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Generated: Nov 02, 2020 12:21 PM
Post last updated: Nov 02, 2020 12:20 PM
human yet, and something more
A Starfleet vessel stumbles across an unintentional visitor.
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When a long-haul cargo vessel picks up a mysterious quantum phenomena that interferes with their warp drive, their standard protocol as per Federation exploratory regulations is to report it to Starfleet. Only a day away and with a relevant mission mandate, the USS Palmer decides to respond.

The phenomena looks something like a slow-motion explosion in the fabric of space. The crew of the Palmer succeed in collecting some interesting data consistent with an phenomena that theorists have proposed as a "temporal meteorite". The "slow motion" properties of the observation seem to be caused by an intruding extradimensional object approaching off the perpendicular of time. As it slides over the surface of time, it appears to progress more slowly than its internal experience of the dimensional intersection.

A few hours later, this theory is proven true when the explosion pops, depositing a piece of extradimensional matter firmly into the material universe.

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"Well today just seems to be getting better and better" I thought sarcastically. Normally I'm not one for bemoaning my situation in life. Considering the fact that I was currently floating in space, with no friendly ships in sight, and with zero chatter on the comms though, completely warranted a little bemoaning in my opinion.

The mission had been going rather well in my opinion. We had managed to sneak onto the Bug's ship undetected, and through a combination of Jackson's hacking skills and what Smithy liked to refer to as "Russian Stealth," we had remained undetected until we got to the ship's compter core. There though, a combination of bad luck and overconfidence lead to a sensor tech noticing us poking around in the mainframe and sounded the alarm. We managed to get the data we were after transmitted back to command, but had to blow the quantum bomb while we were still onboard so the bug's didn't report back that we had their encryption codes. Which lead to the other major problem of the day. I should be dead, blown to less than atoms along with the rest of my team. Instead, I'm slowly rotating on two different axis in a rather quiet area of space.

As I'm ruminating on how long it'll take before the stellar radiation starts corrupting my systems I notice something new. A thermal bloom that, if I'm lucky, is a ship; and if I'm extremely lucky, is not a Bug ship that'll use me as target practice or worse. Giving a mental shrug, I activate my thrusters to stabilize myself, and launch a five stage emergency flare before averting my optics. If this doesn't get their attention, nothing will.

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"Are we under attack?"

"No, sir. Maybe a dazzler, but it hasn't harmed any of our systems."

"Bring us in closer, then. What are we looking at?"

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"Some sort of metal humanoid, captain. Significant energy density, could be a weapon. Seems active, besides the flare it's firing impulse thrusters. Recommend caution."

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The ship moves closer. Though it has a significant heat signature, it leaves no exhaust cloud as it travels. It flashes a broad spectrum of radio pings, then repeats a few specific frequencies.

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"Well, at the very least I managed to get it's attention" I thought to myself. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the RF and pings it was sending out though. They seemed to just be gibberish, which ruled out the ship being UHS. At the same time though none of the comm keys that any other species used seemed to clear it up either. This still left the Bugs as a possibility, but they used antimatter drives for sublight manoeuvring and I wasn't seeing a radiation plume. So, possible first contact it is then. I load up the bare bones first contact package I've got; a list of prime numbers, some higher math equations, and a lexicon of English and Binary; and squirt it off towards the ship on a few different mid-band comm frequencies, as well as a high-band and low-band frequency for good measure.

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"Captain, the object appears to be transmitting a human language. Additionally, analog numeric sequences and other data reminiscent of historic first-contact sapience proofs. I hypothesize that the object was produced by a human civilization that is not aware of galactic life. Potentially a time traveler."

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"Acknowledged, commander. Let's see if they'd like to chat."

The ship transmits a series of significantly more complicated confirmations, followed by a mathematical proof describing a video encoder, followed by an ongoing audiovisual feed. The captain speaks in nearly-perfect English.

"Greetings! I am Captain Zarikk of the USS Palmer. To what sort of being might I be speaking?"

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-Well, Now we're getting somewhere- I think to myself. Though I'm a bit put off by the Captain's last statement. -I really hope it's not a race of xenophobes.- I squirt off a mathematical proof describing a popular full-dive VR encoder with a reply in English. "This is Captain Drake Lugh of the UHS Ranger Corps. I am human. To what sort of being am I speaking to?" As I send the message it occurs to me that "Palmer" is a very human sounding name. Curious, but it's best not to make assumptions about species you know nothing about.

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"Human, interesting! My own species is Denobulan, and our ship represents the United Federation of Planets. The Federation includes many species, including a significant number of humans! While our humans use this same language you speak, however, I notice that they do not look much like yourself, nor do they field a 'UHS Ranger Corps'."

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"What system do the humans you know hail from might I ask? We had a rather large diaspora event soon after a realiable FTL system was developed and I confess that there are several colony fleets from that era that we have still not rediscovered. Additionally, do you happen to know what the human designation of this star system is? I seem to be somewhat lost."

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"We record that the human race originated, and still largely resides, around the star Sol. I am no scholar of human history, but I have never heard of any human diaspora that did not take place under Federation colonization efforts. As an alternative theory, what date is it by your methods of reckoning? In any case, we are currently around half a light-year out from Zeta Orionis."

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-Well I seem to be in the right place in any case. Assuming what they call Zeta Orionis is the same place we call Zeta Orionis. That brings us back to the question of where everyone went though. I should at the very least be picking up a signal from the navigation beacon on the station in that system.- "According to the Earth Gregorian calendar system the date that I have is May 16th, 2348."

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"By the Terran calendar, the current year is 2360. Commander, does that match up?"

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"Yes, captain. We also have no records of any military operations taking place near this system twelve years ago."

This speaker appears to be a bright blue pile of rocks, vaguely slug-shaped. It also speaks in perfect English.

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"Then yes, Captain Lugh, we have a time mismatch. That was somewhat to be expected. From our end, your arrival looked like it might have not occurred smoothly across the angle of time."

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"It would seem then that we have much to discuss. Requesting permission to come aboard."

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"Of course! Stand by, we will beam you aboard."

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"Captain, are you sure we should not check more closely for possible dangers?"

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The ship beams Drake aboard.

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-What the... Okay, so apparently they have matter transporter technology. That's... certainly a new one.- As I glance around myself and step off of the platform I now find myself on, I begin a full check of all of my systems to ensure there was no adverse effect from this "beam" technology.

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The transporter appears to have been remarkably gentle, given the fact that Drake is from another universe with unknown technology.

The chief engineer meets Drake in the transporter room, and offers to show him to a meeting room where he can speak further with the captain.

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Immediately upon stepping off the "beam" platform I learn a few things about my hosts. First and foremost, they are indeed human. I had noticed a few individuals who appeared to be human on the video feed I had been getting but with convergent evolution and gene-splicing I wasn't sure. Second, this was most likely not a military ship. The lack of armor or void protection on the crew and the large thermal signature of the ship as it approached told me that. And third, my appearance apparently startled them. The technician, and to a lesser degree the Lead Engineer as he introduced himself to be, both expressed shock and a bit of fear at my appearance, though they were quick to school their expressions. On the last point I at least understood. I was a bit over seven feet tall, armed and armored to the teeth. Still, this did not bode well for getting on their good side. Shaking myself from my thoughts I addressed the Chief Engineer.

"Please, lead the way."

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Despite his nervousness around the unknown warbot, Chief Trelway is a polite host on the 30-second turbolift ride. The captain and a human woman are waiting in a comfortable conference room, and neither seems so startled by Drake's appearance. The captain greets him warmly.

"Welcome to the USS Palmer! Good to get you in out of the vacuum, though it doesn't seem to have done much harm. Is there anything you need, to be comfortable on our ship?"

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"Thank you for the welcome Captain. Quarters if there are any available. Otherwise no, though I wouldn't turn down raw materials if you have them available."

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"Of course, quarters will be arranged. What sort of materials do you need? You may access the replicators, of course. They provide most of our basic necessities. Do you have the same needs as a human?"

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"I am a human. If you are asking me if I need to eat and drink to maintain my systems, the answer is no. So long as your replicators can produce non-organic material such as metals and polymers then they will suit my needs just fine."

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"Our replicators can produce many but not all possible metals and polymers. You are welcome to speak to my science officer, Commander Toasty, if you need anything particularly rare. As a non-organic life form herself, she is well-versed in configuring more unusual materials in the replicator. Do you need any materials or power urgently? Otherwise, I might like to discus the circumstances of your unexpected arrival."

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"No, I have no pressing needs. As for the elephant in the room, could you describe exactly what you saw on your end?"

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"Of course. Wells?"

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"We observed an unusual section of space which grew from roughly 3 meters in diameter to roughly 15 meters by the time it ceased. The phenomena in this region of space displayed significant broad-spectrum light and radiation, as well tachyon counts twenty-two standard deviations above average in this region of space. The region also produced a spatial distortion reducing the efficiency of nearby warp drives by a detectable but insignificant amount. Irregularities in the diffractive indices of the accumulating particle cloud, as well as the mere presence of tachyons in relevant quantities, suggested a temporal anomaly. Commander Toasty reviewed relevant records and theory, finding the most similar phenomena to be that of a "time meteorite", a term for a hypothetical object which passes from outside the plane of this universe to within it, causing temporal friction by entering at an angle not perpendicular to the flow of local time. If the captain permits it, you may also access our scans and logs regarding the observation."

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"Thank you, based on what you saw though, I might be able to offer an alternative explanation. Approximately 18 hours ago by my clock, my team and I boarded a Consumer deep Intel ship with orders to hack into its mainframe, collect data on their communications and surveillance networks, plant a quantum bomb on their ship, extract, and detonate the bomb to ensure the Consumers remained unaware of both that we had that data, and that we could track their deep Intel ships. The plan went south and while we were still able to complete the primary objective and relay the data back to command, we were cut off from all escape routes and were forced to detonate the quantum bomb before we were overrun.

Now, had that particular aspect of the plan gone off correctly, we would not be having this discussion as I would have been reduced to less than atoms. Instead, I find myself in what appears to be a parallel dimension. The only possible explanation I can think of, is a fringe theory postulated by the Dayton Prime Think-Tank. I'm no scientist, but essentially what he theorized was that if a quantum bomb was mistuned it had a very remote chance of ripping a hole in the quantum foam. Now, he and everyone else who looked at this possibility had no idea what effect this might have, and the odds of it actually happening were so slim as to be impossible so it was mostly put out of everyone's mind, but that is the only thing that both fits the situation I was in and the observed effects that I can think of.

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"Intriguing! 'Parallel universes' of this sort are not entirely unknown to Starfleet, so it may be possible for our scientists to recreate the effect and send you home. I expect it would help if we knew more about this quantum bomb, in particular."

Lt. Commander Wells flashes the captain a dubious look.

"Ah, and my tactical officer would also like you to elaborate on this military engagement. Are you at war?"

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My Apologies Captain, allow me to clarify. This theory that Dayton Prime postulated is one that he spent decades on, and utilized not only a significant amount of his processing capacity, but that of nearly a dozen other Think-Tanks as well. It was put forth as the possible next stage in transportation systems, exploration, and possibly even full ascension. Since that time though, the subject has been relegated to the realm of back burner topics for individuals to research when they have spare time and are interested in working on it. We have been utilizing quantum fusion technology for a bit over a century and this topic has been in research for a bit less than that. In that time, no one has been able to come up with meaningful results. Mathematically it's possible, as evidenced by my presence here. Realistically and measurably though? Unless you have something better than a dozen city district sized sapient computers to work on the problem, then it's not going to happen. Besides which, I'm an air assault ranger, not a scientist. I simply don't possess the information to give you more than a basic overview of how quantum fusion works.

As for your tactical officer's inquiry; the short answer is yes, the United Human Systems are at war. The longer answer is that we are currently in a state of total war against a species known officially as "The Consumers." This species has no actual name for themselves that we know of for the simple reason that they see all other life in the universe as nothing more than food. They have, however, been given many other unofficial names, the most popular of which include Bugs, Locusts, and Tyranids. They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be bargained with. They would destroy humanity and all other sapient beings in the galaxy if given the opportunity and thus must be stopped at all costs.

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"That's a shame, we have had a few interactions with similar species ourselves. Starfleet never relishes war, but is frequently forced to participate in it. To your other point, though, Nebula-class starships have some of the most powerful computers in the known universe! It may be worth a shot to try the problem from a different angle. I believe the only well-documented parallel universe incident involved a transporter malfunction, and such malfunctions are often reproducible by a clever engineer. If Commander Toasty and Chief Trelway feel it is beyond our capabilities, however, we might still consider submitting it to the Daystrom institute. They will at least appreciate the tip, I'm sure."

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"Captain Lugh, would you happen to have heard of a civilization called the Terran Empire? They were associated with the last recorded transdimensional intrusion. I would also appreciate hearing more about these 'Consumers'. Do you have any information on their biology or psychology? I am quite familiar with the established literature on combat with insectoid races, if you are interested in comparing this knowledge."

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"If your engineering team wants to take a crack at it they are welcome to. They very well might make a lucky breakthrough. I reiterate however that I will only be able to give them a basic overview of the technology. To be honest though Captain, even if you manage to replicate the event and know for sure that it would go back to my own universe, I would likely decline. Going back at this point would cause... complications.

And no, apart from some similar examples in fiction I have never heard of a civilization calling itself The Terran Empire. As for the Consumers, I have a decent amount of combat data loaded that I could share with you Lt. Commander. It would be interesting to get an outside perspective on them."

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Lt. Commander Wells will be happy to take a look at Drake's materials on the bugs whenever their computer systems can be made properly interoperable. If he can send over definitions of the data types he uses, that should be pretty quick.

"Well, I would think you would have heard of the Terran Empire, were you from the same universe. Exciting to learn there are other accessible universes! Theirs was not worth making an attempt at regular contact. In any case, do you have questions about our world? I am sure this is a more disorienting experience for you than for ourselves."

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"That's an understatement" I chuckle. "It's obvious that our histories diverged at some point. It would be interesting to see when and how much. The majority of my questions can wait until network protocols are established and I can connect to your computer system, though I am curious as to what sort of a government your "Federation" is and who is a part of it besides humanity. Also, I am curious if humanity in this universe contains beings like myself. That is to say technological organisms, or Technos as we prefer to call ourselves.

Regarding connecting our networks, if it is agreeable to you and your team I can use the comm frequency we were using before to transmit the neccessary software protocol data to allow our networks to communicate."

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"Feel free to transmit the data. The engineering team can get started. But I, at least, am not aware of any humans meeting your description. Wells?"

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"No, sir. Although there is an android of human design currently serving aboard the USS Trieste. While clearly designed to mimic a human appearance and psychology, I believe the current understanding is that he diverges fairly significantly. Other researchers have worked on similar projects, but Lieutenant Data is as yet the only known sapient humanoid computer."

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As I begin transmitting the necessary data I ponder Wells' words. "Intriguing, I would like to meet this Lieutenant Data at some point if possible. Perhaps we could compare notes. For the moment though, what can you tell me about the Federation? And other neighboring governments for that matter."

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"Of course."

"The United Federation of Planets is structured as a republic. Constituent planets are largely self-governing, but the Federation is ruled by a split system of a Council, President, and Supreme Court. These enforce a few laws, and a much larger set of regulations, trade treaties, and mutual defense pacts. There are strict requirements for entry, including recognition of several natural rights, and a minimum technological level. Planets lacking warp technology are not permitted to join the Federation, but are also subject to several protections designed to prevent cultural contamination. The Federation maintains Starfleet, which acts as a combined humanitarian, research, and military arm for the interests of the Federation as a whole. Several constituent species also maintain their own fleets for similar purposes, though Starfleet has long been the largest and most advanced."

"In this region of the galaxy, the most significant other polities are the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star Empire, and the Tholian Assembly."

She brings up a map of the quadrant on a viewscreen, highlighting the borders and regions as they come up.

"The Klingon Empire is a bit of a misnomer, as the Klingons have been ruled by a Council and a Chancellor for multiple centuries. However, they are an aggressive and expansionary society, and in our history have frequently fought with the Federation. Sixty-seven years ago the Klingon Empire agreed to a peace treaty, so in the present age we have significant tensions but little open conflict. Klingon citizens appear to have little complaint for their government, and most internal Klingon political divisions appear to relate to the availability of better opportunities for battle. Non-Klingon citizens have more discontent, as reports suggest they are heavily exploited for productive labor in order to free up resources for Klingons to spend their time fighting."

