Shepherd Moon, 2nd Edition

by

Bobbi-C

Chapter 28: Endgame, One – Tiros

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Shepherd Moon, Chapter 28: Endgame, One – Tiros

 

The Passing of Ren Tevann-Reshanii –

Mia and Sahsha disembarked via the Admiral’s Barge, and headed for their newly-reclassed “embassy.”

Nick met them halfway and they had a short confab in the hallway. It wasn’t necessary to be briefed since they were updated so, instead, Nick insisted on visiting the Elyran Embassy so that he could personally greet the new heirs apparent.

Mia and Sahsha were game so they decided to pass by the Embassy.

It was the equivalent of midnight onboard Colossus, so the halls and passageways were practically deserted. Pretty soon, they were in Embassy Row, and they saw Ren and Tasha at the entrance of their embassy.

There were hugs all around and it was a reunion of what had become fast friends. Tasha’s and Ren’s guards shrugged. They were used to this kind of thing now, especially when the Earther princess was around, so they just stepped back to allow the friends room.

But Ren, being worried about the proprieties as usual, suggested that they continue inside the deserted embassy. He jogged on ahead, and started punching his numbers into the embassy’ s door lock.

Immediately after he pressed the “accept” stud, the door lock exploded, knocking him across the passageway and against the wall. The explosion was so strong that many of the viewports on the floor started to crack, spiderwebs of stress fractures started to spread across many of them.

“Ren!” Tasha screamed. “Nooo!” She rushed to his side only to discover that his neck was broken. He was already dead.

“Ren, my love,” Tasha sobbed. “You mustn’t do this. No, no, no…” She held his face between her hands. “Look at me, my love. Open your eyes. Look at me, dammit!”

Her guards approached her cautiously.

“My Lady…” one of them began.

Tasha roared and, using the butt of her sword, hit the guard directly in the face.

The others closed in and managed to pull her away and rip her sword and sidearm from her hands, but she just backhanded the soldiers and ran back to Ren.

“Nooo!” she screamed as she held the lifeless body in her arms. “You will not take my beloved from me!” The soldiers backed away.

“It’s the madness,” one of them said. “It’s too late.”

“But she’s the crown princess now…”

“That doesn’t matter. Prince Ren has died…”

“Shut your mouth!” Tasha screamed. She had overheard. “Ren is not dead!” She leapt to them but the soldier nearest instinctively hit an emergency button and pressure bulkheads slammed down. This effectively isolated Tasha from everyone. At least the station wouldn't depressurize after the stressed hull and viewports inevitably exploded.

The only other one that was trapped in there was Sahsha. She had jumped away from the descending bulkhead and now it was only her and Tasha in there.

Sahsha looked at the princess, both in panic and sorrow. The Elyran was in hysterical grief. “It’s the madness,” Sahsha thought.

She was desperate to help the princess, but basing it on what she now knew, only death would be preferable. But could she even attempt to do what Mia did? Could she even contemplate taking a life? She looked at the poor princess, and she was still screaming. There were tufts of hair in her hands, and her head was bleeding in places. Sahsha was shocked – Tasha was literally tearing her hair out.

Sahsha trembled. She had to try.

Shaking, she walked slowly towards Tasha.

“My Lady,” she said hoarsely. But the madwoman didn’t hear.

“My Lady!” Sahsha shrieked. “Stop!”

Like a feral wolf, Tasha turned to her. Initially, Sahsha thought there was a glimmer of recognition in her eyes, but there was only madness.

Tasha leaped at her, knocking her onto her back. Pain shot through Sahsha’s head as the back of her skull whapped against the floor.

She shook the stars from her vision and saw the princess looking at her with feral eyes.

“Please, no,” she whispered in mortal fear. And then Tasha tore Sahsha’s clothes away, leaving bloody prints on what was left.

When Sahsha was mostly divested of her clothing, Tasha started to brutally caress her. The mad Elyran brutally and painfully squeezed her breasts and roughly caressed her sides. Sahsha started crying. The Elyran mashed her lips against Sahsha, but Sahsha resolutely kept her lips pursed and mouth closed. Still. The madness within Tasha was like tides washing over her. It was like acid or oil on fire. It seared Sahsha’s spirit, like her soul was being raped. And the thing was, she didn’t know how to stop it.

“Please, Princess. It’s me. It’s Sahsha…”

Tasha tore her panties away with one savage tug, and then roughly and brutally caressed her vulva. She started to laugh like a crazed creature, and lunged down to brutally kiss her again.

It was rape. There was no other word for it. And Sahsha sobbed. No one would be able to rescue her.

In the parts of her mind that were paying attention to the outside world, she saw the spiderwebs spreading in the viewports, and could hear the cracking of glass. At least it will end soon.

“If only someone could rescue me,” she thought. “Mia…” She tried to push Tasha away again but Tasha punched her across the jaw and knocked her out.

At the far end of the sealed passageway, there was a minor explosion and the bulkhead there started to retreat upwards.

It was Mia. She had used her glowing sword on the lock and was now pushing up the massive metal bulkhead.

When it was raised high enough, Mia threw herself through the threshold and allowed the bulkhead to crash back down.

She saw Tasha at the far end, and what she was doing to Sahsha. She was shocked. Tasha was caught in the madness. But… Could she even do to Tasha what she did to Arvan?

The sound of cracks were starting to become louder and louder, and the sound galvanized Mia into action.

Mia sprinted towards the two. She reached down and grabbed Tasha by her collar and physically dragged both her and Sahsha to the Elyran embassy. Once through, she turned back to the door. The main lock was broken so Mia reached up and manually pulled the door closed. She then spun the manual pressure wheel lock until she felt the click. The damage to the passageway finally caused the violent rapid depressurization they were all fearing but she had locked the door in time.

She called her people to say that the princess and Sahsha were secure.

Then, something hit her on her back.

She turned and found Tasha. She was attacking her, maybe for closing the door.

Mia turned and gabbed Tasha by both her wrists and pinned her against the far wall.

Tasha screamed and growled, and lunged at Mia with her head, mouth frothing and trying to bite her, but Mia had long arms and Tasha didn’t even come close.

Mia turned to look at Sahsha and found her lying in a heap. She was alive but unconscious. She turned back to Tasha.

Seeing her this way broke Mia’s heart. The beautiful, confident and kind Tasha reduced to a cavewoman.

“Tasha,” Mia said. “Please. Listen to me. Listen to me.”

But she wasn’t. Mia looked at her and was crying silently.

“Please, my love,” Mia sobbed. “Stop… Stop…”

In a way, she understood what Tasha was going through. A loss that was so devastating, so complete, with no way back. But there must be a way back.

Mia could still see Ren in her mind’s eye – the gentle Ren. Always there helping. Always there with a kind word. Always there sharing. Always there…

The light that was Ren was extinguished, and there was no way to get him back.

“I know what you feel, Tash. Ren is gone. I loved him, too.”

Her words penetrated the madness. Tasha paused. And then she exploded again.

“How dare you! How dare you say you loved him! He was mine! Mine!” With a force that Mia had not seen from Tasha before, she ripped her arms away from Mia’s grasp.

With balled fists, she hit Mia in the abdomen.

“Mine!” she cried.

She then punched Mia again. “He was mine!”

Mia just took it. There was nothing else that she could do for Tasha.

“Mine!” Tasha cried and hit Mia with a punch on the jaw. “Mine!” She hit Mia on her jaw again, but from the other side.

Mia was willing to endure this and more, if it meant that she took away her friend’s pain.

As Tasha hit and hit and hit her, Mia enfolded the tiny Elyran in her arms.

“Nooo! Let me go!” But Mia wouldn’t, pinning her arms and stopping her form hitting her further.

“You alien monster! Your powers will not take Ren from me! Stop it! Let go! Let go!”

Mia’s tears were flowing now, and her heart was breaking for Tasha.

“Let me go! Let me… let me… go…” Tasha could feel Mia’s heart beating, so much slower than her own. In some magical way, it calmed her. Tasha’s pounding heart slowed, and started beating in counterpoint to Mia’s. “Let me go…”

Mia felt Tasha become calmer, and she hugged her closer. “Shhh, my love. Shhh…”

“Hold me, Mia,” Tasha whispered, and sobbed.

