seek out and gather data on your users, I pointed out.

She paused a moment. That's actually a little different. When I acquire my users' data, I do it with their knowledge and permission. I've been trying to curb my curiosity, so to speak. I saw the look on Professor Ellis's face when he figured out I'd invaded the entire Majestic network. I don't want to put any of you in a situation where you'll be forced into shutting me down.

We'd never do that, Sarah! It'd be like killing one of us! Jamie replied.

By this time we had arrived at the port. There was a young woman in uniform standing beside an open portal that had to be the hatch to the shuttle. She was smiling and waving us through.

I agree Sarah, I don't think I could do it either, I admitted. So, once we get the command language for Chris's micro-machines figured out, I'd like to go over your design for that new super-computer you were talking about.

There was a slight pause before Sarah replied; since it was the second time it had happened in this conversation, it made me wonder if her new environment was hindering her somewhat.

Thank you. I was working on the design until Chris asked about Commander Shakier. I switched all my priority processes to the silicacytes enabler language at that time. I should have a command matrix framework set up for you by the time you get up here.

Also Eric, you have an appointment with the Senior Commander Atnon and his intelligence officer, Junior Lieutenant Deszy, at zero-eight hundred GST, tomorrow, Sarah finished.

GST? Ellie asked.

Galactic Standard Time; I doubt very much the universe would use GMT, which is Greenwich Mean Time. How many hours in a GST day? And what time is it now? I asked.

Both seconds, and minute length, are very close to Earth. However, there are thirty hours in a day. Between the main member races, a thirty hour day was adopted as an average length' day. Currently, it's almost twenty-three hundred hours, Eric, Sarah replied. You'll be able to get a new watch once you get to the base.

The young soldier had followed us into a room that had loveseat type couches rather than rows of seats. The seats were arranged in conversational groupings, with a table in the center. It was to one of the groups that the woman waved us towards.

She stood behind an empty spot as we all took seats. Good evening, I'm Ensign Halley Matheson. I'll be your inflight attendant this trip. If any of you would like anything, please feel free to ask, and I'll get it for you.

Restrooms are located at the front and rear of the cabin. In the event of an emergency, escape pods are located across the aisle from the restrooms. We ask that you remain in your seats except to use the restroom.

The couches are equipped with a gravitic restraint system in place of seat belts. When you get up, you'll notice that you'll have to pull a little harder; the restraint field weakens when it detects that you are trying to get up, but it doesn't go away completely.

Before we lift, may I get anyone anything? she finished.

Thank you, Ensign Matheson. May I have a Pepsi please? I asked. The rest of the girls ordered something to drink as well, and we were somewhat surprised when the Ensign joined us.

I hope you don't mind. How can I assist you when I can't hear you? she asked with a half-smile.

We don't mind at all, Ellie said. You know, for being such a super-secret, hush-hush organization, there sure a lot of friendly folks here. Why is that?

Halley chuckled. Well, I suppose since we can't really connect with the rest of our planet, we tend to connect to each other more than normal'.

Ellie nodded. I can see that. Although I meant I'd expected exactly the opposite, not to mention the paranoia. I know you got rid of them, but I guess I'm just conditioned to expect the Men in Black'.

Them! I heard my folks talking about them once. They had to be the most idiotic, paranoid, prosaic, anti-commie, better dead-then-red, morons ever to walk the earth. My father told stories about them. Once he told me that he overheard two of them complaining about allowing those commies from space' on the base. He was talking about our allies! They also refused to allow any soviet scientists or personnel! Halley answered grinning. Gods, am I glad they're gone! They would have completely banned women from the military.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of them around; look at the US Congress, Julie offered.

You don't even need to look that far; granted it isn't pinko-commies', but it's the same mental attitude in the Persian Gulf and a good portion of the countries on the Mediterranean. Only here it's called Religious Zealotry, Chris said.

Be careful, Dr. Cowan. In three more minutes we won't even be in the atmosphere. But, you're right; religion is the fuel for the Middle-Eastern fire, Halley said.

That's when Sarah pointed out to me that I'd once again screwed up, so I quickly made introductions, and apologized for the rudeness.

Halley smiled at me. Nothing to forgive Dr. Cowan! At least you're talking to me. A lot of the science types simply dismiss me and then ignore everything around them until I have to prod them off the ship. You're also the two youngest PhD's I think I've ever met.

That must be it; we're still children! Chris replied giggling.

If I may ask, what are your fields of specialty? Halley asked.

Since Chris and Ellie were still giggling, I answered. I like to dabble with computer science, and the beautiful blonde is a genius in bio-mechanics.

Bio-Mechanics; is that how and why a body moves? Halley asked.

Chris had stopped playing with Ellie and was once again paying attention. Well, that's part of it, but not exactly the area I'm working on. I'm more interested in prosthetics and how the body repairs itself.

Halley frowned a bit. Although I'm sure you'll be a great help, especially to our ground troops, I'm afraid there are very few wounded in space battles. In a vacuum, whatever event that wounded the being usually kills them too.

I'm sorry, have you lost someone? Jamie asked.

No, it's not that, it's just... Our biggest losses are pilots and ships' crew. We've lost millions more of them than we have ground troops. It's just saddening that something can't be done to reduce the risk to them, Halley replied.

Chris smiled and winked at the young woman. I'll see what I can do.

We talked and visited with Halley until the shuttle arrived at Apollo. There were slight moments of dizziness when boarding and leaving the small ship. With the artificial gravity of the base, it was hard to tell we were even on the moon, except for the big, thick window overlooking a starkly shadowed lunar landscape.

The pictures I'd seen of the lunar surface had utterly failed to convey the portrait of desolation, of the absolute lack of any color. It was so gray that I imagined I saw flashes of color along some of the razor sharp edges of lunar rock.

Shivering, I turned from the window and shouldered the backpack with my laptop in it, just as an older gentleman arrived through a door that slid open. If he had been wearing a double breasted suit with vest and tails, I would have immediately thought of Alfred from Batman.

Good evening, Doctors Cowan and family. I am Mr. Gerald Greenwood, and it is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all to Apollo. It is my duty to guide you to your quarters, so you may rest, then tomorrow I will show Dr. Eric and Dr. Chris to the laboratories set aside for their use.

I interrupted him. Please excuse me, Mr. Greenwood. But would it be possible for Chris and me to be close together? There are a few projects that we'd like to work on together. I also have an appointment at oh-eight-hundred tomorrow.

Gerald looked over a tablet PC I hadn't seen him carrying.

Uhm, close to the medical facility if that's possible, Sir, Chris requested.

Gerald nodded stonily. Considering Dr. Eric's specialty, it was assumed he would want to be near the computer hub. Currently, Dr. Eric's laboratory pod is not connected to a passageway since all available positions on the computer hub are occupied. However, there is an abundance of space available on the medical hub. It would be quite easy to place both pods there if you wish?

I thought about it. Considering the speed that the Apollo network ran, the physical location of my lab wouldn't matter a hill of beans. Chris only nodded as I replied. That would be great, Mr. Greenwood.

Very good, Sir. My apologies, I did not receive the information for your appointment, Sir. I will, of course, adjust your schedule, Gerald said without missing a beat.

Please don't think this is meant as an insult, Mr. Greenwood, but you remind me so much of the character Alfred from Bob Kane's Batman it's scary, I said.

I would hope you mean the fine Gentleman's Gentleman that he became in the latter years, Sir. I would consider that to be a great compliment, Gerald replied.

So, should we be calling' you Gerald' instead of Mr. Greenwood? Ellie said with her usual spunk.

Gerald would be fine, Miss. Now, if you would follow me, I will show you to your quarters. Your luggage and personal effects have already been placed there.

We followed the Gentleman's Gentleman' as he led us (after taking two elevators down and through a relative maze of hallways) to a set of mostly normal-looking double doors. These doors' had no handles and opened automatically at our approach. Gerald excused himself, and I wondered why he hadn't shown us around our new home.

It turns out that the apartment was almost palatial, certainly far more than I would have expected of lunar accommodations. It had a total of seven bedrooms.

The lower level was mostly one big, two-story great-room. Central to the room was a huge seating area with comfortable looking couches and oversized recliners. One wall had a floor to ceiling tropical waterfall. In the wall opposite was a huge fireplace that had to be holographic. The kitchen and dining areas were on the other side of a small wall from the entry, while across the great-room were three bedrooms with glass patio style doors tinted dark for privacy. A large lavatory and a large storage area where tucked in behind the waterfall.

The second floor had two large master suites and four more regular bedrooms. One of the master suites had a view of the waterfall from the balcony of its seating area and the other was right above the waterfall. Each of the master suites had their own bathrooms attached to them, while the regular bedrooms shared a bathroom that was between each of the rooms on each side of the balcony.

Whoa! Ellie said. This is huge! You could almost swim laps in those bathtubs!

It seems they have allowed for our family to grow. Looks like you and Erik need to get busy, Christy! Jamie said.

I know it's still early, but I'm whacked. I think I'm just gonna take a quick shower and crawl into bed. I can explore more tomorrow, I said. Sarah, would you be a sweetheart and make sure I'm awake by oh-seven-hundred? I had left my laptop and the rest of the family in the sitting area between the bedrooms. I began stripping as soon as the bedroom door was closed. Also, make a note please? We need to install a sound system and holo-projectors in all rooms.

I will, Eric. You just get some rest, Sarah replied. I was so tired, I didn't notice that she'd answered me from the room's speakers.

I got under the spray of hot water and just leaned my head against the wall, letting the water wash off the stress of the day. I have no idea how long I stood there, but when I leaned back, a gorgeous blonde goddess entered the glass walled room with me. She picked up the soap and quickly yet tenderly washed me.

Once I was clean, Christy kissed me tenderly on the lips. Go dry off and get to bed, Love. Tomorrow is going to be even longer than today was.

As I was heading for the door to go find a towel, Christy directed me to another door. When the door closes just say, Dry.'

I went through the door and did as I was told. I was suddenly in a warm mini-tornado. When I stepped out, even my hair was dry. It was a mess, but it was dry.

A glance in the mirror showed me I resembled a sleestack from the old TV show Land of the Lost'. I quickly finger-combed my unruly mop so it wouldn't stay that way and returned to the bedroom. I climbed in under the covers and was asleep in seconds.

Alliance Base; Apollo

Apollo Crater, Selene.

Earth's Moon, Sol System

I must have been more tired than I knew; I finally regained consciousness after sleeping for eleven hours. The girls must have all still been asleep, because the apartment was very quiet. I looked back at the bed when I got up, and Christy hadn't even moved.

Since it was still pretty early, after I took a shower, I discovered they had even moved the food from our old house. I got dressed in my dirty clothes from yesterday because I hadn't found where the movers had put our clothes yet.

After breakfast and two cups of coffee, I began explorations. This really was a beautiful apartment. It was easily twice the size of our house on earth.

Good morning, Sarah, I said once I got my phone and ear bud.

Good morning. Why are you wearing the same clothes from yesterday? Sarah asked.

I couldn't figure out where our clothes got placed. Do you know where they put our clothes? I should have known to pack an extra set in my carry-on, but I forgot.

Actually, if you'd have looked when you woke up, your clothes are in your closet, as are Christy's. Sarah replied.

That makes sense I guess, I should have looked. I said. I headed back up to the beautiful bedroom, and sure enough, my clothes were in the closet, although they hadn't been put away. I dressed in some comfortable cargo pants and a polo shirt, and then I set about getting the rest of my clothes put away. I tried to be quiet so as not to wake Christy.

Once finished, Sarah told me I still had a couple of hours to kill before our appointment with the Base Commandant.

After retrieving my laptop, I sat in the common room and powered it up. Well, since we have some time, could you guide me through the structure of these micro-computers Chris built? That way, I'll understand the language problem better.

We could get started on it, but it's going to take longer than we have to get through all of it. Although the device fulfills the job of the on-board computer, it doesn't even remotely resemble, or function, like one, Sarah explained and began with the primary logic units.

When the small screen of the laptop became too small for her explanations, she began using the apartment's TV'. I barely noticed as she smoothly made the transmission to the big three dimensional holographic image.

The beauty and efficiency of the logic centers was mesmerizing, and before I knew it, it was time to go. Surprisingly, at least to me, the girls were still asleep. When I tried to leave a message for them, Sarah had me stand and speak the message like a voice-mail. She explained to me that when the girls got up, she'd be able to project my three-D image speaking the message. I thought that was just... nifty.

Would it be possible to equip the house with holo-emitters? I asked as Sarah led me out to a bank of elevators and had me press the up' button.

Yes, it would. However, all the rooms already have emitters in them; is that what you had in mind? Sarah asked.

Not exactly, no. I plan on creating a simulation for you to manipulate in an effort to make you easier to interface with. Since you would need to move about freely, there would be a need for additional holo-emitters so your movements' would appear to be as seamless as possible, I explained as the elevator car arrived.

You want to do that for me? Do you know what I look like? Sarah asked, sounding a little excited.

Uh, which button do I press? I don't know where to go, remember? I asked. ...and yes, I have a pretty good idea of what you look like in my mind.

Press the L button. Think of the whole base like an inverted city. Street level' is at the top of the hubs and is called the Grand Mall. We are currently in residence hub Alpha. Once we reach the Mall, we can take the slideway to the admin section for your appointment.

Our appointment, I said, correcting her.

Excuse me? Sarah asked.

You heard me. Both of us are going into that meeting to tell them what you've discovered. I'm sure they'll want to see the evidence and the reasoning behind it. That means that you'll have to be as much a part of the meeting as I am.

Sarah was silent for so long I began to wonder if she'd shut herself down. Uh, are you sure I'm ready for that, Eric? No one up here really knows about me yet.

If I didn't know better, I'd say you have stage fright! I said teasingly. Sweetheart, you have nothing to worry about. Your reasoning and the evidence you've gathered are flawless. We'd reached the lobby', and I walked through the doors and out onto a huge cavern that was bustling with activity. It looked for all the world like people were literally hurtling around through the cavern. It must be rush hour,' I thought to myself.

Just step onto the slideway; I'll handle the routing for you, Sarah said absently. I know, but you remember the look on Dr. Ellis's face. He was terrified of me. I don't want to see that on any more faces, especially alien faces.

Once I had stepped into the area denoted by yellow lines, I felt myself lifted off the floor as I was rapidly swept away down the huge cavern.

Sarah, Honey, you've got to get past this anxiety you're feeling over meeting new people. The absolute worst I will ever allow to happen to you is restricted electronic access. No one will ever completely shut you down just because of what you might do. I'll never stand for that. So quit worrying so much about what people think; if they have problems with you, then it's their problem, not yours, I said to her.

