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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Nation Maintenance)

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

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Sunset
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Sunset » Mon Mar 11, 2019 8:31 pm

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

There was a certain sense of freedom - arrogance even - in knowing that there were dozens of weapons of various lethalities pointed at 'you' and there was not a damn thing they could do to you. From snipers perched on the balconies and pinnacles of towers and fortresses right on up to heavy anti-tank missiles perched just over the hill on motionless turrets, Kami knew they were there and just did not give a single, solitary fuck. When Commander Timmons had alerted her to the fact she'd turned on her inhabited REDSHIRT's Threat Identification Overlay to find herself surrounded by cones and lines showing the trajectories of all of the various missiles, rockets, railguns, and lasers pointed anywhere near 'her'. For a minute or two she'd considered trying to dance her way between them but with the site itself looming ahead she'd instead turned it off to settle down to work.

"...so what can you tell us about them? What do you already know?"

This was directed at the back of the Qi officer - onela - that was walking ahead of them, leading them up the beaten path that wound its way across the hillside towards the crest and the eight standing stones. While it had appeared barren from the air, the hill was not as lifeless as it had appeared. Brown vines crawled over the rocky soil while equally dingy flowers bloomed here and there, orange blossoms rippling in the slight breeze that seemed to continually push over the crest. Here and there someone had made the attempt to improve the trail; semi-regular stone slabs dug in as steps, a bullet-pocket concrete barrier set as a guard rail for some particularly nasty curve.

Despite the breeze, he proved the competency of his hearing by turning at the next corner to face her, "They were here when we arrived - before I was born. We estimate their age as well over a hundred thousand revolutions."

It was enough of an answer for the moment and before she could reach her he turned to continue, stepping quickly to put a dozen paces between himself and the Republic team. Similarly the two trailing onela had paused until they continued again; the clear intention to give the waiting marksmen the cleanest shot if it was needed or decided. In somewhere less than a thousand paces they found themselves topping the final curve to be presented with an arrangement that was more haphazard than it had appeared from the foot of the hill.

Two of the stones had toppled or shifted, one leaning against others while the second appeared to have been undermined in some fashion. The most notable was identical to the other seven but floating - somehow - above the ground just at the outstretched tips of their tallest fingers. Boxes and benches were scattered around, as well as tools, but despite the presence of worthy-looking drills and saws the monuments appeared untouched by either time or hand, their swirling black surfaces as smooth as the day they were presumably created.

"Every effort has been made to take samples for analysis but everything we've tried failed - blades dulled, bits broken. There is something of a timeline though," he explained, turning from the stones to sweep a flat hand over the surrounding plain. "Long before we colonized this world, this entire area was buried under hundreds of feet of ice. Nine glaciers," he pointed to the nearby mountains where thin lines of white and grey could be seen laying between the jagged peaks, "Came together here during the last great glaciation. They scoured the land flat and then left it covered in a thin layer of soil and rock when they retreated."

"There," he turned to the south, where another thin line of hills could be barely seen on the horizon, "was where it stopped. I myself explored those hills when I was young and found fossils of plants and animals that would only rightly be found at much higher elevations."

Deanna piped up, "The terminal moraine."

"If that is what you call it. But despite the great mass of ice bearing down on them, these stones remained unmoved. When the glacier retreated, it left this rocky hill behind - built up under the monument."

"So you don't think the glacier caused this?" she asked, crossing the dozen steps to put a hand on the tilted stone.

"No. We have no way to confirm it, but our guess is that these stones have some kind of power supply - battery, generator - that kept them from moving. But the force of the glacier drained this away from some of the stones until these two shifted."

"Which would suggest that whatever keeps them in place is individual to the stone, not to the group. Have you tried digging out the soil from under the others? See if they float?"

The Qi turned to Commander Timmons, who had asked the question, "No, but we assume that would likely be the case. At least in the instance of the five that still stand upright. We have taken very precise measurements," he pointed to the stone that another rested against, "And it has exactly the same orientation as the other four despite the weight laid against it. Which leads one to think that even if deprived of the support of the soil it would remain in the same position."

"But you're not picking up any power source?"

"No..."

"Well," Lieutenant Commander Ingersol had his hand scanner out and was walking in a slow circle around the floating stone, "I'm not picking up anything either. There's clearly something there but there's nothing there. Photons are bouncing off something, but that's just about it. There's not even anything on the gravity sensor. They're there but they're not there - so it's not for lack of trying."

Captain Blaine took a few steps back and craned her neck so she could take in the whole thing, raising a hand to shield her eyes even though she could have just told her 'eyes' to compensate for the glare of the mid-day sun. "So... What's your plan? What were you guys going to do next?"

"We considered moving them back into what one might assume is their proper orientation. That was two rotations ago - the scientists who were researching the site returned to Etherelin when their lack of progress failed to inspire confidence and their grant was withdrawn. That leaves me as the one with the most knowledge and I am a soldier with this as my hobby. Given the present situation I doubt they will return and the government has far greater priorities. If you want to investigate - and with the invitation of the Feknarthi - then it is your time to use."

Thomas glanced down at the results displayed on his scanner again and then put a hand on the stone, rubbing at a non-existent speck of dirt with his thumb. "Not yet, though it might be worth a shot. They had to be here for a reason, right? Unless we're looking at some alien modern art installation. There are some more sensitive scanners back in the shuttle. We should start by hauling them up here - something has to be holding them up and if we can get a good handle on what, we can get a better handle on why they are here..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:41 pm

Super-Heavy GravTank Jōshō Ha, In the Outskirts of Palant City, Ethirelin, Qi Space... A Pause in the Fighting...

"...we were able to improvise, Madam Secretary, but improvisation will not sustain us in a near-peer conflict."

"What was your number one problem, Grand Admiral?" Erika asked, her projected hologram hanging in front of the Marine officer while he knelt on the bamboo mat that took up the remainder of the tank's available floor room. The rest was stacked with boxes and crates containing everything from spare parts to munitions, all carefully arranged and secured with netting and straps so that the command crew could both man their positions and stretch their legs on occasion.

"Logistics. We rushed into battle without proper support. Those who did not conserve their static ordinance found themselves depleted within the first few minutes while those who shepherded their resources found they were forced by circumstances to inflict far greater casualties than would have been otherwise warranted."

"People die in wars, Jon. The point isn't to die for your country - it's to make the other fucker die for theirs."

"True, but discrete action can sometimes accomplish more than overwhelming force. This has been particularly the case on Ethirelin," he waved his hand over the mat, producing a holographic map of the planet. Even two weeks later there were still pockets of resistance - notably around the Capital, which had not yet fallen - and he highlighted one of these to show a feed from action on the ground. A tank like his own was firing on a towering fortress, the beams from the main guns scything through the dull gray concrete to cut a ragged slice out of one side. Moments later the top half of the tower fell where it had been weakened, toppling over to smash into several nearby buildings.

"The core leadership of the Chosen Dominion continues to hold fast, hopeful that some miracle may yet occur. Those we have been able to capture have shown themselves as fanatics; true believers who will sacrifice themselves and others without hesitation. When they are available, we have been able to engage in targeted strikes against these leaders using self-guided ordinance..."

Missiles; smart enough to fly into a building, navigate hallways and corridors, and seek out those who might be in charge. Many a startled Qi had thought their life over only to have the missile streak past them and check the next door down before exploding.

"Orbital supply runs were useful, but we are fighting battles across entire worlds and there were simply not enough ships. What I would like is a dedicated Marine logistics support platform, one able to perform the same surface-to-surface jump as our tanks. My recommendation is a custom-fitted Loki. They are large enough to drive our tanks directly through, as well as land fighters for re-armament. Several of my field commanders with contacts in the Planetary Command;" technically the Defense Force's logistics arm and the single largest user of the Loki platform, "have persuaded their friends to refit and redeploy several of these craft as mobile supply and logistics depots. I would suggest referencing their efforts."

"Alright - I'll have that on David's desk the second we're done. What's your number two..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Mar 14, 2019 2:40 pm

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

Maxim 20: If You're Not Willing to Shell Your Own Position, You're Not Willing to Win.
~The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

...which is also a good way to make sure your enemy's friends aren't getting their hands on your tech. As soon as Lieutenant Commander Ingersol had suggested retrieving the stowed equipment from the shuttle, Captain Blaine had cut new orders to the Ojeni and Commander Sloan. With that ship now in distant if capable position to obliterate the site and most of the continent, the (highly classified) sensors in question were retrieved and one by one set up in a careful perimeter around the standing stones until the site looked as though it was ready to host a rave with the Lieutenant Commander playing DJ.

Standing at a console pedestal and with the feed from the array playing out in front of him, Ojeni's prized science and sensor officer was quickly able to make a few declarations - especially with the activated form of Doctor Brilla looking over his shoulder to suggest something here and there, "So it looks like what we've got is some type of beacon, or anchor. The outer shell is just that - barely there, just a single molecule thick - while the interior is..."

"Well, it sorta isn't there," Saryan put in. "The array is reading a space-time matrix, but it isn't 'our' space-time matrix. Or it is, but with a couple dimensions added."

At its core the array was a reproduction of her own creation - BOOBYTRAP - but packaged up nice and neat with a more user-friendly interface and boxed up in a collectible carrying container. Even as standard issue item on all Exploration Command vessels, they were still relatively unwieldy to place and operate and thus were not trotted out except on the rare occasion where someone might want to take a peek beyond everyday space and time. Since all of that is only useful to the interested reader...

"We had to do some tuning," she added, Thomas nodding agreement; "On the surface, all of the stones appear identical but we started with a small, high-resolution sample from just one. The array is scanning all of them now, looking for variations from stone to stone."

"So... It is a portal to a land of magical blue immortals," Kami declared, wandering between the eight to stand in the very center and look up at the sky. "Do I do a little dance or something?"

The Qi onela - who had been politely but firmly banished from the business end of the sensor console along with his escorts, turned to look at her oddly, "Your people have tales of the R'ygash as well?"

Her mouth flapped uselessly for a few chews as she stared at him before, "You're shitting me, right? And where did that apostrophe come from? I could practically hear it out loud..."

"Apostrophe?" He stared at her sideways; "Sorry - must be an artifact in the translator. What'er the R'ygash?"

"The R'ygash are creatures from the stories told to young children by their elders - not that there are many left to tell those stories. My mother's mother's mother told me a few such stories before she died and when I was very young. The R'ygash were a strange people who seemed to be made of ice and snow who would come down from the frozen places of the world..." He stopped in mid-sentence to stare at the circle of stones and then past them to the plain and finally to the glacier-capped mountains in the far distance, "to punish or reward children for their wickedness. Those that were good might be rewarded with toys - strange stones - while those who were wicked might be taken away, never to be seen again."

"She called the first 'Stones of Own' - the God of Sheppard's - and those who were taken were scooped up by Ynij," his voice trailed off and he turned back to the stones. "Is it possible that this is some kind of portal to the Frozen Lands of the R'ygash? She called them the Cold Ones. With lips and eyes of ice and hair of sharpest silver..."

"Well, the geography matches..." She turned to Thomas and the two shared a look before the second went back to his instruments. "Are there any records of any stones like these on any of your other worlds?"

He made a gesture they'd all learned was the Qi equivalent of shaking the head, "No - not on Ethirelin. But that does not mean it is not possible. Even with your tools they are very hard to detect - and there are many places on our home world that have been buried under ice for hundreds of thousands of rotations. Why would we dig them up looking for stones we did not know exist?"

"You mentioned 'Stones of Own' though - do you have any of those?"

Again he shook his head, "Of course not. Even from my great-grandmother's time they were things of myth and legend. But..."

"...but?"

"But I recall seeing a show about them, again when I was young. Strange stones that defied all attempts to categorize them but still known as the 'Stones of Own'. They were kept in museums on the home world. Curiosities. When the Chosen of Ynij came to power they would have been destroyed or put into the deepest storage. It is possible they are still intact."

"If the Marines haven't buried them under a few hundred tons of rubble, either. Okay - I'll get on the phone to... Someone... and see if they can find any. Maybe you can go do an internet search for them? See if you can give us a list of museums to search?" He nodded and gestured to one of his escorts, who came forward for a whispered conversation while she turned to the Seeker, "Why don't you go with him? This is the kind of stuff you're good at. Then forward anything you find to Ojeni, they'll get it to Fleet, and maybe we'll get some..."

"Collaborating evidence?"

"Yeah - that. And you might want to pass things on to those snipers," she turned back to the Qi, who looked up from his conversation with a look on his face that suggested he might not have known about them himself. "Cause if we're going to be opening a portal to the realm of magical ice elves, things might get real weird, real quick..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu Mar 14, 2019 3:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Sunset » Thu Mar 14, 2019 7:25 pm

Ulercian Royal History Museum, The City of the Same Name, The Northern Provinces, Ethirelin, Qi Space...

"...so we're rooting through a bombed-out museum... Why again? We could could be killing bad people for doing bad things," Tradia noted, the desire to be doing exactly that clear in her tone as she swept the light mounted under the barrel of her carbine over crates so old that the wood - actual wood - had started to decay.

Technically, the Royal History Museum wasn't bombed out - it had been nearly flattened. A nearby residential tower had been occupied by sections of a Ynij infantry battalion who had then fired on the Marines attempting to overwhelm the city's central government-temple who had then returned fire, blowing a neat chunk out of the occupied floors and sending the whole thing crashing to the ground. The Museum was across the Qi version of a street and rubble had knocked out a few support pillars, causing a general collapse of the southeastern-corner but leaving enough upright to qualify it for post-war demolition and a careful search by the two agents, neither of which would be particularly bothered were they to 'die' again.

