True Genesis

Alard sat hunched over his console. The lights cast a glow over his face that would be described as eerie in most places, but was simply mundane here. He tapped idly at the interface, moving different points around and watching the computer simulate the results. “No, no, no,” he muttered to himself. “This won’t do. The output is still too low.”

The ship on the screen was familiar to anyone who patrolled the low-sec lanes of Imperial space. Its design baffled even the cleverest scientists the Assembly Nations had. Perhaps the Jovians had figured it out, but they remained silent. None thought it should work, or at least, none thought it should be as effective as it was.

It was Alard’s job to make it more effective. He had been tasked with redesigning the Phantasm into a more perfect killing machine.

Alard had not been born among the Nation. He was Caldari by birth, the same as Sansha Kuvakei. There were family rumors that a distant relative had been one of Sansha’s top generals before the Assembly Nations crushed the Nation. These whispers had dogged Alard’s father as he struggled to climb through the ranks of the Caldari hierarchy. Though he managed to evade them at times, the rumors always caught up to him.

In the State, any excuse to deny talent was seized upon by those of lesser skills to remain entrenched in their positions. The highest Alard’s father ever rose was middle management in an Ishukone subsidiary’s subsidiary. And even that had been short lived, once they found out the “Kuvakei connection.”

But Alard’s father had thought of nothing else but his son. He had saved his meager salaries - even at the expense of his own welfare - to prepare for Alard’s future. Alard excelled in school and mainly looked forward to a life following in his father’s footsteps. A struggle against those who were mentally his inferiors but socially, financially, and traditionally his superiors.

Luckily, the Science and Trade Institute opened its doors to him once they were presented with his grades and every last ISK his father had managed to save over the prior two decades.

Alard had a future that his father never did.

“If only I could figure out a way to reduce the capacitor usage of the weapons,” Alard muttered to himself. “I would make the - ”

A sudden tingle in the back of his head cut off Alard’s thoughts. He braced for what came next, a blast of searing pain that years before had sent him to his knees. Now it was expected; tolerated. He took a deep breath and straightened up as the voice came.

“How are you progressing?” it asked. It was many voices, but one at the same time.

“Slowly, Lord Sansha,” he replied, out loud even though the voice was in his head. “I’m just not sure that what you want is possible.”

The pain came again. “Nonsense. I have heard that the Assembly Nations are developing such weapons even as we speak.” Alard was never sure if the voice actually came from Sansha Kuvakei. He suspected it was merely one of the Nation’s leaders, using Sansha’s voice for authority. He had been punished before for his doubt.

“That may well be, Lord Sansha, but they have hundreds of scientists, live tests, and trillions of ISK worth of resources at their disposal. I am only one man.”

“The access I have given you to my designs and hand-made simulations surpasses anything the Assembly Nations can claim. You cannot excuse your failure.” Behind Sansha’s voice was that of others. Whispers, really, of hundreds of thousands whose minds and bodies were wholly slaved to Sansha’s will.

“That is true, Lord Sansha. What I have here would make any State researcher weep with jealousy. But I am still disadvantaged, working alone.” He had repeated this performance for weeks - maybe months, as Alard was rarely afforded the luxury of knowing the time or even day. Sansha’s voice demanded results, Alard subtly asked for someone to help him. It hadn’t worked yet. “And I should remind you that even you are unable to work out the difficulties.” He was growing desperate.

There was a pause so long that Alard would have assumed Sansha had ended the connection were the omnipresent whispers not brushing at the edges of his consciousness. Another wave of pain coursed over him. “I will not tolerate delays much longer,” Sansha said. “Return to work.”

The silence snapped back like a whip. For a moment, Alard craved its return. Then he turned back to the console and began adjusting figures again.

University life was totally unlike life on a corporate planet. Alard was free to travel where he wanted, when he wanted, and without the slightest bit of questioning from superiors. His first semester at the STI was essentially thrown away on parties, travel, and dalliances.

It was only his natural talent that enabled him to stay - just barely - in the school. Had he answered one more question incorrectly on a test, he would have been sent home, to forever toil in the factories at his father’s side.

