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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 22: Colossus

 

Bubbly –

In yet another ceremony, because of their upgrade to Type-Ones, the former Type-Two cruisers of Captains Dupont and Okonkwo were rechristened as “DSC” instead of “DSR” cruisers. They were also given new hull numbers – Hermes was now DSC 60 and Constellation was now DSC 74.

Four other new Type-Ones were added to the Fifth Fleet. This made the fleet almost complete - Mia now had six Type-Ones under her command. She was still waiting for another one, but it wouldn’t be ready for a while. But this was all news B-roll. The bigger event was the Seeker.

Seeker’s refit was formally certified, her modifications were permanently logged into her database and the new refitted ship was formally included in the Fleet’s technical specifications catalogue. And because of the extent of the refit, according to the new military protocol, she was given a new classification (she was now a J-One Class interstellar cruiser), as well as a new name and a new hull number.

The exploits of the Seeker and the rest of the Fifth Fleet had captured the attention and imagination of the entire system. It was the first time that a space battle of this complexity and magnitude, and this... level of excitement had ever happened in the system. It was like some adventure movie. Some said that it overshadowed all previous battles, even the ones from the Asteroid Wars. And it was only possible because the new ships and their new capabilities matched up with the alien ships’ capabilities. Pre-FTL chemical ships, the so-called “blimps,” like the Orion-class and Daedalus-Class ships, and especially the massive Dreadnoughts, would not have lasted a minute, though the non-chemical Enterprise-class and Jovian-class ships might have been able to cope. After all, Saturn’s three K-class ships more than held their own. The idea of re-tooling Enterprise and Jovian-class ships in the same way the PRC had re-tooled the Seeker was being given serious consideration.

In any case, given the Seeker’s exploits among the rings of distant Saturn, some of the bright kids from NASA and the ESA suggested a new name for her that everyone thought appropriate.

Some moons or other natural satellites that clear gaps in planetary ring material or keep particles within a ring contained were called “shepherd moons.” The name came from the fact that they limit the “herd” of ring particles like a shepherd would with his flock of sheep.

Due to their gravitational effect, shepherd moons pick up particles and deflect them from their original orbits through orbital resonance. This causes gaps in a ring system, such as the famous Cassini Divide that Seeker made full use of in their now-famous encounter with the Tiros and Detterex invaders out in Saturn.

So a bunch of NASA and ESA interns suggested this as Seeker’s new name. This got back to the Fleet Admiral somehow, and Silverman thought it was a great idea.

So DSR Seeker was rechristened the Shepherd Moon, with hull number DSC 05 (after all, she was the flagship of the Fifth Fleet).

A large group of VIPs, along with Earth’s first Federation friends, gathered in the large observation blister of New Copernicus’ orbiting dry dock to listen to more speeches and witness its official rechristening and re-launch.

After everything was said, Her Royal Highness, Queen Margaret II, pushed a button and an expensive magnum of champagne was ejected towards the ship. A little conduction heater tab the size of a penny was taped to its bottom to prevent its contents from freezing.

Nick had explained to the aliens the background of the little ceremony they were witnessing, and the aliens watched it with great respect and anticipation. After the ten year-old bottle shattered on the Shepherd Moon’s bow, and its contents fizzed out and away, everyone cheered.

Commander Kajima then engaged the Shepherd Moon’s parking engines at their lowest power setting and the ship glided out of Copernicus’ dry dock at a stately five kilometers per hour, slow enough to get everyone to oooh and ahhh as she cruised by the observation blister.

“Such a waste,” Princess Tasha said, watching the ship cruise by. Most of the conversation around her stopped.

“What do you mean, Your Highness?” the First Ambassador asked.

She gestured towards the ship. “All that champagne... what a waste.”

Everyone erupted in laughter. Tasha sheepishly smiled at that, and when everyone’s attention moved on, she leaned close to Ren. “I do not understand,” she whispered to her husband. “Why did they laugh? I was being serious.”

Ren giggled and hugged his princess wife. Her growing fondness for Earther wines and bubbly was something that everyone on Talon knew by now.

“Oh, my dearest,” he giggled and squeezed her playfully.

 

Hitching a ride –

Harbinger was a very ambitious plan, but a plan that the Earthers' leadership had decided was absolutely essential for the Human Race, indeed for the larger galactic community as well.

The plan called for many things: one - to raise the alarm about the escape ship of the Defiant, at present making its way to the Detterex homeworld. It would be arriving there in about one Earth year, presumably to initiate retaliation plans against Earth and the Federation.

In order to raise the alarm, the Fifth Fleet needed to transport the Federation representatives back to Colossus to brief the various planetary representatives and ambassadors, and after they had been briefed, to then help them get word back to the Federation home planets.

Two - to arrange for a coordinated defense plan among the various Federation planets in case of attack. Owing to their lack of instantaneous communications, such a thing could normally only be accomplished in about five years. So it was difficult, to say the least. But all things being equal, the Empire would also need roughly the same amount of time to mount an invasion or retaliation plan.

As usual, the Earthers had a suggestion: Harbinger called for a message similar to the first transmission Earth sent to the Federation, specifically to Colossus, to inform them of the pending arrival of the Fifth Fleet. To avoid burning out Colossus’ systems, the communication would have to be less than two minutes. A “disposable” transmitter will have to be used to accomplish this.

Also, the Prince and Princess, the First Ambassador and Admiral Daxx would hitch a ride on the Shepherd Moon for the trip to Colossus. The trip, all told, shouldn’t be longer than a couple of months – substantially less than the six months they originally took to get to Earth. That would give them a jump on the Tirosians. As for the Elyran and Dixx ships, they would follow at their best speed, escorted by a couple of the Fourth Fleet’s Type-Ones.

Reena’s crew, not to mention Admiral Daxx’s, did not like it. But they were soldiers that knew how to follow orders. The plan only merited a little bit of grumbling.

So, with much fanfare, Mia and the Shepherd Moon’s command personnel who were there to witness the ceremony lifted off from the New Copernicus observation bubble via the retooled Mud Turtle shuttle that the Shepherd Moon’s people were now calling the “Admiral’s Barge.” The Federation envoys joining them were onboard two other shuttles – an Elyran and a Dixx. They simultaneously detached from inflatable bridge tunnels connecting them to the bubble. And as the three shuttles made their way to the Shepherd Moon, eight alien interceptors – four Elyran and four Dixx – provided escort. The barge entered via the normal airlock while the two alien shuttles and eight fighters docked to the Shepherd Moon’s large cargo booms in pairs, and were winched onboard.

So it was that the Earth’s Fifth Fleet, composed of six EDS Type-One cruisers and one refitted J-One class cruiser, left the Solar System on its historic first trip to the heart of the Galactic Federation.

 

Arrival –

Everyone had a lot to do during the trip so the two months went by very quickly. Though it wasn’t at a breakneck pace anymore, cultural and technology exchange continued. And with Phase-Wave links, the Fifth Fleet, the Federation fleet and the CETI people were still able to collaborate.

A small wrinkle was introduced, however. Before they had left the Solar System, they got a call that the Keeper of the Heritage and his staff were insisting on joining them. That was a bit troubling, but they had no choice except to agree. A Type-Two had to catch up to them to drop them off onboard the Shepherd Moon. The Dravidian from his staff, Cale, however, remained on Earth to join the new Galactic Federation Embassy being constructed on the Sciollian Isles.

Together with a small contingent of Elyran, Arachnian and Dixx representatives, they started operations and performed all the necessary ambassadorial work that a new Embassy had to take care of. Cale and his two Erocii assistants produced credentials that showed them to be empowered to represent the Dravidians and Erocii in any negotiations, at least to the same extent that the Elyran, Arachnian and Dixx representatives were. In a matter of days, their new Federation Missions to Earth moved into their new offices on St. Agnes and St. Martin’s Islands in Mia’s duchy of the Sciollian Isles.

To offset the loss of his staff, the Keeper had asked, via his staff, for volunteers to help him with his temporary manpower shortfall. Many of her people from CETI volunteered, and after Mia approved it, the Keeper selected three from the Shepherd Moon’s crew, and they then started reporting to him as his staff. Mia and Jenn suspected that the Keeper wasn’t really under-staffed, and was only using this as an excuse to have some humans up close to study. But they didn’t mind - they could also benefit from this. That’s why they had briefed the three CETI staff beforehand to be sure to gather as much data as they could.

