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Kesteven 79 system 

Coalition Victory Station 

Imperial Year 0, Day 0 


One way or another, Sharl Tulink had all of 36 hours in Coalition space before he had to be transmitted back home to the body waiting for him back in Emerald City. He had friends, family, a city to protect - and an employer who had high expectations about his report on post-Incursion Lor technology and its adaptability for Terrestrial purposes. He had just one last thing to do - to act as bodyguard for the woman who he hoped would be the next Imperator of the Lor Republic. He knew the Imperator's duties well enough from his early education in Tronik, for all that the Republic he'd learned about had been just a few centuries removed from its imperial days: the Imperator on the one hand had little power "reigning, but not ruling" - but on the other hand as the voice of the people against the state, as the symbol of all the Lor revered about themselves, and as the person who actually selected the ministers of government from the ranks of the Senate and the people - well, it all came down to how you used your power. 

 

In the first election since the Incursion, filling a spot left vacant after the old Imperator and its family had gone with the rest of Lor-Van, the question of how the Imperator's power would be used wasn't as easy to answer as it once had been. Sharl wanted Grand Nauarchus Bucklin Frankan to be the one who found the new answers to that question; and not just because he hoped that her election would be a stepping-stone to Terran unification and joining the Republic. The Lor needed to be strong again after the horrific things they'd lost, and from all he'd seen, she was the best candidate for the job. 

 

He took the lead as Frankan's party walked into their station quarters, scanning the suite with his internal sensors as a supplement to the scanning already done by the station's security staff. "It's clean," he said after a moment. "No listening devices or bombs - and I think the station commander left a box of sweets in the refresher." 

 

"She must be angling for a promotion," commented Frankan with a wry smile as she entered the room just behind Citizen. "Thank you, Citizen Tulink. As always, your work here has been invaluable." As the two spoke, Frankan's staff, almost all of them uniformed officers either in the Star Navy or in one of its planetary militias, were filling the rooms, setting up gear and calls, getting ready for the media presence they were about to encounter. It was tradition in the Republic that on Election Night, the candidates for Imperator shared the same space at the same time as a way of promoting amity (and as a way of preventing assassination attempts). 

 

This year, this election, this day - it was Coalition Victory Station that would see the two candidates together. A quick glance out the window (with the help of tapping into the station's external sensors) showed Sharl a three-dimensional sphere buzzing with spaceships, a volume he hadn't seen since the end of the Incursion - military vessels armed to the teeth to prevent another attack, civilian ships, Grue Individuality vessels with their usual hodgepodge of designs, and countless others. Between the press, the spectators, and the parties of the two candidates, the interior of the station was packed to the gills even beyond its usual large population. 

 

It was going to be a busy day and a half. 

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Bliss.  Bounty hunter, smuggler, gladiatrix (if the stink apes could figure it out any), criminal, member of the interplanetary troubleshooting group the Void Runners was unhappy.  But she was here.  Released after the brawl she had instigated and allowed herself to be arrested for so that she didn't have to vote for the Lor election.

 

The presumption of such, of them assuming her membership irked her quite a bit.  But then the Lor were a pile of xiol as far as she was concerned.  And now she got a front row circus for the tally, which minimal to make her feel positive about these sorts of things.  These people.  She was going to wait, and see, and then possibly tell the remainder to hoof out, if it got too much, as was possible.

 

For those who would know what they meant, the Xuli'pan's markings showing her aggravation, her annoyance over all of this, pulsing visibly in the infrared spectrum.

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In the cavernous hanger bay of Covic Station, ships from worlds no human eye had ever seen rested, drifted, coiled or blossomed or bubbled in the hollowed-out heart of a dead god. Another, a silver teardrop, fell silently through the membrane of the station's forcefield, landing on a small platform that rose up to greet it, the hanger shifting subtly to accommodate the new arrival. The station was dead, but its body could still be jolted into compliance and reaction, as the Lor engineers, Grue lifeshapers and Free Space starhearts had discovered. A twisted kind of magic now ran through the station, giving Covic an atmosphere similar to a cathedral turned into a torture pit turned into a mall.

 

The silver teardrop opened a round aperture. Dol-Druth, the Speaker of Dotrae and voice of the manyminded insectoid Lor, a pallid mountain of flesh filling an iridescent beige suit glittering with black letters denoting his name and station, stepped through. He paused with half his body still inside the ship and filling the hatchway. He turned his enormous head back to where he'd come from.

 

"Sri Steward! We request your assistance. Again."

 

With a jerk the Speaker hurtled awkwardly out of the ship, stumbling to a halt on his short, stocky legs and panting furiously. Taking out a small container, he spritzed a little solution around his twitching, slender antennae and began to stump for the slidewalk that had curled up to the teardrop's ramp. Tapping out the address Ser-Vai of the lower decks maintenance crew read off through his species-wide mental link, Dol-Druth blithely carried on the conversation he'd been very insistent he and Earth's third Star Knight have during the trip.

 

"Anyway, we still hold that Earth's governments could be united given a single, universal threat. We have observed how all nations and persons on Terres are defined by outsiders, what they set themselves in opposition to and do what their neighbours do not. The Unity, still hungering for the subversion and absorption of all other life, is enemy to all, especially to such cultures as yours that stress individualism. Expansion into space is, you all already agree, necessary."

