14/04/2018

Thank you to Pax Humana and Daisy Duck 39 for beta-ing.

Thank you to everyone who reviewed, you are the greatest!

Part 4 Empire
Chapter 58: Milestones

-cfr-

46000 Years after Human Ascension, 945 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Planet: Atto, Prime Minister's Office

"There's another problem?" Prime Minister Er'von's voice was resigned.

"Yes Sir," Admiral Ozmer was solemn.

"How many did we lose?"

"This time, thankfully no one, Sir."

Er'von breathed out, her frills showing relief and she nodded to express that emotion. "I do not understand. The prototypes showed no faults, yet the production line seems determined to fail." She growled, flicking through the statistics on her data pad.

Admiral Ozmer nodded his understanding. "I assure you, Sir, I have had my men go through the operational manual and practices and there is no fault there."

"I gathered there is nothing this time, either?"

"Preliminary reports indicate that you are correct. We've been routing security footage and the Black Box to the external servers so that we can do real time analysis," the Admiral explained.

"And there is nothing detected?" Prime Minister Er'von demanded.

"There were no operational errors, not this time, nor the last three times. There might have been the time before but as you know-"

"-the data files were corrupted," Er'von finished for Ozmer, her frills showing her frustration. "If there are no operational faults, have we checked the manufacturing?"

"Yes, Sir," Ozmer replied. "For every manufactured component, we've gone over the supply lines back to the mined ore in some cases. There have been no substitutions or compromised components. Not after the Guisarm," the Admiral added softly.

Prime Minister Er'von winced. The Guisarm was the worst military disaster in the history of the Attori. The ship had launched, its maiden flight was beautiful with no hitches. As a joint project between government and industry, it had been the hope of all that the ships to follow would allow the Attori to take up their full border patrols again. They were still reliant on the Phoenix Empire's forces but Prime Minister Er'von was determined to reduce Attori dependence on them. The Phoenix Empire could patrol the trade lanes since it was their shipments of eezo and metal they were protecting.

Yet the Guisarm-class ships, essentially heavy cruisers that were still light and nimble enough to take on the pirate ships, had problem after problem. Nothing as devastating as the first loss but continuing niggling issues that affected performance and their ability to actually use the ship in the field.

Prime Minister pushed the sorrow from her frills. "You've checked the wiring, I take it?"

Admiral Ozmer nodded solemnly. In the wake of the disaster, all the ships had been pulled apart and checked for issues but they were now sure that the original disaster had been caused by a deliberately planted explosive. It didn't help the families of those who had been killed because they still had no idea who had planted it as no one had claimed responsibility but from a design perspective, a bomb was a better than their creation being faulty. Of course, with the list of faults and incidents that had followed, the design and construction was being held as liable as the perpetrator.

"We've had all the technical wiring drawings confirmed as being correct and we've had images taken of the wiring on each ship checked."

Admiral Ozmer didn't need to tell Prime Minister Er'von that the expense of doing so was astronomical. Especially when they had found nothing. It would have been cheaper to develop a new ship from scratch but it had become a crusade. No one wanted to admit that this ship had failed, not when the prototype still operated flawlessly. They just couldn't pinpoint the difference between the prototype and the production builds.

But Prime Minister Er'von was running out of time. With a year and a half on her term remaining and the Guisarm class still not working as promised, her chances of reelection, after breaking what had been the primary promise of her running platform, were almost non-existent.

Admiral Ozmer was brutal enough to admit that a war might help but no one would endorse that, not while the Human patrols continued. No one really liked them but they liked the security.

Prime Minister Er'von glared at him, her frills flashing with anger. "Find whatever is wrong with those Atto-forsaken ships and get them working! I don't care what you have to do but get them on patrol!" she growled fiercely. "Because I will tell you one thing, Admiral Ozmer, I will not be going down for this alone. You will be coming with me. Is that clear?"

Ozmer nodded. There was no point in reminding her that she did not have the authority to force him to resign. With the failure of the Guisarm ships, they were both running out of time. She wouldn't need to force him, he would be expected to resign over their failure.

Prime Minister Er'von seemed to deflate after his acknowledgement. "Get them working," she said tiredly. "Just get them working," she repeated before the comm dropped.

Admiral Ozmer nodded as if agreeing before he looked around his office. His PA was by the door, sporting a sympathetic expression and holding a new stack of datapads for him to sign. "Just leave them there," he said, pointing to one corner of his desk. "I'll look at them later. For now, I've got some calls to make, so scoot and security one protocols on my office for the next hour!"

