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A Little Blue



07/26/09 0815

            “She really needs to wear clothes.”

            Ciaran looked up at Baker’s words and then at the Tantrasaur. “Tamsin, do you recall I said she used light in a process akin to photosynthesis?”

            “I do.”

            “Every inch of skin she covers is one less that produces energy for her.”

            “I would like clothes.”

            “See, she wants clothes.”

            Ciaran cocked his head. “Do you really?”

            The Tantrasaur nodded. “I want a hat. And it has to be a pretty hat.”

            He smiled. “Then we shall look for a pretty hat for you.”

            Baker looked appalled. “You need more clothes than just a hat.”

            The Tantrasaur looked at Ciaran. “Do I need more clothes?”

            “Not if you don’t want them.”

            She nodded and glared briefly at Baker. “I want only a hat. I do not need other clothes. I do not need the hat either, but I want it.” Her eyes swung back to Ciaran. “And I want a name. In fact, I might need a name instead of just wanting one.”

            “Do you have any idea what kind of name you want?”

            “I want a powerful name and I want a name from you.”

            “Is that two names or one that combines both qualities?”

            “One name is sufficient.”

            “You will still have two names,” Eliana announced unexpectedly. “No matter what name Ciaran gives you, your last name will be Sullivan.”

            “That’s illegal,” Baker snapped.

            “It’s what?” Ciaran was regarding her with surprise.

            “Pokegirls cannot have surnames. Anyone giving a pokegirl a surname can be given twenty lashes.”

            “Why can’t I have a surname?”

            “Because surnames might make us think we’re as good as they are,” Victoria said bitterly. “And neither the Blues nor the Royals will countenance that. Animals we are and animals we shall stay.”

            “I thought only the military could have pokegirls,” Ciaran said. “And yet they already have punishments for civilian ownership of them.”

            Tamsin shrugged. “It’s applicable to military members too. Since they spend the most time with pokegirls, they are the most likely ones to humanize them.”

            “What’s Ygerna’s policy on them?”

            “It's Queen Ygerna and she doesn’t have one other than the instruction that if we who are in the military are given one then we are supposed to play our part with her.”

            “Some of them are powerful magic users and could augment the power of the wizard who is her tamer,” Ciaran said quietly. “And some, like the Enchantress, can make fairly impressive magical items much faster than humans can. Even the ones who aren’t specialist magic users can make a wizard a lot more powerful or protect him or her from all sorts of calamities.”

            Tamsin looked interested. “Really? We didn’t know that.”

            He grinned. “I’m just trying to whet the appetite of a potential market.” The smile faded. “The truth is that both the Blues and Royals are just scratching the surface of what pokegirls can do. Often the pokegirls themselves have little idea of their true potential and they can’t tell their humans what they don’t know.”

            “So you don’t think they’re human?”

            “Calling us human is a matter of convenience, as is calling Victoria a pokegirl. She’s still human to me. I like Iain’s theory that our people are Homo Sapiens Naturalis and hers are Homo Sapiens Supernaturalis. He originally thought pokegirls were Homo Sapiens Pokegirl, but someone, I think Vanessa, wanted to express it like other species names. What’s important is that we are all people.” He looked at the Tantrasaur. “You will have the surname of Sullivan. I don’t care what the governments here say. They can cause trouble for us, however, and so we will keep it a secret from them.” He leaned back in his chair. “As for your first name, I’d like to call you Ceres.”

            “What is that?”

            “Ceres was the Roman goddess of agriculture and law. You’re a pokegirl who can command plants and you work in security, so you kept the law.”

            She frowned for a moment before her brow cleared. “Ceres Sullivan. I like that name.” She cocked her head. “Why are you here?”

            Ciaran chuckled. “First question: Where are we?”

            “You do not know?”

            “Nope. We came here quite by accident. There was this thing we dug up in a park and it activated and brought us here.”

            “Thing?” She nodded slowly. “Ah, it was probably a retriever. May I see this thing?” Ciaran pulled the box out of his pack and opened it to reveal the device with the red and green buttons on it. “Yes, this is an emergency retriever. It will need to be recharged before it can be used again.”

            “Why would it be in Glasgow?”

            “I do not know where Glasgow is, but there must have been a raid planned for it with some of the personnel from this base. It is positioned beforehand by a scout before a raid. When the raid takes place, if the personnel are cut off from escape they can fall back to this retriever. Only a magic using pokegirl can activate it by touching it.”

            Tamsin leaned forward curiously. “What are the buttons for?”

            Ceres laughed. “The buttons are there to mystify any enemies who get their hands on the retriever. They have no real use. The retriever has no moving parts. It is just a solid aluminum bar that is enchanted.”

            “You know a lot about them,” Victoria murmured.

            “In security you hear a lot if you keep your mouth shut. For example, I know we were losing the war. We did lose, right?”

            “We did. Sukebe was killed.”

            “Which fact,” Ciaran interrupted, “happens to bring us back to where we are?”

            “Oh, yes, we are inside Asteroid Base Three.”

            “There are three bases?”

            Ceres shrugged again. “I do not know. I merely know that this is called AB3. If there are more bases I never heard of them.” She took a sip from a glass of water. “How did you make it all the way down here?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “You should have arrived in one of the transport rooms in yellow, but they’re miles from here. It’s odd you’ve come all of this way unless you got very lost.”

            “We came out only a mile or so from here,” Victoria said.

            “What color were the stripes on the walls?”

            “They didn’t have any color.”
            Ceres frowned. “That’s strange.”

            Ciaran pulled out his computer and activated the map. He expanded the view and marked their arrival room with a purple caret. “This is where the retriever brought us.”

            Ceres examined the map carefully. “That’s one of the unfinished zones. You shouldn’t have arrived there.”

            “What’s an unfinished zone,” Baker asked.

            “The primary parts of this base were carved out before anyone moved into it and personnel have been expanding into the empty areas as needed. Even at the height of the station’s use a good thirty percent of it was still unfinished, unoccupied and off limits to regular base staff. You arrived in one of the largest unfinished zones.”

            “How do we get back to Earth?”

            “There are only a couple of ways to get back to Earth from here. You can take transport on a shuttle or by pokegirl and you can teleport, if a pokegirl is strong enough.”

            “Can you fly a shuttle?”

            “I can. As part of my duties I have to perform regular external checks of the base. However, I have never landed one on Earth and I know nothing about entering an atmosphere. I doubt I can do it safely.”

            Ciaran rubbed an ear. “Ok, can you teleport?”

            Ceres just smiled. “No. Can Victoria? She is a magic pokegirl.”

            “I never learned.” She frowned. “Ciaran, we can’t stay here forever.”

            “I know. Ceres, what about communicating with Earth? Can we do that?”

