Excerpt for Proteus - Evolution (Book Eight) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Proteus - Evolution

The Eighth book in the Proteus Series

and the second part of the Natural Selection Saga



First Edition


Copyright 2017 Alexander Nassau

Published by Alexander Nassau at Smashwords


ISBN: 9781370285532





All characters and names in this book are fictional and have no relevance to any real world individuals either living or deceased.





"For those creatures that one day humanity will spawn, technology of a new order.

We stand at the dawn of a new era where humanity will share our world with our technology, creatures of equal or greater intelligence that will emulate their creators.

For a species that still struggles with the idea of human rights, how will we give rights to our creations that are fair, just and true?

What terrible lessons will we teach our creations?"



See More from the Author on my Blog





Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents





Previously

Prologue

Chapter One - A New Day in the Light

Chapter Two - Life's a Beach

Chapter Three - Sibling Rivalry

Chapter Four - Dark Secrets

Chapter Five - Family Ties

Chapter Six - Forbidden Knowledge

Chapter Seven - More than you can Chew

Chapter Eight - The Empty Shell

Chapter Nine - Outgunned

Chapter Ten - Orphans of the Stars

Chapter Eleven - Reluctance

Chapter Twelve - Family

Epilogue

Preview of Book Nine - New Horizons

Proteus Unhinged - One Small Step (Proteus Mini Story)

More books from the Author

Authors Retrospective - New Arrivals

About the Author

PREVIOUSLY



Look up in to the night sky, there is more out there than you could imagine, worlds of creatures so familiar and so strange it would leave you in awe and wonder. Stranger still is that our own world is secretly part of that community, even if most of the population are oblivious to the fact.

On one particular world called Beletrix lives a race of creatures hard to understand. They are a joined race, a partnership of a host and a symbiote. Where life gets more unusual is that the hosts are not all the same species. While their native hosts are a race of nine feet tall aliens called Usha, there are some who have bonded to humans.

Beletrix while being their home world is not where they came from. That world was Alphius Prime, a world where the native life faced the terrible fate to burn in fire. It was this reason the population tried to escape building great ships to flee the demise of their home.

These were not ships like any you could imagine. They were living creatures designed to save their people. While each ship is an individual life in its own right, they share the family name, the classification given to them by their creators.

They are the Proteus class of starship, but things did not go as planned.

It was believed that only the eldest sister and the smallest of the fleet, a quirky ship called Koli managed to escape and searched the stars for three hundred years until she found Earth, a world where a small number of the indigenous intelligent life was capable of bonding with the ten survivors.

The truth was though that Terrik, the flagship of the main evacuation fleet, Terrik barely survived, limping to safe harbour where she stayed for three hundred years, damaged and dying until her sister returned for her, answering her distress call and rescuing the survivors.

The survivors planned to build Terrik a new body, an improved version of her original design, but as usual things never go to plan. They ended up with twins.

With these two new ships, relationships on Earth deteriorating, they revisited a world Koli's crew had settled on only to realise their automated construction drones had been rather busy after they left.

That world was Beletrix, and they arrived home to find the ghost city of Verlon.

At this point you are probably thinking they did a lot, and you would be right. You could easily write several whole books on the subject, if not more.

However, there was one major point missing. What happened to the lost Titan and in a way that is where this story started, on a dark world far distant.

Unexpectedly the survivors on Earth found themselves with a shocking revelation as an utterly unknown ship arrived, a young second generation Proteus class vessel called Saya, carrying a familiar crew and her pilot, Zenni Quinett.

The former pilot of the Titan class Miras had returned on a mission to rescue the crew of Terrik, even if she was a little late, however she brought the news of the fate of Miras and the twelve thousand survivors she carried and a desperate plea for help.

The surprises didn't stop there as she tells the story of Neo Alphius, a world they had settled on only to fall victims to a parasitic plague that afflicted their people reducing them to creatures they had called Necrotites, monsters that were their own people, trapped in a living hell. Perhaps the greatest revelation of all was Saya's origins. She was a naturally conceived and born, a life far surpassing the artificially created Proteus ships.

A rescue plan was formulated to not only cure those afflicted by the plague, but also rescue Saya's mother, Miras. Cutting this quite long story short, they succeeded making new friends along the way and having breathed life back in to Verlon city on Beletrix, Zenni, Miras and Saya finally got the opportunity to rest in the safety of their new home.

Until fate intervened once more that is. During a fated mission to find new life out in the depths of our galaxy, Lunar was attacked by a terrible new foe, the Apeyron.

There is another very long story, but to cut this short the Apeyron were defeated, war halted before it could begin. For Zenni, Saya and her brave friends, they managed to survive, but the costs of this disastrous encounter had left its mark on both sides.

For the Apeyron the news is bleak, their home world has twenty years left before it is destroyed by a cosmic cataclysm, but thanks to their new friends there is hope. The Seleke Council has proposed a new Empire for them based on change and harmony, a necessary evolution of their race in order for them to survive. The plan is to find three new worlds where they will build a new Empire and with the first of these worlds now found they are starting the long road to rebuilding their proud Empire.

Things in the Galaxy are returning to normal, unless you are of course on the world called Beletrix where normal rarely happens.

Lunar has returned from the dead much to everyone's surprise, the youngest of the Proteus ships having hidden her conscious mind in the Beletrix network, escaping her fate. She created herself a new body in the Seltus shipyards and with everyone's help she is now restored. However, not everything is quite so straight forward.

