Galactica: Book 2 - Andromeda

Chapter 31 - Condensing a Star Cluster

 

The last six months had been busy planning what to do once Thebes had intercepted communications and taken control of the enemy fleet. More Scouts had been captured, leading to the release of additional Therapods. A couple of other species had also been found caught in the nets of the Cyborgs and had been released after a complete overhaul.

"We are two days off the next window. We need to attract the fleet as far away as we can so we have time to set the traps." commented Sitar. "Navigation? How far away from our intended target can we move and still be visible to their sensors?"

"Around 15,500 light-years. It will put us less than an hour away from their furthest repeater, and, in effect, let them detect us within that same hour," replied Samson as he looked at the estimated positions of the outer repeaters.

"Right, their fastest ships will take..."

"About four days to reach that position, and we will become visible to them two days before. By the time they change trajectory, they will have made it further of by at least another day, because the command has to come from the Star cluster." noted Ian.

"Can we put in a shadow ship? You know, an electronic facsimile of Thebes, that will give them every sign that we are waiting there, while we are elsewhere?" wondered Sitar.

Paschal scratched his chin, looking up at the ceiling, deep in thought. "Does it need to be visual as well?"

"Not really. They have had a very brief glimpse of Thebes when we kicked the dust of their battlefield, but since then. They might well think we left behind a fleet to harass them."

"Okay. I think I can do it quick and dirty. What I will do is install a spherical mirror, much like those used by the Ancients in their play-rooms with deafening music..."

"A discotheque..."

"Yes, that... And inside, I will put in transmitters mimicking Thebes. Until they are very close, they will be unable to distinguish it from us... And being mirrors, when they fire lasers, they will be reflected, giving them the impression we are fighting back."

"Will it be long to implement?" asked Harold.

"I copied the Ancients' designs. I only need to increase the scale by a considerable amount. The whole thing will take a day to build. If we leave now, they will be on their way to that lure by the time we port to the expected exit point. I do suggest we port inside the cluster's peripheral cluster to hide our presence as a Star. There are quite a few big ones in there, and we would be hidden in the background radiation."

"Agreed. Ian, set course for the last repeater. Paschal get to work," ordered Harold. "Sitar, you have command until this is resolved."

"Yes, Dad."

A short time later, Thebes moved slowly further away then jumped to the expected position of the furthest repeater.

"That was close, a bit too close! We almost materialised on it. It is less than 6 light-minutes away! Who did the estimates so I can grind his balls?" thundered Timor.

"Cool down, fur bag! Estimates are just that, estimates. It probably met a mass that slightly changed its trajectory, and the error cumulated over time! We can fix it just by letting a tiny bit of our mass show to act as tractor." Samson replied from the navigation desk.

"Bridge to Paschal! We are in place," Sitar said over the in-board communications system.

"Hey, I can do miracles, but that one's a bit short-noticed! I told you guys I needed an hour, and I need it!"

"Fine. Be that way."

"Anyway, no use freaking out. Paschal needs to design and assemble the mirror, then we move out of the way leaving it in place. Sitar, I recommend we move at least a light-hour away so our sudden replacement by a much smaller mirror will not register. However, no jumping: leave a clear, easy to follow trail, as if we considered the repeater space junk."

After thinking things over, Sitar turned to Timor: "Implement Harp's suggestions."

Thebes moved off, leaving a thick trail of polarised ions that clearly could only be of artificial origin and indicative of an ionic drive.

An hour later, Paschal made his way to the Bridge, and took his station at an exoportal control station, activating the relays with a set of finger prints, encrypted strings, and vocal recognition.

"Why all the security?"

"You feel comfortable working in an area that is going to have its contents ported to outer space? An Exoportal needs this kind of security, Sitar. And no, I did not put on a FSS. Maybe I should have, but we were rushed."

"Not that rushed, Son. Security first."

"Okay Dad."

"Did you have any issues?" Harp asked.

