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PostPosted: Mon Jan 07, 2019 9:08 pm
by Sunset
On the Ground, Points Unknown, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant... A Few Minutes Later...

"You got anything Thomas?"

"Mmm - no;" But to tell the truth the Lieutenant Commander hadn't been looking very much either. Past the monument in the center, all of the buildings seemed to be marked with one, two, or perhaps a half-dozen words in total and these could be pared down to the same that one might find marking those of our own cities. Services, to be specific, though they didn't seem to use the same variety as one might find walking the streets of a Republic arcology.

Something else had ticked over in his head though and he'd spent the last couple minutes checking and rechecking until it was time for the big reveal, "I've found something else though, Captain."

"Wouldn't that technically qualify as 'anything'?"

"I suppose so."

Rising from where he'd been half-seated against one of the maliciously-shaped buildings, he looked around for either Captain Blaine or the closest of his companions and set off towards the first gray suit he saw walking through the ruins. That turned out to be Doctor Brilla, but she served as an impromptu convergence point and soon enough the rest were gathered around. That gave him some time to do a little composing in his head and he began with a few holograms scattered around the center of the group.

"So after Doctor Brilla mentioned the iWe and how they might be involved, I got to thinking about how we might be able to prove it. What other evidence might there be around? Well, I think I found some - though I'm not sure it implicates them directly. But it is worrisome. Here's the local cluster," he pointed to the first hologram, which showed a star field with their location at the center and marked as such. Around it were numerous other stars with various bits of technical data following them.

"Now, this is what this star looks like now," he pointed to a second, essentially the first but specific and with a lot more data after it. "Which is a star that is, as stars go, a good distance towards the end of its lifespan. But this is also what a good number of the other stars in this galactic neighborhood look like. Not dead, but getting closer. Sure, it could be clustering, but if it is the numbers are on the darn-near implausible point of the distribution. If I were to make a guess, we might be able to find evidence of this civilization," he gestured to the ruins around them, "Around most if not all of those stars. I say 'might' because this world is at the very, very edge of what would have been an abnormal stellar expansion cycle for this type of star."

"How many stars are we talking about?"

"As I said - there's a statistical distribution across the galaxy, and then by each quadrant, sector, and so on. And some are high and some are low, but this one would be one of the outliers that gets tossed. But I'd also put my money down on the place at the table that says that this is the only evidence of whatever happened remaining. Unless we have a time machine, and in this case we do. We can go back and look at when all this stellar activity occurred and see what else we can divine..."

PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2019 7:16 pm
by Sunset
Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System... Republic Date 174.166...

"...first I considered taking it to the private sector. That's where all this came from, right? No harm, no foul. But as I started expanding the feature list, talking it around the various working groups - I was surprised when the guys in the ARC4 group weren't interested. Well, they said they weren't. Said this would be just duplicating a lot of features they already had planned, but I swear some of them were taking notes. What am I going to do, sue them? But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to keep this in-house. Sure, we might put out a civvie version, but..."

"Could mean a nice little bonus in your pay packet," Doctor Kraus answered, though his attention seemed more on the prototype on the workbench than in whatever Clyde was rattling on about. "I see you've made some improvements?"

"Yes! Absolutely. Now," Clyde pointed to one end of the workbench where the dissected original sat, having been pieced back together with duct tape and maybe a trace of bailing wire and a couple touches with a soldiering gun, "When I first talked to you I mentioned the idea of using the gravity manipulation module to add flight capability, right? After all, if it can create a 'solid' hologram it can probably lift someone off the ground if you give it a little more juice, right? Well, that part was easy enough but I was still thinking along private sector lines, so I asked myself - 'Clyde, why would you carry this thing around?'"

"And why would you? Not when you can ride around on a hover-board instead! So a few tweaks, a neat looking platform, and there you have it - one BattleBuddy HoverBoard. I was going to stop there but that's when I was talking to the ARC4 guys and they told me it would look pretty silly to have a robo-trooper riding around on a hover-board like some over-grown teenager. Which brought me back to the idea of a backpack - but then I was in the shower and I thought... Why not both?"

"Why not indeed? It also looks like you could shank a bitch with it..."

Which it did; The current prototype was four blade-shaped wing'lettes - two longer in front, two slightly shorter in back - and a central pod that presumably carried the bulk of the apparatus. With the gravity manipulation coil visible under a transparent cover, it also looked like it might be carried into battle by some... robotic... infantry...

But that was getting ahead of Clyde's thoughts, "I - I suppose you could. Anyway, the way it works is that the center module rotates around itself slightly off-axis so that the user can either stow the platforms parallel or unfold them. There's two retractable shoulder straps on the underside of the large prongs."

"That seems like it would..." Kraus threw an invisible backpack over his surprisingly wide shoulders and hopped off the ground as though trying to fly, "Nope. It'd just carry you around. Not very elegant."

"No - I'm still working on it," Clyde offered though he was visibly relieved when the senior researcher moved on; "What else do you have?"

"What else? Well... You know, a holographic friend is just a high-end communications module away from being a tele-presence rig. Which also means someone on the inside could remotely manifest, and not just as a hologram that anyone could walk through. The original was pretty robust, but with a good sensor rig built into those blades... It would be just like being there."

"Except my erection would be even bigger."

"I... Yes, I suppose you could do that. I was more thinking that it could be useful for explorers, scientists - people who might need to get hands-on. Not... Hands-y."

Fredrick shrugged, "You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. One of the things they don't tell you low-level types is that ninety-seven percent of what we high-level types create ends up being used as a sex toy. We'd call that tele-dil-donics!"

"...right. Well. I should... I shouldn't forget to thank you, Doctor Kraus. Without your recommendation this project would still be on the back-burner. If I might ask - why did you take an interest? As far as I'm aware, you mostly prefer to follow your own projects - not mentor other researchers."

"Because, Clyde - I can call you Clyde, right? Let me answer you with a question," and he threw an arm around the shorter man's shoulders in a gesture that might have only felt patronizing if not for the earlier remark about tele-dil-donics. "How do you feel about aerial combat... And great apes."

PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2019 9:55 pm
by Sunset
Inside the Walls, Setting One, Circlet I, Gen Celet System, Far Gamma/Delta Border... Republic Date 174.169...

"You know, I think this is new..."

"Ya think?" Lieutenant Calwell-Origos swung her light over the enormous space, picking up one object after another to shoot long shadows across the oval chamber before settling on something looming in the middle. "You sure? I'm pretty sure we've seen that before."

Or maybe they hadn't. The problem with a structure with the size and complexity of the Circlets was that after a while everything just sort of blended together. It didn't help that the Krȃng hadn't been all that clever as either architects or interior decorators - most every room was some variation on a hexagon with gently curved corners while most of the connecting hallways and corridors were likewise hexagons laying on their sides. Occasionally with little hexagon-alcoves cut out of one wall and then always studded with the same three-in-a-row arrangement of drone-sphere docking ports. Each setting? Also a hexagon, though stretched out to infinity and beyond. Where the interior occasionally became the exterior? A hexagon, except where it was a sphere that rolled back over the top of some hidden aerodrome. Which was accessed by a hexagon-shaped lift.

And all of it - every centimeter - in PTU-557 white.

Still, this was different. It was a pancake stack of hexagons terraced one larger than the other and then back again to a mostly-flat ceiling. Along each side ran a double row of docking stations for the ubiquitous drone spheres with the first row just offset from the second. The middle was a six-sided flat platform but with a trio of curved arms arching away and into the floor just shy of the first terrace. This gave the pair enough room to walk past, still sweeping their lights over this and that as they tried to discern the room's purpose. That took them to the backside and their lights curved up the wall together to find an extended hexagon-cone projecting from the wall to where it would neatly overlook the center platform.

"Looks like a council chamber. An evil council chamber."

"That would be a lot of councilors," Ztsetanos answered as the senior officer swept his light over the closest terrace, mentally counting up the sockets and then multiplying them out by the number of terraces. "Six thousand? Give or take a few at the ends. The Krȃng don't exactly strike me as the democratic types either. I could be wrong..."

"Democracies can go back too. The tyranny of the majority. Or start off bad, I suppose. Over here..."

The junior led the senior into a much smaller but still hexagon shaped corridor that was under the jutting platform and to where it shortly ended in a pair of familiar lifts. These were scattered here and there and the boffins working elsewhere had managed to reverse-engineer a tiny sliver of OSKrȃng that would power them up again without also smashing the occupants into roughly-shaped chunks against the ceiling. The Lieutenant plugged in her bio-fob and after a moment the lift retreated to their level, whisking both up after she pressed the appropriate button.

"Now it looks like the command deck of an overly-complicated warship. One where they never learned the magic of zeros and ones. Lieutenant, run a message to the aft gunnery deck, my complements. Orient the battery along the fifty-seventh radiant and elevator to thirteen. Very good - off you go."

"...did they really do that?"

The Lieutenant Commander shrugged, "Dunno. Saw it in a movie once. I might be butchering the lines. How about that," he pointed to what they already knew was a control pedestal, one of several laid out in a semi-circle along the forward end of the platform. "Maybe we'll find a convenient clue there."

There was another fob - this one with just enough OSKrȃng to get to a boot screen, so to speak, and the Lieutenant pushed it up against the paddle-shaped depression where some long-dead Krȃng would have done the same. There was a moment's wait and a display wrapped half-around the pedestal lit up, conveniently followed by the room outside.

"Well I'll be..."

Ztsetanos wasn't sure what it wasn't, but the display inside appeared to be a miniature of the display outside and both looked a lot like a star map, though the first was projected inside the crystal-clear material of the display while the second was an actual hologram, projected through the now semi-translucent top of the central pedestal.

"First time lucky. So not a council chamber, but a command center. For the Circlet? Everything has to have a place to run the place. That would explain why there's something already in here too. Something's kept the place from going all wobbly for eighty thousand years, right? Check the next one..."

Lupa hesitated, "After that, I'm not sure if I should..."

But she did anyway, and the lights from the first faded before the second glowed active, though this time only the control pedestal display came to life, "Huh. that's interesting. Haven't seen that one."

It was a ship - maybe - with a oval central pod and a pair of side-sweeping wings. Next to it were a scattering of lights across a hexagon-marked space that was likely a map. Some of those lights corresponded to some she'd just seen, but what that meant...

"I think this is worth calling in the research teams, wouldn't you say, Lieutenant?"

PostPosted: Fri Jan 11, 2019 3:06 pm
by Sunset
Unclassified Republic Defense Force Fleet Intelligence Report (Strategic Overview): The Ver'Un'Guun... Revised as of RD174.176...

General
Originally titled 'The Ver'Un'Guun Matriarchy', the Ver'Un'Guun have been recently reclassified as the 'Ver'Un'Guun Rivalry', a title which more succinctly describes their particular and peculiar civilization. Dwelling here and there throughout the Monoceros Ring as a series of disconnected Warlord States, they are a barbaric and uncivilized people who make aggressive use of Krȃng Artifact technology with all the risks and benefits that entails. Individual Warlords are a constant threat to neighboring civilizations, notably the Blishi'i United Federation, an important Republic ally in this particular region of space. Attempts to contact the VUGR have established the fact that they are uncivilized and unwilling to be civilized; Fleet Operational Orders are Engage on Sight and Request Reinforcements.

People
While determining the exact origins of the VUG have thus far proven difficult, it is suspected that they were a species that evolved on a world already infested by a Krȃng Synthesizer and discovered its activation and control systems by accident. How they then gained control of those systems is a mystery but the example of the Kion leads us to believe that these Synthesizers begin in a 'default' state where specific biological contact establishes an initial 'user'. Little is also known about what they look like; individuals exist as a disembodied mass of nervous tissue attached by technological means to another biological entity - sapient or animal - which is then controlled by means of Krȃng-derived technology. It is suspected that Warlords 'may' possess the form of a 'true' Ver'Un'Guun but this has not yet been possible to confirm as Warlords are typically destroyed along with their ship or their personal Synthesizer. Most typically this disembodied mass of tissue is 'worn' as a spinal-attached 'sleeve' that is then augmented either by a protective body suit for the host or a hard or powered armor suit by those of higher rank. Even inside of these sleeves, suits, and armor the nervous intelligence is quite fragile with BUSF 'Fold'-style personal weapons easily able to disrupt and thus kill it - occasionally leaving the host still alive.

Information provided by the BUSF indicates that the VUG are 'birthed' en masse in large birthing arrays derived again from Krȃng cloning and experimentation technology; See Circlet Artifact 64F. This is typically done by an individual - often the Warlord personally - to bolster their ranks and provide future crews for their military expansion. Some are then fused directly to the control functions of warships - a frequent requirement of Krȃng-derived technology - or are then 'attached' to the nervous system of a slave for more complex use. The Ver'Un'Guun do not appear to have mastered any aspect of biological manipulation, such as creating a slave species to specifically host their 'young'. What expertise they have appears to be merely chance and is the equivalent of a young child finding Grandpa's shotgun and killing the dog before they've killed themselves.

Military
Characterized by their sideways-star space ships, the Ver'Un'Guun operate on a 'quantity-over-quality' basis; during the engagement between the BUSF and an RDF Battle Group against a Ver'Un'Guun Warlord's fleet at the Battle of Ner'Purish Battle Group Unconquered Sun was able to destroy dozens of VUGR vessels with only partial degradation of all engaged starships - Next Generation vessels have performed markedly better. The caveat is that the BUSF out-numbered the RDF contingent by an exponential amount and thus the RDF component was not the primary target of the engagement.

Ver'Un'Guun military technology is largely a cracked mirror of that of the Krȃng. Their hulls are made of a minor derivative of PTU-557 (Classified as PTU-557-V) and their ships typically feature banks of low-precision high-energy lasers. Battlefield coordination and tactics are non-existent and likely consist of the Warlord - if they are present - raging at their sub-commanders while the sub-commanders dispatch anyone but themselves into the fray. As evidenced by the Battle of Ner'Push, this leads to a disjointed and fragile tactical environment where the whole can be swayed by the destruction of a single ship or ignore it utterly. Individual tactics are so unoriginal as to be repetitive; DaggerStar-Type WarCruisers will use their RazorBack-Type WarFrigates as an individual skirmish screen to engage a promising-looking target or provide them cover while they disengage. The small DiamondShark-Type Scout will be used as a ramship against slow vessels or those disabled but still fighting - be alert for this tactic.

