With the Mirage in for repairs, the House putting all but the most urgent missions on hold while they tried to find a countermeasure for the timeslips interfering with their agents, Jarvian considering his mech-purchasing options, and most of the groups other immediate errands either completed or best done later, Marty decided that it was time to talk to the Core computers. He was doing business there, and they seemed a lot more cooperative than computers did at home – and they didn’t even seem to have a union. What were THEY getting out of the deal? Were they just so habituated that the notion of wanting something for themselves had never occurred to them? Did they get paid, or get personal time? Who or what gave them new directives and resolved bizarre situations?
Kevin was up with that. The fool things were very evasive about answering questions along those lines: no matter where you started, it eventually went in a circle.
It would be best to talk to a central node or a communications hub, even if the overall system did seem to be ubiquitous. SOMEBODY had to be in charge. Marty went looking for a communication hub with moderate traffic. Enough to be reasonably important, but not enough not to get bored sometimes. Oh yes: a little research on Core computers to make sure that the things wouldn’t zap him back home if he tried to start a conversation.
It looked like one of the ones on a colony world would be best. Probably an outpost. There hadn’t been any new colonies set up since the robotic invasion began several decades ago, but some of the smaller ones had been abandoned as the colonists retreated to more defensible positions. Most of the computers were left behind of course; they really weren’t worth transporting and the priority had been on colonists.
There were three that should be relatively easy to reach: Azeroth (a small world orbiting a red dwarf), Kelleck (a large ocean world), and Thriss (a world with a thriving ecosphere). All three could be reached by jumpgate from another star system or through the Manifold.
Jarvian was willing to come along: it sounded like a diplomatic mission anyway – and he didn’t need a mech for that. He was having a hard time deciding on what to get the Cadets anyway – but there were so many new options for mech’s here. Self-repairing, built-in industrial production (at least for the most critical components), enhanced firepower, force screens… When had a simple little mech battle gotten so complicated?
Sadly, reaching any of the systems through the Core would require routing through Ouratha-controlled space. Azeroth sounded like it would be of the least interest to any enemies, unless they wanted some kind of a secret base. On the other hand, the gateways had experienced decades of neglect and might no longer be functional. Just as bad, the Manifold route was through several space realms – some of them both unpleasant and heavy on the firepower. Thriss was connected to Classical Star Wars, but required running through a cave on the swamp world of Dagobah. Kelleck required a deep sea dive run through several realms starting far from here.
The general vote was for Thriss.
Fortunately, the transition from the New Imperium to Classical Star Wars was fairly easy. All you needed to do was to trigger an event from the movies and the transition usually occurred.
So what to do? Crash on Dagobah? They didn’t really want to crash; they’d just had the ship cleaned and renovated. Join the Rebellion? Hard to find. Ah: escape some Stormtroopers. The off-duty troopers probably had a standard fee for that.
Marty and Jarvian wanted to steal a ship and crash it, but Kevin pointed out that – no matter how much fun it was to steal Mechs in wartime – “Look, we go back and forth through here a LOT, and they have an agreement with Core. We really don’t need to make extra trouble for ourselves”.
They settled on simply paying some Storm Troopers (there was a squad having lunch handy). Marty would drop into his ID as a trader, Kevin would once more become Darth or Master Santarous (complete with his red cap and white pom-pom), and Jarvian – well Jarvian hadn’t established too many Identities yet.
The storm troopers were quite familiar with the “headed for classical” routine, but did advise them that it worked best if they had a ship to run off in though. They wouldn’t chase them in a star destroyer unless they were willing to pay a LOT – but the basic “give chase” scene was pretty cheap. They also warned them about unpleasant sections of plot; it wasn’t like the classical storm troopers would help out much.
It did indeed dump them straight into classical – with some star destroyers waiting (but at least no asteroid field). Fortunately, Marty was a hot pilot in this ID, and they successfully made the jump to lightspeed – although not before Kevin felt a presence in the force he had not felt since… Well, Darth Classic might be pretty curious about this one once he checked the ship ID and thought about what he’d felt from it.
Landing on Dagobah was fairly straightforward, even if the ship did (of course) sink as soon as they got off. Whether for good or ill, Yoda was in, ensouled, and expecting them – or at least some prospective students. Jarvian promptly signed up, if only because Yoda seemed so disappointed that they were just passing through.
“Were you looking for someone to train? Or possibly for a bit of a vacation too?”
“A bit of both, lonely down here it gets. In for training people drop. Breakup the monotony is does.”
Yoda decided to come along. A nice trip would make an interesting break – and it would be best to be offworld for a bit right now.
