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PBEM 15: A Strange New World

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  • #16

    HIVE 2147, Chambers of the Consuls

    “Chairman Yang your authorization of funds to complete the fourth colony pod was had not been reviewed by this chamber.”

    “Consul Denari I do not need your review or approval for my decision what I need is you actions in implementation. I thought I was very clear when I created this body that your function was primarily one of coordination.” Yang replied flatly.

    Many of the consuls quickly looked at each other from their seats and some even fidgeted.

    “Surely you can see the wisdom in consultations with us so you can gain the added perspective and guidance from us.” Consul Denari replied smoothly his face though was nothing of the sort. Denari’s face had a slight sheen of sweat in a room that was always very cool and his eyes kept blinking.

    Yang studied them all for several minutes with no reply. He simply looked at each one in turn and then returned his gaze back to Denari.

    “I see your point Consul Denari.” Yang began. “Let me explain my point.”

    Yang lifted a finger from the desk every so gently, slowly and immediately a Fireman leaped from the back wall and drove a his bayonet through the back and upwards into the skull of Consul Denari.

    The Fireman gave a quick ‘twist’ of the blade and then pulled it out in one fluid motion and then seemed to jump back into place along the wall. Consul Denari’s head drooped and then his slid off his chair dead.

    None of the consuls moved at all but they had all gone whiter and some looked like they were going to vomit.
    “Let this be a lesson for us all.” Yang said in a pleasant tone. “We are all resources for of the HIVE. A resource that is no longer a resource is a drain on the HIVE and must be recycled. As the leader of the HIVE I need to make sure my resources understand their function and purpose towards creating our new society. In this I have failed today with you and Consul Denari. I hope my remedial instruction just now has reinforced within each of you your role within the Hive and the purpose you serve.”

    The consuls bobbed their heads in agreement.

    “Good.” Yang said once again in a pleasant voice. “Now you have your instructions for this quarter please make sure your various Seneschals and foremen know their orders and carry them out efficiently, is that clear?”

    The consuls bobbed their heads again in agreement.

    Yang smiled very briefly and then stood up and left the room.


    University Base, MY 2148

    An alarm sounded and Zakharov bolted awake. There was also an urgent pounding at his door to his apartment.

    “Coming!” he yelled as he grabbed his glasses and threw on a robe that was lying crumpled on the floor.

    “Prokhor?” a muffled voice said. Zakharov recognized it as Mimi, the guard that had been assigned to him after the riots at University Base. “We have an emergency.”

    He unlocked and opened the door. There were two men – his personal assistants that mercifully handled much of the horrific administrative duties of the Council for him – were standing behind them. They had the Black Box with them.

    Zakharov instantly knew what was happening. They’d thought and planned for this moment almost since Landfall almost fifty years ago, but now it had occurred: contact with other humans!

    “Sir,” Reginald said. “Please get dressed. We have a communication that requires your immediate attention.”

    “Right away. Oh, please come in. All of you.”

    The trio paused for a moment. They’d just been invited into Prokhor Zakharov’s private residence at 3 AM, he was disheveled, and this was a crisis. After a moment of hesitation the three paced in.

    Zakharov went to his small closet and selected a gray suit he almost never wore and a blue shirt. In his haste he remembered someone on the Council had told him once that the blue and gray suited him, and that was enough for him. He dispensed with the tie, and ran a comb through his hair. When he was done he looked only a little better than when he had been startled out of bed: rumpled and a little off center.

    “Reg, is the link active?” he asked. It had taken all of five minutes and he didn’t want to keep them waiting.

    “Yes, sir. Any time you’re ready.” Zakharov nodded and sat at his desk. As Reginald set up the imager Zakharov hurriedly brushed all of his notes and data pads off into a heap on the left. He would have to clean it up later.

    He composed himself while the Black Box, which was a communication relic from Unity, synced – and then flared to life. An image formed of a woman with shocking white hair, a stone smooth face, and a metal node at each temple. Zakharov said, “Aki?”

    The woman nodded ever so slightly. “Prokhor.”

    A smile crept across his face. “I am so glad you survived Unity! When I last saw you there was an explosion near Lab 2. I couldn’t get to you. What pod did you get to?”

    “Seven,” she said. “I concluded that although pod 3 was closer that the structure failure would render that route inaccessible. Pod 7 was the logical choice.”

    Zakharov relished her cold recitation. “Indeed. I have so many questions. Where do we start…”


    The conversation with Aki Zeta 5 had lasted for several hours. She was as cold and aloof as always, but her logic had not changed. It was heartening that she had learned leadership and was now leading her own faction. The one detail that was a little alarming was intimated: she had learned to transmit her algorithm to humans. How she could have done this was not at all clear, and it likely had something to do with her current leadership.

    That was a mystery for the future, for the Cyborgs, as they were called, had agreed to trade technology. The University had given Centauri Hydrology, Renewable Energy Resources, and Gene Splicing for Social Psych, Secrets of the Human Brain, and Military Doctrine. All in all it was an excellent trade and both sides had profited immensely since this represented a quarter century of research. Moreover, after agreeing to a friendship treaty Aki had agreed to sell the communication link to another faction for 40 megacredits. She had been evasive about the issue, and he thought he detected an undercurrent of hostility. That was strange for Aki.

    Regardless, Zakharov now prepared to call a faction that called itself Cult of Planet. That had a very ominous ring to it, but still it meant that more humans had survived the Unity disaster. That was probably a good thing.


    The Black Box hummed to life again, and this time it showed the image of a person of Asian origin that was dressed in a pink outfit that looked like it came from ancient China. At first glance it was not clear what gender it was, or for that matter what age, which could be anything from 12 to 40. Strange.

    “Academician Zakharov,” the Cult of Planet leader said, “I am Cha Dawn, Voice of Planet. You are known to us, although we did not know that you had survived.” The voice was high pitched and without inflection that would suggest a gender.

    Zakharov’s heart sank. Prophet of Planet had all the trapping of another irrational religion, and with a self styled and self appointed prophet to boot. He knew he had to proceed carefully.

    “I understand you have had contact with the Cyborgs. We have also,” it said. “They have not been receptive to our message of peace and hope. With time you will come to know and love Planet as we do. Perhaps we can enter into an understanding?”

    He knew an opening when he saw one and smiled as widely as he could. “Yes, indeed! We would be pleased to engage with your people. Perhaps we could start with an exchange of data? That would help both of our peoples.”

    The image shifted nervously, and Zakharov wondered if he had overplayed too early. Or maybe been too eager. First contact was always perilous.

    “Yes,” it said. “We would be willing to trade technology, as long as your people enter into a friendship treaty with ours. We will not be treated as other than an equal with the Cyborgs.”

    Zakharov tried to hide his surprise. How had it found out about his conversations with Aki Zeta? More security was in order.

    “Agreed,” he said quickly. “The University of Planet will gladly enter into a friendship treaty. What sort of technical assistance would you like to discuss…?”


    Zakharov was exhausted. Cha Dawn was a tireless negotiator, and a non-linear thinker. He was in many ways the exact opposite of Aki Zeta, and perhaps the problem was that in the end he thought more like the Cyborgs than a bunch of religious fanatics who interjected about Planet all the time.

    Still, it had been fruitful. The Cult had given them Progenitor Psych and Military Know How in exchange for Polymorphic Software and Exowomb. It was a little disconcerting that they had and wanted technology with a military application, but at this point it hardly mattered.

    Another key was that he had agreed to trade his world map for Centauri Hydrology. He had jumped at the chance, especially after Cha Dawn suggested it included a map of Cyborg territory. Information was power, and this was key information.

    The map was now laid out in front of him. The Cyborgs had two smallish islands to themselves and three bases that had between three and four thousand people. Cha Dawn’s people were on a separate island, and it looked like he had only three small bases.

    But, what is this? Another color coded city? There was an embedded annotation he was able to tease out of a data layer: Gaians.

    Gaians? What were Gaians? He vaguely remembered some environmental wackos on Earth that followed a nut case Lovelock that insisted that Earth’s temperature stability through billions of years was due to a sentient Earth. What rubbish, utter tripe. He certainly hoped that a wooly faction had not taken over one of the pods from Unity.

    But, there was more. It looked like one of Cha Dawn’s bases was a Gaian icon. Zakharov frowned. That could only mean one thing: war. Those beastly religious fanatics were starting wars again, but now instead of bleating about a fictionalized martyr called Jesus or Muhammad they had a new image of devotion, and they were using it as an excuse to sheath their swords in the beating hearts of their enemies.

    That was distressing. But it was an opportunity. Perhaps Cha Dawn would give him the communication frequency to these Gaians. He didn’t want to push the subject, oh no. There was nothing to be gained by brow beating a religious fanatic – until he was ready to do it for real and could defend against what they might throw at him.

    In general, though, it seems the University was much more diversified with a much larger population, number of bases, available (if limited) territory, and resources. Competition was inevitable, but Zakharov knew that he must keep the University from falling behind. After all, he had a ambitious if friendly Cyborg, a religious fanatic, and perhaps an environmental loony to contend with.


    HIVE 2148, Office of the Fire Marshall

    “What have I done!”

    “Perhaps the Chairman will be generous Marshall; you did destroy the tower as ordered.”

    “Yes but the cost!” Fire Marshal Yazov moaned as he cradled his head in his hands. “Two full fire brigades destroyed and a scout rover company from the PRIME as well, all gone!”

    08BRAVO, Fire Marshall’s Yazov aide-de-camp had no reply. The field commanders had all warned Yazov that more fungus had to be removed before they made the attack but he had ordered them in anyway. After the first brigade had been wiped out he threw in more and more until two full brigades were gone and scout rover regiment as well. The battle had last a full three days as more Firemen were thrown into the fray which eventually resulted in victory but at a high cost.

    The communication channel from Chairman Yang’s office buzzed.

    Yazov looked at his aide for a few seconds, fear displayed on both of their faces. Yazov eventually broke the spell but nodding to his aide to activate the system.

    “Report Fire Marshall!” Yang’s voice sounded mechanical.

    “The tower is destroyed Chairman.” Yazov said weakly.

    “Good.” Yang replied in the same tone. “Begin operations to recover the planet pearls.”

    “Already done Chairman.” Yazov quickly answered his voice slightly stronger.

    “Our losses?” Yang asked flatly.

    “Considerable Chairman.” Yazov began hesitantly. “We lost two brigades and the scout rovers from the Prime.”

    As soon as Yazov finished he knew he had signed his death warrant. For a few minutes there was no response.

    “Acceptable losses Fire Marshall. You achieved the task I gave you. I know those brigades were not as highly trained or equipped as the newer brigades we are raising so their loss is balanced with the collection of the pearls and clearing the mesa of the fungus. You have done as you were directed.” Yang finished with no emotion in his voice.

    “Then you are not mad?” Yazov asked incredulously. As soon as it had popped out of his mouth he knew he had been a fool to say it.

    “Mad, what is anger?” Yang started coldly. “I commanded you to destroy the tower, you did so. How you accomplished the task I left to you. You completed the task, there is nothing more to say. We need to break a few eggs to make omelets my dear Fire Marshall. Poorly equipped troops with little hope of improving their efficiency is no great loss to me, is it to you?” The question seemed to hang there for a few seconds. “I don’t think it is. The question will be is how soon you can replace these troops to maintain order within the collective. Should riots or disruptions result from your action then you will be held accountable. Let me be clear on that right now Fire Marshall.”

    Yazov mumbled something in reply that was unintelligible.

    “I see.” Yang said slowly. “We shall see if you made the right choices or not Fire Marshall, we shall see.”


    University Base, MY 2149

    “Has the Consciousness removed their colony pod from our territory yet? It seems to be sitting in a forest near Pavlov Biolab,” Mr. Kline stated.

    “No, it is still there. It appears the transport it arrived on has departed.” The voice over the wireless was a little distinct and cut out now and then.

    Gregory fumed. While they were there the road was effectively blocked and they prevented to colonists at Biolab from harvesting the resources of the sector. This would have been much more serious if the forest hadn’t have spread recently.

    “Very well. Keep me apprised of any changes. Anything else?”

    “Yes. We’ve just established our ninth colony at Korlev Center. They are also utilizing a recently planted forest, and per your instructions we’ve just authorized them to rush build their terraformer. Our last colony pod is likely to set up to the far northwest within a few years, if the roads are finished on time.”

    “Good. Very good. And our possible new colony area to the east?”

    “Confirmed. The forest has spread into the fungus, which will mean a colony will have some sectors of resources to utilize. Also, our scout to the far northeast has verified that the entire area is covered to fungus to near the far cost. Land there is arid. We may be able to get a colony pod there, but it will definitely be a challenge. I suspect there will not be feasible for some time.

    “Understood, James. Good work. Call in at the same time next week.”



    HIVE 2149, Chairman Yangs chambers

    “This report is very positive Zho.”

    “I would agree Chairman wholeheartedly.”

    Yang continued to read the e-pad for nearly 20 more minutes silently and then looked up Zho and handed him the e-pad back.

    “We know have four Hive collectives established, our research rate is very good considering and we according to the report they think they will make a breakthrough by next turn, is that how I understand it Zho?” Yang asked.

    “Yes Chairman, just so. As to what exactly the breakthrough will be and in what cycle of next turn who can say. The scientists have many projects that they think will bear fruit soon.” Zho replied quickly.

    “Yes.” Yang began a slight hint of annoyance in his voice. “Never anything exactly, just a good guess on their part. Will they had better guess well for their sakes.”

    “Yes.” Zho said quietly.

    “Our treasury is in good order I see.” Yang commented again.

    “Yes.” Zho replied. “The destruction of the tower and several worm clusters has netted us nearly 70 megacredits worth of energy to be used as you see fit Chairman. We could complete any number of capital equipment projects early or save it for our major project, the command nexus.”

    “Our project Zho?” Yang replied softly with a hint of question in his voice.

    Zho stopped what he was about to say and then blinked suddenly and then gulped. Zho stood there for what seemed like an eternity not saying anything.

    Yang watched his long time aide with pleasure yet not showing it. Even one as intimate as Zho knew the limits of his part, his role within the collective.

    “Zho you looked troubled?” Yang began softly. “Is something amis?”

    “No Chairman.” Zho said humbly.

    “Good, pray continue.” Yang replied flatly.

    Zho took a deep breath and continued the report and review with Yang filling in additional facts and observations that had not made it into the full report.

    “Excellent Zho, most excellent.” A pleased Yang said. “We shall continue with our rapid expansion program as quickly as possible. We should have another two cities up and running within the decade and another four the decade after that and then we can really begin the true collectivization of the Hive conscience.”

    Zho bowed deeply in agreement and said nothing, thankful to be alive.


    • #17
      University Base, MY 2150

      Amy Constance walked in to the Council room early. Zakharov was sitting at the table and nervously tapping a stylus.

      She smiled at his obviously pensive mood. “Problem?”

      “Yes,” he replied. I called Cha Dawn to ask about the ‘Gaian’ communication frequency. First he demanded technology, which I declined to give him. Then he said the frequency would cost 50 megacredits. 50! When I offered to trade technology for it he babbled about the frequency being a ‘state secret’. Not very successful. I really wanted to talk to these Gaians.”

      “Well, you could wait until we have 50 megacredits. Seems simple enough.”

      “That is a LOT of energy. We have a surplus of 11 megacredits a year now, and we seem to burn through it pretty fast to finish facilities, terraformers and the like.”

      “Then we’ll have to change priorities, if we want to talk to these Gaians. Or you could contact the Cyborgs again. They may already have the frequency from the Cult.”

      Zakarov’s head snapped up. “Excellent idea! I’ll put that on the agenda for next week! Now, any chance you could give me a preview of Gregory’s report before the Council files in. We have about 15 minutes.”

      “First, the recreation commons was finished at University Base and we now have restarted the Rejuvenation Tanks. It was a shame to have to transfer the resources, but it is better to have all 3000 of our population fully productive. Let’s see…,” she said as she scrolled through her datapad. “We allocated 11 megacredits to finish the recycling tank at Zvedny Goroduck. Oh, and the anomalies near Pavlov Biolab and Korolev Center have been investigated. The anomaly near Pavlov had a very strange monolith which seems to transmit energy and make the land around it strangely productive. It also has an odd effect on living organisms. It is clearly alien, and we’ll have to study the artifact. Korolev Center was a Unity pod with enough resources to finish their recycling tank. With that we will have three completed recycling tanks, which will boost the productive ability of the cities noticeably.

      “And we have finished a solar panel at both Zvedny Gorodock and University Base. As expected, this has significantly increased our energy generation, which rolls down into our higher laboratory output and energy surplus.”

      “Well,” Zakharov said, “That’s decent news. And is that Cyborg colony pod still parked in our forest?”


      “Hmph. My guess is that it will be there for a long while. We’ll have to be neighborly to the Cyborgs.”

      There was a pair of footsteps approaching. “Finished none too soon. Thanks for the update. Appearing all knowing is part of the role of faction leader, don’t you think?”


      HIVE 2150, Main dockyard of HIVE – 4

      “You call this a dockyard?”

      “Look Captain it’s the best we can do, at least your ship is tied up safe and sound.”

      Gregor looked around again at the fragile and hastily constructed dockyard and flinched. It was crudely built from stones excavated from the construction of HIVE-4. The stone and rubble and been piled to form a jetty and from that jetty plas-steel pilings had been driven into the bay to form the docks. Along the shoreline the remaining stone had been piled up to form a breakwater and beyond that was the main entrance to HIVE-4.

      “Honestly Captain, I know it’s nothing to look at but over there we have channeled out a dry dock that can easily fit your transport. Later today we will tow it over there and then close the outer doors and begin pumping. By morning your ship will be ready for service crews to begin repairs. Chairman Yang himself has authorized that all of HIVE-4 resources to be put at your disposal.” The dockyard chief added happily.

      On the man’s overalls stitched on his right pocket was 09KILO-23412.

      “What is that.” Gregor asked pointing at the man’s pocket.

      “Why my name of course!” The dockyard manager laughed. “What would you think it was!”

      “What do you mean by that, your name.” Gregor scoffed. “My name is Alexander Dimitrov Gregor. All of my crew has names like that as well.”

      “Well, so you do.” 09KILO said softly. “I don’t know for how long though. I know that some of your crew has already been transferred to other tasks and when that was done they got their Hive designations. For some, like the chiefs, like you I suppose get to keep their old names as a sign of your commitment to Chairman Yang and the sacrifice you make to our cause that goes far and above what we drones do.”

      Gregor could only stare at the man in disbelief and terror. How could have Yang transformed the early colonists into number wearing drones in a manner of a few decades. It seems insane he thought.

      “Sure, 9KILO.” Gregor began but got cut off.

      “NO!” The dockyard chief fired back. “That is ZERO-NINE-KILO!

      Gregor looked around in stunned apprehension. This man who had been reduced to a number and letter combination was now upset that he forgot the zero in front of his name. It was almost laughable.

      “Your orders from the Chairman.” 09KILO handed over an e-pad.

      Gregor flipped the e-pad open and activated the device. He noticed that it was not an earth built e-pad but one manufactured here on Chiron.

      Gregor quickly read through the first half which detailed his re-supply and re-furbishing of the PRIME. When he got to the last part his heart stopped. Back after another pod floating just off shore.

      Damn the luck! Gregor fumed as he closed the e-pad and handed it back.

      “Be glad and happy you are 09KILO and not Captain Gregor.” Gregor said sourly.

      “I always am!” 09KILO said in his now usual cheerful voice.


      University Base, MY 2151

      “Our latest breakthrough is in Industrial Base. This is a natural outgrowth of Renewable Energy Resources, and it has a few key advantages,” Amy explained. It almost appeared the rest of the Council was ignoring her, but in reality they were engrossed in various elements of the technical specifications of Industrial Base.

      She continued. “First, it will allow us to construct mines, which previous to this we could not do in any systematic fashion. Granted we were able to extract mineral resources, but as with so many things on Chiron the rules are just ever so slightly different. The key was a little automation that allows more productivity so that the efforts are less labor intensive. Now when a squad of workers goes to a mining sector they will not have to dig and haul. All they’ll have to do is direct and manage, and that makes all the difference.

      “Second, we no longer have mineral restrictions. This is also due to automation, and the effects have already been felt. We have seen the three alien boreholes that lies between University Base, Tsiolovski Institute, and Zvedny Gorodock. Previously these were seen as wondrous constructions, but we were not able to utilize their ancient resources. Now, ladies and gentlemen, we can. University Base and Zvedny Gorodock are now harvesting resources from these artifacts, which has resulted in an enormous increase in industrial potential. University Base will now produce the Rejuvenation Tanks in a mere 16 years, and Zvedny Gorodock will finish their recreation commons in a mere four years. Within a year Tsiolovski Institute will once again have 2000 citizens, and then they too will be able to utilize the third borehole. This alone will put us head and shoulders above the other factions here on Chiron since resources give options.

      “Third, we will now be able to prototype a new type of armor – Kevlar. This has been around for almost 200 years, but with Industrial Base we can mass produce it for any military units. We all know that there is evidence of war already on Chiron; human nature it seems cannot be suppressed. Now we can prepare and defend ourselves. Our defensive garrisons could be built on as infantry with Kevlar armor and trance defense. This is much superior to what we currently have, which are mere scout patrols.

      “Fourth, we have the option of changing our social engineering economic model. Our Planned economy is useful for centralizing production and encouraging growth, which are all good goals. But they are limited economically and also have an intrinsic inefficiency. With Industrial Base we have a new form of economy – Private/Protectionist, where we gain a huge energy production potential at the expense of industry and city support. Any change will be quite expensive – 40 megacredits – but it will be worth it when we are ready. At this time we are in agreement that this is too great a change.

      “Lastly, I regret to inform you that our research rate has decreased to every 15 years. The combination of the scientific advanced we traded to the Cyborgs and Cult will take considerable efforts to assimilate, and laboratory output has correspondingly slowed. While this is regrettable perhaps it will give us time to incorporate these abilities more fully into our society. Our scientific output will increase as our bases expand their potential, so this will not be a permanent situation. But, rest assured that we will need to be diligent and make sure our infrastructure keeps up with growth. All bases that exceed 2000 citizens will have problems with unrest, and we will need to do what we can to deal with this problem.

      “Thank you for your time and I look forward to any questions.” Amy finished and sat down. There were no questions. All she saw were intense faces and a few smiles.


      HIVE 2151, the far northern frontier

      “Do you hear me! Does anyone hear me!”

      Static, nothing but static.

      87TANGO laughed to himself as he tore the headset free and flung it out into the see of fungus all around him. The headset happened to hit one of the wrecked rovers from another team as it bounced to the ground.

      The fungus seem to seethe all around him and flow with an energy he could not believe. So far out, in the frontier the fungus was alive, was sentient! This he and all of his now dead Firemen knew so painfully.

      The fungus and all of their minions the worms and spore launchers they had destroyed and destroyed again and again showed an intelligence that went far above animal that was to be sure.

      The fungus had surrounded them, channeled them and wore them down until only he remained. The last Fireman from tanker unit #2.

      The re-breather mask was getting hot on his face and he loosened the straps. The last bottle of fresh O2 was on his back and most likely was nearly out, he didn’t even have the strength to look at the gauge on his belt.

      Suddenly the sky was dark with a mass that seemed to fill the whole sky and 87TANGO looked up to see a storm of spores spreading in the air and coming down on him. When they hit, he would be dead, he knew this and the pain would beyond anything he could imagine.

      Quickly 87TANGO removed his pistol and shoved the muzzle past his mask and into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

      Sweet bliss.


      University Base, MY 2152

      Gregory Kline was silent for once.

      “And why do we have riots at Tsiolovski Institute and New Azamas? Nothing has changed, but yet there are riots?” Zakharov was one step from furious.

      “We don’t know, Academician. It seemed to be spontaneous, with no real cause.” Then he fell silent again and Zakharov was left standing in front of the Council room with a sour look on his face.

      “Prokhor, if I may?” Amy Constance interjected. Zakharov looked at her and she continued as if he had given his assent.

      “I believe this is a result of our economic model. Let me explain. As our society establishes more bases and each base has a higher population the requirements for efficiently running the social order become ever greater. This isn’t an arithmetic progression, but rather more like a geometric progression when you consider both the horizontal and vertical components.

      “Our Planned economy sacrifices the efficiency of the allocation of resources in favor or industrial production and growth. This means our ability to govern will be limited, and that the greater complexity will be beyond our grasp. When we established our tenth base a few months ago we evidently hit the tipping point. We are no longer able to get the resources that are needed, resulting in social disorder. Moreover, the base commanders don’t have the infrastructure to keep their societies in good order, either.

      “Remember, with our Technocratic society we do not have police to help keep order. We will either need to build infrastructure like recreation commons or change our social model. For instance, we could enact a Police State. That would give us plenty of police power – a repressive ability to ensure order – but at the cost of research.

      “So we have a choice: abandon our Planned economy, establish a Police State, or live with the disorder we see and build infrastructure as we can. None of these options is optimal, but some are worse than others.

      “Prokhor Zakharov, we have to decide. What do you say?”


      • #18
        HIVE 2152, The harbor to HIVE-4

        “We have cleared the breakers Captain!”

        Gregor just nodded and continued to look forward into the morning light. Somewhere out there a the coordinates given to him by HIVE intelligence a Unity pod has his name on it, or so he hoped. They had marked it on their way in and now it was time to got ‘fetch it’ as someone had phrased it, now they were doing just that.

        “Captain, do you think once we recover the pod we can go back?” The PRIME’s helmsman asked hopefully.

        “Sure Jory, I think we might, it all depends.” Gregor said flatly.

        To say anymore more would be to deny the truth and to lie. He knew that Yang would keep them out here as long as it took to find more and more and more UNITY pods or until they died in the attempt.

        It was like working on a bomb squad. Each and every day you knew it could be your last but like watching a train wreck you just kept getting up each and day doing it again when your common sense said to stay in bed.

        “Make full revolutions now, max speed to the marker.” Gregor ordered as he turned his chair about and began to sit up and leave the bridge.

