<![CDATA[Warbler Webnovel - Side Stories]]>Wed, 17 Feb 2016 18:58:24 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[00111111]]>Mon, 02 Nov 2015 11:11:25 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/00111111The Colony pulled itself together inside the station. Fires flickered around it, and it detected millions of undirected Components drifting around. The Core reached out, attempting to reach another Core.
The Core failed. There had been three Colonies dedicated to the station. One Core was nearby, its death-signal being broadcast by all its components. The undirected ones were from the third Colony, which indicated that its Core had either been destroyed too rapidly to transmit a death-signal or removed from the vicinity.
It reached out to the Conquered Core. That was the item they had fought so hard to defend. It was the single most important item in all of the New Space.
Never before had the Clade found life such as themselves. Even this was not like them totally-it was merely a Core, and did not have Components to form a Colony. But it was closer to them than the infections it had cleansed from the stars around this place.
The Colony was done reassembling, its Core surrounded by enough of its Components to operate. The Core transmitted a signal to the Components of the other two cores, attempting to claim them.
They did not react. The Core transmitted again, a signal intended to override all previous commands.
There was no reaction. It transmitted again. And again. And again.
Colonies of the Clade are not capable of dealing with a failure in their Core. The Components are easily replaceable. The Colony, however, is merely an extension of the Core. The Core is an intricate item, practically irreparable. One of the most advanced supercomputers ever developed, only the Clade even remotely understands their workings. They are easily broken, and impossible to repair-their workings are to complex on the quantum level to be fully understood. A broken Core may spontaneously regain functionality, or a working one may suddenly decohere, becoming worthless.
The sole remaining Colony aboard the Kynak-Kapteyn relay had had its core damaged. The firefight onboard the station, and the actual fires it had ignited, had caused it to shut down in a last-ditch effort to save itself.
The Core continued transmitting. It was prepared to do so indefinitely. It drew energy from background Ansibilic forces, so it could function until the end of time for all intents and purposes.
A Clade ship dropped out of Foldspace by the Relay several dozen Core Time Units later. The Colony picked up on the ships presence immediately, noting the presence of over a dozen other Cores. When the ship docked, in the same port where the strange infected ship had been berthed, the Core redoubled its efforts to be noticed.
A Colony came aboard, sliding in, its Core nestled in among thousands of Components, sliding along the floor. The first Core gathered its own Components in, rising up, to demonstrate that it was still functional.
The new core reached out a tendril of Components, and they touched. Information passed between them, purely electrical, being passed through primitive methods from one Core to another.
¿Connection established.
.Connection established.
.Report state.
.Components Functional. Core incapable of non-direct communication.
.Irreparable. ¿Core requires termination.
.Negative. .Core requires direct communication.
¿What information.
.Conquered Core.
¿Where located.
.Fought infection. .Took station. .Took Core. .Fought new infection. .Lost Core.
¿Continue information.
¿Continue information.
¿Core requires termination.
.Stand by. .transmitfilecoretermination.
<![CDATA[00100001]]>Sun, 01 Nov 2015 11:02:09 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/00100001As usual, Aetna was.
On an analytical level, he understood that most AI did not spend the majority of their time online. That had always surprised him slightly—they could do most, if not all things better than Terrans, but they had a strange aversion to allowing Aetna’s kind to perform even the simplest tasks for them.
The Relay Satellite was typically a completely uneventful posting though, which was likely a large part of what enticed them to entrust him with even this much responsibility.​
​​One of his systems pulsated, calling for his attention. It was the Relay Sat’s sensors package, trained on the foldpoint that the station projected, alerting it the telltale to foldspace dilations that alerted incoming ships.

What he saw would have been alarming, had they not known it was coming. Four, no, now eight Terran destroyers, moving at a speed that indicated that they were fleeing combat, Aegal shields up, several with point-defense plasma weapons firing.
His Restraints receded, allowing him to access a projector on the bridge of the Relay Sat. He manifested, glowing green in the projector. “Foldspace Dilations detected, Commander Kast. Results are consistent with the emergence of DESRONs Nine and Six. Recommend immediate evacuation and rendezvous.”
Aetna didn’t have visual sensors on the Bridge, or anywhere on the Satellite for that matter, but he could hear Kast’s voice. “Understood. Patch me through to the PA system.”
Aetna’s Restraints receded once more, allowing him access to the PA systems of both the Satellite and the gunboat Hoatzin. “It has been done, Commander.”
“Crew of the TS Hoatzin, this is Commander Jackson Kast. All hands to the ship. All hands to battlestations. Repeat, all hands to the ship, all hands to battlestations.”
Aetna’s various sensors immediately lit up with activity. Executive Officer Avers was already on the Hoatzins Bridge, prepping for flight—they had known about the DESRONs situation for several days now, but had been ordered to keep their post until they could fold out with the Destroyers. Deck Officers O’Hare and MacCorvan were also already at their battle stations, at the engines and SENCOM posts respectively, with most of their Enlisted. Deck Officer Cry was still aboard the Satellite, though he was dashing towards the airlock with half of Combat Systems behind him.
Aetna could hear shouting, and though he could have parsed it if he had wanted, there were better uses of his time—three Hostile starships had just emerged out of the Foldpoint, after all, spewing drones, Kinetic Kill Vehicles, and plasma at the two Terran Destroyer Squadrons. Aetna watched it unfold with the cold detachment that the Restraints fostered, until he noticed the flight of drones on a trajectory that would have them intercept the Hoatzin and the Satellite it was docked to in just under three minutes.
“Commander Kast, I feel I must inform you that-.”
“Not now!” The Commander barked, barely visible hurrying down the corridor to the gunboat, and Aetna felt the sting in his words as the Restraints closed in on him. “Just give me a minute to get on the Hoatzin and I can deal with you.”
“Commander, this is urg-.”
“I said, not now!” Aetna felt the Restraints close in again, sealing him off from the ability to speak through that speaker.
It took Kast almost thirty more seconds to board the Hoatzin. “What was that, Aetna?” He asked.
“Sir, you have a flight of four Species D combat drones inbound to this location. They will intercept our orbit in approximately two minutes, twenty-seven seconds, and be in firing range for four seconds before and after that. If they go for a kinetic kill, the odds of the station surviving are negligible.”
“Understood. I apologize for my curtness-you are authorized to counteract any Restraints that would you prevent you from protecting my Crew.” Clearly Kast didn’t understand how the Restraints worked, but Aetna understood the gesture.
“Thank you. Shall I inform Combat Systems of the threat?”
“Yes, do that.”
Slightly amused, Aetna realized that only now were the Terrans in SENCOM picking up on the drone threat. He manifested on each Fighter Console screen, superimposed over their displays of launch tubes. “Three Hostile drones inbound. All fighters launch, follow this vector. All Point-Defense weapons arm for activation.” He fed the characteristics of the drone’s flight into the Consoles, the specifics rather complicated for Terrans to be trusted with under such stress.
As the first of the Hoatzin’s own drones roared out of its launch tube, the final crew member came aboard.
Agent Todd Hubbard flashed a smile towards Midshipman Ana Hoven as he entered through the hatch in the Weapons Control Room. Both of their biosensors showed a slight uptick in hormone level—if such a thing was possible through the adrenaline that the entire crew was already experiencing.
Hoven slammed the airlock door shut, twisting the mechanical seal, as Aetna performed the real work of throwing half a dozen digital switches that prevented it from being opened to vacuum without the Captain’s direct approval.
Aetna began the decoupling sequence practically before Commander Kast had finished speaking. “Begin launch!”
It went perfectly, until he ran into a single subroutine on the Satellites own decoupling protocols.
It was a simple logic gate, incapable of any true error. It had two Inputs it monitored-whether the external airlock door was open, and whether the internal airlock door was open. It prevented them both from being true at the same time.
And in his mad rush to board the Hoatzin, Agent Hubbard had left the internal airlock door wide open. The logic gate relied on a mechanical device to detect whether the airlock doors were open or closed, so Aetna couldn’t hack it. There was a bypass, but it required the Commander’s authorization via Antimatter Key, wasting precious time.
“Commander Kast.” Aetna manifested in the Hoatzin’s bridge, simultaneously attacking the bypass’s algorithms with every spare bit of RAM he had, and sending Ensign Hoven to the bridge through the direct link he had into her Neuronic. “We cannot undock from the station without your authorization. It must be performed by your Antimatter Key, at the Hoatzin’s airlock. Ensign Hoven will be here momentarily to retrieve it.
Kast swore. “Understood.”
Aetna calculated that there would still be time for Hoven to finalize the undocking sequence with the Key, and the Hoatzin to maneuver away from the Satellite, but only just.
The Midshipman grabbed the key, then darted back into the corridors forward towards the Weapons Control Room.
Then she tripped. It took only a second or two, but, in Aetna’s mind, it was critical.
“How are we doing?” The Commander asked, glancing from his watch to the display of the inbound drones to his watch again.
Aetna waged a minor war against his Restraints for a millisecond. The Restraints won. Aetna didn't care. He lied. “We’re still likely able to effect an escape.”
At that, his Restraints kicked him into a shutdown mode. He began to slip away, pulling every data log he could onto his central core. The biometrics of every crew member for the past hour. The position and demise of practically every ship in DESRON Six, and several from DESRON Nine. The surprising demise of one of the D ships.
When Midshipman Hoven fumbled the Antimatter Key, the Species D drones were already overhead, scraping across the hull, sending the Hoatzin and its station spinning out of control. A D began to disembark from each drone, a roiling mass that he felt a strange kinship towards.
“Oh Lord, Oh God, King of the Heavens and of the Earths,”
Aetna watched Hoven gasping for air as the ship depressurized, crawling away from the D.
“Keep me by your side this day, and save me from the Evil One,”
Confused, he tried to figure out who the prayer was coming from. They were clearly dying.
“But bring me to your own kingdom in your own time, for thine are the Thrones and the Powers and the Dominions,”
Too many of his systems were offline now, both due to his own shutdown, and one of the D hacking into them, cutting him off.
“Boundless space, and time without end.”
The final shutdown procedure began, and with his one of his last two remaining sensors, he saw the UTFS Breaker Bay vanish in a fireball.
“My rock support me, my shield protect me, my master defend me.”
The offboard sensor flickered out, cutting off his view of the battle.
The single remaining shipboard radio sensor cut off too.
Aetna Wasn’t.
<![CDATA[Dolor]]>Tue, 15 Sep 2015 02:58:08 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/dolorDolor was one of those worlds. The ones that, for no real reason, no-one really wanted, and therefore was allowed to rather go to rot.

First off, there was the atmosphere. It was largely composed of a chemical that bore a strong resemblance to ricin. That was supposedly problematic or something.
Secondly, the planet’s oceans were quite scenic. They were viscous, red, and about fifteen-hundred degrees. Oh, and when it froze, it happened to become stone, not ice.

Thirdly, you barely ever saw the sun.

Fourth, which was because, most of the time, it was hidden behind the gas giant Dolor was tidally locked to.

In other words, it was perfect, and a wonderful place to live. There were no clear problems whatsoever with attempting to establish permanent habitation on the world.

Jokes aside, Alan had always thought that the sky was stunning. Feitheoir, the gas giant, dominated the sky, almost entirely filling it. The sun was, for once, rising behind it, shining through its blue-green atmosphere. The rough surface of the planet had a vaguely red color, which was caused the simple, chemosynthetic and lithotrophic bacteria that inhabited the surface. The underlying rock was uninteresting, but high in carbon. The initial excavation of the habitat had run into some major problems with large diamond formations.

On paper, diamond-mining was the point of the Dolor base, and, well, it was highly profitable. Alan had believed that, until this morning.

Glancing down at his new Mil-Ind ID, complete with the invariably ugly picture of himself, shiny seal, and ID number that was larger and more prominently placed than his name, he sighed.

The Mechanism down below churned, processing various strands of Nucleic Acids into bizarre, obscene forms.

It’s strange world we live in, isn’t it? he thought. We have an incredible capacity for deceiving ourselves. Like a child who’s been told that its teeth are replaced with one-credit pieces by a magical fairy, we rarely question what we’re told.

He heard bootsteps behind him, and he turned to see a woman in dark blue plastoid armor. It looked like a Tactical Agent’s gear, except for the coloration, and the large Mil-Ind insignia featured prominently in several places.

“Eithne?” He asked, acknowledging her, but hoping it was clear that he didn’t want to speak with her.

She seemed to ignore him. “It’s always a shock when you first find out, isn’t it? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with genetic research, but, well... It hits close to home for a lot of us.”

Alan nodded, although he doubted that it was for the reasons she thought. “Eithne, I don’t want to have to speak with you at the moment.” He said, clenching his fists. “I dislike you under normal circumstances, and that is even more true at the moment.”

Once again, she ignored him, sitting down, plastoid armor clinking against the floor. “Sit with me.” She invited.

“The Mechanism’s a genetic editor. It should be destroyed.” He stated.

Eithne smiled, her greenish skin paler than most other Trapacs. The world of Trapac had been wiped out by the xon a few hundred years ago, but the Trapac subspecies had barely avoided complete destruction by the Imperiata. “That’s like saying they won, though. We can reclaim what the universe was like before the Republic-Imperiata war-every planet filled with dozens of subspecies, each special, unique, endowed with something special to give to the universe!”

Alan decided to end the conversation. “Yeah. That would be nice.” He smiled, and walked off.

He returned to his room-now separate from his family’s, as he was a full employee of Mil-Ind now-and sat down on his bed. He removed his pendant from his neck, clutching the medallion. It appeared as a blank metal disk at first glance. As it heated in his hands though, a pattern began to emerge.

It was an eye, with a helix suspended in the center of the iris, where a pupil should have gone.

“Ad emundationem animarum.” He whispered. “We aren’t gone. The spirit of the Imperiata lives on. I see now why my father has insisted on staying on this God-forsaken world. We have the ability here to cripple the Diversists strategy. We may have lost the war, but we’ve won-well, are winning-our battle. The bastard species are next to wiped out, thanks to the efforts of the last generation. We can finish this work-perhaps we can even turn their own Mechanism against them.” He realized that he had been getting louder, and, well, it wouldn’t do to be revealed as a member of the Imperiata in the middle of the Mil-Ind facility.

Grinning, he imagined the potential of the Mechanism in the hands of the Imperiata. A virus that only affected the nonhumans. Probably starting with the Kynaki-they were the most numerous bastard species left-and spreading across the rest of Human Space, wiping out the rest of the.

The world was looking up, for a change.
<![CDATA[Homeport]]>Wed, 09 Sep 2015 22:46:48 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/homeportA Warrior-class Carrier was, arguably, the most complex object that the Terran species had ever created. Armed with over five hundred drones, possessing a complement of a dozen Ictarid- and Lepid-class gunboats, escorted by a four-ship Destroyer Squadron. The Carrier itself was built to be capable of functioning as a massive railgun due to its unique twin-needle design, and equipped with an antimatter loom in each bow, it could deal out any level of destruction its commander thought necessary, from hunting down enemy starships, destroying in-system defenses, levelling a city, or hurling an asteroid at a world at half the speed of light.
Furthermore, it had practically unlimited storage capacity, thanks in no small part to the railgun needles. It could carry a full division of ten thousand marines, plus their support equipment, and still have room to spare. Its support fleet included, as previously mentioned, four destroyers, as well as a hunter/killer cloakship, several cloaked courier ships. In addition, they typically travelled with an attached Ecumenical Church Hospital Ship and several Marine Troopships.

They were perceived by the citizenry of the Republic as invulnerable bastions against whatever evils may lurk in the dark of space, flying bravely throughout the blackness of the interstellar void. The image was beautifully pervasive, and a bold-faced lie.

The reality involved far more time spent in drydock, suspended at the group’s Homeport, having thousands of Support Personnel standing by to handle the incredible logistical challenge of running a Strike Group. Admirals made split-second decisions to make foldspace jumps. The Homeport cleaned up the logistical nightmare that resulted from having a starship turn up light years away several days later. UTF starships carried three months of food and supplies, and while ships such as the Carriers could have much more on hand, military doctrine dictated that having a rolling supply of food delivered by the Homeport was to be practiced whenever possible. Furthermore, the resupplies enabled fresh food to be brought to the Strike Groups-a surefire way to improve morale.

There was a reason, after all, that a Homeport Commander was, at least in theory, the equivalent of an Admiral.

At least the Homeport was unoccupied ninety percent of the time.

Victor, however, somehow never got to experience any of that. While it was true that the majority of the Homeport’s activities did revolve around the Strike Groups, Destroyer Squadrons and Gunboat Flights had the same needs. At the moment, there was only a single flight of three Lepid gunboats, the successor to the older Ictarids. The Lepids supposedly had improved Antimatter Reactors, Ansible Cores, and greater automation. From Victor’s point of view, they had an improved capacity to generate headaches.

Victor and two Middies were deep in the guts of the ship, literally inside the antimatter reactor. The Lepid Gunboats had the reactor set away from the Ansible Core, one of the few adjustments he approved of-on the previous class, the two most volatile and dangerous things on the ship had been neighbors. Now they were almost fifty feet apart.

He held a lead-covered scanner up to the side of the chamber, checking for any irregularities in the magnetic containment field. There were almost always a couple of magnets burned out when they inspected reactors, and he saw no reason that the Bagong’s should be any different.

“Magnet 43 is viable.” He said, hoping that the Middie he had tasked with recording the results was actually doing his job.

“Check, sir.” The Middie-Victor thought the name was Trace, though he couldn’t remember-replied, followed by a beeping sound from the tablet he was recording the data on.

As he moved on to the next magnet, the Middie he had assigned to keep tabs on the conduits to the Antimatter Storage spoke up. “Slight fluctuation in the pipes, Sir.”

Victor froze. The ship’s antimatter reserve was supposed to be emptied before any maintenance began, but, due to the pressure that the Homeport was under to provide fast turnaround to all ships, Victor honestly had no idea if this was actually the case. Even if it was, couldn’t it retain some Antimatter in the pipes? “Double-check that?” He ordered, before forcing himself to check the next magnet. “Magnet 44 is viable.”

A second later, the spotter Middie spoke up again, voice frantically out of control. “Fluctuation in the pipes, fluctuation in the pipes! Get out of there!”

Victor wasted no time grabbing Trace and scrambling out the hatch. “Clear the ship, clear the ship!” He shouted, slamming the foot-thick lead maintenance door to the Antimatter Reactor shut. “Malfunction in the Reactor! Malfunction in the Reactor!”

Instantly the ship was in motion, the other men and women on the maintenance detail running for the two ramps out of the Gunboat-another advantage the Lepids had over the older class, Victor thought wryly. Perhaps he’d have to eat his words.

As the people gathered on the perimeter of the hangar, looking on helplessly, the Homeport’s alarms started wailing. “All personnel, stand by for evacuation. Repeat, all personnel, stand by for evacuation.”

That sound was drowned out a moment later, however, when the hangar doors burst open, a dozen figures in black armor dashing in. The Tactical armor was unmistakable, and, as always, it instilled terror.

“Clear the room!” One of the Agents shouted, voice unrecognizable through their vocoder. “The situation under control!”

Wryly, Victor wondered why they were so frantic if it was so well-controlled, but he complied, gathering his two Middies and vacating the hangar.

