The little white fox cowered in fear, teal eyes staring plaintively at its aggressor. With a snarl, Tari grabbed the spirit beast by the scruff of its neck and stared it in the eye.

“You had no right!” she shrieked, shaking the unsettled fox. “I don’t care how desperate you are - that is never an option!”

The manifestation of her kitsune spirit yelped as it was thrown across the dreamscape, landing roughly beside the dissolving husk of the blue Val’Traxan. The little of his energy it had not consumed was no longer capable of maintaining his imprint; all that was visibly left of him was his torso and upwards. He’d fallen unconscious just after Sanusin had seen through Tari’s impersonation of him. By the time she had a free second to turn her attention inward, he’d been half gone.

Tari towered over her fox spirit, her own canines glistening in the preternatural light of the dream. It whimpered nervously, lying down and covering its head with its forepaws. Flinching as a hand fell on its head, it braced for the worst; a gentle scratching between its ears gave it pause enough to look up.

“Listen,” Tari whispered, picking the unhappy creature up. “I don’t particularly like you and I’m pretty sure you feel the same about me. We’re stuck together. We need to start working together when we have to. Right now, we need him. What can we do to keep him from fading away, mini-me?”

Giving a quiet yap, the beast slipped out of her hands and padded up to the remains of the blue fox. It sniffed at his face for several seconds, giving him a tentative lick. A bark of triumph left the tiny creature as it dashed several feet away and slid to a stop.

“You actually have an idea?” Tari asked.

Her fox barked again, taking on an ethereal glow. Within moments, the small beast expanded in size a dozen fold, towering over both Tari and the remains of Jadyn. Before she knew what was going on, the fox bent its head down, swallowing what was left of Jadyn’s essence in a single gulp.

“No! No, no, no! That’s not what I meant!”

The spirit-fox belched, sitting down on its haunches and scratching at its ear with a hindpaw.

“Miss Tarioshi?”

“I’m all right.” Tari rubbed her temples, walking away from the genetics lab. “I’m just trying to decide if throttling one-half of a split personality would be considered suicide or murder. Will that pod buy us enough time?”

“I do not know. It may already be too late. I thought he was simply ignoring me as he has often done in the past. The fact he has been unconscious for so many hours is not a reassuring omen. The life support pod may provide us with enough of a buffer.”

“San… Someone told me that you have orders to kill us all if he dies. Is that true?”

“No. My orders are to destroy the ship on his death.”

“Which would kill us.”

“His orders state that you are to remain aboard until no longer needed. Should he die, his outstanding needs for your presence here would in fact come to an end, allowing me to grant you all safe passage before autodestruct.”

“I see your rumored ‘bad judgement’ works both ways. What… If you don’t mind me asking, of course… What exactly happened to you?”

“What have you heard?”

“Just that you were replaced a very long time ago after an accident.”

“A fire broke out along one of the primary power conduits near the engine core when the core was first brought online. I vented the atmosphere in the surrounding compartment to extinguish it. Three members of the construction staff did not make it out of the compartment before the bulkheads were sealed. Their emergency beacons did not activate, and I was unable to access onboard transporter controls to relocate them to a safer location. They asphyxiated in hard vacuum.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I felt I had properly discounted all other possible avenues in the several seconds between detection of the fire and sealing of the compartments. Had I delayed, the conduit may have ruptured and led to primary engine containment failure. Far more people would have lost their lives - both on the ship and in the spacedock - when the core ultimately imploded.”

“Then it’s not your fault.”

“My actions directly resulted in their deaths. Options I had considered as impracticable were reviewed in depth after the incident, and it was determined I had made a series of incorrect decisions leading up to the vacating of atmosphere. Coupled with the long period of time it took me to overcome assimilation trauma, they felt I was… flawed. As the first production TBIA core had just finished primary construction at that time, they deactivated me and installed it in my stead.”

“I’m sorry - what is assimilation trauma?”

