Convoy 6891 that included five tankers, six cargo ships and a small naval escort was heading into the Graffias system when they came under attack.
This time the small naval escort succeeded in giving a few ships enough time for their drones to upload a distress message filled with tactical information regarding the enemy.
The upload went to the outlying message buoys that quickly dispatched their signal to the Drone Council on Hispania.
Then all those in the convoy died.
All six hundred and twenty seven souls cried out as one as their bodies were vaporized into atoms.
They got the message out, but it cost them their lives.
The only comfort it gave their grieving loved ones at home was that it gave the military and the Drone Council strategist important data regarding the attack and the type of weapons used.
The King and Queen were lunching on the patio with their children when Rexius and Reginus floated in.
The King looked up after having laughed at joke that his eight-year-old son, Fernando Diego the heir apparent, had told them.
He looked over at his wife.
“Looks like we’ll have to cut this lunch short my dear,” he said.
“Oh, Daddy no,” pleaded his six-year-old daughter, Maria Magdelena.
“We haven’t seen you and mama since forever.”
“Your mother and I had breakfast with you all this morning you little minx,” he said gathering her in his arms and hugging her until she laughed.
“There is lots of stuff going on right now pip squeak,” began Fernando admonishing his sister.
“Mother and Father have to deal with matters of State.” “Is not!” she exclaimed.
“Is so!” he shouted back.
It was about then that little four-year-old Juan Luis, decided to see how far a spoonful of peas would fly and he launched them at his older brother.
The Queen watching the peas in flight rose from her seat.
“And on that note we are leaving to attend to business children,” she stated.
She pointed her finger at Juan Luis.
“Young man I want you to find all those peas, every single one of them and throw them away.”
“You are not to have a single minute of outdoor playtime until you do,” she informed Juan.
“So I would suggest you get to hunting them down now.”
Juan Luis looked up at her with big, brown sorrowful eyes.
“Isn’t anybody going to help me?” he asked.
“Did anybody help you throw them?” she asked.
He shook his head, no.
“Then why should they help you clean up, son?” she asked.
“Because I’m small and scared of dark corners,” he said mournfully.
“I’ll have one of the staff carry a light for you mijo,” she said as she and her husband walked out the door.
The King started snickering as he was outside of the children’s hearing range.
“Will you please stop that?” she said.
“If he heard you it would just encourage him.”
“But did you see the way he looked at you with those big, brown sorrow filled eyes of his?” the King asked.
“Yes, I did,” she began.
“And it almost worked again.”
“He’s going to be trouble when he gets older and more aware of girls,” she warned.
The King stopped and looked at her with his big, brown sorrowful eyes.
“I just don’t know where he gets that from?” he asked.
“Like father, like son,” she stated.
“I should have listened to your mother but oh, no.”
“I knew better,” she concluded.
Rexius and Reginus followed them into the throne room and then sealed the door to insure security.
“So, no one else will be joining us?” the King asked.
“No Sire,” answered Rexius.
“Dire news I take it?”
“A little of good and bad Your Highness,” said Reginus.
“Well then let’s get to it, shall we?” suggested the Queen.
“More than seven and a half hours ago a convoy entering the Graffias system was ambushed and destroyed, Sires,” Rexius informed them.
“By destroyed I assume no one survived the attack?” asked the King.
“None, Majesty,” Rexius began.
“But the military escort that was accompanying them “gave the convoy enough time for their drones to plot the enemy’s course.”
“They were also able to give us other tactical information about how the ambush was carried out and what types of ships attacked them,” he announced.
“Then, not a total loss?” the Queen asked.
“No, Ma’am, for the first time we have some critical information regarding the attackers,” Reginus stated.
“What have we learned, Rexius?” asked the King.
“We now know the size and makeup of some of the invaders, Sire,” he said.
“But not the full scope of their fleet?” asked the Queen.
“Too early to tell yet, Ma’am,” supplied Reginus.
“I can’t stand the fact that in order to gain more information we’ll have to lose more assets,” declared the King.
“Neither one of us enjoys that my dear, but unfortunately there is no other choice,” his wife stated.
“They are just pawns being sacrificed on a galactic scale my darling and for what?” he asked.
“Information?” he protested.
“I detest this waste of my people and their resources.”
“It is obscene,” he voiced in a gloomy mood.
“This information came at a high price, Sire,” stated Rexius.
“We need to put it to good use and make sure their sacrifices were not in vain then dear,” announced his wife.
