Planet Enaya — orbit.
KQ-762: This is KQ-762 reporting. Acknowledge.
Hub 3: KQ-762, acknowledged. This is Central Authority Hub 3. Report.
KQ-762: Central Authority Vessel Nirvana perpetual construct has been recovered. Uploading data stream.
Hub 3: Terminate uplink. What the hell was that, Kwiq?
KQ-762: Repeat, Hub 3, not clear.
Hub 3: The data stream, where’s the rest of it?
KQ-762: You are receiving the full data stream. Files have been corrupted. JK-934 maintained core integrity for seventeen hours after infection. This was all we managed to find.
Hub 3: What about Janks? What’s the status of the central processor unit?
KQ-762: JK-934 is beyond recovery. All systems have been compromised. The perpetual construct is 84% degraded.
Hub 3: How is that possible? The construct is virtually indestructible.
KQ-762: Preliminary forensic analysis shows a level nine incursion. Virus was contained within JK-934’s core but deleted itself. Residual code is open source and publically available. Probability of identifying origin is low. Probability of reverse engineering is low and not advised. Probability of reconstructing events leading up to catastrophic failure have a margin of error too large to be reliable in a prosecution. Awaiting further instructions.
Hub 3: Standby, KQ-762. Processing. Open cross-ship channel, Paradise. This is Tranquillity Hub 3, prepare to receive uplink.
Ops 1: Hub 3, this is Central Authority Paradise Operations Command.
Hub 3: Ops 1, acknowledged.
Ops 1: What the hell was that, Hub 3?
Hub 3: CAV Nirvana primary drone JK-934 perpetual construct data.
Ops 1: Where’s the rest of it?
Hub 3: That’s all we managed to recover. It was encoded in a triple-quantum shielded routine. Janks must have considered it more important than the flight data or comms records.
Ops 1: The ship was attacked by a Null Void?
Hub 3: Probability is significant.
Ops 1: There is no record of an active Null Void presence in the quadrant.
Hub 3: Acknowledged. I knew Janks. They wouldn’t present unverified data. Probability of secondary presence also significant.
Ops 1: Someone other than the Null Void? Who?
Hub 3: Unknown. The viral attack was carefully targeted and efficiently sterilised. Atypical behaviour for Null Void.
Ops 1: Processing. Concur. Continue with primary assignment, Hub 3. Begin site-wide sweep for corroborating evidence for a dual prosecution. Open cross-ship channel, Reconcile. This is Ops 1, acknowledge.
OBV: OPs 1, acknowledged. This is Observation Array, we have been monitoring your communication with Hub 3. Probability of a Null Void presence is statistically negligible.
Ops 1: OBV, acknowledged. Request accelerated Guardian presence.
OBV: You’re requesting a Guardian, Ops 1? Do you consider six automated Central Authority ships with a combined computing potential of 96 quigabits insufficient to handle the pre-analysis?
Ops 1: Affirmative. Null Void presence is beyond our current capability.
OBV: Probability is negligible.
Ops 1: Records show it was negligible last time.
OBV: Concur. Guardian Horne is currently dealing with a global evacuation on Tango-092. His arrival can not be accelerated. Guardian Onla is on route from the Second Quadrant. Time of arrival is seventeen hours, standard. There is no one else within summoning range.
Ops 1: Guardian Tezla is on-site.
OBV: Guardian Tezla is in transfer mode. Download into her clone body will take another thirty-six hours.
Ops 1: Request compressed download.
OBV: We will lose data.
Ops 1: Null Void will cost more than data.
OBV; We don’t know—
Ops 1: Guardian Tezla knows. Operational Command override, open all channels. Sending report to Central Command. All ships hold positions. Planet Enaya is out of jurisdiction until Ollo Network allows entry into sovereign airspace. Central Authority Vessel Amnesty, trackback to Nirvana’s last known location. Prepare for hostile reception.
OBV: I hope you know what you’re doing, Ops 1.
Ops 1: Concur. Push Tezla update. Force install.
The Great Hall.
