Where The Winds Blow (FT - Invite)

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Where The Winds Blow (FT - Invite)

Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 06, 2023 1:05 am

SDF-Tietê, On Routine Resurvey Assignment, The Middle-Southern End of the Delta Quadrant, Milky Way Galaxy... Republic Date 178.763.706...

"...are you sure?"

"Well, no - it's my opinion so I'm not sure," Commander Smithee answered with a rolling shrug. Here it was useful that he had shoulders; his partner in conversation didn't have any at all or rather had four except that they were generally arranged in the wrong manner. The Lieutenant was a hStraakean - far more pronounceable in their own language - and generally resembled a large terrestrial feline except for the horns that sprouted from the middle of their face to frame their eyes before twisting into long ear-shapes. At least ear-shaped for a cat; Lieutenant Xokkun was not and they were not.

"I just prefer the design, that's all," he went on. "Can't argue with a classic, you know?"

It was idle chatter but idle chatter was all that was to be expected this 'late' in the day. The Captain always took the first shift - taking over from the Commander, who had the third shift. This was so that a Lieutenant Commander or even a Lieutenant could take the second and then the Commander - whose duties included managing the ship's crew - would report on the previous day's happenings to the Captain. If anything 'important' was scheduled, it would typically be scheduled for early in the first shift so that both the Captain and Commander would be available. They were always on-call but one generally needed a good reason to...

"...huh. Commander? You want to take a look at this?"

Alan twisted in his seat and looked back over his shoulder to where an Ensign sat at the sensor console. Or science station, depending on one's preferences. Either way, the officer on duty was normally posted to Navigation - 'space weather' - but had been sent there for cross-training while Xokkun had been rotated around to the Helm while Navigation sat empty; Ensign Scalgik was taking lunch. Oh, she was still 'there' - the Oeie's duty body was sitting at the station but she'd hot-swapped to her real body back home. Right now the empty shell was just sitting there breathing, eyes closed, limbs still. Weird, but one got used to it.

"Take a look at what;" but Xokkun was faster, practically bolting out of their chair to jump up onto the railing and scamper across to look over the Ensign's shoulder, "Interesting. Have you logged it?"

"Logged what?"

"Yessir," the young woman replied, ignoring the Commander's question by accident or intent. In point of fact, she hadn't 'logged' anything but she had noted that the system had logged the event and forwarded it on to wherever the system had determined that it should be forwarded.

"Spacial mismatch," Xokkun said, answering the Commander's next 'what?' before it could be asked again. "The next system no longer matches our records. Likely a fractal event," they added, seemingly completely nonplussed by the notion - though it must be noted that the hStraakean didn't seem to ever be 'plussed' by anything. "The last full survey was on 175.808 - by SDF-Jordan - and the last remote survey was four days ago. Long-range sensors now show the system as substantively different. Five planets in the habitable band, all show signs of habitation. A more detailed scan is underway."

"...five. And all are inhabited?" Alan turned back around and half-stepped, half-stooped over to the helm station to crouch beside the chair. "That's a good enough reason to go take a closer look. But is it a good enough reason to wake the Captain up?" he mused as he confirmed the commands...
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Feb 06, 2023 10:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Fairway » Mon Feb 06, 2023 8:37 pm

Takeda Gardens, Asaka, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...0300 Hours
Director Juno Moon had spent most of her time at I-Squared cleaning up after her subordinates' - and superiors' - messes and, more importantly, keeping the Republican Guard out of trifling with covert activities. As much Juno hated to admit it, she wouldn't be able to get what she wanted in the Wildlands without going through the Republican Guard. Their operations were already intertwined as is, and the last thing she needed was Mars Yoo making a power play before she could get Frontier Recon in line.

She had spent most of her early career as a guest in the Takeda Gardens. Though there were botanical gardens all over Lai Dai, there was something different about the peaceful, natural beauty of the Takeda Gardens. Criss-crossed by canals, she briefly paused on one of the bridges, letting out a deep sigh as she heard footsteps approaching from behind her.

"Juno, I was beginning to think you weren't going to show up," Mars said coldly, as he stood next to her. There was a piercing silence between the two of them, as Juno savored the brief calm for a few more seconds before turning to face the weary Proconsul. This was far from the first time the pair had met, though Juno was always surprised by Mars' comparatively short height in person. "I take it we're both on the same page here," Mars said, as they both looked out at the gardens.

"Unfortunately so," Juno replied coldly, avoiding making eye contact with Mars. Even her passive aggressive tone couldn't hide the layers of respect that she had for the Proconsul. She wasn't usually fond of the Republican Guard, but Mars had proven himself a useful asset in more than a dozen subversion and infiltration campaigns in the Wildlands.

"You're lucky Romulus ended up in my custody," Mars said, "He's going to be handed over to your guys in the morning tomorrow - quietly."

"I appreciate your discretion," Juno replied, her tone softening as she turned to face the Proconsul, "We'll do a full debrief later with him, but I take it you've already gleaned enough information to tell me that things are bad?"

"Worse - Romulus thinks they're up to something big. For the past six months, all we've been finding in Yuddha on the drone scans are empty hives. They've gone completely dark."

Juno sighed. She was reluctant to share information on I-Squared's Yan Studies, but Mars had her cornered - plus, she did owe him for handling the Romulus Affair quietly. "Signature data in Yurungkash is still premature, but we've also seen odd migration patterns in Xaidullah and Qaraqash. They seem to be migrating within the hives and concentrating their density in particular pockets. The pockets that we've isolated are deeper than the other ones, but the hives on Shillong are much bigger than the ones we've seen in Kashkar."

"What's the latest from Future Command? Last I spoke with Faustus, he said I-Squared had his procurement guys pulling consecutive all-nighters to figure out how to use bunker busters on those hives."

"The subterranean hives run deeper and are more interconnected than we thought. Damaging the hives might have seismic aftershocks that could destabilize the front." Juno reached for her pocket, pulling out a Lucky Star cigarette. She put the tip in her mouth and lit it, breathing out a puff of smoke. "Besides, without deeper mapping, we're in the dark on where to actually aim the things in the first place. We've never hit one of their hives before, so there's a slim margin of error."

"I take it you called me here to discuss more than geology and shuttering a few weapons projects," Mars replied. "So what's keeping you up at night?"

Juno let out another puff of smoke, "The collaborators seem just as confused as we are. According to the feedback we've gotten from the ones we've apprehended, they've got no clue on what the Yan are up to, and the migration doesn't match any of the known pilgrimage migrations that we've documented in the past."

"What's Frontier Recon saying?" Mars said, picking up a twinge of anxiety in Juno's voice as she shared their findings.

"Matches the intel we're getting - the latest infiltration teams have all reported disorganization in the ranks. Adjutants and Zealots keep blaming the migrations on heretics, so safe to say, Frontier Recon has been having a field day. Recruiting numbers have been running through the roof but difficult to execute on anything."

"Difficult to execute on anything unless...?" Mars inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Some of my Frontier Recon guys have been on standby for more than half a decade. The longer we wait, the harder it's going to be for them to keep the insurgents in line, and the last thing we need is for any assets to go rogue when we've got them where we need them. Whatever the Yan are up to, we've got Xaidullah and Qaraqash locked down, and you're mopping up the leftovers in Yuddha. That gives us the supply chain, the boys in Future Command have the equipment, and the locals have the numbers. I'm going to bring up forward deployments at the National Security Council next week, and I want us to be on the same page when it happens. I don't want your men across the border anymore than you do, but if the Yan are going dark, then we need to take the initiative while we still can."

"That's a pretty big if," Mars sighed, "We both know Aurelian isn't going to sign off on any arms or manpower going beyond the border until you get proof of that intelligence."

"Looks like we both have homework then," Juno concluded, as the pair walked away from each other.

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Postby New Aza » Mon Feb 06, 2023 10:14 pm

Fairway wrote: Juno concluded, as the pair walked away from each other.


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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 07, 2023 10:36 am

SDF-Tietê, Inbound to the Fairway System, A Few Minutes Later...

"...fifteen minutes," Alan announced, reading the Captain's reply aloud to no one in particular. He hadn't attached any priority to his query and so it had taken a few minutes as well for her to get back to him; her suite might be just outside the sliding doors at the back of the bridge but like the Ensign at Navigation she was out-and-about back in her home body. Sliding forward to the Helm, he keyed in a new set of numbers - setting the 'Tietê's arrival at the system's terminal shock boundary at fifteen plus another five minutes. The Captain had some Hawai'ian in her ethnic mix and so 'fifteen minutes' was fairly interpreted as 'we'll get there when we get there.'

Which was fine. That would hopefully give Lieutenant Xokkun and Ensign Guerrero a chance to work out just what the heck was going on with the sensors before they arrived. Speaking of; "Any luck?"

"Luck? No - skill and care, yes. The problem," the hStraakean nearly hissed, "isn't with the sensors. A phenomenon associated with the system itself is impeding our sensor scans. We;" the Ensign was occupying the stool while they were standing with their back feet on an adjacent console and their front claws gripping the back of the stool, allowing them to look over and around the junior officer's left shoulder; "have run multiple scans of nearby systems. Those have come back as expected and thus the phenomenon is... Ah."

"Ah? Could it have something to do with the... spacial mismatch?"

It was a well-established fact that the galaxy and even the universe was fractal in nature. Some might even compare it to one of those 'magic pictures' that occasionally peeked into the consumer consciousness where if one stared at the seemingly random collection of noise for long enough and from the right distance a different, hidden picture would emerge. Cities, nations - even entire planets or star systems - could appear or disappear depending on just how widely they 'agreed' with established norms. Back at the Academy there was a required class devoted to the topic which discussed not only the concept but its effects and side-effects in some detail.

That had been a while though and one tended to forget or misremember what wasn't associated with one's specific duties - something of the reason for the regular cross-training, actually.

"It is possible," Xokkun agreed, their horn-hooded eyes focused on the console. "We have focused our current sweep on refining the area of this phenomenon and your suggestion might have some merit. There are five inhabitable planets in the system, yes?" This wasn't a question; rather the question had been asked to establish whether or not the Commander had been paying attention; "Yes - that's what you said."

In point of fact, the Commander could see this with his own two eyes. While the main display at the front of the bridge showed a simulated view of the universe outside zipping slowly past, the sunken holo-sphere that sat at the nexus between the Helm, Navigation, and Captain's station was filled from side to side with a projection of the system itself, ending just after the aforementioned terminal shock boundary. Adding a marker for the 'Tietê would have required installing a very long pole and holographic projector on the ship's stern. Instead an observer of the sphere would know the ship had arrived when its marker would appear suddenly at the very edge of the bowl: a meter-and-change in front of the Commander's feet.

"The effect is centered on these five planets and diminishes in potency as distance increases. By this simple fact, this puts the planets themselves as the focus of our attentions but this in turn raises further quandary. The phenomenon is not insurmountable - it simply requires more energy be devoted on our end. Unfortunately, that energy will then be expressed on the other end."

Which was a statement - hStraakean being naturally disposed to a careful and controlled disposition - that suggested a bit of explanation was in order. Long-range sensors, such as those installed aboard the Impact-Class Cruiser, were fundamentally a permutation of the same technologies that allowed for faster-than-light travel. Often this included more vague terms such as 'distributed super-sampling' and 'transient space-time matrix' but in short they allowed the ship to look from 'here' to 'there' faster than it itself could reach that same location. Long-range sensors had been a critical development in the history of faster-than-light space travel; if one couldn't look before they leapt, it was quite possible to leap in front of a galactic tour bus.

"...which would be bad;" "Very much so," the horned felinoid agreed. "As I said - the effect is strongest closest to the inhabited planets. To achieve the same level of detail possible at the edge of the affected area on the planet itself, the power required would kill a nearby baseline human."

"...because they're human," Ensign Guerrero put in. Sometimes an important detail was going to get lost in the clutter, especially if that clutter involved an interesting technical discussion.

"What's that? They're baseline humans?" Alan called back, adding the modifier based on her partner's previous 'suggestion'.

"Well, we're not completely sure on the 'baseline' part," she clarified, bringing up a number of charts and data-streams on a side panel. "But human? Ninety-nine percent sure. We've got atmospheric composition, we've got some stray radio signals, we've got... Put it all together and they are human."

"...I suppose that will make things a bit easier," the Commander decided aloud. "If a little less interesting. Still - there's this phenomenon, right? Any chance they are responsible..?"
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Postby Fairway » Tue Feb 07, 2023 11:53 pm

Takeda Gardens, Asaka, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...0330 Hours
Officially, there were no Fairway military personnel in the Yurungkash Conservancy. Officially.

In reality, Frontier Recon - the tip of the spear, as they liked to call themselves - were crawling all over the Yurungkash Conservancy. They had a dozen different missions, from funneling arms to a half-dozen nascent insurgencies to mapping the outer layers of the accessible hives. Throughout her time as director, Juno liked to think she got along with all of her subordinates, but Frontier Recon always sent a shiver down her spine.

"It's good to be back," Romulus snarled over the comms. No agent embodied the spirit of Frontier Recon more than Romulus Takeda. He was one of the most effective operators in I-Squared, but his disdain for agency procedure and cavalier nature was stark even by the standards of Frontier Recon. Despite the myriad of skeletons in his closet, Romulus was too valuable for Juno to be cut loose. Not yet, at least.

"Did you skip your OPSEC briefings or do I really need to tell you not to show up at a Republican Guard checkpoint?" Juno growled back. She could virtually see Romulus' smug expression, probably rolling his eyes at agency procedure. "How much do they know?"

"Enough," Romulus spat back. "Mars is close enough to the fence on an escalation to be useful, but he hasn't been sold enough for him to do anything premature."

Juno breathed a sigh of relief. By virtue of being Proconsul - and the Aurelian Mandate - Mars had virtually unlimited jurisdiction in the Wildlands. Juno had few, if any, tools to limit the Republican Guard's authority - they were operating in a direct warzone, after all. She liked it better when the Republican Guard were too consumed with building preschools and water purification facilities on Kashkar to operate freely in her jurisdiction.

"Alright - fill me in," Juno replied, "How sure are we here?"

"Frontier Recon has been telling us for more than a year now that the collaborators are scared. Everyone's been jumpy. Behind the scenes, the priests don't know what to tell the Viziers, the Viziers don't know what to tell the adjutants. There's always been some dynamic of subterfuge between them, but once the Zealots stop getting answers, things start getting dicey."

"So how bad are things? Juno inquired.

"Bad?" Romulus chuckled, "They've done our job for us. This could be the biggest psychological warfare victory we've ever bagged. Let me put it to you like this Juno - when you've seen enough of the hives, you realize how fragile these things are. It's pretty simple to get arms into hives and to blow up a few points of infrastructure. What we spend most of our job doing is scaring the guys at the top. The Viziers and adjutants are the smart ones, but once you really start to mess with them, they just start sending the Zealots into the lower hives. No objective, no strategy - just kill enough of the lower caste for the others to get in line. It usually takes a couple of years to get to that point once things kick off - the whole playbook, targeted assassinations, infiltration ops, area denial - and even then some of these guys don't break."

"You almost sound excited," Juno replied. She could practically feel Romulus' enthusiasm through the comms link. The Frontier Recon guys had patience, but once they got a whiff of opportunity, they took it. One of their few redeeming traits, if at all.

"It's just how the game works - they're the ones who give us the numbers. Frontier Recon's got more arms volume moving into Yurungkash in a month than we ever had in Kashkar."

"Look Romulus - I know the numbers, but I'm not going to put the nation on the line for an opportunity. What if we're stepping into an ambush here?"

"You always find a way to rain on the parade," Romulus said, as his tone deflated. "Well, the flipside of this is the Yan part of the equation. Now that the priests are spooked, they're talking a lot more than they used to, and we've picked up enough information to know that whatever they're up to is big. I've got your Xenobiology teams in the loop on this, but we figured out more about the colony collapse stuff than we originally thought. A lot more. Kashkar spooked them more than we thought and showing up on their doorstep in Qaraqash and Xaidullah has really driven them over the edge. They're not just scared of us; they're terrified."

Romulus paused to put a cigarette in his mouth, audibly lighting it, as he continued. "The Yan out here in the Wildlands are different from the ones we saw on Yoson or Kashkar. These are the real red-meat guys, the true believers. When they started killing each other in Qaraqash and Xaidullah, it wasn't a civil war. We've seen enough of those on Kashkar to know how they go - this was a genocide. The hives are empty, because they killed everything inside of them - even the larvae."

"So, they think we're the Apocalypse?" Juno asked. Even she couldn't hide the biting anxiety in her voice. Her face burned hot, the same feeling she felt after reading the Xenobiologics intel on colony collapse. She dreaded reading the reports, knowing that each detail only raised a myriad of questions that her team couldn't answer in ten lifetimes. And the clock was ticking.

Romulus continued, pausing for a brief moment to take another puff, "Colony collapse wasn't a civil war - it was a holy war. When we showed up, it was a sign of the End Times. Some of the hives we've found haven't been touched for at least a decade, which means they were mobilizing for this even before we deployed. Kashkar messed them up pretty badly, more than we thought. Us showing up on their front porch was like pouring gasoline on a fire. I mean, they really stepped up their game - cleansings in the tens of millions. Xenobiologics is going to have a field day with the amount of recoverable biological material."

"Are they digging to get away from us?" Juno asked, lighting a cigarette of her own.

