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Edges of Grue Unity Space
Lor Timemark 1312.4
"Perimeter Vessel Theta-Theta-Gamma reporting all quiet," the Grue Metamorph named Dul'ce sighed, repeating the same message he'd been sending back to command twice a cycle for the entire duration of his posting. Cycle after cycle of staring at a field of stars, empty apart from a patch of asteroids or the occasional comet, lightyears away from anything to conquer or infiltrate or even just observe, just the arbitrary border of Unity controlled space past which there was simply nothing worth claiming.
It was busy work of the highest order, that was the worst of it, Dul'ce reflected as he melted back in his chair, dejectedly allowing his form to become slightly liquid. The Meta-Mind could have easily focused on his thoughts, just like any of the Grue, if it truly wished to know what was happening on the frontier. The twice-cycle reports proved that it was simple bureaucracy, a tick in a ledger that no Grue would ever bother reviewing once it was logged.
"Pull yourself together, Navigator!" a sharp voice barked, causing Dul'ce's outer layer to go spiky in surprise. The only other Metamorph on the vessel and his commanding officer strode onto the bridge, flanked by a pair of drones. Faa'et had taken to making his form a little taller and broader at the shoulder since his promotion and Dul'ce might have sworn his chin was even a little more square, though he couldn't imagine for whom Faa'et was making the effort. "I don't tolerate loose shifting on the Double-Theta Gee!"

Dul'ce hid another sigh. The Unity didn't bother naming its vessels like lesser species and for good reason. Faa'et's attempts to give the scout ship a nickname were ridiculous, though the navigator never would have said so aloud. Just thinking that was about the captain would have been bad enough if Faa'et had ever bothered to read anyone's thoughts apart from his own. "Apologies, Captain. I was just finishi-- eh?" On the console in front of him a green dot blinked on, floating through nearby space before changing direction and heading toward them.

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"Report!" Faa'et commanded, sitting down in the captain's chair in the middle of the bridge while the drones silently moved to man the helm and weapons controls respectively, awaiting orders from the more sentient Metamorphs.


"Hold on, it's... alright, it looks like a ship, smaller than us. Maybe a single being fighter?" Dul'ce supposed, leaning over his monitor and trying to interpret what the sensor readouts were trying to tell him. "I'm getting power readings but no life signs and the spectrograph is... Here, we have a visual." The larger screen in front of them lit up with an extrapolated image of the interloping ship. Long and thin, it was shaped like a needle, barely large enough for the sublight drives at its rear and sharpened to an imposing point at the fore. The hull was featureless and silvery, with no obvious signs of weapons or sensor emplacements.


Faa'et's brow furrowed as he brought one hand up to his mouthless face and tapped at his chair's controls with the other. "Design fails to match any known species? Impossible! The Unity's databases are the envy of known space!"


"We are at the edge of known space. Sir," Dul'ce pointed out with a small shrug. Another, more insistent beep from his console drew his attention back downward. "It's heading for us and not slowing down. It's... it's gaining speed!"

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Faa'et slammed a fist into the armrest of his chair. "Trying to ram us, are they?! They're about to see how the Unity deals with lesser scum!" Pointing a finger emphatically toward the image of the needle like craft on the main monitor, he commanded the drones, "Arm all maser cannons and fire!"
The drones efficiently followed the instructions without question or hesitation, sending three bright green beams of coherent microwave radiation lancing out at the strange interloper. The silvery ship made no attempt to take evasive action, the maser blasts soaking into its unbroken hull without effect as it continued to pick up speed. "It's hull doesn't have any apparent weak points," Dul'ce reported with a hint of dread curiosity in his voice, the sensors giving him more information as the distance between the ships closed. "It must have been cast from liquid or constructed from nanotech..."
"Bah, cheating cowards!" Faa'et spat, keeping more in the moment. "Parlour tricks are no match for the seething intelligence of the Unity! Set course for the asteroid field!" The drone at the helm controls responded instantly, steering them toward the meat grinder of floating rocks, some smaller than their perimeter vessel, some much, much larger. The needle ship smoothly adjusted its course to follow just as quickly.

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  • 2 weeks later...

If Dul'ce had had actually had glands like some primitive solid sweat might have beaded upon his forehead as he regarded his console. "Still gaining! Collision in seventeen frac-cycles! Fifteen, sixteen--"


"There! Between those those two!" Faa'et shouted, pointing emphatically at a pair of asteroids hurtling through the void at cross purposes, moments from colliding. Each one easily dwarfed Theta-Theta-Gamma by a wide margin, their rocky surfaces dominating the forward facing view as they neared.


"Insanity! We'll never make it through in time!" Dul'ce sputtered, recoiling instinctively from the projected display as visions of viscous red Grue paste dripping from the tremendous rocks ran through his mind.


Faa'et clenched a fist in front of him and leaned forward in his seat. "Insanity for them to follow! Divert power from deflector grid to engines!" The second drone made the commanded adjustments despite Dul'ce's inarticulate protests, the entire bridge cast in harsh green warning lights as multiple imminent collision warnings sounded. On Dul'ce's monitor the dot representing the pursuing needle ship was practically on top of their own at the center of the screen. "Almost..." the captain muttered, eyes narrowed. "Almost..."

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The Theta-Theta-Gamma spun on its axis at the drone's instruction, flipping sideways relative to the hurtling chunks of void borne stone. The perimeter vessel emerged from the other side with so little room to spare that Dul'ce swore he could hear the rear hull scraping against the asteroids, his protean face shifting momentarily to cover his eye sockets out of sheer terror.