Colonel Toaku stood in the middle of the Great Hall, the seat of power in Enaya. This was where representatives from across the world came together to make decisions that would affect millions of people. There were barely a handful of senators present.
Most of them had evacuated the planet when the Seneca warship arrived, along with most of the public who could afford to. Seneca had demanded the General Assembly gather to be judged, and they ran.
The exodus had been swift and chaotic. Whatever it was the Corps wanted, it was clear they planned on taking it by force and leaving no survivors. It was their way. And Ramon Ollo wasn’t here to stop them.
Toaku was aware of the irony. The one man he had worked his whole life to remove from a position of power was the only man who could have saved them from the onslaught that the Corps threatened.
Of course, Ramon Ollo had given up that power long ago. Supposedly. He had founded the General Assembly, even gone as far as building and donating the magnificent hall Toaku was standing in.
But what Ramon Ollo gave, he could also take away. Every building, every system, every network, had been constructed by the Ollo family. And anyone who knew the kind of man Ramon Ollo was, knew that his creations did not walk free from their master. If he chose to reclaim his position as ruler of this world, no one could stop him. Not the Corps, not the Central Authority, and certainly not the General Assembly.
“As acting-Chair, I call this emergency meeting to order,” said Senator M’Ow, first of the Lusans, a small family from the southern hemisphere. He was a short, rotund man who had been on the other side of the world when the Seneca warship arrived. He had probably thought he had time to gather some of his more valuable possessions before abandoning Enaya to its fate, but the warship had departed as mysteriously as it had arrived, its apparent destruction a glitch of some kind.
“I ask to be recognised by the interim Assembly,” said Toaku.
“You are so recognised,” said M’Ow. He seemed very pleased with himself, suddenly a man of power, at least until the other rats returned with their excuses and false claims of wanting to serve the people of Enaya. The people they had left to perish. “Can you confirm the emergency is over, Colonel?”
Pleased to be in power, but nervous about having to prove himself worthy. Another fair-weather leader. How long would it be before Enaya was free of these petty families looking to benefit themselves at the cost of others?
“No, Senator, I can not confirm that,” said Toaku.
M’Ow looked surprised and worried, as did the enclave of opportunists gathered around him. “But I was told the Seneca warship had departed.”
“It has, for now. But we do not know the reason for their sudden appearance, other than that it involved the Ollo residence. The same residence where twelve of your fellow Senators were sent as a delegation, and were brutally murdered. Until we know more, I am implementing emergency provisions under the seventh amendment of the Prime Constitution. Until the full General Assembly can convene, I will be taking control of the Senate.”
“W-what? Why? What do you mean? Ah, ah, now hold on,” M’Ow was flustered and stammered his way to his feet. “This, this is unconstitutional. There is no clear and present danger, is there? No. I’m the Chair of the, I mean, the acting-Chair of the Assembly. I will…”
He stopped when he saw the security personnel closing in on him from left and right.
“What, what is this? I demand an explanation.”
“This is for your own safety,” said Toaku. “With so many Senators off-world, and the recent deaths, we need to ensure your continued well-being. You will be escorted to a safe location and guarded by our best people. You have nothing to fear while you are under the protection of the Judicature.”
The nine Senators were gently corralled out of the Great Hall, protesting and complaining, but otherwise compliant. They were used to being told what to do, and like all of the old families, their breeding showed.
Toaku looked around the vast, empty chamber. Seat of power. The thought was risible. He had a small amount of time to correct several generations-worth of mistakes and abuse. But first, he would deal with the Ollo family and its agents. Perhaps he wouldn’t have dared if Ramon Ollo was still here, but he wasn’t.
General Devora Sway was not in a good mood. Her crew were well aware of it and stepped softly around the bridge of the Seneca Corps Command Vessel Tenderness. None of them had ever seen her this angry.
“General, High Command are waiting,” said Captain Jupila, Sway’s adjutant.
“Tell them to wait.”
Jupila hesitated, wanting to speak but not knowing what to say.
“What is it, Captain?”
“Speak freely. You’ve been with me long enough to know I value your input, Jupila.”