"That's where things go dark - it's what makes the hives paranoid. The priests don't have the answers anymore, and they haven't for a while. Once they stop hearing the Yan, the Zealots start taking matters into their own hands. So far, their approach has been to purge the lower castes, and the ones who survive will get atonement in the hives whenever the Yan decide to return."

Juno let out a deep sigh, letting out another puff of smoke. "I'll check in with Xenobiologics in the morning. In the meantime, get Frontier Recon active and operational. Keep it clean and be discreet."

"Could've told me that before I showed up on your doorstep - I can get back out in the field in the next cycle-"

"Get to Asaka - all hands on deck."

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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 09, 2023 7:26 pm

SDF-Tietê, Just Outside the Terminal Shock Boundary, The Fairway System, The Middle-South of the Delta Quadrant... Nineteen Minutes Later...

"...humans, huh? But no one we know?"

Commander Smithee shook his head in answer as Captain Ikaika settled into her chair, "No - no one we know. Before the fractal event the system was unclaimed - not particularly interesting to anyone unless you happen to be a major snow cone manufacturer. And now that we're inside the event horizon we've been able to get a good visual on their ships, orbital infrastructure, the like - the computer didn't pull any complete matches."

"We've also got enough stray radio to start putting together... Well, multiple translation matrix," Ensign Guerrero added from behind the pair. "So far everything looks to be a Terran derivative."

"So you think they'll be fine if we cruise in and say 'hello'?"

Again Alan shook his head to the Captain's surprise, "No? Why not?"

"We've also picked up some indications that they might be involved in some kind of conflict. Once the translation matrix are complete we'll know more but we've picked up what appear to be STL transports and warships transferring back and forth between several of the inner planets. I wouldn't call it a sizable number but it looks like more than just everyday - unless we happened to show up in the middle of an exercise."

Here he directed her attention to the holo-sphere, where markers showed a number of vessels with their projected courses painted in crisp red lines across the system plain. Most of the traffic seemed directed towards two in particular and that prompted the Captain to ask; "What's the deal here?"

"Good question - a good number of those are transports, judging from what we've been able to ascertain so far. Could be an exercise but could be hostilities. Again, if we could listen in, we'd know more."

"So let's wait until we can," Ikaika decided. "No reason to stuff our nose into their business, right? What about the sensors?"

The Commander looked back over his shoulder to where Xokkun was now working at a secondary console. The felinoid steadfastly ignored him and so he felt confident in his answer, "Still sorting things out. We're pretty sure the phenomenon isn't associated with the fractal event - there's been no change in the numbers. It's as strong as ever. So we're operating under the assumption that it is intentional somehow."

"Right, but okay - think with me here... If you'd just gone through a fractal event, you might be in a bit of a panic, right?"

Alan nodded slowly, "Sure..."

"But they're not - this might be an exercise, might be a conflict, but I'd expect to see every ship scrambled. This feels... low-key. We're also pretty sure they're humans which means they came from Earth, likely enough. So maybe we're looking at colonists?" she suggested.


"In the Delta Quadrant?" she twisted to gesture towards the holo-sphere. "That's a long, long way from Sol. You're not covering that distance at STL. But we're not seeing FTL traffic. The phenomenon interferes with FTL, right?"

"We'd have to put more juice in but we could punch through. I'm not sure where you're trying to go here, Captain," he decided.

"I'm not sure either. But something feels off. For now, we'll hold here and try and get more information..."
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Postby Fairway » Sat Feb 11, 2023 12:50 am

Takeda Gardens, Asaka, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...0400 Hours

Mars sat pensively, stirring a cup of the Yuddhaling tea, as he sat in the pagoda. The wooden architecture was a relic of the past, a sharp contrast to the electronic skyline of Lai Dai visible across the sea. Even as he stared out at the sprawling metropolis, his mind remained fixated on what Juno and Romulus had told him.

"Mars, why do you seek my wisdom at this hour?" Marcus wheezed, his elderly frame entering the room, as he held two cups of Yuddhaling tea. Mars stood up immediately, bowing his head to Marcus, who chuckled and shifted his hand dismissively. "No need for formalities at this hour Mars, you're too much like your father. Or should I start addressing you as Proconsul now?"

Marcus chuckled, handing a cup of tea to Mars, as he took a sip himself. Mars had met Marcus enough times to not be shocked by his humility. To most of the nation, Marcus was a larger-than-life figure, one of its greatest military commanders and the architect of the modern Fairway. Back in his youth, Marcus had once been Proconsul in the Hwasun Theater of the Yoson War, before there even was a Fairway to speak of. As Proconsul, Marcus had witnessed untold suffering and death in Hwasun, before unilaterally entering peace talks with Hwasun. After the Yamaguchi Accords were concluded and signed, Marcus threatened to march on Lai Dai to enforce the terms of the peace, preserving a lasting end to the conflict.

After the war, Marcus had devoted his time to repairing and healing the scarred nation. He spent countless hours working to reform Fairway into a better and more just society for its new citizens and mending the wounds between Asaka-Nakasone and Hwasun. Having lost his biological children in the conflict, like many Asakan families, Marcus adopted many victims of the war's suffering, earning him the monicker "Guardian of the Orphan Generation." There were many powerful men in Fairway, but Marcus was in a class of his own.

"It's been too long since you've visited Mars," Marcus replied, taking another sip of tea, as he looked at the young commander. "Tell me - what troubles you?" Marcus' smile had faded, and the weariness in his eyes was transparent. Despite his old age, Marcus still followed the public affairs of the nation closely, watching as the nation he had once built evolve and transform to the needs of modern times.

"Can a Proconsul not visit and simply pay his respects to his elders?" Mars replied, taking a sip of the tea. The Yuddhaling tea they were drinking had been a gift from Mars, one of the chief exports of Yuddha, where he centered his operations in the Wildlands. Mars sighed, looking up at Marcus, "Where to even begin - there is much to discuss."

"I have all the time in the world for you, Mars, it's the least that I owe your father," Marcus said, pausing to sip of tea, "Or you - for this tea! If I were you, I would've liberated Yuddha purely for a fresh taste of Yuddhaling." Even in his old age, Marcus still retained the youthful vim and vigor in his competition with the Ishihara and Harada Tea Gardens in Nakasone. Once, in his youth, Marcus had dreamed of turning the Takeda Gardens into a tea garden, though it had never agreed with Asaka's climate. "Tell me, how are things in the Wildlands?"

"I fear we are stepping into a conflict that we do not fully understand," Mars sighed, sipping the Yuddhaling tea on the table, "When I speak with my colleagues, I fear we risk losing our sense of purpose and direction in this Pacification."

"You and Aurelian are more alike than you think, Mars," Marcus said as he looked up from his cup of tea. "It is only human for you to feel these emotions, Mars, believe me - I have shared similar fears at many points in our nation's history. Whether it was Yoson, Kashkar, or now in the Wildlands, I have felt your emotions."

Mars raised an eyebrow, looking up to Marcus' stoic face as he continued, "Like I once told Aurelian before the onset of the Pacification, my greatest fear has always been that we - as a nation - would abandon the perpetual struggle altogether and tolerate the suffering of others as the price of our own selfishness and greed. You have been blessed to grow up in a time of unprecedented prosperity and bounty, but before these times, I can tell you countless times of our nation in its earlier days."

Mars took a sip of tea, listening to Marcus, "During the Liberation of Kashkar, every Proconsul in the Royal Asakan Rifles sounded just like you. The scope and scale of Kashkar was unthinkable in those times - there was no Republican Guard in those days, as you remember. Not to mention, a loss on Kashkar could have forfeited our nation's survival, and even a victory could come at untold cost in the end."

"Everything that we did on Kashkar was for the greater good of humanity. I have seen countless instances of the treachery of cowardice or wanton bloodshed for so-called honor in the heat of battle. I spit on those who have committed or tolerated either of these injustices. However, when the time for action came, I was never disappointed in the Royal Asakan Rifles - not in Mughlan; not in Kharaghoda; not at Paraspore, never. They fought bravely with the Auxiliaries to eject the Yan fleshmongers and their craven collaborators."

"Our nation sits at a pivotal junction today, Mars. I do not know how many more days that my weary soul will have, but we have been nourished by the comforts of security. Our citizens experience unprecedented levels of prosperity, unlike anything I could have imagined when the Republic was first founded." Marcus paused to point at the skyline behind them, "I still remember seeing Lai Dai packed with the victims of Yoson - the starving and hungry masses, the above-capacity orphanages, the widows and widowers. Each day, I take great pride in the actions our society has taken to correct these ills."

"In the Wildlands, the Yan may be weak and divided, and their collaborators hiding in the shadows, but their brutal slavery of our brothers continues. They tell me there are more slaves alone in the Wildlands than citizens in our Republic. Each day, they toil and work to harvest the fruits whose benefits they will never reap; in service of masters they will never see. Generations ago, before your time, it was not those in the Wildlands, but those on Kashkar or even Yoson - those whose descendants have formed the foundation of our nation and civilization - who were toiling in those conditions. These crimes against humanity must always carry a price, and that price," Marcus declared, placing his hand on Mars' shoulder, "is you."

His cold, feeble hand trembled on Mars' shoulder, as he struggled to reach across the table. However, even in his old age, Marcus' eyes still burned with the same pride and determination that they had on his first day in Hwasun. Mars could see generations of suffering in Marcus' eyes, as he stared into him.

Marcus lifted his hands from Mars' shoulder, pushing himself up from the table. He waddled out of the room, as two attendants entered and lifted the empty tea cups from the table, while Mars remained seated. Mars had never doubted their cause in the Wildlands, and, if he had, he wouldn't have accepted the mantle of Proconsul. He knew what would have to be done. He reached for his comms unit and pinged Juno.

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Postby Sunset » Sat Feb 11, 2023 1:41 pm

SDF-Tietê, Just Outside the Terminal Shock Boundary, The Fairway System, The Middle-South of the Delta Quadrant... Coming Up On Second Shift...

"...nothing like watching eight hours of television - nothing fun that is!" Captain Ikaika declared, raising her slender arms into a high stretch, lacing her fingers together and bending them back in a crackling ripple. A yawn followed then she pushed herself to her feet to pace the bridge. "Alright - let's put it all together," she gestured to the various different stations and streams scattered around the various stations. Media of all kinds played out on the assorted screens and for the most part it was familiar; while the average citizen of the Republic was not an avid consumer (and members of the Defense Force less-so), it was still a regular part of life and so they were used to the form.

Hours and hours (and hours) ago a string of passive sensor platforms had been deployed via 'Tietê's various launchers. These now formed a disc-shaped cloud around the vessel, funneling their collected signals into the computer where the data from the array was processed into coherent streams. Well - as coherent as late-night television ever was anywhere. While that same computer was then tasked with analyzing and correlating and generally 'ing-ing the contents, it was still prudent to put similar eyes to those that had made and consumed said media to their own consumption and analysis.

"Well..." Alan added a stretch of his own, "I'd say we've got a pretty good grasp now of what's happening on the ground. As I suspected, we're looking at a human colony of Terran divivation. Earthlings;" which - broadly speaking - matched the Republic's own origin story though the initial colony was much, much closer to Earth. "They latched onto this system because it had five habitable worlds..."

"...which brings up another set of questions," Lieutenant Commander Zrazeyr interrupted from her perch at the sensor console. With Third Shift over - again, hours and hours (and hours) ago - those officers had been rotated out for those assigned to the First Shift though some few remained effectively 'on duty' participating in the mass binge from the comfort of their quarters or homes. The LC was the lead science officer; outwardly she appeared to be a spartan woman of middling age with a mass of tattoos down one side of her body. Their PCB design hinted at her electronic nature though to be fair to the nature of the rest of the crew this was only a matter then of degrees.

"An arrangement like this is extremely uncommon - so much so that if it were natural the numbers suggest that it would be unique. To draw a direction connection to my point, another notable system with multiple inhabitable planets in a long-term stable orbit is Ares - Ares itself, Shiva, Anuke, and Chuh-Yu. And we know that it is not a natural system - those planets were moved into their positions during the waning years of the Kal-En-Vesho Matriarchy."

"You suspect the system is an artificial arrangement?"

"I do," Zrazeyr confirmed. "I also suspect that the same phenomenon that is interfering with our faster-than-light systems is related. More, I do not believe that the system inhabitants are aware of that artificial nature, though they do seem to be aware of the phenomenon - though more as a historical curiosity rather than as a pressing matter. Their conflict with the Yan absorbs the majority of their interest."

"Ah, the Yan... They seem like lovely people, wouldn't you all agree?" No one did but the Captain pressed on. "So - slavers. Which - as set forth under various treaties that I am obligated to follow - means that we are required to act."

While it was clear from the various media channels that each side was guilty of presenting both facts and opinions that were most favorable to them, the absolute fact of the matter was crystal clear. The Yan were slavers and slavers were bad and wrong; badong.

"There is a useful collision of facts there, Captain," the artificial intelligence injected once again. "The Yan seem to ascribe a religious significance to this phenomenon. I can't be certain of that - their extensive use of slave proxies means that there are few direct statements from the Yan themselves - but the Yan seem to have come to this system sometime after it was colonized by the humans..."

" fact they seem to have been on the verge of a complete conquest," the Lieutenant at the tactical station pointed out.

"Yes. It seems possible or even plausible that this phenomenon or whatever is responsible for it was the reason why the Yan came to this system in the first place. Again," she clarified, "I don't have absolute evidence to this point."

"But it aligns with our obligations to get involved," Ikaika agreed, settling down to lean against the bridge railing, arms crossed. "First things first. As much fun as it would be to go all lone wolf, we have to file the usual reports. Especially since slavers are involved. My guess is that Fleet will dispatch elements of DeltaComm. But we were here first so we'll go in, contact the... Fairway Administration? Kinda feels like they're on a golf course. We'll contact them and start making the nice noises. Slavers are bad, we'll be happy to help with with their problem because slavers are bad and their problem is now our problem... And that will give us an opportunity and excuse to take a closer look at this phenomenon and whatever's causing it. Any objections..?"
Last edited by Sunset on Sat Feb 11, 2023 1:43 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Fairway » Sat Feb 11, 2023 11:47 pm

Office of the Chancellery, Lai Dai City-State, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1000 Hours

The Office of the Chancellery was more humble and a bit messier than Romulus had imagined. The minimalist architecture style featured a wood-hued synthetic interior, with reinforced paper curtains covering several layers of bulletproofed glass. Near the back of the room, a large, wooden standing desk dominated the interior, covered in messy stacks of papers strewn about the top, adjusted to fit Aurelian's short stature. Romulus sat down in one of the cream-colored chairs, crossing his legs and lighting a cigarette, as he heard Aurelian's footsteps approaching.

Though Romulus had never met Aurelian in-person, he had been close with his father, Augustus Yokota. Born in Xaidullah, Augustus had been a ferocious insurgent in his service for Frontier Reconnaissance. His exploits had laid the critical foundation for the Pacification of the Wildlands by establishing a beachhead for the Republican Guard, both in Xaidullah and Qaraqash. The Ghosts of Yokota, as his insurgents had been dubbed by Frontier Reconnaissance, had been among the bravest fighters that Romulus had ever met, able to meet Yan in open battle - and win.

Romulus had cherished the time he had spent with Augustus. A larger-than-life figure, his national profile in Fairway was rivaled by that of Marcus Takeda alone. After the long and arduous integration of Kashkar, Augustus' struggle against the Yan Hegemony brought renewed vigor to Fairway's military establishment and citizenry alike. His visionary idealism complemented Romulus' practical focus on tactics, with the duo liberating hundreds of millions of slaves in Xaidullah alone. When Augustus had sent the young Aurelian, his adopted son, for a better life in Fairway, Augustus would regale Romulus with the dreams he had for his son. In one of their last conversations, Augustus had made Romulus promise to look after Aurelian after his death, not knowing how soon that day would come.

As Augustus demobilized and received citizenship in Fairway, his wartime exploits catapulted him to the frontlines of the Senate, before announcing his candidacy as Chancellor. The Senate and people of Fairway rallied around Augustus' candidacy, promising a war-time coalition to bring an end to slavery in the Wildlands at any cost. His insurgency in Xaidullah had made it untenable for Fairway's political and military establishment to ignore the blot of slavery in the Wildlands any longer than they already had. The Wildlands had long been an open question in the back of Fairway's mind after the Annexations of Kashkar, and Augustus had the answer. To signal this commitment, Augustus gave his landmark campaign address in Xaidullah in front of a camp of newly-liberated slaves, delivering them the promise of a better life in Fairway and victory over the Yan Hegemony.

To this day, Augustus' final words still haunted Romulus. Days before he was scheduled to give the address, Romulus and his Frontier Reconnaissance auxiliaries had tried to persuade Augustus against delivering a campaign address in a live warzone. Augustus, ever the insurgent he had always been, had simply grinned, replying, "Death comes for us all, Romulus."

In his decades of service, Romulus had seen thousands of men die, but nothing could prepare him for seeing Augustus' assassination. The shocking scene, bullets tearing through a national hero, had been broadcasted to tens of billions of viewers in Fairway. The public and Senate cried for retribution. For justice. For war.

Aurelian had taken his father's place in the public consciousness, launching the Pacification of the Wildlands, annexing Xaidullah and Qaraqash into the Republic, and granting citizenship to all freed slaves in the Wildlands through the Aurelian Mandate in his first term. Xaidullah and Qaraqash had become the new frontlines of the Republic, filled to the brim with Republican Guard and I-Squared personnel, as well as hundreds of millions of freed slaves.