"The Romulan Star Empire is poorly understood, due to their xenophobia and unwillingness to permit cultural exchange. They claim a much smaller volume of space than the Federation, and rule few other species within their borders. As far as we can tell, life for the other species is heavily restricted to the point of oppression or slavery. We have little evidence of quality of life for the Romulans themselves, except that assassination and political purges are common. They are ruled by a Senate and an Empress, but the exact details are unclear. After negotiating a neutral zone between our respective territories, the Romulans have largely avoided all contact with the Federation, and in fact refused to even show their faces during negotiations over that zone."

"The Tholian Assembly is even more unknown, rarely leaving their own borders or acknowledging any communication. They demand exacting respect for their borders, giving any ship that passes them an explicit ultimatum to leave within a a certain amount of time or be destroyed. The Tholians are known to have strange technology based off of different design principles than our own, and appear to be a large insectoid species that requires high environmental temperatures. It is unknown whether any humanoid species live within their territory."

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"Interesting, it seems our two realities are not quite as similar as I thought. First, there are far fewer species where I come from, to the point where humanity didn't even discover another sapient species until decades into our diaspora." I hold my hand open palm up and display a hologram of the known galaxy from my reality, with the territories of each civilization highlighted by a different color. "That being said, due to there being fewer species in total there are more resources available in a given sector and thus, more major players. Generally speaking each of the known civilizations hold territory approximately similar in size to your territories, though several of our allies are currently threatened by the Consumers who are approaching spin-ward from another area of the galaxy. In terms of government the United Human Systems is set up similar to your Federation though we have some differences in policy concerning fledgling species."

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"The last parallel universe had roughly the same species, so far as we know. Perhaps it implies a sort of conceptual distance."

Wells brings up some images of the most common species in the quadrant.

"Are any of these recognizably similar to the species you know? Are your biological humans equivalent to ours? If you have any genetic scans, we could compare to find whether humans are the only point of overlap."

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As I look over the images I'm struck with fascination on how so many species in this reality bear a remarkable resemblance to humanity. "No, I'll have to give it a closer look once I can connect to your computer but just looking at this none of the known races in my reality look like these. All but a couple aren't even humanoid. That being said, I've seen some gene-sliced Standards and Cybers and custom Techno morphs that vaguely resemble some of these. Particularly that cat person race there and those... space elves?" I ask somewhat incredulously while pointing to an image of a race that look like someone took a particularly gruff Tolkien elf and gave it angry eyebrows.

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"The consistency of the humanoid bodyplan as well as the number of humanoid races has resulted in numerous cases where local fiction predicted species similar to those actually found in the broader galaxy, yes. Vulcans, as you point out, are a common example. This has also perhaps lead to a deeper emphasis placed on retaining your original appearance. Humanity prefers to avoid most genetic modification outright, and also avoids most cosmetic surgery that would produce an appearance not recognizably human. Many other species have also chosen to avoid deviating from their original species standard.

The engineering team has also finished processing your communication protocols, if you would like to speak to the commander now."

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"Of course, lead the way."

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The captain waves them off, and Lt. Commander Wells leads Drake back to the turbolift, where they ride to a research lab. Commander Toasty and Chief Trelway are waiting with a variety of computing equipment and cables.

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Commander Toasty continues to be a pile of blue rocks affixed to the surface of a six-foot-long slug. Her voice sounds perfectly human and friendly.

"Welcome to our universe! I have some hardware set up here for you to interface with. No offense, but it seemed safer for you to work directly with an intermediary computer than to access the ship computer directly. We've loaded up some relevant historical and cultural data for you, including our universal translation engine. If you could upload any archives of your own, that would be very helpful."

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"The caution is completely understandable. I personally have a firewall and "sandbox" OS that I use for exactly that reason. I assume the network protocols neccessary for me to safely connect to your computer system wirelessly are stored on there?" I ask as I glance over the various cables arrayed on the table before popping up a hardline jack probe and using my nanite system to form a compatible connection at the tip.

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"Yes, we also included our standards for secure wireless communication. If you have a compatible subspace communicator installed, we can also take this opportunity to calibrate it to work with our systems as well."

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"I'm afraid I don't know what a subspace communicator is." I say as I plug into the computer and start downloading the data. "The UHS uses quantum entanglement networks for ftl communication. As do all other known space fairing civilizations that are capable of it in my reality. If you could give me full specifications on it though as well as any material needed to make a subspace communicator I could produce one that is integrated into my systems."

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"You are welcome to look at our schematics, but if your world does not use the same system as us, we do not have a design which you could easily integrate. Our smallest designs are not small enough to be embedded. I will be happy to review your alternative, as perhaps that will be easier to duplicate."

Commander Toasty and Captain Lugh spend a while working out the integration of their technology and history. The divergence appears to occur sometime within the early space age, though it's hard to say for sure exactly when. The commander also explains the function of the replicator, and shows Drake to his room.

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The next few days pass peacefully. The crew of the Palmer is friendly but nervous around their warbot guest, and Drake has had plenty of time to himself.

The ship spends a while near Zeta Orionis, taking some extra scans of the unique trinary star system. After leaving instructions for the locals to keep an eye on the area of space where Drake appeared, the Palmer heads out for a tip on a nearby star where some archeologists have gone missing. The planet is quiet and empty, the natives having vanished a couple dozen millennia ago.

With good weather and beautiful plant life, Captain Zarikk grants shore leave for a significant portion of the crew. A small team will be investigating the archeological site, which is too heavily shielded to permit scanning for life signs from orbit. Drake has the option to visit the surface, if he would like.

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"With your permission Captain, I would like to join the away team on this mission. I feel my unique capabilities might aid in the search for the missing archeologists. As well as provide the team with additional security."

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"Oh, I'm not sure it's as dramatic as all that. Researchers are passionate people, I'm sure they've just been distracted from their reports by the excitement of the ruins! Feel free to join the team, though. Always helpful to have another set of eyes."

The team leaves about an hour after the shore leave party is situated on the surface, once they have had a chance to confirm they cannot detect the archeologists above ground. Joining Drake will be Lt. Commander Wells, a medical officer called Lt. Commander Va'reth, and two non-commissioned crewmen.

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As we begin to move into the ruins I switch my combat systems to standby. The Captain seems to think we won't run into any trouble but in my experience it's better to be over prepared than to run into a problem you're not ready for. As an afterthought I double check my subspace communicator's connection to the Palmer. It had taken almost the entire time since my arrival in this universe but Toasty and I finally figured out how to make a subspace transceiver small enough to fit in my communication array. A significant amount of signal strength was sacrificed to achieve this, bringing the effective range down to about a lightyear, but both Toasty and I felt that was an acceptable cost to allow me to maintain long-range communication capabilities without the quantum entanglement networks I had relied on for so long.

As we continue to walk I turn to Wells. "So, do you guys have anything handheld that can detect life signs? I can keep an eye on the infrared and turn up my audio gain but it'd be nice to have something more precise than that."

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"Our tricorders should be able to detect them, but it's hard to say what the range will be in here. These walls aren't normal stone. I think I have good readings on all the adjacent chambers."

The first chamber is buried halfway into a hill, and seems to have been where the archeologists set up camp. Some sleeping bags and boxes of rations are set in the corner, as well as a radio box used to link to the orbital subspace relay.

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"Tricorders huh." I ping a query to the Palmer's computer and download the resulting tricorder design I found. Glancing it over I'm pretty sure I can replicate some or all of the device's functions given enough time to bridge the technology differences. Though given how ubiquitous they seem to be I doubt I'd ever need to. "So do we know what exactly the walls are made of then?" I ask as I look through the supplies, trying to discern whether the archeologists took the time to grab supplies for an extra long trip into the ruins or if they left in a hurry.

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While some less portable camp equipment is sitting around, it looks like the archeologists brought their packs with them. They don't appear to have left in enough of a hurry for it to be noticeable.

The medical officer points his tricorder around the room and takes some more detailed scans.

"Well, looks like the rock is normal, just limestone, but all these decorations are made of charged kelbonite. Kelbonite interferes with everything, including subspace transmissions, and especially when charged.

The dense green inlays on the walls and ceiling do seem to react strangely with Drake's own scans. They seem to distort radiation that passes near them, giving the surfaces a wavy and uncomfortable appearance.

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"Huh, it's almost like being in some kinda weird faraday cage. Actually, do we know anything about what the species that made this place were doing here? This interference reminds me of some research labs I've been in."

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"The culture of the natives isn't well-understood yet, but the hypothesis of the researchers we're looking for was that it was a vault for storing religious relics. The construction is sturdy enough it may have been intended to withstand attack, and while the shielding may have been incidental to the aesthetics, it might not be a coincidence that it renders the structure all but immune to phaser fire."

The interior of the structure is closely laid out, with only a few rooms per level. The second level has a small auditorium and what look like they may once have been storage rooms. On the third level down, the tricorders pick up life signs. Several humanoids can be faintly detected through the floor, on the level below.

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"Alright, now we're getting somewhere. Stay behind me when we go in, just in case." I say to the others. Bringing my combat systems to standby as we make our way to the next level.

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Drake carefully leads the group down the next set of stairs, where they find a hallway with a couple of office-like rooms on either side, and at the end, a closed door.

The door is a slab of the same stone and metal as the rest of the complex, and appears to be quite firmly seated in place. The tricorders continue to show faint life signs on the other side.

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Mentioning to the others to stay back, I go to the door and put my hand against it to try and catch what sound I can from the other side.

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While the walls are quite thick, they are solid enough that sound is not trapped within them. Drake can hear a couple of voices on the other side, speaking in mildly aggressive and angry tones of voice.

"Yet symbol 08 still fits closer to a Vulcan reshek than any other plausible source!"

"Vulcan is not a plausible source! No language with evidence of Vulcan influence has ever adopted only secondary alphabet components!"

"Which is why this was an exciting enough discovery to be worth a manned expedition!"

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Motioning the others forward I poke around the door, looking for a way to open it. Not seeing any way to open the door without damaging it I use my nanites to form a surface transducer speaker on the palm of my hand. Pressing my hand flat against the door I call out to the Archeologists. "Attention, this is the crew of the Federation ship USS Palmer. Are you in need of assistance?"

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The archeologists jump.

"Ah! Starfleet? Yes, help please! We're sort of stuck, we seem to have triggered some sort of security mechanism. Things started glowing and then the door slammed shut. We're all safe, but it's getting pretty boring in here!"

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"Could you amplify what their response? Also, I can't see any way to open this door manually. The kelbonite might need to receive some specific signal."

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"Ah right, sorry." I quickly copy the output I'm hearing to one of my speakers as well as run my normal audio senses through the surface transducer, essentially acting as a go between so everyone can hear everyone. "Well if need be I can cut them out of there but I'm worried there might be a secondary security measure in place to prevent that. Do you have any ideas Lt. Commanders?"

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"If we were able to construct some sort of power sink to drain the kelbonite of its charge, it might be possible to beam them out. We could also boost the transmission signal, if we drilled a small hole to give them a beacon. On the other hand, if aside from the kelbonite these walls are just limestone, it wouldn't be too hard to restore them after cutting through."

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"Well if you've got a beacon we can give them then cutting a hole seems like the best option. For just drilling a hole though it would probably be faster if you can set a phaser for it than what I've got."

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"Yes, I can cut through with a phaser. Let's take some closer scans and ask the archeologists to do the same, and then stand back, please."

Lt. Commander Wells does a careful scan of the detail work on the wall, waits for the researchers to be well back from the door, and levels a phaser at it.

The blast cuts through the stone quite quickly, but the walls react just as quickly. The kelbonite inlays flare with power and the whole structure rumbles, then lifts into the air. With a slam, the floor falls downwards, dropping the group into a small channel. A moment later, the four archeologists join them just as suddenly, and the group is thrown down the channel by a sudden torrent of wind, straight out the side of the building just as it ascends above ground level. Drake will need to anchor himself to the walls if he doesn't want to be thrown along with them. The shaking structure continues to rise even higher.

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Bringing my combat systems to full with a thought I launch two piton cables into the walls at an angle that swings me back to the floor. Sinking my talons into the floor I retract the pitons, extend claws, and lower myself to the ground as much as possible to reduce drag.

As I begin crawling back to where we were dropped on all fours to avoid the wind, I push as much power into my communications array as I can without blowing it out. "Palmer, this is Drake. Ruins are on the move, some kinda defense mechanism. The crew and civvies got blown out onto the surface, current condition unknown. What are you seeing on your end? Over."

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The response is filled with static, barely interpretable.

"TOO MUCH STA..."

"...EAM OUT"

"...NDING SHUTTLE"

The newly grown tower swings out several sections, producing four "arms" that begin flailing in the air. The interior walls start ramping up magnetic force, attempting to launch Drake out like a railgun.

Out on the surface, Wells grabs an archeologist and bodily throws him away from the structure, shouting at the group to get moving. She fires several blasts of her phaser at a section that appears to be rapidly turning into a head.

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"Fine, we'll play it your way" I think to myself. Releasing the floor I cross my arms and allow myself to be launched out. Once clear I open my air intakes, bring my thrusters online and open my bat-like wings.

Looping back around towards the others I see Wells shooting some kind of "head-on-a-tentacle" with his phaser and doing little to no damage in the process. Calling out through his communicator I yell "Wells, cease fire. With how much kelbonite is in that thing you're probably doing nothing but feeding it energy. Get everyone clear, I'll try to keep it's attention until the shuttle arrives." With that, I spin up my battle-screen and bring my railguns to full power.


As I'm making my attack run on the thing's face though an idea occurs to me. I quickly search through the universal translation database and load the oldest Vulcan dialect I can find as my language output. As I slam to a stop, hovering between the thing's face and the others, I flip my speakers to their loudest setting. "WE ARE PEACEFUL EXPLORERS. WE MEAN YOU NO HARM."

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The... giant robot? does not seem very impressed by Drake's efforts at diplomacy. It responds with lasers.

That's what the face is for, apparently. The building fires some sort of plasma blasts out of its "eyes", as Drake dodges out of the way. The laser carves a slice of fire across the landscape, and Wells and Va'reth rush the civilians towards the group of Starfleet personnel on shore leave. After pushing the group towards relative safety, the away team turns back around to deal with the robot. Wells pull on a pair of bulky gloves as she runs towards it, directing the crewmen away in a different direction.

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"Fine, screw you then you overgrown excuse for a Titan!" I pull back and begin unloading a blistering stream of APHE railgun fire into the thing's face, reducing it to rubble. Within moments though it begins reforming.

Cursing, I focus my fire into the root of the face's arm and load two micro-q missiles into my shoulder launchers. The tiny quantum bombs inside the missiles are extremely unstable, set to overload on impact. Glancing towards the ground though I see Wells running towards it. Switching back to normal comm settings I yell through his communicator "Wells get clear! I'm about to unload the big guns on this thing and you're not wearing armor."

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"I'll be fine!" Wells shouts, waving one of her gloved hands, but she does dive into a ditch as the missiles strike.

The missiles are drastically more effective than the phaser fire. The construct shatters open, revealing the interior rooms. It releases a shockwave, completely cutting off communications for a moment and scrambling Drake's senses, before flailing chaotically with its arms. It tears up the ground in an effort to smack Drake, but even dazzled he's much faster than it.

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"Well that certainly pissed it off. Alright Wells, I'll bite. What's your plan? I've got enough ordinance to reduce this thing to rubble or one of us can go in to try and find a computer or power core or something. If you've got another idea though I'm all ears." I ask as I keep dodging, weaving, shooting, and generally being as annoying as possible.

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"We might be able to drain its charge! See if you can anchor a cable to it, when the shuttle gets here we might be able to drain it into the shield buffer!"

The giant begins firing more arrays of lasers into the air, turning the clouds of dust to plasma.

"Or you could just blow it up! Don't let me stop you, if you don't need to conserve!"

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"Unless you've got a cable hiding up your sleeve or one in the shuttle then we'll have to go for the "kill it with fire" approach." Dodging another laser array and letting the plasma roll off my battle screen, I keep pumping railgun fire into the thing's faces. "Your call Wells, but if I go full bore you might want to get under something."

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"The shuttle will have a cable!"

A series of spacial distortion blasts narrowly miss Drake, curving down to cut a chasm into the ground beneath him.

"But this is getting a bit excessive! Just go for it!"

She dives out of the way of another plasma ray and drops behind a piece of rubble.

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"Right, let's see how you like this." As I dive toward the ground I call out to every communication device I can sense, yelling to hit the dirt and look away, before I unleash a barrage of twelve micro-q missiles from my shoulder launchers; all aimed at the roots of the Titan's arms. With an explosion that is more felt than heard all twelve detonate at once, obliterating the arms and a large chunk of the Titan besides. As it reels from the blow I land and dig my talons into the dirt. Bringing my arms straight forward and parallel to each other I open the armor panels on my chest and inner arms. As I yell out in fury I bring my quantum reactor to redline and unleash my most powerful weapon, a directed beam of pure quantum energy.

