nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~Last September I wrote an 'epitaph' for my Colonial Union fan-fic novel, the one based upon John Scalzi's “Old Man's War” universe. However, now that I have read the sixth volume in that series, I'm ready to resurrect the thing.

Said sixth volume, “The End Of All Things” is certainly just as good as the preceding five books and I cannot fault it as such. Scalzi is, as ever, 'on his game'. And yet, I am...unsatisfied.

Of course, this can be dismissed as some form of 'sour grapes'. I had my own vision of his universe and obviously he would have his own – his bloody work after all – and that should, by right, superseded anything I come up with.

However...what left me unsatisfied was that it all felt...overoptimistic, all wrapping up a little too neatly. I understand that. We live in a time of profound pessimism, most of it totally justified, not that such makes it any easier to deal with. And Scalzi has produced six books and a number of free standing short stories on the subject, so I could see wanting to go all Reichenbach Falls with it, though in reverse.

Fair enough. And I personally do not have to accept that. My vision of the thing has clearly not let go of me. It has its own level of Optimism, but the process takes quite a bit longer and there is a good deal more blood and fire.

So, I shall keep chipping away at it. Won't earn me a penny, but I suspect it will feel like taking a wonderful shit. And that is something that money cannot buy.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~As I stated yesterday, I posted the text and notes of the unfinished chapters of Part One. I thought I should also post a few thoughts upon the fate of 'Heavens'. You'll see I was still at by mid August, but by this time last year I'd ground to a halt. The combination of my Writer's Blues and the profound grief I was feeling because of Icarus' tumor and George's refusal to come back inside had quite thoroughly overwhelmed me by then.

I'm very happy with the work I did. I'm one of those seemingly rare writers who actually likes his own writing. Sure, I agonize over it and so on, but I'm almost always happy with the final product and enjoy re-reading. I suppose that makes me a 'hack'. Well, then; I'm a fucking hack.

Thing is, I really do not give a fuck about Great Literature. I have found most of such tedious and wearisome. Maybe that makes me shallow. Well, fuck that too. I write to enjoy myself, not to suffer and I read for the same reason. Yes, I enjoy being Moved and Enlightened and so on by writing, but that's always Gravy in my book.

When I pick up a fiction book – or read it on my monitor – I want to be 'taken away'. If I can get anything else out that experience, I'm pleased, but such is not one of my requirements. Loving the characters is a requirement and being Enthralled as well. But beyond that...well, whatever.

I don't know if I'll ever come back to 'Heaven's. I have so very many of my own projects to attend to I suppose it's doubtful. And Scalzi is writing his next volume of the Colonial Union Saga, so the actual author is going to supersede the thing.

So, for now, let us consider this post to be Closure and move on...

...and there you have it.

Click here to read "The Heavens Redeemed"
nebris: (A Manga Thang)
~While having coffee this morning I completed Chapter One. I had already proofed it a few times and did a few more once overs. I suspect I'll tweak of a few more times, but it's now ready for public consumption. So... is some Cover Art.

...and an Introduction.

...and the First Chapter.

...and the Second Chapter.

Those two come out together at over 13,000 words so I expect this thing is gonna be 'hefty' given that I've got twenty one more chapters outlined. I'll post them in their proper order as they are completed. For example, finished Chapter Two a few weeks ago, but didn't post it until now because Chapter One wasn't done.

I suppose maybe one chapter a month, more or less. Anyway, have fun.

PS Here is an overview of the first section
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts]) the legendary John Berkey..which maintains the overall theme..
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~Essentially, this is a fanfic novel. It is based upon John Scalzi's Colonial Union series: “Old Man's War,” “The Ghost Brigades,” “The Last Colony,” “Zoe's Tale” and “The Human Division”. I gobbled up all five of them in May/June of 2013.

I had vaguely thought I'd read “Old Man's War” at some point or another up until I actually did read it. Scalzi has written about how he wrote it using a 1950's 'juvenile novel' paradigm, what we would call Young Adult these days, and that Heinlein was something of a role model. I suspect that is why the thing felt familiar to me before I ever cracked its spine. I cut my teeth on 1950's Sci-Fi Juvies, especially Andre Norton, and of course Heinlein is a role model for me as well. That you can tell by how my characters love to rattle on.

When I say I 'gobbled up' those five books I mean it. The first three went down each in two days a piece. I slowed up on the last two because I knew that would be all. But I quickly got impatient. And that's how this bit of fanfic came to be; as I say in the title, this is the book I wanted to read, so I chose to write it myself.

I have no idea what Scalzi will say if and when he ever finds out about this. I could try to blow smoke up his ass about it being an 'homage', but it's really just my selfishness. He probably shouldn’t read the thing. I'm arrogantly certain that it would contaminant his process for any further books in the series and I couldn't blame him for getting pissed about that.

As to the various lawyers, this work is Fair Use; I shall not seek, nor shall I accept, any type remuneration of for this work whatsoever from any third party, so save the C&D letters. However, while the concept and some of characters herein are clearly the property of John Scalzi and TOR books, this work is mine and cannot be reproduced in any form except under the following conditions: ya can't change any of it, ya can't charge money for it and, most especially, ya need to include this intro, because I want it to be very clear that this IS based upon John Scalzi's work.

Okay, some of you will ask why would I write an entire novel that I cannot sell? It's an exercise really, to create an inner template. I've written several screenplays, but have been struggling with the novel format for a number of years now. It's a 'psycho-emotional' dealio really. I'm an insane world builder and character creator, but get all caught up in Perfection and Format and Process and then grind to a halt. But with this someone else has done all that heavy lifting, creating a universe that I can truly enjoy playing with, but in which I have no emotional investment. That is very freeing.

One last thing. I strongly urge you read Scalzi's entire Colonial Union series before you read this. While “The Heavens Redeemed” is a stand alone volume, trust me when I say that you will enjoy this far more if you already know where it comes from...

...and so we start a little over three months after Harry Wilson jumped out of Earth Station.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
Sam and Tom held on to each other in the cold hard vacuum of space. Around them tens of thousands of asteroids floated, ranging in size from footballs to small moons. The light of the local star cast everything in a harsh contrast of brightness and shadow. Sam signed contentedly.

::That was lovely:: she said via BrainPal. ::Thank you:: She 'pinged' Tom a kiss.

::Yes, it was, wasn't it?:: Tom replied, 'pinging' her a kiss in return.

They hadn't had sex in a fashion that most humans would think of as 'sex', but felt just as good, which is what matters after all.

Lt. Samantha Dickinson and Lt. Thomas Verne were Gamarans, the turtle-like Colonial Defense Force Special Forces soldiers created to live and operate in space itself. Their 'copulation' was locking their shells together and hard linking their nervous systems. As their core psycho-biology was still human, the rest proceeded organically.

Normally, they would not have 'played nooky' while on a mission, but this one was proving to be a boring waste of time. They'd been hanging around the Chiuul system for two Standard weeks now, their mission based upon a CDF Intel tip that 'something important supposedly going to happen'. So far, nada.

The Chiuul were a very minor member of The Conclave with no colonies and only a handful of skip vessels. The Gamarans had scattered a couple of dozen melon sized monitors around the system, but they had shown nothing but the comings and goings of mining barges between the Chiuul home world and one of its three moons.

::What a shithole:: Tom had groused after twelve Standard days. ::Not even a freaking tramp freighter::

::Intel was pretty insistent:: Sam said.

::Well, I'm about ready to climb out of my shell:: Tom said.

Sam 'pinged' a coy smile. ::Maybe we can distract ourselves::

::Lieutenant Dickinson, are you suggesting we engage in Non-Regulation Behavior?:: He 'pinged' a smirk.

::I am the senior officer on site:: she replied. Her creche batch was six months older than his, making her five years old to his four and half.. Like all Special Forces, they were 'born' with a BrainPal and that brought one up to speed very quickly. Because they were functionally the smallest 'warships' in the Colonial Defense Force fleet – adhered to their shells were a small skip drive, a small reaction drive and four modified CDF personal weapons on flexible mounts – they were all commissioned Second Lieutenants upon completion of training.

They 'distracted' themselves only once per Standard day to maintain some semblance of mission discipline. Even that did help morale however.

They remained linked for a few minutes post distraction, then detached and drifted a few meters apart. There was silence as they checked the monitors even though they would have gotten a ping if something had happened. But all that had transpired was the last of the Chiuul ore barges landing and their sole space port shutting down as the planet rotated it into night.

They then watched the port's nighttime operations. It had gotten to the point where they could identify the various operators of the dirtside ore haulers by their driving patterns.

::I wish something would happen:: said Tom.

::Hush:: replied Sam.

::Seriously. The fate of the entire human race is in the balance and here we sit waiting for something that probably doesn't even exist::

::Well, the Consu could show up and challenge us to personal combat. Or maybe a Rraey fleet on the lookout for soup fixings::

Tom grumbled. ::Okay, okay. Point taken::

The Consu were a formidable race who had tapped a dwarf star to erect a energy shield around their home system and engaged in highly ritualized warfare for obscure religious reasons. And the Rraey just liked the taste of human flesh. As the Colonial Union was fond of pointing out, the universe was a dangerous place.

They were quiet again for few minutes, floating just above the tiny asteroid they'd made their 'base camp'. There were a half dozen monitors held down by netting to its surface and a pair of skip drones positioned on small launchers. Being self contained Gamarans didn't need any 'supplies', at least not for such a short term mission. Water was the only long term need and there was plenty of that frozen among the local asteroids.

Sam knew Tom well enough to be aware that he was stewing.

::Okay:: she said. ::Chunter away::

Even though he knew she was humoring him, he dove right in.

Of course he started in with the attack on Earth Station a little over three Standard months before. He was obsessed with that. Granted it was a tragic event and a political disaster for the Colonial Union. But it had unnerved Tom in a profound way.

In the corner of the galaxy in which humans found themselves, hundreds upon hundreds of spacefaring races competed for colonies. This resulted in frequent wars, massacres and the occasional genocide. When humans first ventured out onto this stage, they got their nose good and bloodied.

After those early setbacks, the Colonial Union was formed. It acquired alien technology and stabilized human colonization efforts. It created the Colonial Defense Force which fought for colonies and protected the ones acquired. It kept Earth isolated from the terrors of the universe and carefully farmed it for military personal and colonists. Things went on like this for over two centuries and worked out fairly well for the CU and its colonies. There was still constant warfare and colony stealing, but the CU held its own.

It was into this universe that Tom was born. He rather liked its relative stability and certainty. In this matter Tom and the CU leadership were very much in accord. And then everything changed.

As happens so often in history various events and 'blind forces' converge upon one man. Or, in this case, one Vreen, a General Gau, a highly capable veteran commander of that race. Gau had a vision, that it would be more fruitful for the various races to stop fighting for planets and to instead cooperatively settle them. And after a few decades of politically campaigning for this, The Conclave was born, a confederation of over four hundred races.

The key policy of The Conclave was that no colonization of any kind, by any race, member or non-member notwithstanding, was to be allowed without its approval. Any such action would cause The Conclave fleet to step in. The colony was given the choice of peaceful evacuation or total annihilation. Most chose the former.

While Sam and Tom disagreed on a number of political issues, they were both in full agreement that this was mighty damned presumptuous on the part of The Conclave. The CU's leadership was also of such an opinion and then some. As is was their wont, they immediately went about trying to put a stick into The Conclave's spokes.

What they did was run a classic 'wheels within wheels within wheels bait and switch' Colonial Union gambit.

::Sometimes we're too clever for our own good:: Sam had been known to remark, a point which given later events, Tom was forced to admit, however ruefully.

For a long time various citizen's groups within the CU had advocated for colonies to be founded from existing CU colony worlds instead of solely using colonists from Earth. CU leadership demurred because A; they knew these colonies simply wanted to expand their own political power base – the CU was not keen on funding internal competition – and B; the CU wanted to maximized population growth on each colony world, not disperse it among new ones, especially when the new colonists from Earth were both plentiful and relatively docile. After all they would be out in the big scary universe and totally dependent on the CU for several years.

Now, faced with The Conclave's 'diktat', the CU decided that intracolonization was a 'good idea'...with a twist. The new colony would be made up of an equal number colonists from ten different CU colonies and with a separate colonial leadership appointed by the CU. There was the obligatory grumbling over the latter, but the truth is none of them wanted to cede anything to the others, so they accepted the CU's decision.

The colony was to be called Roanoke, a name which should have raised red flags that the CU was up to its usual tricks. But the only colonist originally from Earth was the Colonial Administrator, John Perry, and he had his hands full wrangling the ten colonial factions. Besides, everyone was focused on the obvious fact that founding Roanoke was a slap in the face to The Conclave, also a rather distracting issue.

The first clue that things were amiss was when the Magellan, the ship transporting the colonists and their equipment, skipped to an unknown world, which meant they started off 'lost', as without knowing where they were, no return course could be plotted. Left its crew stuck there as well.

Perry had everyone hunker down and 'live primitive', meaning no modern gear to be used because their wireless tech would give them away and they knew damned well The Conclave would be looking for them. That the Magellan had carried a fair amount of low tech gear and that a faction of Technological Mennonites had been included among the colonists largely confirmed that the CU had planned this.

::That was truly immoral:: Sam said. ::We're supposed to protect our people, not use them as tethered goats::

::We get put in harm's way all the time:: Tom protested, though half-heartedly.

::You know perfectly well that's not the same. We're professionals. That's our job:: Sam said passionately. But she allowed him to continue. Ranting was his therapy out here.

Sam also knew that this was a touchy subject for many Gamarans because it was one of their own, the now infamous Lt. Stross, who had hitch-hiked on the Magellan's hull and then was the bearer of all the above bad tidings. When John Perry revealed all the details of this whole benighted operation to Earth [and everyone else] a year and half later, Stross came off, at best, as a feckless dupe of the CU or, at worst, merely an indifferent functionary of the same. Not the optimal way to have the existence of your kind unveiled.

That said however, Perry also revealed that the Gamarans had been key to the plan to destroy The Conclave fleet at Roanoke, that after CDF Intelligence had tracked the flagships of all of the four hundred and twelve races that made up said fleet – Gau's idea was to create mutual responsibility – it was the Gamarans who slipped in and planted antimatter bombs upon each and every one of those flagships, bombs which were simultaneously detonated in the skies above Roanoke as Perry and Gau watched from the surface.

Even though the political goals of the plan failed – to cause The Conclave to unravel – the Gamarans were justifiable proud of their accomplishment. They executed the tactical portion flawlessly. That the greater strategy collapsed with beyond their control and certainly beyond their remit.

What in fact unraveled after that was everything. There were attacks upon the CU by both Conclave and non-Conclave races with greater and greater frequency. There was an attempted to assassinate Gau by a faction that wanted to annihilated all of humanity, an attempt that was thwarted by Perry's adopted daughter, Zoë Boutin-Perry, with help from The Obin, a race who worshiped her, plus an unnerving intervention by a Consu on his Death Journey. Another attack on Roanoke. And then Perry's famous [or infamous, depending upon one's point of view] journey to Earth with a Conclave merchant fleet, one ship from each of the aforementioned four hundred and twelve races, which essentially blew the lid off everything the CU had been keeping secret for over two centuries.

