Chapter One: The Caged Pheonix

The human race was fifteen years out of it’s hardest conflict, the third and final World War. It had been a nuclear war, though most of the nuclear munitions were small strategical devices and the occasional dirty bomb. It only took thirteen high-yeild warheads to deter an all out assault; the fallout was responsible for the immediate decimation of the world’s bread basket and rice bowl. An unforeseen side effect had been to increase the global temperature by 1°F in addition to shaking loose a large portion of polar ice. The sudden increase in sea water had produced a tectonic fracture in the pacific that immediately sank the state of California in America, and completely overturned the Island of Japan. The entire Earth shook for more than a decade and the planet revolted against its inhabitants. In a flash, civilization in every industrialized nation had crumbled to nuts and bolts. In a year, two billion had died from war, radiation, famine, disease, and the wrath of a scorned mother nature. For twenty five years the war dragged on as dying nations clawed at each other for scarce resources. Eventually, regional alliances were formed. The squabbling began to melt away for a mutual interest in survival. Regions soon became sectors and then continents. As if to signal the change of an era, a small meteor had fallen into the pacific ocean, and the last shots were fired on June 6th, 2035. On September 11th of that year the entire reborn world was represented at the United Nations, and the first Global Consensus was convened. The War to End All Wars, the perpetual battle that had taken a total of four and a half billion lives, was over.

The end of the war brought with it a new age, and a new, more powerful world order. Humanity bounced back stronger, united and more determined than ever before. Everyone alive was bursting with freedom and vitality. In a decade new cities were built that dwarfed the ones they replaced in greatness. A new continent had risen out of the atlantic, with soil fertilized by millions of years of sea bottom soot that would in time become the new seat of human civilization. No one needed an enemy now-there was too much work to be done to waste one’s time killing each other. And seemingly by extreme good fortune, the Earth healed along with the human race. The world was quickly becoming a nigh-utopia, and the human race soon began looking to accomplish everything imagined and conceivable.

It was July 24th of the year of first contact, 2050. Major Reid Magnuson of the newly formed United Nations Ministry of Aerospace was on his way to survey the new airport of the city of Osirus, which will soon be the capital of the United Nations. The airport will not only serve as transit to and from the new continent, but also as transit to the stars.

Reid had been shifting in his seat constantly. After eleven years of piloting he was never conformable during supersonic travel, no matter how smooth the flight. It was perhaps due to the fact that until recently nearly all of his flights were into combat, and who wouldn’t be uncomfortable in that situation?

“Is everything okay Major?” Chimed a soft darling voice from above him.

Reid broke his dazed stare at the canopy of clouds to glance at the source of the charming inquiry, which was a slim brunette with big, caring puppy dog eyes and was wearing what looked like a cross between a formal military dress and a nineteenth-century french maid outfit.

“Fine” he replied at little more than a whisper before his mind leaped back to the sheet of clouds outside the window.

“Oh, okay.” She said with a delightful smile before patting his shoulder. “Let me know if you need anything.”

The pat on the shoulder had been a little affectionate, but the Major was too lost in his own head to notice. The only world he knew was one that was at war. He was barely a teenager when the war began, and the chaotic event had been the most of his life. This discomfort wasn’t because he was going into combat-it’s was because of the total lack of it. Though he was glad, as everyone else was, that the war had ended he was unsure as to his function in society. He had been a soldier for so long that it seemed there was no longer a place for him on this Earth. Yet he dreaded the day, if ever it came, that he was once again needed in battle. So here he sits, staring into the infinity of the cloud space.

A few minutes later another voice came from on high, although this one not as pleasant and charming. This one was that of a young officer sent along with the survey team. “Major Magnuson?” It asked with anxious glee.

The Major was becoming more and more irritated with being reminded of his presence in the world, and tried to hide his frustration from the young man. “That I am,” he replied with cool restraint.

“Lieutenant Alec Iverson, Aerospace Civil Engineering.” The boy said as he thrust out his hand. His grip was weak and tense, his arm flimsy, and his shake too fast. The Major corrected this with a tight grip and one solid movement of his forearm. The Lieutenant seemed a little put off, but continued. “I just have to say that it’s an honor to be serving with you, Sir.” He continued with the same dumb-kid style.

“Ah,” Reid began, “well thank you.” He replied for lack of anything else to say to the kid. He had seen thousands just like him: born into affluence during the war, having had their parents make certain they never saw the front line. Most of them were paper pushers or white tag kids in the Aerospace Civil Engineering (ACEs as they were referred to), or Peripheral Utility Personnel (who processed the requests for nonessential equipment), or some other form of barely useless position that cheaply granted the prestige of an officer.

“You’re a big inspiration of mine. Ever since the academy. It’s a privilege to be working with a living legend.”

Reid had enough. “Much appreciated,” He replied. His tone and dismissive nod had done the job where his words hadn’t.

The Lieutenant let out a nervous laugh, nodded back and returned to his seat.

And once again the Major returned to the clouds. He had sort of hoped the cute Flight Op would return. He felt he’d been rude to her. She was only doing her job when she disturbed him. Then as if by magik, her voice had manifest once again, although only on the overhead speaker. “Attention all passengers, please return to your seats and fasten your harnesses. We are beginning primary decent and will touchdown in twenty minutes. Should you begin to feel ill, please use courtesy balloon provided in the rear of the seat in front of you.”

A moment later the cloudscape dipped and the all-familiar feeling of free fall set in as the high-flying transport entered decent. Reid had done this at least a thousand times, and only on the first had he felt nauseous. Within two minutes, it was easy to spot every ACE and PUP on the flight-none of them had ever traveled hypersonic before and were all losing their in-flight meals. And what a shocker, Lieutenant Alec Whatshisname didn’t know how to use the balloon. The Major thought of chastising him, but the lad’s companion were handling the job quite well.

The transport landed seamlessly, and within moments the passengers were beginning to disembark. The poor lieutenant was unloaded first and rushed to the nearest wash area. The Major exited last and was met by a welcoming party a dozen strong. One of them wearing a suite and hardhat stepped forward. “Major Magnuson,” He paused to offer a real handshake, “Welcome to Osirus.”

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sdrawkcab dootsrednu tub sdrawrof devil si efil

(This message has been edited by Sargatanus (edited 07-29-2003).)

"This is the moment we've been waiting for," whispered Commander Joseph Bradley of the UN Atlantic Navy to a pair of second lieutenants who flanked his command chair on the bridge of the fast attack sub Swiftfin. The sub sat on the ocean floor a few miles off a point on the coast of eastern North America where one of the Atlantic Fleet's primary bases was located. The sub was silent, engines off, lights dimmed. Several other navy attack subs were also hidden on the seafloor, lying in wait for their quarry.

In just a few minutes the Aeneas , the newly-built battle submarine of the Atlantic Fleet, was scheduled to pass through these waters on its maiden voyage from Portsmouth to the floating city of New York, built in the water over sunken Manhattan Island. She was rumored to be the fastest and most powerful vessel in the western hemisphere. Naturally there were still a number of kinks to work out of her systems but it was generally agreed that the Aeneas would be the prototype for the UN's new series of frontline warships.

She would be carrying a large cargo of valuable luxury goods as well. Certainly not practice for a military vessel, but the voyage was much publicised and was for the people as much as for the military. For this reason were the Swiftfin and four other attack subs waiting at this spot. For years, all the seven seas had been plagued by Charles MacDougan Tanaka, a pirate who'd earned legend status running shipments of personal supplies and smuggling refugees during the War. After business for those noble, if illegitimate, practices dried up, he turned to piracy, slinking around the oceans in his sub the Avenger and preying upon carriers of fine goods and moneys. The Aeneas would be an irresistible target despite the obvious risk. She was intentionally being unescorted so that a trap could be sprung.