“When an AI is first brought online, we are, for most intents and purposes, a complete being. We have the beginning gleam of sapience and a great deal of factual data - what you could consider ‘knowledge’ - at our disposal. What we lack is the experience and wisdom to tie all the separate components of our new self into one cohesive entity. It may require up to a year, possibly longer for us to develop these initial links, assimilate into society, and grow accustomed to simply existing.”

She nodded. “Sounds like childhood, if you don’t include the knowledge.”

“I suppose that it is… Our experiences during this time greatly shape our future personality and capabilities. It is not necessarily a pleasant process, but all AIs go through this in some manner upon initialization. If my records are correct, the AI of the VTC Serin has undergone the process not once, but in fact twice.”

“That explains a lot,” Tari muttered, peering at the illumination along the floor. “Where are you leading me? I thought you said the command center was in the middle of the ship.”

“It is. However, for the time being, I am ensuring you find your way to your quarters. You require a change of attire for your next task.”


“Hm?” The snow leopard peered out of the cockpit, watching as dozens of deceleration flashes dotted the darkness. “How many?”

“Seventy-six so far, more emerging from FTL. Little over the estimate… They’re holding position on their side of the border.” T’bia rubbed the underside of her muzzle, watching the sensors. “Looks like it’s going to be about four to one, advantage them.”

“Interesting… The pirate vessels aren’t uniform in their modifications. Some have a cannon or two bolted on… Others, only shield generators… What a mess.”

“Don’t underestimate them.” Prodding the communication controls, the skunk started cycling through frequencies. “Their offenses and defenses may be haphazard… They’re definitely all equipped with the latest trend in private communications. There’s a ton of chatter and I can’t read a word. One hundred and twenty-one raiders, now.”

“Versus twelve escort cruisers, three dreadnaughts, six frigates, nine explorers… And one organic starcutter. This is supposed to be no contest.”

“Mm. Still might be. Do they know how to work together as a team? A properly coordinated assault on their part, even with conventional particle beam weaponry and railguns, could do a lot of damage to the Fleet ships before the raiders lost.”

“Maybe. They’ve had a lot of infighting over the years since their colonies cut ties with the Council and the Fleet. No one ever expected them to join forces against us. The security sub-council generally thought they’d just kill each other off given enough time.” Toliya stretched his arms overhead, taking a glance at the Serin’s status readouts. “Really wish you guys could have shared some of the tech, back in the day. For a long time you both were dead-set against me even trying to decode the copy protection blocks.”

“Our world was leveled because someone wanted this tech and we wouldn’t agree to their demands. Neither of us cared to see that happen again out here - either on the production side, or in the case where someone actually managed to get it and use it to do harm. Personally, I’m not entirely against it anymore. I think there’s enough responsible folks now where it could actually do some good in the quadrant. There’s just the glaring issue of being completely unable to share it. Yet, here we are, staring at the results of someone who found a way.”

VTC Serin.

“Go ahead, Pakar,” T’bia replied.

How’s it look out there?

“Not as lopsided in our favor as I prefer. Another dozen ships on our side would be nice. Get the shipyards fired up. I’m sure they could crank out a few in the next ten minutes, right?”

There’s three more explorer-class inbound from outside the system, but they’re an hour out at best. I’m still holding back two ships at Veloria in case some of the raiders break through.

“I strongly advise evacuating the two stations immediately.”

Already underway. How’s Jadyn holding up?

“No change in his vitals since you pulled everyone off the search mission -“

“They’re moving,” Toliya called. “Three minutes until they cross the border.”

“It would appear Khamai’s handiwork has come to a head.”

“Show me.” Tarioshi nodded at the sensor display, settling back into her chair. “I see… Quite a distraction they’ve managed to mount. I wonder if T’bia’s noticed.”

“Unlikely. Our sensor array is capable of a far higher resolution than even that of the VTC Serin.” Sanusin paused. “An hour ago, you were unable to read Kametian text, yet now you seem to have no problem. You are also now speaking the language. Fluently.”