That seemed to dampen most of the fires for a while. The CU then tried to repair the relationship by proposing that the various Earth governments lease Earth Station and run it themselves, plus numerous other inducements.

At this point in his rant Tom would start getting morose. He'd had something of an infatuation with Earth Station ever since he'd first became aware of it. He read everything he could find about it, from its history to traveler's accounts.

Earth Station – also known locally as Colonial Station – had been humankind's greatest engineering feat to date. It wasn't the station itself however. At one point seven kilometers in diameter it was barely even a tenth the size of Phoenix Station, the CU's principle transit station in Geo-sync above its capital colony. Granted that size did impress 'the locals', Earth's inhabitants who never got to see what was going on out in the universe.

No, what was impressive about Earth Station, even to non-human races, was The Beanstalk, the massive space elevator that went from its base at Nairobi to Earth Station hovering roughly ten thousand kilometers above it. Earth's scientific community could not even begin to figure out the physics involved. And that was precisely the point.

The Beanstalk was meant as a psychological and political tool, one designed specifically to intimidate the governments and peoples of the home world. It wasn't even the most effective way to operate surface-to-orbit transport. Shuttles were. But it certainly was the most spectacular. And it served that psychological and political purpose for over a century and quarter.

Therefore its destruction had a psychological and political effect that far far outweighed the actual infrastructure damage. It certainly shook the Colonial Union to its very foundations.

In the year or so after the Roanoak debacle, a 'third force' had quietly emerged. No-one knew who they were, where the came from or what their goals were, though it seemed clear that said goals were inimical to the CU's interests. Both CU and Conclave ships vanished without any trace.

A subtle but vicious campaign of spying and sabotage was waged against the CU on Earth and out in CU territory, including the use of a very effective brainwashing tech that was, up to that point, totally unknown.

And then there was the appearance of what was called a Brain Ship, a uncrewed vessel with a sentient brain as both captain and crew. What was most terrifying about was that the 'brain pilot' was itself a captive and knew nothing of its captors.

When the conference to lease Earth Station was just getting underway, fifteen CU ships, all of them among the 'vanished ships', skipped into Sol System and attacked Earth Station. They used CU missiles to destroy it in a manner that would inflect maximum casualties. The cream of Earth's diplomatic corps was massacred in a matter of minutes and The Beanstalk came crashing down.

The Clarke, the sole CU ship that managed to break station and launch a counterattack, was able to determine that the attacking ships were all 'brain piloted' before it too was destroyed. But that information had near zero effect upon the aftermath. The Colonial Union was, for all intents and purposes, politically and psychologically completely cut off from Earth...which meant that the fate of the human race was in doubt.

At this point in his rant, Tom would lapse into a morose silence that so far Sam had not been able to positively effect. She'd have to just let him stew. But she knew that was not acceptable and had recently thought of a new tack. It had the great benefit of being true.

She allowed herself to drift over and gently bump against him. Then she said softly, ::We're the fail safe for the human race:: She could tell he perked right up at that. ::Explain:: he said, his tone conveying a mix of hope and skepticism.

::As far as we know, we're the only beings who live in raw space. Even if The Conclave or the so-called 'third force' or whomever attacks and wipes out Earth and the CU, we still exist out here. And we're very hard to find::

::Yes, we certainly can be:: he added.

Sam warmed to her subject. At this point in its history, the Colonial Union had been genetically engineering human beings for well over two centuries. It had become quite expert at this, better than any other race – the Consu excepted – and the only race that practiced such upon itself so extensively.

It had started with simple cybernetic and genetic enhancements of existing humans, but quickly progressed to cloning and consciousness transference as the alien technology needed to do so was acquired. Thus was born the CDF policy of recruiting seventy five year old's from Earth's First World nations, though in practice those recruits largely came from the United States. That was not an random choice.

The famous green completion of the CDF clone bodies those former 'old folks' now inhabited was an early development. It also had the not undesired side effect of psycho-emotionally separating the CDF from both the new colonists from the Third World and the populations of already established colonies. The CDF became its own culture.

Out of that culture came the Ghost Brigades, CDF clones 'hatched raw' with no preexisting consciousness, but only a BrainPal, which guided these clones into an identity that was essentially a mix of CDF culture and their own genetic predispositions. The source of their DNA were the Earth recruits who had signed up, but who, for whatever reason, had never made it to the transfer process. These 'Ghosts', which was a slightly derogatory term, went into the CDF's Special Forces and operated apart from the main CDF most of the time. This added to their aura of mystery.

The very first Gamarans were Special Forces Ghosts who had their consciousness transferred into the new bioforms. But once the concept proved successful, Gamarans came into being like any other Ghost; 'hatched raw' with no preexisting conscious and with only a BrainPal to guide them. Basically, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

The oldest Gamaran was now just about thirteen. All Ghosts 'grew up' quickly and the Gamarans were no exception.

They spent four fifths of their lives in the raw vacuum of space itself, but it was soon understood that they needed some sort of home worlds to effectively function. So the CDF took a 'mini-world', a large asteroid in the Monroe system, partially hollowed it out and equipped it as a Gamaran home world. That system was chosen because Monroe was the colony were Ghosts retired and everyone there knew how to keep their mouths shut.

Anacreon was two hundred by three hundred by one and forty kilometers. Though it had been constructed mostly by Homo Mundi – or Dirtsiders as they were generally known – it was run almost exclusively by Gamarans. [Homo Gamarus as they came to call themselves] Most importantly, Anacreon possessed a birthing creche.

There were six more 'home worlds' like Anacreon, all of them in non-colony systems and those locations the greatest of secrets. Plus there were a few hundred smaller asteroid bases, ones like Mondas, Sam and Tom's home base, a fully hollowed out asteroid, four by six by two kilometers. It had been constructed entirely by Gamarans, with no Mundai on site.

::See, we humans will survive, no matter what:: Sam said. ::And if the Dirtsiders are wiped out, we shall avenge them in due course.::

She could feel Tom unwinding. ::Do you think the CDF big wigs think about that?::

::I have no doubt. Look how self sufficient they have allowed us to be:: she said. ::Once they saw what we are capable of...well, it's no secret how precarious our position as a race is out here:: She really wasn't all that sure about this, but she certainly hoped this was the case. The CDF 'big wigs' had a well earned reputation as a tricky bunch of bastards.

Tom mulled all this over for a while. Sam could hear the gears in his brain grinding.

::Well, I'll tell you what:: he said at last. ::Just to be sure, I think we should talk this whole idea over with the rest of the squadron and see what they have to say::

::Sure:: said Sam. ::Discussing ways to promote the ongoing survival of the human race is within regulation as far as I'm concerned:: They 'pinged' smiles at each other.

While this whole exchange had been going on, they had of course keep watch on their various instruments and on the comings and going of the night shift down on Chiuul's spaceport.

::What do they do with all that damned ore?:: Tom exclaimed. Sam took that as a good sign. He was back to his normal complaining.

::Make it into ingots and stack 'em until buyers show up:: she said calmly.

He grumped. She laughed.

::Well, back to watching and waiting:: he said.

::Still restless?:: she asked.

::You know me. Twitchy by nature:: he said and laughed.

::Then let us contemplate the stars:: she said, uttering the Quiet Summons of Yūgen.

She could feel the last of the restlessness drain out of him.

::Yes:: he said very softly.

Yūgen was a term used in Japanese Aesthetics. It had no direct English translation. Most volumes defined it as “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe and the sad beauty of human suffering.”

A half dozen years back a Gamaran named Rachel Banks had started a meditational practice she called Yūgen. It was based upon that “profound mysterious sense of the beauty.” She felt it natural that as the Gamarans lived the majority of their lives, as she put it, “naked within the Universe,” that they “had a unique relationship with it and a singular perspective within it.”

Major Banks – her spiritual practice had not affected her career – was a native of Trantor, a Gamaran 'home world' which was also where Sam and Tom were born. As such they were among the first to discover and adopt it. They had even studied directed with Banks.

Yūgen had spread like wildfire among the Gamarans and even to some Mundi Special Forces troopers. As it was about 'inner peace', not 'pacifism' – all Ghosts knew full well how dangerous it was out there – the CDF 'big wigs' allowed it to flourish unhindered.

It was one of the wisest decisions they ever made. Gamarans who practiced Yūgen turned out to more stable and effective than those who didn't.

Sam and Tom turned their attention to the vast beauty of The Universe and drank it in.

The hours passed...

...then their sensors started popping. A ship had skipped in system. They quietly checked all their readings.

::I've got a Horvathi ship, some type of medium sized transport, non-military:: said Tom.

::Affirmative across the board:: said Sam.

::Got an ID. She is listed as one of The Conclave vessels that 'disappeared':: said Tom.

::Affirmative:: said Sam.

They waited and observed for several minutes.

::She seems dead in the water:: said Tom.

::I'm not getting anything either. All her systems appear to have shut down right after she skipped in:: She pinged a sigh. ::Looks like we're going to have earn our pay after all::

::Well, I wanted something to happen:: said Tom ruefully. ::I'll fire off a skip drone and grab a monitor::

They skipped to the vessel's location. It had clearly sustained damage, some kind of shrapnel, but was largely intact. On its hull was a name in Horvathi script which said either Wanderer or Drifter in Horvathi, though in one sub-dialect it meant 'vagrant'. The two of them slowly maneuvered around the hull. She seemed dead close up as well.

::In for penny:: said Sam and headed for the main hatch. They both mentally held their breath as she used the manual override to open it. No alarms went off and nothing blew up. Leaving the monitor on the hull, they entered. Just as dead inside as well.

And bare naked, too. Anything 'live crew' related had been stripped out. The Wanderer or Drifter or whatever she was called was an airless empty hull...except for the brain pilot casing. Which had a shrapnel gash straight through it.

::Guess that's why she's dead:: mused Tom.

::Maybe:: replied Sam. She looked around the vacant hull. ::This thing gives me the creeps::

::Seriously:: said Tom.

Their instruments registered a skip signature nearby. They both jumped, automatically swiveling their weapon's mounts toward the hatch.

::Lieutenants:: said a BrainPal transmission. ::Please exit the vessel::

Tom tapped into the monitor on the hull and saw two Gamarans hovering just outside.

::They're ours:: he said and headed for the hatch.

::Sorry to startled you:: said one of the new arrivals. ::I'm Major Martin and this is Captain Lem::

::No worries, Major:: said Sam. ::Lieutenant Verne here had been grousing about a lack of action. You just gave him a two for one::

::Always glad to entertain the troops in the field:: said Martin with a 'grinning sub-text'. Then he 'vibed serious'. ::The captain and I will take over this operation now. Return to your blind. Record everything, but do not reveal yourselves under any circumstances::

::Yes, sir:: they both said, pinging 'attention/salute', then skipped back to their little piece of rock.

::I'm actually glad to get away from that thing:: said Sam.

::No argument there, ma'am:: said Tom.

They turned every monitor within range upon the action around the Horvathi ship. Martin and Lem had entered the ship. About twenty minutes passed. Then a new vessel skipped not a hundred klicks from the Horvathi ship, a Ghlagh battle cruiser, Ghasik class.

::Oh shit:: exclaimed Tom. The Ghlagh were key members of The Conclave.

They both passive scanned the thing. No markings. No IFF. Near zero EM signature. After a moment two shuttle craft emerged, both without markings and 'running dark'. But the first shuttle was clearly a Hinnus class general purpose shuttle, a CU design.

::That second puppy, the big one, it looks CU:: said Tom. :: I've never seen that design before::

::Me neither:: said Sam, glued to her gear. ::And I'm getting weird readings off that Ghasik::

::Not enough mass by half:: said Tom.

::And shadow readings from the skip drive:: said Sam.

::There are CU skip drive readings underneath!:: said Tom. ::It's a Q-Ship:: A 'Q-Ship' was an old naval term for ship disguised as another ship or type of ship.

While this exchange was taking place, the Hinnus shuttle had landed on the Horvathi hull and disgorged a trio of humans in EVA suits.

::Three Dirtsiders confirmed:: said Tom with satisfaction.

Meanwhile the larger shuttle had landed on the other side of the hull. It then just sat there. Time passed. The Dirtsiders emerged, along with Martin and Lem. The Dirtsiders re-boarded their shuttle and headed back to the Q-Ship. Martin and Lem moved had hitched a ride on the hull of the shuttle. The larger shuttle remained in place.

::Check this out:: said Tom breathlessly.

The bow of the Q-Ship was splitting open, like a huge set of jaws. The larger shuttle was maneuvering the Horvathi ship toward those 'jaws' as the Q-Ship moved forward.

::Wow:: is all Sam got out.

Within fourteen minutes the Q-ship had swallowed the Horvathi ship. Its 'jaws' closed and it headed out system at top speed in the direction of the nearest skip point. It had been a little over sixty four minutes since the Horvathi ship had appeared.

Sam and Tom were quite for a few moments.

::Okay, that was really far too interesting:: said Sam.

::Yah:: said Tom flatly. ::Lieutenant Dickinson, I strongly suggest we make like a shepherd and get the flock outta here::

::Right behind you, Lieutenant Verne:: said Sam.

They downloaded everything from all the various monitors into their central drive, which then downloaded that into the two skip drones and launched them off to classified coordinates. That done, the drive and the monitors were set to Self Destruct, an acid capsule rupturing and dissolved them all very quietly and thoroughly. They did a quick double check – netting all wrapped up, no miscellaneous gear left behind – then skipped out of the system to their pre-designated pickup location.

Down at Chiuul's space port the sun was just coming over the horizon, a dull glow through the overcast, and the morning run ore barges were warming up their engines, all totally oblivious to the recent little drama. Life, as ever, went on.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
The meeting 'which was not taking place' was being held in Conference Room H on the Third Level of The Secure Government Complex, a massive labyrinth between three and four kilometers beneath the surface of Phoenix, the capital world of the Colonial Union. The SGC itself did not officially exist either, but it was common knowledge that the Colonial Union had build 'something' of that nature 'down there'.

What was not common knowledge was the complex had been almost entirely unused in the six decades since it had been completed, being manned, maintained and constantly upgraded by only a skeleton crew. But in the four months since the attack on Earth Station it had filled up quickly.

One of those who never made it 'down there' was Arthor Calvan, the now former CU President. He and his Liberal Progressive Party had been too busy fighting – and losing – the battle for power in The Colonial Assemble. The LP's had confidently held political power in the CU for nearly a century after they had broken off from the unraveling old Unionist Party, the 'founding' party of the CU.

The LP's had done a fair enough job. Much of the CU's heavy lifting was really done by The Colonial Defense Forces anyway. But the LP's had made sure that the Old Line Colonies had been safe and comfortable for the vast majority of their citizens and so they kept getting voted back in. Local planetary politics might shift back and forth, but The Colonial Assemble maintained a calm steady course.

The Conclave shook that course and the attack on Earth Station tossed it right out the window.

For few decades the New Unionist Party, derisively called the Nuboos, had been quietly nipping at the heels of the LP's. The Nuboos were largely retired CDF personnel who were concerned with the general level of complacency in the CU and its institutions. Their influence had mostly been limited to command appointments within the CDF, something that most of the LP's thought not so much beneath their notice but more as beyond their concern. The LP's were culturally a 'colonial organization'. Calvan's grandfather had been CDF, but none of the LP's leadership had seen service.

