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Sunset: Then, Now, Tomorrow (Maintenance & Role-Play)

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

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Postby Sunset » Wed Jun 10, 2015 8:03 am

GEC-245309D, Alpha Quadrant, Out Past Kinstanti...

"Whee! Machete!"

Metal whistled and the thin vine parted, falling neatly right across the trail and once again blocking the path of the advancing adventurers.

"Whoops!" Alwyra giggled, hand over her mouth and machete held high, "Maybe I shouldn't be in the lead?"

It was an unfair statement; Until her enthusiastic outburst, the party had been making rapid progress through the dense foliage. That she didn't seem to know exactly where she was heading didn't seem to make a difference to the rest of them. It was an adventure for her family and the guide and the two porters were being paid by the hour. Their only clue as to their destination was a description of several plants that the Amirah had managed to wrangle from Lieutenant du Clairmond after using her government contacts to set up a call...

----

"Please do not remind me," du Clairmond objected, a slight grimace on his soft face. The Sanglanti was slowly tipping towards middle age but there was still a softness to his face that gave him a pleasingly boy-like appearance. Right now there was a faint wrinkle of annoyance that might, with sufficient prodding, turn petulant instead. "An insult to my passion is what it was. I immediately put in for a transfer; If a ships doctor cannot tell the difference between fine spirits and common swill..."

Alwyra nodded, her demeanor sympathetic; "Intolerable. Secretary G'hrnla spoke specifically of your creativity in glowing terms;" It was now ex-Secretary, but the complement had been paid and the Lieutenant's posture eased. "What I'd like to know is what you think the source of the particular affliction might have been. The records show you were planet-side not an hour earlier - any idea what it might have been?"

"A long way to go..."

"An odd set of symptoms," she pulled him back to the question, "Did anything odd happen that wouldn't be in the reports?"

"No..." He paused but there was a moment of something and she latched on to it; "What?"

"I did stop to smell the roses. One must enjoy life as it passes. To be always focused on the goal..." He shrugged, "Not healthy. But the flowers did not register as poisonous on the scanner so I took a whiff."

That set her tail lashing and he laughed, "Is that what you are after, Miss Kitty? Well, I will tell you this..."

----

"They were the most delightful little pink and purple blooms," Alwyra repeated aloud, pressing deeper into the brush to the side of the narrow trail and kneeling to examine the base of a tree. "Clustered up against a yellow tree."

Which wasn't very specific since most of the trees were yellow. The most common looked like a long column of deep yellow balls, slightly deflated and stacked atop each other to a height of three or four meters. Those near the top had slowly unfurled until they formed a brown and yellow canopy over the whole plateau. Thick vines linked most and these were the major impediment to swift travel as they often formed a net across and above the various game trails.

"Nothing here," she stepped back and sighed.

"Or here," Kedo added.

Pink and purple there were not, but at the next stop there were a little cluster of blue and yellow flowers that looked like someone had painted each leaf with watercolors and then lit the edges on fire. That was enough for the Neko to grab her trowel and call out 'Container!' before bending to dig at the soil around them. A transparent rectangle landed at her side and she cracked it open to scoop a generous portion of the soil and the flower itself into the short portion before topping it off and carrying it back to the kids. The teenagers, in typical fashion, had proven essentially worthless for anything but their appointed duty of carrying the satchels that held the neat rows of empty and full containers. They had even groused about which of them would carry the full ones until Kedo had told them in no uncertain terms that if they didn't split them down the middle, they'd both be riding outside the shuttle on the way back to the ship.

"Pink and purple, purple and pink, one is for hair and the second..."

She tried to make it into a little song, but the only thing that came to mind was 'stink' and that sounded like a rather dirty song, even for her.

"They might not be in bloom, Ma'am," one of the porters, a muscular Centaur suggested. Strong and stable on his four hooves, and with a large number of packs and bags thrown over his back, he had more than earned his wages in her mind. But he had so far been nearly silent, answering most questions with a 'Yep' or a 'Nope'. "Three or four months ago, they might be dormant."

"Could be," she sighed, bending to check another cluster closely. The Lieutenant hadn't been able to tell her much beyond the color, either. Not even the size; Large or small, there were dozens of varieties on display and that was only a few kilometers into their hike! "White and blue..."

"White and blue?"

"Yeah, white and blue," she plucked one of the bowl-shaped flowers and held it up. There was a large cluster of pods in the center as well as another set of split-bowl leaves that surrounded the single petal. "Pretty, but not what I'm looking for."

"You never did much finger-painting as a kid," Kedo noted, more of a statement than a question. "Did you. White and blue, add red..."

"Pink and purple," his son finished.

"Really?" She had been close to tossing the flower away, but instead she cracked the face-plate of her helm and took a whiff. "Lets..."

"Shouldn't you check it with the..." Kedo sighed but she continued uninterrupted, "...scanner first?"

"Oh, yeah."

Leaving the face-plate to swing freely, she tore the device off the gecko-belt and flipped it open. A few buttons and she held it up to the flower to watch the display before beeping and warbling and orange'ing at her. Orange'ing?

"Found it!"
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Saving for Tomorrow

Postby Sunset » Thu Jun 11, 2015 1:31 am

GEC-99791B 'Alice', The Coreward Fringe...

"I hate her already."

"You haven't met her. How can you hate her already?" Ivy asked as the newcomer ducked into the doorway of their inflatable field outpost to make her grand entrance.

Trim and muscular, the new arrival had the gentle swayback prancing walk common to many of her Neko kin. A long mane of silver-white hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back while a matching tail swished behind her. A single ear peered up through her hair while the other was concealed under her hair and a set of long fluttering eyelashes stood in for whiskers. One hand grasped the thick tube of the inflated doorpost and the other - and this was, in Ivy's estimation, the source of Meli's instant dislike - held the decapitated head of one of the local rabbitoids by the ears.

"Reminds me of..."

Meli was about to say 'Marie' - the agent had died at her side not too many months ago - but the catgirl that now reminded her so much of the other suddenly wasn't. Skin shifted, tightened, stretched, and flowed and the graceful felinoid that had stood framed in the entrance a moment before was replaced with a poised pale blue skinned woman of the same build but with the distinctive inset diamond at forehead and breastbone of a Pyrk. She had been wearing something of a tactical jumpsuit camouflaged for the wide savannas of Alice with a wide keyhole that left most of the undersides of her half-globe breasts exposed but this now had an apparent purpose as the sensory organ between them was now plainly visible along with the sub-dermal ridge that linked it to the others.

"And now I hate her."

The Dwarf hadn't bothered to say this under her breath or better yet in the private space of Augmented conversation and there was a long pause of assessment as the two looked each other over. Ivy tensed; Meli was always unpredictable and while the short woman was nominally part of the team, she was also known for her murderous rampages and streaks of brutal creativity that typically resulted in a death worthy of an Emergency Room documentary. Finally there was a breath, a shuffle of feet, and the newcomer turned to sling the severed head far out into the open grasslands and Ivy relaxed.

"Meli;" It was time for introductions, "Praise. Praise..."

"Meli," the Pyrk didn't put out a hand, but her fingers sunk into the pockets of her jumpsuit as she leaned back against a wall of the outpost to stretch it in a tight curve approximately the same shape as her shoulder. "Haven't heard of you."

"Good," Ivy broke in before insults - or knives - could fly. "Looks like you've already got started."

"Uh huh. Local guy, head... Heh... Former head of one of their ragtag little militias. Figured I'd give them a nice leadership struggle to distract them while we do our job."

Which was the naughty words mentioned earlier; Regime Change. By all accounts, the locals were a culture and society founded on routine violence among their own kind with nearly every dispute falling to some kind of physical confrontation for resolution. In the more moderate areas, away from the Anathema agents expected area of operations, this had been formalized into a system of challenges and regulations but here, on the wild frontier, it was every bunny for himself. The death - possibly mysterious - of the militiaman would result in a few days of carnage as those who hadn't been up to the task previously sorted out their new ranks by knife, teeth, and gun.

"Good thinking..." Ivy was about to draw the pair's attention to the planning table where she'd laid out an (already disrupted) campaign of systemic sabotage and disruption that would leave that section of the frontier ripe for take-over, but Meli broke in; "She, huh?"

"Sure hope so," Praise looked down her own body with an appraising eye. "Why?"

"Cause yer a Pyrk. Females got the dongle, males have the socket, right?"

That was, matching her flavorful appellations, the biological truth of the matter. While both male and female Pyrk looked like females to those of a Terran background it was the females who, via the 'dongle', collected the sperm-analog from the male. With everything tucked away inside it was impossible to tell which was which except by their chosen pronoun.

"Yes," Praise sighed, folding her arms across her chest and leaning back even further, "I have a dongle. Delightful way of putting it. Now I expect you'll be threatening to kick me in it if I intrude on your turf? Make you look bad?"

"Nah," Meli fell back onto the couch that sat on one side of the room and bounced on the balloon surface for a moment before lacing her fingers behind her head and looking back at the Pyrk, "I'm thinking epic hate-fuck."

At the table Ivy rolled her eyes skyward and she sank her face into the palm of her hand while Praise remained silent for a few long seconds; "Eh, sure."

It was the last straw, the floodgate opened, and the agent sank her head into her arms and began to laugh.
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 12, 2015 5:35 pm

SDF-Wilson, GEC-99791B 'Alice', The Coreward Fringe...

'I wish I was a Lieutenant... Maybe if I call someone important something really foul...'

It wouldn't do her any good, and ex-Ensign, ex-Lieutenant, and now unfortunately Lt. Commander Janice Huang sighed, put her best Officer face on, and sallied forth to do battle with the fearsome monster known as an Organizational Meeting. To really screw up - to intentionally screw up so badly that they would bust her down in rank to where she could get out in the field and do the stuff she liked doing - she'd have to put not only her own but someone else's life at risk. Verbal abuse and a sarcastic streak a kilometer wide was one thing but when it really, truly came down to it she liked and even loved the people she worked with. If she hadn't, she wouldn't have gone back for the Pretty Boy on... Well, she still didn't really know the name of the planet their escape pod had put down on. But she'd have let him rot - literally, in one instance - if she was truly the obnoxious bitch she put out for everyone to see.

'And he would have deserved it, le sigh...'

"Operation TELEPORTING PANDA - I made that one up myself;" That at least got a few grins, "Is going to be an extended intelligence and cultural sweep through this part of the eastern continent." She danced her fingers along the mid-section of the holographic map that spread out like a lumpy bedsheet across the briefing table, points highlighting behind her hand as she went. The gathered officers leaned in, some bracing their arms on the table and through mountain and prairie as she continued. "Most of the locals are concentrated through these bands of broad savanna and just into the adjacent chaparral with a few outliers here and here," she pointed to some mountainous uplands under one Elf's thumb and between another Oeie's braced arms, "Where their most extensive resource extraction operations are. Cities, to the rest of us."

Because of the high birth rate and equally high mortality rate, the nature of civilization on Alice tended to be more fluid than others; The average lifespan, despite the relative technological success, was still only twenty to twenty five years based on the sampling they had done. Because of this, and the nomadic nature of the clans, cities tended towards towns with only a very few large cities and there were a lot of ruined settlements dotting the map between them. These had been destroyed in the seemingly endless state of simmering feud and outright warfare that pervaded daily life.