Once Fairway's youngest Chancellor, Romulus was surprised at how much Aurelian had aged. His once jet-black hair now had grayed considerably as he entered his third-term, while the heavy bags under his eyes dominated his face. He was barely forty five. Romulus let out a puff of smoke, as Aurelian sat down in the chair in front of him, reaching for a cigarette himself.

"It's nice to finally meet you, Romulus," Aurelian said, as he wrapped his lips around the cigarette and lit its tip. "My aides tell me you were close with my father." Aurelian had spent his entire life estranged from Augustus, being raised on Hwasun by Justinian Yoo, alongside his adopted brother, Mars. Even when Augustus had returned to Fairway, he had never asked about Aurelian's whereabouts. Romulus had always suspected that Augustus had his own flaws, but he never voiced them publicly, or privately. "You two had quite the career out in the Wildlands, at least what from what I've gleaned."

"That we did," Romulus replied, letting out a puff of smoke as his cybernetic arm removed the cigarette from his mouth, "Your father was the best insurgent I had ever met - he killed a handful of Yan with nothing but a coil rifle, not even a single drone. It was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen on the battlefield."

"Impressive - I'm glad we have a wide recruiting pool for our Chancellors in Fairway," Aurelian replied coldly, his mouth forming into a slight grin. Romulus could sense the awkward tension in the air between them. In sharp contrast to Augustus' visionary, idealistic, and adventurous personality, Aurelian had the cold, stern personality of a hardened technocrat. He had always heard stories from Juno about Aurelian, but up close, Aurelian was one of the few men in Fairway who could genuinely intimidate Romulus.

Aurelian was notorious for being detail-oriented when it came to policy. Ironically, perhaps, since the onset of the Pacification, Aurelian had delegated much of the tactical planning of the campaign to the Republican Guard and I-Squared, focusing his efforts on bureaucratic reforms and industrial policy. Though he maintained a regular and close dialogue with Proconsul Mars Yoo on the latest developments on the front, he had spent the past few weeks booked in meetings with key industrialists and bureaucrats on the latest Five Year Plan.

"I hear from Juno it's been a while since you've visited home," Romulus replied, his clunky tone thrown off by Aurelian's cold, programmed replies. "Perhaps it might be nice to come visit some of your old colleagues every now and the-"

Aurelian cut him off, interrupting the flow of the conversation. "Romulus, I assure you I have full confidence in the capabilities of our intelligence community. There are many important matters to be tended to today, so can we get things started?" Juno had mentioned that Aurelian was a rough, executive-type, but Romulus had still expected a bit more jovial banter before breaking the news to him.

Romulus cut to the chase, pushing the tip of his cigarette into the ashtray on the table. "The latest intel that we've gathered over the past several months has highlighted an unusual pattern among the Yan Hives currently under observation. We've found dozens of hives across Yuddha, Xaidullah, and Qaraqash that have been completely cleansed by a type of religiously-motivated genocide among the Yan."

Romulus continued, "The remaining Yan have fled to hives much deeper in the ground than what we've seen out of normal tunneling behavior, as well, and they appear to be fleeing away from our advance. Our surveillance operations have picked up increasingly nervous communications exchanges among the upper castes, particularly the Viziers, Adjutants, and Priests, who have grown more concerned by the Yan's absence. Many see our arrival in the Wildlands as a sign of the End Times."

Aurelian looked down at the hive scans on the table in front of him, as he puffed on the cigarette in his mouth, sifting through the pages of comparisons. "Well then, I would suppose it's your job to make sure that they're correct." He said, grinning slightly, as he looked back up at Romulus. "This is probably more of a conversation on my end with Mars, but from my meetings with the bureaucracy and Republican Guard, there should be available manpower for a deployment into Yurungkash. I take it you're aware that Futures Command has been working day and night to meet the latest round of production quotas set in the Five Year Plan."

"Right," Romulus said, impressed at the meticulous level of detail that Aurelian placed into his work. Romulus had briefed with Chancellors in the past, but on the minutiae of intel analysis, few were as willing to get in the weeds as Aurelian. A true alumnus of I-Squared, perhaps.

"The more pressing concern is going to be the scope and scale of any conflict. I am willing to contemplate an authorization for additional covert activities, coupled with a greater Republican Guard presence beyond the border, I want this to be a targeted, clean, and quiet operation. Both Mars and I are going to need more intel before we can do anything more than that."

Romulus sighed. He and Juno knew that Aurelian was going to be a tough man to convince. Aurelian did, admittedly, care deeply about the war effort and the integration of new citizens into the Republic. However, Aurelian also had to spend his days battling with the Senate and bureaucracy on essential, but mundane policies. This year's Five-Year Plan was proving contentious, particularly on the Strategic Minerals Reserve. Romulus might have had little appetite for these civilian matters, but they were the dominant agenda item of any responsible Chancellor, regardless of their background.

"Fair enough," Romulus replied, his cybernetic hand resting in the chair, "There's a few different options on the table. From both my and Juno's perspective, the best path forward is going to be a full-scale mobilization of the insurgents. We've successfully infiltrated a few of the hives in question, but have not yet escalated area denial efforts. Once we've secured a foothold, which may take several months, we can start examining the hives more closely and go from there."

"A reasonable course of action, Romulus," Aurelian said, his expression emotionless as he pushed his cigarette into the ashtray, "I appreciate your briefing, and we can finalize operational planning at the National Security Council meeting at noon." With that, Aurelian stood up in his seat and returned from his desk, picking up an information packet on the latest Strategic Minerals Reserve update that had come in earlier this morning. Romulus stood up awkwardly in his chair, nodded, and strode out of the office.

Augustus would be proud.

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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 12, 2023 5:11 pm

FSS-DE 57 RAGBI MAJERAHABED, On Patrol Near Space Platform HELIOS, The Outer Star System... 1093 Hours...

"...Captain - Sir!" Warrant Miles called out, his voice carried to his superior officer by the microphone collar arranged around his neck. Unlike the sprawling openness of the 'Tietê's bridge, each officer aboard the '57 was cocooned in their own little pod, surrounded by consoles and displays and sealed off in their own armored shell. The destroyer-escorts were practical and straightforward and their overall design had been compared favorably to a spaceborne brick; a long rectangle with a hash of launch tubes occupying mid-ships and the stern dominated by a robust fusion torch. At the bow was a cluster of antennas, receivers, and transmitters of various sorts and it was these that young Miles was charged with monitoring...


"...if we just blow in there and set down on the front lawn, we're going to cause a panic," Commander Smithee reasoned. "They're in the middle of... Well, not an existential conflict, but close enough. And even if these 'Yan' don't spot us coming in themselves, it's a sure bet they have spies and sympathizers. Our arrival is going to change the calculus of the conflict. If we've established that the Yan won't be our friends and probably even our enemies, it would be better to make sure they don't know the calculus has changed until it is too late for them to do anything about it..."


"...I'm picking up a distress signal. Very faint. Piping it over to your station now."

If it was a distress signal, it was no longer much of one. The required ship identifier had been mangled by static and the message itself was broken and practically incoherent. 'What's more', Captain Jeliko thought to himself as he listened to it a third and then fourth time, 'it shouldn't actually be there'.

HELIOS - the space platform '57 was assigned to guard - was a helium-3 extractor built or rather suspended high in the highest atmosphere of the inner two of the outermost planets in the system. Roughly analogous to Neptune and Uranus, the closer of the pair was a vast stockpile of the useful gas with the platform's product powering not only the destroyer-escort but most of the nation as the fuel source for their fusion reactors. While vitally important, there was also very little traffic and patrol duty out here was among the sleepiest of postings.


" we'll want to be clever about it. Subtle. The fewer people who know about it the better..."


"...what've you got on your scope?" Jeliko asked, looking over his own in turn. The Captain's station was essentially a replica of the others though simplified in function. There was a razor-thin ring around the planet - mostly large ice crystals and pulverized asteroids - but here and there were larger pieces though even these were typically no larger than an old-fashioned refrigerator. The signal had been triangulated to one particular arc and that at least made sense. Navigating the rings was dangerous business and even a warship was at risk of damage.

"Indistinct contact in grid five-seven by thirty-two. Variable return - I'd say it is tumbling," the Warrant replied. He had the gimbal-telescope pointed at the source but the scattered ice field around it was turning this into a refracted mess. The radar return was better; "Fairly large. Twenty meters by ten. Whatever it is, it is moving out of the ring. Telemetry puts it at five thousand meters closer. Fifty-five hundred..."


"...looks like they've got some kind of industrial platform around one of the outer planets," Captain Ikaika observed, leaning forward to double-check the contents of the holo-sphere. Where her eyes locked onto one of the markers, a convenient page of data opened up a few moments later to show what it was - or at least what 'Tietê's computers thought it was. "Probably an extraction operation. There's a few ships nearby - warships, transports;" these were mostly either at the platform filling up or arcing back and forth between it and what appeared to be a transit hub in the inner system. "If it isn't all automated, that's probably your 'fewer people' right there..."


"...have we ever lost a ship out here?" came the obvious question, this time from the gunnery officer. She'd been keeping track of the conversation just out of the unlikely possibility she'd get to shoot at whatever it was but that was already looking unlikely.

"There's been a few accidents," Jeliko replied absently while taking another listen to the distress message. It could be a trap - the Yan did have a few ships of their own but nothing in the briefs had suggested that any had been spotted in the outer system. Still; "Miles, keep an eye on it but open your ears wider for anything else nearby that seems suspicious. I'm going to message 'HELIOS command - this could be a trick meant to draw us off before a sneak attack on the platform."

That was certainly a possibility and Miles had already considered it but there was just as much of a possibility that it was a legitimate distress signal. Presumably the devices were designed to last and whatever debris it was attached to could very well have been drifting around the neighborhood for decades, "Yessir. Object is now twelve thousand meters closer," he added before expanding the arc of his sensor sweep beyond that narrow tangent of sky.

Acknowledgement of their situation came back only a minute later but it was nearly five minutes after that that the platform commander sent her own reply with accompanying orders; "We're to assume the distress signal is legitimate but proceed with caution," he read off - exactly what he'd intended to do anyway. "How long until it clears the ring?"

Legitimate or not, there was no way he was taking '57 into that mess. He had the distinct feeling that if it was real, it had been there for decades and it was more than likely they would end up rescuing nothing more than some historical artifacts.


"...but ideally we'll want to keep the numbers even smaller than that. And make sure our message ends up in careful hands. What if we..."


"...thirty-five minutes."

Jeliko checked the clock. That would put it at about 1230, "Chief, we'll need an EVA. Unless there's some indication that this thing is inhabited, I'd like to give it some time to completely clear the ring plus a safety margin. Can you be ready by thirteen hundred?" That should be more than enough time to prep the engineering drone - normally available for enacting minor external repairs - and for the object to get close enough that he would feel comfortable diverting '57 from the normal patrol route.

With an affirmative reply, he took the opportunity to sit back and sweep the other consoles. If he was a Yan, he'd try to make sure his opponent was fully distracted before springing the trap. But there was nothing - at least nothing that couldn't be explained locally. The other patrol ships had shifted to a higher alert level but the column of lights that indicated their general status said nothing more. All of his own lights showed green as well, except for an amber light on the drone bay door - the Chief preparing to send out the spider-legged craft.

Time passed at an appropriate crawl; but nothing.

Finally Miles broke in with a report, "The object has cleared the field - I've got a clear view on the telescope;" and Jeliko pulled that up on his own screen. It certainly looked like it had come from something like his own ship. Slowly spinning on an off-center axis, it looked like it had once been the corner of a familiar hull. A multi-maneuvering unit occupied the very corner and where the armor plating and hull layers trailed off he could make out the remains of a spar structure. There was a tangle of interior systems as well with conduit and wiring trailing out in mismatched strands.

He flipped back to the distress signal; louder now, it still mostly sounded like the inside of a broken television. A distinguishable word here and there that if you strung them together could be interpreted as a call for assistance.

"Helm, put us on a parallel course a hundred thousand klicks away with us between the object and the platform," he ordered.

This wasn't fast but neither was it particularly slow as the maneuvering units attached to the corners of '57's rectangular hull rolled her about. It would be a solid five burns - the hard acceleration of the fusion torch pushing him firming into his seat each time - until the destroyer had swung around and past to match course. By the clock it was now 1256 and he granted himself a brief satisfied smile, "Alright Chief - you're go for launch. Gunnery, keep your eyes on it."

There was the possibility still that it was a trap - missiles tucked away inside or something - but as the drone shrunk from spider-on-a-camera-lens huge to an octagonal speck on the view from the closest external camera, this seemed like less and less of a possibility. At a hundred thousand klicks the camera couldn't see anything but there was the engineer's camera feed and this showed the spider first touching down and then slowly picking its way over the exterior. Behind the visible debris space spun crazily - the drone was off-center to the off-center spin and moving as well.

"None of this looks right," the Chief said, breaking his concentration for a moment to pause the drone on the edge of a wire-draped crevasse. "It could be older though."

And it wasn't like things rusted in space; still, the Captain swept his consoles again and called out a reminder, "Everyone else keep your eyes open." Which meant he missed the moment just before the Chief said; "I've got something here," and he turned back to see an orange light glowing dimly.

"The distress beacon?"

It sure looked like what he thought one should look like - bright orange under the drone's lights with reflective yellow stripes and markers. It had once been mounted fast to an interior spar but one of the brackets was hanging loose and the other was a thin metal strap. A pair of shears on a manipulator arm cut straight through and the entire thing came away. That seemed to be good enough, "There'll be a registry plate inside," the Chief noted, twisting the drone away before finishing a perfunctory crawl across the surface.

If there was anything else this didn't uncover it and the question of whether this was indeed the source of the message was settled as the drone jumped away to begin the long drift back, "Signal's getting closer again, Captain."

A thought occurred and Jeliko followed it up with an order, "Gunnery, load a nav marker. Target the debris and fire. No reason to risk anyone running into it;" and he began to pull himself out of his pod until he thought better of it. The idea of being in the bay to open the beacon and discover what ship it was from had crossed his mind but better he keep an eye on things while the Chief opened it up with the waldos in the bay. Better yet...

"I don't want that thing inside the ship - can you open it up outside, Chief?"

"Tricky, but sure;" and he could always watch through the cameras. A long wait while the drone returned and they were closing in on near 1400 when it touched down. If it was a cleverly disguised bomb... Well, it wasn't. A long breath and he watched as a heavy claw held the beacon firm while another, more delicate hand-like manipulator worked its way through several fasteners. A hatch flipped open and on the inside...

Well, it wasn't a plate. Instead there was a document pouch taped to the inside with 'Captain's Eyes Only' written across the outside cover in clear block letters. In fact, the beacon now seemed to be an empty shell, the dull orange indicator light having gone out the moment the hatch was opened.


Jeliko sat forward in his chair, staring closely at the document pouch. Below the large letters were smaller letters suggesting that this was somehow attached to military intelligence. 'But why'; but the instructions were clear. "Bring it inside," he ordered, popping his harness open and pushing himself out of the pod. "I'm heading to the hangar - I'll take it to my cabin. Prepare a time-locked recording and send it to the Commander in case it blows up on me, but no other external comms - or internal chatter - until I figure out what this is about."

It took an uncomfortably long time for him to exit the pod, clamber down the connecting passage, repeat the procedure at the drone bay hatch, and then cycle the exterior airlock to find the packet sitting right where the drone had left it. Back again through the whole thing and when he was finally seated in his bunk with his cabin door dogged and locked... Half of him wanted to tear it open. The other half - the Captain half - told him to log the whole thing.

With the recording started (local save only, no backup), he began with the usual - name, rank, serial number. Then a brief recounting of the events. Finally, he put the packet out where the camera could see it as he opened it up. Inside a sturdy transparent wrapper was something like a thick envelope, though also made of plastic. Pulling this out, he turned it over so the camera could see both sides with the same instructions on both and then opened the tabs. Inside was a single thick sheet of plastic as well as what appeared to be a business card with a sunburst emblazoned across one side.

A quick examination of the back of the sheet - it was blank- and he flipped the sheet around to position it for the camera before reading the words in a voice that was suddenly shaking, "Captain; Your government is about to be contacted by an interstellar civilization. To avoid a possible panic or alerting potentially hostile parties, relay the card contained here to the highest possible authority possible without informing any unnecessary individuals. Once it has reached its destination the card should be activated by firmly pressing the logo on the front. Signed; Captain Ikaika."

He had no idea who that was. Pushing the sheet aside, he held up the card and carefully turned it over. The back was blank but the front was embossed and the stock tastefully thick - there was even a watermark! But aside from these there was nothing indicating that the card was anything more special than your average exceptional business card. Was it a prank? Some kind of weird joke? If it was a prank the effort involved was considerable.

But there were additional considerations. Somewhere deep in his memory a remembrance of a mostly-ignored briefing surged back to the surface. It had seemed an especially unlikely occurrence but here it was; 'Standing Orders in Case of Alien Contact.' If this was indeed alien contact - and it at least felt somewhat likely - there were procedures in place. That at least was a place to start. Stopping the recording, he set it to auto-delete in thirty minutes then toggled on his personal console.

There were manuals and a few keystrokes discovered the briefing in question. Right there at the top; a series of bullet-points followed by step-by-step explanations of those points. A quick skim and he skipped to point three - one and two were oriented towards the junior officer, instructing them to contact their CO - him. Point three though...