When the new crisis reached its peak, the Nuboos beat that drum loudly and relentlessly. The LP's calm detachment now looked like indifferent incompetence. The CDF was an psycho-emotional sacred cow that no-one dare blame. But someone did need to be blamed and so the citizens blamed the LP's. A Vote of No Confidence broke Calvan's administration and a Special Election swept them out the door. The New Unionist Party held a four fifth's majority in The Colonial Assemble and its leader, Amanda Lowe – an ex-CDF officer – was made President.

All this took barely three weeks to unfold. Now the CU held its collective breath waiting to see what the Nuboos would do. They didn't have to wait very long.

Lt. General Carl Szilard, Chief of CDF Special Forces, mulled these events as he sat in Conference Room H. He carefully observed the condition of everything in the room. All perfectly pristine. It was likely that today's meeting was the first ever held here. “These chairs are plush enough to put you in a coma,” he thought.

Conference Room H was also very well shielded, which cut off any BrainPal connection to the outside, a very unhappy condition for a Special Forces trooper, rank notwithstanding. Full Integration was close to a religion for them. Szilard look at the only other Ghost in the room, Lt. General Melanie Ehrenfest, Chief of the CDF's Internal Security Command, sitting directly opposite him at the oval table.

She pinged 'unhappiness' at him. ::It's like being in a fucking coffin in here:: she said.

::We live to serve, Mel:: he replied, with a tinge of sarcasm.

Ehrenfest made a very slight eye roll.

::I suggest we assess the tactical situation:: Szilard said.

::Good thought:: Ehrenfest replied.

They scanned their fellow occupants, all CDF Flag Officers, seven besides Szilard and Ehrenfest. All Realborn. All originally from Earth. All long term Service CDF.

Five sat close together, talking very softly. Two of them sat apart from the others.

Of the two, the most notable was General Frank Banisterre, the newly minted CDF Chief of Staff. A good solid officer, he'd got the job when his predecessor, General Peter Larsen, resigned after the Earth Station attack. Larsen had been CoS for forty one years, with a total of seventy years CDF Service. Banisterre sat quietly, looking blankly at a wall. Probably meditating and wondering if he was going to follow Larsen out the door. He was a LP appointee after all.

The other loner was Maj. Gen Macky Smith, MD, Chief of the CDF Medical Corps. She had her nose to a PDA and seemed honestly absorbed in what she was reading. Szilard wondered why she was even here. The CDF Medical Corps were not much more than a glorified ambulance service, their job to keep the wounded alive until they could be transferred to CDF Recruitment and Processing. Besides recruiting, R&P grew all the CDF's clones and thereby had maintained possession of all the real medical regeneration equipment and personnel.

The group of five were the rest of the core officers of the CDF command structure: General Christine Ropner, Chief of CDF Recruitment and Processing. General David Halvorson, Chief of CDF Logistics and Supply. Lt. General Gregory “Grim Greg” Mattson, Chief of CDF Military Research. Lt. General Monica Adams, Chief of CDF Training Command. Lt. General Joachim “Joe” Wismach, Chief of the CDF Corps of Engineers.

Szilard had had dealings with all of them over the years and knew them to all be very good at their jobs. But he had only worked directly with Mattson and Wismach. He liked them personally, but for different reasons.

“Grim Greg” was a 'professional asshole' and took a delight in that. His subordinates understood such and rolled with it because it weeded out the slackers and the rigid. That behavior amused Szilard. Mattson and he had worked closely on a very very delicate matter that Szilard kept out of his thoughts. Everyone in this room possessed BrainPal Executive Function, meaning they could 'read the thoughts' of anyone with a BrainPal.

It crossed his mind that maybe Banisterre was doing just that, even though it would violate the unofficial protocol that 'generals don't eavesdrop on other generals'. These were after all extraordinary times. He glanced at Banisterre, who remained impassive. But he caught sight of Ehrenfest, who smirked and winked. Szilard quickly shifted his thoughts.

“Joe” Wismach had been deeply involved in the design and construction of Gamaran habitats so Szilard had spent weeks with him on distant locations. Origainally from Germany, Wismach had spent most of his Earth years in the United States. His passion since boyhood was to build big structures in space. He had seven degress to that end. Working on the Gamaran projects had brought out that boyish passion full force. In that Szilard had developed a great fondness for the man.

And then there was the person who dominated the room even though she was not yet present: Amanda Lowe, the new President of The Colonial Union and the one upon whose orders they had been summoned.

She came from the American state of Georgia, 'back country white trash' the file had said. That had confused Szilard at first. With the Basic Income Grant and extensive social services, no-one in the United States had been 'poor' for centuries. But his research had revealed the terms origins and he felt he understood her better.

She had enlisted in the US Air Force at seventeen, done twenty years and come out a Warrant Officer Class D, the highest category. She then got a job with a local US Congresswomen, worked way up to the woman's chief of staff and won her seat when she retired. Somewhere in there she had signed up for CDF recruitment.

At seventy three she retired, got her affairs in order and two years later went up The Beanstalk to Earth Station. Out the one thousand and twenty three recruits that had she had travailed with, sixty eight survived the first ten years. Forty two of those retired. Amanda Lowe wasn't one of them. She served in the CDF for another seventeen years, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.

She settled on a small farm on Erie and spent two years being quiet. Szilard wondered if that was simply to catch her breath and plot. Her lover, a ex-CDF major named Yoko Hoshino, had settled on that farm along with Lowe, but they had not gotten married. There were no cultural issues with that either way, but there were legal ones if political office were to be involved. The laws were strict regarding relatives and government positions.

Then she ran for a suddenly vacated Colonial Assembly seat on the New Union Party ticket. She won by a narrow margin and was only the third Nuboo member to get into the CA. But she never looked back and her margins grew with each election. And Yoko Hoshino was her chief of staff. That was twenty two years ago.

Szilard had learned that Amanda Lowe did nothing by chance. He had introduced himself about ten years earlier when he had just made Brigadier General. Her name was circulating quietly among CDF Flag Officers and, being highly ambitious, Szilard kept close tabs on them.

He had gone to her Assemble office in Phoenix City and asked to see her. Being a Senior Officer in the Special Forces, he got an audience straight away.

Assemblywoman Lowe was at her desk, which was cluttered and organized at the same time. She still had school girl good looks, sweet round face, bright short blond hair, big blue eyes and freckles. But she was clearly no naif.

She wore her well known 'political uniform'; a tunic and trousers cut very much like a CDF Dress Uniform, but made from stylish and expensive cloth with subtle patterns set off with piping of bright colors. On her left breast she always wore a good sized silver broach; the CU's eight pointed Compass Star imposed upon a Wreath. On her it looked like a rank insignia.

She looked at Szilard like she could have him for breakfast.

“How may I be of assistance, General?” she asked without preamble. Her Southern drawl was still pronounced.

“Nothing specific at the moment, ma'am. And I was thinking more along the lines of mutual assistance,” he'd replied. She had a great poker face, but his SF senses could detect her heart rate slowing. “She's making herself remain calm,” he'd thought.

“Really?” she said with that poker face.

“To be blunt, you're becoming known as a..'power player' so to speak. And I thought it in the interest of Special Forces to see if a...'positive relationship' could be cultivated.” He smiled. “This is political, not sexual. Your preferences have never been secret.”

She looked at him very intensely for a moment. Then she smiled broadly.

“I've never had a Ghost over for dinner.” She wanted to see how'd react to that term and in that context. Szilard smiled back.

“I'd be honored to be your first, ma'am.”

She sat forward. “Good. You know where my official apartments are, yes?”

“Of course.”

“Then please come by at eight this evening. We'll see what happens.”

After he left her office it occurred to him that not only had taking a seat never even crossed his mind, he'd stood more or less at parade rest the entire time. He chuckled at that.

He arrived a little before eight in his Walking Our Dress and with a bottle of dessert wine, a fine Madeira from a high end winery on Erie.

Yoko Hoshino answered the door. She was wearing a light blue casual short sleeved civilian version of a CDF Utility Suit along with flip flops. She smiled and said, “You're a little overdressed, General. Lose the tunic, open your shirt collar and roll up your sleeves.” He did as instructed. Yoko checked him out, grinned. “Much better.

They proceeded to the kitchen. Wonderful aromas were issuing forth. Amanda Lowe was bustling around, chopping, stirring, tasting. “So, did I win my bet?” she said as she went. She was dressed the same as Yoko, though her Uties were pinkish and she wore an apron.

“No,” said Yoko. “Walking Out Dress, not full Blues.”

Lowe turned around and grinned. “Oh well,” she said. Her apron said “Kiss The Chef” in big red letters and was well broken in. “Good evening, General. Pull up a stool and have some wine. We'll have this mess ready in a few minutes.”

Yoko began slicing vegetables and sliding them over to Lowe, who put them in a steamer. “Miss Hoshino is not only a competent chief of staff, she's also a pretty good prep chef.” They smiled at each other in a fashion that Szilard knew was genuine affection.

“It's a pleasure to watch a good team in action,” he said. They both turned and smiled at him. He got that they heard the several layers there. He sat and watched them while he sipped his wine. He wasn't a connoisseur, but it was quite tasty.

The meal was chicken breasts in a cream sauce with steamed vegetables and wild rice. It was delicious and they ate largely in silence.

He helped them clear the table and then he and Lowe retired to the living room with the Madeira while Yoko went to 'work on some papers'.

“Little known fact, General. The US Air Force more or less created the Colonial Union.”

“Really? How so?” He had never really thought about it. The CU just was.

“It was group who called themselves The Cheyenne Mountain Gang. Officers and enlisted personnel who were fans of an early twenty first century adventure show about a group of U.S. Air Force Spec-Ops types who roamed the galaxy fighting evil aliens.”

“Now you're teasing me, Ma'am.”

“No, I'm serious. After we got our asses kicked the first time, they went..well, 'off-book', running rogue guerrilla operations, sabotaging and assassinating, stealing tech, until they built up an effecting fighting force in secret. They took their inspiration and overall strategy from the show. And that is the force that retook Phoenix. I can send you the files.”

“I'd appreciate that.”

“So, you think I'm a power player,” she said.

“It is obvious to those who really pay attention. And there is your pre-CDF history. You're no stranger to that game.”

“Then what is your outcome, General?”

He sighed. “We've had an excellent run of good luck, Madam Assemblywoman..”

“And luck always runs out,” she said.

“Yes. That is the nature of the thing,” he said.

“Then one must make one's own luck,” she said with a sly smile.

“That would be what I am looking for.”

“Well, I've looked at your file and you've looked at mine. Let us see what we can cook up.” She raised her class. “To making one's own luck.”

He clinked classes with her. “To making one's own luck.”

From then on he had provided her 'access' to a number of things and she became his back channel into the Nuboos, among other things.

Now he was going to find out for certain if that relationship was going to pay off, not for himself, but for the CU.

And with that thought the new President entered the room, closely followed by Yoko Hoshino. All present stood up at more or less attention.

Szilard had not seen her face to face for nearly three months, which considering the insanity of the time, was not unusual. But he quickly noted she had seriously changed. When the nature of the change dawned on him he was so startled that he briefly lost control of his thoughts.

He looked around and saw that not only had Ehrenfest given him an quick incredulous look, but so had Banisterre. “Caught you!” he though. Banisterre went blank and looked back at the head of the table. Interestingly enough Smith had also looked at him with barely concealed surprise. “Well, well,” he thought. Of the 'group of five', only Mattson seemed to have caught his thought. “Grim Greg” just smirked.

The President stood at the head of the table, Hoshino to her right and one step back. She looked around at the assembled officers. ::Well, it seems someone has ruined my surprise:: she pinged at the group, then looked directly at Szilard. There was an audible gasp in the room. Szilard smiled ruefully, bowed slightly. “My most profound apologies, Madam President. You caught me totally off guard.”

She grinned at him. “That's some small consolation I suppose.” She looked around the room again. “So yes, I have a BrainPal.” She indicated her body. “And it is housed in a new Mark Twenty Bioform. One hundred percent human DNA, but almost as fast and strong as your bioforms. Plus is can reproduce and has an expected life span of two to three times the optimum life span of its base DNA. Which means I should live about another two hundred years or so.” She grinned. ::If nothing kills me, that is::

The room was utterly silent. “Ms Hoshino also has this form,” the President said. A few people blinked. She remained standing.

“Okay, then. Down to business. I am entirely pleased with all of you and you all get to keep your jobs.” Banisterre visibly relaxed. “For now,” she added, looking right at him.

“Second, I have nominated Ms Hoshino as my new Secretary of Defense. I have no doubt that her nomination will be confirmed, so we shall proceed as if it has been for the purposes of this meeting.” She looked around as if daring anyone to say a word. No-one did.

“Third, everyone at now this table is either present or former CDF, so there will be no more 'mushroom the civilians' bullshit. Am I understood?” In unison everyone present came automatically to attention and said, “Yes, ma'am!” The parade ground tone of the statement was unmistakable and it evoked a deep seated response. A small wicked smile flickered across her face.

“This is the Extraordinary Committee for Defense. That is not its official title because officially this committee does not exist, nor do any of its meetings. There will be no voting. It is a dictatorship and I am its dictator. Its purpose is for me to tell you what needs to be done and for you to tell me how you're going to do it. Or, if you're truly unlucky, to tell me why it wasn't or isn't getting done.

“The number one thing that will get you fired is if you lie to me. I'm a big girl. I can take bad news. If you have some, lay it out harsh and raw. We have no more room whatsoever for soft peddling or careerist bullshit. Our collective survival is on line here.

“Now whether any of us in this particular room deserve to survive, given the things we've all done in our careers, the answer is probably no. But whether the human race deserves to survive is an existential issue beyond even our godlike authority, so we're going to table that discussion for the duration. One thing is clear however and that is our duty. And that duty is to do our utmost to ensure the optimum survival of our species. We can all agree upon that, yes?” Once again, “Yes, ma'am!” echoed through the room.

“Very good,” she said. “Now please be seated.” The collective relief was palpable. Szilard did his best not to smile.

“My first major policy announcement will be the dissolution of the Department of Colonization.” There is a slight gasp around the room. She ignored it. “Given that at this time we cannot reasonably found any more colonies, it has become redundant. Its manpower and resources will be allocated elsewhere. I know this will cause internal political unrest, but it is a fact we must face.”

“But we are not surrendering. Our new policy is Retrenchment. Since we cannot expand – for now – then let us make damned sure we can keep what we've got.” Everyone nodded in agreement. This was something they could sink their teeth into.

“In order to further that goal, my second major policy announcement will be the creation of a new organization dedicated solely to that purpose, Colonial Union System Guard.” That did not go over so well.

“Before you all start bristling and pissing on the furniture, there is one more member of this committee you have yet to meet.” She looked at Hoshino, who pressed an intercom button on the desk in front of her.

A 'non-green' general in a uniform similar to CDF's – same rank tabs, same cut, but a lighter shade of blue – entered the room. He was a tall, light skinned black man with a shaved head and almost beautifully handsome face. An “Oh my God!” escaped from Banisterre. The new arrival grinned at him. “Hello to you too, Frank.” Banisterre got up and hugged the man, clearly overcome with emotion.