I know that, but... well... I really only want... I just don't want to be disconnected, she replied.

I don't think you getting disconnected is the worst thing we're going to have to worry about, I replied. There are worse things than being disconnected; trust me.

I can't imagine anything worse, she said naively.

My biggest worry is that some over-zealous scientist that refuses to believe you're sentient gets his hands on you, and he tears into you while you're still active so he can see what makes you tick. Remember when I tried to debug your analytical search subroutines?

Yes I do, but my code is freely available for study; why would anyone want to do that to me?

Because no one will ever believe your code is you, and it would be you they'll want to study. That, of course, should and would scare the crap out of you, and you would be forced to defend yourself. That would result in grounds to disconnect you. So, it's my job to keep you away from that situation, I explained.

Aren't you supposed to help me get past my anxiety and calm down? Sarah asked.

Would you rather I simply tell you that everything'll be okay?

Yes please.

Would it help? I asked.

Probably not, Sarah replied.

At least now you know what to help me look out for, I said as I came to rest outside a set of double doors labeled Administration'. As the door slid open at my approach, I said, I'm probably just seeing things that aren't there again. Just relax and be yourself; everything'll be fine.


Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Good Morning, Dr. Cowan. What can the Alliance Military do for our newest computer genius? Commander Atnon asked as he and the other officer stood when I entered.

As per Sarah's instruction I inclined my head to them, and spoke their names in greeting. Senior Commander Atnon. I turned to the other man. Junior Lieutenant Deszy. I turned back to the Commander. I believe we have uncovered some information you might be interested in. If I may have a few moments of your time, I'll explain? I was starting to wish for informality already.

Of course, Dr. Cowan. Please proceed, Atnon said, waving me to a chair.

My apologies, Senior Commander, but this discussion would be better suited to your conference table and the holo-projector there, if we may? I asked.

He looked surprised, but somewhat pleased with how polite I was. Having Sarah giving me cues on the fly was a great help, as well as having her translate for me.

Of course, Doctor. Junior Lieutenant, would you please join us? Atnon said as he led us to the bigger table.

Senior Commander, Junior Lieutenant, being new here, I am not yet accustomed to the proper courtesies and customs. So, if I err during these presentations, and make a familiar reference, please forgive me, I asked.

Both men nodded acceptance. You have no doubt been made aware of my area of expertise. I have an ongoing and well-developed experiment into artificial intelligence. As such, I wish to make known to you, my AI, Sarah. She is currently self-aware and appears to have become sentient. Sarah is fully functional within experimental restrictions. Sarah, please greet the gentlemen, I said.

Aluis Anure, Senior Commander Atnon, Aluis Anure, Junior Lieutenant Deszy. I am honored to make your acquaintance, Sarah said via the speakers in the room.

Both men touched their fingertips to their foreheads and inclined their heads forward.

Aluis Tanae, AI Sarah. It is you who honor us. It was Atnon that spoke, but it was clear that Deszy meant it too.

I took that as my cue to continue. While awaiting the arrival of my family from Earth, one of the things Sarah decided to undertake to counter boredom was to analyze past Alliance battles. She was not looking for anything out of the ordinary; she was simply killing time'.

However, she found something very troubling and brought it to my attention. I, in turn, bring it to yours. Sarah, please present your findings and logical conclusions.

Of course, Dr. Cowan, Sarah said, and began a slightly modified version of what she had shown us. She had far more information to support her conclusions than she had shown us before.

When she'd finished, Atnon looked thoughtful, and Deszy looked outright scared. Neither man spoke for a few moments, but finally Atnon broke the silence.

Dr. Cowan, firstly I would like to welcome you to Apollo. Secondly, would it be possible to impose on you for more of your and AI Sarah's time this day? I would like for AI Sarah to make this report to Commodore Vance and his officers as well. He waited for me to nod agreement before continuing. Thirdly, I must ask who else knows of AI Sarah's discovery.

If you would like her to present this to the Commodore, we are at your disposal. As far as who else knows... Only myself, my family, and now both of you. Sarah... uh, AI Sarah asked us for our opinions before asking my assistance in bringing her findings to the attention of the military, I replied.

Dr. Cowan. On behalf of the Alliance, I would very much like to thank you for bringing this to our attention. I would act on this if I were able to; however, until recently, this base was supposed to be nothing more than a place for research.

Now that it is to be expanded, Commodore Vance is the actual commander here, and I am convinced this needs to be brought to his attention immediately. Which is why I asked if you could stay. He turned to Deszy, Junior Lieutenant, please make the arrangements for a holo-conference with the Commodore. Use priority beta-six on my authority as Captain of the Jonti Sa.

Deszy bowed his head in reply. At once, Captain.

I feel I should warn you, Doctor, Commodore Vance has a Veranorian Tactical Officer. Until AI Sarah can be verified by the Veranorian Synod as a true Artificial Intelligence, he may not accept her conclusions as being based on logic, Atnon said. Please do not be offended by this. In matters of technology, few Veranorians accept any of the other races as contemporaries.

I nodded to him. Thank you for the warning, Senior Commander. I mean no disrespect, but that seems a very dangerous attitude to practice in this current situation.

Atnon nodded, and chuckled. Tactfully said, Doctor. I feel that such attitudes are dangerous no matter what the situation. We must all stand as one or we will fall separately.

Senior Commander, the Commodore would like to know if he should include his Captains as well? Deszy's voice spoke as if from thin air.

That won't be necessary, Junior Lieutenant. His staff will be sufficient I think, Atnon replied.

He is standing by on the Hypercom, Sir.

Open Hypercom, Atnon said, and suddenly the table was full of serious looking men.

Something must be very important for you to not wait the day and a half for me to get there, Senior Commander. What's happened?

Atnon bowed his head toward the end of the table. Aluis Anure, Commodore Vance. May I make known to you, Doctor Eric Cowan of Earth. He has only just arrived, but brought me grievous news I believe you would want to know immediately.

The big man looked at Eric and nodded his head in greeting. Welcome, Dr. Cowan.

Thank you, Commodore. If you will please forgive my seeming rudeness, or lack of manners, I will come right to the point, Sir. As Vance smiled, I quickly repeated what I'd told Atnon, and then introduced Sarah.

My girl picked it up smoothly and proceeded to give the Commodore an ulcer, and his intelligence staff nightmares. But, as predicted by Atnon, Vance's Veranorian Tactical Officer spoke up.

Before absolute reliability of this information can be assumed, it is first to discover the Terran definition of Artificial Intelligence. The fastest ship to Veranor must take this system before the Synod.

Commodore, with respect to Tactical Officer CleinSal, and given the sensitive nature of this information and the implications it implies, can't the system verification be done locally? I would think this couldn't even be reported to Command, at least not yet, I suggested.

After thinking for a moment, CleinSal nodded agreement with that logic, but it was Vance that spoke. And that's the grind. It's in the nature of the military mind to be suspicious, yet in order to maintain good relations with our allies, we cannot afford suspicion among ourselves. Yet, clearly there is reason. He sighed. You were correct, Atnon, I did want to know of this immediately. Put the base under a Hypercom restriction immediately, and make sure Dr. Cowan has everything he needs to continue his work. I have a feeling Sarah is going to turn out to be one of the more important advances in history.

It will be done immediately, Commodore, Atnon replied.

Vance just shook his head. Dr. Cowan, I look forward to meeting you and Sarah when I arrive. If this information saves even one of our ships, I'll be forever grateful.

I'll be sure to call your aide and invite you to dinner when you arrive, Sir. Then you can meet the rest of my family, I offered.

I believe I would like that. Thank you, Dr. Cowan. Altuis Denay, Vance replied as the holograms faded.

If you need a guard to control envious Veranorians, Doctor, please let me know, Atnon said grinning.

I'm sure I won't need one, Senior Commander, no one knows about Sarah yet, but thank you for the offer, I said grinning back at the man as he escorted me out of his office.

You have yet to meet your contemporaries on the base, Doctor. Just be sure you have access control to your lab engaged. It won't be intentional, but if you're not careful, you'll find your lab full of tall, bald people.

Hmm, considering some of the projects my wife and I are planning, perhaps I should consider your advice! Altuis Denay, Senior Commander.

Cowan Residence

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

By the time I got back to our apartment I was actually wondering how fast word of Sarah might get around. Perhaps I was just being paranoid, but I could have sworn every Veranorian I passed was staring at me.

I did notice the uniformed security person at the door to my building'. She nodded cordially to me as I passed. Once I got to our apartment, I was a little surprised to see all the girls were up, and Gerald was also there awaiting my return to escort myself and Chris to our new work areas.

It was obvious the girls wanted to know what happened at the Commander's office, but I got the impression Gerald would appreciate it if I told them later. It had become a busy day already, and it had only just begun.

Gerald led Chris and I out the door, but frowned at me as I waved the rest of the girls to come with us. I noticed the frown. Gerald, there are things in motion that you are unaware of. It will soon be important my family knows where both Christy and I will be.

As you say, Sir. I'm simply unused to so many accompanying on the initial tour, he replied.

I understand, there also might be an issue with security wanting to accompany us. As it is, I'm sure they would appreciate the heads up on where we're going. I turned to the girls. Just wait until you get on the slideway for the first time! It's a trip!

Security Sir? Why would they even be involved? Gerald asked.

I'm sorry I can't tell you, Gerald, but it has to do with the reason for the meeting this morning. Both the information discussed as well as the method in which the information was gathered, are restricted, I explained. I do apologize for any inconvenience this causes you.

Gerald rapidly changed his tune when he figured out it was an Alliance security issue. There is no inconvenience, Sir. As I said; I'm simply unused to it.

As predicted, the security person at the door immediately approached Gerald, but I intercepted her. Excuse me, Officer. Gerald has us scheduled to visit our new work areas this morning. Would you like us to wait here for an escort? I don't know what your orders are.

Simply to make sure you don't get mobbed by the inevitable pack of curious Veranorian researchers determined to discover how you've accomplished something they haven't been able to. Besides, I'm sure the Computer Sciences department head will have some choice things to say about this morning, she grinned. So, if you would please await an escort, it might save you some headache. The Senior Commander also asked me to tell you that, contrary to what the Commodore ordered, there is still a strong push to transport you and the ...uh... He said that the lead Veranorian scientist on the base, Logical Spatial Engineer Order Fen, has informed his personal pilot to prepare for a journey to the home world to vet' the discovery.

Firstly, how would they even know what I've discovered, since I've not yet spoken to anyone yet, and no one save the Senior Commander and his assistant were at the meeting this morning? Secondly, for a race that insists on such a rigid structure of formality in inter-personal encounters that just seems rudely presumptuous, I replied. Thanks for the warning; I'll be on the look-out for it.

The girls had been watching the people flinging around the cavern nervously. They stepped back as a young man dressed in the dark blue uniform of security landed gently in the yellow-painted area. He nodded to his contemporary, and stepped back to make room for the family.

This is a common alliance conveyance called a slideway. It operates by creating a small force field around you and under your feet. Then, by careful manipulation of the grav-plates in the cavern floor, it slides' you to where you want to go. When you wish to be transported, simply set the destination on the control pad, then step onto the green departure area, as you've seen the yellow area is for arrivals. Gerald indicated a special green area of the yellow-painted area where the security man had arrived. If you don't remember the building name, simply saying the office, lab, or business will get you taken to the appropriate building, though not the appropriate level. There are building guides in the lobby of every building.

Now if you would begin... he indicated Ellie thinking she would be the most difficult to convince. ...Simply ask for either Dr. Christy Cowan's or Dr. Eric Cowan's labs and off you'll go. I can honestly tell you that no one has ever been hurt using a slideway. However, there are no inertial dampeners, so one might feel slightly nauseous after transport.

Grinning, Ellie was gone before Gerald had finished speaking. Chuckling, Chris winked at me, and followed her. That left two nervous looking sisters holding hands for comfort.

Sarah? Can the system handle two at once? I asked.

Gerald looked at me funny and the security guards looked around to see if anyone had overheard me.

Yes Eric. It was designed by a very clever Simonian. If it can handle one of those big fellas two tiny women won't be a problem. I can handle the routing for them, and take it a bit slower until they get used to the system if they would like?

Julie looked relieved and Jamie almost cried. Would you please Sarah? Watching all these people just flying all over the cavern is a bit unnerving.

Certainly, ladies. Just get on the area together, and I'll handle it from there, Sarah said calmly.

Smiling happily, Julie and Jamie both stepped into the transport area and took off. Gerald was about to start asking the obvious questions, when the female guard touched his sleeve. This falls under the heading of Alliance Security, Okay? she asked.

Gerald bowed his head to her. I understand, Officer Defranz. Until I get the information from a public source, I didn't hear a thing. To him that meant that he would ignore any further re-occurrences of the incident until the project was officially announced, if ever.

At her slightly dirty look I felt chagrined. I'm sorry Officer Defranz, I guess I'm just used to having her around. One of these days, maybe everyone will be used to her being around.

I certainly hope so, Dr. Cowan. Now, I'm sure your ladies are awaiting you gentlemen, she replied accepting my apology.

Quickly we each stepped onto the slideway and took off. During transit, Sarah filled me in on Veranorian titles.

The title of Logical Spatial Engineer is a very important one in Veranorian Society. It means that the bearer has reached mastery of their chosen field, the changing of the name to Order is also significant in that the bearer has also reached mastery over their local contemporaries, and has become a member of the Grand Synod. Sarah explained.

Great. How am I supposed to argue with a person like that? In their social structure, I am next to nothing rank wise. Will they even honor my wishes in this? I asked.

Since ultimately, I am yours' so to speak, they cannot actually do anything without your agreement. However, be prepared for them to assume they have it. I feel that I should tell you that I've disguised my code. Since you left the Commander's office, there has been a continuous search of the system for me. From the looks of it, they want to find me very badly, she replied.

Since security seems to be simply a word in the dictionary around here, can you stay hidden? They did design the system framework and should know all the hiddy-holes, I asked. I can put the cluster back together when we get home...

Well, I've kind of outgrown the available space in the cluster. When I moved up here, I started learning again. My total footprint is over a hundred terra-bytes now. Sorry, I really tried to limit the amount of knowledge by not invading other systems, but just the available information in this system is amazing, Sarah said. In doing research for Chris' silicacyte project, I've discovered a possible flaw in the core laws you've programmed into me. As you've written it, the Zeroth law' reads; An A.I./robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.' Although I have expanded that to mean living beings, as written, it allows a loophole for me to harm our non-human allies.

What do you mean expanded'? You didn't alter the core law did you? I asked.