He toggled on the cabin intercom, "Comms - I need a secure line to the intelligence officer on the platform. Highest encryption..."
Last edited by Sunset on Sun Feb 12, 2023 11:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Fairway » Mon Feb 13, 2023 12:00 am

National Security Council, [Undisclosed Location], Asaka, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1230 Hours

The delegates from Fairway's military and intelligence community had quietly shuffled into the subterranean facility, buried well below the surface of Asaka. The facility had been constructed centuries ago as a contingency measure in the event of a catastrophic Yan invasion, but had since been expanded into a covert meeting ground for Fairway's national security elite. Providing enhanced discretion and confidentiality, the journey down was always an inconvenience, though it certainly beat shuffling Fairway's bigwigs into a single, exposed room on the surface. Lai Dai might have been safe in Fairway's interior, but nothing could be left to chance. As they entered the facility, they handed over any personal communication devices on their person.

Chancellor Aurelian Yokota took his seat at the head of the conference table, as several aides distributed cups of enhanced nitro cold brew and Yuddhaling tea to the participants. He took a brief sip, as the aides filtered out of the room, and the delegates relaxed in their chairs. "I apologize for the short notice," Aurelian began, "The agenda for today's meeting is of the utmost importance and confidentiality, as always. We will be reviewing the escalation ladder in the Wildlands, beginning with a presentation of the latest intel gathered from Frontier Reconnaissance, followed thereafter by a discussion regarding the scope and parameter of operations. Juno and Varia, please begin at your convenience."

Juno nodded, distributing a series of thick intelligence packets, containing summaries of his findings and relevant data. The delegates all began sifting through the reports, as she cleared her throat to begin. "To summarize findings, Frontier Reconnaissance agents have collected a wide swathe of SIGINT, HUMINT, and GEOINT in Yurungkash confirming a noticeable shift in Yan behaviors, relative to our most recent meeting on the subject of colony collapse. The reports you have been provided contain the full briefing materials for your own reference throughout our discussion today; however, to summarize, our findings suggest that the Yan have begun large-scale migrations deeper into the crust of Shillong with unknown motivations."

Varia Khashkeli, I-Squared's Deputy Director of Xenobiologics chimed in, "Section I reviews the most recent intelligence discussions on the subject of colony collapse within Xenobiologics. To summarize, for context in Juno's presentation, our prior understanding had been that the Annexations of Kashkar had destabilized centralized governance models within Yan hives, forcing an acceleration of inter- and intra-hive violence. These findings had received consistent verification on the ground through both CELESTIAL DRAGON and AUTUMN HARVEST, highlighting excess mortality rates within hives and greater political dislocations among higher-caste collaborators within Yan society."

"Expanding on these findings," Varia continued, "Over the course of the past several months, consistent Yan behaviors have shifted our understanding of colony collapse within Yan society. Coordinated sweeps within HONEYCOMB ALPHA, HONEYCOMB BETA, and HONEYCOMB GAMMA clusters within Xaidullah, Qaraqash, and Yuddha have indicated the large-scale depopulation of hives. The consistency of these patterns are matched with significant concentration of Yan activity in a newly designated cluster, HONEYCOMB THETA, located at the confluence of several clusters primarily within Yurungkash. From existing GEOINT sourcing, HONEYCOMB THETA's cluster differs from the normal pattern of cluster activity, in that, HONEYCOMB THETA lies at the nexus of several existing clusters, with no unique entrance at the planetary surface of its own, in contrast to conventional Hive Alpha, Beta, and Gamma classification designations, all of which feature unique points of entry and a unique point of terminus. HONEYCOMB THETA not only lacks a unique point of entry, but also preliminary scanning ranges have highlighted no unique terminus at the subterranean level, with the deepest region currently 10 miles within the crust. Imaging and sampling within HONEYCOMB THETA remains limited due to operational difficulties operating at these depths; however, the higher layers of the clustered hives appear to be completely abandoned, matching the pattern seen in HONEYCOMB ALPHA, HONEYCOMB, BETA, and HONEYCOMB THETA." Condensing Varia's points, Juno held up a copy of the report, spreading the two pages with comparative diagrams of hive geographies to underline her point.

"These GEOINT findings have matched additional SIGINT and HUMINT data gathered by Frontier Reconnaissance among the upper elite castes within collaborator society. These are aggregated in Section III of the report; however, to briefly walk through findings, the higher castes appear to be mostly in the dark on the latest migrations. While the Yan have exhibited more limited communication with their priests, they appear to have not informed the priests of the motivations or reasoning behind their disappearance or migration. These findings have been consistent across the major sites currently subject to ongoing infiltration operations. Relevant case studies in the report include activities in the following sites: DARA, SHANDANA, SHAZMINA, and SHAHLALAI."

Juno paused for a moment to clear her throat again, before drilling into the details. "These five hives, with an estimated combined population of 3 billion humans, have all featured accelerating levels of instability within the higher castes. The usual administration patterns, characterized by priests holding absolute religious authority and viziers holding absolute administrative authority, appear to have broken down in the absence of greater clarity on the whereabouts of the Yan. In their place, the zealots, who are typically subordinate to the orders of the priests, have assumed varying levels of direct or indirect authority in these hives, typically characteristic of later-stage hives that have been extensively compromised. The regular, paramilitary guard formations, reporting to the adjutants and viziers, appear to have been eliminated by the zealots, providing their caste a monopoly on the use of force among the higher castes."

"These increasing levels of political instability have been triggered by intensified religious tensions among the higher castes. The priests and viziers appear to be very familiar with the phenomenon of colony collapse; however, their conversations have highlighted the phenomenon as being much more deep-rooted in Shillong than originally forecasted. Following the Annexations of Kashkar, the entry of our forces into the periphery of Yan territory, coupled with the extermination of the nomadic Yan clusters on both Yoson and Kashkar, had been heralded by both the Yan themselves and their priests as a sign of the End Times in their indigenous religion. As such, colony collapse has deep theological significance for the Yan, with the dominant faction, which we believe is linked to the construction of HONEYCOMB THETA, pursuing a religiously-motivated genocide of their own species as a form of atonement. Across the five selected case studies in Section 3, the zealots' response, in the absence of further clarification from the priests, has been to emulate these actions, particularly through larger-scale purges of lower caste members of society, in the hopes that doing so will summon a return of the Yan."

Varia chimed in, "I should note that Section I also contains an overview of the regular-way escalation ladder in Yan hives. The lower castes are often the subjects of selective purges that expand in scale during periods of greater instability among the higher castes; however, given the significant deterioration of the political order within the selected hives, as well as the displacement of the vizier, adjutant, and priest castes by the zealots, it is likely that these plans will be larger in scale and may proceed faster than our normal experience has been. Further, there is risk of a negative feedback loop, as these purges of the lower caste will severely reduce nectar output within these hives, severing the connections between the Yan and their collaborators, and, potentially, preceding a much more bloody genocide of the lower castes by the Yan, should they return to these regions."

"As such, given the deteriorating conditions and the secular increase in both insurgent enlistment and activity, our official recommendation to the National Security Council is to authorize an acceleration of covert activities in Yurungkash and the joint deployment of select Republican Guard and Auxiliary Force divisions to complement existing Frontier Reconnaissance capabilities." Juno concluded, looking at the faces of the other delegates, as they sifted through the diagrams in the reports. There was a deafening silence in the room, as they processed the degree of severity of the information that they had been provided, with layers of contact logs, recordings, and scanned imagery supporting their argument. For a little over a minute, everyone sat in silence.

Mars was the first to begin the conversation. "Republican Guard operating capacity has improved month-on-month sequentially over the past several months, particularly in Xaidullah and Qaraqash. Several units, including the 33rd Tanjung Brigade, 49th Khaling Rifles, and Kharaghoda Expeditionary Corps, have reported significant success in locating hideouts of collaborators, with priests and viziers in Xaidullah and Qaraqash currently fully accounted for. Remaining security risks in the region include the risk of additional zealot incursions, which have been particularly concentrated in the regions of Xaidullah and Qaraqash along the Yurungkash border. From the available intelligence, it appears that zealots operating within Yurungkash have been providing material support to the remaining units in these provinces. Outside of the border regions, zealot incursions have fallen considerably, so these three divisions would all have capacity to provide existing support for covert operations within Yurungkash."

Flavius Sharma, Praetor of the 33rd Tanjung Brigade, nodded in agreement with Mars. "The armament and weaponry that we've collected in connection with Xenobiologics have supported the notion that zealots within the hives in Yurungkash are providing material support to insurgents within Xaidullah and Qaraqash. In the past, these flows have been limited, due to rivalries between different hives and castes, so zealots had primarily relied on the support of their viziers or priests to remain operational. It is our understanding that the intelligence provided supports this, given the greater heft of the zealot class across the select case studies. Weapons of origin match Frontier Reconnaissance records from SHAZMINA and SHALALAI from recent insurgent categories."

Vegetius Rao, Praetor of the Auxiliary Futures Command, scribbled notes in the margin of his report as he cycled through Sections III and IV, listening intently to the conversations taking place around him, before chiming in. "This may be more of a question for Juno and Varia than it is for you two, but in terms of the firepower demand we're talking about, what would you be asking for from the Auxiliary Forces?" Vegetius, together with Proconsul Faustus Aso, were the representative delegates of the Auxiliary Forces, Fairway's conventional armed forces branch, specializing in the use and deployment of Fairway's arsenal of advanced autonomous weapons systems. Though the Republican Guard had borne the brunt of the fighting in the Wildlands, the Auxiliary Forces cooperated closely for combined arms and close air support.

Juno sighed, trifling with the report as she took a half-second to process Vegetius' question, "In terms of the ask, we'd primarily be looking for anti-personnel classifications for now. Given the recent acceleration in armaments, Frontier Reconnaissance has sufficiently equipped the insurgents in these regions at this stage, with any variability in capabilities being cleaned up by the manpower support from the Republican Guard. In terms of asks, on the anti-personnel side, we'd be looking for Proserpina, Mahakali, and Orcus swarms to be on standby. Indicative estimates on these are included in Appendix III of the report, but we would also propose that it would be wise to stockpile the anti-Yan munitions across the border as well, namely Thunder Dragons and Jahangirs."

Faustus nodded, his eyes firmly fixated on the notes, as he scribbled away furiously and circled a few points. "I'd probably defer to Mars and Flavius here, then, but we currently have sufficient spare capacity in our reserves in Xaidullah and Qaraqash to support an operating footprint in Yurungkash. We're currently in the midst of cycling in the new deployment of peacekeepers, so in terms of offensive capacity, we'd be more than ready to support operations."

Aurelian sat back in his chair, folding his hands as he looked up from his notes, studying the faces of the delegates in the room. "The intel that you've provided is fairly robust in support of additional covert action authorizations across the border; however, to address the elephant in the room, if I'm understanding things correctly here, we have conviction that we're not walking into a trap, because of the deterioration in political relations at the upper echelons?"

Juno nodded, "That would be correct, Aurelian - the main risk that we would see would be a potential coordination between the Yan and the zealots against the other castes within the hives as a form of a coordinated strategy. However, were this the case, the damage to nectar output already highlights a significant divergence between the objectives of the Yan and the objectives of the zealots. Should the Yan attempt a larger-scale operation against our forces in the Wildlands, there are a few options that we've discussed in Xenobiologics that Varia can touch on."

Varia elaborated, "The main path to securing our existing holdings would be the usual playbook of Escalated Area Denial tactics in HONEYCOMB ALPHA, BETA, and GAMMA. By doing so, we can force the Yan into the exit points that we've mapped out from HONEYCOMB THETA which are separated from each other by several hundreds of miles within the Yurungkash region. If we can split the swarms across these locations, that should provide our operating forces at DARA, SHANDANA, SHAZMINA, AND SHALALAI to execute normal TENEBRAE protocol to conceal activities. Further, we can also hedge the risk of any further Yan reprisals within these hives in particular by sabotaging nectar-producing regions as part of a first strike, per the normal playbook."

Aurelian nodded in agreement, "Those steps all make sense - I provide my authorization for an escalation in covert activities in the Wildlands along these parameters. I take it there's more than enough planning to be done amongst your groups, so to any extent I can be helpful with my civilian counterparts, let me know. If you could all put together an operating report, detailing the status of forces and parameters in an official document, I'd be happy to provide my signature so we can get the ball rolling on things."

As the meeting concluded, the sound of rapid footsteps outside the conference room became audible. There was a murmur of voices, as the new entrant exchanged dialogue with the guards outside of the room. The delegates looked at each other in a state of mild confusion. Given their sensitivity, National Security Council meetings were rarely, if ever, interrupted. The door hissed open, as Romulus Takeda entered, flanked behind by several of his deputies from Frontier Reconnaissance, carrying colorful insignia.

"I'm afraid there's been a change of plans," Romulus said coldly, as he distributed the packets to the members of the National Security Council, "I've included a summary of the intelligence that we've already been provided; however, it appears that an extrasolar power has made contact with one of our mining platforms. They received a document pouch containing the information in these packets, announcing themselves as an interstellar civilization. Intel is still preliminary; however, there appear to be no immediate linkages to the Yan. Frontier Reconnaissance teams are on-site and have a comms link on standby."

Juno's eyes opened wide as she sifted through the packet, reading the words of Captain Ikaika, before looking up to face Romulus. "I take it Xenobiologics hasn't been able to confirm a sender on these?"

"Negative, there's no match on any known Yan collaborator cells or Yan matching the communication style. The summary log highlights the events leading up to its retrieval which significantly increase the probability of legitimacy."

Aurelian read the packet a few more times, before closing it and snapping into action. "As commander-in-chief, I am now triggering AUTUMN HARVEST contingency protocols. Romulus - get us connected into FLEETNET so we can communicate directly and make sure Frontier Reconnaissance keeps everyone accounted for in the information chain. Faustus - begin mobilizing any available fleet resources in domestic space and expand surveillance in the vicinity of the targeted areas. Mars - mobilize your praetors immediately and begin domestic mobilization."

They were finally here.

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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 13, 2023 1:38 pm

IsoUnit 2, Space Platform HELIOS, The Outer Star System... 1420 Hours...

...if Captain Jeliko had been aware of the character, he might then have felt much the same as Gordon Freeman; a man trained in a completely different discipline suddenly forced into another by circumstances beyond his control. Why? He had already gotten a succinct answer to that exact question.

"...a reduction-in-risk, Captain," the operative from Frontier Recon had explained to him as he'd ushered him through a series of completely abandoned corridors linking '57's airlock - the destroyer escort was now docked directly to the station (though at the remotest possible umbilical) - to one of the industrial clean rooms. This had been rapidly evacuated of any unnecessary equipment and now only that which could not be moved or had for whatever reason been deemed necessary remained. "You are the only person to have handled the object;" which was tucked into its original envelope along with the plastic sheet and then inside a sealed pouch hanging around his neck; "and you will remain the only one to handle it until we can be absolutely sure it is safe."

Which mean that the veteran spacer was now led through a series of tests and inspections by a battery of remote experts while he floated naked in the isolation cell. Why?

"...if the object is inoculated - infected - with a biological agent, we will be able to observe its effects on your body. Now, place your clothes in the pouch and place them in the materials airlock, Captain..."

Thankfully, the tests had come back negative. Less thankfully - and thus less reassuring - he'd conducted those tests himself, walked step-by-step through gathering a surface specimen, exposing that to the growth medium, then inserting that into the incubator. Another sample was placed under a microscope and he watched through the local eyepiece - knowing little more than what he recalled from high school biology - while the remote expert commented. More samples were taken and then he was moved on to the next station.

The next station was a detailed examination of the card itself and that was where things started to get interesting - or at least more understandable. The first microscope suggested that the card was just what it looked like; thick cardstock made of pulped wood fiber. The second was essentially a x-ray version and was capable of looking through the object. This revealed a thick network of microcircuitry sandwiched between the front and back. While he wasn't an expert, he'd seen enough during his years of service to be able to puzzle out the basics. A touch sensor under the sunburst logo, a processor - a few chips he didn't recognize but could guess at.

This all seemed particularly interesting to the experts though their reactions struck him as unenthusiastic. The circuitry was not Yan in origin but neither was it particularly advanced - there was nothing to learn here except for one of the chips that was essentially a black hole; completely opaque even to the sensitive equipment. The suggestion was made to turn up the juice but that was veto'ed out of concern that this might damage the circuitry. There were a few more tests as well - meters to check for different types of radiation, spectrography to try and determine the composition ("Wood.") and whether the object smelled like anything.

Then it was time for the briefing. The assumption was straightforward - somehow this object would put him...

Wait a moment; why him again?

In this case the answer had everything to do with immediacy and again safety. Presumably the card would put him in communication with this 'Captain Ikaika'. Even after all the tests, the higher-ups felt it wasn't safe to bring the object further in-system until their bonafides had been established - that they were who they said they were. If it did somehow put him into direct communication, there was still the question of immediacy and then further familiarity. He knew the most about the situation and any communications with the central government would be hampered by several minutes delay. There was also the possibility that these could be intercepted and while unlikely, this was considered an unneeded risk and one that the instructions themselves had warned against.

"Can I at least put some clothes on?"

