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] Sol System - Terra - Imperial City
“Empress, we have some news, but we’re not certain what it means,” the aide said, stepping into the office without even a misstep.
The Empress looked up from the document she was in the process of reviewing and looked skeptically at the aide, the unvoiced statement already resounding through the office and the aide’s head.
“Ahem, ‘A-15 Critical Energy. Request urgent investigation, recommend namesake’,” the aide read off from their tablet.
“And this originated with the intelligence group, who should know better?” the Empress asked, still clearly unhappy that she had been interrupted.
“The lead analyst had to use Level 7 decryption to even access the message. Apparently, it was sent by one of our deep-secret teams,” the aide said, willfully oblivious.
“Go get me protected keys 471 and 823 from the code vault, then. I’ll have some calls to make,” the Empress said, setting down the document and standing, stretching as she did so.
Several minutes later and no small measures of security, the dark face of the Empress gazed into a tired, but proud red face.
“How did you find me?” the red face asked immediately.
“Those location keys included a means for me to reach you. I make no apologies for the subterfuge, because it was necessary,” the Empress voiced quietly.
The red face appeared to consider this in an instant and moved on from it.
“How might we serve?” the red face asked.
“We received a critical request from deep intelligence. Combined with what we know, it’s a threat to the whole of the empire. If you’re willing, head to these coordinates and see what you can do,” the Empress said smoothly, tapping a button transmitting the coordinates.
The red face appeared to consider the coordinates on another screen to one side, most likely comparing them to their current location, before looking back to the Empress.
“What’s the prize?” the red face asked.
“If we’re right, a weapons technology that dwarfs anything we’ve ever built,” the Empress said.
“And if you’re wrong?”
“If we were likely to be wrong, I wouldn’t be calling,” the Empress said, leveling a very solid gaze that the red face felt despite the lightyears between them.
The red face appeared to consider this, knowing what this call alone should mean to them.
“We’ll be underway shortly, Empress,” the red face said.
The Empress nodded slightly to the red face and disconnected the link.
Dread Pirate Queen Bonny Anne sat back in her private quarters, switching off her personal WarpCom link, and was stunned for a solid minute.
The Empress did not make requests lightly and if the information was real, then it would be a real chance for her and her crew to have earned that privateering contract. Still, this was no small favor and the glimmer of a prize of new weapons technology was certainly enticing. And Bonny Anne knew that the Empress could not have trusted Shih Ching with such a request. The High Pirate Mistress and her crews would be just as apt to turn such weaponry upon anyone they perceived against them, regardless of the cost.
Blackbeard may also be enroute, he at least could be trusted, but the last word she’d received from him was that he was setting up a pirate base with new fabricators, since the Collective technology seemed to be rubbish by comparison. Even the most basic imperial fabricators could outperform these Collective organic fabricators.
Standing and exiting her cabin, she strode swiftly to the command deck.
“We have a new target. A weapons cache and if all’s well, the templates alone will cement ourselves in riches and glory forever!” she called out.
The crew cheered and set about their tasks of getting the ship ready to reorient.
“Engineering, this is a special target and won’t be there for long if we’re not there first, how fast can you get us there?” she called through the communications system, an older, but highly functional system that was nigh impossible to destroy without destroying at least 60% of the vessel it was in.
“We can arrive in a few hours, but we’ll be running redline for most of it, even if we disable to normal safeties for warp space,” came the reply.
“Do it. The sooner we get there, the better,” Bonny Anne said, and a moment later, the vessel leapt into warp space, thundering through the strange dimension towards their new prize.
__ Borlian Aligned Tribes - Homeworld
- The Lion, Witcher, and the Wardrobe
“Captain, we’re picking up a fleet of vessels gating in at the edge of the system!” the sensor operator called.
Dremora looked up from the normal status reports she had been reviewing, a confused look on her face for a moment before reasserting herself.
“Can you identify? Is this some trick by the Borlians?” she demanded, unwilling to believe that it might not be.
“Early sensor signatures report it’s a fleet of Dregwer vessels,” the sensor operator indicated, semi-frantically working his screen.
“The Dregwer are the tool of the Avorias, the real enemy in this conflict,” Dremora’s executive officer pointed out.
Dremora considered this a moment, but couldn’t quite wholly dismiss it.
