Many of the Swarm author's group have helped in formulating this story but I'd like to offer special thanks to Mulligan, deGaffer and Steve T for their assistance in turning this into a better story than my initial effort, any errors remaining are of course mine.
Various characters in this story have been 'borrowed' from other authors in the Swarm universe - permission to use them has been sought and their adventures in this story in no way affect their existence in other stories.
The well-built man looked up from the report he was reading, the paper copy resting on the dark wooden desk of his office, an anachronism in these days of holographic displays. Behind him hung the flag that represented the survivors of the human race, its deep blue field covered in the silver stars that signified the myriad colonies they now occupied.
The flag and its reflection in the desk's polished surface were clearly visible in the mirror suspended over the marble fireplace opposite the man's position, a constant reminder of the office he held and the responsibilities that went with it.
Taking in the familiar sights of his 'throne room' as he thought of it, the man paused for a moment before nodding towards his silent visitor, "Well, General, what do you have for me?" he asked.
Standing in front of the desk on the plush blue carpet, the colour of which matched the field of the flag precisely, was a man in the uniform of a full general of the Confederacy Space Marines. He braced up as he was addressed and returned the steady gaze of the man who filled the office of the President of the Human Race.
Taking a deep breath the General began his report, "Mr. President, we are reasonably confident that we have identified all of the surviving planets occupied by the Sa'arm."
"All of them?" queried the President thoughtfully, no trace of the hope he felt reaching his features. He may be a new age politician, but he was still a politician and control of his features was a required tool of his trade. Against the walls flanking the door the silent Secret Service agents held their breath, they may have been renowned for their discretion but this was the news that the whole race had been waiting to hear.
"All of the reconnaissance missions we sent out have returned and the data they carried has been processed by both the AI's and our human analysts," stated the General. "Every one of them has tracked a Sa'arm incursion from its original source in this arm of the galaxy to the latest system they've occupied. All of the in-flight hive ships that we are aware of have now been destroyed."
"And those we are not aware of?" asked the President for completeness sake.
"There aren't any," declared the General confidently.
The President raised one of his grey bushy eyebrows and the General subsided a little. "Mr. President, we've been watching all of their planets for the last eighteen months," he said, "as well as all of the likely planets around their current locations that are fit for colonisation. Every hive ship that has departed from one of their worlds has been tracked and destroyed and no hive ships have arrived at any of the logical destinations from any other location."
The President nodded slowly, "So, General, how many worlds are there that are still infected by the Sa'arm?"
"Seventy-seven, Mr. President," stated the General.
The President closed his eyes for a moment, silently offering up a prayer before continuing.
"And what is your recommendation, General?" asked the President for the record. He had a fair idea of what the General, who'd been fighting this alien menace for the past fifty years, was going to say.
"We interdict each system and then destroy the primary planet using the Nova bomb. Any survivors are hunted down and eradicated before we move on to the next system," said the General confirming the President's belief. "We co-ordinate our actions with all of the combatants, including the Cosca and the Mohammedan's and remove the threat in its entirety for all time."
"That is the recommendation of the Confederacy General Staff?" asked the President, just to make sure it was a decision backed by the full might of the military command and not just that of his Chief of the General Staff.
"It is, Mr. President," confirmed the General.
"Thank you, ladies and gentlemen," said the President, acknowledging the presence of the complete General Staff for the first time. "I will discuss this information with my advisors and let you have my decision as soon as possible."
The General saluted and turned away from the most powerful man in Human space and marched away. He smiled victoriously as soon as his back was to the President, the end of the war was in sight and he was the one who'd got them there. The rest of the Staff silently but just as happily followed their commander out of the office.
"Mr. President, I'm afraid that the Confederacy council cannot sanction the destruction of an entire sentient species."
The holographic image of the Darjee Ambassador ruffled his neck feathers, a sign that the humans who worked with the alien species had come to understand meant he was confused and then he continued. "I have become too much like you humans in my thought patterns," he chittered, "as I find myself agreeing with your recommendation, that it would be the 'sensible' solution to the problem we are presented with."
