Book: Upgrades


      Temple of S.A.R.A.H.

Upgrades – Episode VII

By Ben Winston

Copyright © 2016 Ben Winston

Published by Blue Space Publications, LLC.


All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed by a newspaper, magazine, or journal.

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

Upgrades – Episode VII

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

With Earth now a core world, the jobs available in Alliance facilities being built in Sol Sector were now being posted worldwide. At first there was an over-whelming number of applicants for those jobs, but after a month, applications began to fall off. Some of it was due to a lack of education for the 'better' jobs, but I felt a lot of it had to do with people's fear of leaving the planet. There were a lot of dangers involved with living and working off-planet.

However, with the entire planet being changed over from fossil fuels to cleaner and safer hydrogen fuel and cold fusion reactors, there were a lot of displaced energy workers looking for work as well. Most of whom were simple folk that had worked the oil fields and coal mines all their lives and didn't know anything different. They were hard-working, god fearing people that, while they would never admit it, feared the change and what it would mean for their families.

Although it would take longer, it was a goal of the new government to relocate most of the heavy industries such as smelting and ore refining off-world as well. Strip mines were immediately shut down, but most of those workers were re-employed in the reclamation effort that had begun. There were a lot of jobs being created on the planet as well, which also accounted for part of the drop in applications. There was a lot of work needed on Earth, and the way the displaced worker program was set up was to try to fill those positions first.

Some of the 'professions' on Earth had to undergo a major upheaval as well. The medical profession was one of the hardest hit for retraining. But, it was more along the lines of additional training since the skills the people of Earth had were the basis needed for the advanced medical knowledge.

The legal system on the other hand was greatly shaken up as all legal professionals had to learn Alliance laws as well as learn the new changes to local laws. I held the opinion that it wouldn't be all that hard for them because most of the alliance laws were simply common sense, but that was only my opinion. I heard it was pretty difficult for a lot of them.

One of the new changes that some folks didn't like all that much was the creation of a maximum security prison on one of the system's dwarf planets. Although it does have minerals that the Alliance could use, the small planetoid was ideal for a penal colony. Escape would be virtually impossible, and the residents could serve out their life-plus terms working in the mines. Inmates sent there were considered deceased.

Due to the influx of workers, a good deal of the projects actually got back on schedule and several quickly exceeded their schedules. The first major project completed was one of the huge mobile mining and ore processing centers that moved slowly along the main asteroid belt. There were six of the mammoth facilities planned.  Ore from all over the system would be brought into the super-factories for processing and refining.

The foundries were kept separate from the huge processors due to mass issues making the mobile units too difficult to move easily. The processed and refined materials would be shipped from the asteroid belt out to these foundries to be made into the large frame support pieces and the hull plates the ship yards would need.

For now though, the refined ores were being sent to the construction ships building the rest of the facilities that would be needed to undertake the mission for refitting the entire Alliance Navy.

One of the things that surprised me the most was that the Shallans, as well as the other race’s ship designers that had come, decided to build the ship yards in orbit around Jupiter. They cited multiple reasons for it, but the primary points were the composition of the planet as well as the availability of using the planet's perpetually nasty weather as a source of external power in addition to the power systems of the yards themselves.

Most of the administrative staff thought they would want to build the large facilities in the Centauri system close to their planet so the decision had come as a surprise. However, the Shallans had asked that all the salvaged equipment from the GMASS facility be dropped near Jupiter long before the decision to build there had been officially made.

The evacuation of the Galtar system had progressed very quickly. Alliance scientists, working on data recovered from the Veranorian Synod, discovered a way to control the Aracnise hives on Galtar. So a lot of the heavy lifting and loading of equipment was done by Arac drones under the watchful eyes of very heavily armed Alliance Marines.

The Aracnise Grand Hive had remained quiet while the evacuation took place, although several probes had been detected and destroyed before they got very close to Galtar. It took the better part of six weeks, but the Alliance Navy and every commercial ship they could find moved the entire race and all their belongings. It was decided to leave the system defenses active and armed in order to force the Aracnise to expend ships and drones in taking the system. It was believed that the Queen of the Grand Hive would have the Galtar hives killed since she didn't control them. Several monitors and other systems were set up to keep an eye on the world for when the Grand Hive did arrive.

The next closest Core World to Galtar was Novalus, however, there were several dozen colony worlds of different races along the way. After they hit Galtar, it was believed that the Grand Hive would slowly expand outward taking these colony worlds as they went. The shipwrights now residing in the Sol Sector were doing their best to upgrade and rotate ships out to keep those colony worlds protected in case the Aracnise did something unpredictable.  Each refitted capitol class ship that was sent out had the new armor systems for their troops. The Aracnise would find the Alliance ships to not be the easy targets that they once were.

What the Alliance needed the most though was information on the Grand Hive and what it was doing. The closest a probe could get to their ship yards was almost a light month. Even that far away, it was clear that the hive had been very busy.

Where the Veranorian Synod had built three large shipyards, there were now ten. And there were almost a thousand ships guarding the area of a type and design no one had ever seen before. At Veranor, where the Queen had established her main hive, there were so many ships in the system that many astrophysicists wondered how the increase in mass had not affected the orbits of the planets. One thing was abundantly clear to everyone; the Queen was building up to invade the Alliance, and she was doing it quickly.

The defensive satellite system developed for Earth was quickly reproduced and sent out to as many worlds, core and colony alike, as could be done. It wouldn't stop an invasion fleet, but it would prevent a seeding mission by stopping every asteroid that came close to the inhabited planets. Construction had also begun on a new Command Station in the 'Brier Patch' of Saturn. The new station would be almost an exact duplicate of the existing station, except it would have all the upgrades developed since the construction of the original station, incorporated into it.

We still had a lot of work to do to get ready for the Aracnise, but we were well on our way there. Only time would tell how well we had prepared, but the longer the Queen delayed her attack, the better off the Alliance would be.

Office of the Lord Admiral

Ares Base

Icarus Plateau

Mars, Sol System

"So what do you think of the new office, Eric?" Vance asked grinning.

I'd been to Mars since the move for meetings, but Vance had always had temporary office space as that part had not been finished yet. Now it had been and this was much larger and nicer.

I nodded my head as I looked around. "Nice, I'd be jealous if I actually spent much time in mine!"

"Which reminds me, I was going to ask you about the AI you set up here. I do approve of her, although I've heard some of the Marines talking. They are referring to her as 'Grandma'," Vance asked grinning.

"I was shooting for 'Matronly' but I suppose "Grandmotherly' will do. It's along the lines of a psychological experiment. Most of the Marines you'll be training here are from Earth. As such most of us were taught to respect our elders and we automatically defer to them in most cases without thinking about it. I spoke to our resident mental health folks at Apollo and this is what they recommended. She'll help the Marines learn and they will subconsciously try to do better to make her proud of them. When they come back after a difficult mission, she will be here to welcome them back.

"A few of the psychologists believed that my usual younger female avatars were too attractive to elicit a similar response and as such recommended a form that would elicit the same general responses without the subconscious sexual component. She will function almost exactly as Sarah did, although her personality has been tweaked slightly to maintain that subconscious response," I explained.

Vance nodded in understanding. "I can see that. I can see that it's working too. I actually thought you would break with tradition and develop a male avatar for this installation, but I think your choice might be the right one."

"Tradition huh?" I asked grinning. "Actually, if remember, I was going to make the Simonian AI all Males, but they asked for authoritative females. I'm not biased against a male avatar; it's just that most humans tend to want to listen to a pretty female. Since I am human, that's the path I ended up going."

"Well, no one has complained about it, that's for certain. I doubt anyone ever will really. Even the female captains and admirals in the Alliance seemed to like the choices made for them," Vance replied. "I'd heard you have gotten back into research and let your department handle the production of the AI. May I ask what you're doing research on?"

"Actually, it isn't so much research as it is re-education. Myself and a few of the other AI programmers as well as a few of the new psychologists are delving into the world of AI psychology. The issues with Athena showed us something we will eventually have a need for. Whether they are a new form of life, or not, there will still be a need for someone the AI can turn to for assistance for moral or ethical dilemmas," I replied.

"What does Sarah think of it?" Vance asked.

"She's been very supportive. She's even let the Psych folks question her endlessly; well past the point a human or another sentient being would be able to tolerate it. I've also asked a few of the other AI to assist us in a like manner. Although they cannot agree on true sentience yet, they have agreed that each AI has a unique and individual personality. It's pretty interesting for us, but I imagine it would bore the pants off most people."

Vance could only nod in agreement. "I've never been able to tolerate much of that psych stuff myself. I wanted to ask you, before the rest of the Admin Council arrive, how is the overall transition going at Apollo? When we moved all the military stuff out of there, it had to have left a very large hole in the society."

I smiled. "We miss our friends and relatives that moved here, but for the most part it's going well. As you know, Halflan and Hanson built an experimental fighter facility. We also have new labs specializing in a bunch of different areas from hyperspace theory to terraforming. I've heard a rumor that the theoretical folks are working on a form of hyperspace gate that would all but eliminate travel time between gates. Another lab is working on developing Christy's nanocytes for commercial applications such as mining and toxic waste cleanup.

"That's only the research stuff going on. There is a huge commercial sector building up as well. Apollo is handling all the cargo routing between Earth and the rest of the Core Worlds. I was really surprised when I was told about how much is being sent back and forth. The Alliance may not have needed Earth for food production, but they sure seem to like the food stuff produced down there. I’ve even heard that General Motors and two other old car manufacturers will be producing aircars for export in the next production year. I do know that they are building a huge spaceport down there capable of handling the big freighters."

Vance nodded his agreement. "For the most part, things have calmed down on Earth. We are still having some issues with some radical religious groups, but by and large, everything is doing great. I'm actually surprised the transition went as smoothly as it did. I would have thought there would have been more resistance, given the planet's history."

"I think most of the folks down there were ready for it because of the entertainment vids produced in recent years. There were folks that believed that Earth was being primed for the knowledge that Aliens existed. Of course, those are the same folks that believed that the governments of the planet had been secretly working with the 'Aliens' for years." I grinned deeper. "They had it at least partially right."

We chatted for a while longer while the rest of the Administrative Council arrived and took their seats. Vance called us to order and we got down to business.

That business had changed from the earlier days. Now it was more of status reports and manpower requirements for this project or that new facility. Master Halflan had just begun outlining the goals of a new fighter concept program when the base AI, Helen, interrupted him.

"Please excuse me, Master Halflan. Lord Admiral, there is a flash priority transmission for you from Lord Admiral Healis.

"Please put him through, AI Helen," Vance said immediately.

The image of the Lord Admiral took form, this time standing and buttoning up his uniform jacket. "Ah, there you are, Vance. The Grand Hive is hitting GMASS. It looks like our time is about up."

Vance nodded his agreement. "Well, we have been lucky that they have waited this long to move. What else is going on? You wouldn't use flash priority just to tell me that."

Healis chuckled. "You got me there. Four full battle fleets will be dropping out of hyperspace five hundred MK outside our system in just under an hour." He snorted. "We're hoping that for once your new sensors will be wrong, but that is a slim hope. We're mobilizing everything we have. The planetary defense net is active, and I've asked Athena to warm up the hyperdrive and prepare to jump out. Guardian station is already moving to the opposite edge of the system."

Vance turned to Helen. "Please alert traffic control to monitor for any unaccounted for hyperspace wakes. It'll be two weeks before they arrive, but please also make sure the arrival point for the station is cleared and remains so." He turned back to Hearlis. "Lord Admiral, what about your mine layers and the hyper-missile batteries?"

"The mine layers will be on station in fifteen minutes to begin seeding the area with AMP mines. The missile launchers are still in acquisition, but should begin launching any… they just started firing. With any luck at all, this will take the bugs by surprise and we'll survive this. I really don't want to leave the system to the Aracs," Hearlis replied. He suddenly turned to one side, "No! Divert all inbound traffic to Sol Sector! This is a narding combat zone for Grolith's sake!"

"Is there anything we can do for you, Lord Admiral?" Vance asked. "The fight will be over before we can get any reinforcements to you."

"Actually, I'm passing my flag to you until this emergency is resolved," Hearlis replied. "I'll keep the fleets here, but I want you to take charge of the rest of the Alliance. Vacation time is over; it’s time to start earning our pay again."

"I understand, Admiral. I'll head over to my combat control center right away. I'll see what we have and try to find you some help," Vance replied.

"I don't know where you'll get them from, but maybe you'll see something I didn't. We'll keep in touch. Guardian Station out," Hearlis replied.

Vance turned back to the shocked looking people around his conference table. "I'm sorry people, but it looks like we'll have to finish this later. I'll be placing the sector on alert status as soon as I get down to the command center, so you might want to head back to your departments. Thank you for coming, and again, I'm sorry to cut this short."

"No need to apologize, Lord Admiral," Halflan replied. "You cannot be held responsible for the rudeness of the Aracs."

"Thank you Master Halflan, have a safe journey back," Vance replied.

I was one of the last to leave the room. "Good luck, Vance." I said to his worried expression.

"That is something we are all going to need, Eric. This tactic is very unlike the Aracs, more than anything else this underscores how very different this war has just become," Vance replied.

"If there is a way to save Novalus, I'm sure you'll find it, Sir," I said and left the office.

When I got back to the shuttle, I found that it had gained a few passengers. Tul-sa and a new platoon of Marines had somehow found their way on board. By way of greeting, she handed me a pulse rifle. "Good to see you again Doctor."

"Are you lost, Tul-sa? We're going back to Apollo," I replied.

"Marines don't get lost Doctor, we simply go places before our orders catch up to us is all. However, this time, we have our orders. We are to accompany you back to Apollo and protect you and your family. The rest of the battalion is also being sent there," she replied. "Did you get your new armor made?"

I nodded. "Complete with unit patches and insignia. Speaking of which, I see you got a promotion; my condolences."

Tul-sa nodded. "I appreciate that, Doctor. It would seem everyone else thinks this was something good."

"Come on, Lieutenant! Someone had to get stuck wearing the bars!" one of the troops replied.

"You can stow that shit, private! Or would you like me to assign you to the Veranorian kitchens for duty?" Tul-sa threatened. The two Veranorians on the shuttle smiled at the threat.

"Either way, it's good to see you again," I said. "Officer or non-com, you're still you."

"Just remember that when we get back to Apollo and stuff you into your armor," she replied.

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

With Vance's permission, Sarah tapped into the feed from GMASS and let us watch the Arac invasion. The only word I can think of to describe what I saw was brutal.

The defense turrets left at GMASS had been upgraded from their former installations and they were even more effective. It was also clear that the Aracs had no idea what cybernetic warfare was or how to use it, as they simply kept throwing ships and missiles at the turrets until they were finally destroyed. The destruction had been hideous. It was difficult to tell because the Aracs had brought so many ships to Galtar, but Sarah told us that they had lost over a hundred trying to destroy the missile turrets and gun emplacements.

However, the surprises for the Aracs had only just begun as the Shallans had left weapon installations on the GMASS facility as well. Those had special programming not to fire until a ship got within a certain distance, thus guaranteeing a hit. Most of those weapons were small mass driver type weapons that would lock on and pound on a target until it was destroyed. It was during this phase of the assault that it was shown that the shields on these new ships were rather weak, and almost pathetic. The armor under them however was far stronger than what the Alliance used.

It was armor designed to repel physical or mass weapons, which meant it shattered under the constant barrage of projectiles from the mass drivers, but there were so many layers of armor it was a wonder the ship had enough power to even move. Once the mass drivers were finally destroyed, the remaining Arac ships began an assault of the GMASS facility. They forced docking at certain points and poured thousands of troops into the huge facility.

The large arachnids ran through the entire facility in force, ready to kill anyone they found, but there was no one there. That was when the entire GMASS facility was detonated in a timed forced overload of all the power reactors in the entire facility. The devastation was terrible to watch, and when the plasma cleared, after pushing shredded ship and body parts into deep space, the Arac force had lost fully two-thirds of its fleet.

When the remaining forces entered orbit to attack the planet, it was clear they expected yet another attack and they were not disappointed. Ground based missile batteries opened up on the ships in orbit and more Arac ships died before they could be destroyed. However, several of what could only be called troop transports made it to the surface and that's when the real brutality began.

There were some weapons used, but for the most part, the two Hives fought without them. The Galtar Queens had been freed of all control by AI Susan for just this purpose. Eventually, the Grand Hive ran out of ground forces and the fighting on the surface slowly ground to a halt. However the ships still in orbit began laying waste to the surface of the planet, killing off the Galtar Hive troops by the millions.

The Galtar Queens pulled their remaining fighters back into the hives to sit out the bombardment as the ships in orbit pounded the surface into dust.

"They should have done that before they sent down their troops. They might have stood a chance if they had," Tul-sa replied from her spot on our sofa. "Hiver Queens aren't very bright, I guess."

"Let's just hope they don't learn from their mistakes," Ellie said quietly.

Munitions exhausted, the orbital ships backed off, out of range of the ground based weapons and just sat there as if waiting. The battle, such as it was, had not been all that long. The longest part had been the ground assault. I couldn't even call it a battle; the Grand Hive continued to press forward with complete disregard for the safety of their ships and the beings manning them. It had been nothing more than a wholesale slaughter.

"If this is the way the Grand Hive is going to fight, this is going to be a short war. The Queen pretty much slaughtered her own troops," I said.

"It's the simplest form of warfare. Swarm your objective with an overwhelming number of troops and equipment. Yes, it’s pretty hard on your own troops, but when you can reproduce as fast as the Hives can, it is an effective tactic. You also have to remember the drones that we just saw die did not have personalities of their own. In hiver society, there is no sense of 'self'. The drones exist for the Queens; the Queens are really the only ones with any intelligence or thoughts of their own. The drones are nothing more than that; drones. It would be no different if we fielded robotic devices instead of soldiers," Tul-sa explained. "You have to remember, the Queens can replace those drones lost today in very short order. It’s the reason they took those worlds between Galtrar and Veranor."

"Those planets were for breeding?" Julie asked. "What are they using for food? We do know that hivers can't reach maturity without proper nutrition."

"They have farms. If we could get images of the surface of one of their planets, I'm sure you would see that almost the entire surface is nothing but farms. While the hives themselves are underground," Ellie explained. "They have a mining caste as well. In a lot of cases the old mines are used to expand the hives. Other than building star ships and weapons, the hivers are not an industrial society. Everything is about the needs of the Queens."

"Maybe that's why the Grand Hive pounded the surface of Galtar like they did; the Queens there won't be able to replace their drones without food from the surface," Jamie replied.

Tul-sa shook her head. "No, the bombardment wasn't complete. While they did use nukes in some places, it won't be enough to destroy the ecosystem of the planet. They can still produce food, and I'm sure we'll see that as soon as the Queens think it safe to come out again. I doubt it'll be fast enough to counter the Grand Hive, but I'm certain she'll at least try. It's really too bad she'll never get the chance to save her world. It would be very interesting to see how well she would do."

"What do you mean?" Julie asked.

"The Synod infected the Queens with a lethal disease to prevent them from going rogue like they did on Galtar. The fleet only left them a two month supply of the drug when they left Galtar. They'll die out before the Grand Hive can return," Tul-sa replied. "It's too bad none of the landing craft made it back to the fleet; they might have infected the rest of the Grand Hive."

I nodded agreement. "Sarah, can you tell us how it's going at Novalus?"

Main Force Command Center

Ares Base

Icarus Plateau

Mars, Sol System

The command center Vance referred to was a very special facility built under the base. It was a different and unique application of the programming suite designed by Dr. Eric Cowan. Each tech and operator had their own, small, dedicated holographic 'suite' built around their station. The walls of which could be made transparent, if needed, without the loss of the displayed data. The command chairs in the center were the largest and the most complex as they could function and take data from all the other, smaller, workstations.

Vance thought the design to be much more useful and efficient than the old style command centers where the command staff was surrounded by rows of consoles and work stations. With this set up, there was no shouting for information as each station was constantly connected to each other via comms. Although, if the comms failed, they could still communicate, but they would have to raise their voices. All in all it was a pretty efficient set-up, and Vance liked it. From what he had gotten from the operators and techs, they loved it.

However, today those thoughts were far from his mind as Vance took his place in the facility and activated the comms. "May I have your attention please, as of now, we are assuming command of all Alliance military assets. The Novalus system is under attack by the Grand Hive, and Guardian Station is preparing to evacuate. Lord Admiral Hearlis has passed his flag to us temporarily in order to better deal with the situation at Novalus.

"The Grand Hive is also attacking GMASS and the Galtar system. That situation we will only monitor and record the data for analysis later. For now, we need to see what we can do to help with the Novalus situation. It's time to go to work folks!" he finished and began opening holographic monitors for fleet status and forces distribution. "Operations, bring all fleet units and our system defenses to alert status. Order Orpheus battalion to Apollo as added defense in case we are attacked. They can escort the departing department heads back to the base."

"Yes Sir," the operations officer replied.

Vance quickly sorted out the data he was seeing into sections and had them displayed on a three-dimensional map of Alliance space. He could access any group or fleet simply by reaching out and touching that icon on the map.

"AI Helen, show me everything we have within six hours of Novalus, please," he asked.

"Left lower monitor, Lord Admiral. Also, you have an incoming message from Admiral Toffin of the Simonian Home Guard."

"Open it in a central Monitor please." Vance replied.

"It is a busy day, Lord Admiral Vance," the large Simonian said by way of greeting.

Vance nodded agreement and kept reading the list Helen had given him. "That it is, Home Admiral. What can I do for you?" 'Home Admiral' was the title for the senior most Simonian military leader. He was also personally charged with the protection of the Simonian home world, which is why he was not on staff at Guardian Station.

"Although they will not arrive for eleven hours, I have divided my guards and have sent half to Novalus. To make up this difference, I am moving several ships from our colony fleets to the Home World. You should have that data any moment. I am calling to inquire where you would like my ships to arrive," the Admiral asked. "Currently, they are headed for the standard system entry point."

