Star Chamber: An online multiplayer 4X strategy game
2003


 

In 2003 Star Chamber, an online multiplayer 4X strategy game was introduced by by Nayantara Studios. It was free to download and ran on both the Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X platforms. Many gamers of that time felt Star Chamber was exceptional and "one of a kind". This site was devoted to the game.
Content is from its 2003 -2005 archived pages as well as other outside sources. Unfortunately only a very limited amount of the original content is found below.
Enjoy a nostalgic trip back to when Star Chamber was new and there was an enthusiatic community supporting it.


    

Star Chamber in CGW
In the May 2004 issue of Computer Gaming World you'll find a great review of Star Chamber. We're very pleased to report Star Chamber received 4.5 out of 5 stars and the Editor's Choice Award!  
8:58pm Eastern, Monday Mar 22, 2004

What They Are Saying about Star Chamber...

Warcry News Network has posted the first Star Chamber review, and we're pleased to say that it's very positive indeed!
GameSpot has given Star Chamber a score of 8.8 overall with a perfect 10 in Gameplay , calling it "one of the very best pure game designs of the year."

GameZone gave Star Chamber a 9.0 overall, with a 9.4 for gameplay , stating "this is not only one of the more creative titles that I've played in a while due to a slick combination of board game and card game styles mixed into one, it's also a heck of a lot of fun."

Ferrago 92% - Intelligent Gaming Opinion . "It's been a long time since this jaded gamer was so captivated by a game and ages since I have lain in bed thinking about strategies and ways to improve my game."

OzForces Nation's gives Star Chamber a Score of 8.1 out of 10, saying "Star Chamber simply oozes strategy. With 227 cards, nine races, five techs and 16 maps, there are so many different ways you can go about playing this game."


Star Chamber is an online multiplayer 4X strategy game. Unlike other 4X strategy games, Star Chamber games are quick to play and most are finished in half an hour.  Players play one of the many races that are part of the Galactic Republic. There are multiple ways to achieve victory… will you try to conquer your opponent’s home world? Are you more interested in establishing your race’s destiny across the galaxy for a cultural victory? Or perhaps you will delve into the secretive political machinations at the Star Chamber and try to ascend to the Galactic Presidency?

It's definitely not for everyone, but the community has only gotten better since the game was bought out by SOE. There's an actual team now supporting the game and the community is growing. Best of all you can try the game for free meaning there really is no more excuse.

An aside: I was a teenager when this game first appeared. It was the rage with my gamer friends. I was excited to see this archived version of Star Chamber back live on the web. A lot of advances have occurred in the intervening years since Star Chamber appeared. I still love the concept of 4X games with its concept of guiding a nation, space fleet, or strange fantasy species across generations through diplomacy, war, and technological progress has already proven to have endless appeal from board games to PC games. In my opinion the best 4X games are:

  • Galactic Civilizations III
  • Civilization VI
  • Europa Universalis IV
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri
  • Endless Legend
  • Stellaris
  • Age of Wonders III
  • Endless Space 2
  • Dominions 4: Thrones of Ascension

You might disagree. I know I have had heated discussions over which 4X games are the best. The other night I was playing Civ VI. I love how the creators of this iteration took the bold step of expanding cities across more tiles, introducing the districts mechanic, and re-stacking combat units to an extent. They sound like minor tweaks but they go a long way and, frankly, the foundations Civ V left behind were rock-solid in the first place. I think it is very close to being the�best Civilization game. Anyway my friends and I got rather carried away and spilled not only drinks but our energy snacks on my living room rug. We didn't immediately clean everything up and the consequence is a couple of nasty stains. I finally did a google search for local carpet cleaning professionals in NYC. The company I chose, My Home Carpet Cleaning NYC, was able to come right away to check out the rug. They assured me the carpet could be cleaned and the stains removed. They recommended I have them ScotchGuard the carpet after cleaning which would help protect it against any other spill disaster. Update: Just have to say My Home Carpet Cleaning NYC did a fantastic job, the carpet looks brand new again. The next time I host a gaming night, I need to rethink where to put the food and drinks or perhaps I should just roll up the carpet! PS: Star Chamber will always be my first "love".

 

The Story So Far... 
The Origins block (which consisted of Origns, Incursions and Rebellions sets) detailed the rise of the Star Chamber, the political hub of the Galactic Republic where all races meet to broker power and policy. The prime reason for the creation of the Republic was to protect the Gateways, the ancient hyperspace doorways that dot the Galaxy, but many have sought to use the Republic's resources for their own agenda.

When the Emperor, the eccentric but influential leader of Star Chamber politics, was replaced by an imposter, the seeds of war were sewn. The Ferrier, once a proud race that ruled a giant empire, used the incident to declare martial law. Their abuse of the Star Chamber was answered by a violent revolt led by Kuldarch Darkmane, a charismatic Clave who drew the support of many races to his side.

The Harbinger Saga opens with The Atok Incident, the event that takes the Republic from rebellion to war. As the Ferrier and Clave wage war in space and in the Star Chamber, the Android allies of the Clave discover something amazing: Minerva, an ancient world that archeologists believe is the homeworld of the Atok, the ancient race that built the Gateways! Soon, all eyes are on this valuable planet and war of ideology becomes a war for the ancient legacy of the Atok. The Ferrier and their allies (calling themselves the 'Coalition') tip the tide of battle and are poised to capture Minerva from the Rebels. Unable to lose such a valuable prize, the Androids resort to a plan of scorched earth... As the Coalition troops overwhelm the Rebels on the surface of Minerva, all eyes turn skyward to see a titanic Android ship in orbit: The Harbinger. In one moment, the legacy of the ancients and the hope for peace vanish into oblivion.

What is Star Chamber?

