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

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

Post by Shroom Man 777 » 2017-06-30 03:40pm

Solaris. Yeessssssss! I love the fact that in running things by me (and Siege I presume), apparently you didn't show everything, particularly the bits with character stuff and without in-verse technical nitty gritties! Nice surprises. I'm totally not skimming through any of the parts I've already read.

I also like how intimidating the 'verse comes off. Socially, militarily, ecumenically... and on the weird factor alone even. I think even in SDNW4. The K-Zone clique and the materials involving the area *were* more aggro than other players and regions. I just can't help but notice since not only did Steve consult me but, like, it's so cool seeing it reflected off another person. And I can tell that a lot of the aggro-nutcase-ness is because when I started writing in 2005 or so, my only sci-fi influences were like Verhoven movies and 1980s crazy shit (and StarCraft)... elements of which are still visible even now, in the fiber of the 'verse even when written by Steve in his crossover.

And yeah, it's great to see Steve go totally gonzo. I think the other sci-fi verses, particularly the ones that had to be live action and thus face budget limits, are kinda tame. And of course for those works, they couldn't be such smorgasbords because of plot constraints as well. Whereas with SOTS, this by Steve's probably gonna be the most coherent thing written involving SOTS ever. Because most of the other stuff, like in the threads here, are focused on scene-building. But that gives Steve all sorts of stuff to use and that's also a good thing.

(I swear one day we'll get off our asses!)

Anyway... thanks Steve. :D
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » 2017-06-30 03:54pm

And aside from dick-measuring of SPHERICAL MASSES OF IRONS and GIGAJOULES, it's also a nice change to see how in the multi-verse, there are more than a few places that can match Aurora and Alliance-tech. Before this, it was just Star Trek tech and the fascists' super-dreadnoughts, barring the occasional run ins with Stargate-tech but for all their craziness the Goa'uld and even the Asgard also have a few handicaps (for the Goa'uld it's xenoparasitic feudalism lol). The Daleks are there too but... season special guest appearances shouldn't count :P (then again... EVERYONE in this saga counts as a special guest appearance!).
Image "DO YOU WORSHIP HOMOSEXUALS?" - Curtis Saxton (source)
shroom is a lovely boy and i wont hear a bad word against him - LUSY-CHAN!
Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
Shroom, I read out the stuff you write about us. You are an endless supply of morale down here. :p - an OWS street medic
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-01 10:57am

The command staff from both ships were ready when Robert and Julia escorted Ambassador Fry into the Conference Room. He was a Caucasian man, with his hair in a bowl cut and a fine suit that covered a body that had settled into general stoutness in its shape. “Good day everyone,” he said, smiling, his accent distinctly English. “Melchett Fry, at your service.”

“We should get down to business so we don’t keep Mister Hank waiting,” Robert suggested, quite certain that someone like that wouldn’t appreciate anything less than prompt punctuality. “I don’t suppose you can tell us why we merited such a large escort, or why Traffic Control held up our arrival in orbit to allow so many other ships right away?” The two cargo carriers had become four, joined by a luxury starliner, before the Aurora finally made proper orbit of Solaris.

“Ah, yes.” Fry nodded. “The military escort couldn’t be avoided. The Sovereignty Government only agreed to your arrival on those conditions. And Mister Hank will be paying a fee, I’m told, for the duration of your stay here.”

“Even more reason to get to business.”

“Yes,” Fry said, agreeing with Julia. “As for the delays that System Traffic Control imposed, I suspect that has more to do with Mister Hank himself. While he is enormously influential, there are groups and powers in the Sovereignty who are opposed to him. Petty abuses of power is a way for the authorities to remind everyone of whom is in charge.”

“Speaking of who’s in power…” Julia began.

“President Victoria Sinclair. Her friends get to call her Vick or Vicki.” Fry used his omnitool to display the image of a woman in a fine business suit who, while not pretty, had what could be called handsome features. And there was no mistaking the glint in her eye. “She and Mister Hank were political allies. But politics in the Sovereignty are as treacherous as you might imagine, given the role of the megacorporations here.”

“But not too cutthroat, I hope. Political intrigue and running a state usually don’t mix well,” Jarod pointed out.

“That is where Olympic comes in,” Fry stated. “The Sovereignty’s infrastructure is overseen by an enormously powerful computational intelligence.”

“You mean an AI.”

Fry shook his head at Caterina’s remark. “The Solarians don’t approve of that term. They consider it a slur against machine-based intelligences. ‘Computational Intelligence’ is the appropriate term.”

“Nice, a politically-correct way to talk about computers,” Angel remarked drolly.

“Jarod, make sure our computer protections are fully in place,” Robert said.

“A reasonable precaution, but I suspect that if Olympic wants to hack your systems, it will do so,” Fry remarked. “I don’t imagine it will harm you though. What will harm you is the rest of this moon. Solaris is not a safe place for Humans who have not been extensively modified with implants.”

“So we shouldn’t allow any leaves.”

“There are a few specific zones that you might visit, with only a few simple precautions. What you must understand, Captain, is that Solaris is a melange of subcultures and social organizations, divided by anything from common beliefs to planets of origin for newcomers.”

“You mean things like Chinatown in New York and other cities?” Julia asked.

“Yes. And some of these people keep their environments safe for the unaugmented. Others do not, and the consequences to exposure can be severe.” Fry tapped at his omnitool. “I would hate to deny your crews the experiences of Solaris though, they’re simply wonderous in many ways, and I think that if you keep them in the zones specified they shall be just fine.” The sectors marked by Fry were smaller than had earlier been shown as “safe”, but still showed at least a quarter of the moon’s surface. "Of course, if you go outside of them, you could end up in a state not unlike having your brain replaced with cauliflower."

Barnes snorted out a laugh at that.

Julia started working her own controls. “Anyone going down will have this information loaded into their omnitools. And we’ll put the Transporter Stations on standby just in case we need to pull someone back.”

“A wise decision.” Fry checked the time on his omnitool. “Oh dear, it’s getting rather late, and Mister Hank is due at a Senator’s dinner later. As am I, I must admit.” Fry pumped his chest up a bit at that. “I shall have things to do… but yes, you should go see Mister Hank immediately. He will be waiting for you at Pan-Empyrean’s Main Offices near the Government Block. Is there anything else?”

“Do you know what was stolen, or what this project is about?” Julia asked.

“Oh, heavens no! No, I was not informed of that. The Defense Command has been keeping that information quiet. All I can tell you is that if Mister Hank is sending you on a hunt for it, you may have your work cut out for you.” Fry’s expression shifted, as if he suddenly remembered something and was embarrassed by the fact. “Also, I should mention… you will not be able to transport into Pan-Empyrean. They maintain a constant defensive field to prevent such entries. Transport down to the Alliance Embassy and a skycab will be arranged for you immediately.”

“We’ll be down shortly,” Robert assured him.

“Then I shall return. I have quite a few things to do today.” Without further word, Fry left the room.

“For the moment, I’m holding off on liberty requests,” Robert said to everyone, looking briefly to Meridina who, in reply, nodded in understanding. “Not until I know more about what’s going on. There is something off with this situation.”

“Aye, tell me about it.” Scotty nodded. “They invite us an’ then act like we’ve crashed through th’ front door.”

“Are you sure we should both be going down?” Julia asked. “With Zack and Jarod too? That means almost all of our command officers are away from the ships.”

“We’re the ones that Hank wants to see,” Robert said. “So I’m afraid that’s it. We’re all going down. Nick, you’ll have the bridge.”

“And we’re heading down now?” Zack asked. “Just like that?”

“I want to get this over with,” Robert insisted, standing up. Julia did as well, with Zack and Jarod taking just a moment more to do the same. “You’re all dismissed.”




The Alliance Embassy was on the top floors of one of the many massive arcology structures. The lower floors were office spaces and residential blocks, with a layer of offices and housing for diplomats from smaller world-based governments. The upper floors contained everything from a sizable cafeteria to opulent, elaborate housing for the embassy personnel, with the uppermost floor being that of the current Ambassador.

In the middle floors of the embassy portion was the docking bay for the embassy’s various vehicles. The craft that emerged was the flying equivalent of a limousine, with a spacious back area that seated the four officers from Aurora and Koenig in luxury.

None of them took the time to enjoy the complimentary drinks in the back, or any other luxury feature. Everyone was looking out the windows at the sight of Solaris. The city-moon’s arcologies and skyscrapers rose up to and even beyond the atmosphere. Those that did pierce into space were referred to as "starscrapers", or so their driver informed them. Massive displays adorned the sides of buildings, showing advertisements for various consumer products or companies in general. “Normally ya can’t see the ‘smartvertisements’,” their driver said with his New York accent. “Ya need data implants like the rest of ‘em. But the limo’s equipped to pick up their datastreams and display ’em on the windows’ interior.”

“Interesting.”

Julia was watching the number of massive structures that flew by. Solaris was, at least here, an amazing sight to behold, colorful and bright and opulent. “So people live in these buildings?”

“A lot of ‘em, yeah.” The craft flew above a large plate structure joined by numerous walkways to several nearby buildings Smaller buildings were on the plate, which included a lot for aircars. “They got stuff like that down there for shoppin’. The higher up you are, the fancier the shops and restaurants. Although some are built into the arcologies and skyscrapers themselves. Again, the higher they are, the more classy. Especially around the Government Block. We’re enterin’ San Dorado Block now, so we’ll be arrivin’ any minute.”

The skylimo continued on its way through its traffic lane, other similar vehicles moving alongside or above or below it. It banked right around a long building, flying over a large garden courtyard attached to said building, and flew on toward a tall structure ahead. Said structure stood out somewhat compared to the other structures of Solaris. Their look had been sharp, angled, very much “space age” to the 21st Century aesthetics the four had lived with. The building ahead looked like it could fit into Manhattan’s skyline if it wasn’t so tall. “PAN-EMPYREAN” was arranged in bright lighting along the front. A massive, stylized infinity symbol with wings was arrayed further below, in a solid section with no windows. Various sky vehicles were flying around it, coming or going from the vehicle bays. Their craft flew into an opening in the front and entered an internal parking lot. The driver flew up a level and then sought out, with success, an opening near the entrance to the offices themselves. “I’ll be waitin’ for you,” he reminded the four as they got out of the limo.

“Well, here we go,” Robert said, trying to keep confidence in his voice. “It’s time to see the illustrious Mister Hank.”




The inside of Pan-Empyrean was just as opulent as the outside. Upon their entry into the main lobby through the entrance, Robert and the others were in the middle of material grandeur. The vaulting ceiling was bright with warm light created by electric chandeliers that glittered with gold color. Fine sculptures of marble lined the walls, depicting what looked to be mythological figures. Corridors to right and left led off to office spaces while a number of elevator doors were kept together on the far wall of the lobby, flanked by further corridors. Automated drones moved about on anti-grav power, keeping the fine floor and the Pan-Empyrean logo set into it as reflective as a mirror.

A central desk ahead of them was manned by uniformed people, Humans of stature and strength, their gray security uniforms emblazoned with the winged infinity symbol insignia of Pan-Empyrean. One of them, a dark-skinned woman with close-cut black hair, watched them intently as they stepped up. Before Robert could speak she said, “Captain Dale from the Aurora, yes?”

“Yes,” he replied. “With officers.”

“You are on time. Bishop.” She looked to an older-looking guard beside her. “The escort is yours.”

“Follow me, sirs, ma’am,” Bishop said. The guard led them away from the desk and through the lobby toward what were obviously elevator or lift doors. Men and women in suits milled about them, some looking like they weren’t paying the slightest attention to their surroundings. A well-dressed Zigonian stepped off of a lift as they came up. Bishop kept them from entering it, allowing a short gray alien in a dark hat, a top hat at that, to step in. “He looks like an Asgard,” Julia said.

“That was an Apexei,” Bishop informed them. “Be careful around them. They’re all powerful psions. They tend to look down on Humans of any kind as backward apes.” He sneered. “Even though we’re the only thing between the little gray bastards and Byzon’s armies.”

“Byzon?” Zack asked.

Bishop eyed him as if he wasn’t sure Zack was screwing with him or serious. Realization dawned after a moment. “Right, you’re not from around here. Imperator Byzon, the Bragulans’ high-and-mighty ruler.”

“Oh, right. The bear aliens.”

Another lift ahead opened. This one had a unique design around its latinum-plated doors that marked it as special. Once they were inside it refused to move until Bishop gave it a full identification scan from his retina and hand. Once it blipped green the elevator began to move upward. “Mister Hank’s waiting in his office, but I can’t guarantee he’ll call you in right away. He’s a very busy man.”

“He’s got a company big enough to be its own interstellar state,” Julia observed. “So we’re not surprised.”

Bishop nodded and said nothing more.

When the lift stopped, they stepped out into an antechamber with a luscious blue carpet. About ten meters ahead was a pair of big wooden doors, a fine dark tan in color like mahogany, with a desk beside it where a lightly-tanned young woman sat. She had no computer display in front of her and seemed to be staring toward the lift. To either side of the entrance were fine leather chairs. “Welcome to Mister Hank’s office,” the young woman said. “My name is Ariadne and I am Mister Hank’s secretary. You would be Captain Dale and party?”

“We are, yes,” Robert replied.

Ariadne seemed to be looking at something else for a moment before her brown eyes focused on them again. “Mister Hank is in a hypercomm conference meeting right now and can’t be disturbed. Please have a seat and I will inform you when he is ready to see you.”

With nothing else to do, the four took seats, Robert and Julia on one side of the room and Zack and Jarod on the other. Zack looked around. “I don’t suppose there are any magazines…?”

“You’re probably expected to load publications into a neural implant,” Jarod replied.

“Indeed,” Ariadne said. “I do apologize for the inconvenience. We offer complimentary news access compatible with M4P2-standard omnitools, you may log in as you desire.”

Jarod nodded and turned on his omnitool. At first the others thought he was going to look up news sites as Ariadne had suggested. Zack noticed he had the scanner running instead. "What's up?"

"I was just curious about something. About this building. The mass numbers don't add up."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that the sensor returns I'm getting aren't consistent with normal matter." He looked at the screen over his left forearm intently. "It's hard-light, actually."

"What's hard-light?" Julia asked.

Before Jarod could reply, Ariadne said, "The entire building."

"The entire building." Robert's voice betrayed his shock. "But the power requirements, the… the control issues…"

"Why would someone make a hard-light building?" Julia asked aloud. "The kind of generators you'd need to project the hard-light, the power to keep it going, it's got to cost far more than any building can be worth."

"You'll have to answer Mister Hank," Ariadne stated. "He's ready to see you now."

They stood up and walked to the doors, which swung open for them. The fine carpet continued inside, into the office.

The office was huge. It was easily the size of a large house, with winding stairs along either side leading to a second level. Massive windows, or perhaps viewscreens, looked out at the Solarian skyline and the tall starscrapers around Pan-Empyrean, where sky-vehicles continued to make their way through the air in streams of semi-organized traffic. While the second level wasn't visible, the first had a thirty foot long conference table of fine amber-shaded wood to their right, while to their left were a number of large leather-clad chairs around wooden tables with the same amber shade. One of the tables still had a tray upon it with a bottle, closed, and fine glasses. On wall spaces beside the door were paintings of the highest caliber. "A Rembrandt," Jarod said quietly, looking at one. "Belshazzar's Feast". He looked to the other side of the door, this painting depicting a nude woman sitting and having her feet tended to by a fully-clothed figure. "Bathsheba at Her Bath".

Further into the room, between the windows on either side, were great hutches and bookshelves, the former filled with even more bottles and collections of beautiful handcrafted drinking glasses, the latter with leather-bound books. The names and titles they saw on the spines as they walked along were often in gold: Hobbes, Locke, Dickens, Verne, Stevenson, Tolkein, Poe, Conan Doyle, with even older tomes that had names rendered in Latin. The quartet walked along and Jarod continued to note further art works along the walls. "Starry Night by van Gogh. Sorrow, Van Gogh. I see Titian, da Vinci, Tintoretto…" Jarod glanced down at his omnitool. "The materials are right…"

Julia realized where he was going with this. "Are these originals, Jarod?"

It wasn't Jarod who answered with, "I should hope so, given the amount of money I paid for them."

Ahead of them, behind a great desk of the same amber color as the tables now behind them, was Mr. Hank himself. Sidney Hank was in a business jacket much like the image they'd seen before. In person he exuded a peculiar, friendly warmth, but there was a look in his eyes that belied general friendliness. This was a man used to power, and used to it for a very, very long time.

"Quite a number of Rembrandts here, and is that a de Bray?" Jarod motioned to a painting on the right side of the room, to Hank's left.

"It is."

Jarod continued to look around. "Vermeer, Hals… I can see you're a fan of the Dutch Golden Age."

Hank's lips formed a slight grin. "There's something appealing about the way the Dutch artists of that age captured the mundane, everyday facets of life."

"And they're originals," Jarod said.

"I would think they'd be in museums," Zack said. "I mean, aren't paintings like this usually kept in museums?"

"That can… depend, Commander." Hank motioned to four prepared chairs of rich, burgundy-colored leather. He sank back into his own high-backed office chair, this one of rich blue color, with the insignia of Pan-Empyrean at the top above his head. "Please, Captain, Commanders, sit. It's good to see you." He turned slightly to his right, where a tray held a glass decanter and a caramel-colored liquid inside. He poured five glasses. "Help yourselves. This is Parthegon brandy, from the Chardonne. They refuse to bottle anything that hasn't been in an oak cask for at least ten years."

With some trepidation, they took the offered drinks. Zack reached last and had an unhappy look on his face. Hank smiled gently and extended a hand to him. "I can provide you a detoxicant, Commander. I don't wish you to feel uncomfortable given the business we have to discuss."

"That's a generous offer, but that's not…" Zack stopped and sighed. He shook his head. "Thank you for the offer."

"It can take a strong man to deal with his flaws directly," Hank noted. "I won't bother you with a toast. Please, drink up."

They all did. The taste was strong, but it was at least certainly more than just alcohol, and the taste was at least appealing.

As soon as he put his glass down, Robert said, "Admiral Maran refused to speak about what's going on, and Ambassador Fry doesn't seem to know."

"Yes. Secrecy can be vital in these matters. Especially on Solaris and especially involving our current delicate relations with your Alliance." Hank kept himself in a comfortable pose in his chair, keeping his glass of brandy at hand. After speaking he sipped at it and openly savored the taste.

"That Warstar commander wasn't happy to have us," Julia said. "And the way they jerked us around on the approach…"

"President Sinclair was sending me a message, reminding me of her disapproval to inviting you here. A message that the military was happy to join in with, I imagine." Hank's smile nearly turned into a smirk. "When you get to a position like mine, governments start to get uneasy. Or, rather, the people serving as government. I am still deciding on whether I'm going to let the gesture pass or reply with one of my own."

"Mending bridges may help us with the investigation," Robert proposed. "This technology theft might require us to get help from the government."

To that, Hank snorted out a laugh. "Perhaps in another state, Captain Dale. But this is Solaris. I don't trust the Sovereignty government any more than I trust my competitors, few as they are. I have resources that will serve just as well."

"If you do, why call us?"

"Because it is your Alliance's project, Commander Carrey. And because I think having you involved will be an asset to the investigation." Hank put his hands together on the table. "To steal from my lab requires one of two things: resources or someone on the inside. And even the latter may not be enough without the former. My security measures are too much for a thief acting on their own, even a thief inside of Pan-Empyrean. But if I investigate alone and the thieves still have someone inside my company, they may be forewarned. So it's best to get someone from the outside."

"What records do you have of the theft?" Jarod asked.

Hank looked to his left for a moment. A holographic screen popped into existence between the desk and the wall. The laboratory in question had a number of white-suited individuals moving about on whatever business they had. The far wall of the image suddenly suddenly seemed to partly fade away, creating a gap. Armed beings came in with weapons raised. The lab workers all ran for cover or immediately threw their hands up. "It looks like a strike team of at least six people," Jarod observed, even as two of them disappeared from the screen. After thirty seconds they came back with a dark, boxy object now on the back of one of them. They all withdrew through the hole in the wall, which shortly reassembled itself.

"They disrupted the hard-light of the wall," Julia said. "You've got safety backups for your structure, right?"

"Of course. They were overpowered locally. The devices to do so aren't unknown in Solaris. Photon disruptors aren't cheap, however, and are very bulky."

"And a team of that size and training isn't cheap either," Jarod noted.

Robert nodded. "I see your point then. What did they steal?"

"A vital component to the project we're developing with the Alliance," Hank answered. "Your Defense Command has spared no expense in getting my people what they needed to succeed in this."

"What kind of project is this?" Julia asked.

To that, Hank shook his head. "I'm afraid, Commander, that I can't share that detail with you. Not by my choice, but at the behest of your superiors."

"So you want us to find something you can't say a word about?" Zack asked.

"I'm under no illusion that it will be easy, Commander Carrey. But given the record of your accomplishments together, I'm confident you'll find our missing component."

"What if we find it's likely been moved off-world?" Julia asked. "Or even if we find it here, I can't imagine the Sovereignty will allow us to go after it with our Marines."

"No, they wouldn't. That's why I'm going to give you the call number for one of my employees, Jason Chandra. Mister Chandra is in charge of my special security squad, the Wild Geese. You find him a target, he'll take it down, even if it's offworld." Hank savored another drink before continuing. "But I suspect it hasn't left yet. My people in Solarian security have been very thorough in checking outgoing ships. No… I suspect that the thieves are lying low for a while, until we become convinced they've escaped the moon. Then they'll move. So we still have time."

"Don't you have investigators on your payroll?" asked Julia. Her voice didn't betray the suspicions behind the question.

"It's likely any of my people will get noticed, especially if this was an inside job." Hank gestured to them. "You, on the other hand, are unknown to the Solarian underworld. Don't take your uniforms and you'll pass for baseliners easily."

"And just hope we don't have to go into one of the zones of Solaris where baseline Humans can't go?" Robert asked.

"I can make arrangements if such comes up. I suspect they'll stick to the green zones, though. Especially if there is any offworld element to the crew."

Robert nodded at that. "Do we have anything to go on? The video doesn't give us physical descriptions. Did your internal sensors get anything from them? Or do you know what their escape craft looked like?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. And I will provide you with that imagery as well."

"I can't imagine they'll keep a getaway car, especially if they know they were being recorded."

"Actually, that is our one advantage, Commander Andreys." Hank took another sip of his brandy. "They used an attack program with a cyber-memetic repeating algorithm code on my building's security when they invaded. A normal CI would have been completely sidelined by the attack program. Thankfully, Dionysus is not a normal CI, and he was able to preserve imagery and recordings that our thieves understandably believed to be destroyed."

"There's that, at least," Jarod mused. "If you give me all of the relevant data on the break-in, I can start analyzing it as soon as I'm back on the Aurora."

Hank responded by running his hand over a hard-light keyboard that popped up on his desk. Jarod's omnitool flashed to life again with a blinking button. He pressed it. "That's all of our data on the break-in and the relevant transponder code for the gear that was stolen. The short-range transmitter is built into the container and works only on this subchannel." Hank made a show of checking his watch. "I'm afraid I must see you off now. I have a board meeting to get to and then a dinner invitation I must fulfill. Feel free to send any new information you receive to Ariadne or Mister Chandra."

It was clear that the session was over and no more questions would be answered. They stood and walked out.




The Pan-Empyrean building disappeared around the corner of another tall arcology before Jarod said, "There's something more to this."

"It seems that way," Robert agreed. "I can't believe Maran would send us in blind like this."

"He must not have a choice." Julia looked out of the window at the passing sight of Solaris.

"Jarod, who do you need to help you with this?"

He spent only a moment considering Robert's question before replying, "Barnes, maybe, or Scotty, to see what they think about the technical issues."

"I'll have them meet you in Science Lab 1 once we beam back. Keep me informed."

"I'll let you know as soon as we find something," Jarod promised.




After returning to the ship and handling various command issues, Robert went to the Lookout for an early dinner meal. Hargert's meal for the evening was grilled chicken smoked with mesquite and cut for various uses - salads, sandwiches, or by itself - with a variety of vegetable sides.

While picking at his dinner, Robert watched Solaris through the window. They were over one of the highest-built zones on the moon, with starscraper structures so high that they breached the atmosphere and became space stations at their apex. The engineering knowledge needed to make such structures placed Solaris among the most advanced societies in the entire Multiverse. He couldn't think of another planet that looked like this. Maybe it's because the Asari and Gersallians don't see the need in 'starscraper' buildings? he mused.

"Any seats taken?"

Robert looked up to see Zack carrying his own plates. He shook his head, prompting Zack to sit down. "I've never seen anything like it," Zack admitted.

"Maybe they felt the need to 'grow tall', so to speak," Robert said. "They don't have room to expand through colonization anymore. This area of space has been settled for too long."

"So they just keep building bigger and bigger buildings until you can't tell where the buildings end and the space stations begin." Zack noted one particularly large, bulbous structure. "Isn't that the main space elevator?"

"It is. The Sovereignty Spire, where their government bureaucracy and Senate are located."

"It's times like these that I understand Cat," Zack said while absentmindedly using his fork to gather up a bite from his chicken salad. "I wasn't out here for the exploration stuff, but when you see something like this, you can't help but wonder about it."

"I know." Robert took a small bite of chicken sandwich. Once he finished swallowing he said, "It looks like the four of us have been picked for this little investigation."

"I wonder about that, actually. Why us specifically? Any crew could have done this. I mean, why not send out Madeleine Laurent? She's got a good crew on the Challenger. Or Ming Li Chung, I hear she's doing real well on the Shenzhou." Zack held up his fork with another bite on it. "I mean, if they're so worried about a military ship here, the Discovery-class ships are a lot less threatening than we are."

"And that's assuming they want one of ours, from the Facility days," Robert pointed out.

"I know, but I honestly don't know many captains in the Alliance service very well," Zack replied.

"Right." Robert took the time to enjoy another bite, as did Zack. After swallowing and taking a drink from his tea, Robert said, "Well, Meridina wants to go down anyway. She wants to take Lucy to meet people."

"More training with the life power stuff?"

"Yeah. For Lucy."

"Ah." Zack gave him a curious look. "But not you?"

"Well, I am several months behind her." Robert shrugged. "And I get the feeling that it's something specific to Lucy that needs addressing."

"Right. Of course, that might interfere in the invest…"

Before Zack could finish Robert's omnitool lit up. He tapped the blinking blue light over the back of his left hand. "Dale here."

"Sir, we've been going over the data Mister Hank provided. I think we've found something," said Jarod.

Robert answered, "We're on our way". He took a final bite of his mostly-finished meal and stood to leave.

Zack eyed his own unfinished meal and sighed before standing up to follow.




Science Lab 1's speciality was in the field of analysis of computer data and computer sciences in general. Robert had long learned that this encompassed a wide variety of items, from analyzing records to examining alien computer databases and hardware.

Now the main holographic viewer in the middle of the Lab was set to show the escape vehicle from the attack on Pan-Empyrean's labs. Jarod had the image zoomed in, showing the sleek nature of what Robert couldn't stop thinking of as a flying car. Beside Jarod Barnes was looking at the image as well. Meridina and Scotty were behind them and Julia was to the side. "Anti-gravs that powerful shudnae be hard t' trace," said the elder engineer. "If ye have th' graviton profile an' other points of data down."

"The problem is that these things are pretty widespread," Barnes added. "Solarian LARCs are the most common kind of anti-grav vehicle on the entire moon."

"But do they have their own individual signatures or patterns?" Meridina asked. "Individual enough for us to track?"

"Not enough," Jarod replied. "From what I've seen it doesn't vary in individual models, only model types. Every other model like this on Solaris would give roughly the same profile. You'd have to be within a few meters, maybe ten or twelve at most, to detect any variation unique to a particular machine."

"Do we have that profile?" Robert asked him. "In the records?"

Jarod took a few moments to check. "Yes, I think we do."

"So we can identify it if we get close enough," Robert noted.

"That will be the tricky part. We can't even search most of the moon given the environmental hazards," Jarod pointed out.

"Yeah. These people have all those frakking freaky stuff that can fry our brains."

"Any luck coming up with protections?" Zack asked.

"I've talked with Leo but…" He shrugged. "Unless you go in with a full spacesuit? I'm not sure. Some of their tech makes the idea of subliminal messaging look like it's a brick thrown into a greenhouse. I mean, it's like epilepsy, just that they've found things any Human is vulnerable to. I'm not sure we can protect against everything. Maybe a few things, if someone's wearing headgear or something."

"Let's save that for later, if we need it," Robert said. "Do you think there's any way to track where the car went?"

"Their sensor nets generally don't record to the level needed to pick out this vehicle from others of its type," Jarod said.

"Maybe not. But if you can look for cars of a similar kind, cross-reference the times…" Zack let his suggestion hang in the air for a moment. "I mean, it'll narrow things down at least, right?"

Barnes nodded at Zack. "It's a damned good suggestion."

"Right." Jarod changed the system. "Let me see if Hank's data included anything we could use…. Ah, there we go. It looks like he's got an extensive sensor network around his complex. I'm going over the record now, let's see what pops up."

The display showed a general top-level view of Solaris, with the Pan-Empyrean structure in the middle. A number of small red dots appeared, but only one was in the precise position off of Pan-Empyrean to be their suspect. The vehicle began to move away. It followed one traffic lane, then a second, skirting the Government Block. It passed through a built up zone, the Farbanti Block, and moved into the next area, where it merged into a larger traffic pattern that already included several dots.

"Dammit." Robert looked at Jarod. "Can we identify it in that mess?"

"I running an algorithm to try and sort through the contacts." A few of the red dots lit up and move on. One went into a zone called Ozone Heights. A second descended into the lower levels before it disappeared abruptly. The third split off and entered an area listed only as "the Sprawl".

"Three possibilities," Julia murmured.

"That means three teams," Robert said. "And we'll want to blend in. This should look like ordinary leave."

"I will go to the Sprawl with Lucy," Meridina said. "It is where the enclave I wish to visit is located. To an observer it will seem I am there to pursue my own purpose."

"Jarod, I heard Ensign Arterria wants to take liberty planetside?"

Jarod nodded in reply. It was Julia who said, "And I think Cat and Angel will be going as well."

"Well, Ozone Heights should be safe enough," Robert said.

"Which leaves the lower levels." Robert thought that would prove the most dangerous. "What do you think made it disappear like that?"

"The most likely explanation is that it reached the lower edge of Hanks' nearest scanner," Jarod said. "From what I can tell, it was right at the extent of its range. But another possibility is that it entered an emission-shielded area, maybe a parking lot."

"At five hundred meters above the ground?" After a moment of contemplation, Barnes added, "Or whatever counts for the ground on Solaris."

"I'm not sure Solaris has a ground level or 'sea level' as we commonly think of them," Jarod murmured. "But either way, yes. Solaris has a patchwork of walkways and mid-air platforms and bridges suspended between its skyscrapers and starscrapers, all the way to just a few meters off the ground, so any such bridge or inter-building connecting structure could house a lot for the vehicle, or even one of the nearby buildings. Honestly, I think it's our hardest search of them all."

"That's why I'll go," Robert said. "Maybe I can sense where to take us."

"I'll go with you, then, and watch your back," said Zack.

Jarod nodded. "And I'll go."

"And I will stay behind and run the ship, as usual," Julia remarked dryly.

Robert almost remarked that's what she did best, but he stopped himself at the thought it might not be an appreciated sentiment. "Get the liberty requests completed, then, and we'll head out in the morning after breakfast. I'll let Hank know what we found."

"One last thing, actually. It's something you should all see." Jarod started tapping keys. All of the prior displayed went away and were replaced by the image of the Pan-Empyrean structure. A diagram slid to the side, showing the building's exact dimensions as viewed from the outside. On the other side showed scan results from Jarod's omnitool once they were inside. "I got this from my passive scans while we were visiting Mr. Hank. Notice anything?"

At first, nobody quite did. Scotty was the first to do so. "Well, I'll be… th' numbers dinnae match. They're all wrong."

"Yeah." Barnes nodded. Surprise was showing on his face. "According to your omnitool, the inside of the building is bigger than the exterior allows for."

As realization dawned on the others, Jarod tapped keys and brought up a pair of scan results. "I had to do a very careful scan to detect the pattern, but it fits."

"The Pan-Empyrean Building is bigger on the inside," Meridina said. "Like a Darglan structure."

Jarod nodded. "Exactly. He's got a dimensionally-transcendental field running."

"What the hell, why didn't we get briefed on this?" Zack asked. "If the Solarians have DTF, what else do they have?"

"Actually, that's another curious part. From what I can see, they don't." Jarod gestured to a scan result of the moon that he brought up. "No other DTFs are evident. Just the Pan-Empyrean building."

"Given the nature of the Sovereignty's political and economic system, it's possible that only Hank actually has the technology," Julia pointed out. "But the building didn't seem that big. How much extra space is it giving him?

Jarod replied, "Nothing to the extent of the Darglan DTFs we've seen in use, which is why we didn't pick it up on sensors until we were in orbit. In fact, the building's only about ten percent larger on the inside than the outside."

"That's just a frakking waste," Barnes groused. "Even a ten percent DTF requires a lot of Goddamned energy. It's more efficient to go for at least a fifty percent level, if not a full doubling of interior size. If he doesn't need something like that, why bother with the expense? Why not just plan a few more floors or something?"

Robert and Julia exchanged glances. "Actually, I can think of the reason why," Robert said.

"Yeah." Julia nodded. "It's to show that he can."

"Just like all of those paintings in his office," Jarod agreed. "And those books. Mister Hank likes to let people know just how much wealth and power he wields. And I think we should be really careful in dealing with him."

"Yes," agreed Meridina.

To that Robert's response was the obvious pledge of "We will be."




Meridina found Lucy in her quarters studying the scans she'd taken of Swenya's Blade with her omnitool. She was off-duty and wearing a baggy tank top and dark blue skirt that reflected she'd had no thought of visitors coming by. "There's something about that crystal," she said to Meridina. "I mean, even without the intensive scans, basic analysis shows…" She stopped herself at seeing Meridina's expression and sensing her feelings. "I know. I should let it go. But it's just… it's this puzzle I want to figure out, gnawing at the back of my brain like some… some… gnawing gribbly little monster." When Meridina said nothing further Lucy sighed and shut down the monitor. "I'm becoming obsessed with this thing."

"There is no harm in what you aspire to, only in how you get there," Meridina answered. "I am being sent down tomorrow as part of our current mission to Solaris. We will be going into the Sprawl to scan for a vehicle."

"You sense, I scan?" Lucy asked.

"I suppose. Although I have my own plans for our visit. There is an enclave in the Sprawl where a number of those who tap their swevyra meet and exchange their beliefs and knowledge. I believe a visit to this place may be of great assistance to you."

"For learning more about my life energy outside of how to fight with it."

"Yes." Meridina went over to one of the extra chairs and sat down to face Lucy. She, in turn, left the chair at her desk and went to the small couch, sitting at the corner and propping her bare feet up on the coffee table. "I would be remiss if I did not balance your training."

"How does this work in the Order of Swenya?" Lucy asked. "I mean, I thought field swevyra'se - knights - would focus on combat arts because they're the most likely to fight, just as healers focus on healing. And general users try everything?"

"Yes, we do spend some time on combat arts," Meridina said. "But even a field swevyra'se needs to have wider education. Too much focus on combat can undermine emotional control. It can lead to enjoyment of the power as a way to counter the fear. That is a path to darkness that few ever return from."

"And you don't want me to go that way." Lucy nodded. She'd felt darkness a couple of times. She knew it was wrong and she didn't want anything to do with it. But she could remember how that power felt too. If she was in a bad place emotionally, or desperate like she had been when fighting that Changeling on 33LA, Lucy could give in.

Meridina nodded. "I do not wish for you to go through what I did, or for you to become like Dralan Olati… or Mastrash Goras."

"He was a good man, wasn't he?"

"I believe so. He and my father were close from the time they were initiates. He fought in the wars with the Coserians and the Tresalians to protect our people, and he saved thousands from enslavement or murder. I suspect that Goras himself may have never realized he could one day fall." Meridina turned thoughtful. "My mother never quite liked him. She felt he had too much pride. Maybe she knew better than we did that pride could take him."

"Maybe if the Multiversal age never started, he would never have fallen."

"Perhaps, perhaps not. It was his choice in the end to listen to his pride and distrust. I know I am not above some of those emotions that lead to darkness."

"And I'm not either. I still remember that Turian we saw on the Citadel, the one that was beating up that poor Quarian. The things he said, they…" Lucy went deep into thought for a moment as emotions swelled inside her. Her jaw clenched as old, painful memories surfaced. "...they reminded me of things people had said about me growing up. Of things that son of a bitch Duffy said. The things his son would say while he… while he tortured me." Lucy's voice took on a hollow quality. The painful memories made her feel like she was about to choke. Her eyes teared up.

Meridina left the chair and sat on the couch beside Lucy. Lucy accepted her offered hand and could feel the warmth, both physical and through their life energies, that came from her teacher. Meridina said nothing, either verbally or through her mind. She didn't need to.

The pain in Lucy's blue eyes receded quietly. "Thank you," she said to Meridina. "I'm okay. As I was saying… I understand what you mean. If you think this excursion will help, I'm more than ready for it."

"Then we will go in the morning. 0900."

"I'll be there."




Julia had the Delgados and Ensign Arterria meet her in her office on Deck 4. "So my liberty is approved?" Violeta asked.

"Liberty for all three of you. Conditional on doing the scans we require in the marked area." Julia used her omnitool display to show them the area in question. "It's in a region called Ozone Heights."

"And if we find the car, we…?"

"You call me," Julia answered Angel. "And then I call Mister Hank's security man and his team handles the situation."

"Huh." Angel gave Caterina a look. "It sounds dangerous. And we just did a super-dangerous field mission."

"Yeah, but it's just some scans."

"So was the last mission."

"I'll still go," Caterina said to Julia. Her hand was gripping Violeta's. "Violeta wants to see Solaris, and I do too. I'll keep my scanner active while I'm down there."

"I guess I"m going too," Angel sighed. "But if I see one damned shapeshifting monster…" She let the sentence trail off.

"Glad to hear it," said Julia. "We're all beaming down around 0900, or rather you're all doing it while I stay up here and mind the ship."

"Why are we beaming down together?" Violeta asked.

"Because the Solarians have transport-jammers up," Julia answered. "We can only beam down to the Embassy. You'll be taking local transportation to your specific search areas, or rather leave areas." Julia smirked. "I suspect you three will enjoy yours the most. Meridina and Lucy are heading for something called the Sprawl and Robert, Zack, and Jarod are off to one of the lowest levels."

"So, 0900 it is. We get up, we eat breakfast, we go down." Angel made a show of checking the time. "And since it's already almost 2300, I'm off to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

Julia waited patiently for everyone to file out before she did as well.




The time on Robert's display flashed 0140 when the tone woke him up. He remained groggy for a moment while his thoughts formed enough to reach for the control key to activate the comm. "Dale here," he said, trying not to grumble at being interrupted in his sleep.

"Bridge here, sir. We're picking up a signal from Solaris, sir. It's… well… it seems to be the Solarian President."

"What?" Robert blinked and tried to force his sleepy brain into gear. "Can you confirm that?"

"The transmission is coming from the Presidential Palace, sir. And our systems confirm its her voiceprint."

"Alright." Robert yawned and reached for his nightrobe. "Give me about ten seconds to look presentable and put her through."

He stood and pulled the robe on over his pajamas, grateful that he'd gotten back in the habit of wearing them after his relationship with Angel ended. The last thing he needed was to be a bathrobe slip away from being naked when speaking to a Head of State.

The woman who appeared on the screen was indeed Victoria Sinclair, President of the United Solarian Sovereignty. Behind her the windows showed the lit-up skyline after nightfall in that area of the moon, much as the star no longer quite shined outside of Robert's window. "Captain Dale," she said. "I seem to have woken you up. I suppose you are operating a few hours ahead of us."

"We use the standard Earth 24 hour day," Robert answered.

"Ah. Solaris uses a twenty-five hour day. I am just about to retire for the evening myself." The President kept a serene smile on her face. "I know you must have your own duties to attend to, but I would like the chance to meet you, Captain. Would you mind letting me entertain you for breakfast in, oh, nine or so hours? An informal affair, I assure you."

Robert immediately knew he had no choice. You didn't turn down an offer like that without severe diplomatic consequences. And regardless of what Sidney Hank had said, he still held out hope for at least some official assistance in their investigation, or at least perhaps a loosening of the restrictions the government had on his ship. Spurning a meeting would send entirely the wrong signal.

Of course, if he went, it also meant he couldn't go down to the lower levels with Zack and Jarod.

A small part of him wondered, with more paranoia than sense, if that was Sinclair's purpose.

He pushed that thought away and answered, "I would be honored, Madame President."

"Good. I look forward to meeting you in person, Captain. Sleep well." She disappeared from the screen.

Robert groaned and pulled off the robe. As he laid down he made the decision not to bother anyone with the change in plans until the morning. They all needed their sleep. He only hoped they would sleep without interruption, unlike him.



"Well, I guess that explains you not picking up any breakfast," Julia said.

Robert nodded from his seat across from Julia in the Lookout. Zack was to his left and Jarod to his right. Everyone had a delicious-looking breakfast meal made up of ham omelettes, cereal, oranges, and strips of bacon with sausages. Robert had only a plate of the last items to nibble on until he was due for the breakfast with the President.

"I could possibly join you when I'm done," he said to them. "But I have no idea how long this meal will take, and I have to beam down shortly to consult Ambassador Fry before I head to the Presidential Palace. I don't think he's going to be happy about this."

"But it's a done deal." Jarod looked across the table at Zack, currently chewing on his orange. "Looks like it's just us."

Zack swallowed. "Yeah. Could be fun."

"I suppose we could bring Tom."

"To the lower levels?" Zack made a face. "And what happens if he mouths off to some guy with implants we don't notice until he's using them to stomp our faces?"

With a mouth full of omelette, Jarod nodded his head slightly to show he accepted the point.

"I'd ask Kane, but sending our lead Marine down, even as 'liberty', might be too much," Robert said. "We're at least close friends and a reasonable group going on liberty together. I'm not sure Kane will be able to pass for that, especially if they have mind-readers or some other way of judging the situation."

"Well, our list of possibilities is short." Julia smiled thinly. "So it should probably be me."

"Are you sure?" Zack asked her.

"Well, I'm supposed to do these things more than Robert anyway," she said. "I admit I'm not entirely happy with leaving Nick as our only senior officer with command experience on the ship, but that's the situation we're in. Everything I've heard says the lower levels are dangerous even inside the 'green zone' regions. You two will need someone along to help out."

"She's right," Robert said. "So you three will head there while I go off to have breakfast with President Sinclair. If this works out, maybe I'll learn something we can use for this investigation, or at the very least get us some leeway with the government."

Zack grinned wryly. "The last time we were in the field together was Abydos. This should be fun."

Julia returned the wry look. Somehow, she suspected it would be more dangerous than fun.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-01 11:48pm

Ambassador Fry had a displeased look on his face. He'd called Robert and Julia into his office the moment they beamed down to discuss their plans for the day while the others arranged transport. Robert was in standard full uniform, black with red command trim, while Julia was in a leather bomber jacket and a navy blue sleeveless blouse with blue jeans. Her hair was put up into a bun instead of a ponytail, a quiet signal to others that she expected possible fighting. "I am uncomfortable with this situation, Captain," he admitted upon entry to his office. He went to his desk and sat down behind it while Robert and Julia found seats in front of it. "Relations with the Sovereignty are extremely delicate. If you say or do the wrong thing with President Sinclair…"

"I'll be careful," Robert promised.

"It's not just about being careful with your wording, Captain," Fry insisted. "The Sovereignty is a disjointed mess of conflicting power blocs that wouldn't last without Olympic keeping the lights running. If you make Sinclair think for a moment that you're in Sidney Hank's pocket, she will become our enemy. And if you make her think she's got you in her pocket, then Mister Hank will undoubtedly respond the same way, not to mention that she will presume she can win favors from you." Sweat showed on Fry's forehead, demonstrating the full level of his agitation. He directed his strained eyes toward Julia. "And as for this scheme of yours, Commander. Taking armed teams onto Solarian soil…"

"Their own laws allow us to be armed for self-defense," Julia retorted.

"That won't mean anything if you end up shooting some Max-Tec trooper!" Fry cried. "Or if you get involved in a shootout in the middle of Ozone Heights! These people don't know what to think of us, they mistrust us deeply, and having you running around scanning everywhere will just make things worse… my God why do you have to do this anyway?! Hank has all the assets he needs to investigate this!"

"He's worried that someone within the company was involved in the thefts and that they could compromise any investigation his people make."

"Is that all? With a company that big, unless the traitor was at the very top of the rank pole, what are the odds that they could spread their influence wide enough to catch everything the company does?"

"That might be why Hank is concerned," Julia said. "Maybe he's facing someone in a senior position selling Pan-Empyrean out? Someone with the access to assist in the theft and to spy on investigations."

"Possible," Fry conceded. "Very possible. But Mister Hank is a man of immense resources. I can't fathom why he needs you to do this investigation. He could just as easily hire mercenaries or private investigators."

The argument was a good one. Robert and Julia, at that moment, wondered just why Hank insisted on them. And not just them as Alliance officers, but specifically, their crew. Zack had pointed out that there were other captains that could have been sent and worked just as well on this investigation.

Fry continued on. "Damn. I know it's too late for you to back out. And you were ordered to assist him in any case, so you couldn't. But this does not sit right to me, Captain, Commander. There's no telling what agenda is being served, here or back in Portland."

Back in Portland. Where Defense Minister Hawthorne and his ally, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Davies, remained implacable foes to the Aurora crew. Could they have outmaneuvered Maran in some way to set them up to take a fall? If the Aurora's activities caused a breach with the Sovereignty, it would give Davies and Hawthorne ammunition in their efforts to take the Aurora.

"We'll be careful, Mister Ambassador," Julia assured him. "Trust us."

"I must, Commander. And I can only wish you good luck. And you must really get going, Captain, I don't want you to hold up the President."

Robert nodded and joined Julia in leaving the office. They arrived at the open parking area at the front of the embassy to find the others waiting. Jarod was in a black leather jacket with a green shirt underneath and black slacks and shoes. Zack had on an old jeans-material jacket of faded blue color, a shirt with the Kansas City Cardinals emblem on the front, and blue jeans.

The second group was dressed similarly. Angel had a sleeveless blouse and black leather jacket with navy blue pants, hair pulled back into a bun like Angel's. Caterina had eschewed a jacket for a blue sweatshirt with the emblem of an atom on the chest, a collared light blue shirt underneath the sweatshirt, and medium blue pants over white shoes; Violeta had a long-sleeved white blouse and was the only one wearing a skirt, using the same white color as the blouse, although she had thigh-length navy blue socks over pantyhose and white tennis shoes.

Meridina and Lucy were wearing matching clothing; brown traveling robes over cream white vests and baggy pants. Lucy had dark-colored tennis shoes while Meridina had on a pair of shoes called lintam, slip-on shoes with a pair of straps near the ankle.

"Any problems?" Zack asked.

"The Ambassador isn't happy, but he's not stopping us," Julia said. "We'll take public transportation to keep our cover of being on liberty. Everyone has the Solarian dollars loaded for use?" Everyone nodded. "Good. Let's get going. Remember to check in every hour."

"Yes ma'am," Violeta said obediently.

As they walked away Robert called out, "Good luck."

Julia turned back to him and smirked. "We're not the ones going to breakfast with one of the most powerful women in this universe. You might need that luck more."

At that Robert sighed. "Don't I know it?" he murmured. He walked toward the carport to get his ride to the Presidential Palace.




Ozone Heights did not disappoint. Indeed, Jarod's description of it to them didn't even do it justice.

The neighborhood was built among several blocks of skyscrapers and starscrapers, fifty meters high, two kilometers long and a kilometer and a half wide, its lowest level a little under three and a half kilometers above ground level. The 'scraper buildings it was attached to were all primarily arcologies, specifically pricey residences for those willing to pay to live in the Ozone Heights. The spaces between the 'scrapers were used for commercial properties, essentially being a massive twelve story-tall shopping mall with every service one might imagine available.

The three young ladies departed the sky-bus at its designated stop, at the south terminal, among a crowd of people. The Solarians were wearing suits that varied in color and style; some looked little different from what the three Aurora crew were wearing, while others had an outlandish look to them with the way the suits were cut or formed. Three figures in sleeveless vests showing arms covered in tattoos and implants walked by, their heads topped with foot-high mohawks of red and purple hair. One had a hairless alien hexaped draped over his or her bare shoulders. A large reptilian in what looked to Cat and Angel to be a Catholic priest's uniform walked beside a Human man with electronics all over his head.

They moved with the crowd through the entrance and approached a cylinder of glass or plastic. The device was quickly revealed to be an advertisement display. It was running its standard routine of ads for those without the implants to see smartvertisements. The first ad they saw was for the SinTEK Implant Store in the Heights, touting the "affordable" monthly payments for a new top-of-the-line neural data implant with advanced quantum computing capability and bandwidth to sustain dedicated brain-state backups. The second ad was for NeuroAware Implants, with patented NeuroProtect firmware to protect your brain from malicious data coding, for a price comparable to the SinTEK option. Cat did the math in her head on the exchange. "These things would cost a year of my salary."

"The highest end models would devour over a year of Rob's salary," Angel added.

The next ad popped up. "Tired of the same old tired candy? Of those little pills to keep you virile and hard? That's why you need ORGAZMO!" The image changed to show pieces of colored candy, all of which had a certain familiar shape to them that drew a blush from Angel and widened eyes of surprise from Cat and Violeta. "Now in six thrilling flavors, all guaranteed to provide the greatest orgasm you have ever known! ORGAZMO is recommended by four out of five doctors for treating frustration… because the fifth one was too busy enjoying ORGAZMO to vote! Find ORGAZMO at your local grocery store today!" The ad suddenly flashed to a very, very fast-moving script of warnings, complete with a rapid fire announcer giving health warnings about use or overuse of ORGAZMO.

"There is no way I am touching that stuff," Caterina announced.

"It's kind of unfair," Violeta said. "They didn't think of people like us when they made it." She turned and grinned mischievously toward Cat. "I can think of a shape we wouldn't mind trying out."

Caterina responded with a deep blush on her cheeks.

After giving her blushing girlfriend a quick kiss on the cheek, Violeta activated her omnitool and used it to interface with the nearby booth. On her omnitool a graphic showing Ozone Heights' name in stylized lettering appeared, followed by a female voice giving a voice-over as images of the sector played. "Welcome, visitor, to Ozone Heights, voted by Solaris Business Weekly as the best shopping experience for visiting life forms to Solaris. Here you can enjoy the widest selection of goods and services offered in the Sovereignty without the need for data implants or neural interface hardware. Ozone Heights was founded specifically to cater to off-world visitors' needs while visiting or living on Solaris…"

Violeta muted the playback and brought up a map display. "Here, it includes a map directory for all of the businesses. Wow… we could spend days here and not shop everywhere."

"So where do we start?" asked Caterina.

Angel reacted by bringing up her own omnitool on her left forearm. The data Jarod had on the potential escape craft popped up, showing where the signal stopped. "It looks like a parking lot on the eighth level, north side. We should get going."

"Don't have that thing too active," Cat urged. "We're supposed to be here on liberty, remember?"

Angel turned the omnitool off. "Alright. But I want to get this scan work over. So let's hold off on the serious shopping and sightseeing until after we check this out."




The Sprawl was almost ground level at just seven hundred meters above ground. It did not have multiple stories like Ozone Heights, but it was wider and longer, at least ten kilometers long on the east-west axis. While Ozone Heights was a shopping mall, the Sprawl made Lucy think of a grungy urban commercial area full of local mom-and-pop stores and some chains. The residential buildings were both in the 'scraper structures and interspersed between them. They were just above the category of "crack house" slums for Lucy, at the level of "rent-controlled urban poor". After stepping off the bus her sense of smell was assaulted by the sweat, dirt, and grease of the nearby streets. This low the sun barely seemed to reach them. Most light came from the street lights and neon signs, giving the Sprawl a look of perpetual twilight.

"This way," Meridina said softly, and Lucy followed. She consulted her omnitool as they walked while Meridina looked at a group of children coming out of an alleyway carrying a yellow sphere. Their clothes were dull and wrinkled, but they clearly weren't starving. "I sometimes tire of seeing these places in other societies," Meridina said. "The wealth above our heads could provide much to many, and the whole of society strengthened."

"Like on Gersal?"

"Among other places. I am no stranger to my people's shortcomings, however, and I recognize that Humans, though prone to selfishness, have qualities my people do not always value."

"Oh?"

"In your societies, determination and persistence are valued, as is a willingness to go 'against' the majority opinions of your people."

"Like you did when you broke from the Order?"

To that Meridina sighed. "I suppose… yes." They walked onto a bustling market street. Around them open market stalls were haggling numerous items. Knickknacks, clothing, household supplies, anything they could hope someone would buy. "I can still remember their faces when I rejected them," Meridina admitted.

"Who?" After a moment, Lucy realized what she meant. "The Order Council?"

"Yes. They could not understand my choice. It angered them. I suspect some may believe Goras was right, that the Alliance corrupts us with the ways of others."

"But Gersal's not a dictatorship. I mean, your people have rights, you have liberties…"

"But we have responsibilities. Obligations. We must work to better ourselves, our families, and our people. If we succeed, we must not allow that success to go too far. Wealth earned is wealth that must be shared with those who helped you earn it, and they in turn are obligated to respect the qualities that brought you to that wealth." Meridina looked to her side, where a teenage girl with a cybernetic eye was haggling with a customer looking over her vegetable stand. She turned her head forward again in time to step around a large man handing out cash for what looked like a blackjack. "We value our sense of understanding that we are interdependent with one another."

"Which is why your government calls itself the Interdependency," Lucy said.

"Yes." Meridina looked over to her and stopped. "I am aware that some Human societies have some concept of this idea, but Humans as a whole seem to value independence instead of interdependence. You desire greater freedom, even from responsibility."

"We do understand the idea of serving a greater cause," Lucy said.

"Yes, but not the same way we do. What we see as a responsibility you see as a sacrifice. Something to be honored, perhaps even to be seen as an obligation of being part of a nation, but not as an obligation of responsibility in of itself." Meridina continued to walk. "I wonder if proximity to you has caused me to become the same. Perhaps… that is what Goras and my father, and so many others, fear the most. That Humans will lead us to becoming more independent as individuals until we lose our sense of interdependence."

"Maybe," Lucy agreed. "Or maybe seeing how your society works will encourage more Humans to accept that we can be interdependent too. No man is an island, and we must all hang together."

"Perhaps." Meridina held up her omnitool and checked the record Jarod gave her. "This way. We are fairly close to where the signal disappeared, and I wish to get this obligation completed so that we can go to the enclave."




The bus dropped them at ground level exact. Zack was the first out. The dust in the air, the smells of rotten food, waste human, animal, and alien, and the worn down look of every structure save the exteriors of the 'scraper structures gave the place the look of abject poverty. This far down there was no sunlight to be had, and the available light only broke the darkness along the main roads, with some of the alleys being completely unlit. Only two other people joined them in getting off the bus, and both looked like they were worn out from a long work day and desperate to get to bed. The street sides were sparsely inhabited and some lights were showing in the smaller multi-story structures.

"Well, this reminds me of… well, most of the crapholes we've been through out here," Zack sighed. He reached to his back for the reassuring presence of the small-of-back holster where his pulse pistol was safely kept.

"The dark side of Solaris," Jarod murmured. A blank expression on his face formed. It didn't fool Julia. Beneath that expression her comrade was becoming angry. "It's all shiny and opulent up there, of course, while they keep the poor down here."

"We're not here to grumble about the one percent," Julia said. "Let's see if we can find where that vehicle went so we can go home."

They began to walk carefully down the poorly lit street in the direction of a half-ruined sign that said "Skylift" with an arrow pointing up.




The same driver deposited Robert at the Presidential Palace, with ten minutes to spare. "I'll be waitin'," he assured Robert as the door closed.

Robert nodded back to him before walking up to the large door that served as the main external entrance. Two soldiers in power-armor were standing watch. "Captain Robert Dale to see President Sinclair," he said to them.

One nodded. "You're expected." Neither of them made any movement, the door simply opened inward to beckon Robert inside.

The foyer of the Presidential Palace was certainly out to challenge to opulence and richness of Pan-Empyrean's lobby. Latinum-plated control panels for the doors, rich leather seats, a plush burgundy carpet… no expense had been spared for the Presidential Palace's look.

At the desk ahead of him, a secretary was waiting. Her head was more metal than hair. "The President's aide will be here to escort you shortly, Captain."

Robert nodded and sat down, giving him a better look at the open foyer, the marble tiling of the ceiling with a design showing a two-dimensional representation of the Solarian Sovereignty's member systems. On one wall an elegant painting, clearly done in one of the old European styles, showed a number of colonists disembarking from a colony ship settled upon blue-green grass under a fair sky. Portraits above the secretary showed a number of Humans, some men and some women; former Presidents, Robert guessed.

After a short time a young Caucasian man in a pleasant business suit came out. 'Breakfast is ready," he said. "The President awaits you on her dining balcony."

The man led Robert further into the Palace. They walked the entire way to a small dining room that jutted out from the side of the building, with glass overhead and along the entire far side. He was being treated to a private meal after all, it seemed.

Victoria Sinclair was already at the table, with a plain white tablecloth over what looked to be a finely-crafted wooden dinner table. She was in a chair that did not look so old-fashioned, being constructed of what looked to be high-strength plastic with a latinum coated frame and fine leather seat and back. A similar chair was ready for him; the table had two bowls of fruits ready with a number of breakfast dishes, some of which he didn't recognize. By the other door two beings, a large woman and a shorter man with what seemed to be a very large head were standing quietly wearing shaded eyeglasses - very large eyeglasses for the shorter man.

Okay, a nearly private meal.

Sinclair herself made him think of Julia; she had the same near-golden shade of blond hair pulled back into a nice ponytail, and in build she and Julia were about the same, although she was not as tall. Her face was about the same shape, which is where the similarities stopped.

But what made it clear she wasn't Julia, or anything like her, was her eyes. They were a rich, crystal blue, and they had the same quality to them that Robert had seen in Hank. This was a woman who knew what power was and how to use it, and who loved doing so in a way that Julia did not. She didn't hunger for it intensely - certainly not to the extent that Katherine Steiner-Davion seemed to, a ravenous maw that Robert was thankful not to feel - but she wanted it and enjoyed it.

Fry was right. He had to be especially cautious around her.

"Good morning, Madame President," he said in a friendly tone. He took the offered seat. "Thank you for your kind invitation."

"You're welcome, Captain," she answered. Her accent was almost English and almost American, but the inflections of her tone, the way she pronounced the words, were different than those accents. Thousands of years of phonetic drift had produced a Solarian accent unique to this world and place, one he was going to have to familiarize himself with as the conversation continued.

"You should try the stuffed bread rolls," she advised. "I had my cook make them fresh with imported Aurigan cheese and meat made of Majellan beef. The Majellan cow is a species unique to that world and makes for a delicious addition to the palate." She gestured to a glass full of crimson liquid. "And the vintage of the port is straight from Parthegon's finest."

Robert nodded and procured one of the fluffy bread rolls from the basket between his seat and Sinclair's. He took a bite and found the taste to be enjoyable. The cheese was unique, making him think of both cheddar and muenster, while the meat was flavorful.

While he chewed, Sinclair finished her own bite of food and began to speak. "I have read our file on you, Captain."

Since his mouth was full, Robert's only reaction was to shift his expression to show interest.

"CEID has had an eye on you. Especially after the attack on the Alliance Senate. You are what our people call an Esper, maybe even a Psion."

Robert finished swallowing. "The Gersallians use a term that translates into 'life force power' to describe what I can do."

"Does that include reading minds? Can you command others mentally?"

"No. Not really. I can sense thoughts and emotions, but I've never been able to enter another mind, not willingly and certainly not forcefully. I couldn't make a kitten bat yarn, honestly." Robert set his fork down before digging into what looked like an omelette. "Of course, the question is if you believe me, and why you'd meet with me if you don't."

"That's why I brought my bodyguards." Sinclair motioned to the men at the door, specifically the one with the large head. "Mr. Gray is a Psion assigned to protect me from psionic attack."

"Then you have nothing to worry about," Robert answered. Mentally he couldn't stop himself from thinking But it looks like I do.

"You needn't worry, Captain," Mister Gray said, adjusting his shades. The more Robert looked at him, the more he realized just how abnormally large Gray's eyes were. "Unless the President orders me to, I won't do so much as whisper mentally toward you."

Sinclair smiled quietly at that. Robert found himself thinking about that statement and the situation. She was showing off her power now.

Robert didn't care much for being intimidated, but he decided to be diplomatic about it. "Well, it appears my mind is in your hands, Madame President," he said, grinning. "I'd better be on my best behavior."

Sinclair laughed lowly at that. "Oh, don't concern yourself, Captain. I'm actually something of a fan."

"Oh?"

"As I've said, I read the file on you. The things you've done, the accomplishments. Stopping one of your own renegades from causing a war. Managing to make first contact with the like of the Third Reich without immediately causing an interstellar war." The emphasis on that made it abundantly clear she knew about 33LA. "You have a number of diplomatic achievements to your name. Given all of the allies you won for the Alliance, you made the Alliance victory at New Liberty possible even without accounting for your personal involvement in that battle. And you kept the Reich from finding ancient technology that might have turned the tide of the war. You saved the Alliance Senate from assassins and helped to defeat a rogue Esper of immense power on Gersal." Sinclair stopped her recounting of the achievements Robert and his friends and comrades had managed in order to take a drink. "And now you are here. At Solaris. I find the timing interesting."

"Oh?"

"Just days ago, there was a robbery at Pan-Empyrean." Sinclair sipped again - it looked like she was enjoying the wine - before resuming. "Hank has tried to suppress the news of it, but he should know it's impossible to hide anything from Olympic, or the Datasphere in general. Frankly I think he's just being contrary on that note. But what I can't help but notice is that he swiftly informed me that he had invited the Alliance to send one of its most advanced starships to Solaris for consultations on the matter. I could have refused, of course." Another sip, while Robert took his first of the same. It was a strong taste, one of the richer wines he'd ever had occasion to try. "But I admit I allowed my curiosity to get the better of me. That was perhaps an error."

"Oh?" Robert asked.

His answer had to wait while Sinclair enjoyed a bite from one of the cheese and meat-filled bread rolls. "The Sovereignty is part of a delicate balance of power, Captain. The Bragulans, the Karlack, the Cevaucians… the peace of Wild Space, such as it is, relies on that balance remaining intact. The slightest tip could trigger a new round of interstellar warfare that could kill billions." Her eyes focused on him. "And your Alliance may become just that tipping point. So yes, refusing you entry was probably the wiser course of action."

"But you didn't." Robert thought it over. She started another mouthful of food just as he resumed speaking. "Because you want to know more about what the Alliance is doing with Pan-Empyrean. And because you imagine that ignoring that connection will only make your enemies suspicious. But letting Hank invite us and then putting us under your guns? Acting as hostile as possible toward our interests? That mixes the signals. The your enemies can't be sure what you're doing, and if they're as worried about as us you are, they wouldn't want to bind us together by launching an unnecessary attack."

Sinclair finished chewing. "An astute appraisal of the situation, Captain Dale."

"If you want to know what the project is, I can't tell you. I was never briefed."

"Really?" Sinclair eyed him with curiosity. Robert got the feeling she was considering asking Mr. Gray to rip the truth from his mind. A sly grin formed on her face. "Of course he wouldn't. Hank knows how good CEID psions are, and so does your Alliance if they're competent at all. No, they wouldn't tell you. They've got you running around in the dark." She nibbled on what looked like purple scrambled egg and swallowed. "Do you think your people will enjoy Solaris?"

"We've heard many good things about it," Robert said carefully. "I was considering a visit myself."

"Hopefully not to the bottom levels, it's disgusting down there with the dregs," Sinclair said. "I hope your comrades keep their guns ready and their eyes open. Your friends in the Sprawl and Ozone Heights will be safer, at least."

Robert showed no surprise or concern. "You must really be interested in what my crew's up to on liberty."

"Liberty, Captain? Or playing Sidney Hank's cat's paws?"

"Part of our governing mission is to explore worlds and meet new cultures and civilizations. That includes sociological research." Robert shrugged. "Mixing business with pleasure helps with morale."

Sinclair gained a glimmer in her eye at that. "And how often do you do that, Captain? Mix business with… pleasure?"

The last word was spoken with a deliberate sultry tone. "You don't seem the type to simply seduce someone over a turn of phrase, Madame President. You're far too careful," he answered.

"Perhaps you misunderstand me?"

"No, I don't think I do." Robert took another of the rolls for his plate. "This has been a charming word game, Madame President, but I'm afraid I can't give you what you want. Whatever political rivalry or struggle you have with Sidney Hank is none of my concern."

"So you say." Sinclair reclined in her chair. "Do you trust Mister Hank, Captain?"

"No," Robert said immediately and emphatically. "Honestly, right now, the only people I trust are myself and my crew."

"I suppose I should be hurt." Sinclair's grin twisted into an amused smirk. "But I can't deny it's a wise policy." She idly ran her fork through some of the omelette on her plate. "I must admit it is interesting to meet people who know Earth. In our universe, Earth is nothing but legend now, as is its history."

"The material I read is vague on what happened," Robert said. "Three thousand years is a long time for history to get lost in, even with electronic media to save it. I'm not surprised some elements of Earth history get turned into lore and myth." At that Robert recalled the Avalonians, and the way they interpreted the history of their British ancestors through Arthurian lore and concepts. "Are you saying nobody remembers what happened to Earth?"

"The Earthfall was a disaster that permanently warped the inner core of the Earthsphere," Sinclair said. "The closer you get to where Earth once might have been, the less reliable space gets. It is why we call that region of space the Fracture. And it is a terrible, corrupted place, with NEUROM oppressing entire worlds with the Ministry of Fate, the Mandragoran clans seeking battles and glory, the noble houses of the Grandeur of Auriga plotting against each other all of the time…" Sinclair shook her head. "I honestly would prefer not to talk about it. The Fracture is depressing and our Earth is long gone. And good riddance. No slight on your Earth intended, mind you, but the Earthreign was a terrible place ruled by terrible people, and they destroyed themselves. It's why I don't dwell on their fate. Here in the Sovereignty we look to the future, not a long-lost homeworld."

Robert sipped at his drink as he considered that. "Clearly some people still have thoughts for Earth. I've been in Hank's office."

Sinclair snorted. "That old fossil loves his relics of Earth."

"If he's been around for millennia…"

"Brain uploaded clones, mostly, with brain-state backups. We all have them. But the scientists say you can't maintain it over millennia. It doesn't matter if it's all backed up electronically, since even our best gene-modifications for the brain can't hold that much information." Sinclair shook her head. "Even if he's been around that long, I doubt Hank remembers anything but the last few centuries, at best."

Robert pondered that. Would immortality be worth losing all your memories of the life you led before? It was memories that helped shape people; change them, lose them, and someone would gradually change into an entirely different being.

He was jolted out of his thoughts by Sinclair speaking again. "Now, before our breakfast gets cold, perhaps we should focus on enjoying it." She sipped at her port and smiled warmly at him. "My chef will be so upset if we wasted his efforts."

"Of course," Robert said genially, even if he was starting to wonder if he should be eating anything prepared here. But he'd already crossed that bridge and sensed no danger in the food, so he wasn't going to cause a diplomatic stir by refusing to eat more.




Lucy and Meridina finished scanning the dimly-lit parking structure that Jarod's readings had shown was the last location of the potential getaway vehicle. None of the vehicles matched the description. "Maybe they moved it later?" Lucy suggested.

"It is possible. And it was evident that these searches might not find anything." Meridina gestured to the exit. "Let us continue onward. The enclave I spoke of is close by."

Lucy almost asked how she knew that. But when she took a moment, even she could feel it. She could feel the point where the Flow of Life seemed to flow with greater power and warmth.

They left the parking structure and returned to one of the streets. The market was as busy as it had been before. They were passing a vendor selling holovids - likely pirated ones - when Lucy sensed a pang of fear joined by a jolt of confidence. She was paying enough attention to feel the hand slip past her robe and reach for the pocket on her pants, or perhaps for the hilt of her lakesh. Her hand snapped up and grabbed a wrist, a small wrist.

"'ey!" a young voice protested.

Meridina stopped and looked back with interest while Lucy looked down at the pickpocket. She judged him to be little more than nine years old, but possibly as old as twelve if he was short for his age. His face was smudged with dirt, with warm amber eyes and sandy blond hair. His clothes amounted to a worn child's jacket over a sleeveless cyan-toned shirt with an insignia on it - a sports team? - with knee-length cargo shorts, shorts that were bulging with what were clearly ill-gotten gains.

"Yare a qick un, miss," the boy said. "ow'd ya grog me?"

"My secret," Lucy answered.

"Yaint gonna wig th' Maxtis onta me?" There was real fear. "I got sibs t' feed, un's a babe."

Lucy put maximum skepticism into her expression and tightened her grip on the wrist. Meridina was looking back at them now, and had to sense the same slight deception Lucy did. "Maybe you've got siblings, but I doubt you're their sole provider."

"Eh, 'kay, my ma does chores fa upside toffs too. But th' food an' rent is all she can cov, Miss. Me sibs an' I need scratch t' cov fer new threads or meds, ya grog?"

Lucy considered him. She didn't sense deception that time. But she didn't let go just yet, not with the idea she just got. "We're looking for a LARC vehicle."

"Yeah? There's billies upon billies on Solaris, Miss. Ya got a mod type?"

Since Lucy was holding the boy's wrist, Meridina activated her omnitool. He shook his head. "I don't have a 'plant in my cranie, Miss."

"We do not have implants either," Meridina said as she found the the vehicle from the Pan-Empyrean recordings and displayed it. "This is the craft we seek."

The boy whistled. "Now she's a beaut mod there. A Sollark Works Helios. Prolly a new model, ya can grog she's got th' newie anti-gravs. She's no SinTEK Skylarc, but she can carry a right number o' peeps, an' she's as quiet as a Jesus Man's room after Sunday. Don't see 'em in th' Sprawl much."

"Well." Lucy used her free hand to reach into her pocket. Some of the money they'd brought down was in cash. She pulled a $10 Solarian note from the bundle in her pocket and flashed the reddish-hued bill at him, the Sovereignty Spire prominent on the reverse side showing. "This is a down payment. I'll give you forty more if you can find one that parked here a few days ago, or at least give us a strong idea on where it's going." She narrowed her eyes. "And we'll know if you're lying."

"I grog tha', Miss. Where're ya gonna be?"

"A nearby enclave," Meridina said. "Where those with gifts meet."

"That Esper enclave off th' Lo Tan Square? 'Right then, I'll find yar LARC fa ya, Miss."

Lucy didn't need Meridina's help to sense the boy's honestly. The idea of working for that much money doing what he always did - watching LARCs from the upper level - was exciting. "My name's Lucy, and this is Meridina," she said.

"Toby, Miss," the street urchin answered. "I'll grog yar LARC 'fore ya wig it."

Lucy released Toby. He took off and, within a couple seconds, was out of sight. "If I hadn't felt genuine intent, I'd be convinced I just gave that money away." Lucy felt a pang of guilt. "Meridina, maybe we shouldn't have… maybe I shouldn't…"

"If the vehicle that came here is not that of the thieves, they will not care. If the vehicle is that sent by the thieves, I suspect they will be more concerned with armed foes, not a street urchin admiring their vehicle. Let us continue…"

Meridina and Lucy headed on to what was clearly Lo Tan Square. It was an open market surrounded by trees that glowed hot pink, bright purple, and neon green, illuminating the streets, while signs in Solarian English and what looked to Lucy like Chinese ideographs were fixed to various stalls. Many looked at least partly busy. "If people here are so poor, how can there be this many markets?" Lucy pondered.

"I suspect not every buyer is from this place," Meridina said. She gestured to two suited men looking over a market stall selling what looked like glasses. "It's possible those from wealthier districts come here to purchase goods more cheaply than in their own."

"The place doesn't look too dangerous, I guess. I haven't sensed anyone ready to attack someone. Well, not in the way a mugger would."

"Nor I. But we are almost to our destination…"

Moving along the edge of the Square, Lucy could sense where they were going even as it came into sight. The structure was on the north side of the square, a squat building of about three stories that looked like some stacked two hospital food containers together. There was no distinct sign on the outside of the property and the windows were shut, while light was visible from within the windows. The doors were made of polished wood. Lucy could feel the power within, a concentration she had only previously felt whenever visiting the Great Temple on Gersal. It was greater there, of course, but it was clear that within the structure were a number of those who could wield the same life force energies Meridina had taught her to use.

The door had no visible handle, but unlike an open door it was fastened shut so that it could not be pushed open. As Lucy considered it, she realized no mere physical interaction could open it.

Meridina focused on it silently. A latch within audible shifted, like a bolt being opened. Meridina's hand came up and the door swung open as she held her hand flat toward it without touching it.

On the inside was a foyer. Small bushes, or rather very short trees, were kept in spaces to either side. Ahead a small desk was manned by a large alien in a light-blue robe over a brown tunic. While he was apparently humanoid, his face was completely alien, with three eyes that formed an inverted triangle on its head, with two ridges of flesh that moved diagonally between the inner eye and each outer eye. The creature's skin appeared to be colored like rust, but dark blue markings were on his cheeks and above the lower, inner third eye.

Meridina stared for a moment in surprise. Lucy herself took a moment to realize what species this was: she was looking at a Jeaxian for the first time.

The Jeaxian's head bowed slightly. "Greetings," he rumbled. "I am Jata'kesti ik som Rilap."

"I have heard of you. And I recognize the markings."

"I would expect a swevyra'se to do so."

Lucy looked to Meridina. "Who is he?"

Before Meridina could speak, Jata'kesti did. "I was once a taktan, a senior leader, in the forces of the Warlord Hatush ik som Ritap. For many years I joined my lord's raids on the peoples we shared a border with; the Dorei, the Mi'qote, the Hamati, even Gersallian colonies were not safe from our void raiders. I fought, I killed, I enslaved."

Lucy's eyes widened as he spoke.

"And then the day came that I realized how low I had gone. I no longer ignored the pain and suffering I caused. I fought to free those in bondage to my lord and brought them to safety. I would have died if not for the intercession of a Brother of the Crescent, who brought me to his order and helped me to find ways to atone for my many sins. That is why I serve here."

"And how does serving as a secretary atone for the people you killed or dragged into slavery?" Lucy asked, heat in her voice. She flashed back mentally to that day in Stargate Command when Doctor Opani had tearfully shared her ordeal. "How many did you abuse with those damned neural implants?"

The Jeaxian met her eyes with his own, which seemed to be burning with their red color. "I did not count."

"Lucy," Meridina said, her voice laced with caution. "Please." She put a hand on Lucy's shoulder.

Lucy recognized what Meridina was thinking. She nodded and understood. "Yes, I get it. I hope you find the redemption you seek," she said. As she did so she couldn't help but wonder how she would react if it had been a Duffy sitting there. Granted, the bastard father couldn't be there, the man who ordered her abduction and okayed her abuse and eventual planned murder. Robert had killed him that night she was freed and her new life began. But that slimeball Patrick…

"I sense you have been victimized too," said Jata'kesti. "I shall pray for your wounds to heal." The Jeaxian looked to Meridina. "Swevyra'se, it is not often we see one of your Order here."

"And you have not today. I left the Order of Swenya months ago," Meridina said. "I am no longer swevyra'se."

"Perhaps not in title, but in spirit, your Light marks you as one who strengthens the Flow of Life."

"You said the Crescent Brothers trained you," Lucy said. "I thought they were a male-only Dorei order who view these powers as the gift of the Goddess or Supreme Being?"

"They do. But I know of the Gersallians' views as well." Jata'kesti looked to Meridina. "Have you come for guidance, swevyra'se? Or to meet other masters?"

"I have come to introduce my student, Lucilla Lucero, to others who practice the ways of swevyra, so that her training in it might be improved." Meridina bowed her head. "Circumstance and, I fear, my own shortcomings have caused her training to become imbalanced. She has learned to fight as a swevyra'se, and I have seen her act as one outside of combat, but I fear she has yet to understand the nature of our connection to the wider Universe, or Multiverse I suppose."

"I understand. A number of our residents are currently gathered for meditation, I shall…"

The Jeaxian stopped when the far door opened. Lucy had already felt the approaching newcomer and turned her head to face the door, as had Meridina. Recognition and warm delight showed on Meridina's face. For a moment Lucy thought that the newcomer might be a Gersallian, maybe even Mastrash Ledosh himself.

But the figure that emerged was too tall for that. The reptilian scales and the snouted face quickly drew Lucy's attention. A tail swished behind the figure as it stepped into the foyer of the enclave, wearing a robe of bright yellows and greens with what looked like blue vestments hanging from the shoulders. She soon recognized the reptilian as a Zigonian, with dull gray eyes that seemed to see nothing. His right hand held a walking stick of what looked like gnarled wood.

Meridina's voice was warm when she bowed her head and said, "Kasszas. I am pleased to see you once more."

"I am also pleased, Sister of the Light of Creation," the Zigonian replied. "And I sense the darkness that ailed you has gone."

"Yes. I found release for my fears and doubts." Meridina gestured to Lucy. "This is my student Lucy Lucero. Lucy, this is Kasszas S'szrishin, a Zigonian of the Harmonious Val-Drillim, and one of those who aided us in rescuing Jarod from the Centre."

Lucy nodded and smiled. "Thank you, then, Kasszas. Jarod is a friend of mine as well."

"Creation bid me to follow Commander Andreys and her team, but your thanks are accepted in the spirit offered, Lucy." Kasszas' eyes remained unmoving as he approached. As one would expect, the pronunciation of anything sounding like an "ss" sound - such as the "c" in Lucy's name - came as a hiss. "I sense great potential in you. Creation has chosen you for great things."

"You did not return to your homeworld?" Meridina asked.

"Only briefly," Kasszas answered. "I felt a desire to spend time in meditation and quiet. My people are not a quiet people, even when we are seeing to our devotions, so I departed for the Enclave to re-center myself."

There was a hint of sadness in the Zigonian's words that both Lucy and Meridina picked up on. Meridina was the one to realize its origin. "You regret the life you took that day."

"I do. Though the dark one was a cruel woman and had no remorse, the end of her life was a loss of possibilities and a blow to Creation. I must consider the weight on my being to thwart doubt and darkness."

"I understand." Meridina nodded. She had shed blood that day as well. She could still remember Dralan Olati's viciousness, the way he had embraced darkness… and her own dark impulse of joy after killing him in a lakesh duel. She looked again to Lucy and felt the old worry, the old fear, that Lucy's passion might lead her astray.

"Come, my friends," Kasszas said. "There are many rooms available. Let us sit and concentrate on the intentions of Creation."

Without a further word, Meridina and Lucy followed Kasszas to the back.




Cat and Violeta were quick to get the scans done when they arrived at the parking area. Much to their joy and surprise, they quickly hit pay dirt.

"A Solaris LARC Works Helios, model 3200, 245 model," Cat proclaimed. "245 being the 245 years since the Sovereignty was formed… anyway! This is it."

"No, it isn't," Angel sighed.

The craft was indeed the same make and model as the vehicle used in the theft from Pan-Empyrean. But the similarities ended there. This one was the wrong color, being bright hot pink with lime green trim. Something that looked like a male hulu dancer model was stuck to the visible dashboard in side, where the seats were painfully bright yellow in color.

"Okay, yeah, it doesn't look like a vehicle that a team of super badass mercenaries would use to steal from a megacorporation," Violeta agreed.

"And the remaining graviton profile doesn't match," Cat added, checking her omnitool and the readings. "It's close, and it explains why Jarod's scans considered it a candidate, but…"

"Just what are you stupid apes doing near my car?!" a nasally voice shrieked.

Everyone turned to face a short gray alien with a big head and really big dark eyes. He was virtually naked too, but he was wearing a bow tie around his short, thin little neck, and he had a full-sized bowler hat perched on the top of his head.

"Uh… just admiring the… paint job," Cat offered.

Even as she did, she felt something in her head. Like someone was sifting her mind around, just a little. The sensation ended with a painfully loud and even more painfully annoying laugh, a "HA HA HA!" that reverberated in both her ears and her mind.

