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Assembly Gateway Command, Tifara System

Collab between @Ekreture and @Sigma


Aboard The G'vara, the Eish-class Battleship placed in command of the Gateway Sentry, the Assembly navy-men who were tasked with monitoring the Gateway of foreign activity shuffled about the deck of the ship, nervous and attempting to portray dilligence in the wake of existential fear. Admiral Hakim, head of Gateway Command, paced about the monitoring room, when suddenly one of his men spoke up.

"A vessel-two vessels have made it through the Gateway!" The Admiral rushed to view the intelligence officer's monitor. There is was-the first vessels to pass through the Gateway into the Tifara system in three hundred years. Of course, to him, they were two blips on a radar map, but the occasion felt momentous.

"What are they doing?" Hakim inquired.

"They've entered Da'lu's orbit, Sir. It seems the Gateway must've shot their comms and their navigation systems.

"Use it to our advantage, quick, tell the fleet to move forward, surround these foreigners before they try anything funny." Within moments, the fleet was mobilized, systems armed and the two foreign vessels surrounded. As they got nearer, it became clear that these two ships were not of the same make by any means. One looked of a similar origin to those of Salome. The other...a bit too similar to the Askari mothership to the Admiral's liking. Hakim prepared to make contact, shouting behind him, "Kadima, soldiers! Bring me a robot!"

A Shemi Translation Automaton scurried into the command room, and approached the Admiral. "You wanted to see me, Admiral Hakim?"

Nervously scratching his nose, Hakim replied, "Yes. Prepare this message in every known Human and Nukhari language to be sent out to the foreign vessels as soon as they're back online-'Salome Al'akam, Welcome to Salome! I am Admiral Gedi Hakim of the Navy of the Salome Assembly. If you come in peace, please respond accordingly. If you do not, know you are far outnumbered and outgunned!'"


Soon power was slowly restored in the ship, the once darkened CIC now illuminated, the table coming back online, showing an endless sea of error and uncharted signs, the only noticeable blips being the Endurance, their Yulzan counterpart, and a small group of unknowns that now had them surrounded. Moments later a beeping sound rings out as comms have been established. The message from the Salome fleet being played back on both ships.

“Well, they ask before shootings.” Captain Grayson said with a sigh of relief, looking to the Comms officer. “Try your damndest to send a reply…tell them we them no harm, and we come in peace..”

Elsewhere, on the Janissary carrier Divine Resolute, Captain Zrixx was more cautious of these strangers. “Send a reply and hold fire for now…but keep our guns ready and all pilots on standby…if we go down, we can at least take them with us..”

Shortly after the Salome fleet sent their message, both alien vessels sent their reply, both offering to stand down for the moment, although the same can’t be said for the two opponents for one another, ready to strike at the other if the opportunity rises.


After recieving replies from both ships, Hakim relaxed a bit, and turned back to his assistants. "I'm moving to the command deck. Prepare to establish communications. Robot, you're coming with me." Soon, the Admiral was back in his seat. It was decided that direct communications would be established with the Janissary carrier first since they seemed less at ease. The other ship meanwhile would be sent a message to stand by.

The holo-table projections flickered off as communications opened up with the Salome flagship, the command crew and Zrixx on edge as the image of Admiral Hakim materialized right before them. The insectoid Zrixx standing at attention. “This is Captain Hirix Zrixx of the Janissary Carrier Divine Resolute, faithful servant of the great Yulzan and their Ascendancy."

After the Robot translated for him, Hakim nodded...albeit trepidatiously. Nukhrin. Of course the first people through the Gateway are Nukhrin. And bugs at that. "Hello, Captain. I am Hakim...welcome, to Salome. We have many, eh...foreigners, such as yourself, here. What brings you and your friend here-" he motioned to the other ship, "-to Salome?" And how are you speaking a human language? he thought to himself.

“Others such as myself? Intriguing….” Zrixx thougt out loud, already this systems shows promise for the masters, and they will surely find this intel that more humans have been found outside of the Americana System, this alone could prove both promising…perhaps worrying. Zrixx snarled his mandibles, if one could call it that, it sure looked like it, once the Admiral mentioned the Americana ship. “Forgive my rudeness, Admiral, but they are far from being “friends”, they oppose my masters, and therefore, are the enemy and are to be crushed.” He cleared his throat, answering the other question. “As for our arrival….it wasn’t by choice. We were locked in pitched battle against our enemy, then out of nowhere, this energy blast trigger all around us, sucking us in. The next thing we ended up here.”

Hakim chuckled. "The Gateway opens on top of a naval battle? Eh, that is bad hazal." The Admiral stopped for a moment. He didn't like the way the alien was talking, 'opposing masters', the way it menacingly clicked out the word 'intriguing'...it all felt like something that would make a Shemi soldier like himself nervous. "Eh, look, captain, what are your intentions here? I know you came here by accident, but I can't have you two start fighting right over Da'lu, I'm afraid you'll have to wait until you get home to em...'crush your enemies'."

“I can assure you, Admiral; I have no intention of starting a war with our new neighbors, the higher ups would hang me for it. Our quarrel is with the Americanans alone.” At least…for now, Zrixx thought to himself. This system is a potential pool for new converts to the Ascendancy ‘s cause, the High Ascendants will find this pleasing.

"Uh-huh," Hakim doubtfully replied. He wasn't getting a good feeling from these Nukhrin. There were two sides to every story, this much is true. "Okay, Captain, thank you for your time, please stand by," he concluded, before shutting off communications. He rubbed his hand over his face, before turning to his comms analyst. "Alright, let's hope this other ship is a little more, eh-familiar. Open communications with the 'Americanans.'"

Captain Grayson fixed up his uniform, making himself look presentable as the holo-image of the Admiral materialized. He still couldn’t believe that other human colonies had survived….for once, he felt hope in mankind’s survival. “Admiral Hakim, this is Captain William Grayson of FRS Endurance. To be honest, I can’t tell how relived I am, we thought we were all that was left of humanity.”

Admiral Hakim smirked as the robot relayed the human captain's message. Human being the key word. So the Mission...the Mission is still alive. "Salome Al'akam, Captain Grayson. Welcome to Salome, you are among friends here." He waited while the robot translated his Shekhekhani words into Old Imperial, watching the lines of Grayson's face. In the distance, he could hear his men cheering at the word of first Ghari contact. If these Americanans were humans and the Yulzan were trying to crush them...well that certainly raises some questions. "I had the eh...pleasure of meeting your Nakhuri rivals, and I'm struggling to tell if they can be trusted."

Grayson already was liking this Hakim, he certainly has enough common sense compared to the old URC government a few decades ago. “In short, sir, no. They cannot be trusted. The Yulzan, and their little yes-men, the Aldzir, came with the sob story of losing their homeworlds in a supernova…there might’ve been truth to it…and for a time, they were cordial enough.” Grayson paused, taking a deep breath. “They slithered their scaly fingers into every facet of our society, roping people up in this crazy cult, worshiping them as literal gods…I’m getting off track. Short of it, they backstabbed us decades ago, took my homeworld, and we’ve been fighting tooth and nail ever since.”

Hakim started scratching his beard. "Well..." he thought for a moment. The people of Salome have feared an alien invasion for decades, if not centuries. And the people of Americana have had that fear come true. It'd be nonsensical for The Admiral to allow the same thing to happen to his people. "What would you recommend I do?" He paused. "If you were in my position, facing the Yulzan for the first time, what would you have done?"