Posted at 11:00am Eastern, Monday Nov 10, 2003

 

Strife is ascendant in the Republic. The Emperor’s disappearance has sparked a clash between his followers and rival separatist forces, a clash that threatens to pull all the races into full-scale war. As battles rage across the galaxy, opportunistic senators and diplomats bid for power in the Star Chamber, the neutral headquarters of the Republic. In the midst of war, scholars unearth an ancient civilization. All eyes turn to this find, as each race believes this ancient legacy is their destiny.

 

In Star Chamber, you take the role of one of the major races of the Republic. You must balance the careful planning of a turn-based strategy game with the unexpected twists of a dynamic trading card game. Will you lead your nation to victory through military conquest, cultural achievement, or political domination? The future of the galaxy rests in your hands.

A demo is available for Star Chamber: The Harbinger Saga. The demo includes the full tutorial campaign, including a free-form scenario called The Jupiter Initiative in which the player takes command of Earth forces to repel an Android Invasion.

Introduction

Strife is ascendant in the Republic. The Emperor’s disappearance has sparked a clash between his followers and rival separatist forces, a clash that threatens to pull all the races into full-scale war. As battles rage across the galaxy, opportunistic senators and diplomats bid for power in the Star Chamber, the neutral headquarters of the Republic. In the midst of war, scholars unearth an ancient civilization. All eyes turn to this find, as each race believes this ancient legacy is their destiny.

In Star Chamber, you take the role of one of the major races of the Republic. You must balance the careful planning of a turn-based strategy game with the unexpected twists of a dynamic trading card game. Will you lead your nation to victory through military conquest, cultural achievement, or political domination? The future of the galaxy rests in your hands.

What is a Trading Card Game?
While most card games have just one deck that never changes, a trading card game (or TCG) works differently. In a TCG, you customize your playing deck using any of the hundreds of cards in the total set. A wide variety of cards lets you build a deck that reflects your playing style, as well as ensures that each game is different - because of this, it is possible for a TCG to have a strategic depth far greater than the usual computer strategy game.

You can buy cards in starter decks (containing a pre-built deck ready to play), or booster packs, containing 15 random cards. The "Trading" part of the name comes from the way that players often trade the cards that they buy with others, in order to get the particular cards that they want to build their deck, or just to complete a collection of all the cards.

 



The Harbinger Saga: Descent

Posted at 6:46pm Eastern, Friday May 19, 2006

Descent Into the Dark

The destruction of Minerva has had dire consequences for the sadistic Androids. The Kej and Humans have declared war. Not altogether unusual for the Humans, but the Kej have never done this before and are reprogramming themselves for war! This war will soon culminate in an explosive climax over the planet Earth, and a Harbinger is appearing over the horizon…

Meantime, Admiral Ismitta is heading toward the Clave world of Tharg to help Caleph. The Thrass, led by the Hive Queen, is there to oppose them, while at the Star Chamber, the Puppet Emperor scandal is discovered, which draws the Ixa and Zhikanii into the escalating conflict.

A Star Full of Flags

Descent expands on the concept of flags, which normally get placed when a planet is conquered and a conqueror is present. Not only are there a host of new conquerors that have great game text when a planet is conquered, there’s also multiple cardsthat trigger when a flag is placed.

What’s the difference? Glad you asked. There’s a new keyword in Descent, called Fortify ,which triggers when you ditch such cards to the Black Hole. Fortify says “Place your flag at a friendly minor planet with a local friendly conqueror and no flag.” So if you’ve already conquered a planet with influence, simply Fortify it with your conqueror later and you’ll get all the flag-related bonuses!

Dual to the Death

Several cards in Descent offer a new twist on activated abilities – they come with two different ones, with different tech requirements! Based on how you build your deck, you may be able to activate one or the other regularly, or even both!

Cross-Tech Activations

There's also a series of cards that cost one type of tech to deploy, but they have activated abilities from a different tech. This means that each one is easily and fully usable with one race, but with a single tech splash, three other races can gain full access!

War, What Is It Good For?

A lot, actually! War is a focus of Descent, as the fallout from the destruction of Minerva takes its toll on all races. Every entropy race now has the ability to declare war, and so do the unnervingly red Kej. Also, every race now has additional toolsduring wartime – so don’t be so quick to broker peace, when you just might be able to take advantage!

Bounce for a Living

Several Zaps in Descent would be great cards as one-time uses, but if a local flag is present, they return to your hand! This bounce effect can come in very handy as you get multiple uses out of a single card.

The Velazquez Ploy

New Council Promo

The Council Membership Promo is changing this month, to The Velazquez Ploy. We realize that some of you may not have had the opportunity to collect a full playset of our last promo, Oath of Allegiance, so beginning Saturday night, you’ll be able to go into your account preferences and choose which promo you’d like to receive. This can be done anytime before your membership renews for the month.

What Else is New?

The release events Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21 will feature three brand new maps – and prepare for some unusual features!

In addition to this, we’ll be releasing one new 3-player and one new 4-player map soon into the casual environment. Also, a new Descent campaign is on the way!

Descent releases Saturday, May 20. Cards are available in 15-card booster packs and in three different starter decks: Kej, Android and Human. Each starter contain 2 starter-exclusive cards and 3 random rares. Check out Descent, and see you in the game!

Star Chamber



Star Chamber: Rebellions

Star Chamber: Rebellions Story by Matt MacLean

Kuldarch DarkmanePrologue: A Single Act of Defiance

Kuldarch Darkmane shook the vial and held it up to the light.

The Caretaker rustled his upper fronds. “Trade items fulfill expectations?” rumbled the translator around his trunk.

Kuldarch examined the vial against the backdrop of the cargo hold’s single light fixture. “The plague medicine the Ferrier sent us was tainted with beryllium. Fortunately, you can spot the contamination by agitating the serum and looking for crystals.”

“One’s medicine knowledge acute relative to smuggler norm,” the translator said.

“I was a doctor before I fell into the career of violating trade laws. I can do more for my world importing your superior medicines than I ever could suturing cuts back on Tharg. Though I suppose if the Emperor hadn’t outlawed the trade of inter-species medicine, I’d be a legitimate businessman.”

