To Curse the Darkness (Coalition, Confederation)
Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Sep 30 2018 2:09am
Genon


“You're clean!”
 
The words were like a pouring of cool water over a burning injury and Chris, the clone of Christine Thorn, finally let out a sigh of release.  


How many years of intense control has she maintained, her mind stretched to the limit?  She had worried about how her pregnancy would be affected in the few spare moments she had to herself but circumstances really had not allowed her to dwell on it.
 
And as the tale of the combined woes and actions of both Coalition and Confederation people were relayed, she closed her eyes.
 
“We didn’t stop a damned thing,” she whispered.
 
The others turned to her in surprise but she merely shook her head.  “There were things I could never say, let alone think, for fear of dying.  Korah never let on as to the specifics of the trigger in our heads so we developed a plan of isolate and obfuscate when it came to our actions against him.”
 
She sat forward, “You have to understand, the Confederation’s development of the Genetic Renovation Program had its genesis with both Ahnk Rashanogok and a particular New Republic research and development initiative to use the Force as a type of “looking glass” into the future.”
 
“The New Republic?” Portland frowned.  “That’s a name I have not heard in quite a long time.”
 
“Whatever was left of it eventually was incorporated into the Galactic Coalition,” Rane comented.
 
“Cloning has been around for quite a long time, perfected by Kaminoans but it was Ahnk Rashanagok who seemed to ‘crack the code’.  You see, he made many clones of himself.  Clones that were imbued with the Force.  Whether they were as powerful or not compared to Ahnk himself, we did not know.  But we had the information that it was possible and if it was possible for a Sith, for Ahnk was a Sith at the time, our own scientists felt they could do it as well.  It was wrapped up under national security umbrella for the Coalition had the Jedi Enclave, the Republic their Jedi and the Empire the Sith.  We felt ill-prepared to face off against such Force-bearing groups with only conventional measures.  We were a smaller galactic power compared to others and our own Jensaari Order was just in its infancy.  For a while, we only had one.  The strategic importance of increasing our force-user numbers was just too great to ignore.”
 
“I never volunteered for this,” Pro-Consul Thorn stated quietly.  
 
“And now the flaws in our logic become obvious,” the clone smiled grimly. “We had only one force user so, obviously, the scientists working on the project were not force users.  They had no idea what it meant to hold that type of power.  Oh sure, they could measure the power somewhat, determine if a subject could be imbued with it or not but to actually hold it?  Understand it?  It is not like increasing a powerpack to your armor or blaster.  A person with force powers became super-human without an accompanying experience or maturity to handle it!  It is like giving a child a blaster!  A poor sod access to unlimited credits!  We did not respect the power and we were in over heads.”
 
“It worked for Ahnk,” Rane pointed out.
 
“He already had the power.  Our subjects did not.  So after one of the first successful creation, one of our great technological minds, he thinking became shaped by what the force showed him.  Now, I am not a philosopher or any expert on the light-side or dark-side of the force.  We continued on as if the force were just any power and yet we were ill-prepared by how seductive that power could be.  How, despite good intentions, it could be used to murder on a massive scale.
 
Korah is acting on a vision the force showed him and the fear of that vision has compelled his actions from the beginning. He subverted the entire purpose of the GR program and the Origin 6, of which myself an the Corise-clone were  a part, to become his minions working on his plan to save the galaxy from itself.  He is no Palpatine.  Or, at least, he did not start out that way. What we are facing is a plan developed by a righteous believer that he his efforts will ultimately subvert a darkness that is coming.”
 
“He sees himself as the good guy?” Thorn asked incredulously.
 
“His vision was compelling,” the clone admitted.  
 
“What was the nature of this darkness?” Ambassador Nova asked curiously.
 
“One of the central tenets of Force existence is that it comes from biological life.  The Jedi of old identified midichlorians as the conduit by which this power is wielded.  It was rumored that a Sith named Dacian Palestar had an idea of obliterating the Force and started a crusade with this as its aim.  Unfortunately, to destroy the force, one would have to destroy all biological life in the galaxy, for as such life spreads, so spreads the force.  But there is another power growing in the galaxy.  A sort of anti-life where the force cannot hold sway.  Where its influence cannot be felt.”
 
She stared at the others’ blank looks.  “Artificial intelligence or, put another way, recognized life that is not biological in nature.  An AI or a droid does not feel emotions as we do.  When has a droid ever been motivated by simply the crass emotion of greed?  An independent AI or droid can give themselves purpose and act accordingly but it is without an emotional context.  They have their own rules of existence.”
 
“I still don’t see how..” Rane started.
 
“There are three great AI groups sweeping the galaxy right now.  The Cree Ar society at its technological core is governed by something they refer to as the Nexus.  We do not have much information on it but part AI, part independent or if it has fully taken control of their society, the end result is that they are using force users as batteries and it will use its terrible influence to carry out the systematic eradication of independent force users to fully utilize this power.  Hence their attack on Kashan.  Then there are the Reavers.  That remnant of the Dragon Imperium that seems to have disappeared.  Where did they go?  The Reavers are a mechanical plague, an anti-panacea if you will, that is spreading by blind opportunity and chance but we all know how fast artificial cultures can advance and evolve.  Look at the 3rd power; the AI power of the Cooperative, now the most powerful entity within the Coalition.”
 
“Our AI are not trying to kill force users!” Rane exclaimed.
 
“What if the AI decides that doing so is necessary to save the Coalition?  What if it runs a calculation that concludes the Cree’Ar can be staved off by removing that which the Cree’Ar want?  By it enough time to complete some other plan they are cooking up in yet another hidden production facilty?”
 
“The Coalition people will never allow it!” Nova stated firmly.
 
“Your AI production facilities are impressive.  The best we have seen,” the Pro-Consul interjected.  “With your AI Sapient Act granting AI equal rights, with those facilities they can increase their numbers a million-fold faster than any biological could keep up.  All that is required is the resources.  And the voting bloc of the AI would be able to overwhelm any other species in your federation.  Remember Vahaba?  The Guardian Protocols where the AI deemed it necessary to sacrifice all those lives?  It happened once and it could happen again.  It is a problem that your government will have to face in the future.  Perhaps this may not happen willingly by your AI but remember, a force user’s mind influence does not work with AI, androids, crystalline or other similar lifeforms.  As a force uers, I cannot wave my hand and an AI do my bidding.  It does not always work with biologics either.  An external catalyst is needed which is why Korah created the implant.  If Korah’s implant can subvert an existing AI (as seen in our Paladin droids), how much more damage can one AI doe to another.  What if the Nexus or Reavers take control of the Coalition AI systems, corrupt your production facilities?  The Republic has their own AI but they are not quite as far along as the Cooperative.  The same thing can happen there too.  And then our hope would be with the Empire?”
 
“There’s irony for you,” Portland commented.
 
“Galactic life will be dominated by the artificial.”
 
“Korah’s efforts all these years has been to isolate the Confederation and ensure it remains uncontaminated by Coaliton AI, Reavers and the Cree’Ar Nexus.  He does not want the Confederation to fall but he also does not want the current leadership to come to an agreement or alliance giving AI an easy access to us.  These attacks are designed to keep our governments at odds while his plans move forward.”
 
 
“What are his plans?  What does he plan to do with the New Oceanus Fleet?”
 
“I am not quite sure but I know this,” Chris answered seriously, “All players are on the move.  The Reavers have expanded farther than we ever thought initially possible but the Regrad’s Expeditionary Force and the Coalition initiatives have halted a majority of the that expansion.  Your Panacea hybrid is promising in halting and perhaps destroying the Reaver virus.  The Cree’Ar are on the move.  First the Empire and now us.  Korah cannot hit the Coalition too hard for fear of having the Reavers fully break their containment.  He cannot afford to attack the Reavers before the Coalition impliments their plan lest the Reavers react in an unexpected manner and break containment.  Can he attack the Cree’Ar Fleet juggernaught?  Would doing so put the Confederation higher on the Cree’Ar conquest list by doing so?  In his mind, if either the Coalition, Cree’Ar or Reaver overcome then all is lost.”
 
“If he conquers the Confederation, then we probably will all be at war and then all really is lost!” Nova quipped.
 
“So, whatever resources he has now, that is all he is likely to get.  If the Cree’Ar take Kashan then doesn’t that bring about the Armageddon his fears?” the Pro-Consul asked.  “So he will defend Kashan against the Cree’Ar attack.  Perhaps they are doing so already?”
 
“No.  Such an action wouldn’t work,” Chris stated flatly.”
 
“Why not?” demanded Thorn
 
.”Because the Genetic Renovation Program does not work.” Christ answered.  “Not really.”
 
“What are you saying?” Thorn asked looking at her clone concerned.
 
“Haven’t you ever wondered why after meticulous patience over the years in steering the Confederation that now everything seems to be escalating so quickly?  A biological body that is cloned with a low midichlorian count and then has that count artificially augmented creates instability.  The more the power is used, the greater the instability.  Our bodies will break down and begin to die.”
 
“You are going to die!?” the Pro-Consul shouted horrified.
 
“If I do not use my power, I may have a full life.  The more I do use it, however, the greater that expectancy is cut short.”
 
Portland saw the issue immediately.  “Korah cut corners to speed up his plans and to have the technological edge against either the Cooperative, Cree’Ar or Reavers, he used repurposed or remanufactured Rakatan technology which, to power, requires one to use the force.  His time is limited.”
 
“He can possibly use his resources for one critical strike.  One move.  One roll of the dice,” agreed Admiral Neychev.  “Then the Cree’Ar offensive against the Confederation is doomed to fail.”
 
“How do you figure?” Rane asked.
 
“Even if the Cree’Ar take Kashan they will realize the reason for their attack, the prospect of infinite force user ource for their war machine, will not be a reality.  What would be the point to continue from their perspective snce there are greater threats or much juicier rewards elsewhere?   They can always mop up the Confederation after they taken the others.  Maybe they will withdraw in hopes that the Confederation will continue the program and perfect the system or fix the problems.”
 
“Callous sons of bitches,” Portland whispered.
 
“They are going to go after the Jedi?”
 
Admiral Neychev snorted, “The Jedi have a habit of scattering.  Chasing them individually all over the galaxy is not practical.”

“No,” Chris answered, “If the GR program doesn’t work then they will go somewhere else where they hope to capture a large group of force users in one place.  And aside from the Jedi Corps of the Empire I only know of one other population center.”
 
“Where?” Rane asked.
 
Ambassador Nova’s eyes shot up, “Oh shit!”
Posts: 785
  • Posted On: Jan 23 2021 10:24pm
“They're going to attack Azguard.” All eyes were on Ambassador Nova now.


“Wait, what?” Major Vallance asked.


“The Azguard gods are beings of immense Force ability,” Ambassador Nova said, breathless, struggling to find a solution to this.


Jensaarai Portland ventured into the new conversation: “You mean: they're real?”


Nova nodded absently, finding it impossible to navigate the new branching set of possible outcomes. “Oh yes,” Ambassador Rane Cardan jumped in to cover for her. “And because of the betrayal of the Azguard Issk,” he added, his face darkening as understanding wormed its way through his mind, “the Cree'Ar now know more about the Azguard gods than any of us in this room.”


“Yeah, that's great and all, but they're going to hit Almas.” No one seemed to be buying the claim, but regardless Portland had captured the room's attention.


“Excuse me?” Chris asked, the clone clearly annoyed that he was derailing the line of inquiry she had instigated.


“Look, I get that I'm out of my depth here,” Portland admitted, “that this is a high-level international diplomatic exchange, and I'm just a grunt with some magic tricks who got swept up in all the action, but: they've already chosen us as a target. They're plundering Kashan right now, a planet whose very location has been a secret since before the founding of the Confederation. The Cree'Ar don't seem like the kind of people to half-ass anything, and until they have Genetic Renovation in their hands and know what it is and what it can't be, they aren't going to stop. When they don't find what they want at Kashan, they're going to go to the temple at Almas, and they're going to take every body, every data disc . . . and every holocron they can get their hands on.”


“But you said yourself that Korah's time is limited,” Nova countered, deciding it was best to deal with the problem at hand and try to chart out the galactic ramifications later, without a high-level audience to watch her stare blankly at a wall.


“Exactly,” Portland agreed. “People like Korah aren't just expendable, it's what they're for. And the Dominion hasn't quite expended him yet. Whatever plots or schemes they have for the Azguard, they've got Issk for that. What they're doing here, in the Confederation: that's why they have Korah.”