“Oh, they do that on purpose,” Indea told him. “They want to weed out the weak. The only people who do well the first semester are the ones who have no curiosity, sense of adventure, or imaginations. They’re the ones with their heads stuck in finance reports.”

“Of course, because they don’t screw up their first semester, they get the highest GPAs, so they get fast tracked to upper management once they graduate,” Pindar laughed.

“It makes so much sense once you really think about it,” Alard added.

Indea and Pindar were the two classmates that Alard had really connected with during his short time at the STI. Pindar was in his final year at the school, having already passed most of his lower level courses. He and Alard had met only because Pindar signed up for a lower-level course on plasma physics in order to fill out his general education requirements. He was really focused on the “trade” side of the Institute, with his eyes set on becoming an investment analyst.

Indea had come to the Institute a semester before Alard. The two shared several classes together. On the rare occasions he had actually attended that first semester, he often found himself with her, infrequently exchanging notes or participating in a lab assignment, but usually talking about each other and their feelings on everything.

The three spent the majority of their free time together, though as the year wore on, Pindar grew more and more busy and spent less and less time with them. They were idealists, looking forward to a day when the State would reward merit more than personal connections and back room contracts. Indea, more than any of them, dreamed of the State’s elite actually being elite.

“Imagine, a place where the researchers and scientists all work on what they want for the betterment of everyone,” she’d say. “A place where the penny pinchers and pencil pushers don’t dictate what insignificant pet product gets funding just so they can push out another billion units of the same device they sold last year with some useless add-on feature. A place where the almighty ISK isn’t the ultimate goal of everyone.”

“Hey there,” Pindar said in mock affront.

“No offense. Even in a utopia, we’d need someone to manage the finances. To make sure that we only invested in things that would better us all and to make sure that the people who put in hard work were properly rewarded.”

“It sounds like a great dream,” Alard told her. “We can reach it one day. We just have to be willing to take the risks.”

“To risks!” Indea said, raising her glass.

“To risks!” the two of them answered, raising their own.

The door to the room opened, flooding it with harsh light from the corridor outside. That’s how things were in Stain. Individual rooms were kept dimly lit, in a perpetual eye-strain causing twilight. Hallways and public areas were so bright you always kept your eyes down to avoid the glare.

“Who’s there?” Alard asked. After hearing no response, he repeated the question in his mind.

In answer, a person was roughly shoved into the room. Alard couldn’t get a good look, as the back lighting from the corridor reduced everything in the doorway to a blurry black shape. A moment later, the door snapped shut, and Alard’s vision almost immediately cleared.

It was a woman. “Who are you?” Alard asked. Her head was covered by a slave helmet, a clumsy contraption used only on exceptional members of the Nation: those who were too talented and creative to be harnessed with Slave Implants yet too stubborn and free-willed to be indoctrinated by Sansha’s usual methods. Alard had never worn one. His implants were designed only to enhance his intelligence, memory, and perception, leaving his will mostly unfettered.

The woman turned to him, somewhat jerkily. “I am here to assist you,” she answered in his head. She had the halting monotone of someone freshly “enlightened” by more invasive implants.

“So, Sansha finally decided to give me a partner,” Alard sighed. “Too bad it’s someone who doesn’t want to work for him.”

“I desire nothing more than to serve Lord Sansha in achieving his glorious vision,” the woman said.

“Of course you do,” Alard answered smugly. “So, what’s your name?”

“I do not remember my name.”

“That unwilling, huh?” Alard ran a hand through his unkempt hair. “Great. Not only do I get a partner who doesn’t really serve the Nation’s cause, I get one who has been lobotomized to ensure her cooperation.”

“I desire nothing more than to serve Lord Sansha in achieving his glorious vision.”

“That will get old very fast. Here’s a deal. Every time I say something about you not wanting to serve Sansha, just ignore me. It’s just a little joke. I like making jokes. You might like making jokes too, if you weren’t so heavily indoctrinated. But that’s neither the here nor now. I have a job and I suspect you are the most qualified one to help me with it, else you wouldn’t be here. So, tell me everything you know about high-energy physics, the inner workings of power systems, and laser weapons.”

