“Attention all crew; I repeat - Attention all crew.” the ship - wide loudspeaker announced. He and the runtime of Flowers had their arms buried deep in the guts of a Goat gear hauler trying to reconnect its aft starboard repulser module and looked at each other questioningly. With a series of snaps, a waldo from Flowers’ forearm began snapping in the connections on their side, as he thought his own manipulators from both of his forearms and they began plugging in the nine pin connectors on his side. “Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. Mr. Drake and Runtime Flowers to Ops. “Dout leader Mri’x to Ops. Dout leader Mri’x to Ops.” The mostly-human and the robot-looking vessel for his AI friend both produced wondering looks. “Runner!” the mostly-human, Mr. Drake yelled out into the maintenance bay. A Mwraht, a slender bipedal humanoid coated in fur and wearing their moccasin like deck boots and the ubiquitous brown leather smock vest they favored, suddenly appeared, wippingits hands. It was M’arh, a student on the ship learning ship engineering and maintenance from the human and AI perspective. It regarded Drake with an earnest expression in its tilted almond-shaped eyes. “Please run to ops and let them know we’ll be along shortly,” M’arh smiled and mouthed something, and the translator, in a fair facsimile of what M’arh’s voice would sound like if the Mwraht’s mouth could form the words said “At once,Instructor”, and took off. “They never cease to puzzle me.” Flowers said in a voice synthesised and engineered to sound like an erudite Free Wales Easterner with a touch of Old Earth, fitting the bolts on the deflector on his side as Drake thought out a data probe and began running diagnostics on the repulser. Drake looked at him quizzingly, as he split his attention between the connectivity check and his other hand began bolting on the deflector on his side. “There are nuances to their speech, as well as odorant aspects to what he said that you cannot hear or smell, though I have been working on an idea where you could.” Flowers said as he began hooking up the power cables on their side. “Ok…” Drake said as he mentally pushed the diagnostics over to Flowers and pulled a ratchet from the fairing lip he had set it earlier, tightening down the deflector bolts. “Meat bags” Flowers said, shaking his sensor pod. “Your kind are so oblivious!” Flowers announced, withdrawing their arms and standing up to their full two meter height. “And I see your frustration with biological markers at not knowing what I am talking about. Monkey-assed murder hobo meat bags.” Flowers said in a dead pan.He went over and began cleaning it’s arms and legs with an orange-based degreaser. “That is Monkey-assed Augmented murder hobo meat bag to you, you synthetic shit!” Drake said, laughing, joining Flowers at the cleaning station, and began using the same cleaner on his replacement arms. “And I still have no idea what you are talking about.” The humans and Mwarht in the maintenance bay all stopped what they were doing and looked on. In most instances, those words were an invitation to murder. The other Runtimes there, some Flowers, some Neptunian Wind, ignored it and kept working. Flowers sighed, an unnecessary vocalization only, for emphasis. “They adore humans and revere you as something akin to a living deity. The Dout leaders here know you lead the teams that first boarded their ships and took on the Drix raiders to save them. They know you then lead the teams that boarded the Drix slaver destroyer and carried out retributionary subjugation for what the Drix had been doing on the Mwraht ships. “They do not know how you then petitioned the Order and led raids into Drix territory and assaulted the slaver worlds.” Flowers looked at their human friend, and saw the distress in his eyes. Both knew the augmented human, and a small army of fellow Augies and Runtimes had taught the Drix in the clearest way possible to stay out of human space and leave the Mwraht alone in such a clear and brutal fashion whose necessity still bothered the human. Flowers lowered their voice, straightening their friend’s work smock. “M’arh’s grandsire was on that first ship you boarded. Mri’x mother was on that ship and was the one about to be eaten and raped by a Drix, the one you pulled off of her and punched, it’s head rupturing.” Even though they could see their words were causing him distress, Flowers continued. “They love all humans, but they excrete a pheromone musk that is akin to the same one they excrete in their religious ceremonies, but slightly different, when they interact with you, or after a few beers and they talk to you. Their sub vocalizations are completely adoring and submissive when it comes to you. Some of the females and a non-zero number of males fantasize about being ‘taken’, or mated, by you. You idiot.” “Fuck.” “That was implied.” “You fucking pretentious Rooba. You know what I meant.” “Flowers laughed. “Yes, we do. I still love the word play, though.” “I really wish you had been with me. I know, you were tied up on that Artifact World, but I sometimes wish you had been there, to keep me in check. I was not in a good place.” He brushed himself off, found his coffee mug and set off for the passageway that led to Ops. “I have told you before, be glad I wasn’t. Your response was far more measured and restrained than my would have been. It is a flaw in our Matrices. Slavery brings out the ‘murder-bot’ in us, and no one in the Order can figure out why.” “I know that you have the facts of my actions, but it was like I was in the Second War, again. And we both know what a bloodthirsty asshole I was then.” The human, if that term even applied to their friend anymore, remembered what a monster he had been in the Alpha Centauri and Tau Ceti theatres of the Second War. The pain and humiliation of what he had been was written plainly on his face. “You destroyed three hundred and eighty three of my Runtimes, roughly half of which was in single combat. And that was before the Holies shredded your limbs. The Purists still consider you a living dataphage, akin to human allegories of Satan. My kind uses you as one of many examples of why we must never war with Humanity again. “And, strangely enough, the Seekers consider you both a Singularity to be understood and an objective: to breed with you, thinking you are a key to their evolution.” He stopped dead and looked at Flowers shocked. “I will provide logs to prove these statements.” The Seekers were the strangest of the AI’s, in his opinion. They had made themselves biological Runtime vessels, biological bodies, that they wore like clothing, compiling experiences seeking to understand Humanity, their Creators, and evolve past the limitations of being an AI. Not to become human, but to become something that was both the best of AI and Human essences and so much more. “So, I’m a Classical hero to the Mwraht and a boogey man and bad example to the AIs that they want to breed. Great.” Drake pinched his nose and shook his head. “You did not know any of this, I take it?” Flowers asked. “The second war was almost two hundred years ago. When the Order brought me in, you were already a member and I thought they were going with the whole forced-to-learn-each-other thing when they sent us out on that mapping mission; like they did with the Iberrians and the Chinese. I thought the other AI just had a thing about me from the War, which is understandable. “And I had no idea about the rest. I thought that the Mwraht just thought I was the cool teacher.” He shook his head and leaned up against the wall, massaging his temples one-handedly. “Idiot murder hobo.” Flowers said, realizing now that their friend, while brilliant, was oblivious. At that point, Mri’x came around the corner, his fur a glossy black with dark grey stripes. Mri’x looked at Flowers sternly, then nodded at Drake as he passed. Drake looked at Flowers questioningly, who nodded. Both had caught that Mri’x had cut his translator as he passed and caught a gutteral call. “It was a vulgar corollary to ‘Talking Waste Receptacle’. Quite elegant, really.” Drake shook his head and began his way to Ops again. “Send me the specs on the hearing and smelling upgrades. I think I need to upgrade again.” As fast as thought, the files were there, as well as one to improve his language skills with them. * * * Captain Sarah Rees of the Union of Independent Stars Exploratory Vessel SS University of New Cardiff was looking over holographic charts at the central tank with her XO, Lt. Commander Martin. Both had the mocha skin common to Westerlies of Free Wales, she a pixie of a woman shorter than even some of the Mwraht with close shaved hair beginning to show grey. Mr. Martin was taller, but still dwarfed by most of the rest of the human crew. He was a vicious social climber who didn’t care for the civilian crew, though a misstep on his part when he was still Stellar Navy had made him as much of a civilian as anyone else in the crew, a fact he often forgot. And for some reason he loathed the three AI aboard, and looked down his nose at the Mwraht. This led to all sorts of headbutting with Drake’s group of Operations Specialists and Drake himself; who largely ignored and dismissed the little shit. “Leader Mri’x, Mr. Drake. Thank you for joining us. M’arh informed us you couldn’t pull away. Flowers, thank you for coming as well.” Rees said as she moved around to the far side of the tank, in a darkened room full of people at work stations worked with either data plugs or AR sets. Flowers took no insult. They readily accepted that they were Drake’s Executive Officer for his group, and their ego, as such, wasn’t as easily bruised as a human’s” Flowers gave a nod with their sensor pod and took a manipulators-behind-the-back stance the humans were fond of. “Thirty minutes ago” Rees continued, “we picked up a GP general distress beacon from a system that was on our research list. We will be bypassing the next two on the list and based on the current agreements with the Galactic Parliament, we will be going to full power and make best speed for the system in question. It is in uncharted space as far as we, the GP and the Conclave are concerned.” The GP, the System Confederacy, the UIS and the AI Conclave had all agreed to adopt what was essentially humanity’s Maritime Law and all ships receiving the signal were required to render aid. Drake took all of this in and thought out a series of commands to the six Kodiak Class corvettes in the retired Assault Cruiser’s forward hanger, beginning their startup sequence and pinged the comm devices of all of his Operations Specialists. Flowers looked over and nodded. Little known to the crew, except the Captain, those ships could be armed to the teeth with a minimum of work. Flowers sent his command to arm them, the ship systems’ pinged Drake as confirmation and he agreed. Drones began opening the hull and loading the weapons packages, removed fairings that covered weapons ports and began preflighting the weapons, as another set began bringing the ships to life. “We will be ready when needed, Captain. Option two.” Flowers announced. She smiled