            “We often sent messages to our bases on Earth. However, since we lost the war there are none of our bases that are still in use as far as I know. Who would be there for us to talk to?”

            “I don’t know.” Victoria looked at Ciaran. “Well?”

            “Iain has a satellite net. For that matter so does Haven. My computer has the protocols to interface with Iain’s net. The kiosk uploaded software onto it and maybe I can use the new software to interface with the com system here. It sure beats walking home.” He looked at Ceres. “Do you have access to the com system?”

            She nodded. “I am the chief of security, which puts me third in line for command of the base. In the safe in my quarters I have all the codes for the base.”

            “Then we know where we’re going next. Are you literate?”

            Again she gave a slow nod. “I am literate in English, Egyptian, Hebrew and Arabic. I also speak those languages fluently. Before I was tasked to work in security I was supposed to join an assault team working in one of those regions. It never happened, though,” she sounded mildly disappointed.

            “You didn’t like that,” Baker asked curiously.

            “I wanted combat. I am built for it and I didn’t get it other than the occasional brawl here. It’s not what I was made for.”

            “You speak four languages? Wow, that’s impressive.” He looked around the room. “Folks, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes. Bathrooms are over there and don’t forget to fill your canteens if you have them.”

            An hour later they were in Ceres’ quarters. It was a room twenty feet on a side that held the living area, bedroom and kitchen. Only the bathroom was separate, the rest of the room was divided up by colored blocks on the floor.

            The safe was located behind a wall panel that Ceres slid of the way. Instead of a combination or key lock, there was a hole roughly six inches across. Ceres stuck her hand up to the elbow inside it and closed her eyes.

            “What are you doing,” Eliana asked curiously.

            “The safe is keyed to my DNA and samples it. At the same time it measures my emotional state and something else. I have to be me as well as relatively calm to open the safe and the other thing it measures determines that I’m not feral.” She opened her eyes, glanced at Ciaran and gave him a toothy grin. “If any one of those factors does not match up, the safe keeps the arm someone was dumb enough to stick in the lock. Presumably the loss of an arm would keep whoever was trying to get into my safe from being in a condition that would allow her to rip the safe off the wall. Of course, if she did so, a thermal charge would destroy the contents before she could get to them.” There was a click and the safe door opened an inch. Ceres pulled her arm from the hole and pulled it the rest of the way open. She removed a small notebook and an ID that hung from a lanyard from the safe before swinging the door shut. “Here are my codes.”

            “Are there weapons in there?” Tamsin was staring at the closed safe door as if she could see through it.

            “No, I don’t need them for most of my job. On the occasion where I might, our portable weapons would be in the armory before it was emptied.”

            “Why was the armory emptied?”

            Ceres slipped the lanyard over her head. “When we evacuated the base the weapons were taken to arm forces on Earth.”

            Victoria was watching the door. “Why were you left behind?”

            “More and more of us were going feral and not all of them could be eliminated easily. A skeleton crew of maintenance and security personnel stayed behind to repair and protect the base in case Sukebe required it to be placed back into operation.” She blinked once and suddenly looked sad. “I am probably the last of them. Some of them were friends and I shall miss them.”

            “I’m sorry you lost friends, but you have us now.” Ciaran pulled out his handheld computer. “Can I see that book?”

            She frowned, her hands curling protectively around the notebook. “Why?”

            “I want to take pictures of each page so we can’t lose those codes.”

            “You can’t give them to anyone but me. To do so is a violation of base law.”

            “I will not release them to anyone else without your express permission or upon your death.”

            She nodded as she held out the book. “That is perfect, Ciaran.” He quickly scanned the pages and gave the book back to her. “Thank you.”

            “You’re welcome.” He put the computer away. “Where do we go now?”

            “We head for the lift. It’ll take us most of the way to the control room. Once we’re there we can access the communications laser.” She abruptly held out her hand. “Let me see your ID.” He handed it to her without comment. She read it and looked up. “We will go to the closest information kiosk and I will update your ID to say you’re in security as my second in command. While we’re there everyone else will get an ID that says they’re in security as well. Command codes are not required for most of the facility, but the command deck will require proper ID and assignments for every person who enters. Even rank and file security personnel must be accompanied by an officer.” She grinned toothily as she picked up a fanny pack and strapped it above her hips after safely stowing the notebook inside. “However, I’ll just make everyone an officer for convenience.”


07/26/09 0815 Asteroid Base 3

            As the lift opened onto the command deck, Ceres and Eliana exited and surveyed the area to make sure it was safe before letting the others out. Ciaran noticed immediately that the lighting was dimmer than inside the lift and that it was also several degrees cooler. He knew that many command and control centers did the same thing to keep the people working in them alert.

            The lift exited into a small room that had a massive looking door built into an equally massive wall on the other side from the lift door. Blisters on either side of the door were probably stowed weapon systems and Ciaran shivered mentally at the thought of what some cannon fire could do in the enclosed space that was this chamber.

            Ceres ignored the possible defenses as she inserted her ID into a slot next to the door. There was a beep and a white light lit up above another hole like the one that activated her safe. Without hesitating she placed her right hand inside it. “In addition to sampling my blood, DNA and verifying that my hand is alive, it’s again scanning my emotional state.”

            Victoria cocked her head curiously. “I have a question. Couldn’t any Tantrasaur from your litter potentially open this door with your ID?”

            “No,” Ceres replied with an absent air. “When I became head of security I was given an implant that adds a specific tracer chemical to my blood, making me unique.”

            Tamsin was watching. “What kind of bad thing happens if the lock decides you and your ID don’t match?”

            Ceres glanced back at her. “During standby alert levels the access protocols shut down the lift and alert everyone in command while security comes to get me for some intensive interrogation. If the base is under anything other than a standby alert the microwave generators hidden in the walls turn you into high temperature plasma and you die.” With a hiss, the door began to swing slowly outwards.

            The control room was thirty feet on a side and had a circle of workstations facing away from the center of the room. In that center was a raised dais with another work station that could be rotated 360 degrees. It had the largest and most elegant looking chair in the room, although, like all the others the back of the chair could be folded down below the seat in case the user had a tail. Every station had what looked like a computer setup, but none had anything resembling a monitor.

            Ceres sat down at the closest one. “The last person through the door can close it.”

            Ciaran looked at Victoria and she nodded. “I’ll take care of it.”

            Ceres touched a key and the air in front of the station turned opalescent gray before clearing and becoming a display. “Ciaran, come here and I’ll show you how this works.” He watched as she entered a code. “You don’t have a user ID or passcode so you’ll use mine if you have to. I’d set you up with your own identity but that requires specialized training I don’t have.”

            “It’s a good thing you’re a part of my family,” he replied. “Victoria was right about you and I’m glad I listened to her.”

