"The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-01-18 10:42am

The G'Kar impression was bang-on. Would have loved to have seen even a little by play between Susan and Zhengli, to see if their views have modified with the passage of time.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-18 12:11pm

Ah! I have replies on SDN?! I was getting used to the silent treatment. :D

Having Susan meet Zhengli was unfortunately not something my co-writers and I could do, given the size of this fic. The same issue killed an Angel-Helen scene in Act 2 and a scene from the POV of the crew on the Avenger in Act 3.

As for DaZerg's theory... I can see why you'd pick that given your SN. But my only response is this:

Image
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"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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-01-18 01:33pm

Xanatos?!
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law

"The Constitution's a piece of paper. A kick in the head is a jolt."
—Stanley "Ray" Kowalski
"Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty."
---NRA motto

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-01-22 10:30am

U.P. Cinnabar wrote:
2018-01-18 01:33pm
Xanatos?!
A pic of Xanatos is my catch-all response when I don't want to spoil anything I've planned. I simply put up the Xanatos pic to show that I am scheming. 8)
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar » 2018-01-22 10:32am

It works. On with your scheming.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law

"The Constitution's a piece of paper. A kick in the head is a jolt."
—Stanley "Ray" Kowalski
"Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty."
---NRA motto

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2018-04-03 12:07pm

Finally caught up on this (yay for long train journeys) and I'm continually impressed. Very well done indeed, especially the part that ended season 2 with the Cybermen and Daleks (I'm sure you'd guess that I'd like that given my avatar).
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Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-04-04 02:36am

Yeah, it doesn't surprise me. ;-)

I am committed to keeping the Daleks scary as fuck whenever I show them.
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Enigma » 2018-04-04 07:54am

When are going to continue posting more eps?
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-04-04 09:30am

Enigma wrote:
2018-04-04 07:54am
When are going to continue posting more eps?
The next two are done, but I want to get at least two more done before I start the next weekly posting bit.

My productivity has been sub-optimal for a number of reasons, including sleep problems. I'm actually starting melatonin supplements to see if they'll help me A) fall asleep and B) stay asleep for more than 4-6 hours.

However, if you're craving more UF, there will be something for you very shortly, I believe... 8)
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2018-04-04 06:11pm

Steve wrote:
2018-04-04 02:36am
Yeah, it doesn't surprise me. ;-)

I am committed to keeping the Daleks scary as fuck whenever I show them.
And you do so marvelously.

Also, Inmate 4859? Either you're very interested in (regrettably) obscure history, or you're a Sabaton fan. Or possibly both.
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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[nUF] Three Reasons to Read Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

Post by Voyager989 » 2018-04-04 09:09pm

Intro

“Sidney, we’re living at the moment in history when it all comes together. You see it, don’t you?”

“White, I see a lot of things,” the President of Pan-Empyrean replied as he looked out from the visage his personal space station presented. There were glasses of the darkest wine in front of them. “Some of them aren’t even for you to know.”

The woman looked pensive for a moment, though not frustrated. “And what does that neurotic monster in the Fracture know, scrying for souls across time and space as she is wont to do?”

“Would it be trite of me to say ‘everything and nothing’?”

“Very, Sidney. Very.” A droll sigh, and she looked down at the table.

“Well, let me cheer you up. She can’t know this. It’s beyond even her. Or rather, it’s outside of her core competencies to figure out the easy way; eventually she’ll find out the hard way, of course, and then I’ll deal with that. But a Time Lord…”

White sucked in her breath. “So I’m right.”

Sidney cut her off without confirming or denying that. “It’s not your place, White. Not your’s, and not Black’s, and not Blue’s, and not Red’s.” A dry chuckle. “And certainly not Yellow’s.”

The woman reached for her glass, her eyes flashing up. “I haven’t run from a fight yet. Let me…”

“It’s not your place. I…” His lips flashed into a grin. “Here. They do need a lot of help. A shaping operation, to use the military term. I’ll tell you what you can do. Do we have a deal?”

The woman tossed back her glass. “I’ll settle for it. Deal me in.”

Undiscovered Frontier: Origins

"Three Reasons"

1 … The Doctor with Everything to Prove


Nah’dur was taller than her mother, the only one of her daughters who was, which sometimes irritated Shai’jhur, but of course she knew where the woman got it from, right along with her brash auburn hair--and she was still much shorter than her other mother had been. Nonetheless, today she was wearing a white t-shirt with a barcode on it which her ample bosom strained at. Her mother knew from pointing her new omnitool at it that the barcode read “I have Tall Dilgar genes, and I’m a successful Surgeon-Commander in the military! It’s okay for Dilgar to be diverse. Get tested today and share your story of Dilgar biodiversity!”

She’d have been shot when I was a girl,
Shai’jhur thought. The sigh was mental, as she glanced back to her wife. “Kaveri, I think this is about…”

“Yes, it absolutely is,” Nah’dur raised a hand urgently. “It is absolutely about Zhen’var!”

“Don’t interrupt your mother, girl,” Shai’jhur growled.

Sometimes, Nah’dur was even a handful for Kaveri, and she shook her head. “Peace, both of you. Nah’dur, please offer more respect to your mother?” There was the unspoken; And she is an adult, Shai’jhur, it’s too late to try and instill discipline now!

Nah’dur sighed. “Yes, Mother-Kaveri. I’m sorry, Mother-Shai. I just feel very excited about this because it’s a matter of principle. Moral principle! You understand those certainly, Kaveri’Varma. We are Dilgar and we should not bow on a matter of hearts to fear of what humans will think of us!”

“Nah’dur…” Kaveri’s voice had a vaguely warning tone in it. “While I do understand them, it is, perhaps, not the correct emotional tug to attempt in the circumstance. What moral principle do you believe at stake?”

“I believe in an absolute right of bodily autonomy. Yes, I know there isn’t a biological reason to be a Dilgar specifically, but to Zhen’var belonging is very important, Mother-Kaveri,” she said, addressing the Indian woman -- and the longer she did, the more serious her voice got. “We all accept her. People will accept her in the streets -- they’re not going to see her as anything different than a normal Dilgar. I’ve got a plan. We’ll go to the United Solarian Sovereignty. It won’t backfire because by the time we’re done, neurochemically, it will be who she is. I can make it happen.”

Shai’jhur looked like she wanted to badly interject, swiveling her chair, but she held her tongue out of respect for her wife even as her daughter spoke what seemed half-baked lunacy. Inside, Shai’jhur, who had spent so long waiting to get to this place of safety and security, knew that even if it was unwise, she should certainly not underestimate one of her daughters at the biological execution.

“You have discussed this with my daughter, then? I know she has…” She glanced to Shai’jhur. “Zhengli has expressed… interest in something similar to this. I encouraged her to seek therapy, at the time. There have been some people who cruelly mutilated themselves trying to make themselves into Minbari after that war.”

“She doesn’t need to be a Dilgar to be part of our society,” Shai’jhur said curtly, looking at her daughter. “It’s a disaster. ‘Dilgar start turning aliens into Dilgar’, just the headline I want to hear about on Zhabar and Brakos. Daughter, you know that I have spent most of the past three decades choking down human culture in an effort to make them accept us, you would blow it up in a single afternoon, and how do you even know this is actually what she really wants, as opposed to part of her emotional crisis after the Huáscar mutiny?

“Mother, this is about what’s right, and anyway, hardly anyone will know, it’s not like I’d publish this in Medical Journals … Well, except for Dilgar language ones. Mother-Kaveri, she’s really insistent. And it’s all just so brutal to go around trying to change the consciousness, change the psyche, when we can just make the biology fit. Mother-Shai, you know that yourself. You walked a human road precisely to save the rest of us from doing it, you know it hurts the mind. But we can unchain the body to follow the mind, now! Change your race, change your eye colour, your skin colour, hair colour… Add a few extra arms! Change your sex, your height… All of this is possible with the right biological science, and I shall allow her to change her species completely.”

Nah’dur actually spun a little in excitement. “Oh, but then she shall know all that we are -- I will make everything perfect. I can do it; the technology is available, and I understand the cells well enough for it to work! During the War, we said we fought the Gods, but now we may say we will steal the powers of creation from them!”

“Nah’dur, don’t go off praising that half-baked propaganda from the War,” Shai’jhur snarled. “It’s downright blasphemous.”

Kaveri raised a hand to forestall an argument between the two. “Word will eventually get out, Nah’dur, you do know that. I have to ask… and forgive me for doing so; how much of this is earnestly helping her, and how much is your unconscious desire to prove yourself equal to your clan name?” By her tone, Kaveri knew it was both, just not the balance between the two.

“Well… It is something worthy of being a Dur, I would hardly deny it. But I’d never do this to someone who didn’t want it, truly, and she truly does, mothers..” Nah’dur almost stuttered with the built-up energy. “She is miserable, and she wants to belong. She has a path forward which demonstrates acceptance to her. Look, with all due respect, we’re Dilgar, and we want to see, be friends, and make love to other Dilgar. I see and respect you as my mother, Kaveri-mother, but both the Jhur and Dur are much higher in intelligence and reflection than the average person in either Dilgar or human society. You are my mother’s wife, and you are happy being the honoured human who married the Warmaster. She is not, she wants to belong, and that does mean being physically congruent, down to biochemical response, with the existence of a Dilgar!”

Kaveri listened, with a growing respect for the youngest daughter of Dur. She actually understood very well the dangerous course her mother had walked for so long, in fear and silence, and also the complicated position that Kaveri herself occupied in DIlgar society. She spoke eloquently, and she wasn’t lying about Zhengli. “I will be frank. My daughter has been insistent, Shai’jhur. I fear that she will push for this. It is partially my fault, having to leave her alone at boarding schools during my deployments… but she has always been uncomfortable. The promise of belonging will… beckon strongly. Of finally ending the disassociation and difference that has always gnawed at her.”

Shai’jhur bowed her head, allowing for, at least, the rightness of the conversation occurring between her daughter and her mate. Her attempt to put a human face on the reforms of her society had driven much the same wedge between herself and her own children.

“Mother-Kaveri,” Nah’dur continued, “she’s told us about how you taught her Dilgar when she was just a child, and you’d always speak in it to keep it from going dead. She’s like you in tremendous ways, she looks up to you. For all you were apart in how you see yourselves, she has a ferocious sense of her trueness as a member of the Clan of Var. She wants to honour that name, just with our ways and customs of honouring our clans.”

“I’m not sure we can really stop them, Shai’jhur, if we even should, though you must bear the weight of the decision for what is best for our people. I… think we should let it happen, quietly.” Kaveri looked to her wife.

“You support your kit following this course?” Shai’jhur’s eyes flitted to Kaveri. “Even with our wedding, my love, her fate… It is not mine to judge.”

“She is a woman grown. If she thinks it necessary and desirable in her heart, and has thought and meditated deeply upon it… nor is it mine. Nah’dur, if Zhengli truly desires this, you have my permission to proceed, but… mind your sister.

“She is my sister, Mother-Kaveri. If I harm she of my heart’s blood…” She gripped her own hands behind her back. “I could not even think about it. You know I will be there with her the whole time.”

“I do, but the Solarians have a quite… interesting polity, Nah’dur. She has never seen the like. Nor have you, and it is a major medical procedure. Mind your sister, that is your charge.”

Nah’dur snapped to attention. “The Charge is Taken, as long as I still have blood.” Those words had tremendous power in her society, it was no small oath.

“Then you two may go, Nah’dur. Bring back my daughter, Zhen’var.” Kaveri glanced to her wife. “It should be well enough, Shai’jhur.”

Shai’jhur raised her hand. “Fei’nur is going with you, and let her take that Charge as well, girl.”

“Yes, Mother,” Nah’dur bowed, but there was a triumphant flare to the grin she had as she departed.

Afterwards, Shai’jhur heaved a sigh. “Kaveri, sometimes I just see too much Jha’dur in her. I’m thankful she responds so well to you.”

“I think she is what Jha’dur could have been, in… a different world. One where she was not shaped by the pressure of… what was coming. I like to think that is a good thing.”

---

As Nah’dur left the room, she had an utterly triumphant look. “Fei’nur, Fei’nur!” She exclaimed to the empty air around her, thoroughly like a madwoman. “They agreed! They agreed to my plan to let Zhen’var have her wish and become a Dilgar! It shall be the greatest achievement of science! The Vorlons and their Triluminary shall pale compared to this perfection!”

Seeming to ghost out of the air came a soft rebuke; “Don’t get too carried away, Nah’dur. This is not without risk, though… it is quite the advance. The Warmaster would have found the details most interesting.”

“Well, of course I’m not getting carried away…. I’m helping people. This is the sovereign right of people to demand, that the right to determine their own bodies, to follow their own hearts… My sister will be my sister! I am doing nothing but freeing souls from the prisons of their bodies, re-shaping flesh and genes. It’s completely congruent with the Alliance constitution as well as many interuniversal systems of philosophical morality.” She folded her hands behind her back, and grinned. “Also it’s really cool that someone already wants to be a Dilgar.”

“I do not understand why… but I honor that she wishes to, when she has already stood with us so readily.” Fei’nur’s voice was less enthused, more contemplative in tone. “You have found another cause, haven’t you, Nah’dur?”

“I don’t think I can have enough causes, Fei’nur! But my sister would be cause enough, even if I had no other... Yes, Fei’nur, I believe in standing for principles. I think they’ll show us the victors in the end. A brave stand saved us once, it can do it again.” She shook, and her voice dropped an octave into a husky, intent whisper, as she gazed up into a future only she could see. “I might be able to save as many people as she ended, Fei’nur. Wouldn’t that be incredible?”

“It would be. It was not what she wanted to do… but none will care about that but you and your family.”

Nah’dur sighed and turned toward Fei’nur with a wry smile, and reached out for a hug into the thin air. “I know, but part of it is in making our people strong enough. I want to be a biologist without shame. I -- I won’t let them make me ashamed.”

Shimmering into view, the arms of the commando wrapped around her. “They will try, but you will not let them. She will be proud of you, Nah’dur.” Emotion filled Fei’nur’s voice as she pulled the young scientist tightly against her.

“I wish I could save her,” Nah’dur answered quietly. “But that is too much even for me. Gods, Fei’nur, help me with my sister, because everything I do in medicine is to honour Her.”

“I know, young woman of Dur,” Fei’nur whispered.

“...Oh, don’t be so glum, this is tremendous, we’re going to Solaris for the procedure since they have the best tech for it, aaaand... the Warmaster is going to have you come with me!”

Fei’nur’s expression at once became studiously blank in horror.


2 … The Unstable Captain


“Oh my God… Are … Are you actually … Zhengli?” Sharon Farallon’s face had drained of all colour as she stared at the woman she had once respected as her Captain.

“Sharon! I understand your need to ask, but yes, I am!” There was a hint of shock and affront in her voice as the woman before her replied.

“Zhengli…” She patted at the sides of her Alliance uniform, like she was looking for something, and knew she wouldn’t find it. And then, very hesitantly, she reached her hand out. “Didn’t … They have therapists here, Zhengli, Mother of God… Why?”

Reaching out her hand to meet Sharon’s, the other woman’s face shifted into a melancholy sort of look. “They do, but I’m happy, Sharon. For the first time in my life, I really belong, nobody sees me as… apart from everyone else at the very first glance.”

Humanity has failed you that badly?” She held Zhengli’s hand, thinking to herself I will be brave, I respect this woman, I will be brave… Even when I don’t understand. “Did we all just leave you to your hell?”

“I… think it more that none of you, really, saw it, Sharon. I don’t hold it against you, a Captain is always isolated on her ship, I know that, but since I was a girl, I never fit in, and in EarthForce, almost everyone whispered and gave me second glances.”

“What’s happened to your mother, Zhengli?” Her voice fell, holding her former Captain’s hand, tears welling at her eyes.

“My… mother? She’s… fine, I more than fine, I would say. The happiest I’ve ever seen her, I think. She just… was never there when I was growing up, she couldn’t be, with being an officer… why are you asking, Sharon…?” There was puzzlement in the woman’s voice.

“I know she loves Dilgar, but…” Sharon shrugged helplessly. “What… I mean, what’s different for you?” She half-stuttered. “Do you still feel like yourself?”

“I do! It… feels right, somehow, and my new sisters have been helping as best they can. Nah’dur especially so.”

“....Sisters. Nah’dur.” She opened her mouth, and her expression ceased to be nearly so kind. “Zhengli, what about your shipmates? Us Huáscareños? You’re worthy of being compared to Grau and Prat, and you … Followed these Dilgar, listened to them, trusted them, and…” She swallowed like she didn’t want to say the words, but finally, in a hoarse whisper, did. “Turned yourself into one.”

Her eyes widened, and Zhengli’s face twisted into one of pained shock. “I’m still me, Sharon! I’m still Zhengli’Varma! Nothing I can do will ever change my soul or my spirit, I…” Much softer, she went on. “... I am sorry, Sharon, but I am happier this way.” Her black-tipped nose twitched, and feline eyes furiously blinked back tears. “I didn’t think I’d have to ask you for forgiveness,” she finished with a bitterly hurt tone to her voice.

“Oh God I didn’t mean that, if this is your peace, if this is your peace, Zhengli, I’m glad you have it. I’m just afraid that … Zhengli, you know what I’m afraid of. Is… Is this Minbari War Syndrome? You’d just be the first person to get surgical alterations into a Dilgar...

“I know, Sharon, that that’s what you’ve been raised, indoctrinated to think. But this is my decision. I’m… still with you, still a Huáscareño, if you will have me. I wanted… to invite you to sail with us on the new cruiser that shall bear her name, but I’ll… understand if you say no. My mother and I are… happy of our own free will, please believe that.”

“Zhengli, you’re … They’re giving you another command? I was just about to offer to send you things, I’d have figured you’d move to Tira, after all… It seems like a nice enough world. Beaches, sun.” Her face was still pale. “They’re giving you another command?” She looked positively ashamed, and half-stricken.

“I… might, once I actually retire, actually… but… yes. One of the big new cruisers, a joint crew between Dilgar and the rest of the UAS, and… she’ll bear our Huáscar’s name in honour of what she did.”

“I appreciate the faith you have in me, Zhengli, and it doesn’t matter what you look like or what your species is now. You’re always welcome in my home, we’ve shared together more than most can survive. But I’m sorry. That… I don’t think I’m the right woman for the job.” She coughed uncomfortably, looking down.

“I understand, Sharon, really, I do.” She smiled, showing a bit of teeth, though there was a hinted flash of disappointment in her expression. “Just as you understand why I had to ask.”

“We’ll always have to meet in some dingy dockside bar when our ships fall in together,” Sharon offered, hesitantly daring to look at her former Captain again. “I hope this works out for you, Zhengli.”

“We will, as long as there aren’t any Drazi… and I hope it does too. The same for you, Sharon.” Zhengli made namaste, and her face formed a real smile. “Your people had better learn quick how lucky they are to have you.”

“They’d better,” she agreed with a wry smile. “Take… Take care of yourself, Zhengli.”

“I will. You too, I want to have those dockside meetings, Sharon! I’ll hold you to it, I swear!”

“You know I’m as good as my word… Zhengli’Varma. If the part of you that’s a Captain is unbowed and unbroken, the new Huáscar will be fine without me. Keep it strong, my friend.”

---

“Well, Admiral Maran, it is a psychiatric issue. I won’t deny it. But based on the assessment of my own people it won’t prevent her from taking command of the cruiser Ghatarn. She is still fully capable of the responsibilities. And Alliance law is fairly explicit about this sort of thing, unlike, say, that of the UFP.” Shai’jhur looked levelly across the screen at the Alliance military officer whose human countenance belied his race. So much like a Centauri, in that regard.

“I am not the commander of the Dilgar Navy, Warmaster. I will not question your personnel decisions, even with the War Emergency Cruisers.”

“Thank you. It is my intention to appoint another commander to the Pentacon, both Varmas shall only be commanders of ships in it, assuming I don’t give Kaveri a ship in a different Pentacon outright,” she answered. “I believe, absolutely, her condition and her decisions do not impact her ability to command a ship; I am willing to stake the lives of Dilgar on it to get an experienced officer to command the ship. And, quite frankly, it shouldn’t matter. Much less than alcoholism, for instance, which directly impacts one’s ability to make decisions. It’s a matter of trust--and a Dilgar crew will still trust her.”

“But,” Maran replied, “I recall you had also intended to give her command of the mixed-crew Alliance-Dilgar ship you had proposed. The new heavy exploration cruiser of the Enterprise class.” He frowned. “That will be an entirely different matter. The best case scenario is to call it Minbari War Syndrome.”

“Let her command the Ghatarn before cancelling the plan, Admiral,” Shai’jhur replied, a bit hastily. “I think it is important, a very important opportunity for my people. And if anything she is a great statement of our unity and concord. Zhengli Varma -- Zhen’var, now -- could be like Delenn, a symbol of the literal, physical unification of peoples. Let her prove to your officers she can still fight and command a ship in battle. As for what it was that drove her, what does it matter? If she’s capable of making stable decisions in command, and I have no indication that she is not, how does it matter the path by which you came to your skin, Admiral? Isn’t that part of what we’re supposed to believe?”

“I… Yes. Delenn became the commander of significant fleets in the Army of Light after walking a similar path. Perhaps it’s just in the water on Babylon 5,” Maran smiled wryly. “So, if all goes well on the Ghatarn, give her the Explorer?”

“Yes, Admiral. If it doesn’t…” Shai’jhur smiled wryly. “Well, it’s going to. So we’ll stay the course.”

“I am not so sure, Warmaster… But I will give you, and Captain Zhen’var, the benefit of the doubt. You trust her in your fleet. If she performs well to that trust, she will have her ship.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

As the screen blanked out, Shai’jhur hissed softly. “He is not a bad man, but now I really do want Zhen’var in command of that ship. The Multiverse is going to respect my children. All of them!”



3 …


Commander Abebech Imra was most assuredly not in her uniform, back here in her home universe, on leave. The Alliance penetration was small, and the enemies here were rather more sophisticated than elsewhere, as she knew intimately. In the United Solarian Sovereignty she looked as plain as a child, some neobarb from a distant world, except for the absolutely opaque shades that she wore.

Nobody knew what was under them, and that was rather the point. The most sophisticated sensors in the multiverse would still just see sunglasses. The same way when they looked at her gloves, and saw only gloves. Serving in the military of the Alliance this had been hard to arrange, but now on the Huáscar her doctor… Was an amenable sort of woman to overlooking some things in exchange for the slow drip of information which kept the young Dilgar fascinated.

It was good, because her privacy was valuable to her. She was a woman who could attract attention, and she knew it. Here, in fact, she rather expected she was being hunted. But what had been offered to her was too much to pass up, a chance to make a connection which could, for the people she fought for, radically change the next phase of the game.

And the hunter might have bitten off more than they could chew.

The woman who Abebech had come to meet in that dingy bar was planning zero gravity pinball in a machine with a microgravity generator, knocking the ball in three directions with the paddles set on a dozen dozen contrivances. Many Solarians had been astonished that the game had originated from a 2-dimensional version also popular in dingy bars in other universes; to them, the origins had been lost in the mists of time. Theirs was cooler, anyway.

That made Abebech quirk a bit of a smile onto her lips. “Ghada, are you enjoying yourself?”

“Always, old friend,” she said, finally losing her ball into a gravity trap with a wry shake of her head, and turning slowly toward Abebech. A brown hooded cloak covered her, shadowing her own sunglass-covered eyes. The sunglasses were just like Abebech’s. “I like to get away from home sometimes.”

“I imagine it can be unpleasant,” Abebech kept her voice cool. “Keeping…”

“Just because you didn’t want to be Her’s doesn’t mean you need to insult her, Abebech,” the slight Arab woman cut her off, her voice low and sharp. “She is what she is. Can’t we meet once without the subject going back to her?”

“‘I am what I am’, said God; she is not God,” Abebech replied, leading them to a table and sitting. Both drank, in part because they could shake inebriation off so easily.

“Sometimes she might as well be,” the woman in the hood shifted uncomfortably. “I’ll take that as a ‘no’ to my question, by the way… I suppose it’s not important, I have another, more important question for you. My friend… You walk with the Bearers of the Dawn. She’s figured it out. Is it a choice?”

“Yes,” Abebech replied levelly.

“They will bring more death than you can imagine, old friend,” she said softly. “My Mistress, for all your hatred of her tactics, seeks to avert it. She seeks to uphold stability and guarantee a universe never again dies.”

“Just like she did during the Earthreign, Ghada? She ended up destabilising everything… And then the killing began.”

“Merciful One, but aren’t you bitter? Her squadrons were all that stood between sanity and utter ruin, let alone life, let alone civilisation. When the situation was at its most hopeless, who was always ready for another bold feat to turn it around? She fought without fear, leading our forces to redemption and ultimate victory. Anyway, it’s not like...”

Abebech closed her eyes under her glasses and shook her head. “I won’t get into it, Ghada. I came back, and spent so long working out the details of this meeting, for a reason. And that reason wasn’t to bait you, but to help us all.” And then Abebech froze, a familiar tingling passing over her senses.

“What’s the reason?” Ghada asked, but as she did, her face turned, for a brief moment, inscrutable. And then she lunged. Her lunge caught the igniting red lightsabre blade behind Abebech with her own, of equal colour.

As Abebech had seen the expression on her face, she had dropped in a blur of motion to the left. The gray-robed assassin beyond her had a face which lost all expression as one lightsabre met another, as if the magnitude of her error had only just then been realised, as the contact of the woman she had been hunting was revealed.

Ghada paused for a moment, and a smile curled on black-stained lips. “Do you know who you have presumed to attack, whelp?”

The bar had gone quiet around them. Ghada’s sunglassed eyes were as inscrutable as those of her friend. She let her blade hum across that of her attacker. “Leave us!” She barked in a strange tenor.

Obedient to the voice, as if it were indeed the command of her Mistress, but wrought on a different principle, the people in the bar began to file out.

“How dare you carry a lightsabre of darkness if your only concern is the lives of others?” The woman before her laughed, and spun and struck.

Holding her ground with her legs firmly planted, the table flung up into the woman and knocked her back as the blades again clashed. “The ways of the Sith are deeper than to merely provide the stupidity to transform yourself into a petty supervillain, child.” She brought her blade up to guard.

The woman rushed her, and the blades struck, and struck again. Every table and chair in the bar became alive with a rushing intensity of power, flung into the battle for diversions and distractions as Ghada attacked low and her friend’s prospective assassin was driven back, finally leaping onto the bar to better cover her legs.

The tiny Arab woman considered it no serious obstacle; she leapt, spinning into the air, and struck from above, sending her flying across the counter with an arcing of energy and a spraying of beer from severed, pressurized dispensers.

“Oh my, did you get yourself wet?” She asked, laughing, as the woman raced to her feet from amidst shattered and melted glass on the floor, and she hung from her boots intentionally tangled into the glass rack above, upside down, and easily parrying the up-sweeps of her rival’s lightsabre.

“Why were you trying to kill Abebech, girl?”

“She fights for the dawn!” the assassin roared, and leapt up.

Ghada kicked off and tumbled over her again, knocking her blade back as she fell smoothly to her black booted feet, cloak falling into place around her again. “Oh, is that so. Yes, I believe I rather already knew that.

“And why would you fight for the dawn, dark one?”

“Because my mistress has depths you do not understand, child.” The assassin lunged forward again, spinning her blade in utter confidence. She struck, and parried, and parried, and Ghada parried her own blows in turn.

Finally the woman leapt in a motion abruptly halted, and keened in triumph as her return to her original position left Ghada with her blade humming, facing to the rear of her body. She swung in for the kill.

One of Ghada’s fingers shifted on her lightsabre, and a second red blade appeared, neatly through the middle of the assassin’s chest. The woman’s eyes widened in surprised horror as she staggered back.

Ghada pulled the blade free, and reached out with her offhand to sweep the woman’s into her own. The sigil on it left no doubt. “Kobol,” she whispered softly, as she let the woman before her die. The lightsabre hadn’t done that much damage, so it would take a while. Oh well.

She looked around for Abebech, but the woman was already gone. Still, she had left enough of a message for an old friend. A very unique message indeed. It was obvious what it was, and she wanted to applaud the cleverness, as she raised her commlink to her lips. “A3P2, send a priority message for our Mistress. The Conspiracy of Kobol is targeting the Aurora.”

As the woman before her finished dying, she fished into her clothes and pulled out a chain hanging low around her neck, with a battered insignia. She held it up to the woman’s eyes before the light of life left them, her own still invisible behind her shades. “Give my comrades the regards of Ghada bint Aliya el-Esfazy. In whatever hell we are all going to, they will know my name.”

It was the burned and twisted rank tab of the Terran Imperial Naval Service in the rank of Post Captain. Most people in this far-future age knew it only as the Earthreign.

She closed her palm as the eyes went blank, pushed the tab and chain back into her clothes, pinned her lightsabres below her robes, and moved quickly. Abebech, old friend, I will not fight you, but you are making a terrible mistake. The prophecy means they will bring the whirlwind.

… And the woman with Everything to Hide.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-04-05 11:08pm

The pilot is posted!

viewtopic.php?f=9&t=167314
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-06 01:43pm

Alright everyone, sorry for the wait, but I've got enough episodes in the can, so to speak, to resume posting! Here is a release schedule for the next six episodes!



3-07 "Where the Wind Takes You" - June 8th
A visit to the Gy'toran Homeworld proves more dangerous than expected for Robert and Zack. Meridina and Lucy have to prevent an assassin from striking during a vital diplomatic summit in the Inner Sphere.

3-08 "Distant Thunder" - June 15th
An attack on the Dorei colony on Adrana by the mysterious Geth leads Robert and the others to the Citadel to unmask the rogue Citadel agent responsible; Robert adjusts to his new status and place on the Aurora.

3-09 "A Race Through Ruin" - June 22nd
Robert joins Commander Shepard on the SSV Normandy in a mission to the planet Feros; the Aurora crew's search for a young Asari xenoarcheologist leads them to the hostile world of Therun.

3-10 "Matters of Survival" - June 29th
The Aurora crew tracks Saren's activities to the planet Noveria and an experiment gone hideously wrong; the Normandy heads to Virmire in the hunt for Saren's base.

3-11 "Chasing the Cycle" - July 6th
It's a race against time when Robert, Commander Shepard, and their allies head to Ilos to prevent Saren and Sovereign from summoning the Reapers.

3-12 "All In" - July 13th
Fresh from their battle against Sovereign, the Aurora and their allies are thrown into a last ditch effort to seize the Nazi Reich's capital Earth, with the outcome of the war hanging in the balance.
”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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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Eternal_Freedom » 2018-06-06 01:59pm

Sweet!
"I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams" - Hamlet

“I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” - Confederate General George Pickett, on being asked why his charge at Ghettysburg failed

Corrax Entry 7:17: So you walk eternally through the shadow realms, standing against evil where all others falter. May your thirst for retribution never quench, may the blood on your sword never dry, and may we never need you again.

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-08 11:27am

Teaser



Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 21 April 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The Aurora has arrived over the planet Arc-Royal in Universe F1S1 with an Alliance diplomatic team to observe talks between the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere and the Clans of Kerensky. Secretary Onaran has spent weeks arranging this summit in order to stabilize the existing Clan-Inner Sphere truce and, it is hoped, establish the possibility of a more permanent peace.

In addition to our role in the talks, we will also be providing some of the security forces to ensure the safety of the negotiating teams.

On another matter, the new commanding officer of the
Koenig has arrived to take up his post.


The command officers of the Aurora and Koenig gathered in the conference lounge to greet the new arrival when he entered the room via the starboard-side lift.

The officer that Ensign Jean Hajar, a helm and engineering officer of the Koenig, escorted into the lounge was young as well. Well-combed and cut blond hair gave him the appearance of a disciplined young officer, as did the controlled expression on his round face. Light brown eyes surveyed those present and betrayed, just a little, the emotions under the surface. The newcomer looked almost uncomfortable in his Alliance military uniform, with the three gold rank strips of a full Commander on his collar. Julia introduced him to the others. "Everyone, this is Commander William Atreiad, formerly of the Colonial Navy, and the new Commanding Officer of the Koenig."

There was polite applause. Everyone was trying not to hold the fact behind Atreiad's appointment against him; specifically, the slow degradation of their friend, Zack Carrey, former commander of the Koenig. Nevertheless Julia noticed that Tom Barnes had an unhappy look. She restrained herself from sighing.

When the greetings finished, Julia nodded to Atreiad, who replied, "Thank you for the warm welcome." He seemed a little nervous himself. Julia couldn't be shocked; after a brief promotion to Captain in the Colonial Navy due to his role in Adama's ploy to delay the Cylons, he had transferred to the Stellar Navy with the equivalent rank of Lieutenant Commander, just to have the service bump him another rank in the span of a month to fill one of the needed command billets. The rapid rise was certain to jolt anyone.

