Chapter 5 – Developing Threats

Chapter 5 – Developing Threats

“Oh! Colonel… Saito, was it? It’s good to see you, again.”

“Same to you, Ms. Tchiréon,” Saito replied with a cordial nod as he and Major Hackett stepped into a small meeting room.

“I, um… prefer ‘Dean’ Tchiréon,” Rebehka corrected.

“Ha!” Kevérin let loose an amused scoff from his seat next to Rebehka. “Self-conscious, much?”

“I don’t need this from you…” Rebehka grumbled.

Saito momentarily eyed the two Deans, taking note of their clean and well-kept uniforms — an earth green with black trimming pantsuit for Rebehka, and a black and gray uniform with white trimming, accompanied by a black scarf, for Kevérin. As if to compliment the Deans’ formal appearances, Saito and Hackett both were dressed in navy blue suits with black ties, as was SERRCom’s official formal uniform; both officers also wore navy blue berets which — while not a mandated part of the uniform — was an allowed deviation, as both were members of a special ops team.

As Hackett took a seat around the small meeting room table, Saito briefly scanned the room. The oblong table was constructed of sturdy glass, and was surrounded by no more than a dozen black office chairs. Austere carpeting covered the ground and a couple of potted plants were placed near the room’s lone entrance, but distracting from those measly decorations was a massive one-way window on the east side of the room overlooking the city of Telsinoka. From Saito’s guess, the meeting room must have been nearly two kilometers above the ground level, as he was staring near-even with the towering skyscraper clusters at the vertices of Telsinoka’s reservoir. A bustling, massive city sprawled out before him, its skyline filled with the rapidly moving dots that were distant hovercars, each one of its inhabitants unaware of the military summit currently taking place in Telsinoka’s tallest tower.

“The Commander will arrive soon, don’t worry.”

Saito glanced over at Kevérin, noting that the Dean was looking at him through the corner of his eye. “…I don’t think we’ve formally met,” the Colonel eventually remarked, moving over to Kevérin’s side to extend a hand. “I’m Colonel Kaji Saito, leader of SERRCom’s Chaotic Support Fireteam.”

“Dean Kevérin Tyrion,” Kevérin cordially replied, balling his right hand into a fist and holding the back of his hand up to Saito’s palm. As soon as he did, both men looked down at their hands, as if unsure how to proceed.

“Nimalians often greet each other by holding the backs of our fists together,” Rebehka explained, an amused smile playing on her face.

“I see,” Saito responded, quickly balling his own hand into a fist and tapping the back of Kevérin’s hand with his own. “Sorry about that. We Earthians usually open with shaking hands.”

“A glowing example for SERRCom, sir,” Hackett quipped from across the table.

“Can it, Major.” Saito passed Hackett an unamused glance, and then turned to look at Rebehka. “I don’t think I’ve properly met you, either. Though I’ve heard of you from Captain Travis.”

“I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, then,” Rebehka replied. “I don’t know much about you, aside from your name…”

“There isn’t much to say,” Saito commented as he moved around the table to sit next to Hackett, across from Kevérin and Rebehka. “I trained the Eximius Vir, SERRCom’s first Chaotics, and I lead the fireteam that supports them.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, sir,” Hackett stated. “Out of everyone in SERRCom, I’m sure you know the most about Chaotics. And there aren’t many other Colonels that General Lead trusts more than you.”

“The most about fighting Chaotics, perhaps,” Saito corrected. “And the trust part is debatable.”

“Well, it’s nice to have a SERRCom representative here regardless,” Rebehka said. “What we’ll be covering here affects you just as much as us…”

Saito glanced left and right, taking note of the fact that he, Hackett, Rebehka, and Kevérin were currently the only people in the room. “…Who else is attending this summit?” he questioned, “the NSD Commander, and…?”

“Assistant Commander Byrake will be here, as well,” Kevérin pointed out.

“Only six people?” Hackett passed Saito a wary glance before looking back to the Nimalian Deans. “I expected more than that at a summit.”

“Oh…” Rebehka and Kevérin exchanged an uneasy look before Rebehka continued, “the… actual summit has already been going for a few days, and is supposed to be a week’s worth of meetings and discussions.”

“SERRCom was only invited to this one,” Saito pointed out.

“Yes…” Rebehka replied uneasily. “You’d have to ask the Commander about that.”

“SERRCom was only invited to one meeting, out of an entire week’s worth?” Hackett questioned incredulously. “What’s even the point, then?”

“I do apologize, but this is all we could manage.”

Everyone currently in the room quickly stood as two more individuals entered, a man and a woman. Both wore dark green jackets with black lining, covered in part by a brown faux leather sash, as well as gray pants with dark green chaps and black steel-toed boots — the official uniform of the Nimalian Systems Defense, better known as the NSD. Both also wore dark green waist cloaks with black trim, an aspect of the uniform reserved for commissioned officers; on top of that, the man wore a silver cape, and the woman a silver scarf.

