The Cardships -- Chapter
1. "You might want to sit down for this," Alona
recommended. President Aqu'Sha sent his favorite attaché
with Bri on this highly sensitive mission. She was disturbingly
beautiful and could melt anyone with her hypnotic eyes and femme fatale
demeanor. Bri could certainly understand why the President
enjoyed her so much.
2. Bri's ship was well inside Cacci Dai
space. Ahead was an array of faultlessly spaced rectangular
specks that continued to enlarge until it seemed for certain that the
Universe had an end, and they had reached it. The shellan eye
could not fully grasp the immensity of this particular construction
3. "So this is 'off-the-record," Bri whispered
amazed. He had seen it on paper but the real thing was completely
unimaginable. "Off-The-Record" was the code name for a piece of
shadow legislation that nobody knew anything about. It had taken
5 years and 90% of Vejhon's monetary reserves to pay for.
Subject matter experts had been recruited from 12 systems, sworn to
secrecy, threatened, and retired to various off-shell locations.
Only four shellans knew this story from start to finish, and they
False trails had been concocted; every conceivable decoy and a
fictitious war was standing by if needed. The smokescreen would
have been detected in the planning stages if Kor hadn't instigated
shellwide psionic anxiety.
6. Theos sent a CFA-PFS with Bri to finish signing
for the Cardships.
7. Four Cacci Dai guidance units took control of Bri's ship to
escort it safely to the yard superintendent where Bri was expected to
attend a presentation. It was purely perfunctory on Cacci Dai's
part to oblige biological customs and
8. De'Mandle was wearing a subdued Blue Funnel signet on his
lapel that Bri had not noticed earlier. Bri held his breath as
the hair raised on his neck. "Don't worry," Vicar Wexli calmed
him, "That's SGK-113." Bri coughed in relief. "Don't
asphyxiate either," Wexli suggested. "That's Theos's shellan?"
Bri said as an assertion, psionically. "No..." Wexli answered
psionically, "He's just an extraordinary shellan." Bri's tummy
jiggled but he successfully held back his laughter. "Does the
ever get tangled in it's own web?" Bri asked lightly. "Don't
worry about a thing, First Counselor," De'Mandle, answered, "I... am the spider."
Bri turned to Wexli astonished. Wexli shrugged and said, "I told
you he was shellan." "...and
SGK," Bri thought, adding a little kerosine to brighten the fire.
9. All of the decoys, false leads,
erroneous tips, alternate
timelines, buck passing and fanciful theatrics worked perfectly...
although not perfectly orchestrated: One simply sets chaos
in motion and the rest just 'falls into play...' or
'falls apart,' depending on one's point of view. The
very notion that Vejhon would have loaned money to Theos for anything
was outright dismissed, much less 90% of it's entire shell
reserve. That was the easy part:
10. To make Cacci Dai inaccessible, the perennial Badlands-Jolvian
dispute over Theotian colonies drifting into Jolvian space, was
expanded to infringe upon Cacci Dai too. The Cacci Dai did not
negotiate, like any binary circuit, they either liked you or
they didn't, without pretension. Conscious settled all Theite and
Jolvian accounts and ejected their diplomatic corps. Vejhon's
ambassador complained to Conscious about the abrasive treatment of
long-standing Cacci Dai allies.
11. Conscious accused Vejhon of facilitating
foreign expansionism into Cacci Dai; she settled all Vejhonian accounts
and ejected the
Vejhonian diplomatic corps. With great indignation, Vejhon joined
Theos and Jol's trade embargo against Cacci Dai and imposed travel
restrictions. It was all theatre; Conscious was
in on it and the media spun it exactly as scripted:
Cacci Dai was off limits to its three closest neighboring systems...
the public insisted on it.
To provide an internal cover, Conscious ordered Cacci Dai to become a
biological-free zone to ensure safer beta tests for the 487U
upgrades. That was actually true. Biologicals found
anywhere within the Cacci Dai system
be terminated except for valid expatriates,
privately-owned biologicals and political
To short-circuit the fear of interstellar hostilities, Cacci Dai
released a statement to Blue Funnel that interstellar trade would
resume after the
A-series burn-ins concluded within 5 years, "...chaos must be
during the evaluation period," the statement said.
14. The nationalist elements on Vejhon, Theos and Jol spun a
conspiracy theory that Cacci Dai had expansionist plans of their own
and used the
Badlands-Jolvian infringement to prevent foreign industrial
the media was gridlocked in a war over defense spending: "Is
Vejhon getting ready for war?" "Are the Cacci Dai planning to
attack?" "Who created the machines?" There was so much
disinformation that nobody would ever discover the truth, and the truth
had already been dismissed during the first
15. With the quiet consent of The Psionic Guard Director, Balipor
facilitated the nationalist view as a silent partner. The liberal
media, true to form, spun the story so many different ways that it
wasn't possible to keep track of every angle. News shows invited
high-profile guests to answer scripted
contradictions that spiraled further and further from the truth:
"Unity against what? War against who?" And chuckling
in a remote cavern somewhere was Kor, who interpreted the
hysteria as the direct result of his orchestrated psionic
attacks: Even though "The
Elite" didn't officially exist -- the media was marching lock-step to
Kor's strategic drum.
16. The Cacci Dai escort landed Bri's cruiser on a
platform that morphed into a Vice-Presidential colonnade. The
nanites left no detail undone. "Wow!" Bri said impressed, "They
really know how to welcome their guests!" "You are the first counselor," Alona
said, to remind him that he wasn't just an ordinary
shellan. He wasn't ordinary when he was ordinary Bri. "You
sound like holo character," she kept that to herself.
Shellan-like androids lined up along the colonnade to create a path
toward the sales dais where Bri would review the superintendent's
presentation and take delivery of the Cardships. There were
50,000 321M's zipping non-stop to finish detailing the last three
ships. Those ships had been moved out of the way.
18. The zero-G environment allowed skyscraper-sized fittings to simply
float on-hand until needed for
With sharp precision, the androids lining the colonnade saluted as
Bri's entourage passed. A 321M bowed to Bri and invited him to
remain standing while the wine colored, ruby fringed carpet morphed
into a sled to take Bri's party on an inspection tour.
20. The party felt no inertia as the sled passed through some of
most breathtaking starscapes featuring cardships at various angles and
from different vantage points. An automated narrator described
construction details along the way, "The entire keel-to-masthead
process required 40 days and 100,000 321Ms to complete."
