The next morning, the Imperial Family met to discuss the progress of the galactic-wide search for the remaining Slavers. That preoccupation had taken second seat to the disposal of the most active revolutionary group, and after their destruction, it was decided to resume the search.
"Sitar, what is the situation concerning the search for the Slavers?"
"Militarily, we now have 10 operational fleets, one per dark arm, and one per bright arm. Before you ask, a fleet is composed of 10,000 ships, divided in ten operational groups, each divided into 10 task groups, each comprised of 10 tactical intervention units of 10 ships each. I must give thanks to Paschal for his designs. He came through in ship design and assembly line methods. Harp has supplied enough Mages to offer each ship a minimum of five Decuries of Mages with a class I Mage as Decurion. Meanwhile, Viola, Greywolf, and a plethora of others have helped train the Marines Legions that supply the brunt of the landing forces, and astronomical navigation personnel was trained by Samson and tactical officers by myself."
"I see... I hope."
"Do you want a description of the composition of a tactical intervention group?"
"I am already flooded, I might as well drown. So be it, dump the data on my poor brain cells. I shall be the first emperor to flounder under the avalanche of its own military power."
"Plural for your brain cells is a bit overrated; you are only a big one."
"Count yourself lucky this command room has too much magic-sensitive equipment, Sitar!"
"Boys! Grow up!"
"I am growing up, Mom. It's Dad that is going back in childhood due to premature senility!"
"See? He even has lost the ability to speak!"
"Husband! He is teasing you, nothing else! Maybe we should not have spent the night trying to make another kid? You seem to be unable to recover as you used to!"
"My back is stiff this morning..."
"Should it not be something else that is stiff?" commented Enron, from the other end of the table, as Paschal guffawed.
"No, it is raw..." replied the Emperor, killing Enron with his eyes.
"Ever heard of lubricant, Dad?"
"Paschal, keep the lubricants to your cylinders. You need them more than I do!"
"However fun this exchange at the expense of Dad is, how about we go back to the reason for this meeting?" intervened Viola as he tried to bring things back on track.
"You are a killjoy, brother!" commented Cello, to the amusement of the rest of the Imperial Suite.
"How is the whole thing progressing, Sitar?" queried the Emperor.
"So far, rather smoothly, according to Admiral Zen. You know, the Snake?"
"Yes, yes. Could you elaborate?"
"I thought you did not want to hear about statistics?"
"That does not mean I want to be kept in the dark!"
"Let us see," as Sitar took out a ridulian scroll, its thickness so thin and yet so resistant that it could cut through steel.
"Ridulian, Son? Are you trying to play the archaic string?"
"Dad, do you want that report or not?" mumbled Sitar.
"I want it, but I thought you would use the monitors so we could all read it as you do?"
"This is the archive version, freshly 'minted' or, more appropriately, freshly weaved from the thread spinner. It can not be altered or corrupted. We discovered that some computer archives, the most easily accessed, had been corrupted by ill-intended individuals of the religious groups. We restored the public data set, and the Artificial Intelligences are cross-validating public archives, while producing ridulian copies to be stored in the Imperial Library."
"That is all nice and well, Son, but how in Hell do you manage to read these threads? They can only be read by the Artificial Intelligences!"
"That is my doing, Dad," began Harp, "with the help of Paschal and Enron." as said Paschal cleared his throat.
"Well, we decided to include some, err, interfaces, err, to allow our fingers to read ridulian threaded sheets. We are now... equipped with proper connectors to read and write on ridulian threads."
"The first step was designing the interfaces, then implementing them using nanobots... remember that craving for Spinach? We needed a supplement of Iron."
"And Gold, I would wager, given that about 32 ounces of Gold vanished off the Imperial Treasury, along with some 15 ounces of Platinum..."
"Piano, I knew you were obsessed with accounting, but spotting that must have taken you a year, given we have megatons of each element!"
"She probably counts each atom once a week, Harp."
"You are off, Banjo, I do it daily! And you can not miss the sudden drop in the atomic count! After all, it is difficult to miss the disappearance of 2,27 x 1024 atoms!"
"She's greedier than Midas!" exclaimed Colibri, much to the amusement of the others around the table.
"What about managing the schools?" asked the Emperor.
"Dad, ever heard of delegating? I hear of problems when the others can not manage them, and usually, these are rare. The bylaws I set up are still clear, and thoroughly applied without fail."
"I would have thought some would try to build their own little Empire within that system?" commented the Empress.
"Mom, those that did were shortened... by a head. It took some examples, bloody examples, but the message was loud and clear. Each one has a job to do, and they better do it! Oh, I review the bylaws once a decade, to adapt to new needs, new species, new conditions, but they have been, for the most part, static."
"How about getting back to the damn report before I blow a fuse?" thundered Thorsten from beside his Dad.
After a nod from Emperor Harold, Sitar began.