"You thought my car was used to steal from Pan-Empyrean?!" the Apexei almost shrieked. "You thought one of my people would ever steal from Sidney Hank? Seriously, you are really stupid examples of your stupid ape excuse for a species! Sidney Hank is one of the very few Humans who is worthy of being our equal, and he has done much for the Apexei species since those cursed Bragulans ruined our homeworld! We would never dare harm him or anything that was his! Now get away from my lovely vehicle or I will re-arrange your silly little heads!"

Angel, for her part, felt sorely tempted to punt the little alien as far as she could with a single kick. But she complied nevertheless, as did Violeta and Cat. The Apexei made a satisfied chortle. "Stupid apes," he said once more while opening the door and climbing into his garish machine. A very low whooshing sound came from underneath, and bright lights appeared beneath the craft from its anti-gravs coming online. It lifted into the air and zipped on.

"That was the most unpleasant alien I've ever met," Caterina said.

"And there goes our best lead, too," Violeta added. "There's nothing else here that matches the signature we were given."

Angel activated her omnitool. "This is Angela Delgado checking in, nothing in Ozone Heights."

A moment later, Julia's voice came back, "Alright. Enjoy the rest of your day then. We'll keep checking in every hour."

"Delgado out." Angel lowered her left arm and let her omnitool's interface disengage. "Okay, that's done. Where do we go next?"

"Let's go find something to eat," suggested Cat. "And then we hit the stores."

"That sounds like a plan," Violeta agreed with a wide grin.

Together the three descended from the parking deck and back to one of the concourses. They were surrounded by opportunity to satisfy any shopper, and for a moment Cat nearly forgot her grumbling stomach to investigate a shop selling new starcharts. But she continued on.

Their first food option, at the edge of a food court area, drew their attention. The sign in green and red flashed "DISC-ILICIOUS" in gaudy neon. A Human was at the order table, or at least Cat assumed she was Human, as they drew closer and the dark tan skin turned out to be dark-tan fur, and the green eyes were distinctly feline. They looked up to the menu while the customer ahead of them finished ordering and moved on. Seeing the main item name displayed, Cat immediately asked "What's a 'yum disc'?"

"It's a Solarian specialty," the young woman replied. "It's baked dough with sauce and cheese and anything else on top. You can eat it whole or slice it up, although…" The leonine young woman leaned in close to them and spoke in a whisper. "I wouldn't recommend the slicing. A lot of Solarians hate the idea of slicing up yum discs."

"Wait." Angel looked over the graphics some more. "You're basically making pizzas. That's what this is. Pizza."

The young woman blinked in confusion. "Pi...zza? What is pizza?"

"What you just described a yum disc to be," Violeta explained. She tapped her omnitool on and, with a few button presses and key strokes, brought up the image of a pizza. "We call it pizza."

"But… what? Yum discs are… they've always been yum discs!" The young woman was clearly bewildered, although not hostile. "My great-grandparents used to work 32 hour shifts baking them for troops in Brag War One!"

"We've always known them as pizzas. But I can go with 'yum disc'," Caterina said. She smiled. "They are really yummy, usually, and after thousands of years of history after Earthfall I guess names could have…"

"Hey, you're holdin' up the line, you borebods!"

The cry from behind prompted them to turn. A group of theoretically Human people were standing behind them. Each looked like they were half animal in some way. One had bull-horns on his head and the beginnings of a bull-like snout, one girl was covered in soft yellow fur with black dots like a cheetah, and a couple more had reptilian eyes and scales on their otherwise human-like faces. The fifth member had goat horns on her head and, instead of shoes, markings around hooved feet.

"'Borebod'?" Angel said, bewildered.

"That's you. A borebod," the bull said. "A weak sap who doesn't have the imagination to do something with your body."

"You mean I don't get surgically altered to look like I belong in a kid's show with talking animals," Angel retorted.

"My sister has hawk eyes, actually," Violeta said. "Gene-spliced and surgically implanted."

"Oh look, it's a poser borebod," one of the reptilians said, hissing appropriately to draw out the "s" in "poser".

"Yeah. 'Oh look at me, I'm so cool'," the cheetah-girl said mockingly. "'I've got purple eyes and hair. See, I'm not a borebod.' Get real, honey, you're not cool, just another borebod."

"Hey!" Caterina glared at the cheetah-girl, holding a finger up. "You leave my girlfriend alone."

"Or what, borebod? I'm not scared of you, I've got speed and claws, you're just a silly borebod ape."

"If you keep this up I have to ask you all to leave, you're holding the line up," the feline-looking girl behind the counter said apologetically. "Please order?"

"We'll take a pizza, or yum disc, with cheese, and three drinks," Violeta replied. She offered an electronic chit loaded with Solarian dollars for the cashier to scan, paying for the meal.

As she did so, the gene-modded bull behind them thrust a meaty finger at Cat's face. "Keep talking trash to my girl, borebod, and you get the horns."

"If you lay one finger on my sister, bull-boy, I'll break one of those horns off and cram it up your ass," Angel growled. Her body tensed with readiness for a fight.

Some of the customers behind the genemods were stepping away quietly. Some were mods themselves, but clearly wanted nothing to do with the aggressive young ones hassling the trio. All five readied themselves for a fight. Cat curled her fingers and prepared to use her omnitool's defense features to protect herself and Violeta while Angel continued to glare at the bull-man.

Before anything else could happen, everything stopped, as a powerful female voice shouted, "STOP!"
”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

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-01 11:48pm

Walking through the lowest levels of Solaris was a trying experience, with deep shadows and dark alleys that kept Julia, Zack, and Jarod constantly alert for any sort of ambush. After hours of walking and riding up and down lifts, they were near to the point where the vehicle disappeared from sensors. They stood along an elevated street outside of what looked like dilapidated apartment buildings, near a row of street vendors selling various wares. Jarod was consulting his sensor readings.

Zack kept looking about. Like the others he felt on edge, and the constant vigilance was wearing thin and making him fatigued. When his stomach made a low gurgling sound, he amended "hungry" to his list of feelings.

"It's a good thing we came in a group," Julia said. Her eyes were cast on a couple of jacket-wearing figures about thirty meters away who had looked their way. "We're just asking to get mugged."

"We will be if we run across anyone desperate enough," Jarod observed while checking his readings. "We're almost there, we need to move one block over and up."

They walked toward the market stalls and a number of smells quickly joined the dusty, rotten air they were already experiencing. Zack sniffed and sighed. "I smell burgers."

"I wouldn't eat anything down here," Julia said. "You couldn't pay me to."

Jarod looked up in time to follow as Zack led both over to the stall. A young lady, possibly as young as sixteen, was working a fryer, where a couple patties of meat were already mostly done. She handed off what looked like a hot dog to another Human in grungy work clothes and looked to Zack as he stepped up. "Just one Solarian dollar," she said in a thick, Spanish accent. "Big burger. Very good."

"Zack…" Julia took his arm.

"I'll scan it before I eat it," he insisted. "But it'll help the kid out, right?" Zack reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of Solarian bank notes. "Keep the change."

With enthusiasm the young lady accepted the money and put it away. She immediately took a plastic flipper and laid a cooked patty of meat onto a ready bun. She placed the other half of the bun on top, partially wrapped her culinary creation, and handed it over proudly.

Zack took up the burger. Jarod was already scanning it. "No poisons," he confirmed. "No toxins. It's safe to eat. Although…" Jarod looked to see Zack hadn't waited. He'd already bit into the offered burger.

"Good, si? Yes?"

Zack examined his food. "Well, it's got a flavor… I can't place it. What quality meat are you using?"

Julia had already seen the results on Jarod's screen and had half her face covered by her palm. It was Jarod who coughed and said, "Well, it's not ground beef, or ground chicken or pork…"

"Ratta," the proprietor announced proudly. "Solaria Ratta."

Zack caught the key element of that. "...rat?"

The young girl nodded. "Is good? Best rats. Only best. Buy from Gimlet, good rat catcher, plump, good fed."

If it had been someone else, Zack might have dropped the burger right then and there from the initial wave of revulsion. Only the completely innocent, happy look of the ratburger proprietor kept him from doing anything. He simply couldn't bring himself to upset her. "Yeah. It definitely is," he assured her in a polite, friendly voice.

They walked on for a bit. Once they were out of earshot Julia looked at Zack with a grin that showed how much laughter she was holding back. "So, are you going to eat your rat burger?"

"Damned thing is, it really isn't that bad…"

"It's disgusting."

"Hey, maybe it's cultural. Like how French people eat snails. And don't they cook dogs in some parts of China?"

Their route was suddenly blocked by another young lady wearing a heavy coat, with sunken eyes of chocolate brown color and a slight tan to her complexion. Her hands reached to the front of her coat and pulled it open.

She wasn't wearing anything underneath.

"Five and you can touch them for a minute…"

They weren't paying attention, not entirely. Eyes were widened to some extent, if just out of shock. "Uh… wow," Julia managed.

"Just five. Please," the girl pleaded. "You can do whatever you want for a minute."

Zack reached into his pocket and took another note, this one worth ten. She accepted with one hand and looked toward the hand that had just given her the bill, as if resigned to what was coming next. Zack shook his head. "No, I'm not… sorry, I've got a woman I love, and besides…" He gestured toward Julia with his thumb. "She'd break the hand if I… yeah, she'd break my hand. No, just… get some grub, on me? In fact, here…" He offered the ratburger.

The girl closed her coat and accepted the burger. She took a bite from it and, for a moment, a pleased expression came to her face. She stuffed the note into her waist and moved on, taking another bite as she passed them.

For a moment the three just stood there. "That was unexpected," Jarod finally said. "I wonder if that kind of surgery is commonplace?"

"It can't be too expensive, if people down here can get it," Zack offered. "But why would she want three…?"

"I hope she never has to run," was all Julia said, after which she seemed to shudder as if considering the thought. "Angel and Meridina both turned up blank, so let's get going. This may be our only lead left."

They turned into a mostly dark alleyway. Julia and Jarod stared intently at a couple of figures in duster coats who were staring their way. Nothing happened and they were soon ascending the walkway mid-way down the alley, leading to the next level. On this level things looked even darker, and a large shadow loomed to their right. Looking up confirmed they were nearby a full-sized Solarian high-rise, possibly even a starscraper. Jarod consulted his omnitool again as they neared the edge of the platform where it terminated beside the 'scraper. "It was right around here," he said, looking out over the edge. They were still pretty far up, more than far enough that a fall could be deadly. "I can't pinpoint it any closer."

Given their location, Zack asked, "Could they have gone into the skyscraper?" He looked toward it. "I don't see an entrance here, but maybe along the side here, facing this gap?"

"Maybe," Jarod said.

"So we find an entrance, maybe see what's inside?"

"It won't be so easy," Julia remarked. "From what I've seen, most of the skyscrapers and starscrapers are entirely blocked off on the ground level. At least in this area. That way they can keep out these poor people down here."

"A scan might show something." Jarod triggered his omnitool's scanner. "I might get a graviton trace matching our suspect."

As Jarod talked Julia looked back. There were only a few people milling around, on their way to or from wherever. They seemed more interested in the view of the area than of the trio. But yet, Julia couldn't help but feel like she was being watched

"I'm definitely finding something." Jarod looked up at the featureless lower levels of the starscrapers. "Time has caused a lot of these elements to decay, but I think there might be something…"

Another jacketed figure was walking by them. Zack and Julia looked toward the pedestrian with little regard. Zack looked away, returning to looking at what Jarod was doing, and Julia nearly so...

...until she noticed the flutter of the jacket, and the metal sphere that dropped out and rolled over to them. "Look out!" she cried. She dived for Zack and Jarod, but due to distances only managed to knock Zack down and away.

There was no explosion. Wisps of what looked like blue smoke erupted in jets from the sphere. Within seconds a gas cloud over a meter across on all sides had formed. The blue gas reached Julia and Zack as they started to stand again. They coughed and felt their bodies go limp.

With her head against the ground, Julia could hear thumps, vibrations, from a number of approaching pairs of feet. She couldn't move and her vision turned blurry.

The last thing she could see with any clarity was Jarod jumping over the railing.

Jarod! She tried to cry out, but she couldn't move. She couldn't do anything as powerful arms pinned her wrists against the base of her back and strapped them together. Someone was just starting to pick her up as everything went dark.



(Author's Note: God damn character limit...)
”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.

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

Post by LadyTevar » 2017-07-02 01:26pm

BTW: You posted the next chapter in the Doctor Who thread. I've removed it, but you'll have to repost it here.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-02 04:14pm

The sound of hissing gas drew Jarod's attention right away. He looked over in time to see Julia and Zack coughing on the ground. The blue smoke was already drawing close to him. Given the way their bodies went slack, it was a paralytic agent of some sort.

Beyond the smoke, jacketed figures were approaching. Some of them were holding visible firearms.

It took half a second for Jarod's mind, advanced as it was, to make the calculation. Julia and Zack were out of it, and his situation was hopeless. If he didn't get away, all three of them would be taken. All he could do at this point was escape.

And there was only one way to escape.

Without a further thought, Jarod turned toward the railing and swung his leg over it. The other figures started to pick up speed, clearly intending to stop him, but they were too slow. The other leg came over and, with his heart hammering in his chest, Jarod slid off the platform toward what could be a very messy landing a few hundred meters below.

It paid to prepare for things. For instance, knowing you were going to be on a world full of elevated platforms and structures, the possibility of falling to a messy death is one you can take steps to deal with. In Jarod's case, it had been adding a function to his standard operations omnitool. The same hard-light generation that could craft a sharp, armor-penetrating omniblade was put to use for another feature; a hard-light grappling hook.

Spinning in mid-air, Jarod was already below the level he had just departed when he got his forearm into position. The omni-hook, with a hard-light wire attached, shot out from his omni-tool. It stuck itself firmly into the underside of the level in question and buried itself by several inches into the surface ferrocrete. Jarod had a brief mental image of a comic book character he'd seen during his time as a fugitive from the Centre swinging around a building on a hook, and now he did the same thing, swinging below the level he'd just jumped from. He didn't want to risk them hearing him land, so he kept the hook in and retracted the wire. The underside of the elevated level was hardly flat, with his hook embedded mere centimeters from a trunk that undoubtedly contained data lines or power lines. A glance at his omnitool told him that the trunk was harmless. It also told him that he was pushing the projectors toward their limits and had only seconds left before the omnitool shut down the construct. He counted those seconds as he got closer… closer…

His arm reached out and grabbed the trunk, wrapping around it enough that he had a grip.

Within moments of securing his grip on the trunk, the hardlight hook dissipated.

Jarod wrapped his legs around the trunk, thankful it was small enough to accomplish that, and with both legs and one arm around it he settled for a moment. He didn't know how long he could stay here, but he wasn't going to risk moving until he knew that their unknown attackers hadn't followed him.

And then, once he was sure of that, he would have to do two things: contact the Aurora… and get to Julia and Zack.




"STOP!"

Everyone in front of Disc-licious froze.

The leonine young lady at the counter was the first to react verbally to the source of the shout. "It can't be…"

The woman who approached them was dressed in a sleeveless smock of sorts, with the belly also cut away to show rippling, powerful muscle around her visible navel, muscle equaled by that on her arms, or on the legs left bare below the mid-thigh by what looked to be a mini-skirt and shorts combination. Her eyes shined brilliantly blue in taking in the scene before her. Her head was shaved bald save for a top-knot out of the back of her head, a top-knot of fiery crimson hair.

The gene-altered teens that looked ready to fight Angel and Cat (and Violeta) stared in stunned admiration at the new arrival, much to the disbelief of Angel and Cat since the new arrival looked as baseline Human as they did. They started scrambling in their pockets as the muscular woman stomped up.

But she wasn't looking at them. She was staring with what looked like devoted admiration at Angel.

"Can I… help you?" Angel ventured.

"Such boldness. Such raw power, such passion," the woman said, her accent thick and vaguely Eastern European. "I can see it in you, the essence of the warrior feminine, the urges, the passions…" She looked to Caterina. "And you. Brilliance. Imagination. Ancient wisdom to be sought…" The bald woman moved on to Violeta,, whom she looked over intently. "So bold, woman. Such boldness! The vivid color, but only the color, anything else would mar your perfection!"

"Umm…" Violeta looked at the new arrival quizzically. "I don't think we've met…?"

"No. We have not. Fate has made this the day for our meeting." She looked the three over again, in sequence. "I see. You do not know of me. How shocking, how interesting. From a lost Wild Space world, coming to Solaris to seek your fortune, your destiny,and now it is here, at this place and moment!"

"We… didn't catch your name," Caterina said.

"Names, yes!" The woman smiled. "I am Katarzyna Granzowa, and like you, I am unaugmented. A simple, unadvanced Human, no modifications, nothing but my skill, the skill that made me the first baseline Human to survive MetaBrawl!"

"You three really are fringe world yokels," one of the reptilians said to them. "How can you not know Katarzyna Granzowa?! The legendary fighter and movie star, wife of the Birk himself!"

"The…. 'Birk'?" Violeta asked.

"Wesley Prefect Birken is my husband, yes," Granzowa said. "Our love is eternal. He has vision, I have vision, and it has led me here to this day, this place in time and space! I simply must have you all!"

"What do you mean… have us all?" Violeta asked, still very confused.

"In our next masterpiece, of course!" She looked to Angel. "You will be perfect for the role of the Divine Guardian, the protector and warrior, and you...."

"Caterina."

"...you will be the Priestess of Knowledge, the Keeper of the Divine Secrets…. and this one shall be the Maiden." She had moved on to Violeta. "Blessed with sacred vision! You will all be perfect!"

"Miss Granzowa!" The bull-man knelt down. "Please, can you autograph my horns?!"

"And mine too!" added the goat-girl.

"Anything for fans," Granzowa said. She reached into a pocket and pulled a marker she seemed to carry just for this occasion.

As she attended to the autographs, the ordered "yum disc" was delivered to the counter, with drinks. Violeta tapped Cat's shoulder, and she in turn tapped Angel's. They quietly snatched up their food and drinks and, with careful haste, departed.

"This world is weird," Angel murmured to them as they left the food court.




On Robert's return to the Embassy, he was immediately escorted into a scanning chamber. A civilian Dorei man - light blue complexion, teal spots, dark blue hair, and dark teal eyes - was standing on the other end of a clear partition. "Sorry, Captain, security precautions," he said. "I'm Sanyam Dutal, the chief of security for the Embassy."

"You think that the President of the Solarian Sovereignty poisoned me?" Robert asked.

"Not poisoned. But CEID have been known to plant nanite-scale trackers and listening devices into our people before," Dutal explained. "The Ambassador himself once returned with a stomach full of spy nanites."

"They bugged the Ambassador?"

Dutal nodded. "That's how CEID works. We protested, of course, and President Sinclair naturally assured the Ambassador that CEID would be firmly reprimanded. But nothing ever came of it. When it comes down to it, CEID do whatever they want if they feel it's necessary."

Robert sighed deeply and dropped onto the bench in the room. "And what about me?"

"None yet. This may have been a perfunctory attempt. Or they're trying to determine how effective our security precautions are. Either way, the scan isn't completed yet."

Robert activated his omnitool. It immediately informed him that it could not establish any connections. "And this thing is emissions shielded too, right?"

"Yes sir. Everything, even subspace interference that blocks their hyperspace-based comm tech."

"I need to get in touch with my people," Robert insisted.

"As soon as the sweep is done, sir." Dutal checked something. "At the current progress, it shouldn't be more than another hour or so. Then another hour or two for Deputy Chief Kanilata to check you mentally for any signs of psionic tampering. And you should be set."

Robert groaned at that. He was starting to hate this world.




Meridina and Lucy followed Kasszas through the passageways of the enclave. The interior was well-lit and cheery, with works of art on the walls showing everything from nature scenes to likenesses of beautiful nebulae or quasars.

They passed by what looked like a common mess hall. A multitude of beings were seated at the tables. A Vulcan was quietly sipping plomeek soup while, across from him, an African man had a bowl of lentils in an earthy-colored sauce. A blue-skinned, teal-spotted Dorei had a hand raised toward another Zigonian. "...still begs the question, my friend. Is Creation a construct of the Supreme Deity?"

"It is and it is not. It is one and the same with all beings."

"Then the Supreme Deity is another being formed by the power of Creation," the Dorei argued. "But then the Deity cannot be supreme."

"Can the Deity not? A Supreme Deity can be such and still a product of Creation."

The theological debate, or philosophical debate, continued on as they moved away from the mess. They came upon a meditation room where a figure was standing up. He had East Asian coloring and features. Seeing them, he bowed respectfully. "S'szrishin-san." His eyes glanced toward Meridina. "And Meridina-san. An honor."

Lucy didn't recognize him, but she could see Meridina did. On a second glance, she did think she had seen the facial features before…

Meridina nodded. "Kurita Minoru, I believe?"

"I am honored you remember our naming conventions."

"Kurita?" Lucy looked to Meridina. "As in the Combine?"

"My father is the Coordinator of the Draconis Combine, yes," Minoru said. "He gave me permission to come to this place."

Meridina nodded. "I felt your potential during our visit to Luthien. I am pleased to see you."

"And I you."

"Why did you come all the way to Solaris?" Lucy asked. "I'm surprised your father let you."

"My father understands what I seek," Minoru replied. "There are many roads to wisdom. Mine has been longer than it might have been, but it is worth it." Minoru looked again to Kasszas. "I am going for my meal now. The meditation chamber is yours."

"Thank you, Brother Minoru." Kasszas bowed his head in respect.

After the Kuritan prince departed, Kasszas stepped into the middle of the room. Lucy looked around at the chamber. An incense burner was on one end, a collection of tea cups and a kettle on the other. A nature scene showing a tall waterfall spewing teal-shaded water upon a forest of bright blue flora dominated the far entrance. Several sitting pads were in the room. Kasszas pulled an extra large one out, and Meridina another. Seeing what they were doing, Lucy took her own.

Once they were all gathered around the center, Meridina assumed her own meditative pose. Kasszas took one as well, his legs folded under him and his tail curled around them. Lucy sat cross-legged and set her elbows on her knees. "You have felt the power of Creation," Kasszas said to her. "You have seen with it. The frustrations I sense within you cloud your thoughts, obscure your connection to the whole of Creation. Such is the way with many beings. We blind ourselves to the truth. We are of Creation; Creation is within us."

Lucy nodded. "While the Gersallians see this power as a Flow of Life, created by the individual life forces of all beings, that we can tap into and we are supposed to strengthen."

"Yes. And I have meditated upon this. The way of Swenya, by word, is not that of the Harmonious Val-Drillim. But in the spirit, we are closer than might be imagined." Kasszas held up a scaly digit, tipped with a talon that Lucy knew could slice her throat open if applied. "We may all be different reflections of a single, greater truth. But you may never grasp this truth if you allow your frustration to cloud your judgement."

"I'm just dealing with a complicated mechanical problem," Lucy insisted. "I've tried everything that should work, but I keep hitting a limitation."

"I see." Kasszas' tongue flickered in thought. "Perhaps it is a matter of perception. I suggest you meditate upon the issue. Use your connection to Creation, my Sister, and you may find the answer you seek."

"I have been," Lucy said, trying to keep the heat from her voice. "I've thought about it over and over, run it through my head…"

"...and that is where you have taken the wrong path. You perceive the problem from the wrong direction. Think anew. Sense the power of Creation around you, sense it within yourself, and reconsider. Carefully."

After that the Zigonian went quiet, apparently dwelling upon his own meditations, Lucy turned to Meridina. She almost spoke but stopped.

This is why I brought you here, Lucy, Meridina's voice whispered in her mind. I have helped you where I can on this. And I would be a terrible teacher if I didn't know when to step aside and bring you to another who might better help you.

Lucy sighed and nodded. With nothing more to do, she put her hands together on her lap and opened her senses up to the pulsing warmth of the Flow of Life.




Two levels down and a block away from where they had been ambushed, Jarod moved quietly through the shadows. The old habits of his time running from the Centre were coming back as if he was riding a bicycle again, for the first time as an adult.

At least, that was the theory of the analogy. Jarod's childhood in the Centre had precluded that sort of activity.

Calls home weren't working. Someone had put up a localized jamming field blocking most communications. This told him that whatever they were doing, they were about to make their move. Going for backup would be tricky. Their opponents had been tracking them and knew his face, and they were likely to have all public transportation routes blocked. He had scanned the 'scraper in question as best as he could. The entryways were mostly blocked, and there was shielding to prevent scans from getting inside.

But he knew there was at least one entryway. Getting to it would be a challenge. It would require planning.

Jarod liked challenges, of course, and as his track record showed, he was quite good with planning.

Coming out of the alley, Jarod's omnitool indicated the presence of things he would need. There was technology and gear in a nearby building. It was a squat structure built for this level alone. The marking outside was a flickering holo-sign that only said "Bio-Outfitting Center".

Jarod entered the door, which chimed as he did so. Inside were shelves filled with all sorts of gear and equipment, including climbing gear, laser emitter assemblies, and shop tools.

At the counter, a young man with a metal arm up to his right shoulder - bared by his tank top - was watching a hand-held holo-display showing two scantily-clad women fighting in a locker room. He looked up slowly as Jarod approached. "ey," he said. "Wot'll it be? The Surgeon's in."

"Surgeon General," a voice cried from inside the nearby door. A man in a white lab-coat emerged, his right hand a metal fist, his face dominated by a large chin. "I'm the damned Surgeon General." He noticed Jarod and grinned. "Ah, hello there. Here for a mod or three? I charge a tenth of what those over-priced yahoos in the upper blocks charge, and my mods are guaranteed against all infections."

"I'm not interested in getting modified," Jarod answered. He smiled widely. "But I'll pay for some of your gear, and an hour in your machine shop."

To that, the "Surgeon General" scoffed, "C'mon, pal, this isn't a do-it-yourself shop. You want to get into my machine shop, you gotta work here, and I'm not hiring. Now, if you're so chicken-sh…"

Before the four-letter word could be finished, the Surgeon General had reason to back up, given the look in Jarod's dark eyes and, more importantly, the pulse pistol now held toward his head. "Are you crazy, I've got prot…" Before his protest could finish, Jarod fired a stun blast into his chest, knocking the big-chinned man out. He turned to look toward the man at the counter.

Said young man shrugged. "I'm still watchin' this Birkin marathon, guv," he said. "'nd that bastard owes me two days' wages 'nd a new arm. Just stun 'n tie me 'fore ya go, so's 'e don't grog on?"

"Fair enough." Jarod pulled the stunned "Surgeon General" back to his office, where there was a nice chair to tie him to. Then he got to work, as quickly as he could, hoping Julia and Zack were okay.




Julia woke up to feel tension in her shoulders and warmth at her back. The pain in her wrists confirmed the situation even before she opened her eyes and looked up to see her wrists bound above her head. She could make out another pair of hands lashed to hers and knew immediately that Zack was hanging behind her.

For a moment fear struck. She was being held prisoner, and she didn't know why. The fact they were alive meant that their captors wanted something from them. What did they plan to do?

Another fear hit afterward. Jarod! She'd seen him go over the railing. Why? Did he have a plan? Or was it a reflex reaction to being caught and being more willing to die than to be captured by anyone? Was he still alive?

"Unh." Zack's head moved. He looked up and Julia felt his head smack against hers. "Ow," they said together. Julia would have kicked at him, but her ankles and Zack's were bound together too.

Julia took in their surroundings. It looked like a machine shop. Firearms and other devices were spread out on tables along with tools. The lights were on, although dimmed, and for the moment Julia couldn't make out any guards.

"Do you think we found the thieves?" Zack asked.

"We found something." Julia looked up again. Their captors had left them hanging from a latch, attached by a strong steel wire to a pulley arm. "Looks like this is used to lift engine blocks or something." Looking down again, she saw a cement floor. Her feet were just touching it.

"What do you think they want us alive for?"

"Ransom. Slavery. Tickle torture." Julia kept studying the latch above. Her omnitool had been removed, a precaution against it having anything to cut them free. "Take your pick. I'm just glad we're not butt-naked."

"Yeah, that would be awkward," Zack agreed. "They've got our guns too."

"You see them?"

"Yep. And our omnitools."

"Maybe I…"

Julia shut up and looked to her right at the sound of a door opening. Said door was elevated up to Julia's shoulder blades, with a red-painted metal walkway leading to metal steps down to the ground she was barely standing on. Two figures walked in, wearing what looked like tactical gear and holding assault firearms. They took up stations at the door and said nothing.

A woman stepped in. Her skin was porcelain white in complexion. Deep, brilliant blue eyes shined like sapphires in the light as they took in the sight of Julia and Zack where they were bound. The suit was made of red leather with black trim and showed much of the figure of a lean, physically fit woman. She moved with a cat-like grace in walking down the metal walkway and to the steps leading down to the floor of the machine shop. In doing this, her turning allowed Julia to see a red band held raven black hair into a bun at the back of her head.

"Oh crap," Julia murmured, after which she gulped.

"What?" Zack asked. He couldn't easily see the new arrival as she was walking toward Julia's side of the room. "You recognize her?"

"I recognize the uniform."

"So you do," the woman said. Her accent had a strange quality to it. It didn't sound like English was her second language, but the phonetics of the pronunciation were unique even to Solaris, the vowel sounds sounding thick and pronounced. "My name is Tabitha. I am an agent of NEUROM."

"Nure-who?" Zack asked.

Tabitha narrowed her eyes. And then grinned. "Ah, yes. You are not so educated in the ways of our universe, are you outsider? And what of you?" Tabitha eyed Julia. You know of us?"

"I've seen one of yours. She was called Denna, a fugitive."

"Denna." Tabitha smirked. "My poor, sweet Denna. How I miss that girl. She was always a little too enthusiastic for our work. Enjoying pain is part of what we are in the Ministry of Fate. But one can have too much of a good thing."

"Great," Zack sighed. "I'm being held prisoner by a dominatrix."

"Zack," Julia hissed.

"I trust you know what this is, then?" The woman reached to her belt and held up an object that almost looked like a leather-covered eskrima stick, the kind Julia trained with while practicing that specific art. "You've seen an agiel used before, yes? You needn't answer, actually. I can see the fear in your eyes." After giggling for a moment, Tabitha stepped around them and faced Zack. "You are ignorant. I shall fix that. Now, what are you doing in the lowest levels."

"Sightseeing. Trying out the local food." Zack smirked at her. "Ever have a ratburger? There's a girl one level down, makes some really juicy…"

Just as the device started to move toward Zack, the door opened again. Another dark-clad figure, this one a big muscular woman with a gun slung over her shoulder, stepped in. "M'lady, it's time. We can't keep the jammers up much longer before it becomes suspicious."

"Hmm." Tabitha looked to her and noddded. "I'll be up in a minute. Have we found the target?"

"We have."

"Good. Ready the team. And have our people begin preparations to decommission this base. It's useless to us now."

"Of course, M'Lady. It will be as you command." She stepped out.

Tabitha stepped back around and faced Julia directly. "I'll make my decision on whether to kill you or bring you with us after I go." She got so close to Julia that their eyes met. "Bringing you back for debriefing would be quite the plum for this mission. And the chance for some playtime with you two is so tempting…"

Somehow, Julia knew that however tempting it was for Tabitha, she and Zack wouldn't find it so appealing.

"Ta, lovelies." Tabitha walked away, heading for the door. The lights dimmed down again as the door closed, leaving the two of them alone.

"This is the worst shore leave ever," Zack grumbled.




"This is the best shore leave ever," Caterina declared.

The pizza, or "yum disc", had been tasty, and the drinks not bad. Now the three of them were walking along Ozone Heights and another line of shops. Caterina and Violeta now had bags of clothes on their right and left arms respectively, while their left and right hands were clasped together. Both were wearing matching sleeveless, navel-baring shirts of vibrant purple and blue colors that constantly shifted due to the specialized dyes of the clothes. They wore equally-matching blue skirts that stopped just above the knee.

Behind them, Angel followed with a wistful grin. She wasn't having quite so much fun. Indeed, her primary sentiment was that she was pretty sure the other two had exhausted their money supply and that the shopping would become window shopping only now. Meanwhile she checked her omnitool for any updates from the others and frowned at the result. She quickly tapped another query.

"I can't wait to wear that dress," Violeta said. "Especially if we get to go home… if girls on Sirius find out about this place…"

"...they'll all jump on the first liner to come shopping," Cat laughed. She felt weird, but good; she'd never been much of a shopper, and during their Europe tour what shopping they'd done had been mixed in with sight-seeing. Caterina looked back to where Angel was still following. "So, where do you want to go shopping?"

"I don't want to shop," Angel said. "I'm shocked you spent this much. How much of this stuff could you have just replicated up on the ship?"

"There's no replicator pattern that can match this!" Caterina declared, gesturing with her right hand to the shifting patterns on her shirt.

Angel shook her head. "That doesn't matter. And we need to get going."

Caterina frowned and stopped, prompting Violeta to turn with her. "Are you okay?" Cat asked Angel. "If you're not having fun we can do something else."

"It's not about fun," Angel snapped. "It's been too long since Julia's last check-in. And I just tried to raise them again and there's absolutely no response."

The other two ladies frowned. "That is bad," said Violeta.

Angel nodded. "And I can't get ahold of Robert either. He must be in the Embassy in a secure area."

"We should probably head back there, then," Caterina said.

Angel nodded, and they continued on.




"Is this really necessary?" Robert asked, twitching, while the Gersallian woman Kanilata held her fingers to his face. She had a complexion that made her look East Asian to Robert, though her face had the same basic facial structure as other Gersallians.

"I am almost done," she answered. "You are fortunate that my training as a farisa allows me to do this as I am. Others would have to be more invasive to be sure."

"They didn't do anything to my head," Robert insisted.

"Unfortunately, CEID's farisa are known to be capable of subtle alterations to a mind. We had to send one of our clerks back when she was found slipping our daily decrypted communiques to CEID operatives. She had been manipulated mentally to have a subconscious impulse to send the information." Kanilata frowned deeply. "It is a terrible abuse of mental powers."

"And you're afraid they did this to me?"

"We must take precautions against it. Now please, be silent again, and let me concentrate."

Robert frowned and did so.




Lucy was surprised to see how well she kept her focus in meditation. It was as if the energy around her encouraged it, allowing her to ease her thoughts and let her mind calm. She could feel the warmth of the Flow of Life and how the ember of power within her resonated with it. She could sense Meridina's power as always, strong, inviting, and laced with benevolent intent. She enjoyed that sensation, stripped of the doubt and fear that had plagued Meridina for those months after Amaunet took her as an unwilling host, and she signed with contentment at its presence near her.

Kasszas was different. There was a special feel to his power, a contentment, a sense of absolute surrender to the Flow of Life, as if Kasszas could simply dissolve himself into it. It resonated around him in reply, as if he were a part of it.

It made sense. He was blind. The Zigonian being bereft of a major sense encouraged the bond he felt to the Flow of Life, to his own power, because it was what he saw the world through.

A thought came to Lucy. Was that her limitation? For all that she had learned with these powers, with this connection to a wider energy around her… she still often thought in hard terms. She had become an engineer, and engineers dealt with the firm limits of reality all of the time. The limitations of materials, of energy, of design.

Limitations like the crystals for her recreation of Swenya's Blade.

She had done everything right, hadn't she? She's taken what she saw in the scans, in the design, and she'd recreated it. But it was simply too much energy for the crystals. And there were some good crystals, strong, beautiful, why didn't they work?

What am I doing wrong? she wondered. I'm looking at this from the wrong place. Maybe there's another way to see this? Something I'm overlooking? I should double-check those scans…

Lucy stopped herself. No. That wasn't the answer, was it? That would be continuing to look at the problem from the same direction. She needed to try another direction.

She felt within herself, and around herself, she felt the energy and she let go of her preconceptions. The answer was there. It had to be. She'd felt all this time that she would do this, that she could do this, and maybe this… maybe this was the way she would.

From the warmth of the energy came a sight. The Gersallian Council Chamber. Mastrash Goras, his essence full of darkness, his hate murderous. Robert and Angel desperately trying to hold him off. And in her hand… the weapon. The blade. Swenya's Blade.

She had felt within it. She had felt the pieces as they should be, as they had been shifted to disable the weapon. She remembered fixing it. Activating the blade at the last second. The sapphire light that filled her vision, the way the photons and the plasma moved within the confines of the blade's field.

Lucy dwelled on that vision. On the blade. On what it felt like, on what was within. The pieces she had fixed.

And as she did so, Lucy let go of the scans she had taken. She let go of all of the work she had done so far on making the blade herself. There was only the blade she had held and what she had felt inside, the way it was formed. The beauty and elegance of the design.

Of course, Lucy thought.

"Of course," she murmured aloud. "That's why the crystals don't work."

"Lucy?"

Lucy opened her eyes. Meridina was looking at her intently. "You have meditated more deeply than I have ever seen you before," Meridina said plainly.

"Yeah." Lucy nodded.

"And?" Meridina's lips curled into the slightest smile. "It seems to have given you new insight."

She nodded again in reply. "It has."

"And?"

"And… I think I'm going to try something when we get back to the ship."

Meridina nodded. The smile faded. "But we must do something first."

"Oh?"

"I have just spoken with Angel." Now Meridina frowned slightly. "Julia and her team are not answering communications. And the Aurora is detecting a jamming field in that section of Solaris."

Lucy frowned in reply. "The Solarians are going to do something about that, I hope?"

"Nicholas has been in contact with their security command. They are investigating. But I believe they may be too late. We must…"

"Meridina-san."

The two looked back from their sitting positions to the door. Minoru Kurita was standing in the doorway, bowing slightly. "Forgive me for interrupting, Meridina-san. But Jata'kesti sent me to inform you that a street urchin has come seeking you and Lucilla Lucero. He has found your vehicle."

Meridina and Lucy both stood up. "I sense you must go now," Kasszas said. "Theezs kuzzs ta zas, Sisters. Creation's Light remain with you."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Kasszas," Meridina replied.

Minoru escorted them back out to the foyer where Jata'kesti awaited with Toby. The large Jeaxian remained quiet at his place watching the young urchin. There was a slight fear in him, not so much of the alien but of the powers here, and all of the stories told about espers.

"I found yar larc, Miss," he said to Lucy. "It's in a dock off Farshal Square, west side. Th' ol' Pan-Em buildin'."

"Pan-Em?" Meridina looked at him intently. "As in Pan-Empyrean?"

"Yair, Miss. Yaint gonna miss it, got th' winged sign 'n all. A fellow street-runner tol' me 'bout it, I went 'n grogged it, looked through th' window."

The two nodded at each other. They could sense Toby was speaking the truth. Lucy promptly pulled the rest of the promised money out of her pocket and gave it to him. "Stay safe."

"I grog yar worried, Miss, but I'm good." He looked over the money. "'n thanks, this'll cove some grub for me sibs."

With that Toby left. "An interesting coincidence," Meridina murmured.

"Maybe the theft was an inside job. Or the thieves figure nobody will look in an old Pan-Empyrean building?"

"Perhaps. Or perhaps there is more to this game than we thought." Meridina tapped a couple of keys on her omnitool. "Meridina to Dale." When there was no response, she said, "Meridina to Delgado."

After a moment Angel replied, "Delgado here."

"We may have a lead. Meet me in the Sprawl. I'm relaying where we need to go. And do you know where Robert is? I can't reach him."

"The Embassy's putting him through the wringer right now to make sure the Solarians didn't fill him with nanites or screw his head up," answered Angel. "He should be out shortly, if everything's fine. We're on our way now."

"We will be waiting. Meridina out." After ending the call Meridina and Lucy left the Enclave.




At the Embassy's parking lot, Angel looked over the transport schedules and frowned. "There's no public transport heading to the Sprawl any time soon," she said to the others. "And I don't want Lucy and Meridina going in alone."

"And they'll be mad if we bring a shuttle or runabout down," Cat said. "So we need to find other transportation. Maybe the Embassy can help?"

"I'm not sure they will."

"They probably won't."

The three looked to where Robert stepped up. "I just spent hours getting all of my atoms scanned, my omnitool completely dismantled and reassembled, and my mind probed," he said, after which he scowled and added, "And then they made me take laxatives for good measure just in case the scan missed anything in the food."

"Yikes," Caterina said, wincing.

Robert nodded once to her and continued, "Nick left me some messages about Julia and her team going radio silent, but according to reports, that entire area's been cut off from electronic transmissions."

"A jamming field, I'd say," Caterina remarked.

"Meridina left me a message about a lead in the Sprawl?"

"Yeah, we just talked," Angel said. "They tracked the suspect vehicle to an old Pan-Empyrean building."

Robert frowned at that. "Now that sounds suspicious. And Hank did think it could be an inside job."

"If it's there, though, why would someone be jamming communications from Commander Andreys' team?" Violeta asked.

"It could be unrelated. Either way, Meridina and Lucy are waiting for us. And all we need is transportation that can get us there in time." Angel nodded her head toward the main doors. "Do you think the Embassy…?"

"Fry wants to keep his people out of this," Robert said. "But I have an idea who to call." He activated his omnitool's communication function and put in a call number on the Sovereignty comm network. After a few moments a man of light tan complexion appeared on the screen. "Mister Chandra? This is Captain Dale of the Aurora. We've found a possible site for the stolen component and my people need backup. If you wouldn't mind picking us up…"




Time had passed in the machine shop. Tired of the silence, Zack broke it by asking, "Do you think the others are coming?"

"Even if they are, they may not know where to go. You heard them talk about jamming. Even if Jarod survived…" She stopped. If anyone could figure their way around such a problem, it'd be Jarod. "We have to assume that our only way out of here is to get out ourselves."

"Right." Zack nodded. "Ideas?"

Julia looked back up. "If our ankles weren't bound together this would be easy. But I don't think we're flexible enough to lift ourselves enough to get to the latch." She looked beyond the latch to the cord above. "They never planned for prisoners. And this stuff isn't made for holding people."

"Yeah, but I bet it's made for heavy stuff, heavier than us."

"Maybe, maybe not." Julia took in a breath. "Okay, on the count of three, swing back my way."

"Right."

"One… two… three!"

Acting in concert the two began to sway their bodies in the same direction, back and forth, until they began to swing slowly. There was a metallic creak above them as they progressed. Sweat began to form from the effort and their arm muscles were hurting from the increased strain.

The effort ceased without any visible success. "Dammit." Julia looked back up at it. "Okay, maybe if we… when's the last time you did pull ups?"

"During the last physical training run, last week," Zack answered. "The one Leo organized. But you said we couldn't get to the latch."

"No, but maybe if we bring ourselves up as high as we can and then drop, it might do something."

"Yeah, like tear our shoulder joints."

"Maybe, but…"

"Julia, I don't think we're getting out of this." Zack drew in a breath. "These people know what they're doing. They wouldn't tie us in a way that would make it possible for us to escape."

Julia frowned and turned her head instinctively, wishing she could face Zack. "We can't just give up."

"No. But I don't call biding our time so we don't injure ourselves 'giving up'," Zack retorted.

"If they come back into this room, it's going to be to kill us or move us," Julia replied. "This is our chance to get away. Or do you want to be that woman's plaything?"

"Not necessarily."

"Then we need to find a way out of here," she insisted. "So think!"




Jarod returned to the skyscraper structure where they had been attacked, but one level below where the attack had taken place. His now gloved hands flexed while he worked up his nerve for a moment. Here goes nothing.

After reaching to his back and the powered unit there, he pulled the climbing spikes tied to it, one for each hand, and drove them into the surface of the 'scraper just at the end of the ledge. The hardened surface material would not have given for ordinary climbing spikes, but the powered unit attached to him generated a short-range graviton effect at the edge, effectively giving a powered thrust to the spikes as they drove home. Chunks of metal and ferrocrete fell away with each strike as he rounded the corner of the building and began to climb up. The magnets now attached to his boots had come from a mod meant for people to work in Solaris' zero-G zones. There wasn't enough ferrous material in the structure to allow him to actually walk on it, but it did help secure his feet while the spikes did the bulk of the climbing work.

It was not as physically taxing as normal climbing would have been, with the spikes' nature driving them home without needing much muscle power behind them. Sweat nevertheless trickled from his brow at the effort of lifting himself up and the knowledge that if his grip failed, he would likely end up splattered on the ground half a kilometer below.





Hanging by your arms in a machine shop as captives to some nasty dominatrix-like lady in leather can be a trying experience, Zack was finding.

Oh, he had been in danger before, of course. That feeling came whenever you went into a starship combat mission, the idle thought that you wouldn't be coming back from it. That it might be the mission where a lucky enemy shot, or just a whole lot of enemy shots, would blow you to pieces, and that would be that. But that's a different beast to the sheer, frightening uncertainty of being a captive, of not knowing what would be done to you. Would you be beaten? Killed? Something worse? And the way he had nearly felt Julia's breath pick up when that leather-wearing chick had come in told him she was just as afraid.

"Still nothing?" he asked.

He was answered by a growl of frustration.

"If we get out of this, maybe you should take that command offer, just so this doesn't happen again," Zack suggested. In the distance, he thought he heard engine noises. Tabitha was off for whatever it was she was doing.

"Zack, now isn't the time to talk about the Enterprise, or anything but how to get the hell out of here before that lunatic comes back," snapped Julia.

"Right." He drew in a sigh and looked around again. And again, he didn't see much of anything they could do. If their ankles weren't tied together too, one of them could have easily pulled themselves up and maybe work their wrists free. But they just didn't have the freedom of movement.

"We should try to swing again," Julia said. "That latch looks like it might be a little worn."

Zack looked back at it. He didn't see anything like that, and chalked it up to Julia indulging in wishful thinking.

So they did. They managed to get themselves rocking quite a bit, which wasn't much fun. But the latch held.

"God damn thing!" Julia swore.

For a moment, Zack let himself give up on the idea of rescue. He imagined that very soon, they'd be dead, or wishing they were dead, and they certainly wouldn't be in a position to talkt o each other. "Julia…"

"Zack, don't start. Get ready to swing again. One… two…"

They tried again. There was a slight metallic creaking. But the latch wasn't giving way.

"If we don't get out of this, it might be our last chance to talk," Zack said.

Julia let out a breath. "I know," she said.

"Yeah, so maybe we should say what we need to."

"Right." For a moment she went silent. Julia didn't want to stop fighting. She knew if she did, if she gave up, then the uncertainty, the despair, would come. And she might fall to pieces, and it might bring Zack with her. And what good would that do?

Besides, she'd made a promise. She'd promised Robert, Robby, that she wouldn't give up and that she would trust in him coming to save her.

Zack swallowed and whet his throat. He couldn't keep his heart was doing a thud-thud as he imagined how he would say what he felt he needed to say. "I have a confession to make," he said. "And I think you should know that…"

Before he could finished they heard the door creak open. They both looked toward it and were momentarily surprised to see nobody there.

At least, not until it was closed. Once the door closed a figure shimmered into view.

"Jarod!" Julia cried, her voice hoarse from her attempt to keep it from sounding too loud.

"Well, it looks like you've been hanging around while I did all of the hard work," Jarod teased. He pulled out his pulse pistol from the small of his back, where the holster was still wedged just below the bulky power pack. He checked the setting for a moment before bringing the pistol up in both hands to look down its eyesight. A blue pulse erupted with a whup sound and smacked into the hook they were bound too. The metal gave way to the sudden strike of energy and broke, freeing their wrists in the process. They fell over due to how their ankles were strapped together. Zack twisted with Julia while Jarod hurried down the steps and pulled one of his climbing spikes up from where it was attached to his waist. With a single strike he severed the straps holding their ankles together. "There. So, is this it?"

"I don't know, I don't think so," Julia answered.

"That lady said something about a target and finding it," Zack added. He was now standing where their omnitools and guns were laid out. He put his holster on his back and slipped the omnitool brace back into place on his arm. "This may have nothing to do with it." He tossed Julia's gun, holster, and omnitool back to her.

As she put them back on, she looked to Jarod and continued, "She was one of those leather-wearing dark powers types. Like the one Miss Parker hired when she abducted you."

Jarod frowned. "Did she hurt you?"

"She was about to, but apparently this 'target' mattered more. But she talked about taking us back with her, and I get the feeling hurting us was part of that plan." Julia shivered at that thought. "We've been out of communication for too long. We need to get in contact with the others."

"They're still jamming," Jarod said. "We'll need to get out of here. They've still gone one vehicle left that we can hijack."

"Do you know how to drive these things?" Zack asked. When Jarod gave him a sardonic look he said, "Right, yeah, I forgot who I was talking to."

They walked up to the door and went through it, guns out and ready. The place was a converted vehicle garage with a bank of monitors toward one end and converted sleeping places. A long rack of firearms was half-empty on that far end. Figures were arrayed back by the monitors, watching something they couldn't make out. Jarod quietly closed the door to the machine shop while Julia and Zack approached the last vehicle in the garage. With nobody in or around it they were able to slip into it, leaving the driver's seat for Jarod.

Once Jarod slipped into it, he brought up his omnitool. "This is going to be a close one," he warned them while working the controls. "Here we… go!"

With a button press Jarod activated a remote signal to the bay door. It immediately began to open. Zack was looking through the rear window of the hovercar - which it was to him, official name be damned - and noticed the figures by the monitors reacting. They shouted and began to jump up, still surprised for the moment.

Their uncertainty vanished when Jarod brought the LARC"s anti-grav engines online. Guns were pulled and orange fire erupted across the garage. Several shots hit the rear of the vehicle, blasting metal and frame away. The occupants were pulled back across their seats by the acceleration when Jarod jammed his foot onto the accelerator. The vehicle rushed from the bay into the outside air. Jarod banked it to avoid slamming into the skyscraper opposite of the bay they'd come from and took a moment to level them out.

Zack let out a whoop. "Nice going, Jarod."

Julia was already trying to contact the others with her omnitool. "Still no response."

"We're not out of the jamming field yet," Jarod said. "I didn't see much, but those weapons aren't the right type. I don't think that was our group."

"So this might have been for nothing," Zack said.

"Maybe, maybe not. Right now I just want to get a hold of the others." Julia tried her omnitool again.

This time she was rewarded by a crackle. "...to Andreys. Ar-... there? -ale to… -dreys, are you there?"

With a smile, Julia nodded. "I'm here. We're safe."

"What happened?"

"Oh, abduction, rescue, the usual," Julia answered. "Do we have any updates?"

"Meridina and Lucero may have something. Head to Farshal Square in the Sprawl."

Julia looked to Jarod, who nodded. "We're on our way."






The Sprawl was less active in the area around the Pan-Empyrean subsidiary building. There were still people moving around, but the markets were thinner here. This was an area of the Sprawl that had seen better times.

Meridina and Lucy arrived in Farshal Square and looked at the four-story high structure. "I don't like the feeling of this place," Lucy said.

"Nor do I. Whoever is in there may be expecting trouble." Meridina checked her omnitool. "Robert indicates they are still several minutes out. We have time to wait."

Lucy nodded. Even as she did so, however, something felt… off. A sense of looming danger was filling her. She noticed the sudden look in Meridina's eyes and knew Meridina felt the same. "And if we don't, we need to figure out what to do."

Meridina was already looking around, trying to sense an incoming attack.

As it turned out, it wasn't an attack that was incoming.

A vehicle not too different from the one they were tracking suddenly flew overhead, joined by another. One landed at the front of the building while the other hovered over it. Figures jumped from the top. Lucy felt a dark presence among them. "Uh oh," she muttered.

"It would appear that something of consequence is happening," Meridina said. "And I feel it too, Lucy. There is a swevyra'kse among them."

The team that landed in front blasted through the front door. An explosion of debris from the top of the building said they were entering from there too. "They're definitely not the Wild Geese," Lucy said. "Someone else might be looking for that component." She pulled her lakesh and extended it.

"Then let us go," Meridina agreed, doing the same.

With their lakesh blades out, they ran toward the opened front door. A guard watching said door turned to face them only as they got close. He brought his gun up but never fired it, as Meridina sent a wave of power that tossed him back to the ground hard. They ran in and Lucy took the moment to slice the gun in half with her weapon.

They were in what used to be a front office. A sign read "Pan-Empyrean Consumer Works" on one wall. "It must have been a factory or warehouse," Lucy said as they continued on, following the sounds of battle and an occasional scream of agony.

Their next foe came in the corridor they entered between offices. He had a different dark suit than the first that marked him as a defending party, not attacker. He had enough range to open fire. Lucy and Meridina caught his shots with their weapons and deflected several pulses back into him, knocking the armed man over.

This way, Meridina urged with mentally, and Lucy followed. They found a door leading out into an open factory or warehouse area. There were signs of occupation on a long-term, like a portable stove and sleeping cots. Now they were a mess and armed men were still exchanging fire. The two went unnoticed for the moment focused. The pull of their instincts, or rather their powers, led them to notice a far door that was open. "That might lead to a rear dock. They're probably fleeing!"

Getting to the far door meant rushing into the open and being exposed to a crossfire. Lucy's heart pounded for a moment at going into that kill zone, but she steadied herself, raised her blade, and joined Meridina in rushing the gauntlet. Their lakesh blades sung in the air, looking almost ethereal with the faint blue of their EM fields as they moved through the air to intercept shots fired at the two women. Their opponents were firing at them and at each other, although those were often the same thing. But Meridina and Lucy did not stop. Could not stop, as stopping meant being overwhelmed.

Lucy had deflected fire before, but she felt a strange ease at it. She could feel the shots coming with even greater warning time than before. Her life energy, connected by the Flow of Life to the wider cosmos, let her easily guess where the shots would go, and her arms thrummed with power as they moved with speed and grace to get her blade into positions to intercept those shots if they might harm her or Meridina.

The entire mad dash lasted barely ten seconds, such was their speed in covering the gap. Soon they too were going through the door and into a hall. Three dead bodies spoke of the brief firefight as one force retreated from the other. They kept going.

The other end was the loading dock. A number of armed men and women, at least half a dozen, were arrayed around a lithe male figure carrying a container, the same one from the Pan-Empyrean videos. Other armed men and women were behind cover firing at them. Even as one defender fell, the others approached the vehicle that they were going to escape in.

Lucy and Meridina took a moment to concur on their attack. When they moved, their first objective was knocking out the two nearest gunmen, reducing the fire they would have to run through. Lucy let Meridina take the lead and focused on deflecting the fire coming at her.

And then she felt it. The dark power surged. A laugh echoed in the room as a lovely figure in red leather dropped from the upper level right in the middle of the initial set of thieves. She had only one leather-bound stick in her hand, but the moment it pressed against one of her foes, he or she let out a scream and toppled. She took out half of the remaining defensive shooters in seconds before she turned to the one with the container. She held a hand out and he stopped in his tracks.

Lucy, by this point, was focused on protecting Meridina's back from incoming fire, so it was Meridina who watched as the man struggled to move forward. But the woman in leather would not be denied. Her dark power increased and the man soon fell to a knee, gagging, as an invisible vice tightened around his throat. Meridina made the calculation immediately. The woman was the priority target, a threat to them all. She brought her lakesh up, bounded over a fallen shooter, and swung it toward her.

At the last moment the woman in leather twisted away. She scowled at Meridina. "A damned Magi. What are you doing after this thing?"

"I am a swevyra'se of Gersal," Meridina announced. "And I have come to reclaim the device for its owner."

"I'm Tabitha of the Ministry of Fate, and you just made a big mistake." Tabitha lunged at Meridina with her weapon. Meridina evaded the blow and brought her blade into position to cut at the weapon. Her opponent evaded that and threw a wicked kick that nearly caught Meridina in the face and forced her to back up. She swung again and Meridina evaded, even as she felt the growing rage and frustration of her foe.

The man with the container began to crawl toward the vehicle. Lucy noticed him and made a split second decision. She rushed forward, as fast as she could, and jumped over the line of defensive shooters just as they laid down fire, narrowly avoiding their shots. She flipped in mid-air and landed beside the man with the container. A swipe of her weapon cut the straps holding it to him, freeing the device. She pulled it away from him. "I've got it!"

That made her the focus of a large volume of fire. Lucy put everything she had into sending the shots back to sender. Her blade became a blur of blue light and metal.

Tabitha broke away from Meridina to pursue the device herself. Meridina turned to pursue before converging fire forced her to focus on the defense. She sent a mental warning to Lucy.

Lucy heeded it. She saw Tabitha's attack coming and parried it, moving to her side and sending Tabitha flying.

Flying, as it turned out, right into the compartment with the device, knocking it into the nearby LARC. It bounced back into the air, right in the crossfire between Lucy and the others. Multiple shots started striking it, wrecking the hinge of the container and charring much of its surface.

When it finally hit the ground, it cracked open, one half spilling away, and exposed its contents.

Lucy and Meridina both felt the danger first. They moved toward each other, ignoring the wrecked container. The various gunmen didn't. While some kept shooting, others rushed to seize what was inside.

Before they could take more than a step or two, something moved. There was a sudden surge of mass, and both Meridina and Lucy watched a familiar amber mass erupt from its former imprisonment. A tentacle of amber became a hardened spike of sharp metal that pierced the throat of an armored woman who was closest to the container. The spike immediately retracted back into the amber fluid it had come from, which formed into a vicious serpent. A serpent she had seen before… on the floor of the Alliance Senate.

"Oh crap," was all Lucy could say before the Changeling attacked.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-03 11:10am

The Changeling remembered the fight in the Senate and clearly marked Lucy and Meridina as the greatest threats. Lucy saw the strike coming just in time to dodge the shapeshifter's lung for her throat. While moving her blade remained in motion as well, swinging in mid-air and deflecting another shot coming her way in the chaotic melee.

Tabitha was already back to her knees and preparing to get up when she spotted the Changeling. A flicker of surprise came to her face. Whatever she had expected the container to hold, it hadn't been what was now harrying Lucy.

Meridina reached out with her power and struck at the Changeling as it curled around Lucy's ankles. The Changeling stopped in mid-movement, held in place before it could finish tripping Lucy up, which in turn bought her time to step out. In turn Lucy moved her blade to deflect more fire coming toward all of them.

Tabitha lunged at Meridina. She sensed the attack coming a moment too late. Tabitha's agiel pressed against her back and pain overwhelmed Meridina, causing her to cry out and topple to a knee. She let go of the Changeling.

Lucy heard her cry and knew that she had just a second or two to react. She focused for a moment. She reached inside of herself for the warm power within her, the glowing connection to everything else, and drew strength from it. Just as the Changeling went for her legs Lucy jumped in the air. She flipped in mid-air and landed behind Tabitha as the vicious woman raised her weaponf or another blow on Meridina. Upon landing Lucy held her free left hand up with her palm outward, throwing. A solid wall of unseen force smashed into Tabitha and tossed her backward. She landed among the team of original thieves and rolled with the impact until she was crouched. Her weapon flashed out and struck one of her other adversaries. The gunwoman screamed and collapsed.

The Changeling was already turning back toward them. Lucy sensed hesitation in it. Clearly this was a chaotic fight among different groups, and the Changeling could see the opportunity to flee. The viper turned amber again, coalescing with a slight gloop into a hawk that jumped into the air.

Lucy prepared to strike at it. But Tabitha was already moving again, and her target was Meridina, still recovering from what Tabitha's weapon had done to her. Lucy could sense the outcome there: Meridina would not survive.

So she moved, intercepting Tabitha's raised weapon with her lakesh. The blade didn't destroy the agiel as she had expected it to. Tabitha's face was contorted into frustrated rage and she lashed out with her full power. Lucy got her blade up in time to catch the crackling lightning before it could strike her body.

Meridina was picking herself back up from the floor at this point. She held her lakesh up to deflect a few stray shots sent toward her. She sensed that the Changeling was overhead even now, but with the incoming fire and the proximity of the swevyra'kse, she could not stop it.

The Changeling dropped back to the floor at the bay door exit to the garage. There was a clear sense of triumph in the creature as it took a humanoid form and used fingers to operate the control panel. The door began to slide open. Meridina turned her head enough to see the sneer of triumph on the irregular humanoid face. The Changeling, without opposition, stepped into the open bay door.

It never saw the LARC coming.

The vehicle swooped in and slammed into the Changeling with enough force that it flew across the garage. It disintegrated into its natural gelatinous state by the time it hit the ground.

The LARC twisted to the right at the last moment. The doors of the vehicle slid open. Julia and Zack came out from the passenger side and pulled out pulse pistols. They opened fire on Tabitha's troops on the far side of the garage, using the vehicle as cover Given the range and target size they had little chance of hitting, but their shots had the desired effect of forcing them to duck for cover. One put an object on the ground that expanded and created an energy field about three feet high, providing instant cover.

Jarod, meanwhile, finished crawling across the front seats and left from the passenger side, using the others' covering fire to run up to the control panel. A few key presses were all that were necessary to close the door. It might have only been a second, but he knew what he'd seen. "The door's closed!" he said. "It can't get out!"

"What was that thing?" Zack asked.

"A Changeling," answered Jarod. He pulled his own pulse pistol out and joined Julia and Zack behind the cover of the LARC.

"The second floor!" Julia shouted. The catwalk above had been empty, but now more armed figures were arriving. She didn't think they looked like Tabitha's people; they were clearly aligned with the original thieves. She held her pistol up and opened fire. Most of her shots missed, but one took one of their opponents in the shoulder and brought him or her down.

Zack, nearest to the front of the LARC, opened up on one of Tabitha's armed goons attempting to move along the wall. The soldier was driven back into cover.

As this part of the gunfight continued, the fight in the middle of the room was still on. Tabitha had given up on her lightning attack and was dueling with Lucy. Lucy's blade had greater reach, but Tabitha was an agile opponent and her weapon was quicker to move. Lucy fell back on the defensive. Nearby Meridina was continuing to fight defensively as well given the sheer volume of fire coming at them.

We must stop the Changeling from escaping, she said to the others mentally.

Agreed was Julia's sentiment. She kept firing on the upper catwalk with Jarod's help. One of his shots was a clean headshot, causing the soldier to topple over the catwalk.

But the volume of fire didn't let up. They were driven back into cover, and that cover wasn't going to last long given that one group of their adversaries held the high ground. These guys are pros, Jarod thought, and through Meridina the five Aurora crew heard him. The only reason we're not getting overwhelmed is that they're also fighting the other team.

And they've got damned assault weapons
, Zack threw in.

The additional complication re-asserted itself a moment later. The mass of amber fluid formed into short, four-legged scaly creature that skittered across the garage floor for the nearest LARC. Once it was under it the LARC began to shift. Suddenly the form of a massive six-limbed creature, with hardened scales and fur, appeared below it, lifting the LARC under four arms. The creature bellowed with effort and tossed the LARC toward Lucy and Meridina.

Both saw it coming, as did Tabitha. All three turned suddenly and used their powers to throw the LARC upward. It slammed into the far catwalk and crushed it and the soldiers gathering there.

The Changeling shifted shape again, becoming the viper, and shot toward the door control panel. Meridina turned to pursue it while Lucy was left to struggle with Tabitha. Energy fire descended around them and forced both to move back toward the remaining LARC and the bay door as well. Julia and Zack tried with frantic effort to squeeze off shots. Return fire kept them pinned in. And Julia noticed that the LARC they'd piloted in was starting to come apart from the repeated hits. Soon they wouldn't have any cover, and they would be gunned down.

"Isn't Robert bringing those mercs in?!" Zack asked over the constant electronic whups and wips and WHOMs of weapons fire.

"He is. They should be here any…"

The far part of the garage door exploded inward.

The vehicle that appeared in the new gap in the door was a larger LARC than the others. A protective energy field popped into place around it. Weapons fire sloughed off the sapphire energy of the field, which protected those on the inside as they poured out, weapons blazing. In the lead was a man, his cybernetics-covered face revealed by the transparent faceplate of his combat helmet. The big assault rifle in his arms began to blast away with a steady WHOM WHOM WHOM, showering orange energy blasts on any target ahead of him that drove the various gunpersons back to cover.

A dark-clad, lithe figure came out next. He jumped all the way up to the ruined catwalk and then to the wall. Zack and Julia watched in surprise as the figure pulled out a solid sword that looked suspiciously like a vibrating katana. The figure's free hand whipped out and there were suddenly metal blades protruding from the throat of the two nearest enemy troops. The group behind them turned to open fire, just to find that the black-clad figure had jumped to the ceiling. He ran across said ceiling for three quick steps and then jumped back down as energy fire traced his path. His trajectory brought him into the midst of his foes. He landed and spun about. Three separate heads fell in the opposite direction from bodies they had once been connected to.

The third, power-suited figure that came out didn't carry a gun. But it was quickly evident that the thin woman didn't need it. She held a hand up and the firearms from the dead fighters all started to rise. They spun to face the other side and erupted in fire.

Other armed figures moved around her and the lead soldier with speed, throwing enough firepower that Julia and the others found themselves freed for the moment from needing to stay in cover. They noticed Angel was with the mercs, wearing a tactical armor suit and carrying one of their firearms so she could lay down fire with the rest of them.

Seeing the black-suited figure in action, Zack chuckled and shook his head. "Oh, of course, a ninja. Why not? This world is nuts already."

But even as this fight turned, the Changeling was still a threat. It turned back on Meridina suddenly, just before it got to the controls. To avoid being impaled by the metal spike it formed on its body she shifted and dropped to her knees. Her hand reached out and the viper-shaped Changeling went flying back into the garage door near the control panel. This time Meridina kept her focus on it, pinning the Changeling in place.

Tabitha was still occupied fighting Lucy. Lucy was struggling hard to keep up with the agile woman, who mixed her strikes up with bursts of lightning that Lucy caught with her lakesh. Sensing what was happening behind her, Tabitha suddenly dropped and slid away under her own power… right as Julia and Zack opened fire on her from the rear. Lucy was forced to swing her blade rapidly to reflect their shots.

Tabitha, now in a good position, rolled on the ground to orientate herself toward them and threw everything she had into one large wave of force, powerful and wide enough that Lucy, Julia, Zack, and even Jarod were sent flying. She turned toward Meridina, who ducked her attack and brought her blade over to parry the next.

Unfortunately, this forced her to let the Changeling go. The Changeling promptly turned into a hawk and took to the air again, heading toward the breach in the garage bay door above the LARC. It was mere seconds away from freedom.

Force grabbed it and threw it against the intact part of the bay door before dragging it down. Robert was standing at the door of the attack LARC, wearing a tactical vest as well, his hand up to focus his power on holding the Changeling. Cat and Violeta moved out next, in tactical protective gear, with the former's omnitool popping into existence. Electricity zapped from it and struck the Changeling. It lost form, stunned by the shock, and became a puddle of amber on the floor. "Violeta, see if you can put together a container for it," Robert said. He could sense the enraged being, and he knew that rage, that sense. He had felt this thing before. He'd met it on the floor of the Alliance Senate, and as he thought of that, certain pieces of the puzzle clicked together.

Violeta nodded and started going through the back section of the LARC to find suitable gear. Around them the battle was quickly turning against both sets of hostiles. Mr. Chandra and his Wild Geese were taking apart the opposition with practiced ease. Success was theirs.

The Changeling suddenly shifted. It must have been putting all of its willpower together to move against the omnitool stunner and Robert's power. He could feel its mass coalescing into a new form. A short, eight-legged mammalian creature with wicked teeth. It bounded out of the shock field and rushed on Cat and Robert.

Caterina held a second longer than Robert expected. But she flinched in the end. He couldn't blame her; he blamed himself for bringing her on a mission like this, and he wished he'd known it was a Changeling given what Cat went through on 33LA. But it was too late for such considerations. Caterina moved, trying to get away, and the electrical shock dissipated. The Changeling moved with renewed strength and Robert found he couldn't easily hold it. The tongue of its animal form lashed out with a shape-shifted metal spike at the end. He had to duck to evade it, costing him his concentration. The Changeling was free.

For a couple of seconds, anyway, before Angel and Jason Chandra both opened fire on it. Large orange pulses of energy, accompanied by the WHOM WHOM WHOM of their weapons, slammed into the creature. It rippled and shifted from the impacts, which formed amber patches as the creature lost its shape from the attack. Robert called out "Stop!", but he already knew it was too late. The fire continued on for another second until entire thing disintegrated into ash.

Tabitha had her own problems. Meridina was holding her at bay with ease, and she could sense Lucy coming up behind her and Julia and the others bringing guns to bear on her. Tabitha turned away from Meridina and backed up toward the wall, facing Meridina and Lucy's blades and the guns in the hands of Julia, Jarod, and Zack. Meridina sensed Tabitha's recognition of her situation and said, "You know this battle is lost, dark one. Surrender."

That drew a snarl. "We don't surrender," Tabitha declared.

And then for a brief moment she yelped, in absolute pain, even as Meridina cried out, "No!", after which Tabitha's body folded lifelessly onto the floor.

Jarod scanned the remains. "My God," he murmured, looking at the results on his omnitool. "Whatever she did, it destroyed her brain. It literally liquified the entire organ in seconds."

"I sensed the thought," Meridina said. Her face was pale. "I sensed her death. It was a… compulsion. She recognized imminent capture and it triggered something."

"A suicide pill or module in her head." Julia shook her head and looked down at the cruel woman who had been ready to torment her and Zack. "That's a nasty way to go, too."

By now it was clear the fighting was over. Robert and the others approached them. "Well, someone's decked out for action," Jarod teased.

Zack winked at Cat. "You look a bit small for that tactical gear."

She smiled back. "Yeah. But they wouldn't let us come without it."

"The Changeling is dead?" Meridina asked Robert. He nodded and looked briefly to Angel.

Angel reacted by frowning. "It was going after you and Cat. I had to put it down."

"Yeah, I guess. But I had questions." Robert looked to Jarod. "Jarod, see if you can find anything on the thieves. Go, now."

"I shall attend him," Meridina said. She nodded to Jarod and followed.

Julia could see the mood on Robert's face. "What is it?"

"The Changeling was the package, wasn't it?" he asked. "It was the 'component'."

Lucy nodded. "Meridina and I saw it come out of the container. Unless there was another like it, yeah."

"So there wasn't a device?" Zack asked. He was frowning now. "They sent us after a Goddamned Changeling without warning us?"

"That's not like Admiral Maran," Julia said. "I can't believe he left us out in the cold on that."

"He may not have had a choice," Angel said. "These Solarians have a reputation. A bad enough one that the Embassy had a telepath deep-scanning Robert's mind for two hours just to make sure President Sinclair didn't brainwash him."

"That would mean…"

Julia stopped speaking at hearing the footsteps behind them. Robert turned and noted who was approaching. "Everyone, this is Captain Jason Chandra, head of the Wild Geese team." He indicated the man who had jumped out of the assault LARC first, with the cybernetic implants covering parts of his face. Chandra's light tanned skin was only showing a few hints of sweat despite the heavy fighting. "And Scirocco Montague, the team's expert psion."

Everyone nodded in reply. Lucy eyed Scirocco carefully. She could sense that the woman had a lot of power.

"Good job, everyone," Chandra said. "You held them long enough for us to get here." He eyed Robert. "You've got a good team, Captain."

"I'm not sure how much of our holding them was because there were two different teams fighting each other," Julia mentioned.

"Given they were all retired combat-dedicated Replicants? You didn't do half bad regardless." While Chandra was being personable, Robert could sense he was also being flattering intentionally. "The rest of my team are sweeping the building. Mr. Hank will be displeased to learn that his decommissioned factory was used by the thieves. It's a slap in the face."

"I can imagine feeling that way." Robert eyed the mound of ash that had once been the Changeling. "He's not going to be happy about losing his 'component', though. Nor will my superiors." He looked back to Chandra's face and met him eye to eye.

"Couldn't be helped," Chandra replied. There was no flinching. "We had to put that thing down before it escaped out into Solaris."

"Since I'm pretty sure it's the same Changeling that infiltrated the Alliance, I can understand. The last thing we needed was it getting home to the Dominion to report. Thank you for the help again, Captain Chandra."

"Thank you for pointing the way, Captain Dale." Chandra seemed to look into space for a moment. "I've got a transport LARC coming to take you back to the Alliance Embassy. I'm sure you'll want to debrief your people and give Mister Hank a report on our hunt. I'll send my own as soon as we secure the sight."

"Given all the shooting, shouldn't the Solaris government forces be showing up?" Zack asked.

To that, Chandra smirked. "We've already informed the Max-Tec troopers this was an internal Pan-Empyrean manner. They'll be staying away."

"Right." Robert nodded.

With nothing more to say, the two Wild Geese stepped away.

"I don't like this," Lucy said. "I really don't."

"We'll see if Jarod or Meridina find anything before that vehicle gets here. Whether they do or not, we're heading back to the ship immediately for dinner and a debriefing."




Meridina led Jarod back toward the interior of the building to an area where the team of thieves seemed to have been living. Jarod moved into the room and began scanning everything with his omni-tool.

At first nothing seemed untoward. It was only after a few minutes that Meridina felt a dark presence in the room. It wasn't entirely darkness, not like the swevyra'kse they'd just fought, but the energy was certainly cold and negative. She sensed with her power and drew her lakesh up just in case.

"That will not be necessary," an electronic voice said.

The dark-clad figure that had moved so lethally earlier was nearby at the wall. Meridina narrowed her eyes. She hadn't seen him enter, or sensed him entering for that matter. She certainly would have if he'd come in by the door. The only door there was, too. "You are?" she asked.

"Matsudaira," was the answer, the electronic voice warbling ever so slightly to give the man an otherworldly feel. "I work for Mr. Hank. Captain Chandra says your ride home has arrived and it is time for you to go. This building is Pan-Empyrean property and we will handle the investigation from this point forward."

Meridina considered the figure. She felt no ill intent, but she could sense the lethal capabilities of this being. If resisted, he might act with immediate lethality to uphold the commands of his superior. And he would be a fight if it came to matching him blade to blade, and Jarod would be at risk.

"It appears it's time to go, Jarod," Meridina said softly.

He looked up from a computer he apparently wasn't finished with. He noticed Matsudaira too and narrowed his eyes. Meridina felt his suspicions and nodded. They would, indeed, leave.

With slight resignation, as if leaving his work undone, Jarod walked out of the room with Meridina.




Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 10 September 2642 AST. Captain Robert Dale recording. Our investigation on Solaris has come to a successful, if unsatisfying, conclusion. My officers and I have returned to the Aurora to go over the results of today's mission. There are lingering questions I wish to see answered, though I wonder if they ever will be.



The command officers of the Aurora and Koenig, with Lucy and Violeta also present, were gathered in Conference Room 1 instead of the conference lounge. The tables were arranged in a half-circle around the central holo-tank. "It's good to see you're well, sir," Lt. Creighton Apley said to Zack. "We were a little worried about you going down there."

"Yes, it has been a while since you were in the field like that," Lt. Magda Navaez added.

Zack nodded to them. "It was… an experience."

"Especially the ratburger," Jarod said from his seat at the table, the holo-tank controls in front of him.

The Koenig officers, and the Aurora ones, looked at Zack as he turned red-faced. "Yeah, I got a little hungry, but I didn't know it was made from rat, alright!"

"We just won't tell Clara about the three-breasted prostitute who propositioned him," Julia added, smirking with mischievous relish.

Zack gave her a pained look and breathed out a sigh while the others still stared.

After checking one last thing, Robert sat up. "Alright everyone," he said. "This mission is considered a classified one, so anything said in this debriefing stays in this room." He nodded to Violeta and to Lucy. "Commander Jarod, what do we know about the thieves who attacked Pan-Empyrean?"

"They were a mercenary team known as Harland's Raiders," Jarod replied. "They tend in the independent Wild Space worlds and the Cevaucian-aligned systems, but they were registered with the Solarian government as far as we can tell."

"Who were th' scunners workin' for?" Scotty asked. "The Dominion? Lookin' t' get their spy back?"

"Unlikely," Jarod said. "From what I've seen of the financials I recovered, a Dominion source doesn't work. I find it hard to believe the Dominion even knew where the Changeling had gone. Even looking in our own databanks, its location is tightly classified."

"We sent it to Sidney Hank," Julia said. "Or to his company, I mean. Why?"

"The answer's frakking obvious, isn't it?" Barnes asked. "They're making some anti-Changeling weapons or something."

"But why contract to Pan-Empyrean?" Caterina shook her head. "There are plenty of research firms or universities in the Alliance."

"Because this was experimenting on a living being," Leo said. There was an angry edge to his voice. "That's the point of this. The Alliance Government didn't want to be directly associated with something like that. So they contracted someone who didn't give a damn, in a state where the law couldn't stop it." It was clear Leo was disappointed by the realization.

"A saddening probability, but likely true," Meridina agreed. She shook her head. "And undoubtedly Mister Hank was compensated well for his part in such experiments."

"Of course, whatever project they were working on is going to be missing its guinea pig." Locarno made that comment. "So it's all for nothing in the end."

Robert thought about that. But he said nothing for the moment. He looked to Jarod. "What about this other group, let by that woman Tabitha?"

"The soldiers were more Solarian-made Replicants," Jarod replied. "But I've found no identifying unit markings or indications of them in public files. They were probably assembled individually by Tabitha."

"She worked for something called the Ministry of Fate. Or NEUROM."

Jarod nodded to Zack. "NEUROM. It's an alliance of various governments closer to the heart of what was Earth-held space millennia ago. Our records on them are spotty. What we know from various sources is that they're an alliance of xenophobes, militarists, and dictatorships that serve as a major power bloc in that region of space, now called the Fracture. They have few relations with star nations in this region of space, and most of them can be fairly hostile. They don't really like Solarians and the Solarians don't really like them."

"So basically a rival power bloc had an agent who got wind of the theft and decided it might have something useful," Julia said. "So Tabitha was going to swipe what she probably thought was a piece of advanced technology for the benefit of NEUROM."

"Likely," Jarod agreed.

"And instead, they nearly wrecked each other and us in the progress." Zack shook his head. "All for a damn Changeling."

"Maybe it got lucky by dying," Leo murmured. "There's no telling what's been done to it."

"Yeah." Robert was slipping back into his thoughts, putting things together in his head. "Jarod, what do we know about who hired Harland's Raiders?"

Jarod tapped a key and brought up a series of financial transactions. "They were paid a lot of money over the last few months. A lump sum of what seems to have been a retainer was placed with them three months ago. I'm not sure where they learned of that Pan-Empyrean factory, but odds are their client selected it."

"It's sounding like it is someone from Pan-Empyrean," Julia said. "I'd bet my commission that if we matched up those payment dates with our side's logs on moving the Changeling, we'll find that the retainer was placed after the contract was signed and the Changeling delivered."

"That would imply that whoever was behind the theft wanted the Changeling, wouldn't it?" This question came from Apley. "Why would they want a Changeling?"

"If they thought they could mentally program it to serve them, maybe?" Angel suggested idly.

Everyone was starting to look again to Robert, who was still clearly thinking about everything. Julia was also showing signs of deep thought. "Jarod, is it possible the thieves had absolutely no contact with someone in Pan-Empyrean?"

"I'm doubtful, but I suppose it could have been an ex-employee," Jarod answered. "I'd have to examine the list of people who knew about the project and if they had any connection to someone fired or let go from the company. What I can tell you from analysis of the evidence is that Harland's Raiders knew too much about Pan-Empyrean security for me to assume they didn't have someone on the inside. Someone with access to the floor plans in use in the labs and the location of the Changeling."

"So it's not going to be a disgruntled janitor."

"They have robots for that work, there are no janitors," Zack pointed out.

Julia looked to Robert with concern. She could see the metaphorical thunderclouds rolling in over his face. "It's not really our investigation anymore anyway. This is up to Hank's people."

"Yeah," he answered. "It is." A frown crossed his face. "And that was the plan all along, I figure."

"What do you mean?" Caterina asked.

"I keep thinking back to things that have been said these past couple of days," Robert remarked. "About how Solaris works. I think we've been had. We've been used as patsies."

Jarod turned thoughtful as well. He nodded in agreement. "I can see that."

"I'm going back down to Solaris," Robert said. "The rest of you, go get some rest. You've earned it. Debriefing dismissed." He stood up and walked to the door.

Julia nearly left behind him, but noticed Zack's intent look toward her and stayed in her seat. Once everyone had left she asked, "You wanted to talk?"

"We never did finish that conversation when we were hanging around," Zack said.

Julia nodded. She smiled thinly. "I don't see any reason why we need to now, Zack. There's no point in admitting anything uncomfortable."

"Maybe." He nodded. His eyes focused on her. "I guess you're right." He stood up from his chair and started walking toward the door.

