Tiny explosions dotted the hull of the massive ship, playing across it like flowers suddenly blooming. It slowly rotated as wave after wave of destructive energy escaped any way it could. Within seconds, the mighty Colossus flew apart.
The image froze. The giant viewscreen darkened as the lights came up. CEO Yuriana Torres turned to the rest of the Trade Senate.
“These are the pirates that attacked and destroyed Varyan,” she said. “They pooled all their resources into this giant battle cruiser, intending to destroy the structured society that humans have built over the last 500 years. Fortunately, I was able to discover their weakness, and neutralize the threat with minimal loss of assets.”
CEO Newburg stood with his hand raised. He was a Freshman in the Trade Senate, having won his seat through populist means after a hostile takeover of a large freight company. He renamed it Megahaulin’. Hardly a dignified name, but it seemed to work since he was here. Yuri would have tolerated him more, except the man liked to talk.
“Pardon the interruption, Madam Chairperson, but…Pirates do not have such resources,” he said. “I have my suspicions.”
Several of the hundred Trade Senators applauded this. Most did not. They dared not.
“This morning I received a report,” said Yuri. The viewscreen came to life again. Complex and expensive visuals punctuated each of her words. “This pirate clan, united under a common cause, discovered a previously hidden star system, deep within the Morgana Nebula.”
The visuals changed, to show an angry red section of space.
“Ships have traditionally skirted this nebula. Sensors cannot penetrate it, and anyone foolish enough to enter it would never be seen again.”
Newburg stood once again, but Yuri stared him down.
“However, three days ago, I sent a probe to explore this nebula. This morning it returned many images.”
The visuals changed, revealing a single yellow star. The crowd were collectively stunned, as Senators young and old rose to their feet to stare. Picture after picture followed, each showing planets, moons, asteroids, all unexplored, and so close to the Federation border.
“This, we have dubbed the Morgana System. It is a vast, mostly untapped area. There are twelve planets, each with moons, and all holding wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.” Yuriana Torres turned back to the crowd. “Senators, together we have the resources to take control of this system, and we have the strength to hold it against our enemies. Are you with me?”
The cheer that followed was uncharacteristic in the Trade Senate. It represented the kind of unity that only greed could bring. Yuri permitted herself a smile.
Admiral David Rasmusson scrawled his somewhat delirious signature over the document before shoving it back across the table. “There,” he said, “one full pardon.”
Cherise Delahunty took the paper, folded it, and thrust it into the depths of her flight jacket. “Thank you, Admiral,” she smiled. “This will come in very handy.”
“Your recent heroism aside, I don’t enjoy the thought of anyone flying around with a blank pardon.” Rasmusson stood. He was tall. At least 1½ feet taller than Cherise. “Especially a citizen of the Empire. You promised your father that you would stay out of trouble.”
“I try to,” she said. “But sometimes I get caught.” The Trader Queen dug into her back pocket and tossed a data key onto the table.
“What is this?”
Cherise smiled. “Everything.”
Within the hour, Rasmusson has assembled his top generals. The viewscreen behind him held a rotating image of the Morgana system.
“We have assembled our best Colony Fleet, and they will be leaving for the Morgana system at 0500 station time. Commander Benton Klik will be heading the Colony team.”
The announcement was met with approval from the generals. Klik was a solid commander.
:I have a question,” said Commodore Zhang. “How did we get hold of this information? And are we assured that the Trade Federation does not know about Morgana?”
Rasmusson cleared his throat. Though they worked well together, and respected each other, Zhang had the uncanny ability to rattle him. “A Star Empire citizen, who was incidentally part of the battle fleet that helped take down the Colossus…was able to tap into the Machine Cult sensor array and download the information.”
Zhang scowled. “Sounds like an enterprising and adaptive person.”
“She is,” said Rasmusson.
“She should be in jail,” said Zhang. “Assuming that we are speaking of our resident smuggler, Ms Delahunty.” Zhang knew that Cherise Delahunty, being a daughter of an Imperial Duke, could and would get away with almost anything.
“We have made an…arrangement.” Rasmusson clearly needed to change the subject. “As to your first question, we have reason to believe that CEO Yuriana Torres has mobilized her fleet, with an eye towards conquest of the Morgana system. There appears to be every indication that the Trade Federation is aware.”
“Your informant seems to have sold her information to two buyers.”
“Commodore Zhang, I will not be lectured by you,” said Rasmusson, suddenly remembering to assert his dominance. “How I handle complicated affairs is my own concern and judgement.”
“I meant no disrespect, Admiral” said Zhang. She clearly meant disrespect, but not to him.
There was a crisp tenseness in the air for the rest of the meeting as Admiral Rasmusson laid out his plan for strategic dominance.
“Brother Morris, welcome,” said Chancellor Hartman. Confessor Morris entered the workshop. Morris didn’t enjoy visiting Hartman. The Chancellor had a certain…impreciseness about him. Hartman had come to the Machine Cult willingly, but the Holy Binary recognized his uncommon genius, and chose to not purge him of the more inconvenient of emotional states.
Hartman’s workshop was as chaotic as Hartman himself. Piles of everything, and everything in its pile. Morris kept his hands behind his back, lest he inadvertently knock over a pile of anything.
“We have been assigned a mission,” said Morris. “I must explain the sudden emergence of a new star system.”
“Aye, I heard o’that,” said Hartman. The Chancellor turned his massive body to face his visitor. Every time Morris saw Hartman, he had added more and more to his machine frame. All that was left was a visible face, and most of a torso. He had not, however, lost his curious speech patterns, or his abruptness.
It was the job of a Confessor to explain things that were not predicted by the Holy Binary. Morris took this task very seriously, and as such, he was willing to work with Hartman if it would give the mission a larger chance of success. Hartman’s military precision was unquestioned. He could outthink humans because he could be the one thing a precise and perfect machine could not be. He had the ability to be random.
“Our sensor array showed the ship that recently attacked after the destruction of Varyan came from the Morgana Nebula. We had been previously unable to penetrate the nebula, but now we have clearer information.” Confessor Morris sighed. “It is likely we will encounter others on a similar mission.”
Chancellor Hartman smiled in a way nobody else within a thousand miles was capable. “Let’s get us a fleet, laddie!” he said.
Morris felt a tiny twinge of apprehension, but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. He made a mental note to have his mind corrected upon his return.
Deep within the vast Morgana Nebula, twelve planets orbited a bright yellow sun. The resource-rich worlds waited for beings to claim them. They waited for the colonies that would come, and they waited for the wars that always seemed to follow colonization.
TO BE CONTINUED