“Anecdote merits moral approval.”

Kuldarch chuckled. The awkward phrasing of Omior translators always amused him. “Don’t get me wrong, there’s also more money in smuggling. I do this for myself first, for my kin second.”

The Caretaker extended its frond, “Suggest completion of deal.”

Kuldarch grabbed the frond in his muscular paw and shook it firmly. “Your payment is already on board your ship.”

'Emperor' KylethThe Puppet Emperor

“Seventeen.” A stack of books landed on Tralnaxran’s table with a thud, rousing the aged Archon’s attention.

“Seventeen?” he asked.

“Did I stutter?”

“But the Emperor hasn’t read a book since… I don’t think he’s read a book that isn’t available in audio format! And… wait a minute. He read those? But those are non-fiction!”

Admiral Logran looked the statesman in the eye. “Are you about ready to believe me? Everyone thinks he’s acting strangely – he’s making sense! He claims he misplaced his Prism, yet he’s not ordering every warm body in the Republic to look for it. One of his guards was murdered, the killer is unaccounted for, yet he has zero – I say zero – paranoia about the matter. What more evidence could you possibly need?!”

Tralnaxran unhinged his jaw and shrugged. “He’s… eccentric, what do you want me to do?”

Logran pounded his staff on the floor, startling the old Ferrier a few inches out of his chair. “What do you think, you fool? Get the Fell Drumonj to investigate!”

“Will the rest of the advisors support us if we do?”

Scratching his massive jaw, the Admiral sized up Tralnaxran. How did this old husk get put in charge of the Ferrier’s most powerful intelligence agency? Were he and the Emperor both growing soft amongst the aliens in the Star Chamber? “Of course you have our backing, if only because I doubt your ability to uncover who embezzled a cooking pan from the commissary without our aid.”

Tralnaxran looked down at his feet. “I think this is a bad idea… but I shall contact the Fell Drumonj. I will have my operatives report to you directly.”

“Like pulling fangs…” Logran stormed out of Tralnaxran’s quarters, his slamming staff and clinking medals echoing off into the hallways of the Star Chamber.

Tralnaxran turned on the ansible and poured himself a small cup of tea as the communication device linked itself with the nearby jumpgates.

“Yes?” a voice asked from the ansible.

“I wonder sometimes if the Emperor hadn’t learned what I’ve learned.”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“That a veneer of incompetence is a shield against all suspicion.”

“Perhaps. Did the Admiral meet with you?”

“Yes. And we are now officially investigating the Emperor… though I think I already know where this will lead. Dispatch only seven Inquisitors to the Star Chamber. Send the rest to as many different worlds as possible. We’ll play the part of the outraged victim here while they shut down communications between other worlds. If my suspicions are correct, we’ll have no more emperor, no more advisory council, and more scapegoats than all the wealth of Volcanis could purchase.”

“Shall I meet you at the Star Chamber?”

“No… I need you to keep track of a wild card. I’ll have a scout take you to Prosperos.”

Admiral IsmittaThe Capture of Android Lab Zeta 4

{{What did you find?}}

The Android’s legs had been reduced to mangled stalks of crackling wires and twisted steel; but free from pain, blood loss, and the other inconveniences of the fleshier races, she crawled toward the airlock.

Ismitta noticed the wayward prey, flipped the Android onto her back, and straddled the ruined body as she pulled a magnetic pulse grenade from her bandolier.

“The codes!” she hissed.

{{Report. What did you find?}} the Thrass voice repeated in her thoughts, calm, but insistent.

Ismitta flipped the arming switch before the Android finished muttering its obscenity.

“The codes!” she repeated, holding the grenade to the Android’s head.

There was silence, and then the pulse grenade went off, electrocuting the Android.

{{Report. What did you find?!}}

{{Defenses easily cowed.}} she thought in reply. {{Will need to resort to force to access inner laboratory. Research base completely under our control. No distress call detected.}}

The door to the room opened and another Android walked in. A Ferrier followed mutely behind, dressed in patchwork rags and battle armor, beam rifle ready. Thrass pincers dug into the Ferrier’s neck.

“Oh, hello!” the Android said with a smile. “Are you here to rescue me?”

Ismitta looked at the Android with her clouded white eyes. “You will tell me the codes or you will be destroyed!”

“Is that an exclusive disjunction, or do you mean that it’s possible if I tell you the codes I will also be destroyed?”

Ismitta pulled another pulse grenade from her collar as she approached the Android.

“Hold on, let me access the databanks. This data architecture is really most baffling and I… oh, here we are!”

The door to the inner lab slid open.

{{Search the lab.}} came the Thrass command. {{Continue on your mission to the Star Chamber. Take this one back to Thrankor.}}

Keep Your Friends Close

“Is- Ismitta?” the young Human saluted. He did so out of instinct, despite the former Admiral’s tattered uniform, despite the burnt-purple sheen of her skin, despite her empty white eyes, and the hissing and clicking of the Thrass burrowing deep into her neck and her mind.

“Don’t salute that… thing,” Hurvenna Thule snarled at her bodyguard. “What is it you want, thrall of the swarm? This had best be good, or I will tear you apart with my own claws.”

Ismitta placed a large case in front of the Clavian dignitary. “A gift. That is all.”

Hurvenna looked at her four bodyguards, and they back at her, with shrugs and frowns. “I assume there’s some sort of bug in that box that will eat my brain.”

“No,” Ismitta hissed. “As I said – it is a gift. It is a tool for you to use as you see fit. If you do not believe me, bring it down to the drydock and ask one of the engineers to irradiate it. Open it with your armed guards watching.”

Slow PoisonHurvenna motioned for one of her guards to grab the case and, without a goodbye or a nod, she and her entourage stormed out of the room.

