Tag Archives: Tales from Space

Tales from Space 3 Excerpt

18 Nov

Here is a excerpt from We’ll Meet Again, the tale of how Anore Wrought managed to not only steal the cure for the weaponized plague that was killing her husband Victor, but rescued long-time friend and ally Nick Goodfrey from his captivity with rival Sindo Corporation.

You can find the whole story in Tales from Space: The Great Corporation War, available in 2018 from StarkLight Press.

This excerpt copyright 2017 Anthony Stark.

 

He came at her out of the darkness in the wide hallway, emerging from blackness like a wraith from out of the realm of the dead. Beside him emerged four other Sindo Corporation assassin-guards, all armed. They were unsurprising- he shocked her to her core. Anore was prepared for a fight, knew that the Sindo knew she was about to attack one of their three flagships for the files Wrought Industries needed so desperately. Sindo was, of course, expecting her to try to get the files- they contained the cure for the deadly engineered disease Sindo had given to Victor Wrought.

Anore Wrought was an exemplary fighter, with fast instincts and deadly accuracy; she had been ready for up to ten assailants trained in Japanese martial arts. Four attackers was dealable, but as she eyed their leader with his almost nonchalant stride and the small, cruel smile that played on the corners of his mouth, Anore was unsure if she could beat this fifth foe.

“Nick,” she addressed their leader, watching his face for some sign of recognition.

He held up a hand, and the assailants stopped. Cocking his head to one side slightly, he grew still, regarding Anore Wrought, the second in command of the single greatest foe to the Sindo Corporation.

He gazed at his opponent with even eyes. “I am not called Nick anymore,” he informed her. “I am now Raine.”

“You are Nick Goodfrey,” Anore looked at him, her eyes willing the android to break with his Sindo programming and remember her. His face was implacable, as she had seen it before, yet there was something wild, almost mad there now that sent a shiver through her, along with a sour spray of shame. He looked the same, yet the drawing of the artificial flesh around his eyes made him seem at once vicious and terrified. The way he had taken to holding his mouth contributed to this effect, with that small, mocking smile held there like a mask. His jaw had grown somehow, giving him a more imposing aspect, making Nick look as though he had gone from a wistful teenager to a hardened adult during his tenure with Sindo. It also added to the sense he was now more dangerous. Sindo had either dyed his hair or replaced it, from its original pale blond to a dark chestnut, almost black. The new color made him seem larger and augmented the sense of menace about him. His blue eyes stood out like topazes, framed by the dark crown he now wore.

Sindo had given him standard assassin’s garb- a dark, slim-fitting long coat with pants and a high collared shirt. Nick’s was deep blood red, the color of Sindo Corp; it signified him as the leader of his group. He wore highly flexible assassin’s gloves that Anore knew would allow him to increase his already formidable grip. He carried on his belt, only part hidden by the coat, a pair of long knives and a garrot wire.

“Nick,” she repeated.

Ignoring this assertion, he took a step toward her; his assassins obligingly stayed in their spots.

“You have come for the files encoding the antidote to the weaponized illness plaguing Victor Wrought,” Nick declared. He tilted his head to one side, his blue eyes glinting in the dim light of the hall. “Did you find what you sought?”

“He’s dying, Nick,” Anore explained earnestly, dropping her stance and holding her hands wide. “I have to try to save him.”

Nick’s jaw worked at this and his eyes flared vicious, horrible light. Anore froze, lifting her guard once more, swallowing hard. What had she said- was Nick so angry at Victor still?

Slowly, his mouth cracked from side to side, until he started to silently laugh with a broad, open-mouthed smile that alarmed her to her core. She had never seen him maniacal before, not in all their years together. After a few moments of silent paroxysms, he started to laugh out loud, wracked by a terrible mirth that made him bend forward slightly, his eyebrows raised. He laughed in her face, his eyes wide, his eyebrows high. Behind him, his henchmen laughed as well.

After an interval that held Anore galvanized in place, Nick regained his composure, straightening to his full height and running his hands down the hem of his coat to settle himself. Still smiling broadly, he inclined his head; the first gesture that she recognized as his own.

“Of course,” he said maganimously. “You couldn’t leave him for dead, could you?”

So it was hatred for Victor, Anore thought to herself. Forgetting her outnumbered state in hostile territory, she looked, exasperated, at Nick. “It’s not like I want to save his life,” she said. “It’s just- not fair.”

Uttering a sharp bark of the same laughter that had chilled her to her core, his eyes flashed again. “No,” he agreed. “Terribly unfair, what we did to him… and how could you let something unfair stand? You, champion of right and good.”

Anore squinted at this, unsure of what Nick was implying. “I don’t think I’m champion of anything, Nick,” she replied quietly, watching her android closely.

“But you are… good,” he said. “Most assuredly. The Wrought Corporation fights on the side of the angels, isn’t that so.” The corner of his mouth curled up into a crueler smile. “Victor certainly believes this- and you are quite convinced of your own moral authority.”

“I- we,” Anore stumbled, wounded by the spite dripping from his words. “We are good people, Nick- we are trying.”

“Well,” Nick said glibly, that same brutal smile playing at the corner of his lips, “If you are the good ones, then, that would make me… the Enemy,” he pulled up his gloves. “Wouldn’t it? You must return to Victor and save his precious life, to combat the unfairness of it all… and I must stop you.” He cocked his head to one side and raised his hands. Beside him, his henchmen took up their guards once more.

“Because, my sweet heart, you see- I am a villain.”

He twitched his fingers, and all four assassins set upon her. It was a desperate flurry of a battle, and Anore, shocked by the viciousness in Nick’s voice, the sheer wrath in it, lost precious seconds recovering. His assassins had her pinned up against the wall, having pummeled Anore despite her blocking of nine out of every ten blows with expert reflex. Their weapons were strong and relentlessly aimed, however, and she found herself sliding up the bulkhead of the ship, her limbs pinned. She watched, helpless to move, as Nick approached her.

“Let’s see,” he mused, eying her up and down, “where would I be, if I were a crystal drive?” He began to search her. Anore gasped at the strength in his hands, so determined compared to the old, gentle, subtle touch Nick had once possessed. Her eyes widened, shocked, at the unabashed sexuality of his touch as he searched her. He kept his eyes locked on hers as he ran his hands over every inch of her body.Nick had either learned that sexual domination was an effective tactic to use on prisoners, or had developed in extremely predatory ways for his time at Sindo Corporation. Either way, Anore had never been handled by Nick Goodfrey so roughly before, and it stunned her.

He ran his hand up her legs, feeling expertly and brusquely either on side of her thighs, then gripped her with fingers like iron, just hard enough to hurt, between them. He smiled thinly.

“We’ve searched everywhere else,” he remarked. “You’ve hid it in one of your holes- which would you like me to search first?” He ran his finger back and forth between her legs idly as he asked.

Anore crashed her head into Nick’s; one of the assassins lost their grip on her shoulder and she started to wrestle her left arm free. The thrashing destabilized the other three, and she started to slide down the wall.

It might have worked as an escape tactic, had Nick not hardly reacted to the blow to his head. Raising upright almost immediately, he saw Anore begin to slide down the bulkhead and, moving in, grabbed her with one hand and lifted her again to her position slightly above him. His hand was immutable around her neck and she started to choke. She stilled her thrashing- his hand could pop her head right off her spine, if it so desired.

“Nick!” she gasped around the purple spots rising in her vision. “Please-”

Smiling viciously, Nick graciously lowered her to the ground, his grip loosening just enough to let her breathe. He pumped his fingers into her carotid arteries, however, twice to show that he could not just suffocate her, but cut off her blood flow as well. Her eyes tearing, she looked up at him.