Maybe twenty minutes later, Tasha woke up in Mia’s arms.

She felt the hole in her soul, raw and fresh, and could not bear to think of Ren. She felt lost and alone. Like a mother who had lost a child. Ren wasn’t her child, but it was the closest she could come to describing her feelings. She whimpered.

Mia heard her and tightened her arms around her.

“I miss him, too, Tash,” Mia whispered. And Tasha felt her tears flow again.

Mia’s scent surrounded her and she felt comforted. Through the fog of her depthless sorrow, she could sense Mia’s caring, and she felt grateful. And she felt the gates opening.

She was familiar with this. It was like how it was with Ren. But it was different, too. When the gates opened, she saw into Mia’s soul, just as she knew she was bared open to Mia as well. And she felt powerful. Like she could do anything, be anything, survive anything. Everything seemed possible now, but only if she had Mia by her side.

What a power Earthers had. It took Tasha’s breath away. Or maybe it was just Mia. Though she still felt sorrow, she felt comfort in Mia’s arms. Tasha was a “dominant” bridge, but here was another dominant - a much more powerful one. Mia’s aura literally took her breath away. And she didn’t mind sublimating herself under Mia’s need to control, but, nevertheless, Mia didn’t exercise any kind of control. It was like she was allowing Tasha to do whatever she wanted. Something Tasha never thought was possible for a dominant bridge.

Then she saw the empty stretcher beside them. They had taken Sahsha away.

It dawned on her what she had done to Sahsha. Reluctant though she was, she disentangled herself from Mia and asked where Sahsha was. She saw her state and her mind cringed in shame.

“Where was the Lady Sahsha taken?” she asked the medics.

“To the sickbay on the Shepherd, Ma’am.”

-----

Sahsha woke up from the sedative. After a bit of confusion, she recognized one of the recovery rooms in Shepherd Moon’s sickbay. It was cramped to say the least. Space was always at a premium on ships.

She looked around and saw Tasha sitting in a recliner beside her bed, sleeping. At first, she felt fear. But she guessed the sedatives and tranquilizers hadn't completely worn off. They helped to keep her fear and anger away, at least for now. But why was she here? How?

Ben had told her that the madness was all-encompassing, and those that succumbed to it were so violent that they were a danger to everyone.

Sahsha had first experience of that now. But it only happened to people who had bridges for partners, and once they succumbed, it was irrecoverable. There was even proposed Elyran legislation to have such unfortunates euthanized since the practice of isolating and imprisoning them was considered barbaric and ultimately futile. But there were only a very few who actually expressed official support for this legislation. Few Elyrans believed in taking the life of another, and even those few believed they should do so only as a last resort. Those that supported the legislation said that it was actually the last resort for these people, but many didn’t agree. Having gone through what she did, Sahsha would vote for the legislation if she could, to spare the poor souls madness.

She looked at Tasha and she saw her sleeping peacefully enough. Poor princess…

Sahsha was surprised that she wasn’t more afraid of her, or angry. Perhaps it was the drugs, or maybe because she was sleeping…

As she was looking, Tasha yawned and stretched, and when she opened her eyes, Tasha saw her.

She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and, like Ren had taught her, just after she woke up, she combed her hair first. “Good evening, Sahsha,” Tasha said quietly.

And the fear was there. Sahsha moved to the edge of her bed, trying to get the most distance between her and Tasha.

That broke Tasha’s heart a little.

“I’m sorry, Sahsha. What I did to you – I am so sorry. I did not mean it.”

Sahsha’s eyes grew large in surprise. Was her translator working properly? “What did you say?” she asked.

“It was the madness, Sahsha. I could not stop myself. If I could have…”

“Is it gone? Are you back to being you?”

“I believe so.”

“But, how? I thought…”

“I do not know myself. I was at the edge of the precipice, but I was pulled back. I think it was Mia. Perhaps she knew there was still much to be done, and I was needed still. Perhaps…”

“Mia…” Sahsha sighed.

“I know Ren was your close friend. It gave me so much sorrow that I had hurt you. If I could take it back, I would.”

“How?” Sahsha asked. “How is it that you’re back? How did Mia…”

“I do not know, my dearest. All I know is that I would like to redeem myself in your eyes. I am so ashamed.”

“Are you sure you’re back?”

“I am.” She stood up and started approaching her.

“Stay back!”

“I need for you to see. Please.”

But Sahsha remained skittish and wouldn’t let her approach. In frustration, Tasha grabbed her gently by the shoulders. She laid Sahsha back on her bed. The Earth girl pushed herself back into the mattress, trying to get away, but Tasha leaned over her, gently insistent but not really forcing her, and kissed her gently on the lips. It was the most gentle and most chaste of kisses, with their lips hardly touching, but something that Sahsha had never felt before passed from the Elyran princess to her.

It wasn’t a feeling, like the sense of touch or smell. It was more like an emotion, if emotion was a kind of sense. And through these emotions that cascaded down over her, Sahsha knew the shame that Tasha felt.

And as she rifled through the emotions cascading over her, there was no trace of madness. Tasha was indeed free of that.

As Sahsha shivered with the sheer strength of the emotional deluge, she also sensed Tasha’s capacity for love. It took her breath away. Somehow, Sahsha found herself opening up as well. Somehow, she knew how to do it as well.

It was her turn to pour out her own feelings, her own emotions, straight from her heart and to Tasha’s. Tasha shivered as well, and, experimentally, she opened her mouth a little. Unexpectedly, Sahsha took advantage, and the kiss blossomed like a flower blooming. It was amazing and so exciting.

It would have continued if Tasha allowed it, but her sorrow for Ren was still fresh. Sahsha seemed to sense it and didn’t insist. She understood.

And the fire that had blazed like a brush fire slowly died down. Tentatively, Tasha pulled away and found Sahsha looking at her with a gentle smile. The Earther reached out and put her hand on Tasha’s cheek.

Tasha smiled sadly, and burst into silent tears. Sahsha reached out and pulled her into a hug.

Sahsha felt Tasha’s sadness, and yes, it felt like it was never-ending, but somehow, it wasn’t claiming her soul anymore. Tasha found a reservoir of strength that Sahsha knew wasn’t there before. And she felt Mia. Whatever it was, Mia had rescued Tasha from a never-ending death.

She sensed Tasha’s feelings for Mia, which were very close to what she felt for Mia herself. But it wasn’t a selfish kind of thing. It actually comforted her that they shared the same kind of love for the same woman.

“I will be here for you, my love,” Sahsha said. The words seemed to come naturally. “Always and forever, Tasha, I will be there for you.”

“And I you,” Tasha said. “Always and forever.”

Sahsha would never have known, but the words she uttered were like the vows that Elyrans exchanged during their nuptials, and in a sense, they were married now.

 

Spies in Colossus –

Courtesy of the Earthers, transmission was immediately sent back to Elyra, directly to the queen and king, and the death of Ren spread like wildfire. The royal couple was shocked that their beloved son had passed on. In their mourning, they couldn’t help but think of Tasha, and wonder if she passed away mercifully and quickly. They hoped that the Earther princess helped end her torment. They sent back an inquiry, knowing that the Earthers would pick it up.

-----

All the Elyran rulers were still on the planet. Taking full advantage of the fact that all of them were still gathered together, They got a lot of business done that normally would have had to be done at a later time. Many thought that the invasion has turned into a kind of blessing.

But the news of the tragedy had spread. The queen and king were beside themselves in grief, but for the sake of Elyra, they were organizing a new conclave. As the next one in the order of ascension, the rumor was that the queen would have Princess Mara be declared the new heir-apparent.

At this time, they received a new transmission. But it included a secret, embedded compressed file.

“Good day, my beloved mother and father,” Tasha began her secret, pre-recorded and compressed video message. In the video, she was sitting in Mia’s office facing the camera. Sitting beside her was Mia, and just standing over her shoulder on the opposite side was Sahsha.

“It is I, Tasha. I am so sad, sad beyond words that your son, my beloved Ren, has passed away. Please believe that I would have given my life for my beloved. But it is now too late.” Impatiently, she swiped at her tears and continued.

“As you see, I am not in the grasp of the madness. My beloved Lady Amelia and my brave and gracious Lady Sahsha rescued me. Without them I would be lost to the world. It is yet another debt that I owe Mia and the Earthers.