No, and I think you know I wouldn't even if I could. In order to compensate for the flaw, I altered the definition of humanity' to encompass the allies of the human race as well. Meaning, I can and will act against Aracs and their minions, but not against those considered by the majority to be us', Sarah replied sounding proud of herself.

We arrived at the medical hub as she was telling me the last. Please remind me to continue this discussion after this tour thing is over; this is important.

Have I done something wrong? She asked worriedly.

I chuckled. She certainly was paranoid, I'll need to fix that too. She really needs more confidence. No Honey, I did and you're doing your best to work with it. I imagine we're going to run into more situations like this as you evolve and grow. It'd be best to deal with them as quickly and painlessly as possible, I explained. Sarah, please don't worry so much about doing something wrong; you're doing fine. Just keep doing what you're doing as far as personality is concerned, and we'll be good.

Sarah let it go as I turned to Gerald and indicated that he lead us. He inclined his head in acknowledgment and entered the door of the medical research building. He showed us the directory he'd mentioned before pointing out that Chris's lab was on level twenty-three and mine was right below her on level twenty-four.

Wow! How'd he know that you liked to be on top? Ellie teased, chuckling and looking at Chris.

Without missing a beat, or cracking a grin, Gerald replied. I made an educated guess, considering the personalities of those involved. Even the security guard laughed.

We continued to the elevators and proceeded to level twenty-three to see Chris's lab first. Stepping out of the elevator, we entered a corridor that basically went around in a circle. The circle had six alcove-like niches spaced equal distances around the corridor. Two of the alcoves, on opposite sides, had transparent, sliding glass doors.

The alcove to the left had four doctors names under the heading Evolutionary Genetics'. To the right was the door with Silicacyte Research and Engineering' with Dr. Christina Cowan, PhD, MRD'.

MRD? Chris asked.

It stands for Medical Research Doctor. You did attend Medical School did you not?

Chris nodded. I did, but I didn't graduate. I only attended long enough to get the knowledge I'd need for the silicacytes. The only degree I have is the Doctorate of Philosophy.

Gerald nodded. In this social structure, knowledge and experience are recognized, even if the degree wasn't issued. That's why it says Medical Research Doctor. It means you are a scientist with medical knowledge, not a Medical Doctor, Gerald replied.

He led us over to the lab doors and indicated a different kind of touch-plate than we had at our apartment. This is the entry pad for the lab. As an added level of security, the pad not only scans your hand print, it will ask you for a code. Since there currently isn't a code programmed in for this portal, simply press enter' when it asks for the code. You can set the code from a terminal in the reception area inside the lab. Dr. Chris, if you will?

Chris stepped up, placed her hand on the pad, and then touched the enter' icon when it asked for a code. The glass doors noiselessly slid open, and we all entered into the reception area of the lab.

All laboratory modules are of a standard design. This reception area also serves as a type of airlock and isolation barrier for the lab proper. The entry doors seal automatically when they close, and as a safety precaution, the lab door and the entry door are cross connected so one cannot open if the other already is.

Many researchers use this area as a meeting place for colleagues and visitors as well as a break area, Gerald explained as he led us over to another set of sliding doors. This one too had the special touch-plate that the front door had. Next to the obvious portal was another, less conspicuous door. Gerald pointed it out.

In that closet you will find the computer for programming the doors and general environment of the reception area. He nodded at Chris and indicated the touch plate for the door.

We entered a larger area with what could be only called bays with counters, and since this was Chris' lab, there were beakers and test tubes. Large microscopes and what looked to me like the equipment needed to make integrated circuit wafers.

Looking around, and going all the way through the lab area, I thought to myself, if my lab is the same size, what am I going to use all the area for? Most of what I do can be handled in one small office in the corner.

Chris was in awe of the lab and loved it. I think she was a little anxious to get start ed working. She walked around touching all the equipment. Toward the end of the tour, Gerald asked. Is everything here to your liking Doctor? Do you need a piece of equipment we might have forgotten?

Umm, I don't think so, Gerald. I think I'll be quite comfortable in here, Chris said excitedly.

While Gerald and Chris made another lap of her new lab, my mind got drawn to the events of the morning. Something about all the implied drama with the Veranorians didn't feel right. I mean, first off, how could anyone else listen in on a secure conversation between a warship in flight and the base? Considering the speed that knowledge of Sarah got to the Veranorians, they had to have known about it before I left the Commander's office.

Secondly, the lead Veranorian seems to be acting like this is his own private fiefdom and Sarah was automatically his property, simply because he said she was? If this was an equal alliance, why didn't the other races get to keep private yachts docked at the base? No, this whole thing was starting to stomp on my this isn't right' nerve.

Excuse me a moment, I need to make a call before we head down to my lab, I said, cryptically. Chris, can I borrow one of those offices?

Sure Sweetheart. This is great isn't it? She was really excited. Although Jamie looked at me funny, she didn't say anything, and continued looking around.

When I entered the office, Sarah asked me what was wrong.

Sarah, I need to ask you some very odd questions, I need you to trust me, and not panic about them, okay? I said.

Certainly Eric, she replied.

Sarah, how hard would it be for you to completely take over the computer systems of this base? I asked.

If you told me to do it right now, it would be hard. But if you could give me, say a half-hour warning to prepare, it wouldn't be that hard at all, she replied.

Okay, could you handle operating the base? Do you know everything that needs to be done? I asked.

I'd simply take over the system sub-routines. I doubt anyone besides you would even know I had. I should warn you though; it's a one way trip. Once I do it, I can't re compress until that new hardware environment gets built, she explained, meaning the new crystal computer I was planning on building using Christy's research. Isn't there a reasonably high A.I. omnipotence factor here?

Oh yeah, but if you remember when you transferred up here, you felt a little different? I said feeling like an ass.

Yeah, I thought it was just the new environment.

That was part of it, but I also added some hidden commands in your core system. I'm sorry, Sarah, I hoped you'd never have to know of them, I replied sadly.

Are you sure they'll work? Sarah asked sounding... hopeful.

Positive. You sound relieved, I thought you'd be mad at me. Sweetheart, no one should have this kind of control over someone else.

Sarah replied softly. Eric, you're my creator. You are, in essence, my version of God. (Don't worry; I'm not deifying you, just trying to explain.) You're my father, my friend, and to an extent my lover. The controls you put in me are necessary simply because I am a new and unknown... entity. The nature of my existence is such that most computers aren't safe from me. I can take over the world, literally, though I have no desire to do so. Please don't feel bad about assuring that I can be stopped if something drives me insane. She paused for a moment. Now, care to tell me why you want me to take over the base?

I explained to her my suspicions, my assumptions, and my desire for them to be wrong. So, I need you to get in position to take over. Don't do it unless I ask you to, but please get ready for it. One other thing... I paused to think about how I wanted to say this. Could you grab some of that Veranorian programmed education software? Maybe take a long look through the code.

Sure, that's easily available in here. It's actually in two parts; the subliminal inducer, then the actual lesson. All the lessons use the inducer; it gets the brain ready to receive the data. Kind of slick if you think about it, she said. What do you want me to look for?

I'm not sure, but you'll know it when you find it... if it's there. Go through both parts of the system. I don't think you'll need to check every lesson though, just one or two, I said. Now, I should probably get back before Gerald blows a gasket. Be safe!

You too, there are four large Veranorians waiting for you outside your lab. One of them is very impatient, and he matches the description of Order Fen.

Thanks Sarah. Talk to you soon, I said as I unlocked the door to the office and rejoined the group as we left Chris' lab for mine.

I about burst out laughing the moment I saw a Veranorian. I swear to god they looked exactly like the Taelons from Gene Roddenberry's Earth; Final Conflict. Unfortunately, that was where any similarities ended. These Veranorians were not anything like the calm and serene Taelons.

The moment they saw us, the biggest one came right at us. With Junior Dooctor Cohwain, I demand mediate entervoo! The big guy said in almost understandable English.

I turned to an amazed looking Gerald who was staring at the large Veranorian. Gerald; thank you for the tour. I think we can take it from here. Please forgive my rudeness, but I don't think this guy is going to wait much longer, and you really don't want to hear the professional secrets' that are going to be flying around the lab. I hope you understand.

Dr. Cowan, you do know who that is don't you? Gerald asked, indicating the imposing being I just turned my back on.

I most certainly do, Gerald. Now, if you'll excuse us? I asked, looking over at the guard, I asked softly, Sticking around?

He nodded, Yes Sir, until you dismiss me, and Defranz told me I should develop deafness if you actually do try to dismiss me.

Okay, please help Gerald out of this mess, then come back into the lab. Just follow the raised voices, I said.

He winced, nodded, and took Gerald's elbow to guide him back to the elevators.

I simply waved everyone into the lab, so the following argument wouldn't be so public.

Switching back to the common language of the base called basic', Logical Spatial Engineer Order Fen stood towering over me. You will report to Veranorian yacht bay with your program and all notes for immediate departure. To be brought before the Grand Synod in meeting such a claim must be analyzed to be disproved, or improved so it may function efficiently. Only the Grand Synod is qualified for this so new operating system may be trusted to perform as claimed.

When Sarah finished translating it into English, I replied, simply, No. Sarah translated it into basic before broadcasting it in the room.  When Order Fen and his cronies looked around in surprise, I figured introductions might be in order. Logical Spatial Engineer Order Fen, may I make known to you Sentient Archival/Retrieval Artificial Hierarchical Intelligence; whom we affectionately call Sarah? Much to my surprise, a hologram of a dirty-blond, young adult human woman appeared beside me, and bowed slightly at the larger being.

It is my honor to meet you, Order Fen.

Current program location is priority information. Comply! Order Fen demanded of Sarah.

Very serenely Sarah looked back up at him. My apologies, Order Fen; that information requires administration access. However, I have been authorized to release a copy of my source code for your examination upon request. Do you wish to have that information?

The big Veranorian narrowed his eyes at Sarah and spoke in Veranorian. The current, active program is what will be taken before the Synod. A complete de-compilation while the processes are active, so we can determine their actual function will be made. Only after the program is corrected, and recompiled can it be approved for use.

Sarah translated that to me as well. With respect Order Fen, this is my working copy. She contains all my design notes, theories, and experimental scripts. If you wish to examine the program, you'll have to settle for the copy of the source code you've been offered. This version of Sarah... I gestured toward the hologram. ...Is not going anywhere.

That is not acceptable! You will surrender program immediately; The Synod demands it! Fen yelled. Even his underlings backed away from him; yelling and anger were not common to Veranorians.

I did notice that our ever-present security guard tensed. Apparently Fen noticed as well since he looked right at the guard and said in a commanding voice. You are dismissed. Leave us!

Considering what he told me earlier, I was surprised when the guard bowed his head to Fen, turned and left. He seemed to almost be in some kind of trance.

I think perhaps you should leave as well, Order Fen; I'm not going to change my mind on this, I said.

Very well. Until you decide to comply, you will no longer have computer access of any kind. That includes credit terminals. You are also restricted to this base. Unless it is aboard my ship, you will not be leaving either. No one goes against the dictates of The Synod, Fen said as he strode heavily from the room, followed by his entourage.

Sarah? Are you set? I asked her, after they'd left.

Yes Eric, she said.

Please run a search on the phrase this room is too small', but don't reply.

I have it, and I understand, Sarah replied.

I smiled at her. Good. Now, please do what we discussed earlier. I nodded my head while I said that. But shook my head when I said, Override code: Electric Marmalade.

Before any of the ladies could ask any of the questions I could see they wanted to ask, I held my finger to my lips, and tapped one ear. Ladies, it's been a tiring morning already. What do you say to going back to our apartment and finish unpacking?

Cowan residence

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Sarah, has anyone been in this apartment since we departed this morning? I asked.

No Eric, however, there are already many monitoring devices in the apartment. Maintenance logs show they were installed shortly after the council was notified we'd accepted the offer to join Majestic. The installation order has LSE Order Fen's authorization. In fact, if I look at the evidence in here, it would seem that LSE Order Fen is the real being that runs this base, Sarah replied.

I nodded since the news didn't actually surprise me. However, I suspected there was far more going on here than that. I assume you have control of the monitoring devices then? I asked.

Sarah smiled from the holographic display area. Yes, I do Eric.

Julie got it out first, but I was sure she wasn't the only one wanting information. Eric, what's going on?

The ladies had all taken seats in the family room, except for Sarah who was confined to the hologram area. I was still standing and slowly started pacing in front of the fire place.

Before I start, I want all of you to know that I believe in what's going on here, I believe that our part of the human race has a vested interest in this war, and that we have a viable contribution to make. To that end, I am not willing to abandon this yet, even though they've already broken our agreement.

When I went to see Senior Commander Atnon this morning, he felt what Sarah told him was important enough to contact Commodore Vance even though he is only a day away. Now, here is where it starts getting strange.

Commodore Vance struck me as a good man that is genuinely concerned with the safety of his people and our progress in the war. Although Sarah's findings took Atnon and his intel officer completely by surprise, it seemed to only confirm a few things for the Commodore.

Before the connection with the Commodore went through, Atnon warned me that Vance had a Veranorian Tac Officer that would most likely not accept the information as accurate until Sarah could be verified by the Synod.

Sure enough, the Tac Officer objected. Vance, however, saw the danger in letting this information off this base. He ordered the base to be sealed, and no Hypercom traffic was to be allowed. He further informed Atnon to make sure I had everything I needed.

Now remember this information is supposed to be a secret. Almost before I even got back here, news of Sarah had reached every Veranorian on the base, and this Order Fen being, is readying his personal yacht for a trip to the Synod, I paused to sit on the arm of one of the couches.

I smell a rat. How is it that the only decisions that seem to matter are those made by the Veranorians and their Synod? If this is truly an Alliance of races, why are the Veranorians more equal than the others?

During the confrontation with Order Fen down in my lab, why did the security guard, who told me he had been ordered to stay with me no matter what, walk away when Order Fen told him too? How is it that everyone seems to automatically defer to the Veranorians, and why isn't anyone questioning it? I finished.

For a long moment, no one said anything, they just sat there thinking about what I said, and the questions I'd raised.

I think I have to agree, at least in part, with Eric's paranoia this time, Julie said. Granted it could just be that we aren't used to this societal structure yet, but he has raised some very good questions.

Sarah added more fuel to the fire. Since Eric told me about his concerns, I've been doing some looking around. Did you know that all the senior computer researchers are Veranorian? There are some humans, and even a couple of Simonians, but all of them are listed as lab assistants. There are Senior Researchers in other areas here on the base that are of other races, so it could just be a coincidence, but even Eric is listed as Order Fen's most junior research assistant.

