The program ran as it was designed to. It traveled into low interest sectors of space, running constant checks of the surrounding area to decide if it should move to the next step.

This sector contained little of note. There was an asteroid field, but it was nothing unseen in many other parts of the galaxy.

The asteroid field contained over one million, two-hundred thousand, six-hundred asteroids. Many of these were of the requisite size and shape, therefore the program moved to the next step.

Of the roughly four hundred asteroids that matched the criteria, only twenty-seven contained the raw materials necessary, and of those twenty-seven, only eight were rotating slowly enough to match the requirements. The program then moved on to the next step.

After analyzing the trajectories of the asteroids, the program concluded that six asteroids would soon collide with unacceptable force. Therefore, only two remained. Of those two, the program chose the larger, then moved on to the next step.

The device that housed the program was a spherical silver drone that was made to seek out the uninhabited, low value corners of specific sectors. The drone itself was quite small, and would fit comfortably in the palm of a Human hand.

It would never find itself there, as the purpose of it’s programming was to help other races avoid Humans.

The drone landed gracefully on the asteroid it had selected. Then it proceeded to the next step of it’s programming. This began by emitting a cloud of limited-use nano-machines. These were programmed to build one specific structure using available materials. It was not a lavish structure, it was a one-room building made mostly of the rock and ice of the asteroid itself. Secondly, the nano-machines converted some of the available material into an oxygen/nitrogen mix suitable for the specific lifeforms that would soon arrive.

Finally, once the atmosphere was deemed satisfactory, the program completed it’s penultimate task - to send a short burst of coded messages to hidden relay stations. The messages were only sent once, and the program did not even check to see if the messages were received.

The tiny sphere then went dormant. It would have one final step to complete, but not now.

All of this was necessary for certain species to assure their privacy from the hated Humans. Nothing less would be effective.

Unfortunately, the beings who created the drone had no idea these measures simply did not work.

***

The now-dormant drone waited outside, but Dux waited patiently inside the drab, simple structure. He positioned himself in the back corner, away from the arched doorway. There was little here in this cold, cramped room except for a table and five chairs, crudely composed of the rock from the asteroid. There was no light, but Dux didn’t require it. He wondered which of the alien troublemakers would appear first this time.

He had worked out their patterns over time. Worked out their personalities and their idiosyncrasies. Dux had been present for almost all of their secret meetings. He had waited quietly in the corners, smiling to himself as the aliens dreamed up fantastic plans and plots to harm Humanity that would come to absolutely nothing.

In truth, Dux needn’t remain quiet at all. He was slightly out of phase with this physical reality, so although he could see and hear them, the reverse was not true, even should he scream and shout directly into their faces.

All Titans had this ability, and many more. Not that Dux needed even a tenth of what he was capable of to deal with this lot.

The Titans had found their drones and relay stations almost immediately. It had served their purpose to let these meetings continue - just in case there had been some true threat.

There was not. The Titans, and thus all of Humankind, ruled this space. There was no power in this universe that could change this. This meeting was the 46th attempt to do so by this group of alien dissenters.

Just then Dux recognized the sound of a small ship entering the thin atmosphere and landing on the asteroid. The nanolife within his body quickly and excitedly reached out to examine the ship. He could sense their collective disappointment when they realized it was merely a Trexan vessel, and a lone Trexan pilot.

The nanolife were bored by Trexans, as well as nearly every other form of life in these sectors of the galaxy. Except for Humans, of course. Content that there was nothing new to be learned here, Dux felt his nanolife go dormant again.

He smiled, doubting he would learn anything new here, either. Although, he had expected the Ghudra named Marto to arrive first. He didn’t mind being wrong about the little things.

Confident footfalls grew nearer. Finally, Noreith the Trexan stalked through the doorway, following a floating orb of light that directly preceded him. The orb brightened, pulsing out waves of bright blue light that washed over the unadorned room.