            “So am I,” Ceres replied softly.

            Victoria came back from securing the door and nudged him with her shoulder. “Can I get a record of you saying I was right?” He chuckled as Ceres giggled beside them. Victoria gave both of them a mock glare. “No, huh? I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with witnesses.”

            Ceres had been changing screens and stopped, staring at the display for several long seconds. Abruptly she stood and headed for the door. She opened it and slipped through while it was still opening. Curious, Ciaran followed.

            He found her standing with both hands flat against the wall next to the lift. Her forehead was pressed against the metal of the wall and her closed eyes were wet with moisture. “Ceres?”

            She whirled and wrapped her arms around him, buried her head against his chest and made a soft sobbing sound. He held her while she quietly cried. Victoria poked her head through the door, watched them for a moment and nodded before pulling the door closed.

            Eventually she stopped crying and rested against him. Ciaran waited until she pulled away enough to look up at him. “Are you feeling better?” She nodded slowly. “Could you tell me what happened?”

            Her voice was so low as to be almost inaudible. “I saw the date and checked with the base surveillance system. I was feral a lot longer than I thought I’d been. I thought maybe it had been a couple of months.” Her voice caught. “I lost five years before you found me. All of my friends are gone forever. I’m completely alone.”

            “That isn’t true, and you know it or else you should. You have me and Victoria and Eliana. You will never be alone again unless you decide you want to be. I promise you that.”

            Her hands clenched in the fabric of his shirt. “Be careful what you say. I will hold you to that promise.”

            “I know exactly what I am saying and I will keep it.”

            She released his shirt and smoothed the material with her palms before looking up at him. “I accept your promise. I and all I have are yours.”

            He kissed her gently. “I accept your wondrous gift. It’s been five years, huh? So you, a sun worshipping and plant loving pokegirl, have been in space entirely too long. Let’s get the com system up and running so we can get back to Earth.”

            A few minutes later Ceres leaned back on her stool. "We have a problem. The primary com laser was hit by a meteoroid a year ago. Fortunately the secondary unit was not damaged and I'm rotating it out of storage. As soon as it's in position, I'll begin warming it up. That will take six hours. Then the alignment will take another two hours."

            Ciaran nodded. "It is what it is." He pulled his handheld out and accessed the map, zooming in on the area around the command deck. "Victoria, take Eliana and go down two levels. There are some quarters there for visiting VIPs. He checked his computer, pulled a notebook out of his pack, scribbled on a sheet and tore the paper from the notebook. "This is a security code that will let you into pretty much any room. Find us someplace to bunk."

            Ceres glanced at him. “Don’t forget you can’t get back in here on your own. There’s an amber button next to the lock for this door. Press it and it’ll let us know you want someone to let you in.”

            "I should stay here," Eliana said. "If we are attacked Ceres is too busy to respond quickly."

            "I'll go," Baker said. When Victoria gave her a skeptical look she pulled a wand out of somewhere in her uniform. "I'm going to let you lead, but if nothing else I can call Ciaran with a spell if we're attacked."

            "Listen to her, Ciaran," Victoria chuckled. "Screaming for help is what the human is supposed to do. Fine, I'll take Tamsin."

            Ceres looked up as the door shut behind Victoria and Baker. "You don't scream for help?"

            "I will, but I have an assault rifle that screams as loud as I do, it doesn't get hoarse and it lets me do something that seems useful enough that I can feel like I'm not just screaming for help."

            She looked him up and down. "Did you leave it at home?"

            Eliana didn't bother trying to hide her laughter, which made Ciaran smile. "No, this pack works like a pokeball, remember? I've got more in it than just food."

            "You said an assault rifle, right?" He nodded. "Is it loaded with a standard assault rifle round?" He nodded again. "Ciaran, against many pokegirls you'd be better off with a whistle."

            Eliana laughed so hard she had to lean against the wall to keep standing. "She's right," the Samhain managed to choke out.

            "That's it, just kick the tamer."

            "I'd never kick you, Ciaran," Ceres said firmly. "You'd break."

            Eliana just laughed harder, this time giving up and sitting down on the floor as tears trickled down her face.

            In spite of himself, Ciaran chuckled too. "Well played, Ceres."

            “Thank you.” She didn’t look up from her display. “Can I work without being disturbed for a few minutes? I have only done this for training and remembering the exact sequence of steps is tough.” Her lips pursed before relaxing. “The system is normally run by a Video Girl and the manual backups are deliberately designed to be difficult to operate unless trained to do so. It’s in case of rebellion or attack.”

            “You can have all the privacy you want.” He moved over to stand with Eliana.

            Forty five minutes later Ceres looked up for the first time and frowned at what she saw. “What are you doing? Is that some kind of sex?”

            Eliana grinned. “No, but it is fun. We’re thumb wrestling.”

            “What is that?”

            “It’s a nonviolent contest between me and Eliana,” Ciaran said. “It was supposed to be a way for her and me to compete without her being able to use bring her superior strength or speed to bear and completely dominate me, but unfortunately her thumbs are stronger and faster than mine.”

            “It’s not as easy as he makes it sound,” Eliana let his hand go. “I have to focus on it and so he can use it to distract me. That’s why he taught it to me.”

            “Distract you from what?”

            “He used it to keep me from probably killing some people he didn’t think I should kill. He was right, but I didn’t know that until later.”

            “That’s interesting.” Ceres stretched her whole body. “The laser is going through it’s warm up and self-check protocols. In six hours it will be ready for the alignment. Can I learn to thumb wrestle?”

            Like I said, she figured out how to win a lot. I think we’ll try rock paper scissors next.”

            Eliana frowned. “I understand you hit people with the rock and stab them with the scissors, but how do you kill with the paper?”

            Ciaran couldn’t help himself. “You’ve obviously never heard of red tape. It’s a special attack that humans have and is commonly fatal.”

            “Can I learn this attack,” Eliana asked.

            “Me too,” Ceres added.

            “I don’t know, but in the meantime I’ll teach you both rock paper scissors.” He broke off as a soft bell sounded. “What’s that?”

            “The door entry chime. Someone wants in.” Ceres touched a stud on the workstation she’d been using and the display changed to show Baker and Victoria standing outside the armored door leading to the control room. She pushed another button and the door hissed open.

            Baker was the first through. “Several of the rooms are filled with rubbish.”

            Victoria shook her head. “I think he’d like a better report than that.” She looked at Ciaran. “She’s right. Two of the rooms had been demolished on the inside and one of them had blood stains everywhere. A third room had a couple of skeletons inside it. It looked like all but one of them had been killed and partially eaten.”