"What we want to find out is who's in charge, how much are they in charge, whether we can engineer some kind of transition to a stable and peaceful civilization, and maybe more importantly whether it will stick. Everything we've found out so far says that the locals tend to live hard, play hard, and die. A lot. It's a very dynamic and shifting culture and what we need to do is find out if there are any stable points that we can build from. This is a big experiment for us, so every bit of information, every theory, every hypothesis could be useful. Another important thing to remember; This isn't going to be Professor Rambo..."

Each Marine Lieutenant and their section was going to be paired up with a researcher or two while they were planet-side. Each team of three Marines would provide protection and expertise for a single turtleneck or, if there were two, four Marines would accompany them. After the initial incident where two scientists were kidnapped, Fleet felt that having Marines along for each team would be unassailable prudent, given the violent tendencies of the local culture.

"You're not going to be alone down there, and I don't want you to get into any city-wrecking firefights. If you get into trouble, pull your team out."

Not that she would chastise them overly harshly, if at all, if they did. There was a certain wrong-headed fascination with the idea of fighting off endless waves of murder-bunnies that once again made her wish she was a double-chevron instead of an upside-downer.

'Le sigh...'

"Let's start with the questions and get somewhere," she pointed to the Oeie, "What's yours?"
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jun 13, 2015 3:32 pm

GEC-245309D, Alpha Quadrant, Out Past Kinstanti...

"I don't think this is how you're supposed to do this..." Kedo poked at the fish on his plate with the tines of his fork before carefully - even hesitantly - cutting off a bite-sized portion and lifting it past his lips to deposit it on his rough tongue. "But here goes."

Alwyra watched in earnest excitement as he chewed and then swallowed. It wasn't bad; Her cooking style was heavily influenced by the back-alley street food that she'd grown up around living wild on the streets of a Martian arcology. From rat to two-headed skink-dog, if it could be skewered and baked at high temperature in a home-made tandoor, she'd eaten it. The high-temperature ovens from the Indian sub-continent were especially popular among street vendors because they could be built from easily available materials and attached to any number of industrial heat-vents for free. Heavily spiced, most of the food they produced had at least a ring of char around the edge and thus so did the fish with its thick crust loaded with a heady spice mix. This included a small dose of the ground seed pods that were clustered in the center of the white and blue flowers and this was the source of Kedo's understandable apprehension.

"Tastes fine, not too spicy, and there's a bit of an odd edge to it." He swallowed and reached for the wine to take a slow sip before pausing, the glass still on his lips, "Uh, you know, didn't you say that du Clairmond ran a still? Maybe this stuff is alcohol..."

The wine tasted like a thunderstorm. Not the distinct tinge of ozone on the wind, or the water-wet of raindrops, but the rolling crash of thunder and spark-sharp crackle of lightning.

"Hmm," she prompted, "What?"

He didn't answer. Another bite of fish and there was the sound of crackling tilapia on his tongue and he could feel himself sinking into the sights and sounds of the shadowy, dirty, and exciting life of a street kid on Mars mixed with the odd refinement of a French vineyard with its rich earthy smells and brilliant summer sunshine. A few more bites of the fish and it was almost overpowering and he chewed mindlessly as the strange sensation of feeling colors and hearing scents overwhelmed him.

"...wow," he shook his head. "That was..."

He wasn't sitting at the table anymore. Instead he was sprawled out on the couch with Alwyra curled up on his chest looking up at him with some concern on her pretty face.

"A couple hours," she said, looking over at the clock. "You just stopped talking and kept eating. Finished all the food on the table."

"I did?" He didn't remember it - any of it - but he remembered sun and shade and hot afternoons on a hillside sewn with volcanic soil and... Blinking rapidly, he shook his head to clear it but for a brief moment it had all come back again. His tongue was heavy in his mouth and he chewed on it and then it was there again, just at the edge of his senses.

"Too much?"

He held up a hand, flipped it over, and watched his wrist. There was no pounding of blood, no rapid heartbeat. Gently moving her to the side, he made his shaky way over to the long mirror that hung on the closet door of their rented interstellar yacht. He looked fine; Broad chested, muscular, with a trace of fine belly-fur under his navel and armpits. Creeping up behind him, she wrapped her arms around him and nuzzled into his neck, "You look fine."

"I feel fine, but maybe just a pinch less next time." He leaned closer and rolled an eyelid down, "I hope it's not addictive."

Alwyra suddenly spun away and danced in the center of the room, "Don't be a worry wart! We need a name..."
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Hur Hur, Needs Editing Badly...

Postby Sunset » Sun Jun 14, 2015 8:57 am

CORE VirtuaGov, Senate Proceedings...

"The engineers over at Liquid are pissed..."

Liquid Design was one of the best-know design and engineering firms in the Republic; They were responsible for nearly ever ship in the Defense Force roster - from the monstrous Dawn-Class Dreadnought to the minute Spectra-Class Enhanced Explorer - as well as a good number of allied warships. Their designs could be found from Mangala to Menelmacar and their annoyance would be understandable; Busy was normal for what was ultimately a small firm built around a few especially talented engineers. This would be what would be known as crunch time instead.

"...but cutting the number of unique hulls will increase our through-put by a lot. But that's not going to be enough, Senators."

Grand Admiral Edge gestured to the enormous window that backed the curving Senate chamber and the titanic construction bay beyond. A whirling arrangement of robot arms, umbilici, and fixed cranes was moving the various assembled parts of yet another warship into place while a host of smaller robots swarmed over the framework to do the welding and other fine detail work - for a certain definition of fine - that would see the end product out the giant bay doors on the far end. He and the Senate weren't actually outside the bay but it was a good demonstration of the complexity that he was up against.

"We lose a fair chunk of time switching over these bays, or at least their managing corporations do, and while they've gotten pretty slick at doing it in a few hours it's still a few hours that could be assembling a ship. They'd hate it, but if we switched over a couple more hulls - the Spectra and the Halo come to mind - we'd save a lot of time. Of course, right now that's not the biggest issue. We're doing what we can, but most of the problem is that we're also running up against competition from allied needs. In the Zodiac of Triumvirate replenishment cycles, everyone is in the ascendant right now."

He flipped a finger at the window and it shifted to show a massive Aluminum-Class Modular Transport under construction in another similar bay. Enough of the frame was in place to show the script favored by the Akashan Union on the side as well as the more regular Triumvirate identification markings.

"Pick a nation and there's something in the queue for them. We've got the biggest out-Sol shipbuilding presence and it's under a lot of stress and not just from military shipbuilding. Everyone's population is going up. If we really want to keep up, we need to roll out a big infrastructure expansion push. And not just for this year but over the next decade too."

"Which is a lot of money, Admiral," Senator Bani pointed out. "Is the majority of this build-out going to go to warships? Or civilian? We need one to protect the other, but the other is what makes the money to afford the first. And if we allocate more money towards Industry," she glanced over at Secretary Jin, whose branch would be the primary recipient and manager of the expanded funding, "Where is it going to come from?"

"I've reviewed the Grand Admiral's needs," Secretary Jin broke in, clasping his hands behind his back and maintaining a formal posture and stern face, "And I've laid out a plan to finance most of the build-out through increased lease costs on the new facilities. Under my predecessor there were a number of sweetheart deals that were decidedly too favorable to the management companies. By the budgetary breakdown," he paused and a graph with the relevant numbers appeared, "Profits from construction are at record highs. It would not hurt to claw back some of those profits in exchange for the more advanced facilities that would be constructed. Senators, these costs will have to be paid and these facilities will need to be built. Either we do it now, when we have the luxury of a fresh mount, or later when we do not. An Earth General once remarked that battles are won by those who get there first with the most; Even if the war is one of commerce and trade and culture, we need the capacity to be first and most."
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jun 15, 2015 7:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 15, 2015 8:23 pm

SDF-Apexis, Elysium System...

"Jumping the gun a bit, aren't you?" Commander Brown looked uo from the holotank where a network of simulated buoys spread out across local space. "We don't even know if this is going to work."

"We know it's going to work," Katryna countered, "And it's really important that if it doesn't, we make it. TRIPWIRE could save millions of lives if there is a surprise attack and billions by dissuasion. Between the Uncertainty Doctrine and TRIPWIRE, we could completely change the framework of interstellar politics."

"And that sounds really ambitious. Are you channeling your mother today? Check that; She's usually more realistic than that."

"Dampen my enthusiasm then; Why won't it work? Educate me," she leaned back and crossed her arms, tossing her short hair to one side with a flip of her chin.

"That's the problem; I don't know why. Or at least I don't know everything about every Faster-Than-Light method. We've got everything we know about covered and that, to me, says there is something big we don't know how to pick up."

The system, as it was now modified by suggestion of the Akashan scientists, was simplicity itself. Instead of a series of micro-walls, it measured the local space-energy tensor. When mapped among the thousands of buoys it would show where a ship or other faster-than-light object would emerge and give a reasonably precise indication of its origins. Essentially any FTL drive system would be - should be - detectable; Near-realspace systems such as the Republic's space-warp drive would create a wake that was as good as an arrow for determining their destination while a point-to-point drive, in order to avoid a collision with an object at the other end, typically used a pre-jump sampling method that would create a distinct spike that would also act as a warning.

"...and we've got hyperspace and other high-dimension methods covered by the same method. Like it or not, they all hook into regular space and what the Akashans are proposing we use as a measuring stick is so fundamental as to underpin all of it. Get rid of the tensor and you and your ship and your little dog too disappears utterly."

"Whisked away to Kansas?"

Brown nodded; "Which leaves us with magic. But I'm pretty certain this system should work on it as well; It still interacts with the real universe, even if it's fake..."

"Woah!" Katryna's eyes widened suddenly, "Mind... Blown. So, do you know about the whole Dulyani thing? How they built a holographic universe to contain their civilization's most mortal enemy and dread tyrant?"

"Can't say that I do."

"Guy named Shatterblood, nasty piece of work. Nasty enough that the Dulyani wouldn't actually tell us what he did - they destroyed their own history so that no one would repeat it. Which, kinda sounds stupid since our own history teaches us the opposite, but whatever. Not the point. The point is that they created a holographic universe through methods unknown and used that as a prison. It was connected to our own through these not-stone portals which were more like the solidified blood of the residents, which also tied them to that universe and acted as a key to keep them there. Or at least it did until they figured out how to link themselves to our universe. But we solved that by changing the portal," she conjured a hologram of the original power and then slowly twisted it with her fingers into a mobius strip, "Effectively, the portals were a link between the boundary conditions of their universe and ours. But maybe magic..."

"Is... What? A way of manipulating those boundary conditions?"

"And now, using my Great Powers over the Plot, I will turn things back to before you thought of this..."

----

"...and we've got hyperspace and other high-dimension methods covered by the same method. Like it or not, they all hook into regular space and what the Akashans are proposing we use as a measuring stick is so fundamental as to underpin all of it. Get rid of the tensor and you and your ship and your little dog too disappears utterly."

"So we've got all the bases covered?"

"Sounds like it," Brown shrugged. "The only thing missing is a drink to celebrate."
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jun 16, 2015 12:46 pm

SDF-Ojeni, Outside the Capuchin System, Delta Quadrant...