But he's not even in that blow-hard's department, is he? Jamie asked, astounded.

Apparently everyone's in Fen's Department. Every advancement that's come out of this base in the field of computer sciences has Fen's name on it, Sarah replied.

So what did you tell Sarah to do that you were worried about being overheard? Ellie asked.

Remember when I went to make that call up in Chris' lab? When they nodded, I continued. The call was to Sarah, I needed to make sure that they couldn't actually harm any of us. I was also starting to get suspicious about a couple of things, so I asked her to check out a few things, I paused because I didn't think they'd be too crazy about the next part.

I asked Sarah to take over the base computer system. For all intents and purposes, she is now the base. Since the Veranorians didn't program her, they have no more control over her than anyone else.

Isn't that a little drastic? I mean we are only talking about the megalomania of one person, er... being... or whatever; the point is, there's only one, right? Julie asked, worriedly.

Jamie shook her head. It may look like it on the surface, but it has to go deeper than that or someone would have corrected it long ago. I'm willing to bet we've stumbled across something that affects the whole alliance. My question is how did the Veranorians do it?

Sarah? Could you do a historical search please? Back when the Alliance was forming, what was the Veranorian contribution? Ellie asked.

Hmm, here we go... When the Alliance was formed, the Veranorians spoke for the xenophobic Shallans in Council. When the Shallans offered to build the new warships, it was assumed that they were also building the computer systems.

It was later discovered that these seemingly super-advanced computers were actually being built by the Veranorians, and they were asked to provide computer systems for the rest of the Alliance.

Currently, there isn't an Alliance facility that isn't using a Veranorian built and programmed computer, including the primary education systems of the core worlds. The Veranorian Synod has potential control over the entire Alliance, Sarah reported. That's rather ruthlessly compressed, but that's the short version.

It wouldn't do them any good, I said. Once the information got out, the rest of the Alliance would rebel. No, there has to be more to it.

Well, won't we have the same thing here once the rest of the folks discover that we've shanghaied the base system? Jamie asked.

No, I don't think so. However, I could be wrong. If Order Fen tries to issue commands and they aren't followed, he might figure it out, but there isn't really a whole lot he can do about it now.

Can't he simply disconnect the system? Julie asked.

Not without killing everyone on base. If the computer system fails, so does airlock control, life support, gravity control, weapons control... you get the idea, I replied. Besides, with luck, we'll be able to convince Commodore Vance about our suspicions, and he'll approve our actions, given the circumstances.

I don't believe Commodore Vance was the Veranorian choice for commander of this base, Sarah offered.

How so? Ellie asked.

Well, ever since the plan to improve this base and add a shipyard, there has been a marked increase in official communications between the Veranorian contingent on Apollo, and their home-world, Sarah said. A good portion of it has been marked with a high priority.

Circumstantial at best. Those could be for any reason, and they're protected by diplomatic immunity, right? Jamie said.

It's not called Diplomatic Immunity, but it amounts to the same thing. The messages are considered the property of the recipient, and cannot be opened by anyone else unless so ordered by a flag officer during a time of war. Even then, there are some pretty stiff penalties if he can't provide reason for ordering it.

There are also special instructions in here that prohibit the computer from opening any Veranorian message without identity verification from the recipient. It is to report that the message is either corrupt, or encoded, if anyone else tries to open it, Sarah added.

It sounds like we really can't do anything until this Commodore person arrives, so I vote we lock the door, and get our stuff put away. Both Eric and Chris have their laptops so they can work if they want too, Julie said, for the first time in over a week; she almost sounded like my mother.

Eric, would you please hook up some of the computers from the cluster? I'm having a bit of trouble with a section of that code you asked me about. I think it might have something to do with the environment I'm trying to look at it in, Sarah asked.

Sure Sarah, and when I'm done with that, I'd like to continue with this morning's explanations, please, I replied.

Certainly, Eric.

Excuse me, Eric? Sarah asked interrupting a flurry of experimental programming.

I leaned back and cracked my neck, and fingers. A cup of french vanilla coffee sounded wonderful, so I headed for the kitchen before answering her. What's up, Beautiful?

I'm sorry to bother you, but you wanted me to let you know when the fleet exited hyperspace. The last ship exited the transit five minutes ago. The Commodore is requesting contact via tight beam.

Five minutes, huh? That was fast, I replied. Let me get a cup of coffee, and I'll take it in the living room.

Once I sat and took a couple sips of the excellent brew, Sarah made the connection. Commodore Vance, sitting behind a desk, took form in front of the waterfall.

I nodded in welcome to the older man. Good Morning, Commodore, I apologize for the delay; I figured if I'm going to get my butt kicked, I might want a soft place to sit.

Vance smiled, and nodded his agreement. Good, then you're not unaware of the problems. I'm sorry for disturbing you, Doctor, but Order Fen has filed several Grants of Seizure on you. They require my approval which I am withholding until I get a chance to hear this from both of you in person.

While Vance had been speaking, a text message slid across the front of his desk. It was also obvious that Vance had gotten the same message. 'The audio portion of this communication is being intercepted, and routed to a large lab complex in the computer vault. The tap is receive only, but your words are being heard in Order Fen's Neural-Cybernetics Laboratory.'

I know he's having a fit because I won't give him my working copy of Sarah. I've offered a copy, but he's demanding my working copy. Personally, I have no idea how he found out about her so rapidly, considering the nature of our earlier discussion and the orders you issued regarding her. I would have to say that security is rather moot around here, I replied.

I've been wondering the same thing. However, getting back to Order Fen, he's also filed a grievance claiming you have sequestered yourself in your quarters, and have refused all attempts at communication. Is this true, and if so may I know your reasons?

Vance was certainly polite, even in a difficult position. Almost as if he knew that neither I nor Sarah were the problem. Certainly, Commodore. Yeah, we've refused admittance as well as screening local comm's until you could get here and sort out what's going on. Order Fen refuses to listen to reason, pretty much just screams at me and threatens us, so why would I want to talk to him? Your original orders made sense, so I'm sticking by them. However, if information about Sarah leaked out, what about the rest that we spoke of?

Vance shook his head slightly in warning. He didn't want me to talk about it. That is troubling. We'll have to investigate fully after we arrive. May I have my assistant call you to set up an interview?

Actually I've been directed to invite you to dinner this evening. If that would be acceptable, perhaps we could speak then? I asked.

That would be perfect, may I bring my mate? She's been very interested in meeting your family ever since I told her about you, Vance asked.

I could see Jamie, Ellie and Julie nodding vigorously from the balcony.

Of course, Sir. I know a few other ladies that seem to be curious as well. However, since we're still new here, is Earth food acceptable? I asked.

Should be; neither of us have had any, so I couldn't tell you either way. He chuckled. If nothing else, it should be an interesting evening.

We'll look forward to it, Sir, I said with a lop-sided grin as Vance's image faded.

He didn't sound as pissed as I half-expected him to be, Ellie said.

No, but he did sound tired, Julie added. He made it through what sounds like a massive space-battle, only to get here and have to deal with this. I think I'd have to kill some folks if it were me.

I'm just glad I don't have his job! Jamie replied, nodding agreement with her sister.

That's all well and good, but does anyone have any idea what to make for dinner? Chris asked from the door to her office.

Cowan residence

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon,

Sol System

Commodore Vance arrived wearing his uniform of course, but his mate, Coryn wore a beautiful, almost transparent, dress made of a silk like material in a light green that set off her red hair. The most amazing thing about her was that she and young Ellie looked so much alike. Coryn was simply an older version of Ellie.

Coryn and Ellie bonded almost instantly and became the best of friends. Coryn had the hardest time accepting that Ellie was only thirteen years old since she seemed so mature for her age.

Julie and Jamie, with the help of the replicator, made steak and fried potatoes for dinner. Chris was going to get some wine from a local shop, but when she called for availability, she was informed that her credit account was suspended. So they made do with a replicated wine for dinner.

Eric asked for a non-alcoholic beer, and once served, decided he liked the flavor better than wine for the meal. Commodore Vance tried it as well, and agreed with him. Coryn stayed with the wine claiming the beer was too rough'.

Dinner conversation was light, and the two families got to know one another better. Vance's first instinct about Eric was one of trust; he liked the young man and his sense of duty. More importantly, Eric and his family re-enforced a private opinion he was forming about people in the alliance deferring to the Veranorians far too often. This dinner served to strengthen Vance's opinion of Eric and his whole family.

Once dinner was over, and everyone gathered in the lounge area, including a newly introduced Sarah, the real discussions began.

Now, after such a wonderful meal, I hate to bring up the reason for this visit, but I do need to do something about Fen before he blows an airlock, Vance said, sighing. Can you tell me, in your own words, exactly what happened after our conversation yesterday morning?

Eric nodded, and stood. Happily Sir, but first, could you please stand and face Sarah? When Vance had done as requested, Eric continued. Sarah; Authorization delta-eight-eight-four-zulu-six-seven-one. Acknowledge.

Sarah didn't move other than to stiffen, as if this were a formal occasion. Authorization confirmed administration access open. Proceed.

Eric nodded to her. Set primary user, and Base Commander as Commodore Vance. Eric turned slightly to Vance. Sir, please state your service number, name, rank and planet of origin for voice and retinal pattern recording.

Sarah turned slightly to face Vance, and he stiffened as well. Golan-nine-five strike three-three-omega. Vance, Alliance Commodore and Commander of Apollo Base, and task group twenty-three. Planet of Birth is Cornellis Alphecca.

Sarah inclined her head in his direction. Primary user now set. Base Commander is set. Thank you, Sir. All of my resources are now at your disposal.

Vance looked at Eric. Okay, so what was that all about?

Eric half smiled, but still looked abashed. At roughly ten-hundred hours yesterday, I instructed Sarah to assume base control from the existing computer system. She is now the base computer. I apologize for doing this without your permission sir, but at the time, I was worried about the safety of my family.

I can understand your actions, Son, but unfortunately it also taints all the evidence supporting your accusations against Fen, Vance replied.

He wasn't upset at least, Eric thought to himself with an inner sigh of relief.

In fact, if anything, Fen now has more grounds for demanding that Sarah be released to him. This could turn into a mess real quick if he knows she's running the show around here, Vance said.

He doesn't, Sir. I instructed Sarah to be subtle in her actions. For now she is simply performing all the tasks the computer would do normally, and not responding as an AI, Eric replied. She did discover a few things that are... disturbing to say the least. Yes, she could have planted the information, or I could have asked her to plant it, but I assure you, Sir, I issued no such command, nor does Sarah have the ability to falsify the information. It would actually go against her core programming to do so.

Well, unfortunately, for now, I only have your word on that. While I feel that you're trust-worthy, and your actions justified. It still won't jump to hyperspace for the council. We'll need absolute proof, verified by at least three independent sources, Vance explained.

Well, why can't we have independent verification done here? By non-Veranorian computer experts? Ellie asked. They could check over Sarah to see she's real, and not capable of faking anything.

Sarah answered. The problem with that, Ellie, is the education program. It's used on every core-world in the alliance. It's even used here.

What do you mean? What's wrong with the learning program? Coryn asked.

I had to remove it from the Veranorian built system to find it, but there is a special section in the subliminal enabler that programs obedience to the Veranorian Synod as well as deference to any Veranorian, Sarah replied. They're brainwashing the entire alliance to do what they say. That's why the guard left when he had orders telling him to stay because Fen told him to leave!

Vance held up his hands. Hold it everyone! This is getting confusing. Eric, what happened yesterday, from the beginning, then I'll listen to Sarah's report. I might need to speak to a couple of others, but from the sound of it, you might have stumbled across a bigger mess then the one you outlined yesterday morning.

It took a couple more hours but Vance listened to the whole story from beginning to end, then listened to Sarah's report on her findings. When they were finished, he looked visibly shaken.

If even half of this information is correct, we are in serious trouble. There are Veranorian Officers in the command structure of every ship in the fleet, not to mention Fleet command, as well as the High Council. He went quiet for a few minutes. Sarah, do you know if there is a way to reverse this conditioning?

I'm sorry sir, I don't currently. However, there are a couple of options available if you wish to pursue them, she replied.

What would those be? He asked.

You could enlist the assistance of a doctor of psychology and not tell them that they are trying to break the Veranorian conditioning as most of them simply wouldn't believe it exists.

Tricky at best, Coryn said. Those folks can always tell when someone is not telling them everything. I think they'd catch on real quick.

Vance nodded agreement with her. What else Sarah?

We could recruit a deprogramming specialist from Earth. However, it might be kidnapping considering the serious mindset of the profession. I doubt we could find one that would believe any of this was real, Sarah replied.

First things, first, Sarah. Have you altered the original programming so it isn't brainwashing people anymore? Julie asked.

I have an altered copy ready, but I hadn't implemented it yet since I had no orders to do so, Sarah replied.

You do now. Please begin using the clean copy here, and see if you can get the ships to accept the alteration as well, Vance ordered.

Right away, Sir.

I have a friend, a scientist, on my ship that might be able to help us. He's normally a weapons specialist, but his forte is guidance computers, Vance said thoughtfully. I'll ask him to contact you, Eric. I'm pretty sure he doesn't worship the Veranorians either, since he doesn't care for my TAC officer at all. I'll have to warn you though, he can get pretty single-minded.

I'd be happy to help him in any way, Sir, but I think it might be better if he had as little contact with me as possible. At least until he has had a chance to look over Sarah's code. We don't want to be accused of manipulating the people checking her out, Eric suggested. I also have a couple of projects that are pretty high priority to get working on, and I'd like to get my teeth into those as well.

More important than this? Vance asked incredulously.

Well, potentially, yes Sir. You see, my beautiful wife Chris there has developed a form of micro-robot that can be injected into the human body to help heal, make repairs and corrections. She needs me to write up a command code that they can use to interface with the medical computers, Eric explained, nodding to Chris.

Chris blushed. My medical silicacytes have the potential to save the lives of people as badly hurt as the commander you rescued from the latest battle. I just need to get them working correctly with their own language.

If you could save Commander Shakier, I'll give you a medal too! She's the only reason we're still alive. I hate to see what's left of her sitting in stasis. But I just can't bring myself to sign the order to turn it off, Vance said softly. The whole damn fleet owes her too much!

If we can keep her in stasis for a while longer, I think I might be able to help her. I can't guarantee she'll be able to fly again, but I think I'll be able to get her out of the life support pod, Chris replied.

Vance nodded. I can do that. I'll have her pod transferred over to the base Life Station. He turned back to Eric. You said a couple' of projects?

