Original Content Because Someone Had To, Chapter 1

#1
So for reasons that mostly elude me, I've decided to do a complete rewrite of the first story I posted on HFY!, some year or so back. Exactly what no one asked for...yes I'm still working on a one-off for Eth's time at the naval academy for War Isn't Hell, and am stewing on some ideas that may lead to a follow up to Absence Makes the Heart. And a few other totally unrelated short stories.

But in the mean time, this is what seems to have most held my attention these past few weeks. As I'm currently on a course in New Brunswick, I'm not sure what sort of writing/posting tempo I'll be able to maintain. This course is one what requires at some degree of actual brain power, and will last till late June. So we'll see how this goes.

So anywho, here's a thing no one asked for. Hopefully, I've managed to expand a bit on the setting, explain some of the motivations, and am able to generally smooth over the points folks had identified as lacking or could use improvement. As always, questions, comments, queries, complaints, and corrections are very muchly appreciated.

Original | Chapter 2

-----

“Why?” A kil'tan child, seated in the front row of a class of like-aged children from many races, had raised their primary limb to gain the teacher's attention. It was rare a child of such a young age showed interest in Galactic History, but when learning of the liberation of one's race by a species that had lost everything in the process, even a naive child's attention was captivated.

The teacher was silent for a moment, studying the youth that had asked the question. The kil'tan child still bore the genetic markers from centuries of slavery and biological conditioning, but even after just a few generations of freedom, they were fading. So much of their conditioning, however, had been social, instilling an unfounded belief in their own self-image; that they were little better than animals...insects, in their case.

It had taken only a single generation to begin to erase that damage.

The child, all the children in fact in her class in fact, were examples of that change. She smiled then, a sad, quiet smile. Torn between the hope for the future the class represented, and painful memories of the trail that had been walked to where they were now. “The humans always answered that question the same way. Because someone had to.'

-----

Life in in the Senate arcology was a far cry from what he was used to.

Some aspects were not unpleasant; certainly the food was excellent and plentiful. Great works of art, impressive architecture, all representative of the many species that made up the Senate. One could meet and converse with representatives of many of the more powerful Senate species within the confines of the Inner City.

If one were willing to sift through the incomplete records or rewritten histories, some of that amazing architecture lent one a glimpse of the cultures that no longer existed within the Senate. Grand stone columns lining the high ceiling'd hallway that led to various meeting chambers were taken from the home world of a species that had fallen into servitude some two thousand years prior, and in the process lost all rights.

Crystalline sculptures of fantastical beasts, trophies taken from a race that had refused the Council and paid the price. All but forgotten outside of data-corrupted records, as they had been found unsuitable for forced labour or servitude and so it hadn't been deemed profitable to maintain a breeding stock.

An entire city, existing within a single structure. Towering buildings, open spaces large enough for private shuttles and aircars, navigable roads for those that preferred, or were limited to, ground vehicles. Without risk of rain or chill. A perfectly air-conditioned atmosphere; so long as one were Silliunce, of course.

And if one were willing to 'slum it,' the lesser Senate members could be found outside the arcology's confines; the paid labour of the orbital port or factories, staffs of the many bustling shipyards and space stations. Embassies and ambassadorial offices of the lesser Senate races.

The Senate arcology was housed on the second most important planet in Silliunce territory. The spoken excuse was that, if it were housed on their birth world, it would be seen as if to grant them an inflated importance within the Senate. The unspoken, but universally accepted reason, was simply that outsiders had no place on the birth world of their people; no other species was worthy.

Indeed, some aspects of life as an ambassador, a species' representative on the Senate, could be pleasant. If one were willing to turn a blind eye to all those subtle hints of what happened to those that the Council felt unworthy.

The day-to-day activities of the ambassadors of most minor races was an endless struggle to arrange trade agreements, liaisons or simply giving lavish gifts to more important races, while in turn trying to undermine the efforts of other species.

To put it lightly, there were only so many seats at the dinner table, and it was an endless game of musical chairs.

But that was simply the way things worked. How they had always worked, and how it would always be. It encouraged the lesser races to constantly strive to better themselves, the endless competition encouraged them to grow stronger, to further benefit the Senate and Council species. It was the driving force of the economy that fed a thousand worlds.

