"More," Selendil demanded, handing her empty bowl back to the insectoid Head-Chef. She had been right. Her sense of taste had indeed become sharper, and she was going to take full advantage.
“Boss, if you really have to eat everything, could you at least do it slower? It takes us time to actually make this stuff.” Zzz’tak complained with the shockingly smooth and pleasant voice of her voice modulator. “Savor the taste instead of just making it all disappear!”
“Fine.” Selendil agreed and slowed her pace down. It didn't really matter how quickly she ate after all.
“Is this a good time already?” Nox asked as her android body sat on the stool next to Selendil. Apparently the android body weighed a lot more than most humanoids, as the stool gave an ominous creak.
“Yes. Anything big happen while I was busy?” Selendil asked.
"Many of the crew were quite worried about you, but I kept them updated to the best of my ability. While I can't tell what was going on in your head, I could tell them you were physically fine. Though my readings of you seem to have changed significantly.” Nox started and passed Selendil a report of the latest readings.
“I’ll give you a report on my side of things once I have the time. Suffice to say I discovered a few things.” Selendil said curtly while eyeing the readings.
“I expected as much considering you’ve been at it for almost a week. I also assume you’re to blame for that odd psionic phenomenon that apparently everyone felt. There doesn’t seem to be any adverse effects aside from some minor general unrest, but even that seems to have mostly passed. Yrala sent a report that her hearing went well. The show of force by the Eriads did the trick and no one bothered to make trouble for her. They will be returning soon. Xiaoli and Haahun are working on my biological body currently, so I returned this one to the ship to get used to things faster. I’ve also started constructing the first Hyper Jump core. The work is proceeding albeit not very fast.” Nox listed off. She also went through a list of miscellaneous small details concerning supplies and personnel matters.
“So in essence, remarkably little happened while I was gone?” Selendil summarized.
“Basically. Oh, and Pharaa mentioned that they had something for us to do. Apparently, we really will need to show off our strength a bit as we suspected. She said something about a potential opportunity coming up soon." Nox finally added as an afterthought.
“Well, it’s better if we get that one dealt with as soon as possible and we knew this was coming. We got their cooperation on the first part of the trade, so it’s only fair that we reciprocate.” Selendil replied casually.
“My thoughts exactly. I think we should make a bit of a show of it, just so we won’t need to make such displays too often.” Nox suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea. I think I have just the thing in mind as well. Send a message to Pharaa and tell her I’ve returned.” Selendil nodded in agreement.
“Now tell me what happened.” Nox prompted.
“Are we really sure we should be doing this?" Lilly questioned as they were about to come out of phase space.
Yrala was about to answer, but Selendil waved her to stay out of this. “What do you mean exactly? Jump in like this? Take part in this battle at all? Make the deal that brought us here?” Amaterasu questioned Lilly.
“Take part in this battle. Once we do this there’s really no going back. Once we start actually shooting down the rebel ships we’ll have picked a side. Are we sure we’re on the right side? I mean, we still don’t even know what led to this war in the first place.” Lilly explained her hesitation.
Yrala was once again about to answer and explain but Selendil waved her quiet again. She wanted to hear where this was going. “There’s an error in your thinking. You assume there are right sides in a war.” Amaterasu replied again.
Lilly frowned. “Sure there are. Not always, but there are sides in a war and often one of them is in the right.”
“That’s where I disagree. Now granted, there are wars that may have started off justified. For instance, if you were suddenly attacked and are just defending your people. However, those are border wars where one side is the constant aggressor and they are rather simplistic in their political implications. Those kinds of wars are also rather limited in scope and usually in length. We might not be aware of all the details of this war, but this isn’t a border war.” Amaterasu countered.
“Yes, but this could be, sorry Yrala, a just rebellion against a tyrannical government," Lilly argued.
“The problem with that is that as wars drag on, both sides become tainted. Let’s say you start a rebellion against a tyrant. It sounds very heroic and positive in the beginning, but as the wars drag on millions die. Both sides are forced into committing acts that could be considered atrocities by most neutral observers. It’s hard to speak about right and wrong when both sides are standing over the graves of so many people. Even in the example of the earlier border war, when faced with a stubborn enemy, the defenders will eventually be forced into attacking to end the war, and that’s when the civilian casualties start piling on the other side.” Amaterasu argued.
“So you’re saying you shouldn’t fight tyranny then? Or wage any wars? What about the war Illum waged against the Tetrarchy?” Lilly argued, her voice getting a little heated.