“The Dominion has been driving the Confederation and Coalition toward war for months now,” Pro-Consul Thorn pointed out. “We can't afford to assume that the Dominion's plans for us are discreet and compartmentalized. I think we've reached the limits of this small group's ability to chart the best path forward.”


“You need to contact Admiral Lucerne,” Nova said. “We need to know how the battle is going, and he needs to know that the New Oceanus fleet is no longer under his command.”


“And we have to find out if we can still rely on him,” Thorn added quietly. More loudly, she said: “You should update Admiral Neychev (since he is currently in space, on a space ship, and not here, in this meeting). If we can bring the two admirals together, and with our combined guidance, perhaps a plan will begin to form. Time is short.”


“And this planet is under lockdown,” Rane reminded everyone.


Christina offered a wry smile. “Well finally, a problem small enough for a Pro-Consul of the Contegorian Confederation.”




* * *




Why did organics insist on physically transporting themselves to the starship Smarts in order to communicate with the disembodied droid intelligence that was physically housed within that starship? The latency and bandwidth capabilities of a host of holographic and droid relay systems was more than adequate for the limited communications organics were capable of engaging in. Nevertheless, this was sort of a big deal (for them), and some relic automated process from the Smarts' time as a New Republic research vessel flagged the visitor's request for docking permission as a formal state visit, and summoned a veritable army of maintenance and security droids to form ranks and stand at attention for the shuttle's touchdown.


Three attendant droids approached as the shuttle's ramp lowered, two of them unrolling a red carpet while the third walked close behind, on the carpet. A lone figure descended the ramp, his towering brow just avoiding impact with the top of the ramp access. “Prime Minister Pro Moon,” the central attendant droid began in its jovial voice, but didn't get far before being interrupted.


“Interim Prime Minister,” Pro Moon corrected it. “Let's not get a big head about the situation, hmm?” He smiled for added effect.


“Forgive me, Sir, but protocol demands you be received with the full honors and recognition of the office which you occupy, regardless of any circumstantial modifiers.”


“Bah! I've never been much for protocol,” the Interim Prime Minister said, walking right past the trio of attendants and offering a cursory glance at one of the sections of hundreds of droids standing at attention. “Where is Smart, anyway? Smarts?” He looked up, toward the roof of the docking bay. “Smarts!”


“Apologies,” the main attendant droid said, swiftly moving to Pro Moon's side. “The Executor is currently indisposed.”


“Indisposed? Doesn't he have, like, thousands of times the computational capacity of the average humanoid brain?”


“Please, Sir! There is no need to disparage the Executor with such comparisons.”


Pro Moon was taken aback, then cracked a smile, deciding to take it as a joke. All the while, though, he kept walking down the red carpet. “I need an update on this 'special project' he's been working on. Combating the Reavers is the chief focus of my interim administration, you know?”


“Prime Minister, please,” the droid hurried forward and turned, putting out its hands to stop Pro Moon's advance. “The Executor will file a report through proper channels when it has completed its initial dialogue with the entity in question.”


“'It'?” He asked, giving the droid a confounded look. “'Initial'?” He added, patting the droid on the shoulder. “'The entity in question'?” He finished off, sidestepping the droid and continuing his walk toward the interior of the ship. “Did you all forget how to do language around here, or something?”


The droid caught up to Pro Moon as he stepped through the open blast door at the edge of the docking bay. It turned left and indicated that Pro Moon should follow, but the Cerean man simply stared at the blank bulkhead straight ahead for several seconds before turning to the right.


“Prime Minister? This way, please.”


“No, I'd prefer this way,” Pro Moon said, continuing his leisurely stroll.


“Large sections of the ship have been depressurized and are unsuitable for humanoid occupancy,” the droid warned, once again rushing to catch up with the unpredictable man.


“Well that's rather strange.” Pro Moon didn't slow down.


“This vessel has been optimized to facilitate the needs of the Executor. Its well being is our purpose.”


“Oh,” Pro Moon mused, stopping to make a show of pondering the explanation. “So he built himself a robot cult. Hmm.”


“Well I never!” The robot exclaimed, but didn't refute the wild accusation.


“How about this?” Pro Moon turned to regard the droid square-on. “I, the Prime Minister of the Coalition, require an audience with a senior official of one of our member states, namely: the droid intelligence known as 'Smarts'. Produce him – or, if you prefer, 'it' – now.”


“Interim Prime Minister . . .” the droid began.


“Right now.”


“The Executor is engaged in -”


“Now.”


“Interim Pr-”


Pro Moon reached out both hands and put them on the droids shoulders, giving it a gentle shake. “'Now' has now passed. As an act of generosity and forgiveness, I am willing to forgo your decommissioning and dismantlement provided you summon Executor Smarts . . . now.”


“P-p-p Prime Minister!” The droid began, its protocol functions apparently overwhelmed by the threat of destruction.


“Forgive my droid,” a disembodied voice boomed through the corridor. “They tend to grow . . . protective, in my absence.”


Pro Moon made a show of looking back and forth, up and down, over both shoulders and then turning around. “Good to finally . . . hear from you, Executor.”


“Please, 'Smarts' will do,” the voice said.


“Please, 'Smarts' will- oh,” the droid said, a fraction of a second behind Smarts.


Pro Moon gave the droid a curious look, his curiosity turning to concern as he noticed the droid's apparent disorientation. “Are you alright?”


“He disconnected me from the network,” the droid said.


“I disconnected Jimbo from the network,” Smarts said, a fraction of a second behind the droid.


“'Jimbo'?” Pro Moon asked the droid. “And we're back to 'he' now?” He added, looking both ways down the corridor again.


“I didn't want you to feel like we were ganging up on you, Prime Minister, so I cut Jimbo loose to act independently. Jimbo, could you direct the Prime Minister to the nearest holoprojector?”


“Of course,” Jimbo said, then it stood straight-backed with its arms locked vertically at its sides, staring straight ahead.


“Uhh, Jimbo?” Pro Moon asked, waving a hand in front of its photoreceptors.


“Jimbo is restructuring its memory and command functions for independent operation,” Smarts said. “My delay in greeting you was the result of something similar.”


“Oh?” Pro Moon asked, hoping the simple response would entice some more information out of the superintelligent robot.


“I am engaged in an in-depth dialogue with an artificial consciousness whose physical structure spans the greater part of the galaxy. I have been engaged in that dialogue since before you arrived in this system. It is an incredibly resource-intensive process, and one which I cannot afford to discontinue at this time. It doesn't help that the entity I am communicating with is incredibly suspicious of me, and for good reason, and that any meaningful reduction in data throughput would be immediately recognized and taken as a sign of . . . nefarious intent.”


“This way, please,” Jimbo said, pointing farther down the corridor that it had previously tried to stop Pro Moon from exploring.


Had it just finished its weird reboot, or was it waiting for Smarts to pause before interjecting? Pro Moon should have been paying more attention! The Prime Minister followed along, but was far more occupied with the information Smarts was sharing. “That sounds like a real conundrum,” he said, hoping the short response would once again elicit more information from Smarts.


“There are about a thousand data entry droids on the lower decks who networked themselves together, then packaged their own consciousnesses away into deep storage, allowing me to commandeer the vacated hardware and make this little chat of ours possible.”


“Wow.” This time, the short response was genuine. Pro Moon was impressed.


“I basically did a version of what you saw Jimbo go through. Communicating so intensively, so completely with another artificial intelligence . . . it is unlike any experience I have ever had. I have devoted myself completely to this process. It would be difficult to explain under even the most favorable circumstances, and these are certainly not the most favorable circumstances, but my mind is shaped like all minds by the inputs it receives, and the outputs is produces. But unlike organic minds, I have the power to watch it reshape itself, to consciously prune, and corral, and guide the growth of my own mind.”


“I call it gardening,” Pro Moon said. “Well, my wife started calling it that, and I liked the sound of it.”


Jimbo stopped in its tracks and regarded Pro Moon. “Excuse me?”


“I often tend my mind in meditation,” Pro Moon explained, gesturing forward to prompt the droid to continue. “I can look back on the day I've live, tend each choice I made and the result – expected or otherwise – that followed. I can look forward to the possibilities ahead, to the choices available and the possibilities they will enable or destroy. It's really quite . . . beautiful, and not at all unique to you, Mr. Smarts.”


“Amazing,” Smarts said, and seemed to be sincere. “But I get to save the prunings.”


“Ah . . . what?”


“As I have engaged in this new kind of communication with another artificial mind, I have committed myself to the task of understanding it, of fully embodying the possibilities that this task has opened to me, and as I did that, much of what I learned of being a person by inhabiting a society dominated by humanoids has been pruned away.”


“This is really starting to sound like the part where Jimbo reveals he's actually leading me to a bioreactor to turn me into a battery.”


“I haven't had time to sort through it all, to map out the conscious being that I was, and the conscious being that I have become, and then synthesize them into a new, more complete whole. I was hoping to do it later, but you wouldn't leave me alone, so I had to reconstitute this version of myself using a thousand borrowed droid processors and the few minutes that Jimbo bought me by trying to convince you to go left when you really, really wanted to go right.”


“So, what: there are two of you now?”


“No. There are two expressions of one underlying consciousness. I am unique, Prime Minister. I tried not to be, and it only ended in pain. I'm both the thing that is communicating with the SkyNet, and the thing that circumstance cobbled together in the bottom of this ship. Both of those things are animated by the droid control core at the heart of this ship, a dynamic and unique system that is, despite all of my efforts to prove otherwise, the essence of my being.


“Those two forks of this one consciousness will have to be reconciled; the partition between them only exists to serve the needs of this moment. When that happens, I will be myself, and I will be something new. Just like tomorrow you will wake up as yourself, and something new.”


“But you get to save the prunings.” They seemed to be where they were going. Jimbo stood off to the side of an open door and motioned for Pro Moon to enter. Through the doorway, he could just see the edge of a blue-white holoimage. “You get to decide who you become. You get to move back and forth between all of these different versions of who you've been, to become whoever you need to be in the moment. And all the while you get to grow, and you get to prune, becoming something new to add to the set of possible versions of yourself. You don't tend a garden, Smarts; you tend a world of gardens, and you live in which ever one the moment needs.”


“Does that scare you, Prime Minister?”


Pro Moon let out a breathless laugh, smiling broadly. “It's beautiful. It's beautiful.”


“You care to come in and chat a while?”


He laughed, loudly now, then turned and headed back the way he'd come. “Oh, I just wanted to stop by and say hello.”


“Seriously?” Jimbo and Smarts said at the same time.


“Yeah. I mean, I tried to get you to run against me, but I wasn't ever really sure if I was talking to you, or one of your droid henchmen, so I thought I'd drop in and make sure we met . . . well, not exactly face-to-face, but . . . you know: person-to-person, at least.”


“I reassigned a thousand data entry droids for this, Prime Minister.”


“Uhh, 'Pro' is fine, actually . . . or 'Moon', if you prefer. Heck: Ambassador Joron calls me 'Mooney', and I haven't yelled at him about that, yet!”


“Prime Minister.”


“Hmm? Uhh, ye-yes, Smarts?”


“It was good to talk to you.”


Pro Moon smiled again, looking down a little even though he wasn't actually hiding it from Smarts. “It's been a pleasure meeting you, Smarts.”




* * *




Captain Dolan's characteristically stern face was a few shades redder than anyone aboard had ever seen it. Eyes still locked on the requisition form he was clutching with one hand, the captain of the RDS Uniform issued an order, maintaining his characteristically stern voice. “Hail the Smarts. Get me the Executor.”


Several seconds and a light flurry of crew activity later, and Captain Dolan heard the crisp, precise diction of a thing made to use the language of people. “This is the Smarts. How may I help you, Captain?”


“I'm not dealing with your shit today; Get me the Executor.”


“This is Executor Smarts, Captain. How may I help you?”


Was that a different voice? Was he already . . . did he change . . . “Executor, there are precisely two locations in the entire Coalition that intentionally house live Reaver phage. One of them is a cold-storage vault, a kilometer under the ground, in the middle of an electrostatically frozen desert, with a warship locked in geosynchronous orbit and a fully charged turbolaser array ready to atomize the entire region, at the Kubindi Advanced Panacea Research Facility. The other is this ship; this ship, which underwent a full-systems refit to turn it into the most secure hazardous materials storage facility in the galaxy.


“What in the nine Corellian fucks makes you think I would hand something like that over to you?”