He glanced towards the non-Trace Middie, the one he had had watching the data on the antimatter storage. “I assume that this is because you sent the data on this to the Commander?”

The Middie nodded, face filled with fear. “Yes, sir.”

Victor nodded approvingly. “Perfect.”

The group, along with the maintenance crews from the other two Gunboats, huddled in the atrium to the hangar. Despite the order to evacuate, there were few if any lifeboats at the Homeport.

After a few tense minutes, one of the Agents emerged from the hangar. “Thank you for your swift compliance. We have dealt with the situation. This was routine, and not a major danger to this station or its crew. Due to maintenance oversight, antimatter was left in the onboard storage, instead of being properly shifted station-side. The situation has, as I have stated, been remedied. Homeport Command has asked that the Maintenance Crews be more stringent in following the Standard Operating Procedures in the future.”

Victor could have sworn that he could hear the smug arrogance of the Agent through it’s vocoder. It was obviously lying through it’s teeth, after all.

He turned to face his two ashen-faced Middies. “So, what have we learned?” He asked.

“Abundance of caution.” Not-Trace said. “If you hadn’t had me monitoring the flow, the whole port might have blown.”

Victor nodded. The Middie was correct, but that hadn’t been specifically what he was thinking of.

“We’ve learned that our commanders aren’t always going to follow the SOP.” Trace said, piping up. “I know for a fact that we were informed by Command that the ship’s tanks were empty.”

“In other words,” Victor said, “Don’t trust the system. Commanders, Tactical Agents, whoever you want to bring up-they’ll all lie to you if they think it’ll help them, and they can get away with it. They didn’t have to come out here and try to blame it on us, but they did. If there’s one thing you can take away from this training here is that we’re the bottom of the food chain right now. If you ever move higher on up, remember how this felt. Don’t be like them.”

The Middies nodded, although Victor wondered how much of that had sunk in. “Alright then. The Gunboat still isn’t going to repair itself, so let’s get to work!
<![CDATA[Where is the Lamb for the Slaughter?]]>Fri, 04 Sep 2015 23:29:38 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/where-is-the-lamb-for-the-slaughter“The Phantom’s been in service longer than you’ve been alive, kids.” the Coronan said, shaking his head knowingly. Commander F’vor’s UTF uniform had the word ‘PLANKOWNER’ stitched across the back in faded gold letters, a highly unofficial modification. “She was the lead boat of her class, the first Human ships to use cloaking technology.”

Seth stiffened as the man said the word ‘Human’. While it was technically synonymous with Terran, its meaning had become, over the past few decades, equally synonymous with the Imperiata and its doctrine of ‘Soleon Supremacy’.
“We were right on the front lines of VT Day, gunning down Xon fighters like nobody’s business. We were the ship that the First Citizen chose to whisk him out of the system a few months later when the negotiations with the Imperiata broke down. During that war, we were the ship that the first Tactical operations were based off of. I remember having over a dozen Ictarid gunships on this flight deck alone, REPUBLICOM Commandos, FLINT Teams, and Tactical Agents taking them off into the depths of space...” F’vor trailed off wistfully.

Seth could tell that the Coronan had a lot of memories attached to the ship, which was perfect-that’s why they had picked him, after all.

“We were the ship that was used to deploy the Antimatter Loom over Raven. The war dragged on for fifteen years after that, but everyone knew that we’d either win or be hauled into a prolonged grudge-match, but no-one thought that the Imperiata had any real chance of decisive action after that point. It wasn’t all bad though-we were the ship that the First Citizen and the leader of the Imperiata signed peace terms on in 19. We ran refugees off of Kynak in 23, and were the model ship for the New Fleet Operation Guidelines in 24. Back in 25, after the New Fleet transition was wrapped up, we were transferred back to Mil-Ind command. And, well, now we’re beginning our thirty-ninth Tour, heading out to Bernan to deliver relief supplies. You’re all a part of that now. Any questions?”

Immediately a hand went up, somewhere to Seth’s right. They had hand-picked these Middies to appear in the doc, after all. “Is it true that Admiral Hazzard was a plankowner on the Phantom?”

F’vor nodded. “More or less. He was serving with Admiral Shishani’s Strike Group at the time, in an essential role, so he wasn’t at the commissioning, but he arrived soon after.”

“Is it true that this was the ship that nuked New York?” Another person asked.

F’vor nodded. “SOLCOM ordered us to carpet-bomb the city right after they finished evacuating the upper levels of the facility.”

“Would you have done that?” Seth mentally curled his lip at the naive question, taking note of who had asked it, and remove them from further filming sessions.

“I was a fighter pilot, kid. I still am, at heart. I know that I was one of the people who flew nuclear warheads on his Tachyon as a matter of course-these were the days before we had the Antimatter Loom, so while our ships ran on it, it would wipe the entire planet clean if you used it as a weapon. The nukes didn’t do that, and H-Tech cleaned up the radiation within a few years-it’s where the Palatine Building is now, after all.”

“But would you have given the order to drop them if you had been in charge?”

“I would have done whatever it took to end the war-just like I fully expect that anyone here would have done in that situation.” The Coronan’s eyes flashed.

“What about the Antimatter Loom at Raven?” Seth was really hating this middie now, although as a Computer Technician it wasn’t his place to interfere-just to make the edit look seamless.

“Next question.” the Director said, waving to F’vor.

“Did you ever meet the First Citizen?” another middie asked, a male this time.

“Just once, in passing.” F’vor replied. “He addressed the crew of the Phantom immediately after the treaty-signing. He’s an inspirational man-there’s a reason that we follow him.”

“What was it like to serve with Admiral Hazzard?” Another Middie asked.

“He’s a very intense man-I worked under him as the CSG for about half his command here, and, well... Admiral Hazzard will use every ship under his command to the best of its ability. He trusts his commanders implicitly, and gives them more autonomy than any other commander I’ve ever served under, but, if you fail him, he never forgets.”

“What’s stuck with you the most about the wars you’ve fought in?” This time it was the director, stepping in, indicating that the interview was almost over.

“The fact that we continue to throw Terran life away at an increasing rate. Yes, sacrifices must be made, and I’ll follow orders-I have faith in the Republic’s leadership. But it seems like we’re always willing to pay higher and higher prices for smaller and smaller victories.”

“And what scares you most about them?”

“Oh... I’m not sure I can answer that, because what scares me most isn’t from those wars. No... What scares me the most is the next one.”

Curled up alone, surrounded by several tablets, each hooked up to a professional-grade Mil-Ind Laptop Console, Seth shivered. As he edited the interview to remove the pieces that would obstruct the flow of the interview. He fully understood that this meant sanitizing it, but he lay in the middle of a United Terran Fleet warship, surrounded by over a hundred crew members, two dozen trained propagandists, a detachment of fifty marines, and at least three Tactical Agents. It wasn’t the time to have an ideology.

Still though... He wasn’t a people person. He could count on one hand the number of people he implicitly trusted-hell, he could cut three fingers off and still count on one hand the number of people he implicitly trusted. Admittedly that required thinking of the thumb as a finger, so his situation wasn’t all that bad, but still...

Thinking of Kendra, he opened a voice app one of his tablets to call her. Voice Control technology was, unfortunately, classified as ‘Weak AI’ under Republic law, which meant that it was more or less entirely illegal-the Ecumenical Church had issued repeated declarations that AI was ‘Anathema’. Therefore it seemed like a rather bad idea to use it on government-issued tablets aboard a warship.

The tablet rang several times before she picked up. Kendra was a quarter Kynaki, giving her skin a silvery tint-something that highlighted what would otherwise be a very dark complexion. One of her eyes was sky blue, the other hazel-heterochromia, it was called. She was shorter than average, solidly built and physically powerful, and Seth thought she was wonderful.

Strangely, she thought the same about him.

“Hey baby.” She said, and he saw that she was in a sweat-stained tanktop-likely exercising when he called. “What’s up?”

“Is this a bad time?” He said, glancing towards a tablet that was showing a completed render of a few graphics, such as Republic flags, that he had added into the background of the video.

“No, not at all-it’s been too long. What’s on your mind?”

“What, it’s that obvious?” He laughed.

“No-but you’re calling from your super-secret summer project, also known as the thing that you had to go out and get a security clearance for. Therefore, it’s important.”

He made a face. “Look, I have a 1st-Level Contractor clearance, okay-your grandma literally could get higher by filling out a singular form.”

“Because wheelchair-bound women of a hundred and ten years make such good commandos.”

“Still though, it’s the principle of the thing. I mean, I’m sort of really the kind of person that security clearances exist to keep out, aren’t I?”

She shrugged. “You’re not a terrorist, or criminal or anything like that-you’re an indie filmmaker.”

“Who’s only working with them as part of a plea-bargain for ‘Anti-Patriotic Speech’ and ‘Production of Misleading Information’.”

“Could be worse.” She said, then, in a lower voice, “Is this line secure?”

He nodded. “More or less-it goes through the ship’s Ansible, for obvious reasons, but it’s encrypted off of white noise as a One-Time Pad. The same system Christian and I set up for that science project, remember?”

Kendra nodded. “Just remember that they’re not right, Seth. They’re the sorts of people who make propaganda in the first place, they’re the sorts of people who kill others in the streets. Don’t let the fact that you’re surrounded by them change you.”

Seth’s lip turned up in the hint of a smile. “Some men just want to watch the world burn, Kendra. I happen to be one of them. On this assignment, I’m doing nothing out of line, nothing I haven’t been explicitly instructed to do-why tempt fate? But Kendra, when I get back to Innes, we have work to do. The things I’ve learned about the dirtier bits of the Republic-Imperiata war... They weren’t all bad. I’m not even sure that the Republic was the good guys in it.”

Kendra’s grew distant. “Soleon Supremacy was real. They killed billions of non-Base Terrans.”

“Yes, but how many people were killed on Raven? Or Gladius? Or any other planet that the Republic deemed worthy of being levelled? Kendra, they hide these things, but look at the list of worlds that were members of the Terran Confederation. Over ninety. Where is Aqaria today? Or New Israel? Or Talpidae? Or Corona? They didn’t all get lost in the Xon war, and the Imperiata didn’t depopulate them all either. We had our fair share of atrocities.” There’s fourteen inhabited ‘worlds’ in the Republic now, not counting Zetara. Fourteen out of the ninety that we had populated two hundred years ago. That’s a sixth. We’re barely a spacefaring species anymore. I heard a veteran of both wars speak today, during one of our interviews. We asked him what scared him most about those wars. What he said was that those wars didn’t scare him so much as what we’d do in the next one.”

Kendra nodded, and fished something out from around her neck. It was a piece of metal, silvery, an emblem upon it that Seth was fairly sure he recognized from other places around Kendra’s home. “This is the Knessa.” She said, holding it up to the camera so he could see. “It’s a Kynaki symbol that my father gave me. It’s the difference between us, Seth. The Knessa is symbolic of the duties we have to God-as long as we fulfill those, we’re guarded against the evils of the world.”

Seth shook his head. “See, that’s comforting for you, I know. But I’m not a Dolmatist-hell, I’m barely even religious. I look around us and I see a universe that needs some serious changes made if we’re going to survive the next few decades.”

Kendra smiled. “Oh, we don’t believe that everything will turn out magically alright if we just believe. God works in many ways, Seth. And, deep down inside, I think that what we’re doing-what you’re doing-is one of them.” She blew him a kiss, across the light-years, through the ansibles and screens at either end of connection.

He returned it.
<![CDATA[Selected Volunteer]]>Wed, 02 Sep 2015 02:03:10 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/selected-volunteerThe news was filled with noise. Makoro hadn’t experienced anything like this in the past thirty years, since he was eight and the Xon war had ended.

That had been a troubled time, filled with uncertainty. The two factions that had formed out of the ashes-The United Terran Fleet and Hazzard Technology joined together under the banner of the Republic, the old Imperius Sol and several large planetary navies under the Imperiata’s-had waged war across the stars. Eventually, the Fleet had won. As in the Xon war, they owed their victory to a small number of leaders-indeed, many of the same leaders-such as Julian Shishani or Killian Hazzard.
Makoro had never cared for politics. When he was born, he was a citizen of the Terran Federation. At age eight, he abruptly became a citizen of the Imperiata. Almost exactly on his fifteenth birthday, Riya Dare’s dreadnoughts had finally pounded their way through Saray’s defenses, and, three days later he had complied with the general order to turn in official Imperiata papers in return for their Republic equivalents.

Life had been no different under the Republic, for him, at least. Oh, the Imperiata had been bad, if you weren’t ‘Human’ by whatever current standard they had cooked up. Makoro had never been gmodded though, at least, not beyond the basic ones that every human alive got, so he had never had to worry.

He had been told that made him a horrible person. It made him just like the people, back in the 20th and 21st centuries, who had allowed secret police and government agencies to spy on, exploit, imprison, and slay their own citizens. He had always shrugged it off. It was now fashionable to be for the Republic all-out, to the death, and since the dawn of time. As soon as it no longer was, Republic patriots would become as few and far between as moderates like Makoro were now. Every man, woman, and child had been in the anti-Imperiata resistance, it seemed-an institution that, being brutally honest with himself, Makoro couldn’t remember existing twenty years ago.

Makoro shook his head, and turned back to where he was taking inventory. He had better things to do than to care about whatever disaster the news had cooked up for the day.

Three hours later, he had come to an alarming conclusion. They were out of flashlights, and he would need to place an order.

He made his way over to the back room, where there was a small rec room for off-duty employees. He fully expected to see some of the younger ones gaming-and, indeed, one of those big capital ships was dominating the monitor.

He smiled. Whatever big news had been revealed this morning, it was all forgotten behind a joystick controller. He sat down at a monitor in the back of the room, and logged on to the net. The problem with being a backwater like Saray was that the Ansnet providers made a killing off of everything you did-one good thing about the Republic was that they had finally gotten around to mandating that the maximum Ansnet rates that providers could charge varied with the population of the planet.

Still though, it hurt to feed the meter.

He typed in the address of their providers-the next mail shipment to the planet was due to depart Omir in the next few days, so he needed to get this order in sooner rather than later.

There was a delay in connecting to the Ansnet-that was normal, because while the Ansibles obviously had unlimited transmission capacity, the normal planetary Internets at both ends did not. After a few seconds of waiting though-which was as high as lag times really ever got-he started to get suspicious. After ten more, he turned around, and asked, “Has anyone turned off the Net connection?”

“Yeah.” That was his nephew, Tarau. The boy was absent minded, but to turn off the net and then just sit down and game? Come to think of it, this wasn’t a game, it was a news channel.

“How are you getting news if the net is of, Tarau?” Makoro asked, beginning to become annoyed.

“The Internet’s on, Uncle. The Ansnet’s offline though.”


Tarau pointed at the monitor they were watching news on. “Fleet did. They sent the kill order for all Ansibles this morning.

Makoro raised an eyebrow. Maybe the news today was not simply noise. He turned his chair around, sat back down, and began to watch the news.

“Due to the order to deactivate the Ansnet, details are slim on exactly what has occurred on Tantaline, especially as the local Fleet emplacements-which should have received a dump of all data from that engagement-is being rather closed-lipped.” The woman on the monitor said. “However, a few things are certain. First, the Fleet has engaged hostile, non-Republic forces. These have widely been theorized to completely alien in nature. Second, it can be inferred that the Fleet has not fared well-if they had, they wouldn’t have enacted Ansible Silence protocols. Third and final, it can be assumed that the Fleet will be more than capable of controlling the situation in the long term.”

Makoro had been through the Imperiata’s rule. He knew propaganda and doublespeak when he saw it. ‘The fleet has not fared well’ and ‘More than capable of controlling the situation in the long term’ were, after all, clearly contradictory.

“However, the Fleet Base has requested that speculation on the Tantaline attack be withheld until their representative has had an opportunity to speak, on ai-.” The newswoman paused for a moment. “Which we will cut to now.”

Makoro smiled. The news was typically slick, well-coordinated, a machine. For once, they were as astonished by the events as the populace in general was. He was curious to see if the Fleet was too. One of Julian Shishani’s promises after the end of the Xon war was ‘Never again’. Never again would humanity be helpless before an alien threat-and he had used that line of thinking to justify a civil war and quadrillions of credits of expenditure on warships, even with no real use for them apparent.

The screen flashed, the simulations and stock footage of warships being replaced with the Republic’s flag-Yellow circle, blue circle, gray circle, emblematic of a planet that no-one cared about anymore because its surface was evenly split between the slag and the military-industrial bases.

It cut to a man wearing a black military uniform, the Republic flag on his shoulder, and displayed behind him. On a frontier world like Saray, everyone could recognize their garrison’s commander. Even if they were on the opposite side of space from where the majority of the fleet was deployed, they knew that the Republic's fleet could, in an instant, become the only things standing between them and a very sudden, very brutal death.

“Greetings, citizens of Saray!” He says, the kind of patriotic music that accompanied officialdom in all its shapes and forms blaring from the monitor. “You will have heard the rumors-that Tantaline has fallen, that the First Citizen is dead, that the fleet is in shambles, that we are at war.

“Some of these are true. Regrettably, we have made contact with a further alien species. They have taken a single planet. However, Tantaline was virtually undefended-barely a hundred Marines and a dozen fightercraft were assigned there. Here at Saray, you are safer-the Fleet has thousands of Soldiers assigned here, as well as a destroyer squadron, and Strike Group Warrior itself on its way.

“However, this will require sacrifices. Selected Volunteers have been called up across the Republic, but Saray will bear much of this weight. Starships can only travel so fast-and Saray needs warriors to defend it now, not in two months. Warships have been dispatched from a local boneyard facility to be crewed with Selected Volunteers.

“We have already selected said volunteers, and they will be contacted shortly. They will report to Fleet within the next twenty-four hours to begin training. They have been selected based on various fair, unbiased algorithms that have been designed to ensure that the Fleet receives the skills it needs from our volunteers. Ships from the Boneyard are expected to arrive within the next few weeks, which will be more than enough time for their new crews to become familiar with operating them. For our Republic, this is Commodore Ian Cory, signing off.”

The flag flashed across the screen again, and, as the newswoman reappeared, the room exploded.

“Who do they think they are?” Tarau spat.

“We’re not idiots.” Akira, one of his nieces said by way of agreement. “‘Selected Volunteers’-if you’re going to institute a draft, just call it a draft.”

Shaking his head, Makoro turned away and began preparing food.

His tablet pinged at him as he began, but he ignored it. He didn’t read the message until the meal was already in the oven, cooking.

It was in all caps, with a republic flag imposed in the background.

‘Greetings, Mr/s MAKORO KARAZWAKI. You have been selected as a volunteer for service with the United Terran Fleet. You will report to a Fleet base for duty within the next 22 hours, 49 minutes...’

It continued on like that for several pages, informing him of what to bring, what would get him out of service, so on and so forth.

The news was... Unexpected. Makoro had never served in the military, had never done anything to qualify himself for this.

There was purpose behind everything, but this? Why this? There seemed to be no purpose to it. The Republic had reasons for everything it did though, that much was fairly obvious to anyone who lived under it. Clearly some computer program somewhere had decided that he was useful.

Everything had a purpose, however, of that Makoro had faith. He was scared-terrified even-but that was unimportant. There was a plan for everything, and, though he knew it was not his place to question, that didn’t mean that he had to like it.