Stretched out on the tossed blankets and sheets of the double bed in their shared quarters, Kami watched the wall that was a view screen with a near fanatical devotion. Behind her, Sloan moved around the small apartment doing the various this-or-that's of an off-duty officer, but for the Captain the dinner plate laying at her elbow had nearly gone cold before she had touched a bite of it.

"This is like one of those shows," she murmured as the sand-haired woman flopped down on the bed next to her, stretching her androgynously-thin body up against her partner's sharply feminine form, "Where they put a dozen celebrities in a house with hidden cameras everywhere and people watch them just hoping that they'll have sex, or a big fight..."

"Or sex while having a big fight..." Sloan kissed her on the neck; She was interested in the former and Kami let her creep up to the lips for a second before looking back over her forehead to the screen. "You didn't watch a lot of those shows, did you," she finished with a pout. Still she remained curled up around the shorter woman, one arm across her chest.

"No..."

In fact, she didn't really watch television - such as it was in the Republic with most all shows being streaming Internet-based productions - but the network of hidden cameras laced through the interior of the ship satisfied a certain voyeurism as well as the curious side that had led her down the path towards being the Captain of an Exploration Starship in the first place. Now, while she was off-shift, she could indulge in it. The wall was broken up into a couple dozen different views, each one showing another small slice of what was happening aboard the distant prize ship, and as her eyes flicked from one point of interest to another, it expanded to shove the others to the margins until they again attracted her attention.

The Eye's engineering teams had done an admirably quick job and the Ojeni had been able to jump out with plenty of time to spare on the estimated two-hour clock. This estimate in turn had been short and, by the counter up in the far corner of the display, it had now been nearly three since the Explorer had turned heel and seemingly abandoned her prize. It had then been only a half-hour before the first of the former-prisoners, returned to the familiar confines of the damaged ship, had dared to extend a trembling hand to try the lock on the door and find it open. It had been the first big moment of drama and that hesitant touch had been what had cemented her attention. She had played out their thoughts in her own head; Had they been abandoned to the cruel fates of a crippled ship with the possibility of vacuum just beyond? Would that click of the latch bring a freezing death or were there other torments waiting? Perhaps they had been given their freedom...

To her, the assumption would have been just that. They'd been playing all kinds of obnoxiously upbeat news reports, television shows, and even kids programming in the few cells but all of the prisoners had either ignored it or had done a very good job of pretending it didn't interest them. Every bit of it bubbling, and cloying, and happy - and most of it produced in the Federated Segments. But that they'd ignored it said something about their own culture, though she wasn't exactly sure what. Her own speculation led her down the path of a pretty-pink Big Brother state where an enormous talking animated pony spouted messages of happiness and dissenters were led off to mental health clinics to be severely drugged for their own good. These, the survivors, had fought a revolution against the Pinkie Pie and had destroyed the world-ship in the process. Now bitter and filled with regret, they lived out their lives as nomadic scavengers; "...hard to confirm that if they won't say anything."

It hadn't taken long for the first to find the second, and then the so-forth until all the prisoners were free. One - she had dubbed him 'Lieutenant Charles' - seemed to take charge automatically but there was still no talking. Nothing for the microphones to pick up, nothing for the translation software to start turning into an algorithm that would allow the Captain and the rest of the crew to understand them. Maybe to help them. But there was something there; Each went about their own tasks but working together. A subtle body language? She watched the cameras closely, lining three up to compared them.

"There's something there," she murmured, and Sloan turned to her; "What?"

"Body language. Could that be how they talk to each other?"

The Commander turned her face back to the screen and they watched together now, trying to ferret out the clues that would confirm or deny her theory. Still images - bits and pieces of evidence to confirm her theory - were cast to the side but eventually she shook her head. No, there was something else. As they went about trying to restore the ship to operation, they were clearly communicating somehow. One might act in concert with another despite being in another room or with their back turned. Things that required a complex level of interaction.

"Do they have vocal cords?" She flipped up a finger, ignoring the hand that was steadily creeping its way up her blouse, and stored holograms of the aliens appeared. Digging down and comparing them to a typical Human, she soon had her answer; They did - or something strongly analogous - but they were small and looked weak and useless, at least to her non-biologist eye. "Huh. How did we miss that," she pushed herself up suddenly, the stealthy digits wound up just short of their prize, "Maybe..."

A chime in her head, a confirming thought, and the holographic head and torso of Commander Astau appeared, "Captain, do you have a moment?"

"Sure," she ignored the fresh moue on her lover's lips, "I was just about to call. I think..."

"They might be telepathic?" The Centaur broke into a grin. "Or that we might be?"
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jun 17, 2015 6:15 pm

Kharjic, Solonic, Beyond the Coreward Fringe...

It didn't look like much; A sinuous flat S-shape with a row of shrouded connectors along each flat edge but as of now it was Bibicus. But it was also more - a clever blend of the hardware that had previously housed the static and unchanging portion of his portion along with a portion of the liquid computronium that both filled in the gaps and would allow that personality to change.

"It is an odd thing, consciousness," the Phoenixi technician murmured as he held the flat silvery device up to the light. It didn't help to examine it in such a way, but mortals have always seemed to prize what they can hold and behold. "It is a biological construct unique to each of us. Our universe and our perception is our own and we are unique to it. But we understand it. We can build it and create a new one - a new universe - and augment our own. But consciousness depends on continuity; waking up as the same person we went to bed as."

Placing the rounded tip of the device against a near-invisible line at the base of the neck, he pressed firmly and a hidden mechanism pulled it inside. Deep in the core of the artificial - but very real - body the essence of Bibicus slid into place and the long strip of connectors began to link up to the biological structures that held his memories. Knowledge and those events that formed the core of who he was would always reside in the electronic core, safe from all but the most traumatic incident, but those things that we forget unless needed or desired would be kept in the more volatile organic tissue that surrounded it. It was, as the technician had just suggested, equivalent to waking up in the morning.

Bibicus yawned, stretched his new arms up to the ceiling and the Phoenixi stepped back to look him over. He was much the same as he had been; Broadly humanoid with the distinct double-hollow cheek and shallow forehead speckled with triangular markings on each side. A long mane of black hair, gathered in the double-tail of the traditional Solonic style, hung down his shoulders. There were more differences as well but these were hidden under a flowing robe that was decorated at the collar with his totem animal.

"Bibicus?"

"Marcus," the Solonic nodded, addressing the Phoenixi by name. "It is good to see your face. Your question will be whether it is, indeed, me;" the technician nodded, "And I will assure you that it is indeed."

"No break in your reality?"

"None," he confirmed. "It is like waking into a dream. I can already feel the new possibilities of my existence. When my brothers join me, we shall celebrate a new chapter of our story as a people."

That existence was already lined up behind him. All across the long back line of the laboratory were a dozen rows of cloning tanks each with their own growing body. Like Bibicus' own, they had all been modified to house and accept the new implant but like consciousness itself, each was again unique. A lottery had determined who would be the second to walk the world on their own and these had been tasked with crafting the body that they would be. Some had retained pictures or other images that had allowed their new forms to resemble the old while others had spent what measure of creativity they had retained on sculpting their new form. Forms incorporating their totemic animals were common, as were the physical trails considered highly desirable among the Solonic and some few others had gone beyond this; The occasional otherworldly face drifted in the regenerative gel of the cloning tanks. When this first batch - a cooking experiment on a grand scale and under careful conditions - was complete, the many thousands of other tanks brought in from distant Mars would be activated and the process would begin on an industrial scale.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jun 18, 2015 8:06 am

GEC-152885D, The Coreward Fringe...

"It's beautiful..." Deania ran her thick fingers across the sharply delineated channels cut into the otherwise smooth stone face. "I wonder what it says..."

She had discovered the writing on the rock wall just under a thick overhang clustered with vines and hanging flowers. Primitive pseudo-insects buzzed all around and there were traces of other animals as well; A bone, richly purple and speckled with golden flakes, and the remains of some digested meal indicated that something had stayed in the small space long enough to require both ends of its digestive tract. With the vines brushed aside to let the late afternoon sunlight through, it had painted the gray surface a sharp tinge of blue and thrown the intricate work into sharp relief.

But despite her desire, the artwork didn't appear to say anything - at least not yet. The Instinctive Intelligence Core in her suit had picked up the context of her whispered statement and had started running an analysis on the writing but as yet the only results were a lack of results. If it was writing, the beautiful flowing script didn't match anything in the Exploration Command database and there wasn't enough of a sample or contextual clues to begin pattern analysis.
"Hey guys..." The others were spread out in the nearby forest enjoying their lunch or, like her, examining something of personal interest. Inside the suits lunch consisted of a nutrient paste that was 'flavored' by the same Direct Neural Interface that let her feel what her robotic fingers felt to taste like whatever she wanted for lunch. Her choice had been a popular fast food chain and it had been over just as fast. "I found something that might be writing;" she pushed a visual feed through to her teammates, "See if you can find something similar. Check the cliffs..."

A few minutes later and her's was the only discovery of its kind; Useful in confirming that it wasn't a natural phenomenon, but it didn't help with a translation either. Still chewing on his lunch, Timmons sat on a fallen log to study the writing while Trinya and Lae continued to poke their cyclopian heads into every crevice and behind every outcropping.

"I haven't seen anything like it, but there's something weird about it. The work is extremely regular; Each channel is the same width and the same depth."

"Or very nearly so," she agreed, once more running her fingers over the surface. "Within a millimeter."

"That kind of work would take either a very long time and a skilled craftsman, or a complex tool. A machine." A wave of a hand and one of the little drone spheres mounted on the shoulder plates of his armor popped out of the socket and zipped under the overhang. A moment later and a hologram of the piece, blown up to ten times the current half-meter size, appeared between them. Numbers joined it, floating in mid-air as he began to work out how long the piece would take to create. "We haven't seen any evidence of metal working - or of people in general - so it would have to be a stone tool. Three, maybe four centimeters a day and you'd need to replace the tool. There should be a whole village around here to support the work."

More drones rose from their sockets and then all of them raced out of the clearing and into the surrounding forest.

"We'll see what they find, and I'm having the Ixutsangi run a detailed sensor sweep of the area, but there's a lot of cover and without knowing exactly what we're looking for, whoever or whatever it is could blend right in."

But it was something, and he was pleased with just that. Between the little pop-disc creatures - several had been ferried up to the ship with an eye towards breeding them as pets - and the Seeker's discovery, his half-hunch hadn't been half-bad. If it turned out something sentient made the artwork, all the better.
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jun 18, 2015 3:02 pm

GEC-245309D, Alpha Quadrant, Out Past Kinstanti...

"Grow, damnit!" Alwyra poked at the little yellow seed that was sitting just beyond the plexiglass nestled up against the dirt that filled the laboratory planter. "You're not growing!"

In fact, it looked like it was dying. She'd bought a very nice transplant setup before they'd left Republic space on the anticipation that they'd find something. But despite the carefully controlled conditions, precise growing environment, and advanced monitoring equipment, she didn't know anything about growing plants. The occasional bit of greenery that had decorated her office had been fake; She hadn't trusted anyone in the first year, not even a janitor, and what the robots couldn't do, she'd skipped.