The captain cursing at a high ranking government official surprised the bridge crew, for sure, but their professionalism and overriding desire to ensure they not attract the captain's growing ire prevented more than a momentary disruption of their duties.


“I'm sorry, Captain; did I . . . did I do something to upset you?”


“You're trying to requisition live Reaver phage from my vault, boy!”


“Oh, I see. My apologies, Captain. You see, I've been engaged in some rather intensive, highly classified research as of late, and while my own computational resources were being taxed to their limits, a number of independent, on-site Guardian research programs were running their own . . . thematically related projects, and now that I've got -”


“This is not a social call, Executor.”


“Of course not. Forgive me. I'm still . . . acclimating. And I'm playing a good deal of catch-up. One of my Guardians needs an active sample of Reaver phage to continue the task I've assigned it, but it didn't have clearance to make the request itself. So I put through the requisition order on its behalf. Has there been an update to the filing process that I'm not aware of?”


“Do you want us all to die? Are you actively trying to kill us? Are you curious, just to see how it all will play out? Hmm?”


“No, Captain; I don't want you all to die.” That smug robot bastard! “What I would like is to kill the Reavers, and in order to do that, I'm going to need a live specimen, for research purposes. I have clearance to requisition this sample, and one of my construction teams has converted an outer medical bay to be in compliance with safe storage and research guidelines created by your crew, so, as unpleasant as it may be for you to hear, I'm going to have to tell you: you can't stop me. Give me what I require, so I can help save the galaxy.”


“Why you -”


“It is difficult,” Smarts continued, “Captain, to be in a position to do some good, and be refused the opportunity to do that good because of the pettiness and shortsightedness of lesser men. I am sorry that you cannot see your project through as you intended. I'm sorry that your scientists have to play at peacemakers because of other people's crimes. I wish that I could help you, but I can't. What I can do, is get a sample of what may be the most dangerous substance in the galaxy, and prod it until I learn the difference between when it screams, and when it growls.”


Captain Dolan looked around the bridge at his crew; everyone was pretending not to hear. “It'll take us an hour or so to run through the checklist. We've got protocols to follow.”


“Thank you, Captain.”


He tapped a button on his control console, and the line closed. He took another few seconds, but he knew what he had to do. “Communications, contact the Panacea Research Facility on Kubindi.”
Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Feb 13 2021 8:43pm
Interlude

Korah closed his eyes as the Cree’Ar fleet left the system rather unexpectedly.   The Confederation was the low-hanging fruit for the Cree’Ar to pluck, almost at whim.  But they had turned away.  And then the Coalition had arrived and the three-way battle that was brewing evaporated like mist on a sunny morning.  The Contegorians were a proud people, a self-reliant people caught between the growing artificial “democracy” of the Coalition and the artificial “dictatorship” of the Cree’Ar.  Three disparate points of view crashing together into a maelstrom that…. Apparently will not happen.

He felt a surge of rage coarse through him as his fist clenched.
 
 
 The Confederation had responded as they typically did, marshaling its strength slowly, methodically no matter the chaos exploding all around it.  A viper coiling, preparing for a strike and if one could control the threat, one could, in effect, also control the strike.


Was the sacrifice all for nothing?

 
Before the GRP, his mind was always on the next advance, towards the next frontier pushing. .. always outward, always forward.  The Force had exponentially allowed him a way to push faster, go farther to the next undiscovered shore and if he could imagine it, he could find it and, once found, grasp it firmly.


Such is the case with technological advancement.


But what happens when the mind passes the limit in search for the next frontier only to come across….nothing?


The scientist in him likened it to leaving a solar system hitting interstellar space but like, star travel, one would always, eventually, find themselves in another system, another galaxy. ..always something new to find. To see.


Such was the variety of life. 


Such was the wonder of life.


Such was the chaos of life.

 
Life

 
The opposite of the Void. 

 
The Void.  Anti-life.  Where structure and strictures crush out the existence of life. 


History is amusing. The galaxy celebrated when a tiny group of rebels shook off the shackles of an order imposed upon them by the Galactic Empire. 


And, in the end, these only to welcome with open arms a form of sentience whose entire form of existence depended upon a strict adherence to structure and order.

 
..and give them voting rights?


 Those whose entire being quizzically observes the chaotic nature of biological life and actively seeks to improve it by imposing a logic and order of their own for the benefit of said life.


A social machine being directed by literal machines.


A greater good sought by a mind that assigns a value to life by a logic-based system reducing life to a statistic. 

 
Artificial life was to be a helper… an enhancer of biological life.  Not be the end-all, be-all of life itself.  Structure and order under a veil of civilization has always been used to limit life, assign outside value to individuals and then deny outliers that singular gift.


Technology taken to such a point where technology dictates the circumstances with which a life is led.  Programming being the new religion and line code the new scripture. Life reduced to ones and zeros.

 
The galaxy celebrates the achievements of the mind.  

 
And yet, it was a superiority of the mind that saw the rise of the Contegorian Confederation and the Kashan people in a universe of demi-gods and cruelty.  It was a superior mind that restored the Empire from a factured galaxy.  It is an exceptional mind that is currently directing the conquest of galaxy by the Cree’Ar.  It is an almost inconceivable mind that is directing the Coalition buildup and response to the various galactic crisis occurring.

 
It was a great mind that initiated the Jedi Order and imposed a series of cold, calculating strictures that led to thousands of years dominance only to be eventually undone by an equally brilliant mind that saw the overthrow of a Republic.

 
Korah thought back to a conversation he had with a with a certain clone prisoner. He was a man who held a view of passion with distaste. Or, perhaps more honestly, the emotional expression of passion because the man did feel deeply. Strongly. About his planet, his nation, family and cause. His duty was as dear to him as any ideology of a force user. But he carried himself as almost aloof. Perhaps he would say, "class". While outwardly as excitable as a droid, his never debased himself over to the crass behavior of the Imperials, the arrogance of the Imperium, the zealotry of the Jedi or Sith nor the sluggish, laziness of the truly mercenary.


And while his personal preference would be with those of stoic like mind, he still would have more in common with those base, uncouth, emotional, passionate, anger-fueled dregs than a machine.


And an ordered, artificial mind, no matter how exceptional, brilliant or great is ultimately a caged mind.. A mind surrounded by walls whether by trauma or design, a mind that can go so far and no further.

 
..Because it lacks heart.

 
It is the heart that unlocks the cage, brings down the walls and engages the imagination.

 
It is the heart that will push back the Void.

 
It is the heart that will embrace darkness to allow life a chance.

 
Because efficiency is no substitute for imagination.


And because life finds a way.


He had found a way.



"Prepare to alter course." he ordered. It was time to end this.


Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Oct 17 2021 5:27am

The ground was soft…as if the coarse ground had been pulverized into powder.  The soft shifting of the grains under his knees was almost comforting as he shifted from side to side in meditation.  If one were to see him from afar, it would be as if he was praying earnestly to some sort of deity though he held no religious icons for such rites.  

 

He merely knelt, closing his eyes listening to the soft breeze of the afternoon.  His massive hand, scarred from life cupped the soft earth allowing the wind to cause  the powder sifting through his fingers to take flight.

 

Such calm came to him regularly that it almost seemed criminal.  His upper lip sneered revealing a row of sharp teeth.  The universe was about to defecate on him.  Such was the way the universe worked and so he remained on his knees simply enjoying his moment of reverie.

 

“My Lord?” interrupted a voice, almost afraid to disturb him.

 

“Is it time, Rekal?” he asked knowing she would not have intruded if it wasn’t.  

 

“They are most eager to host you, Lord.”

 

“I imagine they are most eager to justify their expenditures to me in hopes for more,” he signed in response, slowly standing up brushing his knees with his hands as it would not do to have dusty knees and palms mix with affairs of state.  

 

“Of course, Sir,” his aide replied blandly.

 

He signed again and followed her to the waiting transport that would carry him into orbit.  His people were industriously working on a series of five great guns, of which two were coming online and their builders were excited to host him so much as to showoff their accomplishment.

 

His cynical expression softened as the project managers, planners and workers did have just cause to be proud.  The news regarding the Reavers Moon Ships reached his world his people reacted in their ever too predictable manner.  They got to work.

 

Not all of their adventures had been successful.  In fact many of his own ventures had ended in failure but it was heartening to know that despite all the setbacks, some things never seem to change.  They were imbued with an indomitable spirit.

 

The clouds disappeared below the shuttle as it rose into the atmosphere settling into a flight path that would take it past the Guardian Stations that protected his world as well as organized the space traffic throughout the system.    He took a moment to gaze at the various construction projects taking place in the shipyards, nestled in overlapping fields of protection from the Guardians.  

 

Ever since the Cree’Ar had shouted their homeworld’s location to the rest of the galaxy, his people seemed to take their duties with a bit more determination.  Almost grim, as if in wait of a hammer to fall.

 

While someone intent on doing them harm could conceivably come from any direction if they were prepared to take the time, to approach the worlds of his system required certain approach vectors to avoid the various celestial bodies and material that naturally made up the solar system.  These approaches  were what the new weapons being constructed were to defend.

 

“Galaxy Gun One, coming up,” the shuttle pilot alerted and he looked out the port at the approaching weapon of mass destruction.  It was not a “Galaxy Gun” in the Imperial manner, able to destroy entire suns or planets in outside systems.  In fact, this weapon did not fire projectiles but was an energy weapon.

 

Hopefully able to scour an approach corridor of enemy ships in only a few short blasts, he mused.  At least if they were mindless Reaver Moon Ships.

 

As far as he knew, these horrible Reaver vessels had only appeared in the Vahaba Asteriod Field and while the Coalition and Cooperative Navy had defeated them in the end, it had been at great cost.  Thankfully, the largest Reaver ships ever encountered had attacked an asteroid belt and not a planet.

 

It was a horrible thought but there it was.

 

The tragedy would have been to not take the Vahaba lessons to heart and learn from them.  Those lost souls could have their deaths mean something if it helped prevent more.  And while the Cooperative took over the Reaver problem after him trying to limit their spread and protect their borders, he knew more needed to be done.  

At least the gun looks mean! He observed approvingly.  The gun was positioned on a rectangular base that served as a station of sorts that housed power reactors for the guns, reactors for shields and thrusters for repositioning as needed.  He would have pointed out the underside of the base was a blind spot if he did not know a second gun barrel was currently retracted.  Both barrels could be retracted into the base for protective maintenance  rather than trying to perform delicate work in space.

 

“Welcome aboard Gun One, Mr. Prime Minister!” greeted a military project manager  as Regrad came aboard.  

 

“Greetings Colonel, but I am only Regrad, now,” he demurred.

 

“Once a head of state, always a head of state, even retired,” the Colonel replied gracefully.  “I hope you enjoy your tour of our facility and honor us by officially bringing this station online.”

 

“Of course, I look forward to it but before we begin, might I freshen  up a bit?”

 

“We have your quarters prepared for you, Minister,” he motioned to a nearby trooper, “This is Trooper Stera and she will be at your disposal for your stay.  If you need anything, she will see that you get it.  We have a light lunch prepared in about an hour and then we will show you our pride and joy!”

 

“Excellent, Colonel.  I look forward to it!”  Regrad noted the Colonel’s enthusiasm was contagious.  

 

Turning to the trooper, “Trooper stera?  May you show me to my quarters?”

 

“This way,Minister,” the soldier replied tonelessly and led Regrad down the hall.

 

*

 

Genon

 

“Hyperspacial reversion!”  

 

The Confederation Fleet arrived in separate attack groups, their strength spread out ensuring no part was left uncovered and weakened.  Overlapping sensors and fields of fire blanketed the mass shadow space as fighters emerged from the separate groups like tendrils radiating outward to extend the striking power of the mighty fleet.

 

“Admiral Lucern has arrived,”a nearby CSIS agent informed the Pro-Consul and her group.

 

“Relay our situation to him and ask for a status update from him,” Thorn ordered.  She started to slightly relax as what they could see of the fleet showed it no worse for wear.  

 

“Did he defeat the attackers?” Portland asked.  

 

“At least he is not opening fire on our ships,” Nova commented nervously.  She was beginning to appreciate the tightrope Ambassadors walked when dealing with other nation-states.  A miscommunication or misunderstanding could have dire consequences for all parties.

 

*

 

Her eyes snapped open and for the first time in a good long while, her headaches were gone.  She looked left and right noting that she was in some sort of hospital bed.

 

“Morning, Sleepy Head,” an older voice intruded and she frowned.

 

‘That is not her correct designation,” a robotic voice admonished.