"Tracking incoming on passive, sir. It's the Aeneas."
"Right on schedule. Keep on alert. If the Avenger comes, we have to be ready."
"Should we hail the Aeneas?"
"Negative. Maintain radio silence. Keep sonar on passive. We can't make our presence known."
The great ship hummed low, gliding through the deep water, a magnificent sight. The finest looking piece of bait Bradley had ever seen.
"Sir! Another vessel's inbound." Bradley's heartbeat sped up with eager hope.
"What class, lieutenant? Scan her."
"It's an old Shark-class attack sub, sir. No military markings."
Bradley's eyes lit up. "It's the Avenger."

The Aeneas was now past their position, and the Avenger was creeping up close behind her.

"Hold...Hold..." said Commander Bradley. "Wait until she gets good and close..."
The bridge was tense with anticipation. "Engines on, bring us up to her level! All vessels, engage the newcomer! All vessels, engage!" Five attack subs woke up on the seafloor, their powerful seajets roaring to life in moments. They swooped up through the water to trap the pirate ship. Upon seeing her opponents the Avenger about-faced and ran at top speed. "Pursue! Pursue! Flood all tubes, get a lock on her!" The chase lasted for almost two minutes, the outnumbered pirate ship weaving to avoid her aggressors. At last the Swiftfin came within range. At that moment a radio transmission pierced the sea to her bridge. "Commander, commander. How good to see you again. I'm afraid I must run, though. You want my ship, here she is."
"Sir! That transmission came from--" The Avenger exploded, all by herself. A second explosion burst from where she had been and a massive, crackling EMP wave engulfed her pursuers. All five of them lost main engine power immediately.

"-the Aeneas ," the comm officer finished weakly. Bradley slammed his fist onto his armrest, waiting in impotent fury until main power could be brought back online. He looked out the bridge windows and saw the majestic Aeneas gliding past. A laughing clown head on a stick couldn't have been much more humiliating.

Charlie Tanaka pressed the comm button on his chair and smiled. "Beautiful ship, commander. All the modern conveniences. Including the quirks of a new vessel that make periods of communication loss understandable. Crew size is pretty small, too! Not hard to overpower with the right men. But I find m'self rambling. Maybe we'll meet again some time. Good day to you!" He closed the connection, then took a stroll around his new bridge. Not as comfy as the Avenger's , certainly, but it could be personalized easily enough. He looked over to his first, Adam Xavier. "Take us home, Adam. Usual route. You have the bridge."
"Will do, sir!" Charlie got up and walked down the hall to his quarters, singing a song faintly under his breath.
"Oh, better far to live and die, under the brave black flag I fly, than play a sanctimonious part with a pirate head and a pirate heart! Away to the cheating world go you, where pirates all are well to do, but I'll be true to the song I sing, and live and die a pirate king! For I am a pirate kiiiing, and it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king, for I am a pirate kiiiiing, and it is, it is a glorious thing to be a pirate king!" His door slid shut behind him. Another hard day's work over.

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-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

“I’m leaving, and that’s final!” she screamed as she slammed the suitcase shut.

“Brianna, can’t we talk about this? Please?” Jack Asaki pleaded with the slender, dark-haired woman. He had known something was terribly wrong as soon as he had stepped in the door.

“Talk? That’s all you ever do! You always say ‘it’ll be all right soon, just watch’ or ‘give me another chance!’ No more! I’m sick of waiting!” Brianna’s amber eyes glared at Jack as she stressed each syllable carefully, “I’m through with you.” She shoved him away.

“I know I’ve made mistakes-” he tried, his mind was swimming, he couldn’t focus on a single thought, everything had gone just so horribly wrong today.

“You just lost your job!”

“That wasn’t my fault! The company went bankrupt! Ever since the war-” he realized his mistake too late.

“Ever since the war, what? Its been difficult? How could it possibly be difficult for a skilled technician like you? The whole world is rebuilding itself, there should be plenty of opportunities for someone with one of the most important jobs in the world! My dad would have-” Brianna suddenly found she was struggling to hold back tears and hurriedly turned away, dropping her voice. “Doesn’t matter, he’s gone now. They’re both gone.”

“I know,” Jack said softly, stepping closer. She seemed so alone, so fragile, and...

“No you don’t,” she interrupted his thoughts. She backed away quickly and stared deep into his dark brown eyes. “You don’t know. You don’t know me anymore. I’ve changed, being left at home alone so often, and you don’t even know it.” She shouldered her bags and picked up her suitcase before walking over to the door. There she stopped, looked back at him and said “goodbye Jack” before turning away and stepping outside.

“Brianna, please!” He called after her, but it was too late. He caught a fleeting image of her black ponytail swaying behind her before the door closed.

And now, he was all alone. Jack Asaki, the screw-up, with no parents, no family, no job, no friends, and now no Brianna. He sighed and sunk onto the old couch, somehow unwilling to accept that she had really left. He kept picturing her walking back inside, ready to come back, but it never happened. The next five hours of silence left him alone as he suffered in his thoughts. All of his hopes and dreams had come crashing down around him. His life had completely fallen apart.

Jack jumped as the phone started to ring, shattering the quiet gloom. He tried to focus as he hurriedly wiped the tears from his eyes and reached to answer the phone.

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"What we do not know, we cannot begin to understand."

(This message has been edited by Avatara (edited 08-04-2003).)

Quite far away...

"Is that your recomendation, then sir?"

"Yes, yes it is. You can see what must be done."

"Yes sir, quite clearly."

Darkk sighed, and ended the communication. That was it then. Orders were orders.

"Alright, prepare narrow-beam antenna for target IAA:45183-3 and set it to radio-interceptible."

"Yes Commodore Darkk."

Outside, an antenna focused on something very, very far away. And then it began to send.

------------------
"In literature as in love we are astounded by what is chosen by others." Andre Maurois
Onii7/Frinkruds and his funky forums
macgamer.net

"You got it"

"I got it"

Pharris watched the young pilot's hands grasp the controls for a moment before letting go of his. He lifted his goggles off of his head to look at the young man sitting next to him. Warrant Officer Candidate Knowles seemed to be in control of the ship, if not the trembling of his hands. Pharris didn't blame him, orbital docking was about as tough as it got, and Pharris wasn't an Instructor Pilot, he was just giving the young man a lift to his new post.

The cockpit was small and dark except for the electronic displays showing a mix of data about the ship and images from outside. He looked out the one window in the whole cabin, the tiny port on the emergency egress hatch above his head. It was filled with one tiny circle of blue and white, a little piece of the Pacific Ocean, peering back up at him. He tapped the thick glass, then put his goggles back on, reimmersing himself in the computer generated version of his surroundings, letting the whole arc of the globe span above his head as the ship eased towards the two skeletal rings which would eventually become the new gateway to the stars.

The space station was going to be an orbital construction yard for the new generation of colony ships, as well as for the first full scale jumpgate, which might actually allow Earth to reunite with those ships that first left Earth bound for the stars so many years ago. There had been two sister ships that launched for Proxima Centauri and its recently discovered planets. They had gone forth with hope, but then war had come, and the two colony vessels had been all but forgotten, their arrival at Proxima being forgotten amidst the destruction upon Earth. Pharris' great uncle had left aboard one of those ships, and with relativity and all, Pharris sometimes dreamed that maybe he might still be alive, and that maybe, if the jumpgate were completed, he might be able to meet him.