Since being crushed and/or mangled by falling debris, plunging through the floor to an uncertain end, or sucked out of a broken window by the gale-force winds that occasionally ripped up from the base of the tower were still 'undesirable outcomes', both were still careful where they put their feet as they picked their way through the abandoned structure, "Because you're still running off revenge and vodka. And because this needs to be done and the Marines have better things that need to be done."

"This would be a lot more fun if we were rooting through government archives for evidence to be used at war crimes trials that will end in mass executions. I volunteer for that part!"

"Also why we're doing this..." Maneuvering carefully around a shattered display, Ivy knelt to sweep the rubble off a plaque that had been knocked to the floor. After a moment the alien letters swam in front of her eyes to re-align themselves to easily understood Standard. "Religious Relics and Oddities - this should be the right area. Keep your eyes open for weird-looking rocks."

Tradia stopped in her tracks to turn ninety degrees and stare up at a monolith towering nearly thrice as tall as the diminutive Xypndi, "How weird and how big?"

"Not that big," but Agent Madison swept her light up the slab anyway, the shadows picking out tiny details as she did. "According to the file, they should be smaller - about the size of your fist;" Tradia held up her own tiny example, squinting at it and then comparing it to the enormous mess that surrounded them on all sides, "and marbled gray, black, and more gray."

Which would nicely match the outfits that both operators wore, the shorter looking like she'd been poured directly into the hourglass mold and the second leaner and more tactically muscular. Though the city had fallen days earlier they both still carried their weapons openly; the priests of Ynij might have been reduced to dispersed ash but so too had the regular military melted here and there into the civilian population only to emerge here and there.

"Hold on," Ivy checked over her shoulder before taking a couple steps back, "Took a couple pictures. Looks like some kind of frieze - never know when there might be something useful buried in the religious gobbledy-gook."

"Not a big fan of the gods?"

She shrugged, "Never met one that wasn't just some asshole using sufficiently advanced technology to get their next blowjob. Killed a couple - guess they weren't exactly gods then, were they?"

"No," Tradia shook her head, a grin of white teeth visible in the darkness. "Guess not."

"Let's split up and sweep around both sides, then we'll circle back to meet here again. Look for regular shapes - the standing stones we're referencing were cut extremely cleanly. Rectangles with a half-circle cut out of them. But..."

"Gray, black, and more gray - got it..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:55 pm

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

"...we've got a bunch for you, Captain. It didn't take long either - as soon as we put out the red letter request every set of friendly eyeballs on the planet seemed to be looking for them. I've even got a nice set of samples sitting on my desk courtesy of Mr. Trent Lockwood. Turns out he was doing a sub-series on Qi culture and antiquities when the priority flag went through," Admiral Falk explained, a holographic hand indicting something on a desk Captain Blaine couldn't see. "And happened across these examples. I've arranged for an auxiliary vessel to bring them to Glaold - they should leaving shortly and then it will be a couple hours."

Which meant that either the Admiral was aware of the Qi officer looking over the Captain's shoulder and didn't want to precisely lay out just how god-damned fast Fleet vessels were or that said auxiliary vessel was not a regular Defense Force asset and was thus far slower. Or they were lazy.

Or possibly both.

"I'll alert the local authorities that the..." Kami let her voice trail off, waiting for the Admiral to fill in the blank.

"...Culotte de Vicaire. It's an Outer Systems Alliance vessel out of Juniper;" the organization's de facto headquarters. "I volunteered them for service - it will keep them out of trouble for at least a day or so. They've been here trying to scoop up military surplus and maybe pick up some new members."

"Oh. Well, I'll clear that with the Glaoldians and tell them that the..." Her reply was put on pause as her augmented reality supplied the Standard translation of the French. "Right. The Culotte de Vicaire. That it's on its way. Let's just hope they haven't got a translation for dirty-minded Sanglanti yet."

"Vous êtes trop tard," the onela behind her answered. "C'est un langage commercial courant dans la région."

"Aw fuck. Okay, well, Admiral," she turned back to the hologram, "Any chance you can send over some pictures? So we can engage in some useless speculation before they get here? And any luck on other sites?"

On one hand, the Defense Force had lots and lots of ships over or near every world in what had formerly been the Chosen Dominion of Ynij. On the other hand, the stones themselves only showed up on visual unless one was on the verge of intimately close. Since it was possible the stones were buried under however many meters of ice or rock, it would take luck, hard work, or both to pick them out.

"We haven't, but I can," and a moment later Admiral Falk's projected hologram disappeared to be replaced by a quartet of immediately familiar stones that drew the quick attention of the rest of the team.

The first to put his two cents in was the Qi - Onela Arilann - who supplied the particular gesture that the Qi used in affirmation, "Those are 'Stones of Own' - Nianmbla. Exactly as I remember."

Each of the stones was, if the Admiral's feed was set to an exact scale, a much smaller permutation of the eight standing stones, each different in the particulars but similar in design - a thin rectangle twice as tall as they were broad and half again as thin. All had one or several thin lines that looked as though they should be a joint and a similar number of half-circle cutouts. While the circular cut-outs were silky smooth, all of the edges had been angled over into precise bevels of forty-five degrees and all shared the same swirling gray-black pattern as those of the standing stones.

"We've received about fifty examples but they all match these four. I'm going to send the others over to Special Projects and they'll send their data over to you."

Which sounded like a slight until one considered that this was now after lunch, dinner, and a discussion of whether they should pull out of their 'bodies' for the night to sleep in their own beds or remain 'onsite' to watch over things instead of putting the REDSHIRTs in guard-dog mode. Thanks to the programming changes required to scan the stones in depth and the need to scan each stone, that task was only half-done. That put exact results expected in the morning, local time.

"Which will give the Culotte de Vicaire time to get here and orient to local time. Thank you Admiral - I think we're going to get some sleep and start in on this again in the morning..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri Mar 15, 2019 1:56 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sat Mar 16, 2019 2:15 pm

On the Surface of GEC-175146B, Beta Quadrant... More than a Million Years in the Past...

{Fault in Incubation Tube Twenty-Seven; Fetus Unrecoverable. Purging. Re-initiating Cloning and Growth Sequence...}

Around the circular table in what was now the settlement's operational center, the handful of watchers present looked down at the data streaming flowing around the middle with something near concern on their normally unperturbed faces. If the definition of insanity was to keep trying the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different result, there was every chance that the incubation system was insane. Or, more likely, that there was a fault in the system somewhere. The first batch of reincarnated Suwen was just due and for the past three weeks the same error had been cropping up with disturbing regularity. Over sixty percent of the initial 'run' had failed - aborted in their mechanical wombs - due to a fault that had no error code and no useful information associated with it.

"Perhaps a different batch of genetic samples," one suggested. This was greeted with a collective if useless nod. After the first ten percent had failed, this had been suggested and implemented but those embryos were now another full sequence away. But - and it would have been an uncomfortable 'but' for any but the implacable watchers, were they even necessary?

The colony was growing still and despite the continued faults in the incubation system. Two months ago a pair of massive earth movers had rolled out to a newly established perimeter and began construction of a printed concrete 'wall' that would form the outer edge of the expanded colony. This would be a multi-tiered dome, a quarter-sphere with terraces and balconies cut into the outer curve with these set aside as crop land, outdoor spaces, recreational areas, and the like. Those last were intended for the Suwen but were they necessary? Soon enough it would be to the colony's benefit to expand to a new site and these could be re-purposed to landing and docking facilities.

One of the watchers paused at the edge of the table, gripping the edge with all its digits and leaning over to address the system directly, "Can the incubation system be taken offline to allow for a physical inspection and potential repair of the hardware?"

The answer was quick to return. Perhaps too quick, but the watchers neither noticed or cared; {Potential Repair of Incubation System Requires Technological Capabilities Not Yet Constructed. Timeline for Construction; 23 Rotations...}

Looking around the table, the watcher found themselves among a silent consensus, "Cancel Suwen Incubation Program. Program will be re-initiated after inspection and repair in twenty three rotations."

{Suwen Incubation Program Canceled. Flushing Systems. System Flush Complete. Re-Initializing Systems...}

Satisfied, the watchers dispersed. They had nothing but time, after all, and the Suwen not yet born would have no reason to object. In three rotations the new colony would be finished and in twenty three there would be a dozen more, along with the attendant resources and manufacturing capabilities they would house. If there was a physical fault in the system, these extended capabilities would make diagnosis and repair much easier and more efficient in exchange for a few more years of somnolence for the Suwen.

It was only when the last watcher had left the room, dispersed to their needed tasks, that the dialog scroll again pulsed; {...re-purposing...}
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Postby Sunset » Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:02 pm

The Outskirts of Nieris Township, Ouern, GEC-198767, The Coreward Expansion Zone... Republic Date 174.400...

"...and there's no giant amphibians ready to 'accidentally' make a meal of us," Lae added, satisfaction and even a smile plastered across his chin. With a hop and and a skip, he jumped over a fallen tree branch that partially blocked the rutted dirt road. They'd arrived on-planet during a fierce windstorm and the results were littered here and there in the form of downed trees, torn branches, and scattered leaves. The road was still dry though; on Earth it would have been late August or early September and still warm and dry across much of the Northern Hemisphere. Here the mid-afternoon sun was high and the sky was a lovely shade of clear blue without a cloud to be seen except for one lazy specimen on the far western horizon.

Ahead the road wandered left and right but generally straight towards a low hill that was capped by a cozy-looking down that sprawled down from the castle on the summit to a collection of houses trimmed in green, white, and brown as they scattered out past the stone and wood walls and into the crop-laden fields beyond. Closer to the pair stood a crossroads with what was likely an inn, a sturdy stable, and a stone-and-plank tower that flew a colorful pennant from the conical crown. Here and there they could see the locals moving around; a pair gossiping just outside the front door to the inn, another tending something that might have otherwise been a horse but wasn't, and a guard in armor and carrying an intricate-looking spear just stepping out of the tower.

Another twist of the road and Trinya just about stopped in her tracks as she got her first good look at the various buildings, "Okay - that's neat!"

If the three were to be judged as examples, the rest of the town would be built along the same pattern - though 'built' was not quite the correct term. What they had first guessed to be green tiles decorating the roof was not, in fact, the case. Instead outside of each front door or - in the case of the watch tower, right up through the middle - was planted a sturdy vine or winding tree that was about as thick in the trunk as Lae was from elbow to wrist. This grew up in a mostly-straight arc until it reached the peak of the roof where it then sharply bent over to lay mostly flat until it curled up again at the far end, thus serving as the center beam while a profusion of thick green leaves were carefully arranged layer after layer. These were then presumably tied to rafters in order to keep them in neat order right up to the edge of the roof, where they curled up into something of a natural gutter.

Round windows and doors with rounded tops complemented these while each building had something of the same flowing, organic shape to it with corner posts of round wood squared off on two sides and first filled with a few courses of thick stone and then with sawn planks of some pale wood. From the far end of the peak of the inn, a thin curl of smoke rose up through a stone chimney that poked through the leaves curling up around it and as they came closer the most delightful smells began to assail their noses and they could hear the sounds of voices raised in pleasant conversations coming from inside.

Across the crossroads from the two, the guard who had emerged from the tower was hurrying towards them now but not at a run but rather a direct stride, "Halt! Hold there - who are you?"

Which of course gave them as much chance to look him over as it gave him a chance to take them in. In rough detail all three were dressed alike; Lae and the guard in thick brown trousers, solid boots, and a wide belt that held pouches and bags as presumably the pocket had not been invented yet. Over this the Cyar was wearing a brown leather vest with blue-dyed short canvas sleeves with a gray cloak that he did not need owing to the heat of the day rolled and thrown over one shoulder. Opposite him the guard was wearing a byrnie of stout leather sewn with rings of black iron while in one hand he carried the mentioned spear with an intricately-shaped head made of good steel. Beside him, Trinya was wearing the same trousers but cut off at the middle of her thigh and a loose-fitting blouse of the same thick canvas but died a deep red instead and with a leather pack slung over one shoulder.

"Travelers, sir - on our way to Nieris!"

That was clearly not enough to sway the man and he looked them up and down in clear suspicion as they did returned his inspection more casually. It was easy to apply the label 'fuzzy' to both the guard and the species, but neither could immediately assign a species - Terran or Cyar - to which they bore any particular resemblance. There was a muzzle, yes, but it was between feline and canine with a ruff of thick fur just past the cheeks while his ears did not stand high on the side of his head but instead lay long and floppy, one ahead of his right shoulder and the other behind. Locks of heavy hair ran back from his forehead and these were twisted into a thick braid that fell almost to his hips while behind they could see that the females preferred to wear this loose and that there was some measure of movement there - a tail, though not in the usual place. His own fur - and thus his appearance - was of a deep chestnut red while others varied from blonde to brown to black again.

"Travelers, eh? Like none I've ever seen... Come from afar, have you?"

Lae tapped at the clasp that held one corner of his cloak to his vest, an atomic sunburst picked out in etched bronze, "Pretty far. We're here on government business."

"I'll have to check this over with the Deputy," he answered, backing up a step before turning back to them, "Stay right there!"

