"Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

UF: Stories written by users, both fanfics and original.

Moderator: LadyTevar

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-05-19 02:07am

Burak Gazan wrote:Considering how much awesome we left on, I don't think anyone could be annoyed with how long you are taking to work on the next chapter. It's not like we have to deal with a writers strike or something :D Take as long as needed


The problem isn't that it's taking me forever due to me taking time to make everything "just right". The problem is that I can't stop getting distracted or having sleepiness completely ruin my ability to write at times when that's my usual primary activity.

Half the reason I took my first vacation week this year in May - aside from just general desire to get away from work for awhile - is because I'm hoping to get my body to get used to sleeping eight hours again. Because things got so bad for me that even if I did get the time for a proper eight hours of sleep... I never got all eight. I'd wake up after 5 or 6 and wouldn't be able to get back to sleep properly.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Burak Gazan
Jedi Master
Posts: 1401
Joined: 2002-12-30 07:45pm
Location: Sault Ste Marie, Ontario
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Burak Gazan » 2017-05-19 02:11am

As a former 2nd Mate, retired for medical reasons, I can understand completely :)
"Of course, what would really happen is that in Game 7, with the Red Sox winning 20-0 in the 9th inning, with two outs and two strikes on the last Cubs batter, a previously unseen meteor would strike the earth, instantly and forever wiping out all life on the planet, and forever denying the Red Sox a World Series victory..."

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-02 09:11am

Teaser


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 1 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. I am happy to log our official return to active duty following six weeks of repairs from the battle at 452TD. Commander Scott has performed the usual miracle of getting our repairs and shakedown work done ahead of schedule and getting us back out of spacedock.

I am also happy to log another occasion. Given the time, I will remark upon it in my next entry. I'm due in the Lookout
.

The crowd of uniformed officers and crew grew quiet when Robert reached for the small box on the table beside him. He opened it to reveal a rank tab of two gold strips and a silver strip. "It is my honor and privilege to say that as of this day, July 1st 2642 on the Alliance Standard Calendar, the Alliance Stellar Navy has awarded a meritorious promotion to Nicholas Locarno for outstanding service on numerous occasions as Navigation Officer of the Starship Aurora." Robert grinned at Locarno, who remained at attention while Robert clipped the new rank tab in place. "Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander."

"Thank you, Captain," Locarno answered.

Cheers came from the assembled crew, including the members of the command crew of the Aurora and of the Koenig, the attack and escort ship that usually remained docked to Aurora's large docking port at the rear of the primary hull. Locarno looked to the assembled, including to one slightly-grinning Ensign Jean Hajar from the Koenig, before noticing that the Lookout's civilian host and cook Hargert was already rolling out a large cake. The icing lettering, silver and gold in color, spelled out "For Lieutenant Commander Locarno". Impressively Hargert had managed to make a reasonable facsimile of the Aurora with blue and white icing.

"You baked a cake?", Locarno asked Hargert. "For a promotion?"

Hargert gave him a look of faux mortification. "As if I would not? Come now, Commander, certainly you know by now that I never miss an opportunity to bake a cake." The aged man's German accent was slightly hoarse, if only from the obvious age in his voice. The smile on his face was a far more evident indicator of his mood.

"I hope mine is chocolate." That remark came from Caterina Delgado, still a Lieutenant and the ship's Science Officer. She was one of the smallest people in the room, not surprising given her height was - in old English-US terms - just a few inches over five feet. Hazel eyes glistened with the presumed image of a chocolate cake in her head. "Some of that Swiss stuff."

A bemused sigh came from beside her. Ensign Violeta Arterria, one of Locarno's subordinate helm officers, was holding Cat's hand. Her purple eyes - matching the deep purple coloring of her genetically-engineered hair - looked at her girlfriend with affection and some feigned irritation. "I should never have taken you through Switzerland before we got to Venice."

Caterina looked to Violeta and playfully stuck her tongue out. Violeta started giggling at her in reply.

Robert, as Captain, got dibs on the second piece. He also secured the third piece for its proper recipient, who was currently nursing a glass of fruit juice at the lounge's bar counter. Commander Julia Andreys' long blond hair was pulled into a ponytail as always. Her green eyes, shaded close to aquamarine, were looking to Robert as he stepped up. She extended a hand and accepted the offered paper plate and plastic fork. "Thanks," she said, smiling.

But there was more behind the smile than simple joy. Robert could sense the emotional tension within Julia. He could have even without his "abilities", those life force-derived powers he had been training to use for over half of a year. Reading Julia was almost second nature to him, and the same for her reading him. "Doesn't this bring back memories?", he asked her as she took a bite.

"Hrm?" She had a mouthful of cake to chew.

"Well…" Robert smiled back at her. "I think my earliest memory is your fourth birthday party. Grandpa brought me to your house. I remember looking at you with icing all over your mouth, and all over mine, and Grandpa joked that when we were older we'd be licking it off each other."

By then Julia had swallowed. That was a good thing, as she broke out giggling. "Oh my God, I think I remember that too. Mom just stared at him."

"My Mom told me years later that your parents actually complained about it. Dad had to smooth things over." Robert shook his head. "Grandpa always had his own sense of humor."

Julia shook her head. "And he always thought you and I would get together when we were old enough."

For a moment it was clear both were flashing back to that moment under the wide open Kansas sky. The mound on the family property had collapsed with the destruction of the Facility far below. They had barely escaped it together. They had been caught up in the thrill of that moment when they shared a kiss… and immediately decided together to stop there and continue their relationship as it had always been, free of any romantic entanglement.

"Speaking of being together…" Julia looked to the crowd. "How are you and Angel doing?"

Robert drew in a breath that came dangerously close to being a sigh. He looked back as well and saw where Angel was gently teasing her sister over something. While Cat was a small, skinny girl, Angel was several inches taller and filled out. Although her uniform didn't show much of her body below the neck, he knew what was beneath. His mind brought up the images from his memories, of the rippling, tough fighting muscle under the bronze complexion of Angel's skin. Angela Delgado had spent much of her life learning to fight hand-to-hand, and she could be an utter terror in a fight.

"We had some time together. During the repairs." He sighed. "But now that we're back on full duty…" Robert shook his head. "I keep expecting the shoe to drop, Julie. I want this relationship to work, but with everything else I have going on…"

"Isn't your training with Meridina supposed to be over?"

"I used to think that, but now, I'm not sure if it'll ever be over," Robert admitted. "Now that we know what was going on with the Gersallians, I can't help but feel I have to stick to the training. And Angel's not happy."

"You might have to make a choice, Rob," Julia said. "About what's more important to you."

There was something in the way she said those words that made it clear Julia wasn't just thinking of his situation. The feelings he had sensed in her when he stepped up were returning. His training with Meridina made that clear, even if he would have realized that without that training or the abilities the training was honing. "What about your choice?", Robert asked. "Have you made it yet?"

"I haven't made it official," Julia said. "I'm just… torn, I guess. I want to be a Captain, and Admiral Maran's offering me the Enterprise of all ships. But if I say yes, I'll either be going off on my own, or I'll be splitting us up if anyone joins me. I don't want to do that."

"Julie…" Robert took her hand. "I think you should do it. I think you have great potential as a captain. Honestly, I think you'll be better at it than I am."

She smiled at him in response.

Before either of them could say anything, blue holographic light appeared over Robert's left forearm. A voice came from the hologram. "Bridge to Captain Dale," said, or rather chirped, an alien voice. Robert recognized it as the voice of Lieutenant Jupap, who was currently minding the bridge. The Alakin continued. "Admiral Maran is on subspace. He needs to speak to you immediately."

"Tell him I'll be on my way to… wait." Robert chuckled. "Just let me step out of the lounge."

Julia nodded and grinned. Another piece of cake was already on her fork. "Hurry back if you can." A mirthful look came to her eyes. "I'll try to protect your piece as best as I can."

"From the others, or from yourself?"

"Both."

Robert smirked back at her and stood from the counter stool. He walked past a few of the others and stepped out of the Lookout and into the adjoining corridor. Once the door slid closed his right finger pressed the blinking blue light.

Until just a few weeks ago, the Stellar Navy had used the multidevice. Specifically, an electronic all-in-one device of ultralight "space age" material that acted as general scanner, communicator, and computer access all at once even on general models - specialized ones could do even more, like send out exotic electronic emissions or make specialized scans. The Earth of Universe L2M1 had first developed the specific concept, although several of the other Earths in the Multiverse had variations on it.

But then contact with Universe M4P2 happened the prior April. M4P2 went one better than all the others: the omnitool. A small, lightweight piece with built-in holographics emitters, it was even lighter than multidevices and more versatile, replacing the physical key controls with an interface generated entirely with holographics and projected hard-light machinery. Organizations within the Alliance, public and private, had spent much of the year negotiating licensing rights on the technology with the manufacturers in Citadel space. Only now was it bearing fruit: as of June the Stellar Navy was issuing new, specially-made omnitools for its personnel. The Aurora crew was in spacedock at just the right time to get them issued.

One of the benefits of having omnitools appeared on a holographic screen created by the one Robert was wearing. Admiral Maran appeared from his office at Defense Command, near Portland in the Pacific Northwest of Earth L2M1. The Gersallian man had his usual immaculate appearance, with graying dark hair on his head and the solid expression Robert had long become accustomed to. He was even accustomed to the fact that because of the whims of evolution or fate or God himself, the Gersallians were aliens who looked, on the outside, like Humans.

"Admiral," Robert said respectfully.

"Captain." Maran nodded. "I'm pleased that your ship is back in full running order. We need you back out there."

"Has anything happened with the war?"

The Admiral nodded. "The 11th Fleet just won a victory at Beta Laurentis that has secured our hold on that sector. Allied ground troops have finished securing Scheerwelt and Neu Posen. Which is related to the subject of my call."

"Oh?"

"We would have never managed the troops to take both of those worlds without the presence of Inner Sphere units. The 3rd Davion Guards and the Orloff Grenadiers played critical roles in the fighting. That's why I'm concerned by reports we're getting from our Inner Sphere allies."

Robert frowned at that. "What?"

"Something is going on in the territorial zones held by the Clans. Intelligence indicates some sort of political upheaval is underway. President Morgan and I are concerned that this could be a prelude to a renewal of the Clan Invasion."

At that, Robert frowned. From what he knew of Universe F1S1, the Clans were a caste society that had arrived on the Inner Sphere's Coreward frontier about seven years ago. They had technological superiority over the Inner Sphere in military terms, and a highly-trained and lethal warrior caste leading an invasion of the Inner Sphere, stopped two years later at a planet called Tukkayid in what was left of the Free Rasalhague Republic. "If that's true…"

"...then Prince Victor, Captain-General Marik, and the other Inner Sphere leaders would be forced to pull their troops off the front," Maran finished for him. "The Inner Sphere's leadership is assembling for a conference on Tukkayid called by ComStar. Primus Mori and Precentor-Martial Focht have invited President Morgan and myself to attend. And we want you there."

Robert nodded. Diplomatic meetings were one aspect of the job he was getting used to, even if he often found them dreadfully boring. "Understood, Admiral. We'll jump for F1S1 immediately."

"I look forward to seeing you on Tukkayid, Captain. Maran out."

The omnitool shut down the screen. With a conscious thought and a movement of Robert's arm, the blue holography of the omnitool came to life around his left forearm. The Stellar Navy-issue version was different than those usually found in M4P2, and not just in color: the designers crafted the basic interface to resemble that of an old multidevice, as if it had been a touchscreen. Robert hit the visible key for opening a commlink. "Dale to Bridge."

"Yes Captain?", Lieutenant Jupap responded over the audio channel.

"Activate jump drive, set to F1S1. Once we're through, set a course for the system Tukkayid and engage."

"Yes Captain."

WIth that done, Robert turned back to the Lookout. WIth no immediate jump anchor to their destination, or anywhere near it - jump anchors had yet to be installed anywhere in the Coreward half of the Inner Sphere - they would take a day or two (or more) to arrive at Tukkayid. This meant he was not needed immediately on the bridge or elsewhere.

And that meant he could, at least, get to actually finish that piece of cake.



Undiscovered Frontier
"The Path Before Us"



The quiet solitude of Meridina's quarters were meant to let the Aurora security chief have her daily meditation. A chance to reflect on the day and sense where her swevyra, her life force, was leading her.

Once meditation had come almost second nature to her. Once it was clear she had an attuned swevyra, one that could reach out to the universe and made her capable of great feats of power, her father Karesl had taught her meditation. And like any daughter-turned-student eager to please the father she admired, she'd taken to it and with discipline had become quite the capable meditator. Even after her entry to the Order of Swenya and being given to another of the ranking members of the organization for training, her father's training in the meditative side of their work had guided her.

But meditation no longer came easily for Meridina. These past few months had been a trial for her, the greatest in her life, and everything had changed. She had been taken as a host by the vicious Goa'uld Amaunet, severely wounded by her own student Lucy Lucero in the act of stopping and killing the vile being, and then had to deal with the grief and guilt of what Amaunet had used her body, and her abilities, to do. The deaths inflicted at Stargate Command, the pain that had been caused, all of it had driven Meridina toward darkness. And then came her confrontation with the corrupted Draman Olati, the attack on the Alliance Senate by an extremist faction of her own people, and the leader of that faction trying to kill her after forcing her into a trial before the Council of her Order. Even vindication had been bitter: the corrupted Mastrash Goras might have been defeated, but in the wake of his fall and the death of the Council's leader Maklir, the Council had decided to turn its back on everything Meridina had been trying to build. She was ordered to return home.

Instead, Meridina put her bond to the crew of the Aurora before her devotion to the Order of Swenya. She resigned from her Order, turned her back on everything she had once lived for, and was now firmly upon the path she and Mastrash Ledosh, her teacher, had foreseen.

And it hurt. It hurt like nothing she had ever considered before.

It was getting late in the day. Meridina gave up on meditation and decided to look for Lucy. Now that Lucy's training was known, there was no need to be subtle with it or with Robert's, and Meridina was no longer holding anything back on their education in their abilities. And that meant more training and more time. Regrettable given Robert's responsibilities, but he needed the training if he was ever going to be capable of defending himself adequately with his life force.

Perhaps I should force myself to call it that more often, Meridina pondered to herself. Robert has such trouble with pronouncing it. A very small smile came to her face at that thought.

Given the time, Robert was probably busy doing daily paperwork in his office. He had already alerted her to a staff meeting in the morning to discuss their arrival at Tukkayid for the following afternoon. She would collect him second, then.

And she already had a good idea where Lucy would be.

Meridina put on a cream-colored vest and loose black trousers before she left her rooms. It was a short trip from her quarters to a turbolift. "Deck 25 Section G," Meridina stated. The lift sped its way through the lift tubes connecting the ship's various decks together until it brought her to the destination she described. Deck 25 was one of the middle decks of the drive hull of the ship, and this specific section was within the engineering area.

A short walk brought her to her destination. The door panel referred to it as "Machine Shop B". Inside she found that things were generally quiet. A pair of petty officers and four crew were looking over various machinery replicators and fabricators. Shop B was for precision work on small items, the tooling and pieces that had to be kept up in the inventory for the ship to have spare parts on the many thousands of individual machines that, together, formed the Starship Aurora.

Lucy was in one corner, working quietly with one of the fabricators. She was in a work uniform, black with beige trim and a tool belt around her waist. Her curly black hair was pulled into a curly ponytail at the back of her head. As Meridina walked up she turned and stood. "Meridina?", she asked.

"I was coming to get you, it is nearly time for training."

Lucy's blue eyes blinked. "Wait, what time is it? It's only like 1800, right?"

Meridina smiled gently. "1930," she clarified.

Lucy made a face and then covered it with her palm. "Oh. Dammit. I lost track of time."

Meridina gave Lucy's work station a peek. Not that she needed to; there was only one project that Lucy was so wrapped up in that she would lose track of time like that.

"How is your work going?", Meridina asked gently. "Are you close to reproducing Swenya's Blade?"

Lucy shook her head. "I don't know. My scans were pretty thorough. But it's like re-assembling a puzzle when you've got pieces missing and aren't even sure where some are supposed to go."

"I am certain you will manage it, Lucy," Meridina said. She set a hand on Lucy's arm to be supportive.

"What about you? I know the last few months have been rough…"

Meridina tried to keep her sadness off of her face. Being forced to choose between the Aurora and her devotion to the Order of Swenya had been excruciating. She felt an odd sense of being cast adrift even through her devotion to her purpose: to work with the Aurora's crew to fulfill their role as the Bearers of the Dawn.

This was especially important given what they had learned about the Prophecy of the Dawn, a work passed down from Swenya herself three thousand years ago. Her own mentor had revealed that the Order Council had doctored the original copy to hide the ending line. That line was a warning that an ancient threat known only as "the Darkness" would return. And my people know nothing of it.

Lucy reached over and turned her station off. "Why don't we get this training out of the way and then get some dinner?"

"It will be a late one."

"I know." Lucy grinned. "But we'll be hungry, and it's a chance to unwind and decompress. Even swevyra'se or Life Knights or whatever you term want to use need time to themselves. Time to take it easy."

"You forget that I am no longer swevyra'se."

Lucy responded to that with a small smile. "Then just what are you busting my ass for when we go train?"

It was a rhetorical question. A soft smile came to Meridina's face. "An interesting point. Very well. We train, and then we eat together."

"Great. I'll see if Hargert has any tasty stuff left from Nick's promotion ceremony earlier."

Without another word, they both stepped out of the machine shop.




After the day's work was done Angel went to Robert's quarters. He wasn't in. This did not surprise Angel in the slightest and she entered the quarters to wait for him.

Robert had kept all of his important family things after leaving his family home years ago. Some family items he'd left with his cousin Beth Rankin, now the Governor of New Liberty, while some he had with him. Mostly they were replicated copies of family photos. On one wall his old high school football jersey was hanging with a frame showing clipped newspaper articles. Angel's memories went back a decade to recall those nights, when he had put in a good performance as a wide receiver. He hadn't done well enough to be offered a full scholarship at a university, though.

I can't imagine how different our lives would be if he had gotten a scholarship, Angel thought. She sighed. But I bet it would be another thing to keep us apart.

She looked at the time. 2150. It was getting too late for anything, even for a dinner, and that hurt. It looked like they were going back to the way things had been since before New Year's. Day after day after day of Robert doing his Captain work and training in his abilities, leaving no time for her.

Those damned powers. If only Leo had a way to get rid of them.

Thinking about freeing Robert of the burden of these "life force" strengths made Angel recall what that blind Zigonian had said to her. Kasszas had told her that she wasn't in love with Robert anymore. That she loved a "phantom", a memory of what he had been before he started using those life force powers.

She'd denied it at the time. Even now she wanted to deny it. It brought her pain to realize she couldn't. Looking back to all of the times she and Robert had been dating, and all of the times they'd broken up… wasn't that how it happened? That things would happen, he would disappoint her and she'd disappoint him, and then it would end? As the damned lizard had said, her affection was more for what she wanted him to be than what he was.

Angel sat on the couch and felt tears form in her eyes.

She waited in the quietly, silently weeping in frustration and uncertainty. At about 2220 the door finally opened. Robert stepped in, wearing the sleeveless cream-colored vest and baggy brown pants he usually did for the training sessions. He was covered in sweat and fatigued. When he saw Angel, a guilty look came to his face. "Sorry, Lucy was late and we…" He stopped. his eyes lowered. "How long have you been waiting?"

"Not too long," Angel said. And it was true: a bit over half an hour was nothing compared to waiting two hours, or all night, as she had sometimes done. "Did you want to catch something to eat?"

Robert shook his head. "Meridina picked today to increase the weights I had to lift. And to try out the augmented running course. I'm too exhausted to do anything but wash up and go to bed."

It was with a small voice that Angel said, "Sure, I understand."

Robert didn't need to hear the disappointment in her voice. He'd felt her presence, and her knotted feelings, even before he got to his door. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I know," she answered. "You always are, and I know you mean it." She looked at him and they made eye contact. "I think we should talk about this, though."

"Is there anything new to say?", Robert asked. "Because it seems we discuss it all of the time."

"Yes, I think there is," she answered. "For one, it's pretty obvious your training isn't going to end. Whatever Meridina said about 'learning control', she had far more in mind. What happened on Gersal made that clear. And if you're going along with that, well…"

Robert swallowed and said nothing. His past promises that the training would be over soon and he would have time again were clearly no longer being kept. "Yeah," he said. "It's not fair to you."

"Like I said, we'll talk." Angel gestured toward his room and the shower unit beyond. "Why don't you go wash off real quick and get to bed?"

There was nothing for him to say to that. He nodded and went to the shower.

After said refreshing shower, weary to the bone, Robert made his way to the bed. Angel was already lying there in her nightgown. She gave him a little kiss on the lips as he settled into place beside her.

They both fell asleep shortly thereafter.



When the Starship Aurora dropped out of warp, it found itself in the middle of company.

The most prominent of the ships visible was a type Robert and the others rarely got to see: a Sirian League carrier-vessel. The ship was two hundred meters longer than their own, thirty meters wider, and about the same height. It was one big solid hull, with the surface painted dark green with blue streaks, and the eight-sided starburst insignia of the Sirian League prominent on the side. Near the rear of the ship the hull bulged out and became circular.

"A ring drive," murmured Locarno from his place on the Aurora bridge. The command crew were all in their normal places.

"A what?", asked Angel.

"It's a big ring for the warp drive assembly instead of warp nacelles," Cat explained for her sister. "The Vulcans still use them on some ships."

Locarno added, "They're easier to protect, but their warp maneuverability isn't anywhere near that of a nacelle-using ship."

"The ID code of the ship has her as the Majestic," Jarod said.

Robert nodded. The Cincinnatus, the Earth Confederacy dreadnought that had been President Morgan’s usual interstellar means of transport, had been lost in the same failed attack campaign where they had been ambushed at 452TB. Robert wondered whether or not the Majestic would take the place of the lost ship or if it was just a stand-in for the moment.

"I wonder if the Inner Sphere states have brought any of their starships," Julia wondered aloud.

"Unlikely." Jarod shook his head. "It's only been three months. I'm betting they're still working on the refit plans."

"So where do you think they are?", Robert asked.

"I'm picking up indications of other warp drives that came into the system over the last couple of days," Caterina said. "It looks like warp-capable light interstellar passenger liners."

"As in…?"

"Think passenger jet, not actual big liner ship," Cat finished for her sister.

"That would make sense," Julia said. "You can buy those almost anywhere, including government transport models."

A tone came from Jarod's console. "We're getting a hail from the planet. It looks like it's coming from the central ComStar facility planetside."

"Put them on screen."

Jarod did so. Admiral Maran appeared. He looked to be in an office space, presumably one set aside for his use. "I see you made it."

"We jumped in a bit further away than I would have liked," Robert admitted. "But without a jump anchor close to Tukkayid there didn't seem to be a point in using one."

"I was the one who ordered you out before the Majestic was ready to depart. We proved lucky in the arrival point." Maran drew in a sigh. "Regardless, it's good that you're here. Tonight is the arrival banquet and the political discussions begin tomorrow. But things are moving more quickly than we anticipated and I want to get you up to speed. Standby to beam up a delegation on my signal. I'll see you shortly. Maran out."

As soon as he disappeared from the screen Robert and Julia rose from their chairs. "We'll have them beamed up to Station 1. Jarod, you have the bridge, and have Jupap ready to take over. I suspect this will be a command staff briefing."

"I'll have Meridina meet us there," Julia offered.




A young man with technical crew rank was manning the transporter station controls when the two arrived. Meridina came in just behind them. "We're getting the ready signal from the planet, sir," the man said.

"Whenever you're ready, Crewman."

The young man nodded and operated his controls.

Moments later six columns of white light formed on the pad. The light burst briefly, quickly enough that it didn't blind, and five figures now stood on the pad. Robert and the others straightened their backs to stand at attention as Admiral Maran stepped down. "Captain, Commander, good to see you in person again."

"It's always a pleasure, Admiral." By now Robert was looking over the other attendees. He recognized Victor and Jerrard Cranston first, Victor right behind and beside Maran in the middle row and Jerry Cranston behind Victor in the rear. Standing beside Jerry was an East Asian man in a St. Ives Compact uniform.

To Maran's side in the front section was a man in a robed uniform of white with the ComStar insignia on the breast, with rank insignias as well. He had an eye patch on over the right eye and looked quite old, easily in his late sixties.

The sixth figure, placed beside Victor, was another older man, with gray hair and a military-style buzzcut. His uniform was dark gray and had a red disc with a black wolf's head on it placed prominently on the neck.

Maran stepped down. "I believe you already know Prince Victor and Colonel Cranston. This is Precentor-Martial Anastasius Focht of ComStar and Colonel Jaime Wolf, former commanding officer of the Wolf Dragoons. And this is Colonel Kai Allard-Liao of the Compact. Gentlemen, this is Captain Robert Dale."

"Precentor-Martial, Colonels." Robert nodded. "This is my First Officer, Commander Julia Andreys, and my Security Chief, Lieutenant Commander Meridina." Looking to Kai he nodded. "I'm sorry we missed you, Colonel Allard-Liao, during the visit to St. Ives. I hope your mother is doing well."

Kai nodded respectfully and smiled. "She's doing quite well. Doctor Gillam's suggested treatments are working like a charm. She'll never have to worry about the cancer again."

"He'll be happy to hear that." Robert kept himself from sighing. Leo had made the suggestion for further anti-cancer genetic treatments after learning that Duchess Candace Liao, Kai's mother and ruler of the Compact, had survived a bout with breast cancer a decade before. It had been a very poor substitute for failing to save Joshua Marik.

Robert turned his attention to the older men next. "It's an honor to host you, sirs, aboard my ship."

"It is a fine vessel." Focht looked around with his one eye. "And it lives up to the reports from the newsvids during your diplomatic tour. Unfortunately a tour is out of the question, Captain. We are pressed for time now."

"For the banquet tonight, you mean?"

"Not just the banquet." Focht's single eye focused on Robert. "The peace of the Inner Sphere is at stake. The Clans are preparing to renounce the Truce of Tukkayid. We have only days, perhaps, with which to prevent a resumption of the Invasion. And your ship may be the only thing that can succeed."

Robert nodded and glanced to Julia, who glanced back with the same look in her eyes that he knew was in his own. A look with a single thought behind it.

It looks like it's up to us again.



Conference Room 1 was set up with tables in a half-circle around the central holotank projector. The command crews of the Aurora and Koenig took several of the seats, leaving a table for the Inner Sphere leaders and one for Robert, Julia, and Admiral Maran to sit at. Focht offered a ComStar-made data disc to Robert, who passed it to Jarod for use in the briefing. He stood up

"Since the Truce of Tukkayid came into effect, ComStar has maintained various intelligence assets in Clan-held space," Focht stated. "Our greatest concern is that the Crusader faction would one day manage sufficient votes to overturn the Truce."

"The Crusaders are the pro-war faction, right?" asked Zack.

"It would be inaccurate to identify the Clan factions as pro-war or anti-war, Commander," answered Focht. "Their culture is built around combat. The Wardens believe in remaining apart from the Inner Sphere as a protective force while the Crusaders believe in conquering the Inner Sphere to restore the Star League under the rule of the Clans." Focht stepped up to the holotank. Jarod activated it and brought up a starmap of the Inner Sphere. Various stars signifying populated star systems lit up and three-dimensional borders came into existence to delineate the current territorial dispositions.

The Clan Invasion zones were the most prominent feature on the map; four narrow strips plunging from "above" toward the middle. Six icons appeared over the map, spread among the four zones. To the spinward "left" a zone was marked with the emblems of a green bird and a snake's head, then a snarling wolf head, a roaring white bear's head, and then a pouncing gray feline and a feline face in the middle of a sunburst-like pattern. Focht, for the benefit of his listeners, briefly identified each zone's holders: the Jade Falcons and Steel Vipers, the Wolves, the Ghost Bears, and lastly, the Smoke Jaguars and Nova Cats. A line on the map appeared at the rimward edge of the invasion zone. "Under the terms I negotiated with ilKhan Ulric Kerensky, the Truce of Tukkayid forbids any Clan forces from moving beyond this line."

"And they evidently don't care about securing all of the territory coreward of Tukkayid," Julia observed.

"They do not," Focht said. "They have raided above the line on occasion, but they appear to consider such attacks to be a waste of material. Unfortunately, this may have contributed to the current threat against the Truce."

"They want more fights?"

"Yes, Captain. For their youngest generation, it is a matter of their future." Focht looked to Colonel Wolf. "Colonel Wolf can explain."

The aging mercenary leader stood up from his place and walked to join Focht. "In the Clans, advancement for warriors requires combat. All promotions are done in Trials of Position. And to earn these Trials, warriors must accumulate victories in battle."

"And with the Clans at peace, you get fewer chances for big flashy victories," Angel observed. "It's like being a professional fighter. It doesn't matter how well you train, you're going to be stuck in your place and ranking if you don't get in any good fights."

"The analogy is a good one. But for the Clans, even more is at stake than mere statistical rankings. Every warrior longs for a chance to win a Bloodname." When no one inquired as to what he meant, Wolf kept going. "In the Clans, what you refer to as family names, or surnames, are strictly prohibited. Only warriors who have won a Bloodname receive a second name. The Bloodnames come from the eight hundred men and women who followed Nicholas Kerensky in the Second Exodus. No more than twenty-five warriors are allowed to hold each name at a time; to win a name requires victory in a Trial of Bloodright tournament."

"And to get in a tournament, you need to have a good record," Julia observed.

"Yes." Wolf nodded to her. "I cannot emphasize how important a Bloodname is to a warrior of the Clans. It is the only guarantee that a warrior's DNA will be used in future generations of Clan warriors. Bloodnamed warriors get the best command opportunities and are members of their Clan Council. They elect the Khans and Loremaster of a Clan from among their number." A dark look came to the man. "It is the fear of not getting this opportunity that is turning the newest generations of Clan warriors into ardent Crusaders."

"Okay, but the Truce is only for fifteen years," Julia said. "They'll still be in their thirties when it's over. They'll have plenty of time to get their shot when the Truce expires, won't they?"

"You are thinking in your social terms," Wolf said. "The Clans consider a warrior too old by the time they reach thirty-five."

"Woh." Thomas Barnes shook his head. "That's pretty… I mean, that's not even middle-aged."

"Much of this is due to the Clan eugenics program," Focht replied. "Their scientist caste has been constantly refining their genes for centuries. Every five years is a new generation, considered superior to those beforehand. A thirty-five year old warrior is three generations out of date."

"Which is the problem." Jarod spoke up. "The Truce is for fifteen years. The newest generation of Clan warriors would be approaching thirty-five when the Truce ends. By Clan standards they'll be too old."

"What happens if a Clan warrior hits that age without a Bloodname?", Julia asked Wolf. "Do they forcibly retire them?"

"They are removed from frontline units and assigned to garrison forces or second line forces," Wolf answered. "Most will become solahma. They will spend their time fighting bandits as a last, desperate hope to get at least some of their genetic material into the breeding program. If they survive to a certain age, they usually end being relegated to caretakers of the sibkos. That is, the children of the warrior caste, taking care of them and training them until they reach the age for their Trials of Position."

"For a people devoted to martial glory, that's a lot of incentive to keep fighting," Julia observed.

"Exactly," Focht said. "As it is, with raiding between Clans low and no conflict with the Inner Sphere, the young warriors have few opportunities to gain the victories to secure places in Bloodright challenges. And with fewer Bloodnamed warriors dying in battle, they have fewer opportunities to join the ranks."

"And so they have plenty of incentive to resume the war. The handful that do become Bloodnamed are voting the Crusaders' way, adding to their vote totals, and even those who don't provide the Crusaders with a lot of lower rank support to pressure their superiors." Robert nodded. "So we need a solution to this problem. Preferably one that doesn't involve drawing away from the war."

Jarod looked to Focht and Wolf. "Is there any way we could offer them a chance to ally with us against the Reich? That would give their junior warriors the chance to fight and reduce the pressure."

Wolf nodded. "It is possible. But it is also dangerous. The Crusaders will see your offer for what it is and oppose it."

"Or they will not, but instead demand the same technological compensation you are providing to the Inner Sphere," Focht observed. "This would allow them to repudiate the Truce at their leisure after the war. And you would expect them to demand the right to your drives so they can maintain conquests in the S4W8 Universe."

"So we'd be handing over worlds to the Clans." Robert frowned. "And I thought the Turians getting to impose their system on freed worlds would be bad enough…"

"Unfortunately our options are limited." Admiral Maran spoke up now. "If the Clan Invasion resumes, we're obligated to help fight it, and that will come at the cost of the war with the Reich."

"But if we give the Clans access to our technology and to the resources of other universes, we make them stronger too," Julia pointed out. "And when the war's over, we run into the same problem we have now."

Victor joined the conversation at this point. "Every day of peace with the Clans is another day that the Inner Sphere is better prepared to fight them when the invasion restarts. Even if you have to give them technology, we're getting the same, and we'll still have the stronger position with the Alliance on our side."

"Prince Victor's right, our situation will be better," Jarod added. "With the Reich defeated, our ships are free to deal more decisively with the Clans. However more powerful they grow, they can't fight the Inner Sphere and the Allied Systems at once."

Julia nodded, but the frown on her face told of how much she was still leery of the outcome of Jarod's suggestion. She looked at Colonel Wolf. "Colonel, could we do it? Is this a solution?"

Wolf nodded. "It could work. The Nazi German Reich gaining your interuniversal drives is still a possibility, and it is the sort of threat that the Wardens believe the Clans exist to fight. Some of the Crusaders may also see the advantages of blooding their newest cadres in battle before the renewal of the Invasion. But they will not agree lightly, that you can be sure of. Your people will need to decide what they are willing to pay to secure Clan assistance, and a deferment of the Invasion." The Colonel allowed the smallest smile to show on his face, with Maran getting his attention for the next comments. "As for the Dragoons, my successor has agreed with me that if this threat is prevented, the Wolf Dragoons are ready to accept a contract with the Allied Systems to fight in your war. And we have contacts with many other elite mercenary formations in the Inner Sphere that will be open to similar offers."

"A generous offer, Colonel Wolf," Maran answered. "The President and I will bring the matter straight to the rest of Defense Command once this matter is resolved."

"Regrettably, I cannot make a similar offer." Focht shook his head. "The ComGuards are needed in the Inner Sphere. All I can pledge is that ComStar is ready to expand its current relations with the Alliance and that the First Circuit will consider more extensive joint research and technology agreements."

"Of course." The Admiral looked to the rest of those assembled. "We'll bring Commander Jarod's proposal before the leadership in tomorrow's opening meetings. I would like to have you there as well, Captain, as well as Commander Andreys. You are also all invited to this evening's banquet. Formal dress uniforms, of course."

Robert looked over the others. Maran hadn't said it, but it was blatantly obvious that "invitation" was silently joined with "ordered". And that mean wearing dress uniforms, a task that nobody took with any relish.

So of course he answered, "We'll be there, sir."

"Be ready to transport down at 1900 standard," Maran said. "This meeting is adjourned."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-03 09:50am

Robert and Julia dutifully escorted Maran and the others back to the Transporter Station to see them off. From there it was back to the bridge and to the conference lounge to the side. The transsteel windows showed Tukkayid's vibrant colors and a large starship of one of the F1S1 nations in orbit near them. The others were waiting.

"It's not going to be that easy," Locarno stated. "Warrior cultures don't just talk. You just know they're going to challenge us to a fight at some point."

"He's right." Jarod looked up from a digital reader. "I've been looking over the material we have on the Clans. Going by the reports from ComStar and the Commonwealth, the Clans do everything by combat trials. Even some exchanges of technology and trade can involve ritual combats."

"So what, they're going to ask us to fight them even if they agree to join us against the Nazis?", Angel asked.

"Likely."

"Then we'll need to be ready for that." Robert nodded. "Jarod, keep researching them, and we'll make sure everything's ready for a combat. If the Clans want to fight us, we'll show them just what that means."

"Unless they challenge us to fighting in those big walking tanks." Barnes crossed his arms. "Do we even have anyone who knows how to do that?"

It was a good question. Robert looked to Commander Kane, the Marine officer who commanded the Aurora's Marine detachment. The sandy-haired man shook his head. "We haven't been training to use F1S1's BattleMech systems. Although I've considered some anti-'Mech tactics."

"Would they work?"

"In the right terrain, and with the right employment." Kane nodded. "Our powered armor squad can probably give a few of them a good fight. But unless we sneak up on them, we probably lose, oh, seven times out of ten. Those things have too much armor and too much raw firepower."

"What about air support?" Robert looked to Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent, commander of the Aurora's fighter wing. "The Mongoose fighters have atmospheric flight, don't they?"

Laurent nodded. "Our support munitions may be enough. But I'm sure the enemy will have air support of their own. I will have to assign specific squadrons to air superiority and to ground support."

"I'll leave you to that. Starting tomorrow." Robert checked the time on his omnitool. "As for now, we should adjourn so we can get ready for that banquet. Full dress uniforms. And that means the pants, not the skirt." He looked to Caterina when he said that. She frowned and, for the first time in weeks, put on the full Pout. Robert was, thankfully, immune. "Every leader of the Inner Sphere is going to be present. President Morgan too."

"Whoever came up with the dress uniform was a sadist," mumbled Jarod.

Robert smirked at that. "You won't hear any argument from me on that point."




Tukkayid had once been a minor planet in the grand scheme of the Inner Sphere. There had been little in the way of facilities to host the assemblage now gathering on the world.

Robert and the others could see that in the years since it had become a household name in the Inner Sphere, Tukkayid had changed. ComStar had shining new facilities on the world and had essentially taken the planet over. Then they had gone on a building spree that had raised, among other things, the kind of facilities useful for hosting large scale affairs of state.

The dining hall was at ComStar's main civilian facilities, very close to their military headquarters and the new war college they were constructing. It was a massive hall built specifically for these kinds of summits. The interior had fine, soft carpeting of light blue and gold trim with massive electric chandeliers hanging every twenty feet down the length of the hall. Long tables full of dishes from every major culture stretched down the sides of the hall.

The Aurora and Koenig officers arrived at about 1850 ship time, a full ten minutes before Maran had requested them. They'd beamed down even earlier, just to spend over ten minutes in line with other notables and attendees as the master of ceremonies or whomever it was announced the arrivals one by one, complete with noble titles. The brilliant white of their dress uniforms contrasted to the usual black they wore on their duty uniform jackets. The shoulders had golden board epaulets with tassels of the same color hanging down from the epaulets. The various medals and commendations they'd won - including the shiny new Senate Order of Merit that Robert, Meridina, and Jarod had gotten for stopping the Gersallian Dissenter attack on the Senate - were glinting from their places over the left breast of their jackets.

When they finally got to the door, a Caucasian man approaching middle-age in a fine dark suit met them. "Sirs?"

"Captain Dale and crew," Robert said.

"Of course, sir." The MoC turned to the hall. He activated a microphone at his throat to be heard across the hall. "Now presenting Captain Robert Allen Dale of the United Alliance of Systems Stellar Navy, Commanding Officer of the Alliance Starship Aurora, with command officers." The man's accent was not the snooty English accent that a near-quarter century of 20th Century television had trained Robert's subconscious to associate with such pomp. It instead had a deliberate Midwestern tone. "Commander Julia Megan Andreys, First Officer. Commander Montgomery…"

"Seriously?", muttered Barnes, as the MoC insisted on naming each and every one of them, full names with rank and position, so that it took over a minute to introduce them. Then came Zack and his crew, but since he only had five officers with him that was mercifully quick.

Once they were done Julia looked to the others. "Let's be careful what we say or do here. Everything here will be taken politically."

"So what are we supposed to do?" The question came from Caterina, who looked both uncomfortable and disappointed. "I mean, if someone starts to talk to us?"

"Then be as courteous as you can be," Robert said.

"Or just talk science at them until they get bored," was Angel's response. She grinned at her younger and smaller sister. "That usually works."

Instead of a happy retort, Cat smiled thinly at her sister's jest and walked on toward one of the tables.

The crews dispersed across the room to find food. A little rumble in his stomach reminded Robert about his small breakfast and lunch, and that he had an immediate need to find something. A passing waiter was kind enough to offer something from a small creme-topped pastries that were delicious, if rich. A second waiter offered him a glass, which he took absentmindedly. Robert was more focused on scanning the room to see if he recognized anyone he had already met during their tour of the Inner Sphere.

Officials from all of the Inner Sphere states were present. They provided an interesting contrast with various forms of dress. Davion suits had more of a martial flair to them, even if they were distinctly Western, while the Lyran parts of the FedCom delegation were dressed up to the nines.

"Captain."

The German accent in the voice would have been enough for Robert to recognize the speaker, even if he hadn't recognized the tone. He turned and nodded to Prince Victor. Victor was in the company of Jerry Cranston, as expected, and a large middle-aged man with graying red hair. "Highness," Robert answered respectfully, offering his hand. "You were pretty silent earlier today."

"I felt Focht and Wolf had more to say," Victor replied. He gestured to the red-haired man. "This is my Marshal of the Armies, Morgan Hasek-Davion, Duke of Syrtis and head of the Capellan March."

Robert nodded to the man. He was, if Robert remembered the family tree he'd seen, a cousin to Victor, the son of an aunt. "Marshal," he said. He took Morgan's hand and they shook. "A pleasure to meet you."

"The same. Victor's told me that your visit to New Avalon was the highlight of the year for him." Morgan nodded. "I saw the vids from the press on Victor's tour of your ship, so I can see why."

Robert answered with a nod. There was admittedly more to why Victor would feel that way. But given everything he knew about the court politics of F1S1, Robert knew that some things were best left unsaid. "I hope the people of the Commonwealth share your opinions. I'd like to think that we have enough in common that Alliance-Commonwealth relations will always be good. But I understand that it's going to take some time and patience. The existence of the Multiverse is a lot to take in for your people."

"It has been," Victor said. "But…"

He stopped speaking. Robert could see his eyes were drawn toward the door. Cranston had a reserved look on his face. Robert felt something of the emotions from both men. A feeling of distrust, dislike, a sense of broken promises and trust, the latter particularly strong in Cranston.

Robert turned now and faced the same direction as the others. At the opening of the door was a tall, splendid-looking woman, immensely beautiful and wearing an ice blue sleeveless dinner gown and a jeweled tiara. Long wintry green dinner gloves went up past the elbow of her bare arms. Her blond hair was the same color as Victor's, done up in an elaborate braid and ponytail at the back of her head.

"Presenting Her Royal Highness Princess Katherine…" There was a hushed remark. "...I am sorry, Katrina Morgan Steiner-Davion," the MoC said. "Regent on Tharkad, Duchess of…" He listed off several titles. Some were presumably courtesy titles of some sort or another.

"Your sister," Robert murmured.

"Yes."

"I didn't get the chance to meet her," Robert said. "The Aurora ended its tour at Orestes. What's she like?"

There was no answer from the two men, or from Morgan. But Robert could sense that had they given an honest answer, it would have been unkind. And seeing that Katrina was making her way toward them, he decided not to press.

"Victor, it is good to see you," Katrina said amiably. "I hope New Avalon is treating you well, little brother." A teasing smile crossed her face.

"Well enough," Victor answered, smiling quietly. "My congratulations to you on the job you're doing on Tharkad."

"Keeping our people safe and happy is a pleasure." Katrina turned to face Robert. Their heights were close, so her eyes lifted to face him, crystal blue in their color. "And you are Captain Dale. I'm thankful to finally get the chance to meet you, Captain. I regret that you didn't give Tharkad a visit as you did the other capitals of the Inner Sphere."

There was something to the remark that told Robert there was more to it. Ignoring that, Robert pressed on. "Yes. I had hoped to see your world too, but since we had already met the leader of the Commonwealth, Defense Command felt it necessary to send us on."

"I see." She extended a hand. "Better late than never, I suppose. Thank you for your assistance in the Joshua Marik matter, Captain. I hope that it is merely the beginning of your Alliance's involvement in the Inner Sphere."

Robert took it and kept his eyes on her as they shook hands. As they did so his life force senses flared up. Her hand felt cold, unnaturally so, and it took a moment for Robert to realize the sensation of cold wasn't physical, but through her life energy.

He focused quietly on that, on Katrina herself. Not deep enough to see anything, certainly not to the level of reading minds or sensing current motions, just a sense of who he was with.

For a moment Robert thought he was being pulled by something. There was an inexorable force within Katrina. A vortex of some sort…

No. A maw. A hungry, ravening maw demanding to be sated, capable of anything if it meant satiation. The sense of pure desire was frightening in its intensity, hidden as it was below the veneer of quiet composure and familial ribbing that Katrina had kept up. Robert got the sense that he could be drawn in, used up, and spat back out once he no longer met the needs of that hunger.

The sensation of the feeling was enough that he froze in mid-handshake. A look of bewilderment bordering on distaste flashed across Katrina's features. It was enough to jolt Robert back to movement. "Oh, sorry," he said, sounding sheepish, which wasn't hard as it wasn't an act. "I'm afraid I've got a lot on my mind, Highness."

"Of course." Katrina was clearly not convinced, but it was obvious she didn't know what to think.

Robert's strange reaction to Katrina hadn't gone unnoticed. "Hello," said a friendly voice, as Julia stepped in. She nodded to Victor and to Katrina. "Your Highnesses."

"Ah. Commander Andreys." Victor extended a hand and she accepted it. "This is my sister, Princess Katherine, my regent on Tharkad overseeing the Lyran half of our united realm. And our cousin, Marshal Morgan Hasek-Davion."

Julia nodded, still smiling warmly, and accepted handshakes from them and from Jerry Cranston as well. Robert could tell she was aware something was up, given the way she was drawing the attention of the group to herself. "Katherine, or is it Katrina?", she asked the other woman.

Katrina was looking at Julia with interest, and now a small smile. "I was born Katherine and Victor's used to using that name for me. But I've taken my grandmother's name now."

"Ah. Well, I'll go with Princess Katrina then. I'm Commander Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora, First Officer."

"Indeed." Katrina's smile remained amiable. "It seems you and I have similar positions, then."

"We run the day-to-day things while the boys get all the credit?" Julia chuckled. "Something like that. And I regret that we never got to visit Tharkad, I've heard it's an amazing world."

"Yes, quite…"

Talking to Julia seemed to draw Katrina's interest, and the two walked off together, leaving Robert to collect his thoughts while Victor and Cranston looked on in stony silence.

Robert felt unsettled by his experience. He'd never felt such an immediate sensation from meeting someone. At best, he could get a good sense of current feelings and honesty. But that feeling from Katrina, that ravenous maw, left his heart racing and his head woozy.

"You do not look well," Victor observed.

Robert shook his head and swallowed. "I… it was just a shock." He went to excuse the matter by blaming his drink before his short-term memory kicked in, reminding him that he hadn't even started it yet.

"My sister can be… an experience."

The bitter feeling inside of the Archon-Prince returned. Robert looked at him. "Your sister is special. I've never felt an impression like that before."

"Does this have to do with your… abilities?", Cranston asked.

Cranston's question gave Robert a brief, instinctive flare of shock. But it was only a second in length before the instinctive reaction went away. His secret was, for the most part, out. Even if the recordings of the Gersallian Dissenter attack on the Alliance Senate hadn't been fully released, the Gersallians had openly broadcast Meridina's trial before her Order. A trial where his training had been revealed and then demonstrated.

"Yes," he answered. He looked over to where Julia was introducing Katrina to Jarod and Scotty. Looking back to Victor, he added, in a stone tone, "I always had the sense that your feelings toward your sister weren't the best. Now I can understand why."

"What was it?", Victor asked. "What did you sense?"

Robert briefly looked back to Katrina. Even across the room, he thought he could feel that pull. "Hunger," he murmured. "Insatiable hunger."

Victor and Cranston exchanged knowing looks. Robert could see they weren't surprised.

Somehow, that was the scariest part of it all.




After being introduced to a few new faces Angel made her way over to where Cat was staring quietly out of a window, an unfinished plate of pastries in her hand. "Some of this stuff is good," Angel said, indicating a rich-tasting fish filet on her plate. "You can't just eat pastries the whole time."

"They make me feel better." Cat sighed. "I wish they'd let Violeta come with us."

Angel rested her free hand on Caterina's shoulder. "She can't go everywhere with you."

"I know. But this is… I mean, she would love it here." Cat took her last bite and finished what she had after some chewing. "I never thought being in love would feel like this. I'm not even in my labs as often now. I'd rather be with Violeta."

"I know what it's like," Angel said.

"Yeah, you would." Cat looked over and up at her sister. "Are you and Rob… I mean, I know you're upset with all of the things he's doing now. Are you...?"

"We're still together. Technically." After saying that Angel sighed. "It's complicated, Cat. I know for you it's going well right now, but over time… well, things get in the way."

"He's breaking your heart again, isn't he?"

"Maybe… I don't know." Angel shook her head. "It was all so easy when I came to him last year. But now this 'life force' stuff, and…. other things that have come up."

"That prophecy stuff you heard on Gersal?", Cat inquired.

"That." Angel drew in a breath. "During that mission we went on to rescue Jarod, one of the people who helped us was this Zigonian named Kasszas."

"The blind one?" Seeing Angel's curious look, Cat answered the unasked question by saying, "Jarod mentioned him a few weeks ago."

"Yeah, that one." Angel looked out the window and let the memory come through her. "I… asked him if there was a way to remove Rob's abilities. He said no. And then he said I didn't love Rob anymore."

Cat frowned and furrowed her brow. "Well, that was a pretty mean thing to say."

"I thought so too." Angel nodded in agreement. "But I keep thinking back to that... He said I was trying to love an image of Rob and not the real thing. That I had to accept his powers in order to love him." Angel shook her head. "Just like that. I had to accept something that's tormenting Rob every damned night, it feels like. Half of the time I'm waking up and finding him curled up on the bed. Or he wakes me up screaming something." Angel shook her head. "And I'm supposed to accept that. But I won't."

"Leo said there's no way to remove this stuff from him, though."

"There has to be a way," Angel insisted. "Something nobody's thought of yet. You're into science, can't you find…"

"I'm not a biologist," Cat protested. "I mean, I know some basic things, but my specialties are in entirely different fields. I wouldn't know where to start when it comes to life force stuff." She frowned. "Besides, isn't that stuff good? I mean…"

By then it was too late. Angel was already giving her an angry look. "It gives him nightmares all of the time, Cat, so no, I don't think it's good."

"But without the powers, the Nazis would have killed me," Cat said. "Robert needed them to save me."

"We could have found another way," Angel insisted.

"I don't think…" Cat stopped. She could tell from Angel's expression that this conversation was going nowhere. She set the plate she had down on the window sill and took her sister's hand. "Angel, I don't want to see you hurt. But I'm worried about this. What Robert's got now… whatever it is, I don't think it's something you get rid of. Not with science anyway. Maybe it's just something… it's a change and you have to go with it. Or…" Seeing that was upsetting her sister, Cat sighed. "Violeta and I have this thing, Angel… we always ask each other before we… well, before we do anything. And she was pretty clear on letting me take the lead because I'm new at the whole 'lesbian relationship' thing. That's because we both have to be happy for the relationship to work. I mean, obviously not happy all of the time, but…"

Angel was starting to tune her sister out. That wasn't something she normally did. But it felt like Cat was saying the same thing to her. She had to accept it. She had to accept this… this curse that Robert had taken up, and should give up finding a way to cure him of it.

Maybe I should, was her brief thought on the matter. But some part of her instinctively rejected that. These abilities, this power, was destroying their relationship. She felt like they were getting to the point where they weren't even together anymore, just… what, friends with benefits?

And I don't want that anymore. Not with him.

Caterina finished speaking. "You stopped paying attention to me," she said with a hint - more than a hint, really - of accusation in her voice.

"I'm sorry," Angel said. She looked down at her plate and put it on the sill. "I'm… I'm not hungry."

"Angel…" Cat reached for her sister's arm, but she was too slow. Angel tromped off into the crowd, looking very much like she wanted to be alone.




The Master of Ceremonies began to call out new arrivals again. These new arrivals were clad differently from the other groups, wearing Japanese-style formal robes and suits, with the black dragon-on-red disc insignia of the Draconis Combine stitched into the torso areas of the robes. An East Asian man of graying dark hair was immediately recognizable to Robert: Coordinator Theodore Kurita.

He had little stake, emotionally, in the arrival of another Inner Sphere potentate and family. But he could feel Victor's emotions shift, longing and need taking over from the lingering irritation and distrust of dealing with Katrina. That won his attention and Robert soon looked back again, even as the Ceremonies master introduced "The Keeper of the Honor of the House of Kurita", a woman in a red and black kimono with her long dark hair pulled back into a formal knot at the rear of her head. She looked nearly thirty, probably a few years older than Robert. Bright blue eyes scanned the crowd and faced Robert. Her expression remained fixed. Nevertheless Robert could feel a joy within her, the joy of seeing someone who met much to her.

He looked over and felt nearly the same from Victor, tinged with bittersweet feelings. Cranston was looking at Victor with a little concern. "Huh," Robert murmured. "And I thought my love life was complicated."

"Whoever you want to be with, you don't have to worry about provoking a civil war by marrying them," Victor lamented.

"Eloping to Las Vegas wouldn't exactly work for you two either, would it?", Robert sighed.

That got him a harsh laugh from the Prince. "If only…" Victor shook his head. "The Archon-Prince of the Federated Commonwealth marrying the Keeper of the Family Honor of the Draconis Combine is the sort of wedding that requires all sorts of state protocols and functions. Including dowries and gifts."

"You mean that your people would be convinced you were going to give up worlds to the Combine in any gift exchange. But I've met Theodore, he's not stupid enough to push for something like that…"

"He would have to have something for show to avoid domestic problems," Cranston pointed out. "And popular opinion in the Commonwealth would never allow that."

Robert's response was to rub at his forehead. "Just whose bright idea was it to set up aristocracy and feudalism in the Inner Sphere, anyway?"

"Michael Cameron," Victor answered nonchalantly. "Although feudalism has mostly been a result of the Succession Wars."

"I thought some of the old Earth nobility still existed in some Alliance states?", asked Cranston.

"Well, I think some do," Robert admitted. "European and Arab royal families. But they don't have these kinds of politics involved in their marriages anymore." He shook his head and gave Victor a look that he hoped was comforting. "I'm sorry. I can only imagine how much it hurts for you."

"And what about you?", Victor asked. "The way you're talking, you have your own relationship problems."

"Well, nothing to the level of a civil war over them." Robert shook his head. "For me it's more of a question if I'm even going to have a relationship for much longer. Between my duty to train in my… abilities, and my duties as a captain…"

Victor gave him a sympathetic look. "Duty and love don't always go together."

"You're right about that." Robert cleared his throat. "Well, enough of that I guess. We still have to figure out what we're going to do about the Clans."

"That's what the strategy meetings are for tomorrow."

"Maybe. But I've already started to think of something with the others." Robert gave Victor a thoughtful look. "How much do you know about the Clans' combat trials?"




The following day Robert, Julia, and Jarod were the ones to beam down to join President Morgan and Admiral Maran at the grand strategy meeting. The ComStar conference room was arranged with tables in a curved line across the room, all facing a raised dais and podium marked with the ComStar insignia and with a holotank above and behind it.

There was no difficulty in finding the Alliance table - President Morgan had been given a place between the Marik and Kurita tables on the right side. The Commonwealth was represented by one table with both Victor and Katrina sitting at it. Robert didn't recognize the woman who was with Katrina, although her military uniform gave her rank as a Marshal, while Victor had Marshal Hasek-Davion at his side as well as another man, with a full beard of wolf-gray hair and a head of hair to match. His uniform was different, clearly that of a mercenary.

Focht was directing the briefing. "We have determined more about what is going on in Clan territory," he said. "And the news is grave." He gripped the podium. "A few weeks ago, the Wolf Clan Council convened a trial hearing to hear accusations leveled against ilKhan Ulric Kerensky by the Clan Loremaster, Dalk Carns, who is a known Crusader."

"What was he accused of?", asked the wolf-haired man at Victor's table.

"Treason, Your Grace," replied Focht. "The charges are spurious, that much is clear, but the newest generation of warriors in the Clans are opposed to the Truce and are pushing the conviction. From what we have gathered, Loremaster Carns leveled a very grave and heavy accusation against the ilKhan. He accused him of plotting genocide against the Clan."

"That sounds farfetched," noted Thomas Marik. "How could such an outrageous charge hold weight?"

"Our sources in the Wolf Clan state the charge is based on the Truce, that the Truce was planned to destroy the warrior caste," Wolf said. "It is a ridiculous charge, but it is one that the Crusaders can take advantage of. Ulric's actual actions are irrelevant. The Crusaders want the Invasion to resume. Presumably they have hoped that Ulric would renounce the Truce to save himself."

"Then we must prepare for war." This came from Sun-Tzu Liao, Chancellor of the Capellan Confederation. The sharp-eyed Asian man was flanked by his red-haired sister and one of his high military officers. "The Clans will be resuming their campaign."

"As things stand, that is the most likely outcome." Focht looked to the Alliance table. "Although we may have one last chance to prevent it. President Morgan?"

Henry Morgan stood. He looked every inch the seasoned statesman, and his business-like suit - a dark blue jacket with seamless sealed cuffs over a silk white shirt and green tie - was in sharp contrast to the ostentatious uniforms of the Inner Sphere leadership. "The Allied Systems are ready to assist the Inner Sphere in resisting Clan aggression," Morgan said. "Although it is our hope to prevent a resumption of the hostilities so that the conflict with the Nazi German Reich is not prolonged. As many of you are aware, we suffered a setback nearly two months ago that has cost us some of our reserve. And I shouldn't need to point out that regardless of our success in preventing the Reich from gaining control of the Darglan Facility at Gamma Piratus, the longer the war rages, the more likely the Reich will manage to discover how to use IU drives through examination of the ships we've lost in action within their territories. So we must put all of our efforts into preventing this potential Clan threat."

"Do you have a proposal on how to persuade the Clans to uphold the Truce, Mister President?", Katrina asked from the Commonwealth table.

Morgan nodded at her. "I do. Precentor-Martial Focht has informed me that the Clans' upcoming meeting is on the planet Tamar." He held a hand toward Robert and the others. "It is my intention to send Captain Dale and his ship to Tamar to open our first diplomatic contact with the Clans and to secure, by any means possible, their cooperation."

Theodore Kurita nodded from his table. "That is, perhaps, the best chance we have. Seeing your vessel and some of the technological advantages your Alliance enjoys may cause even the militant Clans to reconsider."

"Although it will not be easy." Colonel Wolf was speaking up next, from his own table near Focht. "If you have read the reports I made available, it is clear that the prolonged peace is causing enormous strain within the warrior caste. Many of the younger generations of warriors are insisting on new conflicts. I fear that the Truce will not last despite the Alliance's presence."

Robert gave Maran a look. Maran stood. "I believe Captain Dale and his officers have a suggestion to propose to the summit."

"We are prepared to hear him," said Focht.

Robert stood and looked over the assembled leaders of the Inner Sphere, from the hollow visage of Rasalhague's Elected Prince Haakon Magnusson to Victor to the emissaries from the Periphery realms of the Magistracy of Canopus and the Taurian Concordat. "I've been discussing this issue with my officers while examining our material on the Clans. Commander Jarod has found a possible solution that will ease this… pressure on the Clans' internal affairs. But it's going to have a long-term cost, and I can't suggest it at Tamar unless the leaders of the Inner Sphere, and President Morgan, are ready to consider it." Robert drew in a breath before continuing. "We could offer the Clans a part in the war with the Reich."

"Which means they would also get access to the same technologies you are offering us, correct?", asked Thomas Marik.

"Yes, Captain-General sir. They would."

A few protesting voices arose. "You can't!", Magnusson cried. "We're already under enough threat, with your technology the Clans would overwhelm what's left of the Republic in a day!"

"What if they insist you remain neutral in a renewal of the invasion?" This was from Katrina. "There has to be a line that you will not cross."

"I would never intend to offer that term, not without guarantees… or as a calculated risk for an immense benefit," Robert insisted.

"Or as a means for the Alliance to abandon the Inner Sphere to the Clans," charged one of the Lyran officers with Katrina.

"That is not our intention," Morgan stated flatly. "And I will not allow it to come to that."

"So you would betray any such term if it's made with the Clans? How could anyone trust you…"

Before Sun-Tzu could continue, Robert spoke up again. "If I were to even consider such a thing, it would be to meet a Clan offer to end the Invasion for now."

"The Clans already agreed to a fifteen year truce. We are only five years into that truce and they are already planning to break it." Sun-Tzu shook his head. "I cannot accept such an agreement. It would be base treachery by the Alliance against the Inner Sphere. Indeed, I am deeply suspicious of this entire concept now."

Robert met the Capellan ruler's glare with an understanding look. "I understand your skepticism. But your people have fought beside ours, we're not going to abandon you like that. All I'm asking is for leeway to act as I need to if it means stopping the Clans from rescinding the Truce. Believe me, if it's clear we can't dissuade the Crusaders… if Ulric Kerensky is removed as ilKhan and the Crusaders are preparing to resume the invasion, we'll break off the talks. And the Alliance can prepare to join you in a war with the Clans."

Victor stood. "It's worth a try," he said. "Even if the Clans gain something from joining the war, the Inner Sphere and the Alliance can hold them at the Truce line ten years from now. That's ten years for the Inner Sphere to continue building defenses. Ten years for us to finish off the Reich."

"Not all of us are involved in your little crusade, Prince Victor," Sun-Tzu said. "Do not presume that the Capellan Confederation will jeopardize its defenses to assist in that war."

"Obviously not, Chancellor Sun-Tzu," Victor answered. "But many of us are committed to helping end that threat before it could possibly bring us harm, and that is what I was referring to."

"Regardless of that issue, it is clear we should consider Captain Dale's proposal." Focht put his hands together on the podium. "Let us vote on it by delegation."

The vote was held. The Commonwealth, the Combine, and the St. Ives Compact voted in favor of. The Capellans and Rasalhague voted against. Those assembled looked toward Thomas Marik.

The Captain-General, in turn, looked to the Alliance table and nodded. "The Free Worlds League votes in favor of the Alliance proposal." He studiously ignored the slight displeasure on his future son-in-law Sun-Tzu's face.

Thomas Marik's vote eliminated the tie-breaking vote that Focht and Primus Mori could have employed, as controversial as that might have proven. Robert nodded at Julia and Jarod; their mission was good to go.

Victor stood. "In support of the mission, I propose that an observer be dispatched" Victor looked to the older, wolf-gray-haired man at his table. "Duke Morgan Kell of Arc-Royal is my choice."

The older man nodded.

"Given the short time we have to influence the upcoming Clan Grand Council meeting on Tamar, I would suggest that Captain Dale and his ship be released to depart by this evening," Focht stated. "Are there any objections?"

There were none.



Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 4 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently en route to Tamar and expect to arrive during the evening hours. Grand Duke Kell and a small group of ComStar-provided analysts have been issued quarters for the duration of this mission.

I spent much of the night going over the material on the Clan leadership provided by Colonel Wolf and Precentor-Martial Focht. There are a few ways to approach this problem. I only hope I can read the Clans correctly and find the one that will work.




The lunch crowd in the Lookout was of the standard size. Freshly roused Beta Shift crew were getting their breakfasts while some Alpha Shift personnel took lunch breaks. Robert had opted for lunch in the Lookout in the hopes that Angel would join him. Unfortunately she had other arrangements with Cat, and he was dining alone.

He chewed quietly on the reuben sandwich that Hargert had given him and found that, for all that the mission meant for the future, it was the future of his relationship that he couldn't get his mind off of. He and Angel had always had issues with staying together. Family obligations - Robert to the (eternally struggling) family farm, Angel to watching her then-underage little sister - inevitably got in the way of things, and then would come the arguments, the recriminations, and a breakup. A few weeks, or a few months in some cases, would pass, then they'd meet up in a social setting and become friendly, just for the cycle to lead to hooking back up and straight on that same path as before. This entire cycle had started in high school and continued on into early adulthood, and it left Robert wondering if he was cursed to continue it.

It felt so different this time. Like knowing we could die out here made it easier to keep things going. Our obligations weren't interfering… not at first.

A small burning sensation of guilt came to Robert. How much of this was because he knew he could stop these issues easily? All he had to do was tell Meridina he was done with training. That he was satisfied with his level of control and that he needed to focus on other things? That was what was supposed to happen, after all. All of those months, he had trained under the impression that he was only ensuring basic control of his abilities, of what the Gersallians called "swevyra", and he had promised Angel he'd have more time for her once that training was over. But with everything that had happened on Gersal, and the revelation that Meridina had intentionally been training Robert and Lucy Lucero more extensively than control… With all of that, he had decided to keep training.

Maybe I should take that back, he thought, and not for the first time. Angel deserved better than being third-string in his life behind his captain duties and his life force ability training.

And like every time he thought of that, he remembered other things. He remembered the Prophecy of the Dawn, as Mastrash Ledosh and Meridina had describe, and he remembered the message in the Darglan Facility on Gamma Piratus. The warning about "the Darkness". And his dreams, his nightmares, of stars going out across the galaxies of the universe…

Robert might have stuck himself into another cycle of thought if not for the new arrival. "Captain Dale," said a voice made hoarse by age, but still tempered with the firmness of command. Robert looked up from his meal to face Morgan Kell. The ex-mercenary commander had a plate of his own. "May I?"

"Oh… yes, yes of course."

Morgan sat. "You reminded me of the monks I once lived with," he said. "But it was rare to see someone so intent upon their thoughts, even in those days. Does this mission trouble you?"

"It wasn't about the mission," Robert admitted. "There were other… things on my mind, you could say."

"Ah." Morgan took a small drink from a cup. Robert couldn't tell what was in it. "I'm curious about how your crew seems to operate on duty. It's not the military style I would expect."

"It would be on other ships," Robert said. "But for vessels in direct Alliance service, with crews from different species and different cultures, we had to find a good median point. Alakins require more sleep than Humans, for instance, from a medical standpoint, but they are more alert while awake and require fewer breaks."

"Ah, yes." Morgan nodded. "I am still getting used to the idea of non-Human life. I actually felt sorry for the first alien delegation that I hosted on Arc-Royal, those… Tarans? Tarians?"

"Turians?", Robert offered.

"Ah, yes. Turians." Morgan nodded. "They were an interesting sort. They came to inspect my family's BattleMech factory and observe the Kell Hounds in field exercises. But they spent most of their time dodging reporters and dealing with culture shock."

"I'm not surprised. Ever since first contact with the Inner Sphere, people have been looking into your BattleMechs as a possible new weapon system."

"I've been considering installing mass effect weapons on BattleMechs myself. The chance to have autocannons without heavy ammunition requirements, or explosive ammunition, is compelling." Morgan took a bite from a sandwich on his plate. Once he was finished, he spoke again. "My son is a Khan in the Clans, you know."

Robert blinked. "What?" With a movement of his hand he activated his new omnitool and brought up a data display of the known Clan leaders. "Which? I mean, how is that possible?"

"He is Khan Phelan Ward in the Wolves," Morgan continued. "They let him compete for the Bloodname because his mother is descended from a Star League officer, Jal Ward, who joined Aleksandr Kerensky's exodus over two hundred years ago. Ward ended up being one of Nicholas' eight hundred followers."

Robert found the name, and with it the image. In fact, once he started reading over the ComStar bio Morgan's words were quickly confirmed. He felt a little embarrassed at not knowing this. I've been focusing on reading up about the Crusader Khans since they'll be the ones I'm having to fight the most.

It was clear Morgan knew the "why" of Robert's ignorance. He made no comment on it. "I have a vested stake in your mission, Captain, as you now see." Morgan sighed. "While my Kell Hounds will most likely fight the Jade Falcons and Steel Vipers instead of the Wolves, the Invasion resuming means that my son and I will be enemies again."

"Your son's with the Warden faction, right?"

"The Wardens may oppose continuing the Invasion, but they are obligated to fight if it restarts. Knowing Phelan, he will throw his full energy into getting the Wolves to Terra first."

"Because Earth is their goal," Robert noted. "The first Clan to reach Earth gets to take charge over all of the other Clans."

"Exactly."

"But that's not enough, not if they want to reunite the Inner Sphere under their leadership." Robert shook his head. "I mean, Earth has some strategic value, being in the dead center of the Inner Sphere. But throwing everything they have into seizing it first makes no sense. They're creating long flank lines that the Inner Sphere can exploit."

"The Clans are used to winning in the end, and to quick and decisive battles," Morgan reminded Robert. "Strategy is not always their strong suit." The older man sighed. "And I fear it may eventually lead to Phelan's death. I have already mourned him once. I don't wish to go through that again."

"Yeah." Robert noddded. "I don't blame you. I know what it's like to lose the people that you love. And I'll do what I can, Duke Kell. I'll find a way to keep the Truce." And maybe, if we're lucky, it may not be so temporary in the long run




With the Koenig docked Tom Barnes was back in his usual role of being Scotty's #2 man in Engineering. And it was work he preferred; the Koenig was a little asskicker of a ship, but it sucked to live on it, and that was what Tom would have to do if it went out for any extended missions before Karen Derbely finished her operations and rehabilitation from getting most of her body flash-fried by coolant plasma.

For the moment, he was looking over the plasma feed line leading into Nacelle Pylon 3, the lower starboard pylon on the ship. An engineering rate Crewman, Gabe Howell, was standing beside him with a tool. "Do you see what I mean, sir?", he asked.

Barnes looked back to his own scan results, displayed on his nice new omnitool. He delighted in operating the holographic device. "Yeah," he sighed. "Yeah, I can see that. Looks like a fault in the valve." Barnes tapped a hard-light key on the omnitool display. "Barnes to Scott."

"I'm here, lad," was the reply from his mentor.

"Howell's right. The valve on Feed 3B is stuck in the open position."

"Alright then. I'll have the backups brought online. Go ahead an' get a replacement valve from th' shop."

"On my way." Barnes looked to Howell. "Let me know if anything else happens, I'm going to get a replacement valve built."

"Yes sir," the young engineering crewman replied.

Barnes smiled thinly to that as he walked away. This was the part he loved about this life. He wasn't just an engineer, he was an engineer on one of the most advanced machines that an engineer could ever imagine. Forget designing a car or a jet, he had helped to design, and was helping to run, a kilometer-long starship that could go faster than light and hop universes.

He walked up the work ramp for the nacelle pylon to the deck it was attached to. From there it was a short trip around the various machinery spaces and the access doors for them to a turbolift and Deck 25.

In Machine Shop B he went to the bank of fabricators. An engineering officer, Lieutenant Teikue, was overseeing the shop crew. "Lieutenant Barnes, sir?", he asked.

"I need a new plasma-holding valve for one of the feed lines." Barnes brought up his omnitool and looked up the information. "Model… PV210 should do it."

"Yes sir."

Barnes left Teikue to relay the order to his shop workers. For the moment he had nothing to do. A job like this would only take ten or so minutes depending on various factors and he might as well wait.

It was while he was waiting that he recognized a head of curly dark hair nearby. Even without seeing her face, he could see it was Lucy and called out, "Hey Lucy, still working on something?" When she didn't respond he crossed his arms and repeated her name. When a second repeat of said name didn't work, he smirked and said, "Hey, Earth to LL. You there, LL?"

She stopped moving her hand on the control and took in a breath. Lucy turned and gave him a playful death glare. "You know I don't like that nickname. I never have."

"Yeah, I remember. You finally told us that only after a few years and finding the Facility," Barnes replied. "But I didn't know how else to get your attention."

"Shouldn't you be in Engineering helping Scotty?", Lucy asked.

"I'm waiting for them to get me a new plasma valve for one of the Nacelle 3 plasma feeds," he answered. He stepped up closer and noticed the cylindrical object in what looked like a manual fabricator assembly. "Still working on that… laser sword or beamblade or lightsaber, whatever it is?"

Lucy sighed and shook her head. "Yes. But there's still no luck with the crystal issue."

"Have you checked the inventory? We have a few focusing crystal types around."

"And none of them work, they can't handle the energy load," Lucy answered. "I need stronger crystals."

Barnes blinked. "Woh. Did you see what kind of crystal was in that weapon?"

"I got scans, but I'd need a full atomic material scan for that," Lucy said, "and I didn't want to risk taking the blade apart. The Gersallians would have been mad as hell if I had wrecked their relic."

"Huh." Barnes pondered the question. "Well, I'll see what I can find for you. I know some people who are examining new types of crys…" He was interrupted by a tone from his omnitool. Someone was calling him. He tapped the holographic key to open the channel. "Barnes here."

"Tom, I need you to double-check the engines before we get to Tamar," Zack said. "Hajar said something about that plasma coolant line having some irregular results from the testing yesterday."

"How soon are we going to be there?"

"By tonight, I've heard."

At that Barnes rolled his eyes. "Dammit…" He looked to Lucy. "Hey, they're getting me that valve soon, a PV210. Mind getting it from Teikue and taking it to Feed 3B for installation?"

Lucy nodded. "Since you're doing me a solid on my crystal hunt, sure."

"Thanks." He turned away. "I'd better get to the Koenig then. See you around."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-03 09:50am

Robert entered the gymnasium in uniform and quickly found who he was looking for. Julia was standing on a practice mat in a white martial arts gi with a black belt around her waist and her hair pulled into a tight bun at the back of her head. She was in one of her practice stances, moving through a sequence of what looked like t'ai chi moves and holds.

She wasn't alone in this. Angel was standing beside her, doing the same, and they had a new addition to the group. Robert was somewhat surprised to see it was Meridina, wearing the same kind of martial arts gi the others had instead of her usual preferred training vest. She mimicked the movements of Julia and Angel flawlessly.

Politeness demanded Robert remain to the side until they were done. Within a minute Julia did what looked to be the final movement, culminating with her hands coming together, palm-against-palm, in what looked almost like a "praying" gesture. She let out a final breath and her body relaxed. "Well, there we are," she said. She looked to Robert and grinned. "One of these days, Rob, I'm going to get you into this."

"Well, you've got Angel and Meridina now…"

"...and Lucy," Julia added. Her grin remained. "When she's not spending all of her time in the Machine Shop trying to build a new light sword."

"It is an interesting discipline." Meridina nodded to Julia. "And it served Lucy against Mastrash Goras."

"And I only gave her one lesson," Julia pointed out. "If she'd been fully trained, I'm not sure Goras could have landed a hit. Not with anything physical anyway." Julia looked to Robert again.

He was, in turn, embracing Angel for a moment. She gave him a small kiss on the cheek and pulled away. "We don't have long, right?", she asked.

Robert shook his head. "Maybe an hour. Locarno will let me know when we're fifteen minutes out. If need be we'll slow to make sure we're ready when we get there…"

"I'm going to shower. See you on the bridge." Angel nodded to him and walked to the exit.

Meridina gave Robert a sad look. "I am sorry."

"Sorry for…?", he asked.

"For undermining your relationship with Angel," Meridina answered. "If it were not so important to continue your training…"

"Is it?", Robert asked. He was still looking at the door that Angel had just walked through. "What if we dialed it back a little? Maybe a couple nights a week?"

"By all rights we should be doing more, Robert," Meridina pointed out. "You still have much to learn in how to use your swevyra."

Meridina had been gentle in her reminder of his relative lack of capability. He still had trouble dueling Lucy, who only had six months of training on him, and even in comparison to her his advancement in most of the relevant abilities was lacking.

It wasn't the first time Robert had felt frustrated, or even dejected, about his lack of progress. But now it added to his frustration over his failing relationship with Angel. He frowned. "I'm having trouble making the time for what I do now, Meridina. Maybe…" Robert shrugged. "...I don't know. I'm starting to think that maybe I should just accept that this as far as I'm going in terms of my force abilities and end the training."

Meridina listened to him say those words. For a brief moment there was a small flinch on her features, joined by a quivering of her heart. Whatever it had been, she forced it away. "I understand your frustration with your progress Robert. But not everyone advances as fast as Lucy has. You are advancing at the pace I would expect. It is possible that you may never have the same capability in combat, yes..."

"Then what's this for?", Robert asked pointedly. "I mean, I've got the mental control down, I'm not going to give in to my darkest impulses, you can be sure of that. But if I'm never going to be able to fight alongside you and Lucy with these abilities, maybe I should just call it quits. Before I give up something I don't have to."

"I understand that I may be asking much of you. It is a sacrifice. But I believe it a necessary one. You need to learn how to better harness your talents."

Meridina's words were spoken gently. But they cut deeply regardless.

Part of that may have even contributed to what came next. To the instinctive, defensive reaction that led Robert to responding, "Maybe I don't think that sacrifice is worth it anymore."

Meridina looked at him closely. For a moment he thought she would initiate some sort of mental contact, a connection to gauge if he really meant that. In the end all she did was nod. "I see. If that is how you feel, if it is the path that your swevyra is guiding you toward, then I respect it. Please let me know later if this is the way you wish things to go."