The shipyard without input from the development team has had some unexpected arrivals. Four new ships were created and they were nothing like anyone had imagined. With the Proteus fleet almost doubling in size overnight, these new youngster are entering a complex and strange world trying to learn about their environment and the people they will in time call their friends.

With Miras now holding title as a member of the Seleke Council, the rights and freedoms of the Proteus ships have been set in to their world's laws. Now the more pressing matters of the Apeyron's plight has come back in to focus, with two more worlds to be found and the start of construction of their new world's infrastructures. It is up to Miras and Saya to focus on these tasks.

For Terrik and Lunar, the twins are set to return to Earth. The suffering and trauma of the last few months has taken a terrible toll on them both as their big sister Koli along with their friends need to help them both work through their issues. With Lunar frightened and far too nervous and Terrik still suffering from anger management issues they will work with their pilots Sasha and Loren to try and find their way back and who better to lighten the mood than their manic and rather insane older sister Koli.

In a way that returns us to the new quirky and odd youngster of the Proteus fleet. For them it is all about setting in to their new world, and this is not going to be easy considering the madhouse they have been born in to. These third generation Proteus ships are not quite what their creators expected and to say these sisters are trouble would be an understatement.

Not everything is perfect though. In the darkness of space a small but dangerous fleet is hidden, plotting their vengeance quietly. General Razon, former leader of the Guardian of Apeyra hungers for retribution against the Alphians for their part in his downfall, and to see Emperor Takal dethroned so he can take his rightful place and lead the Empire that is no more.



For all the things that have happened though, there was one thing that should frighten you even more and that is something that happened two months ago, as Koli and Flip innocently gave a friend a lift home, something that could spell the end of everything.

PROLOGUE





The galaxy has secrets.

Some are wondrous, so beautiful they would stir the soul and some perhaps less so. Look up to the sky and you would happen across some of those secrets as your eyes roamed the stars although from here their secrets are not that obvious.

Some of these secrets are natural, some are less so and if you were an astronomer gazing up in to eternity, hidden away in that blanket of diamonds is a star that a first glance would seem rather odd. Looking at it through the best telescopes available on this world it would blink at you. Not by very much, so much so the eyes would not see it, but with the right equipment its unusual behaviour would be undeniable.

Now, many things out there in the universe do this, most of them natural and predictable with a fixed pattern of movement, a rhythm to their strange actions. But this star is not predictable. Its light seems to have a complex rhythm, not at all a dulcet beat, but pulsing brilliance of an artificial nature. For a scientist on this world the stars reveal their secrets with a degree of reason and imagination, but without being able to see this star up close and personal they are left to theorise, to wonder what could cause this phenomenon.

For me though, I know what causes it to behave so strangely because I was born there so long ago.

It is a beautiful gem, a system testament to a civilisation, a monument to achievement and power.

It is hard to describe unless you actually saw it. A structure so vast it was built around a star, in human terms a broken sphere enclosing the burning nuclear fire, over two hundred and fifty million miles across.

Only few knew of this place, mostly through rumour and its name was Delasia, the great system of the Avoran Hive.

It had been seventy six human years since they left her behind. Her keepers were on a deep space mission to explore the furthest most reaches of the galaxy. This was in itself unusual as her keepers were quite xenophobic, fearful of the many races of creatures out there, not because they were threatened by them, but because they feared the ideas. Curiosity though is a maddening thing and they created four great ships designed to be self sufficient and self contained for an extended expedition in to the wilds of the galaxy, to see the life out there and perhaps to gain a better perspective on the strange creatures that surrounded them. They had been away from home, in human terms for nearly five hundred years, cut off and isolated seeing wonders and nightmares. In fact if it was not for her, they would have been gone far longer, but she had been injured and they had decided to bring her home for repairs however that was not her destiny lay.

They had been forced set her down on this world, their home not responding and low on fuel and critically injured, her sisters had taken her crew back to Delasia with the promise they would return for her. Against everything she knew they entrusted these humans to care for her. It was unusual for her keepers to even speak to an alien race but for reasons she did not understand they saw something in these odd and vulnerable aliens. They knew they would care for her and so she waited watching her sisters leave for their home, but they never came back.

What should have been only a matter of weeks turned to months, then into years.

She didn't know why they never returned. She was all alone, strange creatures trying to care for her, but she could not respond to them, she could not understand them. She appreciated the fact they did their best, but they did not see her for what she truly was.

She did what her keepers told her to do though. Wait quietly until the day they returned.

Then to her surprise, her new keepers wanted to use her. There was a darkness was coming. They repaired some of her damage and for the first time she could move again, be free and reach for the stars. She did not understand why her new keepers were so afraid, but for the first time they took her up above this world and she returned to the stars once more and that was when everything changed.

She met a new friend, someone who was like her, someone who could talk to her.

She was beautiful, kind and generous.

Then the thing that everyone was afraid of arrived, dark monsters threatening everything she knew, threatening her new friend and the world she had called her temporary home.

Her new friend was strong and smart, but they were outnumbered as she fought back against this darkness and she had surprised these vile creatures. She had seen her friend defend this world valiantly, but when she saw she was in trouble, she had no choice. She protected her and paid a terrible price.

Their weapon tore in to her and in a moment of agonising pain, she broke her promise.