As he retreated to the tower half facing them and half tripping over the butt of his own spear, they took another chance to look around. Still a dozen paces from the front door of the inn, they had become the focus of attention with a half-dozen patrons spilling out onto the streets or peering through round windows to gaze at them. If they were suspicious they didn't show it, though everyone stayed close to the door. There was every opportunity for either side to call out, but perhaps a warning glance from the guard had silenced the onlookers and with permission to proceed seemingly up to his good graces neither was willing to risk his displeasure. Pushing through the door of the tower, they could see him inside talking to someone though he was too far away to overhear without being impolite.

A head appeared, looked in their direction for a moment, and then disappeared. Then the guard emerged and the door closed behind him and he walked leisurely back towards them with all the patience of someone who was suddenly confident in his command of the situation. Behind him they could both here the clatter of shod boots on stairs as someone mounted the tower and as he came to a stop a figure that might well have been the deputy emerged onto the mostly open top floor of the tower.

"Deputy says he might have heard of you, but best to check with the Lord-Mayor first..."

Behind and above him the figure knelt, retrieved something from the floor, and tucked it between his legs before kicking off and shooting away into the distance, "...won't take him but an hour. Until then, you folks are welcome to sit at the inn - least if you have good coin in your pockets..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Mar 18, 2019 2:24 pm

The Hush Uplands, Northern Ethirelin, Capital World of the Former Chosen Dominion of Ynij...

'...when you told me you'd turned the stones over to the 'Force, I thought 'Oh, he's gotta be angling for a favor or something - exclusive access, something like that' but now this? Trent, have you been taking your medication?'

Trent Lockwood, super-star journalist and apparently now wanna-be mountain climber, stopped for a moment to pull himself upright, brace his hands on his hips, and take several deep breathes as he looked up the mountain slope towards the ridge line that was now only several kilometers away. This high up - and with a spectacular view of the wilderness spread out behind him - the last of the hardiest trees and shrubs were just fading away leaving nothing ahead but bare and broken rock with the occasional patch of late summer snow hidden in the shadow of some great boulder. It wasn't that he was in terrible shape - far from it - but here the air was already thinning out and shortly he'd be resorting to the oxygen concentrator mask still currently carried in his jacket pocket.

"No meds, Lucas;" Good old-fashioned counselling had eased him through the bout of depression he'd had when he'd been fired by SNN and now that he was back on the show - in direct competition with his former co-host who was now over on Plexus - he was feeling better than ever. "Didn't need them then, don't need them now. And you're right - I am playing an angle. See, what you don't know about Trent Lockwood is that he used to be something of a geography nerd back in his school days."

'So?'

"So I happened to be paying attention to what the Admiral was looking at when I was in her office discussing handing the stones over to her. Which - she had a few good points. They weren't 'mine', first of all. The Dominion's government is... In transition."

That was one way to put it. If he turned to his right and looked towards the far horizon he could make out both a thin band of dark clouds and the occasional flash of lightning through them. The high energy weaponry used by the Marines tended to trigger thunderstorms when used with any regularity and there were still ferocious ground battles being fought between them and holdout forces still loyal to the Chosen Dominion. Or at least to its ideology - there wasn't enough left of the government to form a quorum and the broader 'organized resistance' had collapsed long ago.

"And to the victor go the spoils and all that. Better to turn them over now and willingly rather than later and with some charges to go along with it. At least she was nice about it."

'So... That explains why you're out in the middle of fuck-all nowhere instead of interviewing some old woman who's kitten was rescued from a tree during a firefight by some brave Marines?'

He'd been first, and she'd been second. Or at least she'd been in the next wave of galactic journalists and news-hounds to come looking for a story. He'd seen the segment of course - it never hurt to see what the competition was up to and Tanya was still Tanya. Even that old Qi biddy had looked like she was ready to strip off her clothes and get her freak on with her.

"Sorta. In a round-about way. See, she was looking at the aerials of some ruin on some planet named Glaold. Big standing stones - one of which was hovering in mid-air, Lucas - surrounded by what looked like a military base. So I asked around;" actually, he'd asked the director of the museum where he'd stumbled across the interesting collection of stones in the first place, "and found out that there's some weird site on the planet Glaold just a few light-years away with these big standing stones that no one knows anything about. Sound familiar?"

'Now it does. And you're playing Nanook of the North... Why?'

"Remember how I said I was a bit of a geography nerd? I put two and two together. She was after the stones because they looked like those stones. But the museum director told me they were local relics - not from a dig site on a planet light years away. And that site looked suspiciously like a glacial excavation plain. So, on the off chance that there are more of those standing stones here and that there's a reason why the Defense Force put out a red letter alert asking for any examples of these stones to be turned over to them..."

'You're now searching the ice-end of Ethirelin trying to find more. You think there's a story there? A big one?' his producer asked.

"Admirals don't pay attention to small stories - especially not when they're in the middle of fighting a war." Or at least that's what he'd kept telling himself as he'd trudged up the first few kilometers of hillside towards the next few worse kilometers of hillside. "If I can find another set of those stones - better yet, if I can figure out what they are for - then we've got a big story."

'Sounds like a long shot, Trent.'

It was time to move again, but he could already imagine himself struggling for breath inside the next few hundred meters and the reporter pulled the elastic mask from his pocket to wrap it around his face, the unit activating automatically as soon as he clasped it in place. "Not as long as you think," he replied, his voice now slightly muffled. "Geography nerd, remember? I availed myself of some of the local climatology data and cross-referenced it with a geological data set. Most of the glaciers on Ethirelin retreated significantly during their industrial age - no stones. So I went looking for really stable areas. This particular glacier..."

The one just beyond the ridge that was now getting closer with every invigorated footstep, "Has been stable for the past few hundred thousand years. And it, like the site on Glaold, is located in the temperate zone. Which may not make any difference, but there's only a small handful of glaciers this old and this stable left. Roll of the dice, Lucas - let's see where they land..."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Mar 19, 2019 4:18 pm

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

"How come they get a better reception than we do?" Kami complained, looking down the hill and to the open expanse of the military base surrounding it. A pair of modest half-cylinder concrete hangars sat just inside the longest stretch of the perimeter wall and in front of these sat the much larger form of an OSA Renegade-Class Corsair painted out in the dull white, gray, and sharp blue chosen by the paramilitary organization as their preferred colors. Just beyond the closer boarding ramp the crew mingled with what seemed to be every Glaold soldier who could escape their assigned duty. As she watched, another pair of sailors stepped down the ramp with a pair of folding tables hung on either side and with the help of whoever was nearby began to set them up as more followed, this time with containers and crates.

"Are they having a party?!"

"No..." Commander Timmons had appeared beside her, his inhabited body falling neatly between the seated Captain and the sun to throw her into welcomed shade. It wasn't that she risked sunburn - the polymorphic 'skin' that covered the REDSHIRT's head and hands was some type of weapons-grade whatsit - but it still transmitted the sensation of heat back to her remote self and thus the blazing sun was uncomfortable to stand in for too long. "Cigarettes and booze, I'd say. Maybe a little prostitution, drugs... Whatever they can sell without raising the hackles of the local authorities."

Off to the side, a Qi officer approached a pair of OSA officers, one of whom had added a particularly outlandish hat and jacket to his regular uniform and the other of which sported a pair of long ears that poked up from either side of her beret. For a minute they engaged in back-and-forth conversation until the first put out his hand and the second surreptitiously drew something from his own jacket pocket to drop it into the hand of the first, covering it with his own and an emphasized handshake.

"...or that."

"Bribery?!"

"All of that is legal in the Republic," he shrugged, nodding his chin in the direction of the expanding commercial district. "Whether it's legal here... Well, we're here on the invitation of the Feknarthi, right? Who knows if this is against their rules..."

It was doubtful that the OSA crew - mostly a mixture of Sanglanti and Hauyht with a few other species here and there - knew about that particular angle but in their previous incarnation the Sanglanti had lived as pirates for nearly a century before the Great Quake of '35 had displaced them from their Martian homeland and scattered them out to the stars. Now they mostly lived as merchant clans, with a heavy emphasis on the smuggling and illicit goods side of 'merchant'.

"...but it doesn't matter much now if they get thrown off, does it?" he looked back to where the Doctor and the Lieutenant Commander had moved the sensor towers into a much smaller circle around a convenient container that had formerly held four odd stones with one set just in the middle of the flat top of the box. Outside of the ring of two several others were looking on with interest - the Seeker, Onela Arilann, one of the other Qi officers - while she and now the Commander had taken up a position on a convenient boulder beyond the ring of standing stones so that they could work without command interruption.

"I guess not. So, what do you think of that little warning from Admiral Falk? 'If the UIK show up, clam up.'"

"I think she's right. From what I've seen so far, they're in the habit of over-reacting. The Dominion sends a single piddly little scout ship in their direction - probably not even looking for them - and they put more ships in-system than I've seen in any one place at a single go. She's probably worried that they'll flip out and want to put the whole system under lock and key before throwing away the key. Meanwhile, we've seen this stuff a hundred times. If it hasn't already destroyed the universe, its probably not going to."

"At least on my watch. Speaking of... Hey Thomas! You got anything?"

Instead of shouting back, the officer looked up from the sensor console and shook his head before raising five fingers in obvious indication.

"Five minutes? Four times five is twenty," she looked up to the Commander, who caught her glance and looked back. "You want to head down there," she jerked her head towards the party with pleasant timing as the sounds of music drifted up the hill, "Make sure everything is on the up-and-up?"
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Postby Sunset » Wed Mar 20, 2019 4:34 pm

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

"...pop-sickle?" Kami held out a handful of the packaged confections, presenting them to both the pair still standing at the sensor pedestal and to those who'd grown tired of the ordeal and gone off to play a hand of virtual pinochle or draw stick figures in the dirt. This being the future the frozen ice treats were wrapped in some kind of ultimate thermal packaging and were so just as ice-cold as they'd been when she'd started the climb back to the artifact site. An hour later and the party was still in full swing; word of the OSA ship's arrival had trickled out to a nearby town and a few one-person rotorbikes had shown up along with a heavy hover-lorry packed to the brim with people who were probably not supposed to be on base.

Not her problem.

"Sure," Thomas plucked one out of her fingers and peeled the wrapper off. "Kinda pointless, but why not?"

REDSHIRTs didn't need to eat, drink, or sleep - but apparently they still had taste sensors and for a while he sampled the offering until a chime from the console brought his attention. "Ah - here we go," he said, moving the pop-sickle to his off hand before tapping at the console with the other. "I'm as done as I'm going to be until we get the data comparisons back from Special Projects."

"And?"

"And I can tell you a few things. First, if this is a portal to an alien dimension, it was a portal to an alien dimension. I don't understand everything whoever made these has done, but basically these are... A high-dimensional energy storage and manipulation device?" he looked at Doctor Brilla for confirmation and she responded with a nod and a shrug. "Or close enough. The shell is a container. Inside that shell are some regular reference points and some additional higher dimensional reference points. That's not the best way to describe it, but these sensors are giving me the math - what we'd see if we could see inside that shell wouldn't be familiar at all. So it's like describing how someone looks but only using formula."

"Some of those reference points are being used to 'store' energy. That stone," he pointed to the one floating in mid-air, "has the largest energy reserve, obviously, and the two that have been knocked out of position are basically flat. The same is true of these," he motioned to the smaller odd-shaped stones that were now sitting in the open container beside him. "Whatever they were, they don't have any energy left to do whatever it was with."

"So you're saying they were something?" Deanna asked, peering around his shoulder at the data though if she understood any of it she wasn't saying.

"Yes. All of the standing stones are essentially the same except for their energy levels. The matrix configuration of each of these stones is unique except for the configuration of one of the reference dimensions, which looks to have been used as energy storage across all of the devices."

"Maybe they are keys," she guessed, looking back and forth between the circle of stones and the box, "Like if you put one in the middle it opens a gateway."

He nodded, "It is a possible plausibility, but I'd guess you need eight powered stones to do whatever it is they are supposed to do. And a powered one of these, if they are a key."

"Is there any way to power them back up? Jumper cables?" The Lieutenant Commander looked askance at the Captain; "Jumper cables?"

She shrugged, "We are at a military base. They've gotta have something, right?"

"We've gotta have something," he countered, "but no - its not even close to that simple. Saryan?"

"I'll talk to some of my friends, see what we can come up with," but the blonde woman didn't seem certain. "Like Thomas said - we're trying to describe a person using just the math. Except we don't know it's a person. And we don't know its math, either. We're just starting to play around with this higher-dimension stuff back at the shop. Unless we can get our hands on a working example and watch it in action, it is going to take a lot of trial and error and error."

Kami sucked the last few tracked of hardened ice off the stick and looked around unsuccessfully for an inconveniently placed trash can, "Well - let's just go for broke. If you're sure these things don't have power," she pointed to the closest off-kilter stone, "then let's move these two back into alignment and play around. Worse that can happen is nothing, right?"
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Postby Sunset » Fri Mar 22, 2019 1:30 pm

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System... Republic Date 174.417...

"...three weeks without an explosion, supply request, maintenance call-out, or - most importantly - progress report! Which means," Site Director Francine Krieger glared at Doctor Kraus over tightly folded arms, "I'm suspicious. What are you up to?" she demanded. "Is it monkeys again? Flying monkeys?" she asked again, emphasis on the first word but suspicious of the second.