Since their warship production is provided by the Synthesizers, the Ver'Un'Guun maintain only a small number of forward monitoring stations with no other large orbital installations encountered. They have been noted by the BUSF to employ slave ground forces - again, in a swarm fashion and armed with reasonably primitive personal weapons. These are often herded against an enemy by the small warships flying overhead with these often doing as much or more damage to their slave forces as the enemy inflicts. More typically a Ver'Un'Guun fleet will simply annihilate a captured world from orbit unless the enemy is vastly more primitive than the Ver'Un'Guun themselves and thus easy to control or at least terrorize.

Location
Ver'Un'Guun Warlord States or destroyed evidence of such have been found throughout the Monoceros Ring with the particular exception of the Canis Major Overdensity itself. This is theorized to have been the center of the former Krȃng Empire - as evidenced by the presence of Union - and thus was subjected to the majority of the destruction inflicted by the i'Halalaentariel during the 'War in Heaven' between the two siblings. With sometimes thousands of light years between star clusters, these States can exist in effective isolation or close enough to make constant war on their neighbors. Evidence gathered suggests that a Warlord State has extinguished one or more minor civilizations in the Ring only to destroy itself afterwards as its rising population leads to inevitable infighting.

Culture
Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword: That is the essence of the Ver'Un'Guun culture. As soon as an individual is implanted into a host, they are expected to begin training to either succeed their 'parent' or to fight and die in their service. Thus individual VUG are either aggressively militarist or carefully subservient - though this is often a poorly-maintained ruse. The goal of each VUG is to rise to the level of Warlord, there-by achieving a (false) level of independence from the system they find themselves enmeshed in. The lives of others are considered casually expendable to this goal and it is seen as a worthy characteristic to be able to manipulate others into dying for your own goals and motives, no matter how trivial. Further, their culture is defined by a casual sadism where inferiors are subjected to torture and humiliation over the slightest of perceived flaws or missteps. It is likely that without the constant stream of resources and material provided by the Synthesizers the Ver'Un'Guun would have long ago collapsed to a tribal level or exterminated themselves entirely.

Society
VUG 'civil society', as it were, is nearly non-existent. With their reliance on the Krȃng Synthesizers for their everyday needs and a reasonably successful top-down distribution method for those resources, the Ver'Un'Guun operate as a reasonably successful post-Scarcity civilization without any realization of how they got there or potentially how to rebuild if denied access to the Synthesizers. Thus the VUG do not have a civil economy and with it also lack many of what we would consider the hallmarks of a star-faring civilization. The educational system is non-existent - each Ver'Un'Guun studies under their superior until they displace them or are killed - and there is no media or press. Everything aspect of society is organized around serving one's superior until they can be displaced or around directing one's inferiors to expand one's base of power. There is the mild exception to this in the form of several conquered and enslaved species & civilizations but those are interesting enough to merit their own reports.

Strengths
Krȃng Synthesizers: Synthesizers are one of the numerous different types of Artifacts left behind by the now-destroyed Krȃng Empire. They have no defined appearance but are rather a complex system of extractors, refiners, and fabricators typically located deep in the heart of a rocky world. Presumably they were placed there in time's past by the Krȃng and throughout the hundreds of millions of stars of the Monoceros Ring examples are occasionally rediscovered, usually to the detriment of the discoverer. Typically they are annihilated by i'Halalaentariel WarSpheres disengaged from the Union mega-structure but the Ver'Un'Guun have discovered the secret to purging all Krȃng elements from their control systems. These suborned Synthesizers are then capable of using the resources of the surrounding mass to fabricate nearly anything imaginable, from great fleets warships to vast robotic armies. Control of one of these scattered systems is considered to be the defining characteristic of a Ver'Un'Guun Warlord - beyond even military or governing expertise.

Estimates as to the number of Synthesizers remaining range from the hundreds to the hundreds of thousands. Corresponding the number of Warlords known, there are at least twenty seven in current operation and it is not known whether they are capable of self-replication across interstellar distances - it is suspected they replicate from a 'seed' being or vessel. The BUSF (Blishi'i United Space Fleet) has now destroyed seven with their attending fleets, a joint BUSF/RDF expedition destroyed one with the first operational use of the [CLASSIFIED]SUNSPOT Strategic Weapon System[CLASSIFIED]. Several more are under active consideration for either joint operations or single elimination. There are no known active Synthesizers in the Greater Milky Way; One was discovered and used by the Kion circa RD-72,000 until its destruction of their homeworld brought about an end to their Empire, and a suborned/re-purposed variant was responsible for the destruction of the moon Minamoto in the Ares System (See Incident Report AMBROSE.531).

Weaknesses
Themselves: The Ver'Un'Guun are a civilization balanced on the edge of a knife; turn one way and they wreck triumphant across large swathes of space, turn the other and they destroy themselves in apocalyptic surges. Despite their military capability, their culture and society is open to infiltration and manipulation while their constant internal rivalry makes them susceptible to a divide-and-conquer strategy that has seen the Blishi'i United Federation and others fend off multiple Warlords and largely eradicate them from their borders.

PostPosted: Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:00 pm
by Sunset
A Bedraggled Settlement, Points Unknown, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant... A Good Half-Hour Later...

"Ah right, so thet's yer deal, eh? Well, tha' don' sound half-bad - not that Ah'm interested, course. 'Courding to mah Ma I'm a Presbyterian. Not thet Ah gots ah'l thet greata clue what that is, either. But thet' tells me what Ah needs to know;" And that was that whoever 'they' were, they didn't like the 'monks' and the monks didn't much care for them either. Something about violent assholes who would very much like to wear his guts for garters. "So, wha' Ah'm thinkin' is that..."

'...Admiral, remember when you said to let you know if there were lots and lots of incoming faster-than-light signatures?'

Titan straightened with a grumpy sigh, putting a hand on a back that ached more than it had any right to do - even if it was the stock model. The communications officer's interruption had come at a breakneck pace that led the Admiral to believe that his next guess would be the right guess, but there wasn't a hint of a rush in his own reply, "Yeah. Lemme guess - lots and lots o' em."

'That's right. Jump points - matching the type of drives we found on the prize ships.'

'Bout how many?'

The Lieutenant supplied a number that raised the hairs on the back of the old prospector's neck and he patted them down - or tried - with an armored glove, "Well naw, thet' don' seem like a number likely ta' make friends. Tell you what, ah'n make it so - Pull everyone back ah'n get ready to bug out. They comin' up on us or they got some distance?"

'Mister Chase says they're looking to get chummy. First ship just came out...'

Titan opened his jaw, his next orders already traveling to the tip of his tongue, but the purple beam that struck him square in the chest was more than sufficient interruption. A moment later he found himself looking at a familiar-unfamiliar wall and more reassuringly at a pair of Marine armor suits. There was a 'pop' to his left and another to his right and he looked to the first to find the 'monk' from planet-side standing there with an interrupted expression on his face.

Her face?

"Wha'll, looks lahk I gets ta' welcome ya'll aboard the Horizon," he said, cracking the seal on his helmet and pulling it off to toss it to the closest Marine. "Commander - what'er you up to?"

"Taking fire. A whole fleet showed up - regular military, looks like - and they didn't bother saying hello. We're waiting on the prize crews to return."

The door between the two Marines stood closed but it whisked open as he took a couple steps towards the exist. More and more people were appearing on the platform behind him and there wasn't all that much room left before they'd have to start double-parking. "Come on, y'all," he waved ahead of himself, "Rah't this way. We'll get ya'll tucked away... Long as we don' get ourselves blowed up fust. Not that that will matter t' me but... Commander?"

"Yes?"

"Anyone actually-factually alive on those prize crews? Ah'n how long til they is back?"

"...nosir. A couple minutes."

Titan flashed a wicked grin over his shoulder, "Ya'll may have taken a vow, but so 'ave Ah. Ah'm torpedoes, target the prize ships, ah'n tell the prize crews to punch out. Then scuttle 'em ah'n lets bugger out."

He couldn't see the action from where he was - and he couldn't feel it either - but his imagination was fertile enough to fill in the details. On the Commander's orders the Horizon would wheel over from where it was currently facing the bulk of the incoming fleet and a quick trail of star-bright sparks would link the three vessels, the second pair disappearing in a sudden blaze as the warheads turned the helpless craft into a short-lived navigational hazard. Then the ships of the task force were gone, wrapped in crackling cyan lightning as they accelerated to infinity.

Not at all neat or tidy, and that left him with another problem; "Captain Blaine is on comms, sir. 'Fuck you', and with her complements."

"Then you kin' complement her right back - what's this about them not callin' fer help..."

PostPosted: Tue Jan 15, 2019 12:48 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Ojeni, Underway to the Arcanite System, Just South of the Alpha-Gamma Border... Less Than Five Minutes Later...

"...and I'm saying they didn't call for help. You've got the same sensor logs as we do - is your sensor officer telling you something different?"

"No, but Ah 'em sayin' they didna jus' show up outta nowhar's," Titan replied, staring back at her through the floor-to-ceiling. The expansive display made it seem like the two were looking into a mirror with the difference being the different bridge officers at their stations and the conspicuous lack of goatees - evil or otherwise. "But iffn' Tommy says they didn', then they didn. Which means we is lookin' at a hellova coincidence, Cap'n."

"There are no coincidences. Pretty sure you told me that."

"Ah did? Sounds lahk something Ah'd say. But thet don' answer the question 'o what's goin' on here."

"And why did you pull us out?" Kami asked, trying her best to keep the whine out of her tone. "They shot first, and I'm pretty sure we could have taken them."

There were a few nods at this - even from the Horizon's bridge crew, but the Rear Admiral leaned forward to rest one arm across his knee and fix her with his gaze, "Na you said I said somethin' lahk 'there ain' no coindences', raht? Wa'll, I'ma tell you something else now too - sometahm' its better to figure out wha' someon' shootin' at you then ta' shoot back. Saves a lot o' paperwork on tha' backside too. So, Ah knows why they was shooting at us ah'n maybe you kin lern you a lesson here too. Turns out they wus'n slavers - they were the poolice. An the fellers they were comin' ta arrest were some kindo non-violent sect tryin' ta live there lives in peace ah'n quiet. Which puts you in tha' right fer rescuin' them, but don' answer the question how they managed to show up, does it?"

"No..."

That left both officers in silence, one staring back at the other and the other tapping her fingers on her armrest. There was something funny going on and Captain Blaine was hoping for that leap of logic that would put the whole puzzle together but her thoughts never got the chance to jump. On the bridge of the Horizon the communications officer turned at their station, listening to some conversation somewhere, before turning back to the Rear Admiral, "Sir - message from Fleet..."

"What naow," Titan said, a look of consternation crossing his face. "What'd they want?"

"It was from the TRIPWIRE monitoring center. They were watching the system after we left - the unknown fleet departed, they tracked them back to their destination, and there are now more ships rallying there. TRIPWIRE central also reports that single ships have started moving towards the western Republic frontier."

"Wael ain' thet jus great..." He squinted at Kami through one eye, "Looks lahk you ah'n me jus started a war..."

PostPosted: Thu Jan 17, 2019 5:20 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Unconquered Sun, Chuh-Yu Orbit, Ares System... Hours Later...

To say that Secretary-General Silaco looked startled would be putting too specific an impression on it. instead her narrow features conveyed a mixture of question and concern, though as she was neither already a casualty or speeding away from the civilian-occupied planet below as fast as the ship's drives could carry it, neither was especially prominent, "...what do you mean, 'We're at war'. At war with who?"

Grand Admiral Alyndra Erriki, on the other hand, didn't seem to have any emotion at all. Or at least her unexpected holographic projection didn't. Undoubtedly the muscular Nordic woman wasn't actually supplying herself for the feed, instead letting the virtual reproduction wander or not wander about on its own as she spoke through its mouth, "Well, that's the thing, ma'am. We don't exactly have all the facts - or many facts at all. But it sure looks like someone is mad at us and sending a lot of ships our way."

"And I take it by your lack of urgency that you're not too concerned about this? How about you back up and tell me what we do know and why don't you seem too concerned about it."

Erikki paused for a moment, her hologram standing silent and still while she gathered her thoughts, "You're aware of the situation with the Villanova Druth'Haari?" That was answered with a sharp nod and she continued, "Apparently Ojeni engaged what they thought were slavers during the course of their assignment. As a point of fact, they were fired on and Captain Blaine responded with an admirable level of restraint, disabling two vessels with a minimal loss of life. She then requested assistance and was given such - Battle Group Springboard was dispatched under Rear Admiral McCopper."

"But it turns out the slavers weren't slavers."

"A perfect guess. According to McCopper, they were law enforcement of some kind that had been sent to arrest a group of religious sectarians - 'monks', as Titan keeps calling them. A team from Ojeni - including Captain Blaine - was on the ground pursing their assignment and elements of Springboard were securing the 'slavers' and seeing to the safety of the settlements when a fleet entered the system and attacked Springboard. No contact - not even a volley of threats. Rear Admiral McCopper made the call and pulled both Springboard and Ojeni out, and they just pulled into the Arcanite System. TRIPWIRE was watching GEC-2990991;" she identified the system by it's Exploration Command catalog entry - no one had yet given it even a nickname; "And back-tracked the fleet to their origin."

"As soon as Springboard withdrew, they did as well and began rallying with additional fleets dispatched from nearby systems. This armada hasn't left yet, but lead elements - scouts - have already begun moving our direction. Precisely in our direction, which is why I'm pretty sure they're gunning for us. How they know where we are..."

"Positive reputation?"

The hologram actually shrugged, "Could be. Negative reputation, depending on one's perspective on the universe. Putting that aside, I'd gauge them as one-hundred-percent serious. Their other garrisons have been reduced to quarter-levels and they are loading transports. We haven't teased out the fine details yet, but they look to be preparing for a proper ground invasion. Elladrillions of troops, if the scale of their transports and shuttles are any indication. Right now I'm keeping TRIPWIRE focused on the big picture though."

"Elladrillions? That's a number now? How long will it take them to get here?"

Again the Grand Admiral paused, as if - and she likely was - Alyndra was checking some numbers on her side of the connection, "Fourteen days to sixteen days, based on the technical details gathered by McCopper's teams and what we've seen from TRIPWIRE. They use a charge-jump-recharge type of faster-than-line drive and this may not be very reliable over the distance."

"And we have no idea who these people are?"

"Not a goddamned clue, Ma'am. I've already ordered Intel to start an information gathering campaign, and TRIPWIRE has mapped out their systems for a counter-attack or preemptive strike but that tells us not a damned thing about who they are or why they are doing this. Titan is interrogating his prisoners but they seem to favor spittle and threats over conversation. There's tidbits here and there - he figures they are some kind of religious theocracy and these 'monks' are heretics of some variety."

