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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Nation Maintenance)

Where nations come together and discuss matters of varying degrees of importance. [In character]

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Sunset
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jul 12, 2017 8:42 am

Deep Under The Doctor's Lab, AMI Industrial Complex, The Moon Minamoto...

"There," the shaft of the fire ax dropped onto his shoulder and Ambrose spun it idly with his fingers while looking over his handiwork, "The machine has been suborned."

The Krȃng had been especially clever in its design; A great semi-circular control console could be found at the very heart of the apparatus with all of the lights and sounds one could expect of such a thing. Strange creatures of mocking form had been manning it; Blown apart by a ripple of disruptor cannon fire as his Minions had burst into the chamber. Even as he looked over the thing to try and decipher its weakness one of the great gray slabs had bent to take a hand, another hand, another hand, and begun hauling them away before some kind of rapid infection had begun to spread over his own exposed arm and the safest thing to do have been to put him down first. The resulting explosion of lemon-fresh scent had made the whole scene feel rather more clean but had in no way helped untangle the mess. That had only come when the Doctor - being a brilliant genius and in no way ashamed to admit it - had seized upon the truth of the matter to take up his fire ax, wander around to the backside of the chamber and down a little alcove, and put a dozen diamond-shaped holes in the junction.

"But what to do with it?"

That was a very important question and his keen eye turned to the maze of conduits and pipes that seemingly flowed out through the heart of the moon; A heart that was now notably smaller by volume, "The less discerning might look to this as opportunity. These tubes - they take in the substance of the rock, reconstruct it, and re-purpose it here," he swung the flat of the ax with a clang against the side of the machine, "Into whatever might be imagined. But they would be wrong - another ruse. If I have learned nothing of these Krȃng, it is that every turn and twist of their machinations only serves to hide another lie!"

A crisp swing of the blade and it sunk deep - far too deep - into the nearest rocky wall. Yanking on the haft the wall crumbled and fell away into dust. Hidden among the particles were numerous fine threads, just barely visible, but bereft of their supporting mineral he scooped them up on the hook of his ax like a wad of cotton candy.

"This is no industrial process but an insidious tumor! Look here," he held it up for Miss Nineteen, "These filaments - they are what truly drives the great work. They extract the most needed chemicals from the substance of the body to leave only chaff behind, all while these monstrosities," he pointed to the much larger pipes, "Huff and churn!"

"Has it compromised the moon?"

Stephen cast a critical eye to the chamber surrounding them. As vast as it appeared, it was only an angel dancing on the pinhead by comparison to the enormity of Minamoto. There would be some increased tidal stress due to its proximity to the gas sub-giant Hachiman but, by his reckoning, these would only accumulate over many hundreds of thousands of years, "No, not at present. Not within your lifetime, Miss Nineteen. But I do have concerns! If we have learned one thing, it is that the Krȃng were devious in every form and manner! The temptation to restore this device, this synthesizer, to operation is powerful but I fear that it would lead then to dark places. The traps that they have set even within their own genome are incredible; imagine what might else be contained in a work so vast!"

"No," he decided, "It must be destroyed, and utterly. But that is not to say we cannot learn from it. Study what it is capable of and reproduce the workings through my own intellect. I anticipate a mighty task but I am..." he took a step, his foot catching on a loose rock and his lanky frame toppling over to land with a grunt atop the exposed point of the fire ax, "A mighty man... Oww..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jul 13, 2017 9:24 am

A Robotic Farm just outside Jade Falcon, Casablanca, Ares Super-Cluster...

Claire bent over to adjust the boots and leg-guards on her riding outfit, bent knees and then straightening to keep the already tight suit tighter and make sure she had David's attention - as well as distract him long enough for the mid-sized freighter to land just beyond the next plateau, "So, did Jesus ever make anything?"

"Did Jesus ever... Huh?" The farmer leaned on his hoe, brain split between backside and question and completely ignoring the young shoots that were being treaded into the freshly turned soil, "Did Jesus ever build anything?"

"Yeah," she switched from left to right, "Did Jesus ever build anything? His father Joseph was a carpenter, right? So he would have also trained as a carpenter? Or did he need to? He was the Son of God, right? So he'd already know how. But putting that aside, did Jesus ever make anything?"

David scratched his head, "Did Jesus ever make anything... Huh. I suppose he would have. He'd have been his father's apprentice and by some accounts he didn't begin his mission until his early thirties. I doubt his parents would have let him live in their basement until then."

That was worth a laugh and Claire stood up, finished with her own not-work, "So, if Jesus Christ was the perfect Son of God, and he took up his father's occupation as was the habit in those days, wouldn't he have made whatever he made perfectly? Chairs, tables - wouldn't some of that stuff still be around?"

"That would be a very comfortable chair," he pointed out, "Especially for that time. But no, I don't think it would. Because wood," he smiled, pleased at his own wordplay, "His father was a carpenter, after all. Even in the Middle East - much like Casablanca here - wood eventually breaks down and decays. That's just wood. Plus there's two thousand years of violence, war, and moving vans between here and there. But as perfect carpentry, they would have been very valuable; His father probably sold them. That could have been why he was able to travel instead of supporting his father, who was presumably in his mid-forties to early fifties. That was pretty old in those times."

"I guess that makes sense," she glanced over her shoulder, ostensibly to look at him but more to check over his shoulder. There was no sign of the ship; Likely they'd be fully under cover by now. Then they'd unload and start digging out the subterranean complex where the magical experiments would be conducted. "So no perfect chairs around anymore. Well, not two thousand year old perfect chairs."

"Maybe. Or maybe they're in the Vatican, or kept by one of the various secret societies. After a few years it would just be another chair, occasionally waxed or polished and everyone who knew it was Christ's chair would be dead."

"Wouldn't he label them?"

"No - Jesus was a humble man. By their works shall you know them..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:36 am

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"'It's supposta' be only ahn expression,' he'd say," she said as she took the gather of sickly pink and purple tube and wrapped it around the back of her enormous thigh and then drawing it around, "Yer not ah'ctually supposed to wear 'em for gahters. Gah, Ah miss 'em ah'ready," Meli sighed as she pushed the intestines over, into a loop, and then back around until she had a nicely presentable bow decorating the side of her leg. If one was to ignore the viscera that dripped from her new accessory and the sheet of crimson blood that stretched from one over-sized fist to just below the elbow, she might almost look dainty.

Never in a million, billion years.

But it had been time to go back to work. With Slave Prince Heron safely ensconced in his new residence and a steady stream of slavers and other undesirables making their way to the hidden moon there were now plenty of cast-offs and dregs for other captains to recruit from and for her to blend into. It hadn't even taken much of a disguise for her to go from the Prince's chief buyer's agent - a role now handed off to another Anathema operator - to one of the general assortment of dis-satisfied deserters and malcontents who were gradually building a new ramshackle town around the outer walls of the jungle ruins. It had been in one of these simple squats that the captain, owner, and illiterate asshole in charge of the ill-named Fancy Lad had found her and, based purely on an arm wrestling contest that she'd thrown at the last instant, hired her on as general crew. Leaving her beloved ScLappi behind she'd made orbit and set out for parts unknown.

"Which brings us to you," she said, patting down the loops of the bow and turning to the remainder. She was spread out across the deck of her quarters, and the bulkheads, and the ceiling. Carpaccio might have found the scene inspirational but for the Dwarf it was now a hassle; The woman had first made her cover, then threatened to reveal it unless services were rendered, and when Meli had shown up to render those services she'd rendered the woman into separate functions. "Ah guess Ah could put yer head in here, arms here... But is someone gonna come lookin' fer you?"

It was the tragedy of impulse. The lavatory was a non-starter; Her head just wouldn't fit unless she ground it up into a pulp. Not technically a problem for the massive forearms and fingers that could shatter iron and steel, but messy. That left the garbage disposal and that looked promising - nothing more than a bin that slid into a receptacle where it was presumably emptied at some point by something; "But what something?"

Another solution was to just kill everyone on board, steal the ship, and head back to Kyupuu. Plenty of ships showed up splattered in blood and with only one surviving crewman, right? 'No', she decided - that was just an excuse to return to her lover. Instead she turned to the toilet, gathering up the miscellaneous parts, she prepared to put them down the drain and let whatever mechanisms were in place deal with it. With her strong fingers it was like shredding tender pork but all that ended when she returned to the head. Gripping the two halves like a cantaloupe, she twisted it apart and poured the contents into the bowl. There was a ring and a clatter and she looked down to notice a curious metallic something-or-other swimming in the gore and with a pair of fingers she plucked it out.

"Ah've seen one o' these before..."

In fact she'd handled one before as well, but the last time it had been to slip one inside the Doctor's cranium. It was an ExoCortex and that meant, for the moment, that the woman wasn't as much dead as disconnected and that, somewhere and somehow, she'd stumbled across a bit of tech that wasn't exactly native to these parts of space. Sometimes that happened, of course - these sorts of people tended to travel far and wide - but even back home it would have been expensive; "Older model though," she examined it closer, running it under the sink to rinse away the remaining fluids.

The current equivalent looked something like a flatworm and was designed to curl around the back of the skull, sitting there with its near-invisible tendrils running into the nervous system, while it contained the individual's migrated consciousness. She didn't know the entire details of how it worked but the squared off edges and thicker shape made her think of a centipede rather than the sleek implant being produced back in the Republic.

"Tahm to do some investigatin'!"

Hurrying the process along, she flushed and flushed again until everything was gone except the implant - and thus the woman - which she tucked into a pocket. Her original assignment had been to take ship and see where the slavers were gathering their harvest but there was plenty of time to ask around between here and there and, once the floors had been mopped, she left the quarters behind and went looking for someone to shake down for information on their last few stops.

"Literally..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:14 am

SDF-Tlokselo, GEC-79801D (Common Designation: Unknown), Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Textbook Nuclear Winter, Captain," Lieutenant Andrews replied from his post at the sensor console; The officer was just what one might expect for someone in that position - scientifically curious and knowledgeable, as well as detail-oriented. One by one, Captain LeCoq was glad he hadn't filled out the ship's roster himself - that would have been a mess. "Extremely high levels of radioactive dust in the atmosphere, surface temperatures below freezing across much of the planet. Industrial pollutants are relatively light, as a side note; That corresponds to the projected population and GEC-79801D's documented status as a colony world."

"How many?" It was a terrible question, and one that LeCoq immediately regretted asking, but it had to be asked. "How many colonists?"

"Millions; The structural analysis routines are still putting together a better estimate, but between ten and twelve million. The planet was surveyed by TYCS-Barringer back in Twenty-oh-Fifty-Nine, labeled for potential future expansion, but someone else got here first. The system was claimed by a polity without a particular interest in maintaining outside contact with the Sol Sphere; There aren't any further details in the GEC database. That government broke up sometime in the last fifteen years - again, records are spotty."

The extra detail had given the Captain some time to digest the first number; Ten million or more people dead in a nuclear war that had plunged the planet into a frozen atomic winter. It was a hard fact to swallow and a terrible fate for those on the surface. There were two questions, however, and both were for the Lieutenant, "How long ago did the nuclear war happen, and are we picking up any survivors?"