Noreith himself stopped right inside the archway. He appeared humanoid in form, although he possessed only three “fingers” on each hand. They were more like short tentacles, in fact. The tall, lanky body was covered in a gray, padded environment suit, and the hood he wore was black with no openings for eyes or mouth. Trexans always wore some form of hood over their faces. They possessed a multitude of eyes and mouths, not all of which worked in concert. Even after all this time it could be off-putting to other species, and so the commerce-minded Trexans had adopted the hoods to settle the discomfort of alien customers. Dux found them to be one of the least offensive of the major alien races, and the constantly verbalizing mouths and wandering eyes were oftentimes amusing to him.

One of Noreith’s mouths spoke a word. “Secure.”

It was a short bark aimed at his orb of light. Once the command was received, the blue light changed abruptly to red and quickly pulsed for many moments.

This red light contained a radiation that Noreith believed would reveal and temporarily disable any Titan attempting to hide in plain sight - thus allowing him time to escape. He believed this because Titans had allowed themselves to be detected several times by similar devices. This not only granted troublemakers a false sense of security, but served to slow them from developing a device that actually did work.

Assuming it had worked, Noreith would have been confronted with the last sight he wanted to see. Dux was a large, imposing Human. His dark brown skin and bald head were well known to those who broke the laws of Titan-Space. These characteristics were even more frightening to some than the black uniform and bright red-glowing badges he wore that marked him as one of the Titan Guard. Not without a sense of humor, Dux thought about jumping out and scaring the Trexan, but instead he restrained himself.

Now satisfied that there was no Titan lurking in the shadows, Noreith sat down and waited. Dux could hear grumbling from under the hood, but Noreith’s mouths were simply talking to themselves.

Not much time passed before he sensed the arrival of several new ships. Noreith did not react, but Dux knew he would hear them as they grew closer.

Right then, a large, armor-clad figure popped into existence at the opening to the room. Noreith shrank back in surprise at the sudden manifestation.

At least, it was sudden to Noreith. To Dux, it all happened in slow motion. He could feel local space-time ripping open, feel the graceless insertion of physical matter into places where it did not belong, and the equally untidy re-depositing of that same matter at another location. Here.

To Dux’s eyes, the gaping hole in space-time was as visible as the hulking Sparth himself. He did not know this Sparth, so Dux scanned the alien, then allowed a portion of his awareness to link up to every other Titan in existence. There were well over two million of them, but the search only took microseconds. He found the information he needed inside of the memories of a Titan named Niva. She was not physically close to him now, but he could sense her amusement at the thought of the Sparth alien in front of him. He now knew him as Morran, a being that Niva had chastised on several occasions in the past.

Dux was curious about how this Sparth had managed to stay alive after repeated clashes with a Titan, but he did not have time to inquire now. He gently detached his own self from Niva’s and brought his attention fully into his physical surroundings.

Morran’s dark red armor was technologically sophisticated (for a Sparth), but devoid of any artistry or aesthetic details. There were numerous bladed and energy weapons attached to the armor. All the Sparth cared for was waging war. The 8-foot tall beings were usually covered head-to-toe in their red armor. They had large bulbous eyes that were an easy injury point, so it was rare to see one with it’s head unprotected. This time was no different. The black glass-like material of the domed helmet did not allow others to see the face inside.

Right now that face was probably laughing at the annoyed Noreith, who was berating Morran for startling him. Both failed to notice the footsteps of the remaining members of their cabal. Dux knew who they were before they walked in.

There was the elderly Marto of the Ghudra people, beautiful Dharra of the Kyrrhi, and finally an alien known as Tarse, who belonged to the usually docile race of Betlans.

On the surface, Dux noted that these three were the most Human-looking of all those gathered here. While the Ghudra were a dark blue, the Betlans gray, and the Kyrrhi a bright yellow, they physically resembled Humans to a frightening degree. A few minor differences in texture and shape on the outside, but the inside told a different story. Dux could see their organs, or lack thereof. He could see their cells, their molecules, their atoms. He could feel what they felt...

...these creatures weren’t Human.

Right now they were bickering about who was first, who was wasting time, who had the superior scanning devices.

Dux sighed. These lesser species always tried his patience.

***

“I say we all rise up at once. If we simply band together, even the Titans can’t hope to destroy us all.”

The other four aliens groaned loudly before the words were even completed.