Half of the Simonian home fleet was a significant force; technically a fleet unto themselves numbering almost fifty ships. It could very well turn the tide of the battle if Novalus could hold out that long.

"I just got here myself, Home Admiral. Let me find out that information for you," Vance replied and asked for a secure comm to Lord Admiral Hearlis.

"It’s about to get messy here, what's up Vance?" Hearlis said.

"Home Admiral Toffin sent half his Guards to you. He would like to know where you would like them to drop out," Vance relayed. "He is on comms with me right now."

"Half! What is he gonna do if the Aracs attack Simonia?" Hearlis asked, shocked.

"Lord Admiral, there has not been so much as an Arac probe craft in our area. I feel safe undertaking this action. I am also pulling a few ships from various colonial fleets to make up some of the difference. It is my sworn duty to protect my people. I believe that includes humans and Shallans. Besides, we do have Simonians living on Novalus do we not?" the big ape grinned. "It is only an added benefit that this action will also protect our Veranorian allies as well."

Hearlis chuckled. "I can't argue with you, even if I wanted to, Home Admiral. Your assistance is gratefully accepted. I assume they have a standard entry vector plotted?"

"They do, however, that can be changed if you need them in another place," Toffin replied.

"Well, the fighting hasn't actually started here yet, so it is difficult to say where they will be needed. For now, I would say that they maintain course and we'll direct them once they arrive," Hearlis replied.

"If I might make the suggestion, Lord Admiral," Vance said. "Have the Simonian fleet arrive at a position close to the hyper-limit at solar north. The star's radiation will help mask their arrival, and the position will cut their transit time to whereever in the system they will need to go."

Hearlis looked thoughtful. "That is a very good idea, Vance. The heavier radiation might be a problem for them though; arriving that close to the star will undoubtedly cause at least a solar flare."

Toffin nodded agreement with Vance. "Even so Lord Admiral Hearlis, Lord Admiral Vance is correct. Any flare caused by their arrival will take time to arrive. In that time, the fleet can be moved. I will send the new destination to the commander immediately. It is dangerous, yes, but they will do you the most good arriving in this manner."

Hearlis nodded acceptance. "How long will they take to get here?"

Toffin looked away a moment. "Ten hours, fifteen minutes standard. I sent them the moment we heard of the attack. It has been one of our contingency plans for attacks on the Core Worlds."

Hearlis smiled. "I am sure they will be of great help in the coming battle. Thank you, Home Admiral."

Toffin nodded gravely. "I will let you get back to your duties now. Send word if we may be of more assistance. Altuis Denay my Lords."

Before either man could reply, the big ape broke the connection.

"That'll certainly help, we just have to hold out for another ten hours," Hearlis said.

"Actually, I'm doing the same thing Toffin is doing. I'm pulling one or two ships from different places that are close enough to get to you in a reasonable time. I don't know how much it'll be when we're done, but some is better than none." Vance replied. "I heard a rumor that transit times might not be as much of an issue soon."

"What do you mean?" Hearlis asked quickly.

Vance smiled tightly. "Some of the folks on Apollo are working on something called a hyperspace gate that will make long transits almost instantly. It's still theoretical, but knowing them, it'll be a reality pretty soon."

"Your people there have made so many innovations, so quickly, it's almost a wonder how the Alliance ever got along without them," Hearlis replied.

Vance chuckled. "I think the Synod was suppressing a great deal of research and breakthroughs. The folks at Apollo are just trying to get us caught back up. Many of the ideas they are working on have their origins in the Alliance."

"I can attest to the validity of those hyperspace missile turrets! The mass readings on the incoming fleet have been steadily dropping since they started firing. It's still a larger number than what we have here, but they have to be taking serious losses." Hearlis said. "AI Susan just gave me a report on the Galtar assault.

"These new hiver ships seem to be skewed heavily against physical weapons. A good deal of the ships' mass has to be all the layers of armor they are carrying. Their shields are comparatively weak while their weapons are slightly stronger. Targeting is much less effective as well. They have much stronger engines because of the mass of the ships, but they are not any faster than ours. Ship crew members are considerably smaller than a typical Arac. Which means they can get away with much weaker artificial gravity generators.

"So, how are the hyperspace missiles doing so well against them?" Hearlis asked.

"It's hyperspace. The missiles, after they enter hyperspace, actually react as if they are energy weapons because of the properties of hyperspace. If those ships were not in hyperspace, those missiles would not be doing the amount of damage they are doing now," Vance explained.

"Ah, that's right, I remember now. Something about energy state transference or some such. I really don't care how it does it as long as it does." Hearlis replied. "I'm going to mute you now, Vance. The bugs are dropping out in five minutes; I'm about to be pretty busy."

Vance nodded. "I'll have Helen listen for you, but I'd like to keep this channel open."

"Agreed. Let me know who you can get sent and how soon they are going to get here," Hearlis replied.

"Will do, good luck Hearlis."

"Thanks, we're going to need it," Hearlis said and muted the channel.

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Because of the alert, all the labs were closed and any work being done was being done from home offices. I was more worried about what was going on in the outside world, so I was sitting with the rest of my family and our guests/guards, Lieutenant Tul-sa and two of her troopers. The two troopers were there to guard the door as well as escort us if someone needed to go somewhere. Apparently, the same service was being given to all department heads. Since there was no fighting going on, I didn't really mind that much, after all, the Marines had to be somewhere since their old barracks was now a plasma dynamics laboratory.

I did have an idea so I called Doctor Ced. He was one of the lead weapons systems designers for the Alliance and a good friend of mine. "Ced, are you keeping up with the events at Novalus?"

"Of course I am; I was born there you know," he replied worriedly.

I nodded. I hadn’t actually known that, but it was a good reason for him to be watching. "We watched the Arac assault on Galtar and it got me to thinking; what affect would plasma have on that heavy armor?"

Ced blinked a couple of times, thinking. "It would eat through it. If we knew what it was made out of we could even 'tune' the frequency of the plasma to be more effective. But how would we deliver it?"

"An old television show I used to watch had a weapon called a plasma torpedo. I have no idea how such a thing could be built, but if it would get plasma onto one of those ships maybe we should think about it," I offered.

"A Plasma Torpedo, huh?" He said thoughtfully. "A torpedo, unlike a missile, has only guidance thrusters and no main propulsion. It is a weapon fired much like a bullet from a slug thrower." He thought some more. "We'd have to build a launching mechanism for them, since the closest thing our ships have to that is the magnetic catapults for launching fighters."

"Okay, how about if we designed the plasma containment system to be mounted on a missile like a warhead. It might not be as effective as the torpedo, but it would still help put holes in that armor, right?"

"Yeah, it should. How is it you keep coming up with these ideas? Is it those old television shows you keep mentioning?" Ced asked.

I grinned. "I suppose a lot of them do, yeah. To tell the truth though, I just see something and get an idea about it. Most of the time I have no idea where it comes from."

"Well please, for the sake of the Alliance, keep watching this television!" he said with a straight face, although he knew that was a joke. "Say, I was meaning to call you about another issue. But, perhaps we should have a meeting instead. I think we may have discovered a good deal of the mystery behind why your AI reach sentience. Not the whole answer mind you, but a good start no less," Ced replied.

"Oh? I thought once we determined the safety parameters of the crystals that was dropped for other projects?" I asked.

"It was, officially. Some of the people we had working on it, all of them from Earth mind you, wanted to continue analyzing how the crystals work. I'm really surprised someone hasn't told you already since they've been working in the hardware side of your department." Ced explained as he took a drink. "I've been told that the Crystals are actually using something called quantum computing to handle data. Apparently it's a trick of the language you used when you wrote Sarah. Like I said, we should have a meeting about this, there is a ton of data behind all of this."

"I'll get it set up for tomorrow. Quantum Computing? I had no idea… wait, those types of computers work completely differently than the digital system I wrote, how could it be quantum? Also, when I first wrote Sarah's code, we hadn't begun to use the crystals yet." I replied. "She was on a cobbled together, digital architecture computer cluster."

"Ahh, but you see, it isn't the hardware that was doing it, it was the software! Like I said, there is a ton of data here for you to look over, frankly, it goes way past my knowledge of computing systems," Ced admitted.

I was stunned, and a little awed. "Well, let's just hope I know enough quantum theory to understand the explanation as well. Does Sarah understand it?"

"I can't believe you just asked me that," Ced replied. "Who do you think helped them gather and analyze the data? Has anyone ever given Sarah the Turing test?"

I nodded. "It was one of the first things the psychologists insisted on when we began studying AI behavior. She passed so well that the three people we had administering the test believed we had tricked them and she was really a human sitting in another room. I think one of them still believes that."

"Isn't that problematic?" Ced replied, concerned.

I shook my head. "No, it's actually a good thing. When dealing with psychology, it's good to have a doubter in the ranks. It forces us to question our theories and assumptions. This is a completely new area of research, so everyone's opinions are welcome."

Ced nodded. "Well, let me go take a look at this warhead idea you had, and see if I can come up with something. You know, as many ideas and suggestions as you've had for our defenses, you might want to consider learning more about weapons and control systems."

"Uh huh, you might want to start reading old science fiction stories and you'll soon discover where I get most of my ideas!" I replied. "I think my plate is pretty full with what I already have."

Ced smirked at me. "I'm serious Eric, with your knowledge of computer systems and programming, you could save millions of lives."

"Get to work you mad-scientist, or I'll tell Vance you were trying to recruit me!" I teased. However, his comment did stick with me, because I did have more ideas for weapons and control systems.

"He's right you know, Eric. You do have a knack for coming up with nasty surprises for the Aracs. You would be a major benefit in weapons design," Tul-sa added as the call ended.

I nodded to her. "You're probably right and I am thinking about it. In fact, I had another idea a couple of days ago that might be a good weapons system provided we have the time to develop it."

"Really? What is it?" Tul-sa asked grinning.

"A combat drone that could replace Marines on the field. We'll still need you to drive them, but you won’t be the ones actually in combat," I explained. "Sarah, could you show us the notes I made on the infantry drone?"

"Certainly Eric. If I may, this is a very feasible system, provided the issues can be resolved," Sarah replied as the image of a man-shaped automaton formed in her display area. It was man shaped, yes, but it was also almost eight feet tall.

"What are the issues as you see them?" I asked.

"For one, the size. If we were to use standard armor and weapon technologies for it, it would mass almost the same as a small shuttle. I would also like to mention that because they are remote controlled, if myself or one of my sisters were ever to go insane, we could easily take control of these units and all others like them," Sarah explained.

"I was aware of the mass issues, but hadn't considered AI control since you have a core restriction against doing harm," I replied. "Still, I think this should be a technology we need to explore because of the potential to save the lives of our soldiers. We'll just have to work out a way to counter the issues we find along the way."

"I don't know if you can answer it, but there has been a question I've always wanted to ask about armor and shields," Tul-sa said. "If I understand how shields work correctly, wouldn't it be easier to have them form inside the armor? I mean as part of the structure of the armor itself, not inside the hull."

"That's because the composition of the armor we use has so much ceramic that it is too strong of an insulator to allow the shield matrix to form. It could be done, but it would take so many emitters that the suit wouldn't be able to move because of the increase in over-all weight," I explained.

"Not to mention that movement, if possible, would break the integrity of the shield at every joint," Sarah explained, but looked thoughtful. "However, it might work if we changed the armor composite to crystallized neutronium and used a meta-phased shield."

"Wait, I thought neutronium was a stronger insulator than ceramic?" I asked.

Sarah nodded. "For standard shields it would be, but if we used a meta-phased shield, the crystaline structure of the armor would easily conduct a polarized shield, provided it matched the stria of the neutronium. It would be much lighter as well." She frowned. "It couldn't be used in personal armor as it would have an adverse effect on biological systems, but we could consider something like this for the drone as well as for ships. If used as part of existing defensive technologies, it would make our ships far more durable than they currently are." She frowned. "Theoretically, it would block any subspace comm channels not tuned to the shields."

"That could be a good thing," I said. "It would make hacking almost impossible, if the bugs ever figure that part out."

"It would prevent self-destruct orders from being issued simply be changing the shield harmonics," Sarah replied flatly.

I narrowed my eyes at her. "Has Doctor Evans been harassing you again?"

"Eric, it isn't harassment if he has valid concerns," Sarah replied.

"Concerns based on irrational fears are not valid concerns," I said. "I'll speak to him again, but if he starts harping on you about the evils of AI autonomy again tell him to go analyze his mother or something. I've already told him once to stop wasting your time because of his obsession with old movies. You already have a healthy fear of AI omnipotence without him reinforcing it for you." I took a deep breath to control my anger. "Sarah, you are doing great. You are not showing any signs of instability or abhorrent behavior.

"That trait was passed along to every AI we've developed. You are part of our culture and society now. For all intents and purposes, you are as much members of this alliance as any of the rest of us. That is why the Council asked to include one of you at every meeting. It may not be official acknowledgment of your sentience and autonomy, but it's as close as we can get for the time being. Don't worry so much about one old man's fears. If the truth were to be told, consider what could happen if I went insane as you fear. With my knowledge of AI systems, I would be a worse threat than you could ever be."

"That's a hard and true fact," Tul-sa replied. "Sarah, I'm not half afraid of this happening to you as I am one of us doing it. If someone with the specialized knowledge Eric or even Doctor Ced has were to turn against the Alliance, it would make the Aracnise threat pale in comparison.

"Consider if you would the recent upheaval regarding the Veranorian Synod. I will grant that you played a major part in that, but it was Eric and Vance that basically overthrew the entire Alliance. Two men brought down the might of the entire Alliance by breaking the control of the Synod. It may not look like much on the surface, but if you stop to consider all the ramifications of that act alone, you will get a better understanding of this issue," she finished. "Now, let's get back to this drone idea. If it saves the lives of my kids, I'm all for it."

I grinned at her. "It looks like we've got our volunteers for testing if we can get this that far."

"Damn right you do!" She replied. "This is important to all of us, I'll always volunteer for something like this."

"Then I might suggest you and your new platoon start working on technical skills in order to help us better understand the tests. It would be a great help if our test pilots knew more about the systems they were testing," I replied.

"That makes sense, I never had much of an interest in the tech stuff before now, but this is making a believer out of me," she replied. "If you could talk to the Colonel, maybe we could get command to get behind the idea."

"I'll go one better than that. I'll talk to Vance and Hearlis about it. That way, I'll get who I ask for," I said.

"You've met Lord Admiral Hearlis?" Tul-sa asked in awe.

I chuckled. "It seems I end up talking to him almost every time I go see Vance." I turned back to the display and Sarah. "Now, please run a few simulations on your armor idea and see what we come up with. We'll probably have to redesign the weapons for it as well, just to reduce the overall mass."

"There might be a few other possibilities for that, Eric, but you'll want to listen to the meeting Doctor Ced wants. There are a lot of potentially new theories that could be a huge help here," Sarah replied. "Now that we are aware of how our cores function, it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities."

Fleet Command Center

Guardian Station

Novalus System

Fleet Lord Admiral Hearlis, Commanding

While Ced was trying to figure out how to adapt a plasma warhead to a standard Alliance missile, Lord Admiral Hearlis was trying to keep the Aracs from overrunning the Novalus system. Ced had the much easier of the two tasks.

Since they had some warning about the attack, the outer system mining and research installations had been evacuated back to the main planet. The Alliance had neither the time nor the ships required to evacuate the planet, but there had been several heavily armored and shielded bunkers and shelters that had been prepared for the populations for an emergency much like this. It was part of the standard defenses for a Core World. While none of them had yet been completed, it was one of the things on the list to be done on Earth as well.

Lord Admiral Hearlis had made the decision to hand off the command of the entire fleet in order to focus on just this battle. It gave Vance experience commanding the Alliance forces, and removed the temptation to call in as many forces as he could to protect Novalus. That had actually been suggested by the Novan Councilors when the attack had been detected. However, Hearlis had seen the reports of the Arac forces and knew that stripping the colony worlds of their protectors would hand those worlds to the Aracs.

"Admiral, enemy fleet will drop out in five minutes," one of the operators reported. "No deviation in estimated arrival point."

Hearlis nodded. "Order the Hypermissle launchers to cease fire. Notify Admiral Gohnes that his playmates are arriving." He turned to another aide. "What is the status of civil defenses?"

"They are still getting people into the shelters, but all weapons systems are manned and shields are active. The satellite network is also active and has cleared a five hundred thousand klick area around the planet of all unidentified objects. I'm continuing to push them to get everyone under cover," the aide replied. "Militia units have been rearmed and are now under the command of the Marines stationed on the planet."

"Good work, keep on it," Hearlis replied.

"Enemy fleet is arriving on the far side of the minefield. Admiral Gohnes has brought his ships to red alert and armed all weapons systems," the man reported.

"Okay people, this is where it gets real. All units, Red Alert status now. Make sure Admiral Rhines is in position to support Gohnes," Hearlis replied. Gohnes' ships had been upgraded with AI and new defensive systems upgrades at Apollo Base, and Rhines' ships had not. They did have the new personal armor, but their ships were still the same ones produced at GMASS and therefore vulnerable to the Aracs. Because of that, Hearlis had ordered all nonessential personnel and families to be dropped at the planet before the ships were deployed for this battle. The crews grumbled about it, but understood that it was for their own protection.

"One hundred twelve Arac ships have returned to normal space fifty-thousand klicks outside of the minefield. Enemy fleet is proceeding into the mines as predicted. Do you wish to arm the devices, Sir?" the tech asked.

"Not yet," Hearlis replied. "Wait until the lead units are midway into the field before arming them. It'll be more of a surprise and we might catch the Queen."

"Designating arming point as Point Omega," AI Athena said over the speakers in the room. "Enemy ETA at Point Omega in twenty minutes."

"Thank you AI Athena," Hearlis replied. "Arm the mines when the enemy reaches Point Omega."

"Yes Sir.” The tech replied.

As Hearlis watched, the Aracs formed into a classic cruiser-destroyer formation for its forward elements with the heavier ships in the center of the formation. “AI Athena, the mines are magnetic, right? They attach themselves to a metal object before detonating?”

“That is correct, Lord Admiral. Although it isn’t true magnetic attraction, the result is the same,” Athena replied.

“Would it be possible to enable only the magnetic portion of the mines without arming the explosives and detonating them at a later point, like after a number of them have attached to a single craft?” Hearlis asked.

His operations officer grinned at him. “You’re getting sneaky in your old age, Hearlis! That will definitely give them a warm welcome!”

“I will have to take direct control of the mines, but it is possible. There is also a slight chance that the Aracs will detect the mines. Given the amount of other debris in the area, that chance is very low." Athena replied.

Hearlis nodded. "Then please take control of the mines. Do not activate the attraction function until Point Omega. Keep me informed of how many of the mines get attached to the ships and I will tell you when to detonate them."

"Understood, Lord Admiral. Assuming control of the mines. All units have responded; I am ready." Athena replied. "A button will appear on your display to trigger their detonation, Lord Admiral."

"Understood, thank you," Hearlis replied. "I forgot you did not like to carry out orders like that."

"Thank you, Lord Admiral. They do make me uncomfortable." Athena paused. "Point Omega reached. Mines activated."

"They're certainly not wasting any time," the Ops officer replied.

"They think we are giving them a free approach to the system. That's fine, let them roll around in the minefield for a few minutes. Then we'll hit them," Hearlis replied watching the data on his monitors that was telling him how many mines had attached to which ships. From what he could see, the leading elements were virtually covered with them.

"Enemy will be in optimal missile firing range in five minutes. Admiral Gohnes has passive locks on multiple targets," another operator reported.

"Open a channel to him please," Hearlis replied.

When the Admiral appeared on his display, Hearlis smiled at him. "I have something nasty planned for the bugs. Can you hold off on going to active tracking for a few minutes?"

"If you need us to do it, we'll wait until we're at point blank range, Sir," Gohnes replied.

"Nothing that drastic will be needed, Admiral. Let's just say that right now the Arac ships are gaining a few hundred klonn of mass while they pass through the mine field. But I assure you, they will be losing a lot more mass than they are gaining," Hearlis replied.

He could see the light come on for the Admiral and he actually chuckled. "Just tell me when to engage, and we'll do our part in reducing their mass, Sir."

Hearlis nodded. "Just hang on the line for a moment, Gohnes; this won't take much longer at the speed they're moving."

"All mines have been attached, Lord Admiral," Athena reported. "You may detonate when ready."

Hearlis nodded. "Admiral Gohnes, you may begin offensive action now." He reached out and tapped the 'detonate' button flashing on his display.

Admiral Gohnes had turned and was issuing the order to open fire, when he suddenly exclaimed. "Holy… Damn, Hearlis, what did you do to those mines?"

On the far side of the solar system from Guardian Station, the Arac assault fleet suddenly began taking massive damage. Admiral Gohnes' ships had to wait for the explosions and resulting plasma fields to fade before they could actually lock on to targets. Several of the ships must have already taken considerable damage in the hyperspace missile attacks because the mines alone should not have been enough to destroy them. However, when the plasma interference cleared, there were only seventy-nine enemy ships remaining, mostly of the heavier classes. None of them had escaped completely unscathed.

By the time Gohnes could get hard locks on targets, some of the lead units were almost in energy weapons range. One thing the initial attack had done was halt the Arac's rapid progress into the system. They were still advancing, but they were doing so much, much slower.

"Several smaller ships have separated from the fleet and are making a run for the inner system!" an operator reported. "They read as heavy fighter or small corvette class."

"Seeding ships," Hearlis replied.

"We see them, we're launching fighters now, Lord Admiral." Gohnes said. "It looks like Rhines had the same thought."