Unless one understood the Ellipsis, the Caddi Dai value system was
unfamiliar: Biologicals lust for
precious metals -- machines lust for chaotic biomass. While
biologicals adorn themselves with gems. Machines engineer
sustainable ecological environments for cellular
division. The Cacci Dai were in Section 8 of the Ellipsis and
could tweek biomass at the vacuum level of matter. The Ellipsis
Cycle becomes every machine worlds chronograph with Conscious at its
From a Cacci Dai perspective, their id-core relationship to it's three
neighbors was binary Yin-Yang symbolism. Their enigmatic triune
of chaos was represented by Vejhon, Theos and
Jol: Cacci Dai even had a namesake element dedicated to each
system for metaphysical veneration.
23. A massive side panel had been removed from one ship
so that the sled could trek through an interior course. The
narrator pointed out biometric safeguards and was occasionally defeated
by the shock and awe of Bri's party. "I never, ever imagined that
anything like this could be done," Bri said to Alona. There were
seascapes, rivers and lakes; urban areas, forests and artificial
mountains that looked unbelievably real. "The cities were easy,"
the 321M remarked.
24. "All you have to do is examine a star chart and say 'go here' or
'go there'," the narrator continued. The visual exhilaration
impaired the other senses.
25. A famous Vejhonian monument captivated the spectators and then
the monument disappeared to reveal a huge spherical chamber, like a
miniature Big Ball. "This
chamber houses the Mother Computer that operates all shipboard
functions. There is another chamber like this on the other end of
the ship. Both spheres redundantly support each other and compose
a single consciousness." The spheres had no access points
because biological interference could void Cacci Dai's warranty.
Mother failed, would the hidden access points be revealed. As the
sled drove beyond the holographic emitters, the Vejhonian monument
resumed it's former pose.
Cacci Dai subcontracted aesthetic details to fourth and fifth parties
that were located
even further away than Vejhon, Theos and Jol. They wanted a
chaotic reinterpretation of Vejhonian cultural aesthetics
based on selected works from the Library of Vejhon copy, submitted
by the Theite contractor.
27. Bri's party was speechless.
28. The narrative described in-flight capabilities,
personnel redistribution and colonization possibilities.
29. "How long were you planning to be gone?" Wexli asked Bri
30. "It could be a while," Bri answered.
31. "Do you think anyone will want to leave this ship,
once they see what's onboard?" Bri gave Wexli a contemplative
look, to suggest that the question could not be answered. This
ship offers a better life than the upper crust enjoys at
home. It was an unconscious thought. Wexli read it
32. The Cacci Dai did not possess intuitive or
psionic abilities. Instead, they had interpolative processors
that were more accurate than intuition. Biologicals use
non-sentient machines as tools: Machines use photons to
transmit consciousness within the visible and invisible light
spectrum. Every machine world reaches a bio-photonic threshold in
Section 7 and either survives or annihilates itself as a
metaphysical rite-of-passage. It preserves Ellipsis
33. The sled reviewed agrarian areas, college campuses;
architectural and engineering development platforms before rising
bulkheads and decks that had been opened specifically for this
tour. The housing areas were a delightful array of
prestigious communities and coveted locations that typically only the
most affluent shellans could afford at home. These ships would
become their new homes with room to spare.
34. The sensory overload forced Bri's mind to wander; he
remembered the pilot's comment enroute, "The easiest ways to get lost,
is to make a wrong turn in the Outlands -- there
won't be a proof-positive way to confirm or deny anything." Bri
laughed, which caught Alona's notice because she thought she missed
something. Once Bri's flag passed the Sacred
Cloisters, he diverted, unnoticed and untraced to the outskirts of
Cacci Dai. Alona privately rolled her eyes, "You're not even
paying attention," she politely commented psionically. "My head
hurts," Bri replied. "I understand, First Counselor," she
sympathized. She offered him an asprin and an infuser that she
kept in her pocket for Aqu'Sha. "Not that kind of hurt," Bri
thanked her kindly.
35. Strangely, Theos' precision tracking equipment
failed to notice Bri's
diversion to Cacci Dai -- the equipment was being
36. "I think we're heading back," Wexli said
excitedly. Inside or outside didn't seem to make any difference
because reality had been succinctly upstaged by Cacci Dai
technology. The narrative was still going, "1,500 Cardships
end-to-end could encircle
most terraformed worlds..." "Did we even leave home?" Bri asked
nobody in particular. Alona, Wexli and De'Mandle caught what Bri
meant: The entire experience seemed more like a theme park ride
than reality. "Compliments of the entire treasury," De'Mandle
offered quietly, feeling compelled to make at least one verbal
the ride ended. Nobody really knows what goes on inside an SGK's
The narrative began a recap, "Each Cardship measures 375 decks
in height and are not continuous from end to end
to permit internal deviations on a very grand scale. Of the 980
ships ordered, 977 are fully operational and the remaining 3 ships are
in the final stages of detailing; to be delivered
38. "I think that's the yard superintendent's office
ahead," Wexli said. It's very likely that all of them, except
De'Mandle, would have failed an assessment test of what the narrative
covered. Alona might have come in 2nd.
39. The narrative concluded, "We wish to express our
gratitude for trusting us with building your homes away from
home. Please feel free to direct any additional questions to the
yard superintendent once we arrive."
40. Bri nodded respectfully to his 321M host who
returned the gesture. The sled glided into the yard
superintendents observation deck and morphed into the floor.
"Look at this," Bri said psionically to Wex, "Carpet." He twisted
his foot so that Wexli would notice. The morphing technology was
clearly unprecedented. "I don't even think the Cacci Dai can do
this," he joked. It was an inside joke.
41. They were greeted by a 661C who looked remarkably
shellan with glistening skin. Evidently, there had never been a
reason to make perfect copies of shellan bodies. The 661C
actually looked better than most shellans; like a super hero out of a
comic book. The 661C was more fluidic and graceful in his
movements. "I hope you enjoyed your tour," the 661C had a very
natural sounding voice that was too pleasant and too perfect to be
42. "I have never been so impressed," Bri offered,
"I completely validate your work." Bri's use of the word
'validate' was proper Cacci Dai etiquette. A circular translucent
perimeter appeared to shield them from mild yard noise outside in the
vacuum of space. A pleasant oxygen-nitrogen environment had been
provided. Limited quantities of innert gasses were attracted to
the abundance of matter outside. The 661C directed their
attention toward the
translucent perimeter that now served as a holographic projector.
"These ships represent the form and function of
a perfectly planned city, governed by an automated judicial system
based on Vejhonian Constitutional Law," the projector's voice
sounded just like Mother. "It is an extension of Mother," the
43. Vejhon's Constitution created
cosmos from chaos and optimized biological symmetry and cohabitation by
interpretations. Bri went to Theos to discuss how they were going
to make an automated judicial system work.
"We have also installed hidden
treasures to enliven your journey," the 661C said. It was fairly
well known that 'chaos' enjoys surprises, so 'scheduled' sensory treats
made sense. Every part of the the ship was voice
the Atgravs did
not require hands-on operation. Atgravs are 100 passenger
45. As the holographic presentation concluded, Bri captured a gleam of
light refract across the surface of an anchored Cardship in the far
distance. He felt as if The One was blessing this epochal moment
in Vejhonian history and had intended for him to see the
refraction. "The One
would love sentient machines too, wouldn't He?" Bri wondered.
Wexli heard it but said nothing.
46. "I demand an audience with Conscious," Bri said. It sounded
impolite, but demonstrated his knowledge of Cacci Dai customs and
courtesies. Conscious was Cacci Dai's Head of State and not
embodied by any particular A.I. Conscious could be anywhere or
nowhere at will, and selected Bri's 661C
host to entreat his
request. Bri recognized that the 661C had become
Conscious and nodded his head to acknowledge Her presence.
any government was going to hypothecate its entire shell reserve to
on one of these," Bri said, "this is money very well spent. I am
completely delighted -- this is most,
excellent!... I validate." The 661C cocked its head slightly and
nodded approvingly -- it appeared to be genuinely animated.
48. "Your approval is accepted.
It is our hope that your shell virus consumes itself, and that these
will safely contain your memories," Conscious replied.
bowed again to Conscious who returned the bow. Conscious
evacuated the 661C. To have been
granted an audience by Conscious was extremely rare. A machine
enemy could have exploited that minor fissure in attentiveness.
"Have you ever seen that before," Bri asked Wexli. "No," Wexli
answered, "That was a first."
Having resumed its former self, the 661C explained, "Each Cardship has
a passive, statically-generated alpha simulation wave
to prevent psionic leakage in or out. The psionic shield is built
the hull exterior as a physical component and can not be deactivated
unless the ship is disabled or destroyed."
"Excellent idea," Bri replied, "You never fail to amaze!" The
661C continued, "Once the ships manifest are registered, the departure
will encrypt and block further biologicals from boarding unless they
descended from Cardship registrants." Children born
in-flight and the children of registered colonists would
biometric anomaly of any kind would not
allowed to board unless Mother granted an exception. "I missed
the Q and A cue,"
Wexli confessed quietly. "So did I," Bri replied.
"Isn't De'Mandle supposed to sign something?" Bri asked. He
had to keep catching himself from calling it 113. SGK's are
regarded as 'things' and prefer it that way. They use nicknames
only amongst themselves. Bri was thinking about De'Mandel's
cover. "Dean Prophet sent him," Wexli explained.
52. It was customary to serve refreshments when biologicals assemble,
so small table-robots began to
circulate with beverages, sandwiches and snacks. As the party
began to assume a less formal tone, a 17-year-old boy ran full
speed down the
glass-enclosed gangway toward Bri's delegation.
steps were stealthy, quick and urgent. Everyone's first thought
was, "A Kid?" but no, it couldn't be a Kid. Bri sensed
was a Cacci Dai citizen who had never traveled outside of Cacci
Dai. Wexli picked up what Bri was
53. The boy had a note clinched in his right fist and was attempting
to speak to Bri in an unknown language, completely out of
breath. Wexli discovered that the kids mind was organized like a
computer, so he seized the opportunity to extrapolate how Cacci
Dai cognition translates into gray matter.
54. The shipyard executives formed a line to protect Bri, then
relaxed when they recognized the messenger insignia on the boys
collar. Evidently, the yard did not receive biological messengers
55. The machines parted, and Bri
spread his arms in greeting. Only then was his cape of office
noticeable. The boy bowed to one knee and offered a
handwritten note up to Bri, which he accepted. Bri felt his
attention precognitively drawn to the docking collar as if there was a
connection to the note. Wexli picked up
56. The entire delegation, all of them psionists, began to focus
on the collar suspecting that part of their sensory perception had been
unintentionally cut off.
"Is this dais
grounded to the ship's scrambler?" Bri asked his host. "This dais
is grounded to the gangplank, which is grounded to the scrambler," his
host replied. "Can you disconnect it for a moment?" Bri
57. The machine transmitted a silent message to the locking mechanism
and detached the collar coupling from the ship's exterior exit.
The collar retracted until the psionic scrambler lost it's
effect. Everyones communication implants and devices became
active. At close range, the scrambler had distorted all EMF
57. Bri silenced his PDA and noticed that the boy was awaiting a
58. He helped the boy get up since groveling wasn't
customary on Vejhon. He didn't
understand the boy's language so he deciphered psionically in binary
Counselor Rain, this is for you."
59. Bri took the note while the boy awaited instructions. "Do
you see the symbols in this kid's head?" Bri asked Wexli
psionically. "Oh, yes," Wexli replied, "and I'll tell you more
about it later."
60. A wave of dread swept over the delegation as if they already
knew what had happened. The note and his PDA were
61. He pressed the message-read button on his PDA and unfolded
note. Both messages were identical.
62. He lowered his arms and stared
apologetically at the distant ship. His entourage
could see in his face that something dreadful had happened, but nobody
wanted to confirm their worst fear. Alona slowly took the
note and read it out loud:
Aqu'Sha is dead. Conclude transaction and execute plan."
The memo was signed: "Kile'yn, Psionic Guard Director,
Vejhon." Everyone knew that the word "assassination" had been
omitted out of respect for the President.
64. Alona had been through hell and high water with
Aqu'Sha, and in spite of her rigid professionalism, she placed
her hand over her
mouth and began to cry as quietly as possible. She couldn't help
it. She handed the
note to De'Mandle. Bri tried his hardest to avoid thinking the
one name that could not be associated with him. "I've got your
back," Wexli assured him. Bri stared in
disbelief at the
distant Cardship with completely new, and
65. To give his soul some respite, he asked his
host, "I would like to buy the messenger so that he may live freely
among biologicals." The 661C seemed to genuinely understand and
compassionately replied, "The boy has always been free to leave, but he
is happy here because we treat him well." Wexli added
psionically, "The kid was a shipwreck
survivor at a young age -- he doesn't know any other life." Bri
patted the boy on the cheek,
"You have performed your duty well, thank-you." The boy didn't
move. "I validate," he amended, never dreaming in a
million Dans that he
would say that to a biological, seriously. The boy nodded, turned
away at a calmer pace. "Can he feel?" Bri asked Wexli
psionically. "Oh yes," Wexli replied -- he's happy. He
understood you. He doesn't want to leave."
66. Bri turned to his 661C host and asked, "Is
he a..." "... biological machine?" his host finished.
"Yes," Bri answered. "No," his host said, "Every unit makes that
same inquiry. He is completely biological, only not as
"I understand," Bri said absently. His mind was wandering out
into the yard.
port side of the Cardship looked like a road
traveling to eternity. 15 miles was longer than most cities, but
beyond the vanishing point, the Cardship did have an end. "Not as
chaotic," Bri reflected. "What a blessing," he
68. The President had taken Bri under his wing and held
no other mortal in higher esteem. Since The Psionic Guard
Director was God in Bri's esteem, that left the President in the #1
slot where shellans go. He was starting to feel a quiet rage
creep upon him. This was his second notorious promotion through
dishonorable circumstance. "Life through Light and Death..."
Wexli interrupted him psionically, "Beauty and Savagery," Bri
finished, and then asked incredulously, "Why are you quoting
"...society expressions?" Wexli finished. "To get your mind
off of what it's on," Wexli answered.
69. "I'm giving you high praise to the Director," Bri
replied. He meant well, but the Director already knew how Bri
felt about Wexli. Bri ran the
evacuation plan through his mind, overlooking the fact that he had
report to when he
70. The realization cut him to the bone: "President
Aqu' Sha is dead. ... 'I'
... am now, the President."
71. With tears still in
her eyes, Alona removed the First Counselor signet from
Bri's breast and unfastened his cape. It looked like he was being
stripped of his credentials, but in truth, Bri was now the property of
the State, and the President doesn't wear special markings:
Vejhonian credentials are issued in the President's name. Bri
was now his own passport and vestige of
Vejhon. With difficulty, Alona said, "He wanted so much to see
this in person." She stepped back respectfully and said, "President”
An’Trol Rain." Everyone in the delegation bowed.
His exit now required a different fanfare than his arrival did.
72. His Presidential entourage could not decipher if his
facial expressions were those of strength or horror. On Vejhon,
already interrupted every program to report the tragedy and The
Director issued a
statement: "President Bri has canceled his appointments and is
immediately." Bri would always be affectionately known as Bri no
matter what his title was.
73. Wexli continued to shield Bri who contemplated
the ignoble possibility that his
brother, in his morbid way, thought he was doing him a favor.
74. "I may need a B'line," Bri said to his pilot. As an
honorary Theotian, he was allowed aboard B'lines. "It's on the
landing pad now," his pilot reported.
It would be impossible to get home any faster without a
quantum transporter, and quantum transporters only existed in
the imaginations of conspiracy
theorists and those who believed that Corlos was real.
75. Once again, the red carpet morphed into a sled, this
time to shuttle Bri and his party to the awaiting saucer. Bri
admired Cacci Dai's morphing technology, "I wish we had these at
home." "Nanites," Wexli said, "Trillions of them."
have to begin the evacuations immediately," President Rain
ordered. "Execute Off-The-Record."
called for one-third of the fleet to rendezvous at Vejhon, and disburse
the population into the other two thirds once
they safely cleared the system. The operation would short-circuit
Kor's ambition for a civil war and the imposition of his shell-wide
religious oligarchy. Kor's dream was to force his vanquished foes
his vanity, and Bri was counting on
it: The idea of a
shell-wide evacuation was completely off of everyone's radar,
"We're about to find out, all of those various unknowns," Bri said, to
answer everyone's questions. There are 6 billion
Vejhon... how many will be willing to leave without any notice?
"Those who belong to us will leave," Wexli said. He was very
79. Two Billion shellans were considered
lost to the secret society, which left 4 Billion souls to be
rescued. "We're going to move 4 Billion," Bri recalled, "It
looked great on paper and these ships are certainly well worth the
money..." "It's the reality," Alona consoled him, "Don't let the
reality fool you." Bri had listened to Alona speak that way to
Aqu'Sha a thousand times and now she was continuing the tradition with
him. It made him feel better. "I guess we know you're the
President now," Wexli joked.
"The attrition seems backward," Bri commented. De'Mandle
"Each Cardship can maintain 3.1 million inhabitants
long-term or carry 4.75 million passengers under transport
conditions." That wasn't what Bri was alluding to and
De'Mandle knew it, "We thought it through, President Rain," De'Mandle
condensed it into an allegory, "Look what one person did to 2
Billion shellans." Bri read the rest out of De'Mandle's mind,
"Look what 2 Billion could do to the rest." One evil shellan can
cancer 10 others, and it takes 10 righteous shellans to eliminate the
one, heros excepted; 10th Dan semantics: Evil contracts - Good
expands. Good gives - Evil takes. "Life itself is a
distillation process," he remembered. "When can I just call you
113?" Bri asked. "You're the President," De'Mandle answered, "it
was Aqu'Sha who put me under cover. I'm your Theotian
liaison." "Who's your Theotian handler?" Bri asked. Wexli
laughed, "he's hoping the prefix, 'fracking-113,' will stick."
"Queen Estuses," 113 answered. Bri gave an incredulous shrug to
suggest, "My, my!" "How the FRACK was this kept secret!" the 661C
Obviously, they had stopped speaking psionically at some point, and
everyone stared incredulously at the 661C. "How do you escape a
psionic toxin?" Bri quoted Micha from a previous
conversation. "Or is it some kind of a drug?" That was a
possibility, "Are they being drugged?" "No, President Bri," Dr.
Ai replied, who was aboard the
cruiser playing Tantamount with a 321M, and was winning, "Seduced
is more accurate which could fall under psychic-psychotropia -- it's
completely curable but the patient has to want to be cured. You
probably know how that song goes..." "Or you could just ask your
frackin' host," Alona suggested, nodding politely to the 661C, with
whom she agreed completely. If you ever wanted the entire
Universe to know something, just tell the Queen. Evidently, she
had a private side when it came to State security. "It's all
theatre," Alona said softly to the President.
82. "I do know that tune," Bri mumbled and it led
to only one name, "Thank-you Doctor." He grinned at Alona,
appreciative of her wit. "I want Micha on these trips
from now on," Bri
said, "Why wasn't he invited?" "When we left," Alona explained,
"You were still the First Counselor and Micha is your friend, not
essential personnel." "I understand," Bri said. It was also
understood that Micha's status had just been elevated by Presidential
decree. "He will be a permanent part of your retinue from now
on," Alona assured him, if his High Up agrees."
83. "I'm sure he will," Bri nudged the Vicar, "Wexli's
connected." No President had been better prepared for the
role. Except for the Psionic Guard Director, who was
managing affairs on Vejhon, the remaining power base was
either with Bri or aboard Vejhon One.
84. The B'line was visibly parked beside Bri's
cruiser. "Is there anything we need to go over before I leave,"
Bri asked Alona. He scanned everyone's faces.
85. "It's all in your head," Alona said, and then she kissed
understood that her femme fatale mannerisms was not intended in an
improprietous way. But she still made people gawk at the
strangest of times. Fracking-113, for instance, dropped a leaf
from his PDA; he was an incredibly handsome kid himself. "I think
we need to 'breed' some of them," Wexli suggested, serious, but not
serious. "I'll talk to Seven Gates," Bri replied privately.
86. 113 offered Bri a small cigarette-shaped
crystal with gold embedded Cacci Dai script running lengthwise.
"Sales Receipt," he clarified, "This one is yours
specifically." "I was just kidding," Bri said, "about the
'Fracking 113' bit -- you don't really want that as a nickname?"
"I'm fine with it -- it's different," 113 replied. "Well, I may
not always... use that," Bri
replied. 113 was good either way. Bri waved farewell to his
escort and handed the sales receipt to Alona, exactly like Aqa'Sha
would have done.
nanites repeated the colonnade for the last 100 yards as a gesture of
farewell. In the distance, some of the megalithic
construction frames were already being dismantled with metal slicing
lazer cutters. The pieces were flung to a receiver in the
distance who stored them in a planet-sized warehouse. The Cacci
Dai never failed to amaze; their efficiency was like watching candy in
89. "I think this is my stop," Bri said. The
B'line dome was deenergized, awaiting his orders.
The rest of Bri's delegation would return aboard Vejhon One, or
rendezvous with a Cardship enroute. He gave everyone one last
review; his face reflected gratitude for their loyalty and devotion to
duty, "I'll see you all aboard my Flag."
RETURNS TO VEJHON
91. The saucer extended a narrow gangplank with beveled
steps. The other two pilots remained seated with
visors darkened while the canopy was
open. Bri took the vacant seat and the dome re-energized.
His genetic signature was acquired the moment he sat down.
92. The Presidential
colonnade morphed into a cathedral of light to bid Bri a safe journey.
93. The saucer drifted to a point clear of matter
and streaked away. Biological eyes would retain a retinal imprint
for a few seconds.
94. "That's leaving in
style," Alona said. "He'll be there before he left," Wexli
"Impressive," 113 conceded. "Always
glad to assist a biological," their host replied.
95. "You two should get together," Wexli
suggested. "The Queen?" 113 replied. "She knows," Wexli
explaned, "Why do you think Prophet embedded you there." "I KNEW
it!" 113 exclaimed in a whispered shout, although his assumptions
regarding Estuses transparent lust was accurate too. "But you
still performed like a precision instrument," Wexli complimented him,
"The President wants you and Alona to get together," he repeated.
Wexli punched 113 in the arm, "...and not just the President, I
96. 113 blushed. Seven Gates would simply
have to go along with this one.
97. There was an extremely feint distortion in
space when anti-matter is released at the vacuum level of matter.
Most saucer sightings are ghosts
in the observer's subconscious.
Underneath the B'line's reflective dome are three seats, back-to-back,
degree angles; the tactical,
and pilot stations. Each station is interchangeable.
99. The detection avoidance component of SJ training is typically
conducted around less-developed worlds where spectators cannot report
discrepancies to SpaceCom. The 'visible' aspect is almost always
a tease. Instructors guide students through a series of
inertially impossible maneuvers to demonstrate manual collision
avoidance and to correct for gravity-atmosphere engagements. It
gives the indiginous something to talk about too.
100. "Welcome aboard, Mr. President," Em'Jah said. "My
orders are to carry out your
101. Bri liked the Theites, they were a
different breed, but very likable: His first claim to fame, after
all, was his Theite treaty.
Em'Jah was an easy read; Bri amended the flight plan, "I need to dock
with my flag -- it's in
Vejhon's orbit. I won't be going to the surface."
103. "Understood, Sir," the female pilot confirmed.
She was Vejhonian. Bri was unaware that the SJ program was a
"That, Mr. President," she alluded to a Cardship on a monitor, "Is my
assignment." It happened to be Bri's flag approaching high orbit
over Vejhon. "How are we getting visuals so soon?" he asked, "or is
that just a projection?" "It's a quantum drive engine," she
answered, "It captures the destination before we get there."
Layered holographic projections surrounded Bri's station with more
information than anyone could possibly want. "Just push those
away," Shaneen waved her hand.
Bri brushed away the displays with a boyish smile -- he had always
wanted to ride in one of these. "You've been working
with the Theites a while," he observed. "This is the best job in
the whole shell!" she answered. Theites were
considered cavalier by a Vejhonian
standard, and Vejhonians, although not without humor, were perceived as
somewhat stoic by the Theites. There was a Dan's-old feud
regarding which culture came from which; so everyone observed the,
"When in Theos..." jurisprudence.
"Well," Bri replied "I'm certain that our ship is in very capable
"Oh, it will be," she said, "it's the most coveted assignment
in the entire spaceforce." Occasionally, the line-of-sight of the
other two pilots would phase through his canopy as a tri-fold
overlay. It was easy to understand and made
sense. Bri repeated her line introspectively, "...the most
coveted assignment..." This was supposed to be the most highly
guarded operation in history, "How could..." he started to ask, and
Bri didn't know that the two cultures had integrated militarily;
something that Aqu'Sha must have known, but never mentioned. "The
most sought after assignment?" he
echoed as cheerfully as he could. Theos' spaceforce was famous
reaching in contrast to Vejhon's token shell defense
force. Vejhon's greatest strategic illusion was the shell legend
itself: Enemies were unwilling to break the egg, so they
abandoned pursuit. "I was reassigned for OJT," she said.
109. Bri admired her infectious enthusiasm, "You
have a wonderful spirit!" he complimented. "OJT?" he thought
privately. It made sense; he had always wanted to integrate
militarily. SpaceCom pulled this off without the consent of the
Senate or the Proletariat; a black project conceived by Estuses and
Aqu'Sha alone. "Brilliant!" Bri conceded.
"Mr. President," Em'Jah asked, "Is this your first saucer
ride?" Before Bri could answer, Em'Jah added, "Push the red
slider forward." Bri was beside himself! He had wanted to
do this since he was a kid. There was only one 'red' slider
illuminated beneath the console: He pushed it forward and the
stars blurred into a lucid haze. "We'll be there
before we left!" Em'Jah remarked. "I can now say I've done
everything," Bri agreed. There was not a kid in the Universe who
wouldn't sacrifice every toy to do this once.
"That's intercept speed," Em'Jah said. "The reactor still has a
touch more," Shaneen injected, "but we try not to go there."
Within the lucid blur
were intermittent streaks of space. This was a true first for
Bri. "We're both Number
Ones" she offered, referring to her male counterpart. Bri
knew Theotian military traditions: Each class had a 'Number
One' and the title stuck throughout the graduate's
military career. They were granted first choice of
assignment and rose through the ranks quickly. Every graduate
wore a ring, but Number Ones ruled the ring wearers. For that
reason, XO's were not referred to as Number Ones unless they graduated
Number One. The other branches did not need to follow that
tradition and generally avoided SJ watering holes. Like the
Psionic Guard -- the SJ's were always presumed to be in charge.
"I will express my gratitude to Theos for sending only the finest," Bri
them. He was curious about their chain-of-command.
De'Mandle had been an SGK plant with the Queen's blessing. Being
Vejhonian, she read Bri easily, "Theite," she answered. That was
logical. As Vejhon's Head of State, his compliment would
into their permanent military records. "It was your treaty
that opened the door," she added with gratitude. "A Number One is
One," Em'Jah quoted the SJ cliché' energetically. He fit
the stereotype with comic book precision and probably needed a special
compartment just for his balls.
113. "Wanna drive now?" Sheneen offered.
Bri laughed out loud. This was too much. Would Aqu'Sha have
approved of such frivolity so soon after his morbid
assassination? He could imagine Aqu'Sha replying, "With the
weight of all shells placed
upon your shoulders... hell yes!" "Then for you," Bri agreed.
"You're the President!" she coaxed. Bri returned mentally.
"When a Head-of-State's onboard --
He's in command," she said. "Do it, Mr. President," Em'Jah
over." Em'Jah had an infections way of prodding shellans to do
anything he told them to do, and his testosterone was flooding a very
enclosed space. "Does this thing have any windows?" Bri
wondered. "And she's in
here with him." Theite
and Vejhonian DNA was compatible, barely. He remembered that
SpaceCom never deployed a B'line with all three pilots of the same sex
per SOP. He had, after all, virtually married 113 to Alona by
115. The pilot function transferred to
Bri's station, and the saucer rotated accordingly. He was now
facing the direction of travel and the holographic instruments
confirmed it. He placed his arm in the yoke
holder and did what any kid would do in that
situation, "Guards protect us," he whispered, knowing that he could
scatter their remains across three
stellar systems if he messed up. The other two laughed.
Theites use technology to read alpha bands and the avionics would
116. Em'Jah, carefully
articulated a question, "Are you really
Vejhonian... or Theite?" "You're fracking voice!" Bri said
out loud, "but he meant it as a compliment, "Are you the son of Azoth
or what?" Privately, he wondered, "What do we need this saucer
for? Why don't we just show up like the Sons of Thunder?"
He dialed it down a notch:
"I'm yours," Bri answered, which was a term of endearment on Vejhon and
Theos. By uttering those words he spoke a family bond into
existence, and the President's edicts are irrevocable, even by the
Psionic Guard Director. Both pilots knew that.
118. Bri felt no compulsion to backtrack -- the symbolism
was perfect. "You're both mine," he reaffirmed. And so it
done. He had two new family members. Shaneen was cautiously
happy, "I think," she began, "that we'll be banned from
dangerous missions now."
"I'll work something out," Bri assured her, "You won't lose your
flight status." Another irrevocable decree by
the President of Vejhon. "I could use Em'Jah as a shield and
conquor Theos by myself!" Bri confessed. He had to be careful not
to adopt every
pilot he met. Shaneen sighed, "He has that effect on
everyone." "I bet they don't let him anywhere near her?" Bri was referring to the
Queen, who had wanted Bri too at one time. "Hell no," Em'Jah
said, shrugging, "I can't help it." Bri started laughing.
Poor kid. There was a ton of innuendo all throughout that
119. "Message to Kile'yn," Bri said to his
PDA. "BBM2... delete last... BBM1 message received. 327 enroute.
Recall PG. Execute
E-plan minus 1 hr, 35 min. You are First Counselor until
evac complete. Signed: Bri An'Trol Rain, President,
Vejhon. Send." "There!" Bri said to Em'Jah and Shaneen,
"That was my first Presidential Order, and you were here to witness
it." "Outrageous!" Em'Jah said as a form of praise in
you make me a Vicar?" he added. Bri grinned, "Don't push
it." Shaneen giggled, "Guards E.J.! -- he's already made us
-- what more do you want?" E.J. wanted her. Shaneen
blushed. Bri was about to explain that the President only
appointed the Director, and the Director appointed the Vicars, but it
suddenly made more sense to just keep driving. "Like it wasn't
obvious," Bri kept his laughter to himself, grateful for the comic
relief. "My life will never be dull, now." As if it had
ever been. E.J. too, would be boarding the Cardship as part of
Bri's entourage now. "I'm keeping this thing," Bri said, "I
really like it."
DEEP IN THE CAVERNS OF VEJHON
know," Kor said with lethargic indifference. He did not have to
qualify his mood or check his behavior -- The Master could say any damn
thing he pleased. He ignored the Elite guard's inquiry until he
could unravel what the topside psyos was all
"Master?" the Elite Guard ventured, carefully. It was unlike Kor
be so nonchalant, although he could be unduly petulant at
Kor gave the Guard a cold stare, which instantly froze the Guard from
further preponderance. Message understood.
Catching his own insolence, Kor toyed with the Guard for a moment, "Do
I detect that you question
as your leader?" The very insinuation was an abuse of power,
because Kor knew better. The Elite had no checks and
balances, which left Kor as the uncontested Emperor of his
Kor was genuinely loathsome, but not at the Guard. So far,
had happened that he could not predict with precision. He had
won every contest and parried every move as the playwright of his own
production: He knew every line and scene in the script, "...but
now... this curve ball. From nowhere." He had to
The evidence was beginning to descend from the sky in the form of small
transport craft of unknown origin. How do so many of these things
descend from the sky from nowhere? Shouldn't the defense force at
least attempt to respond? How could anything of this magnitude
and scope catch
us completely unaware? Is this an invasion by another
shell? He inquired with his operative in the defense force
but the automated systems went off line before his agent could ID the
vehicles. Truth be known: Atgravs didn't have an ID yet --
this was their first real-shell deployment.
126. Kor didn't bother to go outside. He didn't need
to. "It couldn't be my brother...
could it?" The
invaders were picking up citizens and
taking them back up to orbit; 'to where' and 'to what' was
unknown: It was awfully large, whatever it was. The swarm
of alien transport ships was so thick that indiginous air traffic was
grounded. Kor's shellwide media had prepped the public for a
possible Cacci Dai invasion, but these vehicles did not resemble
anything that the Cacci Dai would build, thanks to Aqu'Sha's
disinformation corps. The air traffic and space port controllers
had been taken first followed by anyone and everyone who knew anything
about moving people and objects between point.
127. Elite operatives all across Vejhon were directing
questions to Kor, who was not
answering. The Elite Guard wanted to know why. "Do you
think I'm unable
to assimilate all of your thoughts?" Kor rebuked them, "Have you been
stripped of your
intelligence as well?"
The Guard lowered his eyes to concede the matter.
"Let them go," Kor shrugged. Now the Guard was truly
puzzled. The entire Elite was. The only constant was that
Kor was always right.
As Kor entertained possible explanations for the abductions, he found
himself getting angry that Bri might have invented a way to deprive him
of the final battle that he so gloriously longed for.
making the one choice that Kor never dreamed possible: They were
leaving. "But to where?" The Elite didn't have many
shellans in orbit and orbiting personnel had been taken
Kor chuckled sarcastically while shaking his head as if he could see up
into low orbit. This non-violent 'evacuation'
was Bri's way of doing him a favor -- by removing his opposition.
"You arrogant whore," Kor mumbled privately. The nearby Guard did
not dare pry, but Bri, from his flagship, heard it
perfectly. He could isolate Kor's thoughts out of 6 Billion
thoughts any time he wanted to, and their mutual effort to directly
connect defeated the passive shield.
132. Bri smiled back but didn't say a word. He thought
privately, "Who's helping
who pretend what?" Kor thought that murdering Bri would
magically hide his personal filth. Everyone lives in their own
mind. An alligator may not occupy a lot of space in a swimming
pool, but you don't find many eager swimmers either.
bloodshed. No unnecessary cost. Not even a meager
inconvenience. Control of the planet was surrendered and acquired
without firing a shot. Since Kor could not have his war today, he
would take credit for running the opposition completely off shell
and pursue his war later. "Just lay low and watch the show,"
was Kor's only standing order. He thought divine providence
was really looking out for him, "Either way -- we win. Let them
go." So Mote It Be.
The buzzing around Vejhon's airspace, mountain tops and oceans was
orderly at break neck speed. Atgravs landed on top of buildings
and in city streets;
at public places, markets and schools. If such a place existed on
Vejhon, and a shellan wanted to leave, an Atgrav landed and evacuated
them. It would be impossible for anyone to be
forgotten or left
The Cacci Dai had designed the Atgravs purely for transport
purposes. They were sleek, fast, simple to operate and contained
capabilities superior to anything Vejhon currently had. The
Cardships were prepared to disable Vejhon's
defense grid since Bri knew the override
codes, but the codes were unnecessary.
136. Kor said, "Let
them go." So Mote It Be. They were leaving.
137. Atgravs piloted themselves, but a biological
still sat in the
pilot seat to interact with the computer. He set the Atgrav
down in the middle of a street and shellans climbed aboard.
Mother fed a data
stream to the Atgravs to extended the psionic
As shellans crossed the ship's threshold, all of Vejhon's
psionic turmoil was left behind. Many fell asleep for
the first time in peace.
First responders and military personnel were removed, then redeployed
to optimize the evacuation process.
Millions of "Leave Me Here or
Pick Me Up" transponders were airdropped so that anyone who changed
their mind at the last minute could activate a transponder and
leave. Each transponder had two sides: One side said, "Pick
Me Up" and the other side said, "Leave Me Here." A built-in
countdown timer indicated when the evacuation would end. Once it
was over -- it
was over. Finis.
The Director's office played a shell-wide message on continuous loop on
every station and frequency: "Except
for personal-affects and those
that can be carried on your person: Please evacuate
immediately. There is sufficient
time remaining." When the message repeated, the word "sufficient" was replaced with the
actual countdown time.
Citizens had grown so weary of the constant psionic
anomalies, that Kor's strategy of erratic psionic attack became a key
motivation to leave. For most the issue was black and
white: Either you
wanted to leave or you
didn't; you were waving good bye from the boat or from the
sympathizers simply stayed out of the way; "Good Riddance!"
off-shellers and slaves were rescued if they wished to leave.
144. Shellans could be located by their communication
devices and implants.
The only location that an Atgrav would not visit was inside a
cave. A cave entrance was permissible, but the interior was
Not only were caves considered enemy territory, but caves could
potentially disrupt the data feed to Mother.
147. Because of the
superstition surrounding caves, it was believed that law-abiding
shellans would not seek refuge in a cave. The stigma even
affected sports enthusiasts who dismissed cave exploration as a
Geologists sent robots to explore caves and the robots never came
back. Caves defied all rationality and that was exactly what
the secret society wanted -- their collection of lost robots was rather
As the spiritual patriarch of Vejhon, The Director chose
to be the last
Constitutional shellan to leave, while Bri received the evacuees in
As the remaining shellans evacuated, the
Director relocated to the top of the Big Ball where he would wait until
the very last second.
