A Coalition of the Compassionate: We Remember (F'tral)
Posts: 791
  • Posted On: Nov 13 2021 3:40am

Chad System, 27 ABY

Chadra, The Behemoth

Dac Return, Year of Cataclysm

 

Admiral Panacka was not impressed.

 

Sure, it was impressive. At eighty percent complete and over a hundred square kilometers, of course it was impressive. The gentle, curved lines of the clearly Calamari-designed floating city were a sight to behold, and the subtle infusion of Ithorian technology had turned huge swathes of the artificial island into homes for an array of native plant life. The Chadra-Fan had built themselves an unsinkable capital, capable of withstanding wave and storm far in excess of anything their world had ever produced.

 

But Admiral Panacka was not impressed.

 

There were no defense towers, no starfighter hangers, no barracks for a standing army or defense force. There was a city defense shield, sure, and somewhere nearby there was a Shield of Faith and its mystical attendant. The sub-levels could serve well enough as shelter should the shield fail, for a while, at any rate. But the Chadra-Fan were not fighters, and they had no interest in being such.

 

I'm sorry, Admiral, but your request has been rejected.”

 

So Admrial Panacka was not impressed. “What do you mean, 'rejected'?”

 

The diminutive Chadra-Fan was standing in front of a desk built for his size, staring up at Panacka with a mix of resolve and fear. “Admiral, with respect, my people are not comfortable with the idea of warships being constructed in the skies over their homes!” His voice cracked, and his lip started quivering ever so slightly.

 

Not comfortable? Not comfortable? We're at war.”

 

That very well may be, admiral, but -”

 

They're shipyards, and we're at war; they're literally yards for building warships!”

 

He backed up, bumping into his desk, but still meeting Panacka's withering stare. “No admiral; when we agreed to reconstruct the Mon Calamari Shipyards in orbit over Chadra, we specified that their use was to be committed entirely to humanitarian purposes . . .” His hands found the lip of his desk and steadied him against it.

 

Panacka took a step forward, leaned down just enough to be noticeable. “What's more humanitarian than stopping the Reavers from eating your face off?”

 

I-I will not be intimidated by you!” The Chadra-Fan minister dashed to his right, rounding the corner of his desk and putting it between himself and Panacka. “Admiral, please . . .”

 

You assured us that they would be capable of producing Mon Calamari warships.” He was pointing now, the small desk so narrow that his finger nearly touched the minister's nose.

 

He nodded, leaning away. “They are Mon Calamari shipyards, Admiral; they're capable of producing any Mon Calamari design that comes in under four thousand meters in length. That's not the point.”

 

Listen to me. Listen; right here.” He tapped the top of the desk with his index finger. “I'm the commander of all Eastern forces. Because of your schemes, that means I'm now responsible for assembling two separate defense strategies covering an entire quadrant of the galaxy. To do that, I need ships. To get them, I need shipyards. Luck for me: you already have the shipyards that I need!”

 

Admiral, I simply cannot allow you to build your warships in my skies.”

 

I have a requisition order from the Dac Council that says otherwise.”

 

The minster glanced at the datapad sitting on the corner of his desk, brought in by Admiral Panacka “Well that . . . that is unexpected, to be sure, but . . . I'm sorry, Admiral: I still have to say no.”

 

Fucking hell, you can't! That's what this says, right here!” He grabbed the pad and slammed down in front of the minister.

 

He flinched, bumping into his chair and sending it scooting off to the side. “Admiral, the Chadra-Fan retain supreme authority over all Coalition activities within our home system.” He seemed to compose himself a little and managed to firm up the tone of his voice again. “We simply will not allow the manufacture of weapons of war within our domain.”

 

Panacka stepped back and turned away, finding it hard to take the rat-faced bastard seriously. “Oh, but you'll be defended by them, right?”

 

Excuse me, admiral?”

 

There's a Mon Calamari garrison on-world, right?” He looked back to the Chadra-Fan official, pointing indistinctly through the window. “You've got a system defense fleet, right?”

 

The minister nodded, fidgeting with his hands. “At the conclusion of the Dac Return, we expect more than two billion Mon Calamari and Quarren to remain on Chadra. We acknowledge their right to defend themselves.”

 

And you along with them, huh?”

 

Admiral, I am truly sorry that we cannot help you in this matter -”

 

Won't!” He stormed back up to the edge of the little man's desk. “Won't help me. Not can't.”

 

Admiral -”

 

I have an obligation to defend this world, in the event it is attacked.” He hammered his fist against the surface of the desk again. “That's my duty, as an officer of the Coalition military, as commander of the East. When someone comes for you, I get in their way.” He poked himself in the chest, still staring daggers at the minster. “Now you're telling me . . .” Stepping back again, he tried to calm himself. “You're telling me that that's nice, that's all well and good, that's a good plan and you like it just fine, but, but,” wandering over to the window, he leaned against the sill and stared out at the city beyond, “but you're not going to help me be able to do that, you're not going to let me be ready, for when that time comes?”

 

I don't know what more I can say, Admiral.”