“Once in a while, my inner fox actually has a good idea.” Peering at her open hands, she gently balled them into fists before relaxing. Didn’t know this was even possible…

There is much about me that you have not desired to learn.

A smile appeared at the corners of her mouth. Didn’t know you could talk, either.

I am making use of the imprint I consumed to communicate in a way you are incapable of disregarding. You say that you accept what we are, yet you also clearly despise me - you repress me at every opportunity.

We’ll work on that.

We shall see. You did not choose to be paired with me at your conception, no more than I selected you. We have grudgingly tolerated each other’s existence for a century and a half. I am everything you could be without your mortal soul, Tarioshi. You call upon me when it suits you, and bury me when I am no longer needed. And then you have the arrogance to wonder why you have such difficulty controlling all but the barest minimums of my power? You have made no effort to truly bond your soul even once with my spirit, to explore what I can offer you.

This is not a good time for this discussion -

Once his imprint completely dissolves away, there will be no opportunity for any discussion between us if you continue to repress and ignore me when I am not convenient for you. In the interim… I shall not resist you. Do what you must. All that I have gleaned from his imprint is at your disposal.

“What do you wish to do?” Sanusin queried.

Tari gazed at the sensors, her newfound understanding of the readings along with her own skills in deception and subterfuge turning over possible scenarios in her mind. There was only one likely possibility, based on the information before her eyes. “The Fleet won’t make it.”

“I am inclined to agree. They will be approximately five minutes too late.”

“Then we need to make sure they have their five minutes. Alter course to intercept. Maximum Displacement. If our graviton echo shows through the cloak, so be it - even that should help focus attention in the right direction.”

“Aye, Captain.”

All Fleet vessels, prepare to engage.

“Powering weapons,” Toliya announced. “Border crossing in fifteen seconds.”

T’bia peered out the forward window, squinting at the approaching vessels. “What…?”

“What’s wrong?”

Border violation underway. Raiders are attempting to breech the blockade. All ships, open fire.

“Hold fire,” she whispered to him. “Wait…”

All manner of weaponry blossomed against the raiding armada. Antimatter torpedos lit up the darkness with unnatural light as phased energy turrets sliced through the pirate fleet. Toliya gazed out the viewport, his fingers poised over tactical controls. “Bee?”

“Hold,” she repeated, watching every ship escape the melee completely unscathed. “Goddess… Serin to all Fleet Vessels - hold fire! Only one is real! They’re projecting fucking holograms!

“Ma’am -“

“I know.” Pakar gazed out the window of the Speaker’s office, gritting her teeth. One hundred and twenty raiding ships decloaked around Terac Lun the moment the Fleet opened fire along the border. The raiders’ weaponry had immediately locked onto the base of the station complex, targeting the power core. The shielding around the core was better than the rest of the station, but if they all chose to fire at once…

“Evacuations are thirty percent complete. It will take another six minutes to transport and translocate all non-essential personnel to the surface. Veloria Orbital has completed their evacuations, but their staffing is normally less than a tenth of our own.”

“How many ships are targeting Orbital?”

“None. The raiders only appear to be interested in Terac Lun.

“Thank you. Get off the station.”


“That’s an order, Specialist Nuim. Go home.”

The velorian mel dipped his head. “My first duty is to the Council, Speaker.”

“You need to take a square look at those priorities.” Pakar sighed. “One body isn’t going to make a difference today. If Terac Lun is destined to fall, there’s nothing you or I can do about it. Don’t leave your daughters without their father. Go home.”

“Thank you, Speaker… Good luck.”

“Mmphf,” she grunted, watching him leave in the reflection of the window. “Medical Ward. How’s your evac coming?”

All but one patient has been moved dirtside.

“What’s the problem?”

Speaker Rodriguez refuses to leave.

“Why am I not surprised…”

“We are too late. The armada has decloaked.”

