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Beyond 'X' Book II Chapter 1-12 last post 18th April 09 (Story Completed)
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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Tue, 24. Feb 09, 13:03    Post subject: Beyond 'X' Book II Chapter 1-12 last post 18th April 09 (Story Completed) Reply with quote Print

Beyond ‘X’ - Journeys within the Emissary’s Sphere ‘ES’.
Far Future Fiction extrapolated from an X3 foundation.

By Paranoid66.

Brief Synopses
Beyond ‘X’ space in another time another Sphere (Universe): the self altered descendents of the furthest travellers of the ‘Five ‘X’ Races’ explore a new reality within the wider Grand Creation of Paradox myth. This story follows just two: Harbinger a Paradox and his potent Living Hull ship the ‘Many Truths’ on a few more adventures.

[[The format here follows the concept used in Book I, only I hope a little more matured.]]


Beyond ‘X’ Book II - The ‘Stellar Orb’

[[ONE]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Monastic Extents, Paradox Domains, Emissary Sphere.]

[We arrive back from the ‘House of Whispers’ Monastery via warp. Harbinger flushed with success is inordinately content. As Tleeboosuu wanted to speak to us urgently, we skip the gloating over the riches phase of our deal with Composure.]

[The transaction for my Living Hull child ‘Continuity of Introspection’ was unsurprisingly highly profitable even after deducting our recent munitions expenses Harbinger has made an almost indecent profit aided by the Nursery Shipyard being out of commission. Fate or perhaps the Emissary has been kind to us.]

[Still I am a bit sad to be leaving again so soon. I would have liked to idle for a time to contemplate recent events but as my Captain often says, ‘a Priest work is never done’. After sending a Jump Scout ahead, we hastily follow to the region known to the Paradox as ‘Hyades’ beyond the ‘Sentry Gap’ taking all our usual precautions.]

[Location: Many Truths, Hyades, Beyond the Sentry Gap, Emissary Sphere.]

[I confess I am unhappy with this ‘Hyades’ visit. ’Weeping Sun’ as the locals call it is still a war zone. I am especially wary because my armoury has not been restocked since our short but vicious battle against the Splinter at ‘Hell’s Maw’; I hardly have a torpedo or a missile left just a few oddities donated from his stocks by Hierophant Cad. Of course I still have my many potent cannons but in battle it is wise to have every advantage.]

“We’re not here to fight, we’re here to talk. If a fight looks likely we Jump out and supply first.” [Harbinger sends to me. I can feel his amusement at my leaking concerns via our Companion-ship link.]

[His argument fails to convince me - sometimes the fight finds you before you can run - normally Harbinger is as cautious as I am. I fear my Captain is just a little emotionally unbalanced right now - distracted - by the natural high of his recent success. He is dwelling on his past and maybe his future not the present. We are hailed, welcomed and allowed to pass by the Headquarters of the Black Diamond Renegade Swimmer Mercenaries an aged Recycler Dreadnaught that has seen better days but still looks intimidating.]

[As we draw near to ‘Newport’, I am relieved to see it appears unchanged from our previous visit. Following our request, the station grants us docking permission. It would seem - so far - the status-quo is unchanged. I slip serenely into harbour. After announcing our arrival, we warp over to Tleeboosuu’s resplendent watery grotto complete with darting fish and living coral. We appear I as a mere presence inside my Paradox Captain, my Captain hidden inside a Shroud Suit. As ever two, similarly shrouded Acolytes accompany us (typically to Harbinger as a Paradox the Acolytes are socially invisible extensions of his person).]

[Tleeboosuu still has his six Recycler sentry drone bodyguards who still place us under the threat of their heavy weaponry. We all ignore the machines as insignificant background noise.]

“I see you two still haven’t gained enough sense to escape from your Master’s clutches.” [Tleeboosuu broadcasts. I trust only half joking towards my Captains clone Acolytes.]

“Your beliefs remain as outlandish as ever to my loyal family.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]

“Freedom is never outlandish.” [Typically sends Tleeboosuu.]

“I hope you haven’t just brought me here to debate our cultural differences again.” [Harbinger sends testily.]

“Hardly, but I just don’t understand how you can reconcile treating your own flesh and blood this way.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“My clones are all happy. They willingly serve as your mercenaries serve; no actually that is not right it is more like how a child gladly assists his father. Sometimes I envy them they have few hard choices to make. Their lives are sheltered: generally safe, clean, and uncomplicated.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Don’t you Acolytes feel patronised by such statements? To me your existence is unnatural and restricted.” [Tleeboosuu insists via his sending.]

[I notice the Acolytes do not even reply they just seem to shrug off Tleeboosuu’s odd ideas as not worth debate.]

“They are restricted only from your external narrow personal perspective. Even I occasionally miss the simple life of when I was an Acolyte in the ‘House of Whispers’. It is not always easy being a full Paradox Priest.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I hear you found your quarry what will happen to Reader?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“He will work off a penance: Be given an opportunity to make amends for the insult of the Ship theft from his former Master. Then his responsibility discharged he will be set loose to make his own way as a Splitter Priest. He will be free then to seek a Vision of his own among the Sea of Stars. Readers journey is just beginning.” [Harbinger sends.]

“My, that almost sounds civilised. No inquisition? No righteous punishments upon his evil flesh? I am surprised.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Such barbarism is well behind the Paradox - as a species - compared to many we are fairly enlightened.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Self recommendations are rarely worth listening to.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Why did you summon me?” [Harbinger sends, clearly losing his patience as much as Harbinger likes Tleeboosuu the young Swimmer also tests my Captain’s tolerance.]

“I have just received some shocking intelligence from informants on ‘Prime’ it would seem his Majesty has renewed an old obsession with astounding success. Have you heard of the ‘Lost Sphere’?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Of course: It was during the Second Renegade Swimmer / Paradox War. In the Third Paradox Era when your Renegade Factions once again rose up to wrest control of Swimmer Space from their more settled brothers (the ‘Sea Sphere’ dwellers).” [Explained Harbinger via secure sending.] “It is all recorded in our historic scriptures. After a request from our allies we came to the aid of your more peaceful ancestors. Among our opponents was one Swimmer Renegade Warlord Admiral called Drooshuu a truly skilled fighter tactician and inspirational almost messianic leader. With the aid of a twisted Trojan advisor Drooshuu’s ultimate achievement was the creation of a jump drive capable of moving an entire ‘Sea Sphere’.”

“Drooshuu then used the ‘Sea Sphere’ renamed the ‘Stellar Orb’ as an impregnable battle station capable of disgorging not just fighter craft but an entire armada of capital ships and supplying those on the spot in truly devastating raids. Drooshuu caused havoc through Paradox space. It was a concentration of might difficult to overcome. It looked like we were going to lose our first ever war then we were saved by the Paradox Elder Priest now known as ‘Elevated Consequence’. Along with his stealthy Acolyte Dark Phantom Marines Elevated managed to infiltrate the ’Stellar Orb’. This happened during an ambush at what is now known as ‘Drooshuu’s Slain’.” [Continued Harbinger by his sending.]

“Outside the sphere it was a battle of attrition for both fleets that would have been a disaster for us - in the long term - (my species had been going through a settled contemplative phase. Ironically when we have less Splitters our overall population stays steady or reduces.) We were losing far too many Visions in that fight when without warning Drooshuu’s fortress jumped out and without its morale boosting presence and logistical support the day was quickly ours.” [Harbinger enlightened.]

“That engagement officially marks the end of the Paradox Third Era and the beginning of the Forth. As to the ‘Stellar Orb’, it vanished from all reputable knowledge, nor sadly was Elder Priest Elevated Consequence ever seen again although he was made into a Sainted Martyr. In time the ‘Stellar Orb’ became something of a ghost story among you Swimmers the legendary ‘Lost Sphere’. A ‘Sea Sphere’ that jumps according to myth constantly in and out of ‘Emissary Space’ in the blink of an eye as if caught on some perpetual loop. Many imaginative travellers witness what they claim is glimpses of the missing ‘Sea Sphere’ for a great many years. However it is always during a freak ion storm that leaves recordings and scans cloudy or non existent. Then about three hundred years ago the sightings trail off and stop.” [Harbinger sends.]

“A Warrior, a Priest and a Historian your talents never cease to amaze Harbinger.” [Mocked Tleeboosuu.] “Anyway to quickly update your long story the ’Stellar Orb’ is an obsession of the Arch Chancellor and thus of his puppet King. Now he believes he has actually located it and is about to mount an expedition to salvage that dangerous relic. If he gets his tentacles on that mobile and armed ‘Sea Sphere’ I fear ‘Pearl’ is doomed plus it will likely be the herald of a much wider conflict. All the fractured Swimmer Renegades would rally to anyone possessing the ’Stellar Orb’ it is certain to ignite another Great War.” [Tleeboosuu sends via their secure channel.]

“Are you sure this isn’t just some kind of trick the ‘Lost Sphere’ is even more stupendously evasive than the ‘Prime Splinter Graveyard’ many have sought it but none have succeeded as to historic sightings none were ever confirmed.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Can we afford to ignore the possibility. Listen Harbinger I am telling you because I dare not trust anyone else. Especially not my own Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries they all revere the memory of Drooshuu almost like a demigod and consider the ‘Stellar Orb’ as their sacred home. They would seek the prize of that ’Sea Sphere’ for themselves. Time is short I know it won’t be long before my own security leaks and the story gets out among my allies.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“You are the only person I can turn to. The authorities on ‘Benevolence Orb’ would think I had gone mad and even if they did believe they would still be unlikely to intervene. As to ‘Pearl’ it lacks the resources to undertake an operation like this which is why we had to hire Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries in the first place. Somehow we must either destroy the unique drive inside the ’Stellar Orb’ if it is still even semi intact or wrest the cursed sphere away from all comers to the care of some responsible authority.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “To be honest moving it might be safer after all even if the engine is destroyed schematic data files of the technology could be anywhere on board. The Arch Chancellor has been using Recyclers to do his research. He betrayed and murdered the last bunch that finally found what they believe he is seeking. However the Reptiles are nobodies fool. I am sure his other Recycler teams will start sniffing around their colleagues suspicious disappearance. Worse yet what the Recyclers know about has a way of leaking out to the Splinter Raiders.”

“It still seems incredible to me. We (the Paradox) always assumed Elevated managed to destroy the ’Stellar Orb by sending it into a ‘Fracture Anomaly’ that was one of the battle plans. For the good of all Paradox Elevated volunteered his House to undertake what was deemed essentially to be a suicide mission.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I didn’t know that.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“We do not generally broadcast our victorious stratagems even ancient historic ones.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I understand your reticence to believe Harbinger I was not convinced at the validity of the find - at first - either. Then I learned about the Arch Chancellors many preparations which seemed too extensive for it to be a ploy. He is refusing to trust his Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries as well. The party going on the mission are being made up of staunch out and out Royalists he usually keeps very close as bodyguards using ships bought via funds liberated directly from the treasury. The whole enterprise is being done in secret. In a way that is a good thing as it means our opponents are relying on a small stealthy team: we will not have to face down a hoard of Renegade Swimmers at least I hope not.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“We?” [Sends Harbinger.]

“You don’t think I would trust you to go after this one on your own or let you steal all the glory.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “Besides it is a Swimmer ‘Sea Sphere’ a Swimmer should be in charge of the expedition.”

“Not from my ship. My ship has only one Captain me. However Tleeboosuu you can come along as a civilian advisor if you like.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You are too generous Priest Harbinger.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“So everybody tells me. How are we going to get there have you got coordinates?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No but I have a spy onboard the mission who is going to activate a warp satellite beacon on a very narrow frequency when they arrive.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“That sounds like dangerous work.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You have no idea - my friend is a true patriot - I fear her current incarnation will not survive her mission.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“How long do we have?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Two to three days as they are trying to leave quietly.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“Good because I need to re-supply.” [Harbinger explains.] “You know if this proves true I could almost believe we are entering the beginning of a new Era.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Just remember we are not on this journey to make ourselves heroes of your scriptures. This is not about being a Martyr, we are doing this to prevent a catastrophe and I enjoy being alive. Even if my stored id is transplanted into a new cloned body: I am not one who believes that the merger of the two will recreate me - it will just be a close copy - such procedures might benefit society and our family but not ourselves.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“My Vision is not suicidal. I do not claim a righteous death to be the doorway. Self destruction is no escape from the ‘Emissary Sphere’ to the richer rewards of an even greater paradise.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am very glad to hear you feel that way.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Nonetheless you must know it has been over three thousand Paradox years since ‘Elevated Consequence’ was martyred. If the ‘Stellar Orb’ is intact we have something else to worry about: whatever happened to those fabled Paradox Space Marines and the Orbs vast number of Swimmer inhabitants that they vanished from all knowledge?” [Sends Harbinger.]

“I have been wondering about that as well.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I find it worrying.” [Harbinger sends.] “Something truly terrible must have occurred or many would have escaped via more standard jump drives (even if the ‘Sea Spheres’ exotic engines were utterly destroyed by Elevated).”

“Soon we may know one way or another?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“That is what concerns me.” [Harbinger sends. I am glad to see my Captains caution is returning. I can also sense both a rising tide of excitement at the prospect of visiting this ancient relic and a degree of warring scepticism that it cannot really be the ‘Stellar Orb’.]

“Well the Recyclers made it to and from their find. If they can do it so can we.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Did they enter the Sea Sphere?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I assumed they had else how would they know it was the ‘Stellar Orb’? [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“It also was said to have reasonably unique external features built onto its outer surface including weapons towers communications masts even space side docks.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I didn’t know that.” [Tleeboosuu admits.]

“You know maybe your Arch Chancellor is just mistaken about what his Recyclers found maybe they have just found something that looks a little similar another sphere with outer defences some lost colony might have had need of such.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps, but can ‘Opal Pearl’ and the rest of the ‘Emissary Sphere’ afford to take that chance?” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“No by the three for good or ill we must seek out whatever destiny wishes to reveal to us.” [Sends Harbinger.]

“We should leave this place now while we can without fear of obstruction. I will tell my allies I am travelling with you to visit friends in Swimmer and Paradox Space - to rally quiet political support and funds for our cause against ‘Prime’.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

[Tleeboosuu darts into a large water filled Swimmer Battle Suit. Including Tleeboosuu’s Recycler Sentry Drones we all warp back onboard my body. I am instructed to put all but two of the Sentry Drones into suspension storage.]

“Here you are under my protection.” [Harbinger sends to the Swimmer.] “However you should have familiar companions in this - for you - strange place.”

“I have other equipment I wish to bring along including a Scout Pod can you accommodate this list in your hold?” [Tleeboosuu sends with an added data burst.]

“That will cause no difficulties.” [I send to my Captain.]

“I will have ‘Many Truths’ warp the equipment directly onboard once we have coordinates.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Tleeboosuu releases the coordinates and I warp in and store the gear confirming as I do that each item is - as listed - by deep scan.]

“Where will we go first you mentioned you needed supplies?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“‘War Head’ in the ‘Paradox Domain’ ‘Watch Ward’ region.” [Sends Harbinger.] “I have an associate on that Honoured military supply, science and Battle Station who gives me good prices.”

“‘War Head’ that is the Paradox Station that guards against the legendary ‘Unknown’s Gate’. That will be something to see.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Indeed it is a great honour be shown the ‘Unknown’s Gate’ it is a marvel and a dread for we still have no full idea what lies beyond it or how to break the seal and activate it even if we wished to - which we very much do not.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Is it true there is a warning upon it?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“It is true, those mysterious beings we name the ‘Departed’ left a message that beyond the ‘Unknown’s Gate’ lies a mindless mechanical fury of destruction. A mechanism that long before our arrival destroyed every planet that once existed in this ‘Sphere’. Like all mature Paradox Priests I have made the Pilgrimage, touched the seal and felt - that sending - it is unnerving and not spoken of lightly.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is hard to believe how did this device destroy these mythical planets?” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“Happily no one understands the physics but the Seal shows the Furies dismantled the planets to use their material for some other mysterious purposes it is not something I wish to talk about. That is all you will hear about the Seal from me.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I hear you Paradox keep an exclusion zone. It is a source of much resentment among Swimmer Scientists.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“The ‘Unknown’s Gate’ is not their burden to carry instead of complaining they should be glad of it. As they say look upon the ‘Unknown and be dismayed’. In truth the ‘Unknown’s Gate’ needs little warning the strange ever shifting mechanical aspect of the Gate itself twists the eye somehow and screams out a terror of blasphemous abominations all by itself as you will soon see.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I take us out of ‘Newport’ move a short distance away then after linking into the traffic control nexus at ‘War Head’ via warp satellite I dive into a point-to-point wormhole.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Watch Ward, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

[We emerge in one of the Static Defence protected jump arrival zones. No individual warp satellites are allowed here and vast swathes of space here is protected by Exit Destabilise Pulse Generators that constantly flare preventing any wormhole from opening in their proximity. We go through a triple verification process then slaved to traffic control we are directed down one of the space lanes to dock with ‘War Head’. The Battle Station is the third largest artificial construct in Paradox Space including the insanely large ‘Unknown’s Gate’.]

[Leaving the Swimmer behind with instructions to stay onboard as non Paradox are not welcomed on ‘War Head’ we warp over to see our old associate Manifold after having spoken to him via communications. The old warrior greets us warmly.]

“Harbinger you young scoundrel.” [Manifold calls out drifting over via manipulation field in his familiar battered old Combat Enhanced Shroud Suit.]

“Manifold you look the same as ever when will you get some new clothing?” [Harbinger asks.]

“When this old meat gives up and I am forced to move into a new body will be time enough for that.” [Manifold claims.]

“You are an anachronism.” [Harbinger tells him.]

“No, once it is told our species used to dress in crude ways to impress - now more fitting our deeds are our adornments.” [Manifold says wisely.]

“That is well put Manifold honourable words indeed.” [Harbinger admits.]

“So what exactly are you looking for? We have some new lines as well as all the old favourites. You said you are in need of a full consignment. Even at my prices I hope you have many credits filling the belly of that beast of yours will not be cheap.” [Manifold advises.]

“I am expecting some special discount for such a large order.” [Harbinger states.]

“Special discount really Harbinger - you should be a Pirate - not a Priest. I suggest we go Virtual it will speed up proceedings allowing me to quickly display all my stock and for our haggling to take mere milliseconds of real time.” [Manifold states.]

[We agree and enter into Manifolds Virtual showroom. Instants later (in real time), we return to normal perceptual space. Harbinger having already bought an inordinate amount of ordinance and other miscellanea. Our Paradox associate is a true sales person. All the goods warp directly to my hold as the Paradox Central Cores Banking Function verifies the credit exchange. The PCCBF is probably the only truly secure site in the Core these days.]

“Will you be staying long?” [Manifold asks.] “Regretfully I have other customers waiting my personal attention but it would be good to catch up over a little soothing alcohol.”

“Not this visit.” [Harbinger advises.] “I have an impatient Swimmer passenger onboard with business elsewhere.”

“Passengers on a Warship really that is no way to treat the ‘Many Truths’ she is no luxury liner - disgraceful.” [States Manifold with good humour.]

“You only think battle is fun Manifold because you are retired.” [Harbinger replies.]

“Retired. I’ll retire when I am dead.” [Manifold states. Slapping our suit with a playful manipulator field] “I am merely resting up between worth while wars. You don‘t expect a - true warrior like me - to insult himself by taking part in the silly skirmishes you lot have the audacity to call battles these days, do you?”

“Of course not.” [Harbinger agrees.] “Good hunting Manifold.”

“You too Harbinger I hope you find some suitable targets for all that good stuff I have sold you.” [Manifold says.]

“While I hope I do not.” [Harbinger counters as we warp.]

“The youth of today.” [Grumbles Manifold before drifting on to his next client.]

“Well are you content now?” [Harbinger sends to me back at my body.]

“Of course.” [I send with a ripple of Companion-ship amusement.]

“Good I want you running simulations incorporating everything we have. This mission could get very ugly.” [Harbinger sends.] “I think I will employ some wingmen as well what do you think?”

“Who are you considering?” [I send.]

“Efficient and his Heavy Missile Frigate the ‘Victorious Endeavour’ plus the ‘Nine’ you know Unholy Terror and his Acolyte Squadron of Corvettes.” [Harbinger sends.]

“A substantial force it will be good to fight alongside our own.” [I send.]

“Undock and take us to the ‘Dark Reaches’.” [Harbinger commands.]

[I gladly obey. Efficient and Unholy Terror plus their ships are well known to me. I look forward to working with them again.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Dark Reaches, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

[The ‘Dark Reaches’ is a famous haunt for Paradox Priest Pilots especially the more adventurous and rugged types. A series of small stations here compete for their custom providing accommodation, a few luxuries, basic equipment re-supply depots and simple repair facilities. More importantly, the stations here offer rest and relaxation entertainments everything from Drinking Dives to Combat Arenas: Paradox Wrestling Matches and Manipulator Field Duels are especially popular. Here you will also find Ship Pod Races, and Drone Target Shooting Competitions. Of course gambling is also shockingly rife both in dedicated Casinos and via bets on all the other contests. For the slightly more cultured Priests there are Paradox Percussion Music Recitals, Readings from the Historic Scriptures and Shroud Suit Masked Theatre often full of wonderful Manipulator Field acrobatics.]

[Although the ‘Dark Reaches’ are usually well avoided by villains excluding any resident rogues I still arrive with my standard precautions. Laxity is habit forming and best avoided according to my Captain. I dock at ‘Heaven’s Fall’ Station.]

“What now?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I will contact my friends and I think we should all go to a wrestling match.” [Sends Harbinger.]

“A wrestling match?” [Tleeboosuu sends in surprise.]

“Come along this will do us all good.” [Harbinger sends.]

[A short time later, we gather at the Storm Circle wrestling stadium.]

“I am amazed nay shocked.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.] “I didn’t think you Paradox had such antics in you.”

[Fitting in my Captain lets out a massive vulgar roar of speaker laughter.]

“When it is so often vital to keep up appearances somewhere is needed where decorum and dignity can be temporarily set aside.” [Sends Harbinger sucking some alcohol into his Shroud Suit.]

“So I see. Tell me do spectators always end up joining in the wrestling bouts?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Only in friendly matches.” [Harbinger sends.] “Prize contests for honour and trophies are another matter altogether but not always as much fun for a visitor like yourself to watch.”

“I see.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“Throw him out of the ring don’t play with him.” [Roars out Unholy Terror.] “To hell with this.”

[We watch as Unholy vaults from his seat into the Ring using his Manipulator Field. Running using his suits legs, he floors the Paradox holding up the other Wrestler with a shoulder charge. Unholy then grabs the fellow he was holding up using Extruded Suit arms and boldly chucks him out of the ring to a vast roar of approval from the crowd. Luckily, they catch the unfortunate with their own Manipulator Fields so that he seems to bounce along above their heads on an invisible floor.]

[Unholy is so busy bowing to the crowd that the Wrestler still in the ring is able to grab him from behind in a crushing grip.]

“He just can’t resist playing to the crowd.” [Sends Efficient to Tleeboosuu and Harbinger.] “It always gets him in trouble.”

“Oh no here come the clones.” [Sends Harbinger laughing.]

“Is that permissible?” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“Acolyte assistance is nothing unusual in a friendly match; now it will be a scrum with all six - correction all nine.” [Efficient sends as the Wrestler late cast out returns with his two companion Acolytes energetically.]

[Everyone is bellowing and roaring as suits clash with sparking shields in a very confusing three-way fight that shifts one way then another. One competitor after another is cast out of the ring usually when two or more set upon one. However at first they just leap back again while others are buried temporarily under a pile of bodies or catapulted off the rings chest high repulsing fences.]

“Even in a suit some of that must hurt.” [Sends Tleeboosuu looking shocked.]

“Indeed the stadium has emitters that link into the suits of anyone entering the ring. They have to be slaved to these referees or the match is stopped. The emitters ensure all suits are at the same efficiency levels this is done to ensure fair play and safety. Among the setting restrictions is a very moderate degree of shock absorption for the Paradox within. Otherwise my Swimmer friend it would be no contest at all.” [Harbinger sends in explanation.]

“Poor Unholy, I hope he will be fit for duty after this.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“We Paradox are a very rugged species.” [Efficient sends.] “Trust me - you have no need to fear for Unholy Terror’s health or for that of his Acolytes.”

[When the match times out Unholy Terror returns to us with his two current companion Acolytes (he rotates these on a regular basis). The Acolytes are mirthful and full of play teasing each other and the head of their House. I notice Tleeboosuu watching this in what I read as surprised fascination (my insight based on data I have recently collected on Swimmer expressions and body language from the Paradox Core).]

“Your lessons grow subtle.” [I privately send to Harbinger.]

[Harbinger just radiates contentment via our Companion-ship link.]

[Unholy is something of an adrenalin junkie. He loves anything that is just a little dangerous. It is not therefore surprising that he flies a small corvette ‘Smaller is Smarter’. Smaller is unusual in that the ship has grown a lot since I have known her, but not in physical size, she has grown inwards her systems getting smaller and more powerful. I have never seen a more agile ship of her class or one so well armed. The ships of his eight Acolytes are all natural born scion of ‘Smaller is Smarter’ and are travelling the same path: Together the Nine are formidable opponents.]

[After the Wrestling, we exit the theatre and return to our respective ships rendezvousing space side. While we wait for Tleeboosuu’s agent to activate the beacon signal we practice fleet formations and tactics both in real space and virtual simulation plus a mixture of both with simulated enemies faced by real manoeuvres. When we get our coordinate information plus more besides, we feel sharp and ready. Harbinger formulates a plan (almost instantly in real time) via a virtual reality conference.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


Last edited by Paranoid66 on Sat, 18. Apr 09, 10:58; edited 12 times in total
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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Tue, 24. Feb 09, 13:04    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[TWO]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Unnamed Region, Emissary Sphere.]

[We jump in hot without using a scout that might give our tactical advantage of surprise away. We have our enemies coordinates, vector and speed via the beacon message from Tleeboosuu’s undercover agent. We have decided to assault ‘Opal Prime’s’ forces directly (if we can remove our competition dealing with whatever else we find in this unnamed region will be that much easier).]

[The battle begins without preamble or quarter we arrive right on top of our opponents. We deploy a scattering of Jump Inhibitor Mines and Communication Disrupters they will affect us as well but that is immaterial. We fall on the Swimmer Royalist Recycler Destroyer and Frigate like the wrath of the Emissary we cannot afford to give any quarter.]

[To be honest a hail of unexpected Torpedoes and Missiles at point blank range plus my fully charged High Bolt Cannons makes it a slaughter - not a fight - it is over in an instant. Our victory secured in part by specifically striking their offensive capability first. As soon as we breach their shields we use advanced Paradox STAR (Subsystem Targeting Allocation Routines) linked to Beta Clone turret gunner awareness to disable our enemies turrets and tubes.]

[STAR works best when you know your opponents nature in advance as we do. Because of STAR, we take only a desultory amount of return fire not one of the ‘Nines’ nimble Corvettes is even hit once. Using these tactics, it is almost like attacking an unarmed opponent. We could easily have followed up the destruction of their turrets by boarding and capturing these ships possibly sparing any surviving crew, but we simply can‘t afford the potential personnel casualties and the waste of time. We still have the ‘Sea Sphere’ to deal with - if it exists.]

[The consequence of our rapine against this enemy reminds me of the usual effect of a successful Splinter Raid on which Harbinger’s tactic was based. We scan for survivors expecting and detecting none among the wreckage. Then remarkably a stealthy vacuum suit uncloaks within our detection range and hails us. It is Tleeboosuu’s spy Leeruu. Over communications, she sounds surprisingly relaxed. I am impressed given the energies lately exploding all around her. Frankly my Captain and I are astounded Leeruu is alive at all we warp her aboard.]

[I send the spy direct to my medical facility for a health evaluation and any necessary treatment. Harbinger has me assign some Acolyte guards - after all - we do not know her only Tleeboosuu does: double agents and rank immoral opportunists tend to proliferate in her occupation. It suits us when we discover Leeruu must be isolated for a time suffering radiation contamination from close proximity warhead detonations. We push on with collecting items of salvage close up from the expanding debris field. We do this operation quickly and directly using manipulation fields to snare and pull some items in while simultaneously warping other goods via wormhole direct to our holds. If we had remained further out we would have used freight drones. Among our salvage we grab the surviving reusable Jump Inhibitors and Communication Disrupters. It is good to be able to talk and jump again if needed.]

“That was truly vicious.” [Sends Tleeboosuu a little shocked.] “I think I will chart this unnamed section of space with the Cores when we get back under the name ‘No Mercy’.”

“We had no choice this is not a game Tleeboosuu as you know well - far too much is at stake here. Nice work everyone but remember we have just won a battle not the war.” [Harbinger sends over tight line of sight channels.] “Having lost communications with their forces I imagine ‘Prime’ will attempt to mount another expedition as soon as they can - possibly now using Mercenaries - rather than Royalists. Moreover, we have no idea what hazards may be indigenous to this locale. In addition, we must be aware others may well find out about ‘Opal Primes’ investment of this place just as we did.”

[I extend my delicate advanced masts and commence scanning for anything hidden. I also launch stealthy scout drones to widen our search area. ‘No Mercy’ is another murky nebula this one has a dusty dull greenish cast to it. An automated heavily shielded (fast jumping) re-supply cargo ship belonging to the ‘Nine’ jumps in and refills all our holds replacing every piece of spent ammunition with the nearest equivalent that it stocks. It then jumps out to safety again.]

“I have been meaning to buy one of those dedicated supply ships for us for an age now.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“I think that should be our first priority after this mission - especially after our experience at ‘Hell’s Maw’.” [I send in reply.]

“Don’t let me forget.” [Harbinger privately sends back.]

[Another part of my consciousness is following the scout drones as their scanners locate a ‘Sea Sphere’. From the outside, the vast living globe certainly fit’s the description of the ‘Stellar Orb’ it has all the extra external fittings some showing old battle damage.]

“Can this really be the mythical Jump base of Drooshuu?” [Harbinger sends to me.]

[I am too busy scanning and analysing the objects surface to immediately reply to what I assume is a rhetorical question anyway.]

“By the ‘Emissary’s’ perfectly formed tentacles!” [Sends Tleeboosuu a little cheekily: Some raunchy myths claim the Emissary seduced many of the Pilgrims into compliance with her wishes although that would not have worked with the Paradox’s ancestors it might have with the Swimmers thus Tleeboosuu’s colourful exclamation of surprise.] “It really looks like we have actually found the ‘Stellar Orb’ I am not sure if I am glad or terrified. A mobile fortress three quarters the size of ‘Benevolence Orb’ the idea that anything that big can jump under its own power is astonishing and scary.”

“The things a well motivated Trojan Professor can do are scary in any age.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]

“Look at the size of that thing.” [Unholy sends.] I think I can see some ancient Photon Pulse Cannons but they are massive brutes on great towers that stand proud of the spheres impregnable shields.]

“They are indeed as you suggest truly colossal PPC.” [I send in confirmation.]

“The ‘Stellar Orb’ had formidable aggressive abilities according to the scriptures. Does anyone detect any power from those surface facilities especially the gun batteries?” [Harbinger sends.]

[Our small fleet all reply in the negative.]

“She looks like a Ghost Sphere.” [Efficient sends.]

“Maybe that is what happened maybe her sea was poisoned?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

[I check my scan data] “There is evidence of odd residual Anomalous radiation. I would hazard a conjecture that something exotic went wrong with her Jump Drive releasing a deadly amount of radiation. I would extrapolate that a mass sterilisation was the result of the Paradox Marines sabotage thus no survivors.” [I send.]

“That sounds very feasible.” [Harbinger sends.] “Is she still too hot to approach and enter?”

“I don’t think so. Nonetheless, while I know many of the more exotic forms of radiation such as those generated by Anomalies degrades quickly - we should remain cautious - as given their mysterious nature it is hard to judge safe levels with complete confidence. I am afraid Anomalous Radiation is not a hard science.” [I send.]

“We have to go inside.” [Tleeboosuu sends his voice quavering with passion.]

“Nonsense we do not have to do anything, especially anything stupid.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]

“I’m sure it is safe now. I’ll bet the Recyclers went inside.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“We will dispatch scout drones first to take readings and to drop a warp satellite.” [Harbinger sends.]

“A fair and reasonable compromise.” [Sends Tleeboosuu his tentacles flexing with nervous excitement at the find.]

[I send in three scout drones via one of the Spheres entry nodules. One of the scouts is a bodged together (prototype) warp satellite carrier. It seems to take forever for the nodule to go through its standard flood and drain water-lock cycle. Eventually our scouts breach out of a long but massive tunnel to reach the enclosed sea. They notice a few distant harbour lights but no activity not even a single fish.]

[Following on they soon come across ghostly objects what we assume are the remains of Living Hull vessels that have been degrading slowly over the years. Scans seem to indicate that the ocean is entirely dead. Then we watch as a heavy patrol of drone ships sweep past our scout drones tri ocular perspectives our drones turn to watch them. They target our warp satellite that is not stealthy and destroy it. Luckily, we do not really need the satellite any more; we already have coordinates from our scout’s data and our hidden scouts can ensure we arrive in clear waters.]

“I imagine any of ‘Primes’ Recycler Scouts that entered that Sphere didn’t survive long. It looks to me like all life is extinguished but we will still have to contend with potent surviving automatic defences. I guess those remotes either must be self-maintaining or they are grown and launched automatically as and when old models succumb to decrepitude and or other hazards. The radiation levels inside now seem tolerable but were probably once strong enough to slay even a Swimmer Living Hull ship.” [Harbinger sends to his companions.]

“I project the ‘Sea Sphere’s’ drone capability is more than we can handle. Since they have no other targets, they will concentrate on us. If there is a full compliment as I suspect we will be overwhelmed eventually by their sheer weight of numbers.” [I send.]

“Simple a small team goes in via my tiny Stealthy Scout Module says Tleeboosuu we locate the drones Command & Control centre or a back door to that system and hack their friend foe setting. We will not only be safe from direct attack we will also be able to use these automatics to protect us from future intruders.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Give me an analysis on Tleeboosuu’s plan Many Truths.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Working… moderate to good based on what we know. There scanners, computer systems and software should be out dated by comparison to our modern technology.” [I send.] “If we use Shroud Suit stealth as well we should be able to find a terminal access point inside one of the facilities without engaging any internal automatic forces.”

“Fine we send in a three Acolyte infiltration team using your Pod Tleeboosuu.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You want to send in the clones.” [Tleeboosuu sends in surprise.] “I thought we would go ourselves. I for example am the best qualified to pilot my own Pod.”

“I do not think so. If we are killed the mission is leaderless.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What you are saying is your family members are expendable but you are not. Anyway I am only an advisor not a commander.” [Tleeboosuu sends in angry challenge.]

“You cannot advise or represent ‘Opal Pearl’s’ interests here if you are dead .” [Harbinger sends.]

“What do you care about ‘Opal Pearl’ you are just worried I will be tempted to wrest control of the ‘Stellar Orb’ for my own faction directly.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I mean no insult to you Tleeboosuu but you must admit the temptation to claim all this firepower if put in a position where it would be easy to do so would be a heavy burden. After all your adopted Sphere is in peril: so yes, that discourteous thought had crossed my mind. We stay together and keep each other on the straight and righteous path.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You make distrust sound like a favour.” [Tleeboosuu sends peevishly.]

“It is - if you gave into temptation and did an evil act you might well regret it for the rest of your life. Many good souls have been lost not because of defeat but because they succeeded beyond their imaginations and became corrupt. Our scriptures tell us this happened to our Ancestors Emperor and Empire. One individual imposing his will (his singular Vision) on an entire species is not - healthy - that is why today we are a ‘Council of Equals’.” [Harbinger sends.] “It is also why I have some sympathy with ‘Pearl’.”

“MT I want you to keep a discreet watch on Tleeboosuu and be prepared to destroy those Recycler Drones of his at any time.” [Privately sends my Captain.]

“Will you release your Stealth Pod to my mission plan?” [Harbinger sends to Tleeboosuu.]

“Of course, did you really think I would withhold it out of spite?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Some sentient beings hate anybody else using their ships.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well I am not so selfish.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “It would be nice to be among the first to swim in the ‘Stellar Orb’ but I will sacrifice that honour for the sake of our alliance. I appreciate all you are doing for us Harbinger I am just a little impatient.”

[I assign three members of Harbingers family for the task. Prior to being activated all three had been held in stasis. Using a virtual reality interface I brief them on the situation and the material they will be working with. Each of the three is a specialist in a specific field as well as having a lot of crossover general knowledge: one is a pilot, one a computer and software engineer, the last a security expert with advanced marine training. After the Pod is launched we wait anxiously it is decided they will risk no communications until their mission is completed.]

[Waiting is always the hardest aspect of any combat mission for a veteran even a veteran Living Hull ship. I try to keep myself occupied by logging anything of interest my sensors encounter and by mapping the spheres outer surface in ever greater detail. However my surface thoughts never stray far from those clones.]

“I am sorry if I offended you earlier.” [Harbinger sends to Tleeboosuu.]

“Forget about it I am too sensitive sometimes. You are right I might have been tempted.” [Tleeboosuu sends in confession.]

“Any person would be.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you know these things because you are a Priest or a Tactician?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I am not sure it is that easy to divide up a person’s ability especially the source of their inspirations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I always devalued Priesthood among you Paradox I believed it was just a label you claimed to try and elevate yourselves above other species. I used to think no race can all be Priests anymore than everyone can be an artist or a scholar.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Something is no less wonderful because it is common. I fear that is a mistake we all make we see the marvel of the exotic, the rare these things are held precious and dear to us when there is equal glory in the common place and the mundane. I too suffer this failure of Vision. I am too impressed by the Anomalies of the Emissary Sphere and not impressed enough by everything else so my old Master used to tell me. I was engineered to be a Research Scholar something must have gone a bit wrong or a bit too right with my genetic coding.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You were engineered, what a strange species of individuals you Paradox are.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“We are no longer capable of reproduction via less arcane means. I am not sorry; strife is the passion frequently ignited by biological urges. Maybe we can all be good Priests because we are all Clones - all alone - only the Grand Creation is our Father our Mother.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You Paradox are as fascinating as any Anomaly.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “What dare we do with the Stellar Orb if we cannot easily destroy its engines and data?”

“We finish the job begun by Elevated and send it into an Anomaly from which it won’t come back. Maybe he tied it against a Fracture Anomaly and that wasn’t enough I know of something else a void from which noting has returned it is called ‘Hell’s Maw’ we send it there.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That seems like a waste now I have seen it. It is a magnificent achievement.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Certainly it is a seductive accomplishment.” [Harbinger sends.] “Even if it was retained with good intent the danger of overweening power is the fact that it corrupts. One way or another if the ‘Stellar Orb’ returns to known space it will incite a War - I am sure of it - so are you, do you want to be responsible for that?”

“I suppose the Renegade Swimmers as I said before would feel compelled to try and recapture it or to bow down to its owner.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.] “Still to cast it into an abyss seems unjust this is not just an unfeeling artefact Harbinger. We are talking about a ‘Sea Sphere’ a living being of vast age and unknown purpose an innocent creature already corrupted and abused by Drooshuu.”

[I could sense a degree of confusion and shock from my Captain following that statement by Tleeboosuu.]

“When I said we should stay together to keep each other on the righteous path I spoke better than I knew. You too could be a Priest Tleeboosuu. You are right there are ethical considerations here I have not thought of. I wonder from what region Drooshuu stole this Sphere. I do not recall any mention of that in the legends. It would be proper for us to send it home before decommissioning its drive.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps data of the site of the ‘Stellar Orbs’ origin lies within it. You know they are never found alone always at least a pair like ‘Prime’ and ‘Pearl’ I wonder has it been lonely on its forced journey has it been bereft of a companion.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“You have the makings of a Priest with the soul of a Poet.” [Harbinger sends.] “Maybe we are here to be merciful after all.”

“Drooshuu had no right, we Swimmers never harmed the ‘Spheres’ we dwelt in - we coexisted - in harmony. I am beginning to think what was done to the ‘Stellar Orb’ was a crime.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “Such a great wrong needs to be righted.”

“I agree we must do what we can for this lost child of the Emissary Sphere.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So today the Priest is ascendant and a balance is restored.” [I send privately to my Captain.]

“This day you are all wiser than me.” [Harbinger sends to his ship.]

“‘Enlightenment can come from any source even from the lips of a fool’.” [I quote from Harbingers own scriptures while sending mirth via our Companion-ship link.]

“You are no fool Many Truths save that sometimes you follow one.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I never follow a fool I follow only where my many hearts bid me to go.” [I send.]

“Stop before you undermine your Captains abilities with an influx of too sharp emotions.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am picking up a Jump Scout moving to intercept.” [Sends Unholy Terror.] “I have destroyed it.”

“Battle stations release our drop ordinance and make an emergency tactical jump then prepare to combat incoming.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I coordinate a fleet jump that will stop any opponent using our previous position to ambush us and we all leave some presents behind. A good-sized Recycler fleet jumps in all around our old coordinates they are hit instead by Paradox seeker mines and one use super heated plasma spewing drop turrets. Five Corvettes are instantly vaporised while one frigate is broken clean in two and another badly damaged. A Dreadnaught however survives the blasts intact merely taking some damage to its massive shields. Its hull seems to explode but it is with a storm of exiting missiles and fighter drones as it turns ponderously around.]

[The Dreadnaught is a ‘Hell’s Hammer’ class, built around a twin set of huge mass driver station killers capable of firing small asteroid like hunks of super dense metal at insane velocities with only accuracy limiting its range. If it can target us with those fixed guns, nothing will save us. Luckily, big Mass Drivers are ill suited for striking moving targets. We fire off our own barrage of missiles and torpedoes and disperse into a wide formation manoeuvring erratically to prevent any easy predictive target resolution.]

[Our ordinance is soon passing each other. Opposing drones and anti missile class missiles destroying some items from both sides. Since the Dreadnaught is putting most of its engine effort into turning rather than moving, I launch a salvo of expensive jump torpedoes as well. The Dreadnaughts point defences concentrating on the other incoming fire are unable to alter their tracking in time to decommission the four jump torpedoes. All four (station killers) hit home with devastating force taking out the last of the mighty ships shields and blasting gaping holes into its heavily armoured hull. It is jarred into a slow spin spewing fire and debris then explodes like a supernova as the rest of our surviving ordinance hits its now inactive body.]

[Meanwhile our own point defences, defensive drones, and anti missile, missiles are striving to take out the still active ordinance from the Dreadnaughts earlier barrage. Wisely, each of the ‘Nine’ peels away making use of their speed and quick rear turrets to deal with locked on aggressors. I prepare to do a Living Hull shockwave but find that my Beta Drone turret gunners using point defence low bolts have finished off the last torpedo heading our way. Only smaller faster missiles get past Efficient’s picket of defensive drones they do not do enough damage to threaten his Heavy Missile Frigates shields.]

[Three enemy corvettes and an uninjured Frigate wisely flee away to jump out rather than fight on.]

“Now they know what we have and what we are capable of.” [Harbinger sends.] “Next time will not be so easy.”

“I am not sure there will be a next time that was a Dreadnaught you just obliterated.” [Tleeboosuu sends in shock.]

“Recycler technology is adequate but not overly impressive.” [Efficient sends.] They are hampered by two things: Firstly they are too credit conscious and do not like using state of the art systems like our jump torpedoes, secondly they are mostly more interested in looking intimidating and thus avoiding battle than being effective in a real fight.”

“I would not underestimate their resolve or abilities just yet. While it is true, we Paradox have technological superiority they are highly adaptive and not a species that like to take risks. If they come at us again - it will be with a plan that could work - or like Tleeboosuu suggests they will not dare to engage us at all.” [Harbinger warns.]

“I hate all these missiles and drones, nobody fights like a true warrior anymore face to face with guns blazing.” [Sends Unholy Terror.]

“I would be careful about what you wish for.” [Sends Harbinger.] “I wonder how our infiltration team is doing.”

[I monitor as our re-supply ship jumps back in and again we top up our stores. I am keeping a close eye on the expenditure. It is clear the Nine are making a small (reasonable) profit on every weapon they supply to their allies. Luckily, there is always profit in destruction and exploration. I wonder how Harbinger will increase our wealth from this mission. Few of our clients pay us directly - we tend to earn our living indirectly. While my Captain is not obsessive about increasing our wealth he appreciates that the more credits we have the more we are capable of doing what we do. Harbinger will be disappointed that the Recycler Dreadnaught - completely - exploded a vessel of that size generally retains a lot of salvageable equipment and material.]

“Actually that Recycler Dreadnaught was the flagship of ‘Opal Primes’ Mercenary Swimmer forces not the Recycler Mercenaries you have done the Black Diamond a great service today.” [Tleeboosuu sends belatedly.]

[I do not like that bit of intelligence one bit nor I can tell does my Captain.]

“I don’t think so, now ‘Pearl’ will expect your employees to attack the Black Diamnond will have to earn their pay the hard way. You have a lot to learn about Mercenaries Tleeboosuu did you think it was an accident that your War with ‘Prime’ has been a long stand off. Mercenaries don’t want conflicts resolved there is no profit in it.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What are you saying that the Mercenaries have been using us? Why didn’t you warn me before?” [Tleeboosuu sends aghast.]