The PA's frills indicated surprise. He was still new but he obeyed, leaving the data pads stacked neatly where indicated. Admiral Ozmer waited while the security protocols settled into place before he even reached for the comm. It cycled slowly, setting up the security but he didn't mind. The extra protocols gave him time to calm his mind. It was an honour to speak to this being and he'd wait through far longer to ensure absolute security. They had to be protected, not that they were some delicate flower. If discovered, they would emerge victorious but that went against the plan. And he would not go against instructions.

"Admiral Ozmer," the voice greeted him. It was feminine but it was female in such a way as the Goddess Atto was over the flesh. It was indescribable and he quivered just hearing his name. "Report." There was never a wasted word but the choral tones were never rude, merely concise and it was for his protection as well. If he was caught, he could not do his job and that would displease her. She was so considerate and he loved her all the more for it.

"The Guisarm class cruisers continue to fail, though we have had to become more creative with our sabotage," he said quickly.

"The original coding has not yet been checked?"

"No and I am assured a falsified copy will be ready next week," he said.

Prime Minister Er'von was determined these ships would work and if they had to check everything down to the coding, they would. Every line of code, just the same way as they'd checked the materials right back to the mining facilities. It had been slightly challenging to ensure that the original failures seemed to be through the use of substandard materials but the time wasted checking on that had given him the time to have false drawings and now, coding made.

"Good," the voice said and Admiral Ozmer did shiver in delight. It wasn't often that he was praised but it was worth it every time. "Continue as you have been and do not be concerned if you are retired. You will have done well."

Ozmer nodded. Retirement or even execution over this didn't bother him. If it protected his mistress, then that was a small price to pay because she was the most important thing. Her desires were absolute.

"In the next day or so, recommend Vice Admiral Bs'ant for promotion."

"But…" Admiral Ozmer said, not understanding. Vice Admiral Bs'ant was a fine upstanding officer, one who might even take the position of Fleet Admiral one day but Vice Admiral Bs'ant was not one of those who knew.

Admiral Ozmer could still remember being a young Lieutenant, accompanying an up and coming Captain on a tour of Human space and facilities. The Human military machine was a marvel and their dreadnoughts were excellent. They were still far ahead of the Attori abilities, to say nothing about the speed with which the Humans could build them but the Humans had told them that the shields on their mausoleum ships were the best. Not quantum shielding but the next thing to it.

Of course, military tour of the Phoenix Empire or not, it would have been criminal to say no when the Humans offered them a tour. It had been a little disconcerting to think that they were walking through a grave but Grand Admiral Williams herself had conducted the tour, pointing out features they would have otherwise missed. She'd taken them in to see the huge eezo core which powered the shields and the servers containing the immortalised minds. And she'd jokingly explained the reason for the superior shields and huge power source. No one wanted to be immortal if you then died because of a power blip or an asteroid strike.

His then-Lieutenant self had gone away from Human space with a much better understanding of the Attori's neighbours. It wasn't until a couple of months had gone by and he'd been promoted to Lieutenant Commander that he realised the military had opened up as well. Several of the higher ranking officers seemed much more approachable and it wasn't until a couple of years, and several promotions later that he realised that they too just understood the Humans in the same way he did. They formed a group, nothing inappropriate but a group within the Attori military who could rely on each other because they shared the same goals. It was an unspoken rule that if you had two equal officers and one shared your understanding, then they were promoted.

Vice Admiral Bs'ant was not part of that group and Vice Admiral Utara was.

"Despite efforts, it is likely you will be forced to retire when Prime Minister Er'von is thrown out of office." The explanation washed over him. There was no accusation in her soothing godly voice. "At that point, your position will need to be filled and your recommendation of Vice Admiral Bs'ant, while an honour now, will work against him. Given Vice Admiral Utara's specialities, it is likely he will be appointed to replace you in Research and Development."

"I understand," Admiral Ozmer said sincerely because it was so beautifully simple. He should have already known. And if Vice Admiral Utara was not chosen, then it was likely Admiral Dr'kye would be, and she understood. "I will write the recommendation letter tomorrow," he promised.

"Very good." Ozmer quivered. "You have done well," she continued and Admiral Ozmer actually gasped as endorphins rushed through him. "Call again with another report in a week."

His heart was hammering and Admiral Ozmer knew his frills would be glowing. He raised one hand, noting with some amusement that it trembled with the rush of feeling suffusing his body. "Yes," he whispered his obedience, almost whimpering. It felt so good. "Yes, Admiral Williams, it will be done," he finished and without another word the comm was cut leaving Admiral Ozmer gasping in his chair.