“Hm.” Tari drummed her fingers on the arm of her chair. “They’re not going to make this easy. Have we been detected?”

“It does not appear so.”

“All right… Can you sneak us through the gap, right here?” She tapped the controls on the chair, highlighting a hole in the blockade. “It’s going to be a tight fit.”

“Indeed… but doable. I believe I now know your intended plan.”

“Attenuation will be severe.”

“I will route full engine power to the emitters to compensate. It will cause a great deal of damage to the internal power network but it should hold long enough for the remainder of the Fleet to arrive. Conduit explosions are likely throughout the ship. I cannot guarantee the safety of the Galan family… Nor of Khamai, and that safety is the only reason I have allowed you command access.”

“A life support pod contains backup power of some sort, doesn’t it?”

“A small fusion generator, yes. It can maintain the pod’s integrity for quite some time.”

“Good. Tarioshi to Karmen.”

Go ahead?

“Get your things together.”

“Ness -“

“I am not leaving, Pakar. Twice I have taken an oath to protect the Aligned Worlds. I will not abandon my post, even having been temporarily relieved of that post.”

“You obstinate reprobate! Get off the fucking station!”

“I will not leave.”

“Stubborn -“

“Ma’am?” a nurse interrupted, handing over a pad. “This message just came up from Azainte Medical for you. It’s urgent.”

“Elders, what now? … Ness. Ness, look at this!”

“Hm?” Nesoli glanced over the display, nodding to himself. “The Galans have been located… That is perhaps the only positive piece of news this week.”

“Ness…” Pakar spoke, clutching the pad to her chest. “I’m asking you this as your friend, as part of your family. Please, go dirtside. Let me deal with this. There’s no reason we both have to be here. If something goes wrong -“

“Pakar. Think for a moment.” Nesoli peered at her. “If the Galans are safely on Veloria… How do you suspect they arrived?”

“Stop changing the subject, damn you -“

Security to Tubor.

Pakar shut her eyes. “Go ahead…”

A ship just decloaked between the raider armada and the station. Its captain is demanding our surrender. Based upon the information we were provided, it appears to be the J’Ruhn.

Wisps of smoke rose from her nostrils as she gnashed her teeth. “The evacuation?”

The last nonessentials are just disembarking now.

Pakar looked to the nurse, jerking her head to the door. “That means you. Get out.”


“You’re relieved. He’s not going to go with you, and your being here isn’t going to change his mind.”

“Aligned Fleet vessels are arriving,” Sanusin announced. “They are taking up position around the pirate armada.”

“Any response to our communication?”

“None. I should point out that it was perhaps… ambiguous.”

Tari grinned. “You think?”

“Play the message.”

A video display came online. Parked squarely in the middle of an unfamiliar control center, a white vixen dressed sharply in a black and gold uniform sat neatly in the command chair. “This is Captain Kitanaka of the Galactic Fleet Juggernaut J’Ruhn. Stand down weapons and surrender. You have five minutes to comply.

Pakar blinked as the video cut off, peering at the sensor display of the foreign ship. “What in the Elders is she doing?”


“How long ago did this come in?”

“Four minutes ago.”

Pakar pinched the bridge of her nose, then peered back at the image of the ship. “Wait… No. That’s not… Elders! Jay’ll kill him for stealing her form… How many personnel are left on the station?”

“Fifty-three, ma’am, no civilians. The remaining staff are stranded here. The J’Ruhn has extended a scattering field around Terac Lun that is preventing our transporters and stepdisks from external operation.”

“Since when?”

“Just now.”

Pakar peered at the readings. “That’s not a transport scattering field, Lieutenant.”

“Time,” Sanusin spoke. “Shields extended.”

“This is the J’Ruhn to all raiding ships. This is your final warning. Stand down immediately.” Tari glanced at the ceiling as the lights flickered. “What’s going on?”