Without another word, Meridina walked away.

Even before she reached the door, Robert could feel the pain welling up inside of her. The only thing keeping him from recanting on the spot was his own surprise that he said that to her.

He was even more surprised by the sudden jolt of pain in the back of his head. "Yow!", he cried out in surprise.

When he turned his head to face the source of the slap, he found himself staring into a pair of infuriated aquamarine eyes. "In all of our years together, Robert Allen Dale," Julia began, anger lacing every word, "you have rarely been more of a thoughtless idiot than you were just now." As he drew in a breath to speak Julia interrupted. "You really want to do that? To bring up 'sacrifices' and if they're worth it?" She pointed to the door with a single finger. "To her. That woman gave up everything, Rob. She walked away from the organization that gave her life purpose, that… that she spent her whole life wanting to be a part of… to stay with us, to train you and Lucy. Because she thought it was the right thing to do. And you want to whine about making sacrifices to her."

Julia stopped. Robert swallowed and shook his head. "I was out of line," he admitted.

"Waaaay out of line." Julia shook her head. "Listen, I get it. Angel is… Angel. She wants a boyfriend who'll be there when the night's over and who will spend time with her."

"Yeah."

"But you can't, Rob," Julia pointed out. "You couldn't from the start. And if Angel can't live with that… then maybe you two shouldn't be together now."

"But we were doing so well," Robert insisted. "Before this life force thing came up, I was making time, and she was accepting when I couldn't, and it was working. We were compromising, recognizing mistakes… we were doing everything right for a change. It felt like this was it and we had finally made it work!" He sighed. "And then this training started and the whole thing just… derailed."

Julia nodded. She spread her arms and took him into a hug. "I'm sorry, Robby," she murmured into his ear. "I'm sorry that you two might not work out after all. But sometimes… it just isn't meant to be."

She could feel him breathe heavily as part of a sigh. After a half minute of holding tightly they pulled away from each other. "I need to go shower and get into my uniform," Julia said. "You should freshen up to."

"I'm heading to the shower now," Robert answered. "I'll see you on the bridge, Julia."

Julia nodded in quiet agreement.




Everyone assembled on the bridge in time for their arrival. Locarno brought the Aurora out of warp just inside the lunar orbit of the planet. Caterina was quick to confirm scan results. "It looks like there are six armed ships of capital ship size in orbit. The ComStar records and the IFF codes confirm them as warships of the six invading Clans. There are several dozen ships of smaller size. I think it's their non-jump capable 'DropShips'." Cat looked over something. "They're definitely reacting to our arrival. They're launching fighters."

"If they know anything about us, they know we can be in combat range in minutes," Julia remarked.

"I know. So let's start this right. Jarod, put me on with the local authorities."

"You're on."

"Attention, Wolf Clan leadership, and those of the other Clans," Robert began. "I am Captain Robert Dale of the Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. I've come to open communication with the Clan Grand Council on behalf of President Henry Morgan and the government of the Alliance. I request safe passage, or safcon as you call it, to orbital space in order to speak with the Council."

For several moments there was quiet. A gruff voice finally replied, "We have received your message, Captain Robert. Standby."

"Did he just use your first name?", Angel asked. "That's pretty rude, right?"

"It's how the Clans address others," Julia said. "Given names only. Only Bloodnames are recognized."

"Well, I guess Jarod will feel right at home," Locarno said. That caused a bemused grin to come to Jarod's face.

When a voice came over the other end, it was the rough voice of a woman just starting to sound like she was entering her elderly years. "This is Khan Natasha Kerensky of the Wolf Clan. Your request for safcon is granted, Captain."

Robert recognized the name immediately. He'd heard that Khan Kerensky was not simply a Clan leader, but had been a feared mercenary commander in the Inner Sphere for decades before returning to the Clans. "Thank you, Khan Kerensky. We'll assume a standard orbit immediately."

"The ilKhan is going to present your request to the Grand Council shortly. We will inform you if they are willing to hear you speak. That is all."

"Nick, put us in standard orbit."

"And right under all of their guns," Angel murmured. "And I guess we don't have permission to raise shields?"

"Not unless they lock on us first."

"Right." Julia nodded in agreement. "Somehow I think taking defensive precautions after they've promised to give us safe conduct will not go over well. It would be saying we don't trust them." She looked at Robert. 'So, who's going down?"

"I want to make an impression. You, Zack, Meridina, Commander Kane, and Jarod. Get Lucy up here to take Jarod's place. Nick, you just made Lieutenant Commander, please don't get the ship shot up on your first mission after the promotion."

Locarno smirked. "I'll try not to," he answered, taking the remark as the humorous gibe it had been intended to be.

"I'll signal Grand Duke Kell to meet us at Transporter Station 2," Julia said. She brought her omnitool to life in a flash of blue light.

"Alright everyone," Robert said. "Let's go stop a war."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-04 01:56am

On arrival to the landing area in the Wolf Clan headquarters, they were met by two power armor-clad troopers flanking a man in a uniform made of gray leathers. A red star with one elongated point was prominent on the uniform.

But the real identifier was the family resemblance on his face, the look in those green eyes, and the subtle shift of emotion Robert felt in both the man greeting them, and in his own party. So he nodded slightly. "Khan Phelan Ward?", he inquired.

"Yes." Phelan looked away from his father. "The Grand Council is expecting you. Follow me."

Phelan led the way while the two power armor troops - "Elementals" - followed behind them. A series of halls led them to an amphitheater-like room. Eleven other people were seated physically while vidscreens displayed another twenty-two faces. Those present were wearing their own uniforms, colored in the fashion of their totem animals, including fine enameled masks bearing the stylized heads of those same creatures. Falcons, Bears, Jaguars…

Sitting apart from the others, on a raised platform with a podium, were two more figures. One was a gnarled, aged man with multiple cybernetic attachments to his body, with the green-colored uniforms that were evidently those of the Jade Falcons. A middle-aged man sat nearby, wearing the same gray leather suit that Phelan had on. Robert recognized him from the briefing materials Focht had provided: Ulric Kerensky of the Wolves, ilKhan of the Clans.

Ulric stood. "You are all familiar with the reports we have received of a new power in the Inner Sphere," he said. He looked over to Robert and the others while Phelan took a seat near to Ulric, where the red-and-gray-haired Natasha Kerensky was already present. "And now we have come to their attention." Ulric looked to Robert. "As you have ours, Captain." He indicated the middle of the room.

Robert nodded and walked to said point. With the exception of Morgan Kell, who remained standing to the side as an observer, the others joined him. Robert cleared his throat and looked at the array of masked men and women either present or watching from over a thousand light years away. "I am Captain Robert Dale, commander of the Alliance Starship Aurora, here on behalf of President Henry Morgan and the United Alliance of Systems. These are some of my fellow officers. We've come…" He stopped for a moment, noticing the wincing and grumbling from some of the assembled. "...we have come to address the risk that the standing Clan truce with the Inner Sphere is about to be abrogated, and to persuade you to let it stand."

"So you come to join with the usurpers of the noble Star League," a voice boomed. A very, very, very large man stood, wearing light gray leathers with a mottled cape and the enameled mask of a gray-furred jaguar. "You will suffer their fate."

"Let us not be hasty, Khan Osis," one of the Khans on the screens stated. This one had a helmet and mask modeled off of a scorpion; the voice was clearly feminine. "I have seen the records transmitted by the Wolves on this man's vessel. It is clearly of a technological base unknown even to the Star League."

"And that excites you, Khan Suvorov?" The use of the name allowed Robert to connect the dots from the data he'd read: this was clearly Lincoln Osis speaking. "I care not for this. What I do care about is that we now have clear proof of the charges against the ilKhan, that he is conspiring with our enemies out of his misguided hatred of the Crusade."

Phelan jumped to his feet. "Watch what you say about treason, Khan Osis. Or I will meet you in a Circle of Equals."

Lincoln Osis fixed his glare on Phelan. "I do not fear MechWarriors, freebirth. Inside or outside of their machines."

"That is good. I do not fear Elementals either." Phelan smirked. "I have beaten your kind unaugmented before."

A rumble of laughter came from some of the assembled. Robert let it build and fall away before resuming the conversation. "I am not privy to the secrets of ComStar or the Inner Sphere," he said. "But however they learned of them, they told us about your charges against ilKhan Ulric. That you consider him a traitor because you feel the Truce is dooming three generations of Clan warriors to no chances to fight and gain experience." Robert waited for a moment to see if anyone refuted him. None did. "Well, we can fix that. You have undoubtedly heard by now that some of the Inner Sphere's nations have joined us in a war in another universe. I have come to extend the offer for you to join that conflict as well."

That did it. All eyes focused on Robert with hawkish intensity. He could tell that in some cases it was not a positive intensity. So he forged on. His hand ran over his omnitool. When it came to life the room showed clear interest in it. His hand moved over the holographic controls to access the holoviewer built into the device. It activated to show the image of a starship. Not just any either, but of an Aryan-class Reich dreadnought. The Nazi swastika emblem was plainly visible on the bow.

"Do you recognize this?", he asked. "I suspect some of you do. It's been a thousand years for your history since this emblem flew on a flag. But I know from experience that most human societies that experienced this one's rise have never failed to remember it."

One of the physically present speakers, wearing a feline mask with a star-like mane, stood. "We know of it, yes," said the Khan of the Nova Cats. "And we know of the evil it spawned. You are showing us a universe where the evils of Hitler were not destroyed?"

"I am." Robert nodded. "The Nazi regime won their wars in this universe's history. It eventually subjugated the entire world. They exterminated entire peoples and enslaved the rest." He looked over the assembled Khans. "And we're at war with them. The Federated Commonwealth and the Free Worlds League have joined that war, and the rest of the Inner Sphere's nations may yet follow. Now I am here to offer you the same. A chance for your warriors to fight real battles, good battles, against a foe worthy of your time and of your skill." Robert matched Lincoln Osis' glare. "You want to talk about a Crusade, Khan Osis? This is a Crusade. Stopping the evil of the Nazi German Reich. This is the foe worthy of that title. Join us in fighting this evil and you will get the same benefits we are giving to the Inner Sphere."

"I am no Warden," Lincoln retorted.

"Nor are we mercenaries." An older voice spoke up, coming from a man with a Jade Falcon helmet and mask. "Did you think you could come here and purchase our services?" The man bristled with indignation, indignation that Robert felt was a little too forced to be genuine. "You are no different from any of the other freebirths of the Inner Sphere. You represent disorder, chaos, the very things the great Star League was formed to stop." Elias Crichell looked over at the assembled Khans. "Do you not see? This is nothing more than another sign of our ilKhan's treachery. He sees that we are about to unseat him, so he sends to the Inner Sphere to arrange another deception. We must not fall for this trickery. We must press on with the Invasion. If our enemies choose to fight in this bizarre war, let them suffer the consequences."

Some of the assembled cheered or voiced support. Robert noticed the sour look on Crichell and realized that he hadn't gotten the number of outright supporters he had anticipated.

Of course, that didn't mean Robert had won. They might still vote against the Truce.

"They're our allies now," Robert pointed out. Again he noticed the wincing of the others, and this time he remembered why. They don't like contractions. Well, I don't like them being jerks, so it evens out. "If you resume the Invasion, you'll fight us as well. And even if it means we have to pull forces from our war with the Nazis, we'll do it."

Robert could feel the tension from Julia and the others. Shifting gears to blunt threats was, ordinarily, way out of line. In this case, however, Robert felt he was onto something with this. The Clans weren't another legislature or body that would respond to kind words, rational argument, and deal-making. Give them a concession the wrong way and it would be seen as weakness and cowardice, not reason.

"Now the mask is stripped away, then." Crichell stepped up toward Robert. "You are here to impose terms upon us. Upon the Clans. Do you think we fear you? We are the finest warriors Humanity has ever produced. If you stand against us, we will destroy you."

"Really, Khan Crichell?" Julia walked up beside Robert. "Are you telling me you would commit your Clan to a war with an enemy you know little about? You do not know what we can do, what our technology is capable of." Robert glanced toward Julia. Every word spoken was careful and deliberate; Julia was playing the voice of reason, and doing so while obeying the Clan's peculiar taboo about contractions in English. "You do not know how many warships we have. How many troops we can command. Or even what our weapons can do." She turned and faced Ulric at his place. "IlKhan, I suspect you are the one with the most knowledge of what the Alliance is. How deep is that knowledge?"

"I have seen some of your broadcasts," Ulric said. "It is clear to me that your people have technologies that our finest scientists have yet to fathom. Even your method of interstellar travel is different." Ulric kept his eyes on Julia and Robert, although it was clear he was speaking for the benefit of the other Khans.

"And you did not see fit to share this information with us?", accused another of the Khans from a screen, this one wearing the likeness of a horse.

Ulric gave the Khan in question a bewildered look. "On the contrary. I sent reports to all of the Clans on the material I reviewed. And I find it hard to believe that the other Invading Clans did not pick up the same transmissions."

"We have." The woman speaking was behind a white bear mask.

"It appeared to be nothing more than Inner Sphere deception," stated Lincoln Osis' fellow Khan, Brandon Howell.

"Now you know better." Robert and Julia exchanged a glance. She nodded, so Robert took the lead again. "Your people have a problem. We came with the solution to it. You have three choices: join our effort and reap the benefits the same as the Inner Sphere, do nothing, or abrogate the Truce and resume your Invasion, knowing you will face us along with the Inner Sphere."

"Will your people honor our victories?", asked the female Khan in the Bear mask - Robert recalled the name Aletha Kabrinski. "Will you recognize our conquests from the Reich's worlds?"

"If your people bleed to take a planet, we recognize you have a right to it," Robert replied. He wasn't happy with the answer. This could only lead to a hodgepodge of Clan-held worlds in the heart of Reich space. But this was going to be a sticking point.

Maybe we shouldn't bother having the Clans in the war, a part of him thought. But despite what he just said, he knew that the Clans only really had two choices here: join the war and get access to the same benefits, or throw the dice on resuming the invasion. Doing nothing meant continuing their current deadlock over the fate of their new generations of warriors. So even if they chose that now, the resulting pressure would inevitably lead to the abrogation of the Truce.

No, the important question was if the costs of the Clans getting involved, the costs still in the future, were worth the benefit. And President Morgan and Admiral Maran had already made that decision with the (admittedly grudging) acceptance of the Inner Sphere's leaders; it was worth it. And he had to make that happen.

After his reply, the Bear-masked man - Jorgensson, Robert recalled - looked to Ulric. "There is wisdom, then, to accepting this offer."

Crichell leveled a glare at the Bear Khan. "Wisdom? How can you call this wisdom? They are turning us from our purpose. We are here to restore the Star League and destroy those who betrayed it! This is nothing but a trick. A means to distract us from the Crusade by using our warriors to fight their battles. If you accept this, they will take us into war after war, seeking to grind our warrior caste down to nothing so that they can conquer us with ease." Crichell raised a hand and pointed toward every Khan, those present and those observing by screen. "We must stay true to the course. First, we must remove the ilKhan who has betrayed the Crusade and sought to destroy us from within. Then we must resume the Invasion and take Terra to restore the Star League."

"And when what?", Robert shot back. "So you take Earth. That doesn't mean the entire Inner Sphere will shrug and say 'you're the boss now'. There are literally billions of people on the other worlds who will continue to fight."

"Then they will be treated as we would any bandit," Crichell declared. "What you offer us is a poisoned gift."

"What I offer you is a chance to fight with honor against a foe that can't be allowed to grow stronger," Robert retorted. "A foe who, with every battle, gets additional opportunities to copy our interuniversal drive technology. If you join with us, the risk of this threat diminishes. But if you attack the Inner Sphere instead, then you will fight us too. Maybe you will win in the early battles, as we struggle to fight on both sides… but with the Inner Sphere ready for you, and the Alliance's fleet growing stronger with each passing month, do you really think you can win in the end?"

"We are warriors bred as the pinnacle of Human ability," Lincoln Osis rumbled. "I do not fear you, freebirth."

Robert looked to the others before looking to the towering giant. It was clear he was genetically engineered - even the strongest bodybuilder never achieved that sort of muscle bulk or shape - and looked like he could snap a normal person in half like a twig. "I am not asking you to fear me," Robert said carefully. "I am asking you to respect me."

"Respect is only earned in combat," was the retort he received.

A few options went through Robert's head. He drew in a breath and felt the warmth inside of him, the energy of his life, move through his mind. It was hard to describe it when he tried to glimpse what could be. It wasn't anything like visions, or like his dreams. It was a feeling of what the future held if he picked one choice or another.

The easiest thing to do would be to set up Osis to fight Meridina. He didn't have a prayer even if she refrained from telepathy. But he could sense this would not work. The Clan Khans would not respect him setting a junior officer against a Khan. Even though he was technically just one of many Captains, he was still the senior officer present.

That meant it had to be him. He had to act.

Robert leveled his gaze at Lincoln Osis. "You want a fight, then?", he asked. "That is fine with me. You people have one-on-one fights, right? You call it the Circle of Equals? How about you and me in one? Just the two of us."

Silence came to the Grand Council Chamber. Robert could feel the mix of reactions from the others. Disbelief, amusement, surprise, and in many cases, a sense that this was something that was winning him respect.

Of course it would, Robert thought. The Clans ultimately believe in "might makes right". They overturn majority decisions if the other side wins a combat trial. In the end, the only thing they really respect is being willing to fight and being good at it.

A harsh laugh came from beside him, where the Falcon Khan Crichell remained standing. "You think to challenge a Khan? To a personal combat? You, a freebirth who has no Bloodname?" Crichell seemed to be smirking underneath his mask. "I am sure we could find an un-Blooded Star Captain for you to fight, quiaff?"

"I did not challenge a Star Captain," Robert retorted. He looked back to Lincoln Osis. The massive man's eyes were fixed on Robert. He met the gaze. "I challenged Khan Lincoln Osis of the Smoke Jaguars."

"And you are aware of how the challenge works?", Osis rumbled. "As the challenged party, it is my right to decide how we fight. Are you prepared to face me in direct combat, unaugmented?"

"As in without battle armor suits?" Robert nodded. "Yes. Yes, I am."

Crichell looked up at Lincoln Osis as well. "This is foolishness, Khan Osis. This freebirth is not worthy of facing a Khan in a Circle of Equals. The very idea is lunacy."

"We should consult with the Clan Council, my Khan," Osis' peer said.

Osis was still facing Robert directly. Robert kept his face stern and unmoving. He would not show even the slightest fear, nor worry, or any emotion beyond what he intended to seem as grim resolve.

"If he were a Clan warrior, we would," Lincoln said. "But he is not. He is an outsider proving his peoples' worth to the Clans. I will answer his challenge and prove how worthy he and his kind truly are."

At that point Robert felt something unexpected from Crichell. Although his body language remained disapproving, he seemed to be… content. As if this was what he wanted all along.

So much for the vaunted Clan sense of honor, there's no way that guy's not a politician first and foremost. He wants me to fight Osis and is just pretending to be against it. Robert might have pondered that more, but he could feel the wave of concern from the others.

"ilKhan, I will face this freebirth," Lincoln said. "As challenged, I declare we will fight unaugmented."

"Very well," replied Ulric. He looked at Robert. "Your challenge has been accepted. A suitable space will be arranged for the combat. The Grand Council will observe."

Robert nodded.

"The Wolf Clan will inform the combatants of the time and location of their duel." Ulric thumped a gavel on his podium. "I declare this meeting adjourned under the Martial Code as set down by Nicholas Kerensky."

The various Khans not present disappeared from the screens. Those who were physically present stood from their places. A few looked toward Robert before departing. He became keenly aware of the attention of the Khans wearing the Nova Cat masks and watched them leave.

Julia stepped into his sight with a bewildered expression on his face. "Are you insane?" she asked.

"Yeah," he answered.

"You're going to take on someone like that? In a hand-to-hand fight?"

"Yeah."

Julia sighed. "If Khan Osis doesn't kill you, I think Angel might."

Robert winced. "Yeah."



"Are you insane?!"

Angel's thunderous demand filled the conference room. Robert looked to the others, who all seemed to be in agreement with the query. "Commander Andreys already asked me that," he said, being formal for the sake of their attending observer.

Locarno looked over the holographic image and shook his head. "He's built like a Brikar. And you challenged him?"

"It had to be me," Robert said. "And Osis made the most sense. Crichell would have wanted a fight in their 'Mechs. I stand a better chance of a hand-to-hand fight."

"So you're going to fight the Human Brickhouse instead?" Angel shook her head. "Listen, even I'd think twice before picking a fight with something, someone, like that. I mean… look at him! I doubt he'd even feel a hit on a pressure point, not unless you hit him with a metal club!"

"Or with a life force-backed punch," Robert remarked. He looked toward Meridina.

"It is possible," she said. "The Dorei even have organizations of Fenari devoted to unarmed techniques bolstered by their swevyra." Meridina shook her head. "But I am not sure you are capable of such, Captain."

"I have to try."

"Or maybe you can forget this whole stupid honor duel crap," Angel said. "That's playing the game their way. I say we play it our way. They either give up their invasion or we blow the crap out of them."

Julia shook her head. "Somehow I think that abusing their safe conduct would make things worse. It would be impossible to make peace with them if they saw we would break our word."

"Oh? And why is it we're here again?" Angel thumped her hand on the table. "Oh, right, it's because they're the ones about to break their word. Who's to say we can trust them?"

Jarod nodded. "She makes a good point. The thing about warrior societies is that, no matter what they say about honor, if they want a fight they can find a way to justify one."

"And we already had the Klingons bail on us," Zack added. "Who's to say the Clans will be any better?"

"All good points," Robert agreed. "But I'm sure they were already debated above our pay level, and the President's decision was still made. And if we're to implement that, we need to follow up on this challenge."

Angel let out a small growl of frustration. "You're going to get yourself killed."

"Not if I work at this." Robert looked to Meridina and Lucy again. "I'd like to see about bumping up my training. Focusing on unarmed combat. We may only have a day or two for me to get ready."

It was clear that both were not sanguine about his chances. "We will do what we can," said Meridina.

"That's all we can do. For now, I don't want any incidents with the locals, so no shore leaves are permitted. Maintain a Code Blue watch and be ready to raise shields the moment it looks like something has gone wrong." Robert nodded. "You're all dismissed."

"Lucy and I will be waiting for you in Holodeck 2," Meridina said softly.




Robert returned to his quarters to change into his training outfit. He had barely gotten his uniform jacket off when the door swished open and Angel stepped in. "It's not enough that you almost got yourself blown up last year playing the hero, now it's this?", she asked, and in a harsh tone.

"I didn't have a choice," Robert insisted.

"Yes, you did! You could have not challenged them at all!", Angel retorted.

"Then they would have ignored me. Ulric would have been deposed and the Truce would have been repudiated. We'd be looking at another war."

"Maybe, or maybe this Ulric guy would have played another card. He's a politician, they do that kind of thing."

"I can't make plans based on what someone I don't know will do," Robert replied, although it did make him wonder. Seeing that Jade Falcon Khan act more like a manipulator than a straightforward fighter - first in his emotional manipulation of the others and then goading Osis into accepting his challenge - made him wonder how effective at this Ulric Kerensky had to be if he'd managed to keep his post this long against that kind of opposition. That meant Ulric had his own plan on dealing with the attack on him. He wondered what it had been.

Angel reacted by slamming her fist on the table. "Dammit Rob, this is stupid of you. And you would never have done this if you didn't have those damned powers now."

"No, likely not," he admitted. He walked up to Angel and put his hands on her shoulders. He felt her frustration and anger and worry all tangling up inside of her. "Angel, I know this is tough for you, and I'm sorry. But this is the job we were called out to do. If I didn't do this, we wouldn't have gotten anywhere with the talks. And billions of lives could be riding on this."

Angel shook her head. "You know…" She swallowed. "A year ago, I asked you to be my lover again because… I realized that out here, anything could happen, and I didn't want to have regrets."

"I remember," he answered, his tone remaining gentle.

"And it seemed to be working, even with your responsibilities as the Captain of the ship. And we were happy. We were making it work." Angel's hazel eyes brimmed with pain as she spoke. "But those dreams kept getting worse. And then you found out you were developing the same power that Meridina and Lucy have, and then you started using it, and now…. Over these last few months, everything's changing. First it was only training for control, then training because you weren't doing so well, then we learned all of that crazy prophecy stuff on Gersal and since then you haven't said a word about walking away from it." Angel drew in a breath. "I'm sorry, that came out… Just answer this for me, Rob, and please tell me the truth."

Robert didn't let himself glance at the time. He knew it was getting late, and that Meridina and Lucy were waiting for him. But he wasn't going to make Angel feel rushed. He answered her with a nod, indicating he was ready for her question.

"If it came down to this training or being together with me, which would you choose?", Angel asked.

At that Robert's mouth went dry. It was a question he had pondered over the last several months, when it became clear that the training was driving a wedge between them. What, ultimately, was more important to him? These abilities, and mastering them? Or his relationship with Angel?

The answer should have been easy. He should have said "You". He knew he should have said it. He loved her. No matter how many times they had broken up, they kept getting back together because of that affection they had, and the sheer stubbornness on trying to keep it. How could he pick anything over that?

He found that the answer to that was… yes, he could, if it was a matter of survival, of life and death for all of them. He had seen the glimpses of the future. He knew that these powers were going to be a part of that future. That they might be his only hope, their only hope, of surviving what was coming.

Robert could feel that sense right now. That if he picked Angel over his training, over his abilities, then the result would be their deaths and the loss of everything.

He didn't need to say it. The way Angel's eyes shifted, the pain that grew in her expression… it was clear that she could sense what his answer would be. And it wasn't a question of understanding it. Of seeing that he had to do this or they would all die. He knew that, for Angel, it was a realization that no matter how much they loved each other, he would always pick this path.

Her voice was hoarse when she said, "You should get going. They're waiting for you."

"We'll talk later," he promised.

"Yeah. Later." Angel walked away from him and to a chair. Robert felt how much it was hurting her and wished he could say something, say anything, to make that better.

But there was nothing he could say or do that would work. She would know he was lying, and he would know it. After these months, all of their attempts to avoid that truth - that his training was more important, in the long run, than their relationship was - had failed. The truth was there, in front of them, and it couldn't be avoided any longer.

And as was often said, the truth hurt.




Lucy arrived at the appropriate holodeck and found Meridina had already set up their training program. She was standing in the middle of the outside space, in a circular covered pavilion of Gersallian architecture. Lucy could feel turmoil inside of Meridina as she stared at the holographic recreation of the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya. "Maybe we should change the program," Lucy said.

Meridina turned. The tears on her cheeks were real, as raw as the hurt inside of her being. Months ago, Meridina would never have allowed anyone to see her like this. She would have taken the time to re-assert emotional control and show the stoic face of resolve to the world.

It warmed Lucy to realize just what this meant. Meridina didn't just see her as a student now. She saw her as a close, personal friend, someone she could be vulnerable with. Someone she could share her hurt with. And Lucy knew how much Meridina hurt. Her own people had given her the stark choice - her place in the Order, or continuing the work that she felt was vital for their future. She chose the work, her beliefs, and walked out of the Order that had defined her life since she was a child. It had not been a happy parting.

"Perhaps we will," Meridina said. Her voice wavered a little. "But for now, we must focus on Robert."

"Yeah." Lucy sighed. "He should have set one of us up with that fight."

"He undoubtedly feared that the Clans would not respect the Alliance in such an occasion. He feels it must be him. And so we must do what we can to make sure he has the best chance of victory in this fight."

"Against a behemoth like this Khan Osis guy? He looks more like an alien than a Human." Lucy shook her head. "I mean, either of us could put him down, but Robert's strength…"

"...is not in the combat arts, true." Meridina nodded. "But I believe he does have the potential to apply his swevyra enough to defeat Khan Osis."

"I just hope he's doing the right thing…"

Before Lucy could finish that thought, the door to the holodeck opened. Robert walked in wearing his training outfit. "Alright," he said. "The Wolves sent a signal. They've set our fight for 0900 sharp the day after tomorrow. We've got tonight and tomorrow to see if I can avoid getting squashed by that Human bulldozer."

Meridina nodded. "Clear your mind, then. Feel the energy of life around you, the Flow of Life connecting you to the universe…"




Robert awoke the next morning and, after enjoying a quick breakfast and a shower, reported back to the holodeck for more training.

Meridina had spent months showing him the finer points of control and focus, with the sword practice being his only training in martial use of his powers. That training had made it clear that he didn't have the same set of talents that Lucy did. He would never be the type to, as he had once put it after meeting Meridina, "bring a sword to a gunfight and win".

But now his life depended on fighting with his abilities.

A holo-opponent had been created for practicing on. Meridina had made a fair approximation of his opponent in mass and size. Then she and Lucy had taken turns tossing the opponent around with their abilities. "The key, Robert, is to let the energy flow through you and energize your body," Meridina explained. "Again."

The holographic giant stomped toward her with great speed. Meridina ducked one blow, sidestepped the next, and thrust her hand forward. Sheer energy came from within her and slammed into the hologram, sending it flying by nearly twenty meters.

Robert nodded and looked toward a second copy of said foe. "Begin," he said. The holo-foe charged at him. He moved around the blows, letting his feelings, the instinct of his life tied to the universe as a whole, guide him around the blows.

Summoning his strength, Robert threw his hand forward and felt his power surge out.

The result was the foe did get thrown back. But only by about eight meters.

"Well, if you knock Osis out of the circle…" Lucy looked over the fallen figure. "Maybe that's enough?"

"I have a feeling Osis won't give me that kind of opening," Robert sighed. He shook his head. "Maybe there's another way to approach this. I don't have the raw power you two enjoy."

"You may be more powerful than you imagine, Robert, Meridina insisted. "You must not doubt."

"Because doubt is the enemy." Robert nodded. "I know that. But I'm just not sure this will work."

"Well, maybe there's another way," Lucy said. "Give me a few minutes, I'm going to see about getting some help."




When Lucy returned, she wasn't alone.

Julia walked into the holodeck wearing her martial arts gi, with black belt, and with her long blond hair pulled back into a bun. "So, Lucy tells me Rob may need an alternative approach to fighting that giant."

"It may be necessary, yes."

Robert could already see where this is going. "You're thinking of t'ai chi, right?"

"Got it in one," Julia answered, grinning. "And it's good for you to know."

Robert shook his head and chuckled. "You've been trying to get me to do this stuff for years."

"Yep." The grin on Julia's face widened. "And all it took was you provoking a fight with a genetically-engineered super-warrior with muscles the size of your head." She finished walking up to him. "So, let's get started."

"This stuff really works even with these powers?"

"It does," Lucy said. She grinned as well. "It's what helped me beat Goras."

Memories of that fight made Robert's arm flare up with a shadow pain. "Right," he said. "Okay. Then I guess I'm learning t'ai chi."

"Damn right you are," replied Julia. "Now, let me show you the first form…"




Angel stood her morning watch at tactical without incident, with Jarod and Locarno alternating in command the entire shift depending on who was on duty while Julia was, it was said, off training Robert as well.

It was just as well nothing happened as Angel kept letting the previous night's conversation go through her head. She should have been happy to finally get the truth from Robert. That his training had really become that important to him. And a part of her had the thought that she should be more accepting of this. If he felt that way, he had to have a damned good reason. And she had been there, hadn't she? To hear them talk about that old prophecy or whatever it was, a prophecy that seemed to tie into things Robert learned back in the Darglan Facility on Gamma Piratus.

And yet… she still felt like her heart was breaking. To think that they had actually managed a year as a couple. A whole year. And now… were they really going to end that over this?

When Angel's bridge shift ended she went to her quarters to eat a meal. She would likely assume another watch later, this time a command watch, given how the others were busy. For now Angel would have time to herself. Time to think of her failing relationship.

She couldn't stop the tears forming in her eyes.

Angel's door chime sounded. "Come in," she said gruffly.

Caterina stepped in. She was in her uniform, with skirt instead of pants, and seemed to be glowing. Then again, she had been like that since returning from the European trip that Violeta had taken her on. "Angel?", she asked. "I was coming by to offer lunch…" When she saw the tears on Angel's face she stopped. Cat's eyes fell. "Did he…"

"No. At least, not…" Angel shook her head. Cat walked over and sat beside her on the couch. "He just made the truth clear."

"And that is…?"

Angel sniffled. "His, uh… that his training in the life force stuff is more important than his relationship with me."

Cat stared in wonderment and disbelief. "What?!", she cried, and with some anger.

"He didn't… he didn't say it. But when I asked him which he would pick, the training or our relationship, he… he just froze up and I could see it in his eyes. I saw it, Cat. He thinks the training is more important."

Cat's eyes widened. "That… that bastard."

Angel stared at her sister in shock. Did she just call someone a bastard?, was the thought that went through Angel's head.

"He just… how could he…?"

"It's… it's this prophecy thing from Gersal. And something he got from Gamma Piratus. Some message about Darkness. And supposedly some super-powerful race known as the Darkness once existed and the Darglan had to fight them and… it was all really crazy, but Rob believes it. And he's picking this stuff over me." Angel sniffled and shook her head. "And… it's funny… I understand that. In my head, I mean. If this is all true, this is something really dangerous, and his having these… life force abilities or whatever they are might be what saves us. I can see this is important. So why can't I accept it? Why can't I just make things work?"

Caterina remained silent for a minute. She was busy trying to think of what to say, or if she could say anything. Generally speaking, her older sister had far more relationship experience than she did. It felt odd to be in the position to give her advice.

"Like I said, Violeta and I have this…" Cat shook her head. "I'm trying to think of how to… we have an arrangement." She looked at Angel to make sure she hadn't lost her sister's attention. "I mean, I'm new to this relationship stuff. And Violeta isn't. So we had a talk, and she told me that it would only work if we were both happy. We both have to be comfortable with things. That's why she has me take the lead on stuff. I've never done this before and she wants me to be comfortable with something before we try it. And I know that sounds like something completely different from your problem, so…" Cat stopped for a moment, as if looking for the words. She knew she had to say the right thing. "...it's like, you and Robert only work together when you're both happy. If you're not happy, then you try to fix it. And if fixing it doesn't work, well… I'm not sure what else you can do? I know you don't want to end things with him again. Or have him end things with you. That always really hurts you and, y'know, I'm supposed to be the sister who cries about things, so…" Cat stopped. She blushed in embarrassment at realizing her little tease might have sounded wrong. "But if you're not happy, and he can't make you happy… then it's not really a loving relationship anymore, I think. It's just holding on to something that hurts you."

The response she got from Angel was a thoughtful look followed by a small grin. "Well well, look at you," Angel said softly. She wiped at her tear-streaked cheek. "Giving relationship advice to your big sis."

"It wasn't really good advice, I know."

"No, it wasn't really good. It was the best." Angel reached across the couch and pulled her sister into a hug. "You are growing up, little sis."

"Not enough to have curves," Cat sighed wistfully.

"You're beautiful as you are, Cat, and if anyone says otherwise…"

"You'll punch them?"

"No." Angel laughed. "I'll start by punching them. Then it'll get more painful."

The two sisters started giggling at the thought.




Julia and Lucy remained standing to the side while Meridina looked over Robert. He was standing still, his arms and legs in a ready position to fight. "Do you feel it?", she asked.

He nodded.

"Good. Focus on that energy. Feel it fill your body."

Robert didn't bother remarking that he had done this before. This part of the training wasn't new; it was to learn how to use this power to augment his natural physical abilities. Lucy and Meridina had been showing this to him for months. It was how they could run fast, or how they could be fast enough to use blades to deflect fire from guns.

"Remember that this is beyond standard muscle control. Let your swevyra, the force within you, guide your movements."

Meridina stopped in front of him and assumed a similar position, facing a holographic figure. She breathed in, focused, and Robert felt her power swell and shift with that focus.

When she finally started moving, She nearly became a blur. Her arms and legs changed position instantly. The computer couldn't keep up; within seconds her foe, struck repeatedly and caught entirely off guard, went down. After a few moments she stopped. "Now, do so. Let go of physical control. Let the life within you, the life around you, be your guide."

Robert let out a breath and felt that warm energy inside him begin to shift and buzz. His arms moved, more quickly than he would have managed, catching one blow from the large foe he was facing and deflecting it away. His foot popped up in a kicking motion that slipped into the enemy's defenses. The reaction of hitting that much mass made his leg feel like it was going to vibrate. But the kick had power behind it, not just muscle power but that of the energy of life, and it transferred into a blow that sent the massive holographic foe flying back.

Robert sighed and nodded. At this point he was feeling tired and stiff. They had been working out virtually all day.

"Wow," Julia said. She smiled at him. "I suppose Angel and I can't just invite you into the ring anymore, you actually could beat us."

"I don't think so," he answered. "I'm not a fighter like you or Angel."

"If you can move that fast, I don't think you'd need to be."

"You'd be surprised," Lucy remarked. "But he's actually showing some improvement."

"In about twelve hours I have to fight a two and a half meter tall, muscle-bound giant who wants to crush my skull," Robert sighed. "Let's just say I'm motivated."

"I sure as hell would be," Julia said. She walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder. "You have to understand that I'm just trying to give you some inspiration. The forms aren't something you pick up right away. This life force 'let the energy guide your body' thing is going to be the thing that saves you. But hopefully you can keep some of the things I said in mind while you're fighting."

"Yes. The whole thing of meeting hardness with softness, sticking or yielding to strikes…"

"And watching your breath, your energy. T'ai chi is about energy. It's why I started to focus more on it." Julia smirked. "Especially after I ended up as your second in command on a big starship with two thousand people aboard."

"And it is why I feel Lucy's choice of bringing Julia to help you was inspired," Meridina said. "The practice of swevyra is about energy, sensing the Flow of Life and opening yourself to it. To win tomorrow, you will need that energy."

"But not as brute force." Now Lucy was talking. "You can't brute force this guy, Rob. Hit him when you get an opening. Get him when he's weak."

"I feel like I'm in one of those kung-fu movies we watched as kids," Robert confessed to Julia. "And with this thing of augmenting myself with my life energy, it's like… what was that comic book Zack always liked to tease you with. 'Steel Fist'? 'Iron Fist'?" Before she could say anything he shook his head. "Sorry, I'm just… maybe I'm a little nervous."

"You probably should be." Lucy shook her head. "I could probably bat Lincoln Osis across the room with my swevyra and I'd be feeling nervous. With that much muscle? If he knows how to use it, all he'll need is one punch, and any of us would go down."

"Which is why you must be focused and in tune with your swevyra," Meridina said.

"I got that part."

"I would hope so." Meridina smiled slightly. "It would be very embarrassing if one of my students fell victim to a clumsy punch."

Lucy giggled at that. Robert and Julia gave the stoic Gersallian a bewildered look.

Meridina's only reply was to that same small, bemused smile.




After the day of training and a small late meal, Robert laid in his bed and hoped he could sleep given what was to come in less than eleven hours. And while he was at it, he hoped that he would be able to sleep without the interruption of dreams.

He got the first wish.

The images were some of those he'd seen before, in a rapid fire succession of scenes and sounds. He watched a city burn and was surprised to see that it was flying the banners of the Clans, while in the distance particle weapons of some kind carved deadly red light through buildings and screaming people.

Then an explosion engulfed a richly-dressed middle-aged woman at a podium. Her face was familiar.

A second face, with the same blond hair and blue eyes, flashed across his vision, cold and calculating and oh so hungry.

He made the connection. Princess Katherine. Then the woman that was blown up…

Before he could let that thought finish things changed further. He was in a room. A man with a glowing, cybernetic eye and with a flowing robe stepped up to a figure on a throne and bowed. Robert caught only one word - "Master" - as the scene dissolved.

And then it was the unknown figure again, in shadow, and a woman's voice. "Bad Wolf", said the woman, and his hearing was so garbled he couldn't make out the particulars of her voice - age, accent, et cetera.

"What do you mean? What does 'Bad Wolf' mean?"

"Your choice," was her response. "Bad Wolf."

The next thing Robert knew, he was awake. He blinked and stirred groggily in bed before looking around in his dark room. His clock displayed 0553. Robert groaned lowly at the thought of the near hour of sleep he'd lost by waking up this early. He certainly wouldn't be getting back to sleep in time for it to be worth laying back down.

He showered first. The entire time he was dwelling on the thought of what was to come. He had no doubt Lincoln Osis would kill him if the Jaguar Khan had the opening. He wondered if it had been the smart play, calling Osis out and challenging him to a fight.

No. Don't doubt it now that I've done it. What I'm doing won't work if I dwell on doubts. He forced that thought into his head as he got out of the shower and dried off. He put on a bathrobe for the moment and went to his work desk in his quarters. A thought was coming to mind. Of things he should say. Things he might not get a chance to say.

"Computer, set up to record a video message," he said. "The message is to be delivered in case of my recorded death today."

Within a second, the female voice of the computer responded. "Working. Please specify recipient."

"Angela Delgado."

"Recipient logged. System ready."

Robert drew in a breath and looked to the screen. "Angel, if you're seeing this…" He stopped for a moment. It was hard, thinking of how to say this, and knowing the circumstances she'd be hearing this in. "...Angel, I'm sorry. I hurt you the other night. I… didn't mean to. You mean a lot to me. And I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, that I haven't been the man you wanted to have in your life. All of this life force stuff and training, it got so big and involved… and now that I know more about what's been going on, all I could think of was that I had to stick with it. That our lives could be depending on me having these abilities, and knowing how to use them." He lowered his eyes and shook his head. "But I never wanted to hurt you. And I'm sorry… I'm sorry I couldn't say that you were more important than the training. I just don't want to be the one to get everyone killed. I… we're out here because of me. Because these are things I wanted to do. Something I wanted to live for, to serve with. And I've dragged you and everyone else along for it."

He stopped there. Did that sound right? He was starting to think it didn't, that it sounded arrogant. That he was turning Angel and Julie and Zack and Cat into nothing more than followers. People without an existence aside from their relation with him. "I mean… I know you like what we're doing too. And I know you believe in stopping the bad guys. But you wouldn't be in danger if I hadn't found that Facility. If I hadn't insisted on using it like we did. Maybe it's arrogant of me to think so, but I feel responsible for you being out here. And if anything happens to you, to any of us… I feel like that would be my fault in some way."

"Maybe I'm just being the White Knight again, or I'm being brash or overconfident in calling for this duel. If you're hearing this, it means…" he swallowed and shook his head. "...it means I was being stupid. I'm dead because of it. And I know you're probably looking at this and not knowing whether you're angry with me or what's happened…" Robert stopped speaking again. He imagined the scene; Angel's tears of grief and rage pouring down her cheeks, her hands balled into fists, and possibly the temptation to go down and kill Lincoln Osis with her own two hands. "I'm sorry, Angel. I'm not sure what else I can say but that. I'm sorry I'm not here for you now, and I'm sorry that I wasn't what I should have been for you. All I can ask if that you forgive me. I hope that, in time, you find someone who can give you the happiness you deserve." He leaned in toward the monitor. "I love you, Angel." He forced a smile that he hoped wasn't too sad to form on his face. "Goodbye."

With a tap of his finger, he ended the recording. "Message logged. Terms for delivery confirmed."

For several minutes Robert sat there. Saying everything he had said… it made him wonder about what life would be like if they had walked away after losing the Facility. If they had moved to New Liberty and focused on building a life there. He imagined that he and Angel might still have gotten together. And maybe… they would have been happy.

Or maybe not. He knew that in her own way, Angel loved it out here too. She loved her job. She loved "kicking the bad guys' asses". She wouldn't have been as happy on New Liberty Colony, he thought.

But maybe…

A tone interrupted his thoughts. "Andreys to Dale."

"Dale here," he answered.

"It's past 0700, Rob. You should get to the Lookout and get some breakfast. Hargert's made you a good luck meal. And you'll need the energy."

"Yeah," he murmured. "I probably will."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-04 03:16pm

Julia left Robert to eat his pre-fight meal. She had something to do before they went down.

Which is why she was drawing in a breath before hitting the chime on Angel's door. "Angel?", she called out.

After a few moments, the muffled reply of "Come in" came from inside. Julia moved her hand to the door again and it slid open.

Angel's quarters were a tad messier than Julia's. Nothing terribly messy, but there were a few digital notepads on one table scattered haphazardly, energy drink cans that had been left beside the chair, and a few other things that gave the quarters a lived in look, and lived in by someone not afraid of having a little clutter. Amateur fighting plaques and trophies were along one wall, a reminder of Angel's own sports hobbies in their former, definitely non-space-age lives. Discarded exercise clothes were in one corner beside a portable washing machine tied to a water filtration device. Angel did the usual job of feeding her clothes for replicator-based cleaning - basically being disassembled and re-assembled by the replicators to remove sweat and skin cells and the like - but there were some old gym shirts and such that Angel wouldn't want to commit to the replicators.

Angel was sitting quietly on her couch half-dressed. Her uniform trousers were beside her on the couch, leaving her muscled legs fully visible from the thigh down, and a sleeveless uniform undershirt of gray color was still visible with her uniform jacket hanging on her shoulders.

"So, you want to come down?"

Julia's question went unanswered for a moment before Angel finally seemed to stir. She looked up and blew out a frustrated sigh. "I don't know," she admitted.

Without a word Julia sat in the chair across from the couch. Both were standard-issue furnishings, nothing special to them in terms of appearance or, as the grumbles sometimes went, comfort. "I have to admit, I'd rather you stay up here," said Julia. "The last thing we need is for you to decide to jump in."

Angel chuckled harshly at that. "Yeah, I figured that."

"But if you want to come, I'm sure Robert will appreciate you being supportive."

"He would, yeah." Angel laid her head back.

Julia had been around the two long enough to know what was going on with Angel at the moment. "It's happening again, I guess?"

"Hrm? Oh, yeah." Angel didn't bother to look at Julia. "Yeah, it is."

"Right." Julia sighed. "Yeah, my relationships have usually gone meltdown on me, so I can't give much advice on that. But if you want to talk…"

"I've talked enough." Angel shook her head. "It's one of those sacrifice things. You know, how people have to sacrifice for a relationship to work? Well, I've been sacrificing, and it's not working for me. Not that it's permanent now."

"I understand."

"So now I'm twisted up inside. I'm wondering what I want to do."

Julia shook her head. "I can't really help you there. If you ask me, this is something you and Rob should talk out between each other. After the fight, of course."

"Right." Angel shook her head. "I used to blame you."

"Pardon me?"

"For our break-ups. Every time Rob and I broke up, I blamed you at least a little."

Julia would have to admit she wasn't shocked by that revelation. "I figured you might."

"It's not your fault. The two of you have just been together for so long… I mean, even when we were doing good, he'd still come to you to talk about things."

"Yeah. Well, yeah, that's what it's always like for us. Even when we were little, if we needed anything, we always had each other."

"Am I kidding myself, Julia?", Angel asked. "Were we ever in love?"

"I think so." Julia nodded. "But sometimes… maybe it's not enough to simply be in love. Love can be tricky, I mean. Look at me." Julia sighed. "I once thought I was in love with Phil Duffy of all people." She laughed weakly. "I guess I dodged the bullet there. The important thing, I guess, is if you're happy. And I know you're not. And Rob isn't either."

"But one of us, I mean… it's also supposed to be sacrifice. You sacrifice something for the one you love, to make them happy."

"Yeah."

"And we're not doing that. I'm not…"

"Sometimes… maybe the problem is that we try to force something that doesn't work in the end," Julia said. "I think it's better to be honest about yourself, and with the other side of the relationship. If one side won't or can't sacrifice, and the other side has to sacrifice something that's too big, maybe it's best to just admit the relationship isn't working and to end it before it becomes too painful. I mean… forcing a broken relationship to work usually just makes both sides miserable, and for a lot longer than a breakup." Julia checked her omnitool. "We don't have a lot of time left. Do you want to go down with us?"

For a long moment Angel thought about it. She finally nodded. "Yes. Let me finish getting ready."




When the time came, the team going down was assembling in Transporter Station 1. Meridina had escorted Morgan Kell to the room when Robert arrived. "Good luck," said the old mercenary.

"Thank you sir," he replied politely.

The door slid open as they went to the pad. Julia and Angel stepped in. "I hope you don't mind," Angel said. "Despite everything, I want to be there for you."

Robert found he was happy to hear that. "Thank you for coming," he said, with genuine warmth and gratitude in his voice.

She smiled thinly at him and promptly stepped up beside him on the pad.




Their arrival was in the same place, but this time they were met by Natasha Kerensky. "You've got guts," she said to Robert. "I like that. Actually, a lot of us like it, and even the Crusaders appreciate courage. If you win this, it'll go a long way to establishing respect for your Alliance among the warrior caste."

"I notice you are speaking with contractions," Meridina stated. "I thought this was inappropriate for your people?"

The famed Black Widow's expression shifted to show a nasty grin. "It is. And I've killed more than a few warriors in the Circle of Equals who thought they should challenge me for my behavior. I've always held that slavish adherence to ritual is a sign people don't have anything better to think about." She gestured. "This way, kid. We've got the trial arena set up for you."




The trial arena made Robert feel like he was going to a sporting match, not a fight possibly to the death. Rows of seats were available on all sides, enough to seat hundreds, if not thousands, of people. The attending Khans were all in seats at the top of the initial rows, seats clearly made for the purpose of VIPs. The same monitors from the council chamber were now present for those Khans in the Clan homeworlds.

Not only were the Khans attending, but so were their retinues, with Clansmen in various uniforms from all of the Invading Clans taking up the seating.

The front row on the north side had a section reserved for him and the others. On the south side, the Jaguar Khans sat with their retinue.

In the middle of the arena was the battle space. It wasn't even a ring or a raised platform. It was just a section of hard floor with a white circle drawn around it. Robert figured it was at least twenty meters in diameter.

Once everyone was seated, Robert checked the omnitool's time stamp. It was 0858. Two minutes. He briefly wondered if the nervousness he felt was similar to what professional boxers and MMA fighters felt before their matches. Without the prospect of death, of course.

In deliberate steps Ulric Kerensky stepped up into the circle of the ring. "Greetings, trothkin near and far. I stand as the Oathmaster in this affair of honor. Let the combatants approach."

Robert stood and walked up and into the ring. Across from him, Lincoln Osis did the same. Without his helmet on, Robert could see the man's features. Dark eyes, dark skin, and a buzzed mohawk haircut - Lincoln was bald save for a strip of buzzed blond hair running across the top of his head.

"Are you, Captain Robert of the Alliance, upholding your challenge?"

Robert nodded. "I am."

"And do you, Khan Lincoln Osis of the Smoke Jaguars, still accept it?"

"I do," the giant man rumbled.

"This is a matter of honor between you. Under the rules of this Trial, let it remain such. For the benefit of the outsiders in our number, I will remind the warriors here that to step outside of the circle will be an admission of defeat."

"I understand," Robert said.

Lincoln Osis pulled off his uniform and handed it to a waiting aide. Underneath hie was wearing a sleeveless muscle shirt. As if I needed reminding that some of his muscles are the size of my head. Robert undid his own uniform jacket. By the time he was ready to hand it off, Julia had stepped up to the edge of the circle. He handed it to her.

"Good luck," she whispered to him.

"Take care of Angel, please," he answered.

Julia nodded wordlessly. Robert was down to his plain-colored, short-sleeved undershirt. While he was not like Osis, he did have some visible muscle on his arms, and it was clear Robert kept himself in shape. But in a direct physical fight, it likely wouldn't be nearly enough.

Once this was done, Ulric Kerensky walked back to the perimeter of the circle. He held up a hand.

Silence filled the arena.

Moments of tension later, the hand came down.

Lincoln Osis charged.

Robert sensed it coming. He even felt where it was going to go. His body was moving in conjunction with that instinct, tied to the powers and abilities he had learned, to evade.

But the startling part was how fast Osis had been. For all his size, he moved with a speed Robert could hardly believe. He was a mere half-second from a blow that would have sent Robert flying out of the circle.

Robert had an opening of a second and used it to throw a punch upward. The uppercut hit Osis in the chin. Pain surged through Robert's knuckles and made his hand ache and throb. It felt like he had punched a wall, not flesh and bone.

Every instinct in his body surged. His muscles went into instinctive action and turned and ducked, barely avoiding an attempt by Osis to punch him. This time there was no opening to exploit as Osis was already bringing his other arm up. Robert rolled away and got himself a couple of meters off open space. He concentrated with his energy, the life-based force energy that Meridina still called swevyra, and threw it out in an invisible burst. Months ago, such a burst had sent Nazi troopers flying.

Lincoln Osis stumbled backward a couple of meters, toward the edge of the circle. But he didn't fall down, and he didn't fall out. He regained his balance and brought his arms up in a defensive position, as if to absorb blows.

Robert focused and sent another burst of unseen energy at Lincoln Osis. The energy slammed into the Jaguar Khan. It pushed him back another step.

There was clear disbelief on Lincoln Osis' face now. Whatever rumors or reports he had heard of life force abilities or the like, it was clear Osis had been skeptical about them.

He wasn't skeptical anymore.

Robert knew he had to act fast, and immediate. Throwing more bursts wouldn't work. They were tiring and Osis was adjusting to the sudden force throwing his weight off. He needed to hit him with something else.

Robert made his decision as Lincoln charged again. This time he took a tactic he'd seen Mastrash Goras use against Angel in their battle. He reached out and gripped Osis' ankle. He could feel the physical force through the link and had to put a lot of energy into it.

The result was what he wanted. The sudden immobility of his foot caused Osis' balance to fail. The giant infantryman stumbled and fell short of Robert. Robert used the chance to get distance and move nearer one edge of the circle. If he could get the angles right, one solid pull with his power, or a push depending on angle, would send Osis outside of the line. And that would be that; he'd have won.

While he hadn't done much damage to Osis physically, he'd certainly stoked the massive man's temper. Osis howled in rage and stormed at Robert again. The lunge was side-stepped.

And that was how the fight was clearly going to go. Osis would charge and Robert would evade and counterattack with his abilities. They did this a few times, much to the frustration of the crowd. It was clear most warriors present considered Robert to be cheating in some way. The fight wasn't what they expected nor wanted.

And yet, it couldn't keep going like this. Eventually Robert knew that he would tire or Osis would, and he was laying odds on Osis not tiring before he did. He needed to end this.

So he took a gamble. Robert intentionally moved back toward the east side of the circle. Very close. And he wanted for Osis to charge.

Osis was so mad at this point that he did so. He wanted Robert dead. And…

Robert's senses screamed warnings at him as it happened. His body began to shift to accommodate the instinctive warning as Osis, starting to feel the grip of Robert's life energy on his foot, immediately jumped. The change in his attack pattern, the power of the jump, broke Robert's concentration. He lost his grip on Osis' foot and the Jaguar Khan was free to leap into the air.

And it was quite a leap. A carefully calculated one that would keep Osis inside the circle… and which swiftly carried him into an arm's'-length range of Robert. Robert ducked to avoid the first punch and began to swivel to the side, to get position to throw Osis out of the ring…

But Lincoln Osis had planned on him to make that move. And Robert sensed this at the last moment.

A moment too late.

Osis' massive leg came up in a snap kick that hit Robert right in the torso. Ribs cracked under the force of the blow. Momentarily stunned by the pain of broken ribs, Robert failed to respond to the next surge of instinctive warning.

He had been punched before. He had been hit before. Julia and Angel had both given him a lot of trouble during their various attempts to train him in fighting during their lives. He'd been punched in school. He'd even been tackled by a 270 pound seventeen year-old linebacker destined to play in the NFL.

But this was levels beyond that. This was a big, massive fist, larger than any Human's fist should be, coming down like the wrath of God on his face, a quarter of an inch too high to break his jaw.

Robert's head spun and his vision swam. He barely felt himself hit the surface of the fighting circle. He could barely think for the pain. His body refused to move, no matter how much he wanted it to. It seemed a shock that he was still conscious.

With groggy confusion he looked up. He was facing Julia and the others. Their horror was plain on their faces, in their emotions, and he could just about sense them. What's going on? He tried to think. His head was still ringing from something and he couldn't concentrate.

A voice rumbled behind him. "Your powers, whatever they come from, have made you arrogant, freebirth."

That term. He didn't recognize it. What did that… oh. Right. Clan terminology. He was fighting a Clan leader, wasn't he?

"Arrogance, yes!" Osis' voice rose with anger. "You thought you could face me as an equal. Me! The product of generations of the warrior caste breeding program and the strongest bloodlines of our Clan. Now look at you. A broken fool reliant on bizarre sorcery, not true strength."

As he spoke, Robert's mind began to recover. His head was aching, his face was full of pain, and his ribs throbbed. Worse, he could feel something wrong inside of him. When he choked, blood came up.

"This is what we are, people of the Alliance. We are the Clans. We are the finest warriors to exist. And now I will make that point clear to your people."

In a moment of truth, Robert could sense the imminent future. The feeling of Osis' powerful hands gripping his head and throat. The sudden, sharp application of force. His own neck snapped like a twig and the stillness of death.

And that would be it. The Clans would lose any concern they might have for fighting the Alliance. War would be the result. The Alliance and the Inner Sphere would fight the renewed Clan invasion. And the real enemy, the Nazi Reich, would gain a breathing space that they would undoubtedly use to terrifying advantage.

And his friends… his cousin Beth… they would be left to grieve.

This realization forced his mind to focus. It forced that focus on his entire body, his entire essence. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let that come about. He had to act.

There was resistance to it. The blow to his head was like none he'd taken. His brain seemed to resist his demand for commands to be sent out to his body. But Robert persisted. He had to. He had to save himself.

He heard the foot come down near him. Osis was looming above him. His arms were starting to reach down for Robert's neck.

But Robert acted first.

He didn't look up. He didn't have time to do anything but move his leg… and concentrate. He pressed his power into the muscles and joints of his hip and knee, into the bottom of his foot. All of his power, all that he could muster, into one last desperate strike. He breathed in and let that leg kick out.

There was a crunching sound. And a loud, surprised scream of pain.

Robert turned as Osis toppled over onto his now broken knee. His arms wheeled away from Robert's head as he lost balance. Robert felt his head spin while he got back to his feet. Osis' right leg had failed him. The knee had been utterly shattered by the force of the blow.

Osis growled at him and tried to lunge. His bad leg kept him from the speed he needed to hit. Robert moved around until he could get the shot he wanted. Again he focused everything he had on his leg and kicked out, this time at Osis' left knee.

This wasn't a straight-on hit. It took Osis' knee from the side. There was still an audible crack when Robert's kick landed home. Osis' knee was broken out of joint with the limb now curved unnaturally from the side. Another howl of pain came and the colossal man toppled onto the ground, both of his legs out of action.

His arms were still dangerous though, so Robert immediately backed away from him. He sucked in a painful breath - his broken ribs were happy to remind him of the fact they had been broken - and focused his power again. This time it wasn't a wide burst but small, rapid ones. Every movement of his hands drove another blast of invisible force into Lincoln Osis'. And he could feel Osis begin to slip into unconsciousness from all of the pain he was in.

Robert stopped for a moment. He looked over the assembled crowds. He could see Meridina's stoic, solid expression. The fierce glee on Angel's face. The worried, yet happy, expression on Julia's. He looked over the Khans of the Grand Council and the myriad of expressions they had, from rage to disbelief to reserved interest. A thin smile was on the face of Khan Crichell - clearly ideological affiliation was not enough for the Jade Falcon leader to sympathize with Osis in his imminent defeat - and a slight one had arrived on Ulric's face. Natasha Kerensky didn't bother hiding her glee, smirking with her arms crossed. Phelan Kell Ward, seated beside her, had a smug grin on his face.

Robert's eyes focused back on the other Khans. One of them, in the uniform of the Nova Cats, was looking at him intently.

The other warriors were too. Each was interested in what he would do. Would he kill Lincoln Osis? Throw him out of the circle? Knock him unconscious? What kind of power would he display?

He thought about those options. Killing a man who was down was not a thing Robert could ever do, not in his heart. But how should he finish off Osis? Which choice would make the biggest splash? How could he use this to give the Alliance sufficient respect that the Clans would keep Ulric and the Truce?

That thought made Robert think of the ilKhan himself. He glanced toward Ulric again. He could sense a word in Ulric's mind. A concept. Something Ulric was thinking he would do in Robert's situation.

His mind flashed back to the materials on the Clans that Focht and the others had written. He recognized the word in Ulric's mind from that. What the word meant.

And he knew what he had to do.

If only the side of my face wasn't swelling up, this might actually look impressive.

Robert calmly turned back to Lincoln Osis. The Jaguar Khan's knees were worse than Robert's face. He was on his side. Dark eyes glared up at Robert from a face that was turning purple and blue as well. He could feel Osis' rage and sheer defiance. He was almost daring Robert to kill him or otherwise finish him off.

"Khan Lincoln Osis." Robert met his glare. "You have given me the fight of my life. You fought with courage and skill against an enemy capable of things you never thought possible. In that spirit, I offer you hegira."

The entire arena turned its attention to Lincoln Osis amid a ripple of surprise and intense interest from those assembled.

Robert, for his part, never took his eyes off Lincoln Osis' eyes. I beat you fair and square, and you're not going to forget that, he thought. You're not going to forget that things have changed irrevocably in your universe. I'm offering you a way to survive those changes. Take it, Khan.

He could sense the defiance in Osis start to give way. Lincoln Osis knew he had lost the fight. But Robert sensed he hadn't expected this gesture of respect. He had just been given the means to accept his defeat with dignity.

"You know something of our ways," Lincoln observed. "Tell me, Captain. Do you truly believe you can hold off the Crusade forever? That the day will not come when the Clans resume the march on Holy Terra?"

"The future is the future," Robert answered. "Maybe you will resume that march one day, and maybe we will fight against you when you do. But the future is not set in stone. Your Clan, all of the Clans, may find themselves changing in ways they never imagined now that your universe has been introduced to the wider Multiverse. For the present, it's enough that your people and mine have enough respect to face the enemy we should hold in common. My people fight an enemy as evil and vicious as any the Human species has ever produced. We have done so even as allies have abandoned us to follow their own agendas. Every day our people bleed and die to stop the Nazi Reich." Robert was still looking at Osis, but none could mistake the fact he was speaking to the entire audience. "I know your ways are different from the ones I grew up with. But I think even your people may understand one of my deeply-held beliefs, whatever they may feel about its truths. I believe in might for right. I believe that power must have purpose."

"Your society has forged a great war machine. Now you bicker and argue among yourselves about how it should be used. You are debating throwing away a truce that you negotiated in good faith because you fear that your warriors will waste away without a foe to face. You have power, but you are still hunting for your purpose, and you may even destroy yourselves in that pursuit."

Robert swallowed. The pain in his chest was getting worse. He darkly suspected that Osis' kick might have caused some internal bleeding. He needed to finish this up.

"I am offering you a different way, Khan Osis. I am offering you that purpose." Robert knelt down onto one knee, although he was still remaining out of swipe range of Osis' arms. "Let the future attend to itself, Khan Osis, and for now, join our cause, and see your Clan's honor grow in battle against the Nazi Reich."

There was silence from the large man. A long silence, full of weight for Robert. He kept himself from swallowing or, as he desperately wanted to do, slumping over.

And then Lincoln Osis spoke again.

"I accept."

Robert breathed out in relief at those words.

For the benefit of the audience, Osis repeated his words in a louder voice. "I accept your offer of hegira."

The answer to Osis was a nod. "Then the battle is over," Robert replied.

"Aff." Osis looked to Ulric and nodded.

Ulric replied with a half-nod. "Trothkin near and far, this Trial is concluded," he announced. "Honor has been satisfied."

That seemed to be the signal for Osis' people to move forward. Robert's entourage did the same. Julia had her omnitool active by the time she reached Robert and was running a scan. The programming of the omnitool would simplify the scan results to allow even a non-medically trained operator to see clear problems. "Christ, Rob, you're going to be in medbay for…" Her brow furrowed. "Dammit, it looks like you've got internal bleeding." She tapped a hard-light key on the display. "Andreys to Aurora. I need a medical team on my location, ASAP. Alert Doctor Gillam that internal injuries are involved."

"Understood."

Meridina was already pressing her hand against Robert's chest. "I cannot heal you entirely," she said. "But I can keep you stable until help arrives."

"Thanks." Robert looked at Angel. "I didn't get a chance to say it before, but thank you for coming."

"Yeah." Angel nodded.

By this time two Jaguar Elemental soldiers had helped Osis to his feet. He held up his hand to them and they stopped moving him away. He looked to Robert intently. "When the Grand Council votes on your proposal, you will have the voice of the Jaguars on your side," he said simply. "But I warn you, Captain, that my people will not be so easily diverted from the Crusade. It may fall to my offspring, or their offspring, to do the task. But the day will come when the Clans rebuild the true and proper Star League. I hope that when this day comes the Alliance will recognize the rightness of our cause. If not, then we will yet meet on the field of battle."

"If that day comes, I hope both of our peoples acquit themselves with courage and honor," Robert replied, taking the statement in stride. "Because if we decide your people are in the wrong, we will fight against you."

"Spoken like a warrior," Osis remarked. "As I would expect." He smiled. "Bargained well and done, Captain.

With that Lincoln Osis motioned to his men and they resumed carrying him off.




Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 7 July 2642. Captain Robert Dale reporting. I am grateful to report that I have been released from Doctor Gillam's care. He has ordered me on light duty for the next couple of days due to the severity of my injuries sustained in my fight with Khan Osis. With some customary protest, he has agreed to my attending the Clan Grand Council meeting being held today.


Robert had beamed down again, this time with Julia, Jarod, and Zack, with Grand Duke Kell joining as expected. They were seated as observers and guests when the Grand Council reconvened. Robert looked to the Jaguars' table where Osis was seated. He had limped in favoring the leg that Robert had inflicted the most damage on. It was clear, however, that he would be a force to be reckoned with.

Ulric called the Council to order. The business of the day was the genocide charge against him. Elias Crichell, the Jade Falcon Khan, rose and began a long-winded and utterly preposterous speech about the issue, accusing Ulric of being part of a grand Inner Sphere conspiracy that would, among other things, subjugate the Clans. He brought up the connection of Victor to Omi Kurita and added to it claims of other marriage alliances, including one for Kai Allard-Liao who was, to Robert's knowledge, already happily married.

"There's no way he really believes this," Jarod whispered.

"Right. It's just an excuse."

Phelan gave the defense. It called out Crichell's ludicrous claims as just that, pointed out Ulric's combat successes, and then reminded the others that with the existence of the Alliance and the Multiverse, plunging forward into an invasion facing foes they still had little understanding of was ludicrous.

Now it only remained to be seen if the diehard Crusaders would ignore everything, even the prior day's fight.

The votes by Clan commenced. It was immediately apparent that the Crusader cause was going to face an uphill battle with the Smoke Jaguars voting against the conviction. Other Clans began to weigh in, one by one, and by the end of it only the Jade Falcons, Ice Hellions, and a number of other Clans or Crusader Khans supported Ulric's conviction and an abrogation of the Truce of Tukkayid. The majority sided with Ulric.

At that, Robert breathed a sigh of relief. His mission had succeeded.

And all it took was me getting punched by a genetically-engineered super-soldier.

"The charges against the ilKhan are dismissed," announced the cybernetic old man, Kael Pershaw. He looked to the assembled, as if expecting someone to declare themselves ready to resist the finding with a combat. But none did.

"With this matter settled, I see it is time to present the proposal we have before us." Ulric nodded to Robert and the others. "The Grand Council must now decide whether the Clans shall respond to the Alliance mission sent to us. With the Grand Council's support, I shall negotiate with an Alliance representative on the entrance of the Clans into the war with the Nazi German Reich of the universe they call S4W8."

This time the vote was nowhere near close. Most of the Clans who voted to convict Ulric nevertheless voted to join the war. Robert suspected that for the Home Clans, this was their best opportunity to get involved in territorial expansion, and all the Clans wanted a chance to try their troops.

Of course, this wasn't the end of things. This arrangement still had to be negotiated. Robert would have to send to President Morgan for actual military and diplomatic negotiators to make the final arrangements. But the Grand Council's vote would be a strong starting point.

"Well, we did it," Julia said after Ulric adjourned the meeting. "We stopped the resumption of the Invasion."

"And we gained more allies."

"Allies who might give us some trouble," Robert said. He felt warm senses of familial joy and pride and glanced to see Morgan Kell with his son and a woman in Wolf Clan uniform, with short-cut almost-white blond hair.

"Hey, hardhead."

Robert glanced to the direction of the voice. Natasha Kerensky was smirking at him. "Me?", he asked.

"You took a punch from Osis and didn't go completely out? Yeah, you." She gestured. "The ilKhan wants to see you and your people. I'll show you to his office."

There was something refreshing with the way the rough old Clanswoman spoke in a way none of the other Clanspeople did. "We're on your heel, Khan Kerensky."

"Just be thankful that's not literal, or my foot would be up your ass," she retorted.

She led them through the halls of the Wolf Clan headquarters until they arrived in an office. The furnishings were decent although not quite what one would expect from a Head of State. Robert could sense Jarod's thoughts on that, namely, that the Clans weren't exactly a standard "state" by any definition of the term.

Ulric was already seated behind a desk. Natasha took a seat to the side and lounged back in the chair. Ulric, however, stood and nodded. His hand moved up. "I believe this is the customary gesture among your people?"

Robert nodded and accepted Ulric's hand for a handshake. "Thank you, ilKhan. You had something you wanted to discuss?"

"I wanted to extend my congratulations to you. Not only on your victory, but on the way you handled it. If you had simply knocked Osis unconscious or thrown him from the Circle, he would have never forgiven the humiliation. The Jaguars would have voted against the Truce. Instead, he respects your people, even as freebirths, for your conduct."

"I was inspired in that moment," Robert said quietly.

"Of course." Ulric nodded. "Now, your people must understand it will take some time for us to become fully involved. The Grand Council will have to debate the size of our contribution to your conflict, whether or not every Clan will be permitted to participate, and there will be the bidding for which Clan will fight in which region."

"We understand that," Robert said. "As soon as your Clans are ready to contribute, we'll be ready to provide our end of the arrangement. And President Morgan should have representatives out to you within a week or two that can begin the process."

"Of course. Hopefully he chooses well. I am myself curious about the reports I have heard on your Alliance including non-Human beings…"

"We do."

"I wouldn't be surprised if there are a couple of Dorei in any delegation," Julia added. "Some of the Dorei nations have their own warrior and honor codes. They may understand your people more than some of our Humans do."

Ulric smiled thoughtfully at that. "That would be quite an interesting experience. To see aliens more familiar with our people than our fellow Humans." He nodded at them. "I will not keep you any longer, Captain. We all have duties to attend to, after all."

"Yeah." Robert nodded. "We do."

They went to leave. Just as he approached the door, Robert turned back. "IlKhan, may I ask a question?"

"Certainly."

"What was your plan if we had not come?", Robert asked. "I mean, if you had faced the vote on those charges without the Alliance here offering alternatives?"

Ulric nodded and grinned. "I did have my plans, yes." He glanced to Natasha. "And while I doubt he would agree, Khan Crichell should be thankful that you arrived."

Robert wasn't looking into their thoughts, but given the wolfish grin that came to Natasha Kerensky, not to mention Ulric's own grin, it wasn't hard to imagine what would have happened. Ulric might have gone down, and the Warden cause may have failed, but he would have taken a lot of Crusaders with him. And likely those with an affinity for green plumage.

"Speaking of Crichell," Robert said, "I get the feeling he was goading Osis into fighting me."

"Of course he was." Natasha snorted. "Either way, he wins. Either Osis kills you and the Crusaders ignore your Alliance and go ahead with the repudiation of the Truce, or you beat Osis, humiliating him and giving Crichell greater influence in the Crusader movement."

"Elias is undoubtedly unhappy with your offering of hegira to Lincoln Osis." Ulric seemed pleased at this. "You undermined his effort to assume greater authority."

"It looks like politics aren't just for democracies," Julia remarked.

"Our advantage, Commander, is that we allow one to challenge the politicians to a combat trial," Ulric noted. "I would recommend it to your people. It would improve the quality of your politicians."

Robert smiled in reply, thinking of Hawthorne and Davies, although he recognized the same might be applied to President Morgan. "Have a good day, ilKhan."

"The same to you, Captain."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-05 05:04am

It was toward the end of the day and Robert was in his quarters, finalizing his reports on the Grand Council vote. The ache in his chest hadn't gone away. No more fighting seven foot tall super soldiers for me…

The sound of his door chime drew him from his thoughts. "Come in," he called out. He looked up in time to see Angel stepping in. She was in her uniform and was likely just off a bridge shift. Her expression was solid and quiet. It was clear to him that Angel was here to say something, and it was something she had thought about. "Angel," he said. "Did you want some dinner or…?"

She shook her head. "No. I'm… not hungry at the moment."

Robert felt the welcoming grin he had started to form disappear from his face. That didn't sound good.

"I've… I've been doing a lot of thinking, Rob," she said. Angel swallowed and let out a long breath as she took a seat by his work desk. "About us."

"I see."

"You and I… we've been doing this since we were sixteen," Angel said. "This relationship has had… it's been fun. And it's been heart-breaking."

"It has," he agreed. "And I know I've never been the best boyfriend."

"And I've never been the model girlfriend." A small smile appeared on her face. "Most high school football players don't have girlfriends who can beat them up, after all."

"Well, I've been close friends with Julie since we were little, so I was used to it," Robert replied with humor in his voice.

"Yeah. Julie." Angel nodded. "Listen, I know that we've, well, we were making a good run of it, weren't we? After we hooked up again last year?"

"I thought so."

"There were times I was frustrated," Angel admitted. "But for the most part… it worked."

"Until my training began."

"Yeah." Angel nodded. She gave him a sad look. "Robert, I'm… well, I've tried. I… I've tried as hard as I can to accept… this. This burden you've got now that you know how to levitate things with your life energy or whatever. But the truth is… this doesn't work for me."

Robert let out a breath. "I know."

"And seeing you yesterday… I know you're not going to stop this training, Rob. I know it's important to you, that you think this is a path you've got to take to, I don't know, save the Multiverse or whatever." Warm tears were now flowing down her cheeks. "I'm not asking you to stop. I'm honestly starting to think you shouldn't. But… I also…" She shook her head. "I can't… this relationship doesn't work anymore. For me. I can't make this work."

Robert felt his mouth go dry. An old, familiar pain started to overwhelm the ache in his ribs. "So… so that's it, I guess?"

"Yeah," Angel said, tears flowing. "Yeah, I think that's it."

"Is there anything I can try?", Robert asked, really pleaded, even as he knew the answer already.

"I wish you could," was Angel's admission. "But I think we both know what you can or can't give up. And you won't give this up. It… it's just not meant to be now. I guess."

Robert subconsciously reached for his chest. The fingers of his right hand started to rub the skin on top of his heart, as if they could assuage the pain growing there. "I… well, I was hoping that this time…"

"...yeah." Angel nodded. She briefly sniffled. "I… I don't want this to be more painful than it has to be. So maybe… for now… I mean, we work together, so we'll see each other on the bridge or in staff meetings or whatever, but we should probably…"

"...maintain some space," Robert finished for her. His voice was dull with pain. He'd been expecting this, of course, but he hadn't imagined this would happen now. And he had hoped that maybe adjustments could be made.

It had been a silly hope, perhaps, now that he could consider it in retrospect. But it had been there.

"So… I'm going to get the last few things of mine in here. And I'll see you on the bridge tomorrow morning."

"Yeah," was all he could manage.




Angel left. Tears flowed for a while, at least until the pain in Robert's heart could subside. He had seen this coming, hadn't he? With how unhappy she was after he started the training, and then to find out it didn't have a definite end…

It really felt like it was going to work this time, was the thought that went through his head, over and over.

A tone from the ship's comm system took him out of this loop. "Captain, incoming transmission from Tukkayid."

"Put them on." Robert looked to the screen. He didn't think it'd be Maran or Morgan - he'd reported to them already - and so wasn't surprised when Prince Victor appeared on the screen. "You're the talk of Tukkayid right now, Captain," said Victor. "I'm still shocked you walked into a fight with Lincoln Osis and came out again in one piece."

"Well, one piece outside of some of my ribs," Robert answered. He forced a grin to his face. "I hope everyone's taken it well?"

"We have. Although there are some dissenting voices, the leaders of the Inner Sphere have decided to endorse the Alliance's plan to let the Clans join the war. If anything, we hope it will give their warriors something to do for the rest of the Truce."

Robert thought about what Lincoln Osis had said. "I think you might manage to the end of the Truce, at least," he finally said.

"And we have you to thank for that."

"I haven't been able to keep up with all of the things being decided in the conference," Robert admitted. "Has anything else been decided?"

Victor nodded. "Well, we have spent most of the time determining our strategy against the Clans. Now that the threat is minimized, I think we can focus more on the war with the Reich. I'm told Theodore Kurita has already signed a military and technological aid deal with President Morgan. I can't say anything officially, of course, but I expect some of the elite Combine regiments will soon be joining our armies in S4W8."

