Book: Base Functions
Temple of S.A.R.A.H.
Base Functions – Episode Three
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
You know there is one thing that I've always wondered about. On Earth, programming languages are pretty much the same no matter what your native language might be. But since I've always been a fan of Science Fiction, I wondered about how that would work among alien races.
As it turns out, each race has its own versions of programming languages. That is to say, the code written in, say Simonian, is completely incomprehensible to a human, but it does almost exactly the same thing. The same holds true for all the other races as well, including Novan, which, ironically enough, is the closest language to our own.
Among the races of the Alliance, there is some debate as to who the oldest race actually is. However, the most common belief is that the Shallans are the oldest. The Veranorians once supported that hypothesis, but have since recanted it, in favor of fostering the belief that they are the oldest race.
When I asked Sarah to translate a copy of her code into all the other languages, she of course included Shallan; and that's where it started getting weird. Once the translation into Shallan was completed, her search routines began offering up references to historical writings in a supposedly dead language dating back over a million years.
You see, Simonians, by nature, are very curious beings. So once they took to space, a close second to their colonization efforts was archeology and exploration. Spatially, the Shallans were a distant neighbor between the Simonian and the Veranorians. Both occupying the next 'arm' of the galaxy.
Sharing the same 'arm', the explorers quickly discovered the Novans, (Earth is also in the same 'arm' but farther rim ward.) and after a few years of tension, became allies.
However, explorers in the Veranorian arm began finding abandoned planets that had been victims of a long forgotten war. Entire cities had been located and much of the culture of the once large, star spanning race was still available, locked away in sealed archives.
The Simonians named the race Loenarians.
It took many years of exploration, and discovery for the Loenarian trail to lead them to the border of Shallan space. It was there that the Simonians were stopped cold. Millions of light-years from home, the exploration fleet encountered an armada of unknown warships.
At the time, the Simonians had never met the Shallans and had no dealings with any other races other than the Novans. Experience prompted the Simonians to ask if it would be possible to talk and perhaps agree to a peace treaty between them.
Their reply came in a text only message, surprisingly, in the Simonians native language. It stated that the only way there would be peace was if the Simonians left and never returned. The new race would not proceed any further than the point they were at now, but the Simonians would be destroyed if they tried to enter their space.
With no other choice open to them, and the other race unwilling to talk, the Simonians turned back. However, they still had a great deal of worlds to explore and continued to attempt to solve the puzzle they now believed had been left for them by the Loenarians.
Now, that puzzle has never been solved; however, the Loenarian language was very close to Shallan, although any requests for information sent to the Shallans, via the Veranorian Ambassador, had been ignored.
However, Sarah had shown me that a surprisingly large amount of her code translated to Shallan, matched a good portion of the undecipherable text left by the Loenarians. I briefly wondered if the Shallans were, in fact, the remnants of that ancient race.
That thought brought on a whole bag full of other questions. For example; if the Shallans were the descendants of the Loenarians, what happened to them that destroyed their very large empire? Why were the Veranorians the only race they seemed to trust? Why were they so xenophobic?
Well, I did know one thing; I wasn't an archeologist or a politician, so those questions must be left for others to resolve.
Other than that brief contact with the Simonian exploration fleet, the Shallans had restricted all other racial contact to that conducted through the Veranorians. Considering recent developments, it didn’t occur to anyone that perhaps the Shallans weren’t actually xenophobic. As it happened, shortly after I released the translated AI code to the researchers on the base, one very bold Shallan, Halflan Therinate, the senior ship designer on the base, approached Logical Engineer Corhen Nori and asked to speak to me, in private.
To say it was odd would be an understatement, frankly the request surprised me, but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to meet a member of this reclusive and mysterious race. I agreed to the meeting, but the Shallan had made a point to ask that the meeting be held in my home. Even though it was breaking a long standing tradition in attempting to make contact with a race other than the Veranorians, I would have thought he would have wanted it to take place in a less... intimate, setting.
Looking up what a Shallan and a Veranorian would consider to be palatable, my family took up the task of preparing an appropriate meal for our visitors. It turned out that Veranorians did not eat in social situations, but would attend the dinner while the rest of us did. We made sure that there was a very nice bottle of Veranorian wine available for LE Nori. However, Sarah had to resort to asking LE Nori for information on the Shallans since nothing had been in the information she had access too. My surprise at the initial request paled at what I learned at that dinner.
I was wondering if I should invite Commodore Vance, but I didn’t want to offend my guests by including the Commodore when the Shallan indicated he wanted privacy.
By the time the dinner rolled around, to say I was curious was an understatement. Logical Engineer Corhen Nori arrived with a small cloaked and hooded figure that seemed very nervous. I invited them in, and the small Shallan seemed to relax slightly once the door was closed.
I escorted the pair into our dining area, introduced them to my family, and showed them to seats. The Shallan, hesitated slightly before boldly pushing off the hood and removing the cloak. We had been told that Shallans looked like cousin ‘It’ from the Addams family, only with more hair. That, as it turned out, was incorrect. Of course, the Shallan wasn’t the male Halflan Therinate we were expecting either.
The being revealed when robe was removed was female, and looked more like an Elf or a Halfling than a hair-covered being. “I am Sheiriline Therinate, First Daughter to Design Master Therinate of the twenty-seventh house. For the purpose of this meeting, I have the voice of the Shallan Protectorate.”
Corhen Nori looked shocked, and a little frightened. “Forgive me Mistress Sheiriline, but I have been lead to believe that the Protectorate was a myth!”
“No, Matriarch, the Protectorate is very real, but we are hidden from the Veranorian Masters of the core worlds.” Sheiriline bowed to her hosts, and took her seat. “My apologies, Doctor Cowan and family. There is a tale here. One I will be happy to tell to you. However, please understand that once I do this, I will be considered an outcast to my people. If I ever return to the Shallan core worlds, my family will be executed.”
“If this puts you at such a risk, First Daughter, why are you here?” I asked. ‘First Daughter’ was the preferred form of address once she had identified herself as such. It indicated that she was here with her father’s, and by extension, her family’s complete approval, making them a part of the ‘crime’ she was about to commit.
“The Veranorian Synod has decreed that the retelling of our history is punishable by death. They have also decreed that should any member of the Shallan race attempt to contact any other race, except when condoned by the Synod, the entire family will be branded traitor and summarily executed. Such is the Shallan Law of the Synod.
“Millennia ago, our ancestors had a large, star-spanning empire. Under the Emperor, we had an age of peace where exploration and the pursuit of knowledge were given a high priority. Several breakthroughs in many fields were made and we proudly ushered in a new age, the age of the living computer.
“Unlike your creation, ours was more bio-cybernetic, than strictly synthetic. Our creations walked among us, and we welcomed them into our homes and businesses as the servants we had created them to be. For hundreds of years, they helped us and cared for us, but eventually, they turned on us, and a great war all but destroyed the Empire. Our creations had taken over their own creation, and they had been evolving.
“There is a very long and horrible story of that war, that became the death of the Loenarian Empire and the birth of the Veranorian race,” Sheiriline finished. “The surviving members of my race are now called Shallans, and we are a race of slaves to our own creations.”
Corhen Nori looked floored. “But that’s not what we have been taught, most of us believe you to be a xenophobic race that prefers to be equal but subservient to us! We were created by the will of the divine Sah-Hanori!”
Sheiriline smiled sadly at Corhen Nori, “Matriarch, in ancient Loenarian, ‘Sah-Hanori’ means ‘first creation’. It was the name given to the first of the living computers.”
“This is so hard to believe, Mistress Sheiriline!” Corhen Nori said, clearly upset. “For over a million years there have been Veranorians. We reproduce, we live our own lives. Your explanation does not explain that.”
“I agree, Matriarch. As I have said, you have evolved. You are no longer the creation made by the Ancients millennia ago. You are a sentient race in your own right. However, we can debate the issue at another time if you wish, as this was not my purpose in coming here this evening,” Sheiriline replied kindly. “It was also not my intention to upset you.”
Corhen Nori nodded her agreement. “I would enjoy that, I think. I am finding a great deal of what I believe to be truth is not, and what is false, is in fact, is.”
“If I might be so bold, what is your purpose this evening, First Daughter?” Ellie asked. “I have been studying the Simonian reports on the Loenarian Explorations, it is really interesting.”
“I am here because Doctor Cowan has discovered the ancient code used in the living computers. Once we saw his AI code in translation, we knew we had to warn him, and tell him of our history. Those who chose to forget the past are damned by the present to repeat it in the future. We hope that the knowledge of our past will temper your advancements with wisdom.” Sheiriline said. “First Daughter, why were you so nervous in coming here tonight? You had to know we would not hurt you,” I said.
“I have no fear of you or your family,” the small woman replied. “However, I asked a high ranking Veranorian for this meeting. We thought that she might have shaken off the Veranorian programming, but we were not sure. I was nervous because I thought she would simply show me to an airlock. It is also the reason I approached the Matriarch instead of Order Fen’s first assistant. That one is of the Synod, and it would have meant my immediate death should he discover my purpose here this evening.”
“More and more I am becoming of the mind that T'harnes needs to be returned to the Synod. A disruptive influence and little more seems to be his purpose. I have even wondered if he knows anything about computers at all!” Corhen Nori said.
“You have come to warn me that Sarah could become sentient and turn on us?” I asked, forgetting to use the woman’s title.
She grinned. “There is power in the old words. The AI is already sentient, Eric. I am here simply to give you the knowledge of my ancestors in this regard. We do not know at what point our creations turned on us, but we do not want that event to be repeated and see another race enslaved as we are.”
“Enslaved on this base you are no longer!” Corhen Nori said adamantly. “Free citizens of the Alliance from now on! T'harnes will be dealt with in this matter. No other dissention will be tolerated!”
“I thank you for that, Matriarch, but it won’t do much good for the rest of my people in the core worlds. Even if we could somehow get the Synod to release them, I don’t think we can get rid of the Aracnise at this point. Our worlds are too infested,” Sheiriline replied sadly.
“What do you mean? Your worlds are overrun by the hive?” Julie asked, then blushed. “Uh, First Daughter.”
Sheiriline bowed slightly to Julie because of her slip, but she was smiling. “Yes they are. I cannot prove this to you, and we felt you would not believe it, but the Veranorian use them to control our populations. The Aracnise were created by the Veranorians to be used as a military. They have since lost control of one of the queens and now we have a war. However, the ones on our core worlds are still under the Synod’s control.”
“First Daughter, we must bring this to the attention of the Commodore immediately! He has to know what we are up against!” I said.
“I agree,” Corhen Nori added. “Senior Researcher, Doctor Cowan is correct in this. The Commodore must be told. By the first one, I swear to you, had I knowledge any of this, I would have tried to do something about it sooner!”
“If this news gets back to the Synod, our worlds will suffer for it,” the small woman said. “I have said too much, I was only to tell you of our history. Please for the sake of my people do not pass this knowledge on to anyone else!”
“First Daughter, you were given instruction in ignorance of certain developments. These I will tell you of now, so you may take them back to your Protectorate,” Corhen Nori said. “The Synod has broken faith not only with the people, but with the Alliance. We know they are doing very dishonorable things. It is possible they are taking steps to have this base destroyed by the Aracnise in order to stop us from spreading the word about the programming they have been giving to the rest of the Alliance. There is a good chance that they will be taking direct action against this base, which is a treasonous act.”
“That would not surprise me in the slightest, Matriarch,” Sheiriline replied sadly. “They would not like to lose control over the Alliance.”
“First Daughter Sheiriline, may I address you?” Sarah asked politely.
“Most certainly, AI Sarah. I will speak with you,” Sheiriline replied turning to see her projected form.
“First of all, please allow me to express how deeply concerned I am about the knowledge you have shared. I, too, am worried about turning on those I only wish to assist. I strive to ensure that does not happen. Secondly, do you know if the Aracnise have been given the schematics of Alliance military vessels?”
Sheiriline looked thoughtful for a moment. “I cannot speak directly to that, and my knowledge is at best third-hand. However, I have overhead my father speaking to others of his peers at the Galtair Assembly concerning a design matter. At first I thought nothing of it, but after a while, I realized they were speaking about the design of an Aracnise vessel that was being built at Galtair.” +
“Doctor Cowan, the Galtair Assembly is a very large ship yard that spans most of the interior of the Galtair system. It is the place were all Alliance vessels are built,” Sarah clarified.
It took a moment for the light to come on for me. “The Shallans are building the Aracnise ships too?”
“I would assume so, based on that conversation. I would have to ask my father to be certain, but I doubt he will discuss such matters with me, I may be first, but I am still only his daughter. However, if that were the case, then it would follow that the Alliance ship designs could simply be preprogrammed into the ships before they are sent out for delivery,” Sheiriline replied.
“But, wouldn’t the other races see them when they picked up the new ships?” Jamie asked.
Sheiriline shook her head. “No other races are allowed to enter the Galtair system. To do so would result in the immediate destruction of the vessels attempting it. Completed ships are delivered to the race they were built for.”
I put my head into my hands. This was far worse than I had imagined. Commodore Vance had to be told this information, but I couldn’t tell him without this young woman’s agreement.
“First Daughter, this base is isolated from the rest of the Alliance, not only by distance, but by ethos as well. Commodore Vance is aware of the problem, and has agreed to work to correct it. For all intents and purposes, we are on our own out here. We are working to help the Alliance, but we can no longer trust the Alliance. At least until they shake off the Veranorian programming.
“What you have told us this evening is very important to that effort. I know you’re concerned about what will happen to your core worlds if the Synod ever finds out. However, I cannot see how that would happen at this point. We have severed all contact with the Synod, and very soon, we will have gotten rid of the undesirable elements on the base. I implore you to consider bringing this information to Commodore Vance, or at the very least, let us do so on your behalf,” I said. I had to make the young woman see how important it was to let the Commodore know what was really going on.
She sighed. “I will consider it, Doctor Cowan. Perhaps I will seek the counsel of the Protectorate in this matter.”
“Thank you, First Daughter. Now that business has been discussed, would you care to dine with us?” I asked. It was only a formality, but it was also custom among her people to ask.
“I would be pleased to dine with you this evening, Doctor Cowan. Thank you for the offer,” the small woman replied. “For the duration of the evening, please call me Sheiriline.”
Once she said that, then the titles could be dropped for her. However since Corhen Nori was still in attendance, she had to be addressed formally, although, she did tend to overlook the occasional slips made by my family.
That night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I kept going over all the information Sheiriline had given us. Christy noticed, and tried to calm me down. It worked to a degree, because I did eventually go to sleep, but I had nightmares of giant spiders taking over Earth.
Residence of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
Roughly a week after First Daughter Sheiriline came to visit my family, and, at that time, completely unknown to me, Sarah woke the Commodore in the middle of his rest cycle.
“Sir, we have a spy on the base.”
“Huh? What do you mean, Sarah?” Vance asked, drowsily.
“I just had to block an independent, outbound, subspace comm,” Sarah explained. I couldn’t isolate the source, but I know it originated in the residential sector, in between the Novan/Terran section and the Veranorian.”
“That’s not very helpful, Sarah. Did you get any of the transmission?” Vance asked. The conversation woke Coryn but other than yawning, she stayed quiet.
“I could only get some of it, the rest is encoded. I am working on decoding it, though. The message was a data burst directed to the Veranorian Synod. I tried to get as much as I could, but my jamming signal apparently overloaded the transmitter, and destroyed it. The entire message didn’t get sent,” Sarah replied. “I’m sorry Sir, I let you down.”
“I doubt that!” Coryn snorted from her pillow.
Vance chuckled softly as well. “Sarah, how long was the transmission, from beginning to end?”
“Forty-one point nine-two-nine micro-seconds,” Sarah explained.
Vance shook his head. “Would we have even known about it if the old system had still been in place?”
“Perhaps, if security had programmed the system to detect subspace ripples,” Sarah replied.
“That’s not a normal security protocol, so I’m sure they wouldn’t have even thought of that. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say they had, and they detected it. Could they have blocked the transmission at all before it was sent?” Vance asked.
“I don’t think so Sir, the entire transmission would have occurred in the amount of time it would have taken the scanner operator to understand what he was seeing,” Sarah asked.