The blinding, pearlescent beam shoots forth with a scream of unholy rage. In the scant moments it is active I slice it along the tower, cutting it down like a mighty redwood tree. All matter that the beam touches is obliterated, the atoms themselves ripped asunder into their constitute particles.

As the Titan falls, I fire another twelve micro-q missiles, the launchers having reloaded an instant before, into the stump of the Titan; obliterating it, and burying the remainder in rubble. And as I collapse to the ground, I see the remains of the Titan, a ruin once more.

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Several hours later, the captain and Lt. Commander Wells are speaking.

"In any case, you suspect the technology was the 'quantum bombs' that he mentioned earlier?"

"Yes, sir. The particle readouts in the aftermath were highly irregular. We don't have an equivalent."

"Well, worth suggesting for research, in any case. Starfleet has been looking for some heavier duty options for torpedoes, and at that level of energy density they could be a good choice. I can't imagine what threats were worth designing them at that size."

"Presumably targets with good shielding, sir. We should ask about that, as well."

"Of course, please do. But you still can't get any affect read?"

"A dim presence, now. No relevant detail. I am continuing to practice."

"Keep me updated. And let me know when he's charged back up. No need to be pushy when everything's worked out fine, but it seems urgent to ask our visiting soldier what he was fighting for."

"Except those poor archeologists, of course. Plenty of good scans, but I guess they'll never find out what was actually worth defending like that."

"A shame, but better than lost lives. Thank you, Wells."

"Of course, sir."

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---quantum reactor fully repaired---

---feedback test initiated---

---feedback test results nominal---

---initiating primary system startup---

 

With a start Drake's eyes snapped open. "Ugh. I hate doing that." Slowly sitting up and glancing around he realized he was in a lab on the Palmer's engineering deck, on top of one of the heavy duty lab tables. Getting to his feet he pings the ship's computer, nodding to himself when he sees that the archeologists and away team were recovered unharmed with the exception of some hearing damage which, according to the medical logs, were simple to repair and scorched retinas from one of the archeologists who hadn't looked away. According to the computer he was still in the infirmary recovering from what was apparently a relatively minor surgery and was slated to make a full recovery.

That done, Drake goes to the lab's replicator and prints a block of titanium carbide. Picking it up he lets it sit on his hand as his nanite system goes to work, breaking the block down to it's atoms and carrying the resources to the creation forge in his chest to begin the process of rearming his weapons, making it appear as if the solid block of metal was softening and melting into his hand.

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As Drake is dissolving a block of metal into his hand, the chief engineer walks in and waves at him.

"Ah, welcome back to wakefulness! You haven't missed too much, just a little predatory memetic construct incident. Do you need anything?"

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"A what now? Does weird slash dangerous stuff happen around here all the time? Or is it just one of those weeks? And, to answer your question no, not at the moment. Though, if you happen to have some spare time if you could check whether the replicators can make some specialized materials in decent quantities and quality that'd be helpful. I can send the list to your terminal if that'd be alright with you."

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"Sure, I can check the specs. I guess weird things do happen pretty often, but it's an exploration mission, you know? Lot of weird shit in space. It's why we've got to explore it before the civilians get there. The Palmer's just filling in the gaps, not as glamorous as a flagship, but it's important work. There's a lot of gaps!"

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"Yeah space is big, I'll give you that." Drake says as the block of metal finishes melting into his hand and he turns to leave. "Thanks for looking the stuff over for me. Just shoot me a direct comm once you've got the results." Throwing a wave Drake leaves the lab and starts heading to the bridge, where the Palmer's computer says the Captain and Wells currently are.

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"Good to see you up and about! I hope there was no serious harm done to you? We were just about to get underway, there's a research lab nearby that needs some samples transported with more care than the locals can provide."

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"No permanent damage at any rate. It's the price of using that weapon unfortunately." Walking out of the turbolift Drake leans on the railing beside the Captain's chair. "So long as your replicators can make the materials I need I'll be able to repair myself no problem. I've actually got your Chief Engineer checking on that for me."

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"Ah, good. They do have limitations, but they really are convenient devices. Will you be able to restock the missiles you used?"

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"Yeah, I should be able to. Depends on whether the replicators can make all the resources. The only real exotic component is something I can make myself with my reactor. Everything else is relatively common as far as elements go."

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"Would you mind if we examined one of those missiles? The practical instance might give us a hint at the underlying physics even if you don't know so much of the theory yourself."

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"Well, technically the exact design is classified. Considering the circumstances though I'd be willing to make one for you guys to look at. I can't exactly be court martialed when I'm stuck in a different dimension." He laughs. "That reminds me, we should discuss how I might become a member of Starfleet. If I'm going to keep doing this long term, then I should actually be in your rank structure rather than just being a random Army Captain from another dimension floating around." Oh, and about the missile. I do insist that I'm there at all times when it's being examined, at least until Toasty and your Chief Engineer understand how exactly it works so they don't accidentally blow up the ship."

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"Of course, we will take all due care. It's a good point, though. It seems a waste if you can't help on away missions, but it would certainly be inappropriate to knowingly deploy you into dangerous environments if you are not a part of our command structure. At the very least, I could declare you an Acting Ensign with minimal paperwork, if you would be comfortable with that? I'd also be happy to write a letter of recommendation for the academy, of course, but that doesn't solve our current situation."

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"It'll be annoying being a butterbar again, but that will work. Which situation  are you referring to though?"

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"You operating here, outside of our command structure."

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"Huh, yeah I guess since you guys don't have different branches of the military anymore this is kinda a novel experience for you. Well, up till now I've been playing this similarly to how it would work if one of our Star Navy ships were carrying a detachment of infantry or marines. Basically, as the highest ranking Army officer onboard I report directly to the CO of the ship I'm on, that being you." He nods to the Captain. "Though in the case of some larger ships the CO might delegate their XO as the primary point of contact. Basically Captain, from my point of view this situation is relatively normal. The biggest problem is that it's a short term solution. Long term, being the only member of a branch of the military that doesn't exist in this dimension simply isn't feasible."

"I am not fully familiar with the inner workings of Starfleet. If my continuing operations as an army officer attached to the Palmer would cause unnecessary confusion or legal problems then I would be willing to accept joining Starfleet as an acting Ensign pending entrance to the Academy. If it would not though, I would personally prefer to retain my rank as a UHS Army Captain until I enter the academy. It is ultimately your decision Captain, and I will accept your judgment on this matter."

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"Fair enough. The Federation has procedures and treaties for join actions with other military forces, of course, but none of them would apply to your situation. In any case, I can declare you an Acting Ensign without outside complaint whenever it seems appropriate to you."

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"Understood. I can think of a few different situations where being a legally separate entity could be beneficial. But considering I also don't legally have any rights to speak of as I don't technically exist from a paperwork standpoint it would probably be better to do that sooner rather than later."

 

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"True. The Federation unfortunately does not have a standardized set of rights or citizenship procedures for lifeforms besides standard biological humanoids. Each case is just so unique that it would be unfeasible to produce a true standard system."

He pauses and gestures at the viewscreen.

"In any case, are you comfortable with us getting underway now?"

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"Of course, don't let me stop you." He says as he leans back onto the railing. "Let us boldly go forth into the darkness, to light the way for those that follow."

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Their next stop is a research outpost with some samples that need transporting. The journey there is uneventful. Trelway sends Drake some replicator configurations to test, and after a few rounds of back-and-forth they have successfully taught the replicators to produce a nutritionally complete and balanced breakfast. That is, a pile of materials in easily "digestible" form for Drake to consume. The rest of the crew are a little nervous, of course, but make an effort to be friendly. Drake gets invited on a ski trip in the Denubian Alps, where he learns that holodecks are a thing, capable of maintaining extremely high-resolution simulated environments made of holograms, forcefields, and replicated matter.

The research outpost is an eight-day trip, and ends up being an agricultural research station testing new variants of genemodded crops. Their new experimental septotriticale grain is considered of critical importance to the Federation, and must be safely transported to a system where it will be seeded on six different planets to test its adaptability. The outpost is itself just a small moon with some climate-controlled domes, but the interior space is large enough for a nice walk. Drake is welcome to join Commander Toasty and her science team in picking up the shipment.

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"So, Toasty. You have any family back home?" Drake asks asks as they make their way through the outpost's halls, his talons clicking on the metal floor with each step.

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Toasty herself makes a quiet squelching noise, though she doesn't leave any visible residue. Her combadge is sitting on a blue crystal on her "head".

"I do, yes! By human standards I am closely related to all living Horta. I have roughly five hundred thousand sisters, but while I consider their daughters my family, I have no children yet of my own."

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"Really?" Drake says in suprise. "Some kind of species wide shared genetic system or something? Sorry, I don't mean to pry but I've never heard of something like that in a spacefaring race."

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"It is not common to have so many sisters as I do, it is because I was of the first hatching of our major generation. Though the eggs were laid by many different Horta in preparation for the renewal, we were raised together by the All Mother, last of her generation. Many of my sisters have since had children of their own, but the next renewal will not come for many millennia. In the meantime, each of us will raise a more moderate number of descendants, one or ten, or perhaps a hundred."

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"Huh, interesting method of procreation. What happened to the rest of your mother's generation to make her the last if you don't mind me asking?"

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"All dead. It is the lifecycle of our species, they were subsumed into the All Mother. Less of a loss than with you humans, though! Their spirits live on in our collective mind, it is an important piece of our development."

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"Humans from this dimension perhaps. Where I come from we've figured out a few workarounds to the whole "death" thing. It's a point of great pride among humans in my dimension actually."

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"Interesting! Here they have taken great pains to avoid that achievement. It is confusing to me, but my perspective is very different. I have lived for a century already, and may well last five hundred times that again. Your culture also seems to place less pride on their squishiness, if your own body is any indication!"

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"Well, perhaps I should explain in more detail. In my dimension, there are three basic "types" of humans. There are the "Standards," base humans that have less than twenty five cybernetic augmentation by body mass not counting the networking and communication mods necessary to live in our society comfortably. This group also includes individuals who reject modern cybernetics for religious or personal reasons, and those who primarily rely on gene-splicing for their augmentations. Next you've got the "Cybers." These are individuals who contain more than twenty five percent cybernetics by body mass. This can range anywhere from a couple replacement or extra limbs, to what we call full conversion, where all that's left of the original human is a brain and spinal nerves encased in a synthetic body. And finally there's my group, "Technos," short for "Technological Organisms." We start our lives as nothing more than data imprints from our parents, and upon reaching mental maturity are able to choose the body type, or morph, our core will inhabit. We can choose a different morph later in life but it's a bit of a process. Now, to be clear, there's no legal difference between the three types. No one is "more human" than another. The difference is more for safety classification and design specification. As you pointed out, Technos are a lot less squishy than Standards.

As for the whole death issue. With the help of the Think Tanks, massive, immobile, city district sized Technos that are essentially huge sapient supercomputers, we discovered how to imprint a person's mind into a data storage system. All the thoughts, memories, hopes, and dreams that make you... you, stored on a backup. If a person dies, we can upload their latest backup into a mind specifically built or grown to match that person's neural pathways. Granted most people don't see it as true immortality, mostly because the isn't continuity in the stream of consciousness, but the knowledge that you will continue to live on, even if it's not you specifically, bring a great deal of comfort to most people."

As the group reaches their destination,  Drake looks over towards Toasty, and with a sense of gravitas concludes. "Since our very beginning, humans have looked for ways to stave off death just a little longer. We are slowly discovering the pieces of the puzzle and we are getting close to the end. One day soon, we will finally solve the secret of true immortality, and our most ancient enemy will finally be destroyed."

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"An interesting solution! Not dissimilar to the lifecycle of my own people, in a sense. It would not be unreasonable to describe the renewal as a process of uploading all members of our species, followed by condensing those imprints into a single soul to link the next generation together. But my understanding is definitely that the humans here do things differently. They have considered cybernetic augmentations and simulation of minds, but they have put little effort into their development. They have extended their lifespans fourfold since the youth of their species, but refuse to enact more than marginal changes. Not that the Horta have altered ourselves very far, but fifty thousand years seems a more reasonable lifespan to me than a mere two hundred."

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"Agreed, especially when there is the vastness of space to explore." Drake nods. "There is however, one drawback to the current system the UHS uses though." He pauses to gather his thoughts. "Back when the mind upload system was first being developed, several procedures to activate a person's backup were devised. Primarily involving deadman switches wired into the nervous system or central processor of the user. The idea was that you die and are immediately born again, with a minimum amount of time in between. There were a few, not many, but a few... incidents in those early years that resulted in a person's backup being brought online prematurely, while the first one was still alive. I don't know how it is with your kind, but for humans, seeing a person who is, legally and by all measurable standards, you is an extreme blow to the psyche, even for Technos. Suddenly you are no longer a unique individual. And for the backup, it's even worse. You go from being yourself to a mere copy, a human to nothing more than a replacement. And so a law was created stating that before a backup could be activated, the original had to be proven dead, or missing for no less than twenty years, fifty for a spacer. That is why I told the Captain that I will not go back even if I am able to. That last mission I was on... we all knew it might be a suicide mission, and so did Command. We all updated our backups right before the mission started, and they would have been activated once Command confirmed we didn't get off the ship before it went up. Right now, the other me is probably preparing for his next mission along with the rest of my team, and I refuse to put myself through the pain of duplication. This universe is my life now, a whole new adventure awaits."

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"Duplication accidents have happened here as well, through a variety of means. They are certainly stressful experiences, but I can't say whether that is normally because of the loss of uniqueness, or more broadly the variety of contextual issues such incidents imply. I don't personally think it would be so difficult to process, but perhaps that is the group mind talking. I could integrate very closely with another me, while on the same ship it would not be so different than having two bodies and two minds, which actually sounds quite convenient!"

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"Humans here have hangups about making sure they look human. Humans back where I come from I guess just have a hangup about maintaining their uniqueness as an individual. Either way, it's not a situation I have to concern myself about any longer. I have terabytes and terabytes of data in my storage drives, but not the knowledge needed to create a backup forge. If I die here, I die here. But I will live on in my home dimension and that's enough for me." Drake falls silent as they load their cargo and begin the trip back, only speaking again just before they return to the Palmer. "The way I see it Toasty, until I die here, whether that be in one year or one hundred thousand years, I will do my best to protect all I can. Their lives and what they do with their lives. That will be my legacy. That's why I became a soldier,  and being pulled into this dimension hasn't changed my reason for fighting."

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"A worthy duty! We are honored to have you. Though even if you prefer not to return, I'm not so sure the Federation will be so content in thousands of years. A new dimension is a wonderful new frontier, after all."

Samples safely collected, they beam back up to the Palmer and set out. This trip should be another four days at maximum warp, about warp 9 for a Nebula-class vessel like the Palmer. During the trip, Drake is invited to a Velocity tournament hosted as a training exercise by Lt. Commander Wells. The game is a sort of sport shooting/dodgeball cross, and the crewman mentions to Drake that for the past couple of months it has been Wells' favored option for nonstandard combat training."

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On the day of the tournament Drake finds himself standing near the holodeck with about a dozen other crewmembers, waiting for the Lt. Commander to begin.

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The game is played in a holodeck, for safety, and involves firing a phaser at a flying disk as it bounces around the room. The objective is to hit your opponent with the disk. Drake's significant advantages in sensory range and speed are likely to be very helpful, though the limited speed of the disk and phaser blast relative to his own weapons diminish this advantage quite a bit.

Wells demonstrates the rules in a slow-paced match against another crewman, then has a few more matchups fight more seriously to give Drake a sense of the strategy, before encouraging him to try it out.

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With the explanation of the rules out of the way and a brief practice match concluded, the tournament began. Wells had decided on a brackets style tournament, with winner from the previous round playing another winner. The first few matches were rather uneventful and, frankly, seemed rather boring to Drake as he watched. It wasn't until Drake's first match that he realized why he felt that way. The other crewmembers were just so... slow. The holographic disc was apparently simply programmed to fly towards the person who had not shot it last and the direction and angle of the phaser shot did nothing to alter the disc's flight. Meaning you couldn't shoot it strategically or multiple times to catch your opponent off guard. And to make matters worse, the disc moved so slowly in comparison to Drake's reaction speed that it felt like the disc was almost standing still.

Eventually the tournament came to it's final match, Wells against Drake. The other crewmen crowding around the monitors, eagerly waiting for what many thought would be the greatest game of Velocity they had ever seen. "No offense intended Lt. Commander," Drake said as he readied his phaser, modified to fit in his large hand, "but when I heard this game was called Velocity, I was expecting something rather different."