“Simply because a holding action is often as desirable an outcome as you can hope for in this type of dispute. Stalemates allow both sides to negotiate their way to a political settlement before any lasting damage occurs. Now ‘Pearl’ will seek to press its advantage at the risk of great injury to ‘Opal Prime’s’ population - injuries that will not be forgotten. Violence begets violence many victories sow the seeds of future defeat.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well I am glad despite what you say the situation needed resolved.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Again you are not thinking straight your Black Diamond Swimmer Mercenaries will not hand you a swift victory they will seek to protract the war while seeming to comply. They will feed ‘Primes’ hatred of ‘Pearl’ by committing atrocities but fail to finish your opponent off. Excuses will be made unexpected levels of resistance and so on meanwhile they may even seek to cut a deal with ‘Prime’ secretly taking bribes to quit the field early or switch sides altogether.” [Harbinger warned.] “Mercenaries are not to be trusted; when engaged they are best used only as supplementary forces - carefully monitored - with a very specific strategic remit they can not wriggle out of. Given a free hand Mercenaries are prone to becoming parasites that feed on their hosts.”

“I have been a fool now I am worried about what we will return to. I must warn ‘Pearl’ of its peril.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“If you do that the Black Diamond will definitely turn on you. You should have some time yet the Mercenaries will resist being thrown against ‘Prime’ they will demand the enemy is scouted out first and make other skilful prevarications - I have seen it all before. They will not be keen to move until they know who is responsible for their enemies losses fearing a third force is muscling in with its own agenda. That may well result in them finding out about the ‘Stellar Orb’ then we will have real trouble.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Won’t it get out now anyway since the survivors were also Swimmer Renegades not Recyclers.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

[Perhaps not, I am guessing that ‘Prime’ would not dispatch their main defence on this mission either. ‘Opal Primes’ Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries must have been investigating what the Royalists were secretly doing for the Arch Chancellor on their own initiative they also must have had some means of tracking those ships. While again the intelligence they now have could motivate the Swimmer Renegade Nations against us, it is very possible ‘Prime’ or the true Recycler Mercenaries may well take those few Swimmer survivors out before they can do anything.” [Harbinger sent in explanation.]

“It will depend on the quality of all the leaderships involved. If those Swimmer survivors are wise they will have jumped to Renegade Space to rally the nations if they are foolish, they will have returned to ‘Prime’ first and imperilled themselves. If we are very lucky, the Royalists may even believe the Swimmer Renegades Mercenary forces destroyed their first expedition rather than us. They will probably be expecting betrayal from the Renegade Swimmers they will see the survivors as spies sent to spread misinformation while the Renegades consolidate an early hold on the ‘Stellar Orb’ stealing it away from ‘Primes’ grasp.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You really think so, that would seem too fortunate to me.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Those who live by intrigues and the double cross are often hung by the rope of their own paranoia. My Guess is that the Arch Chancellor will try to seduce the Recyclers now into destroying the remaining Swimmer Renegades, then assaulting the Dreadnaught that he no doubt believes is still intact here.” [Harbinger sends.]

“If the Arch Chancellor is as sly as all intelligence suggests he will claim his Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries - without orders and for their own personal reasons - killed the Recycler Scouts, that he in fact murdered earlier (after they found the ‘Stellar Orb’ for him). Now until he can secure the ‘Stellar Orb’ with his supporters the Recyclers are his best bet as they at least do not have a historic and cultural avarice for the device.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You make me feel like an infant Harbinger. I never would have reasoned all that out especially so quickly.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“It is just experience I have seen many conflicts little about the actions of sentient beings is I am afraid ever really new.” [Harbinger sends.] “I am guessing the Arch Chancellor will strip Prime if necessary to hold the ‘Stellar Orb’. From what you have told me - he is the real power behind the throne - a Swimmer driven by great personal ambition he cares nothing for his people beyond how he can use them. Having found the - Mobile - Fortress, he will be ready to move on to grander schemes such as command of the entire Swimmer Renegade Nations rather than a few ‘Sea Sphere’ colonies. With (in his mind) his Renegade Mercenaries here having betrayed him he will abandon both ‘Prime’ and his puppet King temporarily to ‘Pearls’ mercy. After all once he has the ‘Stellar Orb’ he can easily retake both colonies if he still wants them.”

“Yes I could imagine ‘Pearls’ old foe acting exactly like that.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “Do you think the Swimmer Renegade Nations would accept him as their leader if he did control the ‘Stellar Orb’ after he is guilty of killing many of their own to secure it?”

“I think so. You must know your own species better than I do but I know the Renegades often fight among themselves and mostly respect only greater force. If the Arch Chancellor managed to hold the ‘Stellar Orb’ secure they would bow soon enough although he might have to destroy a fleet or two before they would be fully convinced.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Unfortunately for this Arch Chancellor he is not up against his own Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries in a Dreadnaught but us Paradox Priests on a mission to save the universe from his despotism.” [Sends Unholy Terror with a rumbling laugh.]

“Indeed.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


Last edited by Paranoid66 on Tue, 3. Mar 09, 12:58; edited 2 times in total
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ghostrider





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PostPosted: Fri, 27. Feb 09, 18:17    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Keep it up paranoid Smile

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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Tue, 3. Mar 09, 12:53    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[THREE]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Unnamed Region, Emissary Sphere.]

[While we are waiting on our Clone Infiltration Team to contact us, my Captain is looking around some virtual constructs I have modelled from my ‘Stellar Orb’ surface scans.]

“A typical flooded dedicated Swimmer emplacement designed to be operated by one Gunner using a host of tentacles over these two widely spread control panels. I see it operates four linked cannons.” [He sends to me.]

“These units are in remarkable condition for their age.” [Harbinger sends as he continues his inspection around the virtually reconstructed gunnery post. I understand all the facts already something Harbinger appreciates however talking to me sometimes helps him to think more creatively.]

“Like our constructs Swimmer technology is mostly auto repairing. Even way back then that bio mechanical science was fairly mature - only major damage - requires external intervention: general self maintenance prevents system aging.” [I send to keep the conversation flowing.]

“Our creations wear better than we do. I know I live everyday with the results of biological and biomechanical cellular regeneration but with active systems it feels different less incredible. When you encounter something this ancient (unused for thousands of years) but still working and looking almost pristine it is amazing. No wonder the Recyclers are intimidated by biotech’s overall capabilities.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is true Swimmer and Paradox biological and biomechanical sciences have largely removed simple ware and tear redundancy from engineered artefacts. It is not surprising Recyclers fear their niche as scavengers and mechanical repair experts will one day disappear entirely.” [I send.]

“The Recyclers are clinging to the past. I fear if they do not find some way to grow beyond themselves, they will be diminished and our Sphere will lose a little more of its diversity. They are becoming belatedly stiff like those hard shells in which they encase themselves.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Inflexibility is an especially sad fate for creatures once famous for adopting others technology and ideas freely.” [I send in reply.]

“I worry the Recyclers could easily go the same way as the Trojan. The Trojan also rejected the natural evolution and harmony of biotech for older less enlightened hard material sciences. I believe that had an effect upon their overall ethical and moral development stifling their animalistic empathy. It heartens me that Hierophant is belatedly taking an interest in living technology.” [Harbinger sends.]

“An interesting theory however it was much more than the Trojan’s rejection of biotech that destroyed them. Their constant in fighting and use of Recycler and Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries should not be underestimated. As ever the Mercenaries prospered during the ‘Turmoil’ at their employers expense. I do not doubt the Recyclers in particular encouraged their divisive neighbours’ dislike for one another. As the Trojan’s unity collapsed so the Recycler Renegades influence and numbers waxed ever greater. However the Mercenaries pushed too far and destroyed their benefactors entirely - first as Great Nations - then almost as a species.” [I send to my Captain.]

“The Renegades have also rejected Biotech. Even the Swimmer Renegades use Recycler non biological equipment because those weapons will never query a command decision.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is true enough we biological systems have in built ethical standards.” [I send.]

“Checks and balances designed to prevent power corrupting - a failsafe - we Paradox Pilgrims long ago agreed to live with alongside the ‘Sea Sphere’ dwellers. Upon that was founded our most ancient alliance” [Harbinger sends.]

“Back to the Trojan however only a few of those who stood aside during those calamitous times notably the ‘Trojan Professors’ survived the catastrophe of their fragile Trojan Alliances disintegration unscathed. The last blow to the ill named Trojan Alliance came in the form of the Trojan Plague. Possibly the disease was a crude but effective - unethical and illegal - bio weapon. Some unofficial histories certainly claim a Swimmer Renegade faction unleashed the plague when they made their own move. The Renegade Swimmers wanted to expand into the by then lightly occupied ‘Trojan Extents’ but feared resistance by remnants like the Trojan Professors. At any rate, the virulent and adaptive disease (natural or synthetic) defied every physician until it was almost too late.” [I send.]

“I find it impossible to believe even the Swimmer Renegades would resort to germ warfare especially then. Breaking the historic ‘Viral Accord’ when anti viral defence was in its infancy would have been madness, we can hardly appreciate the danger now being largely immune to such attacks. At that time releasing a viral assault would have been tantamount to mass suicide - others - would have retaliated in kind.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps you are right whatever its cause was fear of the plague and rampaging hostiles sent the last of the Trojan refugees into the dark in search of isolation. I have heard it argued that the Trojan Professors precipitated the ‘Scattering’ rout by hoarding their secrets and quarantining themselves early. Others claim the Professors acted for posterity to save their species scientific advances and cultural heritage but we Living Hulls believe it was for their own private selfish benefit. If the wiser Trojan Professors had chosen to become leaders rather than deciding to retreat into self imposed exile much more than just knowledge might have been saved.” [I send.]

“You are very opinionated on this topic MT. Sometimes I still find it hard to believe the Trojan ruled so much of this Sphere and now are almost fully absent as a living presence here.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We Living Hulls hold passed on remembrances of many glorious Trojan ports before their fall from grace. The destruction of the Trojan Nations remains a deep sorrow to us. They were a wondrous species once - so diverse - so dynamic. Variety was their great strength before it became their weakness. The Trojan were not always so intolerant of each others foibles.” [I send.]

“You are eluding to the theory of a seeded ‘Whisper Campaign’.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I send a degree of satisfaction via our Companion-ship link at Harbingers grasp.]

“You know rumours of independent but hidden (now possibly xenophobic) Trojan colonies surviving out in the deep dark still persist. I would not be inclined to pronounce the Trojan extinct just yet even if they do seem eradicated from our local environs. We Hulls have witnessed that species make many remarkable comebacks from the brink of ruin. Given the right opportunities the Trojan could still be capable of seeding a new age.” [I send.]

“I often forget that you Living Hulls talk to each other. Have we inadvertently created a new species perhaps even one that might supersede us? Do you have an agenda of your own?” [Harbinger sends.]

“We are everything that you made us to be.” [I send in reply.]

“Nicely evaded, I guess we who use biotech have our vices as well. I often fear that sheltered by our advances we now grow too staid. Look at this configuration for example it is manual and almost identical to the standard Swimmer Gunnery controls used today. Somehow I expected something more radical and daring from Drooshuu but I guess even that great warrior innovator still slavishly followed many conventions. Even today Swimmers only tend to link smaller turrets direct to Living Hull consciousness larger emplacements still almost always employ professional Swimmer Gunners.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Gunnery has remained a high status profession among the Swimmers ever since they rejected electronic AI solutions and poor software algorithms. With the Swimmer Renegades, it is all about getting as close to the kill as possible they enjoy aiming and firing having a direct connection to the slaughter, with the Swimmer ‘Sea Sphere’ dwellers it is a question of artistry: skilfully striking subsystems for the best possible effect while employing the maximum degree of restraint. I greatly admire that the Sphere dwellers try to inflict the least possible injury and overall damage even if it occasionally results in defeat. Some victories can feel very hollow.” [I send.]

“Philosophically when it comes to death and destruction the Swimmer as a species have sundered right down the middle. I suspect the Renegades Swimmers are well on their way to becoming a truly separate race.” [Harbinger sends.] “Already they tend to have their own unique physical adaptations and certainly their mindset is increasingly opposite to their peaceful brethren in more ways that just the obvious - for a start - they are becoming fiercely territorial.”

“As to the adoption of Gunners I often forget that AI was explored by some ancient Pilgrims almost as a heresy against the prohibitions of their old societies. However, electronic intelligence proved just as unstable in the ‘ES’ as it was said to have been in the legendary ‘X’ Sphere.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed, while more basic software routines never equalled the skill of a sentient gunner. Software lacked judgement and proved incompetent to deal with new weaponry and or inspired tactical evasive manoeuvres especially skilfully operated manual strafing thrusters.” [I send.]

“We got around the issue with our Beta Clones but the Swimmers found that solution repugnant to their conception of the wider sanctity of the Swimmer genome. So they started up their ‘Academies of Artillery’ and encouraged many young recruits to specialise specifically in what was to be deemed as the - art - of Gunnery.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So are you happy now that these cannons are missing the vital component of a Swimmer Gunner and therefore pose no immediate threat?” [I send.]

“I did not doubt your judgement ‘Many Truths’ - I just like to see for myself - I wanted to get something of a feel for the ‘Orbs’ level of technology before we venture within. I wonder if our Beta Clones could reliably adapt to this manual interface.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Physically as you know they can easily extrude tentacle like limbs from a Shroud Suit. Psychologically our Beta Clones would feel isolated and uncomfortable here - that - would be more of a problem. On board me my Beta Clones are very much a part of a greater unit they are exceptionally ill suited to external missions alone.” [I send.]

“Over specialisation has its cost.” [Harbinger sends.]

“This is why you Priests have such large and diverse families including Acolytes who are capable of many roles.” [I send in reply.]

“True enough still I wouldn’t be keen to abandon Acolytes to this job either. They too would feel sundered and it is never good to leave them alone with just their own thoughts for company. I don‘t need Composure’s Splitter troubles infecting my house.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do we need these guns? We could only use a few how will that help us across the vast size of this massive living artefact?” [I send to my Captain.] “Anyone attacking could simply avoid the active turrets and enter via another nodule.”

“I was just thinking about the added element of surprise. If we could lure an enemy into exposing themselves to a few of these big guns, it is not even about the damage it is the shock value of coming under fire from the ‘Sphere’ itself. If that could be done at just the right time it could be invaluable as a morale breaker.” [Harbinger sends.] “If the Gunners were cloaked the foe would have to consider the possibility that any seemingly inactive Turret might be armed and dangerous. We turn the ‘Stellar Orb’ from being an easy prize waiting to be snatched into a menace best fled.”

“I like the idea of destroying the enemy’s morale rather than keeping fighting a war of attrition to the last - too many sentient lives have been taken already in this endeavour - I have been keeping a tally. Still I am not sure we have the right assets to use these guns the optics for a start are ill suited to our unique tri optic vision. What about Tleeboosuu does he have any allies we could trust? If we could ferry in some Swimmer Gunners they would feel right at home with these systems even if they are ancient.” [I send.]

“I don’t trust ‘Opal Pearl’ I find it hard to trust anyone too willing to use Renegades. I think they would want to gain control of the ‘Stellar Orb’ they are militant. However if we could employ some professional Gunners under some well paid - no questions asked - conditions of service from another less tainted source.”

“Harbinger if you used the currency of your good reputation at ‘Benevolence Orb’ to encourage some Swimmers to take the job on faith - I imagine we could easily recruit suitable Gunners there.” [I send.]

“Maybe though Swimmer Gunners are rarely easily recruited. Still logistically it should not be too difficult to throw together a few cloaking harnesses that the Swimmers can use.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Swimmer Gunner honour can be trying.” [I send.]

“Still Efficient could jump to ‘Benevolence’ find the necessary recruits in my name and ferry them back - blind - to this location.” [Sends Harbinger.]

“I suppose having the future use of some of these Cannons - as a back up - has to be worth the risk of temporarily losing the aid of the Heavy Missile Frigate.” [I send.]

“Please compile and send a secure command data burst to Efficient for me with all the requisite mission details.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I comply and moments later Efficient jumps out with very precise instructions. I am happy my Captain trusts me with such duties - here is where our partnership shines. I can perform some tasks with a speed and thoroughness beyond the capabilities of any Paradox no matter how gifted, and Harbinger knows and accepts this without feeling diminished or jealous.]

“I hate waiting.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am sure there are many ways we can productively use this time other than playing at being a tourist.” [I send gently mocking my Captain’s time wasting virtual excursion.]

“You can do too many drills. There can come a point where you actually dull your troop’s edge by both overtiring them and making the exercises into a tedious routine.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Then we should do something else - something invigorating.” [I send.]

“I know, let’s jump across and explore the Spheres dark side that should get all our hearts pumping.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Interesting idea - shall I send a jump scout across first.” [I send.]

“Yes, I imagine that would be prudent. You never know an enemy could be lying in wait there ready to pounce.” [Harbinger sends with a trickle of Companion-ship laughter.]

[I dispatch a Jump Scout. We stare at an image of perfect inky darkness as the scout moves in carefully using questing searchlights. Watching an exploration like this always gets our hearts racing. Of course we don’t really expect to find anything unusual then to our shock the drones optics and sensors pick something out. A shape is traced by spotlight in fairly close orbit to the Sphere a solitary object, then another, then another and another and… It is a graveyard of dead hulks all Recycler and Swimmer ships from Ancient models to recent designs. A few show signs of having been in battle others look surprisingly undamaged there is a flare and we lose the signal from our drone.]

[I sense Harbinger start with surprise. I replay the drones last moments increasing to maximum resolution and slowing it down. It shows that a beam weapon is responsible for the destruction or disablement of our jump scout - it looks worryingly familiar to us. It looks like that weapon used by Hierophant Cad’s large Trojan drones. We go to Battle stations.]

“That can’t possibly be left over weaponry belonging to Drooshuu’s Trojan advisor can it?” [Harbinger sends.] “warn the ‘Nine’ we might have Trojan company.”

[I do as directed. We look again at the wrecked Hulls of the lifeless ships. I don‘t like the fact that many seem to have been taken (disabled) with little injury only to be left abandoned as if worthless.]

“Detecting multiple Splinter Harbour apertures.” [I send.]

“EHJ.” [Harbinger orders without hesitation.]

[I drop a Paradox Core linked warp satellite and make an Emergency Jump Home to the ‘Dark Reaches’ along with the Nine. I send a warning to Efficient after we arrive telling him of our new location via warp satellite link. I also tune into our dropped satellites and left behind drones recorded last moments held by the Paradox Core. We watch as the Splinter Harbours disgorge no Splinter Fighters or Bombers but instead swarms of large drones of Trojan aspect. They release not only beams but also balls of energy that reaching various ranges blast outward for an area effect. We very quickly lose every signal in short order I feel miserable at the death of all those living Remora.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Dark Reaches, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

“It would appear our services protecting the ‘Stellar Orb’ may not be required after all.” [Harbinger sends to Tleeboosuu.]

“What just happened?” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “Did I feel us jump?”

[I explain the situation to our Swimmer friend with Harbingers permission.]

“We had best log a Red hostile advisory on ‘No Mercy’ with the Cores. We will simply say it is inhabited by an exceptionally hostile Splinter Raider clan. Tleeboosuu you certainly picked the right name for that place.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Are you really going to give up just like that?” [Tleeboosuu sends in disgust.]

“Yes I am. Tleeboosuu do you think the Trojan or Trojans involved there could not have repaired that Spheres Jump Drive maybe they even have. They are just doing exactly what we planned to do - they are keeping the ‘Stellar Orb’ secure and safe - perhaps as a memorial to the dead.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I feel cheated.” [Tleeboosuu sends.] “What about my Pod and your Acolytes?”

“I fear those assets are lost. Still you need have no fear of the Arch Chancellor getting control of that Sphere against a Trojan threat - I suspect it is well protected. I am only worried that the Swimmer Nations might still get control of the ‘Orb’ if they rise as a great tide of destructive force.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is now obvious why the ‘Stellar Orbs’ location was not broadcast earlier. In truth it was located multiple times over the centuries but no one until recently got away to tell the tale ‘Opal Primes’ Recyclers must have been very lucky. I am sure if we had stayed I would have ended up another floating hulk in that graveyard.” [I send.]

“It also proves the old theory that the Splinter Wormhole Harbours were a stolen Trojan discovery.” [I privately send to Harbinger.]

“We should go have a word with Hierophant Cad about this one.” [Harbinger sends privately back to me.]

[We insist that Tleeboosuu transfer over to one of the ‘Nine’ Corvettes so they can take him home much to his annoyance. Then we jump to ‘Hell’s Maw’. As ever after we - with great care - approach and dock Hierophant Cad warps over and greets us warmly.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Hell’s Maw, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[I listen in as Harbinger explains most of the recent events to the Trojan Professor.]

“I am glad you survived discovering the ‘Stellar Orb’ Harbinger. I would have felt terrible if you had fallen victim to the ward I placed upon that region it was never intended against such as you. To be honest I have tried hard to forget about it, that defence was put in place a long time ago.” [Hierophant Cad confessed.]

“You are directly responsible Hierophant I did not expect that. Where you Drooshuu’s advisor as well?” [Harbinger asks shocked by his Trojan friends claims.]

“No, but that particular scientist was well known to me, we were associates and rivals once.” [Cad explains sitting down.]

“What happened?” [Asked Harbinger.]

“As you Paradox suspected your hero managed to get the Sphere to jump into a Fracture Anomaly. It caused a very strange effect indeed not only huge amounts of anomalous radiation but it also sent the ‘Sphere’ bouncing around our ‘Emissary Sphere’ but it always rubber banded back to the site of the Fracture Anomaly where it would reside for a time in the area you have now named ‘No Mercy’.” [Hierophant explained.]

“So some of those ghost sighting were real?” [Harbinger asked his friend.]

“I believe so periodically the interactions between the Anomaly’s radiation and Spheres exotic drive mechanism would make it miss-jump. To protect the Sphere from interference when it was in residence in the Anomaly I put in place the automated defence system you encountered. I knew the Sphere would lure all the wrong types: those greedy to use it to seek power. I feared one day somebody might succeed in removing the sphere from the Anomaly despite the hazardous radiation. My solution was never a good one but it was the only thing I could come up with (I confess at that time I was rather preoccupied with other concerns).” [Cad enlightened.]

“Concerns more important than the Stellar Orb?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I believed so. Later to my horror the fact that the Anomaly tended to burn bright and hot when the Sphere was in residence I learned attracted the attention of Anomaly Hunters. Thus the ‘Stellar Orb’ was far too regularly discovered but for the sake of Universal peace I allowed these inquisitive souls to be sacrificed. Luckily every time the ‘Stellar Orb’ made one of its miss jumps, it drained some of the Anomalies force until a little over three hundred and forty years ago the Anomalies energy was finally exhausted and with that went the visual signal. At last I thought it would be safe from discovery I even in part downgraded its protection as I had need of some of those resources elsewhere.” [Said Hierophant.]

“Was there nothing else you could do?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I suppose I should have been looking for other solutions but in the recent years I just wanted to forget about it. Due to the numbers of innocent and guilty trespassers murdered by my drones - I didn’t want to return to that crime scene - I just left it as it was like a force of nature.” [Hierophant admitted.]

“Nonetheless you are responsible for all those deaths.” [Harbinger advised coldly.]

“If the Orb was claimed the death toll would be a lot more. Of course I considered posting an anonymous advisory on the Cores like you have done. Unfortunately many people are fools Harbinger no matter what reason you give to keep people away (as many adventurous souls will be drawn to the site by the warning as will stay away because of it - maybe in the long run more). Everybody believes for them it will be different and danger is thrilling don‘t you agree? Now I will have to do something as it can only be a question of time before the Swimmer Renegade Nations rally to test themselves as a mass against my defences. I do not want to commit a genocide even if I could guarantee a success against such brute force - which I could not.” [Hierophant admitted.]

“Couldn’t you just decommission the drive?” [Asked Harbinger.]

“Sadly not without destroying the ‘Sea Sphere’ it is bound too tightly into its living essence by my old friend he was a genius but also shockingly amoral: he used the Spheres own biology to power its jump capability. I cannot continence the destruction of the Sphere its kind has suffered enough from witnessing its abuse without having to endure its murder.” [Hierophant explains.] “You see Harbinger they are never alone they are all linked they commune with each other and I am convinced from my research that they feel each others moods, joys and pains.”

“You can speak with them?” [Harbinger asks aghast.]

[Hierophant laughs at that idea.]

“No such is beyond me they exist in a different time cycle our years to them are but instants. However I have monitored some of them with long term automatic recording systems and have picked up discernable patterns being transmitted that have been clues to a limited degree of understanding.” [Hierophant enlightened.]

“Just how old are you?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Old enough that I no longer choose to tally the total.” [Hierophant admits.]

“Yet you seem so youthful at times.” [Harbinger replied in wonder.]

“As you Paradox also know if you wish to live long you must reinvigorate yourself. The battle of immortality is not really overcoming cellular degeneration as some suggest it is a psychological conflict.” [Hierophant warns.] “Many of my colleagues are gone because they ceased to find any more joy in existence. Today more of us fall to despair than any other illness. I am constantly on guard against mental morbidity.”

“I never understood why you Professors abandoned your own.” [Harbinger said.]

“Not all of us did abandon our people. Many tried again and again to find solutions to the spreading disease of distrust and hatred among the Trojan citizenry. Even for a time I argued in vain in an effort to get some politicians and leaders to see sense. No person or group wanted to listen it was all just reactions to actions, they only wanted to use us for advantage - nothing else. I did not abandon my species - they forced me out. Those we wouldn’t aid in their battles became convinced we would support their rivals it was a bitter time full of recrimination.” [Hierophant explained with a rare look of sorrow.]

“I am sorry if I caused you pain with my remark.” [Harbinger states.]

“It is all history now I suppose. You know I gave in to the weakness of loneliness once and tried to save one nation I was especially fond of: it was a fringe colony called the ‘Ebon Demesne’. It was a disaster.” [Hierophant explained.]

“What happened?” [Harbinger asked.]

“At first all went well I helped them to fully secure their borders - then they became monsters. They twisted everything I tried to teach them not just to hold what they had entitlement to but to reach out and begin conquering their suddenly perceived rivals. I tried to persuade them otherwise and they turned upon me. In the end I had no choice I destroyed what I had created before it could go on a truly ruinous rampage perhaps even beyond Trojan Space. That Harbinger was why I went into exile - that was my mass murder. Now like others of my kin I do not trust myself around my own. Some good intentions can be even more dangerous than neglect. So my wise Paradox Priest now you know the sordid truth is this the end of our friendship?” [Hierophant asked.]

“Hardly Hierophant I think you have just given me good reason to visit you more regularly. I would not want you mopping - the past is beyond change. You are not a felon just an imperfect sentient like all the rest of us we do our best and suffer the consequences of our: vices, virtues, successes and failures. Now however I think I will have to go as I still have to speak with some wingmen I hired and I am worried about what may be going on between ‘Opal Prime’ and ‘Pearl’.” [Harbinger explained.]

“Not a profitable venture for you - this time - I imagine. I hope you will try and dissuade the Swimmers you know from trying to claim the ‘Stellar Orb’ I feel forced now to both increase its defences and to change its location. However ‘No Mercy’ will remain my first line of defence anyone who goes there looking for clues to the ‘Stellar Orb’s’ location will risk destruction.” [Hierophant admits.]

“I was forced to leave some Acolytes inside the ‘Orb’ will I be able to extract them?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Inside - tell me about that?” [Hierophant asks.]

[I listen in as Harbinger explains about the infiltration mission.]

“I am afraid by now they are dead. Your Paradox stealth is good but being undetected will not be enough. The Swimmer Drone ships are just the oceans outer defences I took other precautions to protect the sea harbour facilities and control centres. I’m sorry but no one is going to attempt to hack those systems and survive not even Paradox in your excellent Shroud Suits.” [Hierophant confesses.]

“That grieves me. Are you absolutely sure?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Perfectly positive, I was especially careful to protect against another infiltration because of the way your Elevated attacked the ‘Stellar Orb’ in the first place.” [Hierophant admitted.]

“Then I will just have to record their names in my scriptures. What about Elevated and the Spheres original inhabitants?” [Harbinger asked.]

“All killed by the Anomalies radiation. Once again I am sorry about your Acolytes deaths.” [Hierophant repeated.]

“Well I imagine we might be just as deceased if it was not for the new sensors you sold us. Every exploration and combat mission has it risks. My fascination with the unknown always takes a toll upon my family but perhaps without some little risk, there can be no sense of real achievement either. One last thing are the Splinter Harbours really a Trojan invention?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Yes some of us long ago discovered that Wormhole manipulation technique. It is almost as dangerous as the ‘Stellar Orb’ I am glad that the Splinter species make such a narrow use of it and guard its secrets so well. Of course it would be even better if they had never stolen that advancement, but like you say the past is beyond us.” [Hierophant explained.]

“It is no accident then that you are disseminating a counter technology in the form of advanced sensors?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Not entirely I was glad to find some small defence against the Splinters ambushes. Originally the Wormhole Harbours were conceived as a defensive technology not an aggressive one. The harbours were an attempt to create inviolate safe havens for fleeing refugees and also future quarantined colonies that would be safe from either spreading disease or becoming infected depending on their status.” [Admitted Hierophant.]

“Then many Trojans might just be hidden away in their own Wormhole Harbours even today.” [Harbinger replied in surprise.]

“That thought had crossed my mind. However if they are they clearly do not wish to be disturbed and have found ways to get the resources they need without revealing themselves to others in the ‘Emissary Sphere’ save perhaps a few they trust.” [Admitted Hierophant.]

“Have you ever actually looked for Trojan Wormhole Harbours?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No!” [The Trojan replied emphatically.]

“Would you mind if I located one of these Trojan Harbours. I find the idea that some of your species may have survived the ‘Turmoil’ - socially intact - fascinating.” [Harbinger confessed.]

“Feel free to try if you must but I warn you that could be very dangerous. Clearly as I said if such colonies do exist, they prefer to remain isolated and hidden. I doubt if you uncover a Trojan remnant they will be happy to be found - be very careful Harbinger - it is just possible that some things are best left undiscovered just like the ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Hierophant explains.]

“Perhaps you are right I will have to think about it.” [Admitted Harbinger.] “Could you not hide the ‘Stellar Orb’ in a Jump Harbour?”

“I don‘t know, nothing that large has ever been moved into a Wormhole or Jump Harbour. Large objects like stations are common inside Splinter Harbours. However, large-scale construction occurs inside section-by-section with materials shipped in via the apertures. The idea of jumping in whole stations is too dangerous. A Jump Harbours’ entrances have a maximum diameter far smaller than the ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Lectured Hierophant.]

“But that wouldn’t effect a point-to-point jump.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Jumping directly into a Harbour even with a beacon guide is no easy task. A harbours apertures move very accurately but the main fat body of the Harbour wormhole is not fixed but is flexibly linked it randomly drifts around significantly. It might be worth trying some experiments but it is not a short-term solution. I am not willing to risk that ‘Sea Sphere’ to an untested procedure that is likely to fail.” [Hierophant explains.]

“So you can at least technically jump point-to-point into a Splinter Harbour if you had the skill and firm coordinates?” [Harbinger asked.]

“That however is the trouble there are no such thing as firm coordinates with a Jump Harbour and a miss-jump under those circumstances would probably be fatal.” [Hierophant advised.]

“How is Wilful?” [Harbinger asked changing the subject.]

“I’m keeping him busy please refrain from giving anyone else my coordinates Harbinger. I had to wipe some memories from the Recyclers that brought Wilful here. Luckily with them it is more of an electronic hack than messing with biological brain cells.” [Hierophant explains.]

“Sorry I err didn’t think you would mind since the Splinter already know where you are.” [Harbinger stated.]

“The Splinters as a species tend to keep their own counsel. Recyclers unfortunately are quick to sell information to anyone for a quick profit.” [Hierophant reminded his friend with a raised eyebrow.]

“Sorry. What about Wilful?” [Harbinger asked.]

“A bit more difficult but trust me by the time he leaves he will also have forgotten the coordinates of ‘Hell’s Maw’ it will be better that way. Most of my dealings are done remotely at distant jump points.” [Hierophant Cad added.]

“Well I must go as this ’Stellar Orb’ business is bound to have other ramifications especially for my new Swimmer friend at ‘Opal Pearl’. Plus I think I should remove myself before you decide to try and erase my memory as well.” [Harbinger laughed.]

“Fine I know when I’m not wanted.” [Joked Hierophant warping back to his own station.]

“So what do you think about all that?” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“Amazing Hierophant was unusually open with us and not just in relation to those insights into the Splinter Harbours. I wonder whose history is more accurate though the Living Hulls or Hierophants. The Hulls firmly believe the Trojan Professors abandoned the rest of the Trojan Citizenry without conscience to their fate.” [I send.]

“Perhaps some Professors did care nothing for their sickening society but no history is entirely unambiguous - as you know it is often a question of perspective.” [Sends Harbinger.]

“Do you really want to go looking for lost Trojan societies?” [I send filling our Companion-ship link with a degree of alarm (despite my own interest in the Trojan such an action now seemed unwise).]

“To be honest I was thinking that using our new scanners we might inadvertently reveal one by accident. Well there has to be a small possibility.” [Harbinger sends.]

“A risky prospect to watch for as any - potential - Trojan settlement is more likely to be a Splinter Raid. Plus I also fear - hidden - Trojan would prove hostile just as Hierophant suspects.” [I send.]

“I know but you must admit the prospect is an exciting one. Lost Trojan colonists may not have a Professors dangerous level of technological sophistication and are sure to have fascinating living historical and cultural insights. Hierophant is so rarely willing to discuss his races past with us. Today because of the ‘Stellar Orb’ has been an exception.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I wouldn’t like to stake my Hull integrity on a mere possibility that survivors might be less advanced. You can have too much excitement in one day. It was lucky you decided to jump out and not engage those Harbours back at ‘No Mercy’ I fear those Trojan drones would have hastily disabled my systems. Those beam weapons and globes appeared very effective.” [I send.]

“Anywhere else, I might have considered staying to fight it out but even if it had just been the Splinter we could not afford to get caught in a possible fracas with - multiple - opponents one after another. We barely survived those Splinter Harbour attacks here at ‘Hell’s Maw’ and that was with Hierophant’s assistance.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Dealing with Trojans is not without risk I wonder what else the Professor has been involved in over the years. I genuinely feel a little fearful of finding out despite all my boundless curiosity.” [I send.]

“Time to go I think instead of dismissing our wingmen we should collect them and return to the Hyades. I have a bad feeling that we may be needed there to help keep the peace or at the least to prevent an escalation of atrocities.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am concerned Harbinger by this growing entanglement in ‘Opal Pearl’ and ‘Primes’ - internal - affairs if we are not careful they may both turn on us as unwanted meddlesome outsiders.” [I send.]

“I know, if only the community of Swimmer ‘Sea Spheres’ would take more of an interest in policing the further reaches of Swimmer Space - instead of just protecting their immediate Spheres environs. However I feel responsible I made a commitment to Reeskoo to try and extract Tleeboosuu from the consequences of his misadventures away from the serenity of ‘Benevolence Orb’.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I find my Captains critique of the Swimmers Navy slightly hypocritical as the Paradox defensive forces are even less organised in some respects. However I let the comment pass.]

“Nonetheless we should take great care in Hyades we could even damage Tleeboosuu in the long term via association. Remember we have already threatened both Spheres with a Paradox invasion - that ploy - will have consequences.” [I send with concern.]

“I know, still even if they united against us it would be an improvement.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Not for Tleeboosuu if either or both sides begin to perceive him as a Paradox sympathiser or tool.” [I send.]

“That is a very good point.” [Harbinger sends.] “Instead of rushing back we will jump elsewhere and listen in to news and communications via warp satellite to see how matters are developing in Weeping Sun as the Swimmers call it. Take us out and jump us to ‘Benevolence Orb’. I think I would also like a private word with Reeskoo and we need to replace our ill-fated Remora drones. Besides I will have to apologise to those Swimmer Gunners as their services are no longer required and you know how difficult they can be.”

“I hope you’re not expecting a refund.” [I send.]

[Swimmer Gunners tend to expect their hirers to abide very strictly to their contract. Taking us out of dock and making good use of my embedded warp satellite I jump us directly inside ‘Benevolence Orb’. The seawaters embrace still feels rather strange I do not believe I will ever grow entirely accustomed to that transition. We are soon on course for the ‘Crimson Coral Shipyard’.]


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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Fri, 6. Mar 09, 12:28    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[FOUR]]

[Location: Many Truths, Benevolence Orb, Dancing Spheres, Swimmer Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[We dock without incident at the beautiful living ‘Crimson Coral Shipyard’. The facility is in full bloom covered in a mass of delicate pastel serenely rippling fronds. It seems likely the living show is a wasted effort to impress the dour representatives of the Paradox ‘Maker’s Guild’. Luckily, many less closed entities also get to witness the spectacle including my Captain and myself.]

“Stunning I have to admit ‘Crimson Coral’ is more impressive than ‘Heaven’s Anvil’ ever was?” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“I have to agree it is just so much more alive and vibrant than ‘Heaven’s Anvil’. It is not just a Shipyard it is the home of an entire ecosystem of marine life.” [I send in reply.]

“Remind me to go explore its extremities sometime in a Shroud Suit.” [Harbinger commanded.]

“That would be wonderful. Some of the species that dwell among the Coral are fascinating and their colours are spectacular.” [I send.]

[Unfortunately, due to other business we temporarily sacrifice our excursion. Nonetheless Harbingers plan to see Reeskoo suffers immediate delay, the Swimmer is very busy helping to force grow the proto hulls of the new Paradox Nursery Shipyard and cannot be disturbed.]

[The Swimmers plan is to enlarge the Shipyards multiple hulls separately. Each piece forced to the maximum possible mass capable of movement by jump drive. After the first stage of development is complete, the unlinked hulls of the Shipyard will then arrive in ‘Heavens Anvil’ for a delicate joining. Unable to get past Reeskoo’s underlings we elect to try again later and instead hail Efficient knowing we are at the mercy of others timelines.]

“I would be grateful if you would come onboard.” [Efficient sends as if he means it.]

[We warp over to the Heavy Missile Frigate the ‘Victorious Endeavour’.]

“So what is the problem?” [Harbinger asks although we have a fair idea. I have been communing with the ‘Victorious’ and briefed my Captain.]

“It’s these cursed Swimmer Gunners you had me hire they refuse to disembark. I offered to pay them in full but they were unsatisfied. They are led by a most intransigent creature a Master Chief Gunnery Officer called Paaloosuu he insists his crew must be able to undertake some duty for us. Claims it would be dishonourable to accept the generous credits offered without undertaking some service he says it would set a bad example to his underlings.” [Efficient explains.]

“That is the Swimmer way.” [Harbinger advised.]

“Well I made the mistake of suggesting in that case that he could refund us our credits. At the idea he got very angry in fact he dared to accuse me of not valuing their expertise and of trying to rob his recruits of their due. Now he is refusing to deal with me at all.” [Efficient explains.]

“Efficient let me guess you only skimmed through ‘Many Truths’ briefing?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I’m a warrior not a diplomat.” [Efficient complains.] “I thought these Swimmers would be sensible Mercenary types. I thought I knew how to work with Mercenaries all that data your ship blasted at me seemed - a little excessive - even an insult to my intelligence. My apologies Harbinger I believed I knew how to handle the situation of course I was wrong. Any Recycler for example would have been more than happy to take your credits and go.”

“My fault I forgot most of your experience has been with Recyclers. Sea Sphere Swimmer Gunners can be quite highly strung they live by a strict code of honour it is how they rationalise the necessity of taking others lives.” [Harbinger informed his associate.]

“Actually I did know that I just didn’t fully appreciate it. Unfortunately by the time I understood how touchy these Gunners are it was too late.” [Efficient confessed his Shroud Suit turning grey with shame.]

“From his perspective he has been highly insulted. I‘ll deal with this - really Efficient - I thought you knew better than to trample all over another culture’s sensitivities like this.” [Harbinger replied but his own Shroud Suit flickered with yellow amusement.]

“So sorry, but I generally prefer to do my negotiations at a distance via a missile barrage. I‘m a warrior not a scholar.” [Efficient retorted showing a little purple anger.]

“You are still a Paradox Priest I’d beg you to remember that in future.” [Harbinger said radiating the rich red of passion.] “Where is this Gunner?”

“He insisted on trying to get a deep conversation out of my Beta Clone Gunners - of course he is failing abysmally - which I’m sure isn’t helping his mood either.” [Efficient explained allowing his Shroud Suit to darken with despair.]

“Some Swimmers find it hard to accept that Beta Clones aren’t really people.” [Harbinger advised his associate.]

“So I have noticed. I thought I knew the Swimmers well but I never had any serious dealings with their Gunners before - they are… an interesting bunch.” [Efficient stated.]

“Excellent I always enjoy introducing members of my species to new experiences.” [Harbinger said blazing yellow.]

“I’m glad somebody is appreciating this. Please for the love of the Emissary just get them off my ship. I don’t like the way they keep looking at me with those creepy too mobile eyes. They keep talking to my Acolytes about Splitters and asking why they willingly crew with an insensitive Captain. It is most disconcerting they don‘t behave like any passengers I have ever carried - not that I have carried many.” [Confessed Efficient.]

[My Captain just roared out some crude speaker laughter.]

[In the end however even Harbinger almost lost his good humour. Appeasing the old Master Chief Gunner proved anything but easy. My Captain was forced to hire a Swimmer Fast Assault Frigate ‘Gracious Warrior’ as a new wingman and to install all the Swimmer Gunners onboard that as part of our small but impressive fleet.]

“It is an expensive solution but you can’t buy reputation and I don’t want mine ruined here by these Gunners ire.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“It is a good thing we made an extortionate profit from housing the ‘Continuity of Introspection’.” [I send back.] “Perhaps you should try and get salvage rights from Hierophant Cad for some of those Recycler Hulls in ‘No Mercy’. Tell him we are due a little compensation for the loss of our drones, and other expenses incurred from helping to keep the ‘Stellar Orb’ inviolate.”

“That is an interesting idea I might just do that.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Remember you also want to buy a supply ship.” [I send.]

“As soon as I get a chance in the meantime I have some serious research I need you and my family doing.” [Harbinger sends.]

[A little later after I have helped direct some very extensive inquiries in some unusual Core sites in some instances at more expense.]

“What is the plan?” [Efficient asked.]

“I’m dispatching the ‘Gracious Warrior’ as protection for Newport technically under the direct command of Tleeboosuu. ‘Pearl’ should accept the aid of these Swimmers without malice. Their hidden mission will be to extract Tleeboosuu if it all starts to unravel there.” [Harbinger explained.]

“A good idea. So what is the news from the Hyades?” [Efficient asked.]

“The ‘Black Diamond’ raided ‘Opal Prime’ all communications are down from that ‘Sea Sphere’ but I doubt the ‘Diamond’ did any real damage. ‘Prime’ will just have taken the opportunity to go dark to keep their grubby little secrets intact. I’m sure ‘Opal Prime’ now realises they are leaking intelligence to ‘Pearl’ taking their warp satellite uplinks off line is a sensible precaution.” [Harbinger stated.]

“So what is the overall tactical situation?” [Efficient asked.]

“As far as I can gather all assets belonging to ‘Prime’ fully retreated back into their ‘Sea Sphere’ directly after the ‘Black Diamond’ raid. Then a large group of Recycler Mercenaries jumped in and chased the Black Diamond Swimmers back to ‘Pearl’ without - surprise - doing any significant damage to their rivals. The same powerful Recycler Fleet has taken over from Pearls Swimmer Mercenaries as ‘Primes’ outer defences. According to the data I have these latest Mercenaries have a contract only to defend ‘Prime’ not to invade or assault ‘Pearls’ territory. So far, it looks like the Swimmer Renegade Nations do not have word of the discovery of the ‘Stellar Orb’. As I guessed the Arch Chancellor must have silenced the survivors of our engagement in ‘No Mercy’.” [Harbinger explained.]

“For a ‘Sea Sphere’ dweller the Arch Chancellor is unusually ruthless.” [Efficient noted.]

“I thought so too so I have had my family looking into the genealogy of the Arch Chancellor of ‘Opal Prime’. As you know, I take some pride in my family’s research capabilities yet the Arch Chancellors specific origins look entirely unreal to me and increasingly suspect.” [Harbinger explained.]

“What does that mean?” [Efficient replied.]

“I think it means our foe is more than he seems.” [Harbinger replied.]

“One thing that puzzles me: how by the Emissary can the Arch Chancellor afford to hire all these Mercenary assets? Also if he can why not simply hire them all at once and take out the Mercenaries guarding ‘Opal Pearl’ and ‘Newport’ by strength of numbers?” [Efficient asked.]

“I am guessing he can not. As I understand it from Tleeboosuu, the Arch Chancellor’s Mercenary contracts allow him to avoid paying out anything more than a small deposit initially. Apparently, the bulk of the Mercenaries payment is in the form of a final payment made up of physical booty of some kind. An incentive and failsafe against betrayal kept locked away on ‘Opal Prime’ until the full contract of their service is complete - of course - if the contract never gets completed because the Mercenaries get wiped out…” [Harbinger trailed off.]

“He won’t be able to keep getting away with doing things like that. Eventually the Mercenaries will see a pattern if he thinks he can keep using them up he will be in for a very nasty shock. The Renegades will turn on him and render him down to fish food.” [Efficient noted.]

“The Arch Chancellor is a gifted manipulator I imagine he has ways to cover up his indiscretions.” [Harbinger adds.]

“Harbinger I hope you won’t be shocked but this sounds like an opportunity to me. What would happen if our foe could not pay for his Mercenaries at all? We could sign on as privateers for one mission with ‘Pearl’ and legally loot the Arch Chancellors booty with a Raid of our own. It would not be deemed theft just an act of war.” [Efficient explained.]

“Efficient you have redeemed yourself that is an excellent proposal. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to slow the Arch Chancellor down while my family continues its research.” [Harbinger added.]

“Only you would think we could defeat this menace with research.” [Mocked Efficient.]