 

They're Mon Calamari Shipyards!” He wheeled around, finally deciding that he couldn't calm down. “They're yards, for building Mon Calamari ships!”

 

And they are free to do so, but not so long as they are in orbit of my world.”

 

Oh yeah? And who – who's going to stop them, if they start, huh?”

 

Admiral?” The Chadra-Fan was growing more nervous.

 

Good. “Are you going to stop them? Are you going to storm up there in your unarmed shuttle, seize the docking bay with the bluntest of your cutlery, and force a shutdown? Will the Mon Calamari you've conned into protecting your ass do it for you, you think? Because I know I sure as hell won't.”

 

He was shrinking in place, shoulders slumped, head downturned, staring at the floor. “The Dac Council respects our sovereignty, as well as our commitment to peace. It saddens me to see that you do not.”

 

What, so that's it then? You're just . . . not going to help me?”

 

He managed to pick his head up and meet Panacka's stare. “Admiral, while you are quite imposing and exceedingly intimidating, I must say for the last time: no warships will be built at Chadra.” His voice was shaky and halting, but at least it didn't crack this time.

 

Okay. Okay.” He nodded a few times, releasing a long sigh. Gods, what he'd do for a bit of martial law every now and then! “Well I'm halting all new construction for the yards; I'll need the drydocks clear when I finally get this all cleared up.”

 

Obviously I disagree with such a course of action, but you have the right -”

 

And,” he cut the minister off, planting his hands on his hips in a power pose, “I'm requisitioning all droid construction crews working on the Behemoth and reassigning them to the Kubindi Yards.”

 

Admiral, please!”

 

I'll need them completed ahead of schedule to make up for the delay you've caused me here.”

 

Maybe his fear had passed some critical threshold, maybe he had worked up a bit of genuine anger on his own part, but the minister scurried back around his desk to confront Panacka more directly.“Admiral, surely you must see that such a petty display -”

 

And,” Panacka cut the minister off again, turning and heading for the exit, “I'm exercising the military supremacy clauses in the contracts you've signed with the Ryn Fleet; I'll be sending them to -” he paused just short of the door, turning to the side a little to make sure the minister could see his face, then shrugged. “How about to Charros IV?”

 

Admiral, Charros isn't even an Eastern world!” The minister was definitely angry now, but he wasn't about to venture further beyond the relative safety of his desk.

 

Neither is this one; not for much longer, anyway.” He was halfway out of the office now, but turned back around for one final jab. “Besides, Charros IV is vital to the defense of the East, and Chadra . . . well, all you seem to be doing is stealing soldiers and ships from me while I'm trying to hold the galaxy together.

 

Have fun with your sand castle,” he gestured generally at the Behemoth floating city all around them, “because I'm taking all of your other toys away.”

 

* * *

 

Tammar System, 27 ABY

Tammar, Eastern Coalition Naval Academy

Dac Return, Year of Cataclysm

 

Some people might say that positioning the officer training academies of the Coalition's most militant province in the middle of a system-wide interdictor field wasn't a very smart idea. Some people might say it was a damn stupid idea.

 

Admiral Panacka wasn't one of those people. Phage had fucked the Kubaz up pretty bad, hurled their peaceful society into a state of mass militarization. Before the Phaging of the East, though, an altogether different sort of attack had shifted the Tammarians from marginal participation in the Eastern military to . . . well, whatever the hell this was.

 

The Eastern Coalition Naval Academy had begun its life as a generalized and unspectacular military training facility, an orbital space station dedicated to bringing the Eastern Province's green recruits up to some basic standard of effectiveness. With the establishment of system-wide interdiction, the regular flow of recruits in and through the facility became something of a logistical nightmare. That nightmare was not long-lived, though, because the East soon found itself inundated with Mon Calamari refugees and its priorities shifted away from continued militarization. Now, the East found itself facing down a new and far larger refugee crisis: that of countless billions fleeing the Reaver threat.

 

The East no longer cared much for little Tammar and its waterless surface. It couldn't grow crops, it couldn't house refugees, and its natives had no interest in dropping their Azguardian-provided interdictor network. Their representatives weren't particularly active in the parliament on Teth, and so the East was largely content to leave them be, to accept their nominal participation in the Coalition and ask no more of them.

 

It was the perfect place for Admiral Panacka to begin. Surrounded by adversaries on Teth, the political unimportance and physical inconvenience of Tammar had made it ideal of Panacka's agenda. Now he just hoped that all he'd invested in this little world was about to pay off big.

 

What the hell is this!?” Panacka threw the datapad against the hangar deck, sending it skittering off toward the new arrival.

 

Captain Orion stopped on the spot, surveying his surroundings in silence. Panacka was just outside of his shuttle, still framed by the boarding ramp behind him. The normal goings-on of an active military hangar continued unabated. The pad had come to a rest near Orion, off to his left a little. The corner of the dull gray pad showed a significant dent and silvery glint of underlying metal. “Are you kidding me?” Orion offered at length.

 

It's been more than two years, Captain, and that's all you have to show for yourself?”

 

The Tammarian captain rubbed the air pouches under his chin, taking another moment to size up Panacka specifically. “Is this whole . . . asshole thing . . . really working for you, Sir?”