He was not worthy of his Human gods but he would please them. The gods of Atto meant nothing. The people of Atto meant nothing. Only pleasing the Humans did, for they were an existence above them all and he knew his mistress was pleased or she would not have said it.

Ozmer closed his eyes, taking several deep, steadying breaths. The glow was slowly fading from his system but it was just as well that he'd ordered his office into secure mode for an hour. Only someone who understood would know what he was going through. Anyone else would think it treason but it wasn't. He only wanted the best for Atto and that meant following the Humans.

Most of those on Atto today would never understand the glory he did, but perhaps some day, if he worked hard enough, they would come to understand the blessing the Humans could give.

In time.

-cfr-

46055 Years after Human Ascension, 1000 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Planet: Home

"Are you sure this works?" Williams asked.

"Well, it won't hurt," he replied. "At the moment, it's only a theory but this was as good an opportunity as any to test it."

Williams snorted. "So that's why he wanted that Iurfora."

"And I gave him an extra supply of Xtazy."

"He would have been off his face!" Williams exclaimed.

Lawson grinned and handed over a data pad. There was a list of numbers on one side accompanied by a vid, which was blatantly pornographic, except it was focused on the man, Harper, who was sprawled in a large chair, cheap cigarette in mouth. The movement of a dark haired woman kneeling before him left little to the imagination. Williams ignored it for the numbers. "Whoa!" she said.

"Thirty two hours before his heart gave out," Lawson said. "He was in an extremely good mood when he died," Henry laughed.

"I can see that. So you think that will translate over?" Williams asked.

"The evidence seems to suggest it but this will be the real test."

Williams thought back. It was quite true. Every time Harper had been assassinated he'd always been in a foul mood when he returned to his organic body. She'd always put it down to Harper's charming nature and the fact that he'd been assassinated because that would put anyone in a bad mood. It had been especially true after the Ganges Ballet incident. The purge he'd initiated then had been legendary and while she'd been miffed that he'd pulled in Kai, she could see the logic now.

By contrast, his rebirth last century had been quite easy. The transition had been smooth, almost seamless, as if Harper had just taken a two week holiday, which was exactly how it was meant to be. Maybe he'd been a bit more generous with the favours he'd handed out on the first day but, then as now, she was kept well away from that ceremony.

Really, you ask for permission to name one class of dreadnought after Shepard and it was like you killed Harper. Actually, Harper would probably have preferred if she'd done that. He absolutely hated mentioning Shepard, even if he had told the galaxy about the man, in a way. He'd accused her of betraying him, of deceiving him, of a whole host of things she hadn't done just because she'd used this day, his first day back after scheduled reincarnation, when he went amongst the people giving favours, to get her way with naming the dreadnought class three hundred years ago.

Anyone would think it had been criminal! Especially with the way his bodyguards were keeping their eyes on her. She was allowed to stand and watch but if she tried to take one step forward, then it wouldn't matter that she was the Grand Admiral, they would drag her away. Harper was very firm on that order. Williams smirked at them. She wouldn't make it easy if it came to that and it was fun to tease Harper's bodyguards, they were so tense.

Of course, this was a stressful day for them. Not only was Harper reborn into a new organic body, which meant they had to take care of its needs, but he was also walking through a plaza full of people, anyone of whom could assassinate the Emperor. If that happened, Lawson did have at least one other body ready so Harper would be back at work tomorrow as scheduled but it would not be a good start to the century and it would have a severe impact on their life spans.

But this was a relatively low risk operation because today, the first day of Harper's rebirth was the day when you could ask for anything from the Emperor and he would do his best to see it happen. No questions asked, no payment needed and no judgements made. Except apparently if your name was Ashley Williams, though there was a thought…

Maybe next time she would put someone into the crowd who'd ask for Harper to acknowledge her as Alenko. He could restrict her movements today to make sure she didn't go near him but he couldn't stop the entire military force and she therefore had literally billions of Humans she could order to do the task. She could even order them to ask Harper to stop giving her grief over his cigarettes.

The possibilities were endless and Williams felt her smirk stretch into a true grin, much to the consternation of Harper's bodyguards. She could truly have some fun but not now.

"So you've got some plants?" she asked Lawson.

"A couple," the scientist replied. "But the usual requests should give a good indication. Generally he just fulfils them but if it worked, he should be more generous," he explained.

Williams nodded.

Usually a fair number of people asked for early immortalisation without having to fulfil the Empire mandated requirements. Some asked for money or other physical thing which was simple enough to grant. A couple of Kai's underworld thugs had asked to go back on the allowed to be immortalised lists but generally the requests were trivial.

Occasionally, someone asked for something tricky but this was usually a routine day.