Few questioned why the human ambassador's day was spent 'slumming it' outside the arcology's walls when the Senate was not in house. That he didn't join in the constant competition with them for whatever crumbs that could be found just meant that humanity, in its apparent ignorance, would surely soon be that next crumb that might elevate a lesser species to a more permanent seat, and with it the added protection their species would be granted from the pitfalls and traps that constantly threatened to envelope them.

-----

Nikolai walked with a limp, a result of an entirely mundane shuttle accident. No great war story, no 'extreme' sports injury. A shuttle landed hard during a storm, had skidded across an iced pad and rolled. He'd broken his leg, and it had never quite healed properly. But it had never really bothered him, as he was a simple man of simple pleasures, more likely to be found reading an old book or walking an entirely flat park trail.

Not that he wasn't fit for his age; gene therapy had come a long way even in his lifetime, such that asides from the constant dull ache of his ruined leg, he hadn't the traditional pains and problems of a man of his age.

He and one of the marines took the same circuit at least two staff of his office made every day. Outside the arcology, into the workers quarters. They hadn't been allowed access to the slave quarters; their requests had been met with the same sort of incredulous refusal as if a random person were to ask to see a factory's tool locker.

His office held little power; humanity's place in the Senate granted him the right to leave the arcology, and a bit of a blind eye from Silliunce security forces, but he hadn't the sort of clout needed to bull his way past those refusals.

Originally, the daily walks had been mostly to fill the long hours of the day. The senate did not meet daily, and when there were no meetings, there was nothing for the ambassador and his staff to do. And as the weeks turned to months, the walks ranged further outside the arcology.

And then one day, he had met an injured Xelliant worker-form. The insectoid creature was too damaged to work, and had been cast aside by whatever company or government had acquired it. So the creature had lay dying in an alley of the workers district, ignored.

It was his marine escort who approached the creature, as he was trying to haggle for some inane bauble from a Sheldantan child, who was selling whatever knickknacks and scrap tech the boy could scavenge together to earn a few extra credits to help his family.

When Nikolai turned around, his marine escort was sitting on an old scrap barrel in the mouth of the alley, the Xelliant worker-form laying pitifully at his side, alternating between the clicks and hisses of its kind, and fluent, if weak, Silliuant.

Of course the marine didn't understand a word of it, but he just sat in silence and listened, until the weakened creature passed. Begging for help maybe, a final message for its loved ones perhaps. The language was alien, the body language too. But even the young marine could understand the urgency behind it, understood his own fallacy for not understanding.

After that, his daily walks took a new meaning. The analysts and political science experts were already raising warning flags of what membership in the Senate would mean, what it would take to maintain a races' membership, what risks there were of failing to meet those steep demands.

And as they worked silently to get their plans into place, Nikolai and his team did what little they could do in the mean time. It started slowly enough. Providing food and medicine, in what small amounts his office could gain access to, often paid for out of his own pocket.

The idea of soup kitchens or free clinics were foreign, inconceivable concepts to the other Senate members. The thought of using one's own resources to aid worker casts and beggars didn't earn the Ambassador any friends. It did earn him more meetings though; as other minor races sought to make use of an obvious weakness of humanity; their empathy.

That it didn't work, that the humans continued to refuse anything other than the most equal of terms, that they didn't fall into the same pits and traps so many other races had stumbled into in their naivety, was frustrating to say the least.

-----

Fringe of Senate Space

A chase was underway.

A pair of Council patrol vessels were hot on the heel of a Sheldantan smuggler. The two vessels were sleek and predatory; identical in appearance asides from the stylized name and serial numbers emblazoned proudly on their hulls, along with emblems of their various prestigious victories in the past; the names of pirate or smuggler vessels destroyed or captured, mostly.

The Sheldanta smuggler vessel was a mismatched and rickety looking thing, made of bits and pieces of a dozen ships lovingly brought together and held there mostly with prayers and constant diligence. But for all the effort and love of her crew, the old Sheldantan cargo hauler had no hope of outrunning a pair of well maintained and venerable government warships.

The Sheldantans did their best to shake their pursuers; a mad dash towards the system's edge, a vane hope of managing an FTL jump out of system at low output; extend the duration of the trip to the next gravity well, hope the patrol gave up and moved on before they arrived.

