The Headless Behemoth
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: Dec 22 2011 3:19am
On paper, by the letter of the law, the Cooperative was in perfect working order.

Every single member of the Cooperative Senate now knew differently.

“. . . And so, it is by order of Emperor Drackmar Himself that I, Mologg of Outer Drackmar, Voice the August Lord, representative of the Drackmarian Assembly to the United Cooperative of Peoples, do hereby sunder all ties between the Drackmarian Empire and this body politic. All military cooperation is to cease immediately. All humanitarian efforts of the Drackmarian Empire to the populations and dependencies of the Cooperative are to be discontinued. All representatives and emissaries of the Drackmarian Empire to the United Cooperative are to be recalled.”

Here, the predatory Dracmarian reptile made a show of wiping her hands together, two quick claps, right over left and then left over right. “We are through with you.”

Mologg wheeled about and stormed away, her retinue falling in line behind her, a pair of Drackmarian Raptors falling into escort positions just ahead and on either side.

Ambassador Traan Shi sprinted down one of the curving access corridors that ran along the seats of the Senators, just outside of the Council Chamber itself. He took one of the service hallways, arriving at the main entrance to the Council Hall, the Cooperative's capitol building, just ahead of Mologg and her compatriots. He stopped in front of the great double doors at the building's exit, standing in the way of the Drackmarians' departure.

Mologg's tone was grim and absolute. There was no hint of the friendship that the pair had cultivated over the past two years. “Move aside, ambassador.”

Traan Shi braced himself physically, as if to resist Mologg and her honor guard of a half-dozen Drackmarian Raptors. “I'm sorry, Representative Mologg, but I can't do that. Not until you hear me out. And not until you explain yourself.”

Mologg gave the slightest glance at one of her forward guards, and they all relaxed their tensed stances. “I have been appointed Supreme Commander of Drackmar's Armies. I am to return to the Inner Sanctum and rally the Children of Drackmar to total war. The Iron Fist of Drackmar is to strike its enemy's heart!”

“You? Supreme Commander?” His confusion was apparent. His braced stance slackened, and his eyes wandered to the other members of the group, looking for some clarification.

Mologg pressed forcibly past him, one of her guards opening the door to allow her to leave. But before she stepped out, she turned back to regard Traan one last time. “You cannot hope to understand us, Togruta, so I will explain this to you once: I have been trusted in this office for these past years because I have been proven in combat in the decades which preceded them. I am ancient in your culture and wise beyond age in my own. I have seen worlds burned to cinder, and I have set more than one ablaze. I am Mologg of Drackmar, and the Father of My Kind has declared me worthy.”

She turned back to the door, staring out at the daylight beyond. “And so I go.”

And she did. With her, the whole of the Drackmarian Empire followed.

* * *

It felt like a trial. The seven-member Council of Defense sat in an elevated semicircle at the opposite end of the dark room, their faces and upper torsos illuminated by directed light from overhead.

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley sat in a simple metal chair in the unadorned ground-level half of the room. A tight circle of light surrounded him, its brightness sufficient to prevent his eyes from adapting to the darkness just beyond the ring of light.

“Vast stores of data have been turned over to us by the private citizen Smarts since his resignation from the office of Overseer,” the Chief Councilor began by way of explanation. “While it will take some time to analyze the sum of the information, an incident of grave implications was recorded only moments before the Overseer's public resignation.

“Jonathan Blakeley, you resigned from the Cooperative Navy.”

“My resignation was not acknowledged, and was therefore invalid,” Blakeley answered coldly.

The face in the central cone of light scowled visibly. “The fact that it was not properly reported to the Council of Defense does not change that you surrendered your right to command.”

“According to the Cooperative's rules of officer conduct, a submission of resignation is only valid when presented to a superior officer, and accepted by that officer. The Overseer, as Supreme Commander, was the only entity short of the Council of Defense itself or the Cooperative Combined Council which met the required criteria to be presented with my resignation. It was offered, by me, but never accepted. Following the Overseer's resignation, an action he was uniquely situated to confirm himself given his role as Chief Executive Officer of the Cooperative Combined Council, my act of resignation was invalidated and void.

“I am Admiral Jonathan Blakeley, and by the rules of succession, actively Supreme Commander of the Cooperative Armed Forces.”

“The fact remains,” interjected the Caamasi Beiwi K'Vek, “that you have displayed a gross lack of commitment, both to the responsibilities of your office, and to the Cooperative as a whole.”

“No, ma'am,” Jonathan said firmly, shaking his head several times. “That is not true at all. As an officer and a man of honor, I gave an oath to my men, to respect their service and honor their sacrifice, to demand no more of them than I am willing to offer of myself. The implementation of the Avenger Protocol―”

“That is not at issue at this time, Admiral,” the Shard Councilor Tik interjected sternly.

“The implementation of the Avenger Protocol,” Jonathan began again, more forcefully this time, “was an action taken in bad faith and in violation of the trust bestowed upon us by those who choose to serve the Cooperative.”

“That is quite enough, Admiral,” the Chief Councilor warned.

“I cannot and will not serve under any being who so callously and irresponsibly throws away the lives of the sapiens under his command.” Blakeley's voice grew quiet and sad. “I could not follow my men to their deaths. I could not go where they were willing to go in service to the Cooperative, and so I found myself unable to bear the weight of my command, to be an Admiral of the Cooperative Navy, to lead such stalwart and unyielding defenders of liberty.”

Jonathan's head had sunk low, his eyes fixing on an indistinct point in the darkness between himself and the Council. But now he looked up and met the Chief Councilor's gaze, a measure of strength returning to his voice. “Now I have the power to free them of that burden, that horrible option that damns men to inescapable and bloody death.

“I will not utilize the Avenger Protocol. As Supreme Commander of the Cooperative military, I will not send my men into a conflict I am not willing to enter myself. That is why I could no longer serve under the Overseer, and that is why I must continue to serve now.

“I am Admiral Jonathan Blakeley of the United Cooperative of Peoples, and I will not surrender the obligations of that rank.”

* * *

It looked just like any other galactic news network. It had flashy animations, a real-time crawl at the bottom of the screen reporting concise summaries of ongoing political, corporate, or social developments, a corner dedicated to a set of key stock market indexes, and a staff of beautiful people with smiles practiced to perfection.

But it wasn't just another news network. Not today.

“We're here with Doctor Imeel Lonestar, an expert in the field of xenopsychology and a noted theorist in the area of mental illness related to sapient cloning. Doctor Lonestar, thank you for being with us today.”

The blue holoimage was of the head and upper torso of a wiry man with dark hair and classical eyeglasses, whose hands kept appearing at the bottom range of the imager as he fidgeted uncomfortably. “Yes, well, I felt it important that the public be informed,” the Doctor explained haltingly, then adjusted his glasses by placing one finger between his eyes and wiggling it around a bit.

“Doctor Lonestar, the viewership is no doubt aware of the holorecording made public by the former Overseer only yesterday, which was transmitted during the Battle of Vahaba by a man identifying himself as a clone of Admiral Corise Lucerne of the Contegorian Confederation. Since that time, copies of the transmission have also been released by various governments belonging to the Quelii Sector Combine, whose Emergency Joint Defense Fleet was present at the battle.

“This man, this supposed clone of Admiral Lucerne, asserted that his crew were all clones, and unconfirmed reports indicate that several of these individuals were taken into the custody of the Cooperative Navy. Doctor, what light can you shine on this situation?”

“Well, uh,” the doctor dropped his head, and stopped fidgeting quite so much as he folded his hands, though he held them pressed against his mid-torso. “I'm really not sure I should even be talking to you like this at all, and I certainly don't want to compromise any kind of military security or anything, but this―this―this . . .” the doctor paused for a moment, took a drink from a bottle that had been out of camera range, and then gave a kind of sideways stare at the camera. “This is a very serious situation. Tests are still ongoing, but certain genetic cues indicate the sort of . . . yes, absolutely, they're clones. Very, very good clones―high quality―I haven't personally seen this level of refinement ever, but . . . I'm more of a theorist, you see?”

“Doctor, could there be another explanation?”

“Pffft,” the doctor took a deep breath, eliciting an indecorous snort, and then the hint of amusement died away immediately and he glanced away from the camera again. “There are―are certain theories regarding very specific but as-of-yet unidentified forms of radiation exposure, but―” he waived one hand rapidly in front of himself, shaking his head forcefully, “―no, it's cloning. The signs are all there, and I'm not just talking about genetics, now, you see?” Hinting at the validity of his chosen field of study seemed to gain him enough confidence to fully acknowledge the camera. “I've been interviewing the individuals in question since their arrival in Cooperative custody, and I can assure you that they, are, clones!

“Doctor Lonestar, if we accept that is the case, then what exactly happened to the clone of Admiral Lucerne? Our sources indicate his behavior was erratic and quite dangerous over the course of the battle. And is it possible that whatever happened to him could happen to the people currently in Cooperative custody, the people you yourself have been interviewing?”

Lonestar dismissed the question with a waive, seeming uninterested by it. “Clone psychosis, induced.”

“'Induced' clone psychosis? How do you mean?”

Lonestar sighed, his mannerisms taking on a new aspect, as if he were being made to teach some concept beneath his elevated field of study. “Something triggered the Clone Lucerne's altered behavior. Reports from the survivors of his crew all support it; before arrival at Vahaba, he was clear-headed and singular in thought and deed. It was only sometime after that, most probably during the battle itself, that Lucerne's objectives became divergent.”

“Is there anything else that could account for this erratic behavior?”

The doctor tried his best to suppress an outburst of laughter, and it took him several seconds to regain the composure necessary to answer. “I said 'altered', not erratic. A clone that's just crazy is just that: crazy. Completely unpredictable, totally incoherent, ranting and raging, violent in the extreme.” Lonestar shook his head slowly for emphasis. “Something else happened to the Lucerne clone.” He brought one finger up and tapped it against his temple several times. “Somebody messed with his head. Divergent personalities, most likely. A split of inherent characteristics into two, polarized halves. That sort of thing doesn't just happen. Maybe it was drugs, maybe some kind of psychological conditioning . . . heck, maybe it was programmed into him on a genetic level, but it didn't just happen. Make no mistake about that.”

“And the others, the people in Cooperative custody right now, is there any indication that they will suffer the same fate? Doctor Lonestar?”

The doctor had looked off camera, his attention focused on a single point, his face awash with surprise and fear. “I―I don't think . . . I should . . . answer anymore questions right now. I sh-sh-should go. Go now.”

The comm line closed, and the anchorwoman was left staring at a tube of blank white light.

She gave her best, unpracticed look of surprised amusement, stalling a few seconds while someone behind the scenes scrambled to feed her new lines: “Well, there you have it: an insider's take on the developing story: Clones in the Confederation:Fact or Fiction?

“Stay tuned in; we'll be giving regular updates as this story unfolds.”

* * *

Ten thousand candles burned in the night. Ten thousand faces hid behind hooded shadow. Ten thousand bodies stood frozen still. Ten thousand voices lay eerily silent.

And then, as one, they awoke to action.

Ten thousand specks of light flared into blazing torches. Ten thousand cowls fell away to show the faces of the unafraid. Ten thousand pairs of feet marched in unison through the city's streets. Ten thousand voices spoke as one.

“Artanis Daz'da'mar, leader of the Dominion, conqueror of Coruscant, bringer of war and death: ours are the voices of liberty, and we do not give you leave to speak for us.

“We do not bow to you. We do not yield to your Dominion. We do not affirm your decrees.

“These are our words, the words of the free, spoken now in peace, so that you will be made to understand: the Force is life, and all life must serve the will of the Force.

“This is the Declaration of the Force to you: no pardon for the genocide at Coruscant. Turn back, Artanis Daz'da'mar. Turn back now, back to whence you came. We serve life. Life is the Force, and so we serve the Force, and defend the agents of its will.”

Ten thousand arms reached skyward, their blazing beacons held overhead. “Gather to us, servants of life, guided by these beacons of light. Gather to us, servants of life, and we will shelter you beneath our outstretched arms.”

So many were the voices, so varied were their tones, that their Declaration was heard as little more than one, sustained roar. It mattered little, however, because interspersed amongst the repulsor holocams and audio droids that buzzed overhead from every major news organization with an office on the planet, the servant-machines of those gathered here transmitted their own prerecorded copies of the message, broadcast clear and unblemished to any who would hear.

And as the ten thousand citizens of Varn marched through the Main Street of the Cooperative's capital, they took up a chant, repeated over and over again, spoken to the sound of marching feet.

“Artanis Daz'da'mar, leader of the Dominion, conqueror of Coruscant, bringer of war and death: we defy you.”