"Let's see, the biggest issue is the mirror itself. It is being assembled as we speak by robots. The next challenge was recreating the noise of Thebes. It has a randomness that is close to white noise, but not totally it as there are bursts of intense energy at regular intervals... For all intents and purposes, we sound exactly like a pulsar, with a pulse at 20 Kilo-Hertz. So I recorded one matching our signature and will trigger the recording when the mirror replaces us. Since we are essentially moving on momentum, I expect the hum has not changed. However. Porting creates an energy peak. We need to minimise that peak so it matches the one found in current day-to-day activity in Thebes. We need to mask it."

"Any suggestions?"

"Send out powerful pulses toward the galactic core, as if we were sending out information, a message of sorts." Jerry said. "That way, it can be brief, and we match our jump with the last of these 'encoded' pulses. If we make them match the pulses, they will believe that we are asking for reinforcements from the Galactic core, and they will spend energy, computing power, and resources trying to break a non-existent code."

"Do it!" ordered Sitar, looking at Jerry with a smirk to hide his growing admiration for the Australopithecus.

Forty-five minutes later, Paschal signalled everything was ready for the substitution.

"You have control, Paschal."

"Synchronise with the pulse. Porting on my mark! Exchange procedure activated, exoportal under void! Five, four, three, two, one, port! Exchange completed on mark. We are in the Star cluster. Magic Mirror in place!"

Harp grumbled at the last comment, remembering quite well the use of mirrors by frauds to make things 'disappear'.

"You have command, Sitar."

"Thanks, Paschal. Passive sensors, report!"

"The next repeater is on its way on schedule. We read it sending information about the currents and plasma flows it crosses. It should exit the cloud in approximately 22 hours."

"Monitor and notify of any change. Black? Listen in on the transmission, and tell us the moment it stops being an environmental report and becomes a data exchange focal point."

"Yes, sir!"

The formal reply took the Bridge crew by surprise, but now was not the time to jump on the bandwagon and try to figure out why the Therapod had gone so formal. All would become clear in time.

"The others, rest. Grey, Green, replace Black in four hours to prevent fatigue."

With that, Sitar lay back in the command chair and closed his eyes, giving, for all those who knew him not, the appearance of sleep.

***

"It is emerging from the dust cloud. The surface is becoming clearer in the optic wavelengths," commented Viola.

"Grey, watch the transfers closely," recommended Harp, "It is at these transitions that things are most likely to change."

Half an hour later, Grey called attention to changes in progress. "The repeater is changing patterns. From what I get, it is calibrating to the new environment."

"Paschal, emulate its behaviour. Ian, port Thebes exactly where it is. Destroy the repeater by materialising in its space," ordered Sitar.

"Sequence established, power level matched..." said Paschal.

"Porting!" Ian reported almost simultaneously. "Port successful."

"Repeater reduced to its component atoms. No trace of it found!" added Timor, who was monitoring the immediate space.

"Re-calibration sequence continuing with a delay of 2e-42 seconds. They shouldn't be able to detect it," added Paschal.

"Grey, take a break, Green, take over. Rotation every hour from now on," ordered Sitar. "Keep watch, and the moment it stops being re-calibration sequences, let me know. Okay guys, we are almost there. When will their fleet reach our lure?"

"In about half an hour." replied Banjo. "From the hyper-space transmissions, they have not yet begun firing at it. By the time they realise something's wrong..."

"They, at the other end, will not. Do not forget they have no decisional autonomy," said Black, further shocking the Atlanteans.

"Right..."

"Calibration is now complete. They have begun transmitting commands and feedback is now flowing the other way."

"Let the feedback flow continue unimpeded. Begin changing the priority command flow out to their fleet. The first step is a slow disengagement and a recall of some of their fleet. Once this is sent out, intercept and mask the acknowledge of the recall..." began Sitar, implementing his strategy.

"Awaiting your commands..." said Green, taking transmissions over.

"Tenth fleet to move to Vern-10 and orbit primary."

"We are lucky we found a Star map with labels on-board your Scout," noted Ovid, "otherwise, we would be in deep shit creek without a paddle."

"You are assuming they use these labels. I am not so sure. Anyway, the translator replaced it with three-dimensional co-ordinates," replied Grey.

"As long as it works, I do not care," replied Sitar. "Ninth fleet to pull back to Werner-8 and orbit primary."

