[su_accordion]Chapter 173: What Was Gained, What Was Lost[/su_accordion]
By the time the fight had ended, only two of the people sent down had died. One of them was Ackbar, while the other was my father. Thankfully, their levels were among the lowest out of all of us, so losing a single one was not too big of an issue.
“So, what did you discover?” I asked Celeste in the War Room. Gathered around the large display in the center was a circle of chairs, each of which held someone from the previous mission. After they came back from the mission, Celeste had been given two hours to ‘interrogate’ the dead scientists and go over the acquired research data.
“Aside from what you personally saw, not much.” The Deus Ex shook her head. “They might be overly cautious, or aware that we have secret methods to gather information, because they weren’t given much information to work with. Their base was devoted to researching a method to create two pieces of technology. One for personal use, and the other to install in a ship.”
Celeste reached forward and tapped her fingers against the display a couple times, and an image appeared on it. This was something I had personally seen before, and was intimately familiar with. However, it was something that should not exist for thousands of years yet. “Is that…?”
She nodded her head slowly. “It’s a Companion Implant, and from the blueprints that were sent, it might even be an improved version of the one you copied in NeoLife. If my understanding of the blueprint is correct, it will allow for increased reaction speed by having the AI in control of the user’s senses increase their perception speed.” She pointed out two wires that had not been on the original model. “One of these seems designed to override sensory input, while the other looks like a kill-switch. If that is triggered, from what I can tell the mind of the input’s owner will be wiped, leaving only the AI.”
I furrowed my brows when I heard her explanation. When I originally botched my implant, I had accidentally given Celeste the chance to control my body if she wanted. For the two of us, that was fine as we were able to trust each other. I also had the guarantee of being able to use my own magic to forcefully destroy the implant if I wanted. But, the same was not true for these. They were basically designed to put an AI commander in control of every soldier.
Sitting next to me, Sharon was the first one to speak up. “How far did they get on their research?”
Celeste smiled bitterly when she was asked that question. “As you can see, they have complete blueprints. They had those from the start, passed down from ‘High Command’. Their only goal was to figure out how to make it work, and build it. They were getting ready to deliver the first prototype when we moved in, which may be why the Empire responded so quickly with those two ships. They had already been preparing them to retrieve the technology.”
“But…” I started, looking at Celeste. “If they already have the blueprints, and we can assume the data was transmitted before our arrival, then another base can easily be created to pick up where they left off. What about the other piece of technology? The one that you said would be designed for ships?”
“Ah… we might have lucked out with that one.” Celeste spoke, grinning slightly. Again, she tapped the display, and something that looked like a segmented ring appeared in the hologram. “For their spaceship technology, this base was entrusted with something very valuable, something that could easily tip the scales of war, even in the age of NeoLife.”
“From the data gathered, this appears to be a portal warp gate, a wormhole generator. Now, the reason I said we lucked out comes in two parts. First, their research had not made much progress on this item, meaning that they won’t get very far even if they start up another project for it. The second, with the aid of the Deus Ex, we might be able to complete this design.”
“If the data can be believed, this device functions similarly to a standard FTL drive. However, rather than transporting the ship to subspace, this can only be activated while in subspace. By pulling in the exotic particles that make up that dimension, and using them as a power source, it opens a wormhole to the designated location. If the Empire had managed to complete this, then they could effortlessly send their entire fleet directly to any race’s homeworld.”
Around the table, at least half of the people gathered let out a gasp at Celeste’s words. As for me, I was only glad that we got ahold of this before they finished it. “Have the Deus Ex begin working on this as soon as possible, and see if you can find any countermeasures, just in case they do manage to finish it.”
Celeste nodded, committing the orders to memory. “One other thing. Whether it was from the scientists themselves, or the data on their computers, we weren’t able to get a location for any of the other bases. I found a picture file, one of them celebrating at a party at night. However, the sky was purposely blurred, making it impossible to determine the location from the stars.”
I grimaced at that. From all the precautions they took to make sure that no base knew where the others were, or knew what they were working on, the only answer I could come up with was that the person handing down these orders knew we had a way to get answers from their people. Likely, the only ones that knew the locations for other bases were those that scouted them out and built the warp gates. “What about their funds, any information on that? All of the people they bought from the market couldn’t come cheap.”
“Ah, actually, I do have some news about that.” Once again, she tapped the display, bringing up the image of the four-armed race they had encountered in the lab. “They call this race ‘Grunts’, though their actual name seems to be Orik. One of the researchers had seen the Orik gathered in large quantities around a block of solid gold.”