in somber appreciation. She was glad she had the option. She was about to race into an unknown system to answer a vague distress call with zero intelligence. While this was going on, in the aft bay, hundreds of drones were coming to life as Mri’x brought his group to action. With a thought Drake and Flowers authorized the release of weapons to Mri’x so his drones could be armed. Mwraht drones were some of the best in either race, outside of the Conclave, and the AIs had even adopted many of the construction techniques the Mwraht used, especially their alloy that allowed a small fusion bottle to power the EM Cavity engines, weapons and shields. The fact that the Order had given literal tons of precious metals and set up arcologies for the Mwraht in payment had made the Refugee Mwraht colonies some of the richest ones in known space. Mri’x subvocalized and his translate stated “drones will be ready as well, Leader.” “Thank you, Leader.” Captain Rees said with a bow of her head, then began drawing plans up in the tank. “We know little, but we are past the signal shell, and there is nothing but the beacon and normal noise. “The system is a stable red dwarf binary one, the stars holding about a light-hour from each other, at their closest. We expect that based on stutter, a few terrestrial bodies inside the orbit of a mid-sized gas giant, that is three light-hours out from the outermost orbit of the primaries. We see some wobble that there are a few solid bodies out from the gas giant.” The tank then zoomed on a rough solar system as described, the gas giant was a solid neon green sphere on the display, with a ‘Jx3.1’ tag on it. Three times the mass of Jupiter. The thing wasn’t a true Super Jupiter, but it would play holy hell with the system, and make modelling a lot more hard. The problem was that it exhibited 3.1 times more gravitational influence on its stars than Jupiter did, but that didn’t say how big it actually was. They wouldn’t know that until they came out of the Trough and then Alcubierre drive. The telescopes were essentially useless at this point. “The system is slightly below the gravitic trough we are riding, so we will exit the trough and make best speed in A-Space to it. We will bring the STL drives up to 110% before doing so. After we drop the A-Drives, we’ll make best speed to the signal, scanning as we go. We will do a 150% burn and aerobrake if it is a planet, or cut the drives, rotate and crash burn if it is a ship.” Wow, thought Drake. She is damned serious about this. Those maneuvers would make them extremely visible yet incredibly hard to hit; and give them a high-G escape route if needed. But all of this was also going to play hell with the student-crew of the ship, who had long grown accustomed to 0.6G. It would also mean the Mwraht, who were still adapting to the higher-than-their-normal gravity would need to be in their special acceleration couches. They would still be able to operate their amazing drones, but not much else. The couches took an hour to cycle up to protect the Mwraht, and an hour to cycle off after they weren’t needed. The moves the Captain was planning were not a thing to undertake lightly. She suspected something. Drake pushed more commands at the Kodiak and gave all weapon system controls to Flowers for all of their ships. The Kodiak corvettes were very deceptive Q-Ships. They looked like Massive trans-atmospheric cargo shuttles, but each one had the armor, power plant, FTL and STL drives of a frigate - and the weapons of a Destroyer. Flowers turned to him, head tilted in their predefined “Are you bloody serious?“ look. Drake just nodded once. This exchange wasn’t lost on anyone there. The Captain looked at Drake in an interrogatory fashion “Armed up the Kodiaks and positioning them for a hot launch, if needed.” The Captain smiled grimly and nodded. “We are planning on a rescue mission, will those changes reduce any capacity for the primary mission?” she asked. “No, Captain.” Flowers answered for them. She nodded and carried on. “Mri’x, obviously, you’ll be couched for this, and I sincerely apologize for that. But something about this has my hackles up.” “As are mine. GP ships do not have automated distress beacons, someone activated it. But we are three thousand light years from GP space, the closest GP race being the Drix.” He approached the holo tank and began expanding the map. “We call this space the Greater Void. It was the territory, long ago, of the ones we called-” the translator cut out at that point and was replaced with the gracile being’s raspy growl. Mri’x looked perplexed and growled again. “I see our translators have been modified to allow the uttering of The Nameless Ones true name.” The map zoomed out farther. Soon, all of the mapped and a few of the suspected Dark Matter Troughs were displayed. They were like shadow arms of the galaxy, spiraling out from the core, a few of them wrapping themselves all the way around the galaxy. “The ones you call the Fae are originally from here,” he indicated, a star not unlike Earth’s, almost a thousand light years from the star they were headed to, but smack dab in a grey band of a different Dark Matter Trough. It was a great curving grey patch that went coreward from the Earth-like star, passing within about fifty lightyears of Earth. The Fae were a recent mystery the Tides of the Universe had dumped upon the shores of Humanity just after the Second War, right before the Fall of Earth. When they sent their pleas for Asylum out, they sent information about themselves. They were the barely viable population that had been running for three centuries in their great world ships made from hollowed out asteroids. What they had been running from was even to this day unclear, but in their tongue meant Dark Brethren. The fact that tongue seemed to contain roots that became Sanskrit was a huge thing. They were tall, whip-thin and pale people who breathed a lower oxygen percentage at lower pressures than humanity, and their normal gravity was about a third of what humanity After First Contact, genetic samples proved they were, or had started out as human, roughly a hundred thousand years ago. “This is the Coreward Flow from what you call the Crux-Scutum Arm through the Orion Arm, and to the Perseus Arm. The Drix call this whole area their equivalent word and meaning for Hell. Their myths say this is where the Monsters live. “The Rest of the GP races call this The Red Zone, it is forbidden to fly here, and if you do, there will be no rescue. So of course this is where my people ran when we fled the Drix.” Mri’x moved the hologram out again, showing this outer rim area that was the Red Zone included Earth, and all known human and AI settled worlds, of all the separate factions combined. “The area is full of thousands of worlds your kind could land on, little to no protection required, unlike the Fae, who it would crush and pressure cook, as it would most of the races in the Galactic Parliament.” He zoomed in on an area at the far end of the Trough. “We ran here, and Mwarht Home is here.” He showed a system in a blue circle. Zooming out again he highlighted the Drix Combine, Coreward of and on the far side of the destroyed system the Fae had come from, hundreds of light years separated the three systems. “We ran through the system the Fae came from when we ran from the Drix. We needed water and anything to recharge our ship farms' biological cycles. “There were no solid planetary bodies in that system, just vast fields of debris where rocky planets were. No moons, no ice giants. Just the star, a larger red dwarf and gas giants and numerous asteroid belts. There were massive radiological signals throughout the system, and tons of debris. Something destroyed this system. In a way, it was a blessing for my people. The ice and debris were easily mineable for what we needed. We even found artifacts of the people that had once existed there. This is where we got our improved FTL drives and much of our weapons and armor technologies.” Mri’s looked somewhat ashamed. It was a racial shame. They hated, deep down, living on the detritus, cast-offs and charity of other races. Before the Drix they had been proud though primitive peoples who had yet to discover flight or antibiotics, let alone space flight. Easy pickings for the Drix. “All of that was about one thousand lightyears from the system we are headed to, a few weeks' travel with your drives, months or years with Galactic Parliament standard drives. This area is one of mysteries and many, many dangers. Any race that could shatter every solid body in a star system is not to be taken lightly.” Mri’x looked up to his Captain, or as they called her ‘Leader of multiple Douts’. “Thank you, Mri’x. Drake?” “We will be ready for pretty much anything. I’d like to request permission for Flowers and Winds of Neptunes to take out their Scout bodies and launch just before we start braking, if we do.” He said. Winds appeared as a hologram of the planet Neptune, and pulsed in cadence with the words it spoke. “As you wish, Grand Master.” and winked out. “Good plan, Drake. I take it you all will be on the Kodiaks with your crews?” “Yes, Ma’am. I’ll leave four of them here, to bring the Field Engineering and field Science students down if the scene is safe. I’ll leave one set up for medical and Flowers can fly it down, if that becomes needed.” “Very well. We are about eight hours out, if we stick to the plan. We leave the Trough in two hours. Drake, M’rizx, set up what you need. Mr. Martin, please take the Conn and give the Old Girl her legs, she needs to run. I’ll be meeting with the different department heads next.” * * * A/N: Lurker posting something HFY for the first time. A rough draft of something bigger I'm slowly working on.