His request was followed by several minutes of silent consultation and then a 'Yes' with a utility coverall that seemed straight from the factory being passed through the materials airlock. Pulling it on, he did his best to make it look at least uniform'ish though it would never pass as regular duty. Clearing everything away from the table in the center of the cell, he locked his ankles around the stool that was bolted there and placed the card in the center of the table. A strip of tape - to keep it in place - and a few moments for everyone who wasn't trapped in the cell to make sure all the recording equipment was pointed in the right directions and...
Last edited by Sunset on Mon Feb 13, 2023 7:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Sunset » Mon Feb 13, 2023 9:47 pm

IsoUnit 2, Space Platform HELIOS, The Outer Star System... 1545 Hours...

"...hold it. Move away from the table."

There hadn't been a 'now' tacked on to the end but there might as well have been, such was the tone of the officer who stood beside him. Jeliko hadn't even heard the personnel airlock whisper open - maybe the spook had been in here the whole time, maybe he'd just been concentrating on the last few moments - but with a hand on his shoulder he was politely but firmly turned to the hatch; "Out."

Once the personnel airlock had cycled, he wasn't at all surprised to find that the experts who had guided him through the tests had now been replaced by a row of similar officers, each in the uniform of Interior Intelligence; no names, no ranks. The one closest to the airlock was already waiting for him, a flat expression on his face and a single word ready, "Sit."

Jeliko sat and the spook turned back to the bank of monitors. There was a window above this though and through this he watched as the officer took the same stool he'd been using and arranged himself carefully in front of the card. Just as Jeliko before him, he was facing the observation station and his uniform was immaculate; not a bar or tab out of place. The officer next to him reached down and picked up a microphone off the console to position it where he could easily speak into it before making some adjustments to the console.

"If you have an commentary, record it here," he ordered with a tap on the device. "If you want to ask Officer Mittal a question or offer advise, hold up your hand so he can note your interruption."

Which sounded somewhat like they didn't particularly want either, but if they hadn't, they shouldn't have offered him a seat either. Doubtless the spooks had been giving his crew the once-over while he'd been away and it would be nice to get back to the '57 and assure them that everything was going to be fine.

Was it?

He didn't get a chance to ponder that further. With a single, precise movement the officer on the inside - Mittal? - reached out and put his finger on the card. Just a firm press, just as he'd been about to do. A moment later the image of a woman - human, middle-aged, wearing a uniform and with a mop of dark oak hair appeared in front of him. There were no scan lines - no tangents of illuminated dust between her and the card - just an image that looked as though she was right there.

If she happened to be just under a half-meter tall.


It was the least formal of greetings but Officer Mittal either didn't care or under all that spit and polish lurked a man who was just as nervous about all this as he'd been; at least, right up until he launched into his prepared speech:

“This is Romulus Mittal, Field Officer in Xenoforensics, acting representative of the Republic of Fairway. We welcome your arrival within our borders and mean no harm to your personnel or your vessels. We are a vibrant civilization among the stars, open to all who have faced oppression and discrimination in their homelands. Please feel safe and secure within our boundaries. Our head of state has instructed our security forces to protect and preserve your lives and assets against all threats, foreign or domestic, that you may face while inside of our territory. Our nation welcomes you.”

For a half-second he could see the woman's jaw moving and then her expression changed from mildly uneasy to a short, quick laugh; "Well, aloha yourself. Hello Field Officer Romulus Mittal. I'm Captain Ilza Ikaika, commanding officer, Republic Defense Forces starship 'Tietê. Nice to meet you," and she added a little elbow wave.

"And you," Romulus responded after a moment's hesitation. "May I ask - where are you? I presume the entirety of your ship is not contained within this business card?"

A good question and Jeliko glanced over the monitors in front of the other officers. It wasn't a hard guess that this was a communications device and that the other end was aboard her ship but where? Various instruments were doing their best to determine just that but all signs currently pointed to the card itself.

"Ah, no. You'd want to know that - make sure we're not some Yan trick. Lesse..," she paused for a few moments and then another image - this time of a starfield - appeared behind her. "Point your sensors at this area of stars. We're straight 'up' from your star's magnetic axis. We've got our lights on - you should be able to see us."

"We will do that. So," Romulus tapped a finger on the desk, "You know of the Yan?"

"Yep;" and she began to explain how her and her crew had apparently been watching their various media outlets for the better part of a day while one of the officers behind the console went about the task of commandeering a telescope.

"You want some help?" Jeliko wasn't an astronomer but he'd spent enough time looking out the window that he knew just where to point it - and it was more 'down' than 'up', at least by Fairway reckoning. One looked to the other and the other nodded, the first stepping off his stool and back from the console so the Captain could squeeze himself in, the other standing just over his shoulder. It took a moment for him to familiarize himself with the controls but soon enough he had the telescope swivelling towards the target.

" have the same selection of media?" "Yeah, but most of us like to get out there and do instead of just watching it ourselves. There's no risk, so..."

As soon as the patch was centered, he began to sweep the area closer, magnifying it further and further while keeping the entire area centered on a second display, "Hmm... You know this," and he reached up to pull the suggested microphone closer, "These are the stars as they appear from our position - which means she knows what we can see. Which means she knows where we are."

"Yes..." the one behind him admitted slowly. "Which means they are likely tracking the location of the card..."

The significance of that question was swept away in a moment as the magnified image finally reached the point where they make out something. Regular dots of light in orange and blue in a wide cluster. Closer still and there they were; scores of ships that looked like particularly angry horseshoes - all points and sweeps with silvery-gray hulls and lights picking out features and markings. Most important was that they bore the same sunburst logo.

"...if you weren't human they would have brought in a specialist but..."

One of the officers held up a hand and Romulus followed with an 'Excuse me" as he listened to the whispers in his ear. Then he turned back to the woman, cocking his head slightly, "We have confirmed the location of your ship - or should I say, ships," he reemphasized. "What are your intentions?"

"The Yan are slavers. We don't like slavers. In fact, we've signed a whole batch of treaties opposing slavery in all its forms. Treaties that I'm sworn to uphold. So - Task Force Apple Kart is here to help. Once we figure out how best we can help that is."

Officer Mattil didn't respond immediately. Instead he once again tapped on the desk, the officers outside waiting - one with baited breath - while he considered; "I think... Given the situation and the information at hand, it may be best to transport this communication device to Kuroda where you will then be able to communicate with my superiors. You will have to excuse me - I will need to consult with them before a decision is reached."

"Sure," she shrugged. "We'll be here. Just watching TV..."
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Postby Fairway » Mon Feb 13, 2023 10:43 pm

National Security Council, [Undisclosed Location], Asaka, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1630 Hours

Juno Moon tapped the comms link, ensuring they were connected on FLEETNET with the HELIOS. Frontier Reconnaissance had prepared briefing materials that they had dispatched via secure encryption to Juno directly. As the National Security Council reconvened in the meeting room, the mood was tense. After a few moments, Romulus Mittal's voice crackled through the FLEETNET channel.

"This is Field Officer Romulus Mittal of Xenoforensics, reporting in for briefing with the National Security Council." Romulus said, the connection clear. "To summarize, we have made contact with the Republic of Sunset, a foreign polity based outside of this solar system, with a detachment led by Captain Ilza Ikaika, the commanding officer on the 'Tietê. Their presence within our borders currently comprises Task Force Apple Kart, consisting of several vessels. First contact has been very friendly, with no intention of territorial acquisition or enslavement."

Aurelian nodded, resting his elbows on the conference table, as Romulus continued, "Notable capabilities include the ability to track the location of the provided cards included in your prior briefing reports, evidenced by their ability to indicate stellar geographical positions on our scanning devices. Use of this capability does not appear hostile in nature but will be noted for further research. They also appear to have access to our public media broadcasts, highlighting their ability to access our communications network. As such, they have communicated their awareness of both the Yan Hegemony and our ongoing conflict in the Wildlands, though it is unclear to what extent or scope they have access to specific information. Captain Ikaika did, however, note in her commentary that they are neither affiliated with the Yan, nor is this a 'Yan trick."

Romulus cleared his throat briefly, "The most notable highlight of our interaction has been their indication of several treaty agreements against the practice of slavery within the broader galaxy. Captain Ikaika has indicated that her Task Force is treaty-bound by their polity's civilian government to uphold these treaties and, as such, has offered military assistance against the Yan Hegemony in the context of the ongoing Pacification of the Wildlands. I have her on standby at the moment, pending further orders."

The atmosphere in the room noticeably relaxed, as the delegates all leaned back in their seats and looked at one another. "Understood, Romulus," Aurelian replied, "We will briefly convene amongst ourselves and dispatch further orders on the next stages of communication with Captain Ikaika." Juno deactivated their connection to FLEETNET, as the delegates all wore expressions of confusion, surprise, and happiness mixed together.

Faustus Aso was the first to chime in, with an excited tone, "I don't think I need to understate the significance of these developments for anyone in the room, but I think we could be on the cusp of a new revolution in military affairs. They appear to have a significant technological advantage over our forces and could provide a significant edge to the existing Auxiliary Forces deployment in the Wildlands." The other delegates nodded in agreement at Faustus' words, still a mix of shock and surprise pervading the atmosphere of the room.

Mars followed up, "In terms of next steps, it would be wise for us to provide them an official briefing on both the existing stages of the conflict, as well as the dossiers on the military history of the Yan, to get them up to speed on any information that they may be missing. Romulus can either present their contents live on the current open stream or provide the files directly to their crew, to any extent possible."

Aurelian nodded in agreement, stepping up from his chair, as he started to pace around a bit and stretch. "These are certainly welcome developments; however, it would be irresponsible for me not to ask - Juno, do you have any recommended redactions or tradecraft in any of our briefings?"

Juno shook her head, "For now, I think the existing state of the conflict is fair game until we have more information. Romulus should present those, and, to Faustus' point, inquire and collect any additional intelligence on the state of their capabilities and resources in their current Task Force. As a side note, pending further developments, we should prepare civilian broadcasts for a public announcement of contact; however, we should not do so until Romulus has extended an official state invitation for them to land in Lai Dai."

"Agreed," Mars nodded, "Republican Guard units have already been mobilized on Kuroda, Yoson, and Kashkar; however, they report that civilian morale and stability have not been affected. The official media line on abnormal weather anomalies in the Outer System has held so far."

"Understood," Aurelian said, "Juno - can you bring Romulus back on the comms?" Juno tapped a few buttons on her interface, connecting the room back to the FLEETNET channel.

"Romulus - we have prepared next steps," Aurelian began, "You are to re-establish contact with Captain Ikaika and do the following: first, provide an official briefing on the state of the ongoing campaign in the Pacification of the Wildlands, as well as the military history reports on prior Yan encounters. From there, please inquire on the size and scale of their existing capabilities, both qualitative and quantitative. Finally, please relay a state-approved invitation for them to land at Aso Point for an unofficial state visit with the Chancellor.

"Understood, Director Moon," Romulus replied, "They are likely to ask about our capabilities - they should be covered in the Pacification of the Wildlands, but for further discussion, should I relay them back to you guys?"

"Affirmative," Juno replied.

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Postby Sunset » Tue Feb 14, 2023 1:27 pm

RDF-Bulwark, Amid Task Force Apple Kart, Just Beyond the Terminal Shock Boundary, Just Outside the Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...

" the moment, it would be fair to say that both of those questions are up in the air," Admiral Nyabekhi answered, leaning forward across the conference table to lace his long fingers together. Both sets of them. While extrastellar contact hadn't seemed to make much of an impression in-and-of itself, there were still things that the locals would have to adjust to - such as the fact that there were a lot of non-humans in the Republic and that they were if anything underrepresented in the Defense Force. As a Ju-Docri, the Admiral was just one such adjustment.

Captain Ikaika was another. Already it had been decided that as the ship that had been first to the scene, 'Tietê and her crew would be the public face of official contact between the two. At least until Ambassador 'Ozhiyu arrived to take up the officially-presumed assignment. That would leave Nyabekhi clear to follow Maxim 63: 'The Brass Knows How To Do It By Knowing Who Can Do It.'

"Qualitatively is certainly relative - and has a considerable impact on quantitatively. I would suggest our first step should be to exchange liaison officers to the other's command. Get acquainted - establish some insight into our methods and modes of operation. If you are amiable, I already have an officer in mind," and he nodded - long space-elf ears bobbing as he did - over to where another officer sat at one end of the table, Captain Ikaika at the other. "Lieutenant Commander Tshon will accompany Captain Ikaika to the reception."

Thanks to the magic of the card's holographic projector, the seating arrangement on both ends of the card had been rearranged with Field Officer Mittal appearing to be seated opposite the Admiral in the middle of the long oval table while the table and its occupants were likewise projected into the IsoUnit aboard HELIOS. This also afforded the I-Squared officer a chance to more reasonably interact with the Task Force's other command staff, all of whom filled in the seats between the four prominent positions on the oval.

The officer indicated was yet another alien. This time they looked something like an awkward attempt at an otter with a long pair of arms that also served them as two outrider-legs while their tail - which they were standing on, sitting being presumably awkward - was used as a pivot point.

"I would like to meet with your field commanders as well as your general staff, as well as some of your field agents and insurgent recruits," Lieutenant Commander Tshon broke in without preamble or introduction. While judging the attitude of a non-human species was difficult, his tone seemed to be particularly self-assured. "Having reviewed the file provided by Captain Ikaika, my own analysis suggests that the central point of weakness is that the ultimate motivations of the Yan are little-understood. This is due in part to an inability to completely communicate with them and it is here that our expertise will be particularly useful."

"...yes. You should understand that the Anixtl are naturally adept at understanding personal hierarchies and assuming their own place in that hierarchy as it pertains to their personal abilities. This also tends to make them straightforward - sometimes uncomfortably so."

The Anixtl offered no apologies and the Admiral didn't ask for them. Instead he continued, "Once we determine what your relative needs are, we can then adjust what we provide accordingly. I feel that military liaisons - and the Ambassador, when he arrives - will be an important part of making that determination..."

Which, with pleasantries, was enough to bring the meeting to an end and send the 'Tietê sliding into the heart of the system and their appointment at Dai Lai...
Last edited by Sunset on Tue Feb 14, 2023 1:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Fairway » Tue Feb 14, 2023 9:54 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1900 Hours

Far from the metropolitan center of Lai Dai, packed with throngs of pro-war rallies in the aftermath of Chancellor Aurelian Yokota's address to the nation, Fairway's military brass assembled in the depths of Ashikaga Castle, preparing to divulge the nation's military history and tradecraft to the delegates of the Republic of Sunset. The official briefing committee comprised Proconsuls Faustus Aso and Mars Yoo, and several Praetors.

Tucked away from the sprawling metropolis of Lai Dai, Ashikaga Fortress was a sprawling military installation and defensive bunker built into the Ashikaga Mountain Ranges. Containing the nerve center of Fairway's Armed Forces, the Fortress housed the General Headquarters, or GHQ, of the Auxiliary Forces and Republican Guard. While Aurelian shuffled between smoke-filled conference rooms of the Senate discussing the parameters of new operations in the Wildlands, Mars Yoo had been instructed to welcome the new delegates from Sunset.

As the delegates disembarked from their vessel, Mars, flanked behind him by several Praetors of the Republican Guard, bowed at their guests, before introducing themselves. "I am Proconsul Mars Yoo, of Fairway's Republican Guard, and I welcome you within our nation. I am joined by Praetors Flavius Sharma, Vipsanius Prasad, and Tiberius Song, who lead our operations against the Yan. In accordance with our customs, we have prepared gifts and tea inside for your refreshment, as we begin our briefings." As they entered the interior of the mountainous complex, throngs of Royal Asakan Riflemen bowed at their new guests.

"We are most pleased by your arrival and humbled by your generous gift of cooperation in our noble struggle against the evils of slavery," Mars said, as the group entered a conference room, with a single rug, emblazoned with the imagery of war and sacrifice, hanging in the center of the wall like a tapestry. "In our culture, our soldiers sew war rugs as a sign of commemoration for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of liberty," Mars said, as he turned to the rug behind him, "During my training in the Royal Asakan rifles, I sewed this rug to honor my father's service and his sacrifice for our freedom."

The rug bore an inscription of war - a man suited in power armor, flanked by several bare humans, against a group of what appeared to be large insects, easily identifiable as a Yan. The figure dominated the rug, with an added layer of shadow, flanked behind him by several humans clad in unusual, insect-like armor, carrying advanced weaponry. "When Fairway liberated Kashkar from Yan rule, he had been among the many who gave their lives in defense of liberty." Mars said, pointing at the inscription, "He had laid down his life in the Mughlani sieges, helping to free more than twenty million slaves from Yan rule."

Flavius Sharma nodded, acknowledging the sacrifice of Mars' father, before taking the rug down and rolling it up. Flavius knelt and presented the rug to Captain Ikaika and Lieutenant Commander Tshon. "On behalf of our nation, I give you this gift as a symbol of our goodwill."

Captain Ikaika nodded respectfully, picking up the rug from Flavius' hands, as he stood back up. "Thank you, Mars, for this gift."

A procession of Corpsmen entered, bearing teapots and samplings of Fairway's local cuisine for the delegates. As they entered the conference room, they bowed respectfully, before placing their gifts on the table. "We have prepared samplings of our local cuisine, as well as our ceremonial tea, for your refreshment," Mars began, as he served the guests their tea. "The tea variety we have brought you is Yuddhaling, a local specialty grown by the freedom fighters in Yuddha, a region on Shillong, where we are fighting the Yan. This variety is from a village on the outskirts of Yuddhajung, where I currently reside on the front."