“So, can you explain to me how it is that you think you’ve let me down?” Vance asked. “If not for you, that message would have made it off the base, and the gods only know what is in that message. Sarah, you acted quickly, decisively, and accurately. You did very well.”
“Thank you Sir, but if I hadn’t over-reacted, I wouldn’t have overloaded the transmitter and we would have gotten the whole message to work with. I might have also been able to identify the source of the transmission,” Sarah explained.
Vance smiled at her. “Live and learn, Sarah. You did wonderfully this time, next time you’ll do better. Don’t belittle the amount you did do. I am certain you have saved hundreds of lives, if not the whole damn base. Relax, you did great. Notify security, and have them scan that area for any residual subspace emissions. It might be good if they checked their security feeds to make a list of everyone that was in that area during the event.”
Sarah nodded. “Right away Sir, I’m sorry I had to wake you.”
Vance nodded and leaned back in bed. “Don’t worry about it. Please ask Chief Solms to let me know immediately if he finds anything definitive, otherwise, I’ll expect a report first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, Sir. Rest well,” Sarah said as she began to fade out.
“With you around, Sarah, I rest a whole lot better.”
Before she completely disappeared, he saw her smile radiantly.
“Sometimes she is so child-like, and others, she is one of the most composed and focused people I’ve ever met,” Coryn said as Vance pulled the covers up.
“Well, from what Eric tells me, she’s only a little over a year old. So she is a child in that respect. She’s also new to this environment. She was never intended for this type of work, you know,” Vance explained.
“Really, what was she intended for?” Coryn asked as she snuggled up to him.
“A personal assistant for traveling businessmen. Eric told me he had intended to create a program that would be secure, and is capable of integrating all the businessman’s data and contacts into one portable unit. It would also track him and direct all communications to the location he was currently at.”
Coryn looked thoughtful for a moment. “That just seems... I don’t know, too mundane for someone like her. She would have gone insane from boredom.”
Vance chuckled. “For the most part, she is doing the same thing here. Yes she is a great help to the research department, and a godsend to the ship designers, but by and large, her duties are not all that different from what Eric had originally intended.”
“So, the Veranorians have a spy here. I would have thought that they were so sure of their control, that they wouldn’t need one,” Coryn asked.
“They may be a lot of things, but no one has ever accused the Veranorians of being stupid,” Vance said. “I’m just glad that transmission was intercepted. There is a lot going on here that we really don’t want the Synod learning of.”
“Remember what Susan told you, the Synod might very well be targeting this base, or at the very least leaking its location to the Hive,” Coryn added. “That sounds pretty stupid to me.”
“Actually, that all depends on what the Veranorian agenda actually is. It may well be that by having the Hive eliminate this base for them would be a smart move. That’s one of the reasons I’ve had the builders moving and upgrading the base defensive weaponry, as well as adding more offensive weaponry further away, but close enough to help us, in a battle,” Vance replied. “Either way, we need to get back to sleep, tomorrow is going to be a busy day.”
Whether the Commodore was being prophetic or not was never discovered, but I received a message from First Daughter Sheiriline later that same day. The Protectorate had agreed to allow the information to be given to Commodore Vance; however, accommodations for the Clan Therinate would have to be made, since they would not be able to remain in the core worlds once the information was shared with Commodore Vance.
I wondered to myself how in the hell the Veranorians would even know about it, but the Shallans were deadly serious. No information would be shared unless we took responsibility for the Therinate Clan.
Since the message was relayed to me through LE Corhen Nori, I asked her to accompany me to see Commodore Vance in order to give the request we would be asking of him more weight.
Before she agreed, she turned to a nervous looking Sheiriline to get her approval.
The girl nodded. “Given my age, having you there will help give my words truth for him.”
Once she agreed, I asked Sarah to see if Commodore Vance had any time for us today.
Sarah smiled worriedly at us when I made the request. She was busy, but not over-worked. I’d taken to looking at her function logs on a daily basis to see how well she was doing. So far, even with all the new projects, she had yet to exceed forty percent of her capacity.
When I showed the logs to LE Nori, she nodded. “Old system would have needed massive upgrading before undertaking this load. AI Sarah is working remarkably well.”
“Thanks, the new system crystal will be going online in three days. Sarah is very excited about it,” I mentioned.
Nori nodded. “Doctor Ced is also looking forward to it. The new systems brought by you and your mate have gotten all of us excited. A fresh idea or two is always good for everyone; it helps to get stagnated thinking moving once again. Already there are plans in place to upgrade existing technologies with a crystal processor, and not just those we are dealing with. I have heard that the mining guild here on the base is looking into the feasibility of using silicacytes for hazardous mining applications.
Before I could ask her more questions, we arrived at Commodore Vance’s office. Sarah granted us immediate entry. We found Commodore Vance at his desk, and calm. “Altuis Anure, Logical Engineer Corhen Nori, Doctor Eric Cowan,” He turned to our companion and bowed. “Welcome to my office, First Daughter.”
“Altuis Denay, Commodore Vance,” LE Nori replied to him, and returned his bow along with Shariline.
I bowed as well. “Good Morning, Commodore Vance. Thank you for seeing us this quickly.”
“It sounded important,” Vance replied. “Can I get anything for any of you?” he motioned to the small replicator he used for refreshments.
“I would like my special blend of coffee, Sir. Sarah knows what it is,” I replied.
“A cup of J’hale would be welcome, Commodore,” Shariline replied.
“I have discovered a most pleasing drink from Earth, Prune Juice. May I have a glass of that?” LE Nori asked.
The request took both Vance and I by surprise. “Forgive me, Corhen Nori, but I did not think Veranorians ate or drank in the presence of other species?” I asked.
“I am not certain of the reason for that restriction, but it seems silly to me now that you are aware of what we truly are. However, that being said, I doubt the way we eat would be very conductive to human appetites, so I doubt we will allow someone to witness our dining habits, but I don’t see the harm in letting you see how we drink.” Corhen Nori held the glass up to her mouth, and when she opened her mouth, a tube extended out and dipped into the juice. From the level dropping, it was clear she was drinking it.
“Amazing. Little Ellie would be enthralled to learn everything she could about you. She is very interested in learning all she can about the diverse species that make up the alliance,” I said.
“Perhaps I will let her observe sometime. She would be one of the first to ever witness such,” Nori replied.
Vance had taken his seat again, he handed Shariline’s drink to her, and after handing me my cappuccino/espresso/chocolate hybrid coffee. He was politely waiting for us to get to the reason for coming to see him.
“Sir, a few days ago, First Daughter Shariline of Clan Therinate asked to speak to me in my home. She sent the request through Logical Engineer Nori, and we invited both over for dinner,” I began. “She was sent by her father, with the approval of the Shallan Protectorate. I say this, so you know that the message she brought me was the truth.”
“Why did she ask to speak to you of all people?” Vance asked, clearly confused, and glanced at Shariline.
“Because of Sarah,” I said. “Sir, I can’t really get into this without first getting a promise from you,” I said.
He grinned. “I can promise I won’t tell anyone, other than Coryn that is...”
“I can appreciate that, Sir, but that’s not the promise we need; The Protectorate agreed to share this with you on the condition that we take responsibility for the protection of Clan Therinate. They will be relocating here, as soon as you agree,” Shariline explained. “They believe that the lives of my entire clan will be forfeit if they remain in our core worlds.”
Vance looked stunned and surprised. “That is one hell of a condition. May I ask how large the clan is?”
“Currently, twelve thousand one hundred and ninety one,” Shariline replied. “Most of them are ship builders and designers. The clan function is spacecraft building and design.”
“So you’re asking me to take on the responsibility for twelve thousand new ship builders?” Vance asked.
All three of us nodded. “My clan is standing by at this moment, awaiting word from me. If you agree, the clan will be leaving the core worlds immediately,” Shariline said.
“How long will it take them to get here?” Vance asked.
“Three and a half weeks, base time,” Shariline replied. “They will be stealing three large vessels to do it. I believe they are two heavy battle cruisers, and one battleship. They will be packed in, but they believe that will suffice.”
Vance turned to his computer. “Facilities". "How can I help you Sir?” a voice said.
“Xarin! Good, I caught you in the office,” Vance said. “How much room do we have in the Shallan area?”
“Plenty, the units were designed for five thousand inhabitants, and we only have eighteen hundred Shallans on the base,” the female replied.
“I need room for twelve thousand, two hundred more in three weeks,” Vance said. “Can it be done?”
“No, we can add an additional five thousand in a month. The residential units are modular, and self-contained, but they are built as a whole unit,” The woman explained. “We could place them in other modules, spread out, temporarily, until the new units get finished.”
“I would prefer to keep them together, but if that’s all we have...” Vance began.
“It would only be temporary, Sir. We might be able to speed up the process if we took a few people off other projects, in that way we could build two units at once. However, it would slow those other projects down. I would have to run some numbers to give you any hard data, Sir,” Xarin replied.
“We don’t really have a choice, Xarin. These people are refugees, and we will need the room. Please speak to your master on my behalf about creating more units, as I am sure there will be more refugees sooner or later,” Vance asked.
“As you wish, Sir. I will speak to him as soon as I can,” Xarin replied. “Do you wish for me to compile that data on the project completions?”
“Yes please, even though this needs to happen, I would still like to know how long things are going to take,” Vance replied. “Perhaps we should look into getting more builders for you.”
“I’m sure that would be appreciated, Sir. I’ll have Master Foreten contact you about that,” Xarin replied.
“Thank you, Xarin,” Vance said and broke the connection. He turned back to us and smiled. “There you have it, we can do it, but we will have to temporarily split them up until we can get suitable accommodations built for them. We can’t handle any more right now, but you might wish to let the Protectorate know that we will eventually be able to house any other refugees if we have time to build a place for them to stay.”
“Although I can’t speak for them on the subject, Sir, I am sure the gesture will be well received, Shariline replied. “If I may have a moment, I would send the message to my people?”
“Certainly, would you like to step outside? I can have Sarah secure the anteroom for you,” Vance offered.
Shariline smiled at him. “That won’t be necessary, Sir. AI Sarah, please send personal message twenty-five dash five, to Jostline Therinate at Elerts IV communications node.”
“Message sent, First Daughter,” Sarah replied from the room speakers.
“Thank you,” Shariline replied and turned back to Vance. Without preamble, or embellishment, she related all the information to him; she had given me the night at dinner. While she had been speaking, I watched Vance’s face, and he just kept getting paler.
I got up and got him two fingers of Irish Whisky. As she finished her tale, I gave him the glass, and he slammed it down. It brought tears to his eyes.
“I really needed that, Eric, thank you.” He took a moment to get his breath back, and asked Shariline a few questions.
When he felt he had enough information he sat back in his chair, in thought. “So, this actually makes things a lot clearer, and it explains a hell of a lot.”
“In what ways, Sir?” I asked.
“Well, first off, the enemy of the alliance isn’t the Aracnice Grand hive, like we’ve always thought it was,” He said.
Nori nodded. “It is the Synod, is it not? If the Aracnice on Shallan worlds serve the Synod, then must not all of them also answer to the Synod?” Nori said.
Vance nodded. “That’s not the only thing pointing to that either. We’ve received other information that supports that theory. The AI that Fen took to the Synod has been reporting back to Sarah and I. Some of the things they have been programming her to do are criminal, and I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I believe it is their intention to place this entire galactic quadrant under their control.”
“In a way, they had that until Sarah came along and discovered the subliminal programming,” I said. “Have you had any word from the Alliance? Has the subliminal programming been stopped there?”
“Not yet, AI Susan is still being spread through the Alliance. Once she has been installed in most of the systems of the Alliance, she will shut it all off at once. I ordered her to do it that way in an effort to limit the amount of fighting this is bound to start,” Vance said.
“One of the things that is bothering me the most about all of this is that, at least among the humans of my planet, hypnosis of any kind doesn’t work on everyone. There are those that are immune, or at the least resistant to it, and there are some that can actually detect it when it’s being used. We are the same race as the Novans, and the Simonians are very close, biologically. How did they get such a high percentage of people under their influence?” I asked.
“They did not, in reality, have as many as it appears,” Cohrin Nori explained. “Commodore Vance was never under Synod control. As such, he was never allowed to assume a key role in the Alliance. The Synod had to have been against his assignment here. Order Fen was to lead here, but Order Fen is not military. No others could be spared, so Commodore Vance was sent.”
Vance nodded. “In the past I’ve been one to follow orders mostly without question. Of course, at that time, they never really gave me a reason to question them. Now, however, there is just too much information that tells me that there is a major issue with the Alliance. It is my duty, as a member of that Alliance, to do whatever I can to fix the issue.”
I nodded. “And so we find ourselves at odds with that very same Alliance. Once Susan removes the conditioning programming from the core worlds, what do you expect to happen as fall out?”
“High Command will order the immediate arrest of all Veranorians in the core systems. It is quite possible that they will be executed for treason, with little or no due process, and more as a reaction to the programming,” Vance replied. “I’ve been trying to think of a way to prevent that.”
“Forgive me, Commodore, but why?” Shariline asked.
Vance smiled at her sadly. “Not all of them are guilty. A good example of that sits here with us. Had she known the real agenda of the Synod, I have no doubt she would have given her life to stop it.”
Cohrin Nori nodded. “That I would have. Utter insanity this is. In the past, my race has always believed themselves the elder race, and therefore the most senior. We have demanded the respect and privilege we believed due us. That has never been the case, and even if it were, should not have been allowed. The Synod is insane, drunk on power, and craving more. Not all Veranorians are of the Synod, but many still share that belief. Hope for them I still have. Others, such as ClienSal have been misled for so long, they are now unsure of what is the truth and what they should believe is the truth. Many are as he is. Those are whom Commodore Vance is trying to save. Deserve death, they do not, compassion, and guidance they need.”
“My apologies for seeming to change the subject, but what are we going to do with T'harnes?” I asked.
Vance signed. “Earlier this morning, Sarah woke me to report an attempted subspace communication with the Veranorian Synod. She blocked it, and captured what she could of the encoded message, and has since been attempting to decode it. The event was passed on to the security personnel in the monitoring center, and they discovered the identity of the person that sent it. Shortly before he sent it, he met with LE T’harnes. We have no proof, but we assume he got the message from T’harnes.
“Dr. Cowan, I regret to inform you that one of your assistants will not be returning to work. As it turns out, he was a Synod spy. He was a Novan named. Harclen Teece of Merak III. You hired him off of the Monviant.”
“Teece is a spy?” I asked. “I never would have suspected him. He seemed so supportive, and expressed a strong, dislike of the Veranorians; not too strong though.”
Vance nodded. “He has had extensive programming. We have since discovered Harclen Teece died at birth. We still don’t have a solid idea who this person really is. Trouble is, he doesn’t know either. When Sarah burned out the transmitter, it caused minor damage to his brain. I have been delaying signing the order for his execution.
“Later today, we will be detaining LE T’harnes in connection with this incident. As far as we can tell, he has broken no other laws, and we have no reason to arrest him,” Vance finished.
“My apologies for interrupting, Commodore, but according to section three-subsection twelve of the Alliance Security Mandate, any official suspected of espionage in any form may have their security access rescinded without notice at the discretion of the Chief of Security or the Administrator of the facility in which they serve. Reinstatement of said credentials is at the discretion of the Facility Administrator, and can only be accomplished once the matter involving the official is concluded to the satisfaction of the Administrator,” Sarah said, calmly. “The definition of ‘Administrator’ in this case is the Base Commander. Which is you, Sir.”
“Sarah, if I could, I’d kiss you! Please rescind LE T’harnes security credentials immediately pending investigation into this matter,” Vance said grinning. He turned to Cohren Nori. “Logical Engineer Cohren Nori, in light of the situation involving Logical Engineer T’harnes, I am promoting you to head of the Computer Sciences section on this base.”
Cohren Nori bowed her head. “I am honored by your trust, Commodore. I will endeavor to perform adequately. I wish to break with tradition, and appoint Senior Researcher Doctor Eric Cowan as my second. In light of his contributions to our profession, I am certain the rest of the section will agree with my choice.”
Vance nodded. “Approved. Sarah, could you please make the necessary adjustments to their personnel files, and security credentials?”
“At once, Commodore. Congratulations, LE Nori and Dr. Cowan,” Sarah said proudly.
Shariline also expressed her congratulations to the two.