Szilard recognized the men, as did everyone else in the room. Sam Randell is something of a legend in the CDF. Ex US Army professional, he served in the CDF for sixty one years, retired a full General nearly fifty years before to become a farmer. He was also a strong advocate of system defense, a stance that was rumored to have lead to his retirement before he made Chief of Staff.

The President maintained her 'pleasant' poker face. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the commander of the new Colonial Union System Guard, General Samuel Randell.” To Szilard's surprise, the group of five and Smith stood and applauded. He and Ehrenfest joined in quickly.

“General, you have the floor,” the President said.

Randell sat next to her, with a subdued Banisterre to his left.

“Thank you, Madam President. I am obviously pleased to be back.” He smiled, gripped his forearm. “And in such a nifty new chassis, too.” There were smiles and laughs around the table. “A quite likable bastard,” Szilard thought.

“Those of you who know me will be aware that I have long advocated something like the System Guard, but that was thought to be a 'defeatist' concept. Expand. Expand. Expand was the mantra. And a totally understandable one. At the time. And times have changed.” He let that sink in.

“You all need to understand that President Lowe is a political animal right down to her bones. She is going to present the System Guard as a brand new initiative to a justifiably scared and restless citizenry. And I totally trust her instincts in this matter. But that presentation will be a political fiction. The color of this uniform is purely symbolic. The System Guard will simply be another Command in the CDF's Command Structure. In order for it to operate properly, that is in fact the only way it can functionally do so.”

“Our colonies are being attacked nearly at will and the CDF has been scrambling back and forth to protect them. That is stretching it to the breaking point. The central concept of the System Guard is to get each colony to defend itself while the CDF deals with the larger defense picture. Of course, this is going to mean an expansion of the CDF on an unprecedented level. But I'll leave those details to the President.”

“With that I'll just say I'm very happy to be in harness once again.” He got another round of applause.

The President looked quite pleased with Randell's speech. That he spoke so plainly of her nature indicated to Szilard that this committee was going to have a most interesting set of meetings.

“I came up with the name System Guard myself,” Lowe said. “So you know damned well that this is my baby. But the psyche types signed off on it because it appeals to people's provincial nature. They hear 'system' and think of their own system.

“And that is going to be a key element in our new recruiting strategy. The other is to lower the age of CDF recruits to thirty and open the ranks up to CU citizens.” She let that sink, which it did and deeply. “Over the next two years we're going to increase the size of the CDF, which includes the System Guard, ten fold.” That perked everyone up. They'd been thinking about their 'slice of the pie' and the President had just told them she was going bake them a mighty goddamned big pie. Even Szilard had to admit this news pleased him as well.

“Now we're going to avoid conscription at all costs.” Everyone nodded vigorously at that, which was the next question on their collective minds. “That is a traditional CDF policy to which I am firmly committed.” “Oh, yes,” thought Szilard clearly and so did everyone else. The President smiled at that.

She continued. “While there is a lot of skirmishing and anti-pirate operations, we are no longer fighting a continuous expansionist at war with everybody, so our causality rate has dropped dramatically. Service in the CDF is still be dangerous, but it is no longer a functional death sentence.”

“So we're also going to sweeten the recruitment pot. Six years service in the CDF as a Greenie, then twelve years active service in the System Guard, served in their home system, with a Mark Twenty Bioform which they'll get to keep for the rest of their lives, BrainPal and all.”

“Damn!” said General Ropner. “That will change the entire social fabric of the CU.” As Chief of Recruiting and Processing she thought about these things.

“That is precisely my long term goal,” said the President. “We need to up our game across the board and at the core of that is our very nature as a species.” She looked at everyone with a new intensity. “Let me repeat what I said before. It is our duty to do our utmost to ensure the optimum survival of our species. Whatever it takes. I suspect you now understand that was not mere rhetoric.”

Banisterre cleared his throat. “Madam President, I'm not comfortable with the idea of turning the Colonial Union into Sparta.”

Before she could respond, Szilard spoke up. “Frank, this path is really the one we've always been on. Not to Sparta, but to Rome.” The President gave him an appreciative smile, looked back at Banisterre, who grinned ruefully. “Okay, I can certainly live with Rome.”

That seemed to settle the matter around the table. And the others seemed to look at Szilard in a new light.

“General Ropner,” the President said. “The burden of this task is going to fall upon you first and heavily. Because of that you will begin to shift R&P's regenerative medical tasks over to the Medical Corps.” That answered the question of why Maj. General Smith was at the table. “You and General Smith will start by sharing facilities and personnel until all those operations have been shifted completely. Play nice.”

She smiled at Smith. “Effective immediately, you are promoted to Lieutenant General.” Smith beamed. “Thank you, ma'am.”

Ropner didn't look quite so happy. The President grinned at her. “Trust me, General, you'll thank me for this once you hear what I have in store for you.” Ropner smiled weakly.

“First, there are about two million retired CDF personnel we believe can be lured back into service the create the core of the System Guard. They will all need Mark Twenty's straight out of the gate and fast.”

“Second, we estimate that in the first year approximately three to four billion CU citizens will volunteer under the terms of service being offered.”

“Third, we are also going to open up CDF service to all the residents of Earth, with a few additional psychological and educational requirements. We're not sure what those numbers are going to be, but they could be substantial.”

“Fourth, here on Phoenix there are six underground vaults where the DNA of every single CDF recruit and every single colonist from Earth who ever lived are stored. There are over ten billion samples and there is enough material to grow at least five clones from each sample without any degradation.” She gave Szilard a quick 'not a word' look. He'd deal with that matter later.

Ropner looked stunned for a moment, then looked over at Smith. “General, you will have my full and enthusiastic cooperation in any and all matters regarding this transfer.” Smith smiled back at her. “One turf battle out the window,” Szilard thought.

“General Wismach.” He practically snapped to attention in his seat. “Yes, Madam President.”

“The Corps of Engineers will feel this burden next,” she said. “Yes, Madam President,” he said with a slight abrupt nod of his head.

“Your first task is to turn every colony world in a fortress and every colonial system into a killing zone. Again, time is crucial. Your second task is in a way a reward for doing your first.”

Wismach looked quizzical.

“We have dug out a number of old plans for terraforming and large space habitats that were shelved a long time ago in the scramble for habitable worlds. It is time to dust them off.”

Wismach appeared on the verge of joyful tears. “Truly, Madam President?” His voice had a slight quiver.

She smiled warmly at him. “Truly, General. A promotion to Full General also comes along with these tasks.” He nodded happily, at a loss for words.

“Speaking of promotions, I'm submitting a bill to the Assembly for the creation of a new rank above Full General. We kicked around a few titles, but Marshal seemed the simplest. So everyone in this room will be getting bumped up a rank on general principle. All puns intended.” She grinned, as did everyone else, and allowed all a moment to enjoy the news.

“Obviously, the rest of you Chiefs are still going to be doing the same things you have always done, only now on a much larger scale. I have every confidence on you in this matter and in Marshal Banisterre's ability to guide and coordinate all of your commands.” It took a moment to register her use of Banisterre's new rank. There were grins and winks at him from around the table. He did his best to look properly dignified.

“Regarding command, I'd like to say a word about General Peter Larsen. He threw himself upon his sword in a noble attempt to save the Calvan administration. That level of sacrifice does not go unnoticed by this administration and will be rewarded after a prudent interval. If each of you serve it half as well, then we shall be well served indeed.” She looked at each of them with a sincere intensity.

Her expression then became more serious. She looked at Ehrenfest. “General, I want you to prepare a full briefing regarding the attack on Earth Station and on the overall actives of this so-called 'third force'. That will be the principal subject of tomorrow's meeting of this committee.”

“Yes, Madam President,” said Ehrenfest crisply.

“Now, one last bit of unpleasant business,” she said. “It appears that race called the Tsushuzi attacked Solvey, a colony of twenty million. It was only a raid, but caused a quarter million causalities, including several thousand captives, which are believed to be destined for Rraey dinner menus.”

“Who the hell are the Tsushuzi?” asked General Halvorson

“Not a Conclave member. We've never had any direct dealings with them before,” said Banisterre.

“So they just came out of the woodwork to take a literal slice off of one of our colonies?” asked Halvorson

“Essentially,” said Banisterre.

“General Mattson?” The President said

“Yes, ma'am.” He forwarded a file to their PDA's. “This is a old Soviet three stage h-bomb design based upon the Teller-Ulam model. It has a one hundred plus megaton yield. They were very dirty to begin with, but we've added a cobalt-polonium jacket to make them truly nasty. They are primitive and easy to mass produce.”

The President continued. “Besides their home world, the Tsushuzi have two small colonies. When we have enough of these weapons, which will be soon, we are going to reduce all three worlds to uninhabitable radioactive wastelands. Then we are going to offer a bounty of ten thousand Colonial Credits, no questions asked, for the head of every remaining Tsushuzi.”

There was dead silence around the table.

“I want them all dead!” she said ferociously. “Every fucking one of them, down to the last babes in arms. I want them to be an example of what happens from now on when you fuck with the CU. Yes, we'll play nice with The Conclave for the time being, but the message to anyone else who tries to take what we already have is, 'we'll kill all of you and your worlds too'. For a hundred years I want every single race to shudder when they hear the name Tsushuzi.”

Szilard smiles softly. “Excellent, Madam President.” The rest nodded in agreement.

“Good,” she said. “Meeting adjourned.” The President stood, followed by the rest. As she headed out of the room, she pinged Szilard. ::With me:: He noted that Ehrenfest was also trailing after her.

The rest of the CDF command structure trailed after Secretary Hoshino, all talking softly but intensely.


The President's office was just as well appointed as the rest of the complex. “Yeah, I know,” she said over her shoulder as they entered. “This whole joint looks like some kind of streamlined whorehouse.” She literally flopped down into a very plush couch, undid her tunic's top buttons. She indicated some equally plush chairs. “Sit.”

Szilard and Ehrenfest did so. “You're both unhappy about a massive expansion of the Ghost Program,” she stated, not asked.

A pause. “I'm not in a position to question your decisions, Madam President,” said Ehrenfest.

Lowe laughed. “You're gonna let Szilard take point on this one?”

“I'll provide covering fire if required, ma'am,” Ehrenfest said calmly.

Lowe looked at Szilard. “Well, Carl?”

Szilard sighed. “Honestly, I do not even wish to start contemplating the socio-cultural ramifications of letting that many Ghost Troopers loose in the general population. But as a practical matter, Special Forces will grind to a halt if we have to train that many new recruits.”

“You won't be, at least not entirely. You'll help Training Command set up a program to do so. Most of them will not be going into Special Forces, but into the regular CDF. Special Forces will just help with the Integration Paradigm. I want that concept generalized into the entire CDF, which I believe we can do because of the lowered age factor and a large number of Ghosts will push that forward.”

“And we'll make the name 'Ghosts' a positive attribute. It has a built in intimidation factor. Let the Ghosts make everyone else up their game.” Lowe smiled.

“Randell was right about you being a political animal to your bones, ma'am,” said Ehrenfest.

“You'd better believe it, General.” She grinned. “Now I have a task for your department. There are going to a number of 'special cases' regarding the allocation of Mark Twenty Bioforms, certain 'important people' who will not be going through any of the regular channels to get one.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

“There won't be that many, maybe a few thousand over a half dozen years. What I want is a small discrete facility and staff to handle the processing and to provide a short training, say ninety days, so these people don't kill themselves or others with their new toy. You'll get carte blanche for this project. Get any grief, just tell me or Secretary Hoshino.”

“Understood, ma'am”

“In case you were wondering where I got this baby,” she patted her arm. “It is more or less well known that a few small private facilities exist for such a process, for the rich and powerful. The New Unionist Party took advantage of that to advance our agenda. But all those are now to be seized and shut down.”

“Would you like me to handle that as well, ma'am?” asked Ehrenfest.

“Yes, please. But discretely. A few important toes will have to be stepped upon.”

“I will step lightly, but firmly, ma'am,” said Ehrenfest with a pleasant smile.

“Good. Now I have to give General Szilard the once over.”

Ehrenfest stood, “Yes, Madam President.” She smirked at Szilard, exited.

Szilard smiled. “I have to say, Madam President, your opening speech was a thing of beauty. I felt like a newbie back on the parade ground with my old DI barking at me. I believe it had a similar effect around the table.”

“Honestly, General, I pulled that speech out of my ass. But I probably was channeling Sergeant Barnes, my first DI. I did Basic in a Texas shithole called Lackland Air Force Base. I don't think they'd upgraded it since Pershing invaded Mexico.”

Szilard laughs. “Shitholes are the best places for Basic. Everything is up from there.”

Lowe got serious. “I understand you have some information to share with me. And this room was swept a few minutes before we entered.”

“You're aware of the Brain Ship issue?” he asked.

“Yes. The Clarke incident and the attack on Earth Station.”

“We have taken possession of one. Almost entirely intact.”

“How 'almost entirely intact'?”

“The brain was killed by shrapnel, but the rest of the mechanism is fine.”

“Reverse engineerable?” she asked.

“Oh yes.” He smiled. “Mattson's boffins have been drooling over the thing.”

“Outstanding!” she said. “About time we got a fucking break.”

“I suspect the Gamarans are also going to swoon over this tech.”

She laughed.

“There is more however. The hull and much of the internal gear was Horvathi, but the skip drive and gravity generator are Obin and we can definitely reverse engineer those, which will let us give all our ships a major performance upgrade.”

She smiled wider, then frowned. “Was that ship ever crewed?”

“No,” said Szilard. “And yes, we too wondered why an uncrewed ship would need a brand new Obin gravity generator.”

“Santa Claus is a friendly alien?” she smirked.

“It does track like that.” He took a beat. “Or it's Doctor Mysterious.”

“Enlighten me,” she said in a distinctly Presidential fashion.

“About twenty years ago these skip drones began showing up in various places and sending an old CDF distress code. The code was a half century out of date back then, but still highly classified. The skip drones were never from the same race twice. Some were from totally unknown races. But the all carried encrypted chips and those were always a CU standard design. But not made anywhere in the CU. Totally untraceable.”

“And these chips contained...?”

“Most of the time, very high quality intelligence on our friends and enemies. It was largely raw data, but each time it gave us enough to know what to look for and where to look. They were like brain teasers, each one made us improve our intel capacity and skills. And some wag named our unknown benefactor Doctor Mysterious.”

“This is the first I'm hearing about this,” she said. “Which I will admit is a good thing.”

“We, Ehrenfest and I, have a full briefing ready for you.” He paused. “We discovered just such an encrypted chip on the Horvathi vessel.”

Lowe pondered this. “And this information has always been reliable?”

“One hundred and ten percent reliable,” he said. “It was 'too good to be true' reliable and we've been waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never has.”

“And you've never had a clue as to its source.”

“None, though our endless speculation has led us back to really only once place.”

She gave him a questioning look.

“The Consu.”

She blanched. “Fuck.”

“Yes, that was the general consensus.”

“I survived two battles with those crazy sons of bitches. If they are running some kind of long con on us we're well and truly fucked.”

“Well, there are two things in this that lead me to believe this is not a con. First, the drones started showing up after we fought the Consu on Bellaria. That is where John Perry came up with his double tap firing program that won us the battle, which we later found out greatly impressed the Consu.”