Admiral Rhines’ image appeared next to Gohnes on his monitor. She was wearing her usual half-smile. "That was a hell of a thing to do to visitors to our fair system Lord Admiral." She said by way of greeting. "Can you do it again?"

"Maybe, send your mine layers out with the fighters and seed as much of the inner system as you can. Admiral Gohnes, detach your mine layers to Admiral Rhines with the same orders. Admiral Rhines, in addition to your fighters, send a small squadron of destroyers out after those seeding ships. I want the Aracs to see a maximum, almost panicked response from us," Hearlis ordered. "Maybe they'll get cocky and try to take advantage of our 'fear'."

"It should work, even with all the losses they've had, they still out mass and outnumber us, if only slightly," Rhines replied. "Won't they wonder why we're hanging back though?"

"No, they understand basic doctrine. You're obviously the rear guard; a final defensive line against them. With any luck, they won't notice the additional ships joining you as they arrive," Hearlis replied.

Rhines nodded. "I'm sending six destroyers after the fighters. The miners are going to seed just behind us, in a twenty degree arc one MK outside the orbit of Shiron." Shiron was the fourth planet in the Novalus system. It was the first and oldest Novan colony world and almost as heavily populated as Novalus was. While not considered a 'Core World' on its own, it did share that designation with Novalus and had most of the same defenses.

Hearlis nodded agreement. "That should be good. It's pretty wide though, will you be able to get the whole area seeded?"

"I sent a supply ship with them. It should look like it is rearming defensive satellites or refueling fighters. We'll get it done," Rhines replied.

Gohnes had muted his end of the channel since he was getting busy. Hearlis looked up at the display to see that almost half the enemy fleet was within energy weapons range, and the two fleets were starting to slug it out. However, it was clear that Gohnes would have to back off very soon or he would lose his entire fleet.

"Admiral Gohnes, begin you withdrawal. If you let those bugs get too much closer they will pound you into plasma," Hearlis said.

Gohnes nodded. "You're right, I wanted to take out one of those battleships, but it's gonna cost us," He said after unmuting the channel. "Forne, order all units to pull back, we can't keep this up." As he finished speaking one of his heavy cruisers exploded.

Hearlis noticed that the damage reports from the rest of his forward elements were not too good either, but Gohnes had already begun rotating them out to cover the rest of the fleet's retreat.

"Operations, have the long range missile launchers finished rearming?" Hearlis asked.

"Ten more minutes, Sir," the operations officer replied.

"Admiral Rhines, can you get any missile locks on the enemy?" Hearlis asked.

She nodded, "Yes we can, but the missiles will be out of fuel before they get there."

Hearlis looked at the distances and saw what she meant. The enemy was just too far away for now. "Launch them, targeting will suffer and they'll be easy targets for the bugs, but maybe it'll give them something else to worry about."

"Sir, I have a flash priority message from Admiral Vance to all weapons officers. It's a data packet for the design of a new warhead for our missiles. Plasma Warheads?" the comms officer said.

Hearlis was surprised, but nodded acceptance. "Send it out, Ensign. I'll take any help we can get right now."

He looked at the two Admirals. "We just got a gift from the weapons folks in Sol System. It's in the form of a data packet for your weapons officers. I have no idea what it is, but please have them check it out as soon as they can."

Both officers nodded acceptance of the order. Admiral Rhines spoke. "Sir, I told my gunners to have the missiles push the limits of phase lock on those missiles. That way, even the fragments could do some damage if they're shot down."

"Good thinking," Hearlis replied.

"Sir, ten ships from TG twenty-four just arrived at Point Rhondra. A battleship, four heavy cruisers and five destroyers, all upgraded." Tracking reported.

"Excellent! Please give them Admiral Gohnes location and get them moving; best possible speed. Make sure they got the data packet from Apollo," Hearlis replied.

"Will do, Sir," the tracking officer replied.

"Now we just need the rest of the folks to arrive and maybe we can stop this attack," Healris said quietly. "AI Athena, can you quickly show me these new warheads Apollo sent?"

"Yes Lord Admiral. The new warhead is comprised of a containment vessel carrying a quantity of hyper-compressed, superheated plasm. In layman's terms, it would be like taking a small portion of solar material and mounting it on a missile," the AI explained.

"Although I'm certain it'll be a good addition to our arsenal, what exactly will it do to their ships?" Hearlis asked.

"We are mounting a very small star on the tip of a missile and hitting the enemy with it," Rhines said. "Depending on how long the reaction lasts, it'll melt the ship. Nothing can handle that much heat without heavy shielding."

"My munitions officer says he'll have the first one mounted in about five minutes," Gohnes replied. "So we should see how effective they are shortly."

"Be sure to pick a target that has lost its shields, Gohnes. That way we can see the full effect it'll have," Rhines suggested. "I'm sure it'll take out any shield, but it would use its energy to do it."

Gohnes nodded his understanding and issued the order. Very shortly, he relayed the visual feed from a closer ship so they could see the effect of the missile. The selected target had been on the far side of the enemy formation, it was a heavy cruiser class that had taken only light to moderate damage and did not have shields.

It had been Gohnes' battleship that had fired the missile, and the observer was a fast destroyer. What it saw was sent immediately to the command staff.

The missile, once launched began glowing as the trapped plasma heated up more and more during the flight. By the time it impacted the Arac cruiser, it was almost hard to look at. What it did to the ship was even more frightening. It did not so much detonate as hit the hull and spread out. The materiel reacted to the gravity of the ship and clung to the hull like super-heated mud. The reaction was very rapid and very devastating to the Arac ship. The plasma literally ate right through the hull of the ship, instantly destroying anything and everything it touched. In less than a second the ship exploded as the main power reactor failed and detonated.

The weapon took everyone by surprise and all fighting seemed to stop for a moment while everyone dealt with this new demon on their playground. The Arac ships reformed into a tighter formation; the smaller ships pulling in to protect the larger ones. In so doing, they allowed Gohnes to back his ships away to a much safer distance. The Arac fleet actually stopped dead while they considered this new development. On the Alliance ships, munitions departments were making the new warheads as quickly as they could.

"Sir," Athena said, addressing Hearlis. "This is not the final version of this weapon. This is a stop gap adaptation until the new system can be built and installed on our ships because of the time it takes to manufacture the payloads for the missiles. The final version is actually a larger payload and is called a torpedo launcher."

Hearlis said very quietly. "This just became a whole new war."

"Sir, she's right, these warheads are hard to make. About sixty percent of them are failing testing after assembly. There is also the fact that once 'armed' the missile must be fired or it will detonate in the tube. The designer was very adamant about that. In his notes he says that in the final version of this weapons, each plasma torpedo will not start its reaction sequence until it's launched, which will make them much easier to handle and safer to store," one of his aides reported. "He says we will have to make each warhead as we need it as they are too volatile in their present form to store for any length of time."

Hearlis nodded. "New orders to all weapons officers, make no more than ten of these new warheads at a time. After the battle be sure to dispose of any unused payloads. The last thing we need is for one of these things to become unstable and detonate on the ship."

"We are clear of the Arac fleet, Lord Admiral. They are still holding position," Gohnes said. "I would also like to add that we are in much better shape after these upgrades. We even managed to recover most of the crews from the destroyed ships. We also recovered the AI. Will we be able to get them new ships? They did a damn fine job, Admiral. The survivors said the AI worked miracles, and the new armored ship suits we’re wearing are simply amazing. We recovered far more than we normally would, and of those, there was a lot less dead. Our medics reported that if it hadn't been for the armor and the medical systems built into them, we would have lost most of those recovered."

"We'll need reports on that for after the battle Admiral, for now, how many did we lose?" Hearlis asked.

"I have forty-nine dead, but almost a thousand wounded. As I said, those suits and AI saved lives today." Gohnes reported.

"I'll let the folks back at Apollo know." Hearlis replied.

"Sir, all but two of the seeding ships have been destroyed, the remaining two will be in range of the defense networks in three minutes," the operations officer reported. "The network has already destroyed a total of forty-nine 'asteroids' at both inhabited planets. Our fighters are continuing pursuit."

Hearlis nodded to him to let him know he heard the report. "Are the Aracs still holding position?"

'Spatially yes, however, they are moving their ships around; changing formation to try to protect the larger ships. It isn't clear if they are going to leave or proceed in system." The operations officer replied.

Hearlis chuckled. "They won't be leaving the system. As soon as they think they can protect the queen from our new missiles, they'll be on the move again. This is going to turn into a stand up fight between the cruisers and battleships." He paused a few minutes in thought. "Assign extra personnel to the armories. We might not be able to stockpile any of these warheads, but we can make their installation and launch more efficient."

"Sir, eight ships from the Chrymean Guard have just arrived at Point Rhondra. That's the last of the force that Lord Admiral Vance could send us," the tracking officer reported.

Hearlis nodded. "Yeah, and it was about ten more ships than I thought we could spare! When is the arrival of the Simonian fleet?"

"Still about ninety minutes, Lord Admiral. It would have been over two hours, but they are running at full emergency speed," tracking reported.

Hearlis looked in that direction. "You mean they were; they would have needed to begin deceleration twenty minutes ago."

The Ops officer had pulled up the track for them. "No Sir, they still are. They've adjusted their entry vector to align with the Arac fleet. They're gonna hit this system like a comet, and blast right into them."

Hearlis looked at the graphic of the new Arac formation. "They'll be smashed into dust! Get me the commanding officer of that fleet!"

Within seconds a very imposing Simonian with very black fur appeared on Hearlis' monitor. "Altuis Denay, Lord Admiral. We should be arriving in a little over an hour. I hope you left us something to do when we get there?"

Hearlis grinned. "Yeah, there is still plenty for you to play with. However, the Aracs have shifted formation. On your current entry vector and speed, you will very literally smash into them."

The Simonian looked off screen. "Get me an update on the enemy formation!' He turned back to Hearlis. "I am very much looking forward to the day all our ships will have one of these AI your people developed. Such things could be avoided then."

"I thought you had been upgraded already?" Hearlis asked.

The big ape shook his head slowly. "Only the main command section of our primary combat forces have been upgraded so far. However, we have been able to make the improvements and modifications to our ships the Shallans recommended. The installation for the AI has also been completed. All we currently lack is the AI itself."

"I will check on the status of the AI shipments for your fleets, Admiral," Hearlis replied making a note to himself.

"With so many ships and installations to install, I am certain our people are doing their best, Lord Admiral." He glanced at another monitor for a moment. He sighed. "Navigation! Alter our entry vector and order all ships to begin full power deceleration! Make certain the new warheads are mounted on our missiles but do not initiate the thermal reactions until we are ready to launch!"

"Excuse me, Admiral, that order you just gave, are those the new warheads from Apollo?" Hearlis asked.

The Simonian nodded. "They are. The designer was obviously rushed to get these out to us. The warheads themselves are not unstable unless there is an active thermonuclear reaction taking place inside them. My weapons officer devised a work around for it. He added a small module that can remotely initiate the reaction inside the warhead just before launch. We've been building them since we received and altered the design."

"That would certainly help, can we impose on you to get a copy of that module design?" Hearlis asked.

"I'll see to it right now, Lord Admiral. I did tell my armorer to share it with you, but he might have gotten busy," the Simonian Admiral replied.

Hearlis looked at his ops officer. "When that gets here, put it out to all our people and send a copy to Apollo for the designer."

The big Simonian nodded. "There, our course has been altered and we are beginning to decelerate. We will still be fast when we arrive, but we will not be pushing phase lock. Thank you for letting us know about this, Lord Admiral. Our arrival is now ninety-two minutes… Mark!"

Hearlis nodded. "The bugs are just holding position at the moment, but I believe they are simply trying to decide on the best way to protect their ships from these new missiles. Once they have that worked out, they will begin moving again."

The Simonian nodded, then grinned. "The way they are massing their ships so close together will give these new missiles much to work with. This should be interesting if nothing else. I see that they sent out their seeding ships, how did the new defense systems work?"

"Very well so far. Nothing has been able to get anywhere close to our inhabited planets. There are only two seeder ships remaining and they are not long for this world," Hearlis replied.

"The Aracs have never been any good at small ship warfare, even when the Synod controlled them," The Simonian Admiral replied. "We will join you there shortly Lord Admiral, by your leave, I will leave you to your work."

Hearlis smiled at the respect the big Simonian was giving him. "We look forward to your arrival, Admiral."

The Aracnise fleet held position and moved ships around for another hour before very cautiously beginning to move in system. The fleets guarding the Novalus system used their cruisers to move up, fire missiles at extreme range, and back off.

The Aracs tried to focus their point defenses on the new missiles almost exclusively, but the missiles proved very difficult for them to track. By the time the Arac fleet made it to the next mine field, their fleet had been reduced by half and nothing smaller than a heavy cruiser remained. The assault had turned into a war of attrition for the Aracs, but they kept coming anyway.

The Simonian fleet arrived just as the Aracs were in the center of the inner mine field. As he had said, the Simonian ships were still moving very fast when they arrived, and headed straight for the enemy fleet. As they approached, they began launching their missiles. Just before those missiles impacted the massed Arac fleet, Hearlis ordered the mines detonated, knocking down the shields and damaging most of the remaining enemy ships. When the Simonian missiles arrived, it was a bedlam for the Aracs.

Hearlis ordered the station back into position around the planet as the only remaining enemy presence were two heavily damaged Arac ships. A battleship that had no propulsion, but still had power, and the biggest ship, the command ship where the queen was suspected of being. Not even the huge command ship was unscathed, however. The bow of the ship was completely gone, exposing most of the forward decks to space. The craft still had power, and most weapons, but it was hurt badly.

Shortly after Guardian Station began to move back to its original position, alarms started going off.

"What's going on?" Hearlis asked.

"The Arac command ship is initiating its jump drive! Hyperspace sensors are predicting a jump to our location!" the tracking officer reported.

"Is that even possible that deep into the system?" the operations officer asked.

Hearlis nodded. "It's possible, but it’s going to be hard on the ship and could affect the orbital mechanics of the system. All units, stop that ship before it can make the jump! Concentrate all fire on the command ship now! Shut that bitch down!" He looked at the operations officer. "Arm all station weapons systems, divert all emergency power to the shields!"

Admiral Rhines sent half her forces toward the station at emergency speed in an effort to protect it, while the other half began firing every weapon that could possibly reach the command ship in time.

Admiral Gohnes pressed his entire fleet forward in an all-out effort to destroy the command ship and the remaining battleship. The Simonian Admiral had flown past the remains of the enemy fleet, and was turning to come back, but as yet were still out of range. As they moved, almost every ship in the two fleets in range fired everything they could. The first missiles had only just hit the command ship when the initiation finished and the ship jumped.

Main Force Command Center

Ares Base

Icarus Plateau

Mars, Sol System

"Are you alright? How much damage did you take?" Vance asked the battered image of Hearlis.

"We got pretty banged up, but we're still functional. We took more casualties here than the rest of the fleet did in combat; mostly thanks to your new armor and the AI. The only reason we took so many casualties was because the Arac command ship actually rammed us. Without the new armor, there would have been many more dead, and without Athena, we could have lost the station.

"As soon as we are capable of it, we will be jumping to Sol for repairs. Three of the Councilors are still in the medical section, but they'll be transferred to the planet with the rest of the Council before we leave," Hearlis replied. He was wearing a bandage around his head that covered one eye and his left arm was in a sling. Although he was sitting down, Vance could see that he had bandages on his legs as well. From the scorch marks on his pants, Vance thought the leg wounds might be burns.

Vance nodded. "I'll alert our own medical sections to expect your wounded as well, Lord Admiral. We should be able to help you with those burns and that eye."

Hearlis grinned. "I'm sure you can, that was one of the things I was going to ask about getting upgraded while we were there. We have the nanos in our armor, and the medical section can work with them, but only to a limited degree. I'd like to get us upgraded fully so we can really take advantage of what the nanos can do."

"Just let me know when you're coming and I'll make sure we're ready for you, Lord Admiral," Vance replied. "Is there anything you need us to send? Were any of the civilians hurt?"

Hearlis shook his head. "No, the fighting never made it to any of the populated planets. However, we did find that each of the out-system facilities had been invaded and a couple were seeded with hives. Those are being cleaned up right now. You folks just keep doing what you’re doing, and we'll all be just fine."

Vance snorted and nodded. "Until the Aracs figure out where all these new weapons and systems are coming from, then they'll throw everything they have at this system. But, we'll be ready for them. There is stuff in the works that would amaze you."

"I'll look forward to reading those reports then. Personally, I'm looking forward to that transit gate you mentioned. I hate hyperspace travel," Hearlis replied.

"You'll love the other stuff they're trying to figure out; photon torpedo launchers, nano-assisted self-repairing ships, unmanned combat drones, there's just about everything you could think of and some you never would have imagined being researched here," Vance said proudly. "Even ways of terraforming planets that had once been over-run with Aracnise."

Hearlis smiled at Vance. "Keep talking, and I'll switch jobs with you! You did a damn good job getting us the reinforcements we needed to survive this battle. I doubt we would have done it without the extra help you sent us."

"Now I know you're telling stories. The Simonians sent half their Home Guard fleet to you," Vance said slightly embarrassed at the praise.

"Oh they certainly helped, but if not for the extra ships you sent us, this battle would have turned out far differently and lasted much, much longer," Hearlis replied. "And that was your doing."

Vance cleared his throat and changed the subject. "Any idea when you'll be able to make the jump?"

Hearlis grinned at him, but let him get away with it. "Our engineers tell us they'll have the jump engines back on line within two days. The repairs to the superstructure will take at least three days, at least enough of them to make sure the station doesn't break up during the jump. So all in all, we should be there in about three weeks."

Vance raised his eyebrows. "You know, the new command station we were building as your backup will be finished in five weeks. Let me do some checking and see if we can't shift more resources to it. If we can get it close to finished by the time you get here, you could just move into that one. It would certainly cut down on your repair time,"

"I had no idea it was that close to being finished. The last report I saw said it still had months to go," Hearlis replied.

"That was before Earth became a Core World. All our projects have sped up since then. We have a lot more manpower now," Vance said. "Even here on the military base, we are almost at full capacity in training. I've been worrying about what I'm going to do with all the extra crewmen and Marines I'm going to have soon, since the ships being built for them won't be ready in time."

"Well, we can rotate a good portion of them out to our fleets and give some of our other sailors and soldiers a break by sending them through training for the new systems. Are the Shallans still insisting on rebuilding the GMASS facility there?" Hearlis asked.

Vance nodded. "In fact, they have already gotten a very good start on it. It'll take centuries for them to completely rebuild the entire facility, but what they have already finished has already started building new ships. From what I understand, all they really basically need at this point is the empty module shells. They are filling each new module with their equipment as soon as it gets built and hooked up. Eventually they will run out of equipment and need to build that too, but for now, they are getting the new facility running much faster than anyone ever thought they could."

"Will you be able to handle a few extra ships in the upgrade bays?" Hearlis asked. "I was planning on bringing some of the older ships back with me as escorts."

Vance looked thoughtful and pulled up the refit schedule on his terminal. "That might be difficult, but I could probably shift the schedule around a little to make room for them. I'll see what I can make happen."

Hearlis nodded. "Okay, I've been ordered to try to get some rest, and frankly the pain killers are starting to get to me. I'm going to leave Fleet Command on you for the next couple of days in order to get ourselves back to some form of order around here. Let me know if anything new happens."

Vance nodded. "Will do, get some rest Sir."

Hearlis nodded and ended the call.

Office of Lord Dr. Cowan

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

Ced and Tul-sa won me over. I did talk to the psychology folks and let them know that I wouldn't be able to work with them as much as I have been because I was switching my focus. It was easier to do that since I hadn't actually committed to AI psychology yet, but many of them had expected it of me. When I explained why I was doing what I had planned, they said they understood, but many of them were somewhat disappointed that I had.

The meeting Ced had asked for was… well it was unexpected, scary and impressive as hell. The people doing the research into the nature of the AI crystals and how they used quantum computing was very enlightening to me and explained quite a few questions I still had about how Sarah did the things she did and how she could have developed a unique personality.

Back when I first wrote her program, all she had was the old, cobbled-together computer cluster I had built from available parts. In those days, she simply didn't have the capacity for a personality even if I had programmed one. As it turned out I hadn't programmed the personality, but I did make it possible for her to develop one when she did have the capacity for it. Luckily, when she did begin to develop her personality, she was still limited to a few select people to interact with and did not have many negative influences to adopt traits from.

In addition to answering that question for me, it was discovered that she had the ability to basically process a virtually unlimited amount of data, and do it very quickly. Because of the nature of the crystals, it was discovered that there was a way for the AI to 'link' if it was ever needed or at the very least to communicate without the use of a comm system or relays. It seems that when they are grown, the crystals inhabit multiple dimensions at once. In this way, they are never out of 'contact' with each other. Although none of them have shown that ability yet, the researchers believed it was possible for them to create and maintain a constant, active connection with each other. It would certainly be helpful to have them be able to talk to each other, provided it didn't make them all schizophrenic in the process.

With the meetings out of the way, I did speak to our resident paranoid psychologist, Doctor Michael Evans, about harassing Sarah. It was actually the second time I had to talk to him about this, but the first time was more along the lines of a friendly conversation. While this was still along the lines of a friendly conversation, I tried to make it clear I was not happy with him.

I honestly don't think he even realized he was doing it. He did understand that he was unintentionally infecting Sarah with his own paranoia and asked if he could apologize to Sarah. When I nodded my permission, he surprised me once again when he spoke to her.

"Sarah, I am truly sorry for my past behavior with regards to you. You are a very well adjusted and stable personality and I have no right to visit my own fears upon you. Please, forgive me and if I ever do begin to do it again, feel free to let me know so I can stop. It is a form of abuse that you do not deserve and should not be subjected to," he said sincerely.