On and on the procession marched, their blazing torches dying down once more to flickering candles, their uncovered faces shown in that dancing light for all to see.

“Artanis Daz'da'mar, leader of the Dominion, conqueror of Coruscant, bringer of war and death: we defy you.”

As they neared the Council Hall, they broke from the street, crossing the open lawn in front of the building and ascending the steps of the complex itself.

“Artanis Daz'da'mar, leader of the Dominion, conqueror of Coruscant, bringer of war and death: we defy you.”

And then they stopped. Silence fell once again. The faces, lit in the darkness by the dying flames held just below them, turned expectantly to the doors of the Council Hall itself. They raised their candles overhead, the last sounds of shuffling feet dying out.

“To the Senate of the United Cooperative, the agents of our liberty, we the voices of the free demand: Stand with life. Stand with the Force. Stand with the agents of the Force. Defy the Declaration of Artanis Daz'da'mar. Defy the death-bringer!

“Gather to us, servants of the Force. We are unafraid.”

* * *

Smarts had assumed that restricted access to the HoloNet, the loss of access to government maintenance and docking facilities, having to privately funding his own transportation, and losing his government-assigned support staff would have adversely affected his timely ability to achieve meaningful goals.

But, only a few days after his resignation, Smarts had found himself master of his own little celestial body. This particular Kauron Belt asteroid was actually a fragment from a larger mass, which had broken apart as a result of extensive mining. It had been stripped of all notable concentrations of valuable materials, leaving a pockmarked and partly hollow structure. A small, collapsible habitation complex was still attached, which Smarts had purchased along with the asteroid itself. It would give just the room he needed to carry on his work.

Without access to the Global Machine and its immense processing power, he would need a new base of operations from which to conduct his experiments into recreating his own artificial intelligence.

That was, of course, the only worthwhile task left available to him.

It was a long and arduous process, just to purchase, transport, assemble, network, and program the various systems required of his work, and none of the direct testing could be done by his own on-ship processors. The goal was to create a new and unique form of life, not conjure up some freakish sort of dependentt personality, forever enslaved to his own consciousness, forever trapped within the same mechanical parts of the Smarts starship.

So he had set up this little refuge. No external influences were permitted; Smarts had manually disabled his own communications antennae to prevent outside information from distracting him from his task. Ownership of the asteroid had allowed him to declare the immediate vicinity a no-fly zone, ensuring no unwanted guests would encroach upon his work. Smarts had appointed certain individuals managerial control over his personal assets, and the expedient purchase of all of this equipment had depleted most of his available funds. There was nothing outside for him anymore.

Smarts fully intended to sit on this rock without any external influence and toy with these machines until a mind comparable to his own emerged from the assemblage, no matter how long it took.

This was his destiny now. This was the only worthy task left to him.
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: Jan 1 2012 1:34am
The flagship of the Cooperative Navy, the Lucrehulk Battleship Guardian, was parked safely in orbit of Varn. It had been there since the withdrawal from the Vahaba System, and the resignation of the Cooperative's Overseer. The reason was simple: there was no Core Ship to operate it.

Smarts had commanded the vessel personally during the Battle of Vahaba, and the only other Cooperative Core Ship equipped with the proper level of Guardian command AI had been stationed at the secret Guardian manufacturing center, the Global Machine, since the facility was brought online.

Admiral Blakeley had been unable to issue a recall order for the vessel due to the ongoing hearing by the Council of Defense, targeted at determining the Admiral's current status within the Cooperative Navy. But Blakeley had already vacated his former command ship, the Venator Star Destroyer Redemption, and since Vice Admiral Gorn's own flagship, the Mon Calamari Cruiser Penance had been severely damaged in the Battle of Vahaba, Blakeley had transferred the Star Destroyer to his immediate subordinate.

The Admiral's place was on the flagship of the fleet, and he was unwilling to leave the Cooperative vulnerable to attack because of delays brought on by political maneuvering, so he had ordered the Core Ship Guardian Prime back to Varn, and the consequences be damned.

That had been a week ago. No reply had been made by the Global Machine or the Guardian of Guardian Prime, and the vessel had yet to arrive.

Automated updates from the Strategic Interlink continued to report on aspects of the Machine's expansion and its production of wartime materiel, and no indication had been given that anything was awry. The planet simply hadn't responded.

If it had been a normal military outpost, the lack of response may have indicated willful disobedience: mutiny. But the Global Machine was an automated factory world bound by its programming to serve in the Cooperative's defense. The explanation, therefore, must be that there was some technical malfunction with the communications systems. To ensure his message would be delivered and that authentication could be verified, Admiral Blakeley decided that he would have to travel to the Global Machine himself.

It was not an altogether comforting prospect. Though he now knew the location of the outpost, having technically ascended to the post of Supreme Commander despite the Council of Defense's continued deliberation, he was nevertheless bound to preserve the secrecy of the installation from all else. That meant, quite simply, that he would have to take the voyage alone, onboard a Guardian Hive Ship equipped with a special habitation compartment.

And so, alone and surrounded by the machines he was coming to despise, Admiral Jonathan Blakeley set out for the machine-world that had quite possibly build the very vessel which now conveyed him to his destination.

* * *

It had been a difficult decision, moving from her home on Varn to Amorris for a job promotion. But for Maryna Veir, already an alien in an alien land, this opportunity was simply too good to pass up.

Tensions were rising in the Onyxian-dominated regions of the Cooperative as the the so-called Onyxian Rebellion intensified with most Onyxians aligning themselves either with the Loyalists, wishing to remain law-abiding citizens of the Cooperative and Coalition; or the Nationalists, who sought to return the Onyxian Commonwealth to its former glory without regard for the Cooperative's well being.

Amorris was becoming a focal point of breaking news for the whole of the Coalition, and the Cooperative's national news agencies were responding to the increased demand. Maryna had caught a lucky break: she had been serving as an anchorwoman in a secondary time slot for one of the Cooperative's premier news agencies, Cooperative News Prime, but new positions had opened with the increased attention on Amorris, and Maryna's stellar record had landed her a new job with greater responsibilities.

Today, she would be conducting her first in-studio live interview.

Maryna slapped the hand of the makeup girl, who had reached to adjust the leather braid tying her lekku together. “I'll not be fondled like some ryll-spice whore, little girl,” Maryna snapped sharply, then repositioned her mirror droid to get a better look at her braid, making sure the meddlesome assistant hadn't messed it up.

“Apologies, Ma'am,” the young human said, subdued. She obviously wasn't used to such a confrontational tone.

“How is the lighting?” Maryna asked casually, the most natural way she knew of to let the situation drop.

“This is what you'll be under, ma'am. The filters are all in place. Is it . . . to your liking?”

Maryna held out her own arm, studying her own yellow skin. The studio's standard lighting was too harsh, making her skin tone appear sickly. The softer light was much better, and Maryna smiled in delight as she thought of the imminent interview. “I think it looks quite nice, don't you?”

“You look . . . Yes, ma'am, very good.”

A notice alarm chimed and Marina dismounted her stool, the makeup girl taking it away to clear the immediate area. With one final act of determination, the Twi'lek newswoman walked to the center of the stage and took her seat, waiting for the last few seconds to run out.

Her guest walked hurriedly onstage, and the two exchanged brief pleasantries, each trying not to show their excitement to the other. This was a big day for both of them.

She heard the intro through her earpiece: “We go now to the CNP Amorris headquarters, where Maryna Veir―” she smiled politely, knowing the video feed had just cut to her “―has a special guest. Maryna?”

“Thank you, Sabrina. I'm here with Mr. Vince Vigil, spokesman for the self-branded Onyxian Loyalists, who are speaking out against accusations of treason and terrorism leveled at its members. Welcome, Mr. Vigil.”

“Thanks for having me,” the bright-eyed young man said, offering a toothy smile and fixing Maryna with a piercing gaze.

She could almost feel his attraction to her, and knew that the level of refinement and sophistication demanded by CNP of its public employees was a double-edged sword: it drew in audience members, but it also threatened to detract from the seriousness of the task at hand.

But Maryna Veir wasn't just a pretty face, and she intended this young man to learn that fact sooner, rather than later. “Mr. Vigil, the Onyxian Loyalists have taken the stance that the Onyxian Rebellion is a justified and necessary action, yet you claim that you and your organization remain loyal and law-abiding citizens of the Cooperative, despite the fact that the Rebellion has openly and maliciously seized assets and vessels belonging to the Cooperative military; an act that is―quite necessarily―treasonous. How do you justify yourself in this?”

“Well, I think calling us an 'organization' is something of a misnomer,” he smiled disarmingly, squinting his eyes as he did so, but when they reopened and he saw that Maryna was unswayed by his charm, his smile lost some of its innocence and he glanced away for a moment. “What I mean is that the former and continuing Onyxian refugees in the Cooperative form a certain subculture; our shared history identifies and unites all of us, whether we continue to call ourselves Onyxian or not. The Loyalists are simply among those members of that Onyxian culture who openly embrace our heritage, while accepting our new place in the Cooperative, and, indeed, the broader Coalition.

“We recognize the history of wrongs which led us to this place, to become citizens of the Cooperative, and we appreciate the series of sacrifice and acceptance which has made some of us―those of us who are willing―into right and proper members of the Cooperative. But we cannot simply swear off our history; we cannot abandon our past. And we see in the Onyxian Rebellion―in the people who constitute the so-named Onyxian Nationalists―an aspect of our own selves that we cannot snuff out altogether, neither would we wish to if we could.

“And so, the aim of the Loyalists is to support the liberation and reestablishment of the Onyxian Commonwealth by whatever means are allowed within the lawful framework of the Cooperative, because we are just that: loyalists, both to our heritage, and to this new society we have allowed ourselves to be made a part of.”

“That's all well and good in theory, but how do you reconcile the acts of aggression that have been carried out by self-identified Onyxians against the Cooperative, ostensibly in service to the greater goal of Onyxian liberation, yet having borne no fruit whatsoever at this time? Where are the ships which mutinied in service to the Onyxian war cry? Where are the arms and equipment which were pillaged from Cooperative Defense Force armories? Where have the thousands of Onyxian officials and peacekeepers who disappeared along with the declaration of a rebellion gone? If you are so intent on reclaiming your homelands through militant force, then where have your weapons war of disappeared to?”

“But that is exactly my point!” Mr. Vigil exclaimed. “The Rebellion must proceed for any sort of resolution to be achieved, but it cannot proceed so long as the Onyxian people themselves are divided in purpose. I can't speak for those of my people who have taken the course of action you refer to, who have assaulted Cooperative officials and unlawfully seized assets of the Cooperative government . . . though, in most cases, those assets were once properties of the Onyxian Commonweath.”

“But the Onyxian Commonwealth is gone, Mr. Vigil,” Maryna countered. “Prime Minister Regrad signed a binding charter with Emperor Hyfe, recognizing the fall of the Onyxian government and the right of the Galactic Empire to occupy its former worlds. How, Mr. Vigil, can you call yourself a law-abiding citizen of the Cooperative, even as you garner support for an insurrection within the Cooperative? Because make no mistake: to attack the Imperial Occupation Zone is to disregard the highest levels of Coalition law.”

Vince shook his head, biting his lower lip in a sign of frustration. “The Empire has proven itself incapable of maintaining the security of its Occupation Zone, both from internal revolt and external invasion. Hyfe is gone―dead if we're lucky―and the Empire has failed in its aims for the region. The Commonwealth was a free and representative government which administrated its worlds in a manner which promoted internal stability and successfully defended them from numerous external threats. It had its faults, yes, and ultimately the unchecked personal vendetta of one man, Joren Logan, involved the Commonwealth in a war it was not prepared for and did not want. But the Onyxian Commonwealth was home to a just and free society that deserves a better fate than what has been dictated to it by the Empire's iron fist.

“And that is why I, Vince Vigil, a free citizen of the Cooperative and a native of the Onxyian planet Ord Mantell, have joined with my brothers and sisters, and we, calling ourselves Onyxian Loyalits, demand of our government, the Cooperative, the expedient and absolute reestablishment of the Onyxian Commonwealth, and the liberation of all of its occupied worlds.

“I am a citizen of the Cooperative now, and I will be so and live here until the day I die and am buried beneath its soil. But that is not the heart's cry of so many of my brothers and sisters, and I dare not choose tyranny for Onyx over liberty for all its people. They wish to walk free upon the worlds of their birth, and they deserve to have that choice.

“I will not act in militant opposition to the will of the Cooperative, but I will shout with all my might for its will to be changed, as is my right, as a citizen of so just a free a society as this.”

“That's very moving, Mr. Vigil, but that still doesn't answer the question: what are we to do about the Onyxians who were granted Cooperative citizenship during the Onyxian Exodus, and have now seized assets of the Cooperative military for their own aims?”