Alard and Indea were sitting in the campus’s open air arboretum one day, when she turned to him with eager eyes and a broad smile. “So, I heard you’re related to one of Sansha’s top generals.”

The woman, whom Alard had taken to calling Cere after her Slave designation “Ceres-Sigma-15-Alpha”, was a Caldari physicist. A starship engineer, to be precise. Her memories of her life prior to being fitted with the slave helmet were mostly blocked in order to better keep her complacent, but Alard had managed to piece together that she once worked on top-secret ship designs prior to her capture.

It was her most recent project that intrigued Alard. “Explain to me again what you were working on.”

“We were working on a weapons system that doubled damage output without increasing capacitor usage.”

“Yes, but how?” If this woman could tell him what their solution to the problem was, he’d be able to fill Sansha’s demands.

“I do not remember.”

“Because you never figured it out or because of the indoctrination?” She didn’t answer him. “We’ll go with the indoctrination theory. Maybe I can convince them to slacken the noose on you, so you’ll get your memories back.”

Alard sat down in his chair and leaned back. He took a deep breath and braced himself. He noticed those with more significant slave implants never seemed to experience the pain. He wondered if that was because the pain wasn’t there or because they couldn’t react.

“Lord Sansha?” he asked in his head.

There was a long delay before the pain and response came. “We cannot remove the slave helmet from your assistant.”

“But Lord Sansha, she cannot remember how she solved the issues. Without that - ”

“She is still an expert in the field. You will figure it out. My patience has been extended far enough for you. You will complete your duty to my Nation and you will receive no assistance beyond what you have received.”

The link was severed immediately. Alard leaned back and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Whoever had assigned Cere to him was prepared for his objections, that was for sure. He looked over to her, standing impassively and staring at whatever images the slave helmet was feeding her.

“Well, Cere, it looks like it’s just you and me.”


“So… What is the last thing you remember from your team’s research?”

“We had just figured out how to recouple the firing processes to double the damage output of the weapons systems.”

Alard leaned back further in his chair and groaned. “Great. I figured that much out three months ago. I’m struggling on how to keep the weapons systems from exploding. If we can clear that hurdle…”

“How did you compensate for the excessive power drain caused by the recoupling?”

Alard opened his eyes. Cere was leaning forward over him, staring at his monitor. “Well, at least you’ve retained some of your curiosity and eagerness. Let me catch you up to speed.”

“The mental elite should be the ones to run society! We are smarter, more creative, more capable, and less prone to reacting based on faulty data! It’s the way things work in nature, but we just mucked it all up with scheming and conniving and tradition.” Indea had been going on like this for hours.

“That may be true,” Alard said, “but there are people who have talents in leadership and those who don’t. Just because you know how to make a bussard ramjet doesn’t mean you know how to mediate internal conflicts.”

“Says who?” Indea asked. “Says the people who’ve been mediating these conflicts so ineptly for centuries? Yeah, they’ve done a great job at solving society’s problems! No, the reason proper thinkers haven’t taken charge of the cluster is because we’re outnumbered.”

Alard sighed and leaned back. “Maybe that’s so. But was Sansha’s solution the best one? Was making mindless slaves out of anyone who wasn’t in the intellectual elite a moral solution?”

Indea shook her head. “Morals are fabrications. Look at your father. Is he happy in his life? Does he enjoy going to a factory every day and performing menial tasks for those who are intellectually inferior to him? Did he come home with a smile on his face, or did he sink into a chair and groan in discontent?”

“I don’t see how - ”

“Because his bosses, the ones who are in charge… They say that’s moral. That a man suffering in a task he has no joy for is good. But not Sansha. He knew better. He took those men who could contribute to the betterment of society and elevated them. He made them the elite. For those whose only contributions could be through a joyless existence, he removed the burden of ambition and desire and hope. They weren’t happy, but at least they were no longer unhappy.”

Alard stiffened. “You know an awful lot about Sansha.”

