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First Contact - Part Sixty-One (Kark)

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Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.299
Arrived at Starbase-4973 with the Dakota and our crew. Turned over information to the local Starfleet representative as well as SUDS data for the other ship's crews. Spoke to Commodore Dunsten of Starfleet who requested a template for what changes the Dakota has undergone. Was counseled that my point totals will not count toward any ladder rankings due to 'extreme non-canon changes' to the Dakota as well as my crew personal armaments and shuttle modifications.
In shocking news, the Battlestar Fleet and the Cylon Collection have arrived. Talk about the big guns. Those guys carry the big Creation Engines that can pump out a Viper or Cylon fighters in roughly 10 seconds with only a 30 second cooldown/slushdown feature.
Met with the Space Force representative and turned over my battle logs. He, in particular, wanted the in-depth scans we performed on the various Precursor ships. Our practice of boarding the ships is, at this time, the most common strategy.
We discussed the fact that Space Force considers forcing the Precursor vessels out of the system to by a phyrric victory and that the system will require a heavy metal posting. Was also informed that the fact that the Precursor fleet retreated from the planets and then from the system was a 'statistical oddity' and he wanted more scans. He also inquired as to whether or not I ran an in-depth scan on the gas giants, which is where the Goliaths were spawning from. I regret I had not, merely a scan for a Goliath.
He appears quite concerned with the actions undertaken but did congratulate me on defending the system.
Transphasic Photon Torpedoes are considered standard armaments for all Starfleet vessels from here on out. There is talk of smaller planet-crackers being put in use among the crew, but planet crackers rely on the mantle to core interaction. Quantum torpedoes are nothing option that I am seriously considering. Phased plasma torpedoes are largely considered in the OP-Class of weaponry but I am seriously considering just loading everything up and going for broke. Tricobalt missiles might be another option but the last time anyone used that was during the Fifth Dominion War. The Dakota is so far out of specifications that mounting such weapons is not as far fetched as it may have sounded a month ago.
It isn't like anything we're going to do is going to count for the leaderboads.
On a personal note, some of the crew members have reported headaches from their SUDS interfaces. McCoy is working on it, but he also warned that the transporter may have to be reconfigured after the discovery that the Precursors can hijack the signal and capture crew members that way.
Starfleet transporters are much more carefully aligned than the earlier 'mat-trans' and 'teleporter' systems used by the 40K LARPers. Safety interlocks prevent our transporters from being used in many cases that a teleporter could be used, require more power, and have a triple-feedback redunancy check.
An amusing point: Teleporter systems seem to go straight through the shields. McCoy and Spock both believe that lengthened amount of time for buffer checking allows the Precursor shielding to be adjusted for the algorythm used by Starfleet vessels.
Another amusing point: During my LFG call, the Wesleys were lined up around the station core. Nobody is taking them on these, despite the class advantages because, outside of structured missions for Starfleet Games, nobody is going to suddenly have Wesley Weaknesses just because.
On a personal note: My Riker has grown out his beard and has been socializing with his Space Force peers in order to get us more information on this threat.'
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.304
One thing they don't mention in the sheer amount of time you spend moving from place to place. Warp drive is highly efficient and safe compared to stringdrive, slipstream, gates, and jumpspace. Unlike hyperspace, AI's are able to remain conscious in warp. Still, I feel the urge to yell "GO FASTER" at the warp nacelles.
My Spock took me to the side and warned me that Starfleet vessels may be making a serious mistake. Often, the Precursors take damage and flee the system, using Hellspace to jump out. He has noticed that after roughly 8% of their structure is damaged they then flee. He also had checked Starfleet records.
I'm the only vessel, at this time, running transphasic photon torpedoes.
He has suggested an experiment. Utilize transphasic torpedoes, phased plasma torpedoes, but leave one out of every barrage of 10, with the phased plasma torpedoes, with a subspace beacon. In that manner, we can discover where they are running off to.
My Spock has put forward the theory, and my Scotty and LaForge, as well as my Riker, all agree.
They have refitting, repair, and construction bases somewhere.
Perhaps our plan to put a phased subspace beacon aboard one of the larger vessels will pan out.
I do feel concern about what my crew and I might find in a Precursor shipyward.
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.306
We have returned to the system that myself and the others had cleared. In particular, we are running long range sensor scans of the gas giants. My Chekov has suggested, and I concur, that getting in close and running more detailed but shorter range scans might put us too close.
I would really like to avoid a barrage of nCv shells.
Our Uhura (She's extremely qualified and did not object to me doublechecking her bonafides) is keeping a careful ear out for any Precursor transmissions.
I have left orders that at the faintest whisper of Precursor code the Dakota is to move to red alert.
The system looks empty, but there is something that makes me think that there are only four lights.
--Picard 8873
ADDENDUM: There is apparently no structures or other masses in the gas giant at the depths our long range passive scanners can reach.
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.307
Our Uhura spotted it first. Subspace whispers. Complex and shifting binary, barely audible. While others suggested we move in, trying to get a lock in on what was whispering across subspace in such a manner I ordered the ship to immediately go to silent running, no emissions.
We observed a Goliath exit Hellspace near the larger gas giant, streaming vapor and metal, its attendant vessels exiting with it. As we watched it allowed the attendant vessels to board through the massive docking ports.
Sidenote: Some of those docking bays are the size of the real San Francisco Ultraplex.
The 'whispers' picked up and the massive Goliath sank into the gas giant.