 

"It would alleviate the strain on your resources, the feuds over territory, and the risk of all life on Earth being destroyed if that meteorite you call Apophis crashes into Terres next round. All that stands in its way is the unprofitable expense of space travel, which, again, could be surmounted just by making inroads to the Farsiders. Think it over, we urge you. We are accomplished at making friends."

 

With a final tap the slideway twisted and shifted, realigning itself for one of the far archways glimmering with the sheen of melted metal. 

 

"Speaker!" A hologram shimmered into being beside Dol-Druth. A trim and meticulous Star Navy officer with the finned ears and webbed hands of the Pisceans. Smiling apologetically, the officer bowed slightly "Welcome to Covic Station, Speaker. This is Oversight Chief Morosaut. On behalf of the Security Force, we hope your visit on Election Day is safe and productive. May the strongest candidate be chosen. Proceed down the slideway to the ambassadors' lounge."

 

"We thank you, may the wisest be chosen." Dol-Druth bent his cumbersome girth briefly and waited for his escort to disembark before stepping onto the humming self-propelling causeway.

 

"Another recorded message will be transmitted at recognition of the Star Knight Sri Kyle Steward.

 

Dol-Druth's antennae twitched irritably. "We forget, Star Knight, does your position allow you to vote despite a developing homeworld?"

Edited by Ari

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"Developing." It was a term he'd gotten used to a lot. Cavalier had to admit it was wholly appropriate - the UN would be the last thing anyone would designate as "a unified global governmental body," and there was nothing approaching a unified or consistent force for space travel on Earth. And yet... every time the term got used, it kinda nagged at him. Like he was being congratulated for being so well-mannered, he could sit at the grown-ups' table. 

 

"I'm sure that others above me have considered the matter of liaisons with the Farsiders," he said. "As for planet-killers... well, I pity any asteroid that would have to deal with the kind of defenses our planet can muster." Besides. There were things out there that Cavalier feared a lot more than asteroids. Apophis, for all its titanic mass, didn't have intelligence behind it. Though if it does, then I have officially seen all that this universe can offer. "As for the vote... as a Star Knight, as it is so emphasized, I am a galactic citizen. No more, and no less, than any other who I would protect with my services. As such, Mentor says I have a say in this race. So, I'm gonna speak best I can. Though don't blame me if I just kinda pick randomly on the lower ticket candidates." 

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"You don't seem particularly nervous, ma'am," Jilinson-08 observed while pacing around the Ambassador's office for the umpteenth time, eyes darting about for any minute detail he might have missed previously. For his part the straight-backed bodyguard was visibly tenser than usual. He was a man who liked to plan for every eventuality but with so many variables at play on election day there was no choice but to delegate some of that responsibility to the rest of the station's security staff. It wasn't so much that he doubted their competency but today they all needed to be better than perfect.

 

"Should I be?" Diana Th'emme asked with a barely concealed note of amusement. Her pantsuit was a genuine work of art, lines calling back to traditional Lor formalwear while referencing both the Fleet's current officer's uniform and the very latest of fashionable business attire. It veritably dripped confident authority and though it likely cost most than some of the craft docking at the station she'd earlier waved it off as 'a gift from a supporter'. Likewise her jewelry was comprised of tokens of respect and appreciation from major factions in CoVic's political tableau, collected over her time on the station since the Incursion. The message was clear: today's results spoke not only for the Lor but for galactic culture as a whole.

 

The clone soldier pulled a face briefly before quickly schooling his expression back into order. "Last polls I saw said 'too close to call'. Nervous seems like it's going around." He'd had to break up more than one fistfight in the recreation districts over the past few weeks before they'd turned into blaster fights. Either way things shook out the day would mark a radical shift for everyone living on CoVic and for a population of refugees and survivors that sentiment had an ominous ring. A military man through-and-through, Jilinson-08 admired the Grand Nauarchus but he'd seen enough realpolitik working with Th'emme to understand that commanding a battle wasn't the same as leading a civilization. Not that there wasn't some overlap, admittedly.

 

The Ambassador herself raised a hand in a calming gesture. "Everything that could be done was set in motion months ago. Not to naysay the polls but you'll note that one candidate is standing in her own office while the other should be settling into her guest quarters as we speak. That said, it's about time we set out." She gestured to one of the readouts scrolling information above her desk. "Captain Shepherd-07's ship is about to dock, with my daughter aboard."   

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Barrier couldn’t have cared less for the election. She’d never fully understood the concept behind choosing your leader in a way like this, it was too easy to abuse. Yet, seemingly most people agreed it was a good idea. Which wasn’t an issue, until it led to all kinds of disobedience.

 

Disobedience, it seemed to be a constant in this system. She’d dealt with all sorts of individuals and groups trying to influence the election in their own shady ways recently. And judging by the amount of people that were arriving on the station, that would turn out to be an easy task compared to what lay ahead.

 

She didn’t vote. Neither did she really care who’d win. Neither of them had any direct influence on her, and if any were to be demanded, she’d get involved. Until then, the only thing that mattered was the public peace. It was her job to keep everything moving. To make sure there wouldn’t be any riots, attacks or assassinations.

 

It was something she could do. She was stationed in one of CoVic’s many hangar bays, helping the local authorities with screening all the incoming ships. Because if she knew anything about big events like this, it was that at least somebody would be attempting something. And the best chance of stopping it early was to be here.

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Dear Miss Americana 

 

One thing I like about the Grand Nauarchus is her ability to strategize on the wing - it really is like being around a hyperintellect. When Th'emme suggested CoVic Station for the Election Summit, she was the one who suggested they meet at Inqué's. It makes a lot of sense - there's no place on the station more commonly scanned by station security, it doesn't have direct ties to Frankan's people so there's no accusation of favoritism, and the locals aren't going to cause trouble when they all know how much money they can make from being this close to the next Imperator. 