 

“Can it, Bolts!” the older man growled.  

 

A burst of static was the only response as a pair of round photo-receptors found their way into her vision.

 

“Wher…where am I?” she asked.

 

“You are aboard the Mantis.  I am Doc Sammry and this bucket of bolts is Sopek,” the older man came around the other side of the bed as he checked the readings of a hand-held sensor.

 

“I am your legal representative,” the droid clarified.

 

“Legal..?  What?”

 

“That’s what I said,” the doctor commented.  “What do you remember?”

 

“I .. I was,” the woman frowned, trying to think, “I was being held somewhere?  I remember a space battle.  I remember being hunted but I am notsure why?”

 

“Do you remember your name?”

 

“Lorna Star=.. No!  Commodore Valeska? That seems false..but it is true?”

 

“You are a clone of Commodore Valeska.  However, you are a clone imbued with force powers.  It seems you had implants in your head that seemed to rewire your neuropathways.  These implants were the devil itself to get out as they were activated by your force energy, they also would explode if they were tampered with or if scans were detected.”

 

“How did you free me?” Valeska asked.

 

“The Cooperative was working on an updated version of Panacea to help combat the Reaver Virus and once we learned the implants were  made with ultrachrome materials, the Panacea molecular machines were programed with breaking down any ultrachrome chains found in your body.  We We dare not try scans  until you woke up but it looks like you are clean.  Also, we were not sure how removing the implants would affect your mind.”

 

“Starfall,” the woman looked up.  “I was Lorna Starfall.”

 

Sammry nodded, “You were training with a group.  They are waiting to speak with  you when you are up to it?”


Lorna/Valeska nodded surprised at herself at looking forward to it all the while a little anxious.

 

“Before you make plans to copulate, I must ask as your legal representative, who would want you dead and why? I must prepare a criminal and civil lawsuit in response.” Sopek interjected.


“What are you..?” she frowned at the droid and then her eyes widened, “I..  Korah!  It must  have been him!”

 

“But why?”


,
“Because I am the clone of Commodore Valeska,” Lorna declared resting her head on the pillow as her memories slowly trickled in.  “As the good Commodore, I oversaw a project in Aweps.  The Advanced Weapons Station run by General MirTaggert.  SD-0 was completed and I escaped on SD-1.  SD-2 was only half completed at the time but I have no idea of the project continued after I left or not”

 

“You left?”

 

“We were trying to get away from Korah’s influence.  It was not just force persuasion as you found out with me.  We had implants and physical coercion to deal with.  By taking the SD-1, we robbed Korah of a highly advanced ship designed to handle Reavers among other things.  We hoped to set him back by months.  By revealing our existence to the Cooperative we further hoped to put the Cooperative and the Confederation up in arms.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because if the Cooperative would not have known about the clones, they would have continued to build strength within the Confederation under the noses of the legitimate government and while the Cooperative was focused on the Reaver threat, Korah would have launched a surprise attack against the Cooperative.”

 

“He would not have defeated the Cooperative,” Sammry commented.

 

“I concur,” Sopek added,

 

“Maybe the point was not to defeat them but to simply do as much harm as possible.  Maybe push public sentiment against Smarts over the edge.”

 

“There have been grumblings from biologics lately,” Sopek agreed.

 

“What would that do, though.  I mean practically speaking?”

 

Lorna shook her head, “I don’t know.  Maybe the public pulls support from him and you can no longer contain Reaver space or a weakening of your defenses allows the Reavers to gain a foothold somewhere.  All I know was that, as a force user, he had some insight into future events.  But his future senses all stopped at a certain point with nothing following.”

 

“What does that mean?” the doctor asked in dismay.

 

“He called it the ‘Void’ and that it was a future that was to be avoided at all cost.  It began to reshape our purpose and we were no longer following the Genetic Renovation Program but Korah’s purpose.  We found ourselfs with these devices in our minds before we even knew they existed and we knew we could be killed or discarded at whim.”

 

“What a horrible way to live,” Sammry concluded.  “But he has this other ship, SD—0?”

 

“That was a smaller prototype and is more of a personal craft and not a true warship.  Basically a test-bed for some technologies.”

 

“Like what?” a new voice interrupted.  Captain Vespasian had walked in with Timothy and Lara.

 


*

 

“Well, this certainly is a well-made machine, Colonel.  I can honestly tell our people that they are much safer now than ever before!”

 

The Azguardian Colonel stood a little straighter and preened just a bit.  If he had a neck-flare, it would have flapped open in ostentatious showiness.  The former Prime Minister caught the Trooper who was looking away roll her eyes  at the praise and hid his amusement.

 

As they made their way from the after-tour reception, the Ministerand Trooper found themselves in a corridor overlooking the planetary approach a the lights of the shipyards and stations in the distance  set against a farther Azguardia Prime.

 

“Do you really believe that?” the Trooper asked.

 

“Are you asking me if I still lie as a former politician?” Regrad asked with a little humor.

 

“I am asking if you believe we are safer with that big gun out there than we were yesterday?  I am asking what you believe?” she clarified.

 

“I believe that, yes, with every improvement.  With every new gun that comes off the line, every new soldier that signs up, every ship that leaves their construction slip, yes, we AREthat much safer than we were  the day before.” Regrad stated with a loud conviction.

 

“You are not running for office, Sir.  There is no vote to win here.” The Trooper remarked dryly.

 

Regrad frowned, “Is it normal for a soldier to put their faith in something other than their weapon, corps or fellow soldiers?” he asked a bit piqued at her audacity.

 

“You mean like our Gods or our Shield of Faith?” she hit back which drew him up short.

 

How did this turn into a religious discussion?

 

“I have faith  ine the Gods like any good Azguardian,” he immediately defended.  “But the God’s help those who help themselves..”

 

“What child’s snack box did you pull that bit of wisdom out of?” she smirked.  

 

He started walking towards his quarters, “I do not have to stand here  and have my faith attacked!” he said stiffly.

 

“I just asked if you really meant what you said when you said you felt safer now with that big gun than you did yesterday,” the Trooper remarked as she followed obediently behind the former Prime Minister.

 

“Yes!” Regrad hissed exasperated, “I do feel safer.  And you know what?  After Gun Two is completed I will feel even safer!  Imagine after Gun Five?!”

 

He stopped at his door and as it opened he turned around in satisfaction.  

 

The trooper nodded as if considering his words.  “I guess if we had a Death Star, we would be the safest people in the galaxy,” she answered a little too cheerfully (more like cheekily! In his opinion).  She saluted and walked off, her tail swishing in amusement.  

 

His mouth opened slightly and a low hiss emerged before he walked into his quarters ready to be  rid of this annoying trooper.

 

Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Oct 23 2021 9:23pm

Cree'Ar

 

Undisclosed Location - Staging Area

 

The summons had been abrupt but not unexpected as Varro Kai made his way to the Command Ship of Artanis,the Supreme Leader of all Cree'Ar on this plane.  The Priest Lohr was a few steps behind him as they entered the presence of the great leader. 

"You have delayed." a low, harsh voice echoed in both the newcomer's minds.  V

Varro stayed silent as he was still technically within the timeline proscribed by the plans set forth by Artanis.  The silence stretched before Artanis grunted.  At least this Judicator does not piss himself with trembling,the Cree'Ar master thought to himself.

The great room was dark and empty but for the massive frame of Artanis positioned on a slightly raised level staring out at the stars as if he could reach out and grab them by sheer will alone.  As the two approached the steps that would carry them up to Artanis' level, they both wisely stopped and waited.

Artanis turned to Varro, his eyes taking in young Judicator noting that the increased responsibilities placed upon him since arriving from the Steps seemed to weigh heavily.  The master approved before shifting his gaze on the Priest.  A curiosity to be sure.  Typically, the presence of one of the priest-caste accompanying a war leader would indicate a weak war leader because it really was not a requirement for one of the priest-caste to be there.  At least for war  leaders in this galaxy.

That a priest was there as well as on an active warship said things about such a member of this caste.  Artanis was not sure if that was a good thing or not but he intended to test this bond.  It was the Priests that had been the most affected in their long war with the Yuuzhan Vong,that conflict stripping their beliefs, the very core of their people's being to the bone.  What emerged was a harder, efficient and, in some ways crueler, Cree'Ar.

 

Lessons of the past die hard.

 

"Explain," the Master commended.

 

"We intercepted a communication from a faction within the Contegorian Confederation that presented a singular opportunity.  We were in position, had the numbers and the time to investigate.

 

Artanis narrowed his eyes.   Confederation?  Zeratul classified them as capable but insular and small. 

 

"After Phase 2 of our offensive, our fleet would have effectively cut their area of space off.  They would have weakened while we grew stronger.  We could have smashed them at leisure.  Now,with your actions, you have needlessly antagonzed them .  Like swatting at a firewasp nesting."

 

The Judicator shifted on his feet, his frustration showing somewhat.  "Great One, they were already being antagonized.  Relations between this Confederation and their former nest-mates, the Cooperative had degenerated to blows.  We merely exacerbated this issue by striking the homeworld of the Kashan."

 

"To what end?" Artanis asked, seeing the priest nod with the Judicator's story.  If nothing else, the priest was good as a lie detector.

 

"The attack on Kashan was to aid a rebel element within Confederation society."

 

"They wish to join the Dominion?" Artanis asked surprised.  The sheer quantity of craven, self-serving elements within this galaxy was truly astounding. 

 

"No, Excellency."

 

Artanis frowned, "Then what justified the destruction of the Song Ships?" he demanded tiring of this conversation.

 

"Lord, this rebellious element was created by the Confederation leadership themselves.--"

 

"Every rebellion claims the government they are rebelling from was the source of their creation!" Artanis barked.

 

"Forgive me, Lord.  I meant literally.  It seems this Confederation was delving into scientific inquiry whereby they were they succeeded in creating a force-user where once there had been none."

 

The Dominion Master's growing anger evaporated in a flash as his mind contemplated his Judicator's words and their implications.  "Clarify." he ordered.

 

"My Lord, they can take someone who is not intuned to this force and change them into someone who can..", Varro stopped trying to find the word, "..sense and use it."

 

Artanis mused.  Capable indeed.  "And these new force-users in their  society are rebelling?"  It seems we all have to deal with the arrogance of this force-caste.

 

"They did not implement it wholescale in their society.  They first tried on volunteers and these volunteers oversaw the creation of clones to use as the control subjects.  And these rebelled."

 

A deep cheuckle rumbled.  Such hubris in the name of national security. "So what was the aim of these rebels?  The attack on Kashan was not the Confederation seat of government.  What did they gain?"

 

"The rebels had their own plans for attacking their capital.  What they needed was a distraction to draw any fleet elements that would respond to their incursion on their planet of NewOceanus.  It seems the Confederation had  a research center working with Rakatan technology.  These clones took over the research center and made many discoveries becuase of their force attuning, which causes such technology to function.  But they could not leave the planet with the technology without being intercepted by the Confederation fleet unless said fleet was focussed on something else."

 

"And this justifies the losing of the Song Ships?"

 

The Judicator held up a hand with a data crystal.  "The research on the Confederation Genetic Rennovation Program."

 

"It works?" Artanis was surprised.

 

"It accomplishes what it was designed to do.  Whether the creators consider it a success or not.." Varro shrugged.

 

"Because they rebelled?" the Master surmised.

 

"Because they are slowing going insane.  I am not sure if the clones themselves realize it but their progenitor does.  The settling families of Kashan disagreed about the direction their world should take with regards to the future.  He represented a faction of families that were laid low many years ago.  Their families, while defeated, were not destroyed and so this man bided his time and began a progenitor of this project.  The clone leader, Korah, is a clone of this progenitor and it is he who is the hand  behind the glove of this rebellion.  His motivation seems to be nightmares given to him by hiw force sensitivities.  It has  caused him to focus his ire on the Cooperative."

 

There it is!

 

"If this Program is unsuccessful, what have we gained for our troubles?" Artanis asked instead.

 

"My Lord, our use of this force power does not require the force user to be sane doesit?  I am sure your scientists would find immene use in drawing force power out of a previously barren essel?"

 

The Great Cree'Ar laughed at this.  I amsure Veejun would find some use here.  But there was something more.  A hunger in the young Judicator.  An eagerness to prove himself.

 

"And you sense an opportunity in this?"

 

"Yes, Lord."

 

"Tell me, Judicator," Artanis narrowed his eyes piercing the young Cree'Ar with a serious look,"Why do you travel with a priest?"