            “I remember her. That would be the Neo who went feral in her room. She killed the first security people who went in to subdue her. Security Two was the only one who could have subdued her and she’d already been put into stasis. All we could do at that point was lock the door and let her starve.” Ceres said. “I’d have had her retrieved after she became too weak to be a threat, but that was just before I think I went feral.” Her eyes grew sad. “She probably starved to death in there.”

            “Why didn’t you starve?” Everyone looked at Eliana. “It’s a good question.”

            “The lights in here are tuned to project something as close to sunlight as they can. It’s not anything like what I remember from when I was outside, but apparently I can survive on it for a long time.” She shivered with memory and Ciaran put his arm around her. She gave him a grateful smile and leaned against him.

            “What about the rest of the rooms,” he asked.

            “There are three that are in decent condition and there’s a small cafeteria on the same level that looked undisturbed.” Victoria tucked a loose strand of hair behind an ear. “It’s uncanny how much of this place looks like people just walked away with every intention of returning tomorrow.”

            “Towards the end there wasn’t enough transport for more than the crew and our weapons,” Ceres said. “Everything else was abandoned in place.” She blinked and her face changed. She looked around with a faintly frantic air. “Suddenly I’ve got to pee again. I’ll be right back.” She dashed for a door with the same bathroom marking on it that had been in the cafeteria.

            “When she gets back we’ll check out these cabins,” Ciaran told Victoria.


07/26/09 1945 Asteroid Base 3

            “Ok, your computer seems to have interfaced properly with the com system and we’re ready to transmit.” Ceres gave him a bright smile. “I’m ready to record your message when you want.”

            He’d been thinking about that very problem and didn’t hesitate before nodding and smiling broadly. “Good day, Theodora. As you can tell, I’m no longer in the United Kingdom and I need to talk to Iain. I don’t want to say more over an unencrypted line but you can reply on the reciprocal of this message. Ciaran Sullivan over and out.”

            Ceres touched a button. “The message is on its way. How many times do you want it sent?”

            “Just the once, please. I’ve been told that Theodora should have no trouble receiving any message.” He frowned. “Can you pull up old message logs please? I don’t need the actual messages, just a list of sent and received will be sufficient.”

            “That’s easy.” She changed the screen. “What are you looking for?”

            “The delay between message and response.”

            She scanned the screen. “It looks like a round trip takes about five and a half hours. We usually ask for a receipt acknowledgement so we know the message made it even if there’s no reply. Those have been coming in five hours and sixteen minutes after a message is sent from here.”

            Eliana groaned. “So more waiting?”

            “Yup.” Ciaran smiled. “We can explore some of the levels above and below our quarters. We might find some loot.”

            The Samhain looked skeptically at him. “Your idea of loot isn’t the same as mine.”

            “I know.” He grinned. “You just want things to eat. But there might be some pretty clothes around. Many pokegirl breeds insisted on them so they might have left something behind.”

            Eliana’s eyes lit up. “Let’s go then.”

            “I’ve updated your computer with the internal communications net,” Ceres announced suddenly. “It’ll let you know when we get a reply, although we’ll have to return here to read it.” She held out his handheld. “There’s probably a way to do that too, but I don’t know how to set it up.”

            “That’s still outstanding, Ceres. You are a treat.” Ciaran smiled broadly when she darkened in pleasure. Now he knew she could blush.

            Elaina’s face darkened, too, but her complexion was the deep gold of a sun worshipper and he knew on her it was a glower. “I want to be a treat.”

            “Well, when you are, he’ll let you know,” Victoria snapped. “She did good and she gets his attention. Live with it.” Her tone hinted that she wasn’t necessarily as sanguine about the situation as she sounded.

            But Ciaran wasn’t going to retract praise that Ceres had earned nor was he going to give excessive praise to salve any hurt feelings on the part of Elian and Victoria. “I will,” he said firmly. “Now, let’s go find out kind of loot’s hidden here!”


07/26/09 1422 Theodora, Luna Orbit

            As she was currently on the dark side of Luna, and in just the right place at the right time, the Theodora picked up the laser transmission over a second before the satellite net did so and  relayed it back to her. As the net covered the full surface of the Earth, the ones farthest from each other were over a hundred thousand kilometers apart. This made triangulation of the transmission relatively simple. If she’d been organic, Theodora would have made a quiet noise of surprise at where the message originated from, but for a change this determination actually answered more questions than it posed.

            She activated her own transmitter and sent a message towards Ciaran’s current position even as she reached out to the human she considered hers above all others.

            Iain was sitting under a tree and watching it rain when Theodora used his pokedex to appear standing on his knee. “Do you have a moment, Iain?”

            “What is it?”

            “I have received a message from Ciaran. It’s kind of urgent.”

            “You found him?” Ciaran had agreed to let them install a tracking program on his computer to facilitate rescue if something happened to him. They had used Tirsuli technology to keep it from being blocked if he went far underground or underwater, so his disappearance had caused some excitement with Theodora and the handful of other women in his harem who’d come to regard the young Texan as one of the family. “That’ll make some people calm down around here.”

            “I’m not so sure about that. His disappearance in Glasgow was apparently the result of his discovery of the item you thought was in the park there and its subsequent activation. I received a laser communication from him with a wide enough beam to blanket the entire planet. That allowed me to triangulate the origin of the beam and locate him within about a light second. He’s nowhere near Earth. It also helped me to figure out why I haven’t been able to locate the asteroid base you have been insisting is out there somewhere.”

            “Why’s that?”

            “It’s not in the asteroid belt at all. It’s nearly three billion kilometers from the sun and almost three times as far out as we were expecting. I suspect it’s one of the Damocloid asteroids or perhaps a centaur.”

            Iain knew that Damocloid asteroids were ones with periodicities similar to short period comets and had been theorized to be comets that had outgassed all of their volatiles. Centaurs were something very similar, but they usually had shorter orbital periods.  “I take it he needs a ride home?”

            “I suspect that so strongly that I have already dispatched a ship. If he doesn’t need a ride home, I’ll still be able to install a modern communication array so we can talk in real-time.”

            “If he could send a message, he’s got at least partial control of the station.” Iain frowned slightly. “That means he could assert ownership of it. If he’s willing to sell, I’m willing to buy, and I don’t really care what the price is.”

            “Why would it be that important to you? It’s just an old base.”

            “It will have a rather important book on it, and perhaps a Dire Wolf in stasis, that’s why.” His lips compressed. “Considering how much trouble Pythia got Shikarou into, I really, really hope that Dire Wolf isn’t interested in me. If she decides she is, I think I’ll let April deal with her.”

            Theodora’s memory was effectively instantaneous, so she understood even before he’d finished explaining. “Do I wait for him to offer to sell it in order to get the best price or do I preempt him and give him some idea of its value to us?”