Dharra smiled and even laughed as she responded, “Marto, you always say that. You, more than all of us, should know we cannot survive a frontal attack against them.” Her light voice was always mirthful. Sometimes Kyrrhi could appear to be mocking or arrogant to other species. Dharra’s long brown hair fell all the way down her back, and in the front threatened to drown her tiny face.

Yet despite her laughter, the red eyes beaming out from that face were hard and unwavering.

Marto’s dark blue face and black eyes showed barely contained anger, as usual. “Of course, I know! My people have been oppressed by these Titans for centuries.”

The large Sparth struck the table with his fist, creating a jagged fissure across the length of it. “My people have had our worlds taken from us, old one! We have to fight non-lethal ‘tournaments’...for SPORT!”

The hooded Noreith spoke then. “We haven’t been allowed to trade in weapons or slaves for generations, Morran. Business has suffered greatly because of it. We have to rely on hand-outs from the Humans.” Several of his mouths spoke at once, although not in concert, so the words sounded as if they were echoed to the others.

Dharra laughed again. “But we all receive those ‘hand-outs’ from the Humans. All of us in Titan-Space do. Be honest, isn’t it far more than we need to survive?”

Marto growled at her. “This isn’t Titan-Space! This space is the Empire of Ul’Korva!”

“It was the the Empire of Ul’Korva. Now, it is Titan-Space.” Dharra still smiled, but narrowed her eyes at the old Ghudra.

Morran’s voice boomed then. “Leave it to a Kyrrhi to side with the Humans!”

She hissed at him. “I’m not siding with them, but face facts, are things not better with the Humans in control?”

“Better for you.” Morran’s voiced sounded threatening from within his domed helmet.

Noreith attempted to calm the situation. “We are all here to rid ourselves of these Humans, and especially their Titans.”

Marto would have none of it. “Morran is correct! The Kyrrhi are known by all to be favorite pets of the Humans. It is because you most resemble them!”

Dharra shot up out of her chair, her light, nearly transparent clothing flowing around her lithe body. “No! It is because we did not brutalize them when they first arrived here!”

There was a long moment of silence as Marto and Dharra locked eyes.

Dux still waited in the corner of the room. He had expected the conversation to go exactly as it had. The Titans had nothing to fear from such as these. Perhaps it was time to stop this spying and simply destroy this lot?

At that moment the four aliens burst into a cacophony of accusations and insults. Now they were standing, shouting, and waving their arms. Dux thought they all looked quite silly.

He noticed the Betlan hadn’t moved a muscle the entire time. This was different.

Just then, a new voice captured his attention. One that was directed at him.

“Well, this looks like fun.”

It was Niva, the Titan he had mentally linked with earlier. He had never met her before, but now she was physically here with him, just outside of the normal space-time of the alien meeting.

Dux turned to her and smiled, “I would not go that far. It is mildly amusing.”

Niva smiled back at him. He could tell the type of Titan she was immediately. The years could be long when you were functionally immortal, so it was important to remain engaged somehow. Many Titans were constantly looking for ways to amuse themselves, while others threw themselves into their duty. She was definitely the former, and Dux was the latter.

Niva was a full head shorter than him, and slender where he was bulky. Titans could choose to appear any way they wished, but most did not use this ability around other Titans. He could tell this was her true appearance, that of a twenty-something human. Her skin, while dark, was more bronze than his mahogany. The smirk on her face was troubling to him. Sometimes these types of Titans could act first and think later.

“Do not worry. I wouldn’t spoil your plans. I’m just curious about my old friend Morran.” She was responding to his thoughts, which she had heard loud and clear. Titans had no reason to hide themselves from each other.

Still, there was the smirk. Titans like this were a bit mercurial.

“Do not interfere, Niva. I want this to play out on it’s own.”

She threw up her hands and beamed a smile at him. “Whatever you say, Dux!”

He was not reassured, but the loud argument had finally subsided, and so he turned back to the group.

Morran began walking toward the doorway, voice booming as he did so.

“This meeting of toothless old impotent crag-crawlers is over. None of you have any way to even harm, much less destroy the Humans.”

Before he reached the door, a heretofore unheard voice spoke...

“WAIT.”

It was Tarse, the Betlan, who had until now remained quiet.