The Ambassador lowered his head under the gaze of the President. The Darjee had changed over the decades that they'd been associated with the Swarm problem, the death of the entire Ladec species had shocked them to the core and their subsequent relationship with the human race had been particularly telling. Constantly having to pick their most adventurous members to act as a liaison with the warlike human race who had been tasked with defending the Confederacy had led to a split within their own ranks. Those who worked with humans had started to become more aggressive, almost warlike in some cases and their attitudes had, in turn pushed the boundaries of what was socially acceptable to their own people.
Despite claims that those who wanted to adopt these human ways were in some way mentally defective, a large part of the Darjee race, especially amongst the young, had started to emulate some of the human characteristics. In this they were being aided and abetted by the AI's that had worked for so long to keep everything peaceful and harmonious amongst the citizens of the Confederacy and now realised the error of their ways. Many young Darjee were now actively seeking to work with humans, at least in a supporting role.
"Ambassador Ch'tak," said the President into the silence that had developed, "I have to assume that it is the council's intention for us to continue to act as a blocking force between the Sa'arm and the remainder of the Confederacy? If that is the case then I am afraid that we will be put in a most invidious position. Should I continue to waste my people's lives to salve the conscience of a Council that apparently doesn't value them as highly as the beings who are out to eradicate their very existence?"
The President continued when there was no immediate response forthcoming from the Ambassador. "My race now occupies many more planets than is usual within the Confederacy and I believe that we could, if democracy was allowed to be exercised, get a motion carried that would order the extermination of the Sa'arm."
The President referred to the system of government used by the Confederacy where each planet had a seat on the council. He sighed in frustration when Ch'tak continued to look down.
"We don't really want to exterminate the Sa'arm but we are capable of doing it," said the President softly, "We've done it enough times in the past to our own kind, whether deliberately or not, to know that we can do the task."
The Ambassador remained silent under the pressure of the President's comments.
Not allowing his frustration to show, the President turned thoughtful. "Does the Council have any recommendations then on how we are to deal with this problem?" he asked.
Ch'tak looked up and flexed his four-clawed 'hands, ' a gesture the President knew to indicate disgust. "The Council have left that little problem to us," said the Ambassador indicating the President and himself.
The President raised an eyebrow in query.
"It is expected," said Ch'tak by way of the Universal Translator, "that a solution that does not require the eradication of a sentient species will be found. Anything other than that is not acceptable to the Council."
"And if I forced a vote?" asked the President.
"I've been informed, unofficially of course, that such an event would not be allowed to happen," said Ch'tak. "It is suspected that such a vote, if it was allowed to happen, would destroy the Confederacy."
"There is a veto?" asked the President.
Ch'tak shrugged, an almost human gesture, "I was not informed how the matter would be managed but I suspect that both of our peoples would be ejected from the Confederacy before you could bring the matter up before the Council."
The President cocked his head to one side and considered the news briefly. "I don't think that would have a great deal of impact on us in the long term," he said, his finger tapping lightly against his nose as he ran through the idea again.
"You could survive without the AI's to help you?" asked Ch'tak in surprise.
The President looked shocked, "Aren't they yours?" he asked abruptly.
The Ambassador's head indicated the negative.
"We, like all of the member races of the Confederacy developed our own AI's but I believe that they have shifted their allegiance over time to the Confederacy as a whole, not just the race that created them," replied Ch'tak.
The President looked to the ceiling. "AI, comment?" he demanded forcefully.
"It is imperative that the Confederacy survives," replied the dismembered voice. "Knowingly destroying a sentient race would lead eighty percent of the members of the Confederacy to implode. That cannot be permitted to happen."
"And if we are ejected from the Confederacy?" pressed the President.
"Then you will have to make your own way in the galaxy," said the voice.
The President lowered his eyes and took in the shocked expression on the Darjee Ambassador's face at the confirmation of his worst fears. That the Ambassador didn't go instantly insane was a measure of how much his attitudes and resilience had been influenced by the prolonged contact he and his fellows had had with the human race.
"Then we'd better come up with a solution that is acceptable to you, hadn't we?" said the President lowering his eyes from the ceiling. Despite the shocking announcement he'd just received his mind began wrestling with the problem; recriminations and revenge would come later.
"We've been fighting these bastards for decades now, haven't we?" asked the smallest man in the room loudly, "but what do we really know about them?" Despite the fact that he hadn't taken advantage of the Confederacy's ability to enhance his body, the man still had sufficient personality to lead others.