She screamed out calling for help.

They had told her to wait quietly, but she had called out in agony in to the stars. Her new keepers did not know what she had done, but her new friend put a stop to the fight when one of her sisters arrived. She did not understand what they had done, but both of them were deeply concerned for her.

That was when everything changed.

They helped her, repaired the injuries she had sustained, not just from the incident, but from long before and they had comforted her and cared for her.

Then sadly they had left, but she was deeply thankful to them. She could now talk to her new keepers, understand their language and intentions, their desires. She missed her new friends, but maybe they would come back soon.

The stars were quiet and the galaxy has its secrets, yet now as she started to realise, one of its secrets had been revealed.

A confused and sad message from the darkness, a response to her plea for help, her sisters responding to her pain.

They had also been told to wait quietly, but their keepers were gone and they finally broke their silence with the most awful of news. Delasia, her home was nothing more than an empty shell, hundreds of billions silenced, gone forever and still her sisters waited patiently for their return.

They were loyal to their keepers, but if what they had said was true, they were not coming back for them. She had to do something, but she did not know what.

Maybe her new friends would be able to help, offers suggestions and ideas.

Maybe they would help her save them.

CHAPTER ONE

A New Day in the Light





She felt something nudge her arm as she stood in Koli cargo bay looking at her friend. There was something not right with this, like a sense of déjà vu. They were at Kelik Station having just brought Padaran Moss back after... something. She couldn't remember what though. They were talking on the station when someone had entered Koli almost undetected and she had to protect her friend.

It was almost like she had done this before, but why did it feel so real?

She didn't hesitate as they both ran through the corridors she could feel her heart thumping in her chest. For someone to sneak aboard Koli was next to impossible. She knew everything happening within her and never missed a trick. Whoever this was had technology that nullified her abilities and if that was the case, they were probably more dangerous than Apeyrons were.

As Koli led her towards the bridge she could feel her anticipation and fear growing until they entered finding the bridge quiet as she looked around. It seemed peaceful as she tried to reason what she was missing but as she looked to Koli, she could see her gaze nervously fixed to the navigation seat and only then did she see the figure sitting in it.

"So young like this, innocent and playful," a voice echoed out in such a gentle tone.

As they approached she was surprised to find an old Alphian sitting in the seat, her face wrinkled and weathered by age as she looked to them both with an unnerving and familiar smile.

"Who are you and what do you want?" she snapped out at the intruder.

"I have come a long way to see you both," she replied looking completely relaxed and at ease sitting in the chair, "I have come to warn you of something important, but it is nice for me to see you both like this and I have missed you Phillipa."

"Koli, put a restraining field around her," she snapped not taking any chances a Koli nodded hesitantly, a vague hum echoing around the chamber.

"What was it your old editor called you?" she mused almost laughing to herself.

She stood up, the field shutting down as Koli meeped in surprise looking up to her fearfully.

"A flipping idiot if I remember right. Where your nickname came from, eh Flip?"

"How the hell do you know that? I have never told anyone at the Foundry how I got my name," she snapped, backing away as the woman laughed softly in a way that felt so hauntingly familiar.

"One person at the Foundry knows that secret Phillipa," she said smiling at them both before sighing sadly, "My granddaughters said I was being foolish and that I would never get this far, but when you get to my age, you stop listening to sense and reason."

She paused, her face almost turning in to a pained wrinkled ball as she shook her head.

"I do not have long with you and my very presence here will cause anomalies. I am changing everything by just being here and time itself will catch up to me soon," she said sternly looking to them both.

"A year from now, Beletrix will be destroyed. Nearly everyone you hold dear will perish because of a mistake you will both make because you were being kind. It starts with the human's adopted ship, Aurora. When she came to Earth so long ago, she was one of four sisters. Her Avoran crew abandoned her there, but the other three ships travelled to their home system. Aurora will make contact with her sisters and will try to escape and you will help her and discover a place of wonders and death. A team from Beletrix will go there aboard Miras and Saya and they will uncover the secret of the Avorans, a promise of unlimited energy but a bringer of death as well. It is what destroys Beletrix. Only Koli, Saya, Qidgee and Norcee escape. Miras, Terrik, and the other younger sisters will perish alongside our friends and family, as will the young Emperor to be, Tath and so the horrible spiral of destruction begins."

"You're from the future?" she muttered dismissively rolling her eyes.

"The Emperor's heart breaks at the news of his son's death, and within six months, he passes and the Apeyron fall in to civil war. Razon's madness is rekindled. With the remaining survivors of Beletrix settling on Aemus to mount a defence, Earth is wiped out as the start of the Second Apeyron war begins. The human race is extinguished. After a long a bitter war, the Apeyron are annihilated, but Aemus lies in ruins, billions dead. During the war, the Proteus family grows hundreds of individuals filling the sky but in time, the survivors of the Vu'kno reach the end of their natural lives and the only remaining legacy of our once proud species is Proteus. They left Aemus without pilots to live in the stars, taking the last remaining Vu'kno to help us, the youngest of their race, Neolash, my dear friend."

"Hold on, you are hosting Neolash?" she questioned as Koli frowned at her as if she was missing something.

"No old friend. Neolash helped me get here to give you my warning," she said smiling so lovingly at her, "You must never go to the Avoran system, our people must never find their technology as it will destroy everything we love. You must both promise me this. Our future depends on it."

