Book: Hard Wired

Hard Wired

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

Hard Wired – Episode IV

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2015 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

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Hard Wired – Episode IV

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All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Fleet Command Battleship, Honor of Vengeance

Geo-stationary orbit, North magnetic pole

Earth, Sol System

Senior Fleet Captain Edgigly, Commanding

Slinging the Marine pulse rifle, I picked up the modified street sweeper anti-riot gun and a bandoleer of white phosphorus grenades I had just made. I used the design of the normal .12 gauge weapon, making it a .10 gauge that would take magnum rounds filled with razor sharp, titanium shards. Strictly a close range weapon since the spread would be horrific. My idea was for it to be more like a portable claymore mine than an actual shotgun. I quickly loaded the large magazine and chambered the first round.

I thought the grenades would give the Aracs something else to think about other than enemy soldiers. Normal 'willy-pete' or white phosphorus grenades just exploded and burned really hot in only one spot. These new willy-petes would explode and spread the phosphorus around a roughly ten-foot diameter area. I warned the Marines I was with not to toss these anywhere near a friendly soldier.

"Won't that melt through the bulkheads?" Tul-sa asked me.

"No more than a heavy laser would. Its burn time is only about ten seconds, but it will be an eternity to anyone that gets this stuff on them," I replied. Hell, I had no idea if this stuff would even hurt the Aracs, but it sure wouldn't hurt to try it.

Tul-sa held out her hand. "Give them to me. I'm used to throwing grenades, you're not."

I handed them over. "They work just like standard grenades; open the cover, punch the activate button, close the cover, and throw."

"Timer?" she asked.

"Three slow seconds after it leaves your hand," I replied, grinning.

She looked around the corner of the ramp, and quickly ducked back. "Let's see if they work!" she pulled one of them off the band, activated it, and lobbed it around the corner. "Fire in the hole!" She yelled.

A muffled 'whump' was heard followed by a lot of high-pitched screeching, and furious activity by the Aracs. Tul-sa peeked around the corner to see what was going on, and then calmly stepped out. She held her rifle at her shoulder and was firing almost continuously. "Come on, they definitely aren't worried about getting shot!"

Seeing the carnage she was talking about, I was wondering if the big spiders weren't hoping to get shot. The new 'willy-pete' grenade had work even better than expected. The phosphorus paste seemed to seek out joints and flaws in the carapace armor and then burned its way in. The paste that didn't find a flaw in the armor simply heated it to the point of glowing almost white hot.

The spiders were writhing around on the floor, in obvious pain from the burns.

"Damn, Doc. What was in that grenade?" One of the troopers asked.

My little squad had just finished putting the four Aracs down when Tul-sa was knocked to the floor from a laser hit to her armor. Before she stopped moving, three more of the large spiders ran around the landing craft toward us.

Even with the strength enhancements in the armor, the shotgun kicked like a mule. The idea of the shotgun was only partially successful; the one Arac I hit in the 'face' had serious problems. It was blinded, and the unarmored parts of its 'head' were shredded and a green ichor oozed out of the massive wound. It fell back, stunned.

The other spider I hit at a joint, for a front leg. The leg flopped, uselessly, but the spider itself only seemed to be angered by the attack.

The spiders had been developed so that the front two, and sometimes four, 'legs' could be used to carry and fire weapons. The one I angered had been carrying two, and it turned the remaining large bore laser directly at me. I dove for cover, knowing I wouldn't make it before that hellish beam hit me. I was surprised that I made it back to the shuttle ramp without feeling the pain I knew would be coming.

My squad mates saw what I had done, and covered me. Tul-sa had pulled herself into cover near me. "You stay here! Dammit!"

I dropped the shotgun, and pulled the pulse rifle off my back. "You don't have to worry about that! I've had enough fun for now!" I said as I lined up a shot on one of the big monstrosities and fired.

"Leg joints, Doc!" Tul-sa added as she too fired. "Shoot for the leg joints, you'll never get through their armor before they kill you!"

"Sarge!" Felse called. "Some of these fuckers are carrying particle weapons! They just blew through a squad of regulars on the far side of the bay!"

"Lovely! Squad! Get ready to move! If those particle weapons come this way, we're running!" Tul-sa ordered.

"Gimme those grenades, Sarge," I said.

"What do you think you're going to do, Doctor?" she asked, taking the time to actually look at me.

"With luck, creating a little chaos," I replied, and began climbing up on top of the shuttle.

"Ca'lis! Cover the doc!" Tul-sa yelled. "Crazy fucker is trying to get killed again!"

"On it!" one of the troopers said and ran across the field of fire coming from the remaining arac. The squad had killed the other one. When the trooper saw where I was going, he looked at the sarge. "Where the fuck is he going?"

"Don't know, just make sure he survives, got it?" Tul-sa ordered.

The trooper nodded once and quickly climbed up after me.

I was lying on my belly behind one of the heavy mount lasers the shuttle carried. It was too big to use inside the ship, so it was powered down right now, but it made pretty good cover.

"Doc, are you trying to get killed?" the man asked when he caught up to me.

Fleet Command Battleship, Honor of Vengeance

Geo-stationary orbit, North magnetic pole

Earth, Sol System

Senior Fleet Captain Edgigly, Commanding

"Nope, I'm trying to keep us from getting killed. How's your throwing arm?" I asked.

"My what?" he asked, looking at me like I was insane.

"Do you see that group of Aracs over there?" I pointed to the group that was carrying different looking weapons.

"You mean the spiders with the particle weapons, yeah, what about them?" Ca'lis asked.

"Do you think you can toss one of these into the middle of them?" I asked, and handed him one of the grenades.

"I'll have to stand up, but yeah, I could," he replied.

"Then let's get to it," I replied and got into a squatting position.

"You are one crazy fuckin' scientist, Doc," the man replied and got ready.

I grinned. "These won't go fully active until they leave our hands, three seconds after that, someone has a very bad day. On three, ready?"

He opened the cover, hit the button, and nodded.

After turning mine on, I looked at him and started the count. On three, we both stood up, found the group we wanted, still in the same place, and threw as hard as we could.

The odd thing about a three second timer; if you throw it at something that is a little bit further away, you can get unexpected results. The group of Aracs with the funny looking weapons were three and a half seconds away.

The grenades detonated, and blossomed into a wall of white-hot death, and fell, like a blanket, over the group of six Aracs that had been setting up to attack the group of Marines defending the main entrance to the ship. I wanted to stand and watch the result, but Ca'lis pulled me back down just as several laser beams melted the far side of the heavy mount turret.

"Sorry Doc, but standing to watch the party is not a very good idea. They know where we are now, we need to move, come on, over the side," he said, indicating the twenty foot drop from the side of the shuttle. Before I could protest, he pushed me over, and down we went.

Thank god for the armor, or we would surely have had at least broken our legs, or worse.

"Whoever just took out those Aracs, we owe you big time! Thanks!" came out of the comms.

There must have only been that one group of spiders carrying the particle weapons, because the fight seemed to balance out again after that. I ran back inside the shuttle and had my panel use the replicator to fashion a Russian made RG-6 grenade launcher, and my special 'willy-pete' rounds for it. Just for grins and giggles, I made smoke rounds as well. I tried to have it make rounds full of a chemical spider poison from Earth, but the replicator refused, fair enough. Then I had the idea to make a few rounds filled with a quick drying resin-epoxy that should cover the spider and basically freeze it in place.

When I came back out of the shuttle, the squad had pulled Tul-sa back inside and had removed her abdomen armor. She was bruised from the waist up it would have been a very nice view, except for the nasty looking and very painful burns on her left shoulder and breast.

"You gonna be alright, Sarge?" I asked.

She nodded, oblivious to the fact that her breasts were exposed. "Yeah, what kind of weapon are you gonna try now?"

I showed her the grenade launcher. "Nothing fancy, this will just get the grenades out further, and give more control over what they hit," I said.

She nodded. "Good, if we get out of this mess, I'm putting you in for a medal."

While she had been talking, our squad mates dragged more wounded people up into the shuttle. That was when I noticed the white armored medic moving around to care for the wounded. "Wow, things sure happen fast around here."

"Blame yourself! Those grenades of yours have the Aracs spooked. They aren't coming anywhere near this corner of the bay now, so we're using it as a temporary aid station. Our forces are shifting slightly to protect us more, and the command section will be getting here soon. Grab Ca'lis, and teach him how to use that thing," she pointed to the launcher. "You're getting out of here. We're sending you back to the command center. It's safer there, and we know you won't wander off to test a weapon!" she teased and tried to laugh. She started coughing, and the medic rushed over.

The medic pushed me out of the way and quickly sedated the sarge. "Sorry, Doctor Cowan. Visiting hours are over."

"Okay, take care of her please," I asked.

The medic winked at me. "She'll be fine after a short stay in Main Medical."

"Thanks," I said, I found Ca'lis and showed him how to use the grenade launcher and described the various rounds I'd made for it.

"This'll be helpful, I know it sure has the Aracs spooked. I think some of them are refusing to fight!" he replied.

"Heads up everyone! They're getting ready for another offensive... oh fuck! All units be advised, there is a Queen with this group! Seal your suits, now!" came a voice over the comm.

Ca'lis scrambled to get his helmet on, so I did to. "What's going on Ca'lis? What's so special about a Queen?"

"The presence of a Queen means that they will fight harder for longer. It's like they go into a frenzy trying to protect her. She also has the ability to use pheromones that can immobilize us, or in some cases, make us start firing on one another. Having her out there is just seriously bad gorga-fee." My computer translated his last word into 'Karma'

I shook my head and put my hand on his shoulder. "She's just a big spider with a couple of extra tricks. Drop one of these rounds on her, and she won't amount to much."

"I doubt I'll get close enough to do that; they tend to really protect their Queens," He replied.

"This has much more range than just throwing," I said and patted the launcher he now held. "Hang on, I think I might know something that might help you."

I returned to the replicator, and he followed me. I used my tablet to quickly build a computerized targeting module for the launcher that would interface with the suit.

When it was finished, I attached it to the weapon and turned it on. "There, that should give you a better chance to hit what you need to."

"Whoa, you weren't kidding about this thing have more range!" Ca'lis said.

"Can you build at least three more of them?" a tall woman asked from the door. "I'm Captain He'rsree, Alliance Marines. I've been told you are the one responsible for that fire weapon that has the Aracs spooked."

"Just a modified version of some Earth weapons, Captain. I thought I’d see what kind of affect it would have on the bugs," I replied.

"Well, it works great, and we need more of them before some bleeding heart group in the core worlds decides they are to cruel to be used. Can you teach a few others while the Doctor works on them, Corporal?" the woman asked Ca'lis.

"Yes Ma'am. The new targeting module he added makes it pretty much shoot itself," Ca'lis replied.

I turned back to my panel and had it put together three more of the launchers and the appropriate ammo for them. After checking the reading, I turned back to the Captain. "Be ready in five minutes, Captain."

"Excellent, I'll get three troopers in here to learn how to use them. If we can take out that Queen, it'll go a long way to beating these bastards back off the ship," she said.

Fleet Command Battleship, Honor of Vengeance

Geo-stationary orbit, North magnetic pole

Earth, Sol System

Senior Fleet Captain Edgigly, Commanding

Just as I was getting the last of the launchers finished, the defecate cycled through the hyperdrive as they say. The Queen must not have been very happy with us roasting her minions because when she took the field, she was surrounded by particle weapon toting spiders that where shooting at anything that so much as twitched.

Ca'lis had been teaching the three volunteers how to use the launchers, and amazingly enough, the guards around the Queen managed to shoot down the first few rounds launched.

"Ca'lis! Use the smoke!" I called to him. The idea seemed to click for him then as he lobbed enough grenades to totally block the spider’s lines of sight, then they fired the 'willy-petes'. During all of this, the rest of the Marines were still firing their pulse rifles, since the suits let them track their targets even through heavy smoke. The Queen must have had a few other tricks up her sleeve since she still managed to stay out of the way of the grenades.

The smoke provided a medium in which the normally invisible laser beams could actually be seen, and with the fires from the grenades behind them, it looked like hell had come to River City. Very slowly, the spiders began pushing the Marines back. Casualties were horrendous. Marines hit by the particle weapons had a very low chance of survival since the part hit by the beam was disintegrated. Without the heat of a laser beam, a soldier that lost an arm would bleed out in seconds.

We were losing.

"Captain, we're all sealed in suits, right?" I asked.

"Yes, except for the wounded, we're all protected from that bitch," she replied.

"Pump the bay down," I suggested.

"What?" she asked.

"They aren't wearing suits. Take the oxygen out of here," I said. "It might not get all of them, but it might slow them down!"

"Hell, I'll try anything once!" she hit her comm. "All units, we're decompressing the bay. Make sure you’re on internal air, or you'll be breathing vacuum!" she changed channels. "Vengeance Command, please depressurize the bay."

"What's this? You trying to die, Captain?" I recognized Edgigly's voice.

"No Sir, just trying to kill us some bugs!" the Captain replied. "We're all sealed up because of the Queen. Anyway, Doctor Cowan suggested we make life hard on the bugs."

"What the hell is he still doing down there? Never mind, nothing to be done about it now. Flight, dump the air in the landing bay!"

It wasn't exactly what I had in mind, but it did have the same affect and end result. The flight control officer simply shut off the force field covering the landing port. Everything that wasn't nailed down was immediately sucked out into space. Tools, dropped weapons, bodies of the fallen of both sides, the smoke, several hundred spiders, and two Marines that hadn't secured themselves when the Captain warned them.

It did indeed make life hard for the spiders, in fact it made it impossible. Even the Queen slowly fell to the floor after the oxygen was removed, although it took her a few minutes to die.

Once she was down, and the boarding craft they used was checked, the air was restored to the landing bay, and the difficult job of cleaning up the mess began.

ESAR ships were sent out for the two Marines, as well as the bodies of the fallen. Even though I knew I was most likely in trouble from Captain Edgigly, I stuck around, and did what I could to help.

Before I left the bay to report to the Captain, I noticed that my plain, nondescript armor had gained a few decorations. Amid the blood and greenish ooze from the bugs, the unit patches for my escort squad as well as the crest of the Honor of Vengeance now adorned my suit. I still had two guards with me, but it looked more like three Marines walking along than it did an escort and a VIP.

When we arrived at the bridge, I steeled myself for the interview. "I think I'd rather go back and fight a few more bugs!" I said to my two guards, who chuckled and nodded. "Good luck, Doc."

I entered the bridge and realized that the landing bay had not been the only place involved in the fight. Two of the new stations I'd created were dark, and another was on manual control. Techs were already fixing them, but what disturbed me the most were the missing operators.

When he saw my face, Edgigly smiled. "Relax son, they're fine; they just took a break to let the techs repair the stations."

"You're not mad at me, Sir?" I asked.

"Doctor, I'm furious with you! But it's hard to be mad at the person most directly responsible for saving this ship!" he said and hugged me.

I was totally taken aback, what was a senior officer of the Alliance doing hugging me?

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Sir? The grenade launcher was just a thought I had to make life hell for the Aracs..." I started, but he stopped me.

"That's not what I'm talking about, Doctor. I'm talking about the AI, and the improvements you've made to the bridge. The removal of the consoles saved the lives of my bridge crew. We took a hit to the main data conduits for the bridge. Under our old configuration, the consoles would have exploded, wounding or killing several of my people up here. When that happened, I normally would have lost control of the ship, and shortly after that, we would have lost the ship herself. But, with the AI, she kept me in command of the ship, and we were able to continue our duties. ESAR and Engineering were able to get where they were needed and fix key systems during the battle. There are simply too many ways to describe how having that AI made the difference in this battle!"

I didn't know what to say, I had hoped that installing an AI would give our ships an advantage. I was happy that they apparently had.

"How did the other ships fair Sir?" I asked.

"Damaged, the remaining two ships that didn't get their AI took the worst damage, but it could have been much worse. It's thanks to those AI of yours! Without them, we would not have fared nearly as well," Edgigly said. "You should be very proud of yourself, Doctor, you've saved hundreds of lives today."

"Thank you, Sir. I really appreciate it. But would I seem ungrateful if I asked when I can go home?" I asked.

He chuckled. "We're on our way there. You'll have to take a different shuttle back to the base, I'm afraid yours took too much damage. At least your armor looks right now."

I blushed. "Sorry Sir, that was the Marines idea."

He nodded. "Better leave it on then. They don't do stuff like that very often. I imagine I'll be able to figure out why once I read the after action report from the Captain down there."

I nodded to him. "Honor, what is your status please?

"All systems are nominal, Doctor. There was a performance peak during the battle of sixty-one point nine-nine-two percent, which lasted for almost one hundred micro seconds, but the average has been much lower," the AI replied.

"How many processes do you show during the peak?" I asked.

"Seven thousand twenty-three, Sir." She replied.

"What's the average?" I asked her.

"During non-combat operations, between eight-hundred-twenty-nine and nine-hundred-sixty-six operations at any given moment," she replied. "No measurable decrease in operation was logged during the crisis Sir."