There were a couple of rules about the requests, of course. You could not ask for anything that compromised the Empire's security and nothing that threatened the Project was allowed. Those who asked to know the true reason for the Project were Ascended because even if several, rather stupid Ascended didn't believe Shepard existed they did know the truth. Those who asked for a 'true' version of history were given similar treatment though Williams believed the one person who had asked to know why the Empire's military might had not been used to control or otherwise subdue the Attori or the Fedochi had been given a private interview with Harper where he had, quite frankly, explained his plans, right before he had them Ascended.

Within the provisos you could ask for anything.

"Is there anything on after this?"

Lawson thought about it for a few moments. "Just the usual," he replied.

"So dinner, drinks, sex and back to the office tomorrow?"

"That sounds about right. Do you have anything which will take him out of his current blissful state?" Lawson asked.

It was Williams' turn to think for a while, sniffing slightly. "I don't think so," she said finally. "There was that one pirate attack on Ayaanle but we stopped that before it reached the ground," she said.

"Still no evidence?" Lawson asked.

"No. They are good, I'll give them that," Williams admitted. "Ilkin is being careful. Whoever's doing it, we should put them on the payroll," she muttered, watching as Harper moved through the crowds.

Four bodyguards and two personal assistants trailed him. The bodyguards to ensure his safety and the personal assistants to record the 'favours' he was handing out.

"I thought you didn't like it?" Lawson sounded surprised.

"I recognise good work when I see it," Williams shrugged.

"I'm actually surprised they've kept it up this long," Lawson observed.

"They haven't really. Cerberus hacked one of the ships I gave to Instinct and Legacy and there are files there but we'd need something better than that if we want to maintain our reputation."

Lawson laughed but it was a sarcastic noise. "You're kidding me? Jack is actually caring about reputation?" He sounded flabbergasted.

"Apparently," Williams said flatly, her voice saying she agreed with Lawson. She knew the plan for the Attori and she couldn't deny it was working but really, holding off from a war they could win and one she was reasonably sure could be justified to Shepard's orders was not like Harper.

"Maybe he's concerned about the Ascended?" Lawson mused.

"That's possible," Williams replied slowly.

"You haven't dealt with it?" Lawson asked.

Williams spend the most time in Cerberus to the point where he remembered a very funny conversation between Harper and Legacy where the youngest Milky Way Ascended refused to acknowledge Harper as the Prime. According to Legacy Harper was the Emperor, not the Prime. Harper had immediately asked who the Prime was and had been less than impressed to find out that it was Williams.

"I've been trying," Grand Admiral Williams said, sounding disgusted. "But it's an uphill battle against everything they've learned in their organic lives."

"So they don't believe in Shepard?" Lawson questioned.

"They believe, mostly, that someone named Shepard existed," Williams explained. "They just don't believe that he is the source of our orders. At least that's what the more reasonable ones believe," she spat.

"And the unreasonable ones?"

"Believe that Shepard is a complete fabrication made to keep them in line," she said. "Thankfully there are only two or three who are that bad. And all of them, regardless of belief will defend the Empire."

"That's something at least," Lawson said but Williams could tell he, like her, really didn't know what to do about the other Ascended.

They could tell them Shepard existed, they could tell them again and again and again but without them actually knowing Shepard or having spoken to him, then they could not make them believe.

"If they don't believe in Shepard, then what do they believe? How do they explain what we are doing?"

Williams snorted. "They don't. Or they believe Cerberus ran from a war but since we are Ascended, we have to keep with that programming. Hence the immortalisation of Humanity."

"Ah, I see," Lawson nodded. "So when we have enough Ascended we will sweep through the LMC, completing the cycle."

Williams returned his nod. "Something like that."

"It's sort of true," Lawson admitted.

The culmination of their plans would see them take over the galaxy. It's just that they weren't in a rush. The Project came first and they would not be like the Systems Alliance. Humanity would be well protected on every world they claimed as their own. "I suppose all I can say is keep working on it."

"I know," Williams replied. "I believe Legacy said it best," she continued.

"Oh?"

Williams closed the window on his data pad and tapped through a series of passwords to a secure server before she brought up a sound file and handed the datapad back to Lawson. He pressed play without hesitation.

'It's sad that Cerberus didn't teach them to know better. But Daddy will. Daddy knows best.'

'And then they will wish they had listened to Cerberus.'

Lawson laughed when Legacy stopped speaking. "They will indeed," he said.

"I know. All I have to do now is keep them contained."

"We'll work something out," Lawson agreed with her.

"The original truth of ascension applies," Williams said.