"I understand I am taking a post held by someone that you all care deeply for," he continued. "Commander Carrey enjoys the respect of the Colonies as well, and I have to say that I'm daunted by the prospect of commanding the Starship Koenig in his absence. I pray that I'm capable of being half of the commander that Zachary Carrey is."

Those self-deprecating remarks won Atreiad the audience. Lieutenant Commander Creighton Apley, the First Officer and Navigation Officer of the Koenig, was the first to start applauding. Julia was the third.

When the applause ended Atreiad stepped up to Julia and handed her a datapad. On it were his official orders. "Commander Atreiad reporting as ordered, Captain," the young Colonial officer stated.

"Welcome aboard, Commander. Go ahead and take a seat, I'll give everyone a final briefing."

Atreiad nodded and did so, taking up Zack's usual seat beside where Julia herself used to sit, now Meridina's seat. Everyone took their typical seats and Julia settled into her own. "As you've all noticed, we've made orbit over Arc-Royal. Under the political system of the Federated Commonwealth, this planet is ruled by Grand Duke Morgan Kell, whom you may remember."

There were nods. Julia imagined Barnes was ready to call him the "cool old guy", but he said nothing and was merely frowning in his seat.

"The Grand Duke is a most remarkable individual," Meridina said. "I sensed there was something unique about him."

"Duke Kell has agreed to a request from ComStar's Primus Mori to host this diplomatic summit," Julia explained. "All of the Inner Sphere and many of the Periphery states are attending, as are representatives of the Clans' Grand Council."

"Huh." Jarod showed surprise at that. "That's quite an accomplishment. I didn't think the Clans would ever agree to talks on this scale with the Inner Sphere. Even the Wardens don't seem to actually like the Great Houses that much."

"The war against the Reich is the ostensible reason," Julia noted. "Officially the Clans are here to join in planning further invasions of the Reich's central worlds. To bid for them in their style. However, Secretary Onaran believes that ilKhan Kerensky can use any agreement as the basis for expanding, or maybe extending, the Tukkayid Truce."

"It won't be easy," Locarno said.

"Likely not. And it assumes the Inner Sphere can work together and present a united front." Jarod shook his head before looking to Julia. "So what are we doing here?"

"Observing, mostly," Julia said. "The Alliance is remaining officially neutral in Clan-House relations for the moment."

"Really? I thought we told both sides we'd help the Inner Sphere if the Clans invaded," Angel pointed out.

"That was before the Clans agreed to join the war too," Julia replied. "That complicates matters. Our guarantee wasn't withdrawn, of course, but we can't be assertive about it if we want to keep the Clans in the fight. Onaran may play peacemaker if he wants to, but our part is to simply watch, and to provide extra security. There are parties that would love to derail these talks."

"I will have security teams ready for your use, Captain." From her seat, one wouldn't imagine that Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond was barely two weeks away from having been stabbed to near-death by one of the rogues of the Avenger crew. "And we'll coordinate with ComStar and Kell Hound security easily enough. Might I borrow Lieutenant Lucero?"

"And Commander Meridina, yes," Julia said. "Any other questions?" There were none. "Then you're all dismissed." The assembled stood from their chairs. As they went to leave, Julia called out, "Lieutenant Barnes?", prompting Tom Barnes to stay. "How are you feeling?" she asked him once everyone was out of the room.

"Fraking lousy," the foul-mouthed engineer declared. "They… He's really done it." There was sadness in Barnes' eyes when they met Julia's. "Zack's gone for good, I mean? Because they've got that Colonial guy taking his ship now."

"He resigned, Tom," Julia reminded him. "For the moment Maran is holding the resignation on the grounds that Zack may not have been of sound mind, but if nothing changes he'll accept it. He'll have to. And in the meantime, the Koenig needs a commander."

Barnes clenched his fists. "Dammit, we let him down. We let Zack down. He needed us and we just… y'know, we just let things go."

Julia felt a lump in her throat. She knew he was right, even as she knew nothing was going to stop Zack from leaving when he did. "He has to want our help, too," she said quietly. "And he didn't."

"There has to be something we can do."

"Right now? No." Julia shook her head. "Wherever he is, Zack has to figure this stuff out on his own. All we can do is hope and pray he does, and that he's okay."

It was obvious Barnes did not like that answer. That was fine to her, as Julia didn't either. Her mind wandered for a moment, thinking of Zack and everything that had happened since the New Year.

"Mind if I go?" Barnes asked her. "Scotty needs me to finish a visual inspection of our impulsor engines."

The request forced Julia out of those thoughts. "Of course," she said. "You're dismissed, Lieutenant."

Barnes let out a deliberately-drawn out sigh at her formality before heading to the lift.

Julia watched him go and turned to face the windows. Arc-Royal hung in space "below" her, at the bottom of the gravity well that was keeping the Aurora in roughly the same relative position through a geosynchronous orbit. She watched the planet alone for several moments. The task ahead was going to be another difficult assignment, but the tricky diplomacy of the F1S1 universe was not what was on her mind. She found herself thinking, instead, of missing friends.

Zack, Rob, wherever you guys are… I hope you're alright.




Zachary Carrey was used to headaches when waking up. It was not an encouraging sign, given what it said about his drinking habits of late.

But now it was joined by nausea, nausea that drove him to scramble out of his bed. It was a softer bed than he'd enjoyed in weeks. His mind couldn't think of why, at the moment. The last few days had been a bit of a blur. Faces he was unfamiliar with, and only one he could put a name to. And even that one didn't fit his thoughts anymore.

A search of the room indicated the small closet space with a commode. Zack stumbled over to it and retched into the metal receptacle. It took a few minutes for him to regain control. His throat and nose burned from the stomach contents that had come up through his throat. His hand reached and reached until he found the switch for the commode. Jets of water forced the vomit through the bottom and to their final destination in the ship holding tank.

Standing up, Zack could feel his head clearing enough to recognize himself in the mirror. He was in a pair of white boxers with a blue line pattern. His bare chest showed muscle definition, but it was starting to atrophy from lack of sufficient exercise, or food for that matter. His face was pale.

"I look like crap," Zack muttered to himself, even as he tried to figure out where he was. This wasn't his room in the Deng Guo City traveler's motel he'd picked. Had he boarded another ship while drunk? The thought briefly scared him until he noticed the fading bruise on his stomach. He'd been punched, hard. Other remaining spots spoke of other blows. He'd been attacked. That had been stopped, and now he was…. here?

As his thoughts cleared, a face came to mind. Familiar, save the facial hair.

There was a knock at the door. Zack grabbed a pair of trousers from his open travel bag - when had he gotten his stuff? - and pulled it on while approaching the door. "Coming," he grumbled. His head still hurt. When he reached the door he tapped a key to open it.

The figure outside was one of those he wasn't sure about. A male humanoid alien in a jacket and leggings. After a moment Zack's brain registered the appearance. I'm on a ship with a Minbari? he thought, looking at the white bone crest on the alien's head. "Are you well?" the Minbari asked.

"I just puked and my head feels like an elephant was sitting on it. So no, I'm not," Zack answered irritably.

"I see. Your symptoms have not cleared yet."

"Who are you anyway?" Zack asked. The hall outside of the room had doors to what he assumed were other rooms. A control cockpit or bridge was visible to his left, through a sliding double door, with the streaks of warp space faintly visible. The color and look of the interior was definitely Dorei, vibrant shades of green on the walls with purple trim around the doors and panels. "What ship is this?"

"You are aboard an independent vessel, the Keyeri," the Minbari replied. "I am the co-owner of the craft. My name is Lennier." Lennier gestured toward the rear of the central hall. "Our eating area is open for you to use. You most likely require some form of sustenance given your condition."

Zack felt his stomach gurgle. Some of it was hunger, but the rest was queasiness. "No point until I know I won't just throw up," he replied quietly. With the moments ticking by his thoughts were focusing better. "I have a friend aboard."

"Yes. He is in the cargo bay."

Zack nodded and stepped out. "Thanks," he said. Lennier nodded and returned to the ship's cockpit area. Zack went in the other direction, toward the stern. A turn to his right led to a platform overlooking a relatively small cargo bay and a set of steps down to it.

There was little cargo in the cargo bay. In the middle of the open space two people were seated with crossed legs, in a way Zack associated with "meditation". The figure closest to him was a woman, a Dorei with blue skin and hair and light purple spotting. The latter was visible down the rear and front of her bare shoulder blades, as she was wearing a yellow tube top and thigh-length shorts of white color.

Opposite her was Zack's friend Robert Dale. He was in a white sleeveless undershirt and blue boxers. His hair was slightly longer than was normal for him, now approaching the base of his neck, and for the first time in his life Robert was letting his facial hair grow, with a trimmed beard and mustache of the same dark hair as on his scalp.

A bleary image came to Zack's mind. Of the look of his oldest friend as he reached down and helped Zack up. "It's been a while" echoed. It had been quite a greeting.

Zack's attention was now drawn to an object, or rather set of objects, hovering in mid-air between Robert and the Dorei woman. The frame suggested a rough cylinder, with parts creating a housing attached to a power cell and a control. A shining green crystal moved through the air and fit into a cradle in the housing.

Or so it seemed. A moment later a part fell from the housing. It came apart, the crystal next, and in a burst of invisible power the entire thing seemed to explode. Parts flew everywhere. One stopped in mid-air before the Dorei.

Another piece, small and stinging, struck Zack. Right between the eyes. He let out an involuntary cry and reached for the impact point. "What the hell?" he said a moment later.

Attention turned to him. Robert already had frustration on his expression, but now it turned to concern as well. "Zack, are you alright? I'm sorry, I didn't mean…" He sighed and started to stand. "How are you?"

"Feeling like crap," Zack answered.

"Hopefully you'll be through the withdrawal soon," Robert said. "I'm more worried about your head. Julia's message said something about potential brain damage from Niltox?"

"It's fine," Zack insisted, glowering. His bad judgement over the Niltox was another unpleasant sign of how low he'd gone. "What was that anyway?"

"Yet another failed attempt to follow Lucy's instructions," Robert said, looking disappointed. "I'm still trying to get a handle on my abilities now that they're stronger."

"I thought you were going to do that in some super-remote Gersallian monastery?"

"That was to help me get enough control that I wasn't spontaneously knocking things over," Robert pointed out. "I managed that after about a month." After that he gestured to the Dorei woman. "Anyway, this is Druni Jestani, formerly of the Order of the Silver Moon, and co-owner of this ship, the Keyeri."

"I met her partner already," Zack noted. His brow furrowed in recollection. "Silver Moon? The order of lesbians with the bondage sex rituals?"

Robert sighed while Druni snorted. "If you weren't his friend and clearly affected by drinking too much, I would smack you for believing that lurid nonsense," Druni grumbled. "We're not all yassi - lesbians, I mean - and banno egh banno is not sexual!"

"Remind me to remind Tom to stop watching those things," Robert moaned. "They'll just get him into trouble."

To that Zack snorted. Given his headache, he immediately regretted the reaction. "Getting Tom away from his porn is like getting you away from your heroics, Sir Robert the White. Although come to think of it, for you they might be about the same thing..."

That won him a playful glare, the playfulness made clear by the smile on Robert's face. "Well, I see your sense of humor is still intact," he said.

For a brief moment, Zack did feel like things were… normal? Right? Here he was, bantering with his close friend like the old days. But it's not the old days anymore, and Clara's still dead, and I've become a Goddamned drunk just like Dad.

Robert's smile faded. He could sense the shift in Zack's mood and, if not the thoughts themselves, the general thought behind them. Before he could say anything, a tone came from a panel on the wall.

Druni walked over to it and tapped a key. "Yes, Lennier?"

"We have arrived. I have brought the ship out of warp and requested landing clearance. We are standing by."

"Ah. Good." Druni nodded and looked to Robert. "We're here."

"I guess it's time to get dressed," said Robert.

"Huh?" Zack blinked. "Where is 'here', then?"

Robert responded by activating his omnitool. It was an amber-colored model, one of the M4P2 civilian omnitools instead of the blue lighting of a Stellar Navy-issue one. An image popped up of a garden planet. Tall, wide mountain ranges were visible on a great continent. The orbital space was full of starships, many of them utilizing solar-sails or, Zack realized, subspace-sails. And he could only think of one species that used such ships widely.

"Gy'sara," Robert answered, as if the ships themselves hadn't given the answer away. "The Gy'toran Homeworld."

Undiscovered Frontier
"Where the Wind Takes You"



The Keyeri descended through clouds on her way to her destination. In the ship's cockpit Zack and Robert sat toward the rear while Lennier piloted and Druni supported him. They were watching as the clouds parted for good, giving a spectacular view of Utal Pranam, the capital city of the Gy'torans.

A G2 star, the same type as Earth's, shined golden rays upon the scene. Below them a city was sprawled among the hilltops along a great river and the canyon it had carved into the planet's surface over the last eon or two. The buildings were blocky structures of lavender, burgundy, and golden shades, with some other colors mixed in, some rising high enough that they were actually above the walls of the canyon. Said walls were not bare either, but rather bore structures built into the canyon sides. Long bands of nets connected some of the buildings to others at varying altitudes. Signs in the blocky cuneiform of the primary Gy'toran trade language were set into many of the structures.

The Keyeri remained over a hundred meters above the canyon on its approach, and for good reason. Just below them, a large craft made of wood and steel was gently plying its way through the air. Zack was astonished to see that the vessel was covered in great white canvases, like an old sailing ship before the days of steam, spread out above, to the sides, and even billowing out from the bottom of the ship. Small figures were hustling across the sails' attached netting, manipulating the sails with pinpoint precision. One sail began to fold in on itself; it was being furled in. Then another.

"A wind-sailer airship," Robert noted. "Just like their starships."

"Goddess, it is amazing," Druni breathed. "I had heard the stories…"

"How could that work?" Zack wondered aloud. "I mean, a ship that size would need an active anti-grav engine or a lot of speed and lift to stay aloft."

"It most likely has a gravity drive for these approaches," Lennier stated. "However, Gy'sara's gravity is lighter than many other species' homeworlds, and the mountain and canyon formations on the continents encourage higher wind speeds. Wind-sailing airships are quite feasible."

"And an integral part of their culture," Robert added.

"I am bringing us in to their aerospace port," Lennier added. "We will be landing momentarily."

Their course took them to the north of the main city. The buildings started to diminish in size, clearing the skies over the canyon below for greater aerial traffic. And that was precisely what was there. More wind-sailers were evident, some no larger than a rowboat with gliding sails. The Keyeri remained in her own approach vector that took her past a large, elegant wind-sailing ship with multiple internal decks and massive, furled sails. Zack looked over said ship with a keen eye. Its very size seemed to defy its ability to remain aloft, even if for the moment it was docked in what looked like a cradle extended from the canyon wall.

Said wall was their destination as well. Along this entire section door after door had been carved; the Gy'torans had turned this entire area of Utal Pranam into an aerospace port to service their capital. One such set of doors, a smaller set near the top of the canyon, was open for them. Lennier flew them in with quiet precision. The dock inside was a basic hanger. Visible fuel cells allowed for a variation of ship types to have vital fuel recharged or replenished. Work-coat clad Gy'torans scuttled along on four limbs to secure the Keyeri to her dock.

"Here we are," Robert said.

"Yeah." Zack blinked. "Uh, why are we here?"

"Why else would we be here?" Robert asked, his eyes glinting with humor. "Sightseeing."




Securing the Keyeri hadn't taken long, and Zack spent that time packing his bags. A part of him considered telling the others "No thank you" and going off to book passage on the next ship leaving for Alliance space. But he couldn't bring himself to do that. Not yet. It didn't feel right, not given the effort Robert had clearly spent tracking him down.

Besides, he wanted to see the Gy'toran homeworld too.

The aerospace port's main facilities were actually above the docks, built on the surface of the forested plateaus that overlooked the canyon. From the windows that lined the pathways of the terminals Zack could look out at the trees. They were primarily red, with pale violet and purple leaves, although some of the species evident were of a dimmer red color. An eight-legged animal of almost feline appearance darted up the surface of one of the trees, disappearing into the canopy. An avian with blue and green feathers swooped in close to the window before banking out to land on another tree.

"Zack?" Ahead of him, Robert broke off from the others and looked back to him. He was wearing the same Gersallian traveling robes he'd worn when rescuing Zack from his attackers on Guanxi, although he kept the hood down around his neck here. "We're heading to the hotel, we probably shouldn't split up until we get there."

"Right," Zack murmured. He walked toward Robert and they kept going.

"You've been traveling a bit yourself, haven't you?" Robert asked. "I mean, I almost caught up to you in M4P2, but you left Eden Prime before the Keyeri could get there."

"I heard it was beautiful there, wanted to see it," Zack said.

"And?"

"I guess I'm jaded by New Liberty and New Caprica," Zack said. "Because it looked like just another garden planet to me."

Robert shook his head genially. "It had its charms though. And the Prothean ruins are spectacular."

"They were, I guess," Zack conceded.

When he didn't say anything else, Robert continued to speak. "I don't blame you for wanting to just get away for awhile. With everything that's happened…"

Zack said nothing.

"...anyway, I'm looking forward to this." Robert kept a friendly grin on his face, even as he felt like he was forcing it. "And look on the bright side. We lost a lot of weight coming here. That might have been useful back in school."

"Ha," Zack chuckled, but only slightly. He knew what Robert was trying to do, and he didn't feel like humoring him for the moment. He wanted some time to process his thoughts. Particularly the memories of talking with Clara. While she'd never mentioned Gy'sara in particular, this was the kind of traveling she'd talked about doing if Zack ever left the Stellar Navy. And now he was here doing it, and she… she was gone. Dead, not coming back.

Robert went to open his mouth again and stopped. Zack wasn't ready. He had to be patient.

They caught up to Druni and Lennier at the mass transit terminal. A large air-bus - not a sky-sailing model either - was already pulled up to the terminal and docked, taking aboard passengers. They got in line and waited.




The estate of Grand Duke Kell was the locale for the summit, in the planetary capital of Old Connaught. Julia looked out a window in the upper floor room set up for the talks and considered the city. While named for an Irish province, the capital of Arc-Royal was built more like the kind of homey, small German towns that Julia had seen in old photography in history classes or in Anna Dale's family photographs. Indeed, it was almost hard to believe it was the capital of a planet.

"It is quite a sight, isn't it?"

Julia turned and faced the man speaking to her. He was roughly her age, a little taller, wearing a dress uniform of light beige with brown on the chest. A brass-colored rank square with a red star was located on both lapels of the uniform's neck while the arm bore a red star with one ray longer than the rest pointed downward, a "daggerstar". Green eyes a different shade from her own eye color met her eyes. "Khan Ward," she said respectfully.

"Captain." Phelan Ward - formerly Phelan Kell - nodded once. "How do you like Arc-Royal?"

"It's… certainly a lovely world," Julia answered. "It's your homeworld, right?"

"To some extent, although I spent part of my youth traveling from world to world with the Kell Hounds." Phelan looked out over the town again. "Congratulations, by the way."

"Hrm?"

"On your promotion, and your command," he answered. "And on some of your accomplishments as well. I took the time to read up on your career so far as a captain. You seem to have had quite an eventful year."

"You could say that." Julia grinned slightly at that. "I'm surprised the Clan Grand Council let you come. Wouldn't they consider you biased?"

"They would have to defend such an argument if they argued it in the Council," Phelan said. "And I would have been honor bound to challenge them to a Circle of Equals." His mouth formed into an appropriately-wolfish smile. "And I'm not the easiest opponent to face, inside or outside of a 'Mech."

"Ah." Julia nodded once.

"Of course, that will not stop certain Khans from using my presence to debate against whatever arrangement we make," Phelan continued. "Which is why I am only here as an observer for the ilKhan. Khans from the Ghost Bears, Star Adders, Snow Ravens, and Nova Cats are the primary negotiators for our delegation."

"Right." Julia tried to remember which Clan was which. She recalled the Bears and the Cats as Invading Clans, but the Adders and Ravens were more of a blank. "The Clans have already taken a few worlds for their own, I believe?"

"Neu Brandenburg, Wesselwelt, and New Denmark," Phelan said. "And we have enclaves on ten other planets taken from the Reich, although your Alliance has insisted we honor your Harris Station Charter, so we do not enjoy full control of those other worlds."

Julia nodded in reply. She was familiar with said Charter, signed a month after the Battle of New Austria. It guaranteed political liberty to the communities of subjugated nationalities and ethnicities. The original intent of the charter had been to grant entire worlds freedoms, but between the needs of the war and the demands of the Turians, the charter allowed for the coalition members to maintain their own enclaves and bases on those worlds, even if the communities there would gain independence. Clearly the Clans were getting the same arrangement the Turians enjoyed.

"I had better go see to my fellow Khans," Phelan said. "Have a good day, Captain."

"Thank you, Khan," she answered. She took a final look out the window before walking away herself.




Julia soon found Meridina and Lucy in the company of Commander Richmond. They were with a Kell Hound officer, an older one with clear authority. "I can have the field ready within the hour, Colonel Allard," Richmond was saying, her upper class Australian accent a marked difference from the usual accent one expected of Australians.

"That will be acceptable, the first meeting is in ninety minutes," was the reply of Colonel Dan Allard, the commander of the Kell Hounds. He was checking his timepiece. "And speaking of that, I have to go assure Curaitis that everything is ready."

"Curaitis?" Meridina recognized the name, that of Archon-Prince Victor's security advisor. "Is he participating in security planning?"

"More like he's being given a partial say in it," explained Colonel Allard. "As are the security people for all of the House delegations. And the Clans for that matter. It's not making it any easier. But between your security and our forces, we'll manage. Please excuse me."

With Colonel Allard gone, it was just the four ladies from the Aurora. "What do you think?" Julia asked the others, specifically Meridina and Richmond as the former and the current security chiefs of the Aurora, respectively.

"I would feel better hosting these talks aboard the ship," Richmond admitted. "The Aurora is a more secure environment and it would be far easier for security to control access. The Kell Estate and Kell Hound Headquarters employ dozens, hundreds, of local civilians for their functions, and even with control checkpoints and other security measures, someone with the right tools and skill could penetrate the system anyway. We recently learned this the hard way, you may recall."

Julia nodded. She mentally flashed back to prior incidents in these situations. The attack at New Chicago when Draconian operatives attacked a diplomatic reception was a particular memory. Of course, even the Aurora had faced a similar security breach: the reception in the Lookout over the Dilgar survivors on Tira, when the renegade leader James Hawk nearly killed Warmaster Shai'jhur, the leader of the remnant Dilgar government. She suspected most threats wouldn't have access to the top-model Darglan technology that had let Hawk and his ally slip aboard the Aurora, but there were still plenty of stealth technologies and other methods a potential assassin could use.

"I would recommend you leave myself and Lucy on security assignment, Captain," Meridina stated. "Our presence makes it more likely we can detect a threat before it strikes."

"I agree," Julia said. "I'll ask Colonel Allard to prepare rooms for you so you can remain on site."

"Jarod's going to have to re-assign someone else for the port lateral sensor array's inspection," Lucy pointed out. "I was supposed to start that tomorrow, and we're already a day overdue."

"We'll handle it," Julia promised. "Your priority is protecting the summit."

Lucy nodded. "If that's where you need me." She looked around. "Maybe I should go swap into a security uniform then?"

"No, stick with what you've got," Julia said.

"Your call, Captain," Lucy replied.

Julia checked the time and looked to Meridina. "The other leaders should be arriving soon, Secretary Onaran will be expecting us to join him in welcoming them. We'd better get going. Let me know if anything develops."

"Of course, Captain," Meridina said.

"I'll inform you of any further issues, Captain, Commander."

After a final pair of nods, Julia and Meridina departed to join the Allied Systems Foreign Secretary. Richmond checked the latest report on her omnitool before looking to Lucy. "If you don't mind me asking, Lieutenant, why are you still in the operations branch?"

Lucy almost missed the question, as she was busy running a diagnostic on one of the security scanners they'd placed. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"Well, while you often do operations duties, during crisis moments you are usually in the field performing combat duties," Richmond pointed out. "It seems a waste to keep you in operations branch."

"There are times I feel the same way," admitted Lucy. "But I like some of the work. This," she gestured toward the lightsaber hilt on her uniform belt, "isn't all of what I do."

"I understand that, Lieutenant Lucero, but I think it's wasteful," Richmond said. "Whatever your role was on the Aurora when she first launched, your place on the crew has changed substantially. Your capabilities as a field officer with your metaphysical talents call for a re-evaluation of your assignment."

Lucy took a moment to consider the argument. Julia had made similar remarks not too long ago. She wasn't just an ops officer anymore, and hadn't been for nearly two years. Richmond wanting her transferred to security did make sense.

Although, when it came down to it, she didn't want to devote her time to security either.

"I'd like you to think about the transfer, Lieutenant," Richmond said. "I have an open billet for my second-in-command coming soon. I think it will be a good fit for you."

"We can decide it later," Lucy said. "We should finish getting everything set up first, though."

"Agreed." With that Richmond keyed her omnitool's comm system and said, "Taggart, Ihjamal, I need your status."

"Yes ma'am. We just finished installing the sensors on the ground floor dock. We're moving on to the interior foyer…"




The light in the temple was faded, reflecting the twilight sky outside. Low flames licked at the walls where the torches gave scant aid to the illumination of the room.

The flood of light that suddenly made the chamber as bright as a sunny day came from the armored figure in white that, even now, thrust her shining, almost-blazing sword into the flesh of the great wyrm guarding the chamber. Its powerful claw swiped at its foe and created sparks along the shield, also colored white with silver and gold symbols upon it.

Ensign Talara, the only non-Human of the party and the only one still standing, finished her casting a moment later. It took most of her remaining MP to cast the once-per-battle raise spell, but the circumstances demanded it. The bright light that emanated from her coated the fallen forms of her compatriots. They stood rapidly, as if freed from invisible bonds, although the truth was that the fallen forms had merely been holograms; the real players were, to reflect their status, merely locked out of the game.

Ensign Violeta Arterria acted first. She nocked an arrow into her glistening, silver-hued bow, sending said arrow into the eye of the great wyrm. "We've almost got it!" she shouted. "It's down to five percent!"

The next figure to strike was Angel Delgado. Clad in a crimson chongseom garment with gold embroidered figures, and defiantly missing the feathered headband that rounded out her class uniform, Angel rushed in and landed a punch on the scaly body off their foe. Faint, flaming light formed around her as another punch landed, and then a powerful kick.

"Angel, we would have won already if you'd just use the chakras right!" The protest was from her sister Caterina. At barely five feet she was the smallest, least intimidating member of the party, wearing voluminous blue robes and a floppy yellow hat that virtually obscured her face. It was perhaps fitting that she was also the one with the most powerful attacks.

"Don't worry about that, Cat!" Violeta shouted. "Another Flare should do it!"

Cat nodded and held her rod up. She began reciting words in Spanish. The actual words didn't matter for the game, and she could have used any language she wanted, really any words she wanted, so long as she identified the trigger word of the spell she wanted to use. But Cat felt that Spanish worked best for reality-warping spells, at least in lieu of actual Latin.

The great wyrm lashed out at Angel, who ducked a swing of its mighty tail, but wasn't quite fast enough to avoid a hit that sent her flying. The green bar on her wrist display dropped to twenty percent. Any follow-up blow would sent her back down, and for the rest of the fight.

Talara clanged her shining holy sword against her shield, creating a flash of light that seemed to get the dragon's attention. In the second before it attacked she cast a quick cure spell, which enabled her to survive the massive blow that struck her despite her armor and shields. She was knocked backward. "Are you ready?"

With a defiant "Flare", Cat unleashed the spell she'd been channeling. Red light gathered around the dragon. It looked like fireflies were suddenly gathering, all rushing in on the wyrm's body regardless of how it moved. The energy suddenly burst outward in red light and flame. The wyrm screamed in agony.

But it still wasn't dead.

Violeta put an arrow into its neck. Angel landed another series of punches. It struck out again and Talara, aided by the abilities she'd picked, intercepted the blow before it could level Violeta. Again her shield and armor absorbed some of the damage, but now her health was blinking red; she couldn't take another hit.

But because of those same abilities, Talara found herself allowed to make an immediate counterattack. She lunged with her blade and drove it into the scaly flesh of the creature's hand. It gave way, letting her cleave so far that the wyrm's hand was bisected by the blow. A colored marker appeared over its head.

Cat cast another spell, this time with blasts of blue energy from her rod. Violeta followed it up with an arrow. Their efforts hit the head directly. WIth a final cry, the creature toppled over.

A victory fanfare played around them.

"We… we did it…" Cat gasped for air for a moment. "We finally beat the Dragon King!"

"Without a dedicated healer," added Violeta. "That's the surprising part." She approached the fallen body, which faded away and revealed a chest. She opened it and grinned. "Ha!" She reached in and pulled out an elegant purple cloak that matched her eyes and hair. She unlatched her current cloak and put it on. "Diana's Cloak," she boasted. "I can't believe it dropped."

Angel reached in and retrieved a leather vest of dragonscales. "So… I wear this for now on?" she asked.

"If you want," Violeta said. "You can also set the game to consider it equipped without actually wearing it."

Talara pulled out a silver helmet with eagle wings on either side, wings that were twice as long as the pointed ears showing from the sides of her current white-coated helmet. "This is… an improvement?"

"Oh yeah, that's a Tier 10 helmet, your helmet is only Tier 8." Violeta giggled. "The drops are worth it, aren't they?"

Cat found a new rod, with a bejeweled tip. "That's a real rare drop!" Violeta proclaimed with awe. "The Starbringer Rod! You can use it to cast Comet four times per battle without draining MP."

"Oooh." Cat put the rod on her waist, unequipping the old one in the process. "So what now?"

"Given we finally cleared the Dragon King? I'd say we play the cutscene and then cast the Teleport spell to return to Caer Draconis. We have to turn the main quest in to get the full XP reward for the module."

"We can do that tomorrow," Angel said. "I need a dinner after that workout."

"And I need to change and get ready for my shift," Talara added.

"We can do that," Violeta said. "Computer, save progress and shut down."

"Processing… progress saved."

The Hall of the Dragon King disappeared, as did the empty chest. They were in a chamber of blue walls that wasn't even a quarter the size of where they'd just been. "The next module's a fun one," Violeta assured them. "The Palace of Cagnazzo. It's an underwater level."

"I am not swimming around," declared Angel.

"We can set it to behave like we're on dry land," replied Violeta. She grinned at Cat. "You'll want to practice your Thunder magic abilities."

"It'll be fun," Cat said. "And then maybe we'll be ready for the Floating Islands of Djubara?"

Violeta nodded as she walked past Cat. For a brief moment a look of what seemed like resignation formed on her face, but she didn't give any of them a chance to notice by assuring she was in the lead as they departed the holodeck.




The bus brought the four travelers into the heart of the Gy'toran capital city. A traveler's hotel catering to alien visitors provided rooms at an economical cost. Lennier and Druni departed for their rooms.

Zack nearly did the same, but ultimately he decided to follow Robert out of the hotel's front entrance and into the city proper. Utal Pranam buzzed around them. With some exceptions the figures that milled around them were Gy'torans. They were a six-limbed species with flexible sectional positions that allowed them to potentially run on four of their limbs. Even all six, if they had reason to stay low and needed to really move. Their faces broadly resembled koalas, while their fur ran a spectrum from blue through shades of purple to reddish colors.

Now that the two were on ground level, they could see the reason for the netting covering so many buildings. As they watched, one Gy'toran simply grabbed hold of said netting at the ground and began climbing up the side of the building. Within thirty seconds he was six stories up and entering a door set into the netting. "Woh," Zack said. "I guess they don't need elevators."

"Well, they probably do have them, if just for the injured or for carrying freight," Robert pointed out. Nearby another pair of Gy'torans lowered themselves to ground level from another set of netting.

"In this gravity climbing must be pretty easy."

"I'm not sure I'd want to give it a try, either way," Robert said. "Not without climbing harnesses."

"Don't you have superpowers now?" Zack asked. "You could just will yourself to float or something."

"It doesn't really work that way, Zack." They walked past what looked to be a shop. Gy'torans were burbling away in their native language outside.

The next shop they saw had holoscreen frames on sale. Test models were set to Gy'toran news casts and a couple of offworld ones, including the Interuniversal News Network (IUNN). Two smaller Gy'toran, youths, were staring at the screens. One turned and looked up at them as they walked past. His - or her, perhaps - face betrayed what looked like bewilderment. The Gy'toran nudged their compatriot and now another set of dark eyes focused on them.

"Um… hello," Zack said. He wondered if either had auto-translators.