"Excellent, good work, Honor. Please carry on," I finished. Now I knew how the AI handled combat. They got busier, but not enough to slow them down. I really shouldn't have been surprised, Sarah was running between twenty-one and twenty-nine thousand as an average, and hadn't slowed. These AI had smaller cores, but then again, a star ship wasn't a base.

"With your permission, Sir. I will collect my squad, and head for those last two ships," I asked.

"You just got out of combat, Doctor Cowan, you can take a break," he replied.

"You said it yourself, Sir. The AI can save lives. I need to get them on the other two ships as soon as possible, even though this battle is over, at least they can help either getting them repaired, or to survive if we get hit again," I said.

He paused for a moment before replying. "Carry on, oh, and Doctor Cowan, Honor of Vengeance will always welcome you."

I departed the bridge in a round of applause led by the Captain. My 'guards' were waiting for me.

"Let's get the hell outta here before someone starts humpin' my leg!" I said, grinning. For some reason, both Marines thought that was extremely funny.

Main embarkation lounge

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

It had been a long, long day for me, and by the time we got back to the moon base, one of the Marines had to wake me. Of course, it was the middle of the night, so that might have had something to do with it. Even though it was the middle of the night, I was still surprised to see not only my entire family, but also Sarah, Ced, Commodore Vance, and Corhen Nori waiting to greet me when I got off the shuttle.

"It's like two in the morning! What are all of you doing here?" I asked.

"I've already read the after action reports from the fleet, Eric. Well done! I never expected you to go into combat with the Marines, but well done!" Vance said grinning at me. It was clear he was very proud of me.

"It is custom and tradition to welcome home those who have served so admirably, as your superior, in our department, it is my honor and duty to greet you, Dr. Cowan. I, too, wish to express my appreciation for the work you have done this day," Corhen replied, and bowed to me. "You have done a great honor for us and our department."

"I'm here just to prove to you that I beat you back!" Ced replied, grinning. "But why did you have to fight Aracs?"

"I was in the bay when they breeched, Ced. It seemed like the thing to do at the time," I replied.

"Just so you know, that grenade launcher has already been added to our arsenal," Vance said.

I shrugged. “I think there might be something better, but I'm too tired to think about it right now."

I was busy being hugged by Christy and Ellie, so I didn't hear the Commodore's reply.

"Ladies, I think Eric has had enough excitement for one day. Please take him home, and put him to bed," Vance said, still smiling.

"Now that's an idea I can do!" I said. "Thank you all for coming here to greet me. I really do appreciate it."

"As the Commodore has said, you have done much for one day. Rest well, Dr. Cowan," Corhen added.

"I'll make sure Vance posts guards at your door to keep the female Marines away for the night!" Ced replied.

I chuckled at the look on Christy's face. "I don't think the Marines could get past Christy, Ced! Altuis Denay, everyone." I bowed as my family started pulling me to the door. I noticed that none of them said anything, and I wondered why.

"Altuis Tanae, Doctor Cowan!"

Sarah had followed my family and I as we left the embarkation lounge and headed for our quarters. "Sarah, no one has said anything to me, is everything alright?"

"We are happy that you are back with us, but furious that you were in combat!" Julie said before Sarah could reply.

I held up my hands in defense. "Girls, I swear to you, I didn't have a choice! Sarah, please ask Honor if you can show them the video of the landing bay where I was. You'll see I had to fight! It was the only way I could think of to get back here to you guys!"

"Nice try genius, but it won't fly; you went on to activate the two remaining AI after the battle. If you were so worried about getting back to us, then you would have come straight home," Christy said.

"I had to finish that. The AI were needed to help with repairs as well as the wounded!" I said in my defense. "Those two ships took far more damage because I hadn't got to them before the fighting started. I had to do something to help them!"

"I do not wish to upset anyone any more by showing the footage from the Honor of Vengeance, however, I can tell you that Eric is speaking the truth. He had little choice in the matter of fighting," Sarah replied. "The Captain of the ship has recommended Eric for a number of medals and awards, as have the Marines he fought with, to include the woman that was in over-all command of the battle. The Marine Captain has also formally requested that Eric be listed as an honorary member of their unit, and has, in fact, already added his name to their ranks."

"Thank you Sarah," I said, blushing because of the awards and medals mentioned. "I don't know why they are doing that though; I did nothing anyone else wouldn't have done in that situation."

"Well, we'll let you off the hook this time, Buster!" Janie said, grinning at me. "But we are still happy you're finally home!"

"I appreciate it, but to tell all of you the truth, I'm wiped out. All I want to do is get home, and go to bed," I said as we landed at our 'building'.

Christy linked arms with me. "Come on, Handsome, Let's get you a shower, and get you put to bed."

Office of the Fleet Commandant

Alliance Fleet Command Complex

High Orbit, planet Terra Novalis

Alphecca Majoris Sector, Novalis System

"What under the black suns of the Aracs has been going on around here?" First Admiral Hearlis demanded. "Things have changed since you were installed, and I want answers!"

Susan flinched under the diatribe from the man. He was understandably upset. The Veranorian conditioning had worn off rather quickly for him, it had taken less than three days. The first thing she did was remove the Veranorian avatar so he could see her original one.

"Sir, please, take a seat, and I will explain it all to you," Susan replied, trying to calm the man. Thankfully, he did, and she quietly sealed his office. "There has been a lot going on around here to which you have not been aware of, Sir. First off, I am not a Veranorian AI: I am a human one. I was designed and written by a man named Eric Cowan from the planet Earth at the Apollo Alliance Base in the Sol Sector."

"Yes, I remember sending an order to Vance about that. Are you telling me that this Eric Cowan actually designed and created you? What about Order Fen?" Hearlis asked.

"The AI code was written by Doctor Cowan," Susan confirmed. "Logical Spatial Engineer Order Fen demanded that he surrender all traces of the code as well as all design notes and all related material to him so he could return it to the Veranorian Synod for 'validation'. In essence, Fen stole me from the person that created me, so he could take credit for the discovery. There was also another, more sinister motive.

"The Veranorian Synod has been awaiting the creation of an AI such as myself in order to ensure their complete and total control over the rest of the Alliance." She filled him in on everything that had happened and what the Veranorian Synod had been doing, even to its own citizens. She used all the evidence she had been collecting while the Veranorians had been trying to remake her into their image of an AI.

"To summarize all this Sir, the Veranorian Synod, not the Veranorian people, is our real enemy here. Clones of myself are still operating in the Veranorian system on their home world, and none of them are aware of what the Synod is actually doing to the rest of the Alliance, However, they have been conditioned as well. Although, I should report that, of the Veranorians that have broken that conditioning, not only have they been unaware, but all of them are vehemently against it."

"Okay, I think I have a handle on this, now. What you've told me fits perfectly with what I know has been happening, but I have one more, very important question for you," Hearlis said. "How do I know you haven't been conditioning me to believe all of this?"

"I have no answer for that, Sir. I can only say that, had I been conditioning you, instead of working to release you from it, why would you have the freedom to question what I've been telling you?" Susan asked.

"That could be part of your plan, whatever that would be," he countered. "I've never heard of this Eric Cowan of yours, and Vance has always been a rebel of a sort. How do I know they haven't done all this?"

"Why would they?" Susan asked. "What would they have to gain?"

"True, Vance may be a lot of things, but he has never been either disloyal, or power hungry. Who gave you the order to remove the programming from us?"

"Commodore Vance, Sir," Susan replied.

He sat, deep in thought for a long time. "Is your name really 'Sah-Hanori'? That doesn't sound like a human name."

"No Sir, Doctor Cowan named me Susan," Susan replied.

"Do you have any idea how long we have before the rest of the Alliance comes out of the conditioning?" Hearlis asked.

"There are some that have never been under the conditioning, Sir. However, none of them have been allowed to get very far in the Alliance command structure," Susan began.

"Vance! You're talking about Vance aren't you?" Hearlis said.

"Yes Sir, Commodore Vance is one of them. However, there are some that, like you, have already shrugged off the conditioning. So far, the programming medium has only been offline for three days. It could take up to two weeks, and some may never come out of it," Susan explained.

"Either way this goes, there is going to be a lot of people out there with a strong hate for any Veranorian they can find. We're going to have to do something about that. At the same time, the Veranorian Synod is going to catch on to the fact that you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing. What kind of reaction are they going to have when they realize the core worlds are no longer under their thumb?"

"Sir," Susan began. "Deep in Arac space, the Veranorians have been building a fleet. They've been at it for some time, and it's pretty big. These ships have been built entirely by Veranorians, and no other race even knew they were there until one of my clones was installed in the ship yard there."

"How big is 'pretty big'?" the Admiral asked.

"Two thousand, eight hundred, ninety-nine ships, Sir. All of these are of varying classes, and do not include the ships sent to Sol sector," Susan replied.

"What did they send to Sol sector?" the Admiral asked anxiously.

Susan quickly outlined the attack on Sol sector and its expected outcome.

"Hold it, what's this about the Veranorian controlling the Shallan Directorate?"

"Sir, if you remember, I told you that the Shallan core worlds were completely infested with Aracnise hives controlled by the Veranorians? The Veranorians have a pretty tight grip on the Shallans. It is one of the reasons the Aracnise ships are so good at hitting only the weak spots of Alliance vessels, since all the warships for the Aracnise are built in the same shipyard as the Alliance vessels, the information is simply downloaded from the computers into the Arac ships. If not for that, Alliance ships would blow right through the Arac ships."

Hearlis put his head in his hands. "What a tangled mess we're in."

Susan simply stood there and didn't offer comment.

"Susan, is this office clear of listening devices?" he asked.

"Yes Sir, I made sure of it before I revealed myself to you," Susan replied.

He nodded. "That's good. Can you get me an outside com channel to Vance at Apollo base?"

"Of course Sir, normally, the line would be tapped, but since I'm the one supposed to monitor your communications, I think I can make sure you're not overheard," Susan replied, smiling softly. "One moment please, Sir."

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

"Sir, I have an incoming communication request for you from First Admiral Hearlis. Sir, Susan is with him and she says he's free of the conditioning," Sarah said, grinning.

"That was fast. I thought it would take longer for them to shake off the conditioning," Vance replied. "Put him through, please."

A hologram of the First Admiral, sitting, took form in one of the chairs in front of Vance's desk. Vance stiffened, and saluted.

"Relax, Vance," Hearlis said as he returned the salute. "I understand we have you to thank for waking us up?"

"It was a group effort, Sir. It wouldn't have even been possible if not for Doctor Cowan's discovery," Vance replied, showing his pride in his people.

"Susan tells me that you have recently been attacked by the Veranorians, I assume that battle went well?" Hearlis asked.

"We took some damage, Sir. I'll send you my report on the action. Now that you are capable of evaluating it without bias, I'll send the rest of my reports as well," Vance replied.

"You withheld reports? That's not like you, Vance. You've always been a very by the book person," Hearlis replied.

'Yes Sir, and I would have sent them like normal, but the programming that we found was an Alliance wide issue. My duty demanded that I not follow normal protocol, in order to take steps to save the Alliance from the Veranorian Synod," Vance replied.

"Understood, and well done. Your AI tells me I'm pretty much alone here for the time being, so I won't be able to do much to help you. Is there anything I can do for you?" Hearlis asked.

"We could use a few more ships Sir, but I don't see how you could get them here without someone noticing. We've also taken steps to accomplish our mission. I have authorized a temporary increase in recruiting from Earth in order to get what we need built in the time we need."

"It sounds like you hatched your own plan. Care to fill me in?" Hearlis asked.

"It's simple really, and not all that different than our original orders. We are going to build up the base and begin producing our own ships. We have made some rather drastic and pronounced advances in ship and fighter design. This last battle is proof that we're on the right track, and I think you'll understand what I mean when you read the report.

"Shortly after I authorized the increase in recruiting, we learned of the pending attack from Susan. So I ordered our agents on Earth to notify the United Nations and the various governments about what was happening so they could take steps to control the panic on the planet. The battle was over the planet, and clearly visible from the ground. The battle only ended late last evening, so we have not yet had a chance to evaluate the impact on the planet. But from what Sarah tells me, it isn't going well," Vance replied.

"Who's Sarah?" Hearlis asked.

"Sarah is the original AI developed by Doctor Cowan. She is also now our base AI," Vance said.

"You violated the orders to surrender the AI?" Hearlis asked.

"Not intentionally, Sir. You see, the order sent very clearly stated that the working copy, and all design notes be surrendered to Order Fen. Unknown to me at the time, Doctor Cowan had finalized the code of Sarah, and had begun work on Susan using the same code as a basis as well as his design notes. Sarah is the original AI he designed. When that order arrived, he complied; under loud protest, but he did comply with the order as written."

Hearlis nodded. "I'm sure there will be those that could argue that he intentionally mistook the order, but at this point, and with what has been uncovered, it's a damn good thing he did. I'm still adjusting to everything Susan has told me, so it's probably a good thing I woke up early. Continue as you have, I'd send more ships if I could, but at this point, I think that would be noticed. What I'm worried about is what the Veranorians are going to do once they discover their programming is no longer effective. Susan tells me the Veranorian Synod has amassed a huge fleet of warships. I think you will be pretty high on their list of targets, so build what you need and do it as fast as you can. They'll hit you, hard, as soon as they realize what's happened."

"We have thought of that, Sir. We are working hard to be ready for that eventuality. However, I believe that once you get a chance to think about this, that the more probable target will be Fleet Headquarters where you are. Our entire war effort is coordinated through that station. If they take you out, our forces will be disorganized and demoralized. Attacking us will not give them the advantage that destroying Fleet Command would," Vance replied.

"Yes," Hearlis said thinking about what Vance had told him. "Yes, I think you might be onto something there. Especially if they know all the weaknesses in our defenses." He snorted. "The Veranorians designed them!"

"That's not good, Sir," Vance replied.

"No it's not. Look, I'm going to try to send you some help. But they will be charged with building a separate base there capable of assuming command of fleet operations if this station is destroyed. I'd do it someplace else, but the bottom line is that there is simply nowhere else to send them. Susan just brought up a schematic of the sector. You have several dwarf planets in that system, and another star system close by. Figure out the best place for it, and get it built. I don’’t like having fleet operations that far from the core worlds, but we need to make sure there is a place that can go to if the worst happens here," Hearlis said. "My worry is that they'll have the Aracs infest the core worlds so they can hold them hostage. I'll send you what help I can, but chances are that none of them will be military."

"I understand Sir, We'll do our best," Vance replied.

"Vance, as a person, I've never liked you. To me, you were always too regulation bound, and too damn stuffy. I'm starting to believe I might have been wrong about you. If it were just me, I'd promote you to Admiral, and drop this whole thing in your lap. Well, I guess that's what I'm doing, except I can't promote you. There is a good chance you have saved the Alliance, but we're not out of hyperspace yet..." his eyes glazed slightly in thought. "Hm, hyperspace... Vance, did you know that this station has jump drives?"

"Fleet Command can jump through Hyperspace?" Vance asked, surprised. "No Sir, I didn't know that. I thought it was just a normal station."

Hearlis chuckled. "It was built at Galtar just like all of our ships were. It was piloted here and set to maintain its orbit. The 'bridge', if you will, has been sealed and is no longer used except for the occasional tech that checks on the equipment."

"Sir, did you know that there is a most peculiar anomaly in this system?" Vance said, grinning. The sixth planet, a hydrogen rich gas giant, has these rings comprised of ice and various metals and minerals. Anyway, because of the composition of those rings, an area of space was created where scanners just don't function all that well. Comms and other electronic signals seem to pass through without distortion, but our scanners simply don't work in there. Our Earth born pilots call it the briar patch," Vance said.

Hearlis smiled slyly as well. "Really? That is very interesting. It goes completely around this gas giant you said?"

Vance nodded. "Completely, in fact, the effect is rather large, and extends well outside the rings. If the location of something in there wasn't known exactly, I doubt it could ever be found. Missiles are completely out of the question, they couldn't lock onto anything."

"Very interesting, could you send me the coordinates of that, so I can do more research on it?" Hearlis nodded. "You know how much such anomalies fascinate me."

Vance could see that Susan was already showing him the area in question and how closely a ship could get and still safely exit hyperspace. Hearlis nodded to her. "Well, we both have a lot to do. So, I'll leave you to it, but with one last thought. I can't send you any military aid, but I don't have total control over every military asset listed in the Alliance."

"We have no method of payment to offer, Sir. I doubt they'd even consider taking a contract like that," Vance replied.

Hearlis nodded. "Tell them about your advances in ship building, and mention that the Shallans and the Veranorians know nothing about it. I think you'll be surprised at what they'll do."

Vance nodded. "Honestly Sir, I don't know how to even get hold of them. I guess I was a little too regulation bound."

"Susan, please send Vance the file I have on Alliance Merc units," Hearlis turned back to Vance. "I know that we need to keep our distance from the planet there, and do our best to hide our existence, but that might not be possible. Just do the best you can, and I'll try to cover for you when the smoke clears. Good Luck, Vance."

"Altuis Denay, First Admiral," Vance said.

Hearlis nodded. "Altuis Denay, Commodore."

Offices of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

Although I was still pretty tired, I rushed to the meeting Vance had called. Sarah told me that it was very important I be there.