The Keeper was more visible onboard the Shepherd Moon than he was among the Dixx, as he was always touring the ship with his staff, and joining the Earther crew during mealtimes. He did not mind that certain areas were off limits and that he and his people had to submit to inspections from time to time. But other than that, he stayed out of everyone’s way, and when not touring, spent the rest of his time in his quarters.

Having gone through the same thing with the Arachnians, the crew knew how to manage the Dixx and Elyrans and make them feel at home. And it helped that Sahsha was onboard. Sahsha made some suggestions to the Princess and the Admiral. She suggested that their security people and fighter pilots join the Marines’ workout and training sessions. They had agreed, and the Princess had her warriors train and work out with the Earthers in shifts. Daxx followed suit for the Dixx personnel, and during the trip to Colossus, Talon warriors and Dixx soldiers learned Marine techniques and methods.

For their part, the Elyrans and the Dixx also taught the Earthers their own methods and, aside from some things that were specific to alien physiologies, the Earthers were able to adapt many of them to their regular routines. The lead Marine drill instructor reported to O’Connell, Tasha and Daxx that many of the Elyran routines helped them to be better at close-in fighting while the Dixx showed them a thing or two about managing in low-gee situations.

However, Ren laughingly told them about how their warriors would limp back to their quarters exhausted from their workouts. Mia gave O’Connell a significant look, and O’Connell picked up on that right away. She then said that the joint workouts would now be done in Federation standard gravity.

The fact that Sahsha was onboard as the official expedition secretary and the representative of the Secretary-General bothered Mia greatly. Not that Sahsha had an important role to play, but rather that she was there at all. Though they hadn't consummated the relationship, Mia was still in love with Sahsha regardless of her gender switch, and that Sahsha had served notice that the switch hadn't changed her feelings. Mia was glad of that, but how could she feel good that Sahsha was in harm’s way? The expedition wasn’t completely a diplomatic mission – there was a distinct possibility of another encounter, or even several encounters just like the one around Saturn. But she made no move to stop her from joining: she knew it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.

It was also such a temptation and distraction for Mia that Sahsha was around, but she had to keep things professional. Otherwise, it would have made things difficult, and maybe even undermine her authority with her crew. Mia tried to explain it to Sahsha once, and she seemed to understand but wasn’t too happy about it. As a result, she had been very standoffish throughout the trip from Earth to Colossus.

Life went on.

-----

When they were a day out from Colossus, a fleet-wide call went out and everyone started getting ready.

They weren’t sublight yet so Colossus wasn’t aware of their approach. As arranged, Captain Okonkwo transmitted the pre-recorded two-minute signal they'd prepared. They used one of the disposable Phase-Wave interpolator transmitters they brought and fired off the signal directly at Colossus using the general Federation communication frequency. They had several dozen of the transmitters onboard, as did all the ships in the Fifth Fleet, so that meant they could communicate with the aliens anytime they needed to. But, unless approved by the Admiral, they were not to use them and instead use only regular radio to communicate with the aliens, and thereby conserve their limited number of transmitters. In the Shepherd’s hold, though, aside from the several dozen disposable transmitters, there was a large crate half the size of a Shrike fighter. It was something that no one knew about except for Mia, O’Connell and the Chief Engineer.

-----

Onboard Colossus, their communications people suddenly found all incoming transmissions cut off. They, as well as everyone, were puzzled at the loss of radio communications. One of the technicians in Comms spun her radio’s dial and frantically scanned through all of the regular frequencies. And there was only one signal she found.

“Sire!” she said, and turned to her Dravidian supervisor. “All radio frequencies have disappeared!”

“What! Check all bands!”

“I already have! All of them are gone, sire. UHF, VHF, AM, FM – everything! All gone! Except...”

“Yes?”

“There’s one remaining... on the regular communications frequency...” She pressed a button and they heard it over the room’s speakers.

“Oh, gods! Do you think...”

“Do you think what?”

“It’s them! Record it! Quickly!”

One of the Telcontari technicians scurried to the main control board. The little, furry Telcontari pressed one of the buttons and their equipment started recording the signal.

On the speaker, a computer voice replaced the carrier tone and started counting down in fluent Elyran.

“…twelve… eleven… ten... seven... six... five... four... three... two... one.”

“It’s Earth!” the Dravidian communications chief whispered in awe. They had been waiting for this call for months and months. It was finally here.

Another voice spoke. A male voice. “Great rulers, My Lords and Ladies, noble born. T’Chahn. I am M’klele Okonkwo, a captain of the Fifth Fleet, United Earth Defense Force, and I bring the greetings of our leader, the Secretary-General of our United Nations. We are a day away from Colossus and request permission to approach. We come in peace. We are conveying our new friends from Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia back home, and wish to speak with the Assembly. Further communications will be via regular channels. Please stand by. Thank you.”

The tone came back and slowly faded away.

“By the gods... Contact the Lord Chamberlain now!”

-----

Soon after that transmission, the seven ships of the Fifth Fleet slammed into Federation space. In a matter of nanoseconds, all seven ships decelerated from faster-than-light speed to sublight, and well on the way to being ship-maneuverable. Beth ordered all radio jamming lifted at that point (they had instituted the jamming onboard so that their passengers would not be able to use their instruments to see how the inertia converters worked, and how quick the deceleration was). Ten minutes after that, O’Connell had a radio beacon started, on the frequency they knew the Federation used.

A few hours later, the envoys went over to the bridge and looked at the main screen. Beth asked her people to magnify the image and they saw the large cylindrical station spinning in orbit.

“Look at that, Mia,” Sahsha whispered. “Wow...”

The Earthers were impressed by the size and complexity of the station – its long axis was about three hundred kilometers – which was over two percent of the Earth’s diameter. It was truly vast, and it bristled with antennae, radar and microwave dishes, as well as several little solar panels sticking out of its surface. Six large rings dominated the structure, the middle one with flat platforms sticking out like the wings of a dragonfly. Several ships were mounted on top of the platforms (that is to say, on the leading side in the direction of the station’s spin).

Tasha held Ren’s hand. He was crying silently.

“We’re back, my love,” Ren said. Tasha hugged him to her and kissed his cheek. Mia put her hand on Tasha’s shoulder.

“Has Colossus contacted us?” Daxx asked quietly.

“Not yet,” Mia said, “but we are still a bit far away.” Mia calculated turnover rates in her head and determined that they would be pulling beside Colossus in a little below twenty Earth hours. “Still some time to go,” she said. “And it will take around four Earth hours for radio signals from Colossus to reach us.”

“Oh.”

“Actually, Admiral,” Shepherd’s comms officer said, “we just got a radio signal that just started transmitting. It’s on a repeating cycle so it’s being sent constantly.”

“There is? Let’s hear it, Lieutenant.”

“They’re not expecting for us t receive it yet, given the four-hour radio time lag.” She hit a button.

“T’chahn, honored visitors,” a Dixx officer judging by the voice, said. “The Galactic Federation welcomes you and the Fifth Fleet of Earth to the Zeos System, and anxiously await your arrival at Colossus. In the meantime, may we speak to Admiral Daxx if she is available? One of our colleagues, Ambassador Bilar, is anxious to find out how she is, and how their mission has gone.”

The Federation people only expected a response eight hours later but, nevertheless… O’Connell gestured Daxx to one of the available consoles. Daxx bowed and sat in front of the console.

One of the officers set the controls. “Just press this before you speak, Admiral,” the officer said.

Daxx nodded and depressed the switch.

“T’chahn, my dear Bilar. This is Daxx. I hope you have time. Because I have much to tell you...”

-----

The people on Colossus didn’t expect to hear from them hours ahead of schedule, but were happy to hear from Daxx nevertheless, in four Earth hours instead of eight. They chalked it up to the Earthers magical tech. They were still able to record Daxx’s transmission, however, and everyone on Colossus listened with rapt attention as Daxx reported.

The Dixx, Elyran and Arachnian consulates were dismayed to hear that many of their countrymen perished in the mission, but were moderately cheered by the accomplishments that their people had achieved. The news of the loss of so many ships and citizens was a blow, and needed to be reported to the homeworlds immediately. They quickly dispatched courier ships to Elyra, Dixx Prime and Arachnia Prime, and the other races followed their lead. There was a small exodus of small courier ships from Colossus, and many of them streaked past the Fifth Fleet ships.