Their last hope was the asteroid belt at the backwater system's outer most edge. The last stellar bodies before reaching the jump belt. With the patrol boats closing, they jettisoned cargo and even modules of their vessel. Cargo holds, carefully salvaged from dead ships, each bearing the names and histories of the generation of the family-clan that had harvested the piece, had installed it, lived in it.

It was not taken lightly; the loss of cargo was bad enough; without it, there was no real hope of being able to refuel at the next port. No hope of being able to pay the transit fees to leave a populated system. No hope of restocking food and other consumable resources. The loss of that cargo meant the family-clan would at best break up and join other Sheldantan clans. At worse, they would be grounded and enslaved to pay their fees and debts.

The loss of the modules was harder though. With their loss, entire portions of their history were erased. With their loss, even if they could have recouped their financial losses, there was no hope of a new job that could keep them afloat. But they took the risk, because being caught for smuggling brought a worse punishment than simply being too poor to work.

So they jettisoned their cargo, tossed their now empty cargo modules, and dove into the debris field. It was a sparse thing; not the dense fields of stone and debris of fiction. There was no real risk of impacting a tumbling asteroid, really not even any hope of losing their pursuers.

Neither group knew that there was a third party at play.

Three human ships lay in wait; tethered to larger chunks of tumbling stone and ice, they had waited there for weeks for just such an opportunity. No two were alike; entirely different manufacturers, civilian models refitted for exactly the sort of activity those two Council patrol boats were supposed to guard against.

Pirates. Or more accurately, and a surprisingly foreign concept to the Council and even the most sinister of Senate species, privateers. Officially sanctioned by the human government to the task of piracy on the fringes of Council space.

Those three ships had a very particular goal. Seize a Council patrol ship, as intact as possible, and bring it home so it could be dissected, probed, studied and analyzed. In times of peace, those patrol ships made up the brunt of the Council's unified military capability.

Naturally, each member species had their own standing forces, but under the laws of the Council, for most it was a token force at best. A few dozen ships for the most powerful of Senate species; enough to strong-arm the junior Senate races, but too little to patrol their own borders, meaning that they had to rely on those Council patrols.

With the presence of the Sheldantan ship in the equation, the privateers were caught in a dilemma they hadn't been looking forwards to. It was obvious the ship would not surrender to the Council patrol ships. And it was equally obvious they would not outrun their pursuers.

So it left a choice to the three human ships; to wait until those two patrol ships were done with their quarry and lure them into the trap, or leap out of hiding and rush to the Sheldantan's aid and hope they could catch all three. There could be no witnesses. Of course, that didn't mean no survivors; just that none that could return to Council space.

When the Sheldantan ship jettisoned its cargo and modules, the human privateers made their decision. They withdrew their anchor cables, powered engines and dropped away from their hiding places. Minutes later, they were detected by the Sheldantans and patrol ships.

Seeing an opportunity to shake their pursuers, the Sheldantan ship changed course, heading straight towards the newly detected ships.

The two patrol ships followed; they crewed purpose built warships, vessels that had been fought in dozens of battles, that had faced and destroyed as scores of pirates and rebels. Pirates and rebels crewing poorly maintained re-purposed civilian ships. Crews that were poorly fed, poorly trained, inexperienced.

They didn't care that the three newly emerged ships were of unknown designs. They were clearly old, clearly cargo ships; long and bulky, compartments clearly meant to hold thousands of tons of cargo.

They had no idea what a Q-Ship was. The privateers were purpose built to look like old cargo haulers. The large cargo holds hid weapons systems, bays for fighters and boarding crafts, their chassis heavily reinforced for the unique stresses of combat. Their hulls hardened and armoured.

Those two patrol ships didn't begin to realize their mistake until they detected a dozen smaller crafts emerging from the three advancing ships. Didn't fully appreciate it until the Sheldantan vessel sought to sneak past the three ships, only to have its engines crippled by carefully directed fire; a level of accuracy that could only be achieved in the split second the fast moving vessels passed each other in opposite directions by advanced targeting computers.

But then it was too late.

In the first pass, the lead patrol ship was hulled. Its shields were overloaded as it took the brunt of the three privateers' fire. Weapon systems were crippled, engines destroyed, hull pierced in a dozen locations. The second fared better as it punched clear of the human ships.

Only to be pounced upon by a squadron of strike craft and boarding shuttles.