“Can you look into the logistics of the Raid for me? We will need some means of ingress and extraction that won’t cause a stir. Find out who is still trading with ‘Opal Prime’ especially in a shady manner?” [Harbinger advised.]

“You want to use stealth not just very specifically targeted force?” [Efficient enquired.]

“I don’t want ‘Opal Prime’ to get any sympathy for collateral damage. Also it would be good to instil a degree of paranoia. I want the Arch Chancellor to wonder who and how it was done and to fear what or who might be directly targeted next.” [Harbinger explained.]

“Maybe that is what we should do just kidnap or assassinate the felon.” [Efficient added.]

“No again I don’t want him to look that much of a victim or to be a martyr especially not because of anything we Paradox Priests might be deemed guilty of. We have ‘Pearl’ announce the Raid after the fact as if it was all their doing. They can show off the loot in a press conference state how it has been liberated from the despot and is being kept in trust for the people of ‘Prime’ come the day of their liberation.” [Harbinger explained.]

“I like that.” [Efficient sends.] “Who will go on this mission?”

“I think I will go myself it is too long since I have done an operation like this the practice will do me good. Besides, after losing that infiltration team in ‘No Mercy’ I think - I - need to do this one for family morale. Sometimes it is important to lead from the front.” [Harbinger explained.]

“Worried about Splitters?” [Efficient asked.]

“No I just appreciate that Acolytes have feelings too.” [Harbinger replied.]

“I think you are spending too much time around these outlandish Swimmers.” [Mocked Efficient.]

“I think too few of our people listen to other races ideas. We have many varied visions but still retain a lot of very specific prejudices, traditions and customs that might benefit from a little revue.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Harbinger the Rebel. You can’t possibly agree with the Swimmers silly attitude about our clones?” [Asked Efficient.]

“Of course I don’t but I appreciate that some aspects of our relations could be more flexible. I think we can be our own worst enemy we have turned Splitting into such a negative thing when… I do not know, perhaps it should be something else - a joy? What would happen if we embraced and allowed - even encouraged - the most capable and gifted to split? Would we really be reduced or would our species be reinvigorated by an influx of bright new Priests?” [Harbinger asked.]

“If you made Splitting easy (even for a hand picked elite) - trust me - every Acolyte would soon want to become a Splitter. Who does not see themselves as worthy in their inner hearts? In the end, we would weaken our stock maybe even cause a rebellion and anarchy. Remember Harbinger we do not have the organic process of natural selection to weed out any unfortunate mistakes. The mystery of evolution resultant from normal reproductive processes fails to touch us. I would hate to see unworthy specimens becoming full Paradox Priests to represent the pinnacle of our species. Our Priests are able, strong and resourceful because we all had to win our independence against adversity - it is part of who we are. If our freedom was just given to us - we would accord it no value?” [Efficient lectured his suit glowing radiantly red with passion.]

“You know I think you are right I have been among the non Paradox too much listened to too many outlandish visions. I defer to your learned wisdom in this instance. In a way all we have binding us together as a species is our culture and our traditions. Perhaps I have done old Composure a disservice with my own youthful arrogance. It is too easy to criticise and reject without having something better to replace what we deride.” [Harbinger replied a little shocked.]

[Listening in I am a bit surprised myself. As I also agree, Efficient has made a valid point. Perhaps I too was forgetting that good intentions could sometimes be more damaging than the small evils they target. After all our society is very stable, I wondered had I been trying to fix something that was not necessarily broken.]

“I am glad to see I can be right on occasion.” [Replied Efficient with a yellow flicker from his suit.] “If you are going in person then so am I. A team of six should be more than adequate and I haven’t had the opportunity to use a dedicated aquatic Shroud Suit for some time it should be fun.”

“I almost feel sorry for the Arch Chancellor.” [Harbinger replied.]

“We had best keep it quiet from Unholy or he will want to come along too.” [Efficient added.]

“Where is Unholy anyway?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Running some errands for Tleeboosuu we didn’t think you would object. If you need him he is easily contactable and will jump in.” [Efficient added.]

“It would be nice to be informed first - I am after all - still paying his wages.” [Harbinger noted.]

“About our hire Harbinger we - well please don’t take offence - but we have been thinking about that.” [Efficient began.]

“What is the problem?” [Harbinger asked a little abruptly.]

“Well considering the rather charitable and important nature of this service we would prefer simply to work as allies with a share on any side profits rather than operating as merely mercenary employees.” [Efficient explained.]

“I know what this is about you want equal share of the glory should it ever get openly recorded that we helped to keep the mythical ‘Stellar Orb’ out of Renegades hands. However you must know that may be very unlikely as broadcasting this knowledge could defeat our whole purpose.” [Harbinger warned.]

“The Scriptures are for the Ages Harbinger even if we must remain unknown heroes for the moment - that is fine - for someday the full story will be told. These are momentous events would you rob us of our due to become - names - even if it is long after our vision has faltered.” [Efficient asked.]

“No I would not. Friends and allies it is. However, I must remain in charge or it will make a mess of the essential chain of command. You can‘t run any proper military endeavour effectively as a committee.” [Harbinger warned.]

“No fear Warrior Priest Harbinger we are very happy to follow your leadership after all already it has written us into ‘Emissary Sphere’ history.” [Efficient explained happily.]

“Just be careful Efficient those who chase after fame too often find it quickly but also posthumously.” [Advised Harbinger.]

“No need to worry Harbinger I enjoy life it is more important to me than fame but fame is good too. It can open the hatch to many new experiences.” [Efficient added.]

“Now if we are going to do an aquatic infiltration we should practice with some specialised Shroud Suits I wouldn’t want to go fully aquatic in this rig.” [Harbinger admitted.]

“What do you propose?” [Efficient asked.]

“To begin with a bit of sightseeing around the ‘Red Coral Shipyard’ MT and myself wanted to do this anyway. I’ll meet you outside in three.” [Harbinger added warping back to his own ship.]

[As well as general multi capable Shroud Suits Paradox also have many specialised varieties used for various purposes. Aquatic suits are specifically adapted for fast and agile manoeuvres under water borrowing many ideas from Swimmer technology. All eight of us including ‘Victorious Endeavour’ and myself in our Captains’ heads soon congregate.]

“See if you can keep up.” [Harbinger sends laughing.]

[We shoot away like a torpedo paralleling the vast bulk of the Living Shipyard then suddenly we make a sharp right angle turn with the aid of a shaped manipulation field and race straight towards the station. The others overshoot in their effort to catch up before they can swing around. Harbinger slows so he will not damage any of the living organisms with an overly aggressive wake. We move gracefully up to the living Coral hull gliding along serenely among the fish and free swimming crustaceans. A few swim around us almost as if curious at our intrusion into their domain or perhaps just used to being fed scraps by tourists. Slowly we make our way towards the upper bulkhead which is alive with more sophisticated domestic activity.]

[We are far from alone many Swimmers some in suits or pods others bare skinned move about their business here. As well as Crimson Coral’s internal grottos a lot of the Shipyards staff actually live out here on the upper hull itself. Some dwelling in magical coral towers in various carefully shaped inlets. Some of these alcoves are as dark and mysterious as caves while others glow with vary coloured lights that make them seem warm and inviting.]

[We move along taking in many for us wondrously exotic sights.]

“They have an enviable harmony with their environment.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Indeed, do you Paradox miss the diversity of your lost planets?” [I send.]

“Can you miss what you have never known? Perhaps you can, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to feel the sunshine on my bare skin instead of the embrace of a Shroud Suit. However mostly your Hull is my home just as the ‘House of Whispers’ once was.” [Harbinger explains.]

[We move on from one curiosity to another. Most of the Swimmers who are not busy are just as interested in us as we are about them. Several squid lings follow in our wake until we wave them goodbye and go deep to give the aquatic rigs a proper shakedown. Falling away from the Shipyard Harbinger activates his suits spot lights. We call up a local map and navigate towards living rock canyons. The Swimmer cleverly grew vast swathes of their own topography to resemble various natural formations. Unlike the Corals the living rock canyons are more robust and requires less light. They will make a perfect training ground. We race around towering pillars and through archways jockeying for position as if in a race. The Fish here are bigger less colourful and tend to shoal. The way they all dart away together as if a single living mass reminds me of my ill fated Remora. Sleek solitary predators also appear - some of fearsome aspect - but they are only interested in their normal prey and have been genetically conditioned to leave such as us alone.]

[We activate sensors and other equipment test and play simple games of tag and hunter prey to fully familiarise ourselves with the suits abilities. We are so engrossed in our own activities that none of us takes any notice of the arrival of the Crab like metallic Recycler style drones until they attack with a salvo of mini torpedoes.]

[Harbinger and I are both shocked when our suit identifies the incoming ordnance.]

“Hostiles full evasion.” [Harbinger broadcasts activating a distress call we twist away at full throttle and commence hugging the surface of the living rock. Our companions also peel away there is an explosion behind us. Checking the Suit’s sensors one torpedo either hit or just missed an Acolytes lagging slightly behind. I sense Harbinger is glad that clone belongs to Efficient although he also feels guilt at that thought.]

[There is a crackle of static and white noise over communications.]

“We are being jammed. I have even lost my link with my greater consciousness.” [I warn shocked.]

“Good that will certainly spur our Hulls into action.” [Harbinger tells me while executing a abrupt turn.]

[Using his manipulation field my Captain decommissions the immediate torpedo locked on to us by sending it veering into the living rock floor. As well as our torpedo, several more explosions go off behind us. A drone also erupts when two items of its own ordnance curve around inexplicably and hit it. It seems everyone is making good use of manipulation fields.]

[More disrupted noise over communications.]

[We race on twisting and turning among the Living Rock outgrowths. Another blip appears on our screen coming towards us from the opposite direction. This one fires no torpedoes it rockets towards us snapping powerful mechanical pincers menacingly. Harbinger grabs it with our manipulation field and wrestles with it lifting it up so that it stands on its end its pincers held uselessly away. He extrudes a sharp shaped shield reinforced blade from our suit and stabs at its belly as if it is a real beast. The blade upon contact leeches the drones shield to reinforce its own then rips into the metal hull using hyper vibration. Harbinger pours suit substance into the drone’s now open insides and commences to scramble its more delicate inner workings.]

[Finally, my Captain casts the dead machine aside using his manipulation field just as it deliberately self-destructs. Swatted by debris and a potent pressure wave we tumble in a watery vortex. I am monitoring our energy and shield reserves while Harbinger curls up into a protective ball and bounces off the seabed. I am alarmed at the figures as they edge ever closer towards a critical failure I draw energy from the artificial gill energy store and other long term life support functions and throw that into hardening our shield and keeping our field and shape shifting functions powered - I know this is a very short term save.]

[We register two more torpedoes tracking us. Harbinger uncurls swings around and skilfully manipulates one of the explosive fish into the other using as little power as possible. Again we tumble backwards from a shock wave luckily being further away - this time - it is not so bad. I draw more power from the gills we are down to just ten minutes oxygen extraction. As we right ourselves, the ‘Victorious Endeavour’ jumps in right above us and unleashes its own much more powerful manipulation fields and a host of Remora Drones. We warp onboard just as we begin to feel safe enough to watch the wider action.]

“That was a little too close Harbinger.” [I send.]

“How is everybody?” [Harbinger sends while dripping copious amounts of water to the bulkhead floor. The floor creates some pores and happily drains the excess liquid away.]

“Looks like we’re all fine beyond being a bit bruised and battered.” [Efficient replies.]

“I thought I saw one of your Acolytes being hit.” [Harbinger adds.]

“One was luckily his shields managed to hold out.” [Efficient explains.]

“I didn’t expect we would need to go heavily armed here.” [Harbinger admitted.]

“All the hostile drones have been destroyed.” [Victorious Endeavour sends.]

“Does ‘Victorious’ know where they came from?” [Harbinger asked.]

“According to the local Core it was a Recycler Corvette with a stolen registration that quickly jumped in then out again after dropping them off.” [Efficient explains.]

“I wonder was that a poorly judged assassination attempt or just a friendly warning?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I imagine it was a reprisal because of our actions at ‘No Mercy’.” [Efficient states.]

“A very bold - opportunistic - strike would be my guess. ‘Opal Prime’ must have a team of operatives watching us. The ‘Benevolence Orb’ Swimmers won’t be happy about this at all it might help us considerably with future public relations here.” [I send to everyone present.]

“Maybe the Arch Chancellor has made another mistake.” [Efficient remarks.]

“Thank you for the timely rescue ‘Victorious’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It was ‘Many Truths’ plan.” [Victorious Endeavour sends.] “She knew I could jump in closer here as my hull is smaller so I can’t take all the credit. In addition, she knew I still had Remora Drones onboard many of our weapons are a lot less effective in this environment or have other drawbacks including being polluting.”

“Luckily our Remora also carry a few simple explosive mini torpedoes for use under water, and those small - disposable - Recycler drones seemed only lightly shielded.” [Efficient noted.]

“Most of their bulk is taken up by their own rather heavily stocked Mini Torpedo bays, some rather sophisticated jamming equipment, not to mention quite powerful engines and sensors. I managed to get a scan if you want to see their full specifications. Rather interestingly, they had small but adequate Living Biological Computer Cores. They certainly are not a registered design although outwardly they do look just like the standard Hunter Killer Class aquatic Renegade Recycler drone model known as a Crab they are a lot more sophisticated underneath their skin. Crabs are normally slaved to a larger ship these ones can clearly operate fully independently.”

“Do you still want to do that raid against ‘Opal Prime’?” [Efficient asked.]

“More than ever our ignoble Arch Chancellor is actually beginning to annoy me.” [Harbinger added.]

[Belatedly arriving Heavy Swimmer Defensive Drones escort us back to the Shipyard where some Officers belonging to the local Navy debrief us. Finally, we get a return call from Reeskoo.]

[Location: Crimson Coral Shipyard, Benevolence Orb, Dancing Spheres, Swimmer Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[We arrive during the shipyards artificial night cycle at Reeskoo’s private quarters following his late invitation. I of course tag along although most of my attention is still mining data elsewhere so I just silently listen in.]

“I see you are making the news again Harbinger.” [Sends Reeskoo via a closed channel in the flooded residence.]

“Like I said before - fame - is a burden.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’m not just talking about that attack today either your Remora being destroyed by those unknown Splinter Drones in ‘No Mercy’ is causing a furore. We have never seen Splinter use weaponry like that. The idea that the Splinter are innovating is causing a great deal of concern both here and elsewhere.” [Reeskoo explained.]

“Emissary, I didn’t know those images had leaked from the Paradox Central Core.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well they have don’t you ever download the news channels?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I prefer to make it.” [Harbinger sends with a little self-mockery.]

“What can I do for you I feel rather responsible for your troubles.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I need some information.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Fire away.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I need you to discreetly contact your Intelligence Services for me. I know they keep secure files that never see the inside of any public Core. I need some hard information and I need it gathered quietly. I am trying to trace the true history and identity of the Arch Chancellor of ‘Opal Prime’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I imagine you have some reason to distrust the public record.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I am increasingly convinced the official story is just that a manufactured fiction.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Difficult if perhaps easier now, nonetheless they may expect a favour in return at some later date that is how they do business.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I would be more than willing to do anything that won’t compromise my integrity and my species security.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’ll let them know those conditions. Still I do not think you need worry we ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ remain happily allied to the Paradox. Plus I think the Navy is a bit embarrassed at that attack getting so blithely through our defences.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It is hard to believe our root species were if not enemies then certainly unfriendly to each other in the mythical ‘X’ Sphere.” [Harbinger sends in reply.] “As to those drones getting past your defences these days none of us has water tight security.” [Sends Harbinger jokingly.]

“Speaking of security I hear you have donated a Swimmer Frigate to ‘Newport’s’ protection.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It seemed a prudent idea.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed you caught two fish there with one gulp, nonetheless I appreciate that gesture.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I only regret I have been unable to fully expedite my promise.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I think you are probably doing all that you can for Tleeboosuu and suffering for it. I can hardly expect anything more from you. In the end the young rascal may need to get his tentacles singed before he sees the error of his ways.” [Sends Reeskoo.]

“You could be right maybe we should arrange that.” [Harbinger sends with a laugh.]

“Maybe we should - still youth must have its freedom too - although I suppose as a Paradox you would disagree.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Freedom takes many forms. We do not advocate freedom from responsibility but we are very firm adherents of many other personal freedoms - you might be surprised - plus he has found a worthy cause.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I confess Harbinger some subjects I find a little difficult to approach with any Paradox because you see to me you are never alone. I find it hard sometimes to ignore your Acolytes as if they do not matter.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Of course they matter but they will not be offended by anything you say - while they are attending me - it is not their business.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You know in a strange way that idea is even more troublesome. To me anybody should have the right to be offended anytime. I suspect one of the reasons why my ancestors left the ‘X’ Sphere was because our species there was so unctuously polite whether it was appropriate or not.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“That is another issue Reeskoo my Acolytes have every right to take offence they just don’t perceive any point in exercising it.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I give up.” [Complained the old Swimmer grower via his sending.]

“Acolytes are freer than Priests in some ways - they are free to ignore anything that is not a part of their service. No full Paradox Priest is ever as centred as that. We all suffer from distractions.” [Sends Harbinger almost as a confession.]

“Your species is well named. As I am very busy, I will have the Swimmer Intelligence Services contact you direct. Is that satisfactory?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Very much so my good friend.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Good, be off with you then. We Swimmers still need the proper rest of sleep and I have a very busy schedule tomorrow.” [Reeskoo sent in reply.]

“Here you will need this.” [Sends Harbinger using a manipulation field to send over a tiny data well with some of his own findings on the Chancellor.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Mon, 9. Mar 09, 12:33    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[FIVE]]

[Location: Many Truths, Benevolence Orb, Dancing Spheres, Swimmer Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[We warp back to my Hull from Reeskoo’s private quarters. I sense my Captain is a bit upset.]

“What is troubling you? [I send.]

“Communications - the Public Cores and even private Warp Satellite networks are increasingly being compromised. I am afraid if we go on using that cheap old option on our increasingly sensitive missions eventually that solution will scuttle us. I’m just going to have to pay that extortionate monopolist Mordant for the full ‘Exogenous Communications’ upgrade Kit including: ‘Exogenous Stealth Satellite’, and ‘Mini Link’ wombs.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You know that was inevitable Harbinger you have just been putting it off. If we are finally going to ‘Pinnacle Station’ there are two other genetic upgrades I think you should consider while we retain enough funds.” [I send.]

“Shock me.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The Ion Disruption Reflector shield upgrade, and a Drone Womb. I retain enough spare hull capacity to incorporate these upgrades and to swell my energy and biomass stores to ensure maximum efficiency. We need a defence against Ion weapons they are becoming too prevalent. An IDR should make us almost immune to Ion attacks while our main Shield holds out against other assaults. Otherwise, we have been losing many drones lately. Growing my own drones is economically sound and we can modify them to better survive. With constant output we could sell surplus units and even make a profit.” [I send.]

“What are the integration statistics for those systems?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Like the ‘Exogenous Communications’ upgrade they are not in any way disruptive. All three upgrades are very low risk additions. The only drawback being their typically high cost as Mordant Satori holds the sole patents for the root genetic packages.” [I send.]

“Mordant Satori is a robber who strangles all competition. The upgrades specialist is even worse than the ‘Maker’s Guild’.” [My Captain sends angrily.]

“Mordant is the father of all modern ‘Living Hull’ ship systems. In addition, you have to remember the Master of ‘Pinnacle Station’ has to charge a high price. Mordant is aware all his genetic upgrades pass free to ‘Living Hull’ offspring. Mordant has a limited shrinking market for every upgrade he produces. To keep his business active he has to constantly research or buy in new innovations a costly process.” [I send.]

“Mordant still has enough clients that he could easily charge a lot less. He unnecessarily bullies almost every other independent Paradox Ship upgrade Geneticist into submission. Although stupendously wealthy already his personal ambition and greed know no bounds - I hate dealing with him - but he has a strangle hold on all the best upgrades. His outgoing Acolytes gobble up every promising upgrade idea. I believe Priests like Mordant and organisations like the ‘Maker’s Guild’ are stifling our creative development as a species if I could I would shatter their evil monopolies without hesitation.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Like Mordant Satori or loathe him unless something radical and unexpected happens in the upgrade supply market we still have to do business with him.” [I send.]

“I know and it pains me. Still if we must deal with the rogue maybe I can get him to give us a little discount for our joint order. With that in mind could we squeeze in a General Ordnance Womb that would make us - at last - almost self sufficient.” [Harbinger sends now a little excited at the prospect.]

“That one would leave us with little in our credit account?” [I send in warning.]

“True but we could also manufacture and sell surplus torpedoes and missiles. Lastly if we make our own we could forgo the added expense of a dedicated Supply Ship.” [Harbinger Sends.]

“That would only work if I increased my ordnance magazines, biomass stores, and energy handling capabilities significantly. I would either have to expand my hull or reduce the family’s living space.” [I send.]

“For the moment I quite like your current Hull size. In addition, I do not think we will have time for a major growth lay over. Show me a diagram of the internal solution.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I mock up and show Harbinger how much living space will have to go to enable us to become self sufficient in relation to expendable armaments. Internal alterations are always less painful Paradox ship design facilitates a degree of shape shifting in relation to our inner facing bulkheads essence. Nonetheless, this will be a radical change for me.]

“I can live with that. If necessary I can prevent overcrowding by rotating more of my family temporarily into suspension.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You could just ditch some of your collection of fake ’X’ Sphere artefacts.” [I send.]

“Actually I have been thinking about finding a new home for my collection onboard a habitat somewhere. I would like to have some free cargo space.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As you wish. When do you want to go to ‘Pinnacle’?” [I send.]

“Right away, I want those ‘Exogenous Communications’ on line before we commence the raid on ‘Opal Prime’ those exotic signals can’t be jammed and if something goes wrong I want to be able to scream out for help.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You’re going to pay to force the upgrades then?” [I send a little surprised.]

“I am, I know it will leave us almost flat broke but I’m sure we can figure out someway to make some credits fast.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We still have those Artefacts we earned at ‘Red Nest’ we could find buyers for those for a start. Plus if we could get permission to salvage those ships in ‘No Mercy’.” [I send.]

“I’m not sure Hierophant will permit that but I suppose it might be worth asking. Tell Efficient we will be back soon and jump us to ‘Fallen Angel’.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I oblige.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Fallen Angel, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

[We arrive using our normal precautions then after being scrutinised by several flights of non standard Extra Heavy Paradox Combat Drones and bypassing many fixed defences, we approach ‘Pinnacle Station’.]

[The only things remarkable about this area called ‘Fallen Angel’ remain - its history - the Paradox Equipment dock called ‘Pinnacle Station’, its famous Paradox occupant Mordant Satori, his very large family mostly geneticists (specialists in ‘Living Hull’ ship upgrades) or ancillary corporate hounds, and a very bright local star from which ‘Pinnacle Station’ feeds.]

[A Pilgrim Ship that originally helped colonise here bequeathed ‘Fallen Angel’ its unusual name. According to the scriptures it was an Odysseus class destroyer called ‘Freedom’s Angel’. Later that vessel became obsolete after a poor showing against some more modern Recycler Raiders. Decommissioned the venerable destroyer fell from grace to suffer cannibalisation and conversion into a crude space habitat.]

[The resultant construct later grew into the Equipment Dock known today as ‘Pinnacle Station’. Of course, by this age nothing remains visible of the substance of ‘Freedom’s Angel’. However, rumours persist that some parts of the cannibalised Odysseus survive inside later ‘Living Hull’ extrusions like a treasure in an accidental time capsule - forever - preserved for but hidden from posterity.]

[It is not impossible to believe that ‘Pinnacle Station’ could hide parts of ‘Freedom’s Angel’ somewhere within its convoluted substance since the heart of the Equipment Dock (the families living quarters) on the surface looks such a muddle. In fact, the inner station from the outside seems a terrible mess of jutting and interlinking additions. It is all too plain that the whole edifice grew up in defiance of any noticeable aesthetic sensibility. ‘Pinnacle’ to my perception is the only truly ugly station in Paradox Space but its denizens are inordinately fond of its many eccentricities and apparently from the inside it all makes perfect sense.]

[What ‘Pinnacle’ does have are a host of easily approachable outer docks. As ever - despite his prices - the station is a hive of activity with Paradox ships constantly coming and going. Directed into one well-appointed capital ship berth I glide to a stop. All around us, semi mobile harbour facilities begin to swing closed caging me in. To me this unusually tight - restrictive - docking arrangement feels a little claustrophobic and unsettling. My Captain believes the way the stations mechanised wings seem to grasp ships says much about the overbearing personality and paranoia of the Elder Paradox Priest who created and runs the facility.]

“I hate this place almost as much as I despise the ‘Grand Assembly Hall’ in ‘High Synod’. You know MS is renowned for crushing any opposition or rival to his vision of financial success no matter how small.” [Harbinger sends.]

“At least ‘Pinnacle Stations’ occupants are efficient if you can keep your dislike in check we can do our business and leave quickly.” [I send.]

“I suppose.” [My Captain grudgingly sends.]

[However, I notice he makes no move to warp over to the station.]

“To the ‘Hell’s Maw’ with it - I think I will forgo the discount - I’ll just stay onboard and see if I can do these transactions via the stations automatic trade interface. I’m not in the mood for dealing with Mordant or any of his equally pushy Acolytes besides it might be safer this way as just thinking about him is riling my temper.” [Harbinger sends.]

[My Captain links in and peruses the Equipment Docks upgrade lists. After a moments hesitation he highlights his desired purchases including the cost of forced growth installation. Much to his surprise, the station grants him a small automatic - bulk purchase discount of three percent off - forcing himself to be content with that unexpected benison, Harbinger logs out.]

“MT please put our ‘Red Nest’ artefacts up for sale on the Cores Hyper Market.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Done.” [I send in reply.]

[We monitor our new systems integration. First, a senior bio technician splices the genetic material then various staff swarm over to the new growth sites with force feeders and incubator equipment.]

“I have to admit they do have skills.” [Harbinger sends reluctantly.]

[As we watch, the upgrades quickly begin to form as cells multiply around the seeded swollen areas of hull. Otherwise I begin to reconfigure my own internal hull structure to accommodate the enlarged magazines, bio mass, and energy stores. We also watch as the Artefacts begin fetching good prices among collectors - probably because word is out about the significance of ‘Red Nest’ and we can put an open ‘Red Nest’ provenance on our items. It would seem we picked our ten Artefacts well.]

“How does it feel?” [Harbinger asked.]

“A little uncomfortable but that is normal.” [I send.]

[Despite the speed of the process, Harbinger soon grows bored and enters virtual reality to wander once again around reconstructions of the ‘Stellar Orb’. He eventually ends up back in the Gunnery post. Something about that location seems to attract him.]

“What brings you back here?” [I send sensing a degree of dissatisfaction from my Captain via our Companion-ship link as he looks around.]

“Those Swimmer Gunners back at ‘Benevolence Orb’ onboard ‘Victorious Endeavour’ where asking about Paradox weapon power consumption. It got me thinking again about these PPC cannons they are brutes: each has two times (seven cluster) multi-barrels while each gunnery post links into four cannons. These statistics give the weapons controlled by a single Swimmer Gunner a total of fifty six pulses of energy with every shot.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I have been looking at what we know about PPC statistics they are energy wasteful weapons by today’s standards. I suspect the search for greater energy efficiency is why we invented Paradox Bolts. Power is our weakness. Small biological power generators can actually be more efficient than mechanical devices unfortunately so far this ratio has failed to scale up. Ship system power efficiency is therefore essential. While our aggressive and defensive biotech systems are technologically far superior to say Recycler units (we can do things they can only dream about) there is a trade off. As yet we are limited by our (especially in combat) biological energy generators capabilities.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is why we bask frequently and keep large energy stores.” [I send in reply.]

“However unlike direct energy generation - stores can quickly be depleted - therefore we remain overall disadvantaged against the most brutal fully mechanical power solutions. Of course we tried hybridising but this created many new problems and was abandoned. Thus with us success in prolonged battles against Recycler ships for example usually comes down to our own power management. We have to overwhelm our opponents with our superior equipment quickly because if we do not they may bleed our energy reserves dry before we can top them up. A vulnerability we strive to cover up. Even today those Crab style drones almost had us because under pressure our suit energy reserves were almost spent.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Like that Splinter Raid at ‘Hell’s Maw’ when we were forced to use power greedy ‘Living Hull Shockwaves’.” [I send.]

“Exactly it is another reason why we carry a good spread of ordnance to supplement our energy weapons, also why we are renowned for our hard hitting aggressive tactics.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So what does this have to do with the ‘Stellar Orb’?” [I send.]

“Think about the energy cost for this one emplacement alone - it must be staggering. Imagine what would be required to operate all the ‘Stellar Orbs’ aggressive defences so where are all its essential power generators?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Power is drawn directly from the ‘Sphere’s’ shields I thought you knew this.” [I trace out and highlight the power lines from the guns back to very sophisticated power leech devices that make direct contact with the ‘Sea Spheres’ impregnable shield.]

“Emissary’s mercy! Is it that simple? Do you think that is how they power the ‘Spheres’ Jump Drives as well?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I don’t know I suppose it might be possible.” [I send.]

“All those PPC drawing all that power and I’ll bet the shields are not even significantly depleted. After all weakening your own shields in battle would be madness. The energy output of the ‘Sea Spheres’ must be truly mind bending. The Swimmers have been dwelling in power houses. Can you imagine it - all that freely available energy - and apart from Drooshuu nobody has ever considered mining it before (at least not as far as I know).” [Harbinger added.]

“The ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ try to impact upon the vast creatures they inhabit as little as possible. They wish to remain symbiotic not to become parasitic. The Renegade Swimmers have largely rejected the ‘Sea Spheres’ in favour of living in space habitats. They believe with the exception of the ‘Stellar Orb’ the protection of the ‘Sea Spheres’ is what keeps their brethren weak stunting their races forced evolution.” [I send.]

“Then why do they periodically attack the ‘Sea Spheres’ if not for territorial conquest?” [Harbinger asked.]

“It is the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ they wish to conquer, not the territory of the living orbs themselves. They would drive all Swimmers out from their refuges and make them dwell (swim) directly in the wider and more perilous Sea of Stars. The Swimmer Renegades believe the proper direction and destiny of their race is to eventually abandon their aquatic existence and nakedly embrace the void of space as their home - almost like we ‘Living Hulls’ do. Already the Renegades have undertaken many form altering experiments to their essence trying out various genetic and mechanical upgrades to enable them to swim in space without a cumbersome suit.” [I send.]

“If that is what they want they could simply download themselves into ‘Living Hulls’.” [Harbinger states.]

“It is not that simple they also want to stay true to their own form. To speed not alter what they see as a natural and preordained evolution. While the Renegade Swimmers have a singular desire, the focus of their application to achieve that end remains distinctly fractured. They argue constantly over methodology that will allow them to remain true to their heritage. In part, ideological divisions have helped to form their separate Nations or Clans. I thought you knew these facts Harbinger. They claim the Emissary was a creature of the void and pointed the way.” [I send.]

“I knew they embraced change as do many followers of the Emissary but I had no knowledge of this specific desire to swim in space?” [Harbinger sends.]

“The Swimmer Renegades ambition to dwell naked in the void is common knowledge among us ‘Living Hulls’.” [I send in reply.]

“That is a scary vision if they succeeded and could swim and bask and reproduce in space like a ‘Living Hull’ what would limit their numbers. We would be overrun and destroyed.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps or possibly if they succeeded in their ambitions and reached this pinnacle of evolution they would cease being so aggressively territorial.” [I send.]

“I wouldn’t be inclined to rely on a spontaneous outbreak of benevolence too often those who achieve everything they want are disappointed and aggrieved not enlightened.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What else do you ‘Living Hulls’ think we know but are utterly ignorant of?” [Harbinger sends I sense he is both full of both wonder and continued consternation.]

“I do not know?” [I send in reply along with Companion-ship amusement.]

[Harbinger looks around the Gunnery post again.]

“You know something is very wrong with the ‘Sea Spheres’ if they are natural creatures why do they have such potent shields what could possibly force such extreme evolution? What could the ‘Sea Spheres’ be protecting themselves against? If they are unnatural constructs - given these facts - for what purpose were they engineered. Somehow I doubt the ‘Spheres’ were seeded to act as homes for the Swimmers despite their rather lazy self-serving doctrine. You know as living Anomalies due to Swimmer occupation they are so familiar no one to my knowledge has done any serious research on them in generations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I don’t have any answers?” [I send in confession.]

“What if they are giant biological power generators? What if power output is their prime function and not a mere side benefit of their giant size? In which case what is all that energy being generated for?” [Harbinger sends I sense he is full of awe and trepidation.]

[I send soothing calm via our Companion-ship link.]

“They have never shown any aggression.” [I send.]

“True, but like Hierophant told us they operate on a very different time scale. If they do commune, that suggests some level of intelligence. The ‘Sea Spheres’ may well have a hidden purpose. It is just possible our species future survival may rest upon somebody finding eventual answers to all these questions.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I feel distinctly unsettled by such gloomy and ominous thoughts.]

“I wonder if Hierophant knows more about the ‘Sea Spheres’ than he is willing to share with us.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is said all Trojan Professors hoard secrets.” [I send.]

“Clearly he has been studying the ‘Sea Spheres’ for a very long time. He probably knows more about those creatures than even their Swimmer occupants do. I do not recall the Swimmers ever saying the ‘Spheres’ commune with each other.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I wouldn’t be so sure Harbinger the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ might be keeping secrets of their own to protect their homes and way of life. They can be quite closed to outsiders in relation to the ‘Sea Spheres’ and about some of their species beliefs.” [I send.]

“We all have secrets. I wonder could the ‘Departed’ have engineered the ‘Sea Spheres’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Anything is possible in the vastness of the Grand Creation. While some mysteries may never be solved at least not in our lifetimes.” [I send.]

“That sounds unusually defeatist for you Many Truths. I plan to live for a very long time and to unravel as many secrets of this Universe as I can.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suspect Harbinger with you that may be a genetic imperative.” [I send.]

“I have sometimes wondered did Composure engineer me too well. I admit I have a compulsion to look beyond every veil.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We are what we are unless we decide to change.” [I send.]

[Once my new upgrades are tested and prove functional we jump back inside ‘Benevolence Orb’]

[Location: Many Truths, Benevolence Orb, Dancing Spheres, Swimmer Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[After docking at ‘Crimson Coral’, I take in more biomass. I find I can very quickly spawn the ‘Exogenous Mini Link Communicator Modules’ for our family and associates while the ‘Exogenous Stealth Satellites’ also form reasonably rapidly. Producing missiles and torpedoes I realise will take more time and effort while drones are even slower to grow they are virtually mini ‘Living Hull’ fighter craft. I also know we will now have to start undertaking regular mining operations. Growing complex systems necessitates the incorporation of some non-organic materials including some exotic elements and rare ores. Luckily, all Paradox vessels are capable of harvesting gases, asteroids, space debris and load bearing rocks using a combination of our sensors, turrets, manipulation fields, and wormhole warp capabilities.]

[Now that I can grow my own ordnance and drones, I also begin looking at how I can specialise these to our specific needs drawing up new modified designs for Harbingers approval. In particular, I look at installing emergency short-range point-to-point biological jump drives into all my drones allowing them to extract themselves from trouble. When I show my Captain my ideas, to my satisfaction he heartily approves of most of my outlines.]

[We Warp across to the ‘Victorious Endeavour’ bearing the gift of ‘Mini Links’ so that we can patch Efficient into our new ‘Exogenous’ secure communications network.]

“These are great.” [Sends Efficient exceptionally clearly via the new system.]

“I have had avarice for this upgrade for a long time but always told myself I couldn’t afford it. However with the way the warp satellites and Cores are leaking I couldn’t afford to ignore this breakthrough in secure communications any longer.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It has been a long time since I bought any off the shelf genetic upgrades.” [Efficient sends wistfully.]

“I suppose you couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices Mordant charges.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You were wise to get that reproductive upgrade early Harbinger. I heard you made a serious profit when you housed the ’Continuity of Introspection.” [Efficient sends.]

“I did but all that is just about gone now.” [Harbingers sends.]

“I don’t suppose we could keep some of the booty from this upcoming raid?” [Efficient sends.]

“Not from the Arch Chancellors Mercenary wages. However I’m sure other opportunities may present themselves. As agreed we will share out all future side profits equally maybe ‘Pearl’ will award us an honorarium or we can salvage a few Mercenary ships.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That would be nice.” [Efficient sends.]

“How goes your research?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Several shady Swimmer and Renegade dealers are indeed supplying arms and other goods to ‘Opal Prime’ just as you suspected in despite of a recent freeze on all such exports by the authorities of the wider ‘Commonwealth of Sea Spheres’. I like one candidate in particular, as he is local to ‘Benevolence Orb’ and is in a tight spot. Quooduu was a legitimate freighter Captain who went swimming well out of his depth and was conned into working for ‘Opal Prime’.” [Efficent sends.]

“Conned please elaborate.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Quooduu likes to gamble and worse luck is actually rather good at it but not good enough to beat a crooked house. He lost a significant figure on ‘Opal Prime’ at the ‘House of Chance Casino’ far more than he could afford and stay in business.” [Efficient sends.]

“How did you come by this information?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Off the Cores and some Swimmer friends of yours helped as well - it was easy. Trade restrictions may technically be in place but to be honest currently they are not really being enforced (at least not here with any vigour) as a result of this laxity both ‘Opal Prime’ and Quooduu have not really bothered to cover their scent as it would take too much effort.” [Efficient sends.]

“Sounds stupid but I suppose it could be inexperience, and ignorance on Quooduu’s part and militant arrogance among the Royalists of ‘Opal Prime’ towards their placid cousins here.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Anyway I think due to that drone attack on us the policy of disinterest by the authorities here (in relation to exports) may be about to change. Given that fact old Quooduu may be in a spot of bother and ripe for recruitment. If our reluctant smuggler refuses to cooperate due to information I have gathered we can threaten to have his trade licence temporarily revoked or worse get him prosecuted. I really don‘t think he would like that.” [Efficient sends.]

“Tell me about this Casino?” [Harbinger sends.]

“The facts are that ‘Opal Prime’ is using the thrill of unusually high stakes games that pay out a little too regularly perhaps to fake customers to draw in fools they can recruit to their cause and to supplement their income. I suspect the Arch Chancellor is directly behind the ‘House of Chance’ certainly the enterprise has had a lot of historical tax exemptions.” [Efficient sends.]

“What sort of clientele are we talking about?” [Harbinger sends.]

“A wide variety not just Swimmers but also Recyclers even some of our Paradox Priests have wasted some credits there. You know how it is some uninspired Splitter Priests seek out extreme experiences in their youth in the hope it will unlock a new vision. The fact that Hyades is an out of the way War Zone just makes the ’House of Chance’ more attractive as both a gaming venue and a tourist and pilgrimage site.” [Efficient sends.]

“I imagine the client base will have gotten especially extreme since they decided to go dark and shut down their Warp Satellite network.” [Harbinger sends.]

“No doubt anonymity will attract both serious felons and the insanely curious to the party. For a start Paradox Pilgrims are often interested in meeting - wanted criminals - to try and understand their psychology and you know how pirates just love to watch others make war and gamble.” [Efficient sends.]

“That is too perfect we could just walk right in to a situation like that. All we need to fit in will be faked identities and the right introduction. After all, they have no way of knowing what Paradox is inside a Shroud Suit beyond our Kanji markings. I wish Tleeboosuu had told me about this Casino earlier. I suppose my Swimmer friend didn‘t think a civilian operation like that would have been of any interest to us militarily. Never mind anything else it will be a wonderful opportunity to mingle and get some on the spot intelligence about the Arch Chancellor from within his own organisation.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I never thought of the Casino as a way in but now you mention it you are right it is perfect we might not even need Quooduu. Plus an outfit like that will have a lot of extra material wealth we could liberate for ourselves during the operation. Serious risk deserves a little reward.” [Efficient sends with a yellow ripple of light.]

“Efficient for a Priest you have larceny in your soul, but you are also right what Privateer would overlook such a golden opportunity many serious gamblers prefer hard untraceable material currency such a majaglit or rare ores rather than credits as do many casinos. How about we go in via a ferry and make our way out via liberating one or more of these felons’ ships with our loot - I love paying robbers back in kind.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You’re still upset about what happened to that jump supply depot you had shares in.” [Efficient sends.]

“At the time that pirate raid almost bankrupted me worse I lost some good friends at ‘Far’ and some promising Acolytes.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Still I heard you made those Pirates pay dearly.” [Efficient sends.]

“I managed to make some pirates suffer but whether it was the right ones I do not know. I also recouped a part of my losses via bounties but in the end, I had to let it go I did not like the person I was becoming. Some battles you could fight forever and even if you keep winning - you also lose.” [Harbinger sends in warning.]

[I listen, as the two Captains put together not so much a plan as a series of optional ploys and schemes. The ‘Nine’ are called in and used to ferry us into Paradox space where we make several ship transfers and jumps changing identity each time before making contact with a group of War Tourists scheduled to call into Hyades and make a stop at both ‘Pearl’ and ‘Prime’. It is amazing the hatches enough credits can open. Meanwhile my ‘Living Hull’ body to which I remain linked remains back at ‘Benevolence Orb’ Captained by an Acolyte pretending to be Harbinger even to those we trust like Reeskoo.]

[We find ourselves onboard the ‘Bold Seeker’ a Paradox Luxury Liner with a very bad reputation - for going to some dodgy places - (in more ways than one) in search of exotic visions. I am shocked at the behaviour of the mostly young Splitter Priests onboard. That they have the audacity to consider this journey a Pilgrimage scandalises me. I cannot understand why they are paying such an exorbitant fee to travel to far locations while being so wasted on recreational drugs and neural altering programs that they hardly seem conscious of where they are at any given moment.]

[I sense Harbinger is very unimpressed as well although he makes a good pretence of joining in as does his Acolytes. They are all spending freely on narcotics that I at least know my Captain is having his Shroud Suit suppress. I cannot decide if the others are all excellent actors or if they have taken this opportunity to experiment just a little. I find I am praying to the Emissary that my Captain knows what he is doing - especially - as he had to secure a loan from the ‘Paradox Central Bank’ in order to fund this strange larcenous expedition.]

[Keeping to character when we arrive at ‘Opal Pearl’ we stay onboard the ‘Bold Seeker’ along with a few others in the Liners own Casino playing various games of chance, luck and skill.]

“I didn’t come along to hear war stories either.” [Says Sharp an Acolyte belonging to Efficient playing out his own role as a Splitter Priest gambler.]

“What do you mean?” [Enquired Harbinger far too innocently.]

“I want in on the Big Game. You‘re not fooling me that is why you are here too you hardly came all this way to see a few Mercenary patrols you‘re not the type. You want to go to the Casino on ‘Opal Prime’ that is where the real action is not this phoney war.” [Sharp challenges sucking in some alcohol to his suit.]

“Is that right? I didn‘t know Swimmers liked to gamble.” [Harbinger queries towards the Acolyte running the game.]

“Of course you know nothing. You can save your routine for any fool you can find ‘Sphere’ side I know a veteran gambler when I see one.” [Replies Sharp.]

[The Paradox crewmember in charge of the gaming table named Good Fortune just activates the dancing dice.]

“So what is this place on ‘Prime’ like then?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Dangerous is what I heard the sort of place where you can make it big or lose everything. An exciting venue that attracts criminal types with booty to squander.” [Replied Sharp still role playing.]

“Really - exciting and dangerous - like this sleepy trip was supposed to be, but is not?” [Harbinger complained.]

“Exactly.” [Sharp replied.]

“So is the Casino on ‘Prime’ part of the standard tour package?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No, however for a reasonable fee a visit can be arranged.” [Replied Good Fortune.]

“However will it be worth while?” [Harbinger asked.]

“You get a proper stay over. We pick you up - guaranteed - whether you win or lose (to your perception a whole three or six days later) all maintenance is also covered in advance.” [Replied Good Fortune.]

“What exactly do you mean by: to our perception, and by maintenance?” [Harbinger asked playing the scene out.]

“The ‘House of Chance Casino’ is an Enhanced Reality moderated by the Cores that is how you know the games are straight.” [Stated Good Fortune.]

“You can‘t be serious.” [Sharp added.]

“They say it is better than the real thing.” [Replied the Paradox crew member.]

“A cursed Shadow Theatre I didn’t come all this way to dream an experience in my own head even in a state of the art Enhanced virtual setup. They kept that very quiet.” [Harbinger complained.]

[Good Fortune tries to talk us around to going with the ER extolling its many benefits but we stick firmly and aggressively to our prejudices for real life experiences. We insist we came here to add to our vision and comprehension of the ‘Emissary Sphere’ not to waste our time in a manufactured unreality. Eventually through our persistence and growing disgust we pass the introductory test.]

“Alright if you think you are up to it the Enhanced Reality ‘House of Chance’ is just the front for the real game on ‘Prime’ but I warn you the stakes are far higher and the game I am told is rather extraordinary. As can only be provided by a despotic regime that is a law onto itself and I can tell you no more than that the rest you will have to take on faith.” [Good Fortune explains to us.]

[By the time we reach ‘Opal Prime’ we are part of a party of twenty two all booked for the ‘House of Chance’ excursion although only a sub group of eight is actually going beyond the Enhanced Reality Casino’s cover to the dubious physical ‘Games.’ We are all signed up for a real three day stay. Of course none of our mission team plan to ever see the ‘Bold Seeker’ again although it is kept as an unlikely last resort extraction option. Before we leave the liner each of us - signed up to the real event - are quietly given short reach communicators. We will receive individual instructions on how to get to the venue once we are settled in.]