        The crew quickly carried out his orders, even the new ones that replaced the lost crewmen who had been transferred or died during their long voyage.

        The new ‘kids’ as Gregor called them were all good that he could see so far but the chief of the boat had other thoughts on the matter and was making the new crewmembers lives hell. What made it even worse was the fact that the old ‘salts’ of the ship refused to call the new crewmembers by their HIVE designations. Already the old hands had given nicknames to all of the new crew members and acknowledge them only by those nicknames. It was tough to settle the arguments but in time it would work itself out especially when they found that pod. If the crew would not work together then, well Gregor thought, they were all done for it then.


        Lomonosov Park, MY 2153

        Gregor Kline looked to the north and shuddered. There it was, there it always was – a towering mass of languidly pulsing tendrils as thick as his waist, twisted-looking protrusions all over, a trunk that had to be 100 meters in diameter, and it was 50 meters high at its crest. In short, it was a monster, and it was adjacent to his new base Lomonosov Park – the University’s tenth.

        L-Park, as it was known, was not a popular assignment for colonists. The fungal tower was only part of the problem. While many bases were adjacent to fungus, this base was surrounded by fungus on all sides but one. Close proximity made most people nervous. The vids were already buzzing about the small spoor launcher that a scouting team had destroyed. It had been a near thing, and now the scouting team was trapped far from home. True, they had gotten a good haul of Chiron Pearls, but the cost was horrendous.

        And this Fungal Tower made the spoor launcher look like a pipsqueak. Looking at it the tower didn’t look like it had grown so much as accreted. Segments along its wide base and trunk had a starkly different hue, and the textures of parts of the tops just didn’t match. Each tendril was unique or at least widely different, and not just in size. Some of the tendrils reached the ground, others were short and stubby, and yet others had what looked frighteningly like graspers that quivered whenever a human got anywhere near it. For all the world it looked like the beat just couldn’t make up its mind, or that it was a composite that just sort of…happened.

        Perhaps that shouldn’t be such a surprise. After all, the mindworms and spoor launchers were colonial creatures whose individual members had little or no intelligence, but as a whole were a terrifyingly intelligent creature. For all appearances this fungal tower was built along the same idea but with a vastly different plan.

        On Earth there were creatures as disparate as a sea mammal as long as a soccer field, bacteria that thrived in boiling water, sea crabs that never saw sunlight, kangaroos the size of your palm, and frogs that lived in the desert. Why should Chiron be any less diversity?

        Gregor just wished that Chiron’s diversity wasn’t so mind numbingly frightening. At least sometimes.

        HIVE 2153, Inner chambers of Chairman Yang

        “The report is good?”

        “To a point.”

        Zho did not say anything else until Yang spoke again.

        “It is good that Captain Gregor got the PRIME clear of that isle of the deep in time. The longer we wait to pick up those pods the better the chances that the native life on Chiron will eat through the casings and make them useless to us.” Yang said as he turned off the e-pad and sat it down on his desk.

        “True.” Zho said thoughtfully. “The 3rd tankers also achieved a measure of success as well in finding that monolith. Already the colonists at HIVE – 4 have begun to cultivate that area around the monolith and harness the energy from it. Our energy supplies continue to grow it seems.”

        “True to a point Zho.” Yang replied and they waited for a minute before continuing. “We are about to nearly double the number of colonies of the HIVE. Three colony pods are nearly done and within 5 turns we will have a total of 7 cities in all. What concerns me is the need to be sure we have selected the correct Seneschals for these colonies and stewards and foreman and lastly drones. I want no chance of any colony getting the idea that the HIVE principles or ideology can be dispensed with. The completion of the command nexus becomes all the more crucial.”

        “I agree Chairman. We are close to completing the project. Just another 22 turns and it is done and soon we can begin another project as well, either the rejuvenation tanks or the echelon park.” Zho replied as he walked over to Yang to pick up the e-pad.

        “Yes, yes.” Yang said softly. “I want to make sure first we complete a second wave of training for a additional units of Firemen. So long as our Firemen are prepared and on duty to maintain the discipline of the HIVE collective we can continue our work in peace.”

        “Very true Chairman.” Zho said as he bowed to Yang and backed out of the room slowly.

        Yang sat quietly for some time pondering options and plans until all through the night.


        University Base, MY 2154

        This time there would be no late night call to other factions, hurried and unprepared. No, this time Zakharov was ready and had a plan. Not it remained to be seen if it would work.

        First, his former colleague Aki Zeta-5 of the Consciousness. He activated her communication signal and was rewarded with a fairly prompt reply.

        “Academician, it is good to see you again,” she said without preamble. “What may the Consciousness do for you?”

        Zakharov leaned forward. “It has been some time since we talked. In our first meeting we had an extraordinary exchange that benefited both our peoples. Perhaps we could exchange technology? Or communication frequencies?”

        “I regret to inform you that we have made no new discoveries since our last exchange. The Consciousness is also unaware of any other factions besides yours and the Cult of Planet. We will be pleased to contact you when we are ready to exchange data.”

        He knew Aki well enough to know that this was the end of the conversation. She had little understanding and less patience for small talk. “Very well. The University of Planet looks forward to any future exchange.”

        Aki nodded once and terminated the frequency.

        “Damn,” Zakharov said under his breath. He had hoped that the Consciousness’ research ability and their territory’s rich supply of monoliths would have given them access to new technology they could exchange. But, perhaps she just didn’t want to exchange her technology? She understood well enough advantage and a lie to keep such an advantage would be perfectly within the bounds of her algorithm.

        That was all speculation, of course - now, to the somewhat disturbing Cha Dawn of the Cult of Planet. The name alone made him somewhat uncomfortable, but it is what it is. He activated the communication link.

        Within minutes the child like face and oddly pink Mao suited figure appeared. He looked…annoyed. Much more than the last time they had talked, in fact.

        “The Cult of Planet acknowledges you, Prokhor Zakharov. I surely hope you have business of importance to discuss.”

        “Indeed I do,” he replied. “In our last meeting we were able to exchange technology to both of our advantage. Perhaps in the intervening years we now have other information we can exchange?”

        “No, we do not. But your faction can assist the Voice in its work by gifting us the data on Industrial Base,” he – it? – said.

        It was a vague threat and a demand. Zakharov resisted the urge to scowl. How had they learned of this? “No, I’m afraid we exchange data. At this time the University of Planet is not prepared to gift information. But, perhaps we can come to an agreement on the communication frequency of another faction?” He left the question open to see what would happen.

        “We would be willing to sell you the frequency of the degenerate Gaians for 25 megacredits of energy,” the Voice said. He had a little smile on his face which Zakharov thought indicated that he considered this a lofty price. Well, little did he know.

        “Agreed: 25 megacredits for the communication frequency of the Gaians. Is there anything else you’d wish to exchange?”

        “The Voice is fully occupied with other matters. Thank you for your time,” the Voice said and then ended the communication frequency.

        Zakharov smiled. Somehow the price of the frequency had declined, which was surely not a bad thing. He goggled the energy transfer and was rewarded with a coded transmission – the frequency of Lady Skye of the Gaians.

        Deirdre Skye! He had to say he was honestly surprised. The Deirdre he remembered from Unity was a practical zenobiologist and botanist and hardly one to entertain woolly ideas like the Gaian hypothesis. It was all quite ridiculous, of course, and had no basis in fact whatsoever. Still, that hardly mattered.

        He toggled in the coded frequency and got a rather startled technician. After he gave his credentials he had to wait for well over 45 minutes, but was then rewarded with the image of none other than Deirdre Skye. She looked as comely as ever with raven hair, which was now held in check with a hair net studded with small semi precious stones. She looked tanned and fit, as she always had, and had on an arresting green tunic.

        She smiled. “Zakharov! I am SO glad to hear from you, and thrilled that you survived Unity! That was over 50 hard years ago now. Hard to believe. How have you been? Are you doing well?” She shook her head. “Sorry, I’ll slow down. It’s just that I have so many questions, and you’re the second group of humans we’ve had contact with.” Deirdre stopped. “You’ve contacted Cha Dawn?”

        “Yes. He sold me your communication frequency, which I was only too happy to get. As to how we’re doing, we have expanded somewhat and are holding our own. It took a good long time to figure out how to survive on Chiron…”

        “We call it Planet,” Dee interrupted.

        “Yes, Planet. The University of Planet is more than interested in establishing beneficial relations with all survivors, of course. Now, tell me something of how you have done?”

        “Initially fairly well. Planet is not designed for humans, but we figured out how to survive pretty quickly. We expanded to four bases, and then we encountered Cha Dawn. His has proven to be hostile, and he declared war many years ago. They took one of our bases and are pressing Glowmite. We can’t let him have it since it has our pride and joy, the Weather Paradigm! His war was unprovoked. Will you consider helping us?”

        Dee’s face now showed pain, and Zakharov did feel for her. He already knew from the Cult maps that they had captured a Gaian base and the location of Glomite Towers. The fact they had completed a Project was news, however. It was clear the Cult was as aggressive as he had feared, and was unlikely to remain a good neighbor. Deirdre had always been a good scientist and a colleague, so he made an offer.

        “We are not in a position to support the war directly, but we could gift you some technology of your choice, perhaps in exchange for your world map?”

        Deirdre smiled. “That we can easily arranged! Can you give me an outline of what you have?”

        Zakahrov squirted her a summary of their technical achievements, which she reviewed as he watched.

        “How about Exowomb?” she asked.

        “Done. Is there anything else?”

        “Would you be willing to enter into a friendship treaty?”

        “Of course,” he said. “Anything else?”

        “No. I’ll keep in touch though. Based on your transmission coordinates it looks like you’re fairly far away,” she said, and sounded somewhat sad or disappointed. “Good luck, Prokhor.”

        The link died. Zakharov sat back. It had been good to talk to Deirdre, but her situation was likely to get worse. Her decision to take Exowomb was not a good one. Considering the Cult was at her gates why hadn’t she selected Industrial Base for the defensive armor, or Military Know How for offensive weapons?

        Deirdre was likely to be a friend, but how do you help a friend that won’t help themselves?


        HIVE 2154, The command nexus operations center ( under construction )

        “Chairman Yang it is so good of you to stop in and grace us with a visit.”

        “Stop with the platitudes Foreman 09YANKEE and give me an update as to the project.”

        Yang waited as Foreman 09YANKEE quickly collected some e-pads and scanned them briefly before beginning.

        Yang waited, somewhat impatiently which was uncharacteristic of him. Perhaps he had failed earlier in the day during his meditation to achieve the inner calm.

        “To begin Chairman we are on track. The project will be completed within the next 2 decades. Any new cities we build will be instantly ‘linked’ to the nexus and as part of that each Firehouse will have a complete training and indoctrination center for the new recruits.” 09YANKEE said pleased with himself.

        “I would be happy to see the construction done sooner if it at all possible. Could we use the artifact to assist us.” Yang asked his words sprinkled with a slight nuisance of impatience.

        “We could Chairman and it could easily reduce construction by another decade if we use up it’s power supply to aid construction. However, I am told once we use up its internal power supply any information locked within it is useless to us.” The foreman quickly responded.

        “It does us no good now since we have not the means to unlock the information. Proceed as directed and at the appropriate point, use the artifact as directed.” Yang commanded as he stood up to leave with his Firemen in tow and Zho his assistant.

        “Is it truly wise Chairman to use the device?” Zho asked hesitantly.

        “Yes.” Yang said flatly a sure sign the conversation was over.

        Yang walked back quickly to his private chambers. While returning he was well pleased to see the thousands of drones laboring efficiently in the warrens that housed the various operations and manufacturing cells for the Hive. Zho had told him earlier that HIVE – PRIME would reach 3,000 drones within a few more turns, growth was always good.


        University Base, MY 2155

        “Mr. Kline, 44 megacredits is a lot of energy. I fully understand that production at Tsiolovski Insititute has been crippled by their ongoing unrest, but this is fully two thirds of our treasury! Please illustrate how the benefits of the recreation commons will equal the magnitude of this investment,” Immanuel Florence stated.

        “The mathematical cost benefit analysis is straight forward,” Gregory Kline said. “Currently there are over 2000 citizens at Institute, and due to the unrest fully half are unproductive since they are either mismanaged, needed to keep a minimum of order, or fomenting chaos. The area is pretty desolate except for a few forests and a single farmed sector, and due to staffing limitation they can only harvest the resources of one sector, which is currently the farm. To do otherwise will result in starvation.

        “But, let me remind everyone that this desolate area has a resources we’ve started harvesting – the ancient borehole cluster. University Base has managed to gather an astounding 6 megatons of raw materials a year from the borehole we are able to utilize, as is Zvedny Gorodock. Nothing – and I mean nothing – is as productive in terms of industrial power as these ancient structures.

        “If order was maintained at Institute then those that are causing and managing the disorder could be put to good use by harvesting the resources of the borehole. There are only three, but one will serve each base and will yield both the sex megatons of minerals and also a goodly amount of energy – all of which we can readily use.

        “This investment in 44 megacredits will allow us to finish the recreation commons 11 years early. During this time we will be able to harvest 66 megatons of resources and 22 megajoules of energy that we otherwise would not be able to harvest. Together this is twice the investment, so it will be paid off in a mere 6 years and after that the production increases will be fully profitable.

        “Let me illustrate. During this 11 years with this increased production we can construct half a major Project, two infrastructure facilities, one major infrastructure facility, four additional terraformers, three military units, four defensive units – need I go on? In short, this investment will the key to unlocking the productive power of the boreholes, and giving us a much better chance of going beyond survival to thriving on our new home Chiron.

        “This will also allow us to consider other rush completions, Mr. Florence. For instance, your home city of New Azamas is similarly afflicted by chaos, which prevents your people from utilizing the farmed rainy sector with a new solar panel. Likewise, a pair of terraformers will be moving to construct our first mine on the mineral lode near your city. Unfortunately your recreation commons is not yet far enough along for us to complete it quickly, but that day will come soon. Our energy reserves are increasing at 17 megajoules a year, so completing your infrasturucture project will not be out of reach is, say, two years. Then the productive potential of your home will also be unlocked, and it will ultimately be greater than that of Institute due to the fertile land you are blessed with.”

        Gregory looked at Immanuel and knew he had won him over. Then he shifted his gaze to the rest of the Council and then to Zakharov. The Academician was not fidgeting or displaying any of his typical mannerisms that indicated he was irritated or board. No, he was attentive. That was a good sign.

        “Council members, you have the facts in front of you and I look forward to your recommendation,” he said and sat down.

        “Well,” Zakharov said. “I believe I’ve heard enough. I am in favor of this proposal. All in favor please say ‘aye’.”

        The verdict was unanimous in favor, and Gregory smiled.


        • #19
          HIVE 2155, The southern slopes of the great mesa

          “Why did we get the **** job again!”

          “You do as your told 02GAMMA and be glad of it and that’s that!”

          “Yea but why did the other crews pull the good duty of building farms or roads and we got stuck, yet once again burning fungus!” 02GAMMA moaned.

          “Look, get back to work right now before I jam this flame rack up your ass so far you will be breathing flames!” 22LIMA bellowed back and threatening his fire rack in a gesture that left no room for doubt.

          02GAMMA turned and stalked off to continue burning fungus again and left 22LIMA grinning but just for a few minutes. It was **** work and he knew it but they all had their jobs and needed to get it done.

          22LIMA looked back towards the massive crawler and groaned. The thing was his home and jail all rolled into one. As much as he hated it he loved it. The city drones lived underground all of their lives toiling under the weight of tons upon tons of living rock and never seeing the lights of the Chiron sky.

          The great mesa was quickly becoming a garden spot and he and his crew were responsible for it. New forests, roads and now farms and solar collectors would be filling the great plateau. Soon the next wave of colony pods would be leaving the production warrens nestled deep within the HIVE cities and trundling up the ramps to the surface to their future homes. Soon the HIVE would be comprised of seven vast cities all built deep within the bedrock of Chiron and on the surface would be the lush farms and forests that he had built.

          22LIMA shrugged and turned on the fuel for his flame rack and then aimed it a large clump of fungus and pulled the trigger. A gout of liquid flame erupted from the end of the rack and seared the ground where the fungus had been to smoldering ash.

          Yes 22LIMA thought this was the way to build their new world, the new people of Chiron by burning this putrid pink fungus from the precious soil of Chiron inch by inch.


          Tsiolovski Institute, MY 2156

          Lieutenant Tal Talx was feeling rather old. By most standards he was only in late middle age and not old at all, especially when the horizon of ‘old’ was generally always 10 years away. Now, that made him grin. In 10 years he’d be 59, and that was surely old. But then in another 10 years he’d be 69, and that was really old.

          Ah, it was a fun game, but it didn’t take the edge off the fact that life at Institute had become mundane, and that likely fueled the feelings of lethargy and of being…old. As a mid level officer he reported for duty every day – early as a rule – and worked with over eager subordinates and squads of youngsters, most of whom had parents who could have been his child. Each was a boundless mass of unfocused energy, even the young officers, but he taught them the ropes. After doing this for almost a decade it got rather…old. Predictable. Sedentary.

          For all the complaining he did with his squad when they were exploring the northern portions of their small continent at least he was doing something new, and going placed no one had ever seen before. The fungus did just look the same from a distance, but up close every forest was different. All the vistas were unique, even if they were a tad boring as unending arid plains. He’d seen a fungal tower for the first time, and his squad was the first to issue a report to an amazed Council, and nothing much surprised them, or at least they didn’t admit to being surprised. Must be part of the job description. When they’d found the northern coast with its tiny strips of non-fungus infested land that was a first. The warm almost tropical breezes were refreshing, if you ignored the fact that water was scarce and food was even scarcer, unless you liked a severe case of fungal diarrhea. He shuddered at that thought.

          The exploring days were over, though. For all practical purposes all the land had been explored and the scouts were only scouring the edges trying to see a little farther out to sea. Now that they knew the layout of the Consciousness’, Cult’s, and Gaian lands it was clear that their portion of Chiron was dominated by the sea, and no one had much use for exploration of the sea. The idea had been floated, if the pun could be forgiven, many times but the answer was always the same: when we have more resources, when such-and-such a project is done, when the young base gets on its feet. The arguments went on and on.

          In the meantime the unexplored areas of Chiron remained unexplored. Who knows what might be found: a real continent, new life forms, another surviving faction from Unity, or maybe even the aliens that build the Borehole Cluster and all the monoliths so long ago.

          That was where the true adventure was, and by the time the eggheads at University Base got around to it Tal new he would be too old. So he sucked it up and continued with his life, such as it was: training recruits, bashing heads now and then, and feeling somewhat empty.


          HIVE 2156, Chambers of the People

          “I have grave news to report Chairman.”

          “I know.”

          Fire Marshal Yazov was startled by Yang’s comment and tried to hide his shock as best he could. How could have Yang found out when he just found out less than an hour ago.

          “Chairman my Firemen have reported that two large fungal spore throwers have advanced on Collective territory from the north and from the east. The northern spore thrower has just struck at HIVE – 3 and my staff believes the eastern one will move against our newest colony, HIVE – 5.” Yazov reported as calmly as he could. He still felt that his voice quavered with an edge of apprehension and fear.

          “Your plans?” Yang asked smoothly.

          “We are moving Fire brigades from HIVE – 3 and our 3rd tanker brigade from HIVE -2 to intercept and destroy.” Yazov added quickly.

          “Then there is nothing else?” Yang asked questioningly.

          “The northern spore launcher has destroyed some infrastructure, a road leading to the colony site for HIVE – 6.” Yazov quickly added amazed that Yang seemed to already know this information as well.

          “I want no further damage to the people’s property Fire Marshall, is that clear!” Yang’s voice bit like cold steel.

          “Clear Chairman.” Yazov said as quickly as he could.

          “Good.” Yang began again in his smooth and reassuring voice. “Deal with the alien vectors and return the precious planet pearls and it will go far as compensation for the loss of our property. I think patrols will now be required by our tankers to insure the security of the collective.”

          “I agree Chairman, I will see that it is done immediately.” Yazov quickly added his voice gaining some of it’s strength back.

          Yang said nothing more and Yazov quickly left the audience chamber of the people. It was an eerie room that Yang had constructed. A large oval room measuring over 50 meters in diameter with a doomed ceiling stretching up as high as 50 meters. The room was pitch dark with the exception of pools of light that illuminated a meter in diameter area. Yang sat in the middle of the room, or so he thought in the largest pool of light behind a simple wooden desk, bare of any paperwork or e-pads. Yang had once mentioned that the room achieved what he called the ‘infinity effect’ whatever that meant. All Yazov knew that anyone in the room felt that they were a miniscule spec in the void that the room created. Yazov reached the doors flanked by two massive Firemen. These ‘Firemen’ were of Yang’s personal guard which there were a lot of and not under his direct control. They quickly opened the doors and let him pass.


          University Base, MY 2157

          “It is all a matter of the allocation of resources,” Prokhor Zakharov explained. “Allocating 38 megacredits to finish the recreation commons at New Arzamas will allow the base administrators to harvest almost twice as many resources. Moreover, their growth is now stagnant, and with increased stability they will able to utilize the farmed rainy sector with new solar panels. The mineral lode will be finished soon, and when that is fully productive the output of the base will be similar to the best we have on Chiron.

          “Now, it is true that Planetary Archives will be growing to 3000 citizens soon and their recreation commons is not yet finished. This rush completion will take 20 megacredits. So, we have a choice: finish the recreation commons at New Arzamas or Planetary Archives – we can’t do both. What we do know is that either way we will have unrest. What should our priority be?”

          Immanuel Florence interjected, “As I recall there was an agreement to finish the recreation commons at Tsiolovski Institute and then due attention would be paid to New Arzamas. As much as I support my fellow colonists at Archives, this was a tacit agreement. It would be unfortunate if the Council were viewed as…erratic.”

          “I support that observation,” Gregory Kline said. “There was a tacit agreement, and although either project has merit I believe we are better served ensuring we keep our word, even if it does mean likely riots at Archives.”

          Zakharov frowned. He remembered the riots at St. Petersburg and in Moscow suburbs in the early 21st Century. They were unpleasant to say the least, and the Russian government had been particularly thorough in suppressing dissent. Being Russian he valued order since chaos had a tendency to spread, but the cost had to be balanced. It was best to not have unrest at all. Sometimes, however, it couldn’t be avoided without even greater cost, be it financial or political. In this instance it was political.

          “Any other opinions?” he asked. There were none. “Very well. I will side with Mr. Kline and Mr. Florence. We need to keep our agreements when we can. Further, we will be able to finish the recreation commons at Archives in the coming year, and any disruption will hopefully be minimal.

          “Other comment? None? Then the issue is decided.”


          HIVE 2157, Eastern slopes of the great mesa

          “Would you look at that thing!”

          “Can the chatter 56GOLF and begin moving your tankers into position for an attack. Fire Marshall Yazov has ordered that the spore launcher be destroyed immediately.” The radio crackled.

          56GOLF hit the mute button and leaned over to his driver.

          “Well, what the Fire Marshall wants the Fire Marshall will get but as soon as we can get through this blasted rocky terrain and align our tankers for an attack.”

          [ the northern frontier ]

          “That thing is the largest one I have ever seen!”

          “And they want us to take that out!”
          “Alright you little girls, take it easy and get on the horn back to HIVE -3 and confirm the order that they want us to attack this thing. I am not sure if we do we would have anyone left standing at the end.” 67OSCAR growled as he continued to examine the spore launcher through his electro-binoculars.

          After a few minutes the radio operator crawled over to 67OSCAR.

          “Yep, they want us to take it out.” The radioman glumly said.

          “All right then.” 67OSCAR said as he stood up and picked up his missile/gaus rifle. “Lets rip that thing to shred. Move out if we are quick we will be in position within the turn the assault it.”

          [ HIVE – 5 ]

          “What do you mean the fungus came back!”

          “Exactly that Seneschal.” The drone reported wearily. “It seems that over night, just after we set-up the colony the fungus re-grew and covered most of the terrain surrounding us and including our colony site.”

          “Well, what does that mean?” The Seneschal asked angrily. “Will we have to move?”

          “I don’t know yet Seneschal. As soon as the engineers return and inform us of the situation and what is needed to fix it we will know how to proceed.” The drone quietly said.

          “I had best inform Chairman Yang immediately and tell him of our misfortune and see what he has to say.”


          University Base, MY 2158

          Zakharov was exhausted. He’d just finished discussing matters of state with the Consciousness, Cult, and Gaians. The Gaians and Consciousness were more than friendly, as might be expected. For Lady Skye, as she styled herself now, he had decided to gift her Biogenetics. It was a basic technology, and if it would help them out all the better. She had the Cult to deal with and would need all the help she could get. She’d had no technology to trade, but had broached the subject of a Pact. Oh, he was sorely tempted since it would be very nice to have a true friend on Chiron. But it came at a price: vendetta against the Cult. He was tempted. The Cult was an odious ideology lead by a delusional moron who’s called himself the Voice of Planet, whatever that was. He babbled about being in harmony with Planet while going out of his way to stick a sword in the beating hearts of his enemies – the inoffensive and Chiron friendly Gaians. The irony and hypocrisy were not lost on him, oh no. It was a salient lesson: the Gaians could be trusted and the Cult was dangerous.

          Cha Dawn has been downright belligerent and refused to even discuss a technology trade. He was able to convince the Pinky – as he nicknamed him – to call off his war with the Gaians. Why he did this was entirely unclear, and he said he did it as a favor. Well, what he expected in return was clearly technology, of which he would get exactly nothing without a change in attitude.

          He and Aki Zeta 5 had a solicitous discussion that ranged over a large number of topics: old times, research opportunities, the mirror irritations of running a society on an alien planet. The vast majority of the discussion could be grouped into the category of ‘functional chat’. Nothing of real value was revealed, but it did strengthen their relationship. He’d agreed to sell her the Gaian communication frequency for 30 megacredits. Originally he’d been tempted to hold back and keep that as a secret weapon, but he thought the Gaians and Consciousness would get along, and that eventually they would help in the inevitable conflict with the Cult.

          Yes, war with the religious maniac was inevitable. He could deal with the Gaian’s emphasis on ecological wisdom and was willing to overlook its more mystical side since the babble about Planet was mainly for the drones anyway. Sophisticated thinkers did not need to wrap a conceptual model with mystical drivel. The Cult was altogether different since it was a true fanatical religion, and a ruthless and brutal one at that.

          In the end weren’t all religions brutal and ruthless? Yes, they were. Each insisted that their fairy tales were Truth, and that all that didn’t hue to their Truth were going to die forever and were cursed by God. This made the ‘other’ less than human, and it was an easy move from dehumanizing an unbeliever to decided they would be converted or put out of their misery. They were going to burn forever, so who cares if you kill some infidels or unrepentant sinners? It made not one mote of difference whether the god was God, Allah, Planet, Baal, the Sun, Buddha, ancient ancestors, or a pink dragon in your basement – they all were equally delusional, and dangerous.

          Zakharov had to admit that religion did serve a purpose: it kept the drones happy, distracted, a simple set of rules (obey your leaders, follow the Law, kill the infidel), and easy to control by self-appointed leaders. But the time for such simple thinking was long past. Religion would have to be degraded and gradually eliminated. Chiron would be the place where the End Of Faith would begin, and humanity would be infinitely better off for it.

          As he looked over the map he saw a plan unfold. The Consciousness were already agnostics – god mattered not a whit to a society the valued logic above all else. The Gaians had their silly mysticism, but at its root it was more or less scientific and logical. But the Cult, now that was dangerous.

          Yes, the Cult would have to be the first example for the End of Faith. Zakharov’s jaw hardened. It had to be done to protect the Gaians, the Consciousness, and the need to exterminate Faith on Chiron.


          HIVE 2158, Private chambers of Chairman Yang

          “The attacks went well Zho?”

          “Very well Chairman.”

          Zho handed Yang the report he had collected from his ‘eyes and ears’ as he called them. Even though the command nexus was not done completely it allowed a great deal of internal surveillance that non even dreamed of when they had designed the system. Even now Fire Marshall Yazov was still collecting information and putting it into a report while Zho had already completed it.

          Yang read the report quickly.

          “Both alien vectors were destroyed it seems.” Yang said as he laid the e-pad down.

          “Yes and the planet pearls recovered. We have added 50 mega-energy credits to our already large energy surplus of energy. With the resources collected now and with the aid of the alien artifact you could complete the command nexus in just a few turns.” Zho added as he took the e-pad from Yang’s table and put it into his large side pockets of his jacket.

          “I will consider that.” Yang began. “If only we knew how to unlock the data storage crystals inside the artifacts I know we would find technology that would help us greatly.”

          “Yes Chairman but alas our scientists lack the proper computers and training to do so. Perhaps if Professor Zakharov had been in our pod we could have used his talents to unlock the secrets.” Zho added.

          “Yes but the good professor would have not lasted on Chiron I do believe. The man was weak and old and I can only assume he and his colonists are all dead but it would have been good to have his talents for just a while.” Yang replied as he slowly stood up and walked over to a large map of the known area of Chiron that the HIVE had explored.

          “I want to order Captain Gregor to sail east now.” Yang said as Zho pulled out another e-pad to begin writing down instructions. “We have mapped most of the southern coastline and parts of the west and east. It is time to find out if other resources are available to us nearby. Send instructions to Gregor to sail east by north for at least 20 sectors and scout this area.” Yang waved his hand in front of black area just east of the HIVE. “Lets see what is there.”

          Zho finished writing and bowed to Yang. It was time to act on the Chairman’s instructions with no delay.


          • #20
            University Base, MY 2159

            Yes, it was easy to spend energy. The University bases were producing a nice yearly surplus of over 15 megacredits, but there were far more needs than energy to supply them. Energy, it seems, is always a scarce commodity.

            In the last year they had dipped into their reserves of 85 megacredits to finish the recycling tanks at Tsiolovski Center and Pavlov Lab. Both of those facilities would noticeably increase the productivity of the small bases, which has a long term asset. The Council had learned its lessons from the recent riots at Planetary Archives, during which a year’s worth of production had been wasted as they tried to quell the disturbances. To that end they’d finished the recreation commons at Korolev Center, and the poor plighted base at Planetary Archives would be finished without any extra energy allocation within the year. That was good news.

            Zvedny Gorodock had finished it s command center and in a few years would have a prototype of their new Kevlar armor. The specifications looked promising since the unit was on a rover chassis and included equipment needed to disrupt the communication of fast attack units – should they even show up at their facilities. Zakharov couldn’t help but think of Cha Dawn. Although there was little evidence he was taking his belligerence outside of hit territory. After all, he still had the Gaians to terrorize, their recent peace not withstanding. Then they’d finish their missile launcher unit, likely also on a rover hull. University territory was small enough that this would allow them to get to where they deeded to be in a modest amount of time.

            Internal security was being enhanced, too. The first of several probe units was being constructed. He remembered all to well the Chinese infiltration of the Russian Republic and the havoc that had caused. The Russian Republic and its Confederation had not been able to respond in kind, to their loss. Such assets would be useful to protect University secrets, and perhaps acquire data from others – again, Cha Dawn came to mind.

            Any such actions would require a navy and transports, of which they had none. That was vexing, but it could not be helped. There were precious few coastal University bases and most of those were pretty modest. In time perhaps there would be an opportunity to construct a navy. But not now.


            HIVE 2159, Hall of introspection

            “Chairman we have to get you to your secure area immediately!”

            “What is wrong!”

            The team of Firemen quickly raced towards Yang from across the large chamber their gauss rifles at the ready as they quickly surrounded Yang and took up a defensive position.

            “What is wrong!” Yang bellowed in rage.

            “Chairman, we have drone riots in the lower levels that we can not contain. Firemen have been able to contain the riots but nothing more at this time until we get more troops.” Yang’ Captain replied quickly. “Now please sir we need you to move immediately!”

            Yang nodded and quickly got up and walked out with the guards. He would not run, not for anything.

            Suddenly Yang’s communicator began to beep and he activated the device and pulled the headset from his pocket and into his ear.

            “Yes?” Yang began knowing only his aide Zho had this link to his communicator.

            “Chairman we have troubling news.” Zho began but Yang cut him off.

            “Yes, the riots.” Yang replied coldly, anger filling his voice.

            “Yes but more. HIVE – 5 reports their brigade of Firemen have been wiped out by a mass attack of worms. The base is unprotected with little chance of survival. We need your authorization to move Fireman from HIVE – 4 to shore up HIVE – 5. Also, we could pull units from HIVE -3 to reinforce HIVE – PRIME.” Zho explained.

            Yang consider the moves carefully but Zho’s solution was the best one with the facts at hand.

            “Send the orders immediately. So to it at once.” Yang replied gravely. “Get it done now!”

            “At once Chairman.”

            Yang doubted the reinforcements could reach HIVE -5 in time and if they did could they really hold the base? Also, by stripping units from other bases it left an opening for more counter-revolutionary behavior. It was time to crack down with an iron gauntlet Yang thought, it was time to take the collective to the next level.


            Korolev Center, MY 2160

            The harvesting team ran for their lives. All around them the forest was bursting into flames, or other areas seemed to be simply disintegrating before their eyes. Tall pines were quivering and then collapsing, while the sturdy oaks would have huge limbs slough off. The air itself was humming, and seed-sized projectiles were falling from the air. There were so many seeds that the skies were a pinkish hue.

            Already the forest was largely gone. The team saw what happened when the spoors landed on people. Marklin had screamed when a small pod fell on him. It wasn’t the impact, but the fact that the pods seemed to be dissolving their way into his skull and left shoulder. By the time they got to him he was quite dead, and the spoors just kept eating at him.

            That was when the team put in an emergency call to Center and sent the All Channel evacuation order. With some luck and if their vehicle’s pressure module could hold off the pods they would make it. If not…


            HQ at Pavlov Biolab got the All Channel call from Center and immediately sent rescue teams. However, they found that their way was blocked by a mindworm that had landed in the coastal forest. It was a small mindworm mass, but deadly. All thoughts of rescue were forgotten as the men and women got out their flame guns and shredders, took up mutually reinforcing positions, and started blasting away at the mindworm.

            They had some success, but tendrils of the mindworm got through the barrages of flame and small projectiles. Wils screamed and then went silent, and Sihn started singing nursery rhymes and then he, too, went silent. The rest of the team knew they were dead. Further, they knew that if they stopped they would be dead too, and that the civilians at Pavlov Biolab would be dead, too.

            After six grueling hours the humming in their minds waned and finally stopped. The mindworm had lost integration and had either been completely destroyed or dissipated into its component parts. Either way, the threat was gone.

            Or was it? In the sea along the coast there was a highly unusual mass of sea fungus. It seemed to form a mound, and it was moving. A mass of growth within the floating mound was issuing projectiles that were raining to the northwest.

            Now they had a new problem: a sea borne vector of the mindworms. Worse, this vector could bombard the coasts with the caustic spoors the farming team had reported, and it could land components of itself to attack on land.

            They made their report and then retreated to Pavlov Biolab. The spoor launcher was still firing, and unless something was done it would destroy decades of terraforming. The report was squirted to HQ and University Base. Hopefully they’d know what to do.


            HIVE 2160, HIVE – 5 command center

            “All destroyed?”

            “Yes Seneschal, all destroyed.”

            Seneschal Montgomery slowly lowered himself into his chair numbly and looked up at his Fire Chief.

            “What do we do now?” Montgomery asked wearily.
            “What we do is keep fighting.” The Fire Chief replied coldly. “We keep fighting with everything we have until there is nothing left and then we keep fighting some more. Even now more troops are on their way to help us and Fire Marshall Yazov has told me that the 3rd tankers will be here soon as well. We have to hold until then.”

            “But there are two worm masses out there!” Montgomery moaned loudly. “So far nothing we have done has been able to stop either of them. Troops march in, get positioned and then get wiped out without even getting a chance to launch an attack, tell me how that is a good plan!”

            The fire chief said nothing for a few minutes then put his hand on the shoulders of the Seneschal and quietly replied. “I don’t know if it is a good plan or not but it is a plan and it is keeping the colony alive for now. Our only other solution is to cut our losses and run and leave this base to the worms. Perhaps the Fire Marshall and Chairman Yang might do that but for now they are not so we need to keep trying.”

            Seneschal Montgomery nodded slowly and picked up a stylus to continue his work but his hands continued to shake badly.

            The Fire Chief knew in his heart the base was lost. Two alien vectors were moving on the base and they had destroyed two fire brigades of troops and a much needed terraformer. He doubted himself after the next attack the base would even be left standing but he had his orders and he would try. Their main problem, aside from the worms was the infestation of fungus right inside the city itself which created, in effect, a super highway right up to their front doors for the worms to attack. In truth, there was little hope to save HIVE – 5 now he wondered how long it would take Chairman to realize that as well and allow the city to die in order to save the other four cities of the HIVE collective.


            University Base, MY 2161

            “Prokhor, we are sitting on a large amount of energy – 100megajoules,” Getz Hoeppe stated. “With the destruction of the two mindworms in the preceding year and our normal modest surplus we now can consider a number of priorities.”

            “Priorities?” Richard Korath asked. “We have an isle of the deep and a nasty spoor launcher to contend with near Pavlov Biolab and Korolev Center and you’re talking about civic improvements?”

            “Yes, I am,” Mr. Hoeppe said. “We have modest garrisons on all our terraforming, and the spoor launcher and isle can’t attack our bases. In short, it appears to be neutralized – for the moment. Now, before you point out the obvious, yes it could move and bombard other terraforming, but at this time we can’t do much else. To that end we are building basic artillery at Biolab and a foil at Korolev Center. The plan is to bombard the spoor launcher and, perhaps, destroy it and the isle. Attacking at sea would be foolhardy. This seems to be our best of limited options.”

            Richard said nothing. After all, it had been his idea to build the rover artillery and foil.

            “I propose that we upgrade the defenders at University Base and New Azamas to have trance protection. Our newly constructed defenders have trance, and this will be invaluable if worms show up from the fungus. This will cost 20 megajoules,” he said. Several people winced. That was still a lot of energy.

            “Further, we should rush complete the recycling tanks at Lomonosov Park. I believe it is the last recycling tank at our bases, and then they can start on a recreation commons. Our recent riots have shown the need to pay better attention to our civic stability.

            “Our Project at University Base will done within the decade, and it would be too costly to attempt a rush completion. At this time our energy will be better spent elsewhere. We do need to look forward to the time when the Rejuvenation Tanks will allow better growth options, but that is the responsibility of our esteemed Gregory Kline.” He nodded toward the back of the room.

            Gregory was used to making the presentations, and had been annoyed when his almost overwhelming list of responsibilities had been spalled off for a mere artist. Still, it has easy to see that Mr. Hoeppe had long since ceased being a mere artist. He had, after all, been on the Council for decades.


            HIVE 2161, Central Operations Center for Firemen

            “Did they hold?”

            “No Fire Marshall, the Fire brigade was over run in the last attack but they did considerably weaken the worm mass and threw it back for now.”

            “Send a report to Chairman Yang immediately. I am transferring the 3rd tanker regiment to HIVE -5 with all dispatch and they should be able to launch their attack and destroy the worm mass by next turn and stabilize the situation.” Yazov commanded as he slowly sat down and watch the holographic map begin to shift as the new data began to change it.

            Suddenly the command center became very quiet and Yazov turned to see Chairman Yang himself walk into the chamber followed by his elite team of Firemen.

            Yazov bounded to his feet and raced over to greet the Chairman.

            “Good news Chairman.” Yazov began but Yang cut him off.

            “I am aware of the situation.” Yang began. “I wanted to get a complete run down on available units and our defenses. Can you walk me through it.”

            It was not a request, never a request from Chairman Yang.

            After nearly 20 minutes of quick talking Yazov covered the main points of Hive defenses.

            “This is not good at all.” Yang said as he started to walk around the table. “We need more Firemen more than ever. I want more units built as soon as possible. Begin plans for a rapid re-building program with gauss equipped Fire brigades and tanker regiments. I never want to see Hive defenses so weak ever again.”

            Yang turned and left the room quickly leaving a nervous Fire Marshall to begin planning.


            Korolev Center, MY 2162

            “What do you mean the spoor launcher came ashore? Didn’t those pinheads at Base say it would stay put. Our foil isn’t done yet, and neither is the artillery at Biolab!”

            Nuri ignored Kial’s typical semi hysterical response as they grabbed their flamers and shredders. “Be sure to take an extra case of gel,” he said almost casually. But, Kial wasn’t paying attention so he grabbed one for him.

            Damn it!, Nuri thought as the rest of his squad formed up. Why do I have to put up with first class ****s like Kial. He is one f*cking liability and he’ll get us all killed one day. As usual he kept his opinions to himself. Lieutenant Wilsin never saw fit to dress Kial down regardless of the provocation, and it wasn’t his place to instill discipline, when the CO was watching, that is.

            Of course he knew why command gave Kial such easy treatment. He was their trance expert, and he was able to help others resist the nastier mind effects of the worms when they attack. That would do them exactly no good now that they had to take out the spoor launcher, of course. Not much to do, then, but suck it in.

            It was not clear how the launcher had gotten ashore. The nearby former crew was hunkered down, and the best they could say is that it kind of dissolved and then reformed on land. Now that was a nice trick. Regardless, it was now adjacent to Korolev Center and it had to be destroyed, pronto.

            The lead elements of the squad started firing early. Uh, oh, Nuri thought. Bad sign. Then he felt it – anxiety, fear. It rippled through his body like an earthquake. Now he knew exactly what his squad mates were experiencing. There was a mote of real pain, searing through his fungal weave. Spoors!

            He limbered up his flamer and took aim. His vision seemed a bit hazy, so he took extra care. Then he fired.

            Screams. Flaming human figures.

            More spoors fell. There were more screams.

            Then white hot pain.

            Then nothing.


            HIVE 2162, Northern frontier

            “Seneschal Mitchell we have arrived at the colony site.”

            Mitchell looked up from his paperwork and smiled.

            “Very good 89ALPHA, you have done very well. Inform the other foremen that work must begin at once on construction of HIVE -6. We must not delay at all, it is important to the collective that we establish this base immediately.” Mitchell replied as he stood up to look out his small porthole.

            “Yes, we are all excited about the work Seneschal.” 89ALPHA replied eagerly.

            “Good.” Mitchell said absently. “You are free to go.”

            89ALPHA quickly left the cramped cabin that was the office and quarters of the Seneschal.

            Mitchell took several deep calming breaths and exhaled as he waited for the lumbering monstrosity he was living in to come to a halt. After a few minutes the colony pod stopped.

            Well, he thought, we are finally here. There would be much work to do since every HIVE colony was built deep in the ground of Chiron. Mitchell had not wanted this assignment. He had enjoyed his life as the foreman responsible for administration from HIVE -3 but his Seneschal had put his identity code forward for advancement and it had been accepted. 19ZULU had been allowed to choose a name, of his own and take the advanced training and educational programs needed to be a seneschal. It had been hard work and long hours and the worst of it had been the long one-on-one interviews and discussions with Chairman Yang.

            Yang had instructed him on socialization techniques and the principles of the collective and the importance of the new human they were all working to create. Much of what Yang had taught him had yet to ‘sink in’ but he had his notes and perhaps some time to work on them.

            Suddenly Mitchell felt the pod beginning to shudder and shake which meant the massive panels and docking ramps were being opened and lowered so equipment and colonists could disembark. Perhaps after the colony was up and running Mitchell would have time to review those notes in more detail but not now, now he had a city to build.


            • #21
              University Base, MY 2163

              “We need to consider all options,” Amy Constance said. “We are building infrastructure as fast as we can, and we’ve seen we are quickly reaching an upper limit to growth. As each city grows from 1000 to 2000 citizens our minimal infrastructure can stand the strain, but it breaks at 3,000 and requires a recreation commons to keep some order. Moreover, growing to each level is progressively harder and takes an extraordinary amount of time. That, in combination with the structural impediments, all of which are costly to our treasury, mean that, as I said, we need to consider all options.” She squirted the proposal to everyone’s datapad.

              Zakharov reacted first. “You can’t be serious. A police state?”

              “The advantages are real,” she said. “A Unitary Police State will give us the ability to police our people, which will give us a considerable advantage in social order. In fact, by my estimation we’ll be able to control three drones with two police units. Right now our police can do exactly nothing with our Unitary Democracy. Second, we will be able to support more military and civilian units at each base. This is not to be taken lightly considering how fragile our industrial output is. Lastly, we will have better security against any hostile forces.

              “But, there is a down side. Our research will take an enormous hit, and I estimate it will be 30 percent less than it is now. That is primarily due to limits on academic freedom that are intrinsic to a police state. The organization and structures of a police state come at a price.”

              “Absolutely not,” Zakharov said. “This goes against everything we’ve worked toward in the last 60 years on Chiron. We will not descend into the dark ages of ignorance again, nor will we play with the ideas of the totalitarian regimes of old Earth. Our only hope is understanding, and if we sacrifice it now we may never recover.”

              “Most of the states in the Russian Consortium were police states, Prokhor,” Mr. Fienman ventured. “That state was able to stand its ground against the Chinese Block for decades. It had stability and order, which was something in short supply in the last decades of Earth.”

              “Yes, yes,” Zakharov retorted. “And they also fell behind the Chinese, the European Block, and even the blighted Christian States of America, for heavens sake. As I said, the stability comes at a price, and that price is too dear. My friends, it is a trap – and what may seem like a short term sacrifice of necessity will turn into a true necessity. The Consortium found it could never leave its police state. Its infrastructure had decayed so much at the end that it became ossified, trapped. It is much better to struggle now than to have our options removed. No, unless the will of the entire Council is against me I will veto this effort.”


              HIVE 2163, far eastern seas

              “Land fall at last!’

              “Yes but we still do not know anything about it or where we are at.”

              Gregor hunched over the charts and holographic radar scanner and studied them for some time.

              “We will move east by south.” Gregor said at last as he began to chart the path of the PRIME.

              “Why that direction?” Gregor’s chief-of-the-boat asked questioningly.

              “I thought of going north but the sea fungus seems to be thicker there. Perhaps by heading east by south we can avoid some of it and if we don’t find anything we can loop northwards and head back to HIVE territory.” Gregor said as he continued to plot the course and write orders for the crew.

              “I see.” Chief Irwin said flatly.

              “What’s up chief?” Gregor asked as he looked up from the chart table his face an orange/red glow form the holo-projections.

              “I think I speak for the crew sir when I say going back is not something any of us look forward to. We are practically outcasts there now, we don’t fit in.” Chief Irwin explained.

              “I know, I know and I share your concerns but we have our orders and if we do go back I will make it as short as possible, I promise. The Chairman needs us and he knows that and I know that and that is why most of the crew was able to keep their old names. Look, lets not buy trouble and heartache until we have to, okay?” Gregor finished as he patted the chief on the back.

              “Sure sir.” Chief Irwin said in a more cheerful tone.

              “Good. I am finished.” Gregor said as he tapped into the computer the last coordinates for the ship to travel. “Inform the men of the situation and I will see you later for dinner.”

              The Chief of the boat snapped a crisp salute which Gregor returned in kind and then turned and left.

              Gregor watched his old friend leave and wondered if he really could pull of what he said when they entered HIVE -4 again. It had been hard enough to keep the crew he had the last time and Yang was fit to be tied that he wanted all of them off the boat and into re-education training but Gregor had convinced Yang that time to relent and leave his men and women on board.

              Next time would be different he knew.


              Zvedny Gorodock, MY 2164

              Amy Constance motioned for the Councilors over to one side of the rather small room, which was packed with semi organized mechanical equipment and cast off computer consoles. She directed their attention to the far side where a well worn table had a scale model of strange looking contraption.

              “I’ve saved the best for last. I know that inspections can be less than interesting, but I promise this will fully hold your attention. To cut to the chase, we have made a scientific breakthrough in Industrial Automation. This builds on our previous advances in Industrial Base, but adds additional power to this singular ability by making – as you might guess – our ability to collect resources by automation. In the past we have been limited to assigning worker crews that consist of approximately 1000 people to the task of getting resources from a particular sector. This has been based on the needs of the base, be it food, minerals, or energy. Now we can partially automate this process with a series of what we’ve called Supply Crawlers to harvest those resources with minimal oversight.

              “The advantages are significant. Our industrial output has been limited by the raw materials used for those industries, but now we can harvest those resources remotely. For instance, a mine can be assigned a supply crawler and then the resources can be transported to the base for use. We can do likewise for food from a farm, or energy from a solar collector. The primarily limitation is that we will only be able to harvest one resource at a time, and it is most efficient to target concentrated lodes of a single resources – such as a mine.

              “Utilizing supply crawlers will significantly boost our production, but they are costly – about the same as a missile rover. But, if used intelligently they will pay for themselves in less then a decade, and after that any additional resources are pure profit, as it were.

              “With the Council’s permission we can now give our bases the option of completing supply crawlers. I envision that all bases will have at least one or two, depending on available resources. Of course, we will need more terraformed land to make this viable, but with the greater industrial potential we may want to construct more terraformers, and in particular fungicidal terraformers.

              “Our population growth is constrained, as all of you well know. Industrial automation will take come of the pressure off our limited population. Ladies and gentlemen of the University Council, this may be the most significant breakthrough since Gene Splicing and Centauri Ecology! We only need to use it logically, and it will benefit all of the University.”


              HIVE 2164, Command Nexus control and operations room

              “We drained the device as ordered Chairman and the resulting energy supply has allowed us to nearly complete the command nexus project.”

              “Very good chief director.” Yang began. “When exactly do you think you will be done?”

              “In 7 turns Chairman.” Director Wilson answered quickly. “I have no doubts we will complete the project in that time frame.”

              “Very good.” Yang said as he watched the drones working on the last touches of the command and operations control room.

              “Zho has the other alien artifact arrived yet at HIVE -2?” Yang asked as he walked to stand in front of the massive holo-screen that could display all of the command nexus information.

              “Next turn Chairman.” Zho replied as he walked up to stand behind Yang. “With it’s arrival we will have 2-devices once again.”

              “Good.” Yang said flatly.

              With the completion of the command nexus nearly done all troops were beginning to take advantage of the training offered and the coordination provided by the system. Once it was complete the effects would be even more dramatic.

              “Did the tower get destroyed as well?” Yang asked as he turned to Zho.

              “Yes but it did cost us the 3rd tanker regiment.” Zho answered. “The 7th Fire Brigade completed the destruction of the tower very easily.”

              “Good. I want our colonization efforts focused in that area. Burn that slime clear as soon as possible and submit plans to develop that area.” Yang said as he began to leave the control room.

              “Thank you once again Chairman for coming.” Director Wilson said cheerfully.

              “This will be the last time I visit most likely Director.” Yang said as he left the room. There was no need to come back since in his private chambers an interface had been installed that allowed him direct and un-restricted access to the nexus project.


              University Base, MY 2165

              “And that blasted spoor launcher is gone?” Zakharov asked.

              “Yes, Prokhor,” the voice said. “Our artillery eliminated it with east. It was sorely damaged due to the assault by the defenders at Korolev Center.”

              “They died attacking,” he reminded Base Provost Cindy Banks. “And the isle of the deep?”

              “It apparently disappeared. After it unloaded the spoor launcher it either left or returned to the fungus. We don’t know which.”

              “How is reconstruction going?”

              “We have two terraformers working on it. The forest had already been replanted, and they will be completing the road within the year. Korolev Center will be linked up with our other bases as soon as the road to Planetary Archives is completed. I understand the fungus was removed and the road is done, and a forest will be planted there, too.”

              “Excellent. How are your food reserves?” he asked.

              “Very low. The forest came on line just in time to prevent a famine. We haven’t had one yet, and so I’m relieved we haven’t had one now.”

              “Thank you for the update, Provost. Anything else?”

              “Yes. We have our new foil, which we’ve named USS Zakharov. Until we receive orders it will remain in port. Would you do us the honor of a dedication?”

              Zakharov thought for a second. He hated dedications, but knew that it meant a lot to the people. And it was his job as faction leader. “I’d be delighted. Work with my assistant Mr. Greives and work out the details. Any further news?”

              “No, Prokhor. Thank you for your time.”

              Zakharov signed off.


              HIVE 2165, On the southern shoreline near the great mesa.

              “That was a fight and half!”

              “And more to come.”

              The two Firemen sat slumped on their rover as they watched the fumes spiral into the sky from the burned masses of worms and fungus. They fight had lasted the better part of the day but they had won.

              “The word is from 43BRAVO is that a sea isle deposited that worm on our shores and it has more coming.” 21TANGO said slowly. “I don’t know if we can handle a second attack.”

              “We don’t that’s for sure.” 53BRAVO replied just as tiredly. “Our unit is at half strength as it is and most of our tankers need a full re-supply before we can fight again.”

              “Well, then its up to groundies to take the next worm mass on unless the Chairman throws us at it anyway which wouldn’t surprise me at all. The 1st and 2nd tanker regiments were both fought out to the end and he still threw them back in.” 21TANGO said quietly.

              Neither of them said anything else for a long time. What else was there to say…


              University Base, MY 2166

              “And I am very pleased to announce the completion of the Human Genome Project!” Zakharov said. Waves of clapping surged through the crowd as well as scattered yelps and whoops. Normally Zakharov would have motioned for them to settle down so he could continue but he was perfectly content to let the audience of almost 3,000 get it all out of their system.

              He stood on a temporary dais constructed on an unutilized rainy sector near the sea. Fortunately it was clear and warm today. Earth vegetation had been planted here and there, but not nearly as intensively at the cultivated areas on the other rare rainy areas. Soon this would be cultivated, too, so this naturalistic backdrop was a rare chance to host an event in an otherwise thoroughly terraformed territory. He couldn’t help but glance to the north in the mountains and rolling hills which were still ominously sheathed in fungus. He looked away just as quickly. The Human Genome Project helped humans understand themselves, but not the ecosystem where they lived.

              Finally the cheers were ebbing so Zakharov broke in. “The benefits of the Project will be immediately available to all University citizens. The genetic data we will be able to decode to understand our own DNA will enable us to finally understand some of the greatest blights of our age: genetic diseases. As all University citizens will have their genome added to this grand effort they will have their maladies not only identified, but we will be able to affect a cure or at least mitigate the effects of the disease. Children will no longer be born with incurable diseases – we will be able to identify and correct the problem en utero. Many of the medical problems of old age will also be able to be mitigated. The result is that all of us will be healthier, more productive, and I certainly hope happier for our entire lives!”

              Another round of cheering broke out. Zakharov knew that his statements weren’t entirely true. Yes, they’d be able to identify genetic diseases, but in some cases there would be nothing they could do. Problems in the womb would be corrected by terminating the pregnancy if a medical option wasn’t available. A program of eugenics might be possible, but not likely to be successful. Earth had tried that a few times and the results had been less then stellar.

              As the clapping continued Zakharov wondered what the real benefits of the Project would be. From a practical point of view the citizenry would be much happier. After all, the scourge of cancer and other maladies would be more or less eliminated. Happy citizens would be productive citizens, and this would solve one of the University’s greatest problem - civic instability. They would be able to expand the number of bases from ten to at least 12, and later 14, although that was a long way away due to the complete hostility of territory to human life. The remaining areas were arid and covered with fungus and an enormous amount of terraforming would be required, or perhaps their expanding forests would take care of the problem for them.

              The Project would also enable them to expand to 4000 and perhaps 5000 citizens at each base if they have proper recreation facilities. This and the advent of supply crawlers would be key to increasing their resource base. Resources mean prosperity, and prosperity would mean more energy and facilities for laboratories. More population and energy was critical to expanding their research, which was flagging somewhat now that population growth had leveled off.

              In the end the Human Genome Project gave the University options: horizontal growth, vertical growth, more resources. All of these were very good, very good indeed!


              HIVE 2166, Private chambers of Chairman Yang

              “Will this work Zho?”

              “The scientists think so Chairman. One of the more brilliant scientists solved the energy ratio question. The device converts 1-watt of electrical energy to 10-watts of light-heat energy.” Zho replied.

              Yang studied the information on the e-pad for some time then looked up.

              “There are many other things the collective could use but I do see the worth of this device, if it can be made to work. One Fireman will now have double the firepower and range of our current gauss rifles. How soon can a prototype be built?” Yang said thoughtfully.

              “Our scientific research rate is very good.” Zho began. “With the surplus energy we now have the scientists have all they need for their experiments and research. We should be able to make not only the prototype in 8 turns but have a fully equipped regiment or tanker brigade equipped with the new weapons in just over a decade.”

              “I approve.” Yang said quickly. “Any news from our Captain Gregor?”

              “Nothing of interest Chairman, it seems clear to my staff that the area to the east is barren of life. I have approved a request from Gregor to continue searching a while longer before returning but so far the small continent he has found shows no sign of human life. My staff is becoming all the more convinced each day that we are alone on Chiron, that no one else survived.” Zho finished as he reach out slowly to pick-up the e-pad on Yang’s desk.

              “We shall see Zho, we shall see.”


              • #22
                Sea east of Korolev Center, MY 2167

                Lieutenant Tal Talx was now Captain Tal Talx. He had traded his green and brown fatigues for a newly designed navy blue with a smart looking but not very practical cap. To him it was reminiscent of the navies of old Earth, which was fine since it represented a thin line to tradition that never existed here on Chiron.

                Still, it was good to finally be out exploring again! He knew he was one of the oldest serving men in the University military, and the last decade or so had been more than stultifying. Yes, there were plenty of troops that needed to be trained at the command center at Zvedny Gorodock, but that was distinctly uninteresting after a decade. What he wanted to do was explore, and that had been more or less shut down since the last of their continent had been investigated. There was a veteran rover that was scouting around the coast, but that really wasn’t the same.

                Now he had his own command: USS Zakharov. By any realistic evaluation it wasn’t much since it had no armor or weapons to speak of, but that was beside the point. This ship was a scout and had little purpose beyond being a scout. His mission was broad and general: explore the seas, identify new land masses, and avoid fungus and sea-based Unity pods. The first two were critical to possible expansion plans and the last two were simple survival. Fighting worms on land was bad enough, but at sea it was likely to be much more difficult – and fatal. If their boat was hulled then they would sink and die regardless of whether they won against one of the fearsome Isle of the Deep. He had seen all the videos and interviewed the terraforming teams and surviving military officers that had engaged it and none of the information gave him any cause to think he would survive such an encounter. In this HQ was completely correct: caution was advised.

                He did wish that they’d given him some crew trained in trance defense, though. Perhaps he would get some in the future since then it might be possible to investigate some of the Unity pods floating in the sea and not have a death sentence. The investment was steep, to be sure: 20 or more megajoules. Still, one well opened Unity pod would more than replace it. If nothing else it would protect him and his crew against a marauding attack of an Isle, which could be lurking anywhere.

                Already there was good news: there was land ahead! It would take a long time to get there and explore the coasts, but that was his mission – explore the seas and coasts of Chiron.


                HIVE 2167, The far eastern sea

                “Go south?”

                “South Captain?”

                Gregor turned to look at the helmsman who had had answered.

                “Yes, dammit SOUTH!” Gregor roared with annoyance and anger. “I said turn south!”

                The Helmsman quickly turned the small wheel and adjusted the computer navigation systems accordingly.

                “Helm is due south Captain!” The helmsman snapped back professionally though you could his anger as well.

                Gregor said nothing but turned back to the e-pad he had dropped on his command chair and picked it back up.

                Orders from Chairman Yang himself, proceed south for another 10 sectors and then turn back west to return to HIVE – 4.

                What a waste Gregor thought in frustration. There was nothing out here but fungus. Any other survivors from Unity where sure to be dead by now.

                Gregor looked up at the sea before him and wished more than anything he could have given the orders to return home and get new supplies and repairs but he knew if he gave that command without any real reason to that one of the new crewman would surely turn out to be one of Yang’s trained Firemen body guards and arrest him for cowardice. No he thought, it was better to just follow orders and hope that Yang would forget him and his ship someday.


                University Base, MY 2169

                “Lady Skye, let me congratulate you on such an amazing use of your Weather Paradigm. You’ve raised the land north of Glowmite Towers and increased your landmass considerably. Well done! We couldn’t have done that on Earth, not even in the 21st century.”

                Deirdre smiled to accept the complement. “We have learned much about Planet, and I’m pleased we have put it to good use. There was some consideration of the ecological implications, but on the balance they were judged to be minimal. Now we can establish another base or two. We may also be able to explore the unoccupied landmass west of the Consciousness.”

                “Yes, that would be of great interest. It seems to be a very large continent, and when I last exchanged maps with the Consciousness they seemed content to stay where they are. Or maybe their colonization efforts have met with difficulties.”

                “If so, perhaps we will be more fortunate,” she continued, and then paused. “Prokhor, I was wondering. We’ve been friends for quite a long time and have a long history. I think we have much to offer each other. Would you consider a Pact?”

                Zakharov thought for a second. The reasons for the proposal were clear: Cha Dawn. They had already taken on Gaian base, and although they were at peace it was only a matter of time. Gaian holdings were modest, but substantial. They had the Weather Paradigm. The Gaians were very friendly toward the University, and the last time he had contacted Cha Dawn he’d been seething. It was an easy decision. “With pleasure! I will send over our cartographic information. I’m sure our exploration will be of interest to you. Your people are free to enter University territory, of course. I can only hope that our increased trade ties will benefit us both!”

                Dee graced him with a radiant smile. “Prokhor, you’ve made my day. The rest of the Gaian Council will be overjoyed! Oh, and I’ll be happy to send you information on our other terraforming efforts, since you’re interested.”

                “Indeed! We’ll need to discuss the exchange of other technical data, too,” he continued and noticed that Dee’s eyes lit up at that comment.

                “I’d like that. Take care, Prokhor.”

                “Good bye, Deirdre.”


                HIVE 2168, Colony pod #7 on the northern frontier

                “Wait more!”

                “Yes, we all need to wait a few more turns until the formers can clear the fungus for us to build.”

                The group of colonists huddled in the cramped cabin of Seneschal Gorman was not a happy group and Gorman could not blame them. Colony pod #7 had to travel the longest distance that any colonist group had to make to the far northern area near the great crater. It had been a long trek but they had made it safely and now it was just a few more turns before they could begin building.

                “We have seen just to the south what looks like a Unity pod, why don’t you let us check it out and see if there is food or supplies in it.” One of the drones asked angriliy.

                “No, not exploration and you know it, that’s what the Firemen do, not us.” Gorman shot back quickly. “I can not watch all of you all of the time but if anyone goes near that area they will answer to the Chairman.”

                A hush fell over the group.

                “Yes, that’s right.” Gorman continued. “Chairman Yang. So get going and go back to work now!”

                The group stood looking at each for a few minutes and then quickly filed out.

                Another near disaster avoided Gorman thought as he slowly let out a calming breath of air. It was only going to be a few more turns and the colony would be up and running and things would be okay he knew. Their first priority would be the training and equipping of the Fire brigade but after that the sky was the limit unless Chairman Yang had other plans.


                Eastern Sea, MY 2169

                Captain Talx looked on as the skiffs upgraded his armor and installed his new missile launchers. These were extremely brave men and women in the work crews from Korolev Center, and they were much appreciated. Before he had an unarmored floating scout that could shoot spitballs in a pinch. Now he had a modest set of missile launchers, which in reality weren’t that powerful but were certainly better than nothing, and some armor.

                Frankly, neither of those impressed him as much as his new trance adepts. They were not formal members of the University Navy, but they wore blue uniforms since they were part of the crew. Overall they were an odd lot: skinny or kind of chubby, ages that ranged from 17 to 63, and decidedly non-military. He was thrilled to have them, though. Long experience showed that against the PSI combat the mindworm vectors that the trance discipline was key to keeping the crew calm and helping them do their job. Although the physical attack of the mindworms was horrific, the mental attacks were worse. And the mental attacks were what really killed most people when they confronted worms. Some went catatonic, a few just went crazy, some were dulled and lethargic, but the effect was the same – a significant degradation of the ability of the team to defend themselves. It would be no help when attacking a mindworm, but he didn’t plan on doing that anyway.

                The test would come in the coming year when they’d investigate their first floating Unity pod. Even with the trance defense he knew perfectly well they were vulnerable. He just wished that HQ had taken his advance to get their artillery on line so they could help in case the pod was infested. They were near enough shore that the artillery might help, and make all the difference.


                HIVE 2169, NEXUS Supreme Interface Command

                Chairman Yang gently touched the button and then pushed it ever so slightly.

                Suddenly hundreds upon hundreds of monitors that surrounded him began to glow with light and then images began to form. In front of Yang a large holo-screen flared to life as well showing his face outlined in the warm red glow of the holo-screen.

                “I am ready.” The computer’s voiced sounded like Yang as well.

                Chairman Yang smiled to himself and quickly tapped several commands into the system.

                “Processing.” The computer said.

                Yang began to watch on the hundreds of screens images from all over the HIVE collective from every city where ‘spot’ cameras had been placed. For the most part this NEXUS system would allow the Fire Marshall and his deputies the means to coordinate their regiments and tanker brigades in the field and provide a uniform and cohesive training system by which all new Firemen would have the latest indoctrination programs and military studies.

                The system also enabled Chairman Yang a level of infiltration into the HIVE collective that, unto now he could only imagine. The room he was in now was his own personal supreme interface link to the massive computer and surveillance system. He could, if required, black out sections of the network if needed in order that his team of Fire Investigators could do their work with the drones unobserved. It would not do if his investigators were seen using methods that might not be seen in a positive light.

                Yang typed into the system some new commands and the images from the transport PRIME flashed into view.

                Yang could see the ships systems, position and other general information that the ship’s computer stored. He could also view the bridge and many other parts of the ship and the surrounding seas.

                It was all so much to take in at once, so pleasing that from here he could lead the collective to its next level of evolution. It would be a challenge to be sure but all the more satisfying when it was done.


                Eastern Sea, MY 2170

                Captain Talx was disappointed. The Unity pod only contained survey data for the area. Evidently it was some sort of localized transponder. After the stress of not finding it infested with native life forms and that there wasn’t anything else beside cartographic information he’d given orders to inform HQ and then head north.

                Even if the Unity pod didn’t have much besides maps of the area, that data was at least somewhat useful. In fact, it fit within his mandate: explore the sea to identify landforms, land, and possibly other surviving colonists. Any Unity pods with resources that could be utilized by the University would be more than welcome, too.

                It would take much of the year to head north, and they’d have to enter a swath of sea fungus. That was dangerous since an isle could show up at any time, and they were not friendly. Moreover, they’d be very vulnerable while in the fungus, and any native life attack would almost surely be fatal. It was a risk they’d have to take.


                HIVE 2170, Assembly of the Consuls
                “Chairman we are well pleased with the progress that has been made.”


                Consul Gibbon shifted uncomfortably in his chair for a second then continued.

                “The issue concerning the treasury is before us today and well, should I say lack of treasury.” Gibbon quickly took a sip of water and smiled at Yang. “The allocation of resources towards research dominates all facets of our economic planning. Nearly 90% of all available funds go into your departments of applied science and research with nothing flowing back into our reserves. It is our thinking that to continue on such a course risks a great deal.”

                “A great deal!” Yang shot back as he quickly stood in a fluid motion that was both quick and graceful. “A great deal! I don’t think so. I think the only risks I see is to your pleasure Consul Gibbon and to the rest of you. Our research rate is high due to my foresight. Upon landing at the foot of the great mesa our expectations of making a breakthrough in any field was once every 40 turns. Now we are less than 11 turns! That is progress, real progress.”

                “We grant you that Chairman but please consider the needs of the Collective.” Gibbon almost pleaded with Yang.

                “Needs of the collective! Needs of the collective!” Yang roared at them. “You have no idea what the collective is our the vision I have for our people. If you did you would most likely cringe in fear. I am done with you all. As of today the position of consuls is eliminated. Upon leaving this room you will all be re-assigned new tasks, new quarters and new indent cards.”

                Yang turned to leave the room.

                The entire bench of consul erupted in shouts of fury as he began to walk away from them. Jeers and shouts of anger and defiance began to echo in the room as he quickly made his way to the order.

                As Yang approached the doors quickly swung open and file after file of elite Firemen rushed into the room flanked by drones carrying tables and e-pads.

                Yang stopped and waited as his drones and Firemen quickly assembled themselves in front of the exit to the chamber.

                Yang watched in pure pleasure as many of the consuls began to feint in fright or fear, as if either one really mattered to him.

                “You have one to complete processing as drones or face the consequences.” Yang ordered as he turned and left the room. Now, Chairman Yang was the supreme and sole seat of power and control within the collective.


                University Base, MY 2171

                “We have a decision to make,” Zakharov stated. “The Gaians will complete the Vitro Fertilization Center in 10 years. We might be able to beat them to it, but it will require the allocation of significant resources – specifically, several supply crawlers. This amounts to nothing more than the transfer of resources from one city to another.

                “The benefits of the Center are significant: bases start at 3000 citizens due to fertility treatments, and the citizens are more content. There is a problem. First, most of our bases are already at this level, so the benefit will be minimal. Second, any new bases we found will be in unfriendly territory, and 2000 of the 3000 citizens will almost immediately starve. That is hardly a good use of resources.”

                Amy Constance interrupted. “Resources? We are talking about people here, not resources.”

                Zakharov didn’t miss a beat. “I was referring to the resources used to complete the Center.”

                Amy sat back in her chair. “Of course.” She didn’t sound convinced.

                “Or we can complete the Polymorphic Defense System. This is a significant project that will give all of our bases significant defense in the event that we are ever invaded. Normally would have to build perimeter defenses, but this will automate any threat response with a network of sensors that will make it difficult for any invader.

                “Personally, I’m almost inclined to let the Gaians have the Vitro Fertilization Center since then any new bases they found will be larger. The main threat is that a war will erupt between the Cult and the Gaians, and if that war goes poorly for the Gaians then the Weather Paradigm and the Center will fall into Pinky’s claws.”

                “Pinky?” Richard Korath said. “Do you mean Cha Dawn?”

                “Yes,” Zakharov replied. “I have to say I fear for the Gaians, and it may be prudent to gift them the technology for Industrial Base so they have some basic armor and Military Know How so they have offensive missiles. That, at least, will be something in case Cha Dawn comes knocking.”

                Immanuel spoke up. “If you do that consider also gifting, trading or selling the technology to the Consciousness. They have only a few bases, even if they are large, and could undoubtedly use the extra minerals for their industrial production and the defense benefits.”

                Zakharov nodded. “Good idea. Next time I contact Aki Zeta I will offer it. So, what of the Project? What is the opinion of the Council?”

                Gregory Kline said, “The Defense System seems to be the best overall for our bases, while the Vitro Center offers little. I say let the Gaians finish that Project.”

                “Agreed,” Amy said.

                “Agreed,” Richard Korath said.

                Immanuel Florence and Getz Hoeppe also indicated they agreed.

                “Good. I’m glad we agree. I’ll contact Marshal at Archives and inform her of the decision.”


                • #23
                  HIVE 2171, HIVE – 7 Command center

                  “Yes Chairman, our base is up and running now.”


                  “Chairman our needs are not great right now but we could use some additional energy supplies to complete construction on our gauss rifles and training for our Firemen.” Senashal Gorman asked hesitantly.

                  “None to spare right now. All resources have been allocated to my research teams and experiments. Our current rate of research should yield us a breakthrough every decade now so I can not let up on that goal.” Yang said sternly.

                  “Well, I understand Chairman but should the base get attacked, what do we do?” Gorman asked even more hesitantly.

                  “You will defend your base!” Yang said angrily. “I put you in charge for a reason Gorman so do your job!”

                  The line went dead.

                  Gorman mopped at his sweaty face for a second and tried to quickly collect himself. Very few of the elite within the HIVE were ever yelled at by Chairman Yang and lived long afterwards or if they did found themselves a drone the next day.

                  Gorman looked down and the construction logs again and winced. It would be another two turns to build all of the Firemen’s equipment and that was going around the clock but without energy to power the machinery it was all idle.

                  Slowly Gorman stood up and looked around his new underground office and shuddered. It was hard getting used to living underground again when after so many years he had lived above ground in the light of the two suns. Now, it was all gone for the most part. It was time to get back to work and see what could be done for some more energy.


                  Eastern sea, MY 2172

                  “Is it still out there?” one of his crew almost yelled.

                  “Yes,” came strangled reply. “An isle and two worms!”

                  Captain Talx was a very unhappy man. Not only had the Unity pod been infested with worms, but all chance of escape was going to fail. The isle was between them and open water. They had fungus at their back and a nasty isle facing them.

                  Even worse than the threat was the waiting. HQ had told them to get as far away as possible and to hunker down. His trance crew was hard at work keeping their morale high and their thoughts focused, and for that he was enormously thankful. Perhaps the worm sensed the trance adepts and knew they might not survive? No one could know, or would ever know. No one even knew if they worms had more than a malevolent animal temperament.

                  Attacking was out of the question. The trance adepts would help keep thoughts together, but they were of no use at all when engaged in offense combat against the worms. An attack of almost any sort would be at best a 50-50 chance of survival. If ordered he would give his best, but those were not good odds.

                  So he had to wait, keep the minimal morale of his crew, ensure his trance adepts were ready.

                  He just hated the waiting.


                  HIVE 2172, Far eastern seas

                  “Keep going north.”


                  “Yes NORTH!” Captain Gregor bellowed in frustration.

                  The path south through the fungus was impossible and even though Yang had ordered him to proceed west by south it would have been suicide to do so. No the only solution was to travel west by north and pray, like the early sea explorers on earth did that there was a passage home.

                  “Helm is answering north Captain!” The helmsman roared.

                  Gregor just nodded and watched the bleak morning sky ahead and prayed that some passage would be available to him. The radar report showed that the small continent to the north was not large at all, better to call it an island than a continent compared to the HIVE continent. However, it was big enough to take at least a decade to circumvent, if not more.

                  “Captain, what will we do now sir?” Gregor’s XO asked quietly as he walked up with a cup of hot stim-liquid in his hand.

                  Gregor took the cup and smiled. “Not sure, don’t know, haven’t a clue.” He said mirthlessly. “I just don’t know. I suspect that even now Yang knows of my commands and I will get a call from him soon. Ever since the nexus project went on-line he has been a thorn in my side every minute of the day.”

                  The XO looked cautiously around the bridge and then back at Gregor. “Sir, you should be more careful.”

                  “Careful of what?” Gregor chuckled. “Would Yang really replace me out here? I think not but as soon as I hit dry land again, well, it’s the re-education camps for me.”

                  Neither of them spoke anymore. Both of them knew that at the end of this trip most likely all of them would spend some time there, it was not a pleasant thought.


                  University Base, MY 2173

                  “Please explain to me why almost all of our bases are building supply crawlers,” Zakharov asked. He was clearly exasperated.

                  “Simple, Prokhor,” Immanuel Florence said. “First, the supply crawlers allow the bases to utilize some of the resources of sectors they are not able to harvest due to limited population. For instance, a mine can be worked just as well by an automated system with a minimal human crew than a thousand workers. This has boosted our industrial production significantly. Even harvesting the mineral resources of a forest with a supply crawler can boost the industrial production of a base by forty percent. In some areas we are able to harvest a farm that is not being used, which boosts growth.

                  “Second, at bases that already have a fairly high production we are able to use the resources from the supply crawler and transfer them to the completion of a Project. In this case, we are able to make significant progress in the Polymorphic Defense System by applying three supply crawlers. At this rate it will be complete within four years.

                  “There is a problem, of course: we are producing supply crawlers much faster than we can have improved sectors where they can harvest resources. In fact, in a fairly short amount of time we will have to rip out fungus to plant Earth-based ecosystems, which will take a very long time. At that time there is no point in having more than a few surplus supply crawlers.

                  “Overall we’ll be able to optimize production, which gives us improved growth and especially production. Over time this will give us a significant advantage even if the yearly improvements are modest.”

                  Zakharov nodded, but his scowl remained. Immanuel was pleased, though. At least Zakharov hadn’t bitten his head off.


                  HIVE 2173, On the northern edge of HIVE territory – terraformer crew #5

                  “So what the hell are they doing here!”

                  “Helping us you idiot!”

                  89UNIFORM looked around at the bleak landscape and smiled to his friend. “Yea, I suppose we could use some help.”

                  For nearly a decade terraformer crew #5 had been working on the fringes of HIVE territory developing land for HIVE – 7. Now they were working doubly hard to improve the area so HIVE – 7 could prosper and expand to the crater eventually.

                  “I bet you your stim ration for today that they will be working with us for a while, clearing this area and all.” 46HOTEL said as he marked another location for the auto-tree planter to plant a tree. “Terraformer crew #6 is new, just recently built and trained from what I am told. They have no idea as to what they are getting into.”

                  89UNIFORM just grunted as he throttled the tree-planting machine into position and began drilling the hole for the tree. He looked over to his right again and watched the massive earth movers from terraformer #6 scrape the spoil and rock debris flat.

                  “Looks like they are building a road.” 89UNIFORM said as he pushed a few buttons and rotated the drill unit out and then swung the auto-tree planter into place and then hit the start button. The auto-tree planter quickly placed a sapling into the hole and began to backfill the hole with dirt but also injected the soil with nutrients and anti-fungus chemicals.

                  “Yep, from what I heard the plan is to build that road so HIVE -7 will be linked with HIVE – 6. Then both of us begin building farms and solar collectors out here for both cities.” 46HOTEL said as he began to trudge to the next possible location for a tree and began to mark it.

                  “Well, it will all be for nothing if that damn fungal tower over there starts birthing worms and other crap at us and destroys everything.” An annoyed 89UNIFORM grumbled.

                  “Don’t you fret none 89UNIFORM.” 46HOTEL said. “A tanker regiment is on it’s way to deal with it and take it out. The chiefs need the energy resources even more than making sure it does not attack us. Nope, don’t worry at all from what I heard the 4th tanker regiment will be hear next turn to take that thing down.”

                  89UNIFORM scowled at his friend. “You certainly know a whole hell of a lot for just a drone 46HOTEL. Perhaps you should pack up and head back to HIVE – Prime and help the Chairman.”

                  “Why don’t you just shut your fat mouth and work!” 46HOTEL shouted back angrily and continued to trudge along marking tree sites.


                  University Base, MY 2174

                  “Centauri Empathy?” Immanuel Florence asked.

                  “Centauri Empathy. In a nutshell it means that we can have a certain…rapport with Chiron,” Amy Constance explained.

                  Richard snorted. “Rapport? With a planet? Are you daft? You’re starting to sound like the wacko fringe of the Gaians.”

                  “Perhaps that is not the most descriptive word. What the ability functionally does is allow us to focus our resources to better understand how Chiron’s ecology works. Our initial work indicates that some individuals are very good at understanding the strange and multilinked xenofungus ecology, which is similar to how some people are very good at trance defense. For lack of a better word they’re called psi adepts. Now, before you go nonlinear, all we’re saying is that to an outsider what the psi adepts do looks like what would be called ESP back on Earth. What we think is happening is that they are tapping into a real energy field of some sort that is formed around the xenofungus. Obviously we don’t completely understand it yet.

                  “This does open some interesting possibilities. For instance, we could train the psi adepts and use them with our military units. Understanding how the creatures that make up the xenofungus works would be a huge advantage, and would likely make the difference between life and death for them and any base they are defending.”

                  “If that works it should be standard equipment,” Richard said. His home at Lab 3 had been threatened by multiple worms.

                  Amy smiled. Richard was easy to sway when he could see obvious and immediate benefits. “It might be expensive, but I agree. At least we should outfit our foils with psi adepts. Captain Talx has been bottled up by an isle for years now.

                  “There is one other important advantage of Centauri Empathy. As part of the exploration the team has dreamed up what we’ve called a Nexus Translator. It links with some of the monoliths, boreholes and few alien structures we’ve found and seems to connect with the xenofungus. The best I can describe is that it acts as a diffuse network node, with a large likelihood of bringing a few scientific breakthroughs once we’ve finished construction. We may also be able to link any artifacts we find to it. Assuming we find any more artifacts, that is.

                  “In summary, this advance will give us a great deal of additional insight into Chiron, which is our home. We need to understand it thoroughly since our survival depends on it. Centauri Empathy is one of many such steps.”


                  HIVE 2174, Central medical complex

                  “It’s your heart Chairman.”

                  “What about my heart!”

                  The doctors all looked at each other for a few seconds then at Chairman Yang their faces grim.

                  “You have a degenerative heart disorder. Your heart muscle is dying.” The senior doctor reported calmly.

                  “What does that mean!” Yang growled angrily. “I feel fine.”

                  “Fine for now Chairman but as the years go on you will not, in fact, I would suspect that even now you have noticed some decline in your stamina, am I correct?” One of the other doctors asked questioningly.

                  “Once in while, yes.” Yang said flatly.

                  “In time it will only get worse. What I have suggested is a exo-heart.” The second doctor said as he reached behind him and pulled up a metal breast plate that was covered in tubes, lights and small rectangular boxes. “This is a prototype the actual version will have all of this hidden.” He waved his hand over all of the items showing on the outside. “What this chest plate will do will take over the pumping actions for your heart. We will do a procedure in which we will create a vessel around your hear and contract it with this device thus forcing the blood in and out of your heart.”

                  “So I will still have my own heart?” Yang asked as he studied the breast plate.

                  “Yes. Your heart muscle is the issue here and the need to help supplement the action of your heart to keep the blood going. We will work on this over the next few turns trying to miniaturize the apparatus as much as possible to make it more appealing.” The lead doctor replied.

                  “Why not just replace it, my heart I mean.” Yang said in a testy manner.

                  “As you know we have everyone’s DNA on file here at HIVE – PRIME but none of them match and would be compatible. Perhaps if other people had survived the UNITY crash would could test them and find a suitable donor.” The second doctor said hopefully.

                  “No chance of that.” Yang said bitterly. “They are all dead. When do I need to have the operation?”

                  “Give us 3 turns to complete testing on this device and monitor your hearts disease. Sometime in the next 4 to 5 turns it will have to be done.” The lead doctor said sorrowfully.

                  Yang said nothing for a long time then quickly stood up and began to dress. He was not pleased at the idea his own body was failing him when his dream needed him more than ever. Perhaps these doctors had other motives Yang thought. He would have his men check it out, you never knew.


                  Eastern sea, MY 2175

                  “Report,” Tal Talx barked.

                  “The right propeller is gone and the left is functioning at 60 percent. I think part of the shaft is damaged, but I can’t tell. Port rear of the hull is essentially melted where the worms broke our defenses, and we’re taking on water below the waterline in that area. Our pumps are able to take care of it and we have a temporary patch over the hull. Our fuel supplies are intact, thank god. Overall we are functioning at 40 percent.”

                  “And the crew?” the captain asked.

                  Warren paused. “Two of the empaths are dead. I never knew their names, but it was the old one and the pretty brunette. The four remaining empaths are kind of in shock, and one may be in a coma. Or at least he’s not moving, and hasn’t for an hour or two. Jenks is dead, and Pierce and Wang are hurt pretty bad. I think Pierce has internal bleeding, but I’m not sure.”

                  “Anything else?” he asked and Warren shook his head. “Do what you can for Pierce and Wang. Karen Johnson is the gal, by the way, and Lauren Pathe is the older gentlemen. You really should get to know them since they saved our lives. I’m not giving you an order, but I’d like them to be part of the crew. Understood?”

                  Warren nodded, gave him a quick salute, and left. The empaths were very strange birds, and they seemed to have nothing in common. Lauren was a professor type, and Karen was a ditzy 19 year old. The other empaths Cindy Banks and Fralk Bairde seemed to say almost nothing and were always looking at or into nearby fungus, like they were drawn to it. In the few conversations he’d been able to have with them it was clear that Cindy and Fralk were the strongest of the six, now four empaths.

                  It had been amazing to watch them work. They’d received the order to take out the isle that had been stalking them for the last four years. The empaths were on board and ready, and they stood in the bow with their faces into the wind and eyes shut. As they drew near they could feel the malevolence like a wash of sound, and then the images came – pain, death, blood, loss. It was like other worms he’d fought, but this one was stronger. And it felt different.

                  The missiles started firing as soon as they were in range to good effect. Huge gouts of water and chunks of the isle were blown away. That was a trigger though, as a wave of sound – almost a pulse of energy – emanated from the isle and hit them full on. Karen screamed and fell to the deck, and he could hear moaning from Warren. He felt his own vision narrowing, almost like tunnel vision. For a second he swore he could see the sound.

                  In what seemed like seconds later the isle was almost on top of them. The empaths were gesturing wildly, mouthing “Fire! Fire at it!” He couldn’t hear for some reason, but the message was clear enough.

                  Why weren’t they firing? He glanced over at the gunner and saw her slumped over the reload controls. There was no one else nearby so he stabbed all stop and dashed out to man the missile racks. He pushed Jenks out of the way. There was blood coming out of her ears, nose and mouth – ugly. There was no time to ponder, and he trained the guns and fired as fast as he could.

                  Some screaming broke through the sound pulses and he glanced to the left and saw a mound of worms start to flow over the port railing. Two people he couldn’t quite see were firing away with their shredders and screaming all the time. Tendrils of worms were pureed into pink and red mist by the sustained fire. That was then the side of the ship started to slough and melt as the worms ate through the Kevlar armor and into the raw steel.

                  Several explosions rippled through the pulsing sound, and there was more screaming and yelling from the bow. Another of the empaths was on his knees. As he watched his eyes popped out of his skull and blood gushed from his eyes, nose and mouth. Good god, how could a human have that much blood? It just kept coming. He fell over backward.

                  He kept firing at anything that moved. And kept firing.

                  Then he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Warren. He looked tired and the left side of his uniform was shredded and blacked, from what he had no idea.

                  Nothing was moving out at sea, and he snapped out of it. The retort of the missile launches and impacts stopped and it was silent again.

                  Except for the moaning and soft sobs.


                  • #24
                    HIVE 2175, Central engineering and testing laboratories

                    “What do you think Chairman!”

                    “Very impressive, very impressive indeed.”

                    Chairman Yang slowly walked up to touch the large metal target but quickly withdrew his hand when he could feel that the metal was still very hot.

                    The new man portable laser rifle was a true beauty to behold. It looked very similar to the Hives current gauss or missile rifles but at the end of the rifle a power cord connected the rifle to a small backpack worn by the soldier. In the demonstration he had just seen one Fireman had, in a few seconds, melted a hole through the massive slug of steel that the gauss rifles could only have just scratched.

                    “This demonstration Chairman was to show you the full capacity of the new laser. In actual combat the rifle would be set to a pulse fire setting in order to conserve energy. The pulse effect does not diminish the power of the rifle just the area targeted.” The lead technician explained.

                    “How so?” Yang asked as he turned away from the slab of steel back to the young Fireman holding the rifle. He walked towards the Fireman and studied the entire assembly for several minutes as the technician explained.

                    “You see Chairman since the laser hits the target immediately, at the speed of light, when the trigger is pulled it only releases a measured pulse of laser energy. Since the weapon works so quickly a Fireman could find himself with a drained weapon in a matter of minutes if he was not careful. The weapon is calibrated in such a way that once the trigger is pulled several seconds have to go by before he can activated it again giving the Fireman time to assess the damage to the target and deciding if it really needs to be targeted again.”

                    Yang said nothing as he continued to study the apparatus strapped to the Fireman.

                    “Fireman, is this comfortable to wear?” Yang finally asked as he fingered the power cell backpack.

                    “Well enough Chairman!” The Fireman snapped his answer quickly.

                    Yang nodded and turned to Zho his aide.

                    “Send orders to all Seneashales that I want them to begin building laser rifles and equipping their rovers with lasers as well. No more production of gauss rifles, is that clear?”

                    “I will see that is done within the day Chairman.”

                    Yang nodded again and left the room and smoldering slag of steel.


                    Cosmograd, MY 2176

                    Zakharov watched the drills from a shaded knoll just outside of their newest base Cosmograd. Granted, the shade came from a hulking swath of fungus and Zakharov kept looking to see if it was extending a tendril to suck his brains out, but at least it kept the early afternoon heat at bay – a little.

                    The new colonists were giving it their all. With the coordination of the Polymorphic Perimeter Defense they were able to put on an impressive show even with no significant training or an impressive military prowess. It functioned like a perimeter defense, or so he was told, and from what he saw he could believe it. There seemed to be very good defensive control, and the AI seemed to be able to guess the movements and likely actions of the mock attackers and counter them. It was almost unnatural, and there was nothing on Earth anything like it. If there was it would have been marketed, sold, or stolen within a few years, but that wasn’t likely on Chiron.

                    It was also pleasing to have founded the two newest University bases – Nadezjd-Hope and Cosmograd – within a year of each other. They were the last bases the University would be founding to a while since they were simply out of space. Building sea bases didn’t seem like a good idea, even if the Consciousness was doing just that. No, they’d have to build up for a while. In fact, that suited him just fine. Most of the University bases had basic infrastructure now, and University Base was not working on a terrifically expensive research hospital. With the advent of crawlers their industrial potential had spiked, but that was hitting a wall now, too. They simply didn’t have the land.

                    As the colonists continued their drill he considered the possibility of a sea former. Yes, that might be useful. Right now the sea was more or less useless, but they might be good sources of food and energy with the right coaxing. There had been enormous kelp beds that fed the starving masses in Japan, India, and America in the 21st Century and there was no reason that kelp wouldn’t flourish on Chiron. He was sure there would be basic designs for tidal harnesses, which had done so much to solve the EU’s energy problems.

                    Yes, maybe they were worth the investment. They certainly had the energy reserves since the last Unity pod they’d been able to open had 150 megajoules of energy – a true mother lode. There weren’t that many sea bases, but maybe Planetary Archives would be a candidate. Or University Base itself, although that would mean abandoning the research hospital. No, Planetary Archives was a better choice since Korolev Center and Nadezjda-Hope could also use the services of the terraformer.

                    So many options, so little time – and resources. Life was getting better, though. At least every day wasn’t a struggle.


                    • #25
                      HIVE 2176, Central recycling facility HIVE-PRIME

                      “It is a masterpiece of engineering!”

                      “It is impressive.”

                      Yang could not help but utter the response to his chief foreman in charge of the new massive recycling center nestled deep in the heart of HIVE – PRIME.

                      “Is it operational?” Yang asked as he watched the massive machinery churn a greenish soup in a vast pool.

                      “Yes Chairman, just this turn along with 5 others in various HIVE cities. All but two of the HIVE cities now contain these recycling facilities.” The chief foreman responded with pride. “Plans are already in place to build the last two as soon as they can clear drones from colony pod construction to build them.”

                      “That is well.” Yang said as he continued to watch the massive pool churn. “Does everything get used?” Yang asked.

                      “Yes, everything nothing goes to waste in this system.” The chief drone quickly answered as he spread his arms wide.

                      “Even people?” Yang said as he looked up at the man.

                      Their was a flicker of doubt in the foreman’s eyes as if he did not know how to respond then he made a choice.

                      “Yes, of course.” Was the foreman’s response at last.

                      “Send all dead drones into the vats then, nothing is to waste, even in death a drone can serve the collective.” Yang said as he began to walk away.

                      “What if the families? What if someone wanted to bury their dead?” The foreman asked questioningly, fear edging his voice.

                      “Send them to me if you have any complaints Foreman!”

                      Foreman 99XRAY knew their would not be now.


                      University Base, MY 2177

                      Zakharov scanned the reports. Captain Talx on the USS Zakharov was still making repairs and would be for quite some time. His ship was severely damaged during their encounter with the isle of the deep. Still, their efforts had yielded 60 megajoules, which more than paid for the resources needed to train and deploy the empaths he now had as part of his crew. The second University ship the USS Russia Confederation under Captain Whorth had just explored a Unity pod and found it also infested with an isle of the deep. Her crew had similarly engaged the nasty creatures and won, but also at great cost. Her ship was badly damaged and her crew hurt with four dead. They had collected 60 megajoules of energy also, which yielded a net bonus after paying 50 megajoules to upgrade the ship’s armor, weapons, and train a squad of empaths.

                      The 120 megajoules was the same as eight years of the University’s energy surplus. But there was the cost in repair time. While the ships sat immobile a their hulls were patched and crew retrained and replaced they were not exploring the seas.

                      Right now the University had almost 400 megajoules of energy in its coffers. Most bases had finished all but the most ambitious infrastructure improvements. The Universal Translator was going to be finished in the coming year due to resource transfer from supply crawlers.

                      No, they didn’t need the energy. It was much more important to explore Chiron. The plant was a big place and they knew only a small portion of the land surface and less of the sea. The foils may be fragile but they were the best that could be had. The Gaians were building foil probes, so they would also be scouting the sea soon. He had some ambivalence about their motives in constructing espionage units, but it was far more likely that they’d go for the Cult. Plus, there were defense probe teams in place already where the sea probe could reach. Moreover, he hoped the Gaians wouldn’t do anything rash. They had almost nothing by way of offensive and defensive units, and the Cult could to them great harm.

                      He sent out orders to both Captain Talx and Whorth: make repairs, and then resume exploration. Prioritize nearby land masses, and report any contact with other factions immediately.


                      HIVE 2177, HIVE – PRIME central medical/surgical center

                      “The operation was a complete success Chairman.”

                      “How long was I out?”

                      The doctor reached down and picked up a small glass of water with a straw in it and moved to Chairman Yang so he could take a sip.

                      “Several days Chairman but you are okay now.” The doctor replied as he continued to hold the cup for the Chairman.

                      “Is it working?” Yang asked after he pushed the straw away with his mouth with the side of his face.

                      “Yes and better than we had hoped. It seems that Doctor Lodin was correct in that the fungus spores did saturate your body and cause degenerative damage to your heart but that’s all fixed now.” Yang’s surgeon explained. “The new heart stimulus unit will keep your heart pumping even after you are in the grave.”

                      Yang looked annoyed at the comment and the doctor quickly moved to put the cup on the nigh table his eyes cast downward.

                      “Something else I owe this planet for now. I intend to burn all fungus from our continent if it’s the last thing I do now. Scorch it clean, purify with fire!” Yang began to growl in rage but his weakened condition kept him in check.

                      “Don’t be too hasty now Chairman. Without the fungus now some of the medicines we create to save our fellow citizens would be lost to us. Properly cultivated the fungus can yield up a pharmacological treasure house. In fact, several key parts of your new vest-life support system were created from the fungus.” The doctor said with as much sympathy and understanding as possible but it all sounded foolish to Yang.

                      “Doctor, on the last day that the last spec of fungus is burned clean from this planet then I can die a happy man. Now leave me! I need to get a report from my aide Zho who I see standing in the doorway patiently.”

                      The doctor bowed deeply and left quickly and quietly.


                      New Azamas, MY 2178

                      “Prokhor, I am pleased that you could be here at the dedication of the third University Project: the Nexus Translator!” the corpulent official that Zakharov assumed was the Provost of New Azamas. He grabbed Prokhor’s hand and pumped it furiously. Zakharov watched in mild fascination as two of the man’s three double chins undulated in opposition to the pumping action of their hands. It had a certain discordant harmonic rhythm to it.

                      Then he tore himself off of this vision of extreme obesity and remembered his place. “I am pleased to be here. This is a grand achievement for the University, and it will undoubtedly be a boon to us now and in the future.”

                      Such inanity and open ended platitudes. There were crowds of people all around, each angling to be in the limelight for just a moment. A few no doubt deserved it, but they almost certainly were not here. Functions like this were for the connected and politicians, not the thinkers and doers that made the University. The Translator Project was certainly an achievement, but men such as Provost Whats-his-name likely did no more than cluck at the expense and issue vaguely worded memos that were ignored.

                      He caught Amy’s eye and mouthed ‘Now?” She nodded. At that cue he angled through the crowd, making brisk apologies as he wormed his way through clutches of people. After navigating through four such throngs and then around the impressive spread of artful appetisers he found his way to a side room and opened the door.

                      Amy was waiting for him inside. Evidently she was better at working her way through crowds, or she merely had sharper elbows.

                      “Chancellor Constance, please enlighten me on what our new Project has revealed to us,” he said without preamble.

                      “In a hurry are we? I’ll get this over with quickly so you can return to mingle.” She had a smirk on her face since she knew he generally loathed functions like this. “To start with, we’ve built on our previous knowledge of Centauri Empathy with Xenobiology. This is important since we have now expanded on our knowledge of the ecosystems from defense with trance and offence to our empaths to the mindworms themselves.”

                      “I’m not sure I understand,” he said.

                      “We can now gestate mindworms, and they will be loyal to handlers – the same psi adepts that form our empathy squads. As you might guess this will be a singular achievement since we can now demonstrate a working understanding of the vastly complicated Chiron ecosystem, and then use it to our advantage. For starters, exploring the fungus will no longer be much of a problem, and it is likely that the mindworms can live off the fungus, so to speak. We can also build isles of the deep and spoor launchers, if we’re so inclined. The cost of mindworms is rather modest, but isles more so. But nothing that is out of reach of our bases.”

                      “I have to say I’m impressed,” he said. “Any limitations on the gestation?”

                      “In a way. The mindworms will be young, and it may be a challenge to have them survive psi combat in the fungus. But they will be no more limited than our conventional units, and they can likely regain their strength while in the fungus – another significant advantage. I suggest we build six or so mindworms and perhaps a few isles of the deep and have them explore the seas of Chiron. This will solve another of our problems, by the way – slow exploration of the seas. If we pair them up with our empathy foils they can harvest the sea Unity pods and the foils can engage any rogue isles.”

                      “Excellent. Put this before the Council immediately. What else?”

                      “Air power. We can now form what is a basic air force in the form of very limited range helicopters. Frankly, I think that with only missiles and no enemies to speak of this is but a starter technology. True jets that are effective are likely decades in the future.”

                      “And all this is from the Nexus Translator?” Zakhrov asked.

                      “Yes. It provided a few key and surprising breakthroughs that had been though to be dead ends for Xenobiology, and streamlined the copter design to accommodate the air borne nitrate levels that were bedeviling our engineers.”

                      There was a knock at the door, and Zakharov turned in annoyance. “Well, they’ve found me. Compile the specifications. I’d like to review them when I can find the time.

                      “Of course, Prokhor.”


                      HIVE 2178, Far eastern seas on board PRIME


                      “Helm is answering Captain!”

                      Another frustrating attempt to head north and this time blocked by a feral isle of the deep. Captain Gregor grimaced again as his eyes wandered over to the chart table and the numerous markings on it indicating fruitless trips to the north to seek free seas.

                      Gregor made up his mind.

                      “Help hard over on the helm!” Gregor commanded. “Due south make for the narrows approach whatever the cost!”

                      The helmsman quickly spun the small wheel and began to adjust controls as well after a minute or two he was done and reported. “Helm due south!”

                      Yang would soon be calling him demanding an answer for the shift in course and he was damned if he would let him change his mind this time.


                      University Base, MY 21790

                      Zakharov and the rest of the Council examined the map near Pavlov Labs.

                      “And you say the Cult has landed an infantry and missile rover near Labs?” Getz Hoeppe asked.

                      “Yes,” Gregory Kline said. “The scout infantry landed in the past year and the missile rover just came ashore. They are stationed in a forest along the coast.”

                      “Can they threaten any other bases?” Amy asked.

                      “No. They are effectively pinned. But, they are also denying us the use of the forest since they are occupying that sector. They could destroy the supply crawler that is adjacent to them.”

                      Zakharov interjected. “Then move the crawler. Upgrade our artillery to missile weapons, and ensure our infantry at Labs has our best Kevlar armor and ECM to foil the missile rover. I should think that between our perimeter defense, Kevlar armor, and ECM that we are quite safe.”

                      “Are we?” Gregory asked. “What if they had landed with a probe team? They’d be walking away with some of our secrets right now and we couldn’t have done anything about it. Only about a third of our bases are protected with espionage teams right now, and that is not enough. We also need to invest in upgrading all of the bases that are near the sea. Cha Dawn has just illustrated to us the extent of our complacency: we are at sea, and so are other factions. He and the Consciousness have landed units in our territory, and they could land more.

                      “We have adequate resources to upgrade all of our bases if need be, and we need to construct more probe teams. We should also take advantage of the benefits of Xenobiology.”

                      There was a series of nods around the table.

                      “Very well,” Zakharov said. “Ensure all of our base at or near the coast are outfitted with probe teams, have upgraded defenders, and have rovers constructed as appropriate. And by all means take advantage of Xenobiology.”


                      HIVE 2179, The Command Nexus Central Control

                      “What is that!”

                      “Quiet fools!”

                      The room quickly resumed it’s customary air of silence as Chairman Yang’s voice continued to echo in the room.

                      “It seems to be another variant or vector of native life form to Chiron.” Fire Marshal Yazov said slowly, the sound of his voice thick with his native Russian accents.

                      “I agree, your strategy?” Yang asked coolly and quickly as he turned to face Yazov.

                      “Send in our tankers and attack with flamers.” Yazov began. “Flank it on three sides and burn it back to hell.”

                      Yang looked blankly at Yazov for several minutes which Yazov quickly began to feel as Yang’s displeasure but then he spoke.

                      “I agree.” Yang said somewhat breathlessly. “It seems to be composed of the same substance of the worms only different. Proceed with the attack as you have prepared.”

                      Yazov quickly nodded and left the high observation platform to order the attack below via the network of terminals.

                      Yang began to relax somewhat but he could still feel his head swimming. The new exo-heart worked as promised but sometimes a ‘glitch’ occurred that either forced too much or too little blood through his body. It had taken all of his control not to show weakness in front of Yazov or the nexus staff. Weakness must never been shown, not to his people nor this planet.


                      University Base, MY 2180

                      “Frankly, your position is absurd,” Zakharov stated. “Transitioning from a basic economic paradigm like the Planned Economy with its emphasis on growth and industrial production to a more advanced economic model is logical, given our circumstances.”

                      Zakharov’s demeanor was particularly brusque. He choose to wear his archaic wire rim glasses, a metallic blue suit with a high collar, and his stark white hair was standing almost on end. As he glanced as his antagonist-of-the-moment – Richard Korath – he inclined his head forward and looked over the top of his glasses. The effect was dismissive.

                      “The advantages are obvious,” he continued. “With a Private/Protectionist economy we will be able to increase our energy production by almost 50 percent while sacrificing both the morale of our modest military and an industrial penalty. This will result in the favoritism of University business at the expense of others, but our economy will benefit significantly.”

                      “That is almost true,” Richard said. He wasn’t backing down. “The effect of the migrating from a Planned to a Private/Protectionist economy will be a 20 percent industrial penalty. That, Prokhor, is not something we can easily dismiss. Favoring domestic industry is inherently inefficient, even if it does result in significant economic benefits.

                      “No, I’m not finished,” Richard continued as Zakharov tried to inject. “This economic type favors the wealthy elites at the expense of the common citizen, with predictable results: increased unrest. If we migrate to a Private/Protectionist economy approximately a third of our cities will break out in riot. Social disorder, Prokhor, is extraordinarily dangerous. If left unattended the disorder will result in spontaneous destruction of our valuable infrastructure. How do you plan to deal with that?” He crossed his arms over his chest and sat back.

                      “Simply. Most elementary: We increase spending on social stability. As I figure it, an increase of 20 percent of our budget will not only quell all possible riots but it will result in a golden age in at least four of our bases. And that, my dear Councilor, will yield benefits similar to that of a Planned economy in terms of growth with added energy production. Moreover, even with this social spending we will still have a surplus of 13 megajoules per year.”

                      Richard leaned forward and started to get up.

                      “Now I am not finished,” Zakharov continued. “The net result is that our scientific breakthroughs will go from one per 11 years to one per 7. That is the trump card, and for me cinches the argument. We can deal with the unrest, the reduced industrial production quite easily since much of our infrastructure is complete or can be purchased. In order to survive here on Chiron we must – we MUST – learn and understand all there is. There can be no exceptions, and no equivocation. To compromise is to lose, and I will not lose again.”

                      Zakharov stopped abruptly. He had not meant to say that, and if he had everyone’s attention now he had their undivided attention.

                      “Unless I am overruled we will migrate our economy to a Private/Protectionist model, per my proposal. Case closed.”


                      HIVE 2180, HIVE – 4 command center

                      “Yes Chairman we will begin on the project at once.”

                      “See that you do. Time will be critical and resources will be available to you if needed. I suggest you concentrate on mineral production as quickly as possible.”

                      Seneschal O’Melia quickly wrote down the ‘words of wisdom’ from his Chairman and then looked up at the view screen. It was still hard to hold his face expressionless now when he looked at Chairman Yang. The ‘suit’ as they had come to Chairman Yang’s life support vest was not too noticeable but it was there and it made noises and gurgles and from time to time you could see a tube, full of thick red blood pulsing along. Yang normally kept the ‘suit’ covered as best he could but it was there, it was always there now. For many it was a sign that the Chairman would soon die and a new order would rise sweeping new changes into the collective. For others it was a sign of how bitterly Chairman Yang would fight for life, for every second of the day and that his grip on the collective was as strong as it had ever been.

                      “Yes Chairman.” O’Melia said as he raised his head from the e-pad.

                      “Good. It is critical that we have this project, do I make myself clear?” Yang said as his eyes bored into O’Melia.

                      “Very clear Chairman.”

                      “I will ask Captain Gregor to return with the PRIME and provide any additional assistance you might need that his ship can give. Do not fail me O’Melia.”

                      The screen went blank.

                      “What exactly is a ship going to do to help us build a massive solar collection center?”

                      O’Melia turned to his chief deputy and smiled briefly.

                      “I don’t know but the Chairman is sending them. I do know they are very far away and might not even make it back here before the project is done. It also has given me the perfect excuse in case we don’t finish it that I can blame Gregor for not helping. Frankly, it’s a win-win scenario from my perspective.” O’Melia said as he stood up and collected his e-pad.

                      “I hope your right Seneschal for all of our sakes.”


                      • #26
                        Tsiolovski Institute, MY 2181

                        The door to Zakharov’s private chamber opened. It opened soundlessly and disappeared into the wall. A shadow crossed the doorway, and then a figure entered. It was a woman with auburn hair, a slim figure, and a statuesque bearing. Zakharov looked up from his data pad and motioned for her to come toward his cluttered desk.

                        "Adams, I need you to join Dr. Sihn’s team at Tsiolovski Institute," Zakharov said, indicating a base in the near the alien borehole nexus on the three-D holo. The image showed a prosperous base north of University Base in the middle of three boreholes, and with a massive expanse of fungus to the west and north.

                        Standing below the dais of the audience chamber, his aide appears no older than she did on the day she first joined your personal staff 25 years ago.

                        Marilyn Adams has clearly kept to a strict longevity regimen. Now at 81 Chiron years she is one of his most effective Talents, she is ready for her first major independent assignment.

                        The young looking woman blanched. "Have I offended, Prokhor, that you send me away?"

                        "Hardly. Marilyn, your DNA prints indicate an aptitude for the new psi training." A genetic diagram swirls into view on the holo, with the relevant portion of chromosome 21 highlighted. "Dr. Sihn and his military ecologists have been breeding mind worm specimens in captivity, and they believe that a properly trained telepathi can be bonded to the nascent boil, making it an extension of the self."

                        "Become a mind worm boil?" she asks, somewhat horrified.

                        "Become? Not really. Control? Yes. Marilyn, the military potential of this discovery cannot be overemphasized, and you are the only Talent I trust for such an assignment. We need brood trainers, Marilyn, and I need to you be the first, the leader. I know you have the aptitude and motivation. You have succeeded with everything you have ever attempted. I have complete confidence in your abilities."

                        "As you wish, Prokhor," she says, steeling herself to the mission. She gave him one of her customary and old fashioned shallow bows, turned, and left the way she came.

                        As she retreats from the dais, you are troubled by a vision of Marilyn clawing at her face, mottled worms spilling from her eye sockets. You hope you have not signed the extraordinary woman’s death warrant, for she has been a most promising Talent.


                        HIVE 2181, Eastern reaches of HIVE

                        “Well, that did it for that little beasty.”

                        “I would hardly have called it little 89VICTOR.”

                        Both men looked at each other and nodded in agreement. The 4th tanker regiment had been ordered up to engage yet another feral mind worm mass as it was storming towards HIVE – SIX. Just a turn before the 4th had been required to deal with a new alien species found on Chiron that shot some sort of organic wild fire at you. In the end, both aliens had been killed but the 4th was badly beat up from both conflicts.

                        “Nexus has ordered us to proceed to the monolith and enter the sphere of rejuvenation.” 91UNIFORM reported as he pushed his ear receiver closer to his ear so he could hear better. “We are to make repairs there, rest and await the arrival of a new colony pod from HIVE – 5.”

                        “Sounds good to me and I bet the boys will be happy as well.” 89VICTOR replied happily. “I could even use some rest myself.”

                        “89VICTOR when have you ever rested!” Joked 91UNIFORM. “I mean it, since they put you in charge of the 4th all you do is worry about this and that.”

                        “And well I should.” Shot back 89VICTOR. “We are the 4th Tanker regiment. Do you see the 1st through the 3rd anywhere? Well do you? You wont and I will tell you why and that’s because they are all dead. Nexus through them into battles they did not have the training or equipment to win but Nexus did it anyway for the security of the collective. I plan on making sure the 4th does not follow the 1st through the 3rd, do you imprint me!”

                        “Yea, I imprint you, say take it easy.” Soothed 91UNIFORM. “I only meant it as a compliment.”

                        “Well, you should spend less time with compliments and more time working. Now, inform the rest of the tankers we are moving out. Load up and begin sprinting towards the monolith at full speed.” 89VICTOR commanded.

                        His assistant quickly began to type out commands that were relayed via the nexus and the 4th Tankers began to move out quickly. 89VICTOR knew something that the rest of his regiment did not know that just east of the monolith was a massive fungal tower. In the pit of his stomach he knew that Nexus would throw them at the thing sooner or later. It had to be destroyed to clear the way for the next wave of colony pods. Soon the HIVE would have ten HIVE collectives in operation and all of them would need protection from this accursed planet. Only time, blood and napalm would tell if the HIVE could hold them against the entire might of Chiron.


                        University Base, MY 2182

                        “I am truly honored to have University Base’s proudest achievement, the Zakharov Memorial Research Hospital, named after me. This wonderful facility is a momentous step in the improvement in the health and welfare of all University citizens and it will provide unprecedented advances in research,” Zakharov said as he gestured toward the gleaming white and blue structure in back of him. The building had the substantial edifice that looked like white pillars along its wide base, and then was capped by a blue dome. Overall, the effect made it look something like an observatory. At the pinnacle of the dome was a cap of gold and the University flag.

                        “It is my earnest hope that each base of the University will have a Research Hospital for, although they are a substantial investment, each is more than worth its cost due to the long-term benefits it will bring all of us. I am confident that the physicians, researchers, administrators, and especially its patients will be able to attest to the value of this investment in our present, and especially in the future.”

                        A brisk breeze blew through the assembled crowd, and Zakharov’s wild hair took off. For a moment it appeared that he was at the center of a vortex of white hair, rippling blue and gray suit. Throughout it he smiled beatifically, oblivious that he looked like an avatar – otherworldly, and ever-so-remote.


                        HIVE 2182, Far eastern reaches on board colony pod #8

                        “Seneschal the Fireman have yet to remove the fungal tower, shouldn’t we wait till they complete their task?”


                        The group of drones quivered as if the power of his voice had shook them like a sonic boom.

                        “NO!” Seneschal Roberts said again. “I say NO! We will move forward as Chairman Yang has commanded with no deviation. The Fireman and their tankers are between us and the tower so anything the tower might spawn has to get past them first. Our first task will be to equip a full Firemen regiment and then we can build a recycling tank and terraformer. After we have completed those tasks I am to contact Chairman Yang for further orders. NOW you are dismissed!”

                        The group of drones quickly shuffled out the door and a Fireman who was posted outside of his cramped quarters on the colony pod quickly shut the door.

                        Roberts quickly turned to look outside and watched as one of the Chiron’s sun began to drop below the horizon and leaving the landscape in what seemed perpetual twighlight. He liked this aspect of Chiron more than anything, he liked the fact that on only rare occasions did Chiron ever become dark as night. It was not that he feared the darkness rather he so loved the light. It was strange in a way that he had chosen to become one of the volunteers for the UNITY mission when he so despised the dark, that endless trek through the heart of darkness known as space had nearly unhinged him. Upon landing on Chiron after the disaster on UNITY Roberts had quickly seen the need to support Yang in their collective time of trials and now it had paid off.

                        Roberts was the newest Seneschal in charge of what would soon become HIVE – 8. It was the simply the highest rank one could hold in the collective without becoming Chairman Yang himself. The power and privledge of commanding an entire HIVE was not without it’s own troubles and tribulations but, as he always remembered, it was better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. Roberts did not care really if the collective ever achieved Chairman Yang’s goal of creating a new “man” as he so exposed but he Roberts did care about was power. If supporting Chairman Yang’s dream of a new society got him that power, then so be it.

                        Roberts turned back to his desk to begin work on the authorizations for tomorrows food, fuel and oxygen rations. As soon as the colony was dug deep into the soil of Chiron and drones were free for other tasks the first thing Roberts planned to do was transfer some very pretty drones to his staff to take care of these things.


                        University Base, MY 2183

                        “So, Miriam Godwinson is alive,” Zakharov said softly to himself. Aki Zeta-5 had just called to ask for the latest University Advance – Know-How: Sea Power – when she’d let it be known that she’d come into contact with another survivor of Unity. She’d been cryptic, and he had to hand it to her. Her ability to obfuscate was first rate, and she’d played her cards perfectly in enticing his interest and then setting the hook for 50 megacredits, which he’d happily paid.

                        Now he was 50 megacredits poorer, and when they’d finished speaking he had the sinking impression that Aki had the merest hint of a smile on her face. Still, there was nothing for it but to call her up. After all these years he could only guess what Miriam had done with her poor colonists. She’d been from the Christian States of America and, in his opinion, barely competent as a psychologist, much less a University officer. Her appointment had been a sop to the Christian fundamentalists that were warring with each other in the ruins of North America, with guerilla warfare and the occasional tactical nuke. Very sad.

                        Well, there was nothing for it. He coded in the communication frequency, paused, and then activated it.


                        Strangely, Zakharov was relieved. Several mysteries were resolved, and his hunches were correct. Miriam’s faction had devolved into a fundamentalist sect, just as he’d feared. It called itself the Conclave, and from the hints he’d gathered it was a rather pathetic affair. She was at war with the Consciousness, which explained Aki’s hint of a smile when she sold the Conclave’s communication frequency. Miriam had demanded that he declare war on the Consciousness ‘before the Consciousness eradicates all independent thought’. He’d almost laughed at that one: a logical Consciousness could hardly eradicate independent thought more than an irrational belief in supernatural boogie men, witches, and angles. Of course, he’d told her in no uncertain terms that the answer was – absolutely not. Then, in true fundamentalist fashion, she’d declared war on the University.

                        What an idiot. She could sit around in her facsimile cathedrals designed for her own delusion as her people labored in ignorance and squalor for all he could care. Any self respecting people who allowed themselves to be yoked by such an extremist deserved exactly what they got.

                        Now that was settled. The chance that the Conclave posed a threat to the University was somewhat laughable. But, better to be safe. He authorized the upgrade of all perimeter city garrisons to Kevlar armor, trance, and mobile units with ECM. That and the perimeter defense should keep the screaming minions of Sister Miriam Godwinson at bay. Then the growing army of University mindworms could calmly rip their minds out.


                        HIVE 2183, Chairman Yang’s chambers

                        “I will accept.”

                        “I thought you would, my statement should not have been construed as an offer but more as a command but I am pleased none the less that you want the position.”

                        The woman who sat across from Chairman Yang looked troubled for the briefest of seconds then collected himself.

                        “I understood clearly Chairman, I just wanted to say that I do want the position and I will do my best at it, that was all.” Avril Meyer responded quickly and with an air of smoothness that contradicted her brief moment of fear.

                        “Yes, just so.” Yang began. “With the new technology our scientists have at last developed we can, once again, harness the power of our current computer systems to create an informational network that will give us vast computer resources and computational capabilities. In fact, as soon as we complete our first network at HIVE – 2 I plan on linking one of the many artifacts we have to the network to hopefully unlock the secrets it might hold.”

                        “A very wise plan Chairman.” Avril replied. “Will I be in charge of that as well?”

                        “No!” Yang quickly said as he adjusted a dial on his chest plate which seemed to quickly make him feel better and then he continued. Yang’s face had started to become blotchy but now it looked normal. “I will supervise the linking of the artifact. Your position is clear. Protect our networks from any form of espionage and secure them from intrusions of any type. I will also expect reports and monitoring of the network and who uses it. You will be expected to categorize certain forms of data and encrypt them for use by only authorized seneschals and foreman. Let me be clear on one point, no drone or worker should be allowed access to the informational networks, is that understood?”

                        “Clear.” Avril replied as she quickly jotted down some notes from what Yang had just said.

                        “Good. Lastly, you will be trusted to build a cadre of elite network security agents charged with the protection of our data centers and they should be trained in espionage and counter-espionage techniques. As our Firemen are charged with the protection, discipline and order of the collective so will your operatives of the Collective will be charged with the protection of our networks, the nexus control network and intelligence gathering. It is clear that enemies within the HIVE still exist in some form or another and you will insure that they are found and turned over to the Firemen for re-education.” Yang explained with an intensity Avril had not seen from him ever. Yang’s eyes were focused and when he looked at her it was as if he were boring into her soul.

                        “Understood Chairman.” Avril replied smartly.

                        “I hope that you do.” Yang said as he slowly rose, a clear sign that meeting was at an end. “We still have yet to find any other survivors on Chiron yet from the Unity nor can we rule out that we just might find higher forms of native life on Chiron that could pose a threat to us in other forms or fronts. The native vectors so far have been more than a challenge for the Firemen so we could find a form of native life that posses a threat to our informational security. For now, let us focus on internal security and informational discipline and then move on to upgrades in other areas.”

                        Avril shuddered to think of what form an alien life form on Chiron would look like that could threaten computers as she stood up and side-stepped her chair and then bowed deeply and slowly back out of the room as Yang slowly sat down and began to type on his computer.


                        Fungus fields near University Base, MY 2184

                        “Johns, is boil three in position?” Marilyn asked. For a moment there was static, but Marilyn knew it would take a while for his boil to sense her transmission. The xenofungus was pervasive, generally hostile to humans, but it was an excellent way to transmit information if you had two or more mindworm receivers and a mindworm to send. Discovering and implementing this application had already won her a citation from the Council. As well it should.

                        There was a trembling. Her worm was ready, and it told her, Yes, we are in position one sector north of the Unity pod. As far as we can see it is totally overgrown with fungus. Charlie can’t sense more about it though. Strange, that..

                        Marilyn thought, Charlie?

                        That is the name that Broodhuman Johns has given to his symbiote. The symbiote finds it amusing. Broodmaster Adams, will you give me a name?

                        She had to smile at that. So her mindworm wanted a name. Perhaps it felt left out?

                        How about Sparky?

                        There was a pause. Yes. My name is Sparky. I will call you Broodhuman Adams.

                        What? No name for me?

                        Naming is an Earthhuman convention. And you already have a name. Do you want another?

                        [i]No,[/b] she thought in reply. Please tell Johns that he and Charlie can enter the Unity pod at their convenience. We and boil 2 will respond depending on circumstances.

                        Message sent. They are advancing….

                        Broodmaster Adams – there is a problem. An energy release. Very old energy.

                        Then she felt it. The ground shook, and the xenofungus all around her waved and pulsed. She could almost hear it screaming, or keening in sympathy? It was hard to say. She looked toward the north where Adams and his boil were investigating the fungus and she saw it: the earth was moving upward! It was like a volcano in fast forward, but without the fire and lava. Grinding and crackling were deafening. The earth itself was being rent, and the fungus torn. It seemed to go on for minutes.

                        Through it all she remained on her feet, which was nothing short of amazing. In fact, the fungus seemed unperturbed except for a residual keening that rang in her head, kind of like 15,000 pitch forks ringing at the same time. She could feel through the fungus that the earth was now changed. Now, that was strange, and she had felt many strange things over the years. Was the earth in some way part of the xenofungus? If true, that would cause the researchers at University Base to piss their pants.

                        Adams? We’re all right. It looks like we are now 1,000 meters or so higher. I don’t know what happened, but I think the fungus did it. Don’t ask me how. The amount of energy needed to create or relocate this much land is staggering, Marilyn. Base has to know.

                        Frank, send your report directly to Zakharov. He and Constance will want to know immediately

                        Got it. It will go through the fungus, so you’ll be able to listen in.

                        Yes, she would, and she was sure it would be a doozy of a report.


                        • #27
                          HIVE 2184, Central highlands area

                          “The last of the equipment is now going below Seneschal.”

                          “Very good 10BTANGO.”

                          The drone/worker quickly bowed and scuttled back to the group of drones who were already beginning the task of taking the last of the supplies brought on the colony pod deep within the new colony. HIVE – 9 was at last ready for occupation and operation and Seneschal Cersi Lannister was very proud of her achievements. For starters, she was the first female seneschal appointed by Chairman Yang and she had built her colony faster than any other seneschal in HIVE history.

                          The new complex was built into the hillsides of the range of mountains that formed what had now become known as the central highlands. HIVE- 5, HIVE – 8, HIVE – 7 and HIVE – 6 all formed a ring around the highlands and now her base was near the center of it. HIVE – 10 would be established soon along the far northeast edge and would become their port city and final anchor city for the highlands complex.

                          The Chiron sun was getting low and she knew it was time to go inside and begin her work there. She looked down the slop where the once massive colony pod had once been parked, now nothing. Every inch of it had been torn apart or recycled for use in the new underground complex. Only the new road that linked HIVE – 9 to the rest of the highland HIVE complex cities could be seen.

                          Cersi began to walk towards the massive blast doors that shielded the base from any attack and as she passed through she waved at the drone to close them. Only by her orders would they ever open again. Supplies and drones would exit and enter through the several smaller service entrances that serviced the HIVE city.

                          Cersi turned and watched the doors slowly close and when they the complex and massive locking systems began to engage sealing the doors in place. The pale fluorescent lights barely illuminated the marshalling area within the main entrance of the newest HIVE city. Cersi had to allow her eyes to adjust for a few minutes before she began the long walk down deep into the bowels of the city and her new home and kingdom.


                          Northern Fungal Fields, MY 2185

                          “And Johns, no surpizes this time. Right?” Marilyn asked.

                          The response echoed through the fungus. Right, boss. No surprises. Charlie, ready to go?

                          Marilyn heard – or rather, felt – the chatter between the human brood master and his symbiot. John’s thought patterns were clear, if somewhat disorganized. His mindworm’s thoughts hardly qualified as such. They were more snatches of color, image fragments, what might be feelings, and what she called ‘pulses’. There was really no other word, except maybe distortions. Johns called them waves, but that wasn’t quite right, either, and the brainiacs at University Base had no idea either. Regardless they formed the core of mindworm thought, and perhaps how they interacted with the environment. So, for the time being, waves or pulses were all the same.

                          She then felt that the other boils were in place, too, just in case anything went awry. Everyone had now taken after Johns. Nadia named her boil ‘Sven’, and rumor was that it was for a rather well endowed boyfriend she’d had a few years ago. Phil had named his boil ‘Booger’. It was downright disrespectful, but his worm didn’t mind a bit – even after it was explained to him exactly what a booger was.

                          There was another pulse through the fungus. Charlie and Johns were moving. She could almost see them since so much of their sensory data was making it through to her, although some of it was distorted.

                          Then she felt a very strong pulse, and a peel of laughter from Johns.

                          Marilyn! It wasn’t a Unity artifact at all, but a monolith! You know, like the one by Pavlov Biolab. Charlie is REALLY happy, too. It looks like he’s meshed with it, and he’s throbbing a bit. Boy, look at the pseudopod growth! I’ve never seen him do that before! Wow! Hey, it looks like he’s getting bigger too – just like the other monolith. He’s feeding off of it. Maybe we should have the other worms try it out! They’re all kind of small, so it might do them some good.

                          Marilyn replied, “Good idea.” Then she redirected her message. “Nadia, Phil – have Sven and Booger try out the monolith when you can. Charlie seems to like it, and maybe they will too.”

                          She got a few more of the pulses, several from each of Sven and Booger. Evidently they did like the idea and weren’t waiting for her approval. Although the worms were generally subservient – or at least somewhat compliant – the worms most certainly had a mind of their own. It was hard to understand, exasperating to control (or try to control), but ultimately extremely satisfying. Although she’d been terrified when Zakharov had given her assignment, she now knew that it had been well worth it. And she hoped he was pleased with their progress.


                          HIVE 2185, On board the UNITY transport ship PRIME

                          “Captain, we are almost through this muck!”

                          “Calm down all!” Gregor bellowed. “We have not cleared it all yet.”

                          “But sir, only a few more sectors then clear sailing again. What course should we set?”

                          Gregor did not respond immediately and he knew that would cause his bridge crew to begin to worry but there was no hope for it.

                          “We will steer south by west and hug the coastline, steer 120 once we clear the headlands of this isthmus.” Gregor commanded.

                          The crew began to comply but he could see they were not happy about it. They had hit so many coves and lagoons it had seemed that they would never reach open water and now he was commanding them to head into unknown waters again for little hope of finding anything.

                          Suddenly Gregors second and third in commands were beside his command chair.

                          “Yes?” Gregor asked absently as he picked up his stim-drink.

                          Gregor’s executive office looked down at his feet and did not say anything but remained silent. Lt. Bell jumped in.

                          “Why?” Bell asked with an air of anger in his voice.

                          “Why you ask?” Gregor parroted. “Well because we follow orders that’s why. Yang wants us to scour the seas in hopes of finding more Unity pods or perhaps even other survivors from the old ship and that is why.”

                          His lieutenants looked at him and then each other and then back at their captain.

                          “Why don’t we just live here?” Bell asked.

                          “Exactly how long do you think we would survive on the rations we have? When they run out or we need medicine or anything we would have to go back to the collective and Yang would kills us all then. Look.” Gregor put his hands on both men’s shoulders and whispered to them. “Look, lets just get through this last bit and move south, lets see what’s out there and by then, I will order us back, we will need supplies by then and Yang will not refuse us.”

                          Neither of them said anything for a long time and then they both looked at him and nodded their agreement.

                          Mutiny was delayed once again.


                          Tsiolovski Institute, MY 2186

                          Lieutenant Talx felt ill at ease, which was unusual. He did not feel exactly sick. No, he’d been spared that so far. He’d held up pretty good, all things considered. There were no artificial implants to replace wrecked or worn out knees, no urgent surgery to resculpt arteries or organs, and no onerous regime of pills or other supplements. Of course, keeping to his military fitness helped a bit, but even there he knew he couldn’t keep his wash board abs like he could when he was 60. Chiron’s heavy gravity did take a toll, primarily on the circulatory system, joints, and especially the heart.

                          So, what was wrong? He’d felt it growing as a sense of disquiet for weeks now, and maybe a month. It was like he had a faint buzzing in his ears that was there only when it was quiet, or when he was deep in thought. Now the irritation was there all the time, and it seemed to be taking a toll on him physically. He’d had a vague headache for a few days and his stomach wasn’t quite right.

                          Now that he was retired he had some time, and he volunteered is apartment wing at Institute. On an impulse he went down into the air exchangers to see if there was an imbalance there. The CO2 filtration system was working just fine, and the cyclers were up to snuff, too. So, it wasn’t due to constant bad air. If that were the case then why did he feel that when he went out in the town, or when he’d ridden on Transit-T to Zvedny Gorodock last week?

                          No, there was nothing for it. He’d have to go to the doctor to see what the problem was. He really hated the thought, but he also hated the idea of dropping dead because he’d ignored clear signs of pulmonary distress or a stroke.

                          With his mind made up he walked up the 15 flights to his level, pushed through the pressure iris, and padded to his apartment. And as he walked he started to feel bad, really bad. The buzzing was now like a chorus, and he started to actually feel his stomach knot. There was a dull throb of pain building in his head.

                          Oh, god he thought. Heart attack, or stroke. Or both..

                          He cycled his primary door, slapped his hand on the vid and called for emergency service. A voice replied: “We’re sorry. But due to an unexpected number of emergency calls your query is being routed to University Base. Please stand by.”

                          University Base? he thought with alarm. If he was having an emergency he’d never get there in time to do anything but put out his drool cup or measure him for cremation.

                          “Mr. Talx, this is Dr. Waleys. Almost everyone at Tsiolovski Insititute is calling in with symptoms like yours. We believe it is real, but a human physiologic reaction to something that is happening to Chiron in your area. Please keep your palm on the pressure pad. We will monitor your condition, and give you more information as it becomes available.”

                          Tal slumped into a chair while being careful to keep contact with the pad. He squeezed his eyes shut. Flashes of light pulsed across his vision, and when he opened them again he could swear that the room seemed to pulse just like the light he seemed to be seeing. There was screaming somewhere and a shattering of glass. That sounded normal in a horrible sort of way, not like the screeching he was hearing as an undertone.

                          Then there was a huge pulse of light and he threw up his free arm to cover his eyes – but it did no good. He was still almost blinded! The screeching in his mind was now deafening, and he could actually feel the pulses. With each one the room seemed to – did! – quake a bit. His stomach clenched and he could feel himself gaging. His breathing came in short abrupt bursts, almost like he was fighting for air under great pressure.


                          When he woke up he felt normal. His hand had fallen off the pressure pad, and a query light was flashing. He tapped it, and then pressed his palm in. The light went green. “Mr. Talx, the crisis is over. There has been a fungal eruption north of Institute and it affected everyone, but the Sensitives most directly. You have been entered as a Sensitive to HQ. It is likely that your commission will be reactivated. You will be contacted shortly.

                          “****,” he whispered under his breath after he carefully removed his palm. “Just when I was getting to like retirement.”


                          HIVE 2186, The Command Nexus Center ( CNC )

                          “Are your tankers ready?”

                          “We are prepared Chairman.”

                          “Then let me see.”

                          Yang walked over the holo-table at which Fire Marshal Yazov stood on the far side of along with several of his assistants. With a quick nod of his Yazov ordered the table to activated.

                          In a blink of an eye the far eastern territory of the HIVE was displayed showing the large mountain range, the river system that find it’s source deep inside that range, HIVE – 6, a monolith and of course a giant fungal tower.

                          “Our plan is simple Chairman.” Yazov began as he motioned to one of his aides who operated the table. Suddenly two tanker regiments were displayed adjacent to the monolith. “With your approval the 4th tanker regiment will lead the attack supported by the 5th heavy tanker regiment. The 4th, being slightly better trained will assault the fungal tower here and here in two rushing columns of tankers. Once engaged they will deploy skirmishers to establish a defensive line which will allow the remaining units of the 4th to lay down suppressing fire with their flamers. Once fully engaged with all units a general advance will be given and the skirmishers.” Another nod from Yazov and the map changed again showing small images of soldiers and rovers moving against the massive tower. “will advance, establish a new line of defense and then the remaining parts of the 4th will re-deploy their flamers and attack again. At best it should only take two jumps to bring the 4th within striking range of the tower itself and then all units will deploy encircle the tower and burn it to the ground.”

                          Yang watched the table shift again as it displayed in great detail the plan Yazov had explained with the tower burning to the ground.

                          “What of these reports that some Firemen are more ‘sensitive’ to these mind attacks from the worms.” Yang asked quietly.

                          The question, completely non-related to the battle at hand caught everyone surprised.

                          “Yes, it does seem some of our Firemen and indeed, some drones as well are more sensitive to the worms and, in fact, seem to predict an attack. It is not always accurate to be sure but there does seem to be a link.” Yazov quickly recovered.

                          “Order anyone found to be ‘sensitive’ to be sent to the re-education centers for disposal.” Yang said flatly.

                          Everyone seemed stunned at the order. Disposal, a polite HIVE euphemism for extermination of defective genetic structures or deviant behaviors.

                          “Sir, in some regiments and companies these sensitives have become valuable members. I would.”

                          Yazov was quickly cut off.

                          “Enough!” Yang growled back. “They are deviants and need to be eliminated from the gene pool. Any connection to the native life of Chiron will become irrelevant once we exterminate the life on this planet and replace it with our own designs. Order them re-assigned immediately and expunged from the rolls. I want testing done on them to find the common genetic markers so we can squash it from the HIVE collective.”

                          No one said anything more. Soon, all of those drones, Firemen and workers would soon be floating in the vast recycling pools beneath each HIVE city providing needed nutrients to support the collective. In the end, if they could not help the collective one way they would another.


                          University Base, MY 2187

                          “And the Gaians have lost Gaia’s Landing to the Cult. Apparently Cha Dawn couldn’t resist attacking Lady Skye’s capital, and the Gaians couldn’t defend themselves. Of their four bases the Gaian have not lost two to the Cult. They are losing, with little chance of fighting back. The next base in line has both the Weather Paradigm and the Vitro Fertilization Center,” Gregor Kline finished.

                          Prokhor Zakharov was clearly agitated, or more agitated than usual. “The situation is intolerable,” he said. “That zealot is going to run Deirdre into the ground! Not acceptable,” he sputtered, and then sank into silence.

                          “What can we do?” Amy Constance asked. Her voice was more plaintive than anything else.

                          “First, we have a little chat with Cha Zealot and read him the riot act. It worked once, and at least it will buy Dee some time. Then we call up Deirdre and gift her some technology. She seems to have an affinity for Chiron-based information, and we’ll give her what she wants – even if it isn’t what she needs, which is military technology.”

                          “Xenobiology is military,” Amy offered. “The Gaians can build mindworms, which are both cost effective and militarily potent. With those she could defend herself and perhaps explore Chiron.”

                          Zakharov swiveled to stare at Amy. “Right. Quite right. Yes, that will do. And here is what we must do: build isles of the deep. With them we can better explore the seas, harvest Unity pods, infiltrate the other factions – even the Cyborgs but especially the Cult – and drop a nice potent force of mindworms, rovers, and ECM infantry right on Cha Dawn’s doorstep. The next time he gets out of line he gets crushed like a bug, and we drive him off Deirdre’s island for ever. Then we gift the bases back to the Gaians.”

                          He got a wicked gleam in his eyes. “And then maybe we just keep going and cleanse Chiron of that blot of humanity. They’re almost as bad as the Believers, but their turn will come.”

                          The rest of the Council didn’t say a word. Zakharov was really pissed, and although Cha Dawn didn’t know it he’d just signed his death warrant.


                          • #28
                            HIVE 2187, Private quarters of Chairman Yang

                            “They did well?”

                            “Very well Chairman, very well indeed.”

                            “Good. Casualties?” Yang asked as he quickly adjusted a dial on his chest plate then relaxed somewhat. Zho waited the extra minutes until he was sure Yang was ready to proceed.

                            “Moderate and acceptable. The 4th is the last of the lighter armed missile tanker regiments. With this victory Yazov recommends we upgrade their armaments to full laser weapons.” Zho said as he lightly brushed his e-pad for more information to be displayed.
                            “With the bounty of planet pearls we harvested from the tower we can easily make the upgrades, you have my approval.” Yang replied as began the process of centering his body and thoughts. Yang’s arms lay motionless in his lap, his feet cross-legged. “Continue.”

                            “Chairman, the colony pods for HIVE -10 and HIVE – 11 are under construction and we have two network nodes and two energy plants under construction as well. As soon as the nodes are ready plans have been relayed to those HIVE cities to link their artifacts to them immediately and extract any worthwhile data.” Zho reported and then paused for any input from Yang.

                            “Continue.” Yang said quietly his face had shifted to the serene look of deep meditation.

                            “I have a report from several of our lead scientists that now believe that perhaps at least four maybe six groups of survivors are living on Chiron.” Zho reported and then looked up at Yang waiting for a response.

                            “What evidence leads them to this conclusion?” Yang said just as quietly as before.

                            “They are picking up atmospheric bounces of radio waves on unknown frequencies. The signal is very distorted so without having the exact frequency it is impossible to decipher them but snippets get through and it is clear some is making them.” Zho explained as he deftly touched his e-pad to display more of the report and its details.

                            “Could the be signals from alien life, native life forms of Chiron?” Yang questioned, his voice slightly deeper.

                            “No, these are Earthlike radio waves and in encrypted with algorithms we known to be of Earth design but are unable to decipher them.” Zho quickly added.

                            “So.” Yang said as his eyes slowly opened. “We know there are survivors now but not where they are at and who they are. Gregor has explored only a small part of Chiron and still no sign but who knows.” Yang’s eyes closed again but he continued to talk. “Should we make contact I want our intelligence operatives to scramble any incoming transmissions and all contact between the survivors and the HIVE come through me. No word is of survivors are to reach the drones and only the brain trust of the HIVE will be informed, on a need to know basis, is that clear!”

                            “Very clear Chairman.” Zho said as he jotted down Yang’s orders into his data pad.

                            “Good.” Yang continued. “Should Gregor find anyone his crew is to be quarantined and keep all radio traffic ultra-secured. I want no chance of cross-contamination with the fruits of the HIVE, is that clear!”

                            “Very clear Chairman.” Zho agreed as he continued to write down information.

                            The meeting went on for another hour before Zho could leave.


                            University Base, MY 2188

                            Zakharov and the members of the Council that could be gathered on short notice arrived and sat down quickly. As soon as the four available members were somewhat settled Admiral Pilz walked in, looked at Zakharov, and handed him a datapad.

                            “Sir, the Zakharov has been lost with all hands. The only transmission we received was that they were being attacked with missiles: an unprovoked attack. And we also just heard that the missile rover that had been sitting along the coast by Pavlov Biolab had attacked the garrison – and failed spectacularly. The perimeter defense, ECM, and the base itself meant they were destroyed and did not even take a single loss.”

                            Zakharov nodded. “Any declaration of war?”

                            “None, sir,” he replied.

                            “Well, the attacks were more than enough. We will reply in kind. What do we have near Pavlov Center?”

                            “An ECM Kevlar rover defender, a ECM infantry, a missile artillery unity, an anti-espionage team, and one of our mindworm teams.”

                            The Prohkor smiled. “Inform Marilyn that she is to have her team near Pavlov Center attack and destroy the Cultists, and that she is authorized to use the artillery to soften the remaining cultist infantry as she sees fit. I’ll want a full report, and be sure to fully document the Cultists as the worms they love rip their brains out. When that is complete send it to His Most Moronic Zealot with the subtitle: And They All Died Screaming.

                            The Admiral paused. “Literally that, sir?”

                            Zakharov shot him an icy stare. “Soften it the language if you like, but make sure that he knows that he has declared vendetta and that the considerable resources of the University are going to ensure his eradication.

                            “Speaking of which,” he continued. “Are the biology labs complete yet? They will be helpful in gestating the new Isles of the Deep, which we’ll need to ferry our troops and espionage units to destroy the Cult.”

                            He turned to the Admiral. “I want a series of white papers that lay out likely strategies, risks, and force levels along with presumed levels of success. Assume that the bulk of our offensive force will be mindworms, with espionage support and ECM and trance infantry and rovers. The two main stratagems will be to attack the Cultists on the Gaian mainland, or attack them at the heart of their pathetic little empire. I want the reports available to the Council in two weeks. Understood?”

                            The Admiral inclined his head slightly. “Completely sir.”

                            “Thank you, Admiral,” he said by way of dismissal. The Admiral turned and left.

                            Zakharov turned toward the Council. “Of course this means we’ll have to finish the Maritime Center Project as soon as possible. That will give our native and conventional navy a better chance, and make a conventional navy more effective. Now, are there any other options to consider?”


                            HIVE 2188, network node operations center of HIVE – 4

                            “Is it ready?”

                            “Nearly Chairman, we will complete the nodes final connections this turn and we can then plug the artifact into the system immediately.”

                            Yang’s face in the monitor took on a slightly pleased look but only for a second then it resumed it’s normal taciturn visage.

                            “Good.” Yang began. “I want complete operational security in place when you connect the device. Your network should be isolated from the rest of the HIVE network should anything amiss take place. In turn, I have instructed your Seneschal to activate the cities self destruct device should something terrible occur during the unlocking of the devices secrets. We will cauterize the infection if it occurs.”

                            The group of technicians looked at each other quickly fear oozing from their pours. Yang could see the reaction his words had had.

                            “Your team should have enough time to leave the base in case such drastic actions are required.” Yang added.

                            The group looked pleased again and much relieved.

                            “Inform me the minute the links are connected and the device begins transmitting the data.” Yang finished and the monitor was turned off.

                            Yang sat back slightly in his chair and turned to Zho.

                            “Should anything negative happen, detonate the device immediately. We do not know what form the infection could spread or if contamination of the HIVE could take place. Better to destroy one city than risk the entire collective.” Yang ordered.

                            “After the workers, scientists and the Seneschal leave of course.” Zho said as he began to write down notes on his e-pad.

                            “No, the minute anything amiss should occur detonate the device. We have no idea what will happen when we link the devices to our systems. Better to be sure we clean the whole thing up and purge the infection with fire. If we were to allow the scientists to leave and other elites from that city word could spread of the failure, of our actions and cause undo dissent within the collective. No, better to treat the event as a disaster of some sorts and let it go from there.”

                            Zho nodded his head in agreement.


                            Northern Sea, MY 21889

                            “Well, it certainly looks inviting,” Captain Conrads said as she peered through the scopes. “It’s clearly not fungus, and its also not native Earth vegetation. But it’s green. I don’t think we’ve seen Chiron ecology dominated by Earth-like chlorophyll ecosystems.”

                            “Should we send a fly-eye? That might help us get a better look,” Lieutenant Stevens asked.

                            “Good idea. Do it. Can we make much out about the land mass so far?”

                            “Only what our foil has surveyed, which is about 5 sectors. So far the terrain is flat, near sea level, and covered by the green native jungle, or lush forest. It is near enough to the equator that it may be a rainforest analog. We’ve also seen no sign of other factions that have inhabiting the territory.”

                            “Yet. Keep looking. Our landmass is filled, and due to our ongoing difficulties with the Cult and Believers I’m sure we do not want to expand in those directions. If this is big enough it may be a good site for additional University bases. The northern portion of our landmass is completely covered with fungus, and any action there would take decades – and more formers than we can afford.

                            “I’ll compile a report for the Council, and give it priority. In the meantime continue our heading toward the east, and keep along the coast. Avoid sea fungus if you can – I don’t want us damaged and out of action for years again. But if we have to enter then let our empaths know that we can expect trouble.”

                            “Aye, Captain,” he said as he turned and left.

                            Sarah Conrads was hopeful for the first time in a long period. Having the Zakharov destroyed with all hands had been a blow, and she knew it could have been them. Fortunately for her crew they were well north and out of likely combat, but you never know. A Cultist foil could round the corner at any time, and that would be a problem. Granted, their missiles might do some damage, but only if they were unarmored, as the Cultist foil that had taken down the Zakharov had been. If they had a chance there would be no hesitation.


                            HIVE 2189, Chairman Yang’s private quarters

                            “What do you think Zho?”

                            “Chairman the technology is fascinating to say the least.”

                            “Yes, I agree but to a point.” Yang began. “The programs and technology the artifact housed seems to have no other purpose other than recreational use. The scientists assure me they pose no threat to collective directly but if allowed to propagate amongst the drones it could lead to improper thinking within the collective.”

                            “If channeled correctly they could also be used to harness some of the frustrations and curb dangerous emotions within the drone community.” Zho replied as he stood patiently in front of Yang’s desk. “The Roman empire used the gladiatorial games to harness the masses, bread and circuses I do believe the saying goes.”

                            “Yes, lets not forget history and what it can teach us but for now, we have no need to build the proposed recreational centers that one of the team of scientists on the artifact project suggested. Our drones are very compliant and production is at an all time high. Our third firemen brigade will be built in a mere three turns! Many of our cities have four thousand workers and drones and we are about to launch HIVE – 10. We will continue to expand and expand for some time with the vast expanse of land we have at our easy disposal.” Yang explained as he deftly adjusted some instruments on his chest plate and then covered it back up with his robes.

                            “Yes, we could easily build another ten cities with little or no problem with land use that is true Chairman. I think so long as our cities contain a manageable population between our Fireman and operatives any lack of discipline amongst the drones can be dealt with.” Zho added.

                            “What of this news of the 4th tankers?” Yang asked in an almost happy tone. “I see they found a whole host of possible Unity pods?”

                            “Yes, that is correct Chairman.” Zho quickly opened his e-pad and reviewed something and then looked up. “The 4th says they found three Unity pods along the isthmus area to our east. Should I order them to investigate them?”

                            Yang nodded in agreement.

                            “It will be done.” Zho said as he jotted something down on the e-pad. “We will need to begin construction on three more colony pods once the tenth one leaves. We will soon have land prepared for at least three more. Do you have a list of candidates for the Seneschal program?”

                            “I do. I will send you the names later today. Have them report to me on the morrow.” Yang hesitated. “Anything more on these radio transmissions?”

                            “No Chairman, nothing. Still jibberish though the last few turns have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of transmissions. Whatever is happening out there seems to be coming to a head.” Zho reported.

                            “It is nothing to us then. We have a vast continent of land to develop first and it seems a vast ocean that separates us from other survivors or aliens. I have not counted out the possibility that the aliens, in some form or another, have obtained our technology from the stricken Unity and are trying to use it. If Gregor should encounter anything out there inform him immediately to report it to me directly.”


                            University Base, MY 2190

                            “Prokhor, the climate is changing,” Amy Constance stated. “Our forests are able to adjust, but farms near Tsiolovski Institute and Planetary Archives have gone from moist to arid, with a predictable drop in farming productivity. Fortunately both bases had a modest agricultural surplus or were able to use supply crawlers to fill the void, but growth at both bases is at a halt.

                            “The main question is why. The primary theory is that the tectonic disturbance in the fungus field between Tsiolovski Institute, University Base, and New Azamas cased a mountain lee effect, where moisture is trapped on the western faces with an accompanying drop in rainfall in the mountain shadow. Another possible theory is that the ecological damage that caused two fungal blooms near Tsiolovski Institute and some evidence of possible ecological damage at University Base and Zvedny Gorodock has shifted the climate. We’ve seen ample evidence of a strange synergy or symbiosis between the xenofungus an the land, air and water of Chiron. It is almost like they are linked. A third theory is that the terraforming we and possibly other factions have completed has caused long-term changes. This clearly happened on Earth, and some of our terraforming is more severe than what was possible on Earth.

                            “Fortunately most of our farms and all of our forests and mines are not affected by the localized climatic shifts, and it is not clear if the changes will continue to get worse. What the study group white paper recommends is that we remove fungus from the western sides of the mountainous area to take advantage of the rainy territory, plant forests in arid areas, and continue other terraforming efforts – but with some care. Moreover, we need to eliminate or limit the ecologic disruption that seems to be caused by large amounts of industrial activity. The spontaneous fungal growths destroy valuable terraforming, so we need to keep it under control. It also seems that energy production is added in some cases. For instance, the recent addition of the solar collector to the mountainous farm has increased the eco damage at University Base from 7 to 22. This is not acceptable, and I recommend that we cease utilizing the borehole and instead use a supply crawler to harvest the energy or have a small base use the prestigious amounts of energy offered by these alien constructs.

                            “In conclusion, the threat of climate change is local and in most circumstances manageable. We can have no direct impact on other factions, but we must manage our resource harvesting and utilization with greater care. We also need to be watchful for ways to reduce ecological damage without scaling back our industrial potential.

                            “White paper ends.”

                            Zakharov ended the holo with accompanying data streams. It was succinct and helpful, as always. Moreover, it was extremely fortunate that Amy Constance did not harbor political ambitions or she would be a worthy adversary, and one that would have to be eliminated – regardless of the short-term loss to the University as a whole.


                            HIVE 2190, Production warren #2 – observation catwalks


                            Yang stopped walking and slowly turned to face his assistant Zho who was quickly running along the catwalk observation platform. Yang’s security detail relaxed somewhat as Zho approached but not completely.

                            “Chairman!” Zho stopped in front of Yang at the standard security distance of 5 feet. “Chairman we have this report from the 5th tanker regiment!”

                            Zho handed over his e-pad to Yang who quickly took it and scanned the material.

                            After a few minutes Yang looked up, his face a mask of disbelief.

                            “Cloned?” Yang said quickly and quietly to Zho and handed him back his e-pad.

                            “Yes, in every way including the equipment, even the memories of each Fireman. It is truly amazing!” Zho said breathlessly.

                            “Yes and ominous.” Yang said his face returning to its normal serene look. Yang looked again at Zho. “Walk with me.”

                            Zho quickly got in line with Yang, at the required distance and began to walk.

                            “This is both wonderful and terrifying. If the native life forms to Chiron and I am talking of the superior beings who must have built that device have such power to do something we don’t stand a chance against them and yet, where are they?” Yang said thoughtfully.

                            “They could have left Chiron. There is ample evidence of some sort of ecological disaster or perhaps even extra-terrestrial. Who can say?” Zho replied his voice still edged with amazement.

                            “Yes, who can say.” Yang replied quietly as he looked slightly over the edge at the drones below assembling laser rifles. “Order Yazov to put all military on high alert. Operatives to secure all sensitive areas and begin full security sweeps of our territory. Recall Gregor immediately for consultations. I want to make sure we don’t get blind sided.”

                            “At once Chairman.”

                            “And Zho.” Yang added. “Order that cloned unit to return to HIVE – PRIME for study. We really don’t know what they could be and some experiments by my operatives should dispel any questions I have.”

                            “Chairman, the problem is we don’t know who the clones are now since both units claim to be the original.” Zho explained.

                            Yang looked amused for a second.

                            “No problem, send both units back then for experimentation. Once way or another I will find who are the real humans and who are the clones if I have to take their bodies apart piece by piece and Fireman by Fireman until they are all gone.”


                            • #29
                              University Base, MY 2191

                              “Far from being displeased, I am relieved that our most recent breakthrough was in High Intensity Lasers. We have numerous missile rovers, but the new high intensity lasers are twice as effective. I anticipate that a small squadron of them will make short work of the Cultists.”

                              Zakharov looked over the Council. “As per the White Paper on our options for the Cult, our isles of the deep will carry one probe team, infantry, and either a mindworm or laser rover. A minimum of two isles will be constructed, and we will try to get one conventional empath foil to escort them through the significant areas of sea fungus that exist between us and the Cultist and Gaian territories. Our first target is the captured Gaian bases to take pressure off them.

                              “After dropping off and hopefully taking one of the Cultist bases, the isles will return for more troops. One additional option will be to outfit the laser rover with amphibious abilities. If the Cultists have not even developed Kevlar armor or don’t have ECM ability then the rover may be able to summarily remove all defenders, rendering base capture relatively easy.

                              “Our first priority will be to infiltrate their datalinks, and then conquest. As we all know, knowledge is power – and even with our significant resources we will need all the advantages we can get.”


                              HIVE 2191, Chairman Yang’s private quarters

                              “Yes Zho?”

                              “It happened again Chairman.”

                              Yang looked displeased as he slowly reached out his hand for Zho’s e-pad. Zho offered it over and bowed slightly. Yang quickly read it over and handed it back.

                              “It is truly amazing.” Yang began. “From one tanker regiment we now have three.”

                              “Yes, truly.” Zho agreed.

                              “Order them all back for study.” Yang began. “I want them quarantined and prepared for study. We need to determine the truth to this, if they are really drones of the collective or agents of some unknown entity.”

                              “I agree Chairman. I have already contacted the three commanders and they are returning to HIVE. We can begin studies shortly.” Zho quickly added.

                              “Just so.” Yang said as he quickly adjusted a dial on his chest plate. “Is HIVE -10 and 11 ready to depart?”

                              “Ten is. HIVE – 11 is still under construction but will soon be ready. Our second network node is just a few turns away and we will soon be able to unlock yet another of the artifacts.” Zho reported.

                              “Just so.” Yang said as he pulled back his robe to cover his chest plate. “This report from the lead weapons scientists about cruise missiles, it seems promising.”

                              “Yes, very promising.” Zho quickly examined some notes on his e-pad and then continued. “We should have a breakthrough at nearly the same time we unlock the second artifact. The cruise missiles should give our border cities the ability to strike out at either native life forms or any hostile threats.”

                              “Just so.” Yang said quietly. “Top priority is to be given this project. I want to see progress made on it immediately. Also, your proposal to coordinate all production and resources is approved. When we have sufficient funding we will transition to this planned economic model you have advocated. I find the benefits of increased industrial production and growth among the drones to be highly beneficial.”

                              “We will loose some efficency.” Zho added.

                              “Just so but the added benefits will far outweigh the negative elements. The new human is evolving within the HIVE Zho. By increasing our birthrates will only hasten the day we will achieve our goals. Hopefully, we will soon have funding for your project.”

                              “Yes Chairman.”


                              University Base, MY 2192

                              “We also have a report that the Lomonosov near the Monsoon Jungle has had to engage an isle of the deep, has taken severe damage, and that the isle disengaged. Captain Conrads said she will do what she can, but that it doesn’t look good. If the isle attacks they will be defenseless since they are in fungus. They will put ashore at the Jungle if they can, in case of the worst,” Richard Korath said. “This highlights the importance of having an empath foil escort for our isles that we will take on the Cult with.

                              Everyone nodded solemnly. It was well known that Chiron was dangerous, and especially the seas.

                              “The good news is that the Gaians have retaken Gaia’s Landing. Word has gotten around, of course, but it was confirmed. It is well garrisoned, and it appears the Gaians are on the offensive.”

                              A round of cheers went around the Council table, and Zakharov was smiling in relief.

                              “We’ll keep everyone informed of additional developments. As to our offensive, it will be approximately five years before the isles are gestated, and more time before a few escort empathy foils are completed. There is no possibility that our invasion force will be ready before ten years.”

                              “Thank you, Richard. Mr. Florence?” Zakharov said.

                              “To sum it all up, we are running out of energy. When we switched our economic orientation to Private/Protectionist we had a huge spike in energy, some of which was diverted to social stability. Since that time we have built a few research hospitals, holo theatres, biology labs – significant infrastructure. All of this requires support, which comes out of our annual treasury. At this time we are running a one megacredit per year surplus, which will go negative in the coming years as additional research hospitals, and holo theatres are completed.

                              “We will have some extra energy from growth, but it is unlikely to match our outlays. My recommendation is that we cease all but critical infrastructure development, aggressively terraform rainy areas to harvest nutrients that will be harvested by citizens or supply crawlers, and do what we can to enhance our energy production – which is limited due our lack of understanding of Chiron: in short, a redirection of research priorities. Lastly, we can try to attack mindworms, and perhaps fielding a few worms in nearby territory might be helpful to harvest PlanetPearls, as the Gaians call them.

                              “At this time we have a bank of over 120 megacredits, which we will have to be very careful with until our long term energy shortfall is dealt with.”