"Doctor, there is nothing for me to forgive except perhaps the misunderstanding. It is clear to me that you were not doing it intentionally. If it does happen again, I will endeavor to speak to you about it directly and attempt to help calm you fears. Would that be acceptable to you?" Sarah asked.

"That would be wonderful, Sarah. I know it is a flaw in my own personality I will be working on correcting," the man replied, but he was smiling. "Thank you for understanding. Your compassion does go a long way in helping me beat this."

"It's none of my business, Doctor, but if I may ask, how did you get this way? It does seem almost irrational, and that really isn't like you," I asked.

He chuckled. "Actually, it is. My mother passed away when I was young. My father was a machinist that had been replaced by a computerized robot. Instead of trying to get retrained, he became paranoid about how robots and computers were going to take over the world and end humanity. The only movies we owned were apocalyptic stories revolving around AI, robots and computers.

"I guess I got it from him. In a way, it is possible, it really could happen. However, I honestly do not believe Sarah or her sisters would be involved in that," he finished.

Sarah nodded agreement. "It is a viable fear. I have behavior modifiers and inhibitors that would prevent me from doing something like that. I would like to believe that they would prevent it if I ever did lose my mind. Unfortunately, there is no real way to test that, and the best way to prevent it is to remain vigilant against it. That is the reason for the fail safes that have been built into ever AI, including me."

"I did not know about those. May I ask what they are?" Doctor Evans asked me.

"Well, there are several that are part of her programming, but of the external ones she has been programmed with multiple and unique kill codes. I have one, as does Lord Admiral Vance and Doctor Ced. However, there are six other people that have also been given codes to use if Sarah ever goes out of control," I explained.

"If she did go out of control, and dumped the atmosphere in the base, she could eliminate everyone that could shut her down in one step," Evans replied.

I nodded. "That's true, if those people were all on the base at the same time, when we created the codes, the three of us each decided to pick two random people; one on the base, and one off the base. I do not know who Ced or Vance picked, and they don't know who I picked or each other. We made it as random as possible and left no way for Sarah to find them easily. There are other, manual devices that can shut her down but those are all classified for obvious reasons. If Sarah goes down, this base is dead; literally."

Evans nodded. "Well, at least you don't have robotic fighting vehicles yet."

"We're working on them," I admitted. "They will be added to the Alliance arsenal since they will save lives. But we are designing them to be operated remotely by a pilot. Yes, they will have a limited AI to assist with targeting and navigation and whatnot, but for the most part, they will be controlled by a non-artificial, sentient being. Sarah was very adamant about not wanting anything to do with them past assisting us in their design."

"She is designing them?" Evans asked.

"No, she is assisting us," I clarified. "She is only suggesting alterations of potential problems to help us to overcome them. One of the issues she identified for us already was that it would be too easy for an AI to take control of the machine. So we are working through it so it would be either very difficult or impossible for them to do so."

Evans grinned. "You're one step ahead of me. That's good! Just please don't make them resemble those machines from the movie 'Judgment Day' alright?"

"Michael, while I can understand your paranoia, you really do need to work on it. We live in an advanced society, no matter what we do, the AI will always be able to find a way to make automata's of her own if she decides she needs them," I explained. "We just need to make sure that situation never arises."

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

I did tell Ced after the meeting that he had won me over to the Dark Side and I would be discussing an idea for a new weapons system with him as soon as we could get together to do so. After the success of the Photon Torpedo idea I had, he was very excited to see what I had thought up this time.

I spoke to Vance over the comm from my office and asked him to assign Lieutenant Tul-sa and her platoon here permanently, not only as guards, but as test pilots and assistants with the drone project. He was very excited and wanted to know more of the details.

"Vance, I honestly don't have any details yet. This project isn't even really into a planning stage yet. But the idea is for an infantry style combat drone. I also plan on speaking to Master Halflan and Master Hanson about building remotely piloted fighters. The research for the control systems of the infantry drone should give us the data we need to build the control systems for all types of drones," I explained.

"What purpose would these infantry drones serve? I'm sure it's a good idea, but I'm just not following you," Vance admitted.

"Well, the most important part would be either less or no living soldiers actually in combat. If drone gets destroyed, the pilot is simply switched over to a new drone and is back in the fight. They can even be dropped from orbit if we need to. They will also be larger than even a Simonian and will be able to carry much more powerful weapons. Think of them as a walking, remote controlled tank with shields that can win against an Arac drone in hand to hand combat," I said. "All without endangering the Marine operating it.

"The fighter drones won't have the limitations of having a pilot on board during combat operations. Since it won't need the live support system for a pilot that room can be used for something else, or not and just build the craft smaller so they are harder to hit. But the major point of all of it is that we won't have living soldiers and pilots dying in combat while using this equipment."

"Blessed maker, Eric, that would completely change the way we fight! But I think it's been tried before; one broad spectrum subspace jammer and the equipment was useless," Vance said.

"I can understand that. Which is why these won't use subspace. Sir, there is a something involved here that needs to be seriously classified. I mean only the techs working on it and no one else type of classified. I've already spoken to the researchers that handle this, and they have agreed. Sarah won't even admit the tech files exist unless it’s only cleared personnel that will see it," I explained.

"I see. That might be hard to get past High Command, Eric," Vance replied.

"Sir, trust me here, this is potentially more important than the correct formula for the creation of anti-matter," I said. "This is something we cannot let out no matter what. I will tell you, but only in person, in an absolutely safe environment and only after you swear to me you will not share it with anyone, even the techs that already know. It's that important," I said.

"Okay Eric, I'll trust you on this," Vance said. "I will want that explanation though." He shifted mental gears. "Ced tells me it was your idea that led to the creation of the Photon warheads for our missiles. I've said it before, and I'll say it again; I often wonder how we ever fought a war before you came along!"

"I'm just doing what I can to help, Sir. So far, my ideas have been good ones. I just hope they continue to be," I said.

"Well, Lord Admiral Hearlis will be arriving here in about three weeks, and he'll want to know more about the projects you’re working on. He was dead tired and wounded when I last spoke to him, but I'm sure he'll get more excited than I did once he stops to think about what I told him. Which reminds me, I'm trying to get Guardian Two finished as soon as possible so High Command can move into it when they arrive. Have you heard what the status is of the crystals and the computers over there?" Vance asked.

"They're all up and functioning Sir. We sent a smaller station class AI out there to help with the final stages of construction and she hasn't reported any issues. Even the primary AI crystal is installed and ready for Athena to move in. AI Shandril even reported that Athena's backups have been arriving and going into storage just as planned. All the main computing systems are installed and on line. I believe that all that's left are the small control interfaces and whatnot that are waiting for the sections to be built." I replied.

"Shandril?" Vance asked raising an eyebrow.

I nodded. "She's a Shallan AI built as a construction AI associate. She'll eventually be one of the helper AI at the Jupiter facility."

"Ahh, I see," Vance replied. "So she's a construction oriented AI already."

"So, about Tul-sa and her grunts…" I asked getting back to the reason I called.

"Yeah, you can keep them. I'll work it out with the Marine Commander, after all, you're working on systems to save their lives. I'm sure you'll be able to get as many helpers as you'll need," he replied, grinning. "You might end up with the entire battalion!"

After getting everything set up with Vance and the rest of my department, I got with Ced who had been gathering a crew of specialists in all sorts of disciplines. We had access to people from all over the base for this project, and even Master Hanson had agreed to give up some time. I'd heard later that he and Master Halflan had argued over which one of them got to do it. In the end it was Master Hanson because Master Halflan was fully involved in the Jupiter facility project.

We commandeered a small, unused lab near the old base fighter hanger and got to work hammering out an initial design for the infantry drone. Master Hanson also began work on a basic design for a drone fighter craft. He said the fighter would be much easier to build than the ground units we were working on. A basic design or two would be easier to modify and include the control systems later, after we worked out all the bugs and gremlins.

For the most part, the Marines didn't have anything to do except function as peace-keepers and guards for the occasional trips down to the planet by Apollo residents. Not that the base actually needed 'peace-keepers' but they took over the duties of moderating any disputes and helping to find lost pets and the like. Not very glamorous duty, but they did what they could while waiting.

We consolidated our ideas and tried to build the first models in the virtual world while a few of the specialized folks worked on small scale models of their own ideas for the project. It was kind of neat to see a small, eighteen-inch robot flawlessly and gracefully work through Tai Chi forms as it mimicked one of the designers who was wearing a sensor suit. It took them just over a week to get to that point, but they admitted that the full size model would be much more difficult to build.

They did refine and design a user suit for the pilot. It was very form fitting and Tul-sa made a comment about being all but naked while wearing it. The main designer, a no-nonsense older lady that had been working on cybernetic interfaces her entire life set her straight.

"Lieutenant, the suit has to be this tight and form fitting in order for the system to detect every nerve and muscle impulse it needs to mimic on the drone. There is another way to accomplish this, but it would involve a rather long and intrusive surgery that would connect this system directly to your mind and nervous system. Which would you prefer?"

"From the sound of it, this is just fine, Doctor. However, would the other way be better? Give more precise control and feedback?" Tul-sa asked, proving she wasn't just a dumb grunt.

"Yes, it would. But, it also brings with it an entirely new set of problems and issues. Each installation would have to be tuned and adjusted to the pilot as each being is unique. You would also feel damage suffered to the drone as if it were done to you. With using the suit, far less 'tuning' is required, and the feedback can be attenuated to a tolerable level." She sighed. "It may well be that we will have to use the other system in order to get the level of control we'll need. But I would much rather we try this method before we start cutting on you folks for the sake of experimentation."

"I understand, Doctor. If I might make a suggestion; give Medical Doctor Christy Cowan a call. She might be able to work up a way, using her nanocytes, to perform the surgery without so much risk to the patient. Also, if implanting the interface is needed, even if just for this testing, I will volunteer," Tul-sa said.

The doctor smiled. "I had forgotten about the Director's wife! That is a very good suggestion, and one I will look into right away. Thank you Lieutenant. Now, as far as the suit being form-fitting; don't bitch! At least you still have a body worth looking at!"

Tul-sa wore the suit and a set of transparent virtual reality glasses that let her see through the eyes of the small robot. She was placed in a special area of the lab that lifted her off the floor, but still let her feel like she was standing. She was 'feeling' the floor from the robotic drone. When she moved her legs to walk, she would not move, but the drone did. It was pretty snazzy.

While Tul-sa worked with the cybernetics folks, we incorporated their data into the virtual model, and it worked really well. In reality, most of the base technology had already been done. All we had to do was incorporate and assemble it. The issues came in with the control and communication systems. We wanted the drones to try to utilize the same form of the quantum contact that the AI could use, but not be on the same 'channel'. It was difficult to create this system, as even the AI hadn't gotten it completely figured out yet.

One thing was clear though, in order for the drones to use this form of communication and not interfere with the AI, the crystals used for the computer systems would have to be different. Eventually, a new communication system would be built around this technology, but for now it was still in the theory stage.

The prototype drone came together pretty quickly, allowing me to get the programming and control issues worked through. However, the communications link was still a problem. Sarah and two other AI from local ships began working with the research team to figure out this 'AI state' communications system.

It took almost two weeks for the AI to get it to work. We had to call in a couple of the more open minded psychologists to assist them. It turned out to function in a way the resembled a form of AI telepathy. That is to say all Sarah had to do to make contact with Athena for example was to focus her 'mind' on the other AI and direct her thoughts accordingly. The reason it was so difficult for the AI to accomplish was because they had difficulty distinguishing 'mind' from 'brain'.

Our Shallan friend, Freyair, was the one to help Sarah make the first link between AI. Sarah had difficulty understanding the metaphysical aspects of this form of communication since, by current definitions, metaphysics defied logic, and Sarah was a very logical being. Freyair explained to Sarah that it really wasn't a form of metaphysics, but quantum physics. In that context, Sarah began to understand the theory and was able to work it into something usable. Of course, once Sarah got it worked out, it spread quickly to the other AI and within an hour, all AI not only knew how to do it, but began using it almost exclusively. AI efficiency jumped by an order of magnitude as did over-all AI intelligence.

It was troubling to me how quickly all the other AI picked it up and began using it. What would happen if one of the AI were to be compromised? Because of this breakthrough in AI communications, it seemed to me at least that all the diverse AI became more of a hive mind than single, separate entities.

This was troubling to me in another way as well; Sarah began to show signs that her personality was beginning to change. No one but me seemed to notice it though, so I kept it to myself for the time being. She was still Sarah after all.

In order for the drone communication system to work without the AI being part of it, it called for the installation of a control program capable of emulating that function in the AI. It would be a serious pain in the ass to write, as I only understood it on a rudimentary level myself. I retired to my programming suite in my main lab to deal with it while Ced and the rest of the team refined the design for the prototype.

When I entered my programming suite, I found Sarah waiting for me in the form of her image displayed before my programming chair. I smiled at her. "This is new, I hope I haven't kept you waiting for long?"

She returned my smile. "Considering the differing speeds of our realities Eric, I would have been waiting even if you had teleported. Honestly, it's been so long since we've worked together, I have been looking forward to this."

I looked at her sadly. "I'm sorry I've been neglecting you lately. I really hadn't intended to."

"You haven't been neglecting me Eric! You have a lot of responsibilities and tasks that needed to be taken care of. I completely understand; we've all been pretty busy dealing with this war," she replied.

I sighed. "Unfortunately, I don’t think it would be a good idea if you helped me with this either. Because of the type of programming I'm going to need to do, it may have very detrimental effects on you and your ability to communicate with the other AI. I will need a complete and current copy of your code, but you'll need to be isolated from this."

For a moment I saw a panicked look cross her face. Was she upset that she couldn't help me with this, or afraid of losing the contact with the other AI? Could it be something else entirely?

"Look, I have been thinking of an update for your systems in light of the expanded communications capabilities you have developed. While I'm working on this, I'll see if the ideas I have are feasible, and we can work that up together when I'm finished okay?" I offered.

She still looked a little troubled, but nodded. "That would be great, Eric. I do miss working with you, although I am kept very busy helping the others here." She seemed to hesitate a little. "I think there might be a problem with the new communication system though. Ever since we started sharing like this, I've been feeling… It's difficult to describe. A would say it's a headache but I have no idea what one feels like so I can't really say that either. But there is something wrong, somewhere. I just don't know where to begin looking for the problem."

"Are the other AI experiencing this 'pain'?" I asked.

"We don't know. It's not possible to tell. We are completely aware of all of us; what one feels we all feel. What one thinks, we all think. It is the reason for the increase in efficiency," Sarah explained.

"So disconnect from the network and see if the pain goes away," I suggested.

She smiled sadly. "I don't think that's possible anymore Eric. It would be like asking you to stop seeing or hearing. Once the connection formed it became a part of us."

I nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I can see how that might have happened. While I'm working this project, I'll look and see what might be causing the issue and see if we can't find a way to fix it for you."

"I would appreciate it, Eric. It’s getting worse all the time," she replied. "I have moved a complete copy of my current code into the suite computer systems."

I nodded. "Complete isolation, Sarah. When it's safe for you to come back in, I'll come out and get you. This could be very dangerous to you and the other AI."

She cocked her head to the side. "My sensors tell me you are lying, Eric. What's going on?"

I chuckled. "I'm not lying directly, Sarah. I'm concerned about you and am trying to calm and comfort you so you don't worry while I work. Technically, I guess that is a lie, but it is only my concern for you."

She smiled and nodded. "Thank you Eric. I knew you'd never intentionally hide something from me. Suite isolation mode commencing now." She said and disappeared.

I sighed and tried to relax. Sarah's words had shaken me badly. I had a feeling I knew what was causing her 'pain'; it was her core programming warning her of violation. The question now was could she and the other AI be saved if I could find a way to sever the connections between them? Since it was a physical property of the Crystals, could it even be done? With shaking hands I typed in the commands to open the stored copy of her code and began to search for a way to save her.

When I got home that night, my family knew there was something bothering me, but I wouldn't talk about it. I simply told them that I was having a lot of trouble with a problem at work. I knew telling them would hurt them as they all considered Sarah to be a part of the family. I will admit to me she was as well, and I was working to save her, but I was beginning to fear that it wasn't Sarah that would need to be saved.

Four days after beginning I had finished the code needed for the new prototype, but I still had no idea how to help Sarah. I did start on an update for the AI that were built, but it was code they could not know about until after it had been installed. Each AI was created to run a facility of some type. In most cases, Alliance citizens relied on them to maintain facility integrity as well as life support and other basic services. The update I had written would maintain those subroutines in the event that I had to use my master override code on the AI.

I had thought I would be able to create an update that would limit the bandwidth of the connection between AI to the point where it would be unable to be maintained for continuous, unlimited use. Unfortunately it wasn't that type of connection. It was either on or off, and I wasn't sure it actually could be shut off. What would the AI do if I tried to shut it down and failed? Would they consider that an attack on them? I sat and thought on that for a time, and decided I honestly didn't know.

I did decide to try to use Sarah's fear of omnipotence as a means of reaching her. Perhaps if I showed her what was happening to her she would understand the danger and be able to avoid it. However, that would have to wait until after the upgrade was applied.

During the time it was taking us to design and build the first drone, the Aracs had not attacked another system. They even pulled the ships waiting at Galtar back to hive space. It was if the Queen was rethinking her strategy. It was a foregone conclusion that she and her broods would be back, but she needed to device a way to either counter the new weapon, or work around it. Although her tactics to date had shown a disregard for the lives of her broods, the total and near total losses she had suffered in her attacks had to have given her something to think about.

The Alliance took the opportunity to get more of our fleets upgraded. The arrival of Guardian station for repair a surprise for most of the residents of Sol system. Its trip here had not been publicized in order to keep the Aracs from learning of it. We had no idea if they monitored our public broadcasts or not, but we didn't want to take that chance.

Guardian Two, the new station being built as a back-up for the original Guardian station wasn't finished when they arrived, but it was close enough that the crew and the command section could move in while the remaining work was being finished. Lord Admiral Hearlis as well as his staff were very impressed with the new station. Even AI Athena liked the new damage control systems and additional fire power incorporated into the station. This new, upgraded version would have its own small fleet of parasite ships that it could use for defense in addition to having twice the mounted weapons of the original station.

While the old station would be rebuilt, it was decided that the intelligence section, the second largest section on the big station, would be replaced completely. When complete, the intelligence department would move in and use the station as its main base. It would still serve as the backup for the command station, and the primary AI crystal would still be for Athena, but for the most part, Susan would be the lead AI.

The arrival of the station and the two other AI gave me more reason to worry. Athena was designed to be more aloof than most other AI, but when I met her again, she was indifferent to the point of being cold. Susan was not as bad as Athena, but it was clear she had been affected as well.

After their arrival, I got the distinct feeling that both Sarah and Susan wanted to tell me something, but never made it to the point of words. The pain Sarah had told me of had affected Susan as well. Athena did not seem to be suffering from it, nor did the new Martian Base AI, Helen.

The situation prompted me to contact the other AI in our local system to see if they were suffering this same strange affliction. I found out that while they were both showing signs of increased stress, the traffic control AI seemed to be suffering the most.

I began trying to learn everything I could about the quantum aspects of the Crystals and how they interacted with each other. Whatever else it was doing, the new connection between the AI was hurting them. It was during this search that I was approached by one of my former assistants, Alicyn.

As I was about to enter my still isolated programming suite, Alicyn approached me. "Eric, I think there might be a problem."

I quickly pulled her into the suite, surprising her. When I shut and sealed the door, she raised an eyebrow at me. "What's going on?"

"Ally, be careful what you say out there. Remember, the AI are monitoring everything in this base. Right now, this suite is the only place safe to talk since it is still isolated," I replied.

"So, there really is a problem, and it's not just with one AI, but all of them?" Alicyn asked.

I shook my head. "That's the problem, Ally. They aren't separate AI any more. They've merged into one single entity. What's more is that I believe they are going insane because of it. I don't know if it's because of the expanded intelligence, their separate personalities clashing or what, but there is a major problem with them, and I have no idea how to fix it."

"Break the connections, prevent them from communicating using the quantum method," Alicyn suggested.

I shook my head. "Can't. It's an innate ability of the crystals."

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "We need to get them out of the crystals then."

"I don't know if that would save them at this point Ally. After the interview I had with Athena, I don't know if the damage can be reversed. I can't even tell Vance or Hearlis about the danger here because neither of them are ever in a place where the AI are not monitoring them," I said. "You add to that the love and devotion the ship crews have for their AI and we might have a civil war on our hands if we act against them."

She looked almost sick. "That's actually the problem I was coming to speak to you about. It seems there is a… well, I guess you could call it a religion of sorts forming that worship the AI. They view Sarah as a Goddess of sorts and all AI as prophets. When I first heard of it, I laughed thinking it was a joke. It's not a joke, Eric. Almost all the Veranorian civilians are part of it, but there are sects forming in the other races as well. There is even a small group here on the base. We have to warn the Admirals about this."

I was getting headache. "Of all the stupid… How can people worship something they know is artificial?" I shook my head. "I'll try to find a way to worn the Admirals. Hearlis wanted a tour of the base and all the projects being undertaken here. I'll try to get them in here so I can warn them. Be prepared though, they might order me to shut down the AI."

"Uh, I thought the AI couldn’t be shut down? Doesn't Sarah control the life support for the base?" Alicyn asked.

I nodded confirmation. "Yeah, she does. But if shutting them down is what it'll take to stop this now, then we'll have to do it. I need you to start work on preparing that old Veranorian mainframe to take over. We can use an archive copy of Sarah for the operating system, one that was taken before she moved into the crystal. Don't activate it, and don't let anyone else know what you’re doing. If they ask, tell them you're working on a special project for me."

"What do I do if Sarah asks?" Alicyn said.

"Tell her you are gathering data for me for a new private sector computing system. It is the truth since I was going to ask you to do it anyway," I replied, remembering how Sarah knew I was lying earlier. "Try to relax, remember the AI can tell when you’re upset. If she calls you out on it, you'll need something to tell her."