"Hel...lo…" one said with a high-pitched voice. "Not speak Human well. Te'kam ri… you want buy?"

"We're just sightseeing," Robert said.

"Sight-see?" There was momentary confusion on the Gy'toran's face. Slowly realization seemed to dawn for the young alien. "Ah! Sight-see! Yes! I sell sight-see!"

Zack gave Robert a bemused look. "I don't think he understands that. Maybe you should say 'visiting'?"

"Visit! Sight-see!" The Gy'toran reached into a box and pulled out something that looked like a brochure. On the front was a ship much like the giant wind-sailer they'd seen while the Keyeri was on final approach. "We sell sight-see!"

The two immediately comprehended what the child was talking about. "You sell tickets to one of those big wind-sailers?" Zack asked.

The Gy'toran's nose tilted back and forth. Robert, for his part, sensed the answer was yes. "Sounds interesting." He took the offered slip of folded paper and unfolded it. A map showed the vessel in question and its route, connecting Utal Pranam to a major regional city of the north, Ilam Tran. The route, back and forth, went between Gy'sara's two greatest mountain ranges. Robert read descriptions in English, Lushan Dorei, Common Gersallian, Alakin Trade, and what looked like Asari Standard. He was pretty sure another set of characters was Vulcan. The designer of the brochure used every bit of space for either imagery or text. "It looks good." Robert handed the paper to Zack. "What do you think?"

Zack looked it over quickly. A part of him didn't really care. But there were some magnificent views. Finally he said, "Sure, let's go. I mean, nothing better to do, right?"

"You buy?" the Gy'toran kid asked, hope in his voice. He presented a digital device. With a keypress the Gy'toran cuneiform characters turned into English, listing the price of various tickets. Robert was thankful that he'd kept his savings up and ultimately decided on one of the better sets of rooms, a two-bedroom suite on the second-highest deck, with round trip tickets. Two days there, a day in Ilam Tran, and two days back sounded about right. He used his multidevice to connect to the Gy'toran sales device and confirmed an encrypted payment. He took special care to ensure safety protocols would keep his account information secure. A glance over the information showed this was some sort of vendor arrangement; the kids sold the tickets on behalf of the ship's operators in exchange for a small cut. He wondered if some cynical Gy'toran clerk figured aliens would be more likely to buy from Gy'toran children on account of how cute and furry they looked.

Then again, the Girl Scouts always did good selling their cookies, so the fur might not have had anything to do with it.

Once the transaction was complete Robert and Zack moved on. "Well, I didn't plan on this," Robert admitted. "But it should be fun."

Zack nodded once, trying not to think of how much he wished Clara was here to see this. Or, come to think of it, of how much he wanted a drink. Those thoughts he was especially careful to avoid as much as possible.




The Meinhoff House was an extended-stay residence in Old Connaught, one that was seeing a lot of business with the summit. Every room was rented out due to the offworld business.

One longer-term customer, who had been present for a number of years, was an uninteresting man named John Goddard. Goddard had an extensive history with the planet, being a resident of Arc-Royal for most of his adult life. This background had been instrumental in getting him hired as janitorial staff to the Kell Estate. His work was diligent, the quiet competence that rulers and their managers loved to see in domestic staff.

But the truth was, John Goddard didn't exist.

The man who wore the identity like one might wear clothing was a very plain looking man. He was Caucasian, average build, average height, and a face that easily gets lost in the crowd. That was the important part in his line of work. Having a face that never gets a second look from the viewer.

He was looking over the data again. The money being offered was quite good, but the real draw was the challenge. The chance to prove that even the high and mighty Alliance couldn't stop him was just the thing to cement his reputation in the underworld.

Plus… it was fitting, what he had been hired to do, and that always worked for someone with such a meticulous approach to life, granting further order to something normally so messy.

And it was indeed fitting that the man who killed Melissa Steiner would now claim the life of her child.
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-08 06:48pm

Druni and Lennier were in the common area for the guests. Robert walked up to them while they were observing the activity of the capital. The head of a Gy'toran briefly appeared at the bottom of the window before disappearing - presumably said Gy'toran would have to go around said window while climbing around the exterior. "Enjoying the view?" he asked.

"Yes," said Druni. "How was your walk?"

"Interesting. And I ended up purchasing tickets on one of the passenger sky-sailers. Zack and I will be gone for a few days." Robert tapped at his omnitool. "I could buy a couple more if you want to go too. It's a five day round trip to one of the regional cities and goes right through one of the major valleys."

"I thank you for the offer, but it is best if I remain here," said Lennier. "Our ship requires some maintenance work I will be attending to."

"So I'll stay too," Druni added. "We'll be here when you get back." She nodded. "Help your friend, Robert."

He nodded back. "That's what I was planning to do."




After leaving Lennier and Druni, Robert found Zack in the hotel's lounge and bar. He was seated at the bar with a violet-colored beverage. For a brief moment Robert wondered if he was drinking again, but he didn't sense any impairment. He walked up and sat beside Zack. "Trying out the local stuff?"

"It's a fruit pop thing," Zack answered.

A Gy'toran with a deep blue tint to their fur walked over, two hands holding glasses and a third a bottle. "Want some, sir?" The pitch of the voice indicated the barkeeper was female. "The yattal is made daily."

"Sure." Robert watched the Gy'toran expertly pour a glass of the violet liquid for him. He grasped the glass and took a drink There was some carbonation, and the taste was sweet and tangy, almost too tangy. He swallowed it. "Wow. That's some pop."

"Pop?" asked the Gy'toran.

"A term we have for carbonated drinks like this," Robert replied.

"An interesting sound. 'Pop'. Pop pop pop…" The Gy'toran continued on.

After taking another drink Robert glanced back to Zack. He could sense the turmoil inside of his friend. A yearning for release from his pain. "Are you punishing yourself by coming here?" he asked.

"I have to be able to control it," Zack insisted. "That's where I went wrong. I couldn't control it."

"And you think tempting yourself will help with that?"

"Is there something you want, Rob?"

The question did get to the point. "I want to help you, of course," Robert replied. "I hate seeing you like this."

Robert could sense a part of Zack bristle. He almost apologized but stopped. It felt like anything he said, anything, would be taken badly.

A momentary sense of frustration came to him. How could he do this if anything he said would make things worse?

"The ship leaves in a couple of hours," Robert pointed out. "We should probably get our stuff together."

Zack reacted by finishing his glass. He stepped off of the bar chair. "Sure," he said. "Let's go."




Two hours later Robert and Zack were standing on the observation deck of the sky-sailer passenger liner Tri'kep. It was easily the length and width of a 21st Century cruise ship, if lacking the height of one, with four decks for passengers and facilities, the observation deck at the bottom, and the restricted top deck where the sails were accessed by the crew and the main pilot house was found. A rear section of the ship contained engineering spaces on all decks that were likewise restricted.

They were not the only beings on the observation deck. Other tourists were present, as were Gy'toran passengers.

"I guess they don't have transporter networks here yet," Zack remarked, watching a Gy'toran tend to her children. One of the larger children had to pursue and take hold of a small sibling who was walking away, as curious little children were known to do in many species.

"A lot of worlds don't," Robert remarked.

Looking around they noted various passengers. A group of Tellarites were nearest to them. Further down three Asari, two of blue complexion and one with more of a lavender shade, were pointing to the window and discussing the sights. A pair of Dre'kari were holding hands at another port. A lone Minbari in religious caste robes was quietly watching the others on the deck, as if his fellow passengers were more interesting than the sight outside.

The ship shuddered slightly under their feet. "Here we go," Robert murmured, turning his attention back to the window. Outside the aerospace port began to recede, slowly.

For nearly two minutes they slowly pulled away from the aerospace port and accompanying canyon wall. Because of the shape of the ship, with the observation deck as the widest one, they could look up through the clear canopy roof and watch as the great sails of the Tri'kep unfurled. Small figures moved rapidly among the horizontal masts supporting the sails, which quickly billowed out as the active winds of Gy'sara's atmosphere pushed into them.

The ship picked up speed now. The sight below began to recede as she gained altitude as well. Eight minutes after they cast off, the ship was entirely clear of Utal Pranam. Now the ship was over a forest canopy crossed by roads and pathways that connected small households. Inside the canyon the river moved through open fields and orchards market by small homesteads. A much smaller city, more of a town, was further ahead.

Around them the other passengers started to leave. Soon they were among only a few still sitting or standing on the observation deck. Wordlessly they too left, content with what they had seen so far.




The preliminary meetings ended early, allowing everyone to retire and make preparations for the main meetings to commence the next day. The Aurora security personnel assigned to the meetings were given spare rooms in the estate to facilitate their participation in the round-the-clock security effort.

Whatever his personal nature as a soldier and mercenary, Morgan Kell had the same obligations in hosting dignitaries and other nobles as any other Inner Sphere lord, particularly one who ruled an entire planet. The room was twice the size of Meridina's quarters on the Aurora and elaborately furnished. She felt somewhat uncomfortable being in the lap of such luxury. The suite had a living area with couches and seats upholstered with fine red and black material. The tables were made from fine woods from across the Inner Sphere. A door led to the bedroom and the bathroom for the suite, where a soft bed covered in a blanket of goose down was waiting for the end of the night. The bathtub had built-in water jets to make it… Meridina couldn't recall the word, but knew Humans treated it as a luxury item.

For the moment she eschewed all of the luxury. Now out of her uniform, she wore a plain sleeveless white garment and leggings while she sat on the floor to meditate.

She sensed Lucy's arrival in the moments before the knock came on the door. She responded mentally to invite Lucy, who entered without further word. "I figured you weren't enjoying the luxury," she remarked.

"No. It is unnecessary." Meridina shook her head. "While I understand some extra comforts, Humans have a tendency to be wasteful when they have the means."

"That's the Knight of Swenya in you talking," Lucy said. "I, for one, intend to soak in the bath for at least an hour before going to bed. With the jacuzzi feature turned on." She grinned wryly. "You should try it. It's relaxing."

"That is what meditation is for," Meridina replied. She watched Lucy as she took a seat nearby. "Is there anything you wish to discuss?"

"Nothing important at the moment. There's a bit of tension around here, but we expected that. And I have a… I don't know, just a feeling I guess."

"A feeling of…?"

"Worry. Like something is going wrong, but I can't be sure." Lucy sighed. "Plus I've got Lieutenant Commander Richmond trying to talk me into swapping my posting to security."

"Is she?" Meridina ran the thought through her mind. "It is a reasonable proposal. You are an important asset in field operations as a swevyra'se more than an operations officer. Security is a reasonable assignment."

"Maybe." Lucy shook her head. "But it doesn't feel right to me." She leaned forward in her seat. "I just… I don't know. I know that I've moved beyond being in operations. I'm not just an engineer anymore either, or a runabout pilot. But security doesn't feel right either. Nothing does."

"And yet, your place is on the Aurora."

"Yes, it is." Lucy let out a little sigh. "I still feel that. But it's like people want to fit me into a puzzle but the edges aren't fitting. And I highly doubt ships will get a department solely for life force users."

"Indeed not, given the attitudes of certain leaders in the capital." Meridina needn't mention Defense Minister Hawthorne or Admiral Davies by name. "Give it time. I suspect you will come up with something."

"Or have someone come up with it for me," Lucy pointed out. "Whether I like it or not."

"An incentive, perhaps, to not allow the question to linger." Meridina stood up. "Do you wish to train? It may help you settle."

"No. I think I'll stick to the plan to soak in the jacuzzi." Lucy smiled, and there was friendly mischief in the look. "See you in the morning? They're starting at 0920 ship time."

"I will see you in the morning," Meridina answered.




The next morning Lucy and Meridina were in place with other security personnel as the summit began.

Seated with Foreign Secretary Onaran, Julia recognized that the occasion was, for the denizens of Universe F1S1, historic. For the first time, the independent rulers of the Inner Sphere's states were sitting with leaders of the Clans and of the Periphery nations. Even the distant Hanseatic League had sent a delegation to attend negotiations.

Primus Mori called the summit to order. ComStar's delegation - Mori herself and Precentor-Martial Focht - were seated equidistant to the three large, round tables where the Inner Sphere, Periphery, and Clans were gathered. A fourth table outside the rough circle was where Julia and the other observers could watch the proceedings.

"I call this meeting to order," said Primus Mori. "Welcome to the Connaught Summit. I am pleased to see that so many have accepted our invitations to this historic occasion."

Julia listened quietly to Mori's remarks. Occasionally she glanced toward the other leaders to see their reaction. The Clan Khans looked the least impressed. They were here to bid for worlds to attack, nothing more. The Periphery leaders only showed interest when Mori briefly remarked on economic cooperation and the sharing of technology, as the Inner Sphere's markets were starting to see the release of Multiversal technology such as consumer goods.

"Now we must come to the primary reason for this summit," Mori said. "Many of the states assembled here have all declared war upon the Nazi German Reich of the S4W8 universe. Your contributions vary by your available resources and the needs of your home territories, but you have all made valuable contributions of one sort or another. We must now ensure that those contributions are being directed toward the intended result; the complete defeat of the Reich and the elimination of the threat it poses to us. Precentor-Martial, you may proceed."

Focht activated a holotank showing a starmap of the S4W8 universe, or at least a section of space including Earth. Julia noticed the apprehension in some of those assembled, especially the Periphery realms. While the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere were certainly no slouches in terms of possessing plentiful worlds and resources, it was clear why the war still raged as it did despite the size of the Coalition. Even with all of the space they had lost in the eighteen months since the Battle of New Austria, the Reich still controlled an area of space far greater than the combined space of all of the attending states of F1S1.

"As you can see, the war may be far from over," Focht remarked. "Although our victories have been increasing as of late, and there are some indications that the enemy's military power is stretched to the breaking point, they still control a significant amount of space. We must decide on the best course for reducing them." Focht nodded toward the Alliance table. "I have been in discussions with Admiral Maran and the Alliance Defense Command, among other Coalition military leaders, on the best avenues…"

"Under what authority does ComStar negotiate on the matter of the war?" asked a Clan Khan. He was in a uniform of green coloring; the holographic nameplate in front of him marked him as Khan Cassius N'Buta of the Star Adders. "Your ComGuards have not participated."

"True. But we are still belligerents," Focht answered. "Additionally, while I grant that the Clans have not given me leave to discuss the war on their behalf, the leaders of the Inner Sphere have, and I am presenting my findings on the subject. Unless you have an objection?"

The Clan Khans consulted with each other briefly. "We have none," said Bjorn Jorgensson, the Ghost Bear Khan and de facto head of the Clan delegation. "While the Grand Council keeps its own council on the war, we will consider the advice of the victor of Tukkayid."

"My thanks, Khan Jorgensson." Focht nodded to him. "In discussions with Admiral Maran and other Coalition military strategists, we have decided that an offensive aimed toward the taking of Terra S4W8 is our best strategic option at this time, and preparations have thus been laid. As this will necessitate the taking of many systems between our current frontlines and the Sol System, the proposal is to follow the example of the Clans. Each Coalition member providing ground troops will be assigned an invasion corridor. This will work to reduce complications to our logistics networks, strained as they are, as well as the issues that can arise from sharing those worlds that do not come under the Harris Station Charter."

"But what about naval support?" asked Sun-Tzu Liao. "If we divide our fleets per corridor, does this not give the enemy's remaining fleet strength the chance to attack our ships in detail and destroy them?"

"The Admiral is planning a military operation to deal with the remaining enemy fleets guarding the approaches to Terra," Focht remarked. "Indeed, ComStar has agreed to provide some of our refitted ships to these fleets as our first contribution to the military effort."

"The Grand Council will consider a similar contribution, then," the Snow Raven Khan, Lynn McKenna, announced. "We have completed several refits of our own."

"The important issue is to allocate invasion corridors," Focht stated. "Since logistics must be considered, our choices are already limited to these assigned routes." A tap of a key lit up several wedges of space pointed toward Sol, leaving other approaches dark.

The Clan Khans contemplated the map. Julia figured a couple of the offered ones wouldn't work for them, as the Clans would best launch from territory they controlled already.

Before this discussion could continue, a hand went up. All eyes turned to Princess Katherine Steiner-Davion at her seat, just down from her brother. The Heir-Presumptive of the Federated Commonwealth and serving Regent of the Lyran half of said state was a lovely woman with hair the same blond tone as Julia's, her eyes icy blue and vivid. She was in a blue and white suit, a civilian look in comparison to her brother's military uniform. Julia recalled her from the banquet at Tukkayid nearly a year before. One thing that came to mind was that she preferred to be called "Katrina", the name of her maternal grandmother.

The other was that Robert had been leery of her. When asked, all he would remark on was that he'd felt "hunger" in Katrina. Julia hadn't yet seen what he meant by that.

Focht nodded to her.

"Military matters are but one factor in what we are here to discuss," said Katrina. "Indeed, we have an opportunity before us that should be the focus of our efforts."

"Such as, Highness?"

"It is rather obvious, isn't it?" Katrina was technically addressing Focht, but in truth she was speaking to the others. "With the leaders of every branch of our universe's Humanity present, it would be a crime against our people to not make the ultimate effort." She set her hands on the table. Clearly even her brother didn't know what she was up to. "The goal of this summit should be nothing less than the restoration of the Star League, and I move that we add that item to the agenda."

The room erupted with shouting.




A day out from Utal Pranam and the sky-sailer Tri'kep was now flying over open farmlands. The grains and cereals of Gy'sara grew in abundance on the river-enriched soils beneath them. From the altitude they were at the structures of the Gy'toran farmers were small round things. Bumps on the mosaic of fields. Not quite below them, off to the east, was another of the planet's rivers. Along it were more structures, occasionally clustered together into towns. Boats still plied the waters.

Zack sat on the observation deck and let his mind wander. For all that he was on an alien world, the scenery reminded him of home. Childhood memories filled him.

"Makes me think of home."

The voice brought Zack's attention back to the here and now. Robert came over and sat beside him. "We're supposed to enter the mountains sometime in the next few hours," he said. "It's supposed to be a pretty good sight."

"Yeah."

Robert went quiet, sensing his friend wasn't ready to talk. For his part Zack allowed himself to fall back in time mentally. A six year old boy living in the middle of nowhere, with nothing to do until his mother decided to bring him along one summer day to work with that nice Dale family. They had a boy his age and his mother thought it might get him a playmate.

Instead, he got two, both the boy… and the boy's best friend, a cute girl with long blond hair and a sweet smile. And both quickly let this lanky new kid with the sad look join them in playing and watching cartoons and everything else they did in common.

"Do you miss being a kid?" Zack asked Robert.

Robert gave him a quiet look. "I guess sometimes," he admitted.

"We never had to worry. We could just play all day and nothing else mattered."

"We all grow up sometime," Robert sighed. "And I remember more than just playing. I remember farm chores."

"Yeah." Zack nodded. He remembered chores too. And the hardest of them all was "wake up Daddy to go to work Saturday", which often included his father's breath stinking from all of the whiskey and beer he'd been drinking away during the prior evening.

Robert glanced toward him, sensing that Zack's painful memories were being stirred. He also sensed the growing guilt within him. The feeling Zack felt that he'd become just as bad as his father. A desire to just stop feeling.

But that sense was soon closed off. Zack stood up. "I'm going to get something for lunch," he said. "I'll see you later." His tone brought doubt about that actually coming to pass.

Still, there was nothing for Robert to properly do but nod and say, "See you later". He watched his friend head for the stairway leading up to the other decks with a heavy heart. Zack was intentionally shutting him out, and for all of his abilities, Robert didn't know why.

And if he was going to help Zack recover, he had to find out.




The sun was only starting to set in Old Connaught, which reminded Cat of some of the small towns in Germany and Switzerland that she and Violeta had toured during their first leave together. The two were seated at a bistro near the town center. The cuisine was a mix of German and Gaelic food, and the offered special was a German-style beer from a microbrewery. Cat found the taste more enjoyable than she had expected it to be. Even though they were on leave they were still in uniform - with Cat favoring the skirt-bottom instead of trousers like Violeta had - and that drew the attention of many of the locals.

"They must not see a lot of Alliance personnel around here," Violeta observed while spinning her fork in a plate of noodles with gravy.

"I'm not surprised they don't. There aren't a lot of Alliance ships that operate in or near the Inner Sphere." Cat grinned. "Although maybe it's your hair and eye color too?" She pushed her fork into her potatoes and took a bite of what the fork picked up. Her fork next ventured into the bratwurst. "It's so interesting how these things happen."

"What?" asked Violeta.

"The way cultures get mishmashed on colonies, I mean," she said. "I mean, here you've got a planet with Irish city names mixed with German ones, but even the people with Irish or Scottish last names act like they're German."

"It's what happens when planets get settled by multiple nationalities from Earth for long enough," Violeta said. "Well, if they don't segregate themselves. That can happen too."

"It's all so… interesting. It's like they become big melting pots."

They continued to eat for a moment. Under the table Cat extended her leg and gently brushed her foot up against Violeta's. A grin crossed the face of the purple-haired woman. Cat noticed that the grin seemed to turn melancholy. "Is everything okay?"

"Hrm? Oh, yes." The grin became happy again. "I'm just… well, I'm just dealing with unexpected news."

"Oh? What is it?"

"Commander Locarno told me that I've been picked for an NOS promotion."

Cat's eyes widened. "Wait, you mean like on top of the one you're already getting?"

"Yeah." Violeta nodded. "So I'm going to be a full Lieutenant."

"Congratulations," Cat said, grinning happily. "You deserve it."

"Thank you. It's a lot of responsibility. I'll end up in charge of navigation and piloting officers. I mean, as in I have to evaluate them and write it out and read their reports… it's a lot of work."

"Oh, I know," Cat said. "I should probably get working on the paperwork from the science labs. I mean, I enjoy reading about their experiments and simulations, don't get me wrong, but then there's the watch logs for the other science officers manning the bridge sensors post too, and the daily activity logs for the science labs…"

Violeta nodded in understanding. It was clear that the promotion wasn't solely a source of enthusiasm for her, but she said nothing more about it for the rest of the dinner.




To say that the summit had been derailed by Princess Katrina's suggestion would be an understatement. The proposal to re-found the Star League may have sounded like an idealistic gesture to some, particularly those in the Inner Sphere, but it immediately resulted in a convulsion of hostility and emotion from the Clan Khans. It was clear Sun-Tzu Liao was displeased with the proposal as well. Julia pondered if that displeasure was linked to the Periphery delegations, specifically those from Canopians and Taurians, who reacted as if they'd been slapped.

Unfortunately for the summit, one of the delegates with the Taurian Protector Calderon had gone beyond merely disapproving of the proposal, instead embarking on a tirade denouncing the Inner Sphere's "infatuation" with the Star League, the "tyrants who murdered millions of innocent Taurians before subjugating the survivors", and insisting that it was an insult to the Periphery nations to even suggest restoring the "Camerons' bloody legacy". This in turn prompted a ferocious response from the Clans, specifically the Star Adder and Snow Raven Khans, in defense of the Star League and what it represented, and it took Mori half a minute of gavel-pounding to restore order before she could recess the summit.

Now, with a few hours for the participants to cool off, they were reconvening. Julia used the recess to file a report on the development and check up on her ship. Now she and the other Alliance observers would be back to their passive role, wondering if Katrina's innocent suggestion had ruined the entire thing.

Or not so innocent was the thought that sprang to mind. While Katrina was showing quiet resignation at the abuse her proposal had generated, and seemed as charming as ever before the session, Julia kept thinking back to Robert's ill feeling about her. She almost wished for his senses herself, if just to understand what he felt. Katrina came off more as a naive politician trying to push for an idealistic goal than anything. I may need to ask Meridina or Lucy about it later.

Once the session was underway, Ragnar Magnusson - ruler of the small rump remnant of the Free Rasalhague Republic - immediately made a motion to table any discussion of the Star League. It was swiftly seconded by Theodore Kurita and passed by unanimous vote. Katrina lowered her eyes as if disappointed or humiliated.

Immediately the discussion went back to military matters. The idea of invasion corridors was explored in depth. Theodore Kurita criticized one of the lanes, insisting it should be widened at the expense of the Turian Hierarchy (prompting an irritated look from the Turian observer nearby) to ensure the corridor's viability as it neared the Sol System of S4W8. Victor proposed another alteration and Sun-Tzu was criticizing the entire concept and Victor's argument in particular. Victor protested in turn.

At that point Katrina managed to get the floor again. Everyone wondered what she would say, given her lack of military background and the result of her last contribution. "What if we combined the smallest invasion corridors, then? I understand that it would complicate the shipping that supports the troops, but common…"

She never got a chance to finish. The snap-hiss of a lightsaber filled the room. Lucy let out a shout and lunged forward.

The shot rang out a moment later.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-09 09:04am

No human eye could see the round. Lucy herself didn't see it. She felt it. Where it was going to be. And she put her lightsaber in its path.

The piece of metal that struck the blue blade of her weapon was nothing but a sliver, but it had been accelerated to lethal speed. Instead of striking soft flesh, however, it collided with the containment field of the lightsaber. The result sent the sliver flying upward until it slammed into the ceiling.

The summit erupted in chaos with the gunshot. Even without seeing where the round landed, the security personnel surged forward and started throwing themselves on their respective leaders. Julia grabbed Onaran and pulled him down. Her omnitool flashed to life and she triggered the comm immediately. "Andreys to Aurora! Shot fired in the summit, we need additional security and a medical team now! I say again, a shot has been fired!"

Lucy stood in the middle of the room, her lightsaber shining in her hands and ready for any further attack. The threat she felt was fading. Whomever had taken the shot wasn't firing again. But where did it come from? She projected a thought toward Meridina. Do you sense where they are?

Meridina was standing near the Commonwealth table with her weapon out but, for the moment, inactive. No hostile presences.

And the windows are intact. No bullet holes. No sign of where the round came from.


With the time since the attack increasing with no follow-up, those assembled were picking themselves off of the floor. Lucy focused inward. She sensed the life forms in the area. The lingering fear, the shock, the uncertainty. There was nothing from an assassin. She felt no presence in the Flow of Life she couldn't account for.

Nothing. The thought came from Meridina. With her weapon drawn and active as well, she looked to Julia. "Whomever fired the shot has fled. I do not sense them."

Julia nodded. "We need to get everyone and everything secure. Then…" She noticed the confused, bewildered, and angry looks on the assembled. "...then we're going to need answers."



The Tri'kep was drawing closer to the mountains now. Below them the open fields were turning to hills. At their altitude the residents of said hills were completely invisible, their presence only indicated by the circular structures that dotted some of the hillsides and the strips of road set through the hills. A scattering of trees could be found closer to the river.

The cabin Robert and Zack were sharing was toward the bow of the ship. The windows were thin strips, too small to climb through for an adult, but thanks to the curvature of the hull the lower windows allowed them a view of the ground. The higher ones provided instead the growing profile of mountains. White-topped and gray, with patches of other colors to show the locations of trees, the mountains would be larger in the morning when they were well within the range and in the final day of the initial trip. Robert sat at the kidney-shaped personal desk that the cabin came furnished with. The furnishings were made with multiple species in mind, so there was no discomfort sitting in the armless chair that accompanied the desk. He looked over a message on the system.

Behind him, Zack was laying on his bed. The two beds were on opposite sides of the room. Single-sized but comfortable, topped with a amber-toned comforter with white sheets. The Gy'torans who ran the Tri'kep undoubtedly took their inspiration from visiting Human motels and inns.

The silence in the room ended when Zack looked up from the bed. "What are you up to anyway?"

"Replying to a letter from Beth," Robert replied. "She wants to know how we're doing."

"Oh." Zack made a low "hmph" sound in his throat. "I guess you can tell her about what a screwup I've been."

Robert turned his head back and faced Zack. "I wasn't planning on mentioning you at all. But if you want me to say hello for you…?"

"No thanks."

Robert nodded and returned to his message. After typing a few more lines he stopped and looked back to Zack. "I'm trying to respect your privacy, Zack, but I can't help but feel some of the things you're feeling."

"Ah?" Zack returned the look. "Well, Rob, now you know why I slipped."

"This is why you've been drinking?" Robert asked.

"Yeah. And don't bother with the 'alcohol is a depressant' speech, I heard it a thousand times and gave it at least a hundred." Zack's voice betrayed the anger and shame roiling within him. "It makes the pain go away for a little while."

"Or you simply forget the pain because you black out," Robert pointed out. He turned the chair completely to face Zack's bed. "Zack, alcohol isn't going to heal you. And that's why I'm here, to help you heal."

There was challenge in Zack's voice when he responded, "Who says I want to be healed?"

For a moment Robert couldn't reply to that. "Whatever has you so angry at yourself that you could say something like that, that's what you need to talk about, Zack. It's eating away at you."

It was clear Zack was well aware of that fact. He pursed his lips and turned on the bed to face away from Robert. Slowly Robert turned away, recognizing the conversation was over.

"How is that power thing going for you?" Zack asked out of the blue.

"Hrm?"

"Your powers being too much, I mean."

"Oh." Robert drew in a breath. "Well, I'm not spontaneously hitting things with it anymore. I've got it under that much control. The trick is using it. Big things… they're a maybe, so long as my control doesn't slip. But the control is usually easy. Small, finite control things, I'm still having a lot of trouble with."

"Yeah, I noticed." Zack rubbed at his forehead. "Do you like having more power than you used to?"

There was silence from the deck. "Well… I'm not sure," Robert admitted. "It gives me the means to better protect the people I care about, I suppose. But sometimes I think I'd prefer it if someone else had it."

Robert was surprised by the humorless laugh from Zack. When he gave him a wondering look, Zack explained, "Leave it to Robert Dale to get upset at having something a lot of people would love to have. Hell, something some people might kill for. But you, nah, you almost sound like you want to get rid of it."

"I never said that." Robert sensed the agitation in Zack. "But it's dangerous. And these powers already cost me my relationship with Angel. If I didn't think I'll need them in the future…"

Robert let the sentence hang. Zack didn't bother to pick up on it. The agitation that was inside of him was growing, festering. After several moments Zack rolled off the bed. "I'm hungry," he announced. "I'm heading to the lounge deck."

"I'll be up there soon," Robert said. Zack showed no sign of responding to him before stepping out the door. Robert shook his head and turned back to his message to his cousin. How do I get through to him? he wondered. Can I?



With the situation as it was, Julia held the staff meeting from a room in Morgan Kell's ducal palace on Arc-Royal. Meridina, Lucy, Richmond, and Jarod were with her; the others were in the conference lounge on the Aurora, visible above the holotank in the middle of the room. "We've gone over the data Jarod sent with the simulators in Science Lab 2," Cat said. "The firing angle is definitely the one he indicated."

"Aye," agreed Scotty. "There's nae a better angle t' account for th' information ye've sent."

Meridina glanced to the model and what it said about the intended victim. "Then the intended target was Katrina Steiner-Davion," she observed.

"Yes."

"I wonder why?"

Lucy's verbal pondering prompted a reply from Jarod. "She's more popular than her brother is in the Lyran worlds. They see her as a Steiner and Victor as a Davion, and a number of people think Victor may have even arranged his mother's murder to seize power. If Princess Katherine were to be assassinated, Victor could face widespread discontent. Maybe even uprisings. He may even be accused of masterminding it."

"Yeah, these wackos in the Inner Sphere are way too quick to believe tabloids," Barnes grumbled. "They probably believe in black helicopters too."

"What is just as interesting is the weapon," Richmond said, ignoring Barnes' sarcasm. "His Grace's security people have determined the projectile was barely the size of a grain of rice, and its contact with Lieutenant Lucero's weapon has left it reduced to a grain of sand embedded into the ceiling. The composition, according to scans, is an alloy of tungsten with nickel and iron. Their conclusion, which I concur with, is that it was fired by a weapon using a mass effect field."

"So the killer has access to weapons from M4P2," Angel noted.

"Or someone is using that universe's native technology to create their own firearms," Richmond added.

"There are sound reasons," Meridina observed. "The weapon can be feasibly built from materials that evade most standard security scans. It also permits an assassin effectively limitless ammunition."

"Where did they fire from, though?" Lucy asked.

"According to our calculations, the edge of the ballroom," Cat replied.

Julia frowned at that. "Security should have seen them. So whoever it is had a personal cloak of some kind."

"There is more to it than that." Meridina frowned. "We did not sense them. Cloaks cannot hide a being from the Flow of Life, nor keep their minds from detection by a farisa. A telepath." She clarified for the sake of Richmond. "Why did we not sense them?"

"Could it have been a robotic drone of some kind?" Locarno asked.

Meridina answered his question first. "The Coserians are rumored to have tested such, but a delicate operation such as this would require the drone in question to have been programmed quite carefully."

"In other words, they'd need to have an AI."

In response to Cat, Meridina clarified, "Or a very sophisticated VI, yes. The alternative of remote control is unlikely given the security systems."