Their pursuer was not so fortunate. The needle ship made no attempt to deviate from its course, only accelerating as it raced toward them at ramming speed but mere moments before it could reach the Grue the asteroids collided on either side of it. The seamless metal strained for a split second before collapsing under the massive weight, crumpling like an aluminum can in an industrial waste compactor.

On board the Grue ship, the light representing the unidentified vessel winked out and Dul'ce let out a sound of relief as his eyes reemerged from his temporarily featureless face. "I... cannot believe that actually worked..."

"Hah! Never loose faith in the innate superiority of the Unity, my guileless subordinate!" Faa'et crowed, leaning back in his chair and looking immensely pleased with himself, even if his chest was rising and falling a little too quickly for someone as calm as he was pretending to be. "You see, I correctly surmised that--" Before he could continue that thought, Dul'ce's console beeped as another green dot appeared at the far edge of sensor range. Then another. And another. The warning beeps became a steady tone as the multiplying dots became a solid wave of colour sweeping over the monitor.

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Dul'ce found he could not even muster up a shocked protest as one of the drones turned the ship about to face the oncoming intruders. The main monitor was able to show them in more clarity within a few moments: more needle-like ships like the one they'd destroyed made up the edge of the tide but numbering in the tens of thousands at least. Behind them were vessels of every shape and size, some with similar architecture like freighter sized blades, some with jutting arcs that gave them an uncanny resemblance to the rib cages of many solid species, some so large that the algorithms of his sensors insisted they had to be small moons and not capital ships. Even at a low magnification they blotted out the entire star field from the bridge's display.

"...retreat," Faa'et managed quietly before repeating himself in a shout. "Retreat! All power to engines, about-face!"

The two drones on the bridge ignored him, stepping away from their consoles and moving in unison to stand unblinking in front of the display.

"What?! Get back to your stations! You cannot refuse an order from a Metamorph!" the captain cried in outrage, fingers digging into the armrests of his chair.

With a wave of despair that started in his digestion sack and spread outward to his extremities, Dul'ce realized the truth. "The Metamind has assumed direct control," he said softly, shoulders slumping. "We're already dead. The Unity may as well learn what it can."

His commanding officer looked between Dul'ce and the approaching, impossible fleet. Sirens wailed across every console on the bridge as multiple targeting locks were detected and confirmed. "Ah. Of course. All glory to the Unity." The words tasted like ashes. Slowly he rose from his seat, followed by Dul'ce as they joined the drones in front of the display. "...we showed that one in the asteroid field, though, eh?"

The other Metamorph's eyes smiled slightly as he snorted. "That was pretty good, Capt--"

Searing red light engulfed the Theta-Theta-Gamma, reducing the perimeter vessel and its occupants to steam and stray particles along with the asteroids closest to it. The alien fleet continued forward, inexorable.

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Lor Timemark 1312.7

The planet was always a wonder to approach.

It was a patchwork world, in many ways. The files on the creation of Citadel had been sealed to all but the Inner Circle, but it was said that Mentor had terraformed the planet into a preserve and sanctuary for the abandoned, exiled, and broken. Given that those he gathered to form the planet's unique populations were from various different biomes and atmospheres, the planet itself had been sealed off into a series of separate climes - here a nitrogen-rich atmosphere, here a sulfur-rich sea. All of it came together to form an impossible patchwork planet that, thanks to Mentor's massive ministrations, still managed to work.

Once the Star Knights were formed, the same patchwork principle made the planet well-suited for barracks and recreational atmospheres for all potential candidates - and the suits made it so that travel to the other sectors was not an impossibility. But there was still a sector for those boring-old bipedal humanoids who thrived on 78% nitrogen/21% oxygen/1% other, the standard 9.8 m/s^2 gravity, and plain old sulfur-free water.

And this was where Kyle Steward was checking in for his time on Citadel. Although his duties took him mainly to his sector, there were still times of the year that he was expected to return to the central planet of the Star Knights for training exercises, intelligence briefings, diplomatic tactics, and maybe a little bit of drinking. With his environmentally-sealed, atmospheric-entry-resistant duffel bag hanging close to his armor, Kyle dived down to meet the planet, ready for the usual pattern of refinement before he was turned loose on the galaxy once more.

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Down on Citadel's largest continent, there stood a massive fortress which consisted of a ring of a dozen towering spires, each the width of several city blocks of a major Terran city and climbing up to well over a mile in height. From this inner ring, another dozen smaller buildings, each no more than ten stories in height, extended outward for several miles, connecting to each of the major atmosphere sectors of the most unusual planet.

This was the central headquarters for the Order of the Star Knights, the interstellar guardians of freedom and justice. Within those walls were the vast processors which contained Mentor, the enigmatic cybernetic computer network that contained the knowledge and experiences of thousands of individuals. There were also training facilities, living quarters and various administrative and support offices for the Order.

Inside one of the courtyards within the ring of spires, several dozen new recruits for the Order were paired off to spar with quarterstaves. Gathered from far corners of the galaxy, the recruits consisted of a wide array of species, representing the diversity which Mentor valued and sought to teach the members of the Order to respect.

A'Lan Koor stood on a balcony overlooking the courtyard, observing the new recruits training. It had been many cycles ago that the Lor had been one of those new recruits, training to become a member of the Order. After completing the training and becoming a member of the Star Knights, Koor had been stationed on Earth for over a decade, where he had been a member of the Freedom League. He had then returned to space, where he had encountered his old teammate Daedalus, who had spent some time out among the stars, the two working together to help halt Star-Khan's attempts to invade the Lor Republic. Since that time Koor had continued in his service to the Order, eventually raising to join the ranks of the Inner Circle, the group of senior Star Knights that assist Mentor in administering the Order

Koor still wore his light blue armor, but now with the addition of white robes worn over the armor, marking him as a member of the Inner Circle. While he understood the importance of his duties with the Inner Circle, there was still a part of him that longed to be out there among the stars still, protecting the innocent and combating threats to order and stability.