            “Ciaran isn’t our enemy and is unlikely to become one. Be upfront about its potential value and offer to purchase, but let him set the price. If he’s way too low, suggest a better price for him. Considering Vanessa and the others have taken a liking to him, I don’t want them to think I cheated Ciaran.”

            They both knew that Theodora was one of those women who liked Ciaran. “If he goes too high, I’ll let him know that too. We don’t want to feel cheated either. I’ll send him a message explaining that I’ve sent a ship. Anything else I should tell him?”

            “Not unless he asks for something specific. It’ll be a lot easier to talk with him once we can do it in real time.”

            “I think he and his need twees. If he’s found Sukebe’s station, whether for us or for him, he has more than earned it.”

            Iain shrugged. “I don’t have a problem with that. Kerrik and I agreed that I’d follow the rules the clans put into place. We just decided that people had to know about them and ask for them. If you want to volunteer that information to Ciaran, just be sure he knows how to filter out unwanted messages so the women in Shield don’t drive him batty with requests to join his little adventure.”

            “He already has a harem of two pokegirls, Iain. The last update I received from his computer said he had an Angel and a Samhain.”

            Iain made a face. “The poor man’s a Celestial tamer? No wonder Eve picked him for this.”

            “Should I point out that you are a Celestial tamer as well?”

            He chuckled. “I haven’t forgotten. I just thought he was too young to have been as deeply steeped in sin as I am to deserve Celestial girls.”

            Theodora snickered. “I don’t think you’re supposed to think of it as a punishment.”

            “It’s a blessing?”

            “Yes. That is what they tell their tamers.”

            “Well fancy that. I suppose they also tell the poor folks that it builds character, too.” They shared a soft laugh together. “We need to stop this discussion before the wrong people overhear and I get into trouble again. Let me know if Ciaran needs something specific.”

            “I will. Do you want me to tell the others that we’ve located him?”

            “Not just yet. After all, we know his general location to within a single light second, but that’s a large enough area to stuff over thirteen thousand Earths. Let’s wait until you lay eyes on him.”

            “Should I grow some eyes and graft them onto my sensors?”

            He grinned. “Ok, I think that’s funny ha ha but most people would find that funny eww.”

            “I don’t tell those jokes to most people for a reason, Iain.” Theodora blew him a kiss. “Now stop teasing me and let me work.” She vanished.


07/27/09 0130 Asteroid Base 3

            Ciaran’s computer started playing reveille and he lurched upright, grabbing it off the bed stand just in time to keep Eliana from smashing it with a fist. Victoria slid to her feet and grabbed her pants while Ceres propped herself up on an elbow and looked at him with sleepy eyes. “We have a reply?” Across the room Tamsin just burrowed deeper under the blankets they’d found.

            “We do.”

            The Tantrasaur rolled up into a sitting position. “Victoria, I can take him while you and everyone else can get some more sleep.”

            Victoria looked at Ciaran for a long moment. “Well?”

            “If you want to come you can, but we’ve scouted the path between here and command several times. I think we’ll be ok.”

            Victoria sat down next to him and shoved Eliana to the side. The Angel wore a camisole top and panties when she slept anywhere else but with him and today’s were a blue that brought out her eyes. “I want to cast a monitoring spell on you so I’ll know if you get attacked by something. May I?”

            “I think I’d like you know if we get into trouble, so go ahead. Just remember that this is not blanket permission to do this at will. You’ll have to ask every time you want to do this.”

            She winked at him. “I’m learning. That’s why I asked this time.” Her lips moved silently as she quickly drew a symbol on his forehead. “And I’m done. Take good care of him, Ceres. He’s our male and you weren’t there when he tried to take on a Lioness with a popgun or tried to catch Eliana by himself and got shot for his troubles.”

            “He did what?” Ceres eyed him darkly. “Trust me when I say that he won’t do that with me around.”

            “I am trusting you,” Victoria replied. “If I didn’t you wouldn’t be going anywhere alone with him. Now go before I change my mind.” She dropped her pants on the floor and slid into the bed to spoon with Eliana.

            The trip to the command center was uneventful and Ceres quickly brought the workstation live. She pulled up the message and frowned. “This is garbage.” She looked up from her display. “I’m afraid this message was corrupted during transmission. There’s a fair amount of data here but nothing makes sense.”

            He handed her his computer. “Upload to this. It’s probably encrypted and my computer will have the codes.” Ceres shrugged and did as requested. The handheld chirped once. Ciaran pulled up his messages and read the header. He tried very hard not to let the relief he felt show in his voice. “Yup, I have mail from Theodora.” He pushed the play button.

            Theodora appeared in front of them. She gave him a broad smile. “So that’s where you got off to. I must say, Ciaran, when your signal vanished it caused no small amount of trouble, especially after I’d reassured everyone that there was no place on Earth you could go that I couldn’t find you. After I lost you like this, April was unlikely to trust me to keep track of the kids, so it’s good to discover that I didn’t lose you on Earth after all.” Her smile faded. “I can, however, presume that you’re not calling me to chat, so on to business. I have dispatched a ship to your location. If you need transport back to Earth I’ll be glad to provide it, but even if you don’t I am sending out one of my communications suites. Once installed, it’ll provide real time communications anywhere in the Sol system so we can chat more comfortably. The suite is completely self-contained, so you don’t have to worry about tying it into your location’s power systems or computers. According to my calculations, which as you know I’m pretty darned good at, the ship should arrive in your area in fifty four hours and eighteen minutes from receipt of this message. That is in standard Terran time, of course, and not Tirsuli. Once in your area it will broadcast a message to your location. Once you respond to its hail, it’ll home in on your signal.” She shook her head. “I must say that I didn’t expect you to end up in the outer reaches of the solar system or, honestly, in space at all. With your permission, when you return I will upgrade your computer with Tirsuli communication equipment. Granted, something that’ll fit in your handheld won’t allow you to contact me as far out as you are, but if you end up, say, on Luna or anywhere else within a light minute of a piece of me, we’ll still be able to chat.” Her smile returned. “In the meantime I’ll talk to Iain. Your location raises some interesting points of discussion that should be fascinating to explore.” She bowed. “In two days then, Ciaran.” She vanished.

            Ceres regarded the computer curiously. “Who is that?”

            “Her name is Theodora, she’s one of my boss’ women and she’s a friend of mine.”

            “Is she a pokegirl?”

            “No, she’s not, although in some ways she’s a lot like a Video Girl. Are you going to be as jealous of her as Eliana would be?”

            “Eliana has every right to be jealous. She has never had a man before and it’s reasonable for her to be possessive of him.” Her eyes twinkled. “I’m not sure she should be quite so possessive, but as long as she’s willing to share you with me I won’t complain where she can hear it.”