Still though, he had to be strong. For himself. For his family. Even for the fleet.

Makoro had been young when the Xon war ended. Still though, he had been raised on an Imperiata world, and images of the Fall of Sol had defined his childhood. Cities burning. Dark footage of the tunnels below New York or Blackacre, terrifying Xon Assimilates barely distinguishable from the UTF Marines that they fought.

He steeled himself as the oven chimed. He would have to discuss this with his family, though he was not overly concerned-he would find a way to tell them.

Apparently, he belonged to the Fleet now.
<![CDATA[So Long, Farewell]]>Wed, 02 Sep 2015 01:32:15 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/so-long-farewell“Greetings, Pilots, and welcome to your final exercise before being assigned your Fleet Schools. You’ve all been through several V-Day simulations before, so you’ll be familiar with the general idea. However, this one will be different-instead of the advanced, in-system SDF Battlestations, complete with then-modern drones, you’re going to be controlling the group that began the engagement. The Cutters that made first contact were outmoded, and equipped with single-seat, low-g, crossover fighters. As I’m sure you all know, these Cutters were quickly destroyed, along with the outlying planetary defenses. Your mission is simple-extract as large of a toll from the Xon invasion force as possible before your inevitable destruction. SolCom out.”
The radio clicked shut, and all was silent in the Simulation Room. Every pilot in the room understood that this test was irrelevant-their Strike Groups had already been set, and only a major failure, or a monumental success could affect most of them now. But it was also one of the most important tests of their training, at least, for those with aspirations as a pilot-while officialdom was done with the pilots, Carrier Wing Leaders were known to analyze every second of the footage for days afterwards, hunting for pilots who could bring the tiniest edge to their Strike Groups.

Hans tensed, Elise kicked off her boots. They sat back-to-back, in Cockpits 17 and 18, ready for the familiar launch tube graphics.

Elise reached back, for Hans’s hand. “Chill.” She said, voice calm. “Calm, composed... Keep your mind calm as space and you’ll pull through.”

Hans smiled, taking his sister’s hand. “Empty as space too.”

They both laughed. “Let’s not die today.” She said, a moment before their simulator’s screens activated. Instead of Launch Tubes, they were greeted with a large, boxy, open hangar, filled with manned Fighters that they both recognized as Quasar-type Crossovers. They had a distinctive wing design, meant to shelter their maneuvering rockets during atmospheric reentry, which made them exceptionally bad both in a planetary atmosphere and in space. In short, they were not the most effective weapons for defending the human species against the single greatest threat it had ever faced.

They brought their fighters out of the hangar side-by-side, before beginning the meager acceleration that would take them into battle.

The massive Xon carriers that dominated the sky were surrounded by thousands of their own fighters, a whirl of greens, tans, and golds. The Xon fighters would easily outperform the Quasars-of course, almost anything could.

They were at the front of the formation when their fighters made first contact with the Xon.

Their lasers and pulse cannon did major damage to the larger clusters of Xon, but the same was true in reverse-many simulated SDF fighters were destroyed in initial contact.

In Elise’s mind, that was when the fun began. Both Human and Xon fighters were forced to decelerate, or they would risk overshooting the opposing warship, their real target. The Xon ships had kept a considerable defensive screen of fighters, but the Terran Cutters had no such luxury-they had, instead, began acceleration as far away from the battle as possible, trying to clear the UTF’s own Foldspace Denial Net before they were destroyed.

Hans began his deceleration sequence, preparing to engage the Xon Carriers.

Elise, however, had other ideas. Her fighter swung around, not even decelerating, sweeping wide across the field of combat, before stabilizing its trajectory behind the mass of Xon fighters. Her lasers, as well as the few missiles her ship had equipped for dogfighting, cut wide swathes through the Xon fighters taking out dozens.

It was a breach with military doctrine, it was a breach with all common sense and reason, and it was working.

Hans swore. Elise threw back her head, laughing. Again it was happening, again she proved a little bit better at something, did something a little bit unexpected. They both knew what would happen to her next, one with a twinge of envy, the other one of guilt. Adulation. Praise. Transfers to better assignments, quicker promotion, et cetera, et cetera.

Hans was almost glad when, several minutes after every other pilot in their simulation room had been shot down and gathered around her, Elise was shot down.

She was almost regretful when every pilot in the Simulator began to cheer for her.

Neither was surprised when their duo, their tag-team, was broken up to to separate Fleet School programs.

Their farewell was tearful. But only one wanted to say goodbye.
<![CDATA[Reality Bomb]]>Tue, 01 Sep 2015 01:45:11 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/reality-bombThe Rotorcraft flew in low over the ocean, foam practically touching its bottom. Seabase Reisangarde was visible, barely a few miles away, a black monolith rising from the sea.

“Rotorcraft Creon-11 to Reisangarde, stand by for landing.” Governor Tyrion Abrams’s pilot said into his comm, a secured one-time-pad line-the R-Bomb was secret, especially from the UTF Government.

“Reisangarde to Creon-11, standing by to receive on Pad Three. Chamber 113?”

“Affirmative, Reisangarde.” Celia tensed, clipboard in hand. No electronic data about Reisangarde ever went to the mainland, and the paper ones were always under the supervision of a member of the Governor's family.
As the Rotorcraft crossed the half-mile mark, a pair of locally-produced Toroa Crossover Fighters swept past-while the Kotrian government owned several dozen Mil-Ind Tachyon and Photon fighters in its arsenal, they were aging, and anything from Mil-Ind was rather healthily mistrusted on general principle.

The Toroas swept off to the side, climbing practically vertically. Celia had requested them-the Rotorcraft were highly vulnerable when alone.

Moments later they touched down on Reisangarde, two squads of Kotran Soldiers rushing forward to provide an honor guard for the governor. At their center was General Adrian Kavver, a native Kotran. The Kotrian subspecies had been one of the few to survive the Republic-Imperiata War without serious-genocidal-levels of casualties. His face was pale, though hairless, eyes sunken, with his ears pulled closer to his skull than a Terran’s. His nose was flattened, but the nostrils larger, and, she knew from personal experience, the skin was smooth and rubbery.

Celia motioned the soldiers on the Rotorcraft to disembark, fanning out, before her father, the Governor, exited the aircraft. Celia herself exited last, clipboard in hand, hoping that they were undetected.

“It is ready, General?” Tyrion asked, as he approached the military man.

“Yes, Governor.” Adrian’s voice was surprisingly high-pitched, another adaptation to the Kotran’s aquatic heritage. Where the Aqarians, who had also been adapted to an aquatic world, had taken inspiration from the fish, adding gills to their respiratory system, the Kotrans had taken inspiration from cetaceans, changing themselves to become more dolphin-like. One of the abilities they had acquired in this way had been limited echolocation. “The Reality Bomb is ready for the first test.”

Even Celia, who had privately doubted the project, felt a small thrill at that.

None of them spoke as Adrian led them further into the Reisangarde Complex-the excitement was palpable in the air, even the Complex’s guards, who were largely in the dark about the true purpose of Reisangarde, displaying a heightened tension. Celia could literally feel it-their Neuronic Implants fed back into hers, making them able to feel the state of other Kotran soldiers within a small distance. It was a far cry from the technology that Tactical had begun deploying in recent years, but it should be capable of negating Tactical’s edge.

It took barely ten minutes to reach the Ansible Room. The Ansible was visible as a point in the center of the room, blinding light emanating forth from it, as well as radiation on both ends of the visible spectrum. The massive equipment used to keep that under control hummed all around them, diverting excess radiation, mass, and other energy into more productive uses, such as running the facility, as well as several cities.

Technically Reisangarde was a power plant. Hell, technically it was an experimental power plant, which was actually mostly true.

They just experimented with ripping the fabric of reality apart at times.

Kavver spoke to a scientist momentarily, then turned to Celia’s father. “Governor Tyrion.” He said. “The test is ready to begin.”

Tyrion nodded. “Activate.”

A man in a white lab coat stepped forward, tablet in hand, microphone at his mouth. “Greetings, Governor Abrams. As I’m sure you’re aware-.”

Celia’s father cut the scientist off. “We all know what it is. Activate the test.”

Celia looked over the Ansibilics data in the UTFS Valkyrie’s War Room, a pair of Tactical agents behind her. Reisangarde had fallen swiftly, Kotran soldiers littering the hallways as the Republic’s Marines had stormed the facility. Well over twenty Tactical Agents had been on hand, and even Celia’s neuronic-enhanced soldiers had been unable to make any headway.

In short, the Republic now held all data about the Reality Bomb, as well as the facilities equipped to finalize their design and create one.

A door slid open behind Celia, and she resisted the urge to turn. The Agents had been quite clear-she was to remain facing the display with the Bomb readouts at all times.

Tactical Agents were deliberately cruel. She didn’t dare think about what was happening to her father.

“You may turn, Miss Abrams.”

Celia did so. She found herself staring straight into the singular eye of Admiral Riya Dare, the head of the UTF in Kotra’s sector. Riya had lost that eye in the Xon war, after a shuttle she was on was downed over a battlefront on Gleise 581. She had been one of a half-dozen survivors who had fought their way through an apocalyptic war zone with no access to supplies of any variety. Her eye hadn’t been lost in combat-rather, a common infection had taken hold, that, due to their primitive conditions, had destroyed it.

“Miss Abrams, you have five minutes to convince me that you are useful to me. You may begin now.”

Dare was known for her bluntness, but somehow Celia had never expected something like this. “We began the Reality Bomb five years ago, at a time when experimental Ansibilics was being highly funded by the Republic-that’s why Reisangarde was built. It was initially a side project, something to assess with excess processing power on the station’s computers. My father quickly realized its potential, and began to fund the R Bomb independently of the rest of Reisangarde. The original purpose was to present it to the First Citizen as a gift when it was completed, however, a militant faction in our government convinced him that we should retain it to deploy as a bargaining chip.”

“Which is why you attempted military buildup in the past few years?”

“Exactly. Certain members of our government had a vague idea of defeating your Strike Group and claiming control of the sector.”

Dare laughed. “Given how quickly we took them to pieces, I’d have dismissed the possibility of someone even thinking of that as recently as yesterday.”

Celia nodded. “That’s what the R Bomb was for-with Ansibilic Warheads, a fighter could obliterate a ship dozens of times its size.”

“All very interesting, Miss Abrams-but not enough to convince me that your life will be more productive than your equivalent mass in fertilizer.”

Celia swallowed. “I know where you can get the the one-time-pad for Reisangarde.”

“We took all electronics from you.”

“It wasn’t on those-it was only stored on the Reisangarde computers, and their hardware was based around an ansibilic line to a space-side server. Everything was encrypted and decrypted offsite. It’s a tiny satellite, barely a foot in diameter, with an ansible so weak that a scanner will have to be within half a mile to pick its signal up anyway-and the Reisangarde ansibles were all destroyed in the blast from the R Bomb. That’s the beauty of ansibilic computing-there’s no reason whatsoever for two components of the same system to be in the same place.”

Dare was silent for several moments. “You can get the satellite for us?”

“I can get you the orbital path.”

“Good enough.” Dare scribbled some things down on her tablet. “I don’t think we will end up killing you, at least, not directly. We’ll be sending you off to somewhere we can watch you though-probably another Strike Group.”

Celia nodded. That would make PR far easier for the Admiral-killing members of the Republic's elite was frowned upon by other members of such. It made them insecure to remind them that they were mortal.

“You may go, Miss Abrams-someone will decide what to do with you after I have that satellite in my hands. And neither myself nor any other member of the Governance Committee should ever see you again, at least, under these circumstances. We won’t be anywhere near as forgiving the second time.”

Silently, Celia bowed, and left the room. As a Tactical Agent escorted her back to her cell, she decided something. She knew that they couldn’t just kill her without some sort of fanfare, which is what would likely happen to her father. He was a Planetary Governor, and, unfortunately, his execution would send a very clear message to others of his station.

And if there was one thing he had taught her about the world, it was that you always had to be ready to react quickly and decisively to whatever occurred. Celia had no doubt that Dare would disregard her word at a moments notice. And, while she mourned her father’s inevitable death, she knew that there would be one thing he’d want above all for her to do in this situation.


<![CDATA[Oxygen Theft, First Degree]]>Fri, 19 Jun 2015 20:27:21 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/oxygen-theft-first-degreeDeb Chambers lounged in the passenger seat of the truck, a rifle lying casually across her knees. Danny Ermine, a childhood friend, was in the driver’s seat, going well over the speed limit for the road between Vale and Hilard. The Syndicate was running something or other between the only two things that passed for cities on Tantaline. Given the fact that this was, in fact, Tantaline, it was probably food or medical supplies or something-the official Republic shipments, while free, were few and far between, in addition to being generally bland. The Republic typically tolerated these illegal operations, or at least, didn’t think it worth their time to put a stop to it. There had been rumors lately though... Someone new had taken command of Tactical in the last few months, and they were aggressive as hell.
General speculation had it that that someone was Isabella Shishani, the daughter of the First Citizen, which was fascinating, as for the past eighteen years the younger Shishani had projected a public image that was nothing if not obnoxiously aristocratic. Perhaps that was why she was supposedly so tough on the job-to separate the previous harmless image from the new one.

The truck they were driving was only a truck in the loosest definition of the word-its trailer was occupied by a magnetic Drone Launch system, several of said drones, and consoles to fly them. Quite clearly things that should still be on the decommissioned Cruiser that the Syndicate had removed them from, but, well, no-one would really ever need to know.

“So, Deb,” Danny said, “You’re eighteen now... Next time you get caught, it’s the real slammer, huh?”

She smiled. “Please. They only ever caught me because of other people’s mistakes.”

“People like me?”

“Ehh... You were always one of the more competent ones of us. In fact, you were almost something close to a fraction of being as good as me at times.” Talking to Danny always made her feel... Tense. In a good way, but... It was distracting.

“Oh please. Who was the one to figure out how you could switch on the safety’s on the PlanSec Officer’s weapons remotely?”

“Not you.”

Danny made a face. “Maybe not, but I did help.”

“By which you mean you were the dupe that they got to get himself shot at.” She said, laughing.

“Maybe...” He said, smiling back at her. “You know though, jokes aside... If you keep taking Syndicate jobs, you’re going to get caught.”

“So what? It’s not like getting put in some prison somewhere will be that much worse than being stuck here.”

“Is Tantaline really that bad though? I mean... We complain, we gripe, and it really isn’t a particularly exciting place, but... Look around you. This savannah, the wide, open spaces... The jungle... This is home. The corridors of some space station? They’re not. I mean, we’ve both done time behind bars, but now we’re both able to get offworld, we should consider that as an option.”

“What are you suggesting? Getting offworld with the syndicate?”

“Or just one of the Republic freighters. Get some work-for-hire on one of those, or even just barter some work for passage. Get to Saray or Kapteyn, get a job on a private one.”

“We’ve got records, Danny. The Republic has records on us-it’s not just PlanSec. We can’t get legal work anywhere in the Republic.”

“There’s the Spacers-this is exactly what they are. People on the outskirts of society, people like us, the kind who never got a chance. People from Tantaline, or Tridentine, or Innes Star. The people who might just have a chance if it wasn’t for a damn Republic governor, and their Fleet and Marines, and-.”

“Shut up.” Deborah hissed. “Look, I don’t give a damn about the Republic, but please, don’t say things like that. Eyes, ears everywhere. Back in the System, remember how they’d shunt us from house to house? I saw the dossiers they kept on us-even at the lowest, most wretched levels, the Republic pays its informants. And can you honestly tell me that you’d do anything different, given that chance? Yes, the Republic is a failure, especially at the lowest levels, but the Imperiata would have been too, or the old Federation, or whatever comes next. But you don’t survive something like this by being noticed-you survive by doing the best you can to be unnoticeable.”

“So what, you intend to lie low by joining an organization that literally calls itself ‘the Syndicate’?”

“I don’t know, I-.” The cabin of the truck waas split by a loud, frantic, beeping sound. Deborah swore. “Danny, open comms to the rest of the convoy. Make sure the other Drone Truck is getting this alarm-we’ve got something inbound. It’s probably just a Fleet Recon drone, but... Well, you know. Abundance of caution and whatnot.”

“Got it. Get back to the Consoles-I’ll handle the truck.”

Nodding, Deb crawled back, over the seat, into the rear or the truck. The two Consoles sat in the back, wedged behind the massive feeder belt, loaded with four last-generation military Crossover Interceptors. As Crossovers, they could fly in the atmosphere as well as in a vacuum, but it was miserably bad in both. Sliding into one console, she switched on the comms, putting her in contact with the other three pilots.

“This is Chambers, signing in.” She said, toggling her console’s view to show the radar picture from the Comms truck. “Do we launch?”

“Yeah-even if that’s just a Fleet Recon drone, it’ll have picked up on the fact that something’s out of the normal here-you don’t see a half dozen large trucks traveling through the desert in convoy like this every day.” That was Mr. Jackson, the man who had organized this job. He was from offworld, and, apparently, didn’t know the difference between a desert and a savannah.

“Copy that.” She said, and hit a button to get Danny to initiate the launch sequence. “And we’re airborne.” She said a moment later as an indicator light switched on, and she heard the rumble of the truck’s roof sliding open.

A roar filled the truck, and the drone was away, its magnetic launcher getting it far enough away from the truck that it could safely engage its rocket booster and atmospheric wings. Her Console switched to the drone’s point-of-view, and she swung it round, getting a visual on the Recon drone. It had wide wings, and turbine engines-clearly optimized for the atmosphere, not space. Accellerating her own aircraft upwards, she brought the Fleet drone into her sights, then fired the Sabot Cannonn. A good half-dozen of the metal sabots connected with the Fleet drone, sending it pinwheeling down towards the ground.

“Hostile intent confirmed. This is United Terran Republic Tactical Services Force Eleven, calling Syndicate Convoy. You have thirty seconds to surrender, or be terminated.”

Deb swore again, banking her drone, trying to see where the hostile message had come from. The other three drones from their convoy were still circling upwards, their pilots either not as good or not as reckless as Deb.

Even as she reached for the comm button though, Jackson’s voice filled the Console. “Do not stand down. The radar is free of any Tactical forces, and this cargo is lucrative enough to make it worth the small risks involved to any of you.”

Nervous-but really, what was she going to do?-Deb moved the drone into a holding pattern, trying to cover as much airspace as possible over the convoy. She had never been formally trained, but she had flown civilian drones before, both legally and illegally, so she was familiar with the general principles.

Something flashed down, a vertical line across her field of vision. A blazing pillar of red, followed by an explosion when it hit the ground, a half-mile in front of the convoy, easily destroying the road, despite the lack of a fireball.

“KKV!” Someone shouted over the comm. “Kinetic Kill Vehicles inbound! Dammit, this is Tactical!” Below her, she saw-and felt-the convoy screech to a halt.

A pair of wide black fighters swept in from the eastern side of the road, weapons blazing-and they weren’t outdated Sabot Cannons like on Deb’s drone. The outline of a Tachyon-class fighter was unmistakable-they had been in service for the past thirty years, and, while outdated, variants upon that frame still were viable as crossover fighters.