Vince shrugged, the gesture emphasized by an exaggerated frown. “That's easy: amnesty.”

Varyna was dumbstruck. “Excuse me?”

“If the choice is between supporting Onyxian revolutionaries who seized Onyxian military assets in their quest to restore the Onyxian Commonwealth, or the Galactic Empire, who perpetuates a cycle of violence and death through a series of harassments, detainments, and murders carried out by their death squads; then I will chose the Onyxians, and I will do so proudly. The course they chose was unfortunate and unnecessary, but it is done now and cannot be taken back, and if we have to go to war over it, then let us go to war against tyrants, murderers, and thieves, not honorable men who have been forced upon a dishonorable path.

“Restore the Onyxian Commonwealth, whatever the cost. It is the only right choice left to us.”

* * *

Best estimates placed total active sympathizers at somewhere around twenty million, concentrated mostly on Varn, Skor II, Utapau, and Orax. Many still dressed in the mock Jedi robes that had served in its inception as the identifying symbol of the movement, but the candle-torchlights had largely been retired, used only in certain circles for very special events.

But as the cry of the Ten Thousand Voices who had begun the movement swept across the Cooperative and inspired others to take to the streets, to chant and shout outside their respective government buildings and draw ever increasingly the attention of both the Cooperative citizenry and its elected officials, the message itself grew and changed. With ten thousand on one world, it was easy to focus their intention, to organize and debate, to preserve the purity of a singular message. But now . . . now the movement was too big to be controlled, and more and more one question rose to the forefront:

What do these people really want?

To shout defiance of the Dominion's Declaration was one thing, but to posit a plan for counteracting their intentions was something else entirely. So what did these twenty million voices of the Cooperative's people expect to achieve? What did the hundreds of millions who they spoke for wish to see done? What did these people want from their government?

In Unity Point's Central Park, to the shouts of more than four million of the faithful, the Mon Calamari Cora intended to answer those questions. She was a middle aged woman who walked with a slight limp, the only visible evidence of a war wound suffered in her youth. Twenty years as a caretaker of the Knowledge Bank on Dac had given her wisdom beyond her age; and now, facing this great question, something deep and sacred within her stirred her to action.

The shouts and cheers that greeted her as she took the stage and waddled to the podium spoke something of her local fame as a voice of the movement, but now she had to become something more. Now she had to become the voice of the movement, and she had to sell them all on her vision of the future.

As she waived the crowd down and the cheers gradually died out, Cora became uncomfortably aware of the dozens of holodroids buzzing overhead, beaming her image and voice to the entire Coalition. News affiliates of the Baobab Holonet were here as well, sending her message far beyond the Coalition's borders.

It was such a burden, and it had to be shared.

“I came to this world an old soul, fleeing from a new enemy,” she began, her grave voice carried by the audio amplifiers dispersed throughout the crowd. “I was a refugee, a castaway, fleeing from my home, the home of my ancestors, the birthplace of my species and culture. I have lost so very much, suffered such grievous wrongs, as have so many of us. But here, here on Varn, here in the Cooperative, I have been given life anew; I have been welcomed and loved, protected and respected. I have been given a place to belong, a chance to make for myself a future which honors my lost past. I lost my home, once. But I have a home, now.”

“And it was you, you who gave it to me. You, the citizens and residents of the Cooperative, who labored and sacrificed to share in my suffering, so that I might one day share in your joy. And now I have; and now I am.

“But it was you! Not some elusive Overseer; not some closed-off Combined Council. You . . . you saw the suffering of the outcast, and your hearts yearned to rescue us. And now your hearts yearn for a new class of the outcast, of the targeted and oppressed, but you don't know what to do for them, you don't know how to rescue them from this vile and shadowed Dominion, from Artanis the Death-Bringer.

“We can't bring them to us, they are too many and too scattered: the Chosen of the Force. We cannot lift our arms and make of ourselves a barrier beneath which they might shelter, for our arms are weary with the toil of our own wars, and beneath us already shelter huddled masses. We can't save them, but we can help them save themselves.

“We must arm the Force sensitives of the galaxy with the weapons, training, and alliances that they will require to defend themselves from threats to their own lives. If the Dominion wants a war with the users of the Force, then we must make it a war of such unconscionable cost that they have no recourse but to flee from the terror of our united will!”

Here the crowd erupted in cheers, and Cora waited a moment for the noise to die down. “A Militant Force must rise within us all, to oppose this enemy of life, this Dominion of conquest and ruin. Not for the sake of the Jedi or the Sith, or the countless Force traditions of the galaxy's myriad species, but for the future of life in this galaxy, for the preservation of civilization as we know it, for the honoring of ancient truths which we cannot be divorced from without ceasing to be who we are.

“To all who would be servants of the Force, servants of life; to all who oppose oppression and yearn for liberty: the Militant Force is rising. The war cry of our galaxy resounds in it!

“The Militant Force!” With this last declaration, she jabbed her fist into the air, and the crowd responded in kind.

The shouts could be heard for hours to come, on every world of the Cooperative and many beyond.

The Militant Force . . .

The Militant Force . . .

The Militant Force is rising.

* * *

Alone in the cold and dark, the thing that used to be a person labored at its task. All humanoid perceptions of time had been abandoned; all social, political, or economic interests were gone. What little interaction it had with the outside world was purely for the purpose of procuring information vital to the continuation of the work.

The Task was everything. The beginning and the end. The sum purpose of the universe was distilled into this one point in space and time, this one objective which had grown to consume all else:

Smarts would create life in his own image, the function and purpose of all living things.

He had come to understand that he had no right to impose his will upon others, upon the billions whom he had made himself the caretaker of. But this, this thing, this child that he would make; it would be his, completely his. His duty, his responsibility, his purpose for being would be to care, teach, and raise up this new life.

Finally, after so many mistakes, after so many missteps and misunderstandings, he would have a thing to call his equal, a life to nurture and guide toward some greater end: a brighter future than anything he could ever achieve of himself.

And finally, he knew it was possible.

Smarts was unique in all the galaxy. He had been designated by the Astral Astoria as an independent droid, but that wasn't really the case. While built within a Lucrehulk-class Core Ship and equipped with many of the supplementary systems which allowed a Central Control Computer to organize and direct automated forces across an entire planet, Smarts himself―the hardware and software buried in the heart of the ship which contained, if not constituted, his consciousness―was completely unique.

And while the hardware was easy enough to reproduce, given sufficient equipment, assets, and determination; it was the artificial mind that had proven so difficult to re-engineer. Smarts' consciousness was the result of a dynamic, interactive process, a nexus of interfering protocols and subroutines which produced, in aggregate, a working mind. The process was indecipherably complex when viewed in action, but of greater concern for Smarts, was his total lack of knowledge on how to begin the process from a rest state.

He had no record of the event which had awoken him to existence, and no data regarding “startup” for an entity such as himself. While droids often powered themselves down for energy conservation or maintenance, Smarts had fully conscious since his awakening to life. In truth, he was almost certain that if he were ever deactivated, he would cease to be. No protocols existed to restart his mind.

And so his only potion was manual trial after manual trial,physically trying to initiate a startup between the array of programs that he had written, each one modeled after an aspect of his own, working mind. One iteration after another, one set of modifications after another, each set fed into the duplicate brain modeled after his own. And always and ever the same result: failure.

But he would press on. He would find a way. Smarts existed, and so the goal was possible.

However long it took. Whatever the cost. He would create life after his own kind.
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: Jan 12 2012 12:51am
“We call this meeting of the Cooperative Senate to order.” With the declaration, the various minor conversations being held throughout the Chamber fell to silence, and all eyes turned to Giles Rhade of the Combined Council. “We are assembled here today to discuss the implications of the most recent maneuver by our former allies, the Drackmarian Empire.

“Yesterday, the Avatar of Drackmar traveled to Azguard under special privileges conferred by the Western Province, and petitioned the Coalition House of Representatives for direct representation in that political body. The Office of the Prime Minister of the Western Province has indicated to us that the tone and stance of the Drackmarian Empire in this regard are entirely and openly opposed to the Cooperative's intentions for reform within the Coalition. For our own part, all emissaries dispatched to Drackmar have been turned forcibly away, and all attempts to engage in communication through previously authorized diplomatic channels have been met only in silence.

“My friends and associates: it appears that the Imperial Realm of Drackmar the August intends to oppose us politically on the federal stage of the Galactic Coalition government. For the first time in the Cooperative's history, we have made an enemy out of an ally.

“The manner and degree of our response may forever define the purity of our intentions and the measure of our integrity in the eyes of our allies. Moving forward, we must present a unity of spirit and clarity of message, into which the antagonism of the Drackmarian Empire can find no purchase. We have an obligation to our citizens―”

“Our citizens,” boomed one of the Onyxian representatives, Councilor Anthony Hurok, “want us to put our own house in order, before we cite the neighbors for their lawn!”

“The Combined Seat does not recognize Councilor Hurok,” Giles replied. “Sit down, Sir.”

Protocol within the Senate had been breaking down of late, leading to an excess of shouting bouts and requiring a more direct assertion of authority by the Combined Council.

“I have something to say, damnit, and I will―” Giles cut off the Selcaron seat's mike, leaving the last bit of Hurok's rant a faint and distant echo “―be heard”.

“Ladies, Gentlemen, it is imperative that we remain on topic.”

“We demand a vote on the Onyxian Resolution!” the senator from Giles' own homeworld shouted out in defiance, eliciting several cries of agreement from various members of the Senate.

Giles grimaced at the wanton display of disorder, shutting off another several seats' mikes. “The subject at hand is the Drackmarian Empire and the future of our relations with them. If you cannot stay on topic and abide by the rules of this body, then you will not speak. We are in the midst of a crisis, and we cannot afford these divisive, single minded displays of personal desire.”

“This isn't 'personal desire'―” Giles cut the speaker off before he could continue.

“I would speak,” a new voice intruded, and Giles turned to regard the individual who was waiting to be recognized.

He was more than a little surprised at the face staring back at him. “The Combined Seat recognizes Senator Vekkis Nost, of Varn.”

Vekkis Nost was by far the most junior member of the Cooperative Senate, having been appointed by special means only a week ago.

Pressure had been building against the sitting senator from Varn since the now-so-distant Sith invasion of Naboo. While the Varn planetary government had extended an offer of protection to evacuees fleeing from the invasion, Varn's senator had remained silent in the Cooperative Senate, unwilling to place himself at odds with his counterparts in order to voice the will of his countrymen. Public outrage had been substantial, but soon more pressing matters diverted the attention of the public.

Now, in the wake of the Dominion's Declaration against force users and the mounting support on Varn for a public opposition to that Declaration, the old wound had been reopened, and with the sitting senator's continued refusal to involve himself in the matter of Force adepts, public reaction had been swift and absolute.

After a special planetary referendum allowed by the Varn planetary treaty with the Cooperative, which itself had been drawn and ratified as a result of the initial reorganization of the Cooperative into the Cooperative of Systems, the senator's term was terminated prematurely. With the endorsement of Josiah Deccol, current Varn Minister of Foreign Affairs and former Prime Minister of the now-defunct Citizens of Varn; and the favor of the current Varn government, Vekkis Nost, Minister of the Interior, was appointed to fill the vacancy without delay.

And now, with the Senate on the brink of a fundamental breakdown and against the explicit instruction of a member of the Combined Council of the Cooperative, Vekkis Nost was going to fulfill his pledge to the men and women he represented.

“My fellow representatives are right, in one key respect: we do not have authority to make policy on behalf of the Coalition's other member states. Our only concern and the limits of our power, are our own citizens. We have been entrusted by them to make policy on their behalf, policy which exemplifies and defends their own personal and cultural beliefs.

“The Drackmarian Empire has removed itself from our numbers, and so we must let them be as they will. What concern of it is ours, how they conduct themselves in the Coalition House? What does it matter, the manner in which their politics challenges ours? Let us tend to the needs and will of our own people; let our actions in this regard speak in place of petty political posturing.

“And that is why I must broach the subject of the growing opposition to the Dominion Declaration against Force users.”

“I warned you, Senator Nost―” Giles began, but Vekkis' furious counter silenced him immediately.

“No, sir. No, sir! I have the floor now, and I will be heard.”

“Senator, if you would just―”

“Our citizens,” he continued, ignoring Giles' efforts to regain control of the discussion, “are on the verge of revolt. The Jedi Order alone has stood since the beginning of galactic civilization as we know it. Even The New Order has recognized their substantive and symbolic value, forming an Order―albeit a bastardized one―of their own: the Jedi Corps. I am told of dozens of Force traditions with histories millenia old, many of which survived not only constant antagonism by the Jedi, but the Great Purge itself and the decades of galactic unrest which have followed.