“Have it irradiated, have it scanned. Report back to me what’s in there.”

Hurvenna returned to her chambers and settled back to sleep. Being called to a meeting during her nap was an added insult to the injury of having some fiendish bug waste her time. She knew the Thrass wouldn’t try anything with her four bodyguards present.

What she didn’t know is that such paranoia had been accounted for. While she was in the meeting, a small burrower had been slipped under her pillowcase. Had the Clave left her guards to watch over her room, perhaps she would have woken up the next morning. Instead, the small insect slipped into her ear and, as its host went to sleep for the last time, found a new home in Hurvenna’s brain.
 

* * * * * * * *


Xerxes HernandezProfessor Xerxes Hernandez collided with Ambassador Kyleth in the corridors of the Star Chamber. “Pardon me!” he muttered as he bent down to scoop up his papers, without looking at whom he had just hit.

“Professor Hernandez, I presume!”

“Huh, yeah, uh…” Xerxes paused when he noticed a smear of red on one of his papers. He looked up to see the Android Ambassador caked with blood.

“I appear to be in a bit of a situation and I could use your assistance,” the Android said.

Hernandez walked backwards into the corridor wall. “Look, is this about me calling Joquara a slaughter in my lecture last month? I wasn’t trying to slander you. It’s just that, let’s face it…”

“I’m not Kyleth, I’m Temporal Research Seeker 9F4A.”

“Huh?”

“I said: I’m not Kyleth, I’m Temporal…”

“Right, right, right… it’s just… well, why do you look like Ambassador Kyleth and why are you covered in blood?”

“Oh. Well, that’s not my blood.”

“I sort of guessed that.”

“I had to kill several Thrass who wouldn’t let me go. They wanted to take me to their homeworld against my will. Did you know Ambassador Kyleth has a lot of cleverly concealed gadgets in her? Want to see the spring-loaded reciprocating blade? Or how about the rocket launcher?”

“Um… no. So, uh… I’ve got a lecture I need to give and this is all very, very confusing, so…”

“Do you remember the time you started scratching notes on my chassis with a rock because your pen dried up in the desert on Delta Sagittarius 7?”

Hernandez was brought up short. “Now how would you know that unless…?”

“I need you to take me to Prosperos. I will arrange you access to the Catacombs in exchange for your help.”

Professor Hernandez dropped his papers and sprinted down the corridor toward his ship. “Let’s go!”

 

Good Conspiracies Don’t Die, They Just Move To Plan B

The Silicate raised his rifle level to the Emperor’s heart. “Demand: you will acquiesce to the will of the Star Chamber Security Force,” it boomed.

The Emperor stopped, his entourage coming to a halt behind him. He adjusted his neck and wrist ruffs. “What is the meaning of this? I demand to be allowed access to my shuttle!”

“Only the Emperor may use that shuttle,” a voice down the hall said.

The Emperor turned to see his chief advisor, Admiral Logran, and four armed Peacekeepers making their way toward him.

“Ultimatum,” the Silicate’s thundering voice declared, “Order your Watch to stand down or you will be fired upon.”


The Truthlight Inquisitors had arrived faster than Logran anticipated. Perhaps they weren’t as incompetent as their aging leader, he mused.

“Report!” he said, not turning his gaze from the medical reports.

“He is the Emperor,” declared the Inquisitor. “Biologically, at least. His mind, however, is a different story.”

“Is there a Thrass burrowed in him?”

“No, their presence is usually quite visible, and even an exacting scan showed no sign of any alien matter in his body, save his implanted communicator.”

Admiral Logran glared at the Inquisitor as he threw the report on his desk. “Instead of telling me what’s not wrong with him…”

“Well, Admiral, you see, we haven’t really any idea how—”

The room’s lighting went dim and the yellow alert lighting came up.

 

PKC StarfishOn the bridge of the PKC Starfish, events flew by swiftly, out of control.

“We just got an order from Central Command: we are to interdict the Emperor’s yacht. Place us right in front of the gate.”

“Aye, Captain, coming about.”

“Captain, we’ve got the yacht in our sights.”

“Fire one torpedo at the engine. Cripple the vessel, but do not destroy it.”

“Aye, sir – fox five, fox five – torpedo active.”

“Captain, scanners show the yacht has lost hull integrity on all decks. Explosion detected in the reactor room.”

“Ensign Orestis, report.”

“We hit them in the aft section. I don’t know why the reactor is failing but…”

“Captain, I’m detecting a massive explosion – the Emperor’s yacht has been vaporized!”

 

Tralnaxran watched the explosion from the observation room of the Star Chamber. He could hear the grating metal clunks of the yacht debris smashing into the Star Chamber, echoing through the station’s structure.

“What now?” asked his assistant.

“Hmph. That’s even better than I’d hope for,” Tralnaxran said with renewed youth in his dry voice. “Tell the Sergeant-at-Arms to call an emergency session. And nobody goes through the jumpgate until I say so.”

“Aye, sir.”

The Law of the Fell Drumonj

“I have once again looked over all the evidence,” Tralnaxran declared from the podium on the Senate floor. “Representatives Crios, Jelm, and Ionus were all visited by Senator Thule five days ago. They all share signs of irradiated thallium poisoning.”

“Accusations deemed baseless!” Senator Xylem squawked through his translator as his fronds shuttered in agitation, “Thule is sole Representative of Clave present! Asses you to be singling her out because—”

“The esteemed Senator of Rigel will remain silent unless spoken to first. The lockdown is no cause for a lack of decorum,” Speaker Tralnaxran yelled, his voice louder and more vibrant than it had been in 60 years. “I move we add Xylem’s name to line 4 of the Relocation Act.”

“Ratification: The Silica Senators unanimously vote in favor of this bill!” boomed a voice from the corner of the chamber.

“Aye,” Admiral Logran said as he rose to his feet. “Send Thule to Thergos and keep her under lock and key. The Ferrier are in agreement. Five votes in favor of the measure.”