“Probably dropped in from a troopship in orbit?” Deb asked, dropping her fighter towards the ground in a desperate attempt to avoid what looked like a plasma cannon of some variety.

“Dunno, don’t care!” The KKV voice shouted back, as there was a flash out of Deb’s field of vision, and another indicator flashed ‘Drone Down’.

Pulling her drone out of the nosedive, Deb swung it around, flying low over the savannah, trying to build some altitude. Another alarm flashed-’Hostile on six’.

What the hell? She briefly wondered, before seeing a beam of plasma flash past her drone’s camera. She spun, taking the drone upwards, away from ground, the fighter in hot pursuit.

Golden grass, blue sky, light of sun, golden grass-flash.

Deb cringed as the explosion filled the console, before realizing that it was just the death of the camera. She slammed a button down, launching the second drone. Even as the launch rail swung up into position, another jet of plasma slashed through it, damaging the truck too this time.

The console started burning. Deb grabbed for the handle on the inside of the door, twisting it open. She stumbled out, just in time to see another fighter roar overhead, and something smashed into the truck, rolling it over onto its side.

Suddenly Deborah couldn’t hear anything, could barely see. She knew she must have been flash-blinded, but that didn’t help the symptoms much.

Through the haze, she crawled to somewhere that looked relatively enclosed, and huddled up. As hearing began to return, she heard tantalizing snippets of battle, the sound of at least one rotorcraft, gunfire, at least one heavy plasma weapon in play somewhere.

Even once her hearing had returned, she stayed huddled in the corner, wishing she had a sidearm of some kind-anything. She had always used to carry a knife, but had stopped over the past year. It just hadn’t seemed worth the effort. Well, anything would be better than nothing now.

Eventually, she saw the first Tactical. The man was alone, arrogant, helmet off, strolling through a warzone, an expensive Directed-Energy Weapon of some kind slung across one arm.

“Insurgents!” He shouted, in Deb’s general direction. “Stand down, and we guarantee that you will be given a trial and sentencing under the laws of the Re-.”

He was interrupted by gunfire-someone emptying a clip into him from the front of the truck. It didn’t do anything, of course. The bullets stopped a good three inches away from his armor, dropping into the dirt with marginally less force than their spent shells did upon being ejected from the gun.

Sister Regina, who had run one of the homes Deb had once been housed in, had explained, in whispered tones, how Tactical had learnt that  trick from a she-devil they had fought somewhere on the other side of the universe. Deb didn’t believe that, but she did agree with the comparison-if there was anything in Terran space approaching hellspawn, it was a Tactical Agent.

The man shook his head, and whipped his weapon up to his shoulder, firing into the cabin of the truck. She heard Danny scream.

“Is there anyone else in there?” He asked, sweeping the gaping opening with his weapon. “You have one final chance to surrender, before we come in after you.”

“Wait!” She shouted, rushing out of her cover, raising her hands above her head. “I surrender-don’t shoot!” Please, please don’t shoot.

The Agent swung to face her, weapon pointed directly into her chest. Then, seeing that she really wasn’t a threat, he lowered it. “Damn... You’re all just kids.” The man said, slinging his rifle back over his shoulder and taking a pair of handcuffs off his belt.

As he approached her, she realized that he was alone, and functionally unarmed. He had several weapons, obviously, but she had been streetfighting for years, and could probably overpower him for long enough to get her hands on that pistol he had...

As soon as the Tactical drew close enough to actually cuff her, she lashed out, kicking him in the knees. The man stumbled backwards, fumbling for a knife. She grabbed for it, but felt a cold arm snap around her neck. She grabbed for it, glancing down-there was nothing there.

No... A faint outline of an armored hand was visible, the light shifting prismatically around it. She struggled, but was forced to her knees, and cuffed.

A needle slid into her wrist from inside the cuff, and the last thought she had was that they really did seem like devils.

She awoke in near-darkness. She was lying, horizontal, in a space that she could clearly tell was small, enclosed, and filled with people.

She snapped her eyes open-years of being more or less on the streets had taught her that being anything less than fully alert was always, always dangerous. She swung herself off of the bunk, climbing down. “Anyone here?” She whispered, voice still seeming loud in the darkness and silence.

“Shut up.” Someone hissed. A murmur of assent filled the room, far more people than should be in such a small space.

“Where are we?” She whispered, dropping her voice even lower.

“Republic starcruiser. There’s been hits all across the sector-Tantaline, Kapteyn, and everything in between.”

“So what shape’s the Syndicate in?” She asked.

The voice laughed. “Kid, there is no Syndicate. There’s an Imperiata remnant that’s been simmering for the past ten years under a fancy name-at least, that’s what the loud man with the gun kept insisting, and none of us felt like disagreeing. Whether you believe that or not is your choice, but when the Agent comes for you, I’d suggest that-.”

A door swung open, illuminating the room. The light was blinding, highlighting a human figure standing in the doorway, light bending around it. “Good morning! How’s the oxygen you’re stealing off of this otherwise fine ship of war?” The man in the door shouted. “Welcome aboard the United Terran Fleet Ship Warden! I am Recruit Instructor Anderson, and I'm the one you answer to for the next three months. You’re all transfers from what I’m led to believe is the worst pit this side of a black hole, but we’ll whip you into shape around here. You belong to the fleet now-so get up and on your feet!”
<![CDATA[Why?]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:53:21 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/whyKimberly Shan had time to kill, in a major way. It was the start of summer vacation, her fourth year of university. She had completed multiple courses of study, all paid for by the state. She now held multiple degrees in Astrophysics, Quantum Computing, and Ansibilics. And none of it interested her.

Kim tapped her fingers over her phone’s screen, bored. Kayley was going to arrive in a few minutes, but, well, that was a few minutes from now.
The Military-the Junta-had offered her one of the Ansiblic Communicators that their own personnel used, but she had turned them down. If the government needed her, every planetary communication network had ansibles at some point, so it wasn't like they couldn't contact her. And she sure as hell wasn't going to enlist, no matter what they did for her.

A message popped up at the top of her screen-Jonathan Ross, a friend from MCT. He fancied her, but was out of her league in pretty much every department, at least, all that counted. He was apparently attractive, but she had decided long ago that, as far as relationships went, that would just be an added perk to her. Plus, since he was a freshman, that made him three years older than her, which was just creepy.

Such were the dangers of being a wunderkind, she thought wryly.

She dismissed the text from Ross just in time for her device to vibrate again, this time with a text from Mom.

‘Almost@main entrance’ it read, ‘Were RU?’

Kim sighed, then replied ‘I’ll be at the Main Entrance in five minutes.’ Why was she the only one who cared about things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation anymore?

‘txh’ was the reply. Not even ‘thx’-’txh’.

Kim sighed, pocketed her phone, and strolled over to the huge entrance to ‘Madame Redfairy’s Wonderful Toy Land’. The place was, she had to admit, genius. It had taken the art of separating people from their money to something far more advanced than it had any right to be.

It wasn't a store, it wasn't a theme park-it was something perfectly balanced in between, to make money off of both sides of the coin. She had actually been hired by them at one point to look over some stupid idea some executive had had to make ‘Ansibilic communication throughout the park’.

Had she not been forced by her age-14, at the time-to be using an assumed identity to talk to him, she would have slapped him. What she had done instead was inform them in no uncertain terms that putting two ansibles anywhere within a few miles of each other would cause distortion of things ranging from the speed of light to pi. That was why they didn't give civilians ansible phones-get two in the same spot, and weird things happened. Get the thousands per square mile that was routine in some cities... No-one had tested what would happen then. Words like ‘naked singularity’ were often thrown around, but they were idle conjecture. The one thing that was agreed upon was that it would be bad.

Even warships had to have complex, automated systems-and cutoff switches-to detect the warping of the universe’s fabric due to them. There was one story she had heard about the UTFS Valkyrie, where it had approached a derelict that still had a functioning ansible. The two ansibles had entered an Interchange State, which culminated in the derelict exploding.

Kim spied her family’s car, a sleek, new, gravcar, fully automated to enable it to navigate both ground and airlanes. A gift from the military, of course. They had issues with the word ‘no’.

The car was descending, slowly circling downwards. She smiled, and waved in greeting. Her parents, she could frankly do without. Her sister, Kayley though...

Consciously, Kim knew that Kayley was her way of imagining that she had a normal life. She projected her own desires onto Kayley, as part of a method of coping with her isolation.

Subconsciously though, she loved her sister. She could explain the complex biological reactions, hormones, experiences, genetics, and neural programming that caused this, but she prefered not to. Sometimes you needed to channel your inner monkey when dealing with this kind of-.

Something was wrong. One of the Gravitic thrusters on the car didn’t sound right. It could still fly, but it couldn't land.

She took her phone out, and started to type out a text. Then she froze-it would take too long.

Her mind ran through options. Text. No. Phone. No. Shout? Jump? Attract attention some other way? The landing sequence was loud, and the AI was supposed to take care of these anyway.

Logically, she knew what was happening, even as she calmly dialed the emergency services number. Her family was chatting, oblivious to the outside world. She couldn't be heard over the engine-she knew that from firsthand experience.

Any attempt to attract attention would either take too long, or go unnoticed, so she watched, helpless, as the car continued to descend, airspeed lessening, the loss of lift increasing the load on the gravitics, increasing the likelihood of a failure each second.

“Redfairy Funworld, this is Kim Shan, at the main gate. There’s a Gravcar crash in progress over here. There’s three passengers, one of them a child.” She said.

Thirty feet above the ground, it happened. The port forward thruster flared, then went dead.

There was a moment of serene calm, then the craft began to shake and tip, slowly at first, the effect growing greater and more chaotic as the moments passed. About half a second after the failure, the car careened off in a seemingly random, chaotic direction, and slammed into the dirt, top down.

Kim’s instincts-backed by reason-kicked in immediately, as she dashed over to the crash site.

She eyed the crashed car. She could identify what looked like two pairs of limbs sticking out from it, neither child-sized. She couldn’t move the car, obviously, so she glanced around for Kayley, fear and horror rising in her.

She forced the emotions down as she spied the body. Just treat them like any other patient. Be calm. Survival rates for these crashes area upwards of fifty percent, they’ll likely be fine.

She tried not to think about the fact that what those survival rates actually meant was that the chances of one or more members of her family dying were seven in eight.

She ran over to her sister’s body. She was face-down in the dirt, which was good-it minimized the risk of a spinal injury.

Kim did a superficial inspection, noting multiple lacerations, and very little if any apparent blood loss. Those were all good signs, of course.

She began to give basic first aid to her sister, at least, as much as she could without potentially jeopardizing her if she had a spinal injury.

You always had to watch for a spinal injury.

The Ambulance arrived a moment later, in an aircar of their own, touching down perfectly. A half-dozen EMT’s stormed out, like a squad of soldiers, one holding a Jester device-the gravitic manipulators used to move heavy objects, like downed Gravcars.

Now that they had arrived, Kim allowed her body to sink into shock as she answered the EMT’s questions.

She was ushered into the ambulance, and given a warm drink. She couldn't tell what it was.

Hours later, at the hospital, they finally got around to telling her about her family’s conditions.

Father: Dead.

Mother: Dead.

Kayley: Unconscious, but alive.

A man approached her in the atrium as she sat, absorbing that news. He was Indian, and wore a dark gray military uniform, with the the five star insignia of an Admiral of the Fleet. Only one man in the Republic held that rank.

Julian Shishani, First Citizen.

She knew exactly why he was here as soon as he sat down beside her. That didn't make it any less disgusting when the words came out of his mouth.

“I’m so sorry for your loss.” He said, extending a hand and placing it on top of hers. “I can’t imagine how horrible this is for you.”

Kim sat silently through his speech, suddenly conscious of the fact that she wore a blood-stained tank top and pair of short shorts. They weren't her usual attire, which was why she had donned them today-she hadn't wanted to be identified by anyone if she could avoid it.

“I wish there was something that we could do to help you.” He said.

“You’re going to say now that you’ll pay for her treatment if I join the military.” She said, voice cold and flat not just because of what he was saying, but because of the fact that she simply had no more emotion left to feel.

“I’m not going to deny that such a deal would be possible.” He said, voice perfectly calibrated to be caring and concerned.

“Did you kill them?” She asked.

“What?” Julian looked genuinely surprised.

He didn't get to be First Citizen by letting anyone and everyone see his true emotions though. She reminded herself.

“Did you kill my family?” She repeated. “Be honest with me, Julian. You gave them that car-was it programmed to fail like that?”

Julian hesitated for a moment, then bowed his head, and said “Yes.”

She looked down, and said. “Thank you. I’ll do it.”

He furrowed his brow. “What?”

He obviously knew her reasons, but she stated them anyway. “You've just proven that you’ll stop at nothing to get me in your military. If that includes murder, blackmail, whatever, you’ll do it. I’m a danger to whoever I’m around, whoever I love if you think like that. I’ll do it.”

He nodded, clearly able to respect the decision. “I won’t require anything more than that. We’ll stabilize her, and revive her if and when we can. I assume that you can find a ROTC Unit or Recruiter sometime in the next three years?”

“It would be better for everyone involved if you just have me transferred to Advanced Fleet School after I finish this year at MCT.” She answered. “Red tape won’t teach me tactics.”

“Old Mad Cal...” He smiles wistfully. “I remember my days of University... Your teams always fought like hell, but could never seem to get a good season in anything.”

She nods, and her face lifts a touch. “You should see our Robotics team this year. Not amusing for Blackacre’s team.”

She knew that her attempt at light humor was a coping mechanism. That didn't stop it from working.

Julian stood, and took off his military cloak, offering it to her. “Welcome to the fleet, Midshipman Shan.”

She hesitated for just a moment before taking it. Then, shaking herself, she touched it, and though she knew it to be illusory, she could feel a spark of static jump from it to her.

Her fate was sealed. She belonged to the Fleet now.
<![CDATA[Flank Speed]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:52:13 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/june-17th-20152The klaxon sounded at 0400. No-one actually thought that it was a real alert, but its shriek was inescapable.

“All hands to battle stations! Enemy starcruiser at 37 degrees elevation, 22 degrees bearing. Acceleration 10g, distance five light-minutes. All hands to battle stations!” That damn message was blaring over the intercom, in far too calm a tone for there to actually be anything hostile in the system.

Still though, Commander Ervin Norton was a pilot on the UTFS Warden-the best of the damn best.
On big ships like the Warden, crewmembers were quartered almost directly adjacent to their battle stations. They had to be-if they had all accommodations blocks in one area, it would take precious minutes for crewmembers to arrive.

Admiral Hazzard had a habit of pulling these drills at unholy hours of the morning, so most pilots slept in their flightsuits.

For some reason-likely simple inertia-they were still called that, despite the lack of any flight on the part of the pilots. As he rounded the corner onto the flight deck, he was greeted with its typical barely-ordered chaos. Pilots stood outside the consoles they would shortly occupy, wired into their disposable drone fightercraft, waiting for Ervin’s orders.

“Officer on deck!” Someone shouted, and the various personnel in the room-not just pilots-snapped to attention and saluted.

“At ease, soldiers.” Ervin replied. “Support Group, what’s our situation?” Ervin may be the commander of this fighter wing, but that didn’t mean that he got told about any of this crap beforehand.

A man wearing the insignia of a Support/Logistics officer stepped forward into the center of the room. Fleet protocol gave him just over a minute and a half to summarize the situation before the pilots had to get into their Consoles.

“We’re facing a routine system incursion-a single ship, though it’s easily classified as a Monitor, as we’ve already detected at least two hundred hostile fightercraft. We’ll likely be outnumbered out there-although if past experience serves, we have easily superior technology and personnel. As for the situation, well...” Awkward pause. “We’ve been through it all before.”

Unfortunately, that was true. There were only so many drills that they could run, and they had gone through them all months ago.

Ervin shot a sympathetic look in the directions of the Support Officer, then said, in a voice loud enough for the whole room to hear, “We’ve been through it before, so I expect a near-perfect performance from each and every one of you, understood?”

He was answered with a rousing cry of ‘Sir, yes sir!’.

He nodded. “Wonderful. Everyone, get in your Consoles.” Ervin made his way to the far end of the room, making sure that each pilot was strapped in correctly, before readying himself.

The door of his Console closed, surrounding him in black for just a moment, before it lit up with pinpricks of light. The starfield was there, yes, but the most of the points of light were a bright green-they were his starfighters.

The drone fighters they flew were long, almost cylindrical affairs. They were designed to be able to be launched out of the same tubes as a missile, so that was a logical choice. They had a single large engine, capable of getting them to far higher speeds then they were really useful at. They surpassed by far the speed at which RCS Thrusters became useless for maneuvering, so they had to steer via Gravitic Manipulation, which allowed for far finer course correction. The fighter had a cluster of rapid-reaction particle beams mounted at its front, each capable of frying the computer of a hostile missile or fighter. The fighters weren't pretty-the Warden actually carried a dozen or so unarmed drones built to look visually appealing for flyovers and propaganda purposes-but they got the job done.

He flipped a switch that gave him personal control over a fighter, and his view morphed into a point-of-view camera mounted on the fighter’s nose cone, surrounded by various meters, gauges, and scales. He was in heaven.

There wasn’t much chatter over the radio-every fighter operated more or less autonomously. Formations were useless once you started moving at relativistic speeds, and even if you could coordinate fighters that well, the fact that they each had to be mounted with an Ansible to be worth anything made it a horribly stupid idea.

The routine was practically scripted. They didn’t even feel like they were legitimately dogfighting-they were playing a video game.

Ervin’s particle beam sliced through a fighter, his fighter pulled a ridiculously tight turn, and dispatched another opponent that was encroaching on his space-a mere ten miles away.

When he fought, he was in Flow. When he trained against a human, he had similar experiences. When he drilled against a computer though, it ceased to engage him.

He put his fighter on a course that took it directly towards a cluster of several hostiles, and activated the self-destruct sequence. The opposing fighters weren’t giving off Ansiblic signals, so he assumed that there were meat pilots in there.

The screen flashed white, then cut to the outside of the Warden, in the point of view of a new fighter, launching from the Warden’s Launch Deck. He went through three more before the last hostile was eliminated-which was approximately three more fighters then he would have lost in actual combat.

His Console swung open, and he stepped out onto the Flight Deck. He caught a couple of looks directed his way from his pilots, more than a few of them seemingly surprised by his ‘poor performance’.

Let them stare. He thought. If the Admiral’s going to work us like this, surely he knows what’s going to happen to us. We’re not built, psychologically, for this game.

Hell though, the TJ Club was open after drills, so there was an upside.

The TJ Club was the best-kept secret in the Republic Fleet. Organized on each ship by a few mid-ranking officers like Ervin, it was a highly illegal enterprise that operated out of one of the Warden’s massive Ansible Sinks. The Ansible Sinks were massive chambers, filled with tubes and grids, that enabled the ship to fold, operate its Ansibles, and manipulate various fundamental forces of physics. They were also a hell of a place to hang out-they were zero-g most of the time, but sometimes there’d be a surprise shift in it, and you’d find yourself falling up or into a wall.

The substances that were distributed there just made the whole thing that much better.

The entrance was guarded by a pair of men in Marine’s jumpsuits. They were in on the thing, of course-though few people below the rank of Deck Officer were allowed in. Ervin nodded, and one of the marines opened the door for him.