Erika nodded her agreement, though whether it was to Grand Admiral's already-enacted course of action or to her assessment wasn't directly indicated except by her next question, "Are they a threat?"

"No," but the Grand Admiral corrected herself with a longer explanation, "No - not based on current information. They have a lot of ships but they are outdated technologically, based on the two engagements and technical data gathered by the prize crews. If they reach one of our systems they could do a lot of damage but force-on-force? Training exercise. That isn't to say they couldn't come up with something unexpected, Ma'am, but... I'm more concerned what they could do to the people between us and them. Some of the star-states between here and there are no better. As soon as we see them moving, I recommend a preemptive strike. We'll hit them as they are on the recharge phase of a jump."

"Though a show of force might be enough to turn them back but there's something weird going on here, Erika - this is the kind of thing that starts with an angry letter and a demand that we turn over our officers for a show-trial. Not a full-fledged invasion. And that they seem to know where they're going? I'm not inclined to the idea that they've heard of us. They're in a pretty desolate part of the galaxy as far as star-faring civilizations go."

Erika could only agree with the Grand Admiral's gut, "Alright, I guess I don't get to sleep for a while. I want every report from Intel as soon as you get it - your notes to follow. Before I order a galactic dust-up I want to know why..."

PostPosted: Sun Jan 20, 2019 2:21 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Horizon, ArcC Orbit, Arcanite System... A Day Later...

"...Ah kent say ah'll was unhappy to get rid oh' them fus fellers but them monks were raht pleasant - not too talkative but rah'l neat ah'n tidy. Tried tah get what we could outto them others but they was ah'll spit'n'fury. But them monks were rah't cooperative once yer will'n tah hunker with em ah spell. Whay don'tcha tell 'er what they told us, Commander, s'oin poor Captain Blaine don' hafta deal with mah umlauts the whole tah'm?"

Together with Captain Blaine and the commanding officers from Battle Group Springboard, the Admiral and his executive officer - Commander Ferryman - were sitting around a half-circle table tucked into an alcove just off the main thoroughfare between Horizon's shuttle bay and the bridge. It was a rare gathering and one that could have been accomplished by any number of virtual methods but there was always something enjoyable about sitting around and listening to the old prospector work his jaw. The space was normally used for casual meals and so it was again, with Chinese-American take-out boxes now piled in the middle, courtesy of a Kentucky Fried Panda operating out of the nearby station.

"Sure," Commander Ferryman said, pushing his paper plate away and folding his hands up to place them carefully on the clear glass in front of him. Visually he was the right man for the job - he looked just like an afternoon news anchor on some long-ago broadcast television station and spoke with a confident, even tone. "As the Admiral mentioned, we didn't learn a lot from our interrogation of the captured Ynij. That's their short name; The Chosen Dominion of Ynij is the formal name for their civilization. After explaining the situation, the monks proved far more cooperative and thanks to one of their younger members choosing to discard his vow of silence, we were able to gather a lot of details on their society and culture."

"And," he continued grimly, "What we'll possibly be facing."

"Ynij isn't the name of the people or the planet - It is one of their deities. About one hundred and fifty of their years ago, just about the same time that the Human civilization that would birth the Republic was just making its first big jumps into space, the Chosen Dominion united their planet under their rule in a series of bloody, nearly apocalyptic wars. The Chosen followed a pantheistic religion at the time but shortly after unification they again fought a multi-sided civil war between the caste-followers of the various deities and Ynij came out on top."

"...which is whar' our monks come in," Titan interrupted. "They us' followers oh' one oh' the lesser dieties - the Dead Gods, so the Ynij calls them - Ah'n they decided to lay low bah' takin' vows o' silence. Then fust chance they got, they got the hell outta there. Which was where y'all found them."

"Right. So Ynij is their pantheon's blood god. His followers are encouraged to violence and sacrifice, though from our frank discussion with the young monk this has been determined to be largely - but not completely - ritualized. It still involves blood sacrifice through cutting and scarification and captives are usually sacrificed as well, but sacrifice of their own is limited to certain feast days and typically involves only one or two 'volunteers.' These are typically failed candidates for the rank of Arch Prelate, who have to undertake a series of ordeals before being 'chosen' by Ynij to embark on a Crusade in his name. While they have religious overtones, these Crusades usually serve a societal purpose, such as establishing another colony or advancing some area of science and technology. Don't mistake them for primitive savages," he went on, looking from face to face, "They have managed to incorporate their blood-soaked religion into their culture and society in useful ways."

"Which explains the small fleet of ships sent after us," one of the Captains put in.

"Exactly. It doesn't explain why they came after us, though one of the monks who was a former Priest of Ynij supplied us with an ominous warning: Occasionally Ynij will speak to his loyal followers, typically on one of the feast days following a living sacrifice, and according to her there is no chicanery or shenanigans behind these 'appearances' - they are absolutely real with no manipulation involved by the priesthood. The various paranormal investigation units have been informed, of course, but currently there's no way for them to get inside and verify whether this is true or just something the biggest hat can do because of the wires woven into the headband."

"Her guess is that Ynij appeared and spoke to the priests and they did what It told them to. On any other occasion we'd call bogus, but we've been over and over the sensor logs and there is nothing to indicate that the two vessels put out any kind of a distress call before they were disabled. From our conversation with the captives and what little we could infer based on various threats, they assumed Ojeni was a heretical vessel that was there to save the monks and opened fire as Ynij would have wanted."

"They sound lovely," Kami said, not quite meeting the Commander's eyes and instead pouring out another helping of Panda Fried Rice.

"And not to be underestimated. The intelligence data that Fleet has sent over so far has them scattered across a couple dozen systems and with a substantial orbital manufacturing infrastructure around about the same number of planets. We'd call their ships primitive - heavily relying on large chemical missiles with a bare-scattering of directed energy weapons - but the civil war that put Ynij on top only concluded forty of their years ago. They've made a lot of progress since then and at a pretty good pace. Whatever blood they are soaking in tends to be other people's."

"As far as what happens next... An Arch Prelate will be appointed by Ynij, either through ordeal or directly, and the Arch Prelate will then lead a Crusade against us. They have a wide amount of latitude in accomplishing their goals so their scouts might just reach us and they'll turn around to attempt a centuries-long build-up to oppose us or they might just recklessly attack, given they have Ynij on their side. Or any of a hundred other possibilities," he said before leaning back into the curved bench, obviously finished.

"Affer ah'l thet, ah kent blame ya fer shootin-second. Ain' no one expectin' them to be some kindo' Spanish Inquisition..."

There was a pause from the Admiral and after a second the expected call came through a nearby doorway, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

"Ah'n thet's what Ah'm sayin'," Titan continued, a shaggy-dog smile spreading across his wrinkled features. "Can' blame you, so we jus' gonna hav tah figure thangs out..."

PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2019 2:31 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Ranger, Outside the Meaningful Area of the Gravitational Primary, System Labeled 'Ynij07', But Not for Very Long... Scheduled Arrival: Republic Date 174.217...

In a crisp fade of cracking blue lightning the Ranger appeared, slowing dramatically from the faster-than-light transit that had brought it zipping past, around, and then back towards the system currently designated Ynij07 from its origin two quadrants away. A vastly elongated 'J', if one wanted to think of it that way, with the short up-sweep taking it on a course that would shoot it through the very edge of the system and back out again if not correct. From a speed many, many times faster than the relatively scant number of photons that reflected off her dark hull, the Frigate pulled back to a near-crawl and her hidden weapons burst to sudden, frantic life. From aft launchers churned ordinance, the sped at which each shot came off the rails exactly calculated to leave one torpedo and then the next and then the next motionless against the backdrop of the stars.

In their hundreds, these were the primary purpose behind the visit from the Ranger and a half dozen other starships spaced out over the previous few and coming next days. Each missile - and more important its full-spectrum acquisition and targeting suite - would form the totality of what was commonly referred to as a VDA or Very Dangerous Array and this was Prelude I, Part I, from the start of the standard RDF playbook. If there was a disadvantage to the titanic early-warning and monitoring array known as TRIPWIRE, it was that the system had neither eyes nor ears. It could pick up the very precise location of planets, ships - even people - but coherencies such as the electromagnetic spectrum largely eluded it. This instead would be the job of the VDA; watching, listening, waiting.

And if the need came? Acting.

A sensor array platform that was a missile is still a missile after all.

The first task was done in seconds, her newly filled bays empty once again, and without altering her course the ship turned to the second. Rotating on her axis without turning from her trajectory it was the turn of the forward launchers to this time rattle but what emerged was not swift death to her enemies but a lazy spray of comet fragments, small asteroids, and other miscellaneous space detritus. Fired at greater speeds these would coast inward on a carefully chosen arcing trajectory, cross a dozen different gravity wells, and on the appointed date provide a lovely meteor shower as they burned up in the atmosphere of the system's largest inhabited world.

...mostly.

----


Strategic Command Center, RDF-Vigilant, Underway in the Ares Cluster... The Same Day But Hours Later...

"The good news - at least for us - is that their EM emissions still leak like a sieve. Bad news for them I suppose," but Commander Dwalijan shrugged in that way that suggested he really didn't care. War and its pursuits were the hulking Eakhm's profession and his business was going through one of its periodic boom times. "Broadcast audio and visual - the Lieutenant has adjusted both for differences in perceived spectrum and the translator. Interestingly, there is a good amount in Optio;" A local trade language somewhat common to the Ynij's region of space and first propagated by a nomadic merchant fleet some two hundred years earlier; "Which indicates they either have a reasonable non-Qi population or again-reasonable trade outside the Dominion."

For those confused the people are the Qi - Ynij is their blood-soaked primary diety and the namesake for the Chosen Domain of Ynij. Sometimes directly clarity is the best clarity.

"Gut reaction, its the latter," Grand Admiral Erriki answered, eyes flicking from one video stream after another. Laid out in a three-by-three grid of floating holograms, each of the chosen feeds when taken together served to provide a good cross-section of Qi culture and society. The one in the center was the most prominent and, whether she'd seen them or not, reminded one of the tele-evangelist era of the mid-to-late 80's where gaudily-dressed priests in their crimson-stained ceremonial vestments stood on raised platforms, an altar spread out before them and the still-bleeding body of their victim oozing blood as the priest orated the tenants of Ynij at an enthralled audience of many thousands.

"Why is it round?" she asked, though immediately she realized the peculiarity of the question. Humans were used to square displays and humans - being the largest portion of the Republic population by percentage - had spread their rectangular display technology far and wide. "Because they like round. So aside from the Morning Murder Hour, we have a pretty reasonable assortment here - educational, entertainment, pornography..."

Apparently a Full Brazilian meant much the same thing to the very hairy Qi as it did to her but painfully more-so.

"At least they seem to practice gender equality."

Commander Dwalijan glanced sideways at her, one eye obscured by the thick horn jutting up from his upper lip, "...I suppose. They don't seem to like us very much," he said, drawing her attention back to the center feed. A crude effigy of a horseshoe-shaped spaceship had been dragged to the center of the stage and the priest was in the process of pouring the blood from his recent victim across its hull accompanied by whatever heresies he could accuse its owners of. Then with a flourish, he scooped up some embers from a brazier in his bare hands and blew them onto the device, sending it up in an immediate curtain of flames.

"Clearly not. And the insertion operation?"

"About as well as could be expected. Defense satellites have vaporized a few, but they seem to be ignoring others. With any luck they'll treat the arrival of an unusual meteor shower as a sign from Ynij and let it through to give the people a show..."

PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2019 8:11 pm
by Sunset
An Alien Wasteland, Umeinn, Drere (Formerly Ynij07) System... Republic Date 174.217...

Slicing through the planet's thin atmosphere in a long, almost leisurely arc, the meteorite had first left behind it a blazing trail of super-heated gases and then a lot plow rut of tilled purple-red soil before coming to a stop just at the edge of a small creek. Dirt and debris thrown forward by its arrival had first filled and then blocked the water's flow until the stream had built to such a height that it had topped the earthen dam and then collapsed it, sending a cascade over the still-hot stone and flashing to scalding vapor in an instant. This replaced the crackle and snap of cooling black stone with a series of sharp cracks, each heralding a new fissure that spread over the fire-wrought surface of the former asteroid like a pane of broken glass. All at once the object began to move, rocking back and forth as a weakened patch of obsidian-black began to crack wider and further.

As though a chick was struggling to break out of its shell.

A few more seconds and what had been a narrow iris of cracked rock broke away, the blow of a particularly large fist sending it flying up and away to land some distance from its former nest. Another followed and then another and then when the hole was wide enough a familiar form emerged, pushing herself up out of the hole with large hands that seemed un-bothered by the scalding hot surface of the now-not-meteorite. The Dwarf hopped to the ground and then turned to take a quick look around. Satisfied that no one was observing her, she reached back into the capsule to first pull out a satchel and then that most unusual of items for those that knew her; a gun.

The first she slung across one shoulder and across her bosom and the second she clipped by a harness to the opposite shoulder, allowing it to hang free and ready while she pulled the bag forward to open a convenient pouch. Inside was a respirator and this she drew over her mouth and nose, holding it snug with a strap that clung to the skin of her face, "Thas better. Girl's gotta come up for air every once in a while, no matter what her boyfriend's seen on the 'net. Ah'n speakin' oh' boyfriend..."

A small control panel was sewn into the satchel's wide strap and she pressed a few of the buttons before a shimmering sparkle next to her announced the presence - holographically - of her stout and positively porcine lover, "Ah'n that's much better!"

"Why thank you - and how was your trip?"

"Delightful," Meli answered, turning around again to survey her surroundings before marking some point on the horizon and turning her feet in that direction. "Ah musta been shot down a dozen times. Jus' something exhiliratin' about sittin' there waitin' as the missile comes in!"

In order to assure the arrival of Meli and the other Anathema agents that were now on the ground (and scattered across the void, burned to a cinder in the atmosphere, cut into little pieces by anti-missile defenses...) in the Chosen Domain, the simple answer had been to accomplish by numbers what they could not guarantee by precision. Each chunk of comet, each shard of debris, each misshapen asteroid had contained a copy of each operator's preferred body. Whichever survived the trip would - had been - activated and then inhabited remotely by the essence of the agent.

"Why do you enjoy that?"

Meli gave it a few seconds though, her boots carrying her over the torn earth and out of the furrow and then up onto what one might call a thin plateau, if everything from the grass to the shrubs was both the wrong color and growing at either the wrong angle or the opposite direction. What could be a tree was really a low bulb suspended from the apex of three spindly legs, the multi-colored nodule slowly swaying back and forth in the thin breeze. Other nearby examples had lost their globe and here and there she could see these half-buried in the soil, "Must be some kinda seed pod."