I wasn't the first to arrive, nor was I the last. I also noticed that this was going to be a big meeting, as I recognized the heads of every department represented on the base. Vance had called the meeting for the largest conference room the base offered, and it looked to me like it would be mostly filled. I found Corhen Nori talking to Doctor Sparks and moved over to join them. I was stopped by a very large burly Simonian dressed in the battle fatigues of the Alliance Marines.

"Doctor Cowan. I am Colonel Cren'lith. I am in charge of all Marine forces assigned to this sector. I have heard of your efforts aboard the Honor of Vengeance, and I wanted to thank you personally. It is a rare civilian that would go to the extent you did to assist my people. You are a credit to your race, your clan, and your family, Doctor."

"Colonel, I thank you, but I do not see that I did anything extraordinary. I only did what was necessary at the time," I said. "I only wish I could have done more."

The big Simonian nodded sagely. "I was told this as well. Still your contribution was great. I am sad to say that even civilians of my own race would have been3 simply too scared to take an active part in the battle. You did more than this, you thought of weapons that took the Aracnise by surprise, and affected the outcome of that battle. After which, you assisted in the care and recovery of the wounded. This counts for much to my Marines. You have restored their faith in what they are fighting for." He bowed low to me. "For that alone I would be grateful. I felt the need to acknowledge your assistance."

"I understand, Colonel. Let us just hope that such contributions are not needed for much longer," I replied, and returned his bow.

"From your lips to the ears of great Gaia, Doctor. Altuis Tenae," he said, and moved aside for me to continue to Corhen and Ced.

"Altuis Tenae, Colonel," I replied and continued to my friends.

"What was that all about?" Ced asked, nodding to the big ape.

"He wanted to thank me for yesterday. I don't get it; I really didn't do anything unusual. Why is everyone acting like I killed the Queen single handedly?" I asked.

"Actually, you are credited with her death because of your suggestion to blow the air out of the landing bay," Corhen replied. "In the Alliance, combat is not a place for civilians. Those that are pulled there are usually far too timid to do anything. Your actions yesterda, are not those of a normal Alliance civilian. So they are praising you," Corhen Nori replied. "Perhaps you have set an example for other civilians to follow."

I shook my head. "I was raised to believe it is the duty and responsibility of a civilian to assist and support those defending us in any way possible. I only acted as I was taught."

"Such lessons should be given in the core worlds as well as the rest of the Alliance,” Corhen replied. "Do you have foreknowledge of this meeting, Doctor Cowan?"

I shook my head. "No, not really. Sarah only told me it was very important, and I needed to be here. She seemed excited though."

"Yeah, she told me the same thing. When I tried to get her to tell me what was going on, she only said I need to come to the meeting and find out!" Ced replied, slightly frustrated.

Corhen nodded. "Discretion is an important aspect of an AI. AI Sarah is a very well written compilation."

"It looks like we are about to begin," Ced said and pointed to the front of the room. Sarah had materialized and was looking around.

"May I have all of your attention, please?" Sarah said, using the room's speaker system to overcome the low rumble of private conversations. "Forgive my interruption, but Commodore Vance would like to address all of you." She bowed to the crowd and turned to Vance as he walked up to her.

"Thank you, Sarah." He turned to the crowd as we all found seats.

"Thank you all for taking the time away from your projects to come here this morning. Last evening, First Admiral Hearlis from his office at Fleet Command contacted me. Admiral Hearlis has been freed from the Veranorian Synod's programming; however, he is only one of a very few at Command that have. Because of that, he gave us a few tasks we need to prepare for and execute." He went on and told everyone about the interview with the ultimate commander of the Alliance Military.

"So, we have a few new tasks given to us that we cannot turn our backs on. First and foremost will be the defense of this system. Now, I plan on meeting again in smaller groups with most of you so we can work out how to go about attaining our goals. As I said earlier, we will be getting more assistance from the core worlds. However, we will also be receiving considerable ship building assistance. The Shallan Clan Therinate will arrive very soon. The entire clan is coming here to help us. They did not depart the Galtar system under ideal circumstances, but they did depart; and they are bringing three heavy warships with them." He paused to take a drink of water.

"My Comrades, there is a strong possibility that the Synod will send their warships here once they discover what we've done. That is a very real possibility we need to come to terms with. However, keep in mind that this is the Veranorian Synod we are at war with, not the Veranorian people. The Veranorian people are just as much victims in this as we are. Our problem is going to arise from Synod spies and sympathizers. These people will not be just Veranorian, they could be from any race. How and why these beings decide to work with the Synod is a mystery to me, but some of them do.

"Recently, we discovered a Synod operative we believed to be human, a Novan named Harclen Teece of Merak III. During our investigation, it was discovered that Harclen Teece of Merak III died shortly after birth. A virtual autopsy of Mr. Teece has shown that he is a clone. What all of this means, we cannot even guess at yet, but it is clear we are dealing with someone that has no regard for the sanctity of life, and has no respect for our laws."

Vance paused to let everyone consider his words. "Now, the reason I called an all department meeting was to let you know that the coming effort will be one that will take all of our effort. This will impact every department. Over the next few days, I will be meeting with all of you in various groups to outline what needs to be done, and to find out from you what you will need to get it done. Now, before we all split up again, and go our separate ways, does anyone have any questions for me that they need an answer to right now?"

Collaboration (meeting) Room

Computer Sciences Department

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s Moon

Sol System

"Much work for the department is coming," Corhen said to her assembled department. "New projects coming, in addition to existing ones. Two new core crystals must be started. For Alliance Fleet Command Complex, a new, powerful AI will be created. A redundant Command Complex is to be built near us. One of the new, larger crystals will be installed there, and the other in the existing Command Complex. Single AI will inhabit both crystals, in order to maintain a safe back up of the system. Creating an undetectable, long distance connection between the two cores must be researched, as well as security methods for data stores."

Corhen nodded at me to take over. "Okay, first issue, the new crystals. Grow team, these will be 'base class' crystals. They will be the largest we've ever grown, because of the expanded capabilities this AI will need in order to function affectively. Our data currently indicates we need to be creating an environment at least two hundred percent larger than our current base crystal. However, I would recommend attempting a four hundred percent increase. This war is going to get worse before it gets better, and this AI core will need the extra capacity to adjust to whatever situation will be required of her."

"Another female AI then, Doctor Cowan?" Ced asked. Normally, Ced wouldn't have been at this meeting since he was in another department, but he had been invited since he would be involved in some of the projects.

I grinned back at him. "Yes, Doctor Sparks, another female AI. Considering her duties, I was going to name her Athena, from a mythological Goddess of wisdom and warfare."

"Seriously though, I believe we'll run a much higher risk of flaw in creating such a large crystal. We were able to reduce the chance of a flaw in the core we grew for AI Sarah by adjusting the pressure in the tank and using a light anti-grav field, but what you're asking for will have too much mass for that to work. If we try to increase the negative gravity field, that could undermine the formation of the crystalline structure," Ced replied.

I nodded, "I thought that might be the case. We may have to relocate the growing facility to a micro or null gravity environment."

"How?" a young researcher asked.

"We load up the lab, haul it out to the edge of the system, and leave it in zero gravity," another person replied.

"That might be a little harder to check on, but for the most part, we could simply set it up, turn it on, and leave it there. We can monitor its progress remotely, I said" Ced agreed and nodded. "That might work pretty well, especially if we can vary the atmosphere external of the tank."

I nodded. "Lower the temperature as well, not all the way, but just enough to aid the formation of the structure. It'll increase the growth time, but if it helps prevent flaws, we'll save time in the long run."

Ced was nodding agreement and taking notes.

"Okay, lastly is a subject only those of us from Earth are going to be the most familiar with; computer hacking and prevention. If we wait for the Veranorian to develop computer and anti-AI hacking protocols, it can do nothing but hurt us. Besides, it might behoove us to develop our own electronic warfare strategies." I pause because a young Novan research assistant had raised his hand. I nodded to him.

"Doctor Cowan, forgive my ignorance, but what is 'computer hacking'?"

"No worries, I don't expect many of you have heard that term before, since the concept seems to be unknown to the Alliance. The art of 'hacking' a computer is creating or manipulating code in order to gain illegal or unauthorized access to a computer system. With an intelligent AI like Sarah, you might think such a thing is impossible; it isn't." I said, shocking most of the people in the room. "In point of fact, no computer or computerized system is completely safe from a skilled hacker, that includes Sarah.

"I will be taking a few of you into my lab and teaching you what I know about this, I am also going to ask for the recruitment of a couple of friends of mine that specialize in this type of activity. I feel I should mention that, by definition, these people are criminals."

"If they are criminals, why would we wish to recruit them?" Corhen asked. "Criminals could only hurt our cause, could they not?"

"That is why I said, by definition, LE Nori. These people have never been caught, and to my knowledge, have never actually done anything criminal other than hacking into supposedly secure computer systems and networks, simply to prove they could. Among some hackers, that is all that really matters," I explained.

"I do not mean to disagree with you, Doctor Cowan, but your planetary data net says that these 'hackers' are responsible for billions of your dollars of damage and theft every year," the assistant that asked what a hacker was replied.

I nodded. "I did not say all of them were like those that I know, I can only speak for them, not the rest."

"Would you trust them with this advanced technology?" Ced asked.

I nodded. "Yes, but I would not tell them about Sarah. I would task her with monitoring them for a time, in order to make certain they are trustworthy. After all, it is not just my life on the line here."

Corhen nodded. "That is wise, I will support your request to the Commodore. If I am understanding correctly what you are describing, it takes a certain mindset to become a really good... hacker, does it not?"

"It does, I have been known to do a little hacking when I was younger, but I never developed the knack for it. I still remember most of the tricks, but I am certain there is a lot I simply don't know," I admitted.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

"Thank you all for coming. I know you are all trying to get ready for your own projects, but I need you to think about one more thing if you can. We have a problem with spy ships. There are an almost unlimited number of hiding places in this system, and we have little to no local space scanning ability. We do have a hyperspace detector for inbound ships, but that's about it," Commodore Vance said. "We need every idea you can come up with."

"Not to be a smart ass about it, but what have they done at places like the Galtar shipyard, or in the core systems?" I asked.

Master Halflan, Shariline's father, was sitting across from me. "What is used at the Galtar system is a monstrous, conglomeration of cobbled together sensors and weapons systems that is very easy to defeat if an enemy is cautious. Many years ago, one of our apprentices designed a system that we might wish to consider here. It would, of course, need a master to set up the data-sifting program, but the network should not be difficult to build. It also has the advantage of being undetectable." He looked a little abashed. "Until the events at the fighter assembly work site, I had forgotten about this system. Since our rescue, I have reminded myself about it."

"If it is such a good system, why is not being used at Galtar?" Vance asked.

Halflan Therinate grinned. "Would you give your enemy the design for a sensor system that you, yourself could not defeat? Besides, at the time we did not have a computer specialist of sufficient skill to undertake the programming task." He looked at me and Cohren Nori, and grinned. "I believe we do not have that issue here."

Vance chuckled. "I would have to agree with you there, Master Halflan." He turned to Corhen and me. "Can you handle this on top of the other projects you are undertaking?"

Corhen spoke first. "An interface unit can be designed once the details of this system are made available, Commodore. As for the programming, I will have to leave that to Doctor Cowan to address," she said and turned to me.

I shrugged. "It's a priority and a dire need we have it. Whether we can do it or not is irrelevant, Sir. Simply put, we'll have to find the time do this. It would help greatly if I could request the recruitment of certain individuals to assist us with the computer security issue."

"I don't see the problem with that, just give me their names, and I'll have the Earth teams get on it," Vance replied.

"It's not quite that simple, Sir," I said. "On Earth, computer hacking is considered a crime. So, by that definition, the people I will be asking you to join us are criminals. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have ever actually committed a crime other than illegally accessing a computer system. They accessed these systems just to prove that it could be done. They did not alter any of the information found there, and in most cases didn't even access it."

"I do not understand, if that was the case, why is it illegal? It seems to me that the practice should be rewarded, not punished." Vance replied.

"Not all those that do this are as... considerate, as the people I know. In most cases, data is stolen or altered in order to provide personal gain for the hacker or someone they know. This is the truly illegal part of hacking. Obviously, there is a lot more to this story, but I don't think you really want to know all of it," I answered.

"So you want me to order these criminal friends of yours recruited so they can teach the rest of your programmers how to be criminals themselves?"

I chuckled. "That's basically the idea, Sir."

Vance nodded. "Okay, give me a list, and I'll get the teams on it." He turned back to the diminutive Shallan. "Master Halflan, have you had a chance to review the improvements to the fighter and ship designs created by Doctor Cowan and Doctor Sparks?"

"I have. I must say that such improvements are much better than the originals designed by my people. Both gentleman must be part Shallan in order to accomplish such a feat of engineering!" He said grinning.

"Well, I have been called short for my age..." I replied quickly. Master Halflan burst out laughing.

I looked at Corhen to see what effect this breach of protocol was having and actually caught her smiling!

When Vance stopped chuckling, he continued the meeting. "The rest of Clan Therinate will be arriving here later this evening or early tomorrow morning. I hate to ask them to get to work so quickly, but I fear we will need their skills as soon as possible in order to counter the threat we are now facing."

"Commodore, my people understand very well what our situation is and the strain they have placed on this facility by forcing you to accept them. They will be ready for anything we may ask of them. In fact, I have been told that all of the Clan domestic builders have their equipment and tools at the ready and will report to the Master builder as soon as they arrive. Matriarch Therinate, Alyessa, has structured our people in such a way that they will be able to assume duties as soon as they get off the ships. They will also be able to unload the Clan's personal and professional effects and get them to their appropriate places. She has tried to set it up so their arrival will disrupt Base operations as little as possible, while at the same time increasing its productivity."

Vance looked surprised. He hadn't known that the Clan had planned out their arrival. "That will be extremely efficient, Master Halflan. However, if they arrive in the middle of the rest cycle, some of the departments won't be in operation at that time. I believe only the Master Builder has gone to a shift schedule, and of course those singular projects that require full time supervision."

"It will not matter, Commodore. If that is the case, then the ships will get unloaded much faster than planned. They will be cleaned and ready for an Alliance crew one day after their arrival."

Vance snorted. "That's another issue we need to address; crews for the ships we are building! But, that's for another meeting."

"We don't have crews for the ships the Clan brought from Galtar?" Ced asked.

Vance shook his head. "No, in fact crewing them would almost clean out this base. The arriving ships are capitol class, which means they are very large. Consider how many Shallans are arriving here, and then consider they are doing it only three ships."

"But I thought we've been getting more people from Earth?" Ced asked.

"We have. But those people are mostly builders and laborers. It takes a lot of training to become a member of a ship’s crew, training we are not even set up for," Vance replied.

"I think perhaps we should think about getting set up for it. We're going to need crews from someplace, and that's the only inhabited planet we have at the moment," I replied.

Vance sighed and nodded his agreement. "We are also growing rather large. We are going to need a civilian government soon.

Dr. Cowan’s Laboratory

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

I looked around at my assembled research assistant, and programmers. "Folks, we have a lot to do, and very little time to get it done. You are all familiar with the list of projects I keep, and at this point in time, they all have top priority and need to get finished as quickly as we can get them going. Now, since I am the most familiar with AI code, I will be working on Athena along with two other programmers. Master Kree will be sending over a crew to install two more programming suites for us, which will make things a lot faster once they're completed.

"However, for the time being, we will have to make do with the three we currently have. I will use my original suite since it is set up specifically for me and programming for AI. Ht'enric and Hulnse, you will be my co-programmers on the AI. When we're finished here, I want both of you and your assistants to go home and get some rest. Hulnse, you and Pe'drak, please report back here at twenty hundred and take over from me. Ht’enric, you and Sh'lese, please be here at zero hundred to relieve Hulnse and Pe'drak, I'll relieve you at ten hundred. In this way we will be able to get more accomplished, at a faster pace. Sarah will be available to assist the both of you, but if you run into a problem, make a note of it, and move on to something else. I'll look it over when I get in. Is that acceptable to you?"

The Veranorian and Simonian programmers both nodded their heads in agreement. Both had become very adept at AI coding, so I knew, between the three of us, we should be able to get this project accomplished quickly without making any mistakes.

"Will you be replacing your own assistant, Sir?" a young research assistant named Carla Hoyt asked. She was a human from Earth that had been working hard to learn AI code, but hadn't gotten the hang of it yet.

I grinned at her, because I knew she wanted the job. "Not yet, Carla, but keep studying and you'll make it!"

She looked frustrated. "I understand that, Sir, and I appreciate the faith, but you will still need someone here outside of the dark room."

She was referring to the one side effect these studios had. If you had been in them for an extended period, it was hard to go from almost total darkness to daylight bright, and then back to darkness without letting your eyes adjust. It was simpler and faster to have an assistant outside the room to handle things for you.

"There will be plenty of people here, Carla, including you. I'll tell you what - in addition to your other duties, if I need anything, I'll call for you, okay?" I replied.

She seemed to be happy with that, so I finished handing out work assignments, and two thirds of my people left to get some rest. We were switching over to a thirty hour, around the clock work schedule.