Mia’s people informed her that several detection beams had been going over the Fifth Fleet ships in waves, obviously coming from the courier ships. Captain O’Connell said that she suspected that they were deliberately detouring their ships to pass closely by and get data on their ships but O’Connell said it was an easy matter to block their beams. All they got for their trouble were very nice close-up pictures.

-----

Daxx had told them to monitor a specific frequency she specified and, after several hours, they received the Earthers' more detailed compiled video mission report via a tight-beam radio transmission. The people of Colossus watched and listened, slack-jawed, at the information they started receiving, and saw how many of their comrades had died. They then saw their comrades’ escape to Earth and how the Earthers had staged their final confrontation with the Empire invaders. Everyone that had sent out courier ships felt a little frustrated since they could have waited a few hours and had been able to include this. In any case, some of them, including the Dravidians, Dixx and Elyrans sent follow-up courier ships.

They were also amazed because the communication implied that the Earthers were in continuous contact with their homeworld as well as the two Elyran and three Dixx cruisers still on their way to Colossus. Daxx confirmed this in her next signal, and the Dixx excitedly sent back messages to be relayed to the others onboard the remaining three Dixx cruisers. The Elyrans also sent their own messages. Mia’s crew dutifully relayed their responses, which Colossus received about four hours later.

-----

Through another radio message, the Earthers were informed that a reception was being arranged to welcome them. Truth be told, Mia was starting to get real tired of these things. But this time, she was going to meet a whole lot of other aliens, so she was very excited. For example, the Telcontari were hosting the reception.

It was the first time for the Earthers to hear of Telcontar, and the First Ambassador blamed himself for this oversight – most Federation members tend to overlook and discount the Telcontari. Telcontar was one of the newer member planets - the newest, in fact. They had just discovered interstellar space flight when Dravidians stumbled over them about fifty thousand Earth years ago, but it was the consensus that they were quite qualified to be members nevertheless. Still, the senior and most powerful races tend to overlook such junior members. The Elyrans could identify with this since this happened to them early in their apprenticeship as a Federation member race. Even so, they were also guilty of overlooking the Telcontari - this prejudice seemed to have infected the Elyran contingent, too, and Ren and Tasha felt shame for this, so they tried to rectify this deficiency by telling the Earthers about the Telcontari right away.

Ren explained that, per the practice on Colossus, many of the administrative posts were given to Telcontari. It was their way of familiarizing new members with the inner workings of the Federation government. This was one of the many intricate things that the allied races had learned to do over the eons in learning to administer the Federation, and as part of learning to live with and adjust to each other. So it was not surprising that the Telcontari will be their hosts.

This started a flood of questions from everyone, so Ren and the First Ambassador decided to conduct a more formal briefing for Mia and her officers.

Ben and Nick arranged for the briefing in Mia’s office, and Ben decided to start it with a short geography lesson.

-----

Ben had a diagram displayed on Mia’s 3-D conference screen. The Federation’s territory was marked red while the Tiros Empire was in blue.

Roughly speaking, the Federation’s territory was shaped like a somewhat elongated egg, with Colossus roughly in the middle of the thickest part of the egg, and the Earth at the farthest edge of the round part of the shell. The Tiros Empire’s territory was a shapeless mass that was on the far side of the Federation, with Earth between them.

“I believe Telcontar is here,” the First Ambassador said, pointing to a spot that was at the edge of Federation territory directly opposite of the Earth. It was right at the narrowest tip of the “egg.” An almost straight line could be drawn from Earth to Colossus to Telcontar, which made it the farthest Federation planet to Earth.

“As you may know, the Federation has been expanding its territory and sphere of influence in this direction.” He traced a line from Colossus to Telcontar and further on. “But we have not been having luck finding habitable planets. Telcontar was actually the first that we had come across in about fifty thousand Earth years. It was both a blessing and a disappointment when we found Telcontar. For, although they provided additional diversity and new capabilities and skills to Federation culture, their civilization was still confined to their home system. Other new planets remain to be discovered.

“Telcontari are not foremost in Federation culture, to be sure. They are, after all, the youngest among all the member planets. But they do provide a unique perspective that has yet to make an impact on our worlds.”

“What perspective is that, Ambassador?” Mia said.

“The Telcontari are much like us Arachnians in that we give importance to family and clan, that to be a member of a family is a high honor.”

“I suppose that perspective is something most races can claim.”

“True, but for the Telcontari, they believe that becoming part of a family is not a privilege available only to a few, but something that should be available to anyone.

“To be sure, Telcontari demand fealty to one’s family and clan, and to not bring dishonor to them. Their penalties are far greater than even the penalties Elyrans, Dixx and we Arachnians impose. No, the difference is that, despite this, the Telcontari are not miserly in terms of family. They welcome all comers, and evaluate them in a very impartial and unprejudiced way, on a level unprecedented for any advanced society, and they expect the same from others. No other Federation race is as open.”

“I don’t understand, Ambassador,” Nick said. “Wouldn’t an advanced people recognize the value of new things and new ideas?”

“Of course,” the Ambassador said, “but in order for a society to exist, a set of norms, of rules, of ethics, even of aesthetics, has to be observed and imposed, otherwise there would only be chaos. I suppose we are too set in our ways. As for the Telcontari, they are willing to put aside rules, ethics – whatever, and consider another perspective, so long as it furthers the common good.”

“But, Ambassador, surely the idea of a common good requires the application of rules and ethics...”

“That is absolutely correct, Lieutenant. I suppose, like all sentient beings, they still have fundamental, visceral biologically-driven needs that give rise to ideas of a fundamental right and wrong. The need to live, for example, and to procreate. But to them, everything else that accrues from that, like not to kill another, or the ideas of beauty – they are fair game. So long as they themselves survive, and they are able to procreate, anything else is worth considering.”

“That doesn’t make them sound like good people.”

The Ambassador windmilled his arms – the gesture of Arachnian laughter.

“I apologize, Lieutenant, if that was the impression I gave. They are actually a very likeable people. Almost to a fault. They like to be friends, with the hope of being included and being made part of another group or family, so to speak. And they don’t understand the reaction of the more, shall we say, clannish, races, who are not as open.”

“Ahhh.”

“As a result, Telcontari find it difficult to find advancement in many areas of society dominated by more clannish races like, say, the Dravidians or the Erocii, and, until recently, the Dixx and us Arachnians. And as you know, these are some of the most influential races in the Federation.”

“Then why are they hosting us now?”

“Management of the Federation government is via rotation. I will try and use Earth Base-10 numbers. So. A member race’s place in the rotation is determined by drawing lots, which is performed every hundred millennia, and the time apportioned to each is divided equally so that each race will have about an equal chance to govern – about seventy times between each new rotation at present, each time about twenty years. This is called ‘custodianship.’

“But because Telcontar is new, she will only have a chance to become part of the rotation at the next lottery, which will happen ten Earth years from now.

“Telcontar is not the only race to find itself in this position – all of us had gone through that. Federation society feels bad for these people because of this. As a sort of recompense, administrative duties and ceremonial events like this have been put under their purview, so welcoming newcomers, at least this time around, is going to be managed by the Federation’s youngest children.”

“Well, I’ll be glad to meet them,” Mia said.

The briefing continued and they learned more of the Telcontari, and the inner workings of the Federation government, but they had to cut it short since they were nearing Colossus.

-----

Earth’s Fifth Fleet arrived in Colossus’ sphere of responsibility with much fanfare. When they were a few hundred thousand kilometers from Colossus (therefore within visual reception) missiles were fired at them. But Prince Ren said they were not meant to harm. They all exploded well away from Mia’s seven ships, and a lot of multicolored lights exploded around them.

“Fireworks!” Mia laughed delightedly.

The gases and trace metallic dust that the exploding missiles spread caused a multicolored cloud of sparks to surround the ships.

O’Connell asked Second Engineer Haskell if their little display might interfere with their comms and navigation. Haskell checked and, aside from the pretty light show, the Shepherd Moon and the other ships were not bothered.

“Captain,” the officer manning Navigation said. “Reception committee approaching.”

What Earthers were told to be Dravidian capital ships met them and imposed themselves between Colossus and the Earthers. It was a blunt gesture – to show that they were there to protect Colossus. But Earthers didn’t hold it against them, knowing that the Dravidians were just doing their jobs.