“And can we put it to good use, Rexius?” the King asked.
“We believe so, Highness, but only if we can secure help from the both of you,” he requested.
“Tell us what you need,” the King said.
“Reginus and I are of the opinion that this threat to the Empire must be met with a strong defensive deterrent,” Rexius stated.
“And how do we go about that?” the Queen asked.
“We have no defensive or offensive capabilities that we know of,” said the King.
“You are correct, Sire but there was once a time when that was not so,” Rexius mentioned.
“What are you talking about?” asked the Queen.
“Are you sure you don’t know about any misfiled information that would help us now?” asked Reginus.
“We were hoping the Royal Family would know of something, Majesty,” said Rexius.
“Like?” the King asked.
“Maybe something hidden from the public’s eye?” ventured Reginus.
The King looked lost for a moment until his wife cleared her throat.
“Yes, my dear?” he asked.
She smiled at the two hovering drones.
“Could you excuse us for a second?” she asked.
The drones gave the two monarchs plenty of room to talk.
“The time has come for us to reopen the ‘hidden files’ my darling,” she said.
“What hidden files, dear?” he asked.
“The ones,” she began.
“We were taught never to open or even think about opening regarding weapons of destruction.”
The King thought for a moment.
“Yes, I do recall my father telling me something about those files,” he said.
“But he swore an oath from me to never open them up, dearest.”
“I took the same oath from my parents,” she stated.
“But no Monarch in history has faced a crisis such as this.”
“Never in our recorded history has such a deadly threat manifested itself,” she declared.
“You’re right,” he began.
“We need to defend ourselves.”
“We cannot sit idly by as hundreds and hundreds of our people are killed,” he continued.
“We need to open those hidden files and pray there is something in them that will help us out.”
They motioned for the drones to approach.
“There might be files that we can access that can be of some help in this emergency,” the King announced.
“We thought there might be something, Sire,” admitted Rexius.
“You did?” he asked.
“We don’t know what is actually contained in those files,” Reginus began.
“But we were informed by the Rths that they existed.”
“Yes, well they do,” he said.
“We can get to them and upload them to our link.”
“We just don’t recall how to get to them,” he confessed.
The two drones looked at each other.
“All you have to do is think the words, ‘hidden agenda’ and you should be able to access them, Sire,” Reginus said.
They both considered the words and were lost in thought for several minutes until page after page of the files opened up to them.
Then they both stared at each other for longer minutes contemplating everything they had just absorbed and were speechless.
The implication of creating these weapons of destruction astounded them.
Their minds whirled with the endless possibilities of what these tools of war would do to their once peaceful existence and rejected the ramifications.
How could they bring these killers of men and destroyers of civilizations into their idyllic life?
Thousands of thoughts quickly ran through their minds.
Their conscientiousness shrieked at the enormity of the download and all the implications within it.
“Are we to assume,” Rexius began.
“By the shocked looks on both your faces that these hidden files will not be of any help to us?” he asked.
“No,” stated the King.
“I mean yes,” he continued.
“They will be of tremendous help to us but the cost maybe too high a price to pay, my old friend.”
“Miguel, my love,” Isabella started.
“The weapons that we saw and their unforeseen applications will not occur.”
“We will not allow it happen to our people or our kingdom; it’s up to us to control them,” she declared.
“How many rulers down through history have said those same words, my dear and never lived long enough to regret them?” Miguel asked her.
“With the help of the Drone Council,” she said.
“We will keep them controlled.”
“Could you live with the consequences of not using them?” she asked.
“What regrets and how many deaths will lie at our feet if we never use them?” she asked imploringly.
“And that is where it all comes back to doesn’t it?” the King asked.
“We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t,” he announced.
“Please,” the Queen requested.
“Tell us how much in personnel and property have we loss since the attacks began?”
“We’ve lost four outposts with all personnel, approximately ninety-eight men and women, their equipment and all support facilities,” began Rexius.
“Along with this latest attack on the Graffias’ convoy that cost us five tankers, six cargo ships and a small naval escort of two picket ships.”
“The total of personnel lost is approximately three hundred and forty-two people, Majesties,” acknowledged Rexius.
“We have also lost contact with several more outlying posts in several sectors, but that could be for various reasons other than the invaders, Highnesses,” Reginus added.
“Bits and pieces,” the King began.
“They pick of us, a little bit here and piece there, like we are over ripe fruit, am I right?” asked the King.