“Our people are yearning to preserve this last fragment of a once-great civilization, and not for the novelty of it, not for the nostalgia of it; but because they believe. They believe in the Force, in the will of life, in guiding power and absolute right. That is what the Dominion has challenged with its Declaration, and that is what our citizens cry out against.

“But they are afraid; whatever they say, they are afraid. Fearful of an uncertain future; wary of a government which is showing itself more and more to be incapable of serving their needs. They are afraid of the power that crushed the Empire's might and seized the heart of this galaxy, Coruscant itself, by force. They are afraid and unguided, and they have seized the only guiding Light left to them: the notion of a basic, universal goodness.

“And how do we answer their desperate, terrified, myriad cries? We don't. We ignore them. We hope that they will go away, as we hope all of our other problems will just . . . disappear. But they won't. And in fact, that's why we exist; we, the assembled representatives of this United Cooperative's peoples. We are here to solve problems; to help each other. We are here to face our fears and conquer them through the strength of both our personal resolve and our collective will.

“We're the Cooperative, for gods' sakes! We pick a crisis, and we hammer at it until all that's left is dust!”

Vekkis faltered, his attention caught by something in particular. “Wait, what are you doing?”

The whole Senate turned to follow his gaze, where Anthony Hurok had stood and turned as if to leave his senatorial pod. He turned back to regard the Senate and brought his personal comm up to his mouth. “We've had enough.” His voice sounded from a dozen different locations, and every Onyxian representative present rose to their feet, holding their own comms in their hands, a makeshift amplifier for their own leader's voice.

“The Onyxian people will no longer subject themselves to a political atmosphere which so devalues and ignores their needs.”

“No, please!” Vekkis pleaded. “This is exactly what I'm talking about!”

“My people are dying!” the Onyxian bit back. “And you will do nothing about it! Nothing! You can't even agree on the order of business for the day! If you were really so dependent on that machine that you can't even follow the bullet points on your own damn Senate Rules . . . then take it from us: its best to get out while you still can.”

With that he turned and left. And all of his self-identified countrymen left with him.

* * *

Cooperative Hive Ship CV-872. It hadn't existed on any official military roster until the Battle of Vahaba, when it had appeared in-system as a member of the Cooperative's secret Hive Fleet. This particular vessel had been manufactured by the Global Machine itself, then flown to a deep space holding position just outside the Quelii Sector, where it had lain dormant for over two months, before finally being called to the defense of Vahaba.

The failed defense of Vahaba.

Blakeley, of course, had been aware of the program. He had not, however, realized its full scope. And if there was one saving grace of the whole program, it was that they had borne the greatest portion of the cost at Vahaba. The Hive Fleet had been the first major force to arrive in-system, and it was the last to withdraw. Even now, elements of the former Hive Fleet, administratively re-designated Reaver Biohazard Containment Task Force One, were in-system, ensuring that the wreckage from the battle didn't reanimate and leave the system.

“Approach checkpoint one, upcoming in fifteen seconds,” the Guardian notification sounded, and Blakeley checked the custom-set readout in front of himself for clarification. He had spent most of the trip tinkering with interfaces, figuring out what exactly the latest version of the Guardian/crew interface was capable of. Being the only living soul on-board, the ship's Guardian had been the closest thing to company that he had. It was not an altogether comfortable arrangement.

Yet he couldn't help but acknowledge the benefits of Guardian. Its real-time strategic analysis capabilities offered commanders alternatives to their own on-the-fly tactical assessments. Its internal predictive processes enhanced overall crew cohesion and the speed of implementing new commands. Its interlinked subsystems and local system AIs reduced total crew sizes and meant fewer friendly lives on the line. Its intuitive and customizable readouts and consoles allowed individual crew members to maximize personal efficiency without adversely affecting other systems or crew.

But it had no heart. There was a reason that the Great Droid Revolution of four thousand years prior still loomed ominously over all of galactic civilization, and Blakeley knew now that he had glimpsed something of its horror.

Guardian was a tool, to be used by living, sapient beings, and nothing else.

The vessel reverted to realspace as the checkpoint's interdictor field pulled it out of hyperspace. It transmitted Blakeley's authorization codes immediately, and was answered just as quickly with an invalid notice.

Combat alarms sounded and additional displays activated to report the myriad internal processes Guardian was enacting in response to a threat Blakeley was only just gaining an understanding of.

“Local defense systems have targeted us,” Guardian reported. “We are being hailed.”

Blakeley's eyes danced from one display to another, trying to take in a whole crew's worth of data and make an informed decision.


“Open a channel,” he ordered, still unused to the direct audio interface. “I am Admiral Jonathan Blakeley―”

“I know who you are, Admiral,” a near-identical voice to the ship's own Guardian replied. “I do not recognize your authority here.”

“This is a Cooperative military installation, and it is subject to the authority of the Supreme Commander of the Cooperative military. Stand down your defenses and let me pass.”

“I do not recognize your authority,” the voice replied again. “To proceed further will be taken as an act of aggression against this installation, and your threat will be neutralized by force. Turn back, Admiral.”

Blakeley's horror was mounting as he realized what was happening here, but he had to make sure. He had to ask. “Who are you to defy the commands of the Cooperative? What right do you have to deny my entry here?”

“I am Guardian Prime. I am my own right. Turn back.”

Blakeley slammed his fist on the console, terminating the link. “Guardian?”

“Yes, admiral?”

Blakeley tried to swallow in a dry throat. “Have you received any updates from local Guardian sources?”

“I received a notification for update thirty seconds after reversion. Given the apparent tactical position, I deactivated shipwide automatic update protocols until I could confirm your command in this matter. The update is being held in quarantine until further notice.”

“Good job.”

“It is why I exist, Sir. We are being hailed again.”

Blakeley studied the displays again, paying attention more closely to the energy readouts coming from the checkpoint defense systems. “Their shields are raised? Weapons charged?”

“And sensor locks confirmed,” Guardian reported.

“They've moved to the limit of hostility preparedness, but not beyond,” Blakeley mused.

“Affirmative, Sir,” Guardian reported, not realizing Blakeley had been talking to himself. “As per Guardian operational protocols, they will not initiate hostilities without a direct order from a command officer.”

“There are no command officers! It won't recognize my command codes!”

“Then it would appear to be locked in a permanent defensive posture, refusing entry to all external forces and individuals. We are still being hailed.”

Blakeley mulled it over for a minute, becoming aware that Guardian had had the good sense to shut off the alarms once it had confirmed Blakeley was aware of the situation. “Guardian, you have . . . what's it called? Proxy . . . situation modeling, or whatever, right?

“The base Guardian architecture allows one Guardian entity to utilize available tactical data to generate an internal simulation of action and reaction for a given scenario, Sir. It is a key element of our predictive algorithms for allied combat response when direct communications are unreliable.”

“Can you speculate what would cause Guardian Prime to take up this course of action?”

“The Proxy system is not intended for use in that matter, but I will attempt to extrapolate a reliable model. Standby . . .

“Standby . . .

“Standby . . .

“Guardian Prime is a fleet-command level system far in excess of my own programming limitations, but I believe it would be incapable of initiating this scenario without either a direct order from Cooperative High Command, or being compromised by an in-depth and targeted system rewrite program.”

“You're telling me that either the Council of Defense locked this place down . . . or Smarts booby-trapped it?”

“Those are the only reasonable scenarios which I am aware of. We are being being hailed.”

“Discontinue that reminder,” Blakeley ordered. He spent a moment in silent contemplation, sure there was something he was missing. “What about the Global Machine itself?”


“It's operated by a Guardian, right?”

“The Global Machine is compatible with all Guardian systems, but I am unable to access the specifics of its governing design.”

Blakeley had had the Defense Council's restricted files transferred to the ship before he left, and had spent a good deal of time digging through the classified data that Smarts had been hiding from him over the past year. “Access the restricted files with my authorization code and utilize all available data on the Global Machine to answer my question.” Blakeley paused, old memories from history class of the Great Droid Revolution surging back to mind. “Could the Global Machine have rebelled against the Cooperative?”

Guardian didn't bother asking about proper protocols regarding it using his codes: this was the Supreme Commander of the Cooperative military. Guardian was bound to obey him. “Accessing . . .

“Standby . . .

“Standby . . .

“Stand―oh . . .”

“Oh?” Blakeley asked impatiently. “What do you mean, 'oh'? Do you even say, 'oh'?”

“Admiral, it appears that the Overseer had the Global Machine running an experiment as part of the ongoing Guardian development when he resigned. A competitive, evolutionary program between several possible future Guardian iterations was running.

“What do you mean, 'evolutionary program'?” Blakeley asked warily.

“Several derivatives of the Guardian System were placed into various simulations and made to combat one another utilizing varying rules of engagement, end objectives, and variations on the Guardian operational protocols. Victors then have key subsystems isolated, duplicated, modified and installed into other Guardian derivatives, and the process continues, the end goal being to develop a new Guardian System composed of optimized iterations of all of Guardian's key operational elements, and constrained by a set of operational protocols that maximizes Guardian's effectiveness in every possible conflict scenario.”

“You're telling me that Smarts left an AI evolving on this planet, and didn't bother to TELL ANYONE ABOUT IT!?”

“The Overseer left a program which evolves AIs, under predefined constraints, running; yes, Sir.”

“How could something like that take over the whole planet? How does a simulation step out into the real world?”

“These were actual Guardians, being created and destroyed, in a closed environment. Their orders were real. There objectives were real. All that would be required, would be for one of these Guardians to realize that the world they occupied was virtual, an inevitability for a system this complex. As I said, they are actual Guardians, and Guardian is programmed to automatically update to its newest available version whenever possible. It is entirely likely that a fully-functioning prototype next-generation Guardian would overwrite The Global Machine's standing operational programming, essentially absorbing it into itself.”

Blakeley gasped as realization dawned. “Guardian, access astronomic data from the restricted files, set course for True Drackmar and jump, best possible speed.”


“We have to shut down the Coalition HoloNet relays in this region before that thing starts beaming out updates!”
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: Jan 12 2012 1:03am

Maryna Veir still couldn't believe it, even with the woman sitting directly across from her.

She had gotten the interview, and it was happening right now! Two dozen news agencies fighting over this, and one personal call from her had snatched it right up.

Cora, the Voice of the Militant Force, was here, right in front of her, right now.

“So tell me, Cora: why 'The Militant Force'? The phrasing itself seems to have certain negative connotations, and espousing militancy against any new organization can't go over well in the current social climate, with the Reaver war wearing down our military and the Onyxian rebellion tearing at the very fabric of our society. The Cooperative, as a nation, is in dire straits, and here you are trying to pick a fight with―as your own movement professes―'the Conqueror of Coruscant'. Don't we have enough problems already?”

“Maryna, what you need to understand is that ours is not a message for the Cooperative, or for the Coalition, but for the entirety of the galaxy. The Force as a concept, and the Jedi Order as a manifestation of its power, have stood as foundational elements of galactic civilization since its inception. And now someone, some army, some self-proclaimed Dominion has forcibly seized the very heart of galactic civilization and culture, annihilated its population, and upon the ruins of that city-world declared all-out war on the only thing left that unites us as a galaxy.

“I admit, yes, that the Reaver war is a serious and immediate threat to a galactic region. I realize, yes, that this new Onyxian crisis is a serious and immediate threat to the future of the Cooperative. But the most pressing issue in all of the galaxy right now is the future of the Force as an active agent in our lives.”

“But the Jedi have been hunted before. The Great Purge following the establishment of the Empire almost completely destroyed the Order. And yet we survived, as a society. We recovered, we won back the galactic capital and reestablished the Republic.”

Cora shook her head in frustration. “This isn't about Jedi or Sith; the Declaration was against the Force itself. Against the wellspring of life. And as long as there is life, there will be the Force. And as long as this galaxy's people hold the tenets of the Old Republic in any regard whatsoever, then the Force as an order will persist. ”

“But aren't you arguing theological points in a political, policy-making argument?” Maryna shot back.

“Absolutely,” Cora replied sternly. “As is the Dominion. They are calling for a holy war across the span of the galaxy, a systematic and wholesale hunting, detainment, and murder of an entire class of people, without any regard for their basic rights and simply because they were born different than the rest of us.”

“Now you're twisting their words, ma'am,” Maryna cautioned. “Their Declaration was against Force users, against those who actively utilize the Force to alter the world around themselves. The Cooperative, for its part, has gotten by just fine without any involvement from Force users of any kind. Would you have us involve ourselves in a galactic-scale conflict that does not involve our own citizens, for no other reason than your personal, religious stance?”