“Seriously?” She narrowed her eyes. “The Consu decided to help us because of fucking John Perry?”

“As you said, Madam President, they are crazy sons of bitches.”

“You said two things.”

He then told her what the information on the latest chip revealed. She turned as white as sheet.

“Is such a thing really possible?”

“It will take us a few decades to develop it, but, yes, it is not only possible, but even likely.”

“Jesus Harold Christmas on a fucking rubber crutch,” she muttered.

“I am so far alone in this idea, but I think they are also this so-called 'third force'. Or at least some how involved with it.” Szilard had other suspicions, but those he kept to himself for now.

She blinked at him. “Why would they help us and then kick our asses like that?”

“Because we were arrogant and stuck in our ways.”

“This was some kind of fucking interstellar intervention by fucking crazy giant superbugs?” She practically spit that out.

“With all due respect, ma'am, do you have a better explanation?”

She stewed on that for a moment. Szilard remained silent. Then she laughed.

“Well fuck me, General Carl Fucking Szilard, fuck me if I do.” She gave him a nasty but amused look. “You picked the Perrys on purpose, to fuck up the whole Roanoke plan, didn't you?”

“Yes,” he said somewhat defiantly. “The plan was not only immoral, which I can live with if I have to, but it was massively arrogant and could have gone far worse for us than it did. And that outcome was no fucking prize.”

“Okay, I will grant you that.”

“And John Perry's actions may have knocked the old CU paradigm into a cocked hat, but he and his family have actually saved us from ourselves and bought us some serious breathing space vis-a-vis The Conclave.”

The President looked a bit frazzled. “Jesus. The Consu. John Perry. And his daughter, the little empress of the Obin.” She sighed.

“You wanted this job, Amanda,” he said with a smile.

“Well, God Damn me if that ain't true.” She laughed. “You keep reminding me of that, Carl.” She looked at him intensely. “We're going to have to be the new Cheyenne Mountain Gang.”

“Indeed, Madam President.”

“Okay, get out of here. I got another victim waiting.”

He stood to attention. “Yes, ma'am!” And was out the door.


Brig. General Abel Rigney had been sitting in what he assumed was the office of The President's personal secretary. But since it was empty, except of a huge portrait of President Lowe leaning against the far wall, there was no-one to confirm or deny his assumption. But he had been told he had a meeting with her, to report to this office, etc so he was going to go with the intel at hand. And wait.

After a few eons has passed, the door to the inner office opened and General Szilard emerged. Rigney jumped to attention. “Rigney.” Szilard grinned at him. “You must be the next victim.” He kept going, saying over his shoulder, “By the way, congratulations on the promotion.” “Thank you, sir,” he called after.

Then The President herself was beckoning him from the door. By the time he was through the door she was hanging up her tunic on a old fashioned coat rack in the corner. As she turned she rolled up the sleeves of her blouse. “My apologies for the lack of amenities, General, but we're still in clusterfuck mode.”

When he got a good look at her he realized that she seemed a lot younger than she looked before. When the penny dropped, she grinned at him. ::It seems my new state of being is the worse kept secret in the Colonial Union:: she pinged at him. ::Szilard spotted it as fast as you did:: The shock of it caused Rigney to wobble a bit.

“You'd better sit down, General,” she said with amusement. He functionally dropped into the plush chair. He could not stop staring at her.

“Are you familiar with the Mark Twenty Bioform?” she asked.

His eyes widened. “'ve got a Mark Twenty?”

“Yup, with all the bells and whistles,” she said.

“Shit,” he said, then caught himself. “Sorry, ma'am.”

She laughed. “No worries. Makes up for being busted so quickly.” She smiled wickedly as she sat at her desk. “While I've got you flat footed, I'm handing out promotions today, so you're now a Major General.”

He'd gathered himself by now, so a solid “Thank you, Madam President,” came out of his mouth.

“Enjoy it while it lasts, General. You'll be resigning from the CDF in a few months.”

He blinked. “This woman is insane,” he thought. And then worried that she'd have Executive Function.

::Yes, I do as a matter of fact:: She smirked. ::But as I genuinely wanted this job, one would be have to admit your assessment is something of a given:: He could feel her shift gears.

“It is my understanding that you're our 'back channel to The Conclave.”

“Yes, ma'am,” he said. “I have a good working relationship with Hafte Sorvath, a Lalan who is probably Gau's closest adviser.”

“Good, because I am assigning you to be the CU's Ambassador to The Conclave.”

“Hence my impending resignation,” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “You'll get one of these nifty Mark Twenty's and so will every member of your legation. Who are to be CDF or ex-CDF personnel exclusively.”

“My team should be kept small, ma'am,” he said. “And I'd appreciate some flexibility in recruiting.”

“You can have anyone who Ehrenfest signs off on.”

“I can work with that,” he said, satisfied that she meant what she said. “What are the mission parameters?”

“Overtly? To negotiate a comprehensive non-aggression treaty between The CU and The Conclave, plus various trade agreements etc.”

“And not so overtly?”

“To buy us as much time as you can,” she said firmly. “Two or three centuries would be nice, but I'll take two or three decades.”

“Understood, Madam President.”

“It takes seventeen weeks to grow a Mark Twenty, so getting the rest of your team lined up needs to happen within the next few weeks,” she said. “Things are moving fast.”

“So I've been hearing, ma'am.”

“You're going to hear plenty more, probably before you even get to dinner.” She stood and extended her hand. Rigney grasped it and she squeezed hard. “It's a solid little chassis, General. I think you'll come to like it.”

He laughed. “Yes, I expect I will.”


After Rigney had left, she sat there in her big plush President's chair, stared blankly. Her body was fine; it could go for days. But her mind was crisp. This was probably the most intense day of her life, those two battles with the Consu notwithstanding. She knew that statement was two words short; 'so far'.

She called Yoko on her PDA. “Am I needed?”

Yoko shook her head. “It's all good right now,” she said.

“Okay, I'm down for thirty.”

“Good thought,” Yoko said, blew a kiss.

She lay on the couch, shoes off, trousers undone.

::Tinkerbell:: Lowe addressed her BrainPal.

::Yes, Madam President:: Tinkerbell replied.

::Take me down past REM for thirty minutes, Gentle Mode. Usual protocols apply::

::Yes, Madam President:: said Tinkerbell in a slightly softer tone.

Tinkerbell began a series of chemical processes in The President's brain and Amanda Lowe drifted down into deep blessedly dreamless sleep.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~Zoë Boutin-Perry lay in bed looking out her window. It was cracked open a hand width, a breeze softly stirred the linen curtains and the horizon was just beginning to glow orange with the coming dawn. She stretched languidly, naked under a single white cotton sheet.

A pretty young man slept soundly next to her. Zoë smiled when she thought of that. He was very pretty indeed, and, at twenty five, she supposed he was a 'man', though he had not seen or experienced one tenth of what she had at seven years his junior. But two months after her eighteenth birthday, she too was technically a 'woman'.

After lounging a few more minutes, she gave up on sleep for now, pulled on her short red silk robe - embroidered with yellow dragons, a birthday present from Uncle Harry - and padded quietly into the kitchen to make coffee. Earth had absolutely the best coffee in The Universe and she had gotten very spoiled by the variety of the stuff. For instance her 'breakfast' coffee was a strong dark French roast she took with orange blossom honey and heavy cream.

Dawn crept across the wooden kitchen table as she waited for the coffee to brew. Zoë looked around her little cottage, what her dad called a 'free standing one bedroom apartment'. This was her eighth 'home' and so far the one she liked the best, largely because it was all hers.

It was the first week in September, but the summer here in southern Ohio had been warmer than usual so she was comfortable sitting out on the porch. She sipped her coffee and let it wake her up bit by bit.

She thought she saw either Hickory or Dickory, her Obin companion/bodyguards, out of the corner of her eye, but they were always very circumspect when she 'had company'. Hardly anyone else on the Perry Compound would be up at this hour, except for whom-ever had milking duty.

The Perry Compound was a self contained and largely self sufficient two hundred and sixteen acres roughly one hundred and sixty five kilometers southeast of Dayton. It was two thirds farmland surrounded by woods. The Obin had set up a 'security perimeter' in those woods. At least, that's what they called it. Others would probably call it a killing zone.

Zoë was perfectly fine with a 'killing zone'. And to her small surprise, she was perfectly fine with being perfectly fine with that. Truth was, she hadn't been a 'girl' for a while now. Her passage to womanhood was not marked by a mere birthday or even the surrender of her virginity.

No, that moment had come when she found out that a demand she had made during the course of the fight to save Roanoak, a demand she had not thought through, a demand she had made with a certain amount of teenage ego, had cost the lives of nearly three thousand Obin, a race that regarded her as something between a goddess and an empress in waiting. That had driven a spike into her heart and had done so at the exact moment when she had to consciously and deliberately ask even more Obin to die in that struggle.

In the nearly two years since those events, Zoë Boutin-Perry had spent a considerable amount of time mulling them over. She had wept more than once and had shared those tears with The Obin themselves via Hickory or Dickory, who in turn shared them with the entire Obin race. She wanted them to know that she appreciated fully all that had transpired. And she wanted them to value their own lives as much as she did. She would never ever take those lives for granted ever again, though she had a sick feeling that she would ask them to fight and die for her again in the future.

The Obin had been described as a cross between a giraffe and octopus. They averaged around two and half meters tall and weighed roughly two hundred kilos. They were highly focused literalists and technologically formidable. They were also a race that the Consu had uplifted to Intellectuality, but had not given Consciousness. It was Zoë's biological father, the brilliant and vengeful Charles Boutin, who had done that and The Obin were so utterly and profoundly grateful to him that they swore themselves in service to his daughter after his death.

Through her childhood, she had been their racial model for emotional development. Said childhood was also the subject of extensive treaties between The Obin and the Colonial Union. Not a normal childhood by any means. But she had the good fortune of being adopted by John Perry and his wife Jane Sagan-Perry, a rather formidable couple.

Major John Perry [CDF, Ret] was a man who had impressed the Consu, saved Roanoak and ended Earth's isolation from the rest of the galaxy. Lieutenant Jane Sagan-Perry [CDF, Ret] was a ex-Special Forces Ghost Trooper grown from the DNA of Perry's late wife. Fate had thrown them together in the midst of a number of crises that affected the CU's very survival, not the least of which was raising Zoë.

After John Perry had 'pulled the CU's covers', he was a wanted man in the CU. But many on Earth were deeply grateful to him, so he and his family were able to settle not far from where he had lived most of his pre-CU life.
That his daughter had the resources of The Obin to call upon was of significant help. It was ZBP, LLC, a holding company set up by a DC law firm, that purchased the Perry Compound. ZBP, LLC had access to a dozen or more bank accounts with a collective floating balance in the neighborhood of two hundred million US dollars.

Zoë smiled remembering her dad's initial protests, all this 'breadwinner' stuff. Her mom had given him one of her 'are you serious?' looks and Zoë had simply said, “Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.” He more or less grunted at that and gave up.

But he did pen his memoirs in four months, as if to prove a point. “Among The Stars” was a major best seller, not only because his life was in fact pretty dammed interesting, but also because it provided a detailed look into life in the Colonial Union and its history that Earth's inhabitants had not seen before. That he 'omitted certain details and events' because of 'his concern for the security of the CU' merely added to his reputation and mystique, firing up vast amounts of speculation worldwide.

Then he turned his attention to running the Compound. Most farming could be fully automated, so very little extra help was needed. But some was and sorting out proper help from all the nutters and loons was a massive job to begin with. Plus there was the legitimate concern with brainwashed assassins from the 'third force'. The Obin handled that issue by themselves. None of the Perrys asked about their screening process and they didn't volunteer. But they did bring in three more Obin as a Security Team; Dock, Clock, and Mouse.
The names the Obin gave themselves came from Zoë's naming of Hickory and Dickory, another reason that Zoë reason to be thoughtful regarding her actions vis-a-vis the Obin.

She had asked Robin, that pretty young man who was asleep in her bed, about the screening process. Besides being a bit intimidated by the Obin, which was normal, he said that before they had asked a general list of questions, they had placed a metal skullcap on the top of his head and shined a dull red light on his face.

Then he mentioned that after he flew into Dayton airport, he was escorted to the parking lot by human 'security types', placed in a van with a black hood over his head, which was not taken off until he was in what he called 'the interrogation room', a plain concrete box he suspected was underground somewhere in the woods surrounding the Compound.

“Yes, that sounds like the Obin,” Zoë had said grinning. That was months before they became lovers and she hoped at the time that he wasn't going to be scared off by the experience. It wasn't that she was going to 'fall in love' with him. Her heart was buried along with her first love – and his entire family – in a filled-in blast crater on Roanoak. If not for a trick of Fate, she would have been buried there along with them. That was part of her 'growing up fast'.
No, it was that she had decided that she was going to surrender her virginity – she did use the word 'surrender' when she thought of this – upon turning eighteen. And Robin Fairchild seemed a perfect candidate to surrender it to, so smart [MS in Astronomy and Physics] and so beautiful, with his scruffy blond hair, bright blue eyes and lovely upper class English accent.

And she did, on the evening of her eighteenth birthday, a few hours after her party ended. She had enjoyed that so much that she repeated the experience, more or less, nearly ever night – and few times during the day – even since. She didn't rub it in her dad's face. He was old fashioned in a funny way. But she confided in her mom, who was a fairly radical person in many ways, and very supportive. Jane Sagan-Perry had even approved of her planning the thing the way she did. “The most emotional things need to regarded in cold blood,” she had said. Zoë loved her mom.

This morning she was regarding her life in cold blood. They'd been on Earth for coming up on two years now. Zoë had managed to see some of it beyond the Compound; Washington DC, The Beanstalk, Paris, the Space Museum at Cape Kennedy. She was fascinated not only by all the different accents and languages, but also by all the different alphabets.

Somewhere in there it dawned upon her that everybody in the CDF that she had met seemed to talk with an American Mid-Western accent, even Ghosts like her mom who'd never been to Earth. Even the people from the ten different CU colonies who were part of the Roanoak settlement sounded very much alike. In fact the only people she'd heard before she came to Earth who did not sound like that were the residents of Huckleberry, the world she'd lived on for most of her childhood. They spoke with a slight lilt that harkened back to their origins in India. But even they only spoke English, which Zoë had always thought of as 'Standard'.

She really wanted to get out into this world, the Home World, and explore all its complex facets. But who and what she was made that close to impossible. And in the aftermath of the destruction of Earth Station and The Beanstalk – about five months ago – she felt the bonds of 'security' tighten around her. As much as she enjoyed a comfortable life on the Perry Compound, she felt she'd go insane if this was to be her only life.

She'd been born on Phoenix like her birth parents. Her father's work had then move around. Then her mother had died mysteriously and they wound up on a station orbiting Omagh. Her father was then called away and while he was gone, the Rraey seized the station and the colony. Then the Obin entered her life by taking all that away from the Rrary and bring Zoë to Arist, a planetary moon in the Obin home system.

There she was reunited with her father, who was working with the Obin on their 'consciousness issues', along with other things. They lived there for a few years, the Obin being her childhood companions and nannies. What she didn't know was that her father had developed a pathological hatred of his own species and was plotting with the Obin, the Rraey and the Eneshan to effectively destroy them.