My crew's estimation that the three initially engaged Goliaths of our last action had repaired themselves was confirmation bias.
For a bare moment the whisper got louder and the Goliath that had sunk into the gas giant was in plain view on our passive long range scanners then it simply vanished.
The belief of my Spock and Scotty is that the Precursors have some kind of shielded refit structure inside the gas giant beyond the scanner horizon. LaForge has stated that the pressures at such depth would make any construction or repairs inordinately difficult.
My Riker reminded LaForge that the Precursors were engaged in a war when they vanished and these bases are not only war-time bases, but that there are no living crews to worry about.
I ordered my crew to remain on silent running. There is enough debris on that planet to cover a probe approach. My LaForge has suggested putting a probe data relay in the Oort Cloud to give the signals a few 'bounces' and to use only phased tachyon streams with reversed polarity.
Sometimes I wish we didn't have all our own names for technology. Why could he have just said paired quark communications?
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.309
The probe was moved into place carefully, following a piece of debris from the previous battle. During this time our Uhura caught another scrap of what she has come to call "Precursor Whispers" from the other gas giant.
My Spock reminded me that the intense pressures inside a massive gas giant could make foundry work easier, allowing the creation of hyperalloys that we need massive foundries for to utilize the inherent pressures of a massive gas giant to create 'alloy farms' inside the gas giant.
A disturbing thought indeed.
Another ship type has arrived, which I have labeled the Enki class Precursor, has arrived and taken to carefully going over the debris fields of the Starfleet battle.
Thankfully the Klingon and Romulan officers routinely utilize anti-matter charges to clear any debris from the destruction of our ships.
It moved to the wreckage of the mining ship and has been spending time there. It is at extreme range and I am becoming nervous about what it is doing.
The Precursor attitudes within this star system are concerning.
Have you ever looked at an inanimate machine, with no living characterization like a Data possesses, and thought to yourself "What are you up to?" as you watched it?
I have that unique experience.
They are up to something.
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.310
The probe provided us with valuable information that is critical to disseminate.
We are now, to use my Riker's phrase: running like a bat out of hell.
Passive scans can only penetrate to a certain depth within a gas giant. Starfleet has been largely worried about planetary scans as well as deep space and intrasystem scans. Combine it with the fact we use a lot of gamification in our systems, gas giants were largely used as "spawn points" for crafts. This meant that, naturally, our scanners largely could not penetrate deeply into gas giants.
My Scotty and LaForge re-calibrated the sensor arrays to get a good look inside the gas giant.
My Spock was right. The Precursor was 'growing' large alloy fields down there. There was a repair and manufacturing base the size a continent down inside the gas giant with massive 'alloy farms' around it. Before the scale would have shocked me until my Spock pointed out that the Great Eye of Jupiter is twice the size of Terra itself. Nearly two dozen Precursor vessels were 'docked' at the facility.
Discussions on how to 'deal with' this massive repair and refit base were discussed at a closed meeting of my command crew. It ranged from using a Genesis Device on the gas giant (Not recommended. My LaForge stated that the Precursor ships we are facing here are more adept at 'learning' than previously encountered Precursor types and the last thing we should do is provide them with planet killers that create more resources) to attempting to use a modified planet cracker on the gas giant (Again, tabled due to concerns the Precursors would imitate it).
We settled on phasic trans-phasic photon torpedoes mixed with tricobat missiles.
Out attack was dual: Destroy the debris field of the Romulus class mining vessel, which was being thoroughly combed over by Enki class Precursor vessels, damage or perhaps even destroy the facility and the 'alloy farms' inside the gas giants.
We came in from above the stellar plane, at a high velocity angle. When facing Precursor vessels your speed and maneuverability are key to staying alive. We fired probes while still 25 million miles above the stellar plane. We came in with only debris shields at full power.
The probes reported back that while there were life signs on the planets in the Green and Amber zones the Precursor vessels around those planets and upon the surface were not engaged in wholesale slaughter or destruction. We practically turned the sensors inside out getting deep scans of everything.
Once in range (Starfleet weaponry is somewhat, to use my Riker's term: short legged compared to Space Force line weaponry) I ordered a full scan at maximum power and resolution. Normally this is avoided to prevent damage to sentient beings and xeno-species but the Precursors aren't a foe that one should concern themselves with scanner-burn.
Percursor vessels were not rising from the gas giants. While some immediately launched or moved to engage us from various points in the system, sheer distance and geometry prevented any attacks. At 30 million miles even nCv weapons or phaser beams move too slowly to engage a ship the size of the Dakota. We launched weapons and immediately began accelerating to be able to put enough distance between any Precursor vehicles and our own vessel.
We got our scan data back and immediately realized that engaging the Precursor vessels was now a secondary, if not tertiary, mission.
All four of the gas giants contained refit facilities of a size that is best described as 'geological'.
That was not the key data.
Our Uhura was able to isolate the 'Precursor Whisper' and while unable to decode it, was able to confirm what it is.
FTL data-streams.
Their battle, strategic, and tactical network.
The planets, while full of life and possessing several species known to be "Unified Civilized Races", were all at Stone Age technology. Precursor vessels were moving to protect the planets and their inhabitants for an unknown reason.
This information is vital to Starfleet, Space Force, and all other Confederacy organizations.
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.311
The Dakota has now had its very own AbramsKhan moment.
We were fired on in warp drive.