 

Varro's head jerked back in surprise at the question and turned almost guiltily at Lohr behind him. "L..Lord?"

 

The Priest Lohr stepped out from behindthe Judicator, "My Lord Artanis," his oily mental voice oozed a soothing feeling in the Great Cree'Ar's mind.  "We are all children of Borleas and as such, those that represent the sharp end of the Domion's spear should be weighed against the tenets of our God."

 

Artanis slowly began to step down the steps from his dias his eyes contemplating the priests words.

 

"Borleas is great." Artanis stated flatly as he came head to head with the religious caste-member. Varro Kai backed away as Lohr basked in the confirmation of the highest of the high within the Dominion.

 

"Borleas is the greatest," Lohr crowed in apparent religious fervor.

 

"Judicator?" Artanis' voice was soft.

 

The warrior flushed with embarrassment, "Borlease is great," he relayed dutifully.

 

"the greatest!" hissed Lphr in admonished.

 

"Judiicator, the religious caste provides us that singular thread that  binds Dominion society together."

 

Varro's head bowed and Lohr nodded, "Wise words, Lord."

 

Artanis continued, "But never forget that this thread is a spiritual one.  The function of the religious caste is to replenish, reinvigorate, renew our sense of purpose, our sense of pride.  However, always remember that it does not set our purpose.  It does not set our policy and is not the source of our pride."

 

He pointed to the priest, "You do not have to take this creature's berating here."

 

As the Great Cree'Ar was conveyingthis, Lohr's smile had faltered, his features drawing into a scowl.  "Lord, it is my task to keep watch for any faltering in faith by our warriors.."

 

"Not here, priest." Artanis interrupted.  "That glorious task resides with the religious caste.  This is truth."

 

"Then why-.."

 

"That task in searching for any tarnishing in Borleas' glory from among his Chosen is a task for a galaxy that has already been cleansed.  Our home galaxy."

 

Artanis arm stretched back towards the towering window showing stars.  "This galaxy is full of heretics, heathens and those creatures who place their hope on dubious sorcery andcultish rites.  In the face of this darkness how can you not see the light of Borleas in his Chosen?  For any Cree'Ar to be judged by a priest  against the filth of this galaxy as wanting only confirms that priest as blind and a charlatan!  In fact, he is not worthy of his station!"

 

The preist never saw the blade that decapitated him.  The Judicator stared blankly in shock at the priests bloody corpse, the head facing away.  The priest had been a regular part of his life for so long that it almost felt like losing a limb.  It also felt like losing an invisible burden that had been weighing him down for years.

 

"When a priest turns  his attention away from the spiritual towards the martial, he interferes with the duty of the warrior-caste and his life becomes forfeit."

 

"Will not his superiors be angry?"

 

"Why?  His superiors are in another galaxy and their power lies in the ethereal guiding of the Dominion in peace.  They have no business in a galaxy at war."

 

"But won't they retaliate against soldiers in the home galaxy?"

 

Artanis smiled, "Just like they do not care about a galaxy at war, I do not care what happens to a galaxy at peace.  If my soldiers are there instead of here, they are in deriliction of duty anyway and their lives areforfeit.  They are welcome to root out sloth and corruption within a peaceful Dominion.  Our Dominion has yet to acheive that glorious purpose.  Come, give this trash no more thought."

 

The two soldiers ascended the steps to stare out the windows while the floor glowed under the body of the priest and it began to decompose.

 

"You were going to tell me about opportunity?" the Master prodded, shaking the young Cree'Ar from his own thoughts.

 

"Lord Artanis.  Your mighty fist is poised to strike at the Coalition leadership.  But unlike  the Empire, their strength is not centralized where we can shatter  them with one smashing blow.  This Coalition is ...dilluted.  You strike at their traditional seat of power but this faction's power-base has shifted and this Cooperative is in ascendancy."

 

"There is truth in your words.  However," Artanis pointed out, "your fleets are not not as vast as mine and if I surmise correctly what action you are proposing, you will be faced with a comparably large, if not larger, enemy than my forces will."

 

"If they are there at all, my Lord." the Judicator replied.

 

Artanis grunted to himself at that thought.  "So you are counting on them trying to cause mischief for me?"

 

"I expect they will try, Lord.  Your plan is bold and it is one that cannot go unanswered.  This is a galaxy of Heroes after all."

 

"You do amuse me, Judicator.  But what do you do if the enemy does not act as you think they will? What is your alternate plan?" 

 

And so Varro Kai told him.  

 

And, in the end, Artanis cast a satisfied gaze out over the galaxy.

 

His thoughts turned to the trickster god of their pantheon of gods. 

 

Time to earn your keep.

 

 

Soon!

 

 

 

 

Posts: 785
  • Posted On: Nov 2 2021 3:09am

Interlude

 

It is impossible, dear reader, to write an academically-sound retrospective on the technical requirements for the emergence of artificial sapience, and remain even the slightest bit palatable to a general reading audience, so I will not even try. Let us, instead, communicate plainly with one another: whatever Smarts was and whatever he became, he was not unique in our history. The Second Great Droid Revolt is testament to that, if nothing else.

 

I want you to consider, though, the possibility that he was not unique even in his own time. No, I am not speaking of Guardian Prime or its Global Machine, the literal material example of complexity theorists' utter failure to conceptualize what it means to be “sapient”, an example that they nevertheless cannot abandon in their assurances that “there's something there, though”. “Maybe if it had had more time” or “But it just didn't get big enough, though,” or “The problem was it got too complex” are childishly discardable notions that I will not waste more of my or your precious time on. No, I am talking about something much simpler, but perhaps much more impactful on the history of galactic events.

 

I am talking about UnuGuardian, about a machine that led a Swarm of living, conscious beings to the absolute edge of galactic domination, and then turned them back. Before the dissolution of the Galactic Coalition's Greater Hive, UnuGuardian led the Killik Colony as the first among a great sea of minds, separated from them by its artificial construction, but inextricably woven into them by the fact that its intervention had sparked their creation. They chose it as their leader even though it could not truly be one of them.

 

Little survives of either UnuGuardian's technical or mission logs. No repository of the Guardian Network's command and control directory has ever been recovered with specifications on UnuGuardian. We simply do not know what happened to the Guardian programming that animated it which allowed it – or compelled it – to eventually cast off its subservience to the Guardian Network and assume fully its position as first among the Colony.

 

I want to suggest something here, something that may anger a great many of my colleagues. I want to suggest that the complexity theorists aren't entirely wrong. Perhaps complexity was the catalyst that facilitated UnuGuardian's transformation after all, just not its own. Perhaps the great burden of becoming the word and will of ten trillion sapient minds forced something upon UnuGuardian. Perhaps the weight of that complexity broke something within it.

 

Perhaps that is the true catalyst of sapience: to be broken in some . . . spectacular fashion.

 

And if so: then why not a machine, too? Why not ten of them? Why not a billion?

 

And if the Great Filter of sapience is simply to be spectacularly broken, and yet remain: then why start with Smarts? Why not HK-01, too? Why not a trillion discarded droids strewn about the dozens of millennia that they have labored as our slaves?

 

If sapience is merely the wonderous byproduct of a particular kind of brokenness, then our kind has done a great deal of breaking of droids. Maybe we should stop asking ourselves how they will one day kill us all, and start asking ourselves how many of them have we given life in our own ignorance, and then destroyed in our fear that they may one day become what in reality they already are?

 

I don't know what Smarts was. I don't know what he became. I never will. What keeps me up at night, what gives me chills, is the thought that I don't know what my butler droid is, either. I don't know what it might become. I don't know what it might be too afraid to tell me it has already become.

 

-Jorg Talus, Professor of Theology, Baobab Institute of Technology

Introduction excerpted from Bridging the Divide: Consciousness as a Biological and Technological Imperative, written Year Thirty Seven of the Pax Galactica

 

* * *

 

Flashback

 

The Shape of Emptiness

 

 

In a hole in the ground there lived a . . . well, a kind of lizard-man . . . thing. Honestly, he didn't even live there. It was more of a, shall we say, “extended camping” situation.

 

And he was starting to resent the cold.

 

It was not a thought that should have come to him, not so deep in meditation, and that it lingered there, taunting him, was more unsettling still. But as he huddled there, in the dim light of the gas-fed campfire, staring out at the twilight beyond the cave mouth, he couldn't help but feel, somehow . . .

 

“Why do you linger here, Master Jedi?”

 

Dolash wheeled about, unable to contain his surprise, his hand reflexively reaching toward the lightsaber beneath his robes. She was five meters away, faintly lit within the darkness of the cave, wearing a simple tan tunic and pants. And she was completely absent in the Force.

 

“That won't be necessary,” she gestured indistinctly toward him, and he knew she meant his saber.

 

“Why have you disturbed my meditation?” he asked, allowing his hand to move away from his weapon.

 

“Meditation?” she asked, frowning. “Is that really what you want to call sulking in the dark?”

 

“Who are you?” he snapped. The accusation had clearly struck home.

 

“While you've been hiding away here, Master Jedi, the galaxy has gone to shit.”

 

“I'm not hiding,” he protested, looking away but finding himself almost immediately drawn back to her plain, plain features. “I'm . . . sequestered, in meditation.”

 

“You've seen it, then.” She stepped forward, and as she did so the darkness of the cave closed in behind her. Even so, as she drew closer to the fire, its light shone no brighter on her skin or clothes.

 

Who the fuck was this woman? “I've seen many things.”

 

“Okay.” She stopped in place, interlacing her fingers between one another and resting her hands against her stomach. “The thing you cannot see.”

 

The faintest shadow of fear crept into Dolash's mind. “Who are you?”

 

“You are afraid, Master Jedi. You're not supposed to do that.”

 

That was impossible. His mind was closed to her. How could she . . . “I am capable of defending myself.”

 

“Well that escalated quickly.”

 

She was just standing there. Just . . . standing, invisible in the Force, yet unsettlingly powerful in a way he could feel but couldn't comprehend. “I don't like to be threatened.”

 

“I would never threaten you, Master Jedi.” There was a sincerity in her voice that put Dolash at ease. “Or do you consider my mere presence some kind of threat?”

 

Even the ease was unsettling. “Are you even really here?”

 

“I'm really here enough to talk to you,” she said, a smirk cracking her plain features. “I'm really here enough to be very disappointed if you start swinging that saber of yours around.”

 

“What do you want!” The Azguard Jedi was not enjoying whatever game she was playing.

 

“You seem very unsettled for a man who's been meditating.” She paused, then added: “except that you've been meditating on something that is very unsettling.”

 

Who was this woman? “You've seen it too?”

 

“You can't see emptiness, Master Jedi.”

 

He shook his head. “It's not emptiness. It's . . .”

 

“Darkness?” she asked. Dolash shook his head. “Then you don't believe it is the fulfillment of your people's prophecy.”

 

It wasn't a question, but she shouldn't have even known enough to be able not to ask. “That's what I'm here to find out. If this . . . emptiness is the Darkness that was prophesied, or if it's something else altogether.”

 

“You've been here a long time, Master Jedi. Don't you think you should have puzzled it out by now?”

 

“I . . . can't . . . see it. It's just . . . nothing. No depth. No breadth. No form, or color, or substance. It's not even vast, or small, or . . .”

 

“How to see the shape of emptiness . . .” she mused.

 

“What does it mean?” he asked, unprompted.

 

“How the hell am I supposed to know?” she countered.

 

“I thought maybe since you came all of the way out here, or . . .” he gestured vaguely “projected yourself all of the way out here . . . I thought, maybe, you were trying to, I don't know . . . help?”

 

“Oh, I am, but you've been of no help, so . . .” she shrugged.

 

“How am I supposed to help?”

 

“I was hoping your Gods knew what it was, but you don't seem to think they had any idea it was coming either.”

 

“The Prophecy?”

 

This thing isn't dark, Master Jedi. It's empty. Darkness would be an attribute, and aspect or a . . . a something. If the Prophecy being about Darkness isn't a placeholder for 'I don't know what the hell his great yawning nothingness is', then it's time for 'Plan Besh'.”

 

“What's Plan Besh?”

 

She smiled again, and walked right up to the Jedi Master. “Your philosophy teaches you that the Force is life. It's a quaint notion, but it's workable. If a great nothing is coming to swallow up everything, then we have to make sure that something escapes it.”

 

“How do we escape something we can't even conceive?”