In Engineering, the Shepherd Moon’s chief engineer looked over the Dravidian ships via long-distance video. The ships reminded her of the old-style Dreadnought-class ships - extremely large and bulky. But these were not “blimps.” Even so, they were, in fact, twice the size of the dreadnoughts.

The Phase-Wave pulses and radar beams that she showered them with revealed that massive electromagnetic shield generators were the main reason for their enormous sizes, which gave a clue to the kind of gravity fields they could produce. These were very powerful ships. And all of that power which was needed to run those generators could make their offensive and defensive capabilities very impressive, indeed.

Shepherd Moon’s computer had started to churn the Phase-Wave data that they were getting, but that would take maybe an hour or so of processing. So, for now, they made do with visual analysis.

“What do you think, Haskell?” she asked her Second Engineer as they reviewed the pictures.

“Well, look at these, Chief.” He pointed at a row of turrets. “Some kind of pulse emitters.”

“They aren’t detectors. They’re offensive weapons. And there are a lot of them.”

“Too many, I think. And look at those open ports on both the dorsal and ventral sides. Missile ports?”

“Probably.”

“And look at those.” The ships were mostly sharp edges and flat angles made up of thick, bolted-together metal plates. Most of them were sticking out from the deck. “Didn’t they bother to trim those back? It’s like they just bolted a bunch of plates and bulkheads together and left it at that.”

“Yeah. Those ships are the ugliest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen. But those plates would make these ships extremely strong, too. With the hull so thick, these ships don’t need any load bearing structures.”

“It’s not just that, Chief.” He adjusted the controls and zoomed in on the plates.

On the thick edge of one of the untrimmed plates, they could see pipes that ran through them sticking out, and then going back into the metal. “Those have got to be structural integrity field conduits. If they are, those ships will be motherfucking strong!”

The chief nodded. “Language, Commander. But, yes, I agree. If we go up against them, it’ll be like trying to beat up a lump of rock with bare knuckles. Start making notes, Haskell, and be sure to pass it back to the Captain.”

Haskell moved the picture around further. “Lots of maneuvering jets.”

“Yeah. Don’t they use antigrav thrusters or even inertial flywheels for God’s sake?”

“Maybe they do.”

“Then why all of those chemical thrusters?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, keep on making those notes.”

 

Uniforms –

Mia, along with Sahsha, Nick, Beth O’Connell, Ren, Tasha, Daxx and the First Ambassador, boarded the “Admiral’s Barge.” Two squads of soldiers made up of almost equal numbers of Earther Marines, Elyrans and Dixx followed, all wearing United Earth Defense Force uniforms with the Fifth Fleet’s insignia patch on the left shoulder and their individual ship’s patch on the right. The uniforms of the Dixx were specially tailored, of course.

Several Arachnians followed, wearing their own Earth “uniforms,” as well.

-----

The idea of an integrated crew was first brought up by Daxx’s exec a few weeks into the trip and, surprisingly, all the Dixx and Elyrans were enthusiastic about the idea. It had all started with Tasha’s security people working out with the Shepherd Moon’s Marines, and the idea of really becoming part of the Fifth Fleet, not just in name, had spread. The Shepherd Moon’s quartermaster had started fabricating equivalent Fifth Fleet uniforms for their visitors. The quartermaster even put nameplates on their lookalike EarthForce uniforms except, with the new uniforms, their patches were bilingual – in both Earther Roman script and Elyran script. The idea of uniform insignias and patches were new to the Dixx and Elyrans but they thought them wonderful innovations and adopted them wholeheartedly.

Mia had heard all about the thing with the uniforms, and put in a priority call to Jennifer Priestly asking for advice.

Jennifer said that something like this was sort of anticipated, given the feudal nature of Federation societies: their Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian friends were eager to be part of the Fifth Fleet “family,” and as in many cultures, symbols and accoutrements were an important part of that. It was similar to a video fan copying her idol’s clothes, or an Anglophile trying to speak with an English accent. Jenn’s advice was to let the Federation people do what they wanted. In fact, if the Earthers didn't, the aliens would lose a great deal of face, and that was to be avoided as much as possible.

So Mia called Silverman and explained their situation. The Admiral, following Jennifer’s and Mia’s advice, then made arrangements for all the crewmembers of the five remaining Federation ships to be made official members of EarthForce’s Fifth Fleet.

So, using the selective conscription provision under the United Nations’ Conscription Act of 2299, the remainder of the Federation’s expedition to the Earth System was now an official part of the Fifth Fleet, including their ships. For lack of a better word, a “contract” was drawn up to the effect that the Federation crew were to observe four things:

(1) that they were to put themselves under the command of the Fifth Fleet’s commander, and to observe the Fifth Fleet’s integrated chain of command (this chain of command was spelled out in the contract as well. In essence, the equivalents of ranks used by any of the four species were observed, except that Daxx’s and Tasha’s ranks were to be considered below the Fleet Admiral’s);

(2) that they should obey all lawful commands, as reckoned by Earth law and their own homeworlds’ laws (Earth laws taking precedent);

(3) that they treat everyone in the fleet with dignity and respect, and;

(4) if they were unable to fulfill any of the three provisions for whatever reason, they had the option of collectively terminating the contract, as well as all of its provisos and penalties following a period no shorter that 9.3 Earth days (the equivalent of one Elyran week) after the Fifth Fleet’s entire command staff was so informed. These rules would not apply to other Earther forces, however – the Federation crews’ loyalties would only be to the Fifth Fleet.

For their part, the Fifth Fleet Earthers would follow the same rules as well. It wasn’t that big a departure from their current way of doing things, except that many of them found that, under the new chain of command, they were now under alien commanding officers, and some of them now had aliens as part of their command.

That wouldn’t be a problem for Mia for a while, though, since the three Dixx and two Elyran ships were still on their slower route to Colossus.

-----

It was a big deal to Daxx’s and Tasha’s Dixx and Elyran crews, however.

Everyone quickly traded their old uniforms for Fifth Fleet ones (though they weren’t required to do so – it was just something they wanted to do) and put their other suits in their lockers. As for Tasha, Daxx and the others onboard the Shepherd Moon, up to that point they still wore their old uniforms, but Mia thought it was the appropriate time to start making up uniforms for them, and the first sets came out just in time for this little ceremony. The uniforms were in styles and had accoutrements appropriate to their physique and equivalent positions (Tasha, Ren and Daxx got Admirals’ uniforms). Of course, the Arachnians couldn’t wear humaniform (or more appropriately “Elyraniform”) clothes so O’Connell’s quartermasters made arm brassards for them that had the appropriate names, titles and emblems.

In deference to the aliens’ new uniforms, Silverman required all of Mia’s people to make slight adjustments to their own as well – specifically, to make their name patches bilingual, too. That was easily done, and it didn’t ruin the look of their clothes – something that navy people put a lot of importance in.

-----

The “Admiral’s Barge” lifted off the Shepherd’s deck and was followed by the eight Elyran and Dixx fighters.

Mia’s pilot followed the directions radioed by Colossus, and they drifted into Colossus’ main landing pad shortly. All nine landed almost simultaneously.

When the big pressure doors closed, jets of air were directed at the eight fighter ships to blast away the remaining chemical fumes from them.

Exhaust fans took the fumes away and the deck filled up with fresh air. As for Mia’s shuttle, it lifted off again using its antigravs, but this time just six inches off the deck, and moved closer towards the passenger airlock doors.

It pirouetted around so its loading ramp faced towards the doors, and settled down.

This maneuver surprised the Federation people. They thought the Earther shuttle to be a conventional ship, but it actually had antigravs. It wasn’t unheard of for small ships to have antigravs, but there were only a few of them around due to their expense.

The eight pilots climbed down from their fighters and rushed to the side of the Earther shuttle. They formed in two rows of four, the Elyrans in the front row, the taller Dixx at the back, and they stood at attention.

From the shuttle, a boom was raised – almost like an antenna, except it was thicker. At the top of it was a little cage with a yochu grub inside. After a moment, the little yochu’s skin rippled with bands of multicolored hues.

The effect was like that of a squid, octopus or cuttlefish trying to blend in with the background. But after a moment, its colors went back to its usual pasty hue. To the shuttle’s occupants, that meant that the environment outside was safe. The boom was retracted and Mia’s party debarked from the shuttle. They formed into one line with three of their “Marines”, plus one Arachnian, carrying the flags of the U.N., the Fifth Fleet, the Shepherd Moon’s colors, and a red triangular banner with the Federation’s sigil.