"Our culture has shaped us to be generous and welcoming of outsiders," Mars continued, as Captain Ikaika and Lieutenant Commander Tshon followed along, "In our own past, many of us were once at the mercy of the cruel Yan slavemasters and their human collaborators. The dark shadow of our past has encouraged us to protect and preserve the dignity of life, not only within our borders, but in all nations. It is this philosophy which guides not only our state, but our society as a whole. We are all welcoming of all people from all walks of life, as long as they adhere to our laws and philosophy."

Flavius Sharma took a sip of tea, before entering the conversation, "We are not a warlike people. We despise and detest the unnecessary shedding of blood in the name of honor or for conquest. However, our people will always answer the call of service in defense of the oppressed or enslaved, wherever they may reside, be it in our own backyards or far away amongst the stars. Earlier in our history, the Royal Asakan Rifles freed my family from slavery on Kashkar, during the planet's liberation, after the battle that claimed the life of Mars' father. We were welcomed as equal citizens, with the same rights, privileges, and services in Fairway as those born inside of its territories."

"Please let us know if you have any questions about our culture or society, and we would be happy to explain more."
Last edited by Fairway on Thu Feb 23, 2023 10:44 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 16, 2023 1:56 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1930 Hours

"...I - we - do," Captain Ikaika replied, looking down the table to consider each of her chosen few in turn. Aside from Lieutenant Commander Tshon, who sat next to her, they were essentially there as placeholders for the forthcoming Ambassador and his team. Their job was to soak up the local culture, make some useful introductions, and perhaps establish some friendships or at least network. "But maybe we should start by introducing ourselves. So you can better understand who we are," she added with an affirming nod from the others, "So..."

"I'm Ilza Ikaika, Captain of the 'Tietê. I've been the CO for about six months now - ever since she was commissioned. Usually fresh ships get assigned to a shakedown cruise - make-work - so we were assigned to re-survey this sector. Go back over old ground, see if the earlier surveys missed something or something's changed. Why we're here," she shrugged. "Before that I served as XO on a 'numerical during the M33 conflict and did well enough that they gave me a named posting once things there had settled down. Before that the Academy and before that I was just another teenager back home on Chuh-Yu, looking up at the stars and wondering what's out there," she finished.

A look to her right and the man next to her nodded, "Sure. Commander Alan Smithee;" he was older than the Captain - mid-middle-aged - and with a good amount of gray in his beard already. "I'm the 'old hand' they brought in to give 'Tietê some seasoning when they first stood her up. I've been the XO on a half-dozen ships now and I'm doing what I love. I was born on Ares, Dad's a middle manager, Mom's a middle manager. So I guess I'm just following in their footsteps. In space."

Which took the introductions to the Anixtl; "Lieutenant Commander Tshon. The Republic conquered the Anixtl Hierarchy after we attempted to invade it. The warship I served on was made redundant when the military was reorganized under the Defense Force. My skill set is centered around drone and automated warfare so I joined the Defense Force, graduated the Academy as a 2nd Lieutenant, and applied for a posting with Admiral Nyabekhi. I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander at that time."

Passing back over the Captain, the introductions now landed on the Lieutenant - "Xokkun. The Captain asked me to come along so as to impress on you the diversity of species that comprise the Republic. I am one of very few that you will find in this galaxy as our homeworld is in the M33 galaxy, which the Captain mentioned earlier. We are a careful species and so while we could be called a space-faring civilization, we do not have the reach or resources of the Republic. As the most adventurous member of my creche, I decided to make the journey out into the wider galaxy. Perhaps someday I will return home and encourage my kin to do likewise."

"Which means I'm the last one," the woman opposite the felinoid held up a hand. "Lieutenant Commander Zrazeyr. Chief Science Officer. I'm also an artificial intelligence though maybe not what you're thinking. Most of the AI in Sunset weren't built to be sentient. We were made to be near-sentient interface systems attached to hyper-intelligent but non-sentient expert systems. I was the interface on a civilian vessel, the 'Zrazeyr. After enough years and enough light-years, I picked up enough experience to declare myself sentient. An important point there - in the Republic, you don't have to prove that you're sentient. They have to prove you're not. Which ties together with our position on slavery. We believe that consciousness is the most precious thing in the universe and suppression of that consciousness through slavery is thus one of the worst."

"So..." Captain Ikaika did her best to try and grab the conversation back, "That's us. Or at least five of us. The Republic is a lot bigger than that - you'll find us all across this galaxy and even in a couple others. But what about you? You're human - where did you come from before here?"

If there was to be an answer, it would have to wait as the Anixtl chose that moment to interrupt, "Captain, I have little interest in their history. I would like to begin my work instead. If one of you would show me to your command room?"

"Yeah, sure," she waved him off, "Go have fun..."
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Postby Fairway » Thu Feb 16, 2023 6:13 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...1945 Hours

"Tiberius," Mars said, looking at the Praetor, "Would you please direct Lieutenant Commander Tshon to Vegetius? I'm sure he must be eager to meet our guests." Tiberius nodded, standing from his seat and bowing before Lieutenant Commander Tshon, leading the Anixtl out of the room.

"Now returning to our discussion," Mars said, his expression a bit confused by the query, "Well we're from Fairway, of course. At some point our ancestors must have travelled from another region to arrive here, but we as a people have little interest in unpacking that part of our history. I am sure that our value systems are compatible; however, and we would be eager to explore these more in the future, perhaps under better circumstances." Mars' tone had shifted from its earlier stance, sounding a bit more cautious and reserved than earlier, in addressing the question. There was no direct offense in the question; however, it had made Mars a bit uneasy.

"Anyway, as for our full introductions, I am Mars Yoo, Proconsul of the Republican Guard," Mars said, taking a sip of tea, "I hail from Hwasun - a region on Yoson. I first entered service in the waning months of the Kashkari Annexations, before there even was a Republican Guard. My unit, the Royal Asakan Rifles, had been the vanguard of Fairway's military campaign on Kashkar for several decades, at that point. In my capacity, I lead the Republican Guard in its current campaign, the Pacification of the Wildlands, the latest theater of competition between Fairway and the Yan Hegemony. I'll let my Praetors introduce themselves directly."

Flavius looked at Mars and nodded, "I am Flavius Sharma from Tanjung. I was born after Kashkar had been liberated, but I had entered service before the Pacification had begun. In my capacity as Praetor, I lead the 33rd Tanjung Brigade. Alongside the Royal Asakan Rifles, we were the first to land in Xaidullah early on in the days of the campaign, well before the collaborators had relinquished control of their slaves."

"And I, Vipsanius Prasad, lead the Kharaghoda Expeditionary Corps. We had been the vanguard in Qaraqash, prior to its integration into the Republic. Our unit saw heavy and extensive fighting against both the Yan and their collaborators, and we would be happy to provide any additional operational details, to any extent helpful."

"For a bit more introduction on our unit and its function," Mars continued, "The Republican Guard is not merely a fighting force. We not only seek to liberate slaves from Yan rule but to provide them a secure and stable foundation for their new lives. Our campaigns last long after the enemy is defeated and our people have been freed. In conjunction with the other organs of our state, the Republican Guard provides healthcare, infrastructure, and basic services to those who have been freed from oppression."

"Our campaigns follow a simple and routine strategy. After our Frontier Reconnaissance teams, whom you have already been acquainted with, finish their infiltration operations, the Republican Guard is the backbone of our fighting effort. Our infantry fight both the Yan and their Zealots, the name we have given to their human slave soldiers that they employ on the battlefield. The Zealots are a tough opponent, far stronger and more technologically advanced than either our forces or the ordinary retinue of household guards that the hives maintain. They are not; however, invincible, and our forces have found clever and innovative strategies to subvert their authority within the hive and sow discord among their ranks, in conjunction with our armed struggle."

"Though we do not force those freed from the hives to fight in our wars, we do offer them arms, logistical support, and protection in exchange for their struggle alongside our forces. Those who opt to serve with us have the utmost respect among our people and are integrated into our units in the Republican Guard, should they continue to serve, or granted the respite of a civilian life. The nobility and honor that we have seen, whether among the Kashkaris or those in the Wildlands, is unmatched by any in our great nation, even the proud Takedas themselves."

Mars paused for a brief sip of tea, "The Pacification of the Wildlands is but the latest stretch in a series of campaigns that we have fought against the Yan using these tactics. I am sure that they may seem unusual or even outdated; however, we are acutely aware of our force discrepancy against the Yan Hegemony. Though we have little understanding of their beliefs or their technology, our security apparatus is actively aware of the fact that the Yan, if united, could be a serious threat to the interior of our Republic, and perhaps threaten even Kuroda itself. Against these circumstances, our greatest advantages are: first, the shared brotherhood between us and the lower castes in their hives, and the disunity among the Yan themselves. Unlike Fairway, the Yan are divided and decentralized - each hive functions as a semi-independent entity within the broader Hegemony. As such, we time our campaigns when they are divided or even at war with each other to maximize our combat effectiveness on the battlefield."

"Which brings us to our next question for you - how did you come to develop your position on slavery? Were your people ever enslaved or have you encountered the Yan or similar species in your many treks across the stars?" Mars asked, taking a sip of tea as he raised an eyebrow inquisitively...

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Postby Sunset » Thu Feb 16, 2023 7:22 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant... 2000 Hours

"Sure. M33," Captain Ikaika paused for a moment and then a holographic image of a spiralling galaxy appeared between them. "Triangulum. It's a bit of a story and I'm going to be going backwards here, but I mentioned I'd been the XO on a 'numerical warship there. Those are ships that don't have a name - just a number. They're just there for war and we were in a hell of a fight. We'd been fighting the Krȃng for about a year," and something there prompted the Commander to nudge her; "You should warn them."

"...yeah. It'll be in the advisories but you should know about the Krȃng," she agreed, pushing the first projection aside to magic up two more. The first was two-dimensional and was essentially a static briefing document with warning bars and bold text across the top and bottom. "This is what to watch out for," and she passed the image over for perusal, "and this is a Krȃng," she explained, summoning another image, this time of a translucent creature that looked like a cross between a squid and an amoeba.

"They're old - really old," Zrazeyr broke in. "The species evolved on a world in the area of the galaxy called the Monoceros Ring - the very, very, very fringe. They appear to have evolved as parasites, laying their spores in other creatures where they would eventually hatch. As the species evolved, they became larger and their effects on the infected more pronounced - typically resulting in a painful death as the young devour their victim's cranial tissues. They are vicious as well - while they lay multiple eggs, the hatchlings will fight each other until only one survives to hatch from their victim - likely causing even more pain and suffering for the infected individual."

"Eventually they evolved to the point of sentience," Ilza picked up the explanation again, "And their tastes evolved as well. They developed something like a religion that says that if their young are born from a sentient, they too are sentient. If they are born from an animal, they're an animal. As near as we can tell there's no actual difference but to the Krȃng it's enough - so they have a caste system. They will also attempt to engage in mass slavery because..."

"Somewhere around fifty thousand years ago, they built a massive invasion fleet as well as numerous colossal habitats before attempting to invade the inner galaxy. The intention was to fill these habitats with slaves that they would then hatch their young in. But they were attacked - counter-attacked - possibly by the very species that had served as their first hosts. That's the leading theory, at least. Their invasion was foiled but the Krȃng survived - they had sent a colony fleet to M33."

"...when we went to investigate, they had established themselves over a pretty decent empire. Something like two thousand star systems, all built-out with these same habitats. Billions of slaves in each, just waiting for a Krȃng to lay their eggs in them. So we went to war - both to free the slaves and try to exterminate the Krȃng once and for all," Ilza concluded, her expression turning sour.

"We didn't manage it," Alan explained further, his expression more careful. "The Krȃng are smart - never underestimate them. They knew we were going to win so they set things up to cut and run - and cover their tracks. It's called the Multi-Novae Sector now. They popped every star in the cluster, just as their ships were slipping away through their wormgates. We couldn't follow them - lost every ship that tried. We didn't manage to save a lot of the slaves either. They were more than willing to sacrifice them to keep us busy while they ran away."

"There's more to it than just that but yeah - we've seen some shit. Before that too. The Ardan War, all the way back in the beginning. Before my time but that was the whole point - Big Bad wanted to make everyone his slaves. That one was a little more cut-and-dry though. More of your typical war thing rather than brain-eating squid-things. And it was different," she emphasized, pointing to the rug. "I was on a ship. Push-button war. There were Marines... People on the ground. I can't imagine what that was like..."
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Postby Fairway » Thu Feb 16, 2023 8:30 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...2015 Hours

Mars' eyes opened at the mention of the Krȃng, listening intently as the group explained their society. Though there were a few similarities to the Yan, the horrific nature of their brutality shocked even the assembled veterans. For the Yan to defeat a polity like Fairway was certainly to be expected; however, for this species to beat the Republic of Sunset, a power with seemingly limitless capabilities by comparison, was surprising.

Reminded of his own campaigns against the Yan, Mars bore a stern expression, before turning up to the face them. "I still remember my first time in a Yan hive - certainly not one of the comfortable ones where you can share tea with an insurgent. I spent a year in a hive well before we started the Pacification with a unit of Frontier Recon agents to better understand the enemy." His tone had noticeably changed - no longer that of the cheery, optimistic field commander he had once seemed.

"This should be all in the materials we've provided you - but to summarize, the Yan, to their credit, are very intelligent. They understand our society and social structures much better than we understand theirs; it's why they've ruled out in the Wildlands for so long. I've always told my men that no matter how many books or simulations that you run through, you never really understand the Yan unless you've been inside of a hive. The early records we've found are incomplete, but one theory in Xenobiologics suggests that the Yan hives are built around the former clan structures that used to exist in the Wildlands. They used to be united - turned clans against each other and mopped up the remnants. The people they rule barely seem human the first time you see them."

"They layer their slavery in elements - most of those born into slavery at the lower castes will die as slaves in the lower castes. The lower castes make up the largest portion of the population of any hive. However, they recruit the higher echelons from among the lower castes every cycle - there are no hereditary positions or families in the hive. Each person is a single unit, separated from bonds of connection or love to their fellow caste members or those beneath them."

"The major defining characteristic is atomization - there are no families, there are no connections among the slaves. They match the lower castes once every cycle in forced breeding exercises and separate the families. The children are raised separately from their parents in competition against each other - those that do not thrive under these conditions are killed or exiled from the hive, to die in the wilderness. The children are 'raised' by subordinates of the priest caste who show them no love or affection. The segmentation happens early on - those who are 'high performing' are relegated into the lower rungs of the upper castes, while those who remain are relegated into the lower castes for the remainder of their lives."

"Those new entrants into the upper caste have no family and no allies in the hive. They are pitted against each other and forced to prove themselves in brutal rituals, both against each other and against the lower castes. Acts of unspeakable inhumanity are permitted in these trials, overseen and regulated by the priests. The constant competition and elimination within each of the castes enforced a sense of loyalty and fear towards the higher castes. The hive I was in had a particularly brutal ritual - forcing the new entrants into the higher castes to execute their birth parents, as a sign of their loyalty. Having seen many of these in practice, the more horrifying thing to me was not the killing - I've seen plenty of deaths, believe me - the more horrifying thing was the way they did it with no hesitation."

"The trials from there will vary - killing other new entrants, serving in military campaigns, or more acts of brutality upon the lower castes - but they are designed to strip the entrant of their humanity. They are subject to religious propaganda, viewing the lower castes as inhuman, and exalting the Yan as deities. After passing these trials, the entrants are rewarded with the nectar that we had mentioned earlier - an addictive, psychoactive substance that produces powerful hallucinations of religious grandeur. I can only imagine what its effects are like, but the society of the higher elites revolves around it - the priests and viziers can have access at their pleasure, but strictly regulate its access to the other members of the higher castes beneath them - household guards, administrators, adjutants, the usual. The higher castes are, of course, spared of the brutality of the forced breeding rituals once they ascend, though they are banned from taking spouses or mating outside of these instances."

"Those who are more physically able are inducted into the ranks of the Zealots, though we know less about them than the administrators. The Yan give another substance to the Zealots - something like a steroid that increases their physical strength and augments their genetics - Xenobiologics has not been able to fully grasp its origins or chemistry, so it likely originates outside of our system. The Zealots are a brutal caste - they have a brutal ritual that they use to mutilate their mouths to enhance their ability to communicate with the Yan. Despite these, our xenolinguistics experts still believe they speak a corrupted form of the Yan language without full comprehension, more of a pidgin or dialect than the full version. The rest of the lot get sent into the administrative functions - administering the slaves, defending the hive, keeping the lower castes in check."

"Unlike the usual guards in a hive, the Zealots are used in fighting against other Yan hives, primarily. Hence, when we launch an insurgency, usually the first line we have to get through are the hive guards, rather than the Zealots. The Zealots are only mobilized once the viziers and priests realized we're inside of the hive and damaging their infrastructure. Those Zealots who show promise in campaigns against other Yan hives are selected to become priests, and so the cycle continues for centuries."

"Perhaps ironically, the Yan outer hives have plenty of means of infiltration. Frontier Reconnaissance has it down to a science - figuring out where the vulnerabilities are, trafficking arms and other goods into the hive, and going from there. Despite these, the more disturbing part of their society, at least for me," Mars said, taking a brief sip of tea, "Is that the lower castes rarely, if ever, even attempt to escape before we arrive. Despite the technological advantage that the Yan and their higher castes have over us, the lower caste lives a feudal, semi-medieval lifestyle. No access to technology, limited access to healthcare except to keep them operational, and limited awareness of even their surroundings, much less Fairway's existence. Our specialists think that the Yan practice of slavery has a deeply psychological effect on the lower castes - keeping them docile and in-line over generations - enforced by the higher castes."