"Ascended serve the cycle?"

"Well, that too. No, I meant Ascended don't lie to Ascended," Williams said. "Despite what they may think Cerberus has not lied and neither have they. Saying what you believe is not a lie, and most of the 720 strong fleet is with us. Or at least, they won't stand against the Project," she concluded.

Lawson sighed. "I'll see what I can do to alter our story," he said.

The problems with the Ascended essentially came from that and perhaps it would have been better if they had told society the truth from the beginning. It was too late to make a wholesale change now but they could alter things over generations and it wasn't like they were completely concealing Shepard's existence. They'd just downgraded it a bit.

"If we take it slow, it might help, eventually."

"Maybe," Williams didn't sound convinced. "There is an easy solution," she continued. "All we need to do is have him speak to them when he next calls," she said with a grin.

Lawson chuckled. That was true and there wasn't much else he could say to that. "Anything else to report?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject.

"No, it was a fairly standard two weeks, despite it being 1000 years. I had fun at a couple of parties and I've scheduled leave for all military forces," she shrugged. "What about yourself? Do you have anything that will break him out of that phase?"

Lawson snorted. "If this experiment works, I think that will be enough," he said with a grin.

Williams laughed as well.

Harper would absolutely hate the fact he could be manipulated so easily. Drugs, sex and a reincarnation were relatively easy for someone who lived as long as they did.

"So how is the experiment coming?"

"Let's see," Lawson said, lifting the data pad, his thumbs stretched over its surface to bring up information. "Oh yeah," he chuckled, reading the numbers.

Harper was always monitored, waking or sleeping. The data was one of the tools he used to make his lists of top programs each century without actually guessing. He just looked for the programs that gave him the highest positive mental stimulation.

There had been some quite surprising results but the scans did not lie and while Harper did have the right to reorder the lists, he generally didn't. Well… except for the time Boobalicious Volumes 3 and 1 came out on the lists in positions 1 and 4 respectively. They had been very well made and privately the Emperor's Office had made sure the studio and actresses and actors were very well compensated.

They got immediate immortalisation rights but Lawson knew a few of the women had accepted scholarships and had passed with very high grades. With the risk of sexually transmitted diseases being nonexistent and the Empire sponsoring their industry, they would have eventually gone to university, the Emperor's favour just hastened the process.

Harper usually issued a second list, one to originals only, of those programs he considered the worst of the century. It wasn't a definitive list since Harper didn't watch everything. With ninety six colony worlds he couldn't but it was a distinction to be on that list, even if it didn't get the same recognition as the other.

"It's going well," he told Williams.

"So he's in a good mood?"

"He appears to be." Lawson replied. "He's just granted the full ascension package to a forty year old bum who hasn't done diddly squat with their life."

"Now, don't that suggest all sorts of possibilities?" Williams asked with her eyes half-closed.

Lawson grinned at her, his eyes shining with conspiratorial understanding.

"Don't it just."

-cfr-

46084 Years after Human Ascension, 1029 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

LMC Galaxy, Planet: Athenae, Phoenix Empire

Harper looked down at the planet. It was blue and white and had been chosen for its resemblance to Earth. Superficially that is. If it had truly been that close to Earth it would have been their new homeworld.

It had taken a lot of work to get the planet to this stage but it was worth it. He was looking down on what would become the Phoenix Empire's 100th colony world.

There had been quite some argument about what to name it, including some garbled names in that degenerate language that persisted in his Empire despite his efforts to wipe it out. He had managed to ensure that it would be named properly, in True English but even so, choosing a name had been difficult. He didn't really care what it was called. Since he planned for the Empire to be larger, much larger, the significance of a single colony planet was negligible. Even so, Harper knew how important these things were to the masses.

Auroral, Cockayne, Eternus, Icarus had all been frontrunner names. He quite liked Auroral since there was more than enough mentions of eternity and burning in the Empire. Fulgent, while similar had been rejected. He didn't like the word. It was irrational but sometimes he didn't have to be rational. Williams had wanted Shepard but that had been rejected. Or rather, he'd told her he'd think about it if, and only if she agreed to let him smoke in private. Naturally she'd said no, so naturally he had as well. Such a pity that.

Instead the Planet had been named Athenae, after the ancient Greek city of Athens. Hopefully it would have as an illustrious history as its namesake. Williams had just snorted when she'd heard it but she had conceded that at least he had named it after a woman.

There were colony ships surrounding his military reinforced contingent and they would begin to land shortly, just as soon as all the cam links came online.

This was an important day for the Empire and all would be watching. He had mandated a special, Empire wide holiday for this. After all, 100 colonies only happened once and Harper was already thinking about what 1000 Ascended would mean.