A small chime from his armor's communication system pulled Koor's attention away from the training below him. It was almost time for a meeting of the Inner Circle. Taking one last look at the new recruits, A'Lan Koor turned away and started off towards the meeting.

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Kyle had never been one for melee weapons. Sure, he knew the value of a good sap, chair leg, or broken nectarzia bottle. But when it came to the sword, the axes, the hammers, and the other things that they devoted two pages to in a D&D manual, he didn't really have much truck. He was good friends with people who could absolutely hideous things with blades, but he'd always favored something that gave him range and power.

Which meant it was a good thing he wasn't overseeing melee training. He looked out over the cadets, all of various species. Some were humanoid - they would be easiest. Others were quadripedal, tentacular, or just plain gaseous. He would have to improvise there.

"All right, folks," he said. "This is a blaster." His armor had effectively receded to form just the gauntlet, but in that gauntlet sat his familiar gun. "It is a part of your armor, just like nearly everything else. Some of you may favor the blade. It's a traditional feature of the armor, and keeping the circuit of energy within the greater matrix means you won't be sacrificing power for range. But, y'know, sometimes sacrifices do have to be made, and you don't want to be trading blows face-to-face with some guy who's got garlic breath. So, I'm sure at least 80% of you have seen some sort of ranged weapon in your life. Try to call it to focus - and if you can't, focus on the one in my hand."

Across the crowd, he saw a wave of blasters crop up in gauntlets, on chassises, and on the armored backs of the quadripeds and insects. Some didn't seem to be familiar with the gun - they may have been from less advanced planets or cultures - but he did see longbows, crossbows, and... was that an atlatl? Then again, presentation didn't matter much - based on armor strength, they'd have the same potency and rate of fire.

"All right, take position. Aim. And... fire."

The air was filled with the sound of blaster fire and the smell of sizzling targets. Most of the shots actually hit their mark. This might go well after all.

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A'Lan Koor had joined the other eleven members of the Inner Circle in the large room in which the held their meetings. The room was oval in shape, covered in smooth, polished white marble. It contained a circular table, open in the center, similarly white and polished in color, as were the high backed chairs in which the white robed members of the inner circle sat.

As the meeting began, the white walls, table and chairs, all shifted to black, across which, images of a sectors of the galaxy were displayed, turning the entire room into one large holographic map of areas in which Star Knights were operating. The images could zoom in, or out, as necessary, to show more detail of particular areas, or provide a wider view of the entire regions of space.

Mentor was also present at the meeting, or at least part of the powerful AI's consciousness was, projected above the open center of the table, and seemingly looking at each of the members of the Inner Circle at once.

Currently the holographic images projected about the room were displaying the sector of space that covered the Grue Unity, the Lor Republic and the Stellar Khanate. "A number of reports have come in recently regarding attacks of a number of systems along one of the outer boarders of the Unity." One of the other Inner Circle members was reporting, as more than a dozen systems along the spinward boarder of the Unity illuminated. "Currently we have not been able to identify those responsible for the attacks."

"The Stellar Khanate has been unusually quiet of late." Spoke up another member of the Inner Circle. "Perhaps they are responsible for this aggression against the Unity?"

"The Khanate would not be consistent with the reports we have thus far." Replied the first. "This appears to be some new threat."

"Why are we so quick to assume that whomever is attacking the Unity is a threat? The Unity has clearly been the aggressor on numerous occasions, perhaps this is just retaliation for prior acts by the Unity?" Asked a third member of the Inner Circle.

"Despite the Unity's prior aggression and even if there is justification for these attacks, the fact of the matter is that any group that can so quickly take systems from the Unity is not to be dismissed without learning more." Koor interjected.

Several of the Inner Circle were quiet a moment, before nodding in agreement. Then Mentor spoke up, drawing all eyes to the hologram in the middle of the room. "Your counsel is wise A'lan Koor. As it turns out, I have reviewed the scant details in the reports received thus far as well as directing a few nearby Star Knights to the area to try to learn more. Based on the information I have received, I believe I have ascertained the nature of the threat responsible for these attacks, one of which I had previous knowledge."

There was a small murmur of conversation among the Inner Council until Koor spoke up once more. "What can you tell us of this threat Mentor? What should our reaction bet?"

"Until these recent events, I had regarded the information I had previously gathered as little more than legend." Mentor began. "But given the new information I have obtained, I can confidently state that the incursion into Grue space is the work of -.." Mentor's holographic image suddenly seemed to freeze as his words trailed off. Then suddenly it began to cut in and out, distorting as it did so. "Grrrzzt zzzttttrr lzzziiiik." Mentor's voice crackled, sounding as distorted as the holographic image. Then suddenly, the image was gone, and there was only silence as the twelve members of the Inner Circle looked on in shock.

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Kyle was in the midst of flight exercises ("Okay, points for the dismount... points off for almost colliding with the building in the first place") when he felt that something wasn't right. It was hard to describe, at first - it was like always hearing a low hum in the background noise of the world, only to start to notice it again when you finally stopped hearing it. A quick glimpse around indicated he wasn't the only one - some of the more canny recruits were picking up on it, and the veteran Knights below were tapping their helmets like they were pounding a staticy TV, trying to get it to work. That was when he started to realize what was happening.

"Hey, Mentor?"