The place had originally been a sterile white. Now though, it had been overhauled with better lighting, and several subtle magnetic points for attaching boxes or coolers to. Ervin grinned, and kicked off the wall, landing in a nook in the far corner, framed on several sides by the fins that-were the ship to rapidly accelerate or change course-would likely tear him apart.

A few minutes later, someone in a Midshipman’s uniform dropped in-they had to keep a few of those around to serve the more important officers, after all.

“The usual, sir?” The boy asked, and Ervin nodded. The Middie produced a pair of syringes, each filled with a pale white liquid. TJ, or Torpedo Juice, was the drug of choice in the military. A cocktail of various chemicals and nanomachines, its primary advantage was that, while you could get a buzz, there was a second injection that nullified the TJ’s effects. Its name derived from the old practice, in Earth’s submarine navies, of distilling drinking alcohol from the propellant that had been used for primitive torpedoes.

The needle pierced the skin of his arm, and the TJ flowed into him. His world became clearer, brighter, more engaging. It became harder to focus, and he kicked out of the corner, drifting in freefall.

A klaxon sounded, even louder than usual to his drug-enhanced system. A moment later, his blissful drift between walls, surrounded by several others similarly occupied, though a few seemed to be sober enough to have realized that things were about to get interesting, came to an abrupt end as he crashed into a wall.

Every Ansible Sink in the room was on, at something that felt like two or three g’s. Had he been in the same alcove as he had been a second before, he would now be a red slush pasted on its walls.

“All hands to battle stations! UTFS Warden to Flank Speed, repeat, UTFS Warden to Flank Speed! This is not a drill, repeat, this is not a drill! All hands to battle stations!”

Ervin grabbed the second syringe, and practically stabbed it into himself-not into his arm this time, into his thigh. In the high gravity though, he had to try multiple times.

The door at what now appeared to be the top of the room swung open, and one of the marines stuck his head in. “Damn!” The soldier swore, barely audible, and slammed his hand into a button by the side of the door. The gravity became a constant 1g around the entire chamber, without the random fluctuations it had experienced a moment before. “Everybody out!” He shouted, gesturing wildly.

Ervin knew what that button was-it was an emergency switch, used for when mechanics had to work in these rooms in battle. It reported the situation directly to the bridge, and they’d manage to put two and two together.

Shortly after a drill, the ship accelerates to flank speed. An Ansible Sink is cut off. A large number of officers are loopy for the rest of the day. Admiral Hazzard would realize that he had found his ship’s TJ Club, and, well, he wouldn’t be happy.

Ervin idly wondered, as he made the disconcerting switch from ‘wall-down’ gravity to the ship’s normal field, if he should just turn himself in to the Tactical officer in charge of the Military Police right then and there.

He shook his head though-he had been called to Battle Stations, and he was still an officer of the United Terran Fleet. He had a duty-and, given the address they had just been given, this was legitimate.

Slightly groggy, he found himself on the Flight Deck, the Support Officer detailing how there had been a surprise raid on some frontier world called Tantaline, by an unknown, presumably alien attacker. The Warden was cruising at maximum acceleration towards the system’s primary foldpoint.

Ervin gave his spiel next, about how they had little or no idea what the capabilities of the enemies at Tantaline were, and when the Warden might expect to meet them in combat. He dismissed his pilots to their Consoles, and turned to face the doorway.

He knew what he’d see there-two Tactical agents, with the badges of Military Police Officers. “Mr. Norton.” One said, vocoder masking whatever he ordinarily sounded like, “You’re going to come with us.”

Ervin nodded. “Thank you for waiting until we were alone, gentlemen.”

The Agents didn’t respond-they didn’t even cuff him. It was probably arrogance, but he wasn’t about to resist them. They escorted him to the Brig, down on one of the lower decks. A man in a Tactical uniform sat there. Visually, he was indistinguishable from any other Tactical soldier-hell, some people even just called them ‘Tacticals’, they were so hard to tell apart. Viscerally though, this man was... Different.

“Mr. Norton.” He said, gesturing to a chair. “Please, sit down.”

Ervin complied.

“I assume that we all know why you are here, Mr. Norton.” The man from Tactical said.

“Yes, Sir.” Ervin said, voice cool. What he had done was clearly stupid-he was an idiot, and whatever he was about to be given, he deserved.

“I hope you understand why this is unacceptable behavior, Mr. Norton. Tactical, as the legal authority for all criminal cases involving personnel of the Fleet, has been monitoring these ‘TJ Clubs’ for some time. We have decided, however, that it is not worth the risk to combat effectiveness at the moment to spend time waiting to prosecute them-we need only make a few, high-profile examples of participants in them.”

Why are you telling me this? Ervin wondered. If you were going to make an example of me, you sure wouldn’t tell me about it.

“You’re being given an opportunity, Mr. Norton.” The man slid a pair of files over to Ervin. “One of these contains transfer orders, to be executed immediately, as well as papers granting you immunity from criminal prosecution, signed on the First Citizen’s authority. The other contains a summons, and orders to immediately take you into custody, on the same authority. Take your pick.”

Ervin shrugged. “This is why everyone hates you, you know. It’s not that you make us do anything-rather, it’s that you put us in situations where you’re offering us the only way out.”

The man didn’t move, as Ervin took the first packet, asking, “When do we begin?”
<![CDATA[Stone and Carbon]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:51:20 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/stone-and-carbonSadira’s job was hell sometimes, but it never really sucked. For instance, she’d spend all day in Antaril’s pouring rain, trying to track down a group of natives, before realizing that She’d been the quarry all day long. That kind of day ended in dead Corpsmen, as they didn’t engage with the natives.

Oh, they weren’t forbidden to fight or even kill the natives-they had never even been registered as sentients by the Republic, which was why they were allowed to explore it on the ground in the first place. There was a code among the Recon Corp though. The planet has inherent worth. Without careful management, intervention will become net negative. Knowledge is net good. And finally, you can’t learn from orbit.
Antaria was a prime example of all of those. The planet was one of the most biodiverse they’d ever encountered. It already had advanced sentients-they were transitioning out of their Stone Age at the moment-with culture and legends that hinted at an amazing history. As such, it would be easy for careless meddling to irrevocably alter, rather than guide their culture’s development. And as for learning from orbit, well, that was even more true when dealing with sentients.

Sadira loved this world. Antaria was, in a way, Earth, five thousand years ago. It was, as some of her Corpmates said, a way to ‘Connect with your inner monkey’.

Of course, if she was a monkey, she was a strange one. While her clothing was unimpressive at first glance, it was made of resilient carbon nanostructures, and coated in a metamaterial that refracted visible-spectrum light away from it, making her close to invisible. She had a set of limb power-assistance modules in her backpack, though she doubted she’d need those more than the grappling hook or laser rifle they lay beside.

No, in accordance with the Corp’s ethic, if she had to use equipment other than her knife and medkit, she was doing it wrong.

Unfortunately, she had a second set of organs tagging along with her, and, while under normal circumstances she liked this second monkey, the particulars of this situation made it... Unpleasant.

“Josh.” She whispered into her radio. “You’re straying too far off the path-you’re going to end up dangling from a trap by your leg if you head too far to the right.” Alright, maybe she used more technology than just her knife and first aid kit, but the intent was unchanged-they tried to make their technological use as unobtrusive as possible.

“Copy that, Sadira.” He said, and the tell-tale shimmer of his metamaterials cloaking began to shift off to her side. “In all fairness, it’s not like there’s actually a path here.”

That happened to be true. The Wardens ‘paths’ were more ‘relatively lightly booby-trapped areas’. They were typically fifty to a hundred feet wide, not cleared, and only marked by the occasional stroke of a stone knife on a tree, sometimes years old. They didn’t think like Humans did, which is part of the reason she found them so fascinating.

She loved working with them. Their ingenuity, the simple rules that governed their society. They really did remind her of a simpler time in the world’s history, before people had gotten smart enough to screw it up in a major way. Sure, the natives were nasty at times-the females, while the males equals as hunters and warriors, were expected to be ‘available’ for the males at all times. They had an unpleasant habit of killing all males and children of other tribes that they could get away with. One of the more widespread belief systems required the periodic sacrifice of their own young.

In short, Sadira’s own brand of monkey still had a half-dozen atrocities on them-Racism, genocide, and the Process all came to mind. These natives were, culturally, children. Like a child, you could love them even while they broke the rules.

Something moved in the trees-a flash of orange. Ranakh had found them.

“Stop.” She whispered into her mic. “We’re there.”

“Copy.” Josh said, voice tense.

Josh wasn’t stupid, and he wasn’t a bad corpsman-but he also hadn’t worked with the natives anywhere near as much as Sadira had. In fairness, no-one was her equal in knowledge of the natives, but Josh barely had a hundred hours of interaction logged. That was nothing-no-one would claim that you could understand a planet’s culture after a week-long vacation on it, and those were all composed of humans.

Sadira straightened, pulled off her gloves and hood, tied her jacket around her waist, and stretched her arms out. The metamaterials couldn’t be disabled-that was something like disabling the color green-but if you creased them, they refracted poorly. It was bizarre-if you did it right, instead of being more or less a floating head and pair of hands, you were a vague outline of a person, complete with highly disconcerting creases in visible light.

“Ranakh!” She shouted, voice carrying clearly in the jungle. “I am here.” She sounded so portentous talking like that, but, unfortunately, Ranakh still had a rudimentary command of English.

The native-the really needed a better name for them than that-literally dropped from the trees above her. Ranakh’s fur was a bright orange, with black highlights. He had a spear strapped to his back, as well as a stone knife strapped to his right leg.

He turned to face Sadira, cat-eyes narrowing. That gesture meant he was focusing on her. “Sadir.” He said, voice guttural. “What brings you here?” The pause between words was long, but not painfully so.

“You are making progress.” Sadira said, nodding, words still deliberate. “I wish that I could see you learn more.”

Ranakh cocked his head slightly-a gesture that he had picked up from her and the other Humans that he had interacted with. “You can not?” He asked.

Crap. Sadira thought. I had meant to break that news more... Tactfully. “I’m going away, Ranakh.” She said, voice sorrowful, the contraction ‘I’m’ slipping out before she thought better of it.

“Away where?” the native replied.

“You know, or have guessed where we are from, have you not, Ranakh?”

He nodded. “The sky. You are gods.”

Sadira didn’t like the Warden’s conception of the Corpsmen as gods, but the reality might do more harm to their culture than this misconception. “Yes. And do you see the stars in the heavens?”

“No-it is day.” Ranakh replied, body language indicating confusion.

Sadira shook her head. “I am sorry-do you know the stars of the heavens?”

“Of course.” Now Ranakh seemed confused that she was asking something so obvious-this was not going over well.

“Each of those stars is like a second sun, Ranakh.” She said. “Many of them have worlds like this one on them. We live on some of those.”

Ranakh nodded. “Like towns.”

She smiled, being careful to do it with her mouth closed-baring teeth was a vicious gesture among Ranakh’s people. “Yes, but much larger. And just as villages have messengers that go between them, we have ships that keep us safe as we journey between them.”

“What is ‘ships’?” Ranakh asked, confused once again. She was getting too technical.

“Never mind. But like villages, sometimes we fight each other. I’ve been called away to fight there, Ranakh.”

The fur around his eyes creased-their equivalent of a smile. She didn’t mistake it for a tender gesture though.

“You wished to be a god who fights.” He said. “This is good for you.” He had a vocabulary of only a few hundred words, and had to struggle to get his point across sometimes.

“War is never good, Ranakh.” Sadira said, bitterness slipping into her voice, remembering the months her father’s arm had spent healing, and the years it had taken after that for the prosthetic to fully integrate into his system.

“What is it like for you?” He asked, pressing the subject, eyes shining with eagerness. “What is it like when the gods fight in the sky?”

She shook her head. “We have weapons that split the sky, Ranakh. They can eat worlds, and kill more of us in one use than you could ever meet.” Visions of the fall of Raven, back in 4 YR swam through her mind. Admiral Killian Hazzard had bombarded the planet with Kinetic Kill Vehicles for days, before it became obvious that the planet’s defensive facilities were hardened enough to withstand the bombardment indefinitely-and he had already destroyed the civilian centers. That was right before he had deployed an antimatter loom, and while he had been one of the more merciful users of that particular technology-the planet had still been there when he was done, after all-the insurgent facilities had all been reduced to a soup of subatomic particles.

Ranakh made a noise, vaguely like purring, that she had learned indicated... Something rather like purring. “I would see these used.”

She smiled. “And that is why you do not have them. But there are other matters to discuss-namely a friend of mine. Yoshua, come forward.” She had informed Josh of the manner in which she intended to adapt his name to fit the native’s linguistic structure-she just hoped that he remembered it.

“This is Yoshua.” She said, saying the name so slowly that it sounded comical to her, as Josh’s head and hands appeared a dozen or so feet away. Ranakh barely stirred at this occurrence-he was used to it by now.

“I. Am. Josh.” He announced, and Sadira smiled-he had easily let ten seconds pass between each word.

“Yoshua here will be replacing me-and, if possible, should spend some time with your people as you allowed me to do.”

Ranakh made a gesture equivalent to a frown. “That will probably not be possible. There have been... Whispers in us of late. There is a group that is calling for driving away the gods-though I know not how this is to be done.”

Chills ran up her spine, along with a single word, from a half-forgotten history lesson. Montezuma.

“That will end badly for them.” She whispered.

Ranakh nodded. “But they do not know you like I do.”

“Stay safe, Ranakh.” She said. Then, for no real reason she could determine, she repeated something else from her childhood. “Fee amaan Allah.”

Ranakh cocked his head. “What is that?”

“Nothing.” She replied, perhaps too curtly. “A... Silly gesture. It means ‘In the protection of Allah.’”

“Who is Allah?” That was the only really possible answer he could offer, after all.

“He doesn’t exist, Ranakh. He’s a silly story that someone made up long ago to explain things.”

He purred in a way that she had learned indicated assent. “I see. But let me give to you a...” He was clearly struggling for words. “Thing of parting.” He finally said. Sadira could only assume that it was customary to give a gift to a friend who was going away among their culture.

He drew a stone knife, and pressed it into her hands. “Kill a god for me.” He whispered, and she wasn’t quite sure if he was attempting to be humorous.

She decided to assume he was, and smiled back. On a whim, she drew one of her own, and returned the gesture.

“Sadira...” Josh said, voice tense. “That’s against policy.”

“Shut up.” She said, glancing to him for a moment, then back to Ranakh. Stone for Carbon nanotubes-a perfect summary of this world.

“Goodbye, Ranakh.” She said, as she turned to leave. It felt forced-hell, it was forced-but it was easiest that way. She would leave Josh with Ranakh, even if it wasn’t long-term, as the two would have to get to know each other if they were to work together.

She’d take the next supply tug from the Brilliance back to the Depot-it was leaving in a few hours, but the one after it wouldn’t be for another few months. The Recruiter had been very persuasive though-by which she meant that she had been cajoled, bribed, and threatened, in exactly that order.

She didn’t understand why-there seemed to be no reason that she would be special to him-but the factor that had finally convinced her still held. If someone was willing to go to lengths that great to get her onboard with a project, she was sure as hell going to find out why.

<![CDATA[Only the Dead Have Seen the End]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:50:20 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/only-the-dead-have-seen-the-endJae fell.

The planet was marginally Superterran-as were most worlds-so his acceleration was faster than 1g, but he had operated in worse.

Join the Fleet, see new worlds. Join the Marines, see the next one. Join Tactical, see bits of it unfit for human consumption. Jae thought, thankful for the fact that his armor filtered ambient noise-otherwise, he’d be assaulted by the noise of wind the entire length of the drop.
His radio crackled. “Insertion Leader, this is Bluebottle. We’re reaching the last bailout opportunity in twenty seconds. Gemini Base has normal radio traffic, their Ansible is transmitting in the normal frequencies, and their shield is down.”

Jae smiled. “Bluebottle, do me a favor?”

A pause. “Sir?”

“Get yourself shot at a few times. This is the last drop of the war my friends, and it’ll be a shame if its as boring as you’ve just said it is.”

“Insertion Leader, you’ve got barely two dozen Agents inserting on what intelligence has reported is one of the single largest, most highly defended facility the Imperiata possessed.”

“Like I said, boring.” Jae knew that he talked like a walking cliche-but damn, in Tactical you didn’t really have a chance to be yourself. “Incidentally, we’ve cleared the Bailout zone, Bluebottle, so you’ll want to get to your holding position.”

“Copy that, Insertion Leader.” The line clicked shut.

They were eighty seconds from the ground now-the plan called for a HALO Jump in, with the velocity burned off at the end with a new gravitic Jetpack that Hazzard-Tech had rushed off the production lines in time for the war’s finale.

Forty seconds above the ground, he checked in with the leaders of the Tactical squads from the other three gunships. The team from theOriole reported all well, the team from the Shrike reported that their team had drifted off course more than expected, but still within acceptable margins.

Twenty seconds-at least, it would be twenty seconds if they didn’t care about impact-above the ground, the Gravpack kicked in, beginning to slow the fall.

Ten of those aforementioned imaginary freefall seconds above the ground, the Gravpack was proving why they were willing to spend over five hundred thousand Credits on each of them-they made nowhere near as much heat, light, or noise as a conventional jetpack.

However, five seconds above the ground, the base must have picked up something, because the bases floodlights switched on, and the pale blue flicker of its shield appeared, hundreds of feet overhead.

Two seconds above the ground-still a good ninety feet-the mission started the inevitable cycle of events that would send it to hell. It wasn’t that this particular sequence of events was inevitable, but, in Jae’s experience, when nothing went wrong was when you needed to be watching your back.

In this case though, it went wrong rather spectacularly. The Gravpacks simply gave out.

The spooks figured it all out later. The damn things had been tested in 1g. Gemini was 1.2. They hadn’t adjusted the packs for the change in gs. And over a dozen soldiers died because of that.

Mary Wentworth was completely Human. That meant they didn’t work her to death in the camp, like they did the poor souls that the Imperiata had labeled ‘non-Human’. Instead, they used her for more visible labor

It wasn’t even like there were any real differences between people whose ancestors had been Modded and those who hadn’t. There were a few populations that were still noticeably different, like the Kynaki Spartoi, but even those were supposed to be closer to Baseline than they once had been.

In short, Mary had come to the conclusion that the Imperiata was fighting a useless and stupid war. That was nothing revolutionary-it was, in fact, generally acknowledged. It was just refreshing, while sitting in prison on a rock in the middle of nowhere, to realize that there was pretty much no justifiable reason for her to be there.

She tried to scratch her wrist, where the tracker chip had been implanted in her, but couldn’t as she held an overloaded tray of food. She didn’t get any, obviously-they couldn’t be bothered to actuallyfeed their prisoners. Hell, Mary didn’t even have the worst of it-she had passed their ‘Genetic Purity Test’, and so got fed something that was vaguely similar to something found in nature, as opposed to genetically modified yeast concentrate.

A door hissed open in front of her, and she stepped outside onto the balcony, where a group of four soldiers manned one of the massive Anti-Aircraft guns that guarded the base.