            “And if she ever changes her mind about that?”

            “She won’t. She’s uneducated, Ciaran, but she’s not the slightest bit stupid. She can’t protect you properly without me and Victoria to help and she realizes this, even if not necessarily on a conscious level.” The twinkle grew brighter. “Even if she’s not a treat like I am. If I had to concern myself about any of your girls, I’d be more worried about Victoria.”

            “Why her?”

            “It’s because she’s an Angel and therefore a Celestial pokegirl.”

            Ciaran sighed. “Not you too?”

            “What do you mean?”

            “I’ve already gotten an earful about Celestial pokegirls and their troubles from Iain and a couple of members of his harem when some of the Celestials living in a nearby town expressed an interest in me. It’s not like they’re really agents of the Lord any more than you or I are. So they have a penchant for do-gooding. They are hardly alone in that and I don’t have a problem with it up to a point. Unless she’s far more subtle than I give her credit for, Victoria hasn’t shown any signs of manipulating me to get me to go after some evil that she feels needs destroyed. Until she does, I don’t have a problem with her. And if she does, I may still not. After all, if we do nothing, evil wins. As for Celestials getting their family members killed, I really, really doubt they do it deliberately. I trust Victoria to want to keep me as safe as she possibly can and to act in accordance with that want. Until she betrays that trust, I will continue to do so.” She looked upset at his words and he patted her on the shoulder gently. “Ceres, if you want to stay extra vigilant in keeping me alive and relatively unharmed, I am not going to say a word to stop you unless you start trying to restrict my freedom without my permission.” He made a face. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to preemptively kill anyone who might be even a remote threat. Apparently I’ve already got Eliana for that.”

            Ceres blinked. “She does that?”

            “She tried to murder Tamsin because of it. I think I’ve convinced her not to do it again, but,” he shrugged, “there’s no way to tell for sure.”

            “How’d you stop her?”

            He looked away. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

            “Why not?”

            “You’ll say I was crazy. Victoria has already lectured me about it.”

            She leaned back on her stool, using her tail as a lever against the floor to brace herself. “You got between them when Eliana attacked her, didn’t you?”

            “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

            “All right. We won’t talk about it now.”

            “Now? That implies there will be a later.”

            “After I discuss this with Victoria and Eliana I might bring it up again. Not so much to lecture you about the past, since it’s past, but to let you know what we will be doing to protect you from yourself.”

            His eyes narrowed. “You don’t get to restrict my choices.”

            “That part I’ve already figured out. But if we act before you can, your choices won’t be impeded. You just won’t have quite as many choices as you might if we don’t act.” She smiled. “The amusing thing is that you can’t forbid us from acting before you because then you’d be restricting our choices.”

            “You’re a sneaky minx.”

            “What is a minx? I have a large vocabulary of English but that word I’m not familiar with.”

            “It has several meanings, including a strumpet or prostitute, but in this case it means you’re a young woman who is pert or impudent.”

            She chuckled. “That I have often been told I am. Do you like me being a sneaky minx?”

            “I think I do.”

            “Good. How accurate is this Theodora? Is her ETA on the ship accurate?”

            “It’ll be accurate almost to the minute.” He set a countdown timer on his computer. “So in three days and ten hours we’ll be back up here waiting for that ship to signal us.”

            Ceres shut down her station and stood. “What do you want to do until then?”

            “We’ll do more explorations and looting, but first,” he yawned, “I want to go back to bed and get some sleep.”


07/29/09 0930 Asteroid Base 3

            The transport hovered above the dock for several seconds before pulling away. Theodora’s hologram shrugged phlegmatically. “Sorry, but the airlock won’t match up with the one on this station. The design on this ship is supposed to be universal, but I’ve never seen an airlock shaped like that. Honestly, there’s no logical reason to build an airlock whose seating surface is fluted. Did Sukebe have a Bimbo on his engineering design team for this place?”

            Ciaran suppressed an urge to scream in frustration. “What now?”

            “I’ll ferry over some emergency evacuation packs. You can use them to exit the airlock and then I’ll retrieve you. As for the future, I’ll start building some transports with shuttles that have that freaky sealing surface design as an option in case I run across more of his stations.” She paused. “The only other option I have would be to land against the station and burn my way in. I did bring a spare airlock in case this situation arose, so I could install it after cutting an entrance.”

            Ciaran didn’t hesitate. The thought of Eliana’s response to trying to travel through vacuum inside a fragile plastic transparent bubble frightened him. “Go with option B. Ceres will give you a place where you can attach the airlock.” He frowned. “That is, if that’s ok with you, Ceres.”

            “It is. I’ve seen what happens when a Bunnygirl opens her helmet in space to wipe the sweat out of her eyes and I don’t like space unless I’m wrapped in something that has armor plating.” She cocked her head. “But why did you ask me?”

            “You were living here and as far as we could determine you’re the only survivor. That means this is your station and we shouldn’t go breaking things on it without your permission.”

            Theodora was listening through her holographic projection and she gave a mental start of surprise. While admirable, Ciaran’s decision meant she might have to negotiate with Ceres, who was a complete unknown.

            Ceres flashed him a smile. “While I appreciate the sentiment, I told you that I and everything that is mine is now yours. That includes any part of this place that I might claim as my own.”

            Theodora relaxed slightly, but decided to not let the opportunity pass. “Ciaran, now that your ownership of this station has been recorded, logged and confirmed, I was wondering if you’d be willing to sell it to the Grey family.”

            Ciaran frowned. “Why do you want to buy it?”

            “I know that Iain put Shikarou’s story in your computer. Have you read it?”

            “I have.”

            “We feel that the two interesting things that Shikarou found on that other station probably exist here. If true, the Grim,”

            Ciaran cut her off. “Stop talking!”

            Theodora paused. When she spoke again her voice was completely without emotion and her dark brown eyes were flat like those of a great white shark. “I am waiting for an explanation.”

            He glanced around the room. “I think I should formally introduce you to the four women you can see here with me. The black haired woman with the blue eyes is Victoria. The blonde with the green eyes is Eliana. The green and brown woman with the yellow eyes is Ceres and the black woman is Lieutenant Tamsin Baker of the Royal British Army as well as being a Knight Wizard in the Order of Pendragon. Now you may speak.”

            Theodora smiled without showing her teeth. He could hear the gratitude in her voice. “Thank you for those introductions. I am surprised you found a knight so quickly. You beat everyone’s date in the betting pool by a wide margin.”

            “Does that mean I get the pot?”

            “I’ll bring it up with the women involved but, considering it consists of taming nights with Iain, are you sure you want to collect?”

            “Oh. Could I convert it into other currency?” He waved a hand. “Never mind, what’s Iain offering for the place?”