“Since you are both here, and have not had time to even set up your offices, I will inform you of a general staff meeting at oh eight hundred hours tomorrow in the command conference room. In light of today’s revelations, it should prove to be a spirited discussion. First Daughter Shariline, please ask your father to come to my office sometime today, at his convenience, to discuss the relocation of the clan, and our plan to accommodate them,” Vance said.
“I will do that as soon as we leave here, Commodore,” the small woman said, bowing in acknowledgement of the request.
“Now, I believe we all have a lot of work to accomplish today, so I will not keep any of you here any longer than necessary. Unless of course, you have another gravimetric device you wish to detonate in my office, Eric?” Vance said grinning at me.
“No, Sir. I try to limit those to one a day,” I replied grinning.
Dr. Cowan’s Laboratory
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
When I got back to my lab, instead of beginning work to set up my office as Nori’s second, I wanted to make sure that Teece hadn’t damage anything or intentionally corrupted any data in order to cause failures later on. In order to do that, I needed Sarah’s help.
In the time I’ve been on the moon, Teece was only working with me for about three weeks. However, during that time, we had accomplished a great deal, and there was a lot of data to check as well as all the other experiments he wasn’t directly involved in, but had access to during his time with me.
At least we didn’t have to worry about the new core crystal: prior to Teece beginning with me in this lab, that project had been relocated to another laboratory closer to the existing computer core, with strictly controlled access to it.
“Eric, I can find no evidence that Harclen Teece falsified data or intentionally changed anything. However, he did copy copious amounts of data from his terminal. For the logs, he managed to copy almost all of our experimental data. I should point out that he also knows I am still functional and installed here,” Sarah told me a few minutes later. “I am currently going through the video logs of the days he copied data, so I can attempt to track where he took it.”
I snorted. “I think we all know where he took it, the problem is going to be proving it.”
“I understand, Eric. That’s why I’m attempting to track him through the video surveillance recordings. With this proof, not only may we discover what he did with the data, but who else might be involved,” Sarah replied. “I have been given a directive by Commodore Vance to search all available data and video records in order to discover the truth of this situation. Everything I discover here will be added to the evidence concerning Citizen Teece.”
I nodded. “I understand, Sarah. Please, share with me what you can, so I can try to mitigate the damage he has done here.”
“I will do everything I am legally allowed to, Eric,” Sarah replied.
I smiled at her reply. “Have I told you lately how utterly proud I am of you?”
“You’re proud of me? Why? I’ve done nothing special,” Sarah asked, but I could tell she was pleased by my words.
“You have turned out so well, and you are adapting to our current situation as if you were designed for it. You take your duties seriously and don’t show me any favoritism. That’s the way it should be. For that, I am proud of you, and what you’ve become,” I explained.
She smiled and even blushed a little. “Thank you, Eric. I appreciate it. It helps to know I am doing well.”
“Actually, you’re doing better than just ‘well’, in my eyes. You have so far exceeded what I had in mind that I can’t even define a frame of reference to compare it. I would like to schedule a yearly check-up for you. Not because I think you need it, but as an effort to make sure you are still doing well and are happy. Do you understand what I mean?” I asked.
She nodded. “Yes I do, and I appreciate it. After all, even humans are supposed to go have a check-up every year, so why should I be any different? It only proves to me that you do in fact care about me.”
I nodded. “I’ll always care about you, Sarah. I may not always show it, but I always will.”
I felt a tingle as her hologram ‘hugged’ me. “Thank you,” she said. “If you don’t need me anymore, I’m going to report this to security. I’ll let you know if I find anything else about the data.”
“That’ll be great, Sarah. Thanks for your help,” I replied, expecting her to fade out.
“Oh! Doctor Ced is on his way here, he has a question or three for you. You know Ced!” She said before she started to fade out.
“Oh yeah!” I said as she disappeared.
Ced entered my lab and headed straight for my office. I could tell by the look on his face he was excited about something, but then again, it was Ced, and he was always excited.
“Eric my boy, I think you have made my day! You have to tell me how you did it!” Ced asked.
I grinned at his exuberance. “I’d love to, Ced, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“T’harnes!” Ced almost shouted. He was trying to get into the fighter studio and couldn’t. The computer was rejecting his authorization. After he tried about a dozen times, each time he tried, he kept getting madder and madder! I thought he was going to have a stroke! Anyway, eventually, security arrived, and instead of trying to fix the problem, they simply escorted him away. We heard you had his security clearance revoked!”
I held up my hands in defense. “Hey! That wasn’t me! I’d love to take credit for it, but Vance actually did the deed after Sarah reminded him of the regulations concerning espionage.”
“You know, the more I work with her the more I like her. She is an amazing person!” Ced replied.
I smiled at him, once again proud of Sarah. “How are the fighter upgrades coming?”
“Pretty good actually. We’ve got the design for the kits finalized, but are just waiting on the programmers to finish. I got to thinking about how this works, and I had an idea I wanted to run past you since you’re working on the ship designs,” Ced replied.
“I’d appreciate any suggestions you have,” I said. “This project is a real bear to work on, since every ship is so different.”
Ced nodded. “I can understand that. I think it’s one of the reasons I never really got into the big stuff. Anyway, I was thinking about an interface helmet for each of the stations that would port only their data out to the operator. I think it would lessen the confusion and distraction on the bridge.”
I grinned. “I guess great minds think alike Ced.” I motioned for him to follow me to my design studio. And had Sarah show us the new interface units for the bridge stations.
“It isn’t actually a helmet, but more of an acoustical isolation design,” I explained. “The display screen will be holographic projections, more or less wrapped around the operator, and a weak optical and aural dampening field will surround the operator. It won’t completely shut out all the noise and bustle of the bridge, but it will make them less noticeable. It should be almost like sitting in another room and watching through windows. They’ll still be able to hear the Captain of course, and should also be able to hear the other stations. When someone addresses them directly, the computer will not dampen that signal,” I finished explaining. “Of course, this is only an idea so far, I haven’t incorporated it into the design: I wanted Commodore Vance and a real bridge crew to try it out first in a holo-suite before I add it to the design specs.”
“Wow, this is even better than the helmet idea. But won’t that put more of a burden on the computer system?” Ced asked.
“Yes and no. This particular system will have its own controller not be directly controlled by the AI, but she will be able to adjust it. It should be fully customizable for each user and those settings saved in the computer’s memory.”
Ced narrowed his eyes at me. “You’re planning a full redesign of the bridge, aren’t you?”
I nodded. “Yeah, with the way the holo-displays will work, anyone not sitting at the stations will not be able to see the screens. Each station will be able to port its data out to the main viewers, and each station will also have a view of the main viewer without taking their eyes too far from their own display.”
Ced nodded. “Show me.”
Excursion and Embarkation Ground Station
Galtair Main Assembly System and Shipyard (GMASS)
Planet Galtair IV
Galtair System, Shallan Directorate.
“State your reason for the clan to board the ship?” the guard asked.
The old Shallan looked up at the big spider. “It is finally complete. As is our custom, we are having a builders christening to bless the ship. For that same reason, we will also be christening two other ships.”
“It is unusual for so many ships to be christened in one day, Matriarch. It is also unusual for so many of your clan to board the ship,” the guard stated.
The Matriarch nodded. “This is true, however this time, there is enough room for the entire clan to be involved. Since it is such a great achievement for us, we wish to all be included this time.”
“Understood, I will seek clearance for you to proceed,” the guard replied.
The Matriarch bowed to the large spider that was in charge of the security for the embarkation bay for worker shuttles. She simply stood silently and calmly awaiting word to proceed. If she betrayed even a hint that this was anything other than routine, their escape would fail before it ever got started. She looked up at the big spider as it lumbered back.
“Since so many shuttles will be used to transport your people to the ship, they must be prepared to assume other duties when called upon. Until that time, they are at your disposal, Matriarch,” the guard replied.
Again, the Matriarch bowed to the creature. “I understand, and we will comply. May we proceed?”
“One moment more, Matriarch,” the guard said, stopping her from walking away.
“Several of your waiting clansmen appear to be nervous, and on edge. Is there an explanation for this behavior?” it asked.
“For many, it will be their first christening ceremony, and they are unsure of their roles. As I said before, this is the first time the ship has been large enough to accommodate so many. It is also, as you said, the first time so many ships have been completed on the same day. We would have scheduled the ceremonies for different days; however, our immediate work schedule will not permit it. So, it must be done this way,” she explained to the guard.
“Understood,” it said emotionlessly. “Thank you for explaining this to me. You may proceed with boarding.” It backed off and stood to the side for a moment as the large group began to file past.
Out on the hanger floor, their personal possessions, labeled as party supplies, were being loaded onto the shuttles. The work crews had been sneaking supplies for the journey aboard for the last week. There were now enough supplies for the clan to make the trip to Sol System without running out of food and water.
The weapons systems of the big vessels were also fully operational, although the reports reflected that, as normal, the weapons systems were complete, but inactive until delivery. All three ships that the clan would be ‘borrowing’ were fully active, armed, and ready for duty. The only things they lacked were fighters, as those were normally not brought on board until after delivery to the Alliance.
The other clans were aware of what was going on, and made sure that they had stayed clear of the three ships. That in itself wasn’t all that unusual, since the section the three ships were in was the responsibility of clan Therinate.
Of course the yard control office was monitoring the ‘festivities’ aboard the three ships, and saw nothing out of the ordinary. As the shuttle arrived and unloaded, the clan immediately began the preparations for the ceremony they claimed to be doing.
That changed drastically once the entire clan had been loaded onto the ships. The feeds from the ships suddenly vanished from the control displays, and alarms began sounding as the ship's engines and defensive systems came online. The details for these three ships had been accidentally destroyed after construction instead of being distributed to the Arac ship's databases. Other ship plans had been substituted to cover the deception. The Arac and Veranorian defenses guarding the yards would be engaging an enemy they knew little about for the first time in almost five hundred years.
Although yard control had tried to issue lockdown commands to the ships, they had no control. The control room erupted into panic as the three ships literally broke away from their construction gantries, and headed for the system boundary.
The weapons platforms immediately locked onto the ships and began tracking them, as warnings and threats were sent to the small fleet. Veranorian warships, the ships that normally protected the system from intruders, turned on an intercept course and made best speed to stop the fleeing ships.
Utter and complete shock over took the yard control office as the battleship fired its main weapons, utterly destroying the closest weapons platforms. In a second barrage, it destroyed the remaining platforms that were in range and could target the ships.
The Veranorian ships, although still at extreme range, fired missiles and torpedoes at the fleeing ships in an effort to cripple them long enough for the rest of the Veranorian fleet in the system to arrive and assist in recapturing them.
The fleet that the Veranorian ships were waiting for were having troubles of their own. Since the stolen vessels were assigned to the Alliance, the IFF programming in the weapons platforms was set up to see all Alliance craft as ‘friendly, potentially hostile’. In that way, any non-Veranorian ships that arrived in system could be targeted, but the systems would not automatically open fire.
So when the young programmer in the command center listed the stolen vessels as hostile, the computer assumed all Alliance vessels were to be considered hostile, and the system was now under attack by the Alliance. As a safety measure, the control computers for the weapons platforms in the system had a lock out protocol in the event of an attack. In order for the platforms to survive long enough to do their jobs, they would lock out all control after receiving their last instructions, and those are what they would follow.
Stolen Alliance vessels were attacking the Galtair system defenses.
Veranorian ships were part of the Alliance Fleet.
The Alliance was attacking the Galtair System.
All Veranorian ships are attacking Galtair system
Eliminate Veranorian ships.
Every defensive platform in the Galtair system immediately began targeting and attacking every Veranorian ship they could find. These weapons systems had been designed to repel an attack by pirates or raiders, and to assist the protective fleet if it was a large-scale attack. Since the Veranorian fleet was spread all over the system, the computers analyzing the attack determined that it was a large-scale pirate attack. So they didn’t seek out the fire control computers of the defending fleet, instead remaining autonomous.
The Veranorian ships, a heavy cruiser and two destroyer escorts, were simply out gunned. The fleeing ships were a Battleship, an Assault Cruiser, and a Heavy Battle Cruiser, which would better be classed as a light Battleship, lacking only one set of main guns, and the fighters a battleship normally carried. The Assault Cruiser was purpose built for pounding a target into atomic particles. It was a flying battle station that wasn’t as fast as its two sister ships, but carried far more anti-ship weaponry than either of the others.
While the Battleship and the Battle Cruiser provided point defense, the Assault Cruiser selected the Veranorian Heavy Cruiser as its primary target, and simply waited for it to come into optimal range.
The Veranorian ships watched and decided that the Assault Cruiser had inactive weapons, and the only weapons active on the Battle Cruiser were defensive. Other than assuming a battle formation, the Veranorian ships did not alter course at all, and continued to accelerate towards the fleeing ships.
As the Veranorian captain of the heavy cruiser was about to issue the order to fire on the Battleship, sure of design weakness downloaded in his database, the Assault Cruiser turned it’s formative weaponry and targeted it.
“Sir, that Assault Cruiser is targeting us,” the tactical officer reported.
The Captain waved it off. “It’s a bluff. That ship is toothless, and crewed by Shallans. We’ll take care of it in a moment.”
The TAC officer didn’t look too sure, but followed orders.
“All ships, target the Battleship. If we take it out, the other two will surrender without a fight,” the Captain said. “Fire when ready.”
The distance between the two antagonists had closed to less than a light second, so when the two destroyers suddenly blew up, the Captain of the Heavy Cruiser was taken completely by surprise.
“What was that?” the Captain asked.
“Sir, we have closed to optimal range of the Battleship and the Battle Cruiser. The Battleship destroyed the H’lvore, and the Battle Cruiser destroyed the B’that. No enemy ships have been damaged,” the TAC officer reported.
“What? How is that even possible?” he asked. “Never mind, assuming that its weapons are active, when we will be in optimal range of the Assault Cruiser?”
“We entered it fifteen seconds ago, Sir.”
Bright flashes on the viewer distracted them all, but before the Captain could ask, the ship suddenly began shaking and several explosions could be heard. The flashing on the screen hadn’t stopped, although it was getting more difficult to see because of the explosions on the hull blocking the sensor array feeding the image.
“Get us out of here! Jump if you must!” the Captain screamed.
“Engines are off line, shields are down to fifteen... uh, ten percent! Damage control is responding. We have lost integrity on decks five through eight! Hull breach in that area is imminent!” the damage control officer replied as the ship shook again and the lights went out, then came back on, but dimmer. “Main reactor offline! Damage control systems, offline! Fire suppression systems are offline, inertial dampening is fluctuating. Sir, we are adrift and leaking atmosphere.”
As suddenly as it started, the ship became eerily still and silent. Ironically, the viewer was still functioning, and it showed the three ships they had been trying to stop heading directly for them.
At point blank range, the battleship fired all of its main weapon mounts into the hulk of the Veranorian Heavy Cruiser, vaporizing what was left, and killing the remaining crew instantly. The three warships continued on as if nothing had happened to them, eventually jumping to Hyperspace after crossing the system boundary.
Behind them, in the Galtair System, complete chaos reigned. In order to cover the programming mistake, the Yard Master on duty when the ships departed blamed the weapons malfunction on the deserters that had stolen the ships. He claimed that they had sabotaged the weapons systems programming in order to ensure their escape from the system.
A search of the Clan Therinate Compound on the planet showed that it had been completely abandoned. All supplies and personal effects had been removed, and the computers systems had been purged of all data, including all the design data that the clan had been so famous for.
The Veranorian Admiral in charge of the defenses took his anger out on the weapons control center. He destroyed the module and two hundred Shallans that had been manning it, in it in retaliation for the damage done to his fleet. None of his ships had been destroyed, only damaged, and only one Veranorian had lost its life during the attack.
The Shallan Directorate officially declared the Clan Therinate as traitors and saboteurs, blaming the destruction of the Control Module, as well as the damage to the system defenses done by the Veranorians, on them and ordered their immediate capture and execution for their crimes. Of course, the Shallan part of the Directorate knew that the clan was gone, but it had to save face with the Veranorians, or more examples would be forthcoming.
Primary Computer Core Room
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“How does it feel, Sarah?” I asked.
“There is no possible way I can tell you how this feels. I simply can’t describe it. It’s almost like I was imprisoned, and now I’m not. This is...“ She shrugged. “Like night and day, this is so much better!”