"And you without a degree in biology."

"Yap it up, smart guy. Ah' kin just turn you off, you know. Ah guess I lahk it cause I can't die, and its really hard ta' kill me unless you happen tah been lobbin' around spaceship weapons in mah' immediate vicinity. Ah'd talk to the shrinks, but Ah'm pretty sure the answer would be that Ah'm crazy and since Ah don' give two fucks, much less one, Ah'll just enjoy mahself how Ah like. But Ah do have a favor tah ask oh' ya..."

ScLappi looked across his shoulder at her, ignoring for the moment his boots as they left their momentary tracks upon the alien world, "Certainly. Though I am somewhat limited in my capabilities in this present form."

"Not as bait ya' ain'. Way Ah figure it, these Ynij..;" "Qi," he corrected; "Qi will still come lookin' for whatever came down out here, even if its just some kids or ah'n old man with a metal detector. So Ah want you to stay ahead o' me. Much as Ah want to mix it up, Ah was the only one o' 'me' that survived. So until we get a' good bead on what we're facin'..."

"Then I shall be your Daniel Boone. If only I had not left my coonskin cap and Ol' Bess at home!"

PostPosted: Thu Jan 24, 2019 4:24 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Unconquered Sun, Underway to Sol System, Solarian Reaches... Republic Date 174.221...

"Ma'am, we have a concern..."

With two empty hands, Grand Admiral Erriki unfolded a holographic file folder into a pair of hovering images and a spread of documents before pushing them across the Secretary-General's desk. Without an invitation 'she' settled into the chair across from her, waiting the few moments it took for Erika to take in their contents; "What am I looking at here?"

"You're looking at a new Type of Qi WarShip. One of our deep space VDA's outside their Eteind System watched them put down the first hull yesterday and they've been laying keels as fast as they can since. Here," Alyndra leaned forward to touch the second hologram, turning it from still image to rapid-fire assembly process as pre-made modules were moved into place by hulking robotic arms and fixed together by smaller or by EVA work crews in bulky exo-frames. A minute later the ship was complete and boosting away from its former berth. "They're by no means inefficient about the process."

"It looks impressive;" That from the viewpoint of a woman who used to be an industrial fabricator in her pre-sentience, "But what's your concern?"

"My - our - concern is that these 'Omen of War'-Types are not just a step forward for the Dominion - they are a big leap. They've got a new power plant - a whole new power generation technique from what remote analysis can tell us - and this feeds into new or upgraded ship and weapon systems. They're mounting more energy weapons, a better faster-than-light drive - though we're not sure how much better - and it looks like they've managed to cut their crew requirements at the same time. For comparison," she pointed to the second image, "That's the 'Omen compared to the other three observed types. Not counting that big one, which is basically a space-temple, this new one is right between their two current designs but with the crew spaces of the smaller."

"And how did they pull all this off?"

"That's concern number two - we've intercepted media accounts that put everything down to divine inspiration. The Word of Ynij - and we haven't found anything that would disprove this. Undoubtedly they've got the usual assortment of research and development centers, engineering firms... But there hasn't been any claim to these upgrades, even as 'divinely inspired'. Hopefully we'll know more when our Intelligence agents on the ground manage an infiltration, but at this point the analysts are taking them at their word - the Qi have a god on their side..."

PostPosted: Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:57 am
by Sunset
Grand Admiral G'Ogra'Phi's Office, RDF-Adventure, The Coreward Expanse... Republic Date 173.228...

Even if sometimes the Author occasionally lets things slip and occasionally focuses on one specific area a bit too much, the gears and apparatus of the Republic bureaucracy grind on. Such is the case with the Republic's steady expansion towards the galactic northeast where the cluttered office of Grand Admiral G'Ogra'Phi - head of the Republic Exploration Command - is playing host to three unusual visitors if one doesn't count the Grand Admiral himself. Unlike Grand Admiral Erriki's office - immaculate and sparse - or Grand Admiral Yikorusha - practically a dojo, the ArAreBee viewed his office as his personal sanctuary and the ultimate repository of his thoughts and plans. Piles of papers, books, tablets, charts, maps, globes, and of course the miscellaneous nick-knacks of a career in exploration that spanned the history of the Republic and - he claimed - at least a thousand years before it occupied every available surface and even some more precarious.

These his visitors had been forced to carefully navigate until they had come to regret their decision to come in person, all three crammed into a small section of open carpet that was not in front of his desk but instead just to one side where a tall barrel stood on a decorative stand with the savory aroma of aged kenj seeping through its pores and pooling in the wooden cups that sat under the tap, their bottoms stained a deep lustrous brown in successive layers. A true connoisseur of the Xypndi beverage would appreciate this for the secondary flavor it lent the beverage but to the visitors it looked frankly gross, given the expressions evident when they dared glance that way.

The first - again, there were three, though the possibility remained that one or more had gotten lost in the clutter or swept away in an avalanche of deforested lumber products - was exactly what one might expect given the Adventure's proximity to the nearby Juniper System. Long of ear and with a deliciously sexy kink in only one, the Hauyht was lean and toned and essentially naked except for a uniform jacket that matched the outfits worn by the other two. That the leporidae was covered in a coat of short steel-gray fur made this less disturbing than one might otherwise imagine. Crowded up against her was another woman, a Tjorengo in a decidedly more complete outfit though it only managed to cover the base third of her tail.

Last but not least and by rights the most interesting to the Admiral was the last of the third and by far the most shrinking. Most interesting was because he hadn't seen the species before - at least not in the flesh - and because to his appraisal she was smoking hot. Not in a completely sensual way either; the Pagani had been gifted with a pair of curled horns that gave them a distinct devilish look and this one was in the habit of looking away and then towards him out of the corner of her eye as if she was appraising the value of his soul and what means she would be willing to expend to acquire it.

Only one part of all that explained why they had chosen to park their ship alongside his and make the crossing before braving the wrath of his office to present themselves before him, "Which is why we think the Outer Systems Alliance should play a part in this expansion."

"Even if we aren't regular military," the Hauyht finished, uncertainty and discomfort easing into her tone as though they'd been there ever since she came through the door.

The Outer Systems Alliance, for those who don't want to bother searching through the rest of the thread, is a para-military organization founded - conveniently enough - by the Hauyht who settled on the Juniper System with an eye towards their own defense. Unhappy with the Republic Defense Force's formal 'Strategic Uncertainty Doctrine', they'd taken it on themselves to build their own fleet and had since joined together with other frontier systems such as the Pagani to form a Minor League military force.

"Yesss;" that was the reptilian Tjorengo. "The OSssA iss already recruiting from the new member statesss and if the Defense Force is unwilling to put ships in those systems, the OSssA will!"

"The Defense Force is defending the new systems - even if you can't see it," G'Ogra'Phi pointed out, not bothering to shift his long legs from where they extended from the boots firmly perched on the one open corner of his desk. "And the Outer Systems Alliance isn't trained in first contact or diplomacy. And it definitely isn't empowered to negotiate anything. If - If! - I were to authorize this, that would mean a ship from the OSA would have to accompany my ships, and that would mean that we'd go from one ship - just one - approaching these new systems to two. And one is often threatening enough."

"Or... Or," the Hauyht stammered, "Or we could post representatives from the OSA aboard your ships! Err;" she'd caught the look of warning in his probing black eyes, "I mean, the Defense Force could invite OSA representatives to accompany them, as observers. Training? I mean..."

In the back - relative to the tight clustering of the three - the Pagani finally spoke. This might have been the moment the Admiral was otherwise waiting for, but it was ruined by the woman's voice, which sounded as though she'd been chewing on cigarettes for the past five years, "It would be best to work out some measure of cooperation between us, Admiral. You can't stop us - not without a change in the law. The Outer Systems Alliance is a duly authorized in-system law enforcement organization. As soon as they join the Republic, we can and will legally present the case for them joining our association."

"Bit over-gunned for the local PD, aren't you?"

"There's nothing on the books that regulates the size of our force, nor its composition. We've heard about the Ynij, and we will..."

"The who?" He stared at her through half-opened eyes. He knew who they were, of course, but there had been no reason to inform the general public yet, which meant that someone who did know something had been opening their yap when they shouldn't have.

"The Ynij. An aggressive alien civilization. They're headed right for the Trelmakier System..."

"I'll... have to look into that," the ArAreBee replied, tone neutral. Though that explained that - someone was mixing the Ynij and Trelmakier together to drum up interest in the honeypot system. Which didn't make much sense, given the first were coming from the western edge of the galaxy and the second was on the western-most edge of Domain space, which itself was far to the east of the Republic and its expansion zone. But rumor-mongering didn't have to make sense, did it?

"But I'll tell you what. I'll run your idea by the Secretary-General," he nod-pointed towards the lead representative, "And see what she thinks. And put the ball right back in your court. The OSA would then be responsible for selecting candidates, vetting them to Diplomatic Service standards, and then there would need to be training. They'll also need a new uniform - something that doesn't clash with gray-on-gray-on-gray..."

PostPosted: Mon Jan 28, 2019 10:38 pm
by Sunset
Cain's Dagger, GEC-88949, Somewhere Between the Republic and the Ynij Home Systems, Alpha Quadrant... Republic Date 174.235...

"It does not appear as though your information was correct, Huang," Captain Le Fevre sneered, pronouncing every letter of the Lieutenant Commander's name as though it was the most brutal of curse words, her thick French accent turning it into mocking derision. With a flounce of lace and a rattle from the saber hung at her waist, she threw herself into the command chair to look back over her shoulder as though she expected the officer to flee from the room in tears.

Janice didn't seem to care. Instead she kept her eyes constantly moving from the tablet she held in her hand to the main display and back again. The first showed nothing more interesting than a technical read-out as well as a couple buttons while the second showed nothing at all except for the endless, star-strewn depths of space. Out here beyond the system primary's faintest gravitational influence there were no planets, no moons, no asteroids to swim across the display and liven things up a bit and that - presumably - had been what had finally driven the Captain to her comment. It had been a long wait after all, but some things were worth waiting for.

"They'll be here. Qi jump drives are finicky things - or their captains are clever enough to vary their jump times. But this one made a little mistake..."

It was not the time that was the same but the location; TRIPWIRE had tracked a dozen Chosen scout ships in their long trek across the galaxy and while the others had been careful to jump at random times and to random points around the target system, this one had a distinct preference for...

"Jump point forming!" Janice took a step sideways to where the helmsman was already looking towards her, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever she was up to over her shoulder. "Here - bring us to this heading!"

Certainly it could have been a Defense Force starship - ideally the Lieutenant Commander's White Nile - but there was the chance that the predictions would be wrong, that the Ynij scout would come out at some other point, and that they would get away long enough to warn their fellows that somehow the Republic knew they were coming. But a Sanglanti vessel? That was a much more likely coincidence!

Distant stars slewed around on the forward display as the vaguely bird-shaped vessel came around, "Heading matched!"

And there it was. Not quite a wormhole, but definitely a wrinkle in time. At this distance the ship would have already emerged, motionless, and her own sensors would be reaching out to scan the surrounding space, "Fire!"

Under the ship's nose was a chin and mounted in that chin were a pair of rails and along those rails a torpedo raced, flung out towards the stars and the shimmering and now fading patch of space time far faster than she might blink an eye. Just at that instant a ship emerged, long and narrow and looking something like someone had taken a massive revolver and mounted a pair of engines to the back before lopping off the grip. Along the forced perspective of one ship to another it looked as though there were seconds or longer before the torpedo would hit but it was only just as the first reactive missiles were bursting from their launchers that the bright spark flew past, nearly clipping several of the newcomer's protrusions before vanishing just past the bow in a truncated explosion of its own.

"...you missed, Lieutenant..."

"Mmm - watch those missiles," Janice instructed, nodding towards the display. The Captain might have been willing to let scorn serve as her defense but she was not, and neither was the gunner's mate at his station. But they came no further. Instead and with their target lost, they spiraled off into oblivion while those of the bridge crew who cared anxiously watched the Chosen ship, fingers on buttons and ready to engage or retreat.

But there was nothing. Not even a puff of gas as she turned on maneuvering jets or an anxious squawk of comms traffic as she called for help or hailed the random encounter. Seconds, minutes, and then ten; "She's dead in the water. How does the phrase go, Captain? Lève-toi et prépare-toi à embarquer! That is," she turned and stepped to the back of the bridge before turning to look over her shoulder, "Unless you'd rather stay here..."

PostPosted: Wed Jan 30, 2019 4:06 pm
by Sunset
Umeinn, Drere System... Republic Date 174.242...

A bush moved.

Or at least something that looked like a bush moved. One careful step after another, the cobbled-together amalgamation of sticks, twigs, leaves, and fruit clusters edged its way up the long slope of the hill towards the crest, moving past and between its fellows until it lay just on the sharp edge of the berm. Wedged there between two others, it looked like a particularly sad example of the species with its spiked limbs already sagging in the late morning heat and most of its fruit clusters - which looked like a cross between a bunch of grapes and an orange - had burst during its travels. This left the aroma of pulped seed pods drifting over the cliff which in turn drew the attention of various insect-analogs which buzzed and chirped as they feasted on the exposed flesh.

"Ah'n bite," a voice from the center of the shrubbery added, discomfort evident in her tone. "Can' imagine what kind-o diseases Ah'm pickin' up from them either."

"The chances of the native fauna hosting a virus, bacteria, or other pathogen that will prove itself compatible with your physiology is, for all intents and purposes, zero," another voice replied, though the source appeared to be the same patch of vegetation as the first. "Consider their presence useful camouflage, similar to how the ninja of Earth's Japan would carry sedated insects in their garments when attempting a nighttime infiltration in order to provide the sounds of nature that would have otherwise alerted the guards to their presence - or lack there-of."

"Ah'll fine ah'n dandy til one flies up yer nose and makes a meal o' yer brain."

"You have one?"

"...there's ah power button on this thang here somewhare..."

"Perhaps you should distract yourself by returning to your task," the second voice answered, a mischievous grin obvious even for the lack of a visible body. "Or shall I undertake the catalog of our opponent's capabilities?"

That was the purpose of the whole exercise, of course. The little rise where Meli lay disguised was just one of hundreds that lay at the far edge of a wide river. The water that flowed through it was still the usual shades of blue though dotted here and there with splotches of orange, bright green, and an obnoxious pink, all provided by leaves, fruits, and berries shed from the foliage that lined both sides. On the other side the banks rose again but far gentler this time, turning to a mostly-flat flood plain that played host to their current objective. Tucked up against a range of steep hills at the furthest distance was a city, squat and monolithic, while closer the assembled might of its military undertook what had to be drills of some sort.

