Author's note: Today's gonna be a two-parter. It wasn't originally intended to be, but I really don't want to break up the flow, so it'll be easier to make a Part 3.5 than start off Part 4 with it. Just more content to love. A bit of serendipity for anyone following along and enjoying it I guess?
Links [Part 1]
Bourbon’s eyes settled on Grim, who was looking at him with intent. The tetchy-looking Admiral had made a gesture for his attention, and he nodded towards Bull. Bourbon gave Bull a nudge with his elbow, and directed him towards Grim. Once Grim had both of their attention, he tapped towards his wrist. It’s time, then.
Bull gave Grim a nod himself, and the Admiral got to work. He turned towards the assembly, and gave a shrill whistle. Everyone promptly snapped to look at him, and he made his announcement. His voice was a gravelly rasp, it seemed unnatural for him to raise it. “Ambassadors and cohort are inbound in three. Places and faces everyone, make ready and square up.”
Everyone wrapped up whatever pleasantries they had wrapped up, and moved with purpose to whatever positions they’d been told to stand in. The heads of each branch would be front and center, while their associated aides would stand further back. Bourbon watched them with interest for a moment, and he was struck with several more thoughts, one after another, as multiple facts dawned upon him.
He was probably the lowest-ranking individual amongst the entire congregation. He might’ve outranked the aides, but they didn’t count. Neither did Luna, since she didn’t have one at all. But as someone who would be an active participant in the Summit, he was utterly outclassed by those around him. Consequently, that meant he was also the most expendable
person there. He briefly checked the color of his shirt. Out of anyone in a command position, he was the only person who didn’t bear some lofty title.
The next thought that he had was that he had actually wasn’t actually sure if he got to sat at the big kids table or not.
He decided to vocalize his moment of concern to Bull. He suddenly felt uneasy about the matter. “Would you prefer I moved to the back with the rest of the common rabble, or am I to remain here?” he asked. He put enough urgency into his tone to suggest it was a genuine question, despite being seasoned with the sarcastic remarks that so often gave his speech its flavor.
Bull blinked. “You’ll remain here,” he replied. There was a certain curiosity to his voice, he seemed uncertain as to why Bourbon was asking. Bourbon knew where he’d been told to stand, so it most likely seemed an oddity to him that he would ask.
“Then do me a favor.”
Bull arched a brow, a look of concern forming.
“Give me a cool title.”
Bull blinked, taken aback by the request for a moment. “Beg your pardon?”
“I’m the only person here without a cool title,” he elaborated. “Everyone else gets to be the Director, Secretary, or Chief of something. Meanwhile I’m just the Colonel of 3rd Drop Shock. Don’t get me wrong mate, I’m far from nobody, but I’ve got the reddest shirt here.” Worry was beginning to creep into his voice to some degree. “Introduce me as such to the Xenos, and I’ll look like an absolute buffoon.
I don’t want the ambassadors to think I’m some punk bitch who somehow stumbled his way into the Summit. How will I manage to amass my collection of alien groupies if I’m to be perceived as a non-entity by their leaders?”
Bull paused. He gave Bourbon a searching look, uncertain as to whether or not the Colonel was serious. When it seemed apparent that he indeed was
serious, Bull inhaled and gave a subtle shake of his head. He was probably surprised this was even a real conversation. “Director of HUB Operations,” he responded flatly. He gestured for Bourbon to take his place.
Satisfied, Bourbon gave a heavy sigh of relief, and positioned himself accordingly. He could see Bull shaking his head ever so slightly, though whether in amusement or disbelief at Bourbon’s shenanigans was a mystery. He checked his uniform one last time to make sure everything was where it ought to be. He didn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. Niki had hounded him well enough for it, so everything should
have been in order. If it wasn’t for whatever reason, he supposed he could blame her for it later.
In the interest of manners, he transitioned his sunglasses back to clear before powering them off. He withdrew a case for them from a pocket inside his jacket. Not on your face, they go in the case.
They might not have cost him anything monetarily, but they were still a costly piece of kit, and he intended to take good care of them. Plus, the case acted as a charging pack for all of the electronic components in them. They could go plenty of time without it, but it never hurt to keep them ready.