"They'll be welcome," Robert said.

"Sun-Tzu is still keeping the Capellans out," Victor continued. "But probably not for long. He's not as stupid as he acts, and Chancellor Liao won't want his nation to be the ones left out to dry on all of the new technologies entering the Inner Sphere. He might only send mercenaries, but I think he'll sign up, and so will the Canopians and Taurians. I, on the other hand, had to ask President Morgan for an additional liaison staff."

Robert gave him a curious look. "Oh? Why?"

"My sister insists," Victor said. His expression darkened slightly. "She's pointed out to all of the upset editorials about our alliance, and how it seems to be run exclusively by House Davion. So I asked for another liaison staff, and diplomatic personnel, to be sent to Tharkad to establish Alliance relations with the Lyran half of the Commonwealth."

"Ah, politics." Robert nodded. "Well, I can't see that causing too much damage…" Even as he said it, Robert realized how wrong he was. All he could think of for a moment was that deep rapacious hunger he'd felt in Katherine. If she could turn something, anything, into an advantage for pushing the expansion of her personal power, she probably would do it.

Before Victor could say anything else, he was distracted by something off-screen. "I'm afraid I must go, Jerry and Curaitis insist on whisking me off to some meeting. Take care, Captain, and thank you."

"Have a pleasant evening, Prince."




The Wolves had, as a matter of course, set up spaces for the entourages of all of the assembled Khans of the Invading Clans. One such set of buildings bore the standard of the Nova Cats.

On the roof of this structure, with the sun setting in the distance and the stars emerging, Khans Severen Leroux and Lucian Carns were being met by the wizened old Oathmaster of their Clan. Biccon Winters looked to them. "Is this what you were expecting, Oathmaster?" Carns asked.

"Yes," Winters replied. "It is."

"Then your visions…"

"You do not doubt me again, do you, my Khan?"

The question was put with quiet and reserve. It had an edge to it, but the edge was in the history of these three leaders of this specific Clan.

"Tukkayid taught me the harsh lesson in that regard, Oathmaster," Lucian Carns answered. "I do not doubt your vision. It is just… the scope of it…"

"I understand. I too was frightened. But let it be recorded in the Remembrance nevertheless. Our future hangs in the balance." Winters nodded. "I grieve for the loss our Clan, that all Clans, will endure when the veil is breached. But I have seen it too often in my visions of late to believe it is nothing but dreams." A distant look came over her face. "A great darkness is coming. If the Clans are to survive, we must find and support the dawn."

"The Alliance Captain… his ship is named for the dawn. This can be no coincidence," Leroux remarked. "And he showed great vision and power when he faced Lincoln Osis. He… they… may be the ones we seek."

"Then we must remain alert," said Winters. "Let the Clan bid for the war with the Nazi Reich. They are an evil that we must extinguish. But our vigilance will lie elsewhere. The vessel Aurora and the crew of that ship may be the key to our survival. We must remain ready to do whatever it takes to protect them."

The two Khans nodded. "Seyla," they said in unison, signifying their agreement.




The quarters on the Aurora were quiet and dim, save for the quiet tapping of fingers to a control keyboard. A portable battery pack, appropriately shielded, provided the power that suddenly surged into the transmitter. The figure applying this was in a plain yellow robe with the maarkings of an Acolyte of ComStar, one of many that Precentor-Martial Focht had send with Morgan Kell.

The man who appeared on the screen was clad in a red robe. His tan, cocoa-colored complexion had begun to pale from his current living habits. Gray covered his head and the right side of his face, the gray of his extensive cybernetic implants. A red laser sight had replaced his right eye.

The simply-clad figure looking at the image in the dim light bowed their head. "Precentor."

"The shielding worked." It was not a question.

"Yes. Their systems did not detect my transceiver."

"Do you have anything to report?"

"The Clans will uphold the Truce. It was as you said, Precentor. The captain of the Aurora faced and defeated the Khan of the Jaguars in one-on-one combat."

"Then the Clans will join the war?"

"It seems likely."

"Very well. Then all is as we anticipated. Our test is a success. But there is no point in testing fate. From this point, maintain radio silence. Finalize all reports for delivery to the courier when you return to Tukkayid." The figure nodded gently. "The Master will be pleased with your performance, Acolyte."

"I am proud to have served, Precentor."

"The time of your ascension is nigh. Keep this in your thoughts. Apollyon out."

The transmission ended.




ComStar had provided all of the visiting leaders of the Inner Sphere with facilities, including temporary offices. The annex allowed for the Commonwealth housed both Davion and Lyran contingents, with Victor getting the largest office spaces for himself and his aides.

This annoyed Katrina Steiner-Davion. It annoyed her greatly.

The time on Tukkayid was still early enough in the evening that she could expect company. For now she was going over the reports from Tamar. Katrina's feelings were profoundly mixed on the outcome. Certainly it was good that she would not have to face the Clans any time soon. On the other hand, her brother was certain to draw more of her troops into his extrauniversal crusade, and the less-intimidating the Clans were, the harder it was for Katrina to make her brother look worse to the Lyran people.

And then there was the matter that the victor on Tamar was clearly on her brother's side. Katrina could tell that when they met. And whatever hopes she had on perhaps winning an ally in Captain Dale's executive officer seemed unlikely, not in the face of the information she'd seen on them. Turning Julia Andreys into her ally would require persistent, frequent discussion and contact, contact that had to occur naturally from their positions. That did not seem likely.

Katrina's musings were interrupted by a knock on her door. She banished the thoughtful frown and instructed her secretary to let their visitor in.

The arrival was an Allied Systems military officer. A naval one, too, with a rank insignia of one star on both collars. The cuffs of her uniform - black with silver trim to delineate a staff officer - had one thick gold band and one thin one. The woman was at least a decade older than Katrina, with a light bronze complexion that you just never saw on Tharkad, striking dark brown eyes, and dark hair pulled back into a severe and professional bun. Katrina could see from the way the woman carried herself that this was one of those "rigorous professional" types. Normally she might find such boring, but they had their uses.

"Greetings," Katrina said. "I am Princess Katrina Steiner-Davion, the Regent on Tharkad."

"I know, Highness," the woman replied. Her accent almost made Katrina think of a Latin speaker from Skye. "I am Rear Admiral Benedita Soveral. The Alliance Defense Ministry has assigned me to be our liaison officer to the government on Tharkad. I wished to introduce myself to you without delay."

Katrina beamed at that. At least her brother wouldn't be monopolizing contact with the Alliance now. "Thank you for your prompt attention, Admiral. I look forward to working with you."

"And I with you, Highness. My appointment was hastened by Minister Hawthorne himself due to various… concerns. As a staff officer I hope to give you the same benefits I gave to Admiral Davies, my former immediate superior."

"Your Vice Chief of Naval Operations? I see." Katrina thought on that. She recalled something in the reports, on the politics in the Alliance. Davies had been involved in thwarting the attack on the Alliance Senate. "I hate to think I have deprived a man with such an important position of a good officer."

"Oh, there is no problem with that, Highness." Soveral grinned slightly. "Admiral Davies proposed my assignment himself, and arranged for my immediate arrival. He and Minister Hawthorne place great stock into securing our relations with both halves of your Commonwealth."

Katrina's senses picked up on that. There was opportunity here… "Do they indeed?" she asked, keeping her voice from giving the purr of satisfaction she felt within. "Well, I am gratified to hear that. And I hope that through you, I might work closely with them and the rest of your great Alliance in the coming years…"



Tag



In the bowels of the Starship Aurora's drive section, the cry of near-triumph resounded.

Shortly thereafter, the call came. It came just before Robert could sit down to a lonely breakfast in the Lookout. He eyed his breakfast ham and eggs longingly before the message appeared again on his omnitool's display.

Get down to Machine Shop B now.-Lucy

He picked up the plate and put it back on the bar on his way out. By the time he made it to the turbolift, he decided he was ready to smack Lucy on the head for interrupting his breakfast.

Is that me talking, or the part of me angry about getting dumped? thought Robert as the lift moved along. He couldn't decide which.

By the time he actually made it there, he was met by Meridina. "Just you?" asked Robert.

"It appears so." Meridina nodded to the door. "Let us see what Lucy has summoned us over."

Inside the machine shop one shift was settling in. Lucy had a bank of fabricators and other tools all to herself. She was waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for them, with a bleariness in her eyes that told Robert she might have been up all night. "Well?" he asked.

Meridina smiled slightly. "Have you done it, Lucy?"

Lucy grinned widely at them. She reached back to the table and held up a round, cylindrical object. It might have been a flashlight if it ended with the right tip.

Robert's heart fluttered. Had she really…?

Lucy's finger stroked a button on the object. Pale blue light erupted from the end with an electronic snap and hiss. She waved it around for a moment, creating a buzz in the air as she did. "I made it work!" she declared. "I mean, I made one that works! It functions…"

There was a surge of sparks from the base of the pale blue light-blade. It cut out a moment later, replaced by a puff of flame and smoke that left the upper end of the weapon blackened.

"...as well as it can," Lucy sighed. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "But as you can see, even though I can make it work, I've still got a big problem."

"It would appear your weapon… cannot remain on?", Meridina inquired.

"The focusing crystals can't handle the power demand," Lucy lamented. She threw the dead item back on the table. "Not a single crystal I've tried actually works. It's so frustrating too…"

"But if you had crystals that could handle it, this would work?" Robert pointed his hand to the broken device. "You could make a weapon just like Swenya's Blade?"

"Well, not quite like it. The power source won't last thousands of years, that's for certain." Lucy finally nodded. "But yeah. I could do it."

Meridina put a hand on her student's upper arm. "Marvelous, Lucy. I see your hard work has paid off."

"If we can find the right crystals…"

"Have faith that we will," Meridina said. "And until then, we will continue to rely upon our lakeshes."

Lucy's expression became visually distraught. "But, you don't have one, right? Goras broke yours. And the Order would never let you build another. I mean, that would make you an outlaw on Gersal, right?"

"True. The Order would be most displeased if I built a lakesh without their authorization." Meridina grinned. "Fortunately, I already had an extra. It is still in my room awaiting some… final touches."

"Wait." Robert blinked. "You're allowed to have extras?"

"Yes, and no," Meridina said. "This was the lakesh I took from Dralan Olati on Jarod's home Earth. I have made some alterations to remove what I believe were insignia that identified himself to other swevyra'kse, to other dark-users. But the blade is functional." She turned her head to face Robert. "Hopefully your training will continue to progress, Robert. The Order will be less upset if you were to receive a lakesh." She gave a gentle look to Lucy, full of understanding and encouragement. "Although perhaps we should wait to see if Lucy succeeds in finding the right crystal for her weapon."

"What are you going to call it, anyway?", Robert asked Lucy. "A laser sword? Beamblade?"

She chuckled. "Tom asked me the same thing." She looked back to the busted device she'd spent hours putting together and testing. Her mind went through all of Tom Barnes' proposals.

And she decided that one sounded… just right, after all.

"Lightsaber," Lucy said. "I think we'll call it a lightsaber."




The gymnasium on the Aurora was modestly filled with about two dozen officers and crew doing their workouts. Most were on machines or on the running track, while Chief Harlan Lewis was giving boxing lessons to a half-dozen younger personnel.

Angel remained to herself, wearing her usual olive sports bra and exercise shorts, throwing punches at a bag. It wasn't really a proper workout. She wasn't using good form, she wasn't maintaining the right stance. She was just punching something because, in her mood, Angel needed something to punch.

"So, you did it."

Angel looked over to see Julia walk up. She was in her white martial arts gi. "Did what?" Angel asked.

"You broke up with Rob," Julia said.

"Oh." Angel drew in a breath and then gave a brisk nod. "Yeah. I broke up with him."

"And you feel like you want to punch something."

"Yeah." Angel turned back to her punching bag. "And that's all I want to do, Julia, so no t'ai chi or mok'bara or whatever. Not right now."

"I wasn't thinking of that."

Angel turned back in time to see Julia shedding the gi. Underneath it she was wearing the same thing as Angel, just with black and red coloring, her visible arms, belly, and legs showing lean, athletic muscle compared to Angel's thicker, fighting muscle. "Best of three?", Julia asked.

Angel gave her a look. "I'm in my 'punch something' mood, Julia. Are you sure about this?"

Julia nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure." She didn't have to say the obvious. That Angel was her friend, and Angel needed someone to help her work out her frustrations.

Indeed, that was Angel's thought, and the smile that slowly formed on her face showed that she knew this. "Best of three, then," she agreed. "And I'll even help you get to the medbay when I'm through with you."

Julia made a fake, playful wince at that. "Oh, don't make me start to regret this…"

That caused Angel to laugh all the way to the nearest vacant fighting ring.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-09 12:02pm

Teaser

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 17 July 2642 AST. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently in orbit of the major colony world New Brittany, to provide medical support and protection to the newly-liberated colony. New Brittany was the site of the Reich's concentration camps and prisoner of war facilities in this sector. The need for medical assistance to the victims our forces liberated in these camps has necessitated that Doctor Gillam and most of his physicians beam down to the various hospitals to assist.


Robert was halfway through the day's paperwork when the tone sounded at his door. "Come in," he said.

As he expected, Julia stepped in. She had no digital reader for him this time. Her face was drawn and pale. Robert could sense why even before he asked, "What did you see?"

Julia nearly dropped into the seat in front of him. "More of the same. Just seeing those prisoners down there, how much they've suffered, what the Nazis did to them…" Julia clenched her fists. "We read about these things in school, but I never thought I'd see it in person like that."

"It's not pretty," Robert sighed in agreement. "And every hour, more of the weakest of them die unless we get them the attention they need. I'm hoping Leo and the others can make a dent in that." The look on his face spoke of his quiet frustration and the idea that, if things had been different, they could have gotten to this planet earlier, to the camp earlier, and ended the suffering without more deaths.

"We both know he'll try." Julia clearly had a desire to change the subject. That subject change was one Robert expected. "So… you're single again."

"I'm single again," Robert said. "And probably will be for the foreseeable future."

"I'm sorry it didn't work out in the end."

"So am I." Deciding turnabout was fair play, he gave Julia his best, innocent look. "So, have you accepted Admiral Maran's offer?"

The look on Julia's face said she didn't buy a word of that. "With all of the people asking about that, it almost feels like you want me to leave."

"No, I don't." Robert smiled at her. "What I want is for you to be happy, and to get the recognition you deserve. Taking command of the Enterprise when she's ready? You'd instantly have the most prestigious command in the fleet."

"And what about you and the others?", Julia asked.

"We would make do." Robert leaned forward in his chair. "We knew this could happen one day. We wouldn't get to serve together forever."

"Yeah." Julia nodded. "I know."

"And I think I knew that Angel and I were… not going to work out," Robert admitted. "In the end, we never do." He sighed. "I think it… I think we just don't have the long-term compatibility we always hope to get. In the end, maybe it's for the best."

"Well, you know where I am if you need to talk," Julia said. "I'd better get back to the bridge."

"I'll be along shortly," Robert promised.




Field Hospital Charlie had been established beside what had been the Retzoff KZ. It was predominantly a labor camp where the Reich imprisoned the sector's political dissidents or those who were in the sector "illegally": having violated the Reich's rigorous controls of which ethnic groups and nationalities were permitted to dwell in which sectors.

Given the number of war refugees that had fled the combat zones, this figure had grown quite high in the months leading up to Alliance forces taking New Brittany.

Although New Brittany was technically under the authority of the nominally-independent National Republic of Brittany back on Earth, they were still part of the Reich as a subordinated state, and they had been compelled to let the Reich build the camp on their soil. Indeed, near their planetary capital of New Rennes.

Naturally, once the war began, the SS had eventually moved in further and opened a prisoner-of-war camp beside the rapidly-expanding labor camp, and in many cases had relegated the prisoners therein to said camp.

Now Field Hospital Charlie tended to the former prisoners of both facilities in addition to combat casualties. It was already full to capacity and its medical staff undermanned to deal with all of the cases of malnutrition and abuse.

Leo looked over the occupants of one ward. Virtually all were down to living skeletons. It was a sight familiar to any medical officer involved in the war and, for him, it would never lose its power. These people were the living embodiment of everything that was cruel and evil about the Reich and the ideology it espoused.

The key word there is 'living', Leo thought. There are even more dead embodiments than I could ever count.

Nasri stepped up behind him. "We've secured the supplies. Doctor Singh is already up to her elbows in cases in the trauma unit."

"While here…" Leo's mouth was dry. "God, Nasri… look at this. How can people live like…" He stopped and gave her a sad look. Given what she had lived through in Darfur, he felt like he had just stuck his finger into an old wound. "Sorry."

Nasri smiled sympathetically. "It is fine, Doctor. That is your compassion showing."

"Doctor Gillam?"

The female voice was one Leo had heard before. He showed some surprise when he turned his head and faced another doctor already making rounds in the ward. Like his own uniform, her uniform was primarily black, with blue on the shoulders, but while his lab coat was white hers was the same blue as her uniform's shoulder area. She was middle-aged, but her hair was still completely red without a tinge of gray.

Leo nodded. "Doctor Crusher. I wasn't aware you were here."

Doctor Beverly Crusher, the former Chief Medical Officer of the destroyed Federation Starship Enterprise, nodded. "Yes, well, I was initially assigned by Doctor K'lei'tana to Hospital Bravo, but there was a change in the rosters." Crusher stepped up to him and offered her hand, which he shook. "It's good to see you, Doctor Gillam. We need every doctor we can get."

"I'm happy to help," Leo assured her. "How about I get one row?"

"You do that, and I think we'll be done in no time," Crusher answered, showing a small, relieved grin.




Like any local resident in similar straits, Andre Faqin had gone to the new occupiers to find work. This was a choice fraught with danger. Even if it meant extra money that could buy food beyond bland replicator rations, or which might one day get a ticket off the planet and out of the war zone, every New Breton who took even the slightest job with the occupation force would face the wrath of the Nazi Reich should the planet fall back under their control. It was, all things considered, quite the deterrent.

Faqin, however, had his own insurance against that possibility.

After a day of sweeping floors and bringing food to decrepit camp survivors, Faqin returned home from Field Hospital Charlie. His home, such as it was, was a rented basement apartment in the urban areas of the capital. He went into his own subbasement in his unit and went to the corner. The floorboards pried away easily where he had left the loosened nook. Underneath was the shielded box he desired. He opened it and reached inside.

The communication set had a portable power source. It was powerful enough to open a secured, encrypted channel through a transmitter in the city, and from there to where it was needed to go. Faqin did that just now.

He waited, patiently, until his screen showed as room, although with the chair in the picture turned away from the screen the only face Faqin could see was that on the large portrait of the First Führer behind it. "You risk much opening such a channel," the man in the chair warned in German.

"I may have seen one of those you said you were seeking." Faqin removed a data chip from the small phone unit he had with him and placed it in his transmitter.

The man accessed another device in his hand and looked over the arriving photographs. Faqin could tell his hidden elation from the tremor in his voice. "They are at New Brittany, then?"

"I don't know," Faqin admitted. "But that man is. And I know I heard his ship was still in orbit."

"Well… you have done well, agent. You will be well-rewarded when the Reich reclaims your world. Maintain a constant watch and report to me any changes."

"Then… you are confident you are returning?"

The man turned in his chair and smiled, which was not something Faqin was used to seeing on the face of a man like Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder. "Oh, yes," cooed the SS officer. "With the Aurora and her crew present, I can promise you we will be returning to New Brittany very soon indeed…"



Undiscovered Frontier
"Under Fire"



With his bridge watch done for the day, and with it most of his paperwork, Robert went to his other daily obligation.

Which is why he was holding a wooden blade and waiting patiently for Lieutenant Lucy Lucero to strike at him with her own.

Fencing had never been his thing. But he knew enough of it to know that fencing involved reading your opponent's body language and trying to guess when and where their strikes would land.

This was even more elaborate than that. He and Lucy had what the the Gersallians called "connected swevyra". He preferred the term "life force" even if it wasn't entirely accurate to cover what the Gersallian term meant. It was one thing to say someone had life in them, but the Gersallian concept of the swevyra, of life bound to the other life of Creation and the Universe as a whole in a great "Flow of Life", went to a whole different level.

Because of this particular talent, Robert and Lucy could do… things. They could manipulate the energy they felt within themselves to move things with their will, to sense the thoughts of others, to move faster and hit harder than their muscle mass would normally permit, it even permitted instinctive understanding of things like, oh, where a bad guy was about to shoot, allowing them to evade or deflect such attacks. Robert thought of it as "the ability to go into a gunfight with a sword and win". And it took training to perfect.

And sacrificing a working romantic relationship, as it turned out.

When Lucy struck Robert was already moving into a defensive block position. He caught her blow with his wooden blade. The next swipe also resulted in the clack of a wood-on-wood collision, as did the next. After a fourth and final failed attempt to overcome Robert's defense, Lucy backed off. It was his turn.

After several seconds he started to move. First he tried to switch from a high strike to a low to catch Lucy off-balance, but she had her weapon ready for that. A second go, high, was stopped. And a third.

For the fourth blow, Robert decided to mix things up. After drawing Lucy's attention with a cut at her waist, Robert pulled at the energy within him and used it to push forward. Immediately he…

…lost his balance as Lucy, sensing the move, broke off contact and left him to push with force against nothing. Before he could recover she struck his blade with hers, rotated the weapon and wrenched his from his hand, and promptly knocked him to the floor with a burst of energy.

All in less than five seconds.

"Robert Dale, Human pin cushion, loses again," he sighed while sprawled on the floor.

"You are improving," Lucy assured him. She looked to her side. "Don't you agree?"

Commander Meridina nodded. "Yes." She gave Robert a direct look. The Gersallian woman's blue eyes glittered with quiet pride. She had given up much to continue training them; to see Robert and Lucy continuing to improve was therefore something she could take real joy in.

Robert had always been struck by how alike Gersallians were to Humans. Sure, on the inside Gersallian organs were laid out differently, but externally, they looked just like Humans. Skin, hair, even a bit of the smell, all looked like just Human equivalents. "I think you're both well ahead of me," he said. "Although I can't complain too much. I was able to beat Lincoln Osis even with my abilities being so weak compared to yours."

"That is a good attitude to take, Robert," Meridina agreed. "But you must have recognized the potential strengths of your swevyra off the battlefield?"

"You mean the freakly dreams and the future-sensing."

"Indeed. Certainly you have felt a change in them."

He had. He still had the nightmares of course, and how they might be visions of possible futures, but now they were less-frequent. He was getting better rest than he had before. And sometimes the dreams were… happier.

Dreams of his family. Dreams of a family, flowing waves of golden-colored grain on some quiet world, children with his green eyes and Angel's dark hair and brown skin running and giggling and playing in those golden waves.

Although that last one had only been a few times. And it was clear that wouldn't be coming about now.

But above all were the dreams that wound up with the shadowy figure of a woman and those two confusing, vexing words. "Bad Wolf." What did it mean?

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Meridina," Robert said. "I've been hearing these two words in my dreams. 'Bad Wolf'. I'm not sure what they mean. Something about a choice."

"It is best not to dwell too strongly on such a matter. Whatever your connection to Creation is telling you, you must also recall you are in the present, and the present has its own matters to attend to." Meridina stepped up and placed a sympathetic hand on his arm. "You will figure this out, Robert. In due time. For now, though, we should continue to train and refine your control and connection."

Robert nodded. "I don't have much else to do as it is. What do you have for us next."

From the faint grin on her face, Robert knew he wouldn't like the answer. Yay, more standing on my hands trying to levitate things…




Once their work in the ward was done, Leo joined Doctor Crusher in heading for the hospital mess. "I'm surprised to see you here, Doctor," Leo said to her. "Not that I'm complaining. Our medical services are overstretched by the war as it is."

"So I've heard." Crusher nodded. "And since I was waiting for a new posting, I joined Admiral McCoy's volunteer detachment."

"He's quite the character, isn't he?"

Crusher looked at Leo. "You've met him?"

"I did," Leo admitted. "And he's every bit the legend that Scotty promised he'd be."

Crusher answered that with a grin. "And what about you? I read your paper on dealing with terminal stage leukemia patients."

Leo felt a surge of pain in his heart. He remembered a smiling preteen boy who should have had the rest of his life ahead of him. "I hope it will be of use to other physicians in saving lives. The information came at a high price. Too high."

"The Joshua Marik case." Crusher took his arm. "Doctor, I'm not sure any of us could have saved his life. HIs condition was too advanced."

"You're probably right." Leo nodded. He couldn't keep the haunted look off his face. "But it doesn't change how I feel. That boy had such a future, if only we'd had more time…"

"It's not easy losing a patient like that," Crusher agreed.

The conversation quieted once they entered the mess. Federation-style replicators were set up on one wall while an older-style mess line was on the other, serving fresh non-replicated food. Leo could see a diversity of species and organizations represented in the medical suits and uniforms of the doctors, surgeons, and nurses present. He recognized the medical jumpsuits of personnel from M4P2, Minbari healer robes, Earth Alliance medical jumpsuits from E5B1, Alliance medical uniforms, and Starfleet ones as well. There was even a Klingon physician in one corner, scowling at a plate, while a group of physicians in ComStar robes were at another table discussing the day's work. "It looks like every medical organization in the known Multiverse is pitching in," Leo observed.

"I know. Sometimes it feels like I'm at a medical symposium more than a field hospital." Crusher went over to the replicator. She tapped the key to activate it and said, "Crusher 3."

The system responded and a tray materialized. The plate on it contained with a chicken sandwich sided by a bowl of salad and a glass of what looked like grape or cranberry juice.

Leo tapped the key next. "Computer, cold turkey sandwich, lettuce and onions included, and a side of french-cut fried potatoes."

The replicator quickly provided the specified meal.

"Adding some starch to your diet?" Crusher asked as they walked into the tables.

"For lunch, anyway," Leo said. "Tonight I'll probably see about a good salad before I beam back up to the Aurora."

They found one table with a few occupants. Leo was surprised to recognize one. "Doctor Franklin?"

"Doctor Gillam." Doctor Stephen Franklin extended his hand over his plate, now mostly finished. Leo accepted it. "I heard your ship was coming with new supplies." Franklin had a bowl of what looked like a beef soup in front of him. His suit was recognizable as the standard pale blue medical coats used in the Earth Alliance.

"We got here this morning." Leo gave him a questioning look. "What is the Earth Alliance Director of Xenobiological Research doing in a field hospital on the front?"

"I'm on an inspection tour," Franklin said. "There are drawbacks to being the least senior among the various medical directors back at Bethesda Dome. Instead of drawing straws it was easier to rush through the paperwork assigning the entire thing to me." A bemused smirk appeared on Franklin's face. "But it's given me a chance to study some of the new species that Multiversal contact has opened up. So I probably can't complain too much."

"I'm not sure I could stand going back to Starfleet Medical," Crusher said.

"Tell me about it. Half the reason I came out here was to get away from the office politics," said another, deeper voice. The woman now sitting across from Crusher and beside Franklin was also in a Starfleet medical uniform, with curly blond hair graying softly at the temples. She seemed a little older than Crusher, further into middle-age, with some wrinkling on her face. "Doctor…" She extended a hand across the table toward Leo. "...Gillam, was it? As in Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Aurora?"

"Yes."

"Doctor Katherine Pulaski, Starfleet Medical," the woman replied. "Formerly on the Repulse." She nodded to Crusher. "I even served on the Enterprise for a year, while Doctor Crusher was serving her sentence at Starfleet Medical."

Leo recognized the name. "I remember reading your paper on the health challenges on the Reymond Colony. The parasitical fungus that kept infecting the colonists. I thought your solution was brilliant."

"Thank you, Doctor Gillam. I rather enjoyed the paper you wrote on extracting those parasites in the R4A1 universe. That was a risky surgery."

"It wasn't the operating theater I had in mind, true."

"I still think some of you people are spoiled for space." Another woman, with an English accent, spoke up from beside Pulaski. Her hair, neck-length if shorter than Crusher's, was gray, and she had green eyes. She was in a Systems Alliance jumpsuit, Navy-issued. "Doctor Karin Chakwas," she said by way of introduction, extending a hand. "It's nice to meet you, Doctor Gillam."

"The same." Leo accepted Chawkas' hand for a quick handshake before he settled into his seat. "A lot of medical talent here today. And all necessary."

"Very," Franklin agreed. "Part of my job here is to reassure Earthdome that the requested medical supplies are necessary. Once they see the recordings I have…"

"I never thought I would see something like this outside of a holodeck recreation," Crusher admitted. "These cases, and the casual brutality…"

"There's a reason most of our cultures remember this movement, even after centuries." Chakwas picked at a pasta salad. "We lost two more in the Intensive Care ward this morning. I'm frankly surprised we've saved as many as we have."

Crusher's face and the brief lowering of her eyes showed how she took that news. "We've got enough of our moderate cases stabilized that we're sending them off-world today."

"Speaking of leaving…" Pulaski looked to the wall and a timer. "I'm beaming up to the Jonas Salk in a couple of hours, so I need to brief my replacement."

Crusher looked at Pulaski and asked, "Anyone we know?"

"That new Asari doctor that arrived yesterday," Pulaski replied. "T'Perro."

"Doctor Lexi T'Perro," Franklin clarified. "I interviewed her last night. Brilliant doctor and a fellow xenobiologist." He smirked. "From the other side of the equation, of course."

"An Asari doctor, huh." Leo raised his eyebrows. "Given how old the Asari can get, she could have more doctorates and experience than the rest of us put together."

"She does. Her file puts her age, in Human years, at about 273, give or take a year," Franklin answered.

"Where are you off to?" Chakwas asked Pulaski

"I'm due on New Austria and Starfleet Medical's main hospital in this universe. Admiral McCoy's asking me to relieve Doctor T'Pela so she can attend to a family affair on Vulcan."

"You'll be missed," Chakwas said. "Hopefully we can catch up to each other soon and share a drink. Have you ever tried Serrice Ice Brandy?"

"No, I have not." Pulaski grinned. "Sounds interesting."

"And worth every credit."

The others gave their goodbyes to Pulaski as she left, emptied food plate and tray in hand. "I think it's only going to get worse as we get closer to Earth in this Universe," Leo said.

"Yeah." Franklin's expression went blank as he let that thought sink in. "Hopefully the war won't last much longer."

"Half of the known Multiverse is either fighting the Reich or helping the Coalition fight them." Crusher took a quick bite and, after a couple of seconds of chewing, swallowed it. "They can't hold out against that kind of opposition, can they?"

"When you've got fanatics like that SS man Fassbinder around?" Leo shook his head. "They'll fight as long as they have means."

"It sounds like you've learned that the hard way."

"We did. Fassbinder was the SS officer on Captain Lamper's cruiser during our first contact." Leo frowned. "And he oversaw the mission at Gamma Piratus. He nearly killed some of my friends and colleagues. As much as it sounds inappropriate to say as a physician…" Leo's expression darkened. "...I'm thankful he's no longer among the living."

"Strong words," Chakwas said. "But I can see they're earned."

Leo nodded in response. It was the only reaction he could properly give.




The planet Himmlerwelt was one of the first thirty planets settled by the Reich. From the beginning the planet had been selected to be the preserve of the Schutzstaffel. Only SS members and their families were permitted to own land on the planet, and only pure Aryan-blooded Germans were permitted to live and work on the world. This had kept the planet from getting the population of other colony worlds settled in the same timeframe, as even today it had a population of only a hundred million spread out across the world.

This suited the SS, of course. This was their center of power outside of Germany itself. The planet's economy was entirely geared toward providing for the needs of the SS across the entire, beleaguered interstellar empire that Hitler's Thousand Year Reich had been building for over four centuries. The Wehrmacht had nothing like it, and if the SS had their way, the regular national forces would never accomplish such a thing.

For Standartenführer Erik Fassbinder, it was his homeworld, physically and spiritually. It was natural that he had been called back to Himmlerwelt to recover from his grievous injury suffered in the system the Alliance called Gamma Piratus. On this world he was able to recuperate.

And more importantly, he was able to plan.

With practiced and firm steps, Fassbinder stepped into the office of Oberst-Gruppenführer Hans Kranefuss and raised his arm in salute. "Heil Sauckel!", he declared.

"Heil der Führer." Kranefuss returned the salute. The senior officer's head of blond hair had begun to gray at the temples, with lines forming on his face from age and work. His uniform was, as Fassbinder thought it should, immaculate and well-kept. He had the wide and strong shoulders that Fassbinder enjoyed as well, the common fruits of the SS' gene-engineering programs to enhance their bloodlines and widen the gulf of superiority they enjoyed over others.

Kranefuss had an office fit for his high rank in the organization, with medals and commendations displayed on the walls, holos of family going down to a newborn great-grandchild, and the fine furnishings one would expect for the Head of Special Operations. Behind Kranefuss an open window showed the marble spires arrayed around the Heinrich-Himmler-Platz and the wide avenues of the Hitlerstraße.

"How is your shoulder, Standartenführer?", Kranefuss asked.

"It has healed, sir," Fassbinder insisted. "I am ready to return to the field. Indeed, I already have a proposal…"

"So I have heard." Kranefuss eyed him warily. He had clearly read Fassbinder's report made this morning. "I admit I am concerned. Eicke's obsession with that vessel led him to his downfall. Now you too seem to place great stock with the Aurora. We have already diverted material to this chase..."

"We came close to catching them in the trap. Had the Heydrich and her battlegroup arrived just minutes earlier…"

"I am aware." Kranefuss nodded. "And I am aware of the real gains to be had if we were to capture the vessel or cause its destruction. The morale loss to our enemies would be noticeable. And the gains to be had from interrogating the command crew are well worth a dedicated effort. But you must understand my concern for your motives. The Reich cannot afford for you to turn this into a personal vendetta, Fassbinder. Eicke forgot his duty, and it destroyed him."

"If I may, Oberst-Gruppenführer, I am not Eicke," Fassbinder insisted. "Though I sympathize with his anger at being denied his prize. I have no such motives. I wish for the ship and the crew to be our prisoners, nothing more or less. Even just one or two taken could be of great advantage."

Kranefuss considered that. "The Raumkriegsmarine is already gathered for a counter-attack in that sector, but they intend to bypass New Brittany entirely. Are you certain you can bring enough force to secure the world?"

"Give me ten divisions and the Schirach Battle Group, Oberst-Gruppenführer. We can be at New Brittany behind the counter-offensive."

It was clear Kranefuss was still wavering. But he had to admit the prospects seemed good. The counterattack of the naval elements would draw off ships and forces from the planet. Reclaiming New Brittany was a prize worthy of this thought even without issue of the Aurora. So it was that after nearly ten seconds of consideration Kranefuss nodded. "I will send the orders. Attack only if the RKM's offensive is succeeding."

"Jawohl." Fassbinder nodded. "You will have no cause to regret this choice."

"See that I do not," was Kranefuss' reply. "You are dismissed."

Fassbinder stepped out of the office. The grin on his face widened. Although he would lack the rank to actually command the Schirach or the force being sent, with Kranefuss' orders in hand he could direct their efforts.

Those were his thoughts in the minutes that passed from the time he stepped out of Kranefuss' office to stepping into a lift. Once inside his hand reached into his pocket. When it came out, a 25 Reichpfenning coin was in his palm. He looked over the silver-sheened disc. The face side bore the visage of Führer Joachim Seickert, the seventh Führer, who had overseen the economic plans that made the conquest of the United States possible. The tail side displayed the courtyard of Hitler's Victory Memorial, with the monuments that incorporated the broken remnants of the statues from Trafalgar Square.

He held his palm up to his eyes and focused on the coin. He reached within himself and felt a surge of spiritual strength, the strength to dominate, to control, to rule, as was his birthright.

The coin lifted from his palm. It began to rotate in mid-air while sweat appeared on the brow of the SS officer.

Content in his test, Fassbinder put the coin away just as the lift doors opened. He gave a customary "Sieg Heil" to the two junior officers that they properly returned. And he walked on.

He had an attack to plan.




It had been a rough couple of days for Leo.

In those two days, he'd seen just about every kind of case he had never wanted to see in his career. It had become clear why Field Hospital Charlie had such a concentration of medical know-how given the quantity and difficulty of cases, not to mention the sheer number of them.

The need to care for the survivors of the planet's concentration and POW camps were further complicated by the situation for New Brittany's population. The Reich had essentially taken over the planet's economy and had ruthlessly seized the majority of the planet's food production to divert to the military and to German-inhabited colony worlds. The result was sad and utterly predictable. As a result, malnutrition and starvation were sending more people to the Hospital's remaining beds while occupation authorities struggled to get food supplies to needed levels.

Today Leo was in the most grueling ward of them all.

The Child Ward.

The KZ camps had child barracks, and the Nazis had proven no better at handling children than adults. All around Leo were sick, weak little stick figures passing for living children, struck by malnutrition and reduced to skin and bones in many cases.

Some of the children could barely get out of bed. Leo was busy with the sickest cases. Diseases, medical conditions aggravated by abuse, the abuse itself…

He looked down at a little boy who looked no older than six. Tears were streaming down the sobbing boy's face, gaunt and pale as it was. "I want my mummy!" The boy's accent was distinctly English.

"Well, I can look and see if she's here," Leo proposed. "I'll need a name."

"Her name is Mummy."

Leo smiled gently. "Well, I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, I need you to tell me where it hurts."

His examination confirmed the various maladies that the boy's battered little body was suffering from, including an unhealed broken rib from getting kicked by an SS guard. Leo gave him what medications he could, made sure the child's next meal was scheduled to include the nutrients he most needed, and walked on. Nasri kept step behind him. "Where did all of these children come from?", Leo muttered. "Christ…"

"The records say that the Reich imprisoned war refugees in the camps as well," Nasri replied. "If they come from nationalities not allowed in this sector." She reached for his arm. "Doctor, are you okay?"

Leo looked at her and couldn't keep the pain from his face. These were children. Children who should have been spared the horrors of what Humanity could do to itself. Instead they had been forced to endure it.

But what was even worse was his thought on the last time he'd had a child-patient. Whenever he looked into these emaciated little faces… he kept seeing the face of another young boy, in a body wracked by terminal leukemia. The boy he could not save.

Nasri's expression softened to one of sympathy. "I should have asked them not to send you here."

"It's fine. Someone has to do it." Leo shook his head. "And I was going to have to care for children again some time." He sighed. "I guess I should have remembered the lollipops."

Nasri smiled at that. "I think the others might have disapproved. Given the nutritional problems."

"Maybe." Leo looked around the ward. "But given all of the misery here… sometimes you have to accept that happiness is a category of health on its own."

"Well, perhaps we shall have to go replicate some…"

Before any more could be said, a loud tone took their attention. They looked toward one of the beds in another line and ran toward it.

Before they could get there, a Minbari was already at the bed checking vitals. "She is going into shock," the Minbari woman announced.

"Let's get her elevated." Leo helped do this task while scan results were compiled. "Anything?"

"I don't know where to begin." Nasri looked over the girl. She looked to be around twelve, which meant she could be as old as fourteen, with a pale coloration that was just tinted enough that Leo suspected she was at least partly non-Caucasian. "Multiple organ problems, injuries…"

"Okay, we need…"




Two hours later Leo was done with the emergency case and the rounds in the Child Ward. Crusher and the Asari doctor, T'Perro, had taken over the girl's care after Leo and the Minbari, Kannel, had stabilized her condition, and the teenager or near-teen was now in Intensive Care. Efforts were being made to determine if her family was among the living.

He sat quietly in the mess hall with a mostly-uneaten plate of salad in front of him, joined by a cold half-finished bowl of sausage stew.

The maker of that stew now sat across from him. Hargert noticed Leo's failure to fully take his meal. "It is terrible here," Hargert agreed.

Leo nodded. As he got a good look at the Aurora crew lounge's cook and steward, he could see the dark circles under his eyes. The lines and wrinkles on his face were deeper than usual and betrayed the fatigue in the old man. "You should take a break," Leo said. "You look like you're running yourself ragged."

"My staff and I have been cooking for the last fifty-two hours," Hargert confessed. "Food for the medical staff and for the patients here. Especially the children."

"It's what they need," Leo agreed. He sighed. Hargert had clearly not intended it, but he was making Leo feel incredibly guilty. "And I guess I should respect your efforts by finishing what you worked so hard to make."

"I understand if this work has cost you your appetite," Hargert said. "But it's not just that, is it?"

Leo sighed and shook his head. "No," he admitted. "Seeing the children makes me think of Joshua Marik."

"Of course." Hargert nodded. "That is a wound you will always carry."

"Tell me about it." Leo put a spoonful of cool sausage stew into his mouth. The lack of warmth made the taste less-appetizing than usual, but it wasn't bad by any standard, and he savored the taste a little before swallowing. "I've seen a lot of things out here that I know will always haunt me."

"Yes." Hargert resumed eating his own meal.

Given the time that flashed on his omnitool, Leo did the same. He had another set of rounds due soon. He didn't want to be making them with a grumbling stomach.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-09 03:42pm

Robert and Julia were on the bridge when notification came of a ship locking onto their drive. "Put them on, Lieutenant," Robert said to Jupap, the Alakin ops officer manning that station.

The holo-viewscreen activated and showed orbital space ahead. A vortex of green energy formed ahead of them. The vessel that came out was of Federation design, a large saucer with a drive section, nacelles slung below said section, and a triangular pod section above the saucer. Unlike the Galaxy-class ships this vessel, clearly of similar design, was compact, with few empty spaces within the dimensions of the ship.

Ensign al-Rashad spoke up at the Sensors/Science station. "The vessel is a Starfleet Nebula-class starship. Identification code reads her as Starship Lexington."

"We are being hailed."

Robert nodded. "Put them on."

Initially the screen was taken up by a man of African complexion. "This is Captain Gilaad Ben Zoma, commanding the Federation Starship Lexington." Robert thought there was a hint of Hebrew in the incoming captain's accent.

"Captain Robert Dale, Alliance Starship Aurora," Robert answered. "We were informed a Federation ship would be jumping in. I'm a little surprised myself. The front is just a few parsecs away and I've never heard of Federation ships coming this far into the liberated systems."

Ben Zoma nodded. "President Jaresh-Inyo personally authorized this mission on behalf of Starfleet Medical. We're carrying an expert to provide a technical solution to the need for medical personnel here." Ben Zoma nodded to someone off-screen.

The man who stepped into the field beside Ben Zoma was a Caucasian man, with a balding head and the look of a middle-aged man. He had the gold of engineering and operations on the shoulders of his Starfleet uniform and, peculiarly, no rank insignia pips. "This is Doctor Lewis Zimmerman. I am the Director of Holographic Imaging and Programming for Starfleet's Jupiter Station. With the permission of Starfleet Medical and your Alliance's Health and Medical Review Office, I'm here to install hardware for emergency medical holograms in the field hospitals. Now, I'll need your best technical personnel to report to my command."

Robert and Julia exchanged looks. "I wasn't made aware of this, Doctor…"

"I'm sure you'll find the order was transmitted this morning, after I finished speaking with Health Secretary Keneerk," Zimmerman said, interrupting Robert with maximum bluntness. "In the meantime, Captain, I am on a tight schedule and can't be delayed."

Julia was already looking at the log of command-level messages at her station. She highlighted one and read it. Robert knew what it likely said even before she turned to him and breathed a sigh. "It's here," she said. "Right from Admiral Maran."

"Right." Robert nodded. "Well, I'll have my Engineering and Operations staff put together a team to join you."

"Excellent. I expect to see them when I beam down in an hour. Zimmerman out."

The look on Ben Zoma's face was almost apologetic after Zimmerman stepped out of the viewer's range. "I'll have my people inform you when Doctor Zimmerman and his current team transport down. Which of your hospitals could use the help first?"

"Field Hospital Charlie," Julia said. "They have the highest patient load."

"Relay the coordinates and I'll send down additional supplies as well," Ben Zoma said. "I'm going to keep my ship at Yellow Alert for the duration of our time here."

"I don't blame you," Robert said. "We're at our highest non-combat alert as well. And I doubt Nazi warships will be picky about targets if they show up."

"I didn't think so. Lexington out." Ben Zoma's face disappeared from the screen.

Robert sat in his chair and keyed the intercom. "Jarod, Scotty, you've got an hour to put together a technical team to beam down and work with some Federation muckety-muck."

"I'll put together some people and beam down with them," Jarod volunteered.

"Aye, I'll have Tom set it up."

"Don't forget, everyone goes down with sidearms and field action uniforms," Julia said. "We're close enough to the front that I don't want anyone taking any chances."

Jarod answered, "I'll pass it on."

When the connection cut Robert gave Julia a bemused look. "And you wonder why they call you a mother hen. Are you going to be this way to your crew when you become a captain?"

That won him a playful glare.




Night was falling outside of Field Hospital Charlie. Only a thin sliver of light remained on the western horizon, obscured toward the southwest by a distant chain of mountains. Within the Hospital lights came on, bright white in their quality, while the ongoing work of tending to the sick and injured continued.

It was Leo's turn to be on watch in the Intensive Care ward. These were the worst cases, where starvation, malnutrition, and injury from accident and abuse and neglect had brought the occupants to the brink of death.

Leo found himself, after his first rounds, standing in the section for the fourteen year old girl who had been transferred the prior day. Her vitals were weak. He looked over the readout from the biobed and noted all of the failing organs, the damaged flesh and injuries, and felt a chill go down his spine at the thought of what she had suffered at the hands of other Human beings.

He stepped past the drapes and sat down in the chair beside the bed. "I don't know what your name is," he murmured. "But I want you to know… I'll do whatever I can so that you can live. So you can… get better from this, and have the future you deserve." Leo blinked back a tear as his mind wandered yet again, focusing on the future that had died in the Aurora medbay's OR.

There was, of course, no reaction. The girl was comatose.

There was movement that disturbed the cream-colored drapes. Leo looked up to see the interloper. Doctor Franklin was now standing where he'd been standing before. "Hey," said the older physician.

"Hey," Leo answered.

"I thought you'd be here," Franklin said. He looked to the girl and a clear, deep sadness came to his eyes. "We received a positive genetic match for the patient."

"Oh?" Leo felt his stomach churn. It was clear the news wasn't good.

"Four matches." Franklin shook his head. "All from the remains unearthed in the Retzoff mass grave."

"Matches already?", Leo asked. "Then they must have been at the top of the grave."

"They were. I checked the reports… the sample numbers matched with the newest remains. Probably some of those executed before your troops could secure the camp." Franklin shook his head. "It's… hard to imagine that we, as a species, can leave our homeworld, settle countless planets in the galaxy… and still treat one another like this."

"We're dealing with the most evil Human ideology to ever exist," said Leo. He swallowed. "Seeing things like this… I honestly hope I never have any of those SS men in my medbay."

"Because you don't want to treat them?"

"Because I'm afraid I wouldn't." Leo sighed. "I'm afraid I would break every oath and promise I've made as a physician."

"Right." Franklin nodded. "And we don't want to become anything like them."

"Any luck finding her name?", Leo asked.

Franklin shook his head. "Nothing yet. Judging by the reports she was one of the few survivors from the barracks they assigned her too. And the SS records were corrupted by a data virus."

"Intentional." Leo sighed.

"You know…" Franklin began. "I've had my share of cases that went bad. People who might have lived who didn't. Sometimes it was just chance, sometimes they did something they shouldn't have…" The images of an entire section of Babylon-5 filled with dead Markab came to him. "...but my greatest failure was a child patient I had during my first year on B5. He was from a species that was just making contact with the galaxy. He had a… condition that was killing him that I could heal with a surgical operation." The details were clearly vague, and Leo understood that he would have said it in just about as many words to maintain confidential details.

Leo noticed the old pain on Franklin's face. "What happened?" he asked gently.

"Well, his people had a cultural taboo against the cutting of the body," Franklin answered. "They were willing to let him die because they believed that if I cut open the body, he would lose his soul."

"And they kept you from saving him?" Leo asked.

Franklin shook his head. And Leo immediately understood what happened. A clear sympathy appeared in his expression. "You did what you thought was right," Leo said. But he knew that wouldn't be enough.

"I violated the Code of Ethics," Franklin answered. "And for nothing."

"It seems they violated something more when they murdered their own son."

Franklin didn't put much energy into his nod of acknowledgement. "To their minds he wasn't their son anymore. Just a soulless husk that thought it was alive."

"Still…" Leo shook his head.

They remained silent for several seconds. Once it was clear that neither had anything to say on the conversation material, Leo asked, "I figured you would be moving on by now. I know you're here to inspect things for Earthdome, but that should only be a day or two of your time, right?"

"True. And I'm due on Harris Station next week for a conference with all of the various medical organizations to go over the distribution of medical supplies. However, Earthdome wants me to stay until Dr. Zimmerman gets his holographic system ready." Franklin made a wistful shake of his head. "It seems some people at Earthdome are interested in Starfleet's emergency medical hologram technology."

"I've heard those things have terrible bedside manners."

"Just one of the many things I'll have to evaluate." Franklin checked his watch. "I've got a meeting to go to with the Field Hospitals' Administration. I'll see you for lunch tomorrow?"

Leo nodded. "Yeah. Have a good evening." He sat and waited some time after Franklin walked away. He finally stood up and moved on, ready to begin another set of rounds.




Dreams are tricky things. Typically, people start forgetting them as they wake up, which could be an advantage when you're dealing with nightmares.

But for Leo, the nightmares that came that night refused to fade away once he was awake. He was back in the Intensive Care ward with that nameless fourteen year old survivor from the camp. Her vitals had started dropping and everything he did, no matter how medically sound, no matter how much it should have worked, failed.

And then, as the monitors let off the loud tone warning of a stopped heart, her eyes snapped open and looked at him with anger. "You let me die," the girl said, in an indeterminate accent. "Just as you let Joshua Marik die."

That part of the nightmare stuck with Leo the strongest. He stepped out of his shower and looked to his fogged up mirror. A hand wiped away the film of moisture and revealed his reflection. His brown eyes betrayed how tired he felt. Remnant water from the shower slowly dripped its way down his skin, little reflective dots on the dark surface.

He stared at his reflection as the nightmare again ran its course through his mind and his heart. Slowly, quietly, his hand moved toward the toothbrush. Only after gripping it did he re-focus his mind on the immediate needs of his hygiene. He had morning rounds in one of the normal care wards coming; he would need breakfast before going down.

Breakfast, and a good cup of coffee.




Andre Faqin was also sitting down to a nice breakfast, better than some of his fellow citizens were eating.

It was partway through this meal that he heard the tone and went to his basement. The comm device was flashing. His heart was hammering as he hit the accept key.

The face that appeared was Standartenführer Fassbinder. "Ah, Faqin," he said. "As you have served the Reich well, I wanted to give you proper warning. I suggest you not arrive at work today. Remain in your basement."

Faqin immediately knew what that meant. "So you are coming?"

"The attack will commence soon, yes. And I would hate for you to be trapped in it."

"Thank you, Herr Standartenführer."




When Leo arrived at Transporter Station 2, medical kit in hand and his white doctor's lab coat over his black-with-blue-trim uniform, he was met by Jarod, Tom, and Lucy. "Good morning," he said to them. "Coming down too?"

"We're heading back to Field Hospital Charlie today," Jarod answered for them. "Zimmerman's going to be at Alpha today setting up there, but he wants us to finish installing all of the holo-emitters in the wards of Charlie."

"All of the wards?" asked Leo. "Even the Intensive and Critical ones?"

"I'm going to be the one in Critical, so yeah," Lucy said, arms crossed. Leo noted that the three were in their field action uniforms, not standard duty uniforms, and with pulse pistols in holsters on their hips. Lucy additionally carried the hilt to a lakesh on the other hip.

"And who authorized him to do this? We can't have technical personnel stomping around all day among our most vulnerable patients."

"Apparently he's got every big medical bigwig you can find signing off on him doing this." Jarod shook his head. "I'll handle Intensive Care, though, so you don't need to worry about that."

Leo sighed. At least Jarod, who knew something of medicine given his multiple talents, would know how to accommodate the needs of the Intensive Care ward. "Alright. I can see you don't have a choice in this." Leo went up to the transporter pad. "Let's get to work," he said, with little enthusiasm.




The day was getting past the equivalent of noon locally - roughly two hours ahead of noon for the Aurora crew's clock - when Leo reported to the transfer ward. Doctors Chakwas and T'Perro were already at work, going over the patient files and giving them final checkups before the orderlies moved them on toward the transporter station. Leo activated the medical omnitool and pulled the hand scanner out of his pocket. He started work on his first patient, a man in his thirties, and quickly verified the patient was ready for transfer to a dedicated facility elsewhere. With a nod an orderly started pushing the man's stretcher bed away.

"How much longer are you going to be here, Doctor Gillam?", Chakwas asked.

"Until the Aurora is called away, I imagine," Leo replied. "Maybe in a few days at the pace we're going. You?"

"I'm on my way back to Grodni 3 with this load," she answered. "The Systems Alliance has recalled me to testify before Parliament on the conditions here. And I have preparations to make for my new posting."

"So you're going to be the senior attending physician for the trip back on the Lumwe."

"It'll keep me busy. It's a two week trip back to Alliance space, after all."

"Right." Leo scanned his next patient, a twenty year old male. He noted, with concern, signs of organ failure. An extra look verified that the case had yet to be serious. This put Leo in the position of making a judgment on whether to keep the man here, in the hopes of further stabilizing him, or sending him on to the ship for transfer to the full facilities at the Grodni 3 Medical Complex. After a quick check on the patient's vitals, Leo made his decision and flagged the patient for special care on the Lumwe.

For a moment he was struck by how just that little decision could yet make a huge difference. If he was wrong, he increased the man's risk of dying while in transit. The Lumwe was a state of the art Alliance hospital ship, true, but hospital ships could carry only so much medical gear or staff. It was the difference between a point five percent chance of death and a one percent chance - still low, low enough to be considered safe, but double his chance of dying compared to the Field Hospital with its greater number of medical support staff (not counting Zimmerman's impending holographic doctors).

On the other hand, if he kept the man needlessly and the planet was subjected to an attack…

"It is going to be interesting, being posted to a vessel again," Chakwas said, taking Leo out of his thoughts. He looked over at the older woman as she examined a sixteen year old boy. Another orderly was already bringing up Leo's next patient, a twenty-five year old female.

"Oh? What kind?"

"A new frigate," Chakwas replied. "It's from a joint project with the Turians. The Normandy."

"From what I've heard, your frigates are just as spartan as our attack ships," Leo noted.

"Yes, but it will still come with the best medical gear we can equip it with." Chakwas smiled. "And the crew is going to be rather small. Just a few dozen people. I won't have much of a staff, maybe a nurse and an orderly, but I'll get to know the crew more easily."

That drew a nod of agreement from Leo as he finished the last scan on his current patient, the twenty-something woman. Her paled skin had a brown tint to it, and her features made Leo think she was Latin American mestizo, or perhaps straight up Native American. Healed internal injuries, lingering malnutrition… and something Leo hadn't expected to see. "Doctor Chakwas, what do you make of this?" WIth a tap on his omnitool Leo projected the data over to hers.

Chakwas looked down at the amber hard-light surrounding her left forearm, a contrast to the blue used for the Alliance's new omnitools, and examined the readings he sent. Her expression changed to one of shock. "How was that missed…?"

The girl looked up and asked something. It wasn't in English, but Leo's translator device kicked in and gave him the proper translation: "What is it?"

"You're pregnant," Leo answered.

His patient's eyes widened in shock.

"It looks like she's about six to eight weeks along," Chakwas confirmed. "That would put the time of conception somewhere between three to five weeks before the camp was liberated."

It was clear that the woman had no idea of her condition. She stared off into space with a resigned look. As if the universe, or multiverse, was out to hurt her personally.

Leo had a sick, terrible feeling in his stomach. For form's sake, he asked a question he was sure had an unhappy answer. "Do you know where the father is? Do you want us to find him?"

The answer was a single word that confirmed Leo's suspicions. "No."

Leo looked back to Chakwas. "With her physical condition, pregnancy is dangerous."

"I know. But I can't justify leaving her here." Chakwas walked over and took the girl's hand. "I'll see to it that her condition is noted and I will assume control of her treatment. She'll be fine, Doctor Gillam."

Leo could see Chakwas was convinced. He nodded. "Okay." He cleared the patient for transfer to the Lumwe and went on to the next. "I wonder how we missed that?"

"The first medical teams examining the Retzoff survivors were exhausted by the time I got here two weeks ago," Chakwas pointed out. "I'll have to look on her chart, but I suspect we'll find that one of the younger physicians was responsible. He or she was exhausted, sleep-deprived…"

"It's easy to make a mistake then," Leo agreed. "Especially with emotions as they'd be, seeing that camp for the first time. And maybe, if it was one of the non-Human doctors, they might have not recognized the earliest stage of Human pregnancy."

"Also possible." Chakwas was already at work on her next patient. "Practicing medicine inevitably leads to moments that can leave a physician emotionally compromised. Practicing medicine in this situation, seeing these people…" Chakwas shook her head. A grim look crossed her face, drawn and tired as it looked. "I can't help but wonder what went through the minds of the camp's medical staff. We know they had one. How could a doctor taught to heal accept such widespread abuse?"

"No one is ever the villain in their own eyes," Leo said. He was already scanning the next patient. This one, a male of somewhere between sixteen and twenty, had a thousand yard stare and an expression that bordered on catatonia. Leo touched the young man's shoulder and said, "You're doing just fine. And you're never coming back to this place." Once an orderly moved the patient on, Leo continued to speak to Chakwas. "As far as those SS doctors are concerned, their obligation to medicine begins and ends with what the SS and its leaders says it is."

"Those men aren't real doctors," Chakwas hissed.

"We know that, but they think they are." Leo shook his head. "There's the scary thing about this kind of thing, about Nazism and all of the other systems like theirs. They twist and corrupt everything, every institution, every occupation, to accept their cruelty. Doctors aren't immune to it. Nobody is. It's why we have to win this war."

They finished their current pair of patients. While the ward wasn't empty, it was clear they had reduced the population of the ward by a significant amount.

"I'd better get my bags," Chakwas said. She extended a hand toward Leo. "Take care, Doctor Gillam. I look forward to seeing you again sometime."

"Good luck on your new posting, Doctor Chakwas," Leo answered.




Jarod, Lucy, and Tom Barnes gathered in the Standard Care Ward for the test. "I hope this is worth all of the time and work we put into it," Barnes muttered.

"Hold on, it's Zimmerman." Jarod keyed his omnitool. Zimmerman appeared on the screen it was projecting, clearly back on the Lexington. "Doctor?"

"I've completed the testing at the other sites," said Zimmerman. "How is your progress?"

"I was just about to turn it on," Jarod said.

"Then, by all means, do so."

Hiding his slight irritation at Zimmerman's ego, Jarod looked up. "Computer, activate Emergency Medical Hologram program."

A holographic figure formed from nothingness, clad in a Starfleet uniform with medical blue on the shoulders. Jarod was not the least bit surprised to see that the figure was the striking image of Zimmerman himself. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency," the hologram stated.

"This is a hardware test," Lucy said.

"Ah. Of course." Much to the surprise of the others there was a hint of impatience and irritation at this fact in the hologram's voice. "And how, precisely, did you intend to test me?"

"Let's start with a standard medical scan," Zimmerman said.

"Okay, start with me," said Lucy.

The EMH picked up a Starfleet medical tricorder from a nearby rack. He pulled the scanner piece from the end of it and ran it over Lucy, from head to stomach, while looking at the display. "No medical issues detected. All organs functioning properly. Body mass is well into acceptable levels. Congratulations, young lady, you are the picture of health. Although I am noticing an above-normal level of stress indicators."

"I've been in a hospital full of concentration camp survivors for two days," Lucy replied. A frown crossed her face.

"Ah. And there are some peculiarities in your body's bio-electric levels. I recommend you get a full workup to identify the cause of the issue."

"Let's see one more scan," Zimmerman said. "And allow the EMH to select his subject."

"Right."

The EMH nodded to Zimmerman and Jarod and looked between him and Barnes. The latter crossed his arms and frowned when the EMH turned his tricorder toward him.

"Well. Hrm. I'm reading glucose levels above recommended levels, and quite a few chemicals in your digestive system… what precisely have you been imbibing?"

"Soda," Barnes answered. He held up his canteen. "Pop."

The EMH scanned the canteen. An expression of disgust came to his face. "Sir, I must recommend you get rid of that substance immediately. Remove it from your diet."

"Leo's been on me for years to cut back on soda, and it didn't work for him either," Barnes retorted. "So why don't you go frak…" He stopped at seeing Jarod's intent look. "Right, a test."

"Well, if you want to go on poisoning yourself, that's fine by me."

Lucy shook her head. "Okay, this thing is way too acerbic. Are we really going to inflict its personality on these people? They've suffered enough."

"I may make some tweaks to the personality algorithms," Zimmerman conceded.

"What about the ethics programming, Doctor?" Jarod was looking at the screen with concern. "This thing had no problems blurting out medical information about Lieutenant Lucero and Lieutenant Barnes. That's not ethical in medicine."

Zimmerman fidgeted. "Yes, well, that may be an artifact of the testing mode. He has to demonstrate his knowledge and ability as a medical doctor, and that means speaking about what he is examining."

"
Sounds like a pretty damned bad bug if you ask me," Barnes grumbled. "I wouldn't want to be treated by this thing."

"I'll have you know that I am composed from the medical knowledge of Starfleet's finest doctors," the EMH protested. "My ability to make accurate medical judgements is unequaled."

"And that might be the only thing you're good for, you frakking…"

"Okay, the test is done," Jarod said, interrupting them. "Computer, disengage EMH."

The holographic counterpart of Zimmerman faded away into thin air.

"I'll get to work on final coding updates," Zimmerman said. "I should have them for you before the Lexington departs tomorrow."

"Thank you. Jarod out."

"Well, at least we're done with that," Barnes sighed. "I just want to get back to my real job."

"You said it," Lucy sighed.

There was something in her voice that told Jarod she was being the most affected by what they were dealing with. With her abilities, Jarod wasn't surprised. She could sense the misery and fear and loss from the camp survivors directly. He wondered, briefly, if she felt such things like they actually belonged to her in the first place?

"Well, we'd better finish up down here," said Jarod. "Let's run some more equipment tests before we call it a day."




Robert was finishing up daily paperwork in his office when he got the call. Admiral Drelini appeared. The Dorei woman, one of the Alliance's best field admirals and commander of the 9th Fleet, went right to business. "The Reich has launched a counter-offensive adjacent to your current sector. They appear to be attempting to retake the Pleiades Cluster and their major colonies on Alpina and New Westphalia."

Robert nodded. It explained some of his nervousness lately, the feeling of something being about to happen, which was common enough when you were on the front of a war. "Do you need anything from the Aurora?"

"We need to make sure all civilian vessels are gone from the area of New Brittany. Issue an immediate Level One evacuation order. All non-combat ships are to jump to safety elsewhere, regardless of previously-planned destination. As soon as this operation is complete I want you to withdraw the Aurora to rendezvous with the Epaminondas Battle Group at Delta Korva. We'll need every available combat ship for the counter-attack."

"We'll get on that immediately, Admiral. Dale out." Robert immediately hit the intercom key on his desk. "Bridge, we just received an evacuation order from Command. I want all medical personnel and patients evacuated from the Field Hospitals immediately. Bring all transporters online and have Koenig launch to assist the evacuation. Launch our runabouts too if you must."

"Acknowledged, Captain," Jupap replied.

Robert got up from his seat and went out to the bridge. "Go to Code Yellow and standby for shields," he ordered, and the officers present went to work on it. Julia, Angel, and Cat were the only senior officers on the bridge given all of the officers sent down to New Brittany or off-duty. Julia moved over to her chair while Robert assumed his. "Put the fighters on standby."

"Is it bad?" asked Julia.

"The Nazis are striking toward Pleiades," Robert replied. "Drelini wants an evacuation of non-combat personnel from New Brittany."

"Incoming signal from the Lexington," said Jupap.

"Put Ben Zoma on."

The Starfleet captain appeared on the screen. "We've heard of your evacuation order, Captain," Ben Zoma stated. "I've ordered my transporter crews to assist. We'll take on as many patients and medical staff as we can."

"Thank you, Captain." Robert nodded. "Your help is apprec-".

Before he could finish, Caterina spoke up. "Captain, I've got warp signatures on long range sensors," she said. "They're consistent with anti-matter pulse drives."

Robert turned away from Ben Zoma's image to face Cat. Julia did the same. "What's their course, Lieutenant?"

Cat was already making that determination. And the answer was easy to guess given the look on her face. "They're on their way here. They'll be in range in about forty minutes."

"They must be racing in at maximum warp to get here that fast," Julia observed.

Robert was already turning back to Ben Zoma. "Did you get that, Captain?"

"Yes," he answered. "We have already commenced the evacuation."

"We're doing the same. I want to get you and the hospital ships out of here before the enemy enters range."

"Have your science officers keep a close eye on their short-range sensors," Julia added. "They might have sent cloaked attack ships ahead of their main force."

"We're already running regular sensor sweeps. I will keep you informed if we find anything."

Robert returned to his seat. By the time he did so Ben Zoma's image was gone from the holo-viewscreen. "We'll need to do the same. Jupap, set the jump drive for…" He considered his options for a moment. "...Charing Station, C502. We'll start jumping hospital ships out if we need to."

"Doing so now."

"The evacuation?" he asked Julia.

She nodded back after checking her station. "Already underway."

That was it for the moment. All they could do was watch and wait.




The short timetable being given for the evacuation had made one thing abundantly clear: they were not going to get everyone out.

Leo hated that thought. If the planet fell to the enemy, the hospital patients would go right back to the inhumane conditions the Nazis had kept them in, if they weren't murdered out of hand. But they just didn't have the time to get everyone out. Especially Critical and Intensive Care patients, who were in delicate, even fragile, conditions that defied the use of transporters or shuttle flights. They were left with no choice at the moment but to focus on getting the more-stable patients to safety.

The chaos in the Standard Care Ward was barely contained as patients were secured to their beds and rolled out. A babble of frightened and uncertain voices threatened to overwhelm the necessary verbal communication between doctors and orderlies that kept the evacuation going. Leo finished securing straps to keep a middle-aged woman secure on her bed even as she weakly resisted. "No," she pleaded. "Please."

"This is for your own safety," Leo assured her. "They'll come off as soon as you're on a ship."

"No… I don't want to be tied down," continued the protest.

"I promise you, it's just to keep you from falling off, they will come off once you're safely on a ship." Leo could say no more as an orderly, a Tellarite volunteer, came along and began pushing the bed away. He moved on to his next patient.

"How is it going?" Leo looked to his left. Franklin was now standing beside him.

"I think we can clear the Standard Ward," Leo answered. "Where's Doctor Jankowski?"

"He's already on the Halwell. I'm going up to the Renari with the next evacuation load."

Leo frowned. "Who's staying behind to watch the patients we can't get out?"

"T'Perro and Crusher have volunteered." Franklin had a guilty look on his face. The unspoken fact is that he would have done the same if he could, but he was undoubtedly operating under orders from Earthdome to vacate the front if he was at risk of death or capture. "With a small staff."

"I'll stay too," Leo said.

"Are you sure about that? Two doctors will be…"

"...not nearly enough, and you know that," Leo pointed out. He nodded to an orderly to move his next patient onward.

And Franklin did know it. Just as Leo knew that this was dangerous, one of the most dangerous decisions he'd ever made. There were only so many friendly troops on the planet, there was no telling how many enemy troops would be landing, and no telling when, or if, the Alliance could return in force. His own survival was much more likely if he agreed to evacuate.

But that was something Leo simply couldn't do. Even thinking about it brought that poor fourteen year old in Intensive Care back to his mind. She, and many others, would live or die based on his decisions in the coming hour.

"Okay," Franklin said. "I'll inform the others."




"He's going to what?!"

Leo's decision, relayed by Jarod, made Robert want to beam down and knock sense into his friend. "He does know there's no telling when we can get back to get him out, right?"

"He knows," Jarod replied.

"Don't tell me you're all staying with him," Julia sighed.

"Of course not. You need us up there. We're preparing to beam back up as soon as the last evac shuttle launches."

Once the channel cut Robert shook his head. "He's being stubborn," he grumbled.

Julia replied with a nod. "I know. And at the same time, he's doing something he is convinced is right."

"Yeah."

"Cat, status on those Nazi ships coming in?"

"Eighteen minutes out," Cat answered. I've been analyzing the warp signatures' power source. It's not good news."

"How many ships?"

"Somewhere between eight to ten." She looked at him with clear worry on her face. "And one of them is a dreadnought."

"If that's true, we'll need the Epaminondas and her battle group to retake the planet," Julia said.

"Assuming that's where Relini wants us."




"I'm staying too."

Jarod and Barnes looked at Lucy as she said those words. Neither sighed or reacted negatively to her announcement. Both understood it. "Keep an eye on Leo's back then?" Jarod asked.

"Of course," she said. "I'll keep an eye on him. If we can get out on our own, we will. If not…"

"We'll be back for you," insisted Barnes.

"Only five minutes until those Nazi ships make orbit." Jarod's hand movements brought the blue light of his omnitool to life. He tapped the hard-light key for his comms. "Jarod to Aurora, two to beam up. Lieutenant Lucero is staying."

"Understood, Commander. Transport is imminent."

Lucy nodded and swallowed. She had the feeling she needed to be here, to help Leo and the others survive, but that didn't mean she was eager to be stuck on a planet full of Nazis. If Meridina had beamed down, she would feel a whole lot better about this…

This won't be the first time you've been in a fight without her, Lucy reminded herself. You can do this. You did this on Gamma Piratus, and you're even better now.

That was the thought she kept in her head even as Jarod and Barnes were pulled away by twin columns of light.




The minutes continued on. One by one the various civilian ships in orbit - cargo ships and hospital ships - made the jump to warp. Some of the planetary elite fled in interstellar-capable yachts, clearly hoping to escape the fighting and any Nazi revenge should the planet fall back to their hands.

Jarod stepped onto the bridge. "Tom's already on his way to the Koenig," he said, making a beeline for Ops. Jupap immediately relinquished the post and went to his backup post along the starboard side of the bridge at Communications. Nick Locarno had already reported to the helm, meaning the entire bridge crew was now gathered.

"Where's Lucy?" Julia asked.

"She decided to stay with Leo and watch his back," Jarod answered. "So did Nasri."

"I hope General Chaganam has his troops ready to protect that hospital," Robert murmured.

Julia looked over at a data screen. "It looks like he's got the Turians' 8th Regiment and a division of Dorei troops in the area. A regiment of the Free Worlds Legionnaires is going to hold New Rennes. A hundred or so freelance mercenaries." A slight smirk crossed Julia's face. "I wonder if Massani is down there."

Before Robert could ask who she was talking about, Cat spoke up. "Enemy ships coming out of warp."

As she spoke, the holographic tactical map by Julia lit up. The planet dominated the picture while eight angry red markers now blipped into existence. Robert frowned. The enemy had come out of warp in a position to try and pin them against New Brittany. Whomever it was, they didn't want the Aurora and the other ships to escape.

"Not just any Reich ships," Julia murmured, now looking at the holo-viewscreen. Robert did the same thing and frowned, recognizing the familiar dark coloring adorning the Reich warships instead of the customary gunmetal gray.

"The SS," he said. As he did so, his mind went back over two months to 452TD and the Nazi trap during the failed raid operation. SS ships showed up at the end to try and trap us too. He felt a sudden suspicion that the timing of that attack had not been a matter of luck.

"The dreadnought's IFF code is reading as the Baldur von Schirach," Jarod said. "It was one of the ships heavily damaged at the Battle of New Pommern three months ago."

Before Robert could inquire further, a voice came from the bridge speakers. "This is Captain Gilaad Ben Zoma of the Federation Starship Lexington to Reich warships. As the Federation is militarily neutral in this conflict and my ship is here for medical and humanitarian operations only, I must formerly request that you…"

The Nazis, unsurprisingly, didn't even let the Starfleet captain finish his pro forma request. Robert suspected even Ben Zoma knew they wouldn't, but went through the motions to leave no doubt in the Federation as to what occurred.

The Schirach fired its bow super-disruptor assembly into the Nebula-class ship's shields. The large green energy beams slammed savagely into the blue energy shields protecting the Federation starship. The Lexington's shields bore the blast without failing. "Their shields are down to thirty-two percent," Jarod said.

"Link us with Ben Zoma. We're going for the weak spot in their formation." Robert looked to Julia. "Combat launch the Koenig."

Julia nodded. She knew how he thought, that he hadn't wanted to risk the Koenig being crippled if he could avoid it, but the situation would require the extra firepower to make sure they all got out. "Koenig is combat launching," she confirmed. Although no one could see it directly, everyone could image the sight of the attack ship forcefully decoupling itself from the airlock and flying backward from its protective dock in the back of the primary hull. "The other ships are signaling readiness to follow our lead."

Robert was already looking over his tactical display. The Aurora and Lexington were joined by a Dorei starbird, two Colonial Confederation destroyers, and a wing of Turian frigates supporting their ground troops. "Hold the Colonial and Turian ships back to protect the remaining civilians as best as they can. I want that starbird with us to blow away that Nazi cruiser." He identified a Nazi ship anchoring the enemy formation over the North Pole of New Brittany. "Let's go!"

Even by this point shots were being exchanged with the Nazi ships. The fire grew furiously as the Aurora and her ad hoc formation plunged toward the enemy. The enemy superdreadnought fired again, this time skimming the shields of the Aurora near one of her nacelles. Indeed, it quickly became obvious that the bulk of enemy fire wasn't at the helpless civilian ships or their lighter protectors, it was at the Aurora. We're the target, Robert realized. They're after us. Maybe this whole operation is after us.

At Angel's command, azure and amber energy lashed out at their foes, joined by the furious amber energy pulses coming from the Koenig's pulse phaser cannons. The enemy cruiser ahead took the hits on the shields and kept firing back. The Lexington joined in on the attack with her phasers and a barrage of photon torpedoes. The Dorei starbird beside them fired purple-hued plasma cannons into the enemy light cruiser adjacent to their main target, causing red shields to flare while silver-white solar torpedoes from the Alliance-affiliated ships smashed against both targets.

The range grew close, and Robert was afraid the enemy cruiser might very well ram them to stop them, but as they approached the last kilometer Angel's fire found its mark. Thick pulses of sapphire energy from the Aurora's pulse plasma cannon battery hammered down the shields of the enemy Sedan-class cruiser and began blasting into the armored hull. As a spread of solar torpedoes threatened to break the enemy ship in half, the phasers and photon torpedoes on the Lexington found their targets in the enemy ship's drive section. The SS cruiser was reduced to flaming debris as the Aurora and the other ships flew past.

They didn't get away unscathed. Missiles from the other enemy ships converged on one of the Colonial Confederation destroyers until its shields nearly disappeared. A thick emerald beam from a second enemy heavy cruiser moving up behind them speared the rear engine section and blew the destroyer apart. "Missiles inbound on the Serene Care," Jarod said. "She's trying to evade but…"

Robert could only watch in horror as missile after missile found the hospital ship, carrying thousands of sick and wounded patients and medical staff with her crew. Her shields took the hits with bursts of blue light. But with more shots incoming there was no way they could get to warp before taking a deadly blow. One missile hit finally found hull, blowing debris from the rear of the ship. Another missile came in, looking very much like a kill shot…

....and struck the Turian frigate that threw itself in front of the beleaguered hospital ship. The mass effect shields, backed by deflector shielding, absorbed the first missile and then another.

But they couldn't absorb the super-disruptor blast from the enemy superdreadnought. The thick emerald beam speared the Turian ship and blew it apart. The same beam grazed the hospital ship, sending more flame and debris from its wounded hull.

"Serene Calm reports that their warp systems are damaged, they're not sure they can make it to warp."

"We're on it," Zack's voice said. The Koenig swept in above the hospital ship. A ribbon of blue light emerged from the ventral hull of the attack vessel and gripped the bow of the Serene Calm. "We've got them in tow. IU jump in three, two, one…"

The Koenig created a swirling green vortex of light in front of it and pulled the larger Serene Calm into the vortex as more fire converged on their location. They were gone mere seconds before another disruptor shot struck the vortex wall with energy energy to violently collapse the jump point.

One by one, the remaining friendly ships jumped to warp speed. The Aurora and Lexington waited until they were all gone before they did the same. "Any sign of pursuit?" Julia asked.

Caterina took a moment to respond. "No. I'm not reading them going to warp. It looks like they know they can't catch us."

"They could catch the hospital ships," Jarod pointed out. He turned in his chair and looked at Robert and Julia with a furrowed brow. "But not us."

"And we're the ones they're after," Robert said. "452TD, now this… That has to be the reason."

"We'll report this to Maran." Julia couldn't keep the worry off her face for another reason. "And hopefully, we'll be going back soon to get Leo, Nasri, and Lucy back."

"Hopefully," Robert agreed.