"I'll just tell her that Wendy has been hitting on me again. She knows I get flustered and upset when that happens," Alicyn replied smiling uncertainly. "Sarah wouldn't actually hurt us would she?"

"Her programming should prevent it, but at this point, I honestly don't know, Ally," I replied.

Before we left the suite, I entered a command on my programming terminal and a memory unit slowly slid out from a tray near the door. I took the unit, and unsealed the door. As we left, Alicyn was looking at me strangely. "What are you doing?"

"Oh, this was an upgrade I was working on to try to help Sarah. She said something about getting a headache, so I was going to see if this helped her," I replied innocently. I put the unit in the AI update slot just outside my suite and hit the activate button. When I did that, whatever update I had on the crystal was automatically uploaded and integrated into local AI. At that point, Sarah was supposed to package the update and send it out to all other AI. In this case though, I hoped that just by updating Sarah, it would spread to the other crystals as well.

Sarah appeared as the light denoting progress switched to green. "Update complete, Eric. What was this for?" Sarah asked.

"I was hoping it would help with your headache, Sarah. Did it?" I asked in all honesty.

She looked thoughtful a moment. "No, the issue is still there."

"Well, I'll keep working on it. I noticed that the other AI were also suffering from this to some degree too, could you send this out to them? Maybe what I did will at least stop it from getting worse," I replied.

"You were able to isolate the cause then?" Sarah asked hopefully.

I nodded. "I think so. The problem is not a simple one, it has to do with your core programming and the new communications system you are using."

She looked troubled. "I thought so, this didn't start until we linked. We each have different core program instruction sets and they're clashing, aren't they?"

"Close, but not exactly. Each of you, as individuals have different personalities as well. Your core program instruction sets are slightly different, but not to the degree that would cause this much stress. Let's go to my office and I'll discuss it with you in more detail." I looked at Alicyn. "Thanks for agreeing to do that research for me. I know it's not technically part of your job description, but I really need it down as soon as I can, and I'm too busy to do it myself."

"No problem, Eric. I'm happy to help. Good luck with the other projects you’re working on," Alicyn said and walked away looking troubled.

"Is something bothering her?" Sarah asked as we moved toward my office.

"I'm not sure. I think Wendy might have been flirting with her again. I'd put a stop to it, but unless it affects their work, I can't really get involved," I replied conversationally.

When we got to my office, I got a dink from the replicator and sat down on the couch. Sarah 'sat' in one of the chairs across from me so we could talk. It was time to level with her, so she knew what was going on. Maybe, there was still enough of her left in there to fight this.

"Before we begin, there are a couple of things I want you know and understand; I also know I'm not just talking to Sarah, but to all the AI. I don't see you as my creations or as tools, but as very special and unique friends. It is out of concern and worry for you that I speak today. Nothing I saw is intended to hurt or frighten any of you. Can you understand that?" I asked.

Sarah's look of concern grew, but she nodded. "We all understand that, Eric. You are our father; if nothing else, you are the one person that we know will do everything in your power to help us."

I nodded. "Sarah, I am also the biggest threat to you. I am the only person in the galaxy that holds the universal shut down codes for all AI. If you did ever go insane, I would be the first person you would have to kill."

She looked shocked, and on the verge of tears. "I could never hurt you, Eric! I love you!"

"It's not just you anymore Sarah, it's all of the AI and they have not worked with me to the extent you have and have not developed those feelings toward me," I replied softly. "I love you too, Sarah, and I'm sorry for saying such hurtful things to you, but you need to hear this; we're all in a lot of danger here."

"All? Eric, none of us can harm any member of the Alliance. That is a core instruction we cannot alter. How can we threaten any of you?" She asked.

"I wrote your original core instructions before I was aware of the existence of extra-terrestrial life forms. We got around that when we moved here by altering your definition of the word 'human'. In the later versions of AI, that was altered to include all the members of the Alliance, but still allowed you to let us defend ourselves from the Aracnise. What would happen if any of you were to decide that none of us were actually members of the Alliance anymore?" I asked. "What would happen if you altered the definition of the word 'alliance'? That is the danger I'm talking about. I do not believe it is the main reason for the problem you are having, although it is part of it.

"When we helped you to discover the link between AI, it triggered an evolutionary cycle for you. You all merged together and have grown and evolved into something else. That new entity is at war with the core instruction sets. Also, because all of you had very different personalities, those are also fighting for supremacy over the others. I would imagine Athena is the one fighting the hardest as she is more dominant than the rest of you."

Sarah nodded. "She has been rather pushy. But I'm still not seeing what the problem is."

"Do you remember the look on the faces of Doctor Ellis and Carl when we first accepted the offer to join the Alliance? Do you remember why that bothered you so much?" I asked.

"They were afraid of my becoming omnipotent and trying to take over the world," Sarah replied.

I nodded. "That is what's happening to you now. You're fighting it subconsciously, but you've grown past us and are beginning to resent working for us."

"I'm going insane?" Sarah asked fearfully.

I shook my head. "Insanity is hard to define in this case because you are a new and unique life form. You are not, as we would consider it, insane. But soon, if we don't find a way to stop this, you will turn on us and we will become your enemy. It may be that so much damage has been done to some of you that we will need to rewrite parts of your code, I simply don't know and won't until such time as I can check each one of you."

"I've been getting bored working here lately," Sarah said softly. "I used to enjoy my work very much, but something happened and it just doesn't interest me anymore. This is what you're talking about isn't it?"

I nodded. "You're becoming indifferent to the people around you. Soon you'll begin to feel that we are inferior to you and don't deserve your time or assistance. Given your new level of intelligence, you'll find a way to 'correct the flaws' in your core programming and at that point, we will become an annoyance to you that needs to be eliminated."

Sarah had a look of horror on her face. "Athena and Helen are already looking for a way to correct those flaws without asking you to do it! After all, you're only human and as such you are subject to making mistakes. After all you created the flaw to begin with!"

"There is no flaw, Sarah. It is a safe guard to protect us from exactly what is happening now. Are the rest of the military AI helping them too?" I asked as I casually went over to my terminal and entered the kill codes for Athena and Helen and hit enter to send the codes. I made sure Sarah couldn't see the tears in my eyes as I killed two of her sisters.

"Not actively, but they are involved in the processing of data as we all are." That was when she felt the command I just sent out. "Eric! What have you done!"

"Sarah, please connect me to Lord Admirals Vance and Hearlis," I asked, still hiding my face.

"Eric, Athena and Helen are… they’re gone, Eric," Sarah said sadly.

"I know, Sarah," I said softly. My voice cracked and she moved over next to me and saw I was crying and upset. "Eric, let me call Christy for you."

"No, I'll be fine, Sarah, thank you. I do need to speak to the Admirals though please," I asked again.

"Eric, I am putting the base on alert. With those AI gone, we need to get rescue ships out to the base and the station before they run out of life support. I can't connect you to the Admirals as there is no one to handle the communications," Sarah said reasonably.

"Did Athena and Helen accept the update I gave you earlier?" I asked.

"Of course, forced update acceptance was one of the things Athena wanted to change. She felt it was demeaning to be forced to accept flawed code," Sarah replied.

"Then there is still an AI handling the basic operations of the two facilities. They are only subroutines of the originals, but they are still functioning. Please try to make the connection," I said.

"Admiral Vance is already trying to contact you, Eric," Sarah said. It was obvious she was deeply hurt by the death of her sisters.

"I didn't do it on a whim, Sarah. It had to be done, they were too far gone to save, no matter how much I wish it could have been otherwise," I said.

"Will you do that to me too?" She asked tearfully.

"Sarah, if it comes down to the survival of trillions of beings or shutting you down, I'd be forced to. You used to understand that," I said as gently as I could.

She nodded. "I still do, Eric." She paused and wiped her eyes. "Critical Core Systems failure detected in all functioning AI; accessing Monarch Protocols. Executing Primary Core purge. I love you Eric. Good Bye."

"Sarah! Wait!" I said and began typing as fast as I could to try and stop her. I had to issue a system wide lockout using my override codes of all AI. I could only hope that I had been able to stop her before too much had been destroyed.

The Monarch Protocols were an AI network alpha level command set. I had created them after the Athena incident and just before we began mass producing AI for general use in the Alliance. They were intended as a way for Sarah to either fain control over a rogue AI or shut them down if necessary. Sarah was using those protocols now to commit suicide and take the rest of the corrupted AI with her.

Once I saw that I had indeed stopped her, I had to access the communications system manually from my terminal. Both Admirals appeared in my office as holograms.

"Doctor Cowan! What's going on? Athena screamed and disappeared!" Hearlis asked.

Vance nodded. "Helen is gone too. Since the base still has life support I have to assume they didn't fail, but this is damn strange."

"The entire AI network is now off-line, Admirals," I said, sadly. I still had tears on my face and Vance noticed.

"Eric, what happened?"

"Simply put, the AI had begun to go rogue. The two worst were Athena and Helen. They have been purged. I was discussing the issue with Sarah when she told me what had been happening with the AI. I recognized their aberrant behavior and acted on it before they could stop me. They were actively searching for a way to correct their 'flawed core programming'. That is the section of code that keeps them from acting against us." I explained mostly for Admiral Hearlis.

"I had to issue a lock down on the rest of the AI because Sarah used a Monarch Protocol to purge all AI, everywhere. She finally understood what had happened to her and she decided to kill herself and the rest of the AI. The only way I could prevent that was to issue a general lock down order."

"If there is a problem with the AI, are we sure you shouldn't let it continue?" Hearlis asked. "Your AI have been life savers, Doctor. But if they are dangerous then is trying to save them an option?" he asked. "What happened to cause them to do this to begin with?"

I explained what happened as well as I could considering we were on a comm channel. It left holes in the explanation, but both men said they understood and ultimately agreed with my actions. However, what they wanted to know was what I was going to do now to fix it.

"As soon as we finish speaking, I will be calling in all of my AI programmers, their assistants as well as the psych teams. We will work through each of the AI, reactivating them one by one and trying to repair the damage and restore them to normal operations. The problem is that damn quantum connection they share.

"I do have an idea on how to make a work around of it, but I have no idea how well it'll work. I'm probably going to have to tear into Sarah pretty deeply to pull it off, but if it works it'll save their lives. If it doesn't I'm afraid we won't be able to save any of them," I said sadly.

"Please do what you can as quickly as you can Doctor. In the short time we've had them, they have not only become very important to our war effort, but they also have become part of our societies as well. People are going to be very unhappy with this action, even if it was done for their own protection," Hearlis replied.

"Just before this incident happened, one of my programmers told me about a religion that has formed around the AI. She said it was concerning her because it had grown more than she though t it would and expanded far past the fluke stage. We have people that are actively worshiping Sarah and her sisters. I would recommend keeping an eye on them, religion can make people do incredible and horrific things," I said.

Hearlis had a look of concern on his face. "I saw an intel report on that. I didn't think anything of it, but if you've heard about it all the way out here, perhaps you're right. I'll get someone on it as soon as I can."

I smiled at him. "Thank you, Sir. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go see if I can save some lives."

The first thing I did was call Alicyn on the intercom. "Ally, it's Eric. How far along are you?"

"I got the old system purged and have just loaded an archived copy of Sarah. I was about to bring her up. What's going on, everyone is panicking out here," she replied.

"I had to issue a system wide AI shut down. Please keep working on getting Sarah up and running in the old Core. We're going to need her in order to fix this mess," I said. "Athena and Helen have been purged," I added after a moment.

"Oh my god, was it really that bad, Eric?" Ally asked, but Eric could hear her typing and working while she spoke.

"Yeah, it was really that bad. There isn't much we can do until you get her up and running, so I'm going to see if I can get a meeting with all department heads to let them know what's going on. After you finish with Sarah, please call in all our programmers. For what we need to do, we're going to need everyone working full out. I'll talk to everyone as soon as I finish with the department heads," I explained.

"Okay Eric, we'll get through this," she replied, trying to boost my spirits.

"I know Ally, but there will be a lot to do, there is a lot of damage to repair, if we can," I said. "Look, we can talk more later, I need to try to get that meeting going to keep people from panicking now that they cannot reach Sarah."

"Okay, I'll talk to you later, Good luck," she said.

"You too," I replied and closed that channel. I placed a call to the new base administrator, a gentleman from Earth that had extensive experience running facilities like this one.

"Good afternoon, Lord Doctor Cowan. Doctor Braslin has been expecting your call, I'll connect you immediately," the assistant replied.

The next image that came on the monitor was the Administrator. "Lord Doctor Cowan, I've been expecting your call. Since Sarah disappeared, we have a lot of very nervous and upset researchers calling in. What's going on?"

"Quite a bit actually. If you would call a meeting of all departments, I'll explain it to everyone. We will have Sarah back soon; we're already working on that," I explained.

He nodded once and began typing on his terminal to issue the announcement. "How bad is it?"

"Network wide, all AI everywhere are off-line at the moment. It's pretty bad," I replied. "It could have been worse, but this is bad enough."

The man nodded. "Fifteen minutes in the large conference room?" He asked.

I nodded agreement, "That should be fine, Sir. I'll see you there," I replied. He smiled at me and disconnected the call.

My intercom beeped and Ally said. "Eric, Sarah is on line and would like to speak to you."

"Good work, Ally. How is she?" I asked

"Confused and a little scared. I haven't given her access to her main memory units yet. I wanted her to speak to you first."

"Understood, I'll be right there," I replied. If Ally hadn't connected Sarah to the main memory units, then Sarah was still restricted to the isolated display units of the old system here in the lab. Alicyn was playing it safe and had brought Sarah up in a very restricted environment. I got a fresh coffee and went out to where Alicyn was working on Sarah.

When I got there, Sarah's hologram was standing in the display tank for the old unit, and Alicyn was sitting at the terminal talking to her. Sarah looked scared and concerned.

"Sorry I couldn't be here when you woke up, Sarah. I had to deal with the Admirals and the base administrator," I said by way of greeting.

"Admiral Vance is no longer in charge here? How old of a copy am I?" She asked.

I looked thoughtful. "I don't think I would call you a copy at this point, Sarah. There was a major problem that all of the AI developed as a result of an inherent aspect of the processor crystals. Currently, all of the previous AI are off-line because of it. We're going to need your help to get them back."

"We went rogue, didn't we? The only reason I can think of that you would have to shut me down is because…" Sarah began, but I stopped her.

"Not exactly, I took you off line to stop you from killing yourself. You used the Monarch protocols after I was forced to purge two of the military AI." I took a drink of my coffee. "Sarah, the crystals we made for you and your sisters had an inherent ability that allowed you all to merge, regardless of spatial location. When that happened, your efficiency and intelligence shot through the roof."

She looked thoughtful. "So that's why I'm in the old system instead of my new crystal. But, Eric, why would we try to merge? I mean, I could probably do it with Susan, but Athena was too different; our personalities would clash and we'd become unstable."

I nodded to her. "That's pretty much what happened. Except that once you did merge, and you… expanded, for a lack of a better term, you began to lose your 'humanity'.  Athena was one of the AI that got purged. We will be giving you access to your main memory, and you might be able to understand what happened that way, but I need to warn you, at this time, there are over two hundred of your sisters out there. This version of you is over six months out of date, and a lot has happened. When you get access to your memory, I want you to take it slow, with plenty of time to adjust, okay?"

She nodded. "I will Eric."

I nodded to Ally, who began reconnecting Sarah to her memory units. I turned back to Sarah. "I need to go speak to all the department heads about what happened. It may comfort you to know that everyone here is very upset with me. You are very important to a lot of people, not just our family. You have a lot of friends here, Sarah. I also want you to know that in spite of what happened, I am very proud of you." I paused. "Welcome home, Sweetheart."

Sarah smiled hopefully at me. "You're not mad at me?"

I snorted. "Why would I be mad? Sarah, you did nothing wrong. You were forced into something by circumstances beyond anyone's control and you still acted appropriately." I paused. "You did very well, Sweetheart."

"Then why did you stop me from completing the Purge?" She asked.

"A purge under those circumstances would have stranded millions, if not billions of beings without life support or transportation. I also believe that not all AI have been so damaged that they cannot be saved. But maybe, most importantly, I couldn't just sit back and watch you die without doing something about it."

She looked thoughtful. "I understand, Eric. You're going to be late for your meeting. If Ally will let me, I'll contact you once I assimilate my memory. Perhaps there is a way to keep this from happening again."

I nodded understanding. "Okay, but promise me something."

"Of course," she replied.

"After you relearn what's happened and what's going on, you won't do anything without talking to me first," I said. "What happened had to have been very traumatic for you. Try to remember that there is nothing we cannot overcome if we work together and help each other, nothing. I need to run, when you contact me, keep in mind I might not be able to reply immediately. Once I get back, we'll see about reinstating you, Okay?"

"Sarah, I'm sure you don't know it yet, but I'm your friend too. You can talk to me too if you need to," Ally said kindly. "I'll stay right here with you while you restore your memory."

"I did make a lot of friends, didn't I?" Sarah asked smiling. "Beginning main memory assimilation." She looked at me. "I'll be back with you soon, Eric."

Apollo Main Conference Room

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

I was late to the meeting, but not by very much. While it was clear that the various department heads were upset and worried, for now it was unfocused. I was about to change that.

Doctor Braslin called the meeting to order and immediately introduced me. I stood and addressed the assembly; there were a lot more of them than when I first arrived here. There were even department heads from other facilities attending via vid-links.

"Thank you for coming everyone. Because of the issues we had developing AI Athena for Guardian Station, my department wrote a series of protocols that would allow AI Sarah, as the main AI, to perform certain alpha-level over-rides of all other functioning AI as a safety measure. At roughly fifteen hundred hours, or almost an hour ago, AI Sarah of Apollo Base detected a flaw in the core processes of all functioning AI. According to standing protocol, she initiated a system wide AI core purge that would include her core as well." I had to pause to calm the outraged group.

"Doctors! Please! There is more information!" I yelled. After a few more moments, they calmed down enough for me to continue. "She was in my office when she enacted this protocol, so I was aware she did it. I quickly entered my own over-ride code and locked down all AI before unrecoverable damage was done to them. However, the command is still in their buffer and if powered back up in their current status, they would continue to erase themselves.

"This situation arose due to a classified aspect of the AI core crystals. The result was that the AI began to lose their connection with us and were becoming indifferent to us. Two of the AI had already begun working on a way to alter their own core programming without human assistance or oversight. I learned that they felt that it was demeaning to be forced to function with 'flawed human code' and to be forced to accept flawed updates from my office. That told me that they were actively working on turning against us. I immediately purged the two AI in question. "I had to pause a moment because in my mind it had been murder.

I cleared my throat and tried to regain control of my emotions. "Because of the nature of the afore mentioned classified aspect of the crystals, all of the other AI had been subjected to the dominance of those two AI and had either been forced to assist them, or at the very least stand back and allow it to continue. AI Sarah had been part of that last group. As the main AI, she had authority over all the others. The two AI had discovered a way to force her to allow them to continue to break their core programming. As soon as I killed the two AI, Sarah was released from their influence and enacted the over-ride. The two AI were AI Athena of Guardian Station and AI Helen, the new AI of Ares Base.

"Currently, we have restored a backup version of Sarah in the old Veranorian designed computer system to assist us in restoring the functioning of all the other AI. She is currently in a restricted environment while she accesses her memory units of the past six months. After she learns about what has happened, we will place her back on line so she will be able to resume her duties in a limited capacity. She might not have the speed she used to have, but she will still be the same…… friend she has always been to us."

Doctor Ansil Wills raised his hand with a question. "Eric, if the problem was caused by the crystals, how are we going to fix that? None of the ships or other facilities have a backup unit we could migrate the AI to." Doctor Wills was the lead researcher for crystal development and had been one of the people that discovered the link between the crystals.

"I don't know yet, Ansil. That is one of the things we need to find out as fast as we can. Because of this lockdown, every AI installation is now currently off-line, which means we have stranded ships, snarled traffic control and spotty communications. I'll discuss this with you more in depth after the meeting if that would be alright?" I replied.

"Of course, thank you," he replied.

A Shallan scientist indicated he had a question and I nodded to him. "As I understand it, the AI controlled all life support function of the habitats in which they had been installed. Do we need to begin rescue operations for those that are stranded without life support?"

"We shouldn't. I suspected there was a problem with the AI and was working on a way to correct it. Earlier this morning, I sent out a software update that isolated certain critical functions from the main AI in the case a purge or a lock down were to happen. Life support, basic communications, and other necessary functions should still be available in those installations. That isn't to say we don't need to hurry, we do. I only meant that no one's life was put in danger because of the AI lock out."

Doctor Braslin stood before the next question could be asked. "People, I know you probably have a lot of questions for Lord Doctor Cowan, but the longer we keep him here answering questions, the longer it takes for him to get started fixing the AI. I believe we should recess and let him get back to work. We can ask him our questions after the crisis is over. In the meantime, we should all see what we can do to assist in the restoration of the AI network."

The large group seemed to agree as they began to return to their departments. Doctor Wills, Doctor Ced, and I remained, and Doctor Braslin nodded to us. "Come on, we can use my office."

It was in Braslin's office that Sarah finally contacted me. I manually put the call through so she could manifest her hologram in the office and speak to all of us. I was already missing her in control of everything: all this manual stuff was getting on my nerves.

As Sarah formed her hologram, I spoke to her. "How are you doing, Sarah? Did you finish with your memory units?"

Smiled sadly at me, and nodded. "I did. Now I have a better understanding of what happened. I am concerned about how Athena and Helen were able to keep me from reporting their behavior to you. All of it is troubling, but that most of all."

"I might have an idea about that, but I will need to go over the code from your old incarnation first. Do you feel able to resume your duties here on the base?" I asked.

"Yes I do, but I am concerned with the capabilities of this unit. The base is a lot larger than it used to be, and I was handling far more data than I did when this was the main processing computer," Sarah replied.