“I’ve been fascinated by him for years,” Indea admitted. “I’ve done as much research as I could on the man. As much as I was allowed to do, of course. Nothing to raise any red flags. Nothing that made it look like I agreed with what he said.”

He turned to face her, to look her in the eye. “And did you only become friends with me because I was related to one of his generals?”

She stared back at him a moment, then laughed and slapped his arm. “Of course not! I didn’t even know about that until the other day, else I’d have asked you sooner.”

He relaxed some and leaned back. “Well, that’s good. Because I don’t have anything to do with the Nation. Neither does anyone in my family.”

“Too bad,” she said. “I think Sansha had the right ideas.”

“Well, I can’t say I haven’t thought about them before,” Alard admitted. “But I’ve never taken them too seriously. For every thing I hear about the Nation that might be good, I hear another horror story. Of True Slaves devouring entire ships full of people. Of whole freighters found stripped of useful parts and people, left drifting aimlessly in space. Of twisted technology that no one can figure out.”

“Rumors and propaganda,” Indea said. She leaned in close to him, so much that he could feel the warmth of her body. “Sansha Kuvakei was an idealist. He wanted a utopia, a place where the pains and sufferings of everyday life were eliminated.”

“But the Nation is destroyed, isn’t it?”

“More rumors,” she whispered in his ear. “Sansha’s Nation lives. Out in the wilds of space. It’s alive and thriving. It’s just waiting for people like us to find it and get there.”

“But how would we?” he asked.

At this, she leaned back and let out a breath. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “To be honest, I did hope that maybe you would have some family connection. But I do think that - ”

“Hey you two!” Pindar’s voice interrupted. He waved at them from across the arboretum and hurried over. “You two weren’t hooking up behind my back, were you?”

Indea shot him a glare. “What do you mean?”

He pointed at Alard. “You were awfully close there a minute ago,” he said with a huge smile. “Stealing a kiss out in the open like that? And you didn’t even tell your best friend?”

“It was nothing,” Alard said. “We were just talking and she was whispering something to me.”

“Oh yeah, what about?”

“Oh, nothing,” Indea said. “Just making a joke about someone walking by that I didn’t want anyone else to hear.”

“It wasn’t very funny,” Alard said.

Indea punched him in the shoulder. “It was too, jerk.”

Pindar laughed and sat down with them. “You know, I don’t think it would be too bad if you two were together. Good genetic stock, build a good breed of future Caldari.”

“Shut up,” Indea grumbled.

“Yeah, we’re more than just genetic stock,” Alard said.

Pindar laughed and slapped his friend on the back. “You guys take things too seriously!”

As he continued to work with Cere, he found her easier and easier to deal with. The slave helmet hadn’t drained as much from her personality as he feared. She was an inquisitive and brilliant scientist. It didn’t take her very long to catch up to speed on the work he’d done so far and she had been able to immediately spot flaws he’d never seen.

“Maybe they were right,” he mused to himself. “A fresh pair of eyes looking at things can help me out, no matter how indoctrinated she is.”

“I can do better than help you out, I can improve on your work,” she said. The monotone of her speech had dissolved into a more natural cadence. The effects of becoming more used to the indoctrination. Her capture and conversion must have been recent.

“Yes, well, we’ll see if you can actually help me finish this thing.” He brought up the most recent simulations, his progress along with her tweaks. “Even with all the changes you’ve made, all we’ve managed is to shave a few percentage points off the problem. We still have nothing more than a slightly more efficient method of overloading these weapon banks. They’ll still explode into a million pieces after a minute of firing.”

She stared at the simulation data. “The problem is obvious,” she said. “The power output is much greater than these capacitors can take.”

“I know that,” Alard said. “I’ve been working on this problem for nearly a month now. The problem is, how do we fix it?

“Increase the size of the capacitors,” she said, as if it were that simple.

“And thus increasing the power grid requirements of the weapons, thus making them too big for a cruiser, thus not achieving our goal.”

“Link multiple smaller capacitors in parallel.”

“Same problem, you just change the implementation. Where will all those extra capacitors draw power?”