On the bridge of the von Schirach, Fassbinder watched with irritation as the Aurora successfully escaped into warp.

"The enemy ships are out of range." The report was from one of the bridge officers.

"Did the enemy abandon their ground troops?" asked Oberführer Wolfgang Schiller, the dreadnought's commander.

"Ja. I am reading troop concentrations around New Rennes and Renardville. The enemy is generating a theater shield covering both sites."

"They will not endure our firepower for long. Prepare for orbital bombardment."

Fassbinder felt a wave of irritation at that. Schiller was being impatient. He spoke up immediately. "Herr Oberführer, with all respect, our orders are to preserve the planet."

"Why? The Bretons aren't Aryans anyway." Schiller's expression showed his frustration. "We need our troops for other worlds."

"Our orders came directly from Oberst-Gruppenführer Kranefuss. The planet must be taken intact. The Reich needs its food supplies untouched."

Schiller's face briefly twisted into anger before he restored control of himself. "I do not recall asking for your 'advice', Standartenführer. I do not need you to tell me how to run my ship!"

Fassbinder bristled at having his place questioned. But he could not afford a fight with Schiller. "My apologies, Oberführer, I overstepped my bounds."

Mollified, Schiller returned his gaze back to the screen. "If not for the illustrious Oberst-Gruppenführer, I would already be bombing this wretched planet to rubble. But I am aware of them and will follow them. Comms, inform Gruppenführer Fischer that we are ready to deploy his troops."

"Jawohl."

Fassbinder waited for another moment before saying, with great care, "With your permission, Oberführer, I will leave to join our landing forces."

"Very well. Make sure I am kept informed."

"Jawohl."

"You are dismissed."

With that permission, Fassbinder left the bridge to find transport down to the planet.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-10 10:45am

Between his education and interaction with other people, Leo had become familiar with various sayings. "Crossing the Rubicon", "Past the point of no return", and such. The idea of taking an action that cannot be reversed and committing yourself until the very end.

He knew that was what he had done when he decided to stay on New Brittany regardless of the danger. And it gave him a feeling of peace now that the point of no return had been passed.

If anything undermined that, it was that his staying meant Nasri and Lucy had as well, and if anything happened to them he would have played a part in that.

But there was no time for that now. Right now the Field Hospital had to be set up to receive wounded in addition to its remaining patients. The Critical and Intensive cases that couldn't be evacuated still needed their usual care. In short, he was going to be busy busy busy, and that kept Leo's mind occupied.

Currently he was overseeing the Critical Care Ward, doing rounds. "Doctor Gillam." T'Perro approached him from the door. "Doctor Crusher asked me to find you and see if you know the access codes to the supply locker."

Leo shook his head. "I was a visiting physician only and they never told me. They didn't tell you?"

"I'm afraid not," the Asari answered. The translation programs rendered her voice into an accent that sounded like refined English. "Jankowski was supposed to relay the codes to Crusher before leaving."

"But he didn't." Leo activated his omnitool and used it to connect to Lucy. "Gillam to Lucero."

"Lucero here."

"How busy are you?"

"Doctor Crusher asked me to double-check the security systems for the hospital. In case we get attacked."

"There was a mix-up and nobody provided the access codes for the secure storage room. We've got vital medicines and equipment in there we're going to need access to."

"Great. Well, I can try to hack it. These new engineering omnitools have direct accessing abilities even our best multidevices never enjoyed."

"If you have to break the door down, go ahead. But please don't do anything to damage what's inside."

"Understood. I'll let you know when I'm done. Lucero out."

"Thank you, Doctor Gillam," T'Perro said.

"You're welcome. Although Lucy's the one who will deserve the thanks." Leo signed off on his current patient's status and left the sleeping man to continue resting. "How are the preparations going?"

"The military doctors will handle the triage cases for their soldiers. The Standard Care Ward should be ready to receive new patients soon."

"Let me know when they start coming in."

"Of course." With nothing else to say, T'Perro walked away.




Fassbinder was cleared to transport down several hours after the first landings. Gruppenführer Hermann Fischer, head of the 34th SS Panzer Army, had made his invasion HQ the town hall of a rural village called Grinouville-sur-Crissons. Fassbinder entered this HQ and brought up his arm in a salute and a bellowed "Heil Sauckel".

"Heil Sauckel," echoed Fischer, before he turned back to the holographic display of the area. Grinouville-sur-Crissons was along the Crissons itself, a small river flowing down to the sea near New Rennes. They were still in the upper reaches of said river. The ten landed divisions of SS troops, a mix of infantry, power-armored Panzergrenadiers, and armored fighting vehicles, had already secured their foothold in a fifty mile radius around the original landing point, about four miles from Grinouville-sur-Crissons. Fassbinder looked with approval upon the tactical plots showing that the enemy was in retreat.

"Standartenführer, welcome," said Fischer. "Oberst-Gruppenführer Kranefuss will be pleased with the speed at which we are securing our hold on this world. We have identified enemy forces of several origins. Alliance alien troops, those of the Turians, and those with the large walking tanks they call 'BattleMechs'."

"Are they enough to hold us from the city?"

"It may be a difficult fight, but we have the force to punch through," Fischer assured him. "Is there anything in particular that Oberst-Gruppenführer Kranefuss wanted from your presence?"

"I must get to one of their field hospitals," Fassbinder explained. "There are subjects of interest to the SS-Reichführer that I must recover."

Fischer seemed to consider that. "Which hospital? We have identified four on the planet. Possibly five."

"The one near New Rennes."

"There are two in the vicinity of New Rennes." Fischer indicated the map. One of his subordinates helpfully highlighted the structures.

Fassbinder remained quiet as he thought about it. Not just thought, but felt. He could feel a cool thrum within him that clarified his vision. It granted him an insight he would have otherwise not felt.

And it confirmed what he suspected.

Fassbinder indicated one of the hospitals that, coincidentally, was located beside what had been the Retzoff KZ on New Brittany. "There," he said. "That is where my subjects will be. It fits their mentality to be tending to the untermensch and insubordinate that are kept in the camps."

"I will dispatch a division to force their way through," Fischer said. "But no more. I cannot afford to let my troops be cut off from each other without further support, Standartenführer "

"Very well. And while your troops prepare the way for my detachment, I will arrange for an agent to provide further intelligence," Fassbinder offered. "I will need a secure communication station."

With the help of one of Fischer's junior officers, an Untersturmführer, Fassbinder was directed to a comm set that could send and receive transmissions from SS operative comm units. Once Fassbinder had control he was quickly able to send the signal out.

Several minutes passed, during which Fassbinder was becoming irritated, before Andre Faqin's face appeared. "Yes, Standartenführer?"

"Where have you been?" Fassbinder demanded. The last thing he needed was for Faqin to have compromised anything.

"I was away from the house when I received your signal. My landlord required assistance." Faqin smirked. "He wanted to burn his Alliance credits for fear that he would be discovered with them when the SS reclaimed the city."

Fassbinder's irritation declined slightly. "And did he?"

"Yes. But I recorded it with the set you provided."

"Good, agent. But I have another task for you. I would like you to return to work."

Faqin showed his confusion. "Sir? Are you sure? I would not want to be seen as a collaborator…"

"Do not worry. I will ensure your true loyalties are honored," Fassbinder assured him. "But I need an agent inside the hospital to confirm who is present and where they typically are."

"Very well, Standartenführer. I will contact you when I can."

"Good. I will speak to you later, agent. Fassbinder out."

While around him the staff of Gruppenführer Fischer continued their work of organizing and overseeing the attack, Fassbinder was left with nothing to do. Nothing but waiting.

Waiting… and preparing, which he started by taking out another Reichpfenning coin.




The mess hall felt empty given the activity it had shown when Leo arrived. A few orderlies and a couple of the nurses getting late lunches were the only people in evidence.

The real surprise came when Leo stepped up to the food line and found something he hadn't expected. A steaming large pot was filled with a familiar substance for him: sausage stew.

"Ah, Doctor Gillam." Hargert stepped up on the other side of the food bar. He put on an even fresher pot of the same stew. "I was hoping to see you. You must keep your strength up."

"Hargert, what are you doing here?" Leo asked.

"Keeping the staff well fed, of course," Hargert said. "Albert will be attending things on the ship until they return for us."

"But… if they don't…"

"Then I will probably be killed by the SS." Hargert shrugged. "So be it. 'Nie weider', Leonard. It means more to me than not becoming a Nazi myself. It means I, and Germans like me, will never again allow these evil men to scare us away from doing the right thing. You and your colleagues and patients need good food, and I am here to provide it."

Leo could only nod in reply. "Thanks, Hargert."

"Now, stew alone does not a meal make," Hargert said. "I have some roast beef sandwiches for you as well, and more strudel baking."

Considering what Leo expected soon, he asked, "Have you been given any stores for our Turian friends? They can't eat our food."

"No, they cannot. But dextro-based foods can still be cooked, and I have found a number of effective recipes for Turian foodstuffs that your patients will, I think, enjoy," Hargert said. "Now please excuse me, I must check on the chicken soup for the little ones."

Hargert left Leo to gather his food. He looked to the tables and found an empty spot, one of many, that he claimed to begin eating.

A short time later he was joined by T'Perro. The Asari doctor looked over the stew thoughtfully before trying it. "This is quite good," she said after a second spoonful. "The cook is your ship's cook, isn't he?"

"He is," Leo said after gulping down a bite of roast beef sandwich. "And he is very good at his job."

"A good meal is important in these occupations." For a moment T'Perro looked around the hall. "Doctor Crusher and I have considered seeing about hiring on more local help. Perhaps even physicians."

"Good luck with that. The locals know what will happen if the Nazis retake the planet and they're identified as working for us." Leo sighed. "It feels like the calm before the storm around here."

"It is."

"So, why did you volunteer to stay behind?" Leo asked.

"Why did you? From what I know, if captured by the enemy you will be shot out of hand simply due to your ethnic background."

"And you'll be shot for being an alien," Leo pointed out. "So it seems we're both screwed if our soldiers don't hold them off."

"Indeed. Peculiar that Doctor Crusher is the only one they would likely not kill out of hand." T'Perro swirled her spoon around in a bowl of stew. "If you must know, I am here to get a taste of field medicine. It may be relevant to an enterprise I am committed to."

"Oh?"

"You have heard of the Andromeda Initiative?"

Leo had to think about it for several seconds before nodding. "Yeah. Some woman from M4P2 Earth, I forget her name, was interviewed about it by one of the Alliance news networks."

"Doctor Jien Garson. A charismatic, bright woman. She is funding a large expedition that intends to colonize the Andromeda Galaxy with sleeper arks."

Leo blinked. "Wow, that's… ambitious."

"It is." T'Perro took another bite before continuing. "I have joined the Initiative with a Human colleague of mine. We're due to leave by the end of the decade."

"So… you're just going to leave the galaxy behind," Leo said. "Like that? Just head off to an unknown galaxy."

"Yes. I expect it will be quite interesting. And certainly final. Over six centuries in cryo-sleep to get there. Most of my contemporaries will be in the matriarch stage by the time we arrive." T'Perro grinned thinly at that. "I suppose it is something to walk away from everything you've ever known in life to embark on a bold new future in the unknown."

Leo returned the grin. "I know something about that actually. Although what I did wasn't quite as final as taking a centuries-long cryo-sleep trip to another galaxy."

"A good point."

"So this is getting you experience for the kind of field medicine you might have to practice in the colonies your Initiative will be forming."

"Yes." T'Perro nodded. "And I am evaluating multiversal sources of medical technology to see if we should include them before we leave. Your cortical stimulators, for instance, and some of your medications. Certainly some of the gene treatments may come in use. And the Initiative will probably be buying replicators before we leave."

"I would imagine so."

Leo took another bite after saying so. Other questions formed in his mind concerning this sort of operation, the kind of intensive planning it required, as he chewed and swallowed.

Before he could ask, an Asari nurse appeared at the mess hall doorway. "We have casualties coming in!" she shouted. "The first medevac shuttles are three minutes out."

T'Perro reacted by quickly downing what was left of a roast beef sandwich while Leo got as big a spoonful of the sausage stew as he could. "A pity", she said after gulping. "I hope our host will keep the stew warm."

"Knowing Hargert, he'll have it ready for us when we get back," Leo said. He took one last spoonful, so rushed he only filled half the spoon, and gulped it down. With a final drink of his coffee, he went off to join T'Perro and the nurses and orderlies rushing from the room.




The staff had barely gotten their Triage Ward ready in time before the medevac shuttles started arriving. Turians and Humans alike came through the doors as both medics and patients, the former declaring the injuries and status of the latter for the benefit of the physicians.

Leo's first case was a male Turian soldier with blackened and charred personal armor. "Vitals are low but stable. Wound consistent with a disruptor shot." Leo saw the nurse was a Bolian. "Get the dextro supplies and provide standard disruptor wound care for Turian physiology. He should be fine."

"Yes, Doctor."

The next case was another male Turian. Leo scanned him while a male Turian medic looked on with concern. Leo could see why. "Direct disruptor wound, energy penetration of the armor and shielding, internal damage extensive but treatable. Send him on to Doctor T'Perro for stabilizing until we can operate."

"Yes Doctor," answered the medic.

The roar of another arriving shuttle told Leo this was just beginning. He returned his attention to the next stretcher. Turian female, soldier, missing left leg and left arm and torso perforated with shrapnel and plasma burns. This was a borderline call, but her vital readings - still strong - decided it for Leo. He had her sent on to the nurses for wound care and assignment to Critical Care. A quick glance up told him that Doctor Crusher was still tending to another of the patients he had cleared for further care. They'd already worked through the first batch.

All but one, it turned out, as another stretcher came in bearing a Turian male who looked like he'd been put through a blender. Blue blood coated what was left of his personal armor and several remaining wounds. Leo could see the Turian was alive and, more importantly, in excruciating pain. The mandibles of the Turian's mouth were halfway open and a low moan was coming from his throat. His eyes were focused, with great pain, on one of the medics and then on Leo.

For a moment Leo felt immense frustration. The military had insisted they would handle first stage triage to lessen the strain on the Field Hospitals. Now it was Leo who had to make that painful decision, the decision no doctor ever wanted to make but could be forced into during a critical resource situation: the decision that a patient had to be left to die. But it was clear that heroic efforts would be needed to save this soldier, efforts that would take away from the treatment of several more casualties that would likely be saved.

Leo glanced at the medic, who was looking intently at the patient. "You know each other?" he asked.

There was a catch in the throat of the medic before he answered, "Yes." There was a shade of guilt in the reddish-brown eyes of the Turian medic that told Leo everything he needed to know about why this case was brought to him. He knew this was a waste, but whatever the soldier was to him, the medic hadn't been able to accept the judgement of the Turian military doctor at their mobile hospital.

Leo sighed. With a touch of his omnitool he updated the soldier's record with a literal mark of death that would tell the triage nurses to leave him alone, that he was too far gone.

A part of Leo protested this. That part screamed I can save this man! But the rest of him knew the price of that, the lives that would be lost because he was too busy saving one.

The intensity of the soldier's agony-filled eyes bored into Leo. Almost as if he knew Leo's choice, as if asking him You fought for Joshua Marik, why not for me? Leo forced that thought out and reached over to the nearby medicine tray. A bundle of hyposprays were ready with their contents marked. He found the one with dextro-compatible morphine and picked it up. Leo pressed the device to an intact section of the Turian's carapace-covered flesh, right on the part of the neck where the Turian equivalent of the carotid artery was located, and gave him a dose that no living patient would ever be given outside of extremely special circumstances.

Within seconds the intense look in the Turian soldier's eyes went away. The moan stopped. A contented little sigh of relief was the soldier's last sound before his eyes, now free of pain and, with it, much coherent thought, closed quietly.

"Put your friend in the far corner," Leo instructed the medic. "He's not in pain anymore. That's the best I can do."

"Yes, Doctor," was the medic's response. There was gratitude in it. "Thank you for that, and I apologize. I acted inappropriately."

For a moment Leo nearly spoke to give emotional support to the grieving alien. But he knew Turians took a strong view of duty, and shirking it for personal reasons was shameful in their culture. Trying to comfort could too easily backfire. So he said nothing more to the medic.

Leo might have taken the time to further consider the harsh necessities of battlefield medicine, and indeed he knew he would later, as he always did when these situations were over. But right now he had more patients coming in, with the roar of VTOL engines telling him that the Inner Sphere wounded were now coming in as well.

"No rest for the weary," Leo murmured.




Fortunately for Leo and his two remaining compatriots, reinforcements came during the evening. Field Hospital Bravo was deemed too vulnerable to enemy attack and had been evacuated completely, with all patients and medical personnel pulled back to Charlie. Four doctors came from Bravo: a Turian physician, a physician from the Free Worlds League, an Alakin, and another Alliance Human like Leo, Dr. Ocasio. With their arrival, Leo was able to get out of the Triage Ward after eight grueling hours of dealing with incoming casualties and another two hours in the OR. It was nearly midnight by his internal clock.

Nevertheless Hargert came through for him, waking up from a nap to get fresh stew and freshly-baked garlic baguettes that sated Leo's growling stomach. A cup of rich black coffee helped jolt him to wakefulness.

"Are you sure about that?" Crusher eyed his coffee. "You're due for sleep soon."

Leo shook his head. "No, actually, I told Doctor Ocasio I'd cover his overnight watch in the Critical and Intensive Wards. The man's been up the better part of thirty-six hours and needs his sleep."

"So do you, Doctor," Crusher reminded him pointedly. She took a bite of a pasta dish Hargert had prepared for the dinner meal. Stress was increasing lines on her face.

"We all do, frankly." Leo sighed. "Do you know the part I always hate?"

"The part of what?"

"Triage." Leo frowned. "I hate having to put the 'no' mark on patients because they're too wounded to be stabilized quickly. I hate having to leave them to die."

"Every doctor in this job feels that way," Crusher said. "I've always asked myself if I could have saved those patients with just a little time. In the end, though, it's an unavoidable part of our work. And we have to live with the choices we made."

"Agreed."

"As for the overnight watch, how about we split it? I'll take from 2400 to 0400, you come on at 0400?"

Leo almost said no. Crusher was clearly exhausted as well. It was when he looked into her tired face, and the concerned look there, that he knew she would never accept "no" for an answer. He sighed and nodded. "Sure."



When the time came, Leo arrived at the doctors' station between the Intensive and Critical Care Wards at 0356 with a mug of black coffee and a breakfast ham and cheese omelette fresh from Hargert's kitchen. He found Doctor Crusher making final notations on a digital reader. "Someone did us all a favor and replicated a couple of nice double-sized beds for the quiet room," he told her.

"I'll take it," she said.

"Any cases come up?"

"The fourteen year old Jane Doe in Intensive showed an increase in her white blood cell count," Crusher revealed. "I would almost think she had a systemic infection, but I've found no signs of one in the scan."

"She may have an autoimmune condition, then." Leo accepted the reader and looked over it. "We can't know anything for sure until she comes out of that coma."

"No sign of any neurological change." Crusher stood. "But for now, one of those beds sounds just about right."

"I'll see you in the morning," Leo said, watching her leave.

His routine went off regularly. He looked over Crusher's notes for the last four hours, as well as Ocasio's notes from the previous shift, while finishing his breakfast. By 0430 he was making his rounds in both wards, dealing with patients who were asleep, or at least mostly so.

Due to the planet's rotation period the sun was already well into the sky by 0545, when Leo sat back down to log his findings for the last round and catch a cup of coffee. He was partly through it when Lucy stepped into the door looking refreshed. "Good morning," Leo said to her.

"Good morning," Lucy replied. "Did you actually sleep? Or did I go to the trouble of getting those beds for nothing?"

Leo smiled at her. "No. I made use of one. And I'll have it again later today, I hope."

"Good." Lucy slipped into a chair and started nibbling on what looked like a breakfast burrito. When she swallowed she said, "So, I've triple-checked all of your gear, all of your equipment, and I put an override into that storage vault so you and the others can get in there whenever you need. The system will recognize your retinas and your DNA to let you in."

"Great news." Leo folded his hands together. "What about the holographics? We could use the extra hands."

"Are you sure?" Lucy frowned. "That thing's got atrocious bedside manners. I don't know if I'd have him treat camp survivors or wounded soldiers."

"Maybe not," Leo agreed, "but we need more hands. It has the medical skill and knowledge to treat Standard patients at least."

There was no arguing with that logic. Lucy drew in a sigh. "We were pretty much done. Zimmerman just had some final coding he wanted to do relating to the system's personality, to make it less acerbic and, frankly, give it more respect for confidential patient information. During testing the program had no problem blurting out medical information."

"I guess confidentiality and testing the program's competence didn't go together," Leo mumbled. He didn't like the thought of the program just blurting out information that might be best kept private. His mind wandered to the girl that he and Chakwas had found the other day to be pregnant, and the thought of how the EMH might have handled that delicate situation if it had been programmed the way it was.. "Is there an easy way to program the system to follow confidentiality ethics?"

"Jarod might have managed it, but Zimmerman's coding is… it's really complex, and I honestly don't want to fiddle with a single line of it."

"Right. So, any suggestions?"

Lucy started thinking on the problem. "I could alter the access permissions, I guess. Give you command authority that would let you give the EMH orders. Then you can just tell him not to divulge information loudly or whatever other tweaks he needs. He'll probably still be acerbic though, and he may even resent the commands."

"That's fine, I'd rather he resent me than spew out to strangers that some poor girl they brought in is pregnant. Or was." Leo glanced at his monitors. Everything was running smoothly. "How long until this is done?"

"How many of the doctors do you want to give this access to?"

"All of them."

Lucy's omnitool came to life. Using the two handed-controls - joint keypads generated, one on her forearm by the tool proper and the other a series of keys generated under her left hand. She started tapping away while a holo-secreen showed lines of code. After several seconds she nodded. "Okay. Try it out. I've given you all permissions to turn the EMH emitters on and off, and to issue binding commands."

"Computer, activate the Emergency Medical Hologram in my office," Leo requested.

The EMH shimmed into view. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"Too many to count," Leo muttered. He cleared his throat. "From this point on, you are to exercise discretion when discussing the medical information of a patient to ensure patient confidentiality. There isn't a lot of privacy in the wards, so outside of time-critical information necessary to a patient's health and life, I want medical conditions and issues relayed to the physicians on-staff by electronic notification, not verbal remark."

The EMH actually looked annoyed at that. "You're aware that my testing protocols are only temporary, yes?"

"I am. But your creator isn't here to shut them down right." Leo smiled softly. "And because of how sophisticated your program is, we don't want to risk problems trying to do any modifications ourselves, including removing those protocols. This is the best fix we have."

The way Leo had put it mollified the EMH. "I see your point. Very well. Command input logged and implemented."

"Go ahead and make the rounds in Critical Care," Leo continued. "I'm going to talk to…"

There was a tone from Leo's omnitool. "T'Perro to Gillam."

Leo tapped the blinking blue light to accept the transmission. "Gillam here."

"Can you meet me in pharmaceutical storage? We may have a major problem."




Leo and Lucy found T'Perro with Doctor Amelia Lang, a middle-aged woman with graying chestnut hair and dusky brown skin from the Regulan Free States in the Free Worlds League, and Doctor Niria Gaterius, an older Turian physician. They were standing in the middle of the storage room for the hospital's many medications.

Immediately Leo could tell there was a problem. One area was very low, dangerously so, on stock. "What's wrong?" he asked. "What's missing?"

"Not so much missing as used up," Lang noted. Her English was touched by an accent that made her sound as if she were from British India. Her Anglo-Indian descent was easily noticed after a few moments of observation, with a hint of African ancestry in her cheekbones. "We are nearly out of dextro-compatible medications."

Which explained the sour look on Galerius' face. Leo swallowed and shook his head. Without those medications, treating Turian patients would be impossible. "We'll need to replicate more of what we can," he said.

"The replicator can't manufacture everything," Galerius pointed out. "It seems that the Humans from F1S1 messed up our evac from Bravo. They were supposed to clear out the pharmacy and reserve storage of all remaining medications. They did not do so."

"The 2nd Legionnaires did all they could," Lang protested, sensing the rebuke in the Turian's words.

"Which is why our medical supplies got left…"

"We can't afford to fuss like this," Leo insisted. He looked to Galerius. "Doctor, can we ask the 8th Regiment for their stores?"

"They're running low already," Galerius insisted. "Hospital Delta never carried more than a few emergency dextro-compatible supplies. And Able is already under shelling. We need what's left at Bravo."

"Which the Nazis took last night?" asked Lucy.

"Unfortunately, yes," Lang said. "So getting to those supplies will be impossible."

Lucy was already letting some ideas run through her head. "Maybe not entirely impossible. I can rig up a short-term stealth or cloaking device to a shuttle and fly it in. Give me enough backup and I can get in and out before the Nazis know what hit them."

"That sounds far too dangerous," Leo protested.

"It is dangerous." Lucy nodded in agreement. "But if we don't, some Turians are going to die, right?"

"We'll run out of some of our most important treatments before the day is over," Galerius revealed. "Every Turian in the Intensive Ward will be dead by tomorrow if we don't get re-supplied."

"Then we don't have much choice," Lucy pointed out. "Let me speak to the general in charge."

"The human general from the League, Chaganam, could help," Galerius said. "General Lukasian might even be able to get you a Platoon in support. I can connect you to him."

Lucy nodded. "Make the call."

"Good luck, Lucy," Leo said to her. "Make sure you come back." He turned his head to the others. "I'll head over to the pharmaceutical replicators and make whatever dextro-compatible medications I can to tide us over."

"I'll inform Crusher and Gureep," said Lang, just before she walked out.




Andre Faqin was welcomed with no questioning when he stepped into the main entrance of the Field Hospital. He wasn't the only one, as the more hopeful, or those genuinely supportive of the medical efforts, were also heading back to work as janitors, orderlies, food staff, and other support jobs for the off-world medical personnel. Faqin shook his head and allowed himself a partial thought at these fools, who had earned themselves an execution as soon as the SS retook New Rennes.

It wasn't that he was particularly loyal to the Reich. Nobody could accuse Faqin of being loyal to anyone but himself. But he knew full well how powerful the Reich, especially the SS, were, and even now he found the idea that they would lose the war laughable. It simply wasn't possible. As far as he was concerned, the Reich was intentionally letting the enemy win to uncover secret dissidents in the far colonies so that they could destroy them all when the inevitable counterattack swept through. And isn't that what was happening even now?

The New Breton man accepted his work ID at the main security station from one of those grotesque aliens, a purple-complexioned female with blue face markings and little tentacles in a crest instead of actual hair. You should have stayed in your home universe, he thought. Fassbinder's troops would kill her without a moment's hesitation.

But now was not the time for that thinking. He had to get to work, sweeping and mopping, and confirm who was still here for his employer.

Fools. Poor fools, he thought. You should have all stayed out of this universe.

As Faqin stepped around a corner he nearly ran into a young woman in an Alliance uniform, her light brown complexion enough to tell him she would be another of Fassbinder's victims soon enough. He frowned and started to speak when she turned to face him and he stopped. He forced thoughts from his head at seeing the bewildered look on her, the intensity in her blue eyes, and for a moment he felt like she was in his head.

"You'll be needed in the machine shop," she said to him, more than a little irritation in her voice. "And you might want to watch where you're going for now on."

Faqin nodded and said nothing. His mind raced with recognition, though. This was one of them, one of the images Fassbinder had shown him. A member of the Aurora crew. He would have to get a message out, definitely.

But first, he had to continue his round of the hospital. Fassbinder would not be happy if he didn't provide an accurate accounting of them all.




Lucy remained deep in thought on what she was planning while she walked on from her run-in with the local sweeper. She'd cobbled together a rough emissions cloaker from some of the communications hardware, but it wouldn't have the cloaking capability she had hoped for. There weren't parts for that. So we won't be invisible, just hard to detect on sensors. Well, we can work with that.

Her omnitool activated. A Turian man in field uniform armor appeared on the screen generated by the device. "Lieutenant Lucero?" he inquired.

"Yes," she answered.

"Doctor Galerius informed me of your problem. I can get you a team that can slip behind enemy lines and hit the Bravo hospital. But your window of opportunity is very short and you need to meet them immediately."

"Have them land on the hospital roof." Lucy started moving that way. "And I'll need a few minutes to get the dampening generator hooked into the shuttle's system."

"You'll have them."

While working her way up the stairs leading to the VTOL landing pad roof - currently unoccupied - Lucy felt her heart begin to beat faster. At first she thought it was simple anticipation of the mission, and the dangerous insertion behind enemy lines. But as she thought about it, or rather as she came into tune with that energy that resonated within her, Lucy realized it was something more. Something was going on.

Something about that local man. The way he'd moved. The flicker of recognition that had gone through his features and the sense that he was wary in a way that didn't fit with a normal situation.

Lucy tapped her omnitool's comm key and said, "Lucero to Gillam."

After a few moments Leo responded. "Gillam here."

"There's something wrong, Leo," she said. "I can feel it."

"Can you be more specific?"

"There's a man working as a janitor. Brown hair, light complexion, stocky but not overweight. I ran into him earlier and it felt like he was up to something. I mean, as if there's something going on with him."

"I see. I'll alert building security and ask them about this."

"Just be careful until I get back."

"The same to you, Lucy. Gillam out."

By this point Lucy was hearing the high-pitched roar of a mass effect propulsion engine. She looked up in time to see a small assault shuttle fly in and come to a stop on the landing pad. It didn't look like she thought it should, lacking the sharp angles and look of Turian ships.

The explanation came when it opened, and a female figure with purple skin and reddish facial markings stepped down. The Asari was carrying a mass effect rifle affixed to her back and a pistol on her hip. Brilliant blue-gray eyes focused on her. "Fallina," she said. "I'm Fallina Leysi, of the Armali Watch. General Lukasian already briefed us."

"I'll need a few minutes to get this dampener fixed to your systems," Lucy said, holding up the device. "And then we'll be ready to go."

"Right." Leysi showed her in. The cargo area had another six Asari, all armed and looking ready for a fight. "Ever fight with Asari commandos?" she asked.

"No."

"Well, just remember, if we run into trouble, stay back and let us deal with it." Fallina smirked. "These crazy humans never know what hits them when they run into biotics."

Lucy smirked at that. "They never see me coming either. I'm trained in the Gersallian art of swevyra." She got on her knees in the rear, at the engine access panel showing on her omnitool display. "Between your biotics and my power, I would almost feel sorry for the SS assholes we run into. But first things first. I need to get this installed."

"We'll lift off as soon as you're ready."




Faqin's first round was in the Standard Care Ward. The majority of the patients were wounded soldiers who were too busy resting or exchanging stories to notice him. He ran his sweeper up one aisle and down the next while trying to maintain the alertness he needed.

He was disappointed by the first white coat he saw. The woman was clearly not one of those he was on the lookout for. She looked over Faqin with momentary curiosity before getting to work on her patients. He paid her no further heed and continued on.




With the other physicians busy or resting, Doctor Crusher was the only one Leo could get in touch with before he got to the small security office for the Hospital. "Are you certain about this?" Crusher asked over the comm from her current position in triage. "Lieutenant Lucero is under pressure like the rest of us. She could have a case of anxiety that is causing paranoia."

"Not Lucy," he answered. "If she says there's a problem, she means it. I'm about to check with the security staff about this guy to see who he is. If it's nothing, it's nothing, but if this guy is up to no good we need to be ready."

There was only a moment of silence on the line before Crusher responded. "Let me know how it goes. I'll be expecting you in Triage. Crusher out."

Leo lowered his forearm and continued on his way.

The Field Hospital's security staff had been provided by the military. It was mostly made up of mercenaries, in truth, private contractors hired from a myriad number of sources who by their presence freed up military personnel for other duties. It was easy duty for them given the patients were either walking skeletons or wounded soldiers, with little chance of a merc getting caught up with an unwanted situation of having to restrain someone.

Even the chief of security was one such mercenary. Roger Taylor was a former FedStars Marine, of African-American background like Leo. He kept his head bald. "Can you describe this fellow?" he asked Leo after an initial explanation.

"Brown hair, Caucasian, supposedly stocky."

"Hrm." Taylor brought up his forearm and tapped a key on a multidevice. Leo found it interesting that he hadn't updated to omnitools yet. "Looking at the records, we've got a couple of locals that fit that description. Do you know what he does?"

"Janitor duties, I think."

"Hrm." Taylor went over the list. "Looks like I've got a match. Andre Faqin is the name given." Taylor looked to Leo. "Is there a problem with the man?"

"Lieutenant Lucero reported he was acting suspiciously earlier."

"Suspicious in what way?"

"She didn't explain. But I trust her judgement."

Taylor considered that. "He's a local," the man finally said. "No telling how many locals might have been in bed with the damned Nazis. Probably how some of these poor bastards survived for centuries." Taylor tapped a key on his multidevice and began typing on the resulting hard-light keyboard it projected in front of him, allowing him to use both hands to type with a speed Leo associated with professional secretaries. "I'm putting out an alert to my people to keep a discreet eye on the man. I can't afford the manpower to shadow him completely, you understand. Not without stronger evidence."

"I understand," Leo said. "And I appreciate…"

His omnitool lit up around his left forearm. The voice that spoke was Crusher. "Doctor Gillam, you're needed in the ICW right away."

Leo could waste no time. He knew precisely what that meant. "Sorry," he said to Taylor, an apology for having to cut their meeting short.

"No need, Doctor," the older man said as Leo rushed from the door.




Leo arrived in the Intensive Care Ward and met with Doctor Crusher and Nasri, who were already at the adolescent/early-teen Jane Doe. He walked up and asked, "What's wrong?"

"Steady drop in blood pressure began two minutes ago," Crusher answered. "Scans show her heart is failing. Brain activity is unchanged."

Leo nodded and moved to the other side of the bed. "Our earlier scans showed organ damage at the cellular level." He checked the latest scan results. "We may not have a choice," he said to Crusher. "We might have to replace her heart."

"I agree." Crusher was frowning. "But with all of her other organ problems, her heart may not be the only one she needs replacing. And our raw biomatter stock for the replicators is already running low. This may be a triage situation."

Leo shook his head. "That's not for certain. And I'm not leaving a child to die because she might be unsaveable." He looked over at Nasri. "Get an OR prepped. Tell Dr. Ocasio what to expect."

"Right away, Doctor."

Leo looked to Crusher next. He was trying not to be aggressive, but the challenge he was laying at her doorstep was clear. He was making a call to save the Jane Doe even if it meant defying triage procedure. And it would be up to Crusher to object and seek to overrule him.

Crusher nodded to him. Her hand revealed a hypospray, which she used on the patient. "I'm giving her a stabilizer, it may help."

"Thank you."

There was nothing more to say. The two physicians went back to work trying to save their patient.




Faqin was starting to lose patience. And what's more, he was starting to become paranoid. He couldn't help but feel like everyone was starting to watch him.

This meant he had to be even more careful. Not so much because he believed he had been compromised, but because fear and paranoia could cause him to make sloppy mistakes.

Still, it was better to make sure of things. He needed to confirm if any of the other Aurora personnel were here. The most likely candidate for that was the doctor he had seen before. He thought he remembered the name. Now he just had to have a way to ask about it.

He took his chance at seeing an orderly, another Human. "Have you seen Doctor Gillam?" he asked. His English was atrocious and he was relying on French, suitably translated by whatever means others had. "He had asked me to do extra mopping in the Child Ward, and I need to see if it was covered."

"I'm not sure where he is, but you should probably see to that mopping," the woman answered. "Some of the little tykes are still sick, you see. Poor things can have trouble keeping down food, even half-starving as they are."

"Poor things, yes." Excited, Faqin stepped away. He kept sweeping until he had an opening to slip into a closet. He pulled out his communicator from his belt and opened the line. "There are at least two still here, Standartenführer," he informed Fassbinder.

"Good. Be prepared. I will not take long."

With that the call ended. Faqin's job had been done. It was time to leave. He opened the door to the closet to walk out.

He never saw the blow that sent him into quiet blackness.




The OR was ready when Leo and Crusher arrived with their stricken patient. Doctor Ocasio met them at the door in OR scrubs. The Hispanic gentleman, with dark bronze complexion and silvery hair still flecked with black strands, helped them move the patient to a surgical bed. "The replicator is building the new heart now," he informed the other two doctors. He said nothing about the issue of triage, much to Leo's gratitude.

"Blood pressure is still falling."

"Get changed."

Leo and Crusher left the entryway and went to the nearby station to switch into operating suits. Ocasio pulled the bed with their patient into the actual operating theater. The protective energy field that helped keep the inside sterile yielded to him and the stretcher in question.

"We don't have a lot of time for this," Crusher said while pulling on the surgical bodysuit. Its pale blue color matched the general coloring of the OR theater and area. "She's a borderline case."

"I know." Leo pulled on his own. "I can manage this with Ocasio and Nasri, if you're worried about the rest of the facility."

"If this is going to be done, I'm going to be there," Crusher insisted. "I want that girl to live as much as you do. But I also want to know that you can make the call if you have to."

Leo met her eyes and said nothing for several seconds, time he spent finishing the securing of his bodysuit. Once it was done, and he was covered head-to-toe in the pale blue material, he finally nodded. "I understand that. And if I have to, I'll make the call."

Crusher nodded, showing her satisfaction. "Let's go, then. We have a lot to do in order to stabilize her."




The Asari combat shuttle penetrated enemy lines in the company of Turian fighters and a supporting wing of Dorei aerospace fighters. The sector was one at the line where the Turian defenses met those of the Free Worlds League's troops, giving Lucy a view of the ten-to-thirty-meter tall BattleMechs stomping along the front, exchanging fire with SS armored vehicles. Tanks from the League rumbled along their taller cousins to provide further fire support.

"We're landing in two minutes," Fallina informed her commandos. The battlesuit-clad Asari all commenced a final check on their firearms. One, a particularly tall Asari, was carrying what Lucy figured to be a full fire assault rifle, and was loaded down with tactical webbing full of specialized containers to carry medical vials securely. Another had a sniper rifle, and the others had smaller weapons, presumably submachine guns and pistols. Fallina had a gun fixed to the small of her back, where Commander Shepard had often carried her shotgun.

Lucy patted at her right hip, where her lakesh was clipped to her field action uniform belt beside the holster carrying her pulse pistol. She drew in a breath and focused. The tension cleared from her mind slowly and allowed her senses to focus, through her power, at the site they were coming in toward.

Even before the side of the shuttle opened up to allow them to jump out, Lucy knew what they were going to find. Bravo had been two-thirds the size of Charlie, but the Field Hospital had still been a sizable prefab structure with multiple entrances. The shuttle had landed them in one of the emergency entrances, for troops being brought in for treatment. "T'Sana, T'Lira, on point," Fallina ordered as the commando team exited the shuttle. Lucy stepped out beside Fallina. "Karina, find your spot."

"Take me up," the Asari with the sniper rifle ordered the pilot. The shuttle pulled away, leaving the rest of the team at the entrance.

The two lead Asari, one holding up a pistol and the other already generating a biotic field around herself, entered the door first. The rest of the team followed. Lucy looked around. There wasn't much in the way of damage to the site. But the emptiness was unsettling. It made her think of zombie movies or other post-apocalyptic films, where the structures of everyday life were made sinister by the lack of life within them.

"No sign of life in the building," the Asari named T'Sana said. She had her omnitool up and active. "It looks abandoned."

"Let's hope they haven't broken into the medicine vault." Lucy nodded to Fallina. "Lead the way."

Fallina made a hand movement and they began to walk through the corridors of the building. They were nearing one of the ward entrances when the stench hit them for the first time. Lucy almost gagged and wished she'd never learned just what it was she was smelling. "Someone must have been left behind," she said to Fallina.

"And the enemy executed them." A hard look crossed the Asari commando leader's face. "Savages."

The stench felt like it was getting more powerful as they drew nearer to their final destination. The door to the secure pharmacy vault was not very different from the other doors. And it certainly wasn't built to resist things like a bank vault's door was. Lucy figured the biotics could blow the door off easily. She probably could force it open with her own abilities.

But at the same time, anything violent might cause damage on the other side of the door. So instead of that choice, Lucy stepped up to it and brought her omnitool online. "This won't take long," she assured the Asari. "I just need a few minutes…"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-11 10:54am

The operating room was not a place for idle talk. Even though modern medical science had eliminated the need for cutting into a body and all of the delicate work that required, manipulating the inside of any body - whatever the species - was delicate work and would always be so. One wrong move, just one, could cause severe or fatal damage to the patient.

Leo was grateful to feel the cool sponge pressed to his brow to clear off the sweat. His hand remained in precise place, holding the director wand over the chest of the comatose young girl while his other hand utilized the controls that directed the system in what he was doing. They had made four incisions in the chest to accommodate the need for an external pump to circulate blood while this critical part of the operation occurred. With the wand and the attached system Leo was finishing the last cut, removing the sickly, dying heart completely from the girl's overtaxed body.

"Inferior vena cava is now cut," he announced. "Moving on to the superior."

Ocasio was standing nearby, checking the measurements of what Leo was doing against the fresh human heart inside of the replication chamber. With their patient's blood type and cells the heart had been crafted specifically for her body, easing the transplant process and reducing the risk of any sort of rejection. Crusher was across from him monitoring vitals. "Pulse rate is remaining steady," she said.

"Beginning final severance." Using the holo-display projected by the wand, Leo ran the instrument along the superior vena cava. Micro-transporters removed cells and organic matter, effectively cutting the massive blood vessel. Leo kept his movement slow and deliberate, cutting away only as much as he needed to. "Superior vena cava is cut away," he said.

"Activating organ transporter." Crusher pressed a key on a control panel beside her, then several more in sequence. The Jane Doe's heart appeared in a flash of white light in a nearby receptacle. "Preparing to transport replacement. All vitals are still holding steady."

"Transplant is ready," Ocasio said. "All measurements match."

Leo allowed his arm to relax for the moment. Now was the hard part; putting the heart back in and getting it started. He looked to Nasri who ran the sponge on his forehead again, clearing away the sweat again.

"Transporting."

Crusher's gloved finger hit the appropriate key. The systems lined up the new heart and beamed it in, every vessel lining up as was necessary. Leo brought the wand back up and began using the regenerator function. It was the dermal regenerator writ large, carefully calibrated so that the regenerator field was precisely small. The cells of the superior vena cava began to link up to the cells of the heart transplant, reforming the vital vein.

Slowly, precisely, the work continued.




In the abandoned husk of Field Hospital Bravo, Lucy's omnitool whirled around her left hand, hovering over the access control for the pharmaceutical storage vault. One last character, in Latin alphanumerics, was displaying on her omnitool screen. "Here we go…"

A "Y" appeared and the omnitool blinked green on its display. The door slid open.

"Excellent work," said Fallina.

With two exceptions, the Asari commandos followed Lucy into the room. The pharmaceuticals had been only partially removed. Lucy pondered that fact as she examined shelves full of hypospray-compatible vials and pill bottles. "It looks like at least half of the stocks weren't pulled out," she said. "That's a little odd. I know it was an emergency evacuation, but Bravo had time to pull out all of the patients. Why so little of the pharmaceuticals?"

"Miscommunication," proposed one of the other Asari. "Evacuations can be chaotic."

"Yeah." Lucy thought of evacuations and remembered the Facility and the evacuation caused by the Daleks. Everyone had gotten out, but she was sure they'd left behind more than a few things. "But something feels off about this…"

"I think I know why the dextro-meds weren't taken in the evac," Fallina said. Everyone looked to her and to shelving marked with both Latin and Turian alphabetic characters.

The shelves were empty.

"What the hell?" Lucy walked up and scanned the area with her omnitool. "This doesn't make sense. Where did they go?"

"Nowhere, according to the Hospital inventory." The computer expert of Fallina's team was operating one of the computer terminals. Lucy thought she remembered the name Niara for the Asari. "They're supposed to be there."

"Then where…" Lucy continued scanning and looking. "Maybe they got misplaced."

"All of them?" Fallina's skepticism was evident in her voice.

"I know, it doesn't seem likely." Lucy smirked. "But you would be surprised what people can misplace when they're not thinking." A thought crossed Lucy's mind. "Niara, isn't it?"

"Niata," corrected the computer expert commando. "Yes?"

"Niata, do you have the inventory codes for the dextro-meds?"

After a moment of checking Niata answered, "I do."

"Transmit them to our omnitools," Lucy said. "Then we'll just scan through the room until we find a hit."

A small grin came to the Asari's face. "I wish I'd thought of that first." The tones of Niata working away on the hardlight keyboard sounded for a few moments. "There we go, I just transmitted the data."

Lucy activated the scanner function on her omnitool and started waving her forearm around. Fallina and the others were copying the same. "Wait," said Fallina. "I think I have something."

Lucy looked to the Asari and followed her scan returns to some of the shelving further in. They converged on it with the others. Lucy read the characters along the shelving side and frowned. "This shelf is for the Dorei-specific medications," she said.

Fallina picked up a vial and scanned it. "This is an antibiotic, dextro-compatible," she said.

"They're all dextro," another of the Asari said, running her omnitool over the entire shelf.

"But look at the labeling," Lucy said. She held one up and read the Latin characters. "This is Turian medication, but it's listed as Dorei."

"That's not right." Fallina was frowning. "The Dorei aren't dextro-compatible, right?"

"No," Lucy said. "They're levo-compatible, just like us."

"Then if this medication had been given to them…"

"...it would either be entirely non-effective, or fatal," another of the Asari said.

Lucy swallowed. No wonder she had felt something was wrong. "This isn't just an accidental mis-shelving," she said. "This is sabotage. Someone was trying to sabotage us from the inside. I mean, think about it. Dorei dying because someone replaced their meds with Turian meds? The Turians would be accusing our people of incompetence, and we'd probably claim the same on their end."

"Reich agents must have gotten in here."

"Maybe." Something about that didn't seem right either. Would the Reich have cared about something so small? Then again, a small-time operative might have just been looking for minor sabotage. "Anyway, we need to get going."

"Selmissima." Fallina looked to the tall Asari with the assault rifle and medical containers. "Let's get these things packed up."

"We'll let the pharmacists back at Charlie sort through them and figure out which medication is which," Lucy said. She sniffed. "Is it just me, or is that smell worse in here?"

Now that they'd found their objective, the stench of dead flesh was something they were noticing more easily. Fallina nodded and agreed. "You can join Niata in looking for the source, if you want." She was already accepting one container from Selmissima. "We'll get the Turian meds secured, and any other meds from the doctors' list we can find."

Lucy nodded and walked back to the computer desk, where Niata was already standing up. The two started exploring further into the vault, toward the rear shelves. "Cold storage is back this way," Niata noted.

"Anything we need from there?"

"There might be a couple meds, but the critical items on our list wasn't listed for cold storage," Niata noted.

"Still…" Lucy felt a tremor within her being, like if she was a living metal detector and cold storage was a piece of metal she was coming into contact with. She followed that sense until they arrived at the heavy metal door. "Is it just me," Lucy began, "or is the smell coming from inside?"

"That wouldn't make sense," Niata said. "The cold storage vault is supposed to be…"

"...sealed." Lucy pointed to the area near the door handle, where there was a clear gap in the frame. "But it's not."

"That… that looks like damage." Niata showed bewilderment. "But that's not from a weapon. It's like something strong gripped so hard that it warped the seal."

That worried Lucy. "I don't see how anyone could have done that. Not with this material."

"Maybe a Krogan," Niata said. "Maybe."

More curious than ever, Lucy grabbed the lever lock and pulled it. Niata opened the door.

The stench was almost physical in its intensity. That horrible smell of rotting flesh and waste from a dead body, something Lucy was all too familiar with when raiding nasty places in multiple worlds back in the Facility days, directed them into the cold storage room. The air still had a hint of cold to it, but it was obvious that the cold had been turned off.

"Someone must have shut down the locker during the evacuation," Niata said.

"Or the generator was taken. The vault door's battery backup must have maintained the security system and internal computers, but wasn't enough for the cold storage air conditioning." Lucy activated her omnitool's scanner. Immediately she got a result. "No point in picking up these meds, the lack of cold will have spoiled them. But there's something this way…"

They walked through the dry room, past the shelves of ruined medication, and thus toward the back of the cold storage vault. The smell grew in intensity and rankness as they walked. Lucy wished she had a breather unit, anything to get away from this horrid stench.

The body was in the last row. There was no telling who it, or rather she, had been, just the remains of what looked like a standard medical jumpsuit. Someone had smashed the dead woman's face in with such raw fury that there were no facial features, no jaw or dental remains, that could identify her. There was no hair left either. "Somebody didn't want this woman identified," Niata said.

"At least not quickly." Lucy knelt down beside her. "We need an empty vial. Something to collect biological samples from for DNA analysis." She activated her omnitool's scanning function again and looked to see if it could read the DNA. But her engineering-specialist omnitool had no such function, nor any way to help secure samples.

Niata leaned over with what looked like silk in her hand. She dabbed the cloth in the dried blood of the woman's ruined face. But it wouldn't take. Not to be deterred, Niata took her combat knife from her waist and began scraping at the blood. The scrapings she put in the silk cloth before tying it into a bag. Seeing Lucy's look, Niata smiled. "I had a lover who's in C-Sec. He told me a few stories about evidence collection on the sly."

Lucy, meanwhile, had her own idea. She took a tool from her belt, a powered bolt wrench, and scraped the edge along the visible flesh of the dead woman's arm. Dead skin cells, pale bronze in coloration, flaked off under the strength of the scraping. Lucy made sure to collect an ample amount of dead skin before she stood up. Too bad I don't have an evidence bag or something, she thought to herself.

Just as the two emerged from the cold storage part of the vault, Fallina's omnitool activated. "What is it?" she asked. "Given your faces, whatever you found wasn't good news."

"Nothing from cold storage. The climate control was off." Lucy frowned. "And we found a dead woman in there who had her face turned to hamburger."

Fallina frowned and shook her head. "It may be linked to our medical saboteur."

"That's it," said Selmissima. She stood up with the last container and thrust it into Niata's hands. "We have everything we can carry."

"It's time for extraction." Fallina gestured to the door while triggering her omnitool. "Karina, Casari, we're ready to get out."

"We're clear of enemy forces here, ma'am, but I suggest you hurry."

"Why?" Fallina asked.

"Because we just got word from General Lukasian. The enemy's just launched a new attack." The sniper's voice remained matter-of-fact. "It looks like they're trying to pound their way through to New Rennes. And Hospital Charlie is right on their line of advance."

"We're on our way." Fallina gestured forward. "Come on, huntresses, double time! You too, Lieutenant Lucero, and I hope you can keep up."

Lucy, despite the situation, grinned at that. "Funny," she said, "I was about to suggest the same to you."

And she began running with them, keeping pace with almost contemptuous ease.




Leo had made it through to the last attachment, the aorta itself, when the machines began beeping.

"Her vitals just dropped. Respiration rate and O2 levels are lowering."

"I've almost got it." Leo continued running the wand along, directing the tissue regenerator to bind the new heart to the Jane Doe's aorta. "Just another minute."

"She may not have a minute."

Leo nodded at Crusher. Sweat dripped dangerously close to his eye. "Sponge," he said, and Nasri immediately tended to him.

"I'm setting the oxygenation rate of her blood higher." Crusher was back at work. "But it looks like her lungs may be failing."

"Do we have any dizaproregene ready?"

Crusher gave him a harsh look. "With how weak her body is, dizaproregene is enormously dangerous."

"A measure of last resort," Leo said, even as he focused on reconnecting the aorta.

There was no reply from Crusher about that. Leo wasn't surprised. He knew that if he was turning to dizap, the girl was already likely to die. But doing anything less seemed criminal.

"Honestly, if you get to that point, we're facing the triage question."

Leo refused to look her way. He wanted to. He wanted to look into Crusher's eyes and see if there was pain there, or resolve, or guilt. "You think we'd be wasting it?"

"In our resource situation? Yes, Doctor, if you use dizaproregene on this patient, it will be a waste. Her survival chances are already going too low to justify it."

"She'll stabilize as soon as we get this heart pumping." Leo remained focused on that task. Almost there

A very low tone came from their omnitools. Ocasio was the only one who could safely check his. "There's an emergency alert," he said. "Doctor Galerius needs us in Triage within the next ten minutes."

"We'll be done by then," Leo said. "One way or another."

"What's the alert?" Crusher asked.

Leo couldn't afford to turn and look at Ocasio. He couldn't see the grim look on the Hispanic doctor's face. "The enemy has thrown more troops into the battle," Ocasio said. "They may be advancing on the hospital."

The gulp nearly finished forming in Leo's throat. But he wouldn't let it. One crisis at a time. That's all he could deal with.




Fallina was the last to jump into the shuttle on the hospital roof. In the distance Lucy could see small forms moving toward the hospital. Forms too large, at this distance, to be ordinary soldiers. "Looks like we just missed a fight with Panzergrenadiers."

"They make a mess inside of those suits if you hit them with the right biotic combination," one of the Asari - T'Sani? - said.

Lucy was already feeling sick from smelling the dead bodies in the hospital. That mental image was something she wasn't eager to contemplate, not even for Nazis. She glared at the Asari in question.

Fallina was already on comms, reporting their success and issuing a security alert. "We need to find everyone who handled logistics in the Bravo Hospital," she was saying to the images of General Lukasian and General Chaganam on the wall of the shuttle's passenger compartment. The Turian general had joined Chaganam, in the field uniform of a Free Worlds League officer, at the main HQ for the Coalition forces on New Brittany. "Someone labeled the dextro meds with labels as Dorei-specific medications."

Both commanders gave her an uncomfortable look. "I am no physician, but wouldn't that be poisonous to the Dorei troops?" Chaganam asked.

"It would," Lukasian confirmed. The Turian's concern was clear. "Either poisonous or completely ineffective. Either way, dozens of Dorei soldiers might have died if Bravo hadn't been evacuated."

"Someone might be attempting to interfere with our alliance." Lucy stepped up beside Fallina. "Someone trying to turn us against each other."

"The Nazis having agents in the planetary population is the most likely cause."

Chaganam had made a good point. But something about this felt familiar to Lucy. Something was nagging at her about this.

"That's a priority for later." Lukasian raised a three-fingered hand and gestured as if to move away the issue. "Right now you're needed back at Hospital Charlie. A fresh enemy division is moving into the area."

"The 3rd Battalion of the 2nd Legionnaires is in position to counter-attack them on that front. But we may not be able to keep them out of the hospital grounds. And there's not nearly enough time for an evacuation."

Lucy didn't need Chaganam to say more. The SS, if they got into the Hospital, would start killing patients and medical staff left and right. There would be no mercy. Leo, Nasri, Hargert, they're all in the line of fire.

"We'll do what we can to protect the patients, General," Fallina pledged.

"Spirits go with you. HQ out." Lukasian cut the line.

"You all heard that," said Fallina. "As soon as we get back to that hospital, we'll find a defensive position and coordinate with hospital security."

Lucy found herself nodding with the others. Now she really regretted not wearing her body armor.




Leo felt a surge of misplaced relief when the last strands of regenerated tissue finished linking the Jane Doe's aorta to her new heart. "Okay. Let's begin cardio stimulation and get this heart going."

"Her O2 levels are still in decline."

Leo nodded to accept that while Doctor Ocasio manned the cardial stimulation device. Using remote, wireless receivers placed into the transplanted heart, the machine began to jolt the muscles in the replicated organ to bring it into operation.

Of course, this was the trickiest moment of the operation. There was no one hundred percent guarantee the new heart would function. Anything from a flaw at the cellular level to too much energy through the stimulator could keep the heart from starting to beat. And if that happened, the patient would die, pure and simple.

"Beginning stimulation," Ocasio said. "Cutting power flow… no response."

"Again."

"Respiratory rate is in decline." Crusher shook her head. "It looks like cellular damage to the lung has shut down several bronchi clusters."

Leo couldn't hide his frustration at that. Whatever had been done to this girl, the cellular damage was clearly the worst in terms of her ability to live. How did they manage this? Was this a new Nazi weapon?

"Still no response to cardial stimulation."

"Again," Leo said simply. They had a few more tries left, certainly. But once he was past the sixth… no, no, that wouldn't happen. This wouldn't be for nothing.

"EEG readings are declining."

"Push the oxylin."

"20ccs." Crusher did so.

"Third pulse. Still no autonomous heartbeat."

"Again."

"Even if her new heart starts beating, her lungs may not last," Crusher warned.

"5ccs of dizaproregene will deal with that."

There was disapproval in Crusher's eyes. "That's too much. Her system won't handle it."

"Anything less and she won't regain enough lung function."

"Then call it," Crusher said.

"Fourth pulse. Still no response."

Ocasio's report was met with an immediate "Again". Leo didn't take his eyes off Crusher's. There was challenge in them. She could overrule him. She could assert her seniority as a physician, as a medical officer, and order Ocasio to give up. Ocasio could make the same call, although as a civilian volunteer physician with little surgical experience, his authority over them was more uncertain.

But she didn't.

There was silence as they waited to hear from Ocasio on whether this worked. If it didn't, Crusher would be right. A sixth attempt might work, but at this point, if the heart wouldn't start… Leo knew it would be the end. And Galerius, Lang, and the others needed them out in Triage. Especially with combat casualties coming in.

If there was no response, Leo would have to give up. He would have to let another child die.

And it was clear that Crusher could see how much pain that thought was causing him.

"Fifth pulse." Ocasio's voice made clear the result.

Leo let out a breath. His heart began to ache.

"Wait." Now Ocasio's voice picked up. "I am getting a response. The heart is beating. 70 beats per second."

This time Leo's exhalation was one of relief. Relief that was not entirely earned.

"The O2 count still isn't stabilizing," Crusher said. "The damage to the lungs is too extensive."

"Do you have the 5ccs of dizaproregene?" Leo's question hung in the air for a moment, even as the machines toned away in relation to the dying girl on the bed. "It may be our last chance."

Crusher looked at him intently. "You could kill her."

"She's dying already."

Crusher clearly went to say something but stopped herself. Her mouth moved as she played out the conversation to come. Leo could see she was not convinced this was the best way to deal with the situation. Every minute they were fighting to save a girl who might never wake up was a minute they weren't saving the lives of soldiers and civilians coming into their hospital. Leo knew that if she made the decision to withhold the medication, it was medically justified. It was perhaps one even he would make one day.

Crusher, in the end, did not assert seniority. She simply reached over to a medical tray, pulled the appropriate vial out, and after a moment placed the hypospray over the girl's neck on the jugular vein. A very slight, virtually inaudible hiss sounded and the vial emptied its contents right into the Jane Doe's body.

For several seconds there was no response. The only sound in the OR was the machine reading the patient's heart beat and neural activity. Leo felt almost numb with tension. Possibilities raced through his head. Had he done everything right? Had he made the right calls? Had he wasted time and resources on someone who simply couldn't be saved? Was he, even now, causing deaths by not giving this up?

Dear God, please, he pleaded in his mind and in his heart. Please, I've done everything I can. He put his hand on the girl's shoulder, as if to wake her. Please.

"Doctor Gillam." The sound of Crusher's voice led him to look her way. Her eyes had a gentle look to them now, and the same was true with her voice. "There's nothing more we can do. It's out of our hands now. We should go."

"Doctor Crusher is right." Ocasio spoke up next. "I will stay and monitor her condition, but you are needed in Triage."

Leo closed his eyes. He needed to. They felt so heavy. His heart felt like a heavy lump in his chest. All he could think about was if he did something wrong, if he missed something, if he had failed to save this girl…

"Right," he breathed. "I'm sorry."

"I know. We're all tired."

Leo drew in a breath and nodded to Crusher and to Ocasio. "Let's go."




The assault shuttle was flying in low and fast, a dark shape with low-slung engine nacelles against the debris of the countryside outside New Rennes. From his place of prominence in the cockpit behind the co-pilot, Fassbinder observed with appreciation the burning remains of enemy war machines and soldiers. One of the F1S1 "BattleMechs" was a broken mess zooming by on his right, undoubtedly victim to SS Panzers.

They were arranged ahead, those same machines. Tracked with anti-grav backup mobility, large disruptor cannons mounted on turrets much like the old chem-propelled tank guns of Hitler's panzers, the same panzers that had conquered wide swaths of Eurasia and Africa for the banner of the Hakenkreuz. SS lighting bolts and that same Hakenkreuz were displayed proudly on the turrets of the war machines, as they were on the great armored Panzergrenadier soldiers fighting alongside them.

Ahead of the shuttle, SS aerospace bombers already blasting enemy troops. One of the bombers blew apart after taking a mass effect-propelled anti-air shell from one of the Turian AA emplacements. Said gun blew up seconds later from another bomber's attack.

"Gruppenführer Fischer has a new alert, sir," the co-pilot said. "Orbital visuals confirm that an enemy force is moving to counter-attack. Our troops may not make it to the target."

"Then we will make do." Fassbinder looked back to his men, a squad of four Panzergrenadiers and two squads of light combat-armored Stosstruppen from the Waffen SS. "Remember the briefing. Our primary objective are those individuals. They must not be killed."

"And the untermenschen?" asked a Unterscharführer.

"Consider them a secondary target of opportunity." Fassbinder smirked. The hospital loomed ahead. "If we must, we'll leave some alive in order to secure the targets. If we have the chance… exterminate them."




Leo and Nasri were working together as the combat casualties came in. A Free Worlds League MechWarrior was the next to be brought up. Leo looked over the woman's plentiful cuts and lacerations, creating angry red splotches of blood on dark skin, and immediately ordered Nasri to administer a painkiller while he examined the scan. "Injuries consistent with a partial canopy collision. Blood loss is severe but not critical, no critical damage to organs… but it looks like the toxic coolant in her cooling vest got into her bloodstream. Mark yes and send her to Doctor Lang for priority chelation and synthblood transfusion."

The next patient was a Turian trooper with disruptor burns. Leo was in the middle of marking her to be treated when the first explosion sounded outside.

The Triage Ward entrance was controlled chaos at the best of times. But clear panic was coming as some of the orderlies, heading out with medics to bring in more cases, returned screaming. "We're under attack!" one voice shouted, then another.

Galerius straightened up from where she was treating another Turian. "What's wrong? What's going on?"

"Enemy assault craft, they're landing outside of the hospital!"

As she demanded to know how many, Leo thought back to what Lucy had said. That she'd been worried about something. His finger went for his omnitool's comm key. "Gillam to Security, I need defense teams to Triage Ward, now! They're attacking the hospital!"

"Teams already on their way."

"Evacuate the Triage Ward, now!" Crusher was in motion as well. Orderlies and nurses, including Nasri, began to grab beds and push them toward the door.

Leo ran over to join her. He took the bed of the MechWarrior he'd examined barely a minute before and pushed her to the door, where a Turian medic took her and moved her on. He turned back into the Triage Ward as, from the far hall, armed security troopers appeared at the door and moved on toward the exit leading to the main entrance.

They barely got there when an explosion blasted through the wall and sent them flying. German-accented voices screamed, "Stop! Stop or you will be shot!" Leo watched as a hulking set of powered armor, one of the Panzergrenadiers, stomped into the Triage Ward beside men in combat armor.

A hand grabbed him and pulled him into cover behind an overturned bed. Crusher and Nasri were in cover with him, as was a League soldier with a tourniquet around his wounded leg. From behind cover Leo heard more shouts and weapons fire. He turned his head in time to see a disruptor beam shoot a fleeing Turian medic in the back. He was vaporized instantly.

"Cease fire and you will not be harmed!" a voice cried out.

Leo felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He couldn't keep the shock off his face. "I know that voice," he murmured.

"What?" Crusher looked at him.

"It's him." Leo was still having trouble believing it. "Fassbinder. He's alive."

"Attention," the voice continued. Now it was booming over the hospital PA system. "I am Standartenführer Fassbinder of the Schutzstaffel. I am here to collect several noted enemies of the German Reich. That is my only purpose, and if my mission succeeds, I will leave you without further harm."

Leo felt his throat go dry. He already had a feeling who Fassbinder was after. It would explain the spy, after all.

"I am aware that among you are members of the crew of the Alliance vessel Aurora," Fassbinder continued. "In particular, I seek two officers. Doctor Leonard Gillam and Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero. Upon their surrender I will leave and the SS will spare the remaining staff and patients of this facility. For every minute that I am defied, my troops will execute one of your people."

Leo swallowed. Lucy wasn't here. She was still out with those Asari commandos. Fassbinder would never be satisfied with that. He was about to kill innocent people.

Nasri looked to Leo and frowned. "Don't," she urged.

"I can't let him kill anyone," Leo said. "Maybe he'll be satisfied with me."

"You don't know that." Crusher shook her head. "He might kill you instead."

"No." Leo shook his head. "No, I think he wants us alive. He wants me alive." Leo activated his omnitool and started operating the comm channel. "Without a ship in orbit we're limited by comm range, but I'm hoping Lucy will pick this up."

"Unterscharführer, execute a prisoner."

"Jawohl."

Leo immediately rose above the bed and shouted, "Wait!"

One of the infantryman had been about to shoot a Turian medic in the head. But he didn't. All eyes turned toward Leo.

Leo, in turn, was looking right at Fassbinder. The SS man smirked. "Ah, Doctor Gillam," he said. "It has been a while."

"Not nearly long enough for me," Leo grumbled. "I guess you survived your fall at Gamma Piratus."

"Transporter enhancers are useful, ja?" Fassbinder looked around the room. "Where is Lucero?"

"Not here."

"No?" Fassbinder's smug smirk became more of a smug grin. "My agent saw her earlier today."

"Andre Faqin."

The name drew no response from Fassbinder. "Where is she, Herr Doktor?"

"Like I said, she's not here," Leo said. "She went out into the field."

"Really?" Fassbinder made a show of looking at his timepiece. "You know, your minute is almost up."

"I can prove she's not here," Leo said. "The hospital logs will show her leaving."

"Logs are so easily doctored, though. And I'm afraid I don't have the means at hand to discern real records from fake." Fassbinder looked to his watch. "Five… four… three…"

The far door opened again. Leo looked that way and shook his head. No

Fassbinder looked to the door. A brief smirk turned into a scowl. "The gelding," he grumbled.

Hargert walked into the Triage Ward still wearing his cooking apron. The old man had a faint, deceptively-welcoming grin on his face as he took another step into the Ward. "The monster," he retorted.

"What are you doing here, old fool?"

"You demanded my presence, did you not?" Hargert stopped walking. "I am a crewmember of the Aurora, the same as the good Doktor."

Fassbinder laughed at that. "You are a pitiful old gelding, a failure to your Race, a mere cook."

Hargert put a hand to his heart. "Oh, such an insult. I am no mere cook."

"No." Leo felt a warmth in his voice that matched the warmth in his heart. A warmth only equaled by his fear. "He's not."

Fassbinder drew a disruptor pistol from his belt holster. "Where is Lucero?" He held the gun up to Hargert.

"She is not here."

"I will shoot you, traitor."

"Then shoot." Hargert shook his head. "Do you think I am afraid of you, monster? No. I meant what I said before, SS man. Nie weider. We will never be afraid of you and your filth again. And we will not stop fighting until the German people of this universe are free of you, just as we have been for centuries."

Hargert said nothing further. Leo looked from him to Fassbinder. He was tense with anger and hate and the look in his eye told Leo he wanted to shoot Hargert right then and there. "Just wait!" Leo shouted. "She'll be back soon!"

Fassbinder didn't react immediately. Slowly, with visible surprise to his subordinates, he lowered the gun and returned it to his holster. Leo breathed a sigh of relief, even as he wondered why the SS man had stopped.

That relief turned to outright confusion a moment later when the smirk reappeared on Fassbinder's face.

The SS man brought up his gloved right hand and held it toward Hargert. His fingers looked like he was trying to grip a wire between his thumb and his index and middle finger. His blue eyes locked onto Hargert with an intensity that seemed bizarre for the moment.

A hacking, choking sound came from the old cook. Leo turned and watched in shock as Hargert's hands went up to his throat. He slouched over, as if about to fall to his knees, sharp wheezes and choking sounds coming from his throat. Finally he went down to his knees.

A low, satisfied chuckle came from Fassbinder's throat. "I will enjoy this," he rasped.




Leo wasn't the only one watching Fassbinder.

Inside the Asari-crewed shuttle, Lucy stared at the screen in shock. "That's… oh God," she gasped.

Fallina was watching with her own sense of profound surprise. "How is he doing that?" she asked Lucy. "That's not biotics."

"He's using life energy like I do," she answered. "But wrong. Twisted and dark." Lucy brought up her forearm and began entering commands into her omnitool as it came to life. "And if he sees us coming we're screwed. I need to distract him."

"With what?" Selmissima asked.

"Something unexpected," Lucy replied.




"Herr Standartenführer?" one of the SS field men asked, showing utter confusion.

"How is he doing that?" Crusher asked from behind the bed.

"Stop!" Leo cried out.

"This is the power you deny," rasped Fassbinder. Sweat was pouring down his forehead and toward his eyes. His face was turning red from sheer effort. "Do you not feel death coming, gelding? Don't you fear it? The pitch dark that you belong in, traitor? You and your kind… you false Germans… I will cast you all into that endless void! You deserve only oblivion!" A trickle of blood started to flow down from Fassbinder's nostrils.

Hargert went down to all fours. His lips were turning blue.

Leo tensed up. He wondered if he could break the choke hold by knocking Hargert away. He didn't think he could make it to Fassbinder before his men opened fire. "Please don't kill him," Leo pleaded. "Whatever you want us for, you can use him for too."

Fassbinder didn't seem to care. He kept his death grip up. Leo watched as his eyes seemed to flash from blue to gold for a moment, just a moment. And it seemed certain that Fassbinder would keep that grip until Hargert was dead.

And that there was nothing Leo could do about it.

Several meters away, a humanoid form coalesced into existence. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency," asked the EMH. The hologram looked around with befuddlement.

Fassbinder's head whipped around to face the sudden newcomer. His concentration slipped and with it his grip on Hargert. "What is this?" Fassbinder demanded while Hargert began to breathe again.

"I could ask the same." The EMH looked over the invaders. "Bringing firearms into the triage ward is strictly prohibited outside of security personnel."

One of the SS troopers held up a scanner. "Herr Standartenführer, this is a hologram."

Fassbinder opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted as another ripple in mid-air coalesced into a second EMH. "What is the nature of the medical…" The second EMH looked at the first, his identical twin. "This is not appropriate use of my program," the second EMH complained.

Leo fought to keep a grin off his face. Lucy was the thought that went through his head.

"Destroy them!" Fassbinder shouted. At that command disruptor beams struck both holograms. Their forms were distorted by the blasts until they faded away.

After a moment, both promptly reappeared. "That really isn't necessary," one stated.

Fassbinder clenched a fist and drew his gun.

That was when the wall exploded.




The commando shuttle flew right up to the side of the Hospital before Fallina and her team jumped from the side. In cooperation with each other, the Asari commando unit generated a massive biotic pulse that blew the first floor wall down completely.

In that moment of surprise, Lucy raced forward. Her lakesh extended to its full length with a sharp metallic shriek. She cleared the fallen wall and the dust, and even as they started to react, she was on top of the SS troopers. Her blade cut cleanly through the arms of one, causing him to cry out as his dismembered limbs, and the gun they carried, hit the ground. She twisted and slashed out again, a cut that found the neck of a second foe, and a third swipe took the legs of the next.

Sensing the intentions of the nearest armored Panzergrenadier, Lucy twisted slightly and avoided a kill-shot from the machine's arm-mounted disruptor. A fourth SS trooper disappeared in a surge of green energy that consumed him, a victim of that miss. She reached out with a hand and let the power within her reach out as well. Her power gripped the armored trooper and sent him flying into a second armored trooper. Both went to the floor.

The third and fourth of the enemy armored troops might have gotten her, but they were already facing a new problem, made clear by the dark matter energy that had formed around them, locking them in place. Two of Fallina's Asari maintained the stasis fields while Selmissima, the tall one with the assault rifle, was sending the light combat-suited infantry scurrying for cover. The two stunned armored troops were left sitting ducks to Niata, who was already ripping the weapons off of one with biotic fields.

Lucy at last turned to Fassbinder. Hearing his voice over the comms, seeing him in the visual channel, that had been enough of a shock. But sensing him, feeling the malevolent cold of his active power, was worse. The idea that the Reich was starting to look for these powers and to train their own, especially SS, in their use… that was a threat that made her stomach churn. The things that these evil men could do with that power, the ease with which darkness could corrupt them...

Fassbinder started to level his gun toward Hargert. "I'll kill the old…"

Fassbinder's threat against Hargert's life stopped abruptly when Lucy thrust an open palm toward him. The power of the energy within her followed her will. Invisible force slammed into the SS man and sent him flying into the nearest wall.

"Lucy, look out!"

Leo's warning coincided with the sense of danger Lucy felt within. She swung to her right with her lakesh and caught the disruptor beam before it could vaporize her. The beam reflected off her lakesh and hit one of the SS troopers. He was blasted back and hit the ground, unmoving.

The trooper who fired never fired again. Fallina crashed into him in a flash of dark blue energy. The biotics-powered charge sent the SS soldier flying into the nearest wall, where he fell and stopped moving.

Fallina turned and faced one of the Panzergrenadiers currently aiming toward her soldiers. The shotgun in her hands went off and blew a massive hole through the torso plate of the enemy powered armor suit. It collapsed to the ground. Fallina turned and fired a shot that caused an SS infantryman's torso to explode in a messy way.

The loss of the fourth and last of the Panzergrenadiers was to the combined biotics of two of the Asari commandos. Intense dark matter forces rippled and coiled over the armored suit until it began to tear away. The weapons went down, and defenses, and soon the entire suit was in tatters and the pilot within exposed. A single gunshot from one of the Asari put him down.

The remaining SS forces, deprived of their heavy support, retreated from the Triage Ward. Fallina spoke into her comm. "What's our status?"

"They're retreating for their shuttle," her pilot replied.

Lucy almost celebrated until she felt the change in the atmosphere. Or, more accurately, the lack of presence. She turned to where she had thrown Fassbinder, just to find that he was gone. "Did anyone see where their commander went?" she asked.

"I thought I saw him run toward the interior of the hospital." The reply was from one of the orderlies in the room. "But I can't be sure."

Lucy frowned and tried to focus on her senses, on her energy, to feel his presence. Given the malevolent nature of it, it would stick out like a sore thumb.

"I think he's this way," she said to the others. "This way."

"T'Sani, Niata, with us, the rest of you, stay and help with wounded." Fallina hefted her shotgun and followed Lucy into the hospital.




Fassbinder felt shame and rage burn inside of him as he ran further into the hospital. Months of training, of pushing his limits, all of his work… and he was still weak compared to Lucero. He would be the laughing stock of the SS for this defeat.

Perhaps not all is in vain, he thought. Perhaps I can hold out until our main force arrives. He knew that was a long shot at best, but he would not give up. Not on this. He was so close to getting what he needed. His plan was all laid out. And he would find his destiny with it

Fassbinder was so busy he didn't see the closet door nearby slide open. As he walked past it his senses came alive with warning. Curious and concerned, he turned toward the door with a hand going to his pistol.

That was when the force hit him, full strength, and sent him into unconsciousness.




The sense of malevolence went away. Lucy stopped where she was and looked around. "Oh come on," she muttered before concentrating. He had to be out there.

But try as she might, Lucy felt nothing.

"Dammit," she grumbled.

"What is it?" Fallina and her team approached.

"I lost him. It's… where could he have gone?" Lucy began looking around again. "We'll need to put up a watch. He's too dangerous to be ignored."

"I'll get in contact with Security," said Fallina. "But if you ask me, I think he took off to the nearest exit. He knows he's a dead man if we find him."

"True." But something about that didn't sit right. Lucy had a feeling that Fassbinder, whatever had happened, was somewhere else, or had some other plan.

And she already knew this would not be the last they'd seen of the SS man, whatever happened.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-12 03:06am

It was starting to get dark outside when Leo finally had a moment to step away from the Triage Ward. Even with Alpha getting most of the casualties during their difficulties, enough had come in from the nearby fighting to keep all of the doctors busy while the mess from the attack still had to be cleaned up.

He knew Lucy and Hargert were waiting for him in the mess, but he had another stop to make first. He returned to the Intensive Care Ward.

An Asari nurse met him at the door. "Jane Doe #3," he said. "The adolescent girl. Is she here?" As he said the words his heart pounded with fear. Despite all of the excitement of the SS attack he hadn't forgotten about his biggest effort of the day. He hadn't stopped wondering if she had recovered, or if all of his work had been for nothing.

As those thoughts went through his head, the Asari nurse was looking over the list. "I'm not seeing a Jane Doe #3…"

Leo's heart plunged into his stomach.

"Wait… oh, there she is. Zahra Mercier."

That brought Leo to stare in shock. "Wait, we have her name?" he asked. "How…?"

"She's awake, Doctor," the Asari answered. "She woke up about two hours ago."

With his heart hammering in surprise and joy, Leo thanked the Asari and ventured into the ward.