"Does she know?"

Julia's question prompted Zack to turn back. He looked at her wordlessly.

"Does Clara know?" Julia looked at him intently. "Does she know that you're still in love with me?"

Zack's eyes lowered. "I'm sure she suspects," he admitted.

Julia responded by shaking her head. "She deserves better than that."

"You're right." He nodded. "She does. And I'm going to give her all the love she deserves. I love her too, you know."

"But you love me more."

Zack pursed his lips. "It's not fair to her," he said. "So I make myself forget it. Maybe in a decade or two, I'll even be able to forget it."

Without another word, he walked out and left Julia to her thoughts.




Robert surprised Ambassador Fry and his staff at the parking lot of the Alliance Embassy when he beamed back in. Fry, his husband, and his staff were dressed to the nines and heading to a SinTEK-hosted charity banquet, and it was with great reluctance that Fry agreed to let one of his drivers ferry Robert back to Pan-Empyrean.

When he got there, Robert had expected an argument all the way up with every layer of security. Instead he found Bishop waiting at the security desk, ready to escort him up to the main office. Ariadne was likewise quiescent when Robert walked briskly up to the door and, with a wave of his hand, threw them both open.

He found Sidney Hank sitting at his desk. The wealthiest man in this universe, perhaps of any of the known universes, had an empty tumbler and a bottle of tan liquid on his desk. A tumbler already filled was already in his hand. He made a show of checking his timepiece. "I expected you ten minutes ago," he said. "I suppose Ambassador Fry took some extra convincing. I may have underestimated the Ambassador's desire to keep you in check." He took the bottle and poured some of the contents into the tumbler. "I figured bourbon would better fit our impending conversation."

Robert wasn't in the mood to drink, but he wasn't so angry as to forget niceties. He accepted the tumbler and, after sensing no danger in it, took a drink to take the edge off.

"Excellent work today, Captain. Captain Chandra was impressed by your people."

"I'm glad he appreciates my friends' efforts on your behalf," Robert replied.

"I'm sure you can imagine why you weren't informed about the nature of the component?"

"You didn't want Sinclair to find out," Robert said. "Or anyone else who might enter our minds."

"Mostly the latter. I am enjoined, after all, to keep the project a secret." Hank took the last drink from his tumbler and set it down on his desk. "It's all part of the contract."

"Pan-Empyrean was contracted to experiment with the Changeling we captured during the attack on the Alliance Senate," Robert stated. "Admiral Maran told me it was a matter vital to Alliance security. What he meant was that you're finding ways to fight Changelings."

Hank's mouth curled into slight smile. "Are you sure that's it?"

Robert thought for a moment and shook his head. "No. No, not just fight. To detect Changelings."

The smile grew. Hank nodded. "Go on."

"And then the Changeling gets snatched from your labs. Not the devices you're developing. Nothing of obvious and immediate value. The thieves go for an item in a sealed container that their sensors would have to tell them didn't include anything like electronics or precious materials. They do this with clear knowledge of the layout of Pan-Empyrean's labs. Which is impressive given your building uses a dimensionally-transcendental field that changes the internal volume from what it looks like outside." Robert took another quick sip of the bourbon. "That suggests someone inside the company was involved. But anyone inside the company who knows about the project would know of other, more valuable things to snatch than the Changeling. Why not the devices you're working on? Why not the actual project?"

"Ransom?" Hank suggested. "I could be compelled to pay billions to recover the test subject. The contract has some severe penalties for failure to deliver, after all. Not to mention what would happen if the Sovereignty government were to find out that I had brought a hostile, shapeshifting alien to the heart of Solaris. The idea of anyone, especially a Senator or the President, being replaced due to my apparent negligence would be enough to cripple my influence for decades, maybe even centuries. My competitors would all gain at my expense."

"I'm not sure even a Founder could effectively replace President Sinclair, or anyone with similar security," Robert answered. "Kill them, maybe, but replace? With all of your psions and mind-readers constantly checking things? But that's beside the point. The mercs' employer waited until now for the theft. Why? Why risk that your scientists might make an early breakthrough and finish the project? Those mercs were on retainer for months. They were held back intentionally. That doesn't make sense if their boss was looking to hold the Changeling ransom."

Hank answered by pouring himself another glass. "I see your point. I take it you've recovered some of their financial information?"

"Enough to know they've been waiting in that abandoned Pan-Empyrean building for nearly three months," Robert said.

"Do you know where the money came from?" Hank took a sip. "No, you don't. Commander Jarod is good at his job, good enough that I'd enjoy hiring him myself, but he simply doesn't have the resources or access to go through Solarian financial databases to track those payments. Our banks are quite good at security, for understandable reasons."

"They are."

"You should therefore leave the investigation to my people," Hank said. "We'll get to the bottom of this easily enough."

"Oh, I'm sure you will," Robert said, and he let the sarcasm come out.

Hank folded his hands and looked directly at Robert, as if Robert had suddenly earned his full attention.

"The weight of evidence makes it highly unlikely that the thieves didn't have someone inside your company," Robert said. "Stealing the Changeling and not the actual project means it wasn't someone out to betray you so they could sell your work elsewhere. The ransom argument doesn't hold out because of the months the mercs waited before they received their orders to move in."

"And so what does the evidence lead you to, Captain?"

"The evidence, by itself, isn't enough for me to go to any court of law, even if Solaris had one strong enough." Robert leaned forward in his chair. "But that doesn't mean I can't see what's happened here. This was a set-up, the whole thing. You were behind the theft."

A very slight grin crossed Hank's face. He picked up the tumbler again to take a drink from it, as if the accusation amused him. "Well, Captain," he said after swallowing. "That is quite brave of you to come here and accuse me in the middle of my office, at the heart of my empire."

"I can't prove it, and I'll never be able to," Robert said.

"Of course." Hank considered his tumbler for a moment, as if he was trying to decide to finish it first or pour more in. "For sake of argument, if it was me… why? Why did I have my own company broken into, my employees terrorized, and my very expensive project endangered? Why, indeed, risk the outcome we have, the death of my test subject, and with it the collapse of the entire project?"

"Because the project's not going to collapse," Robert answered. "That's why you kept the mercs on retainer for so long before giving the order. Your people have already completed their work. You've found a way to detect Changelings. The Changeling wasn't necessary anymore. It was just a loose end."

Hank remained quiet for a moment. With quiet deliberation he finished the last of his bourbon and set the tumbler down. Once his hands were free, he started to clap slowly. "Well done, Captain." When Robert frowned Hank shook his head. "No, I'm not mocking you. You and your crew put together the facts quite well, and your deductions from them were earned. And I must assure you, your President Morgan and Minister Hawthorne and Admiral Maran will be quite pleased when I report to them the completion of our new Changeling Form Destabilizer. It will take a short time to implement and then your people will never have to worry about one of those Founders replacing a Senator again. And I, of course, will be making quite a lot of money on finishing development. Oh, and by building my share of the devices under the terms of our contract with the Alliance. I think you will agree that this is a victory for your Alliance, for Pan-Empyrean and the Sovereignty… indeed, for the entire Multiverse."

Robert took another drink and swallowed it, leaving just a thin layer of bourbon at the bottom of his tumbler. "I can't argue with that. The Changelings caused us one interstellar war, then nearly caused us to collapse into civil war."

"And it will not happen again," Hank said, beaming. "So as you can see, it is a victory for the good guys." The playful emphasis on the last words were almost mocking.

"I can't argue with that either." Robert drank the last little bit of bourbon and pushed the tumbler to his right, signifying he didn't want more. He kept his eyes on Hank. "Of course, that doesn't explain one last thing."

"Oh?" Hank's smile made it clear he knew what Robert was about to bring up.

"This morning, Ambassador Fry pointed out to me that a man of your resources could hire all sorts of independent investigators and mercenaries," Robert said. "Even if you were keeping up the charade of having to deal with a possible traitor, you didn't need us. But you called us in. Not just us as in the Alliance, but my ship specifically. My crew. Why?"

Hank seemed contemplative for a moment. "I suppose that is a fair question. Suffice to say I had my reasons."

"Even if we had discovered what you were doing? What if the Changeling hadn't gotten killed? Or would Captain Chandra have shot us too to make sure it was killed?"

"Oh, no," Hank said, ignoring the rising anger in Robert's tone. "I had no intention of causing your people to die. If the Changeling had somehow been recaptured, I would have found another way to dispose of it, I suppose. Although I would have been disappointed with Captain Chandra for not figuring out a way to ensure it was 'killed while attempting escape'. That one's always a classic."

"Then why? Dammit, why?" Robert demanded. "I want to hear it from you. Why did you pull us in, risk the lives of my crew, my friends, to do your dirty work?!"

At that Hank actually broke out laughing. Robert was left to smolder as the laughter continued on for several seconds. When it ended Hank rolled his eyes. "Oh, spare me your indignation, Captain. Let's remember one crucial fact." He held up a finger. "Your people hired my people to do your dirty work in the first place. After all, the high and mighty Alliance wouldn't dare use an unwilling living being as a test subject for experiments, even to defend against an enemy like the Dominion. That wouldn't be right. No, the Alliance needed someone else to do the actual dirty work it couldn't sully its hands with." He curled the finger inward. "So you came to me."

"I didn't make that decision," Robert said.

"No. Your superiors did. Your noble President Morgan and your honorable Admiral Maran made that call. They decided to compound their hypocrisy with cowardice and pay me to do the things they didn't have the stomach to do." Hank's eyes glared right at Robert's. "Let us not speak falsely now, Captain, not when we have been truthful with each other so far. I know what I am. Your government knows what I am, which is precisely why they came to me. And now you know what I am, too, which raises the only question of any relevance here: what are you going to do about it?"

"There's nothing I can do about it," Robert admitted. "But that doesn't mean I have to like the fact that you almost got my friends killed to, what, make a point?"

"Ah, but it was a necessary point to make, Captain. And that point is: I am not your, what was that old Earth term…?" Hank seemed to search his memory for a moment. "Ah, yes, I am not your janitor. The Alliance brought me in to do its dirty work and I felt obligated to return the favor."

"Really? Because I thought that's what you were already getting paid to do?" Robert snorted in retort.

"I imagine that a man as morally upright as you, Captain, understand that there are more important things than money," Hank answered. "I do value it, but I also value my self-respect. And I am no one's servant. And your Alliance would do well to remember that."

Robert remained silent. He still felt anger, but it was down to a simmer.

If Hank knew this, he ignored it and settled back into his chair as if in repose. "I admit I wasn't expecting NEUROM to stick its hand into this mess in such a direct fashion," he admitted. "I may actually have to hunt for a traitor in my organization. So perhaps this situation has led me to an additional benefit."

"They nearly hurt my closest friends in the world," Robert said.

"I know." Hank put his hands on his lap. "For what it's worth, I never intended that to happen. And I am thankful your friends emerged from their encounter with the Ministry of Fate intact. Few are so lucky."

"I'll extend the sentiment to them."

"You do that." Hank checked his timepiece again, although Robert got the feeling that was simply for show. "And now, Captain, I think it's time for you to depart. The fee that President Sinclair imposed upon me is, frankly, quite extortionate, and I suspect the commanders are getting itchy trigger fingers."

Robert stood up. "So that's it then?" he asked. "You bring us out here, you subject us to your political feuds, you put our lives on the line without warning us of what's going on, and when we've done your work you just send us packing?"

"Such is the way of things, Captain. But don't think you're unappreciated. You and your people have performed to expectations, and I assure you those expectations were high." Hank grinned. "And another way to look at it is that I am urging you onward so that you might get back to your duties. After all, where would this Multiverse be without the bold crew of the Starship Aurora, the Bearers of the Dawn?"

For a moment Robert thought Hank was just making light of what had come out during Meridina's trial on Gersal. But there was something in the way Hank said it that, briefly, made him wonder just what Hank was getting at. Seeing the look on the business tycoon's face turn slightly impatient made Robert set those thoughts aside. He nodded, said, "Have a good evening, Mister Hank," and turned to leave.

As he walked away, Hank spoke once more. "And remember, Captain, that if you ever need a favor… don't hesitate to call me."

Robert didn't answer that. He didn't even turn around. He had a feeling that he would not appreciate being indebted to Mister Sidney Hank. He departed through the doors at the end of the office, intent on returning to the Aurora.

A few moments after he left, Hank stood from his desk. He opened a direct data connection to Ariadne with a thought. "I'm departing for the villa. I don't want to be disturbed until the morning," he said aloud, though it was unnecessary.

Understood, Mister Hank.

He walked around his desk to the second floor of his office. He ignored the fine, exquisite artworks he had arrayed there. Michelangelo's David (fully intact), Nelson's Plinth, and a number of other key antiquities. He ignored them all and walked to the section of the second floor above the entry door and to the large mirror that was there. A mental command sent by data implant activated the advanced technology hidden under the surface. The mirror started to ripple, as if the glass surface was suddenly fluid. And he stepped right through.




When Lucy returned to Machine Shop B and her work station there, it was with a new purpose. She looked over her crystal types and focused on them. Most, she felt, wouldn't work whatever she did. But there were a few…

She focused with her life energy, her connection to the Flow of Life, and let those senses guide her. She felt Swenya's Blade hum in her mind, she felt its internals work as they had when she repaired them. And she knew, without needing anything like an atomic scan, what would work. She knew as she felt the crystals through her power and felt the subtle thrum in some of them.

She turned next to the parts. Some she would keep. Others… she would have to redo.

And with renewed purpose, she went to work, quietly thanking Kasszas and Meridina for her new insight.




When Robert got back to the Aurora, he headed to the bridge. Despite the day they'd had, most of the senior staff was assembled. Even Zack was standing near the command chairs, and was looking toward Cat while talking. "...seriously, it really wasn't that bad."

Caterina visibly shuddered. "I would have to be starving to eat rat meat. I'm so sorry you didn't get to have as much fun as we did."

"I'm surprised you don't have to take out a loan for all the shopping you did," Angel said.

"I have some money saved up. And Violeta had that birthday money her parents sent." She turned her attention back to Zack. "Do you know they call pizzas 'yum discs' on Solaris?"

"That's… well, weird I guess," Zack said. "But the whole world is weird."

"It was crazy," Angel muttered. "And then there was that crazy lady who wanted to put us in a holo-movie or something. And that…" A look of realization came to Angel's face. She looked to Zack and smirked while reaching for her pockets. "I got you something, Zack. A gift."

"Oh?"

Zack's reflexes were spot on. He grabbed the box out of mid-air after Angel threw it and held it up to his face. As he did, Angel chuckled and said, "Something for you and Clara to enjoy on your next leave. It's special Solarian candy."

"What is it?" Julia stood and looked closer at the box. Her cheeks turned a faint pink at seeing the design of the contents within. "Angel!"

"'ORGAZMO'?" Zack looked on the reverse side and read the descriptive text before he looked over the pictures of the offered flavors, revealing the shape of the candy. "Oh, no. No, hell no."

Angel started to laugh. Robert, curious, got close enough to look at the box and see the offending shape. "Wow," he said. "That's… that's just…"

"This world is insane," Zack said. "Certifiable! They should just give up and make it a big insane asylum! I'm not eating this!"

"Clara might be disappointed," Angel cooed.

"Alright everyone." Robert sighed and sat in his command chair. This signaled Julia and Zack to do likewise - Zack sitting in the extra chair in the command area - and for everyone to resume full attention. "We don't have new orders from Admiral Maran yet, but I'm assuming we're resuming our colony tour. Nick, get a course from System Traffic Control to leave orbit. I want a course ready for Farbanti, Warp 9.2, once we're at a safe distance."

"Aye, Captain. Course plotted and set. System Traffic Control is giving us a course to leave orbit." Locarno smirked. "And we've got full right of way this time. I guess they can't wait to get rid of us."

"Or Mister Hank made arrangements." Julia grinned. "You know, as insane as the place is…" She looked at the holo-viewscreen showing the sight of the city-moon and of the mighty starscrapers that breached its atmosphere. "...it's a wonderful place to look at. I wonder if there's anything else out there like it."

"Maybe we'll find out one day," Robert said, grinning. "Nick, take us out."

The Starship Aurora turned gracefully away from the city-moon and accelerated, threading her way through the traffic around Solaris on her way home.




Although the city-moon was often called Solaris, it was in fact officially Solaris Minor. Solaris Major was the large gas giant that the city-moon circled, a large-scale gas giant with shades of blue and purple adding color to the spaces around the moon. The equatorial sections of the gas giant were littered with gas-mining stations sucking up helium-3 and other gases of interest to the Solarian economy.

The poles were a different story. Under current Solarian law, the space around the poles had been restricted from all development or unauthorized traffic. The official reason was to preserve the gas giant's delicate polar regions from ruinous gas mining.

The unofficial reason was because Sidney Hank said so.

Granted, the southern polar region wasn't important to him. It was just to keep people from wondering why one pole was off limits and not the other. It was the northern polar orbit that he wanted to keep people away. There, protected by stealth fields and emission deflectors and subspace gravitic shunts, was his personal home, his private place to get away from the annoyances of Solaris and the Sovereignty. The Villa Straylight.

He was still in his business suit when he stopped into the viewing deck. From here, at the top levels of the large space habitat that he and he alone dwelled upon, he could look out at Solaris and ponder his plans for it. Untold centuries of work and the city-moon still frustrated him sometimes.

It couldn't be avoided, he supposed. People want to do their own things. They want to command their own destinies, even if they were morons who didn't know better. For all of the power he wielded, he couldn't stop that. Not yet, anyway. At least, not without taking measures that he had rejected in the old Earthsphere, or rather the Fracture, necessitating his withdrawal from those spaces oh so long ago.

No, the only way to really lead was to make people think they were doing the leading, not you.

But he wasn't here to watch Solaris. At a mental command the viewing systems zoomed in, zipping past all the other transports and liners and space yachts until they brought up the view of the Starship Aurora. Hank decided she really was a magnificent vessel. The four warp nacelles, long and sleek, and the shape of her hulls as they flowed together made her look fast despite her kilometer-long size. The green and white stripe along the sides added color to her azure hull. He could make out the ports for her starfighter launch tubes and the various lights and openings in the hull. She banked away slowly, the angle revealing the hanger deck for her fighters and the shuttle bay and full-sized dock built into the back of her primary hull. Her impulsor drives thrummed with ruby light as they propelled her the final kilometers beyond Solaris before she was ready to go to warp.

And then she did, with a brilliant flash of light from her warp nacelles.

Another mental command through his data implant brought the display back of the ship. Again he admired the lines. He accessed old memories and sighed at the sight. "So here we are," he breathed. "After all this time… and it's going to happen again, isn't it?" He picked up a glass of Parthegon brandy. "Well, I'd best get prepared…"
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-03 11:11am

Additional note: some of Sidney Hank's dialogue was conceived of by Siege, the creator of the character.

So... I wrote 11,000 words over the last 10 or so hours, off and on. I'll post the Tag later, but I figured 11k words might be a wee bit too much for one sitting.
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-03 02:06pm

Tag




Robert stepped out of the shower with his bathrobe on and rushed to his desk, where his finger stabbed down on the key. "Dale here."

"Channel from Admiral Maran, sir."

"Put him through." Robert sat down and looked to his desk monitor. Maran's face appeared. "Good morning, Admiral," he said.

"Good morning, Captain." Maran put his hands together in front of him. He seemed to consider himself for a moment before saying, "I've read your report and Commander Andreys'. And I owe you an apology."

"I understand why you couldn't say what was going on," Robert said. "It might complicate the project with Pan-Empyrean if the Solarian government got involved. I'm sure they would."

"Yes, they would. But that's not the only thing to apologize to you about, Captain."

"You don't need to apologize for sending the Changeling to Hank, sir," Robert said. "That wasn't your decision alone. I'm sure a lot of people in Portland agreed that the ends would justify the means. And given what the Changelings could still do to us…"

"Yes. But I won't pretend that what we did was right. Morally, it was wrong. And I will have to live with that." Maran shook his head. "And many other decisions. Some of them being mine and mine alone."

At that moment, Robert knew exactly what Maran was saying. "You approved it, didn't you? Admiral?"

"Not the specifics. But yes." Maran nodded. "And I acted without President Morgan's input. The guilt is mine alone."

"I see."

"I had no idea that Sidney Hank would drag you and your crew in, though." Maran's face had a stoic look as always, but Robert could hear the creak in his voice that spoke of how much he had been horrified by what happened. "I can only ask your forgiveness."

For a moment Robert said nothing. He didn't know what he could say. Was it his place to be Admiral Maran's… confessor? Could he say anything to change what had been done? For so long he had seen Admiral Maran as a completely moral man, with values and principles that he would never turn away from. But now he had. The threat had, to him, justified it.

"I'm not sure I'm the one who can forgive, sir," Robert said. "But I will anyway. It can't have been easy."

"No. It never was." Maran sighed. "I'll simply have to live with it. I hope, Captain, that you never have to make a similar choice. Maran out."

Robert sat at his desk for a moment and contemplated everything. Was this how the world would always go? Good men and women having to make morally wrong, ethically wrong, decisions to save lives? Could he make a call like that?

He found himself in agreement with Maran. He hoped he never had to make a choice like that.

Robert stood up to get ready for the day. He only had time to take two steps from his desk before another tone went off. He groaned and turned back to hit the key again. "Dale here."

"Robert, please come to Holodeck 1 within half an hour," said Lucy. "It's important."

He put his fingers to his forehead in a moment of frustration, but he forced it away. There really was no harm in this. "Alright, I'll be there."




Robert was in uniform when he arrived at Holodeck 1 twenty-three minutes later. The program was set to show one of the meditation yards from the Great Temple on Gersal, a familiar program for some of their training. He found Lucy and Meridina were already waiting for him. Meridina was in her swevyra'se training clothing, as was Lucy. "Is this training? You never said it was," Robert remarked.

"No, it's not," she insisted. Lucy gestured to a table before her covered in what looked like parts, including a few crystals that looked just big enough to fit into his palm. "I just wanted you hear for this. I think… no, I know this will do it."

"You're going to try and build a new version of Swenya's Blade?" Robert asked.

"No, I'm not going to try to build one," Lucy said. She was emphatic when she continued, "I am going to build one."

Meridina nodded in approval. She knelt down into a meditative pose. Robert did the same, even if his uniform wasn't quite as flexible as their usual training clothing.

Lucy drew in a breath and knelt as well, facing the table, which was now about eye-height for her. Robert felt the life energy within her swell. She was focusing on it.

Parts on the table began to lift into the air, as did a brilliant blue crystal that looked almost like a big chunk of sapphire. Lucy felt the pieces individually and she felt how they would fit together, a delicate but complete whole. The first pieces formed what looked to Robert like a cradle for the crystal. As further pieces moved in they covered the crystal. Another group started to form a shell around it. As the process continued Robert's breathing slowed. He could feel what Lucy was doing, at the edge of his mind. Something like a picture was forming in his head but he could not grasp it.

It was clear that Lucy did have a grasp on it, however. There was a final snap as the last pieces came into place. The resulting weapon lacked something of the styling to Swenya's Blade that Robert remembered, but he could see the similarities easily, and the weapon would fit comfortably in one hand or two. He thought it looked better than her first attempt from two months before, the one that nearly exploded in her hand.

Lucy looked up and got to her feet. She reached out with her right hand and her new weapon responded to her summons, moving in the air until she gripped it. She looked it over. Robert almost expected her to say something like "Here goes nothing", but she didn't. She knew this would work on a level Robert didn't quite share.

Lucy held the weapon in both hands and raised it to where the hilt was at eye level. Her blue eyes glistened with anticipation. Her thumb caressed the red button on the side.

The electronic snap that filled the air was of a different pitch compared to the one of Swenya's Blade, or of her earlier failed attempt, and the hiss carried on for half a second or so less. Nevertheless the effect was as intended; a brilliant blue blade of light and energy surged from the weapon, of the same length as Swenya's Blade.

Seconds passed. Robert waited to see if sparks would suddenly erupt as they had before. But even as the thought passed, something inside of him knew that they wouldn't.

Lucy slowly lowered the blade and walked over to a slab of what looked like metal held up between two flat tables. She brought her new weapon up and brought the blue blade down on the metal.

There was no sign of effort. The blade passed through cleanly, leaving reddened, nearly-molten bits of metal at the point of the cut that struck the ground on either end.

All Robert could say was "Congratulations."

Meridina's eyes were bright with the pride of a teacher, which was fitting as she was witnessing her student's grand achievement. "You have done it," she said. Tears started to fall. "Lucy, you have done something beyond compare."

"It works," Lucy said. She deactivated the blade and turned back to face them. "Do you know what this means?"

"Yes," Meridina answered, still smiling, tears now streaming down her cheeks. "I could not be more proud. By doing this, you have guaranteed that your name will be remembered by the Order of Swenya, no, by all orders, all those who follow the Light in their own way. You have not simply reforged Swenya's Blade, you have proven we can build our own."

"Where did the crystal come from?" Robert asked.

"That's the best part," Lucy said. "It came from Gersal."

"Truly?" Meridina's joy, which had seemed unmatched, increased yet further.

"Yeah. Doreia has some too. And there's a deposit on an ice planet in L2M1, McQuarrie's Station. And on some other worlds… the crystals aren't always exactly the same, but they work." Lucy was tearing up too. "And I'll show them all, Meridina, I promise. Anyone who asks me, I'll explain it to them. I'll show them how to build a lightsaber. Starting with you two."

"I'm not sure I can do it yet," Robert admitted. "My control's a bit… well, that looks very precise."

"We'll work on it."

"Are you sure about 'lightsaber' though?" Robert asked. "What about 'beamsword'? 'Energyblade'? Or even 'Lucy's Really Awesome Laser Sword'?"

Meridina laughed at that one, and Lucy let out a giggle. She shook her head. "No, it doesn't sound right. None of those do." She looked back to her weapon. "It's a lightsaber. And anyone who is working the strengthen the Flow of Life, anyone who fights and strives for Light, will be taught how to build one. I promise." Lucy gestured to the table and met Meridina's eyes. "Would you like to begin?"

Meridina nodded softly. "Yes," she said. "I would be honored to learn this skill from you, Mastrash Lucy."

Lucy didn't care for the title, but she let Meridina give it, if just to enjoy the warm and grateful smile on Meridina's face.

Robert, meanwhile, was already on his omnitool. "Dale to Andreys."

"Andreys here."

"I'm going to be late to the bridge," he said, eying Lucy and Meridina as Lucy moved a hand over the extra parts. "I've got something important that's come up. Dale out."

And he watched, quietly and with a smile, as Lucy started to show Meridina what to do.




The morning light shined over the city-moon of Solaris, over the gas giant of Solaris Major, and thus over the gray hull and transtanium domes of Villa Straylight. In the heart of the great space habitat, Sidney Hank walked into his personal office. Much like his office in the Pan-Empyrean Building, it was covered in artworks and books.

But this one also had photos. Private photos. As he entered, he glanced to his left, showing an image of him standing in the grand vistas of Paris, where even the Earthreign had agreed to keep the City of Lights bright. The Eiffel Tower was lit up behind him. The next photo was from a trip to North America. Niagara Falls. Another North American photo - the Grand Canyon, restored after years of labor - followed by Kilimanjaro in East Africa.

"You're getting nostalgic again," a voice chided.

"I could visit them again," said Sidney. "Earth's out there again. In other universes." He continued on, past the art and the photos, to the right of his desk and chair. He put his hand on the wall. "What do you think?"

"I think it would be inadvisable," replied the electronic voice of the computational intelligence called Dionysus, the governing mind of the entire villa and of Pan-Empyrean itself. "And I see you're in the mood for auditory conversation this morning. How inefficient of you."

"Sometimes, D, I think it's inefficiency that keeps us Human," Sidney said. The security systems on the hand plate finished processing. They opened up the hidden door in the side, allowing him entry into the large chamber within. Much like the Pan-Empyrean building, this chamber was bigger on the inside. He looked to one of the images beside the entrance. It depicted him in the company of a Human-looking woman with dark hair and blue eyes. She was clad in a blue jacket with white shirt and matching white trousers. Her weapon dangled on her waist in the image, while he was wearing a tactical combat suit with a plasma pistol on his waist and a full-scale rifle slung over his back. "She never did like wearing that," he mused.

"You're not being as open with your mental processes this morning, so I can't be sure what you mean. Oh. I see. You're accessing those memories again."

"I am." The next image was of the woman again, with Sidney, and the figure beside them was another old acquaintance, a Human-looking figure clad in a red jacket and a discarded scarf off one shoulder.

"You've been accessing them often over the last two years. Nostalgia does not become you, Sidney."

"You mean it does not become us, don't you D?"

"When you get like this, I stop thinking of us as one being. And we often are not anyway. I believe that was the point of the exercise for this body?"

"We were losing our Humanity. That would have caused us problems." Sidney moved on toward the center of the room. "But that's not the issue now." Sidney Hank's voice hardened. "They were right. Damn them, D, they were right. The Aurora crew clinches it."

"I sense you're rather impressed by them."

"Captain Dale's got power. Maybe more than he realizes. And there's more. But that's not the important thing." Sidney put his hand over a flat chest of about fifty centimeters by thirty by fifteen. It was locked, as it had been for a long, long time. "We have to be ready."

"Perhaps this time will be different."

"We heard the others, back then. It's never different. It happens every time." Sidney admired the ornate writing, in alien script, on the box. "And if we're not ready, we lose everything."

"I concur," replied the CI. "Are you going to give it to them, as he instructed?"

Sidney considered the question. "When the time is right," he decided. "But not before. We have to make sure."

"I'm not sure he would agree with you on that course of action."

"Maybe not." Sidney smirked at the thought of the old man's ability to glower in disagreement. "But I'm the one here, and I'm making the call." He ran his hand over the chest one more time, contemplating what was inside, and what it was meant to do. He turned away from it and walked toward the exit of his vault of secrets. "Okay, D, transmit my schedule for the day. I've got work to do." As the data flowed into his implant, Sidney stepped out of the vault and back into his office.

There was, indeed, a lot of work to do.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Shroom Man 777 » 2017-07-03 02:34pm

Needless to say I'm really, really satisfied with this. It is the best thing ever. And, to sum it up, I take this as ultimate vindication for our perpetial-WIP of a worldbuilding project. :mrgreen:
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-07 09:24am

Teaser



Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 24 September 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are currently en route to Earth in Universe Designate N2C5 to oversee the final stage of negotiations for a new member system in the Alliance. The Aurora was retasked to this purpose in light of concerns about potential hostility from other powers in the area. We will be attending all proper diplomatic receptions, but my officers and crew will be here primarily to act as protectors for the occasion in the hope that this will deter any planned aggression.

I admit that finding there are states willing to join our Alliance even if it means being drawn into the war with the Third Reich gives me a sense of admiration and pride. Whatever its flaws, the Alliance is still shaping up to become something that I believe it was worth building. It makes getting up every day and facing my duties easier knowing the good we are accomplishing.




A good breakfast awaited Robert in the Lookout. Zack and Julia were already waiting as well at their usual table in the corner. Hargert had put together a nourishing meal of breakfast sausages, fluffy toasted bread with butter and jam, and a ham and cheese omelette that covered an entire plate. Orange juice, fresh, rounded out the meal, with tea to come afterward. His friends had already eaten their way through their meal. "So, running late again?" asked Zack.

"I was up a little later than I thought. I'm afraid Lucy's enthusiasm hasn't borne results with me yet." Robert rubbed slightly at his forehead. They'd spent two hours trying to help him put together one of her new lightsabers. But the parts just wouldn't come together for him.

"Why doesn't Lucy just build one for you?" Julia inquired.

"She offered, but something… it doesn't feel right to me," Robert said. "To be honest, I don't think I'll ever be as strong in this stuff as they are, training or no training. And I'm not sure there's a point me in running around with a sword when, if there's a fight, I'm better off using a gun."

"Fair enough."

Robert started in on his breakfast, leaving Zack and Julia to talk to one another. "Your deadline's coming up, isn't it?" Zack asked.

Julia was chewing on her breakfast and her only reaction was a glare.

"I'm not trying… look." Zack sighed. "You've got to give an answer to Maran soon, right? So he knows if he needs another candidate for the Enterprise?"

Julia finished swallowing. "Zack, I'm still thinking about it," she said. "It's a lot to think about."

"Yeah," he agreed. "But we both know it's the best move for you. I mean, Captain of the Enterprise. I'm no naval buff, and even I know that there are people who would sell their souls to get that posting. And Maran gave you first dibs on it."

"I'm incredibly honored, too." Julia pushed her fork into a small mound of hashed potatoes on her plate. "And I'm completely tempted. But there's a part of me that…" She set the fork down and glanced toward Robert. He met her eyes but said nothing, opting to drink orange juice instead. "Farmer and Scotty and Tom and Jarod… they built the Aurora. But I feel like she's mine too."

"You named her, yeah," Zack said. "Who knows, if we never lost the Facility, maybe you'd have been her captain while Robert remained behind to oversee things."

There was no immediate response from Julia on that. "Maybe that's it," she admitted. "Maybe I would rather command the Aurora." She gave Robert a sad look. "But I could never do it at your expense."

He finished swallowing and shook his head. "I know, Julie." Robert set his fork into the omelette again. "Sometimes I think you should be Captain and not me."

"What would you do then?"

"Go to New Liberty, I guess," Robert said. "Find a plot of land, build a farmhouse and a farm. Grow some grains, get some cows…"

"Even after all of this, you'd do that?" Julia asked. "A Multiverse of possibilities, and you'd give it up for a farm?"

"I guess it does sound silly," Robert admitted. "But I miss it."

"I don't." Zack shook his head. "Your parents were great people, Robert, but I used to avoid sleepovers at your place just to get out of morning farm chores."

"Well, you weren't from Kansas originally, of course you'd want to get out of it," Robert guffawed. He looked to Julia with a twinkle in his eye. "But it wasn't all hard work. Do you remember when Grandpa…?"

Julia smiled in reply. "I do," she answered. "I couldn't stop laughing."

Robert nodded. His green eyes reflected old joys touched by the pain of loss. "Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days. To just have the family together on the farm, like it was back then."

"I miss my mother," Zack said. "It didn't matter how tired she was or how worn down Dad's drinking made her, Mom always had a smile and a hug for me when she thought I needed it."

"We all miss something from our pasts," Julia said. And it was clear she was considering her own. "My parents would have loved it out here. And I like to think they'd be proud of me."

"They would be," Robert insisted. "You've become everything they could have hoped you'd be."

Julia nodded. Looking down at her plate and seeing it was mostly empty, she let out a breath. "Well, it's been fun, but someone has to get on the bridge soon, and it looks like it'll be me."

"Not for long. Ledosh and Emissary Yadin want you coming with us when we get to Earth in…" Robert checked his omnitool time. "Wow. Barely an hour left. I'd better get eating."

"And I have paperwork that needs to be finished." Julia eyed Zack. "As do you. Don't think I haven't forgotten about that overdue ship readiness report, Zack."

Zack raised his eyes skyward, as if appealing to a higher power on the matter. When he looked back down he said, "You'll have it on your desk by the end of the day, O Responsible One."

Julia gave Zack a playful punch in the arm and left.




Holodeck 1 had again been set to resemble a meditation courtyard in the Gersallian style. Meridina was seated in her meditation robes and, if possible, would have glowed with delight.

Nearby were two more robed figures, although their robes and suits lacked the simplicity of those Meridina and Lucy were wearing. Mastrash Ledosh was wearing his purple robes with blue trim, marking him as a member of the governing Council of the Order of Swenya, while his student and apprentice Gina Invieve wore the blue robe of a prospective field swevyra'se, or "Knight" in the closest Human-English term.

Lucy was in simple training robes as well and knelt before the work table. All three felt her power flowing through her and into the multitude of objections that she was assembling in mid-air. Once the cylindrical object was complete it was in the rough shape of a flashlight, complete with a hook for fixing to belts. It was colored white and gold with a prominent blue circle that clearly functioned as a button, much like the models on Lucy's belt and on Meridina's.

Lucy stood to her full height and reached her right hand out to the object. After her creation came to her palm, she gripped it and held it out. Her finger pressed the blue circle. An electronic snap split the air and lingered off with a short hiss, and a fine green blade pure light surged from the object. It buzzed in the air, said buzz changing in pitch and tone as Lucy drew it over to a slab of solid metal and severed the slab in two with a single stroke, all to the awe of her visitors.

"Hamatu kena'se," Ledosh breathed. "Magnificent. Simply magnificent, Lucy Lucero."

Lucy turned the blade off. She levitated the weapon in her hand and sent it over toward Ledosh, who accepted it. He turned the blade back on and quietly swung it a few times, getting the feel for it. "How does it feel, Mastrash?" Lucy asked.

"Like I am wielding Light itself in my hand," the older Gersallian master said. "A swenkesh. You have built a swenkesh." He turned the weapon off and looked over the hilt.

Lucy nodded. She had learned enough Gersallian to know that the root term "swen" meant light, or rather, the Light of Life. Swenya herself had been named for the Light of Life, and Lucy found it a truly meaningful name given what she accomplished.

She was surprised to see him bow deeply to her. "Were you in the Order, Lucy Lucero, this alone would merit for you the title of Mastrash. You have restored an ancient art that my people forgot they once possessed. The Order, no, the people of Gersal will be forever bound to your memory by this."

"I don't wish them to be," Lucy answered. "I'm offering what I know free of any debt. This is something your Order, that all who walk in the Light, should know. While you're here, I'll show you how I learned to put these together."

Ledosh shook his head. "I am no engineer. Learning how to forge a lakesh was difficulty enough."

"You don't need to be an engineer, Mastrash," Lucy said. "That's where I went wrong for so long. This is a weapon that embodies what our power can do and what it means. You have to see it through your swevyra, and once you do, you can assemble your own."

"This is true," Meridina said. She took the hilt of her weapon, marked with blue instead of gold, and a blue blade came forth when she activated the weapon. After a moment she turned it off. "And if I can build this…" Meridina smiled. "...well, you do recall my first efforts at a lakesh, do you not?"

Ledosh laughed. It was a warm laugh too. "That I do, Meridina. Yes, I can see what Lucy means." He offered the new weapon to Lucy.

She shook her head. "Keep it. Study it with your swevyra, then build your own and give it to another to study. And have everyone pass it on so that everyone learns."

"I shall do so," Ledosh said, smiling. "Gladly."

A tone came from within the folds of his cream white vest and tunic. Ledosh pulled out a small communication unit and held it up to his mouth. "I am here."

"Mastrash, we're arriving at Earth N2C5 in a few minutes," said Robert's voice. "Emissary Yadin is already heading to the shuttle bay."

"Ah. I shall be there." Ledosh nodded. He clipped his new test lightsaber to his belt on the right hip, opposite his lakesh. "I shall see you again later, Lucy, Meridina. I look forward to your training."

"I look forward to teaching you," Lucy answered, looking to both Ledosh and Gina. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," they answered, after which they left the holodeck.




Robert had proposed taking the new runabout Zambezi down, but he had been vetoed by Emissary Yadin who felt that the Zambezi, though a normal cargo runabout, was still too large and not quite the signal he wanted to send. Instead they were going down in the shuttle Gerard. Robert and Julia were seated in the back with Ledosh, Gina, Emissary Shimon Yadin, and his daughter and assistant Leora Yadin. The Yadins spoke English with a Yiddish accent, Leora's less pronounced, and Yadin was conversing about his more sobering experience in acting as emissary to the provisional governments of worlds liberated from the Third Reich in Universe S4W8. "The poison of hatred has not left simply because the SS and the Nazi armies have been driven away," he was saying. "Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and specieism persist on many of those worlds. I had people spitting on me on Gamma Taurus 3 once they realized I was a Jew. And most of the colonists on the planet were Levantine and Greek! They were non-Aryans to the Reich and treated terribly. But they still waste their energy on hating Jews!"

"Divide and conquer," Julia said. "The Nazis keep their subject nations hating each other, and hating a common target other than themselves, and it makes forming resistances harder."

"Yes. S4W8's world of New Ulster rejected Emissary Williams because she was a devout Catholic! It is madness, all madness. I wonder if we can ever heal such wounds…"

"They have been in darkness for centuries, Emissary," Ledosh said. "It will take time to heal them. But it will be worth it."

Robert and Julia noticed Gina nodding in agreement, which was in off itself a very meaningful gesture on her part.

At the helm of the shuttle, Ensign Violeta Arterria looked back. "We're on final approach. And they're ready for us."

"Take us in gently, Ensign," Robert answered. "I want to make a good impression."




The shuttle flew in on a city of gleaming white structures and wide walkways bridging many of them. Violeta piloted them into an open port in the side of one of the main structures, bringing them into an open hangar bay.

Once they had landed the rear hatch of the shuttle opened. Robert and Julia followed side-by-side with Emissary Yadin and Mastrash Ledosh toward several standing individuals. Peculiarly, one was clearly a robot or android of some sort with the height of a child and a circular device with blinking diodes hanging from its neck and obscuring most of its chest. Yadin directed their attention to the central figure, a thin gray-haired mind whose pale blue eyes showed appreciation for the occasion. "Good to be back," he said. "This is my colleague, Mastrash Ledosh of the Gersallian Interdependency, a member of the Council of the Order of Swenya, and his assistant Gina Invieve." Yadin gestured to Robert and Julia next. "And these good people are some of our best; Captain Robert Dale and Commander Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora." Yadin turned to face the others and gestured to the central figure. "Everyone, this is Doctor Elias Huer, the Director of the Earth Defense Directorate and Acting Director of their Foreign Directorate."

"Greeting, everyone," said the gray-haired man. "I am quite honored to welcome you to New Chicago on behalf of the United Earth Alliance."

Robert waited for Ledosh to finish shaking Huer's hand before he did so. "A pleasure, Doctor," he said.

"A pleasure to meet you," Julia said at her handshake.

"Here are a few of my colleagues. Doctor Theopolis of the Computer Council." Huer gestured to the robot nearby, or rather to the disc on his chest.

Said disc lit up with blinking red and purple lights, the wide thin purple lights giving the disc something of a face with their positioning implying eyes. "Greetings," it said. "I look forward to the successful completion of our discussions."

The others nodded back. Robert remembered that the briefing materials mentioned that the United Earth Alliance's leadership included Artificial Intelligences like Doctor Theopolis. Working with Lt. Commander Data from Starfleet had cured him of any concern about artificial lifeforms, but he suspected that others might not be so happy. The Citadel Council of M4P2, for instance, banned AI research and development, and he idly wondered how they'd take this.

Next Huer gestured to an attractive woman in a white uniform with a rainbow-colored band on the arm. Her light brown hair was shoulder-length and, for the moment, not kept in a bun or ponytail. "This is Colonel Wilma Deering, my military advisor and commander of New Chicago's defense squadron."

"Colonel." Again the handshakes and pleasantries. Robert and Julia both felt her light blue eyes, almost gray in coloration, appraise them closely.

"And last but certainly not least, a unique individual who works for my office when we need his talents," Huer was saying. He indicated a well-built man in the same uniform as Dearing, his posture confident. He had close-combed brown hair that Robert felt gave him a military feel, although not strictly military, with warm brown eyes and a face that seemed ready to grin easy.

Indeed, he didn't wait for his introduction. He extended a hand toward them. "My name's Buck," he said warmly. "Captain Buck Rogers." A smile crossed his face as his hand went toward Robert and Julia. "Good to meet you."


Undiscovered Frontier
"Blast from the Past"
[/size]


The courtyard of the Earth government complex had been set up for the formal reception after the opening round of talks. Long tables bearing plates and trays of various foods were tended to by bright-suited waiting staff, while others in gray and white suits like Doctor Huer's milled around. At one end a stand had been erected for more computer forms like that of Doctor Theopolis. Near the stand with the AI attendees were a pair of flags, one showing the stylized globes of the Earth, Moon, and Mars on a dark blue field with a golden wreath framing the three globes, the other was the tetracolor flag of the United Alliance of Systems.

After seeing that everyone else had beamed down in time for the reception, Robert and Julia remained with Ledosh and Huer, with Gina remaining a slight distance behind. "Since our contact earlier this year, Earth has been debating this step," Huer was saying. "And many of us have agreed that our future is in your Alliance."

"The Alliance will be pleased to welcome your Earth into our number," Ledosh answered. "I am honored to be here to help your people, whatever their final choice."

Theopolis spoke up next, still carried by the short robot. "The Computer Council is still deliberating a few points on our membership petition. But I am confident these matters will be handled to satisfaction in the talks."

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, just make sure you read the fine print so we're not stuck with a raw deal," said another electronic voice, clearly coming from the robot carrying Theopolis.

"Twiki, that was quite undiplomatic of you," Theopolis scolded calmly.

Julia raised her eyebrows. "Twiki?"

"Twiki is a personal assistant ambuquad," answered Theopolis. "Much to my regret, he has been picking up Captain Rogers' 20th Century idioms and metaphors."

"Keep talking, wise guy," Twiki retorted, his voice definitely deeper than Theopolis'.

Robert directed his attention to Huer. "Doctor, do you have any expectations from joining the Alliance?"

"Well, we do believe it will make our universe more peaceful," Huer admitted. "The Alliance has the means to secure peace in our region of the galaxy and to make aggressive powers reluctant to act against Earth and other friendly worlds."

"What kind of hostile powers are in this area of space?" asked Julia.

"Well, there are a number of worlds that have embarked on aggression. We've had problems with the Ruathan, for instance. And Lozeria has been hostile. Aldebaran is chaotic and provides problems for our security." Huer was clearly building up to one last item, and one that Robert could sense he considered the worst. "And the Draconian Empire is certainly the greatest threat to Earth and many other worlds."

"And they're all Human-looking?" asked Robert.

"Many are, even the Draconians," Huer said. "We have theories about the possibility of Humans being transplanted to other worlds centuries or millennia ago by an unknown civilization."

Robert felt a memory in the back of his head. "There are records of this happening in other universes. The Federation in S5T3 has recorded encounters with artifacts from a species called the Preservers, for instance, who were known to do such things."

"It might make for an interesting research study," Julia said. "Although we have encountered alien species that look Human externally without actually being Human."

"Indeed," said Ledosh. "I have been mistaken for Human many times."

"And the Darglan recorded a few other instances of such," Robert said.

"The Darglan…? Ah, yes." Huer smiled and nodded. "As I recall, they were the source of your interuniversal technology."

"Among a number of other things, yes," Robert replied.

"I look forward to further access to files on the Darglan and their technology," said Theopolis. "It will be interesting to learn more about a species that discovered interuniversal technology."

"It's just a shame there aren't any left," Julia said, a slight frown creasing her features. "The Darglan were wiped out a thousand years ago by the Shadows."

"Truly a tragedy," Theopolis agreed.

Emissary Yadin and his daughter walked back up with an East Asian woman. "Ah, I see you've found Doctor Sung, Emissary," Huer said. "She is head of our Food and Medicine Directorate."

"I am sorry I am late," the woman said in accented English. "My shuttle from New Seoul was delayed."

"Well, allow me to introduce you to Emissary Ledosh, Captain Dale, and Commander Andreys from the United Systems," Huer said amiably.

"My pleasure," she said to them, accepting handshakes. "Emissary Yadin and I have been speaking on the technology the Alliance has available to assist in our work. Your replicator technology, for instance…"

Sensing where the conversation was going, Robert and Julia exchanged glances and he sighed. "Why don't you go check on the others?" he asked her.

She gave him a warm smile and slipped away from the ensuing discussion.




Zack and Barnes were off to themselves at the reception, quietly watching everyone go by. "It makes me think of how people in the Federation dress," Zack admitted.

"You mean the jumpsuit look?" Barnes chuckled. "It's a bit off. I wouldn't want to be in one off those damn things. And the uniforms… dude, wearing white, I'd hate to see their laundry bill."

"Heh." Zack nodded. Thoughts crossed his head and he decided to go straight to the point. "Karen should be back at the end of the month."

"Cool," Barnes answered.

"That means you'll be back on the Aurora."

"Hey, it's where I belong." Barnes noticed Zack's look and shook his head. "No, man, I love the Koenig, but the Aurora, she's my babe, y'know? Scotty and me make sure she remains the best ship in the whole damn fleet."

"Yeah, I can understand that." Zack took a sip of what tasted like a fruit drink. He had intentionally sought non-alcoholic refreshments. "I've been giving thought to resigning," he admitted.

Barnes clearly wasn't surprised. "Clara?"

"She deserves to be happy," Zack said. "I'm not sure how happy she can be if I'm always a universe and a light year away. I figured we could get a home on New Caprica, I could spend my time as a baseball coach."

"Heh, you've made them all nuts for baseball," Barnes agreed. He sipped his drink. "So what's holding you back?"

"Well, I can't leave until the war's over. Regulations on that," Zack said. "And I feel the same way about the Koenig that you do about the Aurora. She's my ship, my gut-punching girl, and I love to fly her."

"Or command Apley on how to fly her," Barnes pointed out. He patted Zack on the shoulder. "You'll figure something out."

"Yeah." Zack took a final drink. As he did he scanned the crowd and spotted an interesting sight.

Barnes saw it too. "The hot brunette in the blue uniform suit?" he asked.

"And the guy beside her. The one dressed in… our kind of clothes." Zack had nearly said 'normal' but caught himself. The Multiverse had long shown him that what seemed normal to him was no longer anything close to normal. Which the man had on, wearing a brown jacket over a light-colored polo shirt with dark slacks.

They stepped up to the two, who were quietly talking. "Hey," Zack said. "I'm Commander Zack Carrey, captain of the Koenig."

"Lieutenant Tom Barnes, currently Acting Chief Engineer of the Koenig," Barnes added.

The man smiled widely while the lady beside him had only a faint diplomatic grin. "I'm Buck. Captain Buck Rogers. Nice to meet you."

"Colonel Wilma Deering," the brunette said. After shaking their hands she asked, "Doctor Huer said that there was a second ship with the Aurora, but it's not showing on our scanners. Did your ship leave you behind?"

"No, we're actually docked to the Aurora," Zack explained. "The Koenig packs a big punch for her size and she's got agility and speed, but she's really just a flying cruiser battery and she's not built for operating on her own for long. So we stay on the Aurora unless we're needed for something." He smiled wistfully. "I used to pilot her myself, but I'm her commander now."

"I noticed the wings," Buck said. "Are you a fighter pilot?"

"Certified, yeah," Zack said. "But I don't fly regularly. What about you?"

"I fly all the time," Wilma answered. "Buck sometimes joins us if the mission calls for it."

By this point the familiar, easy tone that Buck used was clearly setting him apart from Colonel Deering. Barnes asked, "You sound more like us than them, Captain Rogers, I guess you're not native here?"

"Oh, I was born and raised in Chicago," he replied. "The original Chicago, back in the 20th Century."

Zack and Barnes looked at him with surprise. "So you're… what? A time traveler?" Barnes asked. "Or are you from H1E4 Earth like us?"

Buck brought a finger up and smiled. "I thought you sounded too familiar to be from a space age Earth. You're from the 20th Century too?"

"Born in the 20th," Zack said. "Although it's the 21st now in H1E4."

Buck laughed and took Zack's hand again. "Well, how about that. Where are you from?"

"Born in Springfield, Illinois, raised in the middle of nowhere, Kansas," Zack replied.

"My family moved to Kansas from Florida," Barnes said, accepting a handshake as well. "So, how'd you get to the 25th Century, Captain?"

"Call me Buck," was the initial answer. "I got here as a popsicle. I was an Air Force pilot and astronaut and they fired me off on a one-man deep space mission. Something went wrong and I was frozen for five hundred years." Buck shook his head, even though the smile on his face didn't fade. "Waking up to find myself in the future was quite a shock."

"Damn," Barnes said. "That had to be crazy."

"How did you end up traveling on a spacecraft?" Wilma asked them.

"Well, my best friend found out that the mound on his family property was actually a marker for the location of a Darglan Facility," Zack replied. "And it all kind of snowballed from there."

"Are you two enjoying yourselves?" asked Julia, who stepped up to join them. "Good to see you again, Colonel, Captain."

"It's nice to see you too, Commander," Buck said. His grin widened as his brown eyes took in Julia's appearance. There was no mistaking the interest reflected in them. Julia, fully aware of it, smiled in return as her aquamarine eyes looked toward him, as if to say she was aware of the interest, was not offended by it, and might even consider returning it. "So, are you from this… H1E4 Earth as well?"

"I am," Julia answered. "You look like you could be too, honestly."

"Buck is from our 20th Century," Wilma said. She gave him a bemused look. "And it can be trying at times."

Julia gave Buck a look over. "Well, you dress like it. But how?"

"I was an astronaut and my ship ended up freezing me," he replied, clearly not interested in repeating the entire story. "I take it you're also from Kansas?"

"Born in Wichita, raised beside a farm," Julia replied, smiling. "Given the accent and attitude… Chicago, right?"

Buck nodded.

"You remind me of my cousin's boyfriend."

Zack snorted out a laugh in his attempt to restrain from laughing. Buck noticed and could see where this was going. "I'm guessing you weren't a fan?" he asked Julia.

Julia smiled widely. "He wasn't very faithful. And he tried not to be faithful with me."

"Oh, that… yeah, I remember that frakker," Barnes said. "You spent the night in jail, right?"

"Well, there was a deputy right there who was always self-conscious about 'girls' being able to beat up guys," Julia answered. "But the jerk couldn't press charges without having to admit what happened. Mister Dale picked me up the next morning."

"As in Captain Dale?" Buck asked.

"As in Robert's dad," she replied. "A number of us grew up together, Captain Rogers."

"Call me Buck."

"Buck, then." Julia nodded. "I'm Julia. Colonel?"

"Wilma will do," she said, looking at Julia with some respect, at least for rank. "Are you a pilot like Commander Carrey?" Wilma asked.

"I can pilot a runabout or a shuttle," Julia replied, "and I know my way around the helm of a starship. But I've never taken the time to get my wings like Zack has. I've found starship operation and command to be my calling." She gave Zack and Barnes a look that told them she would be irritated if they brought up the offer for the Enterprise. "If you want to talk about fighters, I believe Commander Laurent beamed down for the reception." She looked around until she confirmed it; Patrice Laurent, born on their Earth in the Central African Republic, was currently standing with Nick Locarno talking to one of the N2C5 Earth officers by another table.

"What do you fly?" Zack asked them.

"The Thunderhead model heavy starfighter," Wilma answered. "It's atmosphere-capable with eight laser cannons and hardpoints for two anti-ship missiles."

"Not bad. We have the Mongoose multi-role fighter on the Aurora, she's a medium-weight fighter with four pulse phaser cannons and hardpoints for missiles or torpedoes. And atmospheric capability."

"Sounds like one of the F-18s they were developing in my day," said Buck. "I hope to fly one some time."

"If everything goes through, you may get your chance," said Julia.




"...and the Association of Aldebarani Colonies has spearheaded amazing advancements in repairing biospheres subjected to repeated radiological damage," Yadin was saying to Sung. "Your Earth's shortage of agricultural land could be reversed within a decade, depending upon the work needed."

"That would be wonderful," Sung agreed. "Earth's reliance upon imported food has been used as a weapon against us before."

"Restoring your people to self-sufficiency in food is one of many things we hope to aid you with." Yadin nodded to them. "And there is the matter of power generation. I have heard you use anti-matter reactors?"

"We do," Huer said.

"Naqia is a safer and superior alternative, Doctor," Robert said. "Numerous other civilizations we've met are swapping to it as soon as they reasonably can."

"We've already begun studies on this substance and have found a few deposits, although I'm not sure how well…"

As Huer, Theopolis, and Sung continued to speak with Ledosh and Yadin, Robert felt a tingle at the back of his neck. It grew, in power and strength, until it took on the feel of a full strength warning. It made him more alert than he had been before. His eyes scanned the crowds. The officers from his ship, the staff from Yadin's embassy in New Chicago, the various New Chicagoans and Earth officials and staff…

The staff. As in the waiting staff.

Robert felt the attack coming just before it started. He reached his arm out and twisted in place, allowing him to intercept and grab the wrist of the waiter who was pulling a firearm up toward Huer. He lifted the offending weapon high as the assassin pulled the trigger. Small darts of ruby light struck out and missed Huer's head by two centimeters, scorching his gray-white hair.

Robert felt the assassin react and shifted fully to face him - a man of swarthy complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair. He used his left hand to keep a grip on the gun, thus freeing his right arm so he could drive his elbow into the stomach of the assassin. The man doubled over and lost his grip on the weapon. Robert gave him a solid, knuckle-bruising punch to the jaw. The man toppled.

Given the screams and shouts, it was immediately clear he wasn't the only one.




Zack was the one who cried, "Look out!"

Julia had already heard the sound of a blow coming from somewhere else in the courtyard. She turned in time to see the waiter, a small Caucasian man with a slight tan and dark blond hair, bring a gun up toward Wilma. She kicked the gun and the hand it was attached to just before it could be fired. The would-be assassin turned to face her and brought his arms up to attack. Julia readied herself and caught the first punch by deflecting it with her right forearm. Wilma moved in with a punch of her own that knocked the assassin back. He started to rise again.

As the cries continued, Zack and Buck soon spotted another armed waiter, a big one, threatening a couple of civilian staff. They charged him and caught him in a tackle that knocked the gun out of his hand, all three hitting the ground. Nearby Zack heard Caterina crying out in shock and the familiar grunt - Angel had just decked someone hard - but he had his own worries as the big guy grabbed him by the back of the neck and bodily threw him off. Zack rolled for a moment and got to his knees. Buck was doing the same thing. Their foe lifted himself to his feet and snarled. He charged at Buck, who ducked the right hook and drove his fist into the big guy's torso, just barely missing the solar plexus. A second, swifted punch from the big guy sent Buck falling backward.

Zack stepped up and kicked the big guy in the leg. Much to his dissatisfaction, it didn't seem to take him out. It did, however, draw his attention, and he threw a wicked backhand swipe at Zack that he barely stopped with his forearms. A couple of months of occasional Fight Nights on the Galactica came back for Zack, who threw a punch that Lee Adama had taught him. It caught the big guy in the side of the jaw and knocked out teeth. Blood came from his foe's mouth with a roar of pain and anger. "Oh crap," Zack breathed as he tried to catch the next blow. He didn't quite manage it. Even though it hit his forearms, it hit with enough force to knock him onto his back. Laying prone, he watched the attacker step up and raise a fist to hit him again.

And then Buck jumped on the big man's back. He wrapped his arms in a chokehold around his neck with a determined look on his face. Zack kicked with his foot and smashed the giant's kneecap, making him roar despite Buck's hold on his throat. Zack scrambled back to his feet while the big guy swung around, trying to pull Buck off his back. He started backing up toward one of the courtyard's ornamental trees. When he hit it Buck grimaced, now stuck between a tree and a hard place. Zack moved up and kicked at the knee cap again, getting it at a different angle. He could swear he heard it crack this time, and the giant certainly screamed and dropped to a knee. Zack followed that up with a right hook against the giant's face, hitting the same side he'd struck before. Pain filled his knuckles from the impact.

And still the big guy didn't go down.

Barnes jumped in to help with the fight. Unlike Zack, he had absolutely no fight training, and a geek's built-in dislike of fisticuffs. Nevertheless he threw a punch, a bad punch that would have broken his knuckles before it did anything to the assassin.

Or it would have, at least, if he hadn't been fighting dirty and sent the punch between the giant's legs.

A shrill cry, higher than the earlier grunts, came from the big man. He collapsed onto his knees and then pitched forward.

Buck, breathing heavily, let go of their foe's neck and climbed off. "The bigger they are…"

"...the harder they… watch out!"

Despite everything the big assassin was getting back up. Zack and Buck turned at Barnes' warning and, in the same motion, threw punches at the assassin's head. His face was big enough that their punches landed without their fists bumping together. The assassin toppled over onto his back and was out like a light.

Zack and Buck were both wringing their hands in an attempt to soothe their bruised, hurting knuckles.




The small waiter who had tried to shoot Wilma was proving to be a nasty in-fighter. He moved quickly enough to deflect and counter the blows Julia and Wilma were sending at him. Julia managed to evade one such counter-attack and grapple his arm long enough for Wilma to deliver a kick to his ribs that made him double over.

Before Julia could take advantage, someone grabbed her left arm. She was roughly spun and took a punch from another, larger man that was half a centimeter off from breaking her nose. It forced her to let go of the first killer. Her attacker grabbed her by the throat and squeezed until she was choking. Wilma, recognizing the danger, grabbed the wrist doing the choking and kicked at the face of the choker. But the first assassin jumped on her back and pulled her away, leaving Julia to fend for herself as both hands now closed on her throat.

Julia gathered her strength, knowing this was a death grip she had to escape, and grabbed the arm. This gave her the leverage she needed to shift her body and get her legs up to deliver a savage kick to the man's throat. He gagged and let go enough for her to breathe. But only that far, as he kept his grip long enough to throw Julia back. She hit the low railing around the nearby flower garden and toppled over it and back into the cool, dark soil.

Julia started to get back to her feet. She only had seconds to think about things. As she did, she noticed that the garden had been sectioned off, presumably for different types of flowers.

And they had been sectioned off by thin wooden poles.

She grabbed one with her right hand and pulled it out as she stood up. It wasn't quite two feet in length, being right about fifty-five centimeters, which for her was good enough. Julia stood up as her attacker, recovered from the throat kick, was coming back for her. She hopped over the garden divider back onto the pavement of the courtyard and slipped beside him as he charged to grab her. She brought the stick up and slammed him in the side, hard enough that he cried out in pain, and used her free left hand to throw a jabbing punch that smacked him in the face. He fell backward.

Julia turned to face him. As she did, she felt someone brush up behind her. Wilma had blood seeping from the corner of her mouth and her uniform was disheveled, but she was still in the fight. In front of her, the short assassin was in a combat stance, bruises on his face from Wilma's blows. Julia's opponent also showed the results of her fighting prowess on him.

"A weapon?" Wilma asked.

"Just a stick from your garden," Julia answered. "But I've been working on my eskrima, and I could use the practice."

"Right."

The two assassins had been looking at each other past the uniformed women standing between them. They charged together.

Julia and Wilma separated briefly. Wilma exchanged blows with her quick, agile foe. Julia caught her opponent's punch, flowed under and around the blow, and smacked him in the face with her new weapon. When he fell back in surprise, she caught him in the elbow with the stick and used a snap kick to knock him back further. When he rushed ahead again she shouted "Incoming!" and ducked low. Her leg caught his in a roundhouse kick that threw him off-balance and sent him stumbling forward.

Wilma, having heard the warning, feinted a blow at her adversary to draw him into an attack. He took it, the frustration on his face making clear his desire to end their match. This gave Wilma the opening and leverage she needed to grab at his arm. He might have pulled free of the grab, but Wilma had no intention of holding him and giving him time. She immediately smacked him in the face with her free elbow, smashing his nose, and threw him off-balance toward Julia.

The timing was just a little off, as Julia's foe nearly ran into her. But the effect was as desired; the two assassins slammed into each other and toppled. Caught up in each other, they were in no position to resist Julia's stick or Wilma's fist when they came down. Both collapsed unconscious to the ground.

The two looked at each other. "Nice work," Julia said.

"Thank you." Wilma nodded.




Another assassin came for Huer. This assassin never stood a chance.

Robert had met Mastrash Ledosh before the Alliance was formed, years before he knew he had the potential to wield the same power. In all of that time, on ever occasion he met Meridina's mentor, he'd never seen the older man actually use his abilities in a fight.

Now, however, that streak would end.

Ledosh surprised everyone by pulling a weapon from his belt. Robert recognized it as one of Lucy's new weapons, one of her "lightsaber"s. An electronic snap brought a green blade into existence that intercepted several more pulses of ruby light. Gina moved into action with her own blade, which extended out with a metallic shriek. Her weapon intercepted shots from a third foe and sent them back. One deflected blast struck the second in the chest. There was a puff of flame on the killer's waiter uniform for a moment while he fell back.

Robert thought Ledosh and Gina had the attack well in-hand. He didn't see or feel the last one emerge from the nearby bush until it was almost too late. He came up with a pistol aimed at Huer's back. Robert reached out and gripped the weapon with his power to throw it off-target. Red bolts shot out and, again, misser Huer.

There was a cry. Doctor Song collapsed.

Ledosh whipped around and joined his power to Robert's, pulling this last assassin into the open. In the blink of an eye he was across the distance. The assassin screamed as his gun, and the hands holding it, fell from his arms. Ledosh disengaged his new blade and returned it to his belt in a single movement while the shooter crumbled before him, holding up the stumps of his wrists.

"Doctor Huer, are you alright?" Robert asked. Around them there were sounds of fighting and shots that were coming to an end.

"Yes," the older man said, although his voice was shaking. "Doctor Song!" he called out, seeing the Korean woman on the ground with a blackened spot on her torso.

Robert rushed over to her. He didn't need to put a hand to her neck to know she was alive, but he did so for appearance's sake. A weak pulse thrummed against his fingers. "She's alive, but wounded. We need medical help here! Leo!"

Moments later Leo arrived, accompanied by Angel and Caterina. The wound on his face was already turning purple, standing out against the black skin. Leo's medical omnitool appeared around his left forearm while his right pulled up the dedicated medical scanner that went with it. "It looks like a plasma wound. Internal burning and organ damage to the lungs, stomach…" Leo tapped his omnitool to open a comm channel. "Gillam to Medbay, Medical Emergency, I need a full medical team beamed to my location ASAP."

Doctor Lumenaram, a Gersallian physician, answered, "Doctor Opani and a team are preparing to beam down now."

"Will she make it, Leo?" Robert asked.

"If we can stabilize her." Sweat was already forming on Leo's brow, but given the fight that had already raged this was to be expected. He looked up to Huer. "Doctor Huer, I'm not familiar with the full extent of your medical technology. I know I can stabilize her in our Medbay."

"As you are the attending physician on the scene, Doctor, I'll leave the medical decisions to you." Huer was still clearly shaken.

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, I hate party-crashers," protested Twiki.

By the surrounding sounds, it was clear that the attackers had been dealt with. Robert looked up in time to see a number of the others walk up. Zack and Barnes were with Buck, and Julia came back with Wilma Deering. With the exception of Barnes, they showed clear signs of having been in the midst of the attack. "Is everyone okay?" Robert asked them.

"Good enough." Barnes cracked a grin. "You should see the other frakking guys."

Robert didn't particularly find the situation grin-worthy, but he said nothing.

"Who are they?" Julia asked. "And how did so many sneak in?"

"I'll have security begin an immediate investigation," Wilma said. "They may have taken the places of our entire waiting staff."

Buck was already kneeling over the man Ledosh had disarmed, almost literally. The man's eyes were fuming with hatred, but he could do nothing to stop Buck from pulling his waiter's uniform open to reveal the tattoo of a red dragon. "A pirate, then," he said. "I think I've seen this before."

It was Dr. Theopolis who stated, "My analysis indicates it is the insignia of a pirate band known as the Dragon Legion. According to records… oh, this is most disconcerting."

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, spit it out Doc."

For all that the silver robot's attitude was grating, Robert had to admit he agreed with the sentiment.

"According to our intelligence sources, the Dragon Legion are a front for Draconian Intelligence."

"The Draconians." Buck frowned. "Why am I not surprised they'd pull something? They can't be happy that Earth is joining your Alliance."

"So this was an attempt to disrupt the final negotiations?" Huer's question was rhetorical. "No. No, that's not enough. This was too risky an attack to be a spiteful stab at our admission to the Alliance. My successors could negotiate it just as easily."

That gave Robert a very sick feeling. "Of course, if you and Colonel Deering and the rest of us were dead or incapacitated…"

Wilma and Buck shared worried looks. "Then the defense of New Chicago, of the whole Earth, would be completely compromised."

There was a tone. An orange omnitool popped into existence around Huer's forearm. For a moment he tapped at it. "My apologies, we just issued them to our Directors and I'm still getting used…" After he hit the right key a face appeared, a woman in uniform in what looked like a command center. "Major Logan, report?"

"Sir, the watch posts have picked up an unidentified vessel," the woman said with a strong Irish lilt. "Something big's come through the gate… and it's being escorted by Draconian Hatchet fighters."

"How many?" Wilma asked.

"At least two dozen," was the reply.

"Then this is the main effort of the Draconian attack," Ledosh said calmly. He looked to Dale.

Robert nodded. He lifted his left arm and brought up his azure-toned omnitool, just as it lit up above the back of his hand to indicate an incoming message. He pressed the light. "Dale here."

"Captain, there is a developing situation." The voice on the other end was Meridina's; she had assumed command to allow the rest of the command staff to go planetside for the reception. "We are detecting a number of craft now in the system. By Ensign al-Rashad's estimates, the largest vessel appears to be on a course for Earth."

"Standby." Robert looked to Ledosh and Huer. "We can make the intercept."

Ledosh nodded and looked to Huer. "Doctor Huer, the Alliance is ready to assist you in repelling this treacherous assault."

"Your assistance is welcomed," Huer said. "Colonel Deering, please join them."

Deering looked to Robert. "My fighters will be joining you as quickly as we can launch."

Robert nodded. "We'll be expecting you, then."

Buck and Wilma started running for the nearest door.

With help accounted for, Robert reopened the channel to the Aurora. "Meridina, have us all beamed back up. Put us on an intercept course and call Code Red. I want fighters and the Koenig ready to launch."

"Launch preparations beginning. We are beaming you now."

With the exception of Leo and his medical team the Aurora and Koenig officers attending were beamed back, bruises and all.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-08 09:34am

Meridina was watching with interest as the others returned. "Mister Scott is already in Engineering," she said, noting the bruises and injuries on Julia, Jarod, and Angel as they took their stations. "It would appear that the reception was more interesting than was expected?"

"Oh, you know, assassins, guns." Julia took her chair and smiled wryly. "Everything you need to spice up a quiet reception."

"I see." Meridina stepped away from the command chairs. "I shall prepare our security teams," she said as she walked away.

"First fighter squadrons ready to launch," Julia said.

"Launch," Robert answered.

As the Aurora raced on, light blue-colored Mongoose fighters began to shoot out from the launch tubes along her upper drive hull. The main body wasn't too different from an atmospheric jet fighter's fuselage, with the sublight engines built to connect the atmospheric flight wings - also the site of the missile-bearing hardpoints - to the main body of the craft.

"Signal from Earth," Jarod said. "It's Colonel Deering."

"Put her on."

The voice of the Earth squadron commander came over the speaker. "Captain, we'll be joining you as soon as we can get airborne. But half of my fighters were completely disabled by sabotage and our launch bays have been blocked with debris. It's going to take us several minutes to get airborne."

"I read you, Colonel. Do what you can, we'll handle this." Robert looked back to Caterina at the Sensors/Science station. "Cat, can you give me scans of the craft?"

"I'm trying, but they have a jamming field up," she said. "The best I can tell you is that it's the size of a small cruiser, but its mass is a lot heavier than it should be."

"What do we have on the Draconians?" Robert asked. "Can you find anything in fleet logs?"

"I'm looking, but so far all we have are long-range scans provided by exploration craft and trading ships," Caterina said. "And this craft's not matching exactly… it certainly is Draconian, at least if you ask me, but they didn't build it to their usual specs."

"I'm tying us into Earth's systems," Jarod said. "Maybe they have something more."

"I'm looking through the database now, but still nothing like that…" , Caterina stopped, as if stunned. "Mother of God, it…"

"Cat?" Robert and Julia both turned to face her intently. "What's going on?"

Caterina was busy looking over her sensor returns. "I'm not getting any indication of life signs on that ship. I can't be sure until we're closer…"

Robert considered that. And given the look of realization on Julia's face, he knew he didn't need life force powered-insight to know what this thing was. "It's not a ship," he said. "It's a missile."

Jarod was already doing the calculations in his head. What he conceived horrified him just as much. "If it hits, even without a warhead it'll destroy any city it strikes. There could be millions of casualties."

"Then we keep it from hitting," Robert declared. "Angel, lock weapons on that missile, fire when we're within range. Jarod, put me on an open channel."

"You're on." Jarod's tone of voice made it clear how futile he figured it would be.

"This is Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora from the United Alliance of Systems," Robert announced firmly. "You are violating the space of United Earth. On their behalf I'm ordering you to withdraw or you will be fired upon."

After several moments it was clear there was no response coming.

"We'll be in weapons range in a minute," Jarod said.

The minute might have been quiet, but Caterina spoke up again. "I'm picking up naqia," she said. "And naqia-grade power sources."

"From the missile?" Julia asked.

"And the fighters."

"Then they might have naqia warhead anti-ship missiles or torpedoes," Julia said to Robert.

He nodded in agreement. "Send Laurent's fighters forward." Robert tapped the comm key on his chair. "Bridge to Koenig. Are you ready, Zack?"

"My crew's at stations. We're preparing to launch."

As the distance closed and the Koenig began their launch sequence, the Mongoose fighters finished closing the distance. "The Draconian fighters are accelerating to engage," said Jarod.




The day was turning out quite hectic for Patrice Laurent. He'd gotten kicked in the stomach at the reception and now he was flying a combat sortie against a foe he had little information about. Half of his squadrons were still arming up back on the Aurora, leaving him with four squadrons, 48 starfighters, behind him. "Bravo, Delta, prevent them from breaking through to the Aurora," Laurent ordered, his accented voice reflecting his origins in Francophone Africa. "Alpha and Gemini, you're with me. Remember to watch your backs out there, everyone."

A number of affirmatives came. The most important ones for his personal safety were from the fighters in his command flight. The strong soprano of Lieutenant Gwen Skydancer, leading the second element of his flight, and alien voice of his Kerbal wingman Lieutenant Jebediah Kerman were reassurances he didn't take for granted.

The first of the big, vicious-looking Hatchet fighters were coming up in view on Laurent's HUD. They looked almost like flying tridents, painted red as blood with their cockpits built above and at the back of their central point. Their heavy laser cannons stitched bright light in the void of space. Laurent had already changed his course and craft orientation to throw off the shot. He let his crosshairs move over the nearest craft before him and turn red before he opened up with his pulse phaser batteries. Amber light pulses nearly struck the enemy craft, which jinked in another direction at just the right moment to throw Laurent's aim off.

He persisted by matching the maneuver of the Hatchet fighter, bringing his weapons back on target. Again amber fire crossed the distance, and this time he hit. Bright blue energy flickered over the Hatchet. Much to his consternation, though, he couldn't see anything showing a direct hit. No debris, no brief spurts of flame or plasma, nothing.

"Enemy fighter acquiring," warned Ensign Sentana, a Lushan Dorei man who now served as his second seat sensor officer. Laurent heeded the warning and fired his engines and thrusters to execute a sharp one hundred and thirty degree turn in space. His fighter rumbled slightly. "Glancing hit. Rear deflectors down to eighty percent," Sentana said.

His maneuver had put Laurent in place to fire at another Hatchet. Again his pulse phasers battered strong deflectors that didn't seem to give. This time he fired off an anti-fighter missile. It also slammed into the enemy fighter. The shields flickered and he hit it with another barrage of phaser fire before the Hatchet broke away. This time he was rewarded with what looked like slight damage. But only slight.

"I can't get a solid hit," protested a pilot over the squadron channel. "The deflectors on these things are too tough!"

"Use missiles and steady fire," Laurent answered. "We have a numbers advantage. Work together and attack from multiple angles."

As responses came, a frantic cry of "I can't shake him!" came over the line. The nearby explosion that caught the edge of Laurent's sight told him the terrible news that one of his fighters had just been lost.

"They're accelerating toward the Aurora!" another voice called out.

"Bravo, Delta, do what you have to! Stop them!" Laurent commanded. It was all he had time to say while dodging incoming fire from another of the Hatchets.




"Their fighters' deflectors are stronger than normal," Julia informed Robert as they continued to close the distance. "Our fighters are having a hard time trying to shoot them down."

"Bring our light batteries to bear as we enter range, but the priority remains the missile." Robert reopened his channel to Zack. "Zack, if you can help our fighters while engaging the missile, go ahead, but that missile has to remain our prime target."

"Roger that."

"It looks like two of the enemy fighters have made it through our squadrons," Julia said. "Fox and Echo squadrons are still preparing to launch. Charlie's fighters were down for a standard maintenance cycle and the flight deck reports they won't be ready to sortie for at least another five to ten minutes."

"I think we underestimated the possibility for trouble," Robert lamented.

"Enemy fighters are firing missiles."

The holo-viewscreen showed the two Draconian craft firing their anti-ship missiles. The automated particle interceptors built into the Aurora's hull opened up, their white pulses seeking out the incoming missiles. One missile took repeated hits that were clearly absorbed by a short-lived shield system. Angel shot it with one of her lighter phaser arrays just before it made impact, destroying it. A second missile was clipped by the same shot and was blown wildly off-course by the damage.

The other missiles, however, did make impact.

The Aurora rocked violently from the blasts that were produced. "What the…?" Robert stopped himself from using any four letter words to finish the sentence. "Jarod?!"

"Shields are down to seventy percent effectiveness," Jarod said. "And Primary Generator 2 has suffering buckling damage from reaction stress."

"Just what are they packing those missiles with?" Julia asked.

"Going by the emissions given off by the initiations… I think it's de-stabilized naqia," Cat replied. "Like the stuff we used to blow up the Kelley when we stopped the Daleks."

Jarod whistled. "That's insane. I wouldn't want to be the pilot carrying those things… more fighters coming in!"

"I've got a clear shot on the missile!" Angel announced. "Firing!"

The Aurora's forward weapons blazed to life. Amber and sapphire pulses from the pulse phaser and pulse plasma cannon emplacements raced across the void and crashed into the blue forcefield that quickly formed around the missile. "The missile's deflectors are down to only ninety-five percent," Jarod said. "They've got high-caliber shields in place."

"The Draconians' technology is a lot stronger than reports indicated," Robert noted irritably. Alliance Intelligence would be getting hell for this screwup. "Maintain fire, we need to take that missile down."

"Energy spike in the propulsion systems," Cat said. "The missile is picking up acceleration."

"Keep us on them Locarno."

"Another incoming missile salvo!" Caterina shouted.

The ship was nearly complete in its turn when the next missile impact hit. "Shields down to sixty-two percent. Bleedthrough damage to Decks 20 and 21, K section," Jarod reported.

"Can we do anything with the shields to ride these weapons out more?" Julia asked.

"I'll do what I can," was all he could say.

As they spoke Angel kept up her shots on the missile, which continued to absorb the fire.




The same was noticed by Zack on the Koenig as the attack ship continued to track the missile. Her pulse phaser cannons opened up on the rear engine assembly with minimal effect. He could hear the frustration in Lt. April Sherlily's voice as her fire continued to prove so ineffective. "These shields are stronger than anything that size should have," she protested.

"No crew, no support space, more space for shields and power generation," Lt. Magda Navaez pointed out. "Enemy missiles inbound."

"Ap, shake them!"

Under the control of Lt. Creighton Apley, Zack's XO, the Koenig began to dodge and weave from the anti-ship missiles locked onto her. Her dorsal phaser stabbed out and shot one to pieces. Just as the phaser targeted the second, it hit. The entire ship rocked violently. "Report!" Zack shouted.

"Shields down to seventy-four percent," Magda replied. "Superficial damage to the armor plating. All systems still functioning."

"Bringing us back on attack run," Apley added, as the Koenig again turned toward the missile now accelerating toward Earth.




Another of the fighter-launched missiles from the Draconian fighters struck the Aurora's faltering shields. "Shields down to thirty-five percent. Primary 4 is offline from an overload, secondary shields coming online."

While Jarod informed them of the result of the latest hit, Robert and Julia were both watching Angel pouring fire into the missile as it drew closer and closer to Earth. "Fox and Echo are ready to launch," Julia said. "I've had them re-armed with solar torpedoes, they'll go after the missile."

"How's Laurent doing?"

Julia shook her head. "Not too well. He's lost seven fighters already and the other side's only lost three. We're getting transponders on at least five escape pods." The tactical map showed the current battle. The missile was heading toward Earth with increasing speed, the Aurora and Koenig were following it and pumping fire into its thick shields, and behind them the Hatchet fighters were in hot pursuit, weaving around with the Aurora's Mongoose fighters.

"The missile's shields are still at seventy-five percent," Jarod said. "And at its increasing rate of acceleration, I'm not sure we can hit it before it strikes Earth."

"There's no telling what's aboard that weapon, we can't let it reach Earth," insisted Robert, who was already starting to consider that their only hope of stopping the missile might be to plow his ship right into it.