“What is the fleet doing?” she demanded.
“They’re moving in-system at what’s probably top speed for them. The sensor picture looks like they might be warships,” the sensor operator reported, still working their system.
“We need to alert the Ambassador and the Borlians,” the executive officer said.
“YOU WILL DO NO SUCH THING!” Dremora roared. “This is my ship and my responsibility. And we will not be responsible for a so-called ‘martial species’ that cannot defend itself!”
The crew around her sat or stood in silence, their eyes not on their work, but examining her, a decision clearly being processed in their heads. Whatever that decision tree was, it ceased almost instantly as the rear door to the bridge snapped open and Mac and Hiram strode in.
If either noticed the semi-stunned crew or the heaving, angry chest of the captain, they clearly ignored it and instead stood forward of the command dais and scanned the screens.
“Communications, let the Borlians know they have company. Tell them it’s Dregwer and probably hostile because of the alliance. This is still their territory, but we will help them defend it as allies, nothing more nothing less. Navigation, back us out of the gravity well and get us on an intercept course that keeps us away from anything important. Weapons, cycle up everything including the electronic warfare. One of the best lessons we’ve learned so far is that the Dregwer rely on their ships being warm, and space is a cold mistress,” Mac swiftly ordered.
The crew rocked back from their semi-stunned state and almost instantly began carrying out their orders from Mac. It was everything they were trained for and they would not be denied. They would deal with the decisions that may need to come later, because, at least for right now, there was a more urgent concern.
__ Avorias Territory - Avorias Colony 15 - Weapons Storage Facility Ancient Feathers
“What do you mean the array has started issuing lockouts?” the black feathered weapons specialist squawked.
“We’re not entirely certain how or why, but entire corridors have been sealed and either overpressured to the point that we don’t dare open them or turned into vacuum,” the scientist on the other end of the link reported.
“What about all of the manual overrides and safety lockouts we initiated?” the weapons specialist demanded, scraping their beak and digging their talons into their perch.
“They don’t seem to be doing anything. It’s like they’re not even present. One of the safety lockout bars shattered when the one corridor was sealed,” the scientist bemoaned.
The black feathers twitched. They really didn’t like this. This was a new problem. The first two waves were already enroute to the human territories and this final wave could not be delayed.
“How many have we lost?” the weapons specialist asked.
“At least forty, but we’re honestly not certain because there seems to be some kind of damping field powered up in a third of the arrays,” the scientist reported.
Compared to the initial losses in waking up the arrays, this was devastating for the weapons specialist to hear. This was no minor set-back and those technicians, scientists, and engineers would not be easily replaced.
“We’re also detecting an energy build-up in a secondary system near each of the cores,” the scientist said, breaking into the weapons specialist’s thoughts.
“Is it dangerous?” the weapons specialist asked.
“We’re not certain, but it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” the scientist said.
“Can you deactivate it?” the weapons specialist pried.
“Maybe, but it will involve getting at least some of those corridors open first,” the scientist said.
“Do it. Get whatever you need. We cannot afford to wait,” the weapons specialist said.
The link was cut. The weapons specialist could feel something in their pins that they didn’t like about this. There was something else at work here, but they weren’t certain what. The humans maybe? No, they couldn’t have gotten wind of this project or they’d have already made an attempt to stop them before the first two waves would have gone and even with the shifting of vessels, they wouldn’t have noticed the absences. After all, ships needed to come and go as a matter of resupply and crew health.
No, this was something else and the ancient records of these arrays had to contain something about this. The black feathers twitched. The weapons specialist began to scan through the various old documents. There had to be something to explain it…
__ Avorias Territory - Avorias Colony 15 - Outer System Probe 4923 Lockout for Self-destruction sequence initiated. Local unauthorized species detected… Initiating authorization requests… … … No response received. Unauthorized species to be terminated. … Testing Collective Weapons Array Self-Defense Mechanisms… … Self-Defense Mechanisms offline. Initiate Auto-Lockout Pressure Sequencing around Subsection and Power Cores… Sequencing Complete. Message Received from Collective Fleet - Self-Destruction of Weapons Arrays to prevent unauthorized use - Approved. Initiating Weapons Cores to Overload State… 1%... 2%...