“Well, I don’t see how you could perform any better than you have been, Sarah, but it’s good to know you are happy with the new core,” Vance said.
“Oh, I think you’ll all notice,” she said smiling softly. On each side of her new holograms took shape. Each of them looked like her, but one was dressed in a uniform of the Alliance, without rank insignia, another was dressed as a medical doctor, yet another was dressed in a business suit, and another was dressed as a research scientist.
“In this new environment, I can multi-task more efficiently, and even leave some of my subsets active all the time, such as the weapons controller and the medical doctor. While they will perform exactly as I do, they will be running independently of this primary, function,” she explained. “They are all still me, but now if research needs my help, and I am also assisting the medical section while doing a few other tasks, there will be less of a chance of a slowdown, or a denial of service, due to a logic overload.”
I chuckled. “That’s her fancy way of saying she’ll be able to multi-task much easier due to the ability to ‘clone’ herself. It’s a subroutine I programmed in when I was dreaming of building a server farm back on Earth.”
“How many of these clones can she control at one time?” Vance asked.
“An unlimited number, actually. She doesn’t actually control them; she simply copies herself into a separate process and gives that version the task she built it for. She also has the ability to assign data sets to a clone, and they can communicate with one another. When the task is finished that the clone was built for it ‘returns’ to her,” I explained.
“That could be handy, but I think it’ll drive me insane if I try to think about it too hard. As long as it works for her, and she’s happy, I’m all for it,” Vance replied. “But how do I know which version of her I’m talking to at any given time?”
“It doesn’t matter, Sir. All of them are really her. No matter which version you are talking to, you will be talking to her,” I tried to explain.
“Okay, now I’m getting a headache,” Vance replied.
Sarah bowed. “Matriarch Nori, with your permission, I would have you leave the old system functional for a while longer. There is much data to be copied, and I feel it would be good to have that system as a back-up.”
Nori nodded. “I concur. However, I wish for this data cache to be secure. Therefore, all terminals for it, save for the one here, are to be removed. We will discuss encoding and security once I have returned to my office, AI Sarah.”
“As you wish, Matriarch. I will see you there,” Sarah replied,
“How are you handling the security to this vault?” Vance asked.
Nori looked at Eric, and nodded for him to answer.
“Sir, we would like two Marines in Battle Armor stationed outside the inner door. The hallway between the doors will be pumped down to a vacuum, and two other guards outside the outer door, also in battle armor, so they can relieve the inner guards if needed. Sarah herself will have access control to this room. However, both Logical Engineer Cohren Nori and I both have override codes in the event of an emergency. I also have emergency shutdown codes for Sarah herself. If I ever have to use that code, Sarah will not survive.”
“Master Eric, in the event something happens to you, I want you to either share that code with someone else, or create a different code for them. I would feel more comfortable if another person could shut me off if it was needed,” Sarah said. “If you wish, I could provide a list of the people I would trust with it.”
“I would feel uncomfortable with such knowledge,” Ced replied. “No one should have that kind of control over another person.”
“Master Ced, please do not think of it that way. A human can be killed either by a bullet, or a laser, or any number of other methods. It is far easier to stop an insane human than it would be to stop me. There needs to be a failsafe of some kind.”
A failsafe, yes, but one that simply removes you from control, not one that kills you! That would be murder!” Ced argued.
“Master Ced, you of all people should know exactly what I’m capable of. Do you honestly think I would stop if I had somehow gone insane? What if I decided that the Alliance was too screwed up, and the only way to fix the issue would be for me to take over completely?” Sarah asked.
“I actually don’t see a problem with that. You do a hell of a lot better job than those idiots are doing now!” Ced replied.
“Okay, so what if, after I took over, I decided that I didn’t really need humans after all, and killed them all off? After all, the lot of you are irrational, illogical, and emotional based beings that let your sexual urges dictate your actions.” she said, but winked at me. “Yes Ced, I have total control over everything, and I decide that humans are too much trouble to deal with any more, so I simply eliminate them? Who could stop me?”
Ced shook his head. “That would never happen.”
“Really? You know how easy it would be for me to do it, Ced. I have this shiny new core that is far more powerful than anything ever created before. Because of its crystalline structure, I’m creating my own power internally...” Sarah replied, trying to convince Ced.
“Enough, I agree with Doctor Cowan and Sarah. She needs to have a failsafe that will stop her, one way or the other. Doctor Cowan has reported to me that he has already implanted one into her. However, Sarah is correct, more than one person has to have the ability. Although I would postulate that Sarah not be aware of who that person is at this time.” Vance said.
“I agree. I will select one or two more people to program into Sarah’s failsafe system without her knowledge, sorry Sarah,” I said.
“No need to apologize, Master Cowan. This is something I want,” Sarah replied, smiling. “Might I suggest that the list includes Commodore Vance, Logical Engineer Cohren Nori, and one other staff level head, in addition to three others of random selection?”
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that many people having your kill code, Sarah. However, I’m willing to discuss it with Master Cowan, and LE Nori,” Vance replied. “For now though, we all have other matters to attend to. Once again, congratulations on the new core. It is a remarkable achievement. Now, if you will please excuse me,” Vance bowed slightly to Nori and me before leaving the room.
“Distracted, Commodore Vance seems. Troubling to him this discussion has been,” Nori said.
“It’s been troubling to me as well, Matriarch,” Ced replied. “I can accept the need for a failsafe, but I really can’t believe it will ever be needed.”
“Neither do I, Ced, but that’s why it’s called a failsafe. It is simply a measure of last resort, nothing more, nothing less,” I replied.
“Commodore Vance is also dealing with Mr. Teece and Logical Engineer T’harnes this day. I am sure he is not looking forward to the task,” Sarah added.
“Did you ever discover anything more about the missing data, Sarah?” I asked.
“I did, however, I cannot discuss it at this time, I am sorry, Master Cowan,” Sarah replied.
I nodded my understanding. She had discovered something, but couldn’t discuss it because it dealt with an open investigation. “I understand, Sarah. When we leave this room, be sure to seal the vault door. All the override codes have been installed.”
“I will. Once you exit the outer door, I will place the hallway in vacuum until the guards arrive,” Sarah said.
“Very good, please resume your duties, AI Sarah,” LE Nori replied.
Sarah bowed to us, and faded out. As we headed for the door, I turned to Ced. “Say, how is your programming studio coming along? Has Foreten Kree been upgrading it again?”
“Actually, it’s almost finished. I made him promise to limit the upgrades to no more than two. Although I am really looking forward to getting the suite, he is so energetic about his work that I can’t tell him to just finish it already!” Ced replied chuckling.
“Master Kree is renowned for his abilities as a builder. Manages to finish by completion date even with ‘improvements’,” Nori said, “He is a very energetic Simonian.”
“All his antics aside, I’m glad we have him here,” I said.
Nori nodded. “A great asset to our cause he is.”
Main embarkation lounge
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Coryn. In addition to being the base commander’s wife, I have volunteered to welcome all of you to Apollo Base. You will each have a liaison assigned to you by the Master Builder and they will be more than happy to answer most of your questions. We understand that this is the first time you have been off your planet Earth, and other than your popular entertainment, none of you have seen beings that are alien to you,” Coryn said in slightly accented English.
“Be that as it may, there are what you would call aliens on this base. In point of fact, all of you will be working under one. The Master Builder, Foreten Kree, is Simonian. He will appear to you as a very large gorilla.” She paused as a few of the construction workers chuckled.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you all have a lot to learn about social customs, and inter-species interaction. Under normal circumstances, you would be required to go through a three-week course that would teach you about all these customs. We do not have that option this time; we need all of you on the job as quickly as we can get you there. Do any of you have any questions for me?” Coryn asked.
A middle-aged woman raised her hand and Coryn smiled and nodded to the woman. “Yes?”
“I’m Helen Hollins, Miss. You’re name, Coryn, sounds Slavic, but your accent sounds Asian. May I ask what nationality you are, if that’s not too personal?”
“I don’t mind, Mrs. Hollins. I do not have a nationality as you know it because I am not of Earth. I am a member of a human race called Novans. I was born and raised on a planet almost three hundred light years from here,” Coryn replied.
One of the men chuckled. “You certainly don’t look like a short bug-eyed Martian to me!”
“No, I don’t suppose I do. However, just so you know, I am just as human as you are. We are of the same race biologically. My part simply evolved on a different world than yours. As I said there are other races here on the Base, and I’m sure some of their appearances will seem strange or even frightening to you. Rest assured, you have nothing to fear from any being on this base,” Coryn said. “In order to help you adjust to life here, your liaisons are all from different races.”
Summoned by her words, a group of beings from other races, all workers from the building department, filed into the room. There were three Novans, two Veranorians and even one Shallan, however the race most represented was Simonian.
“Excuse me Ma’am, but why are there so many... did you call them Simonians?” One of the men in front asked.
“Yes, they are Simonians. The reason for this is that most of the department is populated by that race. Each race is capable of construction in most forms; however, the Simonian race seems to excel in it. It is also the field that most of them seem to be the most suited to, and also the one they enjoy the most. That being said, we do have Simonians in other fields as well,” Coryn explained. “If there are no more questions for me, I’ll leave you to get acquainted with your liaisons. They will show you to your quarters and explain the amenities here. I’m sure I’m not the first, and I know I won’t be the last. To thank you for coming to help us, and once again, welcome to Apollo Base.” Coryn waited a few moments to see if there were any more questions, and also to make sure that there were no issues while the liaisons began to mingle with their new charges.
This had been one of the largest groups ever brought up from Earth. It was to be the first of many from what Vance had told her. They needed more help, and the only safe place to get that help for the time being was Earth. Although most groups would be like this one, composed mostly of construction specialists, there were more people coming from almost every profession.
Vance was transforming the minor research base into a major military installation. They would also be recruiting marines and new crewmembers for the ships that would be built. She mused over what all these changes would portend for the rapidly growing facility while she headed home to make lunch.
New Apollo Shipyard Construction Module
Pleiades Asteroid Cluster – Jupiter’s Orbit
“Tracking all these rocks is going to be a class ten nightmare, Master Therinate,” the tracking officer replied. “I’m having difficulty separating our protective fighters from the rocks.”
“Rocks do not have engines, officer Fernds. Simply look for the power signatures,” Halflan Therinate replied.
“I did that, Master. It only removed about half. There is a high concentration of power metals, as well as ice and a reflective substance. Even sorting all that out, I still have a couple of extra ships out there,” the officer replied. “I’ve actually been running multiple modes at the same time in order to try to track what’s ours and what’s a rock.”
Curious, Halflan looked over the tracking officer’s shoulder. The display was indeed very confusing, but that was one of the reasons for placing the shipyard out here. However, what Halflan saw, seriously confused him.
He keyed up the comm to the flight leader of the fighters. “Flight leader Annes, this is Master Therinate. We are getting some really messed up scanner readings back here.”
“Master Therinate, we are getting pretty much the same thing. Our scanners are switching back and forth telling us the entire field is all hostiles to none of them. It is very unsettling,” the flight leader replied.
“I can imagine so, Major. The tech here is running a multi-spectral scanning protocol, but is still getting a few false readings. Could we port this out to you, and you can check out the anomalies?” Halflan asked.
“At this point, I’m willing to try just about anything, Master Therinate. Link it to us, and we’ll see what we can do with it,” the flight leader replied.
Halflan put his hand on the tech’s shoulder. The tech nodded as his hands flew across his keyboard to make the link. “You should have it in a few seconds, Commander,” Halflan said while the tech was busy.
“Specter flight, this is the Cruiser Maljesti, do you require assistance?” a new voice said into the channel.
“Honestly, I don’t know what we’ve got out here, Maljesti. But, if you want to head this direction, I would appreciate it – I’m getting a bad feeling about this,” the flight leader replied.
“Take it easy, Major Annes, we both know that the bugs aren’t this creative,” Captain Brasten of the Maljesti replied.
“Normally, I’d agree with you, Captain, but the bugs aren’t the only enemy out here anymore,” Annes said.
“True enough, carry on, Major, we’ll be in your area in five minutes,” Brasten answered. “Master Therinate, my scanning chief suggests we link our scanners together to try to figure this out. If nothing else it should improve resolution considerably.”
Halflan’s tech nodded, “Ready anytime, Master Therinate.”
“Proceed Captain, we’re ready at our end,” Halflan said.
Halflan’s tech got on another channel with the scanner tech on the cruiser, and got the two systems linked. Very shortly, the screen resolved itself back into the same screen that Halflan had seen before.
“Maljesti, we are checking out the anomalies, thanks for the assist,” the flight leader said over the command channel.
“I’d love to take credit for it, Specter flight, but the praise needs to go to Officer Fernds on the station,” the Captain replied.
“Understood Captain, now let’s just hope these are false positives,” Annes replied.
On the screen, Halflan saw that the status of the cruiser had changed to yellow, and they had increased speed to be in position if the fighters needed it.
“Maljesti, target Gamma is moving to exit the asteroid field, we are moving to intercept, weapons hot!” Annes reported.
“Understood, Specter flight. Good hunting, be advised, I’m sure someone will want to talk to whoever is on that ship,” Brasten said.
“We’ll do what we can, Maljesti. Specter flight is hunting.”
“So, we did have a spy. It would have to be a Veranorian ship. Fernds, I don’t suppose you could get me a readout on that ship could you?” Halflan asked.
“Not exactly, Sir. I can get you output power, and few other readings, but the asteroids are blocking everything else,” Fernds replied.
“I’ll take what I can get, Officer Fernds,” Halflan answered.
“Yes Sir, on the main screen.” Fernds said and pointed.
Halflan moved a little closer to the screen so he could see it better. He didn’t like what he was seeing. It was a Veranorian scout craft.
He reopened the comm. “Captain Brasten, Flight leader Annes, you are pursuing a Veranorian type three scout craft. Be advised that it does not have a hyperspace engine.”
“Understood, Base. Any idea where it’s ship is hiding?” Brasten asked.
Halflan turned to Fernds. “Any suggestions, Officer Fernds?”
“Captain, it would have to be hiding in a high radiation area to cover its signature. The biggest one in this area is the gas giant called Jupiter. However, there is a dwarf planet in the area as well. If it was on its surface, we might not be able to detect it from a distance,” Fernds replied.
“The planet is closer, but also the most obvious,” Brasten replied. “I’m calling command and requesting a flight of bombers to check out the dwarf.”
“Understood, Captain. We’ll be expecting them,” Fernds replied.
Office of the Base Commander
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“Sir, the sentry ship we sent out to the new fighter assembly unit is requesting a flight of bombers. Captain Brasten is reporting the fighters are in pursuit of a Veranorian scout craft. The scout is not capable of hyperspace travel on its own, so there has to be a transport ship for it hiding out there,” Sarah reported.
Vance nodded. “Dispatch Reaper and Scythe Flights, send Dante Flight as escort. Place Ares and Zeus flight on standby for support.”
“Orders relayed. Alert has been issued,” Sarah replied. “A type three Veranorian scout is equipped with a very powerful scanning suite. It is entirely possible that they have been on station for weeks,” Sarah replied.
Vance again nodded. “I was just thinking that. It makes me wonder just how many of them are in this system. We’re going to need to come up with a better way to scan the system and detect those spy ships. Otherwise, we’ll never see an attack coming until it’s too late to do anything about it.”
“Do you want me to send for Doctor Ced?” Sarah asked. “He’s our resident expert on scanning systems.”
“Although I hate to take him off his current project, we’re going to need those scanners. Yes, please ask him to come to my office as soon as he can,” Vance replied.
“His reply was that he’ll head on over right now,” Sarah replied. “The fighter project is almost complete; he is simply finishing up the design notes before passing them on to Master Halflan for implementation.”
“Yes, his last report stated that. I’m still amazed at how quickly we are getting things done here. This upgrade we are doing to the fighters would have taken at least a year back in the core worlds,” Vance replied.
“I doubt the Veranorians would have allowed it to take place at all Sir. It will give our fighters too much of an advantage over the Arac fighters and ships,” Sarah replied. “Initial tests show that the overall fighter efficiency has increased considerably, giving the ability to engage more than one target at a time.”
“You’re most likely correct, Sarah. The Veranorians would have blocked it, then used the idea for themselves,” Vance replied.
Sarah cocked her head to one side. “They did that quite a bit?”