The young girl with the new heart looked asleep when Leo stepped up beside her bed, in the curtain-covered alcove assigned to her. It was only when he sat down that she moved. Her eyes opened slightly, enough to show their deep brown color. "Monsieur Docteur," she said, and Leo's auto-translator rendered it into "Mister Doctor" accordingly.

Leo thought his mouth was going to go dry when he asked, "How are you feeling?"

Zahra blinked and tried to move an arm. She managed it just enough that her hand came off the bed. Leo took it. "Weak," she finally said.

"That's not surprising. Your body took a lot of damage. We gave you a new heart earlier today."

That was answered with a weak nod. "I thought I was to die. The… the blast… wave… I do not know the word?"

For a moment Leo considered telling her to stop speaking, to conserve her strength. But he stopped himself. She needed to speak, it seemed. Needed to share what had happened. "If you want to tell me what happened, I'm ready," Leo said.

"Can I have a drink first? I am thirsty."

Leo stood and reached for the tray the nurses had thoughtfully left, with a plastic cup and an insulated pitcher of cool water. He poured her enough for a drink and brought the cup up to her lips. Her arm tried to intercept the cup to take the drink for herself, but the limb - horrifying in its bone-thinness - flopped onto her belly. Leo was left to pour the water carefully into her waiting lips, giving her time to swallow each sip until she nodded and he pulled the cup away. "How is that?"

"Better." Zahra licked at her lips. It was painful to see a girl her age in the shape she was in, bone-thin and nearly a living skeleton. Even after days of seeing these patients, it still hurt Leo to think of the suffering that went with such a condition. "The Boche… they did something. There was a… a thing in the barracks. On the ceiling. It lit up."

Leo nodded. "Okay. Do you mind if I share this with others, Zahra? If you do, I won't. I'm your doctor, anything you tell me stays between us unless you tell me to share it."

"Please do. Please tell everyone," Zahra insisted, with as much heat as her voice could manage. "Something in the ceiling. I saw it light up. Mama… Mama pushed me to the door. She screamed for me to get out. I ran. I was the first to run. I remember a loud noise, like a thunderclap, and I looked back…" Zahra's eyes opened more, and it was clear it was from horror at the memory. "There was a… wave… a blast… energy… it hit people and they fell. I kept running. I didn't want it to hit me."

She went silent for a moment. Leo took her hand and waited patiently for her to continue.

"And then I had… pain. In my belly. My heart. It hurt so much." Tears formed in her eyes. "I tried to scream but nothing would move. I just fell over. I… I thought I was going to die. And then I felt nothing. And I woke up here."

"I'm sorry."

"My parents, my uncle and cousin… they are dead?" The way she said it, it was clear Zahra was already certain of it.

Leo sighed and nodded. "Yes, I think. We found four remains in the mass grave with genetic relation to you. You may be the only survivor of that barracks. I'm sorry."

The look on Zahra's face didn't change for a moment. Tears formed in her eyes as the impact of the confirmation hit home for her. Her face twisted into visible pain a moment before she began to weep softly.

There were all sorts of things Leo could have said. He could have expressed further condolences. He could have promised that he would help her (and he would, to the best of his ability). He could have encouraged her to live for her slain family.

He said nothing. All he did was hold her hand. Because, for that moment, he knew it was the only right thing he could do.




After Zahra cried herself to sleep and Leo saw to her further treatments for the evening, he went to the mess hall. He barely had time to sit before Hargert was at his side, bearing a bowl of sausage stew and a plate of salad. Seeing (and smelling) the fine food made Leo realize how long it had been since he ate, and his stomach growled in anticipation. Leo took to both in alternating bites.

Lucy joined them a moment later. "There you are," she said, putting down her half-finished bowl of sausage stew.

"How is your patient?" asked Hargert.

Leo swallowed a bite of salad. "Alive. Grief-stricken. Her name is Zahra Mercier."

"Poor girl." Hargert nodded. He looked none the worse for wear given the day's events.

"What you did today, Hargert…" Leo put his utensils down and looked directly at the man. "...he would have killed you. Hell, I think he hates you the most of all."

Hargert answered that with a thin smile. "I knew he might kill me. I simply had faith that the rest of you might stop him." He directed the smile at Lucy, who smiled back. "Thank you, Fraulein."

"You don't have to, Hargert," Lucy said. "It's what I'm here for." She frowned. "What worries me is that he was using powers like ours. The Gersallian swevyra, I mean."

"After seeing you and Rob and Meridina using it, he must have gotten some ideas."

Lucy nodded at Leo's suggestion. "And because of what he is… he's already being corrupted by it. He's falling into darkness. That's going to make him all the more dangerous."

"Assuming the SS does not punish him for failing today," Hargert said. "We have beaten him twice now."

A sick feeling was swirling in Lucy's gut at that. "Did we?" she asked.

"What?"

"Did we stop him, Hargert?" Lucy looked to him. "I… if I remember SS rank structure right from our intel briefings, his new rank is higher than his older one. He's been promoted since Gamma Piratus. Why would they promote him when we beat him?"

Hargert's smiled vanished. So did Leo's. "We need to tell Rob and the others," Leo said. "And Admiral Maran. You don't think he could have taken anything from the Facility, do you?"

"I don't know," Lucy said. "I mean, from what I remember, none of his teams actually secured the computer cores, and they didn't get the control room. Not entirely. But maybe they got something…"

"I would think so too." Hargert was frowning now. "How else has he been promoted?"

"Dammit." Lucy rubbed at her forehead. "And then there's the other thing."

"What?"

"The issue with the Turian meds," Lucy said. "Someone at Hospital Bravo put them in containers labeled as Dorei-specific meds."

The news shocked Leo. "They did what? But… the Dorei are levo-compatible like us, giving them Turian meds…"

"Yeah." Lucy brought a container out. "And what's more, there was a murder at Bravo. Some poor woman got her face pummelled into bloody goo."

The news rocked Leo to his core. Sabotage and murder? "An SS agent?"

"Maybe? I don't know. We know they had them. But it just feels… off." She opened the container. Inside was her bolt wrench. Little clumps of dead skin cells were still visible on the inner rim. She reached further in and pulled out a silk cloth to lay flat on the table. Clumps of dried blood were visible on it. "We got genetic samples from the body. I mean, these will work right?"

"They might." Leo lifted his left arm and activated his omnitool. "I'll see if my scanner can get a good gene print off of them." At a touch of a key the scanner activated. Waves of blue light ran over both samples. The omnitool screen appeared and showed a partial genetic profile forming. "The blood's degraded, but with the skin cells to confirm…" A nearly-complete helix formed on his screen. "There it is. An intact genetic profile." He used his hands to manipulate a hard-light control that emerged from the omnitool in mid-air under his hands. "I'm accessing our database now. Let's see if we can…"

A result popped up. Leo's jaw dropped open in utter shock.

Lucy moved up beside him and read the result.

Profile Match: Doctor Amelia Indira Lang, Force Commander, FWLM.

Leo's finger was already hitting his comm key. "Gillam to Security! This is an emergency, find and detain Doctor Lang now! She's an imposter!"




There were people that Specialist Kevin Lewis wanted to shoot. At least sometimes. The annoying neighbor who ratted him out on his stash of porn vids when he was growing up. The kid at school who punched his lights out. The asshole recruiter who told him that the mercenary life was far more exciting than normal military service in the AFFC.

That's how a kid from a medium-sized city on Grosvenor, a boring planet in the Federated Commonwealth's Crucis March where there was nothing of interest to the Inner Sphere or the Multiverse as a whole, wound up in Rawling's Raiders, a small-time merc outfit that was supposed to specialize in anti-pirate defense for the Periphery. Lewis had imagined seeing amazing Periphery locales, exotic lovers, and all the other things the frontier was supposed to be.

But instead, his first assignment was to the contract with the Free Worlds League to work in Universe S4W8, protecting Coalition facilities in League-held areas. That meant fighting Nazis, who were even more terrifying than the Clans with their hulking power-armored troops, and being bored in damned field hospitals. He was responsible for the locals' "civilian" exit overlooking their vehicle park and mass transit pick-up location, checking IDs and making sure only authorized locals were coming in.

A moment of excitement came when Mister Taylor, in charge of security for the hospital, had called for a security alert. They were ordered to detain Doctor Lang, if found, as a suspected imposter. Maybe, if he was lucky, Lang would try to get through his door, and Lewis would get to do something useful! And maybe even get a bonus from the capture to boot!

Instead, all he saw that night was a beautiful nurse walk up to him. She was Caucasian, with beautiful blue eyes and long dark hair and a body to die for. Lewis was certain she couldn't be a local.

She wasn't alone though. She was pushing a bed. The man on it was one Lewis knew he'd seen before, a local. He was unconscious, or maybe just sleeping.

She smiled at him. "I'm just taking Mister Faqin out to his vehicle. He had a bad day. I'll bring the bed back later."

Lewis almost agreed, but he knew he'd be in deep shit if he did. "We're on the lookout for someone, ma'am, I'm afraid I have to have the bed examined."

"I already had it secured by a doctor," she answered. "The holographic one. Here, let me." She looked to the side. "Computer, please activate Emergency Medical Hologram."

The bald-headed man in the Starfleet uniform appeared beside her. "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

"I need to get this poor man to his vehicle, we need the bed," the nurse said sweetly. "And you already scanned him. But the guard didn't see it."

The EMH rolled his eyes. "What is it with you people and calling me for… never mind." He let out a frustrated breath before activating a specialized omnitool that formed over his hand, integrated by Zimmerman into the EMH program. "It looks like this fellow exhausted himself by working too hard. Wake him up and send him home. I recommend he be relieved of duty for at least twenty-four hours." The EMH glared at her and then Lewis. "There, is that it? Or do you have another mundane, decidedly non-emergency task for me to handle?"

"Uh, no Doc," Lewis said. "Nothing at all."

"Fine. Thank you and have a wonderful evening."

"Disengage hologram," the nurse said. The EMH vanished.

"Alright ma'am." Lewis nodded. "You're good to go."

The nurse smiled at him and pushed the bed out.

But contrary to what she said, it didn't come back. Nor did she.



It was late when Leo finally saw Doctor Crusher again, in the doctors' watch station between the Standard and Critical Care Wards. "Well, it's been a busy day."

Leo nodded. Before he could speak a distant thunderclap sounded. The fighting was still roaring on close by. "A very busy day."

"I saw that our patient woke up."

"Yeah." Leo nodded. "Her name is Zahra Mercier."

For a moment, there was silence between the two physicians.

"It's odd," Leo said, breaking the silence. He gave a thoughtful look toward Crusher. "Medical ethics, I mean. I was in the wrong, but I was right."

"Oh?"

A dull thump of a headache caused Leo to press his forefinger and thumb against his temples and massage his forehead. "You were right about that surgery. By every principle of triage, I should have quit. Zahra's survival was a one in five shot at best. Her system barely handled even five ccs of the dizaproregene and that didn't even fully heal her lungs. All of that effort would have been wasted. While we were needed on the Triage floor. And when we don't even know when, or if, we'll get re-supplied." Leo shook his head. "I made the wrong decision."

"Maybe from a triage stand-point," Crusher said. "But the fact is that if I'd ordered you to stop, our patient would be dead right now." There was something in her voice, a measure of realization, and pain to go with it.

"We were both wrong. And both right. But maybe you were more right than I was." Leo tapped his finger on the desk. "All of that time we were in the OR, saving someone who was likely to die, there were how many patients coming into Triage? Those are people who may have died because help didn't get to them in time. All because we were busy saving one life."

"The life of a child."

"I know. But under medical ethics, is that more important than the lives of adults?"

"I…" Crusher stopped. "I suppose some people would say yes. That children are the future. But I don't want to go down that road of deciding whose life is more important."

"Me neither."

There was another few moments of contemplative silence between the two. "Maybe the important thing is that we don't know these answers," Leo said. "We have to know that we might be wrong. If we start thinking everything we do is right, well…"

He let the sentence hang so Crusher could complete the thought. "...we lose sight of our limitations. And we start thinking we have the right to make tough choices without thinking about them."

"Yeah." Leo rubbed at his eyes. After all of this he just wanted to get some sleep.

His omnitool flashed into existence, at least in part, forming the light around his wrist and the back of his hand. With curiosity he pressed the light to open the channel.

"Attention all Hospital personnel, prepare for immediate evacuation. I repeat, prepare for evacuation."

"What?" Crusher stood. "Evacuation? To where?"

Leo's omnitool registered a second communication coming in, and the voice he heard brought a smile to his face.

"Aurora to Gillam," said Jarod. "Hold tight. We're on our way."




The Aurora dropped out of warp nearly within weapons range of the Baldur von Schirach and her battlegroup of warships. In the seconds afterward, a number of other ships dropped out of warp around her. Four Predator-class destroyers, a Scorpio-class attack cruiser, and two Trigger-class attack ships led by the Koenig came in with the first wave.

"Enemy warships are responding to our arrival." Caterina kept her eyes on sensors. "They're getting ready to fire."

"Hit first," Robert ordered.

Angel answered with a gleeful "Yes sir" even as she triggered the forward weapons.

The Aurora and her fellow ships launched into an immediate attack that pummeled the nearest enemy ships. The Sedan-class cruiser Angel targeted retorted with disruptor fire that drained their shields even as their weapons pummeled away at the enemy cruiser. Solar torpedoes blasted the swastika insignia on its bow, turning it into debris and wreckage.

The Koenig, leading the formation of Trigger-class ships that resembled her so closely, went in phasers blazing. Multiple heavy phaser cannon shots took down the shields of the enemy cruiser and allowed the attack ships' torpedoes to gut the ship.

The arrival of the Aurora attracted the attention of the Schirach. The SS-crewed dreadnought was already turning to bring its terrible battery of spinal mount super-disruptors to bear.

Which is exactly what Robert and the others planned. "Send the signal to the others," Julia ordered, while Robert waited in quiet patience. This was one part of this return mission that couldn't be left to chance.

Thankfully, it hadn't been.

Within moments of the signal, another surge of radiation flooded the sensors of every ship in the system. And Robert and the others watched in satisfaction as the Starship Lexington dropped out of warp.

And like them, she hadn't come alone.

Not even a moment later two Excelsior-class starships, marked as the Charleston and the Lakota, came out of warp beside the Lexington. Not to be outdone, a pair of Saber-class ships also arrived, as well as an older Miranda-class and a new Intrepid-class called the Stargazer. And, last but definitely not least, two large Galaxy-class starships warped in.

"This is Captain Higginbotham," said a voice, coming from the Galaxy-class Madison. "Focus fire on the enemy dreadnought."

"Let's do the same, Angel," Robert said.

The first super-disruptor shot was already firing, hitting the Aurora directly. Jarod quickly checked their shield effectiveness status. "Shields down to sixty-eight percent."

The Schirach had gotten in the hit, but it was soon evident that she was in trouble. Not only was the Aurora's powerful bow array of pulse plasma cannons and phaser weapons tearing away at her, but the entire Starfleet task force that Captain Ben Zoma had called in were coming right for the SS dreadnought. Amber beams of phaser fire from the various ships all struck against the crimson shields protecting the giant ship. The combined firepower of the several Federation starships got the shields down low enough that the SS ship's hull took several direct impacts from photon torpedoes.

Disruptor shots retaliated against the Federation strike group, both from the Schirach and from her escorts, under fire from Aurora's escorting ships. The space around New Brittany was lit up with the amber and emerald streaks of phaser and disruptor fire, accentuated by the powerful pulses of azure energy that erupted from Aurora's main battery and the main battery on the Scorpio-class cruiser, even now savagely tearing into a burning Dresden-class Nazi cruiser.

A missile from the Schirach blasted the nacelle off of one of the Saber-class ships. Another caused hull and system damage to one of the Alliance Predator-class destroyers. Much of the Schirach's fury was still bent on the Aurora, which took another super-disruptor hit. "Shields down to forty percent."

"I'm maintaining evasive maneuvers," Locarno added.

The dreadnought didn't get a chance to fire its spinal mounts at the Aurora again, as Locarno's maneuvering put it out of the firing arc. The Koenig and two of the other attack ships came in on the bow of the enemy dreadnought with phasers and torpedoes blazing. With the Idaho - one of the two Galaxy-class ships - blazing away with phasers and disrupting the dreadnought's forward shields, the Koenig and her cousins were able to batter through them enough for their solar torpedoes to make direct impact on the emitters before they could fire again. An explosion consumed the open ports in the bow of the great enemy dreadnought.

"I'm picking up power surges," Cat said. "I think they're going to warp."

A moment later that prediction was confirmed. The Schirach, and the three surviving ships with her battle group, disappeared in flashes of bright light.

"Stand down from combat, running status Code Yellow."

"I've already received the confirmation from General Chaganam," Julia added. "They're getting ready to evacuate."

"Signal the other ships. Use light fire, keep the enemy pinned down so their troops can disengage. Jarod?"

"I've already sent the signal," Jarod confirmed. Moments later interuniversal jump points began to form on the screen. DropShips from Universe F1S1, troop transports of Alliance build, and a Turian regimental-sized troop carrier emerged from the points. Another series of points brought in a series of hospital ships and passenger vessels converted to provide the same. "Leo's signalling."

"Put him on."

Leo appeared on the holo-viewer. He was sitting at a doctor's watch station. "Hey," he said. "Nice timing."

"You're welcome."

"I've got news. Some of it bad. Even scary. But what's this about an evacuation?"

"We're doing this on a tight timetable," Robert replied. "The Reich's sending reinforcements to take and hold New Brittany. We don't have the ships or manpower to hold this planet and the others. The Coalition Command decided to write New Brittany off, but they let us bring in ships to evac the troops and hospitals. The Epaminondas and her battle group are following us in to cover the withdrawal."

"And what about the people? Rob, some of these folks worked with us, if the SS get wind of it…"

"General Chaganam is already sending out a public signal, anyone who worked with our occupation forces is getting a free ticket off-world," Robert answered. He was frowning a little. "It's the best we can do. Maybe when we start getting Inner Sphere ships ready for this war, or we get the Clans participating, we can come back. But right now…"

"Yeah. I get it. Triage." Leo sighed.

"You said you had news," Julia said. "What did you mean?"

"Some things have happened while you were away. Lucy and I will share them with you when we get back to the Aurora, but right now I'm going to join Doctor Crusher in getting our patients ready for the evacuation. I'll see you when I get back up there. Gillam out."

After Leo disappeared, Julia gave Robert a concerned look. "What do you think he meant by that?"

Robert didn't immediately reply. But there was no denying the sick feeling he had that something was going on, something bad. "I don't know," he said. "But we'll just have to find out. Go ahead and secure us for evacuation work. Cat?"

Caterina already knew what he would be asking about. "We've got the Reich force on long range probes. At their current warp velocity I think we have about ten, eleven hours."

"The Epaminondas is still thirty minutes out, but we should be able to complete the evacuation within ten hours with their help," Jarod added.

"Alright. Let's get this evacuation going, then. And this time, we're not leaving anyone behind."



Tag

Leo and Lucy delivered their news to the others. They added the recorded visuals from the hospital. The response was complete quiet.

"I don't believe it," Robert mumbled, looking at the image on the conference room holotable. "Fassbinder's alive."

"Are you sure this isn't a clone?" Julia asked.

"He looked like the original to me."

"And moved like him," Lucy added. "And that's not the worst part."

"He has swevyra," Robert mumbled. "Probably learned how to access it by watching us."

"Given his behavior before, and his ideology, he will certainly fall." Meridina shook her head in disbelief. "Reich swevyra'kse. They will be far more dangerous if this becomes widespread."

"That's still not the worst part," Lucy insisted. "He's not an Obersturm-whatever-it-was anymore. He's something called a 'Standartenführer.' That's the highest rank we've seen him have. He didn't even have that on Gamma Piratus."

"Wait. That doesn't make sense," Angel said. "We beat him. We kicked his ass out of the Facility after killing all of his guys. Why the hell would the Nazis promote that piece of crap?"

"Unless th' scunners got somethin' from th' Facility," Scotty suggested.

"I suppose it's possible." Jarod shook his head. "Maybe they got some data from the general system."

"Whatever it was, this is big news, and we need to report it to Maran immediately." Robert tried to hold back the sick feeling in his stomach. "Was that all?"

"I'm afraid not." With a nod from Leo, Lucy brought up the information from the dead body in Bravo. "Someone attempted to pass off Turian dextro-compatible medications as Dorei-specific. And they murdered Dr. Lang in the process."

"The evacuation is still on, but there's been no sign of the imposter Lang for hours," added Leo. "So whoever it was got away."

"Well, it's probable the SS had agents from the local population infiltrate the hospitals."

"I'm… I don't feel like that's the answer," Lucy said to Jarod. "There's something more to it than that. A local Nazi spy killing just one doctor and swapping medical labels? I mean, maybe, but it feels like they would do something bigger if they were moving toward active sabotage. Something that hurts us immediately and directly. Faking a pharmaceutical mix-up would cause strain in the Coalition, yeah, but hardly worth the effort if you're an SS or military intel agent."

"Yet it is sabotage that might be done without being directly detected, if done right," Meridina pointed out. "At a low enough risk to the agent, it becomes worthwhile."

"Maybe… but I still don't buy it. It doesn't… I don't feel like that's the answer here. It's just too subtle and it lacks the immediate payoff."

"Nazi spy or not, why did they leave Lang's body in Hospital Bravo?" Julia asked. "If Bravo hadn't been evacuated, the body would have been found."

"I think I have the answer to that," said Leo. "Lang was responsible for moving the pharmaceuticals. She would have realized the switch happened. Given her authority and access to records, she might have even figured out who. Killing her buys time for the saboteur, and by replacing her the saboteur got a chance to try something else. They probably figured the Nazis would sweep the vault and deal with the remains. And maybe they figured we would never risk sending anyone back."

"Either way, that's another matter for Admiral Maran to take up." Robert stood. "The evacuation of New Brittany will be complete within the next four hours. We'll be getting out of here with an hour to spare before the Reich reinforcements show up. Let's keep everyone on alert for now… with two exceptions." He looked to Leo and Lucy. "You two need a break. I'm relieving you of duty for the next 48 hours."

"You won't get any complaints from me," Lucy answered.

"If you don't mind, Rob, I have a couple things to check on in the medbay," Leo said. "But I'll stay off-duty while I'm at it."

"Excellent." Robert smiled and nodded. "Enjoy your two days off."

"Or we shall be forced to take drastic measures, I suspect," Meridina added, giving Lucy a bemused look.

"Oh? As in?"

"We'll sic Julia on you," Robert clarified.

"Like I'm not even in the room…"

After Julia's sotto voce remark, the assembled filed out of the room. All except Robert, who looked back down at the planet.

"I sense your discomfort," said Meridina, who was now standing beside him. "It is Fassbinder, isn't it?"

"I've seen him in my dreams, Meridina," Robert admitted. "I've seen him with golden eyes and vicious power. And now… now it turns out he is alive, and that he's learning how to use it."

"Yes. I am worried. But not too worried." Meridina looked at him. "Without a being to guide him in learning how to connect to his swevyra, his efforts will be… like a child left to learn how to walk, how to feel and speak, without any guidance. He will not pose a horrible threat."

"I hope you're right." Robert looked down at the planet. "I just wish I could sense where he was. What he was doing here, and why he has the SS after the Aurora."

"Give it time…"

Meridina left him to his thoughts at that point, and Robert spent the time looking out the window again. Questions assailed his mind. What was Fassbinder up to? How did he get promoted for failing to take the Facility on Gamma Piratus?

What is going on here?

As there was no answer forthcoming, Robert eventually left the conference room.




Fassbinder woke up in a locale he found familiar. He had seen it in video images for a few weeks now: the basement of Andre Faqin's home. The SS officer sat up in confusion. Faqin remained asleep, and utterly still, across from him.

"Congratulations," a woman's voice said. "The Alliance and its allies are withdrawing. Your people have reclaimed the planet."

Fassbinder turned and faced the woman in question. She was wearing a sleeveless blouse and slacks that made her look very casual and hid none of her physical beauty. At first Fassbinder didn't know who she was save the familiarity of her face, but as he considered the face and made the appropriate changes, he let out a growl of anger. "You!" And he lunged for her.

But he never reached her. The dark-haired woman reached up and out her hand and gripped him with... literally nothing. "You're rather ungrateful," said the woman. "I'm the only reason you got out of that Field Hospital alive. If I hadn't reprogrammed their holographic doctor to ignore you and slipped you out with Faqin, you would have been found."

Fassbinder spat out curses in German. "You little untermensch! Brown bitch! Did you think you would go unrecognized by lightening your skin?! I remember you, Lucero!"

The blue-eyed, dark-haired woman who, aside from flawless Caucasian skin tone, resembled Lucy Lucero completely cracked a grin. "I am not Lucero. Surely you can sense that, even with your poor grasp of your potential."

Fassbinder forced himself to calm down for the moment. As he did, he could sense what she was saying and that it was, surprisingly, true. While she looked like Lucero, she didn't feel like Lucero.

"Go ahead and put our new friend down," a new voice said.

The fake-Lucy did so. And then she stepped away and toward the nearby stairs, where a second female was stepping down. Fassbinder focused on her. She had pale blue eyes, long golden blond hair, and a body that was both beautiful and sensually displayed by the low-cut and tight red dress. "And that is what we are here to be, Fassbinder," the woman cooed. "Friends."

Fassbinder looked at them intently. "Who, what are you?"

"As I said. Friends."

"Friends with mutual enemies," the fake Lucy added.

Fassbinder considered that. He sensed the truth from the power growing within him. "You are enemies of the Alliance?"

"Very much so," the gorgeous blonde said. "And it's taken us a lot of effort to get into position to approach you. And I do mean you, Standartenführer Fassbinder."

"You have the Gift. The power of God. The means to further God's Plan."

Fassbinder continued to look at each in turn. "And what does that mean. What do you want?"

"To help you fulfill your potential, Herr Standartenführer," the fake Lucero said. "To train you to use your power to the fullest potential."

"And to help you face our common foe," added the blonde. "The Alliance. And the crew of the Starship Aurora. They are impediments to the Plan."

"And the keys to your future destiny."

"Yes." Fassbinder nodded. "They are. They are all that." He thought on it a moment "And you wish to help me against them?"

"As I said, they are our enemies. You are their enemies. So you should be our friends." The blond stepped forward and offered her hand. "We are the Cylons, and we offer you and your Reich our assistance in defeating the Alliance, the Aurora, and any who stand opposed to God's Plan."

Fassbinder considered it for a moment. Slowly, a grin formed on his face.

He extended his hand as well. "Your offer is accepted," he said. "Let our enemies tremble."




When Leo arrived in the medbay he went to his office. It was only when he got into his chair that Doctor Singh appeared, a disapproving scowl on the New Punjabi woman's face. "You should be resting," she said. "You've done enough."

Leo smiled at her and held up a hand in surrender. "I'm not here to run a shift or make rounds, I'm just going to check a few things before I go to my quarters for the night."

Singh gave him a look that spoke of her disbelief. "If you're not out of the medbay in an hour, I'm going to personally drag you out," she threatened jokingly, or rather half-jokingly.

"That won't be necessary, I promise." Leo pointed to the clock on the wall. "But just to be clear, I'm not counting the hour as starting until we're done here."

Singh shook her head and walked out.

With that done, Leo patched into the Aurora's communications system and sent a hail through the Coalition network to a colleague. After several seconds Doctor Crusher appeared on the screen, sitting at a desk of her own. "I see they hauled you up too," he remarked.

"Admiral McCoy's orders," Crusher answered. "I'm on the Lexington right now. Captain Ben Zoma and Captain Amundsen of the Charleston were crew on the old Stargazer with my late husband, so we're going to do some catching up."

"Sounds good to me." Leo nodded. "It's been a hell of a week, hasn't it?"

"Yes, it has," she agreed. "Have you settled back in?"

"I've been ordered off-duty for the next two days and they're threatening to toss me out of medbay if I stay too long," Leo answered, chuckling afterward. "So yeah, I am."

"That's good to hear." After a moment Crusher nodded at him, an appreciative gesture. "It was good working with you, Doctor Gillam. Hopefully we can meet again in a less stressful environment. Perhaps the Second Multiversal Medical Symposium that's going to be held on Betazed in four months?"

"Sounds interesting," Leo admitted. "I'll see if I can make it."

"I look forward to introducing you to some of my Starfleet colleagues. In the meantime, I wish you and the Aurora the best of luck. Crusher out."

"Good luck to you too," Leo managed, just before Crusher ended the call. He sighed and took a look at the backlog of paperwork. The sight made him wince. He was going to be spending a lot of time clearing that backlog.

But not tonight. Tonight he had once last stop before he let Singh chase him from the medbay. He left his office and went to the urgent care area, where some of the cases from Charlie were being kept.

Zahra Mercier was in a bed looking very surprised, and thrilled, at the advanced technology of the Aurora. He walked up to her bed. "Hey."

"Hello." Zahra looked at him. "I am getting better?"

"Slowly but surely. You'll be heading to a survivor hospital until you're strong enough for outpatient care." Leo pulled up a chair and sat beside her. "You may still need a surgery or two to deal with the problems inside of your body. And you'll definitely need weeks of monitored food intake to recover from your near-starvation."

"I think I understand." Zahra frowned. "But where will I go? My family is dead. I can never go back home…"

"I've already marked a contact in your file. Doctor Pierre N'Djehoya. He's a friend of mine from New Liberty, and when the hospital doctors say you're fit to leave, he'll be contacted to bring you home." Leo took her hand. "On New Liberty you'll meet kids your age, from all sorts of ethnic and national groups. You'll get an education."

"And then your people, your State, will decide what I will do?"

"No." Leo shook his head. "You decide what you'll do with your life. You'll decide who you marry, or even if you'll marry. If you have kids. What you'll do. That's all for you."

Zahra nodded. A distant, sad look filled her eyes. "But I'll still be alone. My family is gone."

"That's the thing about New Liberty," Leo answered. "A lot of people there are like you. They lost loved ones to the Nazis, or people like them. They know what it feels like. And they'll be there for you. And your family…" Leo tapped his heart. "They're still there. They're with you right now. You'll remember them. And that means they'll never be truly gone. That's something the Nazis will never take from you."

For a moment she didn't respond. And Leo didn't blame her. He knew the pain she was in. The shock of loss. And the suffering of what the Reich had done to her and those she loved. He just hoped she would recognize what he was saying was true.

And given the small smile that appeared on her face, it looked like she did.

And that, for Leo, made everything they had gone through worthwhile.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-16 09:18am

Teaser

Ship's Log: ASV Koenig; 10 August 2642. Commander Zachary Carrey recording. We've been detached from the Aurora to take part in a joint training exercise with members of the Citadel Council races' special forces. We're currently on our way to the rendezvous point to meet with the ships carrying the strike teams we'll be hosting aboard for the duration of the exercise.

Given that we have already embarked Commander Kane and a team of his Marines from the
Aurora, my little ship is approaching standing-room-only in available living space. But we'll make do.

The mess hall on the Koenig was now split in half, much to the irritation of the crew of the attack ship. Wall partitions set up by engineering crews from the Aurora had turned half of the space once used by the crew for communal eating into a bunk room for the incoming special forces troops.

Zack finished a grilled chicken sandwich at one of the remaining tables. Across from him, Tom Barnes and Magda Navaez, both Lieutenants and serving as his Chief Engineer and Operations Officer respectively, were sharing complaints about the situation. "Hot-bunking, I mean… it's bad enough that the sleeping spaces are like frakking closets." Barnes was frowning intently. "Now we'll have people sleeping in our bunks when we're on duty."

"You think you have it tough? Do you have any idea what all of these extra people are doing to the life support systems?" Magda asked before taking a bite of chicken soup.

"Uh, yeah, actually, I do," Barnes retorted. "I had to spend half a day installing additional life support tanks to ensure we have the capacity we need." After a moment of considering his grilled chicken sub, he added, "And why are we all eating chicken anyway?"

"Habit?" Zack proposed. He finished another bite and said, "I'm not really a tuna guy, and if you ask me, the replicators never get pork or beef right. But they're good with chicken."

"I just want to get these exercises over with." Magda gave him a look. "Why did you volunteer us for this again?"

"Okay, one?" Zack held up a finger. "I didn't volunteer us. Robert and Admiral Maran did. I just didn't object. Two…" He brought up another finger. "...I think we could use the practice. Most of our operations lately have been simple combat support. We could use a week of prolonged operations to get the new crewmembers situated. Finally, three…"

Just as Zack lifted his third finger, Barnes chimed in with, "...we don't have to get sucked into whatever diplomatic niceties the others are going to go through with the frakking Batarians."

Zack nodded in Barnes' direction. "I hate that damned dress uniform. Plus, let's face it, our first contact with the Batarians consisted of this ship shooting them in the face."

"After they raided Yamalia for slaves," Magda reminded him. Her expression darkened.

"Pretty much." Zack wolfed down the last bit of his sandwich. "Anyway, I think my point is made."

"It is. I just…"

"Bridge to Commander Carrey." The voice was that of Ensign Jean Hajar, the navigation/engineering dual-specialty officer who was one of the sixteen or so actual officers or officer-candidates on the ship. A former Starfleet officer, she was relatively new to the crew herself. "Sir, we've arrived at the rendezvous point. The Tokyo and Ravelicus are already here and waiting to commence transport."

"I'm on my way to the transporter station," Zack said. "Go ahead and let Kane know to meet me there."

"Yes sir."

"You two enjoy the rest of your lunch," Zack said. "It's time for me to go meet the guests."




Commander Kane met Zack at the Transporter Station. It was located on Deck 1 just aft of the central lift station that would take them to the bridge deck if they wanted. A teal-complexioned, blue-spotted Dorei man was at the controls, with the rank insignia of a technical officer. "We are ready to commence transport, sir."

"Begin."

The first five arrivals appeared in bright columns of white light joined by a loud buzz.

From the briefing Zack already recognized the Turian officer in charge for the entire effort. "General Victus." He extended a hand. "Welcome to the Koenig."

General Adrien Victus extended his own hand, with its two main fingers and an opposable thumb making Zack think of birds or dinosaurs. "Thank you, Commander. Allow me to introduce Guard Captain Vidinos." He extended his other hand to the second Turian with him. "He's in charge of our special forces team."

"Commander." Vidinos remained still, spine ramrod straight. It was clear he wasn't about to shake hands.

"Captain."

"This is Nisia B'Rani," Victus continued, indicating a serene-looking Asari woman in a plain, functional green bodysuit clearly made as a uniform. "She is the commander of Talein's Daughters, the Asari Commando unit for this operation."

"Commander." Nisia accepted Zack's hand. "A pleasure. My unit has worked with Humans before. I'm looking forward to continuing that with you."

"Of course." Zack nodded. "Welcome aboard."

Next was a Salarian male, wearing a blue-and-white suit of basic Salarian design. "Major Jato Lediks, Salarian Special Task Group 2nd Regiment," he said, beating Victus to the introduction. "It will be interesting to see your vessel in operation. It appears to have some distinctive characteristics that are not part of the standard Alliance Trigger-class design."

"The Koenig is one of a kind," Zack boasted.

That left the final figure. And given the smile that appeared on Kane's face, Zack was pretty sure of who the tan-skinned, red-headed woman in the Systems Alliance Navy uniform was. "Commander Shepard," he said, extending his hand as she stepped down from the transporter. "Welcome aboard."

Shepard accepted his hand with a grin. "Glad to be here."




Four hours and a mass relay jump later, the Koenig was already underway and in interstellar space. Zack was in the conference room, the only one for his ship, with Victus and the others in attendance, along with Commander Kane. "I hope you enjoyed the tour, sir," he said after sitting down.

"Thank you for providing it, Commander." Victus sat in the chair opposite from Zack. "Your ship is the perfect vehicle for this training operation with its cloaking device and stealth capability."

"I trust your teams are getting situated?" Zack asked the assembled commanders.

The others confirmed quickly. Vidinos went beyond a mere affirmation or nod. "I'm pleasantly surprised, actually. From my experience, Allied System ships are far too soft. It undermines discipline."

Zack tried to keep his smile from becoming a smirk. "There's a lot of variation between species, I guess."

Kane chimed in at that point. "I have it on good authority the Klingons sleep on wooden planks."

Whatever point Vidinos had been trying to score hadn't come through. The Turian captain settled back in his seat. From her seat, Shepard gave Zack and Kane a slight grin.

"The exercises will take place on a number of planets in this cluster," Victus continued. "The goal will be to test infiltration, assault, and recovery missions on a number of targets guarded by Citadel-aligned security units. Each team will be assigned a specific sector and related mission. While you will operate independently, your efforts will be in support of one another. The Koenig will participate through provision of tactical data to ground teams and evading detection by opposing space forces. Are there any questions?"

"How realistic is this going to be?" asked Zack. "Are we talking live fire, dummy rounds or simulated?"

"It will be non-damaging fire," Victus confirmed. "Our simulation computers are still being upgraded to take into account the various capabilities of your ships. We can't have an accurate simulated fire exercise."

"Understood, General."

"Now, tactical assignments will…"

Before Victus could finish his sentence, a tone went off over the ship's comm system. "Bridge to Commander Carrey." This time the voice was Lieutenant Creighton Apley, Zack's First Officer. "Sir, we just picked up an automated distress signal from a nearby star system. It's from a ship IDed as the Nartalis, and it says they're under attack."

Zack nodded and stood up. "Set an intercept course at maximum warp, Lieutenant, and engage. Go to Code Red. I'll be on the bridge shortly."

"Aye sir." As Apley finished speaking, a deep electronic klaxon sounded over the speakers in the conference room. Even here the sound of a few pairs of running feet could be heard outside, as off-duty Koenig crew raced to their battlestations.

"Sorry, General, but I'm needed on my bridge."

"We'll join you," Victus said as he stood up. "I'd like to see what's going on for myself. This could present a security risk for our exercises."

Zack nodded. "Understood, General. If you'll follow me…?"




Undiscovered Frontier
"Common Ground
"



The Koenig was still at warp when Zack stepped onto the bridge, followed by General Victus, Shepard, and all of the others. They took up unused standing positions near the rear of the bridge while Zack went for his command chair. Apley replaced Hajar at the helm. Hajar, in turn, manned the engineering control station. "Report," Zack said.

"We're still about two minutes out at current speed," Apley said.

At the tactical station, Lieutenant April Sherlily said, "Phasers on standby, solar torpedoes loading."

"Cloaking device is already engaged." Magda was settling in at Ops, having arrived just ahead of Zack and the others. "Long range sensors confirms the presence of at least one vessel, unknown configuration and power signature, and what looks like a Turian-built personal scout ship. But I've never seen this design before."

"It may be an older model in service to a private contractor," Victus said. "Some of the mercenary and local government organizations in this region buy our surplus and modify our equipment to fit their needs."

Zack nodded in appreciation of the answer.

"There's more to it," Magda said. "The distress call is going out in Citadel standard, but the underlying communications protocols and language standard aren't in the system."

"Let me see." Vidinos stepped up to Magda's station. Magda gave Zack an uncomfortable look, and he nodded in reply. Magda indicated her monitor with the data on the distress call on it.

Zack was already getting a feeling Vidinos was something of an ass, but he was still shocked to hear the dismissive chuckle that came from the Turian commander. "Commander, this is a waste of time. Don't bother answering the distress signal," Vidinos announced.

Zack looked at him with surprise. So, indeed, did others on the bridge. "What do you mean?"

"The signal's not from any of the proper Citadel species," Vidinos announced. "It's Quarian. They're probably running from whomever they've stolen from lately. We've got more urgent matters to deal with."

A very fragile, very tense quiet settled onto the bridge. Zack stood from his chair and faced Vidinos. "Captain Vidinos," he began quietly, moving within a few inches of the Turian's green eyes, "I don't know about how you handle things in your command, but on my ship, we answer distress calls, no matter who's sending them. That is, in fact, one of our standing orders and required by the regulations of the Alliance Stellar Navy. And I bet it's standing orders for the Turian military too."

"You would be correct, Commander," General Victus said with firm approval in his voice. That approval turned to disapproval when he spoke again. "Captain Vidinos, I will speak with you when this is over. For now, step away from the station and let Commander Carrey and his crew do their jobs."

"Yes, General." Vidinos stepped over to the General and remained silent, but nothing suggested he was apologetic for what he had said.

By the time Zack returned to his seat, Apley was already beginning to speak. "We're coming up on the source of the distress signal now. Dropping us out of warp."

The hull thrummed as the warp engines disengaged. The cloaked attack ship slowed to sublight velocity toward a patch of asteroid belt in a G-sequence star system.

The holo-viewer came on and showed a brown-tinted ship slightly larger than the Koenig weaving around one asteroid. A much smaller craft was doing the same, clearly trying to avoid the larger ship.

"The ship matches a common profile for Batarian raiders," Magda said. "But the power readings are all off. She's definitely not standard."

"Bring us in on an attack run vector," Zack said. But even as he prepared to give the order to decloak and fire, he stopped himself. With the diplomatic talks due to start, I can't afford to cause an incident. We still don't know what's going on here. "Prepare to hail the Batarian ship as soon as we decloak."

"Sir?" Magda looked back at him. "We're giving up the element of surprise?"

"I can't afford to command an unprovoked attack on a Batarian ship right now, not with these talks going on," he insisted, even though Zack didn't quite believe in what he was doing. "April, standby to fire when I give the order."

"Aye sir."

"Magda…. disengage cloaking device. Open a general channel." After hearing her console give the confirming tone, Zack immediately said, "Attention Batarian vessel, this is the Alliance Starship Koenig. We are invest-"

Before he could finish the Batarian ship violently spun about to face them, showing more maneuverability than any M4P2 ship Zack had seen before. "Wait, that's not possible," Apley insisted. "The Batarians…"

A moment later the Koenig shuddered violently while yellow-orangish energy beams slammed against its shields.

Zack felt the tremor through the ship that resulted from the hit. "What the hell… evasive maneuvers! Return fire when able!"

The Koenig corkscrewed to avoid another barrage of energy beams from the Batarian ship. Her own powerful pulse phaser cannons opened up with their furious amber light. They quickly crossed the space between the ships…

...and were stopped by a crackle of yellow energy.

Another barrage of energy shots hit the Koenig. "Shields at ninety percent." Magda was shaking her head. "That energy signature… they're firing Ferengi weapons. And they have standard deflectors."

"What?" Zack stared at her in a moment of surprise.

"They're coming in, full speed," Apley warned.

"They might have shields, but we've got pulse phaser cannons, and I'm willing to bet a ship that size can't power shields enough to stop our best hits." Zack focused his attention back on the viewer. "Attack Plan Romeo. Now!"

The Koenig turned and maneuvered sharply as more energy beams sought it out in space. Occasional hits drained the shields of the attack ship further. But Apley was a great pilot, and Zack's chosen maneuver was meant to take advantage of the Koenig's superior agility as a space vehicle. At the end of the wide corkscrew maneuver Apley pulled the ship into, the ship flipped "downward" and, in the process, brought the main phaser battery back into alignment with the enemy ship.

This time Sherlily fired everything she could. A full-powered phaser barrage battered at the other ship. Her shields started to compensate.

But the barrage continued, focused on the same area of the enemy ship's shields thanks to Apley's piloting and Sherlily's aim. From the forward launchers a pair of solar torpedoes raced out, and then another. The four projectiles, wreathed in white-blue light that made them look like energy projectiles, struck the Batarian ship's shields.

Save the last one. It hit bare hull.

An explosion blasted a large chunk from the enemy ship. At first there was no immediate sign of further damage and a parting shot from the Koenig's dorsal phaser array hit the shields. But after several seconds the Batarian ship suddenly lost power, as was confirmed by Magda. "I'm picking up severe power fluctuations. I think the hits to the shields and the hull overwhelmed the ability of their systems to handle the strain. Their main power systems have failed completely and I'm detecting feedback damage to their sublight drives. I'd say they're crippled."

"What's the status on that other ship?"

Magda was already checking her instruments. "I'm reading severe damage to the entire craft. I think it might have an eezo leak somewhere. I'd recommend we evacuate the occupants to our infirmary."

"Transport them immediately, and inform Doctor Opani she's getting guests."

"Yes sir." Magda sent the relevant commands.

"And what about the Batarian vessel?" asked Victus. It was clear from his tone of voice that it was just simply a question, but Zack knew that his decision here would be scrutinized regardless.

"We don't have the capacity for holding a lot of prisoners." Zack took a moment to consider things. "General, we can beam over some of your people to take over the ship. If you don't mind throwing off our training schedule we could even see about towing them, or waiting until a friendly ship can come and take over."

"Given the circumstances, I think a diversion is in order. Carry on."

Zack nodded. "Magda, please inform Systems Alliance command of our current status. We're closest to their space here. Inform them we'd like a cruiser to come out and take over for us."

"Sending transmission."

"Commander Kane." Zack turned his chair to face Kane. "Would you mind taking over that ship for me?"

"I'll assemble my team. Commander Shepard?"

"I'll get mine," she said. "We'll gear up and meet you at the Transporter Station."

"I would like to see this vessel for myself," Major Lediks said. "I will join your team."

Zack nodded. "Of course. And let us know if we need to scrounge up another watchman or two."

Kane, Shepard, and Lediks left the bridge. Zack shifted in his chair to try and get comfortable. But he was having trouble doing it. The weapons used, the technology… it was disconcerting to say the least.

"The Batarians have been embargoed by the Citadel for years," Victus said. "The fact that they possess technology from other universes means they've found a way around that. It is vital we learn what we can."

"We'll take the next step when they've secured the ship. In the meantime, I'm going to write my report." Zack stood. "Ap, you have the bridge, I'll be in my office."

"Yes sir."

"Commander." Hajar stood. "They may need an engineering officer to help secure the ship and examine whatever they find over there. I'd like to volunteer."

Zack considered it. Lediks was going to provide that… but he was clearly doing it for his own purposes, or rather, Salarian purposes. Having an Alliance officer to report on what the Batarians had on the ship? He didn't want to pass that up. "Alright. Go report to Commander Kane."

"I'll send up Ensign Driik while I'm at it." Hajar's offer would permit Apley to take the center chair once Zack was gone.

"You do that, Ensign."

Hajar nodded and walked off the bridge. Zack watched her go and looked back at the viewer image of the Batarian ship and the crippled little Turian, or rather Quarian, ship. So where are the Batarians getting this technology? he wondered.

"Opani to Bridge," came the accented voice of Doctor Roliri Opani, the young Dorei physician serving as the Koenig's medical officer.

"Go ahead," Zack said.

"I've gone over our patients in the infirmary. One is in pretty bad shape, but I think I can stabilize him. The other is doing well and should be awake in an hour or so."

"Let me know when I can talk to at least one of them."

"Yes sir."

With nothing more to do, Zack left the bridge. He gave the ship one last glance and let himself think of what it might mean for what the others were dealing with.

Sorry Rob, Julia, but we may have just made your jobs far more complicated.




The Mass Relay System had shaped space exploration and settlement in the M4P2 Universe's Milky Way. The various star-faring civilizations had galactic-scale reach due to the mass relays, but despite this they took up barely 1% of the galaxy's volume. The nature of mass effect-derived FTL meant that ships had difficulties traveling at FTL velocities beyond relatively-short interstellar distances.

Gradually, Multiversal Contact would change this, as warp drive and other FTL systems like F1S1's Kearny-Fuchida hyperdrive were providing for greater range beyond the mass relays. But for the time being, with the exception of the Allied Systems' colonial zone in the Skyllian Verge, all space settlement and indeed activity happened within only a few parsecs of a mass relay.

This was why the Aurora could be a quarter of the galaxy away from the Koenig - a distance that would take years to travel at the highest warp speeds even the Aurora could manage - waiting near a mass relay in the Attican Traverse just one mass relay jump away from the lawless, anarchic Terminus Systems.

She wasn't alone. Nearby a Batarian dreadnought had already arrived via the mass relay. It was launching one of its craft while both sides maintained a tense civility. No shields, no kinetic barriers, and no weapons were active… for now.

As the Marines still on Aurora stood to attention, and the bizarre, somber, and brassily-strong tones of an alien anthem started playing rhythmically over the hanger bay PA, Robert Dale looked over his dress whites and decided he wanted to hate Zack for taking the easy job. Living on the Koenig for a week plus and dealing with ground exercises and simulated combat sounded a lot better than what he and the others were about to go through.

The importance of the occasion was easily confirmed, as Foreign Secretary Onaran was already aboard and waiting with Robert and Julia. Due to cultural reasons it was deemed essential that all ceremonial and protocol elements for receiving foreign diplomatic delegations be upheld.

The craft that landed in the bay was a squat, ugly gray craft with mass effect-derived drives. It came to a virtually perfect landing at the assigned spot, barely twenty feet from Robert. After a number of seconds the doors opened and armored infantry stepped out, holding guns at what looked like a variation of parade rest.

The armored infantry were in helmets, so their faces weren't visible. The same couldn't be said for the delegation that stepped out. It was the first time Robert had seen a Batarian in the flesh before. Their heads had a bisecting ridge of cartilage that went over the top and presumably back down the back of the head, with no visible nose but rather nostrils embedded directly into the front of the face. Fine hair covered parts of the front of the face, giving parts of the pale brown skin a fuzzy look. Four dark, iris-less eyes looked about, taking in all of the sights with care.

Finally the Batarian man stepped forward. "I am Captain Robert Dale," Robert said, "Commanding Officer of the Alliance Starship Aurora. This is my First Officer, Commander Julia Andreys. And joining me is Foreign Secretary Lentiro Onaran."

For a moment there was no response. When the Batarian finally spoke, it was with a deep voice with a guttural element that was clearly not in other humanoid voices Robert knew. "I am Tahrad am Rimhar, Minister of Diplomatic Exchange for the Batarian Hegemony." By opening his mouth Tahrad had shown that Batarian teeth were pointed and sharp. "My people welcome this chance to settle our misunderstandings with the United Alliance of Systems."

Robert refrained from speaking the thought in his head. The thought that the Batarian idea of "misunderstanding" actually meant repeated raids by Batarian-backed slavers and pirates against Alliance colonies across the Skyllian Verge. The attacks had petered off during the course of the year, true, but that seemed to be due to the increased presence of Systems Alliance and Stellar Navy fleet units, and the improving defenses on colonies and other Alliance installations that made raids ineffective.

Onaran was the height of diplomacy, however, avoiding that blunt truth by stating, "The Alliance welcomes the Batarian government's diplomatic initiative. We hope that a permanent settlement can end the strife between our governments and pave the way for further ties with the Batarian people."

Robert could sense the immense bemusement Tahrad had at that statement, mixed with contempt as he tilted his head slightly to the right. Onaran sounded naive but he imagined that was the intent. The Dorei was drawing the Batarian out to test his reaction. If he felt any of what Robert was feeling, he would know that his sentiment was useless. Tahrad may be here to negotiate an agreement, but it wasn't going to any paving of the way for a closer future sort of thing. The Batarians, for whatever reason, thought they could get more out of diplomacy than upping the ante with their support of the slaver and pirate raiders.

Something about that worried him. But Robert wasn't sure what it was. He focused on his duties for the moment. "We're still waiting for the arrival of the Citadel Council's delegate to the talks," he said. "But until then, we have refreshments ready in Conference Room 1. Commander Andreys and Commander Meridina will escort you and your entourage."

Meridina showed no reaction to that, but Julia gave him a slightly sardonic look before she gave a diplomatic nod to the Minister and led him, and his bodyguards and aides, on their way.

Robert and Onaran followed enough to get out of earshot of the guards who stayed behind at the Minister's shuttle. "This is not going to be easy, is it?" Robert asked.

"Certainly not," Onaran lamented. "The Batarians are merely taking their conflict with us to another theater. I have no doubt that their proposals will be unacceptable and their threats violent if we fail to give them everything they want."

"So why are we doing this again?"

"Optimism from President Morgan. Perhaps the right mix of acceptable concessions will provide us with relief from the Batarians' criminal proxies." Onaran sighed. "And it will appease Senator Pensley's peace faction, of course."

Robert matched the sigh. "Of course." As they walked out of the landing deck to head for Conference Room 1, Robert found himself wishing he had joined Zack on the Koenig for those training ops. Even a bunk to sleep in sounds preferable to this diplomatic wheeling and dealing. And whatever's going on with that, Zack has to be having an easier time than we are.




Zack had just about finished up his report when the ship's comm system activated. "Opani to Carrey. Our patient is awake."

"I'm on my way." He stood up from his desk and left his mostly-finished report to be completed later. He ventured to the lift and down to Deck 2. It was not a long walk to get to the infirmary.

The Koenig's infirmary was hardly the expansive, state-of-the-art medical facilities that Leo oversaw on the Aurora, complete with a team of trained physicians and surgeons. It was a small unit with about twelve beds overall, two of them set up for immediate intensive care, and in the far corner an emergency surgical theater. As Opani had frequently told him, the Koenig's infirmary wasn't made for heavier casualties. There just wasn't enough space.

Opani had two nurses from the crew on staff. As with many crew, they were cross-trained in other specialties. Right now both were on duty attending to the Quarians they'd picked up. The unconscious one was in a white and red-hued suit, with a nurse obediently checking on him.

Doctor Opani was standing beside the other Quarian. Her dark teal complexion, one of the darkest teals in the spectrum of Dorei skin colors, was contrasted with the light purple of the spots running around the rim of her face and down her neck. Her dark purple hair was pulled into a ponytail at the back of her head.

Zack knew that not every species had the same division of sexual characteristics as Humans and other Human-like species did. The Alakin and the Turians immediately came to mind on that point. The Quarians, however, did not, as the Quarian sitting on the biobed had very clear feminine traits. Which, he supposed, could be something entirely different for another species - Tom Barnes had often joked about the idea of finding a species where the males had the natural busts - but he figured this wasn't the case. Or would at least he would find out shortly. "Doctor, how is our patient?"

"Alive and healthy. Unlike her poor friend. His suit had a number of breaches that I had to patch up with the help of our replicator," Opani said. "She was of great assistance in the matter."

"Suit repair is something every Quarian learns early on," the female Quarian said. Her suit was dark blue and light violet in coloration with a band over the right shoulder and under the left arm. "For us, it can be a matter of life and death." Her accented voice was distorted electronically by the helmet of her environmental suit, with a light flashing as she spoke. Twin eyes shined through the dark color of the helmet face. "And I'm worried that he might still get an infection."

"Their immune systems are terribly weak," Opani said. "So I'm going to be working hard to keep our other patient from dying."

"Good, do what you can" he said to Opani before looking to the Quarian girl. "So, welcome, you're aboard the Alliance Starship Koenig. I'm Commander Zachary Carrey, the Commanding Officer. I'm pleased to meet you." He offered his hand.

After a moment's uncertainty and hesitation, the Quarian girl took the hand and let him have a brief handshake. "Thank you, Commander, for saving us from the Batarians. And I have some information you'll want to see. It may be why they attacked us."

"I'll be happy to look at it, Miss…"

"Oh." The Quarian made a disapproving sound. "I'm sorry, where are my manners? My name is Tali. Tali'Zorah nar Rayya."




Conference Room 1 on the Aurora was no stranger to diplomatic negotiations. Robert considered how many they had already held in the spacious room located toward the rear of the primary hull, on Deck 14. Back in the day, before they knew for sure the Alliance would be formed, Carlton Farmer had included the conference and briefing rooms in the Aurora because it was to be the Facility's flagship, their standard-bearer, and that would require it to fulfill many roles that a normal starship might not be as equipped to perform.

And it was certainly a benefit to have it here, now, for these talks with the Batarians.

The surprise was that, as diplomatic negotiations went, this one was surprisingly quiet while being completely ineffectual. That was new: usually quiet meant general mutual agreement and respect, with dispassionate quibbling over minor details, while ineffectual talks tended to be full of passion and vitriol.

Tahrad am Rimhar looked almost bored as the preliminary discussions continued. The arrival of the Citadel Council's appointed representative and mediator would be the herald for full talks to begin, of course, but that hadn't stopped Onaran from trying to lay the groundwork while they waited. "It is not the purpose of the Alliance to block off any avenue of Batarian expansion. There are still other systems in the region where the Hegemony can easily assert a claim and presence."

"You miss the point, Minister Onaran." Rimhar kept his hands separate on the table. "The Batarian Hegemony has had legitimate territorial claims in the Skyllian Verge for centuries. If anyone determines who may settle which system, it should be us. Your people have already taken over several star systems we intended to colonize in the coming years."

"We found no indications of such intentions," Onaran answered. "You left no claim markers. No buoys. No outposts. Nothing to indicate to anyone that the system had been claimed. Our settlements were made in good faith."

"Good faith is irrelevant. You have taken worlds that the Batarian people have greater rights to. And we insist that you withdraw from those worlds."

"It would seem that we have one another's starting negotiating positions in mind now."

Robert lifted a hand as a motion he wanted to speak. When both ministers glanced his way, he leaned forward. "The territorial issues aside, what I would like to know is if you can guarantee that our people will never be subjected to slavery in your territories, and if the Hegemony will assist in suppressing the illegal trade in sentient beings."

A thin smile crossed the four-eyed alien's face. "I see you share the obsessions of the Citadel Council in this matter. I will tell you what we have long told them. What you call slavery is a respected and honored practice in our culture. The obligation of labor from those of lower status to those of higher status. We will not dismantle millennia of our heritage to satisfy alien hypocrisy."

Julia was quick to response. "Hypocrisy?"

"Your species all complain about slavery, but you all indulge in it. You simply refer to it as other names. Surely you have heard of the Asari-run planet Illum? They call it indentured servitude, but it is slavery. Beyond Illum, the Terminus Systems are full of members of the Citadel's species, and slavery is just as common there as it is in the Hegemony." Taraht clearly thought he was on a roll, and before anyone could object he continued. "Your own societies recognize this principle. Those of higher status force the rest to work for them. You compel labor from your criminals just as we do."

"Even convicted criminals still have basic rights," Robert answered. "And that includes not having an implant forced into your head to take away control of your own body."

"That simply means that you compound your hypocrisy with weakness."

Robert felt a surge of anger at the callous remark, and the tone behind it. But the way Tahrad seemed almost bored by the discussion held him back.

"As for your people being taken, the Hegemony does not condone slave-raiding into worlds with organized governments," Tahrad continued. "There are certain laws and rules that regulate the addition of new slaves to the Hegemony's economy. Of course, your worlds fall into a gray area due to our pre-existing claims upon them, and I cannot guarantee that overzealous agents of the Hegemony will refrain from deciding your presence on our worlds is sufficient justification for enslavement. It is clear from the first contact of our civilizations that criminals are willing to take the chance."

The reference to the attack on the Dorei colony of Yamalia was hardly the most subtle threat on the issue. Tahrad was being wordy and legalistic with that threat, but he had still issued it: withdraw from worlds we want or we'll continue to raid your worlds for slaves.

Julia once again spoke in reply, and there was no mistaking the smirk on her face. "Yes, they did take that chance. But I wonder how many decided not to bother anymore after what happened to those first raiders."

There was a slight slip in Tahrad's smile. Robert could feel the irritation the Batarian felt at being reminded of what happened when the Koenig, under Julia's command, had stopped the slave-raiders with the help of the SSV Tokyo.

Before any further conversation could be continued, a beep filled the room courtesy of the ship's communications system. Nick Locarno's voice came over the speaker a second later. "Bridge to Captain Dale."

Robert noticed most of the sets of eyes in the room focus on him. He definitely had the room's attention. He tapped the blinking blue light his omnitool was displaying over the back of his hand. "Dale here. Go ahead, Commander Locarno."

"An Asari personal yacht just came through the mass relay. They're requesting permission to dock."

"How big of a personal yacht? Can they go in the main shuttlebay?"

"She looks like she'll fit into the support ship dock."

"Well, with the Koenig gone, we're not using it for anything else. Go ahead and permit them docking clearance. Tell them I'll be there shortly to escort the Matriarch aboard."

"Doing so now."

With the call ended Robert stood up. "Excuse me, everyone. I'm going to bring in our mediator."

No protests were made and he left. Robert made his way aft to the docking port for the Aurora's support ship dock, the Koenig's usual place. By the time he arrived the Asari ship was already docked. It was colored a deep purple and looked far too small for the dock's space, but was still large enough that it would never have fit in the shuttle bay or the fighters' hanger bay. Something of the shape reminded him almost of a manta ray.

His arrival coincided with an honor guard and the presence of Commander Meridina. All was ready when the dock door slid open.

A few Asari figures filed out, most wearing fancy, beautifully-colored jumpsuits. They were arrayed around a central Asari, a blue-skinned woman in a fancy black suit, one that was as inelegant as it was moderately immodest, with a cut-out part on the chest displaying part of her cleavage.

Beside her was the one sight Robert didn't expect. A Turian was with the company. He was of a striking gray complexion and wearing a suit that looked more like combat armor than formal wear. He looked at Robert with ice-blue eyes and an intent behind them…

There was something about him. Something Robert was sure he'd seen before. But he couldn't think of what it was.

If he had been given time to dig into his memories, then an identification might have been made, but he caught himself. Protocol was going to be critical here. "I'm Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora." He smiled diplomatically and nodded. "Matriarch Benezia?"

"Indeed, Captain." The Asari's voice had a husky timbre to it, and the translation systems were treating it as a refined accent. "I received word that you have already received the Batarian delegation?"

"Yes, ma'am. We haven't started negotiations proper yet. Secretary Onaran and Minister am Rimhar are doing some preliminary discussions on our governments' current positions."

In an instant Robert knew that was not going over well. He could sense the instinctive distrust from the Turian. Benezia was a blank slate in that regard. "I expected you would do such," Benezia said. "This is your government's first proper diplomatic contact with the Batarians. But I hope you realize the Citadel Council may find this suspicious behavior. There are those who would argue that you could be looking to make your own deal."

"It is what I would expect, honestly," the Turian said. "Humans have always been an aggressive, impatient species."

"We've been logging the discussions to reassure you of the contrary, Madame Matriarch." Robert had to keep the smile on his face, but he couldn't help but feel that Onaran had miscalculated with his choices.

"I'm certain there has been no harm."

For a moment Robert considered asking to be introduced to her entourage, if only to learn more about the Turian. But they already had unnecessary tension. Making it worse didn't seem like the right thing to do. I'll have to see if we have his image on record.

"If you'll follow me, Madame Matriarch, I'll escort you to Conference Room 1." With her nod of assent, he took a step back before turning and leading them into his ship.




Zack escorted Tali to the conference room on the Koenig. General Victus was already waiting with Nisia and Barnes. Shepard's voice was coming over the speaker. "The crew's being more than a little uncooperative. And they were actively sabotaging the ship before we secured it."

"In what way?" asked Victus.

"It looks like they were trying to destroy specific parts with explosives. And Ensign Hajar's already written off the computer cores from how thoroughly they wiped them."

"Although the wipe itself can be seen as evidence," Hajar added through her own omnitool's communications function. "The way that they wiped their computers was more than a simple deletion. There are a number of ways to thoroughly annihilate the data in a system, some being more thorough than others, some being quicker. I've seen this wiping method before."

"Where, Ensign?" Zack asked.

"When I was on the Tanzania back in Starfleet. It's a method I found in use when we were trying to recover computer data from a ship abandoned by Breen privateers."

"Ferengi, now Breen." Zack took his seat. "Any luck on identifying the shields?"

"Not S5T3, I can say that much. The generator layout is all wrong. I would almost say they're Salehi Defense Corps Mark IIIs..."

Zack blinked. He recognized that company name. "As in D3R1?"

"Yes. These generators are a lot like the models found on numerous ships built in the Colonial Confederation. But the emitter wavelength variance is off."

Barnes let out a sigh. "Hajar, was the variance setting closer to ten cycles per minute?"

"Eleven point one."

That caused Barnes to wince. "Damn. Arcturan knockoffs."

"Tom?" Zack looked at him. "What are you getting at?"

"Back before they launched the Aurora, I spent some time doing the rounds of various outposts and stuff. I visited Abdis D3R1. And l hate that damned planet to this day." The aside was clearly not appreciated by the others, but Zack thankfully didn't feel it necessary to say anything as Barnes kept going. "Well, we had a ship come in with major power failures that nearly caused it to crash. It turns out the ship was from the Arcturus Free States or Freeholds or whatever they call themselves and that the captain bought knockoffs of Salehi Corps' shield generators from a source there. Of course, said knockoffs were pieces of crap and caused the failures when the captain's first mate tried some routine shield tests. Well, the head engineer I was working with knew this stuff already, and he told me how to look for these kinds of knockoffs. The uniform thing you find is an abnormally low variance rate. It allows the shields to look more powerful, but it makes them way more vulnerable to frequency matching firing algorithms."

"This could explain their power failures during the fight," Zack said.

"How could your defense technology have wound up in Batarian hands?" asked Nisia.

"That's the problem. It's not really ours." Barnes shook his head. "I mean, the Arcturans are… they're like Space Somalia, I guess? Or maybe some other… I dunno, anarchy-central, that's what the place is."

"The Arcturan Freeholds, or Free States, are basically a collection of settlements with almost no civil government and with residents uniformly devoted to keeping it that way," Zack added to clarify what Barnes had said. "The only reason the place isn't a pirate haven is that the pirates are too organized and controlling for their liking, and because the Arcturans know that they'd get stomped by their neighbors if they let the pirates in. Everybody has a gun and you don't live long if you don't know how to use it."

"It's like the Wild West, but with spaceships," Barnes said.

"Wild… West?" asked Tali, in a moment of curiosity that drew the attention of the assembled.

"It's the kind of world you would find in the Terminus Systems," Zack said, improving on Barnes' failed analogy. "And it's no surprise that Arcturan-built gear could wind up anywhere, even here." He looked to Tali. "Anyway, now that we have an idea on some of the new capabilities the Batarians are trying to field, our friend here has some information to share."

Tali seemed uncomfortable and for a moment Zack wondered if he had been wrong to put her "on the spot" like that. But after that clear moment of discomfort Tali brought her arm up and her omnitool activated. "My friend Kon'Fanim and I were on a scouting mission for the Migrant Fleet. We're leaving on Pilgrimage soon and this is part of our training on being away from home." Above the omnitool a series of figures and numbers flashed by. "We were just supposed to scout some empty systems in this cluster and report back. But when we were scouting this star system…"

Zack looked at the one Tali had indicated. "The Hylakos System," he said.

"...we found signs of mining that weren't in the latest reports on the extranet." Tali lowered her hand. "We landed and took readings of the mined sites. It was confusing. Whoever did it took a lot of effort, but there was no sign of element zero. And I can't think of anything that would be valuable enough for the effort."

"What did you find?" Victus asked.

"Basic minerals. Cadmium, lithium, and something like mercury. A liquid-state mineral, I mean, but it doesn't match mercury's atomic composition."

"Did you get a scan of it?" Barnes leaned forward. "I might be able to identify it."

"I can say I've never heard of this metal." Tali's large fingers tapped her omnitool and brought up a model of the substance. Barnes accepted it and displayed it on his omnitool. When his eyes widened, Tali asked, "What? You know this?"

"Yeah. Oh frakking yeah."

"What is it?", Zack asked his friend.

Barnes looked at him. "It's latinum," he said. "Almost pure latinum."

"Wait, what?" Zack sat up.

"What is this 'latinum'?" asked Nisia.

"It's a liquid metal that you can find in certain asteroids and moons," Barnes answered. "In societies with matter-replication technology, it can end up being used as currency because its atomic structure is too complex and delicate for a replicator to assemble. I mean, it's like gold and silver in older economies, or eezo in yours. You simply replicate some non-reactive mineral like gold to act as a binding agent and poof, you've got usable currency. And it sometimes gets added to other alloys for stuff. Latinum can be a protective material when alloyed with steel and some other minerals, mostly smaller things like household objects and appliances. You won't find it in starships or anything like that."

"And if the Batarians are finding latinum out here, then that gives them a ready cash source to go buying things on the Multiversal black market." Zack looked to Tali. "I'm guessing that's when the Batarians attacked you?"

"They came out of FTL almost on top of us. If Kon wasn't such a great pilot, they would have killed us with the first shot. I started transmitting the distress signal right away."

"And so here we are." Zack nodded to Tali. "Thank you, Miss… is it nar Rayya or Zorah?"

"Zorah is my family name. I am from the ship Rayya."

"Well, Miss Zorah, thank you again. I'm afraid we don't have any space for quartering, but Doctor Opani can put you in a bed in the infirmary, and our mess hall replicators are available for you if you need something to eat or drink."

"Since you have Turians on board, your food is dextro-compatible?"

"It is." Zack nod.

"Then thank you, Commander. If you need anything, let me know. As long as I'm on your ship, it's only right that I help keep the ship working."

Zack nodded. Barnes smirked and nodded as well. "If I need the extra hands for something, I'll keep it in mind, kid."

After she left Zack looked to the others. "General, I'm going to issue a report on this to Alliance Defense Command."

"I'll inform Palaven and the Citadel. Although I expect there will be few, if any, consequences to the Hegemony. The Batarians always insist that pirates and slavers are 'criminal elements', and the Citadel has never gotten convincing, undeniable proof to the contrary."

"Right. I know how that goes." Zack stood. "Hopefully Commander Shepard and the others can find something over there. I'd like to know where these ships are based."

"I think we would all like to know that, Commander," Victus answered. He stood as well. "Please keep me informed."

"Of course, sir."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-17 09:05am

For Kane and the others, moving around the wrecked Batarian ship was a struggle in more than one way. Some corridors were blocked by debris or remnant fires. The lifts couldn't work half of the time, even with the backup power sources brought from the Koenig's relatively-meager stores. And the Batarians themselves were not helpful captives.

After an inspection of the team looking through what was left of the engineering area, Kane walked back toward the bow of the raiding ship. Wediks and Shepard were still there with two other officers: Ensign Hajar and one of Shepard's people, a dark-haired officer she'd introduced as Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko. "Have you found anything yet?" Kane asked.

Hajar spoke first from a computer panel. "I'm still trying this data reconstruction program, but I don't hold out much hope. Their data wiping program is thorough to the point of physical data removal."

"I am hoping to find something in the access memory buffers," said Wediks from another station, which he was working on with his omnitool.

"And what about the ship itself?"

Hajar shook her head. "The ship's a total loss. That power overload and the resulting secondary explosions caused too much structural damage. We would need a cruiser-scale structural integrity field to risk any sort of sublight or FTL velocities."

"But I might be able to do something with the communications gear." Alenko was operating one of the consoles. Like Shepard he was in Systems Alliance standard issue battle armor, but without the white N7 designation present. "It looks like it was also damaged in the fight. But that's worked in our favor."

"Oh?" Shepard asked. "In what way?"

"Because the power overload fried out the connection between the comm system memory and the main computers. When they ran their data wipe process, it didn't carry into the memory."

Shepard walked over to him. "But wouldn't that mean that the overload also fried the system memory?"

"Only partly." Shepard and Kane could see Alenko visibly sorting through data sectors, some functional and some corrupted. "The wiring burned out first. So there's still some data left in the system memory I can use. Maybe some comm activity…" One of the icons on his omnitool display flashed green. "There. I've got something. It looks like an audio transmission that hadn't been cleared from memory yet."

"Can you put it on?" Kane asked.

"Let me see…" Alenko started pressing more keys. "Here."

The guttural tones of Batarian speech started crackling over the bridge speakers. After a moment the auto-translators kicked in. "...targets in this side of the cluster. Allow me to move closer to the Humans' trade lanes! The prizes…"

"The prizes do not merit the risk. At this juncture we cannot afford to alienate our trading partners by drawing attention, and we certainly cannot jeopardize the upcoming talks with the Multiversal Alliance. The Minister will have our eyes ripped from our heads if we ruin his plan."

"But my men are restless. We haven't claimed prizes for over a month."

"They will have to wait. If things go as planned, many prizes will come to them, and their portions from our contributions to the slave markets back home will be great enough that we'll all move up in caste. Your only worry at this point is to protect the latinum deposits. Let us worry ab-…" The voice dissolved into static-laden gibberish for a moment before the file ceased running.

"Well, that certainly sounds ominous," Shepard said. She looked toward Kane. "A plan involving the negotiations with your Alliance."

"I'll report it to the Koenig immediately." Kane was frowning. "But I have another problem."

"How are they going to react when this ship doesn't check in?" Shepard nodded. "From the way it sounds, they might assume the captain decided to take matters into his own hands and move closer to the major trading lanes in this cluster. That won't make them happy."

Kane nodded. "Which means they'll be sending searchers when check-ins don't come on time." Kane pressed a hand to the side of his combat helmet. "Kane to Koenig. We've got some updates for you, and some bad news."




With the meetings over Barnes headed back to his preserve in Engineering. With Hajar over on the Batarian ship his second, Lieutenant (j.g.) Ana Poniatowski, was working her off-shift time. The slight Polish girl with honey-colored hair didn't show any fatigue while covering the scant battle damage they had incurred. "The shield generators passed the post-battle inspection," she said while Barnes was tapping keys at the Engineering Master Systems Display. "I am a little worried about what looks like some stress damage on the port impulsor's power conduit."

Barnes brought up the relevant section. "Go ahead and assign a DC team to look it. And send Lang and Zeroll to check up on the starboard aft torpedo launcher. Our last diagnostic put up some warning flags I want them to look into."

"Yes sir." As Poniatowski said that she looked up with some confusion. "What is…?"

Barnes turned his head to follow what Poniatowski was looking at. The starboard-side entrance to main engineering had opened, and the Quarian girl they'd picked up was already stepping through the door. Barnes let out a little groan of frustration before making his way over to where she was leaning over to inspect one of the control surfaces. "Hey!" he called out. "You, over there, Tali-whatever it was!"

The Quarian turned to face him. "Tali'Zorah," she corrected.

"Yes, whatever." Barnes stepped up to just outside of her personal space. "This is Main Engineering. I can't just have you wandering around here on a grand tour, I've got a ship to run."

"I know, and I'm here to help," she said. "I'm an engineer too."

"Really? A fully trained engineer?" Barnes couldn't quite keep the skepticism out of his voice. "And in what fields? With what systems? Do you know how to keep a naqia reactor operating? Have you trained with plasma coolant lines? Do you know how warp drives work?"

"I've seen the diagrams on the extranet…"

"Yeah, I figured." Barnes shook his head. "I get it, I mean, you're fascinated with engineering, always reading stuff online about reactors and engines and vehicles. But I don't care how many net pages you've studied, kid, you don't have the education or training to work in here, and I've got enough work to do without you getting in the way."

"I have training, you ignorant…" Even with her face obscured by the glassy plate covering it, it wasn't hard for Barnes to imagine a generic humanoid face twisted with irritation and frustration. "My people live with this every day! I've learned how to run starships since I was a child!"

"There's a difference between patching up a bulkhead and fixing a plasma feed or a power conduit, kid." Barnes got closer. "Now, I'm busy, so I need you to go. Get up to the mess hall, get yourself some grub, go check up on your buddy, whatever. Just stay out of trouble."

Tali's body tensed with frustration. She let it out with a sharp, "Bosh'tet!" and a string of Quarian curses as she turned and left Main Engineering.

Barnes made sure she was out the door before walking away, causing the door to close as he did. Poniatowski looked up from where she had finished delegating the engineering and damage-control teams. "Maybe you were a little harsh?" she asked.

"Maybe," he admitted. "But you've got to be that way with kids who think they know more than they actually do. Give them an inch and they take the mile."

"'Inch'? 'Mile'?"

"Centimeter and kilometer." Barnes shook his head. "Anyway, let's get back to it."




Victus entered Zack's office with measured steps. The Turian general nodded to him. "Commander, you had something to report?"

"Yes sir." Zack motioned to a chair, one he'd replicated to be easier for Turians to sit in. "General, have you heard anything from your superiors?"

"The Citadel Council hasn't responded to my report. Palaven Command has. But my instructions are merely to be ready to support whatever course of action is decided upon by the other authorities. The Hierarchy has few interests in this region of space. Our presence is at the request of the Council."

"So you've got no new directives?"

"I do not. And I haven't received any news on a ship being sent out to take custody of the pirate vessel."

Zack nodded. "I haven't heard anything either," he said. "I even relayed Kane's last report. I sent it straight to Admiral Maran. But all I get back from Defense Command is to support whatever decisions the Citadel and the M4P2 governments decide upon."

"It would appear our superiors are uncertain of how they want to handle this information." Victus turned thoughtful. "It makes sense. Everyone wants the negotiations with the Hegemony to succeed. Your Alliance, the Citadel, Palaven… nobody will want to risk ruining that with an incursion into Batarian-held territory."

"But we're still quite a distance from the recognized Batarian claims in the Verge," Zack noted. "Even if these pirates are working for the Hegemony, or Hegemony officials, I can't see how dealing with them will undermine the talks."

"The Batarians are sensitive and prickly, Commander. It's easy to offend them."