 

Sharl interrupted composing his letter to address the - well, the Lor term translated as supplicant, but the Terran 'ass-kisser' seemed more appropriate, who had just approached him. Being visibly Lor but not in the military made him a rare breed among Frankan's party, enough that he'd been assigned to deal with the many, many patrons who had made it past the first level of security (enough to be admitted into the big bar's main room) but who didn't have the clearance to make it up to the two upper-levels where the guests of honor were sitting. "I'm sure the Grand Nauarchus will be happy to speak to you if you make an appointment," he told the red-skinned, muscular Individuality member - the Grue looking a little out of place on this side of the bar. "But she's very busy right now, and doesn't have time to talk about carbon investments." 

 

Across the big, multi-leveled bar, it looked like Th'emme's party was equally besieged. Good! Sharl had no ill will towards the other candidate (who he had heard most of the Terran and Terran-adjacent sentients in space were supporting) - and it was truly good to know that if things did go wrong, she'd be just as busy working for the Lor as Frankan. 

 

The early votes were already trickling in, naturally enough given the size of the Lor voting population. Neither Frankan (who was posing for pictures with a very young Lor girl in a homemade Star Navy uniform and her family) nor Th'emme were going to be putting much stock in the votes of a few isolated colony worlds.

 

He looked around - and suddenly frowned at the sight of a weapon without a peacebond. 

 

"Excuse me!" 

 

 

As Kresh Melek watched, the Grand Nauarchus's Terran bodyguard Citizen - the Incursion veteran who was evidently a particularly powerful android, crossed the crowded bar floor to give her a suspicious look. Despite the vast difference in their height, he didn't look up - instead he hovered to look her in the eye, his own hidden by dark, unfamiliar sunshades. But what would be the point of wearing those inside a space station?

 

"Are you authorized to carry that thing in here? Those things are all supposed to be cleared!" 

 

 

"Knight Steward!" The Zultasian reporter was all smiles for Cavalier, his long white hair, open shirt and poofy sleeves making him look a bit like a purple Regency romance love interest. The sculpted, hairless chest and torso helped too. In Zultasian terms, he was dressed in subtle silver and gold for what was after all an important event. "Hro Talak, Zircon News Service." He handed over a holocard that showed press coverage over about a dozen nearby star systems.

 

"A pleasure to meet you as well," he added with a quick, flirtatious smile for Dol-Druth. "You must be the Dotrae Speaker - what good luck for me! Do you have time for a few questions for an independent journalist?" 

 

-

 

The sentient next to Bliss reminded her slightly of Terrans - or rather of Aquaria's sub-species. Looking like a Piscean who'd embraced his heritage a little too vigorously, the green, soft-skinned male was drinking pint after pint of something that a Terran would have described as rotten fish juice. He hadn't been much for conversation at first, but with enough of the drink in him he seemed more confident. "I don't know you," he commented, a blurry smile on his toothy face, the sort that bipeds used to dealing with Lor usually faked when they wanted to look friendly. "What's your species, warrior?" 

 

-

 

Jilinson-08 had not been happy about the transition to the "seedy establishment full of people eager to knife the Imperator, rob the Imperator, or both" but he'd executed securing Senator Th'emme's reserved seats on the upper level with efficiency - never mind the crowd of journalists watching them. "Star Knight and Dotrae present on the floor," he was saying quietly into his wrist commlink as the Senator (and soon-to-be Imperator) glad-handed, "Discussion between Citizen Tulink and Praetorian - keep an eye on them..." 

 

 

"Gentlebeings, could I have your attention, please?" The master of ceremonies was Senator Mik-El of Rubidium III, a usually dour-faced Independent Senator famous for his flinty integrity - the latter of which had only been slightly compromised by a bottle of the house's best vintage." He stood before a holographic 3-D map of the Republic, now glowing, and held in his hand a commlink tied directly to the station's own communication system. "The first of our major voting blocks is in - and as usual, it's our brave defenders in the Star Navy! By a vote of-" 

 

As he watched, tapping into the station's systems himself as he did so, Sharl calculated quickly. The millions didn't matter - nor did it really matter that of course Frankan had carried the Star Navy's vote, it would have been a shocking upset to learn otherwise, just as it would have been to find out that Th'emme had lost the vote of the non-Lor planets in the Republic. But the percentage...

 

Seventy-six percent! And with numbers enough, as they stacked up, to show that the turnout had been enormous. 

 

 

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Even short term plans got scrambled today. It had turned out that security at the docks had been upgraded even further than had orginally been planned, so Barrier was no longer necessary. Instead, her position had been changed. To be, so to say, at the center of it all. Right where the two candidates and all their entire staff was located. Where any attacks would be most dire.

 

Was that where she wanted to be? Not really. She didn’t care much for either of them, she was just doing her job. And in this big of a crowd, many of them probably paranoid, it was difficult enough to keep an overview, even from her perspective. Of course, there also was the fact that some people approached her. People asking about her origins, people looking for contact with the Praetorians, bodyguards…

 

Barrier didn’t really seem surprised by Sharl’s arrival, turning to face him without doing much else, her face fully hidden by her helmet.