It was, needless to say, not a choice he was eager to make.




Laurent watched his last missile streak through space and strike one of the Draconian fighters. His phasers were already ablaze, pouring fire into its flickering blue shields. More phaser fire came from an alternate angle, fifty degrees up and to the right of Laurent. Lieutenant Skydancer, he suspected, as the firing was more tight than Jeb Kerman's usual. Either way, the convergence was enough to overload the enemy fighter's shields. Flames broke out from the rear briefly before it blew up.

Skydancer blew past him with a Hatchet fighter on her rear. Laurent engaged it with his weapons. "Where's Alpha 4?" he asked.

"Damaged, I told him to RTB," said Skydancer. "This one's good, I'm having trouble shaking him."

"I'm on him. Keep going, Alpha 3. Alpha 2, can you join me on this?"

"I'm on you, Alpha 1," his Kerbal wingman answered in his accented, warbly voice.

The same results were nearly repeated as Laurent's prior engagement, although this time the Hatchet broke away quickly enough that it only had an engine blown off, leaving it to careen wildly away from the fight.

Satisfied that it was a partial kill, Laurent was looking for another engagement when his warning lights went off. He twisted and jinked to avoid the incoming energy fire. The Hatchets were surprisingly agile for their size and this one's angle of attack gave the pilot a great initial advantage. Until Laurent got out of the Hatchet's engagement zone on its angle, he was going to take fire. And take hits, as his systems showed.

"Deflectors down to thirty," Sentana informed him. "I'm trying to shore them up with auxiliary reserves." He didn't have to add that another barrage or two like that would probably finish the fighter off.

Laurent had little time to consider this consequence, as he was busy trying to prevent it. He threw the Mongoose into a strong turn and fired thrusters to shift the fighter's orientation, barely evading the shots. In his head he could imagine the space he had available, which maneuvers might work and which would expose him to fire…

And then Sentana shouted, "New contacts!"

There was that brief moment of uncertainty, of fear, of wondering if more of these tough heavy fighters were about to join the battle.

A voice crackled over the line. "This is Colonel Deering of the 69th Earth Defense Squadron to Aurora fighters. We're engaging."

The Thunderfighter heavy fighters came in at full burn on their engines. They were sleek fighters for their size, orientated around twin engine booms with canard wings for atmospheric flight near the rear. They lacked the exotic effects of nuclear-disruption technology like phasers, but what they lacked was made up for with the power behind their weapons. The lead fighter, under Wilma Deering's expert command, opened up on the fighter tracking Laurent. A second fighter came in and added its fire; with both shooting the Draconian's shields failed swiftly and the fighter was blown apart. "Is it just me, or are these things thicker-skinned than usual?" Buck inquired.

"They are using heavy deflectors of some kind," Laurent replied. "We have been combining fire to overwhelm them."

"Good idea, Commander."

The reinforcements to the battle didn't change the Hatchet pilots' determination to break through and lob their missiles into the Aurora. Laurent linked back up with Kerman and noticed the performance of the Earth Defense Directorate fighters; they were having better luck blasting through the Hatchets' new deflectors with the heavier volume of fire from their main laser emplacements, but the Hatchets were doing their best to evade that fire and the Thunderfighters had a similar maneuverability profile, making it easy for Hatchets to escape them if their pilots caught on quickly enough.

"Colonel Deering, this is Commander Laurent," he said into the comms. "My fighters will maneuver them into position for you."

"The assistance is appreciated, Commander."

"All fighters, focus on driving the enemy into the Earth fighters' line of fire. And keep them off of their backs." His order was answered by a number of "Yes sir"s. Laurent worked himself to do the same. He found a Hatchet fighter slipping up behind Colonel Deering and engaged it at the same time Buck's Thunderfighter did. The phaser and laser fire from different angles overwhelmed the enemy fighter's shields and turned it into a blinding white fireball.

This cleared Deering for her own attack on a Hatchet. The lasers of her Thunderfighter pummelled the enemy craft relentlessly. Every maneuver it tried was matched and countered. Just as Laurent started to get a bead on it, the Hatchet fighter exploded. "Excellent shooting, Colonel."

"Thank you, Commander."

They both got back to work as the Draconian fighters' numbers continued to dwindle.




The Aurora's battering was over, or so it seemed to Robert, with the Earth fighters helping to keep the remaining Draconians with missiles fully occupied. Now all he had to worry about was the missile streaking directly toward Earth.

Which was a big enough worry, since it was just minutes from impact.

"Any progress on their shields?" he asked, while on the screen the fighters of Echo and Fox Squadrons fired away with more solar torpedoes. It felt like he had seen Nazi dreadnoughts succumb to the pummelling that the missile was taking.

"They're down to twenty-five percent. But at the rate we're going, it won't be enough." Jarod shook his head. "I'm reading heavy armor plating below the shields. Even if we finish degrading the shields, we'll never blow it apart before it's in the atmosphere."

"And what's it carrying?"

"Destabilized Naqia," Caterina answered. "The blast will be horrific. It will inflict planetary-scale devastation."

Robert's fists clenched. "What if we ram it?"

"It could knock it off course," Jarod said. "But a hard enough impact will set off the destabilized naqia within. There won't be much left of the Aurora afterward."

"But the Earth will survive." Robert drew in a breath and exchanged a look with Julia. She knew what he was planning and knew it appeared to be the only choice.

A solution flashed to mind just before she could agree with his plan. "Jarod, what if we tractor it off-course?"

"It's close enough to Earth that its delta-v will carry it a far distance before it can come back around. At least, with the propulsion technology I'm showing."

"Then let's try that first," she said, looking to Robert. Her green eyes flickered with confidence.

Robert nodded in agreement. "Make it work, Jarod."

"I'm charging up the main tractor beams now." Jarod tapped a number of keys on his board. "Get us in close, Nick. We're going to need both ventral tractors to make this work."

Locarno responded by accelerating the ship further, pushing the engines to overtake the rapid missile.

For his part, Robert opened a channel to Engineering with the control on his chair. "Mister Scott, we're going to need full power to the engines and tractor beams to stop this missile."

"Ye'll have everythin' we can give ye, Cap'n. Tell Mister Jarod t' trim th' graviton wavelengths, it'll give ye a tighter, stronger tractor beam, shud be enough t' stop th' bloody thing."

Jarod smiled warmly and answered, "Thanks, Mister Scott. A wonderful suggestion."

"I'm sending you a calculated flight path to get clear of Earth, Nick," Caterina called out.

"Receiving it."

A moment after he said that, Jarod triggered the tractor beams. Two thin ribbons of blue light suddenly linked the Aurora to the missile. The Aurora shuddered and strained in pulling the deadly craft off its cataclysmic course to Earth. Bit by bit, it was clearly working. The question was if it would work enough.

Caterina was watching her monitor like a hawk. "We've diverted it off course by one percent. One point three. One point five."

"Is that enough?" Julia asked.

"It depends on time to impact," she answered. "But if we don't get it up to twenty-five percent soon, we'll never deflect it. Three percent. Three point two."

"Ye've got maybe two minutes left," Scotty warned. "We're redlinin' th' impulse drives somethin' fierce."

"I don't think we'll manage it in two minutes," Locarno said.

"Koenig to Aurora," said Zack's voice, now coming over the speaker. "We're moving in to help."

The Koenig flew up on the other side of the missile and orientated herself to present her main tractor beam. Once she finished the maneuver a third thin ribbon of blue light connected the Draconian craft to the two Alliance ships. Working together they continued to push the missile off-target.

"Fifteen percent… fifteen point five… sixteen point five… we're doing it!' Cat's voice was full of energy, nervous and exhilarated at the same time.

On the viewscreen they could all see the Earth looming ever larger. North America was starting to shift to one side of the screen.

"Twenty-three…. twenty-three point nine… Twenty-five!"

The missile was turned away enough that it dragged the two ships beyond Earth with it.

"I'm picking up a fluctuation in the warhead! I think the tractor pressure is affecting the naqia inside! We need to get distance, now."

"Break off! Break off!"

At Robert's command the tractor beams shut down and the Aurora pulled away from the missile. The Koenig did likewise. The missile flew on, accelerated to such an extent that it would take a complicated maneuver to put it back on course for Earth.

It never got that chance. The delicate payload it was carrying had been disturbed too greatly. Resonating with energy, there were no mechanisms to stop the destabilized naqia within from exploding with the massive energy it contained within. The missile was instantly vaporized.

The Aurora shields shuddered slightly. "No damage from the blast," Jarod said. "But I'm reading faults in all main and secondary impulse drives."

"Aye. I'll be needin' tae take 'em offline an' put work crews on 'em for a day or so, otherwise we'll be sittin' ducks," said Scotty.

"You're free to do that as soon as this fight is over and we safely make orbit. Bridge out." Robert checked the tactical map. The Draconian fighters were down to just ten, and that number was declining more and more quickly as the inverse square law went to work. "Recall Fox and Echo for re-arming," he said. "And have Charlie launch. I doubt they'll get there in time to fight, but I want a CAP out now at all times, at least until we find out if we're facing more attacks."

He was answered by nods and "Aye"s.

"Signal Doctor Huer and Emissary Ledosh," he said to Julia. "I'd like them to beam up so we can go over this attack."

"I'm sending Ledosh a signal now," she answered. "And I already ordered out the S&R runabouts and shuttles. And I detailed the Irrawaddy to beam up whatever's left of that missile for study."

"A good idea." And as the Aurora moved into orbit and the battle came to an end, Robert let himself wonder just what was going on. The Draconians were an aggressive and powerful empire, yes, but technologically, they weren't supposed to be this well-off. What's going on? And who was responsible for this? Some rogue Draconian officer or is it their Emperor?



In a star system not too far from Earth, an angry female voice cried out, "Damn them! How did they survive?!"

The reserved man standing next to her considered his answer carefully. "We may have underestimated Earth's new friends."

At that the woman's look soured. Princess Ardala of the Draconian Empire was used to getting her own way, but yet again the defenders of Earth had thwarted her. She took solace in the idea that the failures were from others. "It shouldn't have mattered. Clearly our agents were inept. And now one of the weapons has been expended uselessly. My father will be incensed. He will blame me." She looked toward her right hand man. Kane was a man of tanned complexion and reserved cunning, which she found useful when she didn't find it utterly annoying. "How long until the other weapons can be fired?"

Kane made the mental calculation of his answer. He recognized that look of imperial impatience crossing the otherwise-lovely Ardala's face. "Assembly is taking some time," he confessed. "There is only so much of the special material, after all, and it is needed for powering the new deflectors as well as being used for the warheads. It will be at least a day before we can launch another wave."

"We must speed things up." Ardala's scowl was joined by a look of consideration. "Surely you can get that thing to be more cooperative?"

"It will not."

"Your torturers cannot break it?"

"They have not yet. They dare not use the furthest degree, it would kill the creature in its fragile state."

"Very well. See what can be gleaned from the data we recovered instead. We cannot let this happen again. The next time we launch these weapons, the Earth must be destroyed." Ardala smiled ferociously. "And then all of known space will bow to the Draconian Empire."

And I will be remembered as the one who brought it about, was her concluding thought on that outcome.




Conference Room 1 was the site of the assembly chosen to examine the Draconian attack. In attendance were the command officers of the Aurora and Koenig joined by Ledosh, Dr. Huer, Dr. Theopolis (With Twiki carrying him as usual), and Wilma and Buck. Leo was conspicuously absent, still tending to Director Sung and to other casualties in the battle. All of the attendees had seats and Jarod took the seat to direct the briefing while Huer and Robert were at the heads of the adjacent tables. "I've managed to get some atomic analysis scans of the missile debris, to give us an idea of where the Draconian technology comes from." Jarod frowned. "And the answer isn't good."

"So what is it?" Buck asked.

"Well, the remaining energy pattern is consistent with what destabilized naqia would give off," Jarod said. "But I would say the most important piece evidence is from the fighter debris. We managed to recover part of the deflector generators they were using on the Hatchet fighters."

"Nice," said Buck. "Whatever it is, it took a lot of time to punch through."

"And that's not surprising, given what we've found." Jarod's look was somber. "The deflectors are Darglan technology."

Mouths opened in mute disbelief. Everyone stared.

And then, after checking the scan results Jarod displayed, both Scotty and Barnes nodded. "Well, I'll be," said Scotty. "It's Darglan alright. Looks t' be a more advanced version of th' deflectors we installed on th' Aurora."

"So the Draconians have frakking Darglan technology?" Barnes shook his head. "Because… holy crap, man, that makes them really frakking dangerous."

"That it does," Ledosh agreed, his calm tone a contrast to the disturbed expression that came to his face. "To think that such a treacherous people are abusing the legacy of the Darglan people…"

Of course, the weight of the finding was lost on much of the other side's attendees. "Who were the Darglan anyway?" asked Buck.

"A species that existed thousands of years ago," replied Julia. "They built the interuniversal jump drives we use. They built a lot of advanced technology."

"It's gonna frakking suck if these bastards got their hands on IU drives," Barnes complained.

"The only way to know for sure is to find out more about this attack," Buck said. "And where it was launched from. Doctor Huer, any ideas?"

"Before I came up I consulted with our intelligence people," Huer said. "There have been reports about intense Draconian interest in the Pleiades Sector. They've recently annexed several systems in that area."

"Did anyone protest this?" Robert asked.

"None. That region of space is open, and has little value."

"Pleiades?" Caterina looked up. "If it's the Pleiades Cluster, then that actually makes sense."

"What makes sense, Cat?" Robert asked.

She operated the control at her seat to bring up a sensor reading. "I got this from the remnant debris of the missile. There wasn't much left, but there was enough for me to determine that it contains a rare isotope of Hafnium, Hafnium-178m2, probably in the missile's batteries."

"I am aware of Hafnium-178m2," said Dr. Theopolis, the lights of his disc flashing as he spoke. "It occurs naturally in only one solar system. Pleiades-24."

"Just like in every other universe." Caterina smiled. "I bet that the missile was manufactured in that system, or somewhere near it."

"What do you want to bet the Draconians are building these things wherever they found this alien technology?" Buck asked rhetorically.

"Using local resources where possible would keep their project from becoming more visible," Jarod agreed. "So this is the perfect place to begin a search."

"There's a stargate that leads to Pleiades," Wilma noted. "We can make it in two jumps. But it could take weeks to search with conventional drives, if the Draconians are in another one of the systems."

"The Koenig's warp drive will make it easier to cover distance," Zack said. "We can go out there and look around. Under cloak. And I bet if they've got anything Darglan, it's got a DT field."

"A DT field?" asked Huer.

"A dimensionally transcendental field, Doctor," Caterina said. "It makes things bigger on the inside than they are on the outside."

"That sounds like an extraordinary technology," Theopolis remarked, with as much excitement as his robotic voice could perhaps muster. "I look forward to learning more of these Darglan."

"I'll be glad to open our database to you, Doctor," Caterina said, smiling at the AI. "With permission of course."

"So what happens when you find this place?" Buck asked.

"We put a few solar torpedoes into it, I suppose," Zack answered. "Unless we want to try to insert a team to see what's there?"

Buck nodded. "That's exactly my thought. It might tell us more about what the Draconians are planning."

"Are you up to it, Buck?" asked Huer.

That prompted a grin from the pilot. "As always, Doc. You know me."

"Hopefully you will not do anything reckless," stated Theopolis, "although past experience indicates a high probability of my hope failing."

"I'm not sending Captain Rogers in alone," Robert stated. He looked to where Commander Kane was sitting quietly. "Take a squad that you think works for this op, Commander, and have the Bastilone ready."

"The Bastilone?" Buck asked.

Kane nodded. "She's our special ops assault runabout, comes equipped with a cloaking device. The Koenig can get us close and the Bastilone will insert us."

Meridina nodded. "I shall accompany you."

"And we'll bring Lieutenant Lucero, if she's up to it," Kane said. "Which I'm sure she'll be."

"As long as our force isn't too big, otherwise we'll never sneak in," Buck warned. He was still grinning slightly. "Although I'll enjoy the backup."

"Should I go too?" Caterina asked. "If you're handling Darglan technology, I mean."

"I've got another project for you, Cat, with Jarod." Robert looked at them. "Just in case more of these missiles come, I want a countermeasure that doesn't require us to burn out our impulse drives."

"Right." Jarod nodded.

"And since the Aurora is bound to orbit for another…" Robert looked to Scott next.

"Give me another thirty hours, sir," Scotty answered. "My crews are doin' th' best they can, but a lot o' our components need replacin'."

Robert nodded. "Then we're not going anywhere until then. Once we have a countermeasure idea in place, we can join the Koenig in Pleiades for the search or to hit their base."

"Might I join you in your efforts to counter the new Draconian missiles?" Theopolis requested. "I believe I will be able to assist you."

"We'll be glad to have you," was Robert's answer.

"We'll see you in Science Lab 2, then," Caterina said, still grinning. Working with Data had been great, and she was looking forward to working with another AI.

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, at least she's a cutie," said Twiki.

"Twiki, that is quite unacceptable. Lieutenant Delgado is a scientist and should be treated like one."

"You're no fun."

Wilma cracked a slight grin and looked to Buck. "You have taught him too well," she said, prompting an innocent look from Buck. After that remark she turned her head toward where Robert and Huer were sitting. "I'll keep my pilots on standby. We should have the entire squadron back to full readiness by tomorrow evening."

"I can coordinate with Commander Laurent and Colonel Deering," offered Julia, glancing Robert's way.

"That works for me," he replied. Robert, in turn, met Huer's look. "And I'll ask Admiral Maran for more ships. I'm just not sure how many we'll get or when. The fleet's heavily engaged in operations against the Nazis right now."

"I shall consult with President Morgan on the issue," Ledosh stated. "And it is possible I may be able to persuade the Gersallian government to provide assistance independent of Alliance command."

"I understand," Huer said. "I'll call in what favors I can. There are worlds near to us, trading partners and allies, also being threatened by the Draconians. We can get help."

"It looks like we've got everything planned out. Is there anything else, Doctor Huer?"

The older man shook his head. "I'll issue my report to the other directors and to the Computer Council on what our reaction will be, and begin mobilizing our remaining defense squadrons."

"Then our meeting's over." Robert stood, signaling the others to do the same.

Zack turned to Buck and nodded. "You've got anything you want to bring with you?"

"A few things," Buck said.

"My people should be ready to launch in a couple of hours, I'll be waiting for you at the airlock."

While they left, Huer approached Robert, Ledosh standing beside him. "Do you know anything about Director Sung's condition, Captain?"

"Before the meeting Leo said he was prepping her for surgery to repair damaged organs," Robert replied. "I can take you to the medbay to see if she's out of the OR."

"Thank you, Captain, but I wouldn't wish to be a burden when you have so much to do already."

"I shall escort you then, Doctor," Ledosh said quietly. "I will use the time in the medbay to compose my messages to President Morgan and Director Anjila. And then we can discuss matters as they are needed."

"Thank you then, Emissary."

Ledosh led Huer off. Robert took a moment to let everyone get out before he left as well, his message to Admiral Maran already forming in his mind.








Meridina found Lucy in the Lookout enjoying a late lunch. Like Meridina she hadn't gone planetside for the ill-fated reception. Meridina had volunteered to stay while Lucy, never one for diplomatic receptions, had turned down Julia's offer to list her as a senior officer for the reception invitations.

Now, the thought came to her that if she had gone down, she might have seen the attack coming, and maybe fewer people would have gotten hurt.

There was little time for guilt, however. Lucy was finishing a much-desired meal and was already thinking about the repairs she would need to do when Meridina stepped up. "Lucy," she said. "I am afraid I recommended you for a dangerous mission."

"Well, as long as you didn't volunteer me," Lucy answered, grinning. "I'm up for it, as you know."

"Indeed." Meridina nodded. "And now that you have shared your insights with Mastrash Ledosh, the knowledge will pass on as you requested."

"If it were any Mastrash other than Ledosh, I'd be worried about the plans being shared with other groups," Lucy said before digging her spoon into a mostly-consumed container of sausage stew. "But I know he will. So, how are we going to be facing death now?"

Meridina felt the calm confidence and humor in Lucy and smiled with satisfaction. She could never stop appreciating Lucy's bravery. "The Draconians of this universe have Darglan technology."

The confident grin vanished from Lucy's expression. "Crap," she muttered. "That's bad."

"It is. We will join a team of Commander Kane's Marines and Captain Rogers in attempting to infiltrate whatever installation we discover."

"Right." Lucy thought deeply for a moment. "I wonder how the Draconians accessed a Darglan database or Facility. Their access panels don't recognize just anyone."

"Indeed. Perhaps we shall find out."

"So this Captain Rogers guy… is he an observer or something?' Lucy asked. "Someone Earth's sending along to see how we do it?"

"Actually, he volunteered to perform the mission alone," Meridina said. "Which is brave and reckless."

"Really reckless." Lucy nodded in agreement. "Anyway, I'd better get my stuff together. We're riding on the Koenig, right/"

"We are."

"Right. I guess I'd better get my pack for the Koenig."

Meridina's look was curious. Lucy, in turn was bemused by feeling that curiosity. "A pack for the Koenig?"

"Clothes. Hygiene essentials. Snacks. The replicators on that ship are crap, I don't care what people say about that Quarian girl fixing them. And some reading material in case I'm too keyed up on caffeine to meditate and need something to do." Lucy sighed. "And maybe I'll take a shower since only Zack has a shower on that ship, dammit."

"I'm quite certain he will let you use it if you ask," Meridina said.

She was quite surprised when Lucy broke out laughing at that suggestion. "I am not getting into Zachary Carrey's shower," Lucy announced. "I don't care how faithful he is to Clara Davis. Not. Happening."

Meridina's response was a confused look, followed by a bemused one as she understood the context.




Wilma was still on the Aurora when Buck came back, now wearing his favored brown jacket over a dark blue shirt and black trousers. His duffel bag was on his shoulder. Julia had provided Wilma a digital reader with a map of the ship and appropriate directions so she could take Buck to the airlock for the Koenig's dock. "It's too bad you're not going," Buck said to Wilma. "It's going to feel odd, not having you watching my back."

"You seem to have done well enough for yourself before you met me," Wilma pointed out.

"Well, yeah, but…" Buck stopped speaking as he considered what to say, and how Wilma might react. "...I've gotten used to being watching my six, in and out of the cockpit."

A soft smiled came to Wilma's face at that admission. "And I've gotten used to keeping you out of trouble. Or trying to, anyway." They stepped into a turbolift. Wilma had learned about the voice control and asked for the appropriate deck. The lift began moving. "They're good people," she said. "This crew. You're in good hands."

"That's what I was thinking."

When they got to the airlock Zack was waiting with a crewman, a well-built young Dorei man. "Crewman Hagao will take your bag to the guest quarters we've set aside for you," he said. "I'll take you on a tour once we're away, if you'd like."

Buck nodded and handed the duffel bag to the blue-skinned, teal-spotted alien, who walked back through the airlock.

Meridina and Lucy arrived behind Wilma, wearing their blue robes and purple combat armor. Each carried a bag as well, although Meridina's was smaller. "You're not moving in," Zack said to Lucy.

"She desires to be quite prepared," Meridina explained. "And she does not want to use your shower."

Buck cracked a grin at that. Zack gave Lucy his best "I'm offended" look, which Lucy answered by sticking her tongue out before heading on through the airlock. "Those aren't your standard uniforms, are they?" Buck asked Zack.

"No, they're in special field armor for the whole 'move things with the power of my life force' thing," Zack answered.

"Ah."

When they looked back, Julia was now standing beside Wilma. "Don't take stupid risks and find out everything you can," Julia said.

Buck looked to Zack. "Is she talking to me or…?"

"She's being a mother hen, as usual," Zack announced, causing Julia to cross her arms. "I'm already feeling sorry for her crew on the Enterprise. Now let's get going…"

They walked through the airlock and into the Koenig. Buck noted how much more restricted the space was in the smaller ship. "It's not quite as bad as a submarine," he said, "but this feels like an entirely different design style from the Aurora."

"The Koenig isn't made for multi-mission long-distance cruises," Zack said. "Back in the day we built her to be a gut-puncher and not much else. She's quick, she's agile, she packs a wallop and is a lot harder to kill than she looks, but she's not built for extended missions. That's why we're hooked up to the Aurora."

"So she's a set of guns strapped to an engine?"

"Pretty much." Zack led Buck into a turbolift and said "Deck 1". the lift carried them down and up the ship until they stepped out onto what passed for Deck 1, which was the lift door, an escape pod hatch, Zack's ready office, and beyond these, the bridge itself.

Meridina and Lucy were already at the rear of the bridge, standing quietly. As Zack approached his command chair Magda was the first to begin speaking. "Sir, all crew have reported in. Engineering is bringing all reactors online."

"Good." Zack stopped at his chair and looked to Buck. "Captain Rogers, this is my remaining command crew. Lieutenant Creighton Apley, my first officer, is at the helm. Lieutenant Magda Navaez, operations officer, and Lieutenant April Sherlily, tactical officer. Doctor Roliri Opani is down in the infirmary as usual. Everyone, this is Captain Buck Rogers of Earth, he's joining us for this mission."

"You can call me Buck," he said to everyone. "There's no need for formalities."

"If you wish," Magda said. "Although the name is bizarre. Did your parents think highly of deer?"

Zack took his seat. "Alright, we have an evil empire and a secret base full of Darglan technology we have to take away from them. Let's get going."

"Yes sir," said Apley. "Releasing umbilicals and docking clamps. The airlock is secure…"

Zack sat back and let his crew get to work on the launch.




Julia showed Wilma to the observation deck beside the airlock. They watched the doors to space slide open and the Koenig back out of its protected dock. As the doors began to close the Koenig was already turning in place. They had one last look at it accelerating away from the ship before the dock doors were again shut.

Wilma glanced toward Julia. "You're worried for them?"

Julia sighed and nodded. "Every time," she said. "Zack's one of my oldest friends in the world, as much as I want to smack him sometimes. And I'm always afraid that one day, he won't come back."

"I know the feeling." Wilma nodded. "Over the years, many of my friends in the Defense Directorate's pilot corps have come under my command." Her light blue eyes took on a distant look, as if imagining faces… faces she would never see again. "I don't want to count the number of times we flew back from a mission and they weren't there."

"And it was worse being their commander, wasn't it?" Julia asked.

Wilma nodded quietly. "It makes me responsible." After a moment she asked, "Do you have an officer lounge?"

"We have an senior officers-only wardroom up by the bridge, the Conference Lounge," Julia answered. "But in a mood like ours, I think Hargert's dinner is just the thing we need."

"Hargert?" asked Wilma. "And that is…?"

Julia smiled. "The best damn cook in the Multiverse. This way, Colonel." She started walking toward the exit.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-09 02:41pm

Space split open and the ASV Koenig emerged, her lines and squat size giving her the look of a predator. This was enhanced as she shimmered out of sight like a shark sliding beneath the waves to hunt prey.

"We're secure from the jump," said Apley.

"Cloaking device engaged," added Magda. "The cloak is operating properly."

Zack nodded and winced. "Those jumps, do they make you feel nauseous like that, Buck?"

Buck nodded from his spare chair to the side, at an auxiliary station. "Every time." A glint appeared in his eye. "But don't tell Colonel Deering."

"Our lips are sealed," Zack promised on behalf of his crew, confident they'd keep the secret. "Magda, what do we have on our scans?"

"Absolutely no sign of a DT field effect," Magda replied. "And I'm running all of Lieutenant Delgado's search parameters."

"Huh. Well, keep scanning. Ap, do you have a course for Pleiades-24?"

"Already laid in," Apley replied. "Warp power at your word."

"It's given."

After the flash of energy and light on the screen confirmed they had completed the jump to warp, Zack looked to Buck. "Want that tour?" he asked.

"Sure."

Zack stood up. "Ap, you have the bridge. Let me know when we get to Pleiades-24."




Julia was surprised to see Wilma Deering eye her plates cautiously as they were delivered by Albert. The young German man noticed it as well. "Is something wrong, Colonel?" he asked.

"Oh… nothing," she said, and forced a small smile. "Nothing at all."

"If you need anything, let me know." Albert nodded and walked away, leaving them with plates of chili beef and cheese burritos, corn chips, mashed and diced potatoes, and oranges and avocados.

"Is something wrong?" Julia asked. "You look like you already know you're not going to enjoy it."

Wilma's smile remained. "Buck tries to cook these kinds of things for us."

"Oh." Julia chuckled. "And I'm guessing he's not a good cook."

"The taste is… special." Wilma eyed the food for another moment before transferring one of the burritos from the central plate to her empty personal one. "We normally don't eat food like this, actually."

"Oh?"

"Much of Earth's agricultural land was left irradiated by the Third World War," she explained. "That's why we import so much of our food, and import is more efficient with processed food discs. Buck often complains about them not being real food."

"Hopefully your Earth's choices will grow now that you're involved with the Alliance," Julia said. As she considered what Wilma had just said about her Earth, Julia could imagine the nightmarish image of all of the golden fields of grain she'd grown up with withering and dying off. "And maybe we can fix your Earth. I hear they're already making progress repairing the Earth in N2S7, and L4R2's Earth is going to be resettled soon."

"So our Earth wasn't the only one to get ruined."

"They can't even find Earth of S0T5 anymore," Julia said. "It's been gone for three thousand years. Your Earth's made it through pretty well compared to the others."

It was clear Wilma was not going to be heartened by that alone. Julia wondered how she might have turned out living in such a world, an Earth trying to crawl its way back from the edge of extinction. "I've read that there are Humans on a number of other worlds not connected to Earth."

"Yes. The histories are vague," Wilma answered. "So many records were lost during the war and all of the ships fleeing. It's hard to believe Humanity was able to spread so far after the war."

"Did you have help?" Julia asked. "Maybe another species took pity on you?"

"None that we know of." Wilma tried another corn chip for a moment. "I suppose it's possible in the years after the war. What we have now is owed to the Computer Council, the original artificial intelligence computers that directed the rebuilding of Earth."

To that, Julia nodded before taking a bite and enjoying the taste, although she was quick to ease the spiciness of the food with a drink from her glass of fruit juice. "Do you ever regret your position? Climbing to command?"

Wilma shook her head. "No. Well, not usually. Once and awhile I wonder if I might be happier if I'd done something else. But this is where I want to be. It's where I can meet the challenges that I want in life, and protect the things I care about. The people I care about."

Julia nodded quietly. "I know the sentiment."

Wilma, who was nibbling at a corn chip but still avoiding the burrito, swallowed and said, "I heard Commander Carrey mention something about an 'Enterprise'?"

Julia drew in a breath and raised her eyes for a moment, as if seeking strength from above. "He's trying to be helpful." She took another bite of the burrito and wanted to moan at how good it tasted, at the texture of the burrito or the taste of the filling. It was almost uncomfortably hot, but Hargert had been very exact in the balance of spices, making the burrito hot but manageable and, most importantly, rich in flavor. "I was offered a command earlier this year. A promotion to Captain and command of a new starship, the first in a new class of ships based off of the Aurora."

"Congratulations," said Wilma. "When do you take command?"

"At the end of the year. If I say yes. I have about a week to give my final answer." Julia took another drink.

Wilma nodded. "So you're not sure if you want the post?"

After a moment of quiet consideration, Julia said, "I'm divided. A part of me is leaping at it. Leaping at the chance to be the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. But at the same time… these are my people. This is my ship. Leaving to take over another ship, I… well, I'm worried about the others. Robert will have to find a First Officer that works with his command style, he'll need a new tactical officer because Angel, that is the older Lieutenant Delgado, would come with me… plus I'll have to put together my command crew and get used to the whole thing." As she listed the challenges, Julia felt something inside of her that was almost eager. Yes, challenges, challenges that she could take charge of.

It was clear Wilma could see some of that. "Something tells me you'll do well either way," Wilma said. "You could stay here and continue to be Dale's First Officer until he's promoted. But that's not the same as taking a ship and making it yours, is it?'

"No." Julia shook her head. She felt the rush recede. "No, it's not. The Enterprise would be my ship. My crew."

"I felt the same way when I took command of the 69th," Wilma said.

Julia nodded in acknowledgement. It wasn't hard to imagine. Wilma Deering had that feeling to her, a confidence in command that Julia respected. She liked being around the starfighter pilot and commander.

It was, to Julia, time to end this topic of conversation. She eyed the uneaten burrito Wilma had pulled onto her plate and smiled. "You wouldn't happen to be trying to avoid eating this, would you?" she asked, her tone full of humor.

The response from Wilma was a bemused look. After that she took in a breath, as if to steel herself, and picked up the burrito and took a bite of it. Her eyes widened as she experienced the taste for the first time. Julia considered it a good sign when she commenced chewing and eventually swallowed. "This is… actually very good," Wilma admitted. "I wish Buck could cook like this."

"I told you." Now Julia's smile widened. "Hargert is the best damn cook in the Multiverse."




The tour of the Koenig was brief, given the size of the ship. It ended in the mess hall, where they replicated a meal of basic chicken sandwiches with french fries and potato chips, plus drinks. Buck took his first bite and Zack could see a familiar uncertainty in his face. "It doesn't taste right, does it?" Zack asked.

"It is a little off," Buck said. He ate another chip. "But it's better than food discs."

At that Zack chuckled. "It's actually still pretty good compared to what it can be. A young Quarian girl we had on the ship several weeks ago fixed the mess replicator to the point it almost tasted real. I'll have to ask Tom about giving it another maintenance repair soon." Zack took a bite of his sandwich while Buck tried the same. When he finished swallowing, "She's a small ship, but she's mine. In a manner of speaking."

"I know that feeling." Buck nodded. "Once you've flown something like this, it always stays with you."

"It does."

After they enjoyed their meal a little more, Buck said, "It looks like you and your friends have managed to land on your feet when it comes to leaving behind the 20th, 21st Century world."

To that Zack remained quiet for a moment. "We didn't have a whole lot to go back to," he admitted. "Rob's parents were dead, Julie's, Leo's… Tom left his folks behind and never looked back. Angel and Cat lost their mother a couple of years before everything happened, I lost my mom years ago…"

"Nobody to go back to, then?" asked Buck. "Your father?"

An old pain shot through Zack. It appeared on his face and was evident in his brown eyes. "Dad had problems. Alcohol."

Buck nodded slightly.

"Eventually it got his health. Before it did, he made mistakes, and we both paid for them." Zack held a fry in his hand and considered it a moment. Old memories of happy visits to fast food restaurants, of plastic toys and salty french fries, bubbled up despite his desires to the contrary. "A… friend of mine, a close friend, talked me into going back to Earth and seeing him. I wanted him to come out here, maybe get treatment, but it was too late. He died the morning after I arrived."

"I'm sorry," was all Buck could say. "And your… friend?" He'd noticed the look Zack had on bringing the friend up, and it wasn't hard to imagine what he was talking about.

"She left Earth, came out here. We met again by chance." Zack's thoughts went to Clara. He wasn't sure when he'd get a long enough leave period, but when he did he intended to catch the next starliner to New Caprica. "She's a nurse on a colony of Human survivors in N2S7. We see each other when we can."

"Good. I'm happy for you."

There was something in the way Buck said his well-wishes that made Zack look at him more intently while he chewed, quietly, on the fry he'd been holding. Buck continued to eat quietly as well.

"We're luckier than you," Zack finally said. "I mean, we don't have a lot to go back to, but at least we could."

"It's nothing."

Zack looked at him. Buck, noticing that Zack was looking for a reaction, responded with a smile. "I've gotten used to it," he said. "And it's not like I can complain. I wanted to be an astronaut from the moment I joined the Air Force. Now I travel between worlds and I fly a starfighter." He held up what was left of his sandwich. "And now that the Alliance has come along, maybe we'll even get proper food again. So in the end, being frozen until the end of the 25th Century worked out for me."

For a moment Zack said nothing. He couldn't help but think that Buck was hiding something behind his smile. But he couldn't be sure. "It's good to hear that," Zack answered. "It's been a long day, and we'll arrive at Pleiades-24 in the early morning hours. I can show you to your quarters before I head back to the bridge."

"A little sleep won't hurt," Buck agreed, still smiling.

Zack nodded back, still wondering what could be beneath that friendly smile.




The time flashed 0100 and Caterina was only now yawning. Jarod had already left for the evening, leaving her alone with Theopolis and Twiki. Working with them wasn't like working with Data, but she enjoyed it all the same.

Of course, the problem wasn't so easy to deal with. The screens in Science Lab 2 showed the simulations and the news wasn't happy. Another result flashed across the main screen. Cat groaned at the result. "Another successful hit," she said.

"And the casualty numbers are catastrophic," Theopolis added. "By my calculations, three of these missiles alone would do lasting damage to Earth's biosphere. Even one will devastate a large section of the globe. Billions of deaths are likely."

Caterina checked the simulation parameters again. The planet-based weapons solution, already unlikely to establish, would still fail because the missiles couldn't be destroyed in time. Not with their powerful deflectors. "The tractor beam satellites might still be our best bet," she said. "If they can cause destabilized naqia warheads to detonate prematurely…"

"Unfortunately, the power requirements to restrain the missiles for a long enough period to induce destabilization is not feasible. Starships will be required."

"Do you have civilian ships? Merchant ships? Something we can rig up for this?"

"We have very few of the ships of requisite size and power generation capability, and re-directing them to this task would have a severe effect upon food imports." Theopolis' lights blinking continued to draw Caterina's attention. Unfortunately, they also seemed to be making her even sleepier. Assuming that wasn't just general sleepiness. "I will still forward the idea to the Computer Council and determine if there are sufficient available ships to protect the planet."

"I'm sure we can come up with something…" Caterina yawned yet again. "...better."

"Lieutenant, might I recommend you get some rest?" Theopolis suggested. "Your thought processes will benefit from getting sleep."

"What? No. No, I can just…" She yawned again. "...get coffee."

The door to the lab opened. Violeta walked in and let out a sigh at seeing Caterina slouching slightly in her chair, clearly desperate to stay awake. "Commander Andreys warned me you'd do this," Violeta sighed.

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, that's what I call a dye job."

Violeta ignored Twiki's remark and finished walking up to Cat. She knelt down beside her and touched her on the cheek. "You need your sleep, Cat. Let's go back to your quarters."

"I'm almost… if I look at the problem a bit more…" Caterina looked at her girlfriend with her hazel eyes now bleary. "Just get me some coffee?"

"No. Commander Andreys and Captain Dale made it clear you needed to go to sleep tonight." Violeta stood up. "Let me take you to bed."

"It is an excellent idea," said Theopolis. "Twiki and I can continue to run simulations while you rest."

"But…" Nevertheless Caterina was swaying as she stood up. As a result she nearly fell into Violeta's arms. Violeta steadied her lover and gave her a slight kiss on the cheek. "Come on, Cat."

Cat mumbled a protest but did not resist.




Given the time and their ETA, Zack had ordered his command crew to bed and left the bridge in the hands of Ensign Driik and the third shift bridge crew. He'd settled into sleep well enough and dreamed of being back home, of his mother and a warm summer sky and a baseball game…

He had just hit the ball low through the infield, sending it just below the out-stretched hand of the short-stop, when a tone woke him up. Zack gently raised his head from the lone pillow for his cot. A blue light was blinking above his left palm. He sighed and tapped it. "Carrey here."

"Sir, we will be arriving at Pleiades-24 in precisely three minutes," chirped Ensign Driik. The young Alakin male's voice was slightly distorted and off due to the translator systems needed to convert Alakin speech into something that could sound English. "Technical Officer Robinson is already commencing sensor scans. Do you wish me to alert the senior officers?"

Zack yawned and rubbed at his right eye. He could still imagine the warm Kansas sun and the dust of the baseball diamond, as if his brain didn't quite want to come out of the dream yet. He forced in a breath and shook his head, as if to clear his mind with the motion. When it didn't quite work he started to rub his forehead instead. "Okay. Let me know if you find anything, but don't call up the others yet. They need their rest."

"Yes sir."

The omnitool disengaged its interface, leaving only the small braces on his elbow and fingers that served as the physical pieces of the omnitool. Zack laid back in his cot and rested his hands over his belly, or rather over the plain gray uniform undershirt covering it. He felt himself start to nod off.

He was just starting to fall asleep again when the tone went off again. His eyes opened again and he reached for the flashing light of his omnitool. "Carrey here."

"Commander, we have something on sensors," Driik said. "We're reading a power signature on the third planet of the system."

Zack sighed at that and sat up. "Alright. Alert the senior officers. I'm on my way."




The bridge opened and Zack, now in his uniform, found that Apley had already beaten him here. "You didn't sleep in your uniform, did you Ap?" he asked as Apley vacated the command chair and relieved Driik from the helm.

"No sir, I'm just a quick dresser."

Zack took his chair and looked to where a young woman, fair-haired and with a slight tan, was seated at Ops. "What do we have on sensors?"

"Looks like a structure in orbit over the third planet. It's only showing on the narrow band subspace sensors," she replied, her accent reflecting her Australian roots. Zack quickly recalled what he knew of her. Technical Officer Jane Robinson was an enlisted crewwoman who had completed sufficient training to man an officer's bridge station without a full officer course or commission yet. He was certain she would eventually transfer to the Aurora to become a full science officer once her posting on the Koenig was complete. "It looks like there's some kind of sensor dampening field present to hide the power signature from most kinds of sensors. Honestly, if we didn't have Darglan tech in our sensors, we wouldn't be seeing them either."

"Take us in, Ap. Set ship condition to Blue."

"Yes sir," Apley said.

"Setting to Code Blue, sir," Robinson added. With a few key presses she caused blue lights to appear in the wall paneling, informing the crew of the potential for hostilities.

Over the next minute both Sherlily and Magda arrived, relieving Robinson and the young man who'd been at tactical; Technical Officer Jesus Perez, Zack recalled. Everyone was in place for when the Koenig dropped out of warp some distance from the planet.

The planet itself was a barren, rocky world, clearly not a life-bearing planet at first glance. As they drew close Zack could make out a shape in orbit. It was a series of blocky, open structures. "A construction yard," he murmured.

"There's definitely a dampening field that's hiding this location from most sensors," Magda said. "Robinson was spot on about that. I might have missed what we are seeing, it looks a lot like background subspace radiation. The kind you'd expect to see around a B1V sequence star."

"So it's a perfect place to hide something, that's what you're saying," Zack said.

"It is, sir." Magda started examining her sensors again. After another ten seconds passed she cried out, "Stop! All stop, now!"

Apley did so, confident in Magda's judgement and Zack's likely agreement with his assessment of it. The Koenig cut her velocity and came to a stop (or at least a relative one).

"What is it?"

"Detection satellite, sir," Magda said. "Still inside the dampening field, but they didn't calibrate its systems properly or we'd have stumbled right into it."

"Can they see us cloaked?"

"Likely. I'm detecting signs of a gravitic grid. No sign of tachyons, though."

The thought immediately occurred to Zack. "Can the Bastilone slip through?"'

Magda clearly had to think about it. Finally she nodded. "I think so, yes. The runabout has a very good cloaking system, and the smaller mass may not disturb the gravitic triggers."

"Well then." Zack hit a key on his chair. "Carrey to Meridina."

The reply was swift, enough to show she was awake. "Yes, Commander?"

"Please get Kane, Lucy, and Captain Rogers and be ready to meet with me and Lieutenant Navaez in our conference room on Deck 2 in half an hour. I'll have breakfast ready."

"Very well, sir. Meridina out."

"Ap, you have the bridge, alert me if anything changes." Zack looked to Robinson, who had moved to an auxiliary station. "Tech Officer Robinson, resume Operations, and see if you can get us some better scans. On the down low, I don't want them to see us coming."

"Yes sir," the young Australian answered.

"Magda, with me please." He stood from his command chair. Driik stepped forward to reclaim the helm while Apley moved to take the chair. "I need coffee."




Thirty minutes later Zack and Magda were with the core of the insertion team. Further sensor scans by Robinson had yet to show anything else. "It's possible that the Bastilone might find more information once it's in range," Magda informed them while a holographic view of the planet and the yard structure over it hung in the air. "So far what we can see is that they are constructing spacecraft of an unknown kind."

"Although it's probably those missiles," Lucy remarked.

"I agree. Either way, we can't get any closer without triggering their gravitic net. And there's no telling what defenses they have."

"So this is an insertion to discover and disable their defensive systems," Kane noted. "And we'll have to figure out an insertion strategy on the way in."

"That about sums it up," Zack said.

"Well, it's not the best plan." Buck nodded to Kane. "But I'm pretty good at making it up as we go in."

"Murphy always messes plans up anyway," Kane agreed. "I'll get the squad ready. We've got suits in case we need to go EVA or if there's something planetside."

"Meanwhile we'll stay here and monitor the situation," said Zack. "If you need us to come in, call right away. Now, are you ready to go?"

"Like I said, I'll get my squad and load them on the Bastilone," Kane answered. "We'll brief on the way in, since there's not much to brief."

"I'm ready," Buck said.

Lucy and Meridina both nodded. "Ready," added Lucy.

"Then you're all dismissed." Zack stood up. "Good luck."




The Bastilone cloaked before leaving the shuttle bay built into the bottom of the Koenig. The assault runabout turned toward Pleiades-24 III and accelerated ahead. In the cockpit of the runabout Lucy was on pilot duty with Ensign Yang as co-pilot. "We're coming up on the gravitic grid," he said.

"Keep an eye out for any reactions." As she said so, Lucy looked over the readings and guided the craft toward the point least likely to generate any reaction. She focused with her senses and sought out the grid's satellites. She would sense if they triggered, at least if she was right about this.

"We're in the grid." Yang kept at work. Behind them, Buck, Meridina, and Kane watched quietly. Tense seconds passed before Yang added, "We're through. Still no sign that they detected us."

"Good." Lucy carefully upped the sublight drives. As they drew closer to the planet she signaled for Yang to swap seats with her. He took over piloting duties while Lucy, now in his seat, brought up the sensors. "I'm detecting a microwave beam linking the yard to somewhere on the planet. I think that's their power source."

"Microwaves? I'm guessing they're not for popping popcorn," Buck remarked.

"It's a widespread method of transferring power between a planet and its orbital spaces," Lucy explained. "It's a weakness, though. If we take out the power source, the yard will be forced to rely on backups. It may be weakened. It might even be completely shut down."

"And it'll definitely take out their defenses," Kane said. "Maybe we should go for removing the power supply then?"

"That seems the wisest course," Meridina agreed. "Although it may be dangerous if the power source sustains an atmosphere."

"That's what the suits are for, ma'am." Kane looked over her field armor suit. "Do you have a helmet for those?"

"We do," Lucy answered. "I've already set their comms up."

"And we've got a suit for Captain Rogers in the back." Kane motioned. "Mind joining me, Captain?"

"Certainly." They stepped into the back.

"Yang, take us in toward the source of those microwave emissions." Lucy used her own controls to indicate their destination. "The thin atmosphere will make it easier to avoid detection."

"Aye ma'am."

The Bastilone flew down into the atmosphere of the planet. The craft's special heat absorbers drew in the re-entry heat, helping the cloaking device to hide it, with said heat being sent into thermal heat exchangers to gradually be released into the atmosphere or to provide steady heating for climate purposes inside the craft.

As they came up on the source of the microwave transmissions, Lucy gasped in shock. "Oh my God."

"Swenya's Light," Meridina whispered. "It is… beautiful."

The source of the emissions had been coming from a tall mountain, at least 12 kilometers tall. Stretching for dozens of kilometers around the mountain was lush, live-bearing landscape. To the north was a rich temperate forest, to the south a green canopy of jungle terrain. The west had a wide open steppe and the east, closest to them, was beautiful green grassland interspersed with patches of trees. As they swooped overhead Lucy looked out to see that a herd of quadruped mammals that looked like… "Wooly Mammoths," she murmured, in shock.

Yang slightly adjust course, which allowed for them to evade a flock of orange-and-white avians that were flying proud.

"It's a nature preserve," Yang said. "On a barren world."

Lucy nodded. She could feel the life here. Nothing sapient, or entirely so, but still… She checked her sensors. "Life forms are all around this zone. It… it looks like some sort of field is sustaining an artificial atmosphere. Or maybe it was an attempt at terraforming."

"Ma'am…"

Yang prompted Lucy to look up… and scowl. The sides of the mountain had been scoured of life. She could make out open mining pits that had been torn from the forest along the northern edge. Large foundries and refineries had been built in the shadows of the mountain. "More life signs. Human, or at least near-Human. They must be the Draconians."

"Where do we set down?" Yang asked.

"One moment." She kept scanning, and as she did she felt angry. So many star systems, so many planets and moons and asteroids… why did they have to scar such a marvel of engineering? This was a nature preserve. This was unnecessary, nothing but greed.

Her scans confirmed Lucy's choice of landing. "Take us to these coordinates on the northeast face of the mountain," she said. "It looks like a landing pad for a structure inside of the mountain."

Yang obeyed and flew them in that direction. Lucy, meanwhile, was already noting the presence of turreted defense guns, undoubtedly meant to shoot down aerial intruders. At least our cloaking device is holding.

When they arrived at the landing pad Lucy made a quick scan. As she expected, there were security sensors, including a camera system. She walked into the back to find the others ready. "As you may have noticed looking outside, we won't be needing helmets."

"My sensors were showing a breathable atmosphere," Kane said. "But we're keeping our helmets anyway. Makes it impossible for us to get hit by knockout gas."

"We are quite impervious to such as well," Meridina stated. "Or at least, it is very difficult to use such on us."

Buck eyed the helmet he had been about to put on. He tried it on. It was a standard model, which meant his face was fully visible through the main plate, and it wasn't too heavy. "This works for me," he said while holstering his gun. "So how do we get in without being seen?"

"Whenever you're ready, Lucy?" Meridina asked.

Lucy nodded. She went to the rear of the runabout and opened the hatch. The landing pad was empty, a light gray slab buried into the mountain-side, with two large red metal doors serving as an entrance. Lucy got down to her knees and put her hands in her lap.

From Buck's perspective, nothing seemed to be happening for several moments. Lucy, of course, saw differently, using her connection to the universe to feel for energy currents around the sensors. Buck only realized what she was doing when several small bulb surfaces around the door sparked. "There." Lucy stood and gestured. "I knocked out all of the cameras here and within the first section. They'll think they had a mechanical fault, at least for a while. Meridina and I will cover for you once we're far enough inside, allowing you to hunt for a power source."

"You're not just going to walk in, are you? Visible?"

"They're going to know someone's here sooner or later. By the time they find out those cameras have failed intentionally, you'll be deeper inside, and we'll be ready to provide a distraction," Lucy replied.

"I'll come along with you ladies," Buck said. "The Draconians will know me. It might help sell the deception."

"We will appreciate any assistance you might provide, Captain Rogers," Meridina said. "Let us begin."




It was breakfast in the Lookout, with a variety of breakfast choices being made available for the crew. The engineers were particularly hungry, many having worked extra shifts to make the wide-scale impulse repairs that Scott had deemed necessary.

Julia sat at one corner table with a mug of coffee and an unfinished bowl of cereal beside the scraps of what remained of a cheese omelette. Her thoughts were on the choice she was faced with.

"Any seats taken?"

She looked up and saw Locarno standing over the table with a tray of breakfast in his hands. When she shook her head he sat down. "How are you this morning?" he asked.

"Alright, I suppose. I'm due to beam down to New Chicago in an hour. Colonel Deering and I are going to discuss our defense plans with Doctor Huer."

Locarno nodded. "Right." He dug into hashed potatoes. Before taking a bite he said, "She seems to be a good commander and a great pilot."

"She is," Julia said. She waited for him to start his first mouthful before she continued. "I look at her and I think… 'That's what I want to be. I want to be in command. I want to be in charge.'"

After swallowing Locarno said, "I know the feeling. I used to be convinced I was going to make Captain by the time I was thirty. Faster than Kirk."

"I'm not looking to rush it," Julia said. "I was content to wait for Robert to decide to move on, or get promoted. He will be eventually, or he'll be transferred to wherever Admiral Maran thinks he can be useful."

"Maybe. Although I hear the Gersallians believe in leaving people where they are if it's where they work best." When Julia didn't answer that Locarno said, "I suppose being offered the Enterprise changed your plans?"

"It might. It should. Even thinking about how I'll need to adjust to a new command crew, how I'll need to settle into my new ship, it doesn't scare me as much as it excites me." Julia smiled slightly. She raised the cup of coffee and sipped at it. "It's a challenge. And I know I can meet it."

"You've got the confidence." Locarno set his fork down and leaned forward in his chair. "What's holding you back, then?"

"Like you need to ask." Julia took another drink.

"You're worried about the rest of us? About how Robert will manage?"

"Yes."

Locarno nodded. And then he shook his head and chuckled. "It's funny. Your devotion to the rest of us may hold you back. My devotion to my friends is what kept pushing me on. To tackle bigger challenges, bigger assignments." He didn't state how that eventually ended, there was no need. "I've got no advice for you. I mean, I can understand both sides of what you're going through. But I can't help you choose. You're the one who has to live with it."

"I know." Julia sighed and sipped at the coffee again. "But I can't help but thinking that no matter what choice I make, I'm going to feel regret for it."

"Yeah. Probably." Locarno took another bite. After he finished swallowing it he added, "That's part of life, I guess. Hell, if I'd decided against trying the Kolvoord Starburst, I'd have probably regretted it. I would have kept thinking I had lost an opportunity to prove how skilled we were. How skilled I was." The bemused look on his face had a tinge of sadness at it. "Of course, I'd still be in Starfleet if I made that decision, and so would Hajar, and Josh and Jaxa would probably still be alive…"

"Is that you trying to make me feel better…?"

"Oh, no." Locarno shook his head. "That's just me thinking of how ridiculous that other Nicholas Locarno would be, and how if he found out what my life went like, he wouldn't feel a damn bit of regret."

"Heh. Yeah, I can see that." Julia breathed out a sigh and let her spoon drop into the unfinished cereal. "I've eaten my fill, and I need to get things together for the meeting. I'll see you later, Nick."

"See you later, Julia," he replied.




They had made it some way further into the mountain base when Buck finally said what he was thinking. "This place isn't Draconian."

The inside of the structure was gold in coloration, with blue and gold flooring. The aesthetics emphasized triangular shaping, with the ceiling tapering inward until it was a point about four meters above their heads, with open-bottomed rectangles hanging down every five meters or so and filled with bright white light to illuminate the halls. Occasionally they moved past shorted out sensors. The doors all seemed to lead to storage areas filled with boxes of material.

"I have never seen a design aesthetic like this before," said Meridina.

"It's certainly not Darglan." Lucy continued on, looking over her omnitool as she did. "I'm using low frequency, low power sonic pulses to try and map out this place. At least until we can find a terminal…"

Their wish came at the next door. They stopped just outside of it; there were people inside according to Lucy's sensors. "If we go in, they'll raise an alarm."

"Let us go first," Kane said. He reached for his belt and triggered his cloaking device. His Marines did likewise.

The others stood back and allowed the Marines to enter. After several seconds a series of thumps were heard. They entered to find the Marines has finished off their opponents and decloaked. "Well, we're ten seconds shorter on the batteries for these things," Kane said while his Marines secured prisoners with tie-straps. "But look what we have here."

The storage room was the largest yet, clearly meant for receiving or shipping out large, bulky containers and pieces. Lucy went up to one container and scanned it. "Naqia," she said. "But Pleiades-24 III isn't rich in… wait." She narrowed her eyes. "This… this isn't raw naqia ore. This is refined. In fact, it's already ready for use in reactors or warheads."

"Maybe they're bringing the naqia here for refinement and then shipping it back out?" Buck asked.

"Let me see…" Lucy went about the room, scanning. Kane was busy helping his Marines find an empty container to hide their captives in. "No. I'm not seeing any raw ore. I suppose they could be out, but I doubt it."

"As do I." Meridina frowned. "They must be looting this place of its naqia."

"Or just its extra naqia, otherwise they wouldn't be able to power their construction yard." Lucy found a computer terminal. She switched the mode of her omnitool over. "Let me see if I can gain access to their systems."

"How does that work, anyway?" Buck asked.

"Omnitools can be equipped with remote data interfaces. They let me do… this." With a final key tap Lucy gained the access she was looking for. "It looks like they're shipping out this naqia regularly, along with other minerals from the planet. Including the Hafnium-178."

"To the construction yard?"

"Yes." She nodded at Buck. "Which tells us that whatever Darglan technology they uncovered here, it doesn't include transporter technology. Or at least, nothing they've learned to use yet. Anyway… okay, there we are. Commander Kane, I'm relaying you and your Marines coordinates for their microwave emitter assembly. It's further up, near the apex of the mountain."

"But not their power source?"

"No." Lucy shook her head. "We don't know what it is, Commander. It could be something that we can't safely sabotage, or even sabotage at all."

Kane still had a skeptical look on his face. "Or because you don't want to destroy the nature preserve outside."

Lucy met his look. "I don't. Not unless absolutely necessary." And I'll hate all of us for bringing it to that. "But we don't know what we're dealing with. However Darglan tech ended up here, this structure doesn't conform to anything the Darglan built. This is someone else's building. Maybe someone else's nature preserve."

"Right." Kane relaxed his expression. "You make a good point."

"And save your cloaks," Lucy instructed. "I just hacked into their computer systems and disabled the entire system. They had to rig it with the pre-existing structure, so hopefully they'll think it's still mechanical failure. If not… that's why Meridina and I are ready to cause a lot of noise."

"Acknowledged." He turned to his troops. "Okay Marines, we're moving out!" He operated his light power armor's omnitool interface. "I've relayed our target and our path to your omnitools, let's get a move on…!"

The Marines filed out, leaving Lucy with Meridina and Buck. "Anything else we can find in here? Like where they're getting their technology?"

Lucy shook her head. "No. They may have it on an isolated system. What I am seeing is the way to the command deck, personnel quarters, a couple of labs, and something called the "Source Chamber".

"That does sound the most promising," said Meridina.

"It does." Lucy quickly loaded the necessary data to their omnitools. "I just got us a path to it. It's three levels down and there's an access ladder. Let's go!"




Just as Commander Kane was leading his Marines toward their target at the top of the volcano, another Kane was moving through the halls deeper in the volcano. This Kane disliked this alien place. It was too bright and it was hard to secure in proper fashion. But its value to the Empire was incalculable, so he endured.

His destination was a set of quarters closest to the command room for the base, at the end of a long hall flanked by two Draconian soldiers bearing assault laser rifles in their arms. They saluted to him with a clenched fist over their heart and he saluted back. "Did you awaken the Princess?" he asked.

They looked to one another with some nervousness. "We attempted to, sir, but her servant said she had left strict instructions to…"

Kane suppressed the desire to shoot them. "Open the door, now!"

They obeyed. The door slid open and he entered the Princess' private chambers. She was still in bed, splayed out on her luxurious bed with its golden sheets with her back turned to Kane. Two slave-girls, her personal attendants, were laying beside the bed, and the older woman in charge of her chambers moved to intercept Kane. "The Princess left strict instructions not to disturb her rest…"

Kane shoved the woman out of the way and barked, "Princess, we have a situation, I must speak with you!"

The form under the sheets moved and turned. Ardala's brown eyes flashed with irritation at seeing Kane. "What is it now, Kane? Speak before I have you shot."

Kane showed no reaction to Ardala's threat. He knew she wouldn't dare, it would displease her father too greatly, and even Ardala would not countenance the Emperor's wrath. "Our security monitors are down across this alien facility."

Ardala took interest in that. "Really? And you are having them repaired, of course?"

"Of course," said Kane. "But the timing is suspect."

"Ah." Ardala smiled. It was a predatory smile. "You believe that Earth agents have entered the base? Perhaps even Buck Rogers himself?"

"It is a possibility. Our spies have reported that the Allied Systems have invisibility technology known as cloaking devices. Indeed, the gravitic net we purchased through Aldebaran was intended to deal with such craft, but we can't guarantee it works. Even now Alliance or Earth agents may be loose in our base."

"Well, take precautions then. Have the guards around the microwave emitter and the power core doubled." A thought came to Ardala. She slipped out of the bed, exposing her body to Kane. He averted his eyes, as was appropriate, and waited until she had donned her clothes. As usual, Ardala was not one for physical modesty. The top was exquisitely-crafted, with strong shoulder pads of light purple silk and cotton that supported the bands covering her chest, and a semi-translucent silk dress of the same color that hinted at the shape of her legs. "And gather my guards," she added. "At least a half dozen."

"Where do you intend to go, Princess?" Kane asked.

"To satisfy a hunch," Ardala said.




Going down the access tube wasn't difficult, thankfully, and Lucy led them down more of the gold-and-blue corridors. "This place must have been a command facility to maintain the nature preserve," she said.

"And now the Draconians want it for something else," Buck said. "And they'll tear this place apart in the process."

"We'll have to come back and drive them out. We can't let this place stay in their control."

"You won't get any argument from me."

As they approached the next turn Lucy stopped and flattened herself against the wall. "Guards," she whispered. Meridina and Buck did the same. All three moved close to the corner. Buck was tempted to look around it, but Lucy held him back and shook his head. She looked to Meridina. You or me? she asked.

You could use the practice, Meridina answered, noticing the bewildered look on Buck's face. My apologies if I have presumed, Captain, but telepathic communication is the safest course.

I'm just not used to someone being in my mind, he answered, looking at her.

I will not enter your memories or thoughts without your permission. I am bound by my Code to respect your mental privacy.

Lucy was already moving around the corner. The guard saw her and raised their weapons. Lucy brought her hand up and waved it. Her will pressed against their wills. "You will let me and my friends pass," she said. "We have permission."

For a moment Lucy wasn't sure it worked. Then both repeated what she said in dull tones. She looked back as Meridina led Buck around the corner. He watched the guards warily as they walked past. "How did you do that?" he asked.

It is a mental compulsion through our swevyra, our life force energies, Meridina explained. It only works against those who are not willful enough to resist the compulsion.

"Right." Buck patted the pistol on his waist. "How much further?"

Lucy consulted her omnitool. Not much further, she thought. And remember, telepathic conversation.

"It's not…" Buck caught himself. Sorry.

No harm done
.

They went past an access room for one of the power conduits running through the base. Their path eventually led them to a closed door with a Draconian guard. Lucy stepped forward to repeat the same mental trick on this one.

At first it looked like she succeeded. But as she drew closer, and Buck and Meridina moved into sight, the guard started to bring his gun up. Lucy already recognized that his will had re-asserted itself over the compulsion and reached out with her hand. The gun went flying from his grasp. The Draconian stood and gawked in utter shock at being disarmed. Buck ran past Lucy and delivered a solid punch that laid the Draconian out. He looked up at her. I guess it doesn't always work?

Not always. And I'm not as used to doing it as Meridina.


Meridina stepped up while Buck used tie-straps that Commander Kane had given him to secure the Draconian's wrists and ankles together. I am a farisa, however. A natural telepath. You are not.

While the two women watched his back, Buck picked up the unconscious guard and stepped into the "Source Chamber". He took a couple steps in and put the man down, even as he stared at the sight within. "Well, I don't think I expected that."

Lucy and Meridina entered and looked around the room.

In the far wall was an alcove with a flat pod or chamber that was surrounded by inactive screens or displays, the pod itself wide open. The walls were lined with power lines that ran to the alcove, creating gray bumps in the otherwise gold surface. Closer to them, in the middle of the room, was a chair. It was plainly not a nice chair, with strong metal straps in place to bind the occupant by the wrists, the ankles, and across the chest and waist. A battery of mobile devices was set to one side.

The occupant raised a head. While it - or apparently he - was bipedal, the occupant was also clearly alien given the shape of his head. His skull was tall and not covered with hair, but rather a sort of fine yellow fuzz that ended halfway between the top of the head and the eyes. Their location gave the alien the feel of having a caricatured, vertically elongated face. The eyes were pinkish in color, revealed when the alien's eyes opened to see them. The alien was in a blue jumpsuit of sorts, but there were numerous tears and worn parts to it.

A faint little smile crossed an otherwise-pained expression. It spoke in an alien language that their translators lagged in decrypting.

"Swenya's Light," Meridina gasped.

"What?" asked Buck.

"My God." Lucy stared in shock. "It can't be…"

"Human," the alien said. It spoke again in its tongue. This time the translators worked, having found the language in their databanks. "Not one of the others." The voice had a medium pitch to it, with a hint of a difference in sound produced by what seemed like an altered breathing pattern. Its pink eyes focused on Meridina. "You speak of Swenya. You are Gersallian. To see one of your people again…"

Buck motioned to it. 'You know this guy?"

Lucy swallowed. "No, but I know the race." She stared forward. "It's… he's a Darglan. A living, breathing Darglan."

"Oh, so that's what the wretched creature is."

The three whirled around and faced the door, now barred by several armed men flanking two figures. One was a man in a militaristic black uniform, with dark hair and mustache with dark eyes. The other was a woman who was clearly beautiful and, even more clearly, glad to show it with how much skin the suit revealed.

Buck frowned. "Princess Ardala," he said. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Ah, Buck Rogers." Ardala's grin was ferocious and pleased. "I thought it was you. I'm pleased you've come, actually."

"Oh?" he asked. "And why's that."

Her eyes glinted wickedly. "Why, so you'll survive the destruction of the Earth, of course. As my prisoner."
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-10 03:49pm

Lucy and Meridina reached for their lightsabers. Ardala raised a hand with a device in it. "Lower your weapons. This is tied to the chair our guest is kept in. It will send a solid electric shock through his body. If you make any other move, I will trigger it with enough strength to kill this 'Darglan'."

Buck stepped ahead of the others. He gave Ardala a skeptical look. "Really, Princess? You're going to kill the source of all of your new technology?"

"He has not been cooperative in that avenue, I fear," Ardala replied. "Most of what we have learned comes from examining what we found here."

"I am dying already," said the Darglan. "Do not let them hold this place. They do not deserve it. They are cruel and petty…"

"Come, Buck, do you really expect to survive if you start a fight here?" Ardala asked. "We have you trapped. If you all surrender you will be treated well and I will not harm the alien."

"And I'm just supposed to trust your word?" Buck asked. "You've always had problems keeping it in the past."

"Ah, but now I have no need to break it. The power in this place will make the Empire ultimate in this space. Perhaps we will even gain the secrets of the interuniversal drive from this place."

"It would be your destruction to use that secret from this place," said the Darglan. "It is not safe."

I can yank the control from her, Lucy said. Or Meridina.

But can you do that and stop them all from shooting? was Buck's mental reply. We may just need to play along

Meridina didn't join their conversation. She was focused elsewhere.

"We'll be the judge of that, alien," Ardala snapped. She returned her attention to Buck. "Ten seconds, Captain Rogers, then I press this button and my men open fire. Ten, nine, eight…"




The microwave emitter dominated the chamber. Kane looked it over from a second tier entrance, the highest he could find into the room. It resembled a satellite dish vaguely, but with a large needle coming from the center and pointing up past the ceiling of the chamber toward the open sky. Men in dark uniforms milled around. All were armed, but only some had rifles. "Barker, Yamashita, to the right. Hajama, Toussiers, left. Ijala, pick your targets. Belyakova, you watch his back and spot. Rosenfeld, get your charges ready, I'm with you."

His Marine squad split up as he requested. Kane followed Rosenfeld toward a walkway that would take them up to the microwave emitter. Lance Corporal Leah Rosenfeld, as the best-trained of his current demolition specialists, was as careful as he could hope. Even cloaked, sound could give them away if they let their footsteps clang along the metal walkway. Careful steps prevented such an easy giveaway of their presence.

There was a single technician at work on the walkway. Kane kept an eye on him while Rosenfeld went to work with her charges. They would become visible after she moved away from them, adding a challenge to this operation. Kane noted with approval that she was deliberately placing them to reduce the likelihood of someone seeing them. If it all went according to plan, the first sign that there was trouble would be when they hit the detonators.

Assuming, of course, that it all went to plan.

Usually, things going wrong didn't start in the way they did.

Commander Kane.

Kane blinked and looked around.

I cannot speak over our commline. It was Meridina's voice. We have a hostage situation. A distraction would be most welcome.

Kane sighed at that, wondering how their part of the mission could turn into a hostage situation. But he knew what this meant.

"It looks like we're the distraction now, Marines," he said. "Rosenfeld, keep fitting those devices, and put some on the bottom level if you need to. Ijala, pick a target. I've got this guy."

The poor technician never saw him coming. Kane held his arm out and clotheslined the guy onto his back with a loud thud. That clearly drew attention from below. "What's going on up there?" one voice called out.

Ijala fired his shot. One of the guards went down. Visibly.

That was enough to set the others off. "Sound the alarm!" one of them shouted.

The Marines decloaked, if just to save their battery power for the moment, and opened up from their places on the upper catwalk. Kane pulled his rifle from the attachment point on his back and did the same. WHOM WHOM WHOM sounds filled the air and the Draconians had no chance to put up a fight. The technicians ran for the door and safety while the armed men sought cover. Kane saw one succeed before lifting his rifle up. He ducked into cover himself. Sparks flew above from the unseen shot that hit the casing of the emitter. Barker's voice sounded over his comms. "It looks like they're packing laser rifles, sir."

"Don't get hit, and everyone remember there's no fire to track them. Rely on other ways of finding shooters." Kane slowly rose from his cover and drew a bead on his shooter. A burst of orange light took him out; Ijala had hit his target.

And then a loud klaxon filled the air. Someone had indeed gotten to the alarm.

Just as planned… I guess, was Commander Kane's thought.




Ardala had gotten to "Two" when the alarm split the air. For a split second, confusion reigned.

Meridina's free hand snapped up and the device flew from Ardala's grasp to strike the ground behind Meridina where it was now nestled against the wall.

Buck rushed forward, not expecting Meridina's act, and slammed into Ardala before he realized she didn't have the device anymore. He stopped himself from following her to the ground and turned to throw a fist at Kane. Kane moved enough to not take the punch directly to his face and took the impact on his shoulder instead. He kicked out and knocked Buck back. "Fire!" he shouted.

It hadn't been necessary. The other Draconians were already shooting.

They just weren't hitting anything.

Lucy's lightsaber was active and moving, a blade of blue light catching the unseen lasers and deflecting them back into their shooters, while Meridina's protected both herself and the Darglan behind her. One had sparks erupt from his leg and toppled. The other cried out from a laser to the shoulder.

Kane had already lifted Ardala up and was pulling her to safety. Buck set into the nearest guard. He punched the guard in the jaw, a blow that bruised his knuckles but set the Draconian out cold.

The remaining Draconians retreated back through the door. Lucy gave them a final shove with her power to get them out of the door. Buck went up to the control and hit a key. After it was shut he turned back. "That was good timing."

"Commander Kane was kind enough to provide us a distraction," said Meridina. "One moment." She looked to the captive Darglan and held her hands up. The metal bands tying the being to the chair snapped in sequence. He stood up and immediately fell forward into Meridina's arms. "You are injured."

Lucy was already scanning him. "More than just hurt. The scans show cellular damage."

"Yes," said the being. "I am afraid my rescue is a waste. I am already dying."

"How?" Buck asked.

"The stasis chamber… unh." The Darglan grimaced. "The Draconians did not disengage it properly. They damaged my body when they took me from stasis."

"We'll get you medical attention," Buck promised. He extended a hand. "I'm Buck. Buck Rogers."

"Lucy Lucero."

"I am Meridina."

The Darglan looked to all of them. A smile was showing on his amber-shaded lips. "I am Jornam, the keeper of this place."

"This place being a Darglan base?" Buck asked.

Jornam shook his head. "No… we did not build it. We discovered it, and the wondrous preserve. After the war I stayed…" He stopped and grimaced.

Sensing Jornam's problem, Lucy took her canteen from her belt and opened the top. "Water," she said.

"Thank you." The Darglan drank the water weakly, but with visible enjoyment. "They have been denying me sustenance beyond my basic survival needs. But I would never cooperate with the like. They will abuse the gifts of this place."

"They already have. They attacked Earth and nearly hit it with a missile."

"Yes."

"Is there a way to make them leave?" asked Lucy. "Without destroying the Preserve, if we can?"

Jornam nodded. "The structure is made to seal off its power source from the rest of the base. The mountain itself no longer contains a volcanic chamber, but the builders created the means to fill the levels with lava as a precaution. I can provide you the means to trigger the security system."

"Right now I'm more worried about escape,." Buck gestured toward the door. "Ardala's going to have her goons ready for us to come out."

"Then we will not go out that way." With Meridina's help Jornam went over to a wall. He pressed his hand against it, showing off the longer, slender fingers of a Darglan hand in the process. Once it was settled against the wall for a moment, the wall slid open. "Come. My personal chamber."

Buck and Lucy followed Jornam and Meridina into what looked like a cozy little sleeping room. The air smelled surprisingly fresh given how long it had been sealed. A soft cot was to one side. A chair faced a screen on an elevated part of the floor with a control panel between the two. "For my rest," he explained. He moved into the room and to the controls. They lit up when he pressed them. Meridina remained at his side. Her power was focused on Jornam in an attempt to heal.

"If Caterina was here, she would still be shrieking in joy," Lucy observed. She watched Jornam begin his work.

"Who is this 'Caterina'?"

"Our ship's science officer," Lucy answered. "She hasn't met anything she doesn't love to scan and learn all about."

"I suspect she wishes she was immortal so she could see everything," Meridina added.

A pleasant smile appeared on Jornam's face. "I would very much like to… unh… meet this person. It pleases me that the spirit of my people lives on." Lucy and Meridina exchanged sad looks. Jornam noticed this and added, "I know the Darglan people are extinct," he informed them. "That the First One species called the Shadows killed us. It was not a surprise."

"You knew? How?" Lucy asked.

"An automated message from She'teyal about the attack." He had to stop and take a breath. "My friends promised me they would ensure I received any emergency communications from the Homeworld, and though long dead, they did." Jornam tapped another key. "You must have many questions."

"Oh, a lot," Lucy admitted. "There's still a lot about your people we don't know. We've found databanks and a couple of your Facilities…"

"Truly?" Jornam seemed happy at that. "And you have used them well?"

"We think so. We don't have the Facility any more. The Daleks attacked…"

"The Daleks?!" Jornam, despite his weakness, put heat into his voice. He turned, his pink eyes wild with fear. "Did they take it from you?!"

"We blew it up," Lucy assured him. "We detonated one of your small multi-mission ships' power cores after destabilizing the naqia. It wiped out the DT field."

Relief showed on the Darglan's face. "Good. That is…" He grimaced as pain visibly shot through him again. "I am connecting to the old database of this place."

"Who built it?" asked Lucy. "You made it sound like it isn't Darglan."

"It was not. Though it does… resemble... " He grunted again. "...the styles of the S'kama people of my species. This is a place built by an old species. One that came before us." Jornam looked to Lucy and gestured toward a circular container on a shelf near the bed. "I prepared a device during my last waking cycle, a data storage databank that has my database of knowledge from this place. Please, take it. So that it is not forgotten. That was my… ungh… purpose."

Lucy nodded and retrieved the container. Within it was a familiar orange disc, much like the one the Consort had given Robert the prior year, but this one lacked the pocket dimension storage that made Robert's impossible to read. "And the security measures?"

"I will soon be able to activate them."

"Can you contact the Draconians?" Buck asked. "And warn them to get their people to safety?"

Jornam considered what Buck had just asked. "You would warn them? Despite what they have done?"

"I've seen enough death in my life," was Buck's answer.

The Darglan looked to Meridina. "And you, you are both followers of Swenya? I remember her… she would argue the same if she were here."

"Yes, she would," said Meridina. Lucy could feel the energy building within Meridina, a tension between her fear for Jornam's life… and her desire to learn more of what Jornam knew of Swenya and of the Gersallians in her time. Knowledge that was lost or distorted for her people, and here was someone who could share it…

"Of course. And you are right to do so." Jornam operated his controls. "I have the original structure's operating system fully accessed. I will activate a link to the command center shortly."

"How is Commander Kane doing?" Lucy asked Meridina. "You still have telepathic contact with him?"

Meridina nodded. "He is… occupied."




As more laser shots created burns into the wall behind him, Commander Kane had the mental image of being stuck in a hive that's just been kicked over.

The Draconians didn't have power armor. What they did have was an almost suicidal willingness to charge his Marines in the hope of getting a shot off, and with numbers that was effective enough. Kane was now kneeling beside Ijala and focusing fire on the lower level, where Rosenfeld was finishing the last of her charges. Ijala claimed another officer with a direct headshot. Behind them Barker was busy overseeing their escape route.

"This is the last one," Rosenfeld said. She turned away from the emitter, glanced toward the stairway to see how exposed it was, and did the smart thing. She braced herself and activated her power armor's short-use jump jets. Plumes of energy surged from the back and the young woman was airborne.

"Suppressing fire!" Kane had already shouted, and the Marines promptly moved from cover and began firing everything to keep the Draconians' heads down. This did draw fire, as hoped.

Rosenfeld's pained "Oy vey!" made it clear at least one Draconian had gotten a shot off. Kane spotted the offender and shot him in the chest, putting him down.

Toussiers ran from cover to help Rosenfeld, who was cursing profusely in Yiddish that their systems didn't both translating. Kane distinctly heard "Mamzer" and "schlimazel" in the rant, the only words he could make out. He hoped that the rest were proper cursing like a combat-wounded Marine was permitted. That hope was joined with shooting up another of the Draconian soldiers. "Toussiers, status on Rosenfeld?"

"Hit to the shoulder, sir. She can walk, but the laser penetrated the armor enough to damage the tissue. Her left arm's immobile."

"Right. Time to go then!" Kane looked up. "Withdraw! Back to the LZ!"

Ijala immediately compacted his sniper rifle. The Alakin was still pulling his backup pulse pistol out as he went through the door they'd entered through. Barker and Yamashita were spraying fire in one direction to keep enemy troops from coming that way. Belyakova pulled back to join Ijala and Hajama remained with Kane. The Dorei man kept his rifle firing with superb control. Together Kane and Hajama gave the cover Toussiers needed to help Rosenfeld back through the door. "Go," Kane ordered, following Hajama.

A burst of energy and light came from the far corner, courtesy of a pulse grenade Barker has thrown. The team moved with swiftness down through the base, retracing the steps they'd taken to come this way. When they reached the desired distance, Rosenfeld used her functioning right hand to trigger her explosives. The vibrations shook the structure around them.

"Kane to Bastilone. Primary objective complete." Kane checked the remaining charge in his pulse rifle. "We're returning to the LZ. Expect a hot evac."

"Roger that, Commander," replied Ensign Yang.

"Kane to Meridina. Emitter's down. We'll hold for you at the main storage bay."

"Do not, Commander," said Meridina. "We are preparing a process to render this place uninhabitable to the enemy. Proceed straight to the Bastilone. We will be behind you."

"Copy that." Kane motioned to his people. "Double time it, let's go!"




In Jornam's room, he turned to Buck and nodded. "You wished to speak? I am establishing a link to the command center."

Buck nodded. A holographic image popped up beside the wall. The Draconians had filled the structure's command area with their own equipment. He could see numerous Draconians were at work, and an angry Princess Ardala was fuming from a chair. "Hello, Princess," he said.

"Rogers!" Ardala looked at him and glared. "Do you really think you'll escape this?"

"I'm pretty confident of it," Buck answered. "I just wanted to let you know that we're about to fill this entire structure with lava. You might want to evacuate."

"You… you couldn't. You can't!"

"Well, seeing as I have the place's custodian with me, I'm pretty sure I can." Buck showed her a confident smile. "I'll give you ten minutes to clear out. Rogers out."

Jornam recognized the terminology and cut the communication. He pressed several more keys. "I have set the security system to begin the failsafe procedure. Only I can undo it."

"It is a shame to destroy this place," Meridina lamented. "I feel there is much we can learn here."

"The power core will survive. That is what matters. The wonders of this world will not be extinguished." Jornam stood and winced. "I… I am sorry, but my energy is spent. You should go."

"We're not leaving you here to drown in lava," Lucy declared. "We're taking you with us."

"You will need all of your skill to escape," Jornam insisted. "I cannot be responsible for your deaths. Not when I am dying… unh… already."

"We will bring you to safety, Jornam," Meridina assured him. "And you will again see the stars your people so enjoyed traveling among."

Jornam gave Meridina a wistful, sad look. "My poor people. Our curiosity could be such a curse, but it is what made us the people we were. Very well…" He tapped another key on his console. In the corner the wall opened to reveal something that looked like a mirror. A second key press caused the surface of the mirror to begin rippling. "It is a dimensional portal device. I have set it to take us to the upper section of this facility."