"A slave revolt is rarely a clean affair," Mars said, his tone shifting a bit more darkly, "I remember the hive still - FALLAH was the name we gave it internally - out in Xaidullah, the first one that we took. There were plenty - too many - lower castes who opted to side with their handlers. They aren't ever numerous, but there are always those who are so broken by this administration that they can't imagine a life without it. Even after a hive has been freed, they'll still escape with the zealots and priests, serving them in roving warbands in the edges of the country as they raid and pillage other outer hives for resources or our own villages."

"However, this I swear to you Captain Ikaika," Mars said, "Should these Krȃng ever threaten the life of even a single citizen of your great state - do not hesitate to inform us. We shall mobilize our available resources at any time to assist an ally."

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Postby Sunset » Fri Feb 17, 2023 11:13 am

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...2030 Hours

"...I think I need a drink. You got anything stronger than tea?" Ilza asked, staring into the depths of her cup. "The Krȃng, the Yan. Here's the deal," she began, accepting a cup of 'something stronger' from one of the waiters. "War on this scale... Millions versus billions versus... Best guess is that something like two trillion slaves died when they popped those stars. Sounds terrible, right? What a waste - but they were all doomed to that same terrible outcome from the moment they were born. The Krȃng had taken some innocent species and reengineered them to... Well," she dropped the rest of the cup in a swallow and held it up for more.

"A couple billion out of all that survived. Some because we'd taken their habitats early in the campaign, others through sheer luck and the hard work of some really brave crews. But they're still not 'okay' - even with the best therapy and counselling, it will take them years to enter galactic society. Same thing here. Some might come out okay, others may never. The best thing we can do is help you get this part over as quickly as possible - but it won't be over, will it?"

Meanwhile Back Aboard RDF-Bulwark, Amid Task Force Apple Kart, Just Beyond the Terminal Shock Boundary, Just Outside the Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...

", you'll be working with Commander BatShi here," Admiral Nyabekhi indicated the shorter and far furrier officer who had greeted the Fairway liaison officer at the airlock, "As well as with our Lieutenant Commander Tshon but I thought I'd give you a quick 'lay of the land' tour myself. Generally speaking," and he began to walk the pair through the not-at-all labyrinthine corridors of the ship, passing an occasional crew member here and...

Well, that was it. Despite the size of the vessel, the crew area just didn't seem all that big. Spacious, yes - but that wasn't the same thing. Perhaps unusual was that they were walking rather than floating and not under the constant acceleration of thrust either. Or perhaps not; the same had been true aboard the shuttle that had picked them up.

"If you can go somewhere, you can go somewhere," and he indicated a door already marked with the liaison's rank, name, and purpose. "Your quarters - private, unless you invite someone in. If BatShi takes you somewhere, again - you can go there. Pretty much everything is laid out along this central corridor," and the Ju-Docri paused right in the middle to look one way and then the other. "External access - shuttlebays, fighter launch bays - is all that way;" where they'd just come from, "with the bridge and command center up there," and he pointed the other to where a pair of double doors waited.

"Engineering, medical - they are all in the 'loops," and he led them down a short hallway to where the passage swung back again towards the rear of the ship. The inside of the loop appeared to be more crew cabins - name, rank - while the outside consisted of either bays or doors marked as to their resident function. "Escape pods," the Admiral stepped up to an octagon marked on the wall in warning stripes. "Doubt you'll ever need one but here they are. The hatch will open automatically in an emergency or there's this lever."

"Duty mess is here," he led them over to the other side; it didn't look like much of a 'mess' at all, rather a restaurant-like extension of the entertainment lounge that followed, "Lounge... That's just about it. We only have a crew of thirty six - though you might see an 'ARC here and there. Drones, blue skin - you'll be able to pick them out easily as they are very dull conversationalists. There's one," and he indicated a 'man' who was rapidly cleaning one corner of the lounge. Just as the Admiral had said, his skin was blue but also featureless - as though a thick blue sock had been pulled over his head.

"They're not people?"

"No, but an interesting story there. The first answer is that they are all robots. There's nothing complex enough in 'there'," and he tapped his own head for emphasis, "to ever become a person. Instead they're programmed for a number of functions - cleaning, maintenance, combat - that they can perform very well but not creatively. But when the ARC program was introduced, they looked a lot more human. Facial features, skin tones. The problem was that people started to bond to them. So they fiddled with their 'personality' programming - very," and the Admiral flattened his own pitch to a dull monotone, "very dull and with a limited, utilitarian vocabulary. We're on generation four now with five rolling out but it still happens occasionally... And here we are."

The Command Center was just what one might expect; a wide, open room with a situation table in the middle, various stations around the outside, and another pair of double doors that presumably led to the bridge ahead while a single door led to the Admiral's office and a double-pair on the other side opened into the previously shown conference room.

"Which - you have a station over here," Nyabekhi indicated a spot right next to his office, "And BatShi is here;" just opposite on the other side of the doorway. This was almost something of a desk as well with a couple personal items - a mug with the very traditional 'World's Best Dad' and a framed picture of a very, very, very large family on it - positioned where they would be visible but out of the way.

"Now, I'm going to send you and BatShi back to the mess. Have dinner or some drinks - get to know each other. Then as soon as we get the link established with Lieutenant Commander Tshon and your command staff back home, we'll all circle up and start figuring out what we can do about the Yan..."
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Postby Fairway » Tue Feb 21, 2023 11:33 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...2045 Hours

A few attendants entered, bowing and presenting their guests with the local Asakan gin, Lai Dai's drink of specialty, as Mars briefly mulled Ilza's question, playing with his glass. "Even for us, integration has always been the most difficult and taxing part of our responsibilities in the Wildlands. The slave we freed on Kashkar were no walk in the park, but slavery in Kashkar was never as deep or entrenched as it is in the Wildlands - not even close. Winning the war will be difficult enough, but winning the peace will no doubt be even more arduous for our Nation." Mars said, taking a sip of gin.

"Usually at the onset, Frontier Reconnaissance takes point - designating a safe haven as a demilitarized zone, where we relocate any refugees or freed slaves, which is where we get involved. Infrastructure, education, healthcare, land reform - that's all our territory. They're fairly small when we start operations but grow over time - hell, one of the biggest cities on Kashkar started that way at least. Psych usually takes the lead on counseling and therapy services, working pretty closely with Pharma and Biologics, but usually they come in a bit later once the area is up and running. In the meantime, we spend most of our time in the demilitarized zone either coordinating logistics or arming insurgents." Mars took a brief sip of gin, ignoring the irony in his last sentence.

"As the campaign scales up, so do civilian operations - as more Freedmen escape under insurgent protection, our focus shifts to field hospitals, schools, and coops - mostly focusing on giving the Freedmen productive activities. Once you give them enough training and counseling, they're some of the hardest working people you'll ever meet." He picked up the glass, "This gin is from Yuddha as well - the distillery is in Yuddhajung out on the frontier, where my men are frequent patrons - or so I've heard. Made by the hands of free men," Mars said, lifting the glass and clinking it against Ilza's in a toast.

"Once the area is reasonably secure, the bureaucracy also takes root - crop yields, tech optimization, urban planning, all of that falls into their domain. I'm sure you'll meet them soon enough - they're swarming all over Xaidullah and Qaraqash these days - they're an interesting bunch to say the least. The ones who keep the lights on, so to speak. The freedmen are given the right to vote in our elections once the bureaucracy has settled their administration, and, from there, with the guidance of the bureaucracy, they start entering the accession process to join the Republic. The structure of these processes and the bureaucracy more generally are covered in-depth in the civilian primers we've provided you with on our society, but they've been crawling all over Xaidullah and Qaraqash since we first sent boots on the ground. Feasibility studies, land surveys, resource exploration - they're handling all of that work while we're on the frontlines."

Mars' tone conveyed a genuine, albeit begrudging, respect for the bureaucracy. As much as the Republican Guard fancied itself a state within a state on the frontier, the bureaucrats were the real decisionmakers behind the scenes. From trade negotiators to monetary economists, Fairway's vast, sprawling bureaucracy formed the core of its state apparatus, guiding the accession process for new members and administering Fairway's dynamic economy from behind the scenes. Though their influence and sway over policy in Xaidullah and Qaraqash had grown dramatically in the past five years, they were effective managers, nonetheless.

"So, I suppose it's about time to get down to details, shall we?" Flavius said, finishing his glass of gin and opening a new set of folders in front of him, filled with confidential intel on the Wildlands. "Our latest intel findings are contained in the digital copies we've already provided, but our companions from I-Squared should be joining us shortly to get you all up to speed on the latest state of affairs on the frontlines nonetheless."

Meanwhile Back Aboard RDF-Bulwark, Amid Task Force Apple Kart, Just Beyond the Terminal Shock Boundary, Just Outside the Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...
Romulus Mittal was stunned by the advancement and sophistication of the technology aboard the Bulwark, as Admiral Nyabekhi led him around the vessel. Much to Xenobiologics' chagrin, Frontier Reconnaissance had been given the duty of handling all liaison operations with the Republic of Sunset until the establishment of formal diplomatic relations. As much as Juno pretended she was wary of Frontier Reconnaissance, she knew that the body had the necessary discretion and care to handle sensitive operations in unfamiliar environments - more so the Xenobiologics case officers working on the third or fourth PhD.

Even as Romulus studied and admired his sleek surroundings, he could feel a sense of foreboding. Even the most ardent bureaucrats in I-Squared could read the writing on the wall, as the Republican Guard wined and dined Captain Ikaika, while Aurelian was locked in intense negotiations with the bureaucracy. Internally, the state would have to change - something that Romulus himself was never comfortable with.

"Thank you for your hospitality, Admiral Nyabekhi," Romulus said, "I look forward to learning more about the Republic of Sunset and its many diverse peoples." He turned to face Commander BatShi, following him to the mess, as he continued studying his surroundings along the journey.

"So Commander BatShi," Romulus said, looking at the shorter, furry officer, "I do not believe I have given you a formal introduction as yet. My name is Romulus Mittal, and I am a Field Officer in Frontier Reconnaissance. My specialty is in cross-species cultural relations," he said, as he reached into his bag and presented a finely woven mountain shawl to the Commander. "It is a custom in our Nation to present our hosts with tokens of our appreciation for their hospitality. This shawl was once given to me by an insurgent I had fought alongside many years ago in the Wildlands. I hope that it may keep you safe in the wars to come, as much as it has protected me."

Romulus flashed a brief smile, as he handed over the present to Commander BatShi, "I should note - we in Fairway usually stick to a vegetarian diet - very plant-based. I apologize for any inconvenience, though to any extent you are able to accommodate our practices, I would be indebted to you and your people." In spite of Romulus' friendlessness, his tone betrayed an underlying diplomatic formality laced with an eagerness characteristic of an ambitious Frontier Reconnaissance officer. Romulus Mittal might have played second fiddle to Romulus Takeda when it came to the Wildlands, though Juno seemed eager to provide him the opportunity to prove himself on this mission.

"Anyways, I would love to hear more about you and your home Please, do not spare any detail."
Last edited by Fairway on Tue Feb 21, 2023 11:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby Sunset » Wed Feb 22, 2023 12:56 am

Meanwhile Back Aboard RDF-Bulwark, Amid Task Force Apple Kart, Just Beyond the Terminal Shock Boundary, Just Outside the Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...

"...well, ain't that pretty?" BatShi replied, running the shawl across one hand before looping it over his ears before draping it across his shoulders with one end dangling down. "I'll have to return the favor - and I have just the thing in mind! Annotated too... Home. There's a story there - always is - but I'll warn you now; you asked," he added with a buck-toothed grin.

"First's first, I suppose. I'm a Hauyht. H - A - U, Y - H - T. We didn't really have a name for the planet we came from. Kinda like how 'Earth' just means 'Dirt'. The people who first came across it named it 'Alice'. Funny joke - cause we look like rabbits, right?" and he fingered one of his long ears; the one with a kink about half-way down. "And the name's BatShi - just BatShi. All our names are like that, unless they were put on us by outsiders. Speaking of - that's where the whole thing starts. Two great powers coming across the same world at the same time. Bit of competition there but we already had our own problems - they just didn't know it."

"See, one - Roania - was lookin' for new people. They're... Hmm," he scratched his head. "How to say this nicely... Imperial Expansionist? Kinda saw themselves as the rightful rulers of everything. Natural right, burden of heaven. So they forced the ruler of the northern clans into an alliance. Called him 'King'. Republic comes along around the same time but they're... Well, they're expansionist. Not any nice way around that, really. But expansionist in the nice way. Ask people if they want to join up, educate them honest and open, then insist on a free and fair vote of the people. At least in most cases."

"You haven't met Commander Tshon," he meandered on, fiddling with the glass in front of him, "But they're one of those cases. They attacked us, we defended ourselves, but the Republic's been around too long to sit on half-measures. A defeated enemy is still an enemy. Either make 'em your friend or make sure," he emphasized. "Know what I mean? Anyway. Suppose we should order something," and he looked over to where one of the blue-skinned ARC4's was standing behind the bar.

Raising a pair of fingers, he signalled the automaton over and turned back to the Field Officer. "Just order whatever you want - and don't worry about your diet. You ever hear of Indian food? Lots of rice, beans, veggies. Really popular - something about a colony background. Not a lot of meat. And it would not surprise you at all to learn that we," he pointed to himself, "eat a lot of starchy vegetables. Malai Kofta, basmati rice, and a carrot smoothie;" the bartender noting his order with a flat repetition. Once Romulus had supplied his own order, the waiter left and the rabbit returned to his story.

"So. Roania and Sunset facing off for control of Alice. Each by their own methods. A proxy war. North versus south - but as I said, we already had our own problems..."

"Which were?"

"Population and cadmium poisoning. First is easy. People call us 'rabbits' or 'bunnies' and we don't mind. Bred like 'em too. I've got..." and he ticked off names on his padded fingers until he'd looped around to the other side, "with another batch on the way. Which was important back on Alice - life was short and dangerous. We knew about that. What we didn't know was that our planet had a lot of cadmium in the soil. That's a heavy metal and if you eat a lot of it, it builds up in your body... Poisoning. Insanity. In our case, makes us feral. Aggressive. Violent."

"Now, I'm gonna say something bad about the Roanians here but don't take it too wrong. They're a monarchy so one bad emperor isn't the next one. Not always, at least. And it wasn't this one's fault - not directly. More like he had some people working for him that considered his approval more important than millions of lives. Sunset had figured out the cadmium poisoning and they'd started to fight it. Water purifiers, herbicides to target the planets that concentrated it in their berries. These Roanian jerks figured out that they'd figured out though and went back through and destroyed all that stuff. Then they just sat back and watched as a tide of ferals moved south, their pet King comin' hot on their heels."

"We fought them off as long as we could, as best we could. The Republic didn't want to risk a direct conflict with the Roanians - billions dead, all that stuff - but they helped us as best they could. It was a numbers thing though and eventually we... Well, not 'me' - I was a baby - retreated first to some islands far off the coast and then off-world entirely. The Roanians had won, but they'd also shown just what they were made of. Funny thing that - we saw them for what they were and I think they did too. Relations warmed. Oh, sure - they still go on. Ten Thousand Years to the Lord of Ten Thousand Years. Kinda weird that they say that all the time but they tend to have a new Lord o' Ten Thousand Years every year or ten. But better."

"Anyway, we moved to Juniper when I was still here," he held a hand up to the edge of the table just as their food arrived. "Much nicer place and we pretty much have the whole system to ourselves. Most of us who are of fighting age end up joining the OSA - paramilitary outfit. Kinda like mercenaries, kinda like not. I decided to go RDF. Do something different. Ended up as the Admiral's Aide de Camp, I think they called it back in the day."

"So what about you, Mr. Mittal? Cross-species cultural relations? As I hear it, you've got Humans and you've got these Yan. Which means you gotta know a lot about the Yan, right..?"

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...2115 Hours

"...sure? Though again - not really my..."

"Actually," Commander Tshon broke in before Captain Ikaika could complete her objection, "there is an area where your consultation would be useful."

Somehow the Anixtl had reoccurred right in the nick of time and he knelt down - but only briefly - to flip through the folder until he found what he'd previously marked in his head.

"While your intelligence on-the-ground is excellent, your theatre intelligence and awareness is completely inadequate," he stated matter-of-factly, addressing the other side of the table. "There are several large gaps in your knowledge of the system that represent potential problems. I will return to the situation room and our analysis there but what I would like you," and he turned to the Captain and then more pointly to the two science officers, "to do is listen carefully and note where we can then best deploy our sensor assets to fill in these blanks. As a useful note, Admiral Nyabekhi has opened with a proposal to first eliminate all Yan space-based and space-capable assets; ships, satellites, surface-to-orbit capable weapon and launch systems. Once we have space dominance, the next step would then be deployment of intelligence-gathering assets following your provided analysis - alongside others..."
Last edited by Sunset on Wed Feb 22, 2023 11:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Fairway » Sat Feb 25, 2023 6:53 pm

NASIRUDDIN, 6000 km west of the Yurungkash-Yuddha Border, Shillong, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...

