A Long Twilight Journey
I woke up in bed with Jason nowhere in sight. However that was not what woke me up; it was the pulsing red light that bathed the inside of my quarters.
Not again, I mumbled to myself.
Getting up, I made my way over to the chair and grabbed my uniform. Putting it on, I made my way to command.
In the hallways, everyone was scurrying to their combat stations. I stuck my hand out as I quickly made my way to the lift. The hull felt slightly cool. It was slightly gelatinous in texture but did not give way after perhaps a millimeter.
I entered the lift and it quickly whisked me away to the command level. When the doors opened I saw Rose look in my direction as she continued to give orders for combat preparation. Jason was in the advisor chair on the other side of my chair.
Poor Jason, he had not been able to get any sleep in the last few days. He has been racking his brain trying to figure out how to communicate with our attacker. They had been harassing us for the last week or so and, given his specialty, he had been working on breaking their language and code for the last 50 hours. There he was, still at his terminal with bags under his eyes.
Making my way to my place, I moved my long tail under his chin and got his attention.
How is it going? I asked.
He sighed and rubbed his temples.
This code they are using is based off of chaos mathematics. With normal computational mathematics, there must be a base off of the number generation. With this system, the keys are completely randomly generated, he said with a sigh. I have figured out some of the basics of their language from their unencoded transmission, but their military communication channels I have yet to crack.
I laid down on the padded slab that they had as my command chair and placed my hand on his shoulder.
Rose, status? I asked turning to face her.
Point defense grid is online. Main guns and long range interceptors are standing by. All sections report combat readiness. Communications is jamming any out-of-system transmission. All is ready for combat, the wolf fem replied.
As usual, the small fleet of ships were out there staying still just outside of weapons range. There were about a dozen or so heavy fighter/bombers and a few, of what we believed to be, gunboats.
There is a lot of transmission on their military channels, Jason piped in. There is minimum activity on the civilian though, and it's in text format. Wonderful, something else I need to decode.
He quickly got back to work after he rolled his eyes for no real reason. How he can do this with no sleep I haven't a clue.
Captain, they have opened gun ports and are activating engines, the weapons officer warned.
Bring point defense grid to aggressive defense, I ordered.
The point defense grid will launch a cloud of energy flak that will destroy any incoming missile or low level energy mass. Interceptors are energy/plasma pulses that are used to intercept missiles and other plasma-based weapons. The main guns are high-energy beams that will not only cut through like a laser, but also pound through a piece of armor. This system has evolved after confrontations with many different races over the years. However a lot of this technology would not have been integrated into one package had it not been for Mage tech.
Missiles incoming, nuclear tipped. The WO stated.
Screen three-sixty, interceptors fire! came my reply.
Quickly the walls, ceiling, and floor shifted in color to the point where they almost appeared translucent. However it was just the inside having a hologram being projected against it.
You could faintly see about a dozen or so faint points of light rapidly approaching from the small fighters. A few moments later, a few small spheres of energy appeared as the point defense grid fired a few interceptors to destroy the incoming missiles.
Main guns target engines and weapons systems only. Fire! I instructed.
A small beam of light appeared on screen as it hit one of the fighters. The fighters broke formation and went into energy weapon range as the beam tracked and disabled another craft.
Captain, energy spike detected... wait, its gone now. They're retreating.
A few minutes passed by as the hostile ships quickly got out of weapons and then sensor range.
What the hell was that about? I asked.
The weapons office shrugged his shoulders, so I looked over my mates shoulder. He already had the sensor log up and moved a bit so I could better see his terminal. There was a low-powered energy spike, but then it quickly disappeared. Then there was a very low-powered transmission, barely detectable. Now there is a rough outline of some oddly designed ship, but it keeps appearing and disappearing.
Under normal circumstances, I would write it off as a sensor error or sensor ghost but not with what just happened.
Can you get a weapons lock on that sensor ghost? I asked.
Negative, weapons sensors can't lock on. We are lucky that we can even see it this well. All I can do is a very rough manual targeting, the officer replied.
Captain, Rose began, I think this is due to some highly advanced stealth technology. If these sensor readings are correct, we can only detect it at a specific angle.
WO, stand by to fire...