The Precursor vessel mounted one of the Galaxy class Starfleet vessel's engines and pursued us. With a lighter frame, higher energy output, and not having to concern itself with warp drive effects upon living beings, it was not only able to catch up to us, but fire upon us.
My Riker has stated that anyone who mocks up for having such thick armor after this will be starting a brawl.
We are alive only because of my insistence on heavy armor, structural integrity fields running the same type of shield frequency algorithms as our main deflector shields, with dual structural fields layered between armor and structural layers.
Immediately upon being fired upon we dropped out of warp drive to engage the small Precursor vessel. Chekov stated it would be between stellar bodies and it should have been a bare battlefield with not even gas wisps.
Instead, we dropped into a half dozen Jotun class vessels waiting for us.
We are currently undergoing evasive warp maneuvering as estimated by my Spock and my LaForge.
--Picard 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.313
They're attempting to "drive" us deeper into the Dead Zone.
This gives us a fairly unusual opportunity. We can see what they are attempting to push us into or we can attempt to escape.
Spock and Scotty believe that it is imperative we discover what it is that the Precursors believe can take us out compared to the Jotuns following us.
Riker and LaForge maintain our goal should be reaching Federation/Confederate Space.
I believe I have a better idea.
--Picard 8873
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.315
Rather than allow us to be pushed further into the Dead Zone I ordered the ship to move at a right angle to the galactic plane at full warp 9.3. While this can interfere with SUDS uploads and storage I have decided that the risk is necessary.
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.317
The Precursor machines are still in close pursuit. They are arranging for attempted ambushes. LaForge has theorized that the one following us, which is a warp capable photon-torpedo launcher welded to the the Galaxy class engine and wrapped in neutronium armor, sends out a "whisper" as soon as it sees the 'warp flare' from our engines. That enables the Precursor vessels to Helljump to where we will be exiting.
Scotty has a plan.
Luckily, I did not dump my old class data, so I have a Kirk knowledge database.
Spock is overriding the interlocks to allow me to access that knowledge.
It is risky, but acceptable.
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.317 - Supplmental
By utilizing the holodeck, a blank SUDS, and carefully aligned emitters, Spock believes I will be able to load the data from the Kirk character class into my memories despite being a Picard. He will attempt to use his Mind Meld ability to keep me from collapsing under a dual class.
The Precursor Pursuer will be in range inside of 30 minutes.
I have no choice.
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.317.7
The melding was somewhat successful. I have conflicting emotions and desires regarding many subjects but thankfully both my knowledge and personality templates are Starfleet officers. By use of the Mind Meld my Spock was able to use an older exploit involving class rank and player knowledge.
Contrary to popular opinion, Kirk classes are not womanizing hot-heads (Despite AbramsEra semi-canon) but rather highly innovative early Starfleet officers. It is just that the mission files force Kirk to use half-experimental technology in innovative ways in order to overcome unknown experiences and foes. One of the things often overlooked is Kirk made the rank of Admiral and was quite cautious in many ways.
Still, the dissonance between a Picard and a Kirk class is quite intense.
I am suffering nosebleeds. McCoy says it is from intercranial pressure as my brain attempts to sort through the information.
I have not informed him of the fact I have a severe SUDS hangover.
--Picark 8873
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.318
After examining old scans of the Galaxy class ship that was defeated I was able to ascertain its hull number. Using that number, and knowledge possessed by an Admiral Level Kirk Class, when the Precursor Pursuer came close enough to fire I was able to drop its warp-shields. The Precursor Pursuer was exposed to raw warp energy at that time, inhibiting its ability to see the Dakota, specifically causing us to appear much further ahead in the warp conduit.
The Precursor Pursuer fell back and I ordered the Dakota to move to Emergency Warp Speed.
9.998 Okuda Scale
The Precursor Pursuer immediately went to maximum speed of the Galaxy class engine attached to little more than armor, bare shields, and a torpedo launcher.
Warp 10.
Without Transwarp shielding or any other technology, the Precursor Pursuer achieved infinite velocity and infinite mass.
The explosion damaged the Dakota and left us drifting in normal space.
Scotty and LaForce estimate repair times of 3 weeks.
--Picark 8873
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.325
We are again underway after our successful destruction of the Precursor Pursuit vessel.
Maximum warp is limited to Warp 5.4.
Estimated time of arrival at Starbase 4973 is 11 days.
--Picark 8873
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.332
My SUDS has been scrambled and bad. I'm no longer Jeffery van Leedle, born on Rigel, but instead and curious combination of the character neural templates and my old personality.
Scotty, McCoy, and LaForge are examining me. Not in any hopes of untwining the personalities, but rather to forward the information to SoulNet in hopes that it can be prevented for occurring to others, no matter how unusual the circumstances.
The 'Gamed' memories no longer have the distinguishable overlay that Starfleet uses for safety measures. Instead, all of my memories feel the same.
Which is... confusing.
I remember racing a motorcycle in the wheat fields of Oklahoma, outside of Paris, under a Rigellian red sky.
My gestalt personality agrees that it is worth it for the information we have and to save my ship and my crew.
--Jeff Picark 8873
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.334
Pro-term Acting Captain Riker-2173 commanding. Previous Captain suffering the effects of the SUDS/Template merger needed to access information to allow the destruction of the Precursor Pursuer.
Captain Jeff Picark was relieved of command, with acceptance and willingly, two hours ago.
Bridge and Command Officers are in agreement with this action.
We are two days out of Starbase 4973.
--Riker 2173
Captain's Personal Log - Stardate 8532.335
Would I have done it, knowing what I do now?