 

Panacka shrugged, still mean-faced as ever. “It worked alright with the Chadra-Fan.”

 

Oh!” Orion exclaimed, dropping his hand from his chin, “so you secured the shipyards.”

 

No,” Panacka shook his head, bitter, “but it made me feel better.”

 

Oh, well . . .” Orion bent down to retrieve the datapad, “I'm not really in a mood to be yelled at, Admiral.” He fiddled with the pad for a second, slapped the side of it a few times with his hand and then held it up for Panacka to see: the screen flickered on and off repeatedly, hard to look at even from a few meters distance. “I've been dealing with grumpy Kubaz all morning.”

 

Gods, it's only morning,” Panacka complained, approaching Orion to fetch his busted datapad. “Tell me you got something out of them, at least.”

 

Orion handed over the pad, waiting another handful of unnecessary seconds before answering. “We . . . came to an understanding.”

 

I don't need an understanding, Captain; I need bodies, and guns, and supplies.”

 

How's fifty million bodies, fully equipped, housed, and boarded?”

 

Panacka furrowed his brow, not sure he should take the man seriously. “Keep talking.”

 

He didn't keep talking. He almost started several times, but seemed to be having difficulty picking a place to start. Eventually, he turned to the side and pointed toward the hangar exit. “Let's go to my office, yeah?” He waved for Panacka to follow, then started walking, head turned back toward the admiral until he started walking too. “We'd be there by now if you hadn't thrown me off with that little tantrum of yours.”

 

I'm finding it more and more difficult to impress upon anyone of import the dire condition of the Eastern Provincial Military. We need soldiers, sailors, officers, and more. Gods, I'm so desperate for help, I just signed a deal with the Cooperative to test Guardian on a portion of the Eastern fleet! I've got Ryn Defense Force technicians on the bridge of the Vlyx right now, installing some sort of ridiculous interface. They're all pissy that I won't let 'em wire it into the Vlyx's mainframe, but I'm not about to hand over control of the most powerful starship in the East to an untested droid technology.”

 

Hasn't the Cooperative been using Guardian for a while now?” Orion asked, pointing down the hallway to an unassuming doorway. “I'm set up here,” he added.

 

They've had Guardian deployed for several months now, since the Reavers showed up.” Panacka shook his head, even though Orion couldn't see him. “Doesn't really matter though: I can't ever trust a droid to fight my battles or lead my men, not after what I've seen in Dragon Space.”

 

Orion punched the controls on the door, looking over his shoulder again. “Did you at least get something out of them for this 'deal'?”

 

Panacka snorted, shaking his head again. “They promised to start diverting some construction material to the Mon Cal for military buildup, but . . . hello.” Panacka stopped just inside the door, eyes locked on the stranger waiting inside the room.

 

She was Kubaz, tall, covered from head to toe in the uniform of a Kubindi Commando. Her shoulder patch had the sigil of a Kubaz hive he didn't recognize, and . . . the insignia of the Tammar Home Guard. “You didn't tell him?” She addressed the question to Captain Orion, who cracked a smile.

 

You should have seen the shit he pulled when he landed,” Orion said, still smiling as he returned his attention to Panacka. “Admiral, meet Queen Decurra of, well, Hive Decurra.”

 

General Decurra,” she offered, extending her hand, “commander of the Kubindi Commandos.”

 

Panacka shook her hand, intrigued. “You're a ways from home, Ma'am.” He wasn't sure if “ma'am” was the appropriate address here, but he didn't much care, either.

 

You didn't tell him?” She was talking to Orion, and her body language alone conveyed all of the matronly menace she needed.

 

Panacka had dealt so much with General Tileeta that he often forgot the Kubaz were a matriarchal society. “Alright Orion: you've dragged this out long enough. What the fuck is going on here?”
 

His cheery demeanor evaporated before the combined grumpiness of the two superior officers. “Six months ago, the Tammarian Senate reached an agreement with the Hive-Clans of Kubindi. In that time we have completed the relocation of fifty million Kubaz, six of Kubindi's hives, to Tammar.”

 

Tammar is inhospitable to most species within the Coalition,” Queen Decurra said. “Its lack of surface water and thin atmosphere make long-term habitation all but impossible for most humanoids, but my people are already adapted to living in subterranean hive-mounds and wearing protective clothing for extended periods of time.”

 

How'd you move fifty million people without anyone noticing?” Panacka asked.

 

Orion shrugged. “Nobody was watching. We control the interdictor network from in-system. Apart from the scheduled opening of a hyperspace corridor for new Academy recruits to arrive and graduates to depart, nobody comes to Tammar anymore. The little trade that we still do is also organized around Academy rotation. It's the same way we accumulated the stockpile,” he added, shrugging again.

 

The stockpile” was the reason Panacka was here in the first place. He'd spent the past two years scrounging together every piece of military hardware he could get his hands on, trying to build up some sort of reserve, hoping to be ready for the next time the East needed firepower fast. He'd done his best to hold on to the last run of Eastern warships completed at the end of the Dragon War, never crewed as pressure from the Mon Calamari evacuation sapped support for the military, but the Eastern Parliament had managed to sell off many of those ships to the West and the Cooperative despite his protestations.