They formed another wide-spaced line in front of Mia, and the other soldiers took ready positions around the entire party, with weapons drawn.

The symbolism was clear – those carrying the flags were made up of an Earther, an Elyran, a Dixx and an Arachnian, which meant that the new arrivals were representing Earth, Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia, and though they came in peace, they also came with weapons therefore signaling that they were prepared to defend themselves.

Slowly, a band of Federation officials came out. It was a motley mix of Dravidians, Axons, Erocii, Daemons, Kembels, Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians, plus half a dozen representatives from Star 453-A. At their lead were Telcontari.

To the Earthers, the Telcontari looked like little, white polar bear cubs with very thick and fuzzy prehensile tails that walked on their hind legs. Their arms were as thick as their legs but were clearly arms that ended with prehensile three-fingered hands.

“They’re sooo cute!” whispered Sahsha to Nick and Mia, and they all couldn’t help but grin.

The bear-like Telcontari went over to Mia’s party, bowed in the Elyran manner and proceeded to put medallions around everyone’s necks. The Earthers took their cue from the Dixx and bowed so the little bear-like sophonts could slip the ribbons around their necks.

After the Telcontari scurried back, the Dravidian in the lead, the Lord Chamberlain of Colossus, stepped forward and made a short five-minute welcoming speech that he read from a scroll. Mia bowed and gave her own five-minute speech, but hers was off-the-cuff. She’d gotten a lot of practice over recent months and was easily able to make up the speech.

Thankfully, after that little ceremony, there were no more... rituals, and everyone moved forward to greet them. The Federation representatives were relieved that the Earthers all seemed to know Elyran, and were freely able to converse. The Earther style of greeting, i.e. shaking hands, was a little unusual but everyone gamely tried it.

One of the reasons that the Federation welcoming party was so large was because they didn’t know who were coming. And they had to have people of the same social standing as each member of the arriving party so that they would have someone to converse with. Since Federation culture was so socially stratified and class-aware, this was the only way they knew to do.

The First Ambassador had explained during their briefings earlier that this would most likely be the case. Such a thing was a Dravidian practice, and it would have been the norm at the moment, since Colossus was currently being managed by the Dravidians (it was the Dravidians’ time, after all, to manage the Federation government).

It was like a little cocktail party, complete with fluted crystal glasses of krahnng that the little Telcontari helpers handed to everyone. Everyone sipped at their cold, fizzy krahnng and got to know everyone else. (In deference to Elyran custom, everyone was offered small lifesigns detectors that they could use to test their beverage, or anything else they wanted to test. The visitors politely declined them, however, preferring to use their own).

One of the First Ambassador’s staff had helpfully explained to the Colossus reception committee who was who, as well as the social standing of each visitor, as the Arachnians currently understood them. Various Federation aliens came over and made beelines for specific people – those that they deemed were of equal social standing as they. The Dravidians felt a little scandalized, however, since the Telcontari were unmindful of any social borders and freely mingled with everyone. Because of that, however, Mia had an opportunity to observe the little, furry aliens up close.

Though the Dravidians looked superficially similar to the Telcontari, in that both had a bear-like aspect to their look, the Dravidians looked more like the large, ten-foot tall brown bears native to the North American continent, whereas the Telcontaris looked more like small, white, upright polar bear cubs.

Also, it was automatically evident that, unlike the Dravidians, the Telcontari had some trouble with the Elyran language. Because of the way their mouths were constructed, they had problems with the plosive consonants that Elyran and English use. Because of this, Telcontari speech was full of “F” sounds in place of “P,” and “V” in place of “B.” Plus their vocal cords and smaller speech parts made their voices sound like puppies.

And, because they were small, childlike and seemingly helpless, this made Elyrans and Earthers genetically predisposed to like them. Earthers even had a word to describe them – to Earthers (and Elyrans), they were “cute” – yet another word that the Elyrans co-opted into their language. Of course, the Telcontari’s helplessness was largely an illusion – they were capable space-farers with a civilization older than the Earthers’.

Though stilted at the beginning, the little cocktail party quickly developed into an enjoyable though not boisterous time. And much of that was due to the representatives from Star 453-A. Despite how they looked, it was explained to the Earthers that these were not intelligent robots. They were inhabitants of several planets that orbited a red giant star not too far from Earth, as galactic distances go.

In their distant history, the people from Star 453-A had to find a way to survive their situation – their star had started the process of becoming a red giant and, as a consequence, their planet’s global temperature started increasing, its water reserves started disappearing and large parts of its ecosystem slowly started to shut down and die off. And since they didn’t have the option of relocating, they did the best they could and moved underground. For over a millennium, it worked. But through succeeding generations, their physical forms started to become less viable. They were able to arrest the slow decrease of their lifespans by replacing failing organs and body parts with artificial substitutes. In time, they found it easier to replace almost all of their major body systems with artificial robotic replacements immediately after birth. After several hundred thousand more years, the developing red-giant star would swallow all the planets of their system, but they already had several colonies in other systems and were prepared to relocate once they had no choice anymore.

So, although they were technically biological beings, the means by which they interacted with the outside universe was via their robotic bodies. As a consequence, their species was the most technologically advanced in the Federation, though Ren privately thought that distinction was soon to be supplanted by the Earthers.

In any case, these robotic aliens were very fascinating to the Earthers and most Federation citizens, and they helped to break the ice of first contact.

-----

After a while, when drinks and conversation started to get low, the party broke up and the visitors were offered guest quarters as well as facilities to contact their ships. They were formally told that, in ten and one-quarter hours, they would be invited to attend the next Galactic Assembly, and they might find it more convenient to stay onboard until then.

This was one of their goals, after all, so Mia quickly and formally received the invitation from the Lord Chamberlain, bowing low in the Elyran fashion. Later on, she would find that Daxx’s friend, Ambassador Bilar, engineered it. It was unheard of that an invitation would be extended so quickly.

Bilar herself was supposed to personally extend the invitation but the Chamberlain used his position to supersede her and took the honor of extending the invitation himself. Bilar couldn’t take offense since, per the Chamber Rules, the Lord Chamberlain had the responsibility for arranging for the actual invitation. Of course, the reason for this rule was because such invitations usually required arranging for courier ships to be sent to the dignitary’s home planet.

As they were ushered into their quarters, they were discussing that particular thing.

(Unbeknownst to anyone, some of Mia’s people surreptitiously turned on some devices to mask, block or jam any recording or spy devices. After which, the Earthers felt secure enough to talk freely.)

As they sat down, the First Ambassador explained that the time interval specified by the Telcontari was for the following morning, Colossus time. Tasha said that it may be a ceremonial kind of assembly since it wasn’t on the schedule for the year. She showed Mia her old copy of the Federation’s council schedule, and it wasn’t on it.

So Mia had a contingent of four go to her shuttle to pick up all of their dress uniforms. Tasha sent a message back to the Shepherd Moon and explained the situation. The First Ambassador went to the wall intercom and called the Chief Protocol Officer, asking if tomorrow’s meeting was ceremonial or a conference. They were told that it was actually a real conference, to ask the Earther representatives for a report, but that it would be a formal one, as well.

They were expecting that and they came prepared. With the help of the First Ambassador, Ren, Tasha and Daxx, Mia had prepared a presentation, which they rehearsed. The Earthers had even fabricated a bunch of Elyran-style data cubes to allow them to interface with Colossus’ equipment so that they could display their presentation properly.

To the side of their quarters’ lounge area was a bank of what looked like vending machines, and to the right of them were several bowls with what looked like pens. Daxx explained that they were actually lifesigns detectors. The ones with red tips were for Elyran physiology while the others were for Dixx and Arachnian.

Mia nodded. She scanned through the little labels they had, and selected a large tumbler of iced krahnng and an Arachnian “vegetable custard.” The color and texture looked similar to sweet English egg custard. Mia had her fingers crossed that it was like English custard.

The First Ambassador pinwheeled his upper arms.

“Now what,” Mia said in mock exasperation. “Why are you laughing again?”

“You realize, of course, My Lady,” the First Ambassador said, “that Arachnian dishes are mostly savory.”

She looked at him. “You’re saying that this isn’t a sweet custard?”

“I like it myself. But I cannot vouch for Earther palates.”