If things continued on schedule that would also happen this century. Of course, that would be a more private celebration. Most citizens didn't realise there were that many since most were in hiding, creating eezo or doing what Williams termed Shadow Patrols. But he knew, and it was a good beginning.

1000 Ascended wasn't enough to take on Harbinger's fleet but it was a start and the number would only continue to grow. Of course, taking on Harbinger with any number was a risk.

Harper knew the eldest Ascended could give them absolute orders. To all of them. He just wasn't sure how fast Harbinger could do it. Theoretically, it should be instantaneous, or so close to it that it wouldn't make a difference, but since Harbinger didn't know any of the LMC Ascended, there might be a slight lag. Even a second was a lot of time in combat.

That possibility led to another question, though question might be too strong a term. Harper had scanned his memories. Harbinger had not spoken to any other Human Ascended other than Shepard, which might mean that all orders to Humans were meant to be routed through the First Human Ascended. That would create further lag. Or it might not, but it was something to consider.

Harper didn't want to confront the old Ascended fleet and he certainly didn't want to fight them, but regardless of the outcome of the Project, some level of confrontation was assured. He sincerely doubted that Harbinger would just accept the destruction of Tartarus without a word but hopefully Harbinger would be reasonable. It wasn't like the Humans were betraying the cycle.

He shook his head. That was a thought for later and maybe their sheer numbers would win. Once they reached 1000 Ascended, it would only take another 29 years to reach 1100, 27 years to reach 1200 and so on. It was a good thing the populace had no problems accepting the taxes required to make their immortal forms because even if they didn't know about all the Ascended, they knew about the costs involved in immortalisation. Harper had just inferred the process of actually converting their organic bodies was expensive, when truly it was the building of their immortal forms that required the most resources.

It was one of the reasons he had so little trouble with his inheritance laws, whereby the Empire inherited the bulk of every estate. He made it clear that that part of the income went directly into the cost of immortalisation, not just for the individual, but for their family and others. It was a citizen's duty to help provide for the immortalisation of all citizens. At least, that's what the social belief was.

It was another distraction and Harper looked over to a control board to see that the last comm line was blinking green. It meant that all were connected and he smiled.

It was time to get this show on the road!

-cfr-

46106 Years after Human Ascension, 1051 Years after the Rebirth of Humanity in the LMC

Milky Way Galaxy, Dark Space, Ascended Hibernation Area

Harbinger examined the data sets, checking the recorded bloodlines of each individual. Without testing, organics could never be one hundred percent sure about their lineage but he did not allow any confusion in his experiments. Number 28751 bred with 34928 and did so every time he ordered it because they were both loyal to him and wanted nothing more than to please him. But he was aware that organics, even those loyal to the cycle, still possessed emotions and emotions led to desire that went against his plan. There were solutions to that. 28751 might wish to breed with 33285 but that was an impossibility. 33285 was generally executed and the fertilisation process ensured the bloodlines were what was recorded.

Really, all sapience seemed to do was make organic species weak and more tolerant of physical and sometimes mental imperfections.

Everything was as he had ordered and so he switched to the test data. He had gone for a bigendered species this time. It gave him more variables when combining the bloodlines but it led to a more stable slave. The prothean clone stock, while physically strong, had some weaknesses which were beginning to crop up too often. They would have to be terminated soon anyway and once he concluded with his data review, thus confirming that the new slaves were operational, the remaining prothean stock would die.

Perhaps he could make it a final test for the Cypiene slaves, to hunt down and kill those who had overseen their creation? Yes, he liked that idea. Those who survived would prove themselves worthy. It would be a final culling.

Harbinger watched the biotic testing. That had been relatively simple and even though they were in the galactic core there was a plethora of material for them to practice on.

Flight testing had been more difficult. The initial proof of concept tests had been easy. Those with wings large enough and musculature strong enough had been able to lift themselves aloft. They had been the alpha pack but he had allowed one other group to survive past that stage. Those individuals with wings large enough and strong enough to at least glide, even if they used biotic power to assist them. The rest didn't survive the tests and Harbinger supposed it was possibly one of the better tests. There were no faked results.

After that, the bloodlines had been allowed to breed again so that all the individuals were strong enough to fly independent of their biotics. But it hadn't quite been enough. Flight testing on what would become their homebase in the galactic core was too static. It lacked the realism of an actual planet with winds and other hazards and so Harbinger had ordered the new slaves to test their wings on several habitable worlds in all conditions.