Silence. Absolute silence. That was not a comforting thing. He turned to the cadets. "Practice low g rotational maneuvers until I get back," he said, then zoomed back to the ground. It became clear he wasn't the only one reaching the conclusion - murmurs were going up amongst even the veteran Knights, and the tone wasn't anything reassuring.

"You ever hear anything like this?"

Larenje had somehow managed to sneak up on Kyle - which was quite a thing for an 8-foot-tall woman with the physiology of a lowlands gorilla and vermillion armor that managed to compliment her orange skin. She'd been Kyle's weapons instructor during his cadet training, and they'd managed to develop something approaching a friendship - when she wasn't screaming down his throat for missing the target. "Well, 'hear' is the wrong word, but you know what I mean..."

"No, I get it." He ran his fingers along the side of his helmet, as if trying to adjust a dial - a vain gesture, but something that stood a thin chance of reassuring him. "Mentor never goes offline, does he?"

"There's the reoptimization every two cycles or so, but even then, he usually leaves some sort of script to say who to talk to if a sun goes supernova. He's never this quiet."

"You think it's...?"

"Can't be an attack. If they were straight for the mainframe, we would've seen it. They'd have to have found a back channel..." Larenje frowned. "No. You can't compromise armor while one of us is wearing it and still able to exert will. And the armor would come right back here if --"

"Not always."

Larenje looked at him.

"There was me, remember?"

"Yeah, but those were special circumstances. Mentor gave the -- " Larenje fell quiet like falling off a cliff, as the possibility caught up with her. "They'd have to compromise the Knight, then the armor, all before Mentor could do anything. Who in the abyss could do something like that?"

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Back in the Inner Circle meeting room, the interior had returned to its normal polished white appearance, the elder Star Knights present busy trying to figure out how exactly someone, or something, had managed to force Mentor offline. Holographic screens appeared in front of several of the Inner Circle members, as they reviewed various data, looking for anything unusual or out of the ordinary.

"There have been no alarms tripped or other sign of intruders in the chambers holding Mentor's processors." Stated one of the Inner Circle.

"I am still seeing activity within Mentor's systems." Added another. "But it is far lower than normal, almost as if Mentor is rebooting and trying to run diagnostics."

"But how could anyone have been able to upload any sort of virus or other offensive program into Mentor? That would require compromising a Star Knight and their armor and using the link with Mentor."

A'Lan Koor was in thought a moment, when he spoke up. "Mentor stated he had dispatched Star Knights to the area near where the attacks where taking place in the Unity. Perhaps whomever is behind those attacks also wanted to cripple Mentor and hope to disorganize and disrupt any response from the Order?"

A brief silence fell over the room as the other members of the Inner Circle considered the statement. Then, one of the spoke up. "We need to confirm the location of all those Knights, see if any do not report in."

"In the meantime, shall we take action?" Asked another member. "Mentor clearly seemed to view whatever is behind the attacks on the Unity as a potential threat. Shall we mobilize some Star Knights and dispatch them to the area?"

"We may have another problem to deal with." Interjected a member focusing in on something on the holographic screen in front of him. With a touch of a "button" the room went black once more a map of a series of systems became the focus in the center of the room. "Energy signatures similar to those detected in the Unity systems that have been attacked are approaching Lor-Van."

Again a brief silence feel over the Inner Circle, as they looked at the image of the capital of the Lor Republic before them, red lines indicating the energy readings heading straight toward the system.

"How did they penetrate so deeply into the Republic?"

"However they did so, they are there, and approaching the Republic's capital." Koor stated. "The time to act has come."

"Agreed." Stated the senior most member of the Inner Circle. "Sound the general alarm, mobilize all available Knights on Citadel. They will seek to intercept the force approaching Lor-Van. Begin a recall of deployed Knights so we can prepare to move against this enemy in the Unity. Until Mentor is back online, it is up to us to guide the Order!"

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Just as soon as it seemed the hubbub died down, the general alarm stirred it back to life. It was a high-pitched wail underlaid by a thick bass vibration, meant to ensure that even those with unconventional sensory patterns would pick it up. Cavalier turned to the cadets. "Head for your quarters," he said. "We'll be back shortly." He clicked his helmet into place, waiting for orders to radio through. Instead, the order scrolled over the HUD in his helmet - the backup auxiliary network. Mentor was still down, and it looked like the other Knights were improvising to get the word out.






This wouldn't be his first siege. His first time wearing the armor saw him facing down a Khanate force making planetfall. But plunging head first into a siege with a decided lack of intelligence didn't make him happy. Still... the only thing worse than that was leaving the heart of the Lor Republic to whatever was raining down on it.

In a few seconds, Cavalier was piercing Citadel's atmosphere. He took off for Lor-Van at top speed, a thousand points of light surrounding him at all angles.

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Lor Timemark 1312.8


In the southern hemisphere of Lor-Van, it's springtime. On the island continent of Olhtav, the largest technological feature in a world full of advanced technology is the Vox - a massive communications relay system, big enough to hold an entire Terran city, that uses mechapsionics to tap into the depths of nth space, allowing for nearly instant communications across the Lor Republic and even beyond. The work of centuries by farsighted Lor monarchs, and then senators, of years past, it's a wonder of the galaxy. Towering several miles in height, it's a massive dome of super-compressed psi-crystal mounted on a tower of near-neutronium that looms above the already-massive spires of Olhtav City at its feet like a skyscraper above a trailer park. From the Vox, you can see for thousands of miles all around - even if many people need multi-ox treatments or even breathing masks to work in the upper-most levels.

Of course, the fact of the matter is, most people get used to where they work pretty fast.