Morran turned to him. “Well, what is it, librarian?”

Tarse stood up in a formal manner. He smoothed his dark robes and appeared to gather his thought before he spoke.

“I know my kind are not held in high regard. We are not warriors or even entreprenuers. Many of my people spend their lives cataloguing and organizing information for the Humans, and many enjoy it.”

The other four aliens kept silent as Tarse appeared to compose himself again.

“If we were not doing this for the Titans, we would likely be doing this for one of you. We had been occupied in the past...”

Marto had the decency to look away, for it had been the Ghudra who had occupied their world most recently before the Titans came to power.

“...still, we are not free. Of all of you, we Betlans have never carved our own way to the stars. We always toiled for once race or another.”

Noreith was leaning forward, definitely interested. “What are you getting at, Tarse? Out with it!”

Again, the Betlan paused for a moment. “If I had a way to remove the Titans from power, what would it be worth to you?”

All of Noreith’s mouths were talking at once.

“You have something, don’t you?!”

“Can you kill the nanolife?”

“Have you acquired a working Divinity formula?”

Morran cut him off. “Let him speak, fool!”

Dharra agreed. “Yes, do shut up! Go on, Tarse.”

Dux and Niva were also curious about what he might say next. Niva preferred not to wait, so she reached out via telepathy to root around inside the mind of the Betlan. She found herself abruptly blocked by an iron grip of mental force from Dux.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

He did not look at her as he spoke. “Look closely, Niva. Their minds are protected by mental kill-traps.”

Niva frowned and concentrated. “Ah, I see.”

The kill-traps were the only way to prevent being mentally probed by a Titan. They could not block the scan, but at the first sign of mental intrusion, the kill-trap would essentially “implode” the mind of the user. The effect was to completely scramble the mind, and any useful information inside. To wear one was a great risk. Only the most dedicated to defying Titan Law would go this far.

Tarse spoke again. “I do have something. But the price will be this: Betlan must be left alone.”

Dharra snorted out a short laugh. “You want to be left...alone? That is all?”

Now Tarse grew agitated. “No, that is not ‘all’. Betlan wants to be free to develop and enjoy our own culture - by ourselves, without invasion, interference, trade, or any contact with other races. Forever.”

Morran laughed harshly. “You Betlan can fade into dust for all I care. I agree.”

Marto frowned. “The Betlan have nothing we want, anyway...any longer. I also agree.”

Dharra looked slightly concerned. “Our two species have not had much direct contact, so I suppose we could honor that.”

Noreith was still for a long time, but finally spoke. “The Betlan are exceptional at bookwork and organization. It would be a loss...but, I suppose we could get by. As long as we were free of the Humans.”

Tarse smiled then. Unusual for a Betlan. Dharra didn’t like the look of it on his face.

“Good,” he said, “The Korva will be pleased to hear this.”

Almost in unison, the others cried out in alarm. “THE KORVA?!”

Marto’s face was still showing his surprise. “The Korva have been dead for centuries!”

“No.” Tarse still held the smile.

“Yes, Betlan!”, Morran boomed. “There are no more Korva! Their homeworld is lifeless mess of poisonous volcanic fumes and barren, icy wasteland. They are no more.”

Dharra shook her head. “My people have no love for the Korva. We lived under constant threat of invasion, but even if they did still exist they would be no help to us. They were utterly destroyed by the Titans. We need to win, not share their fate.”

The Betlan shook his head in response. “No. The Korva are not all dead. It is true that when the Titans first rose to power, the Korva were their chief target.”

Marto shook his fist directly at Dux, although he did not know it. “We should have all worked together at that time to fight them. If we had allied ourselves we could have beaten them and the Korva would still be among us!”

Dharra shouted at him. “Are you insane!? Everyone hated the Korva, they were monstrous and they deserved what they got! Yes, some of us treated the Humans badly when they arrived, but the Korva were feeding on them. They bred them as a food staple!”

Marto was not deterred. “I WISH THE KORVA WOULD HAVE EATEN THEM ALL!!”

Tarse put up his hands to calm the outbursts, and spoke again. “As I was saying...most Korva were destroyed, but several thousand did escape the destruction of their worlds. Of those thousands, several hundred managed to survive and flee the system before the Titans consolidated control.”