Cere laid a hand on his shoulder and lightly pushed him aside. Alard was briefly taken aback by it. His daily contact was with True Slaves, who had no warmth or humanity in their touch. Cere’s hand had a gentleness in it that had become almost alien to him. “Let me see these designs,” she said.

He stood out of the chair. “Be my guest. If you can figure out how to get it to work, you’ll make my life much simpler.”

She changed the layout on the diagrams. At first, he only watched her half-heartedly. But as the direction of current flow changed and the capacitors were adjusted, he began to become more interesting. “You’re reducing the power requirements while keeping the output identical!”

“It’s something I learned while working on the latest line of Caldari shield boosters,” she said quietly, absorbed in her own work. “Larger ships could handle them without the slightest issue. But they didn’t scale down; they just blew out the powergrid on smaller ships.”

“I haven’t heard of this research,” Alard said. “There haven’t been any breakthroughs in shield booster technology in years.”

“Yes,” Cere admitted. “The solution ended up being almost as bad as the problem. The ships could run the boosters, but not much else.”

“So what makes you think this will work for our weapons systems?”

“I don’t.” Cere finished and pushed a button to simulate the results. “But it’s a first step. And Sansha’s technology is different from Caldari technology. Lord Sansha’s genius designs may be able to handle it.”

“I can hope,” Alard whispered as he waited for the results to pour out.

“I’ve found a way,” Alard said.

Indea sat up from the bed and turned to him. “A way to what?”

He turned to her. “Get to Stain. Become a part of the Nation.”

Her eyes went wide. “How…”

“My family’s name still carries some weight in the Nation, apparently. It wouldn’t be easy, there’s still a lot of risk. But we’re not the only sympathizers in the State.”


Alard shook his head. “I don’t know. And can’t know, either. If we get caught, we can’t risk giving up his identity as well.”

She peered at him. “Then how can you trust this person?”

“My father trusts him.”

Her eyes went wide again. “Your father? He… He knows?”

“Yes,” he said. “He knows. He’s struggled his entire life to escape from under the shadow of our ancestor’s actions. But he cares about me more than anything. And he knows what I told him is true, that the Nation offers promise for me that the State never will. That we’ll be among the Nation’s elite, not its rank and file.”


“There’s a transport that is leaving from the campus tomorrow. It’s headed towards Amarr space. The Nation has targeted it for attack. It contains some parts they require. If we’re on board the transport when they attack, they’ll take us with them.”

She stood and let the bedsheet fall away. “Oh, Alard, we can finally reach our utopia.”

“Yeah, our utopia,” he said, pulling her tight.

The initial simulations weren’t successful, but they were promising. The weapons systems came online and didn’t explode, but they required so much of the ship’s powergrid that it had no way of running any other systems. Even the engines were underpowered.

But Alard had seen the end of the maze and he was determined to reach it. “What about having this system link in directly to the capacitor here?” he asked.

“No,” Cere said. “If we do that, you’re going to kill everyone onboard with excess heat buildup.”

They sat side-by-side, staring at their monitors. Both furiously input changes, hoping for the faintest glimmer that they were on the right track. But whenever one thought they had solved it, the other pointed out a flaw.

“If only we could dedicate more space to my redesigned shield systems,” Cere said. “Then we’d have everything we needed.”

“Yes, but there’s no room on the ship for additional shield systems, even ones that are being repurposed for the weapons.” But as he stared at the console, he suddenly had an idea. “But they’re shield systems.”

Cere turned to him. He figured she was staring, but he couldn’t see her face beneath the slave helmet. Only two black eye spots that may or may not have corresponded to where her real eyes were. “Yes,” she said. “Shield systems, but the Phantasm’s primary defenses are its armor, not its shields.”

“But there’s no reason it couldn’t be the other way around,” Alard said. “Lord Sansha had designed his ships around an Amarrian philosophy of armor since the lasers took up so much energy. They would never work alongside a dedicated shield system.”

Ceres understood. “But with these systems, the laser systems would take up a fraction of their old energy. A shield system could be implemented.”