"I'm telling you, you can't listen to anything that comes out of the Unity, man." Leaning back against forcefields that held her back from a drop of four and a half terrestrial miles, Vorka-13 gave her shiftmate a sympathetic look. "What is it with you and those cranks on the 'Net, anyway? First it's the Terran Origin stuff, then it's 'Oooh, there's an invincible army eating up the Grue'...c'mon, you don't want to be 'that guy' around the office, right?"

Milo, her hirsute shiftmate, gave her an impassive look. "If my enlightened understanding of the world deprives me of promotions, then such is my fate. Besides, you should pay more attention to Terra," he added diplomatically. "Don't you know that's where our visitor's from?"

"I...hey, wait a minute!" Vorka-13 unpolarized the visor of her helmet to look Milo in his slitted red eyes. "How does that work? Terra's a disunited backwater that's barely mastered fission, much less hardware - what are they doing with a sentient AI?" The reminder of today's big news got them both moving back on-shift now that their break was ending. As they made their way back to their stations around Central Receiving, Milo told Vorka-13 the story of how, millennia earlier, a city from an outlying colony world had been digitized by the Curator, its inhabitants transformed into living computer programs subject to his will, only to be rescued by one of the many genetic mutants that made Terra home.

They had to stop talking once they were back in Central Receiving, both of them with their helmets on like good Lor soldiers, but they carried on by suit-message. +That is puckey,+ replied Vorka, even though come to think of it she'd read the file too. +So he's not really Terran at all?+

+No more than I'm Lor-Vanian,+ agreed Milo. +I saw Scientist Rex speaking to the AI's employer, though, and she looked Terran enough. Pretty too. I wonder if she'd like to visit this place...+

+Just make sure you don't get into an Honor Duel the way you did over your last sweetheart,+ replied Vorka with the glyph for witty banter behind her words - a moment before the countdown began! A long-distance transmission was on its way, one complex enough that it was being absorbed into the system as a contigous unit. From the outside, Vorka mused, it would have looked a bit like an ultra- long distance teleportation.

"3...2...1...INCOMING FILE!"

Despite the urgency of the countdown, there were no exploding lights or even a flicker when the file from Earth arrived - instead the holographic projectors in the room lit up as if receiving a telepresence message, albeit with an unusually bright glow, and suddenly there was a thirteenth humanoid in the big steel-bright room - a slim, dark-haired Lor (who looked barely as old as Vorka-13's clone-daughter) who rose from a crouching position to take in the room before taking off his black eye protection to pronounce a single syllable in English.


When he'd had a moment to collect himself, his heart pounding in his chest, Sharl Tulink approached Scientist Rex, the slender, almost serpentine humanoid who'd been on the other side of most of the transmissions Miss A had carried out through Daedalus' computer network.

"Greetings. I am Sharl Tulink of Tronik."

"Greetings, Citizen Tulink," agreed Rex, bowing his long, narrow head in a gesture of welcome. "You have arrived safely on Lor-Van."

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In theory, the High Senate could have been carried out in perfect silence. Of the five dozen senator-primes selected to make up that august body, convened in times when the full senate representing all of the Republic's myriad worlds was considered too cumbersome, nearly all were accomplished mentats, descended from strong telepathic bloodlines. Those few who had somehow risen to their station despite lacking that advantage had translators among their aides or cyberware to make up for the deficiency. There was another trait which the senator-primes shared unanimously, however: they all enjoyed the sound of their own voices.
And so, rather than silence, the massive chamber hosted a cacophony of shouting and gavels pounding against durasteel.
"We fail to see why this session was even called!" a lean man with heavy lines on his pale face and a triangular goatee to contrast with his shaved head shouted, drawing up the draping fabric of his robes in one hand and gesturing dismissively with the other. "If some motley pirate vessels are winning skirmishes with the Grue, what care have we? Give them a commission!"
"Your failure to comprehend is nothing new, Enymor," came the scathing rebuttal from a tall blonde, dark skinned senator across the chamber. She carried herself with imperious poise and the iron in her voice caused a few of the other shouting matches to die down prematurely as she maneuvered her hovering platform forward with a thought.
"The Speaker recognizes Senator-Prime Th'emme to the floor," the beleaguered old bureaucrat seated at the head of the chamber called belatedly, distracted running one hand through his thinning grey hair and almost forgetting to punctuate the proclamation with his gavel.

Th'emme made no sign that the acknowledgement meant anything to her one way or the other as she continued. "These are not 'skirmishes' no matter what you might like to believe! Report after report, we have reliable intelligence making clear the devastation of the Grue fleet and the sterilization of multiple worlds! In one case the planet itself appears to have been destroyed! These are no more pirates than the Republic itself is a backyard social!"

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"So you fought the Curator, forced him to make a hard reboot, and then you...died?" Vorka-13 had heard some crazy stories before, but this had to take the cake - for all that both Milo and Scientist Rex were nodding along with the tale! What the hell was going on in Deep Space these days?

"I did," replied Sharl, a little unused at having to tell this story to people again. "Or rather, that version of me did. Miss Americana, my teacher, rebooted my program from backup files. So it's more that a copy of me died than..." He glanced out the window of the hovercar and suddenly gasped, eyes lighting up with joy. They'd broken through the cloud cover and reached the skies above Olhtav City. Below them, massive arcologies towered up from the surface below, bustling with people living safe, orderly lives.

"This is...this is right," to his embarrassment, Sharl realized he was crying - right in front of the Lor! He laid his hand against the glassteel of the car and said aloud, "And when Lor-Van grew too small to hold us, we took to the stars, our destination..." He shifted nervously, conscious of all the adults looking at him. "For all of our history, my people believed that we had cast ourselves out of the galaxy, maybe even the universe; that we had lost the Republic, the stars, and condemned ourselves to isolation. But if this works," this being the reason why he had come across thousands of light-years to the heart of Lor space, "if what you said on the Vox is true - all that can end in just a few more years. All the sons and daughters of both Troniks will have our lives again."

