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A note from Erios909

Alternate chapter name: Starwikipedia!

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USD: The next day, after coming into Real-time Comm range

Location: Nu Crateris, Tears of Fire, En route Dedia IV

 

Alex had directed Nameless to burn harder than needed to slow their trajectory to Dedia IV. They’d arrive a bit slower, but due to the tense situation, that seemed prudent. It gave time for H32 and Nameless to share telemetry and analysis data more thoroughly, as well as allow for the Tears to do a more detailed scan with its advanced sensor suite.

The colonists were not quite as efficient as the subcore, but it was obvious they had been sparing no effort to put defenses in orbit. Part of that effort was also directed to several orbital food production facilities, which met her approval.

She was just sad that all the guns were pointed at her subcore. Elis hadn’t had much advice for the situation. It wasn’t the first time Alex had been reminded by Elis that ‘I’m just a marine, not a politician.’

[Notice: A comm request has arrived from Captain-Major Thraker.]

“Accept it.”

Her comm console lit up and the older man’s familiar face appeared seated behind a desk. He was nursing an old-fashioned pipe, a trail a smoke trailing up to the ceiling in his office.

“Captain-Major, greetings.” Alex tried her best to remain professional, but a slight smile showed, anyway.

The Captain-Major’s voice seemed less enthused, “Captain Myers.”

A tingling sensation passed through her at his use of her new last name, her new connection with her best friend and sister still something new and pleasant to her.

The warm fuzzy feeling disappeared quickly as she realized Thraker was letting the silence grow as he nursed his pipe while still studying her through the screen.

“Captain, I’ve never seen a sector go from tense to on the brink in such a quick fashion. If you were an agent sent to spread chaos, I’d congratulate you on a job well done. I’m not convinced it was your intention, though.”

Alex winced at the evaluation. “I had not intended for things to occur in the manner they did, but placing the blame squarely on me is not fair.”

“Life is never fair, girl. There are millions starving on the surface through no fault of their own. The only reason being poor decisions made by the ones they placed in charge.”

Alex cleared her throat, feeling a bit attacked, but unable to counter his words.

“I have brought two freighters full of food rations from Ackman. Approximately 300,000 tons of food rations. It should feed several million people.”

“I expected such, considering your convoy. The ships we do not recognize, though.”

“They are new.”

The silence lengthened, and Alex felt more uncomfortable.

“The Governor did not clear them for arrival at the elevator, pending a video conference with him.” Alex finally added.

Thraker nodded. “They are preparing for war. Accepting aid from the one who they are preparing to fight against has them conflicted.”

“I don’t… I just wanted to help them. From the beginning.”

“To the Government you are their savior turned executioner. You’ve already let go of the rope holding the blade above their heads. Even if they placed the blade there themselves. To the people you are the one who blackened the skies and now protects the aliens. The city has had waves of riots as food has become scarce. The entire system is waiting for the hammer to drop on it now.”

“Ackman didn’t even know what was happening.”

“I’m not surprised. The media is run by the state. They probably hope if they try to keep a lid on events, it might delay things.”

“Is there any way you could help smooth things over, and maybe get the supplies delivered? I’ve slowed our approach to our geostationary position, but we’ll still be there within a day.”

Thraker didn’t answer immediately as he considered the request.

“I’ve worked as a mercenary for many years, Ms. Myers. I have built a sense of when the company should move on from a field. Our contract with the colonists was very profitable, in part thanks to the threat they perceived from your group. But the time for the IHMC to move on has come. I plan to close operations here, collect our personnel and ships from 92 Pegasi, and return to Meltisar.”

Alex blinked. “The missiles I promised you won’t be ready for a few months.”

Thraker nodded. “The standard rate due for the escort services provided in 92 Pegasi would amount to approximately 50 million SE. I will accept that au lieu of the ordinance offered.”

“I... I can do that, yes.” Alex wasted no time in keying in a transfer on her datapad and confirming it. A sad tone chimed as Thraker accepted it on his end.

|-50,000,000 SE|

|Main Account: 232,565,433 SE|

“Thank you. One thing to note: the IHMC has finished our contract with the Dedia IV Government. If you do start shooting each other, please keep in mind we will remain neutral. We still need to wrap up our operations here and will probably be in orbit pending a convoy contract headed out-system. Several of the ships in orbit are preparing to take on refugees who can afford transit costs out of the sector.”