"I can give you a partial answer on the first; Sensors show a number of thermal hot-spots on the surface and we've been able to get a few glimpses through the cloud cover for more detail. There are survivors; Mostly in scattered communities in the tropics where daytime temperatures still climb above freezing. A few more here and there in the northern and southern regions..."

"Survivalists or the lucky," the officer at Tactical chimed in. "Bunker dwellers. They are likely the safest from the... From the slavers, Captain."

Another uncomfortable moment; GEC-79801D was one of the planets mentioned in the reporting from their unidentified intelligence asset. The list had been compiled from reports from slaver ships and captains operating in the area and their most likely target would be those larger outposts of the remaining civilization where the harvest would be plentiful - there was little profit to be made in chasing down a lone survivor in their bunker. Against an armed spaceship the best option was simply to surrender; "And it might be the best option anyway," Ferdinan muttered. "Better than a slow death from radiation poisoning."

"...the second is a bit trickier. Based on the density of the radioactive dust in the atmosphere, the number of observed burst craters, and the tentative population and thus structural figures, the population would have been towards the end of the manufacturing trail needed to produce nuclear weapons. But they used a lot of them - I'd put a first guess at an exchange of two to three thousand warheads. Virtually every population center is cratered and that's the other odd thing as well; The likely source for the weapons would be off-world, somewhere with a larger manufacturing base. That would then suggest more advanced weapons with more advanced fuses and targeting. But these were crude," he pressed a few buttons on his console and a hazy image of a devastated city appeared on the main display. A highlight circle appeared and he explained, "The detonation crater. This wasn't a large city to begin with - maybe twenty thousand people - but the weapon hit the ground outside of the city and exploded. Damage is typical for a weapon in the one to two megaton range but far more than was needed for a city of this size, and a ground burst."

"What's special about a ground burst?"

"What's not special, actually;" This was the Tactical Officer again, and it was his job to know such things. "If the target of a nuclear weapon is a population center, the best method is an air burst. The over-pressure wave that causes most of the destruction is larger from the same weapon, there's less fallout, and there can be secondary effects such as an electromagnetic pulse. I'd say this war was crude because the weapons were crude - basic warheads, basic contact triggers, basic ballistic targeting."

"Exactly - and if these weapons were obtained off-world, most civilizations with interstellar travel and trade would be able to supply something far more advanced at essentially the same cost; All three are a matter of electronics, not materials."

"A home grown dirty nuclear war?" But was it right to call it a war? LeCoq put that question to voice, "This was a colony world, right? They were, supposedly, under the control of another government. A government that broke up more than a decade ago, and they decided to spend their time building nuclear weapons? If they didn't like each other, why not just kill each other the old fashioned way? Sticks and stones still work, right?"

"Less than three months ago, best guess, Captain."

It was a good moment for an exasperated sigh. People had been killing each other for a long time and while it was Ferdinan's first exposure to death on that scale, it was a sad fact that he'd have to get used to. Tlokselo carried enough armament in her own belly to do the same and worse many times over and that was a responsibility that had been impressed on him every day ever since his first day at Academy. That hadn't stopped someone from doing it here; Death and destruction on a massive scale with what was, in the end, no justifiable purpose. It was time to do something about it.

"Alright; Document everything, forward it to Fleet. See if you can determine some of the local communications methods, toss out a survey satellite, and put up a message that help is on the way;" The Republic had resources to assist, and even beyond that there were more nations within its sphere that could and would help if needed; "Hopefully that will put the slavers off. If you find any sign of dire need..."

It was an ugly thought, but that was his assignment - investigate and report back. Ships would be coming in days or weeks to rescue and assist the survivors, and what if the next planet had millions waiting? He and the crew of Tlokselo could linger here for the next month cleaning out all the little pockets or they could press on and leave this mess to others with the resources to handle it quickly and properly - that didn't make him any less happy about moving on...
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jul 16, 2017 11:35 am

After Hours, Port Ha'Bainda, Blishi'i (GEC-1342224) Star System, Canis Major II Dwarf Galaxy...

Discussions were over, negotiations complete, accords signed, and the thin stem of the oddly shaped cocktail glass in front of her looked like the best thing in the universe at the moment. The odd shape - a spout, very small and curving sharply down - was likely for the use of the Blishi'i who made up the majority of the night club's customers but there was plenty that was still familiar about the glassware and the drink it held. The sharp smell of alcohol, the way the liquid clung to the edge of the shallow cone; All of that would have fit in with any similar establishment in the vicinity of Sol and soon enough the Blishi'i would be joining them and the other way around. Yes, there would be regulations and protocols and laws and all of that to follow but for the moment she tried her best to flush it all out of her head as she picked up the glass and tipped it entirely the wrong way to take a minute sip opposite the spout.

There was a fire there, a thin trace of liquid heat as it ran past her tongue, but the first flavor was sweet and a little bit tangy. Without knowing exactly what they served and with the impulse to explore she'd left the choice up to the waiter, who'd returned with her drink in short order. Another sip and that same burn in the back of her mouth but now the sweetness was magnified and she caught some new impression of the original fruit and the glass was half-empty already.

"You should be careful," a voice warned her from behind; A subtle and somehow familiar purr. She turned to find the bounty hunter from a day earlier behind her, half-leaning over the back of the booth. Her previous gown had been exchanged for something even more familiar; A cropped blouse and what had to be blue jeans and no sign of the armor she'd been wearing underneath during their earlier encounter. "The Blishi'i do not drink much so they mix their drinks especially strong. That one will be enough for the night..."

Demi looked back at it for a moment; There had barely been a tablespoon of liquid there but already she felt a particular buzz, "I... I think it will be."

The woman slid around the side and into the seat opposite, sitting forward for a moment with a flash of cleavage and then back to let her long gray hair, now loose, drape down the outside of the booth, "It will be," she affirmed, looking her over with a careful glance. "So..."

"So... Are you on duty?"

"Mmm, do I look like I'm on duty?" Shaking her head, she again tossed her hair out until a long sheath was hanging down from shoulder to breast. She put up a hand and looked around, confirming with a nod that the waiter would be heading their way before turning back to Demi, "So; Have you ever considered turning yourself in?"

Demi looked back at her oddly, as if the Danyth had suddenly grown a second head, but something in her question prompted her to repeat the question back, "Turn myself in? For the bounty? Why..."

Across the booth the woman looked around and then leaned forward, again showing a broad flash of bare skin that the first found strangely intoxicating. Her voice was lower now and conspiratorial, "Because you're worth a lot of money. Whoever wants you is willing to pay... Whatever it takes." With a finger she beckoned Demi forward, into the same position, and for a moment there was a glance and a smile as her own chest was exposed before the Danyth whispered, "Billions."

"Billions?"

A careful glance around and again she repeated, "Billions," this time holding up three finger and wiggling them for emphasis.

There was a long moment as Demi considered this and she felt the base of the glass touch her finger. Another sip and the woman smiled, again glancing down in apparent appreciation before pushing herself even further forward to leave nothing of her own covered and putting her face and her lips within a hand's breath, "Billions. And would it matter? They don't want you dead... They just... want... you..."

"Want... me..."

"After all, there's other people who want you too. Want you safe and sound. They'd come for you... Rescue you... Take you," she purred, finally leaning forward those last few delicious inches to brush Demi's lips with her own. "They want you too. I want you..."

There was a haze now but Demi couldn't fight it, didn't want to fight it. The offer was inciting and so simple; The woman wanted her.

"You should come with me," she prompted. "Back to my apartment. Where we can," she leaned forward and kissed her again, this time harder and with more than a hint of lust. Pulling back, she ran her eyes down Demi's face, past her chin, slowly prompting her own to follow. A foot ran up her shin and she held it there to stroke along her calf, "...finish the evening."

"We should..." Demi leaned forward herself but the Danyth took her hand, pushed her drink aside, and gently tugged her up from the table. Demi followed willingly, the other woman wrapping her arm first around her waist and then her hips and then finally resting a hand on her bottom as she guided her out of the club. Sights and sounds passed along in a blur as pleasant promises were whispered in her ear until desire overtook her and she pulled the woman aside to press her lips and then her body up against the other. It was only when her hand started to creep up her blouse that the bounty hunter stopped her with a smile; "Soon..." and continued to lead her towards the promised rendezvous.

Down the station's busy promenade and then down a side corridor and it was only here that something felt familiar about their route, but a moment's reluctance was met with a reassuring squeeze from the hand still on her backside, "Just here... My apartment's just here..."

A hand at the panel and the door slid aside and there was a little push that Demi turned into another opportunity to pull the woman through the door and as it slid shut behind them she pressed the Danyth hard up against the wall, her mouth seeking the other while hands pulled and tugged at the hem of blouse and jeans, "Right here..."

"Yes, right here;" There was something pressing against Demi's chest and she looked down, expecting a hand seeking to stroke but instead finding the same softly rounded pistol she'd seen earlier, the gently glowing blue emitter now menacing despite the warm sensuality of the woman's body pressed against her own. "Right here will do just fine;" A flash of light and she knew no more...
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jul 17, 2017 1:32 pm

Saryan Brilla's Condo, Landor City, Terra Incognito...

"You're right - that would be some serious Clarke-level shit right there. Is it plausible?" Saryan pondered for a moment and a virtual whiteboard sprang up between the two and in seconds she was filling it with her scribbling scrawl, putting down formula and erasing them just as quickly as the board translated these into a more precise - and legible - chart on the opposite side. "Maybe. The problem is that... How did your experiments go? With NX143?"

That Commander Brown was at her place in person said something had happened, good or bad, but he hadn't offered any details yet. Instead he'd nearly barged in her door, ignored the young man in the towel who had answered it, and roused her out of bed and into the living room for a sit-down conversation in a bed sheet toga that she still wore as she moved from one side of the workspace to the other, long strings of numbers and symbols following her pen.

"They went - but not well. We couldn't get the frame spindle to stabilize and I'm pretty sure its the drive itself. So we came back, we'll get a new drive built with the lessons learned, and head back out in a week or so. So I thought I'd put some ideas past you."

"At seven in the morning, on a Sunday, right when I was hoping to have another go? You've got terrible timing, Commander;" But her pen kept up its rapid sweep and she stepped back to look things over, "So there's your problem. Right here," she led the pen in a circle around a particular segment. "Sure, I'm your woman when it comes to this kind of physics, but essentially the universe doesn't like it. You're trying to take unbounded electromagnetic flows under high gravity compression and trying to make them do something. When you get to that level of compression things start to break down, act randomly. By all rights, the chaos in the system should pile up, diffusion should take over, and the star restored to its super-fluid state. But..."

With that reality confronting him, Brown fell back on the facts and pulled up several holograms he'd prepared earlier showing the recorded history of the iWe's artificial torus, "But its not, is it? These same laminations have been there since the star was discovered. I've asked if we can do a more in-depth study and recording of the star itself; I suspect that if we keep a close enough eye on it, the activity levels will change as the iWe chose to make themselves known."