 

Overall, Panacka's efforts to turn Tammar into a secret storehouse of Eastern military might had been less than impressive. This new development, though . . . “You said fifty million soldiers, Orion.”

 

Did I? Well . . .”

 

My people remain subjects of the Clan-Council of Kubindi,” Queen Decurra said, clearly unwilling to let Captain Orion speak for her. “However, the six Hive-Clans on Tammar have agreed to implement the Tammarian policy of mandatory universal conscription, and conduct our forces as an extension of the Tammarian Home Guard. Every able-bodied Kubaz on Tammar from fifteen to fifty standard years of age will undergo basic combat training and military initiation. All Kubaz over the age of fifty standard years will be evaluated for relevant skills and assigned a wartime home support role, then receive appropriate work training as needed.”

 

Fifty million people,” Panacka mused, feeling for the first time like his work on Tammar might be worth something.

 

Twenty-five million combat-capable and seventeen million wartime support,” Orion said, “once training is complete. That's our best estimates, at any rate.”

 

When will they be ready?”

 

Orion cracked another smile. “We still have all the staff from the old training center. We loaned them out to Kubindi when you established the Academy, but they're back now, with Kubaz instructors they've trained in the interim.”

 

The queen cut in again. “Kubindi's training apparatus is now self-sufficient. Between the Combined Military School and the training outposts established in every hive-mound, they will be able to meet their training needs and keep the militarization efforts on track without further help from Tammar. The hive-clans on Tammar have established their own basic training facilities in accordance with Kubindi law, and the Tammarians are allowing us to fill available space in each of their basic training classes. In two years time, every Kubaz on Tammar will be ready to fight, or ready to support those who fight.”

 

It gets better,” Orion said, clearly excited. “The Clan-Council has agreed to recognize graduates from both of Tammar's academies, Naval and Army. The Academies are doing the same for Kubindi's Combined Military School. Instructors and staff are already coordinating on instructional standards and procedural norms . . . it's going to be great!”

 

This is great, really.” Panacka didn't sound like he thought it was great. “But how am I going to equip thirty million Kubaz?”

 

You don't have to,” Orion said, shaking his head vigorously.

 

Kubindi is providing uniforms, weapons, body armor, and light army vehicles. The Tammarians are providing a planetary shield -”

 

We already had a Shield of Faith,” Orion cut in, the queen's body language once again showing a sort of aggressive displeasure. “One threat of orbital bombardment is enough.” He finally noticed the queen threatening to throttle him and added a quick, “Sorry”.

 

They will also be equipping every major population center on planet, Tammarian and Kubaz, with a city defense shield. The surplus ships that you and Captain Orion have managed to sequester here over the past two years will receive Kubaz officers and crew trained here, and will be contributed to the Eastern Fleet on behalf of Tammar.”

 

No,” Panacka said, shaking his head, mulling it over. “No, we're not telling anybody about any of this.”

 

Sir?” Orion prodded.

 

Crew the ships, yeah, sure, but keep them here, at Tammar.”

 

Admiral,” Orion said, “the point of the interdictor network is that we don't need a large defense fleet.”

 

It's not a defense fleet,” Panacka said. “I need it here for the same reason she's here.” He stared down the bottomless black eyes of Queen Decurra's mask.

 

How – how'd you . . .” Orion muttered. “You didn't even know she was here until I brought you to meet her!”

 

You're a Kubaz Queen,” Panacka said, ignoring Orion now, “and the commander of Kubindi's special forces, and you have fifty million soldiers at your back . . . on the wrong planet. You are here to strike at your enemies, from a position of power and stealth. Whatever happens to the East, whatever happens to the Coalition, whatever happens to the whole gods-damed galaxy: the day will come when I need soldiers and sailors that I can trust, and that no one thinks I have.” Panacka relaxed visibly, and cracked a thin smile at Orion. “I'm going to go ahead and assume that you've got a food supply locked down too?”

 

We do,” the queen said, then after a brief moment gestured for Orion to continue.

 

He nodded appreciatively, then jumped right in, excited to get to participate again. “I'm sure General Tileeta told you, but they managed to recover some of Hive-mound Tileeta's insect livestock after . . . well, after they purged the hive-mound of the Phage. The military has been cultivating the livestock both for military use, and for export to help feed the Reaver refugees. Well, the Clan-Council agreed to give the Hive-clans on Tammar access to the Tileeta strains, and while Tammar isn't ideal for cultivation, the Kubaz are kind-of master geneticists, and they've already successfully modified some species for local cultivation.

 

Queen Decurra has agreed to allow Tammarians to train as insect farmers, which is going to drastically increase the planet's total production capacity. Within a year, we're going to have a considerable food surplus on Tammar. In two years, we're going to have a five year stockpile.”

 

Okay,” Panacka burst out, looking around the room. “Okay, okay, uhh: sit down.” He pointed at a clump of chairs in the corner of the room. “Let's all . . . just sit down.” Taking note of the busted datapad in his hand for the first time in quite a while, Panacka tossed it aside and arranged three chairs in a triangle. “Sit down!” he yelled when neither of them complied.