 

“The Authority given to me by the Praetorians, and the citizens of CoVic allows me to carry this, yes. Not that it is a weapon in the first place. I appreciate your concern, and I will keep out my eyes for any weaponry, but do you really think anybody would carry around anything this obvious with malicious intents? “

 

“This is not the first time I have been present at an event like this. And it is my duty to see everything end peacefully. I do not care about who wins, so long as it does not end in violence. It is good to meet a capable fighter however. I hope it will not come to any combat, with anybody.”

 

She worded her last sentence in a slightly accusatory way, perhaps not quite trusting either side even if there was no outside interference.

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Dol-Druth's already large, black eyes had widened in shocked indignation at Kyle's off-hand remark about smaller ticket candidates. "For shame, Sri Steward!" the Speaker had barked, wagging a finger thicker than a sausage at the Star Knight "That kind of dilution of support is precisely why this Prae-this Imperatrix" his flat teeth clacked together as the pallid flesh around them twisted into a grimace "election is so important! The old coalitions are dead or broken by the Incursion, while the new power blocs aren't fully formed yet, with the single exception of the Star Navy. We have our reservations, but Grand Ambassador Th'emme is at least a more flexible candidate than Grand Nauarchus Frankan."

 

"We worry that this is easily forgotten, Sri Steward, but every time the old Vani Empire raised a general they birthed a war for them to fight. Our reading of Terresi history has indicated this is a common thread on your world as well. Deescalation is the key to peace, if the Unity sees the Coalition readying to strike they will simply strike first and harder. Frankan has already built an impressive fleet that any of the strange Khanate princes would be too happy to destroy. We have never defeated either of them, no matter our technical edge. The Unity forced us to a stalemate and Kinan's makeshift hordefleet took the aid of a Terrestrian and the Citadel Knights to stop."

 

"That isn't even going into the potential lapses in sapient rights, as little by little things are worn away because why should you eat your fill while the soldiers starve? Why allow any potential breach?" Dol-Druth had snorted "Dotrae remembers the last administration better than most. We'll tell you another thing-

 

-Well, hello there."

 

The appearance of the luscious news-Hound sparked a positive transformation in the towering psychic terminal. His earlier irritable, growling voice lightened and softened, and for the first time since Kyle had ever seen him, the Speaker of Dotrae smiled full and warmly. The alien bowed ponderously, antennae twitching towards Hro Talak before rising again to lean against the force field rising from the slidewalk.

 

"We would be only too happy to oblige you, good man. Whatever can we help you with? We are at your disposal." Dol-Druth's forehead creased slightly, but only for a moment "Ah, we should add that several tens of millions of Dotrae would like to express a fervent wish for carnal relations with you. We are passing along strict instructions to keep our distance unless otherwise requested."

 

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As mutilated a member of her species she was, she was clearly a Xuli'pan.  Well as clearly as an insular, borderline xenophobic species could be, given their minimal distribution into Lor space.  

 

"No.  You don't."  Her envirosuit was milspec, though old, it was maintained.  Ostensibly she was hunting for tools and other things to take back to the Voidrunner.  Jobs to send money back to the boy.  She kept little for herself.  Her stance, size, and markings on her face (scars and otherwise) indicated her standing.  "It's irrelevant.  I am not for mating."  She was standoffish, but then she wasn't a citizen of this bloated, fetid empire.  They called themselves difference, but she had always found that once you were able to lie to yourself effectively, then it was easy to sell the lie to others.

 

And the Lor's empire was nothing if not founded on lies.  And clones, which were like lies.  Even their names show that, more a designation, than anything.

 

She sighed and turned her head, canting it to the left as a sign of annoyance, by her species, as her inner eyelid blink.

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Kyle recognized that snappish tone. For a second, he didn't know whether to stand at attention or roll his eyes. "You're right," he said. "Humor's usually a good coping mechanism, but there are some situations where it's unwarranted. Like today. You don't need to remind me about the importance of the election." Especially, in no uncertain terms, the importance of the fact that the Grand Nauarchus was a significant contender. It was like having a fully-armed star cruiser park just six inches above your head. "I've done my research. On my own, so that no one can accuse me of being swayed by Mentor." Kyle bit his tongue before he could say that people might find the prospect that he was a proxy vote for Mentor a lot more reassuring. 

 

Before he could really dig into that, though, they were accosted by the Zultasian journalist. Me and Zultasian men. This is a pattern. Before he could really speak up, though, Dol-Druth was leaning in. Well... let's see how it goes. And at least he's happier now. 

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While Dol-Druth spoke with the journalist a familiar face on the upper balcony nodded to Sri Steward, raising her glass in acknowledgement before turning back to her conversation. Captain Shepherd-07 hadn't quite managed the full dress uniform that the occasion probably warranted instead opting for something that was close enough to avoid a faux pas while maintaining a pointedly clear readiness. "General feeling is that with Frankan holding the purse strings things will get better for the rank and file. Better materiel, more recruitment so we're not stretched so thin, tactics over political convenience."

 

"You disagree." Jilinson-08 asked quietly, most of his attention on scanning the crowd. Frankan's Terran-not-Terran bodyguard reminded him a little of  Ekna Veiu from Garron-9 but that was just the youth; he doubted Ekna would have started a measuring contest with a Praetorian. He didn't know Barrier particularly well but Paradigm's people were broadly speaking a disciplined bunch. He was hoping her wouldn't have to get personally involved.

 

"We've both been around enough to know the sort of people who say 'Lor first' aren't usually including clones," the redhead noted bluntly. "What's the joke? Decanting another is still cheaper than buying power armour to keep the first one alive?"