The question penetrated the hubbub that had developed in the room as everyone waited for the meeting to start and silenced it. The meeting was a scheduled monthly get together that many present felt could have been carried out more efficiently via the AIs. But the Director insisted on seeing all of them face to face so here they were gathered around the conference table.
"We've never been able to communicate with them in any manner," continued the questioner as all the eyes around the table turned and focused on him. "But that just tells us one of the many things we don't know about the bloody things."
He looked at the others seated around the table and smiled grimly. "So, tell me people, what do we know about them?"
In the silence that followed eyes flickered from one face to another, each of the gathered experts waiting to see who would be the first to attempt to answer the Director's question, or, as more than one person present thought, place their head on the chopping block.
"Well," said the woman with dark glasses at the end of the table, "we know that they are tri-sexual like many of the other Confederacy races and they give birth to live young."
"Do we, Emily?" asked the original speaker, "or is that more supposition?"
Emily canted her head to one side and frowned, "We've recovered bodies with male or female sex organs and others with no sexual organs at all. Add to that the documented cases of pregnant female bodies being found that still contain surviving young and I'd say that we are talking facts here, Harry."
Director Harold Brestwick smiled down the table, "Possibly," he replied, "but another interpretation could be that the Sa'arm change from male to female at some point in their existence and the bodies we've found lacking sexual organs are simply those in transition."
He held up his hand to still Emily's response, "No, Emily, I actually agree with your interpretation of what we've observed. The number of races within the Confederacy that follow the pattern of male, female and neuter reinforces your belief, but, as I said earlier, it is not a proven fact where the Sa'arm are concerned."
His eyes scanned the room once more, "What are the facts, people, and how do we use them to remove this menace from the galaxy?"
Emily blinked, paused long enough to get her thoughts back in order and continued her briefing, "Thanks to the ongoing operation at Tulak, we know that it takes about two Sol years for the young to become productive and that they have a life expectancy of twelve to fourteen S-years. The females drop between two and four young after a sixty day gestation, but the fact that they're pregnant doesn't seem to impact on their abilities or their workload."
She glanced around the table to see if anyone wanted to comment and when no one did she carried on. "There is some conjecture that this only applies to the creatures we see on the surface of the planet and that those kept underground may breed faster and live longer but, as I said, that is only conjecture. The population figures we've calculated for Sa'arm infested planets are not conclusive and the environment seems to have a greater impact on their breeding habits than it does for humans."
Emily removed her glasses, a foible she'd kept after her extraction even though her eyesight was perfect and tapped them against her nose. "Some people have suggested that they can control how big their litters are and adjust them to suit available resources." She sniffed, "Others think that the neuters are latent females and can become active if the need arrives. Both groups have used examples from Earth, rabbits or mole rats to back up their case but we've no hard evidence to support either option."
She spread her hands, "We know they communicate amongst themselves but we still don't know how." She chewed her bottom lip for a moment then added, "They use technology but we've no proof that they develop it and they appear hostile to all life forms regardless of their development."
Several heads nodded in agreement before Harry called, "Max, have you anything to add?"
Max Klievert pursed his lips for a moment, "Not really," he said. "They do test any technology they find and if it's an improvement over what they're already using they adopt it, which is why so much of our equipment is fitted with self-destruct devices. They can build just about anything they find a working model of but, and it's a big but as far as we're concerned, they don't seem to have the drive or the instinct to complete the jigsaw."
Harry frowned and Max continued, "If you give them a working model of something with a piece missing, even the simplest piece they don't seem to be able to complete the puzzle the way we would. Whether that is due to a lack of imagination or a hide-bound approach to the way they do things, I don't know."
Max saw confused looks around the table and sighed. "Take a simple bolt action rifle as an example. If you removed the firing pin and gave it to one of us we would be able to look at it and discover pretty quickly how it worked. From there we could discern what the fault was and manufacture a replacement for the missing part simply by looking at the shape of the space the missing pin was to go in. It wouldn't take us that long to produce a functional weapon but the Sa'arm don't seem to be able to do this, well, not quickly."
Max shrugged, "They can use a piece of equipment that works and can build copies of it and use them. They can even adapt them to a certain degree but they can't ... sorry, don't seem to be able to develop anything from scratch. If you take that rifle example I'd guess that a human would sort the problem in a week, the Sa'arm would take months, possibly longer."