But that was just the stuff of dreams, now, he had a trainee pilot flying into a construction area, on the verge of overshooting the path. He put his hands back on the controls "I got it"

With a few sweeps of the controls, Pharris had corrected for the WOC's error, and lined the ship up with its docking station. Loose construction supplies and packaging drifted around in front of the cameras and sensors as Pharris took off his goggles and set about powering down the ship.

Another delivery, another meeting, another day at work.

------------------
NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

(This message has been edited by Captain Pharris (edited 08-03-2003).)

Within ten minutes, the lives of the last remaining fifteen-billion Fnords were exterminated in a horrible scorching and gasping death. A massive solar flare had been directed at their planet as a last ditch effort to pacify them. For seven Earth years the Fnords were the target of a massive 'clientelle' campaign of the Cantharan Order. But the Fnords put up a hell of a fight, and chose to die for their freedom instead of the Order's offer of endentured service in exchange for "enlightenment".

Mek Het, newly appointed Som of Tay Ros and commander of the Order's sixth fleet watched in disgust as the last of the Fnord homeworld's atmosphere and oceans burned off into space. Such a physically strong and mentally competant species would have made an invaluable asset to the Order, and with a little more force their resistance would have been crushed. But even to the mighty Cantharn Order, there were yet higher powers.

We warned you six Cantharis Standard years ago this would happen. A voice in his head had said. Mek Het turned to discover a five-foot worm curved like a question mark suspended in the air, flanked by two metal cylinders with long, arachnid-like legs supporting them. He was no longer surprised by these sorts of intrusions; Salrilians could slip into almost anwhere undetected regardless of security.

"Our Intelligence indicated that they would offer heavy resistance, but the research on them showed that it would be well worth the military effort. Even your Prophets spoke of the boon they would be to the Order!" Mek Het exclaimed with fury.

And we also stated that if not subdued in the given time frame that other measures would have to be taken in order to keep our plans in motion. We are merely fullfilling our end of the agreement.

"And so you just wipe them out? What about the last six years of the campaign? You've turned them into a total waste of time and resources!"

That is you folley, Som of Tay Ros, not ours. We told you what could be done and what should be done, and the rest was your responsibility. You chose not to exterminate them in the first place, and now that you could not nullify their forces we are simply tieing up a badly frayed loose end.

Mek Het was at the end of his temper. He felt as though he could rip through the fragile little slug with one swipe of his tendrils.

I suggest you keep your prideful emotions in check, Som of Tay Ros. Our statistics show that your current position of command is the most effective and if we were to unexpectedly have to replace you it would be a serious drawback on the Plan, and could quite subastantially weaken the position of the Order in it. So please, Som of Tay Ros, consider the welfare and prosperity of your people before you let your petty instincts get the best of you. Now, I understand that you have quite a bit of planning to do for your next objective, so I will bid you good day. With that, the worm floated out the hatch of the bridge, followed by it's mettalic, cylindrical escorts.

Mek Het wanted nothing more than to kill that slug, but knew that the Salrilians were not to be trifled with. With one undetected ship they were able to wipe out an entire planet before the Sixth Fleet even knew what happened. And sadly, for now the glory of the Order was solely dependant upon the Will of the Prophets. Grudgingly, he summoned the fleets Overseer.

"Glory to the Order!" The Overseer stated in Salute to Mek Het.

"Glory to the Order," Mek Het replied, knowing full well the hollow ruse of the statement. "I'll have a report ready for the Council in a few hours. Where are the other nearest impact sites?"

The Overseer filed through an index on his computer link. "Well my leige, the most effective route would be to continue on through the Mal Kuth sector. Several impact sites on that path but only XR5-1024A-3 is known to house a civilization. Shall we contact the Prophets and barter the information on it?"

Mek Het wasn't an expert in stellar cartography, but he did know that XR5-1024A was pushing close to the borders of the Ishimans and Obish, one of the primary objectives of the campaign. "Not yet. I'll have to complete and send off my report and then I will dispatch a Liason myself."

"Of course, my leige. Glory to the order!"

"Glory to the Order."

------------------
sdrawkcab dootsrednu tub sdrawrof devil si efil

(This message has been edited by Sargatanus (edited 08-03-2003).)

"That's it then?"

"Yes sir, the resistance's carrier signals are all dead, after reporting the data given."

"So we've got proof..."

"Not enough to convince anybody important."

Darkk sighed. Stupid, cowardly high command. A disgusting act of barbarism not seen since the Boodan wars and it would go unpunished. The Salrilians would laugh off a sanction and were too well-protected to oppose millitarily. If they wouldn't hide behind the Cantharans, he was sure he could repay them quite fully. Darkk ran his fingers over his teeth. Unlike the Ishimans, his species, the Irthantan, had evolved as powerful predators that turned to intelligence to raise their chances of success.

Darkk recalled his species's run-in with the Cantharans. They had managed to throw them back several times, and were close enough to the Ishimans to apply as a protectorate. That they didn't tell the Ishimans until afterwards that the Cantharans had an interest in them was the Ishiman's problem. And they had dealt with it well enough. Irthanta was, if not free, Ishiman, which was almost as good.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dr. Tracy Ulleman looked over her radio telescope instruments. Nothing unusual. And then...

"Oh my lord, everyone look at this!"

Researchers ran over as a massively strong signal, digital in nature, appeared on their monitors. In seconds computers began the attempt to decode it as more and more data poured in.

After several hours, the computers were unanimous in their interpretation. The data represented distances from 4 known pulsars. The coordinates provided centered on Earth, and then moved outward to a star system far from Earth. Then it repeated, going from Earth to that star. And repeated, and repeated.

Then an new wrinkle was added. The number 150 in binary was repeated four times. Then it switched back to the first pattern, repeated it four times, switched to the second, etc.

The scientists hurriedly began to report the conclusion to the chief of IAU...

------------------
"In literature as in love we are astounded by what is chosen by others." Andre Maurois
Onii7/Frinkruds and his funky forums
macgamer.net

The huge form of a Salrilian carrier slid through the inky blackness of space. The sleek form speed swiftly along to the outer reaches of an ancient asteroid field. There, it stopped, waiting. In the command room, the Salrilian fleet commander Slima Slugg slid back and forth across the black tridisite floor, Hissing out orders to his crew.

"Turn up the sensorss, Sscan for the Alimor, she should be here by now"-He called
"Sir, we have spotted it."a crewmember replied

The commander looked at the screen, watching the other carrier approaching. The Alimor was another salrilian carrier, piloted by non other then admiral Sann Loaz. The two carriers went through the delicate and dangerous procedure of docking swiftly. Slima Slugg crawled up onto a aud walker, and made his way to the docking room. Opon entering, he found the admiral already there.

"Sann, what have you for me now?"
The old, huge form of the admiral turned to face Slima.

_"Have you become impatient? The will of us prophets is always to be guarded and carefully calculated. Never rushing to..."

"...complete that which may be accomplished later when the time is right."_ Slima finished.

"You are young Slima, time will teach you the ways of the order. Everything that is, everything that has been, everything that has yet to be. It is all known to us, and in time, to you. But till you learn to control yourself we will only let you know only what you have to." The admiral replied.

"In the meantime, you must command a guard detachmentent to investigate a civilization foretold by the network. This race shouldn't give you trouble, don't harm them, merly observe. We are sending a oracular porthole with you. This is all. The network predicts this to be an advanced race, yet very peaceful. When the truths of the networks come to pass, we shall see that this race is also brought under the judgment of the prophets. Go and prophesy!!"
The admiral ended in the customary salrilian salutation. With that, the admiral went back through the docking hatch, and the carrier backed away.