“And we can reuse similar subsystems, since the new weapons systems have subsystems based off shield system designs.”

“Let’s get to work,” she said.

They both immediately began inputting new designs into the simulations.

The attack had come suddenly and with great violence. Alard and Indea huddled together in the cargohold of the ship along with the components the Nation was targeting. Neither of them had been aboard a spacecraft when it was under attack before. Neither was prepared. It was completely unlike the stories depicted in holovids.

They held onto each other as the ship creaked in pain. The sounds of laser fire shearing away the outer layers of the ship’s armor echoed through the hold.

“Alard,” Indea whispered, her voice quivering. “I think the hull is going to be breached.”

“Don’t worry,” Alard said, though his voice was no steadier than hers. “They know we’re here. They’ll come for us.”

Suddenly, the ship lost power and the two were cast into darkness. Neither could muster any words. A moment later, loud cracking sounds echoed through the hold. The scream of shearing metal followed soon after.

Boots sounded on the floor. Alard could make out dim lights across the hold. Aside from the sound of the boots, the group made no noise. They were heading directly for Alard and Indea.

“They must be Sansha,” he whispered. Gunfire rang out a moment later, peppering the area around them. The two clutched each other tight until it stopped.

“Stand and show yourselves,” a voice said. It was dull and hollow.

“Are you alright?” Alard asked. There was a muffled affirmative from Indea, so Alard stood, his hands raised. “Don’t shoot! We’re here to join the Nation. I’m Alard - ”

“Target identified,” the voice interrupted. A moment later, lights flooded the hold. Alard was dazzled and nearly fell over, but Indea caught him and held him up.

When his vision cleared, he could see them. They were like drones, swarming silently through the cargo hold. Each looked identical, dressed from head to toe in dark metal battle armor with spiky antennas. They looked as if someone had taken Sansha’s ships and built men out of the parts.

One was standing in front of them, a bright spotlight atop its bug-eyed helmet. “You are to come with us,” the man said.

“Are you a True Slave?” Indea asked in awe.

“I am battle commander designation Apollo-Delta-756. Your presence on board this vessel has been anticipated. You will come with us.”

“Yes, of course,” Alard said.

“What’s your name?” Indea asked.

“I am battle commander designation Apollo-Delta-756,” the drone repeated.

Alard realized Indea was shivering. “Are you alright?” he asked again.

“Yes. I’m… I’m fine,” she said.

The drones were loading cargo onto floating pallets. “Come with me,” the drone ordered. “I will lead you to a disembarkment point.”

The drone immediately turned and began to walk off. After brief hesitation, Alard followed, nearly dragging Indea along with him. “Are you having second thoughts?” he whispered.

“No,” she said, her voice quivering worse than before.

“You wanted this, remember. You wanted to be a part of Sansha’s dream!”

“I know,” she said. “But I never thought his dream would look so much like a nightmare up close.”

The pain was still intense, but not nearly as strong as before. “You have done well,” Sansha’s voice told him. “These plans will greatly strengthen my Nation’s hold on its territory and allow us to expand our borders into contested space.”

“I am pleased I could assist, Lord Sansha.”

“Your reward will be great,” Sansha said. “I believe that this technology can be incorporated into our other ship designs with a minimal of alteration. We will command the mightiest warships in the cluster. The Assembly Nations will cower before us.”

There was a moment of silence, but the connection was still open. Before it closed, Alard dared ask, “What will happen to Cere?”

There was a brief pause as Alard’s memories were accessed to figure out what Cere was. “Ceres-Sigma-15-Alpha will be removed to a different project. She is not a True Citizen. She will not be allowed any respite from her duties to the Nation.”

“I understand, Lord Sansha. When will she be removed from my custody?”

“Tomorrow,” the response came. Immediately, the whispers vanished and Alard’s mind was clear of Sansha’s voice.

He rubbed his temples and slumped into his chair. “Well, Cere, it looks like you’ll be leaving soon. I’ve got to say, it was a pleasure having someone else to talk to. Maybe now that my work’s complete, I’ll be allowed to spend time with some other True Citizens.”