He missed his old Wayfarers, which had come from Earth, but wearing glasses that were older than he was just wasn’t a good plan. Besides, Earth didn’t have the kind of tech they did. It just made more sense to upgrade, much as he valued his antiques.
Sometimes it was just hard to let go of the old things.
Before long, the trucks carrying the dignitaries came into view. They were prewar MRV-7s, though substantially modified to suit the needs of the situation. The Modular Reconnaissance Vehicles were huge, six-wheeled vehicles that had seen most of their usage in survey missions prior to the outbreak of the war. The fact that they were still up and running after all this time said something for their construction, he supposed. More often than not, they had a massive drill fitted onto them for core samples, though that wasn’t the case here. Instead, the heavy equipment they typically hauled around had been removed, clearing out the midsection to afford the necessary space to haul the alien delegates.
The extra space was necessary to house proper seating arrangements for the Xenos. The Holnirsis were massive creatures who shared nothing
in common with Humans. The Pryxti likewise had a totally different biology, though they drastically varied in size. Resultantly, both species required special accommodations. The Zyb’r, on the other hand, would be perfectly compatible with any Human or
alien configurations, though for the Summit, Human was the flavor of choice. That would prove interesting.
The convoy came to a halt, and the armed escorts poured out of the trucks first. Unlike the others at the ceremony, the escorts were wearing full M-RAU. The Coalition’s Multi-Role Armor Unit was distinct in appearance. Like many Coalition designs, there was a heavy emphasis placed on angular designs from head to toe. Tweaks over time had reduced some of the excess bulk that had given earlier iterations a boxier quality, but to call it sleek would’ve been untruthful. Some things were just unavoidable due to their nature, like the hard storage cases on the breastplate and thigh guards that had mostly replaced traditional combat webbing. Some units, like his own, still employed more traditional pouches in addition to the hard cases, but there were reasons for that.
The armor was largely designed to be modular. Most
Coalition designs were made to be modular. Everything tended to be a variant of something. Components could be added, removed, or replaced depending on threat levels, unit requirements, or user preference. The gauntlets, for instance, had hard attachment points to mount different weapons or tools. The pauldrons were often swapped out, either traded for lighter options that offered greater mobility, or for larger units that ensured maximum protection. Armored collars were another popular modification, in various shapes and sizes. Areas that weren’t covered by heavy plating were protected instead by the jumpsuit underneath; he noted that they were wearing the combat variant of the jumpsuit, rather than the civil variant of it. As such, they sported heavy ballistic padding.
The helmet was probably the most distinctive feature. By and large, it evoked the image of a Knight, whether by intention or coincidence. Its most prominent trait was its face plate, comprised of four angular planes, each serving as something of a quadrant. It completely shielded the user’s face, and used cameras installed in each quadrant to provide the wearer with a view of the outside world. The faceplate could be unlocked and slid up a crest that served as a mounting rail, which would uncover a more traditional visor underneath should the wearer wish to show their face.
These guards wore bog-standard M-RAU. In fact, there was nothing
distinctive about it, not even unit markings, which he found odd. So odd, in fact, that he decided to engage his ocular implants. They could do almost everything that his sunglasses could, he’d simply been opting not to use himself as a source of power yet. Now that the glasses were off,
the implants would be more useful for continuing to identify individuals. Another quick diagnostic run revealed them to be fully operational, so he decided to reveal the identity of the mysterious guards.
Results didn’t disappoint. They were CFIR operatives. Raiders.
Like him, once upon a time.
In a sense, he technically still was. He still had all the physical augments that came with the territory, and even when his current body died, they’d use the same template. It was an insurance policy, in some sense. Nobody ever totally
escaped CFIR. Himself included. He still had to report to Cam to check in for an evaluation every now and again, and they were keeping tabs on him. If they ever needed him back, then as far as they were concerned, he belonged to them.
The fact that the Coalition had decided to use Special Forces as guardsmen seemed smart enough, given the circumstances. He was certain that the ambassadors hadn’t been informed of such measures. He doubted much of the assembly had been informed, at that. The only threat to the delegates on Terra Nova would be disgruntled clones who were unhappy with their presence. While it was extremely
unlikely that anyone would pull something so outrageously stupid as trying to assassinate the aliens, they’d covered all their bases. They wouldn’t even be using the same route out as they had in.