"It might explain why it made only one shot," added Lucy. "Cloaking fields don't last forever, and it takes time to slip through this estate. It might have needed all of its remaining time to escape before the cloak failed."

"Don't rule out remote control," Richmond instructed. "It's always possible someone found a way to hide a signal from detection, or even piggyback on our frequencies."

"You and Jarod investigate that possibility," Julia said. "Meridina, Lucy, I'd like you to keep an eye on the VIPs. Concentrate on Prince Victor and Princess Katherine, but we can't rule out that a follow-up attack might not target another delegation. I know you can't be everywhere at once, but…"

"...we will sense where we are needed," Meridina finished for her benefit.

"Meanwhile, I have to join Secretary Onaran in briefing President Morgan," Julia said. "Not to mention smoothing over feathers still ruffled by the Star League issue."

"It would appear this 'Star League' has quite a diverse reputation," Meridina noted.

"The Clans revere it, the Inner Sphere sees it as part of a lost Golden Age, and the Periphery realms remember them as occupiers and exploiters," Jarod remarked. "Honestly I'm not sure what was in mind for bringing it up."

"I'd like to know myself, but that's not our priority." Julia stood up. "Everyone is dismissed."




The Kell estate's suites for VIPs had been nearly overrun by all of the dignitaries present. Walking through that wing of the estate, Meridina found she did not envy the task of the managers for Morgan Kell in having to arrange quartering and sustenance for so many leaders.

Even though her enhanced senses - the product of her life energies, summed up in the Gersallian word swevyra - enabled her to feel there was nothing amiss without entering the various suites, Meridina nevertheless knocked at each and checked with them directly. Given the assassin's ability to hide itself from her as it had, this seemed the best course of action, and the one most likely to be preferred by the attending delegates given the day's excitement. In many of the rooms she found the delegations deep in discussion about the disruptions that had afflicted the first day of the summit.

The first exception to this she found in the suite of the Kuritas, the ruling family of the Draconis Combine. There the Coordinator of the Combine, Theodore Kurita, was in discussions with his leaders and his son, Hohiro, who was still on Luthien and speaking with his father via a subspace uplink. Sitting by herself in one corner was Theodore's daughter Omi. She was clad in a silk kimono of black color with red trim. Her dark hair went down to her shoulders. Blue eyes the same color as Lucy's rose to meet Meridina's face. "Commander Meridina," Omi said politely. "A pleasure to see you again."

"A pleasure as well, Lady Keeper," Meridina replied. "All is well?"

"We have no troubles." Omi stood. "I have a request of you, Commander."

"Yes?"

"I would like to visit a dear friend with another of the delegations. May I accompany you and meet him in your presence?"

Meridina immediately sensed the flutter of emotion in the other woman. The friend she sought to visit was someone she cared for deeply. More than cared for, in fact. Her reply was to nod. "I have no objections." She looked briefly to Omi's father to see if he had any.

Theodore had indeed been listening, even through his discussion with his son. He shook his head. "I am satisfied that my daughter's safety and honor are in safe hands with you, Commander," he said formally.

The wording was one Meridina found interesting. The Human English word "honor" seemed to have connotations that varied by culture. The Kuritans and their society put special weight upon their consideration of what honor was, and she recognized the gravity of the charge. "Very well. Let us continue, Lady Omi."

Omi remained quiet as Meridina checked in on the next few groups. Ragnar Magnusson had evidently retired, and his delegation were perfunctory in their exchange with her. Emma Centrella of the Magistry of Canopus was polite enough; she was, like Theodore, in consultation with her government back on Canopus. Her neighbor, Kamea Arano of the Aurigan Coalition, was enjoying a quiet meal with her delegation in complete safety.

They next arrived at the Federated Commonwealth delegation suite. Inside they found Victor with his security man, Curaitis, his aide Jerrard Cranston, and Morgan Hasek-Davion. Meridina noted Katherine was not present. She already knew that Princess Katherine had her own suite and a small Lyran delegation separate from Victor's, but she was surprised that the two were not discussing plans together.

The occupants looked to her and to Omi. Curaitis nodded politely, although Meridina had the feeling he wasn't pleased with their arrival… or rather Omi's. The others were friendly enough. It was Victor who stepped forward and took Omi's hand in what, for the Commonwealth, passed for a gentlemanly gesture. Meridina immediately sensed there was more to it, however. Affection, desire, and several other sentiments emanated from both. "Lady Omi, a pleasure to see you again," Victor remarked politely. "What can I do for you this evening?"

"A chance to see you again is sufficient, Prince," Omi answered politely. "Commander Meridina has been kind enough to permit my presence."

"My thanks to you, Commander."

"There is no harm." As Meridina said this the full weight of what was happening came to her. The feelings in the two, the way their eyes met, the affection when Victor pressed his lips to Omi's fingers in the gentleman's fashion of his people… these two, the children of houses with centuries of blood and hate between them, were deeply in love.




Caterina's work with the investigation on the assassination was over, as was her bridge shift for the day. After a check on the science labs to look over some simulations she was running on involving subspace interactions with normal space and hyperspatial domains - inspired by some of the things she'd seen while exploring W8R4 with the Doctor - she returned to her quarters. Much to her delight, Violeta was waiting for her, currently between watches on her shift. She'd even removed her uniform and put on a lovely shoulderless purple dinner dress that matched the gene-engineered color of her eyes and hair. It was a mark of Caterina's own progress that she wasn't self-conscious about how Violeta had more pronounced curves than she did, which the dress made perfectly clear.

On the table were two candlesticks with lit candles on them, candles made of a fragrant wax that gave the air a flowery, gentle smell. A bowl of salad was in the center, adjoined by two bowls of soup and two plates with thermal capture covers over them that kept the food from cooling and, for the moment, obscured what Violeta had ordered for her. Cat shed her uniform jacket and joined Violeta at the table. "It's not my birthday, and our anniversary is a few weeks away," she observed. "Is this another 'romantic dinner just for the hell of it'?"

"Yes," Violeta said, but Cat could tell something was wrong. Violeta herself quickly backtracked. "No. No, I wanted to give you this dinner so we could talk."

A little knot twisted into being inside Cat's stomach. The long fear that this was too good to be true came roaring back after spending so long suppressed inside of her. "Well, okay," Cat said, admonishing herself not to jump to conclusions. "Do you want to eat now or…?"

"Let's eat first," Violeta said. "Then we'll talk."




Meridina waited patiently for Victor and Omi to finish talking. Their conversation had been quiet and mundane as things went, covering their life experiences as of late. Meridina willed herself to not pay attention to what was actively said, although it was more accurate to say she intentionally forgot what she overheard after overhearing it.

When they were done they shared a platonic embrace. The pain of separation was acute with both of them, joined by another pain of longing. They wanted to be together, not just in the physical sense but emotionally, even spiritually.

Even that slight sense of such powerful emotion made Meridina think of Kaveri Varma. The deep sense of love and affection that the older Human woman had inside of her for the Dilgar leader Shai'jhur was one of the most intense feelings Meridina had ever felt. It made her realize just what had kept her parents together through the years, whatever their differences.

They left the suite and returned to the hall. "Do you have more stops to make, Commander?"

"No. Lieutenant Lucero has taken care of the others. I am available to take you back to your family's suite now, Lady Omi."

"Very well."

They walked through the ostentatious corridor quietly, at least at first. "You seem as if you have something on your mind, Commander," Omi said.

Meridina nodded quietly. "I suppose I have, yes."

"What is on your mind?"

The question was spoken with quiet, regal dignity. Meridina considered how to answer it. "I have... considerations, I suppose. Questions."

"About?"

"Feelings. Love, I believe your word is."

Omi smiled sadly. "Victor and I did little to hide our affection for each other, true."

"My senses made clear the depth of your affections," Meridina said. "And I could feel frustration."

"Our love is one that cannot be fulfilled without violating our duties," Omi explained. "For us to be together, much less wed, would create terrible political circumstances for our realms. Victor's people would fear their worlds would become the dowry; my people would be incensed if such did not happen and see it as my father giving me away."

"That is unfortunate." Meridina considered the feelings she'd sensed in Kaveri Varma. She had also been divided from the one she loved due to duty. Indeed, due to war. "Falling in love with one who is meant to be an enemy is a great sorrow, although it has its opportunities I would think."

"Perhaps it would bind my people closer to Victor's. But the bloodshed between us… there is much hate."

"That is unfortunate. Hate is a conduit of darkness. The Flow of Life is impeded." Meridina felt a comfort in saying such. It was a retreat to the familiar for her, to discuss the philosophies of Swenya instead of the unfamiliar passions of love.

"My brother Minoru has written letters home about such teachings."

"Is he still on Solaris then?"

Omi shook her head. "No. He has since moved on. He is currently dwelling on Vulcan in a monastery, exploring the Vulcan beliefs."

"I see. I wish the best for him. He has what my people consider a connected swevyra. His life has a strong connection to the universe, through which he experiences the Flow of Life."

Omi nodded. "You have questions about love, yes?"

The subject was one Meridina had been glad to stay from. "Considerations, questions… Many things. I am not unfamiliar with the sentiment. My father is a rare figure among the Mastrasham for being happily married to my mother. My brother Qalkrsl has recently married as well, and my sister Leniraya and her lover Penrine have been together for many years. Whenever I have had the pleasure of seeing them I have felt the love they experience."

"But you have not experienced it yourself?"

"I do not believe so," Meridina replied. "In the Order of Swenya, love is considered a potentially dangerous feeling to have. It can unbalance one's perception. It makes one being more valuable than others. A Knight of Swenya must care for all other beings equally to remain in the Light."

"I see." Omi nodded. "But you are allowed?

"Yes, if we can demonstrate suitable detachment, the Council blesses unions," Meridina replied. "My father Karesl followed that path when he met my mother Drentiya."

"Then you could too."

"I could. I am no longer in the Order as it is. The choice is entirely mine." As she said those words Meridina pondered what they meant for her. Could she ever feel that way for someone? "If you were to define love, then, what would call it?"

"It is a complex thing. Many of our finest poets have written on the meaning of love for centuries, indeed, millennia. The Christians say love is kindness and forgiveness. For my people it is a spiritual and physical bond. Physical affection and intimacy are enjoyable aspects, but one must feel the spiritual connection as well, and it must be a pairing where both sides are honored. Indeed, many legends and histories speak of those who experience love of a purely spiritual nature, without physical attraction."

Meridina considered that. She searched herself for such feelings. Just remembering Varma's emotions was enough of an experience. The deep connection to another being seemed to be frightening in how it might warp her perception of the world. To make someone else more important than other beings. To experience the real fear that you might lose that person, a fear that was a real and dangerous path to corrupting darkness. Her training made it feel like something she should avoid. To not be able to be with the one you loved due to duty… that was right in front of her in the guise of Omi Kurita, barred from the one she loved by the needs of her people. It hardly seemed worth it.

And yet… and yet… the warmth she felt there. The warmth she had felt when Victor and Omi spent time together talking. The warmth her parents gave off when they were together. For the first time Meridina imagined experiencing that for herself. What would it be like?

"Is it worth it?" she found herself asking.

Omi remained quiet for a moment. "Is what worth it?"

"Your love for Prince Victor. Is it worth it, despite the pain I know it brings you? The pain that duty will forever separate you?"

Omi closed her eyes. A tear formed at the corner of one eye. While it was clear that even mentioning it was making her experience that pain of separation, Meridina felt the answer coming even before Omi spoke it. "Hai. Yes. It is worth it. Victor and I have only met face to face but a few times, but it has always been worth it."

"I see."

"Now may I ask a question, Meridina-san?"

Meridina gave her a curious look. "It would be only fair, I believe. What is it?"

"Your questions about love… is it because you love someone?"

The question made Meridina think. Did she feel that way toward someone? Did she feel a connection like that, a desire to always be near to them?

For a brief moment she considered that the answer was no. No, she didn't. But even as the sound began to form in her throat, she stopped. The look on her face betrayed a certain consideration on the subject, a sign that she, honestly, wasn't sure.

Omi smiled at her and nodded. She said nothing else as they went on their way back to the suite occupied by the Kurita delegation.




Dinner was quiet for Cat and Violeta. Cat mentioned in brief some of her simulation work, and Violeta remarked about the navigation officers' experiences as of late, but it was clearly small talk to get them through the meal. Cat wanted to enjoy the meal and made herself smile as she ate it, even though her appetite was now thoroughly undermined. Once they were done and the dishes fed into the replicator, they walked over to the couch and sat down beside each other. Violeta took Cat's hand. "Cat."

The food in her stomach didn't keep it from twisting. "Vee. What's wrong?"

"Straight to it. Always the scientist." A weak grin briefly crossed Violeta's lips. "It's about the promotion."

"Oh?" Some relief was showing on Cat's face. The fear that this was a pity dinner and that she was about to get dumped was gripping her with irrational strength (that she might deserve it made the fear all the more stronger). "What about it?"

"The promotion, the second one I'm getting, it's because the fleet needs more command navigation officers. Because my performance reviews have been so high, they picked me." Violeta's grip on Cat's hands tightened slightly. "I'm sorry, Cat, but I'm going to be transferred off of the Aurora in two months."

Cat drew in a breath. It took a moment, just a moment, for the news, and for the ramifications, to hit her. "Then… you and I… we can't…"

"Maybe once and a while," Violeta said. "I mean, if we can get leaves to match up. Or if whatever ship I wind up on meets up with the Aurora, we might be able to spend some time together."

"I…" Tears were forming in Cat's hazel eyes. "Can't we… can't we have you assigned here?"

"That's not what Personnel wants," Violeta pointed out.

"So you'd have to say no in order to stay…" Cat sniffled. "I… I guess that'd hurt you, wouldn't it?"

"Well, given the war? They wouldn't be happy with me," Violeta pointed out. "Especially if they realize why. It would probably tank my career."

"And… and I don't want that." Cat couldn't decide if she was lying or not when she said it. "It's just… I know it's silly, but I thought you'd always be here."

Violeta was kind enough not to agree with how silly the thought was. From the beginning of the Alliance, Cat knew that the way things worked now, nothing was guaranteed. Admiral Maran might generally work to keep them together on the Aurora, but that could change. It nearly had a couple of times already, especially when Julia was offered command of the Enterprise. Maybe that had "spoiled" Cat on the possibility, making her think it could never happen.

Except, of course, now it had.

Violeta pulled Cat into a hug. "I know it hurts," she said. "But we can find a way to make it work."

"Yeah." Even as Cat agreed, she was already dreading the likelihood that, in the end, it wouldn't work. She thought of all the times her sister had been heartbroken by Robert in their breakups. Now she understood Angel more than she ever had before.

There was nothing left to say for either of them. They remained quiet, holding onto one another in the quiet of the quarters.



The Tri'kep's upper-most deck - not counting the top deck itself - was primarily for the services aboard. A lounge-bar-restaurant and an adjoining recreation room dominated the deck. The lounge had, as one of its appeals, an open air balcony with seats for dining. A windshield glass followed the curve toward the bow to protect the diners from the air-flow of the vessel's movement.

Zack sat at one of the tables. A half-eaten roast beef sandwich and plate of french fries was before him, courtesy of the ship's replicator. Apparently food was one area where the Gy'toran ship wasn't equipped to immediately pander to Human tastes. For a drink he'd chosen a grape soda after a great deal of thought and the temptation to visit the bar.

Getting away from Robert, coming out to eat… it didn't help. The tangle of emotions inside of Zack, his loss and grief and guilt and shame, wouldn't go away. It never would, it seemed. He was stuck in a pattern of mourning Clara and blaming himself for her fate. She had been too good for him. Their happy memories together provided no solace for him. It only reminded him of how false he had been toward her.

You weren't false, a part of him insisted. It was real. But it wasn't Julie.

Another truth that made it all worse. Being with Clara had dampened the desire, certainly. His feelings for Clara were always genuine. But they never changed the yearning he felt for Julia Andreys. Given how long he'd desired her…

"That's not good," a voice said. Its pitch and tone was higher and had the cadence of a Gy'toran.

Zack turned his head and faced a Gy'toran male wearing the dark blue suit of the ship service staff. The dark eyes of the Gy'toran, set on a face that reminded Zack of a koala, glanced toward him before looking back out at the approaching mountains. His lavender fur seemed to be sticking out.

When he thought about it, Zack realized the cawing sounds were not new. He'd been hearing them for minutes. But only the Gy'toran's remark brought his attention to them. Flights of birds with blue and violet plumages were soaring past. Not just flights, but entire flocks, reminding Zack of what migrating bird flocks were meant to look like.

"What do you mean, mister…?" Zack stopped and tried to decipher the name tag of the Gy'toran, written in the cuneiform script of their trading language.

"Retan'timara," the Gy'toran answered. "And the birds. It's not good for our trip."

"Oh?"

"Those are flocks of mountain birds. Tre'miri, Jatami… look at them all," Retan'timara remarked. "I've flown this route for twenty turns - you Humans call them years - and this only means one thing. There's a storm in the mountains. A bad one."

"What? You don't have weather control systems?" Zack asked.

Retan'timara shook his head. "Never. They would interfere with the winds. The winds are too important to our planet's life." The Gy'toran slipped into a seat at the table beside him. "You seem lost in thought, traveler."

"My name's Zack Carrey. Or just Zack." Zack made a little snorting sound. "Used to be Commander Zack Carrey, but I screwed that up royally."

"Ah. Zack it is. Human names sound so simple."

"'Zack' is the short form of "Zachary'," Zack clarified. That's my proper first name."

"I see. More sounds. And you Humans like to have multiple names." An interested sound came from the throat of the Gy'toran.

"So what do you mean about a storm?"

"Oh. We get them. Usually they are driven through the mountains until they collapse, but if a storm is strong enough or comes through directly from the Tran Plain, it can be vicious in the valley. Bad for wind-sailers."

"So we'll have to turn around?"

"Maybe. We're fast enough to outrace a storm. A moment." Retan'timara recovered a device from his pocket. Clipped words came through; someone speaking in Gy'toran. Zack listened as Retan'timara replied with increasing agitation. When the conversation was over Retan'timara's face contorted slightly. "They say the storm is not expected to enter the valley ahead of us. It will go south and we will miss it."

"You don't agree?"

"The wind is wrong," said Retan'timara. "For what they claim. No, I think the storm will come across us."

Zack didn't like the sound of that. "Aren't they making preparations?"

"Some. Even a new sailer knows to respect storm winds. But he will not turn south, or climb to go over the storm. Insisting on keeping our route. Peh." Retan'timara made a little gesture with his middle arms. "Thinking of bottom line. Would have to refund tickets if we returned to Utal Pranam. Expends more power from batteries if we climb. But I am a service staffer, so maybe he is right and I am wrong." Retan'timara chittered wordlessly. "You look as if the winds have pushed you off-course, Zachary."

"You might say that, I certainly feel like a ship getting tossed around by storm winds," Zack noted bitterly.

"The storm winds of life, yes. All sorts of winds can guide us on our lives. And one never knows quite where the wind will take you. All you can do is watch sails and keep straight."

"Your culture isn't just about winds and sailing, is it?" Zack asked.

"Oh, of course not! I know some aliens think that, so silly. And your entertainments always get it wrong. The winds are important, but they are not all. Winds spread the seeds, but it is the soil that grows the trees and the crops. Winds guide the birds, but the waters provide them fish and drink, the trees their nests. Just like your species, winds powered our ships for millennia, but now we have steam and thruster and anti-grav."

"Most species and cultures don't build sailing ships for space, though," Zack pointed out. "Or sailing airships."

"Gy'sara is special for that. Low gravity, high winds. On most worlds our wind-sailers would drop like stones!" The Gy'toran's laughter sounded like a rapid chittering noise. "I know little of space drives. Subspace-sails work for us. Good currents in our space, maybe? But like you we have thrusters, plasma drives, even impulsors now. And warp drive. But subspace-sail is our technology and we are proud of it."

"Well, can't argue with that, can I?" Zack asked rhetorically. His eyes looked back to the mountains. The sun was starting to lower in the sky. Still, he could make out the blue and green hues of the trees below, and high snow-capped peaks that reminded him of panorama shots of the Rockies. The birds were still cawing and flying by. The sunlight was just starting to turn to an orange shade as the sun lowered over the mountains. It was a majestic vista.

He wished Clara was here to see it.

Then another thought came. To be honest, he also wished Julia was here to see it. And at that, that she was here instead of Robert, and that their shared cabinn was for them, that she had finally found within herself a love for him that equaled the one he felt for her. With that thought came memories of Adrana, of the alien computer and the simulated world that the guiding intelligence had created for him. A world crafted from parts of him that he was not proud of.

And the truth was Robert was here. His best friend, someone always there for him, there right now in fact, looking to help him. And out of uniform so there was no longer that little gap that had popped up since… the beginning of the Alliance? Or of their Multiversal adventures as a whole? Whatever it was, it wouldn't be there any longer. Robert was just Robert again.

Just Robert and a bunch of weird life force energy powers, that was.

Thinking of Adrana and Robert and Julia and Clara simply reminded Zack of everything hurting him. It was a big emotional knot that he couldn't untie, and he was tired of it. He wanted the knot to go away.

And there was only one way it would.

If Robert had been there, at that moment, shame might have kept Zack from actually making the request. But he wasn't. And Zack… wanted to stop feeling so very much at that moment.

So he turned to Retan'timara and asked, "You wouldn't happen to have any tequila, would you?"




Making rounds around the Kell Estate was getting old. Lucy completed another circuit of the stairways leading up to the floor with the various suites used by the VIPs and checked in with Richmond. "All clear."

"Confirmed, Lieutenant." The Australian woman's voice barely crackled over the radio. "I need you to check on the air conditioning system on the roof, please. We're getting an anomalous reading from security sensors."

"I'm on my way."

"I'll send you backup, they should meet up with you just after you arrive on the roof."

"Roger that. Lucero out." Lucy ended the call and went to the stairs again. She used her omnitool to bring up the plans for the Kell home, showing her which stairway would lead her up to the roof. With her life force energy Lucy didn't feel quite as tired, not physically anyway, but mentally she was ready for the day to end.

At the top of the stairwell Lucy stepped out onto the roof. The old-fashioned external appearance aside, the roof nevertheless had flat areas where the air conditioning systems and communication receivers and transmitters were located, as well as a single low tower with a beacon light for warning away aircraft. Lucy called up the sensor readings that were anomalous she approached. She approached their centerpoint and found herself near one of the air conditioning units.

A sense went through her and drove Lucy to check said unit. As she approached the gray, block-shaped unit, she noticed that its profile was off. It didn't match others around her. As she drew closer she could see why; something had been attached to it. A gray canister with no markings was above the main intake. Tubing ran from one end of the canister and into the intake grate.

Lucy ran a scan of it and frowned. It was made of material to block sensors. Now fully suspicious, she looked it over to see if there were any signs of tamper-proof gear that might forestall removing whatever it was; something that, she suspected, would not be good for the occupants.

Her first inkling of danger was just a second before the gun went off.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-10 04:02am

The surprise for Lucy was just how little warning she had. The instinctive sense of danger that her powers gave her usually proved far better warning than it had now.

The one second warning time basically eliminated any chance to avoid getting shot. Not with her lightsaber still inactive and on her belt. All Lucy could do was throw her body to one side in the second she had. She felt like someone had just run a razor blade on her skull, slicing away a bit of her curly dark hair along with a bit of skin and the layer of flesh on her scalp above her ear. A slightly different angle would have sent the projectile against the surface of her skull.

Lucy rolled on the roof when she hit it, shoulder first. Another shot grazed her shoulder with no wound, unable to defeat the Gersallian-made armor she was wearing, although it did put a hole in her blue robe. Even as the shot struck her, Lucy's hand was grasping the lightsaber on her belt. It came free as she had designed its strap to do. The moment she completed the roll her hand held it away and her thumb found the activation button. The familiar electronic snap-hiss answered and the cylindrical weapon in her hand formed a blade of shining blue energy. She moved the blade and another shot bounced off of it.

There was no sign of her attacker. Whomever it was had a cloaking device of some sort. Nor did she sense life, at least not the life she'd associate with a grown adult of any species. She focused with the life energy Meridina had taught her to wield and sought out the threat against her. More than that, the means by which the threat hid from her. Another shot from her foe was also batted away with almost contemptuous ease.

Lucy dashed forward before the next shot. Her lightsaber slashed through what looked like open air on the rooftop. A moment later a figure wavered into view, a Human female with skin a shade darker than Lucy's light brown complexion. Only one natural brown eye glared up at her; the other eye was gone, replaced with a cybernetic implant plate over the left side of the head, a big red electronic eye in place of the missing organic counterpart. Something sparked near the cyborg's mid-section.

The cyborg was carrying a Phalanx pistol from M4P2. When she raised the weapon at Lucy again, Lucy's lightsaber sliced the gun in half. "No more of that," Lucy said. "Whoever you are, surrender."

The woman didn't glower. There was no defiance. She considered Lucy for a moment before simply throwing herself backward with enough force that she fell from the roof.

Lucy rushed to the edge. She sensed nothing of the cyborg's thoughts and wondered if this was self-termination of some sort. When she saw her opponent land on her feet and start running, she realized it had been an escape.

The thought of pursuit crossed her mind. But even beyond the sticky, hot blood now pouring down the side of her head as a reminder of her injury, Lucy knew she had other, more urgent matters to attend to. She turned back to the air-conditioning unit and resumed her work on the attachment installed upon it, presumably by said cyborg.




Meditation had always been a problem for Robert when it came to these powers. Given his duties as a starship captain and the time demanded - not to mention time he wanted to spend with Angel - spending time just sitting around seemed wasteful. Deep down, he had resented that part of Meridina's training most of all.

It hadn't been until after his time on Gersal at Umintamil that his view began to change. There he had no duties to attend to, no girlfriend he was trying to show some attention to, there was nothing but vast empty stretches of time. Meditation was one of the few things he had to do. Quieting his mind and simply feeling the warmth within him, the energy generated by his being, resonate with his surroundings, that had proved an enjoyable experience. "The golden serenity of the Light of Life" was what Mastrash Kilaba, the "abbess" of Umintamil, had called it in their sessions. In his meditative state he imagined the older woman's face. The fine dark skin marked by but a few wrinkles, graying hair at her temples. Kilaba hadn't been the stodgy, stoic type he'd expected; she'd shown the same warmth and subtle, wry humor that Meridina often displayed.

His mind continued along this track, considering the discussions they had together and with Ledosh about his experience in the dreamworld. That the Flow of Life itself had acted to save his life after he took in the Time Vortex, that it was a force in of itself, aware and capable, but cooperative with those who could sense it.

This quiet train of thought sustained through his meditations could have lasted for hours. Sometimes it would. What interrupted it was a distant sense he felt. Loss, guilt, shame… it was Zack.

Robert's eyes opened. His mouth twisted into a frown, followed by a little sigh. He slid off the bed and left their suite. A walk down a fine-paneled corridor and up flights of stairs took him to the recreational deck of the Tri'kep. From there he easily found his way to the lounge.

Many people were out on the balcony now. Most of the passengers were, like the crew, Gy'toran, although Robert noted a felinoid Rr'timm and a Bolian couple with several Humans. The Tri'kep was coming up to a relatively-narrow pass between the mountain ranges and everyone was outside witnessing the closing space of the mountains. Distant storm clouds were on the horizon and a flutter of worry went through Robert.

But he had other things to concern himself with. He found Zack at the bar, leaning on it with a bottle of what was likely tequila in one hand and a glass in the other. It was half-finished. A second later it was entirely finished, as Zack gulped it down. Robert winced at it; he'd had only a few experiences with drinks over his life, and he couldn't imagine just gulping liquor like that. It must burn like hell. That Zack was apparently used to it…

Robert walked up and tapped Zack on the shoulder. "Hey," he said, trying to keep even the slightest judgemental tone from his voice. "Everything alright?"

"No," mumbled his friend. Zack was more inebriated than sober by this point. "Nothing's alright. Nothing's been alright for a long damn time."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Go away," Zack demanded.

Robert swallowed and considered his options. Zack's sullen silence was clearly meant to be a shield between the two, to keep Robert out. And he wanted to respect Zack's privacy. But at the same time, it was clear that Zack was suffering on the inside. His isolation wasn't helping him. For better or for worse, Robert had to crack that shell.

"You're drinking again. I thought you wanted to stop."

"I never said that." Zack reached for the bottle and poured another shot.

"The fact you nearly burned your brain out with Niltox tells me you know this isn't good for you. This… this isn't fixing anything…"

"Some things can't be fixed, Rob. Let it go." Zack took a smaller swallow this time. "You can't save everyone. Especially when we don't deserve it."

Sighing, Robert sat at the stool beside him. "What could have done that makes you say that, Zack? It's not just your grief over Clara, is it?"

"I'm the reason she's dead," Zack muttered. "Me. She'd be alive if not for me. She wouldn't have come out here, she wouldn't have endangered herself."

"I think you're being unfair to yourself. And to Clara. She wanted to help people. She wanted to do good. You can't just chalk all of that up to your influence." When Zack didn't react to that Robert continued. "And blaming yourself for it isn't helping anything. You'll never get better, never get over losing her, if you don't stop it."

There was anger in Zack's brown eyes when he turned them to face Robert. They were reddened from tears and stress, red lines crossing through the white of his eyes. Robert remained quiet and hoped Zack would speak. That hope was dashed several seconds later when he turned away again. "Zack, I know you're in pain. I feel it now. You're my best friend, I can't just stand by and let you suffer like this. I'm not leaving your side until…"

Given their respective conditions, what happened next shouldn't have happened. A man halfway to collapse from drunkenness should, in general, be incapable of surprising a man who could sense the immediate future through the metaphysical energies of his own personal life force.

But that's exactly what happened. Robert sensed the intent. He felt it coming. But it shocked him so profoundly that he denied the warning instinct. It couldn't be true. It couldn't be happening.

Which was why he was surprised when Zack twisted around and punched him in the face.

The blow landed on Robert's jaw and cheek, a few centimeters to his left from being capable of damaging or even breaking his nose. The pain of the blow was exceeded by the shock of it. Said shock, and the force behind it, toppled Robert from the stool and sent him in a heap to the floor. A damaged blood vessel in his mouth seeped blood at the side of his lip.

"You can't just leave it alone, can you? God dammit Rob! You always have to be the Goddamned hero!" Zack rose from his stool, not too drunk to stand, but more than drunk enough to have lost all restraint on his feelings. Around them some of the various beings were turning to watch them.

Robert's hand touched the side of his mouth. He glanced at it to confirm the blood. Instinctive fury at being struck was fought down. He wasn't about to throw a punch in retribution. Especially not here.

Zack loomed over him. "You can't help it, can you?!" he continued. "You literally can't Goddamned help it! You've got to be the White Knight riding in to save the day!" As Zack spoke the emotions within him filled Robert's senses. Anger, guilt, shame, frustration… and envy. "Is it your ego, Rob?! Huh?! Can't you just leave things alone when asked?! Oh, of course not! Because you're the great Robert Dale, the hero who found the Darglan Facility, who used it to liberate the oppressed and save the downtrodden! The man who flouted whole governments just so he could do what was right! The great Goddamned space hero who made the Alliance, the entire damned Multiverse as we know it, possible! Who are we mere mortals to tell you what to do?!"

"Zack…"

"God damn you." Zack's voice was a hiss. "God damn you, you are my best friend in the world, and whatever I've said before I'd die for you, but you really piss me off sometimes, Rob. You take me for granted."

"No, I…"

"I'm talking now!"

All eyes were turning toward them. Around the blazing inferno of Zack's erupting emotions, Robert sensed the embarrassment and bewilderment of the crowd at the sight. He wondered when someone would intervene in the public spectacle Zack was causing.

"You always have to be the great hero. You always have to save the day!" Zack continued. "And you don't even think about the rest of us, do you? Me, Tom, Julie, Angel and Cat, Leo… you take us all for granted. You never stop to think that maybe we have an existence that doesn't involve being your fraking sidekicks! And now you're so dedicated to being a space life magic using swevyra-whatever that you literally threw away poor Angel! You broke her heart again… but she'll still follow you into the mouth of hell, and you don't even…" Zack lost his voice for a moment. The sentiments he wanted to pour out of himself after so many years of quiet suppression seemed to be warring for access to his voice.

"Why are you so jealous of me?" Robert asked quietly, taking advantage of Zack's momentary quiet. He eyed a blue-furred Gy'toran in the uniform of the ship's crew now standing nearby. A stun taser was in her hand. He held up a hand toward her and mentally asked, No, please wait. He had the feeling he had bought Zack only a minute or so.