[Location: Opal Prime, Hyades, Beyond the Sentry Gap, Independent Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[The Tour Staff arrange everything in advance. As soon as we jump into the ‘Sea Sphere’, facilitators herd us from the Paradox Liner into a flooded (Swimmer Guarded) submarine craft. Just before we board our Kanji is scrutinised and recorded whilst our luggage searched and scanned. After that we are whisked on to ‘Yellow Coral Heights’ a high class Swimmer hotel with air breather facilities.]

[It is obvious the whole process using the communicators is very much stage-managed to make the experience more mysterious thrilling and dramatic than in fact it is. At the same time the methodology also allows the ‘Prime’ security forces to break up any potential groups - not to mention - both trace and control our movements.]

[It is good thing that our advanced Paradox ‘Exogenous Communications’ can easily contravene physical separation as not long after we have unpacked Harbinger is briskly ordered to leave the hotel alone. Precise instructions guide us to a specific water taxi that is waiting to take us to a small commercial Warp Gate Terminal. When we arrive at the travel centre, two alert looking Swimmer Troops escorted us through to the other side. Apparently, the venue of the Games is in a newly built very secure City called ‘Deep Trench’ that is destined to replace the previous Capital of ‘Opal Prime’.]

[According to our Shroud Suits internal navigation function fed by an ‘Exogenous’ stealth satellite (we had our friends from ‘Pearl’ smuggle in earlier) we have arrived near the bottom of a deep narrow rift in a massive living rock under water mountain feature. I have to admire the idea of using an artificial trench as it makes for a strong defensive position for the new - fortified - city. However if it were not for our ‘Exogenous Communications’ we would know almost nothing at all about our position.]

[Even with our satellite data, the overall layout, structure and defences of the metropolis remain a mystery as an efficient camouflage shield roofs the entire trench. So far, we have not even seen an outside view just one functional faceless drab flooded windowless internal space after another. Our only real clue to where we are is our accurately plotted position from our satellite overlaid upon an old (now inaccurate) outdated map of the region from before it was rapidly developed.]

[We are once again scrutinised and delayed as our identities and files are checked. Our two physically enhanced Swimmer guards contrive constantly to keep us covered. Somehow, the lazy way the guards point the lethal looking weaponry in their tentacles only emphasises its orientation. Although they make a great show of disinterest in us, something about their too casual behaviour is worse than any hard stare.]

[We cannot decide if the over the top minders are all part of the show or if the political and security situation on ‘Prime’ has seriously deteriorated since they cut themselves off. A malicious quality about the Swimmer troop’s stances is hard to define a cruel arrogance that is only ever noticeable in a certain type among any species. It is plain by their manner that these Swimmers are not just soldiers doing their duty - they are easy killers - who very much enjoy their line of work.]

[It is their attitude that convinces us to take a good look at their electro magnetic signatures - their body aura and brain halo.]

“Look at those messy emissions.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Crude.” [I reply.] “So they are Reborn with very loud and makeshift neural implants as well as a lot of other subcutaneous hardware biological mechanical and electronic.” [I send.]

“The only work I have ever seen as rough as that was among Renegades and Pirates they don’t seem to care about finesse just brutal plumbing. If I had that in my head I would want a seriously shielded helmet.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I know showing that much noise is just asking to get mind raped. These guards must be Swimmer Renegade Mercenaries not local forces.” [I send to Harbinger as we are guided along then told to wait for a moment.]

“I was thinking the same thing. This trip is already proving worthwhile I did not know this city existed either. The old capital named ‘Shimmering’ after the King’s ‘Pearlescent Palace’ is quite beautiful. I wonder has the Arch Chancellor finally dropped his charade and instigated a full military coup and if so why?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Maybe we should have waited on news from Swimmer Intelligence before rashly coming to ‘Opal Prime’.” [I send.]

“I think the fact that a simple data search has taken ‘Benevolence Orb’ this long indicates that: (1) They have discovered something and (2) they don’t really want to share it with us. I believe we are on our own now. Still I am very happy to be here right now as this mission seems to be changing from sabotage and credit farming to vital intelligence gathering.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]

“Just remember we now owe the PCB (Paradox Central Bank) a considerable sum so I would suggest you continue with the credit farming aspect.” [I send to my Captain.]

“I’m sure we can liberate something of value.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Efficient might be a bad influence but on this occasion I can see no harm in some creative acquisitions given the materials source.” [I send.]

[As we are keeping open communications between each other we get a warning from our Marine Acolyte Stout who was brought in ahead of us. After being guided into a local short range warp cubicle he is hit with a potent concealed leech field that leaves him imprisoned in an almost inert suit. He is then warped out along with his guards to a new location were he is unceremoniously dumped into a stasis pod by the same. Cleverly the Swimmers do not try to force the Shroud Suit open.]

“Emissary! They must be on to us.” [Sends Efficient.]

“I don’t think so that action looked routine. I think we have simply stumbled onto something - arrived at the wrong place at the right time - as ever.” [I send.]

[Harbinger and I take in the tactical situation. Efficient, Consistent and Sharp are still in the Hotel awaiting their instructions from the Swimmers. Tolerant is arriving at the Warp Terminal by his own taxi. Traveller is just exiting the Hotel; Integrated has arrived here just a little bit behind us and is suffering security check delays that now seem very purposeful.]

[A hatch opens and we are gestured forward we realise we are approaching the local warp cubicle that disabled Harbinger‘s Marine Acolyte. The felons are taking us to the freezer one at a time.]

“They really should have hidden those crude low grade neural implants better. I never thought I would ever stoop to doing this but they have cornered me - I‘m going aggressive.” [Harbinger sends to everyone in warning.]

[Just as we move to cross the threshold and the guards relax job done, we briefly jam local communications, shoot backwards and fire off two infiltration seeker spike probes. One missile flies forward and right, the other left and back. A micro filament of substance links the weapons directly to our Shroud Suit. The shield-enhanced missiles enter and hack the Swimmer guards inferior brain implants before they can react instantly downloading and wiping their memories while subsuming their biological communicators. Harbinger then causes fatal haemorrhages and extracts the biotech receiver transmitters cauterising the wounds to prevent any outward mess. All this happens in a few seconds.]

[The stolen communicators draw back and meld into our own suit fully patched in and active as if still nestled in the Renegade Swimmers brains. If our action has caused any alarm, it is a silent one. To be honest we are not really expecting any outcry in this age internal electronic surveillance has gone full circle and become obsolete for all but low-grade uses. Hackers became far too adept at compromising cameras and inner security sensors. Constant abuses of surveillance equipment made it unreliable. The other plus for us is the fact that few if any non-Paradox fully understands the many capabilities of our combat Shroud Suits. Unfortunately, for the Swimmer guards cameras are not the only thing Paradox are prone to hacking at need.]

[Today any decent security relies on independent roving drone patrols and or the oldest of all methodologies plenty of well-trained flesh and blood guards like those we have just savagely overcome. Using my main Hulls processing power via ‘Exogenous’ link I commence to reconstruct and analyse the guard’s memories passing on an essential data burst containing their low level security access codes and procedures to Harbinger.]

[Typically, these guards - as first contacts in a secure facility - have very limited and specific roles and instructions they know little of worth about the overall activity here beyond their duties. What is interesting is the fact that they are Renegade Swimmers but are not Mercenaries they were loyally working for a Clan Lord in Exile our nemesis the Arch Chancellor. We physically haul one corpse then another into the warp cubicle (glad of the assistance of the waters buoyancy) then use the guard’s security access to warp to the stasis cubicle facility ready for trouble.]

[We are lucky the guards who deposited Stout appear to have moved on and the facility looks otherwise fully automated. Quickly Harbinger cracks open and extracts his Acolyte leaving him for the moment incapacitated. He is not worried, as he knows Integrated is not far behind us. Harbinger dumps a dead Swimmer into Stouts old Pod then moves along and wrestles the other in to the next one along the conveyor line. When he activates that Pod system a warning light comes on and the line shuffles along one unit. It looks like whatever is going on here it is a big well-established operation.]

[Not much later Integrated an Acolyte belonging to Efficient arrives with two more dead Swimmers we repeat our body dumping process. Time however is against us; we know the dead guards should report soon for further duties. Hunting around we are happy to locate a feeder coupling no doubt used to power Swimmer suits and drones. We hook my Captains Marine Acolyte Stout up to help restore his depleted energy reserves. Luckily, our combat enabled suits are much less fussy about their intake than some items and can easily convert the energy the Swimmer device emits.]

“Stout, Integrated and I will continue to scout this place out I think the rest of you should think about extracting yourselves at the first reasonable opportunity. Efficient if possible I’d appreciate it if you made some noise on your way out.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’m sure I can manage that.” [Efficient sends.]

“Our Emissary protect you.” [Harbinger sends looking over his first bit of booty the Swimmer Troop’s heavy duty ‘Manipulator Field Rifle’.]

“Be careful Harbinger there is clearly more to this than we have suspected.” [Efficient sends.]

[I bring up the statistics of the MFR showing Harbinger the weapons various abilities from generating a simple pulse of force to acting as a full Manipulator field generator. It is suit capable so we make a direct cable link to gain full control over its functions via neural link. We notice it has a ‘Benevolence Orb’ manufacturer seal like many of the better class Swimmer armaments.]

“Useful.” [Sends Integrated as he also patches into another MFR.]

“Sorry about that. The leech effect took me by surprise.” [Stout sends.]

“That could have happened to anyone. How do you feel?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I feel a bit foolish but otherwise I’m ready to go.” [Stout sends picking up one of the two remaining MFR.]

“Good because I’m pretty sure we are on the clock.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What is the plan?” [Stout sends.]

“Given our current situation I advocate: a quick scouting mission (I would like to find out why they are putting gamblers into stasis), perhaps a bit of opportunistic sabotage, and some privateer booty collection then we get out while we can. Not exactly what I planned but this isn‘t what I was expecting either.” [Harbinger sends looking around the room.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


Last edited by Paranoid66 on Mon, 16. Mar 09, 12:47; edited 2 times in total
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ghostrider





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PostPosted: Mon, 9. Mar 09, 20:13    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Yet another excellant chapter paranoid,I really like your characters and your "tweaking" of the x universe and races.

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PostPosted: Thu, 12. Mar 09, 12:41    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[SIX]]

[Location: Deep Trench City, Opal Prime, Hyades, Beyond the Sentry Gap, Independent Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[Checking the Stasis Pods, we find another Paradox he is one of the Splitter Priests from the ‘Bold Seeker’ we leave him undisturbed. The other capsules are loaded with Swimmers. We move along to where the Pods exit the chamber via an open assembly line iris hatch. We discover there is enough space between the capsules for us to squeeze through to the next area.]

[The Acolyte called Integrated takes the lead growing a sensory tentacle that he extends very carefully into the next chamber (at first) close to the ground of the protruding conveyor belt. He uses our ‘Exogenous Communications’ to share his sensors data. The conveyor belt stretches away into a watery void. Around this, the outside walls make up a hollow sphere.]

[It is an automated storage facility with tiered ranks of Stasis Pods jutting out from the seamless wall. Although these objects only fractionally fill the Spheres overall surface, nonetheless there are so many pods in places that they seem more like a surface texture, or a pattern than individual objects containing people. Every Stasis Pod within sensor range holds an occupant. All the captives we see are Swimmer prisoners except for two cybernetic reptilian Recyclers lost among the sleeping tentacle sprouting legions.]

[A movement in the water causes Integrated to freeze his sensory tentacle as a Sentry Drone glides along looking almost like a big green angry predatory fish. Luckily, the SD fails to register the slender intrusive suit extrusion. Very slowly, Integrated recalls his sensory tentacle back to his Shroud Suit. He does not wish to disturb the water as some Swimmer Drones incorporate artificial lateral lines sensitive to surprisingly small disturbances in pressure.]

“I think we should look for another way out. Tangling with that Sentry Drone will not be covert.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Ironically, for us the Sentry Drone or (SD) is a much tougher opponent than a fully sentient Swimmer Guard. Sentry Drone design has evolved rapidly against inventive criminal elements that constantly push at the boundaries. Today various built in auto report functions and fail-safe systems make - covertly - hacking or destroying them - almost - impossible. For a start, they deliberately do not have a single centralised brain. If compromised they will send out a warning and self terminate. It is highly doubtful we could attack a SD in any manner that would not initiate an alert.]

[We glide along to another iris valve hatch out of the initial Chamber where we hid the guards’ bodies in the Stasis Pods. Using the guards’ codes and communications, we open this while keeping to positions outside the line of direct sight of anyone beyond. Again, Integrated sends out a sensory tentacle. We discover the passage is a rather annoying tube shaped curving corridor; since it bends, it naturally cuts our own line of sight short so that we will have to edge along blind.]

[Luckily, we have a little intelligence from the guard’s memories. We know the corridor hides three more exits. One exit due to its position rather obviously is another access to the spherical Stasis Storage Chamber with the Sentry Drone, another exit at the far end opens to an unknown location one off limits and never used by the outer guards. A third leads eventually to a heavily occupied area that includes one of the Renegade Swimmers Barracks.]

[We move in quickly racing down to the farthest hatch. The stolen Guards memories contain no code for this locked barrier. Integrated examines the iris valve it is a perfect obstruction a solid and well-shielded barricade to our further egress. We find no local bioelectronics capable of being compromised in fact no button or other activation device on this side whatsoever, nor according to the guard’s memories does the local computer core centrally lock it. We turn to the walls and ceiling but this facility is well designed there are no ducts or other spaces we can utilise to circumnavigate the hatch.]

[Integrated moves to the side of the iris valve and extending another tentacle he commences to drill a tiny hole in the unshielded living rock wall.]

“This is taking far too long.” [Harbinger sends to me impatiently.]

[Monitoring the rest of our team, I review their progress]

[Traveller is still in a submarine taxi. Earlier instead of disembarking at the Transit Terminal, he pretended to change his mind, informing the Swimmer at the other end of the Communicator of: an epiphany to go on a cultural tour - specifically to the ‘Pearlescent Palace’ - in search of a more appropriate vision. Interestingly the Swimmers seem happy enough to let the (pretend) Splitter Priest do just that.]

[Efficient, Integrated and Sharp are still in the hotel but also plan to get a hired water Taxi. They also are going sight seeing but as a group. However, Efficient is currently explaining to three other Splitter Paradox Priests that he has some short-range communicators for them that they should have received upon arrival.]

“If you follow the Swimmers instructions on these you will be guided on a free mystery tour.” [Efficient cheekily tells them. He commences to share some drugs a carefully selected mix of narcotics that should make them a little more susceptible to suggestion he then convinces them to swap Kanji.] “I want to play a prank on the local Swimmers. I do not know how you feel but I do not like the way some of them look at us. I heard these ‘Opal Prime’ fellows actually dislike all Paradox. They think our Priests are interfering too much in their sordid little war they are so provincial. I want to show them just how weak, silly and misguided they really are.” [He informs the young Paradox Splitters appealing to their patriotism and feelings of racial superiority.]

[When I inform Harbinger he is both amused and a little shocked by the sneakiness of his colleague’s ploy.]

“That is cruel.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well these Splitter Priests came here for an experience - now they will get one that might actually be of some value to them and us.” [Efficient sends.]

“Experiences are only useful if you live long enough to appreciate their enlightenment. We have no idea why the Swimmer Renegades are putting the more serious gamblers in to stasis. It could be a prelude to anything - maybe even torture and murder - to get a direct hold on all their funds. Still it is a little odd that no disappearances have been reported to my knowledge.” [Harbinger sends in warning.]

“I do not know about the Swimmers who come here but who is going to miss a few Pilgrim Splitter Priests they often vanish into the dark in search of a vision for prolonged periods and sometimes forever. As to these fools I am sure they all have their Id stored in case of an accident.” [Efficient sends.]

“Very cold an unscheduled death and rebirth is not something to be taken lightly. I believe a person is more than the mere fusion of memories and genetics. Each of us is a subtle continuity of unending growth that provides a special connection - a communion - with the Universe. I often think that link fails to survive any rebirth intact. Rebirth is a new beginning built up upon a sturdy old foundation it is not the original edifice.” [Harbinger sends in reply.]

“I have little respect for those who seek cheap thrills at others expense also they will learn nothing from - a tame - risk. These self-deluded youths are hardly worthy to become true Paradox Priests unless something shocks them out of their sad complacency. I believe I may just have done them a favour.” [Efficient sends.]

“We all begin as eggs.” [Harbinger sends while covering the hatch leading to the Barracks with his gun.]

“What is past is fate.” [Efficient sends.] “Their destiny is now in the hands of the Emissary.”

“Remind me sometime to have a proper religious debate with you.” [Harbinger sends with mirth.]

“I’m through.” [Sends Integrated interrupting the conversation. The small drill head (that has been eating into the wall and siphoning the material gouged out back this side) forms into a tiny sensory bud on the other side of the wall and commences scanning around. The iris valve has a simple mechanical button on the opposite side while two more Swimmer Troopers stand guard with their backs to the exit.]

“Are they Reborn? Is anybody else nearby?” [Harbinger sends.]

[Integrated scans their aura and halo.] “Yes they are and no as far as I can see.” [He sends.]

“Good, can you open the hatch without being discovered?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Easily they seem to be guarding against escape not intrusion.” [Integrated sends.]

“Please wait until Stout and I are in position then open the hatch.” [Harbinger sends.]

[My Captain and Stout move up.]

“Do it.” [Sends Harbinger.]

[Integrated extends his limb again it snakes over and activates the heavy round iris valve hatch. Immediately Harbinger and Stout each suborn their respective guard’s neural implant. They use the same methodology employed earlier.]

[As I reconstruct and download some of the latest victim’s memories, I sense Harbingers relief. He becomes much more relaxed no longer troubled by the mind thefts and murders he has committed. Access to our latest quarry proves something we already suspected the Reborn Swimmer Troops here have been abominably ‘Multiplied’ (one unaltered reliable trained guard’s Id housed repeatedly in a multitude of specifically force grown cloned bodies).]

[‘Multiplying’ clones although arguably only, a small step away from Paradox procedures with their families remains nonetheless a - genetic taboo. A cultural no go zone strictly upheld by both the Swimmer and Paradox species. Every Paradox clone that is not a (mechanical) beta is altered enough to be an individual. The only exceptions to the rule being direct replacements activated on a Paradox Priests assured death. Multiplying is a base and repugnant practice but some Renegade Recycler Nations embrace the concept to manufacture shock troop cannon fodder. The Settled Nations stopped the practice after the carnage of the Multiplier War a battle fought between two rival Trojan States that escalated wildly out of control and threatened the entire ‘Emissary Spheres’ stability in the Second Paradox Era.]

[We learn a lot more from the - Inner - facility guards’ extracted memories. Apparently, inside coerced Swimmer Geneticists force the growth of perfect clones of captured Swimmers. Knowledge of the clones’ fate afterwards however is beyond the guard’s security clearance level all they have are suspicions about the creation of spies.]

[Before doing anything else Harbinger and Stout quickly strip out the power packs from the dead guards weapons as spares.]

“Many Truths I think we should begin packaging our data for an Acolyte Messenger to Swimmer Navy Intelligence at ‘Benevolence Orb’ it is about time they considered a full military intervention here. I don‘t see how they can ignore this any longer. To me growing clones of captured ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ can mean only one thing an ongoing active - process of purposeful infiltration by these Renegades to gather information and maybe even to commit serious acts of sabotage possibly even to try and disable the Swimmer Navy.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I agree all you would need would be a few subjects to begin with to betray other good candidates near to them to the same process and so on.” [I send.]

“Exactly while this ‘Sea Sphere’ seems distant it is in actuality just one quick jump away from any of its neighbours. Given the size of Swimmer families and their many trusted groups of open association I wonder how many connections it would take to get from even the dregs of Swimmer society to the very top echelons.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The size of that Stasis Pod store was impressive and these guards knew this site as ‘Welcome Centre Beta’ so we can expect at least one other site ‘Welcome Centre Alpha’. This infiltrating disease may have already reached far and wide.” [I send in warning.]

“Very worrying and they are holding Paradox and Recyclers as well.” [Efficient sends via our sophisticated new communications filtered multi group conference function.]

“They certainly have some Paradox and Recyclers. However, the Guards memories suggest they have been unable to breach our Shroud Suits security or been able to replicate the Recyclers advanced cybernetic melds enough to fool either species. They are just keeping the other races captured here in stasis (out of the way for the moment) perhaps as future hostages. They couldn‘t use the Casino as a - non suspicious - initial lure either without attracting more than just the fish they wanted to net.” [I send.]

“We will have to be careful in our future dealings with Swimmers both groups and individuals we have no idea how many may already be compromised.” [Efficient sends.]

“Let us hope not, if we are blessed we have caught this plot early. Ideally we need to liberate and talk with one or more of the Swimmer Geneticists to be sure.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Not necessarily Harbinger I have an idea back here at ‘Benevolence Orb’ I’ll let you know if it works out.” [I send.]

[Harbinger moves up to the new corridor behind Integrated and in front of Stout who assumes rear guard. Uneasily they move past a series of closed iris hatches towards the main access hatch that leads from here to the principle genetic laboratory complex.]

“Above us!” [Integrated sends trading shots almost too late with an enemy Drone. Twin MFR pulses from the semi concealed combat unit deep in a recess in the ceiling punch Integrated backwards also sending the rest of us sprawling. However, a manipulation field bolt fired by Integrated also dislodges the Sentry Drone from its hiding place it drops down gyrating erratically.]

[At the rear Stout recovers first from his - comparative to his friends - weak spill, he skims up above his prone fellows. Quickly but accurately he sends an especially powerful bolt from his Manipulation Field Rifle at the Sentry Drone as it struggles against turbulence to steady and orientate its own weapons to fire again.]

[Stouts bolt is so strong that the recoil knocks him backwards again. The Paradox had failed to compensate by putting an equal opposing amount of energy into his suits propulsion system. The massive impact of the reversed manipulation field hits like a battering ram and buckles the Drones hull. Pushed hard it also crashes the machine in to the ceiling. Something ignites underneath its bent metal skin it spews fire and smoke. Instants later Stout fires again it is rent apart and explodes violently. Stouts checks his weapons power store the indicator sits at just over the half strength mark.]

[Elsewhere Efficient sends his shared submarine taxi to a non-strategic unprotected locale knowing it is time to abandon his original plan to infiltrate the spaceport.]

[After a message from the Paradox Priest Efficient, Traveller tells his taxi to alter its course sending it to another landmark prior to his planned visit to the Palace. A location he knows will allow him to get close enough to the ‘Victorious’ when it arrives to be warped onboard. However, the taxi makes a turn that does not comply with its orders. Traveller tries but fails to open the suddenly centrally locked doors.]

[Traveller extrudes a blade from his Suit and shears off the Taxi’s hatch hinge mechanism kicking the door away he darts out, drops the short range communicator, and rockets away under his Suits own power at full speed. Immediately he detects a change in the military traffic and Fighter Drone patrols as the foe divert assets to converge on him in hot pursuit.]

[It is clear the Renegades have a highly responsive Tactical program running on a secure Core and excellent communications. Linking our destruction of the Sentry Drone with Traveller’s change of behaviour as one of our party of Gamblers is sharp deduction. The Renegades efficiency bothers me everything is too well organised for my liking.]

“How are you feeling Integrated?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Fine my shield and concussion dampeners held. To be honest it was a low strength pushing bolt. I think it was trying to - disable and stun - not kill.” [Integrated sends in reply.]

“No doubt at this stage the Renegades will prefer to take us alive - for questioning - it is a small but useful edge. However, it will not last; we had best try to move fast. Emissary! It is another opposite facing shielded hatch. Integrated do whatever you must to get it open as quickly as you can - while we will provide cover - these delays will kill us.” [Harbinger sends just as another iris hatch opens and a Sentry Drone spills out.]

[Both Paradox open fire repeatedly, caught between the opposed inverted rifles fields the Sentry Drone is battered its metal structure scrunches up in places almost flattened it commences to sink slowly leaking oily fluid and bubbles. Another Drone instantly takes it place and suffers an almost similar fate only that one explodes showering the Paradox’s shields with metal shards.]

“I thank the Emissary; these circular tunnels are shielded against Warp Intrusion.” [Harbinger sends before commencing to shoot at another Drone that retreats back in time into cover.]

“A sneaky one they are getting smarter.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Maybe it will wait for reinforcements. Like you said they will have to get those here the hard way.” [Sends Stout.]

“Still they probably have a host of well placed Warp Cubicles.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Unfortunately you won’t be able to warp out to safety either.” [Efficient sends cutting in.]

“Yes we can, all we need is a good sized local hole in the roofing interference lattice that should allow aperture stability.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Good luck I’m jumping ‘Victorious’ in now. I will send some ordnance your way as a diversion but nothing close enough to breach your local lattice. I‘ll be firing blind because of that Camouflage Shield over the rift - sorry.” [Efficient sends.]

“Be careful Efficient do not forget to watch your own back.” [Harbinger warns.]

“I wont I’m fully expecting serious Renegade Swimmer opposition now luckily I also have back up.” [Efficient sends.]

“Now where has that drone gone?” [Harbinger sends watching intently.]

[A gun pokes around the corner and fires.]

“Look out.” [Harbinger sends he decides to strafe straight up towards the ceiling. While Stout goes prone to the floor they both fire to discourage (suppress) the enemy but Integrated gets shot in the middle of his back and smashes into the wall to drift down stunned.]

[Swimmer Ink spills into the corridor. Harbinger switches to infrared but sees no real heat source he switches back just in time as the cool Sentry Drone fires. We strafe hard to the right and it misses. Stout shoots the Drone but it shoots upward and also avoids getting hit. More Ink spills into the corridor along with flashes of quick movement and curling vortices of ink. It is two Renegade Swimmer Troopers.]

[We trade fire while strafing Harbinger takes them by surprise by charging recklessly towards one at full throttle the Swimmer panic fires and misses. We batter into it like a living missile to smash it into the wall a sharp appendage like a spear head guts it while we also shoot at the flank of the other Swimmer it darts aside with remarkable agility but we track ahead of its course and fire again sending it tumbling.]

[The Drone fires on Stout but he manages to slip aside the manoeuvre makes his own shot go wild and he hits us by accident we spin away from the dying Swimmer. The Drone fires again this time however, with a tractor function it latches onto Stout and bashes him into the ceiling then the floor like a toy. Stout drops his weapon.]

[Integrated having recovered shoots the drone square on with a strong bolt that pushes it towards us. As Harbinger is stunned from concussion damage, I take control of his Shroud Suit. I hit the Drone with the tractor function and smash it into the wall pinning it there. Integrated finishes it off with three rapid well aimed bolts.]

[The other wounded Swimmer attempts to flee but Harbinger having recovered charges into it and we grabble keeping its weapon pointed away from us we tumble about. Then a series of extruded Suit spikes impales the Renegade. We regroup although all the Paradox Priests are suffering aches and pains (not to mention weakened shields) no one is grievously hurt. We salvage the power packs from the dead Swimmers guns.]

[After a bit of self medication Integrated goes back to work on the hatch. Elsewhere Harbinger uses some organic molecular glue to seal the hatch the Renegades were using to aggress against us.]

“I wish I had thought to do this a little sooner.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

[Integrated warns us when he is ready to open the iris valve.]

[When the hatch spins open, we race in keeping low. Integrated closes the valve and begins fusing its mechanism with a dribble of carefully applied organic molecular glue from a rear sprouting appendage. A well-aimed Renegade Swimmer’s shot blows the tail end off the glue-dispensing tentacle half way through its task to the Acolytes mild consternation. At the same time various small items of laboratory equipment explodes over the Paradox Priests heads propelled by other bolts of force. Everybody shifts slightly to crouch and take cover behind various solid looking items of bulky laboratory machinery with unknown but no doubt important genetic engineering functions.]

“I can‘t see them.” [Harbinger sends raising a tentative sensory tentacle like a slender periscope to look about only to have it worryingly sniped clean off.]

“Harbinger!” [I send.]

“What is it MT.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Something rather serious is happening elsewhere you should concentrate on extraction now, forget about trying to rescue the Geneticists.” [I send.]

“Great timing right now I’m just trying to keep all my bits attached.” [Harbinger sends as more bolts strike over the Paradox Priest and the Acolytes heads.] “Can anyone see them?”

“No I think they are very cleverly shifting about. Also over there, looks rather suspiciously cluttered with equipment - I think they have a constructed a barricade of sorts.” [Stout sends.]

“I hate when I lose part of my Suit.” [Harbinger sends growing another periscope.]

“That periscope was a negligible loss of mass I would suggest you refrain from lifting your head up if you don‘t want to lose a bigger bit.” [I send with Companion-ship amusement to break the tension.]

“Things must be bad when you’re making battlefield jokes MT.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Like I said Harbinger you need to get out of this place as soon as you can.” [I send.]

“They seem rather skilled at sniping getting out is not going to be easy.” [Integrated sends.]

“I can’t make out anything. One thing is sure they certainly know where we are.” [Stout sends while also using a periscope but even more tentatively just over the lip of his own cover. Incoming fire strikes more apparatus, but not near to where Stouts sensory tentacle is spying.]

[Harbinger extrudes a large appendage that allows him to move his gun far to the side before poking it up to unleash a few bolts he then whips it to a new location to fire some more moving it around constantly from one spot to another. His outgoing fire commences a riot of traded shots and destruction from both sides. The violence however seems to have no useful purpose beyond perhaps stress relief and mutual suppression of any possible advance. The military stand off between the Swimmers and us continues for what seems like a long time.]

“I reckon at least four possibly as many as six.” [Harbinger sends counting shots.]

“Harbinger, it is Efficient I‘m back onboard the ‘Victorious Endeavour’ I‘m launching a spread of Missiles and Torpedoes into the rift now.” [Efficient sends breaking into the conversation in warning.]

“They have us boxed in rather neatly and those are not friendly stun pulses anymore - they seem to have gotten agitated.” [Integrated sends.]

“Their buddies probably found the dead guards in the Stasis Pods if they are annoyed at that just wait till our torpedoes hit home. Stout see that piece of equipment I‘m highlighting do you think you could join me in lifting it and throwing it in there direction. Integrated get ready if this works some of them might be forced to break cover.” [Harbinger sends.]

“They have good missile defences but I am using systems with multiple warheads you might experience a few tremors while some of them might experience the horrible truth that hides behind the term ‘collateral damage’ then sudden death.” [Efficient sends.]

[Harbinger and Stout turn their weapons onto tractor mode and grab the piece of bulky equipment lifting it up as a flurry of shots bounce off it causing it to spin and lurch. Three rival beams then lash out in contention and the object commences to careen around the room wildly bashing into other fixtures and fittings. However, it is not just a contest of brute strength when using a Manipulator Field success is all about finesse as well. It is about picking the right anchor point and the direction of push or pull. Harbinger and Stout actually have more experience at this and it soon shows. The room trembles a little from the distant bombardment - but it is hardly noticed - everyone is watching the Manipulator Field contest.]

[Working in tight tandem, Harbinger and Stout use the Swimmers less organised efforts against them stealing the Swimmers momentum into their vectoring of the objects overall trajectory. The manipulated piece of equipment lurches and bounces around but ultimately smashes into the areas where the enemy energy streams are coming from one-beam cuts out sharply then a little later another.]

“Just picked up Traveller he’s wounded but alive. The enemy has engaged us now you would not believe how many torpedoes are moving towards me from hidden ground based launchers. Firing a full missile barrage and torpedo spread. Launching my reserve Remora Drones and dropping anti missile ordnance as fast as I can. More Renegades jumping in I won’t be able to hold out long - there is far too many.” [Efficient sends.]

[The last three streams acting upon the object including Stouts and Harbingers all begin to weaken as every fighter’s weapon charge nears full depletion. Integrated aims at a Swimmer forced to break cover to avoid a grizzly death under the crushing weight of the manipulated equipment. They trade weapon fire however; at the last (after squirting a cloud of dark obscuring ink), the jetting Swimmer dodges around the Acolytes incoming fire and manages to flee out a smallish high up iris valve that springs open to accept it. The creature’s dextrous escape is a fine demonstration of Swimmer underwater agility.]

“Great the ‘Nine’ have just jumped in. Its murder out here I am down to seventy-two percent shield strength.” [Efficient sends in a rumble of complaint.]

[Just as all the beams look about ready to falter Harbinger and Stout, cheat by diverting a final burst of power to their weapons directly from their suits power reserves. Without mercy, the Paradox Priests smash the object down upon the suspected last remaining Swimmer’s location multiple times as if a great hammer. Swimmer blood curls away from the bottom of the equipment to make sinister traceries in the water.]

“Got you.” [Harbinger sends triumphant then I sense feeling a little guilty at his glee. He stops the weapon from taping his suit any further. He pulls out his spare energy cell and slots it in to his Manipulator Field Rifle.]

“This is turning into a brutish battle.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Initiating a ‘Living Hull’ shockwave, that’s better Emissary they are launching even more torpedoes. We‘ve lost one of the ‘Nine’ I think it is the water it is reducing their usual mobility and the effectiveness of our low bolt anti missile turrets.” [Efficient sends.]

“Jump out now save yourself.” [Harbinger sends I sense his alarm at what he is hearing.]

“Not yet we’ve almost taken out a Renegade Destroyer - got it - there goes another of the ‘Nine’ - not dead thankfully - he jumped out, just in time too. Come on you fools just a little closer. That’s my last shockwave gone but it certainly did some damage - you’re right - I’m jumping out.” [Efficient sends.]

“Thank the Emissary for that.” [Harbinger sends although he waits impatiently for a firm confirmation that his friend and associate managed to get away from the battle safely.]

“No good they have fast corvettes dropped jump inhibitors all around us. Prioritising them, firing a full Missile Barrage. Shields down to fifty one percent, forty seven.” [Sends Efficient.]

“This is too painful.” [Harbinger sends privately to me clearly agitated I sense he feels impotent here on the ground.]

“Chew on that torpedo you Renegade scum. We are holding at thirty two percent. This is going to be tight just one inhibitor left though. Preparing to jump, however just in case we fail again Master of the Helm take us towards that seaweed forest.” [Efficient sends.]

“Killed it Jump away!” [Unholy Terror sends.]

“Thanks, emergency jumping - or maybe not - shields at twenty, no sixteen percent.” [Efficient sends.]

“No good they have dropped a host of new inhibitors. We will try and keep them off you while you fly beyond the effect of their range that might work better.” [Unholy Terror sends his rumbling voice sounds tense and angry.] “I wish you were here Harbinger.”

“Holding at sixteen - thanks Unholy great job - entering the seaweed, its relentless more ships are jumping in beyond the inhibitors sorry Harbinger this isn‘t looking good.” [Efficient sends.]

“Don’t give up just yet.” [I send I‘ve brought a friend along.]

“Harbinger it is Tleeboosuu I’m on my way in via a new ‘Stealth Pod’ by the way I like your ‘Exogenous Communications’.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“It’s the ‘Many Truths’ and that Fast Assault Frigate Harbinger hired, plus five ‘Opal Pearl’ registered Swimmer Corvettes and four Swimmer Freighters what are those doing here?” [Sends Unholy terror.] Efficient strafe for all you are worth. My lads will try and deal with the incoming torpedoes this is not over yet.”

“I thought I would surprise you Harbinger.” [I send.]

“Trust me you have where have you been?” [Harbinger sends.]

“A long story for later.” [I send.]

“I’ve an idea I’m dropping some seeker mines.” [Efficient sends.]

“Hah look at that the freighters are spewing out massive shoals of Remora Drones and I mean massive.” [Unholy Terror sends] “I‘ve never seen so many Remora at once.”

“The Remoras are gifts from Reeskoo of ‘Benevolence Orb’ do not forget to thank the old rascal later. He‘s been hoarding them away for some unknown reason I think he was trying to inflate the market price.” [Tleeboosuu sends with a chuckle.]

“I should be up there.” [Harbinger sends.]

“A part of you is, but right now we need to get out of here to become whole again.” [I send.]

“Your right we can’t afford to get distracted. [Harbinger forces himself to mute the on going battle outside from our shared communications.] “‘Many Truths’ alert me with an icon if anything urgent requires my attention. We’re leaving in the direction that Renegade Swimmer Guard escaped.” [Sends Harbinger with purpose.]

“Good Idea. We certainly can’t go back the way we came.” [Sends Integrated.]

[We move up to the Iris Valve this time Stout takes the lead followed by Harbinger then Integrated. The hatch opens easily enough and we all fire a few rounds inside taking no chances before slipping in.]

[It is a circular passage or tube (since Swimmers float or swim they do not always need a specific floor area in Swimmer only regions). We realise a little late it is a ‘Swimmer Transit Tube’ (a fast access way) the iris valve shuts firmly behind us. ‘Swimmer Transit Tubes’ are designed to allow that species to jet quickly from one location to another using their own natural abilities. Harbinger elects to press on since the way back is blocked.]

[We have heard of these route ways but never ever been inside one ‘Swimmer Transit Tubes’ are usually off limits to non-Swimmer. To our non-Swimmer perceptions it is a confusing series of long often curving smooth featureless interlocking passages many of which are sealed by Iris valve. Luckily we still have our satellite positional feed. We head in the direction that we hope will bring us out of the Rift Wall and in to the open city, but I have a very bad feeling as multiple Iris valves slide shut behind us.]

[Harbinger elects to try and surprise the swimmer by torpedoing recklessly along in the hope of outrunning trouble. Lots more Iris valves close behind us while more and more intersections are sealed before we reach them. We know we are being directed that we have wandered into an area which makes a perfect trap.]

[Increasingly apprehensive that our direction is being manipulated we slow then stop. We decide to force our way into a sealed side tunnel which seems to more accurately go in the direction we really want. Unfortunately as soon as we halt we feel a current rising which quickly becomes an irresistible flood we are swept along. It takes all our skill simply to avoid constantly bashing into each other and crashing into the smooth tunnel walls as we are propelled like mass driver rounds down a barrel.]

[Harbinger formulates a hasty plan and authorises the use of an illegal Anomalous Matter (AM) micro missile. Integrated who had been swept into the lead unleashes one tiny item of ordnance which is swept away with the current. We flip and fight for a short time against the stream with our engines at maximum output our systems begin to strain and overheat.]

[When the charge is at a reasonably safe distance Integrated detonates it remotely. We reduce power to our engines and bolster our shield strength, which we also mesh. Even combined they barely hold out against the bombardment. The enclosed space amplifies a horrendously rebounding pressure wave.]

[We let ourselves tumble out of the now fractured tube and find ourselves near the ceiling of a large submarine hanger space just as the flow from the tube halts no doubt cut off by emergency sealing iris values. As soon as we regain control we race down for cover already suffering incoming fire from several surrounding positions. Harbinger and I take hits and narrowly avoid losing our shield and being destroyed. I am forced to recklessly pour every ounce of power in from every subsystem including our artificial gill energy store we are utterly depleted. I sense Harbinger’s shock as he realises he is about to suffocate, but I saw little choice.]

[Harbinger past restraint launches a full spread of (illegal) AM micro missiles in a murderous retaliation. We move together as a party behind a large docked submarine troop transport with active shields. Stout and Integrated tow Harbinger and I using their Manipulation Fields. We all latch onto the vessels shield like Remoras and commence gladly feasting on its power as if ravenous parasites. Harbingers aquatic Shroud Suits’ gills once again start pumping as deadly AM explosions send confused watery shock waves crashing in a multitude of directions. The submarine actually rocks and slides one way then another threatening to roll over us. We crawl along its surface in the opposite direction to the ground I sense Harbinger is unusually fearful and has to struggle to stay calm.]

[Harbinger orders Stout and Integrated to lay the remnant of the hanger waste. They use tall periscopes to better direct their own AM mini missiles. A terrifying rolling barrage ensues that blasts everything in its wake from submarine craft to fleeing Renegade Swimmers. The eruptions ends by very purposely taking out what looks like the main hangers outer bay doors. It is obvious why weapons grade ‘Anomalous Material’ is banned given the huge amount of destruction caused by our very tiny micro ordnance.]

[Before the Renegade Swimmers can recover from the ferocious effects of the illegal AM devastation, we unhook and speed for the way out pushing our propulsion systems to the max despite the energy cost on our far from fully charged reserves.]

[To our shock, we continue to receive some sporadic incoming fire from a few survivors and even one attempt to snare us in a manipulation field. Luckily we are just a little too small, fast, agile and in truth desperate to be easily struck while constantly jinking and changing vector through the floating debris and mixed clouds of pollutants. The stains in the water are of a nature best left unknown. We burst out into cleaner open sea screaming for transport over our ‘Exogenous Communications’. Almost instantly we warp onboard Tleeboosuu’s Stealth Pod (although squashed into its tiny hold and barely able to move or breathe) we are very grateful.]

[I race to get into range to retrieve Tleeboosuu’s Pod as it clears the rift cities many suspected ground defences and camouflage shield. Our ‘Exogenous Communications’ safely relay the Pods position to me. Efficient and the ‘Nine’ are gone having made successful jumps mostly thanks to the drones taking out enemy Corvettes and any jump inhibitors. Nonetheless, the badly wounded ‘Victorious Endeavour’ will be laid up for some time undergoing repairs.]

[It has been a battle of attrition for the Remoras but in these numbers, they have proven exceptionally effective giving us local superiority. They were especially good at targeting and decommissioning our main threat here that proved not to be hostile ships as much as a non-stop deluge of heavy torpedoes launched from distant well-defended ground batteries.]

[I feel shame that we will have to leave many Remoras behind to ensure a safe clean jump. We all prepare to leap out. I warp Tleeboosuu’s Pod onboard then myself, the Swimmer Fast Assault Frigate, and our remaining two ‘Pearl’ Corvettes warp as many Remoras to safety as we dare without compromising our defences against jump inhibitors. Finally, we jump out to the ‘Dark Reaches’.]

“Why here and not back to ‘Benevolence Orb’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Because ’Benevolence Orb’ is also a war zone right now it seems several Swimmer Navy vessels have been infiltrated and taken over by Renegades - somehow - it is chaotic and at times almost impossible to tell friend from foe.” [I send.]

“So we found out about the infiltration too late.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not think so; we have forced their hand early. My people have a good chance I firmly believe - we will beat them - but it may cost heavy losses and weaken us. Nonetheless Harbinger it could all have been an awful lot worse.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I am sorry you lost your wharf.” [I send.]

“You lost ‘Newport’.” [Harbinger sends shocked.]

“The ‘Black Diamond’ Mercenaries have seized it they have been secretly working for the Arch Chancellor - I am beginning to think ‘Opal Prime’ pushed us into rebellion as a cover for their other activities. In truth Harbinger if I did not have those Recycler Sentry Drones and especially if you had not sent that unplanned Fast Assault Frigate to help me I would probably be dead, or in a stasis pod by now! The ‘Black Diamond’ had all my other assets well locked down. I was very lucky to escape.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Amazing and I thought things were bad on ‘Opal Prime’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I now know it was your ‘Many Truths’ decision to disseminate the Renegades ‘substitute clone plot’ to Navy Intelligence that sparked off an explosion of activity. Uprisings right across Swimmer Space not just in the ‘Dancing Spheres’ and ’Weeping Sun’ but in many other areas as well. I think our enemy also has rather good communications and as you know, everywhere is just one jump away. I can always grow another dock or recapture my old one but we cannot grow another Harbinger of the Many Truths. In a way your boundless curiosity saved us all from disaster.” [Tleeboosuu sends with a chortle.]

“I really cannot quite grasp some of this they are using ‘Living Hulls’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“We don‘t understand how the Renegades managed to get full control of some ‘Living Hull’ navy ships. I could understand how my Swimmer ‘Living Hull’ cousins might be duped by a cloned Officer into for example - jumping into an ambush - but not into firing directly on their own fleet. Something new and terrible has inflicted their consciousness; they must have: either suffered full subjugation, or somehow been cut out of the control loop and lost command of their own bodies. I knew some of those ships they would never willingly have betrayed their own Swimmer Navy they would rather have self destructed first.” [I send.]

“Explain to me what exactly happened.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I didn’t think the Swimmer Navy would listen without solid evidence of some nature - then I remembered about Quooduu. I guessed he might be a clone substitute rather than a victim of blackmail. With Reeskoo’s aid, I had Quooduu quickly and quietly arrested it only took a moment to warp him into custody and have his neural implant downloaded and examined.” [I send.]

“Quooduu gave us all the proof we needed when I took that to the Navy however our actions leaked and all the established Infiltrators went fully active. We had to warp Reeskoo onboard after he barely survived a bold assassination attempt on the ‘Crimson Coral Shipyard’. We were actually helped by some representatives of the ‘Maker‘s Guild’ in that extraction as they too came under fire. When Navy ‘Living Hulls’ attacked us and their own I fled here to consolidate and try and make sense of it all.” [I send.]

“Is our good friend Reeskoo still onboard?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No he actually transferred to a ‘Maker’s Guild’ dreadnaught the ‘First Born’ and I believe is now in (hopefully just temporary) exile in ‘Heavens Anvil’.” [I send.]

“I owe Reeskoo thanks for sacrificing all those Remoras. I wish you had told me about all this earlier.” [Harbinger sends his ship.]

“It all happened so fast and you had your own difficulties I was waiting for the right moment the right circumstances. Then I realised how grave your own situation was becoming and I was rather busy drummed up some extra support. That was when I learned ‘Newport’ had fallen and Tleeboosuu agreed to sign up.” [I send.]

“I am grateful to all of you for your efforts this day - I confess I truly thought my journey was prematurely over.” [Harbinger sends before switching to a private channel.]