"Grr, don't make me eat you... Actually," she stood up with a little bouncy jump, "Maybe I should eat you! Arn't there some plants that you gotta poop before they..."

"Mom..." Kedo's kids barely called her that and when they did, sarcasm was incoming, "A, that's gross. B, that's like... berries."

Tadi - the younger daughter, she was the spitting image of the missing mother - stepped up to the container and knelt down to place her thick fingers on the glass. Unlike Kedo and to a lesser extent Alwyra, she had the heavier body of a blessed life. While her features were, according to her father, her mother's own, she was content to be indolent whenever possible. Running the trap line left her puffing and typically led to the teenager holing up in her room for the next day.

But she was occasionally useful. Very occasionally.

"The seeds outside are growing."

"Huh? We didn't..."

But they had. Gathering up armloads of the flower for harvesting or experiment, some of the seeds had fallen on the churned ground just outside the airlock. Tadi changed one of the outside displays to show that particular camera and zoomed in on the edges where the plants had a chance to grow without being trampled by the boots and hooves of the passengers and crew. A small cluster of shoots - the flowers grew in clusters of seven - was already breaking the soil.

"It's something about being in here," she finished with the obvious.

It wasn't the dirt or the air. Alwyra had taken both from where they'd harvested the flowers, as well as water samples.

"Which means it has to be..." It was a momentary stumper. What was difference inside than out? "The sky! The lights!"

"...duh," Tadi rolled her eyes and the Neko very nearly slapped her.

'They'd never find the body...'
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 19, 2015 3:20 pm

GEC-99791B 'Alice', The Coreward Fringe...

In a stereotypical world in a stereotypical office, the hare sitting behind the desk would have leapt to his feet and began with the classic line; "What is the meaning of this?!"

Instead, the moment the unfamiliar rabbit in the local uniform appeared in the doorway of the starkly decorated office, he snatched up a submachine pistol that had been sitting on the edge of the gunmetal slab. Bullets flew as he panned it across the entry and the newcomer fell sideways, her disguise fading as she rolled away from the spak-spak-spak of heavy pistol rounds. They tore chunks out of lintle and wall and drilled ragged holes through both. Pulling the muzzle down, he tried to catch the diving form but only chased her down to the wire as his magazine ran dry. A pair of startled adjunctants were sitting together on a couch to one side and as the first clip hit the ground and he grabbed for another, they lurched to their feet and grabbed at the weapons leaning up against the wall.

"Now this is what I call a cultural exchange," Meli called out as fresh rounds whip-snapped by. Praise didn't have a response at hand - she was busy getting out of the line of fire before the three inside decided to perforate the outer office wall. "Hey guys," she snatched up a secretary that had sought shelter under her own desk, "How about a fresh dialog?!"

The woman screamed as the Dwarf threw her through the door and into the next volley from the defenders. A few seconds of stunned silence gave her the chance to peek out of cover and assess the situation. She'd come into the office from a different door than the Pyrk and with entirely different intentions that the occupants were apparently willing to indulge. One of them had flipped the desk up on its side and the three were using it as hard cover with the crumpled body of the secretary piled up against it and red-brown blood seeping into the scattered papers under her. There didn't seem to be another entrance to the room - the bunny burrows tended to the defensive with lots of choke points and fire zones - and she took stock of her resources while considering her next move.

"I'ma gonna," she grabbed the corner of the desk, intent on sending it through the door as well, but Praise interrupted. She'd managed to regain her feet and now she called out in the language of the locals; "Bring us his head and we will make you rich!"

"Oh, yeah, like that will ever work," Meli looked over at the Pyrk, who shrugged and turned back to the door just as two quick shots rang out. "Well fuck..."

A quick staccato rap of gunfire followed and both ducked back.

"Ha! Didn't work, did it?"

"I don't know about that," Praise stood, moving out into the open as one of the two adjuncts stepped forward, rifle still raised and blood splattering the front of his uniform. "I'd just say there were some extra steps to their leadership negotiation!"
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jun 20, 2015 10:48 am

SNN Nightly News with Tanya Zaldano...

Sunlight filtered through vibrant green and a splash of color from yellow to purple to orange to dapple across the jungle floor that was the set for the evening's broadcast. The splash screen faded and, aided by the natural camoflage of the snake-skin dress she was wearing, Tanya emerged from hiding to walk the leaves in her bare feet. Her only accessory for the night was the dress; Appropriately skin-tight, it wrapped around her from knee to underarm and fell away in the front into rippling folds and an exceptionally generous amount of bare chest as though she herself was emerging from the skin. As if to emphasize this, the dress itself was also shedding and as she walked and moved scales large and small flaked away to reveal a second, mostly translucent layer below.

"More than half-gone and we're still waiting for the year's Big Story," Tanya began, expressive lips emphasizing the Big and the Story. "The Roanian Crisis that every newsman, prognosticator, knight-errant, Senator, and armchair militarist was expecting hasn't yet materialized..." She paused, ducked partially under a half-fallen tree and then looked up to where a sleepy iguana lay in the sun, "And has seemingly settled down for a long rest. Even the occasional snore has done more to emphasize that this one may just have gone to bed. Don't get too comfortable though."

The camera panned and wheeled to shift behind her and watch over her shoulder as she pointed high into the sky where a bird of prey soared, "That one could change everything. The question of Midlonian acceptance into the Triumvirate of Yut is still ongoing and, baring any last-minute revelations, looks to be a cinch. The Kaenians won't be happy, but I could be leaning over the table," she demonstrated, bracing her elbows on a thick log and leaning forward to expose even more and fixing the camera with her best darkly seductive look, "With a promise in my eye and they'd still be grumpy. If anyone needs a good, hard fu... Well, it's them," she finished with a laugh. "No promises, guys."

"But there is something else happening and when we come back to the idea of another year half-way gone, it ties in nicely. On the planet Solonic, in the far Coreward Fringe region, a team from the Phoenix Republic has made significant progress in the creation of a process where the Solonic people, a civilization that has completely transferred itself into electronic format, can reverse that process and begin to inhabit bodies of flesh and blood again. During their original transfer, a hasty process that was not yet fully understood, they lost the ability for the individual to grow and change. The transfer was static; Immortality at the cost of change. As we understand it, the new process will change all that and more..."

Tanya began to walk, purposefully moving around and through and over as much of the jungle underbrush and obstacles as she could. As she did, the scales of her dress continued to shed until broad and revealing patches of partially opaque skin were visible.

"The new Solonic model will be one in two parts. A robust cortical implant will house the subject's personality and primary memories; What makes you you and me me. But all of those little things like what we ate for breakfast, the childhood friend we didn't remember until we ran into them at the store, all of those things as well as the processing and primary sensory interpretation centers will still be in the biological body and this has some transhumanists very, very excited. They claim it won't just be the promise of immortality but the promise of a new you, if you want it."

"We'll be able to shed our old body - passing it along to someone else, lending it to the neighbor who wants to know just how fantastic it is to have sex with me - and move on. Leave your old life behind," she looked down to where most of her body was now half-visible under the milky sheath, "Like a snake shedding its skin." With her hands, she dusted the last few scales off. The only area that remained was the folds at the bottom of her breasts and she left these be, looking down at them with a smile, "But with what we want to take with us left behind. Reincarnation, in a manner of speaking. Live your life over again from the beginning or jump right into a new one..."

"Would I give it up? No... And is it for sale? Well," she winked, "Maybe for the night..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jun 20, 2015 11:23 am

Erika and Demi's House, Botany Bay, Chuh-Yu...

"Erika, I have Doctor Wilt on the line for you," the freckle-faced butler announced.

It was a bit of an experiment; Most people had an Augmented Reality Agent that waited on hold for them but Alex was a real person and had that personal and unique touch that lent itself to social interactions. Or that was the theory at least. Technically, Erika had a secretary as well, but she was the Secretary-General's secretary, not the CEO's secretary.

"Thank you, Alex;" and in a moment the holographic Dr. Mona Wilt, CEO of Saint Medical Systems, appeared in her living room just as she must be appearing in the Doctor's office on far-off Notch. "Mona, it's nice to see you again. Thank you for taking my call."

"Hello, Erika. Sorry for the delay but not really. We've got a tricky case of something new one of your ships brought in and I'm keeping a personal eye on it. I can't say I'm thrilled to be back in scrubs again, but your people keep bringing me new and interesting ways to die so I have to do my best to keep it from happening. What can I do for you?"

"Then you're going to hate me," Erika confessed. "Because one of my designers had a great idea. You know our ForeverPet line?"

ForeverPets were the extremely realistic robotic pets that had all of the behaviors of the real thing except when you didn't want them to. Cats didn't scratch the furniture, dogs didn't bark in the middle of the night, and gerbils played cutely with each other instead of devouring each other in cannibalistic rages. It was one of Silaco's biggest sellers and it would be surprising if Dr. Wilt hadn't heard of them.

"Of course. I gave one to my grand-daughter for her birthday. Cute little Zriev'ylst," she struggled over the name. It was a common pet among the Cyar, who had definitely come out ahead on the 'easy to pronounce' category.

"They want to make one that can act as an emergency medical technician. The idea would be to sell it to retirement communities, older individuals, or even just the accident prone. Maybe extreme sports enthusiasts? But what could be better than some cross-branding? What do you think?"
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jun 21, 2015 1:34 pm

Erika and Demi's House, Botany Bay, Chuh-Yu...

"Is it something you'd want to do?"

"Is it something you'd want me to do," Demi answered as she watched the end of the broadcast play out from her comfortable place between Erika's legs.

Both women were laying on the thick carpet in front of the fireplace, turned parallel so they could watch the display that sat in a corner alcove. Her partner was laying on her stomach, her arms crossed under her chin, and Demi had her own crossed on her lower back with her chest on the other woman's butt. It wouldn't be a very comfortable position for the one on the bottom but that was only a coincidental reminder of their situation; As a cybernetic entity, Erika could simply ignore the aches and pains of everyday life that would continue to affect her biological partner until her inevitable demise.

"Selfish me says yes, of course. Immortality, the chance to be with the one you love forever, for them to live forever. There are countless stories about people who sacrificed their own life to give immortality to their lover. But... Would it still be you?"

That was the claim, and that was the difference that was keeping the notion in Erika's head. Taking a person's brain, putting it in a cyborg body, keeping it alive until it failed for what were often still mysterious reasons; This was something they could do now and was, possibly, effective immortality. Swapping out a person's body was also possible but bodies, flesh and blood biological bodies, had a habit of failing at inopportune moment. A blood clot in the leg could travel to the brain and in minutes a fresh new body and the brain it was supposed to sustain could be dead. But this was different.

There had been other similar attempts before. The Corporate State of ZMI used something called a Cortical Stack, but that was the Copying-is-not-Moving problem. It was a back-up but the 'You' was just as dead. By the technical specifications this was Moving and the You that went in was the You that came out. It was also - Erika sank into the network of sensors that ran through her skin and gave her the same sensation of touch that her partner had - a lot more 'Her' than the other processes. The same softness, the same press of flesh and bone against her back, the same warmth and slow breathing barely felt against the bare skin where her collar ended at the base of her neck.