"Um..." The researcher scratched his temple, though he looked more confused by the woman's sudden appearance in his laboratory than by the flurry of much more understandable accusations. As he scratched, he carefully stepped to the side until his slender frame more-or-less blocked out the majority of the contraption being assembled on a low table in the center of the workspace.

"Armed revolution?"

She took a step closer and he dropped his arms to either side, hands wide as he made an unnecessary attempt to shield her virgin eyes from whatever it was. If it was something. It was nothing, right? Nothing at all.

"Armed revolution? Wha... Pfft - no. Interesting guess though. Should I be worried about whatever you're working on in Laboratory Four, Sub-Basement Thirty Six, Section Eleven, Chapter Fourteen?" he countered, doing his best to glare back at her while appearing utterly nonchalant at the same time.

"...I," she paused mid-sentence formation, mentally working over the sequence of locations, buildings, and spaces before coming to the last designation, "Ha! For a couple seconds there, you almost had me. But there's no Chapters."

"Really?" Kraus shot her a peculiar look before putting his hands in his pockets and digging around, finally surfacing from his trouser butt pocket with a half-dozen thick gold rings. Sorting through them he picked one out and held it up to examine the strange symbol carved into the black onyx stone that decorated the setting. A mythical beast of some diminutive form appeared to be impaling itself with a weapon of curious but darkly familiar design, blood pouring out over a symbol rich with profane history. With a quick 'Hmph', he tossed it over his shoulder and into a trash can that may very well have not been there a moment before, "Guess I shouldn't have collected all those box-tops."

The trash can disappeared with a 'click' and a 'snap' except the 'snap' was from the Site Director as her teeth shut sharply and she backed away towards the open door.

"Anyway... You were asking what I've been up to, why I haven't been submitting any of the normal reports and requests, why we haven't seen Ervin from Technical Services in the last six months, right? Not since the accident at least. Well, I don't have an answer for you."

"You haven't been doing anything?!" she half-shouted, putting words in his mouth as she went from mild retreat to foot-forward and finger pointed in accusation assault in an instant.

"No..." He walked over to a cabinet and began opening drawers, rooting around in them and tossing their contents randomly to the side, "I said I don't have an answer for you - I've been doing something."

A sudden motion and he turned to produce a large chrome revolver braced with both hands before squeezing off a single precision shot. Bone, brains, and something of a color somewhere between purple and orange splattered all over the wall behind her as her bulging eyes looked up to the hole drilled cleanly through her forehead. The body collapsed with a 'thump' and he stepped up to stand over it, pumping round after round into the corpse with one hand until the hammer clicked on an empty cylinder.

"You see;" strange worm-like creatures began to crawl out of the wounds and he stomped on them one by one, each sick 'pop' ending in a 'hiss' and a 'crackle', "I turned in my report earlier;" swinging open the cylinder he sprinkled the body with a shower of brass before pushing in a speedloader and swinging the revolver shut with a 'click', "Complete," 'BANG', "and on-time, 'BANG...'

----

"...and that was three weeks ago? What have you been doing since then?!" Francine asked, eyeing him incredulously over the top of her glasses. She was sitting behind her desk while the Doctor stood at the edge. She looked none the worse for wear while he looked positively mauled; his left eye socket had been shattered and replaced by an orange glass eyepatch that covered an obvious cybernetic replacement while the opposite hand and shoulder was now similarly metal, a pair of retractable forearm blades poking out from the cuff of his blood-stained lab coat.

"I... can't tell you."

"You can't tell me," she looked from eye to hand and back again to top it all off with an exasperated sigh and a look towards the ceiling that suggested she might just be attempting prayer for her soul or for sanity - whichever was more likely.

"No."

"No?"

"Operational security," he answered before continuing to explain, "Clearly, you'd been compromised. So I - bravely - had to initiate a highly-compartmentalized counter-intelligence operation to determine the source and extent of the threat, ultimately climaxing in an epic battle over sea and in space between my improvised force and a ruthless alien warlord intent on galactic empire. This then culminated in a final personal confrontation between myself - who did not, in fact, look like a young cybernetic Kurt Russell - and a tentacled monster who had once again adopted your form in an attempt to elicit sympathy from me before I sent her - it - straight to hell."

"...right."

There was a knock on the office door behind him and as she looked past him to give voice to her displeasure at being interrupted, the door slid open to reveal a young man in a grey coverall with 'Ervin' and 'Technical Services' embroidered into the name plate. In front of him was a grav-sled crowded with all manner of oddities - what looked like the hatch off a ship, some rifles creched together that looked like they hadn't been made on Denali or any world within a thousand light-years, and a trio of stacked transparent containers stuffed with preservative, organs, and a head that looked disturbingly familiar through the transparent blue acrylic, "Hey Doc - where do you want these?"

"Those?" Fredrick looked over his own shoulder, the orange eyepatch swiveling away from his nose to give the cybernetic eye underneath a better view as the mechanical iris whizzed and clicked, "Laboratory Four, Sub-Basement Thirty Six, Section Eleven. Perfect, thanks..."

The door slid shut and he turned back to the desk where the Site Director was still staring past him, her mouth opening and closing as though she'd been out of the water too long, "Who was that? He looked like..."

"Ervin? A young Kurt Russell. Kinda. Sorta. Close enough, really. Good kid - saved my bacon a few times there..."
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Postby Sunset » Mon Apr 01, 2019 12:53 pm

Super-Heavy GravTank Jōshō Ha, In the Outskirts of Palant City, Ethirelin, Qi Space... War's Over - Time to Go Home...

"Mars, Sir? Why Mars?" Captain Hurley asked, looking 'up' at Grand Admiral Yikorusha against a backdrop of the bamboo mat the latter was sitting on.

"Hai - because I have a feeling. And because you'll be training. The initial design consultation has finished on our new Hurricane-Type artillery platform and I want you there to test it and test against it. Your units efforts on Ulilat were exemplary. There is no force better prepared to find the weaknesses in this new system than yours."

It would be an interesting contest. Captain Hurley's Marine command was now a battle-harden tank division. The Hurricane - built and based on the super-heavy Typhoon platform - was designed to give the Republic continental and orbital reach while Hurley had just taken an advanced course on close-range brawling. By rights it should be then simple for the artillery tanks to immobilize and destroy the tank division - Jon was interested to find out what the Captain's solution would be to that particular problem especially as the Hurricane was meant to provide what the Marines currently lacked; a long-range indirect fire support platform.

"Thank you, Sir. If I might ask... When are our replacements scheduled to arrive? And will our OPFOR be on-planet?"

A clever gambit, but one that the Grand Admiral stymied, "Captain Greystone's division will be arriving shortly. Details for your OPFOR are still being decided."

Which was true and untrue. Jon had already contacted Admiral Westchester and given her her operational assignment and details. He was leaving it up to the young Captain to take the initiative and gather information on who and what he'd be facing. And where - that was important as well.

"You'll be stationed on the ArAreBee home islands," he finished. "Additional operational details will be transmitted to you on your arrival."

Which meant the Grand Admiral had a twist in mind and the Captain, judging by his holographic expression, was bright enough to anticipate it - if not the exact details. As soon as Hurley's division arrived they would be duly informed that the home islands were under enemy control and thus their operational needs were limited to whatever they happened to have on hand...
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Postby Sunset » Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:14 am

Waret 17 Military Base, Glaold, The Glaold System, Southwestern Gamma Quadrant - Qi Space...

Manpower was not the same thing as precision and this was a fact Captain Blaine understood all too well after her team and a heap of half-drunk (or all-drunk) volunteers from the surrounding military base had spent eight hours attempting the feat. They'd gotten the two fallen stones into general position well enough - many hands make light labor, especially when some of those hands are piloting double-height exoskeletons - but now that they were up and braced the delicate work of ensuring their proper alignment was proving far more tedious and difficult.

"Point-zero-zero-seven millimeters," Thomas read off again, looking down at the sensor console that was now tasked with measuring the precise alignment of all eight stones.

Which is what it had been before, except on the opposite side of the 'x' axis. To her eye, each stone was exactly where it should be but this was either not good enough for the possibly-maybe keystones in the center, or it wasn't enough for the standing stones themselves, or this just wasn't how the things were supposed to work at all. She aimed a boot at the base of the stone and gave it a solid kick before looking up to to find the Lieutenant Commander giving her the thumbs-up, "Perfect!"

"Great - no one touch this one," she ordered, marching over to the other and rearing back before pausing, "Uh - which side do I kick?"

He looked down at the console, "...that side." He pointed to one particular corner, "Just on the left side. Point-zero-zero-seven."

"What's with all the fucking sevens?!" Fortunately for her, she could only feel the pain as the REDSHIRT's toes connected with the monolith, "Ouch. Okay - what are we at now?"

"Point-zero-zero-three."

At least it wasn't a seven, "I swear I kicked it harder that time."

"That one..." He double checked, fingers running over the slick black glass of the console display, "Has just a trickle of energy left. Give it another kick. Two centimeters to the right of where you kicked it the first time."

Putting her hands on the stone, she took careful aim, swung her foot forward, and suddenly found herself back in her own body and laying in her own bed aboard Ojeni, "The fuck?!" Sitting up, she rolled off the bed and looked towards the window. It was an odd start but something had happened, "Ojeni, connect me to Lieutenant Commander Ingersol..."

'Bleep'

"Tom? This is Kami - is something happening?" she asked aloud, a subtle note of panic in her voice. Foot went to carpet and she positively launched herself out the door, unsure as to whether she should be heading for the bridge or to the shuttle bays but deciding on the former as it was closer. "Thomas?!"

"Yeah! Yes - sorry. Something did happen. You kicked the stone into place and your REDSHIRT locked up. It's just sta... Wait;" she waited, enduring the pregnant pause from the surface, "Interesting. There was a brief flicker in the power level of that stone when it moved into alignment. Hold on..."

She blasted into the bridge, nearly colliding with a second-shift Lieutenant who was eating a suspiciously good looking sandwich, and hopped the rail to stand next to the command chair where Commander Sloan was sitting and looking up at her like she'd suddenly grown a second head, "What? Put the site on the main display, full magnification. Is there anything weird happening?!"

"Weird as in..."

"As in someone shooting at us - them - or any new..."

But the Lieutenant Commander interrupted before she could dig her way down too many rabbit holes, "Alright - I got something. Looks like the same flicker happened in each stone. I'd say they were handshaking, Captain. Re-establishing their connection to each other. I'm not sure how yet - there's nothing going back and forth between them, but Saryan thinks it might be a n-th dimensional something."

"Each stone? Even the one without power?"

"Oh. No - not that one. Just the other six. And... Nothing from the keystones."

Which might as well have been the universe's flattest batteries for all the good they were doing. Kami flopped down in the executive officer's seat only to find it strangely comfortable, "Hey - do you have more padding than me?" She looked at Sloan, Sloan looked back, and the Captain shrugged, "Maybe you do. Okay - so if the stones have power then they can establish a connection to each other. But they have to be in perfect alignment or..."

"Hold on, Captain. Saryan just said something... Repeat that? So long..."

"What? Ojeni, put Doctor Saryan Brilla on the call."

"...and thanks for all the fish."

Again Kami looked to Sloan and Sloan looked to Kami and doubtless the same strange, questioning look was repeated all over the bridge and across the summit of the hill, "Repeat that, Doctor? What did you just say about fish?!"

"I didn't," the physicist replied, "I just heard our invisible friends say 'So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.' Bold, italics. No one else heard it?"

"...'So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish', Douglas Adams, November 1984 - a humorous science-fiction novel, the fourth in a 'trilogy' broadly labeled the 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.' Consistently ranked in the top..." Lieutenant Sandwich at the sensor console began to read off before he was interrupted by call from the communications station, "Captain! Urgent call for you from Fleet! It's Captain Pette, RDF-Columbia!"

"Columbia?" It took a moment for her to recall why the name was familiar, "Put her through!"

There was a 'snap' and a hologram of an older woman - much older, if the strands of gray in her hair and the slight sag in her posture were any indication - appeared in front of the command chair, "Captain Blaine, this is Captain Pette..."

Kami stood, swapping places with her first officer, "Captain Pette - what's happening?!"

"Ah - thought you looked different. We've picked up new activity from the iWe star and we tracked it back to near your location. Thought you might want to know."

"Yes ma'am - thank you ma'am. We... That is, Doctor Brilla heard something just a few minutes ago, but... Nothing since then, Saryan?"

"No, nothing," and after a moment a similar hologram popped up next to the projection of Captain Pette. "Just 'So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish.'"

"Good book - you should read it."

"But what's it mean?" Kami asked, looking over her shoulder to the sensor console, where the Lieutenant was wiping mustard off his display and still reading through the Wikipedia entry.

"If I had to guess, I'd say its because they're bugging out," Pette continued. "Energy output from the star has been dropping for the last ten minutes or so and quickly. We're trying to figure out how or why, but the star's mass has started to decrease too. Not normal stuff, but precipitously. If the energy output and the mass reduction proceed at the same rate, there won't be nothing left but a twinkle inside seven hours."

"Seven?! You've tried to talk to them?"

She nodded, "Sure have. Tried everything right up to the ol' blinky-light array. But I'd bet you they've said everything they're going to say..."
Last edited by Sunset on Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sunset » Wed Apr 03, 2019 1:25 pm

RDF-Bar Harbor, Deep Space, Coreward Expansion Zone, Beta Quadrant... Republic Date 174.458...