-----

Nikolai sat in the tiny quarters that had been made available to humanity's representative to the senate. The price for the three small rooms was ludicrous of course, and the walk from that tiny office and living quarters to the Council chambers was far better suited to a much younger man.

Of course, most other representatives had private shuttles or vehicles for the commute. The Inner City arcology was huge, large enough for small crafts to flit about within its confines. That he instead walked was just another sign to many that humans would not hold their place on the Senate for long.

His entire embassy staff consisted of a mere seven individuals. Two marines as security staff, who mostly doubled as general duties, and a handful of legal and political support staff. Most of whom also doubled for general duties.

The seven shared the three small rooms their government had secured as their office. They had no private shuttle, no ground vehicle, and only a lone civilian-pattern courier ship sitting in an absurdly expensive shared-lease docking clamp at one of the lesser orbital stations.

They relied almost exclusively on existing terminals and computer hardware that was already installed in the office. In fact, there was little human technology or hardware to be found in their embassy. A shelf of hardcover books. A secure communications system to relay messages to the courier ship if something needed to be sent back to their government and couldn't wait for the regular mail run.

The marines even wore second-hand armour, purchased off the public market. Carried foreign weapons, in the few circumstances that they were allowed to actually be armed or armoured. The embassy offered no insightful glimpse into human technology; yet again taken as a sign that they had little, perhaps nothing, to offer.

The last mail run had delivered the instructions he had been waiting for since he had been given the position as humanity's representative to the Senate. And with it, the weight of time had been lifted from his shoulders.

And in response to those instructions, he sat in silence as his staff diligently packed up what little there was to be packed.

Few payed any attention to the humans. Few would notice his staff's departure.

-----

“The Terran Ambassador has requested to speak before the Council, and has been granted the floor. You may speak.”

The Speaker, a kil'tan elder, stood at the foot of the Council's dais. The creature's chitin crest was gilded in rare metals and draped in expensive robes, but it was little more then decoration, an expensive bauble flaunted by its masters. An impressive representative of his species, purchased and modified for the unique task of standing motionless and speaking a clear, unaccented Galactic common, and capable of little else, at least in the eyes of the Council species.

Dressed in a simple if well tailored suit, and using an old wooden cane to counter an otherwise severe limp, Nikolai approached the Speaker and the Petitioner's dais in the centre of the Senate chamber. A awkward final step to adjust his footing, and a moment spent studying the Speaker, a far larger and perhaps just as old creature itself, then he stepped up with some mild discomfort to take his place.

The kil'tan would have been much taller than the old human if not for the permanent hunch forced into its spinal plates, caused by the gilding and modifications made in its physiology to make it the perfect Speaker. Standing on the dais, the two were able to comfortably to look each other in the eye, a gesture that made the large kil'tan uncomfortable, as none had bothered to do so before.

Nikolai might have found the Speaker intimidating, as some of the other 'lesser' species did; the creature was larger, armoured in natural bone and chitin plates, with seemingly powerful primary and secondary manipulators ending in thick clawed hands or sharp talon'd fingers. But if one looked closely, it became evident that the Speaker could not use the limbs with any real motion or strength thanks to the genetic manipulation and surgical alterations. Yet another sign of what membership in the Senate, what servitude to the Council, could mean for a species that failed.

“Thank you, Speaker. Council, I appreciate the opportunity to address the gathered signatory species.” Members of the Council were visibly irritated by the human's choice to address the Speaker directly, and worse still the Council second. But the humans were new to the Senate, and held only a minor place. Likely this would be the first, and quite possibly last time a human ambassador would be given the right to address the chamber.

The various Senate members and representatives murmured and laughed at the human's crude behaviour, but the old man simply stood leaning on his cane and waited for silence. The room died down in short order; everyone had better things to do, and gossiping about the humans was not one of them.

When silence reigned again, the human cleared his throat and finally spoke. “Humanity is a young species, compared to many here. A mere two hundred thousand and some years from our more recent evolutionary ancestors till now. In our history are many dark truths of our past. Things for which we hold no pride, but from which we have drawn strength and wisdom.”

He glanced at the kil'tan Speaker for a moment, then looked directly at the Silliunce Councillor. “Since joining the Council, and being granted a place in the Senate, albeit a minor one, our philosophers and lawmakers have pored over the laws and standards held by this ruling body.”