 

Jilinson's expression remained neutral as he deadpanned, "I ran the numbers on that, once. It's closer than you'd think once you factor in biotech man-hours, orientation, transportation to the front." While their respective series were known for wildly different personality profiles a propensity for gallows humour was a near constant among clones in the Star Navy.

 

"All I'm saying is my Coalition crew could do twice as much with a third the resources of the rooks they've saddled me with now. Anybody wants to read larger sociopolitical lessons into that, that's their business." Seven frowned, watching where Th'emme was speaking with her daughter. "Either way this shakes out there's going to be more than hurt feelings. You think she's ready for that?"

 

Following her gaze Jilinson almost said something glib about putting even odd on a fight between the Ambassador and three quarters of the entire navy. He'd been spending too much time around Noz. Instead he simply replied, "I do."

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"I'm Flaxian," the drunken frog-man went on to Bliss, though it was hard to tell if he was actually talking to her or simply talking at her. "Least I thought I was. I found out today I'm some kinda cosmic...cosmic thing? I dunno. You have mimic toads on wherever you're from? Mimic toads come in, they eat your eggs, then they lay their eggs right under your hole and they grow into mimics that try and bite off your genitals. 'Sawhole thing, they're a buncha bastards!" He made gestures with his four-fingered hands. "Turns out there's a whole group a'those guys in space! And I'm one of 'em! Ain't that a thing?" 

 

 

Citizen narrowed his eyes. "Oh, I see how it is. Your-" He stopped suddenly and rubbed his eyes, realizing where this conversation was about to go and how it was going to look, and made a point of settling down to ground level. "Look, I'm sorry. I know you're new here too, and that can make things seem strange." He looked around the increasingly crowded bar, the number of aliens and Lor alike growing increasingly unsettling. "...Listen, I have to go get back to work," he apologized, taking off again over the crowd's head, the display of powers without obvious technology enough to get quite a few holocams pointed his way. Floating back to his position by the Grand Nauarchus's party, he watched as she silently kept her eyes on the monitors, hands steepled into tents before her. 

 

-

 

"Yes, I was wondering if the two of you had any comment on the role of religious faith in this year's election. After all, this has been dubbed the "epoch of new gods" in the wake of the Incursion and everything that meant." Hro smiled winningly at the two of them, his teeth perfect and hair shaped in that artfully tangled style that Zultasian men spent hours sculpting just so they could demonstrate how little time they spent on personal grooming, just as a man of Zultas should. "Some people have said both candidates may see the Light by the time this campaign is over." 

 

 

Votes are coming in now from the refugee flotillas. Here Senator Th'emme's support is strong, among all those who appreciate the aid she fought for even during the height of the Incursion crisis and the grim months that came afterwards - but the Grand Nauarchus has promised to find "planetside homes for the refugee flotillas - by any means necessary. She's not carrying those fleets but she has support there, support enough to make any viewer wonder how much those people would be willing to risk for new homes. Or what they might be willing to support. 

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Despite her personal feelings about the election, Councillor Ditra Fifty-Five felt it was important to make an appearance, in part because it's what a politician was expected to do, but also because she need to start developing relationships with the representives of other sentient races if she hoped to get anything done. Fortunately as a Diplomatic agent, she was well-equipped for this sort of work, but she couldn't deny a bit of trepidation as she entered the suite; a hundred phrases in a hundred languages about entering the lair of the beast leaped to mind, and none of them quite captured the feeling of stepping into this world.

 

She'd chosen her look carefully; despite her recent upgrades to her shell, she maintained her normal configuration: light green skin, dark green curly hair, black eyes. She had to embrace her status as a Nameless Diplo if anyone was going to learn to trust her. A white jumpsuit with flared sleeves, with strategic semi-circular cutouts at her shoulders, waist and thighs, highlighted her skin color and showed that she was not ashamed of who she was or who she was elected to represent. 

 

Standing just inside the doorway, Ditra quickly scanned the crowd, which yielded a tremendous amount of information from her databanks. One grouping of sentients in particular piqued her interest: Dol-Druth, Speaker for the Dotrae, Sri Kyle Steward of the Star Knights (and a native of distant Terra!), and (of course) a Zultasian journalist named Hro Talak, registered with the Zircon News Service. It seemed as good a place as any to start; adjusting the fit of her jumpsuit, Ditra did her best to relax as she approached the group, a warm smile on her face.

 

"Greetings, gentlebeings! How do you fair this Election Day?" She bowed her head slightly. "I am Ditra Fifty-Five, Coaltion Councilor for the Second Hive. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Edited by Heritage

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The Light. 

 

Cavalier was very tempted to do something very impolitic right now. But there was enough trouble awaiting the Star Knights being here after the last encounter with Frankan. Punching a journalist in the face would just add to that. Of course, that was if he was really talking to a journalist. This could all be a very convincing cover... but there was a good chance that it wasn't a cover. 

 

Machine-gods with all-consuming hunger. Horrors from the Terminus. And now I have to worry about the idea that the bright shiny light that hollows you out and makes you a sunbeam for Cthulhu has decided to learn some lessons from Scientology.