"You're asking a lot, Brown," her pen moved again and she poked out some far simpler equations. "It's a star - it puts out a lot of waste energy," she pointed to the first, "Which is here. But to just do something like vibrating the air at a distant location - talking - you'd have to use this much," she pointed to the next, "With the trick being that somehow you'd also need to be able to record those same vibrations - what they are saying to you."

"I think its worse than that - more serious Clarke magic," he confessed, slumping back on her couch. "I don't think this thing is a transmitter and receiver - I think this is how they extend themselves. There was a cold hand print on one of the consoles. A hand print - it could have been a blob or a spot or a line, but a hand print. Vibrating the air, and then somehow sucking the energy out of the air so it leaves a hand print - complete with ice - on the console? That's serious precision. I'm not sure which is more ludicrous; That they've potentially built a giant multi-function molecular manipulator or that they've built a device capable of extending themselves to galactic distances. Does it matter?" He shook his head, "I don't think so. If we can figure out what this star does - if it does - and how it does it, we'll figure out which is which. And again, the big picture problem..."

"What's the problem?"

"The problem is that a tool doesn't stay a tool - or didn't start off as one in the first place. It can also be a weapon, and boy would this be a doozy. Probably the biggest single weapon system I've ever heard of. So either the iWe just like to play pranks on pre-Singularity civilizations across a galactic stage, or they have a weapon sitting there for some reason, some purpose. Who's their enemy? Are we? The Druth'Haari? They don't seem to be particularly forthcoming with answers..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jul 18, 2017 6:39 pm

Ver'Un'Guun Monitoring Station IL, Syphonia Asteroid Field, The Inward Frontier, Canis Major II...

The interior of the station's landing bay was cramped, though less-so than the interior itself. In fact it was less a landing bay than a launch shaft with just enough room for one of the three-bladed scout ships to enter, refuel, and then launch again on their endless patrol of nearby space. It was the scout ship that had come across the intruder, as was its duty, but there was no room for both and so the scout was forced to remain outside while the little probe was drawn up into the tunnel and into the maintenance airlock. Not that the scout's pilot could join the crew for their investigation; Mostly lobotomized and hardwired directly into the ship's controls, she couldn't leave the cockpit if she'd wanted to.

That had been an opportunity for much harassment. Scout duty was a punishment - as was crewing a monitoring station - but that was the very ethos of the Ver'Un'Guun; Push down those below you, desire to surpass those above. The how and why really weren't important.

Thus it was that the lowest of their three was the one sent into the airlock to undertake the initial examination of the probe. It clearly was a probe as they'd detected no sign of life or the organic compounds that would signal life, and anyone inside would be pressed quite literally up against the surrounding components. A drive, a sensor pod, a power plant, and those spines that were decorative but clearly useless. The only reason they hadn't destroyed it was because the drive was of an unknown type and some degree of curiosity was part of their assigned duties. Already they'd been warned to keep an eye out for ships of a particular configuration and if there was yet another new player in the region it would be best to pass that information up the chain - though the how and why would typically involve the canniest of them leaving the station to deliver it in person.

That would probably not be the slender silver-clad individual who entered the airlock. The door was just as quickly closed behind her and she knelt to begin passing a scanner over the cone-shaped probe. It was essentially all device - there was no cowling to define the shape and in the warmth and humidity of the airlock rime had quickly coated the ice-cold surfaces. Tracking down exactly how they all worked would be up to experts later but she could determine the gross functions. Such as whether it was actually a bomb of some nature. There seemed to be two components that were of unusual function: A unit attached to the power plant that was a field emitter of some kind, and a oblong blob buried between all the rest. The general shape of the components on the screen of the scanner suggested it was organic, but the materials were polymers and lightweight composites. It was as though someone had constructed a Jenri and had placed it inside.

'No trace of explosives,' she said aloud, her words relayed through the airlock's commlink. 'The probe is still powered up and transmitting though.'

Was it a concern? Not necessarily; The sensor package looked crude and ungainly. Really nothing more powerful than the scanner she held in her hand, at least by its volume. Even from here it could only tell whether she was alive or not, much less the hidden details of the monitoring station.

'I'm going to disconnect the power,' she decided. That was coupled to the rest of the probe's systems by a cleanly labeled cable and all she had to do was reach out, twist... And the scanner fell to the deck with a clatter, followed by the skin-tight suit as it collapsed like a person-shaped water balloon. Here and there, where there was some give, it bulged enormously as some force inside pressed to get out but the material of the suit was stronger and it eventually subsided to something resembling its previous shape. Whether there was live left, the form lay still and silent and where alarms and klaxons should have sounded, the station was just as silent.

On the unattended screens of the command center a blip appeared, soon labeled and recognized as a ship of the same make as the one that had appeared near IXL some days earlier. But there was no one to act on the information; Like the figure in the airlock, the two at their stations lay limp beside their stations. It fell to the lone scout to turn, recognize the danger, fire off a warning to the station, and then explode a moment later as a hail of particle cannon fire tore it to miscellaneous pieces. The ship swept close, a shuttle detached from her hull, and as the larger starship circled the monitoring station it made for the same launch tunnel to disgorge its boarding team. Whatever automated defenses might have been activated, whatever command to scuttle given, all went un-issued...
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jul 19, 2017 10:33 pm

Deep Under Habitat One, Molar Plane, Falk's Gambit, GEC-1309912, Canis Major II Segment...

"...and if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, apparently it's a slaver. Quack quack..."

"Did your Mom toss them out the airlock?"

"No..." Trinya picked her way around a pile of fallen boulders that had managed to stack themselves up in a semi-rational manner, her hand-light swinging back and forth across the cavern floor. "She said they claimed slavery was illegal in their realm. Then they started talking about the Blishi'i - apparently they heard about us from them - and how it was illegal there as well. Then they started talking about how a lot of people told the Blishi'i things like slavery were illegal where they came from just to curry favor and... Yeah. They sure spent a lot of time talking about slavery."

"And then she tossed them out the airlock?"

"...no. She told them that of course the Republic is interested in establishing friendly diplomatic relations with any nation so clearly interested in the freedom of all people. They thanked her and were on their way."

"So she doesn't know they're slavers."

"Sounds like a duck," she shrugged, turning her light to the ceiling. Where other caves on other worlds might have some delicate flow stone structures or dripping stalactites, this cave had been carved by brutal heat and pressure originating from deep underground and the walls - while mostly broken and fractured - sported the occasional super-smooth surface where the rock had melted and flowed like butter. "We'll send the diplomat, but Mom's expecting him to get tossed out on his tail feathers once they realize we're serious. She said she was going to request Ambassador Foresteri - she's not a fan, and if they happen to shoot him, so much the better..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:42 pm

A Virtual Reconstruction of Derku'ion...

Timmons hooked his feet around a chair-grab, wrangled a kelp-bulb out of the net floating nearby, and took a big bite followed by a mouthful'ed, "Who knew that xenobiologist bars would be a thing, or that a good number of them would have had their memories transcribed?"

It made sense though he'd never had the reason to think about it. In his own culture knowledge was not passed along by the unknowing; Experts wrote down their ideas in whatever form and sent them along. Yes, there was the eponymous social media but blog posts and live journals were as ethereal as the wind and just as temporary. Real knowledge came from scientists and researchers who sought out other scientists and researchers to check their data, assure that the facts were in order, and then pass their conclusions on to whoever might use them.

And those researchers and scientists hung out in bars.

Or at least their Qu'uin equivalent. An aquatic civilization, those who would someday spawn the Kion had built their space stations and orbital habitats similarly so that they too were giant water-filled vessels. Slow currents moved from here to there and chambers and alcoves abounded. One of these had been prepared as a gathering place and here, after inquiring at the local equivalent of university, was where the Commander had led his contingent of explorers in an attempt to gather some information from the locals. The scuttlebutt around the University was that one of the professors had a habit of interviewing the odd visiting trader or merchant and it was here that she could be found playing audience instead of lecturer.

"The xenobiologists, or the bars?"

"The bars," he laughed, or at least the local equivalent. The software that connected them to the virtual environment was startlingly complex; It turned a laugh into whatever the Qu'uin did, and told Timmon's brain that whatever they did was laughing. The first time diving into such an emersive environment was disconcerting but once a user had navigated the process and effects several times it was a smooth and boring transition. "Have you seen her yet, Dee?"

The Duab'Akii in disguise shook her head. That was one thing the software couldn't do; Even from her altered perspective all the Qu'uin looked alike until a user had spent a little time among them and the differences in their body and facial structures really began to stand out. Lean and long and with a hatchet shaped head didn't really mean anything when most everyone else sorta-semi fit that description. Even she fit that description, though there was a certain 'Essence of Deania' to her form and her body language.

"I wonder how they..."

His question was answered before he could finish asking it; The curtain of weeds that gave some semblance of privacy to the alcove parted and a long, lean, hatched-faced woman swam through followed by a particularly fishy robot. In fact, other than its obviously robotic nature, it looked very much like one of the immortal fish that had set them on the path to discovering the true homeworld of the Kion. This particular example was a silver-white and its eyes had been replaced with the housings for cameras of some kind, but it still bore a scale-like pattern and moved with lifelike motions as it swam to follow the new arrival. They settled into a corner and after a moment they began to chat back and forth just as naturally as if she had been sitting across from the real flesh-and-blood person on the other side of the link.

"Kinda complex for just a sit-down chat..." Alwyra murmured. "Why not have it on a screen in your office?"

"How many screens have you seen," Timmons replied, and the Neko looked around until she arrived at the answer; "None. Weird..."

"They prefer to do things in person - the drone allows the visitor to do just that without wearing a diving suit. Now, if we've caught them at the right moment," he went silent, drifting closer to the pair in an attempt to overhear their conversation in detail. It was one of the oddities of the virtual environment; The memories recorded were not the complete experiences of the individual.

Instead they were just the portions considered important enough to keep - a highlights reel, as it were. Some of the memory crystals had been jam-packed while others surprisingly sparse. This particular researcher had hit the memory limit not once but five times but that didn't mean there was infinite data. This particular conversation had been important and had been referenced elsewhere and thus had been recreated through comparison and collage of those different data sources but ultimately the biologists's virtual life was far shorter than their real one and events would loop around, as would the entire environment. For the virtual Qu'uin, life really was cyclical.

"...tell me about the planet where you found them;" All ears perked up and the drone answered; "Wasn't a planet. We found those bodies on an asteroid, frozen as solid as a piece of ice. Odd thing too; They were placed there, not just scattered around. Like a grave yard..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jul 21, 2017 6:41 pm

SDF-Tlokselo, In Orbit of GEC-83091E, Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

Tlokselo had been on the move. After a survey of GEC-79801D, the pertinent details had been transmitted back to Fleet and a task force dubbed Sawhorse I had been pulled together to effect a rescue of the nuclear refugees. With the planet and then the system, they'd proceeded along Lieutenant Commander Fujioka's recommended path and hit three star systems that had been fully surveyed nearly a century earlier. The first two had been roughly the same as they were in the survey database; Barren systems with nothing beyond the most common mineral resources. The third had been expected to be the same but here they had found their first signs of life - a network of automated mining stations placidly going about their business. But this early sign of hope had given way to concern as there had been no reply to numerous attempts at communication and it became apparent that the extracted resources were being stockpiled near-endlessly as the automatons waited for a freighter that would never come.