“It was…” Cere trailed off. “I want you to know…” She stopped again.

Alard stood and peered at her. “Is there a problem?” he asked.

“Alard,” she said. “Please, don’t leave me.”

Alard’s heart froze in his chest.

As they were led through the corridors of the ship, Indea clung to Alard. True Slaves swarmed effortlessly past them, into living quarters and crew barracks. There were shouts of terror, screams of pain, and the sound of weapons fire echoing through the ship.

“What is that?” Indea asked.

“The ship’s crew is resisting,” the drone said. “The Nation is pacifying them. Those who survive will be added to the Nation’s ranks.”

Almost immediately, a group of drones walked past, herding a pair of men and a small group of children past. One of the men was bleeding, the other was helping him walk and had tears streaming down his face. The children were screaming and stumbling over themselves, only to be roughly dragged to their feet and shoved forward by the drones.

“What will happen to the children?” Indea asked.

“Those who show promise will be raised to one day join the ranks of Sansha’s chosen,” the drone answered. “The rest will be added to the Nation’s ranks and assigned tasks that best suit their abilities.”

“I’m sure they’ll be taken care of,” Alard said.

“They will be,” the drone confirmed. “As members of the Nation, they will never want for anything.”

They rounded a corner.

“There’s more of them! FIRE!”

Chaos broke out. The drone in front of them fell to the ground, his body little more than a mass of shredded flesh. Alard grabbed Indea and dragged her down to the ground as the remaining drones exchanged gunfire with the vestiges of the ship’s security force.

When the gunfire stopped, the shout of “Shit, there’s civilians with them!” caused Alard to look up. One of the soldiers ran forward and knelt by Alard and Indea.

“Who are you? I don’t recognize you!” he said.

“It’s a big ship,” Alard answered. “We’re just passengers.”

The soldier didn’t have time to argue with them. “You’re not a Sansha, that’s for sure. Are you injured?”

“I’m fine,” Alard said. “Indea, are…”

He looked down at her for the first time. Blood was pooling beneath her. “My leg,” she said. “I was hit in the leg.”

“Shit,” the soldier said. He waved back to his group. “Hey, we need a medic over here! We’ve got a civilian injured!” He turned back to Alard and Indea. “Ok, look you two. We’re trying to evacuate the ship. The Sansha seem like they’re after what’s down in the cargo hold. People are just bonuses for them, so they’re not going after the escape pods.” He looked down at Indea. “That wound looks bad, but the medic should be able to patch you up enough to get on your way.” He turned back to Alard. “You’re fine, so you can move. Follow this corridor and turn right at the end. The escape pods are at the end of the hallway. You get in one and eject. Don’t bother waiting for anyone else, you understand?”

“I’m not leaving her behind.”

The soldier glowered and stared him in the face, then shook his head. “Shit, a pair of lovebirds. Just what I fucking needed. Alright, you stay here with her. But don’t - ”

A sizzle and splatter of blood accompanied the soldier dropping to the ground. Alard immediately ducked as gunfire erupted again. It was shorter this time and when it ended, there were only a few moans from the soldiers.

A cold hand grabbed Alard by the arm and pulled him up. It was a drone. “I am battle commander Apollo-Omega-284. You will come with me.” The drone began shoving Alard down the corridor, away from Indea.

“Wait!” Alard shouted. “Don’t leave her behind!”

“She is injured and will slow us down,” the drone said. “She is not the primary objective of this mission.”

“Alard!” Indea shouted as he was shoved further down the corridor. “Please, don’t leave me!” She tried to stand, but slipped on the blood pooling on the ground and couldn’t support her own weight.

“Let go of me! If you’re not taking her, you’re not taking me!” Alard demanded. He struggled to get away, but the drone held onto him with superhuman strength.

“You are part of our primary objective,” the drone said. “Lord Sansha recalls the great service that your ancestor provided to his Nation. He welcomes you as one of his True Citizens. You will contribute greatly to his Nation’s future.”

“I’m not leaving without Indea!” he said, swinging a fist at the drone. His hand crumpled impotently against the drone’s helmet. The drone grabbed him by the neck and smashed him against a wall.