“I didn’t say that at all. There are many causes worth going to war for. However, I do not believe there is a side that is in the right and a side that is in the wrong. It’s not that simple. There’s no good and evil to be found in most of these cases. Our war was for independence, and to retaliate against people who had mistreated and forsaken us before, yet even then I wouldn’t claim that we were righteous in waging that war. Most wars are fought for power and resources. And the militaries and civilians are the ones that have to suffer for it. That’s how power politics work.” Amaterasu shrugged.
Selendil felt a bit nostalgic. The Dhar were far from paragons of virtue. They were a warrior people that believed that war was good for those involved, especially the winners of course. And just waging war in itself was a worthy endeavor. However, there was one positive side even their detractors had to give to the Dhar. The wars they waged were usually short and decisive. There was no needless protracted suffering, at least not unless the enemy decided to resist to the last despite having lost already. Dhar usually also didn’t pick on those significantly weaker than them, or those that had no desire for war. They were given the choice to simply submit.
“Then let me rephrase.” Lilly reformed her argument. She wasn’t convinced but she wasn’t really prepared to argue her point either. “Are we sure the CAS is waging wars for reasons and goals we can agree with, or at least tolerate supporting?”
“To an extent. We had Nox run some research. The CAS isn’t prone to genocides or slavery at least. As far as we can tell, this is a war about sovereignty and distribution of power. That said, it wouldn’t much matter even if their reasons were not acceptable. Selendil already told this when we made the deal. We aren’t here to wage the war for the CAS or even the Eriads who we made the deal with. We made a transaction and now we're keeping our end of the bargain. As long as they aren't pushing us to do something that is against our principles, we don't really care. We're taking part in this battle only to make a show of force." Amaterasu explained.
“Which reminds me," Xiaoli interjected, changing the topic. "What's our plan exactly?"
“Nox, tactical analysis please.” Selendil requested.
“Right away.” Nox said, returning to her omnipresent voice now that her android body was not present on the bridge. “As most of you know, we were provided with the coordinates of a system that the Eriad spies are confident will come under attack very shortly. The system is one that is off the usual routes and thus is lightly defended. The system also happens to contain an agri-world inhabited by several races, so the news of the battle will spread quickly even if someone tried to suppress them.”
A holographic display of a solar system with five planetoids appeared above them. The system’s rather meager defenses were marked on the display in blue. “According to the information, we expect an attack fleet of at least a hundred capital class vessels and more supporting ships. Their most likely attack vectors are marked here.” Several large red lines appeared on the display.
“I’m not sure if this will fit our purposes.” Amaterasu mused. “Hundred ships is a decent fleet, but it’s hardly something that will be enough to become a real show of force. The CAS can relatively simply repel such attacks. I’m sure even Pharaa would be able to handle it on her own. Heck, even I would be able to do it with enough time if the psions of this galaxy weren’t so unreasonably powerful.”
“That’s why we need to make a show of it, and we’ll have to do it in a way that the number of enemies doesn’t make a difference.” Selendil joined the discussion. “We’re going to be very quick about it, and we’re going to make it clear that the number of ships they bring is irrelevant.
“Uh, Selendil, I wouldn’t dream of telling you how to do this, but do remember that we want the agri-world to stay intact. If you wipe it out along with the enemies, then that sort of ruins the entire point.” Yrala suggested. She had barely managed to return from her hearing before they set off.
Selendil laughed merrily at the words. "I really thought your mother would've already taught you this, but it seems not. After reaching a certain level of power, the role of a psion in battle is no longer about causing the biggest boom possible. There are more effective ways of handling things."
"But I like big booms," Xiaoli complained.
“We’re coming out of phase space master.” Nox reported. As space twisted around them, they found an unexpected sight awaiting them. The black ships of the rebels were already in the system, though judging by their approach vector, they had arrived only moments before. Due to the improved technology of the Enduring Symphony, their ship had come out of phase space much closer to the agri-world.
"Are we too late?" Yrala asked in a slight shock. it seemed the spies had messed up the timing.
"No, we've arrived at the perfect time. You can have all the information in the galaxy, and still, pure coincidence can make a mockery of your plans. Nox. Let’s show these people one example of how a Keeper fights and why we are so feared.” Selendil’s tails wiggled in a way that was the Dhar equivalent of an evil grin.