My SUDS cannot update. The neural template recordings fragment and unravel.
I am no longer immortal.
But there is no such thing as only human. Humans, without the SUDS, accomplished incredible feats with just grit and determination.
However, I can no longer participate in active combat Starfleet games. Two hundred years of LARP down the tubes.
I made a good choice with my Riker. The hardest thing to do is relieve your Captain for cause.
He had good cause.
--Jeff Picark 8873
Captain's Log - Stardate 8532.336
I have docked the Dakota and am granting shore leave to crew. Captain Picark was taken to the Space Force infirmary via stretcher with McCoy in attendance.
Our mission is complete. Space Force has our data in their possession.
For some reason, the Precursors keep entire worlds of roughly half the xeno-sapients of the Unified Civilized Races.
Gas Giants must now be treated as Precursor base risks.
I am hoping "Jeff" recovers. The fact that he remembered an ancient piece of lore from OldTrekKhan is, honestly, impressive. Undergoing an in-mission partial respec was risky.
Will report to Starfleet and see what happens.
--Riker 2173
Jeffery van Leedle, player number 7c345a7e1-8873, is hereby promoted to Starfleet Admiral and is hereby recalled to Earth-42 to Starfleet Headquarters in New-SanFran.
In accordance to his wishes the Dakota a non-canon America class ship, is hereby given to Riker 56a817c38f2-2173, including all templates and player rewards.
Initial estimations of 30-50 Goliath class total forces in is error.
New ship types encountered, new facilities discovered (See Attached File).
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS---------
Mantid, any idea what this is about?
Beyond "cattle worlds" we cannot estimate why Precursors, of all things, would have the older races, reduced to primitive, on worlds just being observed.
-----NOTHING FOLLOWS--------
Experimentation, idiots. That Balor Hellship should have made you think of that.
They're trying to figure out a way to counter us.
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Heritage (4)

First Chapter
Previous Chapter
The view of Sanctuary was made even more impressive as An’Ra and his team waited in the V-Lift. Through the window, they can see the ornate streets curving through resplendent pools underneath, dotted by the occasional fountain.
“I hate this.” Vora groaned, dressed in a soldier’s standard battle uniform. “Why are we here, Commander?”
“We were investigating genocide and possible use of bioweapons,” Sonak explained, “Even without the first part, Strain Y is going to scare a lot of people. I think it’s reasonable for the Council to take a personal interest in this. Besides, I think the real issue here is the fact you might actually have to speak to the Council.”
“But...ugh, fine. Yes, I wasn’t mentally prepared for it when An’Ra came along and went, Party’s over, ass to the Council, now.”
“Hey now.” An’Ra feigned offense, “I didn’t say it that way, did I?”
“Kind of close, Commander.” Sonak chuckled.
“But still, I think that this isn’t about keeping the galaxy safe.” Vora sighed. “I think the Council’s keeping an eye open for any opportunity to to convince the galaxy they’re still in charge.”
“Or maybe they genuinely want to make sure that we’re not at risk of dying a horrible death by watching our own bodies melt.” Sonak shrugged. “Strain Y doesn’t care if you’re an officer or infantry.”
“That assumes the Council cares about what’s going on outside of these walls.” Vora glanced over, wariness in her look.
“Either way, we’re going to get our answer. Eyes open.” An’Ra said as the V-Lift doors parted ways, revealing the same ornate architecture within. Trees and grasses stole the eye as they walked through the hallways, various government officials from the myriad races conversing and conducting whatever business they were doing. After walking up some steps, they arrived at the large double-doors that lead to the Council Chambers. Standing on each side were the guards constantly on watch for any potential attack. Both of them Anaran, as expected. On approach, the guards opened up the doors to allow An’Ra and his team in.
When they entered, the room was probably more magnificent than they expected. A grand, curved window dominated the view. An unintrusive look into the beautiful splendor of Sanctuary. Directly in front of An’Ra and his team was a pathway that led to a semi-circular desk, standing in front of the raised platform that the Council sat, who had just now noticed the arrivals and are settling themselves in.
And it was there An’Ra got a good look at the Council. Four of them, half Esti, half Huak. An’Ra secretly never liked the Esti, the way he could see menacing fangs when their flat mouths opened, or those flaps of scale that expands outward into a hood. It just unnerved him, a reason he could never really find out. As soon as he sensed that they were ready, he walked up to the desk, wearing his officer’s dress uniform, comprised of a fine, smooth fabric shirt, adorned with a fluffy sash that went from his right shoulder down to his left side, shoulder pads accented with shining studs and finished with awards placed on his top-left chest, awards hard earned back in the Great War.
“Commander An’Ra.” The Huak councilor on the far right side, Neual, began, thick fingers interlaced together as he rested his hands on the desk. “Thank you for agreeing to this unusual request, we are very appreciative.”
“It’s no trouble, Councilor.” An’Ra gave a slight bow. “How can I help?”
“We’ll start at the beginning.” The first Esti councilor, Zhur, stated, holding up a secure datapad to ensure the information is easily accessible. “Strain Y. Your report says that while there is confirmation it was used, it was not used in significant quantities. Can you elaborate on that for us?”
“Previous uses of Strain Y all had one thing in common,” An’Ra began, “The amount deployed saturated the atmosphere of the planets they were used on. This is because, despite its lethality, is not actually that infectious. In order to guarantee the total elimination of a planet’s population, you will need to deploy it in such large numbers that everyone will be infected within minutes of deployment. In this case, for Planet 3, there simply wasn’t enough to reach that threshold.”