“Proceedings outrageous!” Xylem declared through his translator. “Star Chamber for protection of rights, not exist for judicial proceedings of individuals!”

“Silence!” Tralnaxran demanded. “Wait your turn.”

“Kryndor votes in favor of this measure!” called out the Android ambassador.

“As representative of K’000’000, I also support this bill,” the Kej Senator declared as it hovered over its bench. “The Imperial crisis requires investigation, not chaos. Send those who will not adhere to law somewhere else until we have better ascertained the situation.”


Censure

“This is outrageous!” cried a voice from the back row. “If you let the Silica, the Kej, and the Ferrier speak out of order, you must allow Xylem to—” A large, heavily-muscled hand smothered Jal Nimon’s head and pulled the Zhikanii back into its chair. Only the Sergeant-at-Arms seemed to notice, a knowing nod her only response to the censure.

“The representatives of Thraknor and Tenchiton favor this measure,” said two Thrass representatives in unison.

“Are all the votes counted?” Tralnaxran asked from his central podium. A hush came over the Star Chamber. “Earth, Centauri, Sirius – what say you?” The three human ambassadors huddled together. “Do you have an answer for us?”

Ambassador Tierney stood up. “No. No. And no. You will not drag Terran Attaché McDougal to your prison colony without just cause and due process.”

“And what of you, Scuvall?”

The Ixa Ambassador floated in her tank. She looked at Speaker Tralnaxran with her six eyes for a hushed moment as all watched. From the back row, Jal Nimon’s tube-like body squirmed violently to break free, but to no avail.

“We abstain,” said the Ixa.

Tralnaxran opened his mouth to respond, but before he could, the Android dignitary stood up quickly and shouted, “Enough! Bring this vote to a close!”

His instincts told him to back down and close the vote before too much discussion began and votes changed. “Measure approved. Sergeant-At-Arms, round up the accused.”
 

“You must be joking!” Kuldarch said to the officers boarding his ship.

“No, not at all,” the lead Ferrier replied with a smug smile. “Imperial Tariff Law, paragraph C, item 3: medicinal compounds containing more than five parts per million sentient organic material may only be transported and purchased by Imperial or Peacekeeping medical staff.”

“You and I both know this is a crazy law! To put a government monopoly on saving lives—”

“It’s to avoid cross-contagion of harmful microorganisms that could—”

“This stuff contains trace amounts of Omior chlorophyll growth serum! It’s vegetable matter, not the plague!”

Two more armored marines walked in through the airlock.

Kuldarch shook his head. “I see how this works…”

ThergosThe next day, Kuldarch and his crew were behind bars on Thergos. It was a barren rock, far from its sun, a high-security prison for people too high profile to execute and too insane to rehabilitate. Hours after Kuldarch’s arrival, a Peacekeeper cruiser dropped off fifty high-ranking officials and their attachés and assistants to the penal colony.

All the while, Kuldarch wondered why his guard wasn’t wearing Peacekeeper fatigues or even an imperial uniform. He was wearing a robe – dressed like a priest. Kuldarch noticed that the metal bars of his cage were thick, and his claws would need some sharpening.

 

Gears of the Catacomb

As they entered the lower atmosphere of Prosperos, Hernandez smiled at the sight of the desert. The best three years of his life had been spent there, studying the Atok catacombs.

Historians had long debated exactly which world was the Atok homeworld. Of course, Xerxes thought with disdain, nobody took seriously his thesis that the Atok homeworld would likely have no ancient artifacts whatsoever. Humans, after all, spent their intellectual renaissance digging up their own ancient pots, pans, and arrowheads from Earth’s soil – and so had the Zhikanii and the Clave. Why then did the Ferrier scientists insist that, because of some old skeletons in a landfill on Tyrrhia, their world was the home of the Atok?

Oh, that’s right, because they think they’re the Atok and that they just happened to forget all their great technology.

“Professor? It’s advisable that you decelerate before landing.”

“Huh? Landing! Right.”

Hernandez lowered the ramp and shielded his eyes from the bright desert sky that flooded the dark interior of his ship. He could make out three shapes, and the buzzing hum of Kej wings.

“Thanks for waiting, Professor.”

Xerxes was still trying to adjust to his Kej acquaintance talking to him with Ambassador Kyleth’s voice. “Damn it, 9F, the 20 seconds you kept me waiting were some really valuable seconds.”

“Apologies, Professor, but in my present body I am unable to form a proper uplink with other Seekers, so chronic packet loss required that…”

“I was being sarcastic, 9F. What now?”

“Now I make good on my promise. I have instructed the Temporal Research Seeker unit to allow you a 3 month visa to the Catacombs.”

“Great!” Xerxes grabbed his sunglasses from his breast pocket and stepped down the ramp and onto the hot tarmac. “When do we get started?”

The Gears on ProsperosDay 1.

Not what I expected. 9F got promoted/upgraded (director of CRP!) and then made a deal with the Ixa and Ambassador Kyleth to study the Monolith. Ixa have tech to switch minds! Implications are frightening, confusing, and fascinating. It appears 9F was betrayed – so he learned nothing of the Monolith, allowed Seeker technology to be divulged without consent, and aided in the impersonation (?) of the Emperor! 9F is now going to be disassembled! Though he/it seems excited at the concept, since he wants the technology of his Android body to be studied.

Tried to send a message to the Star Chamber, but the ansible here is shut down. Must focus on studying the catacombs – 3 months isn’t enough. Conspiracy theories can wait!

Day 4.

Realized I completely forgot about that lecture at the SC. Kej are acting much differently than when I was last here. They have armed guards (odd) and each time the central cog in the gears shift I noticed they all pause for about 2 seconds before returning to exactly what they were doing (very odd). When I ask them about it, they claim to not understand.