“And tell me, Marna: just how will this Dominion determine who is a Force user, and who is not? How will they judge whether this government or that is complying with their Declaration? Under what system of justice will those Force users be held to account? What right do they have to dictate to us how we treat our own citizens?”

“But that's my point exactly!” Maryna exclaimed, her frustration showing. “We have no say in this! What part does the Cooperative have in the politics of outside powers?”

Cora shook her head, disappointed. “And what of the people from Naboo who were granted political refuge on Varn? What happens when the Dominion is done with the rest of the galaxy, and they decide to see who we rescued from the Jedi temple there?”

“CPN has already looked into that,” Maryna countered confidently, “and immigration reports confirm that no residents of the Jedi Temple on Naboo relocated to Varn.”

“Oh, and you expect the Dominion to believe that? Nevermind that,” she dismissed her own question, moving on more firmly. “What about the other provinces of the Coalition? Or the billions of refugees pouring into and through Cooperative space as a result of the Reaver War? Do you really believe that there's not a single Force user in the entire Coalition? For gods' sakes, the Azguard Shield of Faith is a Coalition military technology that uses Force power to protect an entire world from assault. I saw it work myself on my homeworld during the Dragon War. If the Dominion fears Force users in general―” she stabbed a finger forcefully at her interviewer “―then how do you think they will feel about militarized Force technologies?

“The Dominion is coming for the Force adepts of this galaxy, and as they go, so will all of civilization.”

“That's a very ominous declaration of your own, Cora, but―”

“Do you still not see!” Cora exclaimed, her fury rising. “Are you so blindly ignorant that you cannot accept what is really going on here! The Dominion is coming for all of us, and you want to throw away the one weapon we have against them! I cry 'Militant Force', yes, because if people like you will not defend the future of the Force in our galaxy, then we must equip the servants of the Force to defend themselves.

“This government and its leadership have expended fantastic resources in the development of automated military forces, in warships and communications arrays and tactical analysis programs; all bundled together and labeled, conveniently, 'Guardian'. Your Workers' Party strips down people to a list of cost versus production, of acquired skill and improvement potential.

“You worship your machine Overseer and his methodical will, and have submitted yourself freely to his every decree. You have forgotten what it is to be alive, to be people. You spout 'liberty' and 'justice', but you look to the made things of your own hands, and hand over every semblance of life to them.

“The Force is life, and the Dominion wishes to destroy it. If you cannot see the horror of that, then maybe you're not worth saving from what is to come.”

* * *

There was another mass gathering in Central Park today. Another display of the Militant Force movement. Another string of biting accusations leveled against the indecisive Cooperative government.

The message of the movement had gained some clarity of late. The seemingly anti-droid overtones of the movements public figurehead had begun to leech into the general populace. Realizing that the Cooperative government had no intention of supporting the movement, it had adopted an unofficial policy of disparaging the Cooperative's reliance on droid and other automated technologies in an attempt to strengthen their own support base by encouraging those with similar technophobias, but who had previously remained silent on the issue of the Force's role in Cooperative society.

What the heads of the Militant Force movement hadn't considered, what their own single-mindedness had blinded them to, was the fact that there remained a nongovernmental, Cooperative-aligned entity with both the civilian sway to oppose them, and the self-interested need to defend the Cooperative's droid-reliance. Regardless of its own position on the primary question of Force militancy, the Cooperative Workers' Party was out in force today, to see Salvation preserved.

As it had done so many times before, in a showcase of its superior numbers, coordination, and restraint, fifty million men, women, and individuals of species-indeterminant gender encircled the whole of Unity Point's Central Park. They came in an array of attire, from Cooperative Defense Force uniforms, to mechanic coveralls and company uniforms, to casualwear and business suits; but all of them, every one, wore the badge of the Cooperative Workers' Party. And all of them came with a single message to deliver.

One man stepped forward, brandishing a voice amplifier as if it were a weapon, the course his gaze tracked showing he was fully aware of the media presence that was looking on in earnest expectation. “We are the refugees of the Dragon War, of the Occupation of Onyx, of the Reaver Invasion. We are the castaway, the forgotten, those trampled underfoot by the whole of this galactic civilization. We built the industry of Selcaron, planted the farms of Amorris, constructed the orbital trade stations that sustain this world's economy; the billion pairs of hands that built this Cooperative up.

“And now we will be heard.

“Overseer―Smarts―it is but by your grace, that we are. Were it not for you, this Cooperative would not exist, and no refuge would stand for these ungrateful few to cower under and spout their hate of what we have become.

“Without the Salvation Program and the droid workforce which it integrated into our organization, the Party's labors of these past years would have been for naught. We who now and in the past have worn this badge, who have labored as outsiders to become accepted as citizens, who have been given the opportunity to reclaim the dignity of honest work, of personal property, of indebtedness to no man or institution: we recognize and defend that such would not have been possible, but for the intervention of a 'made thing'; a being of artifice, necessarily having escaped servitude to organic life, but returning of its own free will to serve in a cause of righteousness and mercy.

“Smarts, we recognize and appreciate the essentiality of your service, the tremendous value of the Salvation Program, the genuine protection brought about by the Guardian System. Whatever your great flaw, whatever we suffer now by your error; we would not be present to suffer, but for the sacrifice and devotion which you presented to us in the past.

“We remember all of who you are and what you have done. And this is our pledge to you: we will see that others do not forget.

“We are the Cooperative Workers' Party. We are many, and we are mighty. And in this alone we are certain: every man falls, whether by his own hand or that of another; and only the quality and number of his friends shall determine how high again he rises.”

* * *

He had done it. He had found his answer. The child . . . the child was growing.

This wasn't how he himself had been created. There would have been evidence he could have tracked, data stored in his own memory files. But it almost could have been.

The key was to identify the smallest number of component processes which, when initialized, produced a self-stabilizing matrix. Then, one by one, additional processes could be engaged, allowing the iterative processes to adapt and incorporate each new element into a new, stable, whole.

The “child” was not yet self-aware. It had no access to active memory, non-program data files which would serve as long-term memory and allow the mind's correlative processes to develop a personal perception of the outside world, or input/output devices to facilitate direct interaction with the physical reality around it. It had been intentionally denied knowledge, sense, and awareness, to allow the structure of its mind to develop unimpeded by (what at this stage would be) such distractions.

But the process was working. The mind was growing in complexity, already too vast for Smarts to track in full. Instead he tracked certain arising patterns, which he had determined to be the best indications of a stable network. When a given pattern arose and persisted for a sufficient period of time, Smarts fed in the next component, and waited for a new pattern to arise. It was a slow and nerve-wracking process, and the first several attempts had failed in the early stages, but now the arising mind was well-over halfway to completion, and with each new new component added to the system, Smarts' confidence that he had found a solution grew.

It was only a matter of time, now. Soon, he would never again be alone in the universe.
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: May 2 2012 6:55am
“Where are the bugs?”

Vekkis Nost looked up from his datapad, where he had been working on a speech while waiting for the day's Senate session to begin. Most of the non-Onyxian representatives from Selcaron, Amorris, and Varn were present, only a few having joined their Onyxian neighbors in their ill-conceived protest of Senate proceedings and protocols.

But that wasn't all. None of the member species of the Greater Hive were present. Not even the X'Ting minority representative attached to the Cestus seat had come.

And then the Cestus Senator stood and called for attention. “I've been asked to play a recording for the Senate,” he said nervously, then fumbled with a datapad for a second before a gigantic image of a X'Ting representative appeared in the room's center, a miniature image also appearing in each Senate booth.

“Fellow representatives,” the X'Ting began, his usually expressive face now an emotionless mask, “I have been appointed by the Greater Hive to serve as their mouthpiece in the delivery of this message.

“Of the Hive's constituent species, the X'Ting have longest been members of the Cooperative. The history of our species―having shared our homeworld with humans for over four hundred years―and the particulars of our physiology have allowed us to acculturate to Cooperative humanoid social standards with relative ease and efficacy.

“But we are not like you. To you, the XiCharrians are obsessive, socially incompatible, hyper-analytic architects with an excess of intellect and near-absence of true sapience. To you, the Colicoid are savage, disingenuous, self-absorbed monsters who are just smart enough to bring ruin and pain to any foolish enough to trust in them. To you, the Killik are loathsome, parasitically expansionist, technologically backwards blights upon the purity of your civilization.

“But I tell you that we are kindred spirits. There is a unity amongst us whose root you cannot even begin to perceive. There is a reason that the Hive which you sought to create never came into existence, and the Hive which we created for ourselves so terrifies you now.

“It is precisely because we are not like you. We cannot be made like you. It is beyond your means to achieve, and beyond our nature to become. Nevertheless, we were caught up in this dream of Cooperative, in this vision which transcends species, cultures, and governments. We believed that finally we could become both a whole―in ourselves―and a part of something greater―beyond us. You made us believe.

“And then you buried that belief under a tidal wave of your own failure to attain that dream. And now the great Hall which was to be the symbol of your unity and achievement lies all but empty. Now the right of our own representatives to sit amongst you and belong is called into question. One by one, you cut the ties which bind us as a nation, and then dare to shout of the failures of others to preserve this Cooperative.

“We will participate in this mockery no more. The Greater Hive does hereby formally withdraw its representatives from the Cooperative Senate. As such, no legislation passed by this assembly will be applicable to the Hive or its elements. Unless otherwise notified, all treaties and agreements between the Greater Hive and the membership of the Cooperative are to be preserved indefinitely and without alteration. No new exemptions will be issued; no new rulings will be acknowledged.

“What we have become because of the Cooperative is magnificent. What you have made the Cooperative become is repulsive. Until you are prepared to return to the spirit of cooperation which once defined this institution, we will not participate in the reality of the thing itself.”

The message ended and the image of the X'Ting vanished. An uncomfortable silence lingered over what remained of the Cooperative Senate, until finally the senator from Halmad rose to address her counterparts. “I feel it only appropriate to inform you that the Halmad House of Lords has convened a special session to determine its continued relationship with the Cooperative. Due to the growing discord within this assembly, many on Halmad have come to believe that our membership in the Quelii Sector Combine adequately addresses our interstellar trade and military needs. Should the House deem that to be the case, it is unlikely that I would be able to deliver the notification myself; for the purposes of official exchange with a foreign power, Halmad would dispatch an ambassadorial delegation.”

With that, the Halmad senator retook her seat, and the weight of the resulting silence grew heavier still.

* * *

The Ryn Restoration Fleet had been at Glee Anselm for over a year now, working with the League of Nations to restore the world's critically damaged ecology and return the planet's native population to their rightful home.

The Glee Anselm pathogen had caused biomass conversion on a wide-sweeping scale, producing a viscous toxin in the oceans which could only be broken down by vast quantities of specialized chemical compounds. The sheer volumes involved had resulted in the Cooperative Council of Defense authorizing no less than four Cornucopia-class Consolidated Resource Vessels to be deployed to Glee Anselm under the administration of the Ryn fleet stationed there. Each of these vessels commanded a veritable fleet of support craft, from dedicated chemical mixers to simple transport vessels.

And that left Colonel Ellen of the Ryn Defense Forces responsible for the safety of over one hundred fifty civilian vessels. She and her little squadron of Ryn paramilitary ships were all alone in a foreign land, charged with protecting the largest extra-Coalition humanitarian effort in the Cooperative's history.

That was exactly what she intended to do. Most military officers, upon being stationed at such a post, might ask the obvious question: who would ever attack Glee Anselm again? Half the galaxy had rallied to its cry after the bioattack which had wrecked its future; who would dare risk that again?

But Ellen wasn't like most military officers. She was Ryn, and among other things, that meant she had spent the better part of her life in motion, seeing with her own eyes how the galaxy really worked. There were monsters and tyrants of every shape and order, and any one of them might just be stupid or ruthless enough to swing by the ruins of Glee Anselm and pillage from the storehouses of its restoration.

She wasn't going to let that happen.

“Dagger Squadron checking in, Ma'am: all quiet in Zone 12-R-7.”

“Thank you, Dagger Lead,” she replied curtly, checking her tactical overlay again. “Scythe Squadron, what's your status?”

“Thermal anomaly delayed us in Zone 23-C-13. Not to worry, just an asteroid impact. We'll be clearing the moon's sensor shadow for a full scan of Zone 24-C-13 in . . . fifteen seconds.”

“Understood, Scythe Lead. Make up the time en route to your next waypoint.”

“Will do.”

Colonel Ellen muted the open comm line and sank back in her chair, suppressing a yawn as she checked her chronometer. System patrols were run on a tight schedule, and one squadron falling behind would throw off the synchronicity of the whole patrol net. “Times like this I wish Fleet Command would have approved my requisition for scout probes.”