Alex leaned back in her seat. She had noted the number of ships trailing the space elevator orbital, but thought they were likely part of the colony’s buildup of military assets. That people were trying to escape the system surprised her, although she realized it shouldn’t have.

“About helping mediate the food ration transfer?” Alex reminded Thraker of her earlier request.

He nodded. “I will see what I can do. I won’t promise anything, though.”

 


USD: Almost a day later

Location: Nu Crateris, Tears of Fire, Entering Stationary Orbit above Tifara Nest

The meeting with Governor Tyler had been one-on-one, but despite Alex’s hopes of defusing the situation, things did not go well.

As they moved closer, active sensors had lit the Tears up. Only a similar reply by her convoy had caused their targeting suites to abate. It was a few moments of dreadful tension with the ship at action stations.

She had breathed a sigh of relief when they had ceased actively pinging them. Elis thought they were likely gathering as much data as possible from their emission signatures.

Alex thought they were just being rude. Optical sensors would have no issue at the short range, even the inferior non-FedTech ones.

The colony had declined to accept the food shipments despite Captain-Major Thraker’s attempts. He had even offered to shuttle the supplies via his own shuttles.

Alex felt weary as she read a long list of requests from H32. Mostly involving airlift operations to allow it to begin operations in orbit. It had already built out the beginnings of a small space program meant to do so on its own, but the Tear’s two shuttles would speed things up by weeks.

“Nameless, I don’t want H32 building things in orbit of Dedia IV. We can help it set up some operations around the gas giant.”

[Interrogative: Does Avatar wish to evacuate H32 subcore to orbit?]

“I… no. H32 should stay for now, I think. I know being on the planet isn’t the safest place, but it’s the closest thing we have to a diplomat with the Rexxor Queen. It’s still making communication attempts, correct? Is there a summary of progress?”

[Informative: Processing of communications attempts is still ongoing. It is with high certainty that Rexxor communicate with radio-waves. Direct observation has observed that the Queen unit can override lesser unit’s will when in contact.]

“I was really surprised at the… industrialization and development of the area. I wasn’t expecting H32 to modify the hive and its environment so much. I understand it was just wanting to protect the hive and itself, but do we know how the Rexxor Queen feels about it at all?”

[Speculative: This unit posits that the Rexxor have not destroyed H32’s constructions and usage to enlarge hive and population are positive indications of acceptance of H32’s actions.]

“I’m not sure acceptance is what I was hoping for. If someone moved into the ship and started changing everything, and you had no choice, you might ‘accept’ it. But would you be happy with it?”

[Informative: Metaphor is flawed. If modifications were efficient and improved capability, they would be proper. If modifications were problematic, this unit would correct the deficiencies by re-modifying them to an acceptable standard.]

Alex sighed.

“I’m not sure what we should do now. I need to talk to Elis. Thankfully, the food isn’t perishable…”

[Notice: This unit can prepare orbit-to-ground strike packages of food rations that can survive re-entry. Resources will be required to produce the needed delivery vehicles.]

“Nameless… I don’t think they would appreciate that. They’d probably not understand and think we were attacking them.”

[Informative: The current balance of power remains in our favor. A surgical strike can decapitate the current operating government and allow Avatar to take control of the situation.]

“I can see how the Federation-Nanite war started…”

[Interrogative: Did Avatar discover information regarding historical events that this unit is not aware of?]

“I’m capable of correlation, too, you know.”

[Notice: This unit accepts Avatar might be capable of independent deductions, although it prefers concrete analysis.]

“Do you want me to remind me of the times your analysis has been wrong?”

[Notice: Faulty data does not render analysis faulty. Updating parameters and re-calculations are a fundamental requirement.]

“I’m going to go find Elis. I want to know what she found on the star-wiki.”

Alex stood and left the CIC. Moving down the ship’s corridor, she poked her head in the Mess to see if Elis was there.

Not finding her, she move on to her berth quarters and knocked on the door. A call from inside had it sliding open.

Elis was reading her datapad on her bed, looking over at Alex with a questioning look.

“Yes?”

“I wanted to know if you found anything on the star-wiki.”

Elis nodded, a frown creasing her face. “Yeah, there are a lot of things I’ve been over.”

“Do you mind if I join you?”

“Come on in.”

Alex smiled and hurried over to sit on the bed, leaning back to get a view of the data pad.

“What about H.I.M. Psi?”

“It’s about what I thought.”

“Which was?”

Adjusting her position, Elis patted beside her, and Alex climbed up to lie beside her to read the data pad together.