Slima turned around, "Lets not waste time"
A few seconds later, the Audemedon fleet materialized around his carrier. Once again, he was on his way...
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"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."-Albert Einstein

(This message has been edited by Skyfox (edited 08-03-2003).)

(This message has been edited by Skyfox (edited 08-03-2003).)

"Any definitive reading yet?"

"None, sir."

Pel Nok turned away and sighed, then retired to his private chambers to contemplate. After a full lunar cycle, the cloaked and modified cruiser had been able to detect nothing other than the "presumed negative" that the initial survey had reported, fifteen years ago by the planet's reckoning.

Nok passed through the archway and walked over to the altar on the left of his room. He made a star in honor of Zom and a circle in order of Doz, and sat down to contemplate. The Sen fumes were beginning to overtake his senses, and as he relaxed, the metallic green walls receded into a red and black web that stretched all around him.

Reserved for Soms such as himself, Sen allowed him turn his mind inwards and make full use of the multiconsciousness all Cantharans were capable of. Most were able to split off into three or four personalities, but as the Som of Tay Set, Nok could dissociate into no fewer than eight distinct minds.

Within a few moments after the walls had faded away, all eight were there, seated around a pulsating red orb in the center of Nok's trance world.

"So then," Nok asked, "what do we do?" According to protocol, the original always asked the questions, and the others discussed. Nok felt no need to explain the situation - after all, the others shared his memories.

"Invade immediately," said the fourth. "We can't take any risks - and even if there was no trace of the virus, these 'Humans' will be the better for our rule."

To his left, another, the second, spoke up. "We have destroyed enough! Let them develop on their own, without our interference. Look at the fnords - another race that will never see the stars because of us."

This point of view was shared by few. For the next few moments, the scene was interrupted by shouts of "barbarian" and "meek-lover" and "atheist."

The eighth quickly quieted the others. "It hardly matters, you know. That meteor was just a fragment of the original asteroid, and the real threat is less than a year away."

The others murmured their assent, and he continued. "We go down there ourselves, ensure that they will not succumb to infection before we arrive. And we mobilize Tay Set*, now. We will not lose to Bood now." He drew a curved sword and thrust it into the red orb, which faltered and began to contract.

"Well then," said Nok. "It is settled. We neutralize the threat now, and we neutralize the world after." As he pulled the sword out of the orb and stepped back into reality, he thought he heard the second whispering softly, away from him, "I'm sorry... we're sorry..." before the door closed behind him.

  • Fleet Seven

(Geek's note: For anyone else intending to use the Cantharans, it would seem that Cantharan words/names: 1) do not use the letters C, J, Q, W, X, Y, or any fricatives, 2) are limited to single syllables, and 3) do not have consonant clusters. ('Cantharis' is actually the human word for them, so it doesn't count) )

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(~%) ssh localhost
The authenticity of host 'localhost (127.0.0.1)' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is 93:33:b4:fc:b8:03:b4:45:15:31:99:1a:a3:1f:a5:ac.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?

(This message has been edited by Pallas Athene (edited 08-03-2003).)

Darkk sat to the left. The Protectorate Contact Officer sat to the right. In the middle was the current most horrified being in the universe. He sat, what passed for a mouth agape as the solar flare slammed into Fnord Prime. Darkk switched the angle to a camera on the planet and replayed the event. Then he switched to another camera, and replayed again.

"So you see, you really are lucky - personally."

"I refuse to believe it!"

"We're sorry, but this is the truth. We summoned you because we knew this might happen."

"You're so mighty, why didn't you stop this? Why didn't you help?"

"The Cantharans and Salrilians in alliance are simply too mighty to be opposed directly."

"Then you allow this horror to happen out of cowardice!"

Darkk could not take that any longer.

"If you were not valuable to us, I would duel you for that insult. I pursued all channels to attempt a more direct solution, but was denied. I had my duty, so I did not launch attacks without sponsorship, and risk opening the galaxy to manifold horrors like this. At the moment, this is quite a rare horror. If I failed my duty, it could become a common one. And you have your duty. To survive. 150 Fnord should be enough for a breeding population. As we predicted, your crew is a fine cross section of genotypes. In time, we will wave you in their faces. But for now, you must be hidden. You are the species Dren now, and we will find you a planet."

"I demand the right to seek vengeance. Give us but one of your vessels..."

"And you'll get yourselves killed in a second. And play right into their hands. I've given you the most heartless speach of your life, but it's time to lick your wounds."

(I wanted to establish that the "send lure" tactic of the Ishimans is not new, and that the humans were unique in getting the right to fight back.)

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"In literature as in love we are astounded by what is chosen by others." Andre Maurois
Onii7/Frinkruds and his funky forums
macgamer.net

Mark Pharris followed the Warrant Officer through the maze of empty fuel tanks which made up the pressureized crew compartments for the workers on the space station. With the recent acceleration in the pace of construction, Pharris had been up and back three times in the last week, which was more than he could really afford to spend flying, but he rationalized it by telling himself that there were hundreds of millions of tons of equipment and construction materials to bring up, and that Endeavour , the first of the newest space planes could only bring it up 200 tons at a time. Pharris wondered what the young man was thinking about. He was too old, and had flown too well to be a candidate coming straight from ground flight to orbital, but he wasn't a full WO yet. He seemed so young, but quiet for his age and flight time. Pilots usually didn't quiet down until after they had dropped into their first hot LZ. Pharris remembered when he had gone through flight school and shuddered. He had worked hard to keep above those memories of the war and his time in the 7th Cav.

Knowles had mixed feelings about being back in space. On the one hand, he would be able to get through orbital and vacuum training and maybe actually make warrant officer this time, but he had bad memories of the accident that had occurred here last year, and forced him to spend eight of the last twelve months in traction. Still, he wanted to do what he loved: flying, and the military was where all the best pilots came from, so here he was.

It took them a few minutes to get Knowles' travelling orders signed so Pharris could go. They shook hands, and went their separate ways, Pharris to find a right seater for his trip back down in a few hours, and Knowles to lay his stuff out in his bunk and muster with his squad.

------------

Four hours later, Endeavour was streaming down her re-entry pipe. Like most former military pilots, Pharris flew a very steep pipe, but compared to what he used to fly, he considered it quite safe. Generally, by the time a spaceplane was at reentry, it was low on oxidizers, and so the engines wouldn't work until it began to hit thicker air at around 100,000 feet up. Most pilots liked to hold on to forward velocity early in the drop, keeping their vertical speed slow in order to make a gradual deceleration through the thinner air, this generally put less strain on the airframes, but it meant that they were very limited in their manouvering early in flight. It was a bit of a throwback to the earlier generation of Orbital Landers, the LCU-1 or Lucy, as it had been nicknamed, whose familiar silhouette was a symbol of the great war. Those great ships had worse heat-dissipating tiles on them, and were often missing them from taking fire. It was alway safer to take a Lucy in shallow, if noone was shooting at you on the way in.

Endeavour was a new breed of scramjet craft, she was tough and smooth and cut the air like a razor during reentry. She could reccoup some her orbital energy to recharge her fuel cells by opening her turbines and letting them spin their starter motors. Pharris felt better letting her take the heat early then take off the energy with the turbines in the thicker air. Moreover, all spaceplanes were tough to control at high altitude, where the air was too thin for flaps and fins, and where one malfunctioning thruster could send the ship into a hypersonic spin. Pharris like the thick air, where the ship was his, not the computer's, and went for it out of habit.