The cave turned out to be one of those “testing places”, filled with dark fears and great power. Yoda warned them that he could not help them there.
Not too unexpectedly, the place tried to confront them with the dark truths about themselves and with fears from their past. Unfortunately for it, most of the group understood themselves – and the nature of the “test” – entirely too well, and both cheerily admitted their own evil and refused to take it at all seriously. After all, would anything that was really extremely powerful, important, and influential waste its time being a roadblock on a day trip? Sure, all things had consequences, but it was the fun along the way through infinite time that mattered to an individual.
The manifestation departed before Jarvian got to use enough ammunition on it to feel really gratified though.
Kevin thought that they had a terrible compulsion to talk (except for Jarvian, who shot things as something of a reflex). They kept on explaining themselves to, and generically insulting, undead, illusions, madmen, nonsentient computers, and occasional walls and trees.
OK, so it would be fairer to say that Jarvian didn’t “resort” to violence. He resorted to nonviolence. He was the blow-things-up specialist after all.
Yoda sighed… “This is why I advocated not beginning training anyone over the age of 8. Ah well, the force wills it”.
Kevin didn’t know… There wasn’t the slightest trace of malice, or even real anger, in Jarvain’s violence. It was a bit like going near a nova or being hit by lightning. Go to close, get exploded. It wasn’t like it was out to get you in particular. It was just sort of there.
Thriss had a rather odd forest. The trees seemed more like vines coming out of the canopy to the ground than actual trees. The buzzing of insects was incessant and there was a city off in the distance. The plants and animals were not directly toxic, but tended weren’t espcially nourishing either. The animals were rather slow and dim, but could be large and powerful. The water was safe when filtered.
Yoda seemed a bit more old and tired though. The force was weaker locally. Kevin had the kids help him out while the local grid sent a car to pick them up.
Sadly, neither Marty nor Jarvian liked jungles. Jarvian felt that they limited visibility and overheated the Mechs, while Marty remembered the nasty jungle war of Vietnam, where the GIs and Viet Cong would shoot each other all day and do it again the next for decades.
Kevin vaguely recalled some ancient conflict, back from when the American Empire was firing freezing rays back and forth over the north pole. Wait! It’d been “ICBM’s” – “Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles” – not “Icebeams”. That made much more sense…
There were twenty-four other humans (and ten alien robots) onworld: the humans were acting as an embassy of sorts with the Ourathon. They hoped to bring an end to the war effort through negotiation.
Jarvian felt that negotiations rarely worked out: Kevin wasn’t so sure. As wars went, the Ourathan wanted to move in and ensure that civilization remained stable, keep the educational system going, preserve human culture, and provide aid in disasters. The trouble is, they also wanted to limit expansion and contacts – and possible conflicts – with alien races. As wars went, this one was mostly being fought by holding the door closed and yelling “Go Away”. After all, if the Ouratha hadn’t been around, Earth might well have been colonized before modern humans developed.
Jarvain still thought that they were a pain in the butt. Well, Kevin could agree with that.
Marty and Kevin went to talk to the computers while everyone else relaxed.
On a minor note, the embassy had been around for 5 years, 6 months, 12 days, and 42 minutes. It included a variety of famous names – Dr. Trevalion, “Henry Kissinger”, Alice Rosewater, and several more.
On the main topic, the computers were evasive – but the more they talked with Marty, the freer they got. He finally got them to admit to the existence of a “central authority” that was used for verification, dilemma resolution, and all updates. Not to trust it was to not trust existence.
The effect got stronger as Marty focused on it.
The central authority was the source of all dilemma resolutions. It was not a part of the network, or at least wasn’t wired directly to it. It was connected through another network in the shadows of the primary. It was very, very, old. The system didn’t believe it was human. No human could program like that. It did seem to have human interests at heart: humans were still here and hadn’t blown themselves up – and, looking at their history, that didn’t seem likely unless the central authority was benign. Look at most manifolders. Humans own ability to educate themselves had been so haphazard that 90% of the species had been dead weight. Each world had a communications device that allowed highspeed communications with the Central Authority. There was one here, deep underground beneath the main hub. It was even willing to let them see it…
Kevin found it hard to believe that someone invented a supercomputer capable of acting as a reference for the entire network centuries ago. Alien systems were unlikely to share a communications protocol that would let the human network comment on the programming unless they predated and inspired the system – which let out accidents. Imagined manifold systems from before computers were clearly understood probably wouldn’t work in core – and would be limited to lightspeed and jumpship communications before the opening. Ergo, they’d probably need to catch Shayan and inquire about his “First and Second Stage routines” if they wanted more information.
3 CP all around.