"Zen noticed that the Andromedan Empire is collapsing at a very high speed. The loss of their Emperor seems to have freed the puppets from their strings and they are fighting each other to a bloody pulp. Our fleets generally come in on a cold battlefield, or at the end of one battle to wipe their asses off. So far, the Andromedans are so taken by internal strife they do not join forces to fight us."
"So far so good."
"Yes Dad. However, it also stalls the collection of living individuals. We meet whole cemeteries of ships, usually open to the void of space, and with drifting bodies everywhere. It is not very conclusive to our primary task of rescuing life forms. Zen does a planetary search of these stars, but so far, they are in the Red Dwarf kinds, very little energy except for the Slavers. The rest would have been in deep hibernation until called upon to fight. He has been using a spherical search pattern for current stars with planetary systems."
"That seems ominous for our goal."
"In the short term, yes. However, Zen has been calling on time travel data collectors. These collectors travel back in time to before the battle and collect star maps and other pertinent information to allow a quicker search for the origins of the individuals. Furthermore, those individuals not woken up for a battle are put in temporal stasis, allowing them to survive the battle for collection by us afterwards."
"Care to explain that one, Sitar?"
"I shall leave that to Paschal, if you do not mind. It was his idea after all."
Everyone looked at Paschal expectantly.
"Ahem, you certainly remember the data collectors we send through time in the past to get information about what has happened? Well, this is an extension. What we now do is we send a carrier cargo of nanobots that add a thin layer to those pods that will not be opened for a battle, and then, just before things go South, the layer activates and pushes the pods in-between time slices. In effect, they are taken out of the current time flow and become inaccessible. The ships can be blown to bits, the pods are out of the flow of time and are therefore unaffected."
"Well, once the ugly battles is over, we move in. We have huge Leviathan ships collecting the pods, still in their in-between times, and they are brought back into the time-flow, connected to massive control chambers and kept in stasis awaiting the wake-up calls."
"This is interesting. What are our losses?"
"None, so far."
"The running crew, mostly. Some do survive, because their ship is not too damaged, or they manage to have 'life-rafts' but these are very rare. Most 'life-rafts' are single-occupant types, and there are some short-range scouts that make their way out of a bigger ship at the last moment. As for the Slavers, for some reason, they never made it out of a ship in distress."
"I doubt the slaves would bother..."
"Maybe not, but it might also be that the Slavers' culture is to either win or die trying."
"Okay. You mentioned getting their astronavigation maps, Paschal?"
"Yes, They are being analysed and consolidated as we get them. There are many issues involved into making sense of them."
"Such as?" Samson asked, interested.
"Well, first, there is the symbol table. It changes with time. Second, there is the unit of measure of distances, which also changes. Third, time itself has moved the stars around the galactic nucleus."
"There must be a reason for all these changes!"
"Oh, I have been thinking on that. Remember the old Earth and its Dynasties? Each time a new Dynasty replaced an old one, the date started at One again. Then, sometimes, the Capital of the Empire moved, changing the distances. And if an Empire fell to the hands of a Conqueror, it almost brought down the measurement units."
"I do not get it?"
"About what, Enron?"
"We can look at the measurements used by the Greeks and the Persians. The Greeks' basic measure of distance is the 'Stadium' which was the length of the Stadium in Olympus; the Persians used different units, and the most common for long distance was the mansion, representing a day's march on a royal road as established by the Achaemenid Empire. Each time there was a change in frontiers, the 'distance' was adjusted, however stupid that might have been."
Oh, OK. But what about the Capitals moving? I know we moved whole blocks of construction to build Thebes, but I doubt the Humans could!"
"They did not. It was the managers that moved, or at least, those that survived an overhaul. For instance, the Egyptian Empire moved its Capital from place to place, and all distances being measured from the Capital, all numbers had to be adjusted! For example, the first capital of Egypt was Thinis, and the second capital was Thebes, set up by the First Pharaonic Dynasty. Thinis was set up at the first Falls of the Nile, marking the border between Lower and Upper Egypt. That area was a swamp, and building a city on stilts and with canals, with a wall made up of tree trunks, made sense. Think of Venice, built on a similar principle, with similar objectives. Invading such a city would have been difficult at best; it would have held well against fire; food would have been plentiful in the form of fish and wild rice; the location would have been good for trade as it would have been a place for portage around the rapids and falls. Then it got abandoned, for some reason, probably a dry spell, or what not. It could be sickness as well, as swamps were notorious for malaria and other insect-carried diseases. Anyway, the Capital changed and the origin of all distances, not yet named the zero point at the time, was moved with it, requiring an adjustment of measures."
"But how does this apply to the star maps?"
"Oh, simple. Humans set their star distances according to two units of measures: the distance between the Sun, their star, and their planet, the Earth; and second, for longer distances, in the distance travelled by light in a year, or light-year. Now then, what sets a year? The time a planet, the Earth in this case, takes to orbit its star. Change star, change planet, and a year changes. That means a stellar map will tell that one star is 4 light-years distant based on one system of reference, and, say, one light-year away based on another, given that the second planet orbits its star further away and therefore takes more time to do a revolution aro