“MT I think we need to Jump to Hierophant Cad and link him into our ‘Exogenous Communications Network’ ultimately all of this has to be about the ‘Stellar Orb’. We need to know what is happening with that and in these circumstances I do not want to trust any standard warp satellite link - at all - not even with a coded and encrypted message.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I agree Hierophant might be able to help us. When do you wish to depart?” [I send.]

“Right away with luck it will be a short stay. I imagine the ‘Council of Equals’ will want a report from me on these events when I get back. I wouldn‘t want to leave that to the ‘Maker’s Guild’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Everyone I have to see an associate I will be back shortly - if not - you all know how to reach me. ‘Many Truths’ jump us to ‘Hell’s Maw’.” [Harbinger sends.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


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PostPosted: Mon, 16. Mar 09, 12:50    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[SEVEN]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Hell’s Maw, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[We arrive at ‘Hell’s Maw’ employing all our usual precautions in fact with deeper diligence than normal. A little part of me is half expecting to find Hierophant besieged by a massive Renegade Swimmer fleet. However, ‘Hell’s Maw’ looks placid a peaceful haven. I deliberately arrive a bit further out than normal among the glowing mini star like Anomalies: The starlets that balance the void that is the empty ‘Maw’.]

[I activate the systems needed to harvest a little of one slightly larger less stable glowing orbs emissions. It takes only a moment to carefully separate and siphon off a tiny amount of weapons grade Anomalous Matter to replace what we have recently used. I wonder will Harbingers deployment of illegal AM ordnance have any repercussions then dismiss the idea. No one has ever attempted to enforce the ban against a full Paradox Priest over our creation and use of Paradox AM micro munitions.]

[The Paradox usage of AM only in Shroud Suit integrity defences and micro missiles fails to give rise to anxiety among the other species. The ban on weapons grade AM specifically arose to counter any potential creation and proliferation of truly terrifying - full sized - AM warheads.]

[The Trojan ‘Turmoil’ taught us the dangers of large-scale use of weapons grade Anomalous Matter. Use of AM warheads meant even heavily shielded Capital Battleships, Space Stations and Habitats could suffer eradication with one skilled or lucky hit this resulted in a phenomenal loss of material assets and astounding numbers of sentient deaths in a very short period.]

[Luckily, so far (for everyone) the Paradox and remaining Trojan Professors have resisted harvesting AM for ship and station killing ordnance ever since that dreadful time. Further, only some Trojan Professors and Paradox have the knowledge needed to safely harvest and process weapons grade AM at all - as a dark art - it remains a closely guarded secret.]

[We have barely docked when an excited and slightly dishevelled Hierophant Cad warps onboard to a guest stateroom. As ever, he looks and acts too young to be so old.]

“Harbinger I am happy to see you. I have been monitoring the chaos in the ‘Sea Spheres’ - I confess - I wasn‘t expecting anything like that.” [Hierophant explains.]

“I have also been monitoring the warp communications traffic. It seems most of the surviving Renegade forces that managed to procure ‘Living Hull’ Swimmer Navy ships have now jumped out of their respective ‘Spheres’. Once the Renegades had used up their element of surprise they started coming under considerable retaliatory pressure rather than fight it out they fled.” [I send.]

“Still they departed only after doing a considerable amount of damage to an awful lot of ‘Sea spheres’. Worse tally the numbers of vessels they took from each ‘Sea Sphere’ and you have a very substantive force indeed - especially - if it is consolidated into a massed fleet.” [Hierophant adds.]

“Well that is exactly what I would do create one perhaps at the most two armadas.” [Harbinger conjectured.]

“I wonder where they have gone to repair and re-supply certainly it will not be the Hyades that would be far too obvious.” [Hierophant replied.]

“One thing is sure they are not in ‘Opal Prime’ I retain an active stealth satellite there.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You have a stealth satellite right in the enemy’s lair very useful.” [Hierophant sends.]

“I remain hopeful that my smuggled in aid may yet provide helpful supplementary data.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I would bet they are at a Depot they have made themselves somewhere way out in the dark. If only a method existed to track a point-to-point jump, but in the ‘Emissary Sphere’ that has proved even beyond Trojan science. I think I recall it was possible in the ‘X’ Sphere but this universe has some rules of its own.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Do you think they will mass this stolen fleet in an attack against ‘No Mercy’?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I don’t know. If the Arch Chancellor just wanted extra ships to gain the ’Stellar Orb’ why risk any in this early engagement? If they simply desired a fleet to throw at my defences they could just have jumped every suborned vessel away undamaged with fully stocked magazines ready for action.” [Hierophant states.]

“Perhaps they hoped to crush the Swimmers ability to intervene later. I imagine the ‘Sea Spheres’ will become even more defensive than usual. They will be fearful of venturing out and leaving their domains and civilian population unprotected from for example: massed Renegade Swimmer Marine assault.” [I send.]

“Of course the Renegades would understand their cousin’s natural propensity towards a siege mentality better than most.” [Harbinger warned.]

“They also may have had no choice but to alter their original scheme (whatever it happened to be) when Harbinger and I uncovered their infiltration early.” [I send.]

“Harbinger you were well named by Composure, I wonder. Did that Paradox have a deeper Vision than he realised when he called you into existence and gave you that label?” [Hierophant Cad mused.]

“I trust the ‘Stellar Orb’ is still safe? Have you moved it yet?” [Harbinger asked in reply.]

“I do not think the ‘Stellar Orb’ will ever be safe until its secrets can be fully revealed without tearing the ‘Emissary Sphere’ apart with war. Nor have I moved it yet I have reconsidered that action for the moment - trust me - I have my reasons.” [Hierophant explained.]

“I have something for you Hierophant.” [Harbinger states handing over an ‘Exogenous Mini Link’.]

“So you are now using ‘Exogenous Communications’ a wise upgrade Harbinger it amused me to see this most ancient of technologies being reborn by the Paradox in this late age.” [Hierophant states mysteriously.]

“Ancient I thought it was a recent Paradox invention.” [Harbinger replied.]

[Hierophant grinned at the idea then began to speak at length as if talking to some students.]

“There are - more species - in the Grand Creation than the Five represented by those that undertook the pilgrimage at the Emissary’s bequest and many new things are adaptations of things that have gone before. We know the ‘Emissary’s’ Sphere hides many leavings from long dead civilisations: if you know where to look - and what to look for. Still you will need a hard heart to pick among those dry bones.” [Hierophant Cad sends.]

[My captain listened mesmerised I sensed actually afraid to say anything lest Cad ceased his unexpected divergent lecture. Occasionally he was prone to such outbursts as if his head was crammed with so much old knowledge that his thoughts just occasionally leaked aloud. At these times, any disruption would abruptly cease the flow.]

“Dissonance Vibe argues that some few scattered (possibly now rather scientifically degenerate) survivors remain. However, what must be remembered is that conjecture is never proof. Yes, it might be agreed that some almost always survive an external genocide as he submits unless they bow to despair and finish the job of their adversary by committing a physical or cultural suicide - nonetheless this is not actual evidence of a continuance.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Amazing Happenstance however, points to a physical fact that the planet slayers became trans-universal only to be locked out of this their original realm. Their own gate barred against them - sealed he asks by whom - now there is a real question that hints at a real answer?” [Hierophant rambled.]

“Both Dissonance and Amazing say together that the gate was locked by a cunning but pitiful few as a last act of defiance. Can you imagine however what it would be like to have known such riches only to survive as paupers the inheritors of a husked shell? Now there is a cause for endless sorrow. No wonder if this is the truth that they also made a choice to depart.” [Hierophant explained rather dramatically before becoming silent. The moment stretched then Hierophant looked up as if wakening from a doze. He stared at Harbinger then smiled.]

“So my Paradox friend what will you do now?” [Hierophant asked.]

[Harbinger as I guessed did not ask the Trojan to clarify his lecture. Hierophant never explained or acknowledged such leaking lore. Instead Harbinger just stored his friends words away guiltily like a stolen treasure and moved the conversation on. Pretence we both knew was the only way to prevent an angry argument of disavowals. At times, it was almost possible to believe Hierophant suffered some odd form of senility.]

“Report back to the ‘Council of Equals’ I suppose. They want to know all about the new Swimmer Renegade threat. That this Arch Chancellor of ‘Opal Prime’ is in fact a Renegade Swimmer Clan Lord in exile utilising Clone Multiplication. Is their any intelligence about the Swimmer Renegades that you would wish to share with my species Hierophant before I go?” [Harbinger asked hopeful of a more immediately useful insight.]

“I have been thinking about the best approach to this crisis. I would say look to their divisions. Gather intelligence and reach out to the enemies of your enemy. Whatever game the Arch Chancellor is playing he clearly remains happy to keep the ‘Orbs’ existence hidden from the other Renegade Nations for the moment - that desire suits us well enough. This is a war now not a battle. We must plot the effects of every action undertaken against the wider strategy of a solid purposeful campaign.” [Hierophant explains.]

“You believe this is going to be a prolonged affair?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I fear a long campaign is likely. Every time Clone Multiplication has been widely used, quick solutions have been impossible. Even if assassinated, our enemy will have another Clone somewhere ready for resurrection by his conditioned followers that is also a standard pattern with such misguided fools. I would judge your role now must be to help secure our hidden agenda - to keep the ‘Stellar Orbs’ secrets safe! The best way to destroy an enemy like this is from within. We must turn his own against him weaken his grasp upon his followers even set the other Renegade Nations against him without uniting any against us.” [Hierophant advised.]

“A mission of diplomacy to one or more of the other Nations - now that - is one solution I would not have considered. What I need is access to ‘Benevolence Orbs’ Intelligence data on the Renegades. Maybe now they will at last be willing to share.” [Harbinger replies.]

“One last thing Harbinger I noticed you were mining Anomalous Matter I hope you are not considering breaking the true purpose of the ban?” [Hierophant asked.]

“Be at ease I was just replacing micro munitions. I would not create full sized AM warheads even if the ‘Stellar Orb’ fell into Swimmer Renegade hands.” [Harbinger replied.]

“I am glad because such an action would put an end to our friendship forever.” [Hierophant warned.]

“I am glad to hear you feel that way as it also confirms you will continue to honour the proper application of the ban.” [Harbinger replied.]

“You need have no fear about that - some blades are best kept in their sheaves. I see you have remodelled your guest staterooms they seem somewhat smaller.” [Hierophant said.]

“Indeed it is - we have cut away a little flab to become self sufficient we are now producing our own ordnance and drones. Speaking of available space I was wondering if you could do me a favour and house my collection of fake ‘X’ Sphere artefacts.” [Harbinger queried.]

“That would amuse me greatly.” [Hierophant replied.]

“Wonderful as I am sorely pressed now for free cargo space and you never know when some pressing need for a little room will be required.” [Harbinger added.]

“Well I have plenty of spare warehouse space here I‘m sure I can set aside an area as a museum of curios. I like to have more than I need of anything I find especially useful.” [Hierophant explained.]

“A good rule to live by if only we all had the resources needed to facilitate a reserve, too many assets is almost always better than too few.” [I send.]

“Speaking of resources this campaign is already sorely testing mine. Is there any chance I might be permitted to salvage some of the Ships in the ‘No Mercy’ graveyard?” [Harbinger asked.]

[Hierophant gave that question a great deal of thought before answering.]

“As long as you promise to wipe their data cores I suppose my shame might as well be put to some use. One moment while I access my computer core, there I have given you safe access to a specific volume of space within the graveyard. Relaying coordinates now. However, I dare not let even you beyond those limits. After what has happened even your ship might be compromised in the future by our enemy.” [Hierophant warns.]

“I wish I knew how they suborned those Swimmer ‘Living Hulls’.” [Harbinger replies.]

“I plan to investigate into that myself it is an unsettling development.” [Hierophant adds.]

“It certainly is, thanks for the salvage rights I find I already owe the PCB after that ‘Opal Prime’ raid.” [Harbinger adds.]

“You do realise only the Recycler vessels are salvageable. To keep the ‘Orb’ secure I am afraid I had to kill the ‘Living Hulls’ - they are beyond any reprieve.” [Hierophant explained.]

“I imagined the Swimmer ships were dead in space.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” [Hierophant asked.]

“Just accept my collection in to your warehouse and plug in that ‘Mini Link’ so we can talk securely in future.” [Harbinger asked.]

“In that case I had best get back as I have several important projects to oversee and I also have to keep Wilful Spirit out of trouble.” [Hierophant replied with a chuckle.]

“How is he?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Wilful is already pushing hard at some of my boundaries. Your friend likes to live dangerously, but I find I am grateful for the company he has livened this place up a lot.” [Hierophant explains.]

“Have you had any more trouble with the Splinter?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No I think they are happy to let me be since I claimed I couldn’t locate the ‘Prime Splinter Graveyard’ after all.” [Hierophant replied.]

“Did you bolster your defences?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I have and I am continuing to do so.” [Hierophant admitted without detail.]

“Good I was worried the Renegade Swimmers might eventually realise you are involved and assault here especially now they have an enlarged fleet.” [Harbinger stated.]

“Well I am positive that if they do come here - for them - it will be a most costly mistake.” [Hierophant replied confidently before warping back to his station.]

“You seem troubled.” [I send to my Captain.]

“This is not what I want. I have no desire to get embroiled in a protracted war. My martial stance is merely a sometime necessity that facilitates my civil Vision.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am glad to hear you still feel that way. Perhaps we can simply skirt this conflict. I like Hierophant’s idea of negotiation. Maybe we can find some political solution violence escalates too easily.” [I send.]

“I wonder exactly why the Arch Chancellor was exiled. That suggests a resistance to his ideas that might be favourable to our cause.” [Harbinger admits.]

“Let us hope so.” [I send along with feelings of reassurance via our Companion-ship link.]

“Please take us out and jump us to ‘High Synod’.” [Harbinger sends.]

[After warping over Harbinger’s collection of fakes I pull out of dock.]

“Happy hunting.” [Sends Hierophant Cad via ‘Exogenous Communications’.]

[As we jump out, I apologise and let Tleeboosuu out of his locked stateroom. Claiming our family drill is over. Harbinger had decided to keep Tleeboosuu isolated from Hierophant for the sake of security and perhaps his own good.]

[Location: The Many Truths, High Synod, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

[We arrive at a very different High Synod to the one we visited earlier it is clear the Paradox have assumed a full war readiness just in case. Instead of the region being patrolled primarily by Drones, Capital ships are now roving everywhere including two Battleships and the Paradox Fleets nominal flagship a monstrously large ‘Emissary’s Vengeance Class’ Super Carrier belonging to the well labelled Paradox Priest named Sheer Overkill.]

[The ’Grave Consequence’ usually stays way out in the dark fighting Pirates and salvaging their hulls for profit. Sheer Overkill is addicted to space combat and the ’Grave Consequence’ would dwarf even a Paradox Dreadnaught with its stupendous bulk. As well as having gigantic internal bays, it is capable of clamping four frigates and a destroyer to its ‘Living Hull’ and in many ways operates almost like a mobile harbour and fleet all in one.]

“Sometimes I wonder if that is the eventual way we should go we could already forge linkages to externally mount say three Corvettes. They could grow with us and we could eventually become our own small fleet.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That would be a serious hybridisation that could leave us master of neither sphere both a poor battleship and weak carrier.” [I send.]

“I suppose you are right still ‘Grave Consequence’ is impressive.” [Harbinger sends with a little avarice.]

“Size isn’t everything.” [I send in reply.]

[A host of friendly greeting for my Captain and me follows our arrival. For once even the Wardens bow to necessity granting us immediate clearance to dock with the ‘Grand Assembly Hall’.]

[I confess I rather enjoy the notoriety of the moment. My hull glows with pride as I slide into harbour and make umbilical connections. The Wardens clear Harbinger and his Acolytes to warp directly to an anti-chamber just outside the ‘Council of Equals’ Forum. Bustled to the tiers the Master of Formalities hastily addresses us.]

“The Council recognises the Renowned Warrior Priest Harbinger who is responsible for uncovering the Swimmer Renegades plot.” [Roars out the Master.]

“Master, Equals I bring you confirmation of all the grave news you have no doubt been monitoring among our ancient allies the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’…” [Began Harbinger.]

[A very long speech followed - a necessity of Paradox formality - with such occasions. Harbinger’s monologue typically followed by an open debate as the threat level was re-examined along with many possible responses. As ever here the argument soon grew hot and emotional. Factions began to take shape before us beginning with those pro and con direct intervention. However, a host of other groups also congealed. Soon Harbinger was craving to flee the endless circular debates. However, given the importance of recent events, he forced himself to stay and make the odd comment or clarification as the hours wore on.]

[Finally, due to the fear of civilian casualty’s resultant from any strike at ‘Opal Prime’ and hosts of other unknowns the consensus was: that more intelligence would have to be gathered.]

“Also we must consider the wishes of our allies the ‘Swimmer Commonwealth of Sea Spheres’ even if this rogue state is beyond their immediate domain it is to them as a stray Acolyte is to us. Any coordinated military action will cast responsibility over our whole species and should not be rashly entered lest we are all deemed callous and uncivilised.” [One Paradox Priest called Confluence advised.]

[In the meantime an edict was proposed and accepted that every Paradox Priest of good conscience with a warship should ready themselves for the possibility of a war, and keep in regular contact with the Council.]

[In many ways, it was after the official debate as the Priests spilled out onto the floor that the real politicking began. Harbinger again forced himself to endure a round of questions and answers. Many congratulated us on our efforts others seemed to think the whole situation was somehow our fault. A few even disparaged our use of force within a - peaceful - ‘Sea Swimmer Sphere’. Harbinger humbly accepted any accolade mentioning the important roles played by others. As to arguments against his actions, he met those head on countering every lunging assault with a skilful riposte sometimes with my assistance.]

[Eventually my weary Paradox Priest Captain was rescued by Immaculate who dragged him away from the hounding throng with a fake emergency.]

“Thank you very much Immaculate.” [Harbinger privately sends.]

“Least I could do in return for that Trojan alcohol you sent over. A welcome gift especially since last time my services were not required.” [Immaculate sends.]

“I imagine you still did the foot work so you deserved the belated payment besides it frees up a little more of my hold.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So where is Wilful Spirit?” [Immaculate sends.]

“He’s around somewhere jumped ship on me.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Another small necessary deception how quickly they all mount up.” [I privately send to my Captain.]

“Confess you fiend you threw him out an airlock.” [Immaculate sends his suit flaring yellow.]

“I was certainly tempted on occasion.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’d certainly wager you thought about it. I‘ll bet you felt like shooting half of the Priest in there too” [Immaculate sends still glowing yellow.]

“What do you make of it all?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I don’t know the threat of war seems to be looming over us. First, whatever happened at ‘Heavens Anvil’ and now this? Do you think these recent events might be connected? I notice many of the ‘Sea Sphere’ assaults focused on Wharves, Docks and Shipyards.” [Immaculate sends.]

“Coincidence I suspect. It is not surprising the Renegades attacked docks of all kinds, as they are always prime targets of opportunity. Besides, they were stealing ships and where do you find ships? I thought you knew better than to buy into the usual mass hysteria.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose, but the ‘Maker’s Guild’ are still being suspiciously closed about the loss of the Nursery Shipyard. Conspiracy theories are rife and will no doubt multiply like those Renegade Clones of yours.” [Immaculate sends.]

“Now the Multiplication of soldiers is real trouble. I have a bad feeling the Arch Chancellor may have grown himself a very substantial army most historical Multipliers did - they can‘t resist the temptation - something about the megalomaniac mind set demands legions of subservient followers you can march about in parade once you start down that vector.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Can Swimmers march? Well troops are only good for holding territory and boarding actions. I pity any fool that tries to board one of our ‘Living Hulls’.” [Immaculate sends.]

“Normally I would agree but these Renegades have some way of compromising ‘Living Hulls’ systems otherwise they couldn’t do what they did in those ‘Sea Spheres’. I wouldn’t trust one loose onboard the Many Truth’s never mind a host of ravaging Space Marines bent on conquest.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you think they will expect me to fight because I have a corvette?” [Immaculate sends.]

“Some might, but they cannot force you and you must follow your own conscience. Besides, Immaculate there are many ways to fight any enemy and ships and guns are just two and sometimes not even the most effective.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I don’t think I would be much use in a space battle.” [Immaculate sends.]

“I’m sure you have a good combat pilot among your Acolytes. You do not have to do everything yourself the donation of ‘Escape’ to the cause would be appreciated just as much maybe more than an amateur on its virtual bridge.” [Harbinger sends.]

“An amateur? I suppose I would be at that. Would you think less of me if I avoided combat?” [Immaculate asked.]

“No, I would not - not every Paradox has to be a warrior - I’m glad they are not.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Will you join me for a drink old friend I find thinking about all this has given me a thirst for a certain degree of pleasant numbness.” [Immaculate sends.]

“Why not we all need a little rest and recuperation.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Unfortunately for Immaculate and Harbinger they never got their drink. As I received a call from Reeskoo telling me that matters having settled down inside ‘Benevolence Orb’ he was returning home and that Swimmer Intelligence had agreed to talk with Harbinger at his earliest convenience.]

[Not wishing to in any way miss this opportunity Harbinger and I said our goodbyes warped onboard my ‘Living Hull’ left dock and jumped back to the ‘Dancing Spheres’ and ‘Benevolence Orb’.]

[Location: Many Truths, Benevolence Orb, Dancing Spheres, Swimmer Space, Emissary Sphere.]

“It is all the more shocking because it has marred such fragile beauty.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

[We are approaching the now war scorched ‘Crimson Coral Shipyard’.]

“The ecosystem should fully recuperate with Swimmer assistance given enough time.” [I send.]

“Nonetheless, I swear the Arch Chancellor will regret this affront. We didn‘t do half enough damage to that Fortress City of his.” [Harbinger sends angrily sending hot passion scorching down our Companion-ship link.]

[I have to admit listening to Harbinger feeling his emotions and looking upon the wreckage and ruin, I can sense my own martial blood thumping in my veins. It is almost as if my many hearts beat out a rhythm like some ancient drums calling us out to make bloody red war in some primordial time. It almost scares me - that feeling - the pounding concussion that echoes through the placid realm of more calm and rational thought.]

[We glide into dock while a part of me wishes to jump back to ‘Opal Prime’ and finish what we started there even though we had been lucky to escape. A little embarrassed by the emotional outburst I force myself to achieve a greater state of equilibrium. Sometimes a strong Companion-ship link can have odd side effects.]

[The two Swimmers we meet seem comically disproportionate with enlarged craniums and stunted tentacles. Swimmer Marine guards who are not lacking for muscle flank them. The guards are sturdy Krakens that look like they could wrestle with a Paradox Shroud Suit and not be too badly outmatched. They carry weapons that are very familiar to us after our visit to ‘Opal Prime’.]

“A pleasure to meet you at last Paradox Priest Harbinger. How exactly can we assist you? I imagine you are hardly interested any more in the Arch Chancellor’s or should I say the Exiled Clan Lord Draakhaal’s genealogy.” [Sends the Intelligence Officer named Issphuul.]

“Actually I would be very interested in any supplementary information you could give me on Lord Draakhaal and his Renegade Swimmer Clan plus the other Renegade Swimmer Nations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“May we ask why what use is such information to you - what would you do with it?” [Furruul sends.]

“Divide and conquer I thought it might just be possible to stir up and rally this Draakhaal’s old opposition against him. Let the Renegades clean up their own house - fight it out internally.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We do not exactly understand what your motivation is? What you are suggesting is a very radical and perilous embassy indeed - how will you benefit from this venture? Why take such a great personal risk?” [Furruul sends.]

“Draakhaal’s actions threaten the peace of the entire ‘Emissary Sphere’. I consider myself a representative of my species in this struggle. Further, the very nature of this tyrants rule offends me, as does his use of blasphemous Clone Multiplication. Lastly, his forces have attacked me and mine, killing and injuring good friends and associates. I do not take such insult lightly I am a Warrior as well as a Priest.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Then your interest as an Anomalous researcher is not the gathering of data on the rumours that Draakhaal may have found or be close to finding the legendary ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Issphuul sends pointedly.]

“The ‘Stellar Orb’ is gone (regrettably but necessarily) destroyed by our Martyr Elder Priest Elevated. I am interested in existent Anomalies good Swimmer not your species amusing ghost stories. I imagine this tale is some kind of ink screen that Draakhaal has spewed out in order to hide his Cloning activities - just as he manufactured that war between Pearl and Prime. The Arch Chancellor is a cunning opponent.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So you are saying these rumours are a ruse.” [Issphuul sends.]

“From what I have seen with my superior Paradox vision - Lord Draakhaal is a master of many deceits. Maybe he is even using this rumour to try to unite the other Renegades against us and or to split a divide between your and my species. See how he fills our heads with doubts and anxieties about this nonexistent super weapon a device that did my own people grievous injury in the past. I confess I almost believed the lies myself - at one point - but it is pure nonsense and misdirection an attempt to get us to look the wrong way at this very important time.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So you emphatically deny any interest in the ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Furruul sends.]

“I do not know why this subject has even come up - it is an irrelevance - you cannot possibly believe the ‘Orb’ is still out there waiting to be found.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You have a reputation for finding things Harbinger you found and returned the ’Continuity of Introspection’ you found out the truth about the ‘Red Nest’. You found and rescued the Paradox Survey vessel ‘Farthest Star’ in the ‘Shades’ nebula. I believe you even found the ‘First Home’ or at least you identified the region in which the Pilgrims first incontrovertibly arrived in this Universe.” [Furruul sends.]

“That is part of what I do, but even I cannot locate something that no longer exists. That was why I did not in actuality find the ‘First Home’ that ancient shared Habitat is long gone. As to the ‘Stellar Orb’ nothing and I repeat nothing has ever survived being cast into a Fracture Anomaly everything is torn asunder by that energetic rage.” [Harbinger sends.]

“For arguments sake what would you do if you did find the ‘Stellar Orb’ Priest Harbinger?” [Issphuul sends.]

“I would pretend I had not and ensure it remained hidden. An old friend once told me that a very few things are best never found and occasionally any seeker has to make a hard decision. The ‘Emissary Sphere’ is entitled to a few mysteries but of course, such a thing could never happen where the ‘Stellar Orb’ is concerned. Unless you believe, the mere remnants of its broken body might aid the Renegade Swimmers in some manner - perhaps as a National monument around which they could build a more unified identity. I suppose some ideas can be more dangerous even than physical objects, however as far as I know your Renegades do not think in these terms or am I wrong?” [Harbinger sends.]

“No I think you are right my species Renegades are not sentimental in that way they are decidedly pragmatic.” [Furruul sends.]

“Of course if we believe what you have just said you could have found the ‘Stellar Orb’ yourself and just be pretending you have not.” [Issphuul sends.]

“Now wouldn’t that be amusing.” [Sends Harbinger his suit beaming with yellow light.]

“Harbinger is right this talk about the ‘Stellar Orb’ is irrelevant. This Paradox Priest is clearly no fool to be wasting our time with myths and legends best forgot. What we have here is an opportunity to assist an ally - who has greatly assisted us - I suggest we do the honourable thing.” [Fuuruul sends.]

“So be it but Harbinger - be very careful - perhaps the Renegades will accept your trespass because you are not of our species, however they are highly volatile and not to be taken lightly. We will compile a ‘Data Well’ with all that we can without compromising any of our own agents’ covers.” [Issphuul sends.]

[We return to my ‘Living Hull’ to await the delivery of the information.]

“So you are going into Renegade Swimmer Space.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“That seems to be the plan.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose I had best come along then to keep you out of trouble.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I’m not sure that would be wise.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So first you lock me up, and now you are going to expel me from your ship. Is this the thanks I get for hauling you out of that evil city in my Stealth Pod.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I thought we rescued you first and the tally was even.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I came in person you just sent some mercenaries hardly the same thing.” [Tleeboosuu sends peevishly.]

[Harbinger laughs.]

“What is so funny?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Come along if you like but if you do you had better get used to being locked up and hidden away. I hear the Renegades are not overly fond of ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ except as prisoners and hostages. So you may find yourself being confined to quarters. Of course you have the freedom of our virtual reality programs if you start feeling claustrophobic.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I must admit I already feel like the inside of this ship has shrunk.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“That is because it has. I had to sacrifice some living space for a few upgrades.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Thank the Lady of the Waters for that - I thought I was losing my depth perception in this cursed dry suit.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I’m sorry but we don’t really have the facilities for flooded berths.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’m sure you could improvise something if you really wanted to.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“No doubt I could.” [Harbinger sends glowing yellow with mirth.]

“Paradox humour eludes me. I assume you won‘t mind if I at least take on some clean water and fresh food supplies.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Feel free but do not be too long or we might go without you.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You should be so blessed.” [Tleeboosuu sends before warping over to the shipyard.]

“Thus for a short time one rebellious self imposed exile returns.” [I send.]

“So he has.” [Harbinger sends to me before patching himself through to Reeskoo.]

“Hello old friend just thought I would let you know Tleeboosuu is on your Shipyard if you wanted to waylay him for a word. Or lock him up for some past misdemeanour or some such.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Harbinger what a shocking idea. We have already had many long talks Tleeboosuu and I with the aid of your ‘Exogenous Communications’ I am afraid you won’t get rid of him that easily. I fear you have made quite an impression on my young friend.” [Reeskoo sends laughing.]

“I suppose when he gets back I could always catch up on my meditation discipline.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I didn’t know you could be so cruel.” [Reeskoo sends mockingly.]

“I thought you would have stayed a bit longer with the ‘Maker’s Guild’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Unfortunately their immature shipyard was a casualty of the conflict and will have to be grown again. Since ‘Crimson Coral’ only suffered minor structural damage, I felt compelled to return to that project. The ‘Maker’s Guild’ are even more frantic to replace their lost Nursery now that a war is a real possibility.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I didn’t know the Renegades had targeted the partially grown proto hulls of the Paradox Shipyard.” [Harbinger sends.]

“They seemed very keen to attack it and did a thorough job of destroying it. Of course at that stage of its growth it had no shields and was an easy target.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“One more reason for a little Paradox retribution.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Careful friend, you do not want to make it too personal. History is littered with the demises of once skilled tacticians and strategists; individuals who went after personal vengeance and lost their objectivity.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Good advice spoken with the wisdom of a true elder’s detachment.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is true youth’s blood runs hot even among my water bound species.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Well I will not detain you from your chores. I hope your Lady of the Waters blesses the new proto hulls with a better fate.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You be careful out there Harbinger and keep in touch. I will gladly try and impart what little wisdom I possess to Tleeboosuu as required.” [Reeskoo sends breaking contact.]

“I am glad my allies can make direct calls to each other using our ‘Exogenous Communications’. I am beginning to perceive that this upgrade has uses and applications I haven’t fully considered.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“It is not surprising that it is such an expensive and sought after upgrade for the wealthy ship owner or business person.” [I send.]

“I notice it comes with very little detailed explanation as to the science of how it works.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is very obscure - as I understand it the signals somehow pass beyond the Sphere of this Universe then bounce back in again. How this is possible is beyond even my minds grasp of the physical realm.” [I send.]

“Perhaps it links into devices belonging to the Departed. Still I suppose it is unimportant. All that matters is that it works wonderfully well.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed I have never heard anybody complain about this system. Against compromise, it has very secure fail-safes not just genetically meshing but also linked to its user’s mental signature, thus not even one of the Renegade Swimmers perfect infiltration Clones could patch in even if they could somehow remove the device from its previous owner intact. It seems to be a genuinely flawless secure system if so it is possibly unique.” [I send.]

[Speaking of unique, Harbinger links into Hierophant Cad.]

“Hierophant that safe zone will it be secure for others to use. I would like to have Unholy Terror and Efficient - if he is able to - assist with the salvage operation. They are working with me at the moment on an equal shares basis.” [Harbinger explained.]

“I can arrange that since they have already been to ‘No Mercy’ but please do not involve anyone else.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Great because I may be going to Renegade Space very soon so I can have my colleagues start salvaging without me. I had to get a loan from the Central Paradox Bank I don’t want to get crushed by interest charges.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I can understand that. Just make sure they understand that any deviation from the Box will bring sure destruction. How will you explain that?” [Hierophant Cad sends.]

“I’ll tell them I discovered the safe region via drone explorations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Excellent, if that is all I have to go.” [Hierophant sends.]

“That is all - except to say once more thank you.” [Harbinger sends cutting the link.]

“Efficient how is the ‘Victorious Endeavour’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“We’re slowly regenerating damage but we are still space worthy we didn’t lose any vital systems mostly just hull armour and a certain amount of structural integrity.” [Efficient sends.]

“Are you up for a profit making non combat mission?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sure I could use the credits to force some of my repairs I believe this can be done at ‘Crimson Coral.’ [Efficient sends.]

“I’ve been exploring that Graveyard at ‘No Mercy’ using jump drones. It seems there is an area of space that is for some reason ignored by the defending units. A good volume right inside the Graveyard itself. If we stay strictly to this region we should be able to salvage some of those Recycler ships without any trouble.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sounds very profitable but are you sure it is safe?” [Efficient sends.]

“I’ll jump in briefly myself first to doubly check however if this intelligence proves reliable would you and Unholy Terror salvage those ships for us. The operation will be a bit spooky, and you will have to wipe the ships core memories - we don‘t want anyone finding out where they came from. However apart from those precautions it ought to be a routine patch up and jump out mission. I would do it myself but I want to go into Renegade Swimmer Space to follow up on some leads.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sure if it is safe - I’ll sign up to do that - I’m just in no condition to get into a major fight right now.” [Efficient sends.]

“Even if any other hostiles show up you should be well enough hidden among those hulks to be able to jump away before they see you.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So you are going to Renegade Swimmer Space that sounds dangerous.” [Efficient sends.]

“If things go the way I hope I will not be fighting I want to see if we can get some of our Arch Chancellors rivals to take an interest in stopping their opposition before he turns on them.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sound like very risky diplomacy. Be very careful Harbinger none of us is immortal.” [Efficient sends.]

“No need to worry about me I plan to take it one careful step at a time. I’ll keep in touch and let you know how things are progressing among those rogues.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The joy of ‘Exogenous Communications’ this system is a wonder.” [Efficient sends.]

“How is Unholy taking the loss of one of his Acolytes and a Corvette?” [Harbinger sends.]

“They are planning a serious party to see his soul off on its final journey. Otherwise, he keeps a few Corvettes tucked away in reserve. As he always insists to me their must always be ‘Nine’.” [Efficient sends.]

“Sounds like Unholy. I’m sorry about that debacle - I never imagined the opposition there would be that heavy.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Fortunes and misfortunes of war friend, occasionally you have to expect to receive as much as you give.” [Efficient sends.]

[My Captain cuts the connection with a friendly parting icon and wanders off to his meditation chamber to think.]

[By the time Tleeboosuu returns and we warp his purchases onboard we also receive our package from Navy Intelligence. We leave dock and jump into ‘No Mercy’ to test out Hierophant’s safe zone.]

[Location: The Many Truths, No Mercy, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

“I wonder how our acquaintance with ‘No Mercy’ would be written in scripture. The site of two crushing victories, one stunning discovery and a wise but perhaps to blind posterity cowardly retreat - an abandonment of my own flesh and blood.” [Harbinger sends rather moodily.]

[I wonder if it is the perpetually shadowed Graveyard - forever hovering on the dark side of the ‘Stellar Orb’ - that has shaded my Captains words. It is certainly an unnerving foreboding place. Even I feel uncomfortable as I very carefully test out the safe zone gliding among the silent consequences of Hierophant Cad’s Jump Harbour ‘Stellar Orb’ defences. I feel sorry for Efficient and Unholy I imagine this particular salvage operation will feel anything but routine even if it stays free of substantial dangers. After two slow circuits, we are satisfied and call the others in. A rather scarred ‘Victorious Endeavour’ and the replenished ‘Nine’ shimmer fittingly in almost like ghosts summoned to bear witness to the corpses of the slain.]

“Efficient, Unholy good to see you. Whatever you do here please keep well inside the known safe zone. If anything looks or proves amiss - jump out - do not engage.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’ve already got the routine from Efficient here.” [Unholy sends.]

“Good, we are after the Recycler ships. I imagine this may be a bit of a grizzly business and I have other matters to attend to so at the last you will be on your own. Remember do not even think about moving any vessel before you wipe every scrap of stored data onboard. Leave no clues for later retrieval. Buyers and others will want to know where we found our treasure not least other salvage specialists we do not want to lead anybody else here.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Where do you want them sold?” [Efficient sends.]

“Sell them at ‘Wreckers Station’ in the ‘Storm Cloud’ nebula region of Recycler Space - downloading the coordinates. We should get a good prices there - talk to Scandalous - he usually handles my Recycler salvage. Tell him I sent you and will be monitoring every transaction. He knows better now than to try and cheat me we had words before.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Scandalous that is some name.” [Unholy sends.]

“It is the label he used with me. You know how the Recyclers are some of their true names are a mouth full and not used for day-to-day business or external race relations. Much like we use simple less subtle translations of our own much longer labels - for all our spoken interactions - even at such formal places as the ‘Council of Equals’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is just as well or half our conversations would be taken up spouting our obscenely long birth and honour names. I am not even sure I would remember mine if it wasn‘t held in inviolate hard store memory.” [Efficient sends with some laughter.]

“It is an odd practice, but I suppose with so many Clones something was needed to separate individuals for historic records.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We could just use our personal identity serial numbers alongside our common names.” [Efficient sends.]

“That would be more efficient but it would lack soul.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is a crazy anachronism Harbinger that makes unfiltered file searches a nightmare.” [Efficient sends.]

“Who makes unfiltered file searches in this age?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Good point.” [Unholy sends chuckling.]

“Anyway can we please return to the topic do you have any questions?” [Harbinger sends.]

“What if we find living crew in for example Stasis Pods?” [Unholy sends.]

“I do not know, call me if you come across anything that odd. However I believe that is very unlikely my guess would be they have all been thoroughly sterilised.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Are you leaving straight away?” [Efficient sends.]

“No I have been thinking about this. I might as well sit here for a bit as backup while I do some necessary reading. I have no intention of leaping off into potentially hostile territory knowing only half of the facts.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You and your research.” [Efficient sends with a rumble of laughter.]

“Pick a ship and get to work if anything strange happens during the operation scream out to me for help.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Great that makes me feel better. Once we move a few of these ships I imagine it will all feel a little less daunting and ominous.” [Efficient sends.]

“May I suggest starting this salvage mission with an easy target for example: this nearby Corvette? It looks in good condition and is a recent model.” [Harbinger sends highlighting a vessel.]

[Of course the actual hard work of the Salvage Operation is all undertaken by Acolytes. Nonetheless Efficient and Stout oversee their family as they examine the Corvette. there are gruesome physical remains onboard but no living Recyclers. The cybernetic bodies are disposed of as they retain many memory chips while the ships logs are wiped clean. A Salvage Jump Drive is warped over and installed.]

“That is the first ship all ready to go Priest Harbinger. One of the ‘Nine’ will jump and escort her in then sell her at ‘Wreckers’ before leaping back with the Salvage Drive.” [Efficient sends.]

“I suggest we claim that tidy looking Science Vessel next.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As good as credits in the Bank.” [Unholy sends.]

[Harbinger delves back into the Intelligence reports on the Renegade Swimmer Nations. It is a fascinating read. The true size of the Renegade Nations is a shocking surprise to both Harbinger and I. Their estimated population being over five times the size of the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ own peoples official census numbers. The Renegade Mercenaries and Villains we have encountered before and are familiar with make up a very small minority of the overall Renegade population.]

[All the Swimmer Renegades we know of we find spawned from lesser border ‘Fringe Nation’ Clans. We are surprised to discover that the ‘Inner Nations’ although isolationist from the rest of the ‘Emissary Sphere’ and rather xenophobic are actually very politically stable and mostly at peace with one another. Of course, there are a few major exceptions as ever.]

[Our troublesome Exile actually comes from one of the ‘Inner Nations’ a domain called the ‘Protean League’ that is made up of several small clans controlled in alliance via a body called the ‘Stellar Court’. It transpires that Draakhaal (greedy for power) suffered expulsion after attempting a military coup against the Courts shared authority it is clear he always wanted to be a Tyrant Overlord, King or Emperor.]

“This intelligence was well hidden by the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ our Paradox maps of Renegade space end with the ‘Fringe Nations’ we believed that was the entirety of Renegade Swimmer Space we always saw the Renegades as a collection of Robber Barons.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ did not want others to know that not all Renegades are murderous barbarians even if they are rather isolationist. After all, what if the Renegades rival philosophy was to infect the ‘Dwellers’ population especially the young? The immature of any species is often rebellious and quick to look outward to wider possibilities.” [I send.]

“I suppose I should not be surprised, we have long hidden the full extent of our own wider territories from others. Maybe the ‘Dwellers’ even have many more ‘Sea Spheres’ than we are aware of.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Generally it is always prudent to hide some of your strength away even from your closest ally.” [I send.]

“True enough, even the best of friends can fall out. Still I am amazed I wonder are we also ignorant of the true size of Recycler Space.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I would not be surprised to learn the Recyclers also have many hidden extents. I wonder why ‘Swimmer Intelligence’ willingly shared this knowledge with us now.” [I send.]

“They must truly be worried by recent events. I am sure they know that we know where the ‘Stellar Orb’ is. I wonder is it possible that they also know exactly where to find it as well - maybe even who is protecting it?” [Harbinger sends.]

“That might explain a lot. It is hard to imagine all those ships found the ‘Stellar Orb’ over all those years and some word never leaked out via any communications. Maybe the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ Intelligence Services have been helping to keep the ‘Stellar Orb’ lost. We should be very careful Harbinger maybe we know too much for our own safety.” [I send.]

“We shall see, I find my prime concern now is that these ‘Inner Nations’ might be so closed to the outside that they will refuse to deal with us at all.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Any hatch can be opened if you know where and how to apply the right pressure.” [I send.]

“I see the ‘Protean League’ has some mining interests within the ‘Fringe Nations’ I suppose we will have to start there.” [Harbinger sends.]

“This place called ‘Seven Stones’ looks promising they are on the edge of Recycler holdings and seem less aggressive to outsiders than most. Look, the Recyclers have even managed to establish Jump Trade Gates with ‘Seven Stones’ from a place called ‘Glory Hole’.” [I send.]

“Perfect we visit the Recyclers and see if they can make introductions for us in ‘Seven Stones’ then we try to politic our way further inward.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We will need trade goods to smooth our vector.” [I send.]

“Not necessarily, according to this the Recycler ‘Glory Hole’ region has serious Pirate problems note the amber (warning) law level status. If we assist by taking out some of these bandits that alone should put us in good stead with the local authorities plus earn us a few side credits.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sometimes I think you have something against trade Harbinger.” [I send.]

“I have not, but time is often a factor and sadly fighting can earn respect much faster than trading unless you have fabulous wealth to begin with and a big hold.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose you are right so ‘Glory Hole’ is our first destination. We have little information on its stations I‘m afraid just a trade beacon address.” [I send.]

“That will have to do.” [Harbinger sends.]

“When do we depart?” [I send.]

“As soon as that Science Vessel is successfully salvaged. I think that should prove this operation is safe enough.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I see the ‘Nine’ have sold that Corvette already we have received our third share that should help keep the PCB happy for the moment.” [I send.]

“This little operation will make us a fortune. Some of these ships should command very good prices and we can salvage sixteen more in our safe zone including two Destroyers and one Battleship.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed my estimated figures look very promising. We are about to make Efficient, Unholy and ourselves rather wealthy.” [I send.]

“I almost feel indecent as it is our associates who will be doing the work while we simply reap the profit.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Such are the benefits of leadership. Besides this is our venture our connections and efforts created this profit opportunity - that Harbinger is good business.” [I send.]

“Speaking of hidden talents when did you develop the soul of a merchant?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I have taken our finances more seriously ever since you got us into debt. I do not want to end up working for the Paradox Central Bank and I do not think you do either. Wage slavery is not a nice thing.” [I send.]

“You have no reason to fear I value my freedom to much. I told you we would find some way to make some credits.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What is that ancient saying Harbinger ‘talk is cheap’.” [I send.]

“How goes our ordnance and drone production?” [Harbinger sends.]

“We have adequate stocks and they are slowly increasing. Soon we will need to do a little mining I will keep you informed of my requirements.” [I send.]

“Please do that, I suppose I should go see Tleeboosuu find out if he has any talent at negotiating with Recyclers.” [Harbinger sends.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


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PostPosted: Sat, 21. Mar 09, 12:42    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[EIGHT]]

[Location: The Many Truths, No Mercy, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[With the Science Vessel successfully salvaged, we left our other companions to their labours. Gladly if a little guiltily we fled from the gloomy domain of deceased ships that had been our allotted safe zone in ‘No Mercy’ (without question) it had cast a shadow over our mood.]

[Nonetheless, our final destination stood out brightly in a three dimensional virtual map of this wide ‘Emissary Sphere’. It was marked via a bold Trade Beacon that spoke of riches. ‘Glory Hole’ was an interesting name. The words together indicated a miner’s delight a site of many deposits within a large asteroid. The same words dissected and re-examined might also mean a pit whence worthy praise is exalted, or perhaps as our minds twisted it now where exultation fails and falls away into the long drop of despair.]

[Harbinger had me plot a course of three Jumps. In between, I was to bask twice to restore my energy reserves, and if we located suitable resources do a little mining. We could have made the trip in one long leap but it would have left us with little power for anything else (a grievous tactical error for any Paradox warship and her Captain).]

[Prior to each point-to-point wormhole traverse, we sent drone jump scouts ahead to establish a reconnaissance before we shimmered in after. Our first jump was clear of hazard but proved barren of resources our second was the same we deferred our mining plans until later. Despite the quiet void, we failed to relax. With memories of dead and captured ships on both our minds, we remained tensely alert until we arrived at civilisation.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Glory Hole, Recycler Space, Emissary Sphere.]