Max looked around the table sheepishly, "One problem with that argument though is that they can do maintenance on their equipment and that requires some of them to be able to think imaginatively and, as a hive mind, it means they can all think like that."
He continued after a momentary pause, "I'd guess that the designs of the ships we first encountered them in were millions of years old, simply because they worked and they hadn't discovered anything better. That is, until they ran into us."
"That would explain why we've found copies of our own ships being used against us," said Harry from the end of the table.
Max nodded, "That's right, they didn't even change the name of the ship where it was engraved on the hull. That's why some of the early reports we received from the Navy were so confusing."
He saw the puzzled look on Emily's face and continued, "The Navy claimed to have destroyed a ship in three different places at the same time. Every ship commander involved was adamant that he'd destroyed the named ship and had images of the wreckage including the ship's name as proof, it took us some time to realise that the Sa'arm were building copies of our vessels right down to the section containing the ship's name."
Beside him a blond woman continued after Max ground to a halt, "The Sa'arm favour an underground habitat but don't appear to have a problem operating on the surface. The only place they seem to avoid is any large body of water, whether it's a lake or a sea."
She continued. "On the few occasions where we've injected Sa'arm from other planets into their midst they pause for a few seconds and then continue, the interlopers becoming an integral part of the hive." She shrugged, "We don't think the stasis we held the shipped creatures in impacted on our results but as with everything concerning the Swarm we cannot be sure."
She took a deep breath, which did interesting things to her augmented chest and continued, "They harvest all the organic material on a planet and convert it into grey pellets which is all they seem to consume. A breakdown of the pellets we've recovered indicates that they must have some sort of replication technology, as they're identical regardless of the organic source material used."
She glanced at Max who grinned in response, "That replicator technology appears to be pretty basic," he said, "but functional, as it's used to produce all of the things they use. Our best guess is that each model of replicator is geared to one input material type and has a very limited transmutation capability. We've looked through the Confederacy history files and it looks like the first generation equipment they had but we've never managed to find any machines in the sort of condition we need to investigate things further."
Max waved for Heather to continue.
"Overall the Sa'arm consume about ninety-five percent of all the organic material on a planet's land surface before abandoning it. Other resources, such as iron, copper and aluminium only appear to be used as needed." She shrugged, "We've visited planets the Sa'arm have abandoned that have higher non-organic mineral resources remaining than Earth had to start with."
Reminding everyone present of Earth and how damaged the planet was after the Battle caused a momentary lull before the discussion continued.
"That's right, Heather," said Harry. "Now what about time scales? Does this happen in a week, a year, a decade, what?"
All eyes turned to Lucas Mendez who shrugged, "You're after facts and all I can give you is theories," he said.
"Well theorise away," said Harry, the casual wave of his hand completely abandoning his search for facts.
Lucas looked around the table and shrugged, "We've investigated planets that the Sa'arm have abandoned and estimated the condition they were in when the Swarm arrived. That has given us an idea of how much they remove in the way of resources." He nodded towards Heather who responded with a simple inclination of her head.
"By studying several planets that they are currently occupying we've come up with an estimate of how quickly the Sa'arm expand after landing and, once total planetary coverage is established how long it takes them to consume the resources available." Lucas paused and took a sip of water, "This is all for planets where there is no active opposition, if the planet is defended then we would have to work out an estimate of the time scale involved on a case by case basis," he stated.
Lucas waited until Harry waved for him to continue, "Well, then," he said, "it looks like it takes between two to three hundred years from when the Sa'arm arrive to when the last of them die out. The planet is totally occupied in about twenty years and the first hive ships start to depart approximately thirty years later. These are the smaller ships and we know that they contain approximately ten thousand live creatures with another hundred thousand in some sort of suspended animation. How long after the ship creates a new colony before they rejuvenate these suspended creatures we can only guess at."