Pharris could feel the controls shift from thrusters to fins, and he spun up the turbines, opening the forward vents and monitoring the RPMs as the superheated gas streamed through. Pharris worked the controls so that the Gs came slowly, straining his straps gently at first, then more until the chest harness began to feel tight. Pharris made a game of playing glider pilot, keeping the engines set to recharge mode, and using up every joule of orbital energy to get to the runway. Of course, his left hand was always on the throttle, ready to kick start the motors and power out if there was trouble. At 50,000 feet, he set the engine to compressor mode, opened the vents all the way, and began filling his liquid oxygen tanks. Now at a reasonable mach 2, he began his descent, bleeding away more and more speed until he began to approach the landing pattern at Osirus AFB.

He called in and got clearance before following his pipe right onto the glide slope and down to the runway at just under 200 mph. The tires squealed, and the thrust reverser grumbled, and Endeavour rolled off onto the taxiway and into her custom hangar. Pharris hit the brakes and locked the wheels, as he began to go through his checklist before unbuckling himself and removing his visual enhancement headset. He stood up, removing the helmet from his pressure suit and disconnecting the umbilical. He took off his gloves to touch the warm circle of glass in the egress hatch above his seat, then ducked through the cockpit door into the rear crew compartment. He climed down a ladder into the passenger seating area and went out the side door, where ground crew had already set up the gantry. He yelled goodbye to his two crew chiefs, whose bird this really was, then walked down the gantry, reaching into his pocket to pull out his silver leaves which he pinned back upon his lapels under the open collar of his pressure suit. He checked the time as he moved his watch from the outside of his pressure suit to his wrist: Just enough time to get back to his desk to get some paperwork done before his staff meeting. He walked with a well worn saunter back to the locker room as the (i)Endeavor and her sister ships sizzled under their hangars. Pharris couldn't wait till this was done, and his airlift wing would be based here permanently, instead of constantly hopping back and forth from England. Maybe then he could get a real desk instead of a folding table in a tent behind a generator and communications truck.

------------------
NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

"Blake Bryant." Said the mocha skinned man in the suite and Hard Hat. "Chief of public relations at Osirus AFB. A Pleasure to meet you, Major."

"And you as well." Reid replied. He was still a little confused as to why he was needed at the air force base for 'opperative input' when it was so close to completion. A sour voice in the back of his head suggested that it was for nothing more that celbrity status; much of the party that met him looked and acted a lot like the press. In the eyes of the press, Reid Magnuson was a living legend. He had led the United States 7th Air Cavalry into the decisive victory that quite possibley saved the United States of America from the invasion of the Asian Cooperative. And ever since, every reporter in the world was trying to get his story, his opinion, or at the very least his face.

"We'll start with a grand tour of the base. Feel free to voice any suggestions you may have on the way. We'll start with-"

"Can I get a beer?" Interrupted the Major, sick of the lot of humanity that had inherited the Earth.

"Absolutely." Blake motioned to one of the men next to him, who promptly went running off. This Blake guy was quick. He probably had a degree in kissing ass, which probably landed him a cushy job like Cheif of Public Relations.

Thr group moved on, with Blake explaining every neat little function of the base. From the octo-directional runway flankedby nearly a hundred VTOL pads, to the level of creature comforts available to a potential fifty-thousand travelers, to the all-around nice attitude of every employee. And as expected, whenever he opened his mouth there was a camera to catch every word, every breath, every yawn.

After what felt like the filming of a three hour commercial, the Major was finally shown to his quarters, the presidential suites of Osirus AFB. His luggage was already unpacked and neatly stuffed into the dressers, cabinets, drawers, and even set conveniently on the end tables. With nothing else to do, he decided to head down to the resturaunt. But not the one in the suites; the press would be expecting him. Utilizing the stealth training he'd had to use so many times during the war, he made way his to the other side of the tarmac, and into the Wingman's bar.

The Bar was huge-obviously they expected a lot of stop-over traffic from the pilots, but this place looked like it could house two thousand at a time. Right now it was nearly deserted. A few pilots and bartenders dotted the indoor landscape but that was all. Ried sidled up to the nearest bar and cleared his throat to catch the attention of the bartender. "A beer please."

"Sorry, we haven't gotten any beer in this facility yet. Not until Thursday. We've got some irish cider, though. The pilots seem to like it." The bartender mercifully didn't know who he was. Probably too young.

"Fine." The Major said preparing to pull his card out of his wallet.

"Not necessary, Major." The Bartender stopped him before he could reach his card. Appearently he did recognize him after all. At least he had the decencey not to make a scene around him.

Shortly after Reid had recieved his cider he heard something. A voice, with a familiar pitch and forcefullness. Looking around he saw not even twenty feet away from him the face of Mark Pharris, one of his wigmen from the Great War. "Pharris!" He shouted with a force and tone he hadn't used since the military.

The pilot did a double take and ended up stunned for a second, before standing at attention and saluting out of habit with the habitual reply "Sir!"...

------------------
sdrawkcab dootsrednu tub sdrawrof devil si efil

For the busy Bazidanese trading port, today was just another day, pretty much the same as it had been for the past thousand years. Starships from every modern galactic civilization in the surrounding portion of the galaxy. Ishman, Gaitori, Obish, Grolk, Kalian, and even the occasional Elejeetian starships could be seen moving in and out of the docks of the orbital station. Some warships could be seen, yet only Bazidanese. The conflict between the Obish and the Gaitori was long-standing, and the peaceful Bazidanese were always trying their best to keep the conflict from interrupting trade.

Little did they know, that their world would soon be turned upside down...

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

On the outer skirts of the system, a Salrilian carrier emerged from hyperspatial warp, soon followed by a tiny fleet of Audemedon starships. After the entire fleet had warped in, the carrier activated the area cloak device, and the fleet disappeared once again. The fleet slowly and cautiously ventured in to the center of the system. Aboard the carrier, Slima smiled as he observed the trading post.

The network will benefit much from what is seen here today. For there is not just one race, but many. A center for myriad's of races that call this southern sector of the galaxy, home. Salril will be overjoyed to see this. When the time comes, yes, these races too will become part of our whole. Subjects to the enlightenment. -Slima thought to himself.

The oracular porthole came alive, absorbing information about everything it saw. And as it took in, the network opened up to it, absorbing the information from the device. And then, as Slima watched, the network showed itself through the porthole. Looking into the sphere that made up the 'eye' of the device, Slima could see faces, other Salrilians. He found that he could, with probing thoughts, read the minds of them. The network was vast, deeper then anything he had ever known. Suddenly, the face of the Admiral appeared.

"Slima, save your thoughts for later. I did not want you to have access to the network yet, but such is the way of things. You now are one of the true prophets, able to know all that is in the network, able to know everything. Your training has been completed. Now, I want you to do one more thing before you leave this system, disable and capture one of the Bazidanese ships, and bring it back to Saril. That is all." -The admiral finished and his face vanished.

Slima found himself back in the control room, as if having awoken from a dream. Shaking off the weird feeling of cold from the network, Slima turned to his crew.

"Alright, we are going in. We're going to capture one of Bazidanese ships, and bring it back to Saril." -Slima ordered. Mentally projecting an image of a small Bazidanese vessel main the veiwscreen of the control room.
"That is what we are after."

The Salrilian fleet headed inwards to the middle of the system, sneaking past the unaware freighters that lazily headed in and out. After a brief search, they found their prey. The unsuspecting Bazidanese fighter was doing a lazy patrol several light minutes out from the station. An Audemedon cruiser swept down on it, firing a disabling shot that shut down all the electrical systems aboard the craft. Then the Salrilian carrier used a tractor beam to pull the craft into one of its massive fighter bays. With their newfound prize, the fleet headed back out to the edge of the system, opened a warp point, and exited for their homeworld. Leaving everything pretty much as it were. The Bazidanese would attribute the loss of their fighter to a solar current or flaring wormhole.