While there were five different species that made up the Council, there was little doubt in anyone's mind that the Silliunce were the only true power in the galaxy. Powerfully built, their short snouts sprouting snaggled lines of sharp teeth, thick scales over dense, leathery hides. Taller even than a fully grown kil'tan, heavy with dense muscle and bone.

They were the eldest species of the Council, the founders of the Senate and the writers of the original laws and mandates that still stood after millennia.

Humanity had arrived on the Council's awareness a scant few years prior; little was known of them, mostly due to apathy on the part of many of the signatory species and the Council itself. They had come from a desolate, quiet part of the galaxy, encountered even before the first traces of their earliest radio communications, a sure sign of how young they were, how small in scope.

And it was assumed, as had been the case with every new species, that they would be no different.

The humans had met the minimum requirements for membership with the usual difficulty and eagerness that every other had demonstrated, had levied the mandated fees, and little more was expecting of them. The private sector would sort out the fledgling race, and likely drive them into crippling debt as was so often the case with minor races.

“We have known slavery. Only three hundred years ago was its practice finally abolished entirely among my own people. We believe the practice abhorrent. The belief that any one lineage, nation, or species is inherently subservient is folly. That any heritage superior based on wealth or education or politics. We learned long ago that divisions of class based on race or gender simply limits our own potential as a whole.”

While the laws of the Council did not directly enforce any such concepts, they were entirely too forgiving of them. There were no protections for the weak, no agreements on rights or legal expectations. Entire races had fallen victim of infighting or simple economic collapse, only to find themselves as little more than slaves...or food in some cases.

Many races on the Senate were one unfortunate misstep away from falling to the bottom of the ladder, and few races had ever managed to start that treacherous climb anew.

Few questioned the way of things; those that did were always the quickest to fall. Questioning the norm, refusing to conform, or encouraging change was dangerous. Things were the way they were, because that was simply the way things were. The Council ruled, the Senate bowed and eked out a place for their species, and the weak fell. It was simply how it was.

There were angry murmurs throughout the chamber. Some of that outrage was likely honest; the races that were more comfortably entrenched in the status quo. Many, were merely paying lip-service; those that knew they were one misstep away from ending up how the humans were about to. The Council itself grew restless with simmering rage, that an upstart race and new petition to the assembly would make such bold and aggressive statements.

He turned from the Councillors to look at the rows of seats of the Senate representatives, yet another faux-pas that the human clearly did not understand...or perhaps simply did not care to observe. "It was once believed that women were second class citizens. That they should stay in the home, raise the children and cook the meals. That they could not be scientists or politicians or doctors. It was once believed that the people of Africa were subhumans, capable only of mimicking 'civilized' customs and were suited to little outside of hard labour. Wars were fought among my own people to bring an end to such beliefs. Laws were passed on the basic requirements and rights of every human, constitutions were re-written."

The angry rumbling of the assembled Senate grew but were held from a full outburst by the staying hand of the Silliunce Councillor, who glared with cold yellow eyes at the small, frail human below. The established order had been called into question. An order of things that had set a select few species in seats of comfort and plenty at the expense of lesser beings. An established system that had stood unquestioned for thousands of years, in which some of those lesser species had eked out a modicum of political power, of protection against the laws and fines and fees that kept others at the bottom of the pecking order.

“As such, I have been directed by my leaders, to put forth a...motion, to the Council.” He turned to face the Council, and met the Silliunce Councillor's hardening glare with a calm smile. “The practice of slavery is to be abolished, and all species be given free and equal standing on the Senate. The worlds of their birth and any former colonies returned to their own rule, and reparations be paid. Naturally, not something that can be achieved over-night, but we are prepared to offer economic boons and adjudication to help facilitate the transition.” The ambassador's tone was straight-forward and calm, no sense of sarcasm. It was as if the statement could only have one logical response from the Senate and Council; to accept the Terran terms.

The outrage boiled over; a mindless roar of accusations, threats and insults spilled forth from the Senate onto the human ambassador. Who simply stood, leaning on his cane and studying the Council, then turned his attention to the Speaker, who stared at the old human in disbelief. The Speaker would not dare hope, of course; but he could appreciate the words of what would soon surely be another enslaved species pressed into service for the Council.