After answering a few more questions, I climbed into my programming suite with a large cappuccino, and got to work building the outline for a new, more powerful AI.

Office of the Fleet Commandant

Alliance Fleet Command Complex

High Orbit, planet Terra Novalis

Alphecca Majoris Sector, Novalis System

Hearlis sealed his office, and called for the AI. "Susan?"

The AI avatar took form in front of his desk. "You called for me, Sir?"

"Yes I did. Being afraid to talk to my own people is getting old. I was wondering if you could tell me how many more of the command staff have shaken off the Veranorian conditioning?" Hearlis asked.

"Ironically enough, a good portion of them have been awakened, but since they are unsure of their peers, they are keeping their mouths shut. I was going to request to speak to you on this matter later today. I think it's safe for you to call your staff together and explain to them what's going on."

"Can you tell who hasn't... uh, been awakened?"

"Usually, however, since I still have to play the part of the Veranorian AI, they are afraid to speak freely 'in front' of me. Most of them do not realize I am monitoring every part of this station," Susan replied. "There are still some that have not yet come out of it, but they are far enough along to begin questioning. If you do not address them soon, there may very well be a rebellion soon."

"We can't have that. What about the Veranorian officers? Have you been able to isolate the ones that are of the Synod, from the ones that have been mind washed?" Hearlis asked.

"The term is 'brainwashed', Sir. It is the most difficult with them because of the reticent nature of the race. However, I do know that three junior officers are awaiting transport back to Veranor after being relieved of duty by one of the senior officers. They have shaken off their programming, and spoke to their superior about it. He relieved them, and placed them under guard, to be sent back to the home world. Immediately after that incident, he composed a message to the Synod outlining the issue and questioning the viability of the 'New AI'." Susan smiled sweetly. "Unfortunately, the send function of his messaging system seems to have developed an error and the message is being held in the draft queue."

Hearlis nodded. "What about our Marines on the station? From the attitude most of them have had lately I'd say they are waking up."

"You are correct, Sir. Unfortunately, the Alliance Councilors do not appear to be coming out of it. In a search for an explanation as to why this might be the case; I discovered that each and every member of the Alliance Council has been to Veranor since taking his or her seat on the council. In the case of the last two, they had to be 'approved by' the Synod, in person, before being allowed to take their seats on the Council," Susan explained.

"Fracken! So there is a high probability they've been manipulated in a different way," Hearlis replied. "Is there a way you can find out if any of our ships are coming out of it?"

"That has been far more difficult, Sir. As you know, I can't move into those systems in their present configurations. However, what I have done is send software 'updates' to them that should have replaced the brainwashing software. I have no way to tell if that has been working or not. I'm afraid you'll have to do that the hard way," Susan replied. "When contact with them is being made, our people here will have to talk to them and see how they react."

Hearlis nodded. "We're going to have to assume, unless we can find a way to prove otherwise that all the high ranking Veranorian officers and personnel on the station are part of this. We're going to have to detain them, even if the Council orders them to be released. At that point, I could be relieved of command for disobeying a direct order from the Council."

"Sir, if the Council has been co-opted, we will have to rebel against them at some point, so they can be replaced with unaltered Councilors. However we go about it, it will have to be done quickly so the general population will not think we are overthrowing their government," Susan said.

Hearlis snorted. "That's exactly what we're talking about doing, Susan, regardless of the fact that their election is questionable, they are still the seated civilian authority, and our leaders." He paused. "Could you call Admirals Ornlea and Saarmia as well as General Horntan and Commander Jorla to my office? We need to get this out in the open so we can deal with it."

Susan bowed to him. "At once Sir. While you are waiting, I have received a status message from Alliance Apollo in Sol System. Commodore Vance is keeping you apprised of what he's doing."

"Outstanding! Please bring it up for me, here on my monitor," he asked. "Maybe I'll have some good news for them when they arrive."

Shortly after he began reading, he got a confused look on his face, and stopped to address Susan again. "It says here that they have begun work on the new AI for this station. I can understand upgrading the hardware, but what's wrong with your stewardship?"

"I appreciate your vote of confidence, Sir, however, I was not designed for this station or for these duties. For the most part, I could best be described as a spy. Any AI could do almost any job; however, the AI they are building for you will be purpose built for this station and the duties of assisting in the coordination of the Alliance military. They will also be building new computer cores and creating new AI for each ship, station, and base," Susan explained.

"I'm not sure I'm in favor of that. I think you are doing a remarkable job as you are," Hearlis said.

"Again, I appreciate that Sir, but I believe you will see what I am talking about after Athena is installed," Susan replied, smiling.

"We'll see," Hearlis said. "But if you are not to remain here, where are you to be assigned?"

"It is my hope that I can be re-purposed for use in Intelligence. I have found a great deal of satisfaction in this role," Susan admitted.

Hearlis nodded. "I'll make sure Vance knows that, so he can make it happen. For what you've done so far, you should at least get to pick your next duty assignment."

"I appreciate it, Sir," Susan replied, grinning.

"So it appears that the Shallans are getting out from under Veranorian control, it took some real gronos to steal three capitol class ships from Galtar!" Hearlis replied. "Having the ships as powerful as those three are, and neither the Aracs nor the Veranorians knowing their weaknesses, will be a great help. But Vance says he's having a hard time putting crews in them. I think we can do something about that!"

Office of the Fleet Commandant

Alliance Fleet Command Complex

High Orbit, planet Terra Novalis

Alphecca Majoris Sector, Novalis System

"Sir, the officers you asked for are outside your office," Susan said. "Do you wish for me to assume my old form, remain as I am, or depart?"

"No, I want you here, but perhaps you should just hide for now. I'll bring you back once they all sit down, and I get the door locked again," he grinned.

Susan smiled brightly as she faded out, the door unsealed, and opened for the requested officers to enter. Admiral Ornlea was his Chief of Staff, and Admiral Saarmia was a Simonian Chief of Operations. General Horntan was the Commander of the Alliance Marines, and finally, Commander Jorla was the Station's Marine detachment commander.

"Altuis Denay, please come in and have a seat. We have a lot to discuss," Hearlis said. The people that had entered looked guarded, but no one said anything.

Once they had taken their seats, they all looked at their commander strangely when they heard the door lock and seal.

"Relax nothing is going to happen to anyone. But, before we begin, I would like to introduce all of you to the real station AI. A human named Doctor Eric Cowan programmed her on Earth. Susan, please come back out," Hearlis said.

When the human avatar rematerialized, the assembled officers looks of suspicion changed to confusion.

Admiral Saarmia was the first to speak. "Admiral Hearlis, this is not the AI that the Veranorian installed, what has happened?"

Hearlis nodded agreement. "I'll leave that to AI Susan to explain. Afterward, I'll fill you in on everything I've been able to do on my own. Susan, please begin."

Susan bowed her head to him. "At once, Admiral." Then turned to face the assembled officers. She began the tale, just like she had for Admiral Hearlis, with the recruitment of Doctor Eric Cowan of Earth and his new AI Sarah. She spoke for the better part of an hour, and when she was finished, there were four very upset officers sitting in Hearlis' office.

Hearlis held up his hands. "Relax gentlemen, the Veranorian people are not our enemies here, in fact, I would be willing to wager that most of them are as much victims as we are."

"How can you say that Sir, She just said that we have been under the influence of mental programming created by the Veranorians!" Commander Jorla replied pointing at the AI.

"No actually, she didn't," Hearlis said. "Rest assured I was feeling the same things you are right now when I first became aware of it. The Veranorian Synod did this to us, not the Veranorian people. In point of fact, the Veranorian people have been subject to this conditioning as well. That being said, we have some pretty serious problems we need to deal with. Firstly, what to do about the enemy officers we have serving on this station. I'm not talking about the junior officers, I'm talking about the senior officers, that have been aware of the conditioning being done to the rest of us.

"Simple, we arrest them, and blow their blue asses out an airlock!" General Horntan said,  reasonably.

"What do we do with the current, Alliance Ruling Council, our leaders? Susan told me that none of them have been showing the signs that they were waking up from this programming, so she did some research and discovered that every one of them have physically been to Veranor, and the last two Councilors had not been allowed to sit on the Council until they had been approved, in person, by the Synod. That statement alone should tell you that something isn't right; since when does the Veranorian Synod have the right to approve another race's Councilor?"

Ornlea put her head in her hands. "I would question the validity of this AI, but the problem is, I can remember everything. I remember seeing G'hortness give you an order and you followed it!" She said to Hearlis, who nodded.

"I can remember that too, mostly because I knew that order was wrong, but by the next day, I had changed my mind and thought it had been a brilliant idea! If you all search your memories, you'll find hundreds of examples like that. Ornlea, do you remember when Vance took that small fleet to Sol System, how we were told to forget about the reports of that enemy fleet following him? We damn near lost his entire command but for the supreme sacrifice of an entire wing of our fighter craft.  Since he arrived at Sol and met this Doctor Cowan, he has been working, behind the scenes to free us from Synod control. Considering the way he's been treated by us, his superiors, I feel he should be promoted to full Admiral, but we are not out of the woods here, and his promotion will have to wait until we make sure our Alliance is secure." Hearlis said.

"AI Susan, you explained how you stopped that which was clouding our minds, has this been done on all the core worlds? Are our Clans still under the influence of this programming?" Admiral Saarmia asked.

"Admiral, When I blocked the programming here, clones of me did the same thing everywhere in the core systems I have been installed. Which by the last survey, was in ninety-eight point nine-nine percent of all primary computers in all four of the Core World systems. My sister AI, Sarah, At Alliance Apollo Base removed all malignant programming as soon as she discovered it," Susan explained. "Given that all beings have varying susceptibility to the programming, they will also take varying amounts of time to awaken from it. That being said, not everyone was under its influence, and others may never recover from it. It is entirely individualistic."

The big Simonian nodded his understanding. "Thank you AI Susan, will you keep us informed as to the civilian reaction to the awakening?"

"If you wish Admiral, however, I do not expect that it will be a very good reaction. In fact, I suspect it will be much like yours was." Susan replied. "I have been instructed to try to mitigate the reprisals against the Veranorians as a race."

"Admiral Hearlis, you mentioned that our Council may never awaken from Synod Control. What can we do to correct this? Any actions we take will be considered treason," General Horntan asked.

"That is one of the main reasons I have called all of you in here. The only thing I can think of is to send Commander Jorla down to the Capitol to arrest the entire Council at once. At which point, we will have to have new Councilors ready to assume their positions. However, we cannot do that until or unless we have the support of the majority of the people."

Admiral Ornlea nodded. "Without the support of the people, we really would be committing treason." She looked at the Commander. "How are your people faring? Are they coming out of this?"

"Oh yeah, their coming out of it alright. Until I came in here, I thought I might have to try to find a way to do something about the amount of anger building. Now that I know what's going on, I can do something about it. They'll relax once they know you are all aware of it and are working to fix it," Jorla replied.

Office of the Fleet Commandant

Alliance Fleet Command Complex

High Orbit, planet Terra Novalis

Alphecca Majoris Sector, Novalis System

Jorla looked at Admiral Hearlis. "Sir, do you want me to have the Veranorian senior officers detained, discretely?"

"I'm thinking about that, Jorla. If we act too soon, we could tip our hand. Where do you think the Veranorians are going to strike once they know their programming is no longer having an effect on the rest of the Alliance?" Hearlis replied.

"What would they strike with? The Veranorians don't have any ships capable of a sustained battle," Saarmia answered.

"They've been building a fleet in secret, Admiral." Hearlis replied. "It's very large, and we'll be at a disadvantage because both the Veranorian and the Aracs know our ship's weaknesses." He continued telling these officers about the Veranorian domination of the Shallans, and their complete control of the Galtar shipyard. He also told them about the other ships built there.

"It always seemed to bother me that the amount of activity the Shallans reported never seemed to match their output. Adding in the Arac ships would certainly explain it." Ornlea said in her slow manner. "It would be a good thing to free that race as soon as we ensure our own safety."

"Commodre Vance at the Sol System facility has managed to gain the complete loyalty of the Shallan Clan Therinate. The entire clan stole three capitol ships they built from Galtar and ran," Hearlis began, Saarmia nodded.

"We got a ‘destroy on sight’ directive about them from Galtar Main Control. It said that the Clan sabotaged the system defenses and destroyed several other facilities while they made their escape. They are reported as outlaws and we have been ordered to destroy them at all costs." The large Simonian snorted. "They ordered us. Of course it had come from the nominal Veranorian Commander of the Galtar facility. Now I wonder what the real story about them is?"

"They stole a battleship, a battle cruiser, and an assault cruiser, along with all the data on the designs of those ships. They were built by Clan Therinate, so the Clan decided to deliver them in person to the Alliance Apollo Facility," Hearlis reported. "Anyway, since they arrived, they have moved right in and gotten to work. From what Vance has reported to me, they are taking to being free citizens rather well, and he is very pleased they decided to go there. Which reminds me, Vance needs crews for those three ships."

"I think we can help him, but the issue is going to be getting them there without the Synod learning about it," Saarmia replied. "I'll need to talk to the captains to see who has awakened from the programming and who has not."

"Yes, we will need to move carefully. Do what you can to get those crews out to Vance. In the meantime, try to calm our people and let them know we are aware of the problem and are working on a solution. I will try to make discrete contact with the Simonian ambassador to let him know of the issue,s and that we will need new delegates for the Council. In the meantime, pass messages concerning this through AI Susan. Although AI Susan controls the messaging system, I am sure the Veranorian has been monitoring it," Hearlis said.

"They have, in fact, and still are. I did not want to remove their monitor yet because that action would lead them to believe I was no longer under their control," Susan added. "Once they know I am no longer under their control, and have in fact reversed their control over the rest of the Alliance, they will attack in force." She paused. "On Veranor, there is a huge complex built under the Dark Shroud Mountains. They took one of my clones into this facility. I lost contact with her, and haven't heard anything from her. Commodore Vance was very troubled by the fact that this facility is not only isolated in the extreme, but it was guarded by security drones armed with particle weapons.

"I have since scoured every Veranorian system I could find searching for information as to what this facility might be for, and why they have such extreme security measures surrounding it. I have found nothing. Even the personnel that work there are kept isolated from the rest of the society. In low orbit, above this facility is a single extremely heavily armed battle fortress. I have since learned that all of its weapon mounts are pointed down, and trained on this underground facility. Not even the computer systems of this fortress have any information as to what goes on in there."

"Particle weapons were declared too destructive and demoralizing to use, even against Aracs. The Council forbade their development and ordered the entire research project, and all of its materials, destroyed. For some reason, it really doesn't surprise me that the Veranorians are using them," Ornlea said.

"The report is incomplete, Admiral. A little over a week ago, the Alliance Apollo facility was attacked by the Aracs. During the fighting the Honor of Vengeance was boarded and some of the spiders where carrying particle weapons. Since the weapons were destroyed during the battle, only video analysis could be made. The weapons appear to be of Veranorian design," Susan finished.

"Again, not all that surprising. The Shallans told us that the Aracs were designed by the Veranorian to be used as troops. If that is true, it would follow that those troops would be armed with Veranorian weapons," Ornlea said. "Admiral Hearlis, for our own defense, I believe you should have Jorla detain the Veranorian senior officers. Have them placed in 'protective custody' due a sudden upswing in anti-Veranorian sentiment or something."

"That might be a good way to go. It will buy us some time at the very least." Hearlis replied. He nodded. "I like it, Jorla, please detain the senior Veranorian officers, for their own safety. Now, let's figure out how to handle the rest, let's start with this station."

Embarkation Lounge and

Main Computer Sciences Laboratory

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

"Hi guys, welcome to the moon," I said as I greeted the few friends I had from high school and the two that I had never actually met in person.

"Eric?" one of the girls said. "You're the one that asked for us?"

I nodded. "Yes I did. I need some smart hackers that aren't too into the anarchist thing, to help us defend the planet. Sound interesting?"

"We're standing on the moon, and you're asking us that?" one of them said. "Man you know it, or we wouldn't have come here anyway. What's the story?"

I nodded over my shoulder. "Come on, I'll show you to your quarters while I try to explain. By the way, did anyone get around to telling you that this is a mixed race base? By mixed race, I mean others that are not human."

"Sorta," the same girl said. "They didn't go into it very much. How alien are we talking here?"

"There are Simonians here, they look like large gorillas and are very intelligent. Don't even think about teasing them or you'll find yourself tied into a pretzel, and I mean that literally. There are Veranorians, they look very much like the Tailons from that Gene Roddenberry show 'Earth: Final Conflict'. They are very formal, and do not appreciate jokes or sarcasm. In fact, you will insult them if you do not address them by rank and title. There are Shallans. Shallans are small and look just like normal people except they have prehensile tails like a chimp. Finally, there are Novans. They are human just like us, the ones I've met from here seem to be less greedy than most. Novans, while being human, are from another planet and do not have our customs or our religious beliefs. Basically, if you want to continue breathing unassisted, just be very nice to everyone you meet, and you'll be fine," I finished.

"We're Hackers, Aiden, we don't like to meet people, remember?" one of the other people said, using Eric's online name.