That had sent Tlokselo to the next system over, another colony previously bursting with life but now...

"...I think we're close, Captain," Commander Zacha suggested, looking up at the distant ship from behind the faceplate of his power armor. Around him the ship's Marine detachment worked their way through rooms and corridors that might be familiar to a citizen of the more civilized regions of the galaxy except that they were now devoid of life. From their earlier vantage point the surface had looked downright welcoming; Cities sprawled here and there and there were all the satellites and stations in orbit that one might expect. But there were no people, "And we haven't ran into any of the creatures yet. They seem to be keeping their distance."

"Any indication of what they are, Commander?"

"They definitely aren't the people." The Neko knelt and picked up a pile of rags and what turned out to be splintered bone, "Or at least this one hopes not. Mass cannibalism? It is not a particularly appetizing notion."

LeCoq stared at the hovering holographic representation of his second-in-command, "I..." Was it intentional? Behind the cyclopian helmet the Neko could have been making any number of faces and so either way the Captain decided to ignore it, "Whatever it is, the sooner you can find that data center and get back here, the better I'll feel about it."

That was the team's goal on the surface; Back-tracing the still intact electrical and networking grid had led them to a nexus of sorts and that nexus was likely a data center in the heart of the building where all of the local communications traffic passed before being sent on its way again. Perhaps some cultural anthropologists might have been interested in knowing the reason why it all seemed to go through this hub, but to the Captain and his eager second it was an opportunity to hopefully gather direct horses' mouth information on just what had happened.

"I assure you, Captain - we will be quick..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jul 22, 2017 6:24 am

Somewhere in Demi's Head...

The moment was entirely different than what she thought it would be. She'd seen the bounty hunter's previous target fall to the floor, stunned into unconsciousness, seen him hauled to his feet still numb to the world as she led him away through the crowd. In that moment of cold realization when she'd gone from a hazy sense of lust and desire to the sharp edged fear for her life she'd expected for her world to go black as sleep of a sort was forced on her by the alien weapon. Instead she had seen the bright burst of energy and then now she was alone. Alone with all of her senses vanished; She could feel no touch, smell nothing, see nothing. There was something else as well; The muddy feelings were gone as well.

"I was drugged," she realized aloud, talking to nothing in particular but yet somehow hearing her own thoughts. "Or was it just the drink?"

She remembered the smile the bounty hunter had had on her lips when she'd bumped into her at the reception. There had been a malice there, a coldness that had replaced any sense of warmth that might otherwise have been implied. Even in the way she'd explained the fate of her people there had been a detachment as if it did not matter to her. Perhaps she'd been lying - Demi had meant to read up on it, but the next few hours of meetings had interfered - or perhaps even before she'd been the efficient take-down artist, unafraid to snatch up her prey out of a diplomatic gala or a busy night club. A professional.

"It had to be the drink," she decided, but there was a twist. She should be unconscious, spread out on the floor of the entryway to the woman's apartment or propped up against the wall but she wasn't. Demi was still here, still aware, but somehow still not connected to the world outside. Could it have been the weapon? She'd never seen it before...

"The ExoCortex!"

Non-existential fingers went to the back of her ethereal head and she felt for the patch of metal that she knew should be there but of course it wasn't; She had neither fingers to touch it or hair to conceal it. Those were now disconnected from her, disconnected in whatever way the stunner worked from the implant that now held the migrated core of her being. She was still here.

"Well, what do I do now..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jul 24, 2017 9:56 am

SDF-Unconquered Sun, Off Port Ha'Bainda, Blishi'i (GEC-1342224) Star System, Canis Major II Dwarf Galaxy...

"Missing... ...how?"

"We..." The Minister paused as well, looking back through the screen at the Secretary-General. For the Ambassador's senior official, spouse, and the de facto head of state responsible for the safety of its citizenry, Erika didn't seem exactly concerned by the news of her wife's disappearance. Instead there was a calm edge to her appearance, though perhaps it was because she was currently at the apex of power. Seated at the center of a command center, she had a whole array of officers and adjutants waiting on her command, some already hard at work from the moment the call had come through. "We're pretty sure we know what happened."

Glancing down at something to the side, the Blishi'i went on, "When she didn't show up for the meeting this morning, the liaison assigned to her was dispatched. He announced himself, no one answered, and the hotel owner let them into her room, which was in order but with no sign of Ms. Love. There was a... cat;" The word, though translated, still felt unfamiliar to him; "And it informed them that she had not returned to her room. That aroused the suspicions of her liaison; Apparently she'd had an encounter with a bounty hunter at the diplomatic luncheon who'd informed her that she had a bounty on her. Nothing in our system, of course, but bounty hunters," he sniffed, "I'm sure she had some illicit contacts. I'm not sure why Ambassador Love would have a bounty though; Lovely woman, wonderful, and very sweet."

"Yes, she is," Erika replied, but Minister Phare's compliments were more meant to lighten the impact of his next few words; "After the meeting, she told her liaison she intended to go out for the night. See some of the station's night life. He offered to accompany her, but she turned down this offer. She did ask for a recommendation and he directed her to a particular establishment. Acting on the notion that she might still be at the club, he went there and asked. Since there were no other Humans there, he had no trouble establishing that she had been there and that she had left with a woman fitting the description of the bounty hunter. Also," he took a deep breath, "One of the bartenders first denied having seen her but then, when presented with the record of her drink purchase, confessed to both having served her drink and having placed something in it at the behest of that same bounty hunter. The bartender is currently in custody, of course. When he was told this, the liaison called Control, received the location of both her room and the berth where her ship was located but also that her ship had departed the station during the night. A search was made of her room and of the berth and it appears as though the Ambassador went straight from the club to the berth and, we're assuming, under the influence of whatever substance was added to her drink."

"And when did this ship leave the station?" The Minister looked for the time, found it, and repeated it off with the numbers translated into the particular time kept aboard the Unconquered Sun; "She preceded directly to the departure zone and jumped out. A flight plan was filed but..."

"It was falsified," Erika interrupted, a nod from one of the officers seeming to confirm this; "That's right - her ship never arrived at the listed destination. Our monitoring network indicates it likely headed towards the Vcær Principalities - she probably has contacts there and our monitoring network doesn't extend to their space. We're doing what we can - a ship has already been dispatched - but I'm afraid she's already far away..."

There was finally a sigh from the Secretary-General, "Thank you, Minister Phare. I don't hold anything against you or your government. Demi has always been an independent woman - that's why I love her. Now we'll do our best to find her."

"Right! Yes, of course! We're putting our best people on it and I will let you know as soon as we find anything!"

"I'm sure you will," and with that the Minister signed off. After a moment to let the screen clear and a few more seconds of silence, Erika turned to the same officer who had confirmed the Minister's statement of an altered flight plan, "Where did the ship go?"

"According to the maps provided by the Blishi'i, the Minister was correct; According to the BOOBYTRAP logs, a small ship departed Ha'Bainda at that time and left via hyperspace-type drive with an endpoint matching that drive signature in a system identified as belonging to the Vcær Principalities. It arrived there approximately four hours ago - and then departed again an hour later."

"So no need to ask what we know about the Vcær Principalities. Long enough to refuel or just try and throw anyone following her off the track. Forward the drive signature to Falk's Gambit and to the main TRIPWIRE array, as well as a description of the ship to Fleet and TYCS, as well as across our contacts. Lieutenant Abernathy," she turned to a different officer, this time dressed in the gray stripe of the Intelligence branch, "Who wants her and why?"

"Ah, well, that's a tricky question;" She raised an eyebrow as the Lieutenant parsed the information in front of him. "The 'who' is Boran & Hagh. They're a concierge bounty service that's big in the black economy. Essentially bounty hunter escrow; They take contracts, offer them to bounty hunters, and neither side knows who's working for who. Which means that whoever put up three billion..."

"Billion?"

"Billion as in a 'B'," he nodded, the suffix provoking some minor chatter around him. "Really wanted her, and really wanted to make sure no one knew who they were. She's not the only one; Our contacts within the community have indicated in the past that most every notable government official has had a bounty on them at some point, but why Ambassador Love, and who? The only ones who might be able to tell us that are the folks at Boran & Hagh and they're probably not going to tell us."

"Unless we threaten to reduce them to mono-atomic vapor," Erika answered, her tone grim. "I'm guessing this also means she'd be delivered directly to them? Unless there's someone else also offering billions for the head of a Republic Ambassador?"

"Not just the head - the contract is for a live capture;" Which didn't mean that whoever it was wouldn't kill her when they'd received her and verified her identity, but he left that part out. "And there aren't any other contracts out there, at least not for this amount. Nothing worth risking your life over, not as a bounty hunter. My guess is that's where she's headed; I'd recommend we activate whatever assets we have near their facilities or put some on station to watch for the ship or the bounty hunter, though for billions... I'd be taking precautions. Once word gets out, Ambassador Love won't be the only one wanted..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jul 25, 2017 5:05 pm

SDF-Tlokselo, In Orbit of GEC-83091E, Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Using the data we've recovered, we've pieced together a pretty good picture of what happened," Commander Kacha began, rising from his seat to pace the head of the room, tail swinging back and forth behind him to toss in the occasional lash for emphasis. "But there are several key details missing."

"Key details?" Captain LeCoq glanced down at the report in front of him. The details - exhaustive details - had been compiled both from audio and visual recordings, databank entries, and the Commander's team's experience on the surface. If there was a detail missing in the four-score and seventy page report the Captain would be hard pressed to find it.

"Yes. This looks like an accident, but it would imply a truly staggering level of incompetence or desperation. Something smells fishy," the tail flicked hard, "But the source seems to be hidden. To explain, this colony was the victim of an unfortunate famine, though a predictable one. GEC-83091E is on a long ecliptic orbit around a binary pair. For the past few thousand years the solar radiation and thus the weather has been mild and pleasant. But for the past several years it has gotten rapidly colder as the planets orbit has repeatedly circled beyond the paired star. This led to a surge in crop failures and the colony was unable to adjust and a prideful streak only made things worse."

"But they didn't starve to death..."

"No. Three months ago an animal was introduced that would supposedly solve their food supply problems. It was put forward as a miracle of engineering; It ate garbage and turned it into a lean, protein rich meat at a highly efficient ratio. Better still they were docile and could be turned loose on the streets to be harvested at leisure. All of this was true - at least at first. Days and weeks passed, the creatures bred and reproduced rapidly, and solved both the garbage problem and the food crisis. According to all reports they were delicious..."