"Another one, just like the last," the Lieutenant at the sensor console announced, piping the results of the ship's sweep of nearby space to the main display for visual analysis by the bridge team. With the assistance of a good number of the Suwen's artificial progeny the ship and her crew had begun the process of tracking down the colony ships sent out by the ill-fated planet before its destruction. Most of these first had been left where they were to float among the asteroids that were now their home while a slight few others were gathered in one of the ship's spare rooms as they considered a new future for themselves and perhaps their people.

One remained on the bridge, however; the same bald headed gray statue that had first come aboard. There was a look of almost serene acceptance on his stony face as he studied the image; a primitive colony ship still hundreds of light-years from its intended destination, ripped apart at the seams, and then left to drift in the endless void until happened upon. This was the seventh so far, their trajectory supplied by him and the others, and their exact location worked out by the simply process of departing their home system on the same with sensor eyes and ears wide open. This ship and the others like it would have represented the potential lives of hundreds of trillions by now, if they had been allowed to survive to their destination and multiply.

"It really looks like someone didn't like them," Captain Ria said dryly. "The pattern of damage is the same - she's nothing more than scrap now."

Indeed, whatever had attacked the colony ship had been excessively and even brutally thorough. Every system was destroyed, every compartment opened, every deep chamber where something or someone could have hidden had been holed through.

"It fits the working theory," was his response. "We should check one of the destinations that was within reach given the established time-frame."

The working theory was that the destruction was intentional. Each colony ship had been approximately the same distance from its home system, each had been destroyed by similar means, and all had been headed in the same rough direction. Bar Harbor's next destination would add more facts to those already in evidence. If that distant world had once been home to a Suwen colony - thriving or not - that had then been destroyed, the working theory then went on to postulate the source of that destruction...
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Postby Sunset » Wed Apr 17, 2019 7:03 pm

Special Projects Covert Research Facility 74-A (Sigma), Denali, The Yukon System... Republic Date 174.505...

"Alright, Doctor - you wanted to..." Francine stopped dead in her tracks and stared down at the object she'd been just about to put her hand on - in, given that the container had no top - so she'd have something to throw just in case. "What is that?!"

Kraus didn't even turn to look over his shoulder, "What is what? That? I'm fairly certain you know what that is, unless your degree was from DeVry. Or fake. I keep getting these emails offering cheap online degrees through the Colonial Martian University, or the University of Colonial Mars... Something like that. Seems the name changes every couple weeks. Anyway - you were asking what that is... It's a brain, obviously."

The scientist was absolutely correct; it was a brain. In a jar. Affixed to a nice-looking heavy wooden base. With a little plaque that read 'A.B. Normal' in carefully etched Gothic letters. And balanced right on the corner of the desk near the door just where the Site Director was most likely to knock it to the floor. It certainly hadn't been there when she'd taken a peek inside on her way past that morning. Who would forget a purple brain in a jar?

Or a tank.

Or enough room for a tank.

"Maybe I shouldn't ask this, but - Doctor Kraus, whose brain is it?"

"Hmm? Oh..." He stopped whatever he was doing to consider the question, "Abby someone. I don't exactly recall. But he said he trusted me with his brain. Or at least he said I was his brain..."

*Ke-krash*

Glass, ooze, and what would later prove to be a particularly fine example of a purple jello brain splashed everywhere as Francine swept it off the corner of the station, "Right. Brain trust. Trusted you with his brain. I get it. So you spent the entire morning setting someone up for that gag. Very. Funny. Now - why is there a tank in the middle of your laboratory?!"

"Because I needed something to distract you so you'd put your hand in the brain jar?"

For a moment - just for a moment - she considered scooping up one of the delightfully ragged points of glass that now littered the floor at her feet and throwing it at him. End over end it would spin - the lights of the laboratory catching it just so - until it hit him square in the throat and he fell, clutching at it with shock and horror on his face as... 'Yet another temporary body bleeds out,' she sighed to herself. "Doctor Kraus, please. Why is there a tank in your laboratory?"

It wasn't just a tank of course. There are tanks as produced in their however-many across hundreds of works; clanking contraptions with wheels or tracks that seem to have forgotten that the purpose of the tank was not to die gloriously but to kill every last son of a bitch that got in its way. Tanks that seem to have forgotten that there had been alternately hundreds or even thousands of years between the age when humanity first left the rock still called Earth and the manufacturing date still cut by mortal hands somewhere on their hulls. This was not one of those tanks.

It wasn't one of the Republic's regular tanks either. While she'd confess that she wasn't intimately familiar with every aspect of Republic militaria, the squat shape in the middle of the cleared space looked like it had once been a regular design but thanks to the Doctor's ministrations it now mounted something that looked like it belonged in a Mad Scientist's laboratory instead of the usual hexagon barrel. Since this was a Mad Scientist's laboratory, she waited impatiently for the answer.

Instead she got a story; "Actually, it's Meri's fault."

Meri was Fredrick's wife and a delightful if somewhat air-headed woman who made up for most of the flaws in his character when the two were together.

"And how is it her fault?"

"She gave me a calendar," he pointed over to the wall just next to the door where a calendar - an honest-to-god old-fashioned paper calendar - hung. The image above the dates was of an open umbrella sitting in a field of grass with the simple half-phrase 'create your own sunshine' printed above it; "Okay, so?"

"So 'create your own sunshine'. It's cute," he said, turning to pat the flank of the warmachine with his hand, "but it doesn't take the idea far enough. First I thought - 'well, create your own sunshine. I'll build a weather control device.' But that's been done before, right? Every member of the fraternity worth his pocket protector has built a weather control device. But then I remembered watching some of the combat footage from the Marines fighting on the Qi worlds. The discharge of all those high-energy particle beams would sometimes churn up thunder storms. 'So what if,' I thought, 'What if I could create my own sunshine and take it with me?'"

"So..."

"I call it the Lightning-Type. Which is about as original as calling the dog Spot, but it fits the theme..."
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Postby Sunset » Wed May 01, 2019 10:50 am

RDF-Unconquered Sun, Western Edge of the Memuru Nebula, Ares Super-Cluster... Corgi in Tow...

The ship hung against the backdrop of stars, its elongated horseshoe shape picked out here and there with lights and insignia glowing softly against the mixture of gray tones that made up her hull. Outside the great ship there was no motion but inside there was commotion - a dozen figures some there and some not gathered between even more displays and consoles. Glossy black glass reflected their images and gestures as they moved and spoke though the center of attention was the blonde-haired woman standing in the center and her attention was fixed on the strange star that - for the moment - still cast its light across the vessel's silver-streaked hull.

"So," the woman glanced over at the nearest flat display and the clock that sat ominously in the lower right-hand corner, slowly ticking down the minutes to oblivion. "What's going on? What can you tell me?"

"Nothing new," Doctor Tithral answered, the Drow adjusting his posture until he was leaning against a convenient railing, his eyes focused not on the Secretary-General but on the myriad of screens and data flows surrounding them. His dark eyes were constantly moving, trying to pick out some new fact from what was in front of him even as his arms remained folded and still.

"Then let's go over the 'how'," she asked again. "Still no communications from the iWe?"

A junior officer sitting at a row of consoles behind the group shook his head but it was another blonde woman - this time dressed in a uniform and a body that did not seem to suit her - that answered, "Well, the 'how' ain' exactly clear either."

Grabbing one of the closer displays Saryan began to tap on it, tugging it along as she moved to stand next to the circular holographic projector that took up the center of the room. What had been there disappeared to be replaced by a representation, lines and arrows and circles highlighting areas of interest that were yet to be explained. Against the great height of the nebula the star appeared to be a solid torus but here, with patterns of flow highlighted, it was more akin to a Möbius strip with a single long strand winding itself around and around again until it at last ate its own tail. Except that now the tail was slithering along shorter and shorter as the other end disappeared into a blank spot on the diagram.

"Right here," she put out a finger and pointed to the blank spot, "is the important part ah'n it kinda goes back to everything else. They've put up a faster-than-light interdiction field here, right in the middle of the thing. Too far inside the torus for our regular sensors to get a solid look and with the field up up TRIPWIRE ain' doing anything either. What's interestin' about that is the 'how'... Birdy? Why don't you explain it?"

She looked over to another member of the group, this time a short, malformed man who lurked behind a pair of glasses and a half-bald pate. He glared back with an expression that indicated he either didn't appreciate the nickname or didn't like the physicist - or possibly both. Doctor Birdwell took a step forward and with a glare that took in his entire audience began his explanation, "As we know, the star that the iWe," he pronounced the name with a certain bit of disgust on his tongue, as though the terrible pun was some sickening medicine he'd been forced to ingest, "created is more than a simple example of confined toroidal fusion. It is instead a complex laminar structure that was - so we at first thought - capable of replicating some gross functions familiar to the electronics novice. An antenna, essentially, that was regularly used to project the species' natural abilities across the galaxy."

"Upon closer examination I have found this to be not only the case but to be only a minor example of its capabilities. Doctor Brilla - a closer view? On the Planck scale." None too patiently he waited while she manipulated the image, the details at once shrinking and growing until the newly refined image bore no similarity to the first. "What they have somehow managed is a system where a highly confined plasma can replicate fine electronic functions - functions we would only ourselves find in solid-state devices - but still engage in nuclear fusion. Imagine the circuits of a computer processor continually pushing themselves together - a feat impossible except, apparently, here."

"So the star is creating the interdiction field on its own?" Erika asked in confirmation.

"That is correct."

"What about those stations then?" she asked, indicating the titanic ring of 'Y'-shaped constructs strung out along the interior of the torus. "When the iWe showed us how to build our own, we had to build the same chain."

"Living space," Saryan said with a shrug and a nod of confirmation from Doctor Tithral. "Well, ah'n they probably needed them to start the process. But our star isn't even close to that complex. They probably just showed us what we needed to see and nothing more."

"We've taken a careful look at the stations," Captain Pette put in, the elderly woman speaking up for the first time. "Right up to the unfriendly level. They're completely gone - not even a little trace of them. I'd say they're inside that bubble," she nodded towards the display, "if they're still here at all."

"They're gone already?"

There was the sound of someone uncomfortably clearing their throat and all eyes present traced their way to the Drow, who had shifted to tuck his hands into his pockets and for the moment looked down at the deck as though he was a teenager again, caught out past his bedtime. Aware of the scrutiny, he cleared his throat again before lifting his chin, "I'm afraid that might be my 'fault' - ours, if I was to be more correct. I suspect that the iWe are - or have - accomplished something that we have enabled."

"What's your theory, Titty?"

"Examining the pattern of their various appearances, they have taken an exceptional interest in our discovery, development, and deployment of boundary manipulation technology. Which, despite our better efforts, they seem to have been able to access without our say-so. If they had been any ordinary civilization I would suggest that we - myself included - have been guilty of gross dereliction of our duties as to the security of the state but they are no ordinary civilization as Doctor Birdwell has now pointed out. My guess - theory, though I foresee considerable difficulty in obtaining proof - is that they have used the knowledge thus gleaned to create their own version of the Eien. A way to remove themselves from this universe."

"Further, I suspect that the reason they have deployed this interdiction field is to prevent the sort of interference one might encounter when dealing with a civilization of our particular curiosity. Again, thanks to Doctor Birdwell, we know that the star is capable of incredibly intricate feats. An intricacy that might be easily upset, especially given the way that TRIPWIRE operates. I would suspect that when the process ends," he indicated the clock beside him, "there will be nothing left of the iWe but a brief burst of Hawking radiation."

"What do we do?" someone asked. For a long moment the space was silent as they looked to one another, questions that could not be answered or that they did not know how to ask on their faces. Then the Secretary-General spoke, "We wait."

"We wait?"

"We wait," she confirmed with a nod. "They're not harming anyone and what they're doing - whatever they're doing - they're doing to themselves. That's one of our founding principles, isn't it? So we wait and watch. Unless they..."

"Hold up!" Katryna, who had until that moment been silent, suddenly lunged forward to where Saryan stood, brushing her aside as she grabbed the floating display from idle hands. "Just came through," she jabbed at the controls, her fingers a blur. "We're picking up a huge boundary manipulation forming..."

The image in the holosphere was wiped away, replaced in an instant by a wide stretch of what looked like empty space, "Here! About two million kilometers out!"

"A boundary manipulation?" the question was asked and then answered as all eyes turned to the image. In one moment there was nothing but blank space and in the next an enormous hole in reality. On the other side a star burned - small, red, and angry - while around it strange objects swarmed. Planets ringed with great metal structures spun lazy while constructs swarmed across the face of the star, the light reflecting crimson from objects that flashed occasionally with their own violet light.

But it was not these that they were focused on. Instead it was the space between the here and the there where crystalline tentacles huge beyond imagining swam lazily as they stretched back to an enormous flattened mass, pulling it along behind them as it breached the hole between one reality and the next. It was a sight some had seen before; great limbs tearing apart planets as easily as one might shred a head of cabbage. Before but different, as a great band of intricate dull gray metal wrapped around the greatest bulk of the monster, baroque shapes flowing across the collar to reach into space and to flow in thick tendrils across the crystal hide, lacing themselves around the extended tentacles and studded here and there with byzantium nodules that sparkled and flashed though no light fell on them.

In what seemed less time than it was the thing was through, the slowing motion of its tentacles as much indication that it had stopped as the numbers listed out in the corner of the screen. Behind it the hole winked closed and for a moment everything and everyone stopped, whether through awe or fear or consideration, and as before it was Erika who broke the silence, "Warm up the guns. Comms? Hail them."