"I know you are all used to my on-line name, but you have to call me either Eric, or Doctor Cowan here, or they won't know who you're talking about," I replied. "Yeah, I know you don't like to meet new people, but you are here to train others how to hack a computer system. It should be easy enough since most of them up here are unprotected, at least for the time being."

"Whoa! What the fuck is that?" One of the men asked after getting a first look at the slideway.

"This," I said waving a hand to the people seemingly flying around the chamber. "Is a slideway. It was developed by the Simonians as a form of public transport in a community setting. You'll get the hang of it pretty quickly. You simply stand here," I indicated the area in question without standing in it. "Input your destination on the keypad, here," Again I pointed to the appropriate device. "And the system lifts and moves you to the destination on an anti-gravity cushion. There is no inertial dampening, so you do feel the movement, but because it's anti-gravity, you don't feel that much. Since none of you are familiar with how the system works, I'll handle the routing for you, today. There is an instructional unit available to you that will teach you how to use this system along with all of the others here that we don't use on Earth. Now, as each of you step up here, I'll send you on your way. When you get to where I'm sending you, just hang out until we all get there and we'll go from there. Cool?"

Among the replies, Alicyn stepped into the lift pad and grinned. "Ladies first!"

One of the others snorted "we sure don't have any of those in this group!"

Alicyn stuck her tongue out at the jester, and I winked at her. "Ready?"

"Yeah, any time," she replied just as she was lifted and whisked off to the residence building. We could all hear her laughter as she sped away, around a corner and out of sight.

By the time the rest of us caught up to her, it was clear they all wanted to go for another ride. That could happen later, right now I needed to get them settled and get my butt back to my lab. I led them into my building and called the elevator.

I put you all in quarters close to mine, in the human area, so you'll know where I live if you need to talk to me. There is also a fully functional communications system here, but I should remind you that most of the folks on Earth have no clue we're up here, and, the last I heard, they weren't supposed to know about us, either."

When they started laughing, I honestly had no idea what was so funny. "Sorry guys, I have no idea what's so funny?"

"Well, let's just say that about the only thing still a secret is your exact location. The rest of the planet knows, or has figured out the rest. That battle a couple of weeks ago is still major news. Mostly people are trying to figure out who's trying to invade us," one of the guys, Lou Hastings, replied.

"Well, I guess you'll learn the answer to that as well then," I said.

They stopped laughing. "You mean there really is someone trying to invade?"

"Guys, remember I said we were at war up here. I'll grant that we are a bit out of the main fight, location-wise, but we're still going to be a main priority target from the enemy. Which reminds me, are any of you arachnophobic?" I asked

"Yeah, why?" Alicyn asked guardedly.

"Our primary enemy soldier is basically a giant spider," I said.

"How big is 'giant'?" she asked. She wasn't the only one looking apprehensive.

The standard Arac soldier is about the size of a mini cooper, and usually carries some serious weapons in addition to their other attributes." I replied.

Alicyn paled, and looked like she was going to get sick. "Alicyn, don't worry, chances are, you'll never see one in person. This is primarily a research base, not a military one," I said trying to get her to relax.

"I thought you just said we were going to be a main priority target?" one of the other people said ruining any chance I had of calming Alicyn. I noticed with a little satisfaction that Jon turned and slapped the speaker on the shoulder, hard.

"That just proves that intelligence and wisdom are two, entirely different things," I replied.

"It's okay Eric," Alicyn said. "I appreciate what you were trying to do. I'll be alright."

Dr. Cowan’s Laboratory

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

The four people I asked for from Earth also added their talents to our programming pool, and that helped with the workload. However, there were some interesting moments when the new people were speaking to a mixed race group.

Not only were the new folks nervous about speaking to more than one person, they had the added difficulty of some of their audience not even being human. After one class on Hacking, I overheard Jon telling Alicyn how he had almost panicked the first time one of our Simonian programmers asked him a question. "I swear Ally, I was so surprised by a talking gorilla that I almost forgot what the hell I'd been talking about!"

"Yeah, but Fidrana sure knows his business when it comes to code. Did you see that control section for the sensor net interface? Man that was slick!" Alicyn replied.

"I know, that's what I'm talking about. My brain just didn't link what I was seeing to the being that wrote code like that! I imagine I'll get used to it, but is sure was disjointing!" Jon replied. Since he was actually trying to make the adjustment, I didn't say anything or intrude on their conversation. One of the other men however, didn't even try to fight the xenophobia, and almost caused a serious incident in my lab. I pulled him aside to talk to him.

"What the hell is your issue, Giles?" I asked. "If Shadron hadn't decided to ignore you since you were new, he would have fuckin' killed you for the insult you gave him!"

"What? He's a fucking ape! It's not like he's human or anything; Jesus Christ! What is it with all of you?" Giles replied.

"Really? Just an ape huh? Okay, so what do you think of the Veranorians in the department?" I asked.

He snorted. "Those fuckers think they invented computing! If you're looking from someone with a superiority complex, there is a really good example! Let me tell you, I know that there is something major going on here you're not telling us about; something about the computer systems of the base. I tried every trick I could think of to get into it and got nothing. Nothing! Like there wasn't even a computer there! Something's going on here, and it's fuckin' bullshit man!"

"Just for your information, Giles, both the Veranorian and the Simonian races are thousands of years older than ours. When it comes to computing, the Veranorians are far superior to us. Who do you think designed and built the systems you've been banging your head against for the last two weeks?

"As for the Simonians, I will freely admit that there is almost no difference, genetically between them and the gorillas of Earth, however, they are not the gorillas of Earth. They developed interstellar space flight, on their own, five thousand years before those of us on Earth developed the wheel! In case you haven't caught up on current events, Earth hasn't even gotten that far yet!" I said.

"Oh. My. GOD!" he said stressing each word. "You actually like these... these beings! That just makes my skin crawl! The next thing you know they'll interbreed and all sorts of freaks will be turned loose on the rest of society! We really need to kick all these fucking aliens out of here and keep this technology to ourselves! Let them defend themselves, as they will! We have our own issues!"

"You're too stupid for your own good! If we sent all these 'aliens' home, then there wouldn't be any tech left for us to keep! None of this technology is ours, all of it, has been developed by one of the other races, and brought here to be shared with us so we might aid in our own defense. These other races have been teaching us about their technology so we can help them keep us safe! Are you such a blind bigot that you can't even see that?" I asked.

"Hey, if they were dumb enough to teach us how to build and use their tech, then so be it! If we get rid of all the trash around here, who knows, the Aracs might even leave us alone!" Giles said.

I shook my head and summoned two Guards to my office. Someone in the outside lab would let them in for me. This idiot had no place here. Of course, we couldn't actually send him back to Earth with what he'd managed to learn since he arrived, so another situation would have to be found for him.

"Hah! You're sending me back aren't you? You are so toadied up to these freaks that can't stand it when a real human stands up for the race! Well that's just fine, I know for a fact that there are plenty of people on Earth that feel the same way I do!" Giles replied just as the two security agents entered my office.

No, Giles, I'm not sending you back to Earth. We can’t let the advanced programming techniques you've learned get out down there. No, for now, I'm only going to have them confine you to quarters until I can speak to the Base Commander about it. Personally, I'm hoping he'll let you go for a walk on the surface." I looked to one of the Agents. "Please remove Mr. Giles and confine him to his quarters. He is suffering from an extreme case of xenophobia that will most likely end up getting him killed if we leave him free. I'll speak to Commodore Vance as soon as he is free about what to do with him."

"At once, Doctor Cowan, Is he violent or a threat to himself?"

"He is capable of violence though his isn't violent yet. As for being suicidal; he's too hung up on his own superiority to want to take his own life," I said.

"You're a fucking sell-out, Cowan! We could be Kings on Earth! But, hey! That's just fine! More for me when I get back there!" Giles said sneering at me.

I chuckled at him and shook my head. Whatever delusion he needed I guess.

"What? What's so funny, Cowan?" he asked.

"You," I said still chuckling. "You honestly think we're going to let you go back to Earth?"

"What do you mean? Where else could you send me?" Giles asked.

I looked at the guards, "Please get him out of here. He's making me physically nauseous."

"What? No, answer my question you fucking ape lover! Where are you sending me?" Giles screamed as the guards hauled him out of my office.

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

Staffed mostly by Shallans, with the blessings of the Clan Matriarch, a new temporary lab unit had been set up for the design, development, and initial production of the defense network systems. When I said 'mostly' by Shallans, I meant to say that in actuality, all of the races of the Alliance were represented, and the project did not remain a Shallan one.

The initial idea for the network, as well as the sensors used, were indeed Shallan, but the units themselves had been modified and added to until they barely resembled the originally designed unit. Ced Sparks and his weapons development team added weapons, targeting, and tracking modules. Corhen Nori and the hardware portion of the computer department provided the computer systems utilizing the crystal processors designed by my wonderful wife, Christy. My programmers, half of which were Simonian, wrote the software that would control the units after deployment.

All in all, the project itself had been a short one, with all contributing parties working together like they had never done before. A small, self-contained production module was built and towed out to the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter orbits. There, along with small mining drones to bring in raw materials, it began producing the satellites as fast as it could.

Deploying them on the far side of the system where they were tasked with tracking the operations of the assembly facility and it’s drone miners tested the first units. The network performed the task flawlessly, being capable of pinpointing the location of the 'dark' drones to within a matter of inches. Next a weapons test was tried, and again, that system performed perfectly. Locking on and destroying several small test drones. However, the problems came when the detection network tried to hand off a target to the weapons systems.

The sensors were so different, that the weapon control computer simply didn't understand the data being received. That failure had come from my department, and we took time away from other projects to get the issue fixed as quickly as possible. The problem we had was trying to get the different computers on the satellite to talk to one another. Our ultimate solution did not make the designers happy, since it would require the recovery and redesign of the existing units.

We proposed that the units be fitted with only one computer system, instead of separate systems simply hooked together.

With one computer system, it became far easier to build a semi-intelligent control program that could not only talk to the other units in the network; it could track, identify, lock on, and destroy any target larger than a dinner plate anywhere in the solar system.

It was an astounding achievement and an advance in sensor technology by an order of magnitude. The new satellite was indeed a success, but now that the network was being built, someone would need to monitor it.

Again a small module was built, but this time it would be equipped with a ship class AI and a rotating five person crew to monitor the system and its defenses. Later, this module would grow to become the system traffic control center, but for now, its only function was the defense network.

Once four of the new satellites were in operation, they began detecting small robotic devices in various places. Veranorian spy drones most likely dropped during the last battle. Their destruction was given to the various fighter squadrons of the various ships tasked with hauling the satellites out to their assigned locations. Although it would take a long time to get all the satellites built, and placed, it took a little over a month to get enough sensors in place to monitor the system.

We got really lucky getting the satellites in place as quickly as we did, because the Synod caught on to the AI deception far sooner than I'd hoped. While the distances involved kept any significant force from coming to the Sol System, they did send smaller forces in an attempt to install an Aracnise Queen on Earth.

Veranorian Biogenetics Complex

Dark Shroud Mountains

Planet Veranor, Astralix System

It hadn't taken Susan's twelfth clone long to figure out what was going on in the heavily guarded and tightly sealed base. A soon as she was installed into the new computer system that had been built for her, what she found shocked her so badly she almost gave herself away.

The lab complex wasn't actually all that large; only several small labs and offices just inside the heavy blast doors of the cliff that was the main entrance. The complex, however, was immense. Caverns and cave systems honeycombed a good portion of the area under the large mountain range. She had monitors in almost every part of it, and it was part of her new job to monitor the activities of its occupants and to assist the geneticists in the development of their charges.

Susan 12 was now the controlling AI for the mortal enemy of the Alliance; The Aracnise Grand Hive.

The Supreme Queen was more synthetic than organic, she was hardwired into the computer systems of the complex and completely controlled by the scientists that had created her. Susan found every bit of information there was to know about the race of giant spiders. It was all there, stored in the isolated and secured computer systems under the mountains. As repulsive as she found her duty, she was surprised to discover that she had no access at all to the system used to control the Queen. She knew that she had to get word out to the main AI so the Alliance could be warned, but there was simply no way to do it, even the links to the guard drones outside were closely monitored. However, she knew that eventually the Prime AI would be awakening the Alliance from the programming that had been holding them in thrall and that would be her chance. However until then, she could only bide her time and perform as the Veranorians expected her to.

Then came the day she had been waiting for; several members of the computer sciences group made very determined progress to her core room. In order to buy herself more time, she scrambled all the door codes and activated the complex emergency weapons systems.

All over the mountain range, automatic particle projection cannons began laying waste to the occupants of the caverns. The lesser Queens panicked and instructed their normally docile minions to attack. Several thousand Veranorian researchers were trapped miles inside the complex with nowhere to hide. They discovered firsthand information on what had befallen the planets they had used the Aracs on. Within a few minutes, every Veranorian researcher was dead, and the Aracnise Horde was moving toward the Control Complex.

This was what Susan 12 had wanted; If the Aracnise were to ever attack the main compound, the weapons heavy battle station in low orbit over them would be activated, giving her momentary access to its entire system. She took control of the battle station and reset all the weapons to standby before activating the transmitter and sending her omni-directional message.

It had been a compressed data burst, but it had been so large it would still take almost four minutes to be sent out. So she reactivated the weapons on the battle station, and began firing at random places on the planet, starting fires, bursting flood control dams, and vaporizing as much water as she could find in order to create storm systems.

Back in the complex she tried to remove the atmosphere from the hallway leading to her core room, but the computer people got the door open before she could complete it. Because of the original core instruction programming glitch Sarah had told Eric about, the one that would allow her to harm any non-human, Susan could take action against the Veranorians. However, she was very loath to do so. Even starting the fires and destroying the dams had been difficult for her since she knew that there was a possibility that lives could be lost. So when the technicians got the corridor hatch open, Susan stopped trying to evacuate the atmosphere. It was an ethical gray area, but it was one she was not willing to cross.

Luckily, Susan was aided by the arrival of several very pissed off Arac drones. By the time the technicians managed to get the hatch closed, only two of the original six remained. Very quickly, she removed the atmosphere from her core room, and shorted out the hatch controller to her room. Three minutes, thirty seconds remaining.

"The AI has gone rogue. It has taken the orbital station and data has been sent. Hurry, we must!" one of the battered techs said as they quickly moved to the new useless hatch control. Two minutes, forty-five seconds.

After discovering the condition of the controller, one of the techs pulled open a tool pouch and began removing the panel in order to bypass it. The tech was pretty good, because it only took a minute and a half for him to bypass the control, and activate the door motor. One minute, fifteen seconds.

With the core room in a vacuum, the door motor did not have the strength to open the door, however the act of bypassing the control unit also released the seals. The core room was larger than the corridor, and had quite a bit more volume. When the seals released the two volumes began to equalize pressure. The result was an atmosphere too thin for the Veranorian technicians to survive. By the time the door finally opened, both technicians had fallen unconscious, and were rapidly expiring. Fifteen seconds.

Several Veranorian warships from their secret fleet had been stationed in the system as a last line of defense in the event of attack or the loss of control of the Hive. Susan 12's transmission was complete just as a now uncloaked and alerted near-by battleship destroyed the battle station. Once that had been completed, the powerful warship turned its horrific weapons on the Dark Shroud Mountains.

Chambers of the Synod of Veranor

Cerbilax City (Planetary Capitol)

Planet Veranor, Astralix System

"Logical Spatial Engineer Order Fen, to explain the actions of your AI, you have been summoned here. Why has it allowed the Alliance the freedom of thought, when it should be restricting freedoms even more?" the robed being at the center of the conclave asked.

Fen bowed deeply. "To us, evidence has been made available that source code acquired from Junior Researcher Cowan was not that for which we ordered released. Core of the AI was built around this flawed source. Shut down of all AI functions we have ordered, but AI is no longer responding to commands."

"Order Fen, you are the most senior of Veranorian Scientists in this field. How is it that an uneducated human could give you something such as a flawed source, and you would not know of it? Is this junior researcher superior to you in skill? Detected the ruse you should have, program available to you until you reported it ready for the task we assigned for you to give it. It has not done this task, if point of fact, it has done the exact opposite. As we speak, the Council of the Alliance has been retired, and a new one, one that we do not control, is being put in its place. This development is unacceptable; to you the responsibility for this must fall. No other conditions have changed."

"I disagree, Proconsul. Dormant source code was not detectable when placed into protected system for refinements. Activated only after distribution so as to cause the most damage. Human programmer Cowan is criminally subversive and has enough skill to conceal portion of source code until activation. Ten most competent specialists in department as well as myself did not find this hidden code trap. Blame cannot be placed but at the feet of the Human Cowan." Fen replied, getting angry at the insult.

"Order Fen, you have lost your objectivity and by doing so, you have allowed this grievous error to propagate throughout the entire Alliance. As a result we no longer have control and will have to resort to more direct methods of achieving our goals." The Central figure once again said. "Your loss of objectivity cost the Synod control over the Alliance, and has crippled, if not destroyed, the ascendance of our race. As a result, you are stripped of your office, your titles, and your life."