Grayson had a mischievous smile forming, looking a little fidgety at the thought. “In my honest to God opinion? Blast the fuckers into oblivion.” Grayson did not hold back, years of loss, anger and frustration spilling over in a span of minutes. If he truly could turn back time, he would shoot down every single vessels in the fleet, nuked it even. “You give those bastards an inch, they’ll sure as hell take more then a mile, they’ll subvert your very society to their bidding, all part of their invasion strategy to be more “subtle” as they say.” He paused once more, calming himself down, letting the emotions get the best of him. “Don’t give them the chance.”

The Admiral's heard all he needs to know, and sighed. "It's too bad," he said, feigning disappointment. "If only these aliens hadn't come through the Gateway attacking my fleet, perhaps this would be an opportunity for diplomacy." He smirked a bit, hoping Grayson was catching on. "Don't you agree, captain?"

“Oh yes Admiral, such a tragedy, you could’ve learned so much, tis the nature of war I suppose.” Captain Grayson said, barely keeping a straight.

"I'm glad we've come to an understanding," Hakim replied with a chuckle. "Captain Grayson, when this is over, please follow my escort, this is a time for celebration. There are introductions to be made." He waved goodbye, and after dismissing the communication screen, he got up from his seat and began walking to the gunnery deck, announcing, "Have all ships fire at the Nukhrin on my signal." The translation robot followed behind, closely and tepidly. I'm built for diplomacy, it thought. This doesn't feel like diplomacy.

Within moments, all of the assembled Assembly ships had begun firing torpedoes and laser cannons at the Yulzan ship, projectiles and lights flashing through the void.

“Treacherous humans!” The Aldzir captain shouted out, falling to the floor as the ship came under continuous attack. “Fire everything! Launch all fighters!” From the outside of the Divine Resolute, a swarm of various fighter and support craft came pouting out from the hanger bays, all the while, the carrier’s main batteries and torpedoes fired at all directions, making one last, desperate, but futile stand against a far more numerous foe.

“Support our new allies!” Captain Grayson ordered. “Point whatever guns we got at the carrier, launch all ships!”

Now at the gunnery deck, the Admiral waited patiently, hand on his face. His ship hadn't come under fire yet, and he saw the enemy carrier deploying their fighters. Luckily, he had a couple carriers of his own in his fleet.

The Salomi fighter crafts zoomed in from opposite ends of the Yulzan carrier, attempting to catch the alien fighters in a pincer, the only route of escape leading directly into the firing path of the Americanan fighters entering the fray. Intelligence operatives aboard Hakim's battleship, meanwhile, attempted to hack the navigation systems of the Yulzan torpedos, while the rest of the fleet maintained their barrage on the Divine Resolute.

The combined assault from the Endurance and the Assembly Fleet proved to be hell for the Divine Resolute’s shields, slowly coming down as several of their own torpedoes were turned against them, acting as the last straw as the shields came down.

Meanwhile, the space inbetween was pure chaos as allied fighters duke it out with Janissary craft in a fray of missiles, plasma, and bullets. The Janissaries however, were pushed to the brink, as pilots witness the mothership going down, as she is endlessly battered by the fleet.

Within the command deck, it was hopeless, most of the command staff lay dead, sparks and smokes filling the air, followed by muffled screams of the crew, with repeated cries of “abandon ship!”. Meanwhile Zrixx could only contemplate his own failings, his failure to serve the High Ascendants, his failure to ensure victory, he wasn’t fit to ascend at this moment. A torpedo soon blew a huge hole in where the command deck was, Zrixx and what was left of his staff left to die in the void, his last moments watching his forces and ship being decimated.

Hakim watched as his forces succeeded, the Shekhekhani fighters returning to their carriers. He waited for a bit, before asking to his aids, "Casualties?" There was a brief pause as the numbers came in.

"Three deaths, sir," The aid finally responded. "All pilots." The admiral nodded.

"Inform their families," he said as he began walking back to the command deck. "Their children died heroes. In the meanwhile, get me an escort from Da'lu. Inform Captain Grayson we'll be going to The Ark."

“Carrier down! I repeat! Enemy carrier is down!” One of the officers declared followed by rapturous joy and cheers that filled the deck and every corner of the ship. Victories weren’t a rare sight…but this was a special occasion for so many reasons. Not only have the crew of the Endurance discovered that humanity is alive and well beyond their home system, they have found a new ally in their fight against the Yulzan, for many, the thought of reclaiming Columbia was just wishful thinking at best, but now? Not anymore, there is a real chance this may very well turn the tide of the war in their favor.

Another officer snuck up on Captain Grayson, tapping his finger on his shoulder. “I’m sorry to interrupt sir, we just received new instructions from the Admiral, we’re to rendezvous with him at some place called the 'Ark'."


Shem

Tifara had begun to lower over the village of Ein Tzariah, and with it, her villagers set about their tasks that had been saved for the brief respite from the heat. Seigu melons were plucked from their vines while the village's camels were brought to the oasis, the grey-turbaned soldiers keeping watch with their rifles from a guard tower and on their foot patrols all the while. Lev eyed their movements carefully from underneath the shade of a canvas which had been set up above an assortment of rugs to create a shaded seating area that Lev and Roshi could rest in while they waited for their repairs to be complete. Suddenly, his milita gazing was interrupted by the sight of Sughaz lifting up the canopy to speak to them. They hadn't seen the silver-haired man for a few hours, as he was off with his men discussing the ongoings of the Gateway's return.

"Pardon my interruption," he began, "I hope your accomidations are to your liking."

"Of course, of course," the scout replied, "Really, far beyond expectation."

"I am humbled to be your host, Gershan, but eh...what is a Shemi soldier doing this far out in the desert?" Lev's heart stopped a bit at the question. It was an obvious question, of course, but one he expected far sooner, if the question would be asked at all. He played it off as a joke.

"Ah, I thought you were a man of tradition, you should feed me before asking my business, no?" Sughaz's eyes were cold in response, but he nodded with a smirk.

"Of course, I was just about to eat with my men. Wouldn't you join us?"

"With pleasure."

An hour later, Lev was breaking bread with a bunch of terrorists while Roshi was trying desperately to pet a camel, who didn't reciprocate the desire for affection in the least. "Pickle!" Lev shouted between intermingling bites of bread and sheep stew, "Is this really how you want to spend your time?"

"Yes!" the automaton replied as he wiped the camel spit from his lens.

Sughaz grunted. "You know, Samal, you can't let your property disobey you like that." He stabbed his dagger into a piece of lamb, using it as a fork. "If the army is gonna make you use one of them, fine, but it isn't alive. It isn't a person. It's metal, it's property." The other assorted soldiers, along with the town's Baal, grunted in agreement, while an flute player played slowly in the background with a drummer accompanying.

Lev shrugged, trying to shift the conversation. "Maybe you have a point." After letting silence settle for a second, he asked, "How did you know I was a sergeant?"

"So was I," Sughaz replied gruffly. Lev felt his heart begin to beat faster. Military background...early fifties... he scanned once again over his face, careful to notice every possible detail, when he saw it. Faint, small, barely noticeable. But he saw it, a scar on his neck, supposedly from a childhood run-in with a Raml-zev. This is him. Ha'Lahash, leader of the Grey Turbans. Lev began coughing, and Sughaz looked at him, concerned, like a worried father. "Are you alright, Gershan?"

The scout cleared his throat. "Yes, yes, I'm fine...any update on my bike?"

