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"I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal."

-Curtis LeMay


Altinak C 


The Grand Shipyards are among the most impressive works of Lor civilization - a Dyson shell of solar panels and high-end lasers, surrounding the blue-white star and providing the fantastic energies that drive some of the largest energy-matter converters in Lor space, using material from the star's corona and what remains of its systems to build starships. The converters, massive skeletal spheres that dot the space around the star, each as large as a planet's moon, can't run independently; the Shipyards still need to import certain exotic minerals to build certain instruments of high technology like artificial gravity units and jump drives. But for the most part, the vast shape of the Shipyards, enclosing an entire star in a spidersweb of humanoid-built technology, can build a fleet all on its own. 


As Corona's vessel came out of warp in the Altinak system, it was clear a fleet was indeed being built here. Row after row of brand-new starships were in orbit of the system's few small rocky planets, a fleet-in-being as large as anything she'd seen during the war, not to mention the new ships still under construction near the converter complex closer to the vast blue bulk of the star. An entire prewar sector fleet looked to be waiting here - with more under construction visible near the glowing, fusion-hot matter converters. 


But Corona wasn't there for the view - she was there to meet the commander of the Star Navy; and perhaps the most powerful individual in the Lor Republic. 


"Greetings, Corona," came the military-sounding voice on the comm channel. Grand Nauarchus Frankan is waiting for you in Central Command."

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Aya K'Zan was feeling relaxed and safe, despite the fact that she had just traveled across half the Republic on her own. If wasn't that she had her armor, customized and battle-tested, in storage; it wasn't that she personally was the equal of most battlefleets; it wasn't that the Lor Navy was still diligently patrolling the star lanes. It was that, for the first time in a standard year, she was flying on a Lor vessel.


The Kavaca was a fine ship, the cutting edge of Deltrazi engineering married to the finest Lor control mechanisms, but it wasn't home. Lor starship design had a certain ethos, a certain aesthetic to it, and while there wasn't anything particular thing wrong with the Kavaca, it still wasn't Lor. This shuttle, tiny and vulnerable as it was, was Lor from the keel to the bolts and Aya felt safer and more relaxed while flying it. She could reach out and find the controls she wanted just under her hands, where training and instinct said they would be; that wasn't something she could say when flying the Praetorian shuttles.


She piloted the shuttle through the defense web smoothly, answering demands with the correct countersigns and staying neatly to the assigned paths. When the voice came over her comms unit, Aya found her skin prickling and her mouth going dry all over again. She knew she was here to meet the highest authority in the Lor navy, she had known for weeks, but it was one thing to set out on a trip and quite another to arrive. She took a deep breath before keying her response. "I'm approaching the central spire. I'll be up to speak to the Grand Nauarchus shortly."

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Despite the vast bulk of the Shipyards, Aya found them swarming on the inside - cadets in training here, officers on the move there, clones and cyborgs in various positions throughout, and a surprising number of civilians: some of them quite young. Her escort, though, was a very tall, very slender Lor who introduced himself as Lieutenant B'Tran. "Chief of the local mentant division. Welcome to the Shipyards," he said with a smile, half his face distorted by what looked like deep tissue scarring, the kind of spiderweb surgery that meant someone had survived attempted cyberization during the Incursion by the skin of their teeth. "I'll take you to the Grand Nauarchus." 


Said figure was standing by the center table when Aya arrived, a figure of calm authority in the midst of controlled chaos. Walking down into the center well, Aya could see displays across the room showing images from all over the Republic; the holo the Grand Nauarchus was studying depicted a very familiar battle in the Incursion. "Ah, Corona! I was just studying your work against the Communion. The Republic owes you, and the other veterans of that day, our most profound thanks." She was less than a meter and a half tall, and old; with bone-white hair and pale skin that bespoke a woman into her second century. She nodded approvingly at Corona. "Thank you for answering my summons. I'm sure your work with our new allies keeps you very busy." 

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Aya walked quickly over to the elevator and punched over the controls for the command level. The agent stood there, breathing deeply and trying to control herself, but it wasn't lunch before her composure broke. She hurried to one wall and examined herself in the gently curved surface, checking her hair and dress blues. She knew her clothes had been perfect when she stepped outside of the shuttle, but she irrationally worried that she had become mussed in the five minute walk to the elevator. In truth she was nervous for an entirely different reason; she was meeting an honest war hero! Aya had done her part during the Communion Incursion, but Bucklin Frankan had held the Republic together through a thousand small battles and epic struggles. The Republic still existed because of her.