            “You’re supposed to go first, Ciaran. Iain didn’t want me to make the initial offer.”

            He frowned and then grinned. “Did he tell you not to advise me?”

            She grinned back. “To the contrary, he asked me to do just that so nobody felt cheated. What can I do to help?”

            “The problem is that I have no idea what the value of this place and its contents would be. So how about you decide what a fair value is and make that my offer to yourself.”

            Her smile vanished. “That’s not what Iain had in mind. He’d never ask me to do that.”

            “Did he ask you not to do it?”

            The smile returned. “No, he did not and I did ask what I could do to help. I will remember this, Ciaran Sullivan. I don’t get tricked very often.”

            “I don’t think you should think of it as tricking you, Theodora. All I did was show a bit of wisdom and take you up on your offer.”

            “That is pure semantics, Ciaran, and we both know it.” She chuckled. “Iain did want me to accept a reasonable offer from you, so I’ll decide what it is worth and begin the money transfer. Do you want all of this to go to your parents?”

            “No, I’ve got a list of items that I need for us. I’ll put it together and let you have it so you can tell me if it uses up all the money for this place. I don’t want to end up owing you money. Oh, and I’ve got a couple of pokegirls to sell too.”

            Theodora nodded. “I should suggest that you keep some of the money you’re about to get as credit with us so you don’t have to worry about that in the future.”

            “I think that’s a good idea,” Victoria said unexpectedly. “If there’s anything left from the sale. His family is getting his paycheck but I think Ciaran needs money of his own.”

            “She’s right,” Ceres added. “I don’t entirely understand money but I know that it’s important to have some.”

            “You have some good ladies there, Ciaran. Remember to listen to them.”

            “I will.”

            “Most of the time,” Eliana said loudly. He sighed as the others laughed.

            “I will make all of the necessary arrangements, Ciaran.” Theodora turned to Ceres. “I am Theodora and I am an inorganic intelligence who is part of the Grey Clan. Can you assist me in finding a location to install an airlock that would cause minimal disruption of this facility?”

            “I would be happy to.” Ceres bent back to her console as the hologram of Theodora split into two. One image moved to where she and Ceres could quietly speak while the other looked at Ciaran. “Have you made contact with Ygerna yet?”

            “Nope. I met Tamsin only a day or so before we ended up here.”

            “I see.” She nodded to Baker. “Lieutenant Baker, I am pleased to meet you. Has Ciaran conveyed to you my clan’s interest in meeting with your queen?”

            Baker flashed a smile and winked at Ciaran. “Which one?”

            Theodora chuckled. “An excellent question. The answer is Queen Ygerna, of course, since we have already established communication with Queen Anne and Princess Zara.”

            “He has,” Baker said, still smiling. “When we return to England I will convey that request to her. I think it would be beneficial to the Order to have access to some of the equipment that I’ve seen Sullivan using.”

            Theodora nodded. “Rest assured that it would most definitely be helpful. We hope that she agrees with your opinion.” Her gaze shifted to Ciaran. “May I make a suggestion?”

            “Go ahead.”

            “When I take you back to Earth, I’d think you should stop off in Texas for debriefing before returning to the United Kingdom. There’s some information you need for the next phase of your mission. It’ll also mean you can pick up your new equipment without having to wait for a delivery run to the Royals. Besides, Eve is going to want to meet Victoria.”

            “But will I want to meet this Eve,” Victoria asked. “Ciaran’s already told us a lot about her and how she got him to go to England. I already know about the Thorns and their philosophy has never really appealed to me, although I’ll admit that I do like them better than the Celestial Alliance.”

            “Eve won’t try to recruit you. She will just want to see how accurate her precognition was in regards to Ciaran.”

            “Then I’ll meet her. Besides, I want to be able to put faces and personalities with the names my man has been throwing around.” She frowned and looked at Eliana. “You will behave while we are there.”

            The Samhain gave her a stony glare in return. “I will because Ciaran wants me to.”

            “You’ve got a feisty bunch, Ciaran.” Theodora shook her head and dropped her voice. “How are your injuries?”

            “I’m still doing physiotherapy on them, but they’re essentially fine. Why?”

            “The transport out there has a full medical bay. I could take a look at you and your family on the trip back. I’m sure your girls have old injuries that could benefit from healing.”

            “I’ll discuss it with the others but that sounds like a grand idea.”

            “Good. The installation of the com array and some ancillary computer stuff will take a day or so. You can be packing during that time and loading all of your loot into the transport. I won’t count that as part of the station you sold to me since you acquired it before the sale.”

            He chuckled. “There’s not as much as you might think. When they emptied the station they stripped this place pretty well of everything portable except for food. The only reason they didn’t take that as well, according to Ceres, was space limitations on available transport.”

            “That makes sense that food would have a low priority as there is plenty to eat at their destination. I take it you found no weapons.”

            “Unless you count cutlery, we did not.”

            “I was hoping for samples of their weapons, but hopefully there will be maintenance manuals and technical specs in the computers.” She gave him a grave look. “On a personal note, I am glad that you are well. We never expected you to find this place but I appreciate you going above and beyond the original parameters of your mission.”

            “Considering I’m not sure I know what those parameters are, you’re welcome.”

            She smiled broadly. “Pandora was right. You are smarter than just about anyone gives you credit for.”

            He looked at her with an innocent expression. “Who, me? I’m just some dumb sodbuster panhandle boy.” The expression faded. “Before the pokegirls came and the world ended, I wanted to be an astronaut. I’d probably never have had the chance, mind, since there was no way I could afford college. I was planning on trying for an appointment to the Air Force Academy or a full scholarship to some school where astronauts had historically come from. I had the scores for it, but,” he shrugged. “Things changed.”

            “And now you’re in space.”

            “It’s not the same. For all that’s worth I might as well be in a bomb shelter. I haven’t even seen much of outside.”

            “There are suits on the transport. You can go EVA once we’re away from here.” Her lips thinned. “I haven’t been attacked, but as the transport approached some lidar and radar stations began painting it. I haven’t seen any weapon arrays, but even if there are some hidden ones I doubt this place has weapons that can pierce the transport’s shields. Still, nobody should be outside if we can avoid it. The transport hasn’t received any sort of signals interrogation and Ceres doesn’t know anything about whether they used IFF codes, but then with her job she probably wouldn’t. So I’m mildly concerned.”

            “What if you are attacked?”

            Her smile was ugly. “The transport is armed. I wouldn’t put it up against a clan warship, but no weapon emplacement on this asteroid will fire more than once before I turn it to scrap. And if they use missiles, the transport does have exceptional point defenses. They’re better, in fact, than the offensive weapons are since I’d rather keep the transport safe to escape than inflict extra damage on an attacker. That’s what I have warships for.” She looked up. “Excuse me but Ceres and I have located a suitable place to add an airlock. Since I am this far out there is a small delay in commands to the transport and I still have to do soundings of the area and program the cutting pattern so I need to pay full attention to what’s going on.” The image with him vanished.