"If it would be, if you knew, would you want it?" Demi sank forward, laying her head between the other woman's shoulder blades and turning her ear to listen to the not-beat of her heart, dim through the fabric of her shirt.

"If I knew, yes."

There was another worry but it was more convoluted. Founded on the notions of individual liberty, achievement, success, and freedom, there was a cultural fear of the notion of an Intellectual Singularity and the loss of single consciousness that it might bring. It was a hard question and one that even those who were - supposedly - past that point had been unable or unwilling to answer. What were the downsides? Was the self destroyed, expanded, enlightened? Or was it something different entirely or was it simply a concept that could not be understood by those who had moved beyond it or who had never had it in the first place? By design of hardware, the Solonic had never undertaken it and now they were moving away from it. But the Republic was not Solonic; Nearly everyone was trans-species thanks to the ubiquitous use of cybernetics. Even if one was only taking advantage of Galactic-level communications to talk to a friend a few stars over, it was a level of awareness that would seem mind-boggling to those who didn't have the option. Had they already passed that point? Was a Communications Singularity just as good or better than an Intellectual one?

If this process took off, would it lead their civilization further down that path? Or would it stop the flow? Immortality and, importantly, the time it brought could change things completely. When you have an eternity, why hurry?
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Postby Sunset » Sun Jun 21, 2015 7:54 pm

GEC-152885D, The Coreward Fringe...

"Sorry, De..." Lae poked at the little maggot with a finger, popping it like a balloon and sending a spray of orange-blue guts across the rock, "Looks like we were following bug tracks."

A narrow and familiar track followed behind the creature and it wound hither and yon across the stone face. The half-channel perfectly cut through the rock was now explained by the slow, powerful jaws of the tiny creature. A half-dozen, sheltered from the sun and wind, might have carved the careful mosaic in a month if the provocations of beast and armored Cyar could be ignored.

"Well, poo," the Seeker tried to blow a loose lock of hair out of her face but the breath wouldn't come and the lock, only present as a ghostly sensation against her camera-interrupted skin, remained firmly in place.

"Still, they're neat," Trinya offered as consolation. "And it's still pretty."

"And it doesn't mean there isn't intelligent life on this planet somewhere," Timmons finished, rising to his feet and turning to walk back towards the relatively clear path down the center of the space between the high columns.

The afternoon wore on and the foursome pressed forward. Scrub turned thick and then thin again before they reached a long defile that dropped away into the abyss and a tiny tumbling ribbon of pearls at the far-away joint. A waterfall sparkled in the distance and they all stopped at the lip of a bluff that ran out to put them within jumping distance of its mirror on the other side.

"Not the best place to fish," Timmons stood boldly at the edge, cyclopian head looking down into the depths. "Not a good place for people either. You'll want easy access to water. Pretty though."

Another few minutes and they were moving on. By mutual lack of dissent they were now following the Seeker towards the distant plummet and the spray of water that occasionally caught the sun to sparkle and fade. A few more hours and they would mark their place and take flight, racing back to the shuttle and the comfort of their bunks. But between here and there was a trudge, their eyes weary for any hint they might not be alone. It was a world alive, but was it a world reserved for them?
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Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 22, 2015 2:48 pm

SDF-Ojeni, Outside the Capuchin System, The Delta Quadrant...

"Telepathy?" D'Ann scoffed. "Magic can always be explained if you dig down far enough. So no, not telepathy. Not cybernetics either but," the biologist, one of several who had sought births on the Ojeni, flashed up a holographic reconstruction of the unidentified species, "A natural radio? Yes..."

The scientist and the Captain, along with the Chief Medical Officer, were all crammed into the small office space reserved to the researcher. Most of her time would be spent in the large open spaces of the starship's labs and thus the tiny space was almost universally treated as extra storage space by the appointed occupant. Aside from the typical pictures of friends and romantic interests - hers was a great bear of a man with an enormously bush beard and a shiny bald pate - there was a whole cabinet's worth of sample trays piled on the back corner of the desk.

"Not really surprising it would be missed, at least if you were looking for your standard vocal cords," she went on. "Fortunately we have a few good samples to dig through so I've got something for you. Right here," she zoomed in to show a small independent organ that was attached to the brain at the top of the skull, "There's something that looks a lot like an old-time crystal radio. Like right out of the trenches."

Except that it was biological in both construction and function, with the exception being a small crystal element.

"It has a lot of similarity to cybernetics of the same purpose so it was pretty easy to find. What's interesting is that it will, due to the differences in individual biology, give each of them a different voice. Which also means that each individual has to tune themselves to listen in. I'm fairly sure this is somewhat instinctive but it is also aided by reproduction; I did a detailed scan of the young... Whatever we call these... that are growing in the planters and they already have the basics of this structure and they are all very similar between each parent. This would give them a bit of experience in how to tune to slightly different signals early on."

"Were they talking to each other in their cells?" Doctor Prescott asked.

"No... At least, I don't think so," Captain Blaine answered, considering the question. "The cells are shielded for cybernetics and that would likely block these too;" D'Ann nodded in confirmation. "But we also don't have any recordings or recording devices on the prize ship either. We didn't know what we were looking for, so we weren't looking."

"Figuring out what frequencies we're looking for, and building an interpreter, is the next step," D'Ann interjected, brushing a pile of notes to one side to make room for yet another. "The first should be easy, but the second will be harder without some kind of context to build on."

"Get me the first and I'll talk to the Eye. Maybe he's got some wizardry he can do to let us listen in, alright?"

With that finished, Kami went on to her next task with an interesting thought in her head. Telepathy - however you wanted to accomplish it - was a reasonably rare talent and one that was noted for an almost pathological distrust. Even if these aliens couldn't read the minds of others, what they could do is frighten those who might encounter them with the thought that they could. Purposefully or accidentally, could an incident with outsiders have resulted in the destruction of their world-ship? And could that explain their aggressive response to the arrival of the Ojeni? The easiest way to the truth would be to ask, but until they could do that maybe there was a way to come at it sideways...
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Postby Sunset » Tue Jun 23, 2015 4:49 pm

The Secretary-General's Office, CORE VirtuaGov...

Meetings. In the fantastic paradise of the future, the word had taken on the meaning of all the four-letter words to come before it. Technology had essentially displaced the need for them; Documents could be shared and collaborated on seamlessly down to an individual level. Augmented adjutants kept track of bullet points and made sure either individual goals were met, set, or accounted for when they could not be. Sociology research had found that most 'inspirational' speeches by those in a leadership position were, as a single word, not and thus it was better to kept those who might have been promoted beyond their ability to do damage as far from the corporate front lines as possible. To cover up or distract from the negative, the m-word had been replaced with any number of not-meetings; Strategic planning session, vision overview, or the ludicrously wordy peer-driven leadership brainstorming dialog. Which was still...

A Meeting.

Someone, it might have been her predecessor, had suggested the aggressive-sounding 'Rundown' and that's what Erika had called them and, barring the introduction of something better, it was now a comfortable term.

But it was still A Meeting.

"Alphabetic order this time..."

"Which means you're first, Mom," Katryna smirked.

"Or... Or," she back-peddled, "Under-Secretaries first! Then Secretaries!"

Which would still put her first, but as the rundown went, it was better than going first-first. Now that the ducks were all in a row, the Grand Admirals - Defense Force being first-first - were set up to knock them down. The primary source of concern at the moment was the overall deficit of build infrastructure available and its impact on new construction. There were, as both Grand Admiral Edge and Glafka noted repeatedly, a sizable number of side-projects that all had the same importance and it was these that were causing most of the backlog.

"...and not to point fingers, but to point fingers," Edge looked over at Katryna, who had been sitting there with a guilty smile the whole time, "But it's all your fault. I'm not saying these things aren't going to be useful;" Glafka nodded agreement at that one - TRIPWIRE would be an enormous game-changer that would put her service ahead of the pack for a long time, "But I am saying they get in the way of regular production cycles. Putting a few thousand monitoring buoys into a neat, orderly queue of destroyers and battleships just annoys the hell out of my production managers. Yes, we've got more production coming online but that's in a year. Not tomorrow."

"Any ideas there?"

"Sure, give me more construction berths."

"Or..." Secretary Jin interupted, his expression musing, "We could go another way. The funds released by the Senate are sufficient to build several Singularity-Class Stations, which will fulfill the regular Fleet's construction needs. But much of the problem, as I see it, is the inclusion of these one-off side projects. Perhaps what is needed is to provide Special Projects with their own managed construction facilities."

This set Katryna nodding vigorously but David sat back with a sigh, "Taking it off my plate sounds good right now, but breaking production up will be inefficient."

"Not that inefficient. There's another advantage here; Most of what Special Projects does is a little more hush-hush, so we have to add additional layers of security at the production facilities, more counter-intelligence assets have to be deployed," Director Turtle, the over-all head of the various Intelligence Services, went on to supply a half-dozen more reasons why the Secretary's proposal held water, "...and, if it would help make you happy, Intelligence could share the facility for use with our own special needs."

"Ah ha."

Turtle shrugged, "There you go. Gotta be selfish sometimes."

"We'll look at it," Erika marked the idea down. "Have a proposal on my desk as soon as you can. Anything else?"

That took it down to the Diplomatic Corps and everyone looked over to where Ambassador Eldrathi hung from the ceiling just over the fake-display that looked out over the real forests of Chains of Jade. The Kal-En-Vesho had been seemingly studying something in the distance the whole time, but it was her way to seem generally distracted and yet somehow have all the previous conversation at her fingertips. Quickly she ran through the three main areas of diplomatic concern; Midlonian ascension and the possibility for upheaval within the Concordat, tensions within the Triumvirate over continued issues inside the Kaeneian government, and everything else. Everything else wasn't really a very long list either, "...settling things with the Roanians tops that list, and you've got your plans in place, I presume?"

That finished, Turtle stepped up to the plate. In many ways, the Diplomatic Corps and the Intelligence Services overlapped; One gathered the information that the other acted on and more than occasionally vis versa. Which was why they were both under the Secretary-General, but Turtle liked to think of himself as a Big Picture man. The various branches of the Intelligence Services maintained monitoring stations, information gathering outposts, field agents, spies, and assets across an increasingly broad portion of the galaxy and it was his job to see what they all saw. The Republic might be, as a matter of numbers, just another fish in the sea but to its citizenry it was the most important fish.

"Right now, I'm going to put the danger level at yellow. All of the eyes that are on us are cautious and all of the entanglements that we could get ourselves wrapped up in are minor. There's always the chance of something big, but right now? We're at a good spot. As you said," he looked to Eldrathi, "Wrap the Midlonian thing up, get the Roanian situation settled, and we're back down to green. There's a few things going on but nothing that should really ever affect us directly. I'll scream when that changes."
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Postby Sunset » Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:48 am

SDF-Wilson, GEC-99791B 'Alice', The Coreward Fringe...

"Will we ever run out of rabbit analogies?" Lt. Commander Huang laughed as the Lieutenant's report continued.

"Its not our fault," he pointed out. "They look like rabbits, they breed like rabbits..."

"God," Janice ran a hand through her short blonde hair, "I could use a good breeding!"