Noreith’s mouths began speaking. “What system are they hiding in now?”

“None. The remaining Korva have settled on a rogue planet that does not orbit any star. The surface is frozen, but they exist on the inside. Barely. Building their numbers, dreaming of vengeance.”

Dux and Niva were not surprised by the mention of the Korva. They knew full well where the remaining members of that despised race were hiding. They always had.

It was not truly a rogue planet. It was held in the gravitational pull of a star, but it orbited that star only once every 933 years. Thus, it was quite easy to find.

The Titans left them alone because the Korva were suffering greatly on the inside of that terrible planet. Every moment was a desperate struggle to survive. The day would come when a Titan would think of a worse punishment, and when they did, that is the day they would come for the Korva.

Still, both Dux and Niva were surprised that the Betlan was able to find them. It was not a pleasant surprise.

“Incredible,” Morran whispered, “all this time..?”

Dharra was also not pleased by this information. “So what does this mean for us? Surely some fallen Korva can’t help us, when they lost the fight at the height of their power?”

Tarse nodded in agreement. “True, but it is not the Korva themselves who will make the difference, but rather the method that I found them.”

Marto was a bit shaken, but still barked out his words. “And what is that method? Get to the point!”

Tarse nodded again. “It’s not a what, but rather, a who.”

No one spoke. Then Tarse again opened his mouth and said, “You can come out now.”

Instantly a figure materialized standing just to the right of Tarse. Niva couldn’t help herself when she saw the man.

“What in star’s end is that!??” she blurted out. Dux couldn’t blame her for that reaction.

The man was Human.

The other aliens present had the same reaction.

“WHAT IS THIS!?” and “HUMAN!!”, they cried in one way or another. They all hastily jumped from their chairs. Most reached for weapons, but Noreith activated a small matter-transport to facilitate his escape.

It didn’t work.

The Human laughed. A dry, raspy laugh, yet it was full of cheer. He was genuinely amused by his own theatrics and the frightened reactions.

The man’s head was shaved bald, but still stubbly with white hair. There were several mechanical implants protruding from his skull at many points, and some places where implants had obviously been removed.

Aside from his head, everything was covered in a gray-brown cloak, pants, gloves, and boots. There were no markings on the clothing. Not many clues as to who he was.

His eyes had been replaced with implants. They moved independently of each other, and there was an audible whirring noise when they did so.

He had dark skin almost the equal of Dux, even if it looked somewhat unhealthy, as if he was dehydrated.

Dux felt his nanolife flare up in alarm at the new man’s presence. He new Niva’s would be reacting the same. He mentally calmed them, but their reaction worried him.

The man spoke. “Do not try to leave or fire your weapons. It will not work. I have disabled your technology for now. I merely wish to speak.”

The two Titans in the corner shared a look. Neither of them had known the man was there. Could he see them?

“Yes, yes...I am Human. No, I am not from Titan-Space. Suffice it to say that my goals will not align well with these Titans.”

“And what are your ‘goals’, Human?!” Morran bellowed. “How do we know you won’t turn us in to the Titans?”

Again the raspy laughter.

“I was the one who found Tarse and led him to the Korva. That is just the beginning. Let us just say that my ends will be achieved much easier if your lot regains control of this area of the galaxy.”

That was not sufficient explanation for Marto. “Again, what are these ‘ends’? We have not heard an answer, yet!”

Now the strange Human’s artificial eyes narrowed. “And you will not hear my plans now, Ghudra. I only reveal this much because it saves me time to find you all here at once. You have considerable power within your respective species, and you will need it if we are to take back this ‘Titan-Space’ from the Humans.

Dharra’s face was now wrinkled in concern. “Still, perhaps you should outline your plan from the beginning. You do not necessarily have my cooperation, Human.”

For a moment, the newly arrived Human’s face contorted in fury. “Woman, you will..!” Then, he seemed to catch himself.

“No. No, my apologies. I am...sorry.” The words did not come easily.

Then suddenly he started, bald head cocking to the side. He smiled again. “I would tell you more, but I cannot at this moment, as there are two Titans in the room with us.”