Those who had not been able to fly through storms or into headwinds had died. The fastest deaths were those who died in their crashes. Others lingered with broken bones on the ground until their injuries, local predators or exposure killed them. They were failures so he had no need for them.

It left him now with a stock of slaves, skewed slightly towards the female gender, who were all capable of self flight with their wings alone. All of them could use their biotics in flight giving them the ability to attack.

Harbinger was pleased enough to admit that they were going to be formidable and he would be encouraging their bloodlines to remain viable for the next three to four cycles.

Most sapient species would see some evolution in that length of time, usually self driven but he could hold the slaves to perfection. They did not need to gain independence of thought, or anything similar. All they needed to do was remain unchanged.

"Matriarch," he spoke, reaching directly into the mind of the head female. He had no preference for gender so long as the job was done.

"Master," came the immediate reply.

"A final test remains," Harbinger announced, looking through her eyes.

She was in the insemination room, overseeing the fertilisation of several younger females. He could have used cloning, such as with the prothean slaves but to ensure Cypiene loyalty he'd had to go with organic breeding techniques. However, that did not mean he would rely on them rutting to produce offspring, not when he could easily ensure the desired traits of both parents breed true.

What had taken so long to create these slaves was ensuring that the new additions bred true and correct. Still, he was well within time. There were not that many Prothean slaves in the area and while it could be interesting to test her abilities, that could potentially damage the facilities, which was not desirable.

The younger slaves realised they were in his presence and had dropped to the floor, leaning over to expose their backs and the still slightly vulnerable humerus of their wings to indicate their submission. Harbinger paid them no mind, except to note that obedience was still bred into them, as was right and proper for all organics.

"The ones with four eyes," Harbinger said, "are no longer needed. As a final test of your abilities as a species, you will eliminate them," he instructed. "I will not order them to submit and you must keep the damage to a minimum," he explained.

"Is there a time frame, Master?" she asked.

Harbinger thought for an instant. "You have one rotation," he decided. That would give her a short time to plan but not enough to make detailed observations. The Cypiene would have to rely on what they already knew so this would test their ability to pool their information. It was perhaps the one way the Prothean slaves were superior. They shared a mind which allowed for coordination between drones. The Cypiene-based stock would have to determine a method that worked for them. They had sufficient resources that Harbinger was not concerned.

"It will be done," she replied, without giving any indication as to her thoughts about his orders. Nor should she. His orders were not questioned by organics. They were obeyed which is how it should be.

Perhaps that was the real reason he had not thought harder about using the Humans. While they might be malleable, he would have gone through far more batches as they questioned him. Yes, it was probably best that they had been Ascended and could therefore draw their own answers from the network when it was established each cycle.

"You have permission to contact me once it is done," he allowed, leaving it unsaid that he would be contacting them in one rotation, regardless of if the task was complete or not. She already knew it must be complete.

"Thank you, Master," she replied and Harbinger lingered for another few seconds before he withdrew his consciousness.

He kept the lines to the monitoring cameras open. There was no way he'd miss the final demise of the Protheans because while they might fight back they could not prevent the inevitable. Much like the cycle. Once their extermination was complete, he would monitor the Cypiene slaves further for approximately ten or so generations to ensure they remained pure before letting them fully take over the monitoring for the cycle. With Riphas' assistance of course. She would do well with the slaves.

Then he would return to hibernation. For now though, all he had to do was watch.

-cfr-

Milky Way Galaxy, Core

Javith ran.

He didn't know why he ran, he just knew that he had to. It was instinct, a primal drive to survive, a desire that should have been bred out of him but one that had sparked to life when he'd felt the deaths of his brothers.

He was the last and he ran because running had now become a part of his plan.

He'd been betrayed. They had all been betrayed. Those who served the Master had turned upon them and he didn't know why. He only knew their attack had been devastating. The Breeder, the place they were all created was hit first and the genetic diversity they had fought so hard to keep was gone.

Then the traitors had spread out, killing indiscriminately though by that stage, with the deaths of so many fledgling minds, the Overmind had managed to give warning, to rally those remaining to strike back.

They had caught the incautious ones, the brave, and the stupid and had ripped them apart. The Cypiene stock might have been bred for strength but they did not measure up against a Prothean. The Cypiene advantage lay in their numbers and in the biotics they had been imbued with using Prothean techniques!

For a short time, the battle had seemed equal but with the loss of the Breeder it was already over. What Javith didn't understand and what the Overmind had sought to discover before it was gone was why the Master was allowing this but there was no answer forthcoming. The Master was silent and the assault continued.