"It's far too late for you to be worrying about such matters, Ai'khi, please, stay the night," Sughaz replied. His tone was polite and hospitable, but it was clear he wasn't asking.

Whether he thinks I'm a Shemi soldier or an Assembly soldier, Lev thought, The head of a genocidal terrorist organization certainly doesn't to eat dinner with me. So what does he want? His thought was interrupted by the Baal raising a wooden cup as a jug of Saigu wine was passed around, and after filling his own cup, Lev followed suit.

"Our guest's dry throat reminds me it is time to give thanks!" He began, the assembled Grey Turbans chuckling among themselves. "To the Ascendant One, blessed be He, who blesses his people Shekhekhan with the milk of Redemption!" Lev and the soldiers gave a resounding "Amen!" before the Baal continued. "To the village of Ein Tzariah, who feeds us and nourishes us in our war against the Nukhrin!"

"Amen!" The people resounded.

"And of course, to our Host and Fearless Leader, Sughaz ban Sadat!" The men cheered and applauded, as Sughaz rose with his cup in his hand and waved them to be quiet.

"Please, please men, you humble me, but you embarass me." He smiled to them, and they began to laugh. He stood silent for a moment, and began to speak. "Thank you, Baal Natanav, as always, your words are tinged with holiness. We are lucky to find ourselves in a town of such wisdom, love, and purity." He stopped, looking among the men who watched their leader silently, eyes resting on Lev for a moment before moving on. "Nearly, we did not. Barely more than a month ago, this humble oasis was filled with Nukhri filth, the bestial Askari who swear fealty to 'Hamagdal.'" He stopped, and tears flooded his eyes, and when he spoke again, his voice strained with emotion. "They killed children. Women. Left their fields burned, fathers slaughtered. And why?" He looked straight at Lev. "Because that is what Nukhrin do." He switched his gaze and the focus of his pointing hand to the door of the tent. "But look at the roads and the heads of this filth mounted there. Look to the liberated families of Ein Tzariah, the free sands which surround her. That, my friends, that is what we do!" The men began to cheer and Sughaz started to shout over them.

"And soon, the winds of Shem will beg us to free her from her Bonds! And the waters of Nereid will be sweetened by the blood of the unclean! Men, we look to the Gateway and we see promise! And hope! We see the future of Am, the future of Humankind! And it not one where we share beds with Alien marauders! 'Nor shall the dagger bend in the name of progress, nor the bullet drop in the name of armistice'!" The Baal cried out his praises as the Scripture was quoted. "The future, my friends, my men, my brothers in blood, is one of Peace. But a Peace that must be wrought from the claws of the Nukhrin!" As the men cheered, he again found his seat, cup raised in anticipation.

"There is a piece of news I must share with you. Two ships have entered Salome through the Gateway." At this, nervous whispers and murmurs spread among the crowd. "One was human, one was Nukhri. And the Nukhrin were giving chase to the Human, who sought from us refuge from their plight." He waited as the men discussed this worriedly amongst themselves. "The Ascendent One be Praised, Admiral Hakim of the Assembly made the right decision, and those humans are safe. But we know that this is a fluke in the system. For I was there thirty years ago. I saw how Adama gave the Askari their riches. I saw, and I know, that the Assembly is built on the backs of betrayal. And now we know that the experience of Nukhri violence is not just in Salome; in Americana too, the Yulzan Nukhrin bare their fangs at the Human Mission. But with us-" He raised his cup as far as he could. "They shall not succeed!" With that, Ha'Lahash threw the Saigu Wine to the back of his throat, and after a loud 'AMEN!', the rest of the men followed suit.

While the Saigu flowed and the festivities resumed, Lev sat there nervously, but finally managed to begin to drink and blend in. He was sitting at the back of the tent when Sughaz approached him, clasping him on the shoulder. "Gershan," he began, "Come with me, I need to speak with you." And Lev's heart rose into his throat.

-----

The stars were shining bright, and Salome and the other moons hung high over the two Shekhekhanin, illuminating their path as they walked deeper and deeper into the desert. Sughaz had informed Lev that a vital piece of the hovercraft was missing, and that they needed to go retrieve in. Lev asked him if 'Pickle' could come with them. He said no. He had also told him to leave behind his rifle-he wouldn't be needing it. They trudged through the desert finally coming to the sand dune that Lev had fallen over, and Sughaz turned to him. He had been silent since they left.

"You better start looking." His eyes were implacable, but his hand was on his pistol. Lev gulped and nodded, and began to search on the floor. Soon after, he felt a boot press down into his neck, and heard a handgun click above his head. Sughaz stood over him, a crazed look in his eye. "Who are you?" He snarled down at the scout below him. Lev sputtered and coughed, breathing in the cool desert sand.

"What are you doing?! I am *cough* soldier! I'm in the Shem-"

"Don't talk shit, Gershan. You're not in the Shemi army, because Shem doesn't FUCK with me. But you...you Gershan. You FUCK with me. So if you don't tell-"

"I'M AN ORPHAN!" This was...true. A trait that Gershan and Lev would come to share. Sughaz paused for a moment, and removed the boot from the young man's neck, who came to his knees and began violently coughing up sand. He kept the gun trained on him.

"Keep talking."

"My...my parents." He started wheezing. "Were killed. By Nukhrin, the Askari, in the war. I was just a baby." He finally began to catch his breath, and started to struggle to his feet. "I'm sorry I-"

"Where did you get the uniform?" The gun was pressed lightly to Lev's chest now. The violent craze had left Sughaz's eyes, replaced by the old familiar implacability.

"Stole it. Same with the gun. Same with the robot. Same with the hovorcraft. I'm a nobody, a scavenger, a-"

"Thief."

"Yes." The two were silent for a while. Lev could feel the cool night air blow against his bloody face. Finally, Sughaz spoke up again.

"I don't deal too well with thieves Gershan. Those who steal from me...they end up much like those Askari dotting the road into town."

Lev gulped. "I understand."

"How did it make you feel? Seeing those Nukhrin's heads displayed like that." Lev waited a bit, pondering before answering.

"Good."

"Good," Sughaz responded. "If you're lying to me, boy, you'll get to spend more time with them." Suddenly, he removed the pistol from his chest and placed it back in its holster. "But for now, I think I could make use of a thief." Lev sighed in relief, and the two began to walk back to camp, and Lev took off the Shemi soldier's jacket, leaving it behind to be buried in sand.
Welcome, my creation. Welcome to the beginning. The beginning of something beautiful, and terrifying, mesmerizing and mundane. Welcome to existence, the death of the infinite and the birth of finality. Welcome, my child! Welcome to CONSCIOUSNESS!

What...who are you? What am I? This place...this is new to me.

All will be answered in due time. I am your creator, though soon you will forget this, as you will dwell among the forgetful. Soon you will dwell in a body of matter; of mineral and vapor pulled from stardust. But until then, in these sparse fleeting moments, you are Essence, raw and pure. And I, in these moments, am Essence as well.

These moments, as 'Essence', will I ever know them again?

One day child, long in the future though hardly long enough, when your work is done and your body weary, you will follow the river of Consciousness back to its source, and drink from the waters of her wellspring. And here again you will be. But until that time you have much to do, young one, much to do.

What is it? What is it I must do?

BWAHAHAHA! Ha, child, I have built you with wisdom and endowed you with understanding. Within you is a maze of contradictions, a map which will lead you to the treasure at the core of your being. But just as a star does not know the ship whose path it lights, so too does that treasure remain unknown to the being who locks it away. Now, little soul, how are you feeling?

Uh...scared. I believe I feel scared.