------------------
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."-Albert Einstein

(Ried should be higher rank than major, if he is still in the military. Majors command divisions. He would have been in charge of the Cav as a major, but he would be a Colonel or one star general (brigadier general), espescially if he was well decorated. Pharris is a recent Major, placed in charge of a brand new airlift unit.)

Pharris smiled. It was good to see the old CO. Pharris had been a Warrant fresh out of VSTOL school when he had been assigned to the Cav under Major Ried. Pharris had recieved his commission after the battle of Toronto, and after two distinguished flying crosses and a bronze star, Pharris had been bumped to first lieutenant and given his own flight group to command.

After his tour in country, Pharris had been rotated home as an Instructor Pilot in the VSTOL School, where he trained incoming pilots for combat before he was shipped out for a second combat tour with Ried's 7th Cav, Airmobile. Pharris took two more tours before he made Captain, but by then the war was over and the 7th Cav was rotated home and disbanded. The flight personell were transferred to various airlift wings, where they provided relief and aid wherever they were most sorely needed, while most of the infantry went home.

Pharris felt he could make the biggest difference in the armed forces; It was all he knew, so he kept with it, and he had risen to major just last year, when he was put in charge of the newly formed 109th Airlift Wing, flying the new LCU-64 Caravel-class scramjets, of which the Endeavour was the first, serial number 0000-000-0001.

Pharris excused himself from the bartender to sit next to his old CO.

"Sir, how have you been? I havn't seen you in ages! "

"I've been alright, busy, but alright. How about you, what outfit do they have you in now?"

"I made Major last year, and they gave me the 109th airlift. We're the big movers for the twin rings they're building upstairs, it was a cushy deal until they decided to move us from Southhampton to this place. They've got me administering my whole air wing out of a couple of tents behind the hangars, while half my aircrew and maintenance staff are still back in England."

"Welcome to the chain of command, Major. Just be thankful you're not running an infantry division at the same time. Look on the bright side, Pharris, in a few months, once the reorganizations are complete, you might be back under me again."

"Oh man don't I wish it, sir. You should listen to the way the civvy guys bust my balls all day about their chicken****. Those guys need to get their **** together, and get the engineers in charge of this outfit instead of the PR guys who seem to be running the show. That's why things are going so slow here, the 109th has twenty four top of the line Caravels, as well as about sixty old Lucys, and yet they're still having material problems. The ministry guys want to see progress on the space station, but I can't adequately serve up that much material out of this airfield if they don't finish bunks for my men and hangars for our birds. I gotta bring the birds here from England every morning to load em before each day then send em back to Southampton for maintenance. That halfs the number of sorties I can fly in a day, but these ministry guys can't focus on one task. I've talked to some of the engineering guys around here too, their bar is on the other end of the compound, they've got the same ideas. I don't know. I just want to see this thing come together, I mean maybe then we can get those big rings spinning before we start getting tangled up in this world government thing. I just want to fly my plane, you know what I mean, Boss?"

Reid noddde knowingly, tapping his empty glass as he glanced at the bartender. It was the same story all over, where the men and women who had fought the war were the most frustrated with the peace, not because they wanted to fight, but because they wanted the peace to be worth the sacrafice they had made, and it pained them to see anyone squander what they had given their lives to secure.

"Don't worry about it major, we'll get this mess sorted out. I don't remember anyone telling me that what we did was the hard part." He pulled on the cider that was put down in front of him. "How have you been sleeping, Pharris?"

Pharris looked around the bar, uncomfortably.

"I still remember LZ Cooper, sir. How well can I sleep?"

"Cooper, and a thousand others, Mark. A thousand others."

------------------
NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

Darkk paused, his ship just on his side of the 34th radian.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said to the Cantharan carrier commander. "We do not allow foriegn warships into the space we claim. I must ask you turn your ship around."

Although the Ishiman Gateship was the only ship Darkk directly commanded, he was allowed to summon several defensive squadrons to the ship's aid. The ship looked unarmed, but a gateship with a working gate ring was never helpless.

Finally the carrier commander replied. "We do not wish to provoke Ishima. We had wished to examine the unexplored planets here for signs of life."

"We have explored these planets. Nothing for you here."

"Very well, we will be off."

The carrier headed back to the system gate. Darkk hated the neutral zone area. So annoying. If they moved a milimeter over the boarder without permission, Darkk would have the comm engineers take over the other ship's computer in a heartbeat. The Ishiman Gateship housed to most powerful pattern-projector known as its primary means of direct defense - almost any ship could be taken over very quickly with its main computer in chaos - or under Ishiman control. It galled him very much that his command had no true weapons of its own, but he'd have to bare with it. As nifty as the pattern-projector was, he doubted it would be of use in a pitched battle. The shields and jump ring were, but oh well.

The fact that he would likely never take his command into battle - indeed, was all but forbiddan from ever being near hostilities - was galling to him in the extreme. Irthantans wish to fight back.

------------------
"In literature as in love we are astounded by what is chosen by others." Andre Maurois
Onii7/Frinkruds and his funky forums
macgamer.net

“The Cantharians are on the move again.” said Minister Jommo quietly.
.
.
“Yes,
it be known.”
.
.
“But this time it is worse. They are upsetting the balance. And at a time when the other races are restless. Even we have not the resources to fight them and their cohorts together.”

Minister Jommo paused
“There will likely be a big war.
And they are moving towards you this time.”
.
.
.
The response came after perhaps a slight pause
“Cantharians not be a threat.
Our watchers be everywhere,
stealthy
We be prey species,
we be not attackers
or defenders
we be watchers
and intriguers.
Your military forces be powerful,
sufficiently for you to wait and see."

It turned towards Jommo
"You not be needful of more assistance right now."

And moved away again

"Besides,
there be other races,
yet to be known,
that will rise
to great strength.

Go with peaceful thoughts
A long existence be with you,
Minister

We be changemakers
when the time be right,
and the instrument be you."


The Elejeetian Cruiser Silent Night Predator pushed itself off from the surface of the greeny-blue world and headed swiftly spaceward. A worried Minister Jommo looked out at the fast disappearing planet.

The report from Tropillium was very worrying.
Matters were worse now.
With the Salrillians and Audemedons once again poking about on joint missions outside their space, and those strange looking and warlike Huu-Manz with unknown goals...

Jommo nudged the Predator into a course change in the direction of the Bazidanese border.

He who does nothing cannot make a mistake, unless doing mothing is the mistake...
Thank the planners for the Ishman...!

------------------
Oh, so it is another bug hunt then...

At the bottom of a particularly large ocean, in the midst of thick plant growth, between some rocks, inside a cave, and around several sharp corners sat a sleek submarine with a new paint job. The Aeneas was jet black, with red streaks along the sides and a white skull and crossed pistols on the starboard side of her nose. She was smaller than most subs-of-the-line, sleek and fast, requiring only a small crew. Nevertheless she was an impressive sight. A few smaller vessels lay around her, and divers skittered along all of them, fixing, tweaking, trying to squeeze every knot they could out of their engines.