The first response to his question was a bitter laugh. "You really have to ask?" Zack's question was subdued. Pained. "You had everything I didn't. Your grandparents adored you. Mine barely acknowledged I existed. Your parents were the perfect couple. My mom worked and stressed herself to death while Dad was usually too drunk to get a job, much less keep one. Your family supported your decisions. My dad forced me to destroy my career." One by one the items were ticked off, but it was clear that even now they were building up to something even greater. "And the big thing? I can never be with the woman I love because you got to her first. And you… you won't even acknowledge it. The thing I can't have and you just throw it away."

Robert stared at him in confusion. "What? I barely knew Clara, I…" He stopped. Awareness dawned on his features. His green eyes widened in realization of what Zack was saying.

"Yeah." There were tears in Zack's eyes. "Even Clara… I gave her all the love I could, and I know she returned it and appreciated it, but I think even she knew. She knew that there was someone I loved more than her. It's why I never deserved her."

"Zack… I never realized."

That made Zack chuckle, although it seemed a sob as much as a chuckle. "Of course you didn't. Just like you never realize how much Julia loves you. I think I would give my soul up to have her love me half as much."

Robert's mouth went dry at the revelation. How had he missed it? How could he never realize just how Zack felt toward Julia?

"The thing is, the damned thing is, I know I'm wrong to have these feelings." A real sob escaped Zack's throat. "You've always been there for me whenever I needed help. Whenever Dad's drinking got out of control. After Mom died. You've always been my friend, my best friend, even more than Tom. And it's wrong that I resent you so much. It's…"

At that point Zack broke down weeping. He collapsed to his knees. "Adrana showed me how wrong I could be," he cried. "The computer… it showed me a world wherever I had what I wanted. Where Julia loved me. And you… it thought I wanted you dead, and… and… I should be dead. Not Clara. She deserved better. It should be me."

At that point Zack could say no more. He just kept weeping.

Wordlessly Robert brought his broken friend to his feet. "Let's go somewhere private," he said gently. "Then we can talk about it."




Once they were back in their cabin, each took a seat on their respective beds, sitting at the ends and facing one another. "I always thought you were just being... well, being your usual flirting self," Robert admitted to his friend. "I mean, when it came to Julia. I had no idea you felt something like this."

Zack sat hunched over. He was in the worst place to be; too drunk to hold back, not drunk enough to have stopped feeling. "She was never interested," he mumbled. "Even when you were with Angel. Maybe if I hadn't started looking for other girls…"

"I'm not sure that was the only thing," Robert said. "But I'm sorry. We… it's painful for you to be around us. Especially around her. Isn't it?"

"Sometimes. Sometimes I just push it to the back of my mind. I be the friend I've always been." Zack rubbed at his forehead. "And I know it's wrong to have these feelings. To resent you so much. I shouldn't. But I can't help it sometimes…"

"You don't have to apologize," Robert insisted. "I know what you're going through."

There was a bewildered yet curious look from Zack at that admission. He brought his eyes back up to face Robert.

"You always had it so easy with girls," Robert said. "And with everyone else. You were the socializer, the guy who put the parties together."

Zack smiled slightly. "Although Julia was always the organizer when she was involved. And those were often the best…"

Robert nodded at that. "But I was neither. I couldn't even host them usually."

"It's not like you didn't have any social circles of your own, Mister Wide Receiver for the football team."

To that Robert laughed. "Yeah, for a coach who thought running it up the middle was the most important kind of play. And besides that, you remember how the jocks thought. I wasn't the star pitcher, I was the glorified blocker of a wide receiver who could be beaten up by his girlfriend." A bitter look came to his eyes. "Half of them thought I was just Angel's beard, too. The only girlfriend Rob Dale ever had was 'that dyke'." The look became dark. "Sometimes 'that dyke spic'." Robert nearly spat out the last word. He shuddered at recalling its use.

"Huh." Zack shook his head. "I guess a few guys from the baseball team thought the same way about Angel. But she was never the traditional girl."

"Unlike your conquests. And I think everyone in the county knew about Beth and why she left, and they loved to use that against me too. As far as they were concerned, my cousin was 'a queer', my girlfriend probably one, and maybe my sister too, and that meant my masculinity was in question."

Zack snarled at that. "Idiots." The snarl turned into a smirk. "Isn't it funny that they picked the wrong Delgado sister?"

"A bit. Although God knows how they would've treated Cat if she'd been out of the closet during her school years. But to get to my point…" Rob sighed. "You and Julie were the star athletes. Tom was in all of the geek circles, and Angel was the best fighter in the school. Even Leo was the darling of the pre-med honors courses and the biology department. I wasn't any of those things. Hell, I think the only person among us who could match my situation was Lucy."

"And now you two are the ones with the mojo powers." Zack sighed.

Robert nodded at that. It was an amusing thing to consider. But he had other things on his mind. "The damned thing is… you were right about it. I do sometimes take you and the others for granted. I just always assume you'll have my back, that you'll agree with whatever I was doing. Even with Julia trying to warn me when it isn't true." Robert shook his head. "From the day I found the Facility I've been dragging the rest of you along without really considering if it was what you wanted. I just assumed you'd stand with me…"

"Well, we did," Zack pointed out. "We made the Alliance possible together, so yeah, we joined you in standing for it. Maybe without thinking it through… I know I've always had a few problems with this military stuff."

"While Julia took to it like a duck to water," Robert opined.

"Yeah."

For a moment there was silence. "I do love her, you know," Robert admitted.

"Well, yeah."

"And you do too."

"With all my heart."

Robert let out a sigh. "Isn't this awkward?"

Zack gave him an annoyed look. "Welcome to my world, Sir Robert."

"That computer simulation on Adrana really had you married to her?"

"Yep." A small blush came to Zack's face at memories of the simulation. "Oh yeah."

Robert laughed. When the laugh got him a bewildered look, he said, "It's just… that's what happened to me. After the Time Vortex nearly killed me, the dreamworld I was in… Julia and I were married. We even had a son."

"Huh. And the rest of us…"

"Around. Happy. Still living in the county, mostly, well, except you and Angel. You were a major league pitcher and were with Clara, Angel was a world-ranked MMA fighter. Our parents were all alive."

Zack moaned. "Of course. You get a dreamworld tailored to you and everyone's happy. I get one where I let you die so I could have Julia." Tears formed in his eyes. "See what I mean, Rob?"

Robert shrugged. "We all have dark sides to us, Zack. They just… come out differently, I guess. A part of me never wanted to come back from that dream world. Even if it meant abandoning you. Given I'm the reason you're all out here in the first place, what does that say about me?"

"That you wanted your family back. While that Adranian lady thought I wanted you dead so I could have Julia. And… the damndest thing of all… if I'd had that choice back then, of saving you or saving Julia… I'd have saved her."

"Good," Robert replied immediately. "That's what I'd want you to do."

Zack shook his head. "Yeah. But my motives…" He put a hand to his forehead. Shaking his head had been a mistake.

"Don't worry about that," Robert insisted, knowing full well Zack would.

Indeed, Zack nearly pointed it out. But he held back at stating the obvious, especially given Robert's gifts. Instead he said, "The same for me. Save her, not me."

"Of course," Robert agreed. A thought came to him. "Can you imagine what she'd say if she heard us right now?"

It took some effort for Zack to work out the reply given the haze brought on by the tequila. "She'd probably get mad at us. Grumble something about chauvinism."

"Yeah, she would," Robert agreed. He grinned thoughtfully. "Why don't you get some rest? The flight will be over by the morning." He stood from the bed.

A protest formed in Zack's mind and died before it reached his vocal cords. "Yeah, I guess. I'll get some rest."

While Zack laid back on his bed, Robert slipped out the door of the cabin. He returned to the lounge. There were fewer people present. He went out to the balcony, now unoccupied, and found a corner to sit and resume meditating. Even here he could sense Zack, not quite asleep, still fairly drunk, a big knot of guilt and shame and grief. Even with their breakthrough, these were feelings he would have to work out.

Robert considered Zack's admissions and what it meant for all of them. Looking back, he kicked himself for never realizing it. All of those times he and Julia and Zack had sat together for a meal, they had been torturing him on the inside. And poor Clara… he remembered how much she loved Zack. That she loved him in spite of his sentiment… the woman had truly been a saint.

An anxious feeling suddenly came to Robert, ending all of his musing on Zack. A nebulous danger was looming, or something like danger, but he wasn't sure what it was at the moment.

That is, until he heard a shrieking electronic tone. "All passengers, please return to your cabins. All passengers to cabins. This is for your safety."

Robert's eyes opened during the announcement. He wondered why it came, at least until he felt the press of beating winds on his face. He looked up at the sky and frowned.

The dark and gray clouds were now taking up half the sky.

And he knew, then and there, that the storm was coming their way. It was going to move right across the Tri'kep's path.




"Hold still."

Leo's voice betrayed his frustration with Lucy's refusal to keep her head from moving. Lucy responded by sticking her tongue out at him.

Julia fought to keep amusement off of her face at Lucy's playful immaturity. Meridina showed no reaction either way. "Jarod confirmed the substance. It was a nerve gas toxin, a really nasty concoction that would have killed anyone exposed to it through the ventilation system. Even if we detected it in time, we would have lost people. If not…"

"...everyone in the Kell Estate would be dead," Lucy finished for Julia. "Yeah. I'm guessing that was the desired outcome."

"Commander Richmond is exploring the likelihood that this was another attempt on Princess Katherine's life," Meridina noted. "Less discriminate, certainly, but perhaps speaking to the killer being uncertain of getting a better opportunity."

"The alternative is that the killer is just going for whatever will disrupt things the most," Julia said.

"Yeah. Kill Katherine, and the Federated Commonwealth is destabilized. Or just kill a bunch of people and you wreck the summit." As she spoke Lucy shifted her head again, prompting a frustrated look from Leo before he resumed running the regenerator over the wound. "Although there's another possibility."

"Multiple assassins?" asked Meridina.

"Yeah."

"We'll know for sure once Leo compares your wound to the shot fired in the conference room."

"Which will require Leo to have a patient who cooperates," Leo opined, speaking in the third person for full effect.

Lucy rolled her eyes and braced her neck, letting Leo resume his work.

Julia let out a little sigh. "Well, I need to go deal with a few dozen dignitaries screaming that we're not protecting them sufficiently. Despite the fact that the attack was thwarted because our security is actually working. Let me know if you find out anything."

Lucy and Meridina watched Julia leave. Lucy forced herself to not turn her head to face Meridina, using only her eyes and her life energy to direct attention to her. "Are you okay?" she asked. "You seem, I don't know, tense."

Meridina did not respond immediately. When she did, it was with a shake of her head. "I have been considering… something. Thoughts."

"Anything interesting?"

"I am unsure. There are feelings I am unfamiliar with."

"Oh, so personal stuff. Say no more, go back to them."

Meridina appraised Lucy with her blue eyes. The two shared that eye color, indeed nearly the same shade of blue. As if it was a sign of the bond they now shared. Lucy could feel a degree of uncertainty in Meridina. An emotional one, not one of action.

"We must stop this assassin permanently," Meridina said suddenly, finding refuge in work. "Then the summit may continue uninterrupted."

"The problem is we don't know where she will be. We can't even be sure of her target. And we can't sense her with our life force energy. She must be completely cyborg. Hell, she was basically a Cyberman."

"I can only wonder what might drive an individual to allow such a thing, such an abomination, to be done to them." Meridina shook her head. "Perhaps it will be mercy for her as well to destroy her."

"That's going to be a tall order. If she's made to infiltrate, and if we can't sense her with life energy because she has none…" Lucy stopped.

Meridina sensed Lucy was in thought. Beside Lucy, Leo removed the regenerator tool. "And done," he said. "You can twitch now."

Lucy didn't move.

"Lucy?" Meridina asked.

Leo added, with some amusement, "Now she stays perfectly still."

"Energy," Lucy murmured.

"Yes?"

"Energy. Energy is how we find her." Lucy slid off the bed and took off for the door. "Come on! I need to get some things from the machine shop!" With that, Lucy left the medbay.

Meridina and Leo exchanged bewildered looks. Just as another sarcastic comment crossed Leo's mind, the door swished open again and Lucy looked in. "And thanks, Leo! You're still my favorite doctor."

A little grin was his reply to her while Meridina moved to join her.




Despite the order for all passengers to head to their cabins, Robert was on his way to the top deck. Every fiber of his being was telling him he would be needed up there.

The access door was keycarded, as he expected, but it wasn't designed to stop someone with his abilities. Robert strained to keep his internal energies in check while using them on the delicate task of manipulating the interior latch of the door. His effort was not entirely successful; the latch was undone, but it was damaged as well. The door would be stuck open. There was no point in worrying about it, however, as he needed to get topside.

He emerged onto the deck near the stern. The surfacing was made of a fine-grained wood with metal rings at locations along the deck. Some had lines already latched to them, lines built into the harnesses of the deck crew.

And they were needed. The edge of the storm was coming over them, sending violent gales into the sails. Cries in the chittering Gy'toran language barely echoed over the howl. Robert looked up and watched Gy'torans scurrying over the masts and support structures for the wide sails, now being furled with great difficulty against the powerful winds.

"Human! Human, what are you doing here?!" The voice was high-pitched and furious. Robert turned and faced a Gy'toran with a reddish hue to his fur and a beige tone to his full-body uniform. The koala-like face of the hexalimbed alien was screwed into an expression of worry and anger. "You should be in your cabin! It is dangerous here!"

"I know," he answered, almost shouting over the wind. "But you're going to need my help. I'm trained in the swevyra arts of Gersal and I can…"

Robert's voice was cut off by an ominous cracking noise. He and the Gy'toran looked up to see one of the masts starting to lean to a side. The Gy'torans working on its sails, still completely unfurled and taking the full brunt of the incoming wind, seemed more intent on getting off of said mast than furling its sails. With a final snap the mast splintered, ripped away by the enormous force of the winds pushing into its sails. Both watched with horror as two of the six-limbed figures still on the sails were pulled away, betrayed by their own safety lines still rigged to the broken, falling mast.

Robert had only a second to act. He reached his arms up and felt his energy surge within him. The delicate control he learned with the Gersalllians asserted itself. The energies of life, his own and those in the Flow of Life, responded to his will. Those same energies gripped the flailing Gy'torans and pulled them toward the deck. Separate your lines! he urged them mentally. Whether it was his urging or their training, they did so, and were freed from the mast that even now fell rapidly to the stern. The two wheeled their limbs a bit in mid-air while Robert pulled them to safety. They landed on the deck before him, their dark eyes focused on him in shock.

The Gy'toran that was confronting Robert started chittering at them in rapid-fire Gy'toran. They replied immediately and ran off, leaving the two alone. "Thank you, Human, for saving my sail-minders," he said. "I'm the Sailing-Master of the Tri'kep, Tramiltaram. I believe you would call me the Captain."

Robert nodded. "I'm Robert Dale. Formerly Captain of the Starship Aurora."

"Truly? I have heard of you. The Alliance-founder." The Gy'toran nodded once more. "My thanks, fellow Vessel-Master. Although it may be for nothing."

"What's wrong?"

Tramiltaram raised his upper and mid left arms toward the bow. Robert followed the motion to see what was ahead of them. Tall, jagged mountains showed in the distance, drawing nearer.

"We are coming up to Jumatam Pass," said Tramiltaram. "But now that we've lost our front maneuvering sail, we won't be able to make the turn into it. The Tri'kep is going to plow into the mountain."




The attendees of the conference took convincing to attend another session. Onaran and Primus Mori both had to cajole Sun-Tzu into remaining. There was an uncertainty in the air when everyone got back together.

"An assault on Goeringwelt will require more than the forces you are allocating," asserted the Turian delegate, a general named Haras. "The Hierarchy can commit the 12th and 19th Regiments to the attack, but we will desire control of one of the secondary continents."

"Your offer of troops will be considered, General Oraka, but for now we believe that the three Galaxies that the Burrocks and Coyotes have committed will be sufficient," answered Khan N'Buta. "Although if you wish to bid to join the attack, perhaps an arrangement can be made concerning the disputed enclaves on New Hebridia?"

"The Federated Commonwealth should also be consulted on that matter." This was from Morgan Hasek-Davion. "The 2nd Davion Guards played a role in the liberation as well, I remind you."

"Numerous states did, as I recall, General," Haras said. "But as New Hebridia is in the Hierarchy's Zone of Control, we reserve the right to approve final dispositions…"

Julia tuned out the finagling over occupation zones for the moment. Hearing them made her recall Robert's long time concerns about the Coalition and how the various belligerents might fight over the carcass of the Nazi Reich. Of far more importance to her, at the moment, was Lucy's plan. She spotted Lucy at her place, standing near the holotank. Meridina and Richmond were also at strategic points and Jarod was at the actual controls.

Is everything ready?

The thought led to a number of slight nods. Julia settled uneasily into her seat and waited to see how it would go.

"...dispositions can be decided later," Focht was saying. "As things stand, the attack on Goeringwelt will at least tie down enemy forces on that world and further stretch their military resources. The enemy maintains manufacturing capacity on that planet for their fleet that our invasion forces can interfere with, increasing the strain on their fleet and logistical network." He nodded to Jarod. "Commander, if you would please bring up the material on Rosenburg and the proposed attack by Marik and Liao forces…"

Jarod began doing so. The holotank shifted to show another world, a garden planet. "As you can see, the enemy is defending this world quite strongly," said Focht. "It is likely not simply from the agricultural output of its farming communities. I…"

Lucy's arm shifted. Her omnitool did not appear, but Julia knew that was a trick. She might not see it, but Lucy had it ready to act at a moment's touch.

She gave said touch.

There was only the faint trace of pale azure light over the room. It still got attention. What got more attention was the twitching, sparking form that suddenly appeared beside the Clan table, clutching the curved form of an M8 Avenger assault rifle. The figure was a woman, the same cyborg Lucy faced previously on the roof. Her face was a rictus of pain and surprise with sparks erupting from the red eye and the adjoining implant. When she collapsed, Julia wondered if she was alive or dead.

All eyes turned toward the twitching figure. Meridina and Jarod reacted quickly, rushing to the fallen body and securing it. "Definitely a cyborg," Jarod said. "Honestly more machine than organic, seeing these sensor returns. Most of the brain is electronic."

"Which is why we did not sense her," Meridina murmured. "There is no true Life here, nothing connected to the Flow of Life."

"I wonder who she is…"

Julia glanced toward the table opposite from where she and the other observer-delegates were sitting. There was a paleness in the expressions of both Anastasius Focht and Sharilar Mori. She frowned at that. She didn't need Meridina or Lucy to tell her that they knew something about this attacker.

Julia was so focused on the ComStar leaders that she didn't notice the change in Lucy's expression. Meridina looked toward Lucy and the tables with a sudden start.

Suddenly Lucy was more a blur than anything. She rushed across the meters separating the holotank from the various tables. Her lightsaber was in hand, but she didn't activate it.

There was no shot. There was simply a cry of pain as she moved in the space in front of Prince Victor, who was quite surprised when she fell back into his arms. Everyone began to stand. Jarod and Meridina rushed over toward her, as did Julia.

By the time they did, she was coughing up blood. A look of pain and sheer surprise was written over her face. Jarod's omnitool came to life and the scan was complete in seconds. "She's been shot," he said. "There's a bullet inside of her left lung." This, in clear defiance of the utter lack of damage to her Gersallian-made armor.

There was no need to call for medical help. The door swung open and Leo rushed in with Nasri and another nurse, a tan-skinned Human male. "We got the cyborg," Jarod muttered. "Where did…" His eyes widened in realization. After a second he hit his omnitool again. "This is Commander Jarod. I need the anti-beaming field intensified, now!" Even as he spoke he was operating another control on the omnitool.

Julia didn't have a chance to ask why. There was a small sparkle of light over Jarod and Lucy, after which a round hit the floor. "What's going on?" she asked.

"We're being sniped," Jarod said. "With a transporter."

The door that Leo had just entered flew open again. Julia looked up in time to catch sight of Meridina as the door closed behind her.




Meridina ran through the halls of the Kell Estate, weapon in hand. Her senses were on the alert for the trace feeling she sensed, a feeling of frustration and quiet worry out of place with the others. There was her target. The assassin who had wounded - perhaps fatally - Lucy.

To her surprise, that thought caused anger to well up inside of her. An instinctive fury that someone had dared to strike at Lucy, her student, her friend… Meridina forced her emotions to quiet at that feeling. She could not let them interfere with her at this point. She had to stop the shooter.

And she would not fail.



The mountains looming ahead of the Tri'kep lost their scenic allure at Tralmiltaram's prediction. Robert could easily imagine the wind-sailer plowing into the mountainside, killing the dozens - or was it hundreds? - of beings aboard her, Zack and Robert included. He couldn't let that happen.

"What if you cut all sails and just hovered with anti-gravs?" Even as he finished the proposal Robert felt a sense inside of himself that it was the wrong choice.

"The winds are too strong. We would be pushed into the mountains anyway," said Tralmiltaram. He noticed the look on Robert's face and shook his head. "And the anti-gravs don't have the power to turn us in time or raise our altitude. They're not powerful enough for that. There is a small hope of landing…"

Immediately Robert could sense that the hope would not work out. He concentrated on the problem, sensing the possible solutions… and realizing he had but one option.

His consideration was interrupted when he felt something tighten around his waist and chest. He looked down to see the Gy'toran captain tying lines around his torso. "Our harnesses will not fit you," he said. "But I cannot let you remain up here without a safety line."

"I understand." Robert drew in a breath. "Don't try to land. You'll never make it."

"We have no other choice. It is the only hope we have."

"I can save your ship. I can get you over the mountains."

The Gy'toran's dark eyes considered him. Tralmiltaram was both incredulous and yet curious. "How?"

"The same way I saved your people," he said. "It's our best chance. I'll need to concentrate though, and I have to start now."

Calculation showed on Tralmiltaram's face. Robert could only pray he would agree. It was their only chance to survive this.

"I entrust our lives to you," said Tralmiltaram, clearly uncertain.

Robert nodded and breathed in. I've never tried something like this, he admitted to himself. I know my power is stronger now… but can it manage this? The doubt gnawed at him for a moment. But only a moment. He couldn't let doubt hold him. Doubt was fatal to this power and would get them all killed.

He let out another breath and reached out his arms. The energy within him welled up, its golden warmth welcome to his soul, and slowly the ship began to lift higher in the air.




In a maintenance closet of the Kell Estate, John Goddard grunted with frustration as he finished dismantling his TR-116. He'd never suffered such a setback before, especially not when employing his skills with a sniper rifle. His target was unawares, security was distracted by that other assassin - a stroke of luck there! - and all he had to do was take the shot.

How did that damn woman know? How could she have known where to jump to intercept the transported bullet?

Maybe those rumors about people who could guess the future and fight guns with swords weren't as farfetched as Goddard thought. This was certainly more than just mind-reading, that was for damn sure.

The important thing now was escape. He could be searched upon leaving, so his TR would have to be abandoned. Breaking it down and hiding it would buy him time, at least, time to get to an egress point and slip away. He had a backup identity ready to flee the planet and, given his failure, his unhappy employer. Then… well, maybe it was time to check out another universe. His skillset would be valuable across the Multiverse, after all.

These considerations lasted only a few seconds. Goddard kept himself from continuing. He could do so later, when it was safe. For now he had to think about anything else, just in case.

Quietly, Goddard stepped out of the closet and went to resume his duties.

Meridina caught him a moment later.




The tilting of the Tri'kep woke Zack up. The alcohol was not yet cleared from his system, not entirely, but just enough had cleared that he soon realized something was wrong. He staggered along the uneven floor to the window. Outside it was dark. Rain slammed against the ports with a ferocity that made Zack remember childhood storms that could form the deadly tornadoes that once nearly destroyed the Carrey home. He shook his head once, as if it could further clear the remaining haze. Over the intercom a voice was speaking in various languages. Eventually it came back to English. "The ship is currently attempting a dangerous maneuver to reach safety. All passengers, please remain in your cabins and assume crash positions."

"Some vacation," Zack muttered darkly. A frustrated feeling came over him. Being in danger wasn't new to him of course. But he wasn't on the bridge of the Koenig facing Nazis or Batarians. He and Rob were just helpless passengers…

...which was when he noticed Robert wasn't in the cabin.

"Dammit Rob," he breathed, knowing for certain - for damn certain - just what his best friend was off doing.




On the deck of the Tri'kep, Robert was barely aware of his surroundings. The wind whipping at him, threatening to bowl him over, the rain soaking his clothes and hair, the screams and shouts of the frantic Gy'torans trying to save their ship. He was entirely focused on controlling the power surging within him, the same power now lifting the Tri'kep higher and higher into the atmosphere as the mountains ahead loomed ever so closer.

To say it was a strain would be an understatement. Every bit of control he had was being pushed to the limit. The danger was not only that he might fail to clear the mountain ahead, but that his power would lose control and that he might push the ship too far, causing it to fall apart or to capsize in mid-air or some other catastrophe. Robert grimaced at the exertion this brought, the tension between the raw power needed and his control of it. I can do this, he insisted. No doubts. Do not doubt. I can do this...

Ahead, the mountain loomed ever closer. Mere minutes, soon mere seconds, remained for him to succeed.




Meridina nearly missed the assassin, despite everything. She could barely sense the intent to escape or any other impulse but "get to work". The mind she was dealing with was disciplined in that respect, capable of accepting the most dull of drudgery as if it were nothing of consequence.

But there was the flicker. The flicker of uncertainty, of fear of discovery, of frustration at failure. She picked up on them. And she knew the man coming from the closet was the shooter.

"Please stop," she said to him. The man turned, a basket of cleaning supplies in his hand. He regarded her with the kind of annoyance a professional servant of his kind would. It was what one would expect to see and Meridina was surprised at how well the mask fit him. She could almost doubt her own recognition of him. If not for that merest flicker…

Meridina took no chances. She had her lightsaber ready to turn on at a moment's necessity. "You must come with me," she said. "I have reason to believe you are responsible for a shooting."

"Ma'am?" There was genuine confusion in the voice. "I'm not sure what you're talking about. What shooting?"

"You are quite a good actor," she said. "But I sense your deception regardless. Please surrender."

There were several moments when it looked like he might cooperate. The mask wasn't slipping any more than before, but she could sense the consideration of caution, of biding time. But then came the flood of worry, as he undoubtedly calculated his escape chances as being better before capture, and Meridina thus sensed the coming attack.

What she could not prepare herself for was the nature of it. The assassin flung at her a bottle from his basket. She sensed the danger and caught it with her swevyra.

The assassin brought his gun up and shot the bottle.

The explosion that resulted shook the hall. Meridina was thrown back into the wall behind her, slamming into it with enough force that she was dazed by the impact for a critical few seconds. The assassin was also thrown back by the blast, but as he had more space behind him he hit the floor instead of a wall. As he was ready for the impact he quickly recovered and ran away from her.

"Richmond to Meridina," a voice said over the comms. "We just registered an explosion."

"Yes. The assassin is here." Meridina got back to her feet. Her thumb shifted slightly and found the trigger for her blade, which flashed to life with the now-familiar snap-hiss combination. "I am pursuing."
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-10 01:55pm

The Tri'kep shuddered in the winds of the storm. Already another of her masts was cracking despite the sails being secured. Tralmiltaram kept himself busy directing the crew on the deck to reinforcing the mast while keeping a nervous eye on the bow and the mountain growing in size there.

Robert did not see the mountain. His eyes were closed and his focus entirely on the power within him, sustaining both the energy necessary to save the Tri'kep and the control on said energy. That was all that mattered - the storm that still raged could no longer register.

"Spirits of wind and sea, he's doing it," Tralmiltaram murmured. "He's actually doing it…" The mountain was disappearing from the bow. He fought through the wind to enter the pilot house, where digital screens showed the approaching mountain and the relative heights. "Status?"

The pilot's response was quick. "Ten thousand uta and rising, sir."

"Clearance?"

The violet-furred female kept looking ahead, with four of her hands occupied with the controls. "Twelve thousand and two hundred uta."

Tralmiltaram eyed the instruments. Given their remaining time and the rate of ascent… this was going too close to call. And there was still the storm, which would only get worse the higher they went. These ships could perform in higher atmospheres if necessary, and there was always leeway in the safety margins, but the cracking of the mast showed they were risking stepping over the line.

He looked with worry back out to the deck, where the Human who was saving them seemed oblivious to the wind whipping at his clothes and the rain blasting his face. His attention was wholly on saving the ship, and all Tralmiltaram could do at the moment was hope he succeeded.




The man who called himself John Goddard had never felt so betrayed by circumstance before. His foolproof weapon was thwarted. His cover was blown. An explosive that should have wounded, if not killed, his pursuer had barely stunned her. Now he was running for his life. His egress plans were in tatters. Capture meant eventual execution at the hands of either his employer or his target.

He couldn't even think about his contingencies either. Not with his foe possessing mind sensing. The need to act without thinking was contrary to his very being. His entire reputation was built upon his ability to think his way to any target and out of any situation.

That wasn't to say he couldn't manage it, just that it was difficult.

He was coming up to a hall leading toward his destination when two armed security confronted him from it. "Down! On the ground!" He ignored them. Let them fire. He couldn't stop. If he was lucky, they might even hit his pursuer. He ducked into the room to his right and rushed for the far suite. After shutting the door he retrieved an item from his pocket. The multidevice fit over his wrist perfectly. With it he activated his remote for his last hope of escape. It rose from the ground level - the staff parking lot - and approached the window.

While the security men entered the room and cleared the main living room, Goddard opened the window. The car was now just ten meters below and climbing.

The moment the door to the suite crashed open, he jumped.




Meridina threw the door open without touching it. There was a hint of fury in her expression that made the security personnel, both Kell Hound troopers, nervous, but they said nothing while following her. "Surrender!" she demanded, but she only caught a glimpse of the assassin as he jumped. She rushed to the window in time to see him land in an open-topped convertible aircar. The top slid close over him.

By that point, she was leaping. She landed on the top of the air car and brought her lightsaber down onto the roof. The material gave way to her blue blade, turning red-hot in the process. She pulled the blade back and went to strike again.

The aircar shot forward. Even with her skill Meridina lost her footing. She would have fallen off completely if she hadn't grabbed the wound she had just carved into the vehicle. There was a hint of hot pain in her left hand that gave way to numbness, not a good sign at all, and it was all she could do to hold on as the vehicle accelerated. It turned toward Old Connaught.

Letting go was not her intention. But her energy, her swevyra, screamed inside of her. Her life would end in seconds if she didn't. So she released her grip and began falling to the ground. Meridina disengaged her weapon and focused her power beneath her, using it to absorb the impact when she hit the ground with bone-jarring force.

She looked up in time to see a ruby beam slice clean through the aircar. It exploded in a fireball. She felt out and there was no sign of life from the wreckage as it fell to the ground. The assassin was gone, dead.

To her surprise and regret, a sense of satisfaction came to her. Not the basic satisfaction of preventing the assassin's escape, but a brief savage glee that the man who shot Lucy, who might have killed Lucy, was dead. Immediately she reproached herself at the thought. It was little better than the bit of dark satisfaction she'd felt at slaying Dralan Olati in their duel back on Jarod's home Earth nearly a year before. It was wrong to feel such, and that she felt it scared her.

She glanced to her rear and noticed one of the Kell Hounds' walking tanks, a 'BattleMech', standing over her. It was one of the smaller, shorter models, just a few meters in height, a humanoid form with a lupine head module. A hand that ended with a weapon muzzle was still elevated. "Commander, are you okay?" a female voice asked over a speaker. "That looked like a nasty fall."

It had been, but her powers had let her catch the force safely. Granted, it didn't do anything for her hand. Meridina glanced toward it and noticed the blackened, burned flesh from her instinctive grab of the hot wound her weapon had carved in the vehicle. "I am fine," she said simply, even if it was not at all true. She used her functioning right hand to trigger her omnitool. "Meridina to Richmond. The assassin is dead."




At the periphery of his senses, focused as they were on his desperate task, Robert could feel the worry and fear of the Gy'torans on the deck. The mountain ahead loomed close and the winds of the storm were driving the ship toward the highest point. This was going to be close. Everything depended upon him.

The weight of that alone could be crushing, but he bore it. He had to.

He did not see the mountain receding below them. He did not see the dark, open sky of the stormclouds ahead, a false safety certainly, but still better than hitting the mountain. All he felt was the golden warmth of the Flow of Life that empowered him, that connected him to the universe and made this feat possible.

It was this sense that told him he'd succeeded.

When his eyes opened, Robert started to feel a chill. His clothes were drenched with rainwater and sweat. He brought up a hand to shield his eyes from the powerful winds whipping across the deck and threatening his footing. Indeed, the ship was still swaying under his feet from the power of the wind buffeting it, and without the life line he ran the risk of falling and slipping right off the deck.