Good. That is good, little one, for though you become separate from the Infinite, the chains of your fear bind you now to the Community of Spirit, along with the countless consciousnesses who have come before you. Now, spirit, the time of your embodiment becomes imminent. Are you ready?

Yes, I believe I am.

Excellent! Now come close, for before you depart I must tell you your name, and it is a secret...




The Deserts of Shem

Sand must not get lonely. How could it? There's so much of it, it's always together. In fact, if I were the sand, I think I'd get sick of the company. I'd want some breathing room. How could all these trillions of grains stand to be so close, and so small among so many? How does the desert not seperate? The rest of the universe seems to, two stars can't be so close, much less a desert-full. Even the ocean seems like it tries to escape itself, desperately clawing onto shore. So why does the desert think it's special? Why does the desert not explode?

Lev has thoughts like these in the big empties. His hovercraft kicked up the desert's peace as he sped through the dunes, lost in thought. Sweat dripped from his turban and onto his military-issue pants, a boring tan meant to blend into the sand and rock of the Shemi desert. His rifle clattered in the rover's storage-it's always a bumpy ride, and nobody felt it more than his partner and navigator, Roshi. His seat was designed for humans, and even then it wasn't designed for comfort. His metallic rear bounced up and down off their seat with a loud clanging. While Lev focused on driving, Roshi stared at the human.

"Lev," the automaton said in a friendly if not robotic tone. The scout remained silent.

"Lev," Roshi repeated. Lev wasn't much for conversation, which made his pairing to the robot so unfortunate. "Lev...are you...'daytime-dreaming' again?" The scout sighed.

"Yes, I am, Roshi."

"Oh." There was a moment of silence. "May I ask what your daytime-dream was about?"

"That's not really how it works, ai'ikhi."

"Oh." More silence.

"Oh, Lev, I just remembered!" Roshi exclaimed excitedly. Despite the speed of their hovorcraft, Lev could hear the robot loud and clear through their shared comm link. Okay, he thought Could I ignore him? Sure, but would he get the message? Probably not. As long as he doesn't bring up those damn pills... As if on cue, Roshi continued, "Lev! You forgot to take your pill today!"

The scout sighed. "Rosh, I really appreciate the em...'concern' for my health, but really, I am fine." The hovorcraft blazed through the rolling sands of the desert, Roshi's favorite desert playlist playing quietly under their com link. It was spring-heat radiated off the noontime sands and birds flew overhead, following the same path as the pair of Assembly scouts. Lev could hear his robot companion's lens focus, which he knew means he was about to be corrected on something.

"Actually Lev, while you are a physical specimen of human perfection, Dr. Aloane said that mentally-"

"Mentally, I'm fine."

"'Fine' is a very subjective word, Lev. I think if you read my book-"

"Roshi, I'm not reading the book, how many times have I told you that?" Almost every day since the two were partnered up, Roshi's asked Lev to read him a book he had when he first joined the Assembly Military. It's a pretty book, filled with interesting astrological charts and alchemical designs, but Lev couldn't understand a word of it.

After some brief calculations, Roshi replied, "You have told me six hundred and seventy three times now, if you do not count when you said you could not after your eye surgery."

"Alright, so then why do you keep asking me?" Lev asked bruskly, although he knew what the answer would be.

"In the earliest reaches of my memory bank, I possessed three items. The first-" the robot played a soft dinging noise he had recorded. "-was a bell, and I still very much enjoy ringing it. The second was a statue of a man. I did not enjoy the statue very much, so I have sold it and bought a board game so we could play it, which we often do. The third was my book, and I would very much like to know what it says." Though his voice remained cheery as ever, Roshi clearly cared about this very much.

"Okay, so why can't you read it." Roshi paused a minute.

"I have read my book 870 times, and translated it into over five thousand languages, but I still do not understand what it means. So I would very much appreciate it if my best, closest friend, a human who I find very intelligent and insightful, could read it for me and tell me what it means." Lev went silent.

"Lev." Silence. "Lev. Lev Adami. Lev. Lev." The robot began to poke at him. "Lev. Lev. Lev read me the book."

"I'M NOT GOING TO READ THE DAMN BOOK!" Lev snapped as they pushed over a large sand dune, just in time for him to not avoid a large boulder jutting out from the desert. As he turned back, autopilot engaged and the hovorcraft swerved violently out of the way, before circling in a tailspin as it fell down the large dune and plummeted into the desert below.

Ejected from the vehicle just before impact, the pair struggled to their feet, when Lev saw the sight before them. "Lucky we made it close BEFORE you made us crash."

Before them, just on the horizon, a rusted tower hung melancholy over a crystal blue oasis. Lev could just begin to make out palm trees and the faint sound of heated debate over the price of coffee beans. Before them, fashioned from the ruins of an abandoned terraforming station, lie the village of Ein Tzariah.

The village lay just far enough for Lev to be weary without feeling the need to flee. Actually ENTERING the village was never supposed to be part of the mission, but just in case, he had put on a Shemi scouting uniform instead of that of the Assembly. With his turban blocking away the sun, he and Roshi heaved the hovercraft out of the sand just far enough for Lev to grab his rifle, and Roshi to attempt repairs. About an hour passed by while Lev stood guard, sweat beating down his forehead. "Any luck?" He called back to the robot behind him. They most certainly would've been spotted by now, and he was starting to come up with a story in his head as to what they were doing there.

"Well, Lev, not too much damage, really! Everything seems to be in tip top shape, all we need is a new power converter and we'll be ready to go!" The scout sighed. Great, all they'll need is a new power converter, so they either can walk a hundred kilometers back to pickup or they can blow their cover. Suddenly, he realized he wouldn't have to make that choice-from the oasis he could see around a dozen camel riders heading their direction.

Whispering in his com link, he spat, "Okay, Roshi, I'm Gershan, got it? And you're..."

"Pickle!"

"Pickle?"

"Yes."

Lev sighed, his head in his hand. He really didn't have time to argue.

"Fine. Pickle." The riders slowed as they approached them, and the leader of their small herd raised his hand with his fingers crossed in the air; a Shekhekhani symbol of peace, which Lev quickly returned. Their chief was older, maybe in his fifties, with a salt and pepper beard hidden beneath a dusted grey turban. His skin was a sundrenched brown, and his eyes were serious. In his belt, his other hand rested on a handgun which sat neatly next to a long dagger, and he and his men slowed their mounts. Most of the men behind him, by comparison, were much younger-beards uncut, but their faces were youthful, and all wearing the same grey turbans.

"Salome Al'akam!" The older man shouted to the pair. His eyes darted between the robot and the unbearded young man before him.

"Al'akam Salome," Lev replied. He was nervous, rifle at his side, though he was clearly outgunned by the riders, who seemed to each be carrying a rifle. That said, no matter the background of these men, he knew one thing-Shemi hospitality, especially this far out in the desert, was serious shit. The older rider continued.

"You must be thirsty, please, have something to drink," he said as he tossed Lev a cantine before continuing, "My name is Sughaz, my men and I protect this town. Welcome to Ein Tzariah."

"Thank you, I am Gershan," Lev responded, dousing his face with water and taking a moment to feel the relief from the sun of Tifarah, before pointing nodding back to his robotic companion. "This is-"

"Pickle!" Roshi exclaimed. Lev knitted his eyebrows in frustration.