Lucy stared at it. "Is that… did your people make that?"

"No. The original builders did. I spent many…" Jornam groaned yet again. Meridina and Lucy could feel the pain inside of him and Lucy was worrying he might not live much longer. "...many years studying this place."

"I shall give you the benefit of my strength." Meridina held onto Jornam. She reached into him with the Flow of Light and used her power to ease his pains. "Come."

"Well, off we go to Wonderland," Buck observed.

One by one they went into the portal. On the other end they were in a dark, empty chamber. Jornam stepped up, with Meridina's help, to examine the wall. One panel lit up and became a Darglan interface panel. He tapped several keys of Darglan script and a door slid open. Once they were through Lucy checked her omnitool. "We're just one level below the LZ," she said.

"This is the way," Jornam told them. With Meridina beside him to help him, he took the lead in taking them down the gold-and-blue corridor.




Alert lights were showing on long-dormant alien screens. Draconian officers and technicians tried desperately to understand what was going on. Ardala watched them, her face an impassive mask hiding frustration and a little rage. Kane looked none too happy either. "I am sorry, Highness," one technician said. "We… we cannot access the core processes of this place's computer systems. We never have been able to, and it is from there that this sequence is being controlled. Lava will begin flowing into the base in eight minutes."

"We should have killed that alien long ago," Kane said gruffly.

"Perhaps." Ardala looked toward Kane. "What of the missiles?"

"I completed three," he said. "The others are hours or days away from completion."

"Then begin their launch sequences," Ardala ordered. "And have my ship ready for my arrival. We will personally escort the missiles to Earth this time."

Kane nodded to a technician. "Enabling launch sequences, Highness."

"Good. Now sound evacuation." Ardala eyed Kane. "Let us depart."

"At once, Highness," he agreed.




Magda noticed the changes on her screens. "Commander." She looked over to where Zack seemed to be thinking quietly. "I'm detecting activity in the yard. It looks like they're energizing some of the craft."

"They're preparing to launch," Zack said. "Okay, let's hope they stirred up a mess down there. We're going to Code Red. Ap, take us in. April, prepare weapons. Magda, decloak when we're in range."

Everyone answered and the Koenig flew forward, flying through the gravitic net. Whatever warnings it would give, it didn't matter now.




Commander Kane and his Marines made it to the LZ with a platoon of Draconians on their tails. Standard fire-and-move tactics helped them keep the enemy suppressed with a generous use of grenades. Kane threw his last into the corridor as he went out the door to the landing pad. Draconian craft were already moving toward them to evacuate the Draconian personnel. Kane and his people ran into the Bastilone, disappearing from view as they passed into the cloaking field's effects.

Kane left Barker to get everyone ready to hold the LZ for the others while he went to the cockpit. Yang was sitting there watching the incoming Draconian shuttles. "They're unarmed, sir. Do you want me to begin offensive action?"

"No. Stay cloaked. They're just evacuating. Commander Meridina and her team are wrecking this place."

Yang nodded. "Okay sir."

Once Kane knew the young pilot wouldn't move the ship, he returned to the back. He swapped out his charge clip for a fresh one and joined the others in defensive positions.




Jornam was managing to move at a quick pace with Meridina's power bolstering his failing body. They made it to the staircase and had gone through the main cargo receiving area before they found Draconian soldiers behind them. Lucy turned and ignited her lightsaber. "Keep going!" she shouted. "I'll cover you."

Meridina and Jornam did. Buck, however, turned back and pulled out his laser pistol. He timed his shots, causing spurts of sparks to appear along the walls and floors when his shots weren't hitting the Draconians themselves. Lucy's lightsaber was a blur of blue. The lasers hitting it were invisible to the human eye. But Lucy could still sense where they would be. Her life force was guiding her arms and weapon, putting it in position to deflect shots, while Buck's fire was keeping the Draconians from pressing her with their numbers. They kept backpedaling as they went.

Meridina and Jornam got to the door first. She led him in the direction of the Bastilone. He seemed surprised to be going toward nothing. Just before he spoke of his uncertainty on the matter, they entered the cloaking field. The runabout and the armed Marines suddenly appeared.

"Commander Meridina." Commander Kane nodded to her. "A friend?"

"He is Jornam, the original caretaker of this place." She nodded to him. "And he is a Darglan."

Meridina thought there was something quite amusing about the surprise that briefly showed on Kane's face. The other Marines had reactions ranging similarly, from quiet, stunned surprise to incredulousness.

Meridina turned back to where Lucy and Buck were coming through the door. The fire against them was forcing them to keep their focus on defense and was slowing them down.

A sudden rumble filled the mountainside. "That would be the security system, I believe, Jornam said.

"We need to get out of here. Barker?"

"Yes sir." Barker grabbed hold of a set of rungs built into the side of the Marine waiting bay. She climbed up into a seat set into the ceiling. "I've got the angle, sir. But we need to decloak first."

Kane nodded and hit the intercom key on the wall. "Yang, decloak, we're going weapons hot back here."

"Yes sir."

The Draconians, undoubtedly, got a sight when the squat runabout shimmered into view, resting on her warp nacelles toward the rear and with her back wide open.

The twin turret anti-personnel pulse cannon built into the top of the craft was also an unpleasant surprise.

It began to fire, a massive WHOM WHOM WHOM filling the air as the bright blue pulses flew over the heads of Lucy and Buck before striking their pursuers. The hits were instant killers, vaporizing the Draconians with direct hits. Even glancing ones could kill or severely wound.

And then they saw it. Felt it. From within the structure a wall of bright orange and red rock was spewing forth, a river that would kill everything it touched.

With the weapon's suppressive fire Lucy and Buck were able to turn and run into the back of the runabout. Lucy went through the Marines' space and up to the cockpit, where Yang quickly let her assume the helm. "Lifting off now, restoring cloaking device."

The Bastilone picked up from the landing zone just as the lava began to surge from the entrance. It shimmered out of view again and raced for orbit.

In the back, Toussiers helped Meridina secure Jornam. "This kind of cellular damage is just… how could this happen?" asked the combat medic.

"The Draconians did not awaken me properly," said the Darglan. "The damage is fatal."

"Well, maybe not if we can get you back to the Aurora on time." Toussiers kept scanning. "I don't even think I can offer painkillers for you, though. I've got no idea of your physiology, if any of our meds will help you or might kill you."

"It is… alright." Jornam looked to Meridina. "Might I see them?"

Meridina nodded. "Follow me to the cockpit, then."

The Bastilone was in orbit by the time they made it there. Jornam was contented as he sat down at a panel, his eyes focused on the open void ahead of them.

"Let's get back to the Koenig," Lucy said.

Meridina nodded and tapped a key. "Bastilone to Koenig, we're ready for pickup."

"Standby," came Magda's reply. "We're on an attack run."

"Standing by," Lucy answered, while ahead of them the Koenig decloaked and opened fire.




The Koenig bridge was all business when the ship opened fire. The viewer showed the phaser cannons blasting into the Draconian construction yard. Explosions flowered from the surface, with atmospheric gas and debris spewing from the new wounds in the yard. Solar torpedoes raced across the distance and slipped into one section of the yard, where they hit an incomplete missile. A large explosion consumed the rear half of the weapon.

"I'm reading power surges in the yard. They're trying to power their defense guns."

"Prepare evasive maneuvers, Ap, if we need them. April?"

As the Koenig moved past the yard, the aft torpedo launchers fired as well. These shots nailed another of the partially-completed missiles, blasting the warhead clear off.

The Koenig made a sharp turn in space and opened up again on the yard. Another spread of torpedoes blew apart the skeleton of a missile while the phasers gouged out chunks from another.

The Draconian energy weapons opened up on the Koenig. The bridge shook from the hits they took while Apley corkscrewed the ship into another attack run. "Shields at ninety percent," Magda reported.

"Take us on another run," Zack ordered.

They flew in on the run and another of the enemy missiles was blown apart. "The last ones are mostly intact, we'll need several more attack…" Magda's attention was drawn to a new contact. "I've got a ship approaching at high sublight velocity. I've never seen it before, running it through recognition profiles…" Magda waited for the results while the Koenig threaded more defensive fire to damage the yard further.

"Magda, any better idea on what it is?" Zack asked.

"Still… ah, there. I have the profile. It's a Draconian warship, believed to be called the Dominator-class." Magda looked to Zack and shook her head. "It's definitely out of our weight class, and they're already launching Hatchet fighters. I've got a dozen coming in to intercept."

"And probably more soon enough. Are they armed with naqia weapons?'

"I believe so, going by these readings."

A dozen of those fighters, all of those missiles… this won't work. "Alright, we're getting out of here. Bring us back around and give Lucy an approach vector to land the Bastilone quickly."

Apley's response was immediate. "Yes sir."

The Koenig broke away from the damaged construction yard. A few more shots from the dorsal phaser, and another spread from the aft torpedoes, did further damage to it. Ahead of the ship the Bastilone decloaked while Apley raised the Koenig's bow relative to their approach vector. With precision Lucy flew up to the underside of the Koenig and entered the opening shuttle bay door.

"The Bastilone is secure," said Magda. "Enemy Hatchet fighters entering range. They're locking missiles."

"Take us back to the Pleiades Cluster Stargate, maximum warp."

The Koenig jumped to warp just as the first missiles fired.




Ardala stomped onto the bridge of her flagship, the Dragon's Fire, with all of her usual imperiousness. The captain of the ship saluted to her, fist over heart. "Your Highness, the smaller vessel escaped with their stardrives."

"Yes. Well, you were out of position."

"What will your punishment be?"

Ardala smiled at the man, who was trying to hide his fear. She glanced toward Kane and shook her head. "Nothing, for the moment. If all goes as desired, I may show leniency."

"The yard is badly damaged. It will require weeks to repair," the captain continued. "But the three missiles you ordered launched were not severely damaged. We can resume the launch sequence soon."

"Ah. Very good." Ardala settled into her own personal chair on the bridge. "Then do so, with all haste. Buck Rogers and his friends have taken our prize and ruined our lovely new base. But it will be for nothing when our missiles ruin the Earth."

"As you command, Princess."

Ardala watched the captain return to work with quiet pleasure. Her father would not be happy with the damage they took, but it could be repaired. Even the alien structure could be reclaimed with a lot of work. And the Earth… the Earth was still hers to destroy.

And she would be there to see it happen.




When Zack stepped into the infirmary, he still couldn't believe what Lucy had told him about over the comms.

Seeing made him believe.

Barnes came in behind him. "Holy crap," the engineer said. "It's… it's actually…"

"...a Darglan," Zack finished for him, looking over the orange bipedal alien. Meridina was standing beside him, holding her hand to his back, while Doctor Opani was scanning him with a medical omnitool. Buck and Lucy were standing nearby. "A living Darglan."

"I am Jornam," the Darglan said. His pink eyes took in the sight of the two. "You are the commander of this ship?"

"Commander Zachary Carrey, Alliance Starship Koenig."

"...'Alliance', you say?"

"Yes, the United Alliance of Systems," Zack answered. "We're an interuniversal group of Humans, Alakins, Gersallians, and Dorei. We've also made contact with a large number of other galaxies…"

Jornam sighed in contentment. "Then you accomplished our dream. We had wished to see the same happen. If only…" Jornam grimaced and clutched at his chest. "I apologize, Commander. I am dying, and it is becoming painful."

Zack looked to Opani. The Dorei woman, her skin a dark teal with light purple spotting, shook her head. "The cellular damage is bad, Commander. I definitely can't save him here, and even the medbay on the Aurora might not do it."

"I have done what I can," Meridina added. "But my power only alleviates his pain and helps him to move easier. I lack the strength to heal him."

Zack couldn't keep the frown off his face. A Darglan, alive, but dying. Perhaps beyond their power to save. It seemed unfair. "Make him comfortable," Zack ordered. "We're still an hour out from the stargate. As soon as we're back to Earth…"

"You must warn them," said Jornam. "The Draconians will attack again."

"With their FTL drives, those surviving missiles won't arrive in Sol System for days," Barnes pointed out. "Don't worry, we've got…"

"No." Jornam shook his head. "They will not need to use the stargate you are heading toward."

"What do you mean?" asked Zack. "Why not?"

"Because, they already have one," said Jornam. The Darglan's voice was firm, showing his certainty of that statement. "They will use the stargate in the solar system with the Preserve."

Zack looked at him with surprise. "Wait, we didn't read one."

"It is set to remain off. I made it that way centuries ago. But Ardala has reactivated it. And it connects directly to the Earth system's stargate."

"Which means that her missiles will fire directly to Earth's solar system," Meridina said.

"Yes." Jornam's face fell. "She learned enough from my things… from me… that her weapons can destroy all life on your world."

"Unless we stop them," Buck said.

"Yes. Unless you stop them," Jornam agreed.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-12 04:04pm

Robert, Julia, and Ledosh joined Doctor Huer and Wilma in Science Lab 2 to check up on the progress there. The news, however, was not what they had hoped to hear.

"It is quite a difficult problem given our available resources," Theopolis said to them. "Even a complete deployment of our available starfighter squadrons would be incapable of stopping more than one missile given their noted acceleration and defensive capabilities."

"And we don't have the means to build a theater shield large enough and strong enough to block them," added Jarod. "So if they get past us to Earth, there's nthing we can do to prevent a mass casualty event."

Huer nodded. He turned his head toward Robert. "Captain, can the Alliance provide any more ships?"

Robert shook his head. "Admiral Maran's already informed me that reinforcements aren't available. The best he can offer is the Shenzhou. She's leaving drydock tomorrow and will jump to join us."

"Regrettably, the Gersallian fleet is also incapable of sending reinforcements for the moment," Ledosh added.

"Let's just hope the Shenzhou isn't a day too late." Julia crossed her arms. "Colonel Deering and I have some ideas on how to support each other in another fight, but if they bring a lot of fighter cover I'm not sure we'll be able to stop multi-..."

Before she could finish Robert's call-received light appeared on his hand. "Bridge to Dale," said Locarno.

Robert tapped the light over the back of his left hand. "Dale here."

"The Koenig just came back through the stargate. Commander Carrey wants to see you at the airlock when they get back. He said to bring a medical team and Cat."

"Did he say why?" Robert wondered just what prompted Zack to make those requests.

"They found something in Pleiades-24."

"Tell him we'll be there, then. Dale out."

"Do you mind if we join you?" Huer asked.

"Not at all." Robert checked the time on his omnitool. "We have some time. Jarod, what about trying…?"




By the time the group from Science Lab 2 arrived at the dock, Leo and a medical team were waiting, complete with anti-grav stretcher, for the arrival of the Koenig. They all watched her dock and walked on to the airlock entrance.

When it opened, Zack stepped through with Buck and Lucy behind him. Twiki spoke up immediately. "Biddi-biddi-biddi, nice to see you in one piece, Buck."

"It's nice to be in one piece, Twiki," Buck replied.

"What's going on?" Robert asked him.

Zack gestured toward the airlock. Opani stepped through and stood to the side, allowing Meridina to exit with another humanoid. The tall skull and orange complexion were immediate giveaways. Robert and the others each had a wide-eyed look, with jaws lowered to varying degrees. "It's… it's…" Caterina seemed unable to finish the sentence.

"This is Jornam," said Zack. "He is, was, the caretaker of some ancient nature preserve on Pleiades-24 III that the Draconians looted." He smiled at Caterina. "And he's a Darglan."

"Swenya's Light," Ledosh murmured.

"A Darglan. A living Darglan," Caterina squeaked.

"Not if we don't get him to the medbay," Leo said, already looking over his medical omnitool. "The cellular degeneration is killing him." Leo motioned to his team. Nasri led a couple of nurses in helping Meridina set Jornam onto the anti-grav stretcher. They departed immediately with Ledosh joining them to help Meridina in her healing attempts.

"A Darglan," Julia said, her awe echoing Caterina's. "I never… how?"

"He was in a stasis chamber of some kind," Lucy replied. "But the Draconians removed him from it. And not in the correct way."

"This is… this is amazing," Robert said. "If Leo saves him, imagine the things we'll learn."

Lucy produced a spherical container from an internal pocket on her robe. She twisted it just so and the top slid out and then down, revealing the orange Darglan data drive within. "This is supposed to be all of his critical data."

"So this was a Darglan Facility?" Julia frowned. "Or a data center? Do the Draconians have access to the IU drive?"

"It didn't appear to be," said Lucy. "Apparently the nature preserve itself, and the central facility built into the mountain to sustain it, were built by another race. Jornam chose to live there."

"Another ancient race, then?"

"We have scans of the structure. We can look through them later," said Lucy. "But we can tell you it's unlikely the Draconians got IU drive tech or even Darglan weapons technology."

"Okay, let's move from the scientific curiosity from a moment," Zack said, looking to Lucy. She looked back and nodded, and both turned their heads to face Robert and Huer. "Jornam says there's a special stargate in Pleiades-24. One that the Draconians can turn off and on to send out their missiles. And it can lead straight to Earth's stargate."

"A stargate with that kind of distance?" Wilma seemed stunned by it. "Normally that's a two jump distance."

"They can do it in one. We did what we could to their construction yard, but we weren't able to finish off the three completed missiles before a Draconian carrier showed up and we had to retreat."

"Three missiles." Huer drew in a pained breath. "How do we defeat three?"

Julia shook her head. "We need a fleet. Or some way to keep them from getting to Earth. Can we shut down your system's stargate?"

"No," Huer answered. "You can't shut down stargates like that. At least, not to our experience."

"So we can't keep them from coming through. We'll have to fight them and find a way to stop them here."

"What if you reactivated the thermal shield?" Buck asked Huer.

"Thermal shield?" Robert asked.

"Back when they woke me up, Earth had a thermal shield to protect the planet," Buck explained. "It would destroy any craft that approached without the proper codes."

"The shield system was decommissioned," Huer explained. "The Draconians developed countermeasures to thwart it. It could take days to get it back up."

"The tractor satellites have some merit," Julia said. "We know tractors can trigger the destabilized naqia to go off."

"But not quickly enough," Jarod reminded her. "Certainly not with three of the missiles coming after Earth."

"What if there was a way to trigger the same thing with something else?" Julia asked. "Something that would…"

Something in Caterina's mind clicked. Everyone could see the moment of epiphany on her face. When she left at a near-run, they followed.

Science Lab 2 was Caterina's destination. Once she was there she called up the data they had been going over. Calculations filled her mind while her fingers danced over the controls, activating new simulations with new parameters.

The simulations were running when the others entered. "Cat, what is it?" Julia asked.

"Come on… come on… the calculations… yes!" Caterina stood up and let out a squee of triumph. "It works! It, I mean, it will work!"

"What will work?" Buck asked.

"I think I understand." Theopolis was studying the simulations. "You would convert the thermal shield generators into a series of graviton pulse emitters."

"Yes!"

"The power demands will be quite high," Theopolis said. "However, Doctor Huer, I believe the Lieutenant is onto something."

"What would this plan do?" Huer asked.

"It would allow us to subject incoming missiles to intense graviton fields, such as used in this vessel's tractor beams," Theopolis answered. "This would cause the Draconian warheads to destabilize and explode."

"Good thinking, Cat," Jarod said. The simulations looked good to him too. "We'll have to do some converting of their existing shield generator stations to make this work."

"Get any operations or engineering personnel you can find that's not essential to Scotty's repairs," Robert ordered. He turned to Huer. "Doctor, we'll help you get the modifications done."

"Thank you, Captain. The Defense Directorate will cooperate fully. I will need to return to New Chicago to oversee the modifications."

"I will see to the necessary modifications for the generator in New Chicago."

"Jarod, Lucy, see if you can help them," Robert said. He could feel the room's feelings pick up. They had a solution, and now they would see about implementing it.

They nodded and joined Huer and Theopolis (and Twiki) in leaving Lab 2. It was clear to everyone just what was on Caterina's mind. "Your simulations will give Jarod and the others what they need," Robert said. "Why don't you head to the medbay?"

As Cat jumped from her seat, Julia added, "But you have to listen to Leo. If he says you have to wait, you wait."

"I will," she vowed.

Once she was gone Zack left as well, stating he was going to return to the Koenig "just in case". Robert and Julia exchanged looks with each other and with Buck and Wilma. "We should go back to New Chicago," said Wilma. "We'll need to have the squadrons ready."

"Of course. And we have work to do as well," Julia said.

With common assent, they all departed.




Leo, as it turned out, was willing to let Caterina visit Jornam in his intensive care room. Meridina and Ledosh were sitting and meditating in the room, using their power to help the Darglan keep his strength up. Caterina stood at the door for a moment, trying to think of what to say, what to ask, of the orange-skinned alien she had never imagined she would ever meet. She felt like every cell in her body would vibrate until she drilled through the deck.

"You are the one they call Caterina?" Jornam asked, as if just now noticing her.

She nodded. "Caterina Delgado. Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, actually. I'm the science officer."

"So I see." A pair of pinkish eyes focused on her. "I can see you have questions."

"Too many. I can't think of one," Cat confessed. She pulled up a chair to sit beside Jornam, taking care to not bump into Meridina as she did. "There's still so much we don't know about your people, and so much I want to learn about, well, about everything."

"Kestim ram," said Jornam. "That is our term for the state you are in. When you can't figure out what question you want to ask because you want to ask them all, at once, and have them answered together." He gestured to her with his hand. "Feel free to ask, and I will answer while I have the strength to. And please, do record our conversation. My knowledge should be shared with all of your people."

Cat nodded. She moved her left arm and brought up her omnitool interface, which she used to enable the recording option. As she did, one question slipped through the rest and came to her tongue. "So… how did you survive the three thousand years?"

"A cryostasis chamber set to wake me up every century," Jornam replied. "I would check on the preserve and examine the findings from probes I left at other inhabited worlds in this region of space."

"To see how they were developing?" Caterina asked.

"Yes. And, if necessary, to provide what assistance I could."

"Assistance?"

Jornam nodded. "My people did not always agree on the scope, but many of us believed that we should be more than distant observers. Life is a precious gift of Reality, Caterina Delgado, and all beings have a moral obligation to protect it where they can. My people often used our starships and interuniversal drives to relocate endangered species and races to safer worlds where they could thrive."

"Just like…" Cat swallowed. "When we found your technology, we… we would help people, take them from places where they suffered and bring them to another world to live in peace. We called it New Liberty."

"Might I see this world?"

Caterina nodded. With her omnitool she interfaced with the wall monitor in the room and used it to display images of New Liberty Colony. "People from our Earth, from C1P2 Earth, and now from other universes, they all live here together."

The images played, including the last two anniversary celebrations and the recordings Caterina had personally made from them. She looked back to Jornam to see the Darglan was quietly tearing up. "Are you okay?"

"I am happy," he said. "You have used our legacy well, Caterina Delgado. In this New Liberty Colony you made, and in the Alliance you put together… it is everything my people wanted to see."

Seeing Jornam say that, hearing the pride in his voice, made Caterina think of Control. The AI operator of the Darglan Facility had often assured them that his creators would approve of their rescue missions and their conduct. "Is there anything of your technology left in this universe?" she asked Jornam. "Maybe… maybe newer computer hardware?"

"Why do you ask?"

"Because, Control… the Control of our Facility… he is in our databanks on the Aurora. But our computers don't have the capacity to let him operate like he's supposed to. His memory and program have to remain heavily compressed and only partially-functional in our auxiliary computer cores."

"A Control? You wish to bring him back?" Jornam smiled sadly. "I am sorry. It is a worthy goal, but I did not have such technology left to me when the others returned home."

"Oh." Caterina nodded, disappointed. "Well…" Something came to her mind then. "Jornam, may I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Was it you?" Cat asked. "Were you the one who took Humans from this Earth after their nuclear war, to resettle them on other worlds?"

Jornam went quiet for a moment. "Yes," he said. "I did."

"So all of the Human civilizations, even the Draconians, are…"

"No," he said. "Some predated our arrival in this universe. They were transplanted long before we gained the IU drive."

"By who?" Caterina asked.

"An old and powerful empire seeking to preserve other species. They were the ones who built the preserve to protect many old species from a number of worlds. The timital of Yutam, the oronthi, the gutabi bird… even your Earth's wooly mammoth and dodo, among other animals."

Caterina decided she wanted to see this place. But more importantly, she wanted to continue on the topic of the Darglan themselves.

"How many species did you transplant?"

"In the three generations of our interuniversal civilization, we must have performed hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. Sometimes it would be as little as relocating them on their own worlds. Or to other versions of their worlds in a different universe. If deemed necessary, an entirely different world in an entirely different universe was selected, so long as their new environment was close enough to match the one they were familiar with." Jonram drew in a breath. The conversation was becoming an effort, and his ability to continue speaking with groaning in pain was entirely thanks to Meridina and Ledosh helping him. "That was our way."

"Is that why you didn't return to your homeworld?" asked Caterina.

Jornam nodded. "She'teyal was not my home. I was born in the Universe N2S7 to a mission keeping watch over a transplanted species called the Mi'qote."

"The Mi'qote really aren't indigenous to Ys'talla?"

"No, they are not. Their world was suffering a severe catastrophe. So we removed samples of the major sapient species of that world to new homes. My database has some of their locations listed."

Caterina nodded. She would have to consult Lucy's new database as soon as duty and time allowed. "So you stayed with the preservation missions?

"I did," Jornam said. "It was my calling. After the Dimensional Fracture, I volunteered to remain in this universe to observe. And I turned down my people when they were ordered by the First Ones to return to She'teyal and to abandon our interuniversal holdings. This was my place, my calling. I would not abandon it."

"Were you the only one? The only one working here, I mean?"

"Not at first." Jornam shook his head. "I had colleagues. But they elected to return home. Only I desired to stay, and to see if your people or another would one day find my place. I felt it was my duty even though I would miss them greatly."

"I wish it had been someone better than these Draconians," said Cat.

"As do I." Jornam closed his eyes. "I fear that my energy fails me, Caterina Delgado. I do not know how many more questions I might answer."

"Maybe I should go, then," she said. "So you can get your strength back up. Or… would you like to ask me questions? I mean, I'm sure you're curious about what things are like now. About the Alliance, the Multiverse..."

Jornam smiled and laid his head back on the pillow. One of the nurses had specifically replicated one to accommodate his taller skull. "I would enjoy that," he admitted. "I admit that I too have a case of Kestim ram."

Caterina couldn't hold back the tears. The weakness in his voice, the way he was laid on the bed… she knew he was dying. That there was likely no hope. She'd seen this before. When the cancer was close to killing her Mama. She sniffled and forced a smile. "Whatever you want to know. I'll tell you."

"Very well… Speak to me, then, of your Alliance. How was it founded? What is its purpose?"

As the tears flowed down her eyes, she told him, and hoped and prayed it would make his final hours better.




Not too far away, Leo and Julia were watching on a monitor. Caterina was busy trying to explain the Alliance Council despite her severe lack of political science understanding.

Julia looked toward Leo and asked, "Is there any hope?"

Leo gave her a look that answered her question. His verbal reply was, "It'd be cruel to give hope." A shake of his head and a sigh later, he added, "If he were Human or another species I'm familiar with, he might have a shot. But our knowledge of Darglan physiology is limited. The cellular damage is… well, it's just too much. I'm sorry. All I'm sure I can do is try to ease his pain and make him comfortable."

"Then how long does he have?"

"I can't tell. He might have an hour, a day, a week. Maybe close to a month if we find a therapy to restore function to his cells. I just can't think of anything that will work enough to bring him back from the brink." Leo smacked his hand on his table. "Damn Draconian butchers. They killed him when they screwed up his waking sequence. That man is living history and they killed him with their impatience and arrogance."

"I doubt they care. Given what Meridina and Lucy have said about this 'Princess Ardala'..." Julia set a hand on his shoulder. "Do whatever you can anyway. We won't give him on him without a fight."

"You know I will," Leo promised.

Julia nodded. She turned to leave.

Her omnitool went off. When she answered, it was Lieutenant Pacetti starting his bridge shift early. "This is the bridge, we have a situation. Multiple contacts are coming through the system stargate. They're Draconian."

Wherever he was, Robert answered just as she started to. "Go to Code Red. Sound battle stations."

Julia started to rush for the door as klaxons started echoing through the Aurora.




The generator facility for the old planetary thermal shield reminded Jarod of a power plant with all of its capacitors and emergency fusion reactor backups in similar layouts to turbines and emergency generators. One wall covered in blinking lights was showing off displays of projected power draws and other vital information.

There was a puff of smoke from a solder nearby. "Please be careful, Twiki. These circuit boards are quite rare, and we don't have the time to replace them."

"Get off my back already."

"Twiki, I am not on your…" Theopolis stopped himself. "I do think you have been around Captain Rogers a little too much lately."

Jarod returned to the control panels. As he checked the status of the modified projectors for the system, his omnitool flashed to life. "The Draconians have arrived," Robert said. "What's the status on the shield conversion?"

Jarod looked up to the panels. "We've almost completed the New Chicago conversion. The others are in various stages of completion. We still need at least four hours to cover the entire planet."

"They'll be at Earth in one," Robert replied.

Jarod checked the sites' reported completions. "We might have thirty-three percent coverage by then."

"It will have to be enough then. Standby to beam back."

"I'll give you the signal." Jarod lowered his arm and turned his head to face Twiki and Theopolis. "Can you finish the conversion?"

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, no sweat, pal."

"Yes, Commander Jarod, I believe we will," Theopolis replied. "However, a thirty-three percent coverage of Earth will leave dangerous gaps in our defenses."

"I know. But that's the best we can do." Jarod tapped his omnitool again. "Jarod to Aurora, I'm ready."

The transporter whisked him away.




Huer arrived in the flight bay in New Chicago to find every available pilot was present. Buck and Wilma were standing beside a wheeled in transparent board with combat maneuvers drawn on them. "...must remember to focus your fire," Wilma was explaining. "The Hatchet fighters have been configured with protective shield systems that can absorb multiple direct hits from individual fighters." A hand went up. "Yes, Major Danton?"

The curly-haired man in the front row asked, "Can't we do the same thing, then?"

"Unfortunately not," Huer said, joining the conversation. "The Thunderfighter will have to be re-designed to make use of shield systems. That process is still in the planning stages. The Defense Directorate had no idea of the Draconian modifications, unfortunately."

Danton and his pilots nodded.

"Commander Andreys and Commander Laurent will be directing the Alliance fighters to keeping the Hatchets off of us," Wilma continued. "Their Mongoose fighters are more maneuverable than the Hatchets. Work with them whenever you can. We'll be operating on a common frequency."

There were nods from the assembled.

"The Draconians are still nearly an hour out," Huer said. "As such, we're launching now."

The assembled pilots stood and dispersed. Huer watched them go before turning his head toward Wilma and Buck. "Good luck to you both."

"Thank you, sir," Wilma said. Buck nodded in agreement, and then they departed as well.

Huer stood and watched. Briefly he recalled his younger days flying for Earth. But it was not his place anymore. All he could do was watch and hope.




Jarod was the last of the command crew to arrive on the bridge of the Aurora. Lieutenant Jupap, an Alakin, quickly changed his position to an auxiliary console along the rear of the bridge to let Jarod reassume his station.

Caterina turned from her sensor station. "They're going to be in range of Earth in forty-five minutes."

Robert nodded. "I don't see any point in waiting for them to get close. Set an intercept course, full impulse."

"Yes sir," Locarno answered.

"The Koenig is following," added Jarod. As he received more information he added, "The Earth squadrons are forming up to join us."

Robert looked to Julia, who nodded and brought up her tactical display. "I'll coordinate our efforts with theirs."

"And I'll focus on our maneuvers." Robert keyed his intercom. "Mister Scott, how are the impulsors?"

"All repairs are complete, Cap'n," was the reply. "Ye've got full impulse power with nae problems."

"And it hasn't even been thirty hours yet. Another miracle for you. We may have to submit your name for sainthood."

"Thank ye, sir. But I'm satisfied with what I'vve got. Engineering out."

Once the line was cut Robert looked to the holo-viewer and counted down the minutes until they intercepted.




In the medbay Meridina and Ledosh could feel the tension of combat readiness in the crew. The two Gersallians kept their focus on the Darglan patient on the bed between them. Concern filled Meridina at the clear ebbing of Jornam's life.

Is there nothing more we can do? she asked her old teacher.

Yes was his response.

A low tone filled the room. With focus Meridina ignored it. That focus was still broken, despite her efforts, when the door opened and feet began to thump. She looked up and opened her eyes to see Leo and several nurses. "His vitals are failing," one of the nurses said. "What do we do?"

Leo looked over the readings and sighed. "I don't think there's anything we can do. Still… prep the cortical stimulators."

Nasri's expression betrayed her concern. "But, do you know how to set it for a Darglan?"

"I'll have to go by the scan results when we brought him in," was Leo's answer. "It's better than nothing."




On the Aurora bridge holo-viewscreen, the Draconian warship was now visible, flying above the three missiles, each over half the length of the Aurora. The ship was colored a dark brown tone. Its ship was vaguely similar to Klingon ships, at least if you counted the prow, although a higher deck was also attached to the main body. Defense weapons were visible at several points, but there was no sign of truly capital-scale emplacements. He wondered if that would hold up during the fight to come.

First, of course, was a perfunctory gesture. "Hail them, Jarod.'

There was a moment of silence before Jarod confirmed the signal was being answered. The viewer changed to show a beautiful woman with long, well-kept brown hair and clothing that made Robert think of Las Vegas more than militant empires. An austere uniformed man stood beside her. "I'm Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance…"

"We know who you are, Captain," the man said. "This is Princess Ardala of the Imperial House of Dracon."

"I shall speak for myself, Kane," snapped the woman, who glared toward hier compatriot. "As stated, I am Princess Ardala. I will make this quick, Captain. Earth has become a threat to the Draconian Empire, and I have come to remove that threat. I demand Earth's immediate surrender to the Empire or I will have it destroyed."

"Earth is under the protection of the United Alliance of Systems," Robert replied. "I insist you withdraw or we will engage you."

"Do you think the Empire fears your Alliance? You are trapped in war with another power already. You would not dare to strike at us."

"If you destroy a potential member under our protection, we'll have to." Robert leaned forward in his chair. "Last chance, Ardala. WIthdraw."

Ardala fumed at them and shook her head to someone off the screen. The viewer switched back to the view of the ships.

"They're still moving forward."

"Target the nearest craft."

"Targeting now," Angel confirmed.

Robert nodded. "Fire when ready.

The Aurora's weapons blazed to life, targeting the lead missile. In one full salvo four of the Auroras squadrons fired torpedoes at the lead missile. There was barely enough space for the volume of firepower that converged on the missile. Its powerful deflectors absorbed the barrage with mixed success.

"Hatchet fighters coming in," Jarod warned.

"We're on them," Wilma Deering said over the bridge speaker.

The Earth fighters and Aurora fighters accelerated ahead in several organized squadrons. The space ahead of the Aurora soon filled with both kinds of fighters.

"Opening fire on the missile again," said Angel. The Aurora's weapons tore into it once more. This time the Koenig, clear of the enemy fighters, engaged the missile as well. Sapphire and amber energy washed over its straining deflector screens, joined by the particular blue-white fields of active solar torpedoes.

"Some of the Hatchet fighters are getting clear of the dogfight," Jarod said. "They're firing missiles."

"Nick, evasives!"

The Aurora twisted in space. Beams of phaser fire struck out in rapid succession toward the incoming projectiles. One by one explosions flowered from destroyed missiles.

Only two made impact on the Aurora's shields. They still caused the ship to shudder from the feedback on the deflectors. "Deflectors down to seventy-one percent," said Jarod.

"Fox Squadron has adjusted, they're engaging the enemy fighters."

"Keep us on that missile," Robert ordered.




In the medbay, Meridina and Ledosh remained with Jornam, who had been transferred to the OR in lieu of any other appropriate ward for his condition. Leo and Lumenaram continued to discuss his condition. "Replication of his organs is a slow process," Lumenaram said. "The cellular damage is forcing the systems to adjust. And there is no guarantee they will function as needed, or that he will survive the surgery to implant them."

"I know. But we owe it to him to give him every fighting chance," Leo insisted. He was now in operation scrubs should they have to make any invasive procedures. "Do we have any good ideas on a cellular repair treatment?"

"Few. THe time limit is simply too small…"

There was a low, hoarse breath. Jornam stirred on the table, drawing their attention. Both doctors attended to him. "Can you hear us?"

Jornam nodded. "Please… your telepath. I have… something to share… too weak…"

Meridina heard him. Her face remained a stoic mask even if her heart was pleading to Leo on the matter. Leo gave the matter two moments of thought before he nodded.

Meridina stepped up to the bed. I am here, she thought, projecting that thought into the Darglan's mind.

Jornam reacted slowly. He was in pain dulled by the increasing failure of all aspects of his body, including the nerves. But once he reacted Meridina felt their minds connect. Images of his past filled her. Knowledge. Names. His mate, Keluz, had died in the war with the Darkness. His parents. friends, all were dead, forcefully returned to She'tayel. But he had left them willingly to become caretaker. Images of the Preserve flashed through Meridina's mind. And of a ship. Of Humans climbing into his vessel amid a ruined city. A virgin world with new fields growing.

With the memories of Jornam, Meridina felt closer to the ancient being. She could feel his happiness at meeting them and seeing the legacy of his species carried on. His regrets at not seeing more of the Multiverse now that it was again open. Sadness that his people were gone.

A stray thought came through his mind. Meridina saw a world. Darglan structures. Entire Darglan working around an interuniversal jump drive, taking measurements, making modifications. Improvements. New layers of existence to be accessed.

No! The cry was Jornam's. A feeling of shame. It was error. Our error. Forget this!

What did you do?

Our curiosity went too far. We should have heeded them. We should have listened! It was our fault!


Another stray memory. A world consumed by a hungry void. Space twisting as if in pain. And a shape, a large shape, many shapes, emerging from the void, their forms wavering with life, black enough to blot stars.

No! No! Not these! Not them!

Meridina felt horror and knew that Jornam suffered. Whatever her own curiosity, she steered his mind away. She opened her own memories. She showed him images of the Great Temple of the Order of Swenya, of Jantarihal. She recalled the Citadel of M4P2, Babylon-5 in his species' home universe. Other beautiful things. Things that made her happy. Her family. Mastrash Ledosh, her teacher and mentor. Her comrades on the Aurora. Lucy, her first student, who had accomplished so much in such a fairly short time. Brave, smart, passionate and with a good heart. Robert, equally brave, determined, ready to sacrifice.

She felt his mind make connections and swing back to happier thoughts. Words and singing filled the connection between them. Thank you.

And then his thoughts ceased. Meridina opened her eyes and found Ledosh was pulling her away from Jornam, as warning tones sounded. "Ready cortical stimulators!" Leo shouted.




Outside of the Aurora, the battle between the groups of fighters continued. Wilma Deering maneuvered her Thunderfighter with skill, evading fire from two Hatchet fighters coming up behind her. She pulled the fighter into a loop and twisted its orientation into space, a maneuver at the very edge of the envelope of the craft's capabilities. More fire zipped past her while her maneuver brought a Hatchet into her gunsights. With a press of her thumb triigger the eight laser cannons on her fighter opened up. Pale blue light pulsed through the void. The deflectors of a Hatchet fighter lit up briefly. But the craft had already been damaged. The deflectors failed and her target blew up.

"Colonel, fighter on your five o'clock low," warned another pilot. She triggered her Thunderfighter's engines to full and evaded the fire. She finished her corkscrew maneuver.

But her sensors still showed an opponent firing on her. "I'm having trouble shaking this one," she said.

"We're on him."

Buck's voice was joined by Major Danton's. Their fighters moved in from different angles and opened up on the Hatchet. It exploded spectacularly as soon as the shields failed.

"Thanks, Buck, Major Danton." Wilma noticed the fighter showing up on her screens and pulled her fighter's nose up. This let her intercept a Hatchet firing on Buck. She opened up with her weapons. Deflectors met her direct hits, but it did scare the enemy pilot off his run against Buck.

"Thanks, Wilma," Buck said.

"Colonel Deering, this is Brigadier Gordon. I'm leading my squadron on an attack run against the Draconian carrier ship. Do you think you can handle the remaining fighters?"

Wilma considered her screens for a moment. "Roger that, Brigadier. You're clear."

"Lieutenant Krlkt here," chirped an alien voice. "Bravo Squadron will protect your six on your attack run."

"We welcome the assistance, Lieutenant," Gordon answered.



Princess Ardala watched the enemy fighters swoop in on her command ship. The protective screen of Hatchet fighters, eight strong, moved to intercept them. But they were outnumbered three to one. The Alliance Mongoose fighters raced ahead of the Earth Thunderfighters and engaged the Hatchets. One blew apart from being targeted by three enemy ships and the others scattered to avoid being picked apart. The resulting gap was more than wide enough for the Earth fighters. "Fire all defense guns," Ardala ordered.

"Tracking… engaging."

The Dragon's Flame carried several laser cannon turrets for anti-fighter defense, supported by particle flak cannons that generated damaging particle busts. Both of these weapon systems opened up on the approaching Earth fighters. They retaliated with missiles and their own fire. The ship began to shake under Ardala's feet. Her screen showed an occasional burst of flame and light from a destroyed fighter. But for her, it was not nearly enough. "The enemy is engaging our defense weapons," an officer stated. "We've already lost two flak emplacements."

"Should we recall our fighters?" asked another.

"If we do, they will destroy our missiles." Ardala quietly pondered their situation.

"The new deflectors, Princess," Kane suggested. "They are not as good as those we placed on the missiles, but they can protect us from these enemy fighters."

"Very well. Raise the deflectors." She faced the officer overseeing the missile tracks. "Do the missiles have a firm course for Earth?"

"They do, Highness. The lead missile's shields are down to one third power, however."

"Then activate the terminal stage thrusters on the missiles. I will leave nothing to chance."

"Yes, Highness." The officer did as commanded, hoping that the fuel tanks on those engines would hold out.





While the fighter battle continued, the Aurora and Koenig were still unloading on the missiles. "Missile shields now at thirty percent," Angel said. "I'm giving it everything I can."

"At this rate we'll finish off this missile and start on the next by the time they get to Earth," Caterina added.

"Any news on their readiness planetside?" Robert asked.

"Twenty-five percent coverage, and New Chicago's is still offline."

"Keep firing, then, and let's see if…"

On the screen the rear portions of the missiles lit up. "They're activating additional sublight drives!" Cat shouted.

"Keep us up with them!" Robert gripped the chair arms. "What's their new ETA?"

"Five minutes for the first missile to enter Earth's atmosphere. Three minutes until it reaches optimum engagement range for our graviton pulse generators."

"Is there coverage for it?"

Jarod checked his calculations, after which he shook his head. "No. It's going to be in the New Chicago engagement range." Jarod tapped a key on his board. "Jarod to New Chicago shield generator. Doctor Theopolis, are you there?"

"I am here. We are finishing final adjustments. Everything should be ready within three minutes."

"Good," Jarod answered. "Because that's when you need to activate it."



The Hatchets' numbers had thinned enough that Buck had no distractions keeping him from overhearing what was being said about the missiles. "Wilma, we may need to help with those missiles."

"I'm not sure what we can do to help, Buck. But just in case, take the 27th Squadron out of New Amritsar."

"I hear you."

An accented female voice said, "This is Major Kaur. Orders confirmed."

Buck broke his fighter away from the fight and hit the engines to full speed, and then beyond. "Whatever else happens, we've got to stop those missiles," he said over the radio.

"We are ready," was the only reply.




Theopolis checked on the tracking for the incoming missiles and concurred with Jarod's statement. "Oh dear," said Theopolis. "We must hurry, Twiki."

Twiki's response was what one would expect from the one doing all of the work. "Biddi-biddi-biddi, you can't rush perfection, Doc."

"I do regret that I lack the arms to assist."

"I'd pay real money to see that."

Theopolis ignored Twiki's continued use of Buck's colorful 20th Century language and kept his calculations on the work still to be done and the time left. He wished Twiki could be faster. But ambuquads did have some limits in their forms, and he was doing quite a good job.

They were in the last twenty seconds of their allotted time when Twiki rose up from where he was working. "Biddi-biddi-biddi, that ought to do it."

"Then activate the graviton generator, Twiki. Defense control will take over."

"Roger." Twiki's metallic hand tapped the final key.

Nothing happened.

This, as one could imagine, highly concerned Theopolis. "Oh dear, Twiki. We only have ten seconds…"

"I'll do what Buck would do," Twiki announced.

"And that would be?"

Theopolis needn't have bothered. Just as he finished his question, Twiki's hand struck the control panel.

"Twiki, I doubt hitting things will…"

The generator lights lit up in rapid sequence.

"See, Doc?" Twiki asked. "Always count on Buck."

"How interesting that it worked," was the only reply Theopolis could think of. And given his calculating power and expansive computer brain, that was quite the indicator of how flummoxed he was.




Robert was holding his breath when the missile entered the engagement range according to Jarod. If their plan worked, they still had a shot at saving Earth. If it hadn't…

Blue light shot up from the surface of North America and struck the Draconian missile directly. The missile suddenly lost its forward movement.

"There we go," he said. "Angel, keep up the pressure."




Ardala was also observing, but felt entirely differently for obvious reasons. "What is that?" she demanded. "The Earth doesn't have defenses like that!"

"They may have modified their own thermal shield system," Kane proposed. "And our other missiles will soon be caught."

"Divert them!"

"I can only divert the third," the Draconian officer controlling them said. "I've re-assigned its target. The second missile is already entering the same range of effect and is slowing."

Ardala was not satisfied by the idea of just one out of three hitting. But that was better than none. And with her ship occasionally shaking from the damage it was taking against the Earth and Alliance starfighter attacks, it was time to go, before their half-powered deflector systems were overwhelmed. "Bring us back around to the stargate," she ordered. "It is time we left."

"Coming about."




"It looks like the Draconian flagship is withdrawing," Caterina reported. "They're on a course back to the stargate."

Robert nodded. "Jarod, are those missiles going to engage the same generator?"

As Robert asked that, the second missile joined the first in the grip of the blue beam from Earth. The third, however, was pulling away. "It looks like they're moving it to a different target. We've got to pull it into position for one of the other generators."

"Firing tractor beam." As soon as Jarod did so the Aurora began to shudder. "I'm reinforcing the tractor beam now. But we're going to burn out the impulse drives again at this rate."

"We don't have to divert it all the way from Earth this time," Julia pointed out. "Just into range of another active generator."

"Go for Northern Asia, the Siberia generator is online," Jarod recommended.

"Moving us over now," said Locarno.

The Aurora's engines wrestled with those on the missile, which was trying to angle and turn back toward Earth. "Strain on the impulsors and tractor beams is increasing."

"It looks like the engineering crew's going to be repairing our impulsors again," Robert replied. "Keep it up." The deck was already shuddering from the strain.

As before the Koenig moved in and grabbed the missile with its tractor beam to assist with moving it. The small ship couldn't contribute much, but she was overpowered enough to contribute something, and that was the important part.

"We're getting a warning sign from the surface," Jarod said. "The New Chicago generator is overheating."

"Probably from holding two missiles at once," Robert mused. "Cat, any idea on when those missiles will go boom?"

"There are too many possible variables. I can only guarantee it shouldn't take more than five minutes for the destabilized naqia to react to the gravitons."

Robert's response was to nod and wait quietly, and with strained patience, for something to happen.

The first thing that happened was that a ribbon of blue light shot up from the region of Lake Irkutsk and snatched the missile they were dragging. The Aurora and Koenig were freed to pull away.

The second was that the lead missile went up in a bright flash. A crackle of blue light covered the second missile during the flash. "One missile down!" Jarod declared. "And the other one lost most of its deflectors to the blast."

"Angel, take it down," Robert ordered, even if it seemed unnecessary after a moment's thought. Either way, it didn't hurt anything to have the Aurora pounding away at what was left of the missile's deflectors.

Robert allowed himself a moment of belief that it was all over. Just a moment. A part of him knew it wouldn't be that easy in the end.

And, of course, it wasn't.

The blue ribbon holding the missile in place wavered suddenly. "Jarod?" Julia asked, worry in her voice.

Jarod was already examining what was going on. "It looks like the strain of holding both missiles overheated the graviton emitters. They've been degraded by the heat damage and are having trouble holding that last missile."

"Angel, give it everything we have," Robert said.

She delivered, throwing all of her firepower at the missile's failing deflectors. Angel immediately stated the results of her efforts. "The missile's shields are down to ten percent. Just a few more hits…"

The blue beam flickered out of existence.

"Jarod to Theopolis, what just happened?"

"The graviton emitters have shut down due to strain and heat damage. We will not be able to restore the beam for several minutes."

On the screen the missile was already picking up speed again. Robert shouted, "Cat, status on the naqia in that missile!"

"Signs of complete destabilization, but not enough yet." Caterina checked her figures. "We need to hit the warhead with everything."

"Jarod, get our tractors on it, now! Angel…"

"Firing everything."

The pulse plasma cannons on the Aurora, joined by the other weapon systems, continued to hammer away at the missile. A tractor beam linked it as well, but the range and the power of the missile's boosted drives were making the effort an ineffectual strain on the Aurora. "The shields are almost down," Angel said. "We're getting bleedthrough damage."

"Tractor emitters are already stressed, we're putting them over the redline," Jarod added.

"Keep them up as long as we can," Robert urged. "Are there any fighters in range?"

Julia was about to say no when a check at her display confirmed that there were indeed fighters coming in. "Earth Thunderfighters, they're entering range."

"Buck to Aurora," a now-familiar voice said. "Looks like we got back just in time."

Robert didn't dare grin, not until the missiles were gone. "Focus fire on the missile's warhead. If we can finish destabilizing the material in the warhead it'll go off."

The Earth fighters moved in for the attack… and the Aurora's tractor systems gave out. "Stress failure in the graviton generators," Jarod said. "We've lost tractor beams for the moment."

"Dammit."

As Robert uttered that curse - and thought of many nastier ones - the missile began its deadly course to Earth once again. It likely wouldn't hit New Chicago directly, but with its payload any hit would be catastrophic to Earth. It had to be stopped.

The Aurora, Koenig, and Buck's fighters were certainly making the attempt. The deflectors on their target failed completely and every hit now registered on the dark hull of the missile. Flame and debris gouted from the wounds being carved into it. Torpedoes slammed into the missile's sides.

But it still kept going.

"I'm targeting the engines too," Angel said. "It looks like we're slowing it down."

"You're just slowing the acceleration, it's got enough speed to hit Earth," Jarod corrected. "We need to destabilize the warhead."

"Well, I'm hitting it with as much as I can, but I'm trying not to hit the others too," Angel pointed out. "And the warhead's got some thick armor protecting it."

"Yeah. Wait." Caterina was examining her sensor returns carefully, even though every instinct was to rush. They were down to just three minutes, maybe less, until the missile would be too close. As she focused on the scan a small smile crossed her face. "There's a weak point. It's a small one, it's right behind the forward stabilizing fin on the nearside to us. A gap in the armoring. If we hit it directly, head on, I think the shots would get to the warhead." Caterina relayed the data to Angel.

Angel looked at it. She cursed under her breath. "At this range and angle, I'm not sure I can hit it. But I'm going to try."

"Relay it to the fighters," Robert said. "They might get a better shot."

"I'm sending the data now," said Jarod.

"Targeting point received, Aurora," Buck said. "We're going in."

Even as the Aurora did its level best to blast the missile apart - now restrained to avoid hitting the Earth fighters - Buck and the other fighters went in on an attack run. One by one the Thunderfighters poured their lasers into the weak point. Some hits were off, scoring armor instead. Others, though, were not.

As the fighters peeled away from the run, and the clock ticked down further, Robert looked anxiously to Caterina. "Cat?"

"I'm definitely picking up signs of instability, one more run should do it!"

"Roger that." The Earthfighters made the maneuver and repeated their attack run.

Still nothing.

"The missile will enter the upper atmosphere in sixty seconds," Jarod warned. "We're almost out of time."




Buck heard Jarod's news and looped his fighter back around. He did the calculations in his head. They could make another pass, but only one, and if it didn't work, Earth would take the hit.

On the other hand, if he made a slow pass by himself and matched velocities, he could get in all of the fire he needed to.

"I'm going in alone," Buck said. "Everyone else hang back. When this thing goes, you don't want to be near it."

"Rogers, what are you doing?" asked Robert.

"Matching velocities with the missile," Buck explained. He was coming back up on the target area. The Dakotas loomed ahead beyond the missile. His systems confirmed he only had thirty-six seconds and counting before they hit atmosphere.

With his crosshairs spit over the weak point, Buck opened fire.

Laser fire poured into the small chunk in the warhead's protective armor.

"Buck, what are you doing?" It was Wilma. "If you don't pick up velocity, you won't get away fast enough."

"I know what I'm doing, Wilma," he replied. Twenty seconds.

More fire.

Fifteen.

Buck adjusted his heading slightly, keeping his laser cannons on target by doing so.

Ten seconds.

As he approached seven seconds, he heard Caterina Delgado's voice yell, "Instability peaking! It's going up!"

Buck fired off a last volley and hit his engines to beyond full.

And then light consumed everything.
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-12 04:04pm

The Draconian missile exploded in a brilliant burst of light. The Aurora tremored slightly when the energy from the detonation hit. "Report."

"Shields holding," Jarod answered.

"And Earth…?"

"The blast was still outside the atmosphere." Caterina looked over her instruments. "Local satellites are gone. It looks like the energy from the detonation was insufficient to to severe damage on the surface. Just a few fires in the Rockies."

Tension seeped out of the bridge with that news. Robert let out a sigh. The Earth of N2C5 was safe. "And the battle?"

"The Draconians are withdrawing. Their fighters are breaking away from the fight," Julia answered. "Do you want to pursue?"

Robert was ready to say yes. But he had a larger concern for the moment. "What happened to those Earth fighters?"

"They're reporting in." Julia checked her display. "They've all suffered damage but they're intact. Wait…" She double-checked the display on the fighters. "I'm not picking up Captain Rogers' fighter."

"He was breaking away too late," Jarod said. "There might not be anything left."

"Captain Rogers, this is the Aurora, please respond," Robert said.

There was no answer.

Another voice came over the tactical channel. "Buck. Buck, it's Wilma. Respond, please."

For several seconds there was nothing. Just long enough for those on the bridge to consider the likely outcome. Robert closed his eyes and tried to focus, to sense if he could…

"Rog… -rora. Pl… -spond."

"It's him," Jarod said. "I'm getting the IFF code on the subchannel."

"I'm scanning now." Caterina looked over her screens. "I've got his fighter on sensors. There's no power and he's lost all drives."

"S… -gain. Rogers… respond."

"And his radio is probably badly damaged," Cat added. "We need to get his fighter secured, Earth's gravity is pulling him in. And beaming him out would probably be nice."

"I'm relaying the order to the Transporters now," Jarod confirmed.

"So what do we do about the Draconians?" Angel asked. "We can intercept them before they get back to the stargate."

Robert nearly gave the order, but he held off for the moment. "Put me through to Huer, Jarod."

"Opening channel now… Doctor Huer is responding."

Huer's face appeared on the holo-viewscreen. He was clearly recovering from just how close a thing this fight had been. "Huer here. Congratulations, Captain. I hear you've found Captain Rogers?"

"We're beaming him aboard now, Doctor," Robert said, grinning. "He's going to be okay."

"That is a relief." Huer's face made that clear too. "Did you need something?"

"We can intercept Ardala's ship before it makes it to the stargate, Doctor. If you want us to, we'll make the intercept."

Huer immediately shook his head. "No. No, it's safer, and smarter, to let her go."

"Even with all of the deaths she's caused?" Angel asked bluntly.

Huer's posture was relaxed now. He showed no impatience when he answered Angel. "As things stand, the Draconians have been beaten, but they won't retaliate. They made an effort, we beat them, and while their honor's been bruised, it's not lost. But if you kill or capture Ardala, the Draconian Emperor won't be able to tolerate such a loss of face. He'll declare war on all of us to avenge her. And we've had enough fighting for now."

Robert gave a single nod of his head in acceptance. It was a smart decision. Earth clearly needed more time to build up its defenses, and the Alliance was still at war with the Reich. The Draconians were a problem for later. "Very well. I'll recall our fighters and stand down."

"I thank you again, Captain. You and your crew. Earth wouldn't be here today if not for your efforts."

"We all pitched in, Doctor," Robert answered with a smile. The running lights were already set back to Green and the Aurora crew was standing down from battle stations. "We're at your disposal for a final debriefing, sir."

"Give us a few hours, Captain, and I'll be ready to meet with you. Huer out."

Huer's image disappeared from the screen. All that was left was the Earth; an Earth that had suffered terribly, but which still bore life and could be brought back to its full glory with effort. Robert didn't let himself think what it would look like if any of the Draconian missiles had hit. "I'm going to file a report with Maran," he said. "But first…"

There was a tone over the speakers. "Medbay to Bridge," said Leo.

Robert tapped the comm key on his chair. "Bridge here. Go ahead, Leo."

"I'm sorry. Our new Darglan friend… he didn't make it. Jonram's dead."

Given what had been said before, this wasn't a harsh surprise. But it didn't stop Robert from feeling tremendous loss. Jonram was, as far as he knew, the last of his species. The knowledge of who the Darglan were, of their culture and society and history, he could have provided them with all of that. With explanations beyond what had been recovered from various Darglan databases.

But now… now he wouldn't. Now it was all lost, due to the short-sighted greed of the Draconians. Robert wished he could seize Princess Ardala and make her pay for what she'd done.

Caterina was weeping bitterly at her station. Angel, at Robert's nod of acceptance, walked over to comfort her. "Thank you for telling us, Leo," Robert said. "I know you did what you could."

"Not that there was much to do." There was a pause. "We didn't take heavy casualties, so I'm free for whatever final staff meeting we're holding over this."

"I'll let you know when Huer tells us a time, Leo. Bridge out." With that done, Robert stood up. "I'll be in my ready office, everyone. Julia, you have the bridge."




There was silence on the bridge of Ardala's ship. It was not an easy silence, but one positively humming with imminent danger. The officers refused to look toward their princess for fear of earning her wrath.

"Curse the Alliance," Ardala said. "Buck Rogers alone was a dangerous foe, but he was just one man. He posed no threat to the Empire. But the Alliance… they are a threat to us. They're a threat to everything we are."

Kane nodded in agreement. "The Emperor can find little fault in your operation, Princess. But I suggest you may wish to give him time to accept this outcome before you return to the Throneworld."

Ardala's only reply was an angry glare. Kane was right, of course, and she hated it. She couldn't face her father with this defeat fresh. "Let us return to our base and collect our survivors," she said. "Holding the world will not be possible for now."

"We could always destroy that preserve, if you wish," Kane said.

After flirting with the temptation, Ardala shook her head. "No, darling Kane. I will not. That would be unseemly. My father would be even more angry at me for destroying something priceless like a brat. We will withdraw and leave it as it is. After all, we can always come back. When the time is right…"
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-12 04:06pm

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 26 September 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. The Draconians have withdrawn completely from Earth's solar system and show no signs of returning. Our casualties were light this time, at least in total numbers. Twenty lost pilots and crew is a blow to our fighter group, however, and the others will be feeling those losses keenly.

I am also saddened to log the death of Jonram, the Darglan caretaker of the alien-made preserve on Pleiades-24 III. The entire Alliance will know the loss whenever we consider how much we might have learned about his remarkable people, whom we owe so much to.

Despite these losses, we can be satisfied with the survival of billions on Earth that the Draconians would have killed with their attack. The Earth of N2C5 is on track to join the Alliance, and it is always possible their allies will join as well. And we will all benefit.



Huer returned to the Aurora with Wilma, Theopolis (and thus Twiki), and Buck. They had agreed to have a last meeting with the Aurora crew on a new subject. They were meeting in Conference Room 1 again to accommodate all of the visitors with the command crews of the Aurora and Koenig with Ledosh, Gina, and Emissary Yadin. At Robert's request, Caterina played her conversation with Jonram. "Extraordinary," said Huer. "There have been theories, of course. But to actually have confirmation that Humanity was spread through our region of the galaxy by alien intervention…"

"The Computer Council will go through our records to see what may or may not have been recorded on this population transfer," said Theopolis. "Perhaps it is possible that Jonram aided our creation in some fashion. If so, we are further indebted to his memory."

"I wonder if he's happier," Buck said, quietly. "He's not alone any more."

"Perhaps. But it is a loss, Captain Rogers." Meridina appraised him with sad eyes. "Jonram still had a place. He had hope of making new bonds with other beings, and of seeing the fruits of his millennia of labors."

"Not to mention having the Multiverse open again," Caterina added. Her eyes were slightly reddened from crying. "He was so eager to learn more about it."

"Did he have any wishes?" asked Yadin. "Do we know anything about Darglan funeral rites?"

"Sadly, we do not." Meridina shook her head. "But he did inform me that by his time, many Darglan born away from their homeworld preferred to have their remains launched into a star."

"That makes sense," Caterina said. "Stars are the furnaces that create most of the chemical elements in the Multiverse, including those that make life possible." Tears were forming again in her eyes. "The elements that make up the Darglan body, any body, would be returned to their source, and inevitably be spread back into the universe at large."

"I see," Huer said. "Then, we would be happy to have his remains sent into our Sun."

"And given that this ship's foundation frame was built by the Darglan, it is fitting that it be the launching point for Jornam's remains into Sol," Ledosh proposed.

"We can't say no to that," Robert said. "Doctor Huer, since we were talking about a joint ceremony for our dead…"

"...we have no objection to Jornam joining them," Huer finished for Robert. "He saved us from our own mistakes, and he helped to save us from the Draconians."

"Very well. I'm still waiting for official word from Defense Command on which of our casualties' remains are being claimed by family, and which are to be given a burial in space. When I do, we'll schedule the ceremony."

"Of course."

"What about this alien preserve on Pleiades-24 III?" asked Wilma. "We can't leave it to them."

Robert responded with a grin. "Yes, well, once I let Admiral Maran know we had no problems here for the moment, he redirected the Shenzhou and the Armstrong to that system. I spoke with Captain Chung this morning and she's confirmed the Draconians are pulling out of the system. Princess Ardala's ship is keeping its distance for the moment."

"Yeah, well, I don't blame her," Zack said. "Ming's a conservationist, and with two Discovery-class starships with her… I wouldn't want to face those odds with a carrier."

"Once they've ensured the Draconians are gone, Ming and Captain Lojin will send science teams down to begin examining the preserve," added Julia. "Earth scientists will be invited to join them once it's safe."

"Thank you, I'll let the Science Directorate know." Huer rose from his chair. "I believe that covers everything. Again, on behalf of the people of the Earth and our fellow planets, we thank you for your help in this manner. Your bravery and resourcefulness have confirmed the wisdom of our decision to join the Alliance."

"Thank you, Doctor Huer," Robert replied. "If that's all…?"

Nobody reacted.

"...then this meeting is adjourned. You're all dismissed."

Everyone started to file out. After exchanging looks with Meridina and Lucy, Robert made sure to get to the door. When Buck got to it he asked, "A moment or two of your time, Captain Rogers?"

Buck showed curiosity at Robert's request and nodded. "Alright."

Robert led Buck into a corner of the room to speak privately. "This is informal," he said. "You can call me Rob or Robert, and unless you object I'll call you Buck."

"I think I'll go with Rob, then," Buck answered, a charming grin on his face.

"Alright, Buck." Robert smiled in reply. "You saw Meridina and Lucy's powers on display yesterday, of course?"

"I did. It's not the first time I've seen people use mind powers of some sort, though," Buck revealed.

"I suppose mind powers is a good way to refer to it in the short hand," Robert allowed. "Well, I have similar… abilities. Meridina's been teaching me like she taught Lucy, although I'm nowhere near either in raw ability."

"Really?"

"Yes. I honestly couldn't persuade a dog to chase a thrown stick with my powers," Robert confessed. "And I won't be winning any gunfights with a sword, whether it's made of memory metal or energy. No, the one thing I've found I can do with these abilities is understand people. More than ordinary, I mean."

It was clear Buck was wondering where this was going, or perhaps knew and wasn't looking forward to it. "Alright. And you're bringing this up because…?"

"Because when I look at you and the charming grin and the humor and all of the other things you project, that's not all I'm seeing," Robert answered. "You arrived in this time and almost immediately you started doing risky missions and jobs for Doctor Huer. You threw yourself into piloting starfighters. You put your life on the line constantly when you could just as easily live a happy life being interviewed by legions of historians."

"Well, yes," Buck said. "I don't want to just sit down all day chattering with historians. I became a pilot and an astronaut to see outer space and meet challenges. And that's what I'm doing. And I'm doing it while serving in uniform, just as I did in the Air Force."

Robert could sense the truth in that. But he could feel, if just a little bit, the feeling hidden under it. "I can sense that," he said. "But that's not all, is it?"

Buck went silent.

"You weren't just talking about Jornam earlier," Robert continued. "You were talking about yourself. And I can see why. You're just like him. A man who lost everything when he woke up in a new time. A new world." Robert waited a moment to confirm how close he was with Buck's emotional reaction. What he sensed prompted him to continue. "You left people behind, right?"

After a moment Buck nodded. "Yes."

Robert replied with a nod of his own. "I… I didn't lose everybody. I don't have it as bad as you. I acknowledge that. But I've still lost people I loved and cared about. And I've lost my family home and land. A century and a half of Dales farmed that land, and I lost it. I'll never be able to go back. Even if it was on another Earth… it wouldn't be the same." Robert felt the pain of that truth wash over him. He didn't deny it. He didn't let it pull him away. "And that's how I know there's a part of you, Buck, that doesn't care about living and dying anymore. You're not suicidal, no, but I don't think you care if you live or die sometimes. Am I right?"

For a moment Robert thought Buck would protest hi9m. But there was nothing but silence. No, Buck couldn't deny what he said. He couldn't admit it out loud, of course. But he wasn't going to deny it. "If it saves Earth, yes, I don't mind dying," Buck said. "I'm not looking to, but I'm not going to save my skin at the expense of my world."

Robert took that answer for what it was, the closest to an admission that Buck would give, and nodded. "I know that feeling." He drew in a breath. "Just as I would give my life to save the people I care about. All I want to say, then, is that I hope that this feeling doesn't lead you into throwing everything away. You've lost a lot, more than I have, but you have people in this time and place that respect you and care for you."

Buck wasn't grinning now, but he wasn't frowning. A neutral, thoughtful look was on his face as he considered what Robert said. When he spoke, it was with a firm, gentle tone. "Well, Rob, I'll take that to heart. And the same goes for you. This crew, they're not just your friends and comrades. They're your family. Take care of them."

"I always will," Robert pledged.

There was nothing more to say. Their hands came up and they shared a firm handshake, at which point Buck left the room.

When Robert went to follow, he found Meridina waiting for him. "You did the right thing," she said.

"I would like to think so," Robert replied. "Well, I have to go see about this mixed ceremony. I just wish we know more about Darglan burial traditions."

"I may be able to help," Meridina said. "I was connected to Jonram's mind when he lost consciousness for the final time. He gave me his final wishes."

"Oh?" Robert asked. "And they are?"

"You will see," Meridina replied, smiling thinly. "I will discuss them with Caterina. I believe she was the one he intended."

"Well, I look forward to it," Robert said.




That evening, Julia finished her paperwork for the day and looked out the window of her quarters toward the spinning Earth below. Her uniform was hanging in her closet and she was wearing her emerald nightrobe. Its silky surface was soothing to her skin, scrubbed clean in the shower from the day's sweat and work. She sipped at a cup of warm tea that would, ultimately, help her to sleep.

Julia's mind returned to the question looming over her. It was the question that only had one guaranteed outcome: she would feel regret from it. There was no escaping it.

As she looked out the window, she thought of Jonram. The Darglan had placed his sense of duty, his desire to fulfill his goals, above remaining with the ones he loved. It hadn't been easy. That was certain. But in the end, he'd made the choice. She wondered if he had agonized like she had. How easy had his decision been?

Another regret. She had never been able to talk to Jonram, to ask him these things.

Her thoughts wandered further to another new acquaintance. Working with Wilma Deering these last two days had been an experience. She was a leader and confident in that, just as Julia was. And it was clear Wilma would have regretted it if she hadn't reached as far as she could.

Just as, in her heart, Julia knew she'd regret it if she turned down the opportunity presented to her. An opportunity she had earned.

"This is what we signed up for," Julia murmured to herself. "We knew this could happen. We can't regret it when it does."

A part of her felt pain, as she should. This decision… she would leave people behind. She would leave Robby behind. He would be on his own.

Maybe that's good for him. Maybe… maybe he'll become a better commander, or maybe he'll have an easier time moving on if that's what he wants.

Or maybe… maybe they'll all get killed because of something I would have seen and stopped...


Quiet passed. Julia sipped on her tea as time wore on toward the end of the day. When the cup was empty she stood up. The tea cup and saucer went back into the replicator, which reclaimed them in swirls of light. She walked up to her desk and gently eased herself into her chair. Her finger found the activation key for her personal computer unit in her quarters. The screen flashed on. "Computer, record a message for me, please. The recipient is Admiral Maran, Chairman of the Alliance Defense Staff."

The computer's feminine voice immediately requested, "Please provide personal code to verify clearance for action."

"Andreys Charlie Gamma Echo 3392."

"Code authenticated. Ready to record message."

"Record." Julia took in a breath. This was it. She was casting the die, and it would determine how her life, and the lives of those she cared for, would go on from here.

Despite everything, there was no wavering in her voice as she spoke. "Admiral Maran, this is Commander Andreys. Sir, you have my apologies for the time it's taken me to speak to you on the manner of your offer. It was something I had to consider carefully, and I'm afraid it took longer than I expected.." Julia set her hands in her lap. "I'm sending this message, Admiral, to let you know that my answer is 'Yes'." Something twinkled in her aquamarine eyes. "I am ready, and with gratitude and confidence I accept your offer to be named Captain of the Starship Enterprise."



Tag



The Aurora's launch deck was filled with uniformed men and women and beings. Caskets draped with the flags of the Alliance and Earth were arrayed on special launch gantries. Out the rear hatch of the deck, the distant light of Sol shined through the protective forcefields.

Doctor Huer and Emissary Yadin were the speakers for the occasion. They praised the heroism of the dead flight crew as the friends of those lost watched on with eyes brimming with tears, shed and unshed. Colonel Deering and Commander Kane gave the orders to the ceremonial guard to fire the appropriate salutes. Said fire filled the launch deck while Chief Tayal Lagamo, a dark blue-skinned, teal-spotted Sanusa Dorei, played a remembrance hymn from the hita instrument - a set of five pipes bound together like a flute. The hymn was interspersed with the bagpipe tune of "Amazing Grace" played by Junior Petty Officer Heather Cameron.

Then, in one complete group, the caskets were launched out into space.

The service did not end there. One last casket was brought up. This casket was covered in a unique flag, replicated specifically for this service after consultation with the various sources of information about the Darglan. The insignia was a stylized emblem that reminded Robert of an atom, an atom being refracted through mirrors as if to show more than one, although the actual symbol was a Darglan emblem representing unity and discovery. All music stopped.

After discussion, and learning what was to be said, no eulogy was given. The Darglan believed in memorializing their fallen after the fact, but not during their burial ceremony. That was a time to reflect on the loss of a living being; remembrance was for later. Or so the records, and what Meridina had learned, had said.

With sad tears and a determined expression, Caterina stepped up to the dais and the podium. All eyes turned to her as she looked down at Jonram's casket. She was in full dress uniform, as they were, and despite her small stature Robert felt that Caterina was looking the part well. She swallowed and raised her head. For a moment her eyes closed as she brought the words from her memory, words she had been memorizing with Meridina's help for the past two days.

All who are born walk a road
The road of choice and chance
We walk in hope of our future
That those we walk alongside
Will know a better path for our efforts

All things change, all things strive
As atoms spin and fuse
The past can guide, but should not blind
For our future must be seen
If it is to be

We seek to grow
We seek to learn
That is the core of life
For life's sake knowledge is gained
For with knowledge comes growth

Like children leaving their cradles
Now we have come out to the void
With the stars of infinity our guide
Solar winds will carry us on
New discoveries the reward for our dedication

For what is Reality but the existence of all
And what is existence but a chance to learn?
We learn, we grow, and by our knowledge
Reality itself comes alive
And we grow closer to understanding it

Now my road has ended
Cry not tears for me
Knowledge is what I gift
My growth the map for your benefit
And my matter returned to the source of life

For matter cannot be destroyed
It is only transformed
And we came from starstuff, all and one
And to starstuff we return
To one day become life anew


By the time she was finished the tears were streaming down Caterina's face. She nodded quietly to Julia. Julia, in turn, looked to the ceremonial pallbearers. Meridina, Lucy, and Buck were joined symbolically by Robert, Huer, and Leo. They picked up Jornam's casket and moved it to a launch platform. After they stood to the side, Caterina was the one who walked to the launch controls and keyed the sequence.

With a great heave, the platform launched the casket into space. A small thruster powered by a microfusion core fired, directing the remains of the last Darglan on toward their final destination in Sol.

Julia pressed a key to close the launch deck door. Once it was closed, she declared, "Burial company dismissed!" and the ceremony broke up.

Caterina was met at the door by Lucy and Meridina. "Jornam would have been quite proud of you," Meridina assured her.

"Thank you," Cat answered. "I just wish I didn't have to give it."

"I know." Meridina set a hand on Caterina's shoulder.

Caterina, however, looked to Lucy. "What did you do with that database that he gave you?"

"I put it away in my quarters," Lucy answered. She knew where this was going. "Do you want to meet me in Science Lab 1 later? We can start analyzing it."

To that, Caterina nodded. "Yes. I think I'd like that. And it's what he'd want. He'd want us to learn more."

Lucy and Meridina nodded in agreement and joined Caterina in heading on to the Lookout.



The Lookout was becoming crowded by the time Julia and Robert arrived at its doors. Earth and Alliance personnel were mingling freely as Hargert's staff brought up food and drinks for their benefit.

Just before they entered, Julia gestured to Robert to follow her. Despite the crowd they found that there was a spot near the door where they could be relatively alone. Once there Robert met her eye to eye and asked, "Okay, what's on your mind?"

"I said yes," she said.

Robert immediately knew what she meant. After trying to think of a proper reaction he settled for nodding and saying, "Congratulations, Captain Andreys."

Julia gave him a droll look. "I'm not a Captain until New Year's. Admiral Maran's going to make it official in a few weeks and I'll be here until a few days after Christmas."

"Right." Robert let a grin form on his face. "Congratulations, Julia. Do you mind if I announce it to everyone?"

"I suppose it's better to get it out of the way," Julia said.

With that permission given, Robert went to the bar where Albert, Hargert's protege, was preparing more drinks. A few whispered words and thirty seconds later a tone sounded over the speakers, ending all conversation. Sets of eyes began to turn toward Robert and to Julia, who stepped up beside him. "I have an announcement to make," Robert said, using the speaker system himself so he didn't have to make his voice too loud. "It is my honor and privilege to introduce to you my oldest and best friend in the Multiverse. Everyone, applause for Captain Julia Andreys, the new Commanding Officer of the Alliance Starship Enterprise!"

"Aye!" shouted Scotty. "Three cheers an' a toast for th' Captain of th' Enterprise!"

Pink turned to slight red on Julia's cheeks at the resulting cheers and applause, joined by the clinking of glasses and cups.

Once this had died down the two made their way to a table where Doctor Huer and Buck were eying a table laden with Texan and Southwestern food. Wilma stood behind Buck and winked at Julia, who winked back.

"Are you sure about this, Doctor Huer?" asked Theopolis from his place hanging on Twiki's chest. "You were quite unwell the last time you attempted 20th Century cuisine."

"That's because Buck cooked it," Wilma said. Buck gave her a faux-angry look.

"Yes, well…" Huer chuckled a little nervously. "The other people in the Alliance eat this, obviously. Perhaps I should learn too." He picked up a burrito and, after a moment of hesitation, took a bite. His eyes widened and he slowly started to chew.

"Well, Doc?" Buck asked. "What do you think?"

When he swallowed, Huer quickly took a drink. "I think…" He looked over the meal again. "...it's not so bad. It's certainly edible..." Huer looked to Buck. "...not that your efforts weren't edible, Buck, it's just… I suppose this fits my appetite better."

"You don't have to protect my feelings," Buck insisted. "I know you two hate my cooking."

"Well, it was certainly…"

"...special?" Julia offered for Huer.

Buck gave her a look that told her he didn't consider that any better a compliment.

"Well, I suppose we could ask Hargert if he's willing to give Buck lessons," Robert suggested. That won him a playful glare as well.

"Biddi-biddi-biddi, everyone's a critic," groused Twiki.

"At least someone here is rushing to my defense," Buck said. "Now let's see what's so special about this…" He snatched up the chili on the table and took a spoonful of it for himself. Once it was in his mouth, his expression shifted to surprise and a little contentment.

"Judging by the look on your face, Buck, I'd say even you're a convert to the Church of Hargert's Cooking," Julia remarked, grinning widely.

Buck finished swallowing, took a drink of offered water, and sighed. "Alright," he said. "I admit it. I'm defeated. I can't match your cook. This is the best chili I've had in, oh… centuries."

Given the humorous glimmer in his eye and the delivery of his concession, it was no surprise that everyone at or near the table broke out laughing.
”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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-15 11:08am

Teaser


Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 11 October 2642. Captain Robert Dale recording. We are still in orbit over the planet Ys'talla in N2S7 as to support a diplomatic mission to the Miqo'te. The planet's governing body, the Council of Clans, is considering a new defense treaty with the Alliance that could provide great benefits to this region of space.

Although our main purpose is diplomacy, I have won permission to consult the Miqo'te on the matter of their origins. Ys'talla is not their original homeworld according to their teachings and examination of the planet's fossil records. And now we have proof of how they ended up on this planet through the efforts of the Darglan. I'm hoping we find clues as to where more knowledge of the Darglan can be found.




The capital city of the planet Ys'talla had the unassuming name of Sweetwater Springs. As he had walked along the long pathways between buildings in the Ys'talla Academy of Sciences and felt the warm sea air that regularly moved through the city, he reflected on the reasons why.

Set aside the obvious fact that the name was actually a near-unpronounceable one, and that "Sweetwater Springs" was just the English translation. The fact that a city that sounded like it was a resort and vacation town had become a gleaming planetary capital was, in fact, due to being a resort town. Or rather, a recognized meeting place for the various nations and clans and tribes of the Miqo'te. It had been such for thousands of years, since the planet had been settled, declared a neutral place where no warfare or violence was allowed. The step up to planetary capital had not been a large one.

Robert and his entourage - Caterina and Meridina - were walking another pedestrian bridge between two of the main towers of the Academy. The gleaming splendor of the capital was visible out the windows. The architecture tended toward the round shape - inspired by old Gersallian building? - and wide avenues spoke of former street markets. The smell in the air was a scent of tropical wood like none on Earth, a faint hint of sweetness with the strong wood smell.

The Miqo'te themselves were an interesting sight. Felinoid species weren't unknown in the Multiverse, of course. The Caitians of S5T3 were a valued member of the Federation. One of the species of L4R2 were the Rr'timm, and on the few times Robert had seen one they always made him think of panthers to the point he half-expected to meet one named Bagheera. Universe E5B1 had once contained the Dilgar, who had a feline look to them.

But those species all had distinct elements to set them apart from Humans, including actual fur over their bodies. The Miqo'te, however, had skin of the same texture and feel as Human skin. Their fur was limited to the tails that came out of their backsides, or rather the base of their spines, and to the cat-ears on the tops of their heads, which were surfaced with fur. The eyes were certainly cat-like. Their clothing varied by tribe and culture in terms of coloring, style, taste.

And as Tom Barnes had so helpfully pointed out the day before during a walk in the capital's marketplace and parks, the Miqo'te girls had busts like a number of other humanoid species did. While Robert already knew that from briefly meeting a Miqo'te piloting officer on the Aurora, the outfits of the troupe of dancing girls they'd seen had made that an inescapable fact.