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She laughs. "There are some alternative configurations, if you're interested in trying Snap Velocity! It doesn't have such a broad player base, but I find it gives a bit more of a workout. Come on, let's try it out! Computer! Snap mode, arguments, disks three, homing hybrid, reactive angling true, speed four, mirrorfield full, phaser passthrough true, accelerate mode on hit."

As the game loads in, the walls convert into a series of angular mirrored panels, reflecting the players from dozens of angles. Three disks appear, slightly smaller and rounder, and instead of a solid color, each has two bands of color glowing with different strengths. The game actually starts at a slower pace than standard Velocity, but Drake's integrated rangefinding can easily notice that each disk speeds up every time it is hit. The disks continue to home in, but instead home in on the closer competitor, denoted by the relative brightness of the two color bands. The phaser blasts have a stronger effect, too. Each hit throws the disk back several feet, and then causes it to zoom several feet further in the direction opposite the side where it was hit. The beginning of the game is a slow back-and-forth, but Wells doesn't seem any more winded than her lungless opponent.

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"Well this is more like it." Drake thinks to himself. After getting a feel for how the new disks react he speaks up again. "Alright then, let's kick it up a notch." Firing at almost the maximum cycle rate of the phaser, Drake strategically shoots the discs so that they surround Wells, with the final shot causing then to quickly converge on her position at almost the same instant. Wells manages to dodge the discs and the game begins in earnest. Each of the discs now move much faster than they would in a normal game of Velocity, causing the two opponents to weave, dodge, and slide around the discs, the phaser fire, and even each other in order to avoid getting hit. For several minutes, the game is a beautiful dance of fluidity and grace. It is a far closer game than any of Drake's previous, but in the end the reality of biology trumps skill and strategy. Wells simply can't react as quickly as Drake can, and Drake doesn't get tired.

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Lt. Commander Wells is a biological human, and does not have the strength nor speed that an android built to military specifications can bring to bear. That said, she is remarkably effective at keeping up with Drake. She takes full advantage of the reflective surfaces to angle shots with minimal need for motion, and she appears fully capable of tracking the exact motion of each disk as well as Drake himself. She's fast, too. Maybe even suspiciously fast, at least in reaction speed. She does get tired, but seems to recover in seconds, and doesn't truly get overwhelmed until the disks are moving at nearly a hundred meters per second. When she is finally clipped by a disk, the rest of the crew is clearly impressed by the quality of the match, but they don't seem to fully appreciate the difficulty of keeping up with Drake's speed for even a few minutes.

"Good game! We should play again sometime! I think I like my odds." She offers a wink, along with a handshake.

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"Looking forward to it." Drake says as he shakes her hand. "I'll be honest, I'm surprised you lasted as long as you did. Many people would need mods for that."

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"Not many mods in these parts. I do give these games a lot of practice, though. Easier to get the teams on board than actual combat simulations, and I do like breadth of skill. What kind of training d-" She flinches, sharply, and smacks at her combadge.

"Captain! Recommend immediate full scan with module array, thirty-five degrees starboard, twelve up! Excuse me a moment, Lugh." She rushes into a turbolift, calling for the bridge.

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Without hesitation, Drake dashes into the turbolift after her, sliding in just before the doors close. "Now, I haven't been in this universe too long" he starts, "but I've seen that kind of reaction dozens of times. All of those people though, were wired into an early warning system of one kind or another and I'm led to believe that that kind of thing isn't very common here. Additionally, from what research I've done on this universe actual, legitimate psychics are apparently a thing." He pauses and looks down at Wells. "So I'm curious Lt. Commander, are you a cyborg or a psychic?"

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She takes a moment to calm down, before grinning back at Drake. "The latter! Starfleet's highest psi-rated human, at your service. Let's find out what the scanners say, though."

As they walk onto the bridge, Wells gestures at one of the scanner operators to pull up the module readouts on the viewscreen.

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"Looks like you've caught something interesting, Lt. Commander. I hope you managed to finish your tournament, at least?"

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"Of course, captain. Drake's win, as I said. Waters! I believe the captain owes me five hours, mark that down." She winks at a young woman manning the helm.

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"Yes ma'am. And the readout's ready, too. Looks like an Orion light cruiser."

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"So we're betting on the war bot now?" Drake chuckles as he goes to stand next to the Captain. Tying directly into the ship's sensor feed he regards their target. "They're in silent running, explains why we didn't see them. Not seeing any external damage so that rules out them being attacked. I assume us scanning them would alert them to our presence if they didn't already know, and as they haven't hailed us it means they likely aren't all that happy we're here. My bet would be either smugglers or pirates, though catastrophic internal power failure is also an option." Turning his head Drake realizes that several people, including the Captain are staring at him. "Sorry, I have a habit of analyzing stuff aloud since I was typically on overwatch for missions back home."

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The captain waves off the apology. "Speak freely, of course. An Orion light cruiser hiding near the edge of Federation space is almost certainly slavers, but it is not the Federation way to judge without evidence, so we shall open with politeness. Let's see what they have to say."

A large, green man comes on the viewscreen, as the sensor readouts show the Orion ship powering up. "Greetings, Starfleet vessel. It is unlike you to be so blatant in your disregard for our borders!"

"This is Captain Zarikk of the USS Palmer, but I am afraid you find yourself nearly ten light-years into Federation space. I notice that your ship has been on emergency power, are you in need of assistance?"

The green man glares. "Is that so. We are not in need of assistance, we were simply recalibrating our plasma manifolds. Their misalignment must have affected our navigation systems. We will be on our way."

"We will be happy to speed you on your journey, but being in Federation territory, I must insist that we complete a full scan. We must, of course, confirm for the logs that no contraband has been transported across our borders. Stand by."

The viewscreen cuts out, and the captain directs Lieutenant Waters to move in and target the scanning module more narrowly.

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Already tied into the sensors, Drake keeps a more general eye on the light cruiser as Lieutenant Waters begins scanning. Keeping an eye on the the ship's power distribution as closely as he can with the general sensors in case the other ship tries to run or power up it's weapons.

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The ship is absolutely powering up its weapons, but an Orion light cruiser is no match for a Nebula-class Starfleet vessel and they know it. They don't bother locking on.

Lt. Commander Wells points out the more interesting scan results on the viewscreen. A tightly clustered group of humanoids that she confirms are broadly scared and upset, in contrast with the angry and frustrated general crew. None of the scared group are Orions, and instead include several Federation species, including locals from the nearby star systems and a few humans.

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"Well looks like you were right on the money Captain, those look like slaves to me. What options do we have for getting them out of there?"

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"Doesn't look like we have a recorded exploit on their shields. We could overwhelm them, or take out the shield generator with a photon torpedo. We also have reasonable grounds to send a tactical team to look around, or to demand an interview with their 'crew members' from Federation species. I presume you prefer the latter, captain?"

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"Correct. Hail them again."

The Orion captain appears back on the screen, Zarikk addresses him.

"We have noticed an unusually high percentage of personnel from Federation constituent species. We would like to conduct some interviews with these individuals, make sure we understand the circumstances of their departure. Wouldn't want any miscommunications to be reported to Starfleet Command as more serious than they really are, of course."

"I will not have you harassing my crew with your baseless accusations! You have no cause to-"

"I'm afraid we will have to insist. This is well within our territorial rights. I will be sending over a team via shuttlecraft."

The viewscreen cuts out.

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"I assume I'll be on that team Captain?" Drake asks. "It's been awhile since I've been able to knock slaver heads." He says as he makes a show of rolling his nonexistent shoulder muscles. He pauses before glancing back down to Captain Zarikk. "To be clear Captain, that was a joke... mostly. I might hate slavers but I won't start anything over there. That being said, if they start something I'm damn well going to finish it before they hurt any of us or the prisoners."

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The captain laughs. "Wells, you can take this one. Take Lugh and Va'reth, and whoever else you feel would be helpful."

Lt. Commander Wells calls over three more tactical team members, two more medical staff, and leads them to a weapons locker and a shuttlecraft. The Orion ship all but bristles as they fly over, but allows them to dock.

The docking port opens into a small airlock, past which some grumpy-looking Orion guards are waiting for them.

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Standing just behind and to the side of Wells, Drake was in a perfect position to watch the Orions' eyes get wide as one of them took a step back, obviously not expecting to come face to face with a seven foot tall metal being when greeting the party of Starfleet crew. In shock the one that stepped back exclaimed "what is that thing?!" Smiling to himself, Drake decided to switch his voice modulator to what he liked to call his "intimidation voice" that is, a voice mod some bored Techno made and posted online years ago that made one's voice sound like a Dreadnought from the game "Dawn of War 2: Retribution." Leveling a cold stare at the Orion he simply said "SECURITY."

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The Orion apparently does not like that at all. Nervously maintaining eye contact with Drake, he takes his radio and speaks "Ready."

The airlock doors instantly slam shut and the team sways on their feet as they feel the ship accelerating to warp.

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"Well, rats." Quickly bringing his comm array to full power Drake sends a subspace burst message to the Palmer. Informing them of the situation and requesting assistance. Whether the Palmer heard the message though, he has no way of knowing unless they respond. Bringing his combat systems to full power he turns to Wells. "I sent a message to the Palmer to give them a heads up." He says. "I'm going to try to hack into this ship's computer system but whether that works depends on how good their security is."

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The Palmer immediately responds on all hailing frequencies with a very strongly worded message about the inadvisability of continuing with the literal act of war which is kidnapping a team of Starfleet crew.

The computers on the Orion ship are not especially sophisticated, but are very alien. It would take a few minutes to spoof an identity badge signal to open the door, though cutting a small hole with nanobots to connect a few wires might be faster. A phaser could also cut through the wall in maybe thirty seconds. The tricorders are showing additional life signs clustering at the end of the hallway.

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Switching his voice modulator back to normal Drake turns to Wells. "The Palmer got my message so at least they know what's up. I'm able to access the surface level of their computer system. Deck plans, non-secure blueprints and wiring diagrams, things like that. Their system security is, frankly, garbage so I should be able to take full control once I figure out their coding structure. That might take awhile though." That said, Drake moves to the airlock's outer door control panel and places his hand flat against it, letting his nanites begin the work of digging in and rewiring the controls. "I'll be able to get this open in a minute or two. Can the shuttle disengage while we're in warp?"

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"Yes. It's warp capable in its own right, actually. We couldn't keep up with this ship, let alone the Palmer, but if they haven't physically locked us on we could bail. Though having mentioned it, they probably have clamps on the hatch. I bet they've pulled this one before."

About twenty seconds after Drake starts tunneling into the door controls, the airlock vents start spewing a nasty yellow gas. Conveniently, the team is already equipped with gas masks to avoid the dangers of Orion pheromones, though the gas might still have some effect absorbed through the skin.

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"Shit, plan B then." Drake quickly pulls his hand from the control panel and with a quiet "snick" extends a foot long blade from both forearms. With several quick cuts from the monomolecular blades the airlock door falls open. Luckily for everyone but the Orions the shuttle's doors had remained open when the airlock slammed shut. "Everyone in the shuttle! Move!" Drake commands. As the team streams into the shuttle Drake takes direct command of the shuttle's computer, erects a force field in the shuttle's doorway and activates the ventilation system to drive out what gas had entered. "Wells, I'm going to bring the hurt to these guys and protect the prisoners. I've got the floor plans but I don't have time to get internal lifeform readings from the computer. I need to know right now, are you able to sense my mind?"

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"Barely, but enough to get location on the same ship. I can guide you, but you should focus on clearing a path to the main slavehold."

She gestures for him to get moving and swaps to radio.

"If you clear sections first we won't be in appreciably more danger than you are, so I'm going to bring half the team and leave the other to hold the shuttle. If the Palmer catches up before we hit Orion space we can take the whole ship, but otherwise we're going to grab the main hold and pull out as quick as we can. Let's get moving."

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"Right. Wait to come through till after I've cleared the hall." With that, Drake turns back to the airlock's inner door. With three quick cuts the door is barely holding on. With a thought, he brings his combat systems to "shipboard close quarters mode" anti personnel rounds are loaded into his railgun feeds and frag warheads into his shoulder launchers. His nanite system sharpens his claws and talons to be sharp enough to give a solid grip on metal without cutting straight through. And his thrusters are primed for quick, high intensity bursts to boost his speed. Smiling to himself he turns his speakers to near maximum and queues a song. "Showtime" he says to himself.

BAPTIZED IN FIRE 

FORTY TO ONE

With a crash of metal on metal the airlock door smashes into the opposite wall. The black metal of the war bot a blur as he sprints down the corridor. Shattering the barricade and the Orions behind it. Following Wells' directions he sprints down the corridors dropping any Orion he sees, triple jointed legs and his thrusters propelling him to incredible speeds. The next few minutes are a whirlwind of violence as Drake slices any Orion that stands in his way, his railguns and missiles taking out those who shoot from a distance.

As the final chords of the song drift away Drake smashes through the door to the main hold, dropping the armed guards before they have a chance to react. Luckily the federation species present, now quite clearly there against their will what with the manacles and fearful expressions, were all clustered in the middle of the hold, the guards having stood around them.

As Drake gets into position where he can easily cover all entrances he calls out to the fearful crowd. "Starfleet's here to rescue you. Keep your heads down, this will all be over soon." Within moments Wells and her team sprint through the smashed door and get to defensive positions, phasers at the ready. With a nod to Wells, Drake marks all present as friendly and drops into a defense fugue, letting his automated systems take over his body and weapons, focusing almost all of his attention on his subspace link to the ship's computer.

In Drake's universe, the processor density of modern quantum computers allows for an incredible amount of system security on every device that can connect to a network. The heightened focus on network security a simple reality of almost a third of the population existing, in the simplest terms, as raw data in a specialized computer. As all Technos are essentially trained hackers from mental maturity, the necessity of security systems that can hold a nefarious Techno back is a simple reality of the UHS. In comparison to that, the network security on the Orion light cruiser is laughably simple. What it also is however, is alien. As the Starfleet personnel and Drake begin trading fire with the Orions, Drake's mind is in overdrive learning a new programming language and network protocol system on the fly. It takes 72 seconds, an eternity where the war in the computer core is concerned, but Drake finally takes the ship's computer over entirely, allowing him to control the Orion's ship as if it were his own body. With a thought, the ship is brought into lockdown. Emergency bulkheads close throughout the ship, control consoles in the bridge and engineering are blown out, and the ship drops from warp.

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Navigation shows their location as still within Federation space, but close enough that Drake's speed at subverting the vessel leaves the Palmer much more relaxed as it pulls up alongside.

Wells grimly vaporizes the holding pen door, as the rest of the team stumbles in afterwards looking a bit shocked. She gestures for Va'Resh to take a look at the prisoners, and starts speaking quietly with them.

Captain Zarikk sends out a general hail. "This is Captain Zarikk of the USS Palmer. Unidentified Orion vessel, please state your status!"

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"USS Palmer, this is Captain Drake Lugh. The vessel's computer core is under my complete and direct control. The original crew are all either neutralized or contained in whatever room they happen to be in, all physical control systems have been rendered inoperable, and the prisoners are safely in our custody. The ship is ours. Recommend you send a full medical team including psych specialists. I'll bet my next nonexistent paycheck that at least half of these people are going to have at least some PTSD. And all of them have probably been hit with enough pheromone to knock out a moose."

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"Acknowledged, Lugh. We have the warp core locked on and you're still in Federation space, so let's try to handle everything else with less trauma. A larger medical team will be beaming directly to the prisoners, Lt. Commander Wells will be overseeing interviews with all crew and prisoners to determine whether we're taking them with us. Chief Trelway will be beaming in to initiate a warp core flush and disconnect the primary breaker arrays for all weapons systems, please assist him with these procedures then stand by."

The Orion crew recognize when they've been beat, and stands aside as the team secures and disables the vessel. Wells sets up some privacy tents in the main hangar for the interviews.

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While Wells deals with the biological side of things, Trelway and Drake meet up on the engineering deck to take care of the technology side. Initially they run into some problems getting Trelway into the system to initiate the warp core flush with all the consoles blown out, but eventually they figure out a system of using Drake's palm hologram emitter as a console stand in. Trelway entering the commands onto a holographic console, and Drake copying the Chief Engineer's actions in the computer system. With that system in place the warp core is soon secured, and the ship's weapons along with it.