Another mini-explosion of activity. Weapons came fully out of hiding places and curses were shouted.

Dux thought it was time to put an end to all of this and get some answers. He quickly moved out of the adjacent-space he was in and entered the same physical space as the others.

Or, at least he meant to.

Niva realized it at the same time. “We’re trapped here! I can’t shift to any other spectrum of space-time!”

That’s impossible, Dux thought to himself.

He was surprised yet again when the new Human turned to address him. “No, Titan. Nothing is impossible for one like me.”

Right then, Morran decided the spot the Human was looking at was as good a spot to attack as any. He primed his hip cannon for firing. The others heard the unmistakable ‘VREEEEM’ of the weapon powering up. Apparently, the new Human had stopped blocking their weapons.

Noreith was the first one to shout “NO, FOOL!!”, but it was too late. The powerful beam from the weapon fired and struck the back of the wall, blowing it out and bringing the roof down in that spot.

Dux and Niva were unhurt, not being in the same physical space as the beam. It wouldn’t have hurt them even if they had been standing directly in front of the cannon, but now Dux was angry.

The Human was the only one not running at this point. He yelled out to the fleeing aliens.

“I will be in touch! Wait for my arrival!”

Once the last of the aliens had escaped the room, a small metal sphere laying nearby outside came to life.

It had been instructed to perform one last task after the lifeforms it was programmed to recognize had cleared the structure. It began completing that task of demolishing the asteroid to remove all evidence of the meeting place. A last burst of nano-machines was released, and these were programmed to break apart the matter of this asteroid. Soon the asteroid and the crude building would be dust.

Even as the roof caved in and the asteroid crumbed, the Human stranger stood calmly, simply staring at the two Titans as they glared back at him.

Dux shouted. “Who are you?! Why do you betray your species!?”

A broad smile from the man. Even his teeth seemed somehow mechanical.

“I know nothing of betrayal. You Titans simply aren’t useful to me. Goodbye.”

Then he was gone.

Only a few moments after he disappeared the nano-machines had finished their task, and the violent deconstruction of the asteroid was at it’s peak. As it happened, Dux and Niva had been trying to force themselves into normal space, and it only worked at this precise time.

The pair was caught in the brutal explosive force of the asteroid’s death, and they were buffeted, bounced and pummeled by rocky, icy debris from all directions.

They could not be hurt by such things, but at this point the two were furious.

With a brief burst of energy, Dux lit up the asteroid field like a star, obliterating all nearby asteroids and debris. He had acted just a split-second before Niva, who then held her own outburst in check.

***

Afterwards it was just the two of them floating in the darkness. Dux didn’t mind this. The void was as good a place as any to recover and collect his thoughts.

Niva was not one for quiet reflection, though.

“What just happened, there?! Did you get anything from him? I couldn’t scan him? Who was that??”

Dux frowned. Some Titans loved to “verbalize” telepathically. She knew full well he didn’t know the answer to her questions. She was in his head, just as he was in hers.

Still, he could tell she wanted a coherent response, so he responded. “I don’t know. We’ll have to warn the others.”

“Already done.” Dux knew it was true. He himself had just linked up with other Titans, and they linked up with others, until within the space of a few moments the entire Titan Guard had seen what they saw.

No one knew who or what it was.

Dux could sense vague sensations of alarm through the links. It was only one man...or was it? If he wasn’t from Titan-Space, where did he come from? How could he defeat the power of a Titan? Most importantly - what did he want?

It was not having the answers to these questions that was causing...fear? No. Not fear. Concern.

Niva interrupted his thoughts. “So...are you going to float here forever?”

Some Titans...Dux thought.

He felt the sensation of Niva smiling inside his mind. “Ok, have it your way, I’m headed to Titan-Base. It was nice to meet you.”

Then he was alone, floating in the void.

He closed down his mind, away from the other Titans. Then he closed his eyes and simply drifted.

These other species might plot and plan, but it would come to nothing. No matter who this new Human was, Dux would find him and stop him. That was the way of things. That was what the Titans did.

He would simply float out here until there was new information to be had.

Dux waited out in the void for a long time.

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