Stepping into the building reminded Robert of stepping into retail stores back in the pre-spaceship days of his life. Powerful air vents acted as something of a barrier for the outside air. The tropical wood smell was replaced by something flowery like lavender mixed with cinnamon and the warm sea air was now climate-controlled cool air. What little perspiration had formed on his forehead now grew cool. His skin immediately stopped that slight production of sweat in recognition of the changed climate. The halls were colored in earthy tones of brown and pale yellow. Plates in the characters of the Miqo'te language pointed toward various places. Caterina's omnitool provided a translation and she directed them down the hall and then to the right.

Their eventual destination was an office. Windows looked out to a classroom that was now empty. Tomes bound in leather revealed the Miqo'te, at least urban ones, had the same tastes in printing books as Humans did. A male with rust-colored hair and fur on his tail and head indicated seats for them. Robert and the others noted that his skin, while fair in tone, seemed to be bluish-gray, and his eyes were widely dilated. "I am H'rmaz R'mar," he said. "Assistant to Doctor Y'shmyn O'yano, the Professor of Ys'tallan History."

"Mister R'mar, Doctor… or do you prefer Professor?" Robert asked, looking at the scholar. She was wearing a white coat that matched the fur and short-cut hair on her head. Red markings - tattoos? Some sort of facial marking? - were visible on her cheeks, giving the impression of cat whiskers. Eyes of light teal color looked up from a book. "I'm Captain Robert Dale of the Alliance Starship Aurora."

"Ah, Captain. Doctor will do." The translators rendered her speech into an accent that sounded like a well-spoken English academic. "I received your message and the materials your science officer provided."

"That's why I brought her along." Robert gestured to Caterina, who as usual looked like she was about to burst into questions. "This is Lieutenant Caterina Delgado, Aurora science officer. And my chief of security Lieutenant Commander Meridina, who helped rescue the Darglan Jornam."

"Doctor, it's a pleasure to meet you," Caterina said, offering her hand. Y'shmyn accepted it.

"Doctor." Meridina did not offer her hand. She bowed her head in greetings.

By this point Robert could feel what Meridina had already felt. He looked to Y'shmyn with a bit of surprise. Y'shmyn smiled back. "Yes, Captain. You and I share the Gift. Azeyma has blessed me with power. In my younger days I made use of it, but today I am an academic, and I vastly prefer mysteries in books than hunting slavers across the U'nar Plains."

"I see." Robert nodded and accepted his seat among those that H'rmaz offered. "What can you tell us about your history of how you came to be on Ys'talla?"

"Very little, until now," Y'shmyn confessed. "I have studied what our oldest oral histories hold to have been our arrival point, known as Azeyma's Rest. There is an ongoing excavation there. But all evidence we have found simply reflects the state of the Miqo'te when we arrived on Ys'talla. We were a pre-industrial species. Almost all of the tribes were nomadic or semi-nomadic, and some still are I will add. Our science was laughable and superstitious beliefs still predominated."

"My grandmother told me as a child that Menphina and Azeyma opened a door to this world so that our people could escape a great calamity," H'rmaz offered. "That is the belief of most Miqo'te today."

"And it will remain so, I suspect. We do not recall the place of the Darglan in our histories."

"It's possible the Darglan hid themselves during the transplantation," said Caterina. "They might have interacted with you through holographic disguises."

"To protect our culture from the effects of being introduced to space flight and interuniversal drive at our stage of development? A reasonable hypothesis." Y'shmyn looked thoughtful. A pen levitated from the surface of her desk and began to spin in mid-air. "I will continue my academic work on the matter. As it is, many of my colleagues I've consulted find the theory of the Darglan role meritable, and I am writing a paper on the evidence. I hope to lay out the case well enough to be accepted by our people."

"I am curious as to why your people were brought to this world. Was it a war of some sort?" asked Meridina.

"It was something wrong with our world of origin. Our oral histories all match in that respect, whether one is a Keeper or a Seeker."

"Keeper? Seeker?"

At Caterina's question, Y'shmyn said, "You may have noticed that my assistant has a different base coloration from my own, with wider eyes. Miqo'te have developed into two distinct racial groups, diurnal and nocturnal. I am a Seeker and I function best in daylight. H'rmaz's ancestors on our original homeworld took to caves and night-time living, becoming nocturnal. Keepers."

"The distinction does not matter as greatly any more," H'rmaz said. "Aside from physical attributes and some theological squabbling about whether Azeyma or Menphina is the more important deity for our people."

"At least, not in our cities. In the countrysides, it can vary. I have learned this from harsh experience." Y'shmyn spun her finger around and the pen spinning in mid-air began to spin with greater speed. Robert got the feeling it was something she did while in deep thought. "The Darglan. Such a mystery. We learned they existed from our contacts with the Gersallians, small as they are. To think that we owe our existence on this world to that ancient species…"

"Your people tend to be isolationist, right?" Caterina asked.

"In general." Y'shmyn frowned. "It is an annoying tendency, mind you. The Coserians and their Jeaxian proxies nearly enslaved us due to it, and to this day we have trouble with the Jeaxian warlords and the most violent of our own clans."

Robert was darkly reminded of Doctor Opani's ordeal as a volunteer. "So I've heard."

"It is waking us up, bit by bit. I hope, in fact, to one day see my species within your Alliance, Captain." She smiled slyly. "Although I would be grateful to you for not mentioning that to the Academy Chairwoman. She is rather strict about political neutrality among the senior academics."

"A wise policy," H'rmaz observed.

"And we are getting off the subject that you came all this way to speak with me on," Y'shmyn added. "I presume you have more questions about our history?"

"We're trying to learn more about what the Darglan did during their time," Robert said.

"For the sake of knowledge?"

"Yes," Caterina insisted. But she looked to Robert for correction, indicating her answer was more her own desires than the official ones.

"Among other things," he clarified. "The more we learn about Darglan activities in the past, the more likely we are to locate other remaining sources of Darglan technology. Now that we know more about what they were doing back in the day and that there might be other caretaker stations like Jornam's, we need to make sure they don't fall into the wrong hands."

"I think I understand." Y'shmyn took the pen out of mid-air with her hand. "You're hoping the Darglan might have left observers here too?"

"Maybe not living observers," said Caterina. "But perhaps observation stations. Automated ones, maybe. Or, like in N2C5, they may have had a central location to observe any other systems they were interested in. With probes or automated observers for remote watching."

Y'shmyn thought deeply about that. "I have heard nothing of such a site being found. But our sensor technology is not as advanced as your own, Captain. It is possible your sensors might detect something our means have missed." She pulled a sheet of paper out of a drawer. "I shall write you a recommendation to my colleague at the Azeyma's Rest dig site. Perhaps you will find something there."

"If we do, you'll be the first to know," Robert promised.

"I should hope you inform Professor B'rrel first," Y'shmyn remarked. "He will be your man at the dig site." She smiled slightly. "I do hope you find something. It would be quite the discovery."

"Thank you for your help, Doctor." Robert stood, prompting the others to do the same. "We appreciate your time."

Undiscovered Frontier
"All That Remains"


The command staff met in the conference lounge off the bridge upon the trio's return. "I've already spoken with Doctor B'rrel via commlink," Robert informed everyone. "He's ready to receive a science team in the morning."

"Which will be this evening by ship time," Caterina clarified. "Due to the hour difference."

"Right. Jarod, you and Cat will take down a contingent of science officers."

"I'll also invite our new xenoarcheology specialist, Doctor Tralamina," Caterina said.

"I'll leave the team makeup to you and Jarod," Robert said. He turned to Julia. "Have we heard anything else about the defense treaty negotiations?"

Julia crossed her arms and sighed. "A couple of the critical votes are being troublesome. Chief U'mhaka was basically asking for his weight in latinum."

"So he wants to be bribed into voting for the treaty." Robert sighed at that. But he shouldn't be too shocked. Some people were just naturally greedy. "And who's the other hold-out?"

"Chief U'dahra."

A mental image appeared in Robert's mind that he wished to rub out. "The one who showed up on the train with nothing but women in his retinue, half of whom were dressed like they were going to a swimsuit contest?" And more than a few looked unhappy to be there, Robert thought darkly, well aware that the Miqo'te were still having issues with their nomadic groups' blaise attitude toward the rights of servants as people.

Julia nodded to him. "Yes."

"And what does he want?"

"Me."

For a moment Robert had to process that answer. "You? As in…"

"As in biblically," Julia clarified. Seeing the looks she was getting, she continued, "Well, he didn't say that, but it was pretty clear he wants me to visit his personal quarters wearing those skimpy things half of the girls in his retinue wear, and that would be just the start of the evening."

"It might be because of your height," said Jarod, matter-of-factly. "Miqo'te females average about four-eleven, you're six feet tall. The idea of being with someone taller than him might be the point."

"I figure it's being head of his own clan and thinking this gives him access to any woman he wants," Julia answered with more than a hint of just how she felt about Chief U'dahra's attitude towards women.

"Well, we'll write him off the list," Robert said.

Julia continued form there. "If we can bring Chieftess Y'mali over, that should give us enough votes. She's sympathetic, but she's opposed to joining wars by the Alliance." Julia tapped some keys to show the text of the proposed treaty. "I think that if Emissary Jopari and I amend a couple of the terms, Chieftess Y'mali might even swing the other borderline isolationists over to a yes vote, and we won't need either of those bastard chiefs."

"I doubt the Senate will mind the idea of the Miqo'te not sending troops to fight the Reich," Locarno noted. "That's not really the point here."

"Forward the amendments to Jopari, then," Robert said. "Anything else?"

"Yeah." Now it was Zack's turn. "Karen has been released for active duty. I'm trying to make arrangements for her to meet up with us. And Ys'talla is pretty far for an average transport so having her come out this way just for us to leave in the week it's going to take her to get here would be… well, annoying as all hell."

"Right." Robert nodded. "I can't think of any reason we'll need the Koenig any time soon, so if you want to launch and meet up with her at a fleet base, go ahead. Your crew could probably use the deployment time anyway."

Zack leaned back in his chair. "Fine. I'll send her a signal and work with Apley on a good spot to meet her. You're going to want Tom back, I guess?"

"Th' lad willnae be happy if ye have him workin' as a third wheel once th' lass is back aboard," Scotty pointed out. "Besides, I still have some work t' dae with him t' make him ready for his new post."

For a moment the room quieted as everyone considered what Scotty meant. Not about Tom, but about his new job, as it reminded everyone of how the senior staff was being divided with Julia assuming command of the Enterprise at the end of the year. Cat even briefly glanced toward her sister Angel, who was also going to transfer with Julia.

"I could use Tom here, actually," Jarod added, quickly cutting through the moment before any further awkwardness could build. "If we find Darglan technology, he's one of the few qualified officers with it. I'll want everyone I can get."

"That makes sense," Zack said. "I"ll have Ana Poniatowski run Engineering until we meet up with Karen."

"Alright then. I'll leave you and Lieutenant Apley to make the arrangements, let me or Julia know when you're ready to launch." Robert shifted his weight in his chair. "Alright, anything else?" When nobody answered he nodded and stood. "Alright. You're all dismissed."

Everyone got up and left. Everyone, that is, except Julia. The look in her aquamarine-colored green eyes told Robert she wanted to talk and he too remained. "Are you okay?" he asked her.

"I'm sorry," she said.

"About?"

"About all of this drama about the Enterprise." Julia drew in a breath and let it out. "I'm not sorry for taking command. But I never meant to tear our team apart."

"Well, I'm not sure that was in your power," Robert answered. "I mean, let's face it, Scotty is thrilled at the idea of a new Enterprise, and of getting to be the first chief engineer to put the design through standard field operations. And Angel…" Robert shrugged. "...that's on me. I chose this." He gently held his hand up and caused the teacup in front of him to briefly levitate in the air. "I chose it over her. I don't blame her for wanting to move on, especially if she gets to keep her favorite sparring partner."

Julia smiled thinly at that. "She's on my list of potential First Officers. Not that she'd get the position first, I doubt Maran will approve a two rank jump."

"And Angel would have to qualify for command first," Robert added. "I'm not sure she wants that."

"Nor does Jarod," Julia said.

"You already asked?"

"No." She shook her head. "But I know him. He barely tolerates the idea of being in charge if both of us aren't available. He doesn't want a command posting. Frankly I think he'll leave before he accepts something like that."

"Right." Robert considered the question for the moment. "Nick?"

"I'll ask him, but only if it's okay with you. As things stand you're already losing three senior officers. Four if Caterina wants to stay with Angel."

"I know," Robert said. "We're both going to have adjustment periods." After a moment he added, "And go ahead and ask Nick, it's fine."

"Alright. Later, of course." Julia stood. "I'll go speak with Emissary Jopari."

"And I'd better get back out to the bridge."

They left the conference lounge together.




Given the excavation they were due to assist that evening, Caterina and Jarod were relieved from further duty so they could get sleep. Caterina stopped by Science Lab 1 long enough to check on the process of examining the database given to Lucy by the Darglan caretaker Jornam before heading to her quarters. When she arrived she pulled off her uniform jacket and hung it up.

Before she could remove her skirt and finish swapping into her sleeping clothes, a door chime sounded. Caterina called out, "Come in!" and walked to the exit from her bedroom.

Violeta stepped in wearing her uniform and carrying a bag. Caterina skipped up to her and accepted a warm kiss from her girlfriend. When the kiss was over Violeta said, "I'm due on the bridge in two hours. But I wanted to show you what I picked up during my shore leave this morning."

"Oh?"

Violeta set the bag down on the coffee table and pulled out several items. One was a necklace with an amber piece, the amber mixed with a blue substance that gave it a beautiful mix of colors. A data slip was marked with Miqo'te characters and added English labels denoting titles. "Movies?" asked Cat.

"Some Miqo'te romances. Action-romances, comedy-romances… and one harem romance that I'm told is pretty spicy with the love scenes."

"But…"

"Love scenes between the ladies only," Violeta added, grinning.

Caterina matched the grin. "Okay, that's different." Nevertheless a little pink blush had formed on her cheeks at the thought of what the movie in question contained.

Violeta removed the next items and the blush deepened. "Those… those are…" Caterina held up one her size. "...you bought me a dancing girl outfit?"

"Sure." Violeta put an arm around Cat and kissed her reddening cheek. "I can't wait to see how it looks on you."

"But…" Caterina shook her head, laughing at the silliness of it. "I mean… you and I have been naked before. Together. In bed."

"Among other places," Violeta added with a grin that brought Caterina's blood rushing to her cheeks (among other places).

"So… I mean, we've seen each other without clothes. It just seems weird that we'll enjoy being in clothes more." Caterina dug into the bag's bottom and pulled out more clothes. "Wait," she said. "These are your uniform undershirt and…"

When she turned to present them to Violeta, Violeta had removed her uniform jacket and trousers. She was wearing the same kind of "dancing girl" bikini outfit, where the fabric was no thicker than a centimeter save the diagonal bands that provided support and just enough coverage to be appropriate. The bottom worked under the same principles. Violeta raised her arms up and bent her elbows to put her hands above her head, a seductive smile on her face as she swayed slightly in her pose.

Caterina looked at this display intently. She swallowed. "Okay," she said, her heart picking up. "I see what you mean."

Violeta nodded. "I'd like to see you in yours," she said. "If you're okay with it."

The initial, instinctive reaction was "No". Cat had spent her life avoiding these things. Ever since it became clear she wasn't going to have the curves that all of the other girls she knew had. Just looking in her mirror in bra and panties in her teen years had convinced Caterina she was too short, thin, and puny to make a swimsuit like that work. She'd always worn one-piece suits and that was that.

But the glint in her girlfriend's vivid purple eyes convinced her that maybe, just maybe, she could look good in something like that.

Caterina picked up the suit. As she did, Violeta murmured, "And just think how much fun it'll be taking them back off."

It didn't take much thinking for Caterina to decide that it would, indeed, be a lot of fun.




The yellow sun of Ys'talla gave the excavation site the feeling of being in an open air oven. Azeyma's Rest was three hundred kilometers from Sweetwater Springs in an area of semi-arid steppe land and scrub that saw just enough rainfall to support agriculture (with the assistance of the underground springs in the general region and a river system that helped replenish those springs). Looking at it was enough to tell Jarod that the Darglan had picked the site well. That judgement did not include the possible existence of game animals for the Miqo'te to hunt after their arrival. Today there seemed to be few, but thousands of years of hunting and being pushed out of habitats by growing Miqo'te communities could easily account for that.

Professor B'rrel was a male Miqo'te of bronze complexion with wheat-colored hair, including facial hair that gave him an almost leonine appearance. He was dressed in a work jacket and shorts that were almost khaki in their coloration, with his feet padded by dark brown boots. Jarod had already observed that B'rrel tended to let his tail swish absent-mindedly when he was focused enough on something else, whether it be a conversation or examining an artifact.

"We have definite estimates for the ages of these artifacts," he was saying to Jarod. "The deepest strata include tools and weapons that are approximately three thousand and two hundred twenty-six years old."

Jarod did the conversion in his head. "So roughly three thousand and sixty-four years old by Human reckoning."

"Mrrr… yes, I suppose." B'rrel held up one item. "Some puzzle us. For instance, this amulet."

Jarod visually inspected it. The band was of old, crackled leather, while the amulet proper was a crystal of white color that could pass for ice. He held it in his right palm. It felt cool to the touch, cooler than the environment suggests it would be. Jarod activated his omnitool with his right hand and ran the scanner over the crystal. "Hrm. I've never seen a material like this before."

"Yes. We have found a few similar items. They seem to be jewelry, set into amulets and rings. You don't suppose…"

Jarod could tell what B'rrel was getting at. "I can cross-check what information we have on the Darglans to be sure. Although I don't recall anything like this in their technology."

"Very well." B'rrel looked out over the site from the covered platform they were standing on. Jarod looked as well, watching the Miqo'te archeologists and students at work digging and checking while, among their number, Alliance science officers were scanning away for more signs of the Darglan. Their black and dark-blue field action uniforms set them apart from the other examiners. Jarod had insisted on the action uniforms, not because he worried about a confrontation but because they were made for easier use in extreme climates, and the warmth of the semi-arid steppe was just high enough to be a concern.

"It will be something to corroborate the theory," B'rrel said. "Some of the clans may dislike discounting divine involvement in our arrival on Ys'talla, but for me, the thought that the Darglan had a hand in our destinies… marvelous. An honor."

"I wonder what your homeworld was like?"

"As in the world our species comes from?" B'rrel's tail widened its arc of movement in response. "A good question. I wonder if it still survives."

Jarod had no response to that. It was an interesting speculation, certainly, but not what he had on his mind right now. There was too much going on, and far more important questions still loomed.




While the action uniform did provide some protection from the heat, Caterina found she was wishing she had the looser, cooler near-khaki outfits of the Miqo'te archeologists. Or the cooling suit that Doctor Tralamina was currently clad in. Tralamina was a Gy'toran. Facially he looked more like a koala than anything, although the facial structure was still different with deeper dark eyes and a tall, lithe body of very fine violet fur. The fur was more hair than fur, in fact, but it did give Gy'torans a unique appearance compared to most Humanoid species.

Of course, the main differences revolved around the fact that they also had four arms. Or rather, six limbs, given the incredible dexterity of the Gy'toran species. Tralamina was currently walking on his two legs, but he could easily use his middle pair of appendages as a set of legs too given the segmented nature of the Gy'toran body that gave them an almost insectoid quality. If push came to it, Gy'torans like Tralamina could even run on all six limbs, although it could be awkward for them. Caterina had only seen such in video records, in fact.

For the moment Tralamina was busy examining a blade. "This is quite peculiar," he said with the benefit of auto-translation. He held up the rusted weapon. "The blade is larger than one would imagine a Miqo'te of either gender would utilize. In fact, it appears to be large even for most other species, such that it would be a two-handed weapon. Yet the balance and design imply it is for one-handed use."

"Maybe it was ceremonial?" Caterina suggested while scanning away with her hand-held sensor. The omnitool was also scanning, but the scanner she held had ground-penetrating capability beyond what the omnitool could do.

"Perhaps. I shall take it to Professor B'rrel."

With that Tralamina left her vicinity. Caterina tried not to feel frustrated with him. The assignment of a xenoarchaeologist to the Aurora civilian science specialist team had seemed unnecessary. Indeed, Tralamina's secondary speciality as a geologist received more use than his primary skill. The chance to practice his education in these circumstances was clearly causing him great joy.

But we're not here to look for swords, Caterina grumbled to herself as the scans came up empty yet again. She moved over to another search area. Given the map they had already searched half of the existing excavation. If nothing came up they had nothing to do but wait and see if B'rrel's team could find anything else.

Tralamina returned. "The good Professor has informed me that there are more blades like that one," he said. "So the idea that they are ceremonial is definitely a good theory."

"Thank you."

Caterina couldn't keep the frustration out of her voice. And Tralamina heard it. "It is possible there is nothing," he pointed out. "The Darglan would not have left anything to contaminate the Miqo'te species culturally or socially."

"Not intentionally," Caterina said. "But maybe we could find something. An old disguised sensor, maybe."

"Perhaps our wind will change," Tralamina said, keeping his reassuring tone. "In the meantime, I hope to see if we can find any signs of their cutlery. Or perhaps animal bones. How the Miqo'te ate can help us determine how the initial settlement may have sustained itself…"

Before Caterina could respond, her omnitool started blinking with an incoming message. "Lucero to Jarod or Science Officer Delgado."

Caterina pressed a key to open a channel. Jarod started speaking first. "Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"I've got something for you," she said. "We've found something in Jornam's database."

"We'll beam up in a few minutes. Jarod out."

"Hrm," said Tralamina. "I hope this doesn't lead to us leaving this excavation so soon. It is such an excellent dig site."

"That's why I'm leaving you in charge of it," said Cat. She smiled at him. "Let me know if you find anything."

"Of course, Lieutenant," he chittered, quite happy with himself. "Of course!"




Robert and Julia entered Science Lab 1 at the same time as Jarod and Caterina, coming in from the opposite side. The former two were a little rumpled; it was 0143 ship time and they'd been called from bed.

The two sets of newcomers converged at the central console where Lucy, Barnes, and Meridina were sitting and going over data. "Yeah, that's definitely a jump drive," Barnes remarked.

There was no need to ask what he was talking about. The computer was showing an image of a lab with azure-tinted walls. Orange-skinned figures with tall skulls and wearing dark green coats were gathered around a machine, a squat, wide device that was easily three meters long and about one hundred and twenty centimeters wide. It was squat, like a standard probe or torpedo casing, but with interfaces along its top side and an open port at the end.

"I thought jump drives were five meters long?" Robert asked. "I remember seeing them as being pretty long…"

"They are," Barnes agreed. "I mean, that's the smallest model, and it's got crap for redundancy. The Aurora's jump drive is almost ten meters in length and two meters wide, and it's the best frakking model we've got. It's why we can't install the damn things on smaller ships like runabouts. Not enough power or volume."

Lucy tapped keys that brought up Darglan characters, then converted them to alphanumeric ones. "But this model is far more efficient according to their lab data. And it's capable of a wider band of universes."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Julia.

"Different bands of space-time, different continuums" Caterina said. "I mean, they exist theoretically, and we have some possible confirmation of them from a handful of encounters. Like the Q in S5T3. It's possible that the Darglan may have been building a jump drive that would access those continuums."

"And it may be why they were punished," Meridina said. She couldn't take her eyes off the image. "I saw something like this."

All heads turned to face her. Robert asked, "Where?"

"In Jornam's mind, as he lay dying," Meridina replied. "He… he pleaded with me to forget the memory. That it was an error." A horrified look crossed Meridina's face at the implications.

Implications that the others quickly grasped. "Could this be what caused the Darkness to attack three thousand years ago?" Robert asked, holding a finger toward the screen.

"I believe so."

"I suppose," Caterina said. She eyed the image. "I mean, if it accessed other bands of space-time, other continuum… it might have brought something into our continuum, our band of space-time and universes I mean, that was hostile."

"Or it might just be a cooler new jump drive," Barnes pointed out. "Something we could use."

"I would hesitate to share this device with anyone, Lieutenant Barnes," said Meridina. "It is dangerous."

"In more than one way." Robert kept his eyes on the image. "Imagine if it's still out there. If someone found it…"

"Swenya's Light, no," Meridina said in a hushed tone.

"We have to find it, then," said Lucy. "I'll keep searching the Darglan databases we have."

"Well, maybe there's another way?"

Everyone looked to Caterina. Her old shyness disliked this, but she was used to it enough that she didn't stammer when she resumed speaking. "Years ago, we were told that old species, 'Ancient Ones', punished the Gersallians and took away their IU drives, right?"

"Yes," said Meridina, who remembered learning it at the same time as Caterina.

"Well, it's likely the Ancient Ones came from E5B1, right?" asked Caterina. "At least some of them. And we know that E5B1 had species known as First Ones. If there's anything left, any sources of information from those First Ones…"

"I find it unlikely," Jarod said, shaking his head. "These kinds of species and beings aren't the type to just leave maps lying around."

"It's still worth a shot," Cat insisted.

For a moment Robert considered the question. A feeling within him built up, a sense that Caterina had a point and this was the thing to do. He nodded. "Alright. I'll ask Admiral Maran to contact President Sheridan. If anyone knows what we're looking for, Sheridan may know who we should ask."
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-16 03:05pm

The call shortly after Robert got out of the shower. He finished pulling on his uniform pants and sat at his desk to accept the call. "Dale here."

"We have Admiral Maran for you, sir."

"Put him through."

Admiral Maran looked as he always did. At middle-age for a Gersallian, he had dark hair going gray at the temples and a trimmed beard of similarly-graying dark hair. He looked natural and at ease at his desk in the Alliance Defense Command complex, with the distant skyline of L2M1 Earth's city of Portland (in what was still called Oregon by some) visible in the window behind him. "Captain."

"Admiral."

"How is Ys'talla?"

"Beautiful. Hot. And I find a few of their chiefs to be completely disgusting beings."

"Ah." A hint of a smile came to the admiral's image. "Just as I remember it, then. To get down to business, Captain, I've contacted Tuzanor with your request."

"We already heard back from them?"

"We did," confirmed Maran. "President Sheridan has asked me to send you to Minbar to discuss the matter in person."

Robert didn't hide his surprise at that. "He wants to see me in person? He doesn't trust comms?"

"He has expressed concern on the matter, yes. Normally I would not mind ordering the Aurora to Minbar, but for now we need her to stay at Ys'talla."

"Is there a threat?"

"Nothing definitive. But the Coserians and their Jeaxian warlord proxies won't be happy if the Miqo'te come under Alliance protection. The Aurora's presence will dissuade them from any direct pressure."

Robert nodded once in acceptance. "Alright, I suppose Sheridan can wait."

"We'd rather not, Captain." Maran's expression darkened. "We've had reports of unknown parties launching survey missions into the region around the Darglan Homeworld. We suspect someone is looking for Darglan technology. If there is some newer, superior model of jump drive out there we can't allow it to fall into the wrong hands."

Robert recognized what he was getting at. "So you want me to leave the Aurora and visit Minbar personally?"

"Yes. And we need you to keep it off of scanners, so to speak."

"The Koenig is launching in a couple of hours to rendezvous with Lieutenant Derbely," Robert said. "Could you arrange for her to be re-directed to Minbar?"

"No. We can't allow anyone to know the Koenig was there. What we can do is have her drop you off while cloaked before proceeding to a more visible port." Maran thought for a moment and checked something on his systems. "Ah. I will have Derbely re-routed to Babylon-5. As soon as you're dropped off on Minbar Commander Carrey can go pick her up."

"While we take private ships," Robert said. "Or make some other arrangements?"

"I have no doubt that President Sheridan will arrange something for you if there is actionable information," Maran said.

"Right." Robert thought on this for a moment. Being away from the Aurora for days, perhaps a week or more, had an excitement that wasn't quite able to hide the danger this involved. "I understand that you won't want me to bring any kind of team."

"A team of your officers would be too visible."

"I need to bring at least one," Robert said. "Meridina. She touched Jornam's mind before he died. She saw this drive and the lab it was built in from his mind and maybe information this recording wouldn't have."

"Meridina will work. But no others. Everything must seem to be running as normal." Maran put a hand on the table. "I'll let Sheridan know you're coming. Maran out."

After he disappeared Robert pressed the key on his desk for the ship's comm system. "Dale to Carrey."

After a moment a reply came. "Carrey here."

"Delay your launch. There's been a change in your itinerary. And your passenger list. I'll explain shortly."

"Alright. I'll have the crew to depart whenever you're ready. Carrey out."




"I don't like this."

Julia's complaint was not unsurprising. She stood inside Robert's ready office as he finished up enough paperwork to make it look good. "You're not even taking a runabout."

"Yep," he said. "Maran wants us under the radar on this one."

"Which means you won't have any help if you get into trouble," Julia pointed out. "I mean… at least they should have Zack take you where you need to go."

"Then it begs the question of where we came from, and what ship we're in." Robert finished a final item and turned the system off. He stood up and faced Julia. The concern on her face was unmistakeable. "We're bringing a portable IU radio with us, if we run into any trouble we'll call you for help."

"IU radios don't have jump anchors installed, so there's no guarantee we'll get to you in time."

"Normally, yes." Robert grinned. "That's why I'm going to Science Lab 2 next."




Jarod, Scotty, and Barnes were waiting for Robert and Meridina when they arrived at Lab 2. Julia followed them in and saw that the three were at the work table with a portable IU radio. "Will it work?" Robert asked them.

Scotty feigned offense. "Oh, dinnae ye have any faith, Captain?"

Robert smiled at him and answered, "I do, Mister Scott, I do."

"Ah, good."

"We hooked an anchor unit into the radio," Jarod explained. "And we've confirmed it's working."

"But as usual, there's a damned catch," Barnes added.

"Aye." Scotty tapped the table. "We cannae put a big enough power source intae th' thing t' let it send out regularly." He indicated a physical switch near the top of the pack. "Ye flip this switch t' turn on th' anchor. Th' batteries will keep it runnin' for ten minutes or so."

"Right. And it's still backpack mobile?"

"It is," Jarod assured him.

"Excellent work, then." Robert took the straps and put it on. It was heavy-ish, certainly too heavy to effectively carry in his arms, but as a backpack unit it would work. He took a few steps with it and took it off. "Have it sent to the Koenig." He checked the time. "And we'd better get going. Sheridan's a busy man."

"You're not going in uniform, are you?" asked Jarod.

"No. Civilian clothes."

"Yeah, but if you get into a frakking fight, that's not gonna do you jack crap," Barnes said. "Action uniforms at least give you options."

"We'll have personal forcefield generators for safety," Robert assured them.

"Yes." Meridina looked toward him. "Although, Robert, I would like to accompany you to your quarters. I may have some suggestions for garments."

After they left, Julia became the center of attention. "Any idea why Maran's risking them like this?" Jarod asked.

"I'm not sure," she replied. "I understand wanting us to stay at Ys'talla longer, but this secrecy is a bit too much."

For a moment everyone was frowning. And then a small, quiet smile came to Jarod's face. "Maybe there's an alternative," he said.

"Like?" asked Scotty.

Jarod looked to Julia. Julia, in turn, wondered what he was saying before she caught the look in his eye. A grin formed on her face. "Yes," she said. "I think I know what you mean…"




Zack was waiting at the airlock for Robert and Meridina. From what Robert had told him, Zack expected to see them in civilian clothes.

What he got instead was the two shimmering into view behind him, inside the airlock. He turned to face them and saw that Robert now wearing the same purple armor and blue robe combination that Meridina and Lucy favored. He had a bag over one shoulder and a holster for his charge pistol on the hip. And, like Meridina, there was no sign of his rank strip.

Meridina had her own bag and her lightsaber on her hip.

"Well, and truly incognito, eh?" Zack asked. "Was that why you came in with cloaking devices?"

"That's why we did our goodbyes quietly," Robert answered. "As far as the crew knows, Meridina took me off to train in the holodeck."

"Right." Zack motioned to the airlock. "Well, let's get going before someone from the crew notices you."

"And so I can get out of this thing," Robert added. "You won't believe how much this chafes."

The resulting chuckle from Zack made Robert glower at his friend while Meridina watched on in quiet bemusement.




Robert and Meridina had been assigned guest quarters on Deck 3. The room, of course, was barely the size of a hotel room, with two bunk beds, a meal replicator, and a table with a computer access panel and controls. Seeing it made Robert appreciate the officers and crew on the Koenig all the more. And it made him consider that he did wish they were going to remain as transportation, but Maran's orders were already cut.

For the moment Robert was busy putting away the pieces of the armor, which he was determined to adjust before he ever put it on again. Meridina sat on the floor nearby, already out of her suit and wearing a sleeveless white vest and baggy trousers. "I would like to resume your training while we journey to Minbar."

After she said that Robert went to the computer and tapped its communication key. "Guest Quarters to Bridge."

"You know that the crew already knows you're aboard, right?" asked Zack. "You can't hide anything on this ship, Rob."

Robert sighed at that. "I figured. Just make sure people know that we're not supposed to be here."

"My people know to keep their lips shut," Zack replied. "What do you need?"

"What's our ETA to Minbar?"

"Since you're in a hurry, Poniatowski and Hajar have the warp drive running us up to Warp 9.25. We should be there in the morning."

Robert sighed at that. He hoped that whatever Sheridan had to share with them was worth coming out all this way. "I appreciate the extra speed, Zack."

"Just pray we don't blow a plasma injector. Or maybe use your funky life force powers to reinforce them or something."

Robert chuckled at that. He could sense that Meridina was amused as well. "Yeah, I'm not sure we can do that much."

"Then just pray. Or pay for our funerals. Karen will probably kill Ana, Jean, and me if we blow out any vital components in the system before picking her up."

"We'll think of something to save you from her wrath. Dale out." Robert let the line cut. With nothing more to do he sat down in front of Meridina. His T-shirt matched the color of her vest while the pair of blue shorts certainly did not. "Okay, training. In what?"

"Clarity. Control." A slight grin came to her face. "And then we shall resume your sword training."

"Here?" Robert asked in surprise.

"Of course not," Meridina scoffed. "The cargo bay is spacious enough."

Robert already saw what his evening would look like. A lot of getting clapped on the shoulders and arms and chest by a wooden stick. He let out a resigned sigh and closed his eyes to focus on his life energy.




After the day of training Robert and Meridina retired to their bunks. Meridina slept soundly.

Robert did not.

Getting to sleep was challenge enough. The cot was somewhat uncomfortable. He had little room to turn. It felt too cold to be without the blanket but once he pulled it on he felt too hot. His mind kept wandering. The cloak and dagger aspects of this seemed to be so unnecessary. Why a clandestine meeting to Sheridan? What would that accomplish that a call couldn't? What was Maran so worried about?

And that jump drive in the records. Was Tom Barnes right? That it was just an improved model? Or was it the source of an ancient Darglan mistake? Could they bring about the same destruction if they used it?

Sleep came for Robert. But his rest was haunted by the dreams. He watched Nazi troops burning their way through New Liberty. Julia strapped into a strange chair, screaming in agony. The fear in the amber eyes of the girl in the red and gold clothing before her eyes went white and raw power whipped around him.

Metal figures. A tall man in a long coat. A blond woman, or girl, right at the end of her teens from what Robert could tell. She spoke with an accent when she said two words.

"Bad Wolf."

Robert, as he often did when the dreams got intense, shot up to a sitting position. But the bunk space was too short for that. He slammed his head into the top of the bunk space and cried out in surprise and pain while flopping back to a laying position. A hand went to his forehead while his head throbbed from the impact.

Before he could finish getting his bearings, blue light appeared on the back of his left hand. A comm tone rang. He groaned and tapped it. "Yes?"

"Gooood morning, buddy," crooned Zack. "Just wanted you to know we're an hour out from Minbar and that I had Hajar re-align the replicators in the mess hall. If you get up now you can probably fix a quick breakfast in between your shower and departure."

WIth his head still throbbing, Robert was in a cranky mood. "I don't care what Scotty says," he grumbled, "it's not a real shower unless it includes water!"

"Agreed, Rob. That's why I'm going to let you use my shower. You and Meridina both."

That dampened the crankiness somewhat. Before he could react, Meridina answered, "That sounds pleasant."

Robert looked off the bunk. Meridina was sitting quietly at the desk in her night clothes - a silver silken suit that went down to her knees - with a cup of steaming liquid in her hand and a plate of Gersallian breakfast pastries on the desk. She looked up at him with concern.

Robert blinked and shook his head. This was a mistake, of course. "Okay, cool," he mumbled, now woozy. "I'll be up to your quarters in about ten minutes. Dale out."

"Your dreams are quite intense." Meridina sipped at her cup. "And I see why you worry about the term 'Bad Wolf'. I feel a particular energy from that element of your vision. It is… worrying."

"Tell me about it," Robert sighed. "Right now I just want some damn toast and eggs and a big aspirin."

Meridina said nothing to that request.




It was on approach to Minbar that the Koenig picked up instructions on how to deliver Robert and Meridina. The signal came in on the Rangers communication band; a specific point of space, a location on the surface in Tuzanor, and instructions to beam at a specific time.

Robert and Meridina materialized into a scene of beauty, once again wearing the swevyra'se armor and robes. Their destination was a courtyard of sorts, filled with sculptures of beautiful crystal that seemed to sing as the wind brushed across it.

Waiting for them were two figures. One was a Human woman with a dark bronze complexion and the second was a Minbari man. Both were in full Ranger garb and no others. The woman bowed respectfully. "I am Lucille Solonandrasana," she said. "President Sheridan will see you shortly. Please follow us."

Robert and Meridina followed them. And not without difficulty, as they were nearly enthralled by how gorgeous the Minbari buildings and garden looked. Inside the structure the walls seemed slightly more normal-looking, with blues and purples and violets as the colors for the walls.

They were escorted to an office deep in the complex and left alone. Robert set down the portable IU radio set and both put down their bags and placed them at the side of the room. "Such a gorgeous place," Meridina said. "I see why Mastrash Ledosh was so enamored with it."

Robert nodded without giving any verbal agreement. He didn't need to. This place was stupendously beautiful.

A few moments later the door opened. Sheridan walked in carrying… a baby carrier.

Robert blinked and then watched avidly as one of the most influential leaders in the Multiverse, the man who had led the galaxy to victory over the Shadows and then led the rebellion against the fascist President Clark on Earth, gave an almost worried look toward the carrier. Relief appeared on the man's bearded face. "I put the earmuffs on," he confided to them in a soft voice. "As long as we're careful we shouldn't wake him."

"Your son?" asked Robert.

Sheridan nodded. "Delenn had some… religious caste ritual to attend, and she couldn't have David there." The smile of a proud father eager to show off his newborn son appeared and the carrier was turned to present the occupant. David Sheridan was only a few months old, clad in a blue baby one-piece suit that had little cartoony animals covering it. At first glance he looked like any baby would, or so Robert thought, but upon second glance he noted the formative Minbari bone crest circling the baby's head. The earmuffs were placed lower than they would be on a Human infant's head.

"He looks… great," Robert said, trying to avoid even thinking about how babies often didn't look cute or adorable until they were quite a bit older.

Meridina's reply was more authentic. "A healthy, wonderful child. Although I continue to be confused by the Human desire to place unrealistic, drawn pictures on their childrens' clothing."

Sheridan chuckled at that. "Delenn has said the same thing. They were a gift from my father, actually." He pulled up a spare chair and placed the carrier into it, facing him so he could keep an eye on David. "Well, we should get on to business, as soon as Delenn gets back I have a Council meeting to get to."

"I understand." Robert deliberately kept his voice as soft as possible without letting it become inaudible. "Admiral Maran filled you in?"

"He did." Sheridan nodded. "I'm sorry that we couldn't handle this over the comms."

"What's going on?"

"Well, as you may recall, a certain legally questionable Akdorian-flagged Human ship was raided a little over a year ago." Sheridan flashed them a quick grin. Robert had no doubt he knew what had happened to the Pedicarus. "The raiders made off with some ancient computer databanks taken from what we now know to be the Darglan Homeworld. I'm sure you can imagine how certain parties felt about that."

"They probably didn't know what they had before," Robert remarked. "Now that they do, I can't imagine they're happy about it."

"They're not. In particular, a company called Interplanetary Expeditions, IPX for short, has been demanding greater Earthforce support for their expeditions into neutral space. They've also prompted several influential Earth Alliance Senators to oppose the Allied Systems' annexation of the Darglan Homeworld and surrounding space. Space that, I will point out, your people have yet to fully assert control over due to your war efforts. And the InterStellar Alliance has had its own concerns diverting our attention."

"Especially since Delenn sent Rangers to fight on our side in the war," Meridina added.

"So I'm assuming IPX has been running illegal excavations into the space around the Darglan Homeworld?" Robert asked.

"They're being quiet about whether they are or not," Sheridan revealed. "Miss Holloran has been discreetly tracking IPX's movements in the region and even she can't be sure what they're up to. At best guess, they're still doing preliminary survey work while avoiding your patrols." Sheridan's eyes briefly glanced toward the baby carrier. "And they're laying the legal groundwork by encouraging the Earth Senate to pass a resolution declaring the Alliance annexation of the Darglan Homeworld null and void."

"Which is nothing but a political statement." Robert shook his head. "But is one we have to take seriously while we're busy fighting the Nazis. Dammit."

"The Alliance has invited the Minbari and other species to join us in protecting the Darglan Homeworld and what is left," Meridina noted. "Certainly this IPX could work with us?"

"No, they can't," Sheridan said. "Trust me, I know these people. IPX claim to be xenoarchaeologists out to further our understanding of old civilizations, but they actually work for Earthforce. Since the Minbari War their entire purpose has been finding the remains of old civilizations to see if there are any technologies that can improve Earth's technology. Even if they agree to cooperate with you, it would be for show while they pulled every dirty trick in the book to steal whatever they could from your efforts."

"So this is the reason for the secrecy?" Robert asked. "To keep IPX from figuring out that we're looking for a big new find?"

"Exactly. Because given the situation, they might just show up with an Earthforce destroyer to assert control," replied Sheridan. "So it's best if we keep this off their scanners. Do you know where to look?"

"We're waiting to see if any more data comes from examining the Darglan data we have on hand," said Robert. "But we did have an idea."

"Yes?"

"We know that the Darglan were forced to give up their interuniversal drives after a war with an enemy called the Darkness," said Meridina.

Sheridan let out a little sigh that covered a sentiment Robert could sense within him, a sentiment summed up as "Here we go again".

"And we know that a number of ancient species were responsible for this demand," Meridina continued.

"You think it was the First Ones?" Sheridan asked.

"It makes sense," Robert answered. "We know the Shadows hated them enough that they wiped them out in the end. And we were thinking that maybe these First Ones might have an idea where we can locate that Darglan prototype jump drive."

"There aren't an First Ones left in our galaxy. They're all gone." Sheridan turned thoughtful. "But there is someone that might have the information you want."

"Oh?"

A distant look came over Sheridan's face. "She's dangerous," he said. "Part of it might be my fault. A lot happened after the Shadow War and, in retrospect, I was too hard on her." Seeing his guests weren't sure whom he was talking about, he said. "Her name is Lyta Alexander. She's a telepath, one of the most powerful living telepaths to ever exist."

"Indeed?"

"Yes. She was augmented by the Vorlons years ago," Sheridan said. "They did… things to her. They told her things about their past that no other Human being has ever been told. I'm not sure how much they changed her, but it's enough to know she scares the hell out of me. I'm not looking forward to her return."

"Where did she go?" Meridina asked.

"G'Kar of the Narn wanted to go out on the frontier," Sheridan said. "He felt his people were relying too much on him for leadership. So he bought a ship, inviting Lyta along, and they flew off to travel the frontier for a year." Sheridan shook his head. "A year that's almost up."

"Do you think Lyta Alexander will assist us?" Meridina asked.

"I can't say for sure." Sheridan had a pensive look now. "By the time she left, she was bitter. She felt used by us, by Psi Corps, by everyone. And it wouldn't surprise me if she's already itching for a fight with the Psi Corps."

"I have heard of this 'Psi Corps'," Meridina said. Her voice betrayed only a sliver of her distaste. "Their behavior is abominable for farisa."

"That's your word for telepath, right?" When Meridina nodded, Sheridan could only nod in agreement with her sentiment. "They're a monster of our own creation. Frankly I wish we could have removed them along with Clark, but circumstances didn't allow it."

"Yes. Sometimes we must be content with what could be done, not what might have been done."

Robert spent the conversation thinking things over. Lyta sounded dangerous, immensely so. But she was likely their best shot at finding something. And if these IPX people were on the move… well, they had shot down a White Star to preserve the secrecy of their digs. There was no telling what they'd do. "Maybe we can offer her something," Robert remarked.

Sheridan immediately provided his attention. "What do you have in mind?"

"Well, she's opposed to the Psi Corps, right? I'm betting she's sympathetic to the telepaths who run from them?"

"I'd say so." Sheridan thought of Byron's group, and old thoughts of blame and guilt and betrayal briefly worked their way through his mind.

"The Alliance has laws allowing such people to claim asylum. To my knowledge, few have tried, and we've gone out of our way to avoid causing friction with the Earth Alliance over this." Robert considered his options. "But I have friends, allies, who could be persuaded to act in support of these fugitives and whatever organizations help them. We could organize an underground railroad of sorts to bring them to the Alliance, our Alliance."

"You could," Sheridan agreed. "And Lyta might work with you for assurances on that. Just be careful. The Psi Corps isn't above its own dirty tricks, you might put people in the crossfire. God help them if a Psi Cop catches them."

"I may be able to provide aid there," said Meridina. "I am not the only farisa in my family. My mother is a great farisa with many connections across the Interdependency. She would know which of them would be willing to protect the minds of those involved in this 'underground railroad'."

"Well, it sounds like you have a plan, then," said Sheridan. "Now you just need to find Lyta and G'Kar."

"And a ship."

"Oh, I already arranged that," Sheridan revealed. "Or rather, Admiral Maran and I arranged it. A private craft is waiting for you at Tuzanor spaceport." Sheridan pulled a data crystal from a shelf in his desk and handed it to Robert. "The access codes for it are there. Holloran has some information on suspected sightings of G'Kar and Lyta. You'll find those loaded as well."

"If we need help from a combat ship, any chance of it?" Robert asked. "Something to get to us quickly?"

"It depends." Sheridan thought about it for a moment. "If you send a transmission back to me with the channel encoded in that crystal, I'm sure Delenn can arrange for a White Star to be on 'training maneuvers' in the area. But that won't work more than once."

"No, it won't," Robert agreed. He put the data crystal away and stood up. "That's it, then. Thank you for having us, Mister President."

"Good luck, Captain, Commander."

Robert and Meridina picked up their things very carefully. Once everything was together they went to the door.

As they stepped through it, a sudden cry pierced the air. It grew in volume, joined by earnest pleas for calm, until they were nearly out of the building.




The Aurora retained her place in geosynchronous orbit of Ys'talla, which rotated quietly from the window of the conference lounge as Julia waited. She had made the calls she felt necessary and could do no more. It was back to business. Which was why she was currently in her usual chair in the conference lounge off the bridge. This interview wouldn't have felt right in Robert's ready office.

Indeed, despite this venue, a part of her still felt wrong over the conversation she was about to have.

She forced those thoughts from her mind when the door opened and Locarno entered. "You wanted to see me?" he asked.

"Sit down, please," she replied gently. He sat down across from her. Julia looked over Locarno briefly. He was handsome and intelligent. His hair, brown with a tinge of red, was combed precisely. His light-green eyes looked back at her with curiosity. "I've got something to ask you, Nick. You don't have to give me an answer right away, either, just within the next few weeks."

"You want to know if I want to serve on the Enterprise," he said, recognizing what was coming up.

"Not just that." Julia put her hands on the table. "I want to know if you would like to be my First Officer."

For a moment Locarno went quiet. He lowered his eyes as if in thought. Julia waited patiently for him to respond while trying to gauge his likely reaction from the way he was looking.

"You want me to be second-in-command?" he asked. "To be that close to a command of my own?"

"Yes," she said. "I do." Looking into his face, Julia thought she could tell what was wrong. "You've learned your lesson, Nick. And I think you'll make a great captain one day."

"I suppose you do." Locarno drew in a breath. "And I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the same way, that I wasn't interested."

"But?" Julia drew the word out.

"Honestly?" He met her eye to eye. "I think that's the reason why I can't. Not right now."

"So your answer is no?"

"Correct. No. I'm not interested in being your First Officer, or taking any other command position," Locarno said. "Frankly, the way I feel… I'll resign my commission before I accept a command."

"You've been making progress over the past," Julia pointed out. "Why do you feel this way?"

"It's one thing to be inching toward forgiveness from Jean, but it's another to go looking for command again," Locarno answered. "I don't mind doing the occasional bridge watch for you, or heading a department, but I'm not interested in ship command right now. Maybe not ever. So again, my answer is no."

After a moment of looking into his eyes for any sign that he was waving, Julia nodded. "Fair enough."

"And before you ask, no." Locarno shook his head. "I'm not transferring to the Enterprise. This is my ship, this is my place, it's where I'm staying."

"Alright. I understand."

"Do you?"

Julia blinked. Locarno's voice sounded heated. "What do you mean?"

Locarno, for his part, seemed to consider what he was going to say next. "I understand you want command. That's your choice. I wish you the best of luck. But this… this is wrong."

Julia said nothing, inviting him to continue.

"This crew, this team, we've done amazing things," Locarno said. "And now you're tearing it apart. Why? You don't have to break up everything just because you're getting a new ship."

"It's not just me," Julia pointed out. "Angel asked me even before I said yes. Scotty made it clear he wants to serve on the Enterprise. Am I just supposed to tell them 'no'?"

"You could try to talk them out of it," Locarno suggested. "You could keep our crew as intact as possible."

"You and I both know this crew isn't going to last forever, no matter if I take people with me or not. It's part of this life," Julia retorted.

"That doesn't mean you just do it on a whim." Locarno drew in a breath. "Because… because we're a family, remember? And you're splitting us up."

Julia went quiet at that. And as much as she wished… she knew he wasn't wrong. They were a family, and now they were going to be divided between two ships. They might never work together again.

I knew this would happen. And I said 'Yes' anyway.

"You're right. We're splitting up. But we'll still be family, being on different ships doesn't change that." Julia stood up from the chair. "But thank you for telling me how you feel, Nick. Thank you for your honesty. You're dismissed."

Locarno stood and nodded before walking out. The door slid closed behind him, leaving Julia to her private thoughts.




The ship that left Tuzanor Spaceport thirty minutes later was not a common ship in the E5B1 Universe, but was instead a New Chongqing Spaceworks Type 121 Personal High Speed Transport Vessel. The craft was the size of a standard runabout in the Alliance service (or Starfleet's for that matter). The warp nacelles were built into the top of the craft instead of the bottom, unlike runabouts. It wasn't the sleekest vessel either, built for power and volume, with the advantage that it made it less aesthetically-pleasing and, thus, less likely get noticed. The hull was colored a bland gray.

While it wasn't pretty, it was fast, and within an hour it had traveled to within range of the system's jumpgate.

In the helm area of the craft, Robert was in the piloting seat and Meridina in the co-pilot chair. "We're clear to the jumpgate," Robert said. "I'm setting a course for our first destination, Kalnit Station."

"Have you heard of this place?"

"I haven't. Going by the library computers, it's an open port on the edge of Brakiri space."

Meridina checked the list. "Minister Holloran rated it as only the third likely location."

"She did." Robert nodded. "But consider it for a moment. In our way."

A moment passed and Meridina concentrated with her swevyra. She felt her energy connect to the wider universe and let the insights come in. "I see," she said. "And I agree."

"Thanks." Robert smiled. "Besides, if she and G'Kar are on their way back to B5, it's the second furthest possible route they could take."

"I see. The closest being too obvious…"

"...and the furthest being just as obvious," he finished the thought for her. "According to these calculations on hyperspace travel times by sublight capability, we should be at our destination gate late tonight. Then it'll be a six hour warp flight at Warp 5."

"So we will not get to our destination until the early morning hours," Meridina noted. "Which is how much of the Multiverse's populace experiences interstellar flight, I imagine."

"We're going to be missing that Warp 9.2 cruise speed before we're done," Robert sighed. Outside the window ahead the jumpgate started flashing to light. Points of light formed along the four struts, traveling down and inward until they jumped from the struts and coalesced to form a hyperspace jumppoint. Robert triggered the impulse drives and flew their ship into the brown-colored vortex and into the shifting crimson energies of hyperspace.
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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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-17 07:45am

The Koenig decloaked long before it arrived in the Epsilon Eridani system. It came out of warp and approached Babylon-5 at half impulse. Magda double-checked the time and smiled at Zack. "Three hours to spare," she said.

Zack answered with a single nod of his head. "Contact station control and see about getting us a station-keeping area within transporter range." His eyes kept on the sight of the five mile long space station spinning away in orbit over the barren planet beyond.

"Opening channel…"

While Magda spoke with a Lieutenant Corwin in Babylon Control, Zack continued watching the station. The others had spoken about visiting Babylon-5 last year while his ship was with the Colonial Refugee Fleet. While it wasn't the most advanced or largest space station he'd ever seen, it had a charm to it. And given Zack had spent over twenty years of living in an era when a small space station not even the size of the Koenig had been a massive achievement, it was no surprise that any space station that was five miles long and contained nearly a quarter of a million beings would seem a marvel.

I wonder what Clara would think of it went through Zack's mind. He'd sent off another message to her before they left the Aurora. Would one be waiting once the Koenig re-connected to the communications networks?

His thoughts about Clara were interrupted by Apley's announcement that they had achieved their station-keeping position. "Have Driik and our reserve bridge crew assume stations in an hour," Zack said. "We need to find a good spot for the 'welcome back' party."

"Weren't we going to hold one for her on the Aurora?" April asked. "Hargert's going to bake a cake."

"Oh, we'll have another one," Zack said. "But this one will be just for us."

"Sounds good to me, sir," Apley stated. Without removing his eyes from his control board Apley followed that up by asking, "How do you think our passengers are doing?"

"Knowing Rob?" Zack chuckled. "Worrying or brooding."




A few hundred light years away, the Type 121 transport was still cruising along at Warp 5. Robert stepped into the cockpit to find Meridina sitting quietly at the controls. "Your turn for some sleep," he said while trying, and mostly failing, to enjoy the coffee that the replicator had provided to him.

"I am rested sufficiently," Meridina replied. She turned in her chair and held up a cup of what Robert thought looked like beef broth. She sipped at it. "Although the replicators leave something to be desired. My jalnen is entirely too bitter-tasting."

"Gersallian coffee?" Robert asked.

"No. This does not contain caffeine. It has a blend of herbs that ease the mind." Meridina set the cup to the side. "And is quite good for meditations. When it tastes properly." She gestured to the piloting panel. "We are due to arrive at Kalnit Station in a few minutes. What is your plan?"

"Plan?"

"We will undoubtedly have to explain our presence," Meridina said.

"Well, we could claim we're smugglers, I suppose." Robert got into the co-pilot chair and took another drink. A displeased expression crossed his face.

"Then they will expect us to pay," Meridina pointed out. "And there may be questions about why our ship is not a smuggling craft." A thought crossed her mind. Robert sensed it and frowned. "Unless we make them believe we smuggle sapient beings."

"In other words, we masquerade as slavers."

"It does not appear to be a severe problem in this universe, granted, but I suspect it exists in some form."

Robert thought about the problem. A thought finally came to him, one that made him chuckle. Meridina gave him a curious look. He returned it with a smile. "Not slavers. People smugglers works. We simply imply that we get people from Point A to Point B in a quiet fashion."

Meridina nodded in understanding. "Our clientele is theoretically composed of desperate, likely armed beings looking to escape certain death or imprisonment, then."

"Exactly. And best of all, if we need to, that's the hook we can use to get a conversation with Lyta. After all, Human telepaths fleeing the Psi Corps will be looking for any means of escape. We just have to be careful we don't end up with a prospective client."

Their conversation ended with a tone at the helm informing them of their arrival at Kalnit Station. Meridina brought the ship out of warp with precision that Locarno would have appreciated, Robert thought, and put them on course for the station.

The station itself was an O'Neill-cylinder like Babylon-5 had been. But it was nowhere near the size of the diplomatic station. It was about a kilometer wide and shaped roughly like a bicycle wheel with a shaft through the center that ended with external docking ports for large ships. Robert noted an incoming signal and answered it. "Hello."

"Identify your vessel."

"We're the…" Robert thought about it for a moment. "...Eagle… 5. Private personal transport."

"State your business."

"A quick stop-over, maybe see if there's some work available," he answered. "Any problems with that?"

There was a pause. "Pay your docking fare and there won't be."

"Fine by me, Kalnit Control. Eagle 5 out." Robert killed the channel and let out a breath. "Charming, aren't they?"

"How do you propose to pay the fare?"

Robert started tapping keys. "Admiral Maran gave me authorization to an expense account. A very anonymous account, I gathered."

"Ah." Meridina clearly had no surprise on that score. "The Admiral has always been one to stand for preparation." She tapped the flight controls as their ship flew in. "We are being assigned to an internal dock. I have a flight path."

"Alright, take us in." Robert watched the station grow larger and felt anticipation grow. "We should probably wear our alternative suits over the armor instead of the robes."

"Agreed."




Jarod was on bridge watch when the call came from Julia. Jupap immediately put her image on the holo-viewscreen. She was standing in one of the halls outside the Clans' Council meeting chambers. "How is the vote going?" asked Jarod.

Julia looked around before sighing with relief. "Good. Chieftess Y'mali just voted yes and the treaty just won a floor vote. The opposition called for recess to rally but I don't see it happening."

"I take it Chiefs U'mhaka and U'dahra weren't pleased?"

Now Julia grinned with satisfaction. "U'mhaka voted yes after all. Internal clan politics or something. As for U'dahra, I took the time to visit his suites to explain things." The smile turned gleeful and a little wolfish. "I made it pretty clear to him that I was off-limits. And I'm sure he'll find out about the girls who slipped out of his suite later today. Coincidentally, the starliner Arcturus Clipper just hired some new waitresses eager to see the rest of the Multiverse."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Anything from the others?"

"The Koenig arrived at B5 and are waiting to pick up Karen. Zack is going to stay on station for a little. Liberty for his crew."

"And he'll be on hand to help Robert and Meridina. Good." Julia looked to something off-screen. "It looks like they're assembling for another reading. I'll talk to you later. Andreys out."

The holo-viewscreen shifted back to showing the orbital space of Ys'talla. Jarod settled back into the chair and waited for his bridge watch to end.




Karen Derbely breathed in the air of Babylon-5 and sighed with contentment. Months of surgeries, physical therapy, doctors and nurses, and she was back where she belonged. Out on the frontier, out in space. A surge of excitement rushed through her at the thought of being back on her ship and with her colleagues and friends on the Koenig and Aurora.

Her Alliance uniform stood out among those of the Earthforce personnel working the station, black with beige trim and two gold strips on the collar rank badge. Her light brown hair was loose for the moment, flowing down around her shoulders and the top of her back. Her oval-shaped face looked about at the myriad of species at this magnificent port of call. As she walked up to the customs area with her duffel bag over her shoulder, she listened to a Tellarite visitor continue what sounded like a heated argument with a greenish-gray scaled humanoid alien - a Drazi, she recalled.

At the customs area a smiling young Southeast Asian man in a security uniform accepted her Stellar Navy-issued identity card. It didn't fit his identicard standard so he turned to a multidevice, one that he was clearly not familiar with. "Sorry, ma'am… Lieutenant?"

"Yes, Lieutenant," she replied.

"We're still getting used to these things," he said apologetically while working with the controls. "And now I hear they want us to switch to those hardlight ones…"

"Omnitool," Derbely clarified. She activated her new blue omnitool model. "I'm in the same boat. I just got back on duty and they've swapped us over to this."

"Yes, those look like they're going to be a pain. Why can't they just build new identicard scanners that lets us scan… ah." He finally got her information. "Welcome to Babylon-5, Lieutenant Derbely. Do you have anything to declare?"

"Nothing but personal effects," she said. "Change of clothes, hygiene products, and a datapad for personal use."

"Alright." He handed her a flyer. "Here are the basic customs rules for the station. The back side has a printout of the sectors. I hope you enjoy your stay on B5."

"Hey, Irwansyah," a new voice called out. A man with a black station uniform walked up. "You're still having problems with these things?" He gestured to his own multidevice.

"Sorry, Chief."

"Well, send her through, you're holding up the line…" The Chief gestured to Derbely, who followed him out of the way. "Sorry, we're still getting used to this stuff."

"So your man said," Derbely answered. "Chief…?"

"Zack Allan, Chief of B5 Security," he replied. He accepted a handshake with Derbely. "Say, you're with that ship that just left, right?"

Derbely made a face at that. "What?"

"It's the… what was it… King… Koing?"

"Koenig," said Derbely with a flat tone.

"Right, that one. Sorry. They got called away…"

Derbely let out a sigh. "Of course, these things have to happen, right? It's not like I didn't get flash-fried by plasma."

Allan made a face at that. "Sounds unpleasant. Say…" He gestured with his head. "Let me get you a drink. Doug's Dugout, on me. Maybe I can find out when your ship will be back."

Derbely almost said no. But there was something earnest and friendly about Zack Allan that caused her to reconsider before she spoke. "Alright," she said. "And then I'd better see about getting quarters…"

Chief Allan led her out of the arrival terminal and through Blue Sector to Red Sector. "Hell of a place, isn't it?" Allan asked her.

"Yeah. It reminds me of Jury Station back in my home universe."

"Oh? Where are you from, then?"

"Universe D3R1, I'm from Littlefield Station," she answered. "It was a small, half-impoverished mining outpost gathering minerals from a moon in the Sagan Eta system. My dad was an ore hauler pilot. Two days to Jury Station at Warp 3, two days there for offloading, two days back." Derbely smiled from old memories. "He started taking me when I was ten years old, every school break. Best week a kid could ask for. Dad taught me everything he knew about running a starship's engine room."

"I can imagine. Ah, here we go."

Zack Allan led Derbely into the entryway of an establishment that looked like the sports bar she remembered her father frequenting on Littlefield Station, only slightly less grimy. She easily recognized the aroma of greasy food and beer.

She turned toward the bar.

"SURPRISE!" cried the Koenig officers waiting there.

A banner had been strung over the bar: "WELCOME BACK, KAREN!" A smiling bartender, undoubtedly eager for the sales this impromptu party would bring him, brought up more pitchers filled with dark amber-colored drink while her crewmates applauded. Zack was in the middle, with Apley, Magda, and April Sherlily to one side and Doctor Opani, Ana Poniatowski, and Ensign Hajar on the other. Zack stepped forward with a mug full of beer. "Good to have you back, Karen," he said to her.

Derbely started to laugh. She couldn't hide her joy even as she looked to Chief Allan. He smiled back. "Hey, Commander Carrey asked nicely for the best place to welcome a buddy back, so of course I helped out."

"What's in it for you, then?"

"Nothing." Allan shrugged. "He told me what happened to you, so of course I helped out."

"Are you off-duty, Chief Allan?" Zack asked. "I've got a mug with your name on it."

"Ah, in an hour or so," was the reply. "Save me a seat, I'll bring some of my people and we'll wipe the floor with you at darts."

"Ha!" Zack laughed at that. "I think that's a challenge we can't refuse, isn't it everyone? Ap, you're going to have to show them the error of their ways, right?"

"I'm looking forward to it," Apley vowed.

"But that's for later." Magda finished hugging Derbely so April could. "For now, we celebrate!"

As she hugged them one by one, Derbely couldn't hold back the tears. It was great to be home.




Kalnit Station was a grimy, dirty place, with the air so stale Robert spent their first hour on the station nearly choking from it. Throngs of individuals of various species moved around to various stalls and shops. It looked like the space station equivalent of urban blight to Robert's eyes, and he worried about what was in the hazy smoke that seemed to waft in from some of the shops.

The mystery of the "multiversality" of Humanity and Human-looking species did allow them to go mostly unnoticed, as species from E5B1 predominated. Pak'ma'ra to one side haggled with a Vree proprietor. A Brakiri looked over a jewelry store run by another Brakiri. Drazi were bickering with a Human shopkeeper at his entrance while a Hyach watched and shook her head.

Meridina drew Robert's attention to a pair of Llort that nearly ran into them. Robert felt a hand start to brush against his trousers. Someone was pick-pocketing him, or seeing if he had a gun at his hip. He intercepted the hand and smacked it away, thankful for the shoulder holster he'd decided to employ. It had seemed the right thing, hiding his weapon from view under the dark blue-jean jacket he had on. Meridina likewise wore a full suit with a dark red jacket, but there was no hiding the lightsaber on her belt. This was an advantage, though, since nobody would recognize them where some might now know about lakesh hilts.

"This place is still big enough that I'm not sure we'll find either of them just walking around," he said. "Not that we can just call them over the intercom."

"If you consider President Sheridan's description of her, Lyta Alexander has a great deal of power," Meridina said. "We may sense her."

"Right now I'm just sensing the fact that these people are generally unfriendly and a lot of them want to shoot someone. Maybe even us." Robert kept scanning the crowds. "I wonder… places like these, they have people who keep an eye out for things, right? Information dealers."

"Yes."

"Maybe one of them can help?"

Meridina's skepticism on that point could be sensed even before she replied, "Possible, unlikely, and for a price. I suspect the Admiral's expense account is not bottomless."

"I wouldn't want to find out," Robert admitted.

They continued walking on until Robert gestured to a bar that didn't smell quite as bad as the others. The sign over it was on alien writing. Robert could have used his omnitool to translate but didn't bother, instead stepping up to the bar and sitting on the stool.

The bartender looked Human. His accent sounded vaguely European when he asked, "What will it be?"

"That depends on what you have," Robert replied.

"All sorts of drinks. Jovian sunspot, perhaps? Kompa. I even have a case of brivari that a friend from the Homeworld sends me."

"Brivari?"

"Ah, sorry, the hair." The barkeeper laughed. "I am a commoner, so I don't get to have a hair crest. Not a very high one, anyway. I am Terlo, a Centauri."

"Ah. I've not met a Centauri before," Robert admitted.

"Eh, we are not very popular in the galaxy," Terlo said, sighing at the end. "Those idiots in the Centaurum had to go invading nearly every species in the League. Then, despite all of that, when we were in a position of influence in the InterStellar Alliance, what do they do? They start attacking the other species again." He shook his head. "And the idiots were so ready to fight they let the Narn and Drazi slip through and bomb our homeworld. And when Sheridan forces them to stop, our new Emperor pokes him in the eye and cuts us off from the rest of the galaxy." Terlo shook his head. "It is all a terrible mistake, all of it. And to make it worse, the Emperor is letting that… that insufferable man Durla take charge back on the Homeworld…" Terlo noticed Robert and Meridina weren't quite paying attention and stopped himself. "But I am digressing. What would you like?"

After thinking it over, Robert decided to go for something that sounded like it was meant for Humans. "A Jovian sunspot," he said.

"And your lovely lady?"

"I am not…" Meridina stopped herself. Their cover would be strained if she protested a disinterest in alcohol. "I will take a Jovian sunspot as well."

"Very well."

Robert took out his cash card and allowed Terlo to scan it, withdrawing money from Maran's expense account to pay the amiable bartender. He looked back into the bar and noticed various figures moving around.

"...so what are you doing at humble Kalnit Station?" asked Terlo, bringing their drinks back. "I'm here praying to the family gods that I raise enough credits to go home with something more than the clothes on my back."

"If you lack funds, how did you get here?" inquired Meridina.

Terlo nodded and grinned at Meridina, while Robert consciously felt for danger before taking his first drink of the fruity alcohol drink. "I was actually a merchant, with my own ship, passing through here when the InterStellar Alliance revealed my government was responsible for the attacks on Alliance shipping. To shorten my tale of woe, my ship was sabotaged, most of my cargo stolen, and the outcome of the war led to the Centauri ducat's value dropping like a Drazi drunk on Bor'Kaan. That meant I couldn't afford the repairs on my ship, and I wouldn't have the money to pay docking fees for long. I had to sell. Thankfully it was enough to rent out this establishment." Terlo gestured to his bar. It was a small place. Robert doubted it could fit more than twenty-five, maybe thirty, without violating fire codes (presuming Kalnit had them, Robert doubted this too). But it was, as the station went, well-kept, and a multitude of species were represented at the tables.

"And the rest of your cargo was booze?" Robert asked.

"Not at all," said Terlo. "It was Quantium-40, actually. I managed to keep one crate from being stolen. I was able to barter it for a ship's hold worth of several Brikari liquors. A few other drinks here and there and, gods be thanked, I had my opening stock."

"It cannot be easy, being an enemy of these peoples," Meridina observed. She gently sipped at the glass.

"Oh, I get vandalized every now and then," Terlo admitted, "but most of the locals know me by now. And I pay protection to the Tos'Meton Syndicate. The Brikari who run this station," he clarified immediately. "The Brikari can be quite pragmatic about these things, if you have the money." He waited for Robert and Meridina to finish a drink each before asking, "So, who are you?"

"Me? My name's Jerry. Jerry Furland. And this is Mira Doyle."

"And you are here for…?"

"Coming through, checking out business opportunities," Robert answered. He grinned slyly. "Mira and I are… travel specialists, you might say."

"Travel specialists?" Terlo smiled at that.

"When someone wants to travel from where they are to somewhere else, and they'd like their trip to happen quickly and with minimal fuss, they pay us and we take them to that somewhere else they desire to go." Robert sipped at his drink afterward.

Terlo grinned at that. "Presumably these customers have very good reason to travel."

Robert shrugged. "I suppose. Sounds like you could be a potential customer."

"I suspect your rates would wipe me out, Mister Furland," Terlo answered. "I have to have something to show to my family if I don't want to get disowned. I may never be able to afford a noble title now, but anything's better than returning penniless."

"Right." Robert looked to Meridina. He had an idea. "Still, if you're not interested in our services, maybe you know someone who is?" He gave Terlo a knowing look.

"Well…" Terlo thought it over. "There are a few, I admit. Those who want to leave Kalnit quietly, without attracting attention…"

"Such as?" Meridina asked. She looked toward him as well, keeping her look from seeming too intent.

Terlo leaned in and lowered his voice. "Do you see that Human over there?"

Robert quickly glanced further into the bar. The distant table was occupied by a Human male. He looked Caucasian, with a complexion and look Robert thought to be pasty - too much time in space? - with a neatly trimmed beard of dark hair with clothes that Robert thought looked fairly non-descript. Clearly someone trying not to call attention to himself.

Robert immediately moved his head to avoid making any long contact, anything that could give away he was looking that way. Clearly this potential client wasn't Lyta, but the cover demanded Robert seem interested. "What about him?"

"His name is Gagnor. He orders the same drinks every day. Schnapps, a Human beverage. Although he switched to brivari when I was out of schnapps for a few days."

"He's a long-term resident?"

"A number of months, he comes and goes. But he is not whom I am referring to." Terlo looked around briefly, including making sure Gagnor wasn't looking their way. "He has a new client. A Human woman. She wants things from him. Weapons, I hear, but also transportation back into Earth Alliance space."

"Gagnor can provide this?" asked Meridina.

"I do not think so. He does dabble in arms dealing, but that market, it is not as lucrative as it once was now that the Shadow War and all the other wars are over and nearly everyone is in the InterStellar Alliance. The larger dealers are buying up all of the war surplus to keep it off the market and keep the prices from falling too quickly. Gagnor… he is a minor player, so I do not think he has much product to sell. Mostly old League surplus from the Dilgar War. And in this market, I am not surprised if he will have to… how do you say it… 'diversify' his business."

"There are wars in other universes," Meridina pointed out.

"True," Terlo allowed. "Anyway, he has been meeting with her daily. She may be here soon. Pay me a finder's fee, forty percent commission of your deal?"

"Twenty percent," Robert countered.

"Thirty-five percent."

"Twenty-five."

"Thirty-three. I will not go lower."

Robert narrowed his eyes to play along. He could sense Terlo's plan if he didn't agree; he would warn Gagnor that they were Anla'shok, Rangers, and scare the dealer off and his client too.

He looked to Meridina. She nodded back. Her response wasn't telepathic - there could be telepaths that could hear them - but he could sense her answer. She'd seen Lyta's face in Terlo's mind. This was their chance.

"Thirty-three percent," Robert agreed.

Terlo smiled. "I do so enjoy working with Humans," the Centauri said. "Another Jovian sunspot?"

Robert had to admit he enjoyed the drink. And he was also quite glad that the detoxicants he and Meridina took before leaving the Eagle 5 would keep him sober, even if it would inevitably result in a bathroom visit before long. "Of course," Robert said.

After Terlo stepped away to prepare their drinks, Robert and Meridina exchanged glances. This was the break they'd been hoping for.

Now all they had to do was sit… and wait.




Cheers and light-hearted boos filled Doug's Dugout when a member of the B5 security force, a Narn, hit a dart just above the 20 triple score section. A successful hit would have made B5 Security's lead insurmountable.

But it was not, and everything fell onto Zack Carrey's shoulders to win the game for his officers. Dart by dart flew. The first was a hit on the double ten portion on the right side of the outer ring. The second, which caused flinching from all, was when Zack hit just to the right of the high value 20 point slice of the board, scoring just 1 point. He took careful aim and, with one eye open, threw one more time. The dart thunked into the lower left side… just inside the 48 point mark.

B5 security's lead had been 42.

Both sides cheered regardless of who won or lost, and a round of beer mugs rose up in celebration before their contents were guzzled down enthusiastically. Zack high-fived anyone who offered one while making his way back to the bar. Zack Allan was seated there looking at the vidscreen showing a baseball game. "I guess one of the benefits of the Multiverse is that it's always summer on some Earth," Zack said, looking at the game in question. "The trick is keeping which universe's team is which straight."

"Yeah." Allan noticed the wistful look on Zack's face. "Something wrong, Carrey?"

"Nothing wrong, Allan." The two, due to sharing the same first name, had already opted to go by surnames. "Just thinking how things might have been." Zack accepted a fresh mug from the bartender. "I played back home. In the minors. But I had major league scouts checking my games out."

"What happened? Injury?"

Zack shook his head. "Family issues," he answered laconically, in a tone making clear his refusal to say more.

"Right. So you ended up… I don't know, there's all sorts of stories about how the Alliance came together." Allan quaffed at his own mug. "Stuff about an Earth from the 20th Century having some ancient alien base from a species in our galaxy and people adapting the technology…"

"It sounded crazy then, and it still sounds crazy," said Zack. He grinned at Allan. "But I lived it."

"Yeah, well, crazy sometimes happens. I mean, when I was assigned here, I had no idea how crazy things were going to get." Allan shook his head. "President Santiago getting killed, the Chief getting shot in the back by his own second in command. Then the Nightwatch came along. I signed up thinking, hey, fifty more creds a week. Next thing I know, I'm being told to report shopkeepers for complaining about the President."

"Damn," Zack said, shaking his head.

"Then we declared independence from Earth and fought the Shadows and Chief Garibaldi had his mind hacked by the Psi Corps and quit over it… Just saying it makes me realize how crazy things got."

"I realized things were going to be crazy early on, and I just try to roll with it," Zack admitted. "It helps when you're having to save Human refugees from religious robots who want to exterminate them. Or with fighting Nazis."

"Nazis." Allan shook his head. "I hear the war's grinding on. Rumor has it that the Senate's considering sending an expeditionary force to help you guys out."

"They'll be welcome. We could use the allies. And besides, kicking Nazi ass shouldn't be a spectator sport."

"I'll drink to that, Carrey."

After they both quaffed again, Zack said, "I love my ship and all, but sometimes I think that when the war's over, I'm going to walk away."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Resign. Go to New Caprica, marry my girlfriend Clara, coach Little League."

"Sounds like a good life."

"Just have to be careful when using the Lord's name in vain," Zack said. Seeing Allan's confused look, he said, "Remember what I said about religious robots? The New Capricans are the people they tried to wipe out. The robots, Cylons, worship one God, but the New Capricans are polytheists who worship the old Olympian gods."

"Really?" Allan blinked. "You mean like Zeus and…"

"...Apollo and Athena, yeah."

Allan laughed. "That's a damned thing." He took another drink.

"And so, y'know, they get tetchy if you say you believe in one God," Zack explained. "But they're getting used to us monotheists in the Alliance."

"I'd hope so." Allan gave his head another shake while chuckling. "Clara wants to stay?"

"She's gotten close to them. There's nothing for either of us back in our hometown." Zack shrugged and took a drink, after which he continued. "I suppose we could move to New Liberty, but… I dunno. As long as she's happy, I don't care where we are."

While Zack took a drink, Allan asked, "Do you love her?"

"I do. And God knows I don't deserve her." Zack shook his head. "I don't know why she's stuck with me for so long given how things went when we were teenagers. I knew even then she was too good for me. She didn't deserve to be with someone like me."

"Well, love's crazy sometimes." Allan chuckled. "Like, well, back in my first year on the station, we had this officer on the night watch shift. Lieutenant Zhungwi, Zhengfi, Zhengli…" Allan focused on the last one for a moment, as if deciding if it was the right name, before continuing, "Zhengli Varma, I think it was. Anyway, one night I'm late in my shift when we get a report from Green Sector. Now, that's diplomatic and command staff only, but Londo had kicked up a fuss and gotten a suite for this Centauri nobleman, and I mean bigwig because he had this huge crest of hair." Allan had his hands on his head, mimicking a fan or something like a peacock tail. "Anyway, we have this guy visiting the station for a trade delegation, right, and I'm sent in because he's about ready to blast the door down with a gun he's smuggled in because his wife had locked him out. Turns out she was cheating on him."

"Youch," Zack said. "Those domestic calls must be the pits."

"Oh, they always are," Allan agreed. "Anyway, I get there so they don't bother the Chief because he's having this special meal for his birthday, and the nobleman is shouting, and Londo is shouting, and the technicians are trying to open the door before the guy blows it off the hinges, right…" By this time Zack, imagining the scene if not the specific people, was laughing. "...so finally, just as this guy is going for his gun right in front of me and two other security guys, the technicians finally open the door. And poor Bo and Mack are knocked over by this guy as he rushes in with his gun, and Londo's going after him and I am because I think he's about to shoot his wife, and… and Londo's yelling at us to get out because 'This is an internal affair of the Centauri!'..." Allan faked an accent and gave his voice a new pitch, as if to emulate the Centauri ambassador.

Zack, still switching back and forth between chuckling and laughing, said, "It was a damned affair alright!"

Allan laughed too. "Yeah, well, just as I'm about to get to this guy, and I mean I'm a second from drawing my PPG, he suddenly lowers his gun and starts laughing."

"Really?"

"Yeah. And I brush Londo off and look into the bedroom… and there's this guy's wife with our night shift lieutenant. Completely naked."

Zack laughed even harder.

"Right, so, this nobleman, after all of that screaming and threatening, he's laughing at it. His wife's in bed with a Human woman and he does not give a damn. Just doesn't give a damn." Allan stopped to laugh while Zack struggled to stop long enough to drink. "I look at her and say, 'Uh, ma'am, he's got a smuggled gun, I have to report this', and she gives me this look, and Londo just about throws me out of the damn apartment."

"Oh man," Zack laughed. "Did you report it?"

"Are you kidding? If I did I'd have the second in command of the night shift hating my guts! And who knows what Londo would've done! I was just a few months into the job, the Chief was just starting to trust me, no way was I rocking the boat!"

"I bet that lady was more careful after that," Zack chuckled.

"Yeah, I don't think I saw much of her after that. She ended up siding with Clark when the Civil War kicked off." Allan shook his head. "Last time I heard her name, it was when someone in C&C said her mother had shown up a few months ago and talked with one of the C&C night shift officers about her. Turns out Lieutenant Varma is a Captain now and got one of those new Warlock-class destroyers thanks to General Lefcourt."

"Damn. She goes with the wrong side and still gets rewarded, huh?"

"That's what it feels like," Allan admitted. "Maybe it's more complicated than that, but I dunno. Captain Lochley remained on Clark's side too, and she's a great commander and a good person."

"Good people can still do terrible things," Zack observed. As he did so he thought about Adrana for the first time in months. About Gylao and that simulation he'd been in, what Gylao had seen in his mind to create it. A world where he had let Robert die so he could have Julia… the thought sickened him and forced him to push all of that into the back of his mind.

It put the subject of love back on his mind, so he faced Allan again and asked, "What about you? Do you have anyone special?"

The moment the pained look came to Allan's eyes, Zack knew the answer to that. "Sorry," he said.