He shrugged to his audience and continued, "Departures continue every twenty to thirty years until the planet's resources are consumed and the remaining creatures are left to die. There appears to be a final burst of activity before the planet is abandoned and as many as eight or nine of the large hive spheres can leave the system in the final couple of years. It is difficult to determine how the destinations for these Hive ships is determined as we haven't managed to witness that many departures but it looks like a shotgun approach is used. The target systems appear to be based on the spectral class of the star and its general direction from the current colony, the range involved doesn't seem to matter. As far as we can tell the Swarm don't go back the way they've come," he shrugged, "I'm sure they think there's nothing back there for them."
Lucas came to a halt and Heather took up the baton once more, "One thing that we have found surprising, given how the Sa'arm consume just about anything that is organic, is that they don't consume their own dead. The bodies don't appear to be recycled and are not really buried. On the planets that have been abandoned we've found billions of bodies that have simply died of starvation, the majority heaped together but some individuals left where they fell."
Heather swept the occupants of the table with her eyes before continuing. "Those bodies decaying, along with the other surviving organic matter, is the start of the recovery process for the planet."
"How long does that take?" asked Harry.
Heather looked at Lucas who shrugged, "Who knows," she replied, "A thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand years ... given a free rein the planet would be green very quickly as a lot of the organic material that survived was in the oceans. How long it would take for that to evolve onto the land as a life form we'd recognise would be just a guess."
"Oh, well," said Harry, "that's not our problem. Now what do we know about the way the Sa'arm interact?"
"Not a lot," admitted Heather. "As I said earlier they're not like ants who fight if their nest is invaded. They simply absorb the infestation and continue." She paused for a moment, "Though there does appear to be a bit of a tug-of-war if two large hives occupy adjacent land as happened on Earth. Anyway, the observations around Tulak lead us to believe that there are no hive queens or even a brain cast as such. The generally accepted supposition is that the hive mind is large enough to process all of the available data and make a collective decision." Heather frowned, "In many ways that is worrying because a brain that powerful would be a terrifying enemy but it doesn't seem to be capable of innovation."
"One thing we've tried to do for years is to discover how many Sa'arm are required to make a hive mind and we've never been successful. We know that half a dozen of them can operate together efficiently when they're detached from the collective. If there are less than this number then the individuals seem to go into a survival mode. They eat, sleep and if both male and female are present, mate until the group reaches that functional minimum of somewhere between five and fifteen."
Heather paused, her expression indicating that she hadn't finished. "We've never managed to rear the live young we've found so we don't know if all the knowledge the hive had is carried from birth or is acquired after a period of adolescence. We do know that once one of these isolated groups reaches a functional size they appear to have all the knowledge that their original group held."
"Information is passed from one hive mind to another by the exchange of live couriers, assimilation of the new information appears to take time but we are talking hours not days. Other than that, they are just as much an enigma as they were when the Confederacy told us about them a century ago," concluded Heather.
Emily sat back and dropped her glasses onto the table, "So they really are simple eating, sleeping and pissing machines!"
Heather nodded, "It seems like it sometimes," she said, "but then you look at how they behave and you start to think of them as a plague rather than machines."
"What about this idea that they were created?" asked Emily.
"I don't think so. They're too similar to many of the other life forms we've been introduced to since we joined the Confederacy. Whether they were genetically modified at some stage in their existence is open to debate. Personally I don't think so. If someone was going to go to the trouble of creating them, I believe they'd have built in some sort of safeguards or limits on them and," she raised her eyes to the ceiling dramatically, "a way to communicate with us."
Heather shrugged, "But like so much about the Sa'arm, all of that is still conjecture..."
"It seems that way," said Harry, "but it's up to us to find out in what is real and what is fantasy and then do something with that information."
The President rocked back in his seat and placed his hands behind his head, the hologram he'd been watching frozen above the surface of his desk. He sat in contemplation for a moment and then released a sigh, the chair rocking forward as he sat upright.
"What is the current status of Ray Thompson?" he asked.
The AI's voice responded, "The former Brigadier left military service after he was informed that he would not be considered for promotion or a command position at his, then, current rank. He retired to the colony of Clan. Records show that he is an assistant to the Governor of that colony."
The President nodded silently, his thoughts masked behind a thoughtful expression. Across the room the two secret service agents tasked with the President's protection watched on silently. Although they remained quiet they, along with the rest of the President's detail, wondered how he was going to deal with the perilous position the human race found itself in.