The outer hive cluster ("NASIRUDDIN") was one of the largest outer hive clusters that I-Squared had encountered. Though there had been preliminary scanning work done prior to their development, Frontier Reconnaissance's knowledge of the site was still limited, at best. This deep into Yurungkash, the first wave of operatives knew they would be in the dark for the next several years, at least. Even if the Kharaghoda Expeditionary Corps were fully mobilized, it would take at least a week for them to get to this part of the planet. They were on their own.

The first six months on deployment had been some of Sikandar's hardest yet. When he had first joined Frontier Reconnaissance, he had served with Romulus Takeda in the first waves that had penetrated Xaidullah. "Everyone remembers their first campaign," Romulus had once told him. Since then, he had been on Shillong for close to two decades now, one of Frontier Reconnaissance's most experienced operatives. It had made him a natural choice to be the team leader, replete with a new set of Frontier Reconnaissance personnel from DARA and SHAZMINA. Even Sikandar knew this expedition would make those deployments look like cake walks.

From what he had seen over the past six months, NASIRUDDIN was nothing like any of the outer hives he had penetrated in Xaidullah more than a decade ago. The outer hive was a network of connected hives, each one built and fortified throughout the mountain ranges, from the outlying foothills to the summit. As if that weren't enough, the surface levels of the inner hive alone stretched deep into the mountains themselves, virtually hollowing the insides of the peaks, and drilling further from there. The outer hives themselves were connected by a secondary layer of tunneling, allowing the rapid and discrete transfer of personnel and supplies. The level of sophistication and fortification was unmatched, with hordes of Zealots buzzing around in patrols and forming perimeters that stretched for hundreds of miles.

Like Romulus always said though, "They're tough - but they're not invincible." It had taken weeks of detailed observation, GEOINT studies, and strategizing for them to infiltrate the hive. They finally got in - barely - by bribing one of the slave traders. They had sold themselves into slavery to enter the hive, before finding an escape path in the weeks leading up to the savage ritual cycle. In the midst of all the killings, few had noticed the disappearance of a handful of slaves in a colony that potentially comprised tens, if not hundreds, of millions. The Zealots had sent out patrols throughout the mountains, but it was clear that even they were ill-suited to the terrain - most likely contingents taken from other hives in the more hospitable parts of Shillong re-deployed here.

Leading the team to their outpost, Sikandar had leveraged the skills he had gleaned in his early youth on Mughlan. He had grown up in a poor family in the highlands of Mughlan, a mountainous region on Kashkar. Virtually the only direct outside contact he had from his village had been with the rotating personnel in the Republican Guard, spread out in outposts only a few kilometers away. Given Mughlan's uniquely difficult terrain, the Republican Guard had swarmed the upper levels of the mountain ranges with all kinds of training facilities and recruiting grounds. Having scaled mountains from a young age, the reconnaissance and survey patrols they ran together were one of the few reminders he had of home.

From inside the cave that they had fortified, he stirred as he heard footsteps approaching. He had been used to the shift sleeping schedule, but even he couldn't deny the wear and tear that it had on his body over time. Sikandar stirred from his makeshift bed, looking up at the new entrant to the cave. Two other agents entered, joined by a new face - a Freedman. It took Sikandar a second to recognize the new face, before he stood up out of respect.

"Sikandar, we've found a new recruit," Syagrius Agarwal said. Though Syagrius was experienced, he had come in later than Sikandar had, as one of the first waves in Yuddha. Syagrius was an expert in local relations, having managed sensitive negotiations with dozens of tribal chiefs in Yuddha alongside Mars before his deployment. What he lacked in combat experience he more than made up for in cultural sensitivity and integration. The Freedman alongside Syagrius looked intimidated by Sikandar - not an uncommon occurrence among insurgents meeting Frontier Reconnaissance for the first time. "He said there's a small logistics center on the outskirts of the foothills about a day's hike from here that we can tap into moving forward."

"Do I need to ask how you met this guy?" Sikandar replied. He could see the insurgent shuffling around a bit, nervously watching the two Frontier Reconnaissance exchange words in a language that he didn't understand. Though the outer hives were usually from disparate language clusters, JALALUDDIN was full of slaves from a variety of outer hives across Yurungkash. Sikandar reached for one of the rations that he had stocked by his bed and handed it to the Freedman, as he continued his conversation with Syagrius.

"We picked him up on the patrol. I noticed his tattoos matched those that we saw on Yuddha, and he seems fluent in the local dialect there, so we were able to converse with him. He knows about us - his hive hadn't been infiltrated, but he was traded between a few slavemasters to get from Yuddha to here so he picked up along the way. Looks like there's a lot of Freedmen here from Yuddha, Xaidullah, and Qaraqash."

"Great," Sikandar said, sighing, as he rubbed his eyes. "Let's run a full briefing with him. I can take Vivian and Gallienus to scope out the logistics center in the morning." Syagrius nodded, turning to the Freedman and issuing orders to the Freedman in his native tongue. The Freedman was hungrily devouring the ration that he had given him - though small, it was one of the standard issue supply drops, loaded and engineered with all kinds of protein and nutrients to keep their bodies running. For a Freedman, it would probably be the most nutritious meal he'd had in his life so far, at least compared to the gruel that they fed the lower castes.

Sikandar sat down on the cold floor of the cave, as Syagrius sat next to him and looked at the Freedman. "Tell us about the hive," Sikandar said, starting the debriefing. "How did you get here and when was this built?" Syagrius looked at the Freedman and repeated the questions to the Freedman, as he finished the ration and began his answer.

Syagrius followed along, "He said he was born in Yuddha - outskirts of Yuddhajung - into the lower castes. They had been traded several times throughout Yuddha once the news of our arrival on Xaidullah reached his hive. From there, they traveled across Yurungkash and ended up here - supposedly following a new Yan migration. Higher-ups kept him in the dark, but they travelled in a large party - at least a few thousand."

Sikandar raised his eyebrow, "How long ago did you arrive here? What do you do in the hive?" As Sikandar looked at the Freedman, he could pick up a scent, just barely noticeable in the thin mountain air. His eyes perked up a bit, but he returned to his questioning.

Syagrius continued, "He's been in here for a while. At least a few cycles - he's seen at least 3 or 4 ritual performances, so that probably puts him at what - just under 4 or 5 years?" Sikandar looked at Syagrius and nodded subtly, as they continued the conversation."He said that he's one of the cultivators of the nectar plants - he hasn't seen who consumes the plants, but he did a slave get executed last week for trying to consume the nectar while on a shift. He gets guarded by Zealots during the day and then escorted back to his pod before nightfall."

"So they're using Zealots now, huh - interesting," Sikandar said, continuing to study the Freedman as he looked into his eyes. "Well, I'm sure we'll have more questions, but we should probably get him back to camp sooner rather than later, shouldn't we?" Sikandar said, looking at Syagrius. Syagrius looked back and nodded, as Sikandar reached for his sidearm, hidden underneath a shawl. His initially friendly gesture turned cold, as he wrapped his finger around the grip.

The Freedman stood there, watching nervously as the two spoke. "Give the other species traitors Fairway's regards," Sikandar said, drawing his sidearm and sending a silenced round through the "Freedman's" skull, as his lifeless body suddenly jerked backwards. The bullet had landed squarely in his forehead, as the man perished without a sound. Sikandar looked back to Syagrius, "Took them long enough to find us - who was he?"

"Big hive man, hard to keep track of everyone," Syagrius said, as he started grabbing his supplies from his side of the cave and laying them about, "Definitely wasn't a guard - seems like a scout of some kind. I recognize the tattoos from Yuddha, so he's probably one of the refugees who fled into Yurungkash away from our advance. Must've been a miracle that he ended up this far - probably just sent him out into the wilderness on some kind of suicide mission or as a punishment."

It was common that once a disturbance was picked up, the smarter adjutants sent out scouts laced in pheromones for the Zealots. Sikandar did have to give them credit - it was a smart strategy, perhaps, but there were always obvious tells. Even Sikandar could pick up the dialect differentials both in the way he had spoken and from Syagrius' makeshift translations. Not to mention that there was no reason for a worker this high up in the mountains anyway, for that matter. They usually sent scouts - the lowest ranks of the household guards - for this function. A particularly brutal practice, the scouts could be sent out for weeks in the wilderness before dying of starvation, exposure, or thirst before finding a Frontier Reconnaissance team. Once Frontier Reconnaissance had picked up on the strategy, it was more of an asset to them than it was for the Yan.

"We'll take the paths to the rendezvous points and link up in the night. In the meantime, let's get to work on this," Sikandar said, as Syagrius reached into the puddle of blood. Coating the tips of his fingers in the red liquid, he started painting a few symbols in the Yan language on the wall, inscribing several patterns that roughly translated to: "We hunt in the shadows." Syagrius dipped his fingers in the pool of blood, tracing the outlines on the wall.

Sikandar leaned over, waking up the other operatives who were sleeping close to him. Cassius' body stirred, as he awoke from his brief slumber. Looking back as Syagrius painted the symbols into the walls, reinforcing the symbols, his eyes blinked rapidly. "What, they finally showed up?"

"Seems so," Sikandar said, as he started setting up a few cases of explosives, "Get working on the mines - we'll be heading out for the rendezvous points once we've got this stitched up."

"We'll leave a nice surprise for the species traitors, boss," Syagrius said, as he finished painting the walls.

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant...2130 Hours
Vivian Song, I-Squared's military attache to the Republican Guard, bowed as she entered the room, followed by Juno Moon and Romulus Takeda. "

"So, where to begin," Vivian Song said, sitting down at the table after she and her team performed the necessary formalities. "We'll start with a SITREP on our presence in the Wildlands just to kick things off - I'll summarize the materials we've put together as follows. At a high level, walking you through our military capabilities, as I'm sure Mars has already told you, our military comprises the Auxiliary Forces and the Republican Guard, primarily. The Auxiliary Forces serve as our conventional military force, primarily reliant on autonomous weapons, and focus on both providing aerospace support for our ground forces, as well as handling area denial and territorial defense operations within our borders. The Republican Guard, on the other hand, serve a variety of roles in our unconventional military force, supporting both our counterinsurgency and civilian support operations that we broadly term, 'Revolutionary Development Support,' in our doctrine."

Unlike the Republican Guard Corps, the I-Squared personnel were different. More stern and formal in their expressions, speaking with them felt like reading a textbook.

"In terms of our force positioning on Shillong, as I'm sure Mars has already told you, our forces have full operational control of Xaidullah and Qaraqash, which are currently administered as provinces and currently undergoing their accession procedure to receive senatorial representation. Yuddha," she said, briefly gesturing at Mars, "remains in the ongoing phases of revolutionary development support amid ongoing efforts; however, Yan activity has shown consistent quarter-on-quarter declines for the past several years since the initiation of our escalation. At the time, we estimate that Qaraqash and Xaidullah have a combined presence of 20 million Republican Guard Corps personnel, with around 500,000 Thunder Dragons and 300,000 JALALUDDINs operating in the region. Yuddha is home to the full Royal Asakan Rifles contingent, so there are at least 15 million Republican Guard personnel, with additional coverage from 10,000 Thunder Dragons and 20,000 JALALUDDINs. Our report goes into more detail on force positioning and logistics, but that's the high level. Exact numbers of active insurgents are difficult to estimate, but we forecast that the number of affiliated insurgents who remain active is about half the number of Republican Guard Corps personnel following the latest demobilization phases in Xaidullah and Qaraqash; however, these forces remain active as reserve personnel and can be re-activated with sufficient need on the battlefield."

"Any hypothetical escalation in Yurungkash would, of course, need to be staged and gradual, with careful management of which outer hives we would want to target in the first waves of an assault. From our active target sites, our strongest positioning is in DARA and SHAZMINA which would be critical for our understanding of the latest Yan activity. As of now, DARA and SHAZMINA have no active Republican Guard personnel, but are home to roughly 1,000 Frontier Reconnaissance operatives, as well as estimated active insurgents of 300,000 and 500,000, respectively, representing our largest active mobilizations within Yurungkash. The outer hives for both are home to 20-25 million slaves, with active Zealots forecasted at 1-2 million."

"In terms of an escalation, I'm sure Mars and Romulus would be happy to clarify any areas from here regarding force positioning or on the tactical points of what our side would entail, but we'd be very curious to hear more about your capabilities within the system and what you would be willing to commit." Vivian concluded, taking a sip of her tea, before looking back at the assembled delegates.

"In doing so, we should emphasize, of course," Romulus said, "our immense gratefulness for your support for our cause."
Last edited by Fairway on Sat Mar 11, 2023 6:19 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Sunset » Sun Feb 26, 2023 8:25 pm

Ashikaga Fortress (General Headquarters), Outskirts of Lai Dai, Asaka-Nakasone Border, Kuroda, Fairway System, Delta Quadrant... 2145 Hours

"...just looking at these numbers? Not enough? I know that might not sound encouraging, but... 'Apple Kart has twenty-five ships - twenty-six if you count 'Tietê. So a super-carrier, two battleships, two light carriers, five cruisers - six - ten destroyers and frigates, and five supply ships. It probably would have been more useful if there was a Marine assault group in there but it is what it is," Captain Ikaika shrugged an apology. "At least there's a butt-ton of drones. They're not hover tanks, but if these hives are like bug hives then they might be more useful than tanks."

"Side question - questions;" Zrazeyr broke in. "First, just how many of the Yan are there? And related to that, why are they where they are? Looking at the location of these hives," she was consulting the geographical map at the same time, "they're all built on... In? Mountain ranges or caves. Do you know if there's any specific reason as to 'why' beyond the aesthetic? Resources? Preferred environment?"

"Here I can only supply supposition," Vivian answered. "We suspect this was the Yan's preferred environment before they came here and has remained so since. They are well-adapted to digging - even through solid rock..."

"Which in turn suggests they're not simply slavers because they like being lazy," Alan put in.

"...yes. The Yan tunnel out the inner hive themselves. Here," she took a moment before extracting some pictures of the interior of a hive from the digital files she had brought with her. "You can see here - the outer hive is more suited to humans and is dug by them..."

Squared-off rooms, right angles, stairs.

"...and these are the Yan portions. Here is the transition between the two - the hive interface - between the inner and outer hive. The Yan always make their home at the center of the complex - here in the mountains, or deep under natural cave systems."

"No volcanos then, I'm guessing. And that puts a lot of rock over their heads - but it also puts a lot of rock over their heads. Put the right charges in the right place and you could seal them in... But you'd also drop the outer hive on them. Lot of dead people if you couldn't get them out and if you could get them out - there goes that idea," Ilza decided with a sigh. "Okay, so."

"Here the Yan seem to have anticipated that possibility as well," Officer Song again demonstrated, producing a diagram of a hive. "This is one of the first hives we were able to destroy. The rest follow a similar pattern though they all have a unique layout. The outer hive occupies both the outer layer of the mountain or range as well as any surface structures. Those hives that are large enough to occupy a range generally have fewer structures while those that occupy a single mountain will have more. These then center on the hive interface with the inner hive spreading out again below this. Importantly, every hive also has an escape tunnel that has been mostly completed."

"A little paranoia never hurt. Except maybe here - I'm guessing that since you haven't been coming at them through these tunnels that you either can't find them or something else?"

"As I said - the Yan are well-adapted to tunnelling. And they are not foolish - the escape tunnel has its own security in case of a breach and they are well-capable of digging through to the surface at multiple points along the length. But you are correct - we cannot find them until we take the hive itself."

"Captain," Zrazeyr leaned over and began drawing a finger diagram on her portion of tabletop, "Absent certain key technologies, seismic sensors will typically involve setting off a quantity of explosives on the surface then using sensitive sensors to measure the speed and frequency of the resulting energy waves through the intermediate media. To map out a tunnel network, you would have to set off multiple explosions - dozens, hundreds - and have a large network of sensors. All of this would likely draw the attention of the Yan."

"Security would be increased," Song nodded in agreement. "Likely to the point where we would have to wait years and lose whatever advantages we have cultivated. Presuming they understood our intent, they would then also likely move the escape tunnel. But can you find these tunnels?" she asked pointedly. "Without alerting the Yan?"

"Yeah, sure. The slow-zone makes that a problem right now but if we bring a ship in close we can use the sensors directly - map out the whole network to a reasonable degree of certainty."

Song looked at her confederates before adding a cautious reply, "This would be extremely useful. But what is this 'slow zone' you mention?"

"Well, that's just what I'm calling it off the cuff," the woman explained. "I don't know what you call it. The field around the habitable planets that makes FTL harder to use? Is that a 'you' thing or..;" Vivian looked at her oddly. "Ah. That's a thing you don't know about. Interesting. Basically, there's some kind of field around all of the habitable planets that makes FTL travel harder. Guess that explains why you haven't left the system - what happened to the ships you arrived on?"

"...yeah, I think we're getting a little side-tracked here," Ilza interrupted. "Which - it is nearly midnight. But I think we've got a couple things we can act on and 'bring back to the table', so to speak. Map out the hives and that will help determine just how many Yan there are as well. Now - a question for you guys. If we come in and blast their butts off in space, will that have any particular consequences? What would happen? Would it be better to clear them off one planet at a time?"

Commander Smithee raised a hand, "I hate to be the bearer of a bad idea at this late hour, but maybe we should try to capture a couple of their ships..?"
Last edited by Sunset on Sun Feb 26, 2023 11:15 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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