From there, however, their appearances starkly diverged. The man was of average height and build, with a dark complexion and short black hair. His angular face exacerbated his already serious expression and stiff posture; on the other hand, the woman’s posture was much more laid back as she nearly slouched into the chair next to the head of the table. Her slender build, pale skin, and long blond hair, tied into a low ponytail, served as a further contrast to the man standing beside her.

“Commander, Assistant Commander,” Kevérin remarked, nodding at the man and the woman in turn.

“Deans Tyrion and Tchiréon,” the man responded in kind, and then turned to look at Saito and Hackett. He held his right fist out as he declared, “welcome, Earthians. I’m Carpisalis Komman, the Commander of the NSD.”

“Colonel Kaji Saito, of SERRCom,” Saito replied, this time readily and smoothly performing the Nimalian fist-bump greeting. He then drew back and gestured toward Hackett. “And this is Major Hackett.”

“Greetings, sir, ma’am.” Hackett saluted at each of Commander Komman and the woman next to him.

“No need to be so formal,” the woman remarked. “We’re all friends, here.”

“…And this is Assistant Commander Lindsalleon Byrake,” the Commander commented with a sigh. “Head of the GIA and UIA. That is, the Galactic Intelligence Agency and the Union Intelligence Agency.”

“You can call me the Head of Intel. Or Spymaster, if you’re feeling creative,” Byrake declared with a smirk.

“Alright, then… Spymaster Byrake,” Saito replied while returning the expression. “It’s nice to meet you. Though…” He then turned to face Komman as everyone took their seat at the table. “If I might ask, what did you mean when you walked in? Something about this being all you could manage?”

“Yes…” Komman took a deep breath before answering, “…to be candid, this summit was largely the CSA’s idea, and they weren’t interested in inviting SERRCom. However, Sidonté Demerin wanted to keep you apprised; hence this meeting.”

“Sidonté Demerin? You mean Erikon Demerin?” Hackett questioned.

“Yes, elected Sidonté of the Nimalian Union.” Komman nodded. “He can be… cavalier, with the information he divulges to our allies. But I happen to agree with him this time.”

“Why does the CSA want to shut us out?” Saito pressed. “That sounds like a serious matter on its own.”

“There’s a couple reasons,” Byrake replied. “One, they just don’t think that you’re relevant. After all, SERRCom has the smallest navy and territory of all the galactic nations, by far. But more importantly than that…” She took a moment to straighten her posture, her casual smirk lessening into a more serious expression. “We have reports of some… ‘EA’ who may or may not be connected to SERRCom, who’s been causing a bit of trouble in the galaxy.”

“…Right…” Saito muttered. Didn’t think EA would come up during this meeting, but I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything, at this point…

“It’s the NSD’s understanding that EA is an enemy of SERRCom,” Komman asserted. “The CSA, however, is less trusting.”

“And what’s more, they find it suspicious that you have Chaotics who can fully ignore CENT fields and Dead Space,” Byrake pointed out. “And, frankly, so do I. Especially after Earth has gone for so long without any Chaotics at all…”

How do they know the Eximius Vir can use their powers in Dead Space? Saito questioned mentally, while keeping a straight face externally. Did the Black Suns already leak that info? Damn. I suppose we can assume that secret is out of the bag“…I can understand your concerns,” the Colonel eventually replied, “but, believe it or not, we’re just in the dark about that as you.”

“We don’t mean to question SERRCom’s intentions or motives,” Commander Komman declared while throwing an annoyed glance toward Byrake. “Far be it for me to judge a military for having secrets, whether they know it or not. Discussing your Eximius Vir is not the point of this meeting, anyways — but before we start, I would like to be clear.” He paused to look each of Saito, Hackett, Rebehka, and Kevérin in the eyes. “All information shared in this meeting is considered to have the highest level of classification. Colonel, Major, I trust you to disclose this information to your superiors as necessary, and that SERRCom will handle it responsibly. Deans — I know that certain pieces of NSD military intel has a habit of leaking to the Schools of Chaos… but the information shared today cannot be part of that. Of your fellow Deans, only Kaoné Densalin and Kievkenalis Yumach have been authorized to know what you’ll learn here.”

“Not Christeané or Davídrius?” Rebehka pressed.

“I meant what I said,” Komman declared.

Saito carefully watched Rebehka and the Commander; the former was wearing a scowl of disapproval, while the latter had already diverted his attention, seemingly focused on some sort of invisible text — no doubt an AR overlay of some kind.

“As for the meeting itself,” the Commander continued, “there are four topics of discussion to cover. The Drakkars, the situation in Taizen space, this ‘EA’, and the resurgent metallic infection. We’ll save the Taizen discussion for last; let’s cover the others quickly, first.”

“Let’s start with EA, then,” Byrake asserted, her attention turning to the two SERRCom officers. “Our intel says that this… ‘Elite Austin’ is actually a clone of one Austin Travis… a recently recruited Chaotic in SERRCom.” She then glanced at the Deans. “And currently, one of the Earthian students at WCU. Deans, were you aware of this?”

“This is the first I’ve heard anything about any EA,” Rebehka replied with a frown.