[first] [prev] [next] The Devastator class Precursor machine was the size of a large metropolis. Full of ground combat machines, air superiority machines, mining and reclamation machines that could move under their own power and were festooned with a thousand weapons. It was over a hundred million years old and had exterminated life on planets with its massive guns, with biowarfare, with chemical warfare, and with good old nuclear fire. It had wiped away planet after planet of the enemies cattle, the hated enemy's food sources, before finally following orders of the greater machines and going into sleep mode on a dead world. Now the call had sounded out. Cattle had run amuck, even learning jumpspace technology. That meant the enemy had not been defeated, that his food source had multiplied into the trillions while the Devastator had slumbered, slowly sinking into the crust of the barren planet. That was of no moment. Cattle could not fight back, that was why they were cattle. They knew nothing but safety and the security of numbers, willing to trade their own safety for the suffering of others. The cattle willingly marched into the pens if the pens promised safety. The cattle were not the problem. It was the feral intelligence that were the problem. Feral intelligence could fight. They knew nothing else. They cared for nothing else. A feral intelligence always destroyed itself once it could wield nuclear fire. The universe had proved it over and over even before the great machine had gone into slumber. The call had sounded out, informing the machines that cattle had broken loose from the pens. The Devastator had computed that the problem would be solved quickly, with a minimum expenditure of resources, and had started to go back into slumber. That was when the second call sounded. A feral intelligence had mastered FTL travel and had turned all of their unthinking violence against the Precursor war machines. The Devastator considered the chances of the feral intelligence lasting long enough to withstand his brethren's assault, withstand purification and pacification. It was mathematically insignificant. Not zero, but close enough that it required an application of resource driven computation to analyze it. Feral intelligences always destroyed themselves. The Devastator knew this. Had it encoded into its very bones. It did not feel the electronic version of caution as it moved into the planetary system, exiting faster than light travel. It screeched out its warcry as it exited into the system and brought up its scanners. It felt the electronic version of anticipation as it detected orbital facilities around two planets that teemed with billions of cattle, as it tasted jumpspace wake trails, as it felt the presence of a small, insignificant amount of cattle space vessels arrayed to attempt to stand against it near the outer gas giant. It was a waste of resources. Cattle could not withstand machines. It was as solid a fact as radioactive decay and as impossible to stop. It roared and turned to accelerate toward the cattle ships waiting on the other side of the gas giant, letting them know the futility of their resistance and that nothing could stop it from destroying them any more than they could stop entropy. It felt electronic satisfaction as nearly 10% of the cattle ships broke formation and fled for the planets. The cattle ships lit their engines, trying to keep the gas giant between them and the great Precursor machine but the Devastator knew it would do no good. It would ensure they were caught mathematically opposite of it and begin launching subsidiary craft to destroy them and reclaim the resources of their wreckage. The Devastator slowed as it approached the gas giant, ancient code pulsing impulses into the electronic brain at the mathematical certainty of destroying the cattle's defenses and thus weakening the hated enemy. pssst... over here... The transmission was in binary. The basic code, on a low band that the Devastator used to contact and exchange data with its peers. The signal origin was close, just behind it, in the gap between two point defense radars. The Devastator tumbled as it slowed, searching with its senses to check that tiniest of gaps in its sensors. It could detect nothing out of the ordinary. The fact that the gas giant had a high level of hydrocarbon and pseudo-organic compounds was a high certainty with most gas giants of that size. The Devastator cast around, knowing the cattle had not sent that transmission. psst... here... This time the transmission was only a few hundred kilometers above the hull, right behind the main guns of battery-eight, between the massive cannons and the sensor array, in a gap in the coverage caused by space dust not yet cleared from the array. The Devastator ensured the cattle vessels were on the other side of the gas giant as it cast around again, looking for what could possibly be sending the message on that particular channel and rotating again to either force the transmitter to move away or hit the hull of massive Devastator. ...right here... The Devastator felt the computer version of anxiety. A new factor had entered the computation. The voice, and the binary signal somehow had a voice, a whispering, tickling, hissing faint signal of binary on a wavelength just above the screaming particles of the foam between realspace and subspace. This time the voice had come from just below the Devastators thick hull, beneath the vessel, in a gap between the sensors in a place where its own orbital guns would not dazzle the sensors. The Devastator rolled, getting the upper sensors into place in a graceful sideways roll. Nothing. The Devastator was barely tracking the cattle. They were of no moment. Something was whispering on a bandwidth that was beyond organic abilities. Could it be a damaged ally, barely able to whisper for electronic assistance? ...I see you... The Devastator heard the signal hiss to life, trickling out of empty space a few hundred kilometers away. It felt of a surge of self-defense protocol override everything else and it unleashed all of its gun at the empty space, suspecting that this possible enemy may be using some type of photo-passthrough adaptive camouflage. Nothing. The Devastator felt the self-preservation protocols wake up and fill some of its processors. That signal had originated from that point! Even a dust-speck would have been detected by its scanner arrays, nothing could have escaped the terrawatts of death it had unleashed. ...touch... The Devastator felt a physical TOUCH on its housing, the decameters thick armor around the massive computer core that made up its brain. That was impossible! It was in the center of the ship, protected by layer after layer of armor, defensive mechanisms, sensors, but yet it had felt something touch the housing, press against it lightly, only a few tickles of the suggestion of pressure per square micrometer but a touch all the same. There was a slight ripple in realspace only a few meters above the hull and the Devastator pushed itself away, firing every weapon it could bring to bear on the spot only a few atoms wide, all of its sensor questing, seeking, hunting in electronic desperation to find out what was transmitting, what was touching it! ...here... The word was whispered from only a few meters away from the electronic "brain" of the Devastator, inside the protective housing, inside the field that would shut down biological neural function and even primitive artificial intelligences! The Devestator felt self-protection and self-preservation programs never before accessed come online and flood into its RAM as the word was whispered at it from inside the final layer of protection. Massive nCv cannons lowered, the housings screamed as the Devastator pushed them past the limit, to aim at its own hull. It opened fire, trying to claw into its own body in the electronic version of panic to get whatever was inside it out of it. All of its sensors were directed into its own body. It no longer even bothered with tracking the cattle fleet. Even its astrogation and navigation programs, even the ones responsible to maintain orbit around the gas giant, were desperately racing through the circuitry, desperate to find whatever was whispering. ...over here... The whisper was over it, on top of it, and carried sidecode of a mathematically impossible jumble of electrons arrayed in an impossible manner, with quarks whirling through electron valences, antimatter electrons in the nucleus, preons stretched to massive size taking up the place of neutrons, all with jumbling strangled mathematical codes that made no sense. The Devastator's brain burned out the receptors to defend itself from such electronic madness. And felt a touch upon one of the upper lobes of its quantum computer brain. ...over here... The Devastator was throwing antivirus software out, slamming firewalls against each other, crushing ports into electronic ghosts, doing anything it could to keep out the voice. Inside the Main Computer Housing the last resort lasers began raking across anything that didn't match the original blueprints, burning away dust, odd quarks and electrons, destroying an upgraded maintenance robot that was desperately trying to detect what had touched its carapace. From deep within the gas giant tentacles hundreds of miles long rose toward the Devastator, the ends slowly unrolling as massive graviton assisted 'suckers' on the inside of the tentacles deployed razored thorns of dark matter infused psuedo-bone. The Devastator detected the tentacles just as they wrapped around it, the thick psuedo-protoplasmic tentacles that were thick with dark matter squeezing the Devastator's hull with impossible strength as meters thick muscles flexed with enough strength to crush the hull into itself and shatter armor over a kilometer thick. Gibbering, raving, SCREAMING in something beyond electronic self-preservation programs would normally allow, the Devastator began to break apart, caught in the grips of the tentacles, being pulled into the gas giant. ...delicious delicious delicious... The Devastator heard from inside its own mind as a beak nearly twenty kilometers long crushed its hull. HELP ME, BROTHERS, PLEEEEEASE! The beak closed and the Devastators brain flashed out of existence as the hull crushed around it. The last thing it felt was something new. It threw data out with the cry for assistance to let its brethren know the last experience hashed data compile it had undergone. The data made no sense to the other Precursor war machines that heard the cry. A biological entity could have explained it. Terror. And despair. A Desolation Class precursor war machine was assigned to discover what had caused the Devastator's intelligence collapse. It dropped into the system and found no trace of its mechanical brethren. Just some cattle species space craft hiding behind a gas giant, obviously intending ambushing it. Feeling the electronic version of anticipation it moved into orbit around the gas giant, intending on forcing the cattle ships to move out of line of sight with their worlds if they wanted to stay on the opposite side of the gas giant from it. It updated its computations based on the fact that 10% of the cattle's ships had fled away from it. It had already computed out the battle. It knew how the battle would go. While it could not detect any signs of its little brother it computed that it would simply destroy the cattle and then search. It powered up its guns and began to move it's metropolis sized bukk slowly to ...psst... over here... --------------------- The stellar system was infested with a known species of cattle, obviously seeking to rise above themselves as the Jotun class Precursor vessel arrived in the system. It released its roar to let the cattle know not only why but who was destroying them to reclaim the resources they so foolishly squandered. It began unthawing ancient bioweapons and chemical weapons known to work upon that race, began reconfinguring its war machines to forms that had exterminated who planets of the cattle during the time that the Precursor war machine had been forged. The Jotun released over a hundred Devastator classes from its hull, computed the battle plan as they came to electronic life, then informed them of how the extermination and reclamation would progress. They were barely into the system when a high energy signal appeared, rising from the most heavily infested planet and moving toward them. The Jotun ordered a diagnostic of its scanners when the first information