 

He regained his composure. "It's a time of change," he said. "And in the wake of the Communion, people are trying to find some meaning in this universe, find a sense of purpose, a source of comfort. There are gods upon gods out there to provide solace - I think I've met one or two of them." He paused, going from charm to concern. "But we must remember who we put our trust in. The Communion fancied itself a god, as well, and believed that its victims were being kept in some sort of afterlife, preserved from the tide of entropy. We even heard tales of it using psyops and first strikes based on established cult presences on certain worlds. If you find comfort in the shelter offered by divinity, then use it for good. Just make sure you know what you're worshipping, and what plans it has for you in its vision of paradise."

 

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Bliss sighed, of course.  A drunk.

 

"No.  We have stink apes.  They ruin the ammonia shoals, near the natron geysers.  Though, it seems the rest are..."  She made an indelicate sound.  He was a drunk and he wanted to talk.  That was fine, he wasn't a mammal in the traditional sense, so there was a good chance they might get along.  "Well there might be more... I am not a biologist, but we don't have anything that would do that to us on our planet."  She had to leave her enviro-suit at a locker, so she was even grumpier than normal.  Wearing her normal sleeveless engineers outfit.  Loose pants, heavy boots.  She didn't look feminine to mammals, or really masculine, but then she wasn't like them biologically.  They didn't have clutches, did they?

 

She was a hero, one of many, of the Incursion.  But she avoided a lot of the things that came along with it.  Mostly.  So she was glad the drunk didn't know who she was, but then, she didn't see, or smell, any of her kind here.  So she expected to be largely free of any burden of recognition.  Even if he was distracting her a bit from what was happening.
 

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Everything was mostly quiet for now. As quiet as two election headquarters within close proximity got. There were people securing the outside at all times, and there was nothing on the radio. So things were either going as usual, or things had already turned towards the worst-possible. Barrier hoped it was the former, as she took a look around the room.

 

Not as easy as some places, thanks to the assorted species in the room, but still easy enough. Some assorted functionaries talking with what probably was a journalist of some sorts. One of said functionaries being a Star Knight meant that one was not going to go anywhere that it wasn’t supposed to. Hopefully.

 

Various other people talking, everything fairly calm. And then, in one corner, a familiar face. There had to be a reason she was here, right? It was not where Barrier had expected to see Bliss. The few things she knew about her all suggested this was the last place she wanted to be. And also the last place Barrier wanted her to be right now. So, she slowly made her way across the crowd, approaching the two with that slight change in stance that made security work so much easier. And of course, all the while keeping out an eye on the rest of the crowd.

 

“Greetings. I hope everything is going alright over here?”

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"Dotrae wholly supports the word of Sri Steward," Dol-Druth said in his deep, growling voice, fighting the urges of several billion other eyes to linger his on the Zultasian's slender figure "this time of uncertainty, like the other 328,034 major and minor failures of galactic civilization to wholly protect its citizens, is a time when many extreme ideologies come to the fore. Change is always good save when it leads to needless destruction and tyranny." Three small stones were torn free of the Station's walls, hovering in faint auras of blue above the Speaker's hand "The Army of the Eagle, Br'an-Br'ga Conglomerates, even our own Great Hive of Dotrae 300 years ago, all opportunists rightfully crushed." His black eyes flashed blue.

 

The stones burst into showers of white dust.

 

"Dotrae hopes for a peaceful and uneventful transfer of power to our chosen candidate. Dotrae has never had faith in divinities, but hopes the one elected will show fairness and impartiality to all cooperative religions. More than this we cannot agree on, so we say it not." 

 

"Will you tell us of your faith, Sri Hro? To pass the time until we reach the outer platforms?"

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"Oh, well, thank you, friend Dol-Druth," said Hro Talak, applauding lightly at the show in the Zultasian fashion. "But I'm just a friendly journalist. People like you and Councilor Ditra, you're the real story on such a momentous occasion as this. A pleasant day to you, Councilor," he said with sibilant warmth. "How fares the Hive on this fine day?" he inquired. "I suppose this must seem like so much mammalian frippery to one used to being governed by more civilized standards. But I'm sure our friend Knight Stewart could tell us some tales of what he's seen in his travels as well." The Zultasian's eyes were frank and appraising as they looked Ditra over with a reporter's cool gaze - and something else behind it that was nearly serpentine. 

 

The Core Worlds were divided, badly, between Th'emme and Frankan - it was immediately clear that Frankan wasn't sweeping the military colonies as she should but it was also clear she had more support in the interior than she should have. Maybe not a majority but a whole mass of sentients in some of the most settled parts of the galaxy were voting for security at every opportunity. 

 

"Oh, it's you," said the Flaxian, rising awkwardly to his feet as Barrier approached. "Okay, well, thanks for talking to me, female!" he said with a little wave Bliss's way. "Do you know the secret?" he asked Barrier, loudly enough that Bliss and everyone near them at the bar could hear. "About the Progenitors and their children?" His amphibious voice was wobbling with drink, but his rheumy eyes were fixed directly on Barrier. "There may be some among your people. His Seed was cast upon the Galaxy long before the Delaztri fell - long before any of us were." 

 

The worlds by the Unity were another mixed bag - the planets that actually did business with the Grue, especially those near the Individuality, were solid for Th'emme and her message of mutual security - but those a jump or two away from actual Grue? They voted for protection against the Grue in great and frightening numbers. Where was this hostility coming from, when an actual war was so far away?

 

 

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Nameless! 