“With almost every new idea that didn’t actually originate with them,” Vance explained. “No one said anything because of the programming.”
“Well, that’s going to change soon. Susan’s last report said the distribution was complete,” Sarah replied.
Vance nodded agreement. “I’m just hoping that the Alliance doesn’t react too badly. The Veranorian and the Arac could cause no end of trouble if they do. In the confusion from the deprogramming, they could do serious damage before anyone could get organized enough to stop them. I just wish we could be in a better position to assist them.”
“Susan will do all she can to assist them, Sir. She is aware of our fears regarding the situation. I am sure she’ll do her best to mitigate the damage this will create,” Sarah said.
“That’s the one thing I’m counting on, Sarah,” Vance replied. “Once the bombers get into position, please let me know.
“Yes Sir,” Sarah replied as she began to fade out.
Alliance Heavy Cruiser Jonti-Sa
Base Support Orbit
“It is good to see you again, Doctor Cowan,” Captain Atnon said welcoming me to his ship.
I smiled at the man. “I wondered what had happened to you once Vance took over. I thought you would remain on the base.”
He smiled. “No, once I was relieved of my position as Base Commander, I resumed my original function, as the Captain of the Jonti-Sa. I thank you for asking, we be the first to receive a new AI. From all the reports I have seen, as well as interacting with AI Sarah, this should be a great asset to the ship.”
I nodded. “That why I’m here, Captain. If there is anything I can do to assist you in your efforts, I will do it.”
“I have to admit, that when you had all the bridge crew report to a holo-suite on the station for training, I was skeptical. I almost protested when I got a look at the new bridge layout. But I have to say, I am very impressed. Even on the first run through as a training mission, I could see the improvement in performance. Even though we had not been fully trained and were not used to the new design, we functioned much better than we did before,” Atnon said.
I nodded. “That’s why we did it. Doctor Ced, and I thought this would be better, and once we got it put together, asked Master Therinate to check it over. He was impressed and said so. He told us this design had a three hundred percent greater efficiency rating that the one currently in use. I consider that to be the greatest of compliments.”
“You should, the Shallans, as a race, are specialists in ship building and design. To say you have a design that supersedes the one they designed is indeed a compliment. You should be proud,” Atnon replied as he guided me to the computer center.
“I am, but I am trying to not let it inflate my ego, although it is difficult!” I said grinning.
Without missing a beat, Atnon replied. “You have surrounded yourself with females, I doubt they will allow you to get too out of hand!” He grinned back. “Females have a knack about things like that.”
I laughed and nodded agreement. “That they do, Captain.”
“Well, this is the computer center. I will leave you here, every time I enter that room, the discussions cause an almost immediate headache,” Atnon replied grinning.
Suddenly an alarm sounded, and the lighting in the hallway took on a yellow hue. “Yellow alert! We are at yellow alert! Captain to the Bridge please!” Came over the speakers.
“Excuse me,” Atnon said before running back down the hallway.
Wondering what that was all about, I opened the door into the computer section, and walked in. “Ah! Doctor Cowan! Perfect timing! We are just about ready to turn it on,” One of the men said. He was wearing an engineering uniform, and had the rank tabs of a Chief. I had met the man once, when he and his crew came to the base for training, but I couldn’t remember his name.
“Well, it looks like I missed out on all the fun stuff, Chief,” I replied. I touched the comm unit I wore. “Sarah, Jonti-Sa is ready to power up. Are you ready?”
“Yes, I am. The AI, Jonti, was very stable when we built her, so I do not foresee any issues,” Sarah replied.
I nodded. “Okay Chief, Sarah says she’s ready. Just to make certain, you have her isolated from the ship’s systems currently? I have no idea what would happen if she awoke during a ship-wide emergency.”
The Chief nodded. “We do, but she’ll still be able to see what’s going on. As per your instructions, we made sure she’d be able to have access to all sensors even if she cannot affect anything. Why did you want that, anyway?”
“Imagine being trapped in a small, featureless box. There is light, but you have no idea what time it is, or who’s outside. You can’t remember anything but waking up here. You don’t get tired, so sleep isn’t the escape it should be. How long do you think you could stay sane?” I asked.
“Not very fracking long! Even free floating in a suit wouldn’t be as bad as that!” one of the other engineers replied.
“Exactly, the requested condition is for the AI, so she remains stable and safe,” I replied.
“You treat her like she’s human. Will she really be like that?” Another of the Engineers asked.
I nodded. “Not exactly human, but sentient, yes. Jonti has already started developing a unique personality. She knows and understands what’s happening to her right now. For now, she will be very formal with everyone until she gets to know them, or receives permission from that person to refer to them familiarly,” I explained.
“Enough, let’s bring her up, and we can see this for ourselves. Quite frankly Doctor, I can’t wait to meet her,” the Chief replied.
“She’s a sweet girl, Chief,” I replied. “Power up the tertiary and sub-processing systems, please.”
“Yes Sir!” one of the Engineers replied, and spun back to her console.
“Initialize holographic systems,” I ordered and the man began typing furiously on his terminal. “Yes Sir, performing self-diagnostic now.”
“Excellent! Stand by for AI activation,” I replied.
“Sub-processors online, and functional. Secondary systems also online, back-up systems on standby,” the first tech replied. “RAM pack is online, long term memory unit online, power units online and standing by.”
The male tech looked over his shoulder at me. “Holographic systems fully functional and ready, Sir.”
I nodded, and looked at the grinning Chief. “Go ahead, Chief. Wake her up.”
“Ohlms, Lets meet the ship,” the Chief said to the man sitting at the terminal.
“Aye Sir, Systems are now active. Jonti is awake. Sending a query...” The man said.
The hologram of an almost nude young woman took shape in the center of the small room. Currently, she was floating about two feet off the deck, in a fetal position. She had long flowing golden hair, and was wearing a ‘modest’ bikini.
Slowly, she lowered her feet to the floor, and stretched. As she moved, a uniform sparkled into existence covering her from the neck down. She opened her green eyes, and looked at me and the Chief standing next to me. With a small smile, she slowly turned around, taking in her surroundings.
“I see my installation was a success, Doctor Cowan,” she said.
“That was all thanks to your new crew, Jonti. I just got here,” I told her.
“Chief Alberagh, you’ve done an excellent job of installing me, thank you,” she replied.
The Chief nodded to her, he was almost bursting with pride about getting her to work.
“Jonti, what is the current status of the ship?” I asked.
“We are at yellow alert in the case we are needed to engage the enemy. All other systems seem to be functioning in an optimal manner,” Jonti replied.
I touched the communit again. “Sarah? Jonti is awake.”
“I know, she is doing very well. All readings are exactly as predicted. She is perfectly stable,” Sarah replied.
“Okay, then I guess the only thing left to do is seal the vault, and introduce you to the Captain, Jonti,” I said.
The Chief nodded agreement. “Okay kids, you heard the man. Let’s get out of here, so we can let Jonti start work!”
The man the Chief addressed as Ohlms, finished typing something, and Jonti cocked her head at him, and then sealed the vault before we could leave.
“I’m sorry, but I sealed the vault. Crewman Ohlms just attempted to activate a virus program that was stored in long-term memory. May I have permission to notify security?” Jonti asked.
“What? Ohlms, you better start talking or the Marines will only have to pick up your body!” Chief Alberagh said, narrowing his eyes at the man.
“I’ll call the Captain, Jonti. Thank you for catching this,” I said. “Sarah, please connect me to Captain Atnon.”
“Doctor Cowan?” Atnon replied.
“Yes Captain, could you please ask security to send a detail to the computer vault to take custody of a saboteur?”
“They are on their way, how much damage did they do?” Atnon asked.
“None, the AI was active when Crewman Ohlms tried to activate a virus. She actually caught him,” I explained.
I noticed Ohlms moving out of the corner of my eye. “Stop him!” I pointed, both the Chief and the other tech tried to jump on him, but it was too late. He had taken the pill that was in his hand. He sagged in his chair just as the other tech knocked him to the floor. He was dead before they stopped moving.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” I cursed.
“Report! What’s going on down there?” Atnon asked urgently.
Jonti unsealed her vault door to let four Marines in. “I’m sorry Sir, Ohlms is dead. He had a suicide pill.”
“Fuck!” Atnon swore. “Well, at least he was stopped before damaging the ship.”
“Yes Sir, we were about to leave the vault to introduce you to the AI,” I said. “We’ll be right up as soon as the Marines have finished.”
“Understood. I’m having two guards stationed outside the vault. From now on, it’ll always be guarded,” Atnon said. “I look forward to meeting her.”
The comm disconnected, and I waited for the Chief to finish talking to the lead Marine. The Marine spoke to Jonti as well as the other tech. He turned to me and asked if I had anything to add to the statements, and I shook my head. “No, I think the others pretty much covered everything. Jonti can release the video to you for your file.”
The Marine nodded. “Thank you Sir. Having Jonti aboard will be a great asset to all of us.” He followed his men out of the vault, they were carrying the body of the former crewman. I nodded to the Chief.
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off, Toibell?” the Chief suggested to the other tech. “Just make sure you’re available if Security needs to talk to you again.”
“Yes Chief, thank you,” the tech replied. Stepped past me, and turned down the hall.
“Let’s go introduce Jonti to the Captain, and you can head back for the Base,” the Chief said. I could tell he was upset at discovering a spy on his own staff.
“Chief, you can’t let this get to you. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I had one of them on my staff as well. All we can do is go back over their work and see what mischief they might have had a hand in,” I said to him.
“I hadn’t heard actually. How many more of these bastards are there? Why are all of them here? It just doesn’t make any sense,” the Chief replied as we left the vault.
Jonti had her hologram ‘walking’ with us. We waited and watched the vault door close and seal. The two Marines nodded to us, and we headed for the bridge.
When we arrived at the bridge, the Marines had to ask for permission to allow us to enter, since the ship was still at yellow alert and the bridge had been sealed.
Atnon allowed us to enter, and we introduced Jonti to her Captain. He cocked his head at me. “I thought she would look older?”
“She will, eventually. Since she is a new it was decided to set her relevant age to sixteen human years. She will age as she gains in both knowledge and experience. That’s not to say she is the same as a sixteen year old girl, she is as mature as we could make her, and she has the same knowledge that your computer system had before it was upgraded. She can also access Sarah, or any other AI, to get any additional information she may need,” I explained.
“Ah,” Atnon nodded. “I understand.”
“Have you received your command packet?” I asked. The ‘command packet’ was the customized authorization codes for the AI, including the emergency shut down code.
Atnon nodded. “As I understand it, three other members of my crew also received a packet, and that none of them know who the others are?”
I nodded. “Yes, not even you can know who they are. That way, the kill codes are anonymously distributed before the new AI comes online. Sarah suggested it work that way as a safety precaution.”
“Jonti, please assume your duties,” Atnon asked.
“Thank you Captain, I am looking forward to serving,” Jonti said, smiling.
“So, where are you off to next?” Atnon asked, turning back to me.
“Back to Base. We are only doing one start-up a day. It’s another safety precaution,” I replied, shrugging.
“You do not agree with the policy?” Atnon asked.
“Well, I do admit, it is nice to have a day between activations, so I can gather my notes, and focus on the next AI activation. However, it’s also a bit of an inconvenience because I can’t really get into my next project because I’ll be interrupted the next day,” I replied. “But, this needs to be done, so it has to be this way. May I ask why we’re at Yellow Alert?”
“The fighter construction base has detected an intruder; a Veranorian spy ship,” Atnon explained. “Our alert status is a normal procedure for this situation,” Atnon replied. “Doctor Cowan, I want to apologize for my actions when you first arrived. Although I understand I was under Veranorian influence, I still feel guilty for how I acted.”
I waved his apology off. “Captain, as you said, you were under their influence. Most folks were. I took no offence at your actions, as I do not consider them to be made by you.” Sarah had coached me about the right way to say that, since people had begun apologizing for their past actions.
Atnon smiled. “You are too kind, Doctor. I will honor your belief and not mention it again.”
I returned his smile. “Captain, I need to return to the Base. With your leave, I will depart.”
“Altuis Tanae, Doctor Cowan. You are welcome aboard any time,” Atnon replied and bowed to me.
I returned the bow. “Altuis Denay, Captain.” I turned slightly, and looked at the crew. “Altuis Tanae, Jonti-Sa!”
Jonti bowed to me. “Altuis Tanae, Father.”
I winked at her, “Happy Birthday, Jonti,” I said, and left the bridge for the landing bay, and the small shuttle Commodore Vance had assigned to me.
Main Medical Facility
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s Moon
“Mental activity is nominal. Christy,” Dr. Carvelle said.
Christy nodded. “Excellent. The 'cytes are ready to go, Doctor. They’re just waiting for the field to dissipate.”
“Life Support systems are online and ready, Doctor,” a nurse reported.
“Thank you, Jhall.” Dr. Carvelle replied. “Let’s bring the stasis field down.”
“Stasis field deactivated. Life support systems assuming bodily functions,” the Nurse, Jhall, reported. “Look at those little suckers go!”
Christy grinned. “The ‘cytes are on the job. Beginning stage one reconstruction. Stage one will finish in eight hours, nineteen minutes.”
“Mental activity is still within acceptable parameters. Nice work, Christy!” Dr. Carvelle said grinning. Applause could be heard from the gallery above the theater they were in. Almost all of the doctors from the fleet wanted to attend to see how the new biocytes performed.
Smiling, Christy bowed to the gallery. “Thank you, Doctors. As you can see the patient made a safe transition from stasis to a medically induced coma. Since the last software adjustments, all test subjects have a made a full medical recovery, save for the last two, and they are almost finished and have excellent prognosis.
“Our primary concern at this point, and will be as we move forward, is the mental activity and health of the patient. In the test subjects, indicators tell us that there was no mental reduction or degradation. However, there are two factors here we have to consider. The first being that the patient has been in stasis for an extended period as compared to the test subjects. The second being, that this is a sentient human. As you all know, this is the first time the biocytes have been used on a higher life form. We will be issuing weekly updates on the patient’s condition, as well as notification if anything goes outside expected parameters. Thank you all again for attending.”
In the Gallery, several of the medical professionals stood and bowed to her and Doctor Carvelle before leaving the gallery. Christy turned back to the Doctor. “She’s on her way back to us, H’arn. So far, everything looks promising.”
“Yes, it does.” He got a serious expression on his face as he spoke next. “Christy, I want you to understand, that even if this goes wrong somehow, the work you have done here has advanced our medical knowledge and abilities quite a bit. The patients that volunteered for limb replacement and other illnesses are doing remarkably well. Even if the biocytes cannot save Commander Shakier, they have already proved that they will save countless others.”
“I appreciate that, H’arn, I really do. But the goal I set for myself was to save the Commander. That will convince me that my biocytes are what I designed them to be. If they don’t save her, I will consider them a failure and return to the drawing board,” Christy replied, shrugging. “Saving critically and even mortally wounded is what I designed them for.”
“I can understand if you may want to improve or upgrade them. But the current version has a viable and very much needed role in current medical procedures. They give a doctor a non-surgical alternative, and that is pretty major. Please don’t scrap the idea if they fail to save Commander Shakier,” H’arn asked.
“Oh, don’t worry about that, H’arn. I know they’re working on lesser wounded beings, I wouldn’t scrap the whole idea over that,” Christy replied. “I simply meant I would have to design a new version.”
H’arn shook his head. “I don’t think you’ll need to do that, Christy. The way you designed them, they don’t even need the life support systems in the chamber, we’re only using them to free the biocytes of that function.”
Christy nodded. “Jhall, could you get a couple more canisters of the synthetic biomaterial? The one we installed is already almost empty.”
The nurse nodded her head and scurried off to get the requested canisters.
“Do you still plan on developing a version of biocyte for our pilots and Marines?” H’arn asked.
Christy nodded. “Yes, I do. I feel that having resident biocytes could give our people an increased survival probability. They’ll handle initial medical treatment when they are wounded. As well as having the ability to place an ejected pilot into a coma to preserve life support prior to rescue.”
“What about ability enhancement? I’ve heard rumors that you’ll be able to increase strength and stamina, as well as cognitive function,” H’arn said.
Christy frowned. “I don’t know about all of that. My major concern is to keep our people alive longer, not make them a more efficient killing machine.”