“Although the researcher himself didn’t know what they were doing, it’s likely that they turned a large number of Orik into druids, specifically so that they could obtain the Gold Affinity and become living farms. Their efficiency can’t be as good as your’s, since you have a higher level grove able to self-expand, but they make up for it in numbers. I can’t say how many Orik they have working on this, or where they came from, but they probably stole the entire race off of an underdeveloped world. Likely turned the entire population into a slave species.”
I couldn’t help but nod solemnly at this information. “That could explain it. And, unfortunately we have no method to stop them. Their farming operation is likely to be held at their central base, to ensure that it can’t be taken down. Next time we hit one of their bases, we have to grab an Orik or two, and find out where their homeworld was.”
Even if the New Human Empire had simply taken the population of the Orik from their homeworld to a different planet, a move of that scale could not go very far. It was even more likely that the New Human Empire had simply set up a base at the Orik homeworld. If we could find that, we could deal a major blow to them, while potentially freeing the Orik race.
Celeste seemed to understand my thoughts, because she nodded slightly, agreeing with me. Next, I turned to address the rest of the room. “That’s all for this meeting. I want everyone to understand, the battles we had today were just the first of many. Get used to your teammates, and develop strategies to use for future combat. Celeste, I’ll leave it to you to contact the Deus Ex fleet and pass the schematics. Try to get an understanding for how long it would take to create a working prototype, as well as how long they’d need to repair their damaged ship. With that, everyone is dismissed.”
Everyone looked at me, nodding their heads as they got to their feet one by one, moving to leave the War Room. Meanwhile, I had a blue screen appearing in front of my face, which convinced me to speed up the meeting.
Incoming call from Thalia.
Figuring that this was a regular report, I wanted to answer it in private. That way, I didn’t seem like a crazy person talking to himself, for once. “Yes?” I asked, after answering the call.
“John! Thank goodness, we were afraid something had happened.” The elf queen’s voice was laced with worry. “We have some problems over here.”
“What? Did the New Human Empire make a move?” I asked, concerned. With what we knew, they shouldn’t have the forces yet to make that kind of assault. They were still developing technology for their war, after all.
“No, not the Empire. We just received word from the High Queen. The Kleptids and Drakes just pulled out of the alliance.”
“Eh?” I couldn’t help voicing my confusion. It didn’t make any sense to pull out of the alliance now, when we all had a common enemy to fight. “Why would they do that?”
“We don’t know. She said that they were focusing on consolidating their defenses, and couldn’t afford to spare the attention for this alliance anymore. But, that just doesn’t make sense to us. Even if they are focusing on their own worlds, there’s no reason for them to back out of the alliance. Do you think… that maybe they are joining the Empire?”
I immediately shook my head at that suggestion. “No, the New Human Empire would never accept an ally. They’ll take slaves, but they won’t view any other race as an equal. Did Maeve mention anything about them in the previous meetings?”
“Well, not much… The High Queen said that some of the races were becoming more irritable, paranoid, like they couldn’t trust anything anymore. But, we never thought it had gotten this bad. And… there’s something else.” The way she said that did not leave me with much confidence for the coming news.
“The other queens, and some of their assistants. They’ve been having problems. Some would disappear, only to turn up dead in a remote location. Others have been falling ill from diseases we’ve never seen, likely poison. We… I think that there might be a spy within the ranks of the court. At the very least, an assassin is in the system, targeting royalty. My own advisor disappeared this morning, and I haven’t seen him since.”
“What about the High Queens?” I asked, worried. Even if the normal queens fell, the few High Queens of the Gerin system could still hold control.
“The High Queens are fine, so far. Their security can’t be compared to ours, after all.” Thalia spoke in a relieved tone. Likely, she had worried over their safety as well. “High Queen Maeve paid me a visit yesterday to confirm my safety, and brought a number of guards with her. Likely, nobody would be able to approach her without being detected. As for myself… we are protected, as well. The dress that Aria bestowed on us is… inconvenient at times, but it is still a defensive garment handed down by a goddess.”
She did have a point there. “Okay, but remember, you also have the weapon she gave you, as well. If there really is no other way, you can use that. After so much time passed… It should be able to destroy anything short of a battleship. But, you only get one shot with it, so try not to use it unless it is a last resort.”
“We understand, John. You should be cautious, as well. While we have the defenses of our homeland, you have no such guarantees on your voyage. It is too easy to fail, and yet you cannot afford to do so. Not only your life, but all of our lives may well rest in your hands. For that reason, please win this war, for all of us. Only then will we be safe.”