“I’ve heard some details from Archoné Culana, actually,” Kevérin stated. “The Archoné, of course, claims that EA has something to do with those prophecies of his.”

“Archoné Culana…” Komman muttered warily.

“The old man really never lets up with that book of his,” Byrake remarked.

“Am I to take it that you don’t believe in Culana’s prophecies?” Saito questioned.

“You might be surprised,” Byrake replied. “Carpisalis here, like any good Riveranian, believes in the Oraculm more than he lets on!”

“That’s Commander Komman,” the Commander quickly asserted. “And I merely appreciate that Archoné Culana’s supposed ‘prophecies’ achieve better predictive odds than pure chance. Never have I said that they are guaranteed to come true, nor even necessarily contain actionable information. Either way…” He turned back toward Saito. “What can SERRCom tell us about EA?”

“Likely not anything more than you already know,” Saito answered. “He revealed himself just a few months ago; prior to that, we didn’t even know that he existed — or even if he existed at all before that time. He can’t possibly have built any of his ships or robots in SERRCom territory, either. Wherever his resources are coming from, they’re outside of our grip.”

“That lines up with what I’ve been hearing,” Byrake replied. “By our reports, EA’s been hassling the Big 3 out in the uncolonized Perseus Arm, but that’s about it.”

“Big 3?” Hackett questioned.

“The big three PMCs: Black Suns, Chaos Knights, and Light Keepers. The only PMCs large enough to really care about. Anyways, after EA’s escapades on Earth, he seems to be staying out of national space.”

“But our reports also suggest that he is gathering materiel much faster than a single actor should be able to,” Komman declared. “Colonel, EA seems to be primarily an Earth threat. Do you think SERRCom will be able to contain him?”

“Well, we’ve chased him off twice,” Saito said, “and we’re trying our best to track him down, but I’m afraid I can’t say any more than that.”

“This might be a silly question,” Rebehka spoke up, “but if this EA person really is a clone of Austin, then have you tried asking Austin what EA will do?”

“Austin seems to think that all he and EA have in common is their appearance,” Hackett stated.

“And even if there’s more, there isn’t exactly much foundation to form any speculation on,” Saito pointed out. “According to the recruits, EA’s own stated motives aren’t even consistent. We’ll need to learn more about him before we can form plans to take him down.”

“Very well, Colonel,” Komman replied with a firm nod. “The NSD will keep tabs on EA, but so long as he remains in the uncolonized arm, we’ll leave him for SERRCom to deal with.”

“Understood, Commander,” Saito replied in kind.

“Second on the agenda is the Drakkars.”

“We’ve recently received a handful of reports on them from the CSA,” Byrake commented, and then exchanged a glance with Komman. “…The CSA wanted to keep this information under wraps, but Sidonté Demerin thinks otherwise.”

“How… generous of him,” Saito remarked. “I’ve heard that Demerin has been making friendly overtures toward us, but to be perfectly honest, I didn’t expect confidential info from the CSA.”

“Even I can see that the Union stands to gain from being on good terms with SERRCom,” Komman declared. “You may have the smallest navy, but you’re expanding quickly, and each of your ships are capable.”

“The GIA even assigned you a Tonnage Ratio of 1 just earlier this year,” Byrake announced with a smirk.

“I’m sorry, ‘Tonnage Ratio’?” Hackett questioned.

“It’s a short-hand we use to describe how dangerous or effective another military is. It describes, on average, how many tons of NSD warships you would need to match a single ton of the opposing force. For example, the Drakkars come in at around 4.5, and the Riaxen at 3.6.”

“So you’re saying that, basically, you would need four and a half NSD Battleships just to counter a single Drakkar Battleship?”

“On average,” Komman reiterated. “The Tonnage Ratio is a heuristic meant to aid in the threat analysis of full militaries or fleet-on-fleet combat. It means less and less the smaller the scale you’re looking at, and can be exacerbated or mitigated depending on the circumstances of specific engagements.”

“Are the Drakkars and the Riaxen really that tough?” Kevérin questioned incredulously. “I mean, I knew they were dangerous. But four and a half of our ships to beat just one Drakkar ship? Or three and a half to beat a Riaxen…?”

“Remember that space combat is a different beast from ground combat,” Byrake said. “You’ve fought the Drakkars and Riaxen both, but ground combat is far from the Drakkars’ strength. Their true power is in their fleets. Same for the Riaxen — and that’s not even the worst of it. Remember, the size of the Riaxen fleets dwarfs that of the entire CSA. And they have more Deathnoughts than the rest of the galaxy, combined!”

“Deathnoughts that could single-handedly destroy any Nimalian fleet,” Komman stated.

“Oh…” Kevérin responded uneasily. “…Right, I knew that, ha ha…”

“The Riaxen are not to be underestimated,” Komman said. “The Syraus are our greatest allies in dealing with the Riaxen. Syraus ships may not be as powerful as Riaxen ships, but they are still by far the best at keeping the Riaxen contained.”

“How powerful are Syraus ships? Compared to everyone else?” Hackett questioned.