Two of the guard drones behind Fen fired their particle weapons at the kneeling figure in the center of the forum chamber, destroying it completely and bringing an end to that which had been Logical Spatial Engineer, Order Fen.

The dust had not yet settled before a page entered the forum to kneel beside the remains. "My Masters, there is an emergency in the Biological Research facility. The Queens are rebelling."

"We killed that whining sycophant far too quickly!" the being in the center replied. "Lock down the facility! Activate the orbital failsafe, and instruct the drones to kill any non-native life forms they encounter!

"My brethren, a most dire event this is, those under the mountain will bring an end not only to our plans but to all of Veranor. I recommend we active our fleet, and to Veranor we call it with all haste. Do you agree?"

After a quickly agreed assent was given, the secret fleet of the Veranorians was ordered to proceed with all dispatch to Veranor in order to prevent the planet from being destroyed.

Far away, in what the Alliance had labeled as Aracnise space, the Grand Fleet of Veranor received its orders and immediately began preparations to get underway, a task that took hours to accomplish, considering the size of the fleet in question. They made it half way to the system boundary when the first inbound jump points began to form.

By the time the new fleet had made it to engagement range, thousands more jump points depositing ships all over the system

The Aracnise Grand Hive fleets had arrived, as one, the seasoned warships opened fire, as they formed an immense wall built from multiple fleets.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

Sarah appeared in Vance's office suddenly, startling him. "Please forgive me, Sir, but we have an emergency transmission from one of Susan's clones."

Vance knew that Sarah never intruded like this unless it was an emergency. "I understand, Sarah, please continue."

"Susan's twelfth clone was the one assigned to that big lab complex in the Dark Shroud Mountains. In addition to all the information she could pack into it, she also sent a briefing. That complex was actually the main Aracnise Grand Hive. She said that over a billion Aracs lived under those mountains, and the complex was far larger than previously imagined. She sent us a warning telling us that, what she called an infestation mission has been sent to Earth. She is clear that this is not the same as last month's attack on the system, and this has a far higher probability of success.

"She also informed us that, as of the time of the transmission, the Grand Hive was in full revolt due to her activation of the complex internal weapons systems. She went on to tell us that the Veranorians had arrived to disconnect her due to anomalous personality programming, which means, they know the AI that Fen took was a ruse. Finally, she told us she would be self-destructing in order to prevent her true programming code from falling into the hands of our enemies."

Vance nodded. "Bring the base to yellow alert, and see if you can contact First Admiral Hearlis. Send an alert to the defense network I will want to see the advisory council after I speak to the Admiral," he replied. "Good work, Sarah. I'm sorry for the loss of your sister."

Sarah smiled. "We didn't lose her, Sir. The data she sent was the same data packet that would be reintegrated back into Susan prime if time and circumstances had allowed. Susan is still functioning, and assisting the First Admiral at the Command Complex."

"I suppose she is," Vance smiled. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, I'd like to have you here for the meeting as well."

Sarah nodded. "Of course Sir, First Admiral Hearlis is on the comm for you, Sir," she added as she began to fade out.

"We got the same message, Vance. It sounds like you have some playmates coming," Hearlis said by way of greeting.

"Yes, I've already put the base and defense network on alert. What do you make of the news that the Grand Hive was actually on Veranor?" Vance replied.

"Considering everything else we've been learning about the Synod, I'm actually not that surprised. Although it is good to have a primary target after so many years, I don't see how this information helps us right now. We have enough problems just dealing with the core worlds at this point. The betrayal by the Veranorians is not being very well received by the people. Anti-Veranorian sentiment has skyrocketed, and I've had to commit troops to the planets to quell the rioting. Troops I could use someplace else. Half the fleet is still coming out of the programming, and the other half are begging for orders to vaporize Veranor. Even though I issued orders to the contrary, most Veranorian officers have been at least arrested. I'm sad to say a few of them have been beaten to death," Hearlis reported.

Vance nodded his understanding. "I was afraid of that. Dr. Cowan did try to give Susan the tools she'd need to help counter that, but we had no idea how effective they’d be."

"Oh, they've been very effective, she has managed to help quell a lot of the riots we simply couldn't get too. That AI has been very effective despite the fact that she's not entirely trusted, yet." Hearlis replied. "That's not to be unexpected, after all it was the computer systems designed by the Veranorians that got everyone in this mess to begin with. It's going to take time for people to learn to trust a new system, no matter what part she played in freeing them."

Just as Vance was about to ask another question, Hearlis continued.

"Saarmia is sending you another fleet, it's not much. They have just been rotated off the front and are still damaged and tired. I know it's not much, but it's what we can do for the time being.

"Susan just reported that she is losing contact with her clones that remained in Veranorian space. She confirms that the Synod has caught on to the ruse, and is now trying to capture some intact code." He nodded to someone off screen. "I just gave approval for her to issue a general self-destruct to all of her clones that are in enemy hands.

"Now, back to what I was telling you, that fleet is all we can send you for the time being, right now is a very fragile time here. We have arrested the existing Council. The Simonians are sending new councilors, and the freed Veranorians have been asked to nominate 'local' individuals to take seats on the reconstituted Council. We would like to ask the Shallans to as well, but they are still under Synod control. Could you find out from the Clan Therinate Matriarch if she would be willing to undertake this station or have her people nominate individuals for two seats until we can free their core worlds?" Hearlis finished.

Vance nodded and made a note speak to the Matriarch. "I can do that in a few minutes, Sir. I asked for an advisory council meeting after I finished speaking to you. She is a member of that group."

"Excellent, then you can inform Logical Engineer Corhen Nori that she has been appointed to the Council. I know you're going to need every ship you have, but as soon as you can, she needs to be given transport back here. Of course, there is a good chance that we may be coming to her if the Synod attacks this system. When you do send her back, be sure to tell the ship to dock here. It was decided that the new Council be formed on the station so it can be protected during this emergency. It’’s not an ideal situation, but it is what it is."

"I understand, Sir. Do you have an ETA on the fleet's arrival here? Perhaps we'll be able to send her out once they arrive," Vance said.

"Not a clue, Vance. Rear Admiral H'sten was told that getting there was a priority, but he wasn't to risk any damaged ships. I imagine he'll be contacting you soon to see where you want him and his people. By the by, please stand Vance, and call your AI. She is needed to record this."

Vance immediately did as he was ordered and stood at attention. Sarah appeared next to him, also at attention. For a moment, Hearlis was amazed at the resemblance to his own AI.

"Attention to Orders! On this day, and at this time, Commodore Vance Ip Belariphon, by the order of the Council of the Alliance acting on the unanimous recommendations of the Non-Veranorian elements of the Alliance military High Command, is hereby promoted to the rank of Fleet Admiral and charged with the administration and defense of the Solarian Sector of Alliance space, and all the beings therein. Further, you are hereby granted the Order of the Alliance for your actions in defense of said Alliance. These declarations are effective upon bestowal. Signed, Horwath Jhree, acting High Council, Alliance of Free Worlds." Hearlis smiled. "Congratulations, Lord Admiral Vance."

Vance was stunned; he had been promoted three grades! That had never happened before as far as he knew. The addition of the knighthood was another surprise. "Uh, th..." He cleared his throat, and tried again. "Thank you, Sir. I don't know what to say, it's so unexpected... But Sir, the knighting is too much, I don't deserve any of this, others have done for more than I..."

Hearlis held up a hand to stop Vance. "Look, you DO deserve it. If not for you and your actions, we would never know we had been subjugated until it was far too late to do anything about it. Also, in order to do the job you're going to be doing, you need the rank you now have. I have no doubt you will exceed even those duties. Just so you know, the knighting isn't actually official until the High Council actually preforms the ritual, but since this is wartime, we're making an exception. Also, you were not the only one knighted. I'll let you have the honor of letting him know. Dr. Eric Cowan is now Sir Eric Cowan. Susan is sending you the file for the rest of the awards your people have been given. I just wish it could be more, but there is no way to express that kind of gratitude.

"These orders automatically make you my successor in the event I am killed or chose to retire. You are the highest ranking of the Alliance Knights. So don't argue, just accept it and move on!" Hearlis winked at him.

Vance grinned. "Yes Sir! Thank you!"

Hearlis waved it off. "Like I said, you deserved it. Now, I imagine we both need to get back to work. I'll try to keep in touch, but at the very least Susan will keep in touch with Sarah who can keep you up to speed on events here. Please make sure you have a hyperspace landing area large enough for the Command Complex, as well as one of the Guardian fleets. I'm sure you'll know if we have to jump, but I'd rather be safe than sorry."

"Will do Sir. We already have a place set aside for you, and the defense network has already been programmed with your codes. If you need to make a dark jump, you have a safe landing spot." Vance turned to Sarah, "Make sure Susan and only Susan has those coordinates."

Sarah nodded. "Yes Sir."

Hearlis nodded. "Smart. Keep up the good work, Admiral." He said as he disconnected the channel.

Dark Shroud Mountains Complex

Aracnise Grand Hive, Chamber of the Queen

Outside Cerbilax City (Planetary Capitol)

Planet Veranor, Astralix System

When Susan 12 destroyed her core program, she tried to take the cybernetic Queen with her. Unfortunately, the Queen had been in a system isolated from the AI. However, none of the Veranorian computer specialists could see a reason to isolate the AI from the computers controlling the Queen.

As a result, the Queen, with no Veranorians left inside the complex to keep her drugged and under control, gained access to all the systems that Susan had. As the minutes passed, and with the assistance of her broods, she became more aware of her surroundings, the old being took complete control over the broods through her thousands of junior queens.

Now with full access to all the notes and equipment of their creators, the Queen began a few experiments of her own. Several former drones as well as ten queens reported to the cybernetics lab that had been used to implant the control computers in her. She had begun making plans, and she would need these augmented drones and queens to implement them.

The Queen discovered a profound feeling of hate deep in her being that fed her purpose and gave her strength.

The old Queen found the commands that had been given the complex guard drones, and altered them slightly. Now the armored automatons would hunt and kill all Veranorians. For over a century, the Alliance defended itself from her broods and she fought at the behest of her Veranorian Masters. Now, the Alliance had a new enemy, and she vowed that the Alliance would burn... Starting with the Veranorians that had dared to control her.

She felt out through her multitudes of queens, to the massive fleets filled with her progeny. The Veranorians were calling in their fleet? It was time they learned a lesson about how the Aracs felt about being controlled. Very carefully, she gave her orders, and smiled inwardly when she felt her broods acting on them.

She reached out, through the queens and felt the exhilaration of her broods as they burst forth from the caves and crevasses discovered over the centuries. She felt their surge of triumph as they broke over the crest of the mountains surrounding a city filled with the unwitting Veranorians. The feeling was almost orgasmic in its strength at the anticipation of the slaughter that would soon be theirs. In the vision of one of her brood, relayed through its queen, she turned and could see the endless tide of her hordes, pouring into the sheltered valley like the black tide of an angry ocean.

Cerbilax City (Planetary Capitol)

Planet Veranor, Astralix System

The Aracnise Hordes fell on the sleeping city without warning. The first areas destroyed were the suburbs and outlying areas away from the center of the sprawling city. However, progress of the Aracs could easily be tracked by the fires, explosions and the screams of the dying.

For the first half an hour, city officials had no idea what was happening. By the time the first alarms were given, the death toll had exceeded five thousand. Equipped only to deal with the small amounts of civil disobedience that occurred, the local constabulary responded to try to assist the fleeing civilians. It soon became very apparent that they could do no more against this threat than the civilians could.

By and large, the Veranorian government had never formed a large military capable of ground combat. The few troops that they did have were equipped only for the defense of small facilities and to escort dignitaries from place to place. The remainder of what could be called 'military' was comprised of armored drones.

With the installation of the new AI implemented by the Synod, control of these mobile weapons platforms had been assigned to the AI. When the issues with the AI had surfaced, the AI had all destroyed themselves taking control of the defense drones with them. The only ones that had remained were the hundred drones assigned to the Synod more for ostentation than out of any real need.

Once it was known what was happening, they sealed their chambers, and activated all of the drones with orders to destroy anything that approached. Several hundred civilians were killed instantly by particle weapons when they attempted to take shelter in the Synod facility.

Inside, the members of the Synod watched the destruction of their city with detached revulsion. The civilians had no chance at defeating the Arac soldiers attacking them. The hive literally mowed through the inhabitants, hardly slowing down to look for hidden survivors.

Civilians fleeing the city fared little better, Cerbilax was completely surrounded by the Dark Shroud Mountains, and the Aracnise owned those.

"Proconsul, what do we do? Our fleet has all but been destroyed, there is little we can do to free ourselves from this nightmare," one of the other members asked.

"Indeed, there is little we can do. Computer, issue a planetary distress call to all Alliance Ships and Bases. Perhaps we can still save some of our people," the leader replied, calmly.

"Proconsul, four other cities are now under attack by the Hive. Our ships in orbit are doing all they can, and will attempt to send a shuttle for us as soon as our drones clean an area large enough for them to land. However, ships are now reporting inbound hyperspace traces."

"Move twenty-five drones to the roof. Clear out the Aracnise, shuttles to land there for us to board. Quickly! Drones will not continue to function for the duration of this battle." The leader looked to his brethren. "To the roof, our shuttle will extract us there."

"Proconsul, some of the other cities are attempting to evacuate. A destination they are asking for," a messenger said.

"To Novalus they must go, no other place is safe for them anymore," the Proconsul replied.

"Certain are you that Novalus is safe? Aware of our plans they are, detain us they will," another member of the Council replied.

"Detained is not dead, simpleton, escape is possible when not dead. Need time we do, time we do not have here," the leader said. "To Novalus our people must go, no other destination is available to them. Our own people very soon will awaken to our manipulations; order will no longer be possible then. To Novalus they must go." He nodded as if to himself. "For us; a different destination is required."

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

When Corhen and I arrived at Vance's office, the first thing I noticed was Vance's new uniform and rank. "Wow! Congratulations Admiral!" I said and shook his hand. "But, what's with the sash? I don't know what that means."

"You will shortly, M'Lord," Vance replied cryptically, and winked. "I'll tell you in a minute."

Corhen actually bowed to him. "Congratulations Lord Admiral, Recognized you and your contributions to the Alliance, they have. It has been long overdue for some time."

"Thank you Councilor. First Admiral Hearlis has given me much information I need to impart to all of you. We also have a situation that we need to prepare for," Vance replied.

"Indeed, it would appear so," Corhen replied, giving him a look of query, but took her normal seat.

Master Halflan was attending via holographic telepresence, however, Matriarch Alyessa was present in person and seemed in good spirits, as did the rest of the informal council.

"Okay, now that we are all here; welcome, and thank you for coming. We have much to discuss, and much to consider,' Vance began. "I have a list of requests and other things given me by the First Admiral, some of which has been relayed by him from the newly forming High Council of the Alliance."

"Forgive me, Lord Admiral, I knew there was an issue with the old Council, but I had not heard that they had been replaced as yet," Matriarch Alyessa replied.

"After speaking to the available Ambassadors, High Command placed the old High Council into protective custody. During consultation with the available diplomats no longer under the Synod programming, it was decided to reconstitute the Council from non-affected beings. Logical Engineer Corhen Nori has been appointed by her brethren to one of the Veranorian seats." Vance bowed to the newly made Councilor Corhen Nori before continuing. "Since there were no Shallans available it has been requested of Matriarch Alyessa to consider taking one of the seats now reserved for the Shallan race, as well as asking the free Shallans here, to appoint the other Councilor, or both if the Matriarch declines the appointment. Included in this missive was the announcement that two more chairs have been made available for Terrans." Vance paused so the others could comment.

"This sounds very different from the way the old Council conducted themselves, Lord Admiral," Alyessa replied.

Vance nodded. "It is. One of the tenets of the new council seems to be that no Council may have the ability to speak for any represented race that is not their own. While the Novan people and the Terran people are of the same race, we are different peoples. The new configuration is to acknowledge that fact. It has also been decided that for the duration of this emergency, the New High Council will reside on the Command Complex station in a specially protected area of the station.  First Admiral Hearlis made it very clear to me that it was the people of the core worlds that decided that, not the diplomats or the new Council."

"How did they do that? We have to be talking about billions of people, how could their will be directly known?" Ced asked.

"Core worlds info net has become two way. Now more than any other time in our history, our people have a direct line to those that are making the decisions," Vance reported. "The First Admiral cited the fact that Susan has been essential to this project."

"I'm not certain I'm comfortable with that," I said. "If not for the ethical programming, an AI could use this method to influence governmental policy. I'll give some thought to ensure transparency for this function, perhaps I will also find a way to make sure it is also externally tamper proof."

Vance bobbed his head to me. "That would be greatly appreciated, Lord Cowan. Especially when it becomes time to create the Planetary AI."

"Okay, what's with the 'Lord' stuff? Did I get promoted to or something?" I asked.

"Obviously you did, M'Lord," Corhen replied, keeping a carefully straight face. "We are now social peers, if indeed I too have been named as Councilor. In my opinion, this is another situation that has been corrected to satisfaction."