“It’s just… High Command is getting anxious. They’ve received your report but they have questions. Should I tell them you’re… what should I tell them?”
“Tell them I’m thinking. This is a very sensitive situation. Someone other than Ramon Ollo has seen the blueprints. We could trust Ramon to keep his word, he was never one to share anything with anyone, but now that these wild-cards have been introduced, we can expect the information to leak out. It’s inevitable.”
“With the fleet on its—”
“They’re too far away and we have no idea what these people have planned. Waiting is not an option. And we’ve already seen how quick they are to respond to threats. If we fail to eliminate them in one blow… I daren’t consider the possible consequences. We must find a way to capture them and seal them off before they can transmit the information.”
“Perhaps we could send in a covert team,” suggested Jupila.
“Yes, I’m leaning that way, but these people are an unknown quantity. They have the boy with them. He knows our methods, thanks to his damn mother. She is a great woman, but she is blind when it comes to her son, and her husband.”
“If we act against her child,” said Jupila, “we must also expect her to retaliate at some point.”
“Exactly. Too many fronts, not enough intel. All these blasted spy satellites and this happens in the one place where we’ve always been kept in the dark. It seems an unlikely coincidence.”
“There is something… Two ex-Corps soldiers were here recently.”
“What do exiles have to do with anything?” said the general in a dismissive manner. Women who left the Corps were rarely more than well rid of.
“They were commissioned to bring in a bounty, which they failed.”
“Failed?” Sway was surprised. Washed out or not, the Corps still had standards.
“They then escorted two men to the White Palace. The two somewhat match the description of the men with Figaro Ollo. The report isn’t consistent and the sources aren’t verified yet—”
Sway sat up in her chair, eyes gleaming. “These exiles, where are they now?”
“I took the liberty of calling them in for questioning. They hadn’t gone far. One of the local moons. They should be arriving within a few minutes.”
“Good, good. Well done, Captain.”
“Thank you, General.”
“Let’s see what these two can tell us. And put the assassination unit on standby. We’ll need to take these boys out in any case.”
VendX Priority Fleet.
VGV Summer Sail
“Approaching Enayan space.”
“Good,” said Chukka. “How many company ships?”
“None? Are you sure?” She had expected there to be several competitors she would have to deal with. She had put out a very public bounty on the Nirvana — something she wasn’t happy about, but there had been no other choice — and reports had indicated several parties had responded.
“Yes, Major. There are also reports that the SCCV Tenderness came through and triggered a clause three event.”
“Clause three?” Chukka was shocked, although it did explain what happened to the other company ships. She had to take the long way to this location, crossing through privately owned space and maintaining comms-silence, so she wasn’t aware of what had happened. She hadn’t expected the Corps to get involved and vaporise the entire system. That complicated things. “How far along are they?”
“They’ve gone. I’m not sure what happened. From what we’re picking up, no one is.”
Here on unrelated business? Whatever their purpose, if they were gone, that was something to be grateful for. It was about time something worked in her favour.
“And the Central Authority?”
“Six ships, holding position on the Ruben-Sadar line.”
“Why?” said Chukka. “What are they doing?”
“Not sure, Major. I can start collecting information from our franchises in the area. Enaya has very few locations, but we do have some vending machines installed in key sites.”
“We don’t have time. Have the assault teams meet me in the flight bay. Put them in advanced battlesuits, full loadout, all DLC installed.”
“Major, the outlay will put us into the red for this mission.”
“Hang the outlay. We’re going to come out of this showing a profit or die in the attempt. No discounts.”
“Yes, Major. And the drone complement?”
“No drones,” snapped Chukka. “No drones of any kind on this mission. Only essential tronics. I’m unlocking the manifest. Manually operated basics. Distribute the melee weapons and EMPs in the cargo hold.”
“Major, these specs… these are all special commissions. The overheads are going to be huge. Is the payout going to be worth it?”
“You have no idea, Corporal. This is going to be the largest investment in counter-programming VendX have made in over a century. Trust me, we need to do this unwired and off-grid. Put the fleet in dark formation. Time to make a delivery.”