"They're also slavers, and that offends me," Zack said. He was frowning. "So, General, what should we do? Like I said, I'm following your lead on this. We can't just sit here. Sooner or later, someone in this gang is going to be looking for their ship. They'll have to, if that signal was accurate."

"I'm in agreement."

"We don't have room for prisoners," Zack continued. "We can't kill them…"

"Technically, Commander, we can," Victus said in correction. "As pirates and raiders, they are subject to execution in the field if caught in the act."

Zack's jaw clenched at that. His head lowered for a moment. The thought within him was if he could do such a thing. Just… kill people out of hand. Not in a combat situation, not when it was killing an enemy before they could kill him, or those he was responsible for. It would be the cold-blooded execution of helpless prisoners.

A dark thought quickly echoed in his head, with his voice. As if they'd think twice about killing you after you surrendered. They'd only spare you to put a chip in your head and sell you as a slave.

"I'm not saying we should," Victus said. "But we may have to. If the Batarians realize their ship was taken by our forces, they'll move to avoid further compromising their operations."

"And they may also rush whatever plan they've got involving the talks." A sick feeling came to Zack. "Could they be planning an attack on the Aurora? If they've refitted ships with this technology…"

"I think that might be too brazen an act. The Batarians know how everyone else would see it." Victus shook his head. "Although if you can send a warning to them, go ahead."

"I've already sent them a message with the recovered audio file. I also sent it to Maran's with Kane's report." Zack put his hands together on the desk. "But that still leaves us with a big problem. That ship. We either have to destroy it and make it look like an accident…"

"...or we have to hide it."

"Hide it," repeated Zack. After another moment of thinking on it, he reached to a button on his desk. "Carrey to bridge."

"Bridge here, sir," answered an Alakin voice. Ensign Driik had clearly assumed a bridge watch to give Apley some time off-shift.

"Call all senior officers to the conference room, we're having an emergency meeting in fifteen minutes' time."

"I'll inform them right away, sir."




Experience on the Koenig so far had been frustrating for Tali. Every instinct she had demanded that she be doing something for the ship, something to ensure it was going to keep working. It was the impulse of a lifetime that she could not easily ignore. Laying on her assigned bed in the infirmary, Tali let Barnes' words stew in her mind. That smug bosh'tet. How can people with so much technology be so small-minded?!

True, she knew little about the actual mechanics of warp drive flight, and the electro-plasma system used for the primary power conduits was not the kind of thing you'd find on a Quarian ship, but the underlying mechanics of the latter were still easy to understand, and for the former… well, she could grasp enough, couldn't she? And she wasn't even asking to work on the warp FTL drive either! Just something to do, something she could do and was trained to do.

"Well, I can see someone is frustrated," an accented voice remarked. Tali turned and faced Doctor Opani through the purple hue of her face plate. Internal systems adjusted to let Tali see the actual color of what was around her. The dark teal complexion, the dark purple hair, the purple spots… the Dorei were unlike any other species she'd seen before, on the extranet or in person. "How are you?"

"I am better than Kon." Tali looked at her friend, still unconscious on the nearby biobed. "Has he gotten an infection?"

"I believe so, going by his body's internal reactions. And I've consulted with Citadel medical databases on Quarian treatment . I think my regimen of medicines and anti-bacterials will control the infection and keep it from spreading." Opani settled onto the bed opposite from Tali. "I am fascinated by your species," she admitted. "But I'm also quite sad for you."

"What do you mean?"

"Your immune systems forcing you to live your lives in those suits. The way this galaxy treats your people." Opani shook her head. "It saddens me that your people cannot enjoy the simple pleasures I have known my whole life."

"Maybe if we could find a homeworld…" Tali lifted her legs up onto the bed and rested her elbows near her knees. "We do what we have to in order to survive."

"I can understand that." Opani curled her legs under her. "So, what is bothering you? It's not hard to see you are frustrated."

"It's that fire-headed jerk you have running Engineering," Tali spat. "I went to him to help and he he threw me out. He treated me like I knew nothing about how to keep a ship running, like I was some inexperienced child."

"Maybe he's worried that you don't know enough about our technology?" Opani suggested. "I am certainly a physician, and I have surgical training, but I would never fail to step aside in a matter that demanded a medical specialist. That would be irresponsible of me."

"I am willing to learn."

"Learning takes time."

"I know! But…" Tali sighed. "You must understand, Doctor, that I grew up on a ship. Quarian children are taught from the time we are young to do what we can to help keep our ships working. We get taught how to fix bulkheads, replace air filters, rewire power systems and equipment, anything that might be necessary for us to know in a ship-wide emergency." Opani was now studying Tali's face plate intently, as if to discern the expression hidden beneath the plate. "Every instinct I have is urging me to help maintain this ship."

Opani contented herself with a single nod of her head. Some Humans might have responded by setting their hand on Tali's arm or shoulder. Opani had been around Humans enough to contemplate it, although most Dorei cultures had more intricate rules about physical contact between people in such contexts due to their contact-based psionics.

"I'm not stupid," Tali protested. "I know there are systems on this ship I could not work on without learning more about them. But I'm a trained engineer and there are plenty of things I could easily help with, if only that arrogant engineer would let me."

"You're referring to Lieutenant Barnes?"

"The one with the red hair? Yes."

Opani nodded. "To be honest, I'm not sure if even Lieutenant Derbely, our usual Chief Engineer, would have accepted your help. She is just as protective of the ship as Barnes is."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Tali demanded. "Everything I've been raised to do is telling me to find work on this ship while I am here. I'm not supposed to sit around like a small child!"

"I understand it is frustrating, Tali'Zorah. Perhaps if you took the time to read more about our tech…"

The tone of the ship's intercom stopped her, with an Alakin voice speaking afterward. "All senior officers please report to the conference room. Commander Carrey has called an emergency meeting. I repeat…"

"I must go," Opani said, sliding off the bed to her feet. Sensing Tali was not appeased by the reading suggestion, she added, "I will speak with Lieutenant Barnes about this. Maybe he has work that he feels is safe for you, work you can do that will make him trust you."

"That is all you can do, I suppose," Tali lamented. "Thank you, Doctor Opani."

Opani nodded once before walking to the infirmary exit.




The senior officers of the Koenig, General Victis, Captain Vidinos, and Nisia gathered on time in the small conference room on the ship, with Kane, Shepard, and the others visible on a holo-monitor from the battered bridge of the Batarian ship. "There's absolutely no chance we can tow this ship," Hajar said. "There's too much structural damage."

Barnes shook his head. "Even if there wasn't, I'd be against it. Our tractor beam can tow a mass that size for maybe an hour or two before we burn it out."

"Wouldn't that be enough?" Sherlily leaned forward. "We can tow it into interstellar space, maybe drop a specialized beacon so we know where we left it? Another ship can pick it up once someone decides what to do."

"Maybe." Magda looked from her colleague to Zack. "But let's be clear here. We have no idea what the capabilities of these Batarian ships are. They've gotten shield technology, weapon technology, and computer programming from other universes. The sensors on this ship looked standard, but that doesn't mean the sensors used on other ships in this group are. And most M4P2 sensor suites could possibly track the remnant radiation of a warp trail, especially one influenced by an operating tractor beam."

"In other words, we could give away that the ship was taken," Zack said.

"Exactly. At this point I don't think we can take anything for granted about these people. Unless we can find out for certain what they've been getting off the black market..."

"We've tried everything with the prisoners, but nobody's talking." Commander Shepard crossed her arms. "And they act more like military personnel than pirates."

"That's not a surprise, Commander Shepard. Many of these Batarian criminal organizations use Batarians trained by their government for military service," Victus said, looking at the screen.

"That's convenient," Kane remarked. "The Hegemony must have a lot of veterans they can talk into becoming pirates on their behalf."

Victus answered, "It's long been suspected, but we have no proof, and we're not likely to get any."

"We could destroy the vessel," Lediks proposed. "The anti-matter reactor core they installed has numerous flaws we could exploit."

"And what would we do with the crew?" Apley asked.

"We have no room for them on your ship, Lieutenant. The obvious solution is to leave them on their vessel."

"You mean blow up helpless prisoners." Opani glared daggers at the Salarian on the screen. "That is monstrous!"

"No, Doctor, it's expedient," Vidinos retorted. "And advisable. They're pirates and slavers and by interstellar law they can be executed in the field for those crimes, if necessary."

Opani opened her mouth to continue her argument, but she stopped. A strained, haunted look came to her face.

"Maybe there's an alternative," Sherlily said. "What if we tractored them deeper into the asteroid field?"

Magda shook her head. "Without knowing how sophisticated their sensor systems are, I can't tell you if they'd pick up trace gravitons or not. Or traces of our impulsor drives. Even if they couldn't find the other ship, they'd know it was tractored away. Unless we can cloak and hope the cloaking field absorbs the trace radiation…"

"Cloaking and running the tractor beam? Nope, not happening," Barnes said, shaking his head. "The gravitons will mess up the cloaking field. I might be able to buffer the drive for a bit, keep it from leaving as strong a trail, but that's all I can promise you."

"I don't like killing prisoners who surrendered," Shepard said. "We're better than that."

"Isn't Human history full of occasions when Humans did that to each other?" The question was from Vidinos. "And I know what your people did on Torfan, Shepard. Don't try to climb on any moral high ground, because Humans don't have it."

"I wasn't on Torfan," Shepard retorted. "And it doesn't change the fact that killing prisoners goes against interstellar law."

"You are in error, Commander." Lediks was speaking again. "The interstellar law under Council rules clearly stipulates that pirates and slavers are subject to summary field execution."

"Hostis universalis," Zack murmured. When a few people looked his way, he clarified, "It's a legal term I heard during a command officer conference a couple of months ago. We were being reminded that under existing interstellar law in most universes, pirates and slavers can be considered hostis universalis, 'enemies of all', and we have no legal obligations toward them. We can leave them to die in their broken ships if taking them would risk our crews." Zack frowned. "A few captains and legal experts even made the argument that we could just shoot them, if we wanted."

"Then it's clear all of our governments are in agreement. Let's stop wasting time."

"Before we render a decision, I want to know more about what we have recovered." Victus looked to the screen.

This time it was Kaiden Alenko who spoke. "Ensign Hajar helped me recover more data from their comm systems' access memory. I think that I might be able to provide coordinate data on where some of the transmissions were being directed."

"Then we could possibly find one of their bases," Zack said, pleased. "Maybe even their main base."

"That was my thought as well. We're still running data reconstruction over here…"

Alenko was interrupted by a tone over the Koenig's intercom. "Bridge to Conference Room," chirped Ensign Driik.

Zack tapped a button on the plain gray plastic table they were seated at. "Carrey here."

"Sir, we have a ship approaching on long range sensors. It's using a warp drive field, approximately Warp 5 in velocity. Power signature and readings are not in the database. But it could be a Batarian ship. The mass readings, if accurate, indicate the vessel is of cruiser capability."

That caused Zack to frown. "Damn," he said. "What's their ETA?"

"Fifty minutes."

"Keep me informed and have the transporter station prepare to evacuate the ship of our personnel. Carrey out." He looked to the others. "We're out of time."

"I'll have our people prep for immediate extraction," Shepard said. "Ensign Hajar is going to standby to enact any plans you have in their engineering sections. Signing off."

The team on the enemy vessel disappeared from the screen. The conference room went quiet. "It appears we have a decision to make, Commander," Victus said.

Zack nodded. They did have a decision to make. And it was the kind of decision he never wanted to face.




Personal Log: Commander Zachary Carrey, 10 August 2642. I have twenty minutes left. Twenty minutes in which I have to decide whether to condemn the prisoners we've taken to prevent their compatriots from knowing we're onto them.

I never expected to make these kinds of decisions. I never wanted to. I wish Victus would order us to blow up the Batarian ship and be done with it. But he's leaving me that decision. I think he's testing me to see what I'll do. If I'll do the "right thing" or not.

What is the right thing? I mean, these people aren't innocent. They're pirates. Worse, they're slavers. They would put control implants into every member of my crew if they got the chance. I shouldn't give a damn if they die. I'm not sure I actually do, in fact.

But… killing them for expediency, blowing them up after they surrendered… I don't know. It's one thing if their ship blew up while we were fighting. But this is an execution. And it feels…

...it feels like murder
.

The sound of his door chime sounded as Zack finished his log. "Enter."

He had hoped it would be General Victus, coming to give him an order. But instead it was Doctor Opani who stepped in. "Commander."

"Doctor." He nodded. "What can I do for you?"

"Our Quarian guest, Tali'Zorah. She deeply wants to help the engineering crew. It's… cultural."

Zack nodded. "Well, she can go to Tom, I'm sure he'll…"

"He turned her down," Opani said. The expression on her face showed how unsettled she was at the moment. "And since you are friends I am certain you knew how he would respond."

"Yeah. The truth is, Doctor, this isn't the best time." He frowned. "And you know it."

Opani remained silent for a moment. Her blue eyes lowered for a moment before she focused on him.

"You seemed to give up on arguing against the 'kill them all' option," Zack noted. "I expected you to fight longer."

"Maybe I should have. But…" Opani shook her head. "I don't want to be merciful to the likes of those slavers. They've caused too much suffering."

"Including to you."

Opani's eyes widened.

"I'm sorry," Zack said. "But your file mentions it. I… I can't imagine what it was like."

"It was Hell," Opani rasped. Old pain showed on her face, the pain and horror of what had once been done to her. "I was trapped in pure Hell."

"And yet you are against blowing these people up," Zack said.

"I don't know… I am, but I know what they do, and so I'm…" Opani's eyes teared up. She flopped into one of the open chairs across from his desk. "I am a healer. I am supposed to support continued life, not death. But what they do to people, slavery, it is a death, a living death… oh Deity, what am I supposed to do?"

"Nothing," Zack murmured, even as he thought on what she said. "It's my decision. I have to make it." He looked at his reflection. The thought of what was going on weighed him down. He looked to Opani again.

He had no gifts. He couldn't read minds, sense feelings, or whatever it was that Meridina was teaching Lucy and Robert. But he didn't need those to understand what her experiences had done to Opani. "A living death," he murmured.

For a moment he envisaged not doing anything. He saw the Batarian raiders find that they'd been discovered. They would run, reorganize, abandon one base to take up another… and then they would eventually attack, with who knew what kind of weapons and technology. Some people would die, and others would be dragged off to Batarian space to be turned into slaves. To go through what Opani had suffered, or what he'd seen on the faces of slaves from C1P2 back in the day.

He couldn't know that would be the result. But the thought of it, the risk, was too much.

It didn't make it any easier for Zack when he reached for his omnitool. "Carrey to Hajar."

After a moment Hajar responded. "Hajar here. Sir…"

"Get it done. Now. We're almost out of time."

There was a short pause. "Say again, sir?"

Zack knew what she meant. Hajar didn't like the decision. She was undoubtedly hoping he would specify something else. "Set off their reactor, Hajar. Blow up the ship. That is a direct order."

For several seconds there was a pause. A very subdued "Yes sir" replied. "Hajar out."

Zack looked at Opani. She was returning the look. "Do you think you did the right thing?" Opani asked.

His silence was answer enough.




Zack stepped onto the bridge a few minutes later. Apley moved to the helm to let Zack take his chair. Victus was already present and standing with Lediks, Vidinos, and Shepard near the chair. "Commander." Victus nodded. "I see you made the decision. Thank you for not making me force the issue."

"You're welcome, General." Zack's reply was flat, emotionless. He tapped the key on his command chair to activate communications. "Carrey to Hajar. Are you done?"

"I just finished. One flaw in their system is in the deuterium injectors for their reaction chamber, they can't handle an increased reaction rate that the system is safely rated for. They'll blow in a couple of minutes, at best, which will lead to a build-up of anti-deuterium in the reaction chamber until containment is overloaded. It should cause the near-vaporization of much of the ship and it should look like a mechanical accident, engineer negligence."

"Confirm that everything's going according to plan, then?"

"So far so good. Reaction material levels are increasing. I'm already seeing signs of the deuterium injectors overstraining." For a moment there was nothing. "Okay, injector 1 just failed. And the only reason I know that is from my own scans… the Batarians' safety systems are completely inadequate and I need beamout now. Now now!"

"Magda!"

"Transporter Station has her, Commander. She's beaming over now," Magda confirmed.

Zack sighed with relief.

The holo-viewer lit up a moment later as the Batarian ship was destroyed from within, the victim of the out-of-control antimatter reaction caused by their sabotage.

"Hajar cut that too close," Shepard muttered.

"She underestimated how badly the Batarian ship's systems would react," Lediks added. "This should help support the ruse."

"I've already cloaked the ship," Magda said. "The Batarian ship is still nearly ten minutes out at their current warp speed. I can't tell you if they detected the explosion."

"Will it work?" Zack asked. "What we did?"

"I'm scanning what's left now. I don't think there's any debris big enough to confirm they were hit by weapons. Maybe they'll identify weapons hits if they recover the right piece of debris and subject it to close analysis in a metallurgical lab."

"Not likely," Sherlily remarked.

"No." Magda turned in her seat to face Zack. "I recommend that the helm keep us a safe distance away to make sure that stray micro-asteroids don't give away our presence."

"Ap?"

"Already moving."

Zack said nothing more while his ship changed position. He was too busy with his own thoughts, his feelings, and the awful spectacle he had just witnessed. I just killed prisoners. I left those men to die.

"Commander."

Zack turned his head and looked to General Victus. "General?"

"I know it asked a lot of you. But you did what you had to do. Our situation demanded it."

I did what I had to do flashed through Zack's mind. It was a nice phrase, he guessed. If only it hadn't felt so wrong. He still wasn't sure it was necessary. And it felt so callous, so plain… who knew how people could apply the phrase to something terrible and wrong.

"It was duty, Commander," Victus continued. "I appreciate the cost for you."

"Thank you," was all Zack could say.

Silence filled the bridge until the appointed time came. The ship that dropped out of warp was at least four hundred meters long and twenty meters from top to bottom. The rear of the ship looked like it had been completely rebuilt, which explained the two warp nacelles in the rear section. The pylons lifted the nacelles just above the dorsal hull of the gray and dark red ship.

"The sensor traces I'm getting are definitely not from M4P2 systems," Magda said. "And this one is also using impulsor drives. For the weapon emplacements I'd say they're also of Ferengi origin."

Zack watched the ship remain near the cloud of fine debris left by the destruction of the first ship. "Anything else?"

"They're still just scanning." Magda kept examining her instruments. "They're being thorough. But I'm not seeing anything that would give up what's happened. They're not taking samples. Wait… now I'm detecting a transmission."

"Intercept it," Zack ordered immediately.

"I'm doing so now. Apley, I'll transmit coordinates to you, move us to that spot so I can get a better fix."

"Maneuvering us now."

Apley's hands moved over the controls with precision. Koenig followed her unsuspecting quarry with the care of a hunting cat slipping through high grass. Asteroids big enough to be noticed if deflected off their invisible hull were avoided as much as possible and their speed tightly regulated.

Magda's focus was entirely on her screens. Colored light from her displays danced over her brown eyes as she used the Koenig's sensors and communications systems to pluck the offending signal from subspace.

The bridge remained completely quiet while these two did their work. Zack noted it and approved, and he could see that Victus did too.

Magda's attention shifted to another of her screens. "I'm getting an energy spike. They're engaging their warp drive."

With a flash of light the Batarian ship elongated and vanished.

"Did you get enough?" he asked Magda.

"I'm not sure. I can give you a general vicinity. But it's not in the direction they're going."

Lediks was the first to respond. "They may be resuming a prior patrol."

"I've still got them on sensors, Warp 5.5." Apley looked back. "Sir, I can catch up to them."

"No. No, I think tracking the signal is the better bet." Zack looked to Magda. "Anything?"

"I can give you a general vicinity," she said. "I'm already running calculations to narrow the field."

"Relay heading and coordinates to the helm. Apley, take us out when you're ready."

"Aye sir" came from two sources. Moments later, the Koenig went to warp.




There was no change in the atmosphere of the Aurora conference room. Robert couldn't quite believe it, either, given how the only thing that could be agreed upon was that neither side had given up anything of substance.

"The Batarian claim to the space around the Ren'kharam Relay is two centuries old," am Rimhar insisted. "Your new colonies have directly infringed upon that space."

"There were no indications of any prior claim when those colonies were established," Onaran replied. "Is it not general practice in M4P2 to place beacons outlining such claims?"

"The Ren'kharam Relay only connects to Batarian relays. Our claim was self-evident. You cannot hold it against us that we did not anticipate the use of non-relay travel capable of reaching the region."

"Nor can you blame our people for settling worlds where no prior use was evident." Onaran was remaining reserved, but it was clear he was tired of the fruitless back-and-forth with the obstructive Batarian diplomat. "We acted in good faith."

"If someone plants a house on your land and insists he saw no sign of it being owned, would you simply hand it over?" asked am Rimhar.

"If I could be sure of his good faith, I would work with him on a solution beyond base demands…"

Onaran never finished, as he was interrupted by Benezia. "The hour has grown late." She looked over the two. "It is best if we retired for the day. The session can resume tomorrow. We shall reconvene in fourteen hours."

"Agreed, Matriarch," Onaran said.

"Agreed." Minister am Rimhar stood up. "We shall return to our vessel."

"Of course, Minister." Robert didn't bring up the security escort that was ready to follow him. He simply nodded and watched the Batarians walk out. Once they were gone he turned to Onaran. The Dorei man had clearly been drained of any energy or enthusiasm by the long, fruitless session. "This doesn't seem like any negotiation."

"It is a tactic, I expect. They have started with maximum conditions to posture." Onaran shook his head. "It is frustrating. But I have faith it will improve."

Robert looked back to the door that am Rimhar had left from. He didn't have the same feeling. For all of his bluster, am Rimhar didn't feel like he was posturing. Robert got the sense that he was planning more than was evident. "I'm not sure," he said to Onaran. "I think am Rimhar has another agenda."

"Is that with the benefit of your Gift, Captain?"

Had another person, especially a Human, asked that, Robert would have been inclined to consider it as sarcasm. But Onaran wasn't being sarcastic. The Dorei included people like him, people who could exercise the "life force" powers that Meridina had taught him in, and accepted the uses of said abilities.

So he nodded. "I'm sure of it. There's something going on here that isn't obvious."

"If this entire negotiation is a Batarian intrigue, it will have to be something worth the cost they will incur once their deception is revealed."

An electronic tone sounded and a blue light started to flash above Robert's left hand. Jarod's voice came over the comms. "Jarod to Dale."

Robert touched the light and brought the blue-colored omnitool to life, assuming the form of the familiar multidevices they had stopped using so recently. "Dale here," he said in reply.

"We've received a transmission from the Koenig. You're going to want to see this."

"Where?"

"The Bridge Conference Room. And you might want to bring Secretary Onaran."

Onaran heard that. His head tilted slightly.

"We're on our way," Robert answered.




The entire senior staff had assembled in the bridge-side Conference Room by the time Robert and Onaran had finished going over the latest reports from the Koenig. Robert sat back in his chair for a moment and considered the implications.

Julia spoke first on them. "The Batarians have links to the Multiversal black market now. There's no telling what sort of technology they can buy through it."

"And since the buyers are officially 'pirates', the Hegemony will deny all knowledge of what's happened. They'll play up the new technology as seized from the pirates." Robert sighed loudly. "I knew am Rimhar had something up his sleeve."

"Do you think he knows?" asked Onaran.

"He's one of the higher ups in the Hegemony, isn't he? What are the odds he doesn't know something." Robert shook his head. "The only question is how much he knows, and how these talks figure into the Batarians' actual plans. For all we know he might even be the Minister mentioned by the pirates."

Julia said, "Whatever they're doing, it's going to happen soon given the way they talked about it."

"It's got to be something more than a new wave of pirate attacks." Locarno looked from her to Robert and then to Jarod. "Even with new technology, the Batarians are still at a disadvantage."

"What is Commander Carrey doing now?" Onaran asked.

Jarod was the first to answer. "According to his last update, they're still tracking down the source of Batarian transmissions in that area. General Victus is considering attempting an attack, if the target is soft enough."

"Given their location in the galaxy, could Zack call in reinforcements by jump drive?"

"The spatial aspect isn't good. Maybe some ships on outer frontiers. But they're at the far end of the Verge, in the heart of Beta Quadrant. They can't call in any heavy fleet units."

"Still, at least he has that possibility." Robert tapped his hands on the table. "Okay, we know they're up to something, we don't know what they're doing or how. I want everyone on the ship to be on the lookout. Discretely. We can't let this spook the Batarians."

"I'll start going over their comm activity," Jarod said.

"And I will make sure Security is alert to anything further out of the ordinary," added Meridina.

"Good. With that done… let's call it a night, everyone." Robert rubbed at his tired eyes. "Whatever happens, we're going to be busy tomorrow."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-17 09:36pm

Doctor Opani checked in one last time on the infirmary before signing off for the day. The Gamma Shift nurse was fully briefed on the condition of the unconscious Quarian patient and possible special needs. She checked on Tali, asleep on the biobed she'd picked and with no issues showing on the biobed scanners.

Tired and hungry, Opani went to the mess hall, or rather the half that hadn't been turned into a sleeping area for the special forces troops they were carrying. She replicated a kipatiran, a warm baked pastry with a vegetable and cheese filling, and a cup of cool fruit juice. An empty table was easily found, even in this reduced space, and she went to work on her food.

She was mostly done when Barnes sat down with a late snack of a pastry she had heard him call a "hot pocket". A replicated "soft drink" still fizzed in a plastic cup. "Hey Doc," he said.

"Hello."

"So, Zack said something about us talking?" Barnes asked. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong, exactly. But I think that you may have been rude to our guest."

Barnes took a sip of his drink, which might have been an explanation for his sudden sour look. Or it may not have been. Opani waited patiently for him to respond. "Look, I'm acerbic sometimes, yeah, and I can be a jerk. But that doesn't change the fact that she has no training or experience with our technology and equipment. I don't care how good an engineer she thinks she is."

"She seems bright. Eager. This work is part of who she is."

"Sure it is." Barnes bit into his food and frowned. "Ugh. Christ, these replicators make anything and everything taste like ass."

"They always have," Opani pointed out. "Don't change the subject."

That prompted him to look at her, hard. "There isn't a damn subject, Opani. She's a kid and she's not working in my engineering department."

"Why are you so resistant to it?"

"For the same reason you wouldn't want some kid around who thought helping her daddy with bandages makes her capable of performing surgery," he retorted, and there was real heat in his voice. "In fact, that analogy works perfectly, because that's basically what you're asking me to do."

Opani was quiet for a moment, allowing Barnes to take another bite. She felt there was something about the way he was opposed to this, something more than the objections he was listing. "Why won't you give her a chance? You don't need her to run the reactor, just give her a task. Pair her with an engineer and…"

"No. That's final."

"Why are you being so obstinate…"

Barnes responded by standing up and grabbing his unfinished meal. He tossed it into the replicator and hit the reclaim button. Opani jumped up to do the same and followed him as he stamped out of the mess. "This is none of your damn business," Barnes barked back at her, already knowing she was behind him.

"This is personal," Opani shot back. "It has to be. What has that sweet girl done to you? Certainly you're not listening to the poison from the others about thievery?"

"No, no I'm not," he replied.

"Then why won't you work with her? Find her something to do? She can't be that much younger than you were when you started this. If you could imagine being in her place…"

Barnes whirled around so quickly that Opani nearly walked into him. "That's the problem," he said, his tone reflective of his broken patience. "Because I can imagine being in her place. Because I was in her place."

Opani looked at him with confusion. "What?"

"I've wanted to put together machines since I was a kid," Barnes said. Some of the anger had gone out of his face, replaced by the look of someone dredging through old memories. "I've always wanted to be an engineer. Like my parents. And I always thought of myself as one from the moment I passed my first engineering prep class in high school. And then everything with the Darglan Facility happened, and soon I was running ships and seeing myself as the engineer. But I didn't know jack crap about it, not really. I was still just the kid with a big head and ego ready to fry my brain out if it meant learning more about machines."

Opani remained silent.

"Then I met Scotty." Barnes smiled a little. "And I realized I didn't know jack crap. I still wouldn't know jack crap if he hadn't seen something in me and taught me what I was missing. Me being an engineer is because of him. It took a lot of time, training, and work to be able to do this job. So yeah, I get the girl's position because I've been there. I've been her. And I made enough mistakes back then to know what can go wrong if I let that girl work our most critical systems." He let out a sigh. "So yeah, I get where she's coming from. And that's why I don't want her in Engineering. The kid shouldn't have even been out here, dammit. She sounds college age, not fully grown up. She should be taking classes, not flying scouting missions."

"Her people don't have your ways, or mine. Keep that in mind."

"Then whatever it is they do for higher education. But my point stands."

"I see." Opani rubbed at her forehead. "Thank you for your honesty, and sleep well."

Barnes nodded and walked on to his quarters.




Zack retired to his room. It was the only quarters on the ship that had been fitted to have only one occupant, and that had been at the insistence of Scotty and of Captain Farmer back in the day. "The ship's commander needs his or her sleep" was their argument, and their recommendation was accepted.

It was only times like now that Zack realized why the two Starfleet men had said that.

He sat at his desk in his white uniform undershirt and boxers. Zack's face reflected his sleeplessness and state of mind, how upset he was at what had transpired. In his mind he kept flashing back to the Batarian ship exploding on the viewscreen. Several dozen Batarians had been vaporized in that explosion.

They were pirates, slavers, and in a straight battle he wouldn't have thought twice about their deaths. But this was different. He kept wondering about it. Wondering if he could have found a solution. A way to keep them safely contained on the Koenig, anything that might have seen them live. Anything that would spare him the knowledge that he had left those beings to die. That he had given the order.

His hand crept to his desk's computer control panel. He hit a key to activate his message recorder. "Computer, log this message, deliver when I give the word."

"Please list recipient."

Zack swallowed. "Clara Lydia Davis, currently residing on New Caprica, assigned to New Liberty Volunteer Corps as a nurse."

"Recipient logged. Ready to commence message recording."

"Begin." After a moment to compose his thoughts, Zack started speaking. He told her how much he loved her. He told her he missed her. As he did so, he thought about what he was saying, about his feelings.

He didn't want to hurt Clara, so he never told her about some of those feelings. About the occasional dreams where Clara wasn't the one in his arms. The flashbacks to the virtual world his mind had once been pulled into, where Julia Andreys had become Julia Carrey as he had fantasized about so often. He felt ashamed of the fact that a part of him would always be in love with Julia, no matter how much Clara deserved every bit of his love. It made him feel unworthy of both.

Soon he got into the purpose of the message. It was nothing less than a confession, as if she could forgive him for it and grant him absolution. "I've killed in battle, I mean," he said. "I haven't counted how many ships the Koenig has destroyed. I've got no idea how many people have died fighting my ship. But this wasn't that. I left those Batarians to die. To get blown up. Not in a fight, but as an execution. I… I keep thinking I could have saved them. I should have saved them, should have done something… I just don't know what."

Zack went silent as he thought on that. That he had no alternatives save tipping off the Batarians to the loss of their ship, and risking that whatever plan they had in mind would be put into action. He was tormenting himself over a decision that was a lose/lose situation. As Victus had put it, he did what he had to do. And he would have to live with that.

He felt a quiet urge. An urge that ashamed him, even as he imagined the fiery sensation of his father's tequila pouring down that throat. He shook his head to get the thought, the desire, out of it.

"I made the decision," he said quietly. "Now I have to live with it." He stared off into space, and into the corners of his own mind, and dwelled for a moment on his thoughts. "I can live with it," he decided. "It wouldn't be the only bad thing I have to live with." He drew in a breath before shaking his head. "Computer, delete that entire message."

"Message deleted. Would you like to try again?"

"No." Zack shook his head. "No, I don't think so." And with no further remarks, he slid into bed, wondering if he would be seeing that ship explode again in his dreams.



It was one of those nights again.

It had been weeks since Robert had dealt with the dreams that came to him, offering what he and Meridina believed were possible hints to the future. Now they were back and with a vengeance. He had glimpses of Fassbinder, the SS man thought dead on Gamma Piratus but recently determined to still be alive. The "Aryan ideal" German man's eyes went from deep blue to bright gold and yellow, darkness clinging to him and a sinister smile of triumph crossing his face.

Then it was the girl in red and gold again, crying out as her amber eyes shined with ethereal energy that sent power rippling over Robert. Nearby Julia was on one knee, stripped down to a sleeveless white undershirt and shorts, her face full of determination.

They were gone the next moment. Robert looked around at the Presidium of the Citadel, now beset by fires and smoking rubble. People cried out around him as, to his horror, shadowy figures with singular shining eyes impaled them on strange devices.

The Citadel Council chambers appeared around him. Broken metal forms were scattered before the platform leading to the guest podium. At the podium was a single figure, a Turian, covered in cybernetic enhancements and pieces. Robert had seen this image before. But never had he seemed so familiar.

"Our only hope to survive is to prove ourselves," the Turian said. "Servitude is preferable to extinction."

"We can fight them, we can win!" a Human voice urged. Robert briefly thought it was his, as it was a sentiment he felt within, but despite the haze of the dream he realized it was a woman speaking. And it was a familiar voice. "Can't you see? It's taken you over!"

Robert turned his head to face the direction of the voice. He felt surprise at recognizing the face. Shepard?

And then he was alone, in the middle of rubble and debris, his side hurting, and above him was a massive metal monstrosity with a glowing red eye staring down at him. It made a noise, as if the Devil was playing a trumpet through a synthesizer.

Maybe it was that noise that woke him up. Or maybe a part of Robert's mind was tired of the frightening imagery. Either way, he found himself sitting up in his bed. He quickly checked to make sure he hadn't woken up Angel, the instinct firing before his memory reminded him that she wasn't here now.

After the moment passed he found the dream was coming to mind again. The image of the cybernetic Turian was stuck in his head. He felt like he should recognize the figure. But the image blurred as he awakened, the dream distorted by that very waking.

When his omnitool display flashed the numbers 0402 at him, Robert sighed and laid back on the bed, turning to his side as he sought to get comfortable enough to sleep again.




In her life, Tali had slept on far less-comfortable things than the biobed in the infirmary, and her sleep had been quite restful. She woke up to find that only a single nurse was on duty, checking Kon's life signs. Tali did the same and confirmed for the nurse that he was still stable, or that his suit's sensors considered him stable, at least.

With her grumbling stomach in mind, Tali went to the mess hall and the replicator within. Only a few people were present in the room, mostly Humans wearing different uniforms from the ones she had seen Opani, Barnes, and the other ship personnel wearing. She remained clear of them and went to the replicator. She tapped the controls to see a list of dextro-compatible foods loaded into the system. The choices were as varied as she imagined they would be, and she selected a morning meal within seconds.

It was one thing to order the food, however, and another to endure it. She'd tasted replicator food before and knew that it never quite managed to taste proper, but this was utterly atrocious. "Forget it," Tali muttered to herself. She knew just what to do.

Nobody said anything when she returned to the replicator. First she had it reclaim her uneaten meal. But instead of walking away she activated her omnitool and interfaced it with the replicator. This let her run a diagnostic scan on the software and hardware. Seeing the latter made her grumble. She got onto her knees and pulled away the covering for the replicator's internals, revealing the various wires and cords that made up the device's guts. She went to work immediately on it.

Tali became so intent on her work that she was surprised when a voice said, "Are you sure you should be down there?" She swung her head over and up. Two humans, a woman and a man, were standing nearby. "I'm not sure Barnes will appreciate you messing with the replicator," the man said.

"I'm just fixing it," Tali answered. "The matter re-constitution system needs to be re-calibrated, it's completely off."

"Is that why everything's been tasting like crap?" asked the woman. There was something about the redhead with darker-toned bronze skin that Tali thought was interesting. She seemed to stand out compared to other Humans she'd met since arriving on the ship. "Because I've had replicated food before, this is something even worse."

"That's what I was thinking, so I was adjusting the internal systems and recalibrating the system. I think too many unrefined elements were being added. It would explain the taste."

"Well, don't let us interrupt you." The man nodded. "Your name was Tali'Zorah, right?"

Tali nodded. "It is."

"Commander Carter Kane, Allied Systems Marines." Kane offered his hand. Tali looked for a moment before carefully accepting.

"Commander Shepard, Systems Alliance."

Tali accepted Shepard's hand too. "I'm sure you want to eat. I'll be done in a minute."

As she went back to work, Kane said, "If Barnes finds out you're doing this, he's going to go on the warpath."

"I offered to help him keep his ship running well. He chose to ignore me. Well, he can, but I'm not eating terrible food because he and his crew can't be bothered to do a little maintenance on the replicators."

"Oohrah to that," Kane said. "I want my Marines to have edible grub, replicated or not. And they wouldn't let me bring a big store of MREs since we're all cramped in here."

"I just need to double-check this power line… connection to the computer switch looks good…"

After a few moments Tali slid away from the replicator. "Now try."

"Two mugs of coffee, black."

The requested items appeared in brilliant white light. Kane took one and handed it to Tali, taking one for himself. "Mmm. What do you think?" Kane asked after trying his.

"I'm almost convinced this is real coffee," Shepard answered. "Nice job," she said to Tali.

"Thank you. It was a simple repair." She stood up and put the panel back on. "Now I can enjoy my meal too."




Given how badly the mess hall replicator was acting Zack had opted for eating in his quarters with the replicator unit there. As always replicators didn't quite get the oatmeal and buttered toast right, and the milk tasted bland, but it was at least filling.

He was done with the toast and mostly done with the oatmeal. He eyed the closet full of uniforms, which he would be pulling on next, and turned his attention back to his report. He'd had a pleasant enough sleep given the events yesterday and time to internalize what had happened. He wondered if he would have been even more bothered had he been forced to look at the Batarians before they died. If he could have seen their fear.

Zack chose to ignore that for the moment and focus on what he saw on his digital pad. Hajar had been running the night shift and provided meticulous reports. Long range sensors had detected another Batarian ship that was on a different course. Analysis of its course had further refined Magda's calculated point of origin for the transmissions to and from the now-destroyed Batarian raider. Whatever they were looking for was going to be easier to find.

The question would be raised soon: what would they do when they found it? Attempt an attack, a covert landing of troops? Should he try to torpedo enemy ships still in their dock spaces, should it be that kind of facility (he suspected it was)? He really wanted to get Victus' special forces groups into the place to see if they could get their hands on any further information about the Batarians' plans and goals. But risking his ship unnecessarily was not something he could do.

As his final bite of oatmeal went into his mouth, a tone sounded on the ship's speakers. "Bridge to Carrey," said the voice of Lieutenant Apley.

"I'm here, Ap," Zack answered.

"We've got something on sensors. You're going to want to see this. I think we've found the Batarian base."

"Be right up."




Zack arrived on the bridge in time to find his command crew taking their proper positions. He went for his chair. "What do you have for me?"

"It's definitely a base," Magda answered. She gave her screen a close inspection. "I won't be able to determine how many ships are there until we get closer, but I'd say there are definitely a few ships, maybe as many as ten."

"Mass sizes?"

"Mostly raider-size. Maybe one or two cruiser-sized ones. I can't give you more accurate counts until we get within sublight sensor range."

"How long?"

"Two hours, twenty minutes," Apley answered.

"Okay." Zack nodded. "Status of our cloaking device?"

"Still operating within normal parameters," Magda said.

"Any sign of a graviton net? Tachyon detection grid?"

"Nothing. I'd be surprised if they could get something like that, even off the black market."

"Sometimes, Magda, I don't think anything would surprise me." Zack settled into his seat and, as he often had to, waited until they were in range.




Barnes ate breakfast in his quarters and double-checked the day's scheduling. Provided there were no alerts - and he expected there would be -- someone would finally be getting to the mess hall replicator by about 1200 to fix it. It was the earliest he could get a repair tech to the job given the niggling little fixes needed from the fire they'd taken the prior day.

Ensign Ling arrived by the time breakfast was done. The Gamma Shift officer was that shift's Engineering Officer; now Ling would sleep in here due to the need for hotbunking. "Ling," Barnes said. "So, how's the husband?"

"He's fine. Our daughter starts school in a month." Ling sighed. He was mostly East Asian in appearance, but the darker tone to his complexion and the shape of his cheeks was from an African grandparent "I had hoped to go get some leave time, but in this line of work, with a war?" He chuckled and hid his obvious sadness. "Unless we're sent somewhere near Sirian space, it's not happening."

"Woh, sorry to hear that," Barnes answered. "The replicator's edible in here by the way. I'm hoping to get the mess hall unit fixed sometime today."

Ling blinked. "What do you mean by that? It's been fixed. I don't think it's ever been better."

Barnes had been turning away from Ling. That made him turn back. "What? What do you mean it's fixed, there was no scheduled…" He frowned.

"Everyone's saying that Quarian survivor we took aboard did it this morning. And I'm telling you, sir, the food's never tasted better. It made my noodles taste more like noodles than liquid polymer, and… sir?" Ling watched as Barnes literally stormed out of his quarters. He might have gone after him to find out what was going on, but with everything going on and knowing that at any time he might be called back to his post, Ling decided to climb into bed instead.




Tali couldn't be too surprised that word swiftly spread on the small ship of her fixing of the mess hall replicator.

What she hadn't expected was the number of people coming to her to fix small things.

"How did you get your omnitool memory so full in the first place?" she asked the Human crewmember sitting in front of her in the mess. Tali looked over the results of the scans she'd had to run on the offending omnitool. "It looks like you were trying to load half of the ship's data into it."

"Our multidevices used to have two hundred megaquad storage capacity," the girl protested. "This thing locked up at just a quarter of that."

"An omnitool shouldn't be storing that much data," Tali said. "It's built with wide-frequency range data-streaming capability. Aside from vital programs and applications, everything you load onto it should be remotely accessed from dedicated data servers."

"Well… I'm still getting used to that," was the sheepish response.

Tali sighed and shook her head. "Never mind. I remember one of my friends, Mela, he once overloaded his omnitool trying to generate a welding flame. We had to spend a day fixing it. This…" She tapped a few more keys. The screen on the young crewwoman's omnitool unfroze. "...just needs a hard reboot cycle. There, your memory buffer is clear."

"Thank you. It might have taken all day for me to get it fixed by the tool shop," the girl said, her voice warm with gratitude.

Tali watched the girl leave and felt content. While she had wanted to help maintain the ship more directly, helping a ship's crew with repairs was at least a decent activity for her. Her father would be far happier than he would with the thought that she was doing nothing of use.

It looked for the moment like no one else was coming to ask her anything. Tali began to relax.

She stopped relaxing when the door slid open and Barnes entered. His eyes focused on her with clear frustration and anger in them. "You!" He stomped up. "What the hell were you doing?!"

"Excuse me?" Tali asked.

"Oh, don't give me that. I've heard all about the mess hall replicator. You're a guest on this damn ship, you do not open up equipment and start fiddling with it to see how it works!" Barnes slammed his hand on the table. "One thing wrong and you could cause food poisoning, or worse, to anyone who…"

Tali stood up. She wasn't as tall as Barnes, but she didn't have to incline her head so far to face him directly. "Listen, I've had enough of you thinking I'm that incompetent. I know replicator technology too! Lan'Durah taught almost everyone on the Rayya about them when he brought the technology back from his Pilgrimage."

"Oh, really. Alright, let's play this game." Barnes activated his omnitool and went over to the replicator. "Let's see… matter stream regulators… within proper limits. Control systems… responding normally." Barnes' voice started to lose its angry energy as, bit by bit, his diagnostic showed green fields for every part of the machine. "...matter re-constitution matrix… calibrated correctly." He started to mumble. "Damn, like it's fresh off the…" He cleared his throat. "Computer, Barnes Order Number 4."

The replicator obeyed and a cup of hot cocoa with a marshmallow appeared. He took the marshmallow and dropped it into the frothy brown drink. After giving it a moment to melt he sipped the hot fluid. And there was no mistaking the look of shock on his face.

It tasted… good. Better than normal for a replicator, almost like the real thing. "Last time I tried this it was so hot I almost burnt my tongue off," he mumbled lowly. He took another drink and savored the warm, chocolate flavor on his taste buds, touched with the creamy remains of the marshmellow. Slowly he glanced toward Tali. She had crossed her arms. And he was certain there was a satisfied look under that featureless faceplate of hers.

"Well." Barnes coughed and set the cocoa down on the replicator. With a tap of the key the system reclaimed the beverage. "Um… crap." He rubbed at his forehead and couldn't help but notice everyone was looking at him. "Yeah, I've got nothing. I'm the asshole here. That's… hell, that's work worthy of my best, of Scotty's best. Recalibrating the matter re-constitution system to that level… it's brilliant. I'd love to…"

"Quarian!"

All eyes turned to the entrance to the mess hall. Three Turians entered, Guard Captain Vidinos in the lead. All focused directly on Tali. "Where'd you put it?"

"Put what?" Tali asked, confused.

"The auto-spanner that went missing from the toolkit of my squad's gunsmith," Vidinos answered. "Where did you take it, Quarian?"

"An auto-spanner? Why would I need an auto-spanner, why would I take yours?" Tali stood her ground as Vidinos and the men with him walked up to her. They spread out enough that they were clearly cutting off any avenue of escape. One of the Turians activated their omnitool and began to scan her.

"It's a new model, just issued by Palaven Command," Vidinos said. "The kind of new technology you Quarians just love to get your hands on. So, I'm going to ask again… where is it?"

"I don't have it, I wouldn't want it."

"I'm not reading it, sir," the Turian with the scanner said.

"Any interference?" Vidinos looked to his man. "It wouldn't surprise me if her suit is shielded to prevent people from finding things. It's how Quarians would operate." As he spoke, Vidinos seemed oblivious, or perhaps simply uncaring, about the looks he was getting from the others in the mess hall. Barnes was staring at him in near disbelief.

"There's no null spots, sir, nothing to show shielding. She's clean."

"There, you see?" Tali said, her voice laced with irritation. "I don't know what problem you have with my people, but you can't just accuse me of being a thief…"

"I've been around enough Quarians to know what you people are like, always looking for new tech to take home, not caring who it belongs to," Vidinos retorted. He nodded to one of his men. "We'll find where you hid it. I'm sure you'll tell us after time in the brig."

By this point one of the other Turians grabbed Tali by the arm. "Hey!" she cried. "Let go!" A second Turian grabbed her other arm. "You can't do this! I didn't take anything!"

"Of course you didn't. That's what your kind always say." Vidinos turned around. When he stepped, his men stepped, and they began to pull Tali with them despite her struggling.

Vidinos only managed three steps before Barnes moved in his way. "Hey, Vidinos, I don't know who the frak you think you are, but you're damn well not a senior officer of this crew, and you don't have authority to put anyone in the brig without our say-so."

"Stand aside, Lieutenant, I'm the superior officer and you're out of order."

Barnes got into his face, scowling with fury. "Hey, asshole, I'm a frakking senior officer on this ship. I'm the Goddamned Chief Engineer. I don't have to do jack crap if you say it. Fact is you don't have jack crap for authority on this ship, I do, and I'm frakking tell you to let her go."

Vidinos may have noticed the gathering personnel, or he may not have. His soldiers certainly did see as the other half dozen Alliance crewmembers and Marines in the room started to move toward Barnes. But all Vidinos did was glare into Barnes' eyes. "I don't know why you care about this suit rat" - and the emphasis made it clear Vidinos intended to fullest meaning in the slur - "but I've got three of the best special forces soldiers that the Turian Hierarchy has to offer, and I'm not letting the Quarian get away with stealing from us. We're taking her into custody, either in your brig or in our barracks. If you've got a problem, take it up with Victus."

"I'm not letting you take her anywhere."

"Who's going to stop us? You?"

"How about me?" another voice declared.

Shepard stepped up beside Barnes. She directed a glare of her own at Vidinos. "Lieutenant Barnes is right, Vidinos," she said to him. "On this ship, he's got the authority, not me and not you. So do what he says before he has you dragged to the brig."

Vidinos' mandibles twitched. If his face had the same muscles as a Human's, he would be scowling, and Barnes and Shepard were both certain of that. "I want that auto-spanner found," he said. "It's property of the Turian Hierarchy."

"I'll have my people look for it when they can," Barnes said. "Now move on, you're causing a disruption."

"Let the Quarian go, men," Vidinos ordered. His troops obeyed. "I'm sure these Humans will learn the same hard lessons we did about the Quarians, right around the time the Quarian strips their ship bare."

With that parting remark Vidinos and his men stepped past Shepard and Barnes. They moved on to the exit door.

Kane stepped in before they could leave. The faint semblance of a smile crossed his face. "Hey, Guard Captain," he said. He brought up his right hand. It was gripping a tool that looked like a ratchet wrench with a small specialized motor assembly embedded in it. "A member of the Koenig crew found this and gave it to me. It looks like someone left some fancy new auto-spanner in the armory over the course of the night. I thought the mark looked Turian, so…" When Vidinos moved his hand toward it Kane held it out and let him take it. "It's not bad either. Not as good as our latest, I mean. Ours has an auto-adjustment setting so we don't have to change the spanner socket out. One size fits all. Maybe your people should look into buying some from us."

Vidinos turned away to walk past Kane. He stomped out of the mess hall with his men just behind.

"That guy is an ass," Barnes grumbled.

"A bigoted one." Kane nodded to him. "It's a good thing one of your people found this. Guys like that can cause a lot of trouble."

"Did that asshole really think he'd get away with attacking us?" Barnes asked Shepard.

"Maybe. Sad thing is, Vidinos is a damn good spec forces officer," Shepard said. "It would be a lot easier to hate his guts if he were an incompetent idiot too."

"Life would be a lot easier if all the assholes were incompetent too."

"Yeah. If only." Barnes turned to Tali, who was now seated. His face was turning red from shame and embarrassment. "Hey, kid… Tali, right?"

"Yes," she answered.

Barnes drew in a breath and walked up to her. He slid onto the bench for the next table, facing her instead of said table. "Your work on the replicator was great. I mean, it showed real ingenuity, a bit of creativity…"

Tali remained silent. But the way she kept her arms crossed was anything but silent.

"Aw, hell… I was an idiot, okay?" Barnes said. "A big dumb idiot asshole who assumed and didn't check things out. You still want to work in Engineering while you're here?"

"I would. I'm a Quarian engineer, and it feels wrong for me to not help maintain a ship I'm staying on."

"Fair enough." Barnes extended a hand. "Let's get down to Main Engineering. Poniatowski and I will see where we can put you."

Tali's posture relaxed slightly. "Thank you," she said, in clear relief.




The quiet on the Koenig bridge ended in the final minutes before their arrival. "I'm getting short-range scans of the system. Passive only." Magda went to work at her Ops station.

Zack turned in his chair to face her. "What do we have?"

"It looks like an A1-grade star," Magda said. "Reading four planets and a thin asteroid belt between the first and second. Three of the planets are gas giants, the innermost planet looks like it's a D-grade barren world, no atmosphere." After another few seconds Magda's attention clearly focused on one of her screens. "I'm detecting a faint power signature near one of the moons around the third planet."

"Just one signature?" Zack asked.

"With passive-only sensors, I wouldn't necessarily pick up ships in standby mode," Magda said. "Until we get closer I can't tell you anything more."

"How much closer?"

"Sublight range."

Zack thought on that. The Koenig's Darglan-designed cloaking device was just as good as something the Romulans could field, if not better, but there were still plenty of ways to give themselves away depending on what the Batarians might have with them. "What's the fourth gas giant like?"

"It's an ice giant-type. Methane, ammonia, water, and sulfur are the primary components of the atmosphere, various other elements. The magnetic field is on the higher end for ice giants, though, approaching small Saturn-type gas giant level. I think there might be a higher quantity of ferrous minerals in the convecting parts of the giant, but we'd need better sensors, or a probe, to confirm."

"Not really what we're here for." Zack thought of that. "Could we use the fourth planet to hide ourselves more effectively?"

"Let me examine the four moons first. Their orbital pattern and magnetic fields are…" Magda let the sentence hang. "Wow. It looks like one of the moons is actually conducting its own small mass effect field. I'm guessing a high concentration of eezo being subjected to electrical activity from other minerals. Maybe even a naqia deposit… yes." Magda looked to Zack and nodded. "I'll relay the coordinates to Apley, but if we stay in that section we should be hidden from any scans they can throw at us."

"And our scans?"

"Well, active scans might still get picked up." Magda went to work. "But maybe… I might be able to make a few light scans and make them look like routine electromagnetic activity from the fourth planet's system."

"If you can."

Things went quiet again until the thrum of the warp drive disengaging filled the ship. Apley's hands moved over the sublight controls. "We've dropped out of warp at the north pole of the ice giant. I'm moving us to the point that Lieutenant Navaez specified."

"Sensors are showing an artificial structure in orbit over the third planet's outermost moon," Magda said.

"On screen."

The holo-viewscreen activated and showed the image of a squat structure with a crater-studded moon framing the bottom of the image. The white light of the system's star was currently coming from the side of the image, illuminating half of the gray and brown-hulled station in pale sunlight. Several arms were erected from the middle of the central structure downward, making Zack think of a jellyfish crossed with an umbrella. Ships were visibly attached to most of these arms, but the central arm continued all the way down to the moon. "Is that a tether to keep them attached to the moon?"

"I'm getting heat sources from that central shaft," replied Magda. "It's a lift system. Actually, I'm starting to wonder if the base is actually on the moon. Even if it isn't, I'm betting they're mining the moon as well."

"Could pirates build something like this?" asked Sherlily. "I mean, it's easy to build a station, relatively speaking. But tethering one to a moon? Where do you get the resources for this?"

"It's not hard to guess," Zack murmured. "But proving it is another matter." Zack looked over the image. "You know, this place looks like it could have a lot more ships."

"Maybe they're protecting other assets in the area?"

"Maybe." Zack thought of that. "Or maybe there's more to this than we think. I mean, you don't build a base this big unless you've got enough ships to make it worthwhile. There's what, five there?"

"Four. And what looks like a partially-completed ship on one of the berths." Magda shook her head. "In fact, it looks like some of those docks might be construction docks. This might actually be a shipyard."

"If they're getting a lot of technology from other universes, that makes sense," Zack noted. "It gives them somewhere to build new ships using that technology." His eyes remained focused on the base. "Can we get life sign scans from here?"

"Not enough to say what's in there, just that there are living things aboard," Magda said. "We'll need to get closer, or use active sensors, to get more information."

"Not right now." Zack shook his head. "I don't want to give away our presence. Continue what scans you get, I want every bit of knowledge we can find about this place without giving ourselves away." Zack tapped his comm control on his chair. "Bridge to General Victus."

Only a moment passed before the Turian general replied, "Victus here."

"General, we've found something, a space facility of some sort. We're taking scans now, and we should have something for you and the other commanders in an hour or so."

"Very well. I'll have the team commanders in your conference room in ninety minutes. Victus out."

"Ninety minutes, Magda," Zack said. "No pressure, right?"

"No, sir," she breathed, ignoring the fact that there was, indeed, pressure. "No pressure…"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-18 01:44pm

The second day of the diplomatic meeting was going about the same as the first.

"Had you contacted the governments of this region before settling, you would have known not to colonize on those worlds," Tahrad stated evenly. His remark was a response to Onaran's protest at the extent of Batarian claims, which made up over half of the Alliance's settled zone in M4P2. "The Batarian Hegemony will not surrender its claims because of your haste."

"Your claims are hardly reasonable," Onaran responded, maintaining his own even tone. Robert could feel that he wasn't feeling "even", however, but was increasingly frustrated by the intransigence of the Batarians.

Nor was that the only source of frustration.

"Whatever the reasonableness of the Batarian claims, the point is a fair one," stated Benezia. "The Alliance made no effort to establish diplomatic contact with local civilizations before you began to settle. I have to agree with Minister am Rimhar on that matter."

"There were scant signs of any interstellar civilizations in this region of space at the time," Onaran said. "Nor were there any indications of territorial claims. Even the Citadel Council does not recognize these Batarian claims, Madame Matriarch. And it is unfair to hold our lack of information on the Citadel Council's existence against us."

A new voice entered the conversation, and from an unexpected source. "While you are not Human, Secretary Onaran, I cannot help but hear Human whining in your words," stated Benezia's Turian bodyguard. "Those are the same words Humanity used to excuse their reckless activation of a mass relay in complete defiance to Citadel law and common sense."

Onaran eyed the Turian. Robert looked his way and felt the voice jolt his memory. "I am sorry, Matriarch Benezia, but I am unfamiliar with your associate. Is he with the Council?"

Benezia gave the Turian a brief, irritated look before nodding. "He is under Council authority, yes, but I do agree his words were unnecessary and uncalled for. I apologize."

The Turian showed no response to that.

Robert held up a hand and got a nod from Benezia. He looked to am Rimhar and asked, in a careful a tone as he could, "Minister, are you seriously suggesting that we should just pack up and evacuate over half of our colonies in this universe because the Batarian Hegemony might, in some unknown future, actually take physical control of those worlds?"

"That would be the appropriate course for you to take, yes," the Batarian minister answered. "And it would have the added benefit of reducing your exposure to the criminal elements that have led to so many regrettable exchanges between our governments."

The gall of am Rimhar was shocking, but put delicately enough to, as always, give him room to evade the accusation of a threat.

Robert eyed Onaran, sensing he had a point to make. "A curious observation, Minister, as criminal organizations so rarely conform themselves to such things. It is just as likely they would take up bases in our abandoned territory to renew their attacks upon us. Especially if they sense weakness."

"I find it unlikely. Such criminals are far more likely to turn their attentions to more attractive targets."

Like the Systems Alliance's colonies in the Verge, Robert thought.

"Interesting how familiar you are with these organizations' behavior," Onaran observed.

Tahrad suddenly jumped to his feet. "Are you accusing me of collusion with criminals, Mister Secretary?!"

The ferocity of the words were not matched by the emotions Robert sensed in the Batarian. He briefly eyed Onaran, and it was clear the Dorei knew he was being toyed with. "Of course not, Minister," Onaran said. "I would never make such a dreadful accusation. I feel we are beginning to make progress in these talks and would never jeopardize this. I am merely curious as to your familiarity with their actions and was hoping you might share more insights with us."

Two of Tahrad's eyes narrowed. He sat back down wordlessly and glanced toward Benezia.

"While it is clear that your positions are not compatible," she said, "I believe that we are making some strides toward resolving our differences. A question of compensations for settling your rival territorial claims may provide us a break from this impasse…"

As Benezia began to lay out her thoughts on compensation for withdrawing from worlds or claims, Robert settled his eyes on her Turian companion. He could feel the impatience and the raw dislike in the man. But there was something more to him.

Robert lowered his arms below the rim of the table. He activated his omnitool on a low-light mode and began typing out a request to the bridge.

I wonder how Zack's mission is going? Robert thought to himself as he did so.




The special forces commanders were at the table with Zack and Victus. An additional pair of seats had been brought in for Barnes, Magda, and Sherlily. Magda was using her omnitool to remotely control the holo-projector built into the conference room table. A three-dimensional, accurately-colored model of the Batarian pirate base hovered in the air over them, spilling gray and brown light over the assembled. "Our scans have confirmed the following," she began. A tap to her omnitool highlighted the central shaft linking the base to the moon. "This is the central tether attaching the facility in question to what appears to be a mining facility below the surface of the mine. Passive scans only tell me so much about this underground facility, unfortunately. And active scans could give us away, even through a cloak."

"You mean they can see this vessel through its cloak if you engage active sensors?" Lidiks asked.

"Not necessarily. It's like if someone in a foggy room of mirrors shines a light at you You may not be completely sure where the source is, but you know someone's out there shining lights."

"And we'd lose the advantage of surprise." Shepard nodded. "Okay, so we go in without knowing everything. That's nothing new. What can you tell us about the orbital base?"

"Passive scans tell us quite a bit more about it," Magda said. With a tap of her omnitool she zoomed in on it. "They're definitely powered by fusion cores. The docking arms include machinery for starship construction and repair, but nothing above a certain dimension and mass. I suspect anything more powerful than a destroyer-sized ship can only be resupplied or patched up here, not built."

"So they probably have a bigger repair yard somewhere," Zack said.

"Most likely in Batarian space," Lidiks stated. "Whatever their links may be to the Batarian government, the Hegemony would never allow such organizations to field cruiser-grade warships independently."

"Analysis of the gravitational profile of the base, and the heat patterns within, indicate there are some living areas toward the outer decks of the facility. Quite a few, actually." Magda zoomed in toward the upper decks. "The heat profiles indicate that the center of the orbital facility forms the receiving area for whatever comes up from the moon, with persistent heat profiles here." An area toward the middle of the structure, just off of the center to the left of the image. "Given the intensity of the thermal profile I'd guess this is a command chamber of some sort." Another key tap brought up more areas. "And these are the locations of the fusion cores."

"Those would be our ideal targets," Vidinos said. "Could your ship hit them in a firing pass?"

"Those look deep enough that I can't guarantee we'd get them in one pass," Zack said. He looked to Barnes. "Tom?"

"I'd have to know the material composition to tell you for sure." Barnes looked over the sensor records. "I mean, the mass readings imply the presence, or really lack of presence, of some materials. But I'd need a sample. And since we can't get one, all I can say is that I wouldn't bet on it."

"What about transporting in explosives?" Kane asked. "Could we cripple enough of their power sources to knock out their base's operations?"

"We can take out maybe half of them in a single beaming," Barnes said. "I mean, assuming one bomb per reactor core. And if their safety precautions are crap, we might even cause a meltdown that takes out the whole place. But they've got enough redundancy that I don't think that's enough to cripple them. And if they can raise shields… that means no assault teams beaming over."

"Given they have to protect the docking arms, could their shield perimeter be out far enough for us to decloak within the shields?" Zack asked, looking at Barnes. "I mean, if we can get that close without being detected."

Barnes and Magda exchanged glances and, after a moment, nods. "Yes," Magda said. "That is possible."

"Of course, they've got turreted weapon emplacements," Barnes said, pointing to said weapons on the hull. "And our shields will be down."

"What kind of weapons are they?"

"Looks like mass effect cannons," Barnes said. "But frankly, the only thing I can tell you is that they don't have phaser emitters set into the hull. They could be particle cannons for all I know, or plasma cannons. Lasers, disruptors, mass drivers. Any number of weapons I wouldn't want us to get hit with."

"So we get one or two transports, and one salvo, before we have to raise shields," Zack noted. He continued looking at the structure. "April, how much could we take out with one opening salvo?"

She looked over it. "Depending on our attack vector… Well, a double salvo of two torpedoes each, that's four emplacements. And if we line up the main battery…" She ran her hand over the holo-image. "I could probably get seven of these emplacements with my best shot."

"Unfortunately, there appears to be at least fourteen on each facing of the station." Shepard shook her head. "So you'll need time to take out the others. And possibly those ships in the docks. We're looking at beaming over just one team in the first wave."

"Then we should send our best." Vidinos looked to Victus. "My people will go."

"How much training do you have in assault beaming, Vidinos?" Kane asked. "That's one of our specialties."

"There's nothing you can do that we can't," Vidinos said in reply.

Victus remained silent and refused to intervene in the squabble. He directed his eyes to Zack. "Commander Carrey, your ship will be at risk for this operation. What would you prefer doing?"

Zack considered his reply carefully. He looked over the structure carefully, focusing his attention on the weapon emplacements and the enemy ships that would undoubtedly be looking to blast them to pieces once the fight started. This, plus the confined space they would be operating in if they remained inside the base's shield perimeter, would make the attack tricky. It would require every bit of his ships' maneuverability to make this work.

"We need to give the assault team our best," he said to Victus. "So I suggest a joint team." Zack gestured to the assembled commanders. "We send these five together, with one of their people to round the team out."

"And who will be in command?" Vidinos asked, in the kind of tone that made it clear he wanted that role.

"I'll leave that up to the General to decide," Zack answered.

"I'll consider that, and who will accompany you." Victus turned his head from Vidinos to Zack. "So you transport over a strike team while launching an opening salvo. What would you do afterward?"

Zack was already looking at Sherlily and the display, imagining his ship's approach vector and where they could go after the opening attack. "We start trying to pick their ships off, and take out their remaining weapon emplacements. We'll be putting everything we have into engines and weapons and hope our proximity allows us to move more quickly than their firing emplacements can track. Meanwhile our strike team will get their shields down and we beam over more troops, if needed." Zack turned his head toward Victus. "Although a lot depends on what you want to accomplish, General. If we send more teams, we might be able to blow the place up, but it means we'll take longer getting out of here. A smash-and-grab aiming at taking the contents of their computers could work better."

"Intelligence is something I wish to acquire, yes," Victus said. "But if we can remove this facility, I want to make that our objective."

"Well, let's see what happens when the mission starts. There's too much we don't know about this place to make plans beyond the opening of our attack."

Victus nodded at that. "I concur. Everyone, get your teams ready for deployment in case we need them. As soon as Commander Carrey reports his ship's readiness to move in, get to the transporters."

"Yes sir," Vidinos said.

"Yes, General," Shepard added.

Zack looked back to the holographic image of the pirate station and frowned. "Where are all of their ships?" he wondered to himself while Victus and the troop commanders filed out of the room The last thing we need is for them to come home right after we start this. "Is there anything on long range sensors, Magda?"

"Nothing the last time I checked," she answered.

"I know we'll be busy, but try to keep an eye out all the same. I don't want to get taken by surprise." Zack stood. "Okay everyone, let's get to our stations. We'll give Victus and his teams some time to get ready and then we're going in."

Everyone present nodded in agreement.




Barnes stepped into Main Engineering and found all of his Engineering staff waiting for him, with Tali standing among them. "Alright people, we've got maybe ten minutes before we're going into combat. I want everyone on standby for combat stations. Kellerman, you're going to be on damage control."

"Sir?" The Ensign, an Anglo-American from Universe L2M1, gave Barnes a confused look. "Are you sure? Who's going to be monitoring the coolant systems?"

"Our volunteer, Tali'Zorah," Barnes answered, looking at her. Seeing the surprise in some of the others, he added, "Anyone who's eaten in the mess today knows what's she got in this line of work, and I'm betting coolant lines on Quarian ships aren't any different than on ours."

"We don't use plasma, but that seems to be the only difference," Tali revealed.

"I'll be doing my usual thing here with Lieutenant Poniatowski. Any questions?" When nobody said anything he nodded. "Everyone take your places then. Things should start happening soon."

The assembled engineering staff dispersed to head toward their battle stations. Tali took up her place at the coolant monitoring station. "All lines are functioning. No faults showing. We're ready." She looked to Barnes as he looked toward her from his station by Main Engineering's Master Systems Display. "Lieutenant Barnes?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you again." There was gratitude through her partly-synthesized voice. "It feels good that I'll get to help you deal with the people who hurt my friend."

Barnes nodded. "You're welcome."




It was all quiet on the bridge of the Koenig when Zack confirmed that the teams were ready. "If we can, I'd like to get their second wave aboard," he said to everyone. "Six people aren't going to be enough."

"I'll see if I can buy you the extra time," Apley said.

"I'll give it my best." Sherlily nodded at tactical. "Phasers and torpedoes ready. I'll fire as soon as the cloak goes down."

"On my mark then. Ap, take us in."

"Aye sir."

Still hidden behind her cloaking field, the Koenig moved out from her hiding place at full impulse. Zack waited patiently as the minutes ticked away while the ship crossed the millions of kilometers between the two ice giants and their moons. It felt almost like forever while the seconds crawled past.

Gradually the Batarian pirate base grew larger on their screen, looming with an unmistakable malice. It seemed silly to think that his small ship could trouble such a place. But Zack knew they could, that they would.

As the station filled the screen, Magda gave him the signal he had been expecting. "We're within the likely shield perimeter."

"Steady…" Zack ignored the sweat that he felt forming on his forehead. "Mark!"

Everyone acted in sequence. Magda deactivated the cloaking device. Within milliseconds power surged into the torpedo launcher mechanisms, sending out a full spread of solar torpedoes. The drive fields of the projectiles gave them a white-blue glow that shined over the hull of the station before they crashed into the weapon emplacements they'd been lobbed at, destroying them in bursts of energy and light.

"Transporter Station is beaming our team over," Magda reported.




Even as Magda spoke, Shepard and the others materialized in a corridor on the station. By common agreement Nisia, the Asari, was in charge, and she had brought along one of her compatriots to fill out the first team. "We've arrived on target," she said, checking her omnitool. "Move out!"

The six started moving. Ten seconds after they did, another six figures appeared from bright columns of light. Led by Lidiks' subordinate Captain Letos, and including Shepard's subordinate Alenko, they followed the first team.

Kane and Shepard were on point with Nisia and Vidinos behind them. Even as they moved on, both were waiting to hear for the arrival of the third group.

It didn't come.




The opening run went off as planned. Mostly.

The torpedo barrage was followed up another second later by phasers, firing as soon as the energy surged into the capacitors for the emitters. The powerful amber pulses blasted apart more of the weapon emplacements. As Apley turned to maintain his maneuver, the aft torpedo launchers fired and took out another pair of emplacements.

"Second wave is beaming," Magda said.

Zack nodded. Space around started to light up in energy, green bolts that were barely missing his ship. Apley kept any of the shots from hitting.

"Second wave over. Preparing third…"

Before Magda could say anything else, one of the green bolts crashed into the Koenig's hull, causing the entire ship to shudder. "Direct hit on dorsal hull," Magda confirmed. "Raising shields." Moments later very slight rumbles shook the deck. "Shields holding at ninety-seven percent."

"Damage report."

"Armor damage only… wait. I'm getting a fault signal from the cloaking device, it looks like a cloaking emitter cell took a partial hit. Our cloaking device won't work."

"So we're committed."

"Victus to bridge. Can we send the third team?"

Before Zack could reply, the ship shook slightly again. "Shields still holding."

"I'm trying to evade the fire and give Tactical openings, sir, but those turrets are tracking really fast. I can't get out of their lines of fire."

"That's a negative, General. Not unless our teams disable their defensive systems." Zack turned his attention elsewhere. "Apley, April, forget the turrets. Time for those ships, before they finish launching."

"Roger."

"Magda, what are we being hit with?"

"Plasma fire," Magda confirmed. "Consistent with Coserian technology."

"Coserians." Zack had heard of them; a former big bad empire that used to dominate parts of what was now Gersallian and Dorei space.

As the thought came to him the Koenig aligned with one of the docking arms. Phasers lashed out at the Batarian pirate vessel still tethered to it. Evidently the ship hadn't been close to ready for action, and hadn't raised shields; Sherlily's aim and fire pattern demolished the ship in two barrages. As they swept past two shots from the dorsal phaser array took out the ship's power core, detonating it. The ship was consumed in the energy of a matter/anti-matter reaction.

The next ship they targeted fared little better, being turned into a husk in space by the phaser blasts and a torpedo that gutted it. They turned and faced the third ship. When Sherlily directed their main batteries' fire over it, the amber bursts were stopped by crackles of yellow light that formed over it. She pumped more fire into the ship as they sped by, but it remained shielded and intact. More importantly, it pulled away from the dock it had been tied to.

The Koenig jolted once more, this time from yellow spears of light coming from the fourth ship, now free and moving to pursue. "We got half of them," Zack said. "Let's see what we can do about these two. Ap, Attack Plan Hotel?"

"Sounds good to me, sir," Apley said. And with that, he sent the Koenig into a dizzying array of spins and turns to avoid the mass of incoming fire.




The Batarians had some warning of what was hitting them. But the warning hadn't come quickly enough for them to protect their command center from the spec-forces team.

Shepard and Kane went in first. He started with a powerful spread of flash-bang grenades from his rifle's underslung launcher. His helmet's optics protected his eyes from the bursts of light that caused cries of surprise and anguish from the beings in the command center.

This opened them up for Shepard's assault. Biotic energy gathered around her and, in an instant, she was propelling forward like she had been shot from a cannon. She slammed into the Batarian in the central "pit" of the control room, sending him flying. With a quick turn Shepard brought her shotgun to bear. There was a thunder in the room in the moment before the mass effect-propelled flechettes from her Katana-model shotgun tore through the torso of a second Batarian.

Kane opened fire on the other corner, taking out one target and sending the others to cover. At the corner of his eye he saw movement looked toward what, he quickly realized, was not a Batarian.

"Secure the chamber!" Nisia shouted, moving in with one of Vidinos' men. The Asari-make assault rifle in her hands fired toward the other far corner.

"Down!" Kane shouted, ducking behind a control station, as the non-Batarian figure he recognized brought an arm up. A quick whir filled the air as a cannon emplacement appeared on the being's arm, the barrel formed from the palm of a cybernetic hand. A bolt of green energy nearly hit Shepard, spared by her instinctive reaction to Kane's warning.

Nisia turned her attention to the attacker. He - or she - was from a species she'd never seen before, a gray-skinned humanoid with three eyes on their head arranged like points on an inverted triangle, a ridge of bone between each eye that connected to a skull covered in black and dark gray metal. The upper right eye was rimmed by a cybernetic implant. The suit, in contrast to the browns and reds the Batarians favored, was rust-colored leather of some form that stretched over a wide body, wider than normal for most bipedal or humanoid species.

An amused smirk came to the face of the cyborg when Nisia opened fire. Emerald energy crackled and slivers of metal clanked harmlessly against the ground.

Nisia and the Turian had to leap for cover when another emerald bolt came from the cyborg's arm. It smashed into the bulkhead behind them and exploded.

"What the hell is that thing, Kane?!" Shepard asked from her cover.

"I think it's a Jeaxian, but I've never seen one before!"

"What the hell is a…"

Shepard couldn't finish the sentence in time. The cyborg blasted the station she was hiding behind. An explosion of metal and ceramics created a storm of shrapnel and left the station demolished. Kane looked to see Shepard blown to the ground, either hurt or stunned and unable to move for the moment.

The energy shield the cyborg had was strong. He couldn't be sure how strong since there was no telling how much power it could generate. Kane opted for a more raw force approach. With a quick key press he swapped his grenade launcher attachment from flash-bangs to charge grenades. Ineffectual fire from Nisia and the growing number of allies in the room was causing the Jeaxian cyborg's energy shield to remain constantly visible. He - Kane was mostly certain the Jeaxian was male - was directing a blast toward Lidiks and a second Turian. Alenko was remaining in cover at the door where Vidinos was now stepping through.

"Fire in the hole!" Kane opened up with the grenade launcher, firing his entire available clip in five seconds. There was a roar in the air from the micro-rockets that kept the grenades on course, with some acceleration toward their target.

One by one the charge grenades struck. They lived up to their name, directing the energy release from their shaped charge payloads into jets of plasma that directed their full fury into one small cone of effect. The blasts knocked the Jeaxian back, one by one, while the green shield flickered. The last blast caused the green energy to crackle weakly and seem to short out. A lance of plasma drilled into the side of the Jeaxian. He screamed, but he didn't go down.

Kane was so busy shooting the grenades he didn't see Shepard get back up. There was a burst of air and energy when she slammed into the cyborg with a biotic charge. Its shield had been depleted momentarily by the grenade barrage by Kane, allowing Shepard's attack to connect and send the cyborg flying into the far bulkhead wall. After a moment it started to stand.

"Sustained fire!" Nisia shouted, and everyone heeded her. Shepard's shotgun barked again, Kane's rifle opened up, and a host of other weapons did so as well. The Jeaxian screeched as energy and metal began to rip through unshielded flesh and metal. Kane's fire ended with the depletion of his charge clip. As he went to change it, other guns quieted as they overheated.

When the firing was over the Jeaxian was slumped against the wall, his body reduced to a pile of blood and torn flesh with sparking cybernetics still active where it hadn't been broken.

Kane brought his rifle up. "Okay, the chamber is…"

The Jeaxian's arm came up and aimed right at him. Green energy formed around the barrel as it prepared to fire…

A single gunshot blew what was left of the Jeaxian's head off. The arm flopped lifelessly before blowing up from the gathered energy.

All heads turned to where Guard Captain Vidinos had entered the room. His Phaeton rifle was still raised up to where its scope was parallel to his right eye. He lowered it as if nothing of importance had happened. "It looks like the chamber is clear," he said to the assembled.

Nisia nodded. She looked to Alenko and one of her Asari, the one who had joined them in the first wave. "Gain access to the station's systems and see what you can do about disabling their defenses. And I want all intelligence data you can glean from their databanks. Everything about their operations, their plans, and their assets. I want to know how many people are here."

"And if there are any more like that thing, I'd hope," Shepard remarked, looking to the messy remains of the Jeaxian cyborg. While the others went to work she looked at Kane. "Which species was it, anyway?"

"A Jeaxian, I think," Kane replied. "They're a species from the N2S7 universe, that is, the home universe of the Dorei and the Gersallians. From what I know about them, they're a former client species of the Coserian Empire that once tried to conquer the Dorei. They're mostly clan or tribe based and tend to cause trouble in the Unaligned Worlds, raiding and slaving and pirating."

"I guess we know where the Batarians are getting their technology," Shepard remarked.