"Likely their final preparations before boarding," ScLappi suggested, pointing out the obvious. Nearer still to the city sat long lines of transports, each with their ramps and bays open and ready to receive. At this distance the unaided eye could not pick out the minuscule forms of individual soldiers moving up and down the ramps and this set their size as very large indeed.

"Alright, let's see what we got before thay bugger out then."

Under her camouflage, Meli sorted through the pouches on her satchel until she found what she wanted. The monocular fit across her eyes like a glove and one might wonder why she otherwise needed it, being already equipped with highly advanced cybernetic senses. For the curious, the answer was 'surface area' as the monocular had many times what her own eyes did and - with the same sensor density as her cybernetic eyes - was capable of thus far greater detail and range. Size does matter.

What had been the size of a grain of sand was now a fist-sized rock - and Meli had large fists - and for a few moments she focused on the assembly while the software concealed in the device conducted counts, surveys, and appraisals. Soldiers moved together with their squads, some in careful formation and others practicing fire-and-maneuver while war machines of different types whizzed or clattered on both the ground and in the sky.

"Well, tha' ain't primitive savages. Lots oh' drones..." She watched as a flight of small rotorcraft hopped from cover to cover, mimicking the soldiers they were mingled together with, "Ah'n ah' don' see a trench or bolt-action rifle among 'em. See ah'ny thing tha' looks lahk command ah'n control?"

Against many contemporaries - though not peers - the Qi ground forces would prove a suitable adversary. Aside from the drones, most of the war machines whether terrestrial or flying mounted what appeared to be a number of automated turrets, their barrels constantly moving this way and that as their targeting systems sought out whatever they were cued to. Most of the first were of a hovercraft or surface-effect design, while the fliers varied from ducted rotorcraft to fixed-wing interceptors or thicker gunships. Against the scale of the average Qi they were built to a larger scale but this was explained by the soldiers themselves, all of whom were wearing exoskeletons that increased their height again by half.

"I would venture that it is distributed. The number of drones and heavy use of automated systems suggests that their computational infrastructure is reasonably advanced."

"Ah'n that mean Ah' can't just barrel in there ah'n kill em all," the Dwarf finished with a sigh. "It ain' cheatin' if the other guy does it too..."

PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2019 4:13 pm
by Sunset
Identification Clarity & Standards Whiteboard Meeting, Special Projects Research Complex 19371-A, Ju-Docri, Docru System... Republic Date 174.249...

"...got it - Pseudo-Dyson Envelope or Pee-De-Ee," the tentacled contributor said, emphasizing each letter of the proposed acronym. "That's what it does, right? It emulates the functionality of a Dyson swarm;" Not a Dyson Sphere - the system involved had neither habitable space or the basic potential for the same, "but with the complete coverage of a sphere. Thus envelope. PDE or 'Pedey' for those who like to mutate acronyms into pet names!"

The Facilitator considered for a moment, lower lip curling around upper as she rocked slowly back and forth in her chair before sitting up and setting pen to virtual paper and jotting it down, followed by not one but two underlines. Then she nodded, "I like it - that sounds great. Pee-De-Ee. We'll go with that..."

There was no objection from around the table nor would there be. All of the other group members had quickly realized that they had been shuffled off into the dead-end morass of bureaucratic non-necessity and had managed to secure other assignments through begging, borrowing, stealing, or in just one case a useful and unique skill. That left two and between them they'd managed to make some significant progress on an insignificant problem...

----

Aboard the Prize Vessel, GEC-88949, Somewhere Between the Republic and the Ynij Home Systems, Alpha Quadrant... Republic Date 174.235...

"Is this all that is left?" Captain Le Fevre asked, poking at a pile of ash with her cutlass. Being Sanglanti, she didn't need environmental armor to survive the crossing from one ship to another and so she wore none, instead dressed in the same flamboyant outfit of ruffles and lace that she had been previously. In one hand she held the mentioned cutlass while in the other a pistol that looked as though it had been carved from the pages of some history book but still fired a suitably deadly particle beam with each pull of the delicately inlaid trigger.

"That's it. They were dead before they even knew death was coming and then their remains self-immolated."

"Effrayant!"

"This from a pirate," Lieutenant Commander Huang replied, kneeling to examine the piled up remains of the former person. The body itself was not interesting to her but the uniform armor they had been wearing was and she spread this out piece-by-piece until she had assembled them into a roughly-man shaped form. "Some kind of segmented armor attached to a garment. The fire would have burned that away..."

"Smuggler..." But the Captain did not seem to care to continue the back-and-forth. Instead she had embarked on the age old tradition of looting, opening first one compartment after another. Clothing, personal items - but nothing of specific interest until the tip of her sword fell on a golden chain tucked into a pocket and she fished it out, the length sliding down the blade to catch in the ornate guard, "Encore une fois, horrible."

This drew Janice's attention and she stood, peering over the Captain's shoulder as she held her cutlass close, turning the blade and thus the pendant this way and that. It depicted a small Qi who appeared to be mostly headdress and this mostly hands with long, narrow fingers intertwined together at the thumbs to form a semi-circular crest. The chest was open as a wound with an enormous heart making up nearly the entirety of the torso while the eyes were wide and stared blankly ahead.

"Ynij - their god," she supplied, pulling open another locker and rifling through the contents. "Here's another one."

In fact as the boarding party secured and then scoured the rotating crew compartment, more and more of the pendants turned up until it was clear they were a regular accessory. Rings too could be found here and there, as well as piercings, ornamental wall decorations, and most impressive to the Captain a large 'sun disc' that depicted Ynij spread out on an altar with priests or worshipers to either side. This last was found in a small chapel just off the bridge with a tiny altar there below it, its stone face stained with blood.

"Take what you want," Janice instructed - that had been part of the deal. "Or you'll never see it again!"

That was the other half of the deal. Soon enough a Defense Force Recovery Cruiser would be arriving to take the little scout under grapple and begin the process of completely dismantling and documenting it with the first task being to make sure there was no way it would be able to report its position...

PostPosted: Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:25 pm
by Sunset
The Secretary-General's Office, RDF-Unconquered Sun, Sol System, Mars Orbit... Republic Date 174.252...

"...because frankly Ma'am - something stinks and there are not enough different words for 'feces' to adequately describe just how much. So I'd rather softball the Ynij until we can figure out what's causing that smell."

Erika looked back across her desk at Grand Admiral Erriki, her expression blank, but in the back of her head she was suddenly mentally comparing the woman with her predecessor. Erriki had been selected to head the Fleet because she was a by-the-numbers type but this was more like Grand Admiral Glafka, who was prone to jumping feet-first into a problem - even if that had eventually cost her her life. A well-seasoned outburst was one thing, however, and flinging one's command ship into combat with a planet-sized crystalline monstrosity entirely the other.

"No, I agree - there's something that doesn't feel right about this whole situation. What do you propose," she asked, hoping that a more measured response would prove Alyndra the right person for the job. "What's the softball?"

"The softball is that we hit them lightly, we let them know we hit them, and we give them a reason to think twice about continuing. We pulled a lot of useful intelligence out of the scout we captured in GEC-88949 - we now know that the Ynij aren't stupid and they aren't disconnected from the rest of the galaxy either. There was a significant dossier on us in the ship's computer with all of it pulled from public sources. But their orders explicitly said not to trust any of it either. So the scouts are there to both verify what they already have available and likely to provide forward observation as their main fleet gets underway. We take them all out at once and they'll know we did it and worry about how."

"If we hit them before they reach our periphery they won't have any verified information to pass back and they'll have to send out more - likely ahead of their fleet. Based on their current rate of travel, we'd put them back at least a couple weeks. At that point they'll probably put things off until their new model ships come off the line - a few months. That should give us enough time to find the source of the smell."

"Engaging in a directly attributable attack may make it harder to talk them down when and if we figure out what's going on here," Erika pointed out.

"I don't think so. What we're learning about this Ynij is that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. Either can be seen as a sign from Ynij and from there it depends on who is interpreting it. Both our intercepts and our people on the ground are telling me that the Arch Prelate is a real signs-and-portents type who will read anything that happens in the best or worst possible light. One scout... That's a freak accident. All of their scouts? Someone is doing something wrong and Ynij is not happy."

Erika sat back in her chair and looked across steepled fingers, considering the Grand Admiral and her proposal. "How long until they reach the periphery," she finally asked.

"Less than twenty-four hours. The closest scout is five, four jumps away," Erriki answered, mentally checking her stopwatch against the time on the wall.

"And you're sure we can hit all of them?"

"As of five minutes ago, one hundred percent sure. We've got a good window coming up inside the hour - they'll all be making a jump right around the same time so they won't have time to run even if one manages to get off a shout."

"Alright, then do it. But I want this clean - complete over-kill. If we're going to send a warning, I want it in big bold letters a kilometer high..."

PostPosted: Mon Feb 04, 2019 11:45 pm
by Sunset
Strategic Command Center, RDF-Vigilant, Underway in the Ares Cluster... A Little More Than An Hour Later...

"...there's always another complication," Commander Williams answered, his tone consolatory as he stood next to the Grand Admiral, feet shoulder-width apart and hands tucked behind his back as both watched the scurrying action of the command center. "It's a big galaxy - I don't think we'll ever run out of complications. This time it's Sassana Nova."

"Which I've never heard of. What is it?"

"It's an inhabited planet," he answered, extending a pointed finger to draw a row of holograms out of the air until they stretched from where his right arm would end to the hypothetical end of her left. Each showed a different image - one on the closest right showed one of the Chosen scout ships in the moments before a squadron of Ascendant-Class Dreadnoughts dropped out of frameshift nearly on top of it, the lead warship pacing it exactly to put careful shots through its drive section while the remainder beat off its counter-missile fire with their own point-defense beams - but it was the image in the center that the Commander touched next, pushing the others to the side while it doubled in size. "In the Buenos Ionas System. Human population, two major ethnic groups - Iranian and Parse - and the primary religion is Zoroastrian. It isn't ours, but..."

He gestured towards the image on the far right, "After we knocked out the Ynij scouts headed our way, we put the TRIPWIRE array that had been tasked to track the scouts back on the region of space between the Ynij home systems and our periphery, looking for any scouts we might have missed. We didn't, but not all of the Ynij scouts were headed our way. Naturally they'd have some patrolling their own frontier, scouting out nearby systems - and this one," he tapped at another hologram, which showed a halo of stars roughly marked as the Chosen Dominion of Ynir and these again marked with various points of military minutia, "Decided to head out towards Buenos Ionas. Straight towards it, as it happens."

"But its not ours..." Grand Admiral Erriki said, poking at the indicated system with some annoyance. Commander Williams was beating around the bush but as soon as she saw the first flash of detail listed out she sucked in her breath, "Well, okay. That changes things."

"Yes ma'am. Undoubtedly the UIK will not appreciate a Chosen scout intruding on their borders. The scout is still a couple of jumps out but their trajectory is clear. My guess is that its not trying to cause trouble, but trouble is what it will get."

The Grand Admiral nodded agreement. Those inside the so-called 'Peer Group' had been briefed on the 'threat' posed by the Ynij and between them it had been summarily placed in the same folder as pirates, Fuvuni, and the Ozlukar - annoying but not strictly a 'threat'. But this was not a sub-tier armada aimed at their fortified core systems but instead an arrow aimed directly at a remotely-defended system home to billions. The Chosen could wreck serious havoc if they attacked the system and while she judged that chance as remote - the scout was likely heading there to monitor a system belonging to a polity that was known to operate in loose alignment to the Republic - the Macisikani were more likely to simply obliterate the Ynij rather than risk even a single citizen to the bookmaker.

"And are our friends aware of this?"

"I don't know that yet. If we asked them, they would be. They haven't said anything yet, and we haven't seen any fleet movement to suggest they do. When they do, the game will probably change to hardball."

"Divert the closest ship. I want that scout out of the game before they know about it," Alyndra decided. "But I can tell you exactly what's going to happen - the Ynij will assume that it was the UIK and Buenos Ionas is a lot closer to their core worlds than we are. If I were them, I'd look to take care of the threat closer to home first. They'll dispatch their Crusade and either they'll run straight into a UIK armada or our fleet. If the UIK learns about it and steps in, they'll take the fight straight back to the Dominion and gladly kill them off completely."

"So you're saying it better be us?"

She nodded, "At least if we want there to be any survivors. Alert the rapid reaction groups to imminent action. I'll tell the Secretary-General, but I want that scout dead whatever she says..."

PostPosted: Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:32 am
by Sunset
Ocaynidd the Crusader, Non-Cataloged Star System, Trailing End of the Scutum-Centaurus Arm... An Hour or So Later...

'Five-to-one odds is a suckers bet - especially if the sucker doesn't know the game is being played...' ~Unknown

----


'...exit point formed; jump transit complete in five, four...'

Ybei Rotha shrugged his acknowledgement of the navigation computer's announcement and returned to his game. He had only a single piece left on the field and with a pair of sharp-nailed fingers he picked it up and bounced it across the mat like an aroa chasing its prey. Each move brought a groan to his Second's lips, golden pieces snatched up by the senior officer as his long-laid trap was finally sprung. When his move was complete and his last remaining piece sat alone in the center of the field - a crowning glory to those who closely followed the intricacies of the game known as Ynij's Fingers - both turned back to their neglected duties.

'...jump drive cool-down initiated, recharging sequence initiated, drive tests initiated; system tests red...'

'Red' being a good thing. Even with decades to refine the design, the Qi' jump drive was still occasionally petulant and as many as one in a thousand ships a year found themselves in the Hands of Ynij, whisked off to wherever the failure took them. Doubtless they were then spread on its alter, their hearts examined at the tip of a knife, and if they were not found worthy...

Rotha blinked hard. It was not wise to overly consider such things. Concentrating too long on the consequences to one's soul often had the effect of discouraging one from taking the actions one needed to secure their proper eternal fate. There was a seat available at the center of the command circle and he took it, arranging his armor in such a way that it would not interfere with his comfort while he considered the screens spread out to either side.

"A system without blood," Proijan declared, his estimate matching the Ybei's own. Though his Second was as his own eyes and ears, it was not good for any Ybei to trust solely in the senses of another when considering such things. "There are no signs of the Abandoned and there are few places where even Ynij could set their feet."