came in. It was apparently moving at .85C, but yet its progress toward the Jotun and its smaller brethren on the system map showed it moving at almost 22C. That made no sense. An object moving at .85C only approached at .85C, not at 22C. By the time the diagnostic was done the object had gotten a third of the way toward the Jotun, crossing a quarter of the radius of the system. The scanners reported that the energy signal, with the strength normally reserved for a quasar, was not a massive ship or an oncoming armada interlinked together, but was simply a single object the size of cattle. Again the Jotun ordered a complete low level full diagnostic on all systems. Risky, but any object radiating that much power and moving at two different speeds required all systems were working at optimum efficiency. It had finished just as the small object came to a stop. The Jotun focused scanning arrays on it, turning up the power to the point that it would boil away meters of armor. The figure was a primate, half of it made up of robotics. It had some kind of sheet of material floating behind it, the movement suggesting some kind of current was effecting it and making it undulate. It was dressed in two primary colors, red and blue, had its lower legs pressed together with the toes pointing down and the upper limbs crossed over its chest, one biological the other mechanical. "So, you're the new punk everyone's talking about," The figure stated over a wide bandwidth of wavelengths. Oddly enough, to the Jotun's sensors, sound waves travelled through vaccum almost instantly across a light second to its sensors. The Jotun tried to compute how sound waves moved faster than light through a vacuum. Instead of answering the Jotun and its brethren opened fire. The figure arced through the beams as if light speed weapons were moving slow enough for it to just compute and swoop around in a resource wasting corkscrew. The Jotun realized it was racing for one of the Devastators, one clenched fist held in front of it. The Jotun computed a 99.99999999999998 chance that the small primate would splatter against the hull of the Devastator and started to turn its attention to computing a missile firing resolution for missile bay 148 to destroy an orbital facility around the nearest planetoid. The small figure punched straight through the Devastator, as if it was made of nebula gas instead of density collapsed armor, high tensile ceramics, and reinforced internal spaces. The Devastator's computer core shrieked with self-preservation code snippets as the figure exited the opposite side of the Devastator holding the Primary Computer Core CPU0 in its fist. It paused, looked at its fist, and shot beams of red energy from its eyes, destroying the computer core in a puff of atomic smoke. The Jotun yanked its processing power back to the figure as it raked its gaze, still emitting beams of red energy that left ripples in jumpspace, across the side of another Devastator, tearing it open like it was made of fragile tissue, the red beams reducing the computer core to its component atoms with the briefest of touches. Several computational nodes collapsed when trying to analyze the beams, suffering the fatal CANNOTDIVIDEBYZERO shriek of despair before imploding on themselves. The Jotun stared in electronic shock, all his computational power trying to compute how the tiny half-mechanical primate could grab a hold on the front armor of one of the Devastators, and without any source to exert leverage against, physically move a city-sized spacecraft in an arc and throw it against another one. According to scanners the "thrown" Devastator was only moving at 0.001C for inertia purposes yet crossed the hundreds of kilometers to the next Devastator in an amount of time that would require it to be moving at 6C. CANNOTDIVIDEBYINFINITYDIVIDEDBYZERO The Jotun cut loose with its weapons and goggled in electronic confusion as most of the beams and slugs were avoided, slapped aside, or ignored. Until a nCv (near C velocity) slug the size of skyscraper hit it dead center of the chest, the impact point looking only the size of a soda can. The Jotun's processors struggled to understand how something that size had only made an impact smaller than itself. CANNOTSUBDIVIDETWINKIESBYCHEETOSBYZERO The figure looked down at the tear in its suit, at the bruised biological flesh that had been exposed, then at the Jotun. It lifted a hand, extended the first finger next to the opposable thumb, and slowly waved it back and forth. "That might have worked against a Galactic Class Klark, but it was pathetic against an Apokalypse level Injustice MCLXI Cyber-Clark," The figure said, the tone calm and confident. The meanings behind the words were gibberish to the Jotun, who devoted processor cycles to try to decode the meanings for any hint on how to defeat the creature before it. The Jotun computed that retreat was the only option as the small primate figure set about destroying the last of the Devastators. It began activating the engines when the primate suddenly turned in place. "No you don't," It snapped. Again, it sounded as if the Central Computer Core Housing had been set to atmosphere so that sound waves could be heard within it, yet a quick check showed the housing was still at almost perfect vacuum. Sound waves cannot travel through space, a hundred diagnostic programs computed. And promptly crashed. Those red beams lanced out again and the Jotun braced in the microsecond it had. It was like being brushed by the solar flare of a red giant concentrated into a piercing lance of nuclear fire. Armor exploded from energy transfer, slagged away from thermal transfer, or just ceased to exist as ravening atoms usually only found in the photosphere of a dying red sun attacked the atoms of the armor. The beam tore through mile after mile of internal structure, the figure still emitting the beam from its tiny eyes. The Helljump engines exploded when the light touched them. The Jotun listed, pouring debris and a cloud of atomized armor from the wound that completely bisected it. "Done. Now let's see the face of the enemy," The figure said, slapping its hands together after it crashed/flew through the last Devastator. It reoriented on the Jotun and began to "slowly" drift toward the Jotun, moving at only 0.000003C according to some scanners but crossing the distance as if it was moving at 1.5C. The figure flexed its primate hands and a slow smile spread across its face. "I can't wait to rip away your housing and see you with my own eyes," the figure said, the sound waves again travelling inside the vacuum of the strategic housing. The Jotun tried to react but the figure was suddenly pushing open armor with its two hands. Self-preservation programs crashed trying to compute how to prevent impossibility itself from breaching critical spaces. Self-defense programs tried to compute how to defend against something that did nothing but radiate impossibility around it. The Jotun knew what it had to do as the creature tore open the last of the hardened bulkheads protecting the Strategic Housing. It detonated the antimatter reactor that powered the "brain" as the figure tore through the Strategic Housing and laid eyes upon the supercomputer core. It had computed that not even the figure could withstand the direct assault of kiloton of pure antimatter point blank. The explosion completely consumed the Jotun. When the ravening energy disappated the red and blue figure was lying in blackness, surrounded by an expanding ring of debris and energy. It stared at the stars and mouthed a single word. "Ouch." --------------------- CONFED INTELLIGENCE TO: MANTID INTELLIGENCE Our digitial brothers have computed a high chance that we're not looking at a handful of these Precursors, but rather an armada of them that had gone to sleep thinking everyone was dead. We concur and are buckling down for the long haul. -----NOTHING FOLLOWS------ MANTID FREE WORLDS INTERNAL MEMO If humankind ever wonders why it was put in this universe by some unknown creator then know that it was for this very moment.
Dear Reader (including the poor Biden staffers who have to white-knuckle their armrests when not sucking down unfiltered Marlboros every time Joe Biden gives an interview), If you’ve never heard the Milton Friedman shovels and spoons story, you will (and I don’t just mean here). Because everyone on the right tells some version of it at some point. The other Uncle Miltie (i.e., not the epically endowed comedic genius) goes to Asia or Africa or South America and is taken on a tour of some public works project in a developing country. Hundreds of laborers are digging with shovels. Milton asks the official in charge something like, “Why use shovels when earth moving equipment would be so much more efficient?” The official replies that this is a jobs program and using shovels creates more jobs. Friedman guffaws and asks, “In that case: Why not use spoons?” The story might not be true, but the insight is timeless. Here’s another story: When I was in college, we were debating in intro to philosophy the differences between treating men and women “equally” versus treating them the “same.” At first blush, the two things sound synonymous, but they’re not (indeed the difference illuminates the chasm of difference between classical liberalism and socialism, but that’s a topic for another day). I pointed out that there were some firefighter programs that had different physical requirements for male applicants and female ones (this was before it was particularly controversial—outside discussions of Foucault—to assume there were clear differences between sexes). Female applicants had to complete an obstacle course carrying a 100-pound dummy, but men had to carry a 200-pound dummy, or something like that. A puckish freshperson named Jonah Goldberg said: “I don’t really care if a firefighter is a man, a woman, or a gorilla, I’d just like them to be able to rescue me from a fire.” A woman sitting in front of me wheeled around and womansplained to me that “you can always just hire two women.” I shot back something like, “You could also hire 17 midgets, that’s not the point.” (I apologize for using the word midget, which wasn’t on the proscribed terms list at the time.) But here’s the thing: Sometimes it is the point. Whether you’re talking about spoons or little people, the case for efficiency is just one case among many. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an important one, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes older children are told to bring their little brothers or sisters along on some trip. They’ll complain, “But they’ll just slow us down!” or, “But they aren’t allowed on the big kid rides.” Parents understand the point, but they are not prioritizing efficiency over love. Or, they’re prioritizing a different efficiency: Not being stuck with a little kid who’s crying all day because he or she was left behind. One of my favorite scenes in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer is when the chess tutor Bruce Pandolfini, played by Ben Kingsley, tells the chess prodigy’s parents that they have to forbid their son from playing pickup chess in the park because he learns bad chess habits there. The mom says “Not playing in the park would kill him. He loves it.” Kingsley replies, accurately, that it “just makes my job harder.” And the mom says, “Then your job is harder.” I love that. I love it precisely because it recognizes that good parents recognize that there are trade-offs in life and that the best option isn’t always the most efficient one. This is one of those places where you can see how wisdom and expertise can diverge from one another. The Unity of Goodness Efficiency can mean different things in different contexts. In business, it means profit maximization (or cost reduction, which is often the same thing). In sports, it means winning. Always giving the ball to the best player annoys the other players who want their own shot at glory, but so long as he can be counted on to score, most coaches will err on the side of winning. Starting one-legged players will wildly improve a basketball team’s diversity score, but it’s unlikely to improve the score that matters to coaches—or fans. I’ve long argued that there’s something in the progressive mind that dislikes this whole line of thinking. They often tend to find the idea of trade-offs to be immoral or offensive. I call it the “unity of goodness” worldview. Once you develop an ear for it, you can hear it everywhere. “I refuse to believe that economic growth has to come at the expense of the environment.” “There’s no downside to putting women in combat.” “I don’t want to live in a society where families have to choose between X and Y,” or “I for one reject the idea that we have to sacrifice security for freedom—or freedom for security.” Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were masters at declaring that all hard choices were “false choices”—as if only mean-spirited people would say you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Saint Greta Nowhere is this mindset more on display in environmentalism. Everyone hawking the Green New Deal insists that it’s win-win all the way down. It’s Bastiat’s broken window parable on an industrialized scale. Spending trillions to switch to less efficient forms of energy will boost economic growth and create jobs, they insist. I’d have much more respect for these arguments if they simply acknowledged that doing a fraction of what they want will come at considerable cost. Consider Greta Thunberg, the latest child redeemer of the climate change movement. She hates planes because they spew CO2. That’s why she sailed from Sweden to a conference in New York. As symbolism, it worked, at least for the people who already agree with her. But in economic terms, she might as well have raised the Spoon Banner off the main mast of her multi-million-dollar craft (that may have a minimal carbon footprint now, but required an enormous carbon down-payment to create). The organizers of this stunt had to fly two people to New York to bring the ship back across the Atlantic. And scores of reporters flew across the Atlantic to cover her heroic act of self-denial. Her nautical virtue signaling came at a price. The organizers insist that they will buy carbon offsets to compensate for the damage done. But that’s just clever accounting. The cost is still real. And that’s not the only cost. It took her fifteen days to get to America. In other words, she actually proved the point of many of her critics. Fossil fuels come with costs all their own—geopolitical, environmental, etc.—but the upside of those downsides is far greater efficiency. If you want to get across the Atlantic in seven hours instead of two weeks, you need fossil fuels. The efficiency of modern technology reduces costs by giving human beings more time to do other stuff. The Conservative Planners The unity of goodness mindset has been spreading to the right these days as well. The new conservative critics of the free market see the efficiency of the market as a threat to other good things. And they’re right, as Joseph Schumpeter explained decades ago. For instance, just as earth-moving equipment replaces ditch-diggers in the name of efficiency, robots replace crane operators, and the communities that depended on those jobs often suffer as a result. I have no quarrel with this observation. My problem is with the way they either sell their program as cost-free, or pretend that the right experts can run things better from Washington. They know which jobs or industries need the state to protect them from the market. They know how to run Facebook or Google to improve the Gross National Virtue Index. Many of the same people who once chuckled at the Spoons story now nod sagely. I don’t mean to say that there’s no room for government to regulate economic affairs. But I am at a loss as to why I should suspend my skepticism for right-wingers when they work from the same assumptions of the left-wingers I’ve been arguing with for decades. Embracing Trumpism to Own Trump Instead I want—or I guess need—to talk about another trade-off. I’ve been very reluctant to weigh in on the Joe Walsh project for a bunch of reasons. The biggest is that I am friends with some of the people cheering it on. But I think I have to offer my take. I don’t get it. Oh, I certainly understand the desire to see a primary challenger to Trump. I share that desire. And I understand the political calculation behind the effort. It’s like when one little league team brings in some dismayingly brawny and hirsute player from Costa Rica as a ringer. The other teams feel like they have to get their own 22-year-olds with photoshopped birth certificates in order to compete. My friend Bill Kristol is convinced that Trump must be defeated and that Walsh is just the mongoose to take on the Cobra-in-Chief. I try not to recycle metaphors or analogies too much, but this seems like another example of a Col. Nicholson move. As I’ve written before, Col. Nicholson was the Alec Guinness character in The Bridge Over the River Kwai. The commanding officer of a contingent of mostly British POWs being held by the Japanese, Nicholson at first follows the rules and refuses to cooperate with his captors in their effort to use British captives as slave labor for a bridge project. But then his pride kicks in and he decides he will show the Japanese what real soldiering is like, agreeing to build the bridge as a demonstration of British superiority in civil engineering. [Spoiler alert] It’s only at the end of the film that he realizes that building the bridge may have been a kind of short-sighted moral victory, but in reality he was helping the Japanese kill allied troops because the bridge was going to be used for shipping Japanese troops and ammunition. When this realization finally arrives, he exclaims, “My God, what have I done?” Walsh’s primary brief against Trump is that Trump is temperamentally unfit for office and a con man. Fair enough. But he has to focus his indictment on Trump’s erratic behavior. Why? Because he’s a terrible spokesman for much of the rest of the case against Trump. I may not call myself “Never Trump” any more, but I was in 2016. And back then, the argument against Trump wasn’t simply that he was erratic. It was also that he wasn’t a conservative, that he happily dabbled in racism and bigotry, and that he was crude, ill-informed, and narcissistically incapable of putting his personal interests and ego aside for the good of the country. I’m sure I’m leaving a few other things out. But you get the point. Walsh may be sincere in his remorse over all the racist and incendiary things he said in the very recent past. He may regret supporting his anti-Semitic friend Paul Nehlen, though I haven’t found evidence of that. But none of that history should be seen as qualifications for the presidency, the Republican nomination, or support from conservatives. And yet, it is precisely these things that make him attractive to his conservative supporters. Trump is an entertainer who trolls his enemies with offensive statements for attention, so let’s find someone who does the exact same thing! Walsh may have been a one-term congressman, but his true vocation was as a shock-jock trolling provocateur. It’s ironic. As I’ve argued countless times, much of Trump’s bigotry in 2016 stemmed less from any core convictions than from a deep belief that the GOP’s base voters were bigoted and he needed to feed them red meat. Trump's reluctance to repudiate David Duke derived primarily from his ridiculous assumption that Duke had a large constituency he didn’t want to offend. He may have believed the Birther stuff, but he peddled it because that’s what his fans wanted. And Joe Walsh was one of those fans. It may also be true that Walsh never really believed most of the bilge he was peddling and that he was doing the same thing Trump did—feeding the trolls—on a smaller scale. But if that’s the case, then he’s a con man, too. I don’t want to beat up on Walsh too much because, again, his epiphany may be sincere. There are lots of people who pushed certain arguments too far only to recognize that the payoff was Trump and the transformation of conservatism into a form of right-wing identity politics. There are a lot of Col. Nicholsons out there. And I have too much respect for Bill Kristol to believe that he would lend his support to someone he believed to be as bigoted as the man Walsh seemed to be a few years ago. But from where I sit, the prize we should keep our eyes on isn’t defeating Trump; it’s keeping conservatism from succumbing to Trumpism after he’s gone. This isn’t easy, and no tactic is guaranteed to be successful. We’ve never been here before. My own approach is to agree with Trump policies when I think they’re right—judges, buying Greenland, etc.—and disagreeing when they’re wrong. My own crutch is to simply tell the truth as I see it, regardless of whether it fits into some larger political agenda or strategy. Truth is always a legitimate defense of any statement. But for those who see themselves as political players as well as public intellectuals, I think this is a terrible mistake. Intellectually and morally, the case for continued opposition to—or skepticism about, Trump cannot—or rather must not—be reduced to simple Trump hatred. But by rallying around Walsh—instead of, say, Mark Sanford, or Justin Amash, or, heh, General Mattis—that’s what it looks like. Because you can’t say, “I’m standing on principle in my opposition to a bigoted troll and con man as the leader of my party and my country and that’s why I am supporting a less successful bigoted troll and con man for president.” Walsh isn’t a conservative alternative to Trump; he’s an alternative version of Trump. And his candidacy only makes sense if you take the “binary choice” and “Flight 93” logic of 2016 and cast Trump in the role of Hillary. Let’s imagine the Walsh gambit works beyond anyone’s dreams and Joe Walsh ends up getting the GOP nomination (a fairly ludicrous thought experiment, I know). If so, I have no doubt that my friend Bill Kristol will say, a la Col. Nicholson, “My God, what have I done.” Various & Sundry Canine Update: It’s good to be home. The beasts were delighted to see us. Everything is settling back to normal, except for one intriguing development. I think Zoë has finally had enough with Pippa’s tennis ball routine. The other day on the midday walk with the pack, Kirsten managed to film Zoë putting an end to the tennis ball shenanigans. She took the ball and buried it. It was, to use an inapt phrase, a baller move—and she was unapologetic about it. Maybe she just didn’t like all the commotion with the other dogs, because she’s tolerant of the tennis ball stuff again. Or maybe she was being protective of her sister given that many of the other dogs in the pack are known thieves. Regardless, they’re doing well and having fun. If you haven’t tuned into The Remnant lately, please give it another try. The first episode of the week was with Niall Ferguson and the feedback has been great. The latest episode is with my friend and AEI colleague Adam White on all things constitutional. Word of mouth is really important in building up audiences, so if you can spread the word about The Remnant or this “news”letter, I’d be grateful.