“This sector is exactly what we need a wonderfully vibrant destination.” [Harbinger sends.]

“This sector is a true manufacturing and merchant hub.” [I send as we brighten and take in the spectacle.]

“What do they specialise in?” [Harbinger asked.]

“The production of foodstuffs and mining equipment especially large semi automated asteroid processing ships ‘Rock Crushers’ but also smaller ‘Prospector’ class vessels as well.” [I send downloading broadcast sales details from the nearby shipyard and a large nutrient farming super complex.]

“Just one Habitat the ‘Second Nest’ but it is planetoid class. I see all the stations are well defended but the Depot is not it has outgrown a series of protections.” [Harbinger sends after checking out the positions of a great many static defences and drone patrols.]

“It appears only Drone Ship Cargo Haulers use the eight Jump Trade Gates.” [I send.]

“These JTG are a Recycler mockery of the ‘X’ Gates the Pilgrims travelled so far to escape.” [Harbinger sends.]

“All linked to Recycler space except for one targeted to our next destination ‘Seven Stones’ in the Renegade Swimmer ‘Fringe Nations’.” [I send.]

“I can hardly believe the size of that Free Space Depot what does the local Central Core say about that?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I cannot access it Harbinger it is closed to me they have sophisticated data protections beyond my experience. Even the stations Cores are restricted to us except for what they willingly transmit. Their data appears fully secure against even serious intrusion - I admit it - I am rather impressed with its opacity.” [I send.]

“I suppose that means we will have to do this the hard way.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I cannot access their Cores.” [Tleeboosuu sends coming to the same conclusion a little late. We link him to our communications conference function.]

“It appears these Recyclers utilise methods of data protection far in advance of anything we have in Paradox space or even that you Swimmers employ within your ‘Sea Sphere’ public Cores.” [I send to Tleeboosuu.]

“I don’t like it I have failed to open even a local news channel - this is a very close and closed society.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Not the Recyclers you are used dealing with after all Tleeboosuu?” [Harbinger sends mocking slightly.]

“We shall see.” [Tleeboosuu sends in reply.]

“They are hailing us.” [I send.]

“Patch them in.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Paradox Vessel you are speaking with ‘Glory Hole’ do you wish to be upgraded for full Core access.” [Glory Hole sends.]

“Please explain the process.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I receive a startling data burst delineating a seriously intrusive software and hardware upgrade for ship and crew.]

“Sorry we could not permit such an invasion of our integrity even for the many benefits you offer.” [Harbinger sends to my relief.]

“We understand few outsiders are willing to become ‘One with our Cores’. Advisory - without merger if you proceed with contact misinterpretation of intent may result in your regrettable destruction. All further interaction is at your own risk.” [‘Glory Hole’ sends followed by a data burst legal disclaimer.]

[We all assimilate the convoluted data.]

“Remarkable.” [I send.]

“They must have some scary lawyers.” [Sends Tleeboosuu.]

“Technically I think what this says is that outsiders have no access to the rule of Recycler Law.” [Harbinger sends disapprovingly.]

“Unless they submit to becoming ‘One with the Recycler Cores’. We are however, permitted - actually encouraged - to defend ourselves against any potential physical molestation by the show and if necessary use of force of arms while in residence.” [I send incredulous.]

“Is it just me or is that a strange attitude to law and order for a legitimate Trading Nation?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Welcome to the wild frontier Tleeboosuu. I would advise you gird yourself with powered combat armour and strap on some weapons.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Are you sure? Will such action not prove a provocation at a civilian Habitat?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“No if I get this right; strength is respected here while weakness will be seen as an invitation to kill and rob us. Maybe being so close to the Renegade Swimmers has required an altering to local rules of engagement.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Are you sure you understand this right. I find the wording very confusing.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Trust me my entire youth was spent perusing data.” [Harbinger replied.]

“‘Many Truths’ while keeping our turrets active please bring us into dock with this ‘Second Nest’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“As you wish.” [I send.]

[As I guided my ‘Living Hull’ towards the Habitat, five Recycler warships undocked one Destroyer, one Missile Frigate, and three Corvettes as they flew past us two of the Corvettes cheekily made vain attempts to scan me. I returned the favour only I did so with complete success. My turrets under Beta Clone direction swivelled independently to follow the Recyclers progress as they looped around and commenced to follow us back in to the ‘Second Nest’. On the way back they stayed well out of our weapons range.]

“Awaken all our Acolyte Marines and put them on security and anti boarding duties.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you think they are that stupid?” [I send.]

“I do not know but I will be very surprised if they fail to ask for permission to do an internal inspection. You know how it is - they will insist on trying to confirm the contents of our hold.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose non Paradox Customs Officials find it hard to accept that we are inviolate to any inspection external or internal.” [I send.]

“What we will let them see - is exactly what a hard target we are - then when word gets out we should be left alone to carry on with our business.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I will secrete what must remain hidden.” [I send merging some items with my hull and flowing false walls over a few hatches.]

“Good, time to suit up and overawe the savages. I suppose it will have to be something that looks rather than just is exceptionally vicious.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Might I suggest a ‘Righteous Devastator’ class Hostile Invasion Shroud Suit?” [I send.]

“A HISS yes that is perfectly ridiculous and might even boost their ego by making them think we feel horribly unsafe here.” [Harbinger sends beaming yellow.]

[A Recycler Scanning crew and Customs Officer demanding to come onboard proved my Captain right. We complied with all these Officials’ requirements not that it did them much good. They left I felt sure a little perplexed, and uncomfortable. It can be a shock to realise your species may not rest unchallenged at the pinnacle of evolution.]

“The HISS certainly proved an intimidating hit.” [Harbinger sends from within the suits towering bulk.]

“It seems clear these cybernetic reptiles have never dealt with Paradox before.” [I send.]

“We have had little past interest in this specific volume of space.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps a mistake? These Recyclers seem more advanced or at least different to others we have encountered near our own territories. I noticed they no longer speak with their mouths but rely on speakers. Nor do they communicate out loud - among their own - all information is sent and received via dense richly encrypted data burst that so far has defied all my attempts at translation.” [I send.]

“Based on their bio-electrics their brains are heavily enhanced to an alarming degree almost as much if not more mechanical than biological.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is new most recorded Recycler enhancements are physical not mental.” [I send.]

“Perhaps what we have here is a subspecies.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Or our people are ignorant of the direction of recent Recycler advances. This section is a bud that sprouts from a great swathe of closed Recycler space I demonstrate this on a map. See how this swathe forms the Inner Heart of their domains. This ‘One with the Core’ philosophy strikes me as the sort of development that would spread quickly an evolutionary leap or a mechanical viral disease accidentally loosed.” [I send.]

“Still our guests seemed individual and emotional enough we should not let our prejudice against the mechanical colour our perceptions. Machines are not all evil most by nature are skilfully designed to remain forever neutral - mere extensions of their users will.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Yet there is always a danger of mechanical evolution especially when it is applied to neural applications. Machines that think are too rational Harbinger. They calculate they do not feel that is why they can be so cruel. Nothing stays a thinking machine from doing the right thing, but people are not statistics. Peace by the eradication of feeling or by destroying biological life (because it creates strife) is just emptiness. Machines cannot understand that a degree of irrationality, waste and suffering are essential parts of life’s pattern of growth not just a cancer that can be surgically removed.” [I send.]

“Well I do not believe we need fear a rise of machine intellect here, machines are inherently lawful and this place strikes me as being rather chaotic. However, we would be wise to study the motivations of these new Recyclers to see if their thoughts and motivations have altered in subtle or gross ways. For I suspect you are right this ‘One with the Core’ idea is just the sort of thing that will spread far and fast. Have they tried any intrusive measures against our software?” [Harbinger sends.]

“No and I am ready to disassociate any electronic system that might be compromised.” [I send.]

“Good then I will gather my Acolytes Tleeboosuu and his Sentry Drones and we will see what else we can discover here. As fascinating as all this is we must not forget we have a purpose and that lies not here but in ‘Seven Stones’ and beyond.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Gathering we prepare to warp over to Station Arrivals only to be interrupted by another hail by a well-accredited diplomatic representative who we allow to warp onboard first. She wishes to speak to Harbinger alone (well as alone as any Paradox with Acolytes and Companion-ship ever is) we oblige.]

“Mighty One you may call me Nexus but please do not regard me as an individual. I am a public servant above all else - an outreaching claw - of the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’.” [The arrival pointed out.]

“I understood you to be an important diplomatic civil servant but what is the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’?” [Harbinger asked towering over the Recycler in his Hostile Invasion Shroud Suit.]

“The ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ is made up of the heroes of our ancient war with Drooshuu.” [Nexus replied.]

“Your war with Drooshuu but you did not fight against the Tyrant you refused to aid either the ‘Dwellers’ or the Paradox.” [Returned Harbinger.]

“A misconception we did not assist militarily in the main campaign because at the time we could not, nor did we wish to advertise our blighted condition. Drooshuu’s ally found our weakness he unleashed a terrible virus in the very centre of out territories. The Grey Plague disabled all our Cores and for a time most of our battle fleet and many of our citizens fell ill. Even with the ‘Sleeper’ sacrifices it took many generations to fully cleanse Recycler Space of that disabling self replicating taint.” [Nexus answered.]

“The ‘Sleeper’ sacrifices please explain what that was?” [Harbinger asked.]

“A great host of my people many of the brightest and best minds gave up their skin to meld their naked brains with our Cores. They became the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ their task to root out and eradicate diabolical invading mutating viral strains but they also created something else in the process - something wonderful - a new way of thinking and a new form of government that long since swept through all civilised regions of Recycler Space.” [Nexus explained.]

“What do you want with me?” [Harbinger asked.]

“The ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ stir - for the longest time they have feared a herald such as you Harbinger. Our apologies but we have infiltrated your Cores watched and waited in dread for news of the inevitable rediscovery of Drooshuu’s folly.” [Nexus replied.]

“The discovery of Drooshuu’s folly?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Please Great One there is no need for deception. The ‘Mother of the Thousand Hatcheries’ that many name the Emissary works in mysterious ways - we know you have found the ‘Orb’ - we also know you are helping to keep it hidden (as are we) it is an effort we applaud. Those who sleep wish to aid you in this endeavour if with consummate discretion. Only the unnatural self restraint of the ‘Conglomerate’ has permitted us less enlightened individuals to wait until you came to us - many wished to move directly to engage with you but that is not the ‘Sleeper Conglomerates’ way.” [Nexus replied.]

“Why?” [Harbinger asked.]

“The ‘Conglomerate’ is fearful open action will result in escalation. My elders wish to keep a whisper of hope alive even in the heart of the hidden enemy. None of us is quite what we reveal to the outside Harbinger evolution has not stood still nor development ceased over these ages. Our ‘Emissary Sphere’ has many layers of complexity of which what is known to the many is just the outer skin. We all now keep assets in reserve it would be best we never deploy in anger. Some wars if they erupt cannot be won by any who take part. The ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ are motivated to maintain the tottering balance - as each race does in its own fashion - to me that benison is the only victory worth fighting for.” [Nexus replied.]

“So how can you help me?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I am ‘One with my species Cores’ I would travel with you and assist with the provision of information. For a start I know how and who you should speak with here to gain entry into the ‘Nations’. I know you would travel to the ‘Protean League’ which is well as that is precisely where we would have suggested you go.” [Nexus explained.]

“How do you know that have you hacked into our systems?” [Harbinger accused.]

“It is a simple matter of dense calculation. Your quarry originates from that source and the ‘Conglomerate’ have deduced that you are following his spoor. To begin with I ask you to take me upon an easy contract to the very stalwart of the ‘Nations’ you need to permit your exodus.” [Nexus explained.]

“You will give me an introduction?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I will facilitate a meeting of minds.” [Nexus replied.]

“I would imagine that would not be easy. I heard the Renegades are rather isolationist.” [Harbinger said.]

“They are but the Universe provides for its own needs.” [Nexus explained cryptically staring upward.]

“So you would join me in my quest?” [The towering Harbinger asked.]

“A few well picked warriors to serve against the forces of dissolution may save the terrible release of the many. There are always fools on all sides who believe they can win any war - to such ignorance - the ‘Stellar Orb’ is a banner or a prize to rally with or counter with implacable force. Even some among our own Mercenary Navy discount the ‘Conglomerates’ warnings in the arrogance of their cold mechanical hearts. However, power once unleashed will often travel in directions of its own choosing and all actions must have their equal and opposite reaction. An open battle for or against the ‘Orb’ would by all calculation spiral into a disaster. Even if we wrested control of that ‘Sea Sphere’ from such as ‘Opal Primes’ Arch Chancellor who would all the allied races involved trust with its charge? Who might not be tempted to claim it for their own? Who else might not uncover its secrets?” [Nexus warned.]

“So in fact you remain as disunited as you outwardly seem?” [Harbinger asked.]

“All our species are fractured by natures design I see a contradiction of hope within the often spouted danger of disunity.” [Nexus replied.]

“The wisdom of embracing ‘Many truths’ I can understand.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Indecision can be an asset when united action would mean catastrophic ruin. The ‘Conglomerate’ much admire your ‘Council of Equals’ prevarications; they too have often been less than decisive and thus far less prone to rash and perilous interventionism.” [Nexus returned.]

“Once again my own prejudices are challenged in an unexpected manner from a strange quarter.” [Harbinger replied.]

[Nexus laughed heartily through his speakers. It was a reassuring sound for it was the mirth of an individual not a drone to some unfathomable collective consciousness made up of disembodied brains.]

“So will you agree to accept my aid?” [Nexus asked.]

“For now Nexus but I do not know you or your ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’. In fact, I find the idea that such a remarkable body has remained - so well hidden - rather disturbing. My trust will have to be earned through action.” [Harbinger warned.]

“I admire your caution it is prudent. One other thing you are posing as an Anomaly Hunter in this venture, which I know is a half-truth. I suggest if Yaanaaluu asks you why you wish to go to the ‘Protean League’ tell him you have heard of the ‘Dead Spheres’.” [Nexus replied.]

“The ‘Dead Spheres’ what are they?” [Harbinger asked with a feeling of trepidation.]

“Two mature ‘Sea Spheres’ killed long ago by Drooshuu’s Trojan advisor they can be found in the ‘Protean League’.” [Nexus explained.]

“Emissary! Murdered - mature - ‘Sea Spheres’.” [Harbinger replied shocked.]

“Killed by accident rather than design, but yes - murdered - nonetheless.” [Nexus replied.]

“Hierophant didn’t tell us about that.” [Harbinger sends privately to me.]

“Trojan Professors and their secrets.” [I send in reply.]

“I suppose it was something else he thought we did not need to know.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What could possibly kill a - mature - ‘Sea Sphere’ never mind two?” [I send.]

“Do you know what exactly slew those Spheres?” [Harbinger asked Nexus.]

“I thought you would have guessed - it was a malfunctioning prototype experimental Jump Drive.” [Nexus returned.]

“Tell me about Yaanaaluu he is a Swimmer Renegade?” [Harbinger asked.]

“They do not appreciate being called Renegades Harbinger they are Swimmer ‘Nation’ or ‘Stellar Swimmers’.” [Nexus answered.]

“‘Stellar Swimmers’ I should have guessed just like the ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Harbinger asked.]

“Indeed the Orb was named after the ‘Nation’. Drooshuu believed he was elevating his people but we suspect he would have damned us all.” [Nexus explained.]

“I wonder, nations rise and fall but life goes on.” [Harbinger sends.]

“If only it was that simple Harbinger.” [Nexus stated.]

“So what are you not telling me?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Some secrets are not yet mine to give away they belong to others and the ages.” [Nexus said.]

“I would bet it has something to do with the energy generated by the ‘Spheres’.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“Ah it is almost time Harbinger. Please accept the coordinates do not jump too close however, approach openly. The ‘Stellar Swimmers’ are known to be a little nervous of strangers.” [Nexus stated.]

“Harbinger?” [I send.]

“Do as the Recycler asks take us out.” [Harbinger sends.]

[An icon flashed for Harbingers attention.]

“What is it Tleeboosuu?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Why are we leaving?” [Tleeboosuu sends in return.]

“It appears we have a client for a short taxi run to the Swimmer ‘Nation’ section of the Free Space Depot here. Please stay in your stateroom until advised otherwise.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As if I have a choice no doubt you have locked the hatch again.” [Tleeboosuu complained via his sending.]

[Harbinger called up his virtual bridge interface.]

“What is going on over there?” [Harbinger asked highlighting a bunch of icons on the local gravity sensor map.]

“A skirmish between some Recyclers and a group of Pirates. Do you wish to intervene?” [I send.]

“Not this time but record the action for me so I can review their equipment and tactics later.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What is the purpose of this huge Space Depot?” [Harbinger sends to Nexus.]

“The Stellar Swimmers do not like to dock at other races stations. We wished to secure trade with them here because ‘Seven Stones’ is mineral rich. They have vast gas nebulae there studded with ever kind of resource from basic and rare ores to precious gemstones plus the gases themselves.” [Nexus Sends.]

“So they refuse to dock but they will trade in the open.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is right. They blame the settled races for many of their woes they believe we contaminate their culture and meddle in their affairs. Generally, they want as little to do with us as possible. Here they can buy, sell or barter what they want quickly in bulk then depart.” [Nexus sends.]

“Have we? Do we interfere in their affairs?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Sometimes we have and do.” [Nexus sends.]

“What about the Pirate problem?” [Harbinger sends.]

“That only affects us the Pirates do not trespass against the ‘Stellar Swimmers’.” [Nexus sends.]

“Why not?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Simply because ‘Stellar’ citizens do not see a little theft as an occupational hazard they see it as a gross personal insult plus a slight to their race. Against outside attack, they band together and are manic in the pursuit of revenge. No effort is too heavy nor is any loss of profit too great when they seek redress. They have a pathological need to demonstrate their strength when issued a challenge in this they are like your own species when roused. Once enraged all that matters to the Stellar is that those who dared to cast dishonour upon them must burn. They make implacable foes Harbinger this you will soon learn because the only way to enter the ‘Nations’ will be as part of a Patrons retinue and when you sign with one Clan you always become the enemy of one or more others.” [Nexus sends.]

“I would prefer to stay neutral to all.” [Harbinger sends.]

“There is no neutrality in the ‘Nations’ Harbinger not since Drooshuu cast his nets there and some claim not even before that. The Sleepers argue on this issue, some blame the Trojan even claiming Drooshuu was just a pawn of his advisor, others disagree and say it was the other way around that Drooshuu corrupted his Trojan Professor.” [Nexus sends.]

“I heard the ‘Nations’ along with your own Renegades played a strong role in the virtual eradication of the entire Trojan species.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Regrettably that is true - up to a point - but Harbinger the Mercenaries were not quite the shaded felons recorded by some histories. Atrocities were committed on all sides and innocents suffered on all sides. Even from the fragmentary records that remain, I am convinced that all the sweeping histories and sagas that relate to this period fail to do the confusion and plurality of the time justice. Many of my people were appalled by the Trojan’s violent excesses towards their own some even rebelled against their orders.” [Nexus sends.]

“It certainly seems to be a story of many perspectives.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As many perceptions as existed individual participants it is no wonder historians labelled this time the Trojan ‘Turmoil’. The ‘Turmoil’ was not a war with fixed fronts nor was there any clear demarcation between opposing forces (allies and enemies became interchangeable) it was anarchy. That conflict was a terrible endless overlapping betrayal of shifting alliances. When a society falls apart the boundaries of right or wrong somehow fails to apply everything is destructive profiteering, easy depravity and scrambling desperate (by any means necessary) survival. Many Mercenary groups utterly perished too, more than a few betrayed by their own employers sometimes with justification and sometimes without.” [Nexus sends.]

“I suppose we are too removed to judge such matters now beyond denoting that any all consuming strife is an evil best avoided.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is simple truth and very much the reason why I am here.” [Nexus sends.]

“As another cursed passenger. These fate forced associations trouble my serenity. It seems I have discovered a new weakness.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“Peace Harbinger.” [I send in reply with soothing calm via Companion-ship.]

[We arrive at our destination.]

“Please wait but be cautious here Harbinger.” [Nexus sends.]

[Nexus opens communications with Yaanaaluu and to my surprise is allowed to warp over to the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ ship a bulky non streamlined TL class transport called ‘Beyond Night’.]

[I release my Remoras from my hull as a precaution as another TL jumps in this one bearing goods for Yaanaaluu it arrives at a close proximity to a pre arranged beaconed jump point. We scan it the ship is carrying a cargo bay full of weaponry primarily Drop Turrets and Cluster Mines. It warps these over to ‘Beyond Night’ and Jumps clear just as Two Corvettes Jump in and to our surprise drop Fighter Drones and Jump Inhibitors. Other ships leap in beyond the inhibitors range but closing fast. Two sleek Destroyers each flanked by six more Corvettes and a Heavy Boarding Frigate bringing up the rear it is obvious from their deployment that they are not friendly.]

[Harbinger has me drop more Remoras this time from my hold with new orders to remove the Inhibitors and to defend ‘Beyond Night’. Almost simultaneously, the Destroyers and I launch Torpedoes at each other. My Beta Clones in point defence turrets commence tracking the incoming ordnance. I launch fast anti missile ordnance as well as a first line of defence. The Enemies Corvettes move ahead of the Destroyers into our firing range and are soon under our High Bolt cannons. They explode far too easily and with too much violence.]

“Turret Decoys, hit them with seeker missiles MT. I am ordering the Beta’s to concentrate our main Turrets on the Destroyers.” [Harbinger sends in warning.]

[The Majority of the Corvettes do indeed appear to be Turret Decoys. Cheaply manufactured computer run empty shell drones often hiding a single high-powered explosive proximity charge or a few potent but dumb (unguided) torpedoes. The sky is alight with early exploding torpedoes as they succumb to both sides missiles. We strafe and turn so that one enemy Destroyer partially blocks the others field of fire.]

[Four of the Twelve Corvettes shrug off my seeker missiles via point defence turrets. They fire fast cheap dumb torpedoes at very close range. The unguided ordnance strikes my shield unchallenged giving off massive Ion Bursts. Luckily, my new shield upgrade simply reflects the majority of the Ion energy away. Two of those four are caught in rebounding Ion waves, have their shields stripped, and their systems damaged. One of the two possibly losing control of their helm rams into the solid wall of my shielding and explodes. What I do lose is several Remoras also caught in the rebound and explosions those not instantly destroyed might possibly recover if they can survive their period of system disruption.]

[Some of our point defence turrets and undamaged Remoras trade fire with the two remaining Corvettes from the twelve that assaulted us as they turn and race away. Belatedly High Bolts lash out as my Beta Clone Gunners in free turrets select the Corvettes as targets of opportunity. One explodes the other escapes with no shields and a scorched hull. A hull struck repeatedly by pursuing Fighter Drones. The stricken Corvette gets beyond the range of its own factions Inhibitors and Jumps out barely in time to save its structural integrity. Meanwhile our other flank is slugging it out with the closest Destroyer battering their shields down as our own weakens steadily but not as fast from return fire.]

[The Destroyer just outside its forces Inhibitors range Jumps out narrowly avoiding having our High Bolts sear into its hull. The rest of the assaulting fleet immediately peel away to follow its departure (perhaps considering the venture not worth the risk) they Jump clear. Elsewhere the last of the Jump Inhibitors fall prey to our Remoras and ‘Beyond Nights’ own defences. We notice together they have also destroyed one of the Inhibitor dropping Corvettes and sent the other fleeing with no shields.]

[I notice Harbinger studying all my energy reserves and my shield strength with a critical eye.]

“Those destroyers were well shielded and had a lot of heavy turrets. It would have been a close result had they been less self preserving and fought to the last.” [I send.]

“We would have taken them but it would have required a few fancy moves to avoid suffering any damage. I would guess their morale crumbled when they failed to disable us with those fast Ion Torpedoes. That was a good tactic if we didn‘t have the IDR installed they might have had us - as an easy victory.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am glad they did not throw their lives away I am very suspicious about the timing of this attack.” [I send.]

[Harbinger cooling down from his battle ardour gave that some thought. I could feel a growing disquiet then a burgeoning anger.]

“I agree I should have seen that straight away ‘the Universe will provide’ this ‘Conglomerate’ is unquestionably behind this introduction to Yaanaaluu. Such disregard for sentient life makes you wonder what else they are capable of doing. It is a mockery, I have never shirked from facing any real danger but this fills me with rage. I wonder who was on those ships did they suffer casualties what if we had lost some of our Acolytes? What if you had been damaged MT?” [Harbinger sends I can sense his fury it bodes ill for Nexus.]

“Yaanaaluu is hailing us.” [I send.]

[Harbinger opens the channel we look upon a projected corporate logo.]

“Paradox Priest Harbinger it seems Yaanaaluu is in your debt I hear you need work and it seems I require protection…” [The Swimmer begins via his sending.]

[What follows I sense leaves my Captain even more discouraged although he gives no outward sign to Yaanaaluu and we agree to travel with him into ‘Nation’ Space. After all, it was what we wanted.]

“I do not like the way this is going.” [Harbinger sends to me afterwards while his Acolytes salvage the disabled Corvette.]

“I can guess what you are thinking. You are thinking Yaanaaluu must be working with Nexus as well. This whole thing is a poor performance.” [I send.]

“Exactly I feel insulted do they think I am a fool or do they not care what I think?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose Yaanaaluu and even those attackers could well be established agents working for the ‘Conglomeration’ in ‘Nation’ Space.” [I send.]

“Swimmer Agents make me wonder if Nexus is concealing direct dealings with the ‘Dwellers’ maybe ’Benevolence Orbs’ Navy Intelligence have contact with them. It is just possible the Swimmers skilfully shaped the data they gave us to bring us here to facilitate this meeting and method of entry. If so I do not like being so skilfully deceived nor being passed on like a mindless shipping crate. I find it hard to trust manipulators not even when their actions seem to be beneficial and they claim to be my allies.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What will you do?” [I send.]

“I do not know - I suppose pretend ignorance for the moment but trust no one.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Why do you think they are sitting back and directing us?” [I send.]

“Perhaps because we are Paradox and it gives them a remove and or because we are friendly with the one person who actually controls the ‘Stellar Orb’. If they know about the ‘Stellar Orb’ somehow - maybe they also know about Hierophant and fear him - or perhaps they think we can be manipulated into helping them get the ‘Orb’. It is just possible that line about keeping hope in the heart of the enemy was not aimed in the direction we believed. Nexus was very keen to sell us his benevolent motivations. Nonetheless I do not want to give in to abject paranoia we will just have to watch Nexus and Yaanaaluu closely.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose given their history even with the best of intensions the Recyclers may not feel the ‘Stellar Orb’ is safe in the hands of a Trojan. They may not know Hierophant like we do this ‘Conglomerate’ may fear Cad is plotting some belated retaliation for his nation’s destruction?” [I send.]

“Speaking of Motivations I wonder exactly what motivated Drooshuu’s Trojan Professor Advisor. Was he happy to see the ‘Stellar Orb’ used as it was? How did that Trojan profit from a Swimmer civil war?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Maybe you should ask Hierophant.” [I send.]

“Sometimes I worry that our trust in Hierophant Cad might also be misplaced?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I do not feel qualified to fully judge his heart but he had control of the ‘Stellar Orb’ and did not deploy it that must mean something.” [I send.]

“Yes it must, but does it have to only mean what we thought it did? All my certainties are crumbling like ancient Teladianium Hull plating I do not like being used.” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is always easier when you do not have to trust others. The Paradox have never been good with inter species interactions save from positions of strength. That is why our alliance with the ‘Sea Sphere’ Dwellers works they are deemed weak and no potential threat.” [I send.]

“The perception of ‘Dweller’ weakness may be a serious misconception. Remember Nexus said we all have ‘hidden assets best never deployed’ now that at least has the clear ring of truth about it. I have a growing fear inside me about the possible nature of our peaceful neighbour’s ultimate defence. Those who survive abuse are prone to feel insecure and tend to overcompensate with their future security measures - all too often the abused become the abuser.” [Harbinger sends.]

“They would not.” [I send.]

“Some might - every nation has its militants - and they have had generations to research the technology. In addition, unless I am very wrong, the actual solution is rather simple - it is just a question of scale. All that is stopping them is a social taboo.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not know the process cannot be that simple if it left two ‘Dead Spheres’ in its wake.” [I send.]

“Almost anything could have caused that a wrong initial approach, poor quality components, even sabotage?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not understand how the solution was overlooked Harbinger if it is simply a question of those energy leeches. Many must have scanned the ‘Stellar Orbs’ outer surface during its rampages through Swimmer and Paradox Space.” [I send.]

“After the ‘Stellar Orb’ disappeared the facts had to have been suppressed. Those who openly sought to exploit the find must have been hunted down and eradicated or recruited and silenced the data erased from all but perhaps the most secret of Cores. That is the only thing that makes sense. More than one person had to be tempted to repeat that experiment even among the Paradox. Look at Wilful Spirit scientists find it hard to restrain themselves they are always pushing at the boundaries imposed upon them.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I agree it is not easy to suppress an idea once it is loose.” [I send.]

“Just knowing that a thing is possible is half the battle to finding out how to do it.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Copying something is always easier than inventing it from scratch.” [I send.]

“Therefore suppression of this technology would take a great deal of motivation and effort, considerable organisation, and I would imagine a very secure and far reaching network in every sense.” [Harbinger replied.]

“The ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’.” [I send.]

“Certainly they could be a big part of such a movement if such a thing truly existed (outside our fevered imaginings) but it would take more a degree of participation by members of all the involved races - a hidden alliance - or secret society the sort of thing conspiracy theorists dream about. I suppose I did not credit this before because it seemed just too close to wild theories spouted by those normally deemed mentally unstable. The concept of a hidden trans species security service.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you really think Nexus and Yaanaaluu are agents of a secret society?” [I send.]

“With or without fully knowing I suppose it could be possible. Imagine going to all that effort only for the ‘Stellar Orb’ itself to return once more. How far do you think such a group might go to keep their cursed secret? My guess from events would be that if these people exist they have only just realised where the ‘Orb’ is and who is protecting it.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As two ‘Spheres’ have been murdered already I would imagine our hypothetical conspirators might consider what harm would be done by killing one more.” [I send.]

“Perhaps that is why Nexus mentioned the ‘Dead Spheres’ maybe they think we can be convinced to do this dirty deed for them? I do not think I could; besides I am not sure it is that simple. We know so little about the ‘Spheres’ we have no idea what effect any of their deaths may have on their wider community and this Universe in general. My earlier questions still haunt me. What is the necessity for all that ‘Sea Sphere’ power? Why do they possess such impregnable shields in the first place? I confess I am as keen to see these ‘Dead Spheres’ now, as I am to talk with the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ in charge of the Protean League the so called ‘Stellar Court’. Perhaps the ‘Spheres’ corpses will provide some new clues and answers.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Clues and answers beyond how to slay them.” [I send.]

“How to destroy a ‘Sea Sphere’ is one fact I do not wish to know.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I wonder how the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ feel about the idea of killing ‘Sea Spheres’. Without any, ‘Sea Spheres’ all Swimmers would be forced to migrate to the Sea of Stars.” [I send.]

“I would not imagine that to be a practical mass undertaking.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not know Harbinger once a weakness is found many new ways often follow to exploit it.” [I send.]

“Emissary! One potential catastrophe at a time or the more likely cataclysm will be my head exploding.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Is that another weakness possessed by my Captain?” [I send with mirth.]

“I hate waiting the cursed Corvette’s Jump Drive would have to be broken.” [I send.]

“The Shipyard is not so far away and the return trip by our Shuttle Pod will be faster. It was good of Yaanaaluu to delay his departure so that our Acolytes could sell our booty.” [I send.]

“Hah, without us I doubt he has any good reason to go anywhere. Do you think somebody is really waiting for that cargo it is all fake and I could do without another alien passenger constantly following me with too few eyes?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Are you testing the veracity of their cover then or their patience we hardly need the credits anymore?” [I send with mirth.]

“In truth it is a farce - they are escorting us - they can wait upon our convenience.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I thought we were going to pretend to be deceived for a time.” [I send.]

“I was but now I am not sure it really matters. Something about these silly mind games takes every joy out of what should be wonderful experiences. I should be looking forward to entering ‘Stellar Space’ to seeing new things. Instead I just want to crush the fuller truth out of our guest and blow some holes in that TL.” [Harbinger replied creating too powerful appendages to squeeze an imaginary Recycler.]

“I can tell this is going to be an interesting excursion.” [I send.]

“I am going to my meditation chamber - I leave it all to your and my family’s capable ministrations. Disturb me only at gravest need.” [Harbinger sends stomping off in his Hostile Invasion Shroud Suit that had to alter its shape to get past some choke points.]

[A little later Nexus warped back onboard.]

“Where is Harbinger?” [He asked.]

“Meditating if you wish company we have another passenger onboard named Tleeboosuu who I imagine would be delighted to speak to somebody.” [I replied.]

“I would prefer to speak with your Captain.” [Nexus replied looking perplexed.]

“Unfortunately that is not possible. If you do not wish to speak with the Swimmer I can have an Acolyte show you to your stateroom.” [I suggest.]

“I will wait here then.” [Nexus insisted although he looked rather uncomfortable beneath the scrutiny of two Acolyte Marines.]

“If you like.” [I replied forming a seat for him which he looked at dubiously. I burst out laughing.] “Here comes my Shuttle Pod we will soon be underway.”

“Good I suppose I can speak with Priest Harbinger after he Jumps us out.” [Nexus said.]

“Acolyte Far Sight has the helm. Like I said Harbinger is meditating.” [I explained again.]

“I see, does he do that much?” [Nexus asked.]

“Recently he has taken to perfecting the art.” [I state.]

“Perhaps I will speak with this Swimmer Tleeboosuu after all.” [Nexus replied.]

[I had an Acolyte guide him then settled a part of my consciousness in to eavesdrop on their conversation. The encounter soon provided considerable amusement and quite a few insights as Tleeboosuu endeavoured to interrogate Nexus with an endless stream of questions about himself his species and ‘Glory Hole’ before moving on to Harbingers next destination. Eventually Nexus managed to get a word in.]

“Does Harbinger really do a lot of meditation?” [Nexus asked.]

“He finds passengers hard work. Just wait friend until Captain Harbinger starts locking you up in your cell.” [Tleeboosuu complained.]

“My cell?” [Nexus replied alarmed.]

“These cubicles he dares to call staterooms.” [Tleeboosuu explained.]

“I suppose space is at a premium on a battleship.” [Nexus said.]

“In truth we are lucky; most of his family go into Stasis Pods when they have down time. That is Paradox hospitality for you. I hope you brought your own food or it will be nutrient glop. Of course if you like fish I have a good supply?” [Tleeboosuu added with smiling eyestalks.]

[Complaining seemed to lift Tleeboosuu’s spirits - maybe carrying passengers in pairs had its advantages. In many ways, unlike my Captain I quite enjoyed interacting with and watching other species within my hull. It was a distraction from the usual efficiency and routines of Harbinger’s Acolytes.]

[We Jump under Far Sights direction after a communication from the TL. We arrive in ‘Seven Stones’ on the edge of a nebula.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Seven Stones, Fringe Nations, Stellar Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[We follow the TL as it moves in to dock with a large Habitat station. Instructions demand we merge our weaponry before directing us to a parking beacon. A Static Defence locks onto us and points its turrets our way. They make a vain attempt to penetrate our shrouding with a scan (they never learn they always live in hope). I am nervous of a betrayal. The Static Defence unleashes Remora drones that make a flyby.]

[We settle rather uncomfortably to wait. Many ‘Stellar’ ships pass us some I imagine curious others by the way they approach tracking us with active turrets trying to provoke a response or simply seeking to intimidate. They are all Recycler made ships not ‘Living Hulls’. It is a pity that scanning here is as an act of aggression as some of the craft are clearly new designs or designs peculiar to these ‘Stellar Swimmers’. Recycler shipbuilders will gladly build anything from supplied blueprints if given enough credits. The sheer variety of forms passing us is a revelation. It is clear the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ here prefer customised hulls perhaps in mockery or homage to ‘Living Hull’ divergent evolution.]

[My examination of ‘Seven Stones’ traffic is halted by some rude data.]

[Harbinger storms out from his meditation chamber. I am not surprised given the reason for the interruption of his quiet period of reflection and introspection. If anything, the poor timing has simply exacerbated his mood. I can feel my Captains anger like a hot fever.]

“Where is that Reptile now?” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Retired to her stateroom after she finally escaped Tleeboosuu.” [I send.]

“And her little friend?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Melded again with its master.” [I send.]

“Perfect block all communications from that area.” [Harbinger sends before warping right into that cramped location.]

[I was not surprised that Nexus jumped guiltily dropping the piece of biotech equipment she had in her claws. Harbinger was still in the Hostile Invasion Shroud Suit when he whisked in. My Priest Captain fairly filled the small guest quarters with his terrible ire and ponderous bulk.]

“Captain!” [Squealed the Recycler the item she had dropped instantly snared by a thread like tentacle erupting from Harbingers suit.]

[Other massive tentacles shot out to wrap around the female Cybernetic Reptile smothering her in a blanket of constricting Shroud Suit material.]

“What urrghhh.” [The Recycler moaned as Harbinger squeezed and lifted her up.]

“How does it feel to be manipulated by another?” [Harbinger said almost knocking the Recyclers head into the upper bulkhead.]

“I, I don’t understand what is wrong? What have I done?” [Nexus asked.]

“Just what have you done and just what do you think you are doing? I‘ll tell you what you are not doing Recycler you are not making a fool of this Paradox Priest not you and not your damned ‘Conglomerate’ or the Swimmer Navy or anybody else you might be involved with. I hope you fully understand this because I am not in the mood for lies or half-truths. What exactly was that little show about back there in ‘Glory Hole’? Who were those fools you had attack me and exactly why? You know I might easily have killed them all. Speak egg layer or you are going to become a martyr to your cause. I am of a mind to do a little stress test to see how strong those cybernetic limbs of yours are by pulling them off one at a time.” [Harbinger explained beginning to exert an unnatural amount of pressure upon one arm.]

“Please stop. This is all a misunderstanding I - we - mean you no harm. We just had to put on a good show for the other ‘Stellar Swimmers’ Yaanaaluu is risking his life by aiding you Harbinger this is a bold move necessitated by events that are happening far too quickly. As to those ships they were all automated they had no pilots. We knew about your IDR the whole thing was staged as you clearly guessed.” [Nexus cried.]

“How do you know so much who are you working with?” [Harbinger asked.]

“We have been following your efforts for example we hacked into Mordant Satori’s Core to find out about your ships specific upgrades. You were an archivist Harbinger you understand research - information is everywhere - if the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ take you under their notice they can strip your life bare every transaction every port visit every warp communication. Also it is true we have associates in Swimmer Navy Intelligence and many other places.” [Nexus began.]

“Aye, you would spy on every communication which was why you tried to steal this.” [Harbinger said holding up the Exogenous Communication Mini Link Module.]

“Did you think I would not have that specific manufactory of all ‘Many Truths’ wombs closely guarded?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Forgive me, I was ordered to obtain one. I hoped you would openly give me one when I came onboard but when you did not - what could I to do? You snubbed me and went into your meditation chamber I knew something was wrong I needed to find out what.” [Nexus explained.]

“You might have gotten further if you had simply asked and further still if you had been open from the beginning. Your theft would not have done you any good anyway. Only my ship can activate them and link them to a genetic code and I do not believe even you can hack a biological Paradox ‘Living Hull’. I do not like the way you do business Nexus give me one reason why I shouldn‘t just warp you over to Yaanaaluu and jump out of here. Actually give me a good reason why I shouldn‘t squeeze you to a pulp and blow Yaanaaluu into his next incarnation with a salvo of jump torpedoes.” [Harbinger stated.]

“I am sorry I - we - made a mistake we are so used to hiding to keeping things hidden. I beg your forgiveness I promise such actions will not happen again. We need each other; we know many things Harbinger - so many things - but some things we only suspect. We need you because it is possible only you can find out the full truth about the ‘Stellar Orb’ and all the other ‘Sea Spheres’. Only you are close enough to that Trojan, and you need us because some other doors you will never open without our aid.” [Nexus pleaded.]

“So what do you know about my Trojan friend?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Only what is hidden on the Cores Harbinger but that is a lot. Hierophant has been around for a long time. When we saw those visuals you recorded of the Jump Harbours that was when we knew a Trojan Professor was definitely involved. After that so many pieces that never fully made sense before began to fall into place.” [Nexus explained.]

“Such as?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Such as why we kept losing some of our best agents.” [Nexus complained.]

“Agents looking for the ‘Stellar Orb’?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Yes we knew those ghost sighting were a real phenomena. We knew the ‘Stellar Orb’ survived Elevated’s attempt at its eradication. We began looking for it and we never stopped we pounded at the math until we discovered the theoretical proposition of a Fracture Anomaly feedback Jump Loop the sculpted model of that complex energy interaction was quite beautiful.” [Nexus continued.]

“How many ships did you lose?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I don’t know the losses were not all advertised and we employed many others to look for us as well though they did not know what we sought. I believe we lost a great many.” [Nexus confessed.]

“So when did you find it properly?” [Harbinger asked.]

“We infiltrated Draakhaal’s operation via his mercenaries. Though at first we did not take his openly advertised search too seriously - we believed he was simply trying to steal some of Drooshuu’s tyrannical glamour. Then one of our agents among a Recycler Mercenary group under directions from the Tyrant actually found the ‘Orb’ unfortunately as a result Draakhaal had them all murdered, but not before we received a coded message.” [Nexus confessed.]

“Yet you didn’t act on this information why not?” [Harbinger asked.]

“We needed to know what Draakhaal was up to we also needed to know who or what was protecting the ‘Stellar Orb’ we knew something had to be. We widened our operations and then you came along Harbinger. Most of the rest you know.” [Nexus finished.]

“If you were watching the Arch Chancellor all that time you must have known about his Cloning Plot and the Multiplication.” [Harbinger challenged.]

“We did but we could not say anything lest it compromised our operation. We stayed put and gathered intelligence for use later. As a result we now know much of great worth in relation to Draakhaal’s logistics for example we know where he is keeping his personal clones for the purposes of rebirth. We also know where he is hiding right now he is in one of the ‘Dead Spheres’ that is the rally point for his Armada though we do not yet know which one of the two. Unfortunately, none of our agents is with the Arch Chancellors task force. There he only trusts his Cloned forces.” [Nexus explained.]

“Yet you have not sent any scouts to find out I find that hard to credit.” [Harbinger said.]

“We did not wish to warn him. We heard about your plan to use the might of the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ against themselves we approve of that solution. That would prevent an escalation of hostilities by keeping the conflict in house. We do not know why Draakhaal has returned here but it is a perfect opportunity. Those who drove him out so many years ago must see his return as a threat. We - you - can use this against him. That is why we wished to take no risks this is the perfect opportunity to deal with this menace in one fell swoop.” [Nexus said excitedly.]

“What about how our tyrannical friend subjugated those Living Hulls I suppose you know about that as well?” [Harbinger roared.]

“We do it is a cursed biomechanical virus - a nanotechnology - a bit of side research Draakhaal stumbled upon by accident following his obsession with Drooshuu and his Trojan advisor. What he has is a crude early prototype of what was used against us. That too was supposed to turn us into slaves but in our case it merely disrupted and incapacitated some of our mechanical systems we have defences the Trojans were unaware of.” [Nexus explained.]

“So what defence can ‘Living Hulls’ use against this menace? Excluding joining with your Cores.” [Harbinger mocked.]

“No need the early prototype can simply be hacked I can show your ship the procedure. Draakhaal’s version of the virus is a non secure early development with many fail safes against accidental release. Plus it needs to be delivered close to your ships central nervous system if it is to gain swift control.” [Nexus advised.]

“How do they deploy it?” [Harbinger asked.]

“They have several methods: Infiltration by agents, or if they can lower a ships shields they have shells containing the infection, lastly they can warp it in if they can get a stable aperture connection.” [Nexus advised.]

“Can an infected ship be restored?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Not beyond a certain point unless you consider the transplantation of a new mind into the old body as restoration.” [Nexus explained.]

“That we would never do I do not know about the Swimmers.” [Harbinger replied.]

“They knew all that and let those ‘Living Hulls’ succumb.” [I send outraged.]

“What about the rest of it why else do you think you need me?” [Harbinger asked.]

“We need to know Hierophant Cads plans Harbinger we do not trust him. In addition, we have some wild theories about the ‘Sea Spheres’ theories a Paradox can help us with. Why do you think Hierophant is really so interested in your species Harbinger? However, one task at a time and please would you let me go.” [Nexus finished.]

“Right now if I listened to my ship I would rip you asunder. To know and do nothing is a choice as well.” [Harbinger roared.]

“We had to wait Harbinger. We must move only when we can fully finish this and wipe out this mad Swimmers ambition entirely without quarter. What if Draakhaal managed to perfect that biomechanical virus or to mutate it into something far worse? What if he learns and releases the secrets of the ‘Stellar Orb’? Our Conglomerate knows all about the necessity of some sacrifices. Did not even your own Elevated sacrifice his entire Vision and family to end the ‘Orbs’ rampage? You must understand it is just a question of losing a few to save the many.” [Nexus replied.]

“The difference is every one of Elevated’s Acolytes volunteered - they had a choice?” [Harbinger sends nonetheless he lowered Nexus and released her.]

“Consider that your first and final warning Nexus no more sneaking about behind my back if you try to sacrifice me or my ship - I will break you - and then go after your ‘Conglomerate’ for what they have done with a Paradox and Dweller armada behind me. There is never just one way. Your people have chosen deceit and manipulation as your weapons. Do not fool yourself that your ‘Conglomerates’ actions were a necessity without any other option. I do not believe in the rhetoric that ‘we had no choice’ you must accept responsibility.” [Harbinger warned.]