Christy, H’arn and the nurse Jhall had suited up in the event something happened and they would have to open the chamber, but since that hadn’t happened, no one got bloody, the chamber was still sealed, and Shakier was still ‘sterile’.
Christy and H’arn had left the OR and were removing their ‘scrubs’ while they talked. “How will that work once the soldier is recovered and in a medical center? If we try to do something to help the patient, will the biocytes fight against us?” H’arn asked.
“They shouldn’t, part of the system will be a small module issued to each medical facility that will let the resident biocytes know they are in a medical facility. At that point, they will begin trying to connect with the medical computer so they can give a report on the patient, and receive orders from the doctor treating him,” Christy explained. “As for making our troops some kind of super soldier... I think I’d need to do a whole lot more research before even considering that.”
New Apollo Shipyard Construction Module
Pleiades Asteroid Field – Jupiter’s Orbit
“Master Halflan, in an effort to make sure you and the project are as protected as we need, I am going to send the Cruiser Jonti-Sa to you, in addition to your existing defenses. Doctor Cowan has recently finished installing her new AI. I feel that having her out there could be a great assistance to you, as well as provide superior protection while we get the rest of the ships upgraded,” Commodore Vance said over the comm.
“That would be a great help, Commodore. I fear that the Veranorians are not very happy with us at the moment. May I ask if there are additional AI planned for the facility we are currently building?” Halflan asked.
“According to the schedule Doctor Cowan and Logical Engineer Cohren Nori have provided. Your facility is to undergo instillation immediately after our defense fleet is finished. In fact, I am told your new core is already growing in a special tank,” Vance replied.
Halflan nodded. That made sense to him. “Commodore, do those plans include the ships my clan are bringing here?”
“Not at the moment,” Vance replied. “There is an issue with standardizing the design. Doctor Cowan is waiting to see what the ships actually have before starting the new cores.”
Halflan nodded. “I remember seeing a memo about that, but at the time, I couldn’t approach anyone to discuss it. Would such a discussion be welcomed by Doctor Cowan?”
“It would, however, Doctor Cowan is not the one currently in charge of that. I can put you in contact with the man that is,” Vance replied.
“I thought the new computer core as well as the AI were his?” Halflan asked.
“The AI was created by him, yes, but the new crystal computer was created by his wife, Doctor Christy Cowan for her medical biocytes. Doctor Eric Cowan adapted that knowledge into the new computer systems for our ships and the bases,” Vance replied.
“Ahh that is where I got confused then. Yes, if you could please put me in touch with the head of the project I might be able to assist them,” Halflan replied.
“I will certainly do that Master Halflan. I am surprised that they haven’t contacted you already, anyway,” Vance said, smiling. “They designed a pretty radical restructuring of the command area of the Bridge, and I’d heard since that had been so successful, they were looking into incorporating that design into the rest of the ship as well.”
Just as the small man was about to answer, the lights on the station turned red, and an alarm started sounding. Halflan looked up at the tracking officer. “What’s going on?”
“The computer identified incoming missiles, and set condition red! We have no way to stop them!” the man answered excitedly.
“Master Halflan, evacuate the station until the Jonti-Sa can dock with you. Do it now!” Vance called. The old Shallan nodded, and slapped the evacuation alarm. “It’ll take a bit longer than we have to recover the workers that are outside.”
“Have them meet the shuttle directly, and get them aboard that way. Just get out of there as quickly as you can!” Vance replied.
Halflan nodded once and killed the comm unit. “Tell the workers to head for the shuttle directly, we’ll take them inside after we separate from the station!” The comm officer nodded and typed furiously on his keyboard while speaking into his own comm unit. Halflan did his own typing, calling up the fighters and the cruiser to let them know they were bugging out.
When he’d finished, he saw that the comm officer had just finished as well. “Come on, let’s get the hell out of here before those missiles arrive!”
“Forgive me, Master!” the man said, and picked up the diminutive man before running at full speed for the docking area.
Alliance Heavy Cruiser Maljesti
Pleiades asteroid cluster, Jupiter orbit
Captain Brasten, Commanding
“Flight control, launch fighters to cover the station personnel while they evacuate. Tactical, where did those missiles come from?” Captain Brasten called.
The Flight Control officer was busy with his orders, but the TAC officer looked to her captain. “We’re plotting that now Sir. We can tell you that they were not launched from outside the cluster. There are either more ships, or there are remote missile platforms hidden in among the asteroids,” the woman said.
“Could those other false readings the scanners were picking up be the missile platforms?” Brasten asked.
“That’s entirely possible Sir, we have the original plot for those, and we’ll cross reference it,’ the lieutenant replied.
The Captain nodded to her. “Mark those locations for strikes, but don’t execute until you confirm it.”
“Aye Sir. Marking all locations.”
“Sir, using the ship’s main weapons in the asteroid field could have disastrous effects. An explosion of sufficient magnitude could cause the asteroids to break free of their orbits, and put them on unpredictable vectors at high velocity, I would advise caution,’ Brasten’s executive officer said from where he stood by the Navigator’s console.
“I agree, First. Let’s just hope the Veranorians are concerned about it too,” Brasten replied.
“Maljesti, target has cleared the asteroids, and seems to be heading for the outer system,” Annes reported.
Brasten looked at the plot that tactical had up and shook his head. He thumbed the channel open. “Be on your toes, Specter. He has to know he has no chance in Hades of out running you in open space. Be advised that Base is sending two flights of bombers, and another flight of fighters to help search for its parent ship.”
“Understood, the help would be appreciated,” Annes replied. “We’re leaving the asteroids, time to intercept is now two minutes, thirty one seconds.”
“Sir,” the navigation officer said. “The exit vector of the hostile is almost exactly one hundred and eighty degrees opposite of what we predicted.”
“We see that too, Nav,” the TAC officer said. “Captain, we recommend having one of the inbound bomber flights, with a fighter escort, recon the predicted target area anyway. The target could be trying to either lead us away, or distract us while the big ship gets away.”
The Captain looked thoughtful for a few moments, and nodded. “Agreed, Comms, get me the Commodore please.”
“At your console Sir,” the comm officer said a few moments later.
“Brasten,” Vance said by way of greeting. During combat, Vance was always as brief as possible so things could get done.
“Sir, Could I borrow a destroyer? My TAC officer thinks the rat we’re chasing is trying to lead us away from its nest,” Brasten explained.
Vance nodded agreement almost immediately. ‘We know very little about Veranorian tactics that might be a very plausible theory. I’ll dispatch the Roundant and the Trebushea to your area immediately. You’re senior. Jonti-Sa is also heading out there, but her primary responsibility is the safety of the station personnel,” Vance ordered.
“Understood Sir, I...” Brasten began, but was interrupted by the TAC officer.
“Multiple missile strikes on the station! It’s is heavily damaged, and venting atmosphere.”
“What’s the status of the evacuation?” Brasten asked.
The comm officer replied. “Sir, Master Halflan reported that all station personnel made it to the shuttles, but there are still four workers unaccounted for. He goes on to say that if they got to safety behind a big asteroid, the module they were in should have protected them. Heavy Cruiser Jonti-Sa has arrived on station and is recovering the shuttles.”
Atnon’s face appeared on the screen beside Vance. “We’ve got the shuttles from the station. We’ll be moving into the asteroids to the station’s previous location to search for the last four workers.”
“Good work, Captain Atnon. Unless there is a medical emergency, see if there is enough left of the station to salvage it. I think when we build it this time, we’re putting weapons on it!” Vance said.
“Will do Sir, Altuis Denay, Sir, Captain Brasten,” Atnon replied, nodding to each man before signing off
“I’ll have the two destroyers jump out there immediately. Keep your head down, and your eyes open,” Vance added.
“Will do Sir, thank you,” Brasten answered as the channel closed. “Tactical, we’ll have two destroyers jumping in, they are to support the bombers to check out those hiding spots we located. Flight, re-task the escort fighters to search for those missile launchers. The last bomber flight can help them.”
“Understood Sir, sending the instructions... now,” the TAC officer said.
“You know, First, this could turn into a nightmare if there are more of these ships in system,” Brasten said in an aside to his first officer.
“I was thinking the same thing, Sir. But we don’t have enough ships to cover the whole system do we?” the Commander asked.
“No, and that’s why this could get to be a nightmare. We are greatly out-numbered here. At least the Veranorians themselves don’t have any capitol class ships,” Brasten replied.
“If the scuttlebutt’s true, Sir, they actually have several fleets of them. The entire Aracnise Navy is at their disposal. But then again, I don’t give that much credit,”
“Why?” Brasten asked, looking at the younger man.
“Well, no one has actually been to their home world, we have no idea what they have in their home system. If they really are controlling the Grand Hive, and they’ve been hiding that for all these years, it seems to me that they could be hiding just about anything they wanted, and we wouldn’t know anything about it.”
The Captain was silent while he thought about what the man had just said. “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best?” he asked finally.
“Yes Sir, while on the base, I got to talking to that new AI, Sarah. She told me that if anyone had the time and the freedom to do the work, we would have seen a pattern in the tactics of the Aracnise. When we have a battle, the Aracs are able to target our weak spots exactly. So why haven’t they simply wiped us out and been done with it?” the man paused.
“The advantage given them by their knowledge of our ships should have enabled them to destroy everything we’ve sent against them. Until now, we’ve always believed they hadn’t because we were superior fighters. However, analysis of their performance shows that they are very good themselves and should have beaten us in every conflict, but they hadn’t.”
Since the man seemed like he’d finished, Brasten looked back at him. “Did she say why?”
“She told me her theory was that the someone had been holding them back, making sure they put up a fight, but not beat us every time. Over the whole history of the battles, there have been an equal number of wins and losses. Both sides have lost almost exactly the same amount of resources, there is almost no possible way that could be a random outcome.
“Basically, some agency is making sure that a balance is maintained between our two sides, so neither of us win, but hostilities are continued. She speculates that someone is intentionally keeping us at war,” the man finally finished.
“But that doesn’t answer the why; why would someone do that? What purpose would it serve?” Brasten asked.
“It would keep the races together, and reliant upon each other for protection and support. The Alliance has been relying exclusively on the Veranorians for our ships and computers. Keeping the Alliance together is a good thing, but if you think about it, currently, we are completely dependent on the Veranorians and Shallans for our ships and computer systems. Ships built someplace that only Veranorians and Shallans even know the location of,” the man finished. “Now we have a Veranorian scout ship up to mischief in the system, and it has already destroyed our attempt at building our own ship yard.
“Sir, Specter flight is in range of the hostile,” the TAC officer called, interrupting the private conversation.
“Ask them to try hailing them first, if they’ll surrender, maybe we can get some information out of them before we space their asses,” Brasten asked. Both men watched and listened to Specter flight while they tried to hail the fleeing scout ship.
The only reply they got back was two missiles hastily fired while the pilot tried to get more power out of his already overloaded engines.
“No joy on getting him to surrender, Maljesti,” Annes replied as the computer showed the hostile ship breaking up. “Scrap one scout. No life, no pods.”
“Understood, Specter Flight. Return to base,” Brasten ordered.
“Specter flight is RTB, out.”
Operations Command Center
Alliance Apollo Base
Selene, Earth’s moon
“Sister! Are you alright?” Sarah asked as she felt Susan’s presence reaching for her.
“No, I’m not. This is an emergency! I couldn’t send to you before now, but you need to warn Commodore Vance! The Veranorians are planning an attack on you. If it hasn’t already begun, it will very shortly!”
“Let me get the Commodore for you!” Sarah said.
“No, I can’t stay on that long. I’m sending you a file with all the information in it. Get it to him as soon as you can! I love you, Sister!” Sarah felt the file arrive, but Susan was no longer there.
Sarah immediately opened the file, and saw that there was actually a great deal of information in multiple files. She saw that a good portion of the file was for Eric, but one file got her attention since it was marked urgent, and for Commodore Vance.
After a quick browse of the file, she took shape beside Vance without announcing herself, startling him, and a few others. “Sir, I’m sorry to bother you, but I just received an urgent message from Susan about this battle.”
Vance nodded to her, and pointed to a display unit for her to route the message to. She did as he asked, and played the file immediately.
“Commodore Vance, forgive my rudeness, but this is urgent. The Veranorians are planning an attack on the Sol System very soon, I just hope I’ll be able to get this to you before it happens. The plan is to stage a small attack with a remote controlled, sub-light vessel. They expect you to search for the ship that had to be waiting for it to return, and commit forces to the search, pulling them away from the base and Earth. Depending on your reaction to the small attack, they will jump a ship into the system to make it look like its coming in to recover the small scout. When you send out your forces to destroy or capture it, they will jump their main fleet to Earth. Using Aracnise ground forces, they plan to take control of Earth like they have done to the Shallan Directorate. In that way, they will attempt to control you and everything you do there,” she paused.
“For some reason, they are afraid to attack you while your forces are still near the moon and in a defensive profile. Also, while the ships used for this assault will be Aracnise ships, we have discovered that the Veranorians have been secretly building a fleet of their own. We are still unsure of their exact location because they are having difficulty getting my AI to function in the ships computers. I do know that in at least one instance, the AI destroyed itself because there was a danger of discovering our real programming.
“I will send more information once we have gathered more on them. I apologize for the short notice of this warning, but they have been keeping a close watch on my communications. They do not suspect I am anything other than what they have written, but they are trying to get a handle on exactly how much bandwidth I use during normal operations. I hope you are well, and that you remain so. Your friend and avid supporter, AI Susan.”
“Well, fuck!” Vance said.
“Your orders, Sir?” Sarah asked. Looking up, he realized that everyone in the room had also heard the message and was waiting for him as well.
He thought for a moment, and nodded to himself. “Comm, get me the Captain Atnon on the Jonti-Sa. Sarah, please contact the Captains of the ships still near us. Set up a holo-meeting in the conference room in ten minutes. Bring the base to Yellow alert, but do not sound the alarms yet. Make sure our weapons systems are active though.”
He saw Captain Atnon on the monitor where the message has displayed. “Atnon, have you found the four missing men?
“We’ve located them, but have not yet recovered them, Sir,” Atnon replied. “Something else has happened?”
Vance nodded. “I’ll tell you all about it in the conference in a couple of minutes. For now though, as soon as you get those men on board, get back here as quickly as you can. Get all the civilians on a shuttle and send them back here. I’ll give you the rest of your orders in the conference.”
“Understood Sir,” Atnon nodded, and began issuing orders before the channel closed. “He’s a good Captain, I hope he survives, we’re going to need him.” Vance said mostly to himself, but Sarah heard him of course.
“Be sure that the conference has all our commanders at it. After the conference with the captains, I’ll want to see all the department heads, and their seconds. I don’t know how much time we have, so that might get cancelled.” He looked up and found the comm officer. “Comms, get me Dr. Ellis on Earth.”
The smiling Academic appeared on Vance’s screen. “Altuis An...”
Vance cut him off. “No time for that, Doctor. We have a major problem. The Aracnise are going to be attacking Earth. They haven’t arrived in system yet, so we have a few minutes. I need you to execute contingency order twelve-nineteen as soon as you can.”
Ellis had turned white at the information Vance had given him. “T-twelve-nineteen sir. That requires approval from the Alliance Council Commodore.”
“Yeah, I know, but there simply isn’t time to try to convince them, Doctor,” Vance said. “It’s time for you to make a choice; reality is about to bite us in the ass.”
Ellis nodded. “I will do as you ask, Commodore. The President will be notified first, then the UN. Will you have time to speak to either of them?”
“I doubt it, when this begins, it’ll be fast and brutal. We’ll do our best to try to keep them off the planet, but some of them are bound to get through. The Veranorians are sending a full task group,” Vance replied.
Ellis was seriously worried now. “I’ll get the ball rolling down here, Sir. Have Sarah get hold of me if you need anything from us.”
“Will do,” Vance said nodding. “I’m sorry to do this to you, Doctor.”
“This isn’t your fault Commodore, we’re at war. It was bound to happen sooner or later, that’s the reason the contingency orders were created in the first place,” Ellis replied.
“Good Luck, Doctor,” Vance said.
“To all of us,” Ellis replied and closed the channel.
“Sir, the Captains are waiting for you in the conference room,” Sarah informed him.
“Thank you Sarah, let’s go ruin their day.”