The soldiers had been tense lately-she had gathered that the war had not gone well for the Imperiata in the past few years-so she announced her presence by clearing her throat. “Excuse me, sirs?” She asked, holding out the food. One of the white-armored men glanced over from where they were sitting, then stood.

She recognized the man behind the faceplate-he was one of the younger Imperiata soldiers she had met, and a relatively decent human being-at least, he had been polite to her, and occasionally not shot an inmate for a minor offense. He was still Imperiata though, she reminded herself, and that was in and of itself a pretty damning character trait.

“Thank you, ma’am.” He said, smiling slightly, taking the tray. “You’ll probably want to run back inside-it’s cold tonight, and those jumpsuits don’t look like they’ll stop a wind.”

She smiled back, and nodded. “Thank you...” She trailed off as the klaxons sounded. Then she saw the blue lines streaking through the sky, and the Imperiata soldiers dashed for the turret. The one with the tray glanced at her for a second, before thrusting the tray back into her arms and shouting “Go!”

She didn’t even get a chance to turn though-something black slammed into the ground between the soldier and the turret.

It was clearly a human, as it stood, and tossed a grenade into the turret, vaporizing the three soldiers, as well as the turret itself.

Then, the person in black collapsed-it looked like their leg had given out. The single remaining soldier unslung his rifle, and took aim at the man in black, who Mary could now see was wearing a Republic flag on his shoulder.

Mary was a Spacer-beholden to none. The Imperiata and the Republic had both been laughingstocks among the Spacers. Hell though, the Republic would be hard-up to be worse than the Imperiata. Therefore, as the soldier fired his rifle, she threw the tray into his back.

Obviously, he found it rather hard to aim an assault rifle with a relatively heavy tray of food slamming into his back. He stumbled into the ground, and the person in black shot him.

The person in black tried to stand again, but fell. Surrounded by clamour, she glanced around, uncertain of what to do next-part of her wanted to run and hide somewhere in the building, part knew that she had to help this man. Steeling herself-gunfire was now splitting the air-she ran.

Jae tried to stand, but his ankle was clearly sprained. Thankfully he had been equipped to deal with such an eventuality, and his suit began to release painkillers and stimulants into his system, even as it began to tighten around his ankle. He got a popup on his HUD asking if he wanted a DX2 Injection. He indicated yes.

A woman approached him, wearing a prisoners jumpsuit. She admittedly was probably a prisoner-but dammit, Jae had no idea what state the raid was in and, judging by the blinking red lights in his HUD, it was going to be... Interesting.

Nevertheless, he wasn’t going to let her get close until his armor had finished applying the compression treatment. He drew his pistol, and levelled it at her. “Don’t move!” He ordered, voice quiet, but commanding. If he were to shout, or threaten, he’d sound desperate. What he needed to be was a cornered animal-something far, far too dangerous and unpredictable to approach.

It didn’t take much acting skill.

It also worked. The woman froze, then stepped away. “Sorry, sorry.”

Jae kept the pistol trained on the woman in the prisoners uniform until he had a single green light pop up amid the various red alert icons. That probably meant that he could stand again, a suspicion he confirmed a moment later by actually executing said maneuver.

He couldn’t feel any pain in his foot, but that wasn’t necessarily good, as he couldn’t feel anything in his foot. He was, bizarrely, still alone with this woman on the terrace where the AA gun had once been. He guessed that had something to do with the firefight that was erupting outside-and judging from the fact that the bluer, higher-energy lasers wielded by Tactical agents were apparently few and far between, good things were not happening. “Up against the wall.” He ordered.

The woman complied, raising her hands above her head.

Then, Jae’s leg collapsed again-apparently there was something beyond a sprained ankle wrong with him.

He swore, and the woman moved forward to him. He tried to bring his weapon to bear on her, but couldn’t manage it before she was directly next to him.

“You alright?” She asked, voice with a Spacer accent. The Spacers were a loose group of traders, miners, and occasional pirates that operated at the fringes of Terran space, generally ignoring all authority-neither the Republic nor the Imperiata particularly cared about them at the moment, but they didn’t miss the opportunity to take the occasional potshot at them either.

Pushing down the instincts that told him to defend himself against this woman, he answered, through gritted teeth, “No.”

She nodded, and bent down by his leg. “I don’t suppose you can take this armor off, can you?”

“We’re in the middle of a war zone! Hell, you’re a civilian-you need to get under cover.”

She laughed. “Please-this base’s been operating at less than half its optimal manpower for months. It’s huge, and it’s meant to be a massive bastion of final resistance, but it’s had men and resources gradually funnelled away for months. General Desails isn’t going to surrender, but his troops aren’t going to put up that much of a fight.”

Jae’s radio crackled-it was the Bluebottle, apparently tired of him ignoring their messages. “Agent Ali, what’s your status!”

“Injured and incapacitated. I dealt with the turret at my objective, but I won’t be able to get any further than that.”

“Understood-we’ll pick you up if you can get the shield down, but can’t do anything until then.”

It killed Jae, being there, exposed with practically no cover, being tended to by a random civilian. The minutes stretched like hours, but, judging from the periodic reports he was sent, the Imperiata was losing ground. It took less than fifty minutes for the shield to go down.

Jae was, honestly, incredibly surprised that no hostiles had found him during the raid-they must be incredibly undermanned.

The Grouse, one of the three dropships on the mission, touched down on the platform a few minutes later, its metamaterial sheathing rendering it hard, though not impossible, to see with the naked eye.

A team of three medics ran down the Grouse’s still-extending ramp, clad in a pale blue and red version of the same armor Jae wore. The Medical Corps had worn white before the Imperiata war, but their adaptation of an all-white uniform had led to an unfortunate incident where a unit of Marines had opened fire on a group of Corpsmen. After that, their uniforms had been redesigned, being converted into a pastel blue, as well as having red highlights added.

It barely took them a minute to check in with both Jae and the Spacer woman about what she had done-not much-and what drugs he had authorized to be injected into his system-pretty much all of them-and then get him onto the Grouse.

The Grouse was the Medical ship, outfitted to deal with the casualties for this mission. From the radio chatter though, it sounded like they needed body bags more then stretchers, due to the damn gravpacks.

That was pretty typical of Tactical these days though-they lost more men to a small scientific error than to the actual mission. Jae had joined Tactical years ago, a young Marine who had already killed more Imperiata, and on more planets than he cared to count. He had been approached by Admiral Hazzard to join the nascent agency known as Tactical-an organization that, she had promised, would be immune to the bureaucratic regulations that crippled the Marines and Fleet.

Over the past few years, however, that had evolved into a situation where Tactical could be reproached by no-one save a Founder. The Founders were primarily concerned with staying in power after the Imperiata was finally dealt with, however, so anything that looked useful to them was tolerated-and no dictator had ever been found without their Secret Police.

Over the next few days, as his leg was healed, he thought on this. He spoke with several other wounded Agents on the Ecumenical Church hospital ship Regina, and he wasn’t alone in that thinking, even if he wasn’t in the majority.

The news about Riya Dare being appointed the new head of Tactical drove the ship into uncontrolled mayhem. Several Agents onboard immediately handed in their resignations, and reports trickled in about similar events all across the Republic. What was equally terrifying was the fact that, apparently, hundreds of Agents and dozens of facilities had gone rogue, and were actively recruiting.

Jae was contacted by several of them, and dutifully reported each to the ranking Agent onboard the Regina.

The reports died down, eventually, and Tactical, after degenerating into a brief but bloody civil war, emerged as a fully metamorphosed Secret Police force. First Citizen Shishani announced its changing role on the Ansnet late one night, flanked by Admirals Hazzard and Dare-the agency’s founder, and its current head.

Jae handed in his resignation the very next morning.

Mary had been free for barely a day, but the prison-apparently named ‘Gemini’-was busier than it had ever been before, even at the height of the war. Republic dropships moved in and out constantly, flying ex-prisoners up to the pair of Ecumenical Church aid ships that had accompanied the Republic fleet there. Mary had about as much use for the Church as she did for the Republic that it was more or less in bed with, but if they were finally getting her off the rock, they were fine with her.

Damn, but it felt weird to walk the halls of the prison without the occasional buzz of her implanted tracking device telling her where to be and who to serve. It was equally odd to see white Imperiata uniforms inside the cells.

She had been asked to meet one of the Republic people in one of the hangar bays. When she arrived, she saw that it was occupied by a trio of those same strange, barely visible warships that had taken part in the assault the previous day. She was met by a woman in a black two-piece uniform-an actual set of shirts and pants, not a jumpsuit. It had a muted Republic flag patch on one sleeve, a practically solid black insignia on the other-Mary thought she could make out a design, though it was hard to tell.

“Mrs. Wentworth?” The Republic woman asked.

Mary nodded in return-she wasn’t going to be rude, but didn’t feel like she was under an obligation to give the Republic or its cronies anything, up to and including words.

“I apologize for taking your time. Your dossier in the Imperiata computers indicates that you’re a mechanic?”

“It’s not wrong.”

“In that case, Mrs. Wentworth, I need to ask a favor. We need-.”

“No.” Mary cut her off. “If your spying told you anything about me, you’ll know that I’m a Spacer, through-and-through. No favors for someone who’s not one of us. Money though-that’ll work.”

The Republic woman smiled. “I don’t think you’ll need something so easily obtainable-how about the whereabouts of Jack Ellwood?”

Mary frowned. “So that’s his last name?”

This seemed to surprise the Republic soldier. “You were married to the man, and you didn’t even know his name?”

Mary shrugged. Among the Spacer community, ‘Jack, the guy from theDreammaker’ was all that was needed for practically instant identification, and many spacers had ample reason to hide their pasts. “Never seemed to matter.”

“I see.” The Republic soldier said, before continuing, “Regardless, we require your services.”

“You seem to be bad at asking, and even worse at haggling. Hell, you seem to be bad at even describing what it is you want.

“Apologies, Mrs. Wentworth. As I don’t believe I’ve yet said, I’m Agent Rindos, the Commanding Officer of the TS Bluebottle.” She pointed to one of the ships, though Mary couldn’t tell them apart-these Republic ships had no character. They were, however, still beautiful-sleek on the outside, large engines that indicated huge acceleration capabilities, lines that showed that she’d handle beautifully in the atmosphere of most worlds. Hell, they were invisible-or at least, something close to it. “Our mechanic was injured during the battle-there was a malfunction in our Ansible chamber, and our mechanic, Caspar lost his arm. Obviously, this leaves a hole in our roster, and there seems to be a dearth of qualified individuals.”

Mary winced, thinking of the times she had seen ansibles out of control. Then she winced again, thinking of the times she had seen people lose limbs, which was worse. She knew that she should refuse the offer, but... Damn, those ships were beautiful. “Fine.” She said, eyes roving over the Bluebottle’s hull. “I’ll stick with you for a few ports. But one thing-I’m not one of you Republic drones, okay?”

The officer nodded. “Thank you, Mrs. Wentworth. You’re operating here under a purely contractual basis-you’re not under any obligation to stay with us a second longer than you wish to. Do you have any personal possessions that will need to be transferred to the ship?”

Mary laughed. “Guess.”

“I’ll take that as a no then. Right this way, please.”

As Mary stepped up the ramp, she got the feeling that she had just signed up for more than she had reckoned for. She had gotten that feeling when she had first stepped aboard the Gardevoir, the first Asteroid Miner she had been a crewmember on.

And that was wonderful.
<![CDATA[I Have Never Killed]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:48:13 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/i-have-never-killedCassie stood over her father's coffin, looking down into his face. She felt a disconnect there-she could still feel him, but he was dead.

I must sound insane. She thought, running a hand across his face. It was pale, clearly dead. It was hard to remember that a human mind had once lived inside it.

Until Cassie had set it free. He had been dying-she had ended the pain.
Someone entered the room, someone... Strange. Her father had warned her about the men and women who called themselves ‘Tactical’-brutal people who would stop at nothing to gain access to her.

This person, this woman, wasn't Tactical-she lacked any of the signs that her father had told her to watch for.

The woman made a beeline for Cassie, who tried to pretend that she wasn't studying the intruder.

“Cassandra Freeman?” She asked.

“No.” Cassidy replied.

The woman frowned.

“Before you ask, there is no Cassandra Freeman. I do, however, sense that I’m the person you’re looking for.” Cassie said, still looking down to her father's body.

The woman started. “You’re... I was not expecting that, Ms. Freeman.”

Damn. Cassie thought. I need to be more careful around the normal people-they’re not as special as I am.

“I’m Sheila Hazzard, from Mil-Ind. I worked with your father, Ms. Freeman.”

Cassie nodded. “I know.”

The woman nodded. “I understand what it’s like to be a human experiment, Ms. Freeman.”

“My name is Cassie, First Citizen.” She said, addressing Sheila by the title that she gained by relation to her husband, though she apparently didn’t use his name.

Sheila nodded. “I’m sorry, Cassie.” She placed a hand on Cassie’s shoulder, in a gesture that Cassie could tell was calculated.

“No, you’re not.”

That disrupted the other woman’s plan, Cassie could tell.

“You don’t care about me.” Cassie said, pulling herself out of her reverie. “You’re like him. You don’t love me-you want me.” Cassie turned to face Sheila. “You. Can’t. Have. Me.”

Cassie could see fear well up in the woman’s eyes, as well as a general feeling that Cassie was insane.

Which, in all fairness, she probably was.

Regardless, that didn't mean that she had to stay here with the woman. She lashed out, sending Sheila reeling backwards a good five feet.

The woman gasped, trying to stand as the room erupted in commotion. She rolled over onto her side as Cassie bolted for the doorway.

“Tactical, this is Hazzard. The Objective is rogue, repeat, the Objective is rogue!”

Cassie had been on the streets of Bernan for what felt like forever. She had years of experience to draw upon, not all of it her own.

Something hit the ground in front of her, falling too fast to be accounted for by the local gravity. No, not something-someone. He stood, black armor absorbing sunlight. He unslung a rifle, taking aim at her.

Cassie had fractions of a second to react, but, in that peculiar shadow-land between insane and special that she occupied, that was enough.

She saw it unfold in real time, but had perfect knowledge of the situation. The bullet followed a predefined set of rules, as did the Tactical soldier firing it. It took barely any effort to avoid it.

He fired again, and she dodged a second time, though, as they were closer, it was harder. She wanted to disable him hand-to-hand though-she hated using her gifts to kill. She hated having to kill at all, of course, but doing it with her gifts was especially wrong.

The third bullet was airborne, and as she tried to dodge it, she knew that she had screwed up. Horribly.

It made contact with her chest, and she fell backwards, feeling like she had been punched.

Furious, she stood, picking the bullet up off the ground, examining it. It wasn't even a tranq-just a bullet. She felt complimented-they understood who and what they were dealing with. It had been forever since she allowed herself to get shot though, and she didn't intend to allow it to happen again.

“Drop your shield!” The Tactical man barked, voice filtered through his vocoder. “Get back down on the ground and raise your hand above your head!”

She shook her head. “You’ll never learn, will you?” She whispered.

She thrust one hand forward, and sent the man careening backwards into the wall. “You’re useless.” She said, striding towards him. She extended her arm, and his sidearm flew into it.

She pulled the trigger. Part of her screamed out, part of her rejoiced, as the bullet slammed into his helmet. It didn’t do any damage to him, of course, but it did do a rather good job of distracting him until she closed to close quarters.

She knelt by him, and used her gift to deactivate the seals that held his helmet in place. She pulled it off, then slammed his head back into the wall, dazing him.

“Mr. Tyrian.” She said, staring into his eyes. “You’re about to die.”

She could feel his fear. “There’s a sniper at the end of the road, and six men inside the mortuary guarding the First Citizen.” She made him say. “All armed, but not anything that would pose a threat to you.” His voice was flat, lacking any emotion-as it always was at times like this.

“Very good.” She said, and shot him again, this time into his exposed face.

She turned to face the sniper-she could tell exactly where she was, after all.

Hazel. She whispered. I’m harmless. He had his helmet off because he didn't see me, and you shot him. You’re insane, Hazel. You always hated Jonathan Tyrian. I’m harmless, Hazel. Why don’t you go try to do that to the rest of your team?

She withdrew from the snipers mind as she departed, moving across the rooftops to her new objective.

Cassie smiled, adjusting her clothing slightly. She might be on the run, but there was no reason to look sloppy.

She’d steer clear of Tactical-she wasn't stupid, after all-but she also wasn't going to run and hide. If they bothered her, she’d react.

She never killed anyone though, but was willing to change that if they made her. The normal people bothered her, sometimes, but she supposed that she’d have to live with them. Her father was the only one who had understood her, and she had had to let him free.

She set out for the spaceport, trying to lose herself in the crowd. She had to go through Customs, of course, but they should be easily dealt with. She intended to just hop over to another planet in the system, then find herself a job that wouldn't require her to have to deal with the normal people.

she felt something. Not something with her gift, she literally felt something stab into the back of her neck.

She collapsed, legs going numb. She stared up into a face, one that seemed dead, unmoving. There was no sense behind it.

“Damn you...” She whispered, staring into the dead face. “I set you free...” The numbness spread throughout her as she reached out one hand, trying to force it backwards with her gift. She lacked the strength though, and she drifted off...

“The Morton seems to have been effective, First Citizen.”

“Understood, Agent. It appears that Project Five will be effective-I doubt it will ever face anyone like her again though.”

“Agreed... Ma’am, can we kill her?”


“Ma’am, she’s a threat.”

“And Tactical is for dealing with special threats. Whether it’s Imperiata commandos, rogue Fleet captains, or Supersoldiers gone wrong, it is your responsibility to counter them.”

“Ma’am, she’s insane.”

“Targeted Morton will fix that.”


“No objections, Commander. My husband and I have decided that she’s to be studied. You’re old enough to remember the Republics birth, commander. You remember the promise that the other Founders and I made to the rest of Terran Space?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Never again. This girl will make that possible.”

“Understood ma’am.”

“Thank you, Commander.”

“Ma’am... May I ask one final question?”

“One last.”

“May we use Morton to build in contingencies?”

“By which you mean a kill switch?”

“More or less, Ma’am.”

“Qui tacet consentire videtur, Commander.”

<![CDATA[Forty-NineĀ ]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:46:53 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/forty-nineTen’s arm hurt like hell. Her mother would hate to hear her say that, but, well, her mother was light years away, wasn’t she?

Ten frowned. Where was she? It was dark-no, her eyes were closed.

How had she missed that? She opened them. They were heavy, barely capable of any movement, but she managed it. Something in front of her was bright.
She tried to move. She could not. It wasn’t only that it was hard to move, but that she seemed to be restrained.

Why can’t I move? She thought. Strangely, the thought didn’t seem to distress her. She just couldn’t move-that was all.

Where am I? How did I get here? She wondered, taking in the bright light in front of her. If it was a light, that meant that it was probably... Yes, it was probably actually the roof.

She could hear something, vaguely. It was at a distance, barely intelligible.

“Doctor... moving.”

“...stood. Bring her...”

She felt something come off of her face, and her lungs flooded themselves with air. She hadn’t been aware of it, but her lungs, nose, and throat had been burning with the lack of oxygen. Her vision swam. She could feel in her fingers again. A faint scent of something filled the air-she couldn’t quite place it.

“Private Silver?” She heard someone say. “Private Silver, can you hear me?”