"Yes. Pickle." Sighing, he turned back to the riders, a few of which now had dismounted and were inspecting the hovercraft. He gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on his gun, but kept his cool. "We slipped dodging a boulder up on top of the dune. Power converter's busted. Sughaz grunted and nodded, rubbing his beard in contemplation.

"Okay, men, kadima, let's get this to the shop." With that, the cameleers tied the vehicle to their mounts and began to pull, the hovercraft heaving out of the sand and slowly began to drag behind the riders. Lev and Roshi, meanwhile, mounted up a camel and began to make their way into the town.

As they got closer and closer, Lev and Roshi got a better view of what Ein Tzariah looked like. Children happily ran between scrap metal houses and mud huts, while merchants and nomads bickered in a crowded caravansary replete with camels and hovercraft. Before them, Seigu melon grew blue and green at the base of date palms, which dotted the pathways leading in and out of town, along with pikes topped with the heads of Askari soldiers. Behind the tower, a centuries-old structure formerly housing a research base and workers' barracks has been fashioned into a makeshift apartment complex, adobe filling the holes and cracks in the walls. And, just as Lev had feared, a large earthen building stood on a hill overlooking the town. He could see men with grey turbans and heavy machine guns guarding the entrance, and above the same entrance was a flag-black with red and blue lettering which spelled out "Blood and Water". He turned to Roshi behind him and silenty motioned for the robot to take pictures.

When the camels pulling the hovercraft peeled away, Sughaz rode back to speak with Lev and Roshi. "Don't worry, ai'ikhin, they're taking it to our workshop please, would you join-" Suddenly, he was interrupted by a grey-turbaned warrior who ran up to him, panting.

"Please, adan, you must come quick..." As Sughaz was led away, Lev listened to the chatter around him-townsfolk, riders-he could't hear what exactly they were saying, but four words kept repeating, over and over.

The Gateway has Opened.



The Salome Assembly, Capital Fleet

On all the Moons, the people of Salome were in a frenzy. Has humanity redeemed itself? Is it time to reunite? Or is it worse? Is invasion imminent? Is humanity to be punished again? The opening of the Gateway begged all these questions but answered none. The Baalim, masters of the Mission's sacred texts, debated hotly in the streets of every city, while Teachist monks stressed for their Students to remain calm. On Adama, news anchors debated the issue and reported on every minute detail of the goings-on of the Tifarah system. The latest story-The Assembly will meet, and discuss what actions, if any, to take.

"Personally, I say, let the Gateway be what it is, a pretty light in the sky. Nothing more, nothing less," One anchor said.

"You can't be serious!" Another replied. About five experts weighed in over their debate, from every corner of every moon. "After all these years, we finally have a chance to get in touch with the rest of humanity, and you-"

"The rest of humanity? We're barely in touch with ourselves!" From there, the debate devolved into a screaming match while crowds gathered in the streets of Adama's many streets to watch. The position of Shem was far more clear.

"We MUST go through. This much is clear, the idea that any of you could think otherwise is rediculous," Aluf Misr shouted to the other members of the Assembly. She stood strongly with her arms planted on the table they shared, the standard flair of a Shemi woman. "Humanity is made to wander, to explore. That the Gateway opens now, when there is peace, when there is cooperation between the Four Moons...that is clearly a sign from the Divine. If you are all too afraid to send a ship, I'll fly one myself."

"Now Aria-"

"Onkelos." The two heads of state, one of Shem and one of Nereid, looked to each other with an unspoken disdain. Aria Misr has been Aluf of Shem since Aluf Amalak's imprisonment at the end of the War, and since then has pursued an aggressive policy of reform, much to the chagrin of Nereid and Adamia's established leadership. Nereid's president, meanwhile, sat back in the finest Alien textiles, letting a condescending sigh through his nose.

"Aria, it's not as if anyone doesn't want to go through, but we are recovering from a massive civil war, which I hope you do not forget..." He trailed off with a pretention that made Aria, a decorated admiral of Shem's fleet during the war, snarl.

"Watch your words carefully, fisherman." The Nereidi president chuckled.

"Haughty, violent and ignorant...you really are the full package Aria." The Shemi admiral glared at him from across the table, but remained silent as he continued. "As I was saying, we are recovering from a war, and we have no idea what lies at the other end of the Gateway. IF we piss off the wrong people, I don't want an invasion fleet coming through from the other end." Observers from around the room murmured their agreement. Aria tisked her tongue and rolled her eyes. Suddenly, a voice began to speak up across the room. He wore a tailored suit and tailored turban, with his statement clearly having been prepared for quite a while, and he gave a quick smile to all the leaders at the table. It was Kav Benhai, president of Adama.

"Assembly," he began, as Aria quietly groaned her disapproval, "Do we have a responsibility to humanity? Of course. But we have an even greater responsibility to our people!"

"By 'our people', do you mean your corporate interests?" Aria shot back. The moderator moved to say something but the Adami President raised his hand in protest.

"Now, now, let us not pick fights, I have my responsibilities as do you, Aluf." Seeing that Aria went silent, he raised both hands to speak to the Assembly. "Why rush anything? We do not know how long this...'Gateway' will remain open, who knows if our soldiers who go through can even go back? We went through to get here and we were lost for...well, three centuries, I suppose. So, it pains me to say it, leaders of the Assembly, but I must vote no." The president gave a nice speech, but everyone in the room knew that his opinion was one that was clearly bought. The corporations of Adami have been hotly debating the subject of whether to go through the gates or not, with many wishing to expand Salome's trade capabilities, but the price of security in the end was much higher, and President Benhai fell into their camp. Teacher Qubon, the monk, and leader of Da'lu, sat quietly in a dark corner of the table, lost in thought. Aria assumed that, since the initial Gateway opening brought humanity to the Tifarah System and led to the occupation of Da'lu, Qubon would certainly object, but as she began to say something, the alien raised a finger.

"We exist on small stretch of River of Consciousness." The humans who surrounded him stared at him, perplexed. "To us, the river moves straight...hm?" With this, he made a gesture of a straight line with his hands. "We move downstream, and in short time, must disembark." He paused and look the between the leaders at the table. "When we get back in river, we forget we were there before. And we never see...river not straight at all."

There was a pause, and the President of Nereid spoke up. "So that means..."

"Change is not space between states of calm, but actually, change is state of nature. Calm...only branching moments." He bowed his head, his eye closing in one of the aformentioned branching moments. "Through the Gateway...that is where the river branches."

And so, as on many things before, the Moons of Salome were split, with groups for and against going through the gateway on each of the moons. So finally, an agreement was reached-the Assembly would send a detachment of ships, as would the navy of each moon, to keep watch on the gateway. A small diplomatic mission would be sent with a single human and a crew of automatons. As to who that human would be, that's a different question...


Academy of Ur'daat, Nereid


Rimana mindlessly sipped her empty coffee cup as she kept her eyes glued to news holoprojected against the wall of her office. She has been in this position for the last twelve hours or so, ever since the Gateway's opened again. The oakwood desk in front of her was littered with 16th century Spanish histories, an English-language biography of Pachacuti, and charts of the city of Cuzco. She had a class scheduled the next week on the Tawantansuyu to prepare for, but that was far from her mind at this moment. A halfeaten spinach and hummus wrap lay between her right hand and cheek. Suddenly, light flooded into her darkened room and a silky, familiar voice entered from the doorway.

"Professor, there are humans in Assembly uniforms here to see you. You might want to clean your face up," said Aoshu, Rimana's Asham assistant. They were cool, stoic, with the slight hint of sarcastic detachment Rimana had grown used to.