Her comment was ignored, but those who knew her might wonder at it. Attractive and lean, the young woman was also more than willing to use sex to get what she wanted and as a more-than-willing participant. That she wasn't sleeping with someone for some reason was a good indicator of just how busy her new rank and new assignment was keeping her.

"...and that's the problem. They reproduce quickly, consume the local resources, and move on," Cartwright finished before the researcher he was paired with picked up their shared reporting.

The Marine was especially qualified to comment on the situation planet-side; He'd been on the initial survey team and had initiated a solo rescue when two scientists had been kidnapped by one of the local clans. With an overwhelming technological edge, killing them had been easy but that, as Professor Smalle now pointed out, was exactly the problem.

"Their own culture of near-continual violence just adds to the problem," he began, adjusting the blue-tinted glasses that he wore as a matter of preference. "They have out-evolved all the high-level predators and driven most of them to near-extinction as well, eliminating one possible control on their population. But the on-going violence between the various entities is also a measured form of population control. They simply do not kill each other off fast enough, or slow enough."

"Is it a formal system?" Huang suddenly imagined two bunnies facing off against each other in the garb and equipage of Renaissance duelists with large floppy hats over their large also-floppy ears. A quick moment of parry and thrust and then the two were at each other's necks and clothes were coming off and... She shook her head to clear away the mental image of randy rabbits. "Or just kill each other until one side runs away?"

"Nothing at all formal," the Marine went with the second option. "Though there are informal societal elements that reinforce the behavior. The caravan system, an emphasis on personal combat;" The mobile bunkers on large, four-wheeled ground vehicles were the closest thing the locals had to heavy armor, "An emphasis on protecting mating females and children. A clan that suffers significant male losses will either move into one of the cities or they will head out into the deep wilderness until the next generation comes of age."

"If the violence was more intense - an entire clan wiped out - or far less common there would be evolutionary pressure to change their breeding habits. They are one of the few species with their individual resource needs that still gives birth to multiple young," Smalle added. "Litters of four to six are common and those who give birth to more are prized."

Huang - the third and last child - nodded, "And that's litters. So each female is giving birth..."

"Every three to four years, though most only survive long enough to have one or two litters. Child mortality is high, and birth mortality is nearly as high. While they are a rapidly evolving species, their technological focus has been on new ways to kill each other. Their medical technology lags significantly behind, with homeopathy still being a widely accepted practice. There's another dangerous point; They are evolving. On a rough Human scale, they have gone through the first six thousand years of recorded Human technological progression in the past thousand years."

"So, you're saying that if we don't get things sorted out, we might be looking at a situation where we are facing an attack from killer space bunnies in twenty years?"

"Ten. Our presence, and the knowledge of the possible, is pushing them forward. They are smart; Do not let their propensity for violence fool you. Because they reproduce so quickly, and because there is so little time between generations, they do not have the same generational knowledge gaps that many longer-lived species display. An elder rabbit is only twenty, twenty-four years old and knows what the youngest know and appreciates it as well."

"Catching up by leaps and bounds..."
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Postby Sunset » Thu Jun 25, 2015 9:52 am

Chains of Jade, The Schumann System, Ares Local Cluster...

"Look at this! Isn't it perfect?!" Alwyra declared, spreading her arms wide and running along the stonework that edged one of the many terraces that lined the sharply cut stream. Life was growing up all around her, tended by the careful hand of a half-dozen species she'd only barely been made aware of before the shuttle had touched down. Some were familiar in form and some not, but importantly most were the debt-labor she felt a special kinship with and a desire to help however she could. They were all hard at work though, and while some were more successful than others, each was tending their own slice of heaven with the skill that her new venture would need to grow and thrive. "Just... Eek!"

Nearly falling off her perch, she tripped and stumbled and then leapt to the lower terrace before tumbling to her backside and looking up in shock at the source of her alarm, "What... is... Are you... is that?!"

Emerging fully from a high stand of cornstalks, green leaves rustling sharply from the passage, it - he - was an enormous monster. A hulking canine-like body hunched over two trunk-thick arms and a pair of legs that almost looked comically small except that few would laugh in the face of the two wolf-heads that perched on the broad shoulders. One was now more metal than meat with the thick hair that covered the rest of him bristling up all around the cybernetic prosthesis. Both eyes had been replaced and the harsh yellow glow of false iris stared down at her as he pulled himself up straight to loom over her. One hand held a hoe and a solid jab planted the butt deep in the loose soil, the massive hand resting hard on the wooden shaft.

"Xarenja," the farm supervisor answered, a touch of laughter in his tone. "They're a rare off-shoot of the Arenja," he pointed an armored finger towards more of the caninoids that were off working their own distant portion of the fields.

Alwyra didn't thank him but instead the Neko stuck out her own rounded tongue at him. It was easy for him not to be startled; Where she was wearing a pretty sundress and a hat with a flower in the band, he was wearing power armor and in her mind the reason was clear. Even though these criminals - mostly pirates captured deep in uncharted space - were her distant kin, they were still criminals and some might consider violence against their keepers an acceptable outlet. Especially when they were nearly three meters tall!

"Ah, er..." Brushing herself off, she pushed to her feet and wiped the last of the dirt off her butt, "Hello?"

The only answer was a deep rumble and a sideways look from one of the heads to the supervisor, who explained, "He doesn't speak Standard. None of them do, but he's a hard case and hasn't earned basic cybernetics yet. All of the Xarenja are hard to deal with - fortunately we only have a few - but its something genetic. They are born mean."

"And big!"

"And big," he agreed. "Though this fellow was their captain and the bigger they are, the higher they rank. The only reason he isn't dangling in chains from some yardarm is that he didn't manage to kill anyone before the Ixutsangi hauled them all in. Not that he didn't try. That and they are pretty rare. Better to hold on to this fellow and learn what we can, but he's not going to ever get out of here, not for what he did to the Telari."

She nodded. She felt a lot of sympathy for debt-labor that just ended up in a bad spot - especially if it was because of bad people - but there were also bad people. Time to ask though; "What did he do to the... Whoever the Telari are."

"Green guys, won't see them around here," the supervisor flashed up a hologram of one of the photosynthetic humanoids, "The pirates took over their ship and grafted them to their stations. Made them run the ship on pain of death."

"What do you mean..." Alwyra listened while the details of Telari biology were explained as well as the circumstances that had ended up with their dying species serving in slavery under the demonic Captain Unpronounceable Gibberish. When it was all said and done there was little she could do but shrug, "That sucks..."

"There's a cloning program going - for both them and these guys, plus a half-dozen other near-extinction species. Pretty successful too but it will take time to get them up to a viable population. Kinda like farming, really. Which," he changed tact and pointed to the case that Kedo had carried out of the shuttle and which now sat at the furrier's feet, "What do you have there?"

It was the reason why they were on Chains of Jade and why, as she had already declared, the debt-labor tended farm was perfect for her new enterprise. Uncapping the container, she showed off a neat cluster of seven blue and white flowers growing in a hydroponic tray. The inside of the container held an artificial light that glowed with the spectrum required and the farm supervisor picked it up to look inside for a moment before setting it down on the rock wall next to the upright container.

"This is the Synthium flower. When mature, the little seed pods there," she put a nailed finger on the petals of one and pressed them aside to show the dusty brown cluster of spherical pods at the base, "Can be ground up to produce a dry spice I'm calling Syn. Syn induces temporary synesthisia when eaten, which is," and here she quoted directly, "The production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body. End quote."

"Huh. So you're going to grow this stuff and..."

"Sell it as a gourmet spice!"

"It's fantastic," Kedo seconded. "Just a little bit and the sensations will remind you of where the food was grown. Eating a bit of fish will make you taste the sounds of the ocean waves, or hear the smell of the salt air. It's pretty wild."

"Huh. Have you tried it with anything really alien?" A massive hand leaned down and he plucked up an odd-looking plant to shake the dirt off it. "They've got some stuff growing here that comes from places beyond belief..."
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 26, 2015 1:19 am

Erika and Demi's House, Botany Bay, Chuh-Yu...

"Does the term 'budget' even mean anything to you," Demi asked rhetorically as she watched yet another starship - the design unfamiliar despite the similarities to the rest of the Defense Force visual ethos - engage in mock holographic battle with a host of others across the vast gulf of her living room.

"Hmm?"

The target of her comment was a lean young woman of mixed Asian-Caucasian heritage who sat sprawled in one of the over-stuffed chairs that sat in the few corners between bookshelves and walls or the bit of space beside the couch. Katryna was wearing her lazy best; A bikini top with the upper-limit remains of a graphic t-shirt over it displaying just a sliver of the logo of some vintage band from the last century and a pair of loose-fit jeans that had drifted down to her hips and past the band of her plain-jane panties. With one eye she was watching the space battle unfurl as energy blasts flashed in regular volley and ordinance crossed the increasingly less-crowded space as ships wheeled and died to disappear in imaginary bursts while the other kept watch through the window on a pair of children who seemed intent on covering every bit of open ground as they chased and were chased by the other neighborhood kids wielding water guns of every shape and size.

This drew Demi's attention for a moment and she waved a hand, turning the tinted window clear for a moment as she tried to catch another glimpse of a random face, "Is that..."

It couldn't have been - she swore, for a second, she had seen a Roanian face familiar in structure among the crowd - but there was no way their mother would let them run wild even in the safe confines of the Secretary-General's front lawn.

"Hmm?"

"Never mind. Are you trying to annoy your mother?"

"Usually, but how-so?"

"I thought I saw a new ship in there. Unless it's just a model, you've been plotting something behind her back again, haven't you?"

The Director of Special Projects was notorious for it. If she saw a need, she sought to fill it and often regardless of budget constraints or even the needs of mere mortal engineers and designers.

"No... Yes. Well, no," Katryna swirled a hand and a ship appeared. While she was no expert, plenty of time around the Secretary-General had familiarized Demi with the silhouette of most of the Defense Force Fleet and this one wasn't familiar except for the typical; A narrow saucer joined to two nacelles by a thick section and sweeping pylons. "This one isn't for us. It's the proposed design for a new Joint Strike Cruiser. A lot of the Federated States;" These were formerly national governments that had now ceded their defense and diplomacy to the Republic while they maintained their own internal government, "Are coming up on their own replacement cycles and someone came up with the idea of putting out a mass-manufactured catch-all ship that would keep them in the game defensively and allow their forces to inter-operate better with ours. This is one of the finalists."

While the Republic was responsible for the greater diplomatic and military representation of the various Federated States, most also still maintained some military forces of their own. These were often organized in the manner of a Self-Defense Force with their primary orientation being the protection of trade, internal security, and border controls. Few held more than a few or even a single star system away from Sol and so most only required a handful of ships.

"We'd also make it available to the rest of the Triumvirate but honestly, I'm not expecting a lot of uptake. All of the major nations have their own ship-design firms and building a single common design would put them out of business. Not very efficient, but," she shrugged; That was the way of it. "We've also got proposals on the table to align things like uniforms and ranks across the spectrum and that's got some traction too. A lot of them seem to like the new uniform, with some adjustments. The Mangalans want it in white, the Khenalans want it in black, and everyone else seems to want a different pattern. But that's okay, I'm sure Ateyf will love making up variants. Probably do a fashion show."

"Haute couture dans l'armée," Demi giggled. "Suivi d'un à trois voies!"