"Yes Ma'am!" Responses to her orders began to ring out, "NEMESIS platforms are reporting in, preliminary reply from Grand Admiral Erriki..."

"...wormhole formation..."

"...good. Tell everyone. We might need to roast some marshmallows," she nodded, though there was a strange hesitation in her voice.

"Do you think they'll respond?" Katryna interjected, her own voice odd as though she was suddenly speaking in two places at the same time. "Last time..."

"Ma'am!" The same voice from the back row suddenly spoke up, his voice not quite a yell but loud enough to be heard over the commotion, "Incoming transmission! They're..."

"Onscreen!"

Behind the central projector what had formerly been a blank wall lit up and the entire room fell silent as they found themselves looking at familiar features. Jet black hair, an aquiline nose, and eyes that would have on another face sparkled with unexpected laughter stared back at them, his expression flat and emotionless. The body of the man that had once been the neck-down portion of Admiral Villanova stood motionless in the center of a room that looked both familiar and alien, its purpose clear but its functions foreign. Instead of his uniform or a crisply tailored suit the once-human was wearing a suit of armor that looked as though it had been cleaved from the flesh of the very beast he stood astride.

Erika opened her mouth - it was her place to speak, after all - but no words emerged. What was she going to call him, after all? Already the man he had once been was on his way to her side, ready to fight again for a Republic that this one had sworn no oath to. But he saved her, his words careful and precise, "Do not worry yourselves - we are here to watch, the same as you. A child, a friend, departing to far away places..."

His voice trailed off and the image vanished, her head instantly turning back to the communications officer who confirmed what she suspected without saying, "That's it - they've stopped transmitting. Trying to re-establish comms..."

But she already knew it would be useless, "They've said their piece. Keep trying, but they won't answer."

"What now?"

"...we wait," she glanced at the clock again. "But not very long."
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 02, 2019 10:34 am

RDF-Unconquered Sun, Western Edge of the Memuru Nebula, Ares Super-Cluster... Not Much Later...

"...do you think they know just how many guns they have pointed at them right now?"

It was an idle thought asked aloud but the Drow physicist - who happened still to be standing near the Secretary-General as both stood gazing through the forward display at the unimaginable sights spread out before them - answered anyway, "Yes."

"I think they know and I think they may well intend it," he continued. A pair of smaller floating displays were at his side and he was tapping away at one and glancing down at the data scrolling across the other even as he went on, "What he said there - about watching a child or friend depart for distant lands. I don't think he was being metaphorical. All of our interactions with the Druuth'Haari to this point have them as to-the-point. They say what is needed to be said and little more. Some have speculated that as a distributed crystalline intelligence they may 'think' slower than we do - and that may be true - but that too would suggest a preference for avoiding any interaction but the straightforward. No - in some way or directly, the iWe is their child and their friend. And what better way to make sure nothing interrupts their plans..."

"...than to park a big obvious target that will scare the living shit out of everyone nearby," Erika finished, a shared nod between the two confirming their shared conclusion. "I'm glad Demi isn't here. But we're capable of watching two things at the same time. What's happening with the star?"

"I'd say it's the same but - Doctor Birdwell? Clarence? Are you seeing what I'm seeing here?"

The ex-Bajoni turned to look across the command deck to where his fellow physicist was standing in an isolated alcove with a handful of displays spread out in front of him. Looking up at the mention of his name, the two locked eyes for a moment and the second hurried over, displays following him like a litter of young puppies.

"Hmm? The same thing? If your guess is adequate then I suppose - yes - we are seeing the same thing."

Taking a moment to compose himself in front of the Secretary-General - who he apparently held in some slight higher regard than his academic fellow, he indicated the largest display, "What appears to be happening is that as the star loses mass, its ability to maintain coherent sub-functions is degrading. Now since those functions are not in actual use, we cannot moment-by-moment determine the extent of that degradation but as the process continues it is giving us remarkable insights into how they were able to do such a thing."

"Just like tearing apart your first fusion reactor."

"But far more complex, yes. Being able to replicate this ourselves? Critical, of course. I would suggest the immediate establishment of an institution dedicated to the research and study - and replication- of this phenomenon."

"Done."

There was a momentary look on his face as though he'd been expecting a more non-committal answer but it was gone in an instant as he continued, "The question will be whether they are able to keep their stabilization field active until the process completes but I don't believe it will matter. If I were planning such an effort I would include some margin of error."

"But ya know Birdy," Saryan appeared suddenly at his side, nearly putting an elbow on his shoulder until a warning glance indicated she might not then have one left, "We might want to. Get a look-see that is. I've been thinking about what they said too and something struck me. If they're your kid, wouldn't you want to be able to hook up with them someday? I mean, I don't have kids and I have all the plans on having them than a cow has to crap, but if I did..."

"So what are you saying, Doctor?"

"Remember the last time we saw one of those things?" she pointed to the display where the titanic leviathan still floated semi-motionless, its tentacles longer than the diameter of many gas giants slowly drifting up and down. "According to Katryna, they were after something. Maybe something that could push the ol' reset button on the universe. Well, boundary manipulations are basically a really complex form of singularity. Black Holes, White Holes... The Singularity."

"I'm not quite sure where you're going with this, Brilla," Birdwell replied, his tone sharp as though she was now a student in his class.

"Cause you haven't been read in on the whole Druuth'Haari thing, have you? Here's the deal. If I wanted to make sure I could see my kid again, I'd make sure the directions they were using would get them wherever they were going and back again. If the Druuth'Haari really are capable of initiating a Big Crunch, there's no reason to believe they might not also be capable of somehow directing the outcome of that event. Now, we might have locked away the method, but that doesn't mean they don't know the other pieces. If we get a really good picture of where the iWe are going - well, we might also get a good picture of where the Druuth'Haari want things to go too."

"If anyone is in the right position to figure that out, we are," Erika said, though again there was something in her tone that led those around her to think she might just be thinking aloud. "But do they want us to know?" she asked, looking pointedly towards the kraken.

"Maybe they do - because they don't want us to be there. We're now the farmer next door who's figured out how we grow that prize-winning pumpkin every year for the County Fair. I don't think they'd go so far as to attack us, but that doesn't mean they'd want us following them when they put up a For Sale sign out on the road."

Tithral cleared his throat, "We'll find out any minute now." Beside him the clock was rapidly winding down to zero. "Doctor Birdwell?"

The physicist peered over his nose at the displays, "Stellar intricacy is down by ninety-four percent since observations began. The interdiction field could fail at any time, assuming some unknown variables."

"Will it hurt anything if we point everything we've got at them?" Erika asked, genuine concern on her face as she looked over the physicist's shoulder at the data flow.

"Nah - unless they're all crowded up at the gate waiting for it to open. And if they are..." Saryan laughed aloud, "I guess we've already built them a backup? Keep a close eye on the giant cuttlefish though," she offered, glancing up at the sprawling leviathan before returning her eyes to the screen.

Projected on a dozen displays across the command deck, the artificial star that had been the visible symbol of the iWe since the Republic had stumbled across them however many years before was now just a tiny bright-white thread circling a patch of the heavens. Right before their eyes one end uncoupled from the other and began to flow around, disappearing into nothing in particular as it circled around. Then - with a collective held breath - it was gone.

"...and that's that," Erika breathed.

"Not quite," Saryan looked down at a display and then back up to the larger view. "Another boundary manipulation. Big one. I'd guess our purple friend is going home too. And there's something there, right in the middle," she looked back to the display, her face twisting into a question. "Looks like the iWe left something behind."

"What is it?" and there was a general crowd-in behind the two physicists until Doctor Birdwell looked particularly uncomfortable. For the moment it was just a speck, colored green and blue and red until Saryan leaned in to activate the controls, zooming in until whatever it was slowly twisted into view. Thin on one side, on the other it carried a map of the continent labeled across it in red, 'Africa', with 'Toto' written below it in yellow.

"What is it," the question was repeated but Birdwell was already rapidly tapping away at another display, "It's a song. I have it here in my collection..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu May 02, 2019 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Fri May 03, 2019 12:05 pm

Environmental Sciences Annex, CORE XIV Deep Space Station, Near the Galactic Core, Alpha Quadrant.... Republic Date: 174.560...

"... one of the many potential functions of holographic boundary manipulation technology is their ability to block or 'interfere' with gravitational waves," Jon - Doctor Marshall, for those who required formality - said as he pointed to the rotating holographic display in front of him. "Because they block gravitational influences they can be used as yet another effective form of labor depending on the circumstances. For example in the current system," he again referenced the display with each planet labeled with its Galactic Exploration Command identifier and orbit, "what we are attempting to do is rapidly transform the entire system by use of a specifically-configured holographic boundary manipulation. This manipulation is blocking the gravetic influence from the system's primary in order to alter the orbits of its attendant bodies. This planet for instance," he pointed to one in particular, "is far too close to the star to effectively support unmodified life."

The planet in question looked to be just as described; a flat red dry world with a bare tinge of atmosphere clinging to its surface as fiercely as a young cub might cling to its mother.

"By 'turning off' or 'blocking' the influence of gravity we are slowly moving this planet further out in its orbit until it will be able to support both an atmosphere and life. We anticipate this process to take about eighteen months - which is rather dramatic since of course using other terraforming techniques the same would take decades and still require the continual input of outside energy to maintain. What this does is make that process essentially 'one-time' and what's more while the process is underway we can use the energy - gravity, in this case - by means of various techniques similar to the Penrose process to harvest energy off the boundary manipulation and use that energy to build up the resources that will be needed once the newly habitable world is in its correct orbit."

"In fact one of the interesting things is that because this planet does not have an atmosphere - or very little - we decided to use the interface to build and contain that atmosphere until it is needed. At that point we can link the boundary manipulation to one created on the planet and place the atmosphere directly."

"So why block the gravity waves from the star when we could put up a boundary manipulation around the planet itself?" his new junior colleague asked. The Neko was a recruit fresh out of this university or that and the two were sharing their first meeting. "You said the interface goes both ways, right?"

"It's far more potentially complex than that, but essentially correct. But in this case - in this particular system - there are multiple planets that we are trying to affect," Marshall again pointed out, referencing the display. "Here we have three planets that can be potentially moved into habitable orbits and we'll use a combination of the two techniques to achieve that. But," and he shared a wicked grin with his young colleague, "we don't always have to use these techniques to create habitable worlds, do we?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, it goes somewhat against the idea of Environmental Sciences but we don't necessarily have to move them into a useful orbit. The suggestion has already been made to use this particular technique as a 'siege weapon' of sorts. Again, the time frame is considerable as my impression of interstellar warfare goes, but sometimes the desired time frame is less about immediate results than continual pressure. By isolating the planet from its primary we can give the occupants some time to reconsider their motives and allegiances and surrender before returning the planet to its normal orbit. Or - in the case of a fortress world or similar unrepentant objective, we can just leave it to drift out of its orbit and out into the galaxy as a frozen sphere."

"So why here?" the Neko asked, turning the topic back to the intervention at hand. "Why this system," he asked, looking up at the enormous floor-to-ceiling display that stood along one wall of the of the laboratory. Outside the sprawling super-station's hull they could see the galactic core itself; a thick bulge of stars - billions upon billions - slowly spiraling in towards Sagittarius A in the middle of it all.

"Because exactly that," the researcher pointed towards the center of the display and the near-invisible Black Hole. "The Director of Special Projects has enlisted our help to establish a series of covert facilities around the galactic core in order to monitor and secure it in case of future use. At some point in time we may want to put up a boundary manipulation around Sagittarius A. It is the fundamentally largest single source of energy in our galaxy and it will be there long after the stars burn to cinders. Whats more because it is what it is, we can use something akin to the Penrose process to harvest energy from Sagittarius A and harvest matter from those dead stars as they slowly attempt to fall into it. There's no reason not to be prepared now after all - not when we already have the technology. Once this ring of stars is erected and prepared we will selectively 'blink' them out - they will no longer give off light or other stray emissions. No one will know they are there. But..."

"But?"

"An interesting idea occurs to me. I've recently become aware that we - not you and I but Special Projects and thus the Republic - has been making considerable strides in the creation of far more complex boundary manipulations. Could we program a manipulation to transmit a specific electromagnetic image? Let us say that we record the electromagnetic output of the entire system at a certain point in its development... Or created one from scratch - useful, given the direction I'm going - and then program the manipulation to 'project' that output across its exterior surface. Unless one knows that they should be looking for Hawking radiation there would be very little indication that there is an inhabited system there until of course one flew their ship into it and found out the hard way. But of course boundary manipulations - depending on their breed - are also an effective faster-than-light interdiction field, which would in turn created questions on its own."

"Perhaps we could erect small fields around the various planets themselves?"

"Yes! Which would of course require less energy to accomplish and place the manipulation inside the atmosphere, scattering the tell-tale Hawking radiation and essentially make the manipulation invisible."

"You know, Doctor, the emissions of the manipulation - if I'm understanding things correctly - will essentially have to be what we'd want to terraform the planet. A certain atmospheric gas composition... Essentially what you've done is suggested a way that we could use a boundary manipulation as a terraforming tool."