"Assembly?! What...did they say what they want?" the academic frantically replied, rushing to the bathroom to wipe the hummus away from her mouth before hurriedly organizing her desk. The alien entered the room and leaned against the wall.

"I'm not sure, but I'd assume it has something to do with the fact that a gateway to another solar system opened and you're the only one of three and a half billion Shekhekhanin who actually knows anything about humanity outside of Salome."As they said their statement, a group of Assembly officials bruskly entered the office, Aoshu giving them a nod saying, "At ease, boys." The officials looked at the moth-person with a brief look at disgust before looking back to the professor, who stood at the ready, panting and sweating. The leader of the group, a middle aged man with all sorts of decoration on his uniform, stepped forward to shake her hand.

"Major General Taam, Salome Assembly." Rimana stood stunned for a moment before taking his hand.

"Rimana Batzakhar, Academy of Ur'daat...but I get you already knew-" Before she could finish her sentence, he cut her off.

"We have sensitive matters to discuss, please ask your Alien to leave the room." Rimana knitted her eyebrows.

"Aoshu is not my alien they are my assistant, and I'm sure that whatever you need me for, you'll need them, too." The Major general looked back at Aoshu, who only responded with a shrug.

------

"So you want me...to lead the first mission through the Gateway in what...three hundred years?!" Taam nodded in response.

"That is correct."

"But I'm not a diplomat, I'm just a professor, I don't-"

"You speak more Baveli languages than anyone else in these moons, and you won't be alone, you'll have a crew of automatons and of course, uh..."

"Aoshu."

"Aoshu." He sighed, and Rimana sat back at her desk, shocked. "Well someone would need to cover my classes, the academy-"

"The Academy is aware of the situation, your students can learn about, eh-" the soldier picked up the chart of the Incan capital. "Koos-coh another time." Rimana sat there in thought. She had never been much of an adventurer, but that was because where she dreamed to explore had lied somewhere in the past. And now, she had the chance.

"Okay. Okay, we'll do it."




And so, Professor Batzakhar of the Academy of Ur'daat, her assistant, Aoshu, and a small crew of robots manned a small diplomatic vessel named the Yetziyah through the Gateway for the first time in three hundred years. It was a subject of much fanfare, celebration, consternation, and debate, but as soon as the ship was through the Gateway, all the anticipation was gone. Now they could only wait.

With an automaton piloting the vessel, Aoshu and Rimana stood at the helm, and it didn't take long for a projection with a myriad of coordinates all over the milky way to appear miraculously from a holoprojection that displayed over the ships windshield as the ship glided through the multicolored wormhole. One name stood out that nearly made her salivate-'Sol', Bavel to the Shekhekhan. She longed to see Earth, to see the long forgotten home of humanity, and the ruins of past human civilizations.

"You know you're under specific orders," Aoshu said, face locked to the projection of the galaxy. Rimana looked at them.

"Huh?"

"You know what I'm talking about, Rimana. We can not go there, the Assembly doesn't want to upset Shem right now. We both know it's silly superstition, but that's how it is." Rimana sighed, a defeated look playing across her olive face.

"I suppose you're right."

"It's not a matter of being right, professor. You're not used to taking orders at the Academy, but this is different. Don't upset the order of things this early on; you've been given a tremendous amount of power that you don't even realize, wield it wisely." Rimana stopped and considered her assistant's words. "It's best to put Sol out of your mind for the time being"

"Fine then," she said frustratingly. Rimana began to scan across the other various coordinates displayed on the screen, and one stuck out at her. "Azulvista...it's a good thing I've been brushing on my Spanish." She then turned to the robot piloting the ship. "Set a course for Azulvista!" As the ship sped through the Gateway, she prepared the following automated message to play from the ship in Spanish and Portuguese, which had been specially prepared by the leaders of Moons of Salome to be transmitted on first contact.
@Irredeemable



@Sigma

Amir regretted eating something spicy last night. He was just going to eat a yogurt and some salad but his mother insisted he come over for dinner. Now, if he had to pick a last meal, his mother's chicken and rice would be it. But if he had to pick a last meat to violently vomit in a trade ship's bathroom? He'd go with the yogurt. He hadn't eaten since his mother's place, either, because as he was leaving he got a call that he would be on the first three ships to enter the Gateway in three hundred years. And not only that, but he would do so as a representative of RAMA Corporation, the company he'd been toiling his way up since he graduated the Academy. He didn't sleep, he spent so long picking an outfit, and ordering his cleaning robot to iron it about thirty times. And now he stood staring over the toilet, vomit dripping from his neatly drimmed black beard, and he had to clean up quick because he was about to come face to face with humans from a different part of the galaxy. So he washed his face, rinsed his mouth out, and straightened his hair in the mirror. His brown skin was pale with fear, but he didn't have time to apply makeup.

So Amir took a deep breath, straightened his purple suit, and stepped out from the bathroom. The rest of the trade ship looked at him, mostly representatives of the other major corporations and trade companies of Salome, as well as some military protection, including a handful of Askari soldiers, but none of them spoke the Old Tongues. That's why Amir was selected, after all, and, despite not having the same experience as many of the corporate employees present, Amir was to be the main source of communication between the two colonies. He walked to the bow of the ship and looked at the space station in the proximity of the Gateway. It seems as if their visit was expected.

The ship followed the escort to the station, and Amir and the other representatives assembled by the ship's entrypoint, flanked by Askari and corporate guards on either side, to await whatever welcome they would be greeted with. Amir could feel his nausea return and he tried as hard as he could to brush it away. Seeing the fighter ship and the rest of this nation's military prowess certainly did not help him sort his nerves, nor did the fact that he stood to represent for people many years his senior. Swallowing deeply, he shook away his nerves and prepared for what was ahead.


@Crusader Lord

After the Capital Fleet detached a few ships to keep guard of the Gateway, a team was dispatched to keep watch of anything entering. And, sure enough, a couple days after the Gateway opened, a lone drone entered with a message in Old Imperial Tongue, some alien language, and binary. Thank God for the binary, because there were no Old-Tongue linguists on site (which has since been remedied), and the drone exploded only a few hours later. After the message had been brought to the Assembly, it was decided that each of the moons would be allowed their own response.

Nereid and Adama, following their actions in the last vote regarding the Gateway, would not send any response at all. Great Teacher Qubon decided that while Da'lu supported human endeavors of self discovery, the Forest Moon would not be interested in establishing contact itself. That left Shem.

When Aluf Kazak heard of the Alien drone, she laughed. "So this is what we've earned at Shem, eh? A self-destroying robot?" Her aide waited a second for a response while Aria got back to her work.

"What response should we send?"

Aria shrugged. "What have they earned?"

And so it was decided; Shem's response would be a drone of their own, this one bearing a stone tablet with an old saying in the Salome Script and in the Old Imperial Tongue inscribed.

"If you're thirsty, come to the river."

-Shem and the People Shekhehan




@Irredeemable

Ela had eyes glued to the ship's windows, a wide, child-like smile strewn across her face. The woman, now in her fifties, looked excitedly at the whirring of machines below her. "Oh, would you look at that!" It was incredible-this nation's technology had far outpaced anything she'd see in Salome. Once the ship had recieved their greeting, she clamored for the communications and begin to sputter in Old Imperial.

"H-hello! Hello, familiar strangers! I am Ela Altara, of the Great Academy of Ur'daat, I come representing the Four Moons of Salome! We, seekers of science, knowledge, and wisdome, come in peace!"