"...both Troniks?" asked Vorka, leading Sharl to explain,

"Well, on Terra, there once was a vicious, violent political group called the National Socialists - corporatist nationalists who practiced genocide against their enemies. And in a dimension a few vibrational turns from this one..."

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"Ah, and you took those refugees into your Tronik?" asked Milo. He had read of such possible incursions and relations with extradimensional cultures, but never had he imagined being involved himself, let alone in a situation with a digitized city.

Vorka shot her friend a dirty look, silencing him. She inclined her head, indicating how upset the citizen of Tronik was. While it was not entirely customary for clone-children to be so heavily involved with their parents, she nonetheless felt empathy towards this young man the same age as her daughter, who'd clearly been through so much sorrow and hardship in his life on Tronik and on that backwards Terra.

Scientist Rex merely nodded sympathetically. "Such a group sounds terrible indeed," said Rex, inclining his head. "But please, continue. I apologise for my colleague's outburst. A second Tronik?"


Sharl told them the story of how he and his friends had traveled to another dimension, rescued a reflection of his own Tronik, and restored it to Terra, just before the Curator's invasion had nearly destroyed both cities. "And the world besides. He nearly had a whole new planet to put in his collection." Of course, these were all stories Sharl himself only knew second-hand - a thought that was only a little unsettling when he dwelled on it. "In another few years, when the research has been done here, we'll be ready to let both Troniks know exactly what's happened, and that we can save them both. And then we'll come back from our dimension to yours, and that will be...." He shook his head, and admitted, "More than I'd have ever thought possible. When I found out Terra's technology, before I learned about the Republic's survival and all the advancements of the last thousand years, I thought a hardware failure would kill us all before I was old enough to fly a hovercar." He grinned lopsidedly, "Of course, now I can fly on my own inside the system, so that's not so bad."

He answered a few more questions about Terra, mostly from the fascinated Milo, but didn't have many answers to give; even after years there he didn't really understand Terran culture. He did confirm that the champions of Terra really were as mighty as the latter had heard - something Vorka and Rex seemed to take with a faint air of skepticism. But he didn't care - because as the hovercar swooped around a rounded 'domed' arcology in which a green and gold forest was visible, their destination came into sight: the Lor Ministry of Science. The home of the people who were going to save Tronik...

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Enymor drew himself up in barely contained outrage at Th'emme's rebuke. "You may think us beneath you, oh esteemed representative of a most noble house," he spat back venomously, "but do not think us dullards! We have read those reports and they are blatant fiction of most absurd sort! The Grue Unity, decimated or worse within the span of mere decacycles? Planets reduced to rubble by some mysterious force none can name?" He waved the fingers of his free hand in a parody of a fortuneteller's theatrics. "Idiocy! Nothing more than politically motivated exaggerations and falsehoods!"

"One wonders what response you would have us make," another voice cut in, a barrel chested man with a cleft chin and an almost untenable number of medals and honors pinned to one side of his robes. "Dame Diena Th'emme is a first name signed to any motion to cut military funding or pull focus from the real, ongoing threat of the Khanate." Tugging on his belt with both hands, the retired General Cie's voice drawled in a booming baritone. "If you had your way, we wouldn't have a single cruiser or commando unit to react to these supposed attacks, one way or another."

The look Th'emme gave them both was cold enough to shatter the bones of less experienced debaters. "Senator-Prime Th'emme, General," she corrected calmly, refusing to let the sarcastic references to her family name ruffle her. "Some of us prefer to use our relevant titles within this chamber. Where reassigning education funds to the construction of additional cloning facilities is concerned, our position remains unchanged." Folding her arms, she continued without allowing a pause for interruption, "Objecting to renewed and increased hostilities against the Khanate - which has not attacked our borders for several trinecycles, I remind this august body - is not the same as suggesting we leave the worlds under our care undefended against a clear and present danger!"

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The hovercar lowered itself down and into an access port in the dome of the arcology, descending down and down through the forest canopy. As they approached the ground, the dome closed once more behind them. Several Lor and associated species walked through the trees, some in labcoats, some using delicate-looking instrumentation on the trees.

The grass below their path of ascent folded away, revealing an access tunnel. It came out in a hangar 'parking lot', with several other hovercars and a couple of larger transport vehicles. Obviously, they didn't want people parking in their forest!

A group of Lor waited patiently in this lot, mostly more scientists, but one at the fore seemed more important. He was a tall Lor male of deep purple skin, head shaven and etched with ritualised tattoos. He took a step towards the contingent as they exited the vehicle. "Greetings, Citizen Tulink of Tronik," he boomed in a deep, solemn voice. "Welcome to the Lor Ministry of Science." He clasped his hands in front of him and bowed.

"I am Quesitor Arkhid. I hope your journey has been safe, and I assure you some of our best scientists are working on this endeavour." He spread his arms wide. "A tour, perhaps, of our facilities, and then onto business?"


Deep down, the part of Sharl that still saw the world through the eyes of a Tronikian teenager was growing a little uneasy at all the friendliness. It wasn't that he was unfamiliar with it - he'd learned to smile, to laugh, to shake hands, just as Terrans did. After all, it was just a part of their culture. But to see that openness in these people, to see the diversity of a real Lor city, so much like Freedom City but so much more...but then the Lor Republic they had left a thousand years earlier had been _very_ different than the Lor of today. "Certainly," he said with a big smile, bowing his head in acknowledgement of the Quesitor's offer. "We may be a little behind the Republic in some things, but we have a very personal mastery of computer science, hah-hah-hah!" That got him a polite chuckle, anyway, and he decided to listen rather than talk for a while.