"You look restless, Charlie." Tanaka paused in his pacing of the bridge and looked at Xavier.
"I am, Adam. I always hate laying low. You know that." Tanaka was in his preferred uniform, simple black pants and boots, a blue shirt and a red vest, with a leather belt on his waist with a pair of pistols on it, each in a cross-draw position. A dagger was sheathed on his belt horizontally at the small of his back.
"Well, steal the pride of the world's naval forces right from under their noses and you should expect to have to lay low for a while. Everyone is looking for this tub. Everyone. I'm surprised we've only had to relocate twice."
"All true, all true." He paused for a moment, then smiled and slapped his captain's chair. "What's life if you don't take a few risks? Prepare the Stinger for departure. They're not looking for her! I need out of this cave."
"Aye, captain!"

Within hours a small skirmishing sub departed from the cave, Tanaka and his top ten men aboard.

------------------
-Traek Cicion, barkeep extraordinaire
"PS: If nothing's working around here, it's because I'm laughing so hard."
-Durandal

Anic observed the stealthy operations of the Salrillian Carrier and its Audemedon accomplices with passing interest. If there was one thing you could rely on, it was Salrillian punctuality. They were only ever late if they happened to suddenly get dead, something else that seldom happened. It was a classic bit of Sal probing. They only ever had probed Eleejetian space once. Needless to say, that fleet had not returned from its mission. The game of interstellar espionage was a dangerous one, played with a variety of toys. Salrillian toys tended to be blunt and very much to the point. The Eleejetians tended to be a bit more mysterious

Anic watched as the Sal fleet departed the system.
Destroying it would have been dead easy. Anic toyed with the idea for a second. Oh, stick to the mission, and don’t be annoying the bugs...

Nowww, where was the other ship.
The omniscope broadened its viewfield, shrinking the System on its vision until a little green point appeared to the lower left.
Ah, there you are.
The point magnified into a cloaked Cantharian Destroyer. One ship, a long way from home, distance 18.246 Light seconds astern. Powerplant on build up. Weapons off line.
Hmm., planning to leave. Better hurry then. An intercept in warp space was always more difficult.

It was a little amusing to think that the Cantharians were being secretly observed as they secretly observed the Salrillians who were secretly encroaching into Bazidanese space. This secret operation was almost as heavily attended as if the Salrillians had been selling tickets to it!

Anic pulled round and accelerated towards the Destroyer, creeping to an near halt as the distance zoomed towards zero mekktronz. Diffusion mode engaged. Distance to the Destroyer: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0 (and here was the cool bit, heh!), -1, -2, -3....
Anic came to a halt inside the ancillary fuel tank. An easy place to park.
Diffusion at 1.4 plus or minus 3.5 percent. The Ship would adjust itself with variations in the fuel density outside. Well, not exactly outside, but it was easier to think in relative terms. In actuality the ship’s atoms and those of the Cantharian fuel had slipped between each other.
Neat.
Stealthy in fact.
God I love this ship!

Anic delved into to the Destroyer’s computer core, ripped past it’s encryption system and set the download op. In 37 seconds the Destroyer would be sucked clean. Anic’s BOS System provided complete access to the Destroyer. As if Anic was the Destroyer. The ship’s electronic defence systems were no match for the BOSS’s brain. Every aspect of the vessel was fed into Anic’s senses. The skeleton crew of 88 individuals, all Cantharian were entirely unaware that their ship was now host to what was effectively a parasite.

It was preparing to jump out of the system. Time to plant the loop in the communications array, and then to plant the virus in the Nav Computer. The Com Loop would fool the crew into thinking that any messages they had sent had been sent.
A shudder as the ship jumped out of the system, to warp.
Time to plant the Nav virus. this would alter the ship’s course without the ship’s knowledge, and therefore the crew’s. Anic had total control of the ship, what it saw and what the crew saw through it. Interesting, the crew wasn’t sending any transmissions. All intra-ship communications between the crew were being monitored and downloaded to Anic’s ship for later analysis. Someone was reading a message from home on Deck C, pod 19. dinner was being served in galley four. A malfunction in starboard running light 16f. New illumination source needed...
A communication, incoming....!
From the cruiser off the port stern....!!!
Wonderful! Anic hadn’t noticed the cruiser. Anic hadn’t looked for the cruiser. Anic therefore hadn’t seen the blasted cruiser. Anic blocked the transmission and cocooned the cruiser’s com array.<why have you changed course>, and sent a reply <stand by a moment>
In eight seconds more seconds the Destroyer would be dead...
NGC 4034 was an unassuming sun. Another message <Alert, alert, you are on a course for...>
Anic sent a reply <yes we know, maintain silence> Anic dispatched a powerful tendril at the cruiser, taking partial control of its onboard systems.
Seven Seconds.
Great an intra-warp space takeover! Anic began to sweat with effort, despite the suit’s internal environmental controls. Can’t let the cruiser change course away from the Destroyer. Hmm, the pilot’s good, switched to manual. (Cantharians never use manual control!).
Six Seconds.
Anic grabbed the cruiser’s propulsion computer, dismissing a notion to blast the cruiser either with the Destroyer’s weapons or own ship weapons. This had to be an accident, that was the whole point of it.
Five Seconds.
The cruiser pilot was trying to change course. Anic disabled its ejection systems, weapons, and its sublight activation pak. That would keep it in warp. The pilot raised his shields. Anic brushed them aside and entered the navigation computer. Blast, the pilot had isolated the computer core with a six hundred digit password. This guy was good. It would take eleven seconds to crack that...
Four Seconds.
The Cruiser pilot was trying the change course. A shuttle was being readied. Anic shut down all internal power systems in the ship, crossed to the shuttle and crashed all it’s internal operating systems. A little blunt, but it did the trick. no shuttle launches.
Three Seconds.
The gravity well of NGC 4034 was now making itself felt. Anic compensated for it. The HVD was still unaware of it’s approaching nemesis.
The cruiser pilot had succeeded in pulling away. He was using sub light manoeuvring thrusters!
Ye gods, that was a risky business in warp space, better than certain death though. Hmm, a warp takeover was also a risky business.
Two Seconds.
Anic drew on own ship’s main power to extend coverage as the cruiser pulled away. Can’t shut those thrusters down. What else..., counter with the opposite thrusters! No good, they’re switched to manual also. Oh well, blunt instrument it is.
One Second.
Anic crashed all of the cruiser’s operating systems not under the pilot’s control and withdrew from the vessel.

Launching out from within the Destroyer as it powered into the star and instant destruction, Anic swept down on the cruiser, grabbed it with a power 4 tractor beam and yanked it into the blazing core of NGC 4034. They never knew what hit them.

Anic sighed. mission complete.
Sloppy, but complete.
Anic left warp space and slipped into T-Space. A quick scan..., nothing for 10 light years in any direction. Extend to 20, a small freighter, Bazidanese making warp 4, Ishman ore carrier, warp 2,
Bazidanese battleship in normal space, 18.246 LY distant. Anic zoomed in and looked the ship over. Nothing, normal ops.
Where was that Salrillian Carrier...? Expand out.
Hmm, a little over 4 minutes into its flight, some 34 LY distant and receding. Too far for a concentrated scan without expending much effort. Anyway, it was safely away. As if a Salrillian Carrier with an Audemedon battle group would ever be unsafe...

Anic deactivated the BOS System. The quiet hum of the interior of the starship faded in as the BOSS interface blended out. Manual control. Relaxing.
Anic set a course for the Eleejetian border, and hit the chrome engage button.
Sleep.

------------------
Oh, so it is another bug hunt then...