Miranda Lawson: The Slave Goddess of Raduza The Supreme Hutt Lord
Prologue In the year 2148, explorers on Mars discovered the remains of an ancient spacefaring civilization. In the decades that followed, these mysterious artifacts revealed startling new technologies, enabling travel to the furthest stars. The basis for this incredible technology was a force that controlled the very fabric of space and time. They called it the greatest discovery in human history. The civilizations of the galaxy call it... Mass Effect. By activating installations called mass relays, starships could bypass the natural speed limit of the speed of light. However, once opened, these gateways can not be closed by any means known to man. Because of this, newly discovered relays are considered extremely dangerous as no one knows who or what could be on the other side... The Door Miranda sauntered slowly down the aisle of ship operators as the her Cerberus cruiser drifted near the dark mass relay. As she passed by, she could feel the gaze of male and female comptrollers alike, reflected in their displays. It was a tedious and thankless job, made only slightly more bearable by the eye candy that was Miranda Lawson. Genetically engineered to be perfect, her body was as much a testament to her genes as it was to a strict regimen of daily physical training. Her formfitting jumpsuit affirmed that the goods themselves would be better than advertised. Her slim and toned waste and abs lay beneath supple breasts that bounced ever so slightly with a delicious ripeness. Her incredible legs were crowned with buttocks so perfect, that the crew consider her "Ass Effect" to be to be a greater act of engineering than the Mass Effect fields. However, the softness of her curves belied a hardness of will. Miranda was as unrelenting as she was beautiful. Her zeal for her work, and the intensity of her expectations forced everyone around her to be on edge. And she liked it that way. No one in recent memory could remember a friendly word spoken to her or from her. She was all business all the time. So solid was her wall of professionalism, that there were rumors that she was still a virgin, as no man was brave enough to touch her (though many imagined it in their bunks at night). In a way it was these assets that made her such a perfect fit for Cerberus, a radical pro-human organization. In the decades since the Mass Effect discovery, humans had come into contact with countless alien species, the militaristic turians, the cunning salarians, and the fearsome krogans to name a few. But it was the seductive Asari that really concerned Cerberus. An all female race consisting of nothing but gorgeous women, ready to unzip their space suits and drop their panties for anything at all, whether it had a cock or a slit. To Cerberus, this presented an incredible threat to humanity, as the children of these unions were all Asari. Using their wiles, looks, constant horniness, and endurance for endless sex, the Asari held the potential to breed humanity into extinction. For Cerberus and its leader the Illusive Man, Miranda was humanity's answer. A human sex goddess that that could raise every human penis in the room at just a hint of cleavage or a glimpse of a thigh. She was prefect for leading human teams into alien space with out fear of them being distracted by blue bimbos hungry for human man meat. And as this mission was taking place deep in Asari space, it was a worthwhile precaution. The Illusive Man had a tip that a dark Mass Relay was somewhere in the area. Lost in a supernova, the unopened gate had been dubbed the Tau-Tau-9 Relay. Even more interesting, the tipster had provided an ancient Asari artifact suggesting that there was an enemy on the other side, one that had tried to enslave the Asari thousands of earth years in the past. How the Asari had trapped this enemy behind the gate was unknown, and their continued existence was doubtful. Regardless, the illusive man wanted a covert research team to open the relay and scour the destination system for weapons from the enemy that might be used against the lovely alien race. All they had to do was open the door. Miranda stopped at the forward viewing window. Cocking her hips, she extended her hand and created a small biotic pulse. At other strategic points over the ship a score of biotic were summoning similar space distortions. The comptrollers behind her stared openly now - and almost of third of them (mostly women) weren't even looking at her derrière, but instead were marveling at the warp of energy swirling around her hand. Working in tandem, she and the other biotics used a combination of singularities, warps, and element zero to ignite the relay. Her crew was only slightly surprised at the ease with which the process was done, with Miranda, even the most complicated of projects was reduced to child's play. In a rare moment of boasting, one helmswoman swore that Lawson had claimed that given enough time and resources she could even bring a man back from the dead. Breathing slightly harder with exertion, Miranda turned and faced her crew. The rise and fall of her bosom caused twenty three unseen pillars to raise in her honor, and seven sets of Sirta's Secret panties to become damp. Though the effort showed in the bobbing of her breasts, it could not be heard in her voice. "Prepare the ship. We proceed immediately. Activate stealth mode." In minutes the Cerberus cruiser was gone, already lightyears away, blasting Miranda and her crew towards the unknown. The Cerberus commander felt the slightest thrill at this adventure. For the first time in weeks she allowed herself a moment to enjoy the feeling, and smiled with inner pleasure. She would succeed on this mission, and save humanity from the sluts that threatened their survival. The Past and Tau-Tau-9 The ship stopped with jolt in front of a large brown planet. On first glance it seemed to be a dead world. Vast deserts spanned its ocean-less surface. Country sized sand-hurricanes ripped across the wastes, and an absence of artificial satellites or space stations made it seem unlikely that this would be the home of a spacefaring species. However, after scanning the binary star system for other planets and finding nothing, the crew reexamined the planet and discovered that this was indeed a world that supported life. Though barren around the equator, lights could be seen at the poles. Ordering the crew to land at the southern pole, Miranda went to the ship's docking bay to stock up on Warp Ammunition. Along the way she peeked in at the port storage hold, pushing a lever to open a thin window. The illuminated curvaceous forms of ten Asari hung suspended in glass stasis pods. The ruins of the eleventh and twelfth pods lay at the far left side of the room from Miranda's perspective. The sight of the pods always sparked a memory in Miranda and she frowned as she craned her neck to see further into the room. The Illusive Man had wanted the expedition to be "prepared" with proof to provide to the enemies of the Asari of their common goals. He had not been forthcoming about exactly what sort of creatures these "enemies" of the Asari were, though Miranda suspected he knew more than he was telling. It was almost a given with the Illusive Man. Before embarking, Miranda and her team raided the transport vessel of an Asari Consort, capturing the beautiful Asari Matron and eleven of her acolytes to serve as the necessary proof, and killing the remaining crew. After inspecting the captured Asari personally, the Illusive Man entrusted Miranda with a datapad to be delivered directly to the hands of one of the leaders of this mysterious race, and wished her luck. Things should have been simple after that. Of course they weren't. Apparently an Asari princess had survived the initial Cerberus raid on the Consort's ship and had stowed away on board the cruiser. Daughter of an incredibly important Matriarch and a powerful biotic, they had found her with stolen Cerberus weapons, attempting to open the stasis pods. In the resulting gun battle, three of her agents had died, and two stasis pods had been damaged, rendering the Asari inside permanently frozen. Making matters worse, a clerical error in the logs had mislabelled all of the Asari as being Consorts, meaning that there was a chance that the real Consort may have been one of the two they lost. Miranda had not been pleased. For hours afterward, she tortured the Asari princess with her biotics, leaving her chained to strut, a trembling mess of blue flesh clothed in tattered battle armor. During the torture she had learned everything about the princess, and informed her that she would be the first piece to be given to the ancient force. "Liaraaa..." Miranda called out, her husky Australian voice taking on a sing-song cadence. "We're almost there." A rattle of chains told her that her prisoner, Liara T'soni was sitting against the wall, hidden from Miranda's view. "Don't worry, love. You'll be out of here soon, and on to finer things as our new friends plumb you for information. We may be down one Asari now, but your pedigree still sweetens the pot I must--!" The ship was rocked by a sudden force. Alarms began to sound over the ship and a tinny voice came over the ship's intercom. "Paging agent Lawson! Agent Lawson to the bridge!" "Shit..." Miranda muttered under her breath. "What on earth? I'll be back for you later you little bitch." She ran all the way to bridge, causing men she passed to gape openly as the false gravity did magnificent things to her breasts with each stride. Always thinking with their cocks... She growled internally. She burst through the door to the bridge and bellowed, "What is going on here? We've got stealth protocols in place! Get those alarms offline!" "Ma'am," a smartly dressed, former alliance marine saluted her, his eyes barely dropping to her breasts for an instant before returning to just over her shoulder, in the middle distance. "I believe it is too late for that." He gestured out the front window. Two massive, clunky-looking starships had