 

Taking his own seat, he got straight to it: “Tell me what I'm missing, and tell me what you need from me.”

 

You weren't wrong,” the queen said. “The Kubindi Commandos will be based out of my hive on the planet below. They will continue to be trained on Kubindi, and many will be deployed there to ceremonial and security positions, but the power of the Commandos will be here, and will be exercised by me, under the authority and approval of Eastern Provincial Command. Your authority. But that's not all.

 

Our purpose here, the purpose of the six Kubindi clans who have chosen this world as our home, is to ensure that even if Kubindi falls, the Clan-Council of Kubindi will never be destroyed. Our choice to come here, to carve our homes into alien soil and breathe air not meant for our lungs, is a choice to preserve our species, our culture, and our history regardless of what the future holds for the birthplace of our ancestors.

 

We will survive, Admiral, and we will thrive – as will the Tammarians. Together, we will protect one another, and we will protect the East. Kubindi will be the visible source of its martial strength, and Tammar the invisible source.”

 

Good, good.” Panacka was nodding, really liking what he was hearing. “So what do you need? Lay it on me.”

 

We need a deepdock,” Orion said.

 

Excuse me?”

 

Around the time you were arriving at Teth at the head of the Dac evacuation, we detected an unscheduled hyperspace reversion at the edge of our interdictor field. When we scanned the area, all we found was wreckage, and not much of it.”

 

An automated probe,” Panacka offered.

 

Focused scans of the area picked up a second reversion some time later, and considerably farther out. Whatever it was, it was too small to register on our scans, and it was gone by the time we got a squadron of fighters out to investigate. Anyway, once we got around to checking with other planetary defense forces in the East, we found out that Fwillsving had a similar encounter with a tiny, strange, automated probe; theirs managed to crash itself into a space station while trying to leave the system.”

 

The Dragons,” Panacka said bitterly.

 

We thought so. Anyway, after that, we established a network of sensor scramblers around Tammar in high orbit, far enough out to hide our ships from long-range observation. But any repair yard large enough to service our forces will be too large for our scramblers to hide. If we want to be able to maintain and repair your secret fleet, we're going to need a mobile repair yard, a deepdock. We won't be building any more ships with the supplies we've already stockpiled, but we can keep every ship in-system at peak performance for the foreseeable future.”

 

A deepdock, huh?” Panacka mused. “An interdictor network, sensor scramblers, hidden warships, extra troops, and a deepdock?

 

Captain, General: I think we did it.”

Posts: 791
  • Posted On: Nov 13 2021 3:40am

F'la Ren System, 27 ABY

F'tral, Somewhere wet and unpronounceable

Dac Return, Year of Cataclysm

 

There were two of them: a Quarren and a . . . man-shaped submarine?

 

Because of the depth, their handler had suggested the human wear a hard-bodied suit that would maintain normal internal pressure. She didn't have to say it, but they both understood that she thought they might end up needing to get to the surface in a hurry. In that case, it would be best if the commander of the Eastern military didn't die of decompression sickness on the way up.

 

Panacka felt so out of place here, suspended in the water, surrounded by the most alien architecture he'd ever seen, deep enough that day seemed light twilight. There was even a completely different kind of “horizon” here, defined not by the curvature of the world, but by the light absorbing properties of the water.

 

As they descended, the city came into focus all around them. The spires that rose from the hazy sea floor were linked by swooping, ramp-like structures too large to be simple transit enclosures. The cephalopod Iyra natives moved about freely, almost all of them unaided by any sort of vehicles, moving at considerable speed due to a natural sort of water-cycling jet propulsion, able to enter and exit structures at any elevation they pleased.

 

The pair of foreigners were descending steeply but not strictly vertically, angling for a unique and substantial structure near the center of the city. Set atop what appeared to be a gargantuan natural pillar rising from the hazy depths below, the structure was shaped like a clam shell complete with subtle asymmetries that imparted an organic look. A seam of light spilled from the near side of the structure, delineating what would be the narrow opening between the two halves of the shell.

 

As they approached, the true dimensions of the structure became easier to assess. Easily a hundred meters tall and five times as broad, it appeared that the opening in the structure was static, that the clam shell design was merely aesthetic and not functional. The pair passed through the opening and Panacka's visor darkened against the flood of light, bringing the contents of the structure into focus.

 

The chamber housed over a thousand natives, most of them either wrapped around thin poles that ran from floor to ceiling, or floating idly in the water atop some sort of neutrally buoyant orbs. Though they were arranged in rough concentric circles that radiated out from the center of the chamber, every one of the Iyra was regarding the door with their clusters of eyestalks.

 

Alright,” Panacka spoke into his helmet comlink, “we're here. What now?”

 

Wait to be acknowledged,” the commlink replied. “Don't initiate contact.”

 

They're all staring at me. Does that count?”

 

Wait,” the voice urged, its irritation clear.

 

After several seconds staring down a room full of sentient squids with entirely too many of both eyes and limbs, he directed his submarine-suit down, toward the lip of the chamber's opening and the relative comfort of solid ground. His Quarren companion trailed closely, but remained swimming about a meter off of the floor.