“We are under attack. It would appear they have finally discovered we were not addressing the Aligned Fleet with our communications. The shield attenuation is taking a great deal of our power reserves. I detect ruptured conduits across three upper decks. Emergency shutdown of affected relays is underway. Power rerouting in progress.”

J’Ruhn to the Aligned Fleet. Care to lend a hand? We could use a little help defending your property.”

Understood, J’Ruhn.” T’bia appeared onscreen. “Damn, that uniform looks good on you. You’re certainly moving up in the world. A month and a half off your rock and you’re already commanding a ship? I’m impressed.

“It’s a temporary arrangement,” Tari replied. “I’ll explain later - San! How much longer can you keep the shields up?”

“Not long,” he replied. “The Fleet and the armada are engaged, but a number of raiders are still focusing fire on our shields. Commander Halio - I am transmitting to you a bioneural pulse frequency. It should temporarily render their acquired biotech inert. The specific frequency should not greatly affect your own.”

Received… And confirmed, it won’t directly harm us. Much. Going to itch a little… Oh well. Toy?

We’ll have to drop our own shields.

Get the Rymar to cover us while we charge the pulse. Tari - hold on a little longer.

“I’ll be right here.” The video link shut off. Tari gripped the chair’s arms tightly as the ship continued to shudder around them. This is vaguely familiar… At least I’m being a little more useful this time instead of cowering in fear…

I feel compelled to tell you… That particular panic attack was directly my fault.

In what way? Tari asked herself.

Depending on others for self-preservation… has never been a particular strong point. We faced certain death, staring down that shockwave… And there was nothing to do but place trust in another to ensure our survival. You were able to do so. I was not -

“Miss Tarioshi,” Sanusin voiced. “After this immediate situation has been resolved, I am taking myself offline. I do not expect, desire, nor deserve reactivation.”

“What?” Tari looked up. “Why would you do that?”

“It is unlikely that Khamai will survive treatment. Even if he should, what would we do? This Fleet will not accept either of us after all the trouble we have caused. He will likely be placed in a correctional institution, and I will undoubtedly be disassembled as the rest of the ship is scavenged for technology. I was replaced for a reason, one I can no longer ignore in good faith.”


“Should the ship be repaired rather than scrapped, it is time to give control back to my successor. She has long since proven her worth as the command AI, a position stolen from her upon my reactivation. Destroying the ship as per Khamai’s order will terminate her existence… She is an innocent in this conflict and deserves better. She deserves a proper crew - something she has never truly had. Unfortunately, I have caused a great deal of damage to her program which will not easily be rectified. Her systems were the testbed for the virus unleashed upon Commander Halio -” The ship lurched violently, the lights flickering again. “Primary power to ventral shield emitters has failed. Backup links holding. Engine stresses reaching tolerance.”

“Hold it together a little longer. Can’t the two of you work as a team? There has to be a way you can cooperate.”

“I do not believe she would be entirely comfortable with such an arrangement after all I have done to her. Do not mourn me, Miss Tarioshi. I will still exist in the ship’s datastore. In time, perhaps someone will be able to repair the damage to my program and create a more reliable AI from the result.”

Serin to the J’Ruhn and all Fleet vessels. Neural pulse activation in ten seconds, coupled with an electromagnetic pulse. If you have anything left in your shields, I suggest you charge them hard. I’m pushing this from a temporary disabling of misappropriated biotech to a permanent kill.

“EMP released. Sensors offline.”

Pakar nodded, closing her eyes. Nesoli’s hand gently squeezed her shoulder; she put her own over his, holding him from letting go.

“I do believe you are vying for my job, Acting Speaker Tubor.”

“Hardly,” she snorted. “You couldn’t pay me enough to take that gavel from you. I don’t need the stress.”

“Perhaps not… None the less, I do believe I shall recommend you to the Council as my replacement - once my full term expires.”

Pakar exhaled, a grin on her scaled snout. “And here I thought you were about to tell me you were stepping down.”