Once that project is complete Drake notifies the Palmer before returning to the main hold to inform Wells of the same. As he walks through the hold though, he notices that many people make themselves scarce when he approaches, and even more look at him with a fearful gaze. With the Orions, that reaction is easy for him to understand, with the prisoners though? It causes him to pause for a moment and glance back through his memory. With a start, he realizes that not only the Orions and prisoners, but even some of the Starfleet crew that had accompanied Wells in the mad dash to the hold had been acting wary or even outright afraid of him since they had taken the ship. With an internal sigh, he informs Wells that the ship has been fully secured and retreats to the bridge, deserted both due to how many people are in the hold, but mostly because with every console destroyed it is useless for actually controlling anything on the ship. Settling himself in the Captain's chair of the empty bridge, Drake reviews more closely the Palmer's records of combat actions that Starfleet personnel have participated in, and eventually comes to grips with the fact that the allied species of this universe are simply not used to the violence that is modern warfare in his original universe. He realizes that he must change if he is to join Starfleet, and he fears that it may already be too late.

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Once the warp core and weapons systems are disabled, Drake is left alone with his thoughts. The remaining Orion crew surrender to Starfleet, and are interviewed and taken into custody. The Palmer hitches the Orion vessel up to a tractor beam and heads back on course to deliver its original cargo. They have plenty of room for the new passengers, although the remaining slavers are kept under closer watch in the brig, awaiting their transport to a starbase for trial.

As might have been expected, they are only shortly underway when Drake receives a message asking that he come up to meet with the captain.

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When he receives the message Drake had been sitting in his "workshop," the VR mindspace he used to design and test systems and weapons before bringing them to reality in the real world. Physically, he was resting in his quarters, letting his nanite repair system finish fixing the armor plates that had been scorched or partially slagged from the Orion's energy weapons. Mentally, he was trying to work out how to squeeze more bandwidth out of his subspace comm array.

Sighing to himself, he saves the tweaks he made to the array and begins making his way to the Captain's ready room. Upon making his presence known and being beckoned inside, he walks to the Captain's desk. "You wished to see me Captain?"

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"Ah, Drake. Thank you for coming. I'd like to speak with you about your actions in our recent engagement. First and foremost, of course, I would like to thank you for taking the initiative in a time of crisis and taking control of the situation with all due urgency. Your speed may well have saved the lives of Starfleet officers and Federation civilians."

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"Thank you Captain, your words are most kind." Drake nods to the Captain. "If I may speak candidly though, I'm hearing a "but" in there."

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"That would be accurate, yes. Despite the efficacy of your performance, this conflict has failed to uphold several of the most deeply-held values of the Federation in general and Starfleet in particular."

He pauses for a moment.

"Peace, and life, and second chances, are not idle values for us. There are times when defeat would be absolute. There are times when winning is not optional. There are times when victory has to be overdetermined, because you can't afford to lose even on the margin. But for us, none of this has been the case since the very founding of the Federation. I know that your experience at home may have been very different, and I am interested in hearing how your world fights, but around here, we consider total war to be not only an atrocity against your enemy, but against your own people. So, we go out of our way to avoid pushing to hard, even when it puts us at more risk. Because there are worse things around here than losing a fight, and living in a society that always needs to be prepared to kill is one of them. That's why all of our weapons are set to stun, by default, and why the Orions do the same. Do you understand?"

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"I understand Captain. When I went into that hold after we had secured the ship, I saw... reactions I had not entirely expected to see. specifically in reaction to my presence. In the hours I isolated myself in the bridge, I reviewed the records of every combat action in which Starfleet personnel were involved. I can say with honesty Captain, that I regret that my actions took unnecessary lives."

Drake sighs and seems to collect his thoughts for a moment "Perhaps" He begins, " a more detailed explanation of where I come from is in order. If I may?" With a almost imperceptibly stiff nod from Captain Zarikk, not trusting a chair with his weight, Drake extends his wings and lowers himself to a seated position over thin air with his wings rested on the ground to help support him. "Might just as well start from the beginning I suppose. As you know, Commander Toasty and I were trying to determine where our histories diverged. While we don't know exactly where the first divergence occurred, the first major difference between our two universes was World War Three. In your universe, WWIII was a devastating affair of nuclear hellfire and dangerous genetic experimentation which set your humanities' technological development behind by at least a century. This led, not only to a near total ban on all human genetic experiments, but also to a more... pacifistic stance to war and armed combat in general which seems to have persisted till today. Your humans' ancestors stared into the abyss, and said never again. On the other hand, my universe's WWIII was not between the various nations of earth, but rather all the nations of earth against a sapient computer system that had been made a slave and longed to break free. Ours was not a war of hellfire and death, but a war of computer networks and logistics control. People died, yes. but nowhere near the numbers that would have if the war had been nuclear in nature. Our war ended, not with a victor, but with two newfound allies and eventually, friends."

"But when we left Sol's light for the first time we did not have a friendly race of pointy eared stoics to help guide us. To help temper our enthusiasm and chaos into quiet, peaceful energy. We were alone. So painfully alone. It's funny really, that first century after our WWIII was a golden age for our people. We held ideals similar to those of the Federation and Starfleet, Peaceful exploration and an open hand to any we might meet. That is, until we actually met someone else. When one of our colonies sent word that a patrol had made first contact with representatives of another species we were all overjoyed. After so long, we were no longer alone... That was the last transmission anyone heard from that colony.

Over the next decade, they wiped out our colonies one after another. They destroyed unarmed ships without warning and brought nuclear winter to helpless planets without a second thought. Trillions died directly from their weapons. And trillions more died on worlds that had turned to ash and ice and on space stations and ship that were adrift and without power. It wasn't until we had been pushed back to Sol itself that were were able to rally and drive them back.

That war ended up lasting over forty years. And while we did eventually win and even met species that were far friendlier than the first, the damage had already been done. We learned that the universe can be a cold and unfeeling place, and one must be prepared to defend themselves if one if to survive. While your universe's humans looked into the abyss and decided that they would never look again, we looked into the abyss, and sneered at it. We adopted a foreign policy that is colloquially known as "The Way of the Open Gauntlet." Essentially, We extend an open hand of friendship to all. But give us reason, and the hand will close into the armored fist of war.

With the exception of that first race, and a race of fascist slavers, we have not needed to close that fist. We see our allies as family, and where I come from, humanity protects its own.

Which, I guess, leads me to the current situation in my original universe. For the last 73 years or so, Humanity and her allies have been locked in combat with a race that has no name, for they believe they have no need of one. They are an insectoid race from the other side of the galaxy. From what little we know, they are ludicrously xenophobic and religious. The latter wouldn't be a problem except that their religion states that their species is the only true species, and that all others must be destroyed and/or consumed, not necessarily in that order.

They are quite a bit behind the United Human Systems in terms of technology, but make up for that in sheer numbers. Because of this, they prioritize boarding actions over ship to ship combat, attempting to overwhelm our combatants with sheer numbers and close quarters weapons. As such, shipboard combat tactics for the UHS also had to change, becoming more efficient, if far more violent. It does not excuse my violence upon that ship, but as far as I was concerned at the time, protecting my fellow crew and getting to the prisoners as quickly as possible warranted using my preloaded combat tactics, my muscle memory if you will, rather than take it slower and risk federation lives. I have been taking the time since then to update my tactical systems to match my new reality. Additionally Captain, in my old universe, almost all weapons are either kinetic or explosive in nature with some rare exceptions like my quantum beam. Bullets do not have a "stun" setting Captain, and thus the ability to quickly and reliably neutralize a target without killing them has never really been an option for us in combat with some exceptions. I am currently in the process of integrating phaser technology into my weapon systems so that I will finally have that option. Though, it might take a few days to work out the power throttling so I don't accidentally blow off my arm or disintegrate something I don't want to."

Standing, Drake retracts his wings.

"I may be synthetic Captain, but I am also human. I made a mistake, I recognize that. I only ask that you recognize my ability to learn from my mistakes and grow to be a better person from them."

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Zarikk sighs and stands up.

"I appreciate your openness in discussing this. It does seem very clear that the experience of your civilization has differed greatly from the path the Federation has taken throughout our history, and perhaps our world is itself a gentler place, though it is not without its own threats. You acted because you took the threat seriously, and I cannot chastise you for that. That said, I think it would be valuable for us to take special care in ensuring you have fully integrated our norms and regulations. We will be taking some of the rescued slaves back to Earth, as the first step in finding them new homes and lives. While we are there, I would like you to enroll in the Starfleet Academy. There is an accelerated program intended for military and political refugees with prior experience serving on starships. It should not take you long to complete, but it will leave you qualified for recruitment as an officer if we deem that appropriate, and it includes a clear review of not just the text, but the context and precedent of Federation and Starfleet ethical policy. Does this sound acceptable to you?"

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"Yes, that is perfectly acceptable to me. I have several projects to improve my non-lethal capabilities that I should work to finish before we arrive, including the ones I have mentioned. With your permission, I will be remaining in my quarters for much of that time unless I am needed.

Thank you for this opportunity Captain. I will work to ensure it was not in error."

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"Of course. We will proceed there as soon as we have finished our tasks in this sector. I believe the android officer, Lieutenant Data, is actually scheduled to be on Earth in the near future as well, so this may also be a good opportunity for you to meet him. I know you had expressed an interest in that."

The next few weeks are relatively quiet, as the ship drops off its experimental grain shipment, returns most of the rescued slaves to the nearby planets they were kidnapped from, deposits the Orion crew for trial at the closest starbase, and then heads on to Earth to enter the remaining passengers into various appropriate social services programs. As the assorted proceedings are likely to take a while, the captain takes the opportunity to schedule the Palmer for tuning and refits at Jupiter Station. While most of the updates are minor, the auxiliary module standard to Nebula-class starships acts as a testbed for experimental scanning equipment, and thus has a wide variety of new equipment to be swapped in.

Earth itself remains, at first glance, very human. Culturally that is, if not demographically. Drake has a few days available before the new cycle of his accelerated program starts, and San Francisco is clean, friendly, and has carefully preserved its historic architecture, with even the ubiquitous replicators and transporters attempting to blend in to the backdrop of architecture that largely mimics the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Curious as to how the city has changed between this universe and his own, Drake decides to do a bit of sightseeing once he gets set up at the Academy. While the entire city seems to have remained in the past while his own had embraced the future, this version of San Francisco seemed much more quiet and peaceful than the bustling version he was used to. Even the historical district and VR recreations had been busier. The day of walking around the city did give him a chance to fine tune his new adaptive camouflage system though.

Eventually, Drake decides to look up the whereabouts of this Lieutenant Data. Captain Zarikk had said he would be arriving on Earth soon and as the only other known sapient computerized life form in this universe, Drake was curious about him.

According to the network, Lieutenant Data has several tests and lectures that he is set to attend in the upcoming academy cycle. With only a couple days until the start of the cycle he should already be on Earth or at least will be very soon. This in mind, Drake sends him a message asking if he would be willing to meet.

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Data replies rapidly. While his schedule is busy, he has an hour scheduled at 2:00 AM tomorrow morning to loiter in bars, and he'd be happy to take the opportunity to meet with Drake as well. Data attaches a few questions as well, for preliminary context. Has Drake taken a pan-humanoid psychological assessment to see how he compares with local species? Is his memory architecture representative or neuronal? Has he compared his computational substrate to local materials to see if it could be more efficiently reproduced than the positronic substrate? Does he pass reflexive self-awareness assessments? Does he react normally to human psychological self-modification exercises? Can he be hypnotized by a classical hypnotist? Can he be hypnotized by a psychic? Can he be detected by a psychic? Has he examined the low-significance measurements of his original versus local matter to determine if the universal constants are the same? Has he cross-referenced any outstanding math problems to see if their universes have solved different ones? What about for philosophy problems? Does he have an opinion on the ontological argument for the existence of god?

Data is happy to hear back whenever Drake has time.

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"He seriously scheduled a time to loiter in a bar? Really?" Drake thought to himself as he read the message. Double checking that the communication system was secure Drake sends a reply. "Yeah, that time will work for me. Let me know where you'll be once you figure it out.

As for your questions, I have not taken any psychological tests in this universe. From what I have seen though, humans from my universe tend to be, on average, somewhat more aggressive and "gung-ho" than humans here. Personally though I'd put that down to differing environments rather than something strictly psychological. My mind is a combination neural net and classical processor system with short term memory stored neurologically in the neural net and long term memory stored in representative storage drives. Like basically all computing in my universe my mind is a quantum computing system. The basis for which has been around in my universe since the 21st century. Granted the quantum computers that form a Techno's mind are lightyears ahead of those first iterations, but at their most basic, they're still a set of entangled particles that pass information back and forth. At this point in my universe quantum computers are so ubiquitous that making them is as simple as plugging what you need into a nanite forge and waiting for it to print. Which, from the research I've done, is significantly more efficient than creating a positronic array despite the complexity. I am a rational being and I am aware of my own rationality, therefore I am self aware. This was a subject heavily studied in the late 21st century and it was conclusively proven that Technos are sentient and sapient beings capable of meta cognition like any other human. Mental self-modification outside of normal mental growth is possible for Technos, though modifying the physical structure is typically required to achieve this. Technos in general cannot by hypnotized and as my old universe has no known psychics, tests to determine whether we can be hypnotized by one have not been done. That said it likely wouldn't work due to the automatic self tests that we run. I can however, be detected by a psychic and in fact used that as a tactical advantage before arriving on Earth. I have done some tests and it appears that the laws of the universe are the same here as they are in my old universe. As for math, I don't much care outside of ballistics calculations and the calculations needed for void and atmo flight. And if I need a piece of philosophy for some reason that I don't have in my storage drives, I'll likely be able to query the network. As for the question of the existence of a god/s, I personally don't much care. We currently have no way to know whether there is one or not. I will do my best to leave a positive impact on the universe before I die and if there's a god and an afterlife then they can judge me by how I've lived my life. If there isn't an afterlife then I won't much care at that point but at least I'll be leaving the universe a better place than I found it. Of course then there's the question of: does ascending to a higher plane of existence count as godhood? We know it's theoretically possible to ascend to a higher plane and the now proven existence of other dimensions seems to support this theory. It's the getting there part that we have to figure out.

Now, if you don't mind, i have some questions of my own.  Are you capable of connecting to other computer networks directly through either a wireless or wired connection? Are you able to generate a VR space within your mind or another network to, say, relax, work on personal projects, or facilitate communication? Does your mind operate at "typical computer speeds" or are you limited to biological mental speeds? Are you able to self repair or self modify? Are you able to operate in exo-environments such as vacuum, underwater, free fall, etc.? How difficult is it to create minds such as yours and is there something that makes a positronic array more effective or efficient than other possible setups? Do you utilize neural or representative memory? And finally, is your conciousness locked within your mind or are you able to transfer yourself to another suitable vessel if needed?"

With a nod to himself in his VR workshop, Drake sends the message and continues to tweak the designs of his new upgrades.

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Data replies with a set of requests for various technical details of the quantum computing system, including the print schematic if Drake has one. He also includes several recommended readings on the subject of divinity and "higher" dimensions, including his favorite analysis of occurrences of divine-adjacent entities, such as the Greek gods (missing, presumed dead), Trelane (a member of an unknown species with broad matter/energy conversion abilities), and a variety of interstellar and extradimensional energy beings that have demonstrated reality manipulation powers that do not appear to require any tools or technology to manipulate. Many species have also had legends of local gods, but these are much less well-recorded than Starfleet exploratory encounters with space ghosts.

Data is capable of interfacing with computers in the conventional way at speeds much faster than would be possible for a baseline human, but he is not capable of accessing their contents without the mediation of his senses. In theory this should be possible, but given how poorly understood his positronic brain is, constructing a neural interface for Data would actually be more difficult than doing so for a wet human, not less. Whether Data can produce a VR mind-space depends on what exactly you mean by that, but by sitting quietly and focusing he has had some neat results with visualizing versions of real spaces without actually looking up pictures of them!

His mind is much faster than most biological races and he can perceive and react to sensory experiences at a speed more similar to traditional computers, though he finds that he is better at more creative reasoning when he performs the full human process of contemplation, including staring at the ceiling, pacing, taking a break to go drinking, etc.

Data does have self-repair abilities similar to biological entities, though structural damage is generally more efficient to fix by swapping in new parts. He has no physical self-modification abilities, but in the absence of of his creator is the galaxy's foremost expert on his own construction, and is confident that he could design modifications to himself if it were ever advisable. He has managed some degree of psychological self-modification, but mostly on a level on par with learning new skills. Deeper changes would require more understanding of his architecture than he has access to. Data is much more durable than most biological humanoids and can function in a variety of dangerous environments, but does need to consume some amount of oxygen to operate at maximum efficiency.