"Commander." Alenko looked up from the station he was analyzing with his omnitool. "I'm tapping into their communications now. You're not going to like this."

"What?" Nisia asked.

"They got a distress call out," he said. "Some message, I can't tell who it was sent to. The translator reads it as 'Begin now'."

"Well," Shepard sighed, "isn't that ominous?"

"Inform General Victus, and continue finding what you can."




When Zack was informed by Victus of what the others had found so far, his only answer was "We'll send a warning out", after which he turned to Magda. Before he could speak the ship shook again. "Magda? Send a priority transmission on all Alliance and Citadel space channels, warn them of an imminent pirate attack of unknown scope against unknown targets."

"I'm trying," she said. "But we're being jammed."

"Send by IU radio then," he insisted. As he did so the ship shook again, and Zack's attention went back to the tactical plot holo beside him, showing him the two enemy ships that were continuing to pursue his ship while the Koenig tried to evade the remaining weapons on the Batarian station.

"Shields at fifty-four percent." After a moment Magda spoke again, and this time with a positive report. "IU radio signal sent."

WIth that done, Zack could return his attention to keeping his ship intact.




Robert's first inkling that something was up came when he noticed one of Tahrad's aides look toward his omnitool. The Batarian minister didn't pay his man heed at the moment, busy as he was griping about the Alliance's colonization of a garden world in one section of the Verge. "The planet Sahvad has been legally claimed by the Hegemony for the last hundred years," he insisted.

"Again, Minister, it seems that our definition of valid claims remains incompatible with your own."

"I will remind the minister that the CItadel Council rejected the wild extent of Batarian claims in the Verge decades ago," added Benezia.

"Of course you did," Tahrad said. "The lack of respect for my people among the Citadel has long been chronicled. It is why we no longer accept the Council's decisions in the Hegemony."

The aide finally seemed to get Tahrad's attention a moment later. As Tahrad conferred with him, examining what looked like a message, Onaram gave vent to only a little frustration with his reply. "The Allied Systems agreed to these talks as a gesture of good faith, Minister, and under the impression that the Batarian Hegemony was ready to consider reasonable solutions. But so far your entire position has remained inflexible and dogmatic. You demand the Alliance withdraw from over half of the systems it has colonized in this universe on the grounds of territorial claims with no reasonable justification beyond your government's declarations."

Robert felt a surge of anger fill Tahrad. Anger, frustration, a sense that things had developed as they had to mock him. He stood from his seat and looked to Benezia. "Matriarch Benezia, an urgent message from Khar'shan demands my attention. I request a recess so that I can return to my ship."

Benezia looked to Onaram. "Does the Alliance have any objections?"

Onaram had surprise on his face at the request. Tahrad had never asked for any recess from the conference so far. "No objections, Matriarch," Onaram said. "I believe a recess will be of great benefit."

"Then we shall recess until this evening." Benezia stood and nodded to them before stepping away from her table.

The Batarians couldn't get away fast enough, from what Robert saw. Within seconds they were on their way to the door, and then out. "I wonder what has happened," Onaram said softly. "I can read the agitation in their body language."

"I can sense it too. That message has Tahrad spooked. He's angry, and he's surprised." With a bad feeling growing inside, Robert keyed his omnitool. "Dale to Bridge. Can you tell me anything about a signal that just came to the Batarians a few minutes ago?"

There was a short delay before Jarod's reply came. "It was heavily encrypted and came over extranet communication protocols. I can't tell you where it came from or what was in it, not right now anyway." Before Robert could respond, Jarod continued. "We just picked up a message over IU radio bands. It's from the Koenig."

"Really? What's in it?"

"Commander Carrey has issued a general warning to all Citadel, Systems Alliance, and UAS defense commands of an imminent attack by Batarian pirates against an unknown target, with unknown 'but likely strong' forces."

That got Onaram's attention. And it certainly had Robert's. "How would he know that? Is this about that ship he stopped?"

"I can't tell you that."

Robert considered the situation. "They could be planning an attack anywhere. Against us, against the Systems Alliance… Jarod, get a hold of Commander Andreys. I want everything on standby for combat, as quickly and quietly as you can manage it."

"Will do."

Onaram's expression was grave. "Captain, you're not saying they intend to attack here, are you?"

"I've got no idea what's going on," Robert admitted. "But I'm not taking any chances."




Gunfire in the corridor on the left side of the command station was the first indication of the impending Batarian counterattack. Nisia nodded to Vidinos. "Take charge of a fire team and hold them off as long as you can." She looked next to Kane. "And I want another fire team holding the other exit."

"Yes ma'am," Kane answered. He looked to the one Alliance Marine that had come over on the second wave, Popodoulos, and to Shepard. "Popodoulos, you're with me. Commander, do you mind joining me?"

"Don't mind it at all. Jenkins, you're up."

The other Systems Alliance trooper with them, an enthusiastic young SA Marine, jumped to it immediately. "Yes ma'am!" He ran up to join them at the exit door.

"I don't have anyone on sensors coming this way yet," Popodoulos said to Kane. He kept his assault rifle at the ready, much to Kane's approval.

"They'll come soon enough." Kane was remaining at the door for the moment. He looked back into the command chamber, where Nisia and Lidiks were overseeing the efforts to hack into the local system. "Any luck getting into their defensive systems?"

"I've almost got it," Alenko insisted.

"I'm more concerned about what else is on this station." Nisia looked at Lidiks. The STG regiment commander was operating another of the stations with his omnitool. "What have you found in their databases, Major?"

"Correspondence with several known criminal organizations in the known Multiverse," Lidiks answered. "The Batarians have opened black market trading ties with the Orion Syndicate, who appear to be brokering their contacts with other organizations."

"Make sure to get copies of all data, the Council will want to see it."

"Of course."




The Koenig's Main Engineering section was active as it would always be in a combat situation. Lieutenant Poniatowski was monitoring the reactors, Tali was still at the coolant controls, and Barnes was looking over everything. "Lang, I'm showing shock damage to the starboard impulsor," he was saying. "Your team is the closest."

"Jawohl, Lieutenant," came the engineering mate's reply.

Barnes re-directed his attention immediately to other issues. "Ana, I'm redirecting plasma flow to keep the phasers' power up."

"Adjusting reactor rates."

The ship shuddered under them again. Tali noticed a notification pop up on the station she was at. "I have stress damage showing on the starboard impulsor coolant line."

Barnes looked over his team assignments. After he did he tapped a key. "Kreek, you and Ortiz need to get over to the starboard impulsor housing, reinforce the coolant line."

"Confirmed", Kreek said.

Barnes tapped a key at his station. "Engineering to Bridge. Whatever the frak is going on, I hope you're going to deal with it soon. I've got my entire damned staff tied up on repairs now."




Zack overheard Barnes' complaint. He was simply too busy to reply to it. His thoughts were entirely focused on the tight maneuvers that were keeping the Koenig intact from the enemies facing them.

Sherlily's accurate fire had taken out several more turrets on the Batarian station's hull. But it was proving difficult for her to get a good shot at the two ships chasing them around. Apley had to keep the ship moving to avoid the volume of fire coming their way, keeping her from directing the full fury of the Koenig's weapons on her target. The latest attempt proved clearly futile, as only part of a burst played over yellow-hued shields before Apley had to bank hard to avoid a pair of plasma bolts coming their way. "I can't get a solid lock," she protested.

"I'm doing what I can," was Apley's response.

The ship shook again. "Shields now at forty-two percent." Magda looked up from her station. "We're going to start suffering shield cohesion loss soon."

Zack heard her, but gave no response. His eyes remained on the icons showing their attackers, chasing them around the frame of the enemy station. His eyes narrowed as he saw one ship pull into another direction. "They're trying to get us into a crossfire."

"I'll do what I can to keep us out of it."

Zack began to nod but stopped. He imagined the maneuvers in his mind, what the Batarians were trying to do, what they were clearly capable of. A mental image appeared in his mind, one that proved the key to the outcome he desired. "Ap, break to starboard, raise the bow twenty degrees," he ordered.

"Aye sir."

They performed the maneuver. It brought the Koenig right up along the lift structure connecting the base to the moon below. As Zack expected, the ship trailing them remained on them while the other ship was moving to catch them in a direct crossfire. His angle, toward the enemy base, gave the Koenig the appearance of being interested in going after more of the turrets.

Just as he wanted them to think. The enemy ships moved into position to catch the Koenig in what would be a nasty three way crossfire.

"Sir, they're moving to…"

"I know, Ap. Steady on course… Initiate Attack Plan Oscar on my mark."

"Yes sir."

The Koenig kept her course up, weaving and spinning to avoid incoming fire, while the enemy ships moved to box her in between them and the station. The trap was nearly perfect.

It would have been perfect if Zack hadn't wanted them to make it.

"Mark!"

At his call, Apley threw the Koenig into a sharp maneuver few vessels had the power and maneuverability to pull off. She dipped back "down" relative to the base, impulsor drives pushing to the limit to shift her position relative to the two enemy ships.

The enemy ships were already firing when Zack gave the order. The Koenig's rapid maneuver thus had the benefit of getting them out of block of space the Batarian fire was moving into. Energy beams and missiles moved on…

...and toward their opposite ship in the prepared trap.

The two ships couldn't destroy each other in these barrages, of course, and they sought to evade the fire in the second they realized what happened.

That bought Apley and Sherlily the moments they needed. Apley lined up the Koenig on the ship that had been in front of them and Sherlily opened up with the Koenig's phaser cannons, joined by a full spread of torpedoes. The pulses of amber energy battered their way through the shields and began to send plumes of flame from the Batarian ship's hull. Then the torpedoes came in, four in all, with one missing due to the Batarian ship spinning just enough for it to fly on and smash into the hull of the Batarian station.

The other three, however, had hit home. The Batarian ship suffered an internal explosion within a second of the torpedo strikes, then a second burst of radiation and energy from the ship's failing M/AM reactor. The ship was nearly vaporized in the blast.

Apley turned the Koenig toward their other competitor. It was now recovering from the friendly fire the Koenig's maneuver had caused and its pilot and crew were reacting to the Koenig's maneuver, not to mention the sudden fact they were alone. The Batarian ship, now the hunted, twisted away and began evasive maneuvers.

But Apley stayed on them, as much as he could, even if it brought them dangerously close to the shield perimeter of the Batarian station. Sherlily fired away at the ship. Some shots missed, some didn't, and the yellow energy that appeared from those hits grew visibly weaker.

They'd run out of time, or so it seemed, as the Batarian ship shifted to break away completely. They had figured out what the Koenig was doing, that they were refusing to leave the shield perimeter, and the Batarian pirate captain recognized this gave their ship a mobility advantage. They could hit and run.

Unfortunately for them, though, Sherlily was a really good shot.

Just as the Batarian ship moved to break away, she fired another salvo of torpedoes and barrage from the cannons. Apley banked to avoid leaving the shield perimeter, turning around enough in the process so Sherlily could open up with the aft torpedoes.

By the time the last two torpedoes were flying in, the first had already slammed into the weakened shields of the Batarian ship. One had gone clean through and slammed into the engine assembly in the rear. The ensuing explosion was joined by a clear slowing of the ship.

Then the last two torpedoes hit and this ship, like those before it, was blown apart.

It might have been a moment to celebrate. It wasn't however, as another plasma bolt slammed into the Koenig. Magda immediately reacted. "Shields down to thirty-five percent. We're getting bleedthrough damage."

"Koenig to strike team, it'd be nice if you got those defensive systems under control." Zack felt another jostle shake the deck.

"Shields down to thirty percent. We have damage to the port warp nacelle, an active plasma leak. Safety systems are cutting off the warp plasma flow. Warp drive is offline."

"Engineering here. I'm on it," Barnes said.

"I'm losing power in the port impulsor engine," Apley said. "We're going to start taking hits."

"Engineering…"




Zack's open-ended remark wasn't lost on Barnes, who was already moving toward the exit to take on the warp nacelle repair himself. "Dammit," he groused. "Poniatowski, Tali, what's up with the engine?"

"Coolant systems are still intact," Tali said. She glanced his way and on toward the MCD. "It looks like the housing took a stress crack from that last hit."

"Dammit," Barnes said. "Okay, I'm going to get to the warp nacelle and do what I can do. Poniatowski…"

"I'm not certified for engine repair," she reminded him. "I'm a reactor specialist."

"Yeah, but I…"

"I'll do it," Tali said. The two points of light in her helmet focused on him. "I've repaired sublight engines before. Your engines aren't that different from our own, mechanically speaking."

Barnes' first inclination was to reject Tali's offer. But he stopped himself. He needed all the other repair teams where they were. "Alright," he said. "Just be careful. With the engines in operation, you can't go into the interior housing space. The vibrations can become lethal."

The ship shook hard yet again. "I'll be careful," Tali promised.

"Good luck, kid." Barnes turned and left. Tali was right behind him.




The status updates from the Koenig had Kane concerned. The ship was taking a battering, and they still didn't have control of the station defensive systems. He looked with concern to Shepard. "This Alenko kid, he can do this, right?"

"His service record says he can," Shepard said. "I just met him, though, so I can't say if he's as good as some of your people."

"Well, you can't put someone up against Jarod and have it be fair," Kane said. "But God, I wish we had him…"

"Our shields are down to twenty-eight percent," Zack's voice warned over the comms. "And we've sustained engine damage. We need those guns down now."

"I'm almost through this," Alenko insisted.

"Recommend we fight our way to the reactors," Lidiks said to Nisia. "That may give the Koenig time to repair, if they survive that long."

"And if they don't, it lets us take down this base…"

Kane didn't hear Nisia's sentence end. Gunfire erupted in the hall he was responsible for. Popodoulos and Jenkins were pouring automatic fire down to the end of the corridor, where a T-shaped junction gave them the advantage of a chokepoint. Several armed Batarians went down, driving the rest of their comrades back to cover. Shepard concentrated and sent a pulsing wave of biotic power down the length of the corridor. Cries told them that her shockwave had caught at least a couple of Batarians.

"Any time, Lieutenant," Nisia said firmly, but without hostility, to Alenko.

"Just one layer of protections left… there!" Alenko punched a key on the board in front of him. "I've just shut down their automated weapons."

"Koenig here. All fire has ceased and the station's shields are down. Thanks. We're preparing to beam more teams over to assist you."

"That may not be necessary." Alenko continued working. "I'm setting off counter-intrusion defenses. It's sealing every bulkhead in the station, cutting it off section by section. I can even distribute sedative gas throughout the station."

"Do it," Nisia ordered. "Cut us off first."

Alenko keyed the command. Kane looked back to the end of the corridor, where a solid bulkhead slid into place at the bottom of the T-junction.

"Commander B'Rani." Lidiks looked over from his station. "I have discovered the purpose of the living area at the top of the base." He keyed something on his omnitool.

The main holographic viewer of the command station activated to show a live camera feed. A feed depicting cells, and within the cells were figures. Figures in sometimes tattered clothing, looking weak and exhausted, and almost all were not Batarian.

"Slaves," Nisia murmured.

"I am cross-checking their records. Yes. It appears sentient-trafficking is among the black market trade the Batarians are engaging in."

"Which species is that?" Alenko asked. "It looks like a… a cat-human?"

"That's a Mi'qote," Kane said, having directed his attention to the screen. "N2S7."

"I can confirm this," Lidiks said. "There are approximately four Orion males, three Caitians, four Mi'qotes, a dozen Humans, an Asari… Sixty beings in all used for labor in the mine. They appear to have been implanted with control devices."

"Slaving bastards," Kane growled. "We need to get them out of here and blow this place to hell."

"General Victus, Commander Carrey, did you get this?" Nisia asked. "If you send over teams, you should direct them to the cells first."

"We read you, Commander B'Rani," Victus said. "I will arrange for…"

"General, we're going to need to evac." Kane could hear tension in Zack's voice.

And it didn't take a genius to figure out what would cause that. It was no surprise when Alenko brought up the sensor screen for the facility. "We've got a bogey coming in. And it's a big one."

"It's always something, isn't it?" Shepard asked Kane.

"Murphy loves to kick us just when we think we’ve won," he agreed.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-19 01:57am

Zack was looking at the same incoming contact on the holo-viewscreen. "Magda, how did we miss that?" he asked her.

"For the same reason we nearly missed the base," she said. "The reason we would have missed it if I didn't have telemetry from its transmissions. This ice giant and the one we were over before both have abnormally strong EM fields. Combined with the mass shadows, it's hard to use sensors here. Both ways."

"So we didn't see them, but they don't see us?"

"Not yet." Magda was still working on her console. "ETA is four minutes at their current speed, Warp 7.5. Given the fluctuations in their warp field, I'd guess they're pushing their drive as fast as they can."

"Even if they don't see us, they must know someone's here," Sherlily pointed out. "And we can't cloak."

"And we have no warp power." Zack took only a moment to make his decision. He tapped the button on his chair. "Transporter Station, Commander B'Rani, we're going to beam the prisoners off and then your teams. B'Rani, can you relay exact coordinates to the transporters?"

"We are doing so now."

"What about the station?" Victus asked. "We should destroy it while we have the chance."

"As soon as we get our people back, we can beam over charges to their reactors," Zack answered.

Magda turned her chair to look at him. "That's easier said than done. Unless we have people on the spot planting charges, we can't be sure we're taking their reactors down unless we use torpedoes."

"Then that's what we'll use." Zack turned his chair partially and looked to Sherlily. "April, what's our torpedo loadout look like?"

"We've still got twelve torpedoes plus the ones on standby in the launchers."

Magda looked over the sensor data. "They've got ten distributed reactor housings. Although if we're using torpedoes, I'm going to recommend a distributed spread to key structural points. Knocking out reactors is one thing, but if we're doing this, we might as well just gut the station."

"Sounds good to me," Zack said. "Status of transports?"

"We've already beamed off two groups from the slave pens," Magda said. "Doctor Opani and her nurses are dealing with them now."

"I'm sending our medics to assist," added Victus.

From the other channel, Nisia spoke again. "We are uploading all the data we can from this facility to your computers. The intelligence could be crucial."

"We're receiving," Magda confirmed. She checked her sensors. "And that ship is now ninety seconds out."

Zack keyed the comms again. "Bridge to Barnes. Status on our warp drive?"

"I need another few minutes to finish sealing this break and to shift plasma back into the nacelle."

"We're going to be facing a big, angry pirate cruiser in a minute, Tom. Tell me we have our impulse drives back to full."

"I've got someone on that, give me a moment."



Tali didn't hear that query from Zack. She was busy finishing her work on the exterior of the port impulsor drive housing. The drive was built in a position straddling the second and third deck, with Deck 3 being the main access to the impulsor housing area. The space was dominated by the gunmetal gray of the housing chamber. LCAR hardlight displays provided remote access to the systems from the safety of the exterior. Tali was familiar enough with sublight drives to know the interior wasn't so safe; as soon as the impulsors were kicked in, their operation would generate vibrations that would cause physical pain and eventual damage to anyone inside.

This is why she made a frustrated noise and curse. She tapped her omnitool control and used it to access the Koenig's internal comms. Before she could call Barnes, his voice came from her tool. "Barnes to Tali'Zorah."

"The crack is in the interior of the housing, I have to go in."

"You can't," he said. "We've got a hostile ship coming down on us in seconds. The helm will be using everything they can from the drive. The vibrations…"

"You and I both know they'll need the drive at full capacity," she retorted. "Unless you've got the warp drive fixed?"

"We're still a few minutes from that." After a moment he added, "Alright, I'm on my way."

"You won't get here in time." Tali was already accessing the control for the access hatch with the fingers on her free hand. "I've got it."

"Tali, it's…"

"It's what has to be done," she said, even as the access hatch opened. "You made me an engineer on this ship and assigned me to this repair. I'll get it done."

His complaint was garbled, likely from frustration, while Tali climbed through the hatch into the interior of the housing. She was now in a space between the housing structure proper and the impulsor drive itself, with its fusion-driven electro-plasma propulsion. The space had been built specifically for this kind of repair and maintenance, but the nature of the technology meant it could only be safely accessed when the drives were disengaged.

Tali tapped at her omnitool for a moment. She was carrying a personal kinetic barrier, standard for Quarians who were scouting for the fleet, and tweaked it to try and minimize the effects of the vibrations when they came. Then she turned her attention to the fault she'd scanned, a hairline crack that would keep the drive from operating at full capacity until it was mended. Tali detached the repair kit from her belt and began applying the patch within to the crack. Her omnitool whirred and sparked color as it attached said patch, sealing part of the crack off.

That was when the vibrations hit.




"Ten seconds." Magda read off the ETA of the cruiser. "Last transport off the station confirmed."

"Beam over the torpedoes, now."

Nobody on the Koenig bridge could actually see the torpedoes being transported from the loading rooms for their launchers. The armory crew had armed them as ordered and set the remote detonation, backed by a timed charge of a minute to ensure they went off. As the seconds passed they rematerialized on the station.

Zack, for a moment, considered that most of the Batarians on that station were unconscious. Helpless. He was, in a sense, executing them just as he had the crew of the ship they'd destroyed.

But there was no time to entertain that thought. "Detonate when I give the order," he ordered Sherlily.

"Last torpedo is in position now.."

"Enemy ship coming out of warp."

Apley already had the Koenig coasting away under thruster power. Now he engaged the impulse drive as the Batarian cruiser they'd seen before came out off warp near the base. There was nearly no delay before they opened fire. Missiles and a steady barrage of yellow light and green energy bolts crossed the space toward the Koenig.

Apley did what evading he could, and a number of shots missed. But with her sublight drives partly hobbled Koenig couldn't evade them all. The ship began shuddering again. "Shields down to thirty percent," Magda said.

"Apley, put the base between us and that cruiser, please," Zack said.

"They're already moving to a parallel point, we won't have much cover."

"It'll have to do. Sherlily, standby to detonate."

"Aye sir."

Zack watched as the fire coming at them slackened off as they came to the side of the station, as if assuming an orbit around the station and over the moon it was tethered too. Apley kept them moving while the cruiser kept coming at them, rounding the station. Zack kept his eyes on the holo-tacmap beside him. The moon dominated the view, his ship steadily slipping away from it and the enemy ship toward it. "Yeah," he murmured. "Slip between the moon and the station. Take the direct route so you can shoot at us. Sherlily, prepare to detonate..." Zack checked the display. "...torpedoes three, five, seven, nine, and ten."

"If we detonate them separately, we might leave the station intact," Magda warned.

"I figured that. But I've got my reasons. Steady…"



Tali's trick with her kinetic barrier had worked, up to a point. But her head was starting to swim as the vibrations interfered with her equilibrium. No, she thought. I have to finish this! She focused her attention entirely on the second patch. Another second of work and it was finished. Only one small part of the crack remained.

Her stomach was twisting, feeling nauseous and sick. Her body was wobbling. It took everything Tali had to push the third and final patch up and begin welding it into place.

But she persisted. She had to.




Half a deck away, Tom Barnes looked on in triumph as the final plasma seal was fitted. He immediately pulled his omnitool back and grabbed the access ladder with one hand, then the other. It took him a second to lift himself out of the plasma feed line that had been damaged by the earlier hits. Once he had the patch secure, he looked to the crewwoman nearby. "Rosenbaum, hit it!"

The young woman nodded and pressed the appropriate key. "Plasma feed engaged. The nacelle is being re-energized." Her accent was distinctly New Yorker, with a touch of Yiddish in it. "The estimate before full restoration of power is three minutes."

"Right." Barnes immediately turned and began to run. "Keep an eye on it and call me or Engineering if anything happens!"

"Sir?" Rosenbaum looked his way with confusion. "Where are you going?"

"To save Tali!" he cried back as he disappeared from the chamber.



On the bridge Zack watched his monitor carefully. He paid no heed to the activities of the others, or even to the arrival of Victus and the strike team commanders to the bridge. "Standby," he said again.

"They're acquiring again, our respective angles are exposing their bow weapons to us." A moment later the ship shook from another impact. "Shields now at twenty-four percent. We're losing cohesion."

"Standby." Zack kept an eye. The angle was so close, but it wasn't just right. Closer… closer…

As the ship shook again, even before Magda updated the shield effectiveness level to twenty-two percent, Zack saw just what he wanted. Or as close to it as he was likely to get. "Mark!" he called out.

Sherlily's finger stabbed at a key on her board.

Five explosions gutted parts of the Batarian station. Four explosions were in the side facing the Koenig. One was at the base of the station.

The last explosion had its intended effect. It not only wrecked the lift that connected the station to the moon, it literally broke the tether from the main body of the station, freeing it from its connection to the moon below. Freeing it to be driven by its own velocity.

Velocity that the other explosions had now changed.

Zack watched with satisfaction as the Batarian station, or rather what was left of it, began to fly right at the enemy cruiser.

"It's not going to make impact," Apley predicted. "They've got too much space left, too much time…"

Zack nodded wordlessly while watching the result. The enemy cruiser began an emergency maneuver to lift itself, in relation to the moon, and avoid the station. The space was small. For a brief moment he thought maybe they'd fail, maybe the station would actually hit, but it was certain it wouldn't after another moment passed.

"It's not going to hit," Victus said.

"It wasn't supposed to," Zack replied. "April, on my mark, detonate the remaining torpedoes."

"Ready, sir," she answered immediately, while Zack watched the station and enemy ship move much as he hoped they would.




Tali thought she would throw up in her suit. Her stomach was twisted into a knot. Her head was spinning from vicious vertigo that made it nearly impossible to focus. She was fighting to keep her omnitool on point, welding the final patch into place.

Almost there… almost

She almost missed that she was done. Tali's omnitool confirmed the patch was fully in place. Her work was done. She began to walk back toward the access hatch.

Or rather, she tried to. It became more of a stumble. After a couple of steps she fell down. Unable to stand again, she began crawling toward it.

But the vibrations were growing worse. Tali couldn't concentrate, she couldn't focus.

Her crawling slowed to a stop, barely a meter from the hatch.




On the bridge, Zack's cry of "Mark!" filled the air.

Again Sherlily's finger hit the detonation key. Again, naqia-enhanced explosives blew apart the enemy station.

It wasn't just those explosives of course. They were placed to cause maximum damage to the Batarian station, and that included the fuel bunkers and reactors that generated the plasma used in the station's weapons and power systems. Violently freed from their confines, some of this material added to the carnage. Things that could go boom did, in fact, go boom. One of the reactors even went up, its safety control regulators undone by the blast of a nearby torpedo.

And the explosion happened only meters from the Batarian cruiser.

The cruiser had decent shields, at least in raw power. But they had other flaws, and the proximity of detonations, the amount of raw energy released by the torpedoes and the concurrent secondary explosions, undermined the cruiser's shields. They failed to stop all of the force directed by the destruction of the station, with visible results from debris and energy striking and damaging their hull. Energy erupted from the cruiser's port nacelle when a large chunk of debris struck it.

"The enemy cruiser's shields have failed. I'm detecting multiple hull breaches. Their port nacelle has been wrecked completely." Magda continued looking over the readings her sensors could find now that the energy of the blasts was dissipating. "It looks like they might have power failures too."

"Ap, get us out of here, best sublight speed. Go to warp the moment we've got warp power restored."

"Aye sir," Apley responded. "I've got full impulse power back, taking us out."

The Koenig turned away from the broken remnants of the space station and the damaged pirate cruiser.




Tali groaned in pain and tried to move. She could see the hatch, roughly, but the world kept spinning. Her head felt like it would roll from her shoulders. She couldn't move.

She thought about what it would be like to give up. To just lay here and let it go. But as the thought came to her, another thought joined it. The thought of her father's disappointment in her. She hadn't even gone on Pilgrimage yet, how could she just lay down and die? Die without doing something for her people?

She couldn't.

Tali tried to move again. For a moment, it felt like she couldn't.

Then the hatch flew open. She watched Barnes climb in partially. He reached out to her. "Take my hand!"

She reached out, her hand seeking his while the world seemed to spin around them. But it wasn't enough, just wasn't enough…

Just a bit more.

They clasped hands. Tali scrambled to help Barnes move her weight, but it was mostly his effort that pulled her from the drive housing. Once they were out Barnes slammed a button and the hatch automatically shut.

Tali's head was still spinning even as the vibrations ceased. "Keep it steady," she heard Barnes say. "It's no fun dealing with that. If your inner ears work like ours do, it's going to take a bit for your balance to get back to normal. Just sit here and give it a moment…"

"Thank you," Tali muttered. "I don't think I could have gotten out on my own."

"I know." He held her steady against the wall. "Just relax."

After another several seconds Tali felt her head start to clear. She wasn't as queasy. She turned her head to face Barnes. "It worked?"

"Yeah. They're burning away at full impulse. Any minute the plasma in the nacelle should be back to normal and we'll be warping away." Barnes remained quiet for a moment. "I'd like to say I'm sorry. Again."

"What for?"

"Because I didn't treat you like you deserved. Pilgrimage or no, you're an engineer, and a damned good one. You saved this ship."

"I think we all did." Despite saying that, Tali couldn't quite hide her appreciation of his apology and recognition of her capabilities. "My father thinks I still have much to learn."

"Hell, don't we all." Barnes chuckled. He extended a hand. "Thanks again, Tali."

"And to you, Lieutenant."

"No need to be formal." Barnes was grinning at her. "My name's Tom."

"Tom," she said, and if not for her face plate, Barnes would have seen her smile.




Zack wasn't satisfied until he felt the deck thrum ever so slightly, meaning his over-engined little gut-puncher of a starship was jumping to warp speed. A moment later Apley confirmed this by saying, "We're now at Warp 5.9, on course for the nearest relay."

"So we did it," Zack sighed. "We pulled it off." After a moment he grinned. "Great job, everyone. That was nothing short of a Grand Slam."

"And that would be?" asked Nisia.

"Hitting a home run with bases loaded," he clarified. Turning and seeing the Asari Commando was still uncertain, he added, "It's from baseball. A Human sport."

"Ah. I see."

"Do we have anything more from that data we took?" Zack asked.

"I've got Alenko looking over it down in the conference room," Shepard said. She was grinning. "It's about the only place on the ship that's not standing room only right now."

"Magda, why don't you join him?" Zack said. "Technical Officer Walden can take over."

"Yes sir," Magda said. She started to stand.

"I wish to look through the data myself," Lidiks remarked. "It has the potential to…-"

Before he could finish, a comm tone indicated someone was hailing the bridge. "Alenko to Bridge."

Zack nodded to Shepard, indicating she should respond. She nodded back and said, "Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"I've found data on what the pirates are up to. It explains why so many of their ships are gone from the area, and it's not good news."

"They're about to launch an attack, I'm betting," Zack said. "What's their target? Elysium? Mindoir? Adrana? New Circassia?"

"It's not a planet. They're after a ship. Your ship."

Zack almost asked what he meant, but he put it together as his mouth opened and felt a wave of horror. "You mean they're…"

"They're going after the Aurora," Alenko said.

"Get that out on IU comms, subspace, anything. Now," Zack demanded. He felt his heart pound.

The pirates were after his friends. And there was no way he could get there in time to help.

All he could do was hope that the warnings he had already sent had them ready for a fight.




Robert found Julia and the rest of the senior officers on the bridge when he arrived with Onaram. "Anything new?" he asked.

"Still no signal from the Batarian dreadnought about if Minister am Rimhar is coming back over," Julia said. She changed seats to give Robert his command seat. Onaram took the VIP seat beside him.

"That is highly suspicious," Onaram said. "Get me Matriarch Benezia, please."

Robert nodded to Jarod. He keyed the ship-to-ship communications and moments later Benezia appeared on the holo-viewscreen. "Madame Matriarch, something suspicious is going on with the Batarian delegation," Onaram said, his tone stoic and succinct. "And you should have received an update by now on the signal on an unknown pirate attack. These may be related."

"My security advisor agrees. It is clear that the Hegemony is not negotiating with the Alliance in good faith. For that purpose, we are intending to return to Council Space."

"I would feel better if you let us escort you, Madame Matriarch," Robert said. "As I recall the relay network, this relay will not take you back in one hop. You'll still be in the Traverse, and vulnerable, if you go through."

Benezia considered that for a moment before nodding and smiling. "Very well," she said. "I formally request that you escort us back through the relay."

"We'll be going through the relay shortly. Dale out." Robert said nothing more, prompting Jarod to cut the line. He couldn't keep a frown from forming on his face.

Julia noticed it. "What's wrong?"

"There's just something off about this whole situation," Robert said. "Like there's something more than just…"

He was interrupted by Caterina, currently at her station. "I'm picking up a subspace spike from the Mass Relay. Something's coming through."

"Code Red," Robert said immediately. He wasn't taking chances. "On screen."

The screen shifted to show the nearby Mass Relay. Vessels began to appear around it. Brown and red in coloring, and a unique set of designs that were nevertheless familiar enough that an identification was quickly made by Jarod. "They're matching Batarian profiles, but with several changes."

"Yeah, the power signatures are entirely different," Cat added from her station. "They're raising shields, and I'm detecting what looks like energy weapons."

Jarod quickly checked something. "And it's all consistent with what the Koenig signaled."

"I don't suppose we should hail them?" Julia asked.

Even as she said so, the viewscreen showed the Batarian dreadnought that brought their negotiating team suddenly zip away. "They've gone to FTL."

"They don't want to be present for the fight. Plausible deniability." Robert was frowning. "This whole negotiation was a setup."

"It looks like they're launching breaching pods," Angel warned.

"They don't look like that much of a threat," Julia said. "They have to know we can still beat…"

Before she finished the sentence the lights on the bridge all died. "We've just lost main power," Jarod said.

"Weapons and shields aren't responding," Angel added.

Locarno was working on his station, to no avail. "I've got no helm control."

"Sabotage," Julia said. "They must have snuck something on board. Security missed something."

"It looks like several sophisticated AI programs were loaded into our control systems, they've locked us out." A light appeared on Jarod's board. "Incoming hail."

A guttural voice sounded over the speakers. "Aurora crew, we have come to claim your vessel. If you surrender peacefully, you will be allowed to abandon your vessel and your escape craft will not be harmed. Resist our forces and we will make slaves of any who survive."

"If Batarians had a mustache, I bet he would be twirling it," Robert muttered. He tapped the key on his chair to reply, "Not happening. Come anywhere near my ship and we're blowing you right to hell."

After a moment the reply was, "Remember that we were going to be merciful."

"The breaching pods are moving forward." Jarod shook his head. "There's a lot for a force of ships that size."

"With what sensors we've still got, it looks like there's at least five hundred boarders," Cat said. "I can't make out some of the life signs though."

"Alert Security and our remaining Marines to standby to resist boarding parties." Robert looked quietly to Jarod. "Anything else?"

"Definitely a control lockout," Jarod said.

"Scott t' Bridge. Everything's as bad as you can expect down here."

"Right." Robert looked back to the viewer. Backup power ensured it would remain on even with main power locked out. The breaching pods were nearly to them. "Jarod… now."

"Infected computer cores isolated," Jarod said. "Re-initializing systems from backups."

Within moments the main bridge lights turned back on. "Restoring shields and readying weapons," Angel said.

It was clear on the screen that the Batarians hadn't seen that coming. The closest breaching pods were so far ahead, in fact, that they had no chance to avoid slamming right into the now-restored shields. Flickers of blue illuminated the shield perimeter of the Aurora where the pods smashed against the shields. And the pods lost. The lead ones were crushed completely by their own velocity's reactive force to being suddenly stopped by the deflectors. Those pods further back that couldn't turn in time weren't crushed, but were certainly damaged, while the pods behind them did evade in time.

Not that it did them any good. Angel opened up with the Aurora's bow weapons. Her targets were the ships they had launched from, but any pod in the way was destroyed, even outright vaporized, by the powerful bursts of amber and sapphire light from the bow-facing cannons and pulse cannon emplacements.

The Aurora bridge crew watched one of the enemy destroyers blow apart under the barrage of the main weapons. Solar torpedoes and more phaser fire drained the shields from one of the cruiser-sized enemy ships. A second burst of fire from the pulse plasma cannons finished the cruiser's shields off and tore the vessel's bow off.

"The fighters are launching," Julia said, and the tactical screen reflected that, as several dozen starfighters came from the launch tubes built into the drive hull. The Mongoose-model starfighters turned and burned toward the remaining breaching pods, who were helpless against them. While four of the fighters broke off to finish the pods off, the others pushed on toward the enemy ships.

Enemy fire was coming against them now, thick and heavy, and the Aurora's shields endured it. "Shields down to ninety-one percent," Jarod said. "Reinforcing forward shields."

Angel, meanwhile, continued to focus on the damaged cruiser, turning it into a broken hulk with another barrage. A second cruiser coming up toward their port side gained her attention next, with multiple beams and bursts of phaser fire draining its shields down. The bow weapons fired again, the sapphire bolts of the pulse plasma cannons tearing apart one of the lighter pirate ships despite its shields being at full. Two spreads of solar torpedoes found the third cruiser-sized ship and pummelled the shields down enough that phaser beams started cutting into its hull.

The Mongoose fighters finished closing the distance, and a storm of missiles and torpedoes struck at the small and big ships respectively. The third cruiser lost a warp nacelle to Commander Laurent's fighters while the second cruiser, still on the Aurora's port side, had its hull opened up by a fierce barrage from the phaser emplacements.

Robert watched this. They were still outnumbered twelve to one, even with the losses they'd inflicted on the enemy, and that was always worrying. But when the Batarians began to react with organization, it wasn't to focus or coordinate their attacks. They started breaking away in formation. One by one, they jumped to warp speed.

"They're moving away from us at Warp 5," Jarod said. He turned in his chair. "We could intercept them if we wanted."

Robert thought of that. But he shook his head. "There's still enough of them in numbers to worry me," he said. "So I'm letting them go. Julia, recall fighters, at least all but a flight. We're going to send them through the Relay first to see if there's an ambush waiting for us. As soon as they confirm we're clear, we're heading back."

"While our fighters confirm it's safe, I'll have transporters beam aboard any Batarian survivors," Julia said. "And some samples from their ships."

"In the meantime, I'm going to get to work with Security," Jarod added. "That cyber-attack was a lot more effective than it should have been. If we hadn't been ready, it really would have crippled us for hours."

"Jupap, please assume Ops." Robert nodded to Jarod as he stood to give his station over to the Alakin lieutenant, currently moving in from the Communications station on the starboard wall of the bridge. He looked to Jarod and said, "Report whatever you find immediately, please."

Jarod gave him a nod as an answer before walking to the lift.




Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 14 August 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Koenig has rendezvoused with us at the Richards-Phi Relay at the edge of the Skyllian Verge. I'm relieved to learn that Commander Carrey and his crew came out of their unexpected operation with no major casualties. The sixty plus people they rescued from Batarian slavery are having the slave control hardware removed surgically by Doctor Gillam and his staff. It will take time for them to recover from their ordeal, though. Seeing them reminds me of the evil that slavery represents, and why we have fought so long and hard to suppress that evil.

Matriarch Benezia departed as soon as we arrived in the Verge. She has already informed the Citadel of the Batarian plot. I've yet to learn what the Hegemony's response is.

There are still unanswered questions. Jarod has yet to find the device or method used to attempt the takeover of our computers. Until we know what's happened, I can't rest easy.





A chirp at his ready office's door caused Robert to lift his head. "Come in," he said.

When Zack entered, he was accompanied by General Victus. He handed Robert a digital pad. "My final report on our operation," he said. "For your review."

"Thank you." Robert smiled and nodded, accepting the digital reader and setting it on his desk. "I'm looking forward to reading it. From what I've already heard, you did something amazing."

"My crew did, they made it all possible," Zack said. He looked to Victus. "As did our special forces teams. We wouldn't have gotten that data if not for them."

Robert nodded and turned his attention to Victus. "General, it's good to see you again."

"The same, Captain. I would like to add my own report to your Defense Command." Victus handed a second digital pad over, loaded with a report in Turian script. "I have already informed Palaven and the Citadel Council of what occurred, but I wanted to give that to you personally for delivery to Admiral Maran."

"I'll see he gets it."

"And I will see that Commander Carrey and his crew get the commendation they deserve for their conduct," Victus added. "From both your Alliance and the Hierarchy."

"Thank you, General," Zack said to Victus.

"I'll have an officer show you to your quarters, sir," Robert added. "We're scheduled to meet up with the Milesar after our next relay jump."

"Thank you, Captain."

After Robert saw to that and Victus left, he looked back to Zack. "Well, it looks like you had a more eventful training mission than was planned."

"Yeah. And it looks like your diplomatic summit didn't go anywhere." Zack stood from his chair. "I'm just glad you're okay."

"I could tell something was up with the Batarians," Robert said. "Once we got your warning about an attack somewhere, I decided we should be ready. Jarod had the idea of preparing isolated control system backups in case they got into our systems." He frowned. "I'm a little concerned with just how effective that was, though."

"Yeah. The Batarians had a lot of new tech, but nothing like that."

Robert looked down at the digital reader on his desk with Zack's final report. He picked it up and looked to Zack. "Well, since you're back here and I'm sure you're up for some real food, how about you tell me all about it in the Lookout?"

"Sure." Zack nodded.




Julia was already in the Lookout having a meal. "So the Batarians have been buying up new tech." Lucy was speaking from across the table. She put her spoon into a bowl of steaming sausage stew. "It's going to make our jobs harder." She took a bite after speaking.

Julia nodded. "Especially with the peace overture being fake."

Lucy finished swallowing so she could reply, "I wonder how the Hegemony's going to get away with this one."

"I'm sure Minister am Rimhar will have some excuse. Or they'll throw him under the bus as a 'renegade'." Julia sighed. "It's probably for the best anyway. Fighting both the Batarians and the Nazis would be a stretch."

"Yeah. Slaving bastards that they are."

They both took bites from their respective bowls and were still chewing when a third figure came up. "Are any of these seats taken?" asked Commander Shepard.

Julia shook her head. After swallowing she said, "Feel free."

Shepard nodded and sat with a tray carrying the day's lunch/early dinner items; corned beef, potatoes, steamed asparagus, and Hargert's much-beloved sausage stew. "I couldn't visit the Aurora and not treat myself to a meal," Shepard explained.

"Your ride should be waiting when we go through the next relay," Julia remarked.

"I know. That's why I'm enjoying this now." Shepard grinned before taking another bite. "This is so unfair," she said once she swallowed. "We don't get anything like this."

"Well, there can only be one Hargert," Lucy remarked.

"So, how has everyone been?"

"Well, we've had some things happen. A few things have happened," Julia said.

"Cat's a lesbian and has a girlfriend now, Jarod got kidnapped and Julia rescued him with a bunch of mercenaries or something, Rob and Angel broke up, Meridina quit the Order because they're a bunch of pricks, and I had to fight for my life with a three thousand year old laser sword," Lucy said in rapid order. "I think that about covers it."

"You forgot Robert having a fight to the death with an eight foot tall genetically-engineered hulk-man," Julia corrected. She frowned. "And Fassbinder being alive."

"Fassbinder." Shepard's brow furrowed. "Wait, you mean that SS commander I shot through a window?"

"That's the one," Lucy said. "He's still alive."

"Damn." Shepard shook her head.

"Oh, and one last bit." Lucy smirked mischievously and nodded her head at Julia. "Julia's been offered a promotion and a ship of her own. Maran wants to make her Captain of the new Enterprise, a ship based off the Aurora."

Julia blushed slightly. Shepard looked to her and grinned. "Well, congratulations," she said. "Tell me you said yes."

"I haven't completely confirmed it yet," Julia answered, giving Lucy a dirty look. Lucy, being Lucy, responded by sticking her tongue out.

"Well, with the influences of the other species in your Alliance, maybe it's different for you, but for us, the military is very much 'up or out'," Shepard said. "Someone who doesn't accept promotions stops getting the offers, and eventually they get retired to make room for younger personnel at their rank."

"I've heard of that," Julia said. "I think the Alakins and some of the Dorei are like that too. But the Gersallians are big on merit. There's no shame in refusing a promotion you don't think you're ready for, and there's nothing wrong with someone relatively young getting higher ranks if they've proven they can hold them."

"The Turians are supposed to be like that, and the onus of a bad promotion lies on the one giving the promotion, not the one who got it."

"I guess I can see that." Julia set her spoon down. Her face reflected the struggle in her thoughts. "I want to be a captain," she said. "And I want the Enterprise. But I'm worried about what it'll do to this crew."

"Fair enough," Shepard said.

"And what about you?" Lucy asked. "I figured you'd be off commanding special forces at the front or something, blasting Nazis with biotics."

Shepard smirked at that. "Oh, that was possible for a while. And I did a few operations with Citadel forces in S4W8. But I'll be going back to Earth soon. Captain Anderson's asked me to be his XO on his new ship."

"Oh? So he's getting a new cruiser?" asked Julia.

"No. Apparently it's some new experimental frigate we designed with the Turians. And with some new technology from your people as well." Shepard took a drink. "They're naming her the Normandy."

"And you're going to be his XO? Congratulations."

"I'm still not sure I want a command like that," Shepard said. "I'm a Marine, not a ship commander. But if that's where they need me, that's where I'll go."

"And we wish you the best of luck, Commander Shepard," Julia said.




It was late in the day when Robert returned to his ready office for a last check of the day's paperwork and reports. They had already offloaded Victus, Shepard, and the others - including the recovered captives - to the Turian heavy cruiser Milesar and were soon to make their last rendezvous before leaving M4P2.

A tone caused Robert to look to his screen. The computer had finally finished his search request. He opened the results and stared.

The Turian that had been with Matriarch Benezia had caused Robert's feelings to become uneasy. Not just from his open disdain for Humans, but… there was something to him, a darkness Robert couldn't place. And something familiar about his face, his eyes…

But what really got Robert's attention was the attached data with the file.

The door chime went off. Robert looked up and said "Come in".

Julia entered. "I just wanted to let you know we're almost there. Nick says we'll be dropping out of warp in a couple of minutes." She noticed the look on his face. "What is it?"

"Just… something. An itch in my mind about that Turian with Benezia."

"The jerk?" Julia crossed her arms. "What about him? He never gave his name."

"I'm not surprised." Robert turned the screen around on his desk to face Julia. She leaned over and read it. "Not now," he added.

"Holy Christ," Julia gasped. "He's a freaking Spectre?"

"Saren Arterius," Robert said, remembering the name on the screen. "One of the longest serving Spectres still in active service."

"What is a Citadel Council black ops agent doing babysitting an Asari Matriarch?" Julia asked. "That sounds like overkill."

"Who knows?" Robert's expression darkened. "There's no telling what he's up to. The Citadel gives them complete freedom on what they do so long as they get results in accomplishing their missions. That is, they can do anything they want. They can kill, steal, manipulate, intimidate, even terrorize, if it accomplishes their mission."

Julia frowned at that. "So much for the Citadel's rhetoric about interstellar law. We may have been stateless, but we had lines we never crossed."

"Yeah…" Robert shut the screen off. "I can't help but feel I've seen Saren Arterius before, though. That's what has me so weirded out about…"

Before he could finish the thought, Jupap's voice chirped over the comm line. "Captain, we've dropped out of warp.. They're opening a channel."

"Pipe it in here," Robert ordered. His screen activated to show his caller. "This is Captain Dale, Starship Aurora."

"I have heard of you," was the response, in an accent of some sort. "I am Admiral Rael'Zorah vas Rayya. I've come to pick up my daughter from your ship."




Tag


Barnes and Zack accompanied Tali to the Briefing Room where Robert, Julia, and Secretary Onaram were meeting with three of the Quarian admirals. Once she stepped in, Tali was quick to call out, "Father!" and then "Auntie Raan!"

Shala'Raan vas Tonbay walked up and embraced her. "Ah, it is good to see you are okay, Tali. When we lost contact with your ship, I feared the worst. How is Kon'Fanim?"

"Their physicians have stabilized his infection. He woke up last night and already wants to go home."

"Admirals, this is Commander Zachary Carrey and Lieutenant Thomas Barnes, they are the Commanding Officer and Chief Engineer of the Koenig," Robert said. "Commander, Lieutenant, these are Admirals Shala'Raan, Rael'Zorah, and Daro'Xen, of the Quarian Admiralty Board."

"You are the ones who rescued Tali." Rael approached Zack and Barnes. "You have my thanks. I hope she was of service to you during her time on your ship."

"Oh, she certainly was," Barnes said. "We might have failed if she hadn't been there." He grinned at her. "Tali's a hell of an engineer."

"I'm pleased to hear this."

Zack was already walking over to take a seat by Robert. "They didn't need three admirals to pick Tali up, did they?"

"No, they didn't." Robert looked to Onaram.

The Dorei nodded in reply. "In light of what has happened, President Morgan has decided it is time to initiate a dialogue with the Quarian Migrant Fleet."

"And we are pleased to reciprocate," Raan answered.

"Hopefully we can find your people a new homeworld," Robert said. "Either in this universe or in others."

"I appreciate the offer in the spirit in which it is given, Captain, and I understand some of my colleagues may take you up on it." Rael faced Robert now, his faceplate obscuring his face save for two glowing eyes. Robert wondered if their eyes naturally glowed like that or if it was some effect of the face plate. "But I would rather return to Rannoch, if at all possible."

"I understand," was all Robert could say to that.

"This will be a discussion for the entire Fleet. But the other matters you have referred to, Secretary Onaram, are of interest to the Admiralty Board." Rael turned to face Onaram. Tali stepped back from him as if she expected that her father had greeted her and now she was no longer of importance to the moment. Robert thought he could sense a tinge of pain from the young Quarian at how quickly her father was dismissing her. Rael seemed oblivious of any of this as he continued speaking. "The offer of sanctuary in Alliance space and mutual assistance will be brought up for consideration immediately."

"Won't the Citadel Council get upset if we sign a deal with the Quarians without informing them of it?" Julia asked Onaram.

"We will obviously keep them informed, in the spirit of our treaty with them," Onaram replied. "But the restrictions on bilateral agreements stipulate only recognized governments and the Terminus Systems. The Quarians fall under neither stipulation for the moment, as the Citadel Council no longer recognizes any Quarian state."

Zack grinned with amusement. "In other words, you're using their own dislike of the Quarians against them."

"A byproduct of the situation, nothing more," insisted Onaram. "Now, as for other particulars…"

Robert's omnitool flashed to life in part, a bright light appearing over his forearm and signifying an incoming call. "Jarod to Dale."

Robert tapped the light, opening the channel. "Dale here."

"I apologize for interrupting, but Commander Meridina and I have found something. We think it may be the device the Batarians used to sabotage the ship. We're analyzing it in Science Lab 2. I can transmit an image if you'd like to see it."

"I admit to curiosity, Captain," Onaram said.

"As do I." Admiral Daro'Xen was finally speaking. "If this technology could breach your computer security, it implies a grave security threat to our own computer systems."

"Jarod, relay the device and the data you've gathered so far to the Briefing Room displays."

"Doing so now."

A moment later the image appeared over the table; a gray, circular device with coiled wires that gave the dead device the look of a bug. The wires, and part of the body, were charred, no doubt a result of a self-immolation security measure.

"Woh, I've never seen anything like that," Barnes said.

As Robert felt the surprise fill the room, he heard Shala'Raan's disbelieving tone when she said, "Keelah. Is it actually…?"

"Admiral?" Julia turned from the image. "Do you recognize this?"

"We all do. We all should, at least," said Daro'Xen.

"Why?" asked Zack.

"Because, Commander, it is technology that originated from our people," Daro'Xen answered. "Centuries ago."

"Originated?" Robert put two and two together.

"It is Geth technology," Rael'Zorah stated. "Your ship was sabotaged with a Geth device."

Robert and the others shared an uncomfortable look. Onaram stared at the image another moment before he looked to the Quarian admirals. "I was under the impression that the Geth remained isolated behind the Perseus Veil."

"They generally do. Occasionally they depart it to scout, and it is on those occasions that their technology can be recovered by our scouts," Shala'Raan explained. "But we've never recovered something like this. This was intentionally built as a device to sabotage computer systems."

"So you don't have an idea how the Batarians got something like this?" Robert asked them.

"None, Captain," Rael'Zorah replied. "None at all."




Tahrad am Rimhar was not having a good day. His dreadnought was back at the mass relay, where the broken remains of the privateer fleet that was supposed to take over the Aurora and its crew were all that was left. On his screens the messages demonstrated the extent of their failure. Their main base was compromised, its orbital station destroyed, their slave labor stolen. Multiple ships destroyed or lost. The Aurora escaped, depriving the Hegemony of the chance to dismantle the vessel, interrogate its crew, and discover its technological secrets for the benefit of Khar'shan. Now their silent partners in the other universes were hinting that they were going to cut their ties to the Hegemony. Worst of all, it would be impossible for the Hegemony to hide his involvement, so he was likely to be outlawed and declared a rogue to provide deniability.

He stood at the rear of said dreadnought, ignoring its captain and command crew, and looked at the viewscreens. One showed the vessel that had rendezvoused with them; the other the occupants of said ship. His silent partners.

"You were supposed to cripple them, and you failed," Tahrad charged. "Do not blame this on me."

"It is obvious they were warned." On the other screen, Saren Arterius remained unflinching. Matriarch Benezia sat beside him, quiet, as if she had no input in this conversation. Tahrad wondered just how Saren had secured her support, much less her obvious acquiescence to his control. "Your forces led the Koenig right to your main facility. And your ships were supposed to ambush them on the other side of the relay."

"The operation was compromised by the Koenig's raid," Tahrad protested. "My people had to either attack or abort. Aborting would mean everything was wasted. We relied upon you to make sure the attack was successful, and you failed us! Now I am ruined!" Tahrad's rage built as he dwelled on that. "This alliance was a mistake! I should have had you shot while I had the chance, Arterius! And now…" He looked to the officers. "Target the yacht. Destroy them."

Immediately it was clear something was wrong. Tahrad should have frightened Saren entirely. His yacht couldn't escape, couldn't run, and a single hit, maybe two, would leave it crippled. He lived entirely at Tahrad's sufferance. But there was no sign of it. His ice-toned eyes reflected no fear. As if he were the one who had Tahrad at his mercy.

A tone sounded from elsewhere on the bridge. "A contact has just come out of FTL," warned the scanning officer. "Unknown configuration."

Tahrad blinked in confusion. The captain of the ship said, "What?"

On the screen a much larger ship now moved over the yacht and toward them. Tahrad stared in shock at the colossal, dreadnought-sized vessel. It was shaped like a terrible aquatic monster, four great grasping tentacles and six smaller legs to the back. One of the legs started moving toward them.

Then there was a bright light, a light that was the last thing Tahrad am Rimhar ever saw.




Saren watched quietly as the Batarian dreadnought was utterly annihilated. Only once it was gone, its crew dead, did he speak. "The operation was a failure. We may not get another chance."

"It is irrelevant," replied the mechanical voice of his ally. On his viewer, Saren watched Sovereign turn toward the yacht briefly. "Our return cannot be stopped."

"I'm still looking," Saren assured his ally. "Eventually someone will find a beacon that will lead us to the Conduit."

"Good. I am expecting great things from you, Saren. Prove your worth. Prove the worth of your species."

There was a burst of energy, and the giant living ship was gone.

Saren looked down to Benezia. She had a confused glaze over her eyes. "What… what is he talking about?"

"You'll find out."

"Saren…" She stopped, as if confused.

"This way, Matriarch." Saren helped her up and led her toward the rear compartments, where her staff and guards waited with the device Sovereign had left with him. "You are getting there. It won't be long until you understand what is at stake."

"I… yes." She nodded slowly. "I need to know what is at stake. For us to survive. For… for my daughter to survive. My Little Wing…"

Saren said nothing more.




With the return of the Koenig to the Aurora, Barnes had been hit by the usual paperwork on managing repairs now that the ship was back in "drydock". It was only on hearing what time it was that he dashed, cursing, from his place in Main Engineering (and having to run back in to grab something, much to the bemusement of Lieutenant Poniatowski). He ran back to the Aurora via the airlock and to the nearest set of deck-to-deck ladders, not bothering with a lift that might take too long to get to him.

His heart was pounding and he was nearly out of breath when he stormed into the main shuttle bay. "Wait!" he gasped.

Eyes turned toward him. Robert and Julia exchanged curious looks. Secretary Onaram said nothing. Neither did the Quarians, just now getting into their shuttle to depart from the Aurora.

Barnes sucked in a deep breath before managing, "Hey, Tali, a moment."

Rael and Shala'Raan looked to Tali, who was about to step in ahead of them. She gave them a quizzical look. Shala nodded and Tali took it as permission. She walked up to Barnes. "I was wondering if you were going to say goodbye."

"Yeah, well, I was busy with repair work, lost track of time." Barnes blushed a little. "It's like that sometimes."

"I understand."

"Anyway, yeah, uh…" Barnes brought up the hand he was keeping to his side, revealing what he was holding. "I thought I'd give you a farewell gift." He held it out to her.

Tali picked up the item by its handle and studied the other end. "An… auto-spanner?"

"Yep. Top of the line model, bought it myself. Best I've ever seen." He smiled and nodded. "I'd like you to have it."

"Well, I…" Tali looked from the tool to him. "I don't know what to say… It's a nice tool, and… but… are you sure…?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm sure," Barnes assured her. His smile was wistful. "An engineer always needs good tools, after all."

"We do." Tali looked it over for a moment. "Is that… it has an auto-adjusting head?"

"And an extender to get to those bolts that make you wonder if the designers ever had to work on their own crap."

"Oh, keelah, I know what that's like." Tali looked it over for another moment before she gently slung the auto-spanner to her belt. "Thank you, Tom. It's a wonderful gift. It's…" She started to giggle.

"Hrm?"

"It's just… it's funny," she said, stopping for the moment. "Normally something like this is brought back from a Pilgrimage to be shared with the Fleet." Tali laughed again. "But I'm not on Pilgrimage yet, so it doesn't count."

"So you don't…?"

"Oh, no, no, I… I'm sorry, I'm still bad at interacting with other people, I'm afraid I've made it sound like…" Tali stopped and considered her next words. "It is a wonderful gift. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Barnes looked up to the others. Julia and Robert were clearly trying to hide amusement. It was fairly clear that Secretary Onaram and the Quarian Admirals were quite ready to get going, though. "So, well, good luck. On your Pilgrimage. And if you decide you want to try and spend it serving with the Alliance or something… let me know. I can think of a few places that could use a damn good engineer."

There was no way for him to know the smile that appeared on Tali's face, but somehow he could sense it. "I'll keep that in mind. Good luck to you, Tom. Keelah selai."

"Yeah, Key-luh see-lie… Kee…" He stopped. "What you said."

They shared a last handshake and Tali returned to her father's side. They boarded the shuttle last. Moments later its maneuvering thrusters fired and the craft lifted from the shuttle bay floor and turned toward the now-open dock, which it flew through in a burst of speed.

Secretary Onaram was quick to leave, having other matters to attend to, but Robert and Julia stepped up to their friend. "It looks like she made an impression," Julia said brightly.

"Yeah." Barnes nodded. "She's one hell of an engineer. I should have seen it from the beginning. I was a jackass and didn't."

"Well, we love you, all the same," Julia assured him. "So, up for some real food now that you're back home?"

"I suppose, yeah." He briefly looked back to the end of the shuttle bay.

"Wondering if you'll see her again?" Robert asked.

"A bit, yeah," Barnes admitted. "I never got to introduce her to Scotty, after all. But it's a big Multiverse, so there's no telling where she'll end up when she's off on that Pilgrimage."

"True," Robert agreed. He smiled. "But somehow, I think we might see her again. The Multiverse works like that, sometimes."

"Is that your life force mumbo jumbo thing or…?"

"Eh… not really. Just a feeling." Robert's smile turned into a playful smirk. "Don't ruin the moment, Teddo."

Barnes returned a fake glare at that. "You know how I feel about that name, oh brooding one."

Julia sighed and shook her head at them, smiling. "Stop ruining the moment, you two, and let's go enjoy dinner."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-23 04:24pm

Teaser


It looked like a picturesque day. The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds, not a speck of gray or black among them. The sun was out, the air and temperature were comfortable. It was the sort of day you used for picnics and barbecues, for outdoor sports, for swimming.

But it hadn't turned out that way for the Delgado sisters.

Caterina was at the wheel of the car. And every part of her brain that remembered 21st Century roads screamed she was on the wrong side of the road. It took a conscious effort to not correct well over a decade of memories of traveling on the right side of the road in order to remain on the left.

After making a right turn, Cat suddenly faced a stationary delivery truck on the curb. The passengers behind her in the car cried out in surprise and fear just as she did. Even as she shrieked her instincts turned the wheel to the right. Their four-door car barely evaded the delivery truck.

The truck heading right for them was another story.

"Right!" Angel shouted. "Right!"

Moving right sent them up a curb and on the sidewalk, but it evaded the head-on collision that would have put a complete, and fatal, stop to them. As soon as she could Caterina veered the car back onto the road and then to the left side. "Why can't you people drive on the right side?!" she cried out in irritation, not even intending the obvious pun.

"Why can't Yanks?!" was the reply from the back seat, from someone as frightened as she was.

I shouldn't be as frightened as them, Cat thought. Sure, there's a monster after us, but I've been through scary things before!

"Everyone stay calm!" Angel insisted. Since she wasn't driving, she was busy tracking the signal they were trying to get to. "Make a left up here."

Cat did so, onto a thankfully empty road. She kept her speed up.

And then the road wasn't so empty.

The thing dropped from the sky, a giant brown-and-red-feathered albatross with a cane wrapped in its talons. The moment it hit the ground the form shifted, turning sickly green and becoming an immobile mass before it reformed into a humanoid shape, a heavy-set male in a dark suit. In the back the two passengers shrieked in surprise and horror.

There was a sinister smile on the creature's face as it drew up the cane.

Cat knew what that meant. Her mind raced, numbers flashed through her head, and so she did the only thing she calculated would work.

She slammed down on the accelerator.

The car's engine roared in reply. The vehicle accelerated. Ahead of them, energy began to form around the cane.

Everyone in the car let out an involuntary scream.

Just as the cane seemed to reach a peak energy spike, the car slammed into the being holding it. An explosion of viscous green mass covered the front of the car before sliding off and falling behind them.

"You killed it," the girl in the back gasped.

"I don't know if I did," Cat answered.

"No, you didn't," Angel said. She was looking at her omnitool's scanner function. "It's already reforming."

Cat checked her side view mirror. The green matter was flowing back toward the cane, now alone in the road. "We need to keep going," she said. "If we can get to that power source, we can call for help."

The two people in the back nodded. Angel looked back to see they were holding hands. "How are you two…? Elton and Ursula, right?"

"Right," answered Elton. His face was drawn and pale. "We're uh… well, we're…."

"...as fine as can be, I think," Ursula finished for him. Her face was just as pale, and her eyeglasses were nearly ready to fall off.

Angel nodded. "Right. So not fine at all." She turned back in her seat and checked the omnitool. "Okay, make a right up here. I think this will take us where we need to go."

They made another turn, and further down another, and soon they were away from the small shops and apartment-style buildings and in a suburban neighborhood. The sisters had seen such a few times growing up, visiting relatives in Wichita and Kansas City, although there hadn't been much in the way of such housing in the wide open grain fields of rural Kansas and the small town they had called home.

"Slow down," Angel urged, and Cat did so. Angel held up her forearm toward her left as houses went by, slower and slower. Finally she said, "Here, but keep going."

Cat almost asked why but stopped herself. Their pursuer knew the car. Parking along the street would keep them from being easily discovered. She drove on for about three houses until she pulled the car along the curb and stopped.

"We can't just leave the car in the middle of the street," protested Ursula. "The police will…"

"We'll worry about the police after we deal with the monster that wants to consume us." Angel checked the base of her back, where her pulse pistol was still in its hidden holster. To someone from this world it would look like a prop or a toy, which would be of help if they had to deal with local authorities.

The four started to walk faster, and eventually jog, as they returned to the house they had determined was the source of the readings. "Are you sure this is a place to get help?" asked Elton. He looked up at the house, which looked to have three stories. "From something like that?"

Caterina's omnitool flashed to life around her forearm. "This house is definitely the source of the power readings. Whatever is in there has to be powerful enough to break through this jamming."

"I wonder if whoever lives here knows what they've got," Angel murmured. She led the four up to the door. Elton and Ursula kept an eye on the skies and on the road, as if any moment the monster might come back after them.

When they got to the door Angel and Caterina exchanged looks. It was clear they might have quite a time explaining things to the occupant of the house. It would have been worse if they had come down in field uniform, but the mission had called for them to dig out their "21st Century" clothing. Angel was in her leather jacket and tan-colored blouse with blue jeans. Caterina, meanwhile, was in a comfortable blue T-shirt with the likeness of a lab-coat clad figure on the front holding a bubbling beaker, a comic book-style dialogue balloon above the figure proclaiming "This situation calls for SCIENCE!". Given all of the running they had done, Caterina was thankful she'd listened to her sister's advice, and that of her girlfriend Violeta, and worn the pair of black uniform trousers she had on instead of the skirts she normally favored.

Angel looked over the front door and easily identified the doorbell. "This is going to be tough. How do we explain to someone that there might be super-advanced tech in their house and that we're being chased by some kind of shapeshifter monster thing?"

"I'm… well, I'm not sure," Cat admitted, almost stuttering. She felt less comfortable now than she had trying to drive a vehicle on the left side of the road through the Greater London area.

"Right. Let's do this." Angel hit the doorbell again.

"Are you sure this is going to work?" Ursula asked. She and Elton were several steps behind.

Angel and Cat looked at each other and nodded. "No," they answered in unison.

A moment later the door opened.

The occupant of the house was a woman, middle-aged, with light skin. Brown hair framed a face worn with age, with dark eyes that showed curiosity and intelligence. "Hello," she said. It was no surprise her accent was English, and her blue blouse and brown knee-length skirt were the kind of comfortable at-home wear one might expect a woman of her age and means to have.

Angel glanced to Cat as she struggled to think of what to say. "Well, ma'am, we're…"

"...it's going to s-sound crazy but we-we're, well, we're not from here and I don't m-mean w-we're not En-English or British o-or that," Cat began. Her cheeks were turning red and her speech was both stammered and rapid. Caterina couldn't keep the anxious look from her face. "And I'm rambling but you n-need to know that th-there's something h-her on your pr-property and w-we kind of n-need it to g-get help and th-there's this really…" Caterina stopped and took a breath.

The woman watched patiently, more curious than confused or irritated.

"This is going to sound insane but we're not from your Earth, we're interuniversal travelers who were sent to look into some strange energy readings here in London including one from your house…" Now Cat had enough control to stop stuttering, but she was talking rapid fire as if she were afraid to let the sentence stop. "...and we found this one thing in an old warehouse or something where these people were meeting and there was this monster that can absorb people and its after us and we really need to call for help but there's a jamming field over London that's blocking our communications and…"

It was clear Cat was desperately out of breath. She stopped long enough to take in a breath and gave the house's resident time to speak. "It's alright, young lady, you'll be safe here," the woman answered. "What's your name?"

"Caterina. Caterina Delgado. This is my sister Angel," Cat managed between more breaths. "And these people are Elton and Ursula, the monster is after them too."

"Well, Caterina, my name is Sarah Jane Smith." The woman gestured for them to enter. "It looks like you and your sister have quite the story to tell…"


Undiscovered Frontier
"A Tale of Two Sisters"




The living room of the house was comfortably furnished; the resident clearly had money to spare. The sisters were in first, with their hostess holding the door open for Elton and Ursula. The latter two were still visibly shaken from the day's events. "If you'll give me a moment, I'll see about some tea." Sarah Jane gestured to her couch and chairs. "Go ahead and have a seat."

"Ms. Smith, I don't mean to be rude, but there's something really nasty coming after us," Angel said. "And to get help we need to find the source of a power reading our scanners are picking up in your home. I know that might seem unbelievable…"

"You don't need to be so formal, you can call me Sarah or Sarah Jane. As for unbelievable…" A knowing smile crossed the woman's face. "...I'm quite familiar with the unbelievable myself. So, when you say you're from a different universe, do you mean an alternate timeline or a completely different cosmos from mine?"

"A different sixth-dimensional location," Caterina answered. "Or at least, if you're going by what we call the O'palani-Fujisawa Theory of Multiversal Dimensional Structure."

Sarah Jane looked from Angel to Caterina. "Now that does sound new. And you say you can detect a strong power source in my home?"

"Yes ma'am," Cat replied.

"And what are you running from?"

"Some kind of absorbing creature…"

Before Angel could finish, Elton said, "The Absorbaloff."

The two sisters and their hostess looked to him. "What?" they asked together.

"It's some kind of monster that, well, absorbs things," he continued. "It absorbed our friends."

"And I figure it's going to find us and absorb us if we don't get to that power source," Angel insisted, trying to direct everyone back on track. "Whatever it is, if you just let us scan for it I'm sure we'll…"

"I'm quite certain of what you're looking for," Sarah Jane said, interrupting her. "But I'd like to know what you intend to do with it."

"Break through the jamming that's cutting us off from our ship," Cat replied. "And then we can call for help."

"A ship you say? What kind?"

Again Angel and Caterina exchanged wary looks. This wasn't at all what they imagined this conversation would be. At the same time, they knew there were rules about this sort of thing, rules they would break if they let Sarah Jane and Elton and Ursula know where they came from.

"A gesture of trust is what I'm looking for," Sarah Jane explained. "Tell me where you come from and if I think you're being honest about it, I'll help you as best as I can."

It was Caterina who spoke first. "We came here on a kilometer-long starship called the Aurora that has an interuniversal jump drive. We're from the United Alliance of Systems and I'll tell you more, but please help us first, that absorbing creature was reforming when we last saw it and I don't know how easy it'll be for it to follow us."

Angel looked at Cat with clear worry in her eyes. She'd just violated a host of regulations and rules about these situations. It could land her in deep trouble when they were home. But it was clear from the look in Cat's hazel eyes that she didn't care at the moment.

It was surprising to both that Sarah Jane was so unflappable about it, as if this was nothing too far outside of her normal everyday experience. She seemed to be quietly pondering Cat's explanation. "Alright," she finally said. "Let me show you something." She looked to the couch where Elton and Ursula were holding hands and clearly trying to recover from severe fright. "When I get back, I'll get some tea for you."

Angel and Cat exchanged quizzical looks before following Sarah Jane up the steps to the top floor of her cozy-looking home. They entered what looked to be an attic converted into an office space or study room. Sarah Jane stepped across the room and faced what looked like an old fireplace. "Mister Smith, I need you," she said, no urgency in her tone.

At first the two expected a husband to show up from a hidden door or perhaps from a nearby chair they hadn't noticed. Instead there was a sudden mechanical noise. Pieces of wall and what they had thought was the converted fireplace shifted and separated, allowing a computer station to slide out into the room. The screen came on with an oscillating pattern. "Yes, Miss Smith?" a computerized voice inquired.

Angel and Cat exchanged shocked looks. Caterina immediately brought up her left forearm. Her omnitool appeared and she brought the scanner feature online, a specialized scanner more capable than Angel's.

"We have guests today," said their hostess. "And they say a dangerous being may be pursuing them."

"Scanners detect an extraterrestrial energy pattern and life sign moving within a ten kilometer radius. It appears to be circling the area. I will activate defense mode for the house should the pattern appear to move toward us."

"I don't believe this," Cat gasped, looking over her sensor readings. "This computer… the processing power, the storage medium… a neural pattern… how did you get something like this? Where?" The urgency of the situation had clearly given way to raw curiosity.

"That is another secret, young lady, and a longer story," Sarah Jane answered, smiling. She noticed the omnitool. "That's an interesting device you have. A holographic interface?"

"Yes, it's called an omnitool. It's from Universe M4P2." Cat lowered the arm and ceased her scans. "I'm sorry, I was just so curious about 'Mr. Smith'. This computer technology is some of the most advanced I've ever seen. And you've got some kind of complex neural network intelligence running it and I would just love to know more..."

"How about we go down and get your friends some tea to calm their nerves." Sarah Jane smiled knowingly. "And then you can tell me more about where you came from."

When they stepped out and got back to the stairs, Angel gave a wary look toward Caterina and stopped her while Sarah Jane started down them. "Cat, be careful," Angel warned. "There are rules and regulations about how much we can tell her."

"I know, but think about it, Angel." Cat looked down the stairs, where Sarah Jane was already moving toward her kitchen, before facing her sister again. "That computer… it might be more advanced than the best Darglan computers we know about. Whoever Sarah Jane is, she clearly knows far more than any average person on this world. The risk of some society-warping revelation isn't that big a thing. And if we're going to get her to help us, we need to share trust. We showed some, she showed some."

"And now we show more." Angel sighed and nodded. Caterina did make sense, even if Angel feared a Stellar Navy bureaucrat wouldn't make a distinction.

They went down the stairs and found seats. Within a minute Sarah Jane came out of the kitchen with a platter of cups and a teapot and what looked like cookies. "Thankfully I had just made a pot. I've put another one on. And some biscuits if you're hungry." She finished pouring the cups and took the last seat, facing her four guests with an amiable look. "I'm sure you've had a busy day already, young ladies." She focused her eyes on the sisters. "Now, you said something about being with an alliance of systems, and a ship called the Aurora?"

"Yeah, we're senior officers on the ship," Cat said.

Sarah Jane gave her an intent, questioning look. "You're rather young."

"Well, it's a very long, complicated story about how we got to that point," Angel said. "And it involves the foundation of the Alliance. Do you mind if we focus on why we're here, on your Earth? And what's happened?" She eyed a window. "Preferably before we get into trouble with whatever that thing was."

"Absorbaloff," Elton said, eyeing his tea without drinking any.

"I'm… I'm not calling it that," Angel said.

"Let's go with why you're here," Sarah Jane said.

"Alright." Angel sipped at the tea. The taste wasn't something she enjoyed, but after the stress and activity of the day, and the length of time since breakfast, she enjoyed the mere sensation of taste.

Caterina was enjoying it far more, and happily chewed on one of the offered biscuits while waiting for Angel to begin.




The void of space was suddenly disturbed by a blink of green light, light that expanded into a vortex of green energy. The Starship Aurora emerged from the vortex, running lights proudly displaying her name and, along the ship's side, her registry number. The sleek kilometer long starship flew on from the point and turned toward the distant yellow spark that was Sol. Her four engine nacelles, arranged in a flat sideways X around the drive section of her hull, erupted in blue light. An instant later the ship was hurtling away from its arrival point at a speed faster than light.

On the bridge of the ship, Caterina and Angel were in their customary positions, manning the Sensor and Tactical stations. Robert Dale and Julia Andreys, the ship's Captain and First Officer, were in their seats. Jarod was at Operations, Locarno at Navigation - in short, everyone was where they were supposed to be. And for good reason.

"Nothing on long range sensors," Cat confirmed, and she was clearly trying to keep the nervousness out of her voice. It had been three years since they were last in Universe Designate W8R4, and she would never forget what had happened the last time. Bringing that containment unit to the Facility had been her greatest mistake, and it had cost them all.

Hearing Caterina's report gave those on the bridge some ease. "Well, at least we know that the Daleks aren't in this area," Robert said. "Maybe we'll be establishing a colony in W8R4 after all."

"Let's make sure we don't pop the champagne bottles too early." Julia gave him an amused look. "We've got some surveying to do. Mister Locarno, what's our ETA to Earth's solar system?"

Locarno confirmed that with a quick triple-check of his math. "We'll arrive at the safe scanning point during the overnight hours."

Robert looked at Julia. "Go ahead and schedule our weekly meeting for 0830, then."

Julia tapped keys at her console. "Done. I hope everyone gets a good rest. And don't bother with breakfast. Hargert says he's going to treat us."

"Hargert always treats us," Jarod observed, smiling.




When the bridge watch ended for the two sisters, Angela and Caterina both caught the turbolift. "Going to the Lookout?" Angel asked. "Or will you go for replicated dinner?"

"Actually, Violeta and I are going to have a dinner date on the holodeck," Cat answered. "She has the reservation ready and everything."

"Replicator food isn't my best idea of a date." Angel looked away briefly. "Take us to Deck 4."

"Well, it's not all replicator food. Hargert let her use the kitchen for our desert. It's this chocolate fondue stuff and a cake."

"Mom used to keep you from indulging that sweet tooth," Angel said. 'Maybe I should have too. Otherwise you might become my plump little sister."

Cat laughed and shook her head. "Don't worry, we burn the calories away." After a moment Cat realized what she said, and what it could mean, and her cheeks turned to red. "Not like that!... well, sometimes like that. And sometimes both and..."

Angel rolled her eyes. "Cat, while I'm happy you've found someone and I even like her, I really don't need to hear about your sex life."

"No, I mean, yes, Violeta and I make love sometimes, but sometimes we just cuddle, and we burn calories in the holodeck running Ultimate Fantasy." Cat noticed a sad look appearing on Angel's face. "You can still come, if you want. We have a spot for a monk."

"I am not dressing up in that silly gown with that feather in my headband, it doesn't even look like a proper kung fu monk outfit," Angel insisted. "And that's final."