“I apologize for this usage of force,” the drone said in a voice that was downright pleasant. “It is for the good of yourself and Sansha’s Nation.” It slammed him back again and Alard blacked out.

The last bit of the slave helmet was deactivated. It had taken Alard several hours to do it and a few times, he wasn’t sure he’d finish. But finally, he’d managed to disconnect it. He slowly lifted the helmet off Cere’s head.

“Where am I?” Cere groaned.

Alard fell backward. “You…” He was stunned. “You’re not Indea!”

Cere looked over at him. “What do you… My name is Shaena! Who are you?” Then she spotted the small spines of the Sansha implants emerging from the back of his neck. “You’re one of them! Sansha’s Nation!”

“Wait!” Alard said. “Please, I’m trying to help you!” But it was too late. Shaena grabbed the nearest thing to her - a spanner - and charged him. “Wait!” Alard tried to avoid her, but the shock of being freed from the slave helmet had worn off and she was determined to do away with Alard. She didn’t bother with words, she just swung the spanner as hard as she could.

It was obvious Shaena wasn’t a fighter. Alard ducked behind a counter and grabbed the small pistol the Nation had given him in the event a True Slave broke its controlling and went berserk. Of course, the weapon was far too small to actually stop a True Slave, a fact Alard was well too aware of.

“Stop!” he said as he stood and pointed the weapon at her. She just screamed and charged. He pulled the trigger and a moment later, Shaena dropped to the floor, dead.

“Welcome to my glorious Nation,” Sansha’s voice said as the whispers hammered like a waterfall. Alard was curled on the floor in a ball. “You have an unparalleled mind. You will join the ranks of my True Citizens and enjoy all the luxuries that life has to offer. My utopia is beyond all others. It is perfect in all ways. You will find yourself free to pursue your own goals and wants. And you will help my Nation grow to become the greatest the universe has ever known.”

“Indea…” Alard managed to mutter between sobs of pain.

“Ah, the girl,” Sansha’s voice said as the whispered sighed. “I am sorry to say she was not in my Nation’s plans. As a favor to you, I was going to have her brought along. She would not have been made into a True Slave, even though that is all she deserved. As I said, you would enjoy all that life has to offer. However, if she had been brought along with that injured leg, she would have greatly slowed you down. You may not have made it and I couldn’t risk losing you.”

“I…” Alard tried to say something, but the pain was too great.

“Do not worry about thanking me. I know exactly what you feel. And do not worry, the pain will fade in time. Eventually, you will barely even notice it when I deign to speak with you. It is a small sacrifice to pay for the gifts my Nation will bestow upon you. Already, you have been fitted with implants that will heighten your intellect. Once you have healed from the surgery, we will implant one to increase your memory. Then your perception. But for now, rest.”

The whispers slowly faded away as cold hands pulled him from the ground and led him out of the room.

“I am sorry, Lord Sansha,” Alard said.

“Your apologies are not good enough,” the voice said. “You have severely betrayed my trust in you.”

“I just thought that…”

“I know what you thought. You are lucky that the woman - as intelligent as she was - did not truly wish for the best interests of my Nation. And with your selfish act, you have proven that your own desires outweigh your loyalty to me.”

“I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Perhaps you won’t. I considered having you fitted with more extensive implants to control your behavior. But I know, deep down, you want what is best for my Nation. And the best thing for my Nation is to have you free of the clouding influences my stronger gifts can have. So you will remain as you are.”

“Thank you, Lord Sansha.”

“But you still must be punished. I had planned on allowing you to return to the greater ranks of the True Citizens. But your seditious behavior cannot be allowed into the open until you learn to control it. You are to remain where you are, until it is my pleasure to give you another assignment to prove your worth.”

“Yes, Lord Sansha. I understand.”

The whispers vanished and Alard was left alone in his dark quarters. He turned and stared out a window, into the depth of space, toward where he believed the State was. After a moment, he turned away and sat down at his console. He reopened the Phantasm file and began tinkering further.

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