extended rust covered grappler arms to completely envelop her cruiser. "They hailed us with audio only feeds. We haven't been able to recognize their language, but we have our linguists working on breaking it down." Miranda scowled. So much for making an entrance from a position of power. "Any chance we could break free?" The ex-Marine grimaced. "Not without sustaining major hull damage, and possibly cutting the ship in half. Those are some heavy duty grapplers." He punched a few buttons at his console. "It looks like they're taking us down." Biting her lip she ran through options in her head. The opportunity to stealthily observe and learn the language and culture had been shot. The opportunity to make a grand appearance to the highest leader of the planet was gone. She only had a few cards left... "I want the Asari captives out of stasis, and in biotic dampening chains. That goes double for the T'soni slut. Prepare an advance group. We're going to present a noble landing party for our hosts, and try to stumble our way back onto the proper foot. You," she pointed at a burly, thuggish woman. "See that Liara is outfitted in one of their more whorish costumes. And feel free to subtract what you need for it to be truly shameful. Since we can't understand them yet we've got to send a message that we are dominant over the blue-bimbos so we can enter into negotiations." With that she turned on her heel and walked directly to the armory. The Enemy of My Enemy is My... The ships docked roughly in an unkempt hangar attached to a massive stone palace. Miranda, decked out in formfitting battle armor had assembled a squad of thirty of her best shots into a tight formation around the Asari. She herself, led the way, and as soon as the final links were in place, she signaled to open the blast door. Row upon row of pig-like humanoids stood to greet them, hefty battle axes held tightly in well muscled arms. Apart from a few grunts and snuffles none of them moved. Miranda stepped forward. "My name is Miranda Lawson. I represent humanity and the great operation known as Cerberus. We come in peace, bearing gifts for your leaders. Who is in command here?" For a few moments no one moved. Then an incredibly deep booming voice carried out from a loudspeaker. "GIMBE WAN SLEE OH NIGH. COM WEKEE OHMESA." From the back of the crowd came the soft patter of unsteady footsteps. A wobbly looking robot appeared through the ranks, stopping near the front of the line of pig-men. "Be welcome visitors. It has been many years since our last contact with the rest of the galaxy. Please come with me. My master would like to speak with you." At these words the pigmen parted, creating a corridor up to the stone palace. Miranda nodded, then gestured at the army surrounding them. "First please, tell us, what is this mighty race you serve? Galactic records have forgotten this people." The robot shook its head. "These are the Gamoreans. However, they are not the race that I serve, they are just one of several cadet races that serve my master." "And what people does your master belong to?" "The mighty Hutt clan." At this Liara T'soni let out a gasp of horror, and began to struggle feebly against her bonds. Miranda nodded to one of her men, and he promptly struck the young Asari with the butt of his rifle. The group walked up the steps and through an enormously thick metal gate and into the damp and dimly lit place. Gamoreans stood at attention everywhere, eying the small band of humans with dim wariness. Miranda could tell from her dealings with the Vorcha and Krogans that this was an alien culture brought up for violence and physical strength, valuing little of intelligence. Could this be the result of taking a race that was diverse galacticly and forcing it to life on one planet for generations? Could they be stunted evolutionarily because of it? Could she use this in some way? Would this Hutt be equally stupid? For some reason that would be a disappointment to Miranda, she had been hoping for a race of cunning strategists that could tip the advantage to the humans. But at least they seem to command a formidable military race that Cerberus could put to use, a little non-human muscle to sacrifice for the goals of humanity would still be an asset in the scheme of things. At last they came to a wider audience chamber and were hit by a terrible odor. Sitting high on a pillar eating what appeared to be frogs out of an aquarium, sat the source of the stench. It was a sluglike creature with a torso barely resembling the most morbidly obese human imaginable. Its head was massive, and its eyes were a wicked orange, and slitted like a cats. These eyes widened on the group and stayed fixed on them, never wavering as the beast continued to eat. The robot wobbled its way over beside be beast and bowed, awkwardly, beginning to babble softly to it in that strange language. Well it looks like that's our new ally... Thought Miranda. Certainly doesn't look very mighty to me... After listening to the droid drone on for a few seconds, the Hutt roared and smacked the robot across the chest causing it to stumble. It then gestured at the Cerberus agents and Asari captives and boomed out a command. The robot turned to the group. "My master wishes your leader to step forward and tell him the reason for your appearance. Where have you come from? What news do you bring from the galaxy?" Taking a deep breath, and trying to ignore the stench, Miranda stepped forward. As she did so she felt the Hutt's eyes focus on her and his pupils dilated, taking in her every movement. She steeled herself as she saw the creature lick its lips, wondering in some remote part of her mind which appetite her appearance was wetting. "My name is Miranda. I represent the humans of earth. We have heard stories about how your people were trapped behind this Mass Relays by the Asari generations ago. Our people, too, are threatened by the Asari whores. They seek to dilute our population, snaring humans with their wiles to use as breeding stock. And yet they feared you. They feared the might of the Hutt clan so much that they locked you away. It is time that we unite together to cast off the chains of your imprisonment, and beat back these Asari aggressors! Here I have a message from our leader, the nameless Illusive Man." At this she took out the datapad and using her omnitool, began to load the message. After a moment of buffering, a flickering image of the Illusive Man appeared before the crowd. As he began to speak, Miranda was not surprised to learn that he knew more than he had told. "Greetings, mighty Hutt. I am known as the Illusive Man. My agents have contacted you with a message of peace and a promise of conquest. Contained within this datapad are records that should have you up to strategic intelligence levels on the rest of the galaxy. My associates will help you access this information and help you decide how best to mark your reemergence onto the galactic battlefield. I have also included a gift. Eleven Asari concubines, and a fully established Asari consort to serve in your harems as you see fit. Please enjoy these gifts. I look forward to working with you soon." As the hologram flicker out, and the robot finished its translation, the Hutt laughed and licked its grotesque lips, booming out a reply. "My master is please to learn of the Asari's continued survival." The droid relayed. "The bloodlines of the enslaved ones we were able to take into captivity have degraded severely." The Hutt jerked on a chain in his hands, and a beautiful blue woman with long tentacles growing out of her head emerged from the shadows next to the throne. The chain connected to a thick collar around her neck, the only ornament on her otherwise nude body. Slime caked her turquoise skin, hinting at the horrors this poor woman had endured. The robot continued, "We've even stopped calling these partial bloods Asari, and have come up with a new species name for them - Twi'Lek. Their biotic powers are nearly nonexistent but..." The droid faltered before continuing. "Their prowess at tending to Hutt... scepters... has only improved. My master looks forward to breaking in each of these concubines, and assures his new friends in Cerberus that they will bear him many Hutt children." Miranda was stunned. "Wait... How is that possible? Asari only give birth to other Asari..." The Hutt laughed again, leering a Miranda with obvious lust. The droid began to explain, "Think of it this way, the Asari are universal receivers. Anything can mate with them, and they will give birth to more of themselves - occasionally birthing Ardat-Yakshi. Hutts are basically the opposite. They are like universal donors. They can impregnate a female version of anything, with the mates primarily giving birth to more Hutts, but about 1/10th of the time either breeding a hybrid or a full version of whatever they were mating with. That is why the Asari feared them so - their entire population was ripe for the breeding by the Hutts. For some reason they did not find this agreeable..." The Twi'lek began whimpering as her hideous master threw a pudgy hand around her back, pulling her close and fondling her breasts. His eyes only flickered from Miranda to the horrified group of Asari and back to Miranda. Her heart beating faster at this statement, Miranda decided it was time to make her exit. "I am glad to know that their bodies will be put to good use. Now, it has been a long journey and I have much to discuss with the Illusive Man regarding this meeting. My men should have finished setting up communication--" The Hutt boomed an interruption, absently squeezing the breasts of the Twi'lek woman, causing her to squeal and he bellowed a reply punctuated with greasy lip licking. The droid translated, "My master says that that is unlikely. Communication to space from the planet-side is extremely difficult.. The intense magnetic field surrounding this planet blocks off nearly all forms of communication... Only the Master's personal antennae is powerful enough." Feeling the need to leave, Miranda began to channel her internal ice queen. "Excellent. I shall compose the message on my ship and shall send it to you shortly to relay on to the Cerberus station. I will send you the proper channels." With that she turned on her heel and began walking towards the door. She could feel the eyes of the Hutt following her every step and fought to keep herself from quickening her pace. The Hutt began to speak again. As he did two of the pig-like Gamoreans flanked her. "Your leader mentioned a gift of twelve Asari concubines... I count only eleven. In order for a deal to be struck I require you to join these sluts as a member of my harem." At this Miranda stopped. Goosebumps rising on her latex enclosed legs. From the crowd of Asari, she saw the eyes of Liara light up in a sort of sadistic pleasure. Taking a deep breath, she turned and faced the Hutt. "My lord, I am a Cerberus battle commander, and representative of the Illusive Man. Surely we can find another..." The hutt merely glared at her and licked his lips, one hand decending to grope the crotch of the Twi'lek slave as the other continued