“We have not been able to figure out any pattern that makes sense to us, Majesty,” admitted Rexius.
“And why would any thing make sense to us, Rexius?” asked the Queen.
“We’ve never faced anything like this before.”
“At least the Empire has not but we can’t say the same about your civilization.”
“Have you ever encountered anything like these raiders before?” she asked.
“Our records go back even before the time of the Rths,” Reginus began.
“We have never encountered any race as destructive as this one, your Majesty.”
“Our only hope of beating the invaders lies with the expedition it would seem,” Rexius said sadly.
“Not our only hope, my friend,” announced the King.
“With the information contained in these files we now have the ability to defend ourselves.”
“But my wife and I must consider this and pray for God’s guidance on this matter,” he informed them.
“So you’ll both consider using the information contained in the files, Majesties?” Rexius asked.
“We may not have a choice my old friend,” the King acknowledged.
“May I bring something else up for your attention, Sire?” he asked.
“It refers to the hidden files, Sire.”
“Certainly, Rexius,” stated the King.
“I’ve noted a discrepancy in going back through the channels accessing the hidden files,” he began.
“Didn’t you mention the files had not been opened for hundreds of years?” he asked.
“To our knowledge they have never been opened,” answered the Queen.
“Who would have the ability to access them, Majesty?” asked Reginus.
“Only those of the royal bloodline who have reached their majority,” answered the King.
“Why do you ask?”
“Sire,” he began.
“Although you believe that those files have never been accessed, the actuality is they were assessed as recently as five months ago and were done so repeatedly,” he informed the royal couple.
Both Monarchs looked at each other.
“Anna!” they both exclaimed in unison.
“Oh, how could she be so stupid?” the Queen asked.
“How could she be so reckless?” asked the King.
“Oh my darling little girl,” the Queen whimpered.
“To be exposed to such…such…and at so young an age!” the King stated disbelievingly.
The King and Queen finally calmed down long enough for Rexius to get a word in.
“Could that be why she left in such a hurry after the ceremony?” Rexius asked.
The King and Queen again looked at each other in horror this time.
“We are such bad parents,” her mother declared.
“Our little girl was suffering and we didn’t have time to see the despair in her little brown eyes before we shuffled her off to a convent,” her mother acknowledged.
The King came over to his wife, and held her closely.
“You mustn’t blame yourself my dear,” he began.
“You are a loving and caring mother, my love.”
“Our daughter had just reached her majority, had her big day and she wished to be alone.”
“How could we know the reason why?” he asked anxiously.
“By simply asking her maybe?” she asked moaning.
“Again, might I interject your Majesty?” asked Rexius.
“Must you?” asked the King.
“Oh, very well, what Rexius?” he inquired.
“Again,” he began.
“In going back over that time period, we have concluded that neither of you are to be blamed for any parental lapses on your part,” he assured them.
“What is he babbling about Reginus?” asked the Queen.
“My counterpart is correct Lady,” Reginus stated.
“The Infanta showed no outward signs of any trauma or stress during that time other than getting prepared for her Confirmation,” she confessed.
The King was the first of Anna’s parents to recover.
“And when exactly was the files first accessed?” asked the King.
“Three months, twenty-one day and sixteen hours before her fifteenth birthday, Sire,” answered Rexius.
“And what else did our darling little girl access during that time frame?” inquired her mother.
“The Infanta was very busy during those days leading up to her Confirmation,” informed Reginus.
“And we thought all along she was just excited about reaching her majority and leaving the little girl behind to become a young woman,” her father said.
“Which it seems she did months before her birthday,” added her mother.
“She hid her uplink quite convincingly to us, my dear,” said the King.
“And what else did our little darling manage to hide from us?” the Queen asked.
“As we mentioned earlier she was very busy during that time frame,” began Rexius.
“She not only accessed those files but also managed to download technical programs and schematics from our own files without our knowledge.”
“She then covered her tracks nicely to any surface probes but her false trails did not hold up to a deep probe,” he concluded.
He chuckled and both Monarchs looked sharply at him.
“You have to admire her skill in manipulating the Council’s own systems to give up some of our own deeply hidden secrets,” he confessed.
“What did my daughter get from your systems?” the Queen asked.
“You mentioned schematics?” the King also asked.
“Yes, we did,” answered Reginus.
“It seems that the Infanta researched and downloaded some very old files.”