 

Dol-Druth turned with surprising speed for one of his colossal bulk, the corpse-white Speaker of Dotrae swiveling his huge black eyes down on the slim, elegant green Diplo. Dol-Druth suppressed a powerful urge grind his teeth, or otherwise display the displeasure bombarding him from close to a billion minds and hearts. Only recently had the Speaker actually met one of the much-distrusted 'bugs', a slur that Dotrae themselves often encountered, and something about the impeccable manners and winning attitude of Ditra-55 had instantly put the hulking mound of ambassadorial flesh on guard. Decades of individual and hundreds of millennia of collective memory had taught Dol-Druth to expect and handle overt or covert dislike and disrespect from other beings in his line of work. Someone in large-scale politics trying to genuinely understand his point of view so they could better serve their people was as confounding as it was unsettlingly welcome. 

 

Anything that made Dol-Druth happy had to be a trick. You didn't get stuck in the Rotundas of Khor if you were a people person.

 

Even aside from a personal dislike, Dotrae as a whole was particularly repulsed by the Nameless. Dotrae despised secrets, the Nameless had waited until the perfect moment to reveal themselves and their very faces were lies. The manymind was an omnipresent fact of life for Dotrae, while the Nameless only dipped or dove into their own mental network out of desire or need. Dotrae had no families, no wholly separate identities, no true divisions. The Nameless were like a chaotic, feuding and loving mass of contradictory drives. But that dissimilarity was not the only problem. The other was the speciation. The Nameless could clamber into suits and change their entire social status and function, while Dotrae had been pressed into eternal second-best roles for its own members, none of whom were meaningfully different in power besides the elected Speaker. And they had never had the power to challenge the Republic, while the Nameless were a conquering host forestalled only by mutual agreement.

 

Envy and disdain, fear and shame, the sight of the green Diploshells and gold Tacshells stirred the emotional maelstrom of the manymind into a seething boil.

 

Regardless, now was not the time. He had been quite rude enough, ignoring a fellow representative of a relative outsider people. Throttling the intake of mental signals from the manymind was as unsettling as it was necessary to prevent an unseemly outburst, the rage of hundreds of millions locking gently away with the very power those minds had granted him.

 

Dol-Druth smiled. "Dol-Druth, Speaking for Dotrae," he bowed his towering bulk, antennae twitching "We beg your forgiveness, Ditra Fifty-Five, we were occupied by Sri Hro's preliminary questions. We intend no disrespect to one of our comrades. We hope you are well, your worlds safe and your chosen candidate appointed to Imperatrix."

 

"We had heard that other Hives would also be here to witness the passing of the wreath," Dol-Druth's cold, empty eyes turned to survey the station in its strange, pyramidal glory "if you desire it, we would deem it an honor to be introduced by your voice."

 

"If we may know, who have you chosen for your support?" He offered a massive, bloated hand "Via mindmeet, if you would rather not speak it."

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It appeared Ditra had walked in on a rather intense discussion, and so she patiently waited for the sentients to come to a natural pause in the conversation; in truth, she'd picked a less than ideal moment to introduce herself, so she didn't mind waiting, though part of her guessed there could be an element of prejudice towards her people at play...

 

The Diplo bowed and smiled at the journalist's inquiry. "The Second Hive is well, Sri Hro, thank you for asking. Like all sentients, we are eager to see the results of the election." Then she shook her head and sighed. "And as far a 'mammalian frippery' is concerned, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Nameless have a great deal of respect for the democratic process; we just had the temerity to try and control it." It was a surprisingly honest statement, and therefore rather uncomfortable to hear, especially considering the source. Unlike many of her people, Ditra never denied the legacy of the Nameless, which admittedly made her work much harder; she just felt any diplomatic relationship built on a foundation of lies would never stand the test of time.

 

Truly, idealism is my curse.

 

The lovely Diplo smiled at the Terran, held her hands out as though she was holding an invisible dress and curtsied. "An honor, Sri Steward; I hope one day to have the privilege of visiting your homeworld."

 

And then the Speaker for Dotrae addressed her. Many sentients made the mistake of assuming that as two telepathic hive minds, the two races should get along famously, whereas nothing could be farther from the truth; if anything, they were diametrically opposed both philosophically and structurally. For just a few sobering seconds, Ditra had a vision of what a war between the two races would be like, and the thought brought her a great sadness; the Dotrae clearly had the numerical advantage, but the horrors that her Nameless brothers and sisters could inflict-

 

"Not at all," the Diplomatic unit countered with a shake of her head and a wave of her hand, a warm smile expertly masking her earlier dark musings. "If anything, I should apologize to the Dotrae for the interruption; it is not often that sentients have the opportunity to discuss faith and galactic history in times of peace, and the practice should never be discouraged." 

 

In response to the Speaker's question, she looked about the room, a very humanoid gesture as she simply could extend her mental awareness, but thought it might be rude in mixed company, as several of the races present would surely detect it. "I do believe I saw...yes, Marlen Forty-Seven of the First Hive is over there," she said as she indicated a gold-skinned Tactical with a nod, his large, bulky frame barely contained by a dress robe in very conservative style. The delicate glass holding his drink looked impossibly small in his hand. "In truth, he is very earnest, but in terms of conversation...well, let us say the well quickly runs dry. Still, he's an excellent Councillor, and I'd be honored to introduce you."

 

As to the Speaker's final question, here the green-skinned beauty sighed and adjusted her jumpsuit. "My people have engaged in a dance of lies and half-truths for nearly two centuries; perhaps it's time for a little transparency." She indicated the Tac across the room with a wave of her hand. "The Primes favor the Grand Nauarchus; they tend to be rather consevative and value stability, hence her obvious appeal." And here she thoughtfully bit her lip. "I also think they hope that by publicly backing her, it might improve her and the Navy's opinion of our race overall; I think that's perhaps a bit naive, but they must vote as they believe. The Seconds, such as myself, tend to find inspiration in the words of the Ambassador, and we hope her actions follow her words. And the Tertians-" And here her lips curled in disgust. "Wish to see the galaxy burn."