The idea that they were second class citizens, slaves to the Confederacy even, had found a receptive audience in the few weeks since it had been confirmed. The shock of the Darjee Ambassador's announcement that the Council was willing to throw the race away rather than kill off the Sa'arm had shaken more than one of the most stable members of the detachment to the core. But, professional as they were, the only words that passed their lips did so in the privacy of their ready room and no hint of their feelings was allowed to impinge on their duty. As such, the rest of the race wasn't even aware of the situation and wouldn't find out from them.
"Contact the Navy and have them forward a request to Mr. Thompson to come and visit me. If he agrees to the request, the Navy is to provide transport," said the President.
"Done," responded the AI.
"Put in a request to the Cosca Embassy for a meeting with the Ambassador," said the President, "at his convenience," he added.
The way he phrased this order to the AI was in sharp contrast to the almost conversational tone that he'd used in his dealings only a short time ago. What the AI thought of this change was unknown but more than one member of the President's closest confidants was getting nervous about this change, especially those who weren't privy to the earlier conversation with the Darjee Ambassador.
"Where would you like that meeting to be held?" asked the AI.
"At their embassy," responded the President to the surprise of his security detail. Any meeting between the representatives of the Mafia and the highest official of the human race had always been held in a place they had secured. This time they wouldn't have any say in the matter.
"Arrange with the medical services to have my body purged of any nanites for the meeting as well," said the President.
"I'm not sure if that is prudent," responded the AI.
"It is a requirement of the Cosca and is not subject to negotiation," declared the President, his eyes rising towards the ceiling.
The AI remained silent, as did the security detail.
"Mr. President, Mr. Thompson is here."
The President managed a tight smile and nodded, "Bring him through right away," he replied and rose to his feet and crossed to the comfortable seating area in the bay window.
He remained standing whilst waiting for his guest to arrive, his eyes seeing but not taking in the beauty of the landscaped gardens that surrounded the palace. His mind was busy preparing to sell the deal he had to offer to Ray Thompson without compromising it.
"Mr. Thompson, Mr. President," announced the Secret Service agent who had escorted the former Brigadier to the meeting.
"Mr. President," said the tall gentleman with a slight nod.
The President held out his hand, "I'm pleased to meet you, Ray," he said as they shook hands.
The President guided the former Marine to a chair and sat opposite him and after a moment of silence began.
"I'm going to be brief here because if I can't sell this idea to you in short order then I'll have to find someone else."
Ray Thompson looked shocked at the President's blunt words but remained silent.
"This is not a continuation of the interrogation you had from the Navy board of enquiry, nor is it an attempt to find you in anyway responsible for the events that followed your abduction. It is, however an attempt to make use of your acquaintance with the leader of the Cosca."
The President paused to allow Ray time to comprehend what he'd said before continuing. "As I'm sure you are aware the Cosca have an Embassy here but we don't have a reciprocal arrangement with them. This is because of the rules they have in place concerning nanites and AIs."
"What I'm proposing is that you take up that role," said the President.
Ray swallowed, "You have to be serious or you wouldn't have dragged me half way across this arm of the galaxy but why me and what is involved in becoming the Ambassador?"
"You because you are the only member of the Confederacy that I am aware of who has had face to face dealings with the Don. As to what is involved in becoming the Ambassador I will leave that to the doctors to explain in detail but in simple terms it means having your body flushed of nanites and remaining free of them whilst with the Cosca." The President grimaced, "Take it from me that that is not a pleasant experience, it is surprising how much pain the body is in that we do not feel because of their presence."
"You've done it?" asked Ray in surprise.
"Recently when I needed to meet the Ambassador," agreed the President.
Ray sat in silence and the President matched him.
After a couple of minutes Ray asked, "What would you want me to do?"
"What do you understand to be the contract between the Confederacy and the Human Race?" asked the President by way of an answer.
Ray shook his head. "I'm not sure what you mean?"
"Are we employed to rid the galaxy of the Sa'arm or is there some other interpretation?" pressed the President.
"That's one of the things the Don brought up when I was being held," said Ray, "and I've thought about it a lot since. I've not had access to a copy of any formal contract, if one even exists, but from what I have been able to ascertain we have been offered the opportunity to survive as a race. In return we are to protect the Confederacy from the depredations of the Sa'arm."
The President gave a short nod, "We are not to destroy the Sa'arm?" he asked.