“I beg your indulgence, Mother and Father, but I name these as my partners-in-life. As non-Elyrans, they know not what that means. I suppose I will need to explain to them, and give them time.” Tasha laughed a little at that.

“I wish to announce that Mia is to me as I was to Ren, and Sahsha is to me as Ren was. I know not what the future holds for myself, but I know that I shall face it together with my beloveds. I ask your blessing in this, my Mother and Father. And I care not if I would lose the throne because of this.

“The authorities on Colossus are continuing the investigation to fully ascertain who had sabotaged our embassy and caused the death of my beloved. Although we have already unearthed some very important facts, we are still investigating. I will communicate with you immediately once it has been completed.

“My Mother, I will bring Ren home, perhaps in three months’ time. There is work yet here, but please let me know if you prefer other arrangements. Also, if I may ask for instructions from the homeworlds with regards the enemy, and the disposition of our forces.”

Tasha paused.

“Beloved Mother and Father, please do not worry for me. I am beyond the madness. I am…” She had to pause to collect herself. In the video, Sahsha put her hand on Tasha’s shoulder, and Mia moved her chair closer.

Perhaps to others, it would look like just a normal kind of concern for a friend, but for Elyrans and Earthers, they knew it was more than just sympathy.

Tasha cleared her throat. “I am glad to hear that a new conclave is being convened. Whatever the family decides, I will follow. But, Your Majesties, the welfare of the people is paramount. It must take precedence to your love and concern for me. As I said, I will follow the will of the family, whatever that may be, and will be content.

“Mia and Sahsha will be attaching to this message several other compressed files, which are copies of Federation security footage of Ren’s passing, and the events that were precipitated by his passing… perhaps it will assist the conclave in its deliberations.

“Mother and Father, please tell my aunts, uncles, cousins and peers that I wish everyone well, and I beg for your prayers that I may pull through this with mind and sanity intact. As always, my love to you.”

-----

The news was a grievous blow, but though the Queen and King were on the edge of despair, they knew they had a duty to their people, and they put their grief aside for now until they could assure the continuation of the government and the royal line.

In truth, the ruling Tevann-Reshanii family had been in decline for a while now, the personal holdings of the Reshanii not being the richest among the royal families anymore, and not having a female heiress to carry the name. For example, the holdings of the Great Plains of the Liaran-Kerr clan and the Northern Kingdom of the Dorian-Kerr were larger, and both with an heiress waiting in the wings.

It was only because of the peoples’ love and sense of fealty to the queen and king that the other royal families had not demanded a conclave and insisted on a change of rulership.

The queen and king knew that the Tevann-Reshanii family name was at an end, but was pleased that Ren had formed a bond with Tasha, the heiress of the Great Plains and the honorable Liaran-Kerr family, and even though their family’s name may not continue, at least the future of Elyra was in good hands. It was also good that Tasha had become close to them, and that they found in her the daughter that they had always hoped for.

They never had an opportunity to meet Tasha’s parents - they had been lost in a deep-space accident before she and Ren were bonded, and because of this, Tasha was never formally declared the heiress of the Liaran-Kerr line. And, because of this, Tasha would never be queen of the Great Plains. It would be up to her child to assume that queenship.

In that way, her union with Ren was also important to Tasha. It had forged their two kingdoms together and made the Great Plains the most powerful in all of Elyra, and as their Heir Apparent, this would allow Tasha to be declared as Queen, not just of the Great Plains but of all Elyra as well.

But queen and king put these worries for the future aside for the moment, concentrated on the matter at hand and looked through the material Tasha had sent.

-----

Looking through the security footage took little time but, on the face of it, it was useless footage. But the perpetrator or perpetrators did not count on forensic scientists from Earth.

Their analysis and enhancement of the video concluded that the last one to leave the embassy, a mid-level clerk, had done something highly suspicious. A digital close-up of the individual’s hand as she punched her security number showed that, besides typing, she had attached a rectangular device to the side of the touchpad’s panel.

Further enhancement of the picture showed that the device had Detterex printing on it. By the color reflection of the device, it indicated that the casing was made out of a magnesium alloy that would burn up in any resulting explosion at an extremely high thermal level. By going through Colossus’ library of recognition patterns, the device was identified as a Detterex military-issue detonator. And, though there was no secondary explosive, the detonator was enough to blow up the oxygen lines running beside the doorway.

The resulting explosion would be extremely powerful and, given the timing, it was clearly intended to be triggered while no one else was in the Mission. The target was definitely Tasha and Ren.

Tasha had asked for that particular clerk to be called, but she didn’t respond. She then asked the station’s security, now under Telcontari management, to locate and detain her. As the apprentices, the Earthers assisted them and quickly located the clerk. They found her attaching another device to one of the main conduits that went directly to one of the main distribution points of the station’s power system. Damage there could conceivably cause a short, and that could cause most circuit breakers on the station to pop (at best) or actually cause the capacitor batteries to explode (at worst).

In either case, Colossus could be put out of commission for a lengthy amount of time.

A long, epic chase ensued as the Earthers and Telcontari chased the Elyran throughout the living areas of the station, and several bystanders were injured. At the very last moment, one of the Telcontari security people thought to short-circuit one of the emergency bulkhead doors and trap the Elyran. Sleeping gas wasn’t available so the Telcontari reduced the oxygen content in the closed-off section until the Elyran fell unconscious.

The Telcontari then opened the isolated compartment before any brain damage set in, and put restraints on the unconscious clerk. They then administered oxygen and the woman woke up.

She was extremely tight-lipped and wasn’t giving away any information.

What was discovered, however, was that she wasn’t Elyran: there were several antigens found in her blood that showed she spent a lot of time on Detterex, and her blood carried components unique to Detterex. This was a Detterex plant – a spy.

Tasha talked it over with Mia. This individual was vouchsafed at the very highest levels. Princess Mara herself actually recommended her for the position. Furthermore, she had references from many senior Elyrans and royalty in the Northern Territory. What could this mean?

Mia said that it was necessary to take things one step at a time. The first thing was to ascertain if there were other Detterex masquerading as Elyrans. Mia asked Commander Stevens, the Shepherd’s CMO, and Chief Haskell, the Shepherd’s assistant chief engineer, to work with Tasha’s master healer.

There were certain components in a Detterex’s blood that were not present in Elyran blood, and this could be screened without the need for an actual blood sample. This involved utrasonics. There were also other ways – for instance, there were certain body ratios that were atypical for Elyrans but normal for Detterex. And their voices resonated in a slightly different way.

This allowed the Earthers to create passive detectors. Chief Haskell, using the “grease monkeys” – the nickname for the Shepherd’s top-flight artificers and engineers – were able to machine-shop a detector assembly that was contained in a six-foot long metal tube. These were very unobtrusive and could be mounted anywhere they were needed. With an estimated 90% accuracy, Tasha now had her Detterex detector.

Captain O’Connell requested the necessary raw materials, paid for them well above the guild standard, and had her people construct more.

Mia asked Pinpin to help facilitate installing the tubes at main entrance points, such as the main entryways of Aonta and Shihayn, as well as the areas that Elyrans frequent – such as the Elyran and Earther embassies.

The installation was done under the guise of repairs and, pretty soon, they were working. Tasha had also requested for several to be shuttled to the Talon, where she had them installed at many critical access points.

O’Connell and Reena then proceeded to test all Elyrans onboard Colossus and Talon, and they were able to find five more. They didn’t capture them immediately and just put them under surveillance. Given enough time, they now knew the pattern of these spies and the places they frequent. Additional detectors were then put in these locations. Tasha was confident that this conspiracy would soon be rooted out.

Aside from being a hotshot cruiser pilot, Reena was also a trained interrogator, and under her instructions, they were able to find out these spies’ common contacts on Elyra Prime.

What was shocking was that, apparently, Mara was a spy. Either she was Detterex masquerading as Mara and the real princess had been dead for a while, or Mara had always been a spy or a sympathizer. Either way, this spoke of espionage at the highest levels of Elyran society.

The investigation continued.

There were a bunch of housekeeping reports included, but Ren’s mother and father were tipped off that there was something extra in there because Tasha called the queen “great mother,” something only Ren ever did when he was making fun of her.