He'd felt his brothers die. One by one, their minds had vanished from his consciousness, which is how Javith knew he was the last. He could not continue his kind but he could take as many traitors with him as he could. The thought had not been his own. He would have waited for death, instead the thought came from a memory of the Overmind. It was of a race that knew spite. A race that could know the battle was lost but who would continue to fight to the last, just to make victory as expensive as possible for their foes.

With the death of his kind, and the Overmind's memories a jumble in his head, Javith felt it was his responsibility to respond. He didn't have time to do much, though. He had the seeker swarms and they worked on the Cypiene just as well as they always had, but he couldn't spread them through the base completely. He had explosives, though. They were strong enough to take out the base, if he could get them to the core, but that was well guarded by the Master's lockdowns and so Javith would have to be content in placing them to take out as large an area as possible. He'd already placed several near the Cypiene barracks and he had been trying to get near their nursery but there were more guards than he'd expected. The charges, including the one he still carried, were on a dead man sensor. They would go off when his heart stopped.

He knew they'd rebuild but it would cost them time and perhaps the Master would tire of them. It was a nice thought but one that Javith did not linger on.

"There he is!"

He heard the shout and mentally thanked the idiot for the warning as he leapt out of the way of a biotic barrage. A well-placed flick from his hand took out the idiot child who had alerted him but Javith didn't pause. He couldn't stop and he dashed down a side corridor, only to realise he was trapped.

With a growl, he turned back but already the Cypiene had closed the distance. Before they could attack, using their biotics to finish him off from a relative distance, he ploughed into their midst. Superior strength helped and he targeted their wings, knowing that if he broke the relatively fragile bones, the Master generally discarded the stock.

The screams of pain invigorated him as did the sound of snapping bone and the soft twang of their ligaments separating. The way it felt under his hands was good but there were too many of them for him to fight alone. While the corridor worked to his advantage, limiting how many could come at him at one time, they were drawing him out. He could not let them have distance to use their biotics because while he could shield, his strength would not last long.

Javith snarled when he saw the corridor end and he knew there was an open area ahead. He grabbed one of the Cypiene, a smaller female, and ignoring her scream, he flung her body into the open area, his eyes calculating as she was hit by multiple biotic attacks. Above, left and right but they'd left an opening they with their primitive two eyes wouldn't perceive.

He surged forward, seemingly rushing into their trap and as he moved he felt heat pass by him from the biotics but he got through, enjoying the indignant squawk from the first line as he slammed bodily into them. He was heavier and they went down in a tangle of limbs. Javith fought to get off them, to keep running but one had snagged him and even though he kicked, feeling bones break, the idiot refused to let go.

A biotic surge dislodged the bitch but by then it was too late. He was surrounded, both on the ground and in the air. He felt nothing as he glared at his killers. They both served the Master so this should not have happened.

"Kneel, and we will make this quick," one of their voices, pitched all wrong said. "For the honour of the Master."

Javith stared. Well, he knew he stared. To them his expression did not change but he knew what he was going to do. Slowly he raised his hands, wishing he had managed to get the charges into their nursery, so that they would know what that pain felt like but he would have to be content with what he'd managed. Those who killed him would die with him.

With his movement, the stupid Cypiene relaxed, two of them moving forward to finish him off and the instant they came into range he struck, cutting through their necks with biotic power that flashed out as he leapt

But he wasn't quite fast enough and pain lanced through his shoulder from above. Not all the Cypiene had been taken in. It was a physical weapon and the follow up round drove him to his knees. Javith gasped, tasting his blood as the remaining Cypiene formed into ranks around him, their hands lighting with biotic power.

"You fought well," one said and he glared again as they fired.

The words meant nothing and he dismissed them as he dismissed the Cypiene who spoke them, as he knew the Master would one day dismiss them. All they had done, and all that they could ever do, would never satisfy the Master and the Cypiene would fall, just as he had.

Pain meant nothing and as his worldly vision was consumed by light, he saw an Empire that spanned the stars. An Empire that was made of light and that stood proud and strong against all that fought against it.

He was home.

-cfr-

The Protheans are now truly dead in every incarnation. Harbinger had to watch the end. Any species that killed that many Ascended is particularly hated.

Alliances between Harper, Williams and Lawson are temporary and of benefit to them all. They do not want to become too comfortable with each other because that will lead to homogenisation and that's bad! Williams doesn't want to be Harper and vice versa... just yuk! Indoctrination hasn't got them on that yet.

Review please! Complete the trifecta of Fav, Follow and Review. Or just take out the review leg. I don't mind. :P

Remember, reviewers receive rewards!

Just two more to get to a big round number! We can do it! - Yay, made it! Thank you. Can we go further? :P