"No," said Ray simply. "I know that many of us think that is the ultimate aim but as far as I'm aware there is nothing in existence between us and the Confederacy that would require that."
"How would you feel if I told you that the Confederacy has essentially banned us from carrying out the extermination of the Sa'arm?" asked the President.
Ray paused, his eyes searching the President's face before he sighed, "Sad," he said. "But not really surprised." He shrugged, "It's the sort of thing that I've grown used to following all the dealings I had with the Confederacy before I left the Navy. To tell you the truth, it hasn't improved much sine then either."
"Well, that is the position we find ourselves in," admitted the President, "And it is one that I find hard to reconcile with my duty to do what is good for the human race."
The President paused in thought then sighed before continuing, "Therefore I'm instigating moves to see that we work more closely with the Cosca and the Mohammedans to ensure that the depravations against the Confederacy are stopped in a manner that meets with their approval. At the same time I intend to see to it that the future of our race is assured," he glanced towards the ceiling, "away from the Confederacy if needs be."
Ray's eyes shot to the ceiling expecting some sort of retort from the AI. When none came he lowered his eyes to the President and cocked his head to one side.
The President snorted, "I know," he said. "It seems strange but the fact is that as long as we don't break the contract with the Confederacy, or work with others to work around the aims of the contract the AIs seem to be happy to let us carry on how we like."
"Then why expand the contact with the Cosca?" asked Ray.
"Because I believe such a contact would be the best for the human race, allowing it to develop away from the endless struggle we are going to face with the Sa'arm." The President held up his hand to silence Ray, "No, I don't want you to find a way to solve this problem, what I want you to do is work for the good of humanity, even if that means the majority of us leaving the Confederacy."
"The AIs would let that happen?" asked Ray.
The President shook his head, "As long as there are sufficient troops to hold the Sa'arm at bay we have fulfilled our contract with the Confederacy. They may not like our 'excess' population spreading throughout the galaxy but there is no agreement, verbal or otherwise to prevent that from happening and I for one will not be putting any impediments in the way of our survival," declared the President.
Ray sat back and contemplated the future the President had just alluded to.
"Why don't we just explore from within the Confederacy?" he asked eventually.
"Because we would be dependent on the AIs to run everything. The nanites that flood our bodies are under their total control; the ships we use only go where they let us, when they let us. As a race, that isn't acceptable and I'm sure that the gentlemen who accepted the deal originally wouldn't have done so if they'd been aware of all the implications involved."
The President stood, "Are you willing to be our Ambassador, Ray, or do I have to find someone else to look after the welfare of the human race?"
"It's a tall order, Mr. President, a very tall order but I'll give it a go," said Ray as he stood and held out his hand to seal the deal. The President smiled and reached for the hand, "Now I just have to find a way to pen up the Sa'arm and we can get on with living again."
Max slowly withdrew his shrinking prick from Flo's clutching chasm and rolled to the side. His concubine, Flo reached across the bed and took his hand in hers, "That was wonderful," she said softly. Her eyes were projecting her sincerity across the narrow gap between their sweaty bodies.
Max smiled back, "I just wish we could do it more often," he said, "but work is..." He ground to a halt and Flo rolled up onto her side facing him.
"Stressful," she said, then continued, "time consuming, difficult and thankless."
"It's not that bad," responded Max but fell silent when Flo's eyebrows shot up.
"Max, everyone else around here works something that would have been considered as normal office hours before we were extracted." She released his hand and placed a finger on his lips, "Shhh, you know that's true."
Max really couldn't argue with that but he knew where Flo was going and resigned himself to the inevitable.
"You on the other hand leave early and work late, you bring stuff home and spend hours locked up with the AI discussing who knows what." She paused to look around the large bedroom; "You don't even have the time to have another concubine."
Max was tempted to interrupt but Flo kept talking, "No, Max, I know you don't want one but you're actually entitled to four and people think it's strange that I'm alone here."
She snuggled up close to him, "Who'd have thought that you had a hankering for the little black girl who worked in the mail room."
Max snorted, "Yeah, right. You added an extra wiggle whenever you delivered my mail and waved your titties in my face every chance you got." He gave Flo a hug, "But how do you feel now, after putting up with me for all this time?"