Suddenly Selendil disappeared from the bridge and appeared right in the middle of the enemy fleet. Normally she would’ve had to make two jumps to make the distance, but now one was enough. Benefits of her recent change. Thirty orbs and disks of what looked like purple liquid, but was in fact pure power appeared around her. Some of them appeared even inside the enemy vessels.
“Firing.” Nox reported curtly, and the people on the bridge saw many of the weapon systems activate and spit their deadly discharge inside the usual hexagonal shields that worked as short-range portals. However, this time the ship didn’t open exit portals. Instead, the weapon fire came out of some of the purple disks around Selendil, while most of the purple orbs seemed to fire beams of pure psionic energy capable of tearing small planetoids apart.
Selendil was visible for less than a second before teleporting again, and again, and again. Every time she left behind dozens of wrecked enemy vessels destroyed by either her powers or by the weapons of the Enduring Symphony. Each time she teleported, the orbs also changed place and appeared inside different ships. And they seemed to be growing in number. In less than five seconds, the entire enemy fleet was turned to nothing but scrap metal and corpses floating in space. Even if the shields of the enemy vessels were powerful, they did nothing if the weapons fire came from inside the ship. And the shields were completely bypassed by the beams of psionic power fired by the orbs. The enemy didn’t even have time to register what hit them as Selendil teleported around so rapidly, not to even mention returning fire.
Selendil wordlessly appeared back on the bridge of their ship. “Done. We can return now.” She stated simply.
“W-what the heck was that?” Yrala asked in shock.
“Exactly what you saw.” Selendil shrugged. What she had done required very little explanation. She had always been a believer in quick and decisive battles.
“But…those ships had their own psions and protections against psionic attacks. That’s one of the areas where they’re actually more advanced than we are.” Yrala argued.
"Yes, but their psions didn’t have time to react. That’s why you strike with the element of surprise and don’t leave them enough time to react. Even if they had managed to react, they had no idea what they were facing, and couldn’t have come up with countermeasures. You still haven’t come up with any, and you’ve had a lot more time to think about it than they had. As for the defenses? Well, they were kind of cute. Not very effective, but cute. Most Dhar children used that sort of defenses as training targets. This is one of those areas where you just can’t beat experience and knowledge.” Selendil explained simply.
“Hypothetically, how would one be able to counter something like that?” Amaterasu asked just in case someone used a similar tactic against them.
“With their strength against someone of mine? There’s exactly nothing they can do. However, were they facing someone similar to their own strength, there are ways to create a field inside which teleportation is impossible, or at the very least much harder. Of course, that only removes the advantage of mobility. You have to create a protective field around your ship to prevent someone like me from opening the gateways inside their ship. That's frankly beyond most races. It is, after all, a tactic developed by the Keepers and requires great synchronization between the AI and the Keeper. Even if you can't prevent it entirely, you could try to disturb the synchronization, thus messing up the timing. Thirdly, there's really not much you can do if you're unable to harm the attacker, but that's something you'd do better at. Hurting other psions is something most races have at least some skill at." Selendil replied with a few rudimentary tips. Of course, it wasn't that simple, but unless you could deal with the basics, there was no point in explaining the details.
“Why isn’t It the standard tactic for the ship to open those portal shields inside enemy vessels?” Xiaoli questioned.
“Because the shields don’t actually have all that much range. They’re designed as shields after all. Their only real purpose is to remove the weakness of weapon mounts on the hull and allowing all weapons a full arc of fire around the ship. The only reason we could do it this time was because I was the one personally opening the exit portals using my psionics. Now if some enemy ship really was stupid enough to come within touching distance of our ship, then our ship could open the portals inside the enemy ship.” Selendil shot the idea down.
“Where does the weapon fire actually go?” Amaterasu also asked curiously.
“It works a bit similar to our spatial extension technology. The weapons all collectively create a small pocket dimension where the shots go. Usually the fire barely even enters the pocket dimension as the exit portals are almost on top of the entry portal.” Nox replied this time. "I'm the one who actually controls the portals most of the time, but this time Selendil handled that. That's also why we need such good coordination. Most of the shots we fire travel at tremendous velocities and the pocket dimension isn't huge. We don't want the shots hitting each other either.”
"I'm guessing the results would be somewhat bad," Amaterasu stated, remembering some of the dreadful weapons the ship had.
“That’s a fair assessment yes.” Nox admitted.
“So are we done?” Lilly asked, still not pleased by the situation.
"Essentially yes, but we should stick around for a while in case they had reinforcements on the way," Yrala suggested.