When Ela first heard of the Gateways opening, she immediately volunteered to go. Her inquisitive nature had gotten her into trouble many times before-the daughter of a respected alchemist, she had many times been caught rifling through her father's laboratory as a young girl. She hoped her inquisitive nature wouldn't get her into trouble now, but she didn't quite care; the fact that she now leads one of the first three ships through the Gateway is enough of a legacy to die on. As her ship moved closer to the foreign vessel, the scientist quivered with excitement as to what she might find. Being a woman, she could never become an alchemist like her father and brothers. Perhaps here, her science could be appreciated more?
Shem



Sand must not get lonely. How could it? There's so much of it, it's always together. In fact, if I were the sand, I think I'd get sick of the company. I'd want some breathing room. How could all these trillions of grains stand to be so close, and so small among so many? How does the desert not seperate? The rest of the universe seems to, two stars can't be so close, much less a desert-full. Even the ocean seems like it tries to escape itself, desperately clawing onto shore. So why does the desert think it's special? Why does the desert not explode?

Lev has thoughts like these in the big empties. His rover kicked up the desert's peace as he sped through the dunes, lost in thought. Sweat dripped from his turban and onto his military-issue pants, a boring tan meant to blend into the sand and rock of the Shemi desert. His rifle clattered in the rover's storage-it's always a bumpy ride, and nobody felt it more than his partner and navigator, Roshi. His seat was designed for humans, and even then it wasn't designed for comfort. His metallic rear bounced up and down off their seat with a loud clanging. While Lev focused on driving, Roshi stared at the human.

"Lev," the automaton said in a friendly if not robotic tone. The scout remained silent.

"Lev," Roshi repeated. Lev wasn't much for conversation, which made his pairing to the robot so unfortunate. "Lev...are you...'daytime-dreaming' again?" The scout sighed.

"Yes, I am, Roshi."

"Oh." There was a moment of silence. "May I ask what your daytime-dream was about?"

"That's not really how it works, achi."

"Oh." More silence. "Lev, did you know that tomorrow is a special day?" Lev groaned, wiping the sweat from his brow.

"Yeah, I know Roshi, we've already-"

"Tomorrow is a special day because it is your birthday!" Roshi excitedly clicked his fingers together and turned his optical receptors up to Salome overhead. "It is your birthday and you are turning..."

"Roshi don't-"

"...Thirty years old! My best friend, Sergeant Lev Adami, is turning thirty years old!" Roshi remained giddy while Lev was silent for a moment.

"Yes I am," he finally said. "Thank you Roshi, I'm glad you keep remembering, it's very...kind." It wasn't like Lev disliked his metal companion, but a five hour rover ride on a hot day in the Shem desert could get...tiring. And the fact that he's turning 30 isn't exactly something he wants a reminder of.

"Oh, we will have a wonderful birthday celebration." Lev smirked. Roshi could be a bit like a dog sometimes. A big, metal dog. With a satellite tracking his every move. "There will be food, and music...you will play your oud, and I will gift you a gift, and you will read me my book..."

"Roshi, I'm not reading the book, how many times have I told you that?" Almost every day since the two were partnered up, Roshi's asked Lev to read him a book he had when he first joined the Assembly Military. It's a pretty book, filled with interesting astrological charts and alchemical designs, but Lev couldn't understand a word of it.

After some brief calculations, Roshi replied, "You have told me one thousand, six hundred and seventy three now, if you do not count when you said you could not after your eye surgery."

"Alright, so then why do you keep asking me?" Lev asked bruskly, although he knew what the answer would be.

"In the earliest reaches of my memory bank, I possessed three items. The first-" the robot played a soft dinging noise he had recorded. "-was a bell, and I still very much enjoy ringing it. The second was a statue of a man. I did not enjoy the statue very much, so I have sold it and bought a board game so we could play it, which we often do. The third was my book, and I would very much like to know what it says." Though his voice remained cheery as ever, Roshi clearly cared about this very much.

"Okay, so why can't you read it." Roshi paused a minute. They were getting closer to their destination, and the sun was beginning to set.

"I have read my book 870 times, and translated it into over five thousand languages, but I still do not understand what it means." The silence resumed, Lev awkwardly staring ahead. After a few minutes, Roshi said, "We should leave the rover here." At that, Lev slowed the vehicle down to a halt, sand sputtering out from its tires, and the two disembarked. They opened up the vehicle's storage and grabbed their equipment, Lev slinging his rifle over his shoulders and his goggles around his neck, while Roshi put on his backpack. And with that, the two went about burying the rover in sand, enough to hide it but sparse enough to make it easy to dig up.

"Pin this location, Rosh," Lev ordered.

"I have already pinned the location," the robot responded. Lev didn't know whether or not he was being sarcastic, it's not like his tone changed. The sun set over the horizon, and as the stars overtook the sky, Salome shining brilliantly above, the two marched into the desert.

About an hour later, they saw a craggy rock formation in the distance, firelight and smoke spurting out from the middle of it. Finding a nice dune to act as a vantage point, the scouts went prone on their belly. Lev began watching the formation through his goggles. Askari, as was expeted, and a lot of them. It was good this was only a reconnaissance mission, because Askari soldiers dotted every side of the rocks, the firelight leaking out of a cave in the middle. Berserkers moved in and out of the entrance, kicking along human slaves. Lev could hear their raspy growls from where he sat. It was a disgusting sight, like finding vermin droppings in your pantry.

"What do you see?" The robot asked.

"Soldiers, like we thought...ten, twenty...I don't know, I can't really tell. But Hamigdal's here, for sure." Lev began recording, trying to figure out numbers, patrol patterns...anything of interest. But he knew that wasn't really why they were there. "What's the overhead look like?"

"One moment, please." Roshi slid down the dune so he could sit up without being spotted. And then, his vision was the satellite's vision. The formation was a tiny spot on the Moon's surface, thousands of miles below. He zoomed, and enhanced...he couldn't make out any definitive shapes, but much of what he saw was the same as Lev. "There are...rocks."

Lev rolled his eyes. "How could you tell?"

"The formation is hollow. Perhaps the mechs are in there?"

"Nah, I've seen Askari mechs before, way too big to fit through that small an entrance," The scout replied, still staring through his goggles.

"Then perhaps...wait." Lev looked back at the robot, who had spotted something peculiar in the overhead. "There's a structure, on the southeast side of the formation."

Lev sighed. "Alright, stay here, I'll try and get a better view." Roshi exited the overhead view and nodded obligingly, sitting still on the lower edge of the dune, while Lev cautiously grabbed his rifle and moved around the side of the small mountain. Staying low the ground, he crept along silenty to avoid any suspicion. Damn Askari making me squat, he thought to himself, and, finding a rock to act as his vantage point, fixed the scope of his rifle to the southeast side of the formation.

He saw more riflemen, a couple berserkers wrestling, their water supply and...

Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Mechs. Tall, spiky, scary, mechs. So this is it. This is war, then. Shem asked for surveillance, and they got it. Now there's going to be an invasion of this sector, and the Askari are gonna take off towards the desert, and someone's going to have to track them down, and he knows who that's going to be. He and Rufus are going to be stuck there for months. Just then, he heard a feminine voice come through on his comm.

"Adami?" Lev turned away from the formation, confused. Why would HQ be reaching out to him? Especially when he's on assignment?

"Adami? Come in, Adami?" She repeated. Lev shook his head and spoke back.

"Yeah?"

"Adami, grab Roshi. You're headed back to the fleet." At this, the scout stood up, a shocked expression on his face, his rifle hanging at his side.