            “Ceres, are you finished here?”

            She looked over at him. “Unless Theodora needs more advice, I am.”

            “Then, ladies, let’s leave Theodora to her work. We’ve got packing to do. I know I said that we were only taking what would fit in my pack and some improvised bindles for you, but Theodora told me we can take anything we can fit in the transport,” he smiled, “within reason, of course. If there are any questions, I will provide the final decision as to whether or not something is reasonable.”

            Theodora turned to look at them as they filed out. “Ciaran, when we’re on the ship I have a question for you. Please look up the information on your computer for something called a twee. I’ve marked it for your perusal.”

            “What is that?”

            “Just read the information. We’ll talk about it on the trip back to Earth.”


07/31/09 0930 Sabine Ranch, Texas

            Iain looked around the room as he entered. Vanessa, Canaan, Eve, April and Pandora looked back at him. April gave him a faint smile. “You too?”

            “Yeah. Theodora said it was an emergency meeting.” He dropped into a chair and looked around. “So where are you?”

            Theodora appeared as the door swung shut. “I know there’s little that should require an emergency meeting like this, but in this particular situation I thought you needed to know as quickly as possible. Telepathic and phase blocks are now in place.”

            Iain frowned. “Why do we need all of the security?”

            “We will have to decide who to inform about this, but right now I don’t want the information accidentally leaked.” Theodora leaned against the wall and folded her arms. “Iain, when you wrote Where None Has Gone Before did you consider why Sukebe burnt a lot of resources constructing the asteroid base? Resources he could have probably used somewhere else.”

            He shook his head. “No, I just meant it to introduce Pythia and the Grimoire. I didn’t give it any other thought. I think I had a vague idea that it would be used as a jumping off point for raids.”

            “Which makes no sense,” Theodora replied. “An orbital base for raiding would ideally be sited far closer to Earth, perhaps in one of the Lagrange points or even in orbit around Luna. That’s where I would recommend putting one. And you could build it out of aluminum harvested from the moon. Even if using pokegirls for the transport and construction, going all the way out to the asteroid belt is a huge waste of resources. Unfortunately, I have found out why he built them where he did.”

            “Them?” Pandora frowned. “There is more than one of them?”

            “To be honest, I’m not completely sure. Ceres was kind enough to allow Ciaran to give me the override codes she had and I’m still vacuuming the computers, but I’ve found references to five asteroid bases. However, base three, the one Ciaran ended up on, was the first to begin construction and I’m not sure if the others were ever built. No matter, I still have to find out and locate them if at all possible. It’s turned out to be more important than some of my other priorities.”

            Eve frowned. “Why?”

            “All of these bases were only secondarily bases for raiding. Their primary purpose was as an extermination device. According to records in the base they were going to be his final solution for humanity if he lost. All are centaurs or Damocloid asteroids and have orbital paths that can easily be modified to intersect with Earth’s orbit. He was going to slam them into Earth as a last resort. All of these asteroids were at least nine miles long and were a third again larger than the estimated size of the bolide which created the Chicxulub crater. Even one of them would have been incredibly destructive upon impact. Five of them would have destroyed almost all life on Earth.”

            April looked ill and the others had gone white. Canaan folded her lower arms and scratched a bicep with an upper hand. “He obviously has not dropped them on Earth. But you’re concerned that one or more of them may be inbound. Is the station we have ready to do this?”

            Theodora nodded. “The engines and fuel storage were the first things completed, so it is possible that another may be headed for us, although I doubt it. There are no records that the base received orders to activate. But all it takes is one zealot pokegirl with the right command codes coming out of stasis to start one on its way.”

            Iain stirred. “We need to tell Kerrik. Shikarou doesn’t have any space forces other than the access to manufacturing that Kerrik has given him. However, we do need to talk to Poppet Harris.”

            “Why?” Vanessa frowned. “What can she do?”

            “Of course,” Canaan said. “Iain’s right. It’s not Poppet he wants to talk to, it’s Ming Die. She and her sisters might have heard something about this. We need to tell Shikarou, though, because Poppet Harris undoubtedly will tell her counterpart in Haven.”

            “We also need to keep this as quiet as possible,” Theodora said. “There’s a certain level of panic that would be inevitable if humanity in general learned that death may be falling from the skies without warning. Because of that, I suggest talking to Kerrik and no one else. He and his harem are the best placed to help us search. Raven, Misery and Whisper know about many bases where we might find data on the Yamadut program.”

            “Is that its name,” Eve asked.

            “It is. Yamaduts are mythological beings in the Hindu religion that inform people that they have died and escort the dead to the afterlife.”

            “That name does not inspire confidence that you are wrong,” April said. “We have to find these other bases.”

            “That’s why I wanted to inform you,” Theodora said. “Right now that’s all I have to report. Hopefully I’ll discover that the others were never built, but we can’t take that chance while I’m examining all of the data on Base Three.”

            Iain sighed. “All right. Please ask for a meeting with Kerrik as soon as possible. In the meantime, reprioritize your construction and begin manufacturing probes to seed the area around Earth to look for incoming objects. Also,” he grimaced, “make room on the Theodora for the entire clan and station enough assets on standby to evacuate the entire clan and the Sisterhood.” He looked around the room. “Needless to say, ladies, this doesn’t leave this room for now. Some of our clan members tell everything they know to just about anyone they meet.”

            Eve rubbed her eyes. “Will Lucifer be willing to evacuate?”

            “She will when we remind her that we’d come back and her people would be instrumental in helping any survivors. That’s the sort of catastrophe that Celestials both dread and live for.” He looked around the room. “If there’s nothing else, I think we have a lot of work to do.”

            “Please stay for a moment, Iain,” Theodora said quietly.

            Once everyone else had left, he looked at her. “What is it?”

            “Ciaran’s shopping list includes a request for an AI kernel. That’s one of the few things I cannot manufacture. I don’t have the programming protocols for it.”

            “Then tell him no.”

            “I will, but it raised the point that someday we may want to be able to either produce or acquire them. Kerrik’s AIs might be able to make them. May I start negotiations with them for either blank kernels or the technology to manufacture them ourselves?”

            Iain nodded. “Go ahead. Oh, and after my meeting with Kerrik remind me that I want to meet Ciaran’s family. We may be evacuating them along with us and him and I want to see what they’re like.”

            “I will, Iain.”


Ciaran Sullivan

Victoria – Angel

Eliana – Samhain

Ceres - Tantrasaur