 

Finally, the commlink picked up a new channel and switched over. “What does the Coalition want with us?”

 

Damn. The Iyra had a reputation for being short and dismissive of outsiders, but damn. “I am Admiral Panacka, commander of the Eastern Provincial Military -”

 

That is not what we asked. Pay attention. What do you want with us?”

 

Panacka looked up at his companion, then waved an armored hand at her when he remembered she couldn't see his face through the visor. “Is now good?” he asked on their private channel.

 

Not yet,” the cultural adviser cut in, and the Quarren nodded.

 

Panacka wasn't sure if that was a “yeah, now's good,” nod, or a “hey, listen to the guy we traveled thirty thousand lighyears to get help from” nod. His discomfort only increasing, Panacka switched back over and returned his attention to the thousand or so smart-squids. “We want you to join the Coalition, so we can move the Chadra-Calamari Shipyards into orbit over F'tral.”

 

Who are you to make such a demand of us?”

 

He couldn't even tell which one of them was talking. “As I was saying before, I'm Admiral Panacka -”

 

No! What great fool are you to imagine that your petty, feeble, impish, deluded desires for the Iyra people and the world that is our life could be so casually realized?”

 

Now,” the adviser said.

 

Panacka smiled inside his concealing helmet. He counted the half dozen seconds out silently, then lifted his arms out to either side, palms up, fingers extended.

 

The torrent that swept through almost pulled him from his perch, but the stabilizers of his suit automatically kicked in and provided enough counteracting thrust to hold him in place until the water settled. Overhead, the disturbance had generated a great deal of turbulence and a wall of obscuring bubbles was only just dissipating.

 

I AM THE MOAPPA SWARM.” The voice strained Panacka's senses, drowning out not only every sound, but numbing the feel of the suit he was wearing, washing out the sight of the Iyra arrayed in front of him. “I CALL UPON YOU.”

 

The tiny, pink-white forms of the individual Moappa were scarcely distinguishable. They had assembled in the shape and size of an adult krakana, more than ten meters long, sprouting an unnaturally large number of tentacles from around its head. They moved as a single organism, the broad tail curling around as its tentacles flexed forward, toward the Iyra in the chamber. “HEED ME.”

 

Panacka hadn't had very much experience with the Moappa, but he knew that the sensory strain they were creating with their psychic communication wasn't usual. It was clearly a part of their display. “Are you sure this is going to work?” he asked into his commlink after several seconds without a response from the Iyra.

 

It worked on me, when we first settled on Krinemonen,” the Iyra adviser said. “And that was just a five meter centipede-creature from some planet I've never heard of.”

 

The Iyra were a peculiar species, who grew additional limbs over the course of a lifespan. The oldest Iyra had well over a dozen limbs, and the whole of their society had evolved around deference to those with more limbs than one's self. It sounded like a load of bullshit to Panacka, but apparently the psychological response was so powerful within Iyra raised on their homeworld that many foreign businesses who dealt with them had taken to hiring insectoids and various multi-armed humanoids just so they'd be taken more seriously in negotiations.

 

Well, if that was the case, then Panacka had the market cornered on first impressions.

 

You honor us,” the Iyra said, one of them detaching from a floating ball and swimming slowly toward the Moappa. It dipped down as it approached, keeping slightly below the Moappa's position. “We meant no disrespect to you, but the human has no business here.”

 

Admiral Panacka is vital to our proposal,” the Moappa said, pulling back on its sensory-straining communication and returning to its normal conduct. “Moreover, without him Dac would be lost, and the Moappa may have been exterminated.” One of the tentacles of the krakana figure broke off, and the Moappa which constituted it shifted into a humanoid form, which swam over to Panacka's side. “Will you hear us?”

 

Of course,” the Iyra answered immediately.

 

The krakana shape shifted to form a massive Iyra with approximately as many tentacles as the one it was addressing. Panacka was finding it hard to keep track of each tentacle well enough to count them all, but this display was for the Iyra and he was pretty sure they weren't having the same trouble.

 

The Moappa lowered itself to the Iyra's level and continued. “The Chadra-Fan, Coalition members and a new addition to the Dac Council, refuse to allow the Mon Calamari shipyards under their stewardship to be used for military production. We are eager to relocate them to a suitable world nearby, and quickly. F'tral has been selected by both the Dac Council and the Eastern military as the prime candidate. Your technological prowess, existing industrial base, and aquatic society make F'tral and the Iyra the best option in the quadrant.

 

If F'tral was to join the Coalition under these terms, the Dac Council would share with you all Mon Calamari and Quarren technology.”

 

The Iyra did a weird little swimming bob motion as it backed away slightly, then turned around and conversed with its own people for several minutes. The receivers on Panacka's suit could pick up the sound, but underwater alien speak wasn't particularly enjoyable to listen to, and was completely unintelligible to him.

 

How are we doing?” he asked into his commlink.

 

They're stalling,” the Iyra adviser said. “They want to wait long enough to seem like they've given the Moappa offer respectable consideration before they say no.”