Paranoia had shaped many of the Coalition’s policies, both against others and themselves. The Summit had been in planning for the past year. He imagined there were many
security implementations he hadn’t been informed of, and that this heap of rubble was, at present, the safest place in Coalition space.
Raiders or not, the clones themselves didn’t pique his interest much. Perhaps if he could’ve seen their faces, he’d have recognized them—Perhaps not. Clones were clones, however, and there was something of far
greater intrigue held within the convoy. He watched as each truck took its turn stopping, offloading its contents, and making way for the next ones.
He identified Lee, the Coalition’s own ambassador, disembarking from the first set. Lee was a gruff man, a bit abrasive at times even. He was a far, far
cry from a socialite. Bourbon always thought he was an odd choice, he seemed to lack the necessary tact that was required for political maneuvering. That said, he also
acknowledged that nobody else wanted the position.
Nobody envied him for being the one who had to deal with the Xenos, and he likely didn’t much enjoy it himself.
Bourbon didn’t really know much about Lee. He really didn’t know much of his history, nor had there been much time to ask. Most of their interactions had been in preparation for the Summit, and had been largely one-sided at that. They’d never met prior to that, nor spoken to one another under different circumstances. His major takeaway was Lee putting particular emphasis on not
directly addressing any of the diplomats. Evidently, when he spoke, he should speak only to the collective, keeping things as general as possible.
That didn’t much appeal to him, but he’d do things their way. Stars forbid
he find some way to inadvertently offend the aliens, lest he find their skin was fair thinner than their hides implied.
The next set of trucks contained the Holnirsis. He’d seen their kind before, during the Hybridas Conflict. He’d worked alongside them in some sense of the word during his days in CFIR, and they were definitely strange creatures. The closest commonly-known analogues he really knew to equate it to would be an ant. Maybe combined with something akin to a mantis, he supposed, though they bore little resemblance to either in form.
Upon first glance, their torso might have seemed serpentine. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t. Instead, it seemed to more or less be comprised of an upper and lower segment that shared a spine that must’ve been incredibly
strong, and all the more flexible. He wanted to compare it to a centaur to some degree, but even that wasn’t right. They had six limbs in total, and would walk on them according to whatever sort of circumstances were necessary. Their rearmost limbs were dedicated legs, though they seemed to prefer walking using at least four at any given time. Their other limbs were geared more towards hard labor or manipulating objects.
Their heads were equally as foreign. Describing them didn’t do it any justice. They were Humanoid in some sense of the word, but they were vaguely… Triangular? They didn’t have much by way of chin. Their lower jaw was more or less melded with their neck, which offered a set of six gill-like breathing slits, three to either side. When they opened their mouth, it was actually the top of their head
that moved, rather than the bottom, like some kind of demented Muppet. Their head flared and flattened nearer to the top, and four compound eyes were set into it.
The Holnirsis shared an origin with the Hybridas, being an engineered race as well. Where the Hybridas had been engineered as soldiers, however, the Holnirsis were created as workers. They were made to look as foreign as possible, so that their creators could detach and distance themselves from them, seeing them as nothing more than the slave laborers that they were designed to be. They existed in ant-like colonies, headed by Queens that served much the same function.
Their colonies were largely run by an AI overseer, however. The AIs would dictate orders to them, relayed by their makers, and judge their productivity. Sufficient productivity meant that they would be rewarded; slacking meant punishment.
The Holnirsis evidently did not produce anything comparable to dopamine naturally. Instead, when their productivity was deemed adequate, they were rewarded by introducing a stimulant that replicated its effects. It would not have been inaccurate to compare it to getting high off drug usage, and as one would expect, the Holnirsis acted in much the same way as an addict would. They would push to greater and greater lengths in order to achieve their reward, such to the degree that they formed rivalries between colonies and industry sectors in attempts to outdo one another.
It was an effective business model, to say the least. It kept them docile and dependent.
When the makers had gone away, the AI no longer dispensed the stimulant. The Holnirsis had been none the wiser for a time, simply believing they had not achieved their quotas. It wasn’t until they pushed themselves to the breaking point that they would finally learn the truth. It caused a severe disruption for a time, and even infighting. Especially
when cases were discovered where colonies had any chemical reserves left.
