Sorry about the delay - very busy times in Reality. Illness, home repair, etc etc. I also question the quality of the work.
Real Life sucks. I'll retreat into fantasy. TYVM
------------City of Eleazor, Planet Apollo, Apollo System
Trellshire Province, Lyran Commonwealth
December 6, 2999 A.D.
The Botaneans had known for decades that their people were being hauled away to other planets to become slaves, and now they knew exactly where and what that entailed. And they were not happy at all. After Adrienne had told the tale of her life as a 'contractee' on Apollo, Juliet had to be forcibly restrained from getting in one of the Vipers and strafing the entire city.
After Adrienne fell asleep, Apollo told Starbuck, "In view of the circumstances, I think your crime of slave-purchasing can be overlooked this time. At least, I don't know where they'd get the tribunal willing to find you guilty."
"I didn't start out to do it!" Starbuck said. "It just - it happened!"
"I know," Apollo said. "It usually does."
In all the years Apollo had known Starbuck, he never truly understood the strange mixture of calculated selfishness and instinctive nobility that seemed to guide the man. One moment, he could be working out a revolutionary new method of dealing cards from the bottom of the deck, the next giving his last food ration to feed a hungry child. Starbuck was, despite outward appearances, a rather complex individual.
In the lounge area, the Botanean savants were still fuming. Especially after Dr Jeffries - who had worked as an electronics technician to make a living, separate from his work as a historian - had gotten done looking at the 'decorative choker' that Adrienne had been wearing.
"Bloody damned abomination," he reported. "At first I thought it was an electric shocker, but it's not. It's designed with neurohelmet technology, sending signals to the muscles - in this case, to constrict muscles. One remote signal and the wearer's throat muscles close off their air passages and blood vessels. No worry about disfiguring electrical burns or insulation being tucked in. Just strangle the girl to keep her in line. Where is the remote?"
Starbuck said, "It was damaged."
"Adrienne mentioned that," Juliet said. "You broke it cramming it into the restaurant manager's throat?"
"It wouldn't have broken if his jaw hadn't stayed attached so long. As it was, I could only get it in after the bone snapped. At that point, the owner would have had the law enforcers involved, but I waved the money under his nose and -" He shrugged. "Like I said - it just happened."
Juliet pulled him over and kissed him. "Good onya, mate."
"How can this happen in an advanced society?" Gilmesh asked. "Slave societies are primitive barbarians or preverted sensualists like the Shan or Lunari! How can a society advanced enough for drone technology justify slave labor?"
"This is a matter of established law and custom," Dr Wilcox the legal expert said after looking at the electronic edition of the Lyran Legal Codes he had purchased at the library. "Officially, slavery is illegal in the Lyran Commonwealth. Adrienne's legal status is 'contractee' - her legal existence is defined by a boilerplate contract that restricts her rights. Technically, Starbuck bought the contract, not the woman."
"Legally defining existence?" Brie said. "That's irrational. A person exists or they don't."
"Not unusual, though," Dr Wilcox explained. "I know that the law of the Star League and the Rim Worlds Republic had a process called 'incorporation'. It allowed ownership of property and legal responsibility to be invested in fictional beings called 'corporations', with shares of the fictional being sold to investors. In effect, a concept treated as a living being. The 'contractee' thing is the same thing in reverse - the real person being redefined as a fictional one."
Nobody could wrap their head around that. It was too outlandish.
"There has to be something we can do," Dr Jeffries said. "Perhaps if it were brought to the attention of the planetary Duke -"
"The rulers likely not only know about the slave trade," Wilcox said, "It's probable that they profit off of it. The contract dodge is not new or obscure - it has a thick body of law and precedents. Common sense or morality simply do not apply when the laws are deliberately slanted in favor of something."
Juliet again expressed her opinion of what she would like to do with the Lyran Legal Codes and in which of the Duke of Apollo's orifices.
Dr Zealand asked Lieutenant Gilmesh, "Are you certain we can't build a nuclear weapon out of one of the shuttle's engines?"
"Absolutely not!" Gilmesh semi-lied. (He knew it could be done, but didn't personally know how.)
Apollo, who did know how but disliked doing it, decided to speak up before Starbuck volunteered to do it. "Let's not go off half-charged, people. Obviously we need to do something - after all, civilized beings cannot tolerate slavery. But eight people are not going to change a planet in three weeks. Especially when that planet is just one out of hundreds with the same system!"
Brie mentioned, "But it would be easier to open a dialogue with the Galactica
"True," Starbuck said. "Nothing adds that bit of sincerity to a negotiation like batteries of turbo-laser cannons, fusion missiles, and planetary bombardment ordnance. Not to mention the really big guns for that extra little bit of emphasis."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Juliet agreed.
"Starbuck! Moreland!" Apollo protested. "The Galactica
hasn't sterilized a planet in almost a century! And never one with humans still on it! Besides, think of all the slaves still in captivity. While they're here, this planet has a shield of living people."
Dr Zealand made a nasty face. "He's right. We're supposed to be the good guys - we don't kill indisciminately."
Gilmesh frowned. "The Thousand Yahren War has spoiled us. I want to keep the moral high ground."