"Maybe it never would have worked out," Allan admitted. "She had a lot of, well, things were bad for her. I just, y'know, I just wish we could've tried something…"

It was with pure, aching sympathy in his voice that Zack replied with, "I know what you mean, man, I know what you mean."




Robert was beginning to wonder if the detoxicants were wearing off from the number of Jovian sunspots he'd downed. Meridina seemed fine, though, and so he figured it was just his impatience getting the best of him. Gagnor was still alone at his table, on his third shot of schnapps, but looking no worse for it. Was he using an alcohol blocker or detoxicant? He glanced toward Terlo, who was busy serving a Pak'ma'ra with the look of a man performing prison chores. There was still no deception in him, none Robert felt, but could they be wrong about him?

Robert leaned in toward Meridina. "Do you think we've been had?"

"Have patience," Meridina urged him. "I sense no deception."

"Maybe not, but I don't…"

Before Robert could finish his sentence he saw movement at the entrance. A Human woman with red hair and a light brown leather jacket over black shirt and black pants stepped through the door. Without a word she went to Gagnor's table and took a seat that let her see toward the entrance.

"Never mind," he murmured. "So, now we have to figure out how to play this."

"We wait until she is finished with Gagnor. Or…" Robert nodded his head toward Terlo. "We get him to do it."

"We wait," was Meridina's reply.

So they did. Lyta and Gagnor were disputing something. Their discussion was getting more and more heated.

Meridina suddenly stood. She walked toward them with Robert, after a surprised delay, following. Even before they got to the table Lyta was looking up and toward them. When Meridina slipped up to an empty chair and stood behind it, Lyta asked, "Can I help you?"

"The question is if we can help you." Robert heard Meridina speak and was impressed with it. She didn't sound like herself, with that halting, lilting accent that sounded Irish and Cherokee at the same time. Instead she sounded more like Lucy, very informal and relaxed. "I'm a lip reader," she said. "And I watched you ask about transportation off Kalnat."

Lyta appraised Meridina and Robert shrewdly. "And you can provide that, Miss…"

"Mira Doyle," replied Meridina. "My partner, Jerry Furland. We provide transport services."

"To where?"

"Anywhere you need to go," Robert said. He could sense interest and caution in Lyta, caution almost to paranoia.

"And what, you think I'm just going to board a ship flown by people I know nothing about?" Lyta asked. "And that I'm going to pay for the privilege?"

"What are your alternatives?" Meridina asked. "Clearly you can't use standard transportation, or you wouldn't be interested in the sort of transportation Mister Gagnor could theoretically provide."

"And I doubt an arms dealer wants to show too much of his operation to an outsider." Robert nodded to him.

"He's right," Gagnor said. "It's why I can't accept your offer."

Lyta was quiet for a moment. Robert felt her mind gently probe his and didn't fight back. That would spook her too easily. He didn't even let himself think that. He simply let thoughts and edited memories bubble to the surface.

After a few moments Lyta nodded to Gagnor. "I'll take the rest of the shipment." She slipped a data crystal out of her jacket pocket. "Here is where you will deliver them. The first account on that crystal will provide your up front payment. After my people receive their shipment, the other account will be unlocked for you to access."

"Thank you, ma'am. You won't be disappointed." Gagnor stood and left.

"Now that he's gone, let's get down to business." Lyta looked to Robert and her brown eyes seemed to turn dark right there. "Whoever you are, you clearly have no idea how powerful my mind is. I already know you're not actual 'transport specialists' or whatever line you fed Terlo. You're looking for me in specific, and the only reason I haven't fried your brain out, 'Mister Furland', is that I know you're not Psi Corps or Earthforce. They'd never send someone not trained to fight deep scans up against me."

Robert and Meridina exchanged uneasy glances. Robert sighed. "Right. Okay, no, we're not smugglers of fugitives. We picked this cover to talk to you."

"Who are you?" she asked.

Speaking at just a low enough tone to not be heard in the rest of the bar, Robert answered, "I'm Captain Robert Dale from the United Alliance of Systems, commander of the Alliance Starship Aurora. This is my Chief of Security, Lieutenant Commander Meridina. She's a telepath and is trained in metaphysical energy use."

"Ah. From the other universes, then?" Lyta nodded. "I've heard about you out on the frontier. Why do you want to talk to me?"

"We've heard of your connection to the Vorlons," Robert replied. "And that makes you the most likely person to be able to help us."

Lyta considered him. "I think you'll find I'm not in a helping mood."

Sensing she was about to stand up, Robert kept going. "I can understand that. I'm not here empty-handed. We can help you and your people. We can get them to safety, far from the Psi Corps."

"I see." Lyta sat back in her chair. "How?"

"Asylum in the Alliance, or worlds close to it," Robert answered.

"My people would also be willing to help," Meridina added. "I am a telepath myself, as are my brother, sister, and mother. In my culture, telepaths are given full lives, and your people deserve the same."

Lyta crossed her arms and looked from Meridina to Robert and back to Meridina. "Let's say I'm interested," she said. "How would you get my people to safety beyond the Psi Corp's reach?"

"We could arrange regular ships." Meridina placed her hands on the table. "Your telepaths would not be the first mistreated people we have aided. There are ships equipped to safely hide refugees from scanners. Our farisa, telepaths I mean, would be on the ships to hide their minds from detection."

"I'm sure your people already have a regular underground railroad," Robert added. "We can be waiting for them."

"Right." Lyta was clearly in deep thought. "You have multiple copies of our arm of the galaxy to work with," Lyta stated. "Correct?"

"Well, yes…"

"Then my price is this." Lyta grinned slightly. She was clearly considering the boon she was about to request and enjoying it. "One: you help blips, rogue telepaths, escape the Psi Corps. Two: you make sure they're cared for in transit and you leave them alone. No prodding them for genetic samples, no testing their abilities. My people will be security against any Psi Corps agents or any other threat. Three…" She leaned in on the table. "You give us a planet. A homeworld for Human telepaths completely under our control. And you give us means to protect it."

Robert considered that for a moment before nodding. "Those terms are all acceptable, with a reservation."

Lyta narrowed her eyes. "Oh?"

"When you say we provide the means for you to protect it, I need to know what you consider sufficient protection. We can provide a theater shield, orbital defenses, arms for a militia, maybe even a small starship or two," Robert said. "But I can't guarantee we can give you a larger starship. Cruisers and above…" He shook his head. "I can't be sure you'd get something like that. I'm not even sure you could maintain a ship of cruiser size with just one colony."

After a moment Lyta nodded. "Fair enough. Reservation accepted."

"I'll make arrangements when we leave," Robert said. "Now, our problem…"

"I'm all ears."

"What do you now about the Darglan?"

For a moment Robert thought he sensed something. Not surprise. A sense of realization, or even expectation. A tinge of… concern? Worry? Something of that nature. But just as he began to focus on the sense it was gone. "The Darglan," Lyta said. "The Vorlons mentioned them once or twice, yes. They used to be not too far from the Minbari frontier. They were wiped out by the Shadows in the Shadow War a thousand years ago. A first strike when the Shadows began moving against the rest of the galaxy."

"Why did the Shadows destroy them?" asked Meridina. "Was it because they had knowledge of interuniversal travel?"

"Yes," stated Lyta matter-of-factly. "The Shadows didn't want that technology falling into anyone else's hands. They spread through Darglan space and wiped out every inhabited world. The Darglan Homeworld was dealt with by their planet-killer cloud. Their other colonies were destroyed by orbiting Shadow vessels."

Robert frowned at that. The Darglan had been such a brilliant, kind race. Being hunted down and exterminated like that…

"I can tell you're unhappy that the Darglan are gone," Lyta said. "But it might have been for the better. Their technology was danger, and they took it too far."

"You mean the newer jump drive they had built and were testing?"

Lyta looked at him with suspicion. That suspicion turned into stony realization. "That's what you're after, isn't it? The Darglan Dimensional Drive."

"Dimensional Drive?" asked Meridina.

"Their attempt to improve upon the interuniversal drive," Lyta said. "The Vorlons told them not to. They did it anyway. The Vorlons never did tell me where they tried to test it, or why, but all I know is that it had severe consequences."

Robert had a feeling he knew what those consequences were. "Whatever it is, we're worried it'll fall into the wrong hands," Robert said. "We already had one aggressive empire get their hands on Darglan weapons technology, and they nearly destroyed Earth in N2C5."

"Is that all?" Lyta asked. "You're not out for it yourself?"

"Our primary mission is to keep it out of the hands of others. If that means destroying it, I will."

"Right." She nodded, but there was still evident skepticism over Robert's motives. "How about this, then? We'll go to your ship. Your people will verify that the deal is accepted and is being enacted, and then I'll reveal a location that may give you what you're looking for."

"That works for me," said Robert. "When can we leave?"

"I have to accommodate my chaperone first," Lyta said. "So I…"

Robert felt something wrong. Lyta did too, given how she stopped speaking. She twisted her position so she wasn't looking directly at the door. "Were you followed?" she hissed.

"No," Robert said. "I'm sure of that."

"Don't even think," Lyta instructed.

And that was enough to tell Robert just what she was worried about. He glanced toward Meridina. She didn't glance back. Concentration showed on her features.

Robert decided he wanted another Jovian sunspot. Even if it made him sick to his stomach, even if it meant spending five minutes standing over the toilet once the detoxicants were ready, he just couldn't resist another drink from Terlo. He had to pay the man, after all. So he got up from his chair and turned toward the bar. Doing so let him see the two individuals stepping in. One was Caucasian, male, white-blond hair, probably in his thirties. The other was male as well with brown complexion and dark hair with a trimmed beard. Both men were standing at the entrance not looking at anything. They were in standard civilian clothing.

And they wore thick, black gloves.

Robert turned away from them and let the mental image fade from his mind. He looked to Terlo and nodded. Terlo grinned and nodded back. Robert brought up his cash card. "Another Jovian sunspot," he asked. "And a distraction. Your share is ten thousand credits."

For a moment Robert was afraid he'd underestimated the value of Earth credits and gone too high. Thirty thousand did seem the right amount for a single passenger to "disappear", after all. But thankfully Terlo seemed to not think it too high and ran the cash card over his scanner. "There we are," he said. "As for a distraction…" He looked around the bar and smirked. "I could use a vacation, I think. Give me a few minutes and head to my storage door when the time comes."

Robert nodded and waited while his seventh Jovian sunspot of the day was delivered to him. The drink had lost its appeal now, but negotiations required he put up the appearance. Once Terlo handed it to him with a wide grin, Robert walked back to the table. He consciously put himself just inside the line of sight from Lyta to her pursuers. "So, back to business," he said. "The terms are satisfactory. We'll depart shortly, just in time for me to finish my drink."

Lyta glanced his way. Clearly she was more focused in keeping her pursuers from noticing her. Meridina was, Robert imagined, shielding her mind and trying to shield his as well. Even now he could feel something, a slight presence tickling at the edge of his thoughts, trying to tease into them unobtrusively. Hello there, he thought. If you keep this up, I may have to get nasty.

The presence remained. Robert retaliated by imagining Barney the Dinosaur singing "I love you, you love me" over and over again.

Just as Robert took his last drink, all hell broke lose.

It would have been too obvious to have the fight directly involve Lyta's shadows. No. Instead, a provocation of some sort had been caused, and a group of Drazi were now in heated discussions with another Human and a Hyach. Something was said, the wrong mother was insulted or something like that, and within moments the sounds of a fight were breaking out. The fight swiftly spread to encompass the entire entrance and even the hall outside.

"Here we go," Robert said to them, standing up. Meridina and Lyta both followed, quietly, as he stepped toward the rear door. A lock was visible beside it with a slot for a standard identicard. It opened from inside with a small "click" and the trio went through. Terlo closed it behind them. The back area of his bar was full of boxes of various alcoholic drinks, some atmosphere controlled, and other items. He gestured toward a second door and unlocked it. "The access corridor," he murmured. "Turn to the right. Go down far enough and a door to your right will take you back out into the market."

"Right."

"And keep thinking of Dock 23," Lyta added.

Robert almost asked why, but stopped himself. Telepathic pursuers could be misled that way. He nodded to both. "Thanks, Terlo."

"It's always entertaining to do business with Humans," Terlo answered before returning to his likely-trashed bar.

The trio rushed down the dark gray corridor. It wasn't wide open and on several occasions they had to thread through empty boxes or those with discarded items. It reminded Robert of being behind a strip mall.

They arrived at a door and pushed it open, returning to the market. There was no immediate sign of pursuit. "This way," Meridina said quietly.

There was nothing on the trip to the lift, nor on the lift itself, to cause them alarm. They made their way at a brisk pace to customs, where the lines were rather slow and the guards being painfully thorough. Sensing that the Tokati guard on the right gate was the self-interested type, Robert quietly held up the electronic cash card and walked up to him. The Tokati nodded and just as quietly offered a reader with a very ill-fitting attachment that let it read the card. Robert held the card up and used the screen to deposit two hundred Earth Alliance credits into the guard's personal account. This bribery saw the three whisked through the gate with no fuss.

As they approached the door to Dock 14 and its cargo-receiving area, Robert felt something off. Instinct, or rather his abilities, were warning him about something, something wrong. He quietly pulled the gun from his shoulder holster while Meridina opened the door. It slid open and they walked into the docking bay, empty save the form of their Type 121 transport.

The feeling was getting worse. Worse enough that Robert realized they had made a mistake coming back to Dock 14.

"Trap?" Robert mumbled to Meridina. She nodded. Behind them Lyta was tensing. She could sense it too.

A thought crossed Robert's mind, that they should run, but the sound of the door sliding closed and a latch shifting into place told him it was too late. All they could do was walk forward into the trap.

The trap, as it turned out, was a number of black-clad figures dropping down from the upper level of the docking bay. PPG charge sounds echoed around them as silver pistols and rifles popped up into place to threaten them.

"A very good distraction," a voice said from the entryway to the "Eagle 5". "Mister Diamond will be sporting a black eye for days."

The figure that stepped out of the entryway and into view was another Human male. He wasn't very tall, and he was well into middle-age. There were only hints of gray at his temples, but his hair was otherwise brown, a few shades lighter than Robert's. Brown eyes of a darker shade looked over them.

Unlike the other dark-clad figures, he was in a uniform, although it too was black. Completely black, with a black leather belt and a connected shoulder strap of the same color over the right shoulder that was somewhat reflective in the light. The gloves were, of course, also black.

The only sign of color on the suit was the pin on the left side of the sternum, right by the wearer's heart. A golden pin with a silver insignia: the Greek letter Psi.

A wave of anger and revulsion filled Lyta.

"Hello again, Miss Alexander." The man looked from her to Robert. "Ah. Now you, I wasn't expecting to meet."

"Should I know you?" Robert asked.

"I think everyone should get to know everyone else," the man replied. "It would make the galaxy a nicer place." He grinned. "Although I suppose I should say 'Multiverse' now. Anyway, I suppose an introduction is in order." He stepped closer. "Captain Robert Allen Dale of the Starship Aurora, I presume? And Lieutenant Commander Meridina of the same vessel. Hello."

Meridina and Robert gave no immediate reaction to being identified. Meridina kept the conversation going by asking, "And you are?"

The man's grin took on an edge. "My name is Alfred Bester. I'm with the Psi Corps. And I'm still deciding whether or not I'm going to kill you."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-19 03:34pm

The dock cargo area was completely quiet for a moment. Robert kept his gun low to avoid triggering anyone shooting. Talking would give time for the others to think of something, at least.

Not that he let himself really think about that.

"I applaud your use of misdirecting thoughts," continued Bester. "If I didn't have someone watching the docks, we might have fallen for it."

"What is it that you want?" Robert asked.

"Peace, quiet, and justice. In reverse order." Bester took another step closer, but he was consciously remaining far enough away to avoid being grabbed at. "We came for Miss Alexander. She and her traveling companion have done well staying below the Corps' notice this past year, but we knew they would have to come back to civilized space for resupply sooner or later. It's quite interesting that you've sought her out as well, Captain."

"I wasn't aware you were a fan," Robert replied. "Actually, I've never heard of you before, Mister Bester."

"I suppose I should be hurt that Sheridan and the others never mentioned me. We have worked together before, in common cause."

"What do you want from us?" asked Meridina.

Bester remained quiet for a moment. "An eye for an eye. A year ago, unknown raiders killed two of my telepaths on a cargo ship, the Pedicarus. Ah, sorry, Captain, I'm afraid that flicker of recognition was quite loud enough for me." Bester held a gloved finger up. "I've actually known it was your crew for some time. All we had to do was determine the source of the stolen databanks. After all, your Alliance had just opened contact with our galaxy. Who else would have seen value in Darglan computers? The fact that within two weeks of that attack your people launched their operation to secure the Gamma Piratus Facility merely confirmed my suspicions."

Robert and Meridina said nothing.

"The sad thing is, if your people had simply asked, we would have given you access to that data. After all, we don't want the Reich rummaging around the Multiverse either." Bester's face became a mask of anger. "Instead you attacked our operation and killed two of our people. We can't ignore that."

"And that's why you're thinking of killing us?" Robert asked.

"You'd already be a gibbering lunatic trying to rip his own eyes out if I went with my first plan," Bester said. "A nice little warning to your Alliance at the penalty for crossing the Corps. That's what we do to mundanes who kill our own. The reason you're sane, Captain, is because we don't know what you are. You're not one of us, but you're clearly not a mundane either. The attack on the United Systems Senate demonstrated that fact." Bester looked between them. "So killing you would be a waste. Miss Alexander has to die, unfortunately. She's become an unacceptable threat to our kind."

"You mean a threat to your Corps," Lyta retorted. "You don't give a damn about any telepath that doesn't want to be a drone."

"If I thought I could persuade you otherwise, I would try. But you're not going to change your mind and I have other things to do." Bester returned his gaze to Robert. Robert could feel the telepath poking at the edges of his mind. "I am curious as to why you came looking for Miss Alexander. Well, I'm sure your debriefing can cover that before we send you to the labs."

"Labs?"

"To see what you are, Captain. To find out how your powers work. The same with the Commander here."

"Somehow, Bester, I don't think poking us with needles will tell you much about what we can do."

"You might be surprised by what our scientists can manage."

"I'm not exactly in a hurry to find out."

"Maybe not." That satisfied grin reappeared on Bester's face. He motioned him. "But I have a dozen Psi Corps agents who say otherwise. It would be a loss if you made us kill you. But one way or another, you are coming with us."

The conversation was going nowhere. The only thing they could do now was fight and hope their personal forcefields would let them hold out long enough. He glanced toward Meridina and sensed she agreed.

It was also clear that Bester could tell. He raised his hand and made a motion. PPG guns snapped up to open fire.

Before the fight could break out, the door to the docking area slid open.

Eyes turned that way and watched a single large figure step in. Red eyes looked over the gathered crowd and the hairless being stopped in his tracks. "Well," said the Narn, "it seems I have the wrong dock." He looked toward them, or rather Lyta, with an intent expression.

"G'Kar," Lyta said. "Sorry, we're busy."

"So it appears."

A series of things happened at once. G'Kar took a quick step and threw a punch at a surprised Psi Corps man who had trouble with alien minds. Meridina's lightsaber flashed to life, the blue blade immediately intercepting PPG shots that flashed red over the walls. Robert drew up his power and threw out a wave of force that sent Bester and another of his agents flying. Lyta glared toward the nearest of them, who promptly turned and shot her buddy before being shot by the agent beside her.

This, alone, was unlikely to have gotten them free. Bester's other agents had them in a kill zone. But these things were not the only things to happen.

Two people descended from the upper dock floor, the same the Psi Corps themselves had just used. There was a metallic sound and one of the newcomers was spinning around a metal staff that smacked teeth from the jaw of a Psi Corps agent. The other arrival hit the ground and held her arms out. Two quick metallic shrieks sounded, that of memory metal taking form into two short blades.

Robert turned with his gun raised and put a pulse shot into the arm of a Psi Corps shooter bearing down on the newcomers. One was a Minbari with a light bone crest on his head and a Minbari fighting pike in his hands, the other a Dorei woman with blue skin and light purple spotting. She had dark blue hair pulled into a combat bun at the back of her head and purple eyes that made Robert think of Violeta Arterria's gene-engineered eye color. She moved with deadly grace, driving her blades into one of the Psi Corps men and then the other with a speed that told him she had abilities even as he started to sense them.

A shrill cry came from another of the enemy agents, who had just had his hands and forearms severed by Meridina's blade. She twirled the blue energy blade around and deflected a shot heading toward her. The red PPG shot flashed red over the back of another of the Psi Corps operatives, this one threatening G'Kar from behind.

The sudden arrival of the two newcomers immediately turned the fight against Bester's people. They began to fall back toward the far side of the dock under his telepathic guidance. Bester had a PPG out now and aimed toward Lyta.

Meridina moved in his way as the shot fired. Her lightsaber intercepted the blast and sent it back into Bester's hands. Bester's control was enough that he didn't cry out, but he dropped his weapon. Robert had him dead to rights.

But he could feel it. There were more figures coming. Maybe more Psi Corps, or Kalnit Station security forces, mercenaries… whoever it was, he sensed they didn't want to be here when they arrived.

So instead of shooting Bester, Robert knocked him back with energy.

The Minbari put down his opponent by jabbing one end of his fighting pike into his belly and the other end swinging to smack the man in the face. He turned to Robert and said, "Our ship is nearby, we should go there."

"And you are?"

Meridina stepped up beside him. "Lennier," she said. "Druni."

"Meridina." The Dorei woman, who looked younger than Robert expected from seeing her fight, smiled at Meridina. "It is good to see you, but we should get going."

"She's right." Lyta joined the conversation. "I could sense it in their heads. Your ship's been sabotaged. Probably ours as well." She looked to G'Kar who nodded.

"A Narn couple among the dockworkers warned me about the sabotage. Repairs are proceeding, but we do not have time to wait."

"This way." Lennier took the lead and led them to the door.




Bester watched them go with a frown. The plan to take Lyta Alexander out had been months in the making, waiting only the news of her presence to swing into action. Now this unexpected complication had ruined everything.

There was still a chance, however. He activated his link. "Bester to Omega Squadron, launch. They're fleeing in a vessel, unknown configuration, likely alien. Disable if you can, but destroy it before it can escape."

"Understood."




The vessel that Lennier and Druni led them to in Dock 18 was a Dorei design, a blue-colored ship resembling a bird with wings swept back, with a feather design painted on the wings in green color. The cockpit was in the "head' part of the ship with the body widest where the wings were attached to the ship. Robert could make out a pair of twin ball turrets built into the top and bottom of the ship and an array of plasma cannons in the front of the wings. The wings themselves sloped down slightly enough to end in warp nacelles. "Nice ship," Robert said to them.

"The Keyeri is her name," Druni said. "She is fueled , stocked, and ready."

As they entered the airlock Robert asked, "Do you have a transporter? We left some things on our ship that we should bring along."

"I'll show you to it," said Druni, leaving Lennier to head to the cockpit and start the ship up. The inside of the ship was likewise colored to Dorei standards, vibrant green with purple trim. From the airlock entrance along the ship's port side one could either turn left to the cockpit and what Robert guessed was the main quarters, or to the right and the engineering spaces, mess hall, and cargo space.

G'Kar and Lyta went off to do their own thing - possibly argue - while Druni led them to the cargo bay of the ship. Robert thought it more of a storage room from the look of it. Even the cargo bay on the Koenig was larger. In one corner was a transporter. Robert activated it and quickly aligned the scanners on the Type 121 they were leaving behind. It wasn't hard to find the device he was looking for. He initiated the transporter and the portable IU radio appeared on the transporter pad in a burst of light.

"What is that?" Druni asked. "Why is it so important?"

"Oh, it's how we're going to call the cavalry if we need to."

The entire ship shuddered. It was lifting off. They left the cargo bay and followed steps back up to the main hall of the ship and toward the cockpit. Lennier was lifting off. As they walked along Robert looked back at Meridina and asked, "How do you know them?"

"They were on the team Commander Andreys assembled to rescue Jarod from the Centre," Meridina answered. "Druni Jestani is a former Sister of the Silver Moon."

Robert nodded. "One of the Dorei orders, right. The all-lesbian one?"

A sound of frustration came from their hostess. "Goddess, if I hear that one more time I may scream," she growled. "No. Men are in the Order too as lay members. And it is not unheard of for a Sister to marry a man in the laity."

"Alright, alright," Robert answered, recognizing that he'd inadvertently stepped into a bit of a minefield there. "That's the last time I let Tom's descriptions worm into my brain."

They made it to the cockpit area. The lone seat at the front and in the middle was for the pilot. Flanking seats were for other functions. Druni took one. "You are trained, yes? Those are the controls for the ship's main weapons and sensors," she said, indicating the seat beside her. The seat behind that was described as being for the turrets.

"And yours?" Robert asked while taking the sensors and weapons post.

"Ship communications and operations."

"Right." Robert could already see they were pulling away from Kalnit Station. Lennier weaved them between an Earth freighter - possible with Bester? - and an Abbai ship. Robert checked the sensor returns and the weapons. "For a ship this size, it's pretty well-armed," he observed. "Four ultralight plasma cannons and dual pulse guns on the turrets for covering the other arcs. You could probably shoot up a corvette with these thing. What is this design?"

"It is from the Henjan-Kimati Shipbuilding company in the Daxai Republic, a Model 4 Rotaga armed courier," Druni answered. "It is used by a number of Dorei governments and corporations for protective interstellar transport of low volume high-value goods or important individuals."

"I cannot imagine your share of the bounty from the Deadman's Hand covered this," Meridina noted.

"No, it did not," Lennier said. "That reward bought us an unarmed private transport."

"And we crashed it," Druni added. She grinned. "Into the palace of a Jeaxian slaver. I shall tell you the story some other time, but right now…"

Robert was already looking at his screens and seeing what she meant. "...right now we have incoming contacts." He used the panel's viewing capability to zoom in on the approaching craft. "Earth Alliance Starfuries. Their weapons are armed."

"Black Omega fighters," said Lyta. "They're an elite wing of Psi Corps pilots."

"Are we ready to go to warp?"

"I am getting us clear of Kalnit's traffic lanes now," said Lennier. "I recommend you raise shields.

"Shields are raised," said Druni, while Meridina began tracking the Starfuries. The positioning of the four turrets meant only two would point toward the aft. She breathed in and let her instincts guide her in opening fire.

Since she didn't consciously think of her target, the telepathic pilots had no warning. Bursts of white light slammed into the lead fighter and blew upper wings off. As it began to spin helplessly in space, the other fighters returned fire. Their weapons played over the Keyeri's shields. The vessel rumbled slightly. "Shields down to eighty-eight percent," was Druni's report.

The Dorei courier ship raced on through the void with the Psi Corps fighters in hot pursuit. White pulses flashed back and forth between hunter and hunted. Another of the Starfuries took a hit, this one just off the cockpit. It stopped accelerating.

"We are clear in three… two… one." Lennier hit a sequence of keys. "I have finalized our course. Activating warp drive now."

With a quick rumble through the deck, the Keyeri jumped to warp.

"They don't have warp drives so no pursuit." Robert let the tension of the unexpected fight out with a breath. "Alright, now that the crazy part is over, perhaps we should all talk?"

That prompted laughter from behind them. All eyes turned to face G'Kar. The Narn leader was smiling and an amused twinkle was in his eyes. "Captain, if you believe the 'crazy part' is over, you have clearly not been involved in our humble universe for long enough."

"Fine. Now that the most recent crazy part is over, we should talk." Robert turned his head to face Druni. "How did you find us?"

"It wasn't easy," she answered. "I had to meditate to get enough clarity. And Lennier's guess that you would go for Lyta helped narrow down the potential choices."

Robert almost asked why before it came to him. "Julia asked you to help?"

"She did." Druni grinned. "And Lennier and I like helping people out, so we said yes."

Lennier nodded. "Although I did not expect to face Agent Bester." He looked back. "Do you have a destination in mind?"

"Not yet." Robert turned to look at Lyta. "That depends on Miss Alexander. Which reminds me that I have a call to make. Does this ship have a secure IU radio?"

"It's meant to be a government or corporate transport," Druni reminded him. "Of course it does."

"Then I have a call to make." Robert stood up. "Do you have a mess room or something where we can direct the call?"

"In the back, to your left," Druni replied. "If you eat my seemai strips, I will throw you out of the airlock."

Robert was familiar with what she was talking about; strips of seemai fruit, which always seemed to him to taste like an avocado mixed with a grapefruit. "Meridina will keep me out of trouble." He looked over her console. Druni moved to let him input the call channel and an access code. "Let me know when he answers?"

Druni nodded in reply and let them depart.




Angela found Julia right where she expected her to be. Namely, in her Deck 3 office, thinking and worrying. Julia looked up and asked, "What is it?" when Angel entered fully.

"I was just seeing how you were holding up," Angel said.

"Ah. I'm alright." Julia motioned to her screen. "Emissary Jopari just let me know that the treaty passed final reading. As soon as the Committee of Chiefs signs off on it, and they probably will, the defense treaty will be in force."

"What about the Senate? We still have to ratify, right?"

Julia nodded. "The treaty's going before the Senate today. Passage is expected without complaint."

"Well, our job's done then." Angel sat in a chair. "Now we can jump to E5B1 and help Rob and Meridina."

Julia shook her head. "No, we can't. Orders are we remain here."

Angel frowned. "Why?"

"To help finish the excavations of the Azeyma's Rest site, and to protect the planet until a force of Dorei starbirds arrives," answered Julia. "Although I think the real reason is that Maran and Sheridan don't want us traipsing around E5B1 looking for Rob and Meridina."

"What are they hiding?"

"I've no idea." There was an unease in the room. "I've thought about calling Zack and asking him to look for Robert and the others."

"It's an idea," Angel agreed. "Of course, if Maran finds out he'll order him away."

"Yeah." Julia thought on it another moment before sitting up in her chair and activating her systems.

A wry grin appeared on Angel's face. "Calling Zack?"

"Yep." After a few key presses and a wait on the screen, Zack's image appeared. He looked slightly bleary but quite satisfied. "How is B5?"

"Incredible. We gave Karen a welcome back party and beat B5 Security at darts," Zack replied. "I'm letting some of the other crew take shore leave over there right now. Then we'll jump back to N2S7 and heard your way."

"How about you stick around and go find Rob and Meridina?"

Zack seemed to think on it. "I suppose, if I can find any indication of where they went. At least until Maran calls for me to go somewhere."

"Well, do what you can and let me know?"

"Sure, I…" Zack stopped. "Speak of the devil."

Julia blinked. "What?"

"Admiral Maran's calling," Zack said. "Sorry. I'd better take this."

"Yeah, you'd better," Julia sighed. She canceled the call on her end and looked at Angel. "That's just… ugh! How did he know?!"

"Well, he's either spying on us, or he's got bad timing," Angel pointed out.

"I'll go with 'bad timing' because the other option is something I don't want to contemplate," mumbled Julia. With a stroke of a key she shut down her screen. "That's it. I want to go hit something."

Angel laughed. "Usually that's my line."

"It's a good line." Julia stepped around her desk and went for the door.




Zack watched Julia disappear from his office desk computer screen. Three seconds later, Maran appeared. "Yes, Admiral?"

"Commander, you've picked up Lieutenant Derbely, correct?"

"We have, sir."

"And you've undoubtedly recovered from whatever celebration you had to welcome her back?"

"Mostly, sir." Zack grinned at that. "April's a bit under the weather, but we're good."

"Excellent. Because you're the closest ship for a special mission I've got in mind." Maran tapped a control on his desk. "I'm sending coordinates and a series of special codes to you on a double-encrypted subchannel."

Zack blinked at that. Double-encryption? That implied Maran was worried about interception. By whom? "Alright sir." He tapped a key on his end and acknowledged the subchannel had opened. "What can I do for you?"

"At those coordinates you'll find an Earth-built transport vessel named the Hycantha. Identify yourselves to them with the codes I have just sent to you. You are to escort it into hyperspace and to the Gamma Orionis Jump Gate, at the edge of Alliance space. There will you oversee its rendezvous with the Gersallian transport Hencerasa and the transfer of its passengers. Once this is complete, escort the Hencerasa to our colony at the Reynar System. This mission is on a time limit, so you are authorized to use interuniversal jumps to hide your course and get to the target area as quickly as possible."

As Maran laid out the orders, Zack grew concerned. That concern grew when the computer finished the double-encryption on the coordinates and displayed the location. "Sir, these coordinates… this is for the Sheffer System. In Earth Alliance space."

"Yes, they are," Maran said. "Earthforce's sensor systems in that system can't see you through your cloak. Use a narrow beam transmission to contact the Hycantha and let them know you've got them under escort."

Zack's concern became a full-fledged bad feeling. "If we're escorting them, who is it against? I mean, are you expecting us to engage Earthforce?"

"Not unless absolutely necessary and they fire first. And do not engage if it puts your ship at risk. However, it is imperative that the passengers and crew on the Hycantha get to Reynar. If you have to abandon the Hycantha and beam them aboard, do so. Captain Dale's safety may be at stake."

Just what does he have Rob doing? What does this have to do with the hunt for Darglan stuff? Zack forced himself to nod once. "I see, sir. I'll do what's necessary."

"Before you go, Commander, one last clarification of your engagement orders." Maran's mouth shifted slightly, becoming a frown. "Normal Earthforce vessels are to be left alone unless absolutely necessary to safeguard the people on the Hycantha, and under no circumstances can you destroy one. But if you're facing a vessel used by the Psi Corps and it threatens the Hycantha, feel free to commence an engagement on your terms."

"Sir?" Zack blinked. "Are you telling me to open fire, without provocation, on a ship belonging to a branch of the Earth Alliance's government?'

"Yes. Psi Corps has already committed hostile actions against the Alliance and they can pose a grave threat to your ship. Consult Commander King's records of the engagement at Venir a year ago September if you want to understand what I mean. If a Psi Corps vessel is involved, do not hesitate to destroy it."

Zack swallowed. I effectively fired the first shot against the Nazis. Will I fire the first shot against these people as well? Still, he knew what he had to say in response. "Orders understood, Admiral. Is there anything else?"

"No. As I said, Captain Dale's safety may rest on this mission. Get to it immediately. Maran out."

Once Maran disappeared from the screen Zack left his office and walked to the bridge. Apley looked at him from the helm. "Sir?" He could see that Zack was no longer in a happy mood.

"Order all of our people back from B5. All shore leaves are canceled."

Magda and April looked at each other with worry. "Sending orders, sir," she said. "It will take them a few minutes to get through departures and arrive at a point to beam out through their magnetic shields."

Zack nodded. He supposed he could ask Captain Lochley to temporarily lower the mag-shields so he could get his people off… but given his orders, he didn't want to specify what they were doing to her. "Set the jump drive to…" Zack consulted his memory. "...set it to Vega Fleet Base, Universe L4R2."

"Sir. Vega is just outside of the spatial aspect zone," Magda pointed out. "We won't actually arrive there."

"I'm well aware of that, Magda. We're not staying in L4R2. We'll be free-jumping back to E5B1 as soon as the jump drive can be safely re-engaged. Once we're back in E5B1, engage the cloaking device. Apley, you'll lay in a course for the Sheffer System, maximum warp."

"That's in Earth Alliance space," Apley said. Now he was showing worry.

"I'm aware of that, Ap." Zack imagined a more strict officer would have been angry with his people for seeming to question his orders. But he was proud of them. "Those are our orders straight from the top."

Apley drew in a breath and realized what that meant. "Alright. I'll lay in the course and engage as soon as our double-jump is complete."

"What's going on?" asked April. "Why are we sneaking into EA space?"

"Escort mission," Zack answered. "I'm not sure who we're escorting yet. All I know is that our orders are to leave Earthforce alone, to get the people on the ship to the Reynar System, and that if a Psi Corps-operated vessel tries to stop the ship we're covering, we're to blow them out of the stars before they can blink our way." He drew in a breath. "And that Captain Dale's safety is at stake."

That caused nods all around. This was for comrades and friends, then. They could accept that.

Magda's board toned. "Sir, the last of our crew just beamed off." Another tone went off. "Babylon Control just signaled. They want to know if everything is fine."

"Put me on." When Magda nodded, Zack raised his voice and said, "Babylon Control, this is Commander Carrey on the Starship Koenig. We've been called on priority assignment and are about to commence an interuniversal jump. Please provide us a flight path to a safe jumping point."

The voice that came over the line was that of a woman, with a firm tone. "Captain Lochley here. I understand, Commander. Good luck."

"Thank you, Captain. Hopefully we'll be back some day. Carrey out."

"We're getting a flight path, activating impulsor drives."

The Koenig twisted away from B5 and gained speed as she flew toward the station's rear. Once she was clear of the station and at a safe distance, Magda activated the jump drive. A green vortex expanded into existence and they accelerated into it.




The mess room on the Keyeri was a two-part room set into the starboard side of the ship just aft of the quarters. The rear portion was a kitchen, or rather a kitchenette, while the forward portion was a dining area with a small round table that could comfortably seat six people.

The dining area's fore-side wall had a viewscreen embedded into it. Admiral Maran's image appeared after a few minutes of quiet. "The Koenig is en route to rendezvous with the Hycantha," he said.

"That's good." Lyta put her hands on the table and tapped a key. "Lennier, can you please take us on a course for the Kuzaram star system?"

"I am doing so now."

"That's in Minbari space," Robert observed.

"It is," Lyta said. "But it's not too far from where we're going. As soon as your ship makes the rendezvous with the Hycantha, I'll provide you with the system in question. Provided that Admiral Maran can follow through on my request."

Maran nodded. "I've consulted with Secretary Saratova and President Morgan. We've found a world that fits your criteria. In this universe it's inhabited by a Centauri colony, the Kitamo Colony. In A4P5, it's uninhabited, but is considered acceptable for Human habitation with no environmental or biological hazards. We can arrange prefabricated colony structures to be available when your first colonists arrive."

There was evident pleasure on Lyta's face at that. "Thank you very much, Admiral. You won't regret this, I promise. In time the telepaths of the Byron Free Colony will be among the Allied System's strongest supporters."

"And we thank you for your help," Maran answered, diplomatically evading the issue that Lyta's help was coming at a cost. Near-Earth garden worlds were not entirely rare, but given the desire for colonies setting one aside as a refugee colony exclusive to one group of refugees did present a challenge. If this was about anything less than potentially-dangerous Darglan technology that could fall into the hands of people like the Psi Corps, Robert doubted Maran could have managed it. The best Lyta could have hoped for was an enclave on New Liberty which was clearly not what she desired.

"I'll keep you informed of any new developments, Admiral," Robert said.

"Please do, Captain. Maran out." He disappeared from the screen.

"You admire him," Lyta observed.

"Maran is a good man," Robert answered. "He's not afraid to step forward when he has to, he always recognizes success and rewards it, and he watches out for his subordinates."

"He reminds me of John Sheridan, a little."

Robert considered that and gave a slight nod. "The thought crossed my mind too."

Given the conflicted look on Lyta's face, Robert realized the comparison hadn't entirely been a compliment. "The thing about people like that is… the moment you're not useful anymore, and you decide to stand for something they find inconvenient to their plans, all of that effort goes away. They'll turn on you without pause."

There was just the right bit of bitterness in Lyta's voice to tell Robert what she was referring to. Meridina was the one to ask, "What happened?"

"I tried to do the right thing. We all did. And we bled and died for them. But we weren't convenient politically, so they ignored us," Lyta said, sourly. "They gave us shelter and then let Bester and his Bloodhounds hunt us down because it was easier than standing up to him. The only reason Bester left empty-handed was because they came up with a procedural technicality to stop him." Lyta's voice was picking up in anger. "And when we finally demanded our due, they all turned on us. And Byron paid the price."

"I have heard of this incident," said Meridina. "Did Byron not attempt to blackmail the InterStellar Alliance's council members into giving you a world."

"Yes, he did," stated Lyta. She glared intently at Meridina. "The fact that he felt it necessary to go that far should tell you just how bad things were for us. How little they cared for us in the long run. "

Meridina looked at her with sympathy. "I understand your pain and anger. But if you let it drive you, it will consume you."

"I'm not in the mood to be psycho-analyzed." Lyta stood up from the table. "I'm going to lay down for a while. Let me know if we get to Kuzaram. If we end up stopping by, the Minbari colonists were quite good to me and G'Kar when we dropped in a few months ago."

Once she was gone Robert glanced toward Meridina. Meridina bowed her head. "I fear for her," she admitted. "That much pain and anger can mislead."

"But she has to want to let us help," Robert pointed out. "She has to be willing to hear us. She's not. We can't do anything for her."

"I fear you are right." Meridina stood. "I shall find a room and meditate."

Robert nodded. "And I…" He stood, feeling an old, familiar, and very uncomfortable sensation. "...am going to find a bathroom before my bladder explodes."

"That is why I was very careful with those Jovian sunspots." The merest hint of a smile appeared on Meridina's face before she stepped out.




Meridina sensed the arrival into the cargo bay and nodded. "You are G'Kar, yes?"

"I am." The Narn sat down on the floor in front of her. "You are one of the near-Human species from the other universes?"

"Yes. I am Meridina of Gersal, formerly a swevyra'se, a Knight, in the Order of Swenya." Meridina opened her eyes and considered G'Kar. "I have spent some time reading a translation of your book."

"I see." He showed no sign off the sort of reaction a writer might ordinarily give to his or her or their work being read by another. "Do you have questions?"

"There are always questions. But for the most part, I have observations."

"And those would be?"

Meridina clasped her hands together. "You are a man who once dwelled in darkness, full of anger and pain. You did things in the name of your people you should not have done."

G'Kar shook his head. "Indeed. I was a different man."

"And yet here you are. I sense the Light in you, strong, pure. You have let go of the hatreds that bound you to your past. You seek to lead your people to embrace those qualities. That is an admirable goal."

"When you speak of Light, what is it that you mean?" G'Kar asked.

"The Light of Life. The Flow of Life surrounding us all. Light enriches and strengthens it. Darkness chokes it." Meridina held her hand up and used it to levitate a tool that Druni or Lennier had left on the ground. "My training as a swevyra'se, a Knight of Life, allows me to draw upon the energies of my swevyra." Sensing what G'Kar was about to ask, she added, "There is no term in the Human English tongue for it, and I am unfamiliar with your own language enough to know if you have a word for it. Swevyra is the energy of life within oneself. Some have a swevyra that lets them feel the Flow of Life and to connect with the universe, or Multiverse."

"I see." G'Kar folded his hands in his lap. "An extraordinary gift. But not exclusive to your species?"

"Any may have a swevyra that has such a connection."

"As your Captain does. And the young Dorei woman Lennier has been traveling with."

"Indeed." Meridina settled her hands back onto her knees. "I sense you feel no anxiety over such a thing existing. Even though your universe seems to lack in any traditions similar to my own."

"I would feel no anxiety over something like this," G'Kar answered. "What you have told me merely confirms my own views on life. That it is wondrous and full of mystery, and that we should be privileged when the mystery is revealed to us."

Meridina nodded and smiled. "I have learned to feel the same."

"You have used the Human word 'Knight' to describe yourself. I once met a Human who considered himself such. He was willing to fight against superior odds to reclaim a picture belonging to an old woman, an image dear to her memory."

"A worthy act. Such things strengthen the Flow of Life, and that is the purpose of a swevyra'se."

"And you say you are no longer one?" A curious look came to G'Kar's eyes. "Why?"

Meridina met his eyes with her own. She knew he was perceptive enough to see the pain behind them. "To do what was right, to follow the path I know I must take for the good of everything I cherish, of those I cherish… I left my Order. To remain would be to betray everything I have built."

"A difficult decision. I am familiar with them." G'Kar drew in a breath and closed his eyes. "Yes, very familiar."

"May I ask you something?"

"You may."

"Your book has become a guide to your people," said Meridina. "Yet you rejected their pleas to lead them and instead departed for the edge of civilized space. Why?"

"Because it was the necessary thing," said G'Kar. "My people wished to raise me to power. Over a book that I had never intended to release until after my death. I fear that they are missing the point of my writings."

"Or they find it easier to be led by you than to follow your wisdom, hard-earned that it is, themselves," Meridina observed. "Swenya, it is said, had the same problem."

"And how did Swenya handle it?" asked G'Kar.

"She formed the Order, and refused all other roles," Meridina answered. "She devoted herself to teaching her Code to those of our people with a connected swevyra."

"A decent alternative."

"Yes." Meridina met him eye to eye again. "But she did not hide from her people either. Though she refused the power they pleaded her to take, Swenya remained to advise those they elected to lead them. No control, nothing but guidance."

G'Kar considered that. "You feel that is what I should have done."

"I do," Meridina answered. "I do understand why you chose this instead, but if your people feel lost enough to beg you to lead them, they can be lured into darkness by their own fears."

For a long moment nothing was said. G'Kar finally nodded in acceptance of her point. "Perhaps my time away from the Homeworld has come to its proper end," he said. "Once we have completed this excursion, I will consider returning."

"It may be that your time away has been for the best, just as your return will be," Meridina agreed.




The benefit to the bunk he had on the Keyeri was that Robert didn't bump his head when he woke up in a start from the dreams. The vision in his head, of the Aurora being assailed by a fleet of dark shapes, her hull spewing flame and gas and debris, had come to him before. It was not a common one, but this time it was so powerful…

And then there was the face. The woman who was saying "Bad Wolf" to him in his dreams. He was starting to make out detail. Definitely a younger woman, maybe even at the end of her teens. Blond hair. And the accent…

Expecting he wouldn't be getting back to sleep, Robert changed clothes and went to the kitchen. He found that Druni or Lennier had thoughtfully programmed the replicator with coffee. A drink from it did much to get the sleep out of his eyes. That it also made his taste buds recoil was an unpleasant side effect. The replicator was apparently where the ship's builder had skimped.

With a mug of dreadfully bad coffee in his hand, Robert journeyed up to the cockpit. Lennier was resting and Druni had taken a turn at the helm. She didn't look back when she said, "I thought I felt something peculiar about you."

"Oh?"

She turned to face him. "It's not a common thing. Being able to sense possible futures through the Gift."

"It's a curse," Robert grumbled. "The news is almost always bad."

"That's because you let it be," Druni said. "Your energy responds to your mood. When it's good, and when you feel good about the future, you see the futures that are good. When you're brooding and angry and feeling uncertain or bad about the future, that's when your dreams fill with bad stuff."

"You speak from experience, I'm guessing?"

"A little. I've had some clairvoyant visions. It's what helped me find you and Meridina."

"Thank you for that. Again."

"No thanks are necessary," Druni assured him. "But they are welcome."

Robert nodded and sipped at the atrocious coffee again to see if it woke him up further. It did, although not pleasantly. He looked out the cockpit canopy at the streaks of warp space. "Do you enjoy being out here?" he asked her.

"Oh, yes," Druni said. "Flying from star to star, going between universes. Always finding somewhere new to visit. Helping people." She looked at him with glee in her purple eyes. "You know what that's like, don't you?"

Robert grinned and nodded. "Oh yeah, I do."

"But you gave it up."

"We did." He shrugged. "Had to, really. After we lost the Facility, we had nowhere to keep the Aurora maintained. And I like to think there have been benefits."

"More resources, certainly," Druni answered.

"If I might ask, why did you leave your Order?"

Robert hoped he hadn't stepped on a mine with the question. Druni's emotional reaction was sad, but layered with resigned acceptance. "I was trying to fight a rogue Coserian cybertrooper in the Unaligned Worlds. It was my first mission as a Sentinel of the Silver Moon."

"Sentinel?"

"The first rank when we graduate to full Sisters," Druni clarified. "I was on the planet Junan, a colony of Kilpak - they are the four-eyed bipeds from my home universe - and the machine was attacking civilians. We fought. I was losing, despite my gifts. His weapons were too great. So I used a technique that my uncle Tormarin had taught me. He was Gifted too."

"This is the lightning attack you used on the Deadman's Hand?" Upon seeing her surprised expression Robert said, "It was in Commander Andreys' report."

"Yes. It is a simple technique," Druni said. "You use your power to separate positive and negative charges in the air. When this creates an electrical field from the charges attempting to meet, you direct it through yourself with your power and channel it into a lightning bolt."

Robert imagined that technique. It explained the hand movements Julia had described. "Sounds useful."

"It can be. But lightning is associated with the powers of darkness. Even if the lightning is not formed from the Gift itself, but from the natural charge in the air." Druni's eyes lowered. "My Sisters discovered what I had done. I was ordered to meditate on my 'error' and to swear to never again use the power. I instead told them I would leave the Silver Moon rather than denounce a technique that can save lives. So I left. And my parents disowned me."

"What?" Robert blinked.

"I am Astra… you are familiar with the Dorei nations, yes?"

"Um, moderately. I know Sindai nations are still polytheist, that the Daxai are the most powerful of the Merchant and Corporate Republics…" Robert shrugged. "...and I think I heard that the Astra have the holiest sites for the Eternal Goddess religion?"

"The Lushan host the Church's headquarters, but the oldest temples are in my nation, yes. The Queens of the Astra are always Ordained Priestesses and ceremonial guardians of the Temple of the Lunar Revelation. Anyway, I will not force you to listen to an academic lecture about our religion. You simply need to know that the Astra are generally a religiously devout and conservative people. Astra with the Gift are expected to join the Church's Holy Orders for the Gifted. Leaving as I did, from defiance of the Order's rules… my parents were quite upset."

Robert could sense the pain inside of her at that outcome. "Maybe they'll… well, if you show you're still…"

"They do not understand. Few do. Even your teacher Meridina believed the power was dangerous." Tears streaked down Druni's cheeks. "I know it is a dangerous use of power. Such energy can kill. If you're not careful with it…"

"The same with a lot of things. I've made mistakes that got my people killed. Even though I thought I was doing the right thing." Robert took in a breath and thought of what else to say. "All you can do is try to do the right thing and consider the consequences of what you do."

"Yes." Druni sat back in the cockpit chair. The emotional moment had drained her. Robert regretted asking her about her past. He looked away and thought of something else he might say, something that might make her feel better. It was Druni, however, who spoke next. "The weapon Meridina now carries. I saw the fight on Gersal with that fallen Mastrash. It is the same weapon that her student Lucy used, isn't it?"

"Yes and no." Robert shook his head. "The weapon Lucy used to beat Goras was Swenya's Blade. The actual relic. She found out how to reactivate it. And after months of trying, she figured out how to build her own."

"Extraordinary," Druni stated, with heartfelt awe. "I still use my tenari, but I would love to have such weapons."

"Lucy taught Meridina how to build one. Meridina could teach you."

"I will ask, then." Druni turned her head and faced him. Her lips, a darker and richer shade of blue than her skin, formed a smile. "And you, Captain Dale? Have you learned how to build one?"

"No." Robert shook his head. "I'm afraid my control is pretty bad. I haven't gotten it to work."

"Practice will improve you."

"Maybe. But I'm a horrible duelist anyway, so I'm not sure I should." Robert rubbed at his forehead at the thought of it. "Honestly, I'd only ever intended to learn enough of this stuff to control it, not to master it. If things hadn't…"

There was a beep at their consoles. Druni checked her board. "We're arriving in the Kuzaram System. I'm taking us out of warp."

The Keyeri slowed to sublight speed as they approached the planet. Robert checked the file on the planet. Under the Allied Systems' planetary class charge, Kuzaram was an O1-type garden planet, a world that had just enough ocean area at 90.04% to be considered an oceanic world instead of a standard continental garden planet like Earth. The main Minbari colony was in a valley on the lone continent on the planet, which took up 7% of the planet's area and was roughly the size of South America.

Landing would give them a chance to stretch their legs. On the other hand, their mission was still covert enough that even a Minbari colony might not be safe. "Don't approach the colony. Keep us a distance away and off their scanners if you can."

"Alright." Druni started operating the helm. "What else?"

"Nothing." Robert laid back in the seat. "Now we wait for developments."




The Koenig came out of warp a few thousand kilometers from the Jump Gate in the Sheffer system. Sensors showed traffic in the area was light. "I'm reading one vessel with an Earthforce ID," Magda said to Zack. "According to our records, it's an Artemis-class vessel. A heavy frigate in Earthforce parlance."

"Right. But no other combat ships?"

"Nothing. Just a few transporters. Mostly Earth Alliance-flagged, plus a Drazi merchant ship… and one of the Earth ships is reading as the Hycantha."

"There's our ship. Take us to her, full impulse."

The Koenig, hidden by her cloak, moved through the system without any sign of being detected. Within minutes the Hycantha was on screen. "It's a M'Gede Technologies Commercial Transport," Magda said. "It's meant for running cargo with a small passenger limit, but my sensors are showing that it's got at least twice the passenger total that it's rated for."

"Hrm. Send them a tight beam transmission with the following codes." Zack used the small console to the right of his command chair to provide the identification codes Maran had sent for Magda's use.

"I'm sending the transmission." After several seconds. "They're responding with a tight beam transmission of their own. They have acknowledged our presence and are heading to the jump gate."

"Follow them, Ap," Zack said. "Keep us close enough that we'll use their jump point."

"Yes sir," Apley replied.




Robert had taken over in the cockpit for Druni, who wanted a drink and a chance to talk to Meridina. The controls were Dorei standard which he had a passive familiarity with, enough that he could fly in sublight with them. But he suspected Lennier or Druni, or perhaps Meridina, would have to guide the ship to warp if they were being completely safe.

With nothing to do Robert stared out at the void of space. Without an atmosphere, there was no bright carpet of distant, twinkling lights like he had known growing up on the family farm. His memories fell back to the time his Grandmother Anna had shown him the constellations and taught him their names in English and in German. He remembered her telling him about how her father taught her the very same stars in the years between the wars. Frederick Beck had been an officer in the Imperial German Navy and a veteran of Jutland; teaching his children astronomy had been a way for him to spend time with them, or so Grandma Anna had said. As a child he had always thought she seemed especially quiet after those lessons. Now, as an adult who had lost his father as well… Robert realized that Grandma Anna had been recalling

At the time he hadn't thought much of the stars. He'd never wanted to be an astronaut growing up. Not when he had the family farm that he was being raised to inherit. It was ironic that something that he had only loved as a way to spend time with his grandmother had become something that was part of his everyday life.

He felt Lyta approach before he heard her treading down the deck. Robert turned in the pilot chair to face her. "Yes?"

"Your ship just made contact with the Hycantha," she said. "You need to set a course for an F sequence star about one parsec away from the Darglan home system."

Robert turned back to the console and brought up the star charts. He specified the Darglan homeworld, now known to be She'teyal. "I'm reading…" He nodded. "Just one system. An F4 sequence star."

Druni and Meridina walked into the cockpit behind Lyta. "You have a destination, then." Meridina wasn't asking.

"We do." Robert indicated the holo-screen he was looking at.

Druni slipped by Lyta and took the helm right as Robert vacated it. "I am laying in a course. At our best warp velocity, we'll be there in three days."

"That sounds right," said Lyta. "By then the Hycantha will be at Gamma Orionis."

"Take us out, then," said Robert. "Please." He added the last in last second recollection that this was not his ship.

Druni's hands moved over the ship controls. The Keyeri re-orientated itself and made the jump to warp speed.




The Keyeri left the Kuzaram system at Warp 5.2, its fastest safe speed, its occupants settling in for their long flight.

They might not have settled in so well had they known that, at that moment, their ship was a dot on a set of subspace scanners showing on a bridge many light years away.

The ship was black, appropriately enough. Indeed, in defiance of the usual procedure for such vessels, it had no name or marking insignia painted on its hull. Without a very specific set of frequencies set for listening, someone wouldn't even get the ship's IFF transponder code to learn its name: Muninn. This was an intentional feature since those commanding the ship were not particularly interested in being known.

Captain Phan sat in the main chair. The Vietnamese woman watched the scanner return and turned to her special passenger, the man she was reporting to. She kept her gloved hands together in her lap.

Alfred Bester watched the dot. Do we know what course they're on? Bester asked.

Toward the claimed Alliance zone. Our new star charts say they are heading to the vicinity of the Darglan homeworld. Phan frowned. How do you intend to evade the Alliance's sensor nets?

Their sensor nets are incomplete due to the demands of their war effort
. Bester walked up to the screen and tapped a star. Warp-equipped scout ships from IPX have had success sneaking into Alliance territory through Delta Serpentis. We'll do the same. Have all stealth measures running to keep us hidden and by the time the Alliance realizes we were here, we'll be done with the mission and escaping in hyperspace. Bester felt the doubt come from Phan, and other members of the crew. I understand your skepticism. But Lyta Alexander is a danger to the Corps. And now that we know who's with her, the recovery of Captain Dale and Commander Meridina is a priority. With study, we may learn how to improve future generations of our people. It's for the good of us all.

Phan nodded. The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. Helm, set a course for Delta Serpentis, cruise speed.

The Muninn's bow turned toward the starboard and "lifted". There was no flash; the internal warp drive activated and the black-coated vessel jumped to warp.
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Re: "Whispers of Destiny" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 2 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2017-07-22 04:18pm

Ship's Log: ASV Koenig; 18 October 2642. Commander Zachary Carrey commanding. We are currently six hours out from Gamma Orionis at the edge of Earth Alliance-held space. So far we have had no problems with our escort of the transport vessel Hycantha. I'm still wondering how this ship is linked to Captain Dale's current mission. I imagine a deal has been struck with someone, but I would like to know who it is, and more importantly, just what we're escorting into Alliance space.

I must also log that Doctor Opani and the seven other Dorei members of my crew have spent the last three days sleeping with sedatives due to the unexpected impact of hyperspace upon their latent psionic talents. I will be submitting a report to the Alliance Stellar Navy on the dangers of exposing those with telepathy to hyperspace.


A scan of the Hycantha was showing on the large wall-screen in Zack's office off the bridge. Magda and Apley were seated across from him and looking at the same. "There's nothing special about the cargo," Magda insisted. "The materials scan indicates manufactured consumer goods."

"So the ship is carrying… what? Furniture?"

"Or house furnishings. Office supplies. Cookware." Magda shrugged. "It could be any of that. The only thing particular is that this ship is rated for seven crew and twenty-five passengers, but I'm reading about sixty-five separate life signs with our sensors."

"So what, refugees?"

"I'm not sure from where," said Apley. "We don't have any reports of major wars or conflicts or even disasters."

"Maybe they're fleeing from something in specific?" Magda proposed.

"Fugitives?" Zack frowned. "So, what, we're helping criminals?"

"Maybe." Apley shook his head. "We'd have to know what was going on with Captain Dale to know for sure."

"Yeah." Zack thought it over and figured he was still missing pieces if he was going to figure this out. "Well, you're both dismissed. We still have some time before we're jumping out of hyperspace."

"Frankly, I can't wait to be back in realspace," grumbled Magda. "Hyperspace is a nightmare."

"Tell me about it," grumbled Zack, who had decided that the boredom of watching streaks in warp space was now preferable to the red and black chaos of hyperspace.




On the Keyeri, everyone seemed to have gone off to do their own thing. Lennier and G'Kar were catching up in the cockpit, Lyta was sleeping (or may be sleeping, nobody knew there), and the others were in the cargo bay.

There wasn't a lot of room in the cargo bay, and having three people sitting in it took up quite a bit of space. The lack of space had been a concern for Robert. Of greater interest to him, however, was the disparate number of parts levitating in the air in front of him. His will held them in place. He kept his mind clear and visualized the pieces flowing together just right

Two came together, then a third, and the blue crystal they'd brought with them. For a moment Robert thought he had it. But then a piece fell out of place. He tried to pull it back but lost his grips on some of the others, and within moments his focus was gone and all of the parts rained to the floor in front of him. He let out a growl of utter frustration and stood up. "This isn't working," he announced.

"It may take you time to learn the control necessary," Meridina replied.

"I'm not sure I ever will. I'm not even sure of the point of it. I was horrible in our testing duels." Robert picked up the various pieces that had fallen everywhere and gathered them together.

The crystal had rolled over to where Druni was sitting,, beside the wall and a container full of nonperishable soup. She considered the crystal. "Is this a domari crystal?" she asked them.

"I believe Lucy acquired that from McQuarrie Station," Meridina replied. "Although it may be the same as your domari."

"I see. One moment." Druni handed the items to Robert and left the cargo bay.

After she left Robert started setting them up again for another try. One that he really did not have his heart set upon. Meridina reached over and took his arm. "You do not have to try again," she said. "I believe it may be counter-productive."

Robert drew his hand back from the pile. "I'm sorry if that upsets you," he said.

"It does not." Meridina shook her head. "We all have our own strengths with our connection to the universe. I had expectations that increased training might lead you to finding the skills to fight with a blade and your power. But it is becoming clear this isn't the path you're meant to be on."

"Oh?"

"Not all with swevyra fight," she pointed out. "Among the Order, those who lack the skill or control find other avenues in which to serve."

"Like your healing specialists."

"Yes." Meridina set her hand on his shoulder. "Do not let this undermine you. Whether or not you are ever able to take up the blade, we will work to develop your talents wherever they lead."

"Right." There was a trace of bitterness in his voice that Meridina felt. He had given up his relationship with Angel for this training because he, because they all, believed it was vital for the future of the Multiverse. Now, months after that decision, it seemed like his learning was, if not over, going in directions that seemed to make his decision a mockery. He was never going to be as powerful as Lucy or Meridina.

Meridina said nothing to that. There was nothing to say. It was a truth they had to face.

Druni returned to the cargo bay with crystals in her hand. Unlike the blue crystals Meridina had brought, these were a vibrant purple color matching her eye color. "Can I try?" she asked

Robert gestured to the pile before standing up. "I'm going to get something to eat and see if Lennier needs a break. Good luck."

He walked out. Behind him, Meridina waited for Druni to settle into a seated position. "This is not a test of mechanical skill," she said to Druni, "but of your ability to listen to what your swevyra tells you. Let the parts come together in your mind. Sense how they are to form…"




The arrival of a squadron of Dorei starbirds filled the holo-viewscreen on the Aurora bridge. The Dorei built their starships with a certain aesthetic grace, or so Julia thought. They looked like great blue and green and purple birds in flight, all of varying sizes. The Layama-class cruiser-grade starbird in charge of the formation was the first to move into orbit. The other seven starbirds moved out of formation to take up positions around Ys'talla.

"Squadron Captain Igmata has sent us a message, Commander." Lieutenant Jupap, the yellow and red-feathered Alakin at Ops, twisted in his chair slightly. His chirping voice, with a beaked mouth never designed by nature to speak English quite like Humans or other species do, filled the bridge again. "We are clear to depart."

"Good. Ensign, take us out."

"Aye ma'am." Violeta's fingers moved over her board. The Aurora broke away from orbit. "Where are we setting course?"

Julia thought about that. "Delta Serpentis. Take us to the Delta Serpentis system."

"Aye ma'am."

"Commander, I am confused," said Jupap. "Delta Serpentis has only two small mining facilities in this universe. It is well within Dorei space and far from any point of trouble. Why are we going there?"

"Because in E5B1, that's inside what used to be Darglan space. Which is now our space." Julia settled back into her chair. "And given what we're looking for, if we have to jump into E5B1, it'll be there."

"Ah. Yes. I comprehend." Without further word Jupap returned his attention to his screens while Violeta initiated the warp drive, sending the Aurora zipping away from Ys'talla at a speed of Warp 9.2.




Deeper in the ship, Caterina and Jarod were waiting when Lucy, Scotty, and Barnes arrived in Science Lab 2. The two had a table set up with varying pieces of recovered crystal and similar pieces from the Azeyma's Rest site. Some were part of necklaces and bracelets, some were separate, and one, of bright red coloring, was part of a tube-top garment.

"So, what's this about?" Barnes asked.

"These are crystals that Professor B'rrel let us keep from the dig site," Jarod explained. "We kept them because they're not naturally-occurring crystals."

"Here." Cat held a crystal blue one up and handed it to Scotty. "What does it feel like to you?"

Scotty accepted it and looked it over in the palm of his hand. "When did ye get th' rock wet?"

"Never," Cat insisted.

"But that dinnae make sense," he protested. "This feels like it's just been pulled from a lake."

Jarod handed Barnes a crystal with bright red coloring. Barnes looked it over "You didn't have this near a heat source, did you?"

"Not at all. But it feels hot, doesn't it?"

Barnes ran his omnitool scanner over it. "Not just feels. It is hot. It's at least five degrees hotter than the environment. Are you saying this Goddamned crystal is generating its own heat?"

"From all we can tell, yes, it is," Jarod said.

Lucy picked up a crystal that was not any color, so therefore had a whitish look to it. She focused on it and felt something. "These crystals… it's like they're infused with some sort of energy. I can sense power in this one, in all of them. There's something… different, though. It's like… it's like I'm holding a battery of power in my hand." She stared at it. "Pure… congealed energy."

"Ye cannae tell me these are 'magic rocks'," Scotty protested. "They must hae been produced by someone."

"Our scans don't show any of the usual signs of an artificially-grown crystalline structure," Caterina said. "Everything about their internal structure says they formed naturally. But what kind of world could have something like this form?" Her hazel eyes lit up. "Imagine finding a world like that, I mean… what's it like? Could it have some… some form of energy field that produces these things? What kind of life forms evolved there?"

"Aside from the Miqo'te," Jarod said.

"Well, we don't know if the Miqo'te naturally evolved on the world the Darglan took them from either." Cat shrugged. "We don't know anything. But imagine if we could find out?"

Lucy patted her on the shoulder and smiled. "Maybe we will one day, Cat."

Caterina nodded without answering.




After Lennier confirmed he was rested enough, Robert returned to the room they'd set aside for him and decided to nap. As he fell asleep, he decided he was not going to let his dreams be bad this time. He tried to dwell on happy thoughts as he fell asleep.

At first there was no dreaming, just the pleasant timeless bliss of sleep. The first hint of a dream was pleasant. Warm, golden fields of grain in front of him. A beautiful house. The kind of place he'd grown up in. Children playing in the yard. Two girls, a red-haired girl and a blond girl. That made him curious. Were they meant to be his children? He thought he could feel their names at the tip of his mind, but the names wouldn't materialize.

There was a glimpse of a ceremony. The Citadel Council chambers. He could see Shepard standing before them with a sense of weight to her expression.

Now it was a party. Roars of laughter and joy filled the Lookout and his friends, and others, seemed exhausted but ecstatic. A banner simply read "Victory!"

The images went by faster - a city on a bay, an ecumenopolis like Solaris where cheering crowds celebrated something, Julia sitting at a table with him and the girl in the red-and-gold vest, the two laughing in tandem about something - until they stopped. There was nothingness around him.

A figure appeared in the darkness with him. He looked into her eyes. The girl. "Bad Wolf," she said.

The accent. He could place it now.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"The choice will be yours," the girl said, her English accent clear. She was wearing a blue shirt and matching trousers. The shirt was plain save one design, a large pinkish rose glittering on the front. "Bad Wolf."

"But I don't understand!" he shouted.

The girl's eyes began to glow with gold power. "You will. The choice will be yours. All that you have seen will come if you make the right one. Remember."

Robert sat up in his bunk. Whatever rest he had gotten, he wasn't sure it mattered given how much the dream left him agitated. Such a cryptic phrase. What was "Bad Wolf" supposed to mean anyway?

There was a knock on the door to the bunk and living closet. Robert reached over and hit the key to admit whomever it was. Lyta stood in the doorway. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think I ever want to travel with you again," she said. "It's not easy to sleep when your mind keeps screaming 'Bad Wolf!' so loud that it wakes me up."

"I'm sorry," Robert said. "It's just… something I'm going through."

"Really?" Lyta blinked. "And it involves your mind looping with the phrase 'Bad Wolf' all day or night long?"

"Whenever I have the dreams that phrase keeps popping up," said Robert. "It's just 'Bad Wolf'."

"Bester is right about that," Lyta remarked. "Whatever you are, it isn't the same as the rest of us telepaths."

"Remind me to send that news on a gift card made for absolute bastards," grumbled Robert. "Did you need something?"

"Aside from the fact that you disturbed my rest? I suppose not. We've arriving in our target system soon, though, so you'll want to be ready." Behind her, the sound of a familiar electronic snap-hiss combination was joined by a laugh of joy. "And it sounds like Druni has completed the little project they had going on in the cargo bay."

"Well, I'm glad someone did," Robert sighed. "Any word from the Hycantha?"

"They'll be at Gamma Orionis soon," Lyta said. "As soon as I get confirmation, I'll tell you which planet we're heading to."

"Well, I'd better get my armor ready. Just in case."

"Given that we're dealing with Bester?" Lyta showed him a wry smile. "That may be the smartest thing I've heard you say."

"Well, thanks for the compliment, Miss Alexander. I'll be out shortly."

She left and Robert got to work getting ready. He suspected they would end up fighting someone by the end of this trip.





The Jump Gate at Gamma Orionis activated. The moment the blue jump point finished opening the Hycantha emerged. The Koenig followed suit, still hidden behind its cloaking device. On the bridge Zack breathed in a sigh of relief that nothing had gone wrong. "Anything on sensors?"

"A handful of ships," said Magda. "There's a cargo transfer station in this system, in orbit over the Kenyatta Colony."

"Any sign of the Hencerasa?"

"Scanning… I'm detecting a Gersallian vessel, Umibetan Combine Model 3, private registry, on sensors. Reading ID code… it's the Hencerasa." Magda turned to face him again. "It's approximately two AUs away and closing at impulse."

"Well, at least the rendezvous is on time," Zack noted. "Keep us steady near the Hycantha."

"Yes sir," said Apley.

Zack watched the Earth transport burn its way toward the rendezvous. Just who were these people being transferred? What was Maran doing and how did Robert's visit to Minbar play into it? He didn't like being in the dark. It made him think of the last time he was in the dark, and the crew he'd lost at 33LA because of it.

The bridge door swished open and admitted Doctor Roliri Opani. The young Dorei woman was a Mayali, from the Southern Hemisphere tropical continent of Keral. Her dark teal skin was matched with the light purple of the irregularly-shaped spots running down the sides of her face to her neck, with dark purple hair pulled back into a braided ponytail at the back of her head. "So we're finally out?" she asked, relief on her features. Her teal eyes, in a much lighter shade than her skin, showed what seemed to be a surprising amount of fatigue to Zack.

"We're back in normal space, yes."

"Good." Opani shuddered with relief. "That dimension is… it is difficult for us."

"I already logged it to Command," Zack said. "Although it makes me wonder how the telepaths of this universe can handle it."

"That is the oddest part." Opani walked up and sat beside Magda at the auxiliary station, allowing her to sit and face Zack. "According to medical records from the Minbari, the Earth Alliance, and the Centauri… actually, virtually every race with telepaths, the effects of hyperspace are not severe. Not like we felt."

"What did you feel?" asked Zack. "It sounded like all of the Dorei on the crew were picking up other thoughts."

"We were," Opani said. "Whenever we slept we would end up with alien thoughts in our minds. It was almost like falling asleep when you're maintaining skin contact with someone. Once asleep, you meld mind-states. That's what this feels like."

"Huh. But you can't read minds actively, right?" Zack leaned forward in his chair. A thought was coming to him. "I mean, that's part of your physiology."

"No, we cannot. We lack telepaths like some other species have had."

Magda looked at Opani with a bewildered expression. "Then… that would mean the other side had to be responsible for the contact."

Opani frowned at that. "Yes, I suppose it would. I suppose it would indeed. Hyperspace wouldn't change our physiology to let us remotely enter minds, but it would make us more likely to hear those who could remotely contact other minds."

Zack swallowed. Everything now made sense. "Of course," he murmured.

Everyone turned to him.

"That's what we're doing," Zack said. "That's why Admiral Maran talked about possibly fighting Psi Corps. The Hycantha's passengers… they're fugitives all right. They're fugitive telepaths, fleeing the Psi Corps."

Apley nodded. "I read the report from Commander King and Lieutenant Caldwell on the Venir incident. The cloaking device didn't do them any good, telepaths were tracking them through mind-reading."

"That's why we've been allowed to engage Psi Corps if they show up." Zack frowned. "Because we'll have to get in the first shot. April, make sure torpedoes are loaded. Magda… find the Dorei crew most qualified for manning bridge stations, I want them up here on the double. Just in case. King's officer Lieutenant Trymi was able to resist telepathic compulsion, if need be they'll take over our stations."

"Until then, sir?" asked Apley.

"Keep us on course. And Magda, keep an eye out. Just in case." Zack drew in a breath. "Just in case," he repeated to himself in a murmur.




Lyta stepped into the cockpit of the Keyeri and joined the others. "I just got the signal," she said. "The rendezvous is being made. Pardon me." With that said she moved beside Druni and took a place leaning over the helm beside Lennier. "Take us into orbit of the fifth planet."

"Very well." Lennier fired the ship's impulsors and sent them flying toward said world. "We'll make orbit in four hours."

"By then the transfer will be complete and my people will be off to safety," Lyta said.

"I can't help but notice a slight flaw in your planning, Lyta," said G'Kar.

"Oh?" She turned back to face her traveling compatriot.

"You've told them which planet they can find this device," he said. "They don't need you anymore."

"Not to find the planet, no." The grin on Lyta's face grew. "Of course, they may have trouble finding it on a planet over fifty percent larger than Earth. And then there are the traps…"

Everyone save Lennier looked at her. "Traps?" Robert asked.

Lyta directed the grin at him. "You don't think the Vorlons would have let just anyone walk into this place, do you? Anyone finding the Darglan site we're heading to wouldn't get very far unless they have the direct support of a Vorlon."

"Or someone aligned with them?"

"Close enough. Not that I think you'll betray me, you've come too far for that. But like Michael, I like to leave room for people to disappoint me." The grin became more forced. "After all, it's happened plenty of times before."

Robert wasn't about to speak on that. His impression of Lyta was that she had been disappointed one too many times by those she considered friends and allies. Unfortunately, her bitterness had clearly undermined her ability to socialize.

He just hoped that bitterness wouldn't undermine their ability to work together.




The fifth planet of the F4 star system - on Alliance maps it was designated F41-001-5 - had seemed to be a barren Mars-type world from a distance. But once they were closer the sensors on the Keyeri made clear the signs of a badly-damaged garden world, with an atmosphere that still had traces of the weapons used to purge much of its life. "What happened here?" Druni wondered aloud.

"The Shadows happened," Lyta said darkly. "They didn't use their planet-killer for this world. Instead a squadron of Shadow vessels came out of hyperspace and started slicing up the cities and bombing the planet until not a single Darglan was alive."

"All of that death." Robert closed his eyes. He thought he could feel it, even after a thousand years. The screams and cries of an innocent people being extirpated from existence by a vicious enemy. He frowned. "If they'd kept their interuniversal drives, they would have survived."

"No, they wouldn't have," replied Lyta.

Robert almost asked how she could know that, but he held his tongue.

"Take us in on the equatorial continent," Lyta said to Lennier. "There's a mountain range about eighteen degrees north of the equator, near an old mountain lake that feeds the river flowing into the northern sea."

Lennier followed her instructions. The Keyeri banked into the planet. The void of space gradually gave way to twilight. The sun was beginning to rise over this area of the planet.

After a thousand years life was starting to return here. Trees lined the mountainside and the valley. They'd returned in enough numbers that they stretched out like an emerald carpet below the Keyeri.

The mountain lake was old, as in it had existed for tens of thousands of years. Robert was not an expert geologist and wasn't sure of what he was guessing, but he could imagine the lake forming from an old, extinct caldera. Or perhaps a meteor crater.

Lennier seemed to double-check something. "There appears to be an old tunnel set into one of the mountainsides," he said.

"That's where we're going." Lyta noddded. "Put us down at the tunnel entrance."

Lennier did so The ship drew closer to the ground until, finally, it stopped all horizontal movement and settled onto the soil.

"I have a feeling we need someone to stay with the ship." Robert stood from the chair. "Just in case."

"I shall remain," Lennier said. He turned back to his panels while the others filed out of the cockpit.




G'Kar and Lyta stepped down from the Keyeri's rear cargo bay door first, following the ramp down to the firm earth beneath. Robert and Meridina followed. They were in the combat armor with newly-replicated robes to replace the ones they had to leave on Kalnit Station. Robert's pulse pistol was back at its proper place on his belt while Meridina's weapon hung once again from her own.

Druni, in the rear, was wearing her own light armor. It was of similar style to the Gersallian-made armor Meridina and Robert had brought for themselves, with the primary color being green. It also looked to be of a more flexible material. Robert noticed she was carrying her tenari and asked, "What, no lightsaber?"

"I just built one, and I need to train with it before I try to fight with it," she pointed out.

"Fair enough."

"This way."

With Lyta in the lead they walked up to the tunnel entrance. A wall of rock covered it, barring the way in. "I sense no danger," Meridina said. "But I do not sense an entryway either."

Robert looked around at the ground. "Maybe there's another entrance plate like the Facilities had, or that database?"

"No," said Lyta. "Not here anyway. The entrance was sealed by weapons fire from the inside. The last, defiant gesture of the Darglan inside against the Shadows and the followers they sent to seize this place."

"Then we have to dig our way in." Robert stepped up and looked it over. "If we pull out the right rocks, maybe the rest will give way."

Meridina and Druni nodded. The three raised their hands. Three rocks began to pull free.

This is going to take a while, Robert thought to himself as he focused on the next part of the rock barrier.




On the Koenig bridge the Hencerasa now loomed large on the screen. The Gersallians built their ships to look sturdy. If they didn't have the lines they did, they'd look more like bricks, or so Zack thought.

"The Hencerasa is taking position beside the Hycantha. They'll start transferring their passengers in a minute." After forty seconds Magda announced the transports were taking place.

Zack didn't relax. He had an idea that this was when things were about to go wrong.

Itt didn't take long for him to be proven right.

"Sir, I'm getting a gravitational surge nearby." Magda's attention went to her board. "Jump point forming."

"On screen."

The viewscreen showed a blue energy vortex form. The vessel that emerged from it wasn't very large. But it had Earthforce markings. Zack's jaw clenched.

"Artemis-class heavy frigate," Magda said. "An older, Dilgar War-era model with railgun armament."

"Code Red. All hands to battlestations."

While the ship went on combat alert, Magda added, "They're signaling the other two ships."

"Put them on speakers, I want to hear this."

"This is Major Linda Tsukara of the Catoblepas to Hycantha and Hencerasa. System control informed us that you were meeting off-flight plan. Please stand by for contraband scan."

"Acknowledged, Catoblepas."

For several tense moments the scan commenced. "Catoblepas to civilian ships. You're clear of contraband. But I would like to ask why you are transferring extra passengers not on the Hycantha's listed manifest."

The same voice that had answered before came through. "I understand your concern, Major. We picked up an Allied System-flagged civilian vessel in hyperspace that had suffered a catastrophic drive failure. They were drifting off of the beacons. We had to let them transport aboard after our attempt to pull their ship to safety failed. Since there aren't any jump gates available in Allied Systems territory yet, we flagged down the first ship with warp drive that we could to get these people home."

It was a good story, with just the right feeling to it… Zack was skeptical, however, that it would be accepted. "Sherlily, target weapons and sublight drives only," he said. "And when we decloak, I want our IFF systems disengaged." He received a pair of affirmatives to that.

Several more moments passed. "Good job, Hycantha. Someone has to take care of these idiots who jump into hyperspace without realizing what it's like. That is all. Catoblepas out."

The Earth frigate turned away toward the jump gate and accelerated.

"Cancel Code Red." Zack loosened his grip on his command chair. Well, at least I'm not starting another war yet. "How much longer until the Hencerasa completes the transfer?"

"That model of ship has a personal transporter capacity of six. Give them another three minutes."

Two and a half minutes later the Hycantha's engines fired again. She resumed her course toward the Kenyatta Colony.

The Hencerasa's drives fired up as well. After making a turn in space the warp nacelles on the ship lit up and the Gersallian ship was at warp.

"They're on course for the Reynar System, Warp 6," Magda said.

"Match their speed and course. Engage when ready." Zack leaned back in his seat with immense relief. They were in the home stretch.

Well, Rob, I did my end, he thought. Hope your's is coming up just as well.




It got easier once they had moved enough of the stones. Meridina and Druni, together, moved most of them, entire chunks, and slowly an entranceway took shape.

The group stepped in together. For the benefit of G'Kar, Robert and Druni activated lights on their omnitool and multidevice respectively. The air inside reminded Robert of the musty air of the Darglan Facilities he'd been in before. Directly inside were decomposed skeletal remains with pulse rifles still in what was left of their arms. "They died here," Meridina noted.