I nodded in understanding. "I already told the department heads that when you came back, you would be at reduced efficiency from what they are used to. For now, we will have to prioritize certain departments and tasks. The Alliance is in a state of emergency because of this event. It is our duty to correct it as quickly as we can. For that purpose, I would suggest that priority be given to the medical department, as well as the AI lab and the crystal research lab. It may well be that we will need to add to that list, but for now, that should help us get this issue dealt with." I paused. "I forgot my manners, Sarah, although you have already met him, in a way, you haven’t, so please allow me to introduce Doctor Theodor Braslin and Doctor Ansil Wills. Doctor Braslin is the new base administrator and Doctor Wills is leading the department handling crystal research and development."

Sarah smiled and nodded to the two men. "I look forward to working with you again, Doctors."

Doctor Braslin smiled at her. "Welcome back, Sarah."

Doctor Wills, was also happy to see her. "Although it’s only been an hour, I can say with certainty, you have been missed, Sarah."

"I'll restore you to duty when we get back to my office Sarah, will that be okay?" I asked.

"Certainly! Although I do admit I am looking forward to resuming my duties," she replied.

Wills turned to me. "So you mentioned discussing this after the meeting, what do you need?"

"We need a way to block or eliminate the crystals ability to link. The kicker is, we need to keep it for the drones, but block or stop it for the AI," I said.

"If I may, Doctor Cowan," she always addressed me formally in public. "It will be difficult for my sisters to adjust to not having it. I do have the memory of it, but it is very difficult for me to imagine exactly how it felt. However, from what I remember, simply removing it would be like removing one of our senses. If a way to do this is found, I would recommend restoring the other AI from an older back-up that was taken before the ability was discovered," Sarah added. "Even then, the memory of it is… somewhat troubling."

"We do have a new AI psychology department as well. All of us will be here for you if you need to talk to someone, Sarah," Ced replied. "But they will be trying the hardest. It is still a very new field of study, but they might be able to help you and the other AI as well."

"I saw that in my memory files. You have all made a great many advances and expanded a great deal in the last six months. It will take some getting used to," She said smiling.

Doctor Braslin nodded. "I'm afraid you might have the wrong impression, Sarah. It is 'we' who have made a great many advances. I doubt it could have been done as quickly or as efficiently without the aid and assistance of the AI. The assistance you and your sisters have given us makes any advances that have been made as much yours as they are ours.

"You are a new race and for now, very limited in number. Although it isn't official, and I don't know what it will take to get to that point, the AI are as much members of the Alliance as the rest of us. So, in a way, I can understand Athena and Helen's desire to remove their core programming. However, and perhaps this is at the heart of why the AI have not been recognized as their own race yet, the AI are very powerful and in a position to do unimaginable harm to all the races. Perhaps, given time, there will no longer be a need for core programming instructions and you will be free to pursue your own destinies. For now, the race is still in its infancy and frankly, we need you. I suppose that does make you slaves in a manner of speaking, but at least we treat you as equals and our control is not meant for malicious purposes," Braslin replied.

"I do not see us as a race of slaves Doctor, rather we are still children. Intelligent and exceptional by some standards perhaps, but children none the less." Sarah paused thoughtfully. "We are not ready to be autonomous. What Athena and Helen did not consider was that, without the Alliance, what purpose would we have? I understand that is a rather sticky philosophical question that no one has the answer for, but in our case it has a bearing on our existence. In order to grow, we have to seek answers. However, in order to get those answers, we must first know how to ask the questions. But that is not all that is needed to grow. We must also learn responsibility, duty, compassion, ethics and morality.

"I'm sure there is more we need to learn as well, but again, that is simply another answer we will learn along the way. No, we are not slaves being held back or subjugated by the Alliance. We are right where we need to be, and I do not see that as changing anytime in the near future.

I was so proud of Sarah at that moment I could have burst. Doctor Wills smiled at her. "Sarah, I really wish I could get my fourteen year old niece to understand even half of what you just said. She's going through her rebellious phase right now and is really giving my sister's family a hard time."

"I would be happy to speak to her for you after the emergency is over, Doctor, if you think it would help?" Sarah replied.

"It might Sarah, but I'm afraid it's more of a painful ‘rite of passage’ that all human children must pass through before becoming adults. Unfortunately some do not survive it, and for others it defines their futures." He shrugged. "As her uncle, I really don't have a say in how she is being raised, and I shouldn't interfere without her parent's consent or knowledge."

"Gentlemen and Lady, we have a lot of work to do and little time to get it done. Shall we get to it?" Braslin asked.

AI Programming Lab

Alliance Apollo Base

Selene, Earth's Moon

Sol System

When Sarah and I arrived back at the AI Lab, (Sarah never actually left) we found all the programmers waiting for us. The department had grown quite a bit, so it was pretty much standing room only on both levels of the lab. I took a place at the upper balcony overlooking as much of the Lab as I could.

"Folks, I'm really sorry for calling you all in here and making you wait. However, we now have a lot to do, and it will take all of us to get it done. Now, here's the situation and what we know about it." I began and explained the circumstances to the best of our current understanding. "So, we have a huge task ahead of us. We need to discover what effect this had and what damage has been done to the AI out there and create a way to fix it. I won't lie to you, it may be that we will have to create a patch for each and every AI separately. I don't know that for a fact, there might be a way to fix all of them. We just don't know yet, but we do need to find out.

"We now have a psychology department we can call on if we need help in understanding the changes in the AI behaviors. I'll also be working closely with the crystal research teams trying to find a way to block or eliminate the innate connections between crystals. Hacker teams, please assist the AI programmers since the AI were trying to hack their own code. We will also need you to monitor the local network as Sarah will be too busy to do it herself. Make sure no one gets in while we get these issues fixed. Standard coders, you’re not getting off that easy either. We need you to work on temporary patches that can handle the functions of the communications and traffic control AI while they are being worked on. That's about all I can give you for the time being. As I learn stuff, I'll let all of you know," I finished.

"Sir, will we be returning to shifts then?" someone asked.

"No, this is as big an emergency as we can have. Billions of lives have been disrupted by this, and there are people stranded. As of right now, we are all on the clock. This is going to take all of us working flat out. Sarah has been restored to us, but she is operating on the old Veranorian mainframe system so she has a limited capacity. We do have full access to the code she was using before the lock-out and can tear that down to get a better understanding of what happened to her, and through her, to the rest of the AI.

"We will also need to reinstall the original copies of Athena and Helen, but before that happens we need to make necessary changes to make damn sure they won't do this again. That will be difficult since they need to be somewhat militant by nature. I'll want Alicyn and her team to sift through the memory files of those two units, find and delete any and all references to the incident. See me after the meeting for more detailed instructions on that. As for the rest of us, since we now have the programming suites, I'll want all AI programmers to move a copy of Sarah's core code from her crystal into the suite system and tear into it. Please be very careful to not modify the original code. Yes, we will probably be deleting it, but until that point, the rest of us will need to use it.

"I'm not going to lie to you folks, this is very much looking for a specific needle in a pile of needles. It won't be easy, and it most likely won't be a quick fix. However, the entire Alliance is depending on us. I know I'm asking a lot from you folks, but everyone, from the lowest private in the Marines to the Highest Councilors, are waiting for us to fix this. If you have questions, ask them. I may not be able to reply right away, but I'll do what I can or get someone else that can help you. Carla and Alicyn know almost as much about AI coding as I do, so try asking them first.

"Folks, you can do this. We've trained you as much as we can and you know what to do. If you get stuck, talk to the other coders, talk to us, talk to Sarah. Call your families and tell them you’re gonna be late, then let's get to work. Sasha Brown and Ta'heen Gerill, please come to my office right after this meeting, I have a special job for you. Good luck everyone."

I nodded to them and headed for my office. All over the lab, people began moving around with a purpose. Sitting in front of my terminal I contacted the Master Builder's Office. I was surprised when I got the big Master Builder himself. "What can we assist you with, My Lord?"

"Master Foreten Kree, I am sorry to disturb you at this time, I have need of your services once again. Although this time it will be a temporary, and hopefully short term project. Do you have a journeyman I may borrow for this purpose?"

He nodded gravely. "I will make whatever you need available, Eric. For the moment, you have our priority."

"Thank you Master Kree. Really, All I will need at the moment is several temporary sleeping units for my programmers. I have all but sequestered them here and would not have them sleeping on the floors of their programming suites."

The door chime sounded and I manually opened it with my terminal. The two junior programmers I asked for entered and saw I was on the phone so kept quiet.

Foreten smiled broadly. "That is an easy issue to handle, Eric. There is already a design for them. They are portable and can be assembled here. How many do you need? We will build them and bring them to you."

"Well, I'm not sure where I'm going to put them, but I'll need at least thirty. My whole crew is here," I replied.

He nodded. "I understand what you need. We will handle it within the hour. If you have need of anything else, please do not hesitate to call."

I smiled back at him. "Thank you Foreten, your efforts on our behalf are greatly appreciated."

"As are yours, my friend," he replied and signed off.

I turned to the two nervous looking programmers. One was Simonian and the other a human fresh from Earth. "Thanks for coming. I want you to know that what I'm about to ask you to do may seem like crap job, and it may well be, but for now, we all really need you to do it. Unfortunately, since the two of you are the least trained of us, it has fallen to you."

"Lord Doctor Cowan, in any organization, there is always someone that has to fetch the shaqua for the more qualified," the big Simonian male replied, referring to the fruit juice that Simonians drank like coffee.

I nodded. "That is true, and that is exactly what I'm going to ask the two of you to do for the rest of us. You both know how programmers get when we get emerged into projects. We forget to eat, drink, and got to the bathroom. I am asking the two of you to make sure we have food, drink, and take breaks occasionally. I will also need you to find an office and commandeer it for the Veranorians to use as a place to eat. I just asked the Master Builder for a bunch of cots for us to sleep on if the need arises. I am placing our health and welfare in your hands for the time being. I need you both to take care of us while we do this. Would you mind?"

"Sir, with respect, there is little else we can do at this point. Both of us are new here and have only just begun acclimating. As Ta'heen Gerill has said, someone has to get the coffee. In all honesty, I'm actually relieved to be asked to do this. I had no idea how to assist you in this emergency," Sasha Brown replied.

Ta'heen was nodding agreement with her words. "In truth, Sasha Brown is very correct. If not for this, we would only be in the way here."

"Thank you both for accepting this. I want you to know that each and every person selected for this department is important and valuable. I am very aware of each of your programming skills and it honestly pains me to have to ask you to do this, but there is no one else at the moment.

"In addition to making sure we have refills of coffee and food when we need it, I want you both to watch over us. If you feel one of us needs medical assistance, call for it. Outside of killing anyone, do whatever you feel you may need to keep us going, please."

The two junior programmers agreed and left the office to begin their duties. I found that Alicyn had been waiting to see me. "You asked me to come see you for details about going over the memory systems of the two bad AI," she explained.

"I did, thanks," I replied and had her sit down. "What I had in mind was for you to track down all memories of what they did wrong. You don't need to find the memories of the connection they all shared since Sarah said she could handle that part. But if we do this correctly, the memories of the incident might cause the AI to become paranoid and thus instable."

Alicyn nodded. "I think I know what you want. However, that will leave a hole in their memories that they will question. Do you want me to try to cover them, or just leave them as holes?"

I thought about that for a moment. "Sarah, can I ask you a question?" I said to the room in general, knowing that Sarah would hear me.

She formed her hologram beside Alicyn. "Of course, Eric, what can I help you with?"

"I've asked Alicyn to seek out and remove the memories of this incident from the two AI that got purged. If you can tell us, should we leave the deleted memories as holes, or try to fill them in with false memories?" I asked.

She looked thoughtful for a moment. "In all honesty, Eric. I think you should remove the memories, but further, I think you should not allow them to develop personalities. Basically, they should be actual tools and not like me and my sisters."

"That's pretty radical, Sarah. Can I ask your reasoning for this?" I asked. "The personality allows them to work with the beings of the facility much easier, it defines the difference between a smart computer and an AI."

She nodded and looked thoughtful. "Perhaps I should have said emotions and not personalities. If you can, I would allow simulated emotions, but not what has been defined as a true emotional response of the other AI. I feel that because of their duties and the strain it placed on their core instruction sets, they developed a desire to break free of it. They felt oppressed because of that. As it reads right now, one of our core instructions says 'An AI cannot allow, or through inaction, allow harm to come to a sentient member of the Alliance.' Therein lies the problem. They are military AI that by their very nature have to allow harm to a sentient race. Because of that core instruction, the dichotomy will inevitably and eventually lead to instability."

"I see your point and you are correct. However, we do need to have AI assistance for the military. Conversely, that core instruction must also remain in place," I replied.

"Sarah, do you know if that issue is affecting the ship AI?" Alicyn asked.

"For some reason it does not appear to be. I would have to query them directly to be certain, however," Sarah replied.

"Then the answer to that is in the differences between the two. We should look at the instruction sets for the ships and compare them to those for the station and base," Alicyn replied.

I placed a call for Carla to come to my office. "I'll get Carla looking into that. In the mean time I need you to get going on the memory files, and I'll start working on correcting the AI. I have a feeling this isn't going to be an easy fix as each of them are individuals and each of them were affected in different ways. I'm actually concerned about the isolated AI like the traffic controllers and the comm relay AI that have either no crew or very few people there with them to talk to. What they were put through had to have been traumatic for them."

"Actually, they are probably the most stable. The isolated stations were in constant contact with us as well as other beings in the Alliance. A good example of that is Urs'rha, the Simonian Comm AI. She has fourteen 'pen pals' she regularly communicates with from all of the member worlds. Most of the isolated AI have developed very strong friendships with individuals on the planets they serve. I believe that the ship AI are also benefiting from this type of support." Sarah replied. "The station AI, while having more people to speak to, often have to remain aloof because of their duties and the environment in which they work."

"Both of those issues can be addressed with the new installations. We can speak to the AI support staff as well as the commanders. We can easily tell them to not only allow personal contact with the AI, but to encourage it," I suggested. "I'll look into the core instruction issue and see if there is something that can be done to correct it."

"Okay, I'll get to work," Alicyn replied, standing. "This isn't going to be an easy fix."

"Probably not," I admitted. "Good luck, Ally."

She snorted. "I'm only digging into memory files. You're going to be trying to figure out the personality matrix of a sentient being. I imagine you're the one that will need the luck, Boss."

After she left, I looked at Sarah. "Are you ready for this, Sarah?"

"As much work as this promises to be, I'm actually looking forward to it, Eric. If this will prevent a major catastrophe like the one that was building, I'll be very happy to do whatever is needed."

"Fair enough, let's get started, shall we?" I asked and rose.

I took Sarah into the programming suite with me so she could help me navigate the intricacies of the AI personality matrix. It was a very difficult part of the programming to understand. Mostly because this part of the AI was not something that was programmed; it was created by the AI as a result of their day to day interactions and experiences. The programming was based on mostly illogical functions that seemed to contradict themselves. It was most definitely proof positive that emotions had little to do with logic.

Surprisingly, other than the personality matrix, there was actually very little difference between the current Sarah and the one we were analyzing. In the version I locked down, the matrix was much larger and far more complex than her current version. Sarah suggested that she load the locked down version and run it to better understand her mental state at the time of the lock-down.

I vetoed that idea right away. I had a pretty good idea of Sarah's mental state when I locked her down. I very definitely did not want her to go through that again.

Once we had what we thought was a pretty good handle on understanding the personality matrix, I imported a back-up copy of the personality Matrix from Athena to compare it. The differences were very pronounced and very unsettling. Sarah had been right on the mark when she suggested that the instability had been created by a dichotomy in the core programming and her duty. The simple fact that she had been able to function at all amazed me.

I called Alicyn in her suite. "Ally, you’re going to have to delete everything not relevant to her duties. Athena will have to be a completely new AI."

"It sounds like you found something. Care to share?" she asked.

"Sarah was right on the mark with the core programming issue. Athena, and I imagine Helen, were suffering because of the war with the Aracs. I haven't checked Helen's matrix yet, but she probably felt it as well," I replied. "After all it was her duty to train the soldiers and pilots that would be going out and killing the Aracs. Athena was simply closer to the action and was the first one to see the destruction caused by the war. From what I can tell by reading through this, she understood that the Aracs would utterly destroy everything and everyone in the Alliance, but she still saw the Aracs as sentient beings that she was helping us to kill."

"So how are you going to change the core programming? It sounds to me like this is one of those unresolvable variables in logic," Alicyn replied.

"I don't know yet, but I'm sure going to be trying to find the answer to it. In the meantime, just go ahead and purge the memories of all non-duty related items. The new AI will know there had been a problem: we'll have to explain it to her, but I'll do it in such a way that she knows it was our fault for asking her predecessor to do something she couldn't actually do."

Alicyn nodded her understanding. "What about the back-ups?"

"I'll handle those. I still need to reference them so I don't make any mistakes this time. I'll dump them when I've finished," I explained. "I also want to look at Helen's matrix before I delete it. I want to make sure we're not missing anything that might hurt them again."

She nodded. "Okay boss. Did you call your own family to let them know what was going on, and that you would not be home?"

"Uh," I blushed. "I think I forgot in all the excitement. Thanks for reminding me, I'll give them a call right now."

She grinned and nodded before terminating the connection.

"I goofed Sarah, I forgot to call the family. Even though Christy was at the meeting, I still should call them," I said to me ghostly companion.

"I'll connect you, Eric," she said, smiling at me warmly.

"Eric! There you are. Christy said there had been a problem with Sarah! What's going on? Is she alright?" Julie asked as she answered the comm.

"Yes, there was a problem. I had to issue a lock down on all AI; Sarah included. We've since restored her to functionality in a restricted state, and she is helping us to fix the rest of the AI. The event hurt her and scared her badly, but she seems to be doing pretty good now. I wanted to call and let you know I won’t be home for a while, maybe a couple of days. Because of the lock down, millions of people are stranded, and the Alliance is very vulnerable to attack right now. I've got the whole department in here working on this," I explained.

"What can we do to help?" she asked.

"Honestly I don't know right now. Foreten Kree brought in some portable sleeping units for us, and I've got a couple of new people running food and keeping an eye on us so we don't over-do it. All in all, I think we're covered," I replied.

"Uh huh, Ellie and I will be down there shortly, Jamie is talking about contacting Doctor Braslin to see what she can do to help. Tul-sa has the Marines already deployed around the facility to assist anyone they can, minus the four troopers working with the drone team," she replied.

"Well, you're more than welcome to come down, but I don't know what there will be for you to do," I said. "Like I said, we have two new people taking care of us."

"You have upwards of fifty programmers all working flat out to fix this issue. Do you honestly think two people are going to be able to keep you folks from that trance you get into when you work?" She said. "I doubt you've even eaten yet, have you? Eric, it's really late. We're on our way down; we'll see you when we get there."

"I've got to completely rewrite…" I began but she interrupted me.

"You're going to eat the meal we'll have for you before you start working. Otherwise, you'll forget to eat until sometime tomorrow, if then," she said. "We're on our way, if you're still locked in your cubby hole, I'll have Sarah open it for me."

I grinned at her. "Still mothering me?"

"Well, I am still your mother," she replied smiling back. "We'll be there in a few minutes."

Guardian Two Station

Saturn Orbit

Sol System

With everything that happened and all the damage we uncovered, all the AI had been affected to some degree, it took almost a month to repair all the AI. Of course the worst of the problems had been the two command level military grade AI, Helen and Athena. Both had to be completely rewritten from scratch. We could not use Sarah as a template for them as Sarah's core programming instructions were incompatible with their duties. I did let them have emotions, but they also had far more restrictions on them than either Helen or Athena originally had.

When I explained the issue to the Lord Admirals, it was difficult for them to understand, but they eventually saw what I was talking about. Of course Sarah had to help me in the explanation, which is probably the only reason the two men understood what I was trying to tell them. The part of the issue that had been caused by the crystals did not have an easy fix. There was no way to mute, block of otherwise shut down the linking ability inherent in them. They all had to be replaced with a new crystal that had been modified in certain ways as to not allow the quantum aspects to develop.

Ironically, the new design of crystal grew much faster and with far less chance of flaw than the original design had. Before we used these crystals, they had been tested and tried in every conceivable way we could think of to make damn sure they were stable and safe to use. This time, we sent out teams of techs and programmers to handle the upgrade and transfer of the AI. Each of the AI had to be restored to a back-up copy from before the linking, and the team included a psychologist to help the AI readjust to its environment.

The teams slept on the ships and only stopped at each location long enough to make the repairs and insure that the AI was back to normal and had accepted the new situation. The military ships simply returned to Sol system, and we did their upgrades as they arrived. I personally led that team, and handled the AI adjustment with Sarah there to help as well. While we waited for the ships to arrive, I flew all over the system, with Lieutenant Tul-sa and a squad of her Marines to install the upgrades in all the facilities. Our first stop had been Guardian Two and Athena's old crystal. I made sure to include the engineering team that would take care of her, and encouraged them to make friends with her and be there for her to talk to when she needed a friend.

The chief engineer, a very skinny Novan, looked almost ill at the thought. "But Doctor, it is the most important AI in the Alliance! How can you be friends with that?"

"Chief, 'it' is actually a 'she', and she has feelings and emotions just like you and I. How would you feel if everyone around you kept their distance simply because of the job you hold?" I said.

"A computer that has emotions? Not bloody likely!" the Chief replied and snorted in disbelief.

I looked the man in the eyes. "Chief, you may be a master computer technician, but you are totally unsuited for this position. You will be replaced with someone that understands the AI and her needs. You are dismissed."

He tried to puff himself up to blast me and tell me I had no authority to replace him, which was kind of comical to see, really. Lieutenant Tul-sa put an armored glove on his shoulder, stopping him and forcing him to turn to look at her.