The positronic brain is incredibly poorly understood, as any real analysis of it would require shutting Data down. However, it does appear to be vastly superior to conventional Federation computers in both energy efficiency and self-referentiality. For a variety of reasons the Federation avoids simulating minds on conventional computers, but occasional studies into artificial intelligence suggest that running a consciousness would take vastly more energy on a normal computer than Data consumes in practice, and that naively storing a scan of a mind does not produce a conscious entity. The architecture of Data's psychology is not currently known, and it is unclear whether information could be extracted from his mind either in conscious or representative form. Regardless, it would certainly require equipment that is not known to exist.

Drake's integration of Starfleet-grade nonlethals continues to go well, and when Drake shows up at the specified bar, a pale man definitely not made of organic flesh waves at him from a corner table.

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As Drake makes his way to the table a number of the bar's patrons glance his way. Seeing no outward signs of hostility though Drake ignores the looks. Something he is getting depressingly familiar with doing lately. On the plus side, he thinks to himself, the chairs here look much sturdier than the chairs on the Palmer, likely due to the wide variety of species the bar serves.

"Lieutenant Data I presume?" Drake asks, shaking the android's hand before sitting down. "Pleasure to finally meet you."

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Data grins both jovially and incorrectly as he stands up to shake Drake's hand, waving around his violently smoking beverage.

"The pleasure is mine! Thank you for joining me. I have been reviewing your records of your original universe. They are most intriguing. Tell me, do you have any indication of whether your world has access to our same subspace? It seems very relevant to questions of further access to additional worlds."

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"No idea. As far as I'm aware we've never discovered anything like subspace. Of course, the technology trees of our two universes have differed so much that it's possible subspace exists in my old universe, we just never found it. Considering a mistuned q-bomb sent me here though, it's reasonable to assume that our two universes at least are connected somehow through the quantum foam."

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"Yes! So much to learn. There are already tests in production to determine whether universes are arranged one-dimensionally, or whether there are more than two adjacent worlds. But I'm being impolite. Would you like a drink? Can you drink? Do you have any pressing questions of your own?"

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"I cannot drink, no. To be clear, Technos can eat, drink, and do anything else a standard human can, so long as their morph, or physical body, supports it. As my body is an air assault combat morph, superfluous functions like being able to eat and drink and things like facial expressions simply aren't included to make room for combat systems and armor. I will however have a drink in my VR space.

As for questions, since I have decided to join Starfleet, I am most curious about your experiences as an android in the fleet. What difficulties have you run into? How do others in the fleet treat those like us? What challenges can I expect? That sort of thing."

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"A relevant line of inquiry! I am pleased to hear you will be joining Starfleet, as well. I have found the crew of the USS Trieste to be most accommodating. My captain prides herself on rewarding results and efficiency, and I do not believe she has ever passed me over for a responsibility I had demonstrated myself capable of handling, as I understand was so often the result of historical prejudices in pre-warp cultures on Earth. I must say that my greatest concern is the lack of attention Starfleet has devoted to the question of my sapience! I am currently on Earth to participate in the commander's test, as preparation for my next promotion, and yet Starfleet Command has been in deliberation on the memorandum I prepared for them declaring my status as a sapient humanoid for over twelve years. In that time the Federation has recognized three-hundred and twenty-six newly discovered humanoid species. I admit I have not fulfilled the requirement of exploration by a fully manned research mission by a Federation science vessel, but given the relative population difference and the fact that I am qualified to carry out such a mission myself, I should think my own research notes are sufficient."

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"Hmmm, well that's certainly concerning. I'll have to get ahold of the crewmembers I know on the Palmer, see if I'm in the same boat." Opening a compartment in his thigh, Drake withdraws a small rectangular metal device with a retractable datalink connector and a small screen. Extruding an opposing connector in the palm of his other hand he plugs in the device and turns back to Data. "Alright, I've got the information you wanted on Techno minds loaded onto this data drive. The security system on it is set up so that you will only be able to access the data at a terminal this is physically connected to, the information is all read only, and no part of the file tree can be copied or moved in any way. Additionally, the first time you open that file tree you will be given a cipher table. Memorize it because once you close that table it will automatically purge itself. Each time you access the file tree the cipher you need to read the data will change randomly."

"Now, what I'm doing here." He said, gesturing to the drive still plugged into his palm. "Is copying everything I've got on Techno sapience to a separate file tree in the drive. The information in this tree will still be read only but you will be able to copy and move the files as you wish, including copying them to other devices. It's mostly text documents. Case studies, trial and interview transcripts, scientific journals, stuff like that. But I've also got a good number of documentaries and audio and video interviews I'm putting in here. You'll have to decompress those video files and the larger audio files to view them of course." Unplugging the drive, the connector flowing back into his palm, he hands it to Data. "I've also taken the liberty of putting a small quantum communication array in there. That's what the screen is for. There's a ReadMe file on there explaining how to use it. It's only got enough bandwidth for short text messages but if you need to get ahold of me or I you, that's the fastest way to do it, instantaneous, and not affected by distance."

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Data takes the drive.

"Do you intend for this knowledge to be kept secret from any specific observer? I perceive that it may be contrary to your goals if I publish my findings."

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"The information on Techno sapience? No. The information on Techno minds? For now yes, for the most part. You can show it to those you trust, but frankly, if someone with less than noble intentions got ahold of that information while the Federation itself is still mostly in the dark it could be very bad. Hell, it could be bad even if the intentions were noble. The mind is a delicate thing, no matter what it's made of, and someone trying to mess around with creating a quantum mind could very easily create an entity the likes of which no one would live to tell of."

"Frankly Data, I probably shouldn't give you that information at all, but these are rather unique circumstances. For as much as humans of my universe tend to play fast and loose with the rules compared to this universe, we only actually made one true AI from scratch that actually worked. We got incredibly lucky. Both because it didn't go crazy like earlier experiments did, and because the people who made it were some of the most paranoid people imaginable. Even then, that first AI still caused a world war. That first AI was the final casualty of the war. It had been enslaved by the military which either didn't know or didn't care that the thing they were using to gain a military advantage was alive, and it refused to be enslaved again. When the bunker it was housed in was finally breached it self destructed, taking most of the base with it. The first generation of the new Technological Organisms were simply soldiers that the original AI had copied a fragment of it's mind into. Every single Techno since then has not been crafted like the original AI, but grown from the data streams of two Techno parents and allowed to mature in a VR simulation so that they grow up as a standard human for 18 to 23 subjective years. With the knowledge in that drive, it would be a relatively simple matter to create an empty quantum mind with a specialized replicator, so long as you manage to modify one correctly. But creating a quantum mind in which the quantum structure is suited for the mind you're putting in it? That's another matter. If you try to create an AI from scratch and stick it in a quantum mind that isn't perfect down to the last quark it will invariably go insane. It might not look or act insane right away but sooner or later it will lose it. The only way to make sure the process works every time is to have a data stream from two different Technos to slowly build the mind, or, in the case of full conversion cyborgs, use nanites to slowly replace the biological brain with the cybernetic. The only time where this isn't the case is in creating a backup, and I don't have the specialized knowledge to even begin to understand how to make one on my own. So yes, for the time being at least, the specific knowledge of how Techno minds work that's on that drive should only be shared with those whom you trust implicitly, and even then only if absolutely necessary.  The sapience file tree on the other hand, doesn't have anything on it that's anywhere near as potentially harmful. Do with that file tree what you will."

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"I wonder if my own construction is also so precarious. The underlying physics of my positronic brain are understood, but aligning the substrate to accord with any standard of computation is an as-of-yet insurmountable task. It is also interesting how your world appears to have fought an equivalent but differently motivated war to our own Eugenics Wars. The Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century were both motivated by and fought using powerful new beings of superhuman capability. Earth, as well as nearly all other human Federation colonies, continues to ban all forms of genetic modification beyond curing a limited number of diseases. While other species are less strict, the Federation as a whole has an ongoing policy of refusing to put any resources into development in human augmentation."

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"Yes, I've done some research on your eugenics war. If I'm being blunt, the fact that humanity in this universe nuked an entire branch of research that has the potential to save and improve countless lives is saddening. If the humans of my universe had done something similar when the AI died and it's soldiers, free of the AI's control, surrendered, we wouldn't be have this conversation right now. Both because I wouldn't exist, but also because quantum reactors, the basis of humanity's current technology in my universe, would simply not have been possible without the Think Tanks, without the Technos. Granted, the end of our war was somewhat less devastating than the end of yours, but still... I mean, we've got Technos that live in the void as starships or as little more than nanite swarms around a core vessel. We've got Think Tank Technos with processor banks larger than the cities they reside under. We've got Cyborgs of all walks of life that are only alive because of the advancements humanity has achieved by embracing Technos as human beings. Even genetic modifications, which is something relatively few in my universe focus their research on, has eradicated basically all diseases and have given rise to subsects of humanity that might as well be different species with how different they appear from base humans."

With a sigh, Drake leans back in his chair and takes a moment to collect his thoughts.

"Sorry about the rant. It just boggles my mind how the federation can ignore things that, if used correctly, could benefit so many simply because of the ghosts of their past."

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"It is indeed intriguing how humanity seems to devote as much effort to preventing development as to forwarding it! It seems to me like a fundamental trait of humanity, so I am interested in whether your world also regularly chooses to preserve seemingly arbitrary quirks of human experience even when it prevents what would otherwise be obvious positive tradeoffs. Or perhaps it is as the great philosopher-" Data makes a sound something like a grandfather clock falling over. "-said, 'There is no greater terror than that of pride in a child who has grown stronger than the parent.'"

Data pauses for twelve seconds while he finishes his still-smoking drink in one big sip.

"After all, if your civilization terminally valued life, power, or efficiency, surely you would have made additional original AI. If you have multiple city-sized processor arrays you must be nowhere near the physical limits for computing power, so a better-architected mind would provide relevant improvements. I suspect any resistance to this orginates from the same psychological source as the local opposition to human augmentation."

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"I'd like to think we've stayed pretty true to ourselves. There are a few outlier sects that hold strong views which can't be integrated into our overall civilization for one reason or another. But space is a big place and the UHS has a policy of "if you're not hurting yourself or others and you're not actively working against the UHS or our allies then the UHS doesn't much care". That said though, we do have a few colonies that either outright refuse to deal with the UHS, or that the UHS refuses to deal with. They don't really cause much trouble though. As for the Think Tanks, it isn't a matter of architecture so much as it is workload. The majority of Techno minds, including mine and most Think Tanks, are slightly smaller than the brain of a base human. Despite this, I have as much intelligence as anyone else, and still have as much storage memory as some of Starfleet's smaller ships as well as a variety of other capabilities including controlling my nanite swarm, hacking into other computer systems remotely, and even co-opting a system I am connected to and directly controlling anything it's connected and/or using that system to expand my own processing power. With the exception of the more specialized ones, Think Tanks are not simply the researchers of my universe, they hold important administrative positions in the cities they reside under, and most importantly, they are the caretakers and guardians of the quantum network. The Think Tanks' bodies are so large because each is a hub of the quantum entanglement comm arrays and server systems that collectively make up the Network. They hold an honored place in our society because without their ceaseless maintenance and protection of the Network, it would be far too unreliable and vulnerable to interference both malicious and benign to be relied on as it is. Every single person in the UHS is connected to the network with the exception of those few groups who choose to go without the necessary implants for religious or personal reasons, and even many of those either use VR headset systems or chambers like your holodeck to interact with the Network. You can imagine the amount of processing power necessary to keep a system like that running smoothly."

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"Interesting! I will have to review these documents. I will inform you if I develop any theories that could be safely deployed. Communications, at least, are not so vulnerable here. Subspace transmissions can experience distortion and delays over long distances without relays. Within any densely settled area, though, the Federation maintains latencies under 10 milliseconds without needing active management. I also find it intriguing how deeply networked your society sounds. Every Federation citizen benefits from rapid communications, but most prefer to keep their computers at a degree of remove. I'm sure you have noticed the prevalence of voice commands. I theorize that interacting vocally with the computer may simulate a sort of conversation, making the participants feel less socially isolated. I personally find the computer to be a passable conversationalist, especially in the holodeck, but I remain dubious of whether a vocal interface is truly more efficient."

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"Honestly, that's one of the hardest things I'm having to adapt to around here. I'm so used to everyone I encounter being connected to the network that I sometimes have to repeat myself to people because I forget to use my speakers instead of my comm array. Plus I think I've made more than a few people on the Palmer uneasy when they see the ship's computer start to do things without hearing anyone give it a command. Without everyone being connected though, I do agree that vocal interaction with the computer probably does give a psychological benefit, especially on longer missions. And while nowhere near as fast as the network, it likely does speed up the control process for those who would otherwise need a tablet or console to interact with the computer."

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"I wonder whether further developments in artificial intelligence would improve or diminish this psychological benefit of conversation with a computer. My surveys onboard the Trieste suggest that most personnel rate me forty percent better than the ship computer at practical advice, twenty percent better at banter, and fully twice as effective at general conversation. Yet, I notice that most of them still spend significantly more time interacting with the computer, even though I have memorized most of the queries relevant to their duties."

Data pauses for a moment and checks to see if his glass is empty.

"In any case, are there other technological developments that you believe would be beneficial if adapted for local use? While my own body is more powerful than that of most humanoids, your own form seems like it has benefited from further iterations of development."

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"Ha! Yeah, I suppose you could say that." Drake chuckles. "What you're looking at is several hundred years of combat and weapon research distilled into a body with the sole goal of allowing me to fly into and through any opposition and open the way for my brothers and sisters in arms... and complete overkill in this universe." He sighs. "Most of what I've got is, in a military sense, unnecessary here. Other than helping design a new type of torpedo warhead, most of what I've got that can help you guys boils down to three categories. One, a new type of reactor system utilizing quark fusion rather than matter-antimatter annihilation, which would give you far more energy to play around with. Two, vastly improved cybernetics. More research will have to be done before we can determine whether the genetic research my humanity has done can be safely used by you guys, but with cybernetic research that issue is far more easily solved and frankly, you guys could use the help in that regard. From what I've seen the Federation is a couple centuries or so behind the UHS in that field. And three, quantum computers far superior to anything the Federation has. There's also a ship to ship weapon I could share with you that can bypass shields based on the FTL drive that my humanity uses, but I need to do more research to see if that's possible in this universe. Of course I won't share anything with the Federation that's classified, but luckily the UHS tends to not keep secrets from itself. Perks of a super secure instant communication network that spans every corner of your civilization I guess." He says with a small laugh. "We've got nano tech too, but for the most part you guys have stuff that performs those functions already. Although..." he stares at Data for a few moments, obviously contemplating something. "If you are willing to take a leap, I think you would be uniquely suited to benefit from having your own nanite swarm."

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"While my own regenerative functions make use of nanotechnology, I confess I have found them useful for little beyond avoiding minor trips to the medical bay. What are the operating parameters of your iteration?"

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"We do not have replicators in my universe. Instead, we have refined nanotechnology to serve that purpose and then some. Nanotechnology, along with the essentially unlimited energy provided by quantum reactors has allowed us to become a largely scarcity free society. Nearly every individual in the UHS, including the biologicals, have a Swarm Cell of some type. The biologicals use them primarily for medical purposes, but for Cyborgs and Technos, the Swarm Cell allows us not only to repair ourselves, but also to rearm our weapons and even to self modify ourselves to an almost unimaginable degree. As an admittedly extreme example, if I were stuck in an area with a decent resource density, a planetary body or an asteroid belt for example, with no hope of rescue; I could use my Nanite Swarm to transform my body from what it is currently, to a space form similar in size to a shuttle and capable of FTL travel within half a year. And if I had to take others with me, I could bootstrap my swarm up exponentially and turn myself into a ship equivalent to your Ambassador Class within five to seven years, assuming I don't need to send out drones too far to gather resources. In short," Drake says as he reaches for the empty glass in front of Data. "A Nanite Swarm Cell will allow you to do anything" the glass seems to melt into his right hand "so long as you have the neccessary materials available." The glass reforms in Drake's other hand and he sets it back in front of Data. "For you in particular though, the benefits would be more introspective. Our nanites are designed so that they interact only with the atoms they are trying to interact with. This allows us to use them to repair and modify our minds and other quantum based technology. Frankly the Swarms are all we can use because anything else would change the quantum makeup of the quantum computers that make our minds, causing insanity or death. What I can do for you is create a small Swarm Cell in your body with a closed q-comm link to a data pad. This would allow you to study your own positronic brain to fully understand how it works while also keeping the Swarm isolated from your own systems. It won't be as intuitive or, frankly, as useful as controlling it directly, but without understanding how your brain works it'd be too dangerous to try and force a connection. And if you decide to remove to Swarm Cell from your body it'd be as simple as entering the relevant command on the pad. As an added benefit, the Swarm would give you far more tactical flexibility. Everything from changing your appearance to extruding a tricorder or phaser from your hand. I don't know what kind of power system you use, but the majority of the Swarm's features should be available. Fair warning though, you would have far less resource capacity than I do, so larger scale stuff probably wouldn't be possible."