Pressing himself up against her, pinning her against the bulkhead with his weight most effectively, Nick raised his other hand to her mouth. His eyes never leaving hers, he pinched her jaw with his fingers until her mouth opened. Inserting his index finger, he swept her mouth. He even searched the back of her throat, which he did with a lingering gusto.

Gagging, Anore clamped her jaws down around the android’s finger. One of her molars chipped on the assassin’s glove that covered the digit. Nick laughed at her, his finger still in her mouth, tickling the back of her throat in vomitous circles.

“You don’t think I would be stupid enough to put my finger in your mouth unprotected, do you?” he chided. “How very little you think of me.”

Anore glared at him, trying not to gag. He paused, his smile fading slightly. He drove a second finger into her mouth and, after a moment and a near miss with vomit, pulled a small crystal out of the back of Anore’s throat.

“How disappointing,” Nick remarked, dropping Anore as the assassins grabbed her and re-pinned her to the bulkhead. He tossed the drive up in the air and caught it, winking at his prisoner. “I was so looking forward to searching the other two.”

He turned away from her, pocketing the crystal drive. Without looking around, he gave his final order to the assassins.

“Kill her.”

Anore’s eyes widened. She spat out a mouthful of blood from her tooth; it tasted like composite from the glove.

“Nick!” she cried. “Goddamn you!”

He stopped, and turned, looking at her with a face that was now more pinched than she had yet seen it. His huge blue eyes gazed at her, glistening.

“Already done,” he replied.

A rush of panic ran through her, and she hit out blindly with all four limbs at once. She found the grip on her loosened, and Anore grabbed a stick from one of the assassins and started swinging madly. Nick watched from a polite distance, his head cocked to one side. The assailants struck her again and again; her ankle was possibly broken, her ribs bruised or fractured, her cheek and skull cut and bleeding. Yet, in the end, Anore walked out of a pile of four bodies and took a staggering step toward Nick Goodfrey.

He raised an eyebrow. “Excellent work,” he commented.

“Thank you,” she spat out another mouthful of blood. Wearily, she sighed, wincing as her ribs pinched her for it. Beleaguered, Anore took a guard stance. “Come on, then, let’s do it.”

She was surprised to see Nick’s brow furrow with concern. For a moment, his face softened, and the fell light left his eyes.

“I don’t think this is a fight you can win, Anore,” he advised her softly.

“I have to try,” she replied, coughing slightly.

His face grew cold again, and his jaw clenched.

“Why? Why try for him? Why is it him you save?” His voice cracked. He looked her up and down. “You yourself are in imminent danger.”

“Because,” she said slowly, thinking about it, really thinking about why she was doing all this for Victor. It wasn’t love, that was laughable. It wasn’t a paladin-esque sense of justice, no matter what Nick thought. It was… it was…

“Hope,” she said at last. “Hope.” She looked up at him from her hunched half-guard and smiled around her bruises. “Nick, do you remember the last thing you did as you were getting ready to leave- when Victor sold you to Sinclair?”

Nick had been walking slowly toward Anore, ready to initiate the fight at her slightest motion. He stopped now, looked at her sidelong, eyes narrowed.

“I waited at the airlock,” he said, unsure.

Anore, her eyes alight, grinned. “No, not just that,” she wagged a finger at him. “You started to sing. I was trying not to cry, and I couldn’t find a way to get Victor to take it back… and I was starting to cry, and you sang me a song.”

Her voice faltering, her breath coming in gasps, she began to sing:

“Let’s say goodbye with a smile dear,

Just for a while, dear, we must part.

Don’t let this parting upset you,

I’ll not forget you, sweetheart,”

She had to pause between lines, and closed her eyes once with pain and memory, not caring that Nick could use those brief moments to strike.
As she started to sing, Nick’s face gave a great twitch, and he paused in his slow advance. His hands lowered slightly, and as Anore watched, they started to tremble.

“Hope, Nick,” she said. “You gave me hope…you sang it over the radio. I think you must have kept singing it even after we got out of range, because the signal faded in and out, and I could hear it.”

His eyes were shining preternaturally, and he smiled slightly, genuinely. “I sang it until your ion drive signature faded,” he said. “I can’t- I can’t remember the words of it, though.” He looked in Anore’s eyes, unsure, confused, heedless of their mortal situation. “What was the song?”

Anore’s brow furrowed in sorrow. Nick had always had such a memory for songs. What had happened to him here? She wondered.

Slowly, gingerly, she started to sing, her arms moving from a guard to an embrace.

“We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when,

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

Nick’s brow worked, and tears spilled down over his cheeks. Shocked at the sight of tears on the android’s face, Anore watched them trail down his face in wonder. When he had left her, Nick was unable to cry. Yet here he was, weeping, quivering all over as though slowly freezing. She started to smile, nodding, and beckoned him to her, still singing. He began to stumble toward her, his head bobbing slowly in time to the words as though trying to understand or remember them.

“Keep smiling through, just like you always do,

Till the blue skies chase those dark clouds far away.”

His eyes were locked on hers, his mouth quivering. As though fighting through some great curtain of Shadow, he started to sing. His voice was wan, and sorrowful, but sounded more like Nick Goodfrey than anything he had yet uttered.

“And won’t you please say hello to the folks that I know,

Tell them I won’t be long,” he said, stepping to Anore further, raising a hand gently toward her face.

“They’ll be happy to know that as you saw me go, I was singing this song,” Nick continued, starting to recall the words more strongly. As he did, he started to smile in a way that filled Anore’s heart with a poignant happiness that made her throat clench.

“We’ll meet again,” she continued, and this time Nick sang the rest of it with her. His hand touched her cheek, and he looked at her in wonder, as though seeing her for the first time. His brow furrowed, and he faltered in the singing, as though he wanted to ask why she was injured.

Anore sang louder, more earnestly. She only had him by the slimmest thread of this song, and if he shook that loose, she might not get another chance to escape. She took him in her arms, and held him tight. To her surprise, Nick melted effortlessly into her embrace, resting his head in the crook of her neck like a small, exhausted child. His breath puffed coolly on her sore skin as he sang with her. His arms wrapped themselves around her; behind her, Anore could feel Nick pull off the assassin’s gloves one at a time and drop them on the floor. His bare fingers pressed against her shoulder blades with a fervent but gentle pressure.

She finished the stanza as she grabbed what she needed out of her pocket.

“Elle,” he said, using the name she had used when they had said goodbye. His voice was soft, and sad, and wistful.

“Nick,” she said kindly, raising the EM stun wand to his neck. She stroked his dark hair and kissed his ear. “My Nick Goodfrey.”

He lifted his head to look at her, a small, kind smile on his face. Anore caught just a glimpse of soft, sad eyes before they widened in shock and betrayal at the sight of the wand. She might have been wounded, but her reflexes were still good; she jammed the wand into the port at the base of Nick’s skull. Even though the port was closed, the jolt of stimulus sent Nick into a system crash. Uttering a pathetic cry that was clenched off by the seizure that overtook his vocal chords, Nick stiffened for a moment, then crumpled to the floor, lifeless.

After something like a wand to the neck, Nick would have to be restarted and given a complete diagnostic. It would take days, possibly weeks, for any random system to degauss itself inside Nick and begin the reboot sequencing on its own. He would not have days, even, before Sindo people came and packed him off to be rebooted and reprogrammed, this time with even less chance of failure to kill.