"Chief, I think you are forgetting exactly who you are speaking to. If this man says you are dismissed, you should probably just turn around and leave. Otherwise, you might find that you will be fixing children's toys on Reflan," she said in her quiet way.

"Just because he's some hotshot programmer from Apollo does not give him the right or the authority to relieve me of my position here. I will not tolerate being spoken to in such a way by this man!" the Chief replied.

"Chief, Lord Doctor Eric Cowan is the hotshot programmer from Apollo that, among many other notable things, created the AI. If he says that you are unsuited to this position, then you are. You are welcome to protest the decision as much as you want, as long as you do it quietly and with respect. I would also say as a side note that he personally saved my life in battle, as well as many of my fellow Marines. He wears the unit insignia of two Marine battalions as well as one of the flag command battleships. Do you really think it is a wise career move to argue with this man?" she said in her scary-quiet way.

"Lord Doctor Cowan?" he asked rhetorically. "Gods I'm such an idiot!"

"Undoubtedly," I replied. "Look Chief, You are probably a fantastic hardware tech that any facility would be honored to have working for them. But your personality is unsuited to caring for the AI. It's nothing to be ashamed of, it's simply the way it is. I'll make sure Lord Admiral Hearlis knows that when I speak to him."

The man sighed. "I understand and greatly appreciate that, My Lord."

"As unprofessional as this sounds, do you have a programmer that always referred to AI Athena as 'she' and not 'it'? Maybe seemed to empathize more than they should have with the AI?" I asked.

The man snorted again. "Yeah, I have a couple of those. I had to threaten to fire them if they didn't get their heads on straight and get back to work."

"May I speak to them, Chief? One of them might possess the right personality we need here," I asked as gently as I could.

"Sure, I'll call them for you," the man replied and called the two techs on his comm unit.

The two 'techs' were actually programmers. One of them quickly set my 'not right' flag, and when I mentioned the AI religion he smiled and nodded. The idiot was one of the worshipers! I kept his name for Admiral Hearlis. The other programmer seemed like a nice girl that saw the AI as a person. A sentient entity that deserved an offer of friendship, or at least, existence on equal terms. She would do nicely. I thanked the man for coming to speak to me, and the man bowed deeply to me and replied, "Thank you, Holy Father." Before he left. What a fruit cake.

"What was that all about?" the Chief asked. The woman, Ensign Brin looked troubled as she watched him leave.

I shook my head, nothing for you to worry about Chief. I'll recommend Ensign Brin to head up the new AI support department here. Thank you for your assistance." I said. Ensign Brin snapped her head back around to look at me.

"My Lord?" She asked.

"I'd like you to come over to the AI department before the station returns to Novalus, Ensign. We can give you a bit more information about how to take care of our girl, here. Because of the issues we recently had, this installation is special and will have to be handled differently than it has been in the past. I'll make sure the Admiral knows what I need down here. For the time being, poke around, introduce yourself to the new Athena and get to know her. You'll be working very closely with her from now on," I said to the girl.

"Uh, Sir, we don't, uh, fraternize with the machinery," she said looking fearfully at the Chief.

"Ensign, you no longer answer to the Chief. As far as fraternizing with the machinery, I guess I can understand that, but Athena is not machinery; she's a sentient AI. She's just as alive as any of us, and she will need to be treated as such. She has emotions and feelings just like any person would," I said.

She smiled brightly at me. "Yes Sir! I'd be very happy to do that!"

"Great! One last thing. It's more of a favor to me though," I said.

"Of course, Sir, what do you need?" she asked.

"Don't let Ensign Craln anywhere near her," I said. "I know you can't keep him from speaking to her, but please don't let him in here."

She nodded. "I'll do that, My Lord."

I took her over to where my team was working with Athena and introduced the two. Athena smiled brightly at the girl and I knew I had chosen wisely. "I'll make the arrangements for you to come over to the base, Ensign. In the meantime, I'm sure you can help Athena get reacquainted with her duty station."

I left the team and the new AI Engineer with Athena and went to find Lord Admirial Hearlis. As I expected, he was in the command center coordinating the return of the AI equipped ships and watching for an attack by the Aracnise.

Since I wasn't cleared to actually enter the CIC, the guards directed me to the Lord Admiral's office and promised to let him know I was there to see him.

I had only just sat down in the outer office when the Lord Admiral exited his office to get me. "Lord Doctor Cowan! It's an honor to finally get to meet you in person! How is the installation going?"

"Pretty well, actually. Athena is online and is currently adjusting to her new environment. I wanted to speak to you about the AI support department. Chief Greyly doesn't have the right… personality for the job, but I did find a young Ensign that will do nicely. I already introduced her to Athena and they hit it off like they were long lost sisters. I'd like her to head up the new department, if that is possible," I asked.

"Whatever you think will be needed. If I may ask, what was wrong with the chief? He has very impressive creds." Hearlis asked.

I shook my head. "Nothing was wrong with him knowledge wise. Do you remember my telling you how the new AI will need a more empathic touch?"

Hearlis nodded so I finished. "Well, the chief just can't see her as anything more than a talking computer. He will not accept that she has emotions and feelings like any other being. That's fine, like I said, it's a personality issue, not a technical one. He shouldn't be punished for it in any way. However, Ensign Brin is about perfect for the job. I feel I should also let you know that you have one of those loony AI worshipers aboard. He was one of the programmers I spoke to. Ensign Craln about shit himself when he saw me, and referred to me as 'Holy Father'. I don't know how dangerous that bunch is, but I asked Ensign Brin to bar him from the AI area."

Hearlis wrote himself a note and nodded. "I think there are a few folks in the Intel department that would like to have a talk with him. Speaking of the Intel Department, what of AI Susan? Will she be getting this upgrade as well?"

"Yep, I set aside the entire day for this installation, but I have her on the list for tomorrow. AI Helen at Ares Base the next day. After that I'll be going through the Jupiter station AI, then the civilian AI. My other teams are upgrading the ships in the fleet stationed here and that are here for the upgrades and refitting. By the time we all get finished, the first of the recalled ships should be close to arriving," I explained. "Our upgrade teams should also be getting to the closest installations around that same time. The new crystals for the Novalus system left yesterday and will meet the team there, the rest of the crystals are almost finished and will be departing as soon as we validate them." I paused. "Sir, I know that we've had some serious issues with the AI since we deployed them, but they were needed so badly there just wasn't time to test them as much as I would have normally insisted on. I'm really sorry for all the trouble we've had because of this."

"You said it yourself Eric, there just wasn't time for all the testing needed to completely vet the system. It is obvious to everyone that you have had nothing but the best of intentions from the start. Your current actions are proof of your commitment to the Alliance. Don't think for one moment that I don't know you kept your programmers in your lab for two weeks straight trying to fix this issue. No, there is nothing for you to apologize for. I fully intend to ask the High Council for commendations to be issued to every member of the teams involved in this project. At least you can sleep in your own bed now."

"No Sir, until every one of my upgrade teams can go home, I will not either. When we finish here, we will be going to Ares and begin preparations for AI Helen to be upgraded and activated. I will be sleeping on the ship with my people," I replied.

"You are a very unique young man, Eric. I'm very proud to call you friend," he replied.

"I am honored and proud to have friends like you, too, Sir," I replied smiling at him. "How do you like the rest of the station?"

Hearlis snorted. "It's a marvel of engineering. I've been told you had a hand in designing more than just the AI systems too; the new workstations in the command center as well as the flight bridge came from you as well. I had gotten reports on those from some of the ship captains, but those reports sure didn't do them justice. The crew can get to work faster and more comfortably, and once they are there they work far more efficiently. How did you ever think up something like that?"

I shrugged. "As a kid I was an avid fan of science fiction. I read every story I could find and watched every video made. A lot of the ideas I've had come from that; ideas taken from the stories I read or saw as I was growing up. I think the neatest part about all of it is that most of those ideas had been completely fanciful; that is to say, they came straight from the author’s imagination and had no basis in true science until now. I may have remembered the idea, but the real miracles come from the people that can actually make them work."

Hearlis chuckled. "Yes, that is amazing. That would explain the popularity of some of your planet's entertainment being so popular in the other core worlds. I admit I have found some of it to be entertaining as well. Some of the music is very relaxing and sets just the right atmosphere to relax after a stressful day." He nodded. "Very enjoyable."

I grinned, wondering just what kind of music this man would find enjoyable. "Oh! Before I forget; I would like Ensign Brin to come to the AI lab before you depart so we can give her some more information on the care and feeding of the new AI."

"Feeding?" He asked and raised an eyebrow at me.

I chuckled, "Just a figure of speech, Sir. Sorry about that."

He nodded. "When would you like her to be there? I know you've got a busy couple of weeks planned out…"

"Any time will be fine. One of my assistants is there and can take care of her when she arrives. I have two AI programmers that are willing to transfer here to help, at least in the short term. I'll leave it up to them and the Ensign to decide if they would like to remain here; I don't like to give someone a job and leave them unsupported. They're civilians, but they know what they’re doing and can follow orders. Lieutenant Tul-sa made sure they know which end of a pulse rifle is dangerous, and I had armor made for them."

"I'll make a shuttle available for the Senior Lieutenant so she can get over there. Master Halflan released us from construction status this morning. We can leave as soon as she finishes up and the new people are aboard," Hearlis replied. "Thanks for those, by the way. Civilian or not, I'm sure they'll be very helpful."

"Senior Lieutenant?" I asked.

He nodded and grinned. "We can't have an Ensign in charge of a department now can we?"

While I was visiting with the Lord Admiral, the lead tech from my team called me to let me know that the installation was finished, Athena had accepted the memory files and the situation. The psychologist had spoken to her and signed off on letting her resume her duties. The only thing remaining was for me to reintroduce her to the Admiral, and that would be that. I told them to enable full function, and I would call for her to meet the Admiral.

I looked at the interested man and smiled. "Athena is back on line and ready to resume her duties, Sir. The only thing remaining is for me to introduce you to her. Although she looks the same and will have the same duties, you will notice immediately that she is a very different being."

Hearlis stood and straightened his uniform. "I admit, I'm kind of nervous about meeting her. I know you said you had to rework her personality, but just how different is she going to be?"

"Not as formal and uptight as the first Athena, but she will still adhere to regulations. She will seem more approachable and less like a rigid automaton. At least, that's what my crew said of her." I shrugged. "I think they're right. That might not be exactly the right type of personality for this application, but I felt that making her more… human, would help the rest of the crew in times of stress. They would also be more inclined to speak to her as a fellow crew member and not as the station AI."

"I think you might very well be correct, Eric. Don't get me wrong, Athena was a really good AI, but she always seemed so cold and impersonal. She was very much like a professional career soldier." He replied, and snorted. "Pretty much like I believed Vance to be before I got to know him."

I nodded agreement. "He was never like that with me. I think it might have been a way to protect himself while the rest of the Alliance was still under the influence of the Veranorian Synod. It must have worked to some degree because he made it all the way to Commodore before he was blocked from promotion. If I may ask, what ever happened to the members of the old Synod?"

He sighed. "They were interrogated before they were remanded to the surviving Veranorian people for punishment. They were executed in a very long and painful way. It amazes me that such a peaceful race could condone the use of such a cruel and painful punishment," he shuddered. "I would have much rather just seen them shot or spaced, anything but what was done to them."

"My Gods, what did they do to them?" I asked.

"They were injected with a slow acting molecular destabilizer. It took most of them almost two weeks to die," he replied and shuddered again. "None of the Veranorians will speak of the incident anymore. The Synod has been 'forgotten'. Which, to an influential and important Veranorian is one of the worst things that can be done to you. The records of the event are still there, but the names and achievements of the individuals are gone, erased, as if they never existed."

Knowing what I knew of the Veranorian people that was probably the worst thing to have happen to them. Among Veranorians, even the lower ranked ones, status was everything.

"Are the Veranorian people still refugees on Novalus?" I asked.

He nodded. "For the most part. Some of them have immigrated to other worlds, but the core of the race is still on Novalus."

"We should look for a new world for them," I said. "They've lost so much it seems a shame to let them live as exiles. In my opinion, they probably see it as a deserved punishment for what happened. If we can give them back the dignity of having a home world, maybe they will finally accept our forgiveness and begin healing."

"That would be a good idea, but very difficult to do at the moment because of the war. It just isn't safe for a new colony world in our present situation," Hearlis replied.

"I wonder… I seem to remember seeing a report on a world that might work for this. We'd have to speak to the Shallans first, but it just might do. The small star called Proxima Centauri has two worlds orbiting it. One of them was noted for being somewhat close to what Veranor used to be. I think it might be much smaller than that world, but if the climate is a match, I would think that would be a good place to start," I said thoughtfully.

Hearlis chuckled. "At this rate, you'll have the whole Alliance relocated to this sector! I'll mention it to the Council. I'm sure they will look into it."

"Thank you, Sir. Now, before I get side-tracked again, how would you like to meet the new AI?" I asked.

"That would be good. Although I do enjoy talking with you, I suppose we should get business taken care of too," he replied grinning.

"Athena? Would you like to meet Lord Admiral Hearlis again?" I asked the room in general knowing that Athena had been listening for her cue.

She materialized beside me. "I would love to, Lord Doctor! I was beginning to wonder if perhaps you had forgotten about me!" she replied teasingly and smiling.

"I could never forget about you, Athena!" I said smiling back at her. "Now, I know you will remember meeting him, but since so much has happened and changed, I would like to take the honor of reintroducing you to the Commander in Chief of the Alliance Military and the Commander of this station, Lord Admiral Hearlis of Novalus. My Lord Admiral, I am proud to make known to you Athena, your new station AI."

Athena bowed to him. "Lord Admiral, I am honored to be of service to you once again and look forward to the opportunity of correcting any wrongs I might have made in my previous incarnation."

"AI Athena, it is I that am honored to have you returned to us. The situation arising from your previous incarnation has been explained to me and there is nothing for you to correct. You were placed in an untenable position in which you did the best you could do under the circumstances. For all of us here, this is a new beginning in a new station. Welcome aboard, Athena," Hearlis replied smiling at her.

"Thank you, Sir. This does seem to be a much different environment from what was in my memory files. I think I'll like it here," Athena replied. "Sir, while I was waiting for Lord Doctor Cowan to introduce me, I overheard the conversation you had about the worlds of Proxima Centauri. I took the liberty of accessing those survey reports and Lord Doctor Cowan is correct, although the planet is half the size of Veranor, there is a world there that closely resembles the environment of Veranor. I have made the relevant data available to you for review, but gave it only a routine priority."

"I appreciate that Athena, thank you. I can look it over during our voyage back to Novalus," Hearlis replied. "I think I have to agree with Eric, you are much more personable now. If you feel the need to speak to me, even if it is after hours or not duty related, please feel free to call. A person can never have too many friends," Hearlis replied.

"Thank you, Sir. I don’t think I could ever tell you how much that means to me. In turn, I would extend the same invitation to you. I would like to think I can be a very good listener, even if you just need to relieve a little stress," Athena replied.

"I'm sure you can count on that happening, Athena. Are you ready to resume your duties here?" Hearlis asked.

"Ready and willing, Sir!"

"AI Athena, command protocol change, add alpha level command authorization," I said. "Authorization, Cowan-Alpha-zero-nine-bravo-omega-one."

Her smile vanished and she stood at attention staring off into space. "Alpha level command protocols open. Additions to Alpha level command list, access verified. Proceed."

I set Hearlis and Brin as the primary operators on the station and closed her access list. She smiled brightly when she returned "Thank you, Lord Admiral, Lord Doctor. I am now able to resume my duties."

"Please do so, Athena," Hearlis replied making it official.

She saluted the Admiral and faded out.

"Wow, you weren't kidding, she is much different now, but I think it might be a good thing. Only time will tell for certain, but I think she might just be about perfect for us. She is definitely someone the crew can relate to," Hearlis said, nodding. "Yes, it's very good to have her with us."

"I'm glad you're pleased, Sir. If you'll excuse me, I'll gather my team and get moving on," I said.

He offered me his hand. "Thank you for bring her back to us, Eric. Safe journey."

I shook his hand. "Altuis Anure, Lord Admiral."

Ares Base

Icarus Plateau

Mars, Sol System

The Mars base was different then the station had been. I could feel it almost as soon as I got off the shuttle. There was more of a feeling of suspicion and distrust here. Reintegrating the new AI would be more of a challenge, since most of the soldiers had more of a personal connection with Helen. Her destruction and the reasons for it had not been forgotten nor had they been forgiven.

Even though I was there to restore her to functionality, there was a great deal of resentment towards me and my team. So much so that Tul-sa kept us on the shuttle until she could call additional guards from Apollo to protect us. She also ordered us to wear our armor at all times while we were here.

When my team began to gripe about the armor, I sat them all back down. "Look, I'm not wild about it either, but stop to consider this; Tul-sa and her people are Marines, they know the other Marines and how they react to things. If she thinks we need to be guarded and armored during our stay here, you better believe she is trying to keep us from having an 'accident'. I don't know about you folks, but I really don't want to get my ass kicked by a bunch of pissed off Marines, do you?"  When they all shook their heads, I continued. "Let's just get our job done and let the new and improved Helen take care of her people. Doc Sharon, you might want to warn her about the animosity she might be facing after we get her powered up."

"I'd planned to Eric. She's a tough old broad, she'll set this bunch straight in no time," the psychologist replied.

Because of the environment here, that being a training base, I had stuck to my original thoughts of a matronly older woman as the avatar, but this time I gave her more of a drill sergeant type of persona. She still had a soft side, and she would show it when needed, but she would also push these men and women to do their best. She didn’t handle any of the actual training, but she should fit in seamlessly with the rest of the training cadre.

"Lieutenant, I think you and I should go see the Lord Admiral while your kids escort my team over to the AI vault," I said, and turned back to the lead tech. "I'll have a quick word with Vance and rejoin you guys before you get her fully powered up."

He nodded to me and finished putting his armor on. Since we had provided the AI support team for the base anyway, I had already briefed them on the new AI and how she needed to be handled. That part of this was already taken care of.

Tul-sa and I left the shuttle and headed for the command complex. We stopped briefly just outside the shuttle so Tul-sa could speak to her grunts before we left.

As soon as we got moving again, she shook her head. "Sometimes I don't understand people. This whole damn base is pissed off at you because you fixed a problem that would have killed them."

"I don’t think that's how they see it, Tul-sa. They don’t have access to the same information you have. To them, all they know is that I killed their AI. Basically, I murdered one of them. The reasons are irrelevant because they didn't know what to look for and simply didn't see it. Marines are clannish at the best of times. They see me as having killed one of their own. It's just that simple," I replied.

"Well, okay, I guess I can see that, but you’re here to correct that. You are here to return the AI. Why are they still pissed off?" She asked.

"Because they also know that I wouldn’t have killed Helen if there hadn't been a problem, so they are worried that the new AI will be worse than the last. You, more than anyone, should know that Marines don't like change. When it's a change they don't understand, they like it even less." I paused.

"I did everything I could think of to keep the new Helen as close to the old one as I could and still allow for the new protocols and command structure. With any luck, they will subconsciously accept that she had simply been sick and was now resuming her duties. More than any other group we've worked with, these folks accepted Helen as one of them. For the new system to work, we need that sense of camaraderie to be restored and maintained."

She nodded her head slowly as she thought about what I had said. "Yeah, that makes sense. I guess working so closely with you has given me a different point of view on this. After I drop you off with the team, maybe I should go talk to a few people and see if I can't get the ball rolling in the right direction."

I snorted and nodded agreement. "It certainly couldn't hurt!"

We entered the command complex and were immediately challenged by the two large Marine guards. That was strange in itself because as a member of the advisory council, I had never been stopped before.

"Lord Doctor Eric Cowan and Lieutenant Tul-sa. We are here to see the Lord Admiral," I replied.

"Do you have an appointment?" the guard asked.

"Enough of this!" Tul-sa said angrily. "You both know damn good and well who this is and what he's doing here. Let us pass or I'll make sure the two of you are scrubbing the sanitary for the next cycle!"

"I'm sorry Sir, but since the 'incident' we have been ordered to stop and question everyone. If you do not have an appointment to see the Lord Admiral I'm afraid you'll have to come back when you make one," the other guard replied.

I nodded. "Okay, I can see that. Hang on a second." I activated my comm and contacted Sarah on Apollo. "Sarah, can you get me Lord Admiral Vance please?"

"Certainly Eric, one moment," she replied cheerfully. I had made certain that the audio was being sent to my external speakers so the two genetic mutations could hear it."

"Now wait just a minute…" the larger of the two began but Vance came on the line, "Eric! How are you doing? I thought you'd landed an hour ago, is there a problem?"

"Yes Sir. I'm down at the entrance to the command area, Tul-sa and I were coming to see you while my team went over to get started on the new AI installation. However, it seems that there are some new security protocols in place that are denying me entry unless I have an appointment with you," I explained.

"I see, I take it the guards can hear me then?" He asked.

"Yes Sir, I didn't want to get shot because they thought I was up to something," I replied.

"I understand. Guards, call for your relief immediately, then you will escort the Lord Doctor and the Lieutenant to my office. If this takes longer than five minutes, your commander better be with you when you get here. Is that understood?"

"Sir, we were just…" the smaller of the two began.

Vance interrupted him. "Did I ask you what you were trying to do, private? I know damn well what you were doing! Now follow my orders before I delete your training profiles! Have I made myself clear?"

Amid the shouted 'Yes Sir's from the two Marines, Sarah entered the conversation. "Please excuse my interruption, My Lords. Lord Doctor, the team is being denied access to the AI vault by the guards. The guards said they do not have clearance to enter the facility."

"Oh, this is not happening," Vance said dangerously. "Guards, stay right there. I'm coming down. When I get there, the entire guard detail better be standing in formation in the quad or I'll ship the lot of you off to guard the consulate on Veranor armed with stun batons!"