Sitar continued pulling back fleet after fleet, building a sphere of vessels around the Star cluster. As he was calling back the third Fleet, Black, which had taken over Green's surveillance of transmissions, intercepted a message from the fleet attacking the lure.

"It reports it is only responding to fire by mirroring it. It asks for guidance."

"Reply it is a lure and to fall back to Odd-XI. Sometimes, the truth is the best lure. Call back fleet Two and move it to Eve-2. That should complete the lock. How long before Fleet One is in place?"

"Nine days," replied Samson. Three days to receive the message, three days to disengage, three days to reach their new station."

Okay. Paschal, how long to release fleet ten?"

"A month. We need to send capture and substitute ships as you know."

"Okay. Begin! Target the biggest ships first. Put in Shadow ships mimicking the ones we remove."

"Their biggest ship in shadows... ported... shadow ship ported in place and replicating signals..." began Timor, under the guidance of Paschal.

"Time stasis initiated!" noted Harp.

"Intervention boarding teams to ported ship!" ordered Sitar.

Sixty teams quickly moved into the ship using the frozen time to pass unnoticed,, ready to capture the Bridge crew on Harp's signal.

"Time restart in three, local. Two, one! Time restart! Thirty seconds to time freeze!" commanded Harp. The thirty seconds seemed to be eternal, as each team quickly unplugged the crews from their connectors and activated port keys to the waiting Stasis Pods. In total, 75 crew members were taken out during the time thaw.

"Status!" asked Sitar.

"Seventy-five captured. Fifteen left to capture on Bridge. Re-assigning the capture teams to crew quarters. Re-assignment will be completed in ten," Harp reported. "Thaw in three, two, one. Begin capture. Thirty to freeze!"

The crew never even really understood what was happening. The Bridge cleared, the crew quarters cleared, the last part was the rest of the ship, starting with engineering and mess hall. It took three more freeze-thaw cycles before the entire ship was empty, for a total of one hour, and 300 crew members put in stasis.

"Lessons?" asked Sitar.

"The process is too slow for my taste. Five cycles of 10 minutes each is almost an hour!" Paschal said.

"Agreed. What else?"

"The ratio of crew to Bridge Officers is rather strange: 90 Officers for 10 crew? I heard the expression more chiefs than Indians, but this is ridiculous!" said Thorsten.

"Noted. Next?"

"They are a different species entirely from Therapods. Avians, from what I gather. We will need to look into it," replied Enron.

"Bird brains maybe? Might explain the strange crew ratio," Colibri said.

"That from a guy whose name is a genus of Hummingbird. That's rich!" Ovid said, way too loud to be ignored, earning him the Bird.

"Black, have you ever seen them before?" Thorsten asked

"Not to my knowledge. I believe our common enemy kept us separated to prevent any risk of collusion."

"Makes sense. Next capture in...?" Sitar queried.

"Two minutes. The captured ship is now in a Tessaract, being mothballed. We found their home Star."

"Good work, Timor. Black, any incoming about the events?"

"None yet, Sir."

"Prepare for capture!" ordered Sitar.

The cycle repeated itself hundreds, thousands of times, non-stop. Ship after ship was taken without anyone of the slave ship crew none the wiser. The performance of the capture cycle improved considerably, and more teams were put to work as well. After 48 hours, the rate of capture was such it was a continuous process. Seven days after initial capture, the tenth Fleet was no more.

"Move capture to ninth Fleet amalgamation point." ordered Thorsten, currently substituting for Sitar, whom was taking a well-deserved break.

"The last ships of the ninth are not yet in orbit." reported Timor.

"How long?"

"Three hours!"

"We wait to activate the initial capture. Do we have a priority list?"

"Yes. The last ship to inscribe in orbit is the biggest. It is the slowest as well." Timor replied.

"Okay. The moment it is in orbit, begin porting procedures."

***

"We have been at this for what? Three months? And the Cyborgs haven't cottoned up to what we have been doing? They either are cocky or dumb," said Sitar, as the tenth fleet was being mothballed inside Thebes.

"I know the Therapods are priceless in insuring the Cyborgs are blinded to our activity, but I am surprised they have not realised that the nine other Fleets have gradually changed to tenth's communications protocols. I would have taken notice long before now!" Paschal added.