Sir, the WO replied pointing to the screen.
The ship had appeared on sensors. It was the purest black that you could image. It was like staring at the event horizon of a black hole. All energy that touched the ship was absorbed, your eyes focus wanted to slip off of the ship. The only reason we could see it now was because somehow it was reflecting back the bare minimum of energy the sensors needed to lock on.
Jason moved closer to me and whispered into my ear. Love, in the deep infrared spectrum, there's a symbol on the hull. This symbol is in the FoF database.
The FoF database or Friend or Foe database contains information about every symbol, ship outline, and bio-reading known to Star Fleet and its allies. This ship had three symbols to be specific.
On the left wing was the PSI-OMEGA, the symbol of the illusive religious/militaristic order called the Technomages. The Greek Psi symbol was used to represent enhanced mental capabilities, the paranormal, and psychic abilities. The left wing showed what cast they belonged to. In this case, the mage had three identifications placed in a triangle shape. One was identified as one of the Polaris royal pride. A year or so back, there was a large information transfer when a mage arranged to have an initial unofficial meeting. This was the loophole the mage used to help us without getting into trouble with his own order. Anyways, this ship clearly belonged to the mage known as Athirne. While the information we have about him is sketchy, we do know that he is close to the Polaris empress and is highly influential in the mages government. Half of them want to kill him, the other half see him as their next leader apparently. Beyond that he has a chakat mate (the second chakat that has ever been with the mages from what I have been told) and has a chakat daughter. There is also a note that he has a religious following by many of the Polaris too.
next two were placed below the pride identification. On the lower left was the symbol of the castless cast. They were the miscellaneous talents. They never did specialize in any area, but studied them all. They were the writers, entertainers, philosophers, and whatever else the situation required. Lastly, on the right of the symbol, looking far newer than the last one, was that of their leadership cast. The computer went on to note that the leadership cast consisted of about 12 members in a council that ruled the order. Along with assistants and other government positions, there were about 40 more members in that cast. In total, there are an estimated 10,000 mages and acolytes (mages in training or non-mages) that are currently alive, so that means that only about 0.005% of the population is in government. For comparison Chakona has about 0.3% of its population in a direct government role. With the USA back in its golden age, you had more than 0.9% of its population employed directly by the government. I think you are starting to get the idea of why the Mage order is such a curiosity to so many people.
Lastly there was the Mages personal symbol. This was in the center and bottom of the ship. The Mages symbol was that of a human eye with rays moving out like the way a child does when they draw a star. It almost looked like a hieroglyph used in ancient Egypt.
Just then a window appeared, overlaying the view of the ship.
All that could be seen was a figure in a black coat in a room with black walls. A hood was pulled over the persons head, and you could see the intricate circuitry patterns in the cloth.
I believe I am expected, said the figure in a distinctively male voice.
His voice was controlled and flawless. He controlled pitch, modulation, and volume to the point of making every word sound like it had the utmost importance. This was it, my first encounter with the elusive order.
May I assume that you are Mage Athirne? I asked him.
Clear me for docking, stow away the breakables. Im coming in, was his reply before the com channel went black.
Has anyone actually been in the same room as a Mage before? I asked.
I have, replied Rose. I arrived when Mage Athirne left the dry dock. This was about two weeks before you arrived. Skuks however spent a week with him.
I nodded and hit the intership com.
Skuks, I said.
Here captain, came hys reply.
Meet me down in the shuttle bay as soon as you can.
Alright, I will be there in three, hy said as the channel terminated.
Rose, Jason, and I made our way out of C&C.
When we arrived at the shuttle bay, Skuks was already there waiting for us. With a smile, hy lead the group inside. The shuttles that were usually ready to be deployed had been moved under the deck. This is supposed to allow us to have three fighter craft that were not ready for launch. Instead we now have a Technomage ship taking up the space of three shuttles. Furthermore, there were already two figures that had disembarked. One was a human male. He looked was perhaps the most interesting person I have ever seen. His skin was as white as a ghost. Apparently Athirne had some form of an incident when he was a child and hence lost much of his bodys pigmentation. However his hair was almost as black as his ship. However it was most likely caused by the nanites creating artificial pigmentation. It could not be coloring by dye because... well back in high school, Jason took me around for a bit of that odd Halloween. He dyed my fur black, so that no one could recognize me, and took me out to many of the less... publicized areas of Chakona. He knew every little hole and hiding place in the capital. He even showed me how to get by planetary security. Athirne looked downright haunting, kind of like what Jason dressed up as that Halloween save without the pale skin and a few other things. The mage was dressed in long black robes with a large hood that he was not wearing at the moment, most likely detachable. The sleeves went up to his wrist on the bottom while on the top it went up to his knuckles. He had a few dark necklaces too; a few jewels of dark purple and volcanic black. They were not too over-fancy and yet looked like they had some ceremonial reasons for them being adorned, perhaps as a sign of power among the mage or Polaris? He had a few black bands on his hand, just past the knuckles on his fingers. They were on each hand present on his shortest and longest fingers on each hand. All in all he looked about the closest to dead that I have ever seen anyone in my life. Quite honestly he was intimidating the hell out of me. I could have seen me as a cub encountering him and soiling myself.
His companion was the very last person you would expect to see. A young chakat at about the age of nine was at his side, most likely the daughter the computer was talking about. Shi was covered in a similarly designed coat, save it was adapted to cover up hir lower body also. Hir eyes were the normal gold green and slightly downcast. Most likely because shi was being trained as a mage, and during the first two stages of training they learn how to be still and silent. What little you could see of hir coat, was pure black, though it looked natural and not the result of dye.
I took a few steps toward the two and gave a slight bow and decided to stick to the introduction Admiral Benson recommended. My name is Chakat Softstride, Captain of this ship, I said crossing my arms over one another and touching the opposite shoulder, like that of a mummy. I then bowed as Jack and Skuks did the same.
We are honored by your presence, added Skuks.
The young chakats posture changed from the original self-assured to that of uncertainty. Shi slowly reached out for the older Mages hand and grasped it in hir own.
Thank you for the welcome, the mage replied. My name is Mage Athirne of the Castless. He gave a slight bow and a nod to Skuks and added, Hello again.
Taking a step back he looked at his chakat companion and gave hir a nod. Shi in turn bowed back to us. My name is Apprentice Deirdre, child of Redbranch and Athirne, of the Castless, shi stated, and I noted hir eyes were glued on Skuks. The older mage smiled at hir as shi took a few steps back to be at hir sires side.
Well then, I suggest we find somewhere a little bit more comfy to talk. Skuks added.
The ships conference room was far from glamorous - an oval table that could seat about a dozen people with a holoprism in the center of it, a few chairs for bipeds, and a replicator in case of a long meeting. Despite the group already having settled in their places a few minutes ago, the only sound was that of light breathing. The crew did not want to say or do anything without careful thought first. A mage is trained to read any subtle movements or glances and interpret their causes. The slightest change in pitch of your voice or dilation of your eyes can give away that you are hiding something.
So, would you care to tell us what business you have here with this visit? I asked.
Humanity is my business, he replied.
Jason gave a little chuckle. True, however from what I understand, most Mages don't care about their former kind. That is to say beyond a fascination of our atavistic tendencies.
Athirne gave a nod in response. Jason was our best chance of dealing with a Mage. He has a quick mind and is highly knowledgeable - both qualities that are required in order to deal with a mage. A mage will never give you the whole message at face value after all. Usually you need to roll it around your mind a bit to unravel the full meaning.
However, I must complement on your names. Athirne was a powerful poet in the Ulster, or Red Branch, Cycle. He was highly manipulative and somewhat evil. Redbranch must get hir name from the early tales then, in which there was a heroine named Deirdre. She was in the Gaelic equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. It's good to know that the Mage tradition of naming after human and alien myths are still intact.
For a moment it looked like the Mage had lost his composure, but if so it lasted not even a second.
Not bad. It appears that you have studied up quite a bit. However you are misinterpreting the meanings of our names and how they apply to me and my family, Athirne replied.
Now that you two have that out of the way, why dont you tell me why you chose now to show up of all times.
Athirne smiled and I found myself less assured than ever of this person.
It is simple, he said. You are getting close to the Ghost Gate. An ancient wormhole generator left long ago by its creators. It cuts down the journey by a year and a half. As such, I strongly doubt that you would be able to figure out how to get it to work in a timely fashion. Originally this mission had the secondary objective of exploration for possible shipping lanes between us, and for you to encounter whomever you may have to deal with if trading opens. However, matters back both on Earth and Polara have forced the timetable up.
We were afraid of something like this happening, I sighed. How far away is this Ghost Gate?
About three weeks. After that I have arranged for a special ship to meet you on the other side, they will bring you back to near Polaris space and you can continue on your way to their home world. All in all it will cut off nearly two years. However don't think that this will be even close to the end of your journey. We still have the first contact to work out and initial relations. My connections with the empress, and with me leading one of the three royal prides, I should be able to speed the process along a bit.
Will this require a course change? Jason asked.
Only slightly. However it will require that you go deeper into your new friends space, he replied.
You mean those that have been attacking us for the last few days? I sighed and rubbed my temples. I never did expect to have to openly take an aggressive stance against anyone. Violating their space is not quite the best thing to do in the first week of contact. Granted it wasn't too friendly to begin with.
Alright... How long do you expect to stay around for, by the way?
I can only stay a day or two more, and then I will have to go back. I must make sure that everything is in place and, due to my position, I have a higher obligation to them. Only my order takes higher precedence.
And your daughter? asked Skuks as hy smiled at Deirdre.
Shi will be staying here, he said and moved his hand to stroke the side of her muzzle. I believe shi needs more contact with what is outside of the Polaris and the Mages. This should also give you an advantage in the rest of your journey. Shi may be young but, as a mage, hir knowledge already surpasses yours in most things. Besides, I thought Skuks would like to spend some more time with hys niece.
That got my attention, though Jason already had beaten me to staring at Skuks with a look of curiosity, to which hy sighed. Meanwhile, Deirdre moved a hand up to hir muzzle to stifle a giggle.
Before Redbranch ran off with Athirne, hy began Shi was my sister, and no, that is not hir chakat name. Though I have not seen hir in a while, I suspect that if you are around a mage too much, their mysterious nature rubs off.
Deirdre finally broke out laughing, shortly later joined by everyone except Athirne who just shook his head at the group. It was Deirdre who next spoke, Actually it's quite interesting, being around mages that is. Being raised by a outsider and a mage is quite an interesting experience. All in all, mother has adapted rather well to hir position in the pride and has come to quite enjoy some of the... bonuses of being in a Polaris pride.
Shi winked at Athirne as the two broke out in laughs. Skuks meanwhile took that time to roll hys eyes at the two. You see, Skuks began, In a Polaris pride, you have a coalition of four to a dozen males with anywhere from a dozen to fifty females. Depending on the size of the pride and the situation, most of the time they will actually sleep together in the same bed.
Wow, big bed, came Jasons retort.
Athirne shook his head at Jasons comment as he stopped laughing. That is not quite how it works. We sleep with each other on a padded floor. It's not a mattress as Polaris prefer sleeping on something harder than most mattresses. Being highly social creatures they like to stay close to their pride as much as possible.
Kind of like the lion prides back on Earth, I added in.
Yes and no. You do have a pride of many females with a smaller coalition of males. However inside that pride, you do have primary mates and secondary ones. For example my primary mate is Redbranch. Technically by pride law, the rest of the pride are secondary mates, including my fellow coalition members. I can also have multiple primary mates.
What is the difference between primary and secondary mates? He had captured my interest. Chakats are sometimes incorrectly seen as having prides. However it is more like a cross between a pride and a human family unit. Since there is no coalition of males and other differences in organization, it cannot be viewed as a pride. In fact it is closer to a pack than a pride.
I may as well tell you the story then of how I came to lead a royal pride. Now this is not like a normal pride as there are not as many steps nor as many rules of how to do things, but this will give you a good idea. First, you have to understand that the formation of such a pride can only be authorized and endorsed by the empress. Our families have been aligned for a long time. There must always be three royal prides in addition to the empress own pride. When the third pride collapsed from infighting between the female members, she appointed to me the task of building my own coalition. After this endorsement, I began seeking out the formation of my coalition. Being the first non-Polaris to create a royal pride, many believed that it would not work, and hence finding good males to build up the numbers of the central coalition. Using my influence as a mage and the contact I have had with many other male Polaris, I was able to add a few to the coalitions members. Once I had about five other males, I took on the next task. Once I got this far, the rest was more simplistic. Being a mage and having the empress endorsement, I had more than enough females that had shown an interest in joining on. Once the females see a stable coalition with the endorsement of the empress, then it is rather easy to get females wishing to join.
However there is the basic structure to keep in mind. The coalition is there to create, expand, and keep the pride stable. The females however hold economic and political power. The only exception to this is the head male. We get power from the influence of the females and from endorsement from the empress. The system is a bit more complex than that, but that would take more time than I have for this visit.
Anyway, I had the problem of most of the females coming from the lower echelon of the Polaris social structure. I suppose I'd better explain that too. Beyond the pride system, we also have the social structure. There are four basic levels. You have the Sithet, they are servants, slaves, low structure workers. Next you have the Mithet, those are the artists, generic civil servants, entertainers, etc. They would be to a degree like your middle class. Next you have the Sitehet, they would be members of royal prides, people of high political or economic power, members of the empress pride and court, and where the mages are unofficially viewed at by the Polaris. Lastly there is the Kaihet, that is the empress and the gods. As you can guess, I had quite a bit of Sithet and Mithet trying to get in to raise their standings by joining a new royal pride. Actually my pride is made mostly out of Sithet that were mostly slaves before I began directly courting Sitehet. I mostly courted the younger members who only got their power from being born into such a pride. If I tried to get some of the more older members that had some of the higher power and influence, then the coalition may have viewed me as a threat to their pride and would have had the legal right to try and kill me. Originally, new royal prides tend to be rather weak but can gain power quickly. With eight males and thirty females, I made it known that the coalition was no longer actively seeking out new members. After a few weeks, I felt the pride had become stable and presented my new pride to the empress. After a few hours of examination by her, she agreed and the Pride became a fully fledged Royal Pride.
The Polaris have slaves? I asked.
What do you mean the Coalition would have had the right to kill you? added in Skuks.
You know what I want to know. Jason added with a wink.
Athirne sighed and shook his head. He is definitely more complex than one would think. Yes, the job of the coalition is to protect the pride and its stability, and no we dont have nightly orgies.
Damn, replied Jason.
Meanwhile Deirdre was in the corner looking absolutely bored. When Athirne took note, he leaned down and whispered something into his daughters ear. Shi raised hir head, looked at us and burst out laughing.
Now if you dont mind, I would like to wrap this up soon. I have places to be and things to do. Deirdre you are to stay here and advise them, Athirne stated to which Deirdre pouted. I will be leaving with my ship soon, so I suggest you get Deirdres living arrangements sorted out. He stood up and gave a nod to me.
As I said, I have other places to be, but I shall send you a bit of navigational information to help you. Also I will drop in from time to time to check in on your progress and to see if you have corrupted my daughter yet.
An hour later, Athirne left on his ship back to wherever he was going to. Deirdre had hir own quarters next to Skuks and spent quite a bit of time hanging-around the bridge. It took a while to inform Rose and agree to letting hir be on the bridge when shi wanted, but I have a way with people. We now had navigational data thanks to him on where this portal is. And as for Jason... my shift ends in a few hours and I intend to drag him off to bed and make him go to sleep if necessary. So far this trip has proven to be interesting, and it has only been the first month. Now its time for everyones favorite event: the routine status checks.
Commander? I directed to Rose.
Rose looked at me with a neutral face and handed me a PADD with all of the system check information... or at least until Deirdre intercepted it and began looking at it. If there is one thing to say about those two, it is that they are both quick and efficient.
Well everything looks normal, began Deirdre. However your prototype star-drive is still dead.
I sighed, no point in even trying to get it from hir, shi could disappear again and that would just pose the problem of finding hir. The drive was only half completed. It was installed in hopes that we could complete its assembly en route, I replied trying to sound as patient as I can.
Well, that is all that is of interest in the status report. Shi looked up and smiled. That is besides a ship that is coming out of FTL which looks like your new friends.