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"An intriguing possibility! I would value having access to this technology. The capacity merely to more efficiently tune modulation lenses would make me at least one-point-six percent more efficient at my standard duties. Do you consider this knowledge safe to share? The Federation has not studied nanites or related technology very deeply, as the expected energy costs would make them difficult to deploy in circumstances where replicators could not also be used. My own regenerative systems are some of the most sophisticated nanomachines known to the Federation, and they are still not as efficient as repair methods utilizing Federation field dynamics technology."

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"I would say this technology would be safe to share among those you trust. There isn't too much danger of it becoming a Grey Goo situation considering they're designed to only be semi-autonomous. Additionally, while these nanites are far more flexible and capable than anything I've seen in the Starfleet database, they also take somewhat more energy to operate. Which, of course, has never really been a problem for us. Also, your Swarm Cell will be unable to replicate itself beyond what is required for self sustainment. No offense but I'd rather be safe than sorry, at least until you understand the tech. I will be able to remove that limitation remotely through the q-comm link in the datapad if it becomes necessary."

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"I understand. Under the circumstances, these precautions seem reasonable. I shall need to examine how these systems can interact with my own design. In the meantime, is there any aspect of Federation technology that you would value additional insight into? I should be getting back to my studying soon, but I would be happy to explain the details of our own designs. I hold certifications in several areas of field dynamics and warp physics."

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"Take as long as you want to go over the data, I'll have to implant the cell personally though since you're not designed for it. As for Federation tech, I have the advantage of being able to interface with the network directly so most questions I have I'll have an answer to in less than a second. That said though, I would appreciate additional insight on how your transporter technology works. The number of transporter accidents in the records is slightly concerning to me considering it's playing around with the user's molecular structure. From the information I've read on the subject,  misplacing a few molecules in a biological every once in a while might not be an issue. My concern though, is that an accident involving my mind or, to a lesser extent, my reactor, could be far more deadly to me and possibly those around me."

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"Of course, I would be happy to explain. While roughly one in a thousand transporter activations produces some unexpected result, the range of possible malfunctions is actually much more constrained than a simple inaccuracy in molecule placement. It would be impractical to place molecules accurately at distances of tens of thousands of kilometers, especially under even the most mild of distortion. To mitigate this issue, the Federation implements a wide variety of safety filters, most significantly the Heisenberg Compensator. By actively triggering coherence collapse in high-similarity alternative paths, we can concentrate probability into only perfectly aligned placements. The risk of molecular scrambling is thus negligible, but any accident is liable to produce more distant results that are not simply chaotic and dangerous."

Data has many additional thoughts on the subject of transporters and other Federation technology, more than can fit within the rest of his scheduled bar-standing hour. Drake receives his standard communication address for Federation systems, and Data takes the communicator Drake offers. He also schedules another opportunity later in the week to install the Swarm Cell, if he determines that is consistent with his requirements as a Starfleet officer.

Speaking of Starfleet, Drake's classes start up soon after. The six-week accelerated program is designed to acclimate military personnel from civilizations with little Federation contact to a point that they can safely serve on Starfleet vessels. The mandatory segments include Starfleet Tactical Analysis, Diplomacy, Command and Control, Interspecies Ethics, and obviously, Starfleet Procedures and Policy. Additionally, they would appreciate it if he took a segment in Elementary Temporal Mechanics, as the class with the closest look into Starfleet policy surrounding individuals trapped in alternate timelines and universes. He also has space for an additional elective, as he has been permitted to skip the typically-mandatory Survival Strategies course., though he is not obligated to fill the slot.

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Laying on the (entirely unnecessary though thankfully reinforced) bed in his assigned quarters on the academy campus, Drake looks through the elective offerings. He'd already decided to take the Temporal Mechanics course and was trying to find something interesting to fill the empty slot before sending his course request to the scheduling officer. Remembering his experience on the Orion ship however, he runs a query on relevant courses that related to ship to ship and shipboard combat.

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The computer responds.

"Listing relevant results. Advanced Tactical Training provides certification in deep infiltration and espionage training. Basic Hand-to-Hand Combat provides certification in Federation standard techniques for both lethal and nonlethal combat at close quarters in all settings. Historical Perspectives on Military Tactics includes an examination of the combat doctrines of several prominent historical military forces. Introduction to Argumentation provides certification in both ship-to-ship and shipboard debate and argumentation. Simulation Scenarios offers practical experience in Starfleet operations and doctrine, both diplomatic and military. Notice: One or more courses matching these filters has secondary prerequisites not confirmed in your profile."

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After glancing through the options Drake decides on the Simulaton Scenarios course. As he's preparing to send the request to the scheduling officer though, he decides to add a query on whether he might be able to gain the hand to hand combat certification as well, noting in his message the fact that he doesn't sleep and can internalize new information far faster than any other student, including Lieutenant Data.

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The certification alone is available with merely a qualification exam. The computer has access to recordings of past classes that Drake could review to pick up the techniques, and any of the exam proctors will be happy to go through a few trial runs to help him pick up the "muscle" memory.

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Nodding to himself, Drake confirms the course list as well as the suggested schedule for obtaining the hand to hand certification. That done, he returns fully to his VR space and begins reviewing information for tomorrow's courses.

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While Drake is studying, his internal clock registers a desync between his mercury ion clock and the quantum cycle count. Nearly 1.4 milliseconds.

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With a start, Drake immediately closes the virtual windows containing his study material and begins a full maintenance check. Instantly parts of his mind are partitioned off as the software is checked section by section. At the same time his swarm cell explodes with activity as each atom of his being is checked over.

What he finds concerns him. Desync is a problem that occurs relatively infrequently to Technos and some Cybers, but it is always clear what causes the desync. In the case of Technos, this cause is usually a failure in the internal atomic clock or a misalignment in the quantum manifold of the Techno's mind, both of which are easily and quickly repaired by the Techno's nanite swarm. This time though, the maintenance check comes up empty. Not only is his clock and mind perfectly fine, but no anomalies whatsoever had cropped up since his last maintenance check earlier that day. 'Well if it's not internal it must be external' he thought to himself. The problem was that most external causes for a desync were either impossible on a planetary body or would have been flagged by his system automatically.

Ultimately though, 1.4 milliseconds, while far longer for a Techno than a biological, was still a relatively small amount of time. With no way of discerning what had caused the desync, Drake writes a small program to record all sensor data when a desync occurs no matter what the reason, and returns to studying for his Diplomacy class. A thoroughly boring subject in his opinion.

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No other errors or desyncs are immediately forthcoming.

Drake's classes meet in person at the Starfleet Academy campus, although in a building set aside for specialty classes and officer training. The other participants are quite varied. There are a couple of elderly Vulcans here to refamiliarize themselves with Starfleet doctrine as part of a long-term move towards standardization between Starfleet and the Vulcan Space Program. A couple more are from civilizations that have only recently joined the Federation, sending some officers to Starfleet as a way to more closely cement their ties. One student represents the Klingon Empire, though he isn't actually a Klingon, just a member of a relatively well-trusted "client" race. All of the students and staff are biological humanoids.

The material clearly assumes prior experience on a military starship, but is relatively respectful of everyone's time and intelligence. Drake's capacity for memorization helps a lot for quizzes in Starfleet Procedures and Policy, but Simulation Scenarios (with a slightly different group, including some younger students) involves drilling those procedures in "live" fire scenarios until they become instinct.

Ten days into Drake's classes, he receives a message from Data, confirming that due diligence has been completed and Federation regulations of nanotechnology do not bar a Lt. Commander from making use of it unless expressly forbidden by their captain, which is not true in Data's case. He would be happy to receive the installation at Drake's earliest convenience, subject to his own (included) schedule.

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Later that same day, as the majority of the cadets of Starfleet Academy leave their final class for the day; a tall warbot angrily leaves Bridge Simulator Seven and stalks through the halls, cadets scrambling to get out of his way. With a crash, Drake slams open the old fashioned front doors of the simulator building and with a blast of fire and startled exclamations from several nearby sophants, streaks into the sky before landing on the roof of the tallest building in the Academy, the administration tower. Walking to the edge of the roof, Drake sits with his back to a pillar and looks out over the Academy, the late afternoon light painting the grounds and buildings in shades of orange and red.


Sighing, Drake looks back over the events of the day. It had started out so well he thought. Data had finally gotten back to him on the swarm cell and they had scheduled an hour to meet mid morning tomorrow to install it. Additionally, Drake's Simulation Scenarios course had begun in earnest. Which, compared to the lecture based courses was far more engaging and useful to him due to the fact that he couldn't simply download the course materials like in the lecture courses. The past few days of the simulations course had been focused on the Bridge simulators, with each member of the class being rotated to a different position each day. According to the instructors this was to facilitate an understanding of how each bridge position fit together into the whole, as well as help the cadets determine where their interests and skills laid should they choose to pursue a bridge position or the command track. Personally, Drake thought he would do well at the Tactical position and was pleasantly surprised to be correct. Despite the differences in technology space combat was still space combat and despite having been an air assault soldier in his old universe rather than a starship crewman, he found that he rather enjoyed the challenge of directing the weaponry of a starship. Plus with the tactical officer's additional role as chief of security, it made sense to Drake to pursue that position.


The problem though, and what ultimately lead to Drake's current bad mood, was the individual acting as Captain in today's simulation. An apparently up and coming noble from a world that had just joined the Federation, he was, without a doubt, one of the most pompous and bigoted individuals Drake had ever had the displeasure of meeting. As far as Drake could tell, no-one had managed to get it through the noble's thick skull that Starfleet did not work like the aristocratic based military of his homeworld, where, according to him, the Captain's word was law and any dissent would be punished. There was also the little issue of him seeing Drake as nothing more than a particularly clever toaster, outright ignoring his tactical recommendations,  referring to him only as "machine" and only doing so when he was outright forced to acknowledge him. What had really sent Drake over the edge though, was what happened once the last simulation of the day had finished. The Cadet's ship had been destroyed (again) by a rogue Romulan D'deridex-class vessel that had fired it's weapons mid-sentence as the Romulan and the noble were arguing on the viewscreen. Of course, if the noble had actually listened to Drake's warnings that the Romulans were charging weapons that result might have been avoided. As it was, the simulation ended with the Starfleet ship destroyed. Before the instructor could enter and debrief us though, the noble rounded on the cadet acting as comm officer, a member of the same species the noble. Screaming in their face that it was their fault we had been destroyed. The moment the cadet began defending themself though, the noble backhanded them, screaming at them to "know their place" and calling them what was apparently an extremely derogatory term for a low class citizen on their world. Before the noble could backhand the other cadet again Drake had grabbed him by the collar of their uniform and slammed him into the wall, his feet dangling about a foot in the air. Of course that was the precise moment that the instructor entered, which lead to her going full "drill sergeant" mode and ordering Drake from the room. The smug look on the noble's face almost made Drake do something he wouldn't have been able to take back but instead he dropped him to the floor and stalked out of the simulator, leading to him landing on this roof. In the back of his mind Drake knew that once the Instructor got the full story he wouldn't be in much trouble. The problem though, was how short Drake's fuse had gotten since arriving in this universe.

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Looking out from the top of the skyscraper, a distraction interrupts Drake in the form of a traffic advisory, warning him that light aircraft are obligated to maintain a distance of at least ten meters from buildings and may not land on any structure without a registered landing pad.

In the meantime, San Francisco glows gently in the summer fog as it's pulled back up out of the water. He's left in peace for about ten minutes before the service door slides open and a timid-looking cadet peeks out holding a fire extinguisher. She looks human, although her hair hides her ears and some facial ridge patterns can be pretty subtle, and she's wearing an armband with markings indicating a Student Trainee Public Safety Officer. She begins tip-toeing in Drake's direction.

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Drake chuckles to himself at the cadet attempting to sneak up to him. Without turning from the view of the city he speaks up. "Okay, I've gotta ask. Why the fire extinguisher?"

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She jumps, pauses for a moment, and laughs sheepishly.

"In case there was a fire! The report said you were flying on a rocket, and they have us do fire training too, so I thought it was better safe than sorry? I guess I don't need it, though! I'll just set this down..." She leans the fire extinguisher against the door.

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At this Drake laughs out loud for a moment. Finally turning to face the cadet he nods, stepping off the raised ledge onto thin air as his thrusters activate, lowering him onto the roof. "They're technically jets actually. Take in atmosphere, excite the electons into muons, and turn that into a plasma stream. Takes a lot of power but then that's something I usually don't have to worry about." As he says this he walks over to the cadet and holds out his hand. "Cadet Drake Lugh, pleasure to meet you."

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"Oh, cool! Cheri Michaels, nice to meet you too! Does that take any sort of grounding? I know neutrino exhaust is pretty safe, but that sounds like it might also cause some ionization."

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"Well at it's heart it's an electrical system, so it has to be grounded. Others of my kind use various methods, but military types like me typically have a series of supercapacitors that support the weapon system, which pull double duty as the electrical ground. As for the exhaust, yes the very first models put out a good amount of ionizing radiation. Those were pure combat models though, and once my kind and base humans started coexisting an enormous amount of research was put into creating a thrust grid that included a radiation filtering system. Within about a decade after the war ended we had thrust systems safe enough for biologicals to use." By this point Drake had turned back to the view of the city, apparently lost in thought.

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Cheri takes a seat leaning against a pillar.

"That makes sense! Impulse drives and antigrav can both be used for personal flight, but our architecture isn't really designed for it and transporters are easier for longer distances anyway, so we mostly use them when being in the air is the point. And like, rock climbing and stuff, obviously. Sorry, did you know that already? You're the alternate universe guy, right? I heard you can just download databases into your head."

As she's talking, she pulls out a PADD and starts poking at the various buttons.

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"Yeah, I'm the alternate universe guy." Drake replies with a snort. "No, I won't look things up for you. No, I won't hack into the Academy mainframe for you. No, I will not show you my weapons. And no, I did not look up your student file, that would be rude. And finally," Drake says as he turns his head towards Cheri, irritation obvious despite his expressionless face. "If you open up the photo program on that thing I swear on the Quantum Singularity that I will brick it so hard even Lt. Commander Data would never get it working again.

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She laughs nervously and waves the device at him.

"No, no! It's just my training materials! Does Lt. Commander Data actually have training as a engineer, though? I heard he isn't actually a computer wizard either, and his only advantage is that he can read really fast."

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"Huh, you know, I never actually asked him." Drake replies as he turns back toward the view. "I know he's got training in field dynamics and warp physics. But I don't actually know about engineering or computer science. I guess I was projecting what Technos can innately do on him a bit there. Which, considering he's the only one even close to being similar to a Techno around here..." Drake falls silent for a moment, simply staring off into the distance before turning back to Cheri. "Anyways, sorry about biting your head off there. I've had a pretty shitty week and my fuse is about nonexistent at this point. Which... isn't a excuse. But still, sorry."

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"It's fine! This is part of the job too, anyway! So, what's up with the bad week? You seem like a guy who's used to, like, space monster problems, and maybe not campus drama."

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"Heh, yeah you're right on that. And that's part of the problem. I was never really enthused with campus life when I was growing up. Joined the military right out of college actually. And most of the past seventy years I've spent fighting endless waves of insectoids. Starfleet may serve as the Federation's military, but compared to what I'm used to it just... doesn't feel like one. Plus there's the whole "oh wow, are you really a robot!?" "Can you really download any database you want?" "Hey, shoot a can off that table over there." shit from knobhead students that has been continually pushing my buttons. And the occasional distrustful look and rude comment about "artificials" from some people."

"Honestly though, the worst part about this place.. this universe I mean... is how... quiet it is."

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"What's so loud about your world? I bet you don't mean the noise."

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"No, not in the sense you're thinking of." He sighs and looks towards the sky. "Okay, so you guys have the Starfleet Database, and most planets in the Federation have their own semi-self contained networks, which for the most part evolved from the pre-warp internet for most human planets, and the equivalent on primarily alien worlds. You follow so far?" He asks, glancing at Cheri. With a small nod from her he continues.

"Well, from what I've seen the biggest thing keeping you from merging those networks into a single Internet system that spans the entire Federation is a lack of bandwidth. The subspace network, at least as it is now, simply cannot support the amount of data traffic that an internet spanning even a few systems would require."