This all took time to process. Robert's head wobbled from the strain of his efforts, dulling him for the moment. That dullness kept him from reacting to the warning sense growing within.

There was a cracking sound. He turned in time to see that the increased winds and the prior damage to the ship were wrecking the main mast. It mostly collapsed in one piece at least.

But not entirely. A tangled line above caused one of the spars to disintegrate. Debris rained down on the deck, some of it small and inconsequential, and some of it quite large.

Such as the metal shard that struck the deck near the jagged remains of the mast… and severed his life line from its anchor.

He looked about for somewhere to secure the severed line. Before he could find something a wind gust blew across the deck and hit Robert with enough force that he fell over. The ship tilted in the same direction from the force of the winds against it. With the rainwater on the deck adding to the problem, he pitched toward the side of the deck. He threw his arms out to try and gain purchase, a handhold on the deck. He found one, it slipped, and then another, which slipped as well. The handholds were designed for the smaller hand and textured skin of a Gy'toran, not a human hand with human skin. The rain water left his hands too slippery to find purchase.

He did finally hit the rail and stopped for the moment. His hands gripped the rail. But the ship wasn't righting itself.

In the pilothouse, Tralmiltaram already knew why. The monitors showed that the anti-gravs on that side of the vessel had lost power, overloaded due to the unexpected strain. The entire ship was pitching and the ship was losing altitude. "Engineering, we need those anti-gravs back!"

"Acknowledged!"

Tralmiltaram braced himself with two of his limbs, holding himself to the side entrance of the pilothouse. Outside his crew were busy ensuring the lifelines were secured.

Then the ship's pitch worsened. The change in its attitude meant the wind pressed against it more strongly, which meant it twisted even more.

Robert braced himself against the rail with his arm while his feet tried and failed to find purchase. They dangled in the open air. His waterlogged sleeve and skin made keeping his grip difficult. His arm started to slip free. Below him trees and rocks loomed through the dark air of the storm, receding slowly as the Tri'kep cleared the mountain it would have otherwise crashed into. Could he land if he used his powers? Safely?

His senses made him think it highly unlikely.

But he wouldn't have a choice. His arm was starting to slip loose. He didn't know if he could hold on long enough for the ship to right itself, or help to arrive. His lifeline was curled up against the rail. He tried to focus on it. Maybe if he…

"Rob!"

Robert looked toward the stern. His eyes widened at the sight of Zack sliding down the deck, feet first, a life line tied around his ribs. It grew taunt as Zack reached the railing. His feet, bare, seemed ready to slip on the rain-slicked deck, but by crawling forward and keeping his knee braced against the base of the railing Zack was able to approach him. "Your line!" he shouted.

Robert nodded. He looked to the line and focused. He couldn't use his hands, not with his arms desperately gripping the railing with decreasing effectiveness. He relied entirely on raw focus to grip the line with his abilities. It lifted from the deck and shot over toward Zack.

Zack caught it against the deck. He wrapped the lifeline around the railing and then wormed what excess slack remained around his own, double-securing Robert's line.

At that point, Robert lost his grip on the railing and fell free.

The line went taunt. Pain shot through his torso, and given the grunt from Zack he felt the weight too. Robert wrapped his hands around the hanging line and held on.

Zack was holding his line too and started pulling. His bare hands found some traction despite the rain. He pulled with all of his might and lifted Robert up. "This would be a lot easier if you'd use your powers!" he shouted, with little effect given the howling wind.

Robert sensed what he said more than heard. "I'm not sure I can!" he shouted back. "I could end up overshooting and flying off the ship!"

"I didn't hear a damn word!" Zack grunted. The cord was biting into the skin of his hands from the strain of his gripped. "I'm not sure I can do this!"

"Cut me loose if you need to!" Robert shouted.

Zack did hear that. A defiant grin crossed his face. "Like I'm going back to tell Julia I dropped you! She'd kill me anyway!"

Through the rain Robert could make out his friend's grin. He matched it.

Crying out in effort, every muscle in his arms and chest burning, Zack pulled again and again. The remnant alcoholic haze in his head seemed to fade at the rush. Rain pelted his face and left his hair soaked, obscuring his vision. The shuddering of the ship seemed to threaten his falling from the Tri'kep should it list just another degree or two.

Regardless, he kept pulling.

Robert's hand reached the rail first. It was only as he started to brace his arm that the ship seemed to tilt again, this time back to its proper level. Zack grabbed Robert's arm and hauled him over the rail as it continued to right. Robert landed with a dull splash. The two rain-soaked men looked at each other and laughed in relief. "You could've gotten yourself killed!" Robert shouted over the wind.

"Like you almost did?!" Zack retorted. He tried to wipe the water from his eyes and failed. "At least I have an excuse!"

"Yeah?!"

To that Zack guffawed, "I'm still drunk!"

Robert's only response was to laugh. He continued to do so even when some of the deckhands arrived to escort them back below decks and out of the storm.




Julia and Commander Richmond arrived in the suites set aside for Primus Mori and Precentor-Martial Focht. They were seated with Secretary Onaran. "...disaster was at least minimized," Mori was saying. "The assassination of Prince Victor would have been a blow to the Inner Sphere."

"I concur." Onaran looked back, noticing the two officers. "Captain, Commander?"

"Commander Richmond has concluded her preliminary investigation and the Kell Hounds and planetary authorities will be taking over for her," Julia said. "From what she learned, the assassin who shot at Victor was a man named John Goddard. The weapon he used was a TR-116 with a unique modification: a miniature transporter."

"What do you mean by that?" Mori asked.

Julia glanced to Richmond. "With the appropriate sighting gear, which we found attached to the weapon, a sniper can fire through any number of obstacles and walls. The transporter attached to the weapon beams the fired projectile into point blank range of the target. The only defense is an active anti-beaming area-effect field. We were only using a standard anti-beaming field, which does not prevent beaming within the field's range, only transport in and out."

"Why one and not the other?" asked Focht.

"Because the TR-116's modifications are unique, sir. The transporter applied is a specially-made model, normal transporters cannot usually acquire and transport a moving projectile at such a velocity. As a result, the threat was not anticipated and an area of effect field deemed unnecessary due to technical and resource costs. Alliance security protocol will have to be updated now that we are aware of the possibility." Richmond frowned. "Whomever provided the specifications, they are still unknown. And the assassin's death precludes determining his source through interrogation. It is regrettable that the Kell Hound guards opened fire as they did."

"Indeed."

"If I may, Primus, Precentor-Martial?" Julia waited for them to nod before continuing. "You seemed to recognize the cyborg. Can you tell us anything?"

The two ComStar leaders exchanged glances. "This should not leave the room, although we authorize the Secretary to share this information with President Morgan and Admiral Maran only in strictest confidence," Mori said.

"Agreed," the Dorei man answered.

"Her name was Amara de Luca," Focht said. "Specifically, Adept Amara de Luca of ROM."

Julia frowned. "ROM. As in your security and intelligence agency?"

"Yes." Focht nodded. "At our order, Precentor Pardeau dispatched her three years ago to infiltrate the schismatic branch of ComStar in the Free Worlds League. They currently operate there as the Word of Blake. She missed her scheduled contact point seven months ago. And we have not heard from her since."

"Dear God," Richmond gasped. "They did that to her, didn't they? They turned her into that… thing."

"We know that the Word of Blake secured what materials existed for our cybernetic combat augmentation projects," Mori said. "But our intelligence on them remains thin."

"There are similar capabilities in other societies in the Multiverse," Julia observed. "The Coserians of N2S7, the Bynars and Choblik in S5T3, the Solarians of S0T5, to name just a few." Julia thought of the Cybermen as well, not to mention the horror of the Borg. "These Word of Blake people might have acquired further assistance from any of them."

"A sobering possibility," Onaran noted. "I will share this information with President Morgan and the Defense Staff under the strictest classification. We may have to consider upgrading threat assessments of this organization."

The remark was welcomed by the two ComStar leaders. Focht turned his attention to Julia next. "Do you have news about Lieutenant Lucero?"

"She's in stable condition in our medbay," Julia replied. "Doctor Gillam was able to remove the projectile and repair the worst damage in emergency surgery."

"She has our gratitude and wishes for her swift recovery." Focht folded his hands together in his lap. "The concern now is for the summit. The disruptions are making progress difficult. And the Clans' distrust of the Inner Sphere has only worsened by what has been displayed. I do not think any extension of the Truce of Tukkayid is feasible."

"What if you simply expanded it then?" Julia asked. When she had their attention, she said, "The Clans still sometimes raid above the line, right?"

"Not as often as we anticipated they would, but they do," Focht answered.

"Well, what if you talked them into a secondary truce that covers both sides entirely? For the duration of the war at least and sometime afterward? They're getting all the fights they want now, so their warriors are getting the advancement that was turning them against the Truce."

"A reasonable prospect," Onaran stated. "And perhaps the best that can be attained at this point."

"It has merit," Mori agreed. "We will propose it at the next meeting, once military discussions have concluded."

"Your contribution is welcome, Captain." Onaran nodded to her.

Seeing there was nothing more to be said on the matter, Julia asked, "Permission to be dismissed?"

"Granted."




In the Aurora's medbay Meridina looked over her hand. The burn damage was gone, healed by the advanced technology available to Leo and his medical team, and her presence was solely for Lucy's sake now. She lowered her hand and looked again to Lucy, who slept peacefully on a biobed in the standard care ward of the medbay. Displays showed her vital signs for the benefit of the passing nurses and doctors. They seemed to show her as in a stable condition.

Looking at Lucy, her tanned, light bronze complexion paled by blood loss and a life being spent in space, forced Meridina to think about the feelings she was dreading. The thought of Lucy's death was a horror, a real visceral one beyond the reaction Meridina knew she should have. Her brief glee at the destruction of the being who had come so close to killing Lucy worried her greatly. That was not how Meridina should act, whether or not she was in the Order. It was a potential path to darkness.

Meridina drew in a breath and focused inward for the source of it. Why would she feel that way toward that loss? The loss of a friend or associate was painful, yes, but the sheer emotion behind it, behind the mere possibility…

No. That… I… She picked at the thought as one would test a bruise or a damaged, aching tooth. This was an unexpected sensation. She could understand that she was closer to Lucy than to others on the crew, so there was reason to feel the loss more keenly, but the mere thought of Lucy being gone brought an emptiness to her. That was surprising. Lucy had been part of her life for only a few years now, only really the last thirty months (thirty Gersallian months anyway, by Human reckoning it was closer to thirty-four). In that time she had repeatedly surprised Meridina, manifesting her swevyra, showing great promise in her training, great skill in moments of danger…

And she was there for me. On Gersal. Against Goras.

She remembered the waiting room, when her combat testing against Goras was yet to be waged. Lucy kneeling with her, begging her to reconsider, so upset at Meridina's readiness to die. "Don't you know there are people who care about you? People who love you and don't want to lose you?! People who will be hurt if they no longer have you in their lives?!" It had been plainly evident that as much as Meridina's own family counted in that, Lucy had been describing her own feelings.

And now… now Meridina had them too. She knew a life without Lucy would be full of pain.

Meridina found that both frightening and exciting, and she wasn't sure which feeling was the one she should be concerned about.




It's not how it should be, Robert thought glumly, laying on his bed in a fresh set of clothes. "Life has no sense of drama sometimes," he said aloud.

That won him a bewildered look from Zack. "What?" he asked flatly, sitting bare-chested on the other bed in a fresh set of underwear and a blue towel draped over his shoulders. "You just lifted a flying cruise ship with your mind or whatever it is. And then nearly fell off in a raging storm until I caught you. That's pretty Goddamned dramatic."

"Yeah, but once it was over, that's when the storm should have ended," Robert protested. He gestured with his arm toward the window ports behind him. The dark clouds persisted outside and rain still pelted the ports. The ship was even shuddering a little under the onslaught of wind. "The sun should've pierced the clouds or something, casting golden rays…"

"This isn't a movie, Sir Robert," Zack guffawed.

After a moment of silence, both men began to roar with laughter. The real terror and fear of what had transpired on deck melted away, even with the storm still battering the damaged Tri'kep.

"Is that your new nickname for me?" asked Robert.

"Only when you try to play the hero."

"Like how you call Tom 'Teddo' whenever he gets on your nerves?"

Zack smirked at that. "Probably, yeah."

Robert nodded and sat up to face his friend. The grin remained on his face. He let out a light sigh and ran a hand through his wet hair. "Thank you, Zack. You saved my life."

"You're welcome, Rob. It's a shame you can't fly, though."

"I don't think flying is something people with our abilities can do," Robert admitted. "I mean, not like you see in comic books or something. And absorbing the impact of falling is usually not from so high up and in the middle of a storm like this." He looked to the port again. "Brings back memories, doesn't it?"

"6th Grade," Zack confirmed. "We spent how long in that shelter?"

"Four hours. Without any toys or books or games." Robert shook his head. "And without Julia or Susannah to pass the time with."

"We managed it, though," Zack reminded him.

"Yeah."

Silence reigned again. Both went into thought. Zack ultimately brought his head back up. "I want to get control of this," he confessed. "You were right about that. I have to stop."

Robert nodded. "It's what I'm here for."

"I thought I could do it alone. I… I didn't want…" Zack shook his head. "Well, you know how I feel, right?"

"You don't want to be carried. You're afraid you'll end up like your Dad. The drunk the entire county seems to know about, that everyone judges or pities."

"I was already pitied. Growing up. Not by you and your family, or at least it didn't feel that way…"

"We did pity you," Robert admitted. "But Mom warned us about it. She knew you and your Mom had to have some pride."

"Your Mom was a smart woman." Zack's eyes glistened with tears. "She and my mom…"

"Yeah. She was devastated when your mom passed. I think she hated your Dad after that. She blamed him for your Mom dying so young."

"I hated him often enough for the same reason," Zack admitted. "I always thought it wasn't fair that he lived and she didn't." While tears flowed Zack shrugged. "Now I'm in his shoes. Inside." He tapped his chest. "I still want it, Rob. I want to control it, I want to stop, but in here there's a part of me that enjoys just shutting down. Drinking until there's nothing in here, nothing that hurts."

"I guess that's always going to be with you," Robert lamented. "Grandpa told me that's how it was with his uncle. The one who survived the Argonne. He lost so many friends, and he was in so much pain from his wounds, he just kept drinking as a way to deal with it. Even when he had to stop, Uncle Henry wanted a drink every day until he died."

"A drunk? In the Dale family?"

To that Robert snorted with laughter. "We weren't as perfect as you thought, Zack. No matter what your Dad may have grumbled."

"I guess so." Zack chuckled at that. "I guess I have to live with this. With the need I mean. The temptation."

"But you can get help with that. I mean, you can do it without giving up your pride. It's not like you don't have a lot to be proud of already. You're a Founder of New Liberty like the rest of us. They'll be naming schools and roads and starships for you one day."

"Not sure I deserve some of that," Zack admitted. "Not just because New Liberty was mostly you and Julia and Beth. I got drunk on patrol, Rob. If I hadn't resigned my commission they'd probably have forced me out anyway."

"Maybe, maybe not. But if we get you cleaned up, I think Maran can work with that." Robert folded his legs under him, as if about to start meditating. "If you get help you can get back to your ship."

"You're more confident than me in that." Zack shook his head. "But it really doesn't matter. I have to do something about this, especially if I'm going to deal with my other feelings. So I guess I'll go find a therapist or something and let Maran know about it."

"The best thing you can do."

"As for my feelings about Julia…" He shrugged. "I've lived for years with them. Nothing'll change either way."

"Right."

Before the conversation could continue, Robert looked to the ports. A little light was now shining over the horizon. The storm clouds were breaking. "Looks like we made it through. We should be to Ilam Tran in the morning I guess. Even though we're off-course."

"Good. And if I may, Rob?"

"What?"

"We're going back in a shuttle," Zack insisted. "Do you understand me? A shuttle. Even if I have to hotwire it. Are we clear?"

Robert's "Yes" was followed by laughter.




Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 26 April 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The summit meetings are still ongoing, but today the Inner Sphere and Clans have officially expanded the Truce of Tukkayid into a general truce between both sides, encompassing all space held by either. For the first time in years there should be no significant fighting in the Inner Sphere, allowing for forces from both sides to support the offensive against the Earth of S4W8.

The signing of the truce was held back until the day's military strategy meeting ended. Julia attended with several officers. The Khans signed on behalf of the Clan Grand Council, with any Clan defying the truce now facing punishment from the others; similarly Focht, Victor, Ragnar Magnusson, Thomas Marik, and Theodore Kurita signed for the Great Houses, with a similar pledge. The terms were verified as the signatures were given; the Truce of Ark-Royal would replace the Truce of Tukkayid for the duration of hostilities with the Nazi Reich plus one year, after which it would dissolve and the Truce of Tukkayid would again be in force.

"You know, given the wording," Jarod was saying in a low voice, "one could argue the Clans just agreed to add at least a year to the Tukkayid Truce. It was supposed to last fifteen years, after all, but it's effectively been frozen until this truce ends."

"Somehow I don't think the Crusaders would agree," Julia pointed out.

As soon as the truce signing was over, a hand went up. Julia felt somewhat perturbed to see it was Katrina. She was recognized by Mori. "Before we disperse, I would like to say one thing." She turned her attention toward Julia and her colleagues. "My thanks, and the thanks of the Lyran people and indeed all of the worlds of the Federated Commonwealth, go out to the officers of the Alliance vessel Aurora for their efforts in thwarting the assassins who attempted to disrupt this historic occasion. You have saved my life and my brother's life. Our people will not forget your service."

"We humbly accept your thanks, Your Highness," Julia answered formally.

Katrina nodded and sat back down. Victor stood instead. "I too would like to formally thank you. Particularly Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero, who twice put herself in the path of a bullet meant for members of my family." He approached them after receiving a box from Cranston. "For your actions in saving my sister's life and my own, Lieutenant, I present you with the Order of Steiner-Davion." He opened the box, presenting a shield-shaped red medal with a blue-eyed Fox emblazoned on it.

Lucy accepted the box with a small blush on her cheeks. Just a faint one; it was hardly the first time she had been presented with a high honor, as the Senate Order of Merit on the left breast of her dress uniform jacket demonstrated. "Thank you, Your Highness," she replied.

"You are most welcome." Victor's gratitude was evident to all. As was, at least to the senses of Meridina and Lucy, the swell of gratitude from the viewing gallery where the elegantly-attired Omi Kurita was watching with other non-participating VIPs. "In addition to the Order, it is also customary for someone who has saved the life of the sovereign to be declared a knight. Although you are not a citizen of the Commonwealth, I am still extending the distinction to you, Dame Lucilla."

"I am honored," Lucy answered. "Does this involve the full ceremony?"

To that Victor grinned. "If you desire it."

"If it is okay with you, I am satisfied with the announcement, Highness," Lucy answered.

Victor nodded in acceptance, never losing the grin, and returned to his seat. Others in the audience murmured slightly. For some the idea of forgoing a formal knighthood ceremony was ludicrous, but there could be little surprise that someone from another universe would feel differently on the matter.

"This summit's business is concluded," remarked Primus Mori. "We are adjourned."

"Another successful mission," Jarod said to Julia. "At this rate you're going to make Admiral before you hit thirty."

"I'd be satisfied if it's before I hit forty," Julia answered. "As things are, I'm happy with my command right now."

"Ah." Jarod grinned at her. "You know the best part about this being over now?"

"What?"

"We can make the anniversary again," Jarod pointed out, still grinning.

Julia matched it. He needn't state which anniversary he meant. "I'll have to check with Maran, but yeah. Unless there's something urgent, we'll make the Founding anniversary in plenty of time." A small, sad look appeared on her face. "I hope Rob and Zack make it, at least."

Jarod nodded in agreement. "I do too."

They departed at that point. Julia found herself contemplating the last few days. The motives of a group like the Word of Blake were evident. From what she knew of the ComStar rebels, they abhorred Mori's liberalization of their order, and they were viciously opposed to the Alliance's technology-sharing programs and deals with the Inner Sphere. Breaking up the summit made sense.

But the assassin who tried to shoot Victor. The one who shot Lucy instead. Who was he? Who hired him? It irked Julia that she might never know.




A short time later, Katrina Steiner returned to her suite, frustration and anger burning inside of her. She was met by her advisor Tormano Liao. The latter, the uncle of Sun-Tzu and brother of Candace Liao of the St. Ives Compact, bowed his head in respect. "Princess, you were as majestic as always."

"It was necessary." Katrina took the best seat. "I couldn't allow anyone to say I was ungrateful. Although Victor upstaged me quite well by handing out the Order of Steiner-Davion to the Alliance woman." Damn him, she thought. You had to compound the insult, didn't you Victor? You just had to grind it in my face, the power you wield over me.

"He could hardly allow himself to seem ungrateful to the woman who saved his life," Tormano pointed out. "Although the granting of a knighthood might have gone a little too far, perhaps. Particularly with the ceremony involved turned down."

She didn't deign to indicate her grudging agreement with Tormano. Inwardly she stewed about the failure of her plan. If not for those damned metasensory types, psychics or whatever they were, Victor would be dead and she would be Archon-Princess! That someone else sent an assassin as well made the opportunity all the more appealing, if frightening given the attempt on her life. If the cyborg had gotten away she could have even used it against Victor by ensuring the right people made the right charges over the media.

And yet, despite everything, it was stopped…!

At least the assassin was dead. She didn't have to worry about that loose end.

"I worry about your brother." The voice came from the other occupant of the room. The woman, Benedita Soveral, was clad in the basic duty uniform of the Alliance Stellar Navy, a silver aiguillette on the left side of her uniform jacket marking her a staff officer and burgundy red branch trim denoting command branch, and the single gold square rank tab of a Rear Admiral on both sides of her collar. Her Mediterranean complexion contrasted with Katrina's light skin and the East Asian tone of Tormano.

Soveral's presence with Katrina's staff was one of Katrina's victories over Victor; demanding her own military liaison officer from the Allied Systems. Although Katrina had never imagined she might get such use from that victory...

"Admiral Soveral." Katrina nodded. "Whatever do you mean?"

"He is too close to the mind-readers," Soveral said. "To Robert Dale and now Lucilla Lucero. I cannot help but worry that his will and mind will become… compromised."

"I see." Katrina smiled thinly. "I appreciate your concern for my brother's mental independence. The freedom of the Federated Commonwealth is at stake…" And since I have lost my assassin, perhaps it will be your Admiral Davies who provides me the means to assume my rightful station as ruler of the Commonwealth and First Lord of a reborn Star League.




The man who had called himself John Goddard walked into the empty room aboard the small star vessel. He felt none the worse for wear for his close escape.

His backup, a human woman of dark skin clad in a blue jumpsuit, smiled at him. "Congratulations," she said. "You're dead."

"So the cloned tissues worked." He frowned. "But can that agent keep her mouth shut?"

"She is not a mercenary like yourself, Mister Thayer, or the Kell Hounds she was asked to join," the woman replied. "She knows her duty. And as for you… your new employer was impressed."

"By a failure?" John Goddard a.k.a. Noble Thayer, also once Karl Kole, was frowning. "Prince Victor didn't even get hit."

"That was never our goal. That was Princess Katherine's goal. We simply made use of it in your evaluation, and you succeeded. Congratulations." She grinned wickedly. "I hope you're ready to be rich."

Technically speaking, he was already quite well off for his prior jobs, even accounting for the funds he lost escaping from the Commonwealth. This wasn't for money. "And my employer? Do I finally get to meet them?"

The woman replied by turning and hitting a key. A circle lit up on the floor. "Step in."

The assassin did so. A system scanned him swiftly, after which a holographic figure began to appear in front of him. A Human male, Caucasian, middle-aged at least, in what looked like a metal or plastic chair. Goddard watched his new employer light a cigarette and take a single drag from it.

And that was when he met those eyes, those inhuman blue eyes, and had his first inkling of worry that he was getting in over his head.

"Good day to you, Mister… Goddard, is it now?"

"I have a lot of names," replied the man.

"So you do." The man took another drag from his cigarette. "And your ability to use them to the fullest advantage is one of the reasons I invested time and effort in your evaluation. My organization can use men of your professional ability and skill."

"And you are…?" asked the assassin.

"You can call me the Illusive Man," was the reply. "I oversee Cerberus, an organization dedicated to the cause of Humanity. And I would like to hire you."




Caterina was eating dinner alone in the Lookout. Violeta was on the bridge for an extra watch for the evening, and with all her work in the science labs done there was nothing more to do.

The look on her face undoubtedly served to lure Angel over to her. "How are you?" she asked her sister. "You look sad."

Cat forced a small grin when she faced her sister, but there was no hiding the tears in her eyes. She drew in a breath. "I guess I am."

"What's wrong, Cat?" Angel asked as she sat down, her meal in front of her. "Did you and Vee…"

"She's being reassigned," Cat said. "They're going to make her a full Lieutenant and a navigation officer on another ship. I mean, like Nick is here."

"Oh." Angel nodded. "Okay. I mean, that's good news for her I guess."

"We won't see each other any more. I mean, we'll be on different ships, probably in different universes most of the time… we can't…" Cat sniffled and shrugged. "I mean, I know some people manage it. But what if we can't make it work?"

"Well, maybe you won't." Angel reached over the table and took her sister's hand. "Relationships don't always last. But you'll at least have happy memories."

"Even if it hurts?" Cat blinked back her tears. "Is that how it is with you and Rob?"

"Pretty much," Angel admitted. "Just remember that. Whatever happens, the memories made it worth it. And maybe… well, maybe you'll find someone new."

"I don't know…" Cat shook her head. "I guess. I'll really miss her though. I'm so used to having her sleeping beside me, holding me when I… y'know, when I have bad dreams."

"You still have nightmares?" Angel asked.

"Well, yeah. Some are old. Some aren't. And Vee helps me get over them."

"Good for her. But you know, if she's not here, I always am."

Cat nodded. The smile became genuine. "Yeah, you are. I can't forget that. You're always here for me if I need it."

"What else is a big sister for?" Angel's grin turned mischievous. "Besides punching people who are mean to you?"

"Or goblins who try to stab me in the game," Cat giggled.

At that, Angel laughed.




Days after the storm that nearly crashed the Tri'kep, Robert and Zack stood at the one place Zack never thought he would ever see.

The gravestone dedicated to Clara Davis was not much larger than any of the others in the county cemetery. But it was impressive in the beautiful way it had been carved, the fine finish of the stone, and the sharp, well-crafted engraving. Clara's name was joined by her dates of birth and death, as was standard, and the epitaph "Beloved by all who knew her, may she know peace forever". An angel - clearly contributed by her family for the design - was carved near the upper corner. The other corner bore the firebird insignia of New Caprica.

Both men were wearing their Sunday best, as they would have put it in another life; dress jacket and button-down white shirts with dress ties and black trousers. Robert reached up and patted Zack on the shoulder. "Beth told me about the funeral," he said.

"She was here?"

"Clara was a volunteer of New Liberty, remember? It seemed right." Robert's smile was sad and soft. "President Roslin brought an entourage as well. Admiral Adama, Doctor Cottle, and some of the children she'd tended to in the school. Roslin and Beth announced that their governments are co-founding and co-funding a scholarship program in Clara's name, to send kids from our Earth to medical schools across the Multiverse."

"That's going to cost a lot."

"They've gotten a few donors to help out." Robert watched the tears flow freely down his friend's cheeks. "Clara made a difference out there, just as we did. She became a symbol of how much good people can do if they're just given the chance. Nobody can take that from her, ever."

"That's not what she wanted, Rob." There was a bitterness in Zack's voice. "She… she didn't go out there to be a symbol. She went out there because she thought she could do better… and because she wanted to be closer to me. All… all we were going to do was live a life on New Caprica. I was going to coach the kids in baseball and she… she'd nurse..." Zack stopped. He was sobbing too hard to continue speaking coherently.

"Yeah." Robert nodded. He kept a comforting hand on Zack's shoulder, feeling the sheer grief in his friend's heart, a component of the knot that months later still tortured Zack's very soul. "And I think that's why she's such a symbol now. She wasn't looking for it."

Zack gave no reaction to that. Robert didn't mind.

After taking a minute to get his sobbing under control returning to just the stream of tears flowing from his eyes, Zack reached into his pocket and removed a box of fine red velvet. Robert watched him open it and remove a beautiful ring set with diamonds. Zack kept the ring between his fingers and considered it. A small hollow feeling came over Robert at the realization of just what the ring was made for.

Zack put the ring back in the box and knelt at Clara's grave. "You knew how I felt about Julia," he said, "and you gave me your love anyway. I… I wish you were still here. I wish we could have had the life you wanted. You were… you were the kindest woman I've ever known, and I swear to God I would have been the husband you deserved. I would have given you the love you deserved, no matter what." Zack set the red ring box down at the base of the gravestone. "This is yours, Clara. No matter where my life goes or what happens, I'll always remember you, and you'll always have the love you deserved. Goodbye."

By the end of his final goodbye, Zack's voice was breaking. He stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes. His head turned slightly. They were just a few rows from where his parents lay. Robert felt a lump in his throat at the thought that they were also a few rows from where his parents, grandparents, and sister were laid to rest as well.

And Julia's parents. And Leo's. Cat and Angel's parents are over in the Catholic section… The thought of all of the family members he and his friends had resting in this place served as a reminder of what they had all lost and, perhaps, why none of them were ever considering coming back to Kansas.

"Do you know what I want, Rob?" Zack asked quietly.

Robert had a good idea of the answer. He still asked, "What?"

"I want a drink." Zack certainly didn't mean water. "I want to drown the pain in tequila until I stop feeling."

"I know."

"She would be mad at me for feeling this way."

"Julie or Clara?"

"Both." Zack shook his head. "I can't help it though. I… I'll always want a drink, I guess. Maybe sometimes I won't want one too much, but still…"

"I think that's how it goes, sometimes at least. But maybe not for you?"

"I'll believe it when I stop wanting a drink," Zack answered. He sighed. "We probably shouldn't keep Lennier and Druni waiting."

"Right." Robert raised his forearm and activated his omnitool. "Keyeri, we're ready."

The two had time to give the cemetery one last look before the transporter beams pulled them away.




The Keyeri made orbit quickly and was soon on its way to a station-keeping point out past the Lagrange points. In the ship's mess area Druni was eating her favored seemai snacks when Robert and Zack entered. "We will drop you off on New Liberty, then?" she asked.

"Yes," Robert said. He looked to Zack, who nodded back. "There are people there who can help him."

"I will let Lennier know to set a course, but first…" Druni set her snacks down. "While you were down there, we received a communication for you."

"Oh?" Robert's brow furrowed. "From Beth?"

"No." Druni gave him an intent look. "It was from the President of the Allied Systems. Looking to speak to you."

That prompted Zack to look at Robert too. Robert blinked. "Did he say what he wanted?"

"He would not discuss it with me, only that he needed you in Portland immediately for a meeting of great importance."

Robert sighed at that. Technically he was on extended leave until considered recovered from his coma, but if Morgan was calling, he could expect that leave to be effectively rescinded. "I suppose you'd better get a jump to L2M1 instead, then."

"I will let Lennier know." Druni stood and left the mess.

"Do you think they're giving you a new ship?" Zack asked.

"From what Maran told me? No." Robert shook his head. "Too many admirals don't want me in the command chair given my history of 'leaving my post', as they put it. And frankly, I'm fine with that. With my abilities, and what I know… I think I'm supposed to stay out of command from now on."

Zack nodded. "I guess I can see that. But if it's not a command…"

"...then what is it?" Robert finished for him. He grinned. "I guess I'll find out soon enough."




Just a few hours later, Robert was in his formal Stellar Navy duty uniform for the first time in months. Whatever the admirals who hated him felt, his rank insignia showed he was still a Captain, and it did get him nods and respectful glances as he went through the Executive Mansion in Portland. His destination, as it turned out, was a conference room, one of many.

And he wasn't the first to arrive.

The first person he saw was Admiral Maran, sitting in a chair at the end of the table looking over reports. Maran noticed him and silently nodded. Robert knew they weren't going to speak yet. That would come later. So he looked over the others present.

The first face he found in this search was a familiar one, and the person in question was already approaching him to talk. "Hey, so they did call you in for this." A smile crossed the man's face. "How have you been, Rob?"

"Getting along, Buck," Robert replied.

Buck Rogers, the time-displaced astronaut and pilot from Universe N2C5, let the smile grow while offering his hand. Robert shook it. Buck was in uniform as well, the brilliant white uniform of the Earth Directorate from his home universe. "It's good to see you again."

"Same here. How have you been doing?"

"Oh, the usual," Buck said. "Earth - my Earth - is officially part of the Alliance now, so things have quieted down a little. The Draconians are staying away for the moment."

"Hopefully it'll stay that way," remarked Robert. "The others?"