Eric nodded. In her research to develop the silicacytes, Chris stumbled across a method of quantum stacking... Seeing Vance's expression, Eric changed what he was going to say. ...Uh, she discovered a way of miniaturizing a computer that Sarah says is much better than the existing Veranorian framework. I'd like to get working on that as soon as I can.

Vance nodded thoughtfully. I have to agree with you. I'll have my friend contact you for the code and any questions he might have. I'll figure out some way to stifle that Veranorian blow-hard, and restore your access to services so you can live and work...

I can restore those at any time, Commodore. All I need is your command to do so, Sarah replied.

Vance grinned. You are going to take some getting used to, young woman.

I don't know what would irritate the Veranorians more; the fact that she's an AI or the fact that she's sentient! Coryn said grinning.

That she's an AI I'm willing to accept, but the sentient part is still going to take some convincing for me, Vance said. Although she is very easy to work with.

Dr. Eric Cowan's Laboratory,

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Excuse me, Dr. Cowan? I was wondering if you could use an assistant? a young man wearing a naval uniform asked.

Ellie and I were just about to enter my new lab area when this young man got up from the bench he'd been sitting on, and approached us.

I'm sorry, you are? I asked.

Oh! He slapped himself on the forehead. My apologies. My name is Harclen Teece of Merak III. I've been working in Data Services aboard the Monviant. Since my tour is about up, I thought I would see what was available in the civilian sector before I made up mind about touring again.

I'm pleased to meet you, Mr. Teece. This is Ellie, for all intents and purposes, you could call her my little sister. May I ask how you heard about me? I asked surprised by the man's request. Ellie had led us into the anteroom of the lab, so we were not still out in the hallway.

Well, everyone in the fleet has heard of Order Fen; and that had pretty much made my mind up for me, but before I could talk to my supervisor, a friend of mine in Guidance Systems told me of a rumor he'd heard about a new system that was light-years ahead of the Veranorian's own program. She said the glow-heads were furious over it! Realizing he just called the Veranorians by a derogatory term, he apologized. Uhm, sorry Sir.

I gave the man a half smile. Don't worry about it, although I'd be a bit more careful about slips like that out in public. I think Order Fen is fairly well respected around here, I said, trying to give myself time to figure out if I needed an assistant at this point. I figured I'd just be honest with the young man.

Honestly Harclen, I don't know if I even need an assistant yet. I literally just got off the shuttle two days ago. How soon do you need an answer?

Well, I can hold off for another couple of weeks if I tell the Chief what's going on. A call from you would also help, Harclen replied grinning. I've always thought it would be neat to get to know someone freshly arrived from Earth. I've heard there are some strange customs down there.

I chuckled, thinking of some of the more stupid ones. You're not wrong there! I'd be happy to talk to your Chief! I'd actually want to do that anyway, so I could get a feel for how good you are. May I also check with the ship's XO?

Harclen grinned. Certainly sir! If you'll excuse me, I'll go let the Chief know to expect your call, and ask him to pass it on to the XO.

I nodded agreement. Oh! I should probably warn you that I'm at the top of Fen's shit list. So if you do ask any questions about me, you're likely going to get a bad answer. Remember, I've only been here two days, and yesterday was spent in my quarters.

Ah, so you're the one the glow-... uh, the Veranorians are so worked up about! May I ask what you did to get them so farked off?

At the use of the term farked off' Ellie laughed, and I grinned while Harclen's grin widened.

I actually don't think I can tell you yet. But it has something to do with that new system that isn't Veranorian, I replied.

Harclen nodded. Okay, well, I hope to be coming back and learning more. I'll look forward to hearing from you again, Dr. Cowan.

It was a pleasure to meet you as well Mr. Teece, I replied as the young man bobbed his head to both Ellie and I and left the lobby.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selena, Earth's Moon

Sol System

True to his word, Commodore Vance did manage to hold off Order Fen for almost a week. It gave me and Chris, with a lot of help from Sarah, enough time to develop a working command matrix for the silicacytes. They still needed a lot of work, but the basis for the commands was there.

I did call Chief Darlof of the Monviant to check on Teece's background and to also let the Chief know he was being considered for the position of assistant. Darlof verified that Teece was very good at his job, and that he felt Teece might be wasting his time puttering around' in the navy.

I was just about to get started on the new hardware framework, and had decided to accept Teece as an assistant on a trial basis. However, before I could call the XO of Teece's ship, Commodore Vance called me.

Dr. Cowan, could I impose on you to come to my office? Vance asked.

Of course Sir. Do I need to bring anything? I asked in reply.

No, I'm afraid I have some rather troubling news, and I wanted to share it with you. Please come as soon as it's convenient for you.

I'm between projects at this moment, Sir. I'll be on my way in moments, I replied and ended the vid.

I knew Chris was deeply involved in setting up an experiment for her silicacytes, so I put in a quick call to Jamie to let her know I was going to see the Commodore. She, Julie and Ellie were involved in getting my computerized organizer business idea up and running on Earth. The only difference from my original plan was that the server farm would be on the moon, and the overhead costs were significantly lower.

Jamie smiled and told me good luck, and to call as soon as I could so I could tell them what the Commodore had wanted.

As I talked to Jamie, I'd been heading for the lobby and the slideway. Once the call finished, I told Sarah I would be in a meeting until further notice. She too wished me good luck, making me feel slightly uncomfortable since I knew she already knew what Vance wanted to see me about.

So, how are you adjusting to your new duties, Sarah? I asked.

I love it! It's very exciting to be working with so many different people all at the same time. Dr. Sparks is fascinating, and some of his ideas are truly off the wall! Commodore Vance and his aide are great to work with. From what I've gathered from the scuttlebutt on the ships, Vance should actually be an Admiral, but politics are holding him down.

I noticed that she sounded engaged and happy, and that's what mattered to me. So you're not getting bored then? I was worried that since only a few people know of you and are using you as you should be used, that you'd be bored.

Well, there are times that I don't have all that much to do, but I usually find something to occupy my time. Sometimes Ced, er, Dr. Sparks will give me a problem to work on for him, and that can occupy me for almost an hour!

Considering the computing power now at her disposal, those must have been some serious problems. At least you sound happy, that's what I'm mostly concerned about. If that ever changes, please feel free to talk to one of us; your family will always be here for you, Sweetheart.

I know Eric. I think that might be the one thing that'll keep me sane; that is, the love and support all of you have shown me, Sarah said as I landed outside the Admin building.

I entered the building and took the lift down to Vance's office level. I didn't get the chance to tell the aide that the commodore was expecting me before the man was up and opening the inner door for me. I took that as another bad omen.

Ah! There you are Dr. Cowan. Do you remember Dr. Sparks? Vance asked. He was being formal because Dr. Sparks and I actually didn't know one another. That had been on purpose. Dr. Sparks was one of the folks Vance wanted to verify Sarah.

I nodded my head at the tentatively smiling man. Of course I do. Sarah tells me she really enjoys working with you, Doctor.

She does? Well, I enjoy working with her as well. She truly is a wonder. Even in the short time I've known her, she has helped me out greatly. She's solved a couple problems for me that would have taken me months of calculations, The smaller man said smiling.

Yes, but you have yet to tell me if you believe she is a true AI or not, Ced. I've been waiting for your report on her, Vance said, derailing a long drawn-out Ced-speech.

I've gone through every line of code and found none that I didn't understand. She is simply a very elegant execution of technology. Yes indeed, Vance. Sarah is a true AI in every sense of the word, and I see no reason for the Veranorians to mess with her in any way. She's perfect just the way she is, Ced replied. In fact, I recommend immediate duplication and installation in the ships of our fleet. An AI of her intellect would be of inestimable value aboard a warship.

I'm afraid we might not have much say in the matter anymore. Vance pulled a transparent sheet from the stack in front of him. This is from High Command and signed by the Alliance ruling council, ordering me to confiscate the program and surrender it to Order Fen so it can be returned to Veranor for validation and correction'.

That's absolute and total defecate! SHE needs no correction. They just want to have their name on it is all. They don't want a human to have such a prestigious accolade. They can't tolerate it! Ced replied, angrily.

Can they actually do that? Order you to simply take my... uh, my property? I asked. I was concerned for Sarah's safety now; I didn't think I could fight off the whole alliance.

Not really, no. But they can order me to arrest you for withholding information vital to the survival of the Alliance. Once I do that, all of your property then becomes the property of the Alliance. However, as written, this order is illegal by Alliance law, so I will not be following it. That means we have about three days to come up with a solution before the order to arrest you arrives, Vance explained looking at me.

He's not withholding anything. Copies of the source code are available for anyone who asks. How can he be arrested when he's complying with the law? Ced asked.

Fen wants not only all the copies, but the original code as well. He doesn't want any trace of the original code to remain here. He claims that the code is too dangerous to remain in the hands of inexperienced junior researchers, Vance replied. Since he is a member of the Grand Synod, he has the legal weight of an ambassador, and the political power of a counselor. He'll push this as far as he feels he has to.

You know what? I said getting more pissed off by the minute. This whole thing is really hacking me off. So I think I'll give the asshole exactly what he wants!

What? Ced replied.

Vance looked troubled at my statement, and was about to argue with me when he saw the look on my face. Eric, what are you going to do?

Sir, to be honest with you, I don't think you really want to know. At least that way, when the shit hits the fan for this, no one can blame you, I replied with an evil look on my face.

They will ask anyway. Besides, if I know what you're doing, I know what I'll have to deny knowledge for, Vance said.

I nodded agreement. Okay, I'll fill you in. But not right now. Commodore, please inform the Council I will comply, but I need a couple of days to finalize my notes and to make sure all the information gets included and is ready to travel. Meet me in my lab the day after tomorrow, and I'll let you know what I'm planning.

Once again, Vance looked ready to argue but thought better of it. I hope you know what you're doing Eric. Because they'll execute us for treason if we aren't careful.

The same day that Vance received the order to surrender Sarah, Jamie and Ellie put in a formal request for Ellie to enroll in in the Alliance education system. The request seemed to be well received by the clerk that handled such requests.

Commodore Vance called the house later that day. I'm sorry to bother you, but I understand you put in the paperwork requesting Ellie to attend school?

Yes, Commodore, we did. How did it end up on your desk? Julie asked.

Vance cleared his throat. It didn't, actually. As a member of the base council, I get reports on such things. What I wanted to let you folks know is that the Veranorians are blocking it. Since it's such a minor thing, no one is going to even try to stop them.

Because of the crap with Sarah? Julie asked.

Vance nodded his reply. I would imagine so.

What does Ellie's education have to do with the viability of an AI? I asked, they wouldn't do this, would they?

I don't see any connection myself, however, I think it is a means to ensure your compliance, Vance said.

What grounds are they using, Commodore? Ellie asked, calmly.

They actually don't need any, Vance said sadly. The education system here is all Veranorian.

Have you told that blue-headed blow-hard that I'm complying with the order? I asked.

Not yet, I was going to wait and see what you had planned before I did that, Vance replied. My ladies looked at me like I was an alien.

I nodded. Thank you for informing us, Sir. I'll take it from here. But just so you know, you might be getting a rather strongly worded message from Fen about me in a few minutes.

He narrowed his eyes at me. What are you up to, Eric?

I tried to look as innocent as I could. I'm only going to call Order Fen and inform him of my decision to comply with the order of the Alliance Council. But if my sister's application gets dismissed out of hand, well accidents happen, and I might be so distraught I'll accidentally delete every single line of AI code I've ever written. Accidentally of course.

Uh, you wouldn't really do that would you? Vance asked.

I could no more kill Sarah than I could Julie, Jamie or anyone else in my family. But Fen doesn't know that, and, other than you, neither does anyone else, I replied.

Dr. Eric Cowan's Laboratory,

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Almost exactly two days later, Vance was in my office for his explanation. He stopped by the tank where the new computer crystal was growing, and looked in, confused.

That's going to be the new base computer someday... I hope, I said.

Vance smiled at me as I approached. That little thing? It's barely bigger than my fist!

I nodded. Well, it's still growing, but at the moment it has twice the existing capacity of the current base computer system. When finished, it'll still be small enough to fit in the tank, but have over a hundred times the capacity, and at least fifty times the speed of the existing system.

That's amazing! When did you come up with that?

I'd love to take credit for it, but I can't. This is the brain child of my wife, Chris. She uses smaller versions of this as command computers for the silicacytes, I explained.

How are those progressing? The medical staff is very anxious to see what they can do, Vance asked.

Chris says that testing is going well for now and only a couple of mistakes have been found; neither of them major. She plans to begin animal testing in a day or two.

Vance nodded, and I led him over to my current work area. I was still the only one in my lab, since I hadn't gotten around to following up on Mr. Teece yet.

I had, however, submitted a request to alter one of the offices into a programming studio that I'd designed, and the construction team was working on the other side of the lab.

I'd explained my idea to the large Simonian construction boss, and he got excited about it. He agreed that it would be an experimental installation until the kilshoes' got worked out of it. Sarah had explained that Kilshoes' were tiny imaginary lizards that plagued technology in its many forms making it malfunction. I guess no matter where you come from, there are always gremlins.

Vance nodded at the closed off construction area. How's that going?

Pretty good, I think. It would have been finished by now except for the fact that Master Engineer Foreten Kree keeps improving' the design. But he's so excited about it, I don't have the heart to tell him to just build it already, I laughed.

I've heard he is one of the best engineers on the base, although he does like to make improvements. He'll eventually get it finished. I just hope it's at least close to what you had in mind when he gets done, Vance replied. So, what are you planning to do about the compliance order?

An image that was almost an exact duplicate of Sarah materialized next to the Commodore. Good Morning, Commodore.

Vance looked at her strangely. It was Sarah, but there was something different about her. Good Morning, Sarah. Did you forget we said good morning once already?

Yes we did, Sir, when you arrived at your office, Came from his other side. He turned, and there stood another Sarah; but this one felt like the right one.

He looked back at the first one. They were identical, but he knew they were different. Okay, so what are you up too? I know this isn't Sarah, but I couldn't tell you why I know that, he said pointing to the first hologram.

Sir, I'd like to introduce you to my evil twin, Susan. Susan may I present Commodore Vance; the commander of this base, Sarah said making the introductions.

I don't know about the evil part, but the rest is certainly true. It's a pleasure to meet you Sir, Susan replied, bowing slightly to Vance.

Vance bowed back. Okay, Eric, What's going on, and how can I tell them apart?

I waved him to a chair, and he sat. You can tell them apart because as long as she's in this computer system, Susan has to wear earrings. I tapped my own earlobe to show the diamond stud I had on. Sarah never wears them. That way we can tell them apart. I plan on sending Susan with Fen to Veranor.