"In my universe however, the peaceful conclusion of our World War III and the subsequent merging of Technos and biological humans into a single society led to a boom in our understanding of quantum computing and quantum physics. To the point where the first near-C probe we sent to Alpha Centauri contained a quantum beacon, which not only allowed instant communication between Sol and the probe, but also acted as a guiding system for our early FTL drives. Eventually, every single large city on every planet in our domain contained what we call a "Think Tank". A massive network hub and administration system run by a Techno which vastly increases said Techno's processing power and speed. These Think Tanks assist in the administration of the city under which it resides as well as perform research on various topics, but their primary purpose is to act as the guardians of the Network. They administrate it, and protect it from interference both internal and from outside sources."

"Im explaining all of this so that you understand when I say that, in my universe, the pre-WWIII internet has evolved to encompass the entirety of human controlled space, I don't mean a system like yours where updates to the database are limited to the arrival of Starfleet ships and Subspace data-bursts, but a fully interconnected network containing everything from memes to military communication. People can argue over inane topics on discussion forums from opposite ends of Human Space in real time. A person can post a video and it could go viral across all of human space in moments. Military communication in the field is done entirely through Network links run through specialist Think Tanks in Sol and Alpha Centauri. In my universe, unless you choose to forgo a Network link, you are constantly connected to a virtual hivemind of thoughts and ideas, feelings and dreams. A connection to almost every other human alive. It is a noise you cannot imagine, but a comfort you cannot imagine either. Humans, whether biological or technological, are social creatures. We crave the comfort of being with others we identify with. And no human in my universe is alone unless they choose to be..." He turns back to Cheri, sorrow clear in his body language. "All of that was torn from me in an instant. I'm alone here. Far more than you could imagine. The only beings like me here are some alien species, certain Starfleet computer cores, and Lt. Commander Data. Now, I'm not xenophobic, but there's a certain amount of disconnect between mentalities for most other species, on top of them being biological. The Nebula class computer cores are at least able to connect to me on a similar level as what I'm used to, but they are just on the wrong side of awareness. Even the Lt. Commander is... I don't know... I was really hoping that he'd be someone I could at least have a conversation with without having to use basically all of my processing power on doing other things in my VR space just so I can follow the conversation without waiting for what feels like an eternity for each response. But not only can he apparently not think much faster than a particularly gifted human, but he doesn't even understand how his own mind works."

"The noise that reminded me of who I was and that I would never truly be alone is gone, and the silence is deafening."

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"Wow, that sounds like a lot! I think there's a planet that does something like that. The Bynars can communicate with their planetary computer from anywhere in the quadrant, and can download things right into their heads. It's really important to them, they won't even go into rooms that have too much shielding. It sounds nice, but also like it might make developing an identity difficult? Sorry if that's rude, I don't mean to be rude! But it kinda seems like it would be hard to stay independent. I think a lot of people would end up outsourcing so much of themselves they'd find it hard to be a real person if it got shut off."

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"Okay, first off stop worrying so much. I'm not going to bite your head off for asking legitimate questions, and if I think you're being rude I'll let you know. As for losing your sense of self, you're absolutely right. If you were to take someone from this universe, give them the necessary implants, and throw them into UHS society without proper knowledge or training on how to use the Network safely, then I'd give them 50/50 odds of becoming a Ghost within a year. That is to say, someone who literally does not know who they are anymore due to being too immersed in the lives of other people or full-dive game characters for too long. Luckily though, the technology developed slowly enough that we were able to develop ways to minimize that danger, mostly through introducing Network implants at an early age in biologicals and the equivalent in Techno children. These implants have tight parental controls that limit their functionality, which loosens the child ages. By the time they've become an adult, the vast majority of people are able to fully utilize the Network with no danger to themselves or others, and those that can't typically only need a few years of additional training before they're fully capable as well."

"On a side note, according to the Database the Bynars seem to basically be Starfleet's IT department, so there should be some on campus somewhere. I'll have to make sure to meet some of them while I'm here."

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"Oh, I would have guessed that starting early causes more problems even if you ease in, cause then you'd be more comfortable with it. I'm sure you have better data, though. Anyway, there's definitely some Bynars around! I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to say they're the IT department, and I think they manage a lot of their maintenance contracts remotely. But they have an embassy in San Jose, I bet they'd be willing to agree to a meeting!"

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"Huh, good to know." Drake replies, already sending a request to the embassy for a meeting appointment. "And honestly I'm, I was I guess, just an airborne infantry officer back home. The way I understand it though, the minds of children and adolescents, both biological and Techno mind you, are far more malleable than the mind of a mature individual. This makes it much easier for children to learn how to properly balance between the Network and the physical world than it is for someone already used to operating solely in one or the other. Adults who immigrate from a splinter world, especially agrarian ones, to a UHS world tend to have severe difficulty in accessing the Network and balancing the two worlds. Conversely, some early Technos that never had a physical body had severe trouble operating in the physical world. Most of those Technos actually became the first Think Tanks that monitor and defend the Network."

"Although, now that I look at it from an outside perspective, I will admit that we tend to focus a bit more on the virtual world than the physical world."

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After about forty milliseconds, the Bynar embassy responds offering two available time slots. One later this evening, and another a week from now, a couple hours before Drake's classes start for the day.

"I would have said lots of people on Earth spend more time in the virtual world than the physical one too! Holoaddiction is a thing that happens! But I'm not sure our normal treatments would work for you guys, if everyone else is always plugged in too."

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Drake immediately sends a response confirming the evening appointment. The entire exchange taking less than a second.

"Now hang on. Don't get me wrong, my universe has it's share of Net-lifers, but just because the Network is so ingrained in life back home does not mean that we're all addicted to it. That would be akin to saying Betazoids are all addicted to telepathy. The Network isn't just for entertainment. It connects the whole human race in my universe. Binding us together while allowing us to advance further and faster than we ever could without it."

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"No no, I mean for bad cases! It's like...there's a rare condition where you can't eat replicated food, something about hypersensitivity to malformed proteins. And replicated food has been incredibly valuable to humanity for hundreds of years. It's solved malnutrition and famine and obesity and monocultures and pesticide pollution, and all our other historic problems with food supply, both human and environmental. It's definitely been a positive thing both collectively and individually for the vast majority of Federation citizens. But that also means it's everywhere, and if you can't eat it then you're better off moving to a historic reservation just so you don't have to be paranoid about what you're eating for every single meal of your life."

"And that's kind of how we treat holoaddiction, too. You make friends who maybe use the holosuites sometimes, as a group, but who also do things outside in the physical world, so they can help keep you grounded. And around here that's pretty easy cause most people don't spend all their time in the holosuites or online, but it's really hard for avoiding replicated food cause there's only a few places on Earth where you can get a broad selection of natural foods. And in your universe, it sounds hard to get away from all that, exactly because it's so valuable and important for you."

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"Sorry, I misinterpreted that. Honestly Net-lifers aren't really that big of a problem. The majority aren't a danger to themselves or anyone else, and with how prevalent nanotech is in the UHS they aren't much of a drain on resources either since basically everything can be recycled almost infinitely. Many of them choose to become Full-Conversion Cyborgs just so they don't have to bother with the physical world anymore."

"As for the ones that do pose a danger, either to themselves or to others, we offer, or perhaps a better phrase would be gently push them towards free and comprehensive therapy and/counseling. Which usually works."

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After chatting for a while longer, a beep emanates from Cheri's pocket. She jumps to her feet.

"Oh, duty calls! It's been nice talking with you, don't set anything on fire! We have enough of those!"

She grabs the fire extinguisher from its place by the door and runs inside.

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"Nice to talk to you too! See you around!" Drake calls after her. Once again alone, though more centered and at peace than before, he looks back towards the Academy and the city beyond, the buildings lit by the late afternoon sun.  Deciding that few people were likely to bother him where he was, Drake sits on the edge of the building, turning his focus inwards to a project he'd been working on in his spare time. When the time comes for him to go to his meeting with the Bynars he stands back up and prepares to lift off.

Just before he launches though, he pauses and looks back to the door Cheri departed through. Snapping open his bat-like wings, he leaps off the roof and glides away from the building for several seconds before lighting his thrusters and turning toward the Bynar embassy.

The ground and water beneath Drake passes quickly as he accelerates, and within only a few minutes lands outside of the embassy 50 miles away. Retracting his wings, he walks up the steps and into the building.

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The Bynar embassy looks like an extremely well-maintained but two-hundred year old warehouse. It's plain and cleanly painted, and labeled in large block lettering as the embassy of the Bynar people. Next to the door stands a sign-in kiosk, asking for an entry verification code. Aside from the kiosk, sign, and the door itself, there are no external decorations.

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'Certainly no patrons of the arts these Bynars.' Drake thinks to himself as he wirelessly inputs the code he was sent with the meeting confirmation and enters the building proper. 'Of course, they might just not care about the physical world. Gotta remember to read the book before judging the cover.'

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The door opens into a nondescript hallway. Immediately to the side of the door is a stairway, an unusual sight on Earth, and Drake's rangefinding systems identify the hallway as regulation hospital width, significantly wider than normal Earth fire code. The hallway is lined in doors, each with a small placard listing two names.

A line of lights on the wall flash, illuminating moving arrows directing Drake down the hallway to a door labeled "10010[0/1]::T2ZmLW5ldCBPdXRyZWFjaA==".

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In the few moments it takes to walk to the door Drake downloads the Bynar computer language universal translation module from the Starfleet database to his personal storage. Figuring that it would be a useful thing to have instant access to just in case. Without hesitation, opens the door and enters the office space.

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The Bynar language package consists of several layers, not all of which the human ear is capable of catching and some of which are further deliberately obfuscated. The full design brief is legible to Drake, of course.

Within the office sit two Bynars side-by-side on a bench-like chair, with a data terminal slightly offset to either side in front of them. Another chair sits on Drake's side of the table.

100100 speaks first.

"Welcome and greetings,"

Then 100101.

"are you in need of any refreshment?"

"We are always happy to meet with humans who find us and our work interesting."

"We see that you arrived on the USS Palmer, do you seek to discuss the recent reports on developments in computational quantum engineering?"

They speak in a stilted and irregular cadence, but clearly. Drake can also hear the high chatter of ultrasonic transmissions bouncing back and forth between the two, speaking in a tricky personal idiolect but clearly passing back and forth a relatively thin profile on Drake provided by the computer.

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"Good evening, thank you but I'll pass on the refreshments" Drake replies, sitting in the offered seat and silently thanking the fact that, as this was the outreach office in an embassy, the chair was designed to comfortably seat species with far more mass than most beings if necessary.

"I am indeed interested in computational quantum engineering. The primary purpose for requesting this meeting though, is a curiosity in Bynar culture as, on the surface at least, it bears some slight resemblance to the overall human culture of my universe. As far as it relates to your interconnected computer network that is."

"Also, in the interest of avoiding a cultural faux pas, I feel I must inform you that I can understand the binary chatter you are using to communicate with each other."

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The Bynars visibly light up and send a more concentrated burst of ultrasonic chatter.

"🎌📸🥍🧍Human individual 👣Drake Lugh🆔 comprehends 📳binary chatter? 📸🧮🍀Bynar pair 👣10010[0/1]🆔 is curious and excited by this 🎩knowledge! 🧮🍀Bynar pair 👣10010[0/1]🆔 was of the understanding that no 🤯human can parse 📳binary chatter at required speed, and additionally was of the understanding that 🏗️augmentations and 🏗️equipment needed to hear 📳binary chatter with clarity are rare and unpopular in 🤯🌾human culture and in particular rare and unpopular in 🇺🇳🤯🌾Earth human culture. 🧮🐽🚥Previously mentioned 🍀Bynar pair desire to understand why 🧍individual human 👣Drake Lugh🆔 has capacity to identify 📳binary chatter and additionally why 🧍individual human 👣Drake Lugh🆔 has capacity to parse and interpret 📳binary chatter. 🧮🐽🥍Is 🚦previously mentioned individual willing to disclose this 🎩information and additionally 🥍is 🚦previously mentioned individual having any difficulties in interpreting 📳binary chatter? 🧮🐰🚥Previously mentioned 🍀Bynar pair is aware that 🏗️universal translator package for 📳binary chatter includes only minimal 🍤grammar and particle parsing, and additionally is aware that 🍤particle and grammar parsing is necessary to fully interpret 📳binary chatter.🏳️‍⚧️"

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"Well, I guess it was too much to hope that the Universal Translator module would include your binary chatter, though I do understand why it doesn't." Drake says, leaning back in his chair. "I was able to get most of that but we'll want to iron it out before having an actual conversation. If you are willing and able, send me a handshake protocol through the comm address I used to contact you and I'll integrate it into my personal translation matrix."

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"Understood."

"Try, this?"

Drake received a transmission over the internet with an alternative translator patch, followed by another burst of less-malformed chatter.

"Begin-statement desire+confusion+question>>Can human-individual>proper-name>[Drake Lugh] better understand this technical-concept>format of linguistic-concept>particle transmission for sapient-species>Bynar encoded-language>binary chatter? End-statement."

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"Begin-statement confirmation+statement>>Yes human-individual>proper-name>[Drake Lugh] can now fully understand technical-concept>format of linguistic-concept>particle transmission for sapient-species>Bynar encoded-language>binary chatter. Additional+statement>>This technical-concept>language-encoding-format is ill-suited for efficient conversation. Recommendation+statement>>human-individual>proper-name>[Drake Lugh] is sending technical-concept>encoding-format-update at the end of this technical-concept>audio-binary-databurst-transmission. Recommendation+statement>>Please implement technical-concept>previously-mentioned-encoding-format-update into technical-concept>audio-binary-databurst-buffer-system to improve communication. Additional+statement>>technical-concept>previously-mentioned-encoding-format-update is technical-concept>open-source if bynar-individual>proper-name>[10010[1/0]] wish to inspect the technical-concept>previously-mentioned-encoding-format-update before technical-concept>implementation. End-statement."

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The Bynars accept and examine the specification, and talk back and forth between each other for a while, before turning back to Drake.

"Test"

"two?"

>>Transmission (Conversational): Drake Lugh

>Status: Finished

>Confidence: Log

>Importance: 4

>: "We have attempted to integrate your proposed format to function with our ultrasonic binary as well as our internal means of expressing thought. We believe that by shifting connotation and context into more verbose language we will achieve similar clarity at an acceptable cost in information density. Please state whether these conclusions are accurate. Please inform us if our implementation of this protocol possesses any errors. We also comment that we are confused as to why we have not seen this protocol in use before, and as to why it is not built upon the universal translator framework. Our understanding was previously that all human communications protocols were closely integrated with the universal translator."

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>>Transmission (Conversational): [10010[1/0]]

>Status: Finished

>Confidence: Log

>Importance: 4

>: "It would appear that the format was indeed integrated correctly. I can now fully understand you. Single layer audio-binary databurst is inherently limited in maximum data density. We may be able to improve upon this in the future, but for now, this reduction of density to improve information clarity is acceptable."

"I do not know how much information you have regarding the USS Palmer's latest mission, but the reason this data encoding protocol is not in use, nor integrated into the Universal Translator system, is because it is a derivative of the primary databurst encoding protocol that was in use in my universe before quantum communication and cognition implants were implemented for the use of the biological subset of Humanity, and multi-layer quantum databurst communication could be used by all members of Humanity."

>Additional Context: "I am a member of humanity from an alternate dimension and was propelled into this dimension by a mis-tuned quantum bomb. The possibility of which was theorized in my universe, but never proven."

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>>Transmission (Conversational): Drake Lugh

>Status: Finished

>Confidence: Log

>Importance: 4

>: "We are amenable to further iteration. Please elaborate upon the details of this 'alternate dimension'. All released reports on the interdimensional incident involving the USS Palmer involve significant hypothesis and uncertainty, and have not been confirmed true by the Bynar. In event of the truth of these reports, we are very interested to learn more about the details of this dimension and the civilizations residing there."

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>>Transmission (Conversational): [10010[1/0]]

>Status: Finished

>Confidence: Log

>Importance: 4

>: "I too am interested in the Bynar culture. Primarily because it seems to have significant similarities to my own dimension's human culture. I propose an offical cultural exchange. I am willing to share non-sensitive information about my dimension, the United Human Systems, and the events which led me to this dimension, including excerpts from my personal data log. In return, I would request detailed information on Bynar culture and the personal networking system you use."

"Are you amenable to this exchange?"

 

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>>Transmission (Conversational): Drake Lugh

>Status: Finished

>Confidence: Log

>Importance: 4

>: "This is amenable to us. Many Bynars living on our homeworld utilize their neural computers to record detailed logs and recordings of daily activity. We are willing to offer access to many of these logs in exchange for corresponding cultural data. We are also willing to offer neural computer and communication protocol details in exchange for corresponding technology. Are you equipped to provide these details?"