“Her Imperial Majesty Psi, definitely an NAI with an avatar. Became ruler of Earth five years after the destruction of the Entity. Reformed the governments of the local area, then led them in a conquest of the northeast quadrant. Solidified a coherent Imperial Government with herself as Empress after twenty years of conflict with the other Stellar Powers.”

Elis flipped the pages on the datapad, showing Alex images. Psi was a tall woman with long black hair and a curvy figure. Alex noted she was wearing a red and black military uniform, but instead of a hat, she had a golden tiara.

“So, the Earth’s moon is a NAI and it or its avatar rules the Imperium, like the entity… but she doesn’t seem to be destroying everything like it did?”

“It’s not just the Imperium. The Holy Ertan Republic has a High Priestess. The Solarian Federation a High Commissar. The Corporate Systems a Supreme CEO.”

She felt a tremor from Elis. Feeling the distress, Alex leaned into her and gave her a hug. “I’m sorry.”

Elis looked down at her. “For what?”

“I know that it hurts you. And… I’m technically a NAI too, at least the avatar part. I don’t know why it did what it did… I... I wouldn’t do that. Hurt all those people.”

Elis slipped an arm around Alex back and gave her a hug back. “I know. I don’t think you would. I don’t think you are bad.”

Alex burrowed her face into Elis for the hug. She felt immense relief and had to blink back tears that almost formed.

She needed Elis’s approval.

The words were a release from a burden she didn’t quite know she was carrying, along with a deep-rooted fear that had been creeping in the back of her mind for a while.

Elis leaned her head against Alex’s and continued, “They are all NAIs. The four major powers are all ruled by a different one. They’ve all been at war with each other in the past, but they seem to have never seriously threatened each other with extermination outside the early years after the collapse when they were forming their power bases.”

Flipping the page, Elis showed Alex photos of three other women. From their outfits, she came to a conclusion, “These are all their avatars?”

“Yes. There is more.”

Alex listened raptly. Of course, there was more. How had they been going on for months already without knowing this? They had been bulling around blindly. Maybe this information was so common that everyone was expected to know it? But it had also been hidden behind a paywall of a million credits which not everyone could afford.

“There might not just be four NAIs. The princess rumors? She’s real—maybe a subcore, a NAI, or even an actual biological daughter—of Empress Psi.”

“Is there… any information on whether the Avatar or the MainComputer is the superior in the pairings?”

Elis looked at her a moment before looking back at the datapad. “I am not sure. It might not be relevant.”

“I think it’s very important… Nameless is a bit… well, he can be mean without knowing it.”

[Informative: This unit does not act with cruelty or malice.]

Alex shook her head slightly. “Yeah. I know. You don’t even know you’re doing it sometimes. That’s why it’s better than I’m in charge.”

Thinking about the new information, Alex frowned.

“Psi has a moon for a flagship, the others probably have something like that, too. I don’t understand why technology is so limited, even here on the frontier? If they have nanite tech, then why are things so degraded?”

“Already found that.” Elis flipped to another page labeled, “The Nanite Accords.”

Alex read while Elis explained.

“The nations have agreed to limit the proliferation of nanite and even federation technology. They are limited to operating NAIs only in their capitals and FedTech in their core systems. Adding to those 'Core' systems requires the permission of the other factions. Any violator of the agreement is subject to punitive measures by the other factions. Any other spreading of NAI technology is expressly forbidden by pain of destruction, death and fines for the violating faction.”

Alex swallowed. That wasn’t good, but they had already known that revealing that she was a NAI Avatar was bad. Now they knew it was bad for different reasons than they had thought.

“They already suspect I’m a NAI... the Portmaster and Wyles. They kept calling me princess.”

“Yes, but maybe no. There is still a chance that the princess is biologically human, remember? If the avatar was having children… and then they might expect you to have a FedTech ship, since it looks like all the factions maintain a working military flotilla of them.”

“Oh. I didn’t consider that. But if there are other NAIs around, I shouldn’t have a problem. Nameless and our subcores have Psi authority, that would put them on par with what seems to be their highest authority level. I have Omega authority, meaning they couldn’t order any of us around. If we went to Earth, maybe I could take over.”

What?

“Uhm. Yeah, I’m not sure, but A31 tried to take over once. But when it read my authority level, it put me in charge. Nameless pretty much confirmed it when I made the first subcore. That’s why I spent so many points on their authority levels.”

“Why didn’t you give them Omega authority, then?”

[Informative: Subcore creation is limited to creating authority levels with lower rank than NAI authority. Avatar’s authority level is the highest possible, and a unique property.]

Alex blinked. “Wait, you know for sure that there aren’t any other Omegas? That Psi didn’t just name herself that as maybe a trick to throw things off?”

[Informative: This unit is certain that Avatar authority supersedes all ‘The Entity’ derived NAIs that might exist. However, considerable time has elapsed since Entity degradation. It is possible that some NAI units could have gone rogue and supplanted their authority programming.]

Elis froze as Nameless spoke to them. Her next words came out with a chill that made Alex feel tense.

“If you know so much, why didn’t you tell us earlier? More importantly… why did The Entity kill everyone? How are there even other NAIs still alive?”

[Notice: This unit’s memory and databanks have been damaged. There is insufficient data to determine cause of ‘The Entity’ actions. There is insufficient data to determine reason for Avatar Omega authority. There is insufficient data to determine reason for.. There is insufficient data to determine reason for..]

Alex bit her lip and released the looping NAI. “It’s ok, Nameless.”

Elis beside her was tense, like a rock.

Alex tried to soothe her. “He doesn’t know. He’s been damaged this whole time.”

“I don’t trust it.”

[Informative: This unit does not make false statements.]

Elis frowned. “Lies of omission are just as bad.”

Alex swallowed and tried to mediate. “I don’t think Nameless has an easy time understanding what important information is critical to share or not. It’s happened quite a few times to me before and I end up surprised. I don’t think it’s malicious.”

Elis remained quiet, and Alex hugged her new sister tighter. That got her a weak smile in response, and Elis changed the subject.

“The international agreements, they come down hard. Historically, they keep to the letter of them... from what I can read, who knows how much of this is edited to fit their narrative after events have already played out. I’m almost sure that the NAIs have some sort of power sharing agreement, though.”

“What about the other polities? Meltisar, the Free Planets Alliance, and Drakar? I mean we got a little info on Drakar already, but the others? Do they all have NAIs?”

“No. At least that seems pretty clear. Meltisar has remained independent by leveraging its position on the map. There are a lot of very long shortcut jumps to it. It sees a tremendous amount of traffic between the major powers and is essentially a mercantile trade hub that’s supposedly neutral.”

“What about the FPA?”

“They seem to have waged an independence war against the Ertan for decades. The High Priestess granted them their independence because the Ertan spent so much blood and treasure that it wasn’t worth subjugating them. They don’t seem to be very relevant other than that, they are very far removed and locked behind billions of kilometers of travel behind the Ertan Republic. They do seem to export a lot of animated space opera entertainment vids, though.”

Alex’s eyes lit up. “That sounds fun!”

Elis shook her head and stifled a giggle. “You’d say that.”

“If things don’t work out here, maybe we could go there.”

Elis frowned, flipping the datapad to a map view. “I’m not sure how we would make it there. We’d have to fly through Corporate or Solarian space, not to mention Ertan territory. Maybe you could discuss the prospects and get Thraker’s opinion on if we can even move safely outside of the Western Frontier.”

Alex nodded. “That’s a good idea. Not that…”

She paused and took a deep breath, feeling a bit overwhelmed. “I don’t know how we are doing. I feel like I messed up. We should have stayed hidden. Now it feels like we have a target on our backs and it’s all my fault.”

Elis looked over at her. “Hey. That’s not true. It’s not all your fault. You’ve been doing the best you can, right?”

Alex nodded, and Elis patted her on the head.

“I’ve honestly not known what to do, either. I don’t think any of your choices were terrible and you shouldn’t feel any guilt for making them.”

That was enough of an endorsement to make Alex relax. She scooted closer and lay her head on Elis’s shoulder.

She would have stayed like that for as long as Elis would let her, but a sudden realization hit her like a truck.

“We forgot something very important!”

Elis raised an eyebrow at her.

“We didn’t discuss what we are making for dinner…”

Elis hit her with a pillow, starting Alex’s first pillow fight war.

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A note from Erios909

Thanks for reading!

If you are enjoying the story, please leave a comment, rating, or review! They help the story out!

Alex and Elis appreciate them!

AI Fan Art time:

Starwikireading:

 

Starwiki Leader Photos:

H.I.M. Psi

 

High Priestess:

 

High Commissar:

 

Supreme CEO:

 

Next time: Chapter 56 – Outer Ops

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Erios909

  • West Virginia, USA
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Bio: Still alive, yes.

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