Licking his lips, the Neko paused for a moment of concentration and then a hologram appeared hovering above the center of the conference table. The animal depicted looked something like a rabbit but with large, sad looking eyes and a pair of medium-length serrated ears. The front and rear legs both looked plump and muscular and there was something of a pig-like stature to its stance.

"About a month ago there was a strange development. Larger specimens were being born;" The hologram began to shift and change as he described it, "And the eyes turned yellow and feral. The formerly docile garbage eaters began to get aggressive - forming packs and breaking into storage areas and consuming whatever fresh food they could find. The colonist's response was to try and herd them into proper farms but there were simply too many amd they were getting more aggressive by the day. It was almost predictable when they turned on the herders."

"There were millions now and it was like a switch had been flicked. Most of the colonists died in the first day amd even those prepared within the next few. When the population centers had vanished they spread out into the countryside. Lone households swarmed under by tens of thousands."

LeCoq nodded understanding. The surface team had been in the process of securing the data center when they'ed come under attack. Swarming out of every vent and hallway the now coal-black marauders had fallen on them in a tidal wave of claws, teeth, and glowing yellow eyes. Against men armed with rifles they would have triumphed but their opponents were Republic Marines and the automatic fire control systems in their power armor first beat them back and then cut them down by the numbers. When the hallways clogged with bodies they had been seen dashing up to grab the corpses of their own fallen and haul them away in their jaws for consumption.

"So they tried to save themselves from starvation but it went wrong; What am I missing?"

"What's missing is that these miracle animals appeared from nowhere. There are no records of any entity working on such a product. No media announcements, no government testing. One day they weren't there, the next they were. Conveniently too - the colonial government was under pressure because of the famines. An election was coming - and the poll numbers were not good. Then these tasty miracles appeared out of nowhere."

"...and the government bit."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jul 27, 2017 11:12 am

Port Five-Delta, Tsubasa, GEC-9978, The Western Expanse...

"Excuse me, Baron de la Maison Michelle? I believe you dropped this..."

The Baron turned, both surprised to hear his proper title and with denial on his lips, and then the Sanglanti saw what was in the man's hand. A black card, easily mistaken for one of the anonymous payment cards commonly referred to as a credit chip, but offered by the hand of a complete stranger, "Oh, I must have." The man nodded again and the richly dressed merchant took a step, took the card from the man's hand, and then a slight nod, "Thank you."

An everyday encounter, as it were, and just as quickly as it had started it was over with the man disappearing back into the flow of foot traffic and the Baron proceeding straight to his previous destination, a fine dinner at a traditional restaurant. In fact it was only after dinner, wine, a little more wine (...thank you...), retiring for the evening with mademoiselle, and a return to the docks to check on the status of the repairs he had ordered to his ship that he felt his pocket again and remembered the card. All perfectly ordinary until he pulled it out of his pocket, thumbed the display, and read off the listed balance carefully. Numbers became letters and a few thousand credits were now instructions. With all satisfactorily arranged he left once again, this time taking a turn that led him to a seemingly random docking bay on the back side of the port.

A very large docking bay.

In fact, his hat threatened to tip off the back of his head as he looked up and up the massive exterior bulkhead and then left and right to the doors some distance away. His previous contacts had all been in somewhat smaller arrangements but a bay of this size might house the largest freighter or serve as a warehouse for an entire shipping company. With that oddity in mind, he thumbed the card again, consulted the numbers, ran the simple cipher, and again arrived at the letters on the door. Correct and matching, as always. With a shrug he stepped up to the door and placed his palm on the lock, the card still casually held in two fingers. Both were needed, though one would only deny him entry, and the door slid open to allow him into the lock. Another panel at the other end and he was through, the tiny space opening up into an enormous chamber filled with dozens of ships laying under tarps in neat rows. Only dim lights lit the space and it was only by carefully looking around that the Baron was able to pick out the shape of a person leaning against the furthest.

"Hallo?" Slipping the card back into his pocket, he strode forward. Only cowards have something to hide - an odd motto for someone in his varied profession - but words to live by and he stepped forward with confidence, "I have come - what do you want?"

The man spoke quietly in response, his lips not quite moving, "We want several things, Baron. And we have something for you. A little give and take. The 'take' first - We want the Sanglanti Merchant Houses to seek membership in and take an active role in the leadership of the Outer Systems Alliance. The Hauyht on Juniper, the Solonics, the Pagani, the Zeer'Gen... They could use some guidance. An experienced hand to steer them away from any unpleasantness."

"This Outer Systems Alliance; They dislike the Roanians, do they not? See them as enemies, correct? Trouble for the Roanians is good for you, is it not?"

The Baron had his assumptions. Since his father's father's day, House Michelle had been the recipient of 'guidance' in various formed; A suggested target for a pirate raid, notice to stay away from a particular area of space, a request for information - or to spread it around. Like his father, Henri had been sworn in on the family secret when he was of age and like his father and his father's father, he too had taken the mysterious offers and the money they had come with. After all, the life of a merchant and occasional pirate was not an easy one, nor a particularly even one and their unknown - but presumed - benefactors had a way of evening out the family's fortunes.

"Too much trouble isn't good. Push the dog into a corner and the dog will bite. We want you to make sure they aren't pushed too far."

The Baron nodded, "I have a daughter. She does not like this life among the stars. She wishes to go to parties, to talk, to make endless words upon the ears of her poor father. She would make an excellent representative."

"Good. Then we have another request to make of you. Pickings have become lean in this area of space recently, have they not?"

It didn't even take a moment for the Sanglanti to laugh, "No! In fact, they have been better than ever! There's a boom on, if you haven't been paying attention. We've been able to make pay on trading alone - only a few ships, here and there. Unattended miners; You understand..."

But apparently the man did not and he pushed himself upright, "Really? Because I've been led to believe that pickings have become lean in this area of space recently. In fact, they've become so bad that you've made the decision to move your area of operations. You've heard there are rewards to be had in several different areas and you've graciously decided to spread them out to the other Merchant Houses."

"Ah? Why?"

"Because," he grabbed the tarp and lifted it to show the merchant and occasional pirate the very edge of the ship underneath, "If you move your operations, you'll get these. Renegade-Class Corsairs. Brand new and with the best systems money can't buy. There's a catch, of course - there's always a catch - but where there's a catch there's money to be made..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Aug 04, 2017 1:13 pm

CORE III Station, Deep Space, The Unknown Reaches, Ares Super-Cluster...

"...Project RENEGADE CORSAIR is an effective way to kill two birds with one stone. Three, actually, if I've got the count right," the gray-faced man explained as the pair walked along one of CORE III's seemingly endless series of titanic corridors. Down the middle and in a carefully marked off trench a rail line ferried a steady stream of anonymous cargo containers from one section of the vast station to another while overhead and accessible by regularly spaced lifts and stairways a hanging monorail zipped passengers along at even higher speeds. Both of these would pale in comparison to the velocities achieved by the NEMESIS launch assemblies just visible at the bottom of the virtual windows that ran along the inside of the corridor's curve; These could accelerate a starship-sized missile to nearly the speed of light using energy converted from the rogue planetoid captured in the middle of the horseshoe-shaped station being slowly devoured by the same.

"First, we want to stabilize the Solarian Reaches. There's a lot of growth going on in both the Raumreich and the Super-Cluster and the Sanglanti - as useful as they are - are a destabilizing element. RENEGADE CORSAIR will hopefully push them in two directions; Those who are interested in trade and the peaceful pursuit of wealth will link up with the Outer Systems Federal State and help build it up while those who hark back to, shall we say, more 'traditional' Sanglanti values will move into areas we either don't care about or want destabilized."

"That seems risky," the second man noted. Unlike the first, who was gray-skinned because somewhere around thirty percent of all ArAreBee had gray skin, the second was more of a pinkish-gray and that because of the lighting. Josh had become used to the idea of talking about things which would normally be only discussed in a closed, sealed, and locked room but the end of his voluntary deployment was coming up as well and with it the mandatory memory wipe. "The Sanglanti are known for going off the reservation - they could just push the OSFS towards war with Roania instead."

"Which was where the OSFS was already headed. We'll have to keep a close eye on them, but this will give us an inside opinion and if need be an inside voice. We're recruiting pretty heavily from the 'stay' portion of the Sanglanti community - hopefully we'll work our way right up to the top."

"Good luck with that. You said three birds though, right?"

"Right! Though that was kinda two birds, so I suppose I'm already up to four. Hell of a throw. I think. Did they throw the rocks at the birds? Seems inefficient. Why not shoot the rocks at the birds?"

"I don't think they had guns when the phrase came into use."

"Really."

"Really."

The ArAreBeen shrugged, coming to a momentary stop as he considered which way to take their turnings next. Against a regulation-sized planet the scale of a vessel the size of a CORE-Class Station could not truly be imagined but once inside and isolated it quickly became apparent. Aboard CORE I - the original and smallest of the super-stations and the only one somewhat accessible to outside traffic - one of the enormous hangars originally meant to refurbish, refit, and re-arm an entire Combined Services Fleet had been converted into a terrestrial habitat. It wasn't a zoo, rather the hangar was now intended to allow a population in the millions to be transported from one place to another in something approximating a natural environment. It was also popular with service members as a secure location for hiking and camping and with an interior landscape of around four hundred square kilometers there was nearly endless space to explore and recreate. Counter to that, CORE III had no such trappings; The hangar bays were still that.

"I'd always heard Humans were born with a gun in their hand and learned to shoot when they were still in the womb. I'm probably not wrong. Anyway, third bird. Third bird is our expanded ship production. Sure, we could just build more and more and more and more, but people look sideways at that kind of thing. And not the kind of people who we really want to start looking at the VLEMAs and building their own. Last thing we need is a Velma race; She probably wouldn't get very far in those pumps before twisting her ankle. So what if we hide some of that production elsewhere? Sure, we could dump them out in the dark places between galaxies or inside hollow moons, but then they are just sitting there doing nothing. So we build green ships instead of gray and put them into service with the Sanglanti. At least for now."

"For now?"

"For now. For now, we'll fill out the Sanglanti inventory to what their crews can sustain. Then we'll do the same thing with the Kinslayer Clans, couple others. People we can rely on in case of war; While the Defense Force goes on the offensive, they'll come back and work new duties. Patriotic citizens and friends of the Republic. But for now they'll be out there doing the fourth bird as well."

"And the four bird is..."

"An expansion of the TRIPWIRE array. The first iteration had to be static in order to obtain the desired precision but thanks to the second generation BOOBYTRAP micro-arrays that's no longer an issue. So each of those Renegade-Class Corsairs carries a number of black box systems that the Sanglanti have been advised to avoid. They have a number to call for maintenance - that's all they need to know. Amazon will deliver a new one in two or three days. Usual stickers on the size; No user repairable parts, do not open, permanent and total madness will result... And of course we've done our best to make them tamper proof. The whole Eien thing helps with that; Most of the boxes are just data gathering systems. They then shoot that data into a unique HBM where the really interesting hardware is, the hardware does its thing, shoots it back, and the Sanglanti get some useful data without knowing the full picture. Meanwhile the entire data stream is forwarded through to us and we have a vastly expanded TRIPWIRE array."