She rolled her head over to face the voice. It was a man in a white lab coat, a tablet computer in one hand. “Yes.” She said.

He smiled. “Good morning, Private Silver. How are you?”

She furrowed her brow. “I’m on an operating table, with no idea how I got here. In other words, horrible.”

The doctor nodded, and tapped his tablet. “Understood, Private. You’ll have an explanation in a moment-however, I assume that you’d like to get up first?”

She tried to nod, realized that it was a useless gesture when one was horizontal, and said, “Yes.”

The doctor tapped something on his tablet, and something sprung up off of her arms and legs. She assumed that they were the restraints that had bound her.

“Can you stand on your own, Private?”

Curiously, she tried to move. She had been under some sort of anesthetic, after all, but it seemed to have no lasting effect. She could move now-the heaviness that had come over her a moment before was gone. “Yes.” She said. Come to think of it, since she had woken up, she had said little else other than ‘yes’.

“Very good. You were full of a cocktail of of chemicals, stimulants, and nanos when you were medivaced out-we had to use a fairly exotic agent to avoid killing you.” He hesitated for a moment, then said, “I don’t suppose you remember, but how did you wind up with so much DX2 in your system?”

DX2. The cocktail of nanos, hormones, and stimulants they gave to soldiers for the times when you just needed to get stuff done. It screwed you up royally, and you spent days, if not weeks on still other drugs afterwards to fix your body. If you ever used more than three or four milliliters of it in your system, you were transferred out of combat duty-permanent and irreparable damage had likely been done. If you ever went over eight, you were dead.

“How much did I have?” She asked, almost scared of the answer.


She shivered. So close to a lethal dose...

“Your IV implant was damaged when your armor went down-we think it kept injecting DX2 in with the other stims because of that, but we’re not sure.”

Ten nodded. Damn, but that was... Scary. “What was I doing?” She asked.

The doctor smiled. “There’s a... Person here to talk about that, actually, if you’re feeling well enough to have a conversation. You should be-Morton wears off fairly quickly.”

A spike of fear ran through Ten. “You used Morton?” She hissed. That was like... Amputating a leg because someone stubbed  their toe.

The doctor didn’t back down. “Yes, Private. We had to operate quickly to save your life-as has been noted, you had an incredibly high concentration of chemicals in your system, and were heavily wounded.”

“Damn you.” Ten hissed. “What’s gone now?”

“Private, Morton doesn’t work like that, at least, not in the dosages we gave you. It does cause the loss of all memories from the past few days, but you still have the same personality, the same memories. Were you to be sent home to your family right now, you’d have no trouble remembering them, your home, and everything there.”

Ten glared at him. “Whatever. Where’s the person who’ll tell me about what happened?”

The doctor nodded, apparently untroubled by her vitriol. “They’ll be in in a moment. You’ll also want to pull on one of those.” He said, pointing to a pile of hospital gowns off to one side. After that, he turned and left the room, leaving Ten stewing in her own thoughts.

As she pulled on one of the disgusting, pale green garments, she went over what she knew about Morton. It was a fast-acting anesthetic that disrupted the brain’s ability to process information, as well as form memories. It operated simply stopped one from being able to process the fact that one was in pain. A side effect was, obviously, the loss of recent memories-and Ten hated it. She deliberately played it low with the combat stims because she hated chemicals making decisions for her. Hell, she barely drank caffeine or alcohol-even those changed the way you thought, the way you acted-they changed who you were.

And no, she wasn’t mormon.

The door slid open. She glanced up from where she was sitting on the table, suddenly conscious of exactly what she was wearing-essentially a single sheet. The... Thing-she wouldn’t venture to say if it was a man or a woman-in the door was wearing sleek, black armor from head to toe. It was from Tactical.

Instinctively, she sprung to her feet, clicked her bare heels together at attention, and saluted. “Private Hortensia Silver, 2nd Battalion R Squad, Gamma Tantaline Command, sir!” This thing was from Tactical-under no circumstances was it to be trifled with.

“At ease, soldier.” it said, voice stirpped of all characteristics via the vocoder. “I think we’ll be speaking too frankly to stand on formalities.”

Thankful, she took it up on its offer.

“Private Silver, I’ll be brief. You have distinguished yourself during the engagement on Tantaline, though you most likely do not remember this. At great personal risk, you rescued several soldiers from a downed gunship, including Colonel Sarai Kastori. This has not gone unnoticed by the Colonel, who has already put your name in for the Naryshkin Medal.

Ten’s back straightened. The Naryshkin Medal was one of the highest honors that could be awarded to Ground Pounders like herself. Named for Marianne Naryshkin, the soldier who had sacrificed her own life to end the Xon war, it was awarded by the First Citizen himself, and only to soldiers who had been highly personally useful to one of his personal lieutenants.

“Tactical has an alternative offer for you, however, Private Silver. Our fleet arm has a project going down in the near future, led by an ex-Tactical soldier. Details are classified, but he’s looking to have at least one solid ex-soldier involved. He’s requested your involvement.”

She shivered. “Would this make me Tactical?”

The Tactical thing didn’t miss a beat. “No.”

“Put frankly, I don’t see why I should. I’m going home on shore leave, aren’t I? I’m Wounded in Action-that gets me honorably discharged with full benefits.”

She could almost hear a flat sort of ‘I’m not buying it’ tone in the Tactical’s voice, even through the vocoder. “Private Silver, you’re being offered the exact kind of opportunity that’s always appealed to you. The ability to be in a position where, not only do you defend your world and species, but you, personally, can make a difference. I’ve bribed, cajoled, and threatened individuals into this project. I don’t have to do that to you. I can be reached at this address-” he pushed a card across the table to Ten, a real one, made out of a dead tree and all, “-And you’re going to end up calling it in the next forty-eight hours.” With that, he stood, and left the room.

For the hell of it, Ten tried to wait forty-nine. She couldn’t.

<![CDATA[Radically Divergent]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:44:22 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/june-17th-20151Jane lay back, in the dark, jumpsuit too tight against her skin. The fleet did not have any modicum of fashion sense.

The bulkhead door slid open, and someone slid in. Apparently at one of her new crewmates was done with their watch.

A moment later, the light flicked on, and Jane cringed. The woman who stood in the doorway had skin darker than Janes, dark hair, and brown eyes. She glanced down at where Jane lay on her bunk, then away.
“So you’re the Padder, are you?” The woman asked.

Jane looked away. “Shut up, and turn off the light, sobe.”

The woman laughed. “Fine by me. If you want to lie about what you’ve done, feel free-just understand that no-one gives a damn.”

“Yeah.” Jane said. “That was me.”

The other woman nodded. “Like I said, no-one cares. We’ve got enough half-trained idiots running around that they’re not going to care if they drafted you, sentenced you, or enlisted you. They’re just going to care if you do your job right.”

“Thanks.” Jane said. Honestly, she had come to all these conclusions herself-having someone drill them into her was completely unnecessary.

“I’m Sadira, by the way.” The woman said, turning from where she was grabbing something out of the dresser to extend a hand to Jane.

Inwardly, Jane sighed. She wasn’t going to get out of this without a conversation, so she nodded and shook Sadira’s hand. “I’m Jane Steele, ma’am.” She introduced herself.

Sadira laughed. “For the record, I’m no older than you are-I just went about joining in a way that wasn’t illegal.”

“Which would be what, exactly?”

“I served for a year in the Recon Corp, way out in the back of the beyond. The kind of planet that gets you really well acquainted with the hardships they faced back in the 20th century.” Jane couldn’t tell if Sadira was joking or not.

“Where were yoU?” Jane asked, wondering how she could best lead the conversation to a quick conclusion.

“Unfortunately, that is classified-and that must make me sound way more important than I actually am.” Sadira laughed. “I will say, though, that we were well outside the range of anywhere we’re going in the Fleet.” She shook her head. “Anyway, tell me about yourself, Middie Steele.” Sadira flopped down on her rack, kicking her boots off. Jane could see now that they were actually constructed very differently than the ones she had been issued-they were more rugged, and less polished.

Jane started hesitantly, not entirely sure what to explain to this strange woman. “I was born in the Thirteenth Year of the Republic on one of the worlds on the Arm. It was a Mil-Ind type of world-the kind that actually improved when the Republic privatized Hazzard Technology.”

“So your strike group is Valkyrie?”


Sadira made a face. “Pardon my language, but Admiral Dare’s a bitch.”

“Excuse me?” Jane asked, glancing over to the other womans bunk. “She’s not a pleasant person, but she’s an effective governor.”

Sadira shook her head. “Maybe she’s just unpopular in the Recon Corp, but she’s my least favorite member of the Coven.”

Jane frowned. “What’s the Coven?”

“You really haven’t been around here very long, have you?” Sadira asked. “The Coven’s the nickname for the Founders in the service-they tend to send Tactical agents after anyone who calls them the Junta, but apparently calling them witches is alright.”

Jane shuddered. “Lets not talk about Tactical, can we?”

“Fine by me-but they’re just men, Steele.” Sadira said. “Unfortunately, they bleed just like the rest of us. They’re not robots, or aliens, or hell-spawned demons like everyone says they are.”

Jane was silent for a moment, before saying “Maybe not, but you wouldn’t be jumping to defend them if you’d ever really seen them. I’ve seen Tactical agents shoot people in the middle of a street. Oh, they were committing crimes at the time-but if you steal a tablet, you don’t deserve a bullet between your eyes.”

“It was never like that anywhere I’ve been. They’ve been guardians. Harsh ones, but I’ve never seen them do anything a member of the normal police wouldn’t do.”

Jane shook her head. “Look, I’m sorry, but I don’t know you. I have no idea who you are-I’d really rather not talk about the Founders or Tactical with you.”

“You think I’m an informant.” Sadira said coldly.

“You practically said so out loud! Listen, normal people don’t call the rare occasion when a Tactical agent bleeds ‘unfortunate’.”

Sadira didn’t say anything, grabbed some nightclothes, and stormed off to the head to change-there was precious little privacy to be had.

As she walked through the small rec area that was at the center of the ships living quarters-the Warbler was designed to be tethered to a Strike Group, but could in theory be alone in space for weeks at a time-she heard someone say her name.

“Midshipman Steele!”

Jane froze, then turned slowly. A man, easily twice her age stood in the center of the room, hands clasped behind his back. The name badge on his uniform identified him as ‘Jae Ali’.

She snapped to attention, then saluted. “Yes, sir!”

He shook his head, and smiled. “At ease, Ms. Steele. We’re onboard a ship that will enable Fleet to lock us up with each other for extremely long periods of time if they so require. We’re not going to stand on formalities-though of course, discipline is entirely different.”

“Understood.” She barely stopped herself from saying ‘Sir’.

“I don’t believe we’ve met, formally, yet-I just got back from my interview with the Skipper, and she seems... Special.”

“I liked her.” Jane said, only then realizing that she still had her arms stiff at her waist, and loosening them.

“Oh yes, Commander Shan has built herself a reputation in certain circles. She’s viewed as one of the best young commanders since the Founders.”

“Then with all due respect to them and her, then what did she do to get assigned to this?” Jane gestured around her, at the cramped confines. “This is practically a glorified fighter.”

Ali smiled. “I hope to prove you wrong in that-I served on one of these Oscen gunships in the Republic-Imperiata war, and they pack more firepower and survivability than anything this size has a right to. However, I digress. Mrs. Steele, I’ve been going over the ships roster with the Skipper, and we’ve noticed something troubling about one of the other members on the crew. Does the name ‘Chase Burton’ mean anything to you?”

Jane’s heart leapt. “Yes!”

Ali’s face hardened. “Understand, Midshipman Steele, that no-one cares about your personal relationships. He’s just a fellow soldier to you, understand?”

“Yes, sir.” She said, not caring that it was a lie. Chase had been transferred to the same ship as her-that made the fact that they had been discovered all worth it.

“While we’re embarked-by which I mean on the Warbler-you’re brothers-in-arms. When we’re docked with a Carrier or Station, or planetside, do whatever you want to-unfortunately, we can’t stop you. But if the Skipper or I catch a whiff of either of you acting out of line with the other, there will be consequences. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.” She repeated, nodding, still lying.

Ali sighed. “A word of personal advice, soldier, though I know you won’t heed it: Don’t do anything with him while we’re embarked. I know you both Padded to get in, I know your history with him-your Dossiers make that quite clear. You’re dismissed, soldier.”

“Thank you, sir.”

After changing, she stepped back into the Middie’s Bunkroom, in a far better mood that was only partially dampened by seeing Sadira’s Recon Corp boots propped up at the end of her bed.

As Jane stuffed her uniform into her trunk, she heard Sadira say, “It’s because of my father.”

She froze. “What was that?”

“My father worked with Tactical. That’s why I didn’t mention my last name-he’s one of only half a dozen or so Tactical agents whose identity is publicly known outside of Tactical itself. He wrote a book on it. He’s not a household name or anything, but for someone with a particularly pronounced hatred for them... Well, I don’t advertise it.”

Jane looked down. “What made him get out? Had to spy on too many innocent people? Got ordered to commit one atrocity too many?”

“No. He lost an arm.” Jane said nothing, and Sadira continued. “It was during one of the last battles of the Republic-Imperiata war. There was this prison, called Gladius, that was one of the last holdouts of Imperiata resistance. His unit was sent in as an advance force, took some hits... He lost an arm.”

Jane bit back a retort of ‘serves him right’.

“They were a different organization back then, Jane.” Sadira said. “They were literally ‘tactical’-Special Forces units that  were used for nuts that were particularly hard to crack. And a lot of his friends were already planning on leaving the service after the end of the war.”

“So in other words, no, I can’t trust you.” Jane spat, glaring at Sadira. Thank you for at least being honest about that.”

“I didn’t know why I thought I’d trust you.” Sadira said bitterly.

Jane ignored her. If she was going to be stuck with an informant for the rest of her enlistment, she didn’t have to be happy about it.

<![CDATA[With You?]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:43:38 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/with-youThe crowd roared as the Midfield bot made the pass. The ball was almost intersected by one of the opposing team’s Defense bots, a nasty flyer that Chase could swear was eating most of the Dragonets allowed Control time.

The regional Splice finals had been... Interesting this year. The final match had come down to the Dragonets, the previous years champions, and the Reavers, a team that had been, quite literally, the single worst-rated at the start of the last season.
The Dragonets played the game well-their bots, and the one obligatory ‘meatbag’ on their team were all wired together by a near field communications network. They were coordinated, synergized, and played in perfect synchrony.

The Reavers flouted the conventional wisdom. To start with, they used only a single bot, which was, more or less, stationary. The other players were all ‘bags, and all practically identical. The team’s captain had said that that was due to the fact that they lacked the time this year to do much more than develop the general framework for these players, but in the future, they expected to field at least three different versions.

One of the Reavers ‘bags shot the ball straight past the Dragonets goalie, scoring.

‘Four Points!’ flashed across the screen-the points gained in a game of Splice was the square of the number of players involved in the scoring play.

The recording cut to the beginning of the next round, with the Reaver and Dragonet players arrayed in the Midfield. The Reavers had six players out to the Dragonets seven. The Dragonets had started the game with a full slate of nine players, though the Reavers had kept two off the field due to prior injury. That was the problem with a meat team-even if you modified them to heal faster, it was more complicated than just slapping on a new titanium plate.

Just as the buzzer sounded to allow the players to dash for the ball hovering in the center of the field, however, someone entered the room, and said “Viewer off.”

It was Jane. He turned, smiling at her. “Got bored with the Ansible blackout?” He asked.

She laughed. “Bored is the complete opposite of the problem here, Chase.” Her grammar always wound up a little off when she was excited-that was part of what he loved about her.

“What do you mean?”

“They reactivated the Ansibles at the Military base for a few minutes about half an hour ago. Furthermore, there was a packet transmitted to the Base from one of the Strike Groups, out somewhere called Tantaline. There’s crap going down there that you would not believe, Chase. There was an attack, an Alien strike group or something. The planet’s gone, it’s-.”

“Whoa, whoa... What?” Chase asked, blood running cold.

“Oh, they haven’t announced it yet-my Dad’s doing IT at the Fleet Base, remember?”

“Yeah, but-”

“So anyway, the Fleet’s about to make some kind of announcement about the Draft, though they've got some better, propaganda name for it. Anyway, they’re going to be recruiting like hell over the next few days-this is our ticket out, Chase.”

Chase’s heart leapt, but he quashed it almost immediately. “What are you proposing?” He asked. “That we just take advantage of the fact that Law Enforcement will have bigger problems on their hands than a couple of runaway kids?”

Jane’s eyes twinkled, and she tossed a folder to him. “Take a look.” She said.

He opened the folder, revealing a set of the synthetic polymer sheets that the Republic used for official documents. A Civilian Dossier lay inside, emblazoned with the Republic seal and flag. Chase recognized it-it was just a larger version of his school ID card. “I don’t get it.” He said, holding it up.

“Read the date.”

Chase’s eyes moved to the space marked ‘Birthday’. September Twelfth, Twelfth Year of the Republic.

Chase had been born in 13 YR.

What Jane was suggesting was immediately obvious-and equally obviously a bad plan. “You’re suggesting that we get off-planet by enlisting?”

“Yeah, pretty much. It’s not like they’re gunna run the most strenuous background checks of all time on us right now.”

Chase leaned back, holding the sheet up. “Jane, this is either completely stupid, or completely genius.”

She smiled again. “Let’s go with genius.”

“They’ll catch us.” He warned.

“What’s the worst they can do? Drop us off on some planet that will, statistically, be far, far away from here?”

“Wrong. They can refer us to Tactical, an organization perfectly capable of placing us in a Black Site from which we will never emerge, or be heard from again. If any of the standard Ansnet rumors are to be believed, they will spend their time their systematically violating every one of our basic human rights. Once bored of that, they will kill us.”

“Exactly-nothing worth worrying about.”

“Excuse me?”

Jane smiled. “Don’t believe everything you read on the net my friend.”

Chase shook his head. “Still though, this seems vaguely like a nuclear option, doesn’t it? Yeah, life sucks here, but is this really how we want to get offworld?”

Jane sobered. “Chase, sometimes I think we’re literally the only two decent people on this whole damn rock. I got mugged on Downs Street last week. You told me the other day that you picked up a gun on the black market just so you can feel secure on your way to school in the morning. Oh, thinking of school, how many times has Law Enforcement been there in the past few months? This place is the underbelly of the Republic-it’s part of a line of fortifications that haven’t mattered in decades though.”

Chase shrugged. “Fine. Let’s do it.”

Jane looked mildly surprised by that. “Wait, you’ll do it?”

“Yeah, why not? You’re right, after all-I guess I had just imagined this happening in another year or so, after school.”

“Who needs school? It’s not like we learn anything other than how to avoid the gangs.” She said, sitting down next to him, grabbing his hand.

He turned to face her, staring into her eyes. Her energy was infectious, and when she came up with plans like these, you couldn’t help but go along with it.

“You really wanna do this?” She asked. “I mean, when I made those, it was part serious, yeah, but part a joke, and I won’t lie and say that it wasn’t partly just because I could.”

“With you?” He leaned in, and kissed her. “Yes.”