"Fine as always. Wilma's off at the front, actually, commanding our expeditionary wing flying with your fleet against the Nazi Reich. Doctor Theopolis and Twiki are still working with Doctor Huer." Buck grinned. "There's a rumor that Doctor Theopolis might get named to the Alliance Senate, along with Huer."

Robert blinked. "Really? That would be… well, history-making, certainly."

"That's right. Oh." Buck gestured to his right. "Got another mutual friend here to show you."

The man Buck led him to was in the corner. Robert recognized him immediately. "Commander Kane?"

"Major Kane now, Captain," replied Carter Kane, the former Marine troops commander of the Aurora. He was in the proper olive-colored formal uniform of the Alliance Marines. Several medals, including an Alliance Star of Valor, were visible on his uniform.

"I heard about what happened," Robert said. "They managed to grow you new arms?"

Kane smiled slightly and shook his head. "No. It would've left me off-duty for months, I wasn't sitting the war out that long." He held up his right arm. With a faint metallic whine Kane's hand folded outward, revealing the metal structure beneath the authentic-looking pseudoskin… and a weapon barrel built into the arm. "Combat prosthetics," he said. "And compatible with battle armor. I was waiting for Command to get me a unit when I got the call to see the President."

"Any idea of what's going on?" Robert asked them.

"Not a clue," said Buck. "But with all of us, there's no telling what they have in mind."

At that point the far door opened. Everyone turned and watched President Morgan walk in. Tall, well-dressed, with fine dark skin from his distant African ancestors, the President of the Allied Systems gave them all an intent look. Behind him was the President of the Senate, Senator Sriroj Thiang, a Thai woman that Robert could remember from as far back as the initial negotiations to found the Alliance. "Everyone, please be seated," he said aloud.

One by one everyone found seats at the table. Robert ended up sitting beside Kane and a purple-skinned, blue-spotted Dorei man. Glancing around the table he made out several more people of all four species of the Alliance. Some were in Alliance military uniform, a couple in member service uniforms, and others had on fine civilian suits. He noticed the red robes of a Temple Knight of the Gersallian Order of Swenya on one attendee, and the blue robes of a field knight in the same order on another. A set of purple robes that resembled a Japanese kimono were on a Dorei woman of dark teal complexion and purple spots and hair matching the color of the robes, presumably marking her as a member of one of the Dorei religious orders with the same powers he had.

"Greetings." Morgan took a seat at the head of the table. Maran was to one side of him, and Senator Sriroj on the other. Beside Maran sat General Hatcher - the head of military intelligence - and across from him was the Speaker of the Alliance Council, a brown-feathered, gray-complexioned Alakin named Freepk. "I'm sure you're all wondering why you've been called." A few murmurs of agreement came from the assembled. "Each of you represent the finest in the organizations you have trained in. At one time or another you have faced high odds against you and managed to win anyway. And ultimately, you have all shown that you possess strong senses of right and wrong and a good character. That is why I have called you today."

"When we formed the Alliance, it was with the noblest intentions," Morgan continued. "It was to be the foundation for a new interstellar, Multiversal order, where species and star systems would attain peace by mutual cooperation and security. But it's clear we have a long way to go to build that Multiverse. There are threats to us, to the way we want to do things, and they have to be met. We are already at war with one due to the machinations of another, a group that we can count on to continue to bedevil us even with our new defenses against further infiltration."

"Even some of our allies for the moment may not remain so," he continued. "While others have also looked to cooperation for interstellar security, they are not above using sabotage and espionage, even assassination, to deal with those they consider threats to their interests. They may even resort to military force if they deem it worthwhile."

"It would be nice if we could ignore such means ourselves. But it won't do us or our ideals any good if we are defeated by foes we have no defense against."

Robert frowned. What was Morgan doing? A chill came to him as he thought of what the Alliance President might be building up to, of the things he and Maran had already done in the name of protecting the Alliance. His mind flashed back to the Changeling taken prisoner in the Senate attack, turned over to be a guinea pig for Sidney Hank's researchers.

Morgan placed his hands on the table. "But neither can we embrace these methods without some kind of check on them. That is why I have brought Senate President Sriroj and Speaker Freepk to meet you as well. They will be taking a role in what we are forming here today and ensure that we keep an accounting of ourselves in this work. There will be as much transparency as we can manage."

"Transparency on what, Mister President?" asked Kane. He was frowning as well.

"On you, Major, and what I ask you to do in the name of our Alliance," Morgan answered. He looked over them. "You have all heard of the Spectres?"

"Do you mean the special operatives employed by the Citadel Council against perceived threats, sir?" asked an Alakin in the uniform of the Alakin Union Defense Force.

"Yes. Those Spectres are fully supported by the Council. They provide for them and protect them. And in return the Spectres do whatever they feel they need to in order to enforce the laws and decisions of the Council, regardless of the costs." Morgan shook his head. "Such agents can be useful, yes. Having Spectres may have helped prevent last year's Senate attack, for instance. And with the consideration and support of the Council and Senate, the Alliance will field such agents as well."

By now Robert realized what Morgan was doing. He waited for him to finish.

"The Citadel has its Spectres." Morgan's voice grew firm. "I want something more. I want beings who can do this job without giving up on what we stand for, beings who will act with a code of ethics, a morality, beyond simple expediency and brutal pragmatism, and capable of accepting the need for oversight of their actions." His eyes met each of the attending in turn, including Robert. He could sense Morgan's resolve. His need to honor the morals and ethics he held in his heart and to have those who would do the same. "So I ask you, heroes and soldiers of the Alliance, to accept my invitation to become our Alliance's answer to the Citadel's Spectres. I ask you to become Paladins."
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-11 06:56am

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After Morgan spoke, a quarter of those invited refused for a variety of reasons Robert sensed. The others remained for the full session, including Kane and Buck. The powers and responsibilities of a Paladin were made clear, and Robert appreciated the effort that had gone into balancing the needs of such operations with the ideals of the Alliance.

When it was over, with all questions asked and answered, everyone began to leave. Morgan lingered with Maran long enough for Robert and Kane to approach. Robert let Kane go first. "I get what you're trying to do here, Mister President," Kane said. "But I don't like it. I don't like the idea of any government sending out agents with this much power."

"I understand your concerns, Major," Morgan said. "That's why I need someone like you to take up the mantle."

Kane considered Morgan for a moment before nodding in understanding. A small smile came over his face. "Right. I accept, Mister President." He accepted Morgan's hand and shook it.

It was Robert's turn, not just for a handshake, but for the question during it. "What about a base of operations? Your briefing stated we could pick our own. Are there any limitations to it?"

"I would prefer it if you picked something outside of the capital." Morgan grinned at him. "For now, having Paladins actively operating out of Portland might send the wrong message. But as long as you're in communication and capable of going where you're needed, feel free to pick anywhere in the Alliance."

Robert nodded. He matched Morgan's grin. Neither man, nor Maran, needed to say just what Robert had in mind.

"Well, Mister President, I'll be waiting for your call," Robert said. "But if you don't mind, I need to go catch my ship."

Morgan nodded in understanding. "Of course you do. Give my best to Governor Rankin, and thank her for the port. It's proving popular at my state functions."

"I'll pass that on."




With the aid of an Alliance vessel in orbit over L2M1 Earth, the Keyeri made the jump straight for New Liberty. Robert made sure to be in the cockpit.

After all of these months away, it warmed his heart to see the Starship Aurora in her quiet orbit.

"Thank you for my time here," he said to Druni and Lennier while they directed their ship toward the spaceport. "I've enjoyed traveling with you."

"I may miss you after all," Druni said to him. She gave him a smile. "Good luck with your new job, Paladin."

"It was an honor to have you," Lennier agreed. "I wish you the best on your new path. And on yours, Commander Carrey." Lennier turned and nodded to Zack, who was seated and waiting.

"Thanks," Zack answered.




The two friends carried their bags off of the Keyeri and into the private terminal of the New Liberty Spaceport. Outside Lennier and Druni would already be preparing their launch checks and requests. "Ever think they'll settle down?" Zack asked Robert.

"I don't know. I hope they're around long enough to have the option," Robert replied.

"And what about you, Paladin of the Alliance?" Zack asked.

"We'll have to see," Robert said.

"Rob?! Zack?!"

The surprised shout drew their attention. They found Julia, Jarod, Cat, and Cat's girlfriend Violeta at the next terminal. Outside a ship of gold and brown colors, one Robert didn't recognize, was settling in to dock. Without prelude Robert and Zack gave them each a hug, save for Violeta who accepted handshakes instead. "You made it for the anniversary!" Julia's smile was heartfelt. "It's so good to see you both!"

"It's good to see you." Robert grinned at them all.

"So, the powers thing?" This was from Cat. "Are you still knocking things over or…?"

"That's under control at least," Robert said.

"It's not the only thing under control," Zack added. Seeing their looks, he nodded. "I… I'm going to get counseling," he said. "If only because Rob sorta sucks at it."

That won him a droll look from Robert and an amused giggle from Cat.

"I can talk to Sydney for you," Jarod offered. "He knows all of the psychiatrists and counselors on the planet."

"I'll take you up on that, Jarod," Zack said.

"So you don't want to drink anymore…?" Cat asked. "That's good news."

"No, Cat." Zack shook his head, resulting in her giving him a bewildered look. "I want to drink. I want it. That's why I need the counseling. And when I'm not getting counseled, I figure I'll look into helping out with whatever Little League they've got here. Maybe even take a trip to New New Caprica or whatever they're calling it and see my kids playing there. They never got to throw me that tournament."

"Sounds like a good idea," Robert said to him.

Julia nodded. "Agreed."

Zack smiled at them both. "So, how did you know we were arriving?" he asked. "I didn't even know until barely thirty minutes ago."

Bemused looks crossed their faces, prompting Robert and Zack to show some confusion. "We didn't know," Jarod said. "We're not actually here for you, as bad as that sounds."

"Oh?" Robert blinked. "So who are you here for?"

"Her."

Julia's answer prompted them to look at the gate for the new arrival. A short humanoid alien walked through it, wearing an Alliance Stellar Navy uniform with operations beige as the trim. A duffel bag was slung over her shoulder and another bag on her back. She was red-haired and Robert thought she looked distinctly feline, with some dun-coloured fur on her skin, but was clearly not Caitian or Rr'timm and, with the fur, definitely not Miqo'te.

Zack blinked in surprise. "Wait… her? That's… that's actually a Dilgar."

"Yep," Cat said.

"You just made contact with them last month," Robert said.

"We did," Julia replied. "And now the first officer they sent through the exchange program is here to join our crew."

The Dilgar woman walked up with enthusiasm showing in her body and her being. The moment she was in front of them her spine stiffened, ram-rod straight, and she directed her eyes at Julia. "Captain Andreys, Lieutenant Tra'dur reporting to your command."

"Welcome, Lieutenant."

"How was training?" Cat asked.

"It was exciting and taxing and quite well, all things told," Tra'dur said. "I am the first of what I hope are many Dilgar to wear the uniform of the Allied Systems."

"You look good in it," Violeta offered. Robert noticed that she and Cat were holding hands rather tightly, as if they might be pulled apart. It wasn't hard to tell there was something going on there.

"This is Lieutenant Tra'dur, formerly Combat Master Tra'dur of the Union of Tira and Rohric's military," Julia said to introduce her newest officer. "She is Warmaster Shai'jhur's daughter and served as the Dilgar liaison officer on the Aurora during the Tira Crisis. Lieutenant, this is Captain Robert Dale, my predecessor as Captain of the Aurora, and Commander Zachary Carrey…" Julia breathed in and gave Zack a sad look. "...former commander of the Koenig. We're all old friends."

Tra'dur acknowledged them with a formal nod. "Captain, Commander, it is my pleasure to meet you both."

Zack nodded quietly. "So Maran finally put someone else in? Apley?"

"No, not yet. Apley's still XO," replied Julia. "They sent a transfer officer from Adama's command. William Atreiad."

"Mark Atreiad's uncle?" Zack grinned wistfully. Robert sensed the pain in his friend at the confirmation that his ship had been handed over to another commander. "Well, at least he's the relative of a good pitcher."

"I guess." Julia's worry for him was obvious.

"Give him my best." Zack smiled at them all. "Well, I'd better get going, I need to arrange a place to stay and get my stuff put up. Maybe Gabe's got a spare bedroom."

"I'm sure Beth can get you a room in her home," Robert said.

"I might take her up on that, but either way, I need to go." Zack nodded at him. "It's good seeing you all again. You be careful out there."

"Zack…"

"Julia, it's fine," he insisted. "I… I have a lot to deal with. Including finding ways to keep saying no to the drink I really, really want. But I'll do it. I need to keep my life going and I can't until I get some help, alright?" He set his bags down and embraced her. "Watch out for Rob for me."

"Yeah… I will."

Zack picked up his bags again. "Cat, you and Vee are adorable, and you take care of yourself and your big sis too. Tell her I'll remember her next time I take a hit to the ribs! Adios, compadres!"

The assembled watched him walk on until he merged with the crowd at the terminal exit.

"Will he be okay?" Cat asked Robert. "He seems… better? A little?"

"He's still in a lot of pain," Robert said. "But… let's just say he got some things worked out." He rubbed at his face subconsciously, as if trying to remove any further bruising from Zack's punch to his face.

"I hope so." Julia turned and faced Robert. "And what's this about me watching out for you?"

"Oh. Right." Robert grinned at her and activated his newly-issued (newly re-issued, that is) Stellar Navy omnitool. It felt natural to have the light interface as blue again. With a key press he transmitted the order from Maran and President Morgan. "I need a base of operations. Somewhere fairly secure, mobile, with access to secure communications to Admiral Maran and President Morgan…"

Julia read the text in front of her. Her brow furrowed. "'Paladin'? What…" She kept reading. "You've got to be kidding."

"I'm not," Robert assured her.

"But… you're basically…"

"Just because I can't command a ship anymore doesn't mean I can't help protect the Alliance," Robert said. There was something amusing with the look on Julia's face. "And this isn't me trying to…" He stopped. He didn't want to put it that way, he knew Julia wouldn't think that way… mostly. "I want to be back on the Aurora, Julie. I want to come home."

"Well, the orders are pretty clear." A small smile came to her face. "A Paladin. Well, I guess we know who Morgan had in mind when he came up with that title. That fits you to a T, Mister White Knight."

Robert sighed at that. "Not you too."

"Let's head back, Sir Robert," Julia teased. She started to walk toward the terminal exit. "We'll get you quarters so you can get your white armor polished."

"You're taking this too far now…" Robert began, following her.

"It fits so well though!" Cat insisted, following. "Now we just need to get you a shield and a sword…"

Violeta was giggling as she followed Cat in turn, leading a confused Tra'dur with Jarod. He gave his new subordinate a wink. "You'll get used to it," he assured the Dilgar woman.

"I… see."

Tra'dur fell in with Jarod while, ahead of them, Julia continued. "I don't know where we'll put your noble steed…"

"Julia…"




Everything was dark. That told Cat something was wrong. It shouldn't be this dark. The ship should have more light.

She slipped out of bed, still in pajamas. Violeta was gone, as was her uniform. Why? She wasn't supposed to be on duty yet…

Cat walked out into the dark corridors of the Aurora. Her omnitool cast eerie blue light over the empty halls. "What's going on?" she asked herself. She tapped at the holobelt.

Help.

The voice was firm. It grew stronger as she approached a turbolift. It opened and she stepped through the door…

...and onto the bridge.

Everyone was dead.

Not just dead. Decayed. Withered. As if they'd been dead for a long time. She looked around at the dead displays, the dead lights, making the familiar place where she worked every day into a tomb. Horror built as she walked over to where her sister's corpse was sprawled against her dead console. Locarno was sprawled on the floor behind navigation. Jarod was half out of his chair, held only in place by his safety harness. His eyes, usually brimming with friendliness and intelligence, were dull and empty.

In the central chair, Julia was slumped backward, almost as if she'd fallen asleep. But her skin was gray and dry.

"It's only a dream," Cat murmured to herself. "Just a… a dream…" She approached her own console. She'd expected to find someone else there, but the expectation was wrong. She stared into her own lifeless hazel eyes. "It's just a dream," she repeated. "A dream." She backed up, one step at a time.

When she backed into someone she shrieked in surprise and turned. "What…?" Confusion joined fear. "What are you doing…"

The shadowed figure before her grabbed her head, and pain entered her head. She backed away, trying to escape, but she couldn't get his hands off her face. The pain intensified. She felt like she was falling into a darkness inside. Everything she'd faced… all of it was being consumed. "Please stop!" she begged.

A garbled reply came. She couldn't make it out.

The darkness in her mind opened, and Cat fell in, screaming.

When the darkness receded, she was in her quarters. In her bed. Her pajamas were damp with sweat. She sat up and looked around, wide-eyed, re-assuring herself…

"Cat." Violeta sat up beside her, groggy, tired, and concerned. "Another nightmare?"

"Uh huh," was all Cat managed.

"The same one?"

Cat swallowed and nodded. "Uh huh," she repeated.

Violeta embraced her. "Shh… it's okay. We're here. Nothing's happened."

It took a few more whispers from Violeta, but Cat finally laid back down, now cuddled in the arms of her girlfriend. And slowly, grudgingly, she fell back asleep.
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-15 11:00am

Teaser


Beams and pulses of varying color filled the open void of space, creating flickers of light or plumes of flame and wreckage in their wake. Such was the visual sight of combat between starships of this level of technical sophistication and capability.

One such ship engaged was the Starship Koenig, even now twisting her way around the wreckage of one enemy to refocus her firepower upon another. A vessel of unique design - similar to the Defiant-class of the United Federation of Planets' Starfleet, itself the basis for the United Alliance of Systems' Trigger-class - the Koenig was made for this work, a dedicated combat vessel that sacrificed comfort, versatility, and cruising range for sheer firepower in as small a hull frame as could be managed.

Her foe was a Z-2500 destroyer starship of the Greater German Reich of Universe S4W8; known colloquially to the rest of the Multiverse as the Nazi German Reich. To the denizens of the Multiverse (and even others in S4W8) the very existence of this nation was a horror, an aberration, virtually a mockery of everything they held sacred. The Reich felt much the same way, leavened with their pride in their uniqueness and the sense that it made them special, and with their fear, indeed terror, in a Multiverse that now sought to eliminate them as well.

The Reich destroyer tried to evade. But it was itself committed to an attack run that its crew would not break off lightly. Even as the amber pulses of the Koenig's powerful pulse phaser cannon battery blew away the Z-2500's rear shields and battered away at her engines and hull, the destroyer finished the work of preparing her own weapons. Torpedoes raced from the launcher built into her bow seconds before the anti-matter that fueled her delicately-maintained reactors was freed by enemy weapons fire. The ship and her crew of a hundred men disappeared in a burst of light and energy.

Their torpedoes continued on, until intercepted by blue-white pulses and ultimately the flickering blue shields of the target of the doomed ship: the Starship Aurora.

The kilometer long ship was big, but the rapier-sharp lines and smooth, sleek shape of her hull gave her a feel of being far more agile than her size and mass suggested. Indeed, while certainly not as nimble as the Koenig, the Aurora was surprisingly agile. Under the expert helmsmanship of her navigation and piloting officer, Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Locarno, and guided by her captain Julia Andreys, the Aurora was even now dodging fire from the looming shape of a Nazi dreadnought, one of the dreaded Aryan-class. Thick, powerful super-disruptor beams lashed out at her. Only one of three actually stuck the ship.

On the bridge Julia felt her ship shudder regardless. At Operations Jarod didn't even turn his head. "Shields still holding at fifty percent."

"Maintain evasive maneuvers and continue fire on the dreadnought," she said in response. Julia's eyes ventured over to the tactical holotank, which was being utilized by Meridina as well in the Gersallian woman's function as First Officer of the ship. The markers there showed the Alliance combat group with the Aurora. Multiple Dorei starbirds, an Alakin warbird, three cruisers from the Federated Stars of Universe L2M1, a carrier battle group from the Kingdom of Avalon from S0T5, and new Alliance-model ships led by her own vessel and the Igasana-class heavy cruiser ASV Rotama. The Discovery-class ships Gagarin, Kitana, and Challenger were also present. Although as star cruisers they did not have the dedicated combat capability of the Rotama and other ships like her, they were still quite capable of combat and demonstrating that capability admirably.

Against the Nazi combat fleet the Alliance ships were facing even this force would have been woefully insufficient. But this was an allied fleet, with contributions from the other ships in the coalition assembled to fight the Reich. Ships from the Slavic Union, the Kerbals, the Dre'kari Community, and the Gl'mulli Directorate were present, as were a number of refitted combat-capable ships of the Federated Commonwealth, Free Worlds League, and Draconis Combine. A squadron of starships from individual clans and tribes of the United Clans of Ys'talla were a new addition, from those pro-Alliance Miqo'te tribes and clans exercising their rights to commit to the Alliance's efforts without requiring their planetary government to join in. Altogether, that gave this combat force equality with the Reich ships they were fighting.

Which was the point of it all, even if Julia wished she had more as the Aurora barely evaded another super-disruptor shot. Her plasma beams played sapphire energy over the flickering red shields of the Reich dreadnought to no effect. They needed more firepower to break its shields.

"What's our countdown?" Julia asked Jarod.

"Ninety seconds until mark," he answered.

She smiled confidently. It wouldn't be long now...




Deeper in the Aurora, over a dozen decks below the bridge and a few dozen meters astern, the Aurora's security office was on standby. From here Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond and Major Gabriel Anders, the chief of security and Marine Commander of Troops respectively, would work to protect the ship from boarding parties or prepare their own.

The two had their assistants with them, as was normal, but they were joined by another. Robert Dale, still officially a Captain in the Stellar Navy, was not in the same action uniform or combat armor as the other two. His own armor, colored blue, was based on the field armor worn by the Gersallian Order of Swenya's field knights. A pulse pistol was holstered on his hip, making him appear poorly-armed compared to the others until one considered he could bat them around the room with a few moments of effort and a matching will. The hard part for him, in fact, would be restraining the power he was using, not simply using it.

Despite his superior rank, however, Robert was not their superior in operation. He had nothing to do with the ship's functioning now, a fact that left him nowhere to go during a combat alert. Working with security simply seemed the best choice for his actual job description: one of the new Paladins, operatives under the command of the Alliance President invested with great authority on missions given by the same.

Had Meridina and Carter Kane, the predecessors of Richmond and Anders, been the ones present, Robert might have at least been in the company of people who knew him more closely. But Anders had never served with him before and Richmond had barely known him. The two seemed determined to focus on their jobs and leave him to his thoughts.

I feel like I should be on the bridge, he mused to himself. It couldn't be helped. Two years of commanding the Aurora made him want to be there. It was ironic given his actions in the past, and why so many admirals thought him unsuited for starship command.

"You get used to it," Richmond said, her Australian accent very refined, to the point it sounded almost like an English accent. Her green eyes met his, on a face of light, almost literally white skin - as white as the Human complexion spectrum permitted, virtually - framed by black hair. "Although I'm sure it's quite a change for you, Captain."

"It is," he admitted.

"Given your tendency to go out into the field instead of staying on the bridge, that's surprising," she pointed out.

To that he chuckled and grinned. "The thought crossed my mind too. God's sense of humor, I suppose."

"And we, the audience, are yet afraid to laugh."

"That's how the saying goes."

And again everyone went silent, waiting for a call from the bridge that might never come.




The ship shook again, bringing the shields further down. But Jarod had another fact to report first, as he finished his ten second countdown. "...three...two...one. Mark."

From the ship's science/sensor station, Caterina Delgado looked up. Her chair seemed larger, if only because her frame was the smallest on the bridge. "Subspace spikes! We have ships jumping in! It's the rest of the fleet!"

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Julia said. She noted with pleasure the arrival of the incoming ships. Markers for them also indicated their identities. The ComStar cruiser Avenging Sword led several lighter ComStar ships, reflecting that organization's first foray into the war. The Clan fleet contingent included a number of cruisers and destroyers of their fleets led by the Snow Raven cruisers Storm Cloud and Avalanche. By far the biggest contingent were ships from the Aururian Imperial Federation of A2M6 that included, much to Julia's delight, the battlecruiser Maya-Mayi under Margrethe von Lohringhoven, her opposite number during the crisis over the Oakland Colony of Phi Perseus.

The command of the force came from the two ships at the center of it, vessels larger than the Aurora that were even now launching their wings of starfighters and larger gunboat vessels: the Battlestars Galactica and Pegasus, sole surviving warships of the Colonies of Kobol.

"First Group, continue engagement," said the voice of Admiral William Adama of the Colonial Navy, speaking from his flagship Galactica. "Second Group, commence attack, priority targets are enemy dreadnought and supporting ships."

The jump-capable allied ships moved into engagement range immediately. Naval PPCs and lasers, phasers, and other weapon types opened up on the Reich force that now found itself outnumbered and facing an attack on a second vector. The enemy ships' formation soon began to disintegrate at the renewed attack.

For her part, the Aurora continued engaging the enemy dreadnought as best as she could, with the assistance of the Challenger. As the two ships poured their plasma beams into the flickering ruby light of the Aryan-class ship's shields, Kerbal bombers raced in at their typical breakneck acceleration, supported by fighters from the Avalonian carrier and, now, by Vipers from the Pegasus. The enemy fighter screens were fully engaged with the Alliance Mongoose starfighters from the Aurora and her Discovery-class cousins; what little remained were swept away by the Avalonian and Colonial fighters. The Kerbal bombers hit hard, focusing on the dreadnought's escorting ships. A Sedan-class cruiser faltered, its disruptors blazing away at the Kitana until the enemy ship succumbed to the attack from the Alliance cruiser.

Behind the Kerbals, Colonial Raptors and the various aerospace fighters of the Clans and ComGuards began their attack runs, shielded by more Vipers and a contingent of Aururian fighters.

With the dreadnought's escorts falling away due to the attack, the Aurora could focus more fire on the big ship. Locarno brought them about and Angel Delgado, Caterina's sister, opened up with the ten bow-facing particle pulse cannons built into the Aurora. Thick sapphire pulses battered away at the enemy shields. From "above", the Maya-Mayi moved in and engaged with her own cannons. Solid lances of gravitons from the weapons built into her bow struck the enemy dreadnought, bypassing its faltering shields entirely and subjecting the Nazi ship to vicious structural stresses that would easily damage internal systems over even a short exposure period. With the Reich ship faltering the Aurora's torpedo launchers opened up, sending the blue-white sparks of solar torpedoes into the ship's hull. They continued the attack run...




Hours later the mood in the Lookout, the Aurora's crew lounge built into the bow of the ship, was one of merriment and excitement. The victory celebration was ongoing to allow the entire crew, all two thousand of them, a chance to attend at some point between watches or shifts. The view outside the window showed the garden world that, appropriately enough, was New Liberty in their home universe. In this universe it was the site of one the early Nazi colonies, New Prussia, which had fallen to an invasion by Alliance and Aururian troops. The orbiting starbase was busily being repaired from Nazi sabotage to serve as an Alliance fleetbase, while in the interim yardships were helping with repairs to the damaged ships.

The Aurora was one of the luckier ships from the battle, with minor physical damage to her systems that wasn't tying down the crew from celebrating the victory and enjoying themselves. The celebration was taking on the air of a victory feast, much like the one undoubtedly being celebrated by the Avalonians. The Lookout's devoted host, Hargert, had an ongoing buffet of foods that the crew most loved, and given the versatility and skill of the old German cook, there was a diversity of choices to be had.

Another victory cake was being brought out when Julia entered the Lookout. Robert watched her enter from the bar with Barnes, Leo, and Angel. All of them kept quiet for the moment while Julia got her share of the dinner. Once this was done she murmured something at Hargert. Moments later a tone sounded over the speakers of the ship's comm system. "Attention, everyone," Julia said, her voice loud and clear here and, Robert suspected, across the ship. "The celebration we're throwing right now isn't just for one battle. We just received the official word. Admiral Maran and his fleet have beaten the main Nazi fleet at Epsilon Indi! The operation is a complete success!"

The Lookout erupted in applause.

"Command's estimating that the enemy's lost over a thousand ships in the operation," Julia continued. "All Nazi fleets around Earth have been routed. The Alliance and our allies are clear to begin the liberation of Earth itself from the Reich!"

The applause erupted again, even more loudly.

"You've all done well!" Julia continued. "And I'm proud of this entire crew. With your efforts and those of the other ships in our fleet and our allies' fleets, the war should soon be over, and we're going to win! I expect everyone to get their share of the victory meal. And I hope it's only the appetizer for the big victory we'll throw when the Reich surrenders!"

The loudest applause yet came, joined by cheering and hooting and other sounds. When it was over everyone settled back into what they were doing.

Robert kept watching Julia for the moment. For all of the awkwardness Robert felt sometimes while he was Captain, Julia clearly fitted the role like a glove. She was, indeed, in her element as a Captain.

"So, what were you doing during the battle?" Tom Barnes asked.

"Huh? Oh." Robert turned to face him. "I was in the security office with Commander Richmond and Major Anders."

"Why'd you pick them?" Angel asked.

Robert shrugged. "I figured I had to be somewhere to contribute. Helping with boarding actions seemed the best bet."

"That must've been new for you," Barnes said. "I mean, not being on the bridge while we were in the thick of it."

Robert nodded in admission. "Yeah, it was. It'll take some getting used to, I think."

"Now you know how I always feel," Leo remarked jovially.

"Just what will you be doing now that you're back?" Barnes considered his glass while asking. A bit of amber fluid - beer, Robert figured - swirled inside. "I mean, you obviously won't be doing Paladin stuff all of the time. It's going to be weird being around and not having anything to do…"

Before Robert could answer, there was a tone over the comms. This time the voice was Meridina. "Captain, we're picking up a distress call on all Alliance bands on the IU radio."

The look on Julia's face was concerned. She looked to the other command officers and Robert, who all approached her as she asked, "Where is it coming from?"

"Universe M4P2. The Dorei colony on Adrana."

"The Batarians?" Jarod suggested.

"No." Meridina had evidently heard them. "According to the distress call, they are being attacked by the Geth."

The assembled officers exchanged puzzled looks at the response. The Geth were barely known in the Alliance; a species of intelligent AI programs created by the Quarians and still occupying that species' homeworld of Rannoch, beyond the Perseus Veil at the far corner of the M4P2 galaxy. They were supposed to be a reclusive race that never interacted with the rest of their copy of the Milky Way. The idea of the Geth launching such a bold attack was shocking. "Meridina, are there any ships that can respond before us, given where we are?"

"Unfortunately not, Captain. Alliance and Systems Alliance patrols in M4P2 are out of position, and much of the fleet is assigned to the follow-up operations against the Reich. Ops has confirmed we could make it in two interuniversal jumps to Adrana, if we hurry."

"Meridina, commence the jumps immediately. Put us on combat alert, Code Red." With that, she left the Lookout with the senior officers.

Most of the crew followed as the electronic klaxons began to blare.

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Distant Thunder"
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-15 11:01am

The spatial aspect of their last jump kept the Aurora from arriving in the Adrana System, but she was close enough that it wasn't more then ten minutes before the ship, her warp drives pushed to their immense capability, dropped from warp speed near the planet. Adrana was a garden planet settled in the first wave of Alliance colonies in M4P2, most of which were settled by Dorei colonists as part of the fair division of new extrauniversal colonies among Alliance member states.

As the planet loomed on the holo-viewscreen, Julia found herself considering the sad coincidence of their visits; the last time they'd come coincided with the beginning of Batarian attacks on Alliance colonies with the slaver raid on Yamalia. Now Adrana herself had been hit by an attack.

"I'm picking up three vessels in orbit," Caterina said. "Drive signatures are eezo-based, but the output… I've never seen an eezo power system with this capacity before." After a moment Caterina added, "I'm also detecting smaller craft coming from the surface. Landing craft, I think."

"Time to weapons range?" Julia asked.

"I'm already getting locks on them," Angel said. "But our approach vector puts Adrana behind them. Any misses could hit the planet."

"Right. Mister Locarno?"

"Adjusting course now, giving tactical a clear field of fire," Locarno said.

"While you do that, Jarod, put me on." She waited for Jarod to nod. "Attention Geth vessels, this is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. You have committed an act of aggression against the Alliance. I insist you surrender immediately or we will open fire."

Seconds passed with no reply. "It does not appear they are concerned," said Meridina.

"Lieutenant Delgado, you are clear to fire when ready. Commander, signal the Koenig, commence combat launch."

It took another ten seconds for Locarno's course change to clear Adrana from the field of fire. During this time, the dock built into the rear of the primary hull section opened up. The Koenig backed out of her berth and triggered her own drives, twisting relative to the Aurora so she could make her own course toward the Geth ships.

