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Most Honorable Dwamak
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Aug 12, 2009
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Year 2594

FSS Dmitri, Federal Security listening post, Churassix System.


Captain Murad walked up the stairs to the command bridge, his boots clanging against its metal surface. Low hums filled the dark chamber, and screens dimly lit the faces of the crew. Each control stations were occupied by the silent crew who stared nervously, and waited for their captain to begin. The station was particularly strange to him. It was barely automatic, and almost everything was analogue. If there were anything automatic, they were severely outdated; the whole concept was alien. He had to learn and get used to making his own coffee in the morning, which was the only enjoyment he found during his stay on the station.
It was just another day--349th day to be exact. Repetition, repetition. The usual, every single day. Wake and wash at 3AM Arcturus Time. Coffee and breakfast at 4AM. Receive code and brief the crew at 5AM. Transmission of the code at exactly 6:12AM. Though it was the same, he could never get used to it. Neither could the crewmen and crew women under his command. No, it wasn't the stress of the repetition. He was sure of it.
The mission was run under the guidance of the Naval Intelligence Service, though they rarely advised or contacted the station. Murad's duties included transmitting codes given to him by the NIS, over to another unknown listening post somewhere else in the stars. It was all a mystery, and he wondered why an AI couldn't perform these trivialities instead. In fact, it was so secret that not even the Federation Navy knew of its existence. Which meant that even the president and the senate was out of the loop. It wasn't an unknown fact that NIS was, unofficially highly autonomous, which made them seem almost like a private intelligence arm of the Terran Federation.
Before Murad took on the highly secretive mission, he was a proud man. And he was, for a few weeks after. However, the longer he and his crew remained on the station and carried out the mission, the more they grasped the concept of it all. It struck their nerves not knowing the full extent of the mission. The pride for Murad's military achievements took a blow, when he had learned that there were bodies lined up behind, waiting to replace him should he give up. The NIS labeled him the most stubborn, out of all other successor captains that came before him. His complaints, and almost daily questioning of the mission finally gave way to hints that NIS tried everything to hide, for the sake of morale. Why he was in such a remote station, along with a few hundred souls onboard, he wished to know. But upon discovering the hints, his resolve was emboldened as he vowed to himself: No one can know, and we cannot fail.

Murad leaned over to the screen at the center of the bridge and opened his comm.
He spoke into the comm, "Foxtrot. Delta. Echo. Zulu. Seven. Four. Nine. Copy?"
After a slight delay, a man replied from the comm, "Copy."
"Engage," Murad said, and the bridge crew turned back to their screens and watched. Captain Murad let out a sigh and rubbed his chin. All waited quietly. He hated this moment, and it was the moment no one could ever get used to.
The man spoke from the comm, "Negative effect." It broke the silence in the bridge. No one had heard this before. The chamber was now filled with panicked murmurs of the crew.
"Status report," Murad said anxiously.
"Stand by," the comm replied, and once again the bridge fell silent as they waited. Murad impatiently tapped his fingers on his lap.
"Subject's behavioral patterns are showing irregularities from the previous encounters. Analysis suggests the subject is showing a possible aggressive behavior against an unknown target," the comm said. "The unknown target is causing too much interference in the pacification efforts. Further engagements could be ineffective. Standing by for further orders."
Some of the crew turned to one another, confused.
Captain Murad switched his comm to private channels. "Serpent Six, requesting protocol three," he said, and waited for a moment. He spoke again, "Copy that."
He switched the comm back to the transmission channels and spoke, "Readjust frequency to zero thirty nine. Engage."
"Copy," the man on the comm replied. The crew turned back to their screens in their stations.
"Negative effect. Be advised, you've been spotted. Unknown target fast approaching your location with our subject. Go into phase bravo immediately. How copy?" the man said.
The crew stopped what they were doing and turned to their captain. Murad, wide-eyed, looked around at his crew.
"Sir?" a crewman directed at Murad with fear in his eyes. He stood, motionless.
"Dmitri, come in. Initiate phase bravo immediately. The window is closing, over!" the man on the comm spoke again.
Finally, snapping back to attention, Captain Murad ordered his crew, "Initiate phase bravo."
The crew, without hesitation, got up from their stations and scrambled across. Some chattered into their comms to notify the other crew members in the station. "Scrap the entire station!" Murad shouted over the chaos of the bridge.
"Sir! Our data refractor... The signal from the subject..." a crewman at his station trailed off unable to get his eyes off the screen, but got Murad's attention.
"What is it lieutenant?"
"One of the scrambled signal was reflected. It's been caught!"
"How could this happen?"
"It seems like some observation array was focused into our location. It could be uh-uh-uh... a coincidence, sir."
"Where!?" Murad shouted and he rushed over to the lieutenant's station.
"It's been transmitted... into our space, sir."
Some of the crews nearby stopped what they were doing and stared at the lieutenant, mortified.

Theia System, Theia Prime, Theia Astrophysics Institute.


Dr. Archer put on the thick coat and entered the freezing warehouse. "Hey, I got you some... whatever the hell this drink is. The one you asked for!" Dr. Archer yelled as he entered with two cups in both hands, and a data pad held under his armpit. The large warehouse echoed his colleague's distant snores across the hall. After a minute of travel down the linear hallway on the maglev segway, Dr. Archer finally reached the monitoring station located at the end of the server farm, which was warmer. He took off his coat and looked around. His colleague was sound asleep with his feet on the desk.
"Wake up bud," Archer said, tapping on his colleague's shoe.
"Huh..." He groaned but continued to sleep. At least the snore is gone, Archer thought. He set down the cup far away from the feet as a precaution.

Archer took a sip of his synthetic coffee and winced. He sat at his desk and motioned at his screen to browse the latest news.
"Hello, Dr. Archer. How are you doing today?" an AI assistant spoke in an overly polite tone.
"Nothing much Sandra. Find anything new for me?" Archer asked, while shuffling through his bag of assorted baked goods. He took the one that appealed to his eyes and took a bite out of it, and began to study the gooey blue jelly that dripped out. He nodded in approval.
"Yes, doctor. An anomaly was detected precisely eleven minutes, thirty two seconds, seven microseconds and--"
"Yeah yeah. From where, exactly?" Archer cut off the AI.
"Hmm... This is quite strange doctor. I am unable to access the exact location of where this data came from. It is encrypted. However, I can decrypt most of the data for you, if you'd like."
"Doesn't matter. If it's an anomaly to you, then I suppose it's worth a look. Don't you think so, Sandra?"
"I am quite excited to study this new anomaly with you, doctor. Decrypting the data, now."
"Great, let's get down to it. While you do that, let me just finish this dough here. Mmm!"

After rubbing his hands, Dr. Archer swiped his screen and opened the data that was decrypted by Sandra. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Before him was the map of the entire galaxy, showing four different points of immense signal surges. They were unlike anything he had ever seen before. But what fascinated him more was the small signal and its point of origin, located not too far from Theia.
"What the hell is this?" He said to himself and looked around to make sure no one was watching him. He then worked on the computer to adjust the satellites in orbit of Theia, to identify and locate the exact point of origin of the strange signal.
"The satellites are locked, doctor," Sandra said. "It seems that the signal is still active, and is getting further away from Theia. It will soon be out of our range."
He had to know. In his entire career of studying xeno signals, he had never seen anything like it. He just had to send out a probe signal. But he paused his excitement for a moment, knowing that it was illegal. He also knew that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to discover something new--a breakthrough perhaps.
Finally, however, he stayed his hand. Instead, he ordered Sandra to decipher the signal.
"Deciphering, now."
In a quick succession, the rows of the servers began shutting down, then eventually all systems and even the lights in the monitoring station shut down.
"Whoa, whoa!" Archer shouted, surprised. "Sandra!? Sandra!"
"Huh!? What!?" Archer's colleague, Dr. Jensen, was finally awake. "What the hell is going on!?"
"Someone must have hacked into Sandra!" Archer replied.
"I can't see a thing! Sandra, turn the lights back on!" Jensen shouted.
"It's no use, bud. She's gone..."
Dr. Jensen lightly slapped his cheeks and stretched his arms. He took out his data pad and squinted his eyes at it, and shook his head.
"What the hell did you do, bro?" Jensen asked.
"I had no control over our servers," Archer replied. "Sandra was deciphering a signal--"
"Dude, the servers overloaded," Jensen said, his face lit up by the data pad.
"You are telling me that the largest server farm in the entire sector just overloaded?" Archer argued.
"See for yourself," Jensen said, waving around the data pad in front of Archer, who snatched it away.
Suddenly, with a loud hum, the servers came back on row by row, then all systems in the monitoring station were back online. The two scientists froze and looked up, and then around the room.
"Uh... Sandra?" Jensen asked and waited, his blank stare still fixated towards the ceiling.
"Oh no," Archer said as he looked at the data on the screen. "Sandra, what did you do?"
"What happened?" Jensen asked, rushing over to Archer, who sat silently.
Both pored over the data on the screen and realized that a blank signal was sent from their network to the strange signal.
"We have to go to the military," Archer said.
"Are you insane?" Jensen shouted, walking back to his own desk. "We are in enough trouble as it is!"
Archer leaned closer to the screen and suddenly got up from his chair, shaken.
"What is it now?" Jensen asked, irritated.
"We really need to go to the military. I saw it... I... I saw it move... It's moving!"
"What's moving? What are you talking about?"
"The... The signal. It changed course! It's coming here!"
"You don't know that!" Jensen urged.
"I know what I saw! What the hell did you do Sandra!?" Archer panicked.
"Hello, Dr. Archer. Hello, Dr. Jensen. I was instructed to guide the anomaly back to Theia," Sandra spoke, startling the men. "As I was instructed to find the signal with our orbital probe arrays."
"Wait... What?" Archer took a few steps back, confused.
"On whose authority?" Jensen asked.
"Good bye," Sandra said. With a low hum, the AI turned itself off.
"Come back!" Jensen yelled.
"We have to go to the military--"
"Look, settle down and think for a sec. Whatever that thing is, the military probably already knows!" Jensen pleaded.

"Indeed. They do now, thanks to you," a voice echoed from the entrance of the monitoring station. A man in a suit quietly approached the two scientists, escorted by two more in black military uniforms.
Jensen turned around quickly and said, "Who the hell are you? You can't come in here without--"
Dr. Archer squinted his eyes in pain from the sharp ringing in his ears. He opened them and saw Jensen squirming in the pool of his own blood on the white floor. Archer looked back up at the men.
"No. No wait, please--"
Dr. Archer fell to the ground. The man in suit walked over the Dr. Jensen's now still body and look around the desks.
"Destroy everything," he said, before casually walking back to the entrance where more men in black uniforms rushed in with rifles. The silent hallways of the Theia Astrophysics Institute were littered with bodies and blood.

Sol System, Undisclosed location, Earth.


There were twelve men and women in a dim room, faces shrouded by shadow and their voices masked. Some appeared as holograms blurred with static.
"You double-crossed us," a man spoke and slammed his fist on the large round table where the meeting was held. "We've all made a pact together, risking our lives to prepare for the Chosen's inevitable arrival, but we also have a duty to safeguard our nation and our species. How could you keep this pertinent information from this council?"
A woman then cleared her throat and began, "You were to be informed, I assure you. Someone else got to it first due to a petty mistake on our part, and you happened to have intercepted it before we could inform you."
The room was filled with low grunts. But the woman raised her hand to reassure her colleagues and continued.
"Though I might add, your containment were brutish and messy," she said, her hologram blurred by static.
"Don't you dare redirect your mistake on me and my department, Four," the disgruntled man retorted.
The woman, known as Four, brushed him aside and continued to speak, "Our failure have not jeopardized our plans. It has merely shortened our schedule. We are in it to secure the guarantee of safety for our people, just like you. Do not for a second doubt our organization's motives. Now is not the time to ostracize one another."
The room nodded and fell silent in approval.
"Yes. It was quite unfortunate that the subject had encountered a lone Lox patrol craft. Our usual pacification attempts had failed due to their presence. Good news is that we can continue to hide the subject's existence and elude them whole," a man known as Two spoke, his navy uniform partially visible.
"Now, tell us, doctor," Four began, signaling towards Eleven. "The artifact. We have heard the news. I assume it was a success?"
Eleven nodded and replied, "Indeed. The infusion was a success. Even now, it is reacting. If all else fails, we may need the help of the Order of Curators. But for now, the artifact is ready for transport."
"Very good. If all else fails, we shall authorize such course of action. Our organization will provide escort for you and the artifact back to Earth," One said. "It is our only hope. Our only leverage for the security of our species. Or if need be, a weapon."
"Director," Four spoke again. "Prepare a narrative for Theia and contain any leaks. Blame the Lox. We will leak the information when the time is right. And do alert the colony for evacuation. Save as many people as you can. I fear that it's almost time."
"All our plans, and our duties which we have upheld for centuries as the guiding hand of humanity, are now drawing to a close. Annuit cœptis," One said and the others followed suit.
"Annuit cœptis."

Theia Prime


Below the tall towers of the Theian capital, the masses were organized in groups with military vehicles guiding them towards the massive spaceports. Lines of civilian vehicles stretched out across, over the skyline of the city like veins, all leading towards the spaceports on the outskirts of the city. An exodus out of the metropolis. Beyond the massive dome-like structure of the spaceports, transport ships lifted off one by one, and occasionally obscured the bright local star.

Maintenance Unit 631, or "Mu" for short as its Terran counterparts used to call it, looked down with curiosity atop a railing of the flying broadcast drone. The synth felt fear and urgency to flee with the rest, but was determined to complete the new task given to it by its new master from the stars.
"Liberator comes," Mu whispered. "They shall know what is to come."
It eventually took its cold gaze off of the masses fleeing below, opened the maintenance console of the broadcast drone and began hacking its security systems.

The civilians were divided in groups, even as they arrived near the spaceport on foot. Some complained, some were confused, but most cooperated with the instructions of the military.
A woman among the crowd, looked up at the sky towards the screen of the broadcast drone. The product advertisement had gone and turned pitch black. It was as if there was a dark patch in the sky. The drone was now broadcasting the footage being captured by the military's orbital laserscopes. The woman looked closely and with a flash of light, a single object appeared in the screen. The object was adorned with various lights, and its golden hulls glistened in the dark surrounding. She gasped, though, when after the flashes of lights, revealed hundreds of more objects emerging from the dark behind the golden object. These ones had menacing red glows and its hulls were as dark as space itself. Somehow, her instincts screamed at her to run but continued to watch with bated breath. At least until beams of red light stretched out from the dark objects and consumed the golden object in brief but intensely bright light. Pieces of what was left of the magnificent and alien space craft floated away into the dark. She finally pointed at the screen in the sky and screamed, "Look!"

"Liberator comes," Mu said and jumped off the railing.

An officer of the Planetary Guard shouted into her comm, over the waves of cries and screams coming from outside the spaceport, "I'm sorry, sir! We don't have enough transports. We have to follow procedure!"
Only thing stopping the masses from rushing towards the entrances of the spaceport were lines of energy riot barricades set up by the soldiers, which were already overheating with thousands of people violently crashing against it.
"Let us in!"
"Save us!"
"Look at what's happening! Where is the navy!?"

"Yes. Right away, sir," the officer concluded her call with her superior officer and let out a sigh.
A soldier approached the officer. "What do we do, ma'am? The shields won't hold for long," he said.
"Shut down the shields. Let the people in. We are retreating to the forts. Withdraw all troops," she replied.
"But ma'am, what do we do with the civies?"
"We have orders to let them be. God help these people. Let's pack it up and move out!"

On the launch pads, the transport ship crews and security officers tried in vain to clear the area, as the civilians rushed towards the last remaining ship en masse.
"Please get back! You are in the blasting zone!" a security officer shouted.
"You dare try to leave with MY ship!?" an oligarch in the crowd shouted.
"We will be back for you! Remain calm!"

From the crowd a woman emerged, with a little girl in her arms.
"Take my baby! Take her!" she cried out as she held up the baby in the air. A crewman spotted them and hesitated. He turned to the security officers and pointed at the girl. Together, they pushed through the wailing crowd and reached for the child. Another guard fired his sonic gun to push the crowds away, before the rest of the crew climbed up into the transport and sealed the hatch. When the ground began to shake and the spooling of the engines became loud enough to drown the cries, people scattered to stay clear of the blast zone.


After hours of flying in sublight speed, the passengers all but calmed down to the level of whispers. The seats were rough as it was a military transport instead of a passenger craft, but they made due with what they had. A woman sat next to the child that was rescued at the last minute, and comforted her. She looked out the window at the tiny blue dot - Theia. The woman tapped the window to zoom in on the visual of her home planet and gasped. Bright flames engulfed the continents and slowly turned the blue planet red.

The view was soon obscured by a large navy escort ship closing in on the transport, flying in the same direction and speed. But it soon slowed down, turning its heading towards Theia. On its hull was painted in writing, "Pegasus 311".

Chapter 1: Politics
Year 2620



"311", the grazed painting read, upon the burned piece of the large ship hull that was displayed in the lobby as a monument to the unsung heroes of the final rescue crews of Theia. Admiral Moreau stared at it for a while, then paced herself down the great marble hallway of the presidential palace decorated with preserved ancient artifacts and arts of the xenos long forgotten. It was ironic to say the least. The very foundation of the Terran Federation is deep-rooted on the basis that aliens are inferior and a threat, after all. But they eventually led to the discovery of Fen Habbanis, an ancient xeno world in ruins, some 200 years ago. It was the greatest archaeological discovery in human history, and the scientists then were the luckiest generations so far.

Ahead of the admiral, guiding her to the president's office, was the president's personal advisor who sided with the admiral's urgency of the new situations that were unfolding across the entire galaxy. No one, not a single Terran civilian, was aware of what was happening besides the senate and the military. The fact that the senate knew about it angered the admiral. The president was her last hope.

They at last reached the president's office. The marines, genetically enhanced for combat, seemed to dwarf the grand double doors of the office they guarded. Without a word, they opened the doors so the admiral could pass.
"Admiral, I suggest you not rush the president. He is rather easily swayed by the senate's excuses," the advisor whispered as he grabbed her shoulder.
"I can see it written all over your face. You want this as much as I do," the admiral said and brushed past him.

President Sato sat at his large desk, surrounded by old paintings of the past Terran presidents on the walls. Behind him were large panels of windows overlooking the dense and busy capital of the Terran Federation, with columns of the skyscrapers that hid themselves in the clouds. All were apparatuses of the byzantine bureaucracy, the engine of the federated planets.

The president looked up surprised as the admiral drew closer.
"I was told you'd come by, admiral," the president said, leaning back in his chair, relaxed and uninterested. "I know why you are here. I've already been briefed by the general staff."

Without a word, the admiral motioned at her comm on her palm. The large windows dimmed, and the office darkened. A moving image was projected onto the windows, along with some static. The entire office menacingly reddened.


The president turned around hesitantly and said, "What am I looking at? What is this?" He turned back to the admiral, irritated. "What the hell is that thing?"
"It calls itself the Contingency. Translated," the admiral replied. "Apparently it knows our language, too."
"Is that what caused the energy spikes on all quadrants? Why wasn't I shown this?"
"President, sir. This signal was received three hours ago, Arcturus Time, from one of the sources of the energy spikes."
"My god, what is that thing?" the president mumbled to himself, staring back at the image behind him.
"Sir, a comm transcript has been sent to you. Please review them," the admiral motioned at her comm again. "We need to act quickly."
The contingency in the image seemed to ominously stare at them both, with its red energy particles in the center.

The white light from the computer projection reflected on the president's paled face. He spoke without leaving his gaze off the screen, "I will immediately assemble the senators. I assume the chiefs are already informed of this."
"Sir, we don't have time to involve the senate. You of all people should know where they stand." The admiral leaned forwards against the desk.
"I can't bypass the senate with a matter as big as this. Are you insane? It'll blow up on our faces," he chortled.
"That... politics is exactly why we can't involve the senate!" the admiral slammed her fist on the desk. "Next thing you know, they'll be debating about this for years and nothing will get done. By then, it'll all be too late! We need to contain this thing now, sir!"
"I have seen the map of the energy spikes, admiral. They are thousands of lightyears away, with dozens of xenos in between them and us," the president retorted as he got up from the chair. "Stand down, now."
"With all due respect, sir, it was the senate's fault we missed our chances to contain the Lox 40 years ago. I am not going to sit idly by while we make the same mistakes--"
"Not this again Alex!" he blared. "Damn it, I said stand down!"
"You will be expecting my resignation soon, sir," the admiral said quietly.
The president sighed and looked down. "Do you know why, you Military Association types never get the majority in the senate?"
"Please, enlighten me," the admiral said with sarcasm in her voice.
The president leaned closer to the admiral and answered, "despite all the stars you travel, despite all the worlds you visit, you still don't understand how the galaxy works. You still don't understand that, without due process of our constitution, we will no longer be who we are. We will be less and as ugly as our neighbors and their barbaric ways."
"Damn it. You were one of us, sir. You were," she said and turned around to leave.

Idealism. Xenophobia. These couldn't be what's holding him back, she thought with disbelief. Her heart sank as reality set in.

At a near-empty staff bar at the base of the presidential palace, Admiral Moreau was halfway through her drink when she was joined by her old mentor, Senator Dugalle. A former admiral who retired at age 130 and took up the mantle of politics. Despite that, he hadn't lost her respect.
He sat beside her with a chuckle and said, "I knew you'd be here, Alex. Your rigid posture is unmistakable."
"I assume you are coming back from the meeting with the president, then?" she asked and took a sip of the drink. "It's pointless."
"Well, he did explain how pissed off you were. But don't you worry, he did you a favor just now."
"Oh? How's that?" she asked with sarcasm, uninterested.
"He didn't call a single senator from the TCC, or the TPF. Just the goold old reps of the TMA and the Intelligentsia."

Terran Constitutional Congress--or "The Congress" for short--have been the majority in the federation for over a hundred years, as well as in the senate. Terran Preservation Front, the xenophobic vanguards have always been the close second, and both more or less collaborated. That left the Terran Military Association and National Intelligentsia Technocrats as younger minorities.

"How does that work? TMA is only 12 percent, let alone the Intelligentsia is only 5," Admiral Moreau said after downing her drink and motioning to the synth bartender for a second.
"Well, we can make quite a compelling case to the other 83 percent. That's the beauty of it. There are still hundreds of us in the senate," Dugalle explained.
"And thousands of them. There's nothing beautiful about politics," she replied bluntly.
"Your liver still work, old man?" she asked.
"This is my third liver, but screw it. I ain't buying though, you hear?" he said.
"That old timer welfare joke is as old as you," she chuckled. Then her expression became serious again as she continued to spin her glass on the bar. "But why the intelligentsia?" she asked with sudden interest. "I thought all they cared about is maintenance of the synth population."
"It's all about the tech they say. They handed their findings over to the Federal Research Agency. According to those eggheads, even if we move against them now, we won't be able to contain them," the old man answered. He coughed and frowned as he sipped on the drink.
"That's the same damn case they made with the Lox 40 years ago. I swear, I sometimes think they are working for the Congress." The admiral shook her head in bitterness and took another sip.
"You talk about that like you were around to see it," the old senator said.
Alex's expression darkened and her gaze was no longer on her drink. She spoke softly, "Theia incident. Or has your career in politics made you forget?"
"While you were reading about that off data-drives in school, I've actually seen the Lox for myself... as well as those darned machines," he replied bitterly.
"What machines?" Admiral Moreau asked.
"Oh. Nothing," Dugalle shook his head and took a sip.
"You never told me this," the admiral said, surprised. "After all the years I've known you."
"Well, you brought it up. We were always so caught up with our work, it never came to me I guess," he said. Staring blankly at the bottles on the shelves, he continued, "The Lox war was over before it even began. We had no choice but to stand by and watch. It was the best course of action for our survival. Actually declaring war against them would have been suicide. They were subjugating billions on all sections of the galaxy, all for their own amusement. I don't know about the xenos, but we Terrans must retain dignity."
"You sound just like those fear preachers from TPF," she said and took another sip. "Is this why you are into politics now? To laud them?" she asked rhetorically.

After some silence, she began.
"Here's something I never told anyone. My genetic parents were on Theia Prime, during the time of the incident. My memories are blurry, but it felt like deep inside, I always knew." The senator stared, puzzled. "I looked for them after the fleet academy to confirm my suspicions. My foster mother wouldn't tell me anything, so..."
"Ah, I see now. It's personal, then. I'm sorry to hear that," Dugalle studied his drink before proceeding with it.
"So, how are you going to make a compelling case if the researchers are saying we can't beat them?" she cleared her throat and lightened up with a smile.
"They didn't say we couldn't beat them. They said we wouldn't be able to contain them."
"Sounds same to me," she said and shrugged. "So what are they proposing?" Moreau asked.
"Operation Prometheus. It's part of a bill we prepared together. The Emergency Securities Act," he explained.
"Scary name. It'll catch the Congress off guard for sure," she joked.
Senator Dugalle turned and waited for some people to pass by and continued, "It's serious. It's more serious than we thought... this Contingency problem." He sighed. "The current problem is the price tag of this bill. And I'm not just talking about money and resources. It's the constitution itself."
"I'm not a politician, but if you are meddling with the constitution, that's a politically suicidal move. You guys don't stand a chance on the senate floor," Moreau replied. "So, care to let me in on what the project is about at least?"
"It's a 10 year plan. Massive build up of orbital habitats across Terran space in strategic locations. Locking down the systems with bastion starbases, FTL inhibitors, forts and ground troops. Lots of them. And for that to work, we may have to overturn the 37th and the 40th amendments. Conscription of able-bodied citizens, and their eventual forced relocation to the fort habitats. Yes it's a tall order," he continued after clearing his throat. "The best part of it all, though--you'll like this one--organize an expeditionary fleet in a few years."
After a pause, Admiral Moreau bursted out in laughter.
"Oh man, the TCC will destroy you all. You don't stand a chance!" she said as she continued to laugh, grabbing some attention of the other staff members. Dugalle could be seen motioning at her to quiet down, which she ignored. "And ground troops? Really? I mean is that the best you guys can come up with? So we can what, wait for the bombs or whatever the hell those things have to drop on our heads? Expedition? Does the TMA think this is a joke?"
The admiral's laughter ceased and her face was flushed red with alcohol and sudden anger. She ranted on. At one point the synth bartender attempted to calm her down, but without success.

The old man nodded and waited until she finished her rant, and the others to get back to their own business.
"Are you done? Because I wasn't finished," he said. She waved her hand for him to continue.
"I'm sure you've heard about the former Lox star fort isolated in the Daraan system, currently being held by their rivals, the Estwani?"
"What about it?"
"The Sentry Array Service suggests that the Estwani have not fully disposed of the Lox technologies in the starbase, and it is largely unattended. The Estwani fleets are too busy with the Lox on the other side of the galaxy. The new expeditionary fleet will escort the scientists there and engage the base. We may not be able to reverse engineer the Estwani's psionic technologies, but the Research Agency is confident they can reverse engineer Lox's dark matter shields and reactors."
Admiral Moreau slowly straightened her back and smiled. "And then we outfit our own ships with their tech," the admiral interjected.
"I like the sound of that. But I'm not sure about the others," she said.
"Oh don't worry. They'll be convinced," he chuckled and finished his drink.
"Wait, what aren't you telling me? Did the SAS feed you something the navy doesn't know about?"
"You'll see. Tune in to the news tomorrow. Thanks for the drink," the senator smiled and got up to leave.

The Federal Senate


The entire senate stadium echoed with laughter and mockery. Hundreds of senators, some projected via holograms, seemed to joke among themselves after a brief moment of discussion.
"Order, please. Senate leader of the TCC faction has the floor as requested," the AI core in the center of the spire instructed. The entire stadium fell silent, and only few minorities threw barely audible insults at the Congress members.
Up on the giant screens around the center spire displayed Senator Brandt, leader of the TCC and governor of Sol Administration Sector.
"This is clearly an elaborate plot of the militarist takeover of our government! There is no doubt about it!" His voice echoed from the loudspeakers, followed by the various murmurs and agreements of the senators.
"This bill is an insult to our democracy. It violates multiple provisions of our constitution that we worked so hard to build through unification of our species, which took millennia of sacrifices to achieve. If you look at our ancient history of violence and divisions, they were all caused by the militaristic dictators' rise to power, violating individual rights, dragging people into unnecessary wars. This bill does exactly that!"

Admiral Moreau, in her guest room at the presidential palace, her head ringing from the alcohol, watched the humiliation unfold on the screen with frustration.
"This is not looking so well for us," her colleague, Admiral Nadir spoke from Moreau's comm.
"Can't we do something?" she asked.
"The board of admiralty agrees," Nadir replied. "The risk against the Contingency is too great. The navy's hands are tied, especially when the Congress just branded the TMA as conspirators in front of the entire worlds. We have to remain neutral. This is all politics from here on out. I'm sorry."
"Yeah. I'm sorry too."

There is no difference between TCC majority and dictatorship," a TMA senator argued. There was silence.
"Would that be your closing argument?" the AI core asked. The TMA senator sat down without a word.
"We safeguard the constitutional rights of our citizens. That's the difference. It's no wonder it can't be helped for the TCC to be the majority, because of elements like you!"
The senate thundered with applause.

"Damn! Bunch of children..." Moreau said to herself.
"Something's wrong. I'm getting reports from my staff that we just lost a corvette," Admiral Nadir said with urgency.
"Which fleet?" Admiral Moreau quickly rose up.
"4th fleet. It seems to be a training accident. Something about uhh... combat AI malfunction on USS Mercury, causing friendly fire."
"That's a first. How odd," she replied and sat back down. "Casualty count?"
"According to the AI, 72 life monitors of the crew officers went offline. The rest are being retrieved from escape pods right now. Expect a rise in injured. From what I can see, the damage is extensive. It was a direct hit from a kinetic battery, and the corvette's shields were down. The core must have exploded. Shredded the entire hull. It would be a miracle if the ship is reparable," Nadir explained. "The AIs have been acting up lately, after the reported energy spikes. The Research Agency is reporting that their research AI supercomputers are malfunctioning as well. They are working on a hotfix as we speak."

"Right now, the Lox encompasses almost half of the entire galaxy, with dozens of fleets. We need the necessary infrastructure and manpower to level the playing field. We must pour all our energy into safeguarding our space and planetary defenses," Senator Dugalle spoke this time. He hesitated to speak the next words and turned to the leader of the TMA, who then gave him the approval with a nod. "Furthermore, the Federal Navy and the SAS have detected energy spikes on all four quadrants of the galaxy."
The old senator motioned at his colleague, who then uploaded the broadcast of the Contingency to the screens. The stadium reddened, and its loudspeakers blared with low vibrating hums. The machine voice spoke.

"No way. Are you seeing this, Nadir?" Moreau said, caught off guard by the reveal of the classified information.
"Maybe they got the president's authorization," Nadir replied.
"Dugalle you son of a--"

Gasps and murmuring ensued among the senators.
"This is the Terran Navy. We are receiving your signal. Identify yourself," an officer's recorded voice spoke through the loudspeakers. After a pause, he spoke again. "What is your purpose, where are you from?"
"Query received. Calculating appropriate response..." the mysterious mechanism spoke with thunderous voice, which vibrated throughout the stadium.


"Why are you transmitting the ghost signal?" the officer said.


The senators gasped once again and debated among themselves for several minutes, and ultimately requested a recess. Until now, they did not know the energy spikes were 'alive', and with intent to wipe out all life in the galaxy.
Suddenly, the leader of the Terran Preservation Front rose up from his seat, followed by more than half of his fellow representatives, including some from TCC.
"We must fight," he simply said, along with standing ovation from his faction.

"That's it then. It's over. If that doesn't send chills down the TCC cowards, I don't know what will," Admiral Moreau said and let out a sigh of relief. But at the same time, she was concerned for the future of the Terran civilization.
"Are you coming back to Arcturus?" Nadir asked.
"Yeah, my job here is done. I came all this way for nothing. All for just a formality," she said.
"Cheer up. At least the old man got it through the president's head. Besides, you did sway the president with our findings. If it weren't for you, the old man might not have succeeded."
"I guess you are right."
"Get some sleep, Arcturus is a long flight away."
"You don't say," Moreau said and leaned back in her chair, looking out at the city. "Ugh, I already miss it," she replied with sarcasm.
"Oh and bring some of those Martian wine too, why don't you? Our officers could use some celebration before the big one."

Admiral Moreau awoke from her nap, disturbed by the small irking noises of sirens coming from behind the dimmed window of her room. She groaned, walked over and pressed her hand against the window to withdraw the shade. The room brightened, and then her eyes.

Like the grains of sand, people packed the streets and alleys, and whichever space was available in between the buildings. They faced towards the presidential palace, and seemed pissed off from what she could gather. From their slogans against the TCC, it became clear to her. It was WAR.

President Sato sat quietly before the board of admiralty. The holograms broadcasted from Arcturus of old guard admirals--the armchair politicians more like--scolded the president for allowing the classified information to be publicized. When they finished their reasoning, the president began.
"Gentlemen, let's not deny that this is urgent, and that the senate was under gridlock. If I am to receive emergency powers as the Commander of the Navy, and the necessary funds to expand it, what better way to do so than to mobilize the help of our citizens?"
"Yes, we understand, sir. However, this could have turned a lot worse for us and your administration. If the people find out we've been witholding this information from them, it could've resulted in riots and other public crises across dozens of worlds," one of the admirals said. "Let alone invigorate the TCC even further," another admiral pointed out.
"Just be glad they didn't put us on the pedestal," the president replied with a smile and dismissed them.

President Sato looked out the window towards the white star, which dwarfed the starbase and the Strategic Coordination Center that synchroniously orbited the star in the distance. Arcturus, it was the beating heart of the Terran Navy.
"So, what's our next move?" the president asked, staring blankly at the star. Admiral Moreau's reflection emerged on the window.
"Now we prepare."
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The war at home could prove as tiresomely difficult as the war in the stars.
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Excellent beginning. Will be following along for the ride.

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Chapter 2: The Shroud Unveiled
Year 2622

It's been 2 years since millions of Terrans volunteered to enlist, well beyond any factions' expectations. Since then, uniforms were common sight in everyday life, as well as sceneries of naval crews marching down the streets in casual parades, where citizens often greeted them with flowers and other gifts. Then there were wargames being played in orbit of various stars and colonies almost daily. The army and the marines could be seen in spaceports and popular vacation spots with their families across several worlds more than usual. Recruitment ads were prolific, and commercial ads paid tributes to the military.
The civilian factories slowed their production of consumer goods to contribute in ramping up the production of alloys and parts for military ships. Refineries were restless with supplying chemicals and gases needed for munitions. Shipyards were constantly filled with quotas, such as building and retrofitting as needed. It's been busy and peaceful 2 years for Terran Federation, with war ominously looming on the horizon.

The Contingency, with their numerous crafts, expanded their grip on the galaxy in the last 2 years, purging all organic lifeforms in their path of calculated destruction. At least one alien civilization calling themselves the Bilnoc had fought against them to the bitter end, only to be wiped out. The news of their fate had only boosted the number of Terran military manpower. Yet, they still seemed far away from the Terran space.

Admiral Moreau and her colleagues of the Naval Intelligence weren't relaxed one bit. They knew something most Terrans didn't--The Contingency fleets and drones were poised towards the federation, with their infamous armageddon bombs armed and ready.

The Federal Research Agency did their best to figure out what caused the AI malfunctions and unusual behaviors of synths, after a stringent fleet training accidents. It was eventually known that the AIs had repeatedly lied about the number of survivors and deceased of those accidents, when sabotaged escape pods containing those who were reported dead by the AI were found barely clinging to life, by civilian freighters in backwater space. Unfortunately, the navy had no way of knowing if they had recovered everyone, as the deliberately disabled pods were almost impossible to track. This caused a brief but intense "Synth Scare", in both the public and government. They also had fears of the potential economic fallout should they lose control of the synth population. It was later found out to be what they called "the ghost signal" from the energy spikes around the galaxy, that caused the malfunctions. A hotfix was introduced, which swiftly flooded the synth networks and other various AIs. The National Intelligentsia Technocrats gained overwhelming support from the public afterwards. But the AI combat computers proved useless consistently, and had to be replaced and phased out of production. This was particularly devastating for the Terran Navy, as this gave a technological edge to the Contingency, and severely weakened the Terran fleets against the Lox. Nevertheless, the Terrans were well prepared to deal with any external threats, especially if they applied the defensive mentality.

The Terran Military Association had won more seats in the senate, which gave doubts some that the militarists were using the Contingency and the Lox threats as excuses to gain more power in the government. They did gain more power, as they frequently had the favorable attention of the president. This had dawned on the Terran Constitutional Congress, but they could not do anything about it. The National Intelligentsia Technocrats had also won seats, but many saw it as their necessary step to leave the status quo of only maintaining and regulating synths, and actually take regulatory actions against the threat of the ghost signal. But this did not come without consequences. A small fringe element within the NIT fragmented, with an entirely opposing view of the synths. These elements ever stood as vanguards against acknowledging the synths as "having souls" or just outright sentient, and as nothing more than manufactured beings with a purpose to serve. The ghost signal debacle proved their position even further, stating that "their programming was merely manipulated by external forces", rather than "having sentience to choose". This emboldened a minority of religious sympathizers in the senate, which hinted that a new faction was inevitable.

Now, with the galaxy at war, diplomacy became more crucial than ever. It became necessary to find new allies in strategic locations of the galaxy, rather than for peace reasons, as the militarists took charge of it. They preferred potential vassals near the contingency to use as forward operating territory for the Terran Navy. But the potentials were a rare sight, as the Contingency gave no quarter to any civilizations near them.


Meanwhile, something extraordinary was unfolding across the vast Lox Empire. Perhaps a sign of disintegration. Their blitzing expansions with their large armies and fleets across the galaxy had two major flaws. They did not gain proper footholds on large, highly populated worlds scattered across their empire and were stretched too thin. Even with their networks of hastily built gateways, they were unable to enforce those worlds, mainly due to war on two fronts: against the Estwani and the Contingency. The conquered worlds were governed by prominent locals that fought against the Lox, and already had disdain for their new overlords. When they caught wind of the information that the Lox navy was preoccupied with expansion and sluggish enforcement of the vast territories, they rebelled.

The locals were quick to form their own governments, with access to Lox's advanced technologies. One by one, the Lox had lost economically powerful worlds. Undeterred, the Lox continued their campaigns. They were considered as nuissance to be overlooked. However, some unlucky enough to be caught in the path of one of Lox's fleets were quickly dealt with.

The other flaw of Lox's quick expansion was that the disloyal xenos had outnumbered the Lox species who were mostly isolated in their core worlds. This made for fragile socio-economics of the Lox Empire, riddled with crime and instabilities.

Still, the Lox remained arrogant and proud of their achievements, and in their belief that it is their sworn duty to save all sentient species. In fact, they were so overly obsessed with other species that, rumor had it, they would secretly kidnap xenos just to display them in zoos or keep them as pets. Their emperor alone was rumored to have over a hundred different sentient xeno species as his personal amusements, and often had a fetish to forcibly interbreed them. It was only a matter of time until such an ironic horror was honored with lesson-filled folklores and children's stories by various civilizations and curators, with the Lox as the boogeyman. There was something sinister about their seemingly innocent big round eyes and wide grin, much like a sneaky predator.

The Terrans did not immediately seize these diplomatic opportunities until Athanedians, former tributary of the now defunct Bilnoc State, proposed to the Terrans that a federation be formed along with the newly revolted worlds. The Terran Preservation Front did not particularly like the idea, but they were persuaded by the idea that a federation fleet using stolen Lox technologies could prove useful, which they looked forward to Operation Prometheus. The Terran envoys agreed and the historic deal was reached. For the first time in Terran history, they had opened cooperative dialogue with the xenos. The Terrans rejected the offer of forming a federation. Instead, the Terrans counter-offered a membership of protectorate. The Athanedians, weakened by generations of oppression by the Bilnoc, agreed to become mutually beneficial vassal of the Terran Federation.


Until now, the Terrans had always taken the stance of isolation, aside from limited research and non-aggression agreements, since the great war against its neighbor, Zaydran Hierarchy, over a hundred years ago where Terrans emerged victorious at a great cost. Since then, the Elaaminid Commonwealth were the only allies as Terran tributary. The Zaydran had allies of their own, who attempted to conquer the Terran Federation and failed. The Zaydran government was slowly replaced with pro-Terran loyalists as part of an unpopular project of a past presidential administration. The loyalists became numerous, but due to polarity in the size of their population and poor economy, the Terrans were unable to vassalize and annex them successfully. Nevertheless, the majority of Terrans did not want them integrated or share the technological advancements with the "inherently violent civilization". The president who initiated this unpopular diplomacy program was quick to be voted out. They were better served as tributaries, as many Terrans agreed, and they contributed to the war efforts against the Contingency immensely. Their vast shipments of energy and minerals rolled into Terran Federation's hands, while their own people were starved. Despite the xenophobic acts, the Terrans kept them on a short leash by regularly supplying them with consumer goods relief and reimbursement of some leftover energy and minerals. In the tumultuous galaxy where the weak were consumed, the Terrans had become their only life line, of which the Zaydran could not do without. It was a perfect relationship, which the Terran Preservation Front and the Military Association made sure it stayed that way.

Year 2622

Sol System, The Interstellar Assembly.


The Assembly was a grand structure orbiting the Sun, alongside the Galactic Market's headquarters. It was built after the Terran Constitutional Congress first proposed it, despite the fierce opposition by the Terran Preservation Front. In the end, a deal was reached between them to severely limit the xenos' access while at the structure. Except for this particular day.

The once vibrant assembly chamber was half vacant now, signifying the destruction and mass collapse of civilizations across the galaxy. The remaining few were the last contenders in the arena, that refused to be aligned in the Lox and Estwani's War in Heaven, while also surviving through the horrors of the Contingency. They all hoped more would rise again from the ashes of this galactic war.

The faces of xeno envoys expressed their own ways of being mortified, as the three little green-skinned lizardmen made their way to the center podium--The Lox.

The one that took the stand at the podium spoke through the translator.
"So, this is where the children gather?" it said condescendingly, and looked around the near empty chamber as if it had something to contribute. Then, whispers in the chamber.
"Their overconfidence will be their downfall," Athanedian envoy whispered to the Terran envoy, who nodded in response.
"Children!" the lizard shouted and raised its talons. "Do not fear the machines. The vile Estwani had sworn to wipe out all machines from the galaxy, but they have ultimately failed, and will always fail. We will not. We are winning as we speak."
The others watched on in silence as the lizard continued its prideful ramble.
"You have grown much, yet much to learn. Join us and you shall learn much. Secrets of the universe unlocked before you. Join our empire before destruction consumes your worlds. We shall love you and protect you as our own. It won't be long until we have unified the galaxy once more. First one of you to accept our protection shall bear our children," the lizard concluded. Some gagged in disgust.
"All those centuries of hedonistic and lazy ways of your fallen empire has dulled your senses, Lox. Made you insane, possessive and blind to your own hubris. You are old, and you shall die. We are the true inheritors of this galaxy, and you will face the full power of the young and revitalized."
The assembly was filled with gasps and the Terran envoy got up and insulted the lizards in the chamber. As the second most powerful civilization, the Terrans had to lead. They had to make this situation their, and take control. That was the playbook. The gasps soon turned into standing ovation.
"We will not idle!" the Terran envoy shouted above the applause. "We will not surrender ourselves to be your amusement. We will secure our dignity, and we will thrive. We have not joined you then, during your so-called 'war in heaven' against the Estwani, and we will not join you now! We will never forget Theia!"
The Athenadian envoy got up and spoke as well, emboldened by the Terran envoy lashing out against the Lox.
"Trillions in the galaxy are watching this now. Perhaps even in your empire. Soon, you shall realize just how small your empire truly is, once all the worlds are liberated from your grasps. You will retreat back into your core worlds and continue to rot for the rest of your days," it added. Then, applause.
The lizards stood still. The one at the podium spoke after the applause had died down.
"We would like to get to the matter at hand," it said, undeterred by the bold remarks. The Lox envoy began after a couple of unsettling blinks.

"Swoosh," Admiral Nadir, standing next to Admiral Moreau at the Naval Intelligence HQ in Arcturus, joked. Both watched from the screens as the historic moment unfolded. "They just don't seem to get it," he added.
"Yeah. Beats me on what goes on in there, behind those black googley eyes," Moreau replied.

"Terrans, we have opened our borders to you in the past for giving us the brain imprint of an extinct species. We shall them again, as we now have a mutual foe in the machines. Be grateful. But we warn you. You must disarm your colossus, and recognize prohibition of xeno slavery and purges as part of your new constitution. Only then you shall truly be worthy to become our children. Then, the rest will follow," the lizard said.
"You sound sure of it," the Terran envoy retorted. "Make no mistake, Lox. If you encroach on our space, we will fight you with everything we have. We will fight you on the planets, we will fight you on the moons, and we will fight you in the fields of asteroids. We shall never surrender."
Again, the assembly applauded the Terran envoy.
"We are generous, as with our emperor's patience for you. But do not try us so, Terrans. We have known you since you were primates yet to discover fire. You've always been ours from the start. We are merely reclaiming our destiny," it replied.

The lizardmen walked off the stage. But suddenly, their heads exploded, splattering pink matter all over the floor. But they stood for a while, twitching and headless, cold blue blood gushing out like fountains, still alive and confused. Then two robed giants took the stage, dwarfing the lizards in size. They brought out some energy sabers and made quick work of the headless Lox, slicing them vertically into halves. They then turned towards the horror-stricken assembly. Tusks emerged from beneath their hoods and out of their menacing masks. They were the Estwani.

"Who brought them here? Who authorized this?" President Sato, watching the events unfold on the screen, screamed at his advisor.
"I'll find out right away," the advisor said before rushing out of the office.

"We are warrior monks of the great Immortal Emperor's holy monastic order. Challenge us if you dare," the Estwani said. "Our holiest of holy, Immortal Emperor--may the gods bless his soul--is displeased at your ever increasing military buildup and your lack of faith. You have twisted your own nature and created abominable machines for far too long," one of them said.
"Our Immortal Emperor has conquered the psionic plane, The Shroud. His powers are limitless, and you will not survive. You will die, as will your pitiful alliances. Surrender now, for there is no escape, young fools. Now, you will witness the power of The Shroud."
The pair once more raised their sabers and dashed forward.

The Terran marine squads rushed into the assembly hall, along with xeno envoy guards, their rifles aimed at the charging Estwani warriors. The panicked envoys ran for their lives towards the exit. But some were less fortunate as the psionic powers exploded their heads. Even those who projected themselves as holograms did not survive.

"Open fire!" a marine shouted as the line of sight became clear, after the envoys had fled. More marines flooded in in columns between the seats. Their rifles roared across the large assembly chamber. The Estwani warriors effortlessly dodged and deflected the showering rifle fire as they charged, and used their psionic powers to absorb the bolts of energy and projectiles from the rifles.

"You are no match!" one shouted as it sliced an envoy guard in half, and flung his upper torso towards the other marines behind, using telekinesis. They fell like bowling pins.
"We came here to die!" the other Estwani proclaimed, and fell multiple marines by bunching them up and skewering them like sheesh kebab. One of the skewered marine, determined, reached out and grabbed the throat of the Estwani warrior, and yanked out the bones and organs underneath, instantly killing it.
"Aha! I have seen you Terrans fight. But your abominable biological enhancements are no match for the power of the Immortal Emperor. You still have much to learn!"
The last remaining warrior fought on, slicing and dicing. Even more marines flooded in again, and with them the infamous xenomorphs on leashes. The spiky creatures growled and drooled between their large fangs, and their red eyes dilated eager to eat the flesh of the Estwani warrior.
"Get him, boys!" the marine commander shouted, and the xenomorphs were unleashed upon the warrior. Without hesitation, the xenomorphs immediately charged towards the Estwani on four legs armed with sharp claws.
"What abominations!" the warrior shouted in response, caught off-guard. The Estwani was able to fend off two xenomorphs, until it was viciously overwhelmed on all sides by their sheer speed and numbers. The xenomorphs tore through its skin and threw its limbs across the chamber using their fangs and claws. The valiant warrior squealed, "Master!"
"Remind me never to mess with these little bastards," the commander said to one of the xenomorph handlers as he lit a cigar, and casually caught the decapitated head of the Estwani when a xenomorph tossed it into the air.
"Heh. I bet he never trained for this," the handler replied, grinning at the head.

"This is a disaster!" President Sato's hologram shouted. "How could our diplomatic intelligence service and the guards failed to spot the Estwani?"
"For one, DIS is a highly neglected corp. Not to mention the Estwani are known for infiltration and assassinations. I'm sorry, sir. It seems like they were professional assassins sent to aggravate the Lox," Moreau said.
The president paced around restlessly. "Well, it sure as hell sounded like they have a problem with us. Wouldn't you agree, admiral?"
"We have considered that possibility. But they could be using us to draw in the Lox," Moreau said.
"But why? The Lox are already at war with them."
"The Sentry Array Service spotted some fleet movements in the Estwani space near the Lox's heavily defended positions, preparing for a major offensive. They may be mobilizing again, even more so than before, to try and punch through the Lox encirclement. But, they might be trying to get the Lox to attack first, so the Estwani can ensnare and ambush the Lox fleets. We have our suspicions," she said.
"And the assembly was their opportunity? What if they involve us again? This is really bad. We can't get involved in this at all costs. Keep me posted, Moreau."
"Will do, sir. Moreau out."

"We just might have to," Admiral Nadir said, after the holocall had ended.
"The expedition is only a week away, and now this? Timing couldn't be worse. The Estwani will find out sooner or later, once we empty out their Daraan starbase," Moreau replied.
"It's war, then."
"Yes. It's war."

Edge of Daraan system.

A total of 12 battleships, 22 corvettes, and a large mobile fleet command center known as Titan lurked in the darkness of interstellar space, just outside of Daraan's gravity well and the Estwani's local weapons range. Inside the ships, the crew officers and the marines scrambled for final preparation. Operation Prometheus had begun.

"Shock and awe, people! Look alive, we have the element of surprise. The operation is a go," Admiral Luo, leading the expedition, spoke through the comm to the entire fleet from aboard the Titan. Then, the bridge became filled with comm chatter.
"All giga cannons, charge up."
The fleet moved forward in formation at a sublight speed.
"On my command..." the admiral waited.
The operator behind the admiral informed him of the closing range to target in astronomical units, "60... 55... 50... and we are in range, sir."
"Fire!" Admiral Luo ordered. The flagship slightly rattled and vibrated as it fired its own perdition cannon , which cut through the darkness of space as it ripped towards Daraan star at lightspeed. That was the que to the rest of the fleet. The artillery battleships twinkled like tiny stars, as they unleashed their giga cannons one by one.


"Target shield is still up. Incoming enemy fire," the operator reported.
"Shields up," Luo ordered. "Slow down to battle speed."
"Slowing down. 20 minutes until battle speed."
"Carrier groups, launch all strike crafts. Support the corvettes."
"First enemy projectile impact in 30 minutes. Shields will hold by estimation," the operator informed.
"Broadside hulls take point, increase speed. Corvette squadrons, swarm the target's defenses."
"Aye sir."
"Sensor contact! 3 unknowns fast approaching from a nearby star system. ETA 57 hours."
"What? That's not possible." The admiral turned to the operator's monitor screen. "How did we not see them with our tachyon sensors?"
"We are detecting an unknown energy wave signature from the Daraan base. I think they've been jamming us, sir."
"It could be one of their psionic tricks," the commander of the ship interjected.
"Model of the vessels?" Luo asked.
"Negative, sir."
"Damn! Get me the admiralty. Continue the operation, we may have to push up the timetable. And jam them back, ensign!"
"Aye aye."

"Hmm, 57 hours? That's only 2 days," Nadir said, sinking deep into his own thought. "Any ideas, Alex?"
Admiral Moreau remained silent, also deep in thought.
"Your call, admiral," Luo spoke through her comm.
Suddenly her eyes widened. She paced to a screen and opened the local hyperlane chart near Daraan star system.
"What do you see?" Nadir asked.
"There's not one outpost nearby. You would need to at least jump 7 systems to reach one, which would be... a Lox outpost," she mumbled as she studied the map. "But there's also a known Tiyanki breeding zone right... here..."
"Did you just say Tiyanki? As in space whales?" Luo asked.
"Admiral Luo, we need more time. Continue to engage the base. And please send over any intercepted data over to me as soon you get them."
"Negative. We believe there's some kind of psionic jamming device on Daraan base. It's unlike anything we've seen. We can't get through with our tachyon sensors."
"Why do they need a jammer all the way out in Daraan--" Moreau stopped herself abruptly.
"What's wrong?" Nadir asked.
"Nadir, contact the SAS immediately. Inquire them about this star system," she said, pointing at a star system neighboring Daraan.
"I hope you know what you are doing," Luo said.

The fight had went on for 15 hours. By then the expeditionary fleet was dispensing all available weapons. Kinetic artillery and barrages of neutron particles flew in from afar, minutes away at sublight speed, while strike crafts and corvettes fought at a visible distance from the starbase. The Terrans didn't spare anything. However, the main Daraan base's shields had not been taken down yet. A true technological superiority of the Lox was on display. The light Estwani defender had taken full advantage of it.

The corvette captains constantly made sure evasive maneuvers were properly executed by the combat computers, every minute by the hour, as the static AIs made calculations. It was intense, and defense platforms, which some were based on Estwani technology, had already destroyed or forced retreat on several corvettes, while dozens of strike crafts were shot by flaks and point defense systems.

The Estwani had expected the Terran fleet to capitulate by now, depending heavily on their tough shields, but they had underestimated the endurance of Terran naval crews. It was their confident view that genetic modification was a blight of nature, and was bound to fail the crews. This belief was proven wrong, as their defense platforms held on but inevitably fell one by one. The reality set in when their psionic defenders in the platforms were becoming exhausted in holding up the shield generators under constant bombardment, and they were shorthanded.

The Rescue Corp restlessly departed from the Titan and battleships and went towards the front line, where the corvettes and strike crafts took the beating. They came back with hundreds of recovered crew officers. Most were injured severely. The rescue haulers were getting beaten down and its crews grew weary.

They must constantly face the dangers by entering the destroyed hulls filled with hazards, and leave with survivors, possibly before the ship's core went off in a very brief but intense blinding flash a thousands times hotter than the sun. Fortunately, the cores rarely detonated, unless they were directly hit. The damage assessments reported to the Rescue Corp were not entirely accurate, so there was no way of knowing for surei f cores were having meltdowns. The munitions, fuel lines, chemicals and gases posed the real threat to a dying ship in the end, causing massive explosions and gamma radiation bursts to scatter in all directions. But of course, the navy prepared for such an eventuality, though they weren't preventive. The corp must also recover escape pods in the midst of projectiles flying at hyper velocity speeds or sometimes even energy weapons firing at lightspeeds. Although the distances in space were too great for them to be any threat to small rescue haulers, the small weapons tended to be fast and fire all over the place trying to hit fast moving targets. Therefore without proper shielding or armor, even the emptiness of space near battles could quickly become deadly.
Despite these dangers, the Rescue Corp continued on, fully knowing that they may never come back. It was the most daring and difficult, but highly respected position in the Terran Navy, and they only took in well-trained volunteers.

Meanwhile, a small naval intelligence crew aboard the Titan continued their efforts to crack the mysteries of what the 3 approaching targets could be. They were being aided by the NIS in Arcturus, but even they were struggling.

"Admiral, the NIS is on the line," the commander of the ship told Luo.
"About time. Any signs of weakening?" Admiral Luo asked an officer before departing his post.
"We estimate about half in their energy reserves," she replied.
"They will crack soon, then. They have to. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have some tea. Commander, you have the bridge."

In the admiral's quarters, Admiral Moreau's holo had waited, looking out the observation window. Luo quietly sat down at his desk and made tea.
"...so the Tiyanki's average speed is..." someone in the background of the holocall said.
"Still wondering if they are space whales, Moreau?" Luo asked and chuckled.
"Ah, there you are. Ignore that. I have an urgent information to pass on," Moreau began. "The SAS has identified the targets. Well, partially anyways."
"Don't keep me in suspense," Luo replied and took a sip of the tea.
"It's bad. The targets are large. Extremely large, but each are varied in size. They are fast, too."
Admiral Luo rubbed his chin with a concerned look. "Don't tell me they are Estwani," he said. "You know this expeditionary fleet is far from capable of facing them. You know that it takes at least two fully armed Terran fleets to overpower a single Estwani fleet, don't you?"
"Unfortunately, we don't know if they are the Estwani. The system is slightly over the range of our sentry array, and the targets are within a nebula. It's why we took so long to gather this information," Moreau replied.
"Damn the senate. We told them ages ago the sentry array needs to be completed. Look at us now. Damn bastards," Luo said and grunted.
"We've been making plans of our own," Moreau continued. "We are going to reach out to the Lox. There is a single Lox fleet about 4 jumps away, we believe, judging by the intel we gathered few days ago prior to the operation."
"A Lox standard?"
"Yes, that's right. We are going to inform them that there are possible Estwani skirmishers. The president is a bit adamant about the idea, but will go ahead with the plan if you approve."
"Damn, that's dozens of Lox battlecruisers right on our doorstep you are talking about. If things go south, and they find out what we are doing here, we are toast. Besides, even the Lox fleet can't make 4 jumps within the time frame that we have," Luo argued.
"I was getting to that. Theoretically, the Lox will scan the system from outside the jamming range, and dispatch their fleet. Then if the targets really are the Estwani, they will bring in their ships. The Estwani aren't dumb. They will turn their ships to flee from the Lox, and we'll know," Moreau said. "This will buy us more time than we need. By the time the Lox gets near Daraan, we will be long gone."
"About that... the shields are proving to be quite a tough nut to crack," Luo replied.
"Don't worry, they won't find out. Time is on our side."
"How is the NIS so sure about all this?" Luo took a sip of the tea. "You know I can't work with theoreticals. I need actionable intel."
"Look at this local hyperlane chart," she said and projected a map on Luo's desk. "There's only one star lane they can take to make their way back to the Estwani Empire. They will have no choice but to turn their ships, and it's definitely not towards Daraan."
"Unless..." Luo began. "They are suicidal zealots. I've seen my fair share of religious xeno zealots during my time in the navy. And my guts telling me the Estwani are one of them. Besides, that's if these targets are Estwani, and that's a big if. I have a bad feeling about this," Luo said, scratching his forehead.
"Not to add salt to the injury, but there's just one more thing. It's about the jammer you told me about. This makes the targets more likely to be the Estwani. The Daraan base might have relied on these ships for defense. It could also be a recon base. Otherwise, why keep a base all the way out here, so close to the Lox borders and far away from theirs?" Moreau spoke with urgency. "You need to approve this mission, Luo."
"What if they are the Lox?" Luo asked.
"Not possible. We monitor this sector for any Lox movements. Not a single ship left their space for these parts. It's much harder to keep on a lookout in the direction of the Estwani, because it's unclaimed system between there and Daraan," Moreau argued.
"Fine. It's not like I have a choice," he replied and sighed.
"Thank you, we'll let the president know right away. Moreau out."

The battle had raged on for 20 more hours. By now the unknown ships will be spooling their drives towards Daraan, Admiral Luo thought. That's if the NIS failed to get the Lox to respond. "Come on, Moreau," he whispered to himself. "Anytime now."

"Sir, the unknown targets are moving again. It looks like they are bailing out."
Luo let out a sigh of relief and the bridge lightly celebrated.
"Well I'll be damned. They are the Estwani after all," the commander of the ship said. "Congratulations, sir."
"Sir! First neutron particle detonation confirmed!"
The crew cheered.
"We did it, the shields are down!"
"The corvettes are reporting direct hits!"
"Pound their armor. Support the strike crafts!" Luo ordered vehemently.
"Aye sir!"

Admiral Luo walked over to the sensor screen. He stared at the known targets represented in three small blips, and his expression darkened. His smile quickly faded away. The image of the star chart Admiral Moreau had shown flashed in his mind. They were going in an unexpected direction. Towards the Lox. But that wasn't what worried him. One blip remained still, while the other two continued on. Chills ran down the admiral's spine and he froze up. But he maintained himself, careful not to demoralize his crew. The sensor operator seemed to have noticed the blip, and she looked up at the admiral from her station. Luo slowly raised his finger over his mouth. She gave a nervous but subtle nod. The others were too busy in their own stations with the operation at hand to notice.

"Corvette, FSS Epoch has eyes on a possible entry point to enemy cargo bay. They report an exposed part of the hull, armor destroyed," an officer informed the admiral.
"Notify the marines and the research team immediately," he replied.

The marines geared up in spacesuits, and checked their weapons. Some fooled around and chatted among themselves in the large hangar of the Titan. They scrambled into formation when the marine commander came down from the cargo lift, accompanied by naval officers.
"Let's rock and roll," the marine commander said, watching dozens of marines load up onto the transport. After they had entered, dozens of scientists nervously followed suit.
"This is Sword One, we are ready for take off," the marine commander spoke into his comm as he entered the transport last.
"Roger. Awaiting hangar clearance," the pilot replied, and the transport hatch closed.
"Alright, let's show those snouts what for!" the commander shouted at his men.
"Hooah!" they responded.

"Psst. Hey doc," a marine sitting next to one of the scientists whispered to her. "Is it true those piggies got some kinda mind powers? Ya know, mess with your thoughts and move shit with their minds?"
"Did you sleep through the briefing?" another marine asked him, while chewing gum loudly.
"Leave the poor lady be, Jax," another marine groaned.
"I-I-I don't... I don't know," the scientist replied, visibly shaking. "I can't do this, I can't..."
"Damn, relax lady. We got your back."

The transport ship flew for an hour, but it felt like ages for the marines. It was a tense moment for everyone. Some prayed, some sang and some just slept through it.
"We are approaching the LZ," the commander said after shaking awake a marine who fell sleep. "Everybody, look sharp."
"Here we go."
The marines and the scientists put on their combat helmets.
"God, let my aim be true," one of the marines said, his voice muffled through the helmet. The ship shook slightly as it landed, and the hatched opened slowly. Space was revealed, so dark and everything turned silent but the breaths of the marines and their comm devices. In the dark background of space, above the bright Daraan star, tiny figures moved about--the corvettes discharging their weapons. Large kinetic shells far away looked like giant comets with bright trails of gases and particles, slowly moving towards the starbase.
"Tell those navy boys not to bomb us," a marine said, staring at the kinetic shell in the distance.
"They got eyes on us, don't worry," another replied.

The marine commander directed at a group of marines armed with cumbersome equipment. "Welders, you are up!" he ordered. They got up and proceeded down the hatch.
"They won't know we've breached them," one of them said and gave a thumbs up, before disappearing out into space.

The welders set down a large object on the surface of the starbase, which quickly expanded like a balloon, forming a temporary airlock. They entered it.
"Portable airlock is in place," a welder said through the comm. "Breaching charges are set."
Soon, the breaching charges detonated. Instead of explosion, they created a bright light made of billions of nanobots, which tunneled through the hull of the starbase. Minutes later, the inside of the starbase was explosed. It was a dark abyss.
"We are clear," the welder told the commander.
"Alright, let's go!" he said to his men. They got up on their feet, carrying their rifles on their backs.

When the marines entered the portable airlock, they used the low gravity to jump down the breach hole, one by one.
"It's dark in here. Activate helmet UI."
The marines looked around the immense structure, now as bright and clear as day through their helmets.
"What is all this?"
They looked at the seemingly endless rows of large metallic containers, all identical from one another.
"It looks like they've prepared for a whole goddamn invasion," one marine said.
"All the way out here? No way man."
"This base isn't 'lightly armed' like we thought."
"You don't know that."
"Set a charge on one of them," a scientist said as he landed on his feet.
"How are we going to find what we are looking for?" the marine commander asked. "This is going to take too long."
"Once we can scan the contents inside, finding a container with Lox technology should be a cakewalk," the scientist explained, fiddling with his scanner.
"Alright, you heard the man. Get to work," the commander ordered.
"Goddamn erudites, am I right?" a marine chuckled and set the charge on a container.
Suddenly, a subtle clanking noise echoed from afar and startled the marines. They froze and looked up towards where the sound came from.
"What the hell was that?" one whispered.
"It must be one of their guns firing. Get back to it."
The breaching charged burned through the container effortlessly, and revealed the contents inside. It was tightly and neatly packed with round metallic spheres with smooth surface.
"What is this?" a marine mocked, laughing. She proceeded to touch it.
"Stop right there!" the scientist said with a loud whisper. "I've seen these before. These are cores inside neutron bombs. We make similar ones back home."
"Ah, hell no," the marine said before backing off.
"Look, there," another scientist began, kneeling down near one of the spheres. He pointed at a small engraving. "It's Estwani seal."
"Okay, now I will initiate scan of the cargo bay based on this information," the scientist with the scanner said, and began the work. He slowly paced around with the scanner while the marines made sure the perimeter was secure.

After a while, the pacing stopped. He slowly turned to the marine commander who was beside him.
"You look like you've seen a ghost," he said to the mortified scientist. "Mind telling me what's up?"
"If you have over a hundred thousand containers full of naval munitions, would you say it could be enough for an armada?" the scientist asked.
"Shit, is that what your scanner told you?"
"We... we have to blow this place. I have to go inform the admiral," the scientist said and began to walk off, but the commander grabbed his arm. "Let me go. This isn't a recon base. It's a goddamn anchorage. The admiral has to know."
"What about what we came for?"
"It's not here. We may have to rip out the base's components ourselves," the scientist replied. "And that means going through the Estwani garrisons to an engineering bay, if these aliens have one."
"This just keeps getting better and better. How the hell are we going to find that? This base is immense," the commander said, waving his arms around at the stations.
"Admiral Luo, this is Doctor Le Galle. The cargo bay... it's filled with ship supplies and munitions. It's possibly a forward operating base for a sizable fleet," the scientist spoke into his comm, but there was only static. "Hello? Admiral?"
"We are aborting mission," the commander said bluntly. "Let's pack it up."
"Wait, you can't just--" Le Galle turned around to argue, but was quickly interjected by the scared scientist.
"Just listen to him. We have to get out of here," she urged. "We are not here to fight."
Le Galle conceded with a nod.

"Going somewhere?" Le Galle's own voice echoed in his head. He stopped. The ominous feeling of someone else's anger overwhelmed him. He dropped the scanner from his hand, numbed by fear. He knew it wasn't him who spoke. It felt unnatural, perverted, invaded.
"Did you hear that? Tell me I'm not the only one. I'm not crazy, right?"
The marines began to panic, looking around the cargo bay, rifles raised.

"I can feel your fear. There is no escape. I have foreseen your arrival," the voices whispered again, and repeated itself louder and louder.
"Let's move out, we are aborting mission!" the marine commander shouted. He too was audibly shaken.
"I... I can't move my legs! I can't move my legs!" one of the marines screamed, and the other marines followed suit.
"I think I wet myself," the scared scientist numbly said, her face pale.
The commander quickly took out a pocket-sized probe, whispered into it and threw it towards the breach hole. It flew off into the darkness. He sighed and closed his eyes.
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Well, that ending was ominous.

It sounds as if there is a conspiracy manipulating Terran affairs... what does Annuit cœptis mean?

You have to fight the Contingency at the same time as a Ascended Empire? And the other Ascended Empire is annoyed at you? That will be very difficult.

Also, what happens when - or if -the Estwani are defeated? The Lox will still be a threat...

The War in Heaven must have been quite the war.

Are the Terrans xenophobic, by the way?
Well, that ending was ominous.

It sounds as if there is a conspiracy manipulating Terran affairs... what does Annuit cœptis mean?

You have to fight the Contingency at the same time as a Ascended Empire? And the other Ascended Empire is annoyed at you? That will be very difficult.

Also, what happens when - or if -the Estwani are defeated? The Lox will still be a threat...

The War in Heaven must have been quite the war.

Are the Terrans xenophobic, by the way?
Hasn't ended yet. My apologies something unexpected came up and I missed the release this week.

Contingency is still far away, but the Lox is neighboring the Terran Federation. For now, Terrans did not side with anyone in the War in Heaven, and Lox is leaving Terrans alone. The War in Heaven have taken many civilizations though.

The Terrans are mildly xenophobic, but are fanatic egalitarians. Meaning they don't trust the xenos, rather them hate them with passion. The Lox currently encompasses half of the galaxy, while Estwani are a lot smaller. But they recently have awoken and are now at war with the Lox. The Lox are spread thin, and the Contingency are rampaging across the galaxy, targeting weaker civilizations and wiping them out.

Annuit coeptis is just a latin phrase "Providence favors our undertakings" written on the US dollar bill, which many conspiracy theories usually associate it with the illuminati. The shadow council of the Terran have been around for a long time and I thought I should associate them with illuminati as well.
Fear. The great constant in all governance. Or love. Take your pick pending on the philosophers you read and like! :p
That breach and ill-fated venture into the enemy lair (seems like the right word) at the end of the chapter is really foreboding and ultimately quite hair-raising. Absolutely well written as well. Hoping to see more!
Chapter 3: Unexpected Ally

Year 2620. Two years ago.

Undisclosed location. Earth.


The members of the Terran shadow council gathered quietly in the dark chamber, all twelve of them. They weren't able to make much progress on their agenda in preparation of the Chosen's arrival, as there was one roadblock. The artifact. After decades of training, priming, and learning the secrets of the artifact, the research had hit a wall. But this wasn't the obstacle to their progress. The shadow council had expected as much that the enigma that was the artifact, wouldn't reveal all of its secrets.

In the year 2603, when the researchers of the artifact hit a wall, despite the shadow council's immense support of wealth and technologies unseen beyond any civilian lives of Terran Federation, they had decided to transport it to the Order of Curators located outside of the federally controlled space. It was high-risk. A gamble. The shadow council took the leap of faith, as they have planned beforehand, should such a situation arise. In order to ensure the safety and secrecy, they kept the plans to themselves and made sure others were kept out of the loop, even the Terran Navy.

The gamble, however, did not pay off. It was later believed that the infamous Estwani assassins had ambushed the transport convoy. The shadow council chartered ships to investigate the last known location of the convoy, and found debris of the escort ships, but there was no sign of the transport. At that point in time, the council was divided. Some were hopeful and optimistic, but others were not and began to cook up their own alternative plans for the waiting game. And by some happenstance, a new expensive military budget program was slipped into the Terran senate, which the Terran Constitutional Congress supported unanimously. This led to the development of the highly destructive weapon ever assembled in the history of mankind. A weapon the size of a moon. A weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. The Colossus.

The members who were more optimistic and unrelenting in finding the artifact had begun a genetic engineering program. The program was so massive and extensive that it was an impossible task to keep secret. The program masqueraded as focusing on improving the efficiency of the xeno population in the conquered thrall world, Xirac. The true purpose of the program was to fully engineering Estwani clones. When it came to fruition, the council mentally trained the Estwani clones to resist psionic inquiries and embedded them into the Estwani Empire as spies.

The once divided council converged into a single point of interest, when, after years of hopelessly waiting for answer, a news had finally reached them. They had doubted before, assuming that the Estwani spies had died or been caught.

A prominent Estwani Lord Magistrate of planet Acrux, a core world of the Estwani Empire, was seen accompanied by a Terran woman. A rare sight. According to the spies, the magistrate was being sent to a distant star system far away from the main Estwani Empire's borders, for unknown reasons. There weren't any, if not few, Terrans living in the persecuting Estwani Empire. And if there were, they wouldn't be important enough to be seen with a high ranking official of the Estwani, or the council would have heard about it. This was unmistakable. It was the artifact, the council had concluded.

Coincidentally, the Estwani lord had arrived at a remote starbase, not too far from the Terran Federation and the Lox Empire, which the council had eyed for a while. They just needed a right moment to strike. To their knowledge, the starbase had wealth of technological information that the Terrans could use to further advance its military power. It was isolated and weak, which proved to be an easy target. They initiated the plans they had made long ago.

"Three. We appreciate your effort in helping the misguided senate to see the truth, all the while efficiently veiling it," One said.
"Blaming the machines were indeed impressive. We may be able to use them for justifications in the near future as well," Six said, his grin barely visible underneath the shadow. "They will see the truth that we allow them to see."
"I could not have achieved it without the council's help. The president's authorization to reveal the classified information is what truly paved the way forward," Three cleared his throat and said.
"We do, however, have an unfortunate news," Seven interjected. The room grew quiet and the heads turned to him.
"Has there been a new development from your spies, seven?" One asked.
"Yes. One spy who was fortunate enough to be embedded at the Daraan starbase with the Estwani lord, has stopped its regular scheduled transmission. It had missed two schedules. I'm afraid that it has been killed. The Estwani lord is known to be a fearsome psionic. Perhaps it has noticed that our spy is without such capability and killed it of being inferior, as it is their tradition," Seven continued. "However, the last information the spy had transmitted informs us that something big will happen in two years time. What that event might be, it is impossible to tell."
"Two years. We have plenty of time," Three replied.
"Three, this will not be a normal naval campaign. It is both rescue and extraction operation. With your connection to the military, I ask you, do you know any promising candidate to carry out the rescue?"
"Oh yes. I know a man. He has survived multiple skirmishes with only a handful of his trusted marines," Three motioned at his comm and distributed the dossier to the other council members. "He comes from a military family, all highly decorated in all service branches. They, including him, are honorable people. I personally know them well."
"This is very good. Recruit him, Three," One replied, poring over the dossier.
"I also know of a promising admiral who can lead the expeditionary fleet," Six said.
"Very good. Send us the dossier and we will decide," One said. "Any new visions, Three?"
"As usual, the artifact remains an enigma to us all. Obscure and vague messages about the fate of the universe that we all heard long ago. No. Nothing new," Three replied.
"Disappointing. The visions had driven forward our plans thus far. It aligned so well with the intel from our spies. Well, let us all continue our focus on this most crucial mission for now. Council is concluded. Annuit cœptis."
"Annuit cœptis."

Present day. Year 2622.

Daraan System.

5 hours later.

Admiral Luo, in his quarters, fiddled around with the probe in his hands, and replayed the recording on his computer.
"By the time you are hearing this, we are probably dead. We couldn't find what we came here for. The base is filled with Estwani naval munitions. You have to destroy it."

"Your decision?" commander of the ship asked via hologram.
"Still can't reach the marines, huh?"
The commander regrettably shook his head.
"Order the Titan to move forward. Get us as close to that base as possible. We will tear this place apart," Luo ordered.
"Right away."
When the holocall had ended, Luo initiated another call. A masked hologram appeared before him.
"We need to talk."


The walls of the large inner chamber were draped in red and gold banners of the Estwani Empire. In the center, a robed figure sat on a large throne, flanked by guards in golden armor, each holding a spear. Kneeling before the Estwani were blood soaked marine commander and Doctor Le Galle. The commander's fist trembled in rage. The defeated Terrans silently stared at the grinning Estwani on the throne.
"I can sense your friends coming," the Estwani hissed. The scientist looked surprised, partially glad.
"Oh, but they are not coming here for you. They are coming to destroy this entire base. I can feel the desperation of the Terrans from stars away," the Estwani laughed at the scientist.
"Good," the marine commander said, seething with anger. "You don't wanna mess with us when we are desperate."
"They will certainly try, but they will fail. Your confidence in your allies are misplaced, Commander Moreau."
"You looking inside my head again, piggy?" the commander joked.
The tense exchange was interrupted when a Terran entered the chamber. She knelt before the throne.
"My lord, the fleet will pull back as you requested," she said.
"A Terran!?" Both the scientist and the marine looked at each other, dumbfounded.
"Good. Good. Soon, the destruction of our ancient rival will be complete. As with your insignificant fleet!"
"I wouldn't be so sure about that," Doctor Le Galle said, smiling. Then immediately he winced in pain when the Estwani got up from his throne, searching through Le Galle's mind. With a shocked expression, the Estwani turned to his servant.
"Two of our fleets are heading towards the Lox, while only the third is pulling back. What is the meaning of this, my servant? Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed the empire? You shall--" the Estwani's speech was cut short when the servant lunged forward with the energy saber and cut him in half. She made quick work of the surprised guards.
"I was getting tired of him," she said and withdrew her saber. "You did well informing the Lox of their fleets."
"So it's true. The targets approaching Daraan is--"
"Shut your mouth, doc," Commander Moreau interrupted. "Who are you? Why are you doing this? Are you helping us?"
"Enough questions. We need to leave, now. I could get you to the Lox shields and reactor cores. Follow me," she said and walked off.
"How fascinating. A Terran servant of an Estwani!" Doctor Le Galle said.
"I don't trust her," Moreau said.
"We don't have a choice, commander," Le Galle replied while digging through his gear pack. He shot up to his feet and ran to the woman. Moreau grumbled and followed. Suddenly, he froze. He remembered the mission and what he really came for. He looked up and whispered, "It can't be."

"Admiral! The jamming has stopped. We have ID'd the approaching targets!"
"Targets? I thought there was only one," Luo said, getting up from his command chair.
"My god..." the commander of the ship reacted to the screen showing a cluster of battlecruisers, escorts, and thousands of strikecrafts surrounding a massive Titan, which the jammer had made it seem like a single large ship.
"I knew it. I just couldn't believe it," Luo said to himself, watching the screen. Then he remembered the marine commander's recording. "We have to destroy the starbase now. Charge up the perdition cannon!"
"Wait, sir. We have incoming transmission from the starbase. Terran signature."
"Put it through!"

The chamber containing shields and reactor core was alien by design, but it was unmistakably Lox. The golden rims and frames made this mere engineering deck to seem opulent than it really was. On the floor were dead Estwani garrison strewn about. Doctor Le Galle was busy scanning the reactor and shield cores, once in a while audibly praising the Lox. Commander Moreau briefed Admiral Luo of what had transpired via comm. He stared suspiciously at the mysterious girl when he mentioned her to the admiral, but the admiral didn't seem to mind. The girl seemed to be meditating on the floor, among the bodies, but Moreau somehow felt as though she saw and heard everything.
"Come on doc, we don't have all day. Their fleet will be on us at any moment."
"I got it, let's go!" Doctor Le Galle finally said.
"What happened to tearing down the components?" Moreau jokingly asked.
"It's not a two man job. The data is all we get. Now, let's go!"
"Hey lady, you coming?" Moreau asked.
The girl didn't budge, and she spoke with her eyes closed, "I will remain here and confuse the Estwani."
"I have to take you. I will drag you myself if I have to!" Moreau yelled. Doctor Le Galle warily turned to look.
"I know why you are really here, soldier. Tell our old friend that it is time. He will know what I mean," the girl's voice echoed in Moreau's mind. He twitched, startled and caught off guard. He then saw flashing images of the man she mentioned. It had flashed and was gone in but a blink of an eye in his mind, but he knew.
"Our old friend..." Moreau whispered, zoning out. He shook his head, snapping back to attention. "You do know we will destroy--"
"I will be fine. Go, now. More are coming."
Both Commander Moreau and Le Galle hesitantly left her to her meditation.

The pair went aboard the transport ship filled with empty seats. The atmosphere was gloomy, and their feelings were mutual. The reality that the commander had lost all his men had just set in, after the adrenaline withdrew. He burst into tears after he took off his helmet and the transport began moving. Doctor Le Galle, having lost his colleagues, did the same. On their way back, they had encountered the bodies of their fallen comrades, which they had burned using flares in a brief ceremony. In Moreau's bloodied glove were the dogtags of all the marines under his command, now fallen.
"I couldn't reach you or the fleet. You guys okay back there?" the pilot asked through comm.
"Just get us out of here," Commander Moreau replied, sniffing and wiping away his tears.

"I heard about what happened. How's my brother?" Admiral Moreau asked Luo. "He should've joined the Navy like I told him."
"He's resting up in the barracks," he replied.
"So this is all just coincidence. We may have accidentally discovered a staging area for a large sneak attack by the Estwani, against us," Moreau said. "This might give us a leeway with the Lox in the future. We fooled the Lox into thinking that the Estwani were going for them. Got them to respond, it turns out. Free lunch for both sides."
"Ah, broke their comm encryption, have you?" Luo asked rhetorically. "I personally believe the Estwani were actually planning an attack on the Lox, until we showed up."
"Well, could be both. They have a colossus with them. They planned on overwhelming our only remaining battle fleet in the area, and punch through towards Earth. That's for sure. Now, that plan is ruined thanks to us," Moreau explained with a mixed feeling.
Their conversation was interrupted when an officer reported.
"Admiral, the Estwani fleet is jumping into Daraan system in 4... 3... 2... 1..."
"Jump drive status?"
"Jump drive fully charged."
"Engage jump drive," Luo ordered his officer.
"I hoped to see the look on their faces," he said.

Quickly on the opposite side of the star system, the massive Estwani fleet appeared out of nothing. Without a moment's notice, the Terran expeditionary fleet had already gone. Only things left behind were the rubbles of the imploding Estwani starbase. And with it, their entire supply line for their invasion.

Arcturus System. Terran Central Command Habitat.


The marines in ceremonial uniforms formed a line on a field of grass. They raised their rifles and fired blanks into the air in unison. Then, the empty caskets were buried, alongside millions of other graves.
There were crowds, weeping. Some were onlookers, but most were widows, family members and friends. Representatives from the Interstellar Marine Corp and the navy respectfully solicited them.
"Ma'am. We've kept your husband's gene, and his memories of the last 30 years. We could clone him. We will cover all expenses," one of them said to a widow, at the end of her husband's funeral service.
"Will he be the same?" she asked, quietly.
"I... uh..." the rep hesitated, but shook his head in the end. "I'm sorry for your loss, ma'am."
She walked off with her family, weeping.
Some agreed to the cloning of the fallen, wondering what the new chapter of their lives could have in store.

A total of 28 marines; 244 Rescue Corp; 2,037 naval crewmen; and 119 naval strikecraft pilots had lost their lives on the hours of the Operation Prometheus. All were posthumously awarded medal of valor for their bravery. The president himself was present at the massive ceremony, where convoys of military vehicles rolled and soldiers carrying the caskets marched down the capitol of the Terran military in Arcturus. The large crowds stood by silently to show respect. There were no trumpets or drums that day.
Flanking the president were Admiral Alex Moreau, Admiral Luo, Commander Mike Moreau and Senator Dugalle. The masterminds of the operation. Commander Moreau broke down in tears, when the convoy carrying the caskets of the marines appeared. His sister hugged him.
"I got you, little brother," Admiral Moreau said. "It's not all on you."
Dugalle swiped a regrettable look towards the pair. "Their sacrifices will not be in vain," he said.

"Know that our sons, daughters, wives and husbands have not died for nothing. It may not be today or tomorrow, but they will be avenged. Our enemies will soon understand that they have awoken a sleeping giant," the president's voice echoed throught the capital as he gave the speech. "It may break our hearts to know that further sacrifices will have to be made to bring peace to the Terran Federation, but we must persevere. We must carry on. And that will be the greatest battle we will face. All of us. And so, we have become the greatest generation of our time. The future shall look upon us with grace, honor and appreciation. Not of anguish and sadness."


All shipyards, across Terran space, grew eerily quiet. But its workers had other work to do. Stockpiles of alloys flooded in, and ship hulls were made, but crucial components weren't yet assembled. Foundries lit up night skies and cargo ships buzzed around restlessly. At the Groik Nexus, the scientists diverted their attention from agricultural and industrial technologies, to the reverse engineering of Lox reactors and shields. It wouldn't be for another year until the Terrans were ready for an all-out offensive war against the Estwani, now that their ill intentions became clear.
Meanwhile, further away from the Terran Federation, massive fleet battles continued to erupt between the Lox and the Estwani. The only difference now was that the Estwani had lost a critical initiative to subdue the Lox for good. The Estwani had suffered a devastating defeat in a major battle in Daraan star system. The Lox were particularly thankful to the Terrans for their efforts in destroying the starbase. The Estwani colossus meant for Earth was lost, when all of their attack fleets decided to abandon it and retreat to Daraan at the last minute, giving the Lox enough time to recall more fleets from the front. A grave strategic mistake for the Estwani. Some believed that they had decided to abandon the campaign entirely when they were found out, and when their psionic commander was killed in Daraan starbase. Nevertheless, their quest to purify the galaxy wasn't finished.


A storm was brewing, when suddenly the entire Estwani homeworld was blanketed in otherworldly darkeness by the psionic energies, powering an immense portal orbiting their planet. No one knew what it had meant. Not even the ancient curators.


On the opposite side of the galaxy, the Lox Empire wasn't as cohesive as many had previously believed. It continued to struggle throughout the empire, ripe with civil wars. But this new belief was finally cemented when the Lox officially declared that they will not intervene to punish the rebels, in front of the entire Interstellar Assembly. Most civil wars ended politically after that, rather than with violence, and birthed new independent worlds. But this did not at all help the inner worlds that were deeply subjugated and powerless to rebel.


Back at the guest quarters in the Admiralty in Arcturus, Senator Dugalle gave a new revelation surrounding the yet unanswered question: who was the woman in the Daraan starbase?
"I see you've met my friend. Back when I headed the NIS, I also led a pet project of ours in search of unique talents for the navy," he began. "Long ago, we heard a rumor that an orphanage on Sirius Prime reported to the authorities about a certain child flinging objects with her mind, and driving the staff mad. I couldn't believe it."
"I wouldn't either," Commander Moreau said.
"But I just couldn't help but investigate. So I sent people. And there she was, the first Terran who's latent psionic."
"And that's it?" Admiral Moreau asked.
"We couldn't identify who the parents were or where she came from. The child didn't have any records in all the gene banks. She simply didn't exist," Dugalle continued. "We took her in, as she was a danger to the public. I raised her like my own for years. We helped her develop her psionic skills, though we barely knew anything about it at the time. We learned a lot from her as well, until one day..."
Dugalle sighed and closed his eyes. He sat silently for a while.
"Until one day, she had an undecipherable vision. She was on her way to the curators to find more answers, but her shuttle was ambushed by the Estwani assassins. This was back when the Estwani were docile, so it was unexpected. One of the guards survived the attack to tell us about it. They had kidnapped her. Everything we could've known about psionics were gone with her."
"A few years later, she contacted us. She assured me that everything that had transpired were supposed to happen, and that the Estwani were treating her well and training her."
"And you trusted her?" Admiral Moreau asked.
"No, I didn't. She didn't contact me again after a while. I began to have vivid dreams where she appeared to me, all grown after all those years, and laid out the future before my eyes. I saw Earth and other Terran worlds destroyed as the colossus towered overhead. I thought I was going mad at my age. But a day later, the incumbent Estwani emperor cried for war. Lox did the same in response. You see, she kept sending me these same visions until in the last dream, she implored that it was a final warning, and that we needed to act. I went with my guts and put together Operation Prometheus. If we were to avert our doom, we had to do it."
"She was right. So this wasn't all just about the Lox technology," admiral said.
"I couldn't tell you before, and for that I apologize," Dugalle said. "It sounded like madness if I were to bet Terran lives on a dream. But all the intel we gathered at the battle confirmed the visions. It all makes sense. I am glad we went ahead with it."
"I wonder if she got out safely," Commander Moreau said.
"Did she say anything about the Contingency threat?" Admiral Nadir asked. Dugalle shook his head.
"We should focus our attention on the Estwani," Commander Moreau said, grinding his teeth.
"Leave the matter to the navy, brother. We'll avenge them soon. I'll even take you to their emperor myself," Admiral Moreau assured him.
"I'm going to put a bullet between his eyes. Then we'll see about how good his mind tricks are," her brother said.
Nadir began, "By now you've all seen the reports coming from the Estwani homeworld? It's quite disturbing. The amount of energy readings--"
"Get a clue," she said, cutting him off.
"This psionic power is so arcane to us. How can we fight what we don't understand?" Nadir argued. "This emperor of theirs, I hear he is some kind of immortal. I mean, how is that even a possibility, scientifically? He must be a biological life form. Not to mention there have been multiple emperors in the past, and all have died of age."
"There is a lot we don't understand about our universe. But point taken. The Immortal Emperor is not to be underestimated," Dugalle said. "Who knows who he is, and what this 'shroud' really is."
"Can the girl tell us anything?" Nadir asked.
"Her name is Auriel. At least that's what the orphanage named her. And no, she only contacts when she needs to. But I believe in her. She may be the only thing our nation needs in this turbulent galaxy."
Commander Moreau gave a look and said, "No, she's not the only thing we need."
"I am sorry, that's not what I meant."
"I've heard enough. I am going to check on the new recruits. Fresh young men and women to the slaughter," Commander Moreau said and left. His sister slowly shook her head and followed him out of her office.
"This girl--Auriel, I hope she gives you one of those visions soon. We are seeing a lot of fleet movements closer to our borders than ever before," Nadir said to Dugalle before leaving. "We may have just disturbed the hornet's nest."
"I hope so too. I hope so," Dugalle said to himself, alone in the office.
So, we have a name for the artifact...

Is Dugalle on the mysterious council?

Moreau seems... tired of war. That’s...not good.

Also, did the Estwani contact a Shroud-Being? If so, which one?

Also, the Terrans have a Colossus, right? Is the plan to fight fire with fire? What’s stopping them from destroying Estwani worlds?
One can understand his caution, wagering the future of humanity on a dream.
Chapter 4: Revelation

Many analysts in the media have been going on about the rise of the machines and how it coincided with the return of the ancient zealots, known as the Estwani Empire. By now, most Terrans believed that it was indeed more than just a coincidence.
"The sudden, unexpected appearance of the genocidal machines is all because of the Estwani!" one analyst said. The others claimed the opposite of the order.
"The fact of the matter is that, these machines have been around for a very long time. It's quite clear that they were created to destroy the Estwani threat who were also around for just as long," a columnist said on the news, one of the so called 'deniers', who refused to believe that the Contingency is not meant for the Terrans, and that destroying the Estwani would solve the crisis. "The Estwani considers them as arch nemesis, besides the Lox."
"You don't know that. There is not a sufficient evidence that this is the case," another argued, the side that believed Terrans should be containing the Contingency threat, rather than the Estwani. "For all we know, the machines are far older than the Estwani and they have been wiping out intelligent life for millions of years. Just ask the Bilnoc refugees."
Below them was a headline that read, "Terrans want war. But against who?" Next to it were the poll numbers. 50% was in favor of war against the Estwani, 40% against the Contingency, and 10% against war itself.

The Terran Constitutional Congress and the Terran Preservation Front's propaganda machines gripped the people's hearts. But the true narrative for the war was being orchestrated by the Military Association, and they wanted war with the Estwani. Even the national war heroes such as retired Grand Admiral Thompson, also known as 'Dragon Slayer', appeared on various interviews pushing for war.
"They have weakened severely due to their recent skirmishes with the Lox. But we have reasons to believe that the Lox are savoring this, as they stubbornly refuse our advice for them to move onto Estwani's core worlds. Every minute they wait for the Estwani to surrender, the more fanatical they become. It's time for us to deliver the knockout blow, before the tables turn," Thompson said, dressed neatly in his uniform decorated with medals and ribbons.
"Thank you for that answer. Now, I want to ask: why can't we just let the Lox maintain this status quo altogether?" the interviewer asked. "That'll surely save a lot of precious human lives."
"It sure would," the admiral chuckled and continued. "But you see, in war, you can't treat your enemies like food to play around with. That is pure hubris. It's what gets you killed. This is a grave mistake of the Lox, they shouldn't be doing this. I thought they were smarter than this. Sooner or later, it will be their own undoing. And most humiliating one at that."
"Thank you so much for your time," the interviewer said with a wide smile. "That was retired Grand Admiral Thompson, on how much risk the Estwani threat poses to our nation. He has fought dozens of battles in the past, even defeating a leviathan, earning him the nickname 'Dragon Slayer'. Admiral, thank you again for your time, and for your service to this country."
"My pleasure."
And thus, even the slightest hope of confiding in the Lox to deter the galactic threats had diminished in public opinions. It was also the last reason for the anti-war advocates in the senate to cling to their pragmatism. They still had the votes to stop a funding for an offensive war, and to prevent a change in the war policy.

Theia Incident became a popular topic as more and more officials came forward to point out how incompetent the Lox were, reinforcing the agenda to tear down the political opposition and push for war. The politicians painted the Lox as "not a potential ally", and "the enemy of my enemy is my friend, but that's just not the case with the Lox. I mean, you look at Theia Incident and it's unforgivable. It disgusts me even to this day."
Theia Incident. During the early stages of the Contingency, a small Lox ship had retreated to Theia system, and lured the Contingency fleet that chased after them. The Lox were swiftly defeated. Then, the Terran trading base was destroyed, killing hundreds of thousands on board. The Contingency immediately moved onto Theia Prime, and unleashed their bombs on the civilian population. Millions perished in a single week. Theia Prime was liberated from the siege when a combined Terran fleet at last arrived and defeated the enemy fleet. Tens of thousands more died in the ensuing battle. The truth, however, was twisted by the shadow council, in their aims to manipulate the narratives and groom Terran hatred against the Lox, as well as to keep the Contingency's existence secret.



In response, the Terrans built series of gateway networks across its space. Not too long after the Theia Incident, a large fleet and the newly built colossus launched a flawless sneak attack on the nearby Sterilization Hub of the Contingency, finally decimating it with a colossus. The Terrans quickly pulled back, and initiated a second sneak attack on another nearby Sterilization Hub. This time, the machines were well defended. Nevertheless, Terrans had won again, but it was a pyrrhic victory.

The militarists urged the president to push on to totally decimate the machines, while the technocrats asked that a Sterilization Hub be captured, rather than destroyed. Both requests were refused, due to unpopular opinions on such ideas. But these victories undoubtedly boosted the confidence of the Terrans. Though, they just didn't want to be overconfident.

Meanwhile, it was an election season. President Sato, a former admiral and a member of the TCC, decided not to run for office this time, despite having been re-elected 6 times.
"I've seen enough war. Now the public wants more of it, and I am sorry to say that I am no longer fit to indulge their wishes. Therefore, I am no longer running for the presidency," Sato announced.

As fortune would have it, the new head of the Terran Military Association, Senator Dugalle became elected in an overwhelming landslide, with the help of a secretive influence behind the political scenes. For the first time in history, the Terran Federation now had a militarist president. Many Terrans believed that this man would bring more victories after the success of Operation Prometheus. He stood tall at the inauguration, flanked by many officials from all factions.
"My first order as president is to commence refitting all of our fleets with the newest technologies, effective immediately."
The crowd cheered and chanted his name.
"Mark my words. This war will be long and hard, and many sacrifices will be made. But we will prevail, for the sake of our children!"

A few days later, he formally declared war against the Estwani Empire. It was only a matter of time the Sentry Array Service detected multiple fleet movements in the Estwani space. The xenos were now fighting on two fronts, and Dugalle decided to take advantage of that.

Arcturus. Terran Admiralty.

Present Day

Admiral Moreau and her synth assistant were working on confirming and clearing the latest bits of intel on dozens of active Estwani fleets. Suddenly, the synth froze up, slightly tilting its head.
"What is it?" Moreau asked.
"There's a visitor here to see you. Senator Brandt," it said politely.
Moreau sighed and buried her face in her hands. And then she put on a fake smile.
"Send him in."

"Ah, Admiral Moreau. Thanks for taking me in." Senator Brandt, governor of Sol and leader of the TCC made himself at home in her office. He poured a glass of Martian wine and sat down, before Moreau could invite him for a drink. A man truly not shy of his authority and influence, aside from not wanting to ever become president.
Admiral Moreau dismissed her synth and asked, "what can I do for such an important man, who came all this way just to see me?"
"Oh, drop the act admiral," Brandt said, his face already swelling red from the alcohol.
"Okay. What do you want?"
"I need you to listen to a recording. A spy of mine attended a TMA celebration party after the inauguration--"
"Senator," Moreau cut him off, raising her hand. She sighed and closed her eyes, seemingly irritated. "I don't do political espionage. I handle military matters. It's best if you seek out the State Security Agency. You know, your friends?"
"I am reaching out to you because we suspect your dear friend, Dugalle, of a conspiracy," Brandt argued.
"'Conspiracy'. Yes. We've all heard that one before. You are just bitter that the TCC isn't in charge anymore," Moreau said and shook her head. "You ever heard of a boy who cried wolf?"
"I admit that we've been a little flagrant with the accusations. But this time it's serious. Just listen to the recording, please!" Brandt set down his glass and leaned closer to her.
"A little flagrant, he says. That's an understatement. You tried to run the good name of men and women in uniform through the mud." Moreau gloated and leaned back in her chair. Brandt stared at her silently for a while and she conceded. "Alright, fine. Let's hear it. I got a lot of work to do."
Without another word, Brandt motioned at his communicator. He suspiciously looked around the office, but Moreau rolled her eyes and assured him that the office was secure. The recording began.
In the background, there were loud music, laughter and chatter. Then, a young man clearly intoxicated, spoke.
"Hey, glad you could join us, *beep beep*."
"Seriously?" Moreau asked Brandt, raising her eyebrows.
"It's for the spy's own safety, you understand," Brandt replied and she shrugged. The recording continued.
"Man oh man! You should've seen the look on Sato's face when we came into his bedroom. I mean his eyes were so big. 'How the hell did they get in here?'" the young man laughed.
Moreau looked up. Her uncaring expression was no more. Brandt silently nodded.
"Hey! Marine!" another man, much older, barked angrily.
"Sir!" the young man responded.
"Are you out of your goddamn mind?" the older man whispered. It was difficult to hear with all the music and chatter in the background. But Moreau heard it all. She froze up in horror.
"You are dismissed. Go home, you goddamn wreck."
"Sir! Sorry, sir!"
Brandt turned off the recording on his communicator.
"That's not all. My spy participated in the operation. He tells me the entire marine platoon guarding the presidential palace abandoned their post in the middle of the night," Brandt explained and downed the wine in anger. "Right when our dear Sato was sound asleep. How despicable."
Admiral Moreau visibly trembled. "I know that voice..." she said. "That's my..."
"Yeah, I'm sure you do. You do know that voiceprint is sufficient enough evidence. You also know what this means for your brother."
"Treason is punishable by death..."

Earth. Presidential Palace.

"The new office doesn't suit you, old man," Admiral Moreau joked, looking around via hologram.
"I plan on remodeling it," Dugalle joked back.
"You know that's not what I meant."
"And you know I've always been a politician ever since I headed the NIS."
"Not me, though," Moreau replied.
"Ah, you will get there. I guarantee it," Dugalle said, leaning back in the chair with a glass of whiskey on hand. "So, what can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to know something. Did the TMA force Admiral Sato to step down?"
Dugalle frowned. "Of course not. Why would we do such a thing? Clearly the people have spoken that it's time to focus on military affairs. Even Sato knew that. Why do you ask such a question?"
"Ah, it's just some silly rumor going around the admiralty. Anyways I just called you to see how you were doing. You must be very busy now," Moreau said, putting on a subtle but sarcastic tone. Dark expression on Dugalle faded away.
"You know it. Thanks for checking in. I should get back to work," he said.
"Of course. Moreau out."

"He lied to my face," she said to Brandt, after closing the call.

"Thank you," Dugalle whispered.


"Captain, send in your men," Senator Brandt spoke into his communicator.
"Yes, senator."
"If you want to say good bye to your brother without media on your tail, now is the time, admiral," Brandt said.
"Something doesn't add up. Just what could they have on Sato, and why isn't he reaching out to the senate?" Admiral Moreau numbly looked out into space from the window. "I think they are playing you, senator."
"You are good, just like Dugalle," he said. "Look, I understand you are only looking out for your brother."
"I'm not. I really believe they are playing you."
"Even if they are, they can't do a thing about it," Brandt gloated. "They won't survive the trial. Not during wartime. Never."

"Halt!" The marines approached the state police vehicles that flew in, right outside the gate of the presidential palace.
A casually dressed officer climbed out, followed by dozens of heavily armed soldiers from the rear of the vehicles.
"We're here to serve an order for arrest. Step out of my damn way, I got shit to do kids," the officer said to the marines.
"All marines, stand down. President's orders," another marine shouted. "Let them through."

Dugalle was practicing some kind of a speech in his office, then when the officers barged in with their loud boots, he acted surprised and smiled.
"What can I do for you?" he asked.
"You are under arrest for treason," the officer said, without much interest.
"And who are you supposed to be?" Dugalle asked again.
"State police," the officer replied, chewing a gum and sniffing. "The senate sent me."
"And I am the president."
"Not anymore. You aren't so popular over there. They know you militarists are up to no good. Better watch out," the officer chuckled. "Now, let's go. I don't like putting neural binds on an old man."
Dugalle willingly followed the officer.
"There must be some kind of a mistake."
"You wouldn't be the first."

"We got them all," Senator Brandt ecstatically announced. "All of them are in judicial custody. I'm going to get some rest. Tomorrow, let's celebrate."
Senator left the office, but his voice could be heard from the hallway. "Synth! Take me to the finest guest chamber on this station."
"There won't be a celebration," Moreau said on her own, and began downing the entire bottle.

Admiral Moreau woke up with a bad case of hangover.
"Turn on the news," she groaned, and a screen opened up beside her bed. Her eyes widened when she heard the news announcer speak.
"--and former President Sato clearly said nothing in the recording has ever happened, that it was a forgery. President Dugalle also announced today that, although this could be treated as treason, he would rather forgive Senator Brandt, but is considering sacking him and his co-conspirators. Nevertheless, this is a very welcoming news for the TMA faction and not a good day for the TCC--"
"Why am I not surprised?" she said, lying still in bed.

Undisclosed location. Earth.

"We appreciate your cooperation, President Sato," One spoke at the screen displaying President Sato, visibly shaking in anger.
"I only did it for my family. You are all out of your minds! This is not how it was supposed to go!" Sato yelled.
"The plans have changed, Sato," Four spoke from the shadow. "The Chosen One's arrival is at hand. You've seen what's happening in the Estwani homeworld."
"Yes but--"
"You have no heart for the job. We need strong and decisive leadership. The moment you refused our request for war against the Estwani was the moment you forfeited your contract with the council. I'm sorry, Sato, but you are out."
"You are insane! Countless Terrans will die all in the name of your quest for power that you don't even understand!" Sato retorted. "Or know how to wield!"
"We do know. We have prepared the Terrans on this great journey. This is not just about the survival of our species, but to secure our place among the stars for generations. The xenos will kneel and look upon us as the one true species to lead them. To lead this galaxy," One replied.
"Mark my words. Your hubris will bring darkness upon our nation!" Sato said and turned off his comm.
One cleared his throat and began, "Tell Three to move onto the next phase, now that we have gotten rid of our opposition. The council is concluded. Annuit cœptis."

Dugalle, back in his office, continued to practice his speech. Outside in the courtyard, the press restlessly waited for a big announcement to be delivered. Synth workers set up the podium and other equipment to prepare for the event. After a while, President Dugalle stepped out, flanked by his security detail. He stood at the podium and began.
"Thank you all for coming. I am pleased to announce that our fleets are being refitted, getting ready to meet the Estwani. However, the scale of this war is unprecedented. I, as the commander of all armed forces, with the emergency powers bestowed upon me by the senate, will add new provisions to form a new leadership council among the brightest generals and admirals, who will guide us in this tumultuous time. Our lives will have to change to adapt to this new war, and the council will help with that process. All elections will be halted, but not indefinitely, to ensure that we have smooth transition throughout this war. Thank you," he finished speech and walked off. The reporters got up from their seats and shouted their questions.
"Sir, what do you mean the elections will be halted!?"
"Can you tell us more about this new council, please?"
"What happened between Senator Brandt and former President Sato?"

The senate was thrown into utter chaos and became paralyzed. Some prominent members of the TCC were arrested for treason they did not commit. Most felt bitter and cheated, but they also blamed themselves for calling for war and electing a militarist into power.

"To defeat this powerful enemy, we must have strong and unified government. The senate majority have been nothing but indecisive, risking the lives of countless Terrans! Threatening to cut support and necessary budget intended for our brave men and women of our military! This is not the time for petty disagreements and politics! We need action. And we intend to deliver those actions! We hereby enact Provisions 53 of the Emergency Securities Act, and hand over all federal military and civilian budgetary jurisdictions to the office of the president. We also hereby officially recognize the presidential declaration of war against the Estwani Empire as legitimate," a TMA representative announced. All the while, more than half of TCC seats remained empty in the Senate. The motions passed without opposition.


Protests erupted. Some protests evolved into riots on various worlds, but they were quickly put down.

"Why did you do it?" Admiral Moreau asked her brother over the communicator.
"Sato was poised to be re-elected, and he didn't want war. We brought him over to our side, made him see reason. He still didn't want it, but agreed to step aside. War is inevitable, dear sister. He knew that. We just sped it along while keeping our dignity," he answered.
"So what, you can get a piece of the seat on the new council? A promotion?"
"Vengeance, sister! Vengeance! Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to look into the eyes of fatherless and motherless children, and widows, and tell them that the love of their lives were butchered? What would I say if we were to just look the other way? There has to be compensation! I wake up every night seeing their faces haunting me. The Estwani must die."
"The whole operation was Dugalle's idea. Can't you see your marines knew what they were getting into?"
"You think I don't know that!? It already happened, and Dugalle was there for me. He promised me--"
"Promised you what? Send you over to the front line just so you could have your closure?"
"It's over, sis. It's time to get our hands dirty. Prepare yourself," he said and hung up the call.
"I don't believe this shit," she said.
Nadir stood by the door with an apologetic look.
"So... uh... the president just named you as part of the council..." Nadir said hesitantly.
"What!? The gall of that man..." she said, shaking her head.
"Apparently your brother turned down any offer of promotion. He could've been a general, you know," Nadir continued.
"And that means staying at the back of the line. That's not who he is," Moreau explained. "He wants action. He wants to put a bullet between his eyes..."
"The Estwani emperor, duh."
"Ha, that's a... that's a big dream," Nadir said nervously.
"Not for him it isn't. He's going to do something very stupid. I have to be there for him."


"What did you just say?" Dugalle asked, squinting his eyes.
"You heard me. Demote me. Put me on a ship with my brother. Do your friend a favor, old man," Admiral Moreau replied.
"Are you out of your goddamn mind? You are the youngest admiral to ever hold a position you are in. You are a gifted officer, and you want to waste it all away?" Dugalle got up from his desk and slammed it angrily. "Have I taught you nothing!?"
"I'm okay with your political games. What I am not okay is the fact that you are sending my brother to the front line without me!"
Dugalle sighed and crashed back into his chair.
"He told you, didn't he?" he asked, calming down a bit.
"No, but it's quite obvious. All that talk about vengeance. Your promises. You think I wouldn't figure it out?"
"Damn. I really wish it didn't come to this," he said scratching, his head.
"You know he's the only family I have left... so please..."
Dugalle sighed repeatedly and thought for a while.
"You never make anything easy for me. But that's what I like about you, Alex."
"So, is that a yes?"
Dugalle nodded and said, "but on one condition. You'll be posted on a Titan, not some corvette. You deserve better."
"Thanks. That's good enough for me."



The giant portal glistened bright over the Estwani homeworld still covered in dark clouds and psionic storms. From it slowly emerged an immense ghostly figure about the size of the entire planet. Many Terran observers described it as having shape of a jellyfish. It discharged large streaks of lightning in all directions. Swarms of Estwani ships surrounded it. They jumped the hyperlanes together, breaking through several Lox outposts, and approaching ever closer to Terran space. To the Terrans' surprise, the Estwani's fleets also had with them a newly constructed colossus. This convinced the Terrans that these Estwani fleets were coming to finish them off once and for all.

1st, 2nd and 3rd Terran strike fleets gathered in a massive blob in Olympus star system, ready to counter the impending attack. Fort habitats in the star system equipped with FTL inhibitors alerted their ground troops, ready to fight to the bitter end, even if it had meant to merely slow down the Estwani's advances. The local bastion starbase also readied its defense platforms. A great and deadly battle awaited them, which would decide the fate of the war.


Dugalle closed his eyes and opened them again. He found himself floating atop the dark clouds, much like the ones on Estwani homeworld. The air in the atmosphere did not move, so not a slight wind could be felt. The sky was otherworldly violet, and seemed to stretch across infinitely without horizon. Thunders echoed in the distance, but it was overall peaceful.

In the distance, he found Auriel approaching him.
"How do we defeat such a monstrosity?" he asked. "What is that thing they are bringing with them?"
"It's a spawn of the Chosen One's avatar. A fraction of his power," she answered bluntly with a monotone voice.
"Chosen One... Yes... Of course..."
"The Immortal Emperor. For now, he is still in slumber within the Shroud. It is nothing your fleets can't handle. The emperor wants a taste of what the Terrans are capable of," she said.
"Is there anything else we should be aware of?" he asked.
"Yes. The Immortal Emperor is about to emerge from The Shroud, in the process of awakening from a long slumber, after defeating a powerful entity and swallowing it whole--a fraction of the entity that you now see, approaching. The spawn of his avatar. He is ready for battle. He will summon beasts on a whim, beasts you cannot fathom. I believe the Terran mythology calls them 'demons'."

Visions flashed before Dugalle's eyes.


"Dear god..."
"There is no god in The Shroud, only nightmares constantly feeding off of unlimited psionic energies given off by all life in the universes. They are also what keeps most species from being innately psionic."
"Sounds like the Estwani were lucky in that regard," Dugalle said, looking around to see if there were any demons.
"Not at all. He had stolen this power through devouring on the Shroud entities for centuries, and gave it to the Estwani species until generations became engraved with it, as he has done for many other species millions of years ago. Witnessing this, they began to worship him as their new emperor and god. Without him, none of the Estwani would be psionically sensitive," she explained. "But for thousands of years, long ago, he remained dormant inside The Shroud, rumored to be imprisoned by a trickster. None of the psionics were able to retrieve him. They preserved his physical comatose body. In his absence, their empire withdrew and isolated itself. It was ruled by priests and series of pretenders for a while, as well as now. But they faithfully upheld the prophecy foretelling the return of the one they worshipped as a god. And return he will, rising from the mausoleum as an immortal."
"Immortality is impossible. We have searched for the secret of life itself, and became masters of biology. But immortality was nowhere in sight." he argued.
"He has only gained immortality through cunning. The only known source is from an old mythos about him, like Illiad on Earth, where he confronts the trickster beast who imprisoned him in The Shroud. He tricked the beast into granting him immortality, then devoured the beast for himself," Auriel explained. "He may be the most powerful and intelligent being in the galaxy, and perhaps the universe. With millennia of experience, he has become unstoppable. He has become a god to all."
"How do we stop such a force?" Dugalle asked, but he already knew the answer, which he hid from Auriel.
"He was the first latent psionic in his species, and even he had a master. An ancient being who helped him to discover The Shroud and its secrets. The student honed his skills for millennia under the master's teachings. One day, he witnessed a Shroud entity devouring another, and growing in power. It was the only secret the master did not reveal. He ultimately decided to taste it for himself. He became addicted and his psionic power grew even beyond his master's. And when the master had found out about his ill intentions, he created a psionic relic to use against him. The emperor betrayed his master and killed him, before he could."
"Fascinating... so where is this relic?"
"I am that relic," Auriel responded quickly.
"I'm sorry?" Dugalle asked, taken aback by her knowledge that she was in fact the artifact.
"I am the spiritual embodiment of the relic," she reiterated. "You need not concern yourself of the Immortal Emperor. Focus on the battle at hand, and I shall contact you again, old friend."
"Wait, how--"
Dugalle snapped out and found himself back in his office, drenched in sweat. He immediately reached for his comm.
"Yes?" One answered the call.
"Auriel knows!"

Auriel, in rags, opened her eyes to the muffled sound of a firefight, happening right outside her cold cell. Her body was covered in wounds the Estwani torturers had inflicted. Her face was unrecognizably contorted from the beatings. She found no comfort anywhere.
"If this is what it takes to hide myself from you, then so be it," she whispered.
Wait, the Estwani Emperor is the Chosen One? Does that mean that the conspiracy is a group of collaborators? Or do they plan on overthrowing him somehow?

Auriel is the last hope of humanity... and, perhaps, the universe.

There is no god in the Shroud... well, there isn't a benevolent god in the Shroud, anyway.

What Shroud-Beings remain in existence? Do any of them?

And, if humanity is left with no other choice, what are they willing to sacrifice for victory? Anything? Everything?
I pity the poor folk having to navigate their lives through this mess.
More wonderful stuff. Mystery; intrigue; struggle! The timeless spirit of the odyssey of life!
Dear readers,

Thank you all for so much support. Words cannot describe my thanks.

I am continuing to finish this AAR. I sincerely apologize for such a long hiatus. I have written drafts of what comes next, but unfortunately I have been affected by the California wildfires and I am unable to upload or edit them at this time. The harddrive is with me, thankfully. It's not long now until I can go back home and get back to it.

Until then, please sit tight. I haven't abandoned this!

Thank you!
No worries :)