“Going back to Tonnage Ratios, the Syraus come in at 3.3, the Siions around 2.2, Citans around 2.1, Dra’kis around 1.75…” Byrake rattled off. “And — like I said — SERRCom, around 1. Considering you were 0.7 just ten years ago, that’s a big improvement!”

“Is it really alright to be sharing this information?”

“It is, at the end of the day, only one heuristic of many — and a simplistic one, at that,” Komman stated. “It describes information that is readily apparent to any of the militaries involved. I don’t consider it a secret.”

“Still, SERRCom’s development rate when it comes to spacecraft tech is amazing,” Byrake declared. “Really lucky you have that Genesis Battlecruiser, huh?”

“And, as I understand it, SERRCom’s explosive fleet growth over the past ten years was due to us lending you our foundries,” Kevérin pointed out.

“In exchange for Subspace Drives, yes,” Saito quickly replied.

“We don’t mean to suggest that SERRCom is incapable of improving itself on its own,” Commander Komman commented, passing Kevérin an annoyed look as he did. “And while our deal to exchange Subspace Drives for foundry time has been winding down, we do very much appreciate what you’ve given us.”

“As do we. But, if I may be so bold, I rather doubt you agreed to that deal purely out of the kindness of your hearts.”

“Oooh, seen right through us, huh?” Byrake responded with a smirk.

“It is true that a stronger and closer SERRCom can benefit the Nimalian Union… though it’s my hope that this arrangement isn’t one-sided,” Komman said. “Regardless, we’ve digressed from the main point: the Drakkars. CSA reports say that there has been some increased activity in Drakkar space, particularly in Telum and Prolatio territory. Drakkar communications suggest that Telregina has developed something of a grudge against Earthians… are you at liberty to explain, Colonel?”

So she really did survive Saito mused, and then turned to address the Commander. “I don’t believe I can give you the full details, Commander, but I’ll at least inform you that SERRCom did have a run-in with Telregina a couple months ago. We even hit her fleet with a Drive Bomb. I had hoped that would be the end of her, but, well…”

“The Drakkar Faction Leaders are immortal,” Rebehka pointed out.

“I’d heard, but there’s nothing like seeing it first-hand.”

“You used a Drive Bomb, though, hmm…” Komman eyed Saito warily. “I hope you understand my trepidation at hearing that the galaxy’s leading manufacturer of Subspace Drives is willing to use them as weapons of mass destruction.”

“It was a decision of last resort, I assure you,” Saito insisted.

“And still, you decided to use one.”

“I admit that Drive Bombs are devastating, but we’ve only used one — and on the Drakkars, at that. I’m also not aware of any treaties that we’re violating by using one. Hell, SERRCom isn’t even a signatory to any CSA military treaties in the first place.”

I’m more curious about what was so important that you Drive Bombed a Drakkar fleet as a ‘matter of last resort’,” Byrake questioned. “By our intel, none of your worlds were under attack. So what else could it be, I wonder…?”

“Sorry, but that’s classified,” Saito replied.

“Then we won’t press any further,” Komman declared while side-eying Byrake. “Your reasons for using it aside, it’s very understandable that Telregina would develop a grudge after getting Drive Bombed. Be wary, Colonel. The Telum Drakkars are far from the strongest faction, but Telregina is easily the most temperamental of all the Faction Leaders. SERRCom should be on guard for a reprisal. On top of that…” Komman passed Saito a level glance. “…Historically, the Drakkars have chosen to avoid using weapons of mass destruction purely because they believe that doing so is a waste — after all, every human killed is a human that they can’t steal their precious ‘Ciei’ from. But the Drakkars have had Subspace Drives for a long, long time, and they are more than capable of using Drive Bombs themselves, if so provoked. I urge you to keep that in mind the next time you consider using a Drive Bomb against them.”

“…Duly noted. Thanks for the heads-up.”

“Good. Then we can move on to the third part of the agenda: the metallic infection.” This time, Komman turned to face Rebehka. “It’s my understanding that you recently held an information session for SERRCom and its new recruits?”

“That I did,” Rebehka responded. “I hope that isn’t an issue.”

“Of course not. The infection’s existence is hardly a secret, as much as the CSA might wish that it was.”

“It seems to be becoming more of a problem, recently,” Hackett remarked. “Do we know why? I thought the situation was contained twenty years ago.”

“So did we…” Kevérin grumbled.

“To put it simply… we don’t know,” Rebehka answered with a sheepish shrug. “The CSA has yet to completely remove the infection from the Transpace Worlds that fell during the Nanocreature War, but it wasn’t until a year ago that their efforts slowed, and infection incidents began to increase across the galaxy. And things sped up a little after the recent Chaos Quake — but nothing that I know of can explain the initial surge.”

“I don’t know much more than you do, either. However…” Byrake admitted, and then hoisted a large brown bag onto the table. She stood up and opened the bag as she continued, “Given what happened the last time the metallic infection got out of control, it’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure that it doesn’t. And to that end, the NSD has decided to let SERRCom in on some new tech that we developed.”