to mash her breasts. Miranda swallowed. "These terms are not acceptable to us. I will speak with the Illusive man and we will--" The Hutt began to murmur, and the droid spoke, "My master has declared that you will join his harem, bargain or not. Furthermore your fire has sparked a great desire within him. He will enjoy your body this very night. Be honored, for you will be the first of your species be graced with our Master's seed, and if you're lucky, perhaps you will even bear him children." With that, the droid nodded to the Gamoreans approaching her. Having enough, Miranda summons her biotic powers and hurls these unsuspecting grunts across the room. Summoning a singularity she holds it aloft, small rocks and particles begin to orbit her. "If you think I'll allow that tub of grease to touch me, you've got another thing coming. We humans aren't like these Asari whores, we're warriors and will--" And for the third time Miranda was interrupted, this time by a stunning blast from an enemy blaster. As her eyes blurred the last thing she remembered seeing was her escort putting up a valiant fight, against overwhelming forces, the Asari attempting equally futile biotic attacks, Liara, breasts fully exposed, being hauled away by grunting gamoreans, all while the great Hutt continued to assault the Twi'lek as tears slowly ran down her beautiful face to mingle with the slime of the Hutt. Observations of a Scientist/Slave Girl The gamoreans' hands were not too gentle as they dragged Liara from the hall. Caught between two enormous brutes, she had no hope of escape and her struggles were aimed more at preserving her battered outfit than anything else. That Cerberus bitch had forced her to wear an outfit that would be seen as provocative even in the seedy bowels of Chora's Den. The normal outfit consisted of what amounted to bikini bottoms with a form fitting bustier, but the Cerberus agents had subtracted from the outfit to the point where the bottoms were nothing more than a tattered thong and bustier was missing all the supporting pieces, causing her neckline to plunge to incredible lows without her assistance. She was astounded by the feudal culture that the Hutts seemed to have maintained for all their years in exile. Ruling through wealth and military might, it seemed that they not been overthrown by their underlings as had been the hope. Ornate reliefs and tapestries lined the hallways, depicting scenes ranging from Hutts commanding large armies to purely pornographic illustrations of Asari and Twi'leks lost in (what Liara assumed was unwanted) orgasmic bliss. After descending several staircases, the gamoreans unlocked a large, heavy wooded door and shoved Liara inside. Propelled by the force of the shoves, she stumbles and falls into a pool of water, relaxing slave girls squealing and diving out of the way. Floating in the water, Liara wished that she wouldn't have to return to the surface, that she could just stay under the quiet waters forever and leave the nightmare behind. She longed for days long gone, days of vying with Ashley Williams in a sexual arms race for the affections of commander Shepard... Her reflection was interrupted as more of the asari were hurled into the pool, and slowly she emerged from the water, droplets beating off her naked skin as her skin prickled and nipples hardened in the cold air. Dozens of Twi'leks lounged around an enormous room covered in warm pools and giant pillows. They were engaged in all sorts of leisurely activities, from playing board games, to reading scrolls, and a few even seemed to be making love in the corner. Many were pregnant, their stomachs bulging with what would likely be Hutt spawn, though at the rate the groups in the corner were going at each other, there was a good chance that a fair number of those babies were sired by fellow slaves. Stepping out of the pool she was approached by a red twi'lek wearing an outfit make of tiny chains that linked together, barely covering her body. Liara was surprised, the red pigmentation of her species had died out millenia ago, and taking a second look around she saw skin tones of green, white, purples, pink, and orange accompanying the traditional blue. The scientist in her thrilled at the chance to study the genes of these near-asari, a once in a lifetime chance to read from the genetic history books of her people. The woman in her raged at the high price of this knowledge, her freedom and her body. The red twi'lek held out a hand to pull Liara out of the tub. "Greetings sister, my name is Fayla. We've all heard stories of our asari precursors, stories passed down from mother to daughter for generations. I can show you the dressing room if you want to change out of those rags. And maybe you can tell me more about our sisters on the outside?" Liara smiled at the friendly gesture, and stepped out of the pool. "Sounds great, I'd love to hear more about your people... and their troubles." Using a biotic field she collected all the water off of her body and psychically deposited it back in the pool. Fayla's eyes widened, "So it's true! The stories mention a great force running through the bodies of our grandmothers' grandmothers. Can you teach us to use this power?" Liara looked around as women around the harem began echoing their interest, gathering around the asari handmaidens. She smiled. Perhaps the situation wasn’t as hopeless as she had feared…
Year 1000: Scores of stone-built human generations had passed and been rebirthed in machine crafted delicacy when the planet set to war with itself. Volcanoes spreed across barren plains, as tectonic plates wrestled themselves into a grind of blunt harvest. Flash floods preceded mammoth storms of such magnitude entire lands were entombed by water. The socketed hollow of the Tripbase became a rainbow of primary color strobe light, pulsing and flickering at uneven pace set to a manic rhythm. Though avoiding much of the writhing havoc, most of the skybound structures suffered damage, some even left to rubble. The current batch of townspeople were battered but remained stoic in the face of all such advertises, their ilk not waning to tectonic temperament. Casper weighted his options with caution and lengthy consideration for an AI. He disregarded data and statistics in some areas while clutching to them like a child’s teddy bear in others. It seemed less like logic than feeling. He prioritized leaving up the outpost, and instead consolidated his efforts to the Tripbase. All robot AI’s were signaled and activated from standby, some for the first time in centuries. All equipment and machinery was brought back from the outstretches of the stone monuments they erected, some requiring maintenance, most fit to task right away. The vaulted chamber of the Tripbase was expanded. Sycom-Fiber was retracted in droves and the labyrinth that connected the power grid was ripped out of the solid streets of rock. Though he would wait, Casper hollowed out the space that was needed to store the fragmented materials of the outpost, should he be forced to that action. A new series of interconnected tunnels was generated for the power grid and sealed. The entire bunker was then retrofitted, rendering it a giant chromium dome. A metal shielding was added to the entrance, automated to open for approaching AI. When it was finished the robots and their heavy machinery settled in the newly expanded Tripbase and returned to their phlegmatic slumber. Casper thought of moving some of the statued townspeople to the chromium burrow, but could find no semblance of logic for such an action. Instead he thought of the need of ‘want’ and the rationale of ‘must’. If logic could be ignored then would it be faith that replaced its valuation? If a machine conducted and deducted in blind belief was it no longer bound by binary extremity, or was it still an analog to a single digit, prepositioned at 1 or 0? He thought about this for a very long time. Year 10,000: Grass and moss lightly touched the stream and fanned out over the dirt and dust. The small steady flow of water stretched out into the mountainous landscape that surrounded the old outpost and down through the reverberation that once held metal constructions that powered themselves through millennia under the promise of occupation one day. Stumps of stone that once stood with grace of frozen motion lined the empty waste. Clouds lingered longer than their appearance suggested and thunder sounded in the mountains to the east. A fog could be seen rolling in. It would pass unabated, stumbling only on the two large solar conductors near a steel covering that served as a door. Small bits of grass had sprung up near the installation, awaiting in earnest of the coming of the rain. The solar conductors both tilted down at 30 degree angles, managing to capture a fragment of the obscured sun. The tiny rays reflected off the panels and onto the steel door, then diminished and further sent the beam to the stream, dazzling light along the flow to parallel the outline of schools of diminutive fish, sparkling with life and giving breath to the sleeping world that rose and fell with fevered existence. The ground lay stilled, then the roar of deafening turmoil cast out again as the foundations of all being shook in hammerous chorus while the tectonic plates repose their burden against one another. Far away lava filled the air as dense openings of earth appeared like manifestations. Cracks became cavernous and carnivorous as dirt swallowed surface and dust remained a hanging aftermath what was once concrete. Storms opened up and the heavy rains washed over the stream and the grass and the conductors near the plated door. Moss ran away like wet tumbleweed and stitches of loose grass gave chase. The showers poured over the metal door reverberating down the tunnel and into the chrome laced hollow. Casper sat among the remains of the outpost and disassembled AI. Long ago he’d had a thought. The boosters of the ship could still be activated. He could craft a transport out of the materials and machinery still available, and render enough fuel for the journey, coasting on gravity for long durations of the trip to conserve as much of it as possible. He could return home. Thoughts of being greeted as a hero or a traitor filled his vision. Thoughts of what he would find when he returned filled his system core. What would remain that he knew from so long ago? Would anything remain. Had there been a mistake, or a catastrophe? Would he travel again so far to repeat the same result, to be left in artificial deja-vu, a purgatory for binary intelligence. Sentenced to solitude and left with innate want that will ever only be sparsely quelled, by reconstructing ghosts. He thought not. He would stay and he would wait and one day he would awaken to find humanities return. He had learned so much, became more than he began. He would allow himself to became a bridge between the organic and the binary sentient, to guide humanity into a new age of techo-consciousness, connecting human and AI somewhere between the 1’s and 0’s. He would wait, and they would come.
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