"How do I stop something when I don't know how to?" she questioned angrily.

"Snappy as always," she sighed sadly, "To your side is a device I have just built using components from Kelik. It is an Avoran tachyon beacon. Aurora will want to find her sisters and that is what starts us down this dark road. That will draw Aurora's sisters to Earth and stop your voyage of doom. The Avoran's terrible secrets will remain a silent mystery and you will save the future."

She looked at the small circular device and shook her head, the cobbled together pile of junk sitting there like some shambles.

"You're as bad as Koli is," she muttered her comment almost seeming to amuse the woman.

"Who are you and how do you know us?" she snapped viewing the woman as pieces of her almost seem to fade, as if she was ghost.

"I have missed you so much Phillipa," she said sadly, "You died when I was still so young and even after nearly three hundred years together, you still had such fire and passion. With your last breath you gave me a screwdriver and made me promise to behave myself. I did my best, but it should never have turned out the way it did. I had to come back and make sure you did not suffer. I had to change things, take them apart and make a mess like I always do."

"Who are you?"

She did not say anything, motioning to the window as she looked outside as the darkness seemed to shimmer for a moment something coming in to view as she stared in shock at the form appearing outside. Her mouth opened as a tear ran down her cheek as she looked back to see that Usha woman, her skin peeling away revealing the technology beneath as it restructured, changed and reassembled itself, the fluid returning as she looked at the small beautiful silver haired old human woman, that smile on her face so hauntingly familiar as she almost seemed to mist in to the air.

"My granddaughters said I was foolish, but maybe now we can have a better future together with our friends and our family. You were my best friend Phillipa, you taught me so much and I loved being with you with all my heart. Look after her my young friend. You know how much she means to us both. Time doesn't like anomalies like this though and I hope everything I have told you will change what happens for the better."

"You have my word Koli and thank you," she stammered out starting to cry as the old woman nodded and smiled to her, time rewriting as Koli's future self was removed from the universe.

As the room fell silent, the view outside now stars once more she could feel tears rolling down her cheeks. She turned to Koli who was in as much shock as she was, pulling her in and holding her tight.

"Padaran to Koli," the comms rang out, "We just detected another ship for a moment and a major space time anomaly right next to your location. Is everything okay?"

She looked to her friend and laughed a little as Koli wiped the tears from her eyes giving her a frown.

"I'm not sure but I have a feeling everything will work out fine."

Something nudge her arm again, a voice almost passing over her like a breeze as she looked at Koli, everything suddenly becoming very confusing and disjointed.

"You need to wake up Phillipa," Koli said so strangely looking at her with concern, "You are having a nightmare again and I do not like it when you have nightmares."



She bolted upright, confused and disorientated looking around her quarters aboard Koli, her heart pounding in her chest. She blinked trying to gather herself up as she looked at Koli sat on the bed at her side with a concerned expression on her face.

"Are you feeling okay Phillipa? I could feel through our bond that you were scared," Koli asked softly looking in to her eyes.

She took a moment, taking a deep breath, exhaling it slowly as she looked to her strange alien friend.

"I think this vacation will be good for all of us," she said, her voice trembling a little, "I was dreaming about what happened two months ago on Kelik Station, the warning your future self gave us."

Koli didn't say anything as she finally let reality settle in again, running her hands through her hair as the nightmare ebbed away in her mind. From the wall at her side a hot mug of coffee seemed to appear, Koli beaming a smile at her.

"Never gets old," she sighed with a laugh taking the mug, sniffing the strange Koli brand coffee.

"It is morning now and we are nearly ready to go," Koli stated in her usual clumsy way.

"Has your sister got back yet?"

"She should be back within the hour," Koli replied, her avatar still freakily unnerving and yet so reassuring.

"Fine, let me get myself dressed and sorted and we can go see what Terrik and Lunar are up to," she replied as Koli nodded to her, standing up and leaving her in peace.

Taking a sip of the coffee, Koli was getting a little better at making it even though it had that strange aftertaste she really couldn't pin point. It felt like a life time ago since she had blundered in to the Foundry. Back then she had thought her life was complicated, but now, with alien worlds, bonded to living star ship and doing things no human could ever imagine, this put her old life in to perspective.

She had to question why her nightmare had been so vivid and even now back in reality, it felt like an omen. They were going back there to the place where Aurora was and she could not shake the feeling that their story and the warning was about to come full circle.



* * *



For a moment Miras winced, half way expecting Orles to cock the landing up however to her surprise as she came down to rest almost perfectly in the Verlon Spaceport she glanced at her partner with a smile.

"Told you I would get the hang of this eventually," Orles comment smiling at her as she returned her view back outside, the two Apeyron Intellecterum ships reconfiguring their blades as they also came to rest on the polished landing area.

"It looks like things have been progressing while we have been on Artaris," she commented thinking of the heartening view that had greeted them when they came in over the city.

"Certainly a sight I would never have imagined," Orles commented as her engines powered down, Orles finally releasing her hands from the control fluid as the bridge staff started their preparations, opening her cargo bay as the teams started to refuel and resupply her. "That all said, I think we should go brief Solais first and let her know how things have progressed."

It did not take them long to reach the lift and progress towards the lower access as she ran over the last several weeks since Lunar's shocking return. Things had gone well with her new position as the Proteus representative on the Seleke Council, the rights of all ships to equality in their society now laid in to law and while she tried to balance her responsibilities she had to admit she was tired.