But she wasn’t going to leave him in this hallway; no one was restarting Nick Goodfrey but Anore. She grabbed the crystal drive out of his pocket so it wouldn’t fall out as she drug him to the airlock. She hadn’t come all this way to lose the antidote now. Stooping like an old woman, Anore took Nick by the wrist and began to pull him the fifty feet to the airlock where her shuttle was lurking. Limping, listing, panting and pausing frequently to catch her ragged breath, Anore pulled Nick’s corpse straight, then tugged it down the hallway and into the airlock. With a whoosh, the spare air expelled itself into space as her shuttle broke away. It was soon lost against the gulf of stars, headed back to the Wrought Industries war cruiser, and home.

GAGA Crime and Punishment

3 Jun

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Following the end of the Second Corporation Wars in 2920, the GAGA established a well-defined criminal justice system with clearly delineated approaches to crime and punishment.

The GAGA assembly drafted a Galactic Citizen’s Bill of Rights with a section dealing with citizen rights and criminal activity, entitled Rights of the Galactic Citizen. In one of only four unanimous votes of the GAGA Assembly, it was determined that the main drive of the GAGA was to create and maintain effective, productive citizens with access to basic amenities of life through the GAGA, and to ensure that citizens could be made as productive and effective as possible for the duration of their natural lives, then determined to be 120 years. As part of this declaration, minimum levels of mobility, health, nutrition, access to amenities and freedom of opportunity were laid out.

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In addition, the GAGA Criminal Defense Committee laid out in 2924 a then current list of crimes along with a table and flowchart of rehabilitation entitled The GAGA Criminal Rehabilitation Flowchart.

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This document is updated every five years, following Galactic vice-presidential elections. In it are laid out a comprehensive list of crimes, the ways in which such activities reduce the effective productivity of the citizen and a list of possible causes for, and remedies to, the underlying discordances that caused the criminal activity.

The Committee was able to, with relative certainty, come to fairly strong determinations of the reasons for criminal behaviour due to the long exposure of its citizens to a variety of different environmental situations. With over a thousand years of data to collate, psychiatrists, doctors and other specialists had come to understand that in addition to the age-old pressures of hunger, dearth and addiction, there were also various environmental causes for a pre-disposition to crime. These included exposure to the wrong kinds of electromagnetic, geomagnetic and celestial energies, buildup of various heavy metals in the body, exposure to various micro-organisms, chemicals and other substances. The GAGA also realized that what was a healthy and conducive environment for one individual could be a suppressive and toxic one for another, leading to criminal mis-behaviour that was largely due to misplacement of the individual.

For this reason, Galaxy-wide baseline psychological and physical evaluations were made mandatory starting in 2930. Children were evaluated with scanning technology shortly after birth to determine the scope of their baseline physiology, basic receptiveness to conditioning/creative thought, predispositions for certain conditions and relative susceptibility to various exo-environmental forces.

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Every seven years, citizens were given re-evaluations to mark out their continued development and try to find ‘stresses leading to criminal activity’ and remedy these before they turned to transgression of the law.

The system, while effective in limiting a great deal of crime, was not infallible. Resources were often pinched at certain times, leading to ‘lost generations’ in the GAGA. These individuals were more predisposed to transgression activities, and fell into the Galactic Universal Rehabilitation (GUR) wing of GAGA resources.

The GAGA Criminal Rehabilitation Act was established with the aim of “determining the definitive cause of criminal activity in the individual” with an eye toward “redirection of the individual’s energies, using re-education and relocation to allow the transgressor to maintain as full participation as possible as a Galactic citizen.” As part of this, the GUR was created to take criminals convicted by GAGA courts and rehabiliate them into society. Any citizen of the GAGA received two rehabilitations and relocations for their grevious crimes. On the third crime committed on the GAGA’s Grevious Crimes list, the individual would be taken to a prison colony for use by the GAGA itself. These colonies were generally harsh but humane, although several notable degradations are on record.

During the first rehabilitation process, the GAGA’s complete physio-psychological evaluation would be examined. The Flowchart was consulted to determine if any environmental stresses, toxic buildups or other physiological abreactions had occurred. If this was found to be extant, then the GUR would remedy them, re-evaluate the individual and prepare them for reintroduction to society. If any psychological issues still remained- counter-productive conditioning based on the aggravating factor, abusive habits etc- then re-education, conditioning and behavioural therapy were given.

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Once the individual passed secondary evaluations, they would be re-introduced to the GAGA. This involved giving the individual a new identity card and placing them in a new sector of the Galaxy. Restrictions on travel, work and other activities stayed on their permanent GAGA file- these restrictions prohibited the individual from exposure to the stressors that induced the crime.

Over 85% of criminals thus rehabilitated stayed contributing citizens and had no further criminal activity of note.

The remaining re-offenders, once convicted of their secondary Grevious Crime, would be sent back to GUR facilities. A secondary physio-psychological evaluation would take place, and remedies were applied. More intensive re-education and psycho-social rehabilitative measures would be taken, including aversion chips, cybernetic implants and neural stabilizers to prohibit certain negative activities. Once the individual passed a secondary examination that proved them ready for re-habilitation, they were again re-introduced to GAGA society, this time restricted to certain sectors/quadrants of the Galaxy, dependent upon the indivudal’s environmental limitations.

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On the third transgression, individuals were given a final GUR re-evaluation and a definitive diagnosis for their recidivism was delivered. These criminals were sent to work camps and GAGA outposts on the edge of the Galaxy, either to work in basic labor units for GAGA resources, or as ‘place-holders’ on the frontiers of the Galaxy, to stake GAGA claims. Life was remote and assistance minimal, but the GAGA would still check in every few months with evaluators for compliance to Rights of the Galactic Citizen Act. Although most asteroid work camps and remote colonies functioned within baseline parameters, corruption and smuggling were rampant; as a result, sometimes the level of care fell well below GAGA standards.

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GUR and GAGA workers had the right to comandeer any camp or colony that was sub-par and rectify the situation, up to and including taking command of it. Any officials of these camps that were found guilty of transgressions leading to the poor conditions were themselves charged with criminal violations and entered into the GUR system.

 

And the Winners Are…

18 Apr

Here are the winners of our GAF Mainframe short story contest!

Late last year, GAF Mainframe launched a flash fiction contest about alien artifacts. Entrants had to submit a short, short story about any GAF character interacting with any alien artifact.

We had some truly awesome submissions, some of which were published on GAFMainframe.com . From these entries we have chosen a few lucky authors to win our grand prize!

These winning authors will have their flash fiction published in the long-awaited Tales from Space 2, due out later this year.

Our winners are:

Van Fleming for his piece about IUS Agent Aric Drakes

Sharon Flood for Pvt. Susu Frid’s Bastet figurine find

Jenn Spaulding for adding to Pvt. Puff Errington’s backstory

Will Norton for his deep space cowboy adventure

Congratulations to our winners!

 

Susu Frid’s Egyptian Asteroid

23 Feb

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In this latest submission to our short story contest for GAF Mainframe, we see a behind-the-scenes snippet of Susu Frid and Private Puff’s adventures on Arkello 2. This story takes place in the middle of the action-packed events chronicled in The Arkellan Treaty, available later this year from StarkLight Press.

An excellent alien artifact piece written by Sharon Flood!

This story, along with all of our winning artifact entries, is eligible for inclusion in Tales from Space II, the second GAF Mainframe short story anthology. Congratulations, Sharon!

 

 

Private Susu Frid,

Personal Device Vid Journal

Arkellan Treaty Mission.

I’m trying out a new encryption here. It’s in the gendler language, in a version of what is called ‘pig Latin’ in Earth English. It’s complicated, but I’m sure it’ll hold up under scrutiny.

I picked up some very interesting artifacts on our mission on Arkello 2, to protect our fearless leader Prime Minister Ferguson while he was negotiating a peace treaty between the Quatrians and the Dynians. We were quartered at the High Hemen hotel where we were debriefed and sent off to gather information from the locals. After everyone split up in the lobby, I turned to Puff, who looked about as bored as I felt. I knew just what would perk us both up. I sidled over to her and put my arm through hers, and steered her toward the elevators.

“Let’s go back up to our room to get some gear. What say we go on a little adventure today?”

Puff looked at me like I was suggesting we go dog sledding in Alaska on Old Earth. She shook her head. She might have heard of some of my other adventures. Come to think of it, Dog Sledding might be fun, except dogs on earth keep trying to eat me. They think I’m some kind of animal. My fur gives off that type of scent, apparently. Since they don’t smell me as a predator, they think: dinner.

“Come on, it’ll be fun,” I said as we got on the elevator. She hung back a bit as we exited at our floor, and I headed for our room.

“We’re supposed to be out and about, chatting up the locals,” Puff replied.

“We can do that later. Have you ever done a space walk, or investigated an asteroid?” I asked.

“No … don’t you need special training for that?”

“Not necessarily. Out in the lobby they’re offering shuttle excursions to the asteroids for the tourists,” I explained.

“I thought the Dynians weren’t into technology.”

“They aren’t. The outfit running the trips are Terran entrepreneurs. The High Hemen owners are leasing them space with the hope that some Dynian locals might be interested in seeing their planet from space. It might make them more amenable to Quatrian technology,” I told her.

“I should think you got your fill of floating rocks by running the obstacle course on the way down here from the ship,” Puff complained on the way to our room.

When we got there I dug out my specialized space gear for use in zero gravity. Being as smart as we are, Gendlers figured out how to get around in space without specifically needing a whole ship to do so. A small shuttle and a tether line was generally sufficient.

“I scanned them from our shuttle. Among my other interests and degrees, space geology is one of them. I happened upon a small cache of very valuable minerals on one of the asteroids. I’m going to go find them,” I told her.

“I saw you over near the portal with some clunky looking object. Where do you come up with such odd little toys?” Puff asked.

“Sometimes I buy them, or invent them, or … um borrow them.” I could feel my face getting warm under the fur, but no one can ever tell. Best I not go into detail about my petty larceny. I don’t want Puff to be questioned as an accessory.

I rooted around till I found the rock collecting tools I had brought with me. I had seen that the minerals were gem stones, and they were fairly close to the surface, but underground, in a way. I thought they might be in a cave. I headed out the door with Puff right behind me.

“It looks like I’ll be staying in the shuttle, since I don’t have a space suit,” Puff commented.

“The excursion company has suits for human type bipeds. They had several on a wall. There’s bound to be one that fits you. I’ll make sure it’s airtight for your use,” I said.

By this time we were down in the lobby. Puff watched with interest as I pulled my credit marker out of a virtually invisible pouch near my abdomen, similar to a Terran kangaroo. Her staring irritated me.

“What? How else should I carry stuff? It’s not like I wear clothes with pockets.”

“You could wear clothes if you wanted to though, couldn’t you?” Puff asked.

“I suppose, but that would be like wearing a dress over a fur coat. I would look ridiculous, and besides, it would be too hot. You know that I wear specially fitted backpacks, holsters and vests for weaponry when we’re on duty in battle. All that is a form of clothing. I wear specialized clothing for space exploration,too. It’s air cooled. Now we have to get the same thing for you,” I said.

We rooted through the suits on the wall, and Puff found one that fit. I used the same test equipment I used on my own gear to make sure it was safe before we suited up. I paid for the two us before we got in the shuttle. The pilot made sure we paid first. It gave me an uneasy feeling that made me think of a line from an ancient song on Old Earth by Chris de Burgh : ‘Don’t pay the Ferryman till he gets you to the other side.’ It made me glad that we always had our PDs to call for help, in case the pilot just dumped us off on an asteroid and left us there.

We climbed into the shuttle and buckled in. I got my geological scanner ready. The pilot lifted off without ceremony. We soon left Arkello 2’s atmosphere, and headed out among the asteroids. I guided the pilot through the asteroid belt until we found the one with gem stones on it. I unbuckled my restraint, reached over the Terran pilot, and grabbed the ignition crystal. I had it out of the console and into a pocket of my space gear before he could even blink. His face turned stormy.

“What the … give that back!” the pilot yelled at me.

“No. You’ll get it back when we get back. Until then, you’re not going anywhere,” I yelled back.

I picked up the rest of my gear and climbed into the airlock. When Puff joined me, I opened the outer airtight door and stepped out onto the asteroid. I made sure that we were both securely tethered to the shuttle before I pulled my scanner out of the equipment satchel attached to the side of my suit. The thing was going crazy. We were close. The asteroid was mostly big rocks and deposits of obsidian, which is black translucent volcanic glass produced by the sudden cooling of molten lava. There were shards of it buried in the landscape all over Arkello 2. There were also obsidian deposits all over the asteroid belt caused by the destruction of Arkello 3. There were many volcano eruptions caused by the relentless bombardment of the planet by Maitre aliens generations ago.

My scanner led us right to a large mound of solid rock and rubble. I pulled out a pick ax, and gave Puff a collapsible shovel. We soon cleared away enough to reveal the entrance to a cave under the loose rocks. We illuminated our helmet lamps and set out on what was probably Puff’s very first spelunking adventure. It wasn’t new to me. I love gemstones and they generally hang out underground. I invented my handy dandy mineral scanner with some uh … ‘borrowed’ components from my university’s geology lab.

We were a good ways back in the cave when I noticed that the cave in front of us was luminescent. Something back there was reflecting off of our helmet lamps. I was so eager to see what was there, I took off towards it. My legs are spindly appendages, and they don’t move well in unaccustomed space gear. I can move with speed, but not with any kind of grace or accuracy. I tripped over rubble on the floor and went rolling down a slight incline like a big blue furry bowling ball. When a Gendler falls, or is hit in a frontal attack, our first instinct is to curl up like a Terran hedgehog or porcupine, without the spikes. I stopped short when I hit something solid, and knocked it over, which made something solid but smaller rain down on me. Luckily, Puff is very light on her feet, and very coordinated. She managed to catch whatever was falling on me, to prevent it from doing me or it serious harm.

When I finally got my feet untangled from my head, I sat up and watched Puff examining several statuettes. The thing that had stopped my fall was a stone altar of sorts. I pushed it back upright and began to put the fallen items on top of it. There were some crude hand made clay statuettes with the heads of cats, and the bodies of women. There was also a small reclining white alabaster cat, a small reclining jade cat, and a larger sitting jade cat which seemed to have a carved platform that it fit into on top of the altar. I returned it to its rightful place. There were several black obsidian cat statuettes and figurines of various sizes and positions. Some had the bodies of women. Some had gold amulets or necklaces. Some had emerald eyes. There was one black obsidian statuette with large emerald eyes, and a huge ruby amulet on its chest. It was the same size as the central jade cat figure on the altar. I carefully put it in a cloth lined collection pouch and put it in my biggest outside pocket.

Puff helped me put the undamaged ones on the altar to get a better look at them. We chose several of the gold and jewel adorned figures and pocketed them. When Puff reached for the big jade unadorned statue, I stopped her, and gave her a slightly smaller heavily bejeweled jade figure instead.

“Not that one. It stays here,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because that’s the ancient Egyptian goddess Bastet idol. It was worshiped here. This cave was a shrine to her when it was still part of Arkello 3. It’s older than all the rest, and might have come from Old Earth itself, thousands of years ago. The other figures were gifts and companion pieces to it. The obsidian cats were probably made by craftsmen on Arkello 3, because obsidian could be found easily anywhere on the planet. The jade and alabaster ones might have come from Earth, but they’re not nearly as old as the jade idol.”

“How did they get here?” Puff asked as she examined the statuettes.

“Probably a traveler that had visited Earth many eons ago brought the idol, the jades, the alabasters and maybe some Terran slaves here for trade. Arkello 3 had some impressive gold and gemstone deposits in shallow mines. Then as now, gold and jewels were always valuable currency to trade for fuel, supplies, wives, whatever. I expect that the kidnapped Terrans that were dropped here continued their worship in this cave in secret,” I said.

“Why are you leaving the idol here? I doubt if there are any of its worshipers left,” Puff pointed out.

“I know, but the goddess Bastet was the protector of women, children, and domestic cats who protected the home from snakes and vermin. She also protected against infectious diseases and evil spirits.”

“So?” Puff shrugged.

“So, this cave and its shrine still exists after the complete demolition of the rest of the planet. Perhaps in this one space in the galaxy, Bastet still has some power to protect Arkello 2 as this asteroid orbits the planet. After all, it not only survived the attacks that destroyed Arkello 3, it remained a paradise. Who’s to say Bastet didn’t keep it safe? Just in case she did, I’m leaving her here,” I decided.

Puff shrugged. We had already made ourselves reasonably wealthy with what we were taking away with us. The trick would be to keep it safe until we got back to the base. We left the cave and and set a small explosive device at the mouth of it. It was just big enough to completely bury the entrance, without destroying the cave. We returned to the shuttle to find the pilot fast asleep and snoring in his seat. I shook him awake, none to gently. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper.

“Huh? What … shit!” he blurted out while he was still trying to figure out what was going on.

“We’re re ready to leave now, but before we return to the surface, we’re going to make a side trip back to our martial space station. It won’t take long,” I informed him.

“Side trips cost extra,” he said.

“Of course they do.” I rolled my eyes, but since they’re on stalks, he probably missed the sarcasm.

When we got to the ship we went right to our quarters. I grabbed a small oblong box and we took it to the field behind the hotel.  I emptied all of my artifacts onto the ground beside me.

“I trust you, so I’m going to show you where I stash my … ummmm … collectables,” I said, lamely.

“My lips are sealed. I won’t tell anyone, I swear,” Puff made a locking motion at her mouth.

“Good. I brought Space Saver Pod with me. I bring it with me everywhere, because I never know when I’m going to end up on a rich planet where I might find some more … um … toys,” I blushed under my fur again.

At some point I was going to have to tell Puff that I’m a thief – a very smart educated thief, but a thief still the same. At some point she’ll have to defend her actions, simply for being associated with me. I entered the code to initiate the Niles Generator’s dematerialization cycle. The generator powered up quietly, there was a brief flash and we were standing in front of a shipping container locked with a biometric. Placing my hand on its pad, I said my name.  I took my hand away, and my hand print glowed. The front of the container opened up. I put my bejeweled cats inside in one of the display cases and locked it with a more traditional key. I turned to Puff, who was staring into the crate with huge, impressed eyes.

“Do you want your stuff in here until we get back to the base, or did you want to put it in the station’s main vault at the hotel, Puff?” I asked.

“You can put it all in here. It’ll be safe, and besides, I don’t want the quartermaster to know that I have something valuable enough to put in the vault. I don’t want anybody else to know, for that matter. These statuettes are worth a lot of credits just by themselves because they’re relics from Arkello 3, which no longer exists. That’s not even to mention all of the gold and jewels. I’ll leave it all with you,” Puff told me as she pushed all of her share of our findings against one of the bookshelves in the far corner of the crate. We exited and I closed the front of the Space Saver. I put my left hand on the biometric to lock it up again. It was a simple matter to power up the Niles Generator and send my storage container back into the side dimension where the tiny, oblong generator kept it when I wasn’t using it.

“Well, that’s taken care of. Let’s do what we’re told for once, and scope out the local bar for information,” I said.

“Okay. I’m right behind you,” Puff said as we headed down the street to the tavern.

Announcing a new GAF Flash Fiction Contest!

24 Oct

alienartefact1

This Prompt is : ALIEN ARTEFACTS

This prompt centers around the finding of an alien artefact in space. It could be something as small as an alien pen or as large as a space cruiser. Write between 500-3000 words about the events surrounding it- using any of the GAF Characters in our Encyclopedia Galactica. As with all our writing activities, you can add your own characters into the mix as well!

Any part of the GAGA is your setting, from the depths of HyperSpace to the luxurious celebrity colony on Brandenburg to the wilds of the Gamma Quadrant. Use your imagination and write a mash up of alien and GAGA worlds!

Does the artefact catch the attention of the IUS, the GAGA’s sinister exotechnology intelligence sector? Does Donovan Aeronautics make a prototype flyer out of it? Does it take the holos by storm and instigate a new fad that makes new millionaires? You tell us!

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All entries will be posted here on GAF Mainframe, where you can chat about the stories with other GAF fans!

One of the stories will be picked for inclusion in the second volume of GAF short stories- Tales from Space!

Deadline is December 1, 2015.

– J. Stuart and Tony Stark

An Incident in El Noor- Excerpt Part Three

5 Feb

A day in the life of the Leaders of the Galaxy is outlined here in this conclusion of Chapter One of the latest GAF Mainframe novel, An Incident in El Noor. The tensions between military necessity, intelligence acquisition and First Contact play themselves out before Quetzal and Gabrielle, in no way making it easier for them to decide how to proceed… but proceed they must, if the growing instability in the El Noor sector is to be kept from spilling into the rest of the Galaxy.

This conclusion of Chapter One is written by Tony Stark, copyright 2015.

 

There is always an ulterior motive- be it continued perception of the GAGA as an insurmountable force in the known universe, economic advantage or military gain. It is the duty of the IUS to point out to the President the vast, hitherto untapped cornucopia of alien technology that lies within the SAG-DEB galaxy… a cornucopia of advancement and improvement blocked from our grasp only by a few dissident El Noorian nationals whose minds have been withered by over-exposure to radiations from the Galactic collision.”

Perhaps,” Andrew suggested in careful, meditative tones, “scientists should examine the effect the technology being used by the El Noorians from the alien galaxy may have on natives of our own.” He raised his chin and looked down his long, sloped nose at the President. “Before we acquire said technologies for our own purposes.”

Tobias smiled thinly and leaned back in his chair. He had been expecting Pierce’s overcautious, seemingly reasonable xenophobia. There was a man who had been dealing with alien races for too long, King thought. He has the yips worse than ever.

GAGA and GAF telemetry and scientists, including astrophysicists from your own DFC, Andrew, have gathered reams of data showing the radiation and temporal-spatial deconstruction occurring at the leading edge of the Galactic Collision is more than enough to melt the brain of even the hardiest biological organism.”

And yet we still defer evacuating the El Noorian natives to a safer world far away from the churning maw of destruction,” Pierce remarked.

That’s beautiful, Andrew,” Marlene remarked, typing on her PD. “May I quote that?”

Of course, my dear,” Andrew smiled slightly and continued. “The GAGA keeps them there under a thin pretense of respect for their cultural heritage- a heritage that is only one hundred and twenty years old. We keep them there, allow them to make further and further forays into the confidences, both spatial and psychological, of the SAG-DEB natives, and ignore the fact our first explorers of this new world are effectively learning about smallpox from the blankets they receive- not just from the alien galaxy, but from the GAGA, as well.”

Magnificent!” Marlene cried.

Tobias clapped slowly, appreciatively. His eyes were veiled.

Emil Skoda raised his eyebrows and looked flabbergasted at his desk for a moment.

I can’t imagine that you’d be advocating we just run roughshod over these peoples’ rights, Andrew,” he said at length.

The precedent is there to move them summarily off the world and to a location of their choosing,” Quetzal reminded everyone. “We’ve evacuated other races, natives to planets, not just immigrants to an empty world, with less threat to their biological integrity than what the El Noorians face.”

Gabrielle tossed her hair. “We made that particular decision last year, friends. There’s no point in revisiting it now. The El Noorians were adamant about staying where their prophet Sammarrab put them, and we respected that.”

The fact the IUS already had several imbedded agents able to infiltrate the confidences of the SAG-DEB delegation to the El Noorians-” Andrew began.

Was, of course, a deciding factor in allowing these people to maintain their homeland,” Tobias interrupted. “It’s what we do, Andrew- maintain a hand in the most volatile regions of the Galaxy.” Tobias pushed his spectacles up on his nose. “And what is your suggestion now, now that war is at hand?”

Andrew blinked, took a deep sigh, and stated plainly: “Evacuation followed by a trained team of experts to make First Contact. Experts who will examine the many threats posed to the GAGA by not just alien biology and technology, but an entire alien Galaxy, as well.”

We could gear the public up for a feel-good, humanitarian rescue mission,” Quetzal suggested. “There’s no real reason to upset the apple cart by diving into an inter-GAGA conflict in a Galactic Collision Zone.”

Gabrielle raised her eyebrows and nodded.

Skoda slapped his desk with his hand. “We can’t just evac Hyperships full of crazed El Noorian refugees who have decided that it’s time the entire Galaxy followed their fundamentalist, racist, anti-GAGA claptrap!” He crossed his arms over his chest full of medals. “They’d spread their bullshit everywhere, and instead of one fire to fight on the edge of noplace, we’d all be fighting a peat fire for the rest of the GAGA’s defintely shortened lifespan.”

Gabrielle frowned, and nodded. “That is true,” she noted.

Quetzal turned in his chair to include the President in his view of the proceedings. Gabrielle had started to follow along with points… she was forming a narrative in her own head. This presaged a Decision. Quetzal looked forward to seeing what it might be- because he had absolutely no idea about what to do himself.

I can tell you, Ms. President,” Andrew determinedly said, “that our research shows definitively there are catastrophic health effects incurred by any mid-term exposure to what’s going on in that Galaxy.” He glanced fiercely up at Tobias.

As Mr. King has pointed out.”

Tobias nodded. “I agree that sending in any GAF forces will have a negative effect on public opinion as well as the health of the soldiers, Ms. President. That is why I advocate the following- a holding pattern of informed tension for the public while my agents attempt to diffuse the situation. If we fail, then we can consider a military contingent.”

Andrew snorted, and Emil Skoda piped up.

Oh, oh, just like you idiots diffused the Quilarian uprising, eh?” he asked, staring up at the holo image of Tobias.

King pushed his glasses up his nose and straightened his tie. “The conflict between the Quilarians and the GAF was too severe to be diffused, unfortunately. We did what we could.”

You mean you snuck in and abducted Quilarian children and copied their mothership’s computer database!” Emil shouted. “It was a fucking disaster, King, a disaster we had to clean up! Just so you could breed some Quilarians because they happen to be one giant stem cell.”

Actually, the Quilarian juvenile is more of a plethora of stem cells,” King couldn’t help but correct.

A cornucopia of them,” Andrew offered acerbically.

Yes, exactly,” King couldn’t help but like his old mentor. Damn but he was quick on the draw, King thought, and smiled.

I’m certain that the IUS would not have as its sole mandate the extraction of alien technology and biology,” Gabrielle asserted, looking at the upper left quadrant of the room where the Director of the IUS floated.

No, ma’am,” Tobias assured her. “We would first and foremost be there to diffuse the erroneous El Noorian sentiment against the GAGA, and ideally convince them to evacuate peaceably.”

Well they sure as hell aren’t coming crawling back into the Center of the Galaxy until they’ve all got their De-Nutjobification certificates,” Emil growled. “No peat fires. Period.”

Unfortunately,” Marlene interjected, “I’m not certain we can easily guarantee a re-education of GAGA mores and values in the evacuated populace. The DFC and GAGA MedCommand both seem to indicate that substantial damage has occurred to their biological information interfaces. It will take some recouperative efforts before we can begin to reliably re-indoctrinate the evacuees.”

Gabrielle nodded. “Excellent point,” she remarked.

I say, Nuke ’em,” Emil said. “There’s enough perfectly sane El Noorians in the rest of the GAGA who got the hell outta Dodge when they realized the Galactic collision was more than just pretty pictures in the sky. These people stayed not because they’re stubborn, but because their brains are melted, and now they’re blowing shit up because they’ve been had what brains are left washed up good by an invading alien force!”

Gabrielle nodded. “Provocative presentation of fact.”

What’s the timeline on evacuee rehabilitation?” Quetzal asked somebody.

Our extrapolations indicated eighteen months to three years before the ill effects of the Galactic Collision could be repaired,” Andrew glanced down at some old fashioned papers on his desk. “Assuming of course the effects could be reversed like regular radiation and HyperSpatial overexposure.” He managed to keep his gaze level as he added, “Of course, we haven’t been able to do any serious investigative testing with live cases.”

Gabrielle nodded. “Understandable lack of data,” she said.

Quetzal watched the President. Her remarks were speeding up. Time for a decision.

Gabrielle stood up, walked around to the front of her giant garnet of a desk. “Thank you all for your input,” she told them. “This is our strategy.”

She nodded at Tobias King. “Mr. King, you will send your best agents immediately to El Noor, if they are not already there, and instruct them to defuse the anti-GAGA sentiment as well as the fundamentalist developments in the culture. You will of course try to glean as much information about the technology and biology of the alien SAG-DEB culture as possible. You have four weeks to complete this objective.”

Tobias looked pleased, thinking he had won the day for the IUS until he heard the conclusion of the President’s orders. He opened his mouth to interject, but Gabrielle turned her eyes from him to Emil Skoda, her General.

You, sir, will send in your most photogenic units to the El Noorian sector to lead the evacuation of the GAGA natives to the planet. A secondary task for your troops will be diplomatic liasons, in case the IUS is able to establish basic relations with the aliens of the encroaching galaxy. You will come prepared for peaceful evacuation, but also for war… in the event that the IUS and GAF olive branches fail to quel the El Noorian uprising, we must unfortunately deal decisively with the threat to the peace of the GAGA. If all else fails, General, we will put down the rebellion completely.”

General Skoda’s face flashed a series of different emotions as he acclimatized to the winding directives he had been given. In the end, he understood that war was the final option, and that he had just been given the green light to put an end to this constant attack on his GAF forces. He sat back and smiled smugly. The rest would take care of itself- he was gonna blow shit up.

Marlene,” Gabrielle turned her attention to the GAGAPO chief. “I want you to begin to ease the Galaxy into the inevitability of war, but first play up the peacemakers of the GAF and the high optimism we all have that our own people as well as the aliens in the SAG-DEB galaxy will see reason and join us on our grand, Galactic adventure.”

Marlene typed furiously. “Understood, Ms. President.”

Gabrielle looked up finally at Andrew Pierce from the Department of First Contact.

Andrew, I know that you disapproved of the trajectory of the El Noorian natives from the start, and that we have perhaps underutilized the DFC as a resource in this obvious example of extra-terrestrial encounter.”

Andrew nodded, his long features remarkably soft. Whatever he may think of the decision, he understood the many particular hurdles the President of the Universe had to navigate in such a situation. He knew he was at one end of a spectrum of equally valid perspectives. In a Galaxy based off of enjoyment, comfort, consumption and quietude, prudent scientific discovery for its own sake was a very limited spectrum to possess.

I offer the DFC now an opportunity to accompany the first GAF forces to El Noor. You may deploy your team of exo-investigators before that point where the GAF attempts diplomacy and/ or military intervention of any kind. The IUS will try its hand while your people travel, but you may, if you wish, send your team in to gather the data on the alien galaxy first hand.”

Both Andrew and Tobias raised their eyebrows. A fit of fidgeting ensued from the head of the IUS, while Andrew leaned back again in his chair.

It was a remarkable gift, Andrew thought, for an old, largely forgotten agency. But even though it be a spinster, don’t just accept gifts out of hand. This opportunity comes at a grave cost, he warned himself, one that must be examined at length in privacy.

Out loud, Pierce said, “Thank you, Ms. President. I will take the matter up with my staff, and get back to you in the morning.”

Quetzal rose from his magnificent desk and clapped his hands together. He smiled broadly.

Well, that’s about it, then,” he announced. “Everybody got it? Spy, then fly, then pry, then peace, then fry. And try to look regretful about all the coming bloodshed all the while.”

The four briefing guests shifted in their seats as they took in the Prime Minister’s summation.

Good? Good. We’ll all meet up back here in Friday to see how it’s going,” Quetzal concluded. “Have a brilliant day!”

Nodding, Andrew Pierce waved his hand and his corner of the display darkened. Marlene did the same, leaving just Tobias King and the GAF General.

I don’t understand why we have to go through all this rigamarole of prepping the populace for conflict,” Skoda muttered, more to himself than to the dignitaries present. He was jotting notes on his PD and avidly clicking his summons roster on his desk. “This whole process would be much simpler if we just kept people ready to put down this kind of conflict in the GAGA at any time.”

But then we’d be leading a totally different universe, General,” Quetzal told him before he blacked out the remaining screens. “And none of us would want that, now- would we?”

An Incident in El Noor- Excerpt Part Two

2 Feb

In this second excerpt from An Incident in El Noor, the Prime Minister and President take on four of the most influential department heads of over the volatile El Noor question. As it turns out, there are four different views on how to handle an alien galaxy colliding with the GAGA’s very own…

Tune in later this week for the final installment of the briefing that sends Verily Wrought into the Galaxy’s most dangerous war zone- chapter one of the latest GAF Mainframe novel, written by Tony Stark, copyright 2015.

 

The giant holoscreen changed to a countdown. “Briefing will commence in five, four…”

“Shite,” Quetzal murmured. “Could be anyone. I hope it’s not that creepy IUS chief.”

“Probably will be,” the President murmured.

Quetzal looked down at the holodisplay on his PD. “Looks like three guests via holo today,” he advised the President. They exchanged a hollow-eyed look. “That’s not good,” he added.

Gabrielle shook her head. “It must be getting worse,” she whispered. “And fast, too.”

A giant explosion rocked the Awareness Room. Both dignitaries jumped in their seats.  The President gave out a small shriek. The Prime Minister let out a spirited curse.

“Timestamp, -minus 3 hours Telamer V time. Location, Morocco III. El Noorian terrorists detonate a chemical battery storage yard in North Casablanca. Fifty-seven killed, three hundred twelve injured. GAF losses: thirty eight. GAF casualties: one hundred and ninety nine. GAF assets destroyed: Twelve million, three hundred twenty two credits of equipment and supplies.”

Quetzal watched footage from a hover-drone as it circled the decimated yard. Over the past year, rebels from the El Noor Sector had targeted GAF assets in the entire quadrant. There had even been an attempt on the President’s life when she attended the Quadrant conference last month. Events like the carnage floating in front of Quetzal’s face had become commonplace in the Galaxy. Never the most peaceful place, the El Noorian rebels had set the entire Galaxy on edge. Racial and inter-species tensions had never been so high- not since humans had inherited the entire mess from the Telamer, anyway.

“This latest attack marks the six hundred thirtieth consecutive day of aggression by the El Noorian rebels. Demands made following the Morocco III explosion included the immediate withdrawal of all GAF forces in the El Noor sector and the complete capitulation of the GAGA to the SAG-DEB/El Noorian alliance,” the computerized voice narrated smoothly.

Quetzal slouched further in his seat and mouthed the words. Six hundred thirty days of demands, and it was all the same. Whoever, whatever these forces from the neighboring galaxy were, they were utterly powermad and totally barmy. Why they thought that an alliance of one single system’s most unstable members with a small population of extra-galactic citizens could bring the rest of the Milky Way to its knees was a terrifying giblet of insanity whose motives were  inscrutable to the Prime Minister of the Galaxy.

“In response, GAF forces have deployed double security units to each energy facility in Gamma Quadrant. This makes the energy sector the latest area of increased GAF presence- matching the transportation networks, HyperSpace lanes, manufacturing sector and GAGA Protected Relic areas in military protection.”

“So, pretty much everything,” Quetzal muttered.

From across the room, Gabrielle nodded ruefully. A productive Galaxy was a Galaxy that spent its credits freely across sectors. This could not happen if everything was under increased security pressure- let alone the lockdown state the El Noorians wanted to force her to create.

“At this point, surveys and Wroughtveillance indicate that GAGA citizens are generally accepting of the increased security presence across the Association,” the computer continued. “Eighty-five percent of feedback is positive, with ninety-one percent empathy favorable percentile amongst monitored conversations and media.”

Charts, graphs and telemetry flashed across the giant holo in day-glo colors. All the arrows and bars were pointing to the sky.

Quetzal raised an eyebrow. The telemetry was up from last week. Their media campaign and increased subliminals must be working to convince the populace of the necessity of these security-based evils.

“As of -15 minutes Telamer V time,” the computer continued, “GAF and local government forces have aborted two hundred and sixty seven Aggressive Actions in Progress, with twelve more AAIPs being monitored by the IUS as of this briefing. It is unknown at present which of these AAIPs may be suitable for further media presentation.”

The screen changed to a live-cam version of the corner of the Galaxy in question. The El Noor sector was jammed up against the neighboring Sag-DEB galaxy, as it had been since the first time humans were able to espy this area from Old Earth.  The collision was increasing its intensity as the centuries passed, and the mingling of the two galactic membranes looked like a livid bruise crafted out of blood and tempera paint against the blackness of the Universe.

Every time Quetzal saw pictures of the El Noor sector, his stomach lurched. There was something vile and penetrative about the encroachment of one galaxy on another, and from the angle of the footage, he could not help but think that this alien galaxy was the fearfully aggressive party.

“Today, IUS intelligence on El Noor, the main planet in the sector, report increased troop movement and asset re-allocation toward the western edge of the continent. Although footage is spotty due to latent electromagnetic interference, it is clear that El Noorian/SAGDEB forces have moved another two hundred kilometres closer to the GAF bases on El Noor.”

Surveillance footage from satellite showed dust clouds trailing eastward from a massive movement of dark objects on the desert sands of El Noor. Grainy, choppy, badly cut footage from agents on the ground showed images of the tanks and alien technology offered by the SAG-DEB residents to the El Noorians. The vehicles and weapons were being piled on hover transports in disparate fashion and moved out of the mud-brick walls of cities.