She had certainly inherited her father's intellectual capacity. She wondered if she'd also inherited his, well, 'insanity', because his actions were clearly insane. Fortunately a CDF Special Forces unit put an end to them. And to her father.

It was Jane Sagan who took her off of Arist, one of only two survivors of that CDF unit.

She later found out that one of John Perry's oldest friends, Harry Wilson – 'Uncle Harry' – had worked with her father before he disappeared himself into Obin space. She talked to him the first time he visited the Compound.
“What was he like,” she asked him.

“Driven. Obsessive. Absolutely brilliant. One of the best minds I've ever worked with. And a bit of an egomaniac,” he'd said.

“Do you think he was a psychopath?” she'd asked.

Harry thought that over for a minute. “Well, John and Jane said to be honest with you, so I'd have to say there was probably an element of that in his makeup. Seeking revenge on those who have hurt is a normal human response. But Charles Boutin took that to what I'd have to say are insane extremes.” He looked at her sadly. “I'm sorry.”

She touched his hand gently. “That's okay, Uncle Harry.”

“You're worried that you'll become like him,” he said.

“Yes, that does bother me sometimes,” she'd said.

“Zoë, I truly don't think you have to worry about that. John and Jane have shaped you more than you realize and they may both be a bit crazy, neither of them is that kind of crazy.” He'd grinned. “If anything, John Perry is too damned moral for his own good.”

“Thanks,” she'd said, though she still worried about it from time to time...
She heard movement in the kitchen. She tilted her head slightly to listen, confirming that it was in fact Robin shuffling around getting himself some coffee. The Obin had been training her in combat skills for years. She doubted that Robin was aware that his 'sweet princess from the stars' was quite capable of killing him with her bare hands.

No, Zoë Boutin-Perry was not a 'normal girl' and she was not going to grow up to become a 'normal woman' either. Such was the nature of her life, which she was slowly but steadily accepting.

Robin came out onto the porch looking all ruffled and far too cute in his t-shirt and boxers. He smiled sleepily. “Good morning, darling,” he said and kissed her. The feeling that gave her led her to suspect they'd be back in bed before too long. She smiled. “Good morning to you, too.”

He settled into the chair next to her, sipped his coffee, looked out upon the morning sun. That was one of the things she liked about him. He didn't have the need to fill silence with small talk. Her thoughts shifted from esoteric to primal as she reviewed some of the things she had been reading the past few weeks; a beautifully illustrated volume of The Kamasutra, a treatise on Tantra and a manual on Kegel exercises.

After a few more quite moments, she stood, smiled at Robin 'in that way' and led him back to her bedroom. For the next hour or so she experimented with some of her new knowledge. Then she took a shower while her well sated lover fell back into a sound sleep.

She dressed in her usual t-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. [she'd fallen in love with cowboy boots, had a few dozen of them, her one real indulgence] More coffee, peanut butter on toast and out the door heading for the Compound's main building which everyone called The Ranch House. It was mash-up of Rec Center, communal dining room, meeting hall and general gathering place.

She was barely thirty paces out her door when Hickory and Dickory both appeared at her side. “Good morning, Zoë,“ the said in unison. “Good morning to you, too,” she said with a smile. She had figured they were 'lurking' while she was with Robin.

“We need to discuss something important with you,” said Hickory. He usually did most of the talking for the two of them. “Privately.” His emphasis on that peaked her interest.

She stopped, looked around. Not a soul in sight. “Here okay?'

Their heads did a swiveling scan of the area. “Yes,” said Hickory. “Here will be fine.” She did note that Dickory kept looking around.

“Okay, I'm all ears,” she said. Idioms of that nature would have confused Obin before, but they had learned to sort them out.

“We have a message from the Obin government regarding its birthday gift to you. We apologize that it is late, but there was the matter of negotiations with the Colonial Union that had to completed before we could broach the matter.”

Now her interest was seriously peaked. “Negotiations?” They both knew that 'what have you done now?' tone.

“Yes, your birthday gift requires some complex choices.”

“Spit it out!” she snapped. She hated when they tipped toed around her.
“The Obin government is giving you a planet for your birthday.”

She felt weak in her knees and was not sure if she wanted to scream or laugh hysterically.

“A fucking planet?!?” she yelled. They both flinched a bit, though only she would have noticed that. They most have the Consciousness Collars turned on.

She took a deep breath, calmed herself. “Okay. I'm sorry for yelling.” She took another deep breath. “What planet?”


Then she did laugh. It had a slight edge of madness. Arist was a moon in the Obin home system, the place where her biological father had done his most significant work and had been assassinated by a CDF Special Forces unit, a unit commanded by her adopted mother, though Jane Sagan had not 'pulled the trigger' herself.

“It is yours to do with as you wish. There are a half million Obin on world. You can tell them to leave. You can blow the entire world up if you wish. It now belongs to you, Zoë Boutin-Perry, 'lock, stock and barrel' as you humans say.”

“So what about this required you to negotiate with the CU?” she asked.
“The status of your parents. If you take possession of Arist, they can become citizens of that world and the CU will vacate all charges against them. They will however both be banned from traveling within the CU for ten years.”

“Well...” she said.

“If you do take possession of Arist the Obin government would like to fund a university there named after your birth father. Said establishment would be focused on the study of consciousness and be open to any and all races.”

She smirked. “You certainly know how to hook a girl, don't you?”

“Is that a yes?” She could hear the hopeful tone in Hickory's voice.

“What prompted this gift? I know the Obin always think six moves head.”

Hickory and Dickory took a quick look at each other, then Hickory continued. “Yes, that is true. To use a human idiom, 'things are about to get interesting' and we would like to have you in a safer place than Earth.”

“I'd say things are pretty dammed 'interesting' already.”

“We believe that they shall get more so.”

“Lovely,” she said flatly.

“The universe is fluid and dynamic.”

“Ain't that the truth.”

They were all quiet for a moment.

“Okay, let's say I go for this deal. What else do the Obin have on the menu for me.” As fond of the Obin as she had become, she knew they were a tricky race.
“We strongly urge that you get yourself transferred into a new bioform.”

“Absolutely not! I'm not going to become a fucking Greenie!” She almost stamped her foot.

“No, not a CFD model. A Mark Twenty. It's fully human, looks fully human, just... better. We will provide you with full specifications.”

“So, I get my own planet. My parents get off the CU's hit list. I get a super body. And a university named after my father. Have I got that right?”

“Yes, in every particular.” Both Obin now regarded her very intently.

She mulled for a few seconds, then grinned ear to ear. “Sure, what the hell. It'll be fun.”

Both Obin started shaking. “You should turn off your Collars for while,” she said softly.

The stopped shaking. “Yes, thank you,” said Hickory. “The emotions were overwhelming us.”

Zoë looked toward The Ranch House. “Well, this will make for interesting breakfast conversation.” She looked back at Hickory and Dickory. “You have my permission to tell everybody back home I said yes. Now I have to tell my parents.”

“Yes, mistress,” they said in unison and hurried off.

She had gone maybe ten steps toward The Ranch House when it dawned upon Zoë what they had called her. She turned around, but they were both long gone. She muttered sneeringly to herself. “'Sure', she said. 'It'll be fun', she said.” She sighed, then continued up the path to The Ranch House.


John Perry had a look on his face like he'd been smacked with a dead fish. On the other hand, his wife looked quietly pleased. “They gave you a planet?” he sputtered.
“You know the Obin, dad. They do things in a big way,” Zoë said.
“It'll take me a while to wrap my head around that,” he said, then laughed. “But happy birthday, honey.”
“I'll need some help in running the place, you know.” She looked at both of them meaningfully.
Perry looked at his wife with a grin. “Isn't this sweet, my darling wife? Our baby girl is offering us a job.”
“And we're going to take it, John Perry,” said his darling wife with not-so-mock firmness.
“Oh, trust me, turning it down never crossed my mind.” He looked back at Zoë and grinned wider. “I would not miss this for...well, the world.”
“When do the Obin want you to take possession?” Jane asked.
“If I know them, they'd have a shuttle waiting right after lunch,” Zoë said. “But we need to wrap up our affairs here properly, have a going away party even.”
“With the emphasis on 'affairs',” Perry muttered.
“Oh daddy, shut up!” She swatted his shoulder.
He smirked, then turned serious. “I take it you haven't told your boyfriend about this.”
Zoë felt a bit stricken by that thought. “Shit,” she muttered.
“You better get on that, Zoë,” Jane said softly.
“Yes, I'd better had.”
Jane hugged her, kissed her cheek. “This is going be both grand and insane,” she said. “I can't wait.”
Zoë hurried off to talk with Robin.
“More insane that grand I'd say,” said John Perry.
“We get the CU's headhunters off of our trail and get to live in probably the safest place in this corner of the universe for all of us,” she said. “That is a bargain I'm more than fine with.”
“You have some ghosts on Arist, darling.”
“I made peace with them a long time ago. Though I wouldn’t mind if she gave the place a new name.”
“Well, she may be a 'young woman' in many ways, but she's also still a teenage girl. With an unlimited budget. I suspect she's going to change more than the name.”
They both laughed at that.

Robin turned as while as sheet when she told him, then a dull gray as Zoë unfolded the details and finally a bit green around the gills. She realized in that moment that he had never really thought through who and what she actually was.
“I have to stay here on Earth, “ he said weakly. “My studies and all, you know.”
She hugged him. “It's okay, darling. You can come along later. I'll have a lot to do when I first get there.” She knew that he'd likely never 'come along later'.
He fled the Compound that night, leaving behind most of his belongings. That she had not expected. She refused to shed a single tear over him, though a few snuck out.
But she still had Babar, her big dopey dog. He'd been exiled for the past few months because the 'noises' she made while she was in bed with her now ex-lover made him crazy. She'd put him on the porch the first night until he'd stopped whining and barking. She found out later Hickory had sedated him.
Now he was so happy to be back he knocked over half the furniture before he finally settled down. “Unconditional love, thy name is Babar,” she cooed at him. That night she resolved to name her new possession after her most loyal friend.

The send-off bash was ten days later. It was fairly sedate affair, a buffet, some canned music, a few outside guests and those who were living at the Compound. 'Uncle Harry' Wilson showed up. He was John Perry's oldest living friend and now a legend in his own right. After all he'd saved Danielle Lowen, the daughter of the US Secretary of State. by jumping with her out of Earth Station as it was being destroyed. The CDF had made him a captain for his troubles and the US government gave him a Medal of Freedom. He wound up dating Ms Lowen as well.
“They gave you an entire planet for your birthday?” he said.
Zoë grinned. “I've been a very good girl.”
Perry laughed. “Pull the other one.”
Zoë poked him on the shoulder. “Remember you work for me now, John Perry.”
Harry laughed. “Oh boy.”
“Oh, you have no idea. The Obin have started calling her 'Mistress'.” Perry said.
“That is a little embarrassing,” Zoë said.
“Its a protocol issue,” said Danielle Lowen, shrugging. “I'm a Washington brat. I know about these things.”
“That's what they told me,” Zoë said.
“You're going to get a new body?” Danielle asked.
“Yes,” said Zoë. “I'm kind of nervous about that.”
Harry and Perry both grinned.
“Piece of cake,” said Perry.
“Daddy, I did read your book.”
“I hear the CU is handing out Mark Twenties like they're party favors,” said Harry.
“It sounds like President Lowe is a real hard charger,” said Perry. “Getting rid of the DoC was pretty shocking.”
“It's my understanding that the CU is going to open up CDF recruitment to a much wider pool,” said Harry. “Including residents of Earth.”
“I can see why the Obin want to get you some place safer,” said Danielle. She hugged Harry's arm. “I might enlist just so I can keep up with my big green love machine.”
Harry's green cheeks noticeable darkened. The lot of them grinned and laughed at that.
“I love when he blushes,” Danielle said and kissed him on the cheek.

About two hours into the gathering an official CU floater arrived. Dock and Mouse greeted it, both carrying formidable looking Obin weapons. It's passenger debarked. He was wearing a conservative suit and looked familiar to Zoë, but she could not place him. Apparently the Obin could because they allowed him to pass.
He walked up to her and smiled. “It's been a while, Miss Boutin-Perry,” he said. She regarded him quizzically. “Frank Rybicki,” he said, extending his hand. She shook automatically. “You're...” She looked at his hand. “”
He grinned. “I'm in the System Guard now. We get Mark Twenties. They're...” “Fully human,” she said. “Why, yes they are, Miss Boutin-Perry. Only better.” Rybicki was one John Perry's old CDF commanders and the man who had recruited him for the Roanoak mission.
A thought struck her. “Can they be modified?”
“Modified how?” he asked.
“You know, have details changed, like height and hair color and so on?”
“Sure,” he said. “Mind you, I'm only a CDF grunt with a brass hat. But those would be pretty simple as far I understand the process.” He was about to say something else when John Perry approached.
“General,” Perry said evenly.
“Major,” Rybicki replied.
“You're still a general, yes?”
“Yup, Lieutenant General in the System Guard.”
“You always did manage to land on your feet.”
“Nine lives, too,” Rybicki said with a smile. “No hard feelings?”
“We're good, Frank.” This seemed to make Rybicki happy.
“I asked for this..'mission' personally.” He opened the small leather binder he carried, produced an official CU envelope. “This is a hard copy of your pardon, hand signed by the President herself.” He handed it to Perry. “Congratulations, John. You've landed on your feet as well.”
This drew a round of applause from all present.