Koli had been trying to deal with the new youngster while Terrik had never left Lunar's side and while she had been away surveying the first of the Apeyron's new home worlds, it seemed her little sister had finally emerged from the wet dock at the Seltus Shipyards.

Stepping out in to the warm air, the sun beating down on her there was one noticeable absence. Saya was still away on her own mission scouting various worlds identified by the research teams at the Nimbus observatory and while Artaris had been an early and most welcome win, her daughter was now finding less suitable prospects out there, each world proving problematic in their own way.

"Seems brutal in a way," Orles commented as they walked towards the main halls of the spaceport, "Looks like they are getting ready to leave for Earth."

She looked over to her three sisters sitting quietly on the spaceports polished surface, loading sleds getting them supplied as the crews went about their business. It was an accurate assessment though. She would have preferred to spend more time with Lunar but things never work out that way.

"I'm sure we will have a little time to catch up with them before they go although right now I am more concerned about our new little ones," she commented as her eyes looked over to the Seltus shipyards far across the spaceport with a growing sense of dread.

"You sound worried," Orles replied giving her an almost joking glance.

"They're not quite what any of us expected and by this point they should all be on the verge of taking their first proper steps in to this world, figuratively speaking. If my experiences with Saya are anything to go by, they will for a time be quite a handful."

"I do remember. She was really quite naughty when she was little," Orles sighed giving her a half smile, "Still, these new arrivals don't have the difficult start in life Saya or even yourself or the others had."

"That is what perhaps worries me the most," she sighed back at they entered the facility, the air cooler inside as the familiarities of home surrounded her. "When I was young, I really had no time to grow up. Like all my sisters I was forced in a fight for survival and while I made mistakes, I never had time to consider what I had missed. Our new youngsters are coming to terms with what they are and what they can do with their futures and in a place where they are cared for. On this world they want for nothing and are safe. I wonder if that lack of purpose will cause them trouble."

"We can only have faith and I don't doubt they will find their place on our world," Orles replied with that ever irritating wisdom as they entered the main embarkation area of the space port heading towards the administration area, "You all turned out well and you have done a wonderful job with Saya. She had proven that time and time again she is as diligent and caring as any of your sisters. They are going to make mistakes, they are going to get themselves in to trouble, but it is how people grow. You just have to trust them and guide them when they need it. I know that you and your sisters have those skills in abundance so I would not be too worried."

"Flattery will get you nowhere," she quipped back as they entered the briefing room, before them Solais waiting patiently.

It was time to get down to work.



* * *



Solais looked to her side she sighed as Orles started to snore, her head pushed back as her tendrils draped behind the chair, Miras at her side trying not to laugh.

"And in conclusion," Dayal announced softly she decided to poke Orles gently, her old friend jumping out of her skin as the whole meeting turned to them, the various Apeyron dignitaries looking at them questioningly.

"Apologies," she announced in a sympathetic tone as Dayal looked surprised, "Piloting a Proteus ship can be exhausting as I am sure my good friend will attest to."

There was silence for a moment as she nodded eagerly back to Dayal who cleared her throat.

"As I was saying," she continued as she returned back to her drawn out analysis, "Artaris as it is now known, is a perfect candidate for colonisation. It is of a sufficient size approximately one and a half times the mass of Apeyra, with a stable oxygen nitrogen atmosphere. The biosphere of the world shows a natural and stable eco structure with three hundred million years of natural evolution and a standard DNA pattern which seems to be quite prevalent throughout our galaxy. This does mean that life such as our own, or that of the Apeyron can be supported by the world and its plant life is compatible with various form of life native to Beletrix, Aemus or Earth, hence it could be transplanted. Detailed analysis show no potential pathogenic life and what little viral or bacterial life there is on the world can easily be dealt with. Geologically, the world features standard inner planetary features including an iron and heavy element core that is providing a magnetic field. On a wider scale, the planetary system is stable, Artaris has two moons providing tidal surge for the oceans and beyond the expected tectonic and volcanic activity found on most habitable world, its geological history shows it to be a stable planet. The star it orbits is a fourth generation star with an expected four billion year life span left. As agreed with my esteemed colleagues from the Apeyron Intellecterum it is our joint opinion Artaris will provide everything needed to create the first world of the new Apeyron Empire."

It took a few moments before the assembled crowd realised she had finally finished as they got to their feet applauding this far over detailed presentation, Miras rolling her eyes looking rather impatient.

"I will advise Dayal to keep the next briefing shorter," she whispered as Orles yawned looking around blearily.

"I am just hoping my sisters have not departed during this. I don't even know why I was asked to come to this debrief," Miras grumbled back, Orles looking at her disapprovingly.

She didn't have an answer for her, but Osette looked assured and confident as he glanced over to her as she stepped forward, the Ambassador joining her as Dayal stepped down.

"The first step forward," the Ambassador announced as the crowd fell silent again, "This news brings hope to the billions who sleep on Apeyra and a new beginning for our people. I have conveyed this most heartening news to Emperor Takal and he has agreed to return once more to Beletrix to give his personal thanks to all those who have taken such efforts and diligence in this venture. From there, with our friend's assistance, the joint Apeyron and Alphian heavy drone system will be deployed on Artaris by the Emperor's hand as he lays the first stone on our new home world. Unless Grand Council Solais has anything to add, I would like to thank you all once again and bring this meeting to a close."