"Yes, but that would take a very long time - sensors don't need to pick up a massive amount of volume in order to produce an elemental breakdown of a planet's atmosphere. But what you could do is have the interior of the manipulation emit far larger amounts than the exterior of the field. At that point we could put up a boundary manipulation around a particular planet that is currently unsuitable for life, isolating it from the gravetic influence of the system primary to thus allow it to drift out to a desirable orbit while the boundary manipulation itself churns out the new atmosphere in a manner akin to... Well, an extraordinary form of photosynthesis! This could then, in turn, be accelerated by erecting a linked manipulation around the local star... Brilliant," though he held up a cautioning finger.

"Potentially brilliant, that is. We will have to try it, of course. But that's why we're here..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri May 03, 2019 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 04, 2019 5:32 pm

RDF Training Academy 2, Peabody (Colony World), Far Western Fringe of the Ares Super-Cluster... Republic Date 174.564...

"...what are you doing?" Quunto asked, the question unexpected both by the cadet walking beside him through the narrow corridor and the figure who sat hunched over a pair of boots, brush in hand. It had only been chance that the Qoyat had looked to the left and through the door of one of the small cabin-sized dorm rooms that lined the sprawling spiderweb that was the housing wing. The figure looked up - he was a Duwerli, now that Quunto had a chance to get a good look at him - and like the Qoyat he was wearing the uniform of a first year cadet.

First semester, actually - and first week if he wanted to be precise about it. Academy Two had just opened a month before and all three cadets had been ambitious enough to be among the first to hike the forty kilometers of swamp that surrounded the site to put in their applications.

"Huh?"

"I asked," the Qoyat pointed at the cadets boots and the brush he was now holding idle, "what are you doing?"

The Duwerli looked down and then back to his interrogator, "I'm polishing my boots. Why?"

Quunto looked down at his own and then to those of his companion. There didn't seem to be much of a difference between those worn by any of the three except that his were now slightly shinier. All three were standard issue; a synthetic upper of solid black with a pair of flaps that covered the fastener over a sole made of some artificial rubber that seemed impervious to damage.

"Why?," he echoed back at his fellow, his companion leaning forward to look past him, a similar question on the Xypndi man's goldenrod features.

Turning his boots around, the Duwerli set back to work, briskly brushing some kind of wax into the material with an old-fashioned wooden brush, "It's a Human expression - 'dress for the job you want, not the job you have.' Observing the ranking officers, they all seem to have well-polished boots. And undertaking a study of historical Human military media, I noticed that the higher one ranks as an officer the more precise their apparel seems to be."

A few more selected swipes across an area that no one could tell was any different and he switched to the other boot.

"So..."

"So as the majority species in the Defence Force is Human and thus culturally conditioned towards the impression that neatness of person somehow indicates potential competence, I am polishing my boots. We are competing against ourselves, are we not?"

Both of the two nodded. With dozens if not scores of different species in the Academy environment, each with different physical, mental, and emotional ability levels, it was impossible to adequately judge one cadet against the other except in the most unreasonably immediate manner. Cadets were instead encouraged to compete against themselves, always pushing further and trying harder to surpass their previous efforts. These - along with a careful appraisal of each cadet's term - would be used to determine their graduating rank and initial posting, "Sure."

"My goal is the Admiralty. I want to serve, but I see my talents as organizational rather than leadership. So I'm polishing my boots."

"There's never been anyone who's graduated as an Admiral," Quunto's friend pointed out. "But good luck!"

Sarcasm or not, the Duwerli took the opportunity to point out the correction, "No, but there was a cadet who graduated as Captain."

"Really," both looked at each other, sharing the glance of the disbelieving. "Who?"

"Not who but what - they were an artificial intelligence that had previously served three centuries in the service of another civilization. So they had previous experience - the Academy was mostly a formality..."
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 05, 2019 9:10 pm

Uuhn Uplands, The Planet Phernin, Ulilat System, Qi Space... Republic Date: 174.567...

"...what'da mean, 'Ah'm bein' recalled'," Meli replied, the disbelief in her tone as solid as the shoulder she was holding herself up with as she leaned against a guvvi tree, her thick arms folded across her even thicker chest. She glanced down at the ground and then up at Agent Madison, who stood just at the lip of the ridgeline with a monovisor glued to her face. It was actually Meli's 'visor - the senior agent had borrowed it as soon as the Dwarf had arrived.

"Tha' don' sound fair. Not when Ah'm just startin' ta have fun."

Ivy swung her vision to the left and to the right, seeking out the figures she knew had to be there. One, two - five. Scattered among the rocks, trees, and shadowed gullies there was an entire unit of 'Ghostwalkers', the counter-terrorism division created by the NPoY government to root out the last fanatical followers of Ynij. She'd been seconded as a mercenary trainer since the NPoY had signed their Declaration of Intent - that they likely didn't intend on going through with - with the Republic and today was yet another assignment-as-training operation. Phernin wasn't exactly in the NPoY but that's why they called them 'Ghostwalkers', wasn't it?

Returning her eyes to the center, she took another long look at their objective. Set at the very back of a tight box canyon was a squared-off concrete arch that sunk deep into the mountain behind it. Guard posts sat on either side and these were linked by trenches and thick rows of razor wire and an half-circle of triangular tank traps ran across the mouth of the canyon. Built before the war, it had been listed as a spent nuclear fuel repository on the official maps and thus wasn't a smoking hole like so many others were.

"It wasn't up to me," the taller woman offered, some slight note of sympathy in her voice. "You'll be pulling out tonight."

Which wasn't that far away if they were going by local time Meli confirmed with a glance towards the horizon. The sun was drifting lower and already bands of red and silver clouds were obscuring the sun's disc as it sank lower and lower, "Fuck. So - ahnay idea what Ah'll be doin' next?"

"No - but I do know that I don't know. So whatever it is, it's compartmentalized above my level."

A week after the planetary government had announced their capitulation and the formation of a new government that was already in the process of joining the Republic as a Federal State, a group of disaffected Ynijists had moved in. They'd been as quiet about it as they could have been but not quiet enough - someone in the nearest town had noticed just how much food one person was buying and reported this to the relevant authorities. Unfortunately, it was a rebuilding year for the Phernin government and so the problem had been put on the back burner. Until now, that is.

Or - technically - it still was. An outside consultant who had a particular hate-on for Ynij had mentioned it to her friend who happened to be working as a military consultant for the New Prophecy and she had in turn mentioned it to the Commandant of the division she was training. The Ghostwalkers had come in a few days ago, interviewed the locals, done some on the ground scouting - all good training - and now they were set up for the kill.

"So they could wanna put me on ice for tha' next thousand years or promote me... Not wha' Ah had in might for mah' holidays."

Of course, if they had wanted to put her on ice, they could have just pulled her connection. Which made the fact that Ivy had specifically brought her out into the wilderness a little odd. Which meant there had to be a reason why the senior operator wanted her there.

"Mmm," Ivy's response was non-committal. "Target looks clear - time to go. Alpha, toss out the bait..."

Two kilometers out from the canyon and around the corner a thick, boxy lorry fired up its engines and began to move down the beaten earth trail towards the front door. Meli knew them well - they were a common model that could be found throughout Qi Space and she'd used the same to run over a bunch of people just a few weeks earlier. This one had the sides folded down and there were a bunch of people in civvies sitting on either side holding signs that said various crude things about the out-of-favor god while a large painted wood sign mounted on the center of the bed showed a depiction of Ynij engaged in a decidedly carnal act with a local grazing animal.

"Ah'right - Ah' gotta ask. What's yer plan?" Meli asked, moving up from where she'd been standing to perch on a rock beside Agent Madison. From this distance she could make out the shape and nature of the offensive imagery but without the visor the figures on the truck were indistinct.

"The truck's on remote - they're dummies. We're thinning the herd."

In a couple minutes the hover truck had rounded the corner and come to a stop and from their perch in the far distance Meli could just make out the slow movement of signs waving back and forth. The sound of music drifted up - just audible here, it had to be oppressive up close - but for nearly a half-hour nothing happened. Then there was a puff of smoke, a sharp crack, and the lorry exploded.

'This is Alpha - the bait has been taken. Repeat...'

"Hold on, Alpha. Give them a few minutes..."

Just as she had predicted, in a few minutes figures began to emerge from the tunnel and the guard posts, carefully circling the wreckage and then slowly moving in; cultists with weapons out and ready for the ambush they expected would come from somewhere.

"Alpha, what's the count?"

'Eight in the open. Three more in the shadows.'

"They've been buying enough food for thirty," Ivy explained, lowering the visor and looking over to Meli. "But they've also been buying toys, treats - stuff for kids. Thirty minus eleven... Probably ten to twenty still in there. Alpha? Execute."

A dozen rifles crackled as one, an equal amount of hyper-velocity projectiles reaching out to tear off arms and legs and split bodies in half, 'Targets down.'

"Good work, Alpha. Beta, move in to secure the entrance. Keep a lane clear down the center. Meli," she looked over to the Dwarf. "Your challenge, should you accept it, is to clear the interior. No kids. You have," she looked to the horizon and then back but she was already gone, barreling down the hillside faster than mortally possible.

"...not very long."
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Postby Sunset » Mon May 06, 2019 4:37 pm

RDF-Columbia, Western Edge of the Memuru Nebula, Ares Super-Cluster... Republic Date: 174.570...

"I think we're done here," Captain Pette agreed, echoing her executive officer's suggestion as the two sat in her office, one behind the desk and the other in front. They'd been reviewing files and adding notes for the last hour but things were - according to the virtual assistant that was now running out of important matters and moving on to the trivial - well on their way to pointless nitpicking. "Let's post the summary."

Commander Wilcox nodded his agreement in turn. Like the Captain, he was an older man - though that meant little in the age of effective immortality - who had been with the Columbia nearly as long as she had and had shown no particular inclination to leave. Aside from a few brief asides to replace the ship itself, the Columbia and her crew had been posted in the nebula since the artificial star had been discovered nearly thirty years previous. Regular crew had come and gone - and then gotten a lot smaller when the old Venture-Class had been replaced with the new Impact-Class - but the name at least had been a fixture all along. It would be as much a summary for a career as an assignment, though neither intended on parting company.

"Sure. What's there to say... They didn't say 'goodbye' long enough," Earnest decided. "We learned more about them in the last eight hours of their existence than the previous thirty years. If they'd have drug things out another couple hours, we'd probably be talking to them now in wherever they've gone. Which... Might have been their intention all along."

The broad scholarly consensus had mostly collapsed along those lines, though there were very few who had the totality of knowledge to participate in that conversation. Analysis of the boundary manipulation had provided some very, very general hints that vaguely supported the theory that the iWe had effectively pushed themselves into a new universe - likely one that the Druuth'Haari would, at some point in time, follow them into. That then had raised all kinds of other questions - like why they hadn't immediately followed along. Every indication seemed to be that they weren't involved in anything particularly critical and so the safer solution to their continued existence would be to just leave.

"...what do you think? Think they're right?"

"Could be. It would make the textbook publishers happy. The physicists too."

A non-infinite universe. From the perspective of the ephemeral civilizations around them it might as well be infinite, but if it was not - if there was truly some kind of limit on the amount of energy and matter available across all... Well, they weren't exactly multiverses then, were they? Everything was connected. One universe was really just a sub-set of the larger whole. At this point it was a theory mostly discussed over beer and peanuts but physics was like that - at one point in the distant past most everyone had been convinced that the Earth was flat and that the Chariot of the Sun rode across the sky every night.

"Sure would explain why they aren't moving on themselves. They're keeping up this little bit of cosmic beachfront property for themselves..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu May 09, 2019 11:22 am

Republic Defense Force 173rd Marine Armored Division Headquarters, The ArAreBee Home Islands, Mars, Sol System... Republic Date 174.580...



'Sometimes the only way out is through... Through the hull.'

~Maxim 10, The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries




"...well, we won - and we didn't have to blow up the entire planet to do it," Captain Hurley said with a note of self-satisfaction in his tone as he sat back in his chair and laced freckled fingers behind his cheerful mop of red-orange hair. "Sure, we had to cheat, but just think of all those virtual lives we saved!"

The Captain's 'cheat' had been simple, if obnoxious to the commander of the 214th - Marine Artillery Support Division - who had paid the price of Hurley's win in humiliation and laundry detail. Back in the old-old days before virtual simulations that allowed a seamless real-time simulation of two advanced combat units throwing ordinance capable of shattering continents at each other to do so from the comfort of their own quarters, militaries had used various non-lethal weapons to mark casualties. Paintball guns, dye rounds, laser and infra-red attachments - it was all 'close' but not quite close enough. Inside the simulation the soldier could feel the heat of the explosion, witness the effects of tanks torn apart and left in flames, take cover behind a pile of rubble that had once been a house...

Or, as his Marines had done, they could 'port in to the 'enemy' headquarters with buckets of blue paint and carefully position them above doorways. His opposite in the 214th had been thinking ahead - at least virtually - and when he'd tried to pick out Red's deployment information he'd found that she'd already engaged in a widespread campaign of information denial that would have reduced the two sides to lobbing ordinance at the other until there was nothing left of the planet but pristine red desert and big holes in the ground. Instead, as soon as her officers had been called back to their virtual machines, they'd been greeted by a splash of blue and a post-it note on the door that read 'Casualty!'

"Can't go resting on our laurels though," he reasoned aloud, looking over to the doorway of his own office. "She'll get revenge - or try."