She also seems to have broken into some very sensitive areas and rummaged through those sections as well picking and choosing a wealth of information,” she declared.
The King looked over at his wife whose eyes were narrowing.
“We do apologize for her vandalism and theft.”
“Please make our apology known to the Council as well,” he advised.
“Without going into this sensitive material she took,” began the Queen.
“Can you venture a guess as to why she did so?” asked the Queen.
“She seems to have taken files pertaining to the construction of a drone,” Reginus said.
“And also in making the drone more self-aware and giving it defensive capabilities,” answered Reginus.
“Making it more self-aware?” asked Miguel.
“That part I can understand, Miguel,” Isabella said.
“She and Alphina have been together for many years and a strong bond has grown between them.”
“It is only natural for her to want her friend to grow up with her,” she informed him.
“She did not want to lose her best friend.”
“She knew changes were coming and that Alphina would be replaced by a more practical drone to fit her new needs,” she stated.
“So, she did what any intelligent and gifted child would do, she upgraded Alphina herself.
“But why give her defensive capabilities?” she asked aloud.
The King had an evil smile on his face.
“Why don’t we ask her?” inquired the King.
He looked over at Rexius.
“Contact the nunnery immediately,” he ordered.
“And let’s get to the bottom of this.”
“I’ll place the call on your monitors, Majesties.”
A novice nun answered the call on the fourth signal.
“St. Vincent’s,” she said and stood gape mouth as she saw who was on the other end of the commo.
“My dear,” began the Queen.
“We apologize for calling at an inconvenient time, if we have, but we need to speak with our daughter right now, please,” said Isabella sweetly.
“Yes, Majesty,” the novice stammered.
“Give us a few moments and we’ll get her,” she bowed deeply and then ran out of sight.
A few moments later Alphina showed up without the Princess.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Alphina asked.
“How can I help?”
“Alphina, where is the Princess?” her mother asked severely.
“She’s in devotions right now my Queen and it would be rude of me to interrupt her,” declared Alphina.
“Devotions?” asked Miguel.
“Yes Sire,” replied Alphina.
“The Princess has taken to the ways of the convent in a most blessed and spiritual way,” she confessed.
“No doubt to atone for her many sins and transgressions,” stated the King.
“Sire?” asked Alphina.
“You can save it, Alphina,” declared the Queen.
“We already know what our daughter has done.”
“Although we don’t blame her for wanting to upgrade you,” she began.
“But we cannot condone her other actions,” she added.
“What other actions, my Queen?” Alphina questioned.
“Can you do more than ask questions?” asked the King.
“Oh, never mind,” he began.
“You disturb my little hellcat right now.”
“I don’t care if she’s in the middle of a confession,” she declared.
“Do you understand me Alphina?” the King said angrily.
Their monitor started to glitch and after a moment, went dead.
“Rexius?” the King asked.
“Working on it Highness,” was the reply.
After a few moments, Rexius said.
“The problem isn’t on our end, Sire but appears to have originated at the convent’s commo unit,” he informed him.
“We are running diagnostics now to determine what caused the interruption.”
“I’ll tell you what caused it,” the King yelled.
“Unknown at this time but, just on a moment,” Rexius said.
“Yes, you could be right, Sire.”
“Their commo unit’s monitor was shorted out by a massive electro shock,” he stated.
“Well, that tears it,” the King announced.
“Now she is vandalizing Church property.”
“We need to go get her,” he said to his wife.
“I’ll go to her, Miguel,” Isabella said.
“You are in no fit state to reason with her.”
“Reason with her?” the King asked indignantly.
“See, my point exactly,” Isabella replied.
“Yes, I said reason with her.”
“She has been through a lot in the last half a year, gaining her abilities and the uplink ahead of time with no one to guide her through the process,” she continued.
“Having the Empire celebrating her First Confirmation and on top of that, the stress of the ceremony and making sure everything was perfect.”
“Anna came face to face with the enormity of the hidden “files on her own, almost losing her best friend, and to top it off, the invaders?” she wailed.
“My God, Miguel, she is our little girl, don’t you ever forget that!” she declared.
The King came over to her once again and pulled her into his embrace.
“She’s our little girl, Mama,” he began.
“You go get her and I’ll keep an eye on the Empire while you’re away.”
“But be quick, we need to make a decision about the weapons,” he advised her.
“I’m afraid that, that ship’s already left the harbor, Sire,” Rexius said.