At a gesture from the Council, the Senate quieted. The eldest of the Council races stood then; the Silliunce Councillor towered over the others, loomed over the rail of his elevated position to glare down at the lone human on the Senate floor below. “My people have ruled the stars for thousands of your years. We have conquered a dozen empires before the Council was even formed. Tell your leaders that no upstart younglings will dictate to the Council. Yours shall be just another footnote in history, and your descendants shall work in chains for their betters.”

Nikolai smiled at the Speaker, then looked up at the Silliunce Councillor. “A young race we are, yes. But know this. Four hundred years ago, we landed on our home world's moon. Twenty years prior, we split the atom. Forty years before that, we discovered flight. We have known war without end for all of our 200 millennia of existence. And should you chose war, you shall quickly learn how far we have come from the first fire-hardened spear to now. Four hundred years ago, your grandfather sat in that chair, Councillor. He came to and from his palatial estate in the same luxury shuttle you use.”

He rested both hands on his cane, and studied the Council races, a hint of amusement showing through. “Four hundred years ago, the same patrol vessels monitored your shipping lanes. As those same ships have for four hundred years before that, and likely would four hundred years from now if nothing changes. You have been stagnant for thousands of years, Councillors. Peaked, crested, and contented. Four hundred thousand years ago my ancestors forged spears with branch and flame. Do you wish to learn what our spears look like today?”

Another sudden surge of violent outcry from the Senate, the Councillors themselves driven to a rage, and the human ambassador simply looked to the Speaker again. The call for war echoed through the Senate and was eagerly received by the Council. The humans had presented a rare chance for the lesser Senate species; to demonstrate their usefulness to the Council, to prove their loyalty, to earn greater political power which would in turn better protect their own species from the myriad pitfalls and traps that had seen the fall of many a free species into servitude and debt.

It would come to war, and the human ambassador had known all along that there could have only been one outcome.

“Why?” The Speaker asked, speaking with his natural voice in an effort that brought clear pain and discomfort, and the ambassador simply smiled sadly.

He pulled a simple communications device from a pocket of his jacket, studying the final farewell of his staff on the loan courier ship, by then long departed from the orbital station and well on its way to escape the system and join up with a waiting privateer to whisk them back to human space. A pair of Silliunce guards were already moving forward to apprehend him. And he just smiled sadly and met the Speaker's gaze. “Because someone had to.”

----

Titan Naval Shipyard, Sol System

“So, what have you learned?” Admiral dos Santos was seated at a long table with a dozen other Admirals of the fleet, twice as many politicians and scientists.

In front of each was an info docket gleaned from the captured Council patrol ships. Results of the interrogations of their surviving crews, the interviews with the Sheldantan clan-family that had found itself with new, semi-permanent residence on Mars.

“Quite a bit, Admiral.” The lead scientist of the team that had stripped the patrol ships smiled with apparent glee as he stood and waved the pertinent information from his docket upwards to a central holographic display.

Technical diagrams of the captured ships. Statistics on their armour and armaments, projected capabilities of engines and equipment. More importantly, estimates and theories on weaknesses and blind spots.

"For starters, I can confirm that these vessels are as old as was boasted. The more intact of the two vessels that were brought in is estimated at eight hundred years since its initial construction. During that time, there is few examples of any upgrades or overhauls, beyond common maintenance or repairs of battle damage.”

That caused some murmuring among those gathered around the table. The idea of a single vehicle being in service for so long hinted at a level of engineering capability that far outstripped anything they were capable of. A thought that did not sit well with some.

The scientist's smile only brightened at signs of concern, and he raised a staying hand to quiet everyone down. Admiral dos Santos simply skimmed through the data provided in her own docket, rather then bask in the man's theatrics.

“There is a reason these vessels have such long lifespans of course. And it has nothing to do with any particularly advanced magics of engineering.” He gestured to the display, which changed to focus on the vessel's layout and technical specs. “Their strength is their simplicity. A minimalist approach in every aspect. Their power transfer systems, for instance, may have three times the life span of what we use, but it's leagues behind us in efficiency and capability. We may have to change a coupling or inverter from time to time, but we can also supply far more power to our shield systems.”