150. An Honor Guard ceremonially folded the State
flag for the last time and handed it to the Director for safe
keeping. "One day, either I, or my
successor will reinstate this standard," he said.
151. The information core of the ball had been
retrieved by soldiers and safely stowed aboard the Atgrav.
All of the SGK's were accounted for. The Ball's system's were
turned off for the first time and the keys hidden in the flagstaff's
the space of six hours, 800,000 Atgravs evacuated
3.98 Billion Vejhonians to orbiting Cardships. There were many
Atgravs to spare, but the Mother computers only wanted 800,000 Atgravs
operating at any one time. When one Atgrav returned, another one
153. The busy sound of Atgrav traffic faded to a few
hundred that combed the sky in search of last-minute evacuees.
Occasionally, someone would change their mind and flip a transponder
over to, "Pick Me Up." An Atgrav would land. A sickeningly
sweet psionic fog coated the strata
like antacid in a dead
stomach. Vejhon no longer had psionic polarity, instead, a single
pole saturated the entire shell with no resistance
whatsoever. The calm was disturbing because the catalyst
for motion had ceased to exist.
Most shellans who had never experienced a polar alignment, accepted
this as a
that they had made the right decision: "Kor was right -- the
government was deceiving us
all along. Look how much
we feel!" Even the four winds seemed motionless while the
shell became blanketed by an erie haze that dimmed the shell
light. The haze provoked a
range of metaphysical sentiments that seemed to compliment the Elite
mystique. Elite members liked it.
The Director felt a deep sorrow within the shell's soul, "Where are my
vibrant, energetic, spirited children going?" she seemed to ask.
He believed that she was aware that two-thirds of her children had
her. "It isn't a betrayal," he comforted her, "we're trying to
save ourselves from this state of perpetual inconsequence that you see
all around us. We can't fight it." She was not
consoled. "When the disease burns itself out -- we'll come back."
In the silence that followed, 50 Atgravs
continued to scout for any straggler who wished to leave. The
time was ending in a matter of minutes.
157. In the nick of time, some ran outside
shouting, "Save me too!" and they were
The countdown read: 00:01:00, then 00:00:59 and counting. The
only Constitutional shellans who remained were the Director, his pilot
and staff members.
159. He motioned for his
staff to board the Atgrav. The shell was losing its
color, like a dying person on their death bed. A gentle breeze
kissed him goodbye. It was the only breeze that he had felt
in over an hour. He allowed the wind to caress him one last
160. "Is there just one more soul who
the Director asked, as if in proxy for the dead. The timer read
00:00:00. He scanned the horizon one last time. The four
winds gently picked him up and set him inside the Atgrav as if they
understood that he alone, could not reverse the events that had set
this plan in motion. His retinue thought that he had levitated by
power, so nobody questioned it.
161. "Director, the shell has been evacuated," the
pilot reported with watery eyes. His sister and favorite cousin
had chose to remain.
Kyle'yn took his seat and comforted the pilot psionically. There
were at least a million other cases similar to his. The Atgrav
lifted off on a course for Bri's flag in orbit directly overhead.
He saw the fog settle unnaturally across the landscape like sea foam
racing across a dry lake bed. The effect was similar to covering
furniture with sheets during extended trips away from
home. The shell itself was preparing for a major paradigm shift.
law died on Vejhon. The Constitution was in orbit with a copy
aboard each ship.
164. His eyes swept across the clouds convecting along
the mountain ranges; the rainforests and seas. He caught a
glimpse of Spearpierce at higher altitude, the curvature of Vejhon and
the crescent of
nightfall. They zipped through a shell checkpoint and into the
twinkling stars of space. The Atgrav landed in a hanger
bay where shellans were still disbursing and marveling at the immensity
of the ship. They parted to make a path for the Director that
ended in a
keyhole pattern. Some felt like refugees more than
we're the responsible ones," a child asked him, "why did we
leave?" He appreciated
her advanced intellect and looked compassionately into her
eyes, "Because we are
the responsible ones, my child," he answered. To everyone else he
continued, "Universal Law forbids
corrupting space with unstable sentients. That's what gravity is
for..." The Director again looked at the child, "...it keeps
uncivilized, potentially dangerous and irresponsible cultures grounded
until they earn the right to
venture outward." The child smiled and curtsied, and the Director
gave her the warm fuzzy she was looking for. He was pleased that
some things had not changed.
166. "What are WE going to do?" a Kid Kid
asked. He was light, distructively handsome and his eyes cut
through anyone he glanced at. The Director paused to contemplate
something he had not planned for. "Simulations," he answered,
"This ship will have some truly hideous monsters for you to shred to
pieces." The Kid Kid grinned. There was a girl next to him,
about his age, who could hardly breathe. "You can rip me to
pieces," she sighed. The Kid looked at her and she
shrieked. He held her cheekbone affectionately and etched a
psionic proposal onto her heart. She held his hand. "You
look good together," The Director agreed and then took a breath
himself. The distraction made him feel a little more
167. An SGK was about to speak, the Director
interrupted, "Mother will challenge you directly." That was
sufficient. If leaving was the answer, then the right
polarity had left. It was the only answer. Those who
remained on Vejhon would have to
168. The Director honed in on Bri's thoughts and
found him standing in front of a wall-length window observing
laid the folded State flag on Bri's desk and joined him in salute at
his side. The room was terraced and dimly lit to showcase the
window rather than the interior. Holograms of Bri and Director
were projected on other Cardships, so that the entire evacuated
population could see what their leaders were doing before the ships
disbursed to undisclosed locations.
169. Bri turned to the Director, "I need
you to bless
me." The Director was only too happy to oblige, grateful that
Vejhon had escaped
Kor's oligarchy. He placed one hand
over Bri's heart and his other hand behind Bri's head and transmitted
a revitalizing surge of positive
energy. "You are mine," Bri said affectionately. Kyle'yn
chuckled quietly, grateful that someone still had
their humor. The Director is related to everyone by default, "The
fleet is in good hands," he assured
him, "I'll be in my office if you need me." Kyle'yn bowed
and took his leave confident that the Universe was
as it should.
170. For some, it would be the last time they
witnessed Kyle'yn and Bri together. But for everyone, the future
was still unwritten.