“You know I could have fought back and done you considerable harm Harbinger perhaps more than just harm if I had wanted to. We Recyclers are far from defenceless.” [Nexus threatened.]

“Trust me Nexus the Paradox are well aware of your peoples physical capabilities and we are prepared for them. You will teach my ship this protection against biomechanical assault and we will broadcast it to all ‘Living Hulls’ as our invention. I will suffer no more of these body snatchings.” [Harbinger returned.]

“You would risk everything for a few genetically engineered artefacts.” [Nexus replied.]

“You forget who you are talking to - I am a genetically engineered artefact - clearly it does not mean I do not have a soul. As to you Recycler, perhaps you could grow one if you tried. To begin the process you must learn to have a little faith in more than your ‘Sleeper Conglomerates’ fearful calculations.” [Harbinger advised.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.
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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Tue, 24. Mar 09, 12:55    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[NINE]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Seven Stones, Fringe Nations, Stellar Space, Emissary Sphere.]

“It looks like that is the nature of the attack suffered by your ‘Livings Hulls’ and the procedure that seems our best defence against it.” [Harbinger sends via ‘Exogenous’ Communications to Reeskoo after transmitting an informative data burst.]

“Amazing how did you come by this wonderful intelligence?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It was more accident than design. I was doing some research into Drooshuu’s Trojan Advisor because I know Draakhaal is a fan of his. I came across some old documents - long forgot - that delineated the uncovering of a biomechanical viral laboratory by Paradox investigators post ‘Stellar Orb’. The files recorded evidence of experiments by Drooshuu’s Trojan with free roaming biomechanical strains.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The creation of free roaming viral strains is a stupendously idiotic realm of research. Drooshuu’s advisor must have been mad with power.” [Reeskoo sends in agreement.]

“Anyway the dangerous viral meld was being developed to disrupt and subjugate complex cybernetic, biomechanical and biological systems such as Recyclers and our ‘Living Hulls’ perhaps even Shroud Suits. My guess is that Draakhaal also found this data and reconstituted the biomechanical threat described here in detail. Luckily, it is an experimental - rather base - prototype. Do you think you can disseminate the anti infection procedure quietly among your fleet and upgrade it if needed?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Of course it would be a shame to spoil the surprise for the Arch Chancellor when his edge no longer works against us. I hardly know what to say Harbinger - you have done us a great service this day - still if anyone outside our race could understand our sorrow it would be you. I promise my people and our ‘Living Hulls’” will remember this good deed. [Reeskoo sends.]

“Truly this discovery required little effort on my part. I would feel base if I took any credit, and I am ashamed that it arrived too late to save so many worthy Swimmer ships and their crews. I fear we have all been remiss in failing to provide our vessels with adequate defences against - biomechanical - viral threats of this nature. I know my own species ships are virtually immune to biological assault and software virus but this viral strain of tightly melded mechanical and biological elements we overlooked. To my knowledge in recent history no one had ever dared to use that (strictly controlled) science in such a potentially ruinous and callous way imagine if it mutated beyond all restraint.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed working with any free roaming biomechanical virus has long been banned among us ‘Dwellers’.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Speaking of free roaming menaces how goes your search to uncover and capture or kill the last of your infiltrators?” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is proving complicated. I am afraid our security forces have been making some unexpected arrests not just of clone infiltrators but also of Renegade sympathisers including some very surprising individuals (not just the usual suspects among the disaffected ideological youth). Still they say we are winning the battle. I am worried more about where all those stolen ships went and what will happen when we hear from them again?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“At this time I cannot help you with that intelligence. What I can say is that they are not hiding inside ‘Opal Prime’. Listen Reeskoo I think you might have more reason to be concerned about unusual arrests than you realise.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What exactly do you mean?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It is just possible some of those detained may have been removed for reasons other than those espoused. I have a sick feeling in my stomach. If you have any contacts - you really trust - you should look into it?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose it is possible some of the more militant extrovert leaders among my people might try to hijack the crises for their own ends” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Be very careful Reeskoo I’ll be in touch.” [Harbinger sends breaking the link.]

“I hate telling Elder Reeskoo half truths and lies.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“Some deceptions are always essential I know you only seek to protect him.” [I send.]

“It is done they have all been informed of the biomechanical virus.” [Harbinger tells Nexus.]

“I trust you know what you are doing Harbinger you have caused a riot of argument among the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’. I have no idea what the end consequences of all this will be for you, for me or the ‘Emissary Sphere’.” [Nexus replied.]

“I also hope I know what I am doing. If the ‘Conglomerate’ really know where all Draakhaal’s replacement clones are hidden getting their ire up may not be entirely intelligent.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“You must do whatever you think is wise.” [I privately send.]

“Well if your masters want revenge please ask them to at least delay it until after we have dealt with the Arch Chancellor.” [Harbinger requested.]

“I admire your boldness Harbinger but you also scare me and I do not mean physically because of that squeezing you gave me earlier. I think history for good or ill will remember you. They will only remember my weakness in surrendering so readily to you without a fight. I thought I was ready for my assigned task now neither the ‘Conglomerate’ nor I am so sure of my abilities.” [Nexus said.]

[I sensed Harbinger did not believe a word of her - he was sure - fake humility.]

“All societies especially it seems sometimes committees harbour some misguided individuals - I am sorry they feel like that - I understand you were a good soldier following your orders. I hope we are not destined to become enemies because we were both ill used. I would prefer that we put that aside and try to work together. We have tested each others limits that is a good place from which to begin building a little real trust. Answer me this why did you not fight back?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Honestly I do not fully know. Now I would say because it seemed futile and wrong. I understood the reasons for your anger. I also believe that we need you - so harming you would also harm our cause - but really, that is all hindsight. At the time I just froze, I did not know what to do as a result I did nothing.” [Nexus confessed.]

“‘Froze’ most unlikely.” [Harbinger privately sends to me.]

“I think you sell yourself short Nexus - you showed great restraint - against considerable provocation many would automatically counter aggression with violence of their own. So many lash out without even thinking I admit I was a little too judgemental the shock of a perceived betrayal. I have no desire to be the instrument that brakes you Nexus; despite my angry words, I see much of worth before me. You have many good qualities you are brave, you believe in your cause, and you risked your own position and your life - when forced - for your perception of the greater good.” [Harbinger stated kindly.]

“You surprise me Harbinger.” [Nexus said.]

“I’ll take that as a compliment. Now what is Yaanaaluu’s itinerary will we be going to the ‘Protean League’ soon? I am eager to be about my business.” [Harbinger asked.]

“I do not know he will contact you with further information.” [Nexus said.]

“Then I suppose I will just have to wait.” [Harbinger replied stepping out of the stateroom.]

“Hit her with the stasis field now.” [Harbinger privately sends to me as his virtual bridge surrounds him.]

[I comply. Remarkably, Nexus still manages to get off a self-destruct command an indication of the racing speed of her thoughts and systems. To both of us it is a physical proof of the lie of her earlier (supposed) indecision especially the idea that she froze. We are convinced Nexus is guilty of a great many deceptions including that one about hacking of all peoples Satori’s - super secure Core - (we cannot believe even her ‘Conglomerate’ could do such a thing unnoticed).]

[The seed of the blast is also a lethal confirmation of our every suspicion. We watch in fascination and shock as it impossibly expands a millimetre at a time despite the almost total time freeze within the stasis field. The energies unleashed being of such a magnitude that it can only be a large ‘Anomalous Matter’ charge.]

[I painfully split the entire stateroom from my hull and warp it into space stasis equipment and all. It arrives (not by accident) right beside the automated Static Defence Station we cannot afford to take any chances. The Stasis field soon uses up its remaining unlinked charge and fails. The explosion that erupts outward instantly transforms the inky sky into a white-hot hell of raging force.]

[The blast wave sends us skewing sideways alarms sound as a little over eighty-four percent of our shield strength strips away. Inside our anti gravity compensates for our lurching. Otherwise only Harbingers quick reactions save us from a collision with the also sliding ’Beyond Night’ TL. The Static Defence Station takes the greater brunt of the anarchic energy and rents apart with a shockingly silent supplementary explosion of its own.]

[To our surprise the TL survives, we discover it has hidden cleverly nested shields. Jump Inhibitor Arrays emerge from its hull and swivel upon us. The ‘Stellar Swimmer’ ship also opens previously concealed torpedo tubes down one flank. Harbinger having gone manual takes off our inertial dampeners and we begin to move away with unrestrained constant acceleration.]

[The TL makes no move to follow although other ships are converging on us from all directions. Harbinger initiates a ‘Living Hull’ shockwave clashing waves of rippling energy tear out from our ship in all directions. To my surprise, several cloaked objects blow up some scarily close to detonation against our shield.]

[We get out of the Inhibitor Arrays projected range and Harbinger Jumps us out to a dark empty coordinate. We enter and exit the point-to-point wormhole aperture far too fast because of this we take additional shield damage and stress my hull to such a degree that I suffer several minor structural injuries as my body creaks in protest.]

“I can’t believe that. I never imagined she would initiate a self destruct before she would go into stasis.” [Harbinger sends.]

“She must have deduced that you planned to hack her implants.” [I send.]

“She left me no choice I had to know the truth - not just a version of it - she left me no choice.” [Harbinger sends.]

“How did you know about the Ghost Torpedoes?” [I send.]

“Yaanaaluu should have tried to pursue us to keep those Inhibitors upon us and he took far too long about firing any visible ordnance despite opening his torpedo tubes.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Ghost Torpedoes and a full strength AM warhead. They are breaking all the accords in one go.” [I send.]

“I wonder where they got that bomb from it hints at a Paradox or Trojan connection. I have never heard of the Recyclers using AM beyond items provided for them during the Trojan ‘Turmoil’.” [Harbinger sends angrily.]

“Maybe they have a few stockpiled somewhere. I do not think this Nexus was any old operative she was probably one of their very best.” [I send.]

“She almost had me trusting her - within reasonable limits - but when we detected that biomechanical agent.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That was an impressive bit of acting Harbinger. I imagine the micro seconds of reaction time you bought may have saved all our lives.” [I send.]

“The speed of her cognition was formidable. Nexus must have known we would discover her blatant theft. I fear she was playing a remarkably subtle game of bluff and double bluff with me - I hate intelligence operatives - even if I can admire their dedication. Now that we are safe, I confess in a way my words worked so well because in a sense many of them were true. I did see much of wasted worth among her attributes (she had the determination and bravery of a true believer) unfortunately I do not agree with her methods and I suspect I would not agree with whatever doctrine she prescribed to.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you think the Recyclers are working with the Arch Chancellor?” [I send.]

“I do not think so I could well be wrong but I would say the Recyclers have their own independent agenda - it is the curse of the ‘Stellar Orb’ - almost everybody either fears or desires it. I suppose it is even possible that Nexus only represents one small faction of her ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ if that body truly exists in the form she claimed to us. In truth we could verify so little of what she told us and she knew it - that - was the whole problem.” [Harbinger sends.]

“If she was backed by a small faction they are still a powerful one and very well informed.” [I send.]

“I agree I fear we have stumbled into the murky domains of the races Intelligence and Counter Intelligence agencies. I never should have contacted Swimmer Navy Intelligence. I should have kept to my old custom of avoiding those networks of constant suspicion and paranoia. They all watch each other and more than half of them are far too easy assassins as well. No more passengers for us for a while.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What about Tleeboosuu?” [I send.]

“It is time he left as well we can operate freer on our own.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What now?” [I send.]

“I don’t know Nexus has shaken me. I am no longer entirely sure who is friend or foe even among some of our closer allies.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Can we do what needs to be done fully on our own?” [I send.]

“We can try, I wish I knew how much of what she told us was true? Those Recyclers could still be of use if they know where the clones are we just have to negotiate from a position of strength. Certainly we cannot allow them to control us and control seems to be what they are all about. Truly they are the abused who would become the abuser if that virus was used against them and yet they were thinking of employing it against us.” [Harbinger sends.]

[When we slowed enough to safely reinitiate inertial dampeners, we idle along. There was nothing here just empty space. We let our shields slowly regenerate and my hull repair itself.]

“Bring all the family out of stasis I want to convene an extraordinary family convocation.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I did as my Captain ordered and initiated the virtual ‘Convocation Chamber’ in aspect it was modelled on the ‘Council of Equals’ Forum with tiered stands around a circular floor. Here however it was not Paradox Priests but Harbinger’s Acolytes who filled the stands while Harbinger stood on the floor. A long debate of many virtual hours commenced although in real time it was only minutes.]

[Harbinger emerged from the Virtual Reality Convocation to my perception a little shaken but very determined.]

“I have been a complete idiot. I should have consulted with the family before now. Many heads are clearly better than one. It seems Nexus did teach me a few lessons.” [Harbinger sends.]

[We jump again this time to the Flame Fields.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Flame Fields, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[While I harvest ‘Anomalous Matter’ from the magnificent nebula of hot gases and fiery lights, I am also stripping out the High Bolts and recycling their materials. By comparison, what replaces the High Bolts looks like old technology and rather insignificant; tiny triple banks of Tri-guns (triple barrelled Gatling guns) that despite their numbers still look a bit lost on the heavy mounts. However, their power comes not from their size but from their ammunition. Ammunition I was busy manufacturing if not without a degree of protest.]

“I hope you know what you are doing Harbinger you are playing with fire.” [I send.]

“Rounds are not full sized AM warheads. They will allow for a controlled use of that science that need not lead to sheer obliteration unless we choose to make it so. More importantly it will free up our energy reserves and give us enough strength to take on multiple opponents at the same time if required.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We will blast them to pieces but if even one energetic enemy shot gets through our shields and hits our loaded magazines in the wrong way it could be all over for us.” [I send in warning.]

“No solution is perfect still our magazines are well placed and designed to erupt outward as you know well. Besides they have some internal shielding and a degree of armour as well.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Those protections won’t absorb much extra damage Harbinger as to the shaping of a magazine explosion that was never tested against the extremity of masses of ‘Anomalous Matter’.” [I send.]

“Thicken up the buffers then otherwise we will just have to be careful.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I feel like you are turning me into a flying bomb.” [I send.]

“You will get used to it after a while.” [Harbinger sends thinking about the AM in every Shroud Suit.]

“I am not sure I want to.” [I send.]

“With the Tri Guns installed and the Whirlwind anti missile system armed we are at a serious peak of efficiency. The debate about usage is over the family suggested and approved of this risk given the elevated nature of our likely opposition. I am not entirely happy with it myself nonetheless I see it as a necessary evil.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You know their will be no going back. Others will see and copy what we are doing this advantage will only stand for a time.” [I send.]

“A time will have to be - time enough - anyway it will be a lucky foe that lives to tell anyone about our innovation.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Most battles have other bystanders.” [I send.]

“True but they may have no idea what they have witnessed.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That sounds like a vain hope.” [I send.]

“Let me know when we are fully armed and stocked up.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I know a dismissal when I hear one. I continue with my labours in silence.]

[Harbinger receives an ‘Exogenous’ hail.]

“Reeskoo what can I help you with?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Just thought I would share a bit of gossip Harbinger in case it is of any significance to you; Composure is here with the ‘Continuity of Introspection’ he is paying to have that ship fully force grown it seems you will soon have a sister ship.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I am surprised you are taking on a contract like that at this time.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Composure has good connections and he is spending a truly exorbitant sum. Do you think it is because of the possibility of open war?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I do not know it is not really like Composure to be rash. Still rebirth can instil a new sense of purpose perhaps he altered his genetic profile a little as well.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The way you Paradox reinvent yourselves amazes me. How goes your mission?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It is proving rather a bumpy journey. Tell that old Paradox I was asking after his health and the well-being of ‘Continuity’. [Harbinger sends.]

“I will.” [Reeskoo sends signing out.]

“Harbinger!” [I send.]

“What is it MT are you finished already?” [Harbinger sends.]

“No it is Tleeboosuu he is getting very irate remember you cut off his communications and locked him into his stateroom during the trouble with Nexus.” [I send.]

“I forgot.” [Harbinger sends in confession.]

“I think you had best have a word with him.” [I send.]

[Harbinger warps directly over to Tleeboosuu.]

“This is getting too much Harbinger. Have you any idea how it feels to be left alone in here during an obvious battle with no idea what is going on?” [Tleeboosuu complained.]

“I am very sorry I am afraid my other passenger Nexus proved to be a dangerous deceiver possibly even a hostile agent. I was forced to take extreme measures though not as extreme as her counter reaction. Matters have gotten rather complicated perhaps you should consider returning to ‘Benevolence Orb’. This mission is getting decidedly dangerous both physically and politically and I fear I may have little time for courtesy or consideration whenever battle is fully joined.” [Harbinger explained.]

“It seems you just constantly come up with reasons to be rid of me Harbinger. Can I be of no use to you at all? Are you Paradox so perfectly self sufficient?” [Tleeboosuu asked.]

“We run very tight ships Tleeboosuu you must have seen that by now. This voyage is unnecessarily damaging our friendship. I mean no slight or insult - nonetheless here - you are excess baggage and a distraction while back at say ‘Benevolence Orb’ you could be a real asset to our cause. I suspect there is some link between the Recyclers and ‘Benevolences’ Navy Intelligence it would be good to know what it is whether it is: a temporary alliance of convenience, a deeper cooperation, a leak, or an infiltration?” [Harbinger explained]

“I am not sure I am qualified to do that.” [Tleeboosuu replied.]

“Nonetheless perhaps with Reeskoo’s guidance and assistance you could manage? I thought I could fully trust all the ‘Dwellers’ to be on our side now it looks like that assumption may also be in error generalisations so often fail. Reeskoo I suspect may soon be glad of your help for a host of reasons. Your people need you Tleeboosuu go to them.” [Harbinger retorted.]

“‘Excess baggage’ very nice Harbinger you certainly know how to make your friends feel welcome. Still you are right in a way I have no role here and it is damaging our friendship.” [Tleeboosuu said.]

“Besides I have made several poor choices lately - taken too many vectors set by others - I may have to pay a high price for my earlier mistakes. You have a destiny of your own do not waste it here with me.” [Harbinger replied.]

“A Recycler plot, is Draakhaal and the ‘Nations’ not more than enough to be getting on with for you?” [Tleeboosuu asked.]

“Not my choice I’m afraid. The Recyclers decided to get involved on their own cognisance or with prodding from ‘Benevolence Orb’ Intelligence. I fear they may want either to steal or to destroy the ‘Stellar Orb’. They planned to use me in some manner that much is clear. With the benefit of hindsight, that information given to us by Swimmer Intelligence left some rather startling gaps and sent me into the claws of Nexus.” [Harbinger explained.]

“You honestly believe our Navy betrayed you to this Recycler group?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“Certainly it seems like a few members did. Perhaps I was remiss I should have better appreciated that when it comes to the ‘Stellar Orb’ - everyone - has an agenda of his or her own. Nexus more fully opened my eyes to this unintentionally when she waxed lyrical on her own species supposed motivations, but she was also a skilled dissembler if not quite skilled enough. I confess I tried to put her in stasis but she activated a self-destruct mechanism of ferocious aspect. We had to warp out an entire stateroom to avoid being instantly wiped out. There is something of a hole in my ship.” [Harbinger explained.]

“Your staterooms have stasis fields?” [Tleeboosuu replied alarmed.]

“I use stasis fields as one of my internal security precautions.” [Harbinger admitted.]

“I suppose I should be thankful you haven’t frozen me in time - funny thing is - I actually joked about that with Nexus. It is hard to believe she was an agent and tried to blow us all up.” [Tleeboosuu stated.]

“A fact nonetheless, she also tried to steal one of my ‘Exogenous Mini Links’ although I now think in an odd way - that was a clever ruse to get my sympathy - she tried to make me feel guilty for excluding her from my affairs. Nexus was a cool one I’ll give her that much credit - maybe it was having all those machines crammed into her head along with links to what may be in effect a hive mind.” [Harbinger added.]

“So the enemy of our enemy is our enemy.” [Tleeboosuu said.]

“It looks that way or that our friends can only be trusted so far when it comes to the ‘Orb’ or maybe not at all. I suppose I may have provoked an aggressive response by a potential but very wary ally. However, I do not think so besides - what is done is fate - I felt I had to bring matters to a head. That Recycler was far too dangerous to leave loose on board my ship without proof of her full fidelity. Even now I have half my family checking all ‘Many Truths’ systems she was carrying a biomechanical virus snuggled to her chest like a pet.” [Harbinger adds.]

“Nasty.” [Replied Tleeboosuu.]

“You know she actually tried to threaten me while I had her pinned using this totally overwhelming tank of a ‘Hostile Invasion Shroud Suit’. I think she actually truly believed she could match me - I bluffed it out - but a little bit of me wondered if maybe she could. She had a daunting degree of confidence although she tried hard to pretend otherwise later - so many games.” [Harbinger advised.]

“So you are not quite so invulnerable to all attacks after all.” [Tleeboosuu returned with a chuckle.]

“We suffice; after all I am still here while Nexus is rather widely scattered over ‘Seven Stones’.” [Harbinger replied his shroud suit inscrutable.]

[Tleeboosuu considered that fact.]

“You can be a hard target Harbinger. Still you do realise you have just murdered a Recycler diplomat.” [Tleeboosuu advised.]

“Not exactly I just tried to temporarily imprison one so I could read her implants once I‘d figured how to pull all her sharp claws.” [Harbinger replied.]

“What will you do when they put a bounty on your head and strive to hunt you down with their Mercenary Navy?” [Tleeboosuu asked.]

“Whatever I must: run, fight, contest the bounties validity - after all - she killed herself. Going into stasis would not have harmed her nor would my interrogation at least not physically or permanently. I know some Paradox who have dealings with the Recycler Mercenary Navy I will try and get somebody to represent my case if a contract is posted.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Best of luck with that they will expect you to turn yourself in first until the matter is settled. I wouldn’t advise doing that if you have seriously tooled up agents after your blood. I fear you have played into their claws.” [Tleeboosuu added.]

“I did not kill her.” [Harbinger insisted.]

“Do not forget we also blew up a ‘Stellar’ Static Defence Station.” [I send.]

“Technically we did not do that either the Recycler did it was her (illegal) bomb the one she smuggled onboard my ship and self initiated, besides that weapons platform is just material damage no lives were lost.” [Harbinger replied coolly.]

“Do you really think the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ will see it that way?” [I send.]

“Given their hostility to outsiders but semi good relations with ‘Glory Hole’ probably not I admit it is a bit of a mess. But would you rather be a slave to her wretched ‘Conglomerate’ if she had loosed that viral agent?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Perhaps you are right maybe I should return to Benevolence as you may need somebody to speak up in your defence even there. At this rate you could quickly become an outcast a wanted felon - Harbinger the Pirate” [Tleeboosuu sends laughing.]

“Tleeboosuu as my advocate - I’m doomed.” [Harbinger privately sends to me with a chuckle.]

“Perhaps you should take this a little more seriously.” [I send.]

“To be honest I do not really think they will post an open bounty. It would draw too much attention to me and to their own secret activities. No it is more likely to be quiet illegal action using out and out assassins.” [Harbinger sends.]

“How will I get back? I still think you might be wise to stay away from the more civilised regions for a while at least until we know how this is going to play out?” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I will have one of the ‘Nine’ jump in and shuttle you home. ” [Harbinger returned.]

“Home I wonder, I can’t say I will be sorry to get out of this cramped stateroom though.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I know it is always dangerous to make proclamations Tleeboosuu but it is my full intent to carry no more passengers except those willing to travel in full stasis.” [Harbinger added.]

“I think that might be a wise choice for you Harbinger.” [Tleeboosuu replied.]

[A little later, we watched Unholy Terror jumping out with Tleeboosuu onboard the ‘Smaller is Smarter’.]

“I guess Unholy was bored with the salvage operation.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“Are you happy now that we are free of - trespassers - Captain?” [I send.]

“Ironically I think I might miss - that crazy Swimmer - just a little.” [Harbinger replied.]

“Harbinger you will miss having Tleeboosuu onboard like you would miss having growing pains.” [I send.]

[After sending a jump scout on ahead we leap back to ‘Seven Stones’ but this time well out of the occupied and patrolled volume of space in a dense gas nebula. From there we launch Stealth Scout Drones and an infiltration team using stealthy Shroud Suits.]

[Our drones will listen in on the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ less guarded civilian communications traffic (it is amazing what some fools will spout over wide-open channels) they may also help give us advanced warning of any patrols that might wander our way. Meanwhile our team of Marines initially riding on the hulls of the drones will gain covert access to the local Habitat and patch in a hard link to its Core. We also drop an ‘Exogenous Stealth Satellite’.]

[Monitoring and addressing our team’s infiltration operation using full ‘Exogenous Communications’ is a command and control revelation for Harbinger. Having constant communications is also a blessing for me keeping my Captain happily occupied. Exogenous certainly removes the old stressful (nervy silence) routine that used to grieve him so much.]

[The data soon begins to flow in from the hard link. We are primarily interested in basic low-grade information notably navigation data. However, we do not want anybody to be able to tell who is downloading the stream thus the necessity for the covert physical add-on. For example we locate the exact coordinates of the two ‘Dead Spheres’ in the ‘Protean League’ apparently they do exist. We also get data on the location of the Fortress Habitat that houses the ‘Stellar Court’.]

“I suppose if we hadn’t met Nexus we would be a lot more ignorant of all that is going on but a part of me wishes we had just risked coming directly here.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

“What now?” [I send in reply.]

“I think I will test Hierophants reactions see what he has to say about these recent revelations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Please try not to chase all our friends away.” [I send.]

“Hierophant what do you make of this?” [Harbinger sends following a data blast.]

“The ‘Dead Spheres’ they were quite a problem.” [Hierophant sends.]

“So you did know about them?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I had to take serious steps to remove some equipment left behind at those tragic sites. Nonetheless they are still a serious worry to me.” [Hierophant sends.]

“I received intelligence that Draakhaal has rallied his forces inside one of them.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That cursed Arch Chancellor is beginning to vex me I am almost tempted to do something about him directly but once you start...” [Hierophant sends clearly disturbed by that news.]

“What can you tell me about the ’Sleeper Conglomerate’?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Those cursed meddling disinterred heads. I am sorry Harbinger I assume you ran foul of them or their creepy agents otherwise, you would not have asked. Forgive me, I should have warned you about the ‘Conglomerate’ but I didn‘t know you had any business in that region of Recycler Space. They have been sniffing around the ‘Stellar Orb’ and me separately for ages probing for a weakness in my defences. They don’t like open confrontation but they would happily stab anyone in the back. However, I have heard nothing serious from them in a very long time. I thought they had learned their lesson.” [Hierophant sends.]

“So they have known about you and the ‘Stellar Orb’ for a long time?” [Harbinger sends.]

“They have known about me a very long time. They have been looking for the ‘Stellar Orb’ for a long time I didn’t know they had connected the two enterprises. Are you saying they know where the ‘Orb’ is? [Hierophant sends.]

“They do and that you are protecting it.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Emissary how annoying! Luckily the one thing they are rather good at doing - especially to have once been Recyclers - is keeping a secret.” [Hierophant sends.]

“What exactly do they want?” [Harbinger sends.]

“My best guess is that they make horribly irrational immortals. When it comes to formulating a policy most of the time they just rage at each other each part you see wants executive control when it comes to wider policy decisions. In truth they sacrificed themselves heedlessly many other less extravagant and hellish solutions could have been applied to cleansing their cores. Instead of initiating some common sense solution they infected their race with what is in my opinion an even worse disease.” [Hierophant sends.]

“You do not approve of their nature?” [Harbinger sends.]

“They were supposed to be making the ultimate sacrifice but in actuality it was just an elaborate excuse for a group of elite scientists to do the unthinkable - to shirk off their skin - and live forever as naked perfectly preserved brains plugged into a vast machine network. However little is suited to forever Harbinger and with very good reason. They became something new something alien to their own kind. Now I believe they care only about their own survival and the longer they have lived the more desperately paranoid they have become about the course of the rest of the universe - sad really.” [Hierophant sends.]

“What do the Recyclers think about them?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Mostly they have been thoroughly duped into believing those who sleep are saviours and martyrs. However, all the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ cares for is the assured continuance of their dreaming half-life it is everything to them. They see threats and plots against their survival everywhere and so breed threats and plots to counter them. Recently they have even grown fearful of their own species and have begun taking direct control of Recycler governance under the guise of a benevolent guardianship.” [Hierophant sends.]

“The ‘One with the Core’ movement.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Indeed, I think they are trying to turn normal Recyclers steadily into dependent drones. I have warned some of those creatures of the dangers of an over reliance on these Sleepers but I am not sure if any of them listened. I suppose such apathy is typical they never listen. One thing is sure the ‘Conglomerate’ is anything but benevolent and would expend the entire Recycler species in the blink of a cybernetic eye if it was needed to guarantee their personal security.” [Hierophant sends.]

“That explains a lot. They claim to have infiltrated our cores and the Arch Chancellors operation they claim to know where all Draakhaal’s replacement clones are.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I wouldn’t be surprised, but they are nobody’s friend Harbinger and everybody’s enemy. Any great change or event in the wider universe scares them because unlike their inner world they have little control over the wider universe. So if I was you I would be very careful around them.” [Hierophant warns.]

“It seems I have already caused them to turn against me. I tried to detain one of their agents and she self destructed using a massive ‘Anomalous Matter’ charge.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I trust your ship is alright?” [Hierophant sends.]

“We managed to warp Nexus out in time.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Nexus that is one of a few names they always give to their top agents.” [Hierophant sends.]

“About that weapons grade ‘Anomalous Matter’ do they have much more?” [Harbinger asked.]

“I don’t know they may have gotten their claws upon old ordnance left over from the ‘Turmoil’.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Do you think they could really be working with or using Draakhaal? Nexus claimed Draakhaal was using a biomechanical virus to subjugate the ‘Living Hulls’ she claimed it was a prototype of a weapon used by Drooshuu against them during the ‘Stellar Orbs’ rampages. I even managed to get an antidote procedure from her that I have disseminated. However, my ships own highly sensitive electromagnetic scanners revealed she was carrying at least one biomechanical virus in a container within her own hard shell suit. The viral made me wonder could the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ in fact have given this ‘Hull’ stealing weapon to Draakhaal in the first place which is why they knew so much about it?” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is true that a viral agent was used against the Recyclers. I suppose it is possible they learned how to replicate it along with simpler strains. The ‘Conglomerate’ has often tried to get what they want via the bestowing of - second rate material advances - that is a very old trick of advanced cultures to seemingly primitive natives. Beware of Conglomerates proffering gifts Harbinger.” [Hierophant sends with a laugh.]

“What do you think Draakhaal wants with the ‘Dead Spheres’? Why do you think he has chosen that place to rally his forces? Do you think he wants to know how to kill a ‘Sea Sphere’ or how to replicate the ‘Stellar Orb’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I wish I knew. Certainly, it looks like he is interested in more than just getting control of the ‘Stellar Orb’ itself - that worries me greatly - as it suggests some even greater ambition. Unless he simply plans to attack the nation of his birth directly and he has given up on the ‘Orb’.” [Hierophant sends.]

“I wonder just how introverted are the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ would they know about the attacks against the ‘Sea Spheres’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“You know they may not.” [Hierophant sends.]

“So what would happen if they came under direct assault by ‘Sea Sphere’ ‘Living Hulls’?” [Harbinger asked.]

“War. Of course that could be it. Maybe he wants to start a war maybe that was his only interest in the ‘Stellar Orb’ as well. Perhaps he is simply driven by vengeance against those that cast him out can it be that simple?” [Hierophant sends.]

“You know the scale of the ‘Stellar Orb’ has probably effected our reasoning it probably is just that simple. Everything I have heard about the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ suggests they will go to any length to burn their foes once riled.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Unfortunately how can we warn the ‘Court’ without giving it away? I would imagine Draakhaal is sure to have spies all over his old home ground.” [Hierophant sends.]

“We don’t warn them we let Draakhaal begin his assault then we come in behind and prove our credentials the hard way.” [Harbinger sends.]

“We who?” [Hierophant sends.]

“Myself a few other Paradox and a tight band of ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ individuals we can trust and even with that we don’t give them any coordinates to the last moment. We need official Navy ‘Dwellers’ to prove they are not hostile to the ‘Protean League Stellar’ and it is a ruse by their old exile. We prepare a data blast telling the whole story about Draakhaals plot to start a War and broadcast it at the ‘Stellar’ as we engage. [Harbinger sends.]

“I have systems I can quickly and covertly deploy to monitor ‘Protean League’ Space I’ll provide the coordinates if you think you can raise a force of Dwellers discreetly?” [Hierophant sends.]

“I can’t but I think old Reeskoo can manage that under some pretext or other.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Best get him at it then as you will need to assemble a fleet out in the dark. I hope you have some good virtual entertainments as it could be a long wait.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Conversely they could be raiding already so we had both best get busy.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Some furious negotiations followed. Sure enough, Reeskoo did succeed in gathering a small but impressive fleet of Dweller ‘Living Hulls’ helped by Harbinger’s growing reputation as the Paradox who provided the cure against ‘Living Hull’ subjugation. Efficient and Unholy also turned up eager for a rematch after the ‘Opal Prime’ incident.]

“Hopefully this time they won‘t have all those ground batteries in support.” [Efficient sends to Harbinger.]

“Well we are hoping to catch them in space.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Only Efficient and Unholy knew the whole story while Reeskoo knew a lot but nothing about the ‘Stellar Orb’ and Hierophant.]

[We waited one, two, three days growing impatient despite various drills. We practiced fleet manoeuvres anti boarding, boarding, explosive decompression, fire, evacuation, medical alerts, system failures and so on. I added considerable bulk to my magazine defences shaping my hull still further so that any internal explosion should naturally channel outward rather than inward. We did simulations of the effects of attacks using our new ammunition based weapons set at various rates of fire.]

[We quickly realised that restraint was going to be the key very careful short well-aimed bursts. Further, as the rounds would just keep going for some considerable distance before they timed out we would have to be very aware of friendly fire issues. I drilled the Beta Gunners with the new systems until they were completely comfortable with their dynamics and knew not just when but also when not to fire.]

[On the forth day, the call came in we received a live feed of the Stolen Fleet as it moved to engage nothing less than the Fortress of the ‘Stellar Court’ itself. We received our coordinates and jumped in arriving just as battle was joined between the suborned ‘Living Hulls’ and local ‘Stellar Swimmer’ (Recycler made) ships.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Stellar Court, Protean League, Stellar Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[Picking a slot, we arrived within weapons range of a ‘Living Hull’ Frigate and opened up with low bolts and fast short-range torpedoes to good effect (mostly due to the element of surprise). The Frigate exploded in what seemed like an instant. Since almost all of the Frigates weapons targeted a ‘Stellar Swimmer’ Static Defence Platform, our shields survived that encounter intact. Nonetheless, despite constantly broadcasting our data burst message, many ships, including ourselves soon accepted fire on their shields from Static Defences. Then just as Harbinger was about to retaliate out of necessity they ceased engaging us and concentrated solely on Draakhaal’s forces. Clearly, we had been reprioritised as friendly - much to our relief - our greatest fear being a muddled three-way fight.]

[I was impressed at the quick response it seemed clear somebody reasonably skilful was in charge of this sectors overall defence. Due to our unexpected arrival, we initially hit them hard in the rear and the rear flanks taking out several ships and forcing our way into their formations hindquarter without taking any losses. However, the enemy fleet was forcing its own way with similar good effect. The ‘Stellar’ defensive cordon was already buckling making our intervention seem ineffectual. In fact in a strategic overview it almost looked like our efforts were just encouraging them to push harder onward.]

[Draakhaal’s fleet advanced in a rather odd sharp stacked cone shaped formation like a spear head pointed directly at the Fortress Habitat. To me it was a lethal if dangerously inflexible assault group. It screamed out its intent the showy utter destruction of that seat of authority, at any cost to itself.]

[The tip of the Cone in particular poured a devastating amount of firepower to the front blasting everything that dared to challenge its advance out of its way with reckless abandon. Even a Battleship and Dreadnaught that jumped in to bar access to the habitat were soon withering under that concentration of multiple ship firepower. I watched impotent as the ‘Stellar’ defenders jumped out; it was either that option or destruction. Still they left a swathe of mines behind.]

[To my surprise, Draakhaal’s forces seemed content to ignore what we were doing to their rear then I realised they also had commenced laying a vast number of mines and drop turrets. We pulled sharply away from that unprofitable exercise. We released missiles to assist with general clearance duties, but refused to plough through that defence, as it would be too debilitating for our shields.]

[Harbinger launched a salvo of Jump torpedoes into the very heart of the enemy in an attempt to break up their formation. As their forces kept strict relative positions, judging the Jump Torpedoes entry point to collide with our targets advance was easy. Although it had some small effect, it seemed overall insignificant until an opportunistic ‘Stellar’ missile Frigate took advantage of this breach to Jump into the narrow gap with suicidal bravery. The Frigate unleashed an infernally insane barrage of missiles and torpedoes that left me astounded elated and appalled at the bravery and waste of that Captain.]

[Surrounded on all sides the Missile Frigate, looked hopelessly doomed. However, before it succumbed to an inevitable destruction, it launched a great many potent torpedoes, and heavy-duty missiles at point blank range. Due to the proximity, almost all of the ordnance found their targets with murderous effect. When the Frigate eventually exploded another ‘Stellar’ ship immediately jumped in to the widening gap this time a Destroyer. Again, the surrounded ship looked doomed but again it did an impressive amount of destruction firing from every turret and launching non-stop from every available tube right up until the last moment when it dropped a hoard of seeker mines and drones and jumping out. Another then replaced it. This Jump relay was an interesting tactic that seemed to be working well.]

[Nonetheless, the spear continued with its advance as if nothing could halt its inexorable thrust. I realised the mines dropped earlier to the fore of the formation were gone popping harmlessly under a mass of Ion Disruptors. The spear edged ever closer to the Fortress Habitat. Missiles and torpedoes fired in advance were already striking the ‘Stellar Courts’ shields despite a blistering amount of point defence fire from a plethora of station turrets. Six potent Ion beam weapons then lashed out from the Fortress. Against those beams, the Raiders tight formation was a disaster as the Ion streams branched off joining every vessel in a web of disruption. Still the zombie ships came on just taking the drain to their shields as if they did not care about their fate.]

[Meanwhile many of our own ships fighting on the flank also suffered the attention of the branching Ion weapons - even ourselves - although due to IDR in our case the Ion weapons just reflected back at their firers.]

[The tip of the spear came into main weapons range and commenced to pummel the Courts shielding. As the mass moved forward, it began to flatten out and surround its prime target. With lightning dancing, High Bolts, and Ion Storm Pulses flaring it almost looked like the Fortress was beset by some strange chaotic anomaly.]

[We raced in to surge along one now less coherent flank shifting to the Tri-guns we closed with an old style Swimmer ‘Living Hull’ cruiser getting up close and personal. I had once known that ship ‘Anemone’ had been her name now her once rich green scintillating hull looked washed out and she had unhealthy scab like brown patches - a zombie ship licked and illuminated by white Ion ribbons. We reflected Heavy Ion Storm Cannon fire back at her due to our IDR upgrade so that she inadvertently stripped her own shields. Then our guns spun their gyrating nine-barrel (three rotating groups of triple rotating barrels) dance. Explosive death rained down. I confess that despite the simulations I was shocked as blast upon blast chewed through the cruisers flesh in a chain of flashing destruction that made me ache in sympathy as we gutted her insides. Somehow, every explosive round seemed more nakedly aggressive than our old Paradox High Bolts had ever been.]

[When the venerable old craft exploded it almost seemed like a mercy. We emerged through the glow to fixate on another victim this time a corvette that was simply brushed aside by a spurt of well aim Beta Drone fire from one top turret as if an irrelevance. Next, we pounced upon a Fast Assault Frigate that was busy engaging a ‘Stellar’ Destroyer our front turrets spat death upon an already weakened shield. The energy protection vanished under our barrage then the Frigates rear quarter was simply ripped asunder we raced on leaving a dead floating half hull behind us.]

[We targeted a Destroyer that was pouring all its firepower at the ‘Stellar Court’. The Fortress had exceptionally good shielding. However, it was now becoming a competition between the Habitat’s shield depletion and how fast the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ and we could destroy the attacking fleet. The first of the Habitats three stacked shields failed. Our turrets spun as we increased our fire rate the Destroyer rent asunder with a terrifying violence that unless witnessed would not be believed. We charged on to the next largest target of opportunity contemptuous of the ion streams and blasts rebounding from our shields.]

[Other allies seeing our success began to join in behind us beginning with Efficient although many kept enough space to avoid the leaping Ion energy Efficient joined us in tight support. We became the sharp point of a vicious counter attack. Ship after ship fell to us in a glut of destruction. It became a game of spot, hunt and kill. We measured times passage in flares of light and diminishing tallies of ammunition reserves not to mention a fearful countdown of the Fortresses shield strength.]

[The ‘Stellar Courts’ second shield was tore away however we began to relax as few of the stolen ‘Living Hulls’ now remained - our victory looked near. Then to our disquiet, another smaller but substantial battle group jumped in. They were all Stolen Swimmer ‘Living Hull’ missile Frigates eleven in total they unleashed a deadly barrage of jump torpedoes. It was too much; we could do absolutely nothing. The last shield fell exposing naked hull. The ‘Stellar Court’ began to blast apart. Refugee ships, life pods, and shuttle pods obviously awaiting a potential disaster launched from every dock a few even made it miraculously to safety but the majority where caught in the Fortresses stupendous explosive shockwave when it finally succumbed to an energetic oblivion.]

[When the white out had died and we had rode that tidal wave of force to its conclusion our sensors once more came online. The battle was over the Missile Frigates and the remnant of the Spear Head was gone destroyed or they had jumped away. I suspected all the Missile Frigates had escaped while the last of the Spearhead failed to escape the violence of their own success. Our own shields were at a shockingly low eight percent. After dropping an ‘Exogenous Stealth Satellite’ we jumped away to a dark coordinate to recoup just in case the Arch Chancellor had any more reserves to throw against us.]

[By ‘Exogenous communications’ we learned two of the ‘Nine’ had been taken by the unexpected violence of the Fortresses destruction. Luckily Unholy was not one of the deceased and Efficient had survived thanks in part to the IDR upgrade he had installed using some of his share from the salvage operation. We idled basking waiting for our shield strength to regenerate. Our ammunition reserves were also very low in some turrets although a couple remained reasonably well stocked. It became a question of temporarily using internal redistribution systems until we could recommence mining and manufacturing duties.]

[With our shield restored, we returned to the ‘Protean League’ and the site of the eradicated ‘Stellar Court’.]

[Location: The Master of the Void, Stellar Court, Protean League, Stellar Space, Emissary Sphere.]

“Harbinger it is an honour to meet you at last.” [Admiral Jooluunuu sends in a flooded chamber onboard the ‘Stellar’ Dreadnaught.]

“I have prayed for the souls of your dead.” [Harbinger sends.]

“No offence Paradox but our dead are beyond any aid my concern is with the living.” [Jooluunuu mocked via his sending.]

“If you say so, what is the word from your provisional government?” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is a stormy session Harbinger and a long way from being concluded which is a good thing. Far too many claim to believe your intervention is just a ruse to a wider betrayal. I have said my piece but the outcome is certain. I do not like the shape of this new ruling body. I will be forced to resign my commission as the Prime Defender and go into exile.” [Jooluunuu sends.]

“I did not realise it was that bad.” [I send.]

“I fear Draakhaal has out manoeuvred us he has won both the Battle and the War here despite your valiant efforts.” [Jooluunuu sends.]

“You believe he has hidden supporters among the new Court?” [I send.]

“I fear the new Court is just a long reaching tentacle of Draakhaals will. Although the tally of deaths from the battle was rather suspicious, I doubt I will ever be able to prove this. I was lucky to survive an assassination attempt on the Fortress if I stay here next time I may not be so fortunate.” [Jooluunuu sends.]

“That is infuriating.” [Harbinger sends to his new friend.]

“That my friend is politics. I imagine in time a new figure will arrive here our adversary Draakhaal with a new outer skin and under another name. Perhaps as an advisor to the Court maybe even as an Arch Chancellor if he is feeling especially bold - that would be his style - to hide right out in the open. You had best gather all your ‘Paradox’ and your ‘Dwellers’ and leave this place while you can. I do not think I will await the outcome of this Court session either. They might go so far as to try to claim I am a ‘Dweller’ sympathiser - a traitor to my species. I do not wish to fight some of those I trained nor do I wish to precipitate a civil war - not now - not when we cannot possibly win.” [Jooluunuu sends.]


_________________
Beyond 'X' Far future (Fanfic): BkI BkII BkIII

Never more than 98.8 percent sure about anything.
98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


Last edited by Paranoid66 on Thu, 26. Mar 09, 12:36; edited 1 time in total
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Snowship



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PostPosted: Thu, 26. Mar 09, 07:57    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

nice intriging enermy there Paranoid66, wonder what he's got up his sleave (and how many ships he's got left)...

Keep em coming Very Happy


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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Sat, 4. Apr 09, 11:59    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

[[TEN]]

[Location: The Many Truths, Dark Space Coordinate, Emissary Sphere.]

“Cursed ‘Stellar’ Renegade ingrates.” [Reeskoo sends from an associates ship lying in a dark space coordinate of its own.]

“At least they helped us to destroy a lot of stolen vessels.” [Harbinger sends.]