"It's as if they think 'we know what is going on since we get reports, so everything is all right'; that is naïve to the extreme."

"Or smacks of overconfidence to the same extreme, Ian" added Jerry. "They probably never met defeat in their expansion. Now, it will come back to bite them in the arse."

"I will not give away an advantage, guys! Let them believe as they wish. How long before we're done with the tenth?"

"Another week."

"Okay. A week to set up how we collapse the cluster."

"A week to do what?!" asked Harp, looking at Sitar wide-eyed.

"To collapse the Star cluster on itself, Harp. We all know there is only one life-form in that cluster, and that is the result of pure luck. Given that the life-form is Cyborg, I am not willing to leave it behind so it can restart its depredation. Find a way to convert the cluster into a black hole."

"That's what I thought. You know it's going to be one heck of a blow job?"

"We all know you like those given your boyfriend is our explosive specialist!"

"Big, dirty mouth!"

"Get a toothbrush!"

"Guys! Get over it. We need to figure out how to do it!" Sitar said, stiffly.

"Why not bring two of the biggest Stars on a collision course?" said Timor.

"How and what would that achieve?" asked Sitar.

"Well, if we put them into a close orbit from each other, the most massive would eat the less massive, right?"

"Create an artificial double-Star system? Not a bad idea, but how?"

"Use Thebes," suggested Jerry. "After all, we control the curvature of space around us, do we not? Usually we use that capability to move without much trouble through space. We could well reverse the procedure and act like a massive Star to capture another one and insert it into orbit around our chosen anchor."

"Paschal? Is that feasible?"

"Yes. We could even collect dust in the process, hiding what we are doing within it."

"But how quickly would that translate into a bang?" asked Colibri.

"The more massive the primary, the faster the conversion, right?" Timor asked.

"True..."

"And who said we need to set things to a simple binary? We might well bring into play another massive Star," suggested Tom.

"A ternary system? You guys have no doubts about anything! AI-6, do we have examples of ternaries?"

"No. Ternaries are absent from our catalogue."

"Why is that?" asked Samson.

"A binary is simply a failed primary that coalesced into two Stars due to a too-quick condensation of the composing stars from the primordial dust cloud. Each Star then combined their sudden radiation pressure to push the dust away quickly not allowing the formation of a third Star from the residual dust. Binaries have planets, massive ones at that, but orbiting both Stars at a rather impressive radius. They form from coalescing dust rings, generally two, four, or six rings that get compressed by the Stars creating shock waves as they enter their Hydrogen-Helium conversion stages... The cluster is enveloped by a thick layer of dust being pushed away from its Stars by their combined radiation pressure. I did some infrared scans, and quite a few massive clouds are coalescing into new, rather massive, Stars. Quite a few of those are binaries. However, none are ternaries."

"Thank you."

"Wait! Before dismissing the idea, Sitar, who stops us from creating artificial ternaries? If we did, would they be stable enough to speed up the creation of, say, a Supernova?"

"Tom's on to something. And what if we did something utterly dirty, like compacting say, five Stars in close quarters? Would the result, that is, a Supernova, be reached quicker, well before the Cyborgs could even notice what was being planned?" asked an excited Jerry.

"You two guys are making me sweat, you know that?" said Thorsten. "You are talking about blowing up Stars, not one, two, or even three, but groups of five! This is nuts! It's like you want to play billiard with them, using Thebes as the white ball!"

"That's a good analogy..." replied the two Australopithecus in tandem.

"I can just imagine the panic when they see the Stars suddenly leave their pre-ordained orbits within the cluster and start grazing each other, pulling each other's matter in big flaming plasma tongues licking each others' surface, roasting Planets and what not in their path, throwing off dark masses from each other's peripheral orbits toward primaries... What a show! They'll pee their proverbial pants!" added Jerry, almost having an orgasm at the image he was projecting in his mind.

"Oil..." said Tom.

"Uh?"

"They are machines, so if they release anything, it got to be oil!"

"Oh. Okay."

"AI-6? What would be the best configuration for a multiple-Star system?"

"Apart from a binary?"