"Four birds, one stone," Josh echoed. "Trying to think of a fifth?"

"As hard as I can..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:17 am

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano...

"In military news, the Defence Force has once again lost in a so-called 'Red on Blue' exercise. This brings to forty seven the number of losses the SDF has sustained when training against the various Federal State-level militaries. The latest was an engagement against Mangalan Star Navy elements in the Arcanite System. Given this seemingly lopsided record, I invited Commander Kaugie of the Defence Force Public Liaison Office to explain it..."

"Well Tanya, the truth of the matter is that we throw the fights. That is to say, we don't lose on purpose but we do set ourselves something of an impossible standard for victory. Certainly we could throw hundreds or even thousands of ships at a given scenario but this is a training exercise after all - it's about learning and we learn best when we're wrong, not when we're right. That's even more important for the Captains and command crews involved because they will be the ones deployed to the far corners of the galaxy - or asked to defend their home system against that seemingly superior force."

"So you're saying its good for both sides for the Defense Force to constantly lose?"

"Absolutely. The fine officers of the Federal State navies need to have the confidence it willl take to come out on top and win and there's no better way to build confidence than by winning. Meanwhile we want the commanding officers of our exploration starships to be bold yet cautious, careful in assessing a given situation and even more before committing the Republic to action. While we are confident in the ability of the Defense Force to take on any adversay at any time, we want that to be the last solution - not the first."

"And what do your counterparts in the Federal navies think of this? Surely it has to be an open secret?"

"It is," she nodded, "And they set their forces to the same high standards. Often the scenarios laid out are unwinnable by both sides so that zero and forty seven record isn't quite accurate - its more like thirty six and forty seven with those seven 'wins' coming down to a razor margin or being an event of the worse sort - genocide or the like. These scenarios are very difficult to defend against and thus they are one of the most lopsided. They are also one of the hardest on the simulating forces - direct attacks on civilians go opposite everything we believe in..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Aug 06, 2017 6:01 pm

SS Qasr, Under Arrival in the GEC-1202897 System, Gamma-Delta Border Region...

"Twinkie-Wiener Sandwich," Deania offered, the Duab'Akii lifting the peculiar-looking treat in offering as Timmons stared at her; "That looks disgusting. What is it?"

His curiosity admitted she smiled broadly, almost bubbling in her explination, "A hot dog - scrap meats from chickens, pigs, and cows ground up into a paste and stuffed inside an artificial casing - served cold inside a Twinkie cut down the middle so the hot dog sits directly in the artificial cream filling! It..."

"It's gross," he countered, interrupting her before she got the chance to add more unsavory details."Is any of it real? Where did you... Ugh," he made a face, his broad features twisting in revulsion, "You didn't make that up yourself, did you?"

"Nope! It was popularized in a movie called UHF, which starred this singer and actor named 'Weird Al' Yankovic. The Twinkie-Wiener Sandwich would continue as an occasional fade food right up to the current time where it," she took a solid bite, cream splurting out the other end to splatter on her mostly-bare chest, "Still crops up in nerd and dweeb social circles from time to time. Want one?"

"I... No," he sighed. Turning to the food slot he punched in his own request and was rewarded moments later with something that looked entirely more appetizing. "I've been to Chicago. I know what a hot dog is supposed to look like and is supposed to taste like and that isn't it!"

Fetching up his tray he walked to one of the tables closer to the horseshoe of windows that faced backwards through the Qasr's warp nacelles, "Pomegranate juice and a fresh salad. All real food..."

"But not as good as a twinkie-wiener sandwich!" the Seeker declared, taking her own seat along with another pair of the pureed and cream fillled succulants. Without even bothering to wipe the remains of the previous off her breast she chowed down, quickly disposing of the second and nudging into the third. "So, any hunches?"

There didn't seem to be much to have a hunch about. Already the Qasr had crossed halfway from the usual arrival point at galactic north and as they drew closer to their ultimate destination there was nothing to see; No swirling gas giants or blue-green jewels. Instead there was the lonely yellow star and an invisible field of debris where all of the former had previously been. To the naked eye there might as well be nothing there but to the sensitive sensor array clustered at the front of Qasr's secondary hull there was a dense scattering of asteroids hung in a regular orbit around the system's primary.

Timmons shook his head in definitive answer but then paused and nodded, "No hunches, but I have beeen having odd dreams. Guess you could call them a hunch - I think they might be neurological echoes. Some strange interference between my ExoCortex and the memory transcription system the Qu'uion used. Its like I'm there but more like I'm describing myself being there. Imprecise, kinda fuzzy."

"Weird," she finished the third Twinkie-Wiener Sandwich and he shrugged, "Sleep and dreams are the brain's garbage collection. Speaking of garbage," he pointed a finger at a thick blob of white goo that had tumbled into her cleavage and stuck obscene to the lowest point. "I've told Philus, but it's beyond his expertise. He'll pass it along."

"Any dream hunches? Nightmares?"

"Suppositions. There's nothing here. It's very rare for life - especially sentient life - to evolve without an atmosphere. So my immediate supposition is that wherever these burials came from, and whoever is buried here, didn't come from here. Hopefully we'll be able to figure out where they came from and introduce ourselves to their living ancestors but..."

"But that's a long shot worthy of Robin Hood," Deania finished for him, pulling the appliance off her breast with a latex-slick slurp to clean off the last of the cream filling. Palming it back into position, she pressed and pushed until everything was back in its proper fleshy place - which looked no different to Timmons than any other. "You know, we seem to be running into dead aliens a lot out here. Which is my point there; I'd be very surprised if whoever left these graves is still around after seventy thousand plus years. Me, I'm hoping for something cool and new. Like time-travelers or something..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Aug 07, 2017 9:29 pm

Ver'Un'Guun Monitoring Station IL, Syphonia Asteroid Field, The Inward Frontier, Canis Major II...

"My guys have rebuilt the interface - have I mentioned that these guys are really fucked up? I mean more fucked up than your average evil space empire. You've got your average Ver'Un'Guun here," the Eye kicked at the blobbish but still humanoid suit full of expanded gasses that sat in the outpost's command seat, "But that's not the real Ver'Un'Guun..."

Kami nodded, the hologram sitting out of the way in an unused alcove showing her sitting at her desk in her quarters, "Right." She'd read the reports; The Ver'Un'Guun were actually a separate disembodied species that were then implanted into the bodies of captured slaves and other subservient species. At some point during the process the individual's consciousness was disconnected from their body but not killed. Instead it was left purposefully intact and connected to their sense but unable to act but this was as far as the facts went; BUSF speculation mostly centered around torture and abuse of the disconnected individual but penetration of the Ver'Un'Guun had proved exceptionally difficult. "But they are dead, right?"

"Yep, very dead. Both of them," he poked the suit again. However shapely the female form had once been the effects of the bonding disruptor were to separate oxygen and hydrogen and without water (nearly) every sentient species in the galaxy died instantly and as it turned out the Ver'Un'Guun were also of a fundamentally aqueous nature. "We've rebuilt the interface though, as I said, and it's the usual rule; Once we had physical access to the hardware penetration was quick though there was a bit of a dicey moment there when we had to bypass the wipe mechanism. It might be the twenty-second century but thermite is still a bitch..."

"The data is still intact though, right?"

"Well, what we think is the data is still intact. I'm being paranoid here," the Skri admitted, shuffling back and forth, "So I've set up a completely separate system to connect into the Ver'Un'Guun database. Commercial systems, just in case there's some kind of intrusion counter-measures. Once I know we're in, I'll install a tap and send the data stream to Fleet for analysis and we'll do our own here."

"...and if we're lucky, we'll find some trace of the missing ship in there. Good work, Commander..."
Last edited by Sunset on Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Tue Aug 08, 2017 9:17 am

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Sessool spahce - ah shoulda figur'd..."

With a grumble, she pried the maintenance panel off the wall and hunted among the rows and columns for the circuit indicated on the display just to the right of the whole mess. There was still a cover to maintain and when the Bosun had told her to sub out the faulty circuits on deck two she'd hopped to it as quickly as most of the other layabouts that infested the crew. The reason for the faulty circuit was obvious, at least in this case, and representative of Fancy Lad as a whole. Behind the panel was a literal rat's nest of mislaid wiring, hack-jobs, and a half-dozen Norway rats that scattered into the depths of the locker. Stepping back from the panel she eyed them for a moment and they returned the stare, beady red eyes in the shadows.

"Whal, you ain't bitin' me, Ah ain't mushin' you. Just so'es we're ahl clear."

It wasn't that she had a fear of rats; She just didn't like them. But as had been pointed out - they were indicative of Fancy Lad as a ship. Behind the crisp gray and red paint job was a ship where everything had been started but nothing had been finished. Even where his journeys were concerned he'd last been to Sessool space - where a supposedly sweet trade had led instead to the captain abandoning several of his crew into the merciful hands of the local Guard - and before that up to the borders of the Heurdean Star Empire where the ship had been turned back for a lack of maintenance. It was just one defeat after another for a captain who seemed used to it. Previous to that they'd followed up a hot tip on a colony in distress and stopped to find nothing but a dying world with the colonists - potential slaves or customers, depending on how well-armed they'd been - long dead of some mysterious cause, "Ahl-o-which mahks me wonder when we're gonna get ah'selves kilt by some terrible spahce mahnster after a wrong turn-oh-Albuquerque."

Thick fingers plucked the dead breakers out and she tossed them on the floor to join the other detritus. Some areas of the ships - the command deck, the captain's quarters, her shared quarters - were clean or reasonable facsimiles thereof. Others were in that mid-point where either a quick vacuum or a few more handfuls of discarded peanuts would tip them from one side or the other. Then there was the crew deck and the engineering spaces. That they hadn't all died when a fire swept through the mounds of discarded old clothing, piles of Happy-Happy food wrappers, and disturbing mounds of what she now guessed was rat feces was likely a miracle performed by one of the hundred-odd deities the crew prayed to.

"Ahll-o-which don't explain how she made me," Meli decided, pressing a replacement into place. The light switched from red to yellow to green and she moved to the next, this time brushing out a wad of rat bedding that had likely caused the failure in the first place. Several small corpses looked like they'd been flash-fried and she almost let out a sympathetic 'aww' as the dead babies fell into the mass of filth at the bottom of the cabinet. "Ah don't remember see'in her around. Makes me wish Ah'd ahked a few questions before killin' her... Though," her finger went to the pocket with the implant, "Ah didn't kill her, did Ah? But Ah doubt this shit-hole is gonna have a way for me to dig the ahswers out-oh-her head. Mahybe Ah'll take 'nother look round her quarters."

She hadn't noticed anything during her cleaning, but she'd been pressed for time as well. The catch-all solution would be a journal but the Dwarf already suspected there was something more than a simple sighting on a landing platform going on. Fancy Lad was full of contradictions; How did a Captain who had an apparent success rate of zero manage to keep his ship running, much less pay the crew and arrange for the next round of ill-fated interactions? Maybe it was time to get to know him a little better...
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Postby Sunset » Wed Aug 09, 2017 11:35 am

Plexus News... with Tanya Zaldano?!?