"Oui," unlike Demi, who was fluent in French, Katryna was cheating and quickly returned to Standard. "But there you go. No need to worry about the budget. Well..."

"Well?"

"Maybe a couple training ships..."
Last edited by Sunset on Fri Jun 26, 2015 8:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Fri Jun 26, 2015 9:41 pm

GEC-152885D, The Coreward Fringe...

The short flight home and already Trinya found herself yawning before it was half-way through. It was the perfect evening for it too; The four had climbed above the tallest of the thick stone columns and pointed their suits towards the distant shuttle before settling into their own thoughts, the wonder of autopilot guiding them fair and true across the sun-streaked bands of cloud that decorated the horizon. Another jaw-stretching yawn and she dropped her head forward, content to let the suit take her the rest of the way while she caught a quick nap.

It was not to be. Just as her eyelids drooped to her cheeks she saw a tiny glimpse of something dancing red through the smallest of cracks in the canopy below. It was a fire, she was immediately certain, and with an effort she shook the sleep off her back to turn her suit to the side and hover in place. Timmons face appeared in the corner of her vision but she ignored it as she sought out the spark somewhere in the gathering darkness below.

"...Trinya, what is it? Something wrong? Ensign!"

That finally broke her out of it and she turned to find his suit just behind her, "Its... I though I saw a fire."

She looked down again, shifted to thermal optics, and there it was. A thin trail of hot air, the smoke itself essentially invisible, snaked upwards to point down at its origin like an arrow. Below them ran a long cliff, itself the spur of one of the titanic monoliths, and a thick carpet of greenery spilled over the edge to hang towards the forest floor. The smoke dribbled up through this and it was a sure bet that there was a cave or overhang just there.

"I see it," Timmons confirmed, and a moment later he was lancing towards the ground with his clear destination an opening a hundred meters or more away. As he fell, two of the black drones popped away and took a more direct path before mixing into the greenery just where the smoke emerged. Lae and Deania were right behind as the four touched ground again and waited to see what the drones saw. "Well I'll be damned..."

It wasn't what any of them expected. Sitting at a bare rock wall at the back of the sharp overhang was a man. A Human man, it was immediately clear, and quite the unkempt specimen he was. Long dirty-gray hair hung to his chest and a thick belt was the only intact remains of an outfit that seemed distantly familiar. He - there was no mistaking his build - was facing the wall and as they all watched he continued to paint thin lines on the stone in a familiar pattern.

"That's..." Deania began with Timmons finishing, "...not what we expected at all."

It was a quick sprint to the entrance and Timmons brushed aside the vines to poke his armored head and shoulders through. Despite the noise, the figure didn't turn and it was only after a long moment of staring that he spoke as though he knew who was behind him.

"Finally found me, did you? It's been a long time. Long enough, I suppose," his voice trailed off and his fingers went back to the painting on the wall.

"Who are you," all four asked in unison and this time he turned to look them over with an unexpected chuckle.

"You don't know? Well, that puts us on a bit of even footing. Sit down, if you can find the room, and I'll tell you a story..."
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Postby Sunset » Sat Jun 27, 2015 5:39 pm

GEC-152885D, The Coreward Fringe...

"It's the fungus, you see," the man began, his fingers tracing out thin blue lines on the wall. "They love the stuff. Can't even see them normally - they're under the thin layer on top, out where it's still growing - and eating out the nutritious core-rot. But it has grown into the rock so they evolved these jaws that can slowly chew right through it. It's a calendar, of sorts. When I first came here I'd draw a mark on the wall every night with a stick from the fire. Then I found these guys and figured, since I have the time, why not make the months a little more interesting? Months... Years..."

He picked up a little wooden bowl containing a dozen of the squirming maggot-like creatures and a few beads of hard rock. Plucking one out, he lifted it by the tail and positioned it at the very end of one of the lines to point it inward.

"They love the stuff. I brush the outer layer off then scrape and grind the core-rot into a paste. Lovely blue color too. They'll follow it all the way to the center and when they get there I'll know another month has passed. Not the most accurate calendar but pretty. I tried a really big one once but then it rained and washed the lines out so back to the caves."

"Do you move when they are done?" Trinya asked. The thick grub had only barely latched on and it was reasonable from the slow pace that it would indeed take a month to finish winding through the looping, whirling maze to the symbol in the center.

"Very good, I do," he laughed again, a bare chuckle. "Perhaps you've found some of my other camping spots? There's a whole trail stretching back... Well, nearly thirty years now."

"Thirty years!?"

"You know, you four have good harmony," he laughed again. "Should do some singing. You ever do any singing? No?" It was hard to see any of them shake their head - the helmet of a GhostDragon was a fixed unit so it would take the whole torso turning to do so - but he went on as if the answer had been just that. "Well, you should. Especially the women. Haven't heard a woman's voice in... Well, thirty years."

"How did you end up here thirty years ago?" Trinya asked. Already she was combing the archives for records of lost ships in the region or anything else that might explain the man's presence but straight from the horse's mouth was the fastest.

"Ah, yes, back to the story..."

"A quick question," Deania raised a hand, "How are you breathing?"

"Aside from muscles and bone?" He reached up and brushed back his thick hair until they could see his face. It was ancient and weathered but the important question covered his mouth. A re-breather that looked like the caricature of a mask was strapped across his mouth and nose. "Only take it off when I eat. What's out there won't kill you, but it will make you sick if you breath it too long. So I don't. Fortunately these old KCTS designs last forever. A quick dip in the stream and the filter is as good as new."

"Another quick question," again with the hand, "What do you eat?"

"Did you find the little disc creatures?" They all nodded, "Those and the near-bugs. First are easier to find, and damned tasty, but not as plentiful as the second. That's why I move on. Oh, and this stuff," his hand went to a bowl of oddly shaped berries that half-filled a ground-out stone dish. "Heat it over the fire and they pop. Like popcorn. Probably taste better with salt, but they change flavor with the season. You should try some, if we get the chance."

"Makes sense," the Seeker agreed, shifting around on her haunches, "Last question, then story. Is there any other sentient life on this planet?"

"Oh, good question. I hope not. That's part of why I'm here. Some might call it reflection, others..." He sighed and turned around to sit cross-legged, his hands on his bony knees and his wild hair just brushing the back wall. From where the four sat, he looked like a wild cave-dwelling demon with his dull metal mask just visible through the mane. "Self-imposed exile. You see, my name is Major James Donaldson."

Inside their suits, three of the explorers looked to each other except for the fourth, who leaned forward and answered their question before they could ask it, "I do."

"And you are? Perhaps some introductions, now that I've given you my name."

"Commander Timmons, Exploration Command. This is Ensign Falk, Seaman Lae, and Seeker Deania."

"Seeker? I haven't heard that rank before," he peered at the indicated battle suit. "Care to let me see your face?"

True to its name, the GhostDragon faded away as she and the others manipulated the optical camouflage to show themselves as they wished to be represented; Timmons and Trinya in their uniforms, Lae in the relaxed shorts and t-shirt that he preferred, and Deania in the tight jeans, super-cropped uniform blouse, and collection of appliance strips that she commonly wore.

A low whistle followed and Donaldson shifted to one side so he could stare directly at her, "Whew, when I said I haven't seen a woman, I wasn't expecting one like you. You're quite the looker, and not Human either."

"Duab'Akii," she confirmed, turning her head so he could see the spurs of cartilage that connected jaw to skull and contained the species' ear canals. "You won't see a lot of us. I think I'm pretty much it right now."

"We always were explorers... At least I'm guessing that's how we came across you. Some kind of inter-service exchange, if I don't miss my mark. But Timmons, I've heard that name before too. You were quite the lucky youngster, weren't you? I heard your name mentioned with the... Skri, and the Centaurs, and the... Some kind of swamp-slug, weren't they?"

"That's right," the big man nodded, "The Tlokselo. Though I'm not sure I want to be sitting across from you, Major."

"Can't blame you." For a moment he looked like he would rise to begin pacing the compacted dirt under the overhand but instead he sagged over to one side, leaning up against an outcropping and closing his eyes. "Thirty years ago... As I said, self-imposed exile. But you know the story, Commander. Perhaps you'd better tell it. To be fair to the youngsters."

There was a long moment of silence and Timmons too looked like he was about to get to his feet but finally he nodded agreement and started, "Major James Donaldson is known, infamously, as the Butcher of Zeta Irregularis. The survey of Zeta Irregularis is, I'm certain, taught at the Academy as an example of just how a planetary exploration can go wrong, but that's not his fault. What happened afterward is his fault. But I'll start with what happened before," he looked to his three juniors. None of them, by chance and skill, had attended the Defense Forces Academy for a full course and were unlikely to have heard the story.

"The survey team discovered sentient life - just what any of us want - but they lost one of the IntelRats that they were using to scout out the local culture. Well, the locals were the Doso, and it turns out that they were perfectly suited to interface with the IntelRat when someone accidentally stepped on it. The IntelRat was carrying a cultural database for comparative purposes - nothing that we would think would be harmful - but it was enough to send that tribe on a rapidly evolving war of conquest that might just have ended with them launching an interstellar fleet and us being forced to bomb them back to the stone age before they tried to overrun any of our colonies."

"Which is what I did," James admitted, his voice muted. "And I regret every moment of it."

"Now," Timmons accused, "But not then. Not. Then." But he continued, "It happened twice, actually. The first time it was of their own doing. The village had become a nation, taking slaves of those around them to build their war machine, but there was a civil war, or a splinter faction, and they launched primitive nuclear-tipped missiles in an attempt to wipe out their enemy."

"It wasn't a civil war. It was a slave revolt," Donaldson interjected. "And they got what they deserved. They were working the slaves to death, exterminating those they found weak... Right out of the Nazi Death Camps. But they needed the labor and that labor built those nuclear missiles. In a way it was sabotage, on a grand scale, and I watched it happen. I thought that would be the end of it." He shook his head, "But no. The missiles killed millions but... The Doso don't work like that. Shatter one and you just create the potential for more. They picked up the pieces," a grim laugh, "And started over. Soon enough another nation rose up, this time centered around the new faith; The Path of the Light. They were worshiping the atomic fire, you see. Again, I watched it happen. I watched it happen again. Soon enough they were building the missiles again and I knew..."

"You thought you knew," Timmons accused, his tone hard. Again he sat forward and pointed a finger to the Major, "You thought you knew."

"...I knew it was going to happen again," he sighed. "And you're right, which is why I'm sitting here. Fleet wouldn't do it - they knew better - but I thought I did. So I hired mercenaries to do it. Covered my tracks, paid for it out of a black fund, moved the money all over the place, and bought a few thermonuclear bombs. Museum pieces now, but they burned the Path's cities down to ash. And I thought that was the end of it. The SDF would have to come in; Rebuild, re-educate..."

"You were right there, at least," the Commander crossed his arms and looked away. "They did. Millions of lives and a biosphere destroyed. But you were right."

"And I was wrong. I knew it as soon as Admiral Thom contacted me. I was on my way back to Ares to make my report. False data, all of it, but it looked good. They had evolved their technology faster than we had anticipated... But I knew he knew. I knew they would be waiting for me there with a couple Marines..."