9F is being disassembled. Findings: Android circuitry defies logic. Based on chaos (?) is how they described it. They’re apparently not optical, not electronic, but based on matter decay. NTS: Remember to ask Zhintel about this notion.

Day 14.
Ecstatic! Found a finger that had been trapped in a gear – likely belonged to a careless worker. Finger is very, VERY old. Will know more tomorrow after lab analysis.

Ansible still not working. Duplicating this record just in case something happens.

Confirmed my hypothesis – when the central cog shifts, my watch ends up 2 seconds faster than the timing chips of all Kej. ALL Kej. (?)


CC54

Day 15.
Almost nothing left in terms of viable organic material on the finger. Bone structure identical to Ferrier. Finger is aprrox. 30,000 years old! Definitely predates Ferrier civilization. Perhaps Atok-Ferrier theory is correct? Sad that my theory might not hold up, but happy to be investigating the true story.

Day 21.
Saw the first non-Kej on planet. Ferrier – wearing some kind of religious robes. Claimed he didn’t speak Terranii or Clavian! Yet he was very good at saying “I don’t speak Terranii” in Terranii. Ran quickly when I asked him about news from the Star Chamber.

Day 33.
Speechless – good thing I can type! CC54 broke into a new chamber and we found a pedestal with a black sphere on it! Pedestal is steel, black sphere is a uranium shell – inside unknown. Debating between cracking it open or trying to scan it intact.

More important: I touched the sphere and the room filled with a holographic map! Kej data confirmed that the map was of the sector. Unable to manipulate the map or do much else. Spent all day, but to no avail.

Map doesn’t activate when Kej touch sphere – only me. ?

Need to get more sleep – starting to daydream about cheese.

 

The Protester Invasion

“I thought I said nobody was to go through the gate.”

“Well, sir… thing is… they were already inbound and we couldn’t just close the jump gate.” Zhintel took a long drag off his cigar and blew it toward the comm screen.

Tralnaxran growled as he gave the Zhikanii Peacekeeper Minister a long, hard look through the screen. “Why did you let them in?”

Zhintel spat the cigar at the ansible. “What? No. Wrong. Did you see those signs – they’re protesting ME, calling MY fleet corrupt! They jumped here the moment the footage of the PKC Starfish incident showed up on their ansibles. They think WE purposefully destroyed the yacht as a cover-up! I can keep people from going in our jumpgate, but unless you want me to shut it down, there’s nothing I can do to keep them from coming out!”

“Zhintel, why are you lying to me?”

“Would you…? Son of a— I have seven degrees! I don’t need to be lectured by a dried up aristocrat. But I do need a drink! This conversation is over!” Zhintel threw his ashtray at the ansible, missing the ‘off’ switch. “Bah!” He slithered off his stool and promptly lobbed it at the ansible, again missing the off switch, but shattering the screen and finally ridding him of Tralnaxran’s face.

“Sir?” a voice chirped through Zhintel’s communicator.

“Let me guess…”

“There are lots of protestors here.”

“How many is ‘lots?’ And please don’t respond by saying ‘a bunch’ or ‘a ton’ because I promise I will kill you if that’s what you say.”

“Seven thousand… or thereabouts.”


The robotic shouts of several thousand Omior translators filled the Star Chamber with a racket that even the Silica found unbearable.

“Corruption! The Peacekeepers are corrupt! Ferrier tools!”

Tralnaxran ordered their detainment by force, but the numbers were too great, the Imperial Guard were too few, and the Arbiters had never dealt with such a commotion. Past problems involved clandestine assassination attempts and Senate floor brawls – seven thousand angry protestors were more than a match.

The drydock was stormed and docked Peacekeeping vessels were defaced. One protestor hotwired a mechanical lifting arm and smashed holes into the side of the PKC Starfish. When seven members of the crew heard the noise and wandered out of the ship to investigate, the protestors assaulted them. Tempers soared and claws were bared. In minutes, the protest turned into murder and the seven crew members were killed.

When the lights of Zhintel’s control center went dark, the slug slinked over to the glass case on the wall. He balled up his chubby fist and smashed the glass with ‘In Case Of Emergency’ written on it. He reached into the case, grabbed the cigar, and lit it up.

By the light of the cigar, he looked down at his communicator and fumbled through the directory. At last he found the high officer channel and pressed the big green button.

“You kids readin’ me?” he asked. A chorus of ‘ayes’ responded.

“Let’s make like an Omior and leave. Meet me at the loading dock.”

Tralnaxran slammed his fist against the clear alloy window of the observation deck as the jumpgate opened and fourteen ships jumped through. It was thirteen Peacekeeping cruisers and an unmistakable, flying-saucer-shaped craft – the personal warship of Peacekeeping Minister Zhintel Negghz.

“Shall we shut down the jumpgates?”

“No,” Tralnaxran sighed. “But we need to make them know that when we declare a lockdown, we mean it. Open airlock F.”

“But…?”

“Space a few hundred of the protesters. Then let them know that they have five minutes to return to their ships before we round them up and take them to Thergos.”

Tralnaxran looked at the seven Omior scouts hovering outside the Star Chamber.

“Tell the Omior captains that if they aren’t gone in a half-hour, we will tractor and destroy their ships.”

“Aye… sir.”


Traces of the Atok


Day 40.
Definitely confused by this map. Not sure why my presence turns it on (organic sensor?) yet I can’t control it. Voice command (?) – maybe I need to know its language. Kej confirmed that the 3 purple flashes on the map coincide with locations of black holes.

Day 41.
Realized something: installation is tens of thousands of years old yet map shows CURRENT location of stars and black holes – i.e. map is keeping accurate movements.

Question: is machine being fed information from outside or are the gears a sort of smart clock for stellar motion?

Saw the Ferrier in the robe again. I think he’s watching me.

Day 42.
What a day! Where to start? Cognates! That must be it! I sneezed in the chamber and the holographic map displayed a list of characters! Theory: my sneeze sounded like a word in the Atok language. Not THAT far fetched as the Ferrier, a candidate as a link, have a variety of guttural sounds in all of their languages. Okay, maybe it was just an accident.