His presentation continued along the same lines; Council patrol ship was more durable in many ways, but less efficient in every one of them. And with that improved durability came a lack of redundant systems; if life support never failed, why bother with the costly practice of installing a backup? Their ships were built with a clear attention to the financial bottom line.

Discussions on the implications there-of continued for a few minutes, before they moved on. Computer sciences was next, and again a researcher stood up. The young woman gestured to the holographic display raising the findings of her team. “The central computer systems were mostly intact in both captured vessels. Neither crew thought to zeroize the data or any of their software, in fact. Either they doubted we would be able to break their encryption, or more likely, that they did not realize that we might have been interested in information contained in those systems.”

A complicated series of graphs and equations came up on the holographic display, steeped in the mystery to most seated around the table. They explained in excruciating detail the requirements and methods used to break the encryption, and for one painful minute she went into great detail explaining it to the gathered admirals and politicians.

And then she stopped, grinned mischievously and waved a hand to dismiss the eye-crossingly complicated display of information. “Their data encryption protocols would have taken years for conventional Council computers. Loki, whom I learned this morning has been transferred to serve as the onboard Combat AI of the carrier, Hermes...”

“The super-carrier, Hermes, thank you very much.” One of the admirals waggled a finger pointedly. It was to be the first ship of its class in the fleet, and had only received final clearance to be constructed as a result of the findings of the very reports they were going over.

“Yes. The super-carrier. Loki is also quite adamant about that detail. Size matters, it seems.” A round of chuckles, before she returned to her report. “Their is no indication the Council makes use of even simulated-intelligence AIs, aka 'dumb AIs' to coordinate their systems. The command suites of both captured patrol boats are crowded, with multiple crew working independently to interpret and sort through information from sensors, communications, weapons, etc. Although slow, this does mean that each of these systems is under continuous, direct supervision. This in turn would normally mean that they are harder, individually, to dupe.”

“But?” Admiral dos Santos tossed in the comment that the researcher was clearly hoping for, in an effort to spur along the discussion.

“But indeed. Loki has also identified that their sensors are directly linked to communications. While their weapon systems are reliant on information gained from their sensors, it is independent and each weapon system is also directly controlled. This means that if we infiltrate their communications system, we can dupe their sensors as well. While we cannot directly control or disable their weapon systems, we could alter the sensor data, limiting the effectiveness of those weapons.” As she spoke, she cycled the display through the relevant data.

“More importantly though. There is no evidence of any changes to their software security in recent history. They have one system, it has worked for a long time, and there has been no need to change.” She grinned then, and Admiral dos Santos actually smiled.

“So, we're in, yes? As long as they don't identify any reason to increase their digital security between now and when this all kicks off.” the admiral was very much aware of the benefit that would grant her fleet, at least in the early days of the coming conflict.

“Exactly, Admiral. I would suggest a few modifications to the Hermes' communications suite, to ensure it can facilitate full AI transfer. Loki is only patient when he's plotting something, but always in a rush to get where he's going. But if he can get into their communications system, their ability to fight cohesively will be entirely compromised.”

“About their communications abilities, Admirals.” The next presenter stood, nodding to his colleague as she took her seat. Another section of the information dockets came up on the holographic display, “This will be brief. We have not found any indication of FTL communications capabilities. Their entire system hinges on courier vessels and sub-sector administrators. The communications logs found aboard the captured ships indicate that, in peace time at least, their patrol ships operate sometimes for weeks without any updates from their sector commands.”

“This also means, obviously, that in combat operations spanning more than a few light-minutes of distance, their ability to coordinate their actions will be all but nonexistent. This means that they will have no reliable means of intercepting or jamming our communications, and that they will not be able to respond to changes or events nearly as quickly as we will.” While the Senate and Council relied on radio and light waves for communications and sensor technologies, humanity had cracked quantum entanglement, shattering the No-Communication Theorem decades prior, which allowed for instantaneous communication over any distance.

The discussions continued, moving on to weapon systems and range bands, to armour and defensive systems. Crew compliments and training, and most importantly command structure. Weaknesses were identified, possible exploits discussed. From there, needed changes in ship design and tactics were identified and the various teams of experts were sent back to develop those needed changes.

They had two years to ready the fleet at their best estimates. Two years before the Council's Punitive Fleet would be assembled. The Council's limitations on standing fleets of member species had given humanity the time it needed to finish their own preparations, and they weren't about to waste that time.