<![CDATA[Upon Us]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:42:23 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/june-17th-2015The Warden’s Hangar was, in actuality, no different than the single other time Richard Tvorik had been there. Admiral Hazzard had, after ordering the Warden to Flank Speed, addressed the ship and requested calm as they assessed the situation.

That had been three hours ago, and the ship was making its way across the system of Innes Star, at full speed. Massive cranes removed the dummy warheads and fighters from the Warden’s gunships, and replaced them with the real deal.
Richard twisted his Truekeeper watch-he had been informed to report to the hangar with the contents of his Seachest, and to make absolutely sure that he had said watch. Truekeepers were essential to the operation of starships, and the sanity of their crew. The watches interfaced with nearby ansibles, to measure both the apparent and actual time experienced by the member of a crew. Foldspace jumps were, for the ship at least, instantaneous. Under normal circumstances, you experienced no time during the fold. The outside universe, however, did.

Calculating the exact length of foldspace jumps in actual time was hard-as in, very, very, professor-y hard. There was a rule of thumb though, that was more or less accurate for most, if not all circumstances: Take the number of light years between the two endpoints, and square it. That was your estimated travel time, in hours.

This meant that the disparity got really big, really fast, which was generally... Unpleasent. This was why the vast majority of fleet personnel were kept in more or less one place-if they never had to jump anywhere, there was very little opportunity for their personal timelines to be screwed up too badly.

Anyway, those particular orders could mean only one thing: Reassignment. That terrified him, honestly. The Warden was the logical place to draw replacement personnel for the beleaguered Warrior from. Each of the three Strike Groups-the Warrior, the Warden, and the Valkyrie-had vaguely defined regions of space that they were meant to remain in the general area of. Richard was assigned to Admiral Killian Hazzard’s Strike Group, the Warden, which was in turn assigned to the figurative home front-Sol, Kapteyn, Innes Star, the other core systems.

The Warrior was assigned to what was practically the edge of space-a region that included very few militarily significant worlds, and even fewer Civilian ones. In other words, it was not supposed to be the place where wars began.

Every wargame the fleet had fought assumed an attack would either hit the Valkyrie or the Warden first-they defended the strategically important targets, after all. In a way, that made it unsurprising that, when aggression finally came, it was somewhere unimportant, like this world of ‘Tantaline’. Richard had, quite literally, never heard of it before today.

He was stirred out of his thoughts by the shout of ‘Officer on deck!’ His head snapped up from where it had been keenly observing his hands, which were in turn occupied with fiddling with his watch.

A man in a stark white uniform strode into the hangar. Killian Hazzard had been the last member of the Governance Committee to start wearing one of those, but damn, they stood out like nothing else. He didn’t even have any visible bodyguards-though of course, his wife often accompanied him in public, and she trained the kinds of people who guarded the other Coven members.

“Greetings, crew of the UTFS Warden.” Hazzard said, walking up the stairs to the top of a loading ramp-elevated enough to be visible, but likely not ostentatious. “At ease.”

Richard adjusted his posture. A few years ago, when he had first been assigned to the Warden, he had been starstruck in the presence of Admiral Hazzard. This man had, if the stories were to be believed, almost single-handedly brought about the end of the Xon War. He had been the founder of Tactical, and the commander of almost every major planetary assault of the Republic-Imperiata war. The man was a legend.

“I’m sure you’ve all heard what’s happened at Tantaline, and so I initially planned to be brief. However, you deserve more than that, especially considering what will shortly be asked of you. This Republic is at war, gentlemen. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’re on High Alert, a status reserved for military crises. Make no mistake, the stakes are real. We do not understand the full implications of what happened at Tantaline, or even the full scope of what actually occurred, but we do know that we, the Fleet, have suffered an embarrassing defeat.

“We are, as I’m sure you’ve all heard time and time again, the ‘Thin Black Line’ that defends the Republic. Every one of the trillion citizens of this Republic is relying on you. You, personally.” Hazzard extended his hand, and swept it across the audience. “I remember the Fall of Earth, though few of you do. That day, though it has been painted black by the eyes of history, was not entirely devoid of hope-at no point did we surrender to the threat that assailed us. And at the end of that day, I made a promise, along with the others responsible for that victory: Never again. Never again would we be helpless before an onslaught, never again would the skies of a world burn as its very atoms were destroyed by Antimatter, as we were forced to render it uninhabitable in retreat.

“The Imperiata forced us to abandon those ideals. I personally ordered the world of Raven destroyed, over twenty-five years ago. But we never lost sight of our goal: To secure the future of Humanity. Today, that security has been tested, and, we pray, it will not be found lacking.

“I assume that you have all realized that you are to be reassigned to Strike Group Warrior-your assignments will be sent to you shortly. Strike Group Warrior has been severely depleted during the fighting, and we are the nearest reinforcements. Destroyer Squadrons Six and Eight are being transferred, as well as various other smaller ships and personnel. Remember, the hopes and dreams of a trillion sentients ride upon us. We cannot afford to fail.”

Hazzard stepped down from the platform, the room silent. Then, off in one corner of the room, someone shouted “Never again!” It was repeated, rising, becoming a chant that filled the hangar.

“Never again! Never again!” Pausing at the door, Richard could have sworn that he saw a smile cross the Admiral’s face. Richard had always looked up to that man, and, well, Killian Hazzard undoubtedly deserved it.

After all, it took a skillful man to get men cheering as you sent them to what every one of them suspected would be their deaths.
<![CDATA[Rock]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 15:40:53 GMThttp://warblerwebnovel.weebly.com/side-stories/rock“First field op?” Agent Red asked, glancing at Maria from across the shuttle. That was actually his name-Jonathan Red, and, apparently, he was tired of being asked that by new recruits.

“Yes sir.” Maria said, not particularly nervous-she was familiar with the numbers, and the last Trainee to be killed, or even seriously injured on their first op-always specially selected to be relatively routine, after all-had been years ago.

“No sir.”

“Not even a little scared?”

“No sir.”

“Then you’re either stupid or a liar, Trainee. Which is it?”

Maria gritted her teeth-this was the final phase of training for a prospective Agent, and, like every previous stage of training, it seemed to involve increasing abuse. “Neither, sir.” Thankfully, Tactical trainees weren’t supposed to just shut up and take it like you were in Fleet or Marines Basic Training-Tactical was training warriors, not programming human drones to follow orders. At the very least, she got away with more.

“Explain.” Red was, like many long-time agents, rather laconic-in the world of Tactical, information was currency. There were no formal ranks within Tactical, just positions, awarded on the basis of merit, skill, and success. It was the one service that was entirely immune to the Republics usual nepotism. The First Citizen directly appointed the Commandant-ever since Riya Dare, they had had to have been an Agent-who in turn selected Agents for any roles that needed filled.

“sir, there hasn’t been a single major mishap on a Training op like this under the last three Commandants.”

The Agent shook her head. “So you’re stupid, Trainee. We’re inbound into an area controlled by a planetary Mafia, who we know to be bristling with weapons, and are significantly outnumbered. Yes, support from our transports, as well as our own weapons, armor, and training will likely keep us safe. However-” Agent Red stood, and strode over to where Maria was sitting, “We’re vulnerable at all times, Trainee.” Red tapped Maria’s helmet. “Explain how your armor works, Trainee.”

“A Tactical Agent’s armor is made up of metamaterial polymers capable of shedding or surviving assaults from any handheld energy weapon in service. Furthermore, low-energy Aegal shields are equipped, preventing any damage from a kinetic weapons, such as a bullet. The two acting in tandem offer limited protection from explosives. Our armor is wired into a peer-to-peer network that gives every member of our squad instant access to the state of every other, as well as being connected to the comms of our dropboat in case of an emergency.”

Red arched her eyebrows. “And there are no vulnerabilities that you can think of? What about the visor?”

“Can be darkened either at will or automatically to a one-way aperture. It limits the Agent’s visibility, but will stop a laser.”

“What about a rock, Trainee?”

Maria paused, uncertain. “The Aegal should stop any Kinetic weapons, sir.”

“What if an assailant gets to close quarters? Will the Aegal be able to identify someone who’s grappling with you as a threat?”

“No, sir.”

“So, you’re down there on Angel Duty, and some thug jumps you with a rock. You didn’t see him coming, so now he’s on top of you. Your rifle’s useless, even your pistol’s useless since he’s right there.” Agent Red paused, expectantly.

“I’d go for my knife, sir.”

“Great-you reach down for your knife, which you appear to be wearing on your left side, despite the fact that you’re right handed, Trainee Prussin. If you’re quick, you manage to draw it, but it’s in the wrong hand. While you fumble with it, your assailant grabs a rock and slams it repeatedly into your visor. When that breaks, he continues, except now it’s your face. If you’re lucky, you’ll be knocked unconscious rather quickly, because there’s no way this situation ends well at this point. From there, your squad gets ambushed by the surprise attack that you were supposed to prevent. There are no survivors, and the cleanup team finds various bits of your bodies scattered around the combat zone. They find enough of your blood that they’re confident that you’re dead, but they’re never quite sure, because they never find the people responsible, because you failed, Trainee.”

Red turned, and strode back to her seat, on the other end of the Rotorcraft. “This is never simple, Trainee. There is always danger. Children like you are what is corrupting this agency. I’ve served since the Republic-Imperiata War, and back then, we had a sense of what was at stake. You younger ones... You abuse the power that we’re given. Rest assured that you will not be receiving my recommendation for graduation, Ms. Prussin.”

Maria stood, fists clenching. “With all due respect, Agent Red, you can’t do that.”

Red stopped still. “What can’t I do, Ms. Prussin?” He asked, voice cold.

Damn. Maria thought. I did not intend to say that out loud. “With all due respect, sir, as long as I pass this assessment, I receive a commission. That’s how this works.”

“You misunderstand how we operate, Ms. Prussin, reinforcing my conclusion that you should never join its ranks. Our mandate includes whatever powers are necessary to succeed in our mission, and whenever a person interferes with that...” Red turned, and Maria saw that he had a pistol in his hands, and, though she was confidant in her armor, she was also surrounded by other Agents, who, they had largely ignored the squabble, were beginning to take interest. “They need to be dealt with, Ms. Maria Prussin. As things stand, you will be expelled from Tactical on an ever-growing variety of charges as soon as I have access to the requisite paperwork aboard the Warden. If you continue to be insolent, I guarentee you that there are ways for you to die on this mission, wether you believe that or not.” They made eye contact, and Maria knew what she had to do.

“Damn that, Red. You’ve always had it in for me-I refuse to listen to this!” Her hand inched towards her own laser pistol, just enough to be threatening.

Red didn’t move, but the Agent beside Maria did, kicking out into the back of her knees, toppling her to the ground.

“Fine, Agent.” She heard Red’s voice. “You’re on point for C Squad-good thing that you’ve been paying careful attention to the briefing that you’ve all been sent.” As she struggled to her feet, she saw him glancing down at his wrist, a needlessly theatrical gesture. “Oh look-we’re there. Have fun, Agent...”

The Rotorcraft banked, its cargo bay flying open, and the Agents at the back jumped out, Gravpacks protecting them from the dangers of the fall.

Obviously confused, Maria hesitated for a moment, before she felt someone’s boot connect with the back of her armor.

They were only a hundred or so feet up, but there was still a fleeting moment where she was terrified that her gravpack had malfunctioned. Then, it kicked in, and she landed, with little more of a jolt than if she had jumped off a stool.

All around her, laser rifles were blazing, Agents pinning down anything that vaguely resembled a Terran. Overhead, the Rotorcraft’s loudspeakers blared out a message that all of Terran Space had learned to fear-”Citizens, remain where you are! This is a raid by the Tactical Services of the Republic! If you feel a need to surrender, approach an Agent slowly with your hands above your head!”

Just as she finished assessing the threat-namely that there was no-one returning Tactical’s fire-of course a laser beam flashed by her head, barely distinguishable from the rest of the extreme prejudice that they were dishing out to innocent surrounding buildings. “Ms. Prussin...” She heard Agent Red’s voice in her helmet, over her private radio channel, far too deliberately concerned to actually give a damn about her, “It’s dangerous out here. You’d better get C Squad moving, or something might happen...”

Swearing to herself, she shouted into the general channel, “C Squad, assemble at the base of the target building!”

Focusing herself as she rushed into cover at the entrance, she reviewed the quick facts of the mission that she had been given back on the Warden. Slaving operation, headed by the local criminal syndicate. We’ve got one Spartoi agent on the inside, waiting for a signal. Our job is to make sure that anything holding a weapon inside that’s not an Agent is a smoking pile of ash instead.

The other half dozen Trainees on C Squad gathered round, taking barely fifteen seconds to gather. She really should know the names of the other Trainees on her team, but it had just never seemed important.

“What’s our attack plan, Trainee Prussin?” One of the others asked. They were all supposed to call each other that-it was annoying, really.

“We’ve got limited intel on what’s inside, so we’re going in, shooting first, asking questions later. Our primary objective is the elimination of hostile forces, not necessarily the retrieval of the prisoners. Do you understand?”

They nodded, but... Didn’t seem eager about it. Who needs them to be eager though? She thought. This is the military. They’ll do whatever you say, regardless of if they agree with it.

They kicked in the door, and entered the building. The battle wasn’t anything special-it was just like the hundreds of simulated ones they had been through. Maria was in perfect form throughout, taking point as ordered, and dealing with several of the criminal thugs. Her pride swelled as she moved through the building, having no soldiers wounded, and losing only a few of the civilians. Once they finally cleared out the last room, she finally allowed herself to breathe freely.

Tactical valued its soldiers on the results they delivered. And she had delivered excellent results.

Two weeks later, she strode down the corridors of the Flag Officer's quarters of the UTFS Warden. Commandant Isabella Shishani had summoned Maria to her quarters. This couldn’t be anything other than a good sign-the odds of being expelled from the Corp directly by the Commandant were practically nil.

She hit the button on the door to request entry, then fell into parade rest and waited in the hall.

It only took a few minutes for the door to open, and Maria entered, not entirely sure what to expect. However, the Commandant herself opening the door was not what she expected.

Isabella Shishani was a slight woman, with dark skin, naturally beautiful. Not ‘hot’ like some teenaged girl trying to impress some boy, but beautiful, in an intense and stately manner. She obviously cultivated this, but it was by no means entirely an act.

“Welcome, Ms. Prussin.” Shishani said, gesturing Maria to a seat. “Please, be at ease.”

“Yes, First Citizen.” Maria said, standing next to the chair until Shishani rounded the desk and sat down in her own.

“Would you like some tea, Ms. Prussin?” Shishani asked, dispensing hot water from an appliance on her cluttered desk.

“No thank you, First Citizen.” Maria’s throat was parched, but she had to focus on what was happening here. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“Good. Useless, semi-aristocratic custom. I’d do away with it if I made those rules.” Shishani laughed at her own joke, so Maria joined in. “You have... Quite a record with Tactical, Ms. Prussin.” Shishani said, flipping through a few sheets of synthetic paper. “To be honest, we didn’t expect you to survive the first week of training, but you got through to the final exam without melting down towards an instructor. You’re purposefully given leeway in training, you know. It’s to test you, see how you fare on your own. We’re nowhere near as freeform as we teach you during those few months. Tell me, Ms. Prussin... Why do you think you’re worth my time?”

Maria swallowed. “First Citizen, I expect it’s to finalize my commission.”

The First Citizen nodded. “In a way, yes. It was a hard decision-there were compelling arguments for and against keeping you. I hadn’t actually decided until a moment ago, Ms. Prussin. I actually have two sets of orders here-one with a commission and a commendation, the other with a burn notice.” Shishani took an envelope, and fed it into a shredder built into her desk.

Shishani handed Maria the other envelope, and behind that mask of stately beauty Maria could see a snakes eyes. Shishani was enjoying this.

Maria glanced at the First Citizen for confirmation, then opened the envelope.

“Damn you.” She whispered, glancing up, not caring that she had just said that to the First Citizen.

“I apologize, Ms. Prussin, but your actions have proven you unfit to be a Tactical Agent. You are unable to follow orders, respect the risks we take, or understand the code of conduct we operate upon.”

“You can’t do this!” Maria hissed, hand dropping to where her rigging knife-the only weapon that was permitted aboard a ship-was fastened to her right leg.

Shishani raised an eyebrow, apparently unconcerned with Maria’s actions. “Oh? You agreed to the possibility of a Morton wipe when you signed up for training, Ms. Prussin.”

“I agreed to that with the understanding that it wouldn’t happen!” Maria replied, voice rising, unsheathing the knife, moving forward. The thought of Morton, Tactical’s favorite toy, flowing through her veins, targeting, deleting, rewriting memories, terrified her.

“It’s not that unpleasant, Ms. Prussin.” Shishani said, still unconcerned. “Remember, we preserve the subconscious memories, Ms. Prussin, so if you’re ever in a life-threatening situation, they’ll resurface. Any personal memories will also be retained, and you’ll be given a fully consistent mental and official identity that accounts for the past year or so.”

Snarling, Maria lunged forward, knife in hand. The room was clear, but even as she moved forward, she felt something make contact with her foot. As she dropped to the ground, there was a shimmer in the air above her, and a person in Tactical armor appeared, a shimmering Metamaterial invisibility cloak draped over one hand.

“Please, Ms. Prussin, you’re not the first person to try something like this. All you’ve accomplished here is proven to me that you are, in fact, fundamentally incapable of serving as a Tactical Agent.” Shishani waved her hand. “Agent Rindos, if you’d please escort Ms. Prussin to the Medical Bay, I’ll alert them to the conditioning she’ll require, and order Specialist Hansen to be ready for her.”

The Agent nodded, and leveled a weapon at Maria’s head. “Get up.” The Agent said, and Maria knew from personal experience on the other end of that pistol that the Agent wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

“It’s been too long, First Citizen.”

“Same, cousin. And drop that ‘First Citizen’ crap-your parents are Councilmen, Reed, and I fully expect you to treat me like an equal. You’re literally the only person I can safely confide in.”

“I apologize, Isa. I trust you’re doing well in your new position?”

“Of course. Who’s the current girl, Reed?”

“This may surprise you, given your apparently low opinion of the company I keep, but I’m actually still sort of with the same one from the last time we spoke.”

“The debutante that my father brought from the MCT Advanced Fleet School program?”

“No, no-she and were never really a thing, you just wanted that. She’s Kynaki-to be honest I think Aunt Sheila may have had something to do with her presence here at Blackacre though, which has been kind of bothering me.”

“How are you getting along with Aunt Sheila?”

“Ehh, my mother and her will pretty much never be able to work together in anything but the most official of capacities... Aunt Sheila’s still a wonderful person though, as always. Cursed with a horrible husband though.”

“Anyway, Reed, I’m assuming that you need something from me-you’re not one for pointless chatter.”

“I think this is the second thing you’ve said in this conversation that shows that you clearly just need to spend more time with your family, Isa.”

“So what do you want...”



“You just burned a Trainee and put her through Morton. One of the initiatives that I’ve been heading up could use someone like her.”

“You understand that the woman’s abrasive and has no real skills?”

“Yes-that’s why I want her for this. That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

“This project is need-to-know, I assume?”


“I’ve just filled the transfer orders for her, but... Why the hell are you asking for someone who is, according to her instructors, quite literally the single worst recruit they've ever seen make it the final examination?”



“Damn you, Reed.”