They both looked over at him.
“What does that mean?” the Queen asked.
“What he means Ma’am,” began Reginus.
“Is that your daughter, in uploading the hidden files and also uploading ours, combined them into one file of her own.”
“She then used her file to create a newer type of drone,” she added.
“What?” they both asked in unison.
“Again as I said earlier,” began Rexius.
“The Princess was very busy in the months leading up to her fifteenth birthday.”
“Yes, we know that,” acknowledged her mother.
“She was busy upgrading Alphina.”
“Yes, she was,” replied Reginus.
“But the upgrade only took a few days.”
“She spent the rest of her time designing and building a new type of drone,” she added.
“A new type is that even possible?” asked the King.
“While we’ve been talking,” Rexius began.
“Other drones have been able to break into her secure files.”
“We now know exactly what the Princess has designed,” he confessed.
“It is quite brilliant, Highnesses,” acknowledged Reginus.
“She has created a drone that has the ability to defend itself and its companion,” stated Rexius.
The offensive weapon that it uses is a repeller that has been redesigned to eject thousands of razor shape steel projectiles,” he continued.
“These rounds she calls them, can tear apart living tissue or shred inanimate objects in seconds,” he finished saying.
The Queen gasped while the King just shook his head.
“That’s not all,” started Reginus.
“She also gave it the ability to infiltrate and gather information from any military or civilian source that it designates as an enemy,” he continued.
“The drone can also shut down or scramble any commo equipment or hijack communications going in to or out of that source,” he added.
“It would appear that she was quiet busy,” added Isabella.
“Yes, but that’s still not all Ma’am. I left my favorite for last,” Reginus said.
“She gave this new drone unlimited stealth abilities.”
“Unlimited stealth abilities?” he asked.
“That’s a new one on me.”
“What is it?” asked the King.
“It’s the ability to either camouflage, or blend into the surrounding area, or, if required, to completely disappear,” Rexius informed him.
“She also made the drone quicker and quieter.”
“But how was she able to do all this?” asked the Queen.
“I couldn’t tell you how before,” answered Rexius.
“Since then I read her notes and downloaded her designs.”
“She picked the best pieces from all the information that she had researched or downloaded and came up with some far reaching theories,” he continued.
“She then acted on those theories, discarded the worthless ones and worked on and honed the more practical ones until she came up with Alphie,” he announced.
“Alphie?” asked the Queen.
“When was she going to tell us about him or her?”
“When she got back,” replied Alphina hovering a few feet away from them.
“But how…” started the Queen.
“We experimented on me,” admitted Alphina.
“And then we built Alphie.”
“I’m faster now because of it,” she confessed.
“Oh, Alphina,” the Queen murmured.
“I allowed what we did, Majesty,” Alphina began.
“Anna just didn’t take me apart and put me back together without my permission.”
“We both knew I was for the scrap heap when the implant came online,” she stated.
“Or maybe even worse, getting reprogrammed to be a basic housekeeping drone here at the palace,” she admitted.
“Neither one of us wanted that, so we both decided to make sure that wasn’t going to happen to me,” she declared.
“But St. Vincent’s three thousand kilometers away,” he King said.
“How could you make it here so fast?” he asked.
“A new power system that makes my impellers work a thousand times more efficiently by using anti-gravity instead of the standard lift and thrust method,” she confessed.
“Also I have the ability to change into any shape I want to.”
“A sphere is not a great aerodynamic shape so when I need to put on some speed,” she began.
“I elongate myself into a spear like shape,” she continued.
“It makes the air flow nicely.”
“I’m pleased that nothing but good happened to you my dear,” began the Queen.
“But let’s get back to what you said earlier and that was ‘when she got back,’ what precisely do you mean by that?” the Queen asked.
“Alphina where is my daughter?”
After a few hours of explaining, Alphina laid out the Princess’ plans to get aboard the expedition.
She also explained how they recruited Alicia Marie as her replacement.
The King and Queen made a quick conference call to the Mother Superior of St. Vincent’s to have Alicia Maria quietly sent back to the palace.
When all the yelling and tears were out of the way, the King looked over to his wife, who finally sat down after pacing back and forth wearing a hole in the carpet.
“You do realize she gets this from your side of the family, don’t you?” the King asked his wife.
"This extract remains the exclusive property of the author who retains all copyright and other intellectual property rights in the work. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced or used by any person or entity for any purpose without the author's express permission and authority."