Mia experimentally got a spoonful of the “custard” (with something that looked like the spoons she was used to), and put it in her mouth. And, though the look and texture of the “custard” was what she expected, it was very bitter, spicy and salty.

Everyone looked at Mia expectantly.

“Well,” she said, and chased it down with a big gulp of krahnng. Everyone laughed. After that, all the Earthers started asking what the dishes in the vending machines were, selected those that sounded tasty, and it turned into a kind of picnic.

-----

The following “morning” found them in the main Assembly Hall of Colossus, which was called the Shihayn. Mia couldn’t help but compare it to the U.N. General Assembly Hall. This one had steep tiers and bigger places for the delegates (some enclosed by a kind of transparent dome), which allowed everyone a more unrestricted view of the people speaking. But then again there were only about eighty delegates and their missions as opposed to about two hundred twenty in the New U.N. Mia couldn’t help but think how much better-looking the Shihayn was compared to the GA, but then again the U.N. building was from a design circa 1947 Earth.

The First Ambassador and Tasha elected to join their Federation mission colleagues so that their embassies would be properly represented. This would be doubly important if ever there would be a vote called since they would be able to influence it if ever that became necessary.

Still, the First Ambassador wore his EarthForce brassard proudly. And since Ren and Daxx were not officially part of their embassy staff, they elected to stay with Mia, and stood proudly with the Earthers on the dais – a move not lost on the gathered Assembly.

Mia was chosen as the sole speaker for the Earthers and stood in front of her group. She looked very professional and formal in her dress jacket, white tights and boots, with her glowing ceremonial sword adding a further visual touch to her look that was intriguing and unique. Ren, Daxx, Sahsha, Nick and her other colleagues stood behind her. They were not expected to speak, but that was the style. She found this style of presenting a little different from what they were used to, but she didn’t mind. It was a chance to learn how the Federation does things.

Following the Telcontari assistants were their Earther, Elyran and Dixx “Marines” in ceremonial armor. They surrounded her group, the ones in front standing on the conference floor itself instead of directly in front of her on the dais. Otherwise, they would block her and the delegates would not be able to see her. On either side of her were two Arachnian “personal guards,” actually two scientist colleagues of the First Ambassador wearing their EarthForce “uniforms,” with ceremonial Arachnian swords drawn and “ferociously” surveying everyone coming near, seemingly prepared to attack anyone who approached Mia. (Later, Tasha and the First Ambassador would say that they had a hard time controlling their laughter, seeing these two gentle academicians trying to act like a couple of heavies, but they were the only two Arachnians from Shepherd Moon that could be spared.)

Mia got a storage cube from her jacket’s pocket and handed it to a Telcontari clerk who installed it in the dais’ display controls.

Another Telcontari then approached her, bowed in the Elyran way, and handed her what looked like a microphone on a long cord. In her earpiece, she heard the First Ambassador explain that it was indeed a microphone with simple button-controls on the side to trigger and control her presentation file, which would be presented on the large screen mounted over their heads and on the wall behind them.

She gazed at the massed alien delegates looking at them. She was itching to start, but the First Ambassador said in her earpiece, not yet.

After a while, she heard the start of what she thought of as applause, and she was cued by the First Ambassador to bow. The applause continued and she straightened up. She gestured at her colleagues behind her, and they bowed together. It continued for an embarrassing two minutes, but it eventually faded away. Before it completely faded away, Mia was cued.

In consideration of those who could not clearly see her, they had decided for something to clearly identify her as an Earther and not an Elyran, and she had come up with a gesture.

She brought up the hand not holding the microphone, fingers splayed and palm facing outward. Ren and Sahsha cooked up the gesture. It highlighted the fact that, she had five fingers instead of four, that, despite the fact that Earthers looked like Elyrans, they weren’t.

A hissing kind of murmuring spread amongst the observing delegates, somewhat like how a crowd of humans would go “ahhh” when they saw something amazing or something of great import.

When the crowd settled down, she brought up the microphone, pressed a button and the first frame of their visuals was displayed on the overhead screen. So she began her prepared speech, accompanied by the images and sounds they had so painstakingly prepared and compiled.

 

English translation of the speech of Lady Amelia Catherine Steele, Admiral of the Fifth Fleet, to the Galactic Federation –

“My Lords and Ladies of the Galactic Federation, thank you for your warm welcome. I am Lady Amelia Catherine Steele, Admiral of the Fifth Fleet of the United Earth Defense Force. I come in place of my commander, Fleet Admiral Benjamin Silverman, and in behalf of our leader, Madame Alexandra Romarkin, Secretary-General of our United Nations. I am here in their place to speak for the Humankind of Earth, and to tell you what has recently taken place in Earth System.

“As you know, several months ago, an expedition composed of representatives of the Galactic Federation, the Elyrans, Dixx and Arachnians came to the Sol System in answer to our invitation, and to extend the hand of friendship from their peoples to ours. We knew of their coming, and traveled to meet them partway at a location seven billion and five hundred million kilometers from our homeworld. But we were unable to meet them. A fleet of twenty-two spacecraft from the Tiros Star Empire, led by their Detterex flagship Defiant, had intercepted them, on a mission to eliminate our Federation visitors before they made contact with us. Hear now the images and voices of Defiant.”

(“Coming out of light-speed, and ship-maneuverable in eight and three-eights minutes. Prepare to launch attack according to plan as soon as able. By order of Princess Arvan.” - “Commence attack. All warriors, launch.”)

“As you heard, the Lady Arvan, Crown Princess of the Ruling House of Detterex, helped to lead the enemy’s forces. There is no doubt that the Detterex Empire, the close ally of the Tirosians, orchestrated this attack, at least in part. It is a foregone conclusion that the Tiros Star Empire and the Detterex Empire have entered into war, albeit covertly, against the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian peoples, and, therefore, against the Galactic Federation itself.

“We endeavored to protect the Federation representatives without engaging in hostilities with either party, but the Tirosians fired upon us. We therefore defended ourselves, as well as your comrades. See and hear now our images and voices.”

(“Shit, that’s Peebo. Goddamn.” - “Seeker squadron, fire at will!” - “Attention Elyran spacecraft, attention Elyran spacecraft. This is Captain Steele from the Earth battleship Seeker. We are coming in to help you. Do not fire on our ships. We are friendly craft, repeat – we are friendly ships. Hold your fire.” - “Those are Earth ships! Pilot, they are Earth ships.” - “Princess! Did you hear that? They are Earth ships. They’ve come to help us.” - “The Earthers have drawn away the Empire vermin for the moment. We can launch our fighters now.” - “B-team, incoming friendly ships. Repeat, incoming planes. The Elyrans are here. Hold your fire.” - “There’s an emergency. The other cruisers in your fleet are taking a hard beating. We are going over to help.” - “B-team. Disperse and attack second group of spacecraft!”)

“In the Battle of Pluto, four out of the nine Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian ships perished, but we and the Federation expedition were able to exact a higher toll on the enemy. Eight of their twenty-two ships were eliminated.

“We then accompanied the remaining five Elyran and Dixx cruisers as they made their way to Mother Earth, but, while en route, the enemy tried to intercept them again near our system’s sixth planet, Saturn, deploying a new, insidious weapon they called the ‘Curtain of Light.’

“In a pitched battle, with the able assistance of Earth’s colony on Saturn, my forces were able to fend them off, eliminating eleven of their remaining fourteen cruisers. See and hear now our images and voices.”

(“It’s moving towards Saturn fast, and decelerating.” - “Maybe it’s a natural phenomenon?” - “This phenomenon has jammed all electromagnetic signals in the system? No radio, no radar? The only thing I can think of that could fit this is... Your Highness, does the phrase ‘curtain of light’ mean anything to you?” - “Navigation, set a course for Titan Colony, best speed.” - “We’ll take care of locating the missing ships. In the meantime, protect Titan.” - “Commodore Oshiro, we are sending you telemetry. The data transmission via laser comm.” “Getting it now, Captain.” - “They’re on continuous deceleration and heading for the rings, sir, on a direct line to Titan.” - “We’re seeing it here, Captain. And they’re not being shy about it, either.” - “They’ve just launched their fighters.” - “How close will they pass?” - “If the enemy is going to attack Titan and does not care about not disturbing the rings, or worry about reprisals, they should make a direct line to the colony. That means they’ll be passing close.” - “All right, it’s our turn. Weapons – fire tubes four, eight, nine and thirteen.” - “Captain, the enemy has fired. Distance closing rapidly.” - “Get ready to fire anti-missiles...” - “Helm! Are you ready?” - “Controls are set, Captain. Awaiting your order.” - “Execute!” - “Weapons, fire all forward tubes straight ahead!”)