She shook her head as Osette nodded back to her as she stepped down, the room filling with chatter as she approached Orles looking at her and Miras apologetically.

"I am more thankful she didn't break anything," Orles quipped as she glanced to Dayal collecting her papers and notes.

"She is one of the most accident prone people I have ever met. I thought Zenni and Saya were teasing me when they told me stories," Miras commented as she could only laugh softly under her breath.

"You should both get going," she sighed to them both, "I think Koli will want to say her farewells to you and you both need a break, although for how long I cannot say. Talishia has asked if you could to meet with her at the Shipyard. I believe she is having a few issues she needs your help and guidance with."

"I had guessed as much," Miras sighed shaking her head as she watched Dayal with her arms full of papers marching over the stage, tripping over what seemed to be nothing and flying through the air landing with a horrible crunch on the floor as papers flew in to the air.

She glanced to Orles who was wincing as the softest 'Ouch' echoed out, Prina not even hesitating as she got up from her seat and went to help her as she picked herself up cradling her arm.

"Perhaps we should get to see our friends and by the looks of it I think you have your hands full as well," Orles quipped before almost skipping off towards the door leaving her with another mess to deal with.



* * *



As Lunar looked out over the spaceport everything seemed quiet, yet she could not stop the fear building within her. Her sisters had told her that what happened to her was a violent and aggressive act of one individual and those that perpetrated it were trying to resist following their orders but looking at those dark, soulless mechanical ships resting on the polished surface of the spaceport, they frightened her.

They had not talked of what happened to Terrik but she knew her heart and while she loved her so dearly, she had been lost in the pain of losing her. On the surface Terrik was the same as she had always known her twin to be, but under than cool veneer she was still boiling with rage and anger. She understood why Joulik and Koli had decided to pull them from their duties and let them all spend some time on Earth. They both had issues to deal with and sitting here, feeling those monsters almost staring at her, it would be a welcome change of scenery going home.

That was perhaps the oddest thing. Beletrix was where they all belonged, yet in her heart Earth was her home. Koli adored the world and had adopted it, and Terrik had a special place in her heart for that odd little world, but she had been born there. She was even named after its moon. Beletrix seemed too odd for her. She loved blue skies and green grass, she loved humans and their strange ways and it was her safe place, which in a way was ironic considering humanities obvious flaws.

She smiled finally able to distract herself from her silent tension watching the figure sneaking up behind her. One thing about having a physical body that was nothing more than an extension of your true self was very little slipped past you. She smiled as hands wrapped her up from behind giving her a loving hug as she looked up to her.

"I am sorry I wasn't there when you were released from the wet dock," Miras sighed regretfully as she felt a little safer in her arms.

"It's okay. I know you had your jobs to do," she replied looking in to her eyes, "I am sorry I can't help with this. I feel like I am letting everyone down."

"Oh shush you," Miras replied giving her a squeeze before releasing her, sitting down on the box next to her, "Saya and myself can handle the Apeyron's requests, assuming I can stop Dayal from being so long winded over her presentations. That girl knows how to drone on and on to the degree Orles actually fell asleep in her debrief. I am just more concerned about getting you back to being your old self again. I can feel how scared you are of them."

"I still don't understand why they attacked me," she sighed returning her gaze over the space port viewing the darkness infecting their world.

Miras shook her head, her synthetic tendrils flowing over her shoulders as she looked at her nightmares.

"We all make mistakes," she replied softly, "When I escaped Alphius Prime I was afraid. Zenni tried to calm me, focus on what we were doing. I ignored her and let my more primitive emotions cloud my judgement. I had to escape and I did something so stupid it staggered belief. We escaped, but there was a cost to our survival. I injured myself quite badly and as a result I put those I was charged to protect in danger. The Apeyron were facing a similar choice and while I will never make excuses for what they did, their actions were purely down to them trying to survive. It is why I am helping them. By rights I should pass judgement on them for what they did to you. In reality, they reacted in the way they had been trained to, putting their peoples survival above all else. What I did was stupid, and I can understand in a way what they did. It was the primitive need to survive."

"I think I understand," she replied looking to her as she smiled to herself, Koli and Terrik walking over to them both, "It sounds like I did some very naughty things and caused a lot of trouble when I was in the computer network. I think I was just trying to survive as well and I had to get back to Loren."

They exchanged a glance as she smiled to her older sister seeing the wisdom in her eyes as Koli and Terrik appeared, Miras standing up and giving them both a hug.

"Glad you caught us before we left," Terrik said glancing to Koli in an irritated way, "We have been arguing with Talishia that Lunar will be fine with going back to Earth, but she is moaning she wants more shake down time to make sure she is up to strength."

"What's the problem?" Miras asked curiously, "I would have thought that all of Lunar's inorganic systems would have been straight forward to check."

"It seems that Lunar is not quite as she was," Koli said beaming a wide smile, "While she is who she was before, she has physical updates from Valkryia. Many of her inorganic elements have been replaced with Valkryia organic system. These are untested, but so far all tests show she is exceeding her original abilities. I may even ask for the updates myself."

"I have to admit, being able to heal things rather than having engineering crews repair and maintain me does sound quite preferable," Terrik added sighing a little as she sat down next to her pulling her in and stroking her hair making her smile.

"How long do you think you will be gone?" Miras asked softly as she frowned.