What he was really interested in was energy conversion technology, of course, a descendant of the technology that Tronikians used to produce food and other necessities directly from solar radiation - but he had a feeling that would come at the end. So he followed along through tours of FTL projects and wormhole construction, all the while wishing he could have brought Miss A or another Terran scientist along. They were masters of understanding advanced technology despite technological barbarism, and confronted with all the wonders of Lor civilization at the height of its technological mastery...well. Maybe this is how Young Freedom felt when I talked about how primitive Terran culture is!

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The Quesitor led Sharl through many projects, effusively elaborating on the great work these cutting edge scientists were performing. A couple of subservient scientists tagged along, occasionally chiming in, with the soldiers trying to unobtrusively remain in the background.

In a great atrium, scientists worked on a method of advanced faster-than-light travel, based on some confusingly elaborate hypothesis involving quantum entanglement and light acting neither as a particle nor a wave. The floor of the room was, unlike the clean surfaces of the Lor city, dirty and strewn with wreckage around generators and engines and holoterminals over which scientists pored through astronomical data and star charts.

"He swears he got data back, with what he could salvage indicating unusual activity in that region of space." "Nonsense, the probe was only meant to measure how quickly it reached the test destination, not scan for objects. Besides, the data was a corrupted mess!"

Another room oddly resembled an art gallery, comprised of plain white walls with different rectangular sheets hung at regular intervals, with small holoterminals beside each one. But the true nature of the room, that of testing advanced composites, was revealed when some of the staff occasionally produced lasers and shot them at the surfaces, pausing to check readings on the terminals. As the delegation passed one canvas of a strange shimmering gold-blue, undulating between two colours while seeming to be both simultaneously, two more Lor in lab suits could be heard muttering gossip to each other.

"One of the actinide 99 miners came back from the outer rims, heard that some of the deep space races are moving. Something about refugees?" "Hah," scoffed his friend. "Unlikely. Those planets rejected the federation umpteen times, why would they come running now? We all know those miners' personal habits, he probably dreamed it when he was blotto."

The delegate scientists gave the composite workers harsh looks and they fell silent until Sharl had been led from the room, and to another workshop, and to another. The Quesitor seemed set on ensuring Sharl was impressed at the level of cutting edge science the Ministry was performing, yet curiously did not go near any labs testing energy conversion.

Soon, they reached a small and understated room, where on an unspoken agreement, the delegation dispersed, leaving the soldiers outside the door as the Quesitor led Sharl inside. Evidently, this was his office. In contrast to his effusive, booming mannerisms, it seemed humble, consisting of only a plain desk with a holoterminal, and a number of chairs. A dispensary stood in the wall, no doubt linked to food systems and those mechanisms for delivering any physical messaging. Even in Lor space, the paperless office was not quite realised. The Quesitor gestured to the chairs as he sat behind his desk.

"Now, I hope our facilities have satisfied you as to the quality of our work. Do you have any questions, or would you like to dive right into discussing the project which, no doubt, interests you a lot more than the FTL labs?" The Quesitor leaned back and smiled, arms folded.

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Iana Th'emme sat on the steps of the Senate building with her hands behind her head and resisted the urge to check the time in her chronoring for the umpteenth time. Growing up as the daughter of a senator had meant many an afternoon spent waiting for one meeting or another to end but in her teenaged years she'd had more opportunity to sit in on those meeting or remain somehow involved as her mother encouraged her growth and education. Lately, however, her mother had been unusually tight lipped, beyond the usual needs of decorum and privileged information. Iana was sure there was a good reason but it didn't stop her from feeling as though she were being treated like a child, nor from the nagging idea that something might actually have the unstoppable, fearless Senator worried.

With a sigh, the Lor girl jumped to her feet from her reclined position with a grace that came from the physical training she'd begun being kidnapped by the notorious pirate Krak-En Vas some years before. She'd even begun learning the use of firearms and combat mentat techniques from a friend in the military, despite her mother's inevitable disapproval if she ever found out, looking for any chance to dull the acute boredom that pervaded her day to day life apart from the occasional adventure borne of crisis. As she wandered down the steps, a pair of bodyguards in mirrored visors following at a distance, Iana couldn't help but wish something, anything would happen to liven up the day.

Lost in her thoughts she almost collided with a panicked fellow as he sprinted from the nearby Ministry of Science building toward the Senate. The frail looking scientists arms were full of the big, fortified datapads the Ministry used to record scientific data in its raw, most detailed form, protected from any accidents by thick casing. He must be in a hurry if he didn't take time to transfer all of that onto something more portable, Iana reflected as the scientist raced by without so much as a mumbled apology.

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The polite chirp at her quarters' door woke Captain Shepherd-07 from the light sleep of the career military woman but even if it hadn't the insistent pounding on the same door that immediately followed certainly would have. Swearing under her breath, the red-headed clone gruffly demanded, "Lights," as she swung herself off of her cot and answered the continued knocking. Orbital defense hadn't been the most illustrious posting of her tumultuous career but she'd assumed she'd at least be able to get a solid four sub-cycles of sleep now and then. "What."

The ensign on the other side of the sliding door still had one fist raised to continue knocking and was sweating buckets from the hairline of his widow's peak. "S-sir! There's a- there's- it's--" He shoved a piece of datapaper toward her and gulped audibly to get his stammering under control. "A hostile fleet, sir! Headed for Lor-Van!"