“At which you go on to state that thermal weapons were used in a state of panic,” Yhiz, the second Esti councilor, added, “Can you explain your reasoning for us?”
“As established before, Strain Y was used on the planet. My working theory is that, when they discovered that they grossly underestimated the amount needed, they panicked and used thermal weapons to both try and burn out the supplies used and finish the genocide they started.”
“But if thermal weapons were indeed used, how did you confirm Strain Y was deployed?” Zhur spoke up.
“We found pieces of Strain Y’s genetic material on the planet’s surface.” An’Ra glanced over to Zhur’s direction. “And as I arrived back in the system, I received a quantum packet from the expedition, stating that they have confirmed that Strain Y was indeed used. Adding that with the obvious use of thermal weaponry, I concluded that the attackers didn’t use enough of the weapon to guarantee extinction.”
Zhur leaned back in her seat, scarlet eyes fixated on the desk. An’Ra couldn’t tell if she was trying to find a counter argument or just processing the information.
“Have you found any evidence that can tell us if there’s more of the strain out in the galaxy?” Neual asked after giving a sigh through his wide nostrils.
“I’m afraid not, sir. All I can definitively say is that this planet fell victim to a biological Cruel Weapon.”
“I’m more concerned about the native life.” Ghala, the final and second Huak councilor, stated after being silent. “Are you absolutely certain that none of the planet’s indigenous life survived?”
“The scientific team said that there’s a very low chance of that.” An’Ra’s ears flattened. “And after seeing the surface myself, I must agree. I don’t think we should wait for a miracle.”
“Ah...I see.” Ghala leaned back in his chair, obviously disheartened. “Even if the planet is now incapable of supporting life, we still wish to move forward with a more symbolic gesture and statement by declaring Planet 3 of System AQ 115-4A illegal for colonization.”
“But let’s move onto what I believe is the most pressing issue: the identity of the attackers.” Neual leaned forward. “Based on your report, you and the team have found nothing that neither confirms nor clears any potential suspect?”
“That’s correct, Councilor.” An’Ra nodded. “We’ve found nothing, within the system and on the planet itself, that tells us anything about who did it.”
“Are there any surviving infrastructure on the planet?” Ghala asked, straightening his posture. “Even if there isn’t much, maybe the natives’ equipment has something we can use?”
“As established before, the planet was devastated terribly. There are indeed ruins of their civilization, but whether or not we can salvage anything from them is a different story.” An’Ra answered with a sigh.
“So in that case, the Qu’Rathi are still the likely aggressors then.” Zhur stated.
“I’m not convinced.” An’Ra shook his head. “Everything we have so far is just circumstantial, nothing solid.”
“Yes, that proves they did it. But looking at it from a different perspective, nothing that proves they didn’t do it either.” Zhur countered, her eyes squinting some.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to press forward with what I think you’re planning, Councilor.” An’Ra leaned forward on the table, ears flattening back. “If you do, and we uncover evidence that clearly proves their innocence, you will be pushing an innocent race away.”
“But if we uncover evidence that proves their guilt, then the trial will be much more expedient.” Yhiz joined in, his eyes also squinting slightly.
“With respect Council, I still think that’s the worst decision you can make.” An’Ra’s teeth began to bare as he spoke. “We can’t make any decision until we acquire more evidence.”
“Nothing we have proves that Strain Y is permanently removed as a future threat.” Zhur started, “Nothing we have proves that the Federation did not do anything. Right now, we have the threat of a Class 4 Cruel Weapon looming over everyone’s heads. People will start becoming scared, start wondering if their shadows will melt them at any time.”
“I know that Councilors!” An’Ra raised his voice. “Give me time! I’m not saying this is over yet, just let me keep looking!”
“We aren’t stopping your investigation, Commander.” Neual said, holding his hand up slightly. “We’re just informing you that you may not have the time you thought you had.”
“What does that mean?” An’Ra’s ears stuck out at an angle, mixed between stiffening and anger.
The councilors looked at each other for a few moments before Zhur stood up and took in a deep breath. “Commander, based on both the collected evidence so far, and lack of any other evidence, the Council has decided to proceed with charging the Qu’Rathi Federation on counts of Genocide, possession of a Cruel Weapon, and deployment of Cruel Weapons with intent for malicious harm. Out of respect for your efforts, Commander, we will give you eight months to continue your investigation. Beyond that, we will close your investigation to allow the courts time to process and review what has been collected.”
“Are you insane?!” An’Ra shouted. “Do you even realize what would happen if you’re wrong?!”
“We do, Commander.” Zhur nodded. “But the risk is just too high. The safety of the galaxy and justice for the inhabitants of System AQ 115-4A must be our top priority. This debrief is over.”
An’Ra stood in complete and stunned silence, watching the Council casually get up from their seats and dispersing to their own private offices. It wasn’t until that they have fully left the chambers that An’Ra finally found the will to move and regroup with Sonak and Vora, both of whom are also equally stunned.
“Those ekas!” Vora exclaimed. “It’s bad enough to be quick at accusing someone, but how dare they claim this is for those humans!”
“And here I thought all those things the news were saying was just to get people to watch them.” Sonak muttered softly. “Commander, obviously this is bad.”
“I know, Sonak.” An’Ra crossed his arms, ears now pointing straight back and teeth fully bared. “We can’t let them do this.”