 

Well, they already don't like me. Can I call them out to move this along?”

 

Patience, Admiral. Nations are not built in a day.”

 

The Iyra representative turned back around and shook oddly in place. “I am sorry, Moappa, but we cannot subject ourselves to the rule of the Dac Council. Our society simply would not survive such a transformation.”

 

You don't need to,” Panacka said, swimming up and forward from his perch. “All the Council needs is for you to run their shipyards, and for the security of those yards to be ensured. You could do both just fine as part of the Eastern Provincial government.”

 

You wish us to join you?

 

It was an asshole response, sure, but it wasn't as much of an asshole response as it could have been. “You've got Reavers to the north, massive upheaval in Hutt Space to the south, and Dominion ships have been spotted in former Black Dragon territory . . . I'm sure I wasn't supposed to tell you about the Dominion, but hell, I'm commander of the East, and I've got shit to get done. Let's team up, you and me. Let's make a deal. Let's . . . combine forces, and make something happen for a change. You don't like me, and that's fine. You don't respect me, and I can deal with that.

 

I'm not here to be your friend, and I'm not here to prove my worth as an individual to you. I'm here because you can be part of something greater than yourself. You can contribute to a future where your world and your people are safer, more prosperous, and more essential to the safety and prosperity of others. Turn that down if you want, but let's have no illusions about which of us would be the fool then.”

Posts: 791
  • Posted On: Nov 13 2021 3:41am

Roche System, 28 ABY

Space Station Aphelion, Ugor Overworks

The Recent Past

 

They were on the bottom floor of the largest space station in the East. Panacka swore he could see the grime oozing in from the station above them. Not hazarding to touch a surface with his hand, the Admiral of the Eastern Navy elbowed the activator and the narrow door in front of him opened.

 

The office was small, cluttered, and gross. The creature sitting behind the overloaded desk could be likewise described. Come to think of it, Panacka had never seen an Ugor so small.

 

Admiral!” the Ugor exclaimed, genuinely excited. “So glad you could make it.”

 

I appreciate your discretion,” Panacka said, squeezing into the room while trying not to brush up against anything.

 

I apologize for the mess,” the amorphous creature said. “It's only temporary. Just as soon as I run the Squbs out of the good real estate a few floors up . . .” It seemed lost in thought for a moment, before remembering that Panacka was there. “Oh, admiral! Please, have a seat . . . uhh, oh.” It had gestured to a chair in the corner, but the chair was buried under a pile of odds and ends.

 

Don't worry about it,” Panacka said, holding up a hand to stop the Ugor. “I can't be long, anyway; I've got somewhere to be.”

 

Sure, sure. You've probably got quite the role to play in the ceremony coming up, huh?” Recognizing that Panacka wasn't taking the bait, the Ugor slapped the top of its desk and made a show of sitting up in its chair. “What can I do for you, Admiral?”

 

I need you to smuggle something for me.”

 

Admiral! Why, I can assure you -”

“Just shut up and listen to me,” Panacka cut the Ugor off. “You've been here for the better part of a year, trying to get a cut of the Squib contract to dismantle that Imperial station. And you've got nothing to show for it.” Panacka held up his hand again, heading off another objection. “I'm going to give the Ugor exclusive waste management and salvage rights for the entire Eastern Navy, but you're going to give me something in return. Two somethings, actually.”

 

And what is that?” All pretense was gone now. There was no illusion about what was at stake here, about how much money that deal represented.

 

I need the deepdock your salvage fleet is using as a base of operations, and I need you to find me another one. And then I need you to lose all records of either one of them ever having been in your possession.”

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Calamari System, 28 ABY

Dac, Council Chamber

Present Time

 

From A Coalition of the Compassionate: The Few Who Make a Difference

 

Dac Lives!” They cheered in unison.

 

Mon Calamari and Quarren, Whaladon and Moappa. From Dac, and Mon Eron, and Minntooine. From Buchich, Dornea, Krinemonen III and Chadra. The Aqualish of Ando, the Sauvax of Leritor, the humans of Ketaris, the Kaminoans of . . . well: Kamino. The Dac enclaves from Teth, Cerea, Tynna, and Varn.

 

As one, they all cheered.

 

Dac Lives!

 

The Dac Republic is reborn!”

 

 

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

[center]Epilogue[/center]

 

The water was warm and calm. As his face broke the surface, his eyes bathed in the familiar tingle of just the right salinity, his gills flexed and drew in the waters of his youth. He was home.

 

Home again.

 

His guide, the peculiar Quarren who had manned the Shield of Faith during the Battle of Mon Calamari, was perhaps ten meters ahead, seemed completely oblivious to the moment he was having. It was only several seconds later, when the guide was several meters farther ahead, that he looked back and saw that his White Knight ward was slow in following.

 

We must not delay,” the Quarren said in his native language, well suited for communicating underwater. “Please,” he added when the initial statement didn't prompt the desired result.