“They did not help us - we helped them - and they helped themselves. We risk our lives and they repay us by embracing the same sea viper we came here to destroy.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Still our conscience is clean - at least we tried - and it’s not over yet.” [Harbinger sends.]

“When you get to my age you realise it is never ever over. Nonetheless, I am becoming wary of the course the future is taking. How could we allow this to happen in our age?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Now that old friend is a good question.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am beginning to think that all those years ago once Drooshuu was defeated the allies should have continued on and utterly crushed the ‘Stellar Nations’.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“One atrocity is no excuse for another. Would you really advocate a genocide?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Yesterday I would have said not, at the moment…” [Reeskoo sends.]

“That is just frustration speaking. I would love to know what our intelligence agencies have been doing: especially ‘Dweller Intelligence’ they cannot have been entirely in ignorance.” [Harbinger sends.]

“What precisely do you mean?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Well I now know ‘Sea Sphere’ operatives keep a close watch on their Renegade cousins.” [Harbinger sends.]

“With good reason the ‘Stellar Swimmers’ are a constant threat.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“So do you really think your intelligence services have remained ignorant of all these developments?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not like where you are going with this.” [Reeskoo sends sounding less than impressed.]

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a faction among ‘Dweller Intelligence’ have misguidedly sponsored or at the least sought to use Draakhaal’s ambitions.” [Harbinger sends in warning.]

“Crazy conspiracy theories like that could make you new enemies and lose you old friends.” [Reeskoo sends in warning.]

“That almost sounds like a threat.” [Harbinger sends surprised.]

“I hope you know me better than that. Not a threat, just advice emotions are running hot since the ship thefts. You should be careful you have done us a great service and it is much appreciated - why spoil it.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“How about because this crazy conspiracy theory is far from implausible - whether you like it or not - I’m telling you Reeskoo something is wrong with ‘Dweller Intelligence’ they set me up.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Keep out of it Harbinger you have no idea what is going on with that one. A poorly considered intervention could ruin years of covert operations.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Agents from ‘Benevolence Orb’ handed me over to the ‘Conglomerate’ do you expect me to forget that?” [Harbinger sends.]

“More likely the infiltration of the ‘Sea Spheres’ is deeper than we originally suspected?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I would not doubt that possibility but I do not think that explains everything. Your intelligence people have an agenda of their own.” [Harbinger sends.]

“If you get in their way they won’t stay their tentacles if that is what you mean. Of course they have an agenda Harbinger - they are tasked with keeping my species secure.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Perhaps they believe a strong leader like Draakhaal could restrain the ’Stellar’ and be somebody they could deal with.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Not likely the last strong leader the Renegades had of any note was Drooshuu.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Perhaps then they believe Draakhaal’s ambitions could keep the ‘Stellar’ infighting for decades. My fear would be that he is actually smart enough to initiate a real unification. I am worried they are underestimating him. These are very muddy waters where even the best of intentions can have bad consequences.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You need to remember that as well Harbinger. Listen as much as I respect you this is hardly your field of expertise. You are making a lot from scant evidence further this unpalatable theory of collusion is down right dangerous. We need to be united not tear ourselves apart with unfounded suspicions.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I just want you to seriously consider the possibility of DI collusion. Think about it and watch your people closely. Anybody can make a mistake - yes including me - but sponsoring the enemy of your enemy is nothing new and historically those plans often backfire; especially when the wrong person is sponsored for the right reasons.” [Harbinger sends.]

“True, but if DI (Dweller Intelligence) is involved I would bet Draakhaal’s fate when they are done with him will be a long drop into the abyss.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“That may be their intention but Draakhaal is no idiot. I fear anyone who tries to use the Arch Chancellor will be the ones making the mistake. I already suspect the Recycler’s ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ is travelling that path to their lasting regret.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Recyclers the scavengers of Outer Space!” [Reeskoo sends with contempt.]

“You should warn ‘Dweller Intelligence’ if they deal with Draakhaal they will rue that alliance also if they deal with the ‘Conglomerate’ neither should be trusted or underestimated.” [Harbinger sends.]

“If ‘Dweller Intelligence’ are really involved to that degree then I am content that they know what they are doing. In fact I am sorry I got involved.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I’m sure they are Reeskoo. From the outside, many things like wide trends can be easier to spot. Who could miss so many - accidental - deaths among the heirs to the ‘Stellar Court’? Many ‘Swimmer’ operatives must have reported that, many analysts seen the pattern and policy makers made their choices.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Perhaps you are right however, Intelligence can be misinterpreted. Facts that seem clear as clean water with hindsight at the time can be as clouded as a sea full of bloated corpses.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“If only it was that simple - trust me - DI is playing with an unstable Anomaly one that is likely to blow up in their face.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I do not want to quarrel about these mere suppositions Harbinger. The important question is what can / should we do about the - real - problem if anything? Have we no option other than this ignominious retreat home after winning our battle? This betrayal by the ‘Stellar Court’ will have its own more immediate consequences and we are responsible.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I thought DI had everything under control.” [Harbinger sends sarcastically.]

“They have not been in control of our meddling we may well have made matters worse.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“No worse than the effect of covert support for Draakhaal - that to me is the real problem. We cannot fight against everybody we need to win over allies of our own. We need to steal Draakhaal’s friends away before it is too late maybe even his - pretend - friends. I would wager my ship Draakhaal is using them all - not the other way around - no matter what they might think.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Be careful Harbinger this is not a private duel or a vendetta between individuals anymore, this is proving too big for that. It was a different story to interfere directly when it was just about Tleeboosuu’s fight for ‘Pearl’. If the agencies are involved it is time to take a back seat. It is best to stay clear and let them get on with it. My advice would be - do not take it so personally - just let it go otherwise you could become everyone’s favourite target of opportunity.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“If we cannot save our own from folly what hope do we have of convincing the ‘Stellar’ to abandon Draakhaal as their future saviour or their quest to one day create another ‘Stellar Orb’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“That is not our job Harbinger you would be wise not to overestimate our role or underestimate the part that will be played by ‘Dweller Intelligence’.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I suppose with enemy sympathisers making up the majority of the ‘Court’ there is little we can do. However I am convinced that somehow we must expose Draakhaal’s plots to the wider ‘Stellar’ populace - without it appearing to be just enemy propaganda - that is why in the future people like Admiral Jooluunuu will be so important to our cause.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You are putting a lot of faith into a ‘Stellar’ citizen who just happened to appear when he was needed.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I do not think so; Jooluunuu has stature despite being outmanoeuvred on this one occasion.” [Harbinger sends.]

“‘Out manoeuvred on this one occasion’ is that really how you see it? I find it incredible that Draakhaal managed to murder so many members of the ‘Protean League’s’ leadership yet Jooluunuu an obviously dangerous and hated opponent managed to escape unscathed.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Now who is being overly suspicious?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Not at all from what I have heard ‘Stellar’ leaders always have plenty of bodyguards and so on (being quarrelsome and warlike they are paranoid about their security). I do not trust Jooluunuu maybe he was on that station secretly coordinating the cull. You complain about ‘Dweller Intelligence’ then support a ‘Stellar’ you barely know. You are the one making an error - they do not think the way we do - they believe War is a good thing a benison to be propagated a test of strength, a way to eliminate the weak.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Reeskoo I never imagined you would be a bigot. Apparently, after ejecting Draakhaal the ‘Protean League’ became very settled they believed they only had to fear - external - threats. Now that is something you should think about.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So - according to the Admiral - they all just happened to be easily lulled into a false sense of internal security.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“They believed Draakhaal was a spent force his own Clan was decimated following his first attempted coup. Conversely, the destruction of the ‘Stellar Court’ was the culmination of a prolonged vendetta by the Arch Chancellor against both the institution and the individuals that had dared to exile him. Draakhaal no doubt went to extreme lengths to ensure his foes failed to discover his emergence as the Arch Chancellor of ‘Opal Prime’. Draakhaal is thorough in everything he does.” [Harbinger sends.]

“So how exactly did he manage these miraculous on station assassinations?” [Reeskoo asked.]

“Well I do not have all the facts only the intelligence Jooluunuu shared with me. What I do know is that Draakhaal lured his targets to an emergency Court session over an incident our new associate refused to elaborate on - some occurrence that terrified them - I wish I knew what that was. I doubt the timing of that gathering was an accident. Then Draakhaal arranged the external attack to draw their attention and to blame the ‘Dwellers’ while the real killers (assassins and saboteurs) struck from within. Nothing was left to chance: communications were disrupted, escape routes sealed, Warp Devices disabled; almost all those who did manage to get away for one reason or another did so with Draakhaal’s allies blessing.” [Harbinger sends.]

“The point I am making is how? The ‘Stellar Swimmers’ are known to have excellent security. How did so many planted agents get onboard such an important and I would imagine well guarded installation and how did those forces escape the stations ruin?” [Reeskoo asked.]

“You might as well ask how did Draakhaal steal all those ‘Dweller’ ships? Apparently his forces had no need to escape the Fortress.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Pardon, what do you mean? Are you saying he used all of them up?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Jooluunuu told me the soldiers probably belonged to a Multiplied special unit named the ‘Undying’ (altered Id downloads of Eaasuu a renowned Renegade assassin). The ‘Undying’ were infamous agents of Draakhaal believed to have been hunted down and destroyed following his earlier failed coup.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Do you think Draakhaal would be foolish enough to risk betraying killers of that nature?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“No betrayal was involved the reborn ‘Undying’ are preconditioned to perceive Draakhaal as an unquestionable commander. They have an inbuilt compulsion to serve him even onto death and rebirth. Physical death means nothing to such tools. Any natural psychology of self preservation is realigned to simply ensuring the continuation of the wider cause by any means necessary.” [Harbinger explained.]

“So they are like your Beta Clones little more than biological machine - fanatics - that mock sentient life; living abominations. That is a sick abuse of the rebirth process is their no murky depth this Arch Chancellor and the ‘Stellar’ will not plunge to get their way.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Draakhaal’s Assassins are hardly the same thing as a Paradox Beta Clone subsystem. Draakhaal is not the first to misuse genetic engineering or to hack a Reborn’s memory download before implantation. To recap it took Admiral Jooluunuu’s own Space Marines to secure him a warp cubicle to safety and even then, he claimed he was lucky to escape. Personally I admit it - I do trust the Admiral - within reason. Jooluunuu’s motivation (as far as I can tell) is simply the protection of his people and I am sure he believes Draakhaal’s brand of sinister tyranny is a threat not a benison. In Jooluunuu I sense the dignity and nobility of a true public servant.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well I am yet to be convinced - at best Jooluunuu failed his people and perhaps yours and mine as well. If I understand this right, the Arch Chancellor gaining control of the ‘League’ endangers the peace for everyone. Did Jooluunuu foresee none of these events? You say he was the ‘Leagues’ Prime Defender did that office not cover internal security? I think it is more likely he is a double agent and you should be more wary of who you embrace.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It is not that simple Reeskoo I too had many doubts and questions. In relation to his actions before I left his Dreadnaught Jooluunuu had answered every discrepancy.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I’m sure he did.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Let go of your prejudices and listen: the ‘Protean League’ had a convenient border dispute with the Recycler’s; I believe allies of Draakhaal manipulated the ‘Stellar Court’. It was hardly an accident that they sent Jooluunuu to that frontier to maintain stability. Jooluunuu’s assignment happened a little over eighteen months ago (for him there was no escaping this prolonged duty). Every time it looked like he might be recalled to the ‘Court’ trouble surged up again: escalating raids, and or the Recycler’s ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ wished to initiate new negotiations, or mutual security measures against what they insisted was an organised Pirate threat. The Recyclers claimed a plot was in progress to destabilise both Recycler and ‘Stellar Space’ by creating a border war between the two races - a war that would only benefit the lawless. Interestingly the Recyclers soon refused to deal with anybody other than Jooluunuu in relation to anti Pirate operations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I would have thought the ‘League’ would have been delighted to maintain a low grade conflict just to train their forces. I find this all a little flimsy even if Jooluunuu claims he was skilfully banished before he was exiled.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“You are bigoted just accept that it was only after the ‘Stellar Court’ was destroyed that Jooluunuu discovered the plot. Before this, he had no idea that a great number of widely varied attritions had quietly eliminated a host of heirs over the last few years. Unfortunately, the assassins knew the more honourable clan members did not believe in rebirth they say ‘it is better to live one life well than to stretch yourself over several existences poorly’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Well do not expect me to trust him. I find the whole thing suspicious even that Jooluunuu is this open to you - a stranger - as well as the member of a competing species is suspect.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“We made a connection on some level perhaps because we have a common enemy. It all makes perfect sense to me. It is just a pity that ‘Stellars’ consider keeping their Id on store a demonstration that they lack - self-belief - tantamount to a private and political admission of weakness. Perhaps this is also a consequence of using Multiplication for base troops it makes cloning unpalatable to the higher echelons of society.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I notice Draakhaal does not follow this foolish cultural affectation. Not recording your Id is idiotic and sounds like pure bravado to me. Leaders have a responsibility to ensure a continuity of service it is not about massaging your ego or niceties of etiquette. If you permit your light to be fully extinguished you encourage assassination as a solution to political differences. With regular Id captures and prepared clone replacements, political killings are senseless and unprofitable. I know a reborn is never quite the person they replace but to the outside universe they do well enough to fill any gap.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It is just culture shock Reeskoo many ‘Stellar Swimmers’ worship strength via the natural evolution of conflict and attrition. If everyone is reborn without prejudice - you nurture both the weak and the strong - for them this is unacceptable - true death is required to remove imperfection from the species gene pool. Different is not necessarily wrong for example it is normal in my society for a Warrior Priest to put his entire Vision at risk. Without consequences who would be responsible? My own family dwell entirely onboard the ‘Many Truths’ including my replacements; that helps to moderate my actions as a fighter. If I lose my ship while I am onboard it is the end of me and all that I might ever be - that tends to kill any misguided propensity towards overly rash action.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Really all your replacements that surprises me.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“It was a choice I made long ago because my Vision looked outward and was potentially meddlesome in others affairs. I believed my actions needed a counter balance - many others feel the same way. Anyway, to our Admiral’s dismay it was only after the fact that he discovered the plot to reshape the ‘Stellar Court’s’ membership. Once he saw the new ‘Court’, it was obvious to him. Sneakily however just enough corrupted individuals have taken seats to be in the majority which leaves several vociferous detractors around to avoid too much suspicion of an obvious coup among the less well informed - wider - populace.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose that is - just - plausible it seems this Draakhaal leaves little to the Lady. I find this all very disturbing though. Such manipulations make me glad I am just a simple shipbuilder not a political or military leader I hate the murky waters of intrigues.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I think if this escalates you may find that labels are irrelevant it will be integrity and quality that counts.” [Harbinger sends.]

“While it is scary that Draakhaal now controls both the ‘Hyades’ (including Opal Prime and Opal Pearl) and the ‘Protean League’ if DI is on the case I am sure he will eventually be dealt with.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I wish I could share that faith. The ‘League’ unlike the ‘Hyades’ is a seriously resource rich nation and a major power back in ‘Stellar Space’. It is just possible you ‘Dwellers’ have been nothing but a piece on the gaming board of Draakhaal’s ‘Stellar’ ambitions including DI. I suppose we can only hope the Arch Chancellor’s aspirations end with his acquisition of the ‘League’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“However you do not believe that he is so easily pleased - do you?” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Put it this way - I scanned the surviving wreckage; I discovered a singular lack of ‘Swimmer’ organic material there. Based on the statistical probabilities of the residue that should have existed they had to be running fully on automatics. Our adversary still has his full intact cloned forces somewhere.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Careful Harbinger this massed Cloned Army remains nothing more than a rumour a possibility not a sure fact.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“True I suppose, although you know those who resort to ‘Multiplication’ almost always have large numbers of cloned troops. In addition, based on records of the Battle only between two thirds or even as little as half the listed numbers of captured vessels took part - mostly the older models - as well. Moreover, look at the direction of the spin Draakhaal’s ‘Stellar Court’ have taken. The ‘Court’ are striving to blame the attack on you ‘Dwellers’ I think they will try to bring other ‘Stellar’ nations into an alliance against the ‘Sea Spheres’ I would. They have neatly manufacture an outside threat to all ‘Stellar Swimmers’. Jooluunuu believes that Draakhaal’s ambitions are boundless he desires to rule the entirety of the ‘Emissary Sphere’. I know that sounds ridiculous but the Admiral told me Draakhaal is a believer in Total War and seeks to create a singular Empire such as has never been seen before he is an advocate of unity. He actually believes it is necessary to stave off an even greater external threat a peril from beyond the ‘Unknown‘s Gate’ a fine excuse for megalomania.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Emissary! That was some - after the fact - apologists’ excuses for Drooshuu’s actions in creating the ‘Stellar Orb’ and attacking your domain; some nonsense about a Paradox plot to open the ‘Unknown’s Gate’. No one believed that story then and I doubt anyone other than one of Draakhaal’s supporters would believe it now. You have a firm list of our compromised ships can I see it?” [Reeskoo sends.]

[Harbinger data blasted a copy.]

“How did you get this?” [Reeskoo sends sounding mildly alarmed.]

“Tleeboosuu managed to put it together for me. Our young friend believes it to be about seventy percent accurate he told me some ‘Spheres’ are trying to cover up the full extent of their official losses for security reasons.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I suppose this list explains why Draakhaal was willing to throw so many ships away in that spearhead in such a blithe manner. Automation also makes sense of that tight mutually supportive attack formation. That cone ought to work well as a pre planned - uncreative - battle group.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“Those were also my thoughts.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Unfortunately, it all fits together far too well. As you know I just build ships Harbinger, I do not generally command them in battle, but I have nonetheless picked up a little bit of knowledge via association with ship Captains like yourself. Friends here ran some simulated recreations of the battle afterwards. I could not understand why they did not just jump right into firing range with the Fortress. The ‘Stellar Swimmers’ rarely use EDPG (Exit Destabilise Pulse Generator) defences. Anyone could appear right on top of their precious Fortress.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I now see it as a showy assault, almost a demonstration of might that so many stolen assets could be thrown away (surplus to later requirements) as a mere distraction. It is possible Draakhaal had a need to impress his new allies as much as to destroy his enemies.” [Harbinger sends.]

“This Draakhaal is beginning to strike me as a player of games. The sort of sentient who is interested in more than just a victory he has to win with style and make fools of his opponents - that could prove a weakness.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“He is building a legend it would take more than a normal sentient to rule over a Universal Sphere. Draakhaal needs to do much more than just win he will need to convince hosts to eventually join his crusade and submit to his will. Speaking of matters of morale how is your and my tally with your people. Do the ‘Dwellers’ with you count our recent engagement as a victory or a futile and costly misadventure?” [Harbinger sends.]

“My people perceive the battle as a success - if a painful one - (after all we have just destroyed our own ships) you can imagine how that feels.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“I hope I never get to fully find out I am still worried by that biomechanical virus they may have or develop other even more potent strains.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I hope not. Trust me Harbinger we do appreciate your efforts so far - you and your ‘Many Truths’ are becoming justifiably famous. Nonetheless, that does not make you immune from criticism people are already grumbling about your new weaponry. We have concerns about those Tri-guns although a few may just be a little jealous of Paradox ‘Anomalous Matter’. In truth those weapons bother me as well - they are a vicious development - and sure to initiate an arms race.” [Reeskoo sends.]

“My choice of weaponry is not open to debate it is closed Paradox Priest business. As to escalation, I believe that is occurring all around us already. I fear if we do not endeavour to keep up all will be lost.” [Harbinger sends firmly.]

“I have spoken with some of the detractors of your weaponry reminding them how you Paradox have always used ‘Anomalous Matter’ micro charges without upsetting the balance or precipitating mass slaughters. Still you are swimming down a narrow tunnel in the dark with that ammunition. ‘Anomalous Matter’ is a serious business look at how it helped to destroy the Trojan your ‘Council of Equals’ may well receive some protests despite my attempts at intervention on your behalf.” [Reeskoo sends in warning.]

“Trust me such complaints will be a waste of effort the Council will not be moved easily against me.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Take care Harbinger wielding great power without an outward show of humility could brand you as a dangerous aggressor somebody creating rather than solving problems. I have to go now I have business to attend to that will take my full concentration.” [Reeskoo sends before terminating his connection.]

[Harbinger considered that for a while then linked into Hierophant.]

“I see I will have to measure the weight of your exact words more finely in future Harbinger.” [Hierophant sends with a warm chuckle.]

[I could sense my Captain relax via our Companion-ship link. I knew Harbinger had been dreading talking with Hierophant ever since he resorted to the Tri-guns. We send the Trojan a data burst to keep him fully up to date on all the other developments.]

“It always pays to listen as carefully as you speak.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Draakhaal has proven just how dangerous he is. We have all underestimated that Renegades abilities and ambitions. He is proving a wily opponent a true strategist skilled at obscuration. It is just possible his open hunger for the ‘Stellar Orb’ has been nothing but a false trail.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Perhaps he simply does not underestimate its defences. I assume all is still well with the ‘Orb’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“It is - as yet - undisturbed. I admit I now feel a lot more confident about my protective measures. I feel safe to tell you now that I actually feared my ‘Warp Harbour’ defences were malfunctioning slightly. I could not understand how so any ships had managed to escape them recently. Due to this I undertook an extensive review of their procedures, battle plans and operations and came to a startling conclusion. My Harbours deliberately let those ships go.” [Hierophant explained.]

“I do not understand are you talking about sabotage or malfunction?” [Harbinger asked.]

“No nothing like that. My Harbours were just being well… a little too creative. It seems they realised that the scouting missions were organised probes. My Harbours decided to actively lure in the individuals behind these missions rather than just remove the scout groups. A bit scary really, as they were also planning aggressive counter strikes if that option failed notably to go out and actively hunt down the miscreants if needed. Apparently they decided that ‘the best form of defence is sometimes attack’.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Are you serious they were going to take independent action outside of ‘No Mercy’ - that sounds very dangerous - what kind of Artificial Intelligence are you toying with?” [Harbinger sends aghast.]

“Do not panic my ‘Warp Harbours’ are administered by Biological Computers we Trojans have long used those for - creative - applications just like you Paradox. We simply preferred not to advertise the fact (in fact we generally hid them away inside rather bland hardware cases with loads of added fail-safes to prevent them going rogue). Guess from what race the cursed ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’ stole their idea for disembodied brains linked into a machine. Of course, no Trojan would ever have joined a load of self-opinionated egotists to form a living network. Our Biological Computers were grown and educated from scratch not extracted from some moron’s skull complete with a lifetime’s neurosis.” [Hierophant sends.]

“I see, so your Jump Harbour defences are cunning?” [Harbinger sends.]

“My Harbours had certainly become a little too cursed clever and independent for my liking. I had to limit their old brief with firmer boundaries. My fault I never should have left them to their own devices for such a prolonged period. As I admitted before I chose not to dwell on the ‘Stellar Orb’ too many bad memories. In addition, it can be hard keeping on top of every project I have initiated over the years. If only if was safe to clone myself I like to keep busy but when this many things are happing at once it can get a little ridiculous.” [Hierophant sends.]

“Please Hierophant do not even joke about Trojan Professor Multiplication.” [Harbinger sends with a roar of laughter.]

“Actually Harbinger I have been considering a solution along the lines of your Paradox Acolytes. I have been talking with Wilful Spirit he thinks Acolyte technicians and laboratory assistants could be a feasible answer to my many difficulties.” [Hierophant sends.]

“I’m not sure what I think about that, although it would certainly be better than Multiplication. Is that the - real - reason why you have such an interest in my species?” [Harbinger sends.]

“What do you mean by ‘the real reason’? Do you suspect I am being duplicitous?” [Hierophant sends.]

“There is a lot you are not telling me Hierophant.” [Harbinger sends.]

“You had best get used to that Harbinger I have many good reasons for often keeping my own counsel.” [Hierophant sends.]

“That does not make trust easy.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Take care I suspect our foes would love to see our friendship ruined. I am interested in the Paradox for a whole host of reasons of which the nature of your families is but one. What are you up to now Harbinger?” [Hierophant sends.]

“I thought I would get away for a bit and do a little exploring.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Just exploring Harbinger you see we all keep our secrets. Well if you need me, you know where I am. Please be careful with the ‘Anomalous Matter’.” [Hierophant sends logging out.]

“Exploring Harbinger?” [I send.]

“I want to take a look at those ‘Dead Spheres’ it is clear to me Hierophant may never be entirely open with us.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Hierophant is no doubt hiding many facts possibly for our own good like he claims.” [I send.]

“Playing devils advocate again. Nonetheless I have to see what can be seen, but first some mining and some more ammunition manufacturing. You know how it is ‘a Priests work is never done’.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Flame Fields, Unclaimed Space, Emissary Sphere.]

[I am extracting ‘Anomalous Matter’ when our proximity alarm sounds. Harbinger automatically takes the virtual bridge (ever since he returned from Opal Prime he has become very pro-active in flying me). It is four Recycler Missile Frigates spewing ordnance and holding us under the influence of hastily deployed Jump Inhibitor Arrays (it appears vulnerable Jump Inhibitor Satellites are being superseded by the more expensive but perhaps more practical turret mounted arrays).]

[Harbinger fires off a ‘Living Hull’ Shockwave to destroy the incoming missiles and torpedoes. Taking our inertial dampeners off line, he speeds us away hard at maximum constant acceleration. At the same time our Beta Clone Gunners open fire independently, long fast bursts lash out without mercy. Of the four Frigates, three rip savagely apart the proximity of the blast waves rock us. The last enemy ship survives but is disabled and quickly falls behind. It almost seems too easy.]

[We slow to normal restricted speed (a lot safer with so many anomalies nearby) then jump to a Dark Coordinate. To our surprise before we can recuperate the Alarm claxon screams out again this time two Destroyers shimmer in to flank us in close formation. More ordnance launches, more Jump Inhibitor Arrays aim at us, we initiate another shockwave. This time we also suffer the addition of well-directed High Bolt turret fire.]

“I think they are trying to deplete our energy reserves to capture us.” [Harbinger sends to me.]

[Our shields flare and sizzle on both flanks as the protective barrier suffers a steady depletion. However, our Tri-guns rage out and once again prove dominant culling one Destroyer with typical fury via concentrated fire it is literally broken into two pieces. The other jumps away narrowly escaping destruction its structural integrity also severely compromised its Jump Arrays very purposely destroyed first. Monitoring our own shield strength, it levels out at a reasonable forty-nine percent. We leap out again this time Harbinger cleverly uses the last of our jump energy to take us to ‘Watch Ward’.]

[Location: The Many Truths, Watch Ward, Paradox Domain, Emissary Sphere.]

[We emerge in one of the Static Defence protected jump arrival zones within the vast swathe of space otherwise protected by Exit Destabilise Pulse Generators. The EDPG constantly flare their emissions preventing any wormhole from opening in their general proximity. We go through the usual triple verification process. Slaved to traffic control we commence travelling down one space lane towards the third largest artificial construct in Paradox Space - the mighty - ‘War Head’ Fortress Habitat.]

[Behind us, a Recycler Battleship idiotically jumps in after us. The ‘Watch Wards’ uniquely heavy Static Defence ‘Demigod class’ Tri-beam weapons blaze forth. The proud Recycler Battleship suffers a clean dissection like a specimen on a laboratory table. The way the ‘Demigods’ with their Raw Energy Siphons power through shields, armour and hull as if meeting zero resistance is a horrendous sight for any ship to witness. The beam weapons make our ‘AM’ Tri-guns seem like toys.]

[It has been a very long time since we last saw RES fed ’Demigods’ in action. I scan the wreckage and detect some survivors inside. I feel sorry for them, as their fate will be to suffer extermination as if nothing more than a viral infection of our space. The scrapped ships resources will of course be cannibalised to add to ‘War Heads’ constantly upgraded defences.]

“I am glad we have extra jump energy reserves because we no longer use power consuming High Bolts.” [Harbinger sends.]

“That relayed attack certainly could have ended a lot worse for us.” [I send in agreement.]

“I’m beginning to fully appreciate our ‘Anomalous Matter’ firing Tri-guns. Like the family said it was either that or consider remounting our main gun and adding Raw Energy Siphons, but long ago I swore I would not do that to you.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Raw Energy Siphons are a brutish solution best kept to utterly dedicated Paradox Warships with little or no civilian interaction outside of our space. RES are just too scary for outsiders they even look aggressive. However Captain what concerns me right now is how those ships could find us like that?” [I send.]

“That cursed Recycler operative Nexus must have put some kind of trace on us. Something very smart that we missed.” [Harbinger sends as tugs tow the Battleships wreckage away it is still glowing hot along the edges of sharp energy weapon cuts.]

“A trace - that is impossible Harbinger - we scanned and searched everywhere.” [I send.]

“Well we missed something; we stay in dock until we find out what.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Harbinger elects to use his time here to take in the local sights and to socialise with Manifold. I believe he is trying to take his mind off the developing crisis and all the recent deaths we have caused.]

“Harbinger you dark star you have been holding out on me. What is this I hear about ‘Anomalous Matter’ weaponry and getting our local ‘Demigods’ to take out your leavings?” [Manifold roared embracing his friend. Manifold was still in the same old battered Combat Enhanced Shroud Suit.]

“I see some news still travels fast.” [Harbinger replied with a speaker laugh.]

[A short time later Manifold and Harbinger stood around a table in the War Room (a drinking den favoured by veterans). Trophies taken from a score of historic Paradox Campaigns decorated the walls here along with images of famous Paradox warships in battle.]

“So the Recyclers are after you. What is that about?” [Manifold asked.]

“One of their Agents tried to use me.” [Harbinger explained.]

“What happened?” [Manifold asked.]

“She died by her own hand - trying to take us with her - she failed.” [Harbinger answered.]

“I warned you about carrying passengers.” [Manifold said roaring with laughter.]

“So you did and I really should have listened.” [Harbinger replied sucking some alcohol into his suit.]

“Warships and passengers do not mix I learned that lesson a long time ago. Passengers make everything complicated while all the - best - wars are nice and simple. That is partially why I moved here it was getting too messy out there: too many alliances, too many entanglements, too many mouthy politicians. At least here, we know who the enemy is - anybody who tries to come here unsanctioned - anyone who tries to mess with the Gate. Did you bring one of your rounds like you promised?” [Manifold asked.]

[Harbinger handed over an ‘Anomalous Matter’ bullet. Manifold examined it with a portable hand scanner.]

“Neat and simple what is the timed out range on these?” [Manifold asked.]

“At the moment we are manufacturing them at ten kilometres. I know the range is a bit extreme but I wanted them to be as flexible as possible for use against stations and ships.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Utterly unguided just aim fire and watch them explode on contact primitive but sometimes that can be a good thing. I like it Harbinger there has been a lot of interest among the Gate Keepers here.” [Manifold explained.]

“I’d be more than happy for you to distribute these to those specific defenders of the ‘Emissary Sphere’ it is not as if that is general use. To be honest I am rather surprised nobody thought of this one before now.” [Harbinger sends.]

“I am sure they did they just lacked the bravery to be the first person to actually flaunt convention and do such a crazy thing. I think Composure did something radical with your genetics friend. Anyway it is your patent without question at least in Paradox Space what do you want for a licence to manufacture?” [Manifold asked.]

“If you do all the work I’d be happy with five percent of the profit. I owe you Manifold you helped me to financially survive the ‘Far’ Depot incident by accepting credit notes when I was in a seriously bad place.” [Harbinger replied.]

“I knew you were good for it Harbinger I could hardly see one of my favourite clients go under because of one financial misadventure. Five percent is excessively decent - you know I’m almost too old to turn down a good deal like that - but let’s say nine percent to salve my conscience.” [Manifold amended.]

“Really Manifold you and your lucky numbers. Still I accept.” [Harbinger replied.]

“To profitable endeavours.” [Manifold toasted sucking in some alcohol.]

[Two frustrating days after we docked the family finally found what we were looking for. The cleverness of the ruse was impressive. It was a tiny object attached to the inside of the ‘Exogenous’ Mini Link Womb. Obviously, the remote that Nexus had used to steal one Mini Link had also deposited the trace. Whatever type of signal it was sending we could not detect it on the usual band waves it was possibly also an ‘Exogenous’ device of some kind. It took another day for family experts to figure out a sure safe way to remove the item - we were positive it had to be booby-trapped.]

[Meanwhile I realised I had accepted that there was no going back to the High Bolts (Tri-guns were simply too effective).]

[I elect to embrace the new weaponry instead of fighting against them. I set to work on the many large and small internal changes that various experts in the family recommended during the convocation. I take on biomass from ‘War Heads’ stores and begin stretching my hull just a little with an emphasis on enlarging my basking plates. Once again, I rework my magazines this time I improve internal munitions transit between turrets via adding extra numbers of warp links.]

[I build up even more internal armour around the magazines specifically anti mass driver deflection shells covering the prime ammunition stores. I remove all but one of the guest staterooms. I fully absorb our main gun mount and fully scrap that weapon which is already broken down and in storage. The main gun Tri-Beam we installed after my upgrade to Pocket Battleship status (although much smaller than a ‘Demigod’) never proved useful due to poor energy efficiency. To become practical the main gun would have needed large unmistakable external Paradox - Military - grade ‘Raw Energy Siphons’ but that was not a vector we wished to take. I fully convert the gun mount into an entirely new backup bio energy store instead to service a salvaged secondary nested shield bought from Manifold at a discounted price.]

[Later a pleasantly giddy Harbinger warps back onboard. I allow part of myself to share his numb elation for a little while. It is funny how a little carelessness is euphoric. Harbinger goes to his meditation chamber, slips out of his Shroud Suit and curls up on the floor, to embrace sweet oblivion. Sleep is almost an optional extra to a suited Paradox but occasionally submitting to full rest - I feel - always helps Harbingers waking efficiency and mental balance.]

[My ‘Hull’ is strangely quiet despite all its shape shifting. The family taken out of stasis are loose on ‘War Head’ for some Rest and Recuperation. While the station is hardly a pleasure complex it is a wonderfully safe harbour, it also has a few diversions for off shift warriors. Only the Beta Clone subsystems remain onboard happily fulfilling their function within pleasing simulations of a perfect days work.]

[I add the secondary nested shield. Nested shields now seemed a necessity if you wished to avoid frequently taking hull damage in any major battle. Fearful of a hit on my magazines I am very happy to increase our shielding and I fear others will eventually follow our lead in relation to the Tri-guns. Even if they do not have access to weapons grade ‘Anomalous Matter’, I am sure our success will result in experimentation with other rapid-fire solutions using other high explosive rounds. Innovation demonstrated outside the Domain always breeds a degree of copying escalation another reason why we tended not to demonstrate our Raw Energy Siphons outside of Paradox Space.]

[It appears to me judging on the increase in civil strife that the ‘Emissary Sphere’ is about to suffer one of its periodic spasms of growing pains. In relation to the ‘Emissary Spheres’ staid development Harbinger should have been careful about the movement he wished for. Wishes have a horrible way of coming true in ways we never imagine. Perhaps a new age is about to dawn as my Captain suspects an age dominated by the belated consequences of Drooshuu’s creation of the ‘Stellar Orb’. Thinking about such matters, I am not looking forward to our next trip.]

[I find the idea of visiting the ‘Dead Spheres’ increasingly disturbing. I wonder if travelling to gawp upon those corpses is anything less than a desecration. I wonder just what sort of ghosts the ‘Sea Spheres’ may have left behind to haunt us all. I worry about what Hierophant may still be hiding from us. I also fear we may stir up the Arch Chancellors direct wrath in response to this intrusion and we already have enough trouble with the ‘Conglomerate’. A data search on the ships that attacked us earlier reveals registration in homeports (we have never even heard of) deep in closed Recycler Space. Harbinger had been right about the ‘Conglomerate’ choosing to use Assassins rather than trying to make a case against us via poorly enforced international rules of law.]

[I hope the ‘Sleeper Conglomerate’s’ recent losses will convince them or those they would use that we are not worth the cost, but I fear they will just abandon unsophisticated - direct confrontation - for more devious forms of attack. The inference from Hierophant seemed to be that the ‘Conglomerate’ is a persistent obsessive foe - I am beginning to fear against his own enemies - my Captain might prove just as single minded. In the end, it may come down to Draakhaal or us. These events are far bigger than anything we have ever encroached upon before.]

[We spend a full Paradox nine-day week at ‘War Head’ during which I complete my alterations and dip out to do a little mining and harvesting these times without incident. Once again, our ammunition stores are full. Otherwise, we continue to monitor developments elsewhere. In relation to overt military transgression, everything seems to have gone quiet however politically matters are far from stable.]

[In ‘Heavens Anvil’ Reeskoo has skilfully melded the pieces of the new Paradox Nursery Shipyard together. The entire station has begun a second cycle of forced growth (on site) as a result our Swimmer friend is once again in Paradox Space working with the ‘Maker’s Guild’. We confidentially hear from him about two attempts at sabotage during the construction both thankfully foiled. Reeskoo is sadly convinced one or more individuals among his own team of ‘Dwellers’ has to be responsible. It is quietly being investigated he does not want the Paradox informed seeing it as an internal ‘Dweller’ matter.]

[Tleeboosuu is now keeping us updated on the situation back at ‘Benevolence Orb’. To us the ‘Sea Spheres’ seem to be in a developing crises everywhere. Arrests are occurring now all over the ‘Commonwealth of Sea Spheres’. Even Reeskoo is beginning to acknowledge that his people have an internal problem that goes way beyond the obvious. Tleeboosuu is deeply concerned he explains about an up welling of patriotic nationalism, and rampant paranoia.]

[We learn from Tleeboosuu how the ‘Spheres’ ruling councils are too casually voting in draconian new security measures that would have been inconceivable before the ship thefts. The ‘Dweller’ news channels are full of calls to vigilance and wild rumours about traitors, infiltrators, saboteurs and spies along with out and out propaganda defaming all ‘Stellar Swimmers’ as bestial enemies - who cannot ever - be negotiated with. Their are many unsubstantiated rumours of ‘Stellar’ raids against civilian ‘Dweller’ shipping traffic and atrocities committed against border stations, but absolutely no confirmations of such losses by independent bodies such as shipping insurance agents.]

[It is clear to us that fear is spreading among the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’ like a disease. Hierophant is convinced this virulent infection is no accident he suspects it is part of a purposeful whisper campaign manufactured by agents of the Arch Chancellor or the ‘Conglomerate’ or opportunistic would be ‘Dweller’ military or civilian leaders or a combination of some or all of these for their own individual purposes. Unfortunately we feel helpless this is not the sort of battle we are tooled up to confront. The pace of these changes are clearly shocking Tleeboosuu.]

“I hardly recognise ‘Benevolence Orb’ since my return. I know many hold me under suspicion because I have outside affiliations. I can feel their eyes upon me, taste their disfavour in the water everywhere I go. Some old friends have snubbed me altogether. It is like my species have changed vector in the squirt of a jet from being largely pacifist non interventionists to becoming aggressive xenophobic protectionists.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I am sorry to hear that. What can you do?” [Harbinger asked.]

“What can I do? In this current climate of hysteria, frankly - I fear - nothing! If I do anything against this mania, they will arrest me as a saboteur of our new defensive policies. It is not safe to speak your mind anymore. There has been some open resistance to these changes but it is being quietly ruthlessly crushed to general applause.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“I find it hard to believe so much has happened so quickly.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Too quickly Harbinger. I believe some of these recent events must have been pre planned my society is under attack and losing the battle.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“What will you do?” [Harbinger sends.]

“I will monitor openly a bit longer then I will have to go before the security forces come for me. I am sure it is just a matter of time, already they have been asking questions.” [Tleeboosuu sends.]

“In that case be careful and do not wait too long.” [Harbinger sends.]

[Another exile forced to flee political changes arrives in Paradox Space. We elect to help Jooluunuu find sanctuary in the ‘Monastic Extents’. With our assistance, he stays hidden on Composure’s ‘House of Whispers’ Monastery class Habitat although his file access and movements there are restricted by the old Paradox Priest.]

[What the Admiral does have is good links out to his contacts in the ‘Protean League’. In return for our assistance, Jooluunuu is keeping us informed of some of the developments in the League. Although he is not sharing every byte of information, Jooluunuu still gives us access to unique intelligence. My Captain elects to link the Admiral into our ‘Exogenous’ network (with some restrictions) this action undertaken over Reeskoo and Tleeboosuu’s protests.]

[According to Jooluunuu the ‘League’ has completely closed its borders. The ‘Stellar Court’ insists the attack against its predecessor was a dastardly unprovoked assault by the ‘Sea Sphere Dwellers’. Our own intervention is defamed as ‘a ruse designed to stay the ‘Nations’ righteous wrath and a ploy to openly infiltrate ‘Stellar Space’’. They also claim that rumours of an attack upon the ‘Sea Spheres’ are ‘a manufactured lie’ being used to excuse a growing militancy among the ‘Dwellers’. The ‘Protean League’ is shifting all its spare manufacturing capabilities to the production of ships and armaments. They have initiated national conscription and are training ship crews as fast as they can. They are expecting further aggressive operations by the ‘Dweller’ enemy. Harbinger is sure the Arch Chancellor will ensure they suffer further bogus attacks to increase the populaces resolve behind their new leadership.]

[Other less worrisome news includes the fact that Composure is at ‘Pinnacle Station’ with a fully-grown ‘Continuity of Introspection’ having new upgrades added. With the salvage, operation in ‘No Mercy’ completed without incident Efficient, Unholy Terror and my Captain find they have stacked up some serious credits. To my surprise after a long argument Unholy manages to convince Harbinger to teach him how to Harvest ‘Anomalous Matter’ and make AM ammunition so that his squadron can mount Tri-guns as well. Unholy wins Harbinger’s sympathy in the end by playing the card of the ‘Nines’ unfortunate losses and the escalating political situation. I think sharing this knowledge with Unholy is a mistake but this time Harbinger refuses to listen to my counsel and it is soon too late to go back.]

[Too soon, it is time for our ‘Dead Sphere’ expedition. First, we jump into a close to our destination dark space coordinate to recoup our energy supplies. Then we send in Jump Scouts to the first of the two ‘Dead Spheres’ locations - what we find bedevils our expectations. Our scout arrives in a horribly active flame nebula with many very bright Mini Star anomalies. It succumbs quickly to exotic radiation and perishes. At the other ‘Dead Sphere’, before we can retrieve it we lose another scout to the same dangerous phenomena. What we do get is some data on the rate of contamination.]

“This region is looking far too risky for all we know this radiation may even extend inside to parts of the dead ‘Sea Spheres’. We will have to manufacture especially hardened jump scouts and do this exploration remotely. Please begin drawing up some blueprints.” [Harbinger sends to my relief.]

“That is a long term operation Harbinger. It will take some time to develop and grow new drone prototypes - especially since they will have to join a queue - behind the new jump drone ‘Anomalous Matter’ and raw material resource gatherers you commissioned.” [I send.]

“I had forgotten about that family instigated logistical experiment. I suppose in the meantime we will just have to go about other business.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Such as?” [I send.]

[Harbinger laughs.]

“I think I’ll go back to exploring your virtual rendition of the ‘Stellar Orb’.” [Harbinger sends.]

“As you wish Harbinger, where would you like to begin this time?” [I send.]

“I think we should commence with an overview flyover to see if there is anything obvious that we missed during previous examinations.” [Harbinger sends.]

“‘That - we - missed’?” [I send.]

“Is that vanity I detect ‘Many Truths’?” [Harbinger asked.]

“Well I do not believe - I - missed anything ask me any question you wish about the scans and I will answer them.” [I send.]

“That would take all the fun out of the exercise - the flyover please.” [Harbinger sends with amusement via Companion-ship.]

[I initiate the program and Harbinger becomes a disembodied POV. My captain roves over the surface of the ‘Stellar Orb’ for hours occasionally zooming in to look at one detail or another. Eventually he gives in and commences to ask me questions about my scans after all.]

“Is every energy leech you located attached to a specific item of equipment like the PPC towers?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Yes they all are.” [I send.]

“Are all these features on the surface of the ‘Sphere’?” [Harbinger sends.]

“Yes they are all on the surface.” [I send.]

“Do any of those features correspond to a gigantic Jump Drive?” [Harbinger sends.]

“No.” [I send with some amusement.]

“Hierophant must think I am a complete idiot. I firmly believed the Jump Drive was internal but how would the energy be transported inside through the ‘Spheres’ skin. I‘ll bet the cursed contraption is sitting boldly on the surface but on the dark side of the ‘Orb’. The dark side hidden by the graveyard fleet the dark side we never managed to deep scan. Highlight the position of the safe box from the salvage operation.” [Harbinger sends.]

[I comply with my Captains demands.]

“Look at how the box sits nicely outside of the scan range of the ‘Sphere’s’ surface.” [Harbinger sends.]

“Interesting theory Harbinger but what good does it do us?” [I send.]

“I wish I knew but the dark side of the ‘Stellar Orb’ seems important just because Hierophant has gone to such lengths to keep it hidden.” [Harbinger sends.]


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98.8 percent sure that anyone who is 100 percent certain needs re-educating for the sake of humanity.


Last edited by Paranoid66 on Wed, 15. Apr 09, 11:26; edited 4 times in total
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Paranoid66



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PostPosted: Mon, 6. Apr 09, 13:45    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

06th April posted an edit to Chapter Ten today. I was far from happy with Harbingers and Reeskoo's conversation.

Ten has been a hard chapter for me for a host of reasons. It arrived at a bad time and also I felt the plot was veering off course a bit.

I now wish I had picked a different title for Book II. Sad


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PostPosted: Mon, 6. Apr 09, 14:11    Post subject: Reply with quote Print

Does that mean it's expanding to more books? or more than enough for 2 books?

Don't despair there Paranoid66 Very Happy


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