“Oh!” Rebehka eagerly leaned forward as the Spymaster began pulling small, disk-shaped devices out of the bag. “Are these—?”

“Infection Capture Devices, that’s right,” Byrake answered. “Don’t worry, Dean, the NSD hasn’t forgotten about your help in developing this tech. There’s a shipment of the things on its way to your Academy as we speak.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Anyways, to explain what these do…” Byrake grabbed one of the palm-sized disks and held it up toward Saito, her finger hovering over a small button in the center. “…Well, it’s basically all in the name. Press this button here, and then slap the device on some object or creature. It will immediately project a containment shield around the object, and then scan it for infection nanites, alerting you if it detects a positive. It also shields itself, to prevent any nanites from taking over its machinery.”

“I see…” Saito commented as he grabbed one of the disks himself and began looking it over. “Interesting…”

“They look like tiny frisbees,” Hackett remarked. “Are they meant to be thrown?”

“They are,” Byrake replied. “After all, getting close to someone who’s infected is generally a bad idea. We’re working on some kind of launcher that can fire them with better precision than just, you know, throwing it, but we figured that preparing the capture devices themselves was more immediately pressing.”

“This will help immensely with the study efforts at the Academy,” Rebehka declared. “Thank you for developing these, Byrake. We’ll put them to good use.”

“As will we,” Saito affirmed. “Icing someone will certainly be easier than whatever we could do before!”

“…’Icing’, sir?” Hackett questioned in confusion.

“Well, they’re called Infection Capture Devices, right?” The Colonel glanced at Byrake and Komman. “That abbreviates to ICD. In English, if you squint, you could read that as ‘iced’.”

“…I see.”

“D,” Saito quipped, only to elicit an exasperated look from Hackett.

“Aw, the puns don’t work in Akian…” Kevérin replied with a frown.

“I’m glad they don’t,” Rebehka retorted.

“…Well, so long as SERRCom uses them effectively, you can call them whatever you’d like,” Komman replied, though the fact that he was pinching the bridge of his nose was lost on no one. He then shifted his hands to clasp them on the table as he addressed Saito once more, “and given what we know about the metallic infection, Colonel — that is, that it seems to be driven by a malicious intelligence — I would caution against SERRCom being too careless in fighting it.”

“Understood. We’re already on the same page, there,” Saito responded.


“Also, just as a quick reminder,” Rebehka piped in, her attention on Saito and Hackett. “Nanocreature nanites can wear down energy shields over time — much like how you could eventually wear down shields just by punching them, but on a smaller scale, and somehow more effective. In short, those capture devices aren’t long term solutions; don’t expect them to last more than a day or two on a single charge, if that.”

“Thanks for the heads-up,” Saito replied as he took the brown bag of ICDs from Byrake.

“Now, with that out of the way,” Commander Komman remarked, “let’s get to the final part of today’s agenda: the situation in Taizen space.” He then looked over at Saito and Hackett. “I trust you understand the basics of the Taizen Millennia War?”

“That the Syraus Protectorate and Riaxen Federation are two halves of an old empire, and have been at war with each other out in the Outer Arm for over a thousand years?” Saito replied. “Yes, we’re aware.”

“Good.” Komman nodded. “The Riaxen have stated on many occasions that they would like to expand into and conquer the rest of the galaxy, but fortunately for us, the Syraus have them trapped at the end of the Outer Arm. Unfortunately for us, Syraus space is only one Transpace jump from Nimalia.”

“I thought the Tyrnaus Transpace was destroyed twenty years ago,” Hackett pointed out.

“It was, but that just makes things worse,” Byrake answered, her expression grim. “If you’ll recall, when we were talking about Tonnage Ratios, I mentioned that the Syraus have a lower ratio than the Riaxen. It’s slight, but it’s still a difference.”

“Before the Tyrnaus Transpace was destroyed, the Syraus Protectorate was engaged in fairly heavy and frequent trade with both Nimalia and the CSA,” Komman explained. “That trade was enough to offset the relative weakness of their fleets, compared to the isolated Riaxen. But ever since the Transpace was destroyed, trade has become much more difficult.”

“Because the Syraus don’t have Subspace Drives,” Saito surmised.

Komman nodded. “Exactly. The fact that neither Taizen nation has developed Subspace Drives of their own is useful — it’s the only thing keeping the Riaxen trapped at the end of the Outer Arm, since all that separates them from the rest of the galaxy is their Syraus neighbors, and Dead Space. A further boon is that the Riaxen, long ago, destroyed all of their Interstellar Gates — presumably to prevent Syraus incursions into their space, but it also prevents them from leaving. And while the Syraus still have Interstellar Gates of their own that they can use for trade, it still remains that the volume of trade allowed by the Gate network pales in comparison to what you can transport by ship.