 

Taking one final, calming draw of Dac's rich waters, Ruuvan kicked off and caught up to the old Quarren in a flash. They continued near the surface for several minutes, the coral reef below showing little ill effect from the Dragons' assault on its ecosystem. Suddenly, the guide dove deeper, aiming straight for the jagged coral below. Just before he impaled himself on the coral, Ruuvan saw that there was a narrow canyon cut through the reef, well hidden by the coral outcrops along its sides.

 

The pair of them crested the canyon together, and then finally Ruuvan understood what he was doing there. Below him, both up and down the canyon for as long as he could see, the meter-long bivalve mollusks of the Knowledge Bank opened with a collective groan and bathed the canyon in golden light.

 

The sound washed over him, a slow, soothing pulse that lulled him into a sense of safety, comfort, and peace.

 

Come to us,” it said. “Rest your weary soul,” it said. “Unburden yourself,” it said.

 

Ruuvan found himself swimming downward without a thought. He was right beside the nearest one, scarcely an arm's length from the brainy, soft innards before he realized he'd even moved. “I can't,” he said.

 

I know your pain, young one.”

 

I'm not so young,” he said. “Not anymore.”

 

Hah!” it laughed. It could laugh? “You are infants, all. This I know. This you cannot deny.

 

Because Dac is alive, young one! All your races are but tiny minnows in a world-spanning pond. Your absence was but a momentary leave, the reflexive darting of an infant fish as an unknown shadow passes overhead. To fear the predator is not folly, child; but with age, with experience, vigilance is tempered, reactions refined with subtleties which caution against damaging extremes. In fleeing from the shadow of the hawk, you will learn not to wander into the grasp of the krakana!

 

Your wounds are grave, yes child, but you are not beaten. You are not broken. You are not lost. You will grow strong again. Your people will grow strong again. Dac blooms with life, and so shall you.”

 

You're wrong,” Ruuvan said, not sure where “away” was but trying desperately to look there. “I failed. I failed my people. I failed my mission. I failed myself. I couldn't protect them from their enemies, and I wouldn't protect their dreams when that enemy was gone. I . . . failed.

 

There's nothing left for me here.”

 

You tell yourself such pitiful lies,” it said, somehow seeming warm and inviting despite the words. “This is not your home, Ruuvan the White Knight. It is not a place to hold things for you, or depleted of things for you.

 

It is not my home. It is not my residence. It is so much more. Dac and I are one, and you are a part of that oneness.”

 

Ruuvan recoiled from the notion. “I let Dac die!”

 

Dac lives! It's children are returned! It seas are calmed. Its trees sway in the gentle winds. The deep things of the ocean lurk and slumber. The sands of the shore wash in the tides, and cleave to every hand that finds them.”

 

Ruuvan looked down at his own hands, so recently coated in the wet sands of Dac's shores.

 

Its waves disperse every cry of its children.”

 

He looked up, remembering his own shout into the empty seas . . . not so empty, now, it seemed.

 

Dac and I are one, my child. You belong nowhere else. This I know, and you must know as well.”

 

I don't,” he said, firmly. He stared at the brainy meat of the nearest mollusk's open interior. “And you can't convince me.”

 

But Ruuvan's vision blurred. The brain stretched and contorted, it's glowing, light hue becoming splotchy and uneven before resolving into clear, distinct colors. The vision was of a landing pad, Coral City rising from the sea nearby. On the pad sat a Coalition transport, and from its ramp walked Admiral Panacka in full dress uniform, arriving to attend the ceremony to reestablish the Dac Republic.

 

This happened hours ago,” Ruuvan said, finding it hard to look away, unsure if there even was anything to look away to.

 

Dac and I are one,” it said again.

 

Ruuvan, he heard Panacka say, distantly, cloudy, but it was definitely Panacka. She'll be safe in your hands.

 

He understood without knowing how: Panacka meant Dac. Panacka meant the world.

 

He meant me,” the Knowledge Bank said. “He means me, and he doesn't even know it.”

 

No.” Ruuvan shook his head. “No!” He shook harder, squeezing his eyes shut, willing the vision to dissolve.

 

There is no man,” it was Panacka again, speaking clearly this time, “woman,” Ruuvan opened his eyes, “machine,” Panacka was standing behind a podium, “hive,” an audience of Dac Republic military officials stood before him, “swarm, no creature from any world or race or origin who would better serve this world, its people, and the government that they house, than White Knight Ruuvan. It's unorthodox, I know, and if I hadn't gotten prior approval from the Ministry of Defense I wouldn't even be authorized to make the suggestion, but I believe that Ruuvan should be appointed the Defender of Dac, sole commander of its defensive forces and protector of all its inhabitants.

 

It will be my great personal loss should you act upon this recommendation, but your people and your world deserve no less than the greatest Knight and most honorable man that I have ever had the fortune of serving alongside.

 

Dac lives, now let's keep it living.”

 

Was that a tear forming in Panacka's eye?

 

The vision vanished in a blink. Ruuvan was staring at the fleshy brain of the Knowledge Bank mollusk. The weird old Quarren was floating overhead.

 

The gentle hum of the Knowledge Bank lowered to the edge of his hearing, and the glow of the Knowledge Bank dimmed as the mollusks began closing again.

 

Protect me, Knight-Defender Ruuvan.”