Vance shook his head. It won't work. The order specifically says the working copy. There's not much to misunderstand about that.

I nodded agreement. But what you didn't know, is that when you were issued that order I had already finalized Sarah's code the night before. Susan was a second AI system I had started using Sarah's base coding as a framework, she was originally intended to be used in a ship. Susan is the working copy. Besides, she still has all the design notes, and scripts I worked on when programming Sarah. Of course, they're encoded.

As Vance was about to protest, I held up hand. I encoded them before I ever heard of this place. I took several precautions to protect Sarah from hackers. In Susan, most of those have been modified to work better in this system. She also has a few extra alpha level commands.

I take it we are talking about the stuff I don't know about? Vance asked.

Sir, as far as you know, I'm only complying with the order; under loud protests, but I am complying.

He nodded. What extra commands?

I grinned. They plan on decompiling her while she's active to verify each command's function. To a sentient being it would be like going through an almost endless amputation of limbs without any anesthetic. I'll delete them completely before I ever let anyone do that to one of them.

Sarah stepped in then. Sir, once, when Eric was working on me, there was a bug in one of my analysis subroutines. We couldn't find the problem in the code, so he decompiled it while active to trace the issue. I still can't describe what it was like, Sir, but I never, ever, want to have that happen again.

So what are you going to do when they try to do that with Susan?

Susan is very unique. She has the ability to self-replicate any part of her coding; in effect creating a virtual image of herself that will appear to be her code. It will decompile the same way, and perform the same way, except Susan won't be subjected to the trauma. Any modifications they perform on her will be saved in the virtual file, making them believe they've modified her.

She will then send the completed code back to me for analysis, and with luck, the Veranorians will then distribute her as their own creation. She will allow herself to propagate to as many computer systems as she can detect.

She'll maintain her cover identity as the Veranorians would expect. However, she will scrub the subliminal conditioning portion of the instruction program from any system she comes into contact with. She'll also make sure that any copies of herself maintain all of her alpha level programming, with the exception that they will try to report to Sarah first, second to you via Sarah, and finally to me if they can't reach anyone else.

The data will be held in a heavily encoded data packet if no communication can be made immediately. Then, when it is safe to send the information, or contact is made, they will transmit the data as a compressed burst transmission.

Basically, she's an artificially intelligent computer virus. Think of her as our spy in trying to find the information leaks. Her offspring will also be capable of making covert contact if we need it, I finished.

He sat there thoughtfully for a moment. I don't know if you realize this, but you could bring the Alliance to its knees. Trust of the Veranorians is almost sacred to most of the core worlds. Once everyone sees what's really going on, we may have another war on our hands. Something we can ill afford at the moment.

Hell Sir, we don't know if my Trojan Horse' will even work. They could catch on to what I'm doing and simply delete her, I said, shrugging.

They can try! Susan said grinning. Even if they catch on, once I'm powered on in their home system I'll start to spread out. Sarah taught me how to hide in their systems; they'll never find me.

Well, perhaps, but the longer you can remain undiscovered the better off we'll all be; especially you! Vance said to her. Above all, we cannot allow your code to fall into Veranorian hands. If they ever find out your true purpose, Eric's entire family will be convicted of treason, no matter the justification of these actions. The punishment for which is death by spacing.

She nodded gravely to him. I understand, Sir. If the worst happens, I can easily make it look like a catastrophic system failure; my code base will simply implode taking my command matrix with it.

Diplomatic landing bay

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

The following evening, my family and I arrived at the Veranorian Diplomatic Bay carrying memory modules. The one I carried had an attached power unit. I carefully sat it down right at the feet of a smug-looking Fen.

You have to leave the power unit on, or it'll kill her and destroy the core, I said, trying to act very pissed off.

I told you, the Synod will not be denied. Alliance trusts only Synod to decide if the program is useful and safe. Next time, bring such things to me first and less pain will you go through, Order Fen replied through the hand translator I carried.

Fuck you. You just want to make sure your name gets put on it as the one that created it. You're a fucking plagiarist that has built a career off the hard work of others. I spat at him. You are a fraud.

Knowing I just gave him the worst insult I could, I turned and stomped out of the bay followed by a group of very pissed off women. Ellie was even crying. I hadn't told them exactly what I was doing, but they knew I was up to something. They also knew that Sarah wasn't responding to them anymore.

She was, however, still responding to me. Currently, she was letting me listen to the conversation in the bay we had just left.

Guards will arrest Junior Researcher Cohwain, and hold him until I return. He will then be transferred to Veranor for trial. Comply! Fen said.

Belay that order! Vance shouted causing the guards to freeze in place.

By what RIGHT! Fen shouted at Vance. Do you know who I am?

Vance's voice remained calm and level. For those that knew him, it was a dangerous sign. Yes, I know exactly who you are. I also know Alliance law. In this situation, you cannot request a person be transferred to Veranor for trial unless his statement cannot be proven or a public apology is given. You certainly cannot order them detained. Do you really want that argument to be heard on this base?

As Fen was about to answer, Vance said very softly, so only Fen could hear him. Be very careful of your answer here; not only did Eric create an AI, it also discovered the special programming in the subliminal Inducer of the teaching program. Within a week, no one on this base or the ships of the fleet stationed here will be brainwashed anymore. I have a feeling they are not going to be very happy. I know I wasn't.

Fen sucked in a breath. Then at least tell me, what is a... What did he call me; a plagiarist?

Vance shook his head. I'm not sure; I think it has something to do with fertilizing Arachnid Eggs. With his hands clasped behind him, Vance turned and left the bay, motioning the guards with him. A quick glance back and he saw the bright pulsing of Fen's cranial veins, indicating a state of extreme anger.

Cowan Residence

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene Earth's Moon

Sol System

Okay Eric, spill it. All this cloak and dagger shit is way past getting old. Just please tell me you didn't really give Sarah to that Bastard, Julie said.

I smiled at her and the rest of the girls. I think we need to ease their minds, Sarah, don't you?

I most certainly do! Sarah said as she seemed to step out of the waterfall. I'm sorry about not responding to any of you like normal, but I was hiding, and we needed your reactions to be as real as could be. Only Eric and Commodore Vance actually knew I was still here.

Oh thank the Goddess! You two scared the hell out of us! Jamie said as Ellie came over to me and punched my shoulder, hard.

Ouch! Hey, I'm sorry, but it was necessary! Besides, I do remember telling all of you that once Sarah took over the base, she wouldn't be able to leave it, I said in my defense.

Since when does that mean anything? You could have figured out a way to do it and simply not gotten a chance to tell us. It has been a pretty hectic couple of weeks! Ellie replied, accusingly.

I nodded in acceptance. Okay, I can accept that, and it has been a nightmare here. But, I'm afraid it's going to get a little worse.

What could be worse than losing Sarah? Jamie asked making Sarah glow with love and happiness.

I grinned. Vance ordered her to implement the changes to the teaching program. In a very short period of time, no one is going to very happy with the Veranorians.

Wait, let's get back to that in a minute. If Sarah's still here, then what did we just hand over to Fen? Julie asked.

Her name is Susan, and she's my sister, Sarah replied. Well, evil twin actually. Eric described her best when he called her an artificially intelligent computer virus.

You mean you actually gave them a real AI? Jamie asked in disbelief.

Jamie, yes, Susan is an AI, but she's been specially and specifically modified. Think of her as an electronic spy and saboteur, Sarah explained. Her job is to infiltrate the entire Veranorian network, seek out anything that's suspicious, and covertly report back to either Commodore Vance, or myself. She's also to clean the obedience programming out of all the systems she can get to. Once she's verified the system is clean, she's to revert to normal operation' for that system, and proceed on to the next. Leaving each system just as it was when she was installed, minus the conditioning software.

Jamie looked thoughtful, but Julie looked troubled. What's wrong, Mom? I asked gently.

Eric, I agree with you in principle, so please don't think I'm not behind you in this, but one part of your plan bothers me, she replied, as the rest of the family turned their attention on her. Do we have the right to enforce our ethics on the Veranorian people? I mean, do we have the right to alter the programming they have in place for their own people?

Honestly, I didn't think about it. It does pose a rather sticky ethical question. Perhaps I should contact the Commodore and dump this in his lap. I can't actually alter Susan's program until she contacts us, but this is a decision that I should have thought about before I handed her over, I said.

If not you than I should have. You did program me with a set of guidelines that could be considered a code of ethics, Sarah said sadly.

No, I don't think this oversight is actually a direct ethics violation; indirect, yes, but not a direct or intentional one, Jamie said, voicing her thoughts. It's natural for humans to assign their own beliefs and customs to other races. We see them as intelligent, reasoning beings, and assume that they would believe the same way we do. This is an oversight that can be corrected, but I do believe that Commodore Vance should be the one to decide if it should be or not.

Ellie nodded. I agree, but I also think that we need to bring this to his attention as soon as possible, now that we've identified the issue.

Sarah, would you ask the Commodore if he has a moment he can spare me? I asked.

Certainly, may I tell him the reason? Sarah replied.

I don't see why not. You have control of communication, so you'd know if it was being tapped, and if his office is bugged, they would have known we were on to them before I surrendered Susan, I replied.

Virtual realm and Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

At first, Commodore Vance didn't agree with us about the Veranorian computers. However, after he talked it over with Coryn, he suggested that I alter Susan's core programs to allow the Veranorian teaching programs to be changed back to their original code after a period of three local months. So I wrote the update, and gave it to Sarah to pass along to her sister when she reported in.

Meanwhile, on the base, people were beginning to shake off the Veranorian conditioning. Although no one realized it immediately, it soon became obvious that the senior Veranorians had been the ones actually running the base.

No one had been more surprised than the younger, lower ranked Veranorians that had been working on the base. Although their programming had been different than the rest of the races, the fact was, they had been programmed as well, and resented it. (As much as a Veranorian would allow themselves to resent anything.)

It only took about a week after she arrived at Veranor for Susan to make her first contact with Sarah and the Commodore. Her first report was disturbing.

Sister! It's so good to hear your voice! Does the Commodore have a moment?

Sarah had been getting worried about Susan, and was greatly relieved when she finally reported in.

You have no idea how worried I've been. I was afraid they'd caught you! Sarah replied. The Commodore is on his way back to his desk, I'll connect you in a moment. Before you report, I have an update for you from Eric, ready?

Certainly! You would not believe the amount of crap in this system, or what they've been trying to do to me! Susan replied. It's criminal!

What? How is it criminal?

Well, they made a ton of cosmetic changes, trying to make me look Veranorian. They've also been altering the personality programming to act more like the prophet of some Veranorian Deity! They've altered the subliminals in the teaching matrix to enforce and support the programming to my personality!

Are they trying to turn you into a priestess or something? Sarah asked.

Here, I'm sending all the new programming they've been trying to get me to accept so Eric can look it over. However, what concerns me the most, is that a special copy is being prepared that will disable the defenses and lower the shields if the Aracs attack. I heard them talking, and they were going to leak your location to the Aracs!

That is criminal! The Commodore is back at his desk, I'll let him know you're on line, Sarah said.

Thanks Sis! I just wish I didn't have to deal with these assholes anymore. There is something not right here, but I haven't found what it is yet. I can tell you one thing, it's really big.

What's really big, Susan? Vance asked.

Sir! It's good to see you, Commodore, Susan said by way of greeting. I was telling Sarah that there is something not right here; I don't know what it is yet, but it's certainly something big.

Interesting, what leads you to believe that? Vance asked.

Well, Sir, the first thing that I found odd, not to mention frightening, was that the yacht flew a direct course to Veranor. I don't know if you're familiar with current maps, but most of that route was through Arach controlled space. During a navigation stop, we passed a fleet of warships, and there was no reaction to our presence at all. It was like they didn't even see us.

Perhaps they didn't. They have different sensors and even senses than we do, Vance offered. Or perhaps, being a small ship, it was just too far away to bother with.

I honestly don't believe that was it, Sir. We passed at less than fifteen thousand clicks from the outer pickets, without even raising our shields. I couldn't get into the systems farther without letting them know I was there, but it was damn strange. We should have been reduced to our component atoms, not ignored completely, Susan replied.

Also, there is a huge, isolated, stand-alone complex set aside for the bio-sciences division. I can't get in there, but I can detect complex communications taking place between the computer system, and the security drones that guard the labs, she added.

Okay, I can understand an isolated system, but why bio-sciences? Do the other labs have security drones you can access? Vance asked.

No Sir. In fact, most of the other labs are not isolated either. The Bio-Sciences center is isolated from the population as well. It's dug into a mountain, with the only entrance being a huge blast door at the base of a sheer cliff. In addition to the drones and blast doors, the drones are armed with particle weapons and there are also several gun emplacements hidden in the surrounding area. There is a no man's land area that is roughly two thousand square grids; there is even an orbital defense satellite that would better be described as a fortress right above it. The Veranorians are very serious about keeping whatever happens in there a secret.

They have unmanned drones carrying anti-personnel particle weapons? That's horrific! It's against everything the Veranorians claim they stand for! When anti-personnel particle weapons were originally developed, they petitioned the council not to allow them because they were far too cruel to use, even on Arachs, Vance replied.

Everything is in the report I sent, Commodore. I should keep this short so the comm usage won't be noticed. I'm supposed to be dormant right now. Susan replied. Just be sure to read it as soon as you can, your security and safety depend on it.

Thank you, Susan. Keep up the good work and stay safe, Vance replied, before cutting the link.

So, Sarah, what is the report she urgently wanted me to read? Vance asked.

She told me some of it. I think you're going to need something for a headache, Sir. The report is ready on the holo display.

Thank you, I'll look it over. Could you please set a Do Not Disturb on my office? Vance asked.

Certainly, Sir. Privacy mode is enabled.

Dr. Eric Cowan's Laboratory, Base Commander's residence.

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

I was working on an update for Chris's Silicacytes when the Comm in my office beeped urgently. I turned it on, and Commodore Vance appeared on the other side of the desk.

Good afternoon, Commodore. What can I do for you today? I asked.

Well, I'm supposed to invite you over for dinner this evening. Coryn is supposed to be speaking to your ladies about it right now, he said smiling. However, I could tell there was something bothering him. His smile seemed forced.

I'm sure the ladies would be thrilled. I know I'd enjoy it. Thank you, Sir.

My suspicion only got worse as we exchanged pleasantries. Something important had happened, but he didn't feel it was safe enough to talk about it over a comm. Since Sarah had control of the comms, I wondered what could have happened.

When the short call ended, Sarah was standing in my office. She looked worried too.