Dr Jeffries had to nod in agreement. "That 'acceptable losses for the greater good' excuse never felt right to me anyway. Sounds like something Fat Stevie Amaris would have done." He looked at the portable computer with the historical notes in it. "He probably did - he did everything else."
Juliet whistled to get everyone's attention.
Everyone looked at her curiously. She just grinned and held up a copy of 'Starways Tales'.
Brie asked, "You are insane, aren't you?"
"You and Starbuck should not breed."
Juliet and Starbuck made rude faces at her.
----------- Arcology of Aurora
Planet Botany Bay, Coreward Periphery
December 7. 2999 A.D.
The parties were beginning to die down. The business of Botany Bay was returning to something approximating normal - a new normal filled with energy and long-term planning and an enthusiasm that had not been seen in centuries.
General MacRuder had brought files and plans and proposals to his appointment with Admiral Adama. Commander Tigh had brought a sour attitude.
"Adama's going to tell you the same thing," MacRuder said. "Sending the Galactica
to the Dark Nebula was a good risk with the available information."
"If we had been here the pirates would have been vapor almost instantly. There would have been no landings."
"We have a saying on the Bebee, Tigh - 'if wishes were fishes we would all be wet'."
"I know, Vince. I've been an active-duty Warrior for over eighty yahrens, forty in command positions. I've been in this same situation I don't know how many times - the enemy does something I don't plan for and I'm in the wrong place. Feeling helpless."
"Well, the proposals I have call for a pair of lightspeed civilian carriers. The Galactica
could then retire from the courier business."
"Well, that's good. She needs an overhaul anyway - she was scheduled for one two yahrens back, but -" He shrugged. "Couldn't exactly request a dock at Virgon Orbital."
"She's in fine shape from my point of view." MacRuder grinned. "The holo of the Gray Lady taking out those pirate ships - I think I watched it a thousand times. Beautiful."
Tigh smiled at the memory. "I admit it - I was annoyed. I could have done the job with one turret. A full broadside was pointless temper on my part. I was even tempted to use a fusion missile, but we haven't got the assembly lines running yet. Hate to need it and not have it."
That sobered MacRuder, like the thought had ever since in sank in that within a month he would have control of a nuclear arsenal. He was terrified by the thought of having that sort of power - the sort of power that Adama and Tigh wielded with the casual ease of experience.
Athena came into the outer office. "Sires - can we wait a bit on the meeting?"
Tigh got up, his face creased with worry. "Is Adama alright?" he asked.
"He's fine, it's just ... this isn't a good time -"
The two military officers got up and walked past into Adama's office. It may have been rude and a breach of protocol, but if something was wrong with the head of the Colonial Service, it was a serious matter.
Adama was sitting at his desk, his fingers on his temple, frowning as if deep in thought. In front of him, a writing stylus hovered point-down over the desk.
MacRuder went over to the desk and looked at the stylus. There was no obvious support.
Tigh came over and put a hand on Adama's shoulder. Adama looked up. "Oh, yes. The time. My apologies, Tigh - Vince. I guess I haven't been myself lately." The stylus lowered itself to the table.
Adama gave a sad smile on seeing MacRuder's mystified face. "I suppose you want to ask me about that?"
"Well, yes. How did you do that?"
"It's a sorry tale," Adama explained. "The Colonial Military Institute once conducted a research project into the use of psychic powers against the Cylons.I was chosen because of high test scores and the legends that said that some of my ancestors were prophets - the researchers thought that I would have a better chance of developing something useful. After extensive training, my intuition was enhanced and I could do ... that." Adama idly flicked his fingers and the stylus rolled across the table.
"Cylon Centurions - unless they weighed less than half a kilocubit - had little to fear from my abilities. My wife got annoyed when I would practice at home. I ended up bending all our eating utensils double. The project was considered a failure, and after Apollo was born I gave it very little thought.
"But during the Exodus, the Fleet encountered a creature called Iblis. He had apparently supernatural powers and claimed godhood. This made me look at my little ability in a new light. Perhaps it could be considered a sign of ... development. Growth and evolution. I even started teaching my children, so they could defend their thoughts if Iblis ever returned." His expression went from grim to tragic. "When I was in the Power Center, when Frankenstein's machine had me and was going to use me as a hostage, I reached out blindly with my mind, grabbed and twisted."
MacRuder was amazed. He had assumed that the pirate Frankenstein had some bizarre medical affliction that had struck at just the right time. This was something he had not guessed and wouldn't have believed if told.
Adama got a disgusted look on his face. "This sign of development, of growth, of the evolution of our species to something real
... and the only use I ever got out of it was as a convenient substitute for a blaster."
The stylus flew off the table, but stopped midair and into Athena's hand. As she put it on the desk, she mentioned, "Well, in the process you saved thousands of people from a horrid death, and in my eyes that counts for something."
"Yes, yes," Adama said. "I know. I should stop sulking. But I want our people to stand for something more than raw survival. Animals survive. In The Book of the Lords of Kobol
, the Lord Urania said 'As you now are, we once were; as we now are you may yet become.' I want our descendants to reach for ... something higher. I doubt a state of enlightenment can be reached by ripping apart people's insides."
Athena threw her hands up. "I keep telling him he's not a rampaging monster, but he insists on wallowing in angst and letting the work build up."