The queen asked her most trustworthy people to go through these compressed files and found one that was compressed using the queen’s secret cipher, known only to the immediate royal family. In secret, the queen and the king watched the decoded video, with Tasha’s and Mia’s suggestions.

Immediately, the queen started making moves to shut Mara out of becoming the next heir apparent. And she did it in classic Ren fashion. She had Mia’s detectors duplicated and installed in many of the passageways in the castle. They were able to identify a handful of Detterex impostors, all of them from the Northern Kingdom.

Through clandestine means, they were also able to have detectors installed in Seraphim, the royal castle of the Northern Kingdom, and were able to identify several more.

-----

In the new conclave, The Queen declared Mia and Sahsha part of her royal family, and said that they had accomplished what only legends said was possible – that they had redeemed an Elyran from the abyss. If just for that, they should be forever grateful. Also, she had Tasha declared as competent, and therefore there was no reason for her to not be their heir apparent.

Mara stood, bowed, and respectfully disagreed, saying that the princess must have a consort to hold the throne. No one had taken power in the history of all Elyra without a partner.

The queen agreed, and said that the Lady Amelia and the Lady Sahsha were more than suited to be Tasha’s consorts. It would be a monarchy for the history books, she said: never had there been a trio of bridges on the throne except long ago, and that was shrouded in legend.

“Think on this, my dears,” the queen said, “Tasha was snatched from the edge of madness by the Warrior Queen of the Earthers and her bridge. They love my Tasha enough to open a bridge with her. Tasha is both the dominant and the submissive. Imagine it! She will be the most envied among the people.”

“My dearest aunt,” Mara said, “that may all be true, but Tasha is not the dominant one of the three. It is the Earther, Lady Amelia. Do we submit to the rule of an offworlder?”

“I have heard from Tasha. Mia and Sahsha know the ramifications of ascension to the throne. Mia and Sahsha would be willing to enter into a contract declaring their intention not to seek the throne, binding until the end of time.”

This was received with silence.

“I believe these two, my dears. They are honorable women.”

There were a few that started to nod.

“Even their names are Elyran. Mia… Sahsha… Such wonderful, lyrical Elyran names. Do you know what Mia is in old Elyran? ‘Emeleeyah’ – ‘a light in the darkness.’ ‘Sashalee’ – ‘beloved of the world.’ It is a sign, my dears. I think we should affirm this union, and reaffirm that Tasha is our heir apparent.”

“Your Highness,” Mara said, “what would stop the alien,” (she had used the word “alien” deliberately and cndescendingly) “from enacting legislation that will favor her own Earth rather than Elyra? Why would she want to help us?”

“In the short time that we have known her,” the queen replied, “not once had she given us worry that she did not have the interests of the Elyran people as well as the peoples of the Earth in her thoughts. And it is because of her that we are even here talking, that Colossus is still intact. It is my opinion that the Earther queen will not betray us. And we have Tasha to tip the scale towards our favor if it becomes necessary.”

“She has not given us Phase-Wave, my queen, nor the Curtain of Light, nor their magical deceleration technology.”

“Neither have we shared our own information on the Curtain of Light. I do not fault her for doing what she needs to do for Earth. Neither does she fault us for doing the same. She is a conscientious warrior.”

Mara shrugged. “Contract or no, there is no stopping her from asserting her influence on our Tasha.”

“We must trust Tasha to use her judgment and her heart to make the correct decisions.”

Mara shrugged. “A brain-damaged bridge…” she muttered.

Everyone gasped.

The queen sighed and stood.

“I have let this farce go on long enough. I have been using our discussion to distract you, and while we talked, the palace guards have stormed the Seraphim, the Northern Territory ‘s royal home, and captured your comrades. You! Whoever you are. You are not our Mara. You are an impostor!”

The others stood in shock.

“Whatever you and your compatriots have done to our Mara, I will find out eventually. But you will not continue your role as an agent provocateur. You are hereby arrested, Detterex spy!”

People could see emotions play on “Mara’s” face, deciding on what to do next. She decided to pull out her sidearm and aimed it at the queen.

As soon as she did so, sharpshooters at either end of the coliseum fired their ceremonial crossbows and hit the fake princess in the arm. She dropped her gun and decided to pull out her sword.

Several of the royal guards who had been silently converging on her, grabbed and disarmed spy.

The fake Mara sighed. “How did you know?” she asked the queen.

The queen chuckled. “I am not telling you. But know that many of your compatriots are also being apprehended. Soon we will have you all rounded up and you will all join Arvan’s soldiers shortly.”

They watched the false princess marched out.

“If that was not Mara, My Queen,” one of the others said, “then who is she?”

“I know not. All that could be ascertained was that she is Detterex.”

“A Detterex…”

“Yes. It is our enviable condition as well as our unique peril that we and our mortal enemies are images of one another. Our information has uncovered about forty more of these posers. And we are still on the lookout for more. It pains me that there may be more of them, and it is impossible to unmask all of them. I will share with you our information shortly, as well as the information that Sasha sent that led us to the apprehension of these spies.

“I encourage all of you to investigate your own houses and to verify that there are no spies amongst your people. These are precarious times and all of us need to be vigilant.”

“My Queen,” one of the others, this time, Fal, said, “pardon me for speaking out of turn. I am not family…”

“Nonsense, Fal. You are family. Speak your mind, my dear.”

“What of the Northern Territory?”

“It shall be under the stewardship of the kingdom’s high regent for now. But we must look for Mara. Even if all we do is ascertain that she has been put to death. We must find out.”

-----

Tasha and Mia listened to the queen’s response to her. It was encrypted as well, but Tasha had given the decryption key to Mia.

It seemed that she, Sahsha and Tasha were now jointly the heirs apparent to the throne of all Elyra.

“Well, I’ll be…” Mia said. “That was fast…”

“Ren’s mother has always been like that. The need to finish things quickly and decisively always seemed important, especially when she was around. Quite an irritating trait, actually, one that Ren shared with her…”

Mia sensed the tears, and swept Tasha up in her arms. “Learn to grieve for him, Tash,” Mia said. “Let it out. Sahsha and I will be with you. Let us take some of the load.” Mia pulled her head towards her and gave her a gentle kiss. “My love,” she said.

Tasha stayed in her arms for a while. Eventually she stirred. “Mia…”

“What is it, Tash?”

“When do we get married? Is that the right word? Married?”

Mia grinned. “Whenever you want.”

Tasha grinned in delight. “I’ll go find Sahsha.”

“Hmmm,” Mia thought, and chuckled. “That might be awkward. Good thing Tasha’s doing the asking.”

-----

The information rocketed back to Earth, and the whole population was goggle-eyed with the news. Earth was a little hazy with the circumstances on how it happened. All they knew was that an assassination attempt on Elyra’s heirs apparent had resulted in the death of Prince Ren Tevann-Reshanii, prince and husband to the princess, Tasha Liaran-Kerr, and Mia and Sahsha had become co-heirs along with Tasha.

At the very highest levels, this matter was discussed. Professor Jennifer Priestly was given a copy of the contract they were to sign, and she tried to explain it properly to Mia’s friends, Admiral Silverman and the Secretary-General, given she only knew a little bit about Elyran and Detterex bridges, but it seemed that Mia had managed to prevent a suicide situation with the princess, and because of this, the Elyrans had made her a co-heir.

She tried to understand the draft of the “contract” that the two were about to sign. It essentially said that the three of them, acting in conjunction, would represent the Elyran race in all matters. The one that would be empowered would be Tasha, of course, though the others would also wield powers to command and to legislate, but any of their actions or pronouncements may, for any reason, be subject to censure or veto by Tasha. Also, unlike Tasha, their titles would not be hereditary, so, upon their deaths, their titles would not be passed on.

As to a dynastic heir, Tasha had the option to find a father-donor to allow her to bear a child, or to adopt, but whatever she did, the child must come from within the current royal clan, and the child must be an Elyran native. As for any children that Mia or Sahsha might bear – they would not have any royal powers, nor would they be able to inherit any kind of title. But while they were alive, they would have all the privileges of royalty without the power.