"That's right! Tonight's big news is, well," Tanya raised her arms and pointed to herself, "Me! Tanya Zaldano, celebrity news anchor, fashion trend setter, and social phen-om-e-non," she twisted her body with each syllable, emphasizing first her sculpted behind, hourglass waist, and finally her fabulously famous cleavage, "Has moved to a new network; The Plexus Network! But Plexus is more than the best place to watch live and in the flesh," a finger dripped down the inside edge of her dress, spreading the fabric just a touch more and exposing just the barest sliver of untanned skin, "But also a bold new media and communications network! That's right; Plexus is on track to become your source for galactic communications and better yet; It's free! That's right..."

She turned and did a little twist showing off the full details of her outfit. Stretched skin tight over her toned body, it was an orange sheath dress worn off the shoulder with an over-sized zipper running from the very nadir of the gap between her generous breasts over her shoulders and down to the back of her thighs with the dangling pull hanging at the middle of her back. This was decorated in glittering diamonds and she wore matching earrings and a pair of black glass stilettos with straps that wound up her firm calves; These too were edged over the toe with gems. A strand of her curly black mane had been somehow infused as well and this wound in among the waves, bouncing in and out of sight as she moved.

"...one hundred percent free!" A fingertip described a small circle in the air and the corporate logo appeared in the center to grow larger as she prowled around it. "And you'll want Plexus. It's fast," she swept her hand across and a dozen people - all very beautiful, all dressed stylishly, provocatively, or both - appeared around her at half-size and then as she put a hand on her hip and swung the fingers wide again, coincidentally or not dropping one side of her dress to give a sudden eye-popping display of soft flesh and dark cleavage, two dozen more appeared at half-again scale and then half-again, "Fast enough to support real-time full sensory interactions between not one person, but hundreds! Real-time virtual habitation not across the planet, or the system, but across a whole quadrant! Want to watch your favorite shows? Movies?"

Reaching up - which threatened to bare all - she grasped two fingers around an invisible pull and tugged it down to show the trailer for the forthcoming summer popcorn movie 'Magnus Hesche: Operation CANTILEVER' followed by several others, a crowd forming in front of her as the holographic miniatures turned from their conversations to the floating screens, "How about all of them, at once? In fact, Plexus has virtually unlimited bandwidth and what's more," she stepped forward, spiked heels sending circular ripples radiating out from around her to bounce off the various steps and columns of the set to reflect back at each other and bounce away again. Each step also sent a ripple up of motion up her body with the camera swinging around her from toes to calf to bottom, waist, and finally the bounce of her chest before pulling back to the whole Tanya, "It all comes in this little package!"

From the darkness under the curve of her bosom she produced a silver metal disc and held it up between her fingers so that it just nestled at the junction of her breasts as a pendant as she held it between herself and the camera. The Plexus logo was visible on one side and she rotated it with a flick of her fingers to show the opposite side, which was similarly mirror-smooth except for a line of sockets down the middle. She turned it again to show the lens profile, "That's right - Plexus is better because its personal; There are no base stations, there are no satellites. Carry it with you or - if you already have some level of cybernetic augmentation - implant it under the skin for ultimate portability! Fast, free, convenient," and she tucked the disc back into place under her breast with a flirty laugh, "And with me?"

"Plexus - Your ultimate communications solution!"
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Postby Sunset » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:11 pm

Fleet Intelligence Headquarters, CORE II, Super Sneaky Deep Space...

"What is it?" The Lieutenant asked, flipping the disc over in his hand and examining both sides before setting it back down in the tray along with hundreds of others. Case after case filled the room, a warehouse that was one out of many tucked away in the multi-kilometer sprawl that was Fleet Intelligence's bay among the eight that circled the horseshoe of the station. One side was embossed with a stylized logo - PLEXUS, with the letters splitting into a circuit pattern from left to right - and the other side having an interface of some kind in a row down the center. "I saw Tanya's thing last night, but what is it to us?"

"It's exactly what it says on the tin," Admiral Roberts replied, picking out one and giving it a spin on the table top. It came to a halt and the gray-beaded officer spun it again. "Makes a good challenge coin too. It's a high-speed, ultra-high bandwidth cybernetic communications device. Implant it or wear it. It's like having a high-speed backbone in your pocket but it works... Say," he looked up at the woman who stood across the table from the two, "Does it work anywhere?"

Katryna - Admiral Silaco - shrugged, "Anywhere we've tested it. The hardware on the other side has so much juice that you'd have to hook your FTLi rig up to a star to do area denial and up close you might as well just step on it."

"So they're fragile, then?"

"Solid state," she corrected herself. "Shoot it or hand it over to a sturdy Dwarf."

"And we're giving these away for free?"

"There's no such thing as a free lunch, Lieutenant," Roberts picked up. "In this case, we're hitting multiple bullet points. In the fine print, we - Plexus - reserve the right to subject the user's communications to any and all appropriate traffic shaping methods and analysis as a condition of the service. Taking it one way we're using your data profile to improve the service; Taken another we're picking through your data to see if we need to put a bullet in your head. Which would undoubtedly improve the service of other users or their lives in general. Though reasonably any criminal with a half-brainwave is going to encrypt their traffic. That said, with these potential volumes, we'll be able to do a comparative analysis of traffic rather easily."

Katryna nodded agreement, "Or a hundred other ways of figuring out what's being sent and why. But what will be really useful is the big picture this will give us. The everyday person is either not going to use encryption or is going to use encryption that is weak compared to the nested computing power the back-end hardware has available. And it is that big-picture provided by the common person that we're interested in. Certainly there will be some small-scale one-to-one uses but those are the exception rather than the rule. Plexus is primarily aimed at a Big Data audience - strategic planning, logistics, even economic warfare."

"How does it work, then?"

"It's the latest iteration of the communications hardware and protocol used by an Eien Node. Fundamentally unneeded for that particular application, since an Eien-based individual can do all that streaming and whatnot on the Eien side, but Eien usage is largely confined to the Republic. A little bit elsewhere, but those are mostly the wealthy and well-connected who can afford immortality. At least at this stage of the game. Which means that its a Holographic Boundary Interface. HBI - sounds nice and tidy. Since we can put all the hardware and whatnot on the inside, we can do away with base stations, satellites, relays... All of that goes inside a custom Plexus 'layer' that sits on top of the Prime."

The Lieutenant's eyes were wide and somehow doubtful, "It's kinda crazy to think that we can create a whole separate universe, isn't it?"

"It's all a matter of perception, Lieutenant. We see the universe as very big because we move at a certain speed. In reality, there's a lot of empty space between those atoms - at least on a fundamental level. A lot of this is Doctor Brilla's baby but even she admits that it doesn't seem real sometimes; Ironic, as the whole idea of holographic boundary manipulation is to make the not-real real by essentially saying that its real. Sorta..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun Aug 13, 2017 1:34 pm

SDF-Unconquered Sun, GEC-1202297B (Tomato) Orbit, Canis Major Segment...

"Incoming contact, Captain. Very small," the Lieutenant looked up from the sensor console, first to the Captain and then to the Secretary-General, who had been lurking at the back of the Unconquered Sun's operations bridge ever since the task force had entered the system. While he was in command of the ship itself she was apparently in a hands-on mood; "Is it a ship? Fighter? Missile?"

The last would be the worse possible option but not entirely unexpected; They were running under combat readiness in unfamiliar territory with all eyes open. Every planet, moon, and random chunk of nickle seemed to be inhabited to a greater, lesser, and altogether chaotic fashion. The easy pattern to assign to whatever it was was feudal - styles of architecture and even geography itself ended at sometimes natural but often arbitrary borders; A sprawling city cut off at the edge of a cliff only to become a verdant forest a hundred meters straight down.

"Person. Humanoid, two-point-two meters, wearing armor and bearing a sword and shield;" An image appeared on the main display, first showing the planet with a small streak of brilliant light moving up through the atmosphere and then zooming in to show a feminine form wearing the mentioned armor blazing towards them with a near-invisible sword held trailing behind. The other held a shield in front of her and behind this the woman flew unburdened by the passage. "Energy readings are high for her mass and other sensors are muddy..."

"PTU-557," Erika agreed, leaning over his shoulder. "And this must be one of the Vcær."

Captain Andrews nodded, "Must be. The information forwarded to us by the BUSF noted that they are very advanced but highly individual. A Stagnant Ascendancy, I believe was the term they used. Is she interested in talking or in fighting?"

"Talking, Captain... I've got an incoming signal, BUSF codex. Looks like they tried several others," the Communications Officer called out from her station. "Tracking down who they were right now."

That would be potentially useful intelligence and possibly especially pertinent to their current objective; Knowing who the Vcær routinely interacted with and who they - or at least this - placed a priority on could help them both understand their place in the region as well as just who this individual had talked to previously.

Erika crossed her arms and stepped back, "Alright, if she wants to talk, let's talk. But once we get a firm trace on TRIPWIRE for the bounty hunter I want to know. It could take her a day to cross the galaxy or a month and I want to be right on her tail."

"Yes, Ma'am," and the Sensor Officer turned back to his station while the two senior officers walked to stand just in front of the main display, the on-screen image of the Vcær now just about true to life.

She was standing now - or at least her physiology suggested a she - with the sword and shield held casually at her waist while her legs crossed at the ankle and her toes pointed to the planet below. He face was a blank mask except for a hexagonal glow high on the center and a pair of tendrils could barely be seen drifting from her back on an impossible breeze. The armor - or perhaps her skin - was a nearly-invisible mesh of hexagons that rolled from one foot to the opposite shoulder in a wave of white to black and back again.

"Channel is open;" And the Secretary-General stepped forward just a half-step while the Captain moved to one side, deferential but present; "Greetings, I am Secretary-General Erika Silaco, lead diplomatic representative of the Republic of Sunset. Who am I speaking to?"

"Lady Viscount Hannija, Ruler of the Seven Mountains and Dominion of the Twin Oceans. I have not heard of this Republic of Sunset - have you come to trade for the secrets of the Vcær like the others? You speak in the thoughts of the Blishi'i but your ships are not of their thoughts."

"We are from a distant area of the galaxy. We are a civilization of explorers and scientists - one of our ships made contact with the Blishi'i United Federation and we have since established friendly relationships with them. We heard of the Vcær through them and wanted to see your worlds for ourselves. Do you," she looked sideways at Captain Andrews, "Do you often receive visitors?"

It was an easy gambit. The Lady Viscount - the string of titles translated from their native language first into Blishi'i Common and then into Sol Standard - seemed both talkative and inquisitive. With an enormous dose of luck she might have dealt with the bounty hunter in some form and with a more moderate dose at least know who did. Whether or not the floating humanoid understood it to be such, her answer was useful, "Few travelers from beyond our territory choose to come here. Some deal with me, some deal with others. I have made treaty with the Blishi'i before. Do you also wish to bargain, as they did?"