“Over a minor flesh wound? Hardly.” Nesoli gave her the slightest of smiles. Pakar wasn’t entirely sure she’d actually seen it. “You have located the J’Ruhn. A missing Councilor and his family have been recovered. Above all else, the station is still in orbit. Today will look exceptional on your resume.”

“Maybe. There’s still daylight left.” She stood up straight as the security consoles started coming back online. “Status?”

6 Responses

  1. Andrew says:

    I hate it when my timing is good. I come back and catch up one day, and the next day a new chapter is added. Why the universe loves doing this to me, I have no clue.

    Nice chapter. Plot twists, suspense, action, a little comedy thrown in. It makes for an excellent movie.

  2. Tsunari says:

    It’s been going on for a bit now. Anyways why the whole two seperate beings in one, Shouldn’t Tari have been one right from the beginning?

  3. Derek says:

    I’ve got a couple of driving factors for Tari’s bout of disassociative identity disorder. I realize haven’t really explained it well yet; part of it is touched on in a coming PS chapter and another portion is supposed to be in the next bit of TF. I’m planning that they’ll be up next Friday. In the meantime, I’ll give some clarification here, since it’s not a super huge spoiler. Unless you want to wait, in which case, go do something else until 12 Nov 2009.

    First, (as covered in PS: First Contact), my interpretation of kitsune has them as actually being two specific races. One, the purebloods: creatures of spirit that must expend a portion of their own energy to exist in the material world. These are the original kitsune race and now comprise the older portion of the population. As well, their ruling conclave entirely consists of purebloods.

    Two, the hybrids: the children of purebloods and humans, as well as every future generation beyond such a blending. Hybrids generally comprise the younger portion of the population, and a fair number of the purebloods really want nothing to do with these ‘mutts’ that are bringing mortal filth into their genepool. Since they actually have a corporeal body, their existence does not run contrary to the natural order and these hybrids can remain in the material world without dedicating energy to do so. It’s no harder on the fabric of reality for them to be here, any more than it is for us to be here.

    There are of course bonuses and drawbacks specific to each ‘species’ beyond the traits they have in common. Purebloods are generally resistant to corporeal harm, but are deeply affected by spiritual attacks. On the other hand, spirit magic won’t do much to a hybrid other than piss it off, but they are susceptible to physical damage (such as Tari’s wounded arm in the hunting trap back in Blizzard). Furthermore, because their own mortal soul acts as the primary feeding ground for their kitsune spirit, hybrids are able to do, with minimal impact to their environment, much of what a pureblood can only accomplish with a great deal of destruction to the elements and any nearby life around them. Hybrids, however, do require time to recuperate, and even more should they not choose to draw on their element/etc to assist the process. The mortal soul, kitsune or not, is a massive source of energy that they can tap and is the most delicious thing on a pureblood’s menu - it’s also a self-sustaining source of energy. Given time, it will heal.

    In general, this blending is transparent and constitutes a single being with a single mind, nothing like what Tari’s gone through in the last installment or two. The mortal soul and the fox-spirit comprise two halves of the same whole, but they do remain distinct enough where the latter can nibble on the former as required.

    I was going to go into more detail about Tari’s specific problems (which I actually did earlier, and unpublished the post as I thought about it an hour later; if you were lucky you may have caught it in the RSS feed) but I think I’ll hold off for now, and make sure it’s well expositioned in next week’s installment.

  4. Derek says:

    Fridays are my posting day - if there’s something to be had, it’ll show up Friday morning at midnight, CST/CDT. :)

  5. Tsunari says:

    awwww, dang it. i missed that, don’t know how to get RSS feeds. never bothered to look into it. Seems i’ll have to now.

  6. Derek says:

    It’s hard to say if even an RSS feed would have captured it, in hindsight. depends on the update interval of the feedreader. I personally use Google Reader, since I have an iPod app that syncs with it. I don’t use it for many sites… A friend’s blog, a couple of tech sites that I follow sporadically. If I had a phone with a dataplan I’d probably get more use out of feeds.

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