His implants identified the Holnirsis representative amid the crowd. He couldn’t exactly say that he was adept at spotting the difference between individuals yet, so he was reliant on them for the time being. Once upon a time, the Holnirsis rep had been the breeding Queen of her colony. After the collapse, her colony had been destroyed by the Hybridas. She chose the path of vengeance. She had her reproductive organs surgically removed; whether in an act of grief, spite, remorse, or symbolism he did not know. Or perhaps a breeding Queen’s reproductive system was not dissimilar to those of the infamous Alien Queen from that old Earth movie, Aliens,
rendering her immobile*.* He didn’t know, and hadn’t really been sure of who to ask for a biology lesson on a race they had minimal information on. He was… Fairly
certain he recalled hearing that they were born from eggs, and he could’ve just as easily seen this thing perched upon a giant egg-sac like that.
After the loss of her colony, she put together a ship and crew to take on the Hybridas as a vigilante or privateer. She began to hunt them down on her own, and do what she could to stop them. The Confederacy, at the time, hadn’t been taking the threat terribly seriously. She railed against them to take action until they finally relented, and provided her with a fleet to attack Hybridas facilities wherever possible. She razed much of her former masters’ space as a result, setting fire to as many of their worlds as she could find. There had initially been some concern, given that she was so unlike
the rest of her species in how aggressive she was, so she’d had to fight hard to win over her supporters.
Her infamy rose until she finally became one of the Confederacy’s military leaders, and a representative for the Holnirsis as a whole. She bore the title of Provisional Queen of the Collective, which made her the leader of her entire race for the time being. She’d been elected to the role based on merit, and it was possible that it might become a permanent position for her if the Collective so chose. Her tenacity and military prowess made her a clear candidate to serve as an ambassador to the CCS. She was someone who they might respect and understand, who they might feel more on equal terms with. She was definitely the exception to her species, rather than the rule, but it would likely prove interesting to see what she was like in person.
The Holnirsis communicated largely through pheromones, but used various clicks, chirps, and trills by way of “spoken” language. This meant that translation devices were necessary. It also
meant that their names were utterly unpronounceable by Humans. They knew the Holnirsis ambassador’s name sounded like it started with a “B,” but quickly devolved into something that sounded like an individual with Parkinson’s suffering from a stroke. They quickly discovered that they faced a similar challenge with the other delegates, which meant a solution was required.
The Coalition had designated each delegate with a few different names. One would be the name used to refer to them officially, which would trip the translator and cause them to hear their name in their native language. The second was one that wouldn’t trigger the translator, for use when talking amongst one another outside the formalities.
The Holnirsis ambassador’s code name would be “Nambi,” while the name they’d address her with would be “Bridgette.” It seemed like it would be funny to address the hulking alien with such a mundane name, but it was the best they could do to keep from accidentally summoning a fifth-dimensional Eldritch monstrosity in their attempts to pronounce her name properly.
The next race he could see piling out of the trucks were the Pryxti. The Pryxti were a primarily aquatic race, and that was plainly visible at a glance. Their representative’s official name would be “Kheeri,” with the codename being “Aphros.” As far as he was concerned, her name would be Aphros, since he wasn’t supposed to speak to any of them directly. His understanding was that her real name sounded something like a long-held breath being violently expelled, with a dip and rise in tone somewhere in the mix. He made a mental note that if he were to lack a translation device for any particular reason, self-asphyxiation would be an acceptable substitute as a means of communication.
These Pryxti weren’t especially massive, though that suited him fine. The Holnirsis were monstrous enough on their own, they didn’t need a giant lobster mucking about too. Which was, really, what the Pryxti appeared to be. Some odd combination between a mantis and a lobster, though that was indicative of only one stage of their life cycle.
Their bodies were comprised of different segments as insects were, but the parts were distinctly crustacean. The general stance was reminiscent of a mantis, standing on four legs that were mounted to its… Thorax, he supposed the word was, with two more frontal limbs lifted off the ground. Its backmost legs were clearly oriented to be used for navigation in the water. The middle pairs seemed to be multipurpose, while the front were far more dexterous, manipulator-oriented limbs. Bourbon would’ve expected them to have claws, really, but he imagined it would have been pretty difficult for them to advance if that were the case. Instead they just had some strange, cartilage-like appendages that functioned as digits, which served the secondary role of being exceedingly creepy.