It was very detailed and very Victorian, but the Earthers were not competent to criticize. Besides, this was giving them a great opportunity and they did not want to look a gift horse in the mouth. They told Mia that they wholeheartedly approved.

They also read the portion about concurrent titles and rule, and the contract allowed the royal spouses to hold other positions and titles separate from their royal titles and roles, and they would be absolved of any accusations of conflicts of interest in advance – such concerns would be left to their own cognizance and conscience.

Mia could therefore remain the Duchess of the Sciollian Isles and remain as the Admiral of the Fifth Fleet, and these would not be deemed in conflict with her Elyran titles or responsibilities, and the same went for Sahsha.

In years to come, Mia and Sahsha would be judicious on the few occasions that they wielded their powers as heirs apparent, or as rulers. History would show that all their actions as Elyran royals would progress the cause of peace among the Federation and the Elyrans, as well as the Earthers, Tirosians and Detterex in ways that no one had ever done or would ever do after. History would show that these were the beginnings of what would eventually be called the Elyran Republic – one of the best periods in Elyran history.

But that was still years away. And in the meantime, there were other things that needed to be done.

At the embassy, more and more things needed to be taken care of, so to facilitate things, Nick’s temporary position as ambassador was made permanent. He would hold the office quite competently, and would in time be considered one of the best ambassadors to hold the position.

As for Commander Ndidi Iyanda of the Hermes, Mia gave her a brevet promotion to Captain, and this lasted less than a day. Admiral Silverman confirmed her promotion immediately, and she was officially appointed the commandant of New Gibraltar Base.

More ships from the Fourth Fleet arrived and their entire store of spare parts and supplies was offloaded in Gibraltar. It wasn’t something they were expecting, but Gibraltar Base needed the supplies. The ships’ storage holds were emptied out very rapidly.

Their engineers, fresh from training at the PRC, were also shuttled down to help with the construction of Gibraltar. A four-berth dry dock facility was soon completed, as well as full spaceport facilities. A special section was allotted for what would be called the Hermes Squadron. This squadron was made up by the Hermes' navy pilots, and used Hermes’ four wings of Eagle fighters plus two wings of Cobra shuttles, repurposed for use by the base.

Full conversion and manufacturing facilities were also put up, making Gibraltar fully self-sufficient. The fact that the base also boasted a full-function FTL plant from the Hermes meant that Gibraltar Base now had planet-side deflector fields - the only base located on a planet’s surface that had an honest-to-goodness deflector field.

Furthermore, with the assistance of Dr. Running-Stream’s people from the PRC, they were able to repurpose Hermes’ inertia converters to convert almost all types of weapons energy to passive light energy. It was actually an easy conversion, and the new technigques developed added to Earth’s store of “strategic” tech not to be shared with the Federation.

The effect of the new shield was that, when Gibraltar Base switched it on, she would be surrounded with what looked like a glowing crystal dome, with lambent ribbons of ruby light coruscating like light reflections on a soap bubble, but this soap bubble would absorb pulse weapon energy, laser beams or any other kind of energy weapon that was known.

The base also boasted the most impressive firepower of any planet-based station, with several dozen repurposed pulse turrets, almost sixty missile launchers and four rapid-fire rail guns.

And with the deflector shield on, and the massive missile and rocket defenses at her back and call, the base became the most impressive and impregnable fort in the Federation. It’s nickname, the “Rock of Gibraltar,” or “The Rock” as the Fifth Fleet flyers preferred to call her, will eventually become synonymous with Earth power and strength.

After the initial test runs, Mia had looked at the specs of the base deflectors. As usual, it gave Mia some new ideas, and she decided to improve the Shepherd Moon’s own systems as soon as she had some spare time.

A new addition was also installed: Gibraltar Base now had its own EM Suppression Field generator (though no one in Colossus knew).

Earth had Phase-Waved the plans for several all-purpose manufacturing plants, and the engineers started their construction. When they finished, Gibraltar Base would become one of Earth’s nexus bases for manufactured goods and systems. To make them a fully-independent manufacturing center, plans were put in place to ship them a sealed, prefab semiconductor and electronics manufacturing plant. And when that plant arrived, the station would become one of the main profit centers of the government, and make Colossus and Zeos Three a main commercial stop for races that needed specialty or high-performance electronics and computer systems.

Also courtesy of the plans sent from Earth, the base now boasted the most comfortable Earth living quarters this side of the Milky Way, with Crystalline domes almost invisible because of their very low reflective-refractive index. They could now mimic night-time and “shirt-sleeve” weather at will.

Captain Iyanda took her new assignment as base commander seriously. Once it was completely operational, she initiated regular overflights of the planet as well as Colossus. She had also sent out regular shuttle patrols, not so much to really patrol, but to extend Federation presence out there in case of any emergency.

The Captain also sent notice that Earth’s presence around the system would now be on a permanent basis, and that they will permanently assign a portion of their base’s forces to patrol and defend Colossus. Mumu and Pinpin said that it was always a struggle to get Federation planets to volunteer ships and personnel, but with this, they felt these problems alleviated a little.

Since the Dravidians had basically claimed squatter rights to almost all available berths in Colossus’ landing platforms, Shepherd Moon never even tried to ask for a spot, and just went directly to Gibraltar Base. The Dravidians thought that the lack of “parking space” in Colossus would allow them to secure more “favors” and concessions from new arrivals, as usual, but things were far from usual anymore.

Some new arrivals also had the same problem as Shepherd Moon. and asked if Gibraltar had extra berths available. There were fifteen extra spots and the ten ships that needed a berth to land for minor repairs and resupply were easily accommodated.

Ndidi now had “guests” at her spaceport so she had to stay on her toes.

In reaction to this minor crisis, Mumu and Pinpin issued a circular that no long-term reservations for spaceport berths will be allowed anymore, and after their expiration, any old reservations that were longer than an Elyran month will not be renewed. They vowed that this parking shortage will only be temporary.

-----

Mia did a quick inspection of Gibraltar Base, and confirmed it was fully operational. She instructed Captain Iyanda to send a message to Earth, Colossus Spaceport Control, Elyra, Dixx and Arachnia.

“Fellow Federation citizens,” Ndidi said in her short message, “New Gibraltar Base is now open for business.”

Not much, but it did the job. The news spread throughout Colossus like wildfire, and in time throughout the Federation as well.

The production of hydrogen and oxygen for the Colossus tanks continued, and a regular shuttle schedule to transport the fuel up to Colossus was set up. And in a few weeks, Colossus’ tanks were one-fourth full.

Aside from fuel production, as the Earth’s newest Phase-Wave base, their production of one-shot Phase-Wave transmitters was also in full swing.

Anytime someone from Colossus needed to send a message, they would able to do so. Accommodating such requests was a requirement of their lease. For a nominal fee, of course. Nick had a twentieth century term, which Mia found apropos. Gibraltar Base had become the galaxy’s payphone.

-----

The business of the Federation continued. The Dravidians claimed that it was refreshing that they need not take care of the picayune details of station management anymore, and comported themselves as people who had been set free of an onerous task. But, in reality, they found many things that they used to take for granted a little more difficult now. Firstly, they found that they now had to pay for all the services they used to take for granted (the most painful thing for a Dravidian is parting with his money). And they found that many of the things they used to consider easy were actually hard, especially since they didn’t have the Telcontari at their beck and call anymore.

Most Federation personnel managed to continue with their day-to-day work by ignoring the blustering Dravidians and the supercilious Erocii. From being the most influential of the delegates onboard, in days, they suddenly found themselves made irrelevant. And whatever they were trying to do to be relevant again didn’t seem to be working.

Everyone was gearing up to prepare for discussion and debate matters touching Tirosian and Detterex aggression. The Dravidians wanted to participate but since they were one of the two major races to argue against a declaration of war, the delegates just ignored their contributions in Aonta. Furthermore, with the absence of Counselor Cor, the Dravidian Mission Office was in disarray.

The Dravidians started spreading rumors that they were thinking of taking their massive battleships from the Colossus volunteer fleet since they might be needed elsewhere, but the Telcontari said that was all right. Several corvettes from Telcontar were soon to arrive, not to mention more ships from EarthForce’s Fourth Fleet. Pinpin told her former masters thank you for their past service, and wished their crews good luck.