"Yes, apart from that."

"Calculating..."

The Bridge crew looked at each other. It was the first time an Artificial Intelligence did not have an answer instantly! After twenty minutes, the reply came.

"Estimates are that Stars placed in a dodecahedron form would be most stable and practical They would be in rotation, at a very high velocity, around another, inner layer, placed in an octahedron form, itself rotating counter to the external layer; the inner layer would be a tetrahedron, and the combined gravity of the outer layers would keep it static. Finally, the central Star would be at the geometric centre of the tetrahedron, rotating normally. Our calculations indicate that the Star plasma would cascade from the dodecahedron to the octahedron, and the tetrahedron, accelerating constantly, and hitting the central star at well over ¾ of the speed of light. The death of the central Star would match in power the formation of the galactic black hole."

"How many Stars does that nightmare require?" asked Thorsten, almost pissing his non-existent pants.

"Thirty-one."

Thorsten fainted on the Bridge floor, prompting Harp to run to his help.

"Right... I wonder if the cluster has enough?" Sitar asked, not really expecting an answer.

"Oh yes," replied AI-6. "At least 20 of them. There are, at the lowest end of estimates, 620 Stars in that cluster."

"This is nuts!" Paschal said, "Totally nuts!" After taking a breath, he added "But I like it!"

"Husband, I think our Children are beginning to suffer from space sickness..." Annabelle said.

"Only beginning, you think?" replied Harold. Turning to Sitar, he asked how long that crazy plan could be implemented. In turn, Sitar looked at the others, totally at a lost on a potential time-line. Finally eyeing Harp and Paschal, he pointed at them.

"What do we need, Paschal?"

"I do not think we can casually drive Thebes like a billiard ball in a pack... It would lead to some rather spectacular results, but not an orderly destruction of anything within the cluster," said Paschal. "Maybe we could use our time-travel capabilities to trigger things?" he added, looking at Harp.

"That is a possibility. We could probably install, in proper places back in time, some sort of array capable of creating delayed gravitational wells to force the Stars into the desired configuration. However, the computational power will be enormous! AI-6, we do need a better estimate of the number of Stars within the cluster, their trajectory in the past, and their interaction over time. Estimate computing time!"

"Assuming I dedicated myself entirely to this task, and had all the relevant data... six days."

"God created the Earth in six days, said the old Bible of the Ancients. You have the same amount of time to compute the complete destruction of a Star cluster! This is an Alpha-Omega priority task!" decided Sitar. "Samson, assign all sensors to feed AI-6 the relevant information. I do not want to hear that something went wrong because of the 'not sufficient data' excuse!"

Everyone on the Bridge began supplying data to the navigation desk, pointing out any anomaly, or reporting unexpected changes. The Therapods continued to focus on monitoring the data streams coming from within the cluster, and feeding them false information that gradually diverged further and further from reality. No one bothered the Therapods, and they, in return, did not bother the silent Bridge crew, well aware of the immense concentration required to do what they considered an impossible task.

***

Days ticked by, and a three-dimensional model of the Star cluster gradually emerged with millions of vectors describing the task as it was planned: red for current trajectories of the numerous Stars, green for the planned dodecahedrons, yellow for the interceptor masses, orange for the convergence points, grey for future neutron Stars, blinking black and white dots for the final Black Holes, colour codes for current Star masses, ranging from deep orange to white, going through the entire spectrum. Careful in-depth analysis of the cluster revealed there were around 1560 stars densely packed together, which led to plan creating 50 or so dodecahedron structures rather than the planned 20. Finally, the Artificial Intelligence Collective gave its avail to the model of action.

"We need to send back in time over 2,500,000 graviton mines, to pull the Stars in the proper positions," said Paschal, looking worriedly at Harp. "We will be rather tight on budget, with at most 100 left in case of necessity."

"Can you build more?"

"Not really, as it takes time, time we do not have."

"Sitar?"

"Implement as is," ordered the God of War, in a very decisive tone.

"Okay. Alpha minus 69 minutes to first wave!" said Harp. "Ready to port 890 gravitational mines! Timor, to science monitoring Desk! AI-6, ready to track Star trajectory change! Ian, ready for time transit in situ!"