There'd been pictures, of course. Some clever dick had put a sensor strip on the wall opposite the commander's office and images of Captain Westchester spitting mad and covered in Celtic warpaint had leaked out onto the Defense Force network. A blow to one's honor such as that demanded satisfaction and merely depleting Hurley's force of valuable pixels wouldn't be enough.

"Yep - she'll make it personal," he reasoned, just as there was a simulated knock on the door. With his own thoughts fresh in his mind, he leaned forward to tap at the desk controls, bringing up the image from outside the door and then double-checking the sensor feed and the waiting Lieutenant's personnel file before admitting him, "What's up?"

"Captain... Sir," the Marine looked hesitant and this was both good sign and bad. Stepping up to the Captain's desk, he pulled himself up into attention and looked past the senior officer, eyes firmly fixed on the unit's commissioning plaque that hung on the wall behind him. "There's... A situation outside, Sir. In the courtyard."

"A situation?" Hurley was tempted to bring up the feed from one of the cameras but there was something to be said for letting the narrative unfold naturally. "Well, spit it out."

"Sir, sometime in the last few minutes, someone was able to paint a large phallus across the yard. Very detailed, Sir."

Hurley's grin was wider than his head. Even four hundred years past the founding of the United States Marines that the Republic Marines were directly descended from, drawing a penis on something - anything - was still a way for soldiers to comment on their life in the service, their commanding officers, or an expression of just plain boredom. Across an entire galaxy one could visit the lavatories of a thousand ships, stations, and bases and there on the wall would be an inappropriate drawing and more than likely it would have been made well or poorly by a Marine.

"...and Sir?" the Lieutenant paused as if waiting for permission would somehow lessen the burden of what he was about to say. "One of the testicles bears an uncanny resemblance to you."

His face very nearly split wide open, "Does it, then? Very well - summon the senior cadre to my office for a meeting at ten hundred hours. The Dick Wars have begun..."
Last edited by Sunset on Thu May 09, 2019 11:23 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sunset » Fri May 10, 2019 6:45 pm

Director Silaco's Office, Special Projects Research Complex, Outside Landor City, Terra Incognito... Republic Date 174.584...

"A pair of robots fornicating, a swarm of rainbow-color nanites, and a walking death machine. Is this the setup to a 'walked into a bar' joke?" Amaril asked, looking over the collection of holographic representations that sat in a row across the front edge of his wive's black-glass-and-black-glass desk. "Or just our son's idea of a Mother's Day present?"

"...neither? Do you want to guess again?"

"Not particularly. I know how your mind works, which means I'm going to be wrong. Do they have something to do with the iWe?"

For a moment - just for a moment - both stopped and looked around as if they both expected a mysterious voice from the netherworld to answer the riddle of just what the projections were. Or to give them a killer recipe for jur'n'oa salsa.

Whatever a jur'n'oa was.

But no voice spoke up and it seemed increasingly likely that no voice ever would. In fact his wife - or this particular apparition of her - had just returned from the nebula where she'd been busy'ish directing the clean-up. The iWe had left some toys behind in the form of hundreds of 'Y'-shaped stations that had been the genesis of their artificial star and it was time to learn what they could learn by pulling them apart.

"Wrong again - but I did think of it on my way back. They're deadman switches. Or they will be."

Amaril looked them over again, paying especially keen interest to the pair of robots that were still engaged in vigorous simulated sex, "Okay... Why fornicating robots?"

"Because I'm going to set these up in the Eien. The idea is that it is possible - though unlikely - to subvert some interior system without setting off the normal alarms. A technology we're not aware of - like say plasma that can mimic electronic functions..."

"Which, I guess that one's out. But okay - something figures out how to get into the Eien. And these things stop them how? Utter fascination?"

"Sort of. This one," she pointed to the war machine that seemed to have more guns than body, "is a paper tiger. It will be positioned just inside the physical gateway to the Eien, which is out in the trans-galactic abyss somewhere. Normally if anything showed up there we'd shoot first and then make a good attempt at questioning whatever's left. But if something were to somehow infiltrate that first boundary they'd find themselves staring up at this thing. At that point you..." she prompted.

"Suborn it or destroy it," he said. "And when you do, it starts..."

"Actually, it stops. Its actual job is to use this arm," she pointed to a small, fragile-looking thing that sprouted off the robot's head like the bobble on a moogle, "to push this button over and over. It will also be standing on another button. If it moves to engage or is destroyed and steps away then one or both functions will stop and alarms will go off. Then shit will go down, women will cry for their lost children, et cetera, et cetera."

"And the sex bots?"

"Some people really don't like robosexuals. They stop doing their thing, same shit. The nanites will be hovering there - zero-g area. Something passes through them and disturbs their lovely rainbow flag formation? Alarms."

"Do you want suggestions?" he asked.

"I would love suggestions. I've got an unlimited budget here - anything I can do to secure the Eien against any and all intruders short of declaring war. That I have to run by Mom..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat May 11, 2019 10:41 am

RDF Training Academy 2, Peabody (Colony World), Far Western Fringe of the Ares Super-Cluster... Republic Date 174.587...

"...well, I'll give you this - he's trying," Quunto said, a casual comment to his seeming constant companion as the two went from one scheduled class to another.

In fact the Duwerli - they still hadn't picked up his name yet - was more than trying. While other cadets might lend their expertise to another by tutoring them in this subject or that, the ambitious Reptiloid had organized an entire class that he was now teaching in the open space where two wide corridors came together. There had been chairs and couches set out here for the use of students and staff but these had been moved into a circle where he now stood in the middle, surrounding by holograms and physical props set on the various tables. The subject was very esoteric - neither recognized the objects on display - but he seemed to be a natural, keeping the other cadet's attention and engaging them in an easy banter.

"Has anyone ever done that before?" the Xypndi asked, pausing in his steps to take a closer look. "I mean - he's teaching a class."

"I heard that an applicant once organized an group of other applicants to cut a road through the wilderness surrounding their academy. Right up to the front door, bridges, log road through the swamp - everything. But no - haven't heard of anyone teaching a class..."

"That's because he's cheating," came a voice from between the two and they both turned to find a regular officer standing there, hands tucked into her trouser pockets as she looked on, a carefully neutral expression on her blue-gray face. Their eyes went to the rank insignia on her sleeve and both drew themselves up just a little bit straighter.

"Cheating, Commandant?"

"Not cheating as in actual cheating, but don't let that face fool you. Do you two know anything about the Duwerli?"

Quunto shook his head while the Xypndi answered more directly, "No Ma'am."

"That's Sir," he-formerly-she corrected without a hint of disapproval. "And that's something of the point. My species - Pyrk - expresses outwardly as what Humans would call 'female' across both genders. Internally there's some difference, but externally? You've made the same assumption you did about him - and I would suggest that many of his students have made the same but they're wrong. He's a good teacher because he was a teacher."

"How so?"

"The Duwerli are a resurrected species. Life on their homeworld was eliminated in a cosmic collision - pushed out of its regular orbit by a collision with a smaller planet, if I recall the details correctly. They weren't able to avoid extinction but before they froze to death they were able to transcribe their neural patterns into blocks of stone. When we found their world, we also found their frozen bodies and the stone blocks that held their past lives. He," the Commander nodded towards the Duwerli, "Is mentally nearly a hundred years old but back in the body of his younger - cloned - self."

"Oh."

"Though in this case I believe his neural pattern was transcribed directly into an ExoCortex. An interesting question for the philosophers there, but the fact remains - he's not as young as he looks."

"But he's not cheating?"

"No," he answered. "He's not cheating. In fact - and we don't often admit this - he's fantastic. He's pushing himself and everyone he touches along. Certainly he's drawing on knowledge and skills he's developed over a lifetime, but we all do that. If he keeps it up - keeps pushing - he might just do it."

"You mean graduate as a Captain?" Quunto said. The Qoyat still looked skeptical. "He said something about a three-hundred year old AI..."

"I'd have to look that one up, but he's working hard. Speaking of - you two should get to class if you want to graduate at all. Good day, Cadets," and the Commandant was gone with a tilt of his head in the direction the two then turned their feet towards.

"A hundred years..."

"Maybe we should join his class," the Xypndi offered. "Looks interesting - and if the Commandant is paying attention to him, maybe he'll pay attention to us, right?"
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Postby Sunset » Sun May 12, 2019 6:04 pm

Circlet I, Gen Celet System, Far Northern Delta-Gamma Border... Republic Date 174.590...

Scale was always something some people - especially certain people - had a problem with. When one is used to driving - or better yet flying - everywhere at fifty to a thousand kilometers per hour one can begin to conflate that sense of speed with a sense of scale. If it only takes a minute to cross a kilometer... Well, it isn't really that big, is it?

Now get out there and jog that same kilometer.

Suddenly that sense of scale changes. It is no longer the industrial but the personal - each step, each breath, one after the other. Certainly against the backdrop of the universe a kilometer was a little more than nothing but when measured against the scale of mortal man it was...

"...I don't care. It's still fucking huge," Lieutenant Calwell-Origos said, pitching her light up and swinging it around the interior of the conduit. If the thing had been active this would have been a very bad place to stand - for the instant when one wasn't being converted into exotic matter - but in the here-and-now the interior of the torus was new and interesting. "I don't suppose we're going to turn it on, are we?"

"Oh fuck no," Lieutenant Commander Ztsetanos replied, his voice oddly muted in what would otherwise be the perfect space for an echo. Another one of the accidental properties of PTU-557, the exotic material that made up the vast majority of the orbiting station and the reason the pair were there to begin with. "It's absolutely a trap. First thing it would do is convert us all to jellyfish and then start one-shotting galactic capitals."

That was why the two were down there - or at least one reason. As soon as the Macisikani had relayed their find through the channels now devoted to such things, the higher-ups had dispatched the lower-downs to make an assessment of the systems and determine their capabilities.

"...cause that's what I'd do. What's the difference between a particle accelerator with the circumference of Jupiter and a particle cannon?"

"The first one will get you laid at a physics convention and the second will get you laid at a gun show?"

"Ha!" Ztsetanos laughed. "Not the answer I was expecting, but a good answer." Sweeping his light into the depths of the tunnel, he suddenly lifted off his feet and began to fly, skimming just above the surface as the Lieutenant followed. Like the cautious Macisikani who'd discovered the system, the pair were appropriately in ARC4 body-extensions so as to prevent possible infection with the added benefit of personal flight. "Brass is concerned that there's going to be a way to use these as weapons. Apertures somewhere on the outer surface. With the atmospheric exchanges to get them supplied with matter, they'd make a potent anti-siege weapon."

A few hundred meters and a shape began to appear in the distance but before the Lieutenant Commander could comment Calwell-Origos spoke up, "It would have made a potent siege weapon too, if the Krȃng wormholes worked a little differently. Open up a wormhole over an enemy world and..."

"Yep. That would be the suck. Alright - here's what we're looking for. But... It's facing the wrong way?"

Ztsetanos looked up at the ceiling. Where most of the conduit had been smooth, here - just at the junction between one Setting and another - there were various bulges and indentations that indicated that the electronics that were no doubt wrapped around the outside of the torus had become far more complex. The close end of these matched up with a sudden split in the tunnel roof but as he'd just pointed out - it was going the wrong way.

"It's going... In. That doesn't make any sense," he said aloud, shining his light up into the junction and then sweeping it behind him, mentally confirming exactly what the ARC4's sensors told him which was that his feet were 'down', at least as far as the artificial gravity generated by the spinning Circlet was concerned.

"Actually, it makes perfect sense." Behind him the Lieutenant had brought up a holographic diagram of the area with each of the major known structures highlighted along with the newly-discovered transmogrifier. "Above us is the atmospheric exchanger. It uses a gravity tunnel to move gases back and forth between the Circlet and the planet, right? Now, we haven't messed with it because its still working and messing with the thing that keeps people breathing would be bad, right? But what's the difference between that and a gravity lens?"

"Software."

"Right. Now, if the apertures were located on the exterior of the Circlet, they'd have a big blind spot - the rotational axis. Bring in your fleet, park it between the planet and the Circlet, and go to town. But if the exchangers can be used as particle emitters, then..." She began to draw extremely flat cones out from each site, extending them out as an example.

"You'd end up with an inverted blind spot," the senior officer noted. "But that's not as big of problem as one might think. Back in... Oh-fifty? Something like that. Someone took a shot at the Saturn Ring with a big-ass laser they'd built in the Kuiper Belt. The problem was that they hadn't considered the Ring's rotation. A ten second burst at the same spot left a carbon scar something like a hundred and ninety thousand kilometers long on the outer surface. Sure, some ships can keep up, and you can target the same place, but this is the fighter-versus-spaceship argument except with a much bigger spaceship. You'd need a siege weapon to get the job done in any kind of reasonable time-frame."

"Well, and there's something else to consider. You know how I said it would make a good siege weapon if their wormhole gates worked a bit differently? Well..." Again the Lieutenant began to manipulate the hologram on the same large scale. "In this system the wormgate was moved away from the Circlet. I remember someone talking about the 'why', but I don't recall what that 'why' was. But here's where the gates are in the other systems," she pointed to a ghostly fill-in for the missing-but-not-missing gate.

"...at the planet's Lagrangian L5."

"Which means that fire from every aperture could 'hit' it. Did you see the faster-than-light time-lapse of the Krȃng's attempted 'invasion' of the core galaxy?" He nodded but she went on anyway, "They sent their gates ahead first with their fleets. I'd bet you they were siege weapons..."
Last edited by Sunset on Sun May 12, 2019 6:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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