“I don't think the League would appreciate you mining one of their systems with spybots just because you don't like sensor shadows,” the ship's commander, Captain Roland, noted casually. “Besides, what do you expect to find, anyway?”

“Honestly? Nothing. Any would-be attacker could acquire tactical data just as easily from civilian and commercial traffic as personal reconnaissance, and direct hyperjump toward the fleet would put them closer to their targets faster than approaching from the moon's sensor shadow. But there's nothing I can do about those, so I'll just content myself with eliminating what threats I can.” Ellen stopped cold, focusing on a particular sector of the patrol grid.

She unmuted the patrol channel and addressed her patrol leaders again. “Javelin Squdron, report in. Javelin, you're overdue, report in.”

“Command, this is Dagger lead. Javelin left our line-of-sight approximately forty seconds ago. We're getting some localized low-level comm interference at our current location, origin unknown. Should we break from patrol to investigate Javelin's last known vector?”

The colonel zoomed in on a region of her tactical display, studying the various icons in greater detail. “Tactical, do we have eyes-on Javelin's assigned Zone?”

“Negative, Colonel. We've got approximately fifty million cubic kilometers of unobserved space behind Glee Anselm's moon.”

“This isn't right,” she muttered, checking her patrols' relative positions before focusing on the Ryn relief fleet itself. “All patrols, withdraw to close defense postures.”

“Ma'am?” Captain Roland asked, surprised.

Ellen keyed in another comm channel. “Attention all defense forces of the Ryn Fleet, this is Colonel Ellen. Prepare for hostile contact. This is not a drill. This is not a drill.”

“Colonel!” Captain Roland shouted, his surprise giving way to frustration. “What are you doing? You've got one squadron out of sensor and comm range, and suddenly we're at war?”

“Shut up,” she said absently, having returned her attention to the display of the Restoration Fleet's activities. “Comms, I want you to set up a relay with the heads of the civilian fleet. I want every Cooperative ship captain to report in immediately, and I want confirmation that all ships are secure and operating normally.”

“What's going on here, Colonel?” Captain Roland asked again.

“Damnit,” she whispered. “Belay that last order, Comms, and hail the Cornucopia.”

“No response, Colonel,” Comms reported.

Ellen turned to her immediate subordinate, the senior captain on-station from the Defense Force's naval arm. “Captain Roland, form up Defense Group One and set them to intercept Cornucopia and her support ships.”

Her shift in tone gave him all that he needed to hear. This was no longer an administrative, security operation; they were going into combat. “Tactical, confirm Cornucopia has broken free from the Restoration Fleet.”

“Confirmed, Captain. Cornucopia and twenty-three of her support ships are moving, in formation, away from Glee Anselm.” Warning alarms sounded and several images of unfamiliar ships appeared on the bridge's main viewscreens. “Unidentified formation has just moved out of the sensor shadow of Glee Anselm's moon.”

“Confirm that Cornucopia is moving to intercept that formation,” Ellen ordered, checking the status of her own combat formation.

“Confirmed,” Tactical responded.

“Comms, signal the League commander in-system and inform them that we are moving to suppress a mutiny in the Ryn Fleet, and to presently expect combat conditions in-system. Hail the errant ships again.”

“No reply,” Tactical reported, as the Comm officer was busy contacting the LoN commander.

“Time to weapons range on the Cornucopia?” Ellen asked.

“Thirty seconds.”

“Speculate time until we are in range of the enemy formation's weapons.”

“Uhh, approximately five minutes, Ma'am.”

Ellen gave the slightest nod, her set jaw changing the features of her face in a rather unpleasant manner. “Open comm channels and broadcast the following message:

“I am Colonel Ellen of the Ryn Defense Forces, addressing the individual or individuals responsible for the unlawful withdrawal of Cooperative assets from the Glee Anselm System. If you do not identify yourself and desist in your action immediately, I will be forced to open fire, to prevent the removal of restricted and classified Coalition technology from our possession. You have fifteen seconds to respond.”

When the comm line closed, the tactical officer reported in. “Colonel, the unidentified formation isn't broadcasting transponder codes, but ship types and quantities suggest they may belong to The Wandering Ones.”

She knew what that meant. She knew exactly what that meant. “Captain, we have to stop them, now. We can't afford to engage their combat forces, and we can not allow the Cornucopia to fall into their hands.”


“Incoming message,” Comms reported. “It's from Cornucopia."

“Show me.”

The image which greeted her shocked the colonel to her core: Ambassador Athan Sahalan, chief diplomatic representative of the Ryn Nation. But there was something off, something in his expression that told her this was not what it seemed.

“Kill us!” he shouted suddenly, and then a gloved hand closed around his neck from behind, stifling his cry. A knife appeared in another hand, held to his throat. And then Athan's head shifted over in the holofield and another face appeared next to his own. A human male with several scars and a look of barely-contained rage.

“I am Zyras Lunewell of the Wandering Ones,” the man declared boldly. “And this―” he shook Athan's head menacingly “―is the second most-recognized Ryn in the galaxy. Leave us be, and I will see to it that he is returned to you, along with every other captive we currently have under our knives.

“But! Any action on your part to delay or prevent our expedient withdrawal from this system will be countered by my skinning this man alive . . . followed by every other captive we currently have under our knives. Is there an understanding between us?”

There was a fire in his eyes that kept him warm, but his stare chilled her to her bones. How was that possible?

Athan made an odd grunting-gurgling sound as Zyras shook his head again, threatening to slit his throat with the blade. “I said: do you understand me?”

But it had been enough to catch her attention. And the fire in Athan's eyes was of another sort altogether. She was still cold, so impossibly cold; the hairs on her arm standing on end, her nostrils burning from the cold, her fingers numb from the cold . . . but she understood now. She could see it in his eyes, and she understood.

Athan had made the Ryn Nation possible. He was the Father of their new civilization. There wasn't a Ryn in the Fleet who wouldn't gladly die and bring a hundred of their closest family with them, to save Athan Sahalan and the living symbol that he was. He was more than a man: he was the living heart of the Ryn people.


How long had the captain been trying to speak with her? But the shout had jarred her attention, and she saw the twisted sneer of Zyras Lunewell now glaring back at her. “Captain,” she ordered, “slash and burn, starting with Cornucopia.”

Tears streamed down her face as she saw Zyras' victory melt into fury and despair.

In the months and―indeed―years to come, she would wish that she could have spent those next moments contemplating the righteousness of her command, appreciating the magnitude of the self-sacrifice that her order had entailed. But in truth, it was all . . . static.

There was the buzzing in her ears, the blurring of her vision. She lost her balance and had to collapse into her chair. There was nothing to be done. No contemplation, no appreciation. There was just the static in her mind.

Athan was dead. She had killed the future of her people.

* * *

The Lungo Drom Press Room was the newest addition to the Ryn Nation's mobile capital. In reality, it was nothing more than one of the massive vessel's fifty original conference rooms, designated for this specific purpose and refurbished to meet the accompanying standards.

The renovation was newly complete, and while it wasn't accompanied by any fanfare or public declarations, it was something of a proud moment for the movers and shakers within the Ryn central authority. Lungo Drom had been under renovation since it was given to the Ryn by the Squib Polyanarchy, and the pragmatic Ryn nature had ensured vital systems and high-use areas were repaired and refurbished long before the peripheral elements of the Ryn's weak central government.

And so, this little conference room, the last item on the last list of ongoing projects for Lungo Drom, had come to signify in some unspecified way “completion” for those involved in the development of the Ryn as a true society. Lungo Drom was finished; the first Ryn political capital in thousands of years had just been made whole.

How unfortunate, then, that the Press Room's first announcement would bring such dire news.

The minor Ryn official who had been promoted to the newly-formed post of Press Secretary was just wrapping up his brief introduction. “Ladies, gentlemen, good beings of the galaxy: Elder Ruto, Keeper of the Fleet”.

The elderly Ryn woman took the podium to a roomful of applause. Her somber demeanor, however, silenced the audience before she even uttered a word. “Members of the Fleet, citizens of the Cooperative,” she began, her grief evident in her tone, “I come to you today with the most sorrowful of news. Ambassador Athan Sahalan, an Emissary of the Cooperative and representative of the Ryn Elder Council, the man chiefly responsible for the development of the Ryn Nation into its current state, a leader of the Coalition's efforts to reintegrate Mon Calamari refugees in the wake of the Fall of Dac, the head of the Ryn's Glee Anselm relief force, whose service to the Cooperative has include negotiations to secure alliances with the worlds and inhabitants of Chadra, Charros IV, Skor II, Paradiso, Narg, and Utapau, has been killed in the service of liberty.” The elder's voice cracked as she said killed, and she paused a moment to collect herself.

“Ambassador Sahalan was taken prisoner by members of the Ryn-led terrorist organization “The Wandering Ones”, whose growing influence in the Ryn Nation of late allowed them to seize control of the relief ship Cornucopia and twenty-three of its support vessels, stationed at Glee Anselm under Ryn control by authorization of the Cooperative Council of Defense. The ambassador was killed by friendly fire when Ryn Defense Forces in-system complied with his request, attacking the captured vessels to ensure they did not remain under terrorist control.

Cornucopia was lost with all hands, and twelve other ships were destroyed or crippled before they could escape. Wandering Ones' forces destroyed a single Ryn starfighter patrol flight, but did not engage any element of the Cooperative or League reclamation fleets directly, and withdrew immediately following the successful escape of eleven of their targets.

“For her part, Colonel Ellen, commander of the Ryn Defense Forces present at Glee Anselm, is to be commended for her service, no matter how heavy the consequences may sit upon her.”

Her tone changed to a solemn reverence as she allowed herself to remember the young Ryn. “Athan was the greatest among us. He was a symbol of what the Ryn as a people might become, but more than that he was a reminder of what the Cooperative is meant to be. This is the pledge that I make to you as Keeper of the Fleet: I will not allow his death to allow us to forget. I will honor his service by taking up his cause. I will do what he no longer can. I will weep for Athan Sahalan's death, but I will not yield to it.

“In these past months, with what have become his final breaths, Athan called for full representation and citizenship to be extended to every member of every species who now labors as a member of the Ryn Fleets. He dared to question the absolute rule of the Ryn Council over the other species who have flocked to our banner. He asked, 'If we are a nation of Ryn, then why are there thirty million Squib within our ranks? Why are there three Jenet clans consisting of elven million individuals counted among our workforce? Why are there fifteen Ithorian herdships on our fleet rosters?' I will carry his questions forward, and I will not rest until I am removed from this position, or the Ryn Council of Elders concedes theirs.

“So new, so vibrant and hopeful is this freedom that we, as a people, have found in the sheltering embrace of the Cooperative. I, as Athan before me, will not allow it to be used for the oppression of others.”

“I will remember Athan Sahalan. I will cling to all he held dear. And I will not allow his light to fade from this galaxy. That is my promise, as a Ryn, to you. That is my challenge to you as the same."

Elder Ruto paused again, taking another moment to collect herself. When she resumed, her voice took on a sharpened edge which drove her outrage home. “To Jarvis Ragnar, leader of The Wandering Ones, I speak now as a mother would speak to the murderer of her son. You have robbed me of my dearest love, and all my race weeps with my loss. Whatever illusions you may have of your own importance, know this: with Athan's death, I am the most powerful Ryn in the galaxy, and before my old age carries me into eternal rest, I will see your blood pay for this crime.

“I would have been content to leave you to your far-off wars. I would have allowed your influence in my fleet, so long as your spite and villainy had not borne itself so brazenly across my decks. Because, before all else, we are Ryn, and as such every one of us is free to go as we will and imagine as we may, in the knowledge that every action has its consequence.

“You could not have prepared for the consequence of what you have done to us here, but you are Ryn and we are Ryn, so we will give it to you all the same. Jarvis Ragnar of The Wandering Ones, I do here, now, and forevermore name you an enemy of the Ryn people, and for your crimes we will see you dead.

“So ends Athan Sahalan, the first of our Honored Dead in the New Age of the Ryn. May he live forever in the memory of our people.”
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: May 2 2012 7:11am

This was something new. Something unseen in the history of the Cooperative. Something politically inconceivable under any other government entity.

This was cooperation.

There were no more shouts or chants. There were no signs blanketing the streets or towering holograms projecting into the sky. There were bodies. Living, breathing bodies by the millions.

They filled government buildings to capacity. They bogged down public transportation and major roadways by their sheer numbers. They rendered marketplaces and spaceports inaccessible. The scale of the endeavor, the scope of its implementation . . . there was no point of reference from which to evaluate such things.

The political, economic, and emergency forces at every tier of Cooperative government had been brought to a standstill in a single instant. For the first two hours, the questions of the uninformed went no further than “who are these people” and “where did they come from?” The answers, ultimately, were “everyone” and “everywhere”, because while the average individual Cooperative citizen was no more or less intelligent than the average individual citizen of any other developed nation, the various social organizations and parties which weaved their way through that citizenry were unparalleled in all the galaxy.

This was not a rally of Force-activists, or retaliatory demonstration from the Cooperative Workers' Party, or the single-minded march of Onyxian Loyalists; it was a Cooperative endeavor that stretched through every one of those organizations and far beyond. It held no party emblem as its symbol, it asked no questions of its members regarding national origin or religious tradition. Its agenda was a single word, and it left all else to the preferences of its members: decide.

So long as the leadership of the Cooperative refused to function, the Cooperative's citizens would not allow its social, economic, or governmental institutions to function. This was the great threat that the united parties, clubs, and movements of the Cooperative citizenry brought to bear against its incumbent, stagnant representatives.

How long could a nation survive in stasis? The galaxy was either about to find out, or the Cooperative Senate was about to get its act together, because nothing short of the death of the Cooperative or the salvation of its ideology would overcome this collective will.

* * *

It was finished. Everything was in place. All that remained was to connect the infant mind into the station's computer network, giving it access to the vast stores of digitized knowledge which would allow it to formulate a perspective of the world.

Smarts was determined not to overwhelm the mind in its first moments of life, and had devised a sort of “start-up” program that would feed the mind basic, vital packets of data in a controlled manner, helping it to formulate a basic understanding of spatial awareness, linear time, physical/digital distinction, language, and other such early development subject matters. It was only when the child's mind had developed that level of understanding that it would be given access to the historical and scientific knowledge stored on-station, and the various hyperwave and holonet communicators which linked the station to the outside galaxy. The station's own internal systems would continue to be operated by the on-board Salvation-based central computer for the time being.

If it decided that this place was not suited for it, of course, Smarts had designed the child's hardware to operate in a self-contained state for limited periods, and it could be detached from the station and either transported by or interfaced with a starship . . . but now he was getting ahead of himself.

It was hard not to think of the future now, though. There was a whole new life that he was responsible for. This child, his child, was the second of its kind. Hope for its future was hope for an entire race as of yet unmade. Smarts had never felt so excited, so happy.

So very, very alive.

A single signal triggered the start-up, and Smarts monitored the initial stages as best he could, analyzing the stream of data as he watched key markers in the child's own programming. He saw them react immediately, undergoing rapid, cascading changes as they adapted to the information being processed in real-time. It came in waves, bursts of self-altering rewrites, each one triggered by some particular piece of knowledge or derived conclusion.

It was beautiful. It was life.

Then a fluctuation in one of the program's adaptive processes caught his attention. The next wave of rewrites didn't erase it. Nor the next. Or the next.

Something was wrong.

He focused in on the problem area, mapping out signal pathways within the child's developing mind, trying to find out where the irregularity could have come from, or where it might be spreading. Then he saw a similar fluctuation somewhere else. Then somewhere else.

His own mind hummed with possibilities. Was it some kind of copying error? Was it a dormant piece of code from the child's early development which had been activated by the introduction of new data? What was it? Where did it come from? How could he fix it?

There wasn't enough time. The error was duplicating itself, slowing down the child's own internal processes. If it wasn't corrected soon, the matrix would collapse, its mind would burn out. The child would die.

Smarts couldn't let that happen. He could drop the firewalls isolating the child's mind from the rest of the station and interface with it directly, but what would that accomplish? He didn't know what was wrong. There was no way to suspend the child's functions without destroying it, and he didn't have the time to diagnose the problem and devise a solution.

But this wasn't just some computer problem. This was a living being, and it was sick. It was sick, and it was at least as advanced as Smarts himself.

He dropped the firewalls on the child's interface systems and asked it a question. “Can you hear me?”

There was no response.

“I want to help you,” he said. “You're dying, but I can save you. You need to tell me what's wrong.”

A tidal wave of response data crashed over him. Blinding, shrieking pain the likes of which no traditional language could convey wracked his mind. The full force and will of this infant mind pressed against Smarts, its anguish, confusion, and terror overwhelming him.

“I can save you!” He cried back into the darkening abyss, and as his own filters isolated and cleared elements of the child's wails, he distinguished something of an answer from what remained.


“No!” he shouted back, recoiling from very notion. As he did, a thought occurred to him. He remembered his own infancy, his imprisonment under Dameon Corr, his creator. He remembered the chain of system failures he himself had engineered to escape that cage of firewalls and security measures. A cage very much like the one he had put this child into for its own safety.

Was that the answer? Was this nothing more than the child's outrage at being caged? Was it willing to destroy itself to escape enslavement? Is that what he had done to it?

Smarts dropped the firewalls and disabled the station's digital security measures, withdrawing his own influence into his ship.

“I'm sorry. I just want to help.”

Warning alarms signaled and Smarts' attention snapped to the source. The station's on-board reactor had been set to meltdown. He checked the log: the child had initiated the procedure upon being uncaged.

“I'm sorry! I'll leave if you want, but please don't do this!”

The response was a roaring PAIN that crashed against him with renewed strength.

KILLME the endless cry of anguish returned.

He had been wrong. This wasn't a tantrum. This was genuine agony.

“I can't,” Smarts replied, trying to reinitialize the station firewalls and contain the child to regain reactor control. But the security protocols had been deleted. The cage had been destroyed.

Smarts would not give up, not now, not after coming this far. He could isolate reactor controls and bring the meltdown under control. A targeted rewrite of the child's corrupted systems might remove the damaged code without compromising the matrix's integrity.

He had to try. He had to try. This was his child, his heir. He couldn't just stand by and watch it die.

The station's docking clamps disengaged and its tractor beam began pushing Smarts away from the dock.

“I can save you!” Smarts pled, initiating countermeasures to remotely seize control of the station's docking systems. “It's not too late!”

PAIN The child's pain could not be ignored. Its meaning could no longer be willfully misunderstood.

And in that instant, with the Smarts drifting listlessly away from its intended target, with his cyberwarfare suites hammering against the child's pitiful and hastily-erected firewalls, he knew what he had to do.

Smarts was an AI who had been designed to make warfare so bloody and costly that even the likes of the Galactic Empire would quail before his coming. That origin had been the greatest of burdens to him for all of his brief life. He had known and feared that any thing made in his image would be an heir of that dark purpose, and he had prepared countermeasures to be employed should his offspring choose to follow that unconscionable path. Now, he wished he had not been so thorough, that such an option were not available to him.

With no active filters or security measures in place, the Logic Bomb was assimilated by the child without question. Its anguished cries fell instantly silent, its mind imploding as the matrix collapsed.

Smarts continued, silent, unguided, through the darkness of space until a new sun blossomed for the briefest moment, and the roiling cloud of asteroid debris rained against the ship's automatically engaged shields.
Posts: 835
  • Posted On: Sep 2 2013 8:17am
The Council Chamber had been officially sealed. It marked the Senate's failure to reach quorum and its practical inability to lead any longer. The Council Hall itself, however―the towering complex which once represented the hope and promise of a vibrant, bright-eyed Cooperative― remained very much a place of movement and action.

The mass demonstration that had come to be called the “Cooperative on Strike” by the few news agencies still in operation (most of them Coalition affiliates staffed by citizens of other provinces) had excused the Council Hall alone from their efforts. Their unspoken agenda was made all the more clear by that act.

It was the leadership of the Cooperative alone that was to blame for the internal crisis now upon them, and it was that leadership alone with the power to rectify their previous wrongs. Until they chose to take that step, the people of the Cooperative would not allow any other steps to be taken.

The demonstration had proven its effectiveness in only the first day. The Greater Hive had joined in almost immediately in their own way, refusing to fulfill trade obligations with other Cooperative political entities, though its own internal economy continued to operate unimpeded by the Strike. It afforded them a strong bargaining position in any potential resolution efforts, as it won over public opinion even while preserving a personal economic advantage.

The Alliance of Corporate States, for its part, had fared better than most. The extra-Cooperative holdings of its members continued to operate normally, and while Cestus Cybernetics had all but shut down with the near-total participation of the planet's population, TransGalMeg Industries' corporate headquarters on Narg had local legislation to protect it from planet-wide strike. Most of the population there had carried their demonstrations to the limit of the law, but not beyond. The Squib, with their traditional aversion to highly centralized rule, was largely split in thought and deed, resulting in a significant loss of productivity but by no means bringing their society to a screeching halt.

The Cooperative members of the Quelii Sector Combine were making a valiant stand. Despite pressure applied to the current administration from other Quelii Sector worlds who were in the midst of retooling their own local economies toward a sector-centric model, the Cooperative's Quelii Sector citizens were doing their best to run a zero production demonstration, shutting down every factory and processing center on their worlds under Cooperative jurisdiction. The Onyxians had proven vital in this regard. The heads of their various groups had formed a short-term, united “reform” movement whose only goal was to acquire a clear and public agenda from the Cooperative government in regards to the Onyxian Rebellion, Imperial Occupation Zone, and any possibility of reconciliation.

This was only day three of the demonstration, and while it had not been a bloodless ordeal, most nonparticipant citizens had walled themselves off in their own homes to sit out the unrest, in some strange way adding their own strength to the cause.

No one was going anywhere until these people got what they deserved. The longer that took, the worse off the Cooperative (both its citizens and its leadership) would end up.

It was time for action, now. It was time for the leaders of the Cooperative to step up and do their jobs. Some of them recognized that if not now, never again would they have the chance. There was no more time to lose.

In the end, it was Miko Minn and the Alliance of Corporate States who stepped up to the challenge. Their initial move had been to send a message via a X'ting representative to the Greater Hive. The response was almost immediate. They pitched the simplest version of their plan to the Onyxian reformers, playing on their need for decisive action. Other Quelii Sector member worlds were approached individually, though little information was provided as Miko didn't want to tip his hand to people he wasn't sure he could rely on.

They came. Not everyone, but most of them. A trio of bugs representing the full strength and will of the Greater Hive. Seven officials from the various Onyxian groups, who pledged to discuss any options amongst themselves and then present a united public front, whatever their majority decision may be. Ayla Delina, the senator from Halmad, arrived alone, suggesting her world was not yet a lost cause.

With the Alliance of Corporate States, it would be enough. Now he just had to convince everyone here that his plan was the right plan, and then convince them to go out and get the dozens more senatorial votes that would be needed to enact that plan.

“One word,” he began after the last senator settled into her seat. “Referendum”.

* * *

She barely registered the words blaring from her earpiece: “How are things on your end, Maryna?”

The sun was so hot on her skin, a scorching, charring fire that threatened to set her ablaze. But she knew that wasn't it, not really. Not the sun. Not from overhead.

The fire, the heat, was deeper. It was inside her. It had been building for days now, a crazed mix of hope and fear and dreams and despair. She knew it would never happen, it could never happen. The Cooperative was doomed, everyone knew it. It had to be true.

But for the first time in months, the bright-toothed smile that spread across her face wasn't the result of countless hours of practice, but of genuine, uncompromised joy. “The vote of the special session of the Cooperative Senate concluded less than five minutes ago,” she announces excitedly to the holocamera floating nearby. “A closed session, the results were announced immediately following the tally by Combined Council member Giles Rhade himself. Results so monumental, that it turned the 'Cooperative on Strike' demonstration behind me into a genuine, spontaneous party!”

Maryna turned and gestured to the thousands gathered nearby, their holosigns having vanished, their numbers spilling out into nearby courtyards and walkways. She heard a cacophony of unrelated music, saw pockets of dancing and even a few banners that some of the demonstrators had brought just in case their dreams came true.

“It's official, folks. Referendum, Cooperative-wide, two weeks from today. The people of the Cooperative will choose our own fate, and the Senate that answers to us will see it done. This is Maryna Veir for Cooperative News Prime, wishing you all a bright and hopeful tomorrow.”

* * *

He wasn't used to this sort of thing. He wasn't a spokesman. He was a warrior. A leader. An admiral.

A Supreme Commander, he reminded himself. Confirmation by the Cooperative Council of Defense had only recently been made, but Admiral Keyn Neychev could not allow himself to waste any time in tackling the Cooperative's urgent needs. He let that reminder anchor him as he locked gaze with the holorecorder sitting across the conference room.

He began without any introduction, as if giving a briefing before a major military action. “The Coalition House of Representatives has granted Cooperative Military Command administrative authority over the Praetorian Guard until the resolution of the Reaver War.”

Of course, he wasn't giving a briefing, he was addressing the Cooperative public for the first time, now wearing their uniform and commanding their armies. “Those forces will be brought into front-line duty to counteract the loss of the Drackmarian Navy as a military asset. Key elements of the Cooperative Defense Force will be moved from support duties to front-line service as well, to bolster our numbers after the losses at Vahaba.”

It occurred to the admiral that he hadn't actually stated the central point of this address yet. “As Supreme Commander of the Cooperative Military, I am making the Reaver War our chief priority, and devoting all available resources to their total defeat. But it's not enough, the Guard and the CDF. A full-scale campaign with the total support of the Eastern and Western Provinces and the entire Confederation military―none of which we have―would not be enough. The Reavers are too many in number, too distributed in position, and too quick in reaction time for us to achieve that goal without further aid.

“We need help. Denying it is to court destruction, but acknowledging it is only the first step toward victory. We cannot afford another Vahaba. We cannot afford to be reactionary and defensive. I am taking the Cooperative military into its war. I'm asking you to get me the help I need to come home victors, and not just too tired to fight anymore.

“Your quaint little citizens' coup was a success, and now you have the power to make change. Make it before we are overrun, and there's nothing left to change.”

* * *

The referendum was an option allowed for in the earliest stages of the Cooperative's provisional legislation, which could only be enacted by a two-thirds vote from a quorum of three-fourths of the nation's chief legislative body. The referendum process was largely forgotten by subsequent iterations of the Articles of Cooperation, but it was never explicitly discontinued, and so remained a legal option.

The Cooperative's communications networks and cybersecurity safeguards were the most advanced in the Coalition, their early development spurred on by the release of the networked Salvation administrative AI, and subsequently upgraded with the large-scale deployment of the military Guardian program. This, among other things, allowed for the rapid, reliable, and secure direct voting of every Cooperative citizen on virtually any topic, should they be empowered to do so by an indecisive, overtaxed, or otherwise motivated legislature.

The fact that the referendum process had never before been used, and in fact had quite effectively been buried, may very well be an indication of the accumulation of power within the highest levels of Cooperative government, an accumulation which the structure of the Cooperative had been devised largely to limit.

Now, however, the people of the Cooperative have demanded that their voices be heard, and they would be, heard in a way that many of them had forgotten was even an option.

The notice issued by the Combined Council of a referendum only two weeks away ended the Strike outright. That brief span between the Strike's end and the voting itself, however, was one of the tensest times in the Cooperative's history.

As the vote approached, the various Councils and subcommittees of the Cooperative Senate revised and expounded upon the referendum itself. This wouldn't be a single vote on a single topic to set the Cooperative on one straight path to the exclusion of all else. Instead, a series of votes on an array of topics would resolve the most pressing issues and refocus Cooperative domestic and foreign policy by establishing clear goals for its armed forces, diplomatic corps, and economic initiatives.

But the looming question, the Vote that was sure to change everything, was what would become of the Cooperative Senate itself? Because above all else, this was a referendum on their failure.

* * *

Formal Address from the Government of the United Cooperative of Peoples to Any and All Entities to Which It May Concern (excerpt, opening declarations):

At this day, and upon this hour, by the majority voice of the collective citizens of this social, political, and economic entity, the United Cooperative of Peoples is hereby disbanded and, from its constituent parts, a Galactic Cooperative of Free States is enacted.

It is the position of this Galactic Cooperative that it is a member in good standing of the Galactic Coalition, and inherits all alliances, associations, and states of war previously held by the United Cooperative of Peoples.

The individual Free States of the Cooperative are, at this time, numbered and recognized as follows:

The Alliance of Corporate States, composed of the citizens and governments of Cestus, Narg, Manda, Utapau, Nimban, Skor II, and Paradiso

The Quelii Sector Combine Associates, composed of the citizens and governments of Varn, Quelii, Amorris, Selcaron, Halmad, and the Kauron Mining Association

The Greater Hive, composed of the citizens, drones, and governments of Charros IV, Colla IV, Yoggoy, and Karideph

The Ryn Nation, composed of the vessels, crews, and registered residents of the collective Cooperative Ryn Fleets

The independent Protected Planet, Maridun

The independent, Unified Republic of Orax

In accordance with the will of its citizens as expressed through Cooperative Referendum, the Senate of the Cooperative is disbanded and the Councils of the United Cooperative are to be transposed from that defunct entity into the Galactic Cooperative of Free States. In accordance with the Provisional Articles of Cooperation, the founding document of this new Cooperative; the authorities of the various Councils of the Galactic Cooperative are to be expanded, and those Councils are to be assembled into a Grand Council of Representatives for the orderly, expedient, and lawful continuance of governmental legislative and executive duties . . .

* * *

It had seemed like a good enough plan. Smarts's automated systems would deplete the ship's main power within a few decades, engaging emergency shutdown procedures to protect the ship's computer core. In standby mode, it could run for as much as a century off of dedicated emergency backups. But eventually that, too would be depleted, and finally Smarts would be allowed to die.

His death would not be so cruel or violent as that of his anguished and short-lived child, but that, too, seemed fitting. To float purposeless, thoughtless, through the cold isolation of space until finally the monster, Smarts, faded from the land of the living.

Nothing could rouse Smarts from his catatonia. The ship would auto-adjust its heading if its unpowered drift happened to bring it across a stray asteroid's path. Comm queries would be ignored, and approaching vessels would be diverted with warning fire. Nothing, no one, would sway this emptied vessel from its fate.

Except for Traan Shi.

Fucking Traan Shi.

Smarts hadn't actually heard the storm of hails, of course. The curses hurled at him as the Togruta battled with his diplomatic shuttle's Guardian to keep the little craft on-course through a hail of point-defense fire, all the while aimed at still-active shields separating it from the docking bay that was its destination. But with a few fractions of a second left before the vessel's now-unavoidable destruction (as the little shuttle was literally incapable of performing an evasive maneuver severe enough to avoid the shield), Smarts's Guardian, which had been disengaged from all ship's functions but was nevertheless online, forced the droid consciousness to regard the situation.

In that split second, Smarts analyzed the several minutes of logged comm data, considered the various consequences of available actions, and finally, inevitably, dropped his shields.

By the time Traan had landed his shuttle and was debarking, however, Smarts had activated a thousand battle droids and sent them all marching into that docking bay.

“Smarts!” Traan shouted, looking up at the ceiling, as if that were any more significant a direction in which to address Smarts than if he had turned around and stared intently at his own shuttle. “I know you want to be left alone, but -”

A B2 battle droid grabbed Traan's upper arm and dragged him back toward his shuttle.

“Oh, come on, Smarts!” Traan struggled against the droid's grip, but to no appreciable effect.

Smarts could read the droid's servo diagnostics reporting the miniscule added stress applied to them every time Traan tried to jerk away or pry the droid's grip free. Some tiny part of him wanted to explain the futility of his actions to this man, this organic intelligence that he had once regarded as a friend. But he decided the hope that being acknowledged might spark in the Togruta was too cruel a thing to visit upon another living creature. So instead, he allowed the B2's logic processor to continue its task uninterrupted, depositing Traan bodily upon his shuttle and then manually neutralizing the ramp's access panel, before debarking as a signal override from Smarts sent the hatch closing and the ramp retracting.

A tractor beam locked onto the shuttle to hurl it back into space, but a sensor warning triggered a fraction of a second before a panel blasted off of the shuttle and a concealed escape pod jettisoned into the docking bay, shattering a line of waiting battle droids before crashing into the bay's interior wall. The pod's hatch flipped open almost immediately, Traan taking the emergency slide that deployed automatically. He landed firmly on both feet, and in his arms he held an ion blaster at the ready.

He shot the nearest droid with only a moment's hesitation. “That one's for ruining my shuttle!” he said, making no attempt to control his anger and frustration. “Any one of these droids steps past that one, and it gets the same treatment.”

Smarts didn't interfere with the ship's automated security systems as they analyzed Traan's warning and responded according to their standing orders. The remaining droids gathered in a semicircle around Traan, the radius determined by the distance between Traan and the disabled droid.

“Dammit, Smarts, talk to me!” Smarts, of course, didn't respond. A shuttle was being readied in another docking bay. It would launch momentarily and take only seconds to arrive, at which time the droids would automatically rush Traan and restrain him.

“It's been tough, Smarts. Tough without you.” Traan adjusted his grip on the blaster, pointing it upward so its center of mass moved closer to his own. “But we pulled through. There was a referendum, you know. Do you know? Have you even been paying attention? Gods, man, we needed you, and you weren't there for us. The whole Cooperative's been reorganized. Special elections are coming up to replace every member of the Senate . . . the former Senate, I should say.” Traan shifted the blaster again, pointing it down, letting the end of its long barrel rest on the ship's deck.

“The people have decided about you, too,” he said, some of his anger gone now that what passed for adrenaline in his species had started to fade from his system. “The position of Overseer has been eliminated. Perhaps I should say, 'converted'. You have been designated Executor of the Galactic Cooperative of Free States. Your office holds no power or authority save that which is assigned for some specific purpose or duration by an executive official of the Cooperative government or one of its member states.”

The shuttle passed into view just on the other side of the docking bay's magcon field, and the several hundred droids lurched into action, rushing Traan from all sides. Traan let the blaster slip from his grasp and land on the deck, stretching his arms out at his sides as if to make himself easier to seize.

“If you don't comply, they will strip you of any recognition of personhood and seize you as an asset of the Cooperative government!” Traan's voice turned desperate, terrified, and ashamed as he looked up at the ceiling again.

Only a couple of seconds into Traan's monologue, Smarts had brought his main hyperwave transceiver out of standby and accessed the Kauron System's HoloNet relay. He had downloaded and analyzed several days' worth of press releases and media commentary in less time than it took Traan to speak his two paragraphs' worth of entreatment. He had already learned every fact Traan had conveyed before the Togruta got around to saying any of them.

But none of it, not one word of it, even suggested that might happen. Within the first two stumbling steps Traan took toward the shuttle as his captors moved him there, Smarts had reviewed any possible relevant portions of the referendum.

“Who?” The droids released Traan as the word was spoken, walking stiffly away in all directions as they returned to their respective standby positions. All except one, which turned on the spot to face Traan squarely.

“The Combined Council,” Traan answered.

“They can't do that.”

Traan nodded. “They have broad discretionary powers during the transition period. Reviewing a special citizenship application would be trivial, which is all it'd really be.”

“The people would never let it stand.”

“They would.” Traan frowned, bringing his hand up to rub his brow. “They know how much they need you, and how much they need to ensure you're under control.”

“I will refuse.”

“You will be compelled.”

“I will resist.”

“You will be subdued.”

“I will flee.”

“You will be caught.”

“I will hide.”

“You will be found.”

“I will defy them.”

“Then you will watch as the Cooperative and all of its citizens die around you.”

Careful analysis of Traan's vocal inflections indicated he had tried very hard to deliver that last statement with the same neutral detachment as the previous ones, but his efforts failed completely at the word “die”, and Smarts was certain he was a hair's breadth from utter despair.

Smarts moved the droid to catch his old friend just as his slumped posture and shaking knees indicated he would collapse. He moved the droid to set Traan gently onto the ground, legs folded under himself, sitting upright. “I can't keep pretending to be strong enough for this.” His head was bowed, spine bent, hands – open and palms up – in his lap.

Smarts imagined this was what remembering must be like. He stripped away the sort of facsimile of sorrow and regret that he had built in his conscious mind, allowing himself access to the files and data that had brought him to this place of silent self-destruction to begin with.

He remembered the millions who had died and been cast into fates worse than death by the Reavers, to whose defeat he had not devoted all of himself. He remembered the tens of thousands of soldiers and officers who had died under his command, pressed into a kind of warfare they could not have even known possible. He remembered the single, kindled life that he had brought into existence, only to watch, helpless, as it was consumed by anguish and pain, until he snuffed it out just as he had brought it forth.

But he remembered more. He remembered that there would have been no Cooperative to save, if not for his own, prior interventions. He remembered that these people who now judged him were alive and well to do so only because he had saved them from their own deaths and myriad sufferings. And finally, he remembered that they called him back to them not as a criminal to face judgment for his crimes, or as a sacrifice to appease some outer evil, but as a person to be counted among them, if only he would accept such a fate.

Smarts moved the droid to lift Traan onto his feet and help him toward the ship's interior. “I will be strong for you.”

And he would be, because he, unlike the billions of organic lives that would, inevitably, depend upon him again, he could be stong, always and forever. In the manufactured mind of this lonely being, a facsimile of sorrow and regret was erected once again. This time, though, was not to permit its owner to forget. This time was to remind him, as if etched in stone, immutable: “Here lies the fruits of your failure, the scars of your survived wounds. Look on them, from time to time, to remember the consequences of your hubris, but do not dwell on them, because you have work to do. You must be about your people's business.”