“But what can we do?” Sonak exclaimed. “What options do we have?”
“Alliance Enforcement!” Vora declared. “Commander, what if you filed a complaint to the Lord-Enforcer? Tell him what’s going on?”
“That’s a good idea actually.” Sonak nodded. “If we convince the Lord-Enforcer that the Council is being too hasty with our investigation, which shouldn’t be hard, he just might deny the Council’s request for prosecution!”
“I can’t imagine the Lord-Enforcer approving this even without our complaint.” An’Ra replied. “Still, never hurts to be prepared. Come on, let’s get to it.”

Jur’El leaned back in the puffy seat he was assigned to. The restaurant he entered had a calm and relaxed atmosphere. The lighting was dimmed, which complimented the dark but cozy ambiance of the room. The walls and floor each had a dark-themed color scheme, the seats were of a different scheme but not too different to oppose the goal set by the designer. And although the building was packed with customers, their conversations did not threaten to turn anyone deaf. It was a quiet and relaxed experience, something he needed desperately.
Even now, as hard as he tried to focus on how delicious his food was, how balanced the flavor and texture of it was, he was still forced to relive what happened on Planet 3. He could hear the sudden screams of his colony group. The scientists who were first awoken that wanted to find out why their Life world was so different to the data they were given. To the families and menial workers who were just talking amongst themselves and organizing the supplies when those machines stormed the ship. And what still terrifies him, still sends his heart racing, was when that one machine entered the control room, blood drenching its chassis. Bits and pieces of Qu’Rathi innards on its cold mechanical manipulators. How it just stared at him, lifelessly, with a rifle aiming right at his chest. And those drills. Those ghenning drills.
He was forced out of his torment by the rough poking of his shoulder. When he looked, it was another Qu’Rathi. “Captain Jur’El, right?”
“Uh..yes, who are you?” He nodded in confusion.
“Jhen.” She introduced herself, quickly taking a seat opposite from him. “I need to talk to you.”
“About what?”
“The expedition to that system deep in the Dead Zone.” She glared at him, mandibles tense. “The same system who’s Life world had a native population, the very same world being investigated as a genocide site, where your expedition went to settle.”
“Jhen, please, we had no idea what was going on.” Jur’El leaned back, hands raised in a defensive posture. “All we were told was that this was the most pristine and beautiful Life world ever discovered in a system rich with stellar bodies.”
“I don’t care about that. What I care is how you seem to be the only one who came back.” Jhen started raising herself from her seat. “I’m pretty sure that anyone who attempts to colonize a freshly cleansed world is forcibly removed from that planet and returned to their respective people. So where is everyone?”
Jur’El’s eyes went wide. He knew exactly where this was going. “I...I can’t tell you.”
“Don’t you dare.” Jhen snarled, now leaning over the table. “I’ve heard enough of that from the company, I’m not here to be force-fed more of it!”
“ me,” Jur’El spoke softly, shakily leaving his seat, “You don’t want to know.”
“Don’t you ghenning walk away from me!” Jhen shouted, grabbing Jur’El’s shoulder firmly, the other patrons now locking eyes to the two. “Two of my sons were on that mission! What happened to them?!”
Jur’El clutched his head with a hand firmly, feeling tears exploding out of his eyes. His mind rushing back to those scenes. The sounds, the smell, the fear. Everything crashed into him all at once. And they’re not just memories now. They’re all coming back to him as if he was transported in time and placed back to the exact moment it started. Back to the moment where he was screaming for his wife and son to hide, to find a corner of the ship that was hard to see and to stay there until the shooting stopped. How he felt his heart give out when he heard them beg for their life when they were found, cut short by the merciless cracks of their alien weapons. How every possible feeling melted away when the clanking of the machine’s walking approached him, when he realized there was no nowhere in the control room to hide, not with how thorough those things were being. The frantic, mindless begging he got into when he saw the blood covered machine hold that weapon to him.
“You’re safe!” A voice rang out. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for him to come back. That scene melting away back into the restaurant. All those smells and sights to be gone. When he was certain that it was over, he looked around. There was Jhen, face beaten and currently being restrained by a blue-furred Anaran. And in front of him was another, gray-furred one. “You hear me? You’re safe now!”
“I...wh-what happened?”
“We saw what was going on. The Qu’Rathi over there? She was just screaming down your throat, all while you were just on the floor. Ken’A there nearly caved her face in by the time we got some distance between you two.”
“Th...thank you.” Jur’El muttered, shakily getting himself back on his feet with the help of the gray Anaran. Jur’El was just about to walk away when the Anaran firmly, but not threateningly, gripped his shoulder.
“I know the signs, friend.” He began softly. “Your soul is badly wounded and is bleeding heavily. Just like a doctor if you’re shot or cut, you need to find someone to talk to, get your soul back together.”
“As long as I don’t run into another person like her, I’ll be fine.” Jur’El countered, trying to walk away still.
“No, you won’t.” The Anaran still held his grip. “I need you to trust me. With how bad your soul is right now, doing anything other than talking to someone will just make it worse. And when your soul dies, well...believe me, it’s not a good experience, for anybody.”
Jur’El stared into the gray Anaran’s orange eyes for a moment before he let out a sigh. “You’re not going to give up, are you?”
“I’ve seen what happens too many times. Good Battle-Brothers, completely different people. Either they’re just shadows of themselves, or doomed to forever relive their horrors. If I have the chance to prevent it happening again, I’m giving it my all.”