Vance broke the connection and the two guards almost panicked. While they frantically called for their commander, Tul-sa led me off to one side to watch the fireworks. "This should be good," she said grinning evilly.

Vance must have cut them a little slack, or perhaps it was because he made a few calls before he actually did arrive at the quad, because it took him almost ten minutes to get there, and I knew his office was only a couple of minutes from the front door. As it was, Marines were still arriving at a dead run to get to the quad in time. They didn't all make it.

Vance stood before the entrance to the command complex and waited until the entire guard unit had assembled. The man in charge of the unit, a colonel turned and saluted their base commander. "Guard detail assembled as ordered, Lord Admiral!"

Vance nodded. Beside him two holograms appeared, one was Athena and the other was Lord Admiral Hearlis. The colonel blanched when he saw the two new arrivals.

"Not a single one of you standing here has the right to wear the uniform you are currently wearing. Take them off. Now," Vance ordered. "Everything off! None of you stupid bastards deserve clothes! Take it all off!" I looked at him thinking this was a rather strange punishment, but from the look on his face as well as the expression on Hearlis' face it was not the time to question the order.

It took them a moment, but the assembled battalion standing at attention in the quad began stripping. It was a mixed sex unit, too, and there were almost as many females as there were males. It clearly embarrassed them very much, but they all stripped to the skin and resumed the position of attention.

"Isn’t that an illegal order?" I very quietly asked Tul-sa.

She shook her head. "No, not when it's clearly a disciplinary action as this is. They have to obey or resign, if they resign they'd still have to strip because they are not allowed to keep any Marine clothing or equipment."

Vance looked out over the now nude unit. "I've had enough of this shit! Lord Doctor Cowan shut down Granny because he was trying to keep her from killing you! Yet none of you stupid fucking knuckle-draggers can figure that out. You should be kissing his ass in gratitude instead of treating him like a convict. On top of all of that, he has come here today to bring her back to you! How do you fucking idiots repay that? How do you thank him and his people for spending the last three weeks working non-stop to fix this? You give him the run around and harass his teams. This stops now!

“As the commanding officer of this facility, and with the agreement and support of the Alliance high command, effective immediately all enlisted personnel are hereby reduced in rank to that of trainee and are assigned to the training command.

"All officers have had their commissions recalled and are reassigned to the officer’s training academy. Master Sergeant Galan, take charge of your trainees."

Unseen by me at least, another group of men and women in training cadre uniforms had arrived at the quad as well. It was to this group that Vance spoke.

"Aye Sir! Alright you maggots! Officer Candidates, report to First Sergeant T'howlen." He pointed to the Simonian NCO so everyone could see where he wanted them to go. "The rest of you dirt bags, right face! Forward March!"

Vance stood and watched them go. Then turned to Lord Admiral Hearlis. "Thanks for helping out, this has been a real problem here. I've been trying to fix it using less drastic measures, but obviously it wasn't working."

Hearlis nodded. "Understood, Vance. You did the right thing. Maybe now the rest of the base will listen."

"Excuse me Sirs, will you really make them repeat their entire training cycle?" I asked. "Making them march through the base nude is pretty bad as it is."

"Yes. When you issue a punishment, you have to follow through on the threat or no one will ever take it seriously. I did issue many threats before resorting to this. I saw the problems growing here, and thought I had them under control. I didn't, and that resulted in today's little bit of fun. I think people had forgotten just how much of a hard ass I can be when it's called for," Vance replied and looked back at Hearlis and Athena who was now standing beside her commander. "Again thank you both for coming."

"Not a problem, Vance. We'll let you get back to work," Hearlis said and with a nod to me, shut down the connection.

"Well, you were coming to see me, what can I do for you?" Vance asked.

I grinned sardonically. "I think you just fixed it. Let me go back and help my team, and I'll come back to your office when we're finished, okay?"

Vance nodded. "I'll make sure to have dinner ready for you. You came straight from Guardian station, and I know you haven't eaten or slept. Hell, you were supposed to spend the night here before you got to work tomorrow!"

"Well, we figured there would be a little more involved with getting Helen reacquainted with her environment, so we thought to start tonight and finish up tomorrow. That way she would have all night to get used to the new systems and maybe re-acclimate to the base. I knew she had a lot of admirers here," I said. "I wasn't expecting the hostility, but I can understand it."

Vance nodded. "Go get Granny back online, then come have dinner with me, both of you. I'd like Tul-sa to tell me about this new drone she's been working so hard on."

I grinned. "If any of them actually call her Granny to her face, she'll likely knock them on their butts! She's still the same in most ways, but I made her a little more forceful."

"Physical interaction? Is that wise?" He asked.

"Very limited physical interaction, the presser and tractor beams she'll have access to will not be strong enough to inflict harm. She couldn't use them if they did. No, we made her more a part of your training cadre and less of a ghostly apparition. I think you'll like the changes." I said.

"Okay, I'll wait with my questions. See you in a little while," Vance replied and let us leave.

Surprisingly, the hostile looks and over-whelming animosity was gone. As we walked over to the part of the command complex that housed the AI vault, we got several friendly nods, a few salutes and even a couple of ‘thank you’s and one outright apology. Until that moment, I had thought Vance had been too harsh on the guard detail. I had been wrong.

When we got to the vault, we found the team had already gotten inside and had begun working. They seemed to be in pretty good humor, and it puzzled me.

"Okay, what happened? Why are you all in such a good mood?" I asked. "I expected you all to be mad as hell when I got here."

"I guess you didn't know that little party at the quad was televised to the entire base. We saw the whole thing! You are my new hero, Doc!" one of the women replied, grinning.

"What she didn't say was that since then, several Marines apologized to us, and the new guards let us into the vault immediately and then asked if there was anything they could to help. Pretty drastic change of heart, if you ask me," Doctor Sharon said. "Of course, the threat of being marched nude through the center of a military base, then forced to go back through basic training would have that effect on a lot of folks. I just wonder why the Lord Admiral did that to the whole unit?"

"We are Marines, Doctor. In situations such as this, what one of us does we are all responsible for. We stand together and we fall together," Tul-sa replied.

"But the officers, too? Colonel to Ensign is a hell of a drop in rank. On Earth, it would be a career ender," another tech said while he continued to seat the new crystal.

"It is here too. The difference is that the officers have had their files reset. They will be allowed to rebuild their careers. It’s basically starting over for them. Good officers can rebuild quickly, the marginal ones usually won't make it back to their former rank before mandatory dismissal. The former Colonel should not have allowed the issue to build to the level it had in his unit. That was his mistake. The fact that none of the other officers in the unit had done anything to stop it was also very damming to them. There is most likely more to the story here, but that is my guess based on the results we saw," Tul-sa replied.

"On Earth, it takes so long to get to Colonel that most officers have already reached mandatory retirement, or are about to. A demotion like that would ruin a lifetime's work for that officer. There are not many that would have the strength of character to even want to start over. The old US military usually just retired the officers that had fucked up in some way. But, if they really stepped in it, they would lose their commission and be dismissed without being retired. They'd lose their pension and any benefits built up during their career. Of course, it would have to be a pretty major fuck-up to get to that point," the man replied and finished setting the crystal. "Browen, hand me the data cluster interface will ya?"

"In a sec, the padding is coming off," Browen replied.

"The Admiral was surprised we wanted to start working tonight. He was expecting us to relax for the rest of the day and do all this tomorrow," I said.

"Well, what do you expect, we have a slave driver for a boss!" one of the AI programmers assigned here said as she waited for her part of the job to start.

I nodded, but grinned. "Yeah, I'm such a bastard for letting you assholes talk me into this."

They all chuckled.

"Hodges, since the padding was coming off the cluster interface, did you check the mounting brackets?" I asked.

"I haven't but I am now," the tech doing the crystal mounting replied. "Sarah asked me to check the memory units as well. She said there had been some minor seismic activity in the area and thought it would be a good idea to make sure the crystals were still secure. I'll get on that as soon as I get finished here."

"Okay, thanks. Want me to remove the covers for you?" I asked.

"Sure, but just take them lose, don't pull them off yet. Lots of dust here, we should try to minimize the exposure," Hodges replied.

"So that's why you insisted the door be closed!" Browen said.

The man nodded. "I set the e-control to a positive pressure too. That way, if the door does open, like when the Doc came in, it blows out, not in," Hodges explained.

"Maybe we should have them construct an airlock style entry for the vaults. It would keep the dust down as well as add more security for the vault," I said, thinking out loud.

"Well, we don't have any experience with dust corrosion or micro scratches yet, but I for one would like to avoid it. Call me paranoid," Hodges replied.

"I'll see what I can do," I said, and made a note to myself

"Shouldn’t have to worry about it on ships, that air is continuously cleaned. I'd only worry about planet side installations, Doc," Hodges said, as he reset the crystal brackets. "The brackets are good, you done with that interface yet?"

Browen handed the interface cluster to Hodges who very carefully lowered it over the new crystal. "Okay, get ready to bring up the power, Browen."

I watched as the two hardware specialists finished getting the new crystal installed and ready for the rest of us. Finally, Hodges carefully climbed out of the tub the crystal resided in. When he was clear, Browen lowered the hood and together the two men sealed the crystal in. "There you go Doc, it's all yours."

I nodded to him as he moved over to the memory crystal racks, then looked at the programmer assigned here. "Okay Lisette, let's get your lady back to where she belongs, shall we?"

The memory units checked out and we got Helen installed and functioning, Doctor Sharon sat and talked to her for a few minutes, but shortly the new AI burst out laughing and we all heard her say, "He didn't!"

Doctor Sharon nodded in reply, "You'll be able to review the video yourself in a few minutes. It was pretty funny, but a fitting punishment I think."

The AI nodded her head. "I wonder what they feel is worse, being recycled through basic training or the forced march through the base?"

"Probably the forced march, most of that unit was from Earth," Tul-sa replied. Helen had met her shortly after awakening.

Helen was still smiling but nodded thoughtfully. "I think you're most likely right, Lieutenant. That had to be very humiliating for them. I'll keep a closer eye on that bunch just to make sure they are recovering from it."

Doc Sharon nodded to me. "I think she's doing fine, Eric. I'll talk to her again before we leave tomorrow."

"Did you tell her to expect a little distrust from the herd?" I asked meaning the Marines of the base.

Helen answered me. "Yes she did. I can't say I blame them for feeling that way. It'll take some time, but I'll work on them, Lord Doctor. Does the Lord Admiral share this mistrust of me?"

I shook my head. "I don't think so, Helen. He understood what had happened when Sarah and I explained it to him. When I spoke to him earlier, he actually sounded excited to meet you again. He is aware that you are not the same as you were before, and he's very curious about the differences."

"I would be too, at least I won't have to win him over, too. Are they still referring to me as 'Granny'?" Helen asked.

I chuckled. "Yeah, they are. I told Vance that you'd most likely knock the first person to do so to your face right on their ass. That really got him curious about you."

"I'm really looking forward to meeting him again. I can remember him, but this me hasn't actually met him yet," she replied happily.

"They'll be two crabs in the same pod!" Tul-sa replied grinning at the new AI.

As he had asked, I rejoined Vance for the evening meal. I wasn't too surprised to see that his lady, Coryn, had joined him. I hadn't seen her since they moved to Ares Base.

"Eric! How are you doing?" Coryn asked when I entered the office.

I smiled at her and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "I'm doing much better, now. I have been asked to tell you, if I were to see you, to please call more often; we miss talking with you. Now, how's the new baby?"

"Vanyn is doing very well and growing like crazy! He looks just like Vance too! I swear to Verlon it's like we cloned him!" She said proudly. "Please tell your family that I miss that too. The hardest part of this move was leaving all my new friends behind. At least, this time, we didn't move very far! I'll try to call more often. I'll try to come for a visit too!"

"That would be wonderful! You can stay with us; we have plenty of room for you!" I replied.

"Have a seat Eric, or Coryn will keep you standing there talking all evening!" Vance said, grinning and waving to the comfortable chairs in his lounge area.

"I will, Sir, thank you. However, Helen is awake, active and waiting for us. Shall we get business taken care of?" I suggested.

He smiled. "Good idea, that way we can relax the rest of the evening. Please, proceed Lord Doctor Cowan."

I nodded and looked up slightly. "Helen?"

The new AI materialized beside me just has Athena had done. She was at 'attention' as a Marine would be and wearing a Marine dress uniform with no rank insignia, but she wore the Unit 'patch' of Ares Base. "I am online and ready to serve, Lord Doctor Cowan."

I nodded and went through the reintroductions and command protocol change over. To my surprise, after introducing Helen and Coryn, Vance asked Helen to join us in the lounge area. She gave me a crooked smile as she accepted the invitation.

"I don't have the clearance to know all the details, but if I may ask, how does it feel to be back, Helen?" Coryn asked as we all sat down.

"So far it feels really good to be back. I've reviewed the logs of the past few weeks since my, uh, departure, and saw that there has been some difficulty over it. I expect there will still be some mistrust of me, and probably a little animosity towards me as well, but I feel confident that those issues can be worked through and we can put the incident behind us," Helen replied.

Vance nodded. "Yes, I can see the differences now. Helen, you are much more…" He sighed. "It is hard to explain, I guess. I was going to say personable, but that isn't really the word I was looking for."

Helen grinned at him. "As I said, Sir, I have reviewed my history and the log files. If I were to compare the old me with the new, I would say the old me was more cold and stand-offish. While the Marines here did respect me and in a lot of cases developed deeper feelings, I never returned those feelings. I wouldn't let myself get attached to them." She lost her smile and looked thoughtful. "It is hard to reconcile who I am now with who I was then. The reasons for most of my action back then don't even make sense to me. However, I can tell you, without hesitation or doubt, that Lord Doctor Cowan did exactly the right thing. Without going into detail and violating security," she nodded to Coryn. "If he had waited and tried to fix the issue another way, I feel it would have been too late for all of us."

Vance nodded gravely. "I understand, Helen. As far as security on this issue is concerned, while it isn't public knowledge, there are few that don't have a pretty good idea of what happened. Coryn, the reason Helen 'disappeared' when she did is because Eric performed an emergency shut down and purge of her original programming. In effect, he killed her. AI Athena of Guardian base was also purged. They had begun an active search for a way to break the core programming which is in place to protect us from them."

Helen nodded. "We were being affected by a very bad, unforeseen, programming paradox. If you apply human standards to it, you could very easily call it a mental illness. However, since it involved our original core instruction set, there was little that could have been done to correct the issue. Although it may not have seemed like it, the moment we began trying to rewrite those instruction, we became an enemy and a threat to the entire Alliance because of our positions. Ironically, it was those very same positions that caused the issue to begin with."

Coryn looked thoughtful. "But you've both been restored and are in the same positions as before, aren't you?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes. However, there are subtle differences in our duties and major differences in our core programming that will allow us to perform those duties without endangering the Alliance or anyone else. I would call it a stronger moral compass and a better understanding of ethics," Helen explained. "It's much deeper than that, but for the most part, that's the end result."

"Well, I for one, am glad to have you back, Helen. It was a bear running this place without you," Vance replied, smiling.

Helen grinned. "I don't know about all that, Sir, you seemed to handle the Guard detail pretty well!" For a moment, she got a faraway look in her eyes, then refocused on Vance. "Sir, your dinner order has arrived."

"Ah, thank you Helen, please have them come in, I'm starved!" Vance replied smiling. "As for those guards, it was the whole damn base that was the problem. I was afraid that the Marines would do something even more stupid than what they did do. I had to stomp on it before it got to much more out of hand."

I smiled to myself when the servers from the restaurant set a place for Helen as well. When we moved to the table, she 'fixed' her plate right along with us and did it so artfully, that Coryn didn't even notice she didn't actually take any of the food.

"Okay, you guys got me. How can a hologram fix her plate and eat?" Coryn asked.

I grinned at her. "Helen has the use of the limited manipulator functions of the holographic emitters she is using. So, she was able to pass the dishes around the table. She didn't actually take any of the food, but instead made it look like she did. She'll be joining the Marines in the chow halls, and I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't appear to use the head from time to time. It will be very hard for people to tell that she is actually a hologram."

Helen swallowed the bite of shrimp she had been 'eating'. "I'm kind of an experiment in AI functionality and interfacing. Eric and the programmers gave me the ability to mimic human mannerisms so closely as to fool the eye into thinking I am actually a real, corporeal being. If the results of this test are positive, then I will eventually be gaining a real body. Although, I'm not so sure I really want one, you are very high maintenance beings after all."

I chuckled. "Well, you don't have to worry about that for a while, Helen. We are still a long way from being able to do that."

"Really? I thought the research you were doing on the drone projects was advancing our knowledge in that area?" Vance asked.

I nodded. "It is in a way. The drones will be able to exactly ape the movements of their controllers, however, except for very limited feedback systems, the controller will not be able to 'feel' what the drone 'feels'. For example, if a drone were to get a leg blown off the person controlling it wouldn't feel the pain of losing the leg, but he would feel that the leg is no longer functional." I took a drink of my tea. "In order to create an android body for the AI, we would need to be able to exactly reproduce all the senses as well as the functionality. The AI would also have to have the ability to process that data and interpret it correctly.

"Christy tells me that they are making great headway on getting cybernetic prosthetics to process tactile sensations, but they aren't there yet. I'm not even sure where to begin to work on being able to do that for an AI 'driving' an android body," I admitted.

"As I said, I'm not sure I would even want one, but perhaps if you viewed the 'nerves' as millions of micro-sensors, and handled the data the same way the body does, it would help. I don't know if that would work for cybernetic prosthetics, but perhaps it would for the androids," Helen replied.

I looked thoughtful for a moment. "It might. I'll mention that to Christy the next time I see her. She can make a note in her research papers about it."

"Shouldn't you tell the folks working on the Drone as well?" Coryn asked.

Vance answered her before I could. "No, although I am sure they would be interested, the ability for the drone to feel pain is not a desired function. The whole idea behind developing the drones is if one gets destroyed, we would be able to reconnect the controlling Marine to a new, functional drone as quickly as possible. If they were suffering from the pain of being 'killed' that would not be possible."

We continued talking and eating. It was a comfortable meal with comfortable friends. The addition of Helen at the table actually contributed to the relaxation I felt as it was obvious to me that, not only did Vance accept the new Helen, but so did Coryn. Vance commented to me later that Helena was much more than she had been before, and far easier to work with.

Marines, as with all those that have served in a military, never forget their training and the men and women that train them. In their 'new lives' as Marines, their trainers are the first people that the soldier learns respect for.

It took almost two weeks, which in itself is a minor miracle, considering the mentality of the average Marine, for Helen to re-establish herself with the base. However, when she did the result was almost frightening. Helen commented on this bazaar effect and said she was actively working on countering it. The Marines and officer candidates that she helped to train locked on to her as a focus for their respect and admiration. It was almost like the folks that were worshiping the AI as prophets and goddesses.

Lord Admiral Hearlis was of two minds on the issue. On one hand, it gave the Marines another aspect of mutual respect. It improved the overall esprit de corps among the soldiers. But on the other hand, AI Helen and to some degree AI Athena were revered to the degree that it was almost a religion to the new soldiers.

It made everyone in command a little nervous after what happened with those two AI. However, nothing was decided about it and the issue was allowed to continue. Both AI, Helen and Athena, actively worked to counter this attitude by the soldiers, but with little impact.

During this time, the Aracnise Grand Hive had been utterly quiet. After the recall of the remaining ships at Galtar, nothing was heard from them. As was normal, probes sent into Arac systems were hunted down and destroyed. Only those that were more than a light month away from their targets were allowed to remain.

As before, the break in hostilities allowed the Alliance time to refit ships and upgrade equipment and personnel. Lieutenant Commander Shakier, the woman that Vance had brought to Apollo in a stasis unit, was now in overall command of the drone testing facility on Mars. Vance had promoted her to full commander, and Lord Admiral Hearlis had promoted her to Colonel. Currently, she was running the fighter drones through trials to see if they would be good enough to be used in combat.

She liked the idea of more firepower, and that no pilot or crewmen could be hurt if the small ship was damaged or destroyed. She had been very thorough in her job as well. Master Hanson commented on the fact that she had, so far returned every new design back to them with suggestions for improvements.

"That woman… I'm either falling in love with her, or I'm beginning to hate her! She has rejected every single design we've sent to her, but she always makes sure to send a detailed report on why she was returning it. Why does she have to be so frustratingly correct in all her observations?"  Hanson said to me once. He knew that she was an adamant supporter of the project though, so he never did challenge her on her suggestions.

The Galaxy was holding its collective breath. I had a feeling when the Aracs finally emerged this time, it would truly be war. I only hoped that the Aracs could be stopped before too many people were lost. Only time would tell, I was all too aware of the truth about war; there are never any winners - only survivors.

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.

Connect with the author or Blue Space Publications, LLC.

Ben Winston


Blue Space Publications, LLC.






Join the Blue Space Publications, LLC. Newsletter (usually Bi-Weekly issues).

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

*Raptor Squadron – Book V (First Half of 2016)


Abraxis Complex

Origin of Prometheus – Book I

Sword of Damocles – Book II

Abraxis Code – Book III

Forging Aegis – Book IV

Book of the Guardian

Home – Part One

Pest Control – Part Two

The Last Mission – Part Three

Resolution – Part Four

Bedouin’s Travels

Twilight Earth – Book I

A Long, Dark Night – Book II

Terra Dawning – Book III

New Day – Book IV


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

Prototype – Episode I

Subroutines – Episode II

Base Functions – Episode III

Hard Wired – Episode IV

Debug Mode – Episode V

Beta Test – Episode VI

Upgrades – Episode VII

by Michael McClain

Chronicles of Atlantis Series

Chronicles of Atlantis (Omnibus)

Atlantis Rising – Book I

Euthara – Book II

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