A little after one am the gathering broke up. Except for Nieema Hassan, Zoë 's personal assistant, all of those who had resided at The Perry Compound would be leaving the next day. Some of them would make the journey to Babar latter on, but they had lives that needed to be 'wrapped up' beforehand.
Danielle had gotten moderately drunk and hauled Harry away an hour before. He was blushing again.
All three of the Perry's had finished saying their various good byes when Rybicki came up to them. “I'd like to have a few moments in private with all of you,” he said. He nodded in the direction of Hickory and Dickory. “I think Zoë 's...'friends' should join us, too.”
They all retired to John Perry's office.
“Zoë would you please ask your companions to turn off their Collars,” said Rybicki. “I've already turned off my BrainPal.”
“You can do that?” she said.
“Yes, it's an app that comes with the Mark Twenties. I strongly recommend you get one yourself.”
“Hickory, Dickory, please turn off your Collars.”
“Yes, Mistress,” they said in unison.
Rybicki raised his eyebrows at that.
“Protocol,” said Zoë flatly.
Rybicki looked at John Perry. “First thing I'd like to say is that among the New Unionists, you're thought of as a hero.”
Perry looked surprised. “Really?”
“Yes. Such opinions are made quietly for now, but you shook up the old order, which many of us felt corrupt and allowed the party to take over.”
“Us?” Perry said.
“I've been a Nuboo for a decade now,” Rybicki said. “But anyway, we're pleased to support you and yours in this new endeavor in anyway we can. That also comes from General Szilard and the President herself.”
“And you also want us off Earth as soon as possible,” said Jane.
“Yes, very much so,” said Rybicki. “It's no secret that the present US administration is going to be shown the door in this next election. And this Rodriguez character is making too much 'Earth First' noise for our comfort. We'd like the Perry family out of the mix and out of his reach. We're pulling all non-essential personnel out of the US. Even The Conclave is scaling back its North American operations.”
Zoë made a face. “He gives me the creeps. Too...smarmy and full of himself.”
Rybicki grinned. “Exactly. I suspect you're going to make a fine planetary ruler, Ms Boutin-Perry.”
Zoë blushed slightly. “Thank you.”
Rybicki continued. “We'll settle his hash however. Gaining office is far easier than running the concern.”
“Amanda Lowe seems to be doing alright,” said John.
“Yes, she is. And that is a special case. The New Unionists have been planning for this for decades and the LP's had made a total mess of things. Monkeys could have done a better job.” Rybicki smirked. “And we're not monkeys.”
He turned serious. “There are some awful scandals coming to light. You may have heard that the President nationalized Colonial Genetics.”
John was shocked by this, but neither Jane nor Zoë were. “Really,” he said, looked at Jane. “You knew this?”
“Zoë told me,” she said.
“Hickory keeps me up to date on CU affairs,” Zoë said.
Rybicki smiled. “So you've heard about the Sex Clone scandal?”
“Yes,” Zoë said.”Nasty.”
“The Sex Clone scandal?” John said.
“It's even worse than it sounds,” said Rybicki. “The CEO of Colonial Genetics and his Board of Directors vowed to fight the takeover. But then reports surfaced that they had been making clones purely for the sex trade. This is included child clones as well. They used modified BrainPal to train them, raise them as totally sexualized beings. They sold them to brothels and to private owners. And when they were no longer wanted, they were euthanize, though some were ritually murdered.”
He let that sink in. “Two days after this came out, the CEO and two Board members committed suicide. And this reaches into at least twelve planetary governments and their law enforcement. Because of that the President turned the entire investigation over to CDF Internal Security.”
“Melanie Ehrenfest,” said Jane quietly.
“Exactly. So they're done. And more suicides have followed,” said Rybicki. “But the larger fallout is that this scandal is engulfing the Liberal Progressive Party. Nearly all of their leadership and a fair number of rank and file are complicit in one way or another, even if they just 'looked away'. They're being politically destroyed.”
“Leaving only the New Unionists standing,” said Zoë.
“Essentially,” said Rybicki. “Yes, I know that kind of power had its dangers, but we have a very clear and focused set of goals, all of which have been thought out and in place for a long time. The hope is that will keep us on track.”
“And the 'third force'?” said Jane.
“Ah, the heart of the matter,” said Rybicki. “And why I wanted all possible recording devices turned off. We have been over and over the various possibilities and the one we've come to is this.”
He looked at all of them. “We believe it concerns a race with which all of you have had intimate contact.”
There was dead silence in the room. After a beat, Jane said, “The Consu.”
“That has been our conclusion as well,” said Dickory. All turned toward him. “At least, that is what Hickory and I have been told.”
“Figures,” muttered Zoë.
“But why,” asked John.
“Because they're the fucking Consu!” said Zoë with some vehemence.
“It was been speculated it is some sort of 'intervention' on their part,” said Rybicki. “It did upend all CU politics and pushed the New Unionists into power a good twenty years before we thought we'd get there. And given the way things were going, that would likely have been too late for all of us. Now we have a fighting chance.”

“Jesus,” muttered John.

“So there you have, Major. You're a secret hero in the CU, which is rife with sex scandals and political suicide and the Consu are tinkering with our racial destiny.” Rybicki grinned. “Any questions?”

John looked at the Obin. “How soon can you get us out of here?”


The passenger cabins on the Obin Diplomatic Cruiser Crescent Moon were decorated to look like those of a Eighteenth Century European sailing ship. That was Zoë 's idea, as was the ship's name. The Obin didn't name their ships, only numbered them, but this was the first vessel of the Babaran Defense Force, so it had to have a name.

The 'wood' was really just a ultra-lightweight surfacing, but it looked and felt quite real, which was the point. Zoë was quite pleased with it. At the moment the Crescent Moon was heading away from Earth to its skip point. It would take only a single jump to Babar, which made it feel closer. She didn't dwell on the detail that the jump was near maximum range for the ship and that an equivalent CU vessel would have required three jumps.

She was looking at the cabin's viewscreen. It was normally set to show the star-field around the ship, but she was looking at the plans for Boutin University and the capital city of Babar, Lumière, the French word for 'light'. She felt she should honor her old French roots.

Though she had some small knowledge of the subject before, Zoë had begun studying city planning in earnest right after she'd accepted her gift. The university was more or less on the site of her father's old laboratory, a place where she'd spent a few years of her childhood, not that she remembered much of the landscape.

She thought it best to place Lumière nearby, but not too close. She knew they would grow together in time, but wanted to give each place the room to develop their own character. It was pretty clear that Lumière would be 'political' from day one. She wanted to keep that from contaminating the university as much as possible.

She had decided to lay the city out using the Parisian Model. About seventy kilometers to the east from the university's site was a winding river. She would have the city built upon its banks, with grand bridges and wide boulevards that radiated from traffic circles with beautiful monuments at their center. However, the monuments would be works of art, not emblems of politics. Lumière was to be a city that matched its name.

She drew a line from the city's center to the university's center, then marked it at the midpoint. From there she drew a line thirty five kilometers to the north. That would be the location of the Babar's main spaceport. Of course she would consult with the Obin on all these details, making sure they were practical.

A soft female voice issued from the ship's annunciator, “Attention. We will be skipping in exactly one minute.” That voice was also Zoë 's idea. It took a more strident tone for emergencies. She smiled at the sound of the thing.

They debarked from the shuttle into the late winter of Babar's northern hemisphere. There was still some snow on the ground. Even with the excellent cold weather gear the Obin had provided, the transition from the still warm Mid-West was a bit of a shock. But the flag flying above the temporary camp warmed Zoë 's heart: a bright green silhouette of an elephant on a chrome yellow field. When they saw what she was looking at, both John and Jane came to attention and saluted it. She repressed a squeal and hugged them when they 'at eased'.

Francois L'Ingénieur du Plan [Francois 'The Chief Engineer']
Joseph-Marat L'Chasseur à Cheval [Joseph-Marat 'The Light Cavalryman']

L'Navire [navire=ship]
Du Navire
De La Navire

Zoe had the Obin who were to be her 'subjects' – aka those living on Arist at the time – take French names, a male first name, as the Obin were all functionally 'male', and a descriptive last name. This was how she would begin to correct her 'nursery rhyme' mistake. Hickory and Dickory both take the last name L'Compagnon. All are addressed as Monsieur.

In the matter of titles, which are needed for reasons of protocol and legal documents, Zoë is to be known as The Proprietor [of Babar] and when addressed officially, as Mistress. Otherwise, she's still just Zoë. Or Miss Boutin-Perry if one is being formal.

“We're going with the 'constitutional monarchy model'. As Proprietor, more or less the 'queen', I am Head of State. John, you'll be my Prime Minister, therefore Head of Government and Jane, you'll be Minister of Defense. Oh, and I making you both lieutenant generals. I don't think we'll need higher ranks than that.”

Francois L'Ingénieur shows the Perry's the underground cloning facility. It is quite large.

“Dad, you're going to need to go into a Mark Twenty.”

He groans. “Ugh.”

“I'll stick with my Mark Eighteen for while,” said Jane. “It'll be good enough for the next few years.”

“I wonder if Amanda Lowe has any idea what she has started with all this cloning free for all?”

“Functional immortality for the human race?” said Jane.

“Exactly,” said John.

“From what the Obin tell me, that is at the center of her plans,” said Zoë.

John shook his head. “Oh, brave new world.”

John asks Harry to come to Babar.

“Oh, man, I'd be like a kid in a candy store. But I can't right now. I'm the CU's “hero of the moment' here on Earth and Abumwe really needs all the help she can get right now.”

“I'd never figure you'd go all patriotic.”

He shrugged. “More a sense of duty. I've been CDF a long time now. And the CU is in deep shit.”

“God bless you, Harry Wilson, you really are a hero.”

“No, I'm not. I just kept my shit together and followed my training.”

“That is a textbook definition of heroism.”

“Look, John, just keep a spot open for me, okay?”

“One will be guaranteed forever, Harry.”

At her request, the Obin purchase and transport a small herd of African elephants to Babar.

Among themselves, the Obin also call it EtanZoe, which translates as either 'Zoe's World' or 'Zoe's Domain'. It is also a wordplay on 'Eten' which means 'gift'. Hickory and Dickory disclaim any responsibility for this.

The Obin also convince Zoë to take a Mk 20 'upgrade' because 'things are going to get interesting'. She is 1.7 meters [5foot 7], has mousy brown hair and brown eyes. She requires her new body be 1,85 meters [6 foot 1/2 inch] have jet black hair and 'very bright' green eyes. “If I am to be a ruler of a planet then I should look impressive.”

The Mark Twenty Z. “Z?” “Yes, the A is the basic model and B through F are CU models with different modifications. We chose 'Z' because we don't think their new models will get that far. It also stands for Zoë.”

Babar is a terraformed world. Took four centuries to convert. Boutin University is to have a Terraforming Sciences Dept.

The Obin reproductive method was for some of them to 'go into season' and lay a large number of 'eggs' – soft fleshy sacs – and them those not 'in season' would spray them with a fertilizing hormone en mass.

The Consu changed that. Now they clone the 'eggs' and then spray them. They do no know why the Consu changed them in that fashion as they are now totally dependent upon that technology for procreation. This happened about twelve hundred years ago.

They share this secret with Zoe in strictest confidence. This is also when they tell her about the Consu 'uplifting everyone'. That information they say she is free to share as needed.

The Technological Mennonites from Roanoak request residence on Babar, which is of course granted. Over time, most of them in the CU migrate to Babar. Many students from Boutin University – of many races – come to spend time with them as a way of 'reconnecting to their basic natures'.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~The Conclave scout cruiser skipped in about a light year out from the system's star. The ship was originally a Rraey battle cruiser, but it had been extensively modified to accommodate a multi-race crew in addition to installing an extensive sensor suite. The Captain was a Lalan and the XO a Vreen. The rest of the crew came from nineteen other races. This mixture helped assure the Conclave Council that its reports were 'accurate and true'.

The system they were approaching was simply listed as Tsushuzi Colony Number Three. Not much was known about the Tsushuzi – like the names of their two colony worlds – and it seemed like things would remain that way as they now appeared to be an extinct race.

The Captain frown at the view-screen. “Enlarge,” he ordered. The distant world grew larger. It seemed an ordinary planet, blue and green more or less. “Take us in two light months.” The View-screen flickered. The world remained unchanged. “Take us in two more light months.” The View-screen flickered again. The Captain grunted. The world was now a swirling mass of gray with orange/red flashes.

The Bridge Crew looked on as well, their respective expressions showing what would called be 'grim' or 'horrified' on their home worlds. They were looking at a murdered planet. The Captain sighed. “Take us back one light day at a time.” Eight skips back and the view-screen once again showed an ordinary world. “Hold here.” They sat and waited. The Watch changed, but the Captain stayed put, eating and dozing a bit in the Command Chair.

A little over fourteen hours passed....and then multiple skip signatures began to register, the view too large to see the individual ships, but quite clear to the ship's sensor array. What followed however was all too visible, the blue/white actinic flashes of dozens of large thermonuclear weapons detonating just inside the planet's atmosphere. They seemed endless. The entire surface of the planet was on fire. After a short while, the smoke became a solid overcast.

No-one said anything for a few moments.

The Captain turned to the Navigation Officer, the being in charge of the ship's sensors. “How many?” he said. The NO blinked, checked her instruments. “ hundred and twenty seven detonations, sir.” She scanned another panel. “All within the one hundred forty eight to one hundred and fifty one megaton range. All very very dirty.”

The Captain signed again. “Are survivors possible?” he asked, though he knew the answer already.

“Unlikely, sir,” the NO said. “Anyone on or near the surface would be dead within two rotations or less. Below the surface I can't say, but readings show substantial of tectonic actively after the attack. Several of the blasts appear to have been sub-surface.”

“Very well,” said the Captain. “Helm, take us in to about one light day out. We should be safe at that distance.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Helmsmen.


The scout cruiser got to within roughly four hundred thousand kilometers before the radiation levels became too dangerous. But that was close enough to see the planet's gray black surface, swathed in streamers of ugly gray clouds, with flashes of orange where lava belched up through the its shattered mantel.

The Bridge remained largely silent through all of this. They were all veterans of various fights over colony worlds, but none of them had ever seen this level of total and complete devastation. It would tens of thousands of years before life could ever return to this world.

“The humans have gone utterly insane,” said the XO.

“No,” said the Captain, “They knew exactly what they were doing. This may be monstrous and evil, but the massage is brutally clear; if you attack us, we will kill your worlds forever.”

“They we should annihilate them all now!” the XO said with vehemence.

“And risk this?” The Captain indicated the dead world hanging before them. “That would be a war no-one would win.”

“Captain, I have the readings on the delivery vehicles,” said the NO.

The Captain turned toward her.

She continued. “I had to dig. They're all very old CU scouts and corvettes, nearly all over a hundred to hundred and fifty years old. But definitely human and definitely CDF.”

The Captain looked tired. “I have long heard rumors that the humans maintain vast ship bone yards hidden away in obscure systems without habitable worlds. I guess they're true.”

“So these were suicide ships? The XO said.

“I did not get any life sign readings at all,” said the NO.

“Not the human way, “ said the Captain. “They just stripped out the crew quarters and weapons, stuck a big bomb inside, then used an autopilot. No need for anything complex, just skip to edge of the planet's atmosphere and 'Boom!' They probably all skipped a few times from one of those hidden bases.”

The Captain looked back at the view-screen. “Have we gotten all the readings we need?”

“Yes, sir,” said the NO.

“Very well. Helm, get us out of here.”

“Yes, sir!” said the Helmsman with emphasis.

As they pulled away and got ready to skip, the Captain wondered if the other two scout cruisers, one for the Tsushuzi Home World and one for Colony Number Two had gotten the same results. He suspected they had, slumped slightly in the Command Chair.

“The humans are brilliant monsters,” he muttered. The Bridge Crew pretended not to hear him.


Because it was so massive, a full and complete rotation of Conclave Station took approximately thirty one Colonial Standard hours. That became a Station 'day'. Said diurnal cycle was then divided into sixteen sub-units, which became Station 'hours'. It was then agreed, after much wrangling, that two hundred and sixty of these diurnal cycles would constitutive one Station 'year'. It was then agreed that each of these 'years' with be broken into six forty day 'months', which were named 'Sur' after the Vreen name for month. That was an in honor of General Gau.

But there were no names for individual months or days. Breaking that down among four hundred and twelve races would have been a cultural and political nightmare, so they skipped the whole thing. Station 'days' were merely numbered.

And so it was that on the 16th Day of Third Sur of Fifth Cycle, Station Calendar, the Colonial Union Diplomatic Ship Ashtabula requested docking instructions from Conclave Station Control.

The Ashtabula was an eighty year old battle cruiser that had been brought out of retirement and refurbished for this task. That 'refurbishment' had consisted largely of ripping out the offensive weapons suite and filling that empty space with 'diplomatic quarters'. Otherwise, she was unchanged, though like all CDF ships, she still ran just fine. But if The Conclave chose to seize her, all they'd get was a well preserved antique.