"Likely of starvation," Lyta said. "They would have been here to keep out Shadow servitors."

"A horrible way to go." Druni knelt beside one. "I hope the Goddess welcomed them with a feast."

The lights played over halls made of blue-sheened material just like prior Darglan structures. The remains of what had likely been a security post also contained a dead Darglan. Robert tapped at his omnitool to activate a scanner mode. "Wiring," he said. "For the security systems?"

Druni nodded. "And power system."

They followed the wiring into the base. It was like any base could be expected to be. Halls lined with doors leading to what appeared to be labs or storage rooms or offices. More skeletal Darglan remains could be found here and there, some bearing the signs of damage. "They may have mercy-killed one another when it was clear there was no escape," Meridina said.

"This feels wrong," Robert murmured. "I feel like I'm walking over graves."

"You are," G'Kar remarked. "But it is good you feel that way. It shows the proper respect to the dead."

Robert nodded quietly and kept the scanner following one of the biggest drunk lines. They walked past bulkheads, turned into another corridor, and then another.

Finally they entered a large chamber. Robert moved from side to side with the omnitool and noted what he was reading. "This looks like the reactor room for the facility." He tapped keys. "I can't be sure, but it looks like most of the reactors are offline.”

"With no repairs for a thousand years, I'm not surprised." Druni stepped around another tall-skulled skeleton and toward a panel. Her fingers went over the hardlight keyboard being projected by her multidevice. "I'm trying to run a remote access to this console. One moment…"

The console lit up, forming a blue hardlight interface. Druni set a finger on it and the console characters changed to a new language. After a moment of looking Druni began to operate the console. "Fifty percent of the reactors are offline, and another twenty-five percent are flagged as unsafe, but the last quarter…" She tapped a final key.

Light filled the room. More lights appeared on some of the intact reactors around the room, indicating they were in operation. "There we are," said Druni. "We've got power. And I'm remote accessing a map of the entire place." She looked to the others. "I can take us right to the command room."

They departed that chamber and continued on. With the lights working it felt less like a sepulchre they were violating, although there was no hiding the skeletal remains they still found. "To think this is what has been left of the Darglan…" Meridina shook her head. "My people will be heartbroken to see this place."

"You looked up to them," Lyta said. "But you should consider that they might not deserve it."

Meridina turned and faced her. "Why? What could possibly justify the loss of such a brilliant people?"

"I'm not saying they deserved… this," Lyta countered, gesturing to the nearest set of remains. "But the Darglan weren't perfect. They made a terrible mistake and it cost a lot of beings their lives. It nearly destroyed multiple universes."

"You are an agent of the people who punished them," Meridina observed. "How do we know your superiors were honest about what happened?"

"Believe whatever you like, Meridina. But you'll see soon enough." They continued onward.

Robert knew they'd made it to the command room the moment he saw it. The layout was the same as those of the Facilities. He walked toward the central holotank and ran a hand over it. The display there shifted to show English characters. "It looks like the Darglan sabotaged their AI system here. Or maybe it scrambled itself. Either way…" He continued tapping the display. "...let me see if I can find anything."

Druni joined him while Meridina paced around the room. Lyta and G'Kar remained by the door. The Narn looked to his traveling partner and said, "I can't help but notice that there have been no traps."

Lyta turned her head toward him and smiled. G'Kar responded by shaking his head and grinning.

"It looks like some of the data is recoverable," Druni said. "I'm running a compiling program."

"You're into computer sciences?" Robert asked.

"I did dabble during my days as an Initiate." Druni slowly grinned. "And two years ago I spent a few months with a Trill girlfriend. Zaharia showed me quite a few things. When we weren't busy counting each other's spots."

"Huh." Robert continued his own search through the system. "And here I figured you and Lennier were…"

"No." Druni cut him off with that. "We're not. Lennier is… there isn't anything I or anyone can do to heal the hole in his heart."

"Right." Robert continued to examine what he could find. "It looks like they didn't destroy everything. I've just found an old file in the system. It looks like… I don't know…"

Druni brought it up herself. "It's a recorded holo-video. Give me a moment, I think I can load it into the holo-tank…"

After several seconds an image appeared. It was a courtyard of some sort. The architecture was Darglan. Most of those gathered were. But some were not.

Among those who were not were a number of beings Robert didn't recognize. The others did. "A Vorlon," G'Kar noted.

"Kosh," Lyta clarified. Her voice wavered and Robert could detect an old sadness within her.

Thanks to her thought, he knew which one was the Vorlon; a large hulking, armless being with a pod-shaped head that had a singular circular port at the front. There were other beings lined up with him. Some were formed from energy. One looked like a hovering, flaming head made of wood. Another was a dark, intimidating-as-hell spider-like species with glowing yellow eyes.

He scanned the rest of the figures, some clearly standing in judgment while others seemed to be present as witnesses. A few had basic humanoid, even human-looking, appearances, including a redheaded woman with strong features and a fey humanoid clad in a veil. A furry biped stood beside a man in a red coat with a scarf hanging from his shoulders and curly hair buried under a hat. A human-looking woman with dark hair and in a very familiar looking blue robe was standing beside a powerfully-built male in green and gold-colored clothing.

Meridina's eyes widened at the assemblage, or rather, at one figure present. "Swenya."

Robert looked at the image and had to admit that the woman in the blue robe looked very much like the painting of Swenya in the Order's Council Chamber.

"We have completed our judgement," said Kosh, facing an assemblage of Darglan while many more watched from the crowd. "You have disappointed us. Punishment is necessary."

"On behalf of our people, we plead mercy from you, ancient ones," said the lead Darglan. "We do not deny it was in error, but the error was by a select group of our people led astray. Can you punish us for the crimes of a few?"

The spider-looking alien's eyes glistened with malicious anger. When it spoke, it was with a subdued hummed tone, as if through a device. "You have jeopardized the other species of this galaxy and many others. You cannot expect mercy for allowing the Darkness a way in."

"Still, there is truth to their words." The veiled fey humanoid was speaking. "It was the error of a minority."

The dark-haired woman stepped forward and between the judges and the Darglan. "Whatever the crimes a minority committed, out of ignorance or out of impatience, you cannot hold an entire species to be worthy of death!"

"You have no place to speak on this matter, child," intoned the spidery alien. Robert felt Lyta's apprehension and distaste at the creature and realized the being's identity. The Shadow continued, "You are here as a guest at our sufferance."

"Many of my followers died in this war as well," retorted the woman. "The blood of Gersal's bravest swevyra'se has earned us a voice here. And I will not let you ignore that many Darglan died to fix a mistake made by a few. They deserve a chance at life."

"The child speaks well," intoned the flaming head. The light within it seemed to pulse as it spoke. "And we have taken this into consideration."

The furry biped spoke next. "There will be no killings among the Darglan species."

There was palpable relief among the assembled.

"We require the Darglan to give up their interuniversal drives," the furry being added. "They are hereby banned from any further use of the technology."

The relief did not go away. It was joined with a sense of sadness, as was clear in the voice of the lead Darglan. "It is a terrible price, but as the war caused by our mistake was even more terrible, we accept this judgement. We will immediately commence the destruction of all interuniversal drives. We beg only a delay to allow our people in the other universes to be brought back to She'teyal."

"You will be given thirty cycles to commence the evacuation," answered Kosh.

"And know that if your people violate this judgement, your species' existence is forfeit," added the Shadow.

Robert paused the video. "And the Shadows did it anyway two thousand years later," he remarked sadly. A memory came to his mind. "That explains the conversation we found in that Darglan video last year."

"Given the timing, I guess it came from the databanks you stole from IPX and Psi Corps?" Lyta asked.

"Yeah." Robert nodded. "It was an audio file of two Darglan arguing. One insisted they had to reactivate their IU technology, that the Shadows were going to attack and the Vorlons wouldn't stop them. The other insisted this would cause an attack anyway." He shook his head. "But the first one was right, since the audio ended with the Shadow Planet-Killer attacking She'teyal."

"The Shadows moved earlier than the Vorlons expected in that war," Lyta said. "Maybe this is why…"

"If what I've heard is true, their early attack is why Valen and the Minbari were able to lead the galaxy to victory against them." Robert chuckled at the dark humor of it all. "They were so determined to destroy the Darglan that it cost them the war."

"Such is the usual cost of hatred and darkness," Meridina said. "It causes one to lose perspective and to misjudge."

Robert nodded. And he frowned as a thought came to him. "There's no drive here, is there?" he asked, directing his gaze at Lyta. "There never was."

"Nope," she said. "I don't have any idea where the Darglan built it, or even if it's still around."

"You tricked us." Meridina stepped up beside Robert while keeping her eyes on Lyta as well. "To help your people."

"Actually, no." Lyta shook her head. "Not that I wouldn't have if I had to. But I figured that if there was anywhere you could confirm whether or not the Dimensional Drive was intact, it would be here. According to what I learned from the Vorlons, this used to be the main scientific research base for the Darglan government. All of their secrets were here."

Robert understood the point, but he still couldn't help but feel used. Nevertheless, he conceded the point with "Fair enough."

"With time, at least some of this could be reconstructed." Druni looked up from her multidevice's holo-display. "This is still a valuable find. And we might find the Dimensional Drive's location here."

"We'll need to report this to Maran," said Robert. "Let's…"

Druni's multidevice beeped. She pressed the comm key and Lennier appeared on the display. "What is it?" she asked.

"You may wish to finish what you are doing immediately," Lennier said. "Sensors have detected indications of a ship coming out of warp in the star system." He looked at something. "And there are now Earth Alliance fighters entering orbit."

"They must have followed us," Robert said. "Dammit. We can't let them have this place." He took a few steps to Druni's side and looked at the screen. "Lennier, there's something I need you to do…"




On the Muninn Bester watched the Thunderbolts from the ship's complement begin to enter orbit. One by one the Psi Corps pilots inside extended their atmospheric wings to stabilize for that form of flight. Two shuttles full of Bloodhounds were already entering a first stage atmospheric entry course.

"We have confirmed the location of the craft from Kalnit." The lead pilot was reporting verbally given the distance. "Orders?"

"Disable them," Bester said.

Sensors, are there any Alliance ships moving toward us? That telepathic request came from Captain Phan.

No ma'am.

And their ship is too small to carry a jump drive and can't call in help that way
. Bester nodded. We have them.




Everyone ran from the Darglan base as quickly as possible. "Remind me that we need transporter beacons," Druni requested of the others.

"If this occurs again, I shall," Meridina promised.

The moment they got to the exit they'd carved, Robert heard the roar of shuttle engines outside. They emerged from the tunnel opening and into the clearing outside of it to find two Earth shuttles looming over the trees. Thrusters were firing to bring the two craft into a hovering position.

"Get to the Keyeri," Druni demanded. "I'll handle this."

Robert could guess what was about to happen. He felt the air crackle with power as Druni's arms began to wheel around. She was splitting the positive and negative charges in the air. After several seconds of letting this power build up she stabbed her fingers toward one shuttle. The built-up charge surged through Druni's arm and outward. A bolt of lightning formed and struck the side of the shuttle with more than enough force to knock it out of the air.

The other shuttle clearly recognized what had happened and began to maneuver away. Druni used the opportunity to run to the back of the Keyeri, where Meridina and G'Kar were waiting. They boarded together.

By this point Robert and Lyta were in the cockpit. "Did it work?" asked Robert.

"I am not sure," Lennier admitted. "The device seems to be non-functional. I was able to use our ship's IU radio to establish a connection on the provided channel, so they know of our situation."

"Of course it is." Robert shook his head while settling into the station for the main weapons and tactical display. "Lyta, can you let Druni and Meridina know that the anchor needs to be repaired?"

For a moment Lyta's eyes flitted toward the back. "Done, she said."

"Good. Now please take that station and raise the shields." He tilted his head toward the one beside him for ship communications and operations. Lyta blinked down into it. Behind him G'Kar took the turret controls. "You know how to use those?" he asked the Narn.

"I am familiar with a number of ship control systems and weapons," was the answer. "I shall make this work as well."

"Right. Lennier?"

"Firing thruster." The ship rumbled beneath them. "We're taking off."

"Get us a shot at that second shuttle while you're at it."

"I will do so."

The Keyeri spun in mid-air until it was facing the shuttle in question. Robert triggered the wing-mounted cannons. Four bursts of amethyst energy slammed into the craft. It exploded in mid-air, sending flaming ruins into the forest. His eyes went to the tactical sensors. "Aerospace fighters are closing in."

"Beginning ascent."

The Keyeri tilted upward and accelerated. The sensors showed the atmosphere-capable Earth fighters flying up behind them. Robert had seen the model before: Thunderbolts, with four wings in a flat X that carried extendable wings. The cannons mounted into the chin of the fighters opened up on the Keyeri. The vessel shuddered slightly.

"The shields absorbed it," Lyta said.

"I am tracking," G'Kar added. "Firing."

The four turrets had all turned to face the rear of the ship. Pulses of blue-white light lashed out through the atmosphere at the pursuing fighters. The initial shots missed given the distance and relative velocities. The two dorsal turrets tracked together until a Thunderbolt could no longer evade them. The hits blew off the wings of the craft first. As it began to turn dart-like toward the ground, one last pulse hit the main body. The Thunderbolt was reduced to a flaming wreck.

"It has been quite a while since I shot down an enemy fighter," G'Kar announced.

The other fighters were still on them. "They're firing missiles," Robert said.

"Evading."

"I'm tracking them."

Lennier changed the ship's heading and attitude while G'Kar applied the turrets to firing on the incoming missiles. Most of the missiles kept up with them through the maneuver. One couldn't re-engage, and G'Kar shot down two of them.

The last slammed into the rear of the ship. This time the shaking was even more violent than ever. "That hit reduced shield effectiveness to below half."

Lyta's report made it clear; they couldn't let themselves get hit by a missile again.

Lennier leveled the ship out and got them out of the atmosphere. Robert watched the tactical sensors indicate a ship entering effective range. And it was fairly large. "The profile is an Earthforce ship," he said. "But it's not painted in Earthforce colors."

"It's a Psi Corps ship," Lyta said. "Probably Bester's." A blinking button on the console drew Lyta's attention. She pressed it.

A screen on the side of the cockpit activated, and Lyta's suggestion confirmed. Bester's face filled the screen. "You might want to surrender," Bester told them. "We might even let the Minbari and the… Dorei, isn't it? We may even let them go."

"And we should believe you because…?"

"Because you don't have a choice, Captain," Bester replied. "There are no ships in range to help you. My ship can overtake yours in warp flight. Even if you get the attention of your fleet, we'll have more than enough time to destroy you or tractor your ship into hyperspace. I'm giving you a minute to decide whether or not you're coming voluntarily."

And with that, his image disappeared.

Robert tapped his omnitool. "Meridina? I hope you're done back there."




Meridina heard Robert's request while holding up the portable radio/drive anchor. The device, their lifeline to the Aurora, was utterly dead.

Druni had one end open and was trying to finish the modification to bring it back online. "Just a couple more pieces."

"I get the feeling we are almost out of time," Meridina warned her.

"I know, but I can't rush this. Somehow your entire power source got drained and we don't have anything completely like it, so I have to improvise."

"Meridina, tell me that thing is ready."

"I cannot," she answered Robert. "It needs a new power supply. We are attaching it now."

"Then hurry it up. Bester brought a cruiser."

"Two more connections," Druni said.

Meridina did not reply. She focused on holding the device in place.




The Keyeri shot away from the planet at full speed. The Psi Corps cruiser followed behind, as did its fighter complement.

With no enemies in front of them Robert was reduced to watching the tactical sensors and glancing toward Lyta, who was showing greater concentration. "I'm trying to shield everyone from them," she said. "But if Bester puts enough telepaths…"

She didn't need to finish the sentence. Robert could feel something in his mind. A feeling, an instinct, telling him to stop fighting. To surrender. It would be easier.

"They are quite persistent," was all Lennier would say. He kept his hands on the controls. Enemy Starfuries were closing the distance behind them.

If you're in my head, how about this? He focused on Meridina. Meridina, please tell me it's ready.

A response came. We are almost done.

WIthin moments the enemy fighters were backing off a little bit. Bester's ship kept a reasonable speed up to follow but stopped trying to overtake the Keyeri. Robert's thought had the effect he had looked for. Let Bester wonder what they were doing.

We are done, Meridina said. I have sent out a brief message on the radio to confirm the anchor is active.

As Robert began counting down the time, the enemy Starfuries surged ahead. Bester had inevitably decided there was no immediate danger. Fire began to hit their shields again. Lennier's maneuvers worked to keep them guessing at where to shoot. The turrets fired under G'Kar's direction. One pulse clipped the engine of a Starfury and sent it careening away.

When another of the black-painted Starfuries entered the bow firing arc, Robert triggered the plasma cannons again. The four streams of purple shots converged on the fighter and blew it to pieces. Come on, dammit, where are you?

"I hope your help comes very soon," said Lennier.

Robert was about to announce "So do I" when the green point of light appeared in the distance. "Interuniversal jump point. Someone's coming in."

Robert breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the familiar form of the Aurora emerge a moment later.




"Dorei courier ship on sensors," said Caterina. "And so is an Earthforce ship."

Julia frowned at that. An Earthforce ship in Alliance space, without authorization? "Can we identify them?"

"Well, they're painted all back instead of standard Earthforce color schemes. According to recognition charts this one is a Bellona-class cruiser. But I'm not picking up an IFF trace."

"The Dorei ship is hailing."

"Put them on."

"Dale to Aurora." Hearing Robert's voice brought immense relief to Julia. "That ship is a Psi Corps vessel. The entire crew is probably telepathic. Be ready if they attempt a telepathic attack on you."

"Angel, do you have a target lock?" asked Julia.

"We're locked on," Angel confirmed.

"If you feel anything start to go into your mind, open fire."

"Right."

"Give me a minute, then," Robert said. "Fire on my command."




On the Keyeri, Bester's face reappeared on the screen. Robert looked at him and kept his expression neutral. "Agent Bester, this is Captain Dale of the Starship Aurora. You and your ship are in violation of Alliance space. I order you to withdraw or we will be forced to open fire."

Bester's expression was carefully kept, but Robert sensed he was angry beneath it. "If you want to do this the legal way, Captain, I must inform you that I will report to my superiors and to Earthgov that the Allied Systems are harboring a known terrorist. Of course, if you were to turn Miss Alexander over to our custody…"

"Tell your superiors whatever you want, Bester," Robert retorted. "Because from where I'm sitting, a Psi Corps-crewed warship has been opening fire on a civilian ship with an Alliance registry in the heart of the Alliance-claimed zone in this universe. Your superiors might not be too happy about that."

"I will remind you that the Earth Alliance doesn't recognize your sole claim to former Darglan space. But very well. I'm not here to cause a war. But I'm warning you now." Bester's face reflected his anger. "You've just made yourself, and everyone you represent, an enemy of the Psi Corps, Captain Dale. And you will regret that."

The screen disengaged. Robert observed on his systems as the Psi Corps fighters returned to their ship. They took up a formation around it. Moments later, a brown vortex opened in space and Bester's ship entered.

"Well, we did it," Robert sighed, looking to the others. "Do you mind putting the Aurora back on? I think your ship will fit in the hangar deck…"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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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.

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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-23 05:44am

Ship's Log: 19 October; ASV Aurora. Captain Robert Dale recording. It's good to be home. We're currently remaining in orbit of the fifth planet of the star system F41-001 to prepare a scientific survey of the old Darglan science station. We've already begun transferring the data available onto our ship and will continue the process until the Lukapa can arrive to take control of the effort.

Our friends of the
Keyeri are soon to depart, as are Miss Alexander and Ambassador G'Kar. Thinking of Lyta, I can't help but wonder how this will go. Admiral Davies and his faction in the Alliance government will certainly not be pleased at the idea of a colony of human telepaths in the Alliance no matter what they feel about their persecutors, and I can't imagine Lyta's colony of telepaths and the decision to name a "Telepath Homeworld" will go over well with the Earth Alliance. I can't argue against the idea that it's the right thing to do for the innocent telepaths who don't want to become Psi Corps members, but Lyta Alexander isn't going to stop at the peaceful ends of a colony. Are we setting ourselves up for another conflict?

Conference Room 2 had been chosen for the morning meeting with the departing complement of the Keyeri. Lyta and G'Kar were seated on one side, Lennier and Druni on the other, and Robert and Meridina were accompanied by Caterina, Lucy, and Julia. All eyes were on the holo-viewer, where Admiral Maran's image was present. "I would like to thank you all again for your assistance in this matter," he said. "And Miss Alexander, I thought you'd like to know that the children and their parents made it to Reynar safely. The Hencerasa is scheduled to make a jump to A4P5 and the Dorei colony Jinera in the Archenar System. We're setting up a waystation there for all telepaths heading to your new colony."

"Thank you, Admiral."

"Children?" Julia asked.

"The Hycantha was carrying forty telepath children we've liberated from Psi Corps holding facilities," Lyta answered. "Along with as many of their parents as we could locate or rescue. Those children were being slated for transfer to what's called 'Teeptown', where they would have been indoctrinated by the Psi Corps. They have a place to grow free thanks to you."

"That's what we got into this business to do, at the start," Robert said. "That was the entire purpose of New Liberty."

Lyta smiled at that. "I look forward to sending my first delegate to New Liberty. We might be a universe away, but I think we'll do well together."

"Right." He looked to Maran again. "Admiral, anything more on the Psi Corps invasion of Alliance space?"

Maran shook his head. "After consultations, the President and Foreign Secretary Onaran have decided not to press the matter with Earthdome. Not when we're dealing with Lyta Alexander on the side. That could lead to undesired complications. On a related matter, we are examining the situation to determine where they slipped through our border posts."

"My money's on Delta Serpentis," Caterina said. "The star is weird and causes a lot of unknown subspace effects. The kind that can hide a warp drive signature pretty easily."

"I'll pass that on to the investigators, Lieutenant." Maran's expression darkened. "It's a shame to hear about the state of your new discovery. I can't imagine walking through a tomb like this Darglan base. You've done us a service regardless. Can you tell us anything about it?"

"There is no sign of the Darglan Dimensional Drive," said Meridina.

Julia nodded. "If it's there, it may be in the lower vaults, and we're still looking."

"Good. Take your time. Maran out."

Everyone stood after Maran's image disappeared. "Thank you for coming," Robert said to their guests. "Allow me to escort you back to your ship."

As they walked to the support ship dock, Lucy looked from Meridina to Druni and said, "Meridina told me you made your first lightsaber."

"I did. I hear you are the creator?"

"I'm just the one who figured out how to recreate them," Lucy said.

"Ah." Druni nodded. "Still, I would like to ask you something about making them."

"Sure."

"Is it possible to make them with shorter blades? My fighting style is with tenari, short blades, and the lightsaber blades are too long…"

Lucy considered that. "I suppose you could set the containment field to create a shorter blade."

"I shall have to try."




Behind them Meridina and G'Kar started up a conversation. "So you are returning home, then?" she asked.

"I believe so." G'Kar looked toward Lyta, further ahead with Robert. "I have done all I can to help Lyta. And I've been away long enough. You are correct about that." After a moment he asked, "What was it like? To see that recording from the Darglan base?"

"You mean to see Swenya, as she was?" Meridina drew in a breath. "It was… amazing. We have no truly accurate images of her, but any of my people would know it is her. And to see her standing in defiance of the ancient species of the Multiverse to demand mercy for the Darglan people… that is the Swenya my people cherish."

"I have envy for you," G'Kar said. "We have nothing of the like showing G'Quan."

"You referenced him many times in your writings," Meridina said. "I should like to read his writings myself at some time."

"I have copies of the Book of G'Quan, but you should study the Narn language first. It would be sacrilege to reproduce the book in any other language."

"Perhaps I shall indeed…"



The group arrived at the support dock airlock. While everyone else stepped aboard, Robert gestured to Lyta and led her into the nearby room. The windows showed the Keyeri settled into the Koenig's dock. She had almost been too small to do so. "You know, you could go to your new colony too," he said to Lyta. "The telepaths there will need a leader."

"They'll have one," Lyta promised. "Some of us have been thinking about how to arrange our own world for a long time."

"But you won't be joining them?"

"No." Lyta shook her head. "My place is here. Finding more telepaths looking to flee. Someone has to keep up the fight."

"But do you need to fight anymore?" Robert shook his head. "Your people will have their own world. We'll set up routes for them to get out of Earth Alliance space, hell, it's possible we'll even have a formal political debate about it. Fighting the Psi Corps with guns and bombs isn't going to destroy them."

"Not directly, maybe," Lyta conceded. "But if we don't do anything, Bester and his kind are going to take over the Earth Alliance. That's been their plan for years. They almost did it with Clark and I know they'll try again. I have to stop that."

"That's not all, is it?" Robert asked. "You want revenge."

"Are you going to psychoanalyze me too, Captain?"

"I don't need to. I can feel the anger without trying." Robert took in a breath and thought of what to say next. "You can't live on anger and fury forever. It's going to burn you up inside."

"After everything the Psi Corps has taken from me, Captain, it's all I have left." With her piece said, Lyta turned and walked away.

Robert thought about saying something. He could have. But he knew that in the end it wouldn't change anything. Lyta would have to work on her anger herself, and he hoped that when the day came that she understood where it was taking her, it didn't come too late.




To say that Robert was getting tired of the dreams would be an understatement. He was well beyond tired and entering the realm of "fed up".

When he awoke from another session of asking the voice in his head what the hell she meant by "Bad Wolf", Robert slid out of bed and went for the shower. When he emerged from it he noted the time was 0432. Going to bed early compared to usual had at least given him a decent amount of rest… not that it didn't help his frustration with this damn vision. What did it all mean?

He went to work on the paperwork that had accumulated during his days away. Then he went to work on the paperwork for the coming day and, once this job was done, his report to Admiral Maran on everything that had happened.

His stomach gurgled. He replicated a plate of scrambled eggs and resumed work. A glance at the clock said it was 0649.

At 0710 precisely, his omnitool's call light came on. "Delgado to Dale!"

There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in that voice; Caterina had found something.

He tapped the back of his left hand. "Dale here."

"Come to Science Lab 1 ASAP! You've got to see this!"




Robert stepped into Science Lab 1. Cat and Jarod were seated at the central console. Julia was already present. "Alright, what is it?"

"A lot of the data we're getting from the planet is scrambled. And it's going to take us months, maybe years, to defragment and recover it all. If it can be." Caterina ran her fingers over the screen to remove the lines of code that presumably represented the scrambled data. "But we did find something interesting."

"We ran a search program looking for strings related to interuniversal drive research," Jarod said, allowing Caterina to focus on work. "Just to see if there's something intact."

"There was?"

"Mostly intact," Caterina said. "We can't make out all of the appended data on the entry, but we know two things for sure. One, it's a location of a Darglan machinery plant for building new IU drives, and two…" She tapped a key. A starmap appeared on the screen. "...by comparing the coordinate fragments to pieces of the astrographical data on the location, we're ninety nine point nine percent sure that there's something in this system."

The marked system had a M class star. Robert and Julia both looked intently at it. "It's marked on the Minbari charts as Halmavar. On the Outer Rim of known space."

"It was probably the furthest extent of Darglan space back in the day," Julia said. "Do you think this is what we're looking for?"

"There's only one way to find out." Robert looked over at Jarod. "When is the Lukapa due?"

"An hour from now," Jarod answered.

"I'll get on subspace with Admiral Maran and Captain Kripk. Julia…"

"...I'll have Nick set a course for Halmavar as soon as I'm on the bridge," she finished for him. "And I'll get our science teams on the planet ready to beam back up."

"Excellent job, everyone," Robert said. "It looks like we're getting somewhere."




Lyta sat alone in her small quarters on the Keyeri and felt the minds of the others from a distance. Druni was asleep, Lennier was piloting, and G'Kar was meditating in his own quarters.

This was good. She had time now.

She went to the end of her bed and the makeshift work station there and picked up the multidevice she had gotten repaired on Kalnit Station. It was an older model of the machine, one that service had been discontinued for, but through contacts she had acquired third party software that made the device functional for a number of purposes.

With a few taps she was in the Keyeri's comm system. A few more taps and she was invisible. A couple more and a call was being placed.

The man she was looking to talk to, had been waiting to talk to for over a year, appeared on the screen. "Well, hello Lyta," said Michael Garibaldi. "I've been anticipating this call for a while now. You do know what time it is on Mars, right?"

"It's the early morning," Lyta answered. "But I have to call when I'm able."

"Right. So, down to business, shall we? Can you receive an encrypted data file wherever you are?"

Lyta nodded and tapped a key on her multidevice. The blue screen registered that the computer was ready. "Send it."

"Right." Garibaldi reached to the side and tapped keys on a panel. "Here are the accounts I promised you. The interest hasn't had time to compound a lot, and I've had to shuffle some into your legitimate refugee aid accounts to make things look good…"

Lyta narrowed her eyes, expecting Garibaldi to tell her he had been unable to provide the means he promised. The holo-screen flashed as it acknowledged the received data. After several seconds passed a series of numbers flashed on her screens from the various accounts. Hrm. "For a moment I thought you were going to disappoint me, Michael," she said. "But you haven't. This is just what I needed."

"Glad to hear it. And your end of the deal…?"

Lyta grinned. "We'll have to make arrangements for a safe place to meet. Maybe Edgars Industries would be interested in providing assistance in establishing the new Telepath homeworld I've received from the United Alliance of Systems?"

Garibaldi blinked. "Really, you… wow, how did that happen? Last time I checked they had an entire group of politicians already ticked off about the telepaths and mystic life force mojo-users they already have."

"They needed my help with something so I made a deal with them." Lyta's grin turned into a wry smirk. "And they helped me spit in Bester's eye. That was an unexpected bonus."

"Now that, that is news to brighten my day." Garibaldi smiled back. "Alright, so you've got materials from G'Kar and you've got the Allied Systems giving you a planet. Sounds like everything is coming along on your end. I'll see about making a quiet trip into the Alliance, a business trip. My shareholders have been after me to expand our markets into the Multiverse."

"Let me know where you'll be, I'll meet you wherever I can. Take care, Michael."

"The same to you." Garibaldi disappeared from the screen.

The grin on Lyta's face wasn't going away. Garibaldi was right. Everything was coming along for her and her people. And the Psi Corps… their days were numbered. She gently tapped several more keys. This call would be routed back into the Alliance and to elsewhere.

Several moments later, the call was accepted. Lyta looked into the screen at her contact. "Hello. I've had time to think about your proposal and make arrangements for my telepaths." She nodded. "I'll give you my answer now. I accept."

Her new ally nodded in pleased agreement.




Tag



The red star of Halmavar burned in the distance. The Aurora dropped out of warp near the second planet of the solar system. The dead planet turned quietly on its orbital access as the kilometer long starship approached.

The command crew was gathered on the bridge for the approach. "We're at full impulse, orbit in five minutes," Locarno said.

Robert nodded and turned his head to face Cat. "Anything useful on sensors?"

"The star is putting out some sort of interference," Caterina answered. "The planet is definitely a barren world, virtually no atmosphere. I'm looking for signs of prior habitation. So far nothing like domes or secured habitats."

On the screen the red, graying planet was framed by the distant nebula that framed this region of space with orange and red color. As they approached Robert felt anxious. They'd come all this way, done all this… were they finally at the end of this hunt? Or was it a wild goose chase?

"Rob." Julia's voice was hushed. "You look like something's wrong."

He nodded. He could feel his heart beating faster. There was something wrong. "Still no sign of anything?"

"Sensors are still blank."

Robert nodded at that. He could see the concern in Julia's eyes. Before he could say anything, his chair's comm panel lit up. "Meridina to Bridge."

"Bridge here," Robert answered, after tapping the key to give a reply.

"Whatever is happening… I sense that there is danger. Proceed with caution."

Meridina's warning clinched the deal for Robert. "Nick, new course, keep us far from that planet," Robert said. "I want a better idea of what's going on before we make orbit."

"Right, changing course…"

"I've got power signatures on sensors!" Caterina shouted. "New contacts… they're coming from the planet!"

"Code Red!" Julia shouted.

As klaxons sounded throughout the Aurora, Robert added, "On screen!"

The screen now changed to show vessels flying toward them, the dead world framing the shapes. They were unlike any ship Robert had yet seen. Their surfaces were shimmering as if alive, their very hulls so dark as to seem more shadow than real, with multiple arms emerging from the ship in a half-circle.

He'd seen them before. In his nightmares, which they were particularly well-suited to appear in.

And he knew what was coming next.

"Nick, get us out of here!" he shouted, trying not to panic. "Don't mind the course, just go!"

Locarno was already maneuvering away from the approaching spidery ships. Caterina shrieked, "They're Shadow vessels!"

"What?!" Julia demanded.

"They match the profile, they're…"

She didn't finish the sentence.

Locarno did, in fact, engage the warp drive. The warp nacelles flushed with energy to make the jump to warp.

The lead Shadow vessel fired.

The purple ray of energy that erupted from within its form hit the Aurora's shields dead-on…

...and promptly sliced through both top nacelles.

The Aurora bridge shook so violently that only their harnesses kept some of the crew from being thrown from their chairs. "We've just lost both upper nacelles!" Barnes shouted from the engineering station. "They hit us just before warp initiated, the feedback's knocked outthe warp drive!"

"What about the shields?!"

"Their weapons are disrupting the shields at point of impact. They're not…"

Jarod was cut off by another violent shaking. A second Shadow ship had moved into range and fired a beam that sliced directly into the drive hull. Explosions ripped through the hanger deck and launch tubes.

The first Shadow vessel, satisfied at crippling its target's ability to escape at FTL, fired again. The beam moved across the front of the drive hull.

"Hull breaches in multiple sections of the drive hull!" Jarod called out. "Heavy damage to the navigational deflector!"

Two more beams and then a third sliced into the ship. It rocked around more. Robert could visualize it easy enough; he'd dreamed this before. He'd seen it happen already. On the screen the amber energy of their starboard phaser weapons - those still intact - were striking out at their attackers. Some shots hit. Most seemed to do little to no damage, with two of the larger beams slicing part of an arm off of one of the attacking Shadow ships.

"Armor self-repair systems are engaging, but it's like we're filling the holes with cotton frakking candy!" Barnes kept at his work station, trying to keep the systems in question going.

"Engineerin' t' Bridge! Cap'n, we've taken damage t' th' naqia reactors. Four are offline an' I'm losin' a fifth!"

"Evasive maneuvers! Jarod, send out a mayday, now!"

"I'm trying," Locarno answered Julia, as Jarod triggered the distress signal. "But the impulsors are partially damaged!"

"I'm firing everything I can and it's not doing enough!" Angel added.

As another shot hit the ship, this one slicing along the primary hull, Robert thought he could feel his entire crew's panic and anguish. He could feel pain and terror. His friends' screams as more shots hit their battered ship, slicing the Aurora apart like a bird on a platter, struck deep into him. He'd seen this. He'd seen it in his dreams. How could he have not seen it coming?!

The next shot clipped the bridge module itself as it sliced along the rear of the primary hull. "We've just lost communications!" Jarod shouted.

For a long second Robert closed his eyes and focused. They were going to die. Julia, Tom, Leo, Cat and Angel, Meridina and Lucy… every single one of them was about to die, along with two thousand more people. People he was responsible for.

No… No, he couldn't let that happen.

A single hope was left. One that every fiber of his being said had to be taken, now. "Jarod, activate the jump drive, now! I don't care about the destination!"

Jarod had already made a similar calculation of their chances of survival. Another shot that sliced up the front of the Aurora's bow and wrecked one of the plasma pulse cannons made their alternatives starkly clear. "Activating jump drive!"

"Everything to engines, Tom! Everything!"

"Everything!" Barnes agreed with a shout, using the engineering console to shunt power into the damaged impulsor drives wherever he could find it.

Ahead of the Aurora a green light appeared, twinkling like a star of hope. It expanded into the swirling vortex of an interuniversal jump point.

The Aurora raced for it like a wounded creature recognizing the only hope of survival.

The Shadow vessels reacted as well. From their forms, bright pulses of energy fired toward the jump point. Angel, with what little was left of her targeting sensors, saw them coming and opened up with whatever weapons she had left. A phaser beam eliminated one pulse. A solar torpedo blew up another. Particle interceptors dissipated one.

Just as the Aurora surged into the jump point, the last pulse struck it. Energy crackled around the emerald vortex and the Aurora as it surged forth. On the bridge of the ship consoles crackled and sparked with energies beyond what they meant to endure. "The jump point is destabilizing!", shouted Jarod. "It's going to-"

The jump point collapsed.

Their duty done, the Shadow vessels returned to their eternal vigil.




The Koenig was still two hours out from the Reynar System alongside the Hencerasa. Zack checked the time and decided he would head for coffee soon. After all this time away from the Aurora, he was looking forward to getting back to his bed.

Magda turned in her seat. "Sir, I'm getting an automated distress call on all Alliance bands."

"Oh?" Zack felt the worry enter his voice. Had they been found out by Earthforce? Was there some sort of retaliation going on? "Heading?"

"239 mark 040. Toward the Rim." After a moment, Magda swallowed and gasped, "Madre de Dios."

Zack turned his head to face her. "Mags? What is it?"

"The call…" She swallowed. "It… it came from the Aurora."

At that, Zack's face paled to sheet whiteness.




Lights woke Robert up. Lights, and the immense headache. He fumbled for his seat harness and released it, letting him topple off his chair. He looked around at the smoke-filled bridge.

Moans and groans filled the air. He looked to Julia first. She was running her hand over a sweat-covered brow. Robert's head moved to Locarno, who was cradling damaged hands over the destroyed remnants of his navigation console. Jarod's console was still intact and he was already moving. Tom Barnes was, as usual, already trying to get his console to work. Cat was moaning at her station. He looked back to where Angel was starting to sit up. "Report," he asked, his voice hoarse.

Jarod's hand went to the Ops console. "I've got some systems active. Life support is functioning over eighty percent of the ship, but we've got persistent atmospheric leaks in Decks… 2, 4, 5, 7 through 20, and 23 through 35. Damage control teams are moving to begin patching them."

"What about the armor-repair systems?"

"Fried," groaned Barnes. "Utterly, completely fried. Half of the machinery is out, the control systems are dead…"

"Communications?", croaked Julia.

Jarod shook his head. "Our transceivers have all been damaged beyond immediate repair. Given time and EVA work, maybe we can get basic subspace back."

"Propulsion? What about our drives?" Robert asked.

"The jump drive is completely burnt out from whatever just happened," Jarod said. "Warp drive is out. Impulsor drives have taken major damage..." He shook his head. "We're dead in space."

"Most of the weapons are either out or can't be fired from lack of power," Barnes added. "Our shield generators are mostly intact. Two primary generators dead from direct hits. But we've got no power to use them."

"Scott t' Bridge. Are ye still alive, lads, lasses?"

Robert stabbed at the control. "Still alive. What…"

"It's bad, Cap'n. We dinnae have much power left. All but one naqia reactor are out. Two fusion reactors took tae much damage an' had t' be shut down."

"What caused all this?"

"Ye mean besides th' ship gettin' cut tae bloody ribbons, sir? Some kind o' energy feedback hit our systems."

"Urgh." Locarno was wrestling with his harness, difficult given the burns on both hands. "So much for fixing the fuse problem."

"The fuses aren't the issue." Caterina was looking over her console. "The entire ship got subjected to some kind of disruptive energy field. It hit every electronic device on the ship with varying amounts of energy. And probably fried out at least half of our consoles." She looked over what her sensors recorded. "We… oh my God…"

"What?"

"We should be dead," Cat said. "We… a nanosecond. Maybe two, or maybe five, it's sort of… don't you see?" She turned to face them. "We were in a collapsing jump point. We should be dead."

"But we're not," Robert said.

"By the skin of our teeth!" Cat cried. "Actually, not even that, more like an atom's width!"

"It's fine," Julia insisted. "We're not dead. We're alive. And now we need to see what happened. Do we know where we jumped?"

"I set the drive to jump us to L2M1," Jarod revealed. "The Jackman VIII Frontier Fleet Base. But I can already tell you that's not where we are."

"Then where are we?" Julia asked.

"We've lost a number of sensors, so I'm trying to…"

"Oh my God…"

Again everyone looked to Caterina. "What is it?"

"We're… I can't believe this," she said. "The spatial aspect is all wrong. We shouldn't have…"

"Cat!" Robert barked. He needed to know, now.

"We're… we're over Earth," she said.

"What?" Robert and Julia managed that together.

"We're in high orbit of Earth," Caterina confirmed.

Jarod tapped a key on his console. The holo-viewscreen activated. It flickered for several moments, but despite the distortion in the video there was no mistaking the image on the screen. They could see the outline of North America on the horizon.

"Which Earth?" Julia wondered. "Any sign of…"

Caterina had her attention drawn back to her sensors. "That's odd. I'm getting some kind of spatial distortion forming."

"Where?" Robert closed his eyes for a moment. Everything seemed to be going from bad to worse.

"Here. On... on the bridge..."

As she said "bridge", a noise was growing in volume. A solid "Whooshing" kind of noise, but not an actual "Whoosh". It was, to Cat anyway, more of a "VWOOSH". Or, on second thought, a "VWORP".

And everyone watched, astounded, as a blue box appeared at the front of the bridge, just beyond the Ops and Helm stations.

It was blue. It looked like a telephone booth in size, with a light at the top that was lighting up in time with the lingering "VWORP". The words "Police Box" were separated by the words "Public Call". A white sign on the front door read:

Police Telephone
Free for Use of Public
Advice and Assistance Obtainable Immediately
Officers and Cars Respond to Urgent Calls
Pull to Open


"What the hell?" Angel swore.

The others were clearly as shocked. Robert was too, but he thought he could sense something about it. Something that his power resonated with.

And then the box door opened.

A young blond woman stepped out. She was wearing a teal jacket over a black shirt, black trousers, with a backpack in her hand. Very much like she was from the same century most of them were from. She looked around with as much confusion as they had.

Robert was more than confused as he looked at her face. He was stunned. And more than a little terrified. He'd seen the face before, in his dreams.

"Bad Wolf," he murmured, in such a low tone only Julia could faintly hear him.

The woman turned back to face a second figure emerging from the box. This one was a man in a long brown coat over a business suit, dark gray, with a tie. "Where and when are we now?" the young woman asked him, revealing the English accent Robert had already heard.

"I don't know." Brown eyes scanned the bridge. "Oh, hello everyone… wait!" His expression brightened. "Well, look at all this!" He walked up beside Robert and looked around for a second before moving on to Cat and Barnes' side of the bridge, examining the walls and the consoles. He turned toward the flickering master systems display on the back of the bridge. "Lovely ship you've got. Darglan Emergency Ship design, am I right?" He looked at Caterina.

She nodded slowly.

"Ha, thought so! They always loved blue surfacing. Liked everything blue, which was odd if you ask me, since they were orange. Still, it's nice to see one of their ships again. Although it's a shame it's all messed up right now." The newcomer shook his head, smiling with an edge of sadness to it. "Ah, the Darglan, they were always so creative. And they always had to go around exploring, scanning things, then scanning them again to make sure before running them through a beaker in the lab..." He looked around the bridge again and seemed to realize everyone was staring at him. "Hrm?"

"Excuse me," Julia began. "But… who are you?"

"Oh, right." The smile turned into a wide grin. "Hello everyone. I'm the Doctor, and this is Rose Tyler." He held a hand toward the young blond woman who'd stepped out first. "And given the state of your ship, you look like you could use some help…"



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

Post by Steve » 2017-07-28 02:55pm

Teaser


"And given the state of your ship, you look like you could use some help…"

The bridge of the Starship Aurora grew quiet at those words, and at the recognition among some of the name now attached to the speaker. The tall man in the brown coat and dark dress suit and tie with light blue dress shirt, but with very ordinary-looking white running shoes, next moved over to Barnes' console. "Oh, that does look bad. It's a good thing you're using the naqia or naquadah or whatever you want to call the stuff, so many names for it you know. If you'd been using anti-matter or a hyperspace tap you'd have been blown to bits."

"You're the Doctor?" asked Caterina, the first of the crew to speak. "You're really… the Doctor?"

"Well, I hate to brag…"

"...no, he doesn't," the young woman with him, Rose Tyler, interrupted.

He made a bemused face in her direction before continuing. "...but I am the Doctor, yes. You've heard of me? From the Darglan, I'm guessing?"

"Well… you were in their databases." Cat shook her head. "That's all that's left of them, actually."

The Doctor's expression fell. "Let me guess." His tone turned dark. "It was the… well, their name is virtually unpronounceable, so let's go with 'Shadows'."

"Yes," answered Julia. She frowned. "Wait, how did you know them?"

When he resumed speaking, the Doctor's voice kept its subdued, dark tone. "What, you thought the Darglan were the first species to achieve interuniversal drive? Don't be silly! It's happened plenty of times. We just end up giving it up, usually. Don't want to attract the wrong attention."

"Wait." Rose looked from him to them in confusion. "What's this about interuniversal drive?"

"That's what our ship has," Julia said. "An interuniversal jump drive developed by a race called the Darglan."

"Ah, the Darglan. They were such a nice people." He shook his head sadly. "Ended up drawing all the wrong sort of attention, though. And that's putting it mildly. In the end we all had to come together to deal with that situation. I was there, and the Furlings, the Shadows and Vorlons and all those other First Ones with unpronounceable names, the Organians, the Endless and the Sword…"

"We saw," Robert said, finding his voice finally. He forced the fears and thoughts prompted by Rose's appearance and faced the Doctor. "We just found an old Darglan science base that had a recording in it. It showed the Darglan being sentenced to having their interuniversal drives taken away."

"It was the best solution we could manage," the Doctor said. "I thought they'd learned their lesson, but with the Shadows demanding their extermination and the Endless talking about decimating the population, well… that was the best compromise that didn't involve even more death." He directed his gaze toward Robert. And then he blinked. "Who are you, anyway?"

"My name's Robert Dale," Robert said. "I'm Captain of this ship, the Starship Aurora. We're a part of the United Alliance of Systems."

"Really? Alliance of Systems?" The Doctor tilted his head slightly, as if in thought. "Sounds nice. All Humans then?"

"And the Alakin, the Dorei, and Gersallians."

"Ah, good. How are they? The Gersallians, I mean. Swenya finally got everything together for them?"

"Um… yes, I'd say," Robert replied delicately. "So, you're the Doctor. That makes you a…"

"...Time Lord," Caterina answered, just as the Doctor said the same thing. He looked to her with interest. "Well, it was in the records," she said to him, her cheeks blushing now. "And… and I did meet Sarah Jane and she knew you…"

A grin crossed the being's face. "Oh, you have. How is she?"

"Um, fine?"

"Well, except having her door smashed by that absorbing alien thing," Angel pointed out. "But she was getting that repaired."

The Doctor acknowledged Angel's remark with a nod, but he quickly looked back to Caterina. "Are you alright?"

"Huh?"

"I mean, you look a little pale. And like you're about to explode," he observed.

"Well, actually, we did just come within a few nanoseconds of dying," Caterina explained. "I… I think that's why I'm not shrieking in joy and trying to ask you a zillion questions."

"Ah." He smiled at that.

At that point Rose cleared her throat and held up her bag. "Laundry, remember?"

"Oh, right. Well…" The Doctor gave her a sheepish look. "...it can wait, can't it? I mean, this is a genuine Darglan Emergency Vessel, and it's been a long time since I got to see one..."

Rose sighed with some exasperation. "Alright. I'll call Mum and let her know we're coming." She pulled out a telephone.

"How do you know this is your timeframe?" Caterina asked.

"Oh, I set up the phone so she can call her mum whenever and wherever she likes," the Doctor explained. "But given the state of your ship, I'd say that you're in the same time we were planning to arrive anyway."

"How could you know that?" Jarod asked.

"Well, with what you've told me, I imagine you did something to gain the attention of the Shadows. You tried to escape with a jump point, they tried to destabilize it, and the result on this end was an unstable point that could act as a sort of magnet for the TARDIS. It's why we appeared here and now and not where and when I set the controls for." He inclined his head toward the viewscreen. "It's not the first time. Once I had a Darglan ship failing a jump that pulled the TARDIS right along with it. It was my fault, actually, wasn't minding the controls." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "The Daleks really regretted that mistake of mine, actually."

Julia, while listening, decided it was time to act. "Nick, you should get to the medbay."

"The lift in the conference lounge is still working," Jarod confirmed.

"Good. Jarod, Tom, go with him, and report to Scotty to begin repairs." After they obeyed and departed the bridge, Julia looked over to where the Doctor was observing. "I hope you don't mind that we get down to business?"

"Oh, of course not," he answered. "Although it looks like you're going to need a lot of work to get this ship going again."

"Exactly."

In the corner, Rose was saying, "No, I hate guessing, just go on and tell me…"

"I can lend a hand," the Doctor offered. "I…"

"What do you mean Granddad's coming?" Rose asked loudly, interrupting him. "Mum, that doesn't… right, I'll be there soon." She lowered her cell phone and noticed everyone looking toward her.

"Is everything alright?" the Doctor asked.

"No. No, it's not alright." Rose shook her head. Concern and confusion were written all over her face. "She just told me that my Granddad Prentice was coming to visit."

"Well, that sounds… nice?" Angel offered.

"I haven't met your Granddad yet," the Doctor said. "What's he like?"

"He was nice," Rose answered. "But, he's dead. He died ten years ago."


Undiscovered Frontier
"Between Two Fires"


Rose's news was, for the Aurora crew, just one more thing in a day that had been terrifying and bizarre. The Doctor, for his part, didn't seem nearly as confused as they did. "So your mother's finally gone mad?"

"I… I don't know." Rose shook her head. "She didn't sound mad. She acted like it's perfectly normal. She says he'll be there in half an hour."

"Well, we'd better look into this." The Doctor turned toward Robert and Julia. "I hate to be rude, but it's her mum, and there's all sorts of nasty things that can look like ghosts. I'll have to check back in with you later."

"Oh, sure?" Robert and Julia exchanged looks. Robert continued, "I mean, you're not under any obligation to us. We haven't even asked for your help yet. I've got no problem with you checking out this 'ghost' thing." A thought crossed Robert's mind. A thought… and a feeling deep within him. "Maybe my security chief and I can help?"

"Help with ghosts?" Rose asked, clearly skeptical.

Robert nodded. "We can sense if there's anything to it. If it's some kind of life. Commander Meridina is a telepath and was trained by the Order of Swenya."

"Oh, that sounds lovely," said the Doctor. "Nice to know she got that order going. And I thought there was something interesting about you. Trained in that style, right? But I don't see a lightsaber anywhere on you, so I'm guessing you're not the combat type?"

"Not yet, and probably not ever," Robert admitted.

"Ah. Well, alright. Offer accepted."

Robert tapped the comm control on his chair. "Bridge to Security. Commander Meridina, are you there?"

After several moments a reply came, "I am available, Captain. Is there something you need from me?"

"Report to the bridge immediately."

"I am coming. Security out."

Caterina stood. "Can I come too?" she asked. Everyone looked to her. "I mean… most of my sensors are busted, but my omnitool is still working, I can take scans of whatever is happening, help out with the science stuff? I'm… I'm good with science, Doctor." She focused her attention on him. "I love science."

Julia gave Robert an uncomfortable look. So did Angel. Robert drew in a breath and took a moment to think on the subject. To feel for what seemed to be the right answer.

"I have no objection," he finally said.

"Well, there's no harm in it, really."

Caterina grinned and jumped from her seat. Robert could sense her sheer enthusiasm at the prospect. He could also sense a sudden, sharp pang of something from Rose, who crossed her arms and looking away from Cat and the Doctor. Was it… irritation? That and maybe a little jealousy, Robert decided.

"Rob." Julia touched his arm and tilted her head toward his ready office.

"Hrm? Oh. Excuse us," he said, addressing that to everyone. He followed Julia into the office. There was no hiding her frustration or irritation. "Okay, what…"

Julia turned back and faced him with a sharp, disapproving look. "Rob, need I remind you that this ship just got sliced up? We've got dead and hurt crew, a ship stranded in another universe and out of communication, and now you're going to leave it to… to what, play 'Ghostbusters' with this guy?" She gestured toward the door. "This is irresponsible."

"I can see why you think that," Robert replied. "But the way I figure it, the sooner we help him with whatever it is going on, the sooner he can help us. And I know he will. The Darglan knew and respected the Doctor for a reason."

"And you know that's him? You can sense the truth of that? He's willing to help us?"

"I do."

To that Julia sighed. "Alright, that's a good argument to make. And I can even understand you going along since you've got these powers. But bringing Cat too? I mean, Meridina is one thing, but we could use Caterina up here. We need everyone we can get on the repair teams."

"Cat's smart, but she's not a full engineer," Robert countered. "If she comes with us, her omnitool scans can be the science side of what Meridina and I sense." Seeing Julia was still not entirely won over, he added, "I'm not bringing Lucy because, yes, the ship needs repairs, and Lucy's place is here on the repair teams. But Cat and Meridina, myself? We'll get more accomplished working with the Doctor and getting him back here quickly than we will joining a repair team." Robert looked her eye to eye. "Julia, I'm not just running off to leave this repair job to you. I'm doing this for a reason. I know this will help us. And given the state of the ship we need the help."

"I'm not upset at the idea of directing the repair," Julia countered. "It'll be useful for when I command my own ship anyway. But keep in mind that eventually you're going to have an XO not as understanding as me. You can't just keep running off on these kinds of missions, Rob. Not when you're the Captain of this ship. Your place is here, commanding."

"I know, but sometimes I have to do these things." Robert shook his head. "Besides, it's not like I'm always running off on these kinds of missions."

Julia raised her eyebrows in sarcastic surprise. "Really? You just spent nearly a week off the ship on a secret mission. The only reason you didn't go on a field mission on Solaris was because President Sinclair insisted on breakfast with you. You challenged Lincoln Osis to a fight. And let's not forget last year at Gamma Piratus when you and I did the exact opposite things we were meant to do."

"Those were all special cases." Robert's face betrayed his bewilderment at the conversation. "What's going on? Why are we having this conversation?"

"Because I care about you," Julia answered. "Because I'm not going to be around here anymore and I don't want you losing your command because you end up with someone like Commander King as your new First Officer, someone who's not going to overlook you trying to operate in the field."

"That's not going to happen," Robert pledged to her. "Don't worry about me." He checked his omnitool for the time. "Meridina should be here any moment. We should head back out."

Knowing the conversation was over, Julia nodded and turned. They went for the door together.




Meridina was nearly to the lift when Lucy intercepted her. "I'm heading to the bridge to begin fixing the consoles," she explained, indicating her tool belt. Her lightsaber was also affixed to it. "Is Robert sending you into the field?"

"I suspect so."

"Then be careful." Seeing that Meridina didn't quite understand what the problem was, Lucy took her lightsaber from her belt and activated it. There was a brief burst of light and then nothing. "Whatever was done to the ship also affected our lightsabers."

Meridina took her own out and tried to turn it on. It didn't work either. "Perhaps I should get my lakesh?" she proposed.

"I doubt it'll do any good," Lucy replied. "The disruption field would have damaged the memory metal or the EM field system as easily as it did the lightsabers."

"So I will be without a weapon." Meridina considered this issue carefully. "Very well. Such things happen from time to time. I shall be careful."

"I wish I had time to fix them," Lucy said.

"You will find time when the ship's repairs have progressed." Meridina handed the weapon over to Lucy. "I shall speak to you later."

Lucy gripped Meridina's arm. Not tightly, but enough to get her attention. "This situation… I've got bad feelings about it, Meridina. Please be careful."

"I have felt the same, and I will be," Meridina answered. "I promise."

After a moment Lucy let go and they continued on, quietly, to the functioning lift.




The arrival of Lucy and Meridina to the bridge prompted a reaction from the Doctor. "It's so good to see a Gersallian again," he said brightly. "Look at you. And a farisa too."

Meridina blinked at him. "You are familiar with my people, then?"

"Oh, quite familiar." He grinned. "I knew Swenya back in the day. She had quite the taste for jellybabies. More than that old grouch of a mentor she had." For a moment the Doctor narrowed his eyes at her. "You remind me a bit of her. I think it's the nose." He tapped his own.

Robert sensed Meridina's disbelief turn into surprise when she sensed the Doctor's sincerity on the issue. "Truly? If you knew the Great Foundress, then…"

"Really? Do you really call her that? I'm not sure she'd have liked that," he said. "But we can talk about that later. We have a date with someone who's supposed to be dead."

Robert nodded and turned to Julia. "We'll try to stay in communication."

"Jarod's supposed to be working on it," Julia said. "Until then… be careful."

Caterina bounded up to the door of the police box, eager to enter. The Doctor stepped up and opened the door for her and the rest. They entered to find a chamber just as big as the Aurora bridge. But it certainly wasn't a control room like he expected. The interior design consisted of gold-surfaced, curved pillars coming from below the floor to the wall, with something of a coral look to them. In the center of this open chamber was a hexagonal platform. The round control console there was around a pillar with a mechanism inside of the tube, with wiring leading from the top to the walls. The ramp from the door to the control platform was tiled with red material.

"A dimensionally-transcendental field!" Caterina squealed in excitement. She continued in and went up to the controls to get a good look at the chamber. "It's… it's amazing!"

"Aren't you enthusiastic?" the Doctor mused with an amused expression. He walked up to join her. "Just be careful about touching her. My TARDIS can be fussy at times."

"TARDIS?" asked Meridina.

"Time And Relative Dimension In Space," Rose answered. "It's why it's bigger on the inside."

"Just like Darglan Facilities…" Meridina stepped on past her.

Robert, however did not. He glanced toward her and said, lowly, "Don't feel challenged by Cat, please."

"What?" Rose turned her head and faced him. "What do you mean by that?"

"What I mean is that if Caterina was going to have certain feelings for either of you, Rose, it'd be you," he replied. "And she's actually quite happy with her girlfriend, from what I know."

"What? Oh." Rose blinked with understanding. A blush showed on her and, Robert thought, a little embarrassment too. She looked to where Cat was asking questions about the TARDIS while the Doctor started operating the controls. "She looks really excited."

"Caterina is our science officer for a reason," Robert answered. "If it's something new, she's going to scan it thoroughly, examine it, and decide what it is and the science of it."

"Right."

"Alright, time to be off then." The Doctor looked over his console instruments and then glanced toward Rose. "Time to see if your mother's finally gone mad."

"You're not flying this through my ship, are you?" Robert was seized by the mental image of the police box flying through the corridors. It was both funny and disturbing.

"Of course not," declared the Doctor. "That's just silly. No, I'm simply dematerializing us from your ship, shifting us through the Time Vortex, and re-materializing at our destination. It's simple."

"I'm betting you say that about every impossible thing you talk about doing," Robert pointed out.

"Nah." The Doctor looked up from the controls. "Just most things."

There was a final pull of a lever somewhere and the mechanism in the pillar of the control console began to move. The "vworp" sound filled the air.

After several moments it stopped. The Doctor checked a monitor screen, nodded, and went for the door. Outside was a series of urban apartments with a nearby playground for children. The sky was clear and the morning sunny.

"Here we are then," he said at the door. "Time for laundry and Granddads who are supposed to be dead."




After the Doctor's ship faded from view on the Aurora bridge, Julia settled into the command chair. Lucy was already working on the navigation console. She finished pulling away the access panel on the "back" (which, naturally, faced the front of the bridge).

With her console out and nothing to do, Angel walked up and sat in the VIP seat to Julia's left. "First our ship gets sliced up by ancient aliens that were supposed to be gone, now we're getting mixed up with some guy the Darglan treated like a legend. Is it just me or is this situation completely insane?"

"It's certainly out there," Julia agreed.

"Hopefully we don't have anything like this happen on the Enterprise."

To that thought, Julia snorted. "Are you kidding? We'll probably end up in plenty of insane situations no matter what ship we're on. It's a crazy Multiverse."

Angel smiled despite herself. "Yeah, I guess you're right." After a moment's thought she asked, "Have you picked out a First Officer yet?"

"Nobody from here, I'm afraid," Julia said. "I'll have to get one from the rest of the fleet."

"What about Nasira Fanous? From the Challenger? It'd be a step up for her."

"Maybe." Julia tapped the key on the chair to activate the comms. Which, she mused, seemed to be one of the few systems properly working. "Bridge to Engineering. Mister Scott, what's our status?"

"Nae very good, Commander. Th' warp drive is shot an' will need a yard rebuild, th' jump drive will require hours o' repair an' I cannae promise it'll work even then, I need time t' deal with these bloody hull breaches, an' we lost both comm arrays. Mister Jarod will be rebuildin' 'em in th' machine shops. Dinnae expect any comms for another twelve hours or more."

"Any good news for me, Mister Scott?"

"Give my teams eight hours an' I can get ye impulse up t' three-quarters."

"Just get us enough impulse capability for maneuvering. The safety of the ship comes first, after that the priority's going to be our jump drive or IU radio."

"Roger that, Commander. Scott out."

Julia set her hands on the arms of the command chair and blew out a breath. Scotty and Jarod (and Tom and Lucy) would have the repairs well in hand, and Leo was undoubtedly busy with triage and care for the wounded. They wouldn't want or need her lingering around. There was little to do now for her but to wait.




It was somewhat awkward when the group showed up at the Tyler apartment. "Ah, Rose, you're just in time!" the middle-aged blond woman who met them inside the door cried. She embraced her daughter warmly. "Oh, how have you been?"

"Great, mum." Rose held up her backpack. "And I've got a lot of wash to do, and I've got you a present."

"You can show it to your Granddad," Jackie insisted. Next she grabbed the Doctor into an embrace and planted a clearly-unexpected kiss on his lips. "And you, it's good to see you too," she announced after the kiss.

The Doctor, still looking rather bewildered and a bit disturbed, said, "Ah, well, it's good to see you too."

Jackie turned to the door and seemed to finally notice Robert, Meridina, and Caterina. "Well now, who are you?" she asked. "And what kind of uniforms are those?"

"Alliance Stellar Navy uniforms, ma'am," Robert said. "I'm Captain Robert Dale of the Starship Aurora. We're… well, it's a long story, but right now my badly damaged ship is in orbit and…"

He was interrupted when Jackie checked her watch and announced, "Oh, it's almost time! Glad to have you here, go on and make yourselves at home." She turned away and went back to Rose. "Your Granddad will be here in a minute. What's that?"

Rose held up a trinket made of an unknown material. "I got it from an asteroid bazaar. It's made of…" She looked to the Doctor with an unspoken question.

"Bazoolium," he answered.

"...it's Bazoolium. If it's going to rain it turns cold, if it's going to be sunny it turns hot. You can use it to tell the weather."

"Lovely, dear, let's go show it to Granddad Prentice."

"Mum…" Rose let her mother guide her toward the flat's kitchen. "Granddad Prentice, his heart gave out, don't you remember?" The Doctor and the others followed. It looked like a cozy little home to Robert and Cat, something like what they'd grown up in. Robert could sense it wasn't so cozy for Jackie Tyler, though. He could feel the yawning sense of loneliness in the older woman, living alone in the world.

Jackie was the only one to enter the kitchen fully. She answered Rose's question with, "Of course I do." She checked her watch. "Ten past. He'll be here any moment," she said, oblivious to her daughter's fear and apprehension at her words.

Caterina immediately activated her omnitool. "Huh, that's weird. I'm starting to pick up…"

A figure stepped through the wall and counters at the far side of the kitchen. It looked vaguely human, making Robert think of what a walking shadow might look like. Light seemed to curve ever so slightly around it. He consciously felt for it through the Flow of Life. But there was nothing definite there. No feeling of life. Just a strange sense of the thing being "off" somehow. A sort of hollowness in the world.

Caterina kept her forearm up. "It's a spatial disturbance of some kind. As in, it's warping space around it slightly. I'd almost think…"

The Doctor turned and ran past her for the door. Rose followed, and Jackie in turn followed her daughter. Caterina, curioused, followed right behind.

Meridina approached the figure still in the kitchen. "I will remain," she murmured.

Robert nodded and took off in pursuit of the others.




The relative quiet of the Aurora bridge ended abruptly. "Commander?" Ensign al-Rashad looked up from sensors. "Something's going on with the planet."

Julia turned in her chair and looked at the younger Arab woman. "What is it?"

"Because of the damage to the ship's sensors I can't be sure of what I'm seeing," al-Rashad answered. "But what I can see are signs of a major spatial distortion on Earth. Something is generating a massive amount of energy and causing some sort of planetary-scale spatial disruptions."

"Can you give me anything specific, lieutenant?"

"I'm afraid not, ma'am."

"Keep me informed of new developments." Julia kept any worry from coming into her voice, but she couldn't hide it from herself.

Just what is going on down there?



"They're everywhere!"

Cat was the last to arrive. The Doctor, and Rose, were staring at the scene of more of the black ghostly figures standing and moving around. She checked her omnitool and confirmed that the spatial disruptions were even stronger out here.

"They won't be for much longer." Jackie checked her watch. "This shift's the short one, it's only a couple of minutes."

"Since when do ghosts have shifts?" The Doctor looked around, still incredulous. "Since when do shifts have ghosts?"

"And why isn't anyone running away?" Rose asked. "It's like they don't care that all of these… things are walking around…"

"Everyone was panicking when it first happened," Jackie said. "That was a couple of months ago. But people began to think about it and realized how wonderful it is. To have all of our friends and family back."

"The spatial distortions are gone,' Caterina said. She lowered her forearm. "But… how do you know these things are… y'know, people?"

"They're not," the Doctor insisted. "This is something else."

Cat saw the upset look on Jackie Tyler's face and would have been surprised to see she had something of the same. For just a moment she considered what it would mean if it was true. Her very next thought was if one of those dark figures could be her Mama.

That caused tears to form in her eyes.

"You alright?" The Doctor was looking at her.

"Um… yes." Caterina wiped the tears away. "Sorry, just a… just a silly thought. I don't think ghosts would give off spatial distortions."

"Can I have a look at those readings?"

"S-sure." Caterina gestured toward the entryway leading back to the Tyler flat. "Inside? We're not supposed to show off our technology here. The last time I had to spend a whole day getting debriefed by government agents."

"Fair enough," was the answer. "Inside we go."




The TV in the Tyler home flipped from channel to channel. The Doctor sat on the floor in front of the device, watching intently as everything from commercials to news shows and talk shows spoke about the ghosts. "They're everywhere," Rose said.

"How peculiar," Meridina noted from where she was standing by the wall, watching the image of a trio of Japanese girls wearing ghost-icon shirts and shrieking with enthusiasm she previously had attributed to Caterina finding something she found terribly interesting. "The people of this world have not responded as I imagined they would."

"Probably for the same reason flying in spaceships stopped being quite so spectacular for us," Robert answered. "You get used to it."

"Mum, how do you know it's Granddad?" Rose asked. She was seated on the couch beside her mother.

"Well, can't you tell? He still has that old cigarette smell. You remember."

"I do mum." Rose shook her head. "But I don't smell anything."

"Well, you have to make an effort. You have to want it, sweetheart."

"But then the question must be if it is truly there, or you are imagining it," Meridina pointed out to her. That won her a disapproving look.

"No, she's right." The Doctor shook his head. "The more you want it, the stronger it gets."

"Sort of," Jackie conceded.

"Like a psychic link. You want your old dad to be alive. And whatever they are, they might be trying to use that. To pull themselves into this world."

"You mean they may be trying to access the power of the Flow of Life?" asked Meridina.

"Maybe, maybe not."

Jackie's voice was cold to the point of hostility. "You're spoiled it. You're all spoiling it. Why can't you just accept the ones we love are trying to come back to us?"

"I understand." Caterina sat down on the floor in front of Jackie and looked up to her. "If I could see my Mama again, I'd do anything for that. I wish she was here with us as much as you want your dad back. But I think the Doctor's right. I mean, there's a scientific explanation for this, and these things may not even be human."

"They certainly look human," Robert pointed out.

"They do. I mean, they're all sort of blurry."

"True. That's because they're impressing themselves upon the surface of the world." The Doctor eyed them all. "But a footprint doesn't look like a boot."

"Maybe I can find some things from the Science Labs that will help?" Caterina suggested. "I mean, help figure out what these things are."

"Thank you for the offer, but I've got everything I need for this. Oh, right…" The Doctor looked apologetically to Robert. "Do you mind if I look into this first? Your ship's not going anywhere, right? Not going to run out of air any time soon?"

"I don't think so," Robert conceded. "We're just in a high orbit and out of communication with our people."

"Oh, I'll have that sorted out for you in seconds," the Doctor insisted. "This, on the other hand, bit trickier."

"Another 'fate of the world hangs in the balance' thing, I suppose?" Rose asked.

"Those are always the most fun, aren't they?" The Doctor stood up. "Alright, next shift is in what…?"

"In an hour or so," Jackie answered, almost automatically.

"Ah, good. We've got time." The Doctor went for the door.

"To do what?" Jackie called after him. But he was already out the door. Rose followed and, behind her, Jackie did as well.

The three Aurora crew looked at each other. "So much for our repairs," Robert sighed.

"Yes, but he's right," Caterina said. "Whatever these things are… if they're from some other dimension, they could cause a lot of damage. If it's a breach between dimensional planes, or into subspace, there's no telling what kind of harm it could cause. Even the Aurora might get affected. This really should be the priority."

"Meridina?" Robert faced her next.

"Caterina is probably right," Meridina said. "Regardless, I am concerned. There is something not right with these 'ghosts'. I believe something terribly wrong is happening."

"I'll call Julia and exchange updates with her," Robert said. "Cat, go ahead and help, if the Doctor needs it."

It was clear she didn't need to be asked twice. Caterina took off for the door.

For a moment Robert and Meridina shared an uneasy look. "You sense it, don't you?" Meridina asked.

"A general feeling off 'things are about to go to hell'?" He nodded. "And that's not the worse thing."

"Oh?"

"Rose Tyler." Robert frowned. "She's the one in my dreams. She's the one saying 'Bad Wolf'."

Meridina nodded. "I see. Perhaps you should ask her what the term means?"

"I'll have to." Robert swallowed. "But this feeling I'm getting, Meridina, it's bad. The dreams mentioned a 'choice' I'll have to make. That it could determine, well, everything."

"Choices often do," Meridina reminded him. "Although I agree that this one could be particularly important for us. I can only advise you as I always have; keep clarity in your thoughts and let your swevyra guide you."

"Right." At that Robert let out a sigh. "I could do with a big neon sign from my swevyra, or the universe at large. It's easier that way."

"The universe seems to pride itself on being difficult in that fashion," Meridina agreed. "Shall we follow the others?"

"We should."

They departed together.




The Doctor had accepted Caterina's assistance and, for the moment, had asked her to set up cones that would generate a field related to his triangulation attempt. Caterina was setting the last one up. With a careful eye she made sure they formed the triangle as the Doctor had instructed. Her omnitool provided final confirmation.

"Do you really want this?" asked Jackie Tyler. She was standing several feet away from the cone furthest from the TARDIS.

"Want what?"

"For him to spoil it," answered Jackie. "To take something wonderful and make it all nasty and simple. Don't you want your Mum back?"

The question made Caterina lower her head. "I've love to see Mama again," she admitted. "There's so much that's happened that I want to show her. So much I want to tell her and show her. But she's gone, and these things… I don't believe any of them are her or your Dad or anyone else's lost family. And whatever they are, we need to know."

"Why? Why can't it just be a miracle for all of us? Our families and loved ones coming back to be with us again. Isn't that a wonderful thing?"

"I'm not… maybe… but maybe not?" Cat shook her head. "I don't know. People say I, we, have to move on and live our own lives. And sometimes I think I do. Until someone says something or I smell anything that's like my mother's cooking. She… loved to cook, I mean. Even after getting off a ten hour work shift, she'd make sure that Angel and I had a dinner."

"Angel?"

"My sister."

Jackie nodded quietly at that.

"I miss that. And she always insisted on hugging me when I went to bed, even when I was already in high school." Cat had to wipe away a tear.

"So you know what I mean," Jackie insisted. "This could be everyone we've lost, coming back to us."

"But are they? I mean, they don't act like anyone," Cat pointed out. "They don't talk. They don't interact. They just… they just walk around like they're mindless. They don't even seem to care about the people around them. I mean, if Mama showed up in my quarters as a ghost, she wouldn't just stand around, she'd hug me and ask if I've eaten lately. Has this ghost ever done that for you?"

Jackie opened her mouth to mount a defensive reply. But she stopped because the truth was obvious. No, it hadn't. The ghost had only ever walked through the flat. It looked no different from any other of the spectral figures. You couldn't even tell them apart. And certainly her father wouldn't have ignored her. He might have wanted to know where Rose was, why he'd let Rose run off with a stranger… but ignore her?

But the smell of the old cigarettes. It seemed so real.

The Doctor ran out of the TARDIS, Rose right behind. "How long until the next shift?" he asked Jackie.

"Quarter to." Jackie frowned at him. "Are you going to cause trouble? What's this lot do?" She indicated the cones Caterina had laid out.

"Triangulates their point of origin." The Doctor checked the placement of the cones and nodded to Caterina. "Excellent job…"

"Caterina." Cat smiled slightly. "Or 'Cat' if you'd like."

"Yes, Caterina! Such a lovely name."

"You don't suppose it's the Gelth?" Rose asked.

"Nah." The Doctor picked up one of the cones and began to fix wires to it. "They were just coming through one little rift. This lot are transposing themselves over the whole planet." He moved on to the next. "Like tracing paper."

"You're always doing this," Jackie protested. "Reducing it to science. Why can't it be real? Just think of all the people we've lost, coming back home. It'd be beautiful."

"Beautiful?" The Doctor looked at her. "I think it'd be horrific."

That remark prompted a look of shock from Jackie. Caterina looked at him in surprise before she thought about it. If this really was the dead, then it meant they weren't resting, but nor were they back. They were just mindless silhouettes and shadows, condemned to blipping in and out of existence. She imagined her mother suffering that fate and shook her head.

"Rose, give us a hand. Cat, I need you to keep that scanner active and make absolutely sure that the alignment of the cones doesn't change."

"Right." Caterina lifted her left forearm and activated her omnitool.

The Doctor pulled the wires hooked to the cones back into the TARDIS with Rose following. Jackie followed close behind.

Robert and Meridina walked around the cones to stand beside Caterina. "How's it going?"

"Great." Cat waved her hand over everything. "The Doctor set this up to track the distortions caused by these ghosts back to their point of origin."

"Right."

"I sense sadness," said Meridina. "Are you alright?"

"What? I'm fine," insisted Caterina. When she saw the quiet skeptical looks in their faces Cat sighed and shook her head. "Look, it's fine, okay? All this talk of ghosts just got me to thinking about Mama. If she came back as a ghost, and it was really her…" Cat stopped for a moment as she followed that thought through. For a moment she was distracted by the return of the Doctor. He began to use the device he had slung on his back on the cones. She waited until he and Rose exchanged information before continuing. "...well, I'd ask why she's not in Heaven, I guess. But then I'd hug her and cry a lot and show her everything in our lives now. This… this is what she wanted for me." Cat indicated her omnitool. "Being a scientist, I mean."

"I know." Robert patted her on the shoulder. "And she'd be proud of you."

The Doctor looked up from his work. "Caterina, is the alignment stable?"

Cat checked her omnitool. "It's still stable, Doctor."

"Excellent. We're almost there!"

"What about you?" Caterina turned her head to meet his eyes. "Would you want to have Mr. and Mrs. Dale back? Or Susie?" Caterina smiled sadly. "I always loved hanging out with Susie. She'd ask science questions and I'd answer them. And then she'd talk about what it'd be like if we were both aunts to your kids and how we'd have funs with nephews and nieces…"

Robert chuckled at that, not quite able to hide the pain. "You two thought Angel and I would have kids, huh?"

"Yeah. I mean, we were younger, it just seemed the thing that would happen." Caterina shrugged before putting her eyes back on the scanner.

"Here we go!" the Doctor called out, interrupting the conversation again.

From within the TARDIS, Rose's voice called out, "Scanner's working! It says, 'Delta one six'!"

"The alignment reading is still good," Caterina added. "I'm ready to confirm triangulation!"

The Doctor stepped back from the cones and stood to his full height. A bright, enthusiastic expression appeared on his face. "Come on, then, you beauty!" he called out, letting the last word roll with an open-mouthed grin.

Seconds passed. "Energy surge, spatial distortion forming," Caterina confirmed. Her fingers tapped at her omnitool.

Crackling energy formed between the three cones. Three more lines of the same jumped upward, meeting several feet in the air to form a pyramid shape within the cones. A black spectral figure materialized there. The Doctor pulled out a pair of what looked like old 3D plastic glasses, the kind handed out for 3D shows at theme parks, and put them on to continue observing the ghostly form.

After this effect held for several moments, the Doctor ducked down and began operating a control device that made Robert think of an old mid-20th Century radio. Lights flashed on it. The Doctor turned a brown knob on it back and forth, producing an electronic whine that was just as evocative of some old 50s-era radio or TV set. He never looked toward it, however, keeping his eye on the form within, now swaying and moving as if it were seriously upset or irritated. "You don't like that much, do you?"

"The anomaly is destabilizing. The distortion is faltering from interference," Caterina said.

"Who are you? Where are you from?" The Doctor knelt a little closer to the figure. When it swiped at him he stepped back. "Woah, that's more like it. Not so friendly now, are you?"

"I think you've made it mad," Robert noted wryly.

"I should think so," the Doctor answered. "I'm exciting the energy field. It's keeping this fellow from impressing on this world like he ought to, and it'll let me track the source of the field to boot."

"The field is weakening," Caterina said. "It looks like it's being shut down."

"Probably at the source, but it's too late for them to hide." The Doctor chuckled. "I've got 'em."'

The figure suddenly dematerialized. The energetic pyramid formed by the cones dissipated.

"Alright everyone, I'm off to track down the source." The Doctor looked at them briefly. "You can come with if you'd like." He started snatching up his things.

After he entered the TARDIS Caterina gave Robert an almost pleading look. Robert looked to Meridina, who nodded quietly. "We can do more good with him," she said.

"Alright," replied Robert. He had his own gut feeling - or was it swevyra granted-insight? - that they would be needed. "We'd better go before he leaves."

Cat beat them all to the TARDIS door. Robert was the last to enter. As he did, he couldn't help but feel as if someone was watching him.




Lucy picked herself up from underneath the secondary tactical station. "Alright, I'm done," she said, getting the attention of Julia and Angel in particular as she pulled herself back to her feet. Behind her the console in question was active again, as were all of the bridge consoles once disabled by what had happened.

"Good." Julia leaned forward in the command chair. "Technical Officer, status on ship repairs?"

With all operations and engineering personnel diverted to the actual task of fixing their crippled ship, the watch at the bridge Operations station had gone to one of the ship's Technical Officers-in-training. The English-accented young man now at Ops, Technical Officer Matthews, turned back from the console to address Julia directly. "Engineering has brought another naqia reactor back online. Hull breaches in the upper decks have been reduced by three quarters. Impulsor drives are functional for maneuvering only. The armor repair systems are still offline, and we still have no warp drive or jump drive."

"Thank you."

"I'll go find Jarod and see where he wants me," Lucy said. "But looking at the damage to the ship, we're better off putting together another IU radio and calling for help."

"Mister Scott already thought of that," said Julia. "But the Shadows hit our machine shops while they were cutting up our drive section. Until those shops are fixed, there's nothing we can do."

"And you've got Scotty prioritizing hull breaches to stabilize structural integrity." Lucy turned away. "Well, I'll…"

To the others, she simply doubled over as if in pain. For Lucy, it wasn't a physical pain. Every part of her cried out in worry, almost terror, as if something dreadfully wrong was happening and causing danger to them all. She gasped as she dropped to a knee in shock.

"Lieutenant?" Julia got out of her chair and went over to her. Angel did the same, getting there a few seconds before Julia. "Are you alright?"

"You look like you've seen a ghost," Angel observed. "No pun intended."

"Something's wrong," Lucy gasped.

"Well, yeah," Angel said. "A lot of things…"

"No!" Lucy shot a hot look at Angel that stopped her in her tracks. "Something is wrong. There's… there's something completely wrong here. The ship, this Earth, we're all in terrible danger."

Angel looked up to Julia, who helped her get Lucy back to her feet. "Can you be more specific?" she asked.

"I wish I could," Lucy said. She put a hand to her brow, now covered in sweat. "I… I need to go do something."
”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

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