“Since the Syraus fleet is heavily dependent on Chaos Drives for FTL travel, they now have to travel for 45 days, just to reach Nimalia from Tyrnaus — and that’s one way. More importantly, it also means that Tyrnaus — the capital world of the Syraus Protectorate — is a 35 day trip from the nearest Syraus Transpace, which means that any Tyrnaus-based fleets or foundries are now, effectively, 35 days farther away from the Syraus-Riaxen front lines. Now, neither time frame is insurmountable, but it does severely undermine the Syraus ability to respond to Riaxen attacks, request aid, or adapt their trade requests to their situation.”

“And even then, most of the rest of the galaxy still relies on Chaos Drives, too,” Byrake pointed out. “Subspace Drives have started to take, but even we only have a couple of fleets that have been fully retrofitted. It’ll take a couple decades more before all of our ships can be outfitted with Subspace Drives.”

“And it’ll take us at least that long to even make that many Drives…” Saito mused.

“Yes… which is why we have a problem,” Komman stated. “…Over the past year, we’ve been getting reports of small Riaxen scouting parties appearing on the outskirts of Union space.”

“Are you saying the Riaxen aren’t contained, anymore?” Hackett questioned.

“Not quite… from the nearest Transpace, the Riaxen still have to travel nearly 30 thousand light years just to bypass Syraus territory, and then another 23 thousand on top of that to reach the Nimalia system,” Komman stated. “That’s 105 days of travel, one-way. It’s doable, but not for a prolonged invasion. If the Riaxen wanted to mount an effective attack on Nimalia, they would need a beachhead on the opposite side of Syraus space, first.”

“And I take it you think that them doing so is a credible threat?” Saito replied.

“Unfortunately, yes. It’s no secret that the Syraus have slowly started losing ground to the Riaxen ever since the destruction of the Tyrnaus Transpace. And these Riaxen scouting parties show that the Riaxen are growing bold.”

“The NSD has been quietly amassing forces in this solar system — the Nimalia system — just in case the worst happens,” Byrake declared, and then side-eyed Kevérin. “…Though I hear that rumors of our fleet build-up have reached a certain School of Chaos.”

“So that’s why I’m here…” Kevérin grumbled.

“The spacecraft lessons that the NSD supplies to the Tyrion Institute of Chaotics are provided under the strict expectation that any insights gained into NSD fleet doctrine and activity are kept under wraps.”

“And I’ve spoken to Kines about this, believe me,” Kevérin insisted. “But can you honestly expect to keep a fleet build-up in the home system of the Nimalian Union a secret?”

“I don’t care if civilians know that our ships are here, I only care if they know why the ships are here. The last thing we need is a panic over potential Riaxen aggression.”

“If the Riaxen are testing your border security, then a little panic might be warranted,” Saito challenged. “But more importantly, why are they only testing Nimalia? Earth is about as far from Tyrnaus as Nimalia is, but I haven’t heard any reports of the Riaxen testing our borders.”

“Likely because there isn’t a Transpace anywhere in SERRCom territory,” Komman pointed out. “The Riaxen want access to a Transpace — that would greatly accelerate their expansion into the rest of the galaxy. As it stands, the Nimalia Transpace and the Novakin Transpace are the only real options for the Riaxen.”

“Novakin is even closer to Tyrnaus than Nimalia is,” Rebehka stated. “Why haven’t the Riaxen tried for there?”

“Syraus intelligence suggests that the Riaxen don’t even know the Novakin Transpace exists,” Byrake said. “Remember, the Novakin Transpace could never connect to Tyrnaus — only to Nimalia, and another Transpace farther down the Perseus arm. The Nimalia Transpace is the one that connected the Outer Arm to the Perseus Arm.”

“So the Riaxen don’t have any intel on the Transpace network beyond Tyrnaus’s immediate neighbor?” Saito questioned incredulously.

“That’s what the Syraus claim.”

“Even so, the CSA has begun fortifying the Novakin Transpace,” Komman said. “However, given how far it is from their space via Transpace Route, they’ve had to do so with their Subspace Drive-fitted fleets — of which, they don’t have many.”

“Don’t act like the CSA doesn’t just cut through our space whenever they like,” Byrake countered. “They even have a staging station around the Nimalia Transpace, and they have an entire fleet here of their own.”

“The CSA has a fleet in Nimalian space?” Hackett echoed in surprise.

“They see the Riaxen as just that much of a threat, do they?” Saito questioned.

“The Union government has allowed the CSA to station a fleet, here. But more to the point, Riaxen ships are powerful, and numerous,” Komman pointed out. “The Riaxen, pound-for-pound, aren’t as dangerous as the Drakkars, but they also don’t have an infighting problem, like the Drakkars do. And the last thing the Siions want is the Drakkars pressing them on one direction, and the Riaxen bearing down on another.”

“And if Nimalia were to fall to the Riaxen, I’m sure Earth wouldn’t be far behind…” Saito mused. “Alright. I’ll warn my superiors. What are the actual odds that the Riaxen will manage to establish a beachhead beyond Syraus space, though?”

“The Perseus Arm is largely uncolonized,” Byrake replied. “The Big 3 have unofficially claimed many of the Perseus Transpaces, but there’s still a ton of empty space that the Riaxen could try to claim. And for all their talk, none of the PMCs are any good at fleet actions — which is what the Riaxen excel at. I doubt any of them would be able to defend against a Riaxen incursion for long. We’ll have to be careful.”