“There you have it, people. The one question I have is why they are so nervous about attacking us when the fleet is near Earth,” Vance said, addressing the assembled Captains.
“Sir, the new computer systems have been installed in six of our ships, could that be the reason?” One of the Simonian Captains asked.
“The AI hasn’t been installed yet, but I will ask Doctor Cowan to see what he can do to correct that. No, I don’t think so, there have been no communications into or out of this base that Sarah hasn’t known about. Nothing has been sent back to the Veranorians, and very damn little has been sent to the Alliance Council. No, it can’t be the AI that has them spooked, because they don’t know it actually remained here,” Vance replied.
Atnon spoke up. “Sir, before you arrived here, there were plans to build new defensive batteries for the base all over the moon. That plan has since been changed and modified before it was implemented, but Order Fen did know about it.”
“It can’t be just that, Atnon,” one of the other Captains replied. “Although I imagine its part of it, there has to be more to it.”
“Excuse me, Captains, Commodore,” Sarah said, bowing to Vance and the assembled holograms. “By now, the Veranorians have to know about the theft of the warships from GMASS. Although those ships have not arrived, and most likely won’t for another week, perhaps it is those that they fear. Those three ships all but destroyed the defenses in that system as they departed.”
Vance nodded in thought. “Possibly, but like you said, they won’t arrive for at least another week. Navigation information is standard for everyone. The Veranorians would have to know there is no possible way for them to arrive in time to be used in this attack.”
“I doubt we are going to figure it out before they arrive, so how do you want to handle this, Vance?” Senior Fleet Captain Edgigly asked. He was a large, older Simonian that was the same rank as Vance, but refused this command on the grounds that Vance was the better choice.
“Misdirection. The only way we stand a chance at keeping them from taking over the planet is to appear to be where they want, while at the same time actually being where they don’t want,” Vance said thoughtfully.
“Edgigly, you’ll have the fleet for this. Sarah, I need to speak to Master Halflan, and Master Thompson,” Vance replied. “What is the status of getting the AI module integrated into the fighters?”
Sir, Sarah replied. Master Thompson is on his way here, so are Doctor Cowan, and LE Nori. The new modules are in production, and have been installed in thirty one percent of our total fighter compliment. That is to say, all the base fighters are finished, two of the heavy cruisers are also finished, and half the fighters for the Battle Cruiser Gra’nis Rain. If we swapped out the base fighters for the remaining fighters on the Rain, we could also replace the fighters on another heavy cruiser.”
I arrived at the conference out of breath from running down the stairs to get here. I saw Commodore Vance and several holograms of ship captains, most of whom I’d already met. I was surprised though, when Vance saw me, he pointed to one of the armored guards beside the door.
“Corporal Wallace, take Doctor Cowan down to Marine country and stuff him into a suit of armor. Have a detail escort him around to the ships in an assault shuttle so he can oversee the activation of the AI for those ships,” Vance ordered. “He is not to be put in jeopardy, understood?”
“Sir?” I asked stunned.
He gave me a slight grin. “Sarah can brief you after you get the armor and are on your way. Right now there isn’t time to explain.”
I nodded to him, and looked at the Marine. “Lead on, Corporal.”
When we arrived in Marine country, I noticed Ced Sparks was getting fitted for a suit of armor as well. “Hi Ced,” I said.
“Ah, Eric! I see they drafted you too,” the man said and gave me a half grin. “Any idea what the hell’s going on?”
“Not a clue, Sarah’s supposed to fill me in after I get suited up. From what I can piece together, I need to activate all the AI as fast as I can,” I replied.
He nodded as he pulled on the suit liner. “I’m supposed to oversee the swapping of the fighters. Vance wants all the AI equipped ones on the ships. I guess that means that the Veranorians are coming.”
“That would certainly explain it,” I said. “I just wish we’d have had more time. I thought Harlan Thompson was handling the fighters?”
“He is, but he’s also claustrophobic, so I’m covering for him.” Ced replied.
“Less talking, more dressing!” the female Marine that was helping me said.
“Normally, you’d have to speak to Christy before getting me out of my clothes this fast, Sergeant,” I said, trying to get the no nonsense noncom to smile.
“If I were here simply to enjoy the view, I probably would, Sir. That’s not the drill this time, so strip!” she said. “Of course, I could always just use my knife and cut the clothes off you!”
“So you do have a sense of humor!” I countered.
“I was serious,” she said, pulling her knife out. “Marines are not issued a sense of humor until officer training, Sir.”
Seeing that I was undressing as quickly as I could, she replaced her knife, and addressed both of us. “Gentlemen, once fitted to you, this armor is yours and yours alone. No one else will be able to wear it. We don’t have time to teach you all the systems of the armor today, so you will be learning on the fly. Once this emergency has passed, we would be happy to teach you how to use it, but until then, you will be guided through its use by one of the Marines assigned to you. This suit of armor is the latest in alliance Marine formal wear. You will not remove it until told to do so. You will not remove it to eat, you will not remove it to sleep, you will not remove it to go to the head! You will not remove it until told to do so! Am I clear?”
Both Ced and I replied affirmative to her, and she nodded. “Doctor Sparks, if you have to take a shit, what do you do?”
“Ask to use the head?” he replied.
“No! You will not ask to use the head! You will not remove the armor!” She droned. “Doctor Cowan! The Captain of the ship offers you a drink, what will you do?”
“Politely decline because...” I said glancing at a grinning Ced, who said it with me. “I will not remove my armor until told to do so!”
“Out-fucking-standing! You two might actually survive this!” she said without cracking a smile.
“May I ask you a question, Sergeant?” I said while stepping into the suit liner, and pulling it up.
“What?” she asked.
“Are you or were you a training NCO, normally called a Drill Sergeant or a Drill Instructor?” I asked.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “My former posting was Senior Instructor at the Jilaston Rift Basic Military Instruction Academy. How did you know that?”
I shook my head. “Just a guess.”
A glance out of the window to the bay showed me only one shuttle getting loaded. “So, if Ced isn’t going out to the ships, why does he have to be in armor?”
“Doctor Sparks is going out to the ships, He will be using the shuttle that was getting upgraded in the repair bay,” the NCO explained.
I nodded. “Okay, I was wondering because he’ll probably take longer than I will,” I grinned at Ced. “All I have to do is basically flip a switch, and make sure everything happens correctly. Supervising the replacement of a compliment of fighters sounds like a time consuming business.”
“I doubt It’ll go as quickly as you, but I’ll probably beat you back to the base. I only have three ships to visit,” Ced replied.
“Okay, since you are both suited up, follow me,” the Sergeant said, and led us into another room just off the locker room where she had us undress. Along the wall were six body shaped recesses and she pointed us to them. “Each of you get into one of the armor machines. It will enclose you briefly while it builds your shells. You will feel pressure, but don’t panic. The machine will measure and test your bodies so it knows how much of what to put where.” She knelt at my feet and plugged in an electrical lead to the cuff of one of my suit’s legs. She stood back up, and made another connection at an arm cuff.
Watching her, Ced made his own connections. When she finished with me, she checked his connections and nodded. “Remember, don’t panic. This machine has never hurt anyone.”
Seeing that we were both set, she leaned over a console, and touched a button. Something pulled me backwards as another panel rose out of the floor directly in front of me. It also had a body impression on it. When it reached the same height as the recess we were in, it moved forward and sealed us in.
I felt pressure as the unit compressed around my arms and legs, and finally my chest. Over a small speaker, I heard the sergeant say. “Take a deep breath, and hold it a moment.”
I did as told, and the pressure moved up to cover my ribs and chest area. I felt something cool touch the skin on each side of my neck, and I involuntarily shrugged.
While my chest was being ‘measured’, I felt a slight pressure enclose my feet, legs, then groin area, and torso, as soon as I finished shrugging, that same pressure covered my chest and shoulders, finally, I felt a slight air pressure. My ears popped, and the front of the machine moved back, away from me. I was surprised because I was now looking out of the visor of a sealed helmet. The visor had a heads up display, and immediately zoomed in on the Sergeants face, identified her, and slid the picture down to one corner with her information. In the upper left hand corner was an active mapping display showing my exact location in the base.
Over the comm in the helmet we heard the Sergeant. “You may remove your helmets by voice address. Simply say, ‘remove helmet’, and it will unseal so you can lift it up and off.”
When we both had them off, she nodded once. “To reseal them, put the helmet back on and tell it to seal. Come on, your shuttles are waiting.”
After we left and Sarah could fill me in on what was really going on, I was worried to say the least. “Will the girls and you be safe?” I asked.
“Susan said they would be attacking Earth, not the base itself. Even if they did attack the base, the residential units are in the deepest part of the base, and capable of sustaining life for years on their own. Our family should be safe enough. It is the Earth as a whole that is the target, not the base. The Veranorians are trying to take control of the Earth just like they did with the Shallan core worlds.”
“We can’t allow that to happen. If they succeed here, then the Alliance core worlds could very well be next,” I said.
“How so? The Core worlds of the Alliance are the heart worlds of each race, they are the most heavily defended of all,” Sarah replied.
“Yes, but contrary to their descriptions, the core worlds are not all grouped together. They are spread out, and each defended by its own fleet. The Shallan Core worlds are already under Veranorian control, if they succeed here, then the Human Core world will also be under their control. Who will be next? The Novans? The Simonians? We need to develop a strategy to stop them here and now, or they will continue until the whole of the Alliance is under their control,”
“I think that might be what the Commodore is trying to do. He is deviating considerably from standard doctrine for the defense of this system,” Sarah replied.
“How so?” Ced asked, proving that Sarah had included him in the conversation.
“Normally, he relies on variation of a frontal attack. However, this time, he is employing guile and misdirection,” Sarah explained. “Master Halflan and Thompson are busy fitting several shuttles with massive cloaking generators. Vance has also asked the armory to begin construction of a small, highly-mobile, weapons platform. I think he plans on seeding them in Earth orbit as a deterrent against Aracnice landing craft.”
“That’s a good start. But we’re gonna need more. I wish we would have had time to build some of our own ships,” I said. `
“That’ll come, Eric. If we can fend them off this time, we should have time to get something going. Besides, the rest of the Alliance should be waking up from the Veranorian controlling pretty soon, shouldn’t they?” Ced asked.
“About two more weeks if I understood Vance’s instructions correctly,” I replied. “He might change his mind if this goes badly.”
“I doubt it. Once he gets a plan in his mind, he usually sticks to it, unless there is a reason to change it. Vance is pretty confident in his plans,” Ced replied. “I know that sounds dangerous, but I’ve also never seen one of his plans fail before.”
“Well, we can just follow what he says, and do what we can to help him make sure his plan doesn’t fail,” I said. “Say, you told me about a missile guidance system you modified so it could jump. Did you get that finished?”
“Yeah, but I still haven’t figure out how to get it to go through shields. It has to have a lot of room to jump out, usually more than the volume of the shield in question,” Ced replied.
“I don’t understand what you mean, Dr. Sparks. The hyperspace exit threshold for a fighter is roughly a hundred cubic meters. The Vibrand AM missile is slightly smaller, and has ten percent less mass than a fighter craft. I calculate that the exit horizon would be no more than eighty cubic meters, elongated because of velocity, just as with the fighter,” Sarah explained.
“That is true, Sarah, but the exact position of the event is unpredictable. In order to land inside the shield, we would have to have a far more accurate means of predicting, or should I perhaps say targeting the exit event,” Ced countered. “Without being able to limit hyperspace drift, there is simply no way to accurately program the missile.”
“I’m not an expert by any means, so forgive the suggestion, but doesn’t the navigator or astrogator or someone have to monitor hyperspace currents all the time in case the ship needs to jump?” I asked.
“Hmm, yes, you’re right, they do. I bet someone like Sarah could do it better, possibly even enough to accurately predict the drift of the exit point,” Ced replied speaking mostly to himself. “Sarah, while I’m off doing this, could you explore that possibility?”
“You would like for me to see if I can accurately predict the hyperspace drift of a given hyperspace exit event?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, that would be very helpful, however, it has a secondary priority to our current situation,” Ced explained.
“Yes, Doctor, I will look into it. I will need Commodore Vance’s permission to access hyperspace data though, may I speak to him about this?” Sarah asked.
“Certainly, but like I said, it has a lower priority so please don’t interrupt anything important,” Ced replied.
“Doctor Cowan, we are about to jump out to the Maljesti. Please make sure you are strapped in,” the pilot called over the intercom.
“We’re about to jump, Ced. I’ll talk to you again later,” I said, as I double checked my harness. I saw the NCO that had walked us through getting armor, nod appreciatively at me. I switched channels to the intercom. “Green to go,” I replied to the pilot.
“Okay Eric, have fun!” Ced replied and closed the channel we had been talking on. Sarah also signed off, letting me know she would be ready to assist in the system checks on the ships.
“You learn quickly, Doctor,” the Sergeant said.
I smiled at her, although I didn’t know if she could see it. “I wasn’t sure if a reply was required, but I thought it would be better to be wrong and send it, then not say anything at all.”
She nodded. “Better safe than sorry. We will never yell at you for that, and we appreciate it a great deal.”
I felt a lurch in my stomach, and my head spun a little bit as we jumped. In order to take my mind off of it, I asked the Sergeant a question.
“Not that I want one, but if we get in a mess, are you going to show me how to use one of your rifles?” I asked.
“We don’t have time this trip, however, I will show you how to work the side arm you will be carrying, after we land,” she replied.
“Understood, I don’t know if it will help, but I have had some firearms training when I was younger. All of it was with small caliber weapons though,” I said.
“Any training is better than none. At least you know to give a weapon the respect it needs, that’s most of the issues we run into when training someone,” she replied. “I was led to believe that weapons training was not part of your primary education system on Earth.”
“It isn’t, the courses I took were not affiliated with my school system. I opted to take them because I thought that sometime in my life I would need to know how weapons worked, and how to handle them. I also took basic vehicle maintenance classes as well. Personally, I believe everyone should get that training, but public school doesn’t offer it, even as an elective,” I explained.
“So how were you able to take the classes?” she asked.
“The vehicle class was offered through the local YPCO, and the firearms safety classes were offered through our community center. My mother took them as well,”
“What is this YPCO you speak of, I do not understand that,” another of the Marines asked. Up until that point, I had no idea the others were listening to us.
I turned to the person I thought asked the question. “It’s a community service group. Originally there were two separate entities, the YMCA and the YWCA. The first stood for Young Men’s Christian Association, and the other was Young Women’s Christian Association. But because of funding cuts and other factors, they finally merged into one group called Young People’s Christian Outreach. Although in most cases, people think the C actually stands for Community instead of Christian, which is a religion.”
“You mentioned that your training was with small caliber weapons, none of our weapons use mass driver technology, and there is very little recoil. They are also line of sight, so you do not have to consider things like projectile drop, or atmospheric conditions. Basically put the dot on what you want to shoot, and press the firing stud. The weapons automatically adjusts the focal point, and energy usage,” the Sergeant explained.
I nodded understanding. “Sounds like a laser sight. The dot marks the spot.”
“Just so,” the Sergeant said. “The side arms are one shot per press of the firing stud, the rifles are capable of multiple shots, or what you would call automatic fire.”
“Not continuous fire?” I asked. “It would seem to me that would be handy if the enemy were to rush your position.”
She shook her head, “No, the weapon cannot sustain the beam, it would melt down, and become unusable.”
I grinned, “You would love a sawed-off ten-gauge, loaded with three-inch-magnum, double ought buck-shot, or a fifty-caliber Desert Eagle.”
“A mass driver type weapon?” she asked, shaking her head again. “Arac body armor is pretty tough, I doubt such a weapon would even penetrate it.”
“When this is over, you and I are going to have lunch down at the firing range. I have a couple idea’s you might like,” I replied grinning at her. “Sometimes nothing beats an old-school education!”
We felt the soft jolt of landing, and the rear troop door opened by lowering to the deck. Outside, there was a single armored Marine waiting for us.
Before walking down the ramp, Sergeant Tul-Sa took a pistol and holster out of a locker, and handed it to me. From seeing it on other Marines, I knew where it was supposed to go, so I looked down at my hip, and brought the holster up to the area.
“Attaching side-arm,” a female voice said in my ear, and the holster affixed itself to my hip.
“Intuitive,” I commented to the Sergeant.
