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…"
"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."
"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."
"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.
"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.
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."
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.
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.