"I know," Tigh said. "I come in with angst about not being in the right place at the right time, only to find Adama complaining about being in exactly the right place and time. Some people are never satisfied."
"I don't know about 'enlightenment'," MacRuder said, "But I do know about evolution. You know about the Sundowners?"
Adama shook his head.
"It's a movement that's been around since the first pirate attack. The Sundowners figure that the solution to invasion from space is to have nothing to attract invaders, including technology or large population centers. They renounce technical civilization, live out in the Back of Beyond using stone tools, hunting and foraging. After every pirate invasion, their numbers grew - people would send in a notice to the government saying 'I'm no longer a citizen' and go woop-woop. Had your Rag-Tag Fleet not come by, I think that in another generation the Sundowners would have become all of humanity on this world. And for the first time after a pirate raid, no one has sent in a notice. Not this time." He gave a victorious grin. "That's evolution to me."
Tigh added, "We all want a world that makes sense, with no monsters in it. You and I both know that this is not that world. Every culture needs it's monster slayers, Old Friend. It's just our bad luck to be them."
Adama sat for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, "Well, I see that if I don't get to work, you three will browbeat me until I give in."
"Yes," Athena said. "Mother said that browbeating was one of the duties of the Lady of the House."
"And I can practice my Commander's Fearsome Glower on you," Tigh said. "I've already got the Colonel's Intimidating Glare down, I need a bit more practice for the Commander's version." Tigh gave a severe look.
"Oh that's good," MacRuder said. "I've got to work on that." He tried to give Adama the same look.
Adama gave a laugh. "Very well, I surrender. You would think a man my age would be allowed to feel sorry for himself."
"I don't think anything of the sort," Athena said. "Now it's time for your appointments."
---------- Office, Precentor Martial, ComStar Compound
Hilton Head, North America, Terra
December 7. 2999 A.D.
"These Ultimate Priority dispatches were supposed to go directly to the Primus. But there's no indication he ever received them. And the tale they tell is very interesting."
Precentor Martial Julia ffoulks had the eccentric habit of speaking to the portrait of the Blessed Blake that hung in her private office. It had embarrassed her a couple of times when she was less highly-ranked, but now she was First Circuit, and nobody walked into her office without warning. Talking to Blake helped her organize her thoughts. Besides, it convinced her secretarial staff that she was either insane or a visionary, each of which had it's own benefits. And after the first year, the assorted listening devices hidden in her office were considered unreliable by their planters.
"This mysterious 'United Colonies' suddenly appears in the old Rim Worlds Republic, almost at the same time as the Fomalhaut Disaster. Both the Fomalhaut attackers and the United Colonies demonstrated ultra-advanced alien-seeming technology ...
"Strange that the only other person to see the United Colonies dispatches besides William Iblis and myself has died. I spent a great deal of effort suborning that fellow, only for him to fall over dead of a suspiciously-timed cerebral hemorrhage. And I liked him, too. Fortunately he managed to get these dispatches to me before he died."
She tapped a button and the file on William Iblis appeared on her monitor. She re-read it every few days, as if some new insight would come up from a fresh reading. It was all a rather bland account of a textbook career in ROM, so generic that it didn't even seem real. Ordinary stuff, except for his meteoric rise beginning two years ago. There were a number of odd events surrounding that rise - suicides, illnesses, scandals, mental breakdowns.
Eighteen months ago, Iblis became Precentor ROM, and the normally secretive organization became almost fanatical in it's isolation. Had her mole not already been in place, ffoulks doubted she would have been able to get anyone inside at all.
"So what is this new Periphery power to you, William Iblis? And what do they have to do with the Fomalhaut aliens, if anything?" She addressed the Blake portrait. "What is he planning? I know he's been trying to get a toehold in ComGuard. And I don't know if he's succeeded - I admit it, Iblis is better at conspiracy and intrigue than I am. Is he aiming to become Primus? Or are his goals different? ComGuard plus a war against aliens ... the possibilities of that scenario are frightening. Whatever he's up to, I don't like it.
"Being head of a secret mostly-mothballed military force is not much of an honor - more than a few people call me 'Precentor Janitor' behind my back. But the Precentor Martial keeps the other members of the First Circuit from getting funny ideas about using Blake's Own Arsenal for their own purposes. If the Primus insists on a secret deployment, then Iblis might use the emergency to try and undermine my authority to gain control of ComGuard. Could Iblis have cooked up a fake incident somehow? I don't see how. I'm sure these United Colonies have the answer somehow ..."
A discreet knock on the door, and her secretary came in with a lunch tray. After the secretary left, she pulled some papers out from under the plate and read them.
"Secret orders to the ROM Office on Apollo ... 'It would be in the best interests of ComStar if the United Colonies delegation did not report to their superiors'. My, how discreetly phrased. I guess 'will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest' has been done to death. Covering himself even in secret orders - how Machivellian can one person get? I suppose saying 'plant bombs in their toilet' would just be too vulgar. But why do it in the first place? I can't figure out why he would want them dead.
"And more secret orders to the ECV Metropolis
... 'discover the world or worlds the United Colonies are currently based on and the disposition of the fleet, report back soonest'. That is interesting, isn't it, Blake? He wants very specific information. In his place, I would want general information - government structure, economic state, military forces, population, everything I could dig up. All Iblis wants is the location of their home and their fleet."
Precentor ffoulks turned in her chair and began typing. "So let's have some new secret orders. With the Precentor ROM's own confirmation codes at that. Heh-heh. Silly Willie - subverting Precentors, undermine Demi-Precentors, but it never occurs to you to get control of the Adepts who actually operate the HPGs? If it had, these orders would have already been sent. Top-down thinking has doomed many a devoted servant of Blake's Vision."
---------- Clearspot System, Dark Nebula
Trellshire Province, Lyran Commonwealth
December 8, 2999 A.D.
Augustus Lane and Kylie Sadako (designated 'Mission Specialists', not mentioning their ComStar ranks), as well as the rest of the crew of the Metropolis
, had listened to the fighter pilot's tales of Kobol and the Thirteen Tribes and the Cylons and the Exodus with tolerant smirks, amazed at the superstitious rot the Periphery neo-barbarians would believe.
But then they received via the ship's HPG secret orders, co-signed by both the Precentor ROM and the Precentor Martial, rescinding their previous mission in the Dark Nebula. They were now ordered to find out everything they could about the United Colonies and their contacts with other worlds, and to send a detailed report in exactly one month later. Anything that could make the heads of two of the most territorial factions in ComStar agree on something must be right up there with finding Kerensky's Fleet. The way Adept Sadako was drooling over the little fighters, Lane suspected it was the technology.
A day later they were on the ship Sagittaria Dawn
, under non-spin-induced artificial gravity, comfortably accelerating at almost fifty gravities toward the Majahaul Mining Station. They only took fourteen hours to make a flight that would take a DropShip four days. It made not believing the tales of their origin a bit more difficult.
Their engineers had explained the operation of the mobile mining station with the three discs - magnetohydrodynamic centrifuges, each designed for a specific operation, to extract metallic hydrogen, to extract and stabilize a substance called 'tylium', and to reduce the remaining mass to monoatomic matter and separate it into pure elements for transport. Mining and refining all at once, and when they returned home, they could just hand over one-hundred-percent pure elements of all varieties to their industries.
The mining base itself was the last straw.
It was formed of some odd metallic laminate only a couple of centimeters thick, assembled like a simple shelter. It had heat and a self-renewing atmosphere and gravity. If it weren't for the view outside of the asteroid it rested on and the asteroid field in the sky, it could have been on a planet. And a third of it had one wall missing, exposing it to the depths of space for the Vipers to land, and it held atmosphere anyway.
It was impossible. It simply could not exist. Yet there it was.
The United Colonies people had been gracious hosts. They had been polite and offered to help them explore the system. And they said that according to their own laws, the mineral wealth of this tiny system belonged to whomever dug it up, so they were welcome to start mining - something that an expedition from the Successor States would have never said.
When Sadako mentioned that they were supposed to be lostech prospectors - their original cover identity - the United Colonies people pointed them toward whatever was controlling those drone fighters. They even volunteered to help explore it. Again, no one from the Successor States would have done that.
That evening, after most of the base finally went to sleep, Lane went to the hangar and stood a meter away from the vacuum of space. He had brought a cup of what one of the Australian-sounding Colonials had called beef tea, but hadn't drunk it. Idly he tossed the contents through the invisible partition. It expanded into a glittery cloud of crystals and drifted over the surface of the asteroid.
"Hey!" Sadako's voice came from behind him. "You couldn't sleep either, huh? I don't blame you, this is so exciting! Unfortunately most of their technical manuals are in this weird language the writing looks like little pictures -"
"Adept Sadako," Lane interrupted, speaking formally since there was no one nearby to overhear. "Have you thought about it?"
"About what, Precentor?" she asked, using the same degree of formality as he did.
"The Mission. The Work of the Blessed Blake."
She straightened up and recited, "We keep the lost knowledge of the Star League. We prevent the Scavenger Lords from exploiting that knowledge to destroy themselves. And one day, the Star League will be reborn and we will use the science and technology we have protected to usher in a new Golden Age for all mankind."
He nodded. "Very good, Adept." He sighed, his breath becoming briefly visible on the edge of the invisible whatever. "And what of the United Colonies?"
"I don't understand?"
"They aren't of the Star League. If their tales are to be believed, they were never
part of the Star League - or even of Holy Terra. And I'm inclined to believe them. We can't possibly pretend that they're just some lucky Periphery proto-state. They have no use for the 'lost knowledge of the Star League'. Except maybe to open up an antiques shop."
"Um, Precentor? You're talking nonsense."
He sat on the deck. "Yes I am. Do you realize that the Guiding Principles and the Words of the Blessed Blake say about this situation? Absolutely nothing!
What do the all-inclusive procedural manuals say is the appropriate course of action? Not a single paragraph
about what to do when meeting a technologically superior culture. They aren't Scavenger Lords, they aren't neo-barbs, they aren't the Star League. What is their role in the Mission of ComStar? Do we ignore them? Steal their technology? Shoot them? Hand them the Keys to the Kingdoms? What? Where does my life's work fit into this!?
Sadako sat down besides him. "You know, I hadn't thought of that. I was too busy trying to understand their explanation of gravity plates."
"I figured as much," Lane said. Kylie Sadako was in ComStar for one reason - the technology. She was a true technophile. Ever since he met the girl, he always thought half-jokingly that she would have abandoned ComStar if someone else had better toys.
Now someone had better toys.
Sadako hopped back to her feet. "Well, the Precentors in the First Circuit must be wondering the same thing. I guess that's why we have orders to find out what we can about them. It's their job to worry about Blake's Vision. We're Explorer Corps - we seek and search. It's our job to find out about the United Colonies. We do our job, let the Primus do his."
He sighed. "That's all we can do for now."
------------ Deep Space
December 8, 2999 A.D.
The Starchaser was basically a Viper with the weapons removed to make room for a gravitic pulse generator. This extra pulse generator allowed the tylium-fusion engines to run at increased efficiency, making the Starchaser the fastest non-lightspeed craft ever built by humans. And now, lacking a human pilot whose survival had to be considered, still more tweaking could increase engine efficiency further.
C.O.R.A. seldom got to do much on the Galactica
except assist the training personnel. But she was an Artificial Intelligence customized for flight, and she only truly lived
when she flew.
No pilot encumbered her this time, and she was instructed to fly the longest, fastest course she had ever navigated. The course ran through star systems and null-spaces, ending up inside the Dark Nebula for a brief while, then onward to the Apollo system. All of this under constant acceleration. Then a new route back to start under constant deceleration.
For much of the trip, C.O.R.A. would be well in the grip of relativity, very close to the speed of light. On the return loop she would slow down until she returned to the Botany Bay system at more rational velocities. But during the high point of her ride, every sub-atomic particle would be a high-energy cosmic ray, and every tiny dust mote would hit with the force of an artillery shell.
For this eventuality, the Starchaser had a new component - a wedge-shaped plate on the front, a plate of powered armor with an overcoat of Thirteenth Tribe armor from captured and salvaged BattleMechs. This was to be a test of the armor's real damage-absorption capability, as well as the means by which the Starchaser would break records for final velocity.
From her point of view, the trip through the Clearspot System took only seconds. To the Majahaul Expedition, the passage took several minutes, during which relativity-distorted signals were received and sent. A short hop later, and C.O.R.A. was speeding through the Apollo system. Again, signals were sent and received.
On the planet Apollo, every sensor and scanner on or around the planet was slowly turning to the heavens. The weak emergence signature was detected, and the exhaust of the Starchaser's engines were seen, forming a streak across the system at almost the speed of light. But the force field prevented active sensors from detecting the Viper with active sensors, and the relativistic distortion warped the appearance of the Viper.
To make matters worse, the ComStar News Service had just reported the Fomalhaut Disaster. As soon as it was announced, conspiracy theorists were crying 'aliens did it'.
So after C.O.R.A.'s forty-minute sweep through the Apollo system, the planet Apollo was having it's very first U.F.O. scare.
--------- City of Eleazor, Planet Apollo, Apollo System
Trellshire Province, Lyran Commonwealth
December 8, 2999 A.D.
"First message from home!" Brie announced that morning.
As everyone gathered for primary meal, Brie gave Starbuck a smirk. "C.O.R.A. says 'hello'."
"'Cora'?" Julie asked.
Apollo said, "Oh don't worry. She's just another lady that Starbuck climbed all over, took to the heavens, then walked away from without looking back."
"Another one? That's like thirteen I've come across so far. Are you totally incapable of keeping it in your pants, Starbuck? '"
Gilmesh commented, "He's well known for it. [i]Galactica's
shuttle, ladies ride free."
"Guys!" Starbuck protested over the other Warriors' giggles. He explained to Julie, "C.O.R.A. is the computer that acts as the co-pilot in the Starchaser. We've done a few missions together. And you've met her - who do you think you flew against in the training simulator on the Galactica
"Computer?" Julie raised an eyebrow at that. "I thought you Kobolians didn't like artificial intelligences."
"Correction - we don't like artificial intelligences that are trying to kill us. There's a difference."
Apollo said. "The C.O.R.A. system is very limited - she's either in the simulator or in the Starchaser. And in any case, she's not a full person. She doesn't have self-awareness or imagination or intuition or the desire to learn - she's a sophisticated emulation of a personality. We don't build the fully intelligent type anymore."
"Look up the Galatea Project in the historical archives when we get back. But don't eat before you read it."
A chime came from the door. Gilmesh looked at the wall readout and announced, "There's someone at our airlock. I think he's knocking."
Brie turned on the security viewer and said, "And he's wearing a hood. I think I saw a couple of those at the Mercenaries' Hiring Hall, in the staff section."
"Curious," Apollo said. He got up and went to the airlock. A minute later, he returned with an envelope.
"Well, this is odd. An invitation from a 'Janos Marik, Precentor Apollo' to us to visit the ComStar Operations Center today."
"This ComStar thing confuses me," Dr Wilcox said. "From the library records, I couldn't tell if it was a messenger service, a bank, a religion, a diplomatic agency, or a government."
Apollo said, "But I gathered that ComStar is, among all that other felgerkarb, officially neutral in all diplomatic matters?"
"True," Dr Jeffries confirmed. "They have complete control of the old Star League's faster-than-light communications network. They stay neutral and pass diplomatic communications between the nations, as well as selling civilian communications and offering banking services. And from the description of their ranking system, Precentor Apollo is the title of the head of ComStar for this planet."
"So if we can get on their good side, we can use them as a diplomatic channel to the other governments. We have to establish communication lines if we're to get civilization restarted around here. Besides, the United Colonies doesn't have FTL communications, although I've heard rumors that the Cylons do. I admit I'm curious."
"Nice to know the old Star League pulled ahead of you Kobolians in something," Dr Wilcox said.
"Quite a few things," Apollo said. "But this is one of the more spectacular."
Adrienne came out in standard coveralls. "I beg your pardon, but what time am I allowed to eat?"
That made everyone feel awkward. "Come here, girl," Julie said. "Sit down."
"Oh I couldn't -"
"You're part of the civilian crew," Apollo said. "Eat when you need to, or with us if you like."
She sat down nervously. "If I may ask ... what is my job here?"
"You're very important," Starbuck said. "We need you to help us establish contacts with the slave community, learn how everything's set up. We can hardly destroy a target without knowing what target we're trying to destroy, can we?"
"Well," Apollo said, "I'm pretty sure we won't conquer the planet with four Warriors, one soldier, and four civilians with two Vipers and a shuttle."
"Hey!" Starbuck said. "Four Colonial Warriors and only one planet? What's the problem? Want to let them get reinforcements, make it a fight?"
Brie opened the message packet and made an exclamation. "Oh frak!"
"The pirates attacked Botany Bay!"
That got everyone's attention. The message packet was downloaded to the main salon viewscreen and they watched the news broadcasts of the pirate invasion. They rejoiced over the victory, mourned their fallen friends, and noted the lessons learned.
And Adrienne stared in silence until the Awesome BattleMech was dismembered and the Botany Bay militia mass-blasted the cockpit. Then she began screaming.
Juliet and Dr Jeffries, being the closest, held her as she screamed and thrashed. After a time, her screams went from wordless bellows to calls of "MOMMY! MOMMY! PLEASE MOVE MOMMY! PLEASE STOP BLEEDING!" She was restrained until her screams settled down to tears.
As Adrienne calmed down to simple uncontrollable weeping, Starbuck, said, "Alright, I'll build the fusion warhead - that will leave us one engine on the shuttle. More than we need with these limpers. Gilmesh, you and Brie will begin the strafing runs - make sure to get the spaceports - "
Apollo slapped him in the head. "Don't tempt me, Starbuck! I'm almost ready to do it! But we will not
fly off all half-charged and emotional! We'll stick to the plan. Scout first. Learn what we can, where and how the target is vulnerable. Prepare ourselves properly. Then - and only then - do we start killing people in a calm and rational manner. Like civilized beings!"
No one could argue with his logic.
Apollo looked at his chronometer, noting that the Starchaser would be in range for another ten centons. He had the time to prepare an addendum to his message drop.
---------- Clearspot System, Dark Nebula
Trellshire Province, Lyran Commonwealth
December 8, 2999 A.D.
The news packet from the Starchaser was met with celebration and some mourning for lost comrades.
The visiting ComStar Explorer Corps agents watched the recorded Botany Bay news broadcasts of the conflict. They were impressed by the destruction of what they estimated was a two-company combined arms force with a good Mech force. That the defending forces had not one single Mech was startling.
Those bizarre 'landcruisers' were amazing things - antigravity and exotic energy weapons in what they estimated was a two-thousand-ton vehicle that could go at any speed from naught to aircraft speeds. Lane could seriously see the BattleMech becoming obsolete if those things became commonplace.
They were briefly disoriented by the Colonial Warriors noting the effect of missiles and autocannon, and remarking that their military had stopped using such weapons two thousand years ago
... But they were getting used to such revelations and recovered quickly.
Then came the news footage of the Galactica
. Sadako gripped Lane's hand hard when they saw the vaporization of a JumpShip and three DropShips, in violation of all accepted customs of war.
Lane felt his last certainties crumble. Like all Explorer Corps Precentors, he knew about ComGuard. From the stories Boomer and the others told of their Thousand-Year War, these were veterans, and that Galactica
was a powerful active-duty WarShip. And he knew that ComGuard was a mostly mothballed fleet with no real experienced personnel, performing perhaps one mission every couple of generations. The certainty that ComStar had the power to do whatever was necessary vanished.
The Primus needed information. To do that, Lane needed to learn. To do that, he needed to earn their trust.
And one earned trust by working together.
"Hey, Boomer? You fellows said you'd like to help us with that excavation?"
"Sure, Lane. We can bring the off-duty Vipers for defense, and the Dawn
isn't doing anything but extending the base right now."
"Well, when we came out here, we brought a database of old identity signals. Unfortunately, the nebula's ionization was a lot higher than our equipment could burn through."
"Not surprised - there's a baby irregular forming in there and it's flaring right now. It was probably sleeping the last time a survey was done."
Lane nodded. He hadn't even thought of the stars in a nebula as being obstacles. "Well, do you have a system that can burn through that mess?"
Boomer grinned. "Give us a few centons and we'll have you a guaranteed Colonial felgerkarb-burner ready for action. I have to admit I'm curious about Our Friendly Neighbors myself."
----------City of Eleazor, Planet Apollo, Apollo System
Trellshire Province, Lyran Commonwealth
December 8, 2999 A.D.
The ComStar Operations Compound was - as always - a busy place. Among the various persons in business suits and uniforms were the hooded and robed Adepts of ComStar.
Among these persons were two people in beige uniforms with short capes. The guards noticed them because the two persons were carrying huge conspicuous sidearms. Not pretty ceremonial things in artistic displays but functional-looking ugly things in fast-draw holsters. That always got their attention.
A uniformed guard came up and politely asked, "May I assist you?"
The man said, "We received an invitation from a 'Janos Marik, Precentor Apollo', delivered by messenger this morning."
"There is a notice to watch for you. And may I have your names for our visitor's logs? Name, homeworld, citizenship, military ranks and affiliations."
"Apollo Sigma-six-three-three-seven-omicron-aleph of Caprica, United Colonies of Kobol, Captain in the United Colonial Service."
The woman recited, "Juliet Moreland of Botany Bay, United Colonies of Kobol, Provisional Lieutenant in the United Colonial Service." Ju;iet found it easier than she thought to identify herself as a citizen of the United Colonies than she thought.
The guard nodded and entered the information in his notes. "The Precentor will be with you momentarily."
As the two waited, they watched the activities in the central atrium through the open doors.
"Religious ceremony?" Apollo asked. "Reminds me of some of the more elaborate ones I've seen."
"Looks like something fancy," Juliet replied. "The Bebee doesn't go in for elaborate public stuff like this. I recognize the machine, though - there's one just like it in Singh, but ours doesn't do anything."
"Well, I don't think we were invited here to convert to the local religion." He looked around. "Whatever they want, everything looks open. Nice and civilized."
"Ask that poor girl Adrienne about how civilized this planet is," Juliet said harshly. "The benefits of civilization around here only touch the aristocrats and their immediate circle. Everyone else is merely a helpless victim."
"Well said!" a voice said from behind. They turned and met the gaze of a mature man in a hooded robe. "I am Janos Marik, Precentor Apollo, the local operational head of ComStar. An honor, Captain - Lieutenant. Usually we only get Bandit Kings with pretensions coming out of the Periphery. We seldom get to greet a new nation."
"And you're so sure we qualify?" Juliet asked.
"Your vessels are completely new designs, not simply rebuilt Star League era relics or copied from older designs. And we understand they are very efficient - your light fighters flew for three days under power and you still haven't had them refueled. Obviously you have industries and engineers worthy of the name, not merely rote-trained technicians. Come along, let me show you around."
He guided them on a swift tour of the facility, including the Hyper-Pulse Generator, the huge apparatus which made interstellar communications possible, attended by it's flocks of Adepts.
"Why the ceremonial?" Apollo asked. "Seems rather pointless just to operate a communications device."
"To impress upon our young Adepts the awesome responsibility left us by the Blessed Jerome Blake, the founder of ComStar. He was head of the Star League's Department of Communications two centuries ago. When the Usurper was defeated, the heads of the Great Houses could not agree among themselves who should rule, and the Star League collapsed in a flurry of civil war. To prevent of Lords of the Inner Sphere from using the HPG network for coordinated interstellar warfare, the Blessed Blake managed to take control, remake the Department of Communications into ComStar, and make us a neutral organization. It is an awesome responsibility - to keep the lines of communication open, to be the island of calm in the seas of war. For one day the messages will be of negotiations for reunion, for renewal, the Star League reborn. One day peace will return to the stars. Thus the ceremonial - to remind our Adepts that this is the most serious work, the holy work of peace for mankind."
"Did you rehearse that?" Juliet asked. Like most Botaneans, she had little patience for long-winded speeches.
"I use variants of that speech on a regular basis," Marik said. "Truth is truth."
"So why make it so public?" Apollo asked. "Wouldn't private initiates-only ceremonials be more effective for that purpose?"
Marik gave an embarrassed laugh. "Ah yes. Very observant, Captain. Most people don't think of it like that. As you already noticed, despite appearances, these are not civilized stars. Many people think of advanced technology as The neo-barbarians see arcane ceremonial, and they instinctively think of magic. Thus the barbarians, thinking that the magic of the Adepts is needed to use the machines, leave the ComStar facilities alone. Civilized men see the ceremony and know that the rather mundane procedures of operation are mixed in those liturgies and rituals. But they dare not risk experimenting to find out which is mechanics and which is mummery, lest they damage the HPG. So they also leave our facilities alone."
"Clever," Apollo admitted. "Paranoid, but clever."
"Nothing is past these people," Juliet pointed out. "I'm pretty sure these hooded bruces would be having their toenails pulled out in the Duke's dungeons for the operation instructions if they thought they could get away with it."
"Quite right," Precentor Marik said. "I'm sure your own HPG operators would agree in principle, at least."
"We've got one of these on Botany Bay," Juliet said. "But no one knows what it is or how it works. We built a museum around it. The Lyrans probably took the operators with them when they pulled out."
"Botany Bay," the Precentor said. "I pulled the records of that world when I heard of your delegation. Primary industry, industrial sands. Population eighteen million as of the 2750 census, colonized in 2549 by the Sydney Preservation Consortium, allegedly one of the three arcologies is the only colony of Australian Aboriginal tribes beyond Terra. Seized by the Lyran Commonwealth 2766, last recorded contact November 11, 2776."
Apollo smirked. "Um ... instead of 'Terra', could we call that planet 'Earth'? We know of another Terra some distance anti-spinward of here. It could get confusing."
"Yes, I can see that," Precentor Marik agreed. "There were almost three thousand officially known human worlds at the height of the Star League, you know - everything from full colonies with millions of citizens to isolated outposts with only a few seasonal visitors. And as for unofficial ones - some repetition is bound to creep in. Blake alone knows how many worlds have duplicate names. Although I couldn't find any reference to a world called 'Caprica' at all."
"The Twelve Colonies aren't in your databases," Apollo said. "That's a matter for another time."
They had been guided to a private conference room, where the Precentor offered them seats and drinks of fruit juice. "I understand that you've been doing well in trading?" he prompted.
"We sold our goods well enough," Apollo said. "Our trade ships should do well when we give them permission to begin trading."
"Oh?" How many cargo ships do you have?"
"Not many," Apollo said. "But it should be enough. The currency exchange was a pleasant surprise."
"Hard currency always does well, Captain. Something like forty ComStar Letters of Credit to the cubit, I believe? I think you'll have to make arrangements with our Financial Control Office to help prevent a drain of hard currency from your economy."
"That's a matter for the Quorum. I'm just a Colonial Warrior."
Juliet said, "Aren't you a Quorum member?"
is a member of the Quorum," Apollo said a bit harshly. "If anything, he's grooming my sister Athena to take his place when he retires."
Juliet tried to look innocent. "But Brie told me that your personal hereditary titles included, 'Lord of the Realm of Bellarium' and 'Dominus of the House of Aleph'? And your father's hereditary title was 'High Lord of the planet Caprica'?" She had gathered how these people thought about aristocrats, and knew that Apollo's innate modesty prevented him from properly exploiting this.
Apollo smiled and whispered through gritted teeth, "Starbuck put you up to this, didn't he?"
"No need to be embarrassed, Captain," the ComStar Precentor said warmly. "It's a common practice throughout the Inner Sphere to put the scions of the noble Houses through military service. And in case you're wondering, the name 'Marik' is not a coincidence - I can claim the Captain-General of the Free Worlds League as a cousin. I renounced the rights of a scion of House Marik - such as they were - for a higher calling. You'll find our ranks filled with nobles who have done likewise for the greater duty of ComStar."
The conversation went on for quite a while, varying between inanities and detailed analysis of their respective societies. Apollo managed to fend off detailed descriptions of the current situation and recent history of the United Colonies without directly lying, as he had been instructed to do.
Janos Marik, meanwhile, was trying to probe as deeply as he could without being rude. The secret orders he had received from Terra - co-signed by two First Circuit Precentors together no less! - told him to discover whatever he could about the United Colonies. But he found out very little. This young lordling was very adept at not answering questions. He found out more from the body language of Lieutenant Moreland than from Captain Apollo, who apparently had the discipline of a much more mature man - aristocratic training, he figured.
Part of the Precentor's secret orders were to, if possible, get an agent to their world. That was simple enough, but it required a significant exception to the ComStar Periphery policies. However, he felt that a secret order from two First Circuit members should cover his actions adequately.
The offer of a ComStar technical team to get the Botany Bay HPG operational again was graciously accepted.
Gilmesh had walked around the 'Contract Employees Exchange' and had impressed himself with his ability to not run in and shoot everybody. The walled Exchange covered three city blocks and had all the buildings in adjacent blocks razed, providing a killing ground. That area was patrolled by a couple of funny-looking BattleMechs, one shaped like an egg, the other covered with nozzles.
"How can they lie to themselves and say those aren't slaves in there?" he wondered out loud. "That place is designed like a prison!"
"We noticed," a voice said from behind him. A young blonde woman in well-cut local clothes was smiling up at him. "I take it you don't approve?"
"Not particularly," Gilmesh said. "Where I come from, slavery is considered treason against humanity."
"I like that," she said, handing him a pamphlet. "Well-phrased. I'm Charlotte Taylor-Wilson, I'm with the People's Independence Committee. We want an end to slavery."
He took the pamphlet. "Lietuenant Gilmesh, Colonial Service. Sounds like you have a job ahead of you."
"Nothing worth doing is easy. 'If my brother is not free, I'm not free.'"
"I like that. Well-phrased." That got a giggle from her. "Those machines - Mechs? You know anything about them?"
"The round one's an old UrbanMech. The other one's a Big-Bear IndustrialMech optimized for firefighting, but I think the nozzles shoot anesthetic solutions instead of fire-retardant."
"You wouldn't happen to know about the guard schedules or the internal security, would you?"
Her eyes widened a bit, then she asked, "Is this going to result in something horribly illegal that will damage the Exchange in every possible way?"
"Yes. And we'll probably enjoy it, too."
"I'll ask around. Our contact information is on the pamphlet." She hesitated. "I might be a police agent, you know."
"I don't think so. A provocation agent wouldn't bother with an alien - she'd go for locals, try to neutralize the native organization."
"You seem to know a bit about this kind of thing." She took his arm with a smile.
"I read 'Starways Tales' s lot when I was a kid. When I wasn't watching 'Space Cruiser Madagon'."
"Oh, some old stories ..."