Jur’El looked aside for a few moments, internally fighting himself as to whether he should comply or keep resisting. He finally reached his decision when he became certain that the Anaran would most likely hunt him down as a life mission if he didn’t seek therapy. “Fine, I’ll do it. Got anyone in mind?”
“A dear friend of mine. He’ll get you back on track, promise.” The Anaran patted Jur’El’s shoulder a few times before proceeding to lead him, motioning for Ken’A to let go of Jhen and follow.

Michael, accompanied by his newly founded Praetorian Guard, continued his leisurely stroll down the surprisingly spacious corridor. The hallway itself was typical. All-metal construction with evenly spaced rows of blue-white lights.
The Praetorian Guard themselves are comprised of those Servants who display both extreme scores in combat efficiency and effectiveness in defensive situations. Armed with the absolute best in magnetic-ballistics, the most impenetrable of armor designs and the highest optimized combat-frames, even a squad of these guards can hold off a virtual army, provided they aren’t subjected to bombardment or heavy ordinance.
Just as Michael was about to enter the main command center of the station he was touring, Central contacted him on a private channel.
“Master? Your new administration is ready.” He declared proudly.
“Alright, let’s begin the introductions.” Michael replied, signaling the guardsmen that he’s about to enter a meeting. Although unneeded, the Guard promptly took up a defensive formation around him. He assumes this is mostly to keep unwelcome guests from interrupting him.
The scenery of the tranquil design of the corridor melted away into the virtual world built by neon-blue blocks, the same visual that he witnessed when he first received the interface. After a few moments, several other Servants materialized and stood attention in a semi-circle in front of him.
“My Lord.” The first Servant bowed, its voice deep, if gruff. “I’m Supreme Commander Schwarzkopf, in charge of managing our armed forces and overseeing the grand strategy of the Imperium.”
“I am Secretary Elizabeth.” The second spoke with a calming, soothing feminine voice. “I’m responsible for ensuring our economy runs perfectly. In short, I make sure every project gets the hammers and resources it needs.”
“I’m Foreign Minister Edward, at your service m’Lord.” The third, with a distinct British accent and of a composed, controlled voice. “While regretfully I’m useless at this stage, the moment we initiate contact with xeno species, I’ll handle diplomatic affairs and achieving our goals through negotiations when possible.”
“No offense, but I thought every Servant wants to see aliens dead?” Michael spoke up with slight confusion.
“Oh, of course. The very idea of ripping out the entrails of a xeno and suffocating them with it brings such joy it’s therapeutic.” Benjamin replied. Michael was unsure if he was joking or not. “I was appointed because I displayed the most effective ability at hiding such feelings.”
“Ah...good to know.” Michael nodded dryly, not exactly assured. “Back to where we were?”
“Yes, Lord. I’m Director Mansfield.” The fourth spoke with an eloquent-sounding voice. “I’m in charge of Imperial Intelligence, running operations abroad and managing counter-intelligence on the homefront. I give you my word that we will know everything about the aliens and they will know nothing about us.”
“And that leaves me, Master.” Central began. “As a result of this delegation, I now possess more processing cycles towards research and development. That means that I’ll be in charge of ensuring Imperial dominance in technology. I will also act as your adjutant, filtering out information that does not need your attention.”
“Well...shit, this sounds like an actual government I’m in charge of.” Michael gave out a nervous chuckle. “All the more reason to get down to business though. Let’s start with the first matter. Schwarzkopf, how’s our military coming along?”
“It’s growing rapidly, your majesty.” He answered with distinct pride. “Already we have several hundred frigates, fifty light cruisers and twenty heavy cruisers, with the first wave of battleships due to exit the drydocks within a few days. Additionally, we have established four different army groups with fifty divisions each.”
“I thought we’d take a lot longer.” Michael stated with no hidden amazement.
“There’s great benefit in our workforce able to operate at a hundred percent every hour of the day.” Elizabeth commented, her emotion-flags also indicating pride. “And speaking of which, our population of Servants grows geometrically. That benefits both our economy and the military. Our economy by providing more workers in skilled and unskilled labor, and the military by providing more crew members and soldiers.”
“So in short, it won’t be long before we become a virtual powerhouse.” Michael said, arms crossed.
“Especially if we continue expanding.” Elizabeth nodded. “On that note, we have already claimed several dozen more systems.”
“With Rigel and Betelgeuse selected as naval bases.” Schwarzkopf chimed in.
“So we’re expanding in all the ways, got it.” Michael nodded. “Now the second matter. Terraforming Mars.”
“At present, there are two issues that must be resolved.” Central answered. “The first problem is the planet’s lack of a magnetosphere. Without that, any and all organic life would perish under lethal bombardment of the Sun’s solar wind, in addition to any sustainable atmosphere being lost to space. The second problem is Mars’ inability to retain heat, the cause for it’s known low planetary temperature.”
“And knowing you, you already have possible answers?” Mansfield shrugged.
“Correct. The heat issue is rather trivial to solve. Mars already has an abundant amount of carbon-dioxide within the atmosphere, a well known greenhouse gas. Combined with even more of the gas locked planet side, once temperatures begin to rise, we will set off a snowball effect. However, that is all for naught if the atmosphere is allowed to escape into space by solar wind.”
“So basically the key here is the magnetosphere.” Michael added. “Build that and everything becomes simple.”
“Exactly.” Central affirmed. “Already there are two main methods. One is to build superconducting rings around the planet and drive them with direct current. With enough power, we can generate magnetic fields strong enough to form a virtual magnetosphere.”