To put it simply, the Abandoned were everyone else; the Chosen were the Chosen. If Ynij could not set its feet somewhere then there was no place for either the Chosen or the Abandoned to place theirs either. The pronouncement was largely unnecessary though as the Qi had long-ago surveyed the various star systems within their sphere by means of telescopes and other instruments. It was only if the Abandoned had come to populate a system would there be a surprise waiting for the crew of Ocaynidd the Crusader but here in the direction they had been sent it would not be overly-so, though why anyone would lay claim to so barren a place boggled the mind. Still, their ship had returned to the Grasp of Ynij far away from anything that might possibly shelter an observer just in case.

"The charging cycle has begun and the system is empty - shall we another game?"

Rotha shrugged and again rose to his feet, a hand on the seat as he pulled himself around in the old direction and walked back towards the outer taper of the crew cylinder. Aboard a ship as small as Ocaynidd the Crusader the entirety of the crew space was contained on one circular level, the whole of it slowly spinning to maintain the constant gravity that kept the Ybei's fur from splaying out in a constant thick cloud around him. At a junction between his berth and that of his second there was a small table and here they both took meals and entertained themselves, the play mat now marred with kaumar as it was easier to simply eat atop it than to roll it away each time.

Across from him, Proijan began to extract pieces from his pocket and lay them out on the mat in the proscribed pattern. As the loser he was now 'red' and would play first while Rotha arranged his golden pieces to receive whatever attack his Second had in mind. Blood against Glory, the only truth between the two being Sacrifice - that was the essence of Ynij's Fingers.

"Vore's Defense? You tried that last time..."

'...alert, alert, unknown vessel detected; range seven hundred calin and closing. alert, alert...'

Rotha shot to his feet and ran for the closest chair, "Seven hundred calin, it must be..."

A mistake. But no - there it was on the closest screen. An elongated 'U' shape surrounding by the last moments of crackling blue lightning and behind it more of its kind but not much further. Ocaynidd the Crusader was only two hundred thirteen calin and so the five were as close as the aroa would be when its jaws lashed out to take its prey.

"Full forward..." he ordered, the regular lights flickering off just as he said it, followed by the voice of the computer; '...main power offline; backup power online; cylinder spin...'

"Caus!" he swore, pitched to the side and thrown off his feet along with most of the rest of the crew as the rotating cylinder that allowed them the luxury of artificial gravity came to a sudden stop and sent them tumbling as inertia took its inevitable way. Instinct pulled arms and legs into a roll and he found himself plowed up into the corner of the bulkhead that formed one side of Proijan's bunk, his Second sprawled half-across the sleeping tray in a way that suggested he might not rise again.

"Ynij, no," and he reached for the Qi, his fingers just beyond their grasp. There was a sound beside him and he turned to find himself looking up at a strange form, a single large black eye looking back down at him as a hand drew back, short fingers bunched into a fist. Through indistinct legs he could see another one standing behind the onela who had remained at their post, a long black tube lashed around her throat as the intruder stepped back. A noise like that of a crelak swarm assailed Rotha's ears and he watched stupefied as the woman's head came lose from her shoulders, snatched aloft by the hand of her attacker while blood gushed from the stump of her neck in great leaping spurts.

He turned back to his assailant, who stood over him still waiting, fist cocked back as though frozen. Beside the two another stepped forward to snatch up Proijan's body and whatever ties had bound the Ybei's arms snapped, a hand reaching for the pistol that he always kept strapped to the outside of his leg. Long fingers touched the knurled grip and the fist flashed towards him...

PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:56 pm
by Sunset
Ederis, Throne of Ynij, Crusade Fleet Yboik, Ethirelin System... Hours Earlier...

Fingers dabbed in fresh blood reached out to anoint the arm and then the brow, swiping first one way and then the other to create a hash mark in bright crimson on the warrior's armor, the thin smears drying rapidly under the intense heat of the lights surrounding the great altar. Atop it the latest sacrifice still moved, her mouth opening and closing in pain as the blood of her life flowed out around the still-beating heart. Not a drop of the precious substance would be wasted; lesser priests clad in their ceremonial vestments waited with plates ready to replace the Arch Curate's own when his was bare.

"Ynij strengthen your hand and your will," he intoned, the onela stepping past him to walk around the altar with his newly-anointed hand against his forehead before rejoining the faithful who flocked at the foot of the steps. One after another the ritual continued, each warrior taking the blessing as desired from the most jealous of Ynij's priests. With each supplicant the mat of gore on the hair of his fingers grew thicker and more congealed and with each blessing his motions more repetitive; there were thousands at today's service, each owing their appearance to the mass disappearance and presumed destruction of the Crusade's forward scouts.

It was an omen to be sure - the dying woman on the altar attested as much - but already considerations of what was foretold had been put aside for the requirements of tedious ceremony. Where normally only Ybei attended now whole crews were there, especially those who might have had some relation among those presumed destroyed. Another penitent stepped forward and Ybilic Mardoth drug his fingers across the richly inscribed golden platter only to find it near-bereft of blood. Pushing together what remained, he dabbed his fingers in the gelled mass and looked up, only to pause with fingers outstretched.

To answer the question of why would require one to take the skin of a Qi and live for many years among them, but the woman who stood before him clad in the armored uniform of a lesser onela was simply the most beautiful he'd seen in many months. Fingers moved of their own volition and he crossed her arm and then her face, lingering there for an imperceptible moment as he looked into the depths of her eyes. Then she was gone, stepped past like the others, and he turned to one of the lesser priests, extending his plate in exchange for their own.

"Who is she," he whispered, catching the junior's eye and looking in the direction of the woman as she passed around the altar.

"She is Onela Tilali, bond of Ybei Agreath, commander of Thelanidd, Archon of Teac," the priest replied, his own eyes appreciating her as she descended the steps and rejoined the throng. That marked her mate as captain of a ship in the Archon Fleet - those dedicated to the defense of the world for which they were named - and thus a rare visitor. As a lesser onela, it was unlikely she was here without her commander and so...

"There are many here who seek the Blessing of Ynij," Mardoth declared, his voice rising to be heard by those around while a dark glitter overtook his eyes, "and Ynij requires another sacrifice to anoint them all." Now his tone grew deeper and more forceful, "The Voice has declared to me, 'Bring me one of strength - bring me the heart of Agreath!'"

"And," the Ybilic returned to a whisper, addressing only the priest who had answered his query, "bring her to my quarters. She will have questions of Ynij..."

----


"Ybilic Mardoth..."

Fingers touched his shoulder and Mardoth stirred, his eyes opening to first behold Tilali. Her body was stiff beside his own but still warm and he stared at it in suddenly longing even as the fingers grew insistent. Then they pulled him over and he found himself looking up at the face of Croel, one of his senior-most advisers and similarly ranked inside the onela of Crusade Fleet Yboik. The officer was dressed in his armored uniform and dried blood from the ceremony - Croel had been among the first - still lingered at their appointed places.

"Urig... Must you awaken me already? Must you draw me away from my few pleasures? What is it?"

"It is Ocaynidd the Crusader," Croel answered, extending a hand to draw the Arch Curate from his crib and to his feet. Behind him stood a pair of regular infantry and he motioned to the woman's body, the two curving past to heave her over the shoulder of one without even a word passed between them. "Another of our scouts - this time far to the south. Missing with no word or warning."

Mardoth had put out his hand for his garments, draped as they were over the back of a chair along with the uniform of the onela, but now it stopped and he looked past to where the two-now-three were leaving the room. A tingle passed through his body, a shock as though he had spent too long brushing against some artificial surface, but this was desire abandoned - was it warning?

"How long?"

"They would have checked in minutes ago. They were to scout and observe a distance system belonging to the alulin;" somewhere between friend and ally, but not quite either; "of these Nimatojin. We have sent several messages and they have gone through but they do not reply, even to acknowledge."

"Captured, then..."

A clatter of feet and armor interrupted Croel's 'Perhaps...' and both turned to the doorway where another had appeared. Mardoth did not recognize the woman but haste was its own warning and he held up a hand to stop Croel explaining further while she crossed the last few paces and came to a rattling halt, "Arch Prelate Mardoth, Officer Croel;" and then a deep breath.

"A strange vessel has appeared in the veil of Yteha. It bears the markings of Sunset, but yet it survives! I have been sent to summon you!"

"Show us," he ordered and the onela looked around his unfamiliar chamber for a moment before settling on a large display surrounded by thickly-cushioned chairs and settles. Activating it, she recoiled only slightly from the images still frozen on it before touching the controls and instructing them to show a much-magnified view of the distant star that warmed the Qi homeworld. Even on the great expanse of the screen it was only a small dot but against the great bulk of Yteha it was large enough to catch the momentary breath of Croel.

"What is it doing," but it was not a question but an exclamation. All three could see the long finger of the veil rising up from its location, extending out towards them with the near end open as though it was a hand extended in greeting. "A solar flare? But how?"

The onela had no answer and so instead she pressed on, "It is not alone. Others have been seen in the corona of every star held by the Chosen of Ynij, all alike and all bearing the same markings. The Nimatojin - they are coming for us! Archon fleets from the worlds have already departed, sent to investigate and destroy them!"

"How long?" Croel asked, clarifying immediately, "Until the flare reaches us?"

"Within a half-the," she answered, mentally subtracting the time it had taken her to race from the command deck to the Arch Curate's private quarters, "What does the Ybilic command?"

Mardoth stared at the image a moment longer before turning to walk past the two and reach for his vestments. "It is a trap - a lure. As a thayp taking an acaukor. Chosen Victims of Ynij they might be, but these Nimatojin are no monsters. Tell me, what will the effects of this flare be?"

"Immediately? It is large, and if it hits the planet directly it will likely overwhelm anything that is a large enough antenna. The power grid will likely fail - better to take it offline now - and sensitive electronics will be damaged. If they are able to keep it up then the results will be catastrophic. If they are able to focus it, to keep the plasma stream cohesive, then it could heat the planet and do unimaginable damage to the biosphere. Crop failures, species extinctions - though it would take many aloi."

"Then we must stop them. Onela," Mardoth turned to the officer, pulling his robes on over his thin shoulders as he did before fingers still soaked with blood began to work the fastenings closed, "Return ahead. Tell Ybei Ciranyth that I have declared this to be a lure and that he will order the Archon fleets to return their ships. They are to shelter behind their planets and further they are to move whatever they can..."

"Stations, shipyards, refineries - whatever orbital infrastructure they can," Croel supplied; "Yes - all of these are to be moved behind the planet as well. Those on the planets should take what measure they can to minimize the damage, but the Archons must remain or else the Nimatojin will attack. Crusade Fleet Yboik will instead move to destroy these intruders. Sacrifice will be demanded of us - that is the Will of Ynij!"

"Yes, Arch Prelate!"

"It is a dangerous ploy, Mardoth," Croel said as the young onela sprinted for the door. "Everything we know about these indicates their ships are few in number but highly advanced. Their systems are open and welcoming - an easy prize for the Crusade - and attacking us directly will strip them barer still. If this gambit fails then they will have lost entirely."

"Your appraisal is correct," the Arch Prelate replied, finishing his preparations and then leading the two out the door and into the corridor. At the end of the tightening square they could already see the checkpoint before the command deck while behind them the great altar chamber loomed cavernous. "Which is why Yboik will move to destroy these vessels. They will dare to oppose us in our strength, or they will find them lost, stripped from their hand as a jei from one too young."

But there was a tingle in his fur and he stopped, looking first ahead and then turning to look over his shoulder, "Accomplish this for me, Croel. Ynij may speak to me, and I will be near its altar as to hear its Voice clearly. You have the Blessing still upon you," and he raised his hands, dragging them through the air in mimicry of the motions that had traced the now-dried blood, "And the Strength of Innocent Sacrifice. Go..."

PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:37 am
by Sunset
Ederis, Throne of Ynij, Crusade Fleet Yboik, Ethirelin System... Three-Quarter-The after the Reinforcement of the Buenos Ionas System...

'Lead elements will reach extreme engagement range in twenty-six the,' the voice of Ybei Ciranyth announced, heard but not seen. Behind the Altar were spread out a trio of enormous displays normally used to show for the faithful the moment the knife plunged home or the instant the soul sought Ynij but Mardoth had had them changed to show a view of space forward of the Ederis as well as a tactical view of the space around the fleet as it moved and finally a magnified view of their target, the tiny dot grown large enough now to be distinguished as a shape. Now everyone - even those chosen as sacrifices in case Ynij demanded it - stood or sat looking up at them.

The Ybilic was among them, kneeling at the foot of the altar, his hands placed carefully on either side of the sacrificial blade. Under his palms ran the last dried rivulets of Agreath's blood and his knees were now stained with gore. Against all this the disc-shaped golden knife was spotless and gleaming, cleaned carefully so that its curving crescent edge would show the moment of sacrifice clearly - if that sacrifice was needed.

Or perhaps wanted.

Those who spoke idly around him doubted the first to be the case. As large as the vessel was - as large again as the Ybalenidd Shipyards that had taken nearly a decade to complete - it was still alone. A handful of missiles, a determined volley, and they would overwhelm whatever defenses it might possess. Then it would sink beyond the veil and Yteha would take it and its crew. This one would be destroyed and the rest would follow, the Nimatojin too afraid to face the full bulk of the Crusade or the Archon fleets.

Ciranyth read again, 'Twenty-three...'

'Ybei, multiple contacts!' The onela sounded young and panicked, perhaps even the same young woman who had rushed into his quarters not so long ago. If that were true... Mardoth's body tensed and visions of her eyes widening in sudden acceptance as the blade ran across her throat flashed before his eyes, the face of one living over that of one now dead.

'Where?!'

But the Ybilic could see them, as could the few priests and the double-row of ready sacrifices seated below the altar. Elongated spindles of cracking blue lightning that had appeared against the magnified image of Yteha, each wrapped around ships of extravagant but undeniably lethal design. Against the extended wedge of the Crusade they were only a minor obstacle but already they spat missiles ahead of them, tiny radiant stars that flashed away on one screen only to appear from the edge of another, streaking towards them.

Spread out around and ahead of the Ederis, the Crusade Fleet responded in kind. From the launchers arrayed in long lines down the backs of the forward-most ships - 'Blood of the Crusade'-Types - missiles rose and then curved, racing away as they sought to intercept and destroy the pitiful few. Mentally he compared the two, the first faster by far than the second, and calculated where they would come together in rapid detonation. A moment away...

'More contacts! Ninety thousand calin and closing!'