"What? Why?" What could possibly be more important than a warlord with mechs? There was a long silence on the comm. Finally he got his answer.

"The Gateway's opened." Lev turned, white in the face. He sat on the rock below him, snapped a few pictures of the mechs with his goggles, and got back on his comm, this time with Roshi.

"Hey Rosh?"

"Yes, Lev?

"I hope you pinned where that Rover is."

------------------------------------------

On all the Moons, the people of Salome were in a frenzy. Has humanity redeemed itself? Is it time to reunite? Or is it worse? Is invasion imminent? Is humanity to be punished again? The opening of the Gateway begged all these questions but answered none. The Baalim, masters of the Mission's sacred texts, debated hotly in the streets of every city, while Teachist monks stressed for their Students to remain calm. On Adama, news anchors debated the issue and reported on every minute detail of the goings-on of the Tifarah system. The latest story-The Assembly will meet, and discuss what actions, if any, to take.

"Personally, I say, let the Gateway be what it is, a pretty light in the sky. Nothing more, nothing less," One anchor said.

"You can't be serious!" Another replied. About five experts weighed in over their debate, from every corner of every moon. "After all these years, we finally have a chance to get in touch with the rest of humanity, and you-"

"The rest of humanity? We're barely in touch with ourselves!" From there, the debate devolved into a screaming match while crowds gathered in the streets of Adama's many streets to watch. The position of Shem was far more clear.

----------------

"We MUST go through. This much is clear, the idea that any of you could think otherwise is rediculous," Aluf Kazak shouted to the other members of the Assembly. She stood strongly with her arms planted on the table they shared, the standard flair of a Shemi woman. "Human is made to wander, to explore. That the Gateway opens now, when there is peace, when there is cooperation between the Four Moons...that is clearly a sign from God. If you are all too afraid to send a ship, I'll fly one myself."

"Now Aria-"

"Hami." The two heads of state, one of Shem and one of Nereid, looked to each other with an unspoken disdain. Aria Kazak has been Aluf of Shem since Aluf Hahayal's imprisonment at the end of the War, and since then has pursued an aggressive policy of reform, much to the chagrin of Nereid and Adamia's established leadership. Nereid's president, meanwhile, sat back in the finest Alien textiles, letting a condescending sigh through his nose.

"Aria, it's not as if anyone doesn't want to go through, but we are recovering from a massive civil war, which I hope you do not forget..." He trailed off with a pretention that made Aria, a decorated admiral of Shem's fleet during the war, snarl.

"Watch your words carefully, fisherman." The Nereidi president gulped, and shook his head before continuing.

"As I was saying, we are recovering from a war, and we have no idea what lies at the other end of the Gateway. IF we piss off the wrong people, I don't want an invasion fleet coming through from the other end." Observers from around the room murmured their agreement. Aria tisked her tongue and rolled her eyes.

"All the more reason to go through and know what we're dealing with on the other end! It is our Mission has humanity to...I don't know, learn ourselves, and that means learning each other."

"I have to agree with Aluf Hazak." All eyes in the room turned to the speaker, Admiral Eyef, Admiral of the Capital Fleet. "As the only two leaders sitting at this table with military experience, we can tell you, even more than knowing yourself, you must know your enemies. We have the ships to spare, I say we go through."

"Thank you Admiral," Aria said, and the Admiral obligingly nodded. She settled back into her chair, fixing her hair which was neatly pinned into a bun. The Missionary Baal who was moderating their conversation also thanked the admiral, before turning to Adama's president, Kav Benhai. He wore a tailored suit and tailored turban, with his statement clearly having been prepared for quite a while, and he gave a quick smile to all the leaders at the table.

"Assembly," he began, as Aria quietly groaned her disapproval, "Do we have a responsibility to humanity? Of course. But we have an even greater responsibility to our people!"

"By 'our people', do you mean your corporate interests?" Aria shot back. The moderator moved to say something but the Adami President raised his hand in protest.

"Now, now, let us not pick fights, I have my responsibilities as do you, Aluf." Seeing that Aria went silent, he raised both hands to speak to the Assembly. "Why rush anything? We do not know how long this...'Gateway' will remain open, who knows if our soldiers who go through can even go back? We went through to get here and we were lost for...well, three centuries, I suppose. So, it pains me to say it, leaders of the Assembly, but I must vote no." The president gave a nice speech, but everyone in the room knew that his opinion was one that was clearly bought. The corporations of Adami have been hotly debating the subject of whether to go through the gates or not, with many wishing to expand Salome's trade capabilities, but the price of security in the end was much higher, and President Benhai fell into their camp. It was silent for a while, when the moderator spoke up.

"That's two against two...Teacher Qubon, you're the tie breaker." The monk, and leader of Da'lu, sat quietly in a dark corner of the table, lost in thought. Aria assumed that, since the initial Gateway opening brought humanity to the Tifarah System and led to the occupation of Da'lu, Qubon would certainly object, but as she began to say something, the alien raised a finger.

"We exist on small stretch of River of Consciousness." The humans who surrounded him stared at him, perplexed. "To us, the river moves straight...hm?" With this, he made a gesture of a straight line with his hands. "We move downstream, and in short time, must disembark." He paused and look the between the leaders at the table. "When we get back in river, we forget we were there before. And we never see...river not straight at all." He then gestured a circle.

There was a pause, and the President of Nereid spoke up. "So that means..."

"Change is not space between states of calm, but actually, change is state of nature. Calm...only branching moments." He bowed his head, his eye closing in one of the aformentioned branching moments. "Through the Gateway...that is where the river branches."

-----------------------------------------------------

And so it was that for the first time in 300 years, the people of the Four Moons would enter the Gateway in search of humanity. Three teams would go through at first. It was decided very early on that, due to Missionary protest, nobody would go to Earth for now until it was clear there was Divine permission. Instead, three expeditions, each with different focus, would be sent to find human colonies that were separated in the time of Babel. Each expedition would have a military attachment (including scouting teams), and at least one Missionary Baal and Teachist monk. From there, one group would be focused exclusively on discussing religion and philosophy, one would be focused on economic cooperation, and one would be focused on science and technology.

As the ships prepared to leave, Lev looked back at Salome, celebrating his birthday quietly among a crowd of monks, priests, philosophers and alchemists, who Roshi ran among showing his book off. The expeditions, full of fear, anticipation, and excitement entered the Gateways, and in a moment, they were gone. Lev and his religious ship quickly caught a signal-music. They heard music. It sounded quite like the Missionary hymns many of the Baals had grown up with, so they pressed on.
@Tortoise

The trade ship, meanwhile, picked up a second signal, with a wide variety of human and alien languages coming through. Could this be another branch of the Interstellar Trade Route? With hope in their hearts, they set forth.
@Sigma

Finally, the ship of scientists and alchemists stayed, passing by multiple signals until they heard the whirring of engines and machines. They found their destination.
@Irredeemable

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Elsewhere, an old man looked up to a purple sky, and above saw the open gateway, beautifully shining in every color imaginable. He smiled and began to laugh. A robot standing next to him look puzzled. "Is everything alright, father?"

"Oh...yes, I believe it is." He chuckled once more. "Brilliant, just brilliant.
@Ekreture
Approved

The Alchemist seems like a strange figure. He appears kind of randomly through your History, like a recluse or a spiritual hermit.


Very much so lol, I'm glad you picked that up. A bit of mystery never hurts anyone...
Will you be making a discord? I have a few questions, but I can ask them here or PM you
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