They possessed lobster-like tails, segmented and all. They weren’t very large, though his understanding was that was a product of having been born on a ship as opposed to on their homeworld. Males and breeding females tended to have much larger ones, he’d been told. Some seemed to have swimmerets, other didn’t. Probably indicative of coming close to a new stage, or maybe a product of their birth too. He did note several other odd features on their bodies, such as some kind of structures that likely served a similar function to ballast tanks, as well as furrows that likely would’ve made them more hydrodynamic. That
was a word he couldn’t recall having used before, off the top of his head.
Their head extended outward from their thorax in a vaguely Humanoid way. The head looked fleshy from where he stood, save for the chitinous growth on the top. They could pull their head back into the shell of their carapace, similar to a turtle, to protect themselves. He couldn’t help but eye their mandibles, which were a bit unsettling to see on a creature that large. He wondered what that
might look like when they entered their next stage.
His interpretation of things was that it sounded as though they didn’t enter their next stage until certain conditions were met, namely environmental. Age was a factor, but it wasn’t the driving force. That meant they could go their whole lives without achieving their race’s final form. The ambassador, old as she was, was still in one of their earlier forms. He didn’t know if they had the ability to choose
when they hit the next step in their evolution, if they did something to trigger it, or if it just happened when the conditions were right. That might not have been completely accurate, but that was his takeaway from the information he’d been given.
Things to learn, he supposed. The fact that they grew into monstrous leviathans in their later stages piqued his curiosity though. He had a hard time picturing the creatures in front of him ever becoming such a thing, and maybe she never would, but it was an interesting thought.
Apparently, Aphros had been alive at the time the Hybridas and Holnirsis’ masters vanished, so she remembered the start of things. She’d spent much of her life in space, explaining her comparably diminutive size, and eventually came to command the ship she’d lived on as well as the flotilla that defended the planet they were stationed at. This also meant that when the Hybridas reared their ugly heads, she was responsible for defending against them.
Her story wasn’t quite so dramatic
as Nambi’s, but it still explained well enough how she’d ended up at the Summit. The Pryxti also had a matriarchal society, so the fact that she fit the gender role probably played into it as well. He wondered if that meant that all of the Pryxti’s governing body would be female, or if there were even any males present here. Apparently, there were fewer females than males, so he wondered how they balanced that one out.
That seemed stupid to Bourbon. He didn’t understand how that worked. In the Coalition, everything was based on merit. They were a meritocracy. The most qualified people were the ones who got to be in charge. They were the best at what they did, so they ascended the ladder. Even if he didn’t like or trust most of the people around him, they were there for a reason. They had earned it. Nobody
had just been arbitrarily
granted their position based on any preferential treatment. If they were,
would’ve counted himself a member of High Command over a void-damned century ago.
Nothing was granted based on any predisposition. No one was born
into their role—Metaphorically speaking, seeing most of them were clones. They earned it.
They worked hard for their achievements. Nothing was blind luck, there were no special privileges that came with their creation. The only
exception to that rule was the Juggernauts, and that was due to the necessity of their design.
to be created for their role thanks to the brutal nature of it.
Gender meant nothing. In theory it could affect performance, from a pure data standpoint. From the standpoint of the collective? It bore no significance beyond whether or not your designation started with an X or a Y. No one cared what was in someone else’s pants unless they were trying to get into them. From a social standpoint, it bore neither pride nor stigma. It simply was.
Race meant nothing either. There was no such thing as race
in the Coaliton. Race implied some form of genetic heritage, or lineage. Some ancestral home, a place of origin. There was no such thing in the Coalition. Clones had homeworlds, places to originate from, that was true. Oftentimes, that had an affect on them, because sometimes different worlds mimicked Human cultures they found interesting. That might affect some of their thoughts and mannerisms, but race? No.
Clones were manufactured, their traits randomized. There were templates to mix and match, draw different genes and traits from so as to keep them as close to “natural” as possible, but they were random.
In theory, it was entirely possible for a clone to be created with ebony flesh, almond-shaped eyes as green as emeralds, a pronounced aquiline nose, lips thinner than a razor’s edge, and hair as golden as the rays of the sun. A mismatching of all sorts of genetic traits stemming from all corners of the Earth, that one would certainly not
find on Earth.