The turbolift door had opened by now. The sisters walked out of it and moved down the hall toward their quarters.

"Oh, come on." Cat sighed. "Since you and Robert broke up, I thought you'd have more time to…" Caterina stopped speaking. Her hand went to her mouth, in recognition of what her thoughts had led her to say before the rest of her brain could tell her not to. "I'm sorry," she said.

And she had reason to. A pained look came over Angel's face. "It was never going to last," she insisted. "It never does. I knew that going in."

Caterina nearly protested. This time she stopped herself. Nothing she could say would make Angel feel better. Desperately, she tried to change the subject completely. "Do you think we'll do any field team studies of Earth?"

"It's a 21st Century Earth. And it's probably no different from any other," Angel said. "So no, I doubt we'll do any field team studies."

"I wish we would," Cat said. "It's been awhile since I was on a field team."

"The last time you beamed down for a field mission, it was the Gamma Piratus Facility, and the Nazis almost killed you."

"Yeah. But a trip through a 21st Century town or city or whatever wouldn't have Nazis. Well, unless it was another timeline where they won or at least didn't get destroyed or something… what I guess I'm saying is I wouldn't mind getting to go on a field mission again."

"The last time I was on a field mission, Cat, it was an unofficial one." Angel crossed her arms. "In fact, now that I think about it, I haven't done an official field mission since Rob took me and Lucy to infiltrate the Mayala."

"Maybe we should ask to go together next time," Cat suggested. "Just for the chance to get off of the ship."

"Maybe." Their walking had led them to Angel's quarters. "Listen, Cat, I appreciate that you want to make me feel loved and that I'm not spending all of my time alone now. But I want you to stop worrying about me. Go enjoy your time with Violeta. You've more than earned it." A grin crossed Angel's face before she gave her sister a peck of a kiss on her forehead.

Caterina tried to think of what to say next, but there was no time. Angel shut the door of her quarters All Caterina could do was sigh and head on to her own quarters to get ready.




Caterina was due for dinner, and was taking the moment to make sure she looked ready for it. Thus she was standing in front of the largest mirror in her quarters wearing the ocean blue evening dress that Violeta had bought her in Venice, a shimmering garment of silk and other materials that was cut below her shoulders, exposing her arms and shoulders completely while the rest hugged her body for support. Looking at herself in the mirror, Caterina had the thought that Violeta had picked out the dress for her because it showed she did, in fact, have curves, if not very prominent curves. A little pink came to her cheeks at that thought. The flutter in her heart had a different source: the idea that Violeta intentionally bought the dress to help Cat deal with her body image worries.

The smile she was wearing was certainly proof of that, as was Caterina's appearance. She'd spent some time with makeup, more than she usually did, in the effort to look nice for the girlfriend who had been so thoughtful toward her.

It was a short trip to Holodeck 3, mostly by turbolift to Deck 14. When she arrived the chamber was already active with a loaded program and a privacy lock. Putting in her personal code opened the door for Cat.

She walked into a warm, comfortable environment, a restaurant patio with beautiful glass tables framed by hand-crafted iron stands. The chairs were similarly artisan-crafted, with leather seating. Mosaic tile beneath her feet depicted nature scenes from sunny oceans to forest-covered hills and mountains. A pair of moons, one silver and waxing almost to full and the other azure and in its last quarter, filled the night sky and gave the great bay and town encircling it a persistent halo of moonlight.

The program was running several simulated diners, giving a further warmth to the locale. Caterina scanned around and found where Violeta was standing beside their table, a tray beside it with their meal and dessert. Violeta was in a backless dining dress, black with silver trim, with a single loop around her neck. When she turned it revealed the front of the dress. The loop was linked to the two sides of the dress, and that was only sides. It had no plunging neckline like other fancy dresses might, because to call it a "plunging" line would be an understatement. The "split", as it was, went all the way down to Violeta's navel. The dress flowed down from her waist to her heels, with splits along the sides. Violeta's hair, like hers, was short, but it still grabbed attention given its rich purple color, matched by the violet of her eyes.

Caterina felt a lump in her throat. "You are stunning," was all she could manage while her cheeks turned pink. She felt suddenly self-conscious of her appearance and the nagging feeling that no amount of makeup or pretty dresses would ever make her someone close to Violeta in attractiveness. An old worry of being utterly unworthy of her girlfriend's affection stirred inside.

Violeta stepped up and, with a gentle smile and a kiss, dispelled that thought. She took Caterina's hand. "You're just in time," she said. "And you look lovely." They walked to the table. "Do you mind if I have the system take some holo-images? My parents want to see more of us together."

"They do?"

"Of course. They're happy for us."

"Oh, well, sure," Cat said. She nodded. "Take pictures if you want."

"Thank you." Violeta was grinning widely. "Now for my secret. My parents send me care packages. Meals from home, or my favorite restaurants, packed in stasis containers to keep them fresh."

Cat gasped at that. "That must cost them a lot."

"Not as much as you think. Stasis generators are getting cheaper by the day." Violeta reached to the tray and took out three containers. "This is from Gregorio's Cafe and Bistro, which is what my holoprogram is re-creating for us. It's a fine Mediterranean cuisine restaurant in Pariana Cove. We have an apartment in town that we used for vacations when I was growing up." She gestured to the cove. "As much as I wanted to get out into space, if anything would bring me back to Sirius, it'd be Pariana Cove."

"It reminds me of those little towns we saw along the Adriatic," Cat said.

"That's right. And that's because the earliest settlers of Sirius' tertiary continent were from the Adriatic. Italians, Greeks, and Croats, some Montenegrins and Albanians. That's why they named the continent Adriatica. My father's family came from there." Violeta opened one of the food containers. Inside were warm breadsticks that smelled of butter, parmesan, and garlic. "Maybe when we can get an extended leave I can take you here. You can see it for yourself."

"When we can get a leave. Whenever that happens." Cat sighed. As much as she was enjoying this, she felt a little rush of guilt, and she couldn't hide it.

Violeta noticed it too. And she knew why. "You're still feeling bad for your sister, aren't you?"

Cat nodded quietly. "I'm sorry," she said. "That's not fair to you."

"I understand." Violeta ceased from opening the next food container for the moment. She reached across the table and took Cat's hand. "Cat, you don't have to feel guilty that you're worried about her."

"That's…" Cat shook her head as she thought of what to say. "That's not why I feel this way. I guess I feel… I feel that part of it is my fault."

"How?"

"Because I'm not there for her as often as I used to be," Caterina explained. "I'm with you, and I'm happy, and I love being with you, and now it feels like I'm leaving Angel behind. Even though she's alone now."

Violeta nodded. "I see. Did you invite her to…"

"She won't play Ultimate Fantasy with us. I've tried."

"Maybe she wants to be alone then?"

"I don't know… Maybe it's just that she doesn't want to cause us to have any problems. She's just looking out for me like that, even if it hurts her." Caterina shook her head. "Oh, I don't know. I'll talk to her later about it, but it's not fair to you that I ruin tonight because I'm worried about Angel. I'll talk to her later."

Violeta nodded. "Fair enough." She opened the next container. "This is a sausage and spinach lasagna that is the best anyone will ever have…"




Across Deck 14, Holodeck 5 was also active. Inside it was emulating a boggy forest, with thick fogs covering the ground around a set of ruins.

A fierce growl echoed in the air, warning Angel to duck before the monstrous-looking alien with a head that was almost like a human skull swiped at her with a blade. She retaliated with a snap kick that knocked it off balance and a roundhouse kick to send it flying.

Another monster was coming up behind her, looking like an overgrown ape. Angel ducked its blow and twisted with her elbow out, smashing it in the head with an elbow strike. She threw a punch that sent a spurt of pain through her knuckles but which also threw the creature onto its back.

With both opponents down, Angel stood and took several breaths, her hands resting against her hips. She was in exercise wear - olive brown sports bra, black shorts, sneakers - with her long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail to keep it out of the way while she exercised her skills in a way that would certainly have drawn a remark or two from Zack or Barnes about her need to "beat things up".

"It looks like that mok'bara program wasn't the only thing Worf left us," a new voice said.

Angel looked to where the entrance way, once-hidden, was now visible. Julia stepped in wearing the same kind of garments she was, save her shorts and sports bra were both of the same command branch burgundy red that her duty uniform had. The similar clothing did much to reveal the differences in their physiques. Julia's statuesque athletic build, her muscle lean in shape, was in contrast to the thick, developed muscle on Angel's limbs and belly. She had her vivid blond hair in the same ponytail she favored for standard duty.

But while Angel was carrying nothing on her, Julia had a belt over her waist, with two rods hanging from it.

Angel noted that before saying, "Yeah. I've been trying it a lot lately."

"Well, beating the crap out of something has always been one of your favorite ways to relieve stress." Julia smiled at that. "I'm just happy it's not me."

"I apologized for that bruised rib from last time."

"So you did." Julia looked around. "So this is Worf's calisthenics program?"

"He left it for me."

"Well, he was aboard just long enough to get an idea of what you can be like," Julia noted. She looked around for another moment before looking down at the defeated enemies. "Looks like I'm late. You're already done."

"I'm just getting started," Angel responded.

"Mind if I join you?" Julia took the rods from her belt. "I've been working on my eskrima lately."

"Really?" Angel nodded. "That Dorei girl?"

Julia shrugged. "Seeing Druni fight reminded me of the couple of lessons I took years ago. I don't think I'll ever be a master at it, but Mr. Pembroke always said I shouldn't be afraid to learn new styles."

"Just so long as you don't bring those things to our fights," Angel said.

"Of course not. So, ready?"

"Computer, reset program." At Angel's command, her two defeated foes were back on their feet, side by side. Julia stepped up to Angel's left and brought her weapons up into a ready stance. "Begin."

The two opponents started to shift and move. "So, who takes the ugly one?" Julia asked.

At that Angel smirked. "That depends. Which one is the ugly one?"

Julia answered with a smirk of her own. "Well, there's always eenie meenie…"

Before she could finish, the computer sent the two foes at them. The one with the skull head went for Julia, leaving the furry one for Angel. She ducked its first blow, which was high and too wild, and retaliated with a punch to the mid-section that stunned the creature for long enough that she could follow up with a knee smash to its forehead.

Beside her Julia sidestepped and evaded two blows from the other monster before she slammed one of the eskrima sticks into its arm at the shoulder. It favored that limb as it stepped back a moment. Julia braced herself and waited for the renewed attack. When it came she blocked two punches with her weapons before the creature opened itself up. Julia kicked it in the knee to bring it down to a knee. The moment it was she smacked it in the head with both weapons, one loud crack following the next seconds later. Her opponent collapsed.

Angel had her foe by the arm. She twisted it in place to force the furry thing to its knees and delivered an elbow chop to its upper arm with enough force that a human being might have had their arm or shoulder broken by the blow. She followed up by a kick to the neck and head that knocked her foe out.

Julia sucked in a deep breath and crossed her arms. "Well, that was quick."

"Too quick." Angel looked over to her. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure. You can ask anything." A sly grin crossed Julia's face. "You didn't ask if you may, though, so I might not answer."

"For that grammar nazi behavior, I really should slap you," Angel retorted. She was grinning regardless. But the grin soon took a serious edge to it. "Are you going tell Maran 'yes'?"

To that, Julia remained silent for a moment. "I'm thinking about it, and that's all I can really say," she admitted.

"Right."

"Why do you ask?"

"I was just thinking." Angel's hazel eyes had a distant look to them, at least to Julia's perspective. "I mean, Rob and I are done for good. That's pretty clear. And Cat's got a girlfriend now and doesn't need her big sister hovering over her all the time. Zack's got his ship and Clara, Tom's got whatever he does, and Leo is Leo and always doing his own thing with medicine. And Lucy's… well, she's doing the life powers thing with Rob… I guess what I'm saying is that if you go… I've got nothing here."

Julia remained silent at that.

"Training with you, sparring with you, it's like that's all I've got left for a personal life," Angel confessed. And despite the usual rough edge to her tone, Julia thought there was a real vulnerability that was making her voice waver. "So if you go and become captain of the Enterprise…"

"You want to come with me?" Julia asked.

Angel remained silent for a moment. "Maybe," she said. "Likely."

Julia nodded at that. "I'll let you know if I say yes to Maran, then. And I'll tell him you're one of my picks for my senior staff."

"Thanks." The word felt almost hollow. Like a part of Angel had wanted her to say no. But she hadn't, and now Angel, despite the answers of "maybe" and "likely", felt committed. She wasn't sure she liked that. She drew in a breath and frowned. "Hell, that was too easy. Want me to turn up the difficulty?"

"Sure, I'm game."

"Just don't complain about the bruises." With that remark, Angel was grinning again.




A tone woke Caterina up. She opened her eyes in the groggy fashion you'd expect from someone who had enjoyed fine wine for dinner. A lock of purple hair dominated her vision . Violeta was laying against her and stirring slightly as well.

The tone went off again, piercing the sleepiness that was keeping Caterina from awakening fully. She twisted away from the warmth of her girlfriend and reached over with an arm to her nightstand, where the small elbow-band and wristband that were the physical accoutrements of her advanced omnitool. The wristband had a bright light shining over it. She hit it. "Uh… Delgado here."

"I'm sorry for waking you, Lieutenant." It was Ensign Popov, a young Russian man who served as Gamma Shift's sensor officer. "But we just arrived at our scan point and we're getting some bizarre readings. I think you should see this."

"Well, where are they coming from?" Cat asked.

"From Earth."

Cat sat up in bed. For them to call her at this time of night over this meant this wasn't just some random energy surge. There was something truly out of the ordinary going on. And given what universe they were in, that could mean trouble. If there was even the slightest chance of the Daleks finding them… No, she couldn't think like that.

"Let me get ready, I'll be in Science Lab 1 as soon as I can," Cat said. The time on her nightstand showed it was 0430 ship time. She yawned as she climbed out of bed, bound for the shower and Science Lab 1.




When Angel woke up, it was just past 0500. It had not been a restful sleep for her. Many of them these days weren't. She'd seen too much, heard too much, done too much. Tonight her dreams had been bad. Dreams of being a child, of Cat missing in a store and her mother yelling at her, accusing her of letting Cat get into trouble, of not protecting her when she needed it. "You have let me down," she heard her father declare, in a voice she hadn't heard since she was a little girl. "We needed you to be stronger."

Now Angel was sitting upright in her bed, alone. The images in her head took time to fade away. Images of Cat dead or hurt, images of Rob, of the others.

By all rights she shouldn't care about Rob right now. She'd opened herself to him again and once more he'd let other things come between them. The cycle had continued on. But now she meant to break it. She wasn't going to waste time on a relationship going nowhere, not when they faced potential death out here.

Which is why I should act like everything is normal. Like I did before we got back together. No sulking, no refusing to be around him. It's over, for good. Just be his friend.

It didn't hurt, or help, that she still cared so deeply for him.

"To hell with this," Angel finally muttered to herself. She stood and went for the shower. There was still a couple of hours before the staff meeting, more than enough time to get some practice in at the punching bags.




When everyone gathered for the morning's staff meeting, it was obvious that Caterina had already been up for hours. She immediately took offered coffee from Hargert while his assistants laid out a variety of breakfast selections for them; breakfast ham and bacon, eggs made in various ways, hashed potatoes, toast and breakfast rolls with a variety of jellies or butter to put them with.

"You said something about unfamiliar energy signatures from Earth?" Julia asked, sipping at her own coffee.

"Yes." Caterina put hers down. She tapped a key and activated the monitor display, showing a variety of energy signatures in the form of wave and oscillation patterns. "It's not just one either. I mean, we've got evidence of hyperspace taps. We've got subspace ripple effects consistent with advanced energy generation. I'm even picking up fluctuations consistent with a tear in space-time. There's more than one kind of advanced technology in evidence on this Earth, even though our scans confirm that the cities, population spread, and atmospheric state are all consistent with an average Earth of the early 21st Century."

"Why didn't we see this before?" Julia asked Caterina. "We profiled this Earth years ago."

"With the Kelley, and using long range probes," Jarod said as reminder. "The sensors built into the Aurora are more sophisticated."

"Not to mention we weren't looking for these kinds of anomalies back then, we were more interested in finding out if there were any problems we could get involved with." Robert looked back to the readings. "This is definitely something to investigate further. Admiral Maran and Secretary Saratov are looking for anything that would complicate placing colonies in this universe. Finding out there is active, advanced alien involvement on Earth falls under that."

"Well, we could get closer, but there's no telling what sensors they might have looking this way."

"Aye." Scott nodded at Jarod's words. "They cud be seein' th' Aurora right now for all we know."

"Any suggestions, Scotty?" Robert asked him.

"We definitely need t' stay out o' Earth's orbit," Scott replied. "I wud suggest th' far side o' th' Moon. Or even Martian orbit."

"And then what, we use probes?" Julia asked.

"No, I dinnae think that will give us what we need." Scott looked deep in thought for a moment. "Some o' th' runabouts with cloaking systems might work. They're small enough that they're hard t' detect if we're careful."

Julia asked, "So we use runabouts to ferry field teams?"

"Aye, that's what we need. We investigate th' sources o' these transmissions on th' ground. Carefully. Maybe then we can see what we're dealin' with."

Robert and Julia exchanged looks. "Alright," Robert said. "Julia will draw up the field teams we're sending down. We use teams of two in constant communication with a runabout equipped appropriately."

"The Bastilone should work," Kane suggested. "She's made for infiltration ops."

"I want to pair off one science or engineering expert with one bodyguard." Seeing the look on Julia's face, Robert nodded. "Julia will be in direct command from the Bastilone while I keep the ship near Mars."

"We're the best suited for something like this," Jarod said. "This is our native century. With a couple of exceptions." Jarod needn't nod toward Scotty or Locarno to elaborate.

"I'll go down," Cat announced. "I really want to get a first hand look at what's down there."

Angel tried to stop the sigh that resulted. It was clear to Robert and Julia that she didn't want her sister going down. "Well, you're our science officer," Julia said, "And this is the sort of field mission we want you on. So yes, of course you're going."

"I'd like to go too," Angel announced. "To protect Cat, or whoever else you want to pair me with." Seeing the looks, she added, "I haven't done an official field mission in a year and a half. It's my time to contribute."

"Generally speaking, as the tactical officer we usually need you at tactical," Robert reminded her gently. "But since we're likely to not face any problems in space, I agree."

"Jarod, Tom, you're both going down as well." Julia looked to Kane and Meridina. "As are you two. And Lucy, of course. We'll report to the shuttle bay at 1200 hours. Cat, go ahead and get another science officer to join us for a fifth team."

"I will assign an officer to go with Lucy," Meridina said.

"It sounds like you've got everything in hand," Robert said to Julia.

"Almost." Julia looked back to the others. "I'll repeat this in the runabout for those who aren't here, but for our benefit, remember: we're skirting the laws of the Alliance with this mission. Admiral Maran's orders allow us to make a survey like this, but contact regulations still apply. W8R4 Earth falls under the contact limitations regulations of the Stellar Navy and the Pre-Spaceflight Societal Protection Act. Whatever happens, we can't talk about who we are or what we are to anyone down there. We can't do anything that might overtly impact the development of this Earth."

"Right," Caterina said. "We don't tell anyone we're explorers from another universe who fly in a starship with interuniversal drive. Or we get in trouble."

"Exactly. If that has to happen, it needs to come from me or from Robert. And I doubt it'll be necessary." Julia looked to Robert. "Is there anything else?"

He shook his head. "No. That does it on this matter. Let's finish breakfast and then you can get ready for the mission. I'll send a report back to Admiral Maran before you go."

"Oh, good." Caterina drank more coffee and went to the cart of breakfast dishes Hargert's assistants had rolled in. "Because I'm starving."




There was a content look on Cat's face as she finished one of the offered biscuits. Angel, on the other hand, had only sipped at the offered tea.

"So you're actually from a spaceship?" Elton asked.

"And another universe?" Ursula added.

Angel signed and looked to Cat, who shrugged. "Yes," she sighed, nodding. "I mean, I figured the pulse pistol and the omnitools gave something away…"

"I can see why your Alliance has such rules," Sarah Jane noted. "Knowledge of the wider universe, or Multiverse I should say, would have a severe impact on our world."

"So says the lady with the alien computer," Angel answered.

A gentle smile came to the Englishwoman's face. "Yes. I am not your average person in these matters, I admit. I've had my share of encounters with alien beings and civilizations." Sarah Jane looked to Caterina. "I do appreciate your concerns with speaking to me about this, though."

"So you'll help us?" Cat asked. "Because we need to get ahold of the Bastilone. Julia, I mean, Commander Andreys can get Ursula and Elton to safety, and we might have the firepower to take down this… Absorbaloff thing."

"That is a dumb name," Angel sighed, shaking her head.

"I'll assist you, yes." Sarah Jane stood. "Please follow me."

"I'll stay down here and keep an eye on things," Angel said. She looked around the house, as if she expected the absorbing creature to pop through the wall.

Caterina, meanwhile, followed Sarah Jane back up the stairs. "So your ship detected this creature from that far out?" Sarah Jane asked.

"Oh, no. We didn't pick up the absorbing monster in any way until we were already in London."

"What I'd like to know is why it's after two ordinary Londoners." Sarah Jane stepped into her attic with Cat behind her. "Mister Smith, are there any updates?"

"The anomalous power source is still in this area and has reduced its search pattern. I believe it may be narrowing in on our location."

"Thank you, Mister Smith. And I need you to act as a relay for a message this young lady is trying to send."

"I'll tie in my omnitool to your system," Cat said. "And give you the information to make the call I need."

"Very well. Accessing communications protocols."

As Cat's omnitool linked to the alien supercomputer, Cat watched it with wide open eyes and a wider grin. "This is so cool," she breathed.

"It is quite impressive, yes."

Cat looked around the room. She could see some of the items were not of Earthly origin either. "I could spend hours in here just to see what else you have," Caterina admitted. "I love finding these things. Seeing new planets, new species, for the first time."

The smile on Sarah Jane's face was one of fond memories, memories touched with a taste of bitterness, if only because they were the kind of thing she would presumably never do again. "I've seen things that few people have ever imagined," she said. "It never gets old."

"There's so much to explore. So much to see. I'll never see it all, I mean, but at least I'll see more." Cat looked to her omnitool, which flashed on again. "It looks like I'm connecting partially to the Bastilone, but the jamming is a lot stronger than I thought."

"Do you know where the jamming is coming from?" Sarah Jane asked.

"No," Cat replied.

"It appears to be a blanket subspace interference pattern, backed by electronic disturbance to deflect radio waves," Mr. Smith stated. "My analysis of your communications protocols confirms that the jamming is particularly suited to stopping your systems."

"It seems that someone already knows about your Alliance," Sarah Jane remarked.

"I'm not sure who," Cat answered. "We haven't had anything to do with this universe in years. All we did was send probes before. Do you have any idea who it can be?"

"I do have a couple of ideas. I need to make a phone call."

Caterina nodded and turned back to Mr. Smith while Sarah Jane went to get the phone. "Can you show me this interference pattern?" she asked.

"Displaying now."

When the information appeared on the screen Cat activated her omnitool and brought up her communication functions. "I might be able to alter…"

Caterina was turning to the side, and thus toward the one window in the attic, when she saw the distant shape. A shape that soon was not so distant. She barely had time to jump away from the window before something crashed through it, sending glass flying all through the attic.

Cat scrambled madly to her feet while the green mass now on the attic floor coalesced into a heavy set human form, the same one she had run over earlier. He brought the cane in his hand over toward her. "Well, quite the chase you have given me," he said, his voice deceptively Human.

"What are you?"

"You'll know soon enough." At its tip, the cane started to glow. "You'll be a part of something much greater, and I will find out just who and what you are."

Caterina brought her arm up and hit a key on her omnitool. It activated the personal forcefield generator attached to her belt just as the cane finished charging. The pale light that swept toward her was stopped by the crackle of brighter blue light.

"I'm going to enjoy this," the being said. "That field can't save you."

And indeed it couldn't. Caterina's omnitool confirmed that whatever energy the cane was using, however it worked, it was disrupting her protective field. It wasn't going to run out of power, it was just going to fail.

And then she would be absorbed.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-24 08:27am

This was not what Cat had been expecting for her first field mission in months. Instead of quietly finding a signal in London likely to come from crashed alien technology or some other problem, she and Angel had ended up in the company of two local people being chased by a blob monster or something that sucked people into itself.

And now that same monster was going to suck her in.

Her omnitool warned Cat she had moments, if that, before the monster's bizarre cane could work its grotesque function. And then she would be dead, or trapped in some conscious way inside of the creature. She had to do something.

Her eyes set on her omnitool. She remembered their briefing on them, on their functions and capabilities, two months ago when they were being issued. They'd been issued in the place of multidevices not simply because they were almost entirely hard-light constructs, and thus much lighter, but because that meant they could generate hard-light machinery or hardware to fulfill a function. They could access their microfusion cores to generate thermal energy and convert it into bursts of flame, create electrical fields, intense cold, and a few other functions.

Cat knew she didn't have time for much, and her science model omnitool didn't include all of these defense capabilities… but it had at least one. She curled her fingers slightly, triggering the omnitool to activate that capability. A crackling burst of what looked like electricity shot from the blue hard-light construct around her and struck the creature. A stunned look came to the stout face and the cane came down as it shrieked in pain and frustration. Caterina scrambled back to her feet and went for the door.

Sarah Jane and Angel came through it first. Angel pulled the pulse pistol from the small of her back and pointed it toward the thing. Blue-white pulses of energy smacked it repeatedly. Light, Caucasian-style skin began to turn green, as did his clothing.

But it wasn't enough. The creature, now snarling, brought that cane over. His eyes swept across the wall and in their direction.

As it did, Angel fired again, feeling she had little better to do. It did nothing.

Cat peeked Sarah Jane's way. She was surprised to see the Englishwoman had pulled out a tube of lipstick. "What…?"

Before she could finish the sentence, Sara Jane twisted the base. But instead of a bar of lipstick, what came out was the tip of a device of some sort, with a red-tinted diode. She held it toward the creature and the light lit up in a gentle red light. There was a brief whir in the air.

The cane in the creature's hand suddenly sparked. He noticed it and, for the first time, a truly fearful, panicked look came to it. It turned and briefly became an amorphous blob of green before it had shifted again, this time into a great bird. It shot for the window, pulling its sparking cane with it.

For a moment nobody moved. "What… what did you do?" Cat asked Sarah Jane. "What is that?"

She smiled thinly. "A gift from a friend. A sonic device."

"So it uses sonic waves to…?"

"To do all sorts of things, actually," Sarah Jane said.

Angel returned her gun to its small-of-back holster. She turned toward them. "Okay, what just happened?"

"Your device messed up that thing's cane, or whatever absorbing technology is in it." Cat was still staring at the lipstick tube, which Sarah Jane was returning the cap to. "And the absorber is so important to it that it ran. Even when the pistol wasn't working."

"It uses the cane to absorb things?"

"Well…" Cat nodded. "Yeah. Or at least it did when we found it."

"First things first," Angel said. "Were you able to get a hold of the Bastilone? Or even the Aurora?"

Cat shook her head. "The jamming interference is keeping us from getting a stable signal out. I've got the omnitool's processor examining the jamming to see if we can find a frequency or something that goes through it, but it's going to take time."

"I will be analyzing the field as well," stated the computer.

"In the meantime, I'd like to hear more about what happened." Sarah Jane went to the door. "I'll be back shortly. Mister Smith, please conceal yourself."

"Of course, Miss Smith," the computer answered. "I will inform you if I find a way through the jamming field." The machine pulled back into its hiding place. Cat muttered, "That is so cool" while Sarah Jane left the room.

When she was gone Angel went straight to Cat and embraced her. "Are you okay?" she asked. "Did that thing hurt you?"

"No. No, I'm fine," Cat insisted. She didn't resist the embrace, but after a moment she pulled away. "Our personal forcefields can resist the absorption effect briefly, but it was starting to bypass my field before I used a neural shock on it."

Angel had a look of some surprise on her face. Cat was evidently not thinking about it, but for Angel, it was a shock to have Cat pull away from a supportive hug so quickly. She said nothing on that feeling, however, instead saying, "There's way more to this lady than it looks like. But I'm not sure how much more we should share with her."

"Well, it's clear we're not causing any harm by being here, she clearly has her own extraterrestrial technology," Cat pointed out. "And we already told her where we're from. There's no harm in continuing to explain how the day's gone for us."

"Badly, for the most part," Angel muttered. "I just feel uncomfortable about this. And that jamming field, it just doesn't fit…"

Angel let that thought hang in the air between them without saying more, given she already heard the footsteps coming up the stairs. Moments later Sarah Jane entered with Elton and Ursula behind her. Both seemed to have regained some of their composure, even if they were clearly bewildered and scared. "It found us, didn't it?" Elton asked. "What's why the window broke."

"Yes, but we scared it off," Sarah Jane said. She brought them to a couch, showed a couple more old chairs for the sisters to take, and took a final chair for herself. "Now, I'd like to hear you continue your story," she said to the sisters.

Cat nodded. "Okay…"




It was just a few minutes before 1200 ship time when Caterina came running into the shuttle bay. Much to her chagrin, everyone else was already present. "I'm not late, am I? I was just double-checking those scanner results we got and making sure my omnitool had them loaded and picking something to fit in..." Cat stopped at seeing the bemused expression on their faces.

"It's fine, Cat," Julia promised her. "Let's get going." She nodded to Commander Kane, who took the lead in stepping into the Bastilone. Once aboard Lucy almost went to the helm station, if only by habit, but was stopped by the presence of Violeta. She smiled back toward them and especially to Cat, who smiled back. When she turned and saw the knowing smile on Lucy's face, Caterina's cheeks began to turn red.

"I've got a full crew up here," Julia said, looking to Violeta and to the purple-skinned male Dorei officer in ops beige at the systems control station behind and beside Violeta. Julia slipped into the co-pilot seat beside the ensign. "How are our pre-flight checks?" she asked Violeta.

"Everything is clear," Violeta replied.

"The cloaking device is ready," the Dorei lieutenant at Ops said. Julia recalled his name was Havath, but she couldn't think of his first name.

At the specialized engineering station was a young Turkish woman, Ensign Turkoglu, who added, "Fusion reactors online, impulse drives ready. I can bring the naqia reactor and warp drive online if necessary."

"Hopefully that won't be." Julia hit a key on her station. "Bastilone to Aurora, we're preparing to depart."

From the back of the control area of the lander runabout, Cat heard Lieutenant Jupap reply, in that chirping way common with Alakin speech, "You're cleared for launch, Bastilone."

With the runabout launching Caterina slid into the back jump seat, or rather observation seat. Lucy was the only other one up here, while Angel had gone to the back. They said nothing while the launch went off without a problem. The Bastilone gently pushed itself from the shuttle bay of the Aurora with its own thrusters. Once it was out, now behind where the dorsal side of the primary hull slanted downward for over fifty meters before reaching the dorsal side of the secondary hull, the runabout's impulse drives quickly accelerated it away. It shimmered out of sight once Havath engaged the cloaking device.

Once they were launched Lucy turned to Cat. "I didn't meant to embarrass you," she said.

"Huh? What?" Cat looked to Lucy in confusion. "You didn't embarrass me. I mean, not entirely… I just realized what it looked like and I was a little…"

Lucy set a friendly hand on Cat's shoulder. "No, you don't have to defend yourself. It's love. You deserve it."

"Everyone says that, but I still wonder what it means. I mean, if someone can 'deserve' to be loved like that." Caterina held out her hand and gestured toward Lucy. "You deserve it too. You've been through just as many terrible things as I have."

Lucy smiled thinly at that. "Maybe. Honestly, I've never really thought about romantic attachments. It's always something that happens to someone else."

"I know what you mean." Cat nodded at her. "I used to be like that. Being with Violeta… it makes me feel so happy, and it makes me realize how alone I was."

"Thankfully I'm never quite 'alone'," Lucy said. "Between training and work, I'm always with people."

"But you can still be alone. I mean, it's so different for me now." Seeing the thoughtful look on Lucy's face, Cat narrowed her eyes. "I mean, I guess you could be, what is it? Asexual?"

At that Lucy broke out into giggling. "I thought I was at one point," Lucy admitted. "But no. I feel the same urges others do. I just… don't feel them the same way, I guess? Or I have my own ideas on what I want. I guess that's true."

"You mean on what kind of guy you want to be with?" A look came to Cat's face as a thought crossed her mind. "Or girl, I suppose. Or even something else. I mean, I know there's things like gender-fluid or two-spirited or…"

"It's nothing like that, Cat," Lucy sighed. "I mean, I guess I'm open on things. If I fall in love with someone, their gender won't matter. I just don't know if that'll happen soon. I mean, if I'll meet someone…"

"I'm sure you will,," Cat assured her. "Just like I did." As Cat said that, she looked up to the helm and smiled warmly while her girlfriend remained focused on her piloting work.




In the passenger compartment, Angel remained still in the jump seat that was normally for armor-clad Marines preparing for a hot drop or insertion. She checked the holster at her back and then her omnitool.

"So, ready to get back into the field?" Barnes plopped down next to her.

"Yeah, I am," she replied simply.

"Right." For several moments nothing was said. "So, are you going to the Enterprise?"

Angel looked at him with an annoyed, confused expression. "What?" she asked bluntly and plainly.

"Well, with Julia getting a new ship, I figured you'd want to go over to keep your fighting buddy," Barnes answered. "Scotty's thinking about it, I think. He's been having me take turns in running Engineering directly. I guess he's getting me ready to be the Chief Engineer."

"Julia hasn't said 'yes' yet," Angel reminded him. As she did she almost wondered if he had been spying on the two of them the previous night. Is it that obvious?

"Oh, like she's not going to," Barnes replied. "You know Julia. She wants the big chair. She just doesn't want to push Rob away to get it. And now Maran's offering her one. A new ship, just like the Aurora. You don't think she'll say no, do you?"

Angel almost said just that, but she stopped herself. Julia wasn't power mad or anything like that, but she did like being the leader. It had been clear to Angel that Julia was seriously considering it. "I suppose she won't," Angel admitted. "But I'm not sure she will in the end. The Aurora is her baby too, in a way. I mean, she named the ship, she made sure that Farmer and Scotty and you got the resources to keep construction going…"

"Point. But she'd never drive Rob off. This is her chance to be a captain, and I know she'll take it," Barnes answered. "So, you going to see about going with her? Maybe she'll want you as her XO or something."

"I'm not command material," was Angel's instinctive reaction.

"Then she'll have you at tactical."

Angel sighed and looked over at him. "Just why are you hung up on this, Tom?"

"I dunno." He shrugged. "I guess I'm just sort of shocked. It's like the gang's splitting up."

"These things happen. People change. Our relationships change."

"Yeah. You and Rob."

Angel didn't bother responding to that. And Barnes, much to her pleasure, didn't say more.




The Bastilone arrived over Earth and assumed a polar orbit. The ship remained cloaked and undetectable. Inside of the troop compartment, Julia and Caterina were using their omnitools to give the briefing and assign the teams.

"...and that leaves our last two teams," Julia was saying. "There's a spatial fracture somewhere in Cardiff that we need to investigate. Tom, I'm pairing you with Meridina for that one."

Barnes chuckled. "You're sticking the wiseass with the stoic monk lady?"

"I am not sure that is accurate," Meridina said, her voice speaking with the slow, lilting accent Gersallians often had when using English. "The word 'wiseass' implies wisdom. I am not sure that is a word that fits you, Lieutenant Barnes."

From her seat, Lucy began to giggle.

For his part, Barnes clutched at his chest. "Oh, burn. Ow. Yeah, I forget you have a sense of humor sometimes."

Julia shook her head while grinning. "Alright. You two are beaming down to Cardiff. And that leaves our Delgado sisters." Julia nodded to Angel and then looked to Cat. "You and Angel will go to London to find that intermittent power signature."

"Cool."

"So, Commander, some of us will need ground transport down there," Kane said. "What do you want us to do?"

Julia nodded to Caterina, who tapped several keys. "I'm sending replicator patterns to the hard-light fabricators for your omni-tools. It'll let you replicate any cash you need by yourself. Then you can pay fares. Or even buy a car I suppose."

"That might be a little too obvious." Julia smiled nevertheless. "Just remember the contact limitations. Find what you can about your assigned anomaly and report back as soon as possible."

Everyone replied with nods and "Yes, Commander".




Cat and Angel were set to beam down last. Julia was doing the honors at the transporter controls. "I've always wondered what London would be like," Cat admits. "They've got some science museums and stuff."

"I always imagined it was this place with eternal fog." Angel looked to Julia. "Where are you setting us down?"

"I've scanned an alleyway in the modern downtown district," Julia answered. "There won't be any witnesses that way."

"What about a bathroom somewhere?"

"These sensors aren't so precise that I can tell the difference between a ladies' room and a men's," Julia said. "And frankly, I'm not that good at this, so we're doing something easy."

"Well, here's hoping you don't smudge our molecules together…"

Julia frowned playfully at Angel, who smirked back at her from the transporter pad. "Down you go." Julia triggered the transporter.

White light filled the sisters' vision. When it receded, they were in the middle of an alleyway. A dumpster to one side was half-full. "Well, here we are," Cat said. "London. And you know, I could probably replicate enough big bills that we could see about renting a vehicle. All we'd need is fake IDs, and I can make those too."

"Yeah, well, I don't feel like driving on the wrong side of the road," Angel replied. "So, what do your scans say?"

Caterina activated her omnitool. "Hrm. That's odd."

"What?"

"There's two sources now," Cat said. "It looks like one wasn't detectable from orbit."

Angel activated her omnitool and said, "Delgado to Andreys. Cat says we've got a second signature down here. Orders?"

"Investigate them both," was Julia's reply.

"Alright. Delgado out." Angel lowered her arm and her omnitool deactivated its interface. She glanced around to see if anyone was looking their way and, more importantly, at Cat's active omnitool. "What's the closest?"

"Hrm. Going by the map of London, it looks like it's in a suburb. A building, bigger than a house, maybe a warehouse or something." Cat tapped a key on her omnitool and the micro-fabricators fired up. Energy coalesced into a map of London with their destination marked. "There. Now we can just consult the map and we don't have to worry about anyone watching us use the omnitool."

"Good. Now let's go get a bus or a taxi or something."

"I'll start making us money then." Cat grinned at that. "Although does that make us counterfeiters?"

"Let's not talk about that in public."

"Okay. I'm just hoping we get to ride those cool double-decker buses London is supposed to have…"




The tale was interrupted by a knock coming from downstairs. Elton and Ursula nearly jumped from their chairs. "You weren't expecting anyone, were you?" Angel asked Sarah Jane.

"No, I'm not."

Angel nodded. She reached to the small of her back and pulled her pistol. "I'll back you up."

"And if they see you?"

"We have personal cloaking systems. They won't as long as they're not here too long."

"How much time do we have left on those?" Caterina asked her.

"Enough." Angel looked again to Sarah Jane, who walked ahead to the door.

Once they were out Sarah Jane said, "You're awfully fast to draw that, aren't you?"

"I prefer my fists, but not with that thing. If it's a human threat, that's what the stun setting is for."

"It can stun too, then? That actually makes me feel better."

Once they were downstairs Angel tapped the device on her belt and shimmered out of view. Sarah Jane continued on to the door.

Two men were at the door, dressed in business suits that made their government affiliation fairly obvious. "Good day, ma'am." One produced a badge in a leather walled. "I'm Inspector Wallbridge, this is Inspector Graham. We are on detachment from the Metropolitan Police. Do you know anything about the abandoned car down the street?"

"An abandoned car?" Sarah Jane shook her head. "I'm afraid I don't, Inspector."

The two looked at each other. "Perhaps if we came in? We have reason to believe that the driver and passengers are involved with an incident."

"As I said, I am alone." An edge came to her voice. "Furthermore, I am familiar with the Metropolitan Police, and your badge is faked. I don't know what this is about, but I won't have you barging into my home, whoever you are."

The pleasant facade of the two men clearly drained away. "This is a matter of national security," he said.

"Do you have a court warrant?"

It was evident they didn't. Angel saw the way they looked at each other and could tell they were thinking of forcing their way in. But they evidently decided not to. "We will note your lack of cooperation, Miss Smith," said "Graham". They turned and promptly walked away.

Sarah Jane closed the door. Angel could see she was irritated, even more than Angel would expect her to be. "They looked government to me."

"Yes. And there is more than one branch that might deal with an extraterrestrial threat." Sarah Jane picked up her wireless phone from its cradle. "I have a call to make. I'll join you upstairs as soon as I'm done."

Angel nodded and went to the stairs.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-25 01:30am

There was quiet in Sarah Jane's attic. Quiet that, for one thing, helped Caterina focus on her work. "This jamming is really good, she said to Angel. "I'm trying everything I can think of and I still can't get a signal out."

"How widespread is it?" Angel asked. "Maybe it's planetwide?"

"That's possible. I just can't tell."

"My analysis of the jamming pattern indicates that it has been tied to a major source of power."

Cat nodded at Mr. Smith. "Which means we may never be able to break through it."

"Could the Aurora?"

"Maybe. I'd have to ask Jarod or Scotty or Tom."

The door to the attic opened and Sarah Jane walked in. "Were you able to find out more about those supposed cops?" Angel asked.

"My sources are working on it." Sarah Jane returned to her seat. "Before we continue, I have some questions for you… Elton, was it?" She looked at the blond man and his compatriot.

"Elton Pope," he clarified.

Sarah Jane nodded . "And Ursula?"

"Ursula Blake."

"Ah, good. Where do you fit into all of this?"

"Well, we're in a social group," Ursula began.

"LINDA." Elton clarified. "I mean, that's what I called us. It stands for 'London Investigation 'n Detective Agency'."

The look on Sarah Jane's face was quiet bemusement. Angel, however, quietly buried her face into her palm for several moments.

"We met through Ursula's blog," Elton continued. "I was looking on the Internet about some man known as the Doctor."

Caterina looked up from her work at that to exchange an interested glance with Angel.

Sarah Jane also showed an interest in that. "You've met the Doctor, then?"

"Well, a couple of times," Elton said. "When I was a boy. And several months ago…"

"I've heard of him too and mentioned him on my blog. And so did a few other friends of mine. Bridgit, Colin, Bliss…" Her voice faltered as she listed their names. Tears returned to her eyes.

"Ursula introduced us. We met every week to discuss sightings of the Doctor and maybe learn more about him."

"Which is why that thing is after us," Ursula said, her voice now thick with horror and fear. "It's why it took the others. It wants to absorb him too."

A pensive look came to Sarah Jane's face. "I see."

"You've met this Doctor, haven't you?" Cat asked. "I mean, with how upset you look, and you're pretty familiar with aliens and such."

Sarah Jane nodded at Cat. "Yes, I have met him. And he is a wonderful being. But I'm more concerned with this absorbing creature. If it is after the Doctor, it will come back here."

"Then we need to figure out how to stop it."

In reply to Angel, Elton said, "Well, his cane seems important."

Cat nodded. "It seems to be how he's absorbing people. And he ran when your device damaged him."

"So we destroy the cane."

"What about the others?" asked Ursula. "Maybe… can't we find a way to free them?"

"I'm not sure." Sarah Jane stood up and walked over to her super-computer. "Mr. Smith, did you get any scans of the creature? Or the creature's cane?"

"Passive scans, Ms. Smith. I can confirm that it contains a power source not native to Earth and contains advanced matter manipulation technology. But I will require more exposure to the creature to determine more."

"So when it comes back, let's scan it," Cat said.

"If we can without getting absorbed ourselves." Angel was betraying some nervous by the way she had her arms crossed and was pacing, as if she were in a cage working off excess energy. "I'm not letting it take you, Cat. I'll destroy it first."

"We won't let it take anyone." Sarah Jane returned to her seat. "Can you tell me more about what happened earlier? Maybe there's something you're overlooking at the moment."

"Well, it was coming to our meetings for the last few weeks," Ursula said. "It claimed its name was Victor Kennedy, and that he would help us find the Doctor. It became more like a chore, I have to say, as he demanded we spend hours more than we used to in meetings. He seemed obsessed. And the others started to disappear and it was like he was chasing them off…" She shook her head. "But he wasn't."

"And now we know why."

"So he was using you to help him find the Doctor," Sarah Jane noted. "Then why did he try to absorb you? You were of use to him."

"He said he likes doing it," Elton answered.

"Maybe he needs to," Cat suggested. "He may have to replenish his biomatter every so often."

"Either way, please, do continue with your story," Sarah Jane asked.




The bus lines brought Caterina and Angel out of the center of the city into the suburbs of the Greater London area. In their solitary seat toward the middle of the bus, far enough away from the driver to not be overheard, Cat was quietly operating her omnitool. "I think it might be some sort of subspace tap, but a very portable one," she admitted to her sister. "I'm still not sure what it's for."

"We'll find out when we get there," Angel replied. She turned her head to Cat. "Enjoying the view?"

Cat was already looking out the window again. "A little," she said. "I just wish we could enjoy the visit more."

"I don't really see the charm of this place. It's too big and too overcrowded."

"It's one of the biggest, most important cities in the world. And there are all sorts of laboratories and science institutes here. And Oxford and Cambridge, although they're outside of the city. I think." Cat smiled thinly. "I was actually considering a program that would have gotten me into one of the Oxford science colleges, actually. Back when I was in high school."

Angel nodded quietly. "Would you have gone, though?"

"Well…" Cat went quiet for a moment. "Maybe. I mean, it would be hard to turn down. But I know it would have been hard for you to come too."

"More like impossible." Angel turned away and looked out the opposite window.

Cat didn't need mind powers to know her sister was upset about something. "Angel?"

"Maybe I've just been holding you back," Angel said. "Maybe trying to protect you went too far and I just kept you from growing up. I mean, look at you. I think you've become more mature these last two months than you'd matured the previous two years."

"Oh, don't say that," Cat replied. "Mama asked you to look out for me, and you have been. I could never have made it without you around." Cat's expression betrayed her sadness, not just at what her sister was saying, but other, older memories. "Losing Mama hurt so much. I needed you. I mean, I was just sixteen when Mama died. What would have happened to me if you hadn't taken me in?" Caterina's hand gripped Angel's shoulder. "You supported me even when it cost you. You gave up your fighting career and everything."

At that Angel made a scoffing sound. "It wasn't much of a career. I was getting paid more working as a stocker than fighting in those rings."

"Yeah, but if you hadn't quit, you could have made a career out of it." Cat's voice was earnest and warm. Her eyes, the same brilliant hazel as Angel's, brimmed with love for her sister. "I needed you back then, Angel. And I still need you, and you never held me back. Really, I think I was holding myself back."

"You weren't," Angel insisted.

There was no immediate response from Caterina. She turned to face the window, looking deep in thought. After several moments she checked the map. "We're almost there. We should probably get off the bus."




The stop was at an intersection. The map led them onto the road their bus was preparing to cross, Maccateer Street. It was a quiet part of the city. Once they were walking along the road, Cat began to take brief scans. "It looks like it moved slightly," she said to Angel.

"Maybe it's something someone is carrying, then?"

"I wonder what it does, if that's true… wait, over here."

Caterina picked up her pace and briefly moved past her sister. Angel caught up as Caterina examined her omnitool. "Okay, it's definitely in here," she said. "But below the street level, I think."

"A basement." Angel looked up at the sign. "'London Council Library'. I wonder what's going on here." She reached to the small of her back and felt the reassuring presence of her pistol. "Let's go."

They entered the building and found it empty at the moment. "Not a very active library," Angel murmured.

Cat was still following her scans. "I'm scanning the building… this way, I think I've found an elevator." She led Angel further into the building.

When they found the elevator, it was currently on the level below. "I wonder if someone is here," Angel said while hitting the call button to summon the left vehicle.

"That will make this awkward. I'm not sure what we'll tell them."

"We could always go for the truth," Angel suggested. "I mean, they won't believe us. But they might think we're just a couple of kooks."

"I'm not really in a hurry to be looked at as a nut," Cat protested. We'll come up with something…"

Before she could finish the sentence, the lift car rose above the floor. There were two occupants; a blond-haired man in light-colored clothing and a woman in plain clothing and wearing a pair of glasses. They were waiting almost impatiently for the lift to open. "Oh, hello," the woman said upon seeing them.

"Hello," Caterina answered. She had already turned her omnitool off. "I'm Caterina and this is my sister Angel." The lift gate slid open and the two stepped off.

"Ursula." She gestured to her friend. "This is Elton."

"Hi," Angel said simply. "Say, is there anything going on down there?"

"Not anymore," Elton said. "Why?"

Caterina was the one to answer. "Just curious. We're just exploring. Being curious."

"The only thing you'll find down there is an unpleasant jerk." Elton was clearly in a mood. "He's ruined our entire group."

"I'm sorry." Cat frowned and nodded. "I guess jerks do that to a lot of people." She stepped out of the way so they could step off the lift. Cat slipped around them to step on with Angel.

"Why are you going down?" asked Ursula.

"Just to see it. Just for a minute."

"She's OCD about these things," Angel added quickly. "Once she has it in her mind to visit a new place, she has to see everything. Even basements."

"I don't have to see everything," Cat protested.

At that Angel smirked. "Remember when we went to Wichita that time? You nearly got into the Governor's Office."

"I was three."

While early on Elton and Ursula had seemed bewildered by their intent, the sisterly bickering had reduced that. They had nothing more to say and prepared to leave.

Just as Angel reached for the elevator button, though, Ursula suddenly asked, "Wait, where's my phone?"

Elton looked to her. "You don't have it?"

"No. It's not here." Ursula checked her pockets with increasing speed. The look on her face spoke of disappointment and realization. "I must have left it downstairs."

"You need to come back down?" Angel asked.

"Yes," she said. Elton didn't object, instead joining her in pulling open the lift gate again and stepping into the metal cage with them. Angel pulled the lever and the lift began to lower beneath their feet.

"It won't take long," Ursula said. "It moves pretty quickly."

Angel said nothing to that. It was still painfully slow compared to the turbolifts back on the Aurora. But now they were in for a quiet ride.

Or rather, they were, until a bloodcurdling shriek of terror came from below. Ursula and Elton paled at the scream. "Colin," Ursula managed through her surprise.

The lift came low enough for them to see into the room bed. Assorted tables were arranged with ordered precision, as if desks in a classroom, with chairs beside them. A board was used for what, at a distance, looked like illustrations aod photos, not that Cat and Angel could see what they were showing given their angle and distance.

But their eyes quickly focused on the center of this area, where a green mass of what looked like ooze or raw flesh was holding out an object toward an older, middle-aged man. With a final cry the man seemed to be sucked into the cane.

"Colin!" cried Ursula.

That drew the attention of the oozing mass. It formed a human-looking face with an expression of satisfied amusement. "What have we here?"

The lift came to a complete stop. The gate opened. But none of them dared to step out.

The mass continued to speak through its newly-generated human head. "What have you brought me now? I sense something different about these two, yes…"

Angel and Caterina moved ahead of the other, startled people in the basement room. "What is that thing?" Elton asked.

The suppurating mass of green continued to shift in place. "Interesting," it gurgled through the half-formed mouth. "I can feel the energy on you. Subspace… ah, matter transportation. You are clearly not local."

"What's it to you?" Angel asked.

"What are you?" was Caterina's query.

"I am a very curious being," the creature responded. "I exist to absorb knowledge. Knowledge is power." The mass gurgled for a moment. "And there are other benefits." The green mass coalesced briefly into a new form, that of the same man they had seen absorbed. A moment later it shifted into a middle-aged woman. Ursula gasped in shock at the sight. By the time she managed a pained "Bridgit" the creature had turned into another woman, closer to Ursula's age.

"Bliss." Elton looked at the creature in horror. "You took them. You're why they disappeared!"

"They were inefficient. Unnecessary. But their knowledge is useful."

"It's not just that, is it?" Cat asked. She had her omnitool on and was scanning the malignant creature. "You use their raw mass for yourself. And you feed off of the act too. You're enjoying it."

The gurgle that came in reply sounded much like a laugh. "Perhaps so. And what of you? Your technology is clearly not of this world. I must know more. Perhaps I will learn more after I absorb you two…"

"Hey, you two…" Angel looked back. Her hand was already at the small of her back and pulling her pulse pistol out. "Alton or Ursula or whatever your names are, we should probably start to…"

"...run!" Caterina urged.

Angel started shooting the creature as it surged at them with a terrible hunger. The blue pulses struck the mass but did nothing to stop it.

The creature began to coalesce into a Human form again, and when it did one of the resulting arms brought the cane to bear on Angel. Just as its light grabbed for her Elton slammed into Angel. Both flew out of range of the cane and hit the floor.

Cat was already thinking of the problem. The lift was slow, too slow, if they were going to get away quickly. She grabbed Ursula and pulled her behind a pillar. "Is there any other way out of the basement?" she asked.

"There's…. well, I…"

Ursula was clearly scared out of her wits. It was a condition Cat was sympathetic with. Thinking of how the others - usually Rob or Julia or sometimes Angel - helped her in those situations, Cat grabbed Ursula by the shoulders. "You need to focus."

Movement crossed Cat's peripheral vision. She glanced quickly enough to see the absorbing creature passing by the pillar, intent on them. She pulled Ursula with her to the other side of the pillar and onto the next one. Once she had her safely out of the absorbing thing's line of sight, Caterina took her shoulders again. "Focus. Ursula, is there another way out of here?"

"There's… a stairway," she said. "The fire escape stairwell. But there's nowhere to hide, that thing will catch us…"

Angel and Elton moved to the support pillar beside them. "Can you take us to that stairway?" she asked Elton and Ursula.

"But all it has to do is…"

"We'll deal with that part," Caterina said, cutting off Elton's protest. "But we need to know we can get there."

"Y-yeah." Ursula nodded. "We can show you."

"Good." Angel looked at Caterina. "Do you have any ideas?"

Cat looked around. "Maybe." She grinned slightly. "I wonder what electricity will do to it?"

"I don't know. My pulse pistol isn't doing anything." Angel still had the pistol in her hands.

"I can hear you," the creature said. Its voice was now "normal", speaking from a properly-formed mouth. "The more you make me chase you, the more I'll enjoy absorbing you."

Cat, meanwhile, was tapping away on her omnitool. A final key press sent a short text message that popped up in blue hard-light around Angel's left forearm: Water sprinkler.

Angel tapped the screen to dismiss the message and nodded at Cat. After one last check to see if Elton was in place - he was - Angel turned around the pillar.

The absorbing creature had been quietly walking back toward them. Its cane was up and ready, but currently pointing slightly away from Angel. This gave her enough time to aim her pistol above the creature and fire. The pulse shot struck the water sprinkler head directly above the creature. Stagnant water, pungent from the smell of being in pipes for so long, began to flow down over it. With a contemptuous look on its wide, bearded face, it swung the cane toward Angel. "Is that the…"

With its cane now pointing away from her, Cat made her move. She slipped around the pillar and held her left arm toward the floor and the gathering puddle of water at the absorbing creature's feet. Her fingers curled into the gesture her omnitool recognized for its self-defense mechanism. An electrical burst, generated by the microfusion power source for the omnitool, shot out and struck the water.

The creature cried out as electricity surged into it. Its form briefly fell, revealing its natural state as a big green blob. The cane dropped to the ground.

"Go! Go!" Angel shouted at Elton. He started to run, with Ursula and Cat behind him, all heading to the other side of the basement. Angel took a moment to fire a shot at the absorber's cane. She hit, that she was certain of. She was disappointed that the cane hadn't been destroyed. Her shot still accomplished at least one thing, however. The kinetic element of the particle pulse's impact sent it skittering along the ground away from the recovering creature. Angel had a moment to see the absorber start to turn toward its lost device before she ran after the others.

"Here!" Elton got to the fire stairway and ran into the door at full speed, throwing it open. He was in the lead for the run up the stairs. The four caused quite a clatter in the stairwell from the constant impacts of their feet against the metal surfacing of the steps. "Keep going!" she urged.

They got to the last flight when the door below was thrown open. The absorber ran in, wearing his usual Human disguise of the man in the dark suit. Angel noticed the sprinklers in the stairwell as she got to the final steps. Ahead of her Elton went out the door to the main floor with Ursula and Caterina behind him. Angel stopped at the door and turned back, firing at every fire sprinkler head she saw. Water began to pour down upon the steps. She heard a thump from further down and, content that she had bought them precious seconds, Angel ran on to join the others.

She found them rushing out the front door. "What do we do now?!" Ursula cried out.

Caterina activated her omnitool. "Delgado to Bastilone, we need an emergency beamout for four, now!" When there was no response, she repeated herself. "Delgado to Bastilone, emergency beamout for four, please! We don't have time! Do you hear me?!"

Angel tapped her own omnitool. "Delgado to Bastilone, please respond." When she got nothing she and Cat exchanged worried looks. "What could have happened?" Angel wondered aloud.

Caterina's omnitool was already active. "That's odd. There's some sort of interference pattern now. All of our transmissions are being blocked."

"What? How?!" Angel shook her head. "That doesn't make sense!"

"That thing's going to get here any minute!" Elton shouted.

"I don't know if we can outrun it on foot." Caterina looked down the street. She started walking to the end of the building. "There!" A light-colored four door sedan was parked. "Let's get going!"

Nobody protested the commission of car theft; all four ran to the vehicle. Caterina, by habit, went to the passenger side while using her omnitool to mimic the radio signal of a key fob. The doors unlocked as she jumped in. Angel was already getting in on the driver's side while Ursula and Elton were climbing in the back seat.

At least, those were the sides in Caterina's head, but once she sat down she realized that the steering wheel was on her side. She exchanged a glance with Angel; both had forgotten the change in sides from being in England. And there was no time to swap. Cat looked to her omnitool and used it to scan the keyhole for the car. The same microfabricators and replicator that had made the map earlier now produced a simple key that she immediately pushed into the ignition. With a twist of the key the car started.

The absorbing creature came around the side of the building. Fear gripped Cat and she slammed on the accelerator. The car lurched right into action, speeding right at the absorber. It jumped to the side as the car thundered on. Cat pulled onto the right side of the road and was reminded to change to the other side by a cry of "You're on the wrong side of the road!" from a terrified Ursula.

"So we can't get hold of the Bastilone and we have a monster chasing us," Angel groused. "What do we do next?"

Caterina was already thinking of that. The idea popped into her head and she smiled despite everything. "We complete our mission," she said. "We find that other power source and use it to break through the jamming."

"Alright, let me check the map…" Angel brought the map up. She frowned. "It gives me a circle. There's no exact location."

"You'll have to switch to your omnitool when we get to that area," Cat said. Her hands clasped the steering wheel tightly. While I try to remember all of my driving lessons…




"And we ended up here" Caterina said, finishing the tale.

"So you detected Mr. Smith from half a solar system away?" Sarah Jane asked.

"Well, we detected some of the power linked to him," Caterina clarified. "I had no idea it'd be a sapient supercomputer."

With impatience clear on her features, Angel asked, "Have you gotten through the jamming yet?"

Cat double-checked her omnitool. The shake of her head was answer enough. "Whatever this field is, it's made to jam communications like ours."

"Could this creature be causing it?" Sarah Jane stood from her seat. "That seems the most plausible answer given the timing."

"If he's got the equipment, but I'm not sure," Cat replied. "It could be something else."

"Maybe related to those agents who came to your door?"

Angel's suggestion clearly won Sarah Jane's consideration. "It's possible," she agreed. "I have a friend looking into that now."

"I'm more worried about how we're going to fight that thing," said Cat. "The pulse pistol does nothing. And if we destroy the cane, I'm not sure we can get anyone back."

"Well, we've got to find some way to stop that thing," Angel insisted.

From her seat Caterina was thinking of just that. She used her omnitool to bring up her scans of the absorbing creature. The specialized scanners built into the omnitool gave her a number of different scanning capabilities, scanners set to record due to their mission, and now the readings were showing on the blue hard-light interface surrounding her left forearm. "It's got quite a lot of mass," she said. "However it's constructed, we may be able to use that. Maybe if I…" After another few scans showed up she nodded and smiled a little. "Yes, I think I can do this. I mean, I'm not an engineer, but I should be able to make this…"

"Make what?" Elton asked.

"A forcefield generator," Cat explained. "It wouldn't be very powerful, but I might be able to make something that would turn this absorber's mass against it. I just need the right parts."

"I may be able to help with that," Sarah Jane said. She gestured to a set of drawers. Cat walked up and opened one. Her eyes widened. Sarah Jane looked to her and asked, "Can you use any of this?"

"This… this looks like it could be a field amplifier. A portable one." Cat picked up the somewhat heavy, palm-sized piece of equipment. "Where did you get this?"

"That is a very long story," Sarah Jane replied.

As Cat looked over the contents of the drawers, her confidence rose sharply. The technology Sarah Jane had could indeed work. She grabbed the items she'd need and set her omnitool to assist in putting the pieces together. "I'll need just a few minutes and then…"

Before she could finish, a shrill scream came from outside. Angel was the first to the window, with Elton and Sarah Jane behind her.

Outside, they could see the creature, again appearing as "Victor Kennedy", standing over "Inspector Graham". His partner Wallbridge was missing. What had happened to him was evident given the energy coming from the creature's cane, which was now encompassing Graham. His scream continued until he had been drawn into the cane. Energy surged into the creature, which seemed to get just a little bit larger.

The creature looked back to the house and up at the window. Even from that distance Angel could see the smile cross his face. He held up his hand, which turned green and started to shift into an amorphous green glob. Moments later it hardened again, but where it had been holding nothing before, now it gripped a firearm. He leveled it at them. Angel pulled Elton down and Sarah Jane ducked as well.

A beam of blue light sizzled through the door, scorching the roof above them.

"Cat, you might want to hurry," Angel called out. "I think we're out of time."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik

User avatar
Steve
Emperor's Hand
Posts: 9216
Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA
Contact:

Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Postby Steve » 2017-06-25 04:28pm

One common attitude Caterina had found among others, even among her sister, was the attitude that "scientist = knows everything". That her science education, that her experience, made her capable of knowing everything and doing everything. It was a belief that she found aggravating sometimes. Biologists were not physicists, and neither were chemists. And they certainly weren't always engineers, as the entire point of engineers was to take what the scientists learned and put it into practical use.

Except for Jarod, of course, but as far as Cat was concerned, he cheated. Mentally-adaptive super-savants were obvious exceptions to the rule.

And here she was again, being expected to do something she wasn't actually trained to do. She knew how something like a forcefield generator worked, but how to put it together...that might be tricky.

And if she couldn't, she and Angel and these nice people would all end up getting absorbed into some grotesque monster.

Said monster was now outside of Sarah Jane's home. It had absorbed two men, government agents of some kind, and now had an energy firearm that it was using to shoot into the house.

As another azure beam left scorched marks on the attic ceiling, Angel called out, "Cat, you'd better hurry with that."

"It's going to catch the whole house on fire." Sarah Jane motioned to the door. "I'll take you to the back door!"

While she led Elton and Ursula out, Angel quickly looked to Cat. "Don't worry about us, just get that thing built!" She went through the door a moment later.

"No pressure," Cat murmured to herself, taking up a screwdriver and getting to work with a couple of the pieces she had.




The absorber was approaching the front door when Angel went out the back. She pulled out the pulse pistol again. "That hasn't been working all day," Elton protested.

"I haven't been shooting at the cane," she answered. "If I have to, I'll destroy it."

"You can't," pleaded Ursula. "Not if we can get the others back."

"It's a last resort."

They came around the house while the absorber was preparing to go through the front door. It stopped and turned its head. Its guise was still that of the persona Victor Kennedy.

Sarah Jane stepped up beyond the others. "What do you want?" she asked.

There was no reply. All that Kennedy did was pull up the absorbing staff to use it.

Angel fired at him with her pistol, aiming it toward the cane. As she hoped, he reacted by scowling and pulling the cane back. He reformed the energy gun he'd used before and pointed it toward Angel, who went back into cover to avoid the resulting beam.

Sarah Jane brought out her sonic device again. Kennedy swept the gun over toward her, forcing her to jump for the bushes to avoid the sizzling blue beam that set fire to the small tree beyond.

The fire began to spread before a spray of water struck it and extinguished it. Ursula, water hose in hand, brought the sprayer over and directed it at the absorber's face. The attack could cause no harm, but it did distract, long enough for Elton to dart up and grab the cane from the creature's hand. He ran back to the others.

The absorber brought its gun up and fired a shot toward Ursula. As the beam moved closer to her she reacted instinctively, ducking for cover. The stream of water stopped blinding the creature.

It shifted shape rapidly, becoming a lean cougar, and with the power of four legs it dashed across the short distance and pounced on Elton, who cried out in surprise. The cane went flying from his grasp.

Sarah Jane lunged for the cane while Angel lunged for the cougar-shaped absorber. She knocked him off of Elton with a single push that sent the absorber into the lawn. It began to shift shape as it landed, remaining an amorphous mass. A solid tentacle of green biomass lashed out toward Sarah Jane's wrists as her hands closed around the cane. She clearly resisted the tug. For several moments she seemed to be prevailing, until the power of the creature was enough to pull her to the ground and begin dragging her. A second tentacle shot out and wrapped around the cane.

Angel was grabbing at it as well at this point. She couldn't quite wrench it free, although she did stop the motion toward the rest of the creature. After struggling for a moment she started to kick at the tentacle holding Sarah Jane's wrist. The kicks were strong enough that the creature clearly disliked them. Its grasp slackened until the tentacle fell away. When it moved again, it was to merge with the tentacle gripping the cane, creating a tug-of-war between the absorber and Angel with Sarah Jane.

Elton and Ursula got back into the struggle, brandishing a rake and a spade respectively, which they started to hit the creature with. This clearly agitated it, but the effect was counter-productive; it gripped onto the cane all the harder.

Then the cane started to light up. Sarah Jane and Angel noticed it, and Sarah Jane immediately let go and jumped onto Angel to pull her away. A bust of energy went off that didn't touch them - the only reason they were not absorbed into the creature.

It drew the cane back to itself with rapid speed, reforming into the Victor Kennedy form as it did. A hand flew out and smacked into Ursula, sending her flying. He twisted and punched Elton directly as he swung his spade, sending him down as well.

"You are not stopping me!" the creature declared, clearly angry. He held up the cane toward Elton.

An object flew through the air and landed at Kennedy's feet. It lit up and energy formed around and near it. The resulting beam of light from the cane stopped a few inches from its tip, contained in the crackle of yellow force field energy that now encased Kennedy.

Caterina was standing outside the front door now. She had a smile of satisfaction. "I made it work!" she said, pleased with her success. "I'm shocked, but I did it!"

"Good job, Cat," Angel said warmly, picking herself off the ground.

From within his new forcefield prison, Kennedy scowled out at them. "Do you think this can hold me forever?" he demanded.

"It'll hold you long enough," Sarah Jane answered. She looked to Cat and nodded. "Good job."

"Thank you, ma'am."

"How do we make it return our friends?" asked Ursula.

"You can't," said "Kennedy", smirking. "They are a part of me now. Permanently. If you want to be with them again, you will have to join them."

"Yes, we'll just take your word for it," Angel grumbled sarcastically.

Cat activated her omnitool and began to scan the cane and the monster. It frowned at her while she looked over the readings. "We'll see what I can learn from a scan."

"How long will that forcefield last?" asked Sarah Jane.

"A few hours, I think," Caterina answered. She kept her hazel eyes focused on the sensor readings. "That should be enough time for us to figure out if we can save the people he's absorbed."

Kennedy chortled at that. "You have far less time than you assume, Human."

"And just what do you mean by that?" Sarah Jane asked. "Unless there's another of your kind around, and you don't seem the type to share."

The creature smirked. And then he shifted form, becoming "Inspector" Graham.

Everyone exchanged looks of bewilderment at the sudden change. As the sound of a speeding motor vehicle engine came to Angel's ears, she realized what the creature had just done. "Everyone into the house, now!"

"Wait, what are you… hey!" Cat's last cry was from her attention to her omnitool being broken by Angel grabbing her right forearm and pulling her to the front door. Sarah Jane had clearly realized what was going on as well. She had taken both Ursula and Elton in hand and was bringing them with her to the door.

Two black cars turned in front of the house, fishtailing from the speed they had achieved before breaking. Armed men jumped from the doors and directed guns toward Sarah Jane and the others. "Down on the ground!" one shouted. "Now!"

Sarah Jane brought the others through the door and slammed it. Angel was already coming from where she locked the back door.

"We've got to warn them!" Caterina insisted.

"Warn them of what? That their friend's not really their friend?" Angel shook her head. "They'd never believe it. They're going to free that thing, Cat, and we won't be able to stop them. Now come on."

The group got to the stairs and were running up when the door was thrown open. Armed men walked into the house.




"Surround the house. Cover all potential exits." One of the agents stepped up to Kennedy while his comrades went in. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine, sir. Just got caught is all."

"What are we dealing with? You reported that we're dealing with that 'LINDA' group that popped up."

"I'm afraid to say they're mad, sir," Kennedy said as "Graham". "Obsessed with the Doctor, and in league with extraterrestrial agents and their spy who lives here."

"Good job in confirming our suspicions, Graham," the other man said. "Hartman will promote you for sure."

"For Queen and country," the creature said pleasantly, and he kept a satisfied smile on his face while another nearby agent shut down the forcefield generator keeping him prisoner.

His rescuers looked at him curiously. "Since when did you get a cane, Graham?" one asked.

"Do you like it?" Graham smiled widely and held it out to the man. "Here, let me show it to you…"




The screams from outside drew all heads toward the window. "So much for them," Angel muttered.

"There will be more," Sarah Jane replied.

"Do you have any idea who they are?"

"They're not UNIT, that's for sure. I suspect they're from the Torchwood Institute."

"Shouldn't we barricade the door?" Ursula asked.

"It wouldn't do any good," Caterina answered, as more screams came up from the ground floor. Her eyes were focused on her omnitool. "That thing has absorbed so much mass that it could pound the door down." She tapped something. "All of that mass…" A look came over her while she examined sensor readings. She looked to Elton. "How often did your friends disappear? How quickly was it absorbing?"

"Well, uh…" Elton thought about it for a moment. "Bliss disappeared almost two months ago."

"And it's been a few weeks since Bridgit stopped coming," Ursula added.

"Does this mean something?" Angel asked. "And have you gotten through the jamming yet?"

"Yes and no," came the answer.

"You think that maybe it's had too much lately?" Sarah Jane asked.

"The sensors are showing increasing fluctuation in its life readings. The body temperature is off, the mass is all wrong… yes. Yes, I think it's been absorbing too much too quickly."

"Mister Smith?" Sarah Jane called out.

The computer probably came back out. "Yes, Miss Smith?"

"Can you link with the sensor readings this young lady has taken? Are there signs of any kind of instability in the creature?"

"Accessing now."

Outside the cries and shouts had died out. "That's probably not a good sign," Angel noted. She moved over by the door. Elton joined her, brandishing a cricket bat he'd found in the corner.

"Miss Smith, I am indeed detecting indications of cellular degradation. The creature may have absorbed too much too quickly."

"Can we use that against it?" she asked.

"It is possible you could cause the absorptions to overload. Depending upon varying factors, such an overload could either cause complete cellular breakdown or cause the mass in question to return to original form."

"In other words, we either cause the thing to die and take everyone it's absorbed with it, or we win and get everyone back?" asked Angel.

"That is a fair assessment."

Caterina kept going back and forth on the readings. "It's possible that we could cause the overload to reverse the absorptions before cellular breakdown." She looked at Sarah Jane. "Miss Smith, your sonic device, if you can hit the cane with the right frequency to disrupt its control hardware, and I can use the omnitool's data-streaming to remotely access the cane, I might be able to trigger a reversal."

Everyone was becoming aware of a loud thumping coming up the stairs. Ursula's face was as pale as it had ever gotten. Elton's hands clenched around the cricket bat in his hand while Angel assumed an attack stance.

Caterina worked as quickly as she could, running her fingers over her omnitool controls to finish configuring it.

There was a loud knock on the door that made the hinges rattle. A second. The hinges were starting to come off their housing. A third.

At the fourth, the door went off its hinges and fell in, splintered wood showing on the other end. The figure that ended was still mostly the Victor Kennedy disguise, but with the flesh turned green and the surface rippling with goo.

Elton slammed the cricket bat on the absorber's head. It barely seemed to notice the blow. A hand swung out and sent him flying. Ursula rushed to his side.

Angel jumped onto the creature's back and wrapped her arms around its neck. For several critical moments she held on for dear life while it swung around, trying to dislodge her. She locked her legs under its arms to win further leverage.

The creature shifted to its basic, oozing green form. Angel's arms and legs sunk into that oozing form and all leverage was lost. It spun around and created a single wide appendage that slammed Angel in the chest and stomach, knocking her away and taking the air from her lungs in the process.

The creature reformed into humanoid shape and held up its cane toward Sarah Jane. "I have had enough of this chase! I need your knowledge to find the Doctor!"

Ursula and Elton grabbed at the cane. The act gave Sarah Jane time to avoid the absorbing beam that came from it. The creature howled in frustration and twisted with enough force to throw the two Londoners off.

"Cat…?" Angel was starting to rise from where she'd fallen.

"Not ready yet…"

A scream partly distracted her. Ursula was caught in the absorption beam from the cane. It seemed to tag at her, distorting the shape of her body.

Elton grabbed her and tried to pull her away. "No!" he cried. "Stop!"

For a moment it looked like he might just get her away. But the device was not to be denied. Within moments it seemed to have gripped Elton as well. He cried out in pain and fear along with Ursula in the final horrible seconds before they were drawn completely in.

The absorber shuddered in satisfaction. "And now for you…" It turned toward Cat and brought the cane up.

Cat checked her omnitool. She was so close, so close, but the configuration still wasn't ready. She didn't have time! She had to move and…

...and Angel grabbed at the cane, just as Elton and Ursula had. "Now, Cat!" she cried out. She held on for dear life.

Cat looked back to her omnitool. Just one last step. Just one. She almost had it.

The absorber started slamming Angel against the pillar in the middle of the attic. Her face was twisted in a grimace of pain from the beating.

But she held on.

Caterina suddenly turned to Sarah Jane. "Now!"

Sarah Jane nodded and held out her sonic device. The end lit up red and let out a whirring sound.

As the cane began to spark, Caterina's attention returned to her omnitool. With a couple of button presses she opened a connection to the absorber's cane. The coding she had prepared, with Mr. Smith's remote help, loaded into the device's control hardware.

Light surged from the cane, which positively crackled with power. Angel let go and fell backward onto the floor. She pushed herself away as the absorber began to shake.

"No!" It screamed. "No! NO!!!"

The light from the cane became blinding, forcing everyone to turn away from it. There was a sickening "glorp" echoing through the air and a series of agonized screams, followed by a rapid set of thumps.

When the light receded, the burnt out remains of the cane dropped to the floor, where a small, sad little mass of pale green matter plopped and splattered beside it.

Scattered around the attack were nearly a dozen people. Elton and Ursula, their friends, and several dark-clad men, along with a plump older lady who started to look about in stunned, horrified confusion.

"Yes!" Caterina cried. With her sister out of arm's reach her desire for a hug of victory led her to wrap her arms around Sarah Jane, who laughed in delight. "It worked!"

"We're… alive…" Elton looked up at them. "You did it."

"Good work, Cat." Angela pushed off one of the agents, who was still struggling to recover. "You stopped that thing."

"Well, Mr. Smith helped," Caterina said. She looked to the computer and said, "Thank you."

"You are welcome, Miss Delgado."

"Colin?" Bridgit struggled to stand. Her eyes moved over the floor until they met Colin's, as he struggled to sit up. "Colin!"

"Bridgit? You… you're okay?"

"Do you remember anything?" Sarah Jane asked them.

"Not much." Elton helped Ursula up. "I thought I felt the others. Like I was… I don't know… a fog. Something without a body. And I was trapped."

"You saved us," Ursula said to Caterina and Sarah Jane. Angel stepped up and accepted a hug from her younger sister, after which they turned back to Ursula. "You did it."

"That's what we get paid for these days," Angel said, smiling. "Although this was a bit out there compared to our usual jobs."

"And what happened to that… thing?"

All eyes turned to the sad little green glob on the floor. "It looks like the biomass it consumed was taken from its original form," Caterina said. "It burned too much to leave behind a real body."

"I wonder what species it was?" Sarah Jane murmured. She knelt down by the glob.

"I'll see if I can get a genetic profile," Cat offered. "Maybe…"

She was interrupted by thudding on the stairs outside. Within moments off that thudding becoming audible, figures rushed into the room. Men in 21st Century body armor held up weapons and shouted "Don't move! Hands in the air!"

There was nothing for them to do. Caterina and Angel slowly held their hands up with Sarah Jane.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

Admin of SFD, Moderator of SDN, Former Spacebattles Super-Mod, Veteran Chatnik


Return to “User Fiction”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests