It was one of the oldest sections of the Unified Civilized Council claimed space. Referred to by documents all the way back into antiquity as "Herd Home", the small cluster of several dozen planets in a twelve light year bubble was believed to be the oldest Lanaktallan worlds in existence. The planets were all xenoformed, something that the Unified Council had forbidden nearly since its inception lest the xenoforming destroy microbes that would eventually become sentient species. All had two continents, one on each side of the globe, that were perfectly curated into Lanaktallan paradise.
One could not emigrate there, only by virtue of being born in Herd Home could one even visit.
The worlds produced little more than food, feeding nearly two-thirds of the Lanaktallan population who could afford real grain cud, but was paradise all the same.
Fully, completely automated since time began, the Lanaktallan who dwelt on the paradise worlds of Herd Home wanted for nothing, suffered no discomfort, and were coddled from womb to reclamation, their lives nothing more than contentment within the oldest Great Herd in the known universe.
But not everyone was content. On one world, often considered the oldest, where now and then water erosion would expose fossilized remains of Lanaktallan and other six legged creatures, bringing about flights of wonder of those who lived in Herd Home and were privy to view such restored wonders, there lived a Lanaktallan who would be the downfall of that most ancient of groupings, who would bring about the end of Lanaktallan supremacy far more than any fleet ever would, through the simple act of being himself.
At the wrong place and the wrong time for the rest of the Lanaktallan of the galaxy.
Sko'ou'up knew he wasn't a proper Lanaktallan. He knew people he shouldn't know, he owned things he shouldn't own, and he consumed things he shouldn't consume. Unlike the majority of the Lanaktallan surrounding him, in what he considered a cud-induced haze of mediocrity, he had found the year or so that the Terrans had been around to be extremely exciting. He'd scoured GalNet for everything he could, even though GalNet had been a wasteland of what he considered gore porn and torture voyeurism forced upon everyone by the Precursor machine's hatred for anything living.
He owned Terran video games, he watched Terran movies, he read Terran literature.
He also knew people who could do things that weren't supposed to be done.
Which is why he was sitting at a stop light, his vest and flank-covering and sash on the seat next to him, on the main arterial road through the middle of the city in a ground vehicle that was capable of such outrageous speeds that he could roar past a mile and a half in a few seconds less than a minute. Which is why his tendrils quivered with excitement as he watched the stop lights ahead of him, on the blocks ahead of him, go from "DO NOT CROSS" to "YOU MAY SAFELY PROCEED." The lights had been spoofed by the device hidden in the dash of his vehicle, just as the cameras would not record his vehicle's speed nor who was inside of it at the time it was being driven. He owned things he should not, which was why he was listening to Terran music, that howling barbaric thunderous cacophony that so enticed his nerves as he watched the lights.
One by one they approached, burning amber in the night.
When the one in front of him changed he stomped a hoof on the pedal, an illegal modification to his vehicle, and the vehicle's tires lost traction, squealing against the asphalt and smoke billowed out from under his car, turned a glowing purple by the illegal lights beneath his souped up vehicle.
The vehicle roared forward, invisible on the stoplight cameras, undetectable by the speed sensors. Sko'ou'up grinned maniacally as he shifted gears, using, of all things, a primitive lever operated shifting system, running the wonderful archiac clutch as he shifted to second gear and his tires squealed. The cured leather seat he sat in was warm as he sped down the main motorway of the city.
He knew the city was only fifteen miles, that he would only take slightly less than ten minutes to make the entire drive, but he looked forward to the exciting drive at the end of every weekly workshift.
Walls were whipping by and his car's spedometer was pegged out at thirty miles an hour, the engine roaring, the Terran music blasting, the steering wheel vibrating in his hand as he pressed on the clutch, shifted to third, and popped the clutch as he hammered on the accelerator.
The tires broke traction and gave out a stuttering squeal.
Just as a truck pulled out from where a garage door had rolled up.
Sko'ou'up tried to swerve, the back of his vehicle slewed out, and he hit the back of the truck, plasteel warping, twisting, screaming, as his car was reduced to wreckage, the back of the truck damaged, and he was ejected from the vehicle.
The seat ended up in the back of the vehicle. One of the contents of the vehicle was pulled into the wreckage even as Sko'ou'up was ejected, and the mangled wreckage tumbled two blocks before it hit an automated street sweeper and came to rest intermixed with the wreckage of the street sweeper a bare two seconds after the spoofing devices in his vehicle failed.
The computer annotated that there had been a vehicle wreck and dispatched automated systems to examine the wreck. It noted, unemotionally, that there was a Lanaktallan corpse inside. Flank, sash, and vest all ID'd the corpse as one Sko'ou'up, Digital Systems Engineer Second Class. The master computer system deactivated Sko'ou'up's datalink, transferred the deceased accounts to the proper system accounts, then put his belongings and apartment up for purchase or lease.
The master computer determined there was no reason to bother going through extensive ID and ordered the Lanaktallan corpse to be delivered to the corpse reclamation building only a few hundred feet from the site of the accident. It deleted Sko'ou'up's living file after double-checking that the unfortunate Lanaktallan had had all of his information put in the Deceased Records Repository.
The master computer system went back to the rest of its duties of running all the planets of Herd Home.
The truck continued on to its destination. It backed in and robots noted the damage then removed the cargo. The computer systems checked the weight, found it within tolerance, and dumped it into the reclamation systems, destroying the seat from Sko'ou'up's vehicle as well as the sixty Lanaktallan corpses.
The robots picked up the corpse from the vehicle and delivered it back to the identification and pre-reclamation building. The computer noted that the arrived corpse had already been processed, noted that Sko'ou'up had been killed in a vehicle wreck, and attributed the processing damage to the vehicle wreck.
As for Sko'ou'up, he woke up in the bushes and realized three things.
Number One: He was somehow still alive.
Number Two: His implant was turned off.
Number Three: He was naked.
He got up and looked around, feeling a little shook up after his high-speed wreck. He saw a doorway and moved over to it. He tried his fingerprint but got nothing, for reason the system rejecting his prints. Sighing he held down several buttons at once and when the system beeped and flashed he typed in the universal maintenance code and went inside.
When he trotted out ten minutes later, he was dressed again. He had been unable to pay for his clothing, so he had reset the system, used the administrative password of password on the system, and deleted the clothing from inventory.
He had noted a little oddity.
He kept getting erased from the system by the Master Computer System's error checking software, even the video of him crossing the street had his image deleted.
Sko'ou'up was grinning as he trotted down to another store, bypassed the security, and went inside. There he had the robots install better datalink hardware, updated the firmware, then did a bit of quick work on a holoterminal to crack open the security and rewrite part of the software.
For some reason, he was invisible to the system.
For a while he trotted around the city. LawSec, CorpSec, even ExecSec couldn't seem to see him. He theorized that the Master Computer System was editing him out of their retinal displays. While some people could see him, he always dressed nicely unless he was up to trouble, so for the most part people ignored him.
He was standing in a park shooting at automated toy boats he'd purchased with instant credits (which meant typing in 'paid in full' in the ledger and editing the inventory) with a ExecSec plasma rifle he'd just trotted in and taken from the armory after deleting it from the inventory.
"Why are you doing that?" a lovely voice asked. He turned around and saw a filly roughly his own age, looking at him with curiosity.
She was the first person who had actually spoken to him in a week.
"Because I can," he said.
"May I try?" she asked.
He smiled. "Certainly. Come here and I will teach you how to shoot."
Love bloomed among the plasma blasts.
"I've never been to Gro'oti'ilo'o," the female, Sha'alma'a said, smiling as she ate her food. They were at a high class restaurant at an orbital station. Sko'ou'up had altered the ship's registry to erase their additional weight when they'd hitched a ride with the resupply shuttle.
Sko'ou'up checked his datalink, easily bypassing the security.
"There's a hydroponics luxury food ship heading there. It's going the slow way, so it'll take three months," Sko'ou'up said. "Hmm, it's completely automated, but it has cabins."
"Ooh, let's do that. We can pretend we're farmers!" Sha'alma'a said, clapping her hands.
Sko'ou'up triggered a quick engine reinspection and tagged one of the old maintenance shuttles to take the two of them to the massive hydroponics ship.
They held hands and skipped down the hallway to the shuttle after their meal.
The Master Control Computer had noted the cascading errors and sent a notice for a technician to the master control stations.
A shuttle to the orbital stations had used too much fuel to get to orbit and dock with the station. The cargo was weighed, it was correct, but no simulation would use that much fuel. It was if 800 pounds had magically appeared during the flight to orbit then vanished when it docked.
The Master Control Computer altered the shuttle weights by 800 pounds, figuring aging diagnostic circuits.
The next thirty shuttles shot off into space, far too much thrust used, and vanished.
The Master Control Computer ran diagnostics to figure out what was wrong.
Sko'ou'up pranced around the hydroponics garden with Sha'alma'a, both of them gloriously nude as they picked berries to eat, grazed on rare and expensive grains, and enjoyed the luxury hydroponics even as they cared for them. Three months had been decided to be too little and Sko'ou'up had reduced the drive power so that the trip would take twice as long.
The six month trip passed too quickly for both of them, but the luxury planet of Gro'oti'ilo'o awaited.
Sko'ou'up adjusted the sensors to ignore the weight of him and his paramour when the Gro'oti'ilo'o Orbital Control Computer tried to reject the ship's request for orbit.
The Orbital Control Computer checked the weight with its altered sensors and allowed it to take orbit.
The shuttle was 800 pounds over weight, but then the numbers bobbled and it was on track.
The shuttle landed and was unloaded. The weight of the cargo was correct.
But the fuel consumption was off.
The next shuttle that lifted off was 800 pounds too light.
The Orbital Control Computer ordered the shuttles grounded.
The Master Control System noted that the ship had taken twice as long as projected, ran diagnostics, and didn't find any decrease in engine output during the trip or during diagnostics.
It ordered other ships to increase drive speed.
Cargo ships began overshooting their targets and arriving at other planets or just vanishing.
Sko'ou'up and Sha'alma'a were shocked to discover that nobody lived on the luxury resort planet. It was entirely automated, the entire planet empty, only robots that tended to the grain fields, maintained the resorts, and controlled the weather.
They played ancient games on the manicured lawns, enjoyed meals made by the long neglected chefs, and wondered at the vistas of the luxury planet.
The Master Control Computer checked the weight of the latest arrival that moved into orbit.
800 pounds off.
It denied authorization.
The ship joined the hundreds of ships in orbit around the planet.
Across the Herd Home Systems every ship, every shuttle, registered as 800 pounds light. Outside of parameters, so they were refused landing or take off or even authorization to leave orbit. Hundreds of cargo ships orbited every world, with dozens arriving every day.
The Master Control Computer signalled it needed a firmware and systems check.
In an abandoned room, in a forgotten facility, on an empty luxury and grain production planet, a single amber light kept blinking next to a small display.
"SYSTEM ERROR - ALERT ADMINISTRATOR"
The light kept blinking into an empty room who's door read: "No Admittance".
A poster beside the door bragged to any who might see it that the entire facility was undergoing automation that would allow it to be run by just one being, allowing all others who might have to work there time to instead enjoy life and luxury.
The estimated completion date was long long past.
So the light kept blinking.
"Look, more shooting stars," Sha'alma'a said, pointing at the sky. "Lets make a wish like Terran children!"
A quartet of cargo ships that had been sent to have their massive cargo holds filled with grain tumbled as they entered atmosphere and began to burn up as their fuel ran out and their orbits decayed.
Over 800 pounds of weight.
The weight of two full grown Lanaktallan.
Who stared at the sky and watched the shooting stars, holding hands and making wishes.