Son of a...! came Jasons voice as he entered command. Just then the battle stations alarm sounded as it was triggered by the FoF system. Here I finally start nodding off to sleep and those bastards come back, Jason pouted.
Humans get very cranky when tired. I gestured for him to take his seat and watched him get back to work still mumbling about how the universe was unfair.
And what if the universe was fair? began Deirdre. What if everything that happened to you happened because you deserved it? Would that really make you happier?
Jason stared at hir and shut his mouth after that.
I turned back to the screen. The angle at which it projected was changed so you could see the ships. Now that we were actually in their space, they were no longer just doing warning shots. This time they sent a nice fleet of ships to deal with us. By the tactical information it looked like thirty fighters, twenty bombers, four gunboats, two missile cruisers, two carriers, and a capital ship. Fun. Well, I suppose this would be the first full test of the ship in full combat situation.
Ship is at full combat readiness, the WO announced.
What followed was the most unexpected thing to happen: Deirdre gave out a few giggles as shi looked at us all. Naturally everyone was quite put off, not knowing what was so funny about what was going on.
Do you wish to tell us what is so interesting? I asked slightly annoyed.
They dont want to fight you as much as you dont want to fight them. All of this is just for posturing. You come in with a big bad ship and go to the borders of their territory. They send a small scouting party to see if you are hostile. They deem that you are invading their territory due to your ships movements, designs, and energy output. They send a few more small forces to test you, yet you disable them. Perhaps they are wrong about you? But then again, why would you fire them on the first place? Perhaps you are just trying to herd the ships into an easy place to commit the kill? Now you come directly into their territory and that confirms what they thought initially. So now they send a little Armada to fight you if necessary.
Hir logic could be sound as I dont know exactly what the species is like that we are dealing with.
Then what do you recommend.
Well, shi began with a smirk on hir face, We are new in town. I suggest you submit to their authority and get orientated. Basically act submissive around them. Try to keep your power lower than their capital ship, deactivate all of the weapon systems, and don't go so fast.
You have got to be kidding, replied Rose.
I shrugged and nodded to the WO. Our power output decreased by 20%, acceleration zeroed out to a drift, and the weapons systems were brought down.
Fighters still on approach and weapons are armed. They will enter firing range in thirty seconds, piped in the WO.
I looked back at Deirdre and shi smiled back. I am reasonably sure they wont attack.
Reasonably? I replied.
Well, in things like this, no one can be sure of what the outcome is. As my father always said to me when I was younger, you can only position people and hope they play out their roles the way you envision.
Fighters in firing range; their missiles are prepared to fire, came in WO.
It could mean anything! shi tried to reassure.
Missiles firing, two incoming time to impact ten seconds.
Play dead? Deirdre suggested. Just then their was a burst of light from the viewer.
Um, missiles prematurely detonated five seconds from impact.
Ha-ha! What did I tell you! shi beamed. With that, shi about-faced and walked triumphantly out the door.
How long do we have to baby-sit hir? Rose asked.
Three weeks at least. That is assuming shi is not actually here to baby-sit us. I replied.
Aha! Jason said triumphantly. I have finally broken their military codes and can now work on decoding their language. Though the war may be over, perhaps we can explain our situation and get passage through their space.
Good thinking, but arent you forgetting something? I replied with a sly grin.
And that would be?
We are off duty and it's time you finally went to bed, I said matter of factly.
He looked at me and then his terminal. But I still have work to do, he objected.
I bet if I say sleep three times you will be out cold.
Sleep, I said softly into his right ear. He looked at me defiantly but I could already see his will giving way.
Sleep. His eyes were drooping, this would be easy. I moved the terminal away from him.
Sleep, I said one last time. He was not quite out, but he could barely keep his eyes open. I wrapped my arms around him and picked him up. I made my way off of the bridge, and I rounded the corner to get to our quarters. Entering I placed him down on our bed and quickly removed his clothing. Smiling, I removed my uniform and made my way into the bathroom to get myself ready for bed. A few minutes later and I walked back in and smiled at Jason sleeping contently. I admired his body for a little bit and then curled up next to him. Wrapping my arms around him, I moved his body to press against mine and rest his head against my breasts. You never do realize how much you miss this contact until it is gone.
Continued in Chapter 4.
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