"They were," Timmons once again confirmed. "I had a buddy who was on the squad assigned to detain you. Never happened, not after your ship hit that asteroid around Menhit. They wrote it off as suicide. But that's the oldest trick in the book and if you don't find the body..."

"They're not dead," Deanie finished. "So you came here? How?"

"There are... Were?" He looked to Timmons, who didn't indicate either way, "Shadow Ports in the Crown back in those days."

The Crown was the asteroid belt and nebula that orbited Athena - the star at the center of the Ares System - that was the result of a collision between several of the inner planets including a large gas giant early in the system's existence. At least this had been the prevailing theory until an exploration of the Vaults below Shiva had revealed an ancient super-weapon that had been used to destroy them as part of the last cataclysmic days of the Kal-En-Vesho's galaxy-spanning Empire. But that was neither here nor there. When the Ares System had first been settled, there were those who had fallen off the grid and out of civilized society and the Crown, with its numberless hiding places and sensor-fouling nebula, was the perfect place to hide.

"I bailed out in a stealth sensor platform we'd been using to keep an eye on Zeta Irregularis just before impact and spent the next few weeks in stasis on a ballistic trajectory in-system until the computer woke me up. I had a few contacts and I bought a ship with the last of the money. An old BK drive - Black Knight, dunno if they even make them anymore. Old when I was young. But a few jumps out towards the Core and the back-edge of surveyed space and there it failed and here I am."

Surveyed Space was, and is, different than Explored Space. The Exploration Command surveys a lot of space. Hundreds of times what it actually explores. To explore you've got to go down and kick over a few rocks and find out what's underneath, which was exactly what Timmons had spent the last thirty years doing.

"You should have turned yourself in, paid for what you did."

"They'd have executed me. Instead I spent thirty years by myself. Atonement? No... But will anything atone for that?"

"I guess we'll find out," the Commander said soberly as the rush of air and roar of engines announced the arrival of a shuttle from the Ixutsangi. "I'm not sure I want to be there."

"I'm not sure I want to either but," Donaldson stood, brushed himself off, and walked between the four to part the vines and find himself facing a pair of Marines with their rifles out and trained on him while two more stood behind and flanking the open door of the shuttle while yet another pair stood inside with their own weapons ready. "Thirty years is long enough to contemplate. It's time to find out..."
Last edited by Sunset on Sat Jun 27, 2015 5:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Sunset » Sun Jun 28, 2015 3:30 pm

SDF-Ixutsangi, In Orbit of GEC-152885D, The Coreward Fringe...

"I still have a lot of questions," Deania began as she hefted one crate of samples from the large pile, stepped down onto the open hangar deck of the Frigate, and deposited it on a hoversled before stepping back into the shuttle for another. "Are you ready?"

"Hmm?" Timmons barely looked up from his own work, but she didn't really notice and seemed more intent on just airing out her thoughts.

"That seems really lucky. What are the odds that we'd stumble across Major Donaldson? That anyone would? I know I'm supposed to be a Seeker, and you're supposed to have great hunches, but... That seems a billion-to-one. Should I be playing the lottery now? Timmons?"

"Huh? Oh..."

He hadn't been listening but his mind was in nearly the same place and as she re-stated her question, he nodded, "Of anyone randomly finding him? No, you're right. A billion-to-one. But us? Better odds, but still a lot of luck." Putting away the cargo manifest he was working on, he ticked off the sequence of events, "The Major said he bought a ship with an old Black Knight drive. Those jump-drives were some of the first faster-than-light drives in use by the Triumvirate. They are extremely limited in function and not very reliable, even when over-engineered. They have a jump range of thirty light, Point A to Point B, and they take a long time to charge up again after each jump. Anywhere from a day to a week."

"All of which means," he brought up a hologram of a familiar blue star, "From Ares, his initial choices are already limited. He's going to want to aim for a world where he can potentially either find rescue or go to ground within thirty lightyears. And he's probably going to avoid the settled worlds..."

Stars appeared and then vanished around the central star until only a few were left. From there, more stars appeared and then vanished, and once again. It still left a lot of stars, but nowhere near the tens of thousands that were originally in the same volume of space.

"He's already started to box himself in, just there. A follow-up survey team is going to be looking for exactly what he was looking for; A good place to live. They'll be thinking about colonists and new food to put on the table, but it's basically the same thing. Then he chose a spot and boxed himself in again and I would have done the same thing, which was..." He finished, a question mark on the end.

Deania considered it for a minute, shifting a couple more crates, before arriving at the answer, "The pillars. We started there because it was a rare formation. You see that from space and you say 'I want to see that from the ground.'"

"Or at least that's what I'm thinking he did," Timmons agreed. "And from there, as he said, it was all just a matter of time. Thirty years... For what he did, to have that hanging over him, I don't know if it would have helped."

"But... was it really that bad?" She asked. "The Path of the Light. Wouldn't it have been the same thing under a different banner?"

"Maybe..."

It was a question that had bothered him too. Viscerally it was mass murder, but was it murder to prevent an even worse holocaust? Doso society had proven capable of integrating into the wider galactic community but that was with the active assistance of the Defense Force after a bombardment that had threatened to wipe them out completely. Had Donaldson only been accelerating the inevitable?

"No. In a fight, we have to wait til they take a swing. If we don't, we don't know if they would have swung or if they would have realized better before they did. If we don't, we're no better than animals. Kill or be killed. It's the law of the jungle but not of civilized beings."

Timmons knew it sounded a bit high-horse and Deania apparently thought as much since she spent the next several minutes finishing up before continuing as they pushed the hover pallet away and across the bay towards the exit, "A bit more trivial, but why is he 'Major' Donaldson? There are no Majors."

"Originally there were, at least in the Marines. Majors, Colonels, Sergeants even. The whole lot. I got a lot of confused looks for a while there. But someone up the tree decided to flatten things out so they made everyone use the Fleet ranks. Which a lot of Sergeants hated because they were suddenly Lieutenants and every ground-pounder hates Lieutenants. It started back in the Terran era when someone who wanted to be in the military could buy their rank and the Lieutenant was the cheapest. So you'd end up with a lot of minor nobles who didn't know shit about how to fight leading a good-sized group of men right into the jaws of death. That continued straight through to..." as the doors slid shut behind them.
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Jun 29, 2015 11:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
My Colors are Blue and Yellow

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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Sunset » Sun Jun 28, 2015 8:10 pm

Kharjic, Solonic, Beyond the Coreward Fringe...

"One of the few redeeming factors with your old static personality matrices is that we can very, very accurately determine who is going to want a body right away, who is never going to want to leave, and who can be persuaded," Marcus continued as he walked the long line of cloning tanks with the original trio trailing out behind him. "Which saves us a lot of time as we can just skip the second and point this out to the third and move them to the first. Because, let's face it," he reached out and patted one of the complex-looking apparatus, "These old things might be slow, but we have a hundred thousand of them. But a hundred thousand is only a small bite at a time out of a few billion. Billion..."

It would be quite a staggering achievement when it was all done. An entire species - or at least two-thirds of it - revived to walk the galaxy again after a thousand year interment.

"Not my place - I'm just the contractor - but have you given any thought to what comes next?"

"Live life to the fullest," Bibicus smiled. "Love. Perhaps even have children. Even before the Transference, we had extended our lives and lowered our reproduction rates so as to avoid stressing our biosphere. Now, and with the combination of Phoenixi and Republic technology available to us? These halls will once again ring with the laughter of young voices. Some of us will leave, others will stay. You should prepare your own lands for our arrival. New ideas and high concepts will be shared between us and we will make our own footprint upon the galaxy."

"Well, at least you didn't say politics..."

"That is unlikely, though already a solution suggests itself. Before, such were a plague upon our society. Talking much, they accomplished little while hindering the advancement of all. If I do not miss my mark, most of their number will now want to remain inside," the Solonic turned to look at the Core that stretched up the center of the lab, "And there they can remain. Endless bickering over the shape and form of a government no longer needed. Much of why we had what we did has passed away and while some will choose to remain, I suspect most of those who leave will leave as well. My friend Philus speaks highly of his experiences with the Nimatojin and it is a direction I may well follow. Diclicus conceived of this as a way for our species to escape, for a time, the ravages of fate. We would preserve our world until the stars themselves burned out and darkness faded across the heavens. But now we will spread ourselves out among them. Fate will no longer have a hold of our united destiny but each to his own. This, I believe."
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Postby Sunset » Mon Jun 29, 2015 2:11 pm

SDF-Ojeni, Outside the Capuchin System, The Delta Quadrant...

"You know, this is something I never guessed I'd be doing when I went through Engineering School at the Academy," The Eye offered, just before he took another wire between his two yellow front teeth and used them to strip it down to bare metal. "Heroic repairs on a starship in combat, deep in the guts of a particle cannon while we dodge hostile fire. Yeah, sure, that's what I saw myself doing someday. Maybe even dying that way. But..."

Deft claws took the wire and plugged it into a new spot on a wiring harness that looked like it was mostly made from high-test tape and more bare wire. The rat - though the Eye was only temporarily the rat - was as suggested deep in the bowels of the formerly-captured Raider but the space would have been much too small for the basketball-sized Eye and certainly not as easy to access. While the IntelRats and other sensors that the engineering teams had laced through the ship remained in their places, the ship had not. Power had been restored, the crew supplemented from newly-arrived allies, and now it was carefully making its way back to...

Well, somewhere. Back-tracking the path of the incoming ships had given the crew of the Ojeni a good idea where they'd come from, but it was precise down to a ten radian slice of the debris belt. That still left a lot of ground to cover but when the ship returned to wherever it came from, it would narrow that down to exactly.

Which still didn't mean they could speak the language and without being able to speak the language they didn't know if they wanted to. That was why the Eye was remotely inhabiting one of the IntelRats and using it as an extension of himself as he created his rat's nest of wiring and cables out of sight of the reconstituted crew.

"...not this. I'm not saying its not fun, but its not what I saw myself doing."

Letting the comedy value in the statements of a walking eyeball talk about seeing himself doing anything fall by the wayside, Captain Blaine went for the crux of the conversation, "Almost done?"

"Almost done. If the whole thing doesn't go up in smoke. Release the mysterious blue smoke and not only do electronics not work anymore but its a fair bet they'll figure out I'm in here and so are the rest of our bugs. It will be ready when it's ready and you'll know about it when it is."

----

"It's ready!"

And it didn't really do much. Those who might have expected to see the various displays that showed the interior of the once-captive ship light up with sub-titles were disappointed, but the Eye's carefully-messy surgery brought similarly careful results. He'd rigged the little ship's communication system so that it would split all the traffic into two separate streams and sent one back to the Ojeni, where it was now being subjected to analysis. Language was a complicated thing already and trying to create an interpreter for a method of communication that they had little experience with was even more-so. Now the computers aboard the starship would have to take the visual input, figure out what the subject was doing or talking about, compare that to the communication stream, and then slowly build up a database of matches until something close to half could be accurately mapped. They could go with less but that could result in either humor or tragedy as one side misinterpreted the other.

"And it will take longer than normal plus," the Eye finalized. "They don't use the comm system for everything so they might even spend a few days back at base before we get something like a partial translation."
My Colors are Blue and Yellow

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