"What does the Lady Viscount Hannija, Ruler of the Seven Mountains and Dominion of the Twin Oceans want? Surely her domain is such to satisfy her needs - we could only offer baubles..."

It wasn't the best attempt at flattery but perhaps the translators did the better job, "True - my realms are beyond your understanding and I have need of nothing. But travelers bring experiences and stories and it would please me to experience the lesser tales of other realms. That is what I trade for. What would you desire in return?"

"Let's start with a little tit-for-tat," Captain Andrews answered, once again sharing a glance with the Secretary-General, "And we'll build on that. Another ship arrived in this system before we did - can you tell us anything about it or where it went?"
Last edited by Sunset on Wed Aug 16, 2017 8:26 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Sunset » Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:36 am

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"...god-damned spies," Meli muttered, thrusting one hand up under the low bunk to feel around the gap between drawer and frame. She hadn't found any confirmation but all the pieces fit together well enough, "They gotta be god-damned spies. Ah'd ask mahself how Ah didn't see it earlier but it makes perfect sense!"

Which might mean she was wrong, but all the circumstances did fit together nicely. Space ships were expensive and even keeping them up and running wasn't cheap. Pirates thus had to be successful pirates. If they weren't then they were dead pirates, either at the hands of an organized military or at the hands of their potential prey or simply through starvation. More-so even a small crew had to be paid and an unsuccessful pirate would have neither booty nor coin to pay their crew in. Parts broke, metal fatigued, and if shots were fired armor had to be patched and weapons refurbished. All of that came together to prove the very existence of Fancy Lad a lie. Someone somewhere was paying the bills and that - combined with her pinball-journey around the Quadrant - came together nicely in Meli's spy theory.

"Guess Ah should cancel mah dinner reservations. Would'oh been helpful if Ah'd 'ave paid more attention in the craft part-oh-class. Murder ahn mayhem were ah'ways more'o mah thing..."

Dinner might prove useful still. She'd been over the woman's quarters three times now and had stuck her hand into most every crevice and shadow at least twice looking for some kind of clue as to the woman's identity only to find nothing. If her theory was correct, the woman had made her because she too was a spy and Meli had popped up in her information feed. If the Dwarf had been more aware of the theory side of the craft she would have found that idea disturbing; Officially-Unofficially she was a black operative with no connection to the Republic through any official channels. Her actions and even her very existence were deniable, though fodder could be made of them all the same. That would all rely on her being...

The door slid open behind her and she turned; "Busted!" Captain Blacke leaned against the bulkhead outside, one finger still on the access panel. A brute squad of heavyset sailors stood behind him and where there was a gleam of humor in his eyes there was malice in theirs. "Well, I guess we know who was responsible for Miss Venturi's disappearance. Care to explain yourself, seaman?"

Meli looked him up and down as well as the bruisers behind him. One by one, a pair pressed through around him and stood to flank the doorway. For a long minute she stared at them and they at her while the Captain twirled the dongle that had allowed him to unlock the door around one finger; "Well?"

"Ah raght, Ah give up..."

"Good! So..."

"Nah," she waved a hand, "Ah mean, Ah give up. Are y'all spies or not? Ah figure Ah might as well have mah answer before you try'n flush me down the commode too."

"You flushed her down the commode?" For a moment the Captain went pale but just as quickly the flush and the twinkle returned, "That must have been quite a task. But spies... Well," he seemed to consider the question for a time, the dongle swinging up and down in a long oval as he thought about it. "Spies... Such a hard-edged word. Spy... I'm not sure I like the way it rolls off the tongue, you see. Tongue... An unfortunate reminder," he sighed. "Miss Venturi was a delight with hers. In fact it was only her absence from our regular tryst that prompted me to look into," he waved a hand around the room, "Things. And now you accuse us - me! - of being spies. Well, I don't think I should answer that, should I?"

"Either yah are or yah ain'," Meli replied plainly. "Either way, yer gonna kill me, raht?"

"Oh certainly," though he laid a delicate hand on the arm of one of the bruisers as they both stepped forward, "The Captain must maintain order. But I suppose I can indulge the question, given the outcome. In fact I am not a spy but Miss Venturi was. Or at least I assume so. We are more like couriers - safer than being actual pirates, but with the dashing reputation and the same opportunity to bed bored housewives. Certainly we take advantage of a situation here and there but Miss Venturi paid the bills in exchange for my silent cooperation. In point of fact I'd say you've done us a favor though," he caught her look, "Not enough to let you live. The constancy of currency kept us afloat but what is life without a little risk? By disposing of her - and I could only make the assumption that she was a spy, by the way. Long disappearances during shore leave, that sort of thing - you will have forced us to resort to our old way of life once again. So I should thank you," he finished with a little bow."

"Yer welcome."

"Now," he lifted his finger from one button and placed it on the second, "Goodbye, whatever your name is. I don't think I'll care shortly..."
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Sunset » Thu Aug 17, 2017 4:48 pm

Director Silaco's Office, Special Projects Research Tower, Landor City, Terra Incognito...

"Well, I've figured out how to fuck us," Saryan began, flopping into the chair in front of the Director's desk with a bikini-topped bounce. She'd been out on the beach sunbathing and the slip of her straps exposed a harsh line of still-pale skin before she realized her discomfit and adjusted them, "Whoops; Do you want the good news or bad news first?"

Katryna looked at her over the top of her own sunglasses. Like the physicist, she too had been enjoying the pleasant weather until Saryan's request for a meeting had interrupted the kid's invention of surfboard archery, "There's good news? Wait - how are we fucked? Good fucked or bad fucked? Or good-bad fucked?"

"Bad fucked," she clarified, tossing a flip-flopped foot up on the corner of the glass desk despite her declaration. "I figured out how we can break the lock on a holographic bubble. The bad news is that it is possible - the good news is that it's hard. What you need is a block of hardened prime - Prime Universe - that you can then expose to the edge of a suspected bubble and watch the interaction as the Prime rationalizes the edge. It has to be hardened though because you have to be able to observe the interactions very precisely. If the boundaries bleed just the least little bit together you'll get the wrong states as the Hawking radiation breaks down and configures for the Prime. So there's more good news. Creating a bubble inside a bubble basically means you'll need to be able to find the boundary edge for the interior bubble before the exterior bubble breaks down completely."

"Which means what?"

"Which means that someone could find and unlock the Plexus bubble. It doesn't have a very large volume and if someone can find the gateway where it was created," she leaned forward, grabbed a pencil from the collection of implements in the homemade clay can and drew a small circle with the eraser on the glass, "They can do a comparison and figure out the key. That's assuming someone is going to look. But for a bubble as large as the Eien it would be nearly impossible," she drew a much larger circle. "There's too much volume."

"So the bad news isn't really that bad, and the good news is better news because the number of entities with an interest in holographic boundary manipulation appears to be... One." Katryna took another pencil and swung it in a circle to encompass an imaginary universe. There was a brief expectation of a bold and italic interruption before she continued, "At least of the pre-Singularity sort."

"Do we know that?"

Katryna shrugged, "No. Intelligence is on it, but they are being pretty circumspect. If this is our baby we don't want to give the secret away until it isn't. Though I smell a problem - isn't an Eien Node a boundary edge? Couldn't someone with a... Prime Sensor... pick up the exterior key from an Eien Node?"

"No - because what they'd see is only a limited slice of the boundary conditions. Very limited, actually. Eien Node communications are on the level of binary, as are Plexus comms. It's very fast but its still just a tiny slice. If I figure out a way to identify the holographic key based on that tiny slice I'll come in and tell you that we're really, really fucked..."
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Inoffensive Centrist Democracy

Postby Sunset » Sat Aug 19, 2017 9:36 am

Fancy Lad, Somewhere Beyond the Auracexian Sector, Orion Arm...

"Well boys," Meli took a step back, the back of her thighs bumping into the edge of the bunk behind her, "Ah suppose this is it, raht? The beginning o' tha end..."

Struck by a sudden idea her fingers went to her waist and the two big brutes took a heavy step forward, "Naw, ain't lahk that," she held a hand in objection. "Way Ah figure it the Cap'n told you to kill me, raht? He didna say ya couldn't rape me then kill me, raht?"

The bigger of the two shared a sideways glance with the other and then a malicious smile, "Nope. But if you're thinking you'll get away with willing, well, I'd rather not and you..."

"A little girl like you isn't going to stop us," the second added, "Then we're going to choke the life out of you!"

"Uh," Meli undid the catch on her pants, hopping up on the bed, "Can Ah at least try?"

Both shook their heads and the first hung back while the second stepped forward, ready to grab and hold her while the first forced himself on her. Thick hands braced her on the edge of the bunk and she lashed out with a booted foot, smashing bone and flesh to shattered pulp. With only one leg to stand on, the would-be rapist toppled sideways, a circle of pain and surprise on his face. With only an instant to react, his partner could only watch as she put the boot in and his head went sailing past, the same shocked expression on what was left of his face.

"Ah wonder how much this will hurt with ahn erection..."

He looked down, tried to twist his thigh to block, but she'd already dropped from the bunk and into a three point fencer's lunge, her broad fist smashing into his groin accompanied by the untidy sound of two testicles bursting. His eyes went wide in pain and he slumped to his knees before dropping onto his face inches from his former confederate. His fingers went to unconsciously inspect the damage but found only a rapidly expanding pool of blood. His focus on the pain and the eyes-open glaze of the head next to him he did not notice or care as the Dwarf put a boot on his neck and twisted, snapping his spine with a dull crack. Grinding her foot down to make sure the deed was done, she then stepped lightly over to the door and pressed herself into place beside it with an eye on the panel.

"Naw, did he leave or didn't he?" Blacke's last words would seem to say so, but he could well have observed the whole thing via some outside camera and be waiting outside with the entire crew and twice as many guns. "Naht that Ah couldn't take em. But if he thanks Ahm dead, Ah kin take a look around on the quiet-like til they find the bodies."

A thought occurred and she retreated back to the pair, hands running down hips and sleeves until she found just what she was looking for in the pocket of a grubby, blood-soaked coverall. Wiping the dongle on his sleeve, she turned it to her own pocket and checked the other with no luck, "Could be his footlocker, could be the engine compartment. Lesse if they got anything else on 'em."

Keeping one eye on the door, a knife and a wallet quickly disappeared, "Ahn ya'll maht be wonderin' wha, but Ah'll take a poke through later. Never know."

It was also a good chance to wait and for a solid ten minutes she tried both her patience and that of the Captain or whoever he had posted to watch the door. Even with advanced hearing there wasn't a shuffle or a sigh through the door and her best guess without checking was that she had been abandoned to the unpleasant mercies of the two brutes. Finally there was only so much tension left and she cut it with a quick stab at the door controls and a twist away from the door. No answering sizzle of laser fire or the pop-pop-pop of the gun and so she peeked a finger around the edge to find an empty hallway, "Goody goody, Ah'm all alone..."
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