«I wonder how they will know if this intervention works...»

«Grey, we will know right away: the change of trajectories of the most massive Stars will change the pattern of organisation within the Star cluster, a change that will propagate through time instantly (for us). We know how things should look in the cluster if we stopped our intervention at that stage. We will match Star signature with Star position and that will tell us if the model was on the dot. AIC will instantly compare the projected Star map with the observed one, allowing us to adjust if necessary. Hopefully, that will not be necessary.» Harp then returned to his desk and task.

"Porting monitoring devices on my mark. Mark!" Harp stated. "One minute to gravitational mines port!... Thirty seconds... 10 seconds. Porting on my mark. Mark! Gravitational port successful. Timor?"

"Scanning."

Ten minutes later the verdict fell: "Star cluster conforming to model," reported AI-6.

"Thirty-three minutes, 15 seconds and 3 thousandth to next gravitational mines port!" said Harp.

"Star trajectories conforming to calculations as of three minutes before port!" Timor said. "Thebes still in-between time chronions. The Cyborgs are still unaware."

"I'm not expecting them to ever be. What they see is how things should be. They can not fathom that the cluster is being manipulated through time!" Sitar said.

"Porting in a minute... Porting on my mark. Mark." Harp reported. "Successful port of 8,252 gravitational mines. Timor?"

"Scanning."

"Cluster reconfigured. The first layer of Stars should form about now!"

Just then, the first tetrahedron Star group formed some 20 light-minutes to the port bow of Thebes. Quickly, a cascading event occurred, propagating explosively through the cluster.

"That's a beauty," Thorsten said, forever in love with explosive light shows. "Timor?"

"The other Stars are converging on the masses. This is in accordance to the model."

"Ready porting for phase three," Harp said. Less than ten minutes later came the next porting, comprising over 550,000 gravitational mines. Again Timor and AI-6 confirmed that the Star cluster was behaving as planned.

"The first octahedron formed less than five minutes after the cascading effect reached Thebes through time, across the cluster opposite to the ASS Thebes' position.

«My God! Look at the flow of plasma!» exclaimed Black.

«Thanks for calling my attention to it,» smirked Sitar, much to the befuddlement of the Therapods. «Watch the light show that's coming!»

The Therapods, except the one monitoring the exchanges between the phantom fleet and the Cyborgs, watched with awe as the phenomenon propagated across the Star cluster, bringing its brightness to several thousands times above its current level.

"Luckily we installed filters, or we would have been blinded!" said Paschal.

"Nice show, but 46.2 seconds to phase four... Port the last mines on my mark... Mark! If you think that is impressive, wait until that thing propagates to us through time!" Harp said.

Suddenly, the light level exploded and the Stars in the cluster rearranged violently into their final dodecahedron form.

"Move back six light years... The Cyborgs stand no chance from now on. By the time they notice they have lost contact with their fleet, they will be faced with much more pressing matters, namely the convergence of the dodecahedrons to the core of the cluster and a cascading formation of Black Holes," ordered Sitar. Leave behind a repeater. When it vaporises, we lose contact with it and we port out of here for cooler places!"

«What happens to our home world?»

«We rescued everything already and are in the process of creating Tessaracts for each planet. You guys will be able to go 'home' into a Tessaract within a week. Every world has been put in storage within a portal memory array. Time has stopped for them, but they do not know it.» Harp replied, surprising the Therapods.

«Thank you. How long before the final show-down?»

«In about six hours, the first dodecahedron structure will begin imploding, creating the first Black hole composed of the 31 primaries. In less than twenty minutes, the rest will have done the same, and begun converging to the gravitational mass centre of the now almost defunct Star cluster. The calculations show that the primary of the Cyborgs will be torn by being caught between two dodecahedrons converging on the cluster centre and will fall in one of the two new Black Holes or be torn in two if it finds itself equidistant from both; neither fate is enviable. Naturally, the Cyborgs' home fleet will have been torn to shreds well before this, so no escape for them.»

«Something bothers us.»

«Yes, Grey?» Enron asked, as the others were busy.

«What if the Cyborgs were trying to escape their fate?»