Quetzal had to look away from the raw footage. It was so much larger than life that its harried quality made him motion sick. He watched its reflection in the obsidian desk instead as the computer continued.

“Although no aggression has occurred, this is the single largest mobilization of troops and technology on El Noor since the preamble to the First El Noor conflict of 3488.”

The screen finished flashing images of the various AAIPs aborted across the Galaxy and returned to a paired logo of the GAF and GAGA.

“Today’s inter-agency briefing is designed to provide guidance to various GAGA agencies and the GAF regarding GAGA policy toward the following three points,” the computer continued.

In front of the two leaders, a holo display popped up. Bulleted points began to appear under the heading of ‘Today’s Briefing Objectives’.

“One- the establishment of a cohesive, multi-agency response to the troop mobilization in El Noor sector, with a focus on long-term strategic and media concerns.”

“Here we go,” Quetzal murmured.

Gabrielle nodded. “No peace for us,” she agreed.

“Two- the refinement of public media coverage and policy amongst GAGA agencies, with the drafting of an official, unified reaction to continued terrorist action.”

“Three- the final determination of an operating strategy regarding GAGA agencies toward the extragalactic SAG-DEB organisms and Galaxy, with appropriate media, GAGA and intelligence layers.”

Quetzal’s eyebrows raised. “Oh, so we’re just going to figure out what to do about the alien technology, culture and assets of an entire Galaxy. This morning.”

Gabrielle smiled ruefully. “You ate your Wheaties, I trust.”

Quetzal nodded. “In malt liquor form, yes.”

“Connecting to Agency Heads on Secure Frequencies,” a much more computerized voice announced. The screen at the far end of the room blinked and split itself into four. A different logo spun at a different rate in each quadrant. The effect was, in its way, as dizzying as the HeadCam footage from the IUS.

Quetzal watched the logo of the self-same agency spin in reflection on his desk. Beside it, the Department of First Contact’s logo, much less imposing and more upliftingly scientific, soothed the eye with its multi-species hands shaking against a classically NASA-oriented backdrop of stars. Beneath, the GAF HQ logo and the GAGA Press Office waited patiently for their respective heads to signal they were ready to join the conversation.

“Link established in four, three, two, one-”

The four screens lit up with giant holo versions of the Department Heads.

“Good morning, gentlemen and lady,” Gabrielle greeted the apparitions with a charming smile. Quetzal mirrored a quick greeting, flashing his own rogueish grin.

“Good morning,” four voices echoed.

“Who wants to go first this morning?” the President of the Universe asked. “I see we have some serious decisions to make today.”

The Chief of the GAGA Press Office interrupted the head of the IUS. Each monitor was arranged in the same orientation, so the IUS head glared down at his lower left while Marlene Schmidtt began.

“Before we begin in earnest,” she said in clipped German tones, “I would just like to remind the agencies involved that for nearly two years now, the growing conflict between El Noor and the GAGA has been managed almost entirely by the Press Office. Our mandate up until now has been to quell clamor for war, and to slowly but determinedly convince the citizenry that the GAF can handle easily any conflict that may arise. That whatever comes, it will not be a full-out war like the First El Noorian conflict of last century.”

Gabrielle nodded. She was fully behind this policy of anti-war, anti-fear yielding increased economic benefits through citizens’ emotional comfort testing high. She and Marlene were of like minds on many matters, and the President approved of the Press Chief’s tactics in guiding public sentiment.

General Emil Skoda, head of the Galactic Armed Forces, snorted ruefully and rolled his pale blue eyes with withering effect. The lower right corner of the Awareness Room screen was his, and was also home to the opposing viewpoint to the GAGAPO.

“If we determine today that an all out war or unavoidably public conflict is inevitable,” Marlene continued smoothly, “I need to remind everyone that the Press Office requires ninety Galactic days to satisfactorially one-eighty public opinion to acceptable levels. We also require at least three weeks to begin to instill completely different meme threads into the population.”

“It takes ninety-six hours to begin new idea memes, correct?” Quetzal asked.

Marlene nodded. “Correct, sir. A striking new development in the El Noor conflict story, such as military intervention, peacekeeping or unilateral strikes would take four Galactic days of sentiment softening before the actual event would be acceptably delivered.”

“So we need to kill at least four days of time before we announce any changes, and those changes need to be along a continuum of our existing narrative,” the Prime Minister clarified. It was his aim to minimize bickering amongst the polarized units in front of him today, and to ensure that the President’s driving ethos was maintained as largely as possible.

“Correct, sir,” Marlene replied.

“May I point out,” General Skoda boomed in irritated tones, “that, if we had been softening public sentiment toward war and conflict in general that we could move on these bastards within three weeks?”

“I believe, Emil,” said Andrew Pierce, head of the Department of First Contact, “that it will take over four weeks to deploy and move out the closest GAF units for reinforcement in El Noor. That would be plenty of time to slowly start to turn public opinion to a conflict there. By the time we amassed troop presence in El Noor, we could deliver a fabulous blitzkrieg of a war on the evening holos.”

“That was the logic behind the Center Theory, General,” Gabrielle reminded her military commander. The Center Theory had been Gabrielle’s leading innovation to GAGA policy- and the platform point that won her the support of the aging Telamer race.

Center Theory boiled down to the fact that over 80 percent of the Galaxy’s population lived within three weeks’ HyperSpace flight of GAF HQ. This meant that the bulk of conflicts could be

Center Theory took into account the time frame required to direct public sentiment toward accepting a conflict as well as the fact that over 85 percent of the Galaxy’s population lived in peace within the required three week window of public opinion softening. Gabrielle had successfully advocated for a pacifist baseline for Galactic Media subliminalization, wagering that the bulk of conflicts that would appear in the GAGA would be outside the three week radius for GAF deployment.

General Skoda winced at yet another successful application of President Gabrielle’s theory. His only retort being that taking worse care of the Galaxy was the only means of justifying his belief in constant threat preparedness made him shut his mouth with an audible snap that echoed around the Awareness Room.

From the diagonal corner, Andrew Pierce raised a white, arched eyebrow at the sound. He barely supressed a smug look.

“Thank you for the reminder, Ms. Schmidt,” the head of the GAGA’s intelligence and counter-threat unit said in even tones. Tobias King was a man on indeterminate middle age with thick glasses and a strangely alien look to his countenance, despite the fact that he was Old Earth born and bred. He had once been a student of Andrew Pierce’s, and the two had a strangely stilted distance between them that could only come from a protege taking up the torch of the master’s enemies.

“Back to the matter at hand, Ms. President,” King continued in a voice that was remarkably reedy and tinged with a New England accent, “the IUS has more than enough live evidence to warrant an organized offensive against the El Noorian/SAG-DEB rebellion. We all know that this is the thrust of this briefing.”

“Damn straight it is,” Skoda growled.

Pierce straightened his long neck and blinked his large eyes as though he had swallowed something that stuck in his throat, but said nothing.

“I might suggest that, as it will take a not insubstantial amount of resources and effort to swing the public to a supportive position for such a conflict, as well as a massive amount of resources to mobilize the GAF to such a remote region, we consider an alternative plan.”

“An alternative plan with alterior motives,” Pierce said evenly.

“Of course, Andrew,” King said, not entirely unkindly. His manner would have been completely compassionate if it had not been for the greedy gleam of covetous acquisition that burned in the back of his eyes like a coal.

That there, Quetzal thought to himself, is why Toby doesn’t have more friends in these parts.