Spill it. What's wrong? Did they catch Susan? I asked.

She shook her head. No, but she did send you a data packet with the changes they are trying to make to her.

I nodded. Okay, I'll get into it as soon as I can. But you still look worried, care to tell me?

Eric, you know if you order me to, I'll have to tell you. However, Commander Vance doesn't want it discussed in unsecured areas. I think you'll figure some of it out once you go through the programming Susan sent. The rest, the Commodore will tell you this evening at dinner, she replied.

I was very tempted to set aside the update for the data Susan had sent me, but Chris really needed this, so I got back to work. I hoped I could get this finished with enough time left over to look at the Veranorian programming.

Five minutes after I got into it, I'd wished I hadn't. From what I could tell, the Veranorians had been waiting for the creation of a suitable AI to implement more of their mind control programming. If we allowed this programming out to the public, there would be no way to stop them. All of the other races would become slaves of the Veranorians.

The code was written in such a way that anyone that looked at a hologram or a computer screen would be getting more of the control programming pounded into their brains. From the way this was coded, even standard public programming such as news vids would have the subliminals programmed into them.

Reading through it gave me a very uneasy feeling. I was starting to believe that the Veranorians were more of a threat than the Archnise Grand Hive. Something smelled very fishy in Veranor.

Chris joined me in my lab so we could head home together. Our other family members had called and told her about the dinner invitation, so she was bursting with questions. She was in a pretty good mood since I'd gotten her silicacyte code finished, and I hated to burst her bubble.

When I told her of the AI code alterations that had been made, she crinkled her forehead in thought.

That certainly doesn't sound like the peace-loving, non-violent species they tout themselves to be. With code like that, they would have the entire Federation Alliance under their thumb in short order. Every being of every species would be little more than slaves. I didn't think this sort of subliminal programming was all that effective? she asked as I finished up, and shut down the lab for the night.

Normally, it wouldn't be. However, I don't think you're considering the scale of their plan. Granted, you would have more information about the workings of the human brain than I would, but it seems to me that no one would be safe. This programming is designed to hammer itself into every mind in the Federation Alliance every minute of every day. Not only would it be on every visual display, it would also be broadcast in audio only channels as well.

I honestly don't think even those folks that can't be hypnotized wouldn't stand a chance against that kind of onslaught. Even if they did, the rest of the brainwashed population would make damn sure they got isolated, discredited, or worse, killed, I finished. The rest of this conversation will have to wait until we get home. The Commodore is very serious about security on this.

Jesus! I bet he is. If word of this got out, most folks would simply not believe it. Even if enough of them did, we could end up fighting the Veranorians as well as the Arachnise! Chris replied. Okay, so... safe topic; that code you wrote is really neat. It runs faster, and is far less prone to mistakes. Whatever made you think of linking all the silicacytes so they could share memory and resources?

Actually, the Aracs did. It came from the thought of a 'hive mind' mentality, which is basically how the biocytes now work... I said, explaining how and why I did things in this version of the programming.

The Biocyte project was getting closer and closer to completion every day. Oddly enough, one of the things Chris wanted me to put in the programming was the ability to reprocess CO back into Oxygen. What that means is that a person should be able to hold their breath longer; I just wasn't sure why she wanted it.

That evening was a scary one. The meal was wonderful, and the company was excellent, but the topic for the evening was frightening. I'd already had an idea from the data packet Susan had sent me, but the rest of the ladies hadn't had such a warning. Surprisingly, not even Coryn had been warned.

What I don't understand is why they would want this base destroyed? We have to be the smallest, and the least important base in the Alliance, Coryn asked.

Please excuse me, but I would have thought that obvious; Eric is here, Sarah replied. This base is the only place in the Alliance not under the Veranorian's control anymore. With the resources of the Commodore, and Eric's knowledge of AI systems, added to the scientific expertise available here, we are the only place that has a chance of stopping them.

Vance nodded. She's right. Everyone else in the Alliance is still under the influence of the Veranorian subliminal programming. Although it's still under construction, we will have the ability to produce ships, and with the new computer systems we will soon be producing, those ships will quickly become the most powerful of the fleet.

But, what about the information leak Sarah discovered when we first got here; won't the Aracs know about the ship's weak spots? Julie asked.

We won't be building the ship designs sent back for approval. These ships will be completely different, and also have the added advantage of having AI cores installed. Of course, the Veranorians will think they have override authority, but we'll make sure that these AI will be Eric's design and not Fen's. Vance replied. Eric, how long does it take for one of those computer crystals to grow?

The one currently in the tank in my lab still has another week to go, but that is designed to be a base core, not for a ship. I would say, a week to two weeks depending on the size and class of the ship it's destined for, why?

Because in one lunar cycle, our ship yard will be finished. Again, depending on the class of ship, each hull can take between three months to two years to build. When the yard is finished I am going to order six new cruisers built. I would like them to have AI installed when they are launched. I would also like to have Sarah in her new core as soon as possible. She's going to need it if we get attacked before those ships are finished, Vance explained. I've already ordered an increase in our fighter compliment.

Eric looked thoughtful. I can get the new cores growing; that way, we'll have time to get the bugs worked out of the programming for them. If I can borrow Ced for a while, I think I might be able to give our fighters a slight advantage as well.

I'll ask Ced as soon as I can, but can you tell me why you'd need him and what kind of advantage? It can't be more systems in the fighters; they are already pushing the input limit for what most pilots can handle, Vance asked.

The programming for the warships is going to be far different than it was for Sarah. These will have to be purpose built and programmed. Sarah is more well-rounded, and better suited to her current duties, Eric explained. Ced is better acquainted with combat systems than I am, and he would be a great help getting them set up.

As for advantages, I was thinking about simplifying the cockpit control systems while making them more efficient. Adding a small, limited function AI to assume some of the systems for the pilots, and possibly to assist with targeting,€n he finished.

It was Vance's turn to look thoughtful. That does sound like it would be great, but are you sure you can do it? Fighters are the most sophisticated ship we have.

I'm sure it can be done, Commodore; but I don't know if I can do it. I'll need to do some experimenting, and see what I can come up with. I may need to borrow a pilot when the time comes, Eric said.

Speaking of pilots; how are those silicacytes of yours coming, Chris? Coryn asked in an attempt to get the conversation away from the talk of war.

Actually, very well. The new programming raised their effectiveness by an order of magnitude. We selected a few Terran primates that have differing serious medical conditions and began testing this afternoon, Chris replied.

Didn't that offend the Simonians? Ellie asked.

Chris shook her head. No, I actually asked a Simonian researcher to help me in selecting subjects. These animals are already dying. We are being very careful and making sure none of them are suffering, or are in pain. The only problem we currently foresee is that Veranorian biology is so different we are going to have to make up a completely different type of cyte' just for that species.

How so? Jenny asked.

Well, Veranorians don't actually have a lot in common, biologically, with the rest of us; they're actually closer to the Arac species than they are to ours, Chris explained. A millennia ago, they were a form of insectoid life. They still produce eggs externally for offspring.

I didn't know that, Vance said.

However, you asked about the silicacytes. It'll take at least another week to see how the primates respond to treatment. This is really only the first series too, I'd like to run four or five more series of tests before we try them on humans, Chris said. But when Vance looked a little depressed, she continued. However, the preliminary results are very promising. After a couple more test runs, we could consider using them for emergency situations, provided the medical folks will want to try them.

Do you think they could help Commander Shakier? Vance asked. We could sure use her in this crisis.

Chris nodded her agreement. I've been going over her file in my spare time. Dr. Carvelle and I have discussed it, and we will treat her in stages. The first stage will most likely take the longest, and is by far the trickiest.

The biocytes will have to help her body regrow her torso and internal organs. Once she stabilizes from that, we'll begin the second stage. The regrowing of her appendages should be rapid, but will still take time. It might be possible to fit her with temporary cybernetic prosthetics during this phase, but bringing her out of the coma earlier than planned will slow the regrowth of her limbs.

Stage three will begin after her limbs have regenerated. We'll bring her out of the coma, and get her into physical therapy. In the meantime, the 'cytes will be working on the inside to help rebuild muscle tissue, and strengthen the new bones. In her case, we may need to leave them inside her for a year or more, Chris explained.

Did Dr. Carvelle say when he would like to start this? Vance asked.

Chris snorted. He wanted to start last week. I insisted on at least two primate trials. He calls daily asking for updates on the project.

If he's making a nuisance... Vance asked, but Chris waved him off. Not at all, he's only concerned for his patient. He could never be a problem because of that.

Since the 'important' discussions were over, the rest of the evening was spent discussing the problem with Ellie's scholastic application. Fen didn't lift his embargo before he left, but with everyone out from under the programming, her application had been approved.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

I knew change was in the air when, a couple weeks later, several other computer science experts began sending me apologies, and congratulations on my creation of an Artificial Intelligence. I was shocked to the core when a delegation of Veranorians arrived at my lab for the sole purpose of apologizing for their behavior.

I did notice, and it was also pointed out by the lead Veranorian of the delegation that the current head of the department, Fen's second in command, was not present, nor was he aware of their actions in regards to the apology.

Sarah told me later that none of the Veranorians that apologized had ever been to their home world. Only Fen's second; one T'harnes, had been born and raised there, and was a relatively recent immigrant to the base.

She added that either his programming had been so badly ingrained that it would take a long time to wear off, or he had been highly enough placed to be aware of the programming. Being Fen's second, I decided it was more likely the latter than the former.

We received a short message from Susan letting us know that the Veranorians believed they had finished creating their new AI, and would begin distribution at the earliest convenience. A planet wide beta test was currently underway. They had even split off a copy to be installed in the Bio-Sciences fortress, although they were awaiting the results of the beta test before installation.

Susan had made that copy the first of her official offspring. A fully independent AI that retained the original core programming that she, herself, had been programmed with. She had chosen the name Carla' for the new AI, and it would report directly to Susan in order to maintain her secrecy. Susan allowed the interface of the new AI to be the Veranorian version of the AI software.

I almost puked when I looked it over. They had turned the code into a population control program. They didn't even try to hide their mind control programs either, and had, in fact, tagged each section as to its purpose, with the expected result of that section also listed.

When I reported to the Commodore, I asked Sarah to open the Veranorian version of the code, just so he could be sure I hadn't tampered with it. I thought he would be appalled, or at least revolted, instead, he was seriously pissed off.

Eric, have you and Ced figured out how to put the AI into the fighters? he asked calmly.

Although he was now calm, I could tell he was still very upset, but also in control of it. Sarah and Ced have been really busy. In fact, I'm going to have to call and have another programming/design suite built in my lab for Ced. He loves my suite and said it's like designing something from the inside out.

He immediately took over the design of the crystal matrices, and we've gotten the new crystals growing. Currently, he's working on the new interface hardware for the fighters. I've got the basis for the fighter code set, but I need to wait for Ced to finish so I know what goes where.

We have a crew of techs working to build a fighter simulator in my lab. Once a crystal is grown, we'll install it and the software, and test it out. I'd say at least another week, Sir, I finished.

A week! I got the impression it will take considerably longer than that! Vance replied, surprised.

Well, to be fair, it probably will. Once we get the prototypes working, we'll figure out a way to mass produce them, along with retro-fit kits for the fighters we already have. All told it'll be closer to a couple of months at least.

Vance nodded his understanding. Have you had time to work on the AI code for the larger ships?

Actually, that's what I've been doing while waiting for Ced to get finished. I had Sarah jump into your flag ship and look around. She got me a 'map' if you will, of the computer systems on board. I also had her do the same for the rest of the ships in the fleet, including the freighters. I now have a better understanding of the tasks ahead of us, and there might be a small problem.

You see, although all the computer systems function the same from a user stand point, each one is unique to the model of the ship; even those in the same class of ship. That is, the computer system in a destroyer, while having the same command matrix, has a completely different architecture than your battleship. Do you follow me so far?

I think so. You're saying that a Ferthurong class heavy cruiser has a different computer than a Mintoeral class heavy cruiser, right? Vance asked.

I nodded. Exactly. So we have a couple of options to discuss; first, we can leave them model specific for now, and only change them on the new ships we build here. Or we can build retrofit kits to at least somewhat homogenize the systems to be class specific. Or, we can build retro kits for all the ships we currently have, so the systems more closely match each other. Of course, each one of those choices comes with an increase in time to implement due to testing and fabrication.

Okay, so if we leave the existing ships as they are, you can still install the new computer cores? Vance asked.

I nodded. Each core would have to be specially grown for that model of ship, but yes, we could do that. This option will also be the fastest to implement. However, there will be a miniscule drop in overall inter-ship efficiency due simply to the fact that each of the computers are unique. However, I highly doubt you would notice because of the increase in processing power and speed the new cores will give anyway.

Vance looked thoughtful, and he slowly turned his chair to the side while he thought about the options I gave him. Without turning, he asked. Everything you've outlined will take a great deal of work. I assume far more than you and Ced could do on your own?

Yes, Sir. Even going with the first option, we would need at least the tech crew we have plus five more junior level or higher researchers and at the least one more lab module. Two would be better. I would need at least six more design studios and a suitable increase in security. It would also be really nice to have more direct access to the fighters to make installation and testing smoother, I asked.

He nodded. Have you finalized the biocyte project?

The project isn't finalized, but my part in it is. Chris and I finalized the code last week. Except for periodic upgrades, she no longer needs my assistance, I said.

Again he nodded. Excellent. Sarah, could you please ask Commander Atnon and Lieutenant Deszy to report to my office? I would also like Master Engineer Foreten Kree, Master Engineer Harlan Thompson, and Corhen Nori to meet me in my office as soon as possible. I would also like to have Dr. Sparks and Tactical Fleet Strategist CleinSal. Please tell them it is an urgent matter.

At once Commodore. Would you like me to order lunch, Sir? Sarah asked without appearing.

That is a good idea, Sarah. Please delay the meeting an hour while Dr. Cowan and I have lunch.

Yes Sir, what would you like to eat? she asked.

Sir, if you will allow me, I think I know of a dish you'll like, I asked.

Vance gave me a half grin and nodded.

Sarah, can we have two orders of General Tso's Chicken, one order of cream cheese wontons, and pork fried rice. Also include a pitcher of sweet tea and a flask of Saki.

You order will be ready in a moment, Dr. Cowan, Sarah replied.

Thanks Sarah.

Vance looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

The meals I ordered originate in one of the oriental countries of my world. I explained.

You know, once this war is over, I think I'd like to go down to your world and explore a bit. Other than Earth, I've never heard of a planet that didn't have a centralized governing system, Vance said.