«That thought honours you. However, remember the original time-line: they had no reason to run. Furthermore, they also had no reason to enslave every life they met. That the Cyborgs of the adjusted time-line might want to make a run for it has no relevance to what we began initially. And I would not write off the idea they would still be Slavers; we learned that, unless a species works arduously to suppress that tendency, they tend to enslave others, even of their own kind, if they sense a 'weakness', be it physical, mental, religious, or technological. Humans were notorious for that habit, a habit that was strongly encouraged by the Soul-Eaters.»

«Oh. I see.»

«We have had issues with the question repeatedly. But, usually, we find a way to reprogram the species. Soul-Eaters and Borgs were notorious failures, and I think that is due, in part, at least for the Borgs, to their own deep enslavement to a collective mind. Yet, our most common issue is species that eat everything in sight: the Wraiths, the Hulgraes, the Wonts, to name a few that come to mind.»

"Sitar, do you have an idea of the number of Cyborgs?" Harp asked.

"No, and neither do I care, Paschal. I do not count slavers, I count those I free from them."

"First Black hole forming!" reported AI-6. "Cascading effect starts... NOW!"

The over-bright Star cluster exploded in brightness as the Stars' corona expanded violently, and then suddenly turned pitch black as light got eaten up by the Black holes.

"Black Holes formed. Graviton traces show accelerating convergence to the geometric centre of the cluster... Fist collision in 2 seconds..." AI-6 reported Two seconds later, a violent gamma ray burst, rendered visible by Thebes' sensor array, burst forth. Shortly, gamma ray bursts followed on a continuous basis as each Black hole got absorbed into the ever increasing Star-sized vacuum cleaner.

"Get us out of here!" ordered Sitar, just as the first gravitational wave could be seen collapsing matter ahead of it in the form of a bright wall of fire. Thebes jumped into the intergalactic space, right across the Andromeda Galaxy.

"We're done in this Galaxy, I think?" asked Harold.

"Almost, I need to leave behind Orichalque collectors, life monitors, and ways to send us life that emerges in time," said Harp. "About a month's worth of work. And it did go much faster than we expected, in case you grow impatient, Dad. Remember our first estimate? Twelve years to finish the job. It took us six months instead, due to the judicious use of a profusion of collectors sent back in time, the use of Tom and Jerry's ideas to blow up the cluster. We had to do it that way rather than let them recover on their own because models showed that their primaries would get absorbed within centuries by the collapsing Star Cluster. In fact, anything within 1,000 light-years is doomed. And they were much closer."

"Get to it then, Son. I've had it of this Galaxy!" replied Harold, much too out of his depth to argue.

"You are not the only one!" Harp replied, smirking. "Aren't you getting impatient. You must be getting old."

"Let's head to resting quarters. We deserve it!" Harold said, as he took off, preferring this to a verbal joust with his way too impertinent Son.

"Dad! You have command!" Sitar noted, "I'm burned out!"

"And I'm not?" followed by «Admiral Zen, the Bridge is yours. Look at finding our next galactic target!»

«At your command, King of kings.»

***

«So, Zen?»

«So?»

«Where to next?» asked Harp.

«IC-1101.»

«What's special about it?»

«Many things, Harp. One: it is the largest Galaxy known. Two: it is the oldest super-Galaxy known. Third: it's dying. Fourth: it is a spherical Galaxy, which are rare. Five: if we want to find evolved life, that would be the most probable place, contrary to dwarf Galaxies, which are way too hot to sustain life and are composed of blue giant Stars for the most part.»

«When you say big...» Sitar asked.

«How about 100,000,000,000,000 Stars, spread over a diameter of 6,000,000 light years.»

«You are joking right?» Thorsten asked, as he crashed on the nearest seat.

«Not at all...»

«Compare it to the Milky Way, please?»

«Harp, are you a masochist? Just these numbers make me feel sick!» Sitar said.

«To answer the Prince of Magic's question, the Milky Way contains 100,000,000,000 Stars, and measures 200,000 light-years across... Dwarf Galaxies measure 200 light-years across and contain around 10,000,000 Stars. The Star cluster we blew up is not even in that league. It was a speck of dust compared to any Galaxy.»