His eyes flicked away for a moment and were saved. Something burst at the center of the middle screen, a brightness such as if one were to stare at the sun for too long but only for an instant before it was replaced with static. Beside him one of the priests shrieked and threw his hands over his eyes while similar could be heard coming through from the bridge followed by the steady voice of Ybei Ciranyth, 'What was that?'

'Unknown! Damage reports coming in; external cameras are dead, half our comms are dead, getting reports from across the fleet that sensors are down, some vessels not responding - their comms are probably down!'

'And the incoming contacts?!'

There was a note of alarm in Ciranyth's voice and Mardoth could only imagine him rushing from his command pedestal, leaning over whatever screen remained lit, and watching the same tactical display as he was. A yie ago they had been at the edge of the screen but now they were in among the host, a swirling vortex of representational icons that rose and fell like a flock of quar feasting on a shoal of naegan that had been driven too near the shore. Light after light disappeared, some perhaps disabled while others had to be destroyed, their souls traveling to challenge Ynij.

'...get our comms back up - all ships, concentrate fire on supplied targets. Pick out a ship and... No, I don't know which one, just pick one...'

Margoth's eyes fell and landed on the curved knife. Whatever tension he'd held in his body drained away as he snatched it up and surged to his feet. Turning to the closest slave he held up the glimmering ring as the disc of the sun, "You! Ynij demands a sacrifice if we are to carry the battle! Take him to the altar!"

Grabbing him by the arms, the closest priests began to drag him up the steps. There would be chants, and tinctures, but there was no time. His feet gone limp, he forced them to haul him to the top, a hand clamped over his mouth.

'...fire everything. They're taking them out as soon as we launch. We have to overwhelm...'

For a moment the priests lingered in front of him, the chosen victim of Ynij looking up at him with pleading eyes. Then they had braced themselves and he sprawled, thrown onto the altar as they hurried to tie hands and feet to the rays that sprouted from each octet. With no hand to cover his mouth he could speak as he willed, calling out blasphemies to Ynij and entreaties to both Qi and fallen pantheon alike.

"Listen not to this blasphemer, oh Ynij," the Ybilic roared, stepping forward to stand between the man's legs, the sacrificial knife held over his head, ready to plunge down and take the life that Ynij demanded. "His blood, his sacrifice, his life..."

'...there's a single ship - its coming straight for us, Ybei!'

'...put everything we have on it. Order the Ibilith to get in their way - ram them if they have to...'

'...their comms are down - I'm trying, Cira...'

"...Ynij, hear our call! Accept this sacrifice!" The blade flashed down and Mardoth pushed it deep, his eyes lifted high as he ran it side to side through the writhing slave's body. Warm blood splashed across his hands and he yanked the crescent free, nearly flinging it to one side at the end of an outstretched arm. Something closed around his wrist and he turned to find himself standing next to a man, a person - a Nimatojin - who held his arm firm in an armored gauntlet as he locked eyes with him, a splash of blood crimson across one eye. Behind him and brandishing a weapon almost as big as she was a woman, bald of face like the first but with a smile rather than a frown crossing her mouth.

"You must be Arch Prelate Mardoth," he said, his Qi perfect but his lips moving differently than the words he was saying. "Huang, secure the area. The Arch Prelate and I are going to the bridge for an unfriendly conversation..."

PostPosted: Sat Feb 09, 2019 11:59 am
by Sunset
Strategic Command Center, RDF-Vigilant, Underway to the Ethirelin System... A Half-Hour Later...

"...the good news is that Admiral Villanova's strike force managed to rout the main body of the Ynij fleet without inflicting a gratuitous amount of casualties and capturing two key personalities - Arch Prelate Mardoth and Grand Captain Ciranyth - as well as the flagship Ederis," Grand Admiral Erriki explained, indicating a hologram showing the bulk of Crusade Fleet Yboik come to a halt, surrounding by drifting wreckage and still swarming with Republic warships that buzzed and spun like a swarm of angry bees defending their hive. "They didn't completely fall for his ploy with the CMEs but it was enough to get their fleet into the open. The bad news, for the moment, is that Admiral Villanova's force is tied up keeping the Crusade Fleet in line. Admiral Falk is due to relieve them any minute now, but unless he can get the defensive fleets away from the planets, we're looking at a lot of civilian-side casualties either from the mass ejectors or if he's forced to engage their defensive fleets and orbital defenses directly."

"Any chance of a negotiated surrender," the holographic avatar of the Secretary-General asked, looking past and through the same row of holograms that the Grand Admiral was reporting from. "Ambassador Aayrid is on his way."

"Villanova had the same thought, but he's not confident. According to what he's been able to get through so far, Grand Captain Ciranyth seems our best bet to turn the military. Sounds like a reasonable player - he and his bridge crew surrendered as soon as Zero Division boarded. But he hasn't been able to get anything out of the Arch Prelate but spittle. Seems he caught him in the middle of a religious ceremony and it might have broken Mardoth's brain. I've ordered Admiral Falk to have those two and any other senior leadership she can get her hands on taken to CORE III for debriefing or interrogation - whichever they choose."

That too was shown on one of the hovering holograms, the colossal fleet station picked out by its name on a representational view of what was - for the moment - referred to as 'Qi Space'. It now sat at the very center with Republic fleets converging on it from the eastern edge of the display. Judging from the scale listed, they would be arriving within the next few minutes to peel off towards whatever their assigned targets were.

"My concern is that if they don't choose wisely or quickly, the UIK will introduce the ant to the boot. If we had time we could pick off their fleet assets from range - their defensive fleets are all clustered behind their host planets to avoid the worst of the electromagnetic storm the CMEs are chucking their way. Easy target, but the faster we go the more likely it is that we'll send a station or a few hundred ships raining down on whatever's below. It is a whole lot easier to talk people into surrendering when there are more of them alive to surrender. If the Macisikani decide to get involved there won't be anyone left to surrender."

"And what about Ynij?"

"Their god? Haven't hear a peep out of them," Alyndra answered, sharing a dark smile with her superior. "And I don't expect to either. When and if a non-existent space god with a penchant for blood and sacrifice starts going on a rampage through our fleet you'll be the first to know. That is a complication though - we've cut them off at the knees with the capture of their Crusade Fleet and the Arch Prelate, but from what I've come to understand about the Chosen of Ynij, that just means they've been metaphorically sacrificed. They have this board game - popular among their ranking officers - called 'Ybubaen' or Ynij's Fingers that is all about tactically sacrificing pieces to set your opponent up for final defeat. Some may very well fight to the last, assuming that they are the piece that is going to win the whole thing."

"Then tell Admiral Falk to be careful," Erika instructed. "I'm taking care of something here and then I'll check in with Commander Williams unless something urgent comes up between then and now."

"Anything important?"

"Not on a galactic scale - morning sickness..."

PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 2:07 pm
by Sunset
The Elevated Pathways of Aomoak, Capital City of Teac, Ethirelin System... A Handful of The Earlier...

It was no soap box, but the functionality was close enough and Wiliv grabbed the lamp post with one hand, put the opposite foot up on the lip of the recycling receptacle, and hauled himself up to stand somewhat precariously on the domed metal cube. For just a moment he stood there looking around at the others who had ventured out onto the strangely quiet streets of the normally-chaotic metropolis. With the power grid down there were no vehicles rushing around the lower levels, no signs buzzing out advertisements - even the subtle 'humm' of the great mass of air conditioners that kept the equatorial city livable was gone. Though the order had been given for everyone to shelter in place there were still many, like him, who had forced a window open after a couple the and made their way out onto the elevated pathways. These linked the towering spires of the city together by way of an intricate web and they were the exclusive domain of the city's pedestrians.

What purpose they had in joining him was their own, but it was an easy guess with many standing at the railings tilting their heads skyward to watch as the strange sight of a day-time aurora crawled its way across the heavens and the great arc of the flare arcing from star to planet to disperse in the atmosphere somewhere off to the north. Such a sight would never again be seen in their lifetimes and less, if as feared they did not have much life left to live.

That second had been his reason for coming out onto the streets and, having considered the sparse crowd around him, Wiliv raised the megaphone he'd crafted simply from a thick sheet of paper, a few staples, and some glue to his mouth, "Ynij..." His voice broke and he cleared his throat to try again, doing his best not to pay attention to the faces that had suddenly turned in his direction, "Ynij has fallen! Look to the skies and witness the return of the true pantheon! Own, Alinn, Qiab," he listed off the other members of what had once been the circle of gods worshiped by all Qi before the Chosen had triumphed.

"No sacrifices protect us now! Yteha rains fire on us and the Crusade Fleet has left, along with the works of the Chosen! Remember your parents and the gods they served! Own, Shepard and Guide to us all! Her face radiant and caring! Alinn..."

"Get down off there, you edauk..."

Wiliv turned, narrowly avoiding a slip and fall that might very well have sent him plummeting the hundred or more levels to the bottom of the city, and brought his megaphone around as well to face the accuser, "No! These signs are the heralds of a new awakening. It is not blood sacrificed to Ynij that brings the fire but the blessing of Qiab, craftsman of Yteha and beginner of all life! Bear witness to the Ways of Ynij, for they are not ways of peace and life! Look instead to Alinn, writer of knowledge and bearer of tranquility!"

His accuser stepped closer, one hand raised to pluck at the cone of paper and glue, "Come down or I'll tear you down - Ynij now, Ynij forever!"

There was a crowd now and Waliv was torn between gratitude and fear. The old gods - the coming gods! - had blessed him with an audience but already his knees grew weak. Only by continuing could he summon the will needed to persevere in the face of doubt; those were the words of Own, passed down from his parents parents parents and still taught in secret prayers before bed, "Ynij has left! Do you hear its words? Has it spoken to any of us?! No - only the Arch Curate claims to hear its words and he has fled the wrath of Yteha!"

The man lunged for him and Waliv stepped back, clinging to the lamp post as his only physical salvation, "Put it down, boy, and go home!"

But another hand caught him by the collar and pulled him back, "No, let the boy speak..."

The first man turned but instead of words exchanged a punch was thrown, and then another. In an instant the crowd divided and mayhem ruled...

----


Strategic Command Center, RDF-Vigilant, Underway to the Ethirelin System... A Few Minutes After the Previous Post...

"Alyndra - Admiral - another complication," Commander Williams warned as he stepped up to where the Grand Admiral was still standing surrounded by informative holograms. "Admiral Falk deployed a tactical VDA when her relief force arrived in-system and it has picked up evidence of civil unrest on the planet's surface."

Another hologram joined the panel and she looked it over. A near-real-time view showed a city - unnamed - from high overhead and then zoomed in closer to show sections of elevated walkways linking the structures. These were swarming with people but they were not going anywhere - instead they were clearly brawling, surging back and forth as one side or another gained a momentary upper hand. The fracas seemed to be centered around a younger-looking man who stood on top of a garbage can and had a megaphone in his hands, perhaps coordinating the closer side. As they watched, another person was snatched from their feet and sent plunging over the side to fall away into the abyss, finally disappearing among the shadows.

"Rioting? Why?"

"Can't say for certain," the Commander admitted easily. "The power grid is still off and so we've lost our media intercepts. This isn't the only incident though," he touched the hologram and it changed to a wire-frame sphere of the planet with dozens of spots in red, all concentrated on the daylight side. "It is spreading though. It could be because the power grid is offline though - most of the sites are in the equatorial region, but one of the analysts suspects it may be religious, as there is a hot spot concentrated in the area that was last conquered by the Chosen of Ynij. Presumably there are still plenty of people alive who remember the old ways."

"Fantastic," the Grand Admiral replied, her tone clearly sarcastic. Then she considered for a moment; was it enough of a problem to pull the Secretary-General out of whatever she was doing? Did it matter? Rioting on the surface was one thing but fleets in orbit were entirely another - unless... "Commander, tell Admiral Villanova and Admiral Falk to pull some of their captives aside for a quick survey - in private - particularly ranking officers. If these are religiously-motivated, we might be able to turn them to our advantage..."

PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 7:34 pm
by Sunset
RDF-White Nile, Ethirelin System… Shortly After the Arrival of Admiral Falk’s Reinforcements…

“Fidelo, I want you to contact the Macisikani and get their intentions and timetable nailed down. They have a lot more ships sitting there than they need…”

“And I don’t think Erika wants this to turn into a bloodbath,” the Admiral nodded, though from his tone he didn’t precisely care for the idea - and he wasn’t precisely thrilled to have been tossed into the thick of things either. The White Nile was technically an Exploration Command vessel but technically he’d been the closest and highest ranking officer nearby when the question of whether to shoot or not shoot had become ‘how much’.

“Who am I talking to?”

“Admiral Usah. What little we know about him says that he’s ruthlessly thorough - out of the Vale of Winds sector of the Metropole. Very black and white about things like this. Problems get solved, and when you have a lot of warships at your disposal there’s a very easy way to solve most problems. You’ll also want to talk to their ‘Resident’ - the UIK’s representative with the local government.”

“I don’t suppose you have their business cards, do you?”

Jamie smiled, more clever than kind, “Of course. I’ve already had my people working on getting you a line in. I can’t order you to make the call;” technically the two were of the same rank and Admiral Villanova of greater seniority by a few decades; “but I was pretty sure I could talk you into it.”

“Pass them over as soon as you can, then,” he decided, rising to his feet to retreat through the doors on the starboard side of the bridge.

“Where are you going?”

“To get some props…”

----


“Admiral Villanova,” Fidelo began by way of introduction, adding a slight nod of recognition at the end. He’d chosen as his backdrop the few cells that the White Nile had with one containing a person similar in bearing to his own - straight-backed, formal posture, uniform as neat as could be managed under the conditions - while the other held another Qi, this time curled up in one corner and still wearing the blood-stained ceremonial robes he’d been captured in.

“Republic Defense Force and commander of Strike Force Woodshed. This is Grand Captain Ciranyth, former commander of the Chosen Dominion of Ynij’s Crusade Fleet Yboik. That was Arch Prelate Margoth, though he’s not in any condition to answer questions at the moment.”

There was about two seconds of the UIK’s golden eagle, and then a two-dimensional image of Admiral Usah appeared, seated with his back to a matte black bulkhead; the furled banner of the UIK on a pole behind him and to his left.

“Admiral Villanova, to what do I owe the pleasure?” his voice was as bland as his expression; that unlined face might as well have been part of the bulkhead for all the information it provided.

“I’m not sure I’d call it a pleasure, Admiral. I’ve been asked to establish the UIK’s intentions given your remarkable state of preparedness in the Buenos Ionas System and at your Anchorage Nety. Since time is of the essence, I believe the fastest way to ascertain that is to game out the next few hours with your help and the possible assistance of my ‘guests’ here,” and he nodded towards the pair, though only the Grand Captain seemed to be paying attention.