“If expansion is all the Riaxen want… then why don’t we just let them into the Perseus Arm?” Hackett questioned. “It would take them thousands of years to colonize the whole thing.”

“That may have been a viable solution a thousand years ago, before the Riaxen were so extreme. But it isn’t now,” Komman countered. “The Riaxen, despite calling themselves a Federation, have long been a fascist autocracy. Long have they talked of their inherent superiority to the other galactic nations. Their entire ideology is driven by the idea that the galaxy belongs to them, and them alone — simply allowing them to expand would fuel that ideology and create much bigger problems down the line.”

“I see…”

“I’ll have Assistant Commander Byrake forward the reports on Riaxen scouts to SERRCom. I only request that you keep this information classified. We don’t know if the Riaxen are monitoring public channels, after all.”

“Understood, Commander,” Saito replied. “And I thank you on behalf of SERRCom for sharing this information with us.”

“Good.” Komman nodded. “Now, with that out of the way, I do believe this meeting has come to a close.”

“Actually, I wanted to ask something,” Kevérin quickly interjected. “Consider this an official request to the NSD.”

“…I’m listening,” the Commander responded.

“Well…” Kevérin glanced at Rebehka, and then at Saito and Hackett, before turning back to face Komman. “I wasn’t there, myself. But I heard that, recently, there was a Bleeder attack on Compound Tresnon.”

Komman’s expression hardened while Byrake replied, “yeah, we’ve heard that, too. What of it?”

“What of it?” Saito echoed incredulously. “Respectfully, SERRCom has recruits there — recruits that are there at the behest of the Nimalians.”

“A deal that you made with Archoné Pallan Culana of Riverana… not the Nimalian Union,” Komman countered.

“…What happened to wanting a stronger, closer SERRCom?”

“I understand your frustrations, Colonel,” Komman replied, “…but it wasn’t the NSD who decided to place your recruits in Treséd.”

“Okay, now I have to call bullshit,” Kevérin interjected irately. “The NSD has been breathing down my neck for ages to tighten the reins on the Schools of Chaos. And don’t think I haven’t noticed how any NSD-sponsored advertisements for our schools emphasize the ‘prestigious’ and ‘exclusive’ aspects — and conspicuously omit WCU from the list of schools. SERRCom’s recruits would have been publicly rejected at any other school, due entirely to the cultural perception that the NSD created!”

“Those are quite the accusations you’re throwing out, there,” Byrake remarked airily. “Especially since you Deans are the ones who decided to cap enrollment at your schools. Do you really stand by what you’ve said, Dean Tyrion? Even after all the NSD has done for you?”

“Fat lot you’ve done for Davídrius, and Treséd.”

“The handful of times we’ve extended our help to Tresédians, they’ve rejected us.”

“Because of your heavy-handed deals. Don’t play coy with me. I’ve heard from Davídrius; in exchange for your help, you’ve ‘asked’ the Tresédians to give you their land, and submit to your rule.”

“Is this true?” Saito questioned, his attention focused entirely on Komman.

“It is,” Komman stated confidently. “And I see no reason to deny it. I’m sure SERRCom would agree that help is rarely offered freely.”

“I’ve seen the Bleeders, myself,” Saito replied. “Their largest attack force numbered in the mere hundreds. An energy shield coming online was enough to drive them off! Don’t tell me that an organization as powerful as the NSD couldn’t deal with them like the trivial threat that they are!”

“I see you feel strongly about this, Colonel. I assume, then, that SERRCom has eliminated all organized crime on Earth?”

Colonel Saito responded only with silence, unable to offer an affirmative reply.

“Well, what about the fact that the Bleeders attacked the Academy, and YCUR?” Rebehka questioned, distracting from the awkward silence. “Their actions have directly led to an infection outbreak and the theft of a Chaos Ayas! Surely they should be dangerous enough now for the NSD to intervene?”

“Your Academy currently has a contract with the Chaos Knights,” Byrake countered. “And YCUR has one with the SFC. The NSD has a policy of not interfering with legitimate PMC contracts; you should know this.”

“Don’t hold the Chaos Knights contract against me. Archoné Ledkia was the one who signed it!”

“Then perhaps you should take this up with him.”

“You’re really leaving it at that?” Kevérin challenged. “You press us and our schools to conform to your standards, and insist on taking all of our Chaotics as soon as they graduate. And in exchange—!”

“And in exchange, we offer spacecraft lessons and arrange for trips off-world. Trips that can be surprisingly difficult to arrange for young Chaotics,” Byrake interrupted. “We hold up our end of the bargain.”

“And if it’s the Chaotic Conscription Mandate that you take issue with, then you’ll need to speak with Sidonté Demerin, and the Union Liépen,” Komman declared. “The NSD is merely following Union law, in that regard.”

“…So you really won’t do anything about the Bleeders, then?” Saito questioned.