                              HIVE 2192, Main medical research labs for HIVE – PRIME

                              “If there is something alien in them Chairman I don’t know where it is.”

                              “I concur.”

                              Yang yanked off his blood and gore caked rubber operating gloves and pulled at the equally encrusted smock he was wearing. Around him were arrayed three dismembered male bodies. Each of the bodies had been autopysed and then re-autopsyed to find if anyone thing none natural could be found.

                              “Chairman, this is the third set of Fireman we have examined and we have found nothing. If there is something ‘alien’ it has to be hardwired into their brains or sub-conscience, something medical technology can not find.” The senior medical officer for HIVE – PRIME explained.

                              “Yes, I agree.” Yang said almost bitterly. “I am having my assistant Zho and the Chief Operative for the Hive examine three more sets of Firemen looking into that.”

                              “Chairman, if I may be so bold.” The doctor began nervouslely. “How can that be? What tests are they using.”

                              “No tests doctor.” Yang said calmly. “All three sets of Fireman are under the question, tortured if you like by Zho and the Chief Operative. They have been at it much longer than we have and so they have achieved similar results.”

                              The doctor looked like he was going to sick up.

                              Yang noticed doctors face and a small smile unhinged his lips for the briefest of seconds.

                              “Doctor, surely you have to understand the needs of the collective require such techniques. We must be sure these men are really men and not ticking time bombs. I don’t think further research by us or Zho’s team will find anything different which is a shame.” Yang replied as he walked over the disposal bin and dropped his medical garments in it.

                              “A shame?” The doctor asked incredusely.

                              “Well of course Doctor. The technology we could have extracted if one of them were an alien would be immeasurable. These worms and spore launchers have not the means to talk nor do we have the means to torture them into revealing their secrets. The power these Chironites had to build devices that can clone a person in perfect detail is amazing. Why if I had such a power we could build an army in days, populate our cities in a week. Nothing could stop us, nothing!” Yang said as he walked slowly from the room.

                              The doctor stood there, among the corpses and wondered if these dead men were the lucky ones.


                              University Base, MY 2193

                              Zakharov was livid. “So our only sea terraformer has been destroyed. Did any of the crew survive?”

                              The image paused. “Unknown, sir. The Cultist foil has only been sighted in the sea fungus, and our best available information indicates it has missiles and no armor – a very basic design we retired decades ago.”

                              “But still more than enough to destroy an unarmed terraformer,” Zakharov interjected.

                              “Yes,” the voice said.

                              “And how are we going to prevent them from destroying terraforming, or causing other random havoc?”

                              “Sir, I have recalled the rover artillery from New Azamas, and it will be taking station keeping duty when it arrives. Zvedny Gorodock has been advised, and they are switching production to an infantry advanced laser unit, which won’t be available for a few years. We could upgrade the rover, if needed. There are no sea forces available, unfortunately, as our only foil is severely damaged and far to the north near the Monsoon Jungle.”

                              “Very good,” Prokhor said reluctantly. “See that our coastal bases have either artillery defense or will have one soon.”

                              “Yes, sir.” After a few minutes the officer realized the interview was over and signed off.

                              For Zakharov this indicated the importance of an escort for their isles – which were very vulnerable. Or perhaps it would be better to send them with colony pods to the Jungle? It would take time to construct a worthwhile set of foils even after the Maritime Project was finished in a few years.

                              Damn! So far their armor has only just sufficient to meet the Cultists head on, although their weapons would soon be much better. That wasn’t nearly good enough! Not by half!


                              HIVE 2193, Northeastern territory of HIVE

                              “Seneschal I beg to report that the navigator says we have arrived at the coordinates.”

                              “Good. Order the driver to stop at the designated colony site and begin disembarkation of all drones to begin excavation work.”
                              The drone messenger nodded and quickly and backed out of the room closing the door after himself.

                              Seneschal Montgomery-Smythe Blair reached over and activated the special com-link back to HIVE – PRIME.

                              After a minute or two an all to familiar voice was heard.

                              “Yes, report.”

                              “Chairman, we have arrived. I have ordered the drones to begin excavations for the colony. We will be operational by next turn, HIVE – 10 will be ready for your orders.” Montgemery-Smythe Blair reported eagerly.

                              “On schedule, good.” Yang’s voice crackled a bit over the radio. “Your first task will be to equip a Fireman brigade with laser weapons. After that, a terraformer and then another Firemen brigade. Clear.”

                              “Clear Chairman.. Where should be begin terraforming?” Montgomery-Smythe Blair asked.

                              “East for now. I want that area that our Tanker regiments found to be built up as detailed in plan 12B-4. With three HIVE cities built in that isthmus area we can develop a future naval base complex to support our colonization and control of the seas.” Yang commanded.

                              “Of course Chairman.” Montgomery-Smythe Blair said as he tried to adjust the frequency to make the sound better.

                              “Our scientists report that there is the possibility for increased native life form activity. Be on the look out. I will keep the 5th and 6th tanker regiments in your vicinity until you have trained and equipped two Firemen brigades. That is all.”

                              The line went dead.

                              Well the 5th and 6th Tanker Regiments were the best trained and equipped and had fought many of the worms and won and found several UNITY pods, that was good news. Yang’s demand for more and more soldiers, and that was what Firemen were in reality, soldiers was never ending. The last time he looked the HIVE collective supported 17 fully equipped laser infantry brigades and 7 rover regiments. In addition, they also had a small handful of ‘operatives’ as Yang called them or special intelligence agents. It seemed a waste in some sense to build more soldiers but they did have their uses and kept the peace in the warrens and production cribs of the various HIVE cities. No drone revolt would stand a chance against a NEXUS trained and fully equipped laser infantry regiment of Firemen.


                              Academy Park, MY 2194

                              Zakharov looked at the new advanced laser rover. It looked…lethal. The flanks were a University gun-metal gray, and someone had painted subtle black highlights that gave it deep shadows such that its upper viewing windows looked like angry eyes. Flares of the front and rear wheel wells were flared forward – aggressive looking. And then there was the laser turret. By itself it looked like a simple pivot, but the gun itself was overly large, or so it seemed. He knew that the interior had special optical enhancers, and a very basic superconducting capability. This was no oversized gun. It was likely it was the most advanced weapon of war on Chiron.

                              He smiled at that. Very soon there would be more of these little jewels. Some would be left as-is, others would be constructed with amphibious ability. Other rovers had basic armor – Kevlar – and ECM or trance ability. It would not really matter if the attack rover did its job. Between the raw force of the rovers, the mindworms that acted as a potent attack and defense, and the probe teams the degenerate Cult would never know what hit them.

                              It would be three or four long years before the new isles would be finished gestating. It had taken forever to build the biology labs to enhance their life cycle, and even longer to build the expensive native life forms. Unfortunately, however, the attack on the Cult would have to wait. The Council had decreed – and he had reluctantly agreed – that colonization of the Monsoon Jungle took precedence. One of the isles would ferry a few worms and a colony pod while the other moved into position, and got a foil escort built.

                              And it would take so much time! Inwardly he seethed, but he knew it was the right decision. The Gaians were now pressing the attack, and the Cult in apparent retreat. The threat to his ally and the imperative to take on the Cult was muted. For now.


                              HIVE 2194, Chairman Yang’s private quarters

                              “I find this proposal, interesting.”

                              “I thought you would Chairman.”

                              Yang handed back the e-pad and steepled his fingers in front of his lower face and looked up at Zho.

                              “Are you sure of the figures?” Yang asked questioningly.

                              “I triple checked them and had them cross-checked by several of your staff Chairman, they are correct.” Zho said with a hint of pride in his voice.

                              “We will actually increase our energy surplus to 22 mega-credits of energy each turn and have a slight effect on the amount we dedicate in the budget to my research facilities.” Yang probed again.

                              “Yes.” Zho began. “By implementing the plan of planned industrial inputs, labor allocation and outputs and by shifting resources from research to the economy we will increase the annual surplus to over 25 mega-credits of energy and perhaps, in a worst case scenario delay possible breakthroughs in technology be a turn or two. Currently we average a scientific breakthrough every eight turns. Under the new plan it would eleven on average, or as close as I can calculate at this time. My figures do not incorporate the fact that we are about to launch HIVE -11 and in less than ten turns after that base is established build HIVE -12.”

                              “Growth will increase as well?” Yang said as he slowly stood up.

                              “Yes, we should see a very good increase in the production of future work assets in the collective. In addition, by proper management of resources our industrial output should increase as well giving us more material goods in a faster time frame.” Zho said as he waited for Yang to slowly walk from behind his desk toward him.

                              Yang stopped in front of Zho and put his hand on Zho’s shoulder.

                              “Proceed with the plans. As soon as we have accumulated the required funds for this project you have my authorization to proceed.”

                              Zho was pleased.


                              University Base, MY 2195

                              “Dee, let me be the first to congratulate you on the liberation of Sunnydale Forest. It had been under Cult occupation for, what, almost 50 years?” Zakharov said.

                              Deirdre smiled. “Almost. Now we’ve taken back our capital and have begun rebuilding, and have taken back the first base that Cha Dawn took through naked aggression.”

                              “Serves him right,” Zakharov said with a bit of venom in his voice.

                              Deirdre’s eyes opened a little. “Do I get the impression you don’t like Cha Dawn, Prokhor?”

                              Zakharov snorted. “He’s a freak, battling about being one with Planet and being the Voice while attacking your Gaians, who have so much in common with him – in some ways. It just proves that he’s a rabid zealot, and that’s all.”

                              “Like Miriam and her Believers,” Dee continued.

                              “Exactly. Cut from the same loopy cloth. Are you going to take his base, Chiron Stigmata?”

                              “Yes. We’ve debated this forever in Council, but as long as he has a toehold on our island he’ll cause trouble. So we’re going to do what we can to push him off.”

                              “Good. Do you need my help?”

                              “No. Our missile rovers seem to do a fine job against his unarmored infantry,” she said with a slight smile. “They’re getting quite good, too. Gaians tend not to be very disciplined, but sometimes it happens anyway. And do you intend to take the war to his mainland?”

                              “Eventually. First we’re going to colonize the Monsoon Jungle that I told you about, and put some mindworms ashore to explore some of the other islands. I’ll send you the maps as soon as we have them, of course.”

                              “Very good,” Dee said. “Our probe foils haven’t been able to do much yet. I hope to take on the Cult soon with them, but we have trouble with the fungus. Oh, and I almost forgot. Congratulations on finishing the Maritime Control Center! Are you going to build a navy? I would assume so.”

                              “Oh, yes,” Zakharov replied. “Within a few years we’ll have three isles, and hopefully a few foils after that. Some will be on ferry duty – isles are so useful – but two will be designated to take troops to take on the Cult. It will be nice to eliminate his brand of idiocy. And then Mirium!”

                              “Just be careful,” Dee said. “And don’t use any inappropriate measures no matter how much you are provoked. Agreed?”

                              Zakharov paused for a split second. “Agreed. Take care Dee.”

                              He shut off the transmission. Damn! She had read his mind! ‘Inappropriate measures’ indeed!


                              • #30
                                HIVE 2195, NEXUS Command Center Secure Communications Chamber

                                “I believe we have an agreement then Chairman.”

                                “We do indeed Colonel, we do indeed.”

                                “Good. For now then we have an understanding, an agreement of non-aggression.”

                                “Yes, it is agreed. Until next time Colonel.”

                                Yang deactivated the channel and turned slowly to Zho, Fire Marshall Yazov and Chief Operative El’Bandar.

                                “Your opinions, Zho you go first.”

                                “Your negotiations were superb Chairman.” Zho began. “The loan of 524 mega-credits is unbelievable! It gives us all the energy we need to rapidly build major projects that we need to do. Used wisely, it will help us make up for the years we spent searching for this massive continent. The exchange of technology was even better. The data plans to build a whole host of sea vessels gives us the means to begin colonization of the seas and protecting our own borders. Most importantly of all the acquisition of the zero point energy module designs will give us increased energy usage and maximize our own energy collection efforts.”

                                Yang turned to Yazov.

                                “Chairman, we learned a great deal of strategic and tactical information on the Spartans. They posses weapons of even greater power than our own laser weapons but it is also a technology they recently acquired so most likely do not incorporated it into all of their military units. The Spartans are a war like faction that respond to force and sense weakness like a hound can smell fear. By refusing to back down to Santiago Chairman you displayed our Collective’s resolve and as such you choose to become our friend rather than enemy. With a portion of the funding we can upgrade all Firemen with the most current generation of weapons thus improving our tactical and strategic capabilities. With the acquisition of designs to build ships, war ships and sea colonies the need to expand our port capabilities becomes paramount.” Yazov finished and turned to El’Bandar and Yang turned as well.

                                “Chairman.” El’Bandar began. “It is clear that other factions exist on Chiron, survivors from the Unity. The loan also places the Spartans is a difficult position as well when it concerns future actions with us. Should they change their minds to ‘wage war’ they would forfeit their payments and possibly risk loosing all of the money they loaned us. The loan is a powerful incentive for friendship and way to bond us together. We must guard our intelligence networks and maintain a firm grip on the informational flow. It is unfortunate that Captain Gregor encountered the Spartans and was perhaps too free with descriptions of the HIVE collective. Once the good captain returns he and his crew will be quarantined and re-trained. Even a war-like un-believer such as Santiago seemed repulsed at our form of society but there it is. In the future, we need to make sure no other faction has access, free access to information about the HIVE and what we do. The exchange of maps was informative and I would say useful to us and to them and thus a wash. In time, I could see the Spartans a major threat to our Collective should war break out. I think it prudent before we build war ships and sea colonies that we build a small exploration and intelligence fleet of Operatives to discover who else is out there and what they know. Perhaps, we could also enhance our own technology even further.”

                                Yang said nothing for some time and then spoke softly.

                                “I agree with your assessments. Time is pressing on all of us now, time is our friend and enemy. Prepare plans on how to utilize the new vast energy reserves. I want those exploration ships and I think we need to re-examine the plan Zho developed to build along the eastern isthmus a series of port cities, cities along the coast that could support our first wave of sea expansion.” Yang began. “We need to slam and iron curtain between us and the Spartans as far as our society is concerned. I do not want the work we have done here ruin our attempts to create the new man. All communication is to be jammed and monitored here at the nexus, is that clear?”

                                Yang looked at his three deputies who nodded in agreement.

                                “Things are changing but the Collective stays firm in our resolve to bring a new order to mankind!”


                                New Azamas, MY 2196

                                “Has the Cultist foil attacked yet?” Zakharov asked as he rushed into the Situation Room.

                                “No,” the harried Division Command Westly stated. Her hair was cut short, and her uniform was prim and proper. “I’ve rushed the missile artillery over from University Base and they have engaged the foil, who has taken minor damage. The new advanced laser foil from Zvedny Gorodock will be in position in the coming year, and it is likely that the Cultist foil will bear the attack of both. If they don’t leave.”

                                “We have to destroy them,” Zakharov stated. “We have isles of the deep coming on line or in the ocean and we cannot afford to have Cultists foils running around. In a few years we will have infiltrated the Cultists, and then we can rest somewhat more assured – but for now we have to eliminate them. This is the same foil that destroyed our sea former, correct?”

                                “Apparently so,” she said. “It is unarmored with missile weapons – only good for attack. It is unfortunate we don’t have any foils in the area. With the Maritime Control. Center we can outrun anything on the sea, and take them out if we can see them.”

                                Zakharov nodded. He knew the problem, of course, was seeing them. Their defensive perimeter was not all that great. But for all that the Cult didn’t pose a real threat to the University. They were an annoyance, and that was all – but a deadly and expensive annoyance.

                                “Did the colony pod get away?”

                                The Commander nodded. “It is on track, and heading north. Per your orders other colony pods have been constructed, too. Am I to assume I will have to worry about more colonies to defend?”

                                “Yes, you will have to worry about that,” he said simply. “And you’ll also have to worry about how to deal with that damned foil, and that remaining Cultist bases! We can’t let Deirdre – the pacifist – get all the glory!”

                                Commander Westly looked over at Zakharo. Her gaze was inscrutable, but privately she was disturbed. For a man devoted to logic he was more than a little erratic.


                                HIVE 2196, Consular Zho’s Development Operations Center ( DOC )

                                “It looks like the changes DOC has made are as expected Consular Zho.”

                                “That and more.”

                                The young drone bowed and laid the latest e-pad on Zho’s desk and backed away. Zho picked it up and quickly scanned the report. Good news and more good news.

                                The shift to planned allocations of resources and production coordination combined with increased energy output had been nothing short of amazing. The HIVE scientist expected breakthroughs nearly every 6 turns! The amount of energy credits they had to pay back the Spartans was covered with a healthy surplus in reserve. Production was up and at a level that nearly half of the construction items were completed in half the time!

                                It had been the busiest year for Zho that he had known in some time, even the great crossing had not been this hard but the results were phenomenal.

                                HIVE – 11 had been built and HIVE -12, HIVE – 13 and HIVE -14 would all be established and up and running within a decade, perhaps in even five turns!

                                Zho’s new Consular for maritime operations had worked with the Seneschal at HIVE – 4 and drydocks were being built to build exploration ships, sea colony pods and sea terraformers. The only downside Zho was facing was the lack of port cities but HIVE – 12 through HIVE – 14 would rectify that.

                                A buzzer on Zho’s e-pad alerted him to an incoming message.

                                “Fire Marshall Yazov?”

                                “Consular Zho I just wanted you to know that we have encountered more Spartan warships. Gregor has seen at least two of those impact armed attack foils the Spartans have. He is ghosting them as best he can but they are much faster.” Yazov reported gruffly.

                                “To be expected.” Zho replied. “Transports versus warships, did you expect that Gregor could keep up?”

                                “No but I had hoped that we would have found only the one, not two.” Yazov rumbled back.

                                “Yes.” Zho said slowly. “I will inform the Chief Operative he has top priority on the new foil exploration and intelligence ships he wants. We need more information for the Chairman.”

                                Yazov nodded and disconnected the link.

                                Now there was the heart of everything within the HIVE Zho thought, the Chairmen required more information, always, more information.


                                Southern Sea, MY 2197

                                The vague form of the isle of the deep slid through the fungus. There wasn’t a sound except for the crashing of waves on the nearby shores of Consciousness territory. On that shore there was a light against the darkening horizon: a small Cyborg city.

                                Three was a rippling as the isle changed course to the south – toward the Cyborg city. Its pliable surface swarmed with life. Millions of mindworm vectors pulsed with the effort it took to shift the direction of the isle. Several exploded with the effort, and their sacrifice was absorbed by their neighbors, forming a sort of battery. Still others folded in upon themselves, formed a chrysalis - spheroids otherwise known as PlanetPearls that were another form of stored energy.

                                The surface of the isle resembled a roughly honed rock with an undulating surface, something as if someone had taken a jackhammer to a soft limestone boulder. There was no particular organization. It as just big. And it was a veritable moving mountain. As it neared the shore there was a different kind of movement. Human forms gathered their equipment, donned Consciousness clothing, checked their forged identity cards one last time, and adjusted their faux cybernetic implants. One woman practiced a monotone voice that was popular among the majority of the Cyberntic Consciousness populous, and another altered his blinking pattern to a Fourier algorithm.

                                Gradually the isle slowed and the pulsing energy of the aquatic mindworms slackened. The isle was near shore and the University team gathered their belongings and prepared to leave. Strictly speaking the Cybernetic Consciousness was a friend of the University, but that didn’t matter tonight. They had their orders.


                                Prokhor Zakharov looked over the stream of data from the University datalinks with what amounted to orgasmic delight. His team had done very well, very well indeed. They were already back at Pavlov Biolab with a good amount of experience under their belt, and were taking a well deserved rest.

                                The data on the Cyborgs confirmed what had suspected for decades. The Cyborgs had a very respectable scientific ability, but they were flagging and now well behind the University. Their cities were well defended and he felt somewhat sorry for anyone – such as their blood enemies the Believers – who might forget that. They also had a huge number of probes and probe foils, and it had been very lucky that his team had found an unguarded city. Somehow the Cyborgs knew what had happened and were building probe teams all over their lands in response to the intrusion. That was fine, since all Zakharov really wanted was data.

                                The University would not make such an error, oh, no. Still, it was perhaps a good thing. Now the Cyborgs would be well protected against other interlopers. He was proud of his greatest creation – Aki Zeta-5. They would still be friends of course.

                                Now, the Cult would not be so lucky. Assuming a foil did not come out of the fungus to take out the isle the Cult would be infiltrated and worse in the coming year. And they richly deserved it. Even worse for them, the next hammer would fall even harder. The amphibious rovers, ECM rover defensives, mindworms, and probes had already been constructed. They were all waiting, surplus armament to eliminate a destructive influence in his life: The Cult of Planet, a vestige of fanaticism and backwardness that would in the not too distant future be eradicated from Chiron.


                                HIVE 2197, HIVE – Prime central labs

                                “This will work?”

                                “It will work Chairman.”

                                Yang handed the awkward apparatus to Zho and turned to face the scientist.

                                “How exactly will it protect our Firemen?” Yang asked forcefully.

                                The scientist seemed taken aback at first then quickly collected himself and began. “Some time back you asked that we purge certain elements from the collective that were more prone or sensitive to the mindworm attacks. During our studies on their minds we quickly realized that these defects were actually a latent ability of extra sensory perception.”

                                “Your mad.” Yang began. “Zho order this man to the re-education centers.”

                                The scientist quickly threw himself down in front of Yang and began to plead. “Please I beg you Chairman! Watch the video!”

                                Yang hesitated and halted Zho and nodded to the scientist to continue. The man quickly lurched to his feet and activated the view screen.

                                The screen began to show people fighting off mind worms who were fitted with the same bulky head device. In the corner of the screen he could see a wave form and then from the output of the helmet a counter-wave sign that canceled the first or close to it.

                                “The technology from the artifact helped us to develop this Chairman! It will work I promise you! We now have the tools, the means to defend our people from these rampant mindless worm attacks.” The scientist finished and waited on bent knees for salvation.

                                Yang turned to Zho. “Your thoughts Zho?”

                                “I did double check his findings Chairman with several other scientists and they all agree, the device does work. Our Fireman brigades stationed at HIVE cities will now have the means to stand the walls and fight toe-to toe, so to speak with the worms.” Zho explained patiently.

                                “Very well.” Yang said. “But I want those deviants purged from the collective. This extra sensory perception is a trait, a genetic flaw that must be expunged.”


                                University Base, MY 2198

                                “And the breakthrough in Applied Plasma Physics will allow us to improve the efficiency of our conventional attack units by twenty percent,” the spokesman said as he pointed at a series of almost incomprehensibly complicated schematics. Most of the Council members glanced at them and then, realizing that it was likely that the researcher had spent his entire adult life working on this breakthrough tried desperately to stifle a yawn.

                                “The induction field here,” he continued – oblivious to the glassy stares around the Council table – “produces an excited subhelical phase transition in the left ionization module here.” His pointer waved generally at the left side of the schematic. “It then proceeds through a magnitude hitron module to undergo full plasma conversion!” He looked up at the Council. Getz Hoeppe had nodded off and was snoring softly.

                                “I believe there was a secondary advance the Council would be interested in,” Amy Constance prompted. Senior Research Horowitz was momentarily flummoxed but then smiled. “Oh, yes.
                                The Supercollider! I almost forgot that!”

                                Zakharov snapped to full wakefulness and sat forward. A supercollider!

                                “Yes, yes. Until this time we have been unable to properly contain high energy plasma fields. My breakthrough, er, our breakthrough was the hitron module, as I mentioned. It is able to keep it in phase to a degree that our basic superconductors – which are nowhere near Earth standard – are able to fold and amplify them in a way that we were never able to do on Earth. The result is a small scale Supercollider!”

                                He triggered another schematic which showed a ring shape positioned below University Base.

                                “Is this to scale?” Immanuel Florence asked.

                                “Oh, yes! You see? The ring is fully three kilometers in diameter. Not quite as big as the Quasar Supercollider that was constructed outside of Bejing before the Crimson Revolution, but sufficient! We know what not to look for now, of course, and we should be able to make headway on our energy production bottlenecks, I think.”

                                “Very good!” Zakharov said as he stood up and walked toward the startled researcher. He held out his hand, took Horowitz’s, and pumped it vigorously. “You have done the University a great service! This will be a first on Chiron – pure theoretical science! We can only imagine the implications! And the opportunity!”

                                Senior Researcher Horowitz looked slightly pained. Apparently Zakharov was crushing his hand but he didn’t have the nerve to mention it. He just smiled weakly, mumbled a semi audible thanks, and stood relatively still as the rest of the Council awoke from their private slumbers and burst into applause.


                                HIVE 2198, D.O.C ( Development Operations Command )

                                “How do we explain this to Chairman Yang.”

                                “You don’t!”

                                The small knot of technicians blanched and one of them even dropped their e-pad.

                                “You don’t.” Zho began again. “I will.”

                                The technicians quickly turned and left leaving Zho to himself. The news was not all that terrible but it was bad news all the same. The recent changes in the economy had been a great boost but in other terms the expected benefits had not panned out as hoped.

                                The expected intervals between breakthroughs had been revised by his technicians to a period of 11 turns. There were many factors, the areas of research were harder, more complex, energy resources were fine but the lack of network nodes to compile the data was now hampering progress.

                                In all, it was not the best of news. He would tell Yang tonight at their normal meeting. There was no need to fan the flames when he had a plan to fix it. More nodes, more research people were needed, that’s all.

                                What hurt the most was the report that the 6th tanker regiment had been destroyed while opening a UNITY pod. Underneath the pod had been a cave where over half a dozen mind worms had erupted from the cave and overwhelmed the Fireman. Another tanker brigade, the 5th as quickly leaving the area to protect HIVE – 10.

                                He knew deep down that Yang would not blame him and the mystique that Yang had formed around himself, his cult, had convinced others of Yang’s terrible anger but Zho knew better. If there was a problem, so be it, but, fix it and fix it now.