All the Kej were able to read the language! Not surprisingly – Atok presumably built them. They said it was a list of names and dates – an access log! Tried to approximate what the dating system might be like. Speculate that room has been accessed almost once a decade for the last 20,000 years! (!!) That means it’s been accessed all this time – even though the room was behind a solid wall of volcanic rock!

Personal note: my accesses were logged as ‘Vreyacht’?? Theory: means ‘guest user’ but Kej translated that as a proper name with no known meaning. Is this a transliteration of my name? Fascinating.

The craziest implication is of course: THEY’RE STILL HERE! In some form or another…

Day 42.
Learned that the Kej are seeing things in the map that I can’t see – most likely due to my eyes not seeing in the proper spectrum. They’ve noted all along that tiny ‘red’ rectangles are being displayed in the map. They didn’t bring them up because I didn’t ask! Typical. There are about a hundred of them spread out across the quadrant. Most congregate near the black holes. The Kej say they’ve seen a few of them move very quickly across the map. Likely a hyperspace movement.

One of the ‘red’ blips vanished this afternoon. Not moved – just vanished! I wonder if it was destroyed? Could they be Atok ships??

Day 51.
Returning to the SC. The Ferrier shot me, but the laser burn struck my shoulder blade and cauterized. I escaped, but I slammed my head (!) on a low tunnel. Not sure if going back to SC is the right move – might be headed right into Ferrier hands, but Earth = too many jumps away = too risky.

If you’re reading this and I’m dead: From my findings on Prosperos, it seems possible that the Atok never truly died and may still be visiting the area. Further research of the Catacombs in an absolute must.
 

The Darkmane Rebellion

Through the prison bars, a muscular claw darted out and plunged into the Ferrier Inquisitor’s eye. More claws sunk into the Inquisitor’s neck and pulled it against the bars, smashing bone against the heavy steel. A dozen times the Ferrier slammed against the bars while the claws sank deeper.

Finally the body crumpled to the ground, lifeless.

Kuldarch grabbed the corpse’s wrist and pressed several buttons until the cell doors all swung open. He could hear murmurs of confusion and excitement throughout the hallway.

When the fighting died down seven hours later, Kuldarch found himself in charge of hundreds of ex-captives – all looking at him for what they should do next. Dozens of Star Chamber dignitaries met Kuldarch in the Thergos Shipyard. The emancipated shared news of the lockdown, the Fell Drumonj’s martial law, and the Imperial fiasco that started it all. Hurvenna Thule was found dead in her cell and Kuldarch examined her to find the telltale trail of a Thrass burrower. When Senator Xylem spoke of the poisonings, everyone had a hunch, but no one needed to say it.

“What next?” Jal Nimon asked. He looked at no one when he asked, but everyone knew it was Kuldarch who should answer.

General Nargha shook Kuldarch’s hand with a hearty growl.

“Tell me, Darkmane,” the one-eyed General said as he pulled Kuldarch away into a darkened corner of the makeshift command center. “Did you expect me to show?”

“Of course,” Kuldarch said with a smile. “I’m sure you feel as I do: it is a privilege to live in the dawn of strife, an honor to die at its twilight, and a dream to be remembered by those who live in a golden age purchased with your sacrifice.”

Nargha slapped Kuldarch on the shoulder “Hah! You speak like you were born to the warrior caste!”

“Strength is the birthright of our species, not a function of our caste.”

“Hmph,” Nargha grumbled before falling silent.

“Has Tharg agreed to help, or have you been sent to offer a heartfelt apology?” Kuldarch asked as he eyed the hustle and bustle of the rebel camp. He smiled to see the Omior protestors making conversation with battle-scarred Claves.

“Aye, Darkmane,” Nargha said with a slow nod. “We’ve been severed from the Star Chamber. Ansibles have been shut down all across the quadrant, and on our colony worlds these ‘Truthlight Inquisitors’ are spreading propaganda and fear. It appears we have to prove once again that the Clave are not to be ‘miscalculated.’”

“We’ll need more forces,” Kuldarch said. “I’ve made the call to all Clave to fight and the Omior Protestors have added their forces to ours. Who else will join us?”

Into the Fire

Peacekeeper Minister Zhintel poured himself a tall glass of Clavian Ale and lifted it in a toast to himself. He looked around at his new command center: a small bunker carved in a barren world long since forgotten by survey teams. He listlessly bumped the glass of ale into his vacuum helmet.

“Bah,” he muttered and turned on his communicator. “Captain Parker?”

“Yes, sir?”

“When are we going to get some atmosphere in here?”

“We’re working on it, sir.”

“Is the fleet in place?”

“Waiting in hyperspace, just as you instructed.”

An Imperial Battlecruiser, a mighty behemoth of Ferrier construction, lumbered in front of the Star Chamber landing dock. “No ship is allowed into or out of the Star Chamber,” the voice over the communicator repeated.

A wide beam of sickly green light washed over Hernandez’ ship. The inertial compass on the dashboard told Xerxes that his ship had come to a complete stop relative to the Star Chamber.

“No ship is allowed…”

Xerxes flipped off the communicator as he unstrapped himself from the pilot’s seat. Squeezing into the vacuum suit, he wondered if the piercing pain in his wounded shoulder meant he had just torn something important. Moments later, as he floated past the Battlecruiser, Xerxes realized that on any other day, his crippling fear of explosive decompression would have him testing the limits of the suit’s waste recycling systems.

When he passed through the atmosphere shield and landed with a graceless thud in the artificial gravity field, he swung open his helmet and offered the armed Imperial Guards a smile.

“What? You just said no ships, nothing about historians…”

Xerxes encountered Archon Tralnaxran outside the main doors of the Senator floor. His old body moving with remarkable speed, Tralnaxran wrapped his great hand around the professor’s neck and lifted him off the floor. With a growl and three smooth strides, the elder Ferrier slammed the human against the corridor wall.