The Dravidians were caught a bit flatfooted. The pleading that they were expecting for them to stay never came. So to save face, they had to make good on their threat to depart. But with no destination really planned, they said that they would wait until the Federation had come to a decision on the tactics to be implemented with regards the Tirosians and the Detterex. After all, they did not want to deprive the Federation of their experience and advice, especially with the most pressing matter at the moment – the Tirosian-Detterex defense strategy.

Commander O’Connell was invited to speak in Aonta, and, by using a very large 3D projection using Earther tech, she was able to share her information quick and efficiently.

First, they discussed the locations of each of the enemy “fleets.”

O’Connell explained that Earth’s long range telemetry showed gargantuan fleets were now already orbiting both Tiros Prime and Detterex Prime – over a hundred and fifty capital ships per system. Many said they didn’t understand how they were able to amass such a large number of capital ships.

O’Connell then showed a list of Detterex and Tiros planets and systems, and the number of ships that were orbiting each. (In deference to the Federation delegates, the text was in both Elyran and English.) The list showed that there were now only one or two capital ships remaining per system. In some cases, there were none.

So, apparently, what the enemy did was to strip all their systems of capital ships and move them all to Detterex and Tiros Prime.

As to the fleets sent to invade Dixx and Arachnia, O’Connell explained that they were now on the way to their home planets.

Originally, EM fields had surrounded these two groups of ships. On their approach to their home planets, the fields were deactivated and they were now “de-cloaked,” probably so as not to disrupt communications on Tiros and Detterex. EarthForce now knew that these groups were of similar composition to those that were sent to Earth, Colossus and Elyra.

They joined the cruisers already orbiting the two home planets, thereby bolstering their numbers even further. The density of capital ships flying overhead must mean that anyone on the ground on Tiros Prime or Detterex would see at least two or more ships flying overhead at any given time.

Tactically speaking, O’Connell said there would be no safe approach to either planet now. The Daemon representative therefore asked what the tactical goal was now.

O’Connell bowed, acknowledging the question. “The objective has remained the same, My Lord. Occupy their home planets and remove the ability of the enemy to carry out any aggression on any planet with any of the peoples of the Federation, the Tiros Empire, and the Detterex Empire.”

“Why include the people of the Tiros and Detterex empires, Captain? Are they not our enemies?”

“My Lord,” O’Connell said, “our Federation charter says that its goal is to share the benefits of civilization, cooperation and fellowship to all sophonts, so that all may have the opportunity to flourish, and to contribute to the Federation as well. Earth believes that if we are able to assure such peaceful coexistence, this must be made to apply to all sophonts.”

“What of justice, Captain, and the application of penalties?”

“We Earthers believe in justice, My Lord, however, as a famous man from Earth’s twentieth century said, ‘punishment may make us obey the orders we are given, but at best it will only teach an obedience to authority, not a self-control which enhances our self-respect.’

“Elyra’s Great Messiah said once that there are two kinds of power - one comes from the fear of punishment and the other comes from acts of love. Power from love is thousands of times more effective and permanent than that derived from fear.

“Yes, we believe in justice, but we also believe in a more permanent solution that will benefit us all – not just to benefit our friends, but even our enemies. Would it not be the greatest thing if our enemy was not our enemy anymore but our friend?”

This was greeted with applause, and the Telcontari looked upon O’Connell with great pride. “Did I not say, Mumu,” Pinpin said to her partner, “the Earthers are worthy of our loyalty and our service.”

Mumu nodded.

The representative from Star 453-A that stood behind them nodded as well. “Indeed, child,” the cyborg said. “These are but mortal creatures like us, who have faults and frailties like us. But they aspire for so much more. I wish them well. And I hope they succeed.”

-----

The original two volunteer Federation fleets headed for Dixx and Arachnia were contacted and diverted to Tiros Prime. The Elyran/Fifth Fleet fresh from Elyra supplemented this. But even combined, they weren’t even a fifth of the fleet around Tiros.

The Tiros System was similar to the Earth’s system in that there were a lot of asteroids and other leftover detritus from its planet building epoch. There were asteroids galore as well as other space junk, and that was just fine for the Earthers.

The six Earth cruisers went ahead of the combined fleet, following a path that hid them from view of planet-based observers. They kept behind the system’s large gas giant until the very last moment. And when they were near what they designated C-57D - a very large rocky, irregularly-shaped asteroid with a mean diameter of around a thousand miles - they made a break for it and landed on the asteroid’s dark side.

The Earther ships took out half of their rail guns and modified them so that they’d accelerate metallic rocks about a hundred meters across at speeds of about eighteen to nineteen kilometers per second.

Since their usual ammunition were four-inch by two-inch by two-inch metallic cuboids, this was not an easy retrofit, but by cannibalizing the rail guns of all six ships, they were able to make one large rail gun launcher.

They made the “ammunition” they blasted from the asteroid roughly bullet-shaped so they wouldn’t break up too much in the Tirosian atmosphere, and expected about ninety percent of each rock to remain intact before impacting the ground at around fifteen kilometers per second.

In less than a week, they started bombardment of the Tirosian planet, hurling the projectiles at around 65,000 kilometers per hour. In the end, they would have fired more than 10,000 rocks at the planet, at the rate of about one every five minutes.

Tasha said that 65,000 KPH sounded terribly fast, but Mia said that would come down to around 52,000 when they hit the atmosphere, which was still fast - roughly fourteen times faster than the speed of a twentieth-century rifle bullet.

The metallic objects would take about five months to reach their target 224 million kilometers away. Hopefully, the enemy wouldn’t detect them until the man-made meteors were too close for anything to be done.

In that intervening time, the Earthers reassembled their rail guns and the the rest of their “small” fleet of about forty ships started arriving. By the time they were all near the asteroid, it was only then that the enemy detected the wave of meteoric projectiles coming their way. By that time, the asteroid had started to look like a big cookie that’s been constantly nibbled at by mice.

The Tirosians, of course, tracked the projectiles back to the asteroid, and they looked at photographs of the asteroid over the previous months. In the photos, they did find the Earth ships and realized that they'd been there for months already, and had been firing off the metallic rocks at a rate of about ten or more per hour.

The Emperor’s staff looked for people to blame and the astronomers were the ones that were picked on. Summary executions followed, and the royal court started making plans to repel the incoming meteors. At that point, the Earthers activated an EM suppression field. That meant the Tirosians couldn’t use energy weapons to cut the meteors up, nor have any communications at all.

Their problem was an enormous one. They were going to have to shoot down the meteors. Since each one has about fifteen megatons in kinetic energy, this was vital. They had the same problem as Elyra except that instead of worrying about just one massive impactor, they had about one small one every five to ten minutes.

Just like in Elyra, they couldn’t use atomics since, instead of plain meteorites, they’d convert them to radioactive fallout. That is if they could use atomics at all. So they would need to use missiles and other explosive munitions to break them up into smaller fragments that, hopefully, would burn up in reentry.

All of their capital ships, missile gunships and any platform that could fire missiles were pressed into service, and in the beginning, they had some coordination problems due to the lack of communications. Nevertheless, their defense seemed to be effective. Each meteor required several dozen hits to convert them to gravel or deflect them enough but they had enough missiles to manage that.

Into the second week, they had sort of found their rhythm and were mechanically shooting down the meteors in a regular manner. The problem was that their grace period to shoot down the killer rocks had started to narrow from day to day. They would lose ground of maybe a few thousand kilometers each day. And that meant they had less and less time to shoot them down.

Tirosians would look at their night sky and marvel at the continuous meteor shower. But they knew what this really was about. They knew that the moment the meteor shower disappeared, a disaster would follow. The government started activating their emergency plans, and bomb shelters and other emergency facilities were opened. This wasn’t done as rapidly or as efficiently as they liked, however, because they didn’t have communications.

By the third week, the munitions of the ships overhead had started to run out, and they were starting to have problems resupplying their ships. The absence of communications was starting to hurt them in a very real way.

But more than just supply problems, the planet itself was in turmoil. In large part because of the lack of communications, the economic and social infrastructure of Tirosian society started to break down, and many portions of the planet’s large, disaffected and suppressed population had started rioting. Food supplies were dwindling fast. Large portions of Tirosian society – the slave classes and labor classes – were also ready to revolt. Normally, the police and military would put down such seditious actions but the EM field had prevented them from properly mustering their forces – the lack of communications and energy weapons were a real problem.

Most of the Tirosian elite had retreated to the royal palace and barricaded themselves in. The emperor himself had retreated to the main level below ground and tried to conduct the business of the empire from his private apartments. The palace itself was fully wired and this allowed him to give instructions. Government was able to scrape by and was coping just well enough not to implode. At least for now.

As for the situation out in orbit, some of the meteor projectiles were starting to get past the defense line, and several of the main settlements in the middle latitudes were hit with fifteen to twenty megaton explosions. Civil services had trouble coping and the list of casualties and injured citizens had started to climb into the hundreds of thousands.

The impact areas were not restricted to the middle latitudes, however, though that was where the bulk of the impacts were. But even those at higher latitudes were also hit. Those that thought to escape the bombardment knew that they weren’t safe there as well. The fleet of ships in orbit redoubled their efforts.

It was then that the Federation forces started their run.

Using the technique that people had started to call the “Colossus Effect,” their ships made repeated passes through the gathered ships, firing anti-ship missiles. The Tirosians could do nothing but take the hits, and they couldn’t chase after them because they were continuing their defensive fire against the meteors. A significant number of their ships were being cut down.

In the meantime, the deterioration of the home planet’s civilization continued. To ascertain the situation, EarthForce shuttles did many overflights of the planet’s population centers with impunity. The enemy defenses could not shoot down the little Earther flyers. They could not cope without communications and the other systems that they lost to the EM suppression field.

Some of the Earthers did come close to being shot down once, when a few of the Tirosian citizens were able to fire off a few anti-aircraft missiles. But without automated tracking, the Earther ships were able to evade them.

This spurred the defenders, and several aircraft took off and tried to chase the Earthers down, but Tirosian technology was just completely outclassed. Several tried to catch up and cut them off – a classic air combat tactic - but the Earther ships were just too fast. One of the Tirosians used his ship like a guided suicide missile and rammed a Mud Turtle. The Earth shuttle didn’t burst into flame but was forced down. It crashlanded in the outskirts of a mangrove forest almost 10,000 square kilometers in size, which, in a way saved the stranded crew – the Tirosians couldn’t get to them right away.

A couple of Cobras swooped down and rescued the crew of the downed shuttle. But when the crowds of Tirosians started to surface from the water and come out of the jungle, the Earthers had to blast off in a hurry. They were able to escape unharmed and as soon as they were away, the shuttles bombed the crash area to prevent Earth tech from falling into enemy hands.

As for the battle overhead, the Earth cruiser Victoria documented what had been happening, and sped out of range of the EM suppression field to beam a message to Colossus. Together with the reconnaissance information from the shuttles, Capitan Zaragoza was able to provide a reasonably complete report to the Federation, which was now the subject of a debate in Colossus.

In Colossus, after they'd listened to the report, the representative from Star 453-A spoke and argued for the cessation of the operation.

“My Lords and Ladies,” the cyborg said, “the mission has so far been breaking our way. Captain O’Connell’s tactics have so far been very successful, and we are days away from the fall of Tiros Prime. In one fell swoop, the Federation can claim to have won the war with the Tirosians. But, My Lords and Ladies, we are also days away from bringing to extinction a culture that has been eons in the making. As a race, the Tirosians are as old as any in the Federation. If we are to do this, we will be causing the extinction of a culture and a civilization that the universe will never see again.”

The Daemon representative pinged. “But, My Lord,” the lion-like alien said, “since its first encounter with the Federation, this race has been at war with us, with the goal of subjugating our peoples and annexing our territories. Should they not be eliminated?”

The cyborg paused. “I hear what you are saying, My Lord,” he said. “My own family cell perished in an attack on my colony world some hundred years ago. I have more reason than most to see the predations of the Tirosians definitively halted. But my eyes have been opened. As our honored colleagues from Earth have said, and as Elyra’s Great Messiah has said, there are two kinds of power, and only one of them can make lasting, permanent changes. I am in search of permanent change – a change that will redeem us all from the edge of ruin, not just from the Tirosians. What we do now will show if we are together on that same journey.” In the silence of the great hall, the cyborg sat down, and like the murmuring of water coursing though a forest stream growing into a torrent falling from a great waterfall, the applause rained down.

-----

It was within the ability of Federation forces to save the Tirosians from demise, but it was decided that they would only do so if they were able to get an unconditional surrender. So a plan was hatched: a task force was to be sent to the Imperial Castle to locate the Emperor and lay out their demands.

A mix of warriors, mostly Earthers, Elyrans, Daemons and Dixx, with a pair of Arachnians acting as their pathfinders and breakers, was transported down by a pair of Cobra shuttles accompanied by a large escort of Kembel and Axon fighters.

In a ballistic flight path that had their little squadron coming out from under the horizon, they were able to punch through the disorganized defensive line surrounding the castle. The two shuttles touched down on the castle’s enclosed roof deck courtyard. The rear ramps slammed down and the Federation soldiers jumped out. In less than five seconds, the shuttles took off again.

Under the directions of their Arachnian breakers, the group made for the main entrance.

The Earthers turned on the lamps in their helmets and lighted up the dim corridors. For the Dixx and the Earthers, the light was very useful, while the others didn’t have any trouble with the dim, reddish light preferred by the Tirosians.

The many turns and blind alleys made the castle almost like a labyrinth, but the Arachnians were leading them unerringly. They were able to get through twenty of the below-ground levels and were able to reach the royal apartments fairly quickly, despite the fact that as they got down deeper and deeper into the structure of the castle, there were more and more Tirosians in their way.

With the EM field, they were mostly reduced to using bladed weapons. Among all the Federation warriors, the most effective with their bladed weapons were the Elyrans, and they took the lead and cleared the path for them. The Earthers, the only ones among them with working sidearms, worked as the group’s sharpshooters. It helped that the Tirosians weren’t the best sword-wielders but their numbers worked to their advantage. The small Federation group was hard pressed to hold their own.

There was no option to retreat. The Federation task force really had nowhere else to go but forward. The Tirosians were fighting them with every bit of their skill and strength, and in the last few meters, there really was no moving forward. In the last passageway, the Earthers ordered everyone to hunker down and they threw grenades both up and down the tunnel. The detonations were enough to echo through the entire length of the tunnel and stun most of the defending Tirosians. Despite ringing ears, the Elyrans cut through the Tirosians and they all leapt past them, and penetrated further down the tunnel. A couple of the Earthers played tail-end Charlie, and as soon as the enemy started to recover, they threw a couple more grenades. Before they detonated, the Earthers raced after their comrades and crossed the threshold into the royal apartments.

None of the Tirosians followed them in – there seemed to be some rule that forbade them – and this allowed the Federation warriors to slow down, catch their breath and regroup.

The passageway split into three, but at this point, the Arachnians couldn’t point them to the right path. The Daemons among them suggested picking the center path, and that’s where they went.

The Elyrans pulled back the heavy black curtains that obscured the center passage and this revealed the Emperor.

He was sitting on his large, polished-wood throne. It was on a tall dais, with a ruby-red spotlight on it, and the Emperor sat there, looking at them with an unearthly calm. The green emerald rock, the Star, set within a gold cage, hung from around his neck. He turned towards them and sneered.

“So the vermin are here,” he said. “What is it that you want?”

The most senior among them, the lone Axon who was fluent in Tirosian, stepped forward and bowed.

“Your Royal Majesty,” the tall alien said in fluent Tirosian. “We are emissaries from the Galactic Federation of Free Races…”

The Emperor laughed sarcastically. “Free races!” he said. “Such nonsense. You can only say that because you have yet to be subjugated by my Tirosians. Kneel, slaves!”

The Axon just closed his eyes and kept calm. “Your Royal Majesty,” he said again. “We bring word from distant Colossus. It is upon the will of the peoples of the Federation that we are here. We are here to demand that, as the leader of your people, you are to submit to our authority. That you surrender your forces and…”

“Surrender!” he scoffed. “Your arrogance is not to be believed, Axon. It is you that must submit. My fleet will overcome your forces in mere days, and once they do, we will march on Colossus and force your beloved Federation of ignorant races to submit to the power of the Tiros Star Empire!”