-----

Admiral dos Santos again found herself sitting in a room, although she had a glass of port in hand and was in a well appointed office, not a board room.

Seated at the desk was the elected leader of the United Colonies, who also cradled a glass of port between her hands, forgotten for the moment as she mulled over the situation. Something she had thought long and hard on before she ever gave clearance to capture a Council patrol ship. Pondered anew before she gave the orders to the late Ambassador Nikolai Brandon.

Of course, he had been supposed to deliver a recorded declaration, not to give it himself. He should have left with his staff. But she couldn't curse him for his own actions. The message had been far more poignant delivered live, and he had set an example for their commitment to their ideals that could not be ignored.

Admiral dos Santos cleared her throat, a subtle gesture to rouse the president from her thoughts, and President Cassandra McDonald let out a quiet sigh and sipped her drink before setting it aside. “Admiral. What's our odds?”

The question was abrupt, and dos Santos frowned briefly into her drink before taking a sip, savouring the flavour both for the sake of giving the quality port its due, and to buy herself a moment to organize her own thoughts.

“We have better ships. Better crews. Better technology, Madam President.”

"But?”

“There's always a but.” She couldn't help but let out an amused snort that she had inadvertently set up the same lame joke that researcher had dropped on them during the last meeting. “We have fifty four colonies. Seventeen dedicated naval shipyards. Our academies can reliably produce two, three thousand qualified, competent officers a year. Twenty some thousand crew. I've already identified older model vessels that can be dedicated to sector defence and patrol taskings, which will serve as training vessels to sharpen those crews so they are deployable.”

President McDonald had read the reports, had been briefed on the implications. They had already confirmed that humanity had more colonies, more infrastructure, than any one race of the Senate, and only the Silliunce boasted more worlds and military infrastructure.

But humanity was not preparing to fight any one Senate race. They were at war with all of them. It was a numbers game they had no hope of winning if the war lasted more than a few years at best estimates.

“The early warning system is in place. Every grav-well between us and them. Once their fleets start moving, we'll know. In the mean time, our privateers are continuing to develop connections with the rebel fleets.” What the Council called pirates, lone dissidents and outlaws, were in most cases isolated, disorganized rebel factions of many different races; some of whom no longer legally existed in the eyes of the Senate.

Human privateers were tasked to establish relations with those disparate groups. To begin forming them into a cohesive force. They were to be the embers of the home-front war humanity sought to set off in Senate space.

“Those negotiations are not going as well as my advisors had hoped. These different factions have had to fight among themselves for resources for a very long time. They might all have the same goal in mind, but they have no common ground to work towards it. Some, after all, had been at war at one point or another, before losing their seats on the Senate.” President McDonald sighed and set her drink aside, resting her elbows on the desk and leaning her face into her hands for a moment.

The entire plan had been in motion for a decade; she had come into office knowing what the plan entailed, knowing the potential cost. But there had always been an expectation that those rogue factions would be far quicker to seize the opportunity humanity was offering them. If those forces already fighting against the Council and Senate were hesitant to take that step, then the home-front uprising they were banking on might be further to start than they hoped.

The two women were silent a moment. Admiral dos Santos stood and straightened her dress tunic, before taking her glass and its last sip, holding it up towards the President. “Well. We've a lot of work to do.”

“Analysts give us two years before they are ready to come at us, Admiral.” The President stood with her, and clicked her glass to the Admiral's, “A lot of things can change in two years."

The Admiral tapped her glass against the President's desk before finishing her drink; the President followed suit, albeit a bit confused by the gesture of tapping the glass. "Might doesn't make right. But right doesn't make might either, Madam President. Luckily, I think our enemies are arrogant, self delusional in their own positions. My fleets will buy the time your people need to show to their people why they should rise up. That it's even an option. We'll hold the enemy's attention, you worry about the propaganda war."

The two women shared a tight smile, and then dos Santos took her leave. She was due for the next shuttle to oversee the finishing touches on her fleet's forward staging area, a shipyard and fortress-station on the outer edge of human space, the place she would call home for the next two years as her fleets were built and her crews trained. All in preparation to fire the first shots in a war that would change the fate of dozens of species.

-----

Original | Chapter 2
 
Last edited:
Top