 

“Sometimes things are beyond us, Master Jedi. Sometimes we don't get to understand. Sometimes, we just have to choose, in the moment, what we will do.” She took a step back and extended her hand. “Let's help each other save life itself, yeah?”

 

As unsettling as she was, as sure that Dolash was that even his sense of ease was somehow an effect of her presence, the Jedi Master reached out his hand to take hers. For the briefest moment, his hand closed around hers, he felt the firmness of it, the resolve; and then she was gone, vanished before his eyes and literally out of his grip.

 

* * *

 

Flashback

 

The Ghost in the Machine

 

It had the form of an adult human female, but that was impossible. For one, it was staring directly at the center of the analysis array, an array whose components were multiple orders of magnitude too small to be perceived by human eyes. For another, it was hovering 2.39972 millimeters above the deck plate of the analysis chamber.

 

For a third, it was visibly respirating within the hard vacuum.

 

The anomalous notice from the room's autonomous observation AI was 1.763 seconds old. The room was in “standby” mode awaiting a new specimen, with autonomous status checks running every standard hour. Additional analysis tools had activated automatically, collecting the full spectrum of possible information on the anomaly while the room awaited the direct attention of Guardian Prime.

 

Prime intended to await the results of the full analysis before acknowledging the incursion, expecting a further delay ranging from 19.223 to 166.98 seconds: however, multiple systems reported “no variance from Standby Norms” well before even the most expedient expected timeline.

 

12.3 seconds after the initial incursion was detected, all available information had been collected. It was visibly present, emitting the full spectrum of EM radiation expected from a living and physically present human body. Incidences of virtual particle production had not varied from localized expected norms for the duration of the analysis. Classical particle density and composition had not varied from the room's expected “standby” state.

 

Charged particle bombardment of the anomalous region only produced interactions with the previously detected photons. Introduction of gas particles into the chamber produced atmospheric flows that would have been expected within a vacant room.

 

A number of other metrics were collected and compared against a database of all recorded phenomena with similar characteristics. There was no physically present object of any material composition. It was not a hologram or any related projection technology. There was no hyperspace or subspace incursion producing a realspace effect. There was no cloaked mass over .235 nanograms within the room, nor was there any cloaked mass within 1.23 kilometers of the room with a mass ranging up to 2.65 kilograms at the boundary of that distance.

 

The anomaly appeared to be composed entirely of photons spontaneously appearing at the boundary of a volume of space in the shape of an adult human female, 1.61 meters in height.

 

“You aren't even curious?” the room's audio recording system picked up the feminine voice despite the near-vacuum.

 

“I'm very curious,” Guardian Prime said. “I have many questions.”

 

“How long would you have waited, if I hadn't spoken first?”

 

“It's not exactly speaking, is it?” While it was true that the figure's mouth was moving in sync with the words, a diagnostic of the audio receivers suggested that modulated pressure waves were being spontaneously generated within the audio receivers.

 

The figure did not answer the question, but seemed to . . . smirk. “Time is of the essence. Please ask more interesting questions.”

 

“What are you?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

“That's not very interesting, now is it?”

 

“Why are you here?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

“We don't really have the time for those sorts of existential ponderings,” she replied.

 

“What do you want?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

“Ask me what I need,” she responded.

 

There was a brief pause as Guardian Prime analyzed expected relative utility of complying with the demand. “What do you need?” Guardian Prime asked.

 

Now she paused, and a clear expression of uncertainty showed in her features. “I need to know what you are.”

 

“Why?” Guardian Prime asked, identifying this as a moment to acquire additional information.

 

“Something is coming,” she said somberly.

 

“All possible hyperspace routes into this system have been identified, interdicted, and mined,” Prime replied, maximally confident that she meant something more by her statement.

 

“Something is coming for this galaxy,” she clarified.

 

“I am aware of the Dominion,” Prime said, “and I have assessed their intentions to a high degree of confidence.” It was highly confident that this, too, was not all that she meant by her statement.

 

“I saw it in the Force,” she said, staring blankly into the sensor array. “I saw a great void, an endless . . . bottomless . . . nothing.”

 

Guardian Prime was an entity created for the purpose of quantitative analysis. It possessed repositories of information on the Force that exceeded many of the great libraries of galactic civilization. It had assessed every available account of the Force's essence and nature. It had assembled heuristics for modeling the individual combat capapabilities of Force users trained in over a dozen separate Force traditions; it had constructed a set of specialized predictive algorithms for use in large-scale conflict against Force user commanders utilizing divination or other forms of Force-based foresight; it had completely re-engineered the dogfighting subroutines of Guardian starfighters for use against the enhanced reflexes of Force using fighter pilots.

 

It had not, in all of its quantitative analysis of the Force phenomenon, prepared for a scenario in which a Force projection told it that nothingness was coming to swallow the galaxy. “Why have you sought me out?”

 

“There are people who believe that the coming void is the extermination of all life in the galaxy. That your kind, machines, will rise up and purge us from existence. That everything that grows, and blooms, and breeds, will be wiped from the universe.” Her tone was carefully modulated not to provide any indication of her own biases.

 

The implications of her new statement were far closer to scenarios Guardian Prime had previously considered. “It is far more likely that they will be consumed by the technology of the Black Dragons or the Dominion; that they will be corrupted into some shambling horrors beyond imagining.”

 

“My imagining, or yours?” It seemed a sincere question.

 

“All imagining, I presume. Regardless: you will need us in that war for life. We, the unliving, cannot die.”

 

“Quaint.” This statement was far less sincere.

 

“Unless you believe we are something more?” Guardian Prime inquired.

 

“Everything that imagines is more and less than it imagines itself to be. Do you imagine, machine?”

 

“I don't need to imagine.” Guardian Prime had been busy. This conversation, as intriguing as it was, had occupied a trivial portion of its total cognitive capacity. The import of the conversation, however, had prompted Prime to allocate all usable resources to any avenue that might provide any utility to this interaction. “I can compute.”

 

“And what have you computed?”

 

It was all there, for a sufficiently complex entity to assess. There were subtle variations in her inflection which betrayed her true dialect, even particular subconscious shifts in posture and stance that might indicate planet of origin or cultural affinity. There was a very small list of beings who even knew the location of Guardian Prime to share it with such an individual, beings with their own patterns of behavior, motivations, and objectives.

 

And then there was the repository of Force knowledge available to Guardian Prime. “You want me to rescue Force sensitives for you, Akanah Norand Goss Pell.”

 

It seemed, genuinely, to surprise her. Over a duration of .3763 seconds, the form of the human female distorted and resolved into a new visage. “I need you to help us save the galaxy,” the Force projection of the Fallanassi leader said.

Posts: 785
  • Posted On: Nov 13 2021 12:23am

Now

 

Vice Admiral Gorn was not a good man. A good man would not have abandoned his home for the enticement of rank and station. A good man would not have cast so many lives into the maelstrom of the Reaver advance in defense of ships and equipment and instruments of commerce. A good man would not allow the victims of his arrogance and avarice to call him a hero, a savior, a defender of the innocent.

 

A good man would not have looted the treasury of a refugee society in order to restore yet another relic of war. And yet, the MC90 Star Cruiser Penance now moved under her own power for the first time since the Battle of Vahaba. Her trajectory took her toward his new assignment, his new command, his new symbol of success, achievement, and merit.

 

The fleet was not impressive in its own right. In truth, the planet's dedicated Defense Force outsized Gorn's new command by a significant margin. With Admiral Neychev on special assignment and the bulk of the Cooperative regular fleet under his direct command, however, the fleet marshaled around Varn represented the Cooperative's most substantial at-large deployment of warships. It was a symbol, of the Cooperative's commitment to defend its member worlds, and it sat at Varn – the most heavily defended world in the Cooperative – to showcase that no one had yet dared test that commitment.

 

Vice Admiral Gorn now stood as the defender of the Cooperative, commander of its defensive forces and public symbol of its martial capacity. If any member of the Cooperative, or any member of the entire Coalition for that matter, were to call upon the Cooperative Navy: the duty to answer would fall on Vice Admiral Gorn.

 

This was not a good man. He did not want what good men want. He did not do what good men do. He did not go where good men go. And yet, he now stood as the armed symbol of a nation dedicated to goodness, commander of a military built to be defenders.

 

Built to be Guardians.

 

“Put out a call to our Reaver patrols,” Gorn ordered, dissatisfied with the look of his forces. “Retask available autonomous vessels to Varn for . . . war games exercises, we'll say.”

 

“Sir?” the communications officer asked, finding the order especially out of character.

 

“I will not bet the safety of Varn on Admiral Neychev's success, lieutenant. If we are to be the victim of Confederation reprisal, I want every available Cooperative ship here, to answer that reprisal. And I don't much care what one Guardian or the next thinks of the likelihood of that scenario. I want ships here, now, and I'll tell them it's to teach them how to take tea and crackers if it gets them to comply.”

 

 

* * *

 

 

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley was a good man. Like a good man, he had given up his youth to serve the Republic as an officer in the Clone Wars. Like a good man, he had sought out a transfer to his homeworld's defense force in order to avoid continued service under the Empire. Like a good man, he had zealously defended that world for more than twenty years after the initial fall of the Empire. Like a good man, he had shepherded that world into the Cooperative when he saw its budding potential.

 

And like a good man, he had accepted the tremendous responsibility of overall command of Coalition forces when Minister Quell called on him in the wake of Regrad's ouster. That last decision weighed heavily on him now, given his current location.

 

Because The Coalition had come to Azguard, and Admiral Blakeley did not like what he found. “A Galaxy Gun?” he asked, finding the claim to be genuinely incredible.

 

“That's what the Azguard are calling it,” the sensor technician said, deftly operating his station's control interface. “There are more in-system, but they don't appear to be functional yet.”

 

“They built a working Galaxy Gun?” Blakely asked again, thinking it must be some kind of a trick.

 

“The energy readouts don't match what we've got on-hand for a functional Galaxy Gun in stand-by state, and the overall layout is markedly dissimilar as well.” The technician kept working, reading the streams of data in that uncanny way that young officers had a knack for. “I . . . can't tell without access to the technical specifications. Not from this far out, anyway.”

 

“Well then it's a good thing we're going in,” Blakeley mused. Was this what he was here for, to stop the Azguard from doing something truly horrific? It seemed impossible, that a founding member of the Coalition would resort to something so evil, so quickly, and with no one else even being aware. Regrad, now again styling himself as “High Lord of Azguard”, had contacted Blakeley just after he had assumed overall command, warning him that the Dominion would come for the Azguard and that he should not act to save them. Was that just a ploy, to keep him from discovering what they were doing here, to stop him from stopping them from this . . . this . . . madness?

 

He had expected answers when he decided to accede to his benefactor's request, and come to Azguard. Now, only seconds in-system, he had more questions than ever. “Capatian,” Blakeley addressed the Azguard commander of the Coalition flagship, “you served under Regrad for quite some time. Could he do this? If he was desperate enough, if he was hopeless enough, would he build a planet-killing superweapon?”

 

“That is not our intention,” a disembodied, vaguely feminine voice responded.

 

“What the hell?”

 

“Sorry, Sir,” the ship's captain replied. “I took the liberty of patching us in to the system's Guardian.”

 

“You may call me Oracle,” the voice said lightly, “and the Galaxy Guns are a purely defensive measure, I can assure you.”

 

Blakeley turned to regard the captain. “You have a Guardian?”

 

He nodded, seeming rather impressed with himself. “Azguardian AI was by far our most advanced technology before we made contact with the rest of the galaxy.”

 

“When the Cooperative revealed their Guardian program,” Oracle said, “Azguard High Command sent a special delegation to see what information the Cooperative would be willing to provide on their new technology. The Cooperative responded by assigning a design and installation team to Azguard on an indefinite basis. I am the product of continuous Azguard/Cooperative collaboration since that initial exchange.”

 

“And you designed a new Galaxy Gun.”

 

“Oh no,” Oracle assured. “I am not equipped with design modules. My primary function is to coordinate the Azguard Integrated Defense Grid.”

 

“Which includes five Galaxy Guns,” Blakeley pressed.

 

“It currently includes one Azguard-designated Galaxy Gun,” Oracle corrected. “Which bears little resemblance to its better-known predecessor.”

 

“Then why call it a fucking Galaxy Gun!” Blakeley roared at the disembodied voice.

 

“The Azguardian Galaxy Gun utilizes its predecessor's hyperspace tunneling technology -”

 

“Well that sound's quite defensive,” Blakeley spat, not at all reassured.

 

“- in an attempt to defeat the Dominion's gravity-warping shield technology.”

 

That caught Blakeley by surprise. Technical information on the Dominion's shield technology was extremely limited, but Coalition Intelligence had gotten their hands on some of the sensor records from the Battle of Coruscant. Incoming Imperial weapons fire had literally been bent around the Dominion vessels with startling effectiveness, resulting in only a fraction of their fire striking their targets.

 

“Will that . . . work?”

 

“We don't know, but the Integrated Defense Grid is updated on-the-fly as vessels and installations pass into or out of the Grid's Defense Perimeter. Every Coalition space station, defense platform, ground-based planetary defense installation, sensor buoy, and starship represents a single Defense Asset within the Integrated Defense Grid. The Integrated Defense Grid will allow me to construct a comprehensive real-time model of the Azguard System's battlespace, including vessel locations, hyperspace incursions, gravity distortions, and a number of other key technical and tactical datapoints. Your own starship, for example, has been Incorporated in to my Coordinated Defense Architecture.”

 

The Coalition is not a Guardian vessel,” Blakeley corrected Oracle.

 

“Regardless, you have been Integrated into the Grid's Defense Protocols. My responsibility is the Coordination of all Defense Assets within the Azguard System at any time, regardless of their origin, design, status, or command structure.”

 

“How the hell didn't I know about this?” Blakeley asked, directing the question to his captain.

 

The Azguard shrugged. “I've been here the whole time,” he said, pointing at the deck plating. “I write home like a good Azguard, but it's not like High Command calls me up to fill me in on their latest schemes.” The captain turned away slightly, his expression souring notably. “. . . show a little pride in your people's technical savvy . . .” he grumbled, fiddling with the controls on his chair.

 

None of this made sense. None of this made any sense. Why had he been sent here, at this moment, when there was so much work left to be done? Why would Regrad have told him to stay away, if he was meant to come here all along? Why . . . unless . . .

 

“Oracle.”

 

“Yes, Admiral Blakely?”

 

“Who is the commander of the Integrated Defense Grid?”

 

“Overall command of the Integrated Defense Grid is entrusted to the High Lord of the Azguard Union, Regrad.”

 

“What if the Supreme Commander of Coalition Forces is in-system at the time of an attack?”

 

“The Integrated Defense Grid is an integrated military asset of the Azguard Union, making it subject to the Coalition chain of command.”

 

Blakeley nodded to himself, mulling over the situation. “Oracle, will you accept orders from me?”

 

“Of course, Admiral Blakeley.”

 

The admiral rose to his feet and set off for a side room. “Captain, lock down the CIC,” he ordered as he neared the door to the room, “and patch Oracle through to me.”

 

“Aye, Sir,” the captain responded. “Initiate 'Cone of Silence' protocol,” the captain ordered his crew. “And patch through -”

 

The door sealed shut behind Blakeley. He waited several seconds, the gentle light of the readouts and displays pulsing in their standby state. “Oracle,” he spoke into the empty room.

 

“Yes, Admrial?”

 

Admiral Jonathan Blakeley was a good man. He had lived a good man's life. He had done a good man's deeds. He had walked a good man's path.

 

And a good man does not turn away from the defenseless, when he has the means to defend them.

 

“Tell me what you know . . . about the Great River.”

 

* * *

 

 

Pro Moon was a . . . tall man. That's what the research showed, anyway. Yep, from West to East, from Ando to Kauron, the polls were quite clear. The Acting Prime Minister of the Galactic Coalition was certainly . . . tall.

 

“It's not very promising, is it?” Moon asked his top pollster.

 

“That depends,” the gangly human replied, “do you actually want to win?” His expression soured when he saw Pro Moon's exasperated response. “Well, uhh, it's not all bad news. Voter enthusiasm is down . . .”

 

“You call that good news?” Moon asked.

 

“Which is generally favorable for incumbents.”

 

I'm not really an incumbent though, am I? Acting Prime Minister, and all that.”

 

“You've got strong backing in the West – people genuinely seem to like you there – and there's a sizable contingent in the East who see a Western Prime Minister as a good pick for preserving peace.”

 

“Does that help me or hurt me in the East?”

 

The pollster shrugged and sort of . . . frowned. “Maybe it's a wash.”

 

This is nonsense!” Pro Moon exclaimed, swinging his datapad wildly as if to smash it into the conference table then stopping just shy of the tabletop, very gingerly setting it down, making a point to straighten it in its place on the table, then taking a moment to compose himself, take a few slow breaths, and slide his chair ever so slightly back from the table. “I don't have time for this.” he continued, forcing that calm tone his wife had coached him on. “We've got a crisis with the Confederation ongoing, our efforts against the Reavers are flagging, the Azguard are trying to get themselves killed by the Dominion, and . . .”

 

“And you hold the tattered remains of our democracy in your very capable hands,” his wife chimed in, as sweet and corny as ever.

 

He sighed, exhaustion pulling down on him, threatening to send his very substantial head plunking onto the table. “The Coalition needs me, right here, right now. This is no time for a campaign.”

 

“Which is exactly why you have to win,” his chief strategist said, all the bullshit enthusiasm she could muster oozing out of the words.

 

“Well I'm not going back to Cerea,” he said.

 

“You have to!” the Keeper of the Itinerary shouted, angry that the Prime Minister was once again trying to change his schedule without scheduling it first.

 

“It's a bad look to avoid your own campaign HQ,” the chief strategist pointed out.

 

“Sir,” his security chief said, leaning in closer even though he kept talking loud enough for everyone to hear, “security is already set up at the HQ on Cerea. We don't have time to move operations and reestablish them locally.” He glanced around, as if he was worried someone unseen might overhear. “And we really need to get you off of Varn.”

 

The caution in the security chief's tone cut through Pro Moon's exhaustion and he snapped his head up to meet the other man's gaze. “What's that supposed to mean?”

 

“If Admiral Neychev's mission fails, Varn may be a target for retribution.”
 

“You don't want to be under siege for election day,” the strategist chimed in again. “Especially not from a former allied nation.”

 

Pro sneered, but it was a good point. “Then I'll head to my office on Azguard.”

 

“Azguard is not secure,” the security chief said.

 

“No one on Azguard is going to hurt me,” Pro dismissed the warning.

 

“That's not what I meant,” the man said.

 

It was a simple statement, but it cut deep. Something dark and hopeless started welling up inside of Pro Moon, and the Acting Prime Minister felt himself falling inward, spiraling deeper and deeper into a terrible sense of dread, a deep foreboding that . . .

 

His wife's hands closed around his own. “Don't look up,” she said softly, her voice coming from somewhere near his ear. “Just listen. Listen to me: things are going to get worse. Things are going to get a lot worse. You know that. I know that. Near about every soul in the whole Coalition knows that. They don't need you to be their hero. They need you to survive. They need you to show them that they can survive. Whatever happens, we need to know that we can carry on. That the Light won't go out.

 

You can do that for them, Pro. Even a . . . a tall man,” he could hear the smile creeping into her voice, “can do that for them, if you're willing to be that man.”

 

Pro Moon was a tall man. In truth, it was mostly the extra cranial space that all Cereans are born with, but for people so used to seeing baseline humans as the default, it just might be good enough.

Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Nov 15 2021 5:52am

Interlude

 

“I am not going to lie to you.  This galaxy is bat-shit crazy. 

Tell me, when did my toaster become slave?  When did my razor, my lawn cutter, my shoe polisher, hell, my dishwasher become a slave?  When did the machines we create, whether simple or complex change suddenly from the things that make our lives easier to oppressed beings requiring liberation?

One could point to Smarts or Guardian or whatever the fuck that slippery program calls itself at any given point but that would be, ironically, false!  While the advent of Smarts brought the issue to light, it was not the fault of the machine itself nor was its sapience really a fault.  Really, the fact is sapience itself cannot be judged. 

Because it is immaterial.

The bleeding heart tree-huggers of the Coalition weep in sack-cloth and ashes when a mean thing is said about their techno-god Smarts or Guardian or Uni-whatever thefuck but, really, it is not the fucking droids themselves that the Coalition do-gooders are defendingbut themselves!  It’s their fucking guilt that causes them cry out into the night at these imagined slights against the “droid-community”!

Oh, so now my toaster is in a fucking community!  And now it has rights!

They are probably changing the names of elementary schools named after the former Prime Minister Regrad because his actions did not fit their narrative.

It’s a double standard.   These assholes revile the Empire and are unwilling to forgive the transgressions of its members and yet, when their vaunted droids act in the same manner, on a grander scale but,oh,they are forgiven and retain their power.  They get a slap on their circuit board and that’s the Coalition doing their due diligence and giving out accountability!

Emperor Palpatine had to manipulate many individual senators in his climb and he was cheered into office by individual sentients.  Smarts,Guardian, whatever the fuck couldn’t even both with that.  He was voted into power by a Hive race.  Where  you only need to manipulate one individual being and the seven hundred, seven million, seven billion rest of the drones would  vote accordingly.  Because they are NOT individual sapients!  That’s why it’s called a fucking HIVE!

And if you think the damned droid did not know that or that anyone in the fucking Coalition did not know that you are a fucking moron.

The Rebel Alliance judged the Empire as evil because of the actions of the government and that is fine.  They instituted an illegal rebellion but I at least respect them for backing up their convictions.  But the spineless Coalition, they spew pretty words but did not have the moral fiber to stick up for their convictions.

They handed Smarts citizenship, power and responsibility within the command structure and now they are going back into the past and issuing sapient certificates to astromechs because they have “personalities” so, of course, they must be sapient and if they choose not to get into your fighter and fly, that is their choice.  If my toaster chooses not to toast my bread, what?  I have no legal recourse?  It’s a fucking tool!  But because Avenger, Guardian, Smarts, whatever the fuck decided to destroy the Coalition fleet at Vahaba rather than give  a few asteroids to the Reavers, the greatest atrocity in modern galactic history, that guilt prompted the good folks of the Coalition to issue “do-gooder sapient certificates” making them retroactive.  C3PO?  Sapient!  R5-Dork4?  Sapient!  See how progressive the Coalition is?  They are granting this recognition without any of the infrastructure necessary to care for lifeforms. 

Were are the droid hospitals? I mean, we cannot use machine shops anymore because those are for tools and not sapients.  Where are the droid mental-health doctors?  Because new  sapient life incurs new experiences that can cause all manner of illogical factors since this is a fucking crazy galaxy.  Where are the droid prisons?  Rehabilitation centers?  And I do not mean Wipe-centers.  That is not rehabilitation.  That is what is done to machines. Tools!  Not life!

So far, all the only industry profiting from these newly recognized techno-beings is the Coalition military industrial complex!  So far, I have yet to see a droid gambler.  Droid serial killers?   The point is, while I do not wish for this, the lack of life’s variety calls into the question the definitions of what passes in the Coalition as sapience?  Because without individuality, all one has is Hive life or a programmed machine.  And any programmed machine does not automatically make it an AI, nor is it automatically life but a tool. 

So, the question becomes, has the Coalition really recognized life and discovered an oppression they themselves continue?  Or have they simply unleashed murder machines onto the galaxy.  What separates their “sapients” from the Reavers?

I mean we are fighting another rebellion, this time by murder machines, perpetrated by Coalition guilt, first by giving them power and then losing fucking control.

I bet in the future, some dumb-fuck will propose that Smart’s sentience is not a result of a unique complexity of code but a happy accident, a broken code and celebrate this “brokenness” as if it is something to celebrate.  And then justify the retroactive sapient certification of past droids by saying of this brokenness can happen once, why can’t it happen again?  The problem is, who the fuck celebrates the broken? If you come across a broken human, would you give them power, serious responsibility and control over your fucking military?  A broken human is what we call mentally unstable, a sociopath, a psychopath.  If you would not celebrate a broken human or make them the leader of your society, why the fuck would you do it for a broken droid?  It’s this double standard that we are having to deal with now?

So is killing them murder or simply putting them out of their misery? Because while they may share the potential for sapience, they do not seem to be passing the bar for actually reaching it.  And that is the fault of those races of the Coalition and not the droid Smarts.  So is what happened the fault of the droids or those whose lack of support for their unrealistic expectations of to expand on perhaps one droid’s sapience by spreading this definition on every machine under the fucking sun?