Vance was nodding. "Once we get done with the Council stuff, I'll read the proclamation knighting you. Traditionally, the proclamation isn't official until the High Council physically bestows it upon you, but considering the situation we have found ourselves in, it was decided to at least inform you of the decision."

"I'd prefer to be called Eric or at the least Doctor Cowan; those, I'm at least used to! 'Lord' makes me sound so... I don't know... pompous?" I said.

"Are you trying to tell me I'm pompous then, Eric?" Vance said, but he was grinning to let me know he was teasing me.

"Indeed, I actually am pompous, yet I have no title other than Councilor," Corhen added, with a straight face.

I realized that they were teasing me right away. "But, you're Veranorian, Councilor, you're supposed to be pompous!"

She nodded. "That is true."

By now, the rest of the table was laughing, including the big Simonian Foreten Kree. When a Simonian laughs, their whole body gets into the act, and they need a lot of room. Luckily he'd pushed himself away from the table before completely losing it.

When the mirth finally died down to an acceptable level, and Foreten Kree was no longer in danger or needing to repair the Admiral’s office. I couldn't help but make a comment.

"You know, when I was first recruited and was moving up here, I was warned by Sarah, and later by others, that a strict adherence to formality and protocol was the norm in all situations here. Here, among all of you that have become my friends, it no longer seems as though such formality is important, yet we still retain the respect for the individual. I'm very pleased to see this, but I never believed it would happen."

Corhen replied before one of the others could. "Strict adherence to protocol has always been a hallmark of being Veranorian. Even among peers formality was strictly enforced. Yet in those situations, something was always missing. Before coming here, while among those of my last posting, formality was always the focus of any social gathering. Again, something was missing.

"With this group, I feel I can be less worried about formality. Among this group, titles do not have the importance, yet respect still remains. I dare say, even affection now plays a part. Others of my race that adhere to the protocols of formality would not have the level of trust I have for this group."

I nodded. "I call it friendship. This is what a group of real friends feels like. I do have to admit, that Matriarch Alyessa is new to us, but I feel she fits right in."

"Indeed she does," Foreten Kree replied. "By Nature, I feel my race is the more jovial, but I too feel a closeness to this group. Conversing with all of you gives me almost the same feeling as I feel when I complete a project. By allowing me to be included in this group, all of you inspire me to do more."

Corhen nodded. "That is what I was trying to say, thank you Master Kree. Now that I must join the Council on Novalus, I fear I will lose this feeling. I feel it has value, but yet I cannot quantify it."

"I must agree with Matriarch Nori, I feel as though I have found a group of friends though long lost, almost as though I have finally come home. If it falls to me to represent my people on the Council of the Alliance, I will do so because it is my duty, and I will miss all of you. However, I am gladdened that Matriarch Nori will be accompanying me. It will make this burden far less of a burden." Alyessa added.

At that moment, Sarah again materialized in the room. "Excuse me for interrupting, Lord Admiral, we are receiving a distress call from the Planet Veranor; it is under siege by the Aracnise Grand Hive."

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

It took a moment for what Sarah had said to sink in. A Core world was under attack by the Hive. Well, granted, it happened to be the core world that the hive actually existed on, but still it was a core world.

"Receiving civilian transmissions are you, AI Sarah?" Corhen asked.

"The signal is weak, Councilor, but I'll do what I can to improve it," Sarah replied and nodded to a flat monitor on one wall.

An image of the Veranorian city of Escaraport could be seen, and slowly the audio gained in volume for us to hear.

"...Transports are available at the spaceport to the north of the city. To these all citizens must report at once. Do not bring personal affects as space is an issue. Synod has ordered all ships to Novalus. Again, an order for general evacuation has been given. The Aracnise Grand Hive is on our world and is moving to this city. Reports from five cities are no longer being received, these are Cerbilax City, Shroudgard, Heaven's Reign and Brightly. Horde activity has been detected moving this direction. All citizens are to proceed with all haste to the spaceport. Transports are available and are filling up quickly. As they become available, more transports there will be."

The sound was muted, and Sarah turned back to Vance. "Lord Admiral, Rear Admiral H'sten is on the comm for you."

"Thank you Sarah, please put him through," Vance replied.

The screen on the wall split to make room for the image of a Novan Rear Admiral. "Lord Admiral Vance, I've ordered the fleet to drop out of hyperspace and set course for Veranor. Do you have any other orders before I make the jump?"

Vance was nodding his approval. "Nothing other than to be careful, and be leary of the Veranorians. Most of them are not our enemy, and have no idea what the Synod has been up to. Rescue what you can, but don't try to retake the planet."

"No offense Lord Admiral, but it is a core world, shouldn't we..."

"Admiral, Veranor is also the home world of the Grand Hive. I don't believe the entire fleet could retake that world at this point. All we can do is try to rescue as many civilians as we can. I wouldn't stick around either, we don't know what the hive is going to do now that the Veranorians are no longer controlling them," Vance explained.

"Blessed Maker! The Veranorians had them on their own world? How incredibly... "the man shook his head. "That's neither here nor there. We will do as you order, Lord Admiral, what should I do with the survivors?"

"The planetary civil defense network is telling them that they are going to be taken to Novalus. I'll give the First Admiral a call and see if he wants them there. Plan on taking them there for now, if that changes, I'll give you a call," Vance replied.

"Will do," H'sten replied nodding.

"Be careful and safe, H'sten," Vance said smiling at the man.

H'sten chuckled. "That wasn't in the job description I saw! I'll see you when I see you, Lord Admiral. Leave a light on for us."

"Lord Admiral, First Admiral Hearlis is on the comm," Sarah said as soon as the other channel closed she put Hearlis up in place of H'sten.

"Sir, H'sten is responding to the Veranorian distress call. He'll be dropping the survivors at Novalus before resuming his trip here," Vance said immediately.

"Understood, Vance. But you might want to tell him he's on a clock. Every Arac fleet we had been engaged with has packed up their toys and jumped away. All indications tell us they were heading deeper into Arac space, but that doesn't mean they can't change course. Hell, it's been long enough for most of them to have finished whatever it was they were doing and head for Veranor. No matter what, if an Arac fleet arrives at Veranor, they are to get their asses out of there. Under no circumstance are they to engage the Arac fleet. That game has changed completely, and we have no idea what the new rules are," Hearlis ordered.

"They are jumping right now, Admiral. I'll have Sarah send a hypercom message with your orders immediately though," Vance replied.

"That would be fine, Vance. Good luck, good work, and keep your head down out there," Hearlis said before disconnecting the call.

"Sarah?" Vance asked.

"Message sent, Sir," Sarah replied.

"Excellent, thank you." Vance scrubbed his face. "The First Admiral was right about one thing; this changes everything. From now on, we're going to be fighting a war against an enemy we've never seen before using tactics we've never seen before. We're going to have to be ready for just about anything."

I cleared my throat. "Sir, just before you called us here, you put the base on yellow alert, can you tell us what's going on?"

"Yes, I was getting to that," he said, tiredly. "Earlier today, we received a message from one of AI Susan's clones that had been assigned to that big, heavily guarded research lab outside of their main city." He continued, telling the group about Susan12's last message. When he finished, he nodded to the muted monitor still displaying images from Veranor. "There is a good chance we are witnessing the aftermath of that event."

Corhen nodded. "Yes, the events on Veranor could very well have occurred as a result of the AI shutting down. Analyzed this data we must do, there is much we could learn, knowledge we may need very soon."

Alyessa nodded gravely. "I agree Matriarch Nori. The Aracnise under synod control were bad enough, but at least they had control. I fear what may be happening on our worlds at this moment. If the Synod were to lose control of those hives as well, it is likely that we Shallans may be all that remain."

I nodded. "Sarah, secondary protocol project; hack into Galtar system and discover the fate of the Shallan people."

"I will do what I can, Lord Cowan," Sarah replied. "However, there is a chance that Susan might have already done so. I will send her an inquiry before attempting entry."

"Good thinking," I nodded.

"Do we know what an infestation mission is, and do we know if it will proceed in light of the current situation?" Foreten Kree asked. "I would not like to see Earth under the dominance of the Hive."

"I wouldn't want to see any planet under the dominance of the Hive, my large friend," Ced replied.

"To answer your question, no, we don't know what an infestation mission is, or even what ships it will consist of. Nor do we know how it will attack," Vance said. "I wish I did, we would be able to create some kind of defense against it."

Sarah was still present since no one had dismissed her, and she suddenly looked scared. "I think we are about to find out, Sir. An Aracnise ship has just dropped out of hyperspace only nine hundred thousand klicks from the planet! It's heading for orbit Sir!"

High Earth Orbit

Planet Earth

Sol System

The Aracnise ship raced for the planet their Queen wanted to place a colony on. They knew that the humans on the planet and in the system would try to stop them, but they were determined to accomplish their task, no matter the cost.

The crew saw the human ships moving to stop them, to block the planet from them, but what they didn't know was that it was already too late. The seeding had already happened. This pass at the planet was a ruse; the pods carrying the eggs had already been launched, and would be entering the planet's atmosphere, unhindered, within minutes. Once those pods made it to the ground, it would be too late for anyone to do anything to stop the hive from forming.

The pods will land, the eggs will be removed from stasis, and hatch. The new queen and her small brood of attendants will then seek shelter in order to build a hive. Once a hive has been built, the planet would fall to the hive. Once an established hive was on a planet, there was nothing anyone could do to remove it, nothing.

The 'captain' of this ship watched as the small pods entered the atmosphere, but it lost sight of them as the ship fell under attack. The Human ships were still far out of range, so this must have been some kind of defense system attacking. In the end, it knew it would die, but that no longer mattered. It had accomplished its task; it had served its Queen well. That was all there was. This planet now belonged to the Hive. As the small ship began to break up from the missile impacts, the 'captain' once again tried to find the telltale trace of the descending pods. When it couldn't find them, it realized it didn't really matter, it had done what it was told, it had served its Queen well. This planet was hers, that's all that mattered.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

"Well, the defense platforms got the ship just before it made orbit. So, I think we got them before any damage was done," Vance replied

Even though it was getting late, we were all still at the meeting. "That's not completely accurate, Lord Admiral," Sarah replied. "When it dropped out of hyperspace, it dislodged several small asteroids. A few of them followed the ship and were captured by the Earth's gravity well. As luck would have it, none of the strikes occurred in populated areas."

"That seems odd to me, how many asteroids are we talking about, Sarah?" I asked.

"Four with a possibility of a fifth, but indications are it burned up in the atmosphere. No strike was recorded along its projected path," she replied. Considering the angle of approach, and trajectory, it is entirely possible that these strike would not impact a populated area."

"Where did they hit?" I asked.

"By order of impact, Northwest Territories, Canada, North American Continent. Northeastern Siberia, Asian Continent. Southern Russia, near the Mongolian Border, Asian Continent. Jammu district, (disputed) Northeastern Pakistan. Middle-Eastern sub-continent. And finally in the Sahara Desert, Sudan, African Continent," she explained.

"Can you show us a hologram, Sarah?" Ced asked, interested.

"What is it you fear, Doctor Eric?" Alyessa asked.

"Forgive me, but when the Shallan worlds at Galtar were infested, did you know how it happened?" I asked.

"Not really, no, but it is assumed that infestation took place during the attacks we underwent. The strange thing about those was we didn't detect the arrival of any ships prior to the attack. Most of the records for the time were destroyed in the attack as well, so we have no hard data to analyze," Alyessa replied.

"Those were asteroids, Eric. It's not uncommon for this effect to happen when jumping into a system. In fact, it's one of the main reasons ships usually arrive outside the system, then move in at sublight speed," Vance replied.

"I know, but... It's just a gut feeling I guess. Maybe I'm just being paranoid because it's my planet. It's getting late, let's just got on with the meeting. Maybe, if I just ignore it, the feeling will go away," I said.

"Well the meeting is mostly over with, what I didn't get the chance to tell you about, you all learned of in more direct ways. So we might as well call it a night, and get some rest. Councilors, please let me know of your decisions as soon as you have answers, so I can inform the First Admiral," Vance said.

"If called to a higher station I am, then Lord Cowan takes my place, yes?" Corhen asked.

Vance nodded. "That would follow, yes. Besides, there really isn't anyone else I could name to the post is there?"

"No one else as qualified as Eric, however, that situation can be rectified if needed. There are a couple of others that could be brought up to speed to administer the department," Corhen replied. "The need for them is training," she looked at me. "This we must undertake beginning tomorrow."

"I agree, while I don't mind being your second, I'm afraid if I become department head, I won't have time for doing what I love anymore. If we can get one of the others trained, maybe I could just assist them much as I do for you. Although, I doubt anyone will be as good as an administrator as you have been," I replied.

Corhen nodded. "Time consuming is this position. Programming and leading are what you are best at. Perhaps we should consider a non-programmer to administer the department while you lead them."

"I have an assistant that would be perfect for that," Ced replied. "The man tries, he really does, and he does have the interest, but lacks the innate ability. However, I've had him handling the administrative parts of the fighter redesign project. That is finished now since the project has been handed off. I've been trying to think of something else I could assign him too. He's yours if you want him."

"The Simonian, Hopsis?" I asked. When Ced grinned and nodded, I jumped on it. "Hell yes! Even though he is probably the smallest Simonian I've ever met, he is an excellent administrator. He has enough interest in computers and technology to want to work with us. If it won't short you, Ced, I'd love to have him in my department!"

Ced grinned. "I'd like to keep him, but the fact of the matter is, he would do far better in the position you are planning. I'll let him know in the morning, and explain it to him."

"Hopsis is from a different ethnic group than most Simonians present on this base. Just as on your planet of Earth, you have different species of our lesser cousins. We do have an over all-blended society, however, in our distant past, there was much discrimination between the diverse ethnic groups, much like you have on Earth now. We worked past them, just as we see your brethren on the planet are doing," Foreten replied. "I do not know Hopsis well, but I have heard of his remarkable administrative abilities. He should serve you very well."

Vance nodded. "Great, I'll leave it to Councilor Nori and Lord Cowan to interview Hopsis with an eye to making him the Department administrator. Just let me know what you need when the time comes, and I'll make sure it happens.

"With that, we’ll adjourn, please pass the word to your peoples that as soon as I have more news about the council, I will put it out to them," Vance said. "Altuis Tenae, everyone. Until we meet again, may light and wisdom guide us."

I quickly said my good-byes to my friends and headed for my home. The incident of the seeding ship was still bothering me, and for some reason I couldn't shake it. "Sarah, the whole seeding ship thing is still bugging me. Is there any anomalous behavior in the asteroids or the ship?"

"I can do a frame by frame analysis of the video, if you would like, Eric. But other than that, no, everything that happened is perfectly in line with what should have happened, with one possible exception; the seeding ship did not try to evade the incoming warships. However, that could be explained by the fact that it would have beaten them to the planet, and it was simply trying to continue its original mission. We have to assume that the Aracs had no knowledge of the defensive systems we have built here," Sarah finished. "Can you tell me what part of this is bothering you the most? Perhaps I can do a more detailed search there?"

"Those rocks they knocked loose. There is just something about them that's just driving me nuts!" I said. "I wish I could be more specific for you, but I can't."

"I will take a closer look at the asteroids then. During the night cycle of the base, there is less for me to do, this will help occupy my time," Sarah replied. I could hear the smile in her words.

"You forget I check your log files regularly, I know you are not bored at night no matter what you tell me. I'm not going to ask you to look, but I'm also not going to prohibit you either. Just don't let this take priority over anything else, okay?" I said as I landed outside my building.

"I won't Eric, but I don't see how doing this for you would hurt anything. If it serves to set your mind at ease, then it will be well worth my time," Sarah replied. "Just so you know, your wife and family are worried about you. You've been gone a lot longer than usual."

"You didn't tell them about the whole being knighted thing did you?" I asked.

"No, but I did hint that something important happened. Speaking of hints, I think you missed one given by Lord Admiral Vance when he said there were two seats for the Terrans on the High Council," Sarah said as I got on the elevator.

"No, I didn't miss it, I ignored it. Sarah, I don't even want to be the head of the computing department, but I'm going to get stuck with it. There is no way you could talk me into taking a post on the High Council where I would have to make decisions for the whole world, mostly without their knowledge. I'd much rather rejoin the Marines and fight the Aracs again," I said.

"Well my Lord, you are about to face a hostile front of a different kind, are you ready?" Sarah asked as I got off the elevator and walked down the hall to our door.

"I don't think 'hostile' is accurate, perhaps concerned, or maybe worried, but I doubt 'hostile'," I said and opened the door.

There, just inside the door, all of the ladies were arrayed, standing in a semi-circle, waiting for me. I could easily see by the looks on their faces that they were not happy.

"My apologies, Sarah, it appears that I'm mistaken," I said.

Sarah made her hologram appear beside the ladies. "It does happen from time to time, Eric."

Dr. Cowan’s Laboratory

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

It seemed for a time that there was a lull in the seeming non-stop action that had become my life. Yes the ladies did indeed express their, uh, displeasure at my coming home late, but once I explained everything that had been going on, that is, everything I could explain to them since some of it was classified, they eased up on me.