(“A great warrior race, made in thy image, will come from over the horizon, to herald the coming of war, and do battle against thine enemies. Kingdoms will be cast asunder. Fire and destruction will rain from the heavens...’” - “The warrior race of legend… what if the Earthers were that race?” - “… woe to those who stand against the light, for they will be cast in eternal darkness. And from their ashes they will let emerge a new age, renewing the eternal cycle, and these Warriors will protect thee from those who would harm thee, until the coming of the Great Ones.’”)

(“Captain! Phase-Wave and all systems are back! Deflectors are back!” - “All right! Contact all our Shrikes and Turtles. Have them execute the same maneuver as Kajima and Lassiter. Go!” - “Seeker to Yamato, Musashi and Shinano – be advised, we are returning to re-engage the enemy.”)

“We then continued on to Earth, having taken out eleven of the enemy’s ships. We believed that was the end, and we were safe from further attacks, but our systems tracked the remaining three enemy ships and they were closing in on us. We were forced to engineer an engagement at the moon, Mother Earth’s lone satellite, to stop them from continuing on to Earth.”

(“Dear old Seeker has been through a lot these past months, and I am sure the Admiral will agree with me that she has performed most exemplarily. And that is largely because of all of you. The Admiral told me once that Seeker’s crew is the best in the fleet. I happen to agree. And if we do not get through this, I just wanted to let you all know that it has been a privilege serving with you. But I believe we will get through this, and it all depends on you once again. Everyone stay sharp, stay at your posts and we’ll get through this.” - “Fifth Fleet and Federation cruisers are two minutes from lunar orbit. The Enemy ships are behind and below us. They’ve slackened acceleration more to compensate for their course change...T minus one minute thirty now.” - “Sound collision alarm.” - “That’s it! The lunar launchers got them dead on!”)

“And, although we found their ‘Curtain of Light’ still functioning, we were successful in bringing down their three remaining ships, and quickly proceeded to take all survivors prisoner.”

(“Okay. That means their EM device is still live. Have Commander Kajima launch all Shrikes and Turtles as soon as our Marines are onboard the Turtles. Weapons, do not fire on the enemy, but maintain anti-missile defenses.” - “This is the Admiral to all Turtles – make for the crater rim two kilometers to the right of the lead cruiser. All Marines to disembark on the far side of the crater rim and make their way to the nearest cruiser on foot. The mission is to capture the ship intact. All squad leaders will take command of their own squads but will coordinate their movements with the Captain onboard Seeker. All Shrike pilots will provide air cover and relay all observations to Seeker’s Comms.” - “All right, people, execute!” - “Ladies and gentlemen of the Seeker. This is the Admiral. We shall be boarding the cruiser through this hull breach. Our mission is to locate the EM suppression equipment and disable it, and to hold our ground until reinforcements arrive to help us capture the ship intact. Everyone is to take their instructions from their squad leaders. Squad leaders, get your squads organized and get them in there. Is everyone clear?” - “Aye!” - “Yes, sir!” - “All right then, Execute!” - “Fire on those things! Fire!”)

“We were successful in deactivating the device, as well as capturing all the survivors of the enemy vessels.”

(“This is the Admiral! Come in, Seeker!” - “Aye, sir! This is the Seeker!” - “Glad to hear you, Seeker. Am pleased to report that the EM Suppression Field has been deactivated, and we have captured the generator intact.”)

“We were, however, unable to capture the Detterex leader, and she was able to escape.”

(“Yes indeed, she did contain the ‘Curtain of Light’ generator, and we were able to capture it intact and switched it off. But, checking through all the crew and survivors, and checking the entire ship itself, we were unable to find Lord Norga and Princess Arvan.” - “Unfortunately, this ship was found after the EM field was switched off, and was already flying at speed before anyone noticed it. This spacecraft is now already too far away for anyone to be able to do anything.” - “Lady Amelia, are you saying that the Detterex Princess has been able to escape?” - “That’s correct, Your Highness. It is our conclusion that, while the remaining three Empire ships were pursuing us, she launched her escape craft under the cloak of the EM suppression field. Analysis of its trajectory indicates that it is on its way to Detterex, where Princess Arvan will undoubtedly raise the alarm.” - “What are the turnover times, My Lady?” - “We don’t have precise numbers yet, but we believe Princess Arvan should be arriving in Detterex in approximately twelve Earth months.” - “Well...” - “I know, Your Highness, and you are right. Our problem is clear-cut, but there is still time.”)

“Indeed there is still time. But nevertheless there is still much to do, and it must be done quickly and decisively. If we assume that they have prepared for an outcome where their forces are defeated, they may just be waiting for a signal to activate such plans. The arrival of the Lady Arvan may be such a signal. Word must be sent to all major planets as quickly as possible.

“My people, together with the Elyran, Dixx and Arachnian nations are formally declaring war against the Detterex and Tirosian Invaders. A communiqué to this effect has been prepared, and will be dispatched to the two empires’ homeworlds through official channels. Earth has commenced preparations for war, and we will soon be ready to defend our world against any attack. And once word gets back to their homeworlds as well, Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia will be as well. We believe we have no choice. We do this for the sake of those we lost, for honor’s sake, and for the sake of freedom…

“But our news is not all dark. We also bring glad tidings. I am privileged to announce that Earth Government has entered into a comprehensive alliance with Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia, guaranteeing the protection and safe passage of all Earth and Federation citizens on any of our worlds.

“We have also entered into an agreement that guarantees free and unimpeded commerce and tourism, and a mutual defense treaty for mutual protection between Earth, Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia. We were unable to make the agreement universal because, as you know, there are many considerations that will require individual agreements with any worlds that wish to engage in commerce with us.

“We have also begun sharing cultural, scientific and technical knowledge thereby enriching our four peoples both materially and culturally, and taking the first steps to becoming closer as people. Technology relating to space travel, computing systems, electronics, construction, food production and communications are part of what we have been sharing, so that we may benefit from each others’ material gifts. Our new friends gifted us with the technology behind your life detectors enabling us to start our own yochu breeding program. We, in turn have shared our Seren communications system, which would allow our new friends to improve their communications a thousand-fold.

“We have also started sharing our customs and traditions with each other in an effort to become better friends and neighbors. As we learn more and more about each other, we have learned that we are more alike than not. We have enjoyed, for example the historical dramas that the Elyrans and Dixx have introduced us to, and we are all admirers of the First Ambassador’s poetry. We have in turn introduced Earth television to our new friends, and Admiral Daxx has become an avid viewer.

“We have also outlined agreements relating to commerce and travel between our worlds, and, as soon as our treaties become recognized and accepted across all of our worlds, we can expect commerce to begin in earnest. We are awaiting our first shipments of krahnng, and we shall, in turn be shipping wine, Rocky Road ice cream and cheese, the favorites of Admiral Daxx, Lady Tasha and the First Ambassador.

“We have also dedicated an embassy on Earth for their use as ambassadorial offices and quarters for the Earth diplomatic missions of Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia. Representative Cale of the Dravidian Republics and Dr. Autumn-Sun-Rising-in-the-East from Eros Prime have also set up interim diplomatic residences as well while they explore the possibilities of permanent diplomatic and commercial relations with our government. In future, however, the ten square kilometers of the facility will be more than able to accommodate other missions from the Federation.

“There is much to celebrate, even as we mourn the loss of so many friends and comrades. But, as I said, there is still much to do before we can. In earnest of this, I bring a plea from my people. The Humans of Earth formally apply for membership to the Galactic Federation. We submit ourselves to the honored gentlebeings of the Federation Assembly, and hope to have an audience with the Chamber of Migration and Peerage at its earliest convenience. We pray that it be soon as we have many pressing matters of security and race that depend on the outcome of our application.

“In behalf of my party, I thank this honored body for this opportunity to speak before the Federation Assembly, and may the spirits of all our ancestors smile and bless us in all our endeavors.”