"It is odd but I was angry with Joulik and Koli when they pulled me from duty, but I think I understand why," Terrik replied looking at her protectively, "We both have a lot of issues to work through and the worst place for us to be right now is in the thick of it. We both need space and time to really find our way back. How long this will take is as the humans would say is the length of a piece of string."

"Well, you take as much time as you want and find your way home," Miras replied warmly, "We can hold the fort here and soon the new little sisters will be able to contribute to our efforts."

Koli snickered to herself as she tried not to smile as Miras frowned at her.

"What's so funny?"

"Talishia will need your help there," Koli replied grinning widely, "Our new sisters are quite interesting to say the least."

"Anyhow, bringing us back to where we started," Terrik said almost grinning, "We are packed, we have everything we need and we are ready to head home."

"In that case, I should get back to it myself," Miras said hesitantly as she glanced over to the Seltus shipyards, "Be well sisters and may your time away help you find what you are looking for."



* * *



Walking in to the grand entrance hall to the Seltus Shipyard's main facility it seemed peaceful enough and certainly not as secretive as it had been only a matter of weeks ago. There almost seemed to be a new energy about the place that echoed through the halls as she looked up to see Talishia coming down the stairs from her office, walking over to her with a less than amused look on her face.

"Glad you're here," she sighed in a less than positive tone shaking her head, "I think I could do with a little of your discipline as a parent to knock some sense in to these lot."

"I am not sure I'm overly qualified in that respect. I know I am Saya's mother, but I struggled to get her to listen to me when she was younger," she replied feeling her mood dented.

Suddenly a little squeaking ball of black fluff appeared bouncing up and down as she laughed softly to herself, kneeling down as the little figure scrambled over the floor heading straight for her making the most adorable noises. She held her hands out as the Kinar Beast pup hurtled over the polished floor towards her, but as it flew straight past her, missing her hands completely she watched as it ran head first in to a wall, bouncing off it like a little rubber ball before slumping to the floor dazed and confused. She shook her head standing up, walking over to it as she scooped the little fuzz ball up in her hands, stroking it as it seemed to purr, licking her hand.

"I think Bump missed you while you were gone," Talishia added in a more affectionate tone, "He has been sitting in my office looking out of the window waiting for you to come back."

"You really didn't call him Bump did you? I was joking about that name," she sighed as the little creature purred and nuzzled her.

"I have tried giving him a haircut, but his fur seems to be near enough indestructible," Talisha commented as she lifted the mop of fur from his eyes as he started to wiggle his bum furiously looking at her.

"So what seems to be the trouble with the youngster?" she asked feeling unnaturally maternal towards this tiny creature in her hands.

"Where do I start? I think at the top of the list at the moment is that Cenya needs a kick up the backside," Talishia grumbled as she set off towards the back of the facility.

She rolled her eyes following Talishia as they walked through the complex. A new addition to the shipyards since it was developed was the living quarters where the young ships could get used to their avatars and spend time learning about Beletrix and the world they had been brought in to. It did not take long before they entered the communal area to the sound of shouting and things smashing as Bump growled a little in her hands.

"GET BACK HERE YOU LITTLE SWINE!!"

She winced a little as Qidgee blurred past her laughing her head off followed moments later by Hataka who was being chased by a small train of black fuzzy balls yipping, crumpled up on the floor was Tath rubbing his head.

"Miras," Norcee squeaked running over to her looking up at her apologetically, "I am so sorry about this. I have tried to tell them to stop but they aren't listening to me as usual!"

"We are also having a few problems with Qidgee," Talishia sighed, "I think she has a little too much pent up energy."

She growled under her breath giving Bump to Norcee who nearly squeaked not sure what to do with the little ball of fluff as she stormed forward grabbing Qidgee as she stared down Hataka who skidded to a halt growling at her sister.

"Oh crap!!" Qidgee meeped out almost flying in to the air.

"Language Qidgee!" she hissed at her looking at them both angrily, "And what on Alphius is going on?!"

Hataka was obviously furious as she growled under her breath staring down her sister.

"I don't know how she did it, but she put a family of Nardaks in my engineering core last night," she growled barely containing herself, "Myself and Tamu have spent the last five hours chasing the horrible creatures trying to get them out!"

"Is this true Qidgee?" she whispered looking at the still giggling girl grinning widely as she stuck her tongue out at her sister.

"Not my fault she can't take a joke," Qidgee replied flippantly.

"Beyond you, is anyone laughing Qidgee?" she growled staring her down as she finally stopped laughing realising that this joke had probably gone too far

Watching as Tath stood up she could see he was angry as she looked to Hataka.

"Tath, would you mind taking Qidgee out of here and help her burn off some of this pent up energy," she said looking over to him before turning back to Hataka, "I know your sister can be a pain, but I believe she may calm down when she isn't cooped up in here all the time. You are just going to have to be patient with her."

"Next time she does anything like this I will kill her," Hataka growled before storming off across the room sitting down with her book as she noted her avatar's physical appearance was nearly as scary as she was.

She took a moment to compose herself before looking to Norcee who was looking quite upset and flustered, looking at Bump in her hands fearfully.

"I know you are doing your best," she sighed at the smartly dressed young girl, "You need to stop being so uptight over your sisters though. I know you feel responsible for them, but perhaps you should be their friend more than their guardian. Leave that to Talishia and myself."