 

There was acid in Ditra's mouth, and she signalled a waiter for a drink.

Edited by Heritage

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Barrier didn’t pay too much attention to the Flaxian’s initial reaction. She got it more often than not, people didn’t usually like to stand in her way. But what came after got her attention. What was he talking about? He probably had had more than enough alcohol, but it was not the way a drunkard spoke. This man either had to say something, or he was good at faking it. Or, and this was probably not too far-fetched, he was here to get her attention while somebody else did something.

 

She gave the entire room a cursory glance, making sure nothing had changed too much, before tilting her head downwards, looking directly at the Flaxian. Her attention wasn’t fixed on him, but whatever he knew – if he knew anything – would be too valuable to just ignore. She did her best to sound relaxed, and to pretend to be distracted by what he’d said, speaking softly.

 

“What are you talking about?”

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Nodding slowly, Dol-Druth retracted his hand. This fit with what had been forecast. The Second Hive was very concerned with gaining the goodwill of loneminds, to what purpose Dotrae was yet unable to explain. They hadn't either the servility of the First Hive or the open hostility of the Third underpinning their actions, but that just made them all the more suspicious. But the chance had passed and it would have been in poor taste to try to sneak a glance into the heart of a fellow diplomat. At least they had decided to back the same candidate, which meant both would have a more even playing field for negotiating their future place in the galaxy.

 

Dol-Druth smiled, his broad flat white teeth gaping in the dark red pit of his mouth below dead black eyes.

 

"We are glad to receive this information, Sri Ditra. This fellowship can only strengthen the bonds of our peoples. Perhaps we might at least spare a word for your colleague Mar-"

 

His pupils shrank to points and his antennae began to twitch rapidly as the news hit him.

 

 

Quote

 

The Core Worlds were divided, badly, between Th'emme and Frankan - it was immediately clear that Frankan wasn't sweeping the military colonies as she should but it was also clear she had more support in the interior than she should have. Maybe not a majority but a whole mass of sentients in some of the most settled parts of the galaxy were voting for security at every opportunity. 

 

The worlds by the Unity were another mixed bag - the planets that actually did business with the Grue, especially those near the Individuality, were solid for Th'emme and her message of mutual security - but those a jump or two away from actual Grue? They voted for protection against the Grue in great and frightening numbers. Where was this hostility coming from, when an actual war was so far away?

 

 

This is the worst possible turn. This is why we keep asking for a shared mental link. The loneminds will fail you right when you need them...

 

Frustratingly, most Dotrae were on the inter-worlds, due to age-old imperial assignment with the implication that Dotrae couldn't be trusted on the "real" colonies. Scattered after the Incursion War, they didn't have the numbers to sway either the outer or inner numbers, and most of their planets and systems wouldn't be important enough to garner much outside support on their own.

 

This called for an impromptu meeting.

 

"-len Forty-Seven. Sri Stewart, we would not wish to keep you, please, go on ahead, we and Sri Ditra will follow anon. Sri Hro," he bowed "we will not presume to command you, but we would not wish you to miss your chance to speak with the other movers and shakers present. The Nameless and us will be exchanging pleasantries until we all have better things to do."

 

~Ditra~  The voice in Ditra's mind was a chorus of many voices ~what contingencies do your people have if Th'emme loses? By law she must be accepted as the second in command and her voice heard on any major issue, but Grand Nauarchus Frankan has made her name getting around such inconveniences. Would your Hive be open to an alliance with Dotrae?~

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"This assumes he knows..."  And she winced a bit, as she took in everything else.  But... she stopped, and looked up at the Flaxian.  His reaction a bit at odds with is behavior.  It sounded like drunken rambling.  Sounded.  Like.  But... 

 

She had no love for the Lor, more antipathy, but she had no impetus to pick a fight here now.  Though she expected something insane happening.  She knew enough to see the winds of change, or at least the kind that carried biting debris and sand.  This was one of those events, and in her estimation, might be funny enough, like some of the side games between the gladiators.  Which were more entertaining than most of the fights.  Her head tilted, and she looked at the Floxian.  Too much flowery...  Maybe a fanatic of some cult, or something like that?

 

Bliss didn't adjust her posture, she looked dismissive towards Barrier, and the Floxian.  She had not overt urge to pick a fight with either.  But, she'd try to curtail something, as it might run the fun and games that might come up.  Maybe a staged coup if the vote didn't go the way it was assumed to go.

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Ditra was seeing the same early results stream across the bottom of her vision, so in a sense, she was not surprised when the Speaker opened a line of mental communication in the next few seconds.

 

~We have few things in place; obviously we hoped our candidate would win, but we always knew it was a longshot.~

 

The Nameless agent paused for a few moments to gather her thoughts and do a bit of fact checking and make a few discrete inquiries before continuing.

 

~While I cannot speak with complete authority for our entire hive - our race lacks the depth of immediate communication Dotrae possesses - I think it's safe to say that we are very interested in the possibilities such an alliance might offer.~

 

The green-skinned beauty allowed a shiver to pass through her body as her gaze darted this way and that.

 

~There are few things more dangerous than a people seeking security in uncertain times.~

Edited by Heritage

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