 

Deliberations –

Mia and her party retired to their assigned quarters where they were met by a pair of Telcontari. They bowed and introduced themselves as Mumu and Pinpin from the Protocol Office, assigned to provide them a tour of Colossus. They reached forward and shook hands with Mia and the other Earthers. It seemed that they had done some research since they knew about handshakes. Mumu and Pinpin informed them that later in the afternoon, there would be another plenary session where members of the Assembly would be discussing her “report,” and she would be requested to sit in to answer questions. But that would be several hours later, so they had time for the tour.

The two loaded the Earth party into a small tram that ran on tracks on the skin of the station, and they saw most of the facilities of Colossus. Their tour occupied most of the morning but given how large the station was, most of their time was used up by traveling from location to location despite the quick rail transport they were provided. During these lulls, and Mumu and Pinpin were preoccupied with answering questions from Mia’s Marines, Mia, and the others discussed her speech and the reaction of the gathered assembly. Tasha and the First Ambassador weren’t with them, however, since they had joined their embassy staff.

It was their consensus that Mia’s half-hour speech went over well, and there were many parts in particular that seemed to catch the attention of many of the aliens while causing consternation in others. The many video and audio clips that they had included made her speech very interesting indeed.

The Protocol Office had a closed circuit feed going to all the diplomatic missions of all the delegates so that their staff could listen in and watch events in the Assembly, and everyone was able to watch Mia’s presentation. However, in the Arachnian Mission, the First Ambassador’s staff had plugged in a “vampire transmitter” to their control panel. Using this device, they were able to send the feed to the Shepherd Moon via an encrypted high-frequency radio signal (the encryption algorithm provided by the Earthers), and the Shepherd Moon then, in turn, relayed it to the other ships and to Earth via Phase-Wave.

Mia reiterated her uneasiness in including intercepted Detterex communications, most particularly the ones where they recorded the Detterex quoting Elyran scripture. It seemed self-serving and in poor taste.

Ren had agreed that it would be useful to include the quote but he didn’t know how appropriate that would be. So they followed the First Ambassador’s advice on that - they had agreed with him on the impact it would have, and ended up including the quote. It would resound with the Elyrans and the Deterrex, and with any of the other races that had similar legends. Nick said that there could not be very many of them, but Ben said that, surprisingly, there were a lot. The commonality of many Federation legends was part of the reason for the cohesiveness of the Federation’s collective culture. Ren asked about Earther culture and if they had legends similar to the Savior Race legend, but, offhand, Mia and Nick said they couldn’t recall any such legend in Earth lore that matched the Elyran scripture. Ren found that curious.

They again discussed the possible questions the delegates might have and prepared for them, and by the time the tour was over, they felt they were ready.

-----

While the Earthers were on their tour, the Federation Assembly delegates had gone back to their various embassies and started discussing Mia’s report. The rest of the Assembly’s agenda for the day was suspended to allow for the delegates to prepare for the follow-on discussion of the Lady Amelia’s report in the afternoon. She had already been informed by the Protocol Office to come back later in the afternoon, and she had sent back her confirmation that she would attend.

In the diplomatic mission of the Dravidian Republics, the Dravidians were, at that moment, in closed-door session. Though it was a little unorthodox, the Lord Chamberlain of Colossus had joined them. Some may have commented that the Lord Chamberlain attending and influencing the decisions of a diplomatic mission might be inappropriate, even if it was the Dravidian Mission, but since it was not against any rules or conventions, it was allowable. Far be it for a Dravidian to go against the rules – Dravidians were known for remaining within the letter of the law, even if not always in the spirit of the law.

Councilor Cor and all the Dravidians were aghast that Cale had been interfacing with the Earthers all along, and had actually already initiated diplomatic discussions. Most of the other Dravidians said that he had no authority to do so, but a quick check showed that he did: the duty rosters showed that Cale had full ambassadorial credentials.

What was actually troubling, though, was that Cale was even on Earth at all. His last assignment was to be part of the staff of the Keeper of the Heritage.

The last they knew was that Cale was part of the Curia of the Heritage Trust – a great honor and responsibility. The Erocii scientist, Autumn-Sun-Rising-In-The-East, was also with the Keeper’s staff. That Cale and the Erocii were on Earth implied that the Keeper either accompanied the Elyran/Dixx/Arachnian expedition there, or had been on Earth ahead of them. The possibility that the Keeper might be allied with the Earthers might sway the other Federation delegates to their cause.

The Chamberlain and the other Dravidians desperately wished that they could talk with Cale and find out what was really happening, but they couldn’t. As Councilor Cor, the Dravidian Ambassador, said, they had no choice but to take the Earther at her word, and that the facts were as she painted them.

They also discussed the images that the Earther had presented, and these gave the Dravidians an overall picture of a situation that was troubling – at least to them. In true Dravidian form, they ignored the Earthers' warnings of an incoming storm, but rather were more focused on the fact that the troublesome Elyrans had beaten them again, this time to a rich and untapped market, one that also appeared to be a source of new and unique resources and technology that could allow them to maintain their dominant position among the races for many megayears to come.

They were intrigued with the “Curtain of Light” – something that they had heard rumors about but didn’t know what it was until now. There must be some way of acquiring it. That and the Earthers’ magical communication technology, Sel, Cor’s right-hand man, reminded everyone.

Many of the other leading races had similar thoughts and concerns but, unlike the Dravidians, they were more focused on the simultaneous declarations of war by Elyra, Dixx, Arachnia and Earth. It was a foregone conclusion that the declaration was justified – the evidence that the Earthers brought with them was incontrovertible, and even if the Federation didn't back up their declarations of war, the Federation covenants they had made all of them duty-bound to protect the Dixx, Elyran and Arachnian homeworlds and colony worlds. Only Earth was not included.

But the more… “religious” of the races had more concerns.

Dr. Autumn-Sun and Representative Cale were on Earth. Did that mean that the Keeper of the Heritage was there as well? What would that mean? Was the Keeper allied with the Earthers? (His presence onboard the Shepherd Moon was still a secret from the Federation, as requested by His Excellency himself.) Why wasn’t he in Chaisteal An Linn Arsaidh, they wondered? The answer to that question alone might sway those that revered the Keeper of the Heritage.

Plus the images that they saw – they depicted a race of formidable warriors who were able to repel an invasion of twenty-two capital ships of the despised Tirosians and Detterex with weapons and technology rivaling any in the Federation, and tactics that none recognized.

Most knew that turning back twenty-two capital ships with a lesser number of ships was a near impossibility. Few worlds in the Federation would be hard put to muster ten ships of equal capability on short notice, much less twenty-two. And if Daxx and the Earther’s reports were true, these Earthers were able to do it with only three of theirs. That really put the fear in many of the delegates.

But with the Curtain of Light in play (apparently some had heard about it already), that had jumped the fear factor up even higher. No one really understood what the Curtain of Light was, but that didn’t seem to matter at the moment. It just added another layer of mystique to the Earthers’ reputation.

The recordings of the Detterex bolstered that reputation. When they heard the Detterex quote the passages from the Elyran Holy Book of the Ages… Most of the delegates were academics, so they were familiar with the quote. The Elyran and Detterex legend of the “warrior race” had echoes in their own legends, and that went a long way to convince them to at least give the Earthers a fair hearing.

As for the Dixx, Elyrans and Arachnians, their intentions for the upcoming session were a little different. If the gathered delegates did not call the question of a declaration of war, or open up a discussion of the matter of the membership for the Earthers, then no declaration can be recorded into the official record. They were also set to derail any machinations of the Dravidians to push their own selfish agenda because, at this point the Federation couldn’t afford it.

This was one of the most exciting things to happen in the Federation for many megayears. Those that had not been intending to attend changed their minds. The plenary session that afternoon was the only Federation Assembly that had full attendance in an eon.

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About the author

Bobbi-C

  • Washington DC
  • Mistress of Confusion

Bio: Bobbi Cabot is a transgender girl in her thirties (35 y.o. as of 2016), who transitioned in 2005. She is known as "Roberta J. Cabot," "Bobbie-C," "Bobbie," "Bobbi" and "Bobbi-C" in the sites where she posts her stories.

Though not a professional writer, Bobbi is under the delusion that she writes passably well and indulges this delusion by sometimes posting stories, which is, thankfully, very seldom.

Bobbi's day job (the phrase "day job" is hereby stressed) involves being the big cheese of the overseas BPO practice of a Top 100 computer technology corporation.

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