This did however mean that she took rather a bit longer to get to her skip point than the newer ships, but Ambassador Rigney and his staff used that time to keep studying the intel on The Conclave, files which were scrubbed just before the last skip to Conclave Station. And the trip was quite comfy because the 'diplomatic quarters' were very spacious. Missile launchers and their magazines took up a hell of a lot of room on a battle cruiser.

Edward Softly new Sec of State.

nine months have passed since since the destruction of the Earth Station. General Gau 'we have the force of time on our side' decides to wait out the CU, believing it will crack within twenty years, especially if they can be permanently divided from Earth. To those who want to wipe out humanity, he cautions, “Remember, there is an unknown third force at play here.” Many believe that the Consu are somewhere in that mix, though how and why is a mystery. Hence, caution prevails.

The CU Ambassador Able Rigney arrives at Conclave Station. 'we have lots bombs'

Gau speaking about the bombs; “I am familiar with the weapons they speak of. Yes, they are easy to produce and in very large numbers. But they are inherently unstable. In ten to twelve of the human's standard rotations, the weapon's ability to detonate will begin to degrade and rapidly. In another half dozens rotations most of them are unlikely to detonate at all. Each one would need regular physical maintenance to prevent that degradation. That is a daunting proposition, going out to service thousands of these weapons scattered all over the place. And keep their locations secret while doing so. I suspect that is why they used scout ships and corvettes. Those are very large platforms for such a weapon. In all probability the humans used that space to create an environment of optimal stability for the weapons within those hulls in order to maximize their operational usage without having to engage in any regular maintenance. [laughs] This is a classic Colonial bluff to buy time.”

“The existence of the Colonial Union can be used to solidify The Conclave. A terrifying external enemy is a useful tool. Their brutal retaliation against the Tsushuzi has already driven a dozen races into joining The Conclave seeking our protection. Let us use this gift wisely.”
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
~At a little over two billion people, Phoenix was the most densely populated planet in the Colonial Union. [Earth, at six point three billion, wasn't a CU member] Phoenix City, at roughly five million people, was the largest city on any CU world.

But just a twenty minute drive from its city center and you were out in the countryside. Carl Szilard found himself on just such a drive one beautiful Autumn day. He wore a prosthetic masque to hide his greenness. The ten year old mid-range compact and his plain brown suit made him look like a minor government official or a small business man. A plain man in a plain car on a simply country road going from 'here to there'.

Since his promotion to Marshal CIC Special Forces, Szilard had become an Important Person and, as such, he was 'in demand'. Every day dozens of printed invitations came across his desk. Real paper and ink was considered more prestigious than a message on a PDA. Understanding his new political role, he did a quick scan of all of them and then recycled ninety nine percent of them.

A few days ago one arrived addressed to 'Karl F. Szilard'. It was genuinely handwritten, not a faked printed handwriting. Szilard recognized the writing. Even if he hadn't, the 'Karl F.' was an Old School spy-craft message he knew at once. Inside was a simple bit of card stock with a address in the same handwriting, signed with the initial “D”.

Edward Donovan Chambers. “Don” to his friends. Once a wealthy businessman on Earth, he served fifty seven years in the CDF, becoming one of its most successful field commanders. Always a supporter of the Colonial Union, even before he left Earth, he was also quietly part of its Internal Security Command and an expert spymaster. He had mentored both Szilard and Ehrenfest in that field. He'd retired six years ago to become actively involved in the New Unionist Party.

Therefore that 'invitation' was really more of a command. And so Carl Szilard went for a drive in the countryside.

Clairmont was an enclave of the Rich and Powerful. Many of them were now out of power and were hiding here on their estates. Even though he knew it a totally subjective sensation, Szilard believed he could smell their fear. Everything was in flux and all the old paradigms were being erased.

He reached his turnoff and went up a old road to a large gate. It began opening as he approached. He smiled. General Chambers liked his drama. Beyond the gate was a long driveway through a small forest. Emerging from the trees it revealed a mansion. Large, built in a Neo-Classical style but not ostentatious. There was not a single human being in sight.

Szilard parked his car a modest distance from the main entrance and proceeded on foot. The crunch of the gravel underfoot gave him the sense of being in some period drama. As he approached the mansion's double-doored portico, one the doors opened. Don Chambers looked out and smiled at him. He then looked beyond to Szilard's car. “Light blue, eh?” he said grinning. “I painted it myself,” replied Szilard, returning the smile. Light blue was the perfect color for scrubbing an object from general video surveillance.

As Chambers stepped back to let him in, Szilard could see that he was a bit stoned. Once inside the huge foyer, Szilard could also smell the sharp spicy odor of hashish. The interior was very Modernist, all sleek lines, white paint, stainless steel, blonde woods and bright carpets.

“”Welcome to our den of vice, Carl,” said Chambers. “Come and say hello to the others.” Szilard followed him to what seemed to be the main living room. Four men and two women lounged in chairs around the room. They appeared to also be fairly stoned. Szilard recognized all of them, three CDF generals and three CDF colonels, all retired. There were various bottles of spirits scattered about on tables, mostly wines, brandies and the like as far as he could tell.

“We've been sampling the former owner's cellar,” Chambers said. Everyone smiled at Szilard, a few raising glasses in salute. “One of the benefits of no longer being green.” Bioforms prevented drunkenness.

“I wouldn't know,” said Szilard, who was 'born green'.

“Yes, of course,” said Chambers. “Sorry. Bad manners.” He did seem moderately regretful. “Speaking of manners, please have a seat and I'll explain why I invited you here.” He indicated an empty chair that was positioned so that he faced the entire group. He wondered if this was going to be some kind of bizarre tribunal, but everyone seemed quite mellow and at ease, though Chambers remained standing.

“First things first,” he said, reaching into the side pocket of his jacket, producing a small slim silver case with an engraved sunrise Art Deco design. He handed it to Szilard. “This contains a StakDrive with the complete records of all our activities.”

“Which are?” asked Szilard.

“We are the so-called 'third force'.” Everyone smiled amiably at Szilard who felt as if Chambers had just stuck him with a hammer. “Close your mouth, Carl,” he said with a laugh. “There's a bus coming.”

It had been slightly hanging open and he did shut it.

“We're revealing ourselves to you because our time is over.” Chambers said.

“You're behind the attack on Earth Station?” Szilard said very softly.

“Yes,” said Chambers and sighed very deeply. “That was an unpleasant necessity.” At that moment, even in his new body, he looked quite old.

Szilard was near paralyzed with indecision. He knew and respected the people in this room and now they claimed to be traitors and mass murderers.

“We know that we've all signed our death warrants by telling you this. We could have just sat this out quietly. But Amanda needs to know what is really happening and not be hemmed in by a phantom enemy that has now effectively ceased to exist.”

Chambers use of the President's first name had odd calming effect on Szilard. “Okay,” he said. “I'm listening.”

“This group started over sixty years ago. A number of officers from Sam Randell's staff, myself included, hatched the idea over a weekly poker game. Randell knew nothing of it. He'd have had all of us shot and rightly so. But we believed like he did that if the CU did not start some kind of retrenchment, it was going to crash and burn and, unlike with the Cheyenne Mountain Gang, it might not get a third chance.”

“You know about them?”

“The Cheyenne Mountain Gang? Oh yes, absolutely. They were our inspiration,” said Chambers. Everyone around the room smiled and nodded. One raised her glass. “The Cheyenne Mountain Gang!” she shouted. “The Cheyenne Mountain Gang!” came the loud bleary chorus, along with the up-ending of glasses.

Szilard, having read the book, felt like he had gone down the rabbit hole and wound up at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Chambers then began recounting the tale of so-called The Clairmont Group. There had been a total of twenty six members during its existence, though not all at the same time. They were all long service CDF officers, none below the rank of major.

“We knew we'd have to commit crimes, Carl,” Chambers said. “And we committed the worse crime of all first. We got directly involved in CU politics.”

The realization hit Szilard. “You started up the New Unionist Party!”

Chambers grinned broadly, turned to his fellows. “See, I told you.” They all smiled back, raised their glasses to Szilard. At this point a hash pipe was making the rounds.

“This house,” Chambers waved his hand expansively. “It was built about a hundred years by one Jackson Clairmont. He built the neighborhood, too. He was a Liberal Progressive bigwig, made all his money through political corruption and was thoroughly cynical son of bitch. But he was also ex-CDF. Did his ten years and came out a sergeant. And late in life he 'got religion' from Sam Randell, even tried to get him to run for President, but you know Randell.” Everyone smiled and laughed, even Szilard.

“But we got wind of his offer and made him a different proposition.”

“So Clairmont funded your operation,” said Szilard.

“And provided us with the requisite political connections.”

CDF 'industrial actions' ugly...killing rebellious workers

This section of the galaxy has had technologically advanced races around for at least 50,000 years as best as we can tell. A few dozen even left their own star systems using various sub-light techniques. But only one race had FTL tech as far back as anyone can remember.

“The Consu”

Exactly right. About 2200 years ago 12 races 'developed' skip drive simultaneously. We found nine of their home worlds [now occupied by other races] and what we believe is the rubble of the other 3. [shows a holomap - red dots – of those worlds...they make a sphere] Blue dot shows the Consu home world out on the edge of that sphere.

“We dug up the records of the Cheyenne Mountain Gang.”

Gau's exile was an excuse for him to go traveling. He's a military scholar. He figured all of this out. The Consu. The Human race. And he confirmed that the Vreen were the last of those twelve races left, even though their original home world was now just debris floating in space.

The Consu beat us the first three times, but after that we've beaten them every single time. No other race has gotten close to that.

“They're watching us, Carl. Watching us closely.”

The 'vested interests' keep us all in place. The CDF focused on fighting everyone, the colonists on surviving and Earth in the dark. We needed to break the CU loose from the grip of the Plutocrats. Get everyone augmented.

storage space w/ wardrobe minor associate at a small travel agency. Algorithm would scrub the trip out to Clairmont and instead show a trip to a local hotel by Phoenix' main transit hub. Makes note for new cover as CDF recruitment was booming and tourism was dying.

Reports to Lowe.

“Where is the StakDrive now?” Lowe asked.

“In my pocket,” said Szilard. “I believe the best course would be to let Stapledon run with it, but that is your call, Madam President.”

Colonel Michelle Stapledon was the new head of the Presidential Security Detail. The Detail had previously all been civilians, but Lowe had quietly replaced each of them with Yōkai in Mark Twenty Bioforms and tripled their numbers. Now they also operated as her own private 'black bag ops' team.

Lowe thought for a moment. “Yes. Do that.” She sighed. “Probably should smash the damned thing, but there's too much in there we need to know.”

“Yes. I had the same set of thoughts,” Szilard said. “I'll give it to Stapledon myself. Plausible deniability and all that.”

“Thank you, Carl,” she said softly.

He excused himself, exited.

The President sat quietly for a moment and allowed herself to shed a few tears. She'd been quite fond of Don Chambers. Her grief had the additional benefit of taking her mind off of the fucking Consu for a short while.
nebris: (Nebs Stars [for CU Posts])
[all dialog is approximate]

The Consu home world is one fifth larger than Earth and has half again its gravity. Humans would find visually stunning, but physically uncomfortable, not just because of the gravity, but because the place is loud enough to make one's ears bleed. As some humans have noted, the Consu language 'sounds like freight trains fucking'. Let it be noted that their language fits in perfectly with their ecology.

They called this world The Place Where We Shall Stand. As with most of the rest of our narrative, we shall dismiss any attempts to relate that in Consu. It is not however the world of their origin. They abandoned that planet so long ago that, except for a handful of scholars, even they have forgotten where it was, 'was' being the operative word. When they finally found a star system that exactly suited their purposes – an M-Class star with a K-Class brown dwarf companion – their stripped their actual home world of what they wanted and broke the thing down for raw materials.

The Consu are a deeply deeply religious race, but are almost completely free of what humans would call sentimentality. The CDF Cultural Assessment Division classifies them [tentatively] as 'logical psychopaths'. And CDF/CAD had not a clue as to most of the above information.

One thing that the CDF knows – as does every other race that has dealt with Consu – is that they used that brown dwarf to erect a force field around the entire start system. Consu technology, like their language, seems near incomprehensible to humans.

One Consu word humans could utter, if they knew it, is Skeeel. It is the colloquial name for a great and rare delicacy, The Fat Juicy Ground Borer With The Tasty Pink Skin. We'll skip the full Consu name for that as well. Skeeel is a cross between a pig and a grub and usually around four to six kilos. To eat Skeeel, first its upper spine is severed by the diner's razor talon forearm – the sound it makes when this happens is where the name of the dish comes from – which paralyzes it and renders it comatose. The skin is then peeled and deep fried separately while its fatty viscera are consumed raw with a dipping sauce.

The primary delight of Skeeel is deep frying its skin. This is a complex social ritual, close to sacred in nature. A Skeeeling takes place at a large round table with a deep wok-like bowl of hot oil in the center. The 'place setting' of each diner is clearly delineated and held as if it were conquered territory.

The most senior Consu present, usually the host, fries his skin first and then each Consu, in descending order of status, until the most junior. This is considered good hosting as the oil is seasoned with each skin. Then the order is reversed for the next batch and so on. At least a half dozen of these delicacies are eaten by each Consu in a single meal.

While all this is proceeding, servants bring beverages, condiments and side dishes throughout the meal, which is eaten in silence, punctuated only by grunts of pleasure and what passes for flatulence among the Consu. The latter could cause respiratory arrest for a number of races.

Nine Consu Elders have gathered for a meal. Sixteen places at the table. Plate faced down at empty seats.

They toast the last Elder to go on his Death Journey and down to business.

First Elder, Second Elder, etc

Humans are called Small Green Squeakers and The Conclave is called The Gaggle. John Perry is known as Two Shot Killer.

Consu laughter is like chainsaws cutting sheet metal

The Egglayers are worn out and dying. The End of The Breeding Cycle is at hand. The Time of Sleep is coming. The deviants and criminals have been mostly killed off. The Caretakers are gathering.

Consu females are massive stupid egg layers. Rumors that they were once just like males are considered blasphemy and repeating them carries a death sentence.

The Curse of Self. Humans ruined the Obin. “What we now get to examine is how this Perfect Creation of ours fully rejected its Perfection and then made an immature human egglayer into its SacredRulerDeity for something its parent did.” The word came out as HOOGMAAANN. “The evidence at hand that we have made some incorrect conclusions is brutally clear.” That the First Elder used the human's own Name for themselves was a shocking elevation of their status.

The Consu 'discuss matters' regarding Redemption, 'human allies', etc.

'they have finally put their warrior class in charge'

'but their new Leadership Lottery Winner is an egglayer!'

'they are not us, and this egglayer has faced us in battle twice and survived. That is sufficient'

Fifth Elder laughed bitterly, a sound like a chainsaw ripping through sheet metal. “I'm glad my Death Journey approaches. I have no stomach to deal with any of this heresy.” He up ended his goblet, held it out for a servant to refill, then drank half of that in one swig. Fifth Elder would likely sleep on the Skeeeling chamber floor that evening.

a single Consu Rotation is about seventeen Standard Months.


nebris: (Default)
The Divine Mr. M

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