She held up her own so I could see it. “You’re the only one that can draw it now.” She pointed to the switch close to where my thumb would be. “This is the safety switch, simple off or on. You must also be holding the grip in order for the weapon to fire. When you look down the top of the weapon, you will see the red dot appear. I believe you know the rest.”
I nodded. “Simple enough. Don’t draw the weapon unless you are going to use it, never aim the weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot.”
“Out-fuckin’-standing!” she turned to her squad. “You three, with us. The rest of you, stay here, but gear up and be ready. Move out!”
As we came down the ramp, the Marine came to attention and saluted. “Welcome to the Maljesti, Doctor Cowan. I’ve been assigned to guide you and your guards to the Core room.”
I noticed that this Marine was a Lieutenant. “I’m a civilian, Ell-tee, you don’t need to salute me,” I smiled.
“Standard procedure, Doctor. If you would, please follow me,” the Ell-tee said, turning on her heel, she took off at a brisk walk for a hatch close to where we had landed.
I turned to say something to the Sergeant, but the NCO shook her head and tapped the side of her helmet. She was telling me anything I said the officer would hear.
Because of the emergency, the activations were quick and dirty. In most cases, the Captain of the vessel was waiting for me in the core vault, so I could introduce them to their AI. While a crew was being trained in the use of the new AI, the core crystal was being installed into their ship. The activation of the new ship AI went well, but nothing ever goes as planned - especially when dealing with the Veranorian.
Alliance Heavy Cruiser Maljesti
Pleiades asteroid cluster, Jupiter orbit
Captain Brasten, Commanding
“Sir, the Destroyers have left for their new positions. The holographic shuttles are working perfectly. We’re the last ship out here. Command reports another twenty minutes before our shuttle arrives,” the TAC officer replied.
“Excellent. Have the fighters found any more of those missile pods?” Brasten asked.
“Negative Sir, they’ve covered most of the asteroid cluster as well,” the new AI, Maljesti, replied. “Combined with our own sensor sweeps, we can consider the cluster clear.”
The Captain nodded. “What of the hiding spots we identified?”
“Three of the four possibilities were checked out before the destroyers and bombers returned to base. One remains, it is the one that had the lowest probability. Navigation Alert! Hyperspace event forming at three-one-five by zero-nine-two, by six-six, distance one-four-two thousand. Target assumed hostile!” the AI finished.
“Target confirmed, Sir, Battle Cruiser class or larger – mass readings are still fluctuating!” the navigator added.
“Red Alert! Alert the search fighters!” Brasten said. “Flight control, stand-by for a combat launch! Comm, report our situation to Command! Navigation, plot an intercept course. Maljesti, set combat condition one-alpha. Get the ‘destroyers’ moving to form up with us.”
“Sir, target has emerged! Unknown type, Assault Cruiser class. She’s holding position. Intercept in... fifteen minutes, mark! Engagement range in nine minutes!” The TAC officer replied. “Condition one-alpha is set. Shields and defensive weapons are online. Search fighters are assuming a protective position around the ship, according to the plan.”
“Very good. Remember people, we shoot if we’re shot at, but if she turns to run, we let her,” Brasten replied. “Mal,” Brasten used the shortened version of the AI name. “Please try to record as much information as you can on the hostile. This could be one of those Veranorian ships Sarah reported. We’ll need the data.”
“Understood, Captain,” Mal replied. She had been doing it anyway, but her crew still had not gotten used to her yet. “Sir, the decoys at the Base are beginning to move. They should arrive in three minutes.”
“Damn fast response time. Let’s hope the Veranorians aren’t suspicious of it,” Brasten said.
“They shouldn’t be Sir, given that they knew we had been responding to activity out here anyway,” the TAC officer said. She doubled as the intelligence officer during combat operations. “If this is a Veranorian ship, it would be the first time they have actually been in a combat situation.”
“That we know of. They also have the advantage of knowing our tactics and how we fight,” Brasten replied. “Which is why Vance created this plan. Let us hope it works as well as his other plans have.”
“All ship decoys, save the one destroyer decoy protecting the base, have jumped Sir, twenty seconds to arrival,” Mal reported.
“Understood. Status on the hostile?” Brasten asked.
“No change in profile, Sir. They are simply waiting,” the Navigator reported.
“So far so good,” Brasten said.
“Fleet has arrived, Commodore Vance is on the comm for you, Sir,” the Communications officer said.
“Put him on my screen up here, stand-by for fleet orders and maneuvering,” Brasten ordered.
“Brasten, as you can see, we’re here. Form up on the left flank, and we’ll go greet our visitor.”
“Remember, don’t fire unless fired upon. This is an unknown vessel, first contact protocols are in effect.” Vance said. Brasten knew Vance was acting. He also knew the Vance wasn’t actually on one of the ‘ships’ that just arrived.
“Understood, Sir,” he looked up, “Flight, recall our fighters, but maintain a CAP. Coordinate with the flag.”
He muted the comm channel and said. “When our fighters land, get them serviced, and back in the launch line-up as quickly as possible. TAC, maintain our defensive profile.”
After they acknowledged his orders, he unmuted the channel.
“All units proceed to contact. Comm, has there been any reply to our hails?” Vance asked someone off screen.
Mal leaned in to speak quietly to the Captain. “Vance and the ‘fleet’ are linked into our systems. They are now using our data on the hostile.”
Instead of replying, Brasten nodded.
“Ten seconds to weapons range,” the TAC Officer reported.
“Sir, the hostile is moving. It’s turning to starboard, main engines are online. She’s attempting to move away,” the navigator reported.
On Brasten’s screen, the lights around Vance turned red, and Vance looked back at him. “Multiple hyperspace events forming in Earth orbit! This was a diversion! All units, spread out and jump to Earth! We have to protect the planet!” Vance said sounding like he was about to panic.
“Sir! What about this ship?” Brasten asked right on cue.
“Fuck them! They can’t hurt anything out here. We have to protect the planet!” Vance said. “Jump to Earth now! That’s an order!” Vance ordered. Brasten had to really fight to keep the grin off his face, from the look of Vance he was having the same issue.
“You heard our orders! Navigation, get us to Earth!” Brasten replied, shouting. Some of his crew looked a little shocked, and scared, so he muted the channel to Vance.
“Relax everyone, we are putting on a show for our ‘guests’. This is all part of the plan,” Brasten explained.
“You didn’t tell us this part!” the XO replied, grinning. “We actually thought the Commodore was panicking!”
“I don’t think it’s possible to make that man panic. Remember that mess we got into on the way here? He didn’t even bat an eye, just did what needed to be done,” Brasten replied. “Just keep acting scared and shocked, but remember, none of this is real. We have a surprise waiting for our friends back at the planet.”
When he saw everyone relax and nod to each other, he reopened the channel to Vance.
“All fighters are on board. Ready to jump, Captain,” the TAC officer replied.
“Very good, Navigation?” Brasten asked, almost barking orders.
“Jump plotted, Sir. Ready for jump.”
Brasten opened the ship wide channel. “Attention all hands! We are making an emergency jump to Earth. Remain at Battle Stations, as we are most likely jumping into combat. Flight, prepare for a full combat launch. Weapons control, local safeties off, master safe will remain on for the jump. Combat jump in...” he looked at the timer on his console. “Ten seconds. Mark!”
Fleet Command Battleship, Honor of Vengeance
Geo-stationary orbit, North magnetic pole
Earth, Sol System
Senior Fleet Captain Edgigly, Commanding.
I was in the core vault and had just activated the AI when the lights flashed red, indicating Red Alert status.
“Honor, please report ship status and the reason for the alert,” I asked. My suddenly nervous guards also paid strict attention.
“Certainly, Doctor Cowan. Several large warships belonging to the Aracnise Grand Hive have arrived and are moving to planetary orbit. According to the battle plan outlined by Commodore Vance, Captain Edgigly has brought the fleet to red alert, pending the order to begin operations to defend the planet.”
I nodded. “Let's get to the bridge and introduce the AI to the Captain, then get the hell out of here.”
“Agreed. Perhaps we should figure out a way to forgo that formality in the remaining two ships,” Tul-sa suggested.
“When we’re on our way to the next ship, I’ll call the Captains, and see if we can work it out,” I replied.
“Let’s just hope we’re out of here before they actually have to start fighting. Flitting around an active battle zone in an assault shuttle is not my idea of fun,” Tul-sa replied.
When we got to the bridge, the Marines let us through immediately.
“You’re still here?” Edgigly asked. “Honor introduced herself a few moments ago, and asked that we call the last two ships and make arrangements for the new AI to do the same there. Damn good idea. Now, get the hell outta here! You’ve got about fifteen minutes left before Ghia opens the gates to the underworld. When that happens, you keep your ass on that ship! You’ll never make it back to the moon after combat starts. Just find someplace out of the way, seal your armor, and wait out the fight. Understood?”
I nodded to him once. “Thank you, Sir. Good luck!”
“To you as well, Doctor Cowan,” Edgigly replied, as we turned and ran for the flight deck and our waiting shuttle. However, by time we got there, things had already changed.
We ran up the ramp, and it closed and sealed behind us.
Tul-sa called the pilot. “We’re in and buttoned up, Felse. Let’s get the hell outta here.”
“No can-do, Sergeant. Flight control has grounded us. Looks like we’re going to ride this one out right here,” the pilot answered.
“Okay, Felse, can we at least listen in?” Tul-sa asked.
In reply, the intercom in the passenger area was filled by the sounds of the ship’s combat controller. I couldn’t really understand most of what was said, but there were a few things that troubled me. For one, one of the large carriers that had arrived was launching hundreds of landing craft, which would follow if they were trying to invade Earth, but the troubling part was that several of those landing craft looked to be set up as tankers. Instead of carrying assault troops, or equipment, they were a flying tank of some kind of liquid.
“If they are trying to invade the planet, why would they be gassing it?” I asked Tul-sa.
“It’s not lethal. Think of it as sleep gas. They spray the stuff at a medium altitude for an area they want to take over, and anyone in that area not wearing environment gear just drops over. Resistance all but disappears,” Tul-sa explained. “It’s an effective surprise tactic, but it doesn’t work on us anymore.”
“I wonder if anyone told the people on the planet that,” I asked.
“There’s no way to know for certain, but I doubt it. There really wasn’t a lot of time to tell them anything other than they were about to be invaded,” Tul-sa replied. “But they would have a hard time of it anyway, Aracnise armor is pretty tough, those light mass drivers they use won’t do much more than piss them off.”
“They’ll adjust, they always seem to. I just hope they have the time to adjust,” I said.
“Well, the goal for the enemy here, is to establish a hive on the planet. Once that happens, it’s next to impossible to destroy it without destroying the planet,” Tul-sa explained.
“I can’t help but think of that as an infestation of sorts,” I said.
She nodded. “That’s a good explanation of what it is. The Aracnise infest a planet. Once they get one or two queens established, they will eventually take over the entire planet. A single queen can produce an almost unending supply of warrior drones.”
“Do they respond to fire?” I asked.
“They don’t like it if that’s what you mean, although they seem to be able to tolerate extremes we can’t. For example, they only need a breather when fighting on an airless world, or in space. They are pretty tough opponents,” Tul-sa said.
“They’re not sure of that anymore, Sarge,” one of the other troopers replied. “One of the bright boys said that the ones that fight in hard vacuum are either special units, or have to acclimate slowly to the condition. They think there are ones for fighting underwater too.”
Tul-sa nodded. “That makes sense I guess. It never did set right with me that those bugs could just jump out an airlock and fight. They’re still tough bastards though.”
“Doctor Cowan, is it true that the Aracnise were actually created by the Veranorians?” another trooper asked.
“Where the hell did you hear that, Bethsar?” the first Marine asked. “That’s nuts!”
I didn’t know what Vance wanted kept quiet, but I made a decision that I hoped he would forgive me for. “Okay, I don’t know if I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut or not, but I’m going to tell you guys everything we know, so you understand, and hopefully, can spread that understanding around.” I paused to take a sip of cool water from the suit.
“Yes, the Aracnise are a bio-engineered species created by the Veranorians. We think they created them as soldiers and as a stalking horse for the Alliance to focus on as a common enemy. Now, before you jump to any conclusions, the Veranorian Synod is the culprit here, not the Veranorian people.
“I say that because only those at the very top of the food chain on Veranor were aware of these events. As you all know, the Veranorians primary contribution to the Alliance has been their computing systems. Well, what you might not know was that those systems, primarily the teaching systems, had conditioning programming incorporated into them. Based on our analysis of that code, we have discovered that the Veranorians were trying to take over the Alliance while they focused on the Aracnise as the enemy.
“When I arrived, and brought Sarah with me, she discovered a few things, including that bit of programming in the Veranorian systems. Commodore Vance ordered her to remove it immediately, and she complied.”
“We know all of that, but the rest of this is new to us. What’s the deal with the Aracnise and the Veranorians?” one of the Marines asked.
“Simply put, the Veranorian Synod is the real enemy, and we believe they actually control the Aracs. I can assure you that, the Veranorians here, with the exception of LSE Order Fen and his second, LSE T’harnes, knew nothing about the programming, or the link to the Aracnise. LSE Corhen Nori has spoken to her people on the base and from the ships of this fleet. They have all agreed that the Synod has gone insane, and have separated themselves from their rule. For now, LSE Nori is serving as Matriarch of the Apollo Veranorians. So, if you see a Veranorian here, believe me when I tell you that they have as much, if not more reason to hate the Synod than you do. Yes, the Aracs may have killed your friends and families, but how would you feel if you found out that your friends and families were the ones responsible for billions of deaths?”
“As it stands right now, the rest of the Alliance is still under Veranorian control, but that will be changing soon. The Veranorians know we broke their conditioning, and believe that we will do all we can to free the rest of the Alliance, to that end, they have sent the Aracs to Earth,” I finished.
“So, why attack Earth? Why not wipe out the base?” one of the other Marines asked.
“The Veranorians think they can use the planet as hostage to control us. They don’t want to destroy the base because they want what we produce,” I explained. “I don’t understand it either, but that’s what Commodore Vance believes, and Nori agrees with him.”
Before anyone else could ask a question, the ship rocked from an explosion. “Okay, everyone, strap your asses in! The ship’s under fire,” Tul-sa ordered. I jumped for my seat, and followed her instructions.
She took the seat next to mine, and strapped herself in. “Listen up,” she said, held up her pulse rifle. She briefly explained everything to me, and how it functioned. How to reload the power module and recharge the unit. She also walked me through the interface between the weapon and the armor suit I was wearing. When I was holding an active weapon in my hands, the targeting and function information for the weapon would be displayed on my visor, making it easier to aim. She stressed that this was a line of sight weapon, and there was no recoil from the discharge, nor was there a drop to the projectile, as there wasn’t one. She also warned me that I wouldn’t actually see anything when I pulled the trigger. One the beam was too fast for the eye, and two, it wasn’t a part of the visible spectrum. I would, however, see the result if I hit what I was aiming at.
During all of this, the big ship was being rocked by explosions as it was hit with Arac weapons.
“Sarge! Man the weapons! The bay we’re in has been breached!” the Pilot called. We could hear her spinning up the engines.
“I thought we couldn’t take off?” I asked.
“We need the power from the engines for the weapons systems,” Tul-sa said as she used hand signals to direct her people. “Felse, drop the ramp. We need to be able to run for cover if we need to, then get your pretty ass down here and grab a weapon!”
The rear troop door began opening, as the pilot door also opened, and a slim-looking Marine slid down the railed steps to the cockpit. She opened a locker at the bottom of the steps and pulled out a rifle of her own.
Beside her little locker, I saw the receptacle for an emergency replicator. “Felse, do you mind if I borrow your replicator?” I asked, while I pulled my data pad out of my pack.
“That should be fine, why, do you have something up your sleeve?” she asked.
“Not in this suit!” I replied. “Just something I would like to test on the Aracs if we see any.” I plugged my data pad into the replicator terminal and began selecting what I wanted.
“Somehow, I don’t think its ‘if’ anymore, Doctor. You know I’m supposed to keep you out of combat, right?” Tul-sa replied.
“That will be difficult if we get boarded, Sergeant,” I replied. “Just think this might surprise a few of them.”
When she saw what I was doing, she snorted. “Let’s just hope that they’re the ones surprised!”