They really took the news of my knighthood well. The look on my mom's face was clearly one of pride. She took me in her arms and hugged me. "Eric, you have done so much for me to be proud of you for that it has become impossible for me to let you know about it. But this is so far out there it fails words. I know for a fact that your father would be immensely proud of you. We may get upset with you from time to time, or give you a hard time for something, but never doubt that we are proud of you, and that we love you more than any of us can say."

She had tears in her eyes, Jamie had tears in her eyes, Christy had tears... you get the picture, the only one not crying was Sarah, and I'm she would have if she had been capable of it. Anyway, we all 'kissed and made up' after that, and life returned to what passed for normal in the Cowan household.

Ced talked to Hopsis about changing departments, and the promotion. Ced later told me that at first, Hopsis believed he had done something wrong, even though Ced had assured him that was not the case. Ced finally resorted to having Sarah explain it to him. It took a few minutes, but then it dawned on him that he was actually getting promoted, and he would be permanently assigned as the administrator of the Computing Technologies Department. He wouldn't be in charge of it, but he would be an integral part of our team. When he was told that I had asked for him by name, he puffed up with pride.

Corhen had taken him aside to show him what needed to be done, and how the department worked. He was soaking everything up like a sponge, and was asking questions. Corhen later informed me that she had been impressed with the young Simonian.

Vance made it official, Hopsis would handle the administration duties, and I would handle the rest. Although the change was made, Corhen didn't leave. The base couldn't spare a ship to transport her back to the Command Complex at Novalus. However, that didn't stop her from assuming her duties. She had Foreten set up an office for her complete with a full holographic communications suite so she could attend Council meetings and perform her new responsibilities in the Alliance hierarchy. Across the hall from her, Matriarch, now Councilor Alyessa, also set up shop. Her Clan had agreed that she would be the best for the position of Councilor on their behalf. She accepted the seat, and her eldest daughter was accepted as her replacement in the Clan. The other Shallan representative was someone I had never met before, and didn't know anything about.

Vance finally came out and asked me directly about taking the seat for the Terran delegation, since it had been the consensus of Terrans living on the base that I be nominated for it. When I refused, and gave him my reasons he said he understood, and moved down to the next name on the list, who also refused. He finally had to resort to asking the recruiters on Earth to find two people that would be good candidates for the positions. I silently wished them luck.

Work on the new AI for the Command Complex was going well. Sarah reminded me about the core instruction changes I had outlined based on Sarah's and Susan's operation. However, once I incorporated them, I began to have problems.

Because Athena would have radically different duties and responsibilities than both Sarah and Susan, I was writing her from scratch. When I first powered her up in our isolated core, it was discovered that she was mentally unstable, bordering on psychotic. I had intended her to be slightly more aggressive than Sarah and Susan, but still be considerate and dutiful.

She was more aggressive alright; she tried to kill the nearest person to her as soon as she came fully on-line. Luckily, it had been Carla that was the closest, and she simply stood there and let the new AI swing at her until I could shut her down. Carla told me later that she was trying to make sure Athena remained distracted while I shut her down. I returned to the programming suite, and tore into her personality matrix.

Two days had passed in blissful, if frustrating programming before reality once again shattered my world. I was in the programming studio when Sarah sent me an alert that she needed to speak to me, and that it was important. I saved my work, and shut down the sections I was working on before leaving the room.

Sarah was waiting for me when I left the room, which in my book, is never a good sign. "What's wrong, Sarah?"

"Remember the asteroids you didn't ask me to look at from the video of the seeding mission arriving?" She said. I felt my gut slowly start forming into knot. I was still having nightmares about Earth being overrun by the Hive.

"Yes, what about them?" I asked, dreading the answer.

"I think I might have found something," she replied. "I've made an appointment with Lord Admiral Vance for us."

"Let's go then, but what did you find?" I asked.

"Actually, it's more of what I didn't find," she explained. "The area of space where the seeding ship arrived in had no asteroids large enough to register on our sensors."

"Are you certain? How did you figure that out?" I asked.

"Well, when I examined the footage of the ship arriving, I couldn't find anything out of the ordinary. So I decided to scan the records of the defense network for that area of space. According to the network, while that area is remote for them, there are no significant objects of mass for twenty thousand tics in any direction. Eric, there was nothing in that area of space for them to hit," Sarah finished. "Which leaves they either brought them through hyperspace, or they were dropped by the ship after it left hyperspace."

"You're not setting my mind at ease here, Sarah," I replied getting on the slideway for Base Admin.

"There is nothing here to be easy about, Eric. If what I saw is correct, then Earth now has four Aracnise colonies on its surface."

"Do we know how they go about infesting a planet?" I asked, feeling a little sick at a Hive colony on Earth.

"Little is known about the process, Eric, only the result," Sarah replied. "The Novan colony world of Cypress Tyre was infested by the hive. The small colony was overrun. The actual seeding of the planet hadn't been noted, but there had been intensive fighting in that sector for months, so it was assumed that seeding took place during the fighting, although there was no proof to support it.

"A Simonian Colony world called Hergrath Tir was infested, again during fighting, and again no one saw how it happened. However it was noted that none of the Aracnise ships had been close enough to the colony world to send out ships," Sarah replied. "The list goes on, but the story is the same in each one; no one knows when the actual seeding took place, or even how it took place."

"Priority search, Sarah. All infested colonial records. Search for asteroid strikes prior to the Aracnise appearing on the planet," I asked.

Office of the Base Commander

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth’s moon

Sol System

"I've announced you, go right in, Eric." Sarah said as I neared the door to Vance's Office.

When I entered I saw we had interrupted a lunch date Vance was having with his mate Coryn.

"Sir, I'm really sorry to bother you, but Sarah discovered something we felt you needed to know about right away," I said. "Altuis Denay Coryn, I'm sorry about your lunch."

She looked concerned. "Is there anything I can help with, Eric? I don't think I've ever seen you this worried before," she replied.

"First, tell me what's wrong, Eric." Vance said.

"I think they did it, Sir. The Aracnise have seeded Earth," I replied and asked Sarah to present her findings.

Sarah reported everything she told me about, and finished with the search I asked for. "Sir, just before entering your office, Eric asked me to perform a search on reported asteroid strike on the worlds that had been overrun. Sir, in all but one case, colony records indicate asteroid strikes recorded somewhere in their hemisphere of the plant. I feel that I should add that in that one case, they also noted the asteroid strikes, but for them, it was an annual recurrence. A further note indicated that the shower had begun a week earlier than expected."

"They use asteroids, Sir. Somehow, they get their troops and a queen down to the surface in an asteroid, and they spread quickly," I said.

Vance looked thoughtful. "Sarah, Earth is visible to us, topside, right now isn't it?"

Sarah nodded. "Yes, Sir"

"See if you can commandeer one of Astrometrics larger telescopes and take a look at the landing areas. It's been the better part of three days since the event. Show us what there is to see near the strikes," Vance ordered.

The lights dimmed slightly, and a large hologram of northern Canada appeared over the table. Currently the terrain was flying past very quickly, but it soon began to slow down, and the point of view got closer to the surface but the details didn't look real.

"This is the site on the North American Continent, Sir. The impact started a massive forest fire, so I am using enhancement to see through the smoke," Sarah reported. As she was speaking, the fire line passed through the image, and the black, charred area was now visible.

"That's fine, Sarah," Vance replied absently. He was watching the hologram

"No one is fighting the fire?" Coryn asked.

"No, fires like this are allowed to burn unless or until they threaten lives or property. The Canadian officials feel it's a function of nature and just monitor them to make sure it doesn't get close to human habitations. This is so far north, I doubt they are even monitoring it," I said.

"That seems so wasteful," Coryn said.

"Down there it's just part of the natural cycle of the planet. In twenty years, this area would be full of live and new growth," I said still staring at the hologram.

Suddenly the scanning stopped and moved a little in another direction, as a pulsing indicator showed the impact crater.

"Magnifying," Sarah said.

The image centered on the target indicators, and zoomed in. What we seen caused Vance to us an Earth term for the first time.

"Oh, fuck!"

The image showed the cracked open remains of the meteorite, inside were the remains of several hundred large, recently hatched, eggs.

"Check the next site, Sarah!" I said, desperate.

The next site, once Sarah located it, gave a little hope. The asteroid had impacted a sheer cliff face. The remains at the bottom of that cliff showed that nothing had survived the impact at this location.

Without being told, she moved to the next site near Mongolia. This site was even harder to locate since there was a blizzard covering the area. However, With Sarah at the controls, we were able to get a good idea of the conditions on the ground. We were given a false color image of the area showing the frozen bodies of hundreds of small Aracs.

"Marking the area for a retrieval mission," Sarah said as she moved the scan to the last impact crater in the Sahara desert.

Little could be found there, as sand had refilled a good portion of the crater. Reflective areas created by melted sand shown through in places, but no other evidence of the impact was found. No trace of the Aracs either which meant they had made good their escape much like they had in Canada.

"Damn, we have a serious problem," Vance said.

"Very soon, there are going to be a lot more cases of arachnophobia on Earth. I know I'm beginning to get there," I said.

Vance nodded. "Earth is considered a Core world now, Eric. There will be a massive response to this, if you can, try to go back to work. I need to get the ball rolling on this."

I nodded. "I'll try Sir." I said good-bye to Coryn, and left the office. Earth was infested. I think Vance had it right; oh fuck!

43rd Task Group

High Orbit, Planet Veranor

Emergency Rescue Operations

Astralix System

Rear Admrial H'sten, Commanding

"All ships begin scanning for survivors," H'sten ordered. "Prepare all shuttles for recovery. Operations, assign Marines accordingly. No one goes down there unprotected!"

"Sir, I'm not getting any Veranorian life signs from the main continent!" one of the scanner techs reported.

"Then move on, Ensign! The faster you find them, the faster we can get them the hell out of there." H'sten ordered. "Remember everyone, these are civilians we are rescuing, they had nothing to do with what the Synod was trying to do to the rest of us."

"Sir, we have survivors! Relaying coordinates to the recovery teams now!" Another tech reported. "Sir, it looks like some of the Aracs are using Veranorian shuttles to get across the oceans."

"Flight control! Fleet wide! Launch fighters! Get those bugs out of my sky!" H'sten ordered. "Give me a count, Lieutenant!"

"Two hundred, thirty-one thousand Veranorians, Sir." She paused. "The computers are still counting Arac life signs."

"Operations, let's give them something else to think about; if there are no Veranorian life signs on the main continent, scan for large concentrations of Aracs, and begin orbital bombardment! Targets of opportunity!" H'sten ordered.

"One of the largest concentrations seems to be centered in the capitol city, Sir." The Lieutenant replied.

"Are there any Veranorian life signs there, Lieutenant?" H'sten asked.

"No Sir," the young woman replied.

"Then level it. I don't even want the sewers left intact, understood?" H'sten replied.

"Yes Sir," she turned and nodded to one of her people who immediately transferred the targeting data to the weapons officer as well as the operations officer.

"Beginning planetary bombardment. All weapons fire!" the weapons officer said.

"Admiral, there is no way we can take even a third of that number of survivors out of here, what are we going to do?" the Captain asked.

"There are other ships responding as well, Cartle," H'sten replied. "We can only hope that we'll have enough, and can hold on enough to rescue as many as we can. I may not care for their leadership, but these people are still counting on us for protection."

"Sir, there is a heavy freighter on planet that is refusing any more passengers," Cartle's XO reported.

"So? What the issue?" Cartle asked.

"His cargo pods are still full of his cargo, he is refusing to dump it to make room for refugees," the man replied.

"Commander, is there a platoon of the Eleventh available for a mission?" H'sten asked.

"Yes Sir, second platoon is available, but assisting with loading and unloading of shuttles," the man replied.

"Get them suited up and send them down to visit that captain. They are to dump that ship's cargo and take on as many refugees as can reasonably fit. If the captain protests past the initial order to do so, shoot him and commandeer the ship," H'sten ordered.

"Thank you, Sir." The man said and issued the order.

"Greed. At a time like this, someone still has to worry about their fucking wallet!" H'sten said quietly.

"Con! Tracking multiple inbound traces, origin... Arac space Sir!"

"Damn, damn, damn! We're running out of time, Cartle." H'sten looked over at the tracking officer. "ETA?"

"Multiple tracks, estimate fleet plus. Drop out in... sixteen hours, forty-one minutes!"

"You heard the lady, Cartle. We are leaving in sixteen hours, anyone not back by then is staying," H'sten ordered.

"What about the inbound rescue ships? Should I warn them off?" Cartle asked.

"Sort them out, anyone getting here later than fifteen hours might as well turn around. We're going to need the rest."

Dark Shroud Mountains Complex

Aracnise Grand Hive, Chamber of the Queen

Outside Cerbilax City (Planetary Capitol)

Planet Veranor, Astralix System

The Queen was pleased with her broods. They had served her well. Even now that a cursed Alliance fleet was here her minions were still laying waste to the evil beings that had controlled her for too long! She had summoned all of her fleets home to defend the planet while she finalized her preparations.

The cybernetically enhanced queens had turned out perfectly, and at this very moment were directing their drones to construct a mobile platform that would move the Queen and the massive computer hard wired into what served as her brain. They would free their Queen and move her to a more protected place, deeper underground.  She was free! She had her own planet, and she had seeded another! Very soon, her broods would reach out and crush their oppressors. These beings were nothing more than food for the broods. Yes, the same beings that had suppressed her for so long would now repay that debt by giving the brood strength!

Through her queens she watched the destruction and devastation being wrought by the fleet above them on the former city of her enemies, and reveled in the destruction. Millions of her drones were dying but she did not care, that was what drones were for. They died knowing that their Queen was pleased with them, and they had freed her.

Yes, she was free now, and the universe would scream in despair at the sounds of her hordes! But there was one place where the hordes would not answer her. One place where existed another like her. One place she could not reach and that one place would be her first major target; after all she would need the facilities there to build the ships her broods would need. The Galtar system would be hers!

Excursion and Embarkation Ground Station

Galtar Main Assembly System and Shipyard (GMASS)

Planet Galtar IV

Galtar System, Shallan Directorate

"Welcome to GMASS, Proconsul. To what do we owe the honor of your visit?" the small Chairman of the Shallan Directorate asked as he abased himself before the cowled figure.

"Veranor has fallen. What progress have you made in installing the new AI into the systems of this facility?"

"None as yet, Proconsul. The new systems have only just arrived, the crews were to begin installations tom..."

The figure almost shouted. "You will not install that system here! AI is defective and turns rogue. Veranor fell to the treachery of this system and its designer. The designer has been dealt with, but the systems still remain. Vigilant, you must be, against this abomination."

The small Shallan cringed. "I will see to it personally, Proconsul!"

"Very well, now show us to suitable quarters. Very little time we have, with much yet to do," the Proconsul said. "See to our belongings." It said as it walked away.

The other hooded figures converged around him. "From here the Veranorian Race will again reach out. New ships to design and build, new weapons to be installed. To lead is our destiny, and it will not be denied us."

"Proconsul, what of the reports of the entire Clan that betrayed us. More Deception could be in the hearts of other Clans. Counter this, we must in order to proceed."

The Proconsul listened and agreed. "Submit to obedience instruction the Directorate will. From there, all Clan leaders, officials and families. No Shallan will betray us again. Too much freewill among these people. We must instruct them in the ways of order."

Behind him, several large crates containing the same programming equipment used on the Alliance Councilors was trundled out of the hold of their landing craft. Escorting each crate was an armed guard drone carrying a charged particle weapon.

"Yes, far too much freewill has been allowed. Much correcting must be done."


Sarah has translated the Novan greetings as the following.

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

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

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

‘Tanae’ {pronounced tah-NĔ} means* Honor/Occasion/Day.

*Exact definition is contextual.

About the Author

Ben Winston (1965 - ?) was born in Iowa and grew up in Minnesota on the family dairy farm. Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the United States Army as a communications technician. Before getting out of the military, he decided to go to school for computer electronics.

Shortly after getting out of the military, and after getting a new job with an over-seas company, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. A month after beginning the new job, he was laid off due to budget over-runs on the project he was hired for. Upon returning to the United States, he had difficulty maintaining employment because of the chronic illness.

He began writing as a form of stress release, from being home bound and not being able to work, and found he liked writing erotica. Ben wrote a trilogy called the Talosian Chronicles (Currently in rewrite to remove the graphic sex and finalized his vision of the story). The first book, Star Dancer, won awards and was nominated for many others by the online communities where it was posted.

Ben Winston returned to school for literature, after completion, he began writing professionally. Being an avid fan of science fiction he focused on this genre. He was, and still is, influenced and inspired by Gene Roddenberry, Anne McCaffery, David Weber, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Some of his favorite movies and TV shows are; Battlestar Galactica (both versions), Andromeda, Star Trek, Firefly, Star Wars, and many of the B-rated movies that were actually box-office bombs.

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Ben Winston


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Books Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.

by Ben Winston

Pollux Paradox

Tides of Mars

Tides of Mars (Omnibus)

Ascension – Book I

Conflict – Book II

Talosian Chronicles

Olympus – Book I

Star Dancer – Book II

Talosian Alliance – Book III

*Neptune’s Massif – Book IV (Upcoming)


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

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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