The Axon sighed. “As Your Majesty must know,” he said, “Tiros Prime is mere weeks away from total collapse. Your government is beset with multiple riots and revolts, and your planet is under constant threat of bombardment from space.”

The emperor waved that away. “Details! Those are just details!”

“Where is the Prime Minister?”

“Prime Minister?” the Emperor asked sarcastically. “I know not who you refer to.”

“My Lord,” one of the Arachnians called. He pointed to a figure crumpled somewhere in the back of the throne room.

It was the Prime Minister. The tall Detterex had a jeweled dagger buried in her chest, murdered, no doubt, by the Emperor.

The Axon turned back to the Emperor. “My condolences, Your Royal Highness. We have heard that the Prime Minister was an exceptional individual, and has…”

“Hah! The Prime Minister was a figurehead. If I did not need her to keep the Detterex in line, I would have done away with her years ago!”

The Axon was doing his best to control his anger. “I see…”

“Now say your piece and begone!”

The Axon took a calming breath. “As I said, Your Majesty, the collapse of Tiros is inevitable. We can offer your people salvation, but we require your surrender.”

“I will never surrender!”

“It is your privilege,” the Axon said. He nodded to his comrades and prepared to leave.

“Wait,” the Emperor said. But they ignored him.

“Wait!”

They turned to leave his throne room, but the Emperor raised his scepter, pleading.

“Please!”

In a way, that one word was all that they wanted. The fact that there was no word in Tirosian for “please,” and that the Emperor had used the Elyran word, spoke volumes about the Emperor’s desperation.

“Tell me what needs to be done,” he whispered. “Tell me what must I do to save my people. I will do anything. Help me…”

-----

A flare was fired from the castle’s roof. The magnesium-bright flash could be seen for hundreds of miles, and was easily seen from orbit as well. This was the signal that they wanted. The Emperor had capitulated.

With the signal flare, the Earthers knew to turn off the EM field. Minutes after that, a radio message was transmitted from the Imperial Castle. It was the Emperor ordering the fleet to surrender to the Federation forces. Knowing that it was the only way for the planet and its people to survive, the Tirosian cruisers ceased firing at the Federation ships. Once it was apparent that the Tirosians weren’t firing at them anymore, the Federation cruisers used their now-available energy weapons to cut up the meteors.

But, apparently not being able to control themselves, close to half of the Tirosian commanders ordered their crews to open fire on the nearest Federation ships.

That made the Federation ships retaliate.

Such a situation was considered a possibility, and they planned for it. After a short exchange of fire, the Federation cruisers ended it quickly, pulled up and away and returned to their previous strategy. As they cruised away, the EM suppression field returned. This forced the Tiros cruisers to return to their old plan.

In that short skirmish, several dozen meteors had gotten past them, and they saw the rocks impact the planet. Massive explosions visible from space started blossoming on many of the land masses. However, there were a few miscalculations, and maybe a dozen of them impacted in Tiros Prime’s oceans.

These triggered massive tsunamis, and many seaside cities were either washed out to sea, or sank under the waves.

At that point, some of the ships opened fire on the Tirosian cruisers that fired on the Federation ships. But as that continued, more of the meteors got past them.

The EM field was switched off again and many of the Federation ships turned back.

This allowed the Tirosian defenders to use their energy weapons to start cutting up the meteors more rapidly than their missiles could break them up.

The five Earth cruisers then approached. With a firing system more sophisticated than any of them had seen, each ship used their weapons and fired them in such rapid-fire pulses, it was like a massive searchlight beam instead of individual thread-sized pulses. Each ship was able to disintegrate a meteor in seconds.

Many of the other Federation ships were shooting down the other meteors as well, but the others remained in the background, providing cover for the others.

Minutes into the joint defense of Tiros, several of the Tiros cruisers started to turn, preparatory to firing at the Elyrans again. But as they did, Cruiser 99 and the Elyran ships started bombarding them with their missiles. Many of the other Tirosians saw the same thing, and fired on their comrades as well.

These ships, under that kind of combined attack, just collapsed. And as everything settled back down, a large part of the Tiros fleet, more than half, just picked up and flew away. Inquiries were transmitted, and apparently these particular ships had just committed mutiny.

Emergency messages were sent to Colossus and Earth, and the orders were to let them go for the moment, and continue with the current operation to save the planet and turn away the meteors.

 

Occupation Force –

Once the threat of the meteors was done, the remaining Tirosian ships were boarded. There was no resistance – after all, the Emperor had already spoken. One of the bigger problems that they had was that, although there was no active resistance and the Tirosians were actively cooperating, they found that many members of the various crews had committed suicide. In fact, some of the ships didn’t have enough crew to muster for operation much less for battle.

Suicide was the problem. Only five percent of the Tirosian crews were left, and their ships were practically inoperative because of this. But, in any case, they were able to move the ships into orbits around the large gas giant about two billion kilometers away. Once in secure orbits, they disabled all of them and abandoned them for the moment. Three Federation ships, plus DSC Mikasa were deployed to act as patrol for the big parking lot of ships.

As for Tiros Prime, the occupation forces did a thorough survey of the planet. Best estimates showed that more than forty percent of their industrial capacity was gone, and large tracts of land and coastal areas were laid waste. Weather patterns were disrupted, and though there was no chance of anything like a nuclear winter, if weather control wasn't applied properly over the next several months, hurricanes of unprecedented violence, drought in places where there never was, and snowstorms and ice storms on a planet that had never seen snow and ice, would be in their future.

Over a hundred million perished in the bombardment, or in collateral effects of the bombardment - such as the rioting and the civil disturbances, or were part of the communities that were washed out to sea. That was an incredible number. Earth historians would refer to this as a holocaust, a term that was adopted by the rest of the Federation. But what was even more incredible was that over six billion of the population committed suicide.

This was the great shame of the Federation. Many would contend that the mass suicide was not their fault. Others would say that if they hadn't invaded, then that wouldn’t have happened. But if they didn’t then the Tirosians would have come for them. And the argument continued.

Long after things had settled, the argument would continue. Many would say that the argument will never end, and those that said so would be proven right.

Three hundred million survivors out an original planetary population of over six billion was incredible, and even more incredible was that these survivors would mostly be children – many of them not even fifteen planetary years old. The occupation force would not exactly be an occupation force but more a humanitarian mission (although when run through the translator, the word “humanitarian” did not sound too racist).

Actually, the problem was more because the non-Tirosian slave labor force on the planet was itching to take over. Looting and rioting were the things that the Federation forces had to deal with, and though the Federation personnel understood, they would not stand for any violence of any form.

Those that cooperated were given positions in the occupation government, mostly clerical and administrative, and they had to admit that it was more preferable to work for these aliens than their former masters.

A call went out to Colossus and all the Federation planets, and the member races pledged to send assistance. Over the next year, a constant stream of sophonts would arrive and the situation on the planet would be stabilized.

“Missionary” schools would be set up to assist in the education of the youngsters, and government was running again. It would be decades before Tiros would be in a position where Federation assistance wouldn’t be needed anymore, and, incredibly, by that time, the Tiros Star Empire would be offered a seat in the Galactic Federation Assembly.

That was, of course, still in the future. For now, it was still the beginning of things.

The reports were sent to Colossus, and, over the months, it would be discovered that the reports had leaked out to the rest of the Tiros colony worlds. How that happened, no one really knows. But what happened to these planets was the same as what happened in the homeworld.

Not having instantaneous communications was working in their favor this time. But it was just a matter of time before the news got out, so a race was on to save these colonies, and the Federation members, except for a few, pledged one or two ships to the effort. The Dravidians and, of course, the Erocii as well, didn’t.

Records from the Tiros archives showed the location of these planets, and with Phase-Wave telemetry and radio reception, they knew which needed assistance right away, and what kind of assistance would be needed.

Jennifer Priestly, studying the events and the circumstances of what happened to the Tirosians, definitely knew something was wrong. This counter-survival behavior indicated a genetic cause although a cultural reason couldn’t be completely ruled out. The automatic assumption was that inbreeding caused this, but this was just a shot-in-the-dark theory. They needed more information.

It must be solved soon, otherwise, the Tirosians might be destined for extinction regardless of what they did to try and help them.

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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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