Two officers in Peacekeeper uniforms turned the corner to see the professor pinned to the wall. One, a Silicate, aimed its rifle at Tralnaxran. “Imperative: You are not authorized to restrain a VIP; release the Human at once!”

Tralnaxran squeezed Hernandez’s throat as the Imperial Guards turned their attention to the two Peacekeepers.

The other Peacekeeper placed a hand on the massive stone shoulder of his partner and sighed. It lowered its aim with a deep rumble.

Tralnaxran threw the Professor to the ground. “Take him into the custody of the Fell Drumonj. Keep him in isolation,” he said, just before pushing open the doors of the Senate floor and disappearing into the clamor of voices.

* * * * * * * *

“Ansible on,” the old Archon muttered as he slammed his fist against the giant window of his quarters. “You let him leave the planet.”

“I’m sorry, sir. Humans are small and weak, but they compensate with their agility – must have been a prey species on their homeworld.”

“No excuses. He made his way to the Star Chamber. There was no way to dispose of him in secrecy. This will cost us. This will cost you.”

“I apologize for—”

“Ansible off.” Tralnaxran rested his body against the wall of his quarters, afraid to sit down lest his knees go on strike forever.

A booming noise from outside his quarters shocked the old Ferrier out of his respite. Four more booms followed a moment later and, as he grabbed his staff, the door to his chamber swung open. “Ansible on!” Tralnaxran shouted as two heavy-footed figures marched into the darkened room. A blast shattered the communicator’s screen just as it powered up.

The door closed. “Lights on,” Tralnaxran hissed. He looked up to see two Silica, bereft of uniform or identification. The larger one carried a massive rifle in its rocky arms and stood stone still, while the shorter, unarmed Silicate stood slightly crouched, mimicking Tralnaxran’s posture.

Tralnaxran tightened his grip on his staff. His right arm felt more alive than ever. He had come this far; nothing would slow him down, not even a rusty knee or two.

 

The Rebellion War

“General Nargha!” the Tactical Officer purred with excitement, “They are here!”

Nargha twitched into consciousness, having slipped into a nap in his Captain’s chair while the Clave and Omior forces waited at the rendezvous for the reinforcements. “Main screen turn on!” he muttered in a daze.

“Sir?”

“Uh,” he cleared his throat and straightened his uniform, “turn on the main screen. I want to see their fleet.”

The viewer came to life with the sight of Human and Android ships. The bitter enemies of only two years ago now sat within kilometers of each other without a single weapon powered up.

“Incoming message from the Sphinx.”

“General?” came the gravelly voice over the speaker.

“Kuldarch,” Nargha chuckled. “Before you begin, can I share an observation with you?”

“Of course.”

“Between you, the Professor, and a few delegates, I’m pleasantly humiliated.”

“I thought I was the one who offered sentiments, not you.”

“Aye. My men and I have fought many battles and sacrificed our lives in a hundred glorious blazes, yet all we’ve managed is fame amongst our kin and a bit celebrity status amongst some of the Human children. But you… you political prisoners… you have assembled a mighty fleet of many races. Again, I am pleasantly humiliated.”

“It is good to work with you too, General,” Kuldarch deflected. “It is a shame we must part ways now.”

“Aye…” the General sighed.

“I am honored you are willing to take the lesser of the two missions. My glory will be yours.”

“You and I both know it’s the right plan. Either you will succeed, or you will die and your martyrdom will ensure us the reinforcements we need. Besides, as long as I get myself killed before the end of the year, I’ll avoid beating the record for oldest living General since the Miscalculation. I’ll still die with dignity.”

“I’ve never commanded a space battle. You know that, right?”

“All the more reason you should be leading the assault on the Star Chamber. Let them lead themselves; let them believe this victory is theirs. The Sphinx and her crew are the best Tharg has to offer. Every single officer volunteered to be under your command in this battle – I didn’t need to issue a single order. You never second-guessed your leadership before, why start now?”

“A fine point.”

“Well, I suppose this is where we part ways. Goodbye, Darkmane.”

“Goodbye, General.”

As Kuldarch departed on the Sphinx, Nargha reflected on the many battles he had fought with the great ship. Only when she passed through the gateway did it fully strike him that he would never see her again.

Android Ambassador Kaylesh pressed the green button on her communicator and signaled the attack. She could see the Sphinx and its impressive entourage heading toward the Star Chamber. Missiles streaked forth from the Imperial Battlecruiser and its escorts.

“It is time. Take the Senate,” she said into her communicator.

“Break holding pattern! Jump you slackers, JUMP!” Zhintel yelled into his communicator. He turned toward the holographic tactical display and focused his gaze on one of the Android Cruisers. He let out a smug chortle as he sent the targeting data to his fleet.

“Fire while they’re still dizzy from the jump!”

Right behind the Rebel fleet, thirteen Peacekeeper Cruisers flew out of the jumpgate and into the fray. A storm of torpedoes lit up the void and sailed in unison into the Android Cruiser, blasting the mighty ship to pieces.

Continuing to drift toward the Star Chamber, the Android Cruisers rotated 180 degrees in perfect formation and brought their weapons to bear on the Peacekeepers. The Imperial Fleet, in defensive position in front of the Star Chamber, sent a hail of missiles toward the incoming Rebel forces.

Looking at his control screen, Kuldarch saw red blips behind him and red blips in front of him. “Claws out!” he hissed into his communicator.

Ambassador Kaylesh slammed her fist into the control panel on the Senate room doorway. The feedback shorted out her right arm, and when her internal diagnostic returned an unknown error, she filed a note to deal with it later and engaged the release catch on her shoulder.

Gripping her detached arm by the wrist, she spun to her left and swung it into Arbiter Grum’s green and purple face. The slug coll

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