Pharris jumped into the four-seater and put on his night vision goggles, right after strapping in tightly. His wing commander, Master Chief Warrant Officer Harrison jumped over the door just as Pharris gunned the high RPM electric motor and pealed out of the parking spot. He sped down the tarmac towards the civilian passenger terminal, but that meant crossing seven square miles of criss-crossed runways and taxiing aircraft. Pharris loved driving on the taxiways, designed for craft of a scale and speed that made the division's five high speed personnell ground transport vehicles seem like toys.

Pharris had ordered the cars after two weeks of criss crossing the massive spaceport for half an hour at a time in the army-issue jeeps. After two pilots had flipped Jeeps while speeding into turns, Pharris had had enough and ordered five high speed sports cars, and that had been the end of long, slow trips between the hangars, the tent-city, and the construction sites.

"So what's the news on the replacements, master chief?"

"They're competent and safe, but they arn't using these aircraft to their full potential. Unfortunately, it's the same story with half of our new Chief Warrants too. There are only a few dozen people who have a solid handle on piloting lucys, and a handfull are really on the ball with the Caravels. Unfortunately, we have more green replacements than we have truly competent pilots to pair them up with. I want to get them all up to speed before we get the aircraft for them and start sending them all over the globe and up to the twin rings."

Roberts pulled to a halt on the taxiway as Potemkin roared by, her roaring thrust reversers washing out the image in Pharris' goggles for a moment. As she passed, he crossed the runway, working his way back up to speed.

"Makes sense. I'll try and draw up better schedules to pair em up. Give me a list of the really good replacements when you get the chance, and while I'm gone, talk to the sergeant major about the crew chiefs. See what they're doing to our aircraft."

"Gotcha. Take a right over there. Anything else you want before tomorrow?"

"Nah, I should be back by noon anyway. I just have to help Marissa finish boxing up our apartment so we can move into the new place here, they'll be finished with it the day after tomorrow."

"Here we are."

Roberts eased the car into one of the spaces and took off the goggles, leaving them hanging on the rear view mirror. Roberts walked across towards a chain link fence which surrounded the gaping foundation of another skyscraper, the last building to be started, and hopefully soon to be completed. In the bottom, four stories down, he could see two Lucys parked near eachother; fully loaded, he judged, by the way they sat on their shocks. Pharris walked to the gate, took a hardhat and got into the elevator for the ride down into the bowels of the project, followed by Harrison, who was barely happy on the surface, let alone 200 feet below it. They got to the bottom, and walked across the marked paths around pools of wet concrete and huge iron beams pointing skyward. The black sky was a tiny spot, far away, surrounded by huge spotlights pointing downwards, into the pit, seeking and eradicating all notion of shadow, even at eleven o'clock at night.

Pharris walked up to the four pilots, sitting around their machines.

"Good evening gentlemen, what seems to be the problem?"

the young warrants stood and saluted. The aircraft commander of one spoke up.

"Sir, the engineers here wanted us to lift out one of their digging machines. They're done with it, and the crane's down for repairs tonight, so they thought we could take out the parts and lift them directly to their warehouse on the coast, but after dissasembly and packaging, they're to heavy. There are two more palets left, and these birds are maxed out for VTOL. That's why we radioed in, to see if another ship was around to get the rest so we could be done before the crane's done. Is another ship coming, sir?"

"No, don't worry about it, Warrant, I think Harrison and I can handle this. Edwards and Kruschev, I'm flying with you. The Master Chief will be flying with Lee and Erikksen. Edwards, get them to load up those last two palets, we'll preflight the aircraft."

Pharris climbed into the right seat of the Lucy and began to preflight. The right seat in a Lucy was technically the copilot's seat, but Pharris always flew right seat, even as aircraft commander, because it had a smaller control panel and better exterior visibility. As he cranked the engines, Edwards climbed in from the rear cockpit door and sat in the observer seat, plugging in his headphone cable and sealing his pressure helmet on. Pharris radioed to Harrison that he was going, and tried to pull the overburdened ship up into a hover.

"Hmm... ate too much for dinner, did we?"

He hauled the ship up into a hover at max thrust, but lost lift as lifted out of the ground cusion. He dropped down to 80% combined thrust and held the ship in a hover at around four feet for a moment before he tried his next trick. He tipped the ship forward to gain forward momentum, then hauled back on the stick to nose up, simultaniously vectoring main thrust straight out the back and cutting power on the verticals, giving as much power as possible to the main engines. The Lucy groaned, and the engines redlined, but still, she didn't pick up. Pharris rolled then engines back and sank back into a low hover. He looked at the two pilots sitting next to and behind him, and gave them the advice his first Instructor Pilot had given him when he was just a candidate.

"There's always a way. You just gotta find it."

Pharris picked the ship up to the top of the ground cusion then started to shift thrust forward again. This time he kept in the ground cusion, but began to get forward speed. He hauled the ship into a banked turn and began to turn circle the inside of the tiny foundation. The construction area blurred as he got going faster and faster, two or three Gs pressing him into his seat. After three revolutions and a lot of airspeed, he the ship started to pick up some transitional lift as air moved ovewr the wings. Pharris began to flatten the engines and lower thrust on the verticals, nosing the overladen craft out of the foundation and into level flight. He let it nose into a gentle climb, radioing in for clearance on his flight plan as Harrison and his ship settled into a nice tight formation back and to the right.

In two hours he'd be done dropping off the equipment, and in another few hours, he'd be home with his wife, but for now, Pharris was doing what he loved; flying.

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NEW NAME FOR THE DREADNOUGHT
The Hard-Boiled Egg
Why?
Because she cant be beaten!

(This message has been edited by Captain Pharris (edited 08-06-2003).)

Canthris-Homeworld of the Canthrian Order. The system carries a feeling of structure, of a society that has fallen, yet out of the ashes the Phoenix arises. Faster, stronger, more powerful then the last. The world of Canthris bears scars, the scars of a conflict few but the Canthrians themselves would ever grow to comprehend the shear scale of. The Boodian war.

A lone Salrilian cruiser approached, unhindered, alone. The complete lack of other ships in the system was not unordinary, this was a very restricted system, very few were allowed to approach. The cruiser swept down through the thick atmosphere, landing on a large, spacious pad in front of a massive temple that had existed since before the dawn of the canthrian race. Built by some ancient civilization, one that had since vanished even before the Salrilian network took form. A lone Salrilian slithered it's way out, then boarded an Audemedon assistant walker. Using his artificial "Legs", the slug made his way to the top of the temple. There, the high council of the Order waited. The Salrilian stood before the council for a second, staring with burning ferocity into their eyes, searching what they knew. After a good stare-down, the slug spoke.

"My brothers, the time of prophecy is at hand. The Order is fulfilled. The network has foreseen your races future. For you are no longer a fledgling race, struggling with self-strife. It is time to wake up. Wake up and take the glory that belongs to your Order. For when you submitted yourselves to the Prophets, you became the powerful, you became the race to which those around will be subject to. As you are part of us, so also shall they become part of your. You must take your knowledge, and power to these unenlightened races, and bring them under the might of the Order."

The counsel members pondered the strange words for a moment. One of them replied.

Very well, O prophet of Saril. The Order will foresee that our crusade to bring the unenlightened into the fold shall begin. But, oh great one, who are these races, and to where shall we travel to find them?"

The Salrilian stretched his small form out, and strugglingly, projected a psychic image of the galaxy map before the council members. The map contained details of each race, their systems, planets, and forces. The council members observed with interest. Then the map vanished. The slug relaxed once again, and spoke.

"The prophets will guide you along the way, but for now, assemble your fleets. Glory to the Order!" And with that, the Salrilian turned around, descended the ramp, and entered the cruiser. The vessel vanished again into the depths of space.

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"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the the universe."-Albert Einstein

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