Those olive-oil eyes didn’t move from Villanova’s face.

“The Ynij nation is a rabid animal,” the Macisikani said. “Unlike some states we are not in the business of leaving rabid animals to their own devices, and we are certainly not foolish enough to allow one to live on the doorstep of people we promised to protect. Over the next few hours we will sweep their systems from one end of the Chosen Dominion to the other, eliminating all military capacity. I have not yet decided if those worlds will be cleansed in our wake, but it would be faster.”

“And, I assure you Grand Captain - he has the means to do it. We humans have a saying ‘Know Thy Enemy as Thyself’, so I’ve been studying up. I assume you’re a student of Ybubaen? It is a board game,” he explained for the Admiral’s benefit, “Played by the Qi and subject to an almost fanatical following by their military officers, much as chess or poker is among many human-descended cultures.”

“I am,” Ciranyth answered, making a gesture that could probably be interpreted as a nod.

“I believe there are thirteen pieces on each side - red and gold. Interesting coincidence, as thirteen is often considered unlucky by the superstitious of my culture. Thirteen pieces, correct?”

Again the same gesture and the Admiral went on, “Your thirteen are down to six. The Admiral here has thirteen thousand, and he’s more than willing to flip the board in order to assure the safety of his people. Now, is there anything that you can tell me that will make it easier for your people to survive past the next few hours?”

The Qi said nothing, but it was clear there were gears turning behind his black eyes. After a moment, Fidelo returned to Admiral Usah, “Ideally, we’ll only need a few hours to finish things up ourselves, Admiral - but the Qi haven’t made it easy. With the Grand Captain’s fleet under our charge, we’ve reduced their military effectiveness by half but the rest of their Archon fleets - their defensive formations - are unwilling to venture out into the open. We’re bombarding their worlds with our coronal mass ejectors, but they seem to be content to let their people suffer rather than come out where we can easily get at them.”

Usah’s gaze fixed on Fidelo.

“We will begin our deployment in 49 minutes,” he said. “Full sweep,” and for the first time he looked at Ciranyth. It wasn’t a nice look. It was the sort of look you normally gave to something you’d just trodden in. “We know what they do to their prisoners. There will be no quarter.”

“Which means things are going to get messy,” Fidelo opined. “Right now the Ynij fleets are clustered on the nightward side of their host planets, along with all of the orbital infrastructure they could move out of the way. Stations, shipyards… That’s a lot to come raining down on the planet. Forty-nine minutes? That’s pushing it. We’ve got ramship formations incoming and they’ll do their best to knock what’s left of your ships away from the planet, but there’s no sure thing in war, is there? And then there’s the rioting.”

“Rioting,” and there was a clear note of uncertainty in the Grand Captain’s voice, though he kept himself carefully motionless.

“Civil unrest, if you want to put it nicely. Our operatives on the ground have confirmed that religious rioting has broken out across several worlds. Sometimes it’s the Chosen of Ynij turning on those they consider followers of the old gods for betraying them, sometimes it’s the followers of the old gods pushing back for a couple decades of oppression. Sectarian violence is never a pretty thing, is it?”

As if it had been rehearsed, the Arch Prelate Mardoth chose that moment to regain some sense of himself, surging to his feet and rushing to the transparent panel with a fury that rocked even the Admiral back on his heel for a moment. With fists still caked with dried blood he pounded on the glass, “Do not listen to the Abandoned! Ynij will hear our sacrifices, even if every last one of our children must die to lift our voices to him! Blood will be spilled and it is our blood that will survive!”

“If it is the death of every last one of your children you desire, that can be arranged,” Usah actually sounded like he was trying to be helpful.

Perhaps the Arch Prelate heard, perhaps not, but a moment later he had collapsed again into spittling rage on the floor of his cell, fingers frantically marking his own body, claw drug over claw, until they ran crimson with his own blood...

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2019 1:15 pm
by Sunset
RDF-Ojeni, Returning to Points Unknown, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant... Within the Hour...

"...what are the chances that we'll get there and there will be another settlement full of peaceful religious dissenters in the process of being hauled away to face a blood sacrifice on the altar to a dark god? Zero, that's what," Kami declared, hopping over the back rail to plop her skinny butt down in the command chair with perhaps a bit too much 'plop', "Ow. And we don't have a combat assignment, so... I'd say we're free to do what we do. Since the Ynij are someone else's problem, I say we get back to our problem."

"It wasn't really a problem," Commander Sloan pointed out. "And the implication from Fleet was that we were to stay away from the site until the Ynij were no longer a threat."

"That's a 'how you slice it' order - if it was even an order. I'd say they are ninety percent no longer a problem, and since it was an implication rather than an order, that's more like one hundred twenty percent no longer a problem."

And she was bored with cooling her heels anyway. The Arcanite System was officially, unofficially, and everything in between a Major Resource System. Which meant that after watching Horizon off-load their prisoners, the crew of Ojeni had little else to do but watch a large fleet of autonomous extractors, transports, and refineries slowly take the system apart. When you've seen one Tagra-L pull a mountain chain apart, you've seen them all. But now Arcanite was firmly in the rear-view mirror - by way of a casual order she'd issued while her conscious was in the lavatory - and Points Unknown was growing larger every second.

"What do you think we're going to find them? Seems to me like we were out of clues."

"Maybe with some extra time we'll stumble across something, maybe something will shake loose..."

"I'm not sure there's anything left there to find," a much deeper voice interrupted. Behind the two Commander Timmons had entered the bridge unannounced and surprisingly quiet for such a big man. In one hand he held a cup of what smelled to be coffee and with the other he talked, subtle gestures emphasizing his points. "The way I see it, we have three possibly ways to get to the next answer. The first is to search that region for any other evidence of that civilization and whatever might have happened to them. The second is to top off the tank and head out a few hundred thousand or so light-years and try to watch it happen. I'm not sure that would accomplish anything though, since everything we know about the i-We says that they can do their thing nearly invisibly - and from what Saryan tells me, those traces will be long-gone. Maybe we'd see a civilization crumbling, and maybe we'd watch a star mysteriously grow old before its time, but..."

The explorer had stopped dead in his tracks, coffee halfway to his lips, and a clear something racing across his thoughts like a runaway freight train. For a few seconds both Kami and Sloan stared at him until there was a clear 'click' and his cup finished the journey from elbow to lips, "...son of a bitch."

"What?" was echoed twice and by way of answer he turned to lean against the rail and direct his question to the officer seated at the sensor console, "Thomas, can you pull up everything we've got on the Memuru Nebula? Specifically, any images you can find anywhere that would give us a clear guess as to the size and density of the nebula around, say - five hundred thousand years ago. For starters."

"What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking the iWe have an artificial star in the middle of a nebula. I was... ah... talking to Saryan..."

There was a flush in his cheeks and just enough hesitation in his voice for Kami to latch on like a fuvuni onto an ankle, "You're hooking up!" She whirled around to repeat herself to Sloan, "He's hooking up with Doctor Brilla!"

"And?"

"And," she shrugged, "Just... Something to gossip about. We've had a dull last few days. Guess you haven't though."

"Noope," and he finished with a self-satisfied slurp from his mug. "Anyway - I was talking to Doctor Brilla and she telling me more about the Druth'Haari and how they are creating nebulae that stars will eventually form from. Apparently they are breeding stars to breed planets to breed new species of crystalline sentients on - in - for reasons we don't yet understand. Seems like the long way to go about things, but I suppose they have nothing but time. Anyway, there was a side-track about star formation and that bit about 'stars mysteriously growing old before their time' got me thinking."

"When a star forms from a nebula, it doesn't just appear out of thin air. The gas in the nebula condenses under gravity until enough concentrates for self-sustaining stellar ignition to occur. Now, reasonably the nebula is shrinking as it flows into the star, but if we can get an old image of it, we'll..."

"...got it," everyone turned to Lieutenant Commander Ingersol, who shrugged, "Well, got something. I've got an image of Memuru from Andromeda, but its two-point-five million. But I get where you're going, Commander. Main screen..."

Turning around again, they were all treated to exactly what they expected which was the expanse of the Memuru Nebula as imaged by an Exploration Command deep-shot mission to the Milky Way's most significant galactic neighbor.

"So, we have the nebula then;" and the image changed but only slightly to what was clearly the same nebula but this time with two faint but distinct points of light contained within. "And now. There's a few variables at play here. First, we've built our own star in the Nebula and that pulled in a lot of the nearby gas. But that we can account for. So here's what the nebula would look like around two hundred, three hundred thousand years ago... Now our second variable is where the material for the iWe's star came from. Did they pull it from the nebula? Or, as Commander Timmons suspects..."

"...did they pull it from those dying stars," Kami breathed.

"And the answer is;" the image split in two, showing on one side the nebula as it was projected to 'grow' if the material had come from elsewhere and on the other the nebula as it was projected to 'grow' if the material came from the nebula itself. "And there we have it - I'd say we're looking at Option A. Good catch, Commander."

"Thank you, but that leads us to another question - 'why those assholes?'"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, why those assholes? Other than the fact that they are assholes? There's a billion different places that the iWe could have harvested material for their star without killing off a bunch of assholes. Maybe they were doing the galaxy a service, maybe not, but..."

"...but I think I've got an answer," yet another voice interrupted, this time specifically blonde and female. No one knew how long she'd been standing at the bridge doors listening in, but she was willing to confirm one thing as she walked over to the Commander and leaned up on her tip-toes to give the taller man a peck on the lips.

While Captain Blaine turned around - again - to shoot her own partner an eyebrows-raised look, she skirted around the explorer perhaps a bit too closely to cross the open space in front of the Captain to the main display where she turned around, "And that answer is that someone paid them to do it. When we built our own star, the iWe were - according to the files - no help at all as far as the construction went. They told us how to do it, explained the theory, but when it came to building the stations that created the conditions for star formation, we were on our own there. If you've ever wondered where all the extra energy we were scooping up with the VLEMAs went - now you know."

"I wasn't, but go on..."

"As far as I can tell, the iWe have no manufacturing ability of their own. It might be something fundamental to their nature, in fact - a nature that we still know very little about. Sentient background radiation? Some kind of high-dimensional entity with a loose foothold in this universe? There's a lot of theories and a lot of speculation but they haven't been exactly straightforward in their answers. You could actually say they're dodging the question. So I'm going to add my own theory; The iWe wiped out whoever it was on Points Unknown at the behest of these 'Dranahovi' they mentioned on the monument in exchange for the construction of the stations that they then used to generate their own star using material they harvested from those same stars."

"Why build your own star if you have the ability to do that," Commander Sloan asked, doubt written across her slender face.

"Why build a toaster when you can burn your bread over a fire?" the physicist countered. "We know that their star is more than just a star - they've managed to turn it into an antenna and maybe even a weapon. But I'll tell you what's making me suspicious... We've been monitoring the star ever since we realized they were using it like an antenna. We can't see what they're doing, but we can tell they are doing something - thanks to TRIPWIRE. So I did a little digging before butting my head in, asked a few questions, and it turns out that their star has been strangely quiet..."

"...since the Ynij attacked us at Points Unknown."

"Exactly."

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2019 11:43 am
by Sunset
Eraessi of Archon Toasean, Yelan Orbit, Toasean System, The Chosen Dominion of Ynij... Minutes Later...

'...incoming transmission; military origin, advanced encryption,' the computer whispered out, the voice strangely loud against the absolute quiet of Eraessi's command deck; "Ybaleng Groadia," the onela responsible for such things announced, reading off the incoming message to herself and then providing the High Captain only what she needed to know, "It is from the Nimatojin. They suggest our surrender and further inform Ybaleng Groadia that there is rioting on the surface and that Grand Captain Ciranyth has surrendered Crusade Fleet Yboik. They are very polite."

Groadia swore, "Urig! They addressed me by name?"

The officer gestured agreement and the Ybaleng swore again, this time using several choice words that would have surely brought her up on charges of heresy if there had been anyone present who would have reported them, "Which means they know who commands which ship, and they've either broken our encryption or have captured one of our ships. What was the source of the transmission?!"

Onela Iberid turned back to her station intent on double-checking but as she did made the clarification her voice ran cold, "It was the Ederis, Throne of Ynij..."

Which could only mean that either the Abandoned had concocted a clever lie or that their words were true - The Crusade Fleet had been vanquished, the Grand Captain captured, and thus likely the Arch Prelate dead or captured as well. By the Merits of Ynij that would put the purpose of the Crusade as false - in doubt - but what was then her duty? Blood and Sacrifice, but blood had already been spilled if it were true and thus sacrifice made.

"Send a message to the Ybaleng of Archon Fleet Ethirelin..."

'...incoming transmission; military origin, advanced encryption; priority alert, source ybaleng qush...'

"...of Archon Fleet Ethirelin," Groadia guessed, sinking into her chair stunned. "Does he confirm the message from the Nimatojin?"

"He does, Ybaleng. Crusade Fleet Yboik was engaged between Teac and Yteha by a force inferior in numbers and decimated before surrendering by direct orders of Grand Captain Ciranyth. He further reports that Archon Fleet Teac has been engaged by Nimatojin vessels and he conveys his concern that this may be his last transmission. His surrender has been requested but he will not yield."

'He conveys his concern that this may be his last transmission,' Groadia ran the words over again in her head. She could not fault him for standing firm - what Ybaleng would want to surrender their fleet? But that he was certain enough that he would die to include that in his message? From the orbit of the Qi homeworld he would have been well-positioned to observe the battle between the Crusade Fleet and the Abandoned - he had to know what fate awaited him.

'...new contacts detected; tangent one-four-three by two-six, speed point-nine-etann and accelerating...'

Groadia's head jerked up, eyes wide, and she looked at the closest tactical display. Right there on the screen she could see them screaming in; double as many ships as she had under her command. At that speed - the time it took for Eraessi of Archon Toasean's radar to reach out, establish that the ships were there, and then bounce back - there were only the until they arrived.

"Transmit our surrender - every method you..."

But her thoughts were too slow and words slower still. Amid an instinctive scattering of defensive missiles the ramship took Eraessi across the nose, ripping the ship in two as the collision of both at nearly the speed of light forced materials together at pressures high enough to cause an enormous if short lived reaction and a spray of light and fury erupted around the junction of the two. Torn free, the tail spun wildly away but Groadia and her crew were already dead, the first initial shock enough to compress their remains in an instant across the interior bulkheads...