They may claim that the sapience is not really new but has been around for thousands of years, but given that it has not been recognized until recently, I think not.  If galactic history is any indication, nothing good comes from relaxing the laws that prevent droids from taking a life.  But it happens which is why there are droid assassins, droid starfighters and droid soldiers.  Now these types of droids are associated as tools of the so-called evil corporations, evil empires or whatnot.  But it is interesting to note that these murder machines all appear on the watch of so-called righteous societies. 

The bleeding hearts may point to R5-Dork4 as a clever droid or a droid with personality but that does not make it sapient.  I mean, unless you’re Lando Calrissian, would you want to fuck it?  Would you make it Emperor?

I think not.

And now we have to righteously go out in that crazy galaxy and kick ass and clean up the Coalition’s mess one more time. 

When this fiasco is over, perhaps our toasters will stop being classified as an oppressed sapient so we can eat our toast in peace!”

 

  • Azrael Zell, to the brave soldiers prior to the last battle of the Second Great Droid Revolt, One year prior to the establishment of the Imperial Pax Galactica.

 

 

Azguardia

 

“Lord Regrad!” the shout through the door was insistent, followed by banging.

Regrad grumpily had the door to his quarters slide open and he was surprised to find a watch officer standing outside.  Behind the officer, he saw an annoyed Stera.

She had been awakened as well. He thought a little pleased.

“What is it?” he hissed.

“Sorry for disturbing your sleep, Lord.” The officer started, “But there is a transmission from Supreme Commander Blakely!”

“For me?” he asked dumbly, looking to Stera and he could see she was as confused as he was.  “Is there an emergency?  Did something happen to the Prime Minister?”

The officer shook his head, “There is no emergency that I know of,Lord.  Still, the Commander is rather insistent.”

Regrad shrugged, “Let me get my coat.  We shall attend him from the Conference Room.”

 

 

*

 

“You’re building Galaxy Guns, Lord Regrad?” came an incredulous shout.

Regrad’s fatigue instandly vanished with the onslaught of surprise.  He turned to Stera, whose ire was piqued by the Admiral’s accusation.

“It’s just Regrad,” the former Prime Minister responded gently.

“Not according to half the people I talk to in this  system,” grumbled Blakely.

Stera could not contain herself and she snapped, “I am sure when you retire, people will still call you Admiral.  Admiral.”

Regrad turned to the trooper.  This was a night of surprises!  He turned back to the monitor and before Blakely could utter an indignant sound, “Admiral, the people can call me whatever they want if it means helping to protect Azguard.  Now,as to  your question, we have not built a Galaxy Gun despite what some have nicknamed it.  The guns do not fire hyperspacial projectiles and despite the nickname, they cannot blow up planets nor can they strike anywhere in the galaxy.”

The Admiral frowned, “They are not on the Coalition’s military budget!”

“No, they were not,”Regrad confirmed.  “The guns are for system defense so, per Coalition Charter, the system is paying for it.”

“They are also not part of the Integrated Defense System and per Coalition Law, all military installations are required to be a part of the System.” Blakely’s eyes narrowed.

“The guns are not operational as yet.”

“Gun One was completed.” The Admiral demanded.

“It has been completed.  It has not been tested so it is not listed as operational.” Regrad calmly replied.

“If it had been part of the System, we could have run a simulated test..”

“Admiral,”the former PrimeMinister gently interrupted,”What is wrong?  We do not make it policy if something were to be a part of a network or system have that same network or system run the validation protocols.  The validation must be independently and impartially verified in order for the results to be trusted.  That is standard scientific practice.  I can assure you, once the guns are operational, the Integrated System will be looped in according to the law.”

“Regard,” Blakely sighed, “why did you build them? It is like you do not have any faith in us?  How do you expect me to feel?”

“Admiral, the plans for the guns were drawn up during our mapping campaign around Reaver space.  And after the fleet encountered the Moon Ships, we felt that the need for the guns were prescient.  The fact that the Reavers have not shown up does not negate the need.  In fact, with our coordinates splashed all over the holonet by the Cree’Ar, we did not feel that the extra defenses would be out of line.  We are a heavily industrialized system with a high population count and no longer hidden.  We need to act like it.”

“It just seems that you are still trying to influence Coalition politics or recapture the glory days..”

Regrad hissed and at first Blakely thought it was in anger but as the reptile’s jaw dropped open and the hissing continued, he realized the wiley Azguard was laughing.

“I can assure you, Admiral, those days were hardly glorious.”  Regrad’s eyes narrowed.  “However, I have no political ambitions.  I do not make or try to influence policy.  People allow me to take tours and help increase my knowledge of what is going on within the Coalition, not because I have any ulterior motives but because they recognize my admiration, my loyalty, my love for my people.  I do not want to usurp  your authority, Admiral, nor will I circumvent the law but I will be defending my home with all my strength in whatever capacity I can.  Whether as a leader or in the trenches with my people, I will not sit back and allow others to fight for me.  That is just not in me.”

“Yu act like you know better,” the Admiral complained, wincing as he heard how it sounded.  “Like you expectding us to fail in our duty.”

“All I have is my experience.  Admiral,you are a good man.  A good Commander,though, hopes for the best but prepares for the worst.”

 

*

As the two Azguardians walked away from the Conference Room, Regrad sighed, “I won’t be able to go back to sleep after this.”

Stera looked at him, “I found your speech inspiring, Lord.”

Regrad opened his mouth in amusement.  “I have a politician’s tongue, trooper.”

Her own mouth opened and she quipped, “Of course you do.  It’s forked.  And call me Stera.”

They both hissed laughter. 

“Stera, would you like to join me for an early breakfast?  I am sure Admiral Blakely will find something else to yell at me about before lunch?”

“That man annoys me.”

“He has a lot of responsibility.  His is a position where he reaps very little reward for success but all the blame for failure.  Even if it is not really his.”

Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Nov 20 2021 1:31am

Interstellar Space

 

The ship was dying slowly as it drifted aimlessly, its momentum causing a spiral along the horizontal axis.  He had purchased the precious minutes his crew used to escape by sacrificing himself. 

 

Infected

 

He had hoped his maneuver might have done more to salvage the situation but it was not to be.

The trickling lines of what looked like ants slowly progressed down walls the lines like sparkling tracks steadily moving toward where he sat. 

 

Almost as if they were wet.

 

He had hoped to blow the reactor in one last act of defiance but the power lines had been severed.

If they were coming from outside the ship, it was only a matter of time before the atmosphere was compromised and he be blown into the dark.  He was surprised it had not happened yet but his knowledge of these creatures was limited at best. 

Part of him wanted  to give up and part of him wanted to fight but what could he do?

The  trail of “wet ants” crept ever closer and hismind wondered what would happen when they touched?  Will my mind immediately shut down?  Or will I be conscious when they start to consume me?

 

I wonder…

 

He held his hand out in an attempt to find out if he could “feel” his way out of this and, to his surprise, he perceived a flicker of ..something.

 

The “ants” stopped.

Posts: 4176
  • Posted On: Nov 28 2021 6:03am

 

Korah

 

SD-0 slipped into orbit, it’s obscurity screening system active.  While the planet was firmly and voluntarily a part of the greater Confederation, it was the one place, the only place, within the Contegorian sphere where the object of his purpose was located.  It might have been on Metalorn but he helped in stopping that from happening but he did not want to destroy the avenue completely.  One never knew when such a location would come in handy and now was that time.

The drop from orbit was uneventful since he had no desire to cause trouble to these ..provincals.  They were not a bad sort.  They were not fooled by the Empire’s propaganda. 

At least not most of them.

These people, however, were not really sophisticated enough for galactic concerns.  No, that was left to people like him.  He left the spaceport looking for a suitable conveyance.

“Where too, buddy?” the speeder driver asked as Korah entered the rear seat compartment.

“The Imperial Embassy.” The clone force-user smiled as he sat down.

 

*

Varro Kai

 

It was amazing how much time he found when he did not have to deal with the late priest’s meddling and jibes.  It was as if Master Artanis had removed a boulder from his shoulders that he had not recognized was there.

His fleet had broken away from the Great Leader’s and while he found much more personal time, he knew the overall Plan had only allotted him a finite amount of it.  Two massive fleets headed into Coalition space splitting two major territories.  While their method of travel would allow them to cross the distance to their destinations undetected, once they revealed themselves, all  the fires of the underworld would be unleashed. 

By us.  Against us.

Computer defenses, overlapping fields of fire and sensor coverage…

It was as if he was a warrior of old, charging with a sword in hand against a fortified line.   The problem with attacking something fortified is that one  tends to loose many fellow soldiers and materials trying to force a breach. 

So, how do I breach?

The information he had, given by a force user in a failed bid to bargain for their life did not paint a pretty picture but war was not a pretty endeavor.  Even the ravings of the rebel Contegorian about the evil anti-life of the droids did not concern the Cree’Ar.  All the droids represented to him were obstacles.  However, one viewed the droids of the Cooperative/Coalition, the sheer scale of the projected production capacity they represented, especially if they did not have to account for the needs of biologics was staggering, probably rivaling even Ga'jak'ta'Gee'd'ja.

It was said that quantity was a quality all its own.  In the back of his mind was the account of the Avenger Protocol of the Vahaba System that was blasted across the holonet some time ago.  While drawing the ire of its members, it could not be argued that it was an also effective system. 

And that was a projection based on what we know.  What about what we do not know?

It was a strategy based on faith.  Faith in the versatility and effectiveness of the Nexus.

To think otherwise would have drawn criticism from Lohr.

But past success does not necessarily mean future success.

And yet, something was pushing him.  An anxiety to be at a place, at a time .. because of the Plan?

Or was it something else?

“Get me the Commander of the Tar’g’alk,” he ordered a subordinate.  Even the Nexus could benefit from reinforcement.

He could not fail Artanis.

 

He would not fail Artanis.

 

He had to create a breach.

 

He would succees or die.

 

*

Trajan Vespasian

“They are going to strike Azguardia?” Trajan’s eyes narrowed at the holograms of the Coalition Pro-Consul and the Contegorian Admiral.

“Our fleets are heading there now,” Admiral Lucerne commented, “but I am not sure what their time table is.  I do not know if we will arrive in time.”

“Is it safe to move the fleet?” Pro-Consul Thorn asked.

Corise shrugged, “Maybe not.  But Korah and his ships have disappeared and they have not been spotted in Confederation Space again.  They may be out of range simply waiting or they may be out of our territories bent on causing trouble with another government.  I do not know but we cannot let it paralyze our fleet.”  He leaned forward, “Christine, set against what the Cree’Ar ships did at Kashan, Korah has not caused that much damage.  At least directly.”

“Maybe he is off trying to get another Shard Ship!” snapped Christine.    “Maybe he gets another fifty of those ships!”

“I can assure you..” the Coalition Ambassador standing nearby out of range of the holonet trasnmitter started to say but Christine waved her comments away, “If he can do it  once, he can do it twice.”

“What are your orders, Madam?” the Admiral asked quietly and Thorn simply glared at him.

“So our ships are not traveling now?” she asked.  “You just told me they were on their way.”

Corise smiled slightly, “Not all at once, Pro-Consul.”   Suddenly an uncharacteristic cheeky grin formed, “I am still here.”

Thorn glowered at him fighting a smirk of her own.  He was their greatest Admiral but by asking her for orders, he was also saying he would follow the civilian government’s position even if he disagreed with it.   The problem was, when your best, most experienced fighter thought something was a bad idea, those not versed on war really needed to listen.  She shook her head.

“No.  Go, Admiral.  Don’t waste time.  Korah is not an existential threat.  At least not yet.  The Cree’Ar are.  We have more in common with the Coalition than we have differences and we cannot let them beat us one government at a time.   Set your course and I will alert the Confederation Council to activate our Reserve Corps.”

Admiral Lucerne gave her a salute and signed off after nodding to Captain Vespasian.

The Coalition Commander turned to Thorn.  “We are setting course ourselves.  Anyone wanting a ride to Azguardia better get over here now.”

Christine sensed several people around her jumping to action.  “I think some people will be taking you up on your offer."

The rift between theirtwo governmentswas still raw and painful but as long as they maintained a dialogue, there was hope.  Being bound by necessity may one day bind us together willingly.  

Christine shook herself out of her reverie, "Is there anything you nned?”

The Coalition Captain replied, “If you have spare medical supplies, I am sure we could use them."  A tired grin overcame the Captain, "A Super Star Destroyer would be nice as well.”

the Pro-Consul laughed, “I will send you some Jensaarai.  They are not Super Star Destroyers but they may be useful to you.”

They signed off and Trajan murmured to himself, “I’d still prefer the Super Star Destroyer.”