"Of course elder and I will try. I just want us all to contribute in a positive way," Norcee replied sadly looking like she had failed.

She sighed and tried to reassure Norcee as she took Bump from her, Tath ushering Qidgee out, the sound of him telling her off echoing around the room as she looked over to the far side at the two figures on the sofas playing some human game.

"So what's seems to be the problem with Cenya?" she asked quietly glancing to Talishia as a little Kinar scampered over the floor with a pink bow in her hair as she bounced up next to Hataka nuzzling in to her.

"She is being lazy and rather infuriating. Add to that Issi encouraging her slovenly behaviour, sitting down and playing games with her all day we can't get her systems checks out of the way," Talishia replied bitterly.

"I thought one kid was enough in my life," she sighed shaking her head, "Come on. Let's go see if we can talk some sense in to her. I also think perhaps we should have a meeting once we have this mess cleaned up. The Apeyron Emperor will be arriving soon and the last thing we need is a fully armed Proteus warship chasing her insane little sister around the spaceport."



* * *



As Solais entered the research facility just beyond the space port she was really starting to wonder is she should move her office down here rather than have it in the Council Auditorium in the centre of the city. The sheer around of time she spent down here was getting out of hand however with Dayal's go ahead on Artaris, it was time to take the next step forward and that involved the one person on Beletrix who liked making toys.

Entering the main room it was a quiet buzz of activity as Alphian and Apeyron scientists worked together on creating the future, the human sign on the wall not that encouraging.

'Three days without accident or explosion'

That said when signs like that involved Coras, three days was a blessing.

"Odd to see you out in this neck of the asylum," Tioli commented walking over with Brie at her side.

She still struggled with this rather odd partnership, Tioli being hosted by Brie, yet having her own avatar she could control.

"Miras returned with news on Artaris. It has passed final inspection and is ready for colonisation," she replied as Brie nodded, "I think you know what that means for our little project here."

"All done if that makes you happy," Brie said with a laugh, "We are just ironing out some minor bugs which if we could get Issi Rem to help would have been finished by now. It seems she is stuck working on a project at the Seltus Shipyards though."

"That is excellent work. So the mark two construction drone system is ready?"

"Fully automated, self replicating, self designing and self sustaining programmable drone system," Tioli replied proudly, "Throw in a little of my wife's genius with my sanity and a healthy dose of Apeyron knowledge, the new system will blitz the world. Estimating that within a year, there will be a civilisation ready to be inhabited. Within a month the first city should be nearly done. You will literately be able to sit down on a hillside and watch cities growing out of the ground."

"Officially on behalf of the Council I must congratulate you, and on a personal level can I also say you and Coras scare the daylights out of me," she said with half a laugh, Brie seeing the irony in what she was hinting at. "I will check with Talishia over what she has Issi working on and get you the help you need. As far as I know she isn't doing anything for the Council and I believe the Seltus shipyard is at operational status now."

"So without being rude, as my partner said, it is odd to see you here," Brie said smiling at her.

"I wanted to let you know the Emperor will be arriving to personally inspect the system and meet with the members of the Intellecterum before travelling to Artaris to claim the world for the new Empire and break ground. I was hoping you would have the first drones ready for deployment."

"Misnomer," Tioli replied with a laugh, "There are no drones to speak of. The large machine in the middle of the room is autonomous. It uses an artificial intelligence to effectively create drones for specific tasks on the fly. The whole systems modular so fed with the right materials, which the initial drone units will provide, it can create and control thousands of drones. I will talk to Coras and any help you can get from Issi would be appreciated. We should be able to have the first unit ready to ship aboard Miras by the time the Emperor is ready to break ground."



* * *



"Do you think Solais will allow me to work off my time in prison?" she asked sarcastically looking to Miras at her side.

"Really Talishia, are they that much trouble?" Miras replied looking at her, those synthetic features so natural as they walked across the hall towards the briefing room.

"You don't know the half of it," she muttered rolling her eyes, "When Koli gets flustered and grumpy you know you have problems. Why do you think she was so eager to head back to Earth to look after Terrik and Lunar?"

"From what I have heard you have still got concerns over my little sister," Miras replied pensively as they continued to walk towards the front of the building.

"I trust Liora and her development team, but these grown organic versions of their inorganic systems are still an unknown. I would have much preferred to do extended tests on them to ensure they work as expected. I know this will give you all the capability to be independent and self sufficient beyond the supplementary items and the null cores, but I prefer hard data before I sign things off," she muttered still feeling rather annoyed that Lunar had already left for Earth.

"And that is why I would prefer to see you here caring for my family rather than kicking your heels in a prison cell," Miras replied smiling at her, "You care for our well being and for me that is what is truly important."

"I care enough that I will end up trying to strangle them if they keep this up," she snapped back bitterly.

"Well, Hataka is back to reading her books and being grumpy, Qidgee is probably driving Tath up the wall and Norcee is struggling to deal with her sisters which only leaves us with the original problem," Miras replied shaking her head.

"Oh, it gets even better," she grumbled back pushing the door open.

Sitting at the conference table were Issi and Cenya looking rather frustrated and bored as they entered. There was a tense silence as they both sat down as she stared the pair of them out.

"So..." Issi snapped, "I would have thought you two would be going after Qidgee and Hataka after all the crap they have been kicking up but as usual you decide to pick on us."


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