Aya took a deep breath as the doors opened and let her onto the busy center of the shipyard. She glanced across the numberless displays, depicting information coming in from all across the Lor Navy. It was a heartening sight, and a daunting one. Aya followed the tall mentat to the Grand Nauarchus, watching quietly. "Grand Nauarchus," she said, inclining her head. "The Praetorians are a busy, diverse lot. They've done a lot to help hold the Coalition together."

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"I'm sure their record speaks for itself," said the Grand Nauarchus evenly. "Come, sit down in my office and we'll talk." 


Said office, just off the command center, was relatively unadorned - a deskcomp, a holo on the wall, and a polarized window displaying a view of the spectacular corona thrown off by the angry blue mass of Altinak. A quick look at the holo revealed the Grand Nauarchus, her hair grey instead of white, standing proudly alongside two young people in Star Navy uniforms. It was a graduation image - thirty or forty years old.  


"My son and daughter," said Frankan quietly as she took a seat in a hovering grav chair, looking up at the image herself. "Shenan was serving on the Redoubtable;" lost with Lor-Van "and Doah and his family were at a base in the northern continent. Yours?" It was a question Lor had been asking of each other in great numbers - in the time since everything had fallen." 

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Aya followed Franken, glad they were getting out of the hubbub and press of the command center. It was exhilarating to be in the nerve center of the Lor Navy, but it was also intimidating; all that information on all sides of her made it hard for the ALIEN agent to focus on what the Grand Nauarchus was saying. The office was much smaller, much quieter, and much more intimate. The photo of Franken's family was just one sign of that, as was the question that still stabbed deeply in Aya's heart. "My mother was --" she stopped and swallowed, then continued in a quieter voice. "My mother was a senator from Hala. She was on the capital when it was destroyed. My father was a scientist, and he died when Hala was overrun -- I'm sure he was in the lab up until the last moment."


Her voice was full of bitterness in that last remark, both at her father and at herself. It had been so long, but she couldn't forgive herself for not having done something, some unknown act that would have saved her homeworld and her family. But she hadn't, and they had died, alongside tens of billions of others, and when the final blow was struck against the Khanate and the Communion Aya had been halfway across the galaxy, caught up in something that still seemed petty and unremarkable.

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"Everyone in the Republic has lost someone," said Frankan, looking all her years for a moment. "We've all had to make sacrifices we never thought we'd have to make." Her snowy-white brows lifted. "I know there's talk of secession in the outer arms. People look at the new Senate and they wonder - who's going to protect the Republic now? What do we have left, when we've lost our hearthworld?" She gave Corona a frankly direct look. "I know your record, Aya. With defenders like you, I'm confident that the Republic will survive this crisis - the greatest in our history. What I'd like us to do is work together on this." She pressed a few buttons on her desk and summoned a holo of the Praetorians; one Corona recognized as a recent publicity image. "You've worked with our alien allies longer than any serving line officer. What can you tell me about the Praetorians? The things that haven't made it into your official reports," she added with a faint smile. "I've read them all." 

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Aya considered the hologram and tried to bring up something that hadn't gotten into her reports. She wasn't the sort to shirk her duty gathering intelligence, and she was sure that she was part of the Lor Republic, not a Praetorian; she hadn't held back any detail or scrap of recording. Finally, she spoke. "The Praetorians are individuals," she said. "Paradigm doesn't group them like a military organization; she doesn't seem to even try. It's hard to talk about things that apply to the entire group, but I will say that they're all brave and capable warriors." She paused and added, "But they're not soldiers. They don't focus on an objective. They hunt down personal honor rather than working as a group."

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"Hmm. How do they define their 'honor'?" asked Frankan, white eyebrows rising at Aya's words. "I usually associate that sort of talk with primitive tribal nation-states and their would-be warlords - not the emissaries of galactic empire. But from what you're telling me, perhaps our guests have more in common with those primitives than reports have allowed. We know the Delazatri contacted worlds before they reached superliminal capacity - perhaps that's part of the problem. It must be difficult for a career officer like yourself to be working with such disorganized aliens." 

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