“We have every confidence that they are a contained threat,” Komman asserted. “That they were able to reach Relédiaka and Riverana is concerning, but their plots were still foiled, and the respective nations are looking into the matter. Until the Bleeders become an interplanetary threat, or the nations of Nimalia request our help, it won’t be the NSD’s place to intervene. And besides, Colonel, it is as you said, yourself: Compound Tresnon succeeded in driving off the Bleeders with minimal outside assistance. I’m confident that they will continue to be able to do so.”

“And if your non-intervention results in the death or injury of SERRCom personnel?”

“If SERRCom really wishes to hold the NSD responsible for a deal that we had no say in, then, well… such is galactic relations. But if you do, we will remember it.” Komman looked Saito steadily in the eye. “Is this what you mean to do, Colonel?”

Saito returned the stare, his expression blank. But eventually, he had to respond. “…No.”

“I see.” Komman nodded. “I’m glad you see reason, Colonel, and I hope SERRCom’s dealing with Archoné Culana will prove more fruitful in the future.”


“But, given how you feel on the matter, I won’t overlook it completely. SERRCom officially has the NSD’s approval to handle the Bleeders in Treséd — specifically Treséd — as you see fit.”

“And now you’re making deals on behalf of Davídrius and the Tresédians, huh?” Kevérin remarked bitterly.

“Whether or not the Tresédians reject SERRCom’s help — as they have with the NSD, repeatedly — is a separate matter,” Commander Komman declared. “I’m merely granting SERRCom permission to approach Tresédian airspace with your own Frigates, or deploy your own troops into Treséd.”

“Your ‘permission’ is much appreciated,” Saito replied with a forced smile.

“Now, if this matter with the Bleeders is done with…” Komman passed Kevérin and Rebehka a glance; when neither responded, he stood up from his chair. “…Good. Colonel Saito, Major Hackett, it was a pleasure to meet you. I hope SERRCom appreciates the information we’ve shared today, and the technology we’ve offered. In the meantime, Assistant Commander Byrake and I have other matters to attend to.”

“Ah, the pain of being Spymaster,” Byrake lamented, though nonetheless stood up from her own seat and followed Commander Komman out of the room. Just before leaving, she stopped to offer a quickly salute toward Saito. “I like your passion, Colonel!” she remarked, “just… maybe, next time be more careful with it.”

And with that, she left the room.

A stiff silence followed, as those left in the room stared after the two NSD Commanders. Eventually, Kevérin released a pent-up sigh of frustration. “Damn it…” he muttered, “the hell am I supposed to tell Davídrius, now…?”

“Are your interactions with the NSD always like this?” Saito questioned.

“Not always, no,” Rebehka responded warily, “but certainly more often than I’d like…”

“We saved the entire fucking galaxy, and still the NSD tries to pressure us to do their bidding…” Kevérin sighed warily, and then looked over at the Colonel. “Still, I appreciate you trying to get a word in for us. I only hope I didn’t accidentally make SERRCom look foolish…”

“Ha ha!” Saito chuckled bitterly, finally rising from his chair — prompting the others to do similarly. “No, I share some of that blame. There’s a reason I don’t like being sent on diplomatic missions…”

“That said…” Hackett eyed the two Deans warily. “Is it really true? SERRCom’s deal to place the recruits in your Schools of Chaos has nothing to do with the NSD?”

“That was news to me, too, really,” Rebehka replied. “I thought the NSD had to be involved, since SERRCom was sending their personnel directly to Nimalia.” She then turned to Kevérin. “Just what kind of deal did you and Kaoné make with Archoné Culana?”

“One that I hoped would reduce our reliance on NSD funding, and secure the Archoné’s support for Kaoné’s anti-conscription lobbying efforts,” Kevérin answered. “…I just didn’t expect it to backfire like this…”

“You asked Culana to support the anti-conscription efforts? Have you heard the man talk about how he handles those prophecies of his?!”

“I know, I know… but an Archoné is still an Archoné…”

“To be perfectly candid… I’ll have to bring this up to my superiors,” Saito commented. “It sounds like circumstances have changed, after all.”

“Yes… I totally understand…” Kevérin replied uneasily. “Allow me to apologize for the danger we’ve put your recruits into.”

“Ha. Well, maybe it’ll do them good to see real combat, every now and then. And even if SERRCom does decide to rework our deal, it’ll take a while before that decision comes down the chain, so things will continue as they are for a while yet.”

“And if you need someone to tell Davídrius that the NSD won’t help, again, then I or Christeané can do that,” Rebehka offered. “We’re used to his temperamental side.”

“No… I’ll do it myself,” Kevérin grumbled, and then bid Saito and Hackett a farewell wave as he began to leave the room. “Anyways… Rebehka and I have another meeting to attend with the NSD about the Schools of Chaos. If you’ll excuse us.”

“After you,” Saito remarked as the two Deans left the room. He then released a sigh and glanced back at Hackett.

“…That was… quite the meeting, huh, sir?” she questioned uneasily.

“…It certainly was, Major,” the Colonel replied as the two officers finally left the meeting room themselves. “It certainly was…”