They generally avoided
that, because they were aware that it was “unusual,” but it could happen.
The only “heritage” that any of them could claim was that they were Human,
and culturally far removed from them, at that. They were Homo Sapiens Effigies.
They celebrated their individuality, not their heritage. It didn’t matter who or what they were, it was what they chose to be.
Everyone started at zero, and worked their way up. The idea that someone could start in the negative
for being born or created a certain way made no sense. The idea that anyone started with bonus points
for being born or created a certain way made no sense. Treating someone differently for traits beyond their control, before they developed into who they would become, before they even became a person?
There was no logic in it.
In the Coalition, people who were good at what they did were rewarded for it. Not always in terms of rank,
but in other ways too. One would find that they had greater freedoms granted to them. Rules and regulations became a little laxer. New tools and toys would be offered. More resources would be made available, new doors would open. If someone could be trusted to do their job and do it well, then there wasn’t any need to put them on a leash. Why clip the wings of a bird who never strays far from home? Let them soar, let them fly, and see how high they can go, what potential they have. So long as they return, where’s the harm?
Even then, people weren’t punished for being bad
at something. If someone was bad at something, they could either learn how to do it, or move on and find something else they were good at. Find their place. That was what most clones strived for. Finding some place where they belonged, seeing where they fit into the big picture. So long as one tried, it would be seen. A Corporal with an exemplary record might enjoy all the same privileges as a General, the only difference between them being a title and a job description. An extreme and unlikely comparison, but possible.
They served different purposes, played different roles. If someone was exceedingly good at their role, why should it otherwise matter?
If someone decided not to play by the rules, not do their job, or otherwise make a problem out of themselves, then the inverse was true. The rules and regulations would be heavily enforced, and any privileges they might’ve otherwise had were taken away. They’d be given the bare essentials and nothing more. A grounded child, bereft of an allowance, denied any sweets, their toys all locked away until they could prove that they could do their chores without being forced to.
And yet… Once they proved that they were capable, and the wrongs were righted… They would once again be granted their freedoms.
Was that not
He’d been on both ends of the spectrum. He’d known Bull since his own creation, but started from the bottom. He did his best work in the field, not behind a desk, so the duties of High Command were not suited to him. That was why he played the role he did now, as the Colonel of the best infantry brigade the Coalition had to offer. That wasn’t bias, it was a fact. He’d worked his way from the bottom to become one of the early shock troopers. He’d entered CFIR upon its conception, the Coalition’s elite. He played no small part in the conflicts the Coalition faced, and he’d helped to train
newer generations of CFIR operatives. He had a record.
When he fell into alcoholism, he felt the repercussions for it. Any requests he’d had were denied. Any excess luxuries were denied. Any nonstandard and nonessential items were denied. People were instructed not to indulge him
until he fell back in step. He’d fallen to such a low place that he hadn’t been allowed a wretched bar of chocolate.
It hadn’t even been that he was denied it,
they had removed his access from the system entirely.
He had to steal a bar of chocolate.
And in doing so, he ended up in the brig. He locked himself
in the brig.
Now? He was helping to create an entire section of Coalition space
where he could go wild.
He was getting to be a part of the creation of an alliance between galaxies.
He had fallen, and now was standing again. He’d been burned for his mistakes. Upon making corrections, he regained what was taken from him. To the Coalition machine as a whole, the problem was either resolved or being
resolved. He had to live with the social repercussions, but he wasn’t being punished
anymore. He was doing his duty, and was reaping the benefits again.
Did that not make sense?
Apparently, that wasn’t how much of the universe worked. That didn’t seem to be how much of Earth
worked. That saddened him deeply. For as much as he had a deep interest in his Human origins, the notion that they quibbled over such stupid things was upsetting. He had a hard time imagining living in a place where factors outside of one’s control determined their lot in life, or how they were treated. It was a foreign concept to him, and yet… It persisted. Anything that can’t hold up to scrutiny shouldn’t.
He doubted very much he would care for the Pryxti. Even at a glance, it seemed they had world views that clashed drastically.
He would learn what he could of them and keep an open mind, on the grounds that he did
enjoy learning about alien cultures, but he didn’t see himself particularly liking
the crustacean-folk. He doubted that many within the Coalition would, but perhaps he’d be proven wrong in time. [Next]