Seven had to blink a few times at the datapaper as she scrolled through the make sure she was reading the staggering numbers correctly. "How far out are they?" she barked with enough volume to focus the distraught ensign while she retrieved a clean uniform and dressed efficiently.

"No, sir, that's just the thing! They're already here!" the junior officer explained, wringing his hands. "We only just picked them up as they entered the system!"

Seven looked at him for a slit moment as if he'd just grown a second head before flying into action. "Captain to all points, red alert. Combat stations. This is not a drill," she ordered into a comlink, her words echoing throughout the ship as she sprinted for the bridge.

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There'd been a diversion right at the beginning when both the Quesitor and Sharl's guards had left, but now the Citizen of Tronik was in fine form. The plan wasn't particularly complicated, much to Sharl's relief, and his audience was watching him with fascination - he couldn't tell if it was because of the plan he'd carefully assembled over the last several months...or because so many of them had never seen a sentient AI. Evidently it wasn't something widely embraced by the Lor of this time. 


"So as you can see," Sharl was saying, "it's a simple matter of taking terraforming technology to its logical conclusions. If a full planetary reclamation construct can be programmed with the patterns of both Tronik Prime and Tronik-E, then it'll just be a matter of diverting a few stony-iron asteroids to provide the necessary rare materials. Given a terrestrial planet like Kepler-186f," he went on, pointing to the chart of habitable systems near the edge of Lor space, "then both Troniks can be integrated into a planetary ecosphere within the space of a Terran decade. Perhaps less. It'll be a significant resource diversion, true," he conceded, "but-" Suddenly his presentation was interrupted; the scientists in the room rising to their feet in surprise as his military escort reappeared.


"Citizen Tulink, we need to get you back to the Vox ASAP," Vorka-13 was saying, her voice having become cool and professional despite the urgency in the room. "Please come with us and we'll get you back to the 'car." As they were talking, the Quesitor reappeared on a nearby monitor - his face harried and eyes wide, but voice calm as he announced something called an "Potential Omega Alert" to the assembled scientists, all of whom began heading out the door with alacrity, without so much as a backwards look at Sharl. 


"Wait, what's going on?" Sharl demanded, eyes on the Quesitor. "What's an...is the Terminus coming _here_?" he demanded, like many people who'd lived on Terra associating Omega with one thing, and one thing alone. 


"No," said Vorka, and to Sharl's surprise she depolarized her helmet to show her face. "An alien fleet has just penetrated the outer defenses of the system. It's standard protocol to evacuate key personnel to the orbital colonies for hyperspace jump if that's necessary." She looked at him and went on, "We're going to take you to the Vox and evacuate you from there if necessary. We're under strict orders to keep you safe."

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Seven charged onto the bridge at the physical centre of her ship, ignoring the startled salutes of the crewmen around her and snapping, "I want a tactical holo last cycle, people!" The young woman to her immediate left hurriedly tapped on her console, summoning a holographic representation of Lor-Van's solar system to rise from an emitter the size of a dinner table. More than a few gasps and murmurs spread through the bridge crew as the tactical map gave a visual representation to the staggering numbers Seven had seen in her report. Their systems couldn't find any match of the vessels in their databases but they were plentiful enough to appear more like a solid wave than individual vessels. There was no way such a force should have been able to cross into Republic space unnoticed let alone come within spitting distance of the homeworld.

"...well kark me sideways and call me an Irreran's auntie," the captain opined judiciously, planting her hands on her hips. The sound of rapid, strained breathing called her attention back to the tactical aide, who was struggling to control an attack of hyperventilation. Orbit-side duty was supposed to be a safe posting and most of her crew were either just-graduated cadets or had influential relatives. It wasn't much to work with.

"Listen up!" Seven shouted, tapping on his comlink to broadcast shipwide again. "Most of you haven't served with me for long but you've probably heard some things. Taught a handful of lower primates to use tools so they could help me save a half dozen senators from Illthi pirates. Made admiral in my first year after decanting and got busted back down to staff sergeant in the same cycle. Punched the Curator is his ugly face. Some of it's even true. And I made it through all that because I've got something none of those glitches had going for them." Meeting the eyes of her bridge crew, she snarled, "I'm Lor Fleet and we don't go down! So pull on your grown-up boots, people! We've got a planet to protect!"

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The hurried scientist had only made it inside the Senate building when Iana's bodyguards quickly closed the gap between themselves and the young woman, one of them taking her firmly by the arm while the other jogged ahead a few paces. "Ma'am, you need to come with us now," the former insisted in a flat, emotionless tone that betrayed the focus it was taking for him to remain perfectly calm.

"Eh? Unhand me, what are you talking about?" As Iana made an attempt to shake off the larger Lor, wailing alarms began to sound from the various government building all around them, discordant and mismatched but all insistent. Figured began to pour forth onto the street, some running, others wheeling about in confusion and mounting concern.

"We have a potential Omega Alert. Our orders are to evacuate you to your family's orbital estate." He was almost dragging her along now, picking up his pace as they headed toward the towering landmark of the Vox. "You'll be safe there." The Senator had hired only the best for her protection but it was clear that lying had not been high on the list of necessary skills for the position.

"I'm not going anywhere without my mother!" the honey blonde haired princess protested, gripping her small satchel in one hand to stop it from bouncing about. The raised walkways were quickly filling with crowds of people pushing against each other as they forced their way toward personal vehicles or shuttle landings.

The second bodyguard stepped in the path of a low flying hovercar leaving the Ministry of Science building, raising a badge in one hand. His telepathic shout could be 'heard' by anyone receptive for a hundred meters. --Citizen, on the authority of the Senate, I am commandeering this vehicle. Please come to a halt.--

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