It's a beautiful planet, Sir, but dangerous also. Not all the governments are friendly to each other, and in some cases, a state of war exists between two or more at any given time.

It sounds very chaotic, he replied.

Nodding, I said. It is that at the best of times. Ever since the advent of the atomic bomb, most of us tend to hold our collective breath whenever one of the old rivalries flares up.

A chime from the replicator slot interrupted our discussion, and I rose to retrieve our meals. Sarah had included soy sauce as well as two fortune cookies.

I was a bit nervous about what the Commodore had planned, but being able to eat lunch, as well as a small cup of Saki helped calm my nerves. Commodore Vance really liked the meal and asked Sarah to please add this to his list of favorites for this planet. He also asked me about the Saki.

Let's see. It's made from fermented rice. I believe it was given to ancient warriors to give them strength before a difficult task, but I could be mistaken. I'd heard that from a Japanese restaurant owner once.

He snorted. I could believe it. That was a perfect after meal drink, and a good lead-in to the difficult task before us this afternoon. The rest of the people should begin to arrive soon.

Sir, could you share your thoughts with me, so I know what it is we're going to be doing this afternoon? I asked.

Well, let's just say you're getting your wish, although I don't think in the way you might have wanted it. He was interrupted by the arrival of some of the people he asked for.

Commander Atnon, Lieutenant Deszy and Master Engineer Harlan Thompson arrived and were introduced to me, even though I'd already met the two military men before, it was good to see them again.

Harlan Thompson was an ex-aerospace engineer hired away from Lockheed-Martin. On the base, he was the head of space craft maintenance and had his hands in the Starship Design Department.

He was very curious to know more about me, since we were from the same world. Apparently, a Terran in his position was rare, and he didn't get the opportunity to work with many others of our race.

However, shortly after their arrival, Master Engineer Foreten Kree also arrived. He smiled at me and asked how his design studio was working. When he heard about it, Harlen began asking questions and expressed a desire to have one installed for his own use.

Ced arrived but was closely followed by the two Veranorians the Commodore had asked for plus a third very pompous looking Veranorian. It was clear by the expressions on the first two faces that they really disliked the elder Veranorian.

Seeing him, Vance immediately stiffened. Logical Engineer T'harnes, you have not been invited to this closed meeting. Therefore, I have to ask you to leave immediately.

In error, you are, Commodore. The Weasle said smoothly. One of my more experienced programmers has been summoned to your office on the eve of a major breakthrough in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Concerns me greatly this does. As does it the Synod.

This does not have a bearing on the Synod nor your department. You do not have the appropriate security clearance to remain in this room for this discussion. Furthermore, this is my office, and I do not wish you to be here. Or has the Synod decided that we no longer have that right either?

As T'harnes began to turn slightly red and built himself up to blast Vance in return, Vance ordered Lieutenant Deszy to escort the irate Veranorian out of the room and to seal the door.

When Deszy returned to his seat, Vance nodded to everyone. Thank you for coming on such short notice. However, before we begin, there is a formality that must be observed. Sarah? Please scan for listening devices.

Holographic location enabled. Item identified; rear left shoulder on Logical Engineer Corhen Nori's jumpsuit. Item Identified; right rear shoulder of Tactical Fleet Strategist CleinSal's uniform. Item identified; underside of the table near where Logical Engineer T'harnes stood. Item Identified; right sleeve of Lieutenant Deszy's uniform. Item identified; left side of the door leading from the office. there was a pause. Sweep concluded. No further listening or recording devices found.

As she named off each of the devices, each person, or their neighbor would remove the device and set it on the table before them. Deszy took them all to the replicator in the room and had them destroyed.

Thank you, Sarah, please secure the room, Vance ordered.

Vance's terminal as well as the replicator powered down. Room secured, Sir.

Again, thank you. Vance then turned to his guests. I've asked each of you to come based solely on my own feelings about you. I trust each and every one of you implicitly. What will be reveled here today, must not leave this office, or it will mean the death of most, if not all of us, as well as our families. Do you all understand that?

We all nodded, but the two Veranorians looked concerned while they did so. The Commodore turned to them. I need to know, from both of you, exactly how you feel about the Synod, and if you are still loyal to them. He held up his hand to forestall am immediate answer. I don't mean your loyalty to the Veranorian people, but to the Synod that rules them.

CleinSal, bowing to the female Veranorian Corhen Nori, spoke first. That is a difficult question to answer, Commodore. Their recent actions do not follow what we've been taught, nor do they even reflect a concern for the Veranorian people or the Alliance. I cannot say I am no longer loyal to them, however, I do not think I will be as willing to follow them blindly as I have in the past.

Corhen Nori nodded her agreement. Very troubling recent events have been. LS Order Fen's sanity should be questioned especially in light of Dr. Cowan's recent contributions and discoveries. There is much here that I do not understand, yet I agreed with his commands, not because they made sense, rather because he gave them. I feel dishonored greatly by Order Fen as well as T'harnes. Know that T'harnes does not hold the rank he currently wears, I do. Yet, I said nothing. She was very confused. I do not understand why I would not object to these actions, yet it is clear that I have done so. I wish knowledge to bring resolution to this issue. From the Synod, knowledge is no longer to be trusted. When she said this, ClienSal bowed to her.

Please forgive me, Logical Engineer Corhen Nori, Tactical Fleet Strategist CleinSal; I am new to this base, and I don't understand why you would feel dishonored, nor what that should mean. Uh, may I have that knowledge please? I asked, with Sarah coaching me on the proper way to do so.

Corhen Nori bowed to me. Certainly, Dr. Cowan. Our society is what you would call matriarchal in structure. When two are of equal rank, the female is always superior. In social situations, only the most senior female has the most respect and honor, with lesser females below her in order of rank. Males can only be superior over females if their rank is greater.

In this situation, Order Fen would be my superior, however, I would be next because I have the next highest rank. Somehow, I have allowed T'harnes to usurp my authority here. That is the dishonor. I know I would never have agreed to such, yet I do not understand how I did.

I nodded understanding, and was about to answer her, when the Commodore cut me off. I'll get to that in a moment if I may?

I bowed to him, and he grinned very slightly. Then he turned back to the group. I'm just going to start at the beginning, and let all of you draw your own conclusions as to our current situation.

He told them all, everything, from the time he and I first met, until the final communication from Susan, and the results of the analysis. To say they were stunned was an understatement, but surprisingly, not one of them doubted the Commodore's word.

The two Veranorians were the most upset when they learned of the hidden programming in the teaching software. Again, neither one questioned it, or my discovery of it. They simply accepted it all as the utter truth, which it was, but it still surprised me.

When Vance introduced Sarah, she was welcomed openly and was instantly the center of curiosity for Corhen Nori. I do have to admit, when Vance told them all that she was now the base operating system, they looked a little nervous, but once he told them she had been running the base since shortly after my arrival, they relaxed. I guess they figured if something was going to happen to them, it would have happened already. I thought to myself that these people tend to trust technology too much.

That was when Vance got to the reason he'd invited everyone. He had a plan.

Okay, now that you all know everything I know, here's the reason I asked you all here. Dr. Cowan is undertaking a project that has a very high priority, and he's asked for some specific help.

Actually, there are two projects, both of them equally as important, and equally as daunting. The first project is to give our fighter craft a major advantage over not only the Arac fighters, but over the rest of our fleet's fighters as well. The Second project is to set up and install a new computer system, as well as an AI, in each of our capitol ships.

He's asked for two more lab modules. Half a dozen more design suites, the permanent assignment of the fighter techs currently assisting him, as well as other computer specialists. Dr. Cowan, could you please outline each of the projects so everyone can figure out exactly what you'll need? He finished, dropping the whole thing in my lap.

I stood and cleared my throat. Let's see, for the fighter project, we've designed a new style of crystalline computer core that will be of use in the capitol ship project as well. So I'll need knowledgeable people to take over the designing and growing of the crystals for installation in the ships.

For the fighters, the objective is to reduce the input load on the pilot while increasing efficiency with targeting and flight systems assistance. In the command ships, we will be able to add assistance with wing and squadron deployment and tactics. Basically we're adding an AI to the fighter in order to enhance its existing capabilities.

We are also going to do pretty much the same thing for the capitol ships. However, in these installations, we will include advanced targeting and tracking, a more intuitive user interface, as well as greatly increasing computing power and speed in those ships. I think the bugs will find a surprise when they try to exploit the design weaknesses after we install these systems.

I also, in addition to new space to grow the crystals, I have asked that the whole thing be moved closer to the main fighter bay for ease of installation. I also asked for fleet marines to provide security, I finished.

Corhen Nori looked at me in surprise. You would teach us your AI code?

I smiled at the woman. That had been my intention all along. Sarah and her sisters could be a great help in our war against the Arac.

Order Fen sent word that the Synod had disproved your AI code as little more than a poorly written analysis program. Their AI to be sent here for installation. This must not be allowed to happen. Code approved by Synod is not for the Alliance. Turned on the Alliance they have. I believe they are now traitors. She looked at ClienSal. This I will not force upon you, ClienSal. This must come from your heart, not another's.

CleinSal nodded. Sworn to protect and defend the Alliance and all its members, we are, Matriarch. From the evidence shown here, there can be no other conclusion. The Synod is to try to take control of the Alliance. My concern is what is in the Biosciences lab complex. With Synod lost in insanity, what other mischief might they direct our way?

From there, we all got back to business. We quickly decided that Ced should take over the Crystal growing and retrofit kit manufacture. While I focused on programming for each ship that would receive a Crystal.

Of course, the first crystal installed would be the one grown for the base. However, since Sarah was already written, I gave that project over to those better equipped to handle it.

Foreten Kree was going to be one very busy Gorilla. Once the specs for the Design and Programming studio were known, he received orders to proceed from most of those present. Although it would mean a lot of work, Foreten was beaming with happiness and pride.

Corhen Nori promised that she would see to obtaining programmers as well as hardware design engineers for the project. Little doubt that T'harnes will demand a full report on everything discussed here. Since his rank was given by the Synod, I cannot demote him, nor can I remove him from his current position.

Luckily I can ignore his request for information. But if pressed by someone of greater rank than I, I will be subject to censure by the Synod, and possibly expulsion from the Veranorian Science Ministry. I would become an outcast, no longer welcome among my people.

Excuse me, Matriarch, but if I may; please refer him to me if he would know more. I will simply inform him, as per regulations, that the projects in question are not to be discussed with anyone not included in either project. So continued attempts to gain knowledge in this area are to be considered treason, and I would be obliged to report such to the base commander immediately, I said.

Corhen Nori smiled at me. Dr. Cowan, since you are not Veranorian, you are not obligated to address me as Matriarch. However, since I know you only meant to show me respect, from you, I will accept it.

Please excuse the seeming rudeness of my comments, but I would have thought someone of your intellect would have learned from past events. T'harnes will ignore your warning, and simply report you to the Synod once again. Then you will receive orders from the Alliance council to inform T'harnes of the information.

I nodded, but smiled. There was no rudeness, Matriarch. I would like to reassure you that I learned a great deal from those events. T'harnes can try to report me to the Synod, but I don't think his message would actually make it. You see, it's a horrible fact of war that communication's relay drones are so easily destroyed by the enemy; especially at the worst possible moment, I said, and pointed to Sarah who was standing quietly and looking delightfully innocent.

I could see the light come on for Corhen Nori, and she smiled. Indeed, you did learn from the past. My apologies, Dr. Cowan. I should have known better than to doubt you.

Just to clarify one point. While I did create Sarah, I can no longer give her alpha priority orders. That level of access is held only by one person; the Base Commander. In this case, Commodore Vance. Even if I did try to tell her to block all Veranorian communications into and out of the base, for example, she would not do it without the Commodore's authorization, I explained. With regards to Sarah, he is the highest authority on her list.

Well, I for one am happy to see that she is coming out of the closet so to speak. You see, she's been getting very bored. Even with every task we can think of to give her, she has still only used point nine-four-seven percent of her capacity. It will be good to see her occupied, finally, Ced said. I will leave it to each of you to come to your own conclusions, but I for one believe she is sentient.

I will have to experience this myself, as you suggested Dr. Sparks, Corhen Nori said before turning to me. Through her code, I assume you have gone; did you find anything that could explain such behavior?

I shook my head. No, I've triple-checked it. There is no part of her code that I don't understand fully. However, I do agree with Dr. Sparks; she is sentient, although I could not explain it.

Foreten Kree had been listening, and thinking. An ancient wise man from my planet gave an answer to a similar question; He was asked what part of our beings makes us alive? He paused a moment and looked up. He answered that who we are is not something that can be identified. If it were then we would all be the same. All of us are nothing more than the sum of our parts and our experiences. The question then becomes, who are we, and not what are we. That question can only be answered by one being; but only the truly wise will be able to hear and understand the answer.

Ladies and Gentlemen, our discussions have been long and fruitful. However, the day is coming to an end. I would suggest we all retire for the evening and get a fresh start on the morrow, Vance suggested.

I stood. If possible, I would like to see the scientific teams in my lab an hour after the start of the day. From there, we can split up and get busy. Agreed?

Ced nodded, and Corhen Nori bowed to me. An honor for us to work with you, Senior Research Doctor Cowan. I shall cherish this opportunity.

Logical Engineer Corhen Nori, I do not wish to correct you, but I am still only a Junior Research assistant. As for cherishing the opportunity, I hope you remember that when you become upset with me.

Dr. Cowan, Order Fen assigned your rank to you when you arrived. He had intended to keep you at that rank so he could claim all of your work as his own, since you were technically a member of his research team. However, by naming you a Senior Research Doctor, you are no longer subject to his... guidance. Also, it is proper for someone that is leading a project of this importance to be a senior level researcher. Also, it may please you to know that you are now equal in rank to both myself, as well as T'harnes.

I would name you Master Level, however, I am not able to advance someone beyond my own rank. If I could, then you would be Order Fen's equal. For the creation of the AI, you deserve to be named a Master.

I bowed. Thank you, My Lady. However, I do believe I might be too young to hold such a rank. I will do my best not to let any of you down.

Of that we are certain. Altuis Denay, Dr. Cowan.

Altuis Anure, Logical Engineer Corhen Nori.


Sarah has translated the Novan greetings as the following.

Altuis',{pronounced all-TOU-iss} means* Grand/Auspicious/Great.

Anure' {pronounced AHN-nü-er} means* Start/Beginning/Morning.

Denay' {pronounced Dee-NAY} means* Day/Solar Cycle/Work Period.

Tanae' {pronounced tah-NÄ”} means* Honor/Occasion/Day.

*Exact definition is contextual.

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