«And you want us to tackle that Juggernaut? Did someone step on your head, Zen?» Thorsten asked.

«Never put off the impossible task, says the Emperor.»

«I deserved that one, Zen,» replied Harold. «Question is, will we have enough space to contain all the civilisations recovered? Guys, we have been at if for what? Fifty years or somewhere around that. Question: How many of these Stars will contain life, if we backtrack in time to its formation?»

«Let's see: the Milky way had an intelligent life-form at just about every red dwarf Star, and yellow Star. Bigger Stars blew up before life could get a grip. Andromeda is showing a similar pattern, notwithstanding the depredation of the Slavers and the Cyborgs, the later having only begun their dirty work less than 10,000 years ago. Frank Drake squarely underestimated the number of life-bearing Planets as he only counted those that met Earth-like conditions. We have proven otherwise! But back to a simple ratio. We found over 10,000,000,000 Earth analogues in our travels in the Milky Way, and a total of 100,000,000,000 Planets Galaxy-wide. All of which contained life. However, only 1,000,000,000 developed intelligent life due to either interventions or natural disasters. Remember, we rescued everything, so... We are still receiving some pick-ups from the Milky Way, most from Dwarf Galaxies before they merged to form the Milky Way." Enron took a sip of water to organise his thoughts. «Paschal told me we are collecting several miles of Orichalque per hour as we travel at phenomenal speeds through the Andromeda Galaxy, each mile adding several hundred potential layers for Tessaracts. Question: Will IC-1101 be Orichalque – rich?»

«Let me think this aloud...»

«As if you could otherwise in a telepathic exchange!» said Timor.

Harp began playing with his fingers nervously, as he thought things out. «Orichalque does not agglomerate with matter very well. It tends to stick to itself, creating clumps... or a gas, as it did in Andromeda. Andromeda being considerably bigger than the Milky Way, if it had a clumpy nature, Orichalque would have formed clumps, but it did not... yet it got captured in many Planets in the Milky Way... Could it be because the Milky Way is younger, thus more clumpy? No, that does not make sense. If we look at the formation of both Galaxies, they had to start with the same set of matter, yet one has gaseous Orichalque while the other has clumped Orichalque mostly encased in Planets. Why the difference? The only difference between the two, evolutionary-wise, is that Andromeda collected a lot more dwarf Galaxies, and therefore more Black Holes, in the same time interval. Enron was wrong in assuming the Milky Way is inherently younger than Andromeda. They both were born around the same time, but under different conditions, leading to different evolutions. I think the Orichalque currently confined to Planets will be released when Andromeda and the Milky Way collide. The two Galaxies will then begin a dance of Death, losing their current spiral form to reform later as a bigger Spiral Galaxy, throwing out a fair proportion of their gaseous hydrogen into the intergalactic space to gradually recapture it later. Orichalque, on the other hand, will be distributed rather uniformly through the merged Galaxies, contributing very little to its gravitational mass, but nonetheless being there. This is what we observe in Andromeda now, as the Galaxy probably freshly digested a captured dwarf Galaxy. Meanwhile, the Milky Way is getting ready to eat up the Magellan Clouds Galaxies, and that will contribute to the release of Orichalque into the interstellar space. Lucky for us, we left behind Orichalque collectors. They have been starving for now, but things will eventually improve.»

«So?» asked Timor, relentless.

«So, there is definitely Orichalque in IC-1101, however it is most likely clumped in the Planets. We will have to blow the Planets to recover it. As most Planets will have reached the end of their life cycle anyway, that should not be a problem,» Harp said.

«One last question, Zen. How far is that Galaxy?» Harold asked.

«Hum, 1,000,000,000 light-years away.»

«So, plan to take into account that things could have changed in that Galaxy over that amount of time...» said Sitar. «We get it, Dad. Harp, how much time to finish distributing the Orichalque collectors?»

​«A month at most.»

«So, we port out of this Galaxy in a month. Samson, plot the best course to IC-1101. It will be a series of long jumps, much longer than those we took to reach Andromeda. Harp, prepare long-term stasis for everything, prepare to stop time in just about every Tessaract.»

«Okay Dad.»