“And what’s the second?” Elizabeth said.
“The second is to construct a station at the L1 Lagrange Point that will generate a dipole magnetic field, diverting the solar wind around the planet instead of into it. Although it was simulated using slower, binary processing, the results indicate that Mars would gain half the atmospheric pressure of Earth’s within a few years.”
“So then, the main focus is building that magnetic shield.” Michael spoke firmly. “Elizabeth? Let’s get the ball rolling. Coordinate with Central as needed.”
“At once, my Lord.” Elizabeth bowed.

Unlike the Council chambers, the office of the Lord-Enforcer was much less opulent and more pragmatic. After going through the receptionist area, An’Ra and his team were escorted into the main office itself. However, just like the chambers, a large window dominated the view on entry, granting another view of a city district on Sanctuary.
And sitting in the more rectangular desk was the Lord-Enforcer himself, Dura. Blue eyed, with a fur of dull-orange it reminds of a sunset. As soon as An’Ra and his team walked into the office, the Enforcer sat up, tail wagging.
“Commander An’Ra, in my office!” He exclaimed, arms out to his sides. “Forgive me sir, but I never thought I’d see the day!”
“A pleasure to meet you, sir.” An’Ra replied warmly, greeting the Enforcer with their fists clasped together and pulling themselves inward, shoulder to shoulder.
“Please, no need to be formal with me.” Dura chuckled. “Sit down, what brings you here?”
After taking their respective seats, An’Ra looked at Dura grimly. “I’m here to file a delay on a request for prosecution against the Federation.”
Dura’s ears angled themselves in a mixture of stiffening and lowering. “I just got the paperwork from the Council. And I can tell you that won’t be needed. I’ve already submitted my rejection.”
“With respect, sir.” Sonak spoke up. “I get the feeling that the Council might fight that.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to present my back to them just because they ask.” Dura gave off a grin. “I might be some paper-tosser now, but that just means the battlefield is different. Don’t worry Commander, as long as I’m here, you’ll get the chance to finish this investigation properly.”
“Thank you, Enforcer.” An’Ra smiled as he got up from his seat. “With any luck, you won’t have to fight long.”
“Oh, take your time!” Dura replied with an inflection of humor. “This is the most exciting thing I’ve had in years. Was just about to smash my head on this desk any day now actually.”
“Wait, really?” Vora asked, ears stiffened.
“It’s just a joke, Vora.” Sonak assured dryly.
“Oh...” Her ears flattened as the team exited the office.
When they arrived in the main plaza where the Enforcer’s office is located, they congregated in a small collection of benches nearby an ornate fountain that commemorated the Anaran defense of Felaal IV, largely considered the turning point of the Great War, which further enhanced the beauty of the surrounding scenery of floating walkways above crystal-clear waters.
“Well, that’s a relief, hopefully.” An’Ra began, letting out a decompressing sigh.
“I meant what I said earlier, An’Ra.” Sonak said. “If the Council are determined to charge the Federation, which I’m sure they made abundantly clear, they’re not going to let the Enforcer drop mines in their path just like that.”
“Which just means we can’t lose our focus.” Vora replied sternly. “So, what are our options? We can’t exactly go back to Planet 3, there’s really no leads there.”
“What about that Detective we met when we arrived?” Sonak suggested. “He was handling that whistle blower. Maybe that’s something worth looking into?”
“There’s also the Nav-Net.” Vora said. “All we got right now is that the Feds were at that location, but what if we look at the rest of the network? Try and trace their path?”
“The network doesn’t extend into the Dead Zone.” Sonak countered.
“No, not like that. We look at the network across Alliance space. We start with the logs that end at the Dead Zone, and we try to backtrack their route.”
“We’ll need to obtain legal authorization for that, Vora.” An’Ra stated.
“Actually, if I could add something.” Sonak said with his arms crossed. “If the Federation didn’t actually do it, then that questions the credibility of those codes. I think there’s a question that hasn’t been asked yet. And that is, are those codes faked?”
“That’s...a good point actually.” Vora acceded. “If we get the legal permission to examine the NavNet logs, then if the Federation didn’t do it, the logs across the network won’t support it. Think about it. You need a big fleet to do what just happened, and that fleet has to come from somewhere.”
“And that would mean if this was a frame job, they need a way to account for that.” An’Ra continued, confidence flaring. “It’s one thing to trick a single Nav-Buoy, but I really doubt anyone is capable enough of affecting the network itself.”
“We still need the Enforcer’s help to get access to the network.” Sonak reminded.
“Let’s go get it then.” An’Ra stated firmly. With that, the team left their meeting spot and began returning to the Enforcer’s office.
With confidence in their step, the walk back to the office was much shorter compared to before. However, things took a turn when An’Ra and the team noticed a large gathering of officers around the office entrance. They didn’t have to time to wonder when a group exited the office, dragging a combative Dura out with them.
“Commander, this isn’t good.” Sonak growled under his breath.
An’Ra simply stepped forward and grabbed one of the arresting officers. “What in Arenar’s Sword is going on here?”
“Dura’s under arrest on suspicion of corruption.” The officer replied flatly. “Lil’Al has been appointed as acting Lord-Enforcer.”
“The Council’s behind this, Commander!” Dura shouted, his feet literally dragging along the floor as four officers were taking him away. “Don’t believe a word they say about me!”
An’Ra and his team just stood there in stunned silence, watching and hearing the Anaran