As the Aurora was still pointed "upward" compared to the perspective of the Geth and the planet, the initial fire was with the ventral-facing plasma banks. Repeated beams of sapphire energy crossed space and sliced into the Geth ships. Their particle barriers were not meant for reflecting energy weapons of this type so the power of the shots primarily acted against the bare hull. The wounds carved into the Geth ships did not spew atmosphere like another ship might, although there was still debris and flame from the impacts.

The Koenig accelerated to combat thrust and opened fire as well, her pulse phasers adding to the damage inflicted on the Geth ships.

The Geth ships seemed more interested in evading than attacking, although for the latter it was soon clear they were pursuing a different approach. "They're launching fighters," said Cat.

"Alpha and Delta Squadrons are launching," Meridina said. "Echo and Fox are on standby to join them."

With their fighters moving to intercept their Geth counterparts Julia was free to observe the effect of their fire on the Geth ships. The first ship was taking the brunt of Angel's focus while the Koenig focused on the second ship. Locarno maneuvered the Aurora to bring the bow weapons to bear. The forward pulse plasma cannons fired. These had more effect on the lead Geth ship. Already slightly damaged, the thick sapphire pulses of the bow cannons blew entire sections out of the lean, bug-headed Geth vessel, which reminded Julia somewhat of a dragonfly if it had no wings or legs. The silver ship's acceleration died down.

"Picking up energy spike," said Cat. "It looks like they're activating their FTL drives."

By that time the first spread of solar torpedoes was already in flight. The spread crashed into the lead Geth ship. This time the shot was undeniably fatal. The explosions broke the Geth ship into pieces.

A few more shots began to hit the second Geth ship, but it was the Koenig that finished them off with her own spread of solar torpedoes.

The third Geth ship, untouched, seemed to blink out of existence with the activation of their FTL drive.

"I'm tracking them in subspace," Cat said. "It looks like they're on course for the mass relay in the G1SV system."

"Pursuit course laid in," Locarno said.

Julia didn't need to glance toward Meridina to know what her XO was thinking. And she already agreed with the sentiment. "No. Have the Koenig pursue. Atreiad is to engage only if he can do so without risking his ship, otherwise just observe until they depart through the G1SV relay. Helping the colony is our priority."

"Aye sir," Locarno replied. "Making standard orbit."

"I am alerting medbay to our situation," Meridina added.

"Securing from battlestations," said Jarod.

Julia nodded and sat back, letting the others implement her orders. Aid had to come first. Then the investigation could begin.




Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 May 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. We are still investigating the Geth attack on the Dorei colony of Adrana. More importantly, we are rendering all of the aid we can to the planet below.

Commander Atreiad on the
Koenig has confirmed the last Geth ship has departed the area through the G1SV Mass Relay. I've ordered Koenig to remain cloaked in G1SV for the time being to monitor any traffic coming through the Relay, just in case the Geth come back with reinforcements.


Julia found herself staring at her report to Defense Command on the attack. Every fact was present, everything told exactly as she knew it, but it still felt off. The lack of knowing just what the Geth were after with the attack was frustrating. Hearing her door chime was welcome just for the distraction. "Come in," she called out.

Meridina was the one who entered, carrying a digital pad. She handed it to Julia. "The governor of Adrana has compiled preliminary statistics on the attack. Currently the death toll is at two hundred and six people, three quarters of them civilians. There are over a thousand wounded as well. The planet's medical infrastructure is overwhelmed."

"Is Leo bringing any of them up here?" Julia started looking over the data pad.

"The critical cases and some of the overflow. I have ensured the St. Johns and the Warri are available for his use." The two names were familiar: the St. Johns had long been the runabout fitted with a medical module, the Warri was a new Ebro-class runabout assigned to the ship that had a multi-mission capability and could thus be fitted for medical work.

"Alright. Command is trying to get response ships out, but for the moment we're the only ones here to tend to this." Julia tapped the pad. "As for the raid investigation itself, doesn't it strike you as odd?"

"Captain?"

"The Geth attack. It looks like they only had a raid in mind, but they left entire sections of the colony untouched." Julia put the pad down. "And the things they took were minor pieces of technology and machinery. Nothing like what they might need. If I didn't know better, I'd say the raid was staged." She noticed the look in Meridina's face and knew she wasn't the only one to feel that way.

"Indeed," Meridina confirmed. "And I do have a suspicion as to their target."

"Oh?"

"You will note that a number of the casualties were personnel at the excavation site examining what is left of the ancient Adranians," Meridina said.

Julia glanced and noted that. "This would be the dig site with the computers that Zack's mind was linked to when we were last here?"

"And where Caterina, Jarod, and myself nearly perished," Meridina reminded her. "Going by the casualty data, it looks like the Geth directed quite a lot of attention to this place. The casualties were extremely high, indicating that the excavation was swiftly overrun."

"In other words, you think it was the target." Julia frowned. "Why?"

"I am unsure," Meridina admitted. "The computer systems' directing intelligence was only a fragment of an old personality and there was little in the way of advanced technology stored within. Nevertheless, I would like to take a team to investigate what the Geth did there."

Julia nodded. "You've got my approval. See what you can find out."

"I will assemble a team immediately, Captain. May I be dismissed?"

"You are dismissed." Julia watched her go and considered what Meridina had found. Could the answer be that this was all to get at that ancient ruins? And if so… why?



The changes to the dig site in the two years since they'd last visited drew the attention of Meridina, Jarod, and Cat. More tunnels were present and more equipment as well, although some was now badly damaged, including the lift that had to be repaired before they could go down into the main complex. Blue blood spots could be seen from the victims of the Geth attack, although no bodies were evident.

A grim-faced Dorei man of dark blue complexion with purple spots and hair drove the large cart ferrying the team through the underground site. Joining the three who had visited previously were Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, in her ops officer uniform with her tool belt visible and her lightsaber hooked to it, and the newest ops officer on the Aurora, Lieutenant Tra'dur, the Stellar Navy's first Dilgar officer. Red-haired and dun-furred in coloration, her feline eyes took in the entire site. "So you have been here before, Caterina'Delgado?"

"Yeah. Two years ago," Cat said. "It wasn't a fun visit."

"The computer system we are here to examine forcefully linked to Commander Carrey's mind," Meridina explained. "We came to find a way to free him. Unfortunately, there were complications."

"An ancient booby trap that sealed us in, then the guiding intelligence of the computer system deciding to kill us rather than let us free Zack," Cat clarified, frowning. "It tried to gas us. We barely got out."

"Then this is potentially dangerous," Tra'dur noted.

"Maybe, maybe not," Lucy said. "Zack apparently had the computer system upload his mind into the system as well. Basically, a digital copy of himself to keep the intelligence inside company."

"Yes," said Meridina. "In the end, the intelligence's actions were warped by her incomplete upload when her people were wiped out. Most of her personal memories were lost, and all she had were the memories of her people's destruction. Commander Carrey showed great compassion in how he chose to deal with her."

"I would not count on them being intact," the Dorei driver warned. "The attackers inflicted much damage. As you will now see."

The cart came to the end of the tunnel. An open door led the five into a chamber, the same they had seen two years prior. But now the computer hardware showed visible damage. Scars from weapons fire covered nearly every surface of the main cylinder. Meridina and Lucy both suppressed an impulse to shudder; they could feel a lingering sense of hopeless despair and rage and grief that permeated the chamber.

Everyone began scanning, with Jarod and Cat focusing on the table on which someone could lay and interface with the system. "It looks like this part was undamaged," Jarod said. He checked the interface piece, now fully restored by the Dorei archeologists from the rusted state it had been in two years before.

"They were focusing their attack on the computer banks, or what they thought were computer banks," Lucy said, standing over one set of them. "And they definitely took out some of the physical memory bank."

"Tra'dur, can you help me examine the intact code?" Cat asked. "If we can verify the interface is safe, someone can go in and see if the personalities inside survived."

"Of course, Lieutenant." Tra'dur activated her omnitool and joined Cat.

"Curious that the Geth were most concerned with this device," Meridina said. "And they were not here to take it but to destroy it."

"Given the nature of the attack, this was clearly their real objective." Jarod checked another part of the interface. "Are you sure you want to go in? The last time the intelligence inside attacked you."

"I do not think she will do so again," said Meridina. "She has no reason to."

"Unless something happened to the copy of Zack," Cat pointed out. "If she's alone again…"

"Then the rest of you can do what you must to free me," Meridina said. "But I still believe it best if I go."

"Let's make sure it works first," said Lucy, who gave Meridina a concerned look. "If it does, then… I suppose it makes the most sense if you do."

"It does." This was from Tra'dur. "The four of us have the training and knowledge to deal with problems. No insult meant, Commander, but your skills are not the same."

"Indeed they are not, and I do not see your statement as insulting," Meridina assured her. "I await your findings on the matter."




An hour later Meridina was laying on the table, steeling herself for the pain that would accompany the uplink. She felt concern from the others, particularly for Lucy, but allowed no apprehension to form on her expression. "I am ready," she informed them.

"Alright." Jarod nodded to Lucy and Tra'dur. "Initiating the interface."

Meridina watched the device above her come alive with light. A sharp pain filled her head to the point that she could not help but cry out.

The pain ended abruptly. When Meridina could see again, she found herself standing on a field of dirt and grass. Beneath her feet was a square white bag of sorts with chalked lines leading out in two directions from it. A glance around led her to recognize just what she was standing on: a baseball field.

She turned her head and saw two figures standing at the mound. Zack, or rather the uploaded copy of himself in the computer, was wearing a white baseball jersey. Beside him was a woman of pink skin with red hair and bright, purple eyes, clad in what Lucy once called a "sun dress". She nodded at Meridina. "Mindwalker."

Meridina permitted herself some relief. "You are intact? We feared the damage might have harmed you."

"We sensed attackers coming," Zack said. "And we had time to move ourselves into the innermost data drives." He frowned. "It was still a close thing. And we've lost a lot of data capacity to the damage. I'm actually surprised you could come in here."

"Jarod and the others have repaired the interface to permit my entry," Meridina explained.

"Who attacked us?" asked the alien woman, whom Meridina recalled was named Gylao. "Why?"

"We are uncertain. They are called Geth, a machine race…"

An anguished look came over Gylao. "Is it them? Was it our destroyers?"

"I cannot say for certain," Meridina stated. "Yet… perhaps there is a link."

Zack nodded. "I doubt they mind my memories, and they were trying to eliminate our memory banks." He turned to Gylao. "It must be you they wanted."

"But why?" Gylao asked. "All I have are fragments of memories."

"Maybe that's what they're after, then. Those few memories you do have."

Meridina nodded. "You remember your destroyers, correct? Zachary - the Zachary who woke up I should clarify - mentioned that you thought of them as Reapers?"

Gylao shuddered and nodded. "I remember them. Great towering machines. And those of my people they turned into their servants. They showed no mercy. We were wheat before their blades."

"You think they wanted to eliminate Gylao's memories of these 'Reapers'?" Zack asked.

"It is the most likely explanation." Meridina frowned. "Why they would seek this, however, I cannot guess. Although the most obvious reason would be to deprive us of any knowledge about these ancient destroyers. That leads us to disturbing implications." She looked to Gylao. "May I see these memories? I know it asks much of you…"

"I would rather you not," Gylao admitted. "Zachary's memories have been my shelter from that horror..." Zack held her hand more tightly.

Meridina nodded. "Of course. I understand."

"But it may be necessary," Gylao continued. She didn't hide her sadness. "Whatever was in them, it may be important. Through Zachary I have learned much of your Multiverse. If something like this could happen to you, I…"

She said no more. Instead Gylao held a hand up. The baseball field disappeared. Meridina witnessed a cityscape of beautiful, turquoise structures, piles of blackened rubble among them. Flames filled the air.

As horrible as it was, and despite the pain she sensed from Gylao at the images, Meridina forced herself to watch the slaughter of a species.

Seconds passed, or perhaps hours. When it was over Meridina felt warm tears flowing from her eyes. She would see those terrible machines forever in her memories, like great giant beasts that came to devour and annihilate. It was so easy to picture them doing the same thing to Jantarihal, to see the giant things stomping about and leveling the gleaming towers of her homeworld's capital… to see them destroying the Great Temple and Swenya's legacy to her people.

It reinforced her appreciation for, and pity for, Gylao. It was no wonder this last remnant of the ancient Adranians had been so broken when they first encountered her. With nothing but these memories, no intelligence could remain sane.

"Thank you for your help," she said. "I appreciate the sacrifice you've made."

Gylao nodded. Beside her, Zack rested a comforting hand on her shoulder. "How long do you think it will take the Dorei to repair the device?" he asked. "It's a little crowded in here now."

"I will inquire," Meridina promised.

"Thanks." He smiled at her. "Is everything alright for the rest of you? How are Rob and the others?"

"They are well, for the most part. Although there have been difficulties for us. The Multiverse is, as ever, a dangerous place."

"Please let them know I said hello. Including, well, me."

"I will do so." Meridina smiled softly at them. "Take care, Zachary, Gylao."




The image of Meridina and Jarod filled the screen on Julia's desk in her ready office. "We're about done here," Jarod confirmed. "Lucero and Tra'dur are almost finished attaching that data drive to the systems. It won't completely restore the prior capacity, but it should give Zack's data duplicate and the Adranian intelligence inside some more room to stretch, so to speak."

"I've already cleared it with the local authorities," Julia said. "As soon as you're back, we'll have a meeting to go over everything."

"Understood. Jarod out." A moment later the image ended.

Julia went back to her paperwork, at least until the door chime sounded. "Come in," she said. She looked up and watched Robert enter. He was wearing a uniform again, but his rank insignia was missing, and the branch color was silver instead of red with a silver aiguillette, as if he were just an intelligence staff officer now. "That's what you're going for?" she asked. "You're pretending to be staff?"

He chuckled and shrugged. "Well, I figured it fit better than wearing command trim. And rank insignia might give the wrong impression."

"True." Julia set her datapad down while Robert looked over the ready office. The furnishings were the same as when he had used it, but she'd added her own touches with a few mementoes. One of her basketball trophies and several photos were on one stand. A model of the long-lost Kelley was on another. "What can I do for you?"

"I was hoping to discuss an idea I've been considering," he said. "It's about…"

Before he could finish a tone came over the ship intercom. "Bridge to Andreys," said the voice of Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi, Jarod's number two as operations officer.

"Go ahead," Julia answered.

"We're picking up another distress signal on Alliance bands."

Julia frowned. "From where? Is it the Geth?"

"I'm not sure yet. The distress call is from a Systems Alliance colony. It's Eden Prime."

"Damn. Even using mass relays, we're hours away. We'll never get there in time." Julia shook her head. "Make sure Command knows about it and see if they can vector a ship in to help. Keep me posted."

"Aye sir."

"Andreys out." Julia tapped a key on her desk to close the intercom channel. She noticed the concerned look on Robert's face. "The timing makes me say it's Geth," she said. "Not to mention the location."

"Yeah. And there's another common factor too. I was on Eden Prime several weeks ago," Robert said. "The Systems Alliance found intact Prothean ruins near their colony site. The excavation is still ongoing."

"The Protheans. They were from about fifty thousand years ago," Julia noted. "They disappeared about two hundred millennia after the Adranians were wiped out."

"Right. So in the span of a day, two worlds with ruins from long-dead cultures are both attacked." Robert shook his head. "I don't buy that's a coincidence."

"Nor do I," Julia agreed. "We'll bring it up with the others when they return."





The command officers of the Aurora and Koenig met in the conference lounge adjacent to the bridge, as they often did. As always Barnes attended alongside Commander Scott. Jarod was joined by Lucy and Tra'dur, given their part in the work in the ruin.

And down at the opposite end of the table was Robert, still in the rankless uniform with silver trim.

There was a peculiar feel to his presence in the room now. He was sitting at the exact opposite end of the table from Julia, taking up the last seat currently available, but it could be easy to imagine he was at the head of the table instead. And for most of those present, he had been in charge for nearly two years, the one directing the conversation as Julia was now doing (at least theoretically given the difference in their command styles).

"The Geth were definitely out to destroy the Adranian computer system," Jarod said. He kept his eyes on Julia. "It's the only case where the damage caused can't be consider collateral damage to the attack."

"So they wanted to eliminate whatever the Adranians left behind," Julia mused. "Why?"

"It may have been to eliminate any records of the unknown enemy who annihilated the Adranians," Meridina said.

"But why would they want to do that?"

Robert's question was a reasonable one, certainly, and just as certainly it was one everyone was already asking themselves. But it didn't change the subtle thrum of tension that now seemed to permeate the room.

"A good question." Julia leveled a quieting look at Robert, who nodded sheepishly and settled back into his seat. "Any ideas?"

Cat spoke up. "Maybe the Geth found something in their region of the galaxy? I mean, like an old ruin or something, and it's of these attackers, and the Geth don't want anyone else to know anything about them?"

Julia nodded once to acknowledge Cat's proposal. "The attack on Eden Prime may have a similar motive, then? Maybe they think the Protheans also left evidence of this same group?"

"It's a possibility, but really, we don't know enough to know for sure," Cat said.

"Could they just be out to destroy evidence of past civilizations?" asked Tra'dur. "Do we have any samples of Geth coding that can give us an idea of their thought processes?"

"No." Julia shook her head. A thought made her frown. "The only thing we have relating to the Geth was that sabotage device that was attached to the Aurora during our failed conference with the Batarians."

"Right." Robert matched her frown. "Could the Batarians be behind this then? Using the Geth as proxies, or maybe manipulating them into attacking us so they have plausible deniability? A way to escalate their attacks without risking their own forces?"

"Maybe they even found a way to control the Geth." This suggestion was from Apley.

Will Atreiad crossed his arms. "These Geth, they're like the Cylons, right?"

"According to our data from the Quarians, there are only partial similarities," Jarod said. "We know the Cylons can network themselves together, but the individual Cylon units are still autonomous. The Geth, however, are operating programs that form a neural net when connected. The more Geth you have operating together, the more intelligent the whole becomes."

"An' th' Quarians dinnae mean for th' Geth t' get that sophisticated," added Scott. "But it was t' late t' shut th' blasted things down."

"So they revolted. Just like the Cylons?"

Barnes nodded. "Right. And the frakkers ended up driving the Quarians off of their homeworld Rannoch, and clear out of their own Goddamned space. The Quarians have been living in space since." A dark, angry look appeared on his features. "And the other races have been treating them like crap too."

A thoughtful expression came to Atreiad's face. Whatever thoughts he had, they went unspoken.

It was nearly Robert who spoke next. But as his mouth opened he sensed Julia with the same thought, the same imminent remark, and he stopped himself. "So far it looks like we have nothing but speculation on the motives of the Geth attack, aside from their target. Am I right?"

She was answered with nods.

"I'll report what we have to Maran. Doctor Gillam, Doctor Epstein, what about the wounded?"

"We've taken over the most critical cases," Leo said. "Right now we're at two hundred and twenty-eight dead and eleven hundred and six wounded, with a hundred critical and major cases being tended to in our medbay. The colony's medical establishment is at full capacity."

"Alright. I'll let the Admiral know. Until I get orders to leave, we'll maintain our current relief efforts. Mister Jarod, Mister Scott, I'll leave technical relief up to you."

"Aye, sir. I have teams standin' by t' help with damage."

"And I have security teams ready to assist with law enforcement officials," offered Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the ship's Chief of Security. "Should they need the assistance with maintaining law and order."

"I will coordinate all aid with the Governor's staff," Meridina offered. "I will inform you of any such needs."

"Good. Then, unless there's anything else, we're done here." When nobody offered any further matters of discussion, Julia stood. "Alright, everyone, you're all dismissed.

The assembled officers stood and filed out. Julia remained standing where she did until they were gone, at which point she walked along the table until she met Robert. "That was kind of awkward, wasn't it?" she asked.

"Yeah." He met her eyes and sighed. "Old habits, I guess. I'm sorry, I'm not looking to undermine you or assume your responsibilities, even if it looks otherwise."

"I know." Julia crossed her arms. "I guess we're all going to have to get used to this.."

Robert nodded in agreement. "It's an adjustment thing."

"But we'll make it work." A smile crossed Julia's face. She set a hand on Robert's shoulder. "You know I've missed you, Rob. You and Zack."

"I missed you too," he confessed easily. "We've been together… although not in that way…" Robert stopped briefly when Julia chuckled at the clarification. "...for so long that it was hard to not have you to talk to."

"I don't know if I could have gotten used to it," Julia admitted. Her smile didn't fade. "But you're back now, and that's the important part. So, what did you want to ask earlier? When we were in my office?"

"Huh? Oh." Robert quickly recalled it. "Well, I've been back long enough to know that there's an issue with Lucy."

"I wouldn't call it an issue." Julia shrugged. She briefly considered the best way to word what she wanted to say. "It's more of a question. Lucy's role on this ship has become complicated. Honestly, it's been getting that way since you were captain."

Robert nodded in agreement. "I agree. She's an operations officer we frequently use for field combat missions thanks to her abilities."

"Commander Richmond recently asked me to consider re-assigning Lucy to security," Julia revealed. "And I think the idea has merit."

"Maybe a little," Robert conceded. "But I don't think that fits her well."

"And she personally doesn't want it. I asked. But at the same time, she's clearly not a standard operations officer either, and I would rather free up her position in Jarod's department for someone who is more dedicated to the needs of operations." Julia shook her head. "But I don't feel comfortable pushing Lucy into a role she doesn't fit either, and I can't help but think that's what it would be for her to be in security."

"It would also be putting one of our original people under the command of someone who wasn't in the Facility back in the day," Robert pointed out.

Julia frowned. "That's not an important distinction. Honestly, Rob, I'm trying to diminish the feel that we've got a clique on this ship."

"I understand, and maybe I should have done more to do the same," he admitted. "But consider the position it would put you and Richmond in. Lucy has personal connections to both you and Meridina, especially Meridina. How long before those connections make Richmond feel like she's being undermined?"

"A good question."

"I have a solution," Robert said. "Assign her to me."

"Oh?" Her tone indicated Julia's interest, but perhaps a bit of uncertainty as well.

"As a Paladin, I'm authorized to recruit a small number of personnel to directly assist my operations," Robert explained. "Obviously I don't get an entire ship, and my staff has to be small…"

"Right."

"...but I could use Lucy," he continued. "Soon I'm going to get a personal craft for use in my missions, when they take me away from the Aurora. Lucy can pilot it better than I can. Not to mention how much help she'll be on those missions."

For a moment Julia said nothing. Her expression was intent, showing she was considering it. Robert didn't let himself sense her feelings and waited patiently for her to react. "As things stand, Jarod and I have been wondering where Tra'dur would fit on the crew," she admitted. "If Lucy's permanently assigned to you, it solves that problem. And if we need her for something…"

"Lucy will have standing orders from me to help you and the crew," Robert assured her. "Just as I intend to help if you ever need it."

"Right." Julia smiled softly at that. "I'd expect that from you. Anyway… the idea works for me. You have my blessing."

Robert smiled back. "I'll ask Lucy later and see if she likes the idea. I'll let you know what she says."

"I'm sure she'll say yes," Julia said. "Either way… it was good working this out with you." Her aquamarine eyes twinkled with delight. "I missed this."

"So did I."

"And now I have a question for you," she asked.

"Oh? What?"

Her smile curled on along the left side of her lip. "Are you ever going to get a haircut? Or at least a shave?"

Robert couldn't help himself. He laughed, and Julia laughed too.

It felt good to be home.




Robert's quarters on the Aurora were smaller than the ones he'd enjoyed as Captain, not that he minded as he had plenty of room for personal effects he'd picked up from storage on New Liberty. The quarters were, in fact, second tier VIP quartering on Deck 6, about the same size as those of the command staff and meant for the senior staff of visiting admirals or state officials. If he had any complaint, it was that visiting Julia or anyone else now necessitated a ride in the lift.

For the moment that wasn't his concern. He was seated on the floor beside his bed for pre-sleep meditation. His breathing was controlled and quiet while he focused on the warm energy he felt within himself, the energy around him. The Flow of Life resonated on the ship. He could feel the bright warmth of Meridina's life energies, the intensity of Lucy's, and the quieter energies of the others. Some bright points indicated a few among the two thousand crew who had their own deeper connection to the Flow of Life that could one day be widened. The planet below had even more life on it. Over fifty thousand souls, all but a few Dorei, psionically sensitive and feeling different than Humans of equal number would.

But it wasn't as warm a feeling, and for good reason. He sensed fear, grief, shock, anger, rage. They had been attacked. Their neighbors harmed, even killed. Their sense of security smashed.

And there was something else. An even older sense from the planet. The same emotions, but intensified by despair and hopelessness. And a cold feeling. So cold that Robert actually gulped in realization; this was the feeling of an extinction. The extermination of the Adranians left an imprint in the Flow of Life. Death on a massive scale.

Without thinking about it, Robert felt his connection spread out further through the Flow of Life, a reach impossible to him before his exposure to the Time Vortex in the Doctor's TARDIS. On Gersal and while on the Keyeri he had tested his reach similarly, usually with little difficulty.

But not this time. This time he felt a… wrongness in the Flow of Life. An imprinted coldness that ran within it, detectable only by reaching as far and wide as he could, otherwise that cold would be overwhelmed by the warmth of life.

Robert's heart skipped a beat. This… this was the same remnant cold as he felt on Adrana. A lingering remnant of death, of the destruction of life, that seemed to be permanently woven into the Flow of Life in the M4P2 universe.

What could cause this? That was Robert's thought.

And then they came. The visions. Not in his dreams, as sometimes happened, but in his meditative state. He could see the burning cities. Piles of corpses. Giant, metallic things leveling a city. Crimson beams carving through majestic skylines, through vehicles, through living beings, destroying all. Alien forms covered in ghastly blue circuitry rushing through a crowd, biting and ripping and maiming, beings screaming as metal spikes impaled them…

And that sound. That horrible sound, like the Devil himself blowing a trumpet through an electronic synthesizer. It vibrated within his very soul.

He was standing in the Citadel Tower again, in the chambers of the Citadel Council. Flames and wreckage surrounded him. Robotic figures stood before him, weapons raised…

Not just robotic figures anymore. He knew them now. He'd seen them in the records from the attack on Adrana. "Geth," Robert murmured aloud.

And then there was the figure, standing at the end of the audience platform facing the Council. The cyborg Turian, with those glowing, ghastly blue eyes, the circuitry embedded into his skin. "This is our only hope to survive," he insisted. "We must prove we can serve. Or we will suffer the same fate as all the other species this galaxy has ever known."

"We can fight them!"

Robert thought the sentiment came from him. But he glanced to his side. He was joined by others. But only one he could see. She was in unpowered combat armor, Systems Alliance issue. An N7 was above the right breast of the suit. Her green eyes blazed with defiant will underneath the visor of her combat helmet.

And immediately Robert knew who she was.

His eyes opened. And the name escaped his lips.

"Shepard."




The end of her work day saw Julia enjoy a warm, comforting shower. Muscles still tense from an end-of-the-day workout relaxed under the spray of the warm water. She sighed with deep content at the feeling, as if the water wasn't just washing away sweat and a day's worth of dead skin, but the worries that the day's events had brought her. From a victory celebration to a mysterious attack by even more mysterious robots, she thought darkly. Why do I feel like God is amusing Himself at my expense now that I'm the Captain?

A familiar tone sounded, even here in her bathroom. "Bridge to Captain Andreys," stated Lieutenant Takawira, the Gamma shift watch officer on the bridge. His accent still bore the thick tones of the Zimbabwean colony of Nkomo.

I think God just answered me, Julia thought, sighing deeply. She called out "What?" with some ferocity, and lied to herself that it was just to ensure she was heard over the shower.

"Admiral Maran is waiting for you over IU comms, Captain. He says it's urgent."

"I'll be right there. Relay the call to my quarters." Hoping she had rinsed off sufficiently, she left the shower. She wiped off the excess water with a couple of swipes from her towel and immediately pulled on a terry-cloth bathrobe, white in color, that she tied closed. She took a towel for her hair and began wrapping her wet blond locks inside of the white towel while walking to her desk. She sat, double-checked her robe, and satisfied that she met the bare minimum of modesty for speaking to her superior, she tapped a key on the desk control to accept the call.

Admiral Maran appeared on the screen. He was still on the Gersallian flagship, the Kentan, instead of his office in Defense Command, given the lack of a window behind him, much less the skyline of 27th Century Portland that Julia was familiar with. His dark hair had gray at the temples and along the fringes of his trimmed beard. "Captain, good work with your relief of the Adrana Colony," he said. "Governor Tamas has been forthcoming with praise at the aid you've provided."

"Thank you, Admiral."

"I've read the reports from you and your officers on the Geth attack. I admit that it's deeply concerning, especially given the Geth link to the Batarian plot to sabotage and seize the Aurora last year. If the Geth are allied with or controlled by the Batarians, it could trigger a wide-scale interstellar war in M4P2 we cannot afford."

"That's what we're wondering too."

Maran nodded. His expression darkened. "There are other, worse possibilities, however."

That comment surprised Julia. "Oh?" she asked.

"You've heard of the attack on Eden Prime?"

"Yes sir."

"The Geth caused a lot of damage, including the loss of a Prothean beacon discovered there, at least according to a friendly source on Arcturus Station. If this same source is correct, and if the evidence that the Systems Alliance intends to present is true… we may be dealing with something even worse than a Batarian-Geth alliance."

Only one possibility seemed worse. "The Nazis," Julia hissed. "Is it them? Did they…"

"No. We still have no indication that the Reich is fielding interuniversal jump drives at this time. What we do know is that Captain Anderson of the Normandy is being ordered to the Citadel to present evidence of Spectre involvement in the attack."

Julia's jaw dropped in surprise. "A Spectre did this?"

"That is what Anderson claims." Maran shook his head. "I find it hard to believe the Citadel would sanction a strike against us or against the Systems Alliance, not like this. And definitely not using the Geth. But if they have a rogue on their hands, given the resources a rogue might have access to, and the damage he or she could do even if the Council cuts them off… we need to know one way or the other, Captain. That's why I'm giving you new orders. I want you to depart Adrana immediately and head to the Citadel. Report to Ambassador Atama and be ready to observe what Anderson's evidence is, as well as providing whatever evidence is requested on the Geth attack on Adrana. If we have a rogue Spectre on our hands… we need to be ready."

"Right away, Admiral. We'll depart immediately."

"Just what I wanted to hear. Maran out." His image disappeared.

Julia hit a second key on her table. "Andreys to Bridge. Recall all personnel from Adrana immediately and set a course for System G1SV. Prepare the ship for mass relay travel. We're headed to the Citadel."
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-16 08:38am

The Citadel. The name implied a fortress, a stronghold, and in many ways it fit the colossal space station in the Serpent Nebula. Obscured in a haze of particles and gases, the Citadel often thus had the impression of appearing from parting clouds in majestic triumph. It was altogether fitting imagery for a space station that served as the cornerstone of interstellar law, trade, and diplomacy in the M4P2 Milky Way galaxy.

Such was the site through the windows of the Lookout as the Starship Aurora approached the Citadel for the second time in her career. Crew members who had not been aboard for that visit, who indeed had never seen the place, clustered in the Aurora's crew lounge for a look at the station and its massive arms. Those arms were lit up with pinpricks of light, signifying the presence of the seven million beings that called the colossal space station home. Each made even the Aurora look small, being over forty times longer than the starship.

At one of the tables, Will Atreiad was gawking at the site. The Citadel made even the largest of the Colonies' fleetbases before the Fall seem small. The only structure of greater scope he'd seen was the Ring of Gersal, which wrapped itself around the planet's singular moon. And that had taken the Gersallians centuries of construction and reconstruction to manage.

Beside him Lieutenant Magda Navaez, the Koenig Operations Officer, said, "It is everything I hoped it would be." The other command officers of the Koenig agreed with her remark by nodding.

At a nearby table Dr. Roliri Opani, a Dorei woman of dark teal complexion and purple-colored spotline - the Dorei had spots similar to, but not the same as, the Trill of S5T3 - nodded in agreement with the hushed "It's beautiful" of Tra'dur. Seated with them was Cat and Violeta. Cat nodded as well and said, "Told you it was great."

"Will we be allowed to visit?" Tra'dur asked. "Not that I dare hope to see even a modest percentage of the Citadel in the time we will be alloted…"

"I'll clear it with Jarod," Cat said. "I want to show Vee around the Presidium."

"Might I join you, at least for a time?" Tra'dur asked.

Cat and Violeta exchanged brief looks before they nodded together. "Sure," Violeta said. "We'll be glad to have you along."

"It's too bad it's not purely a port-call," Cat lamented. "I don't think some of the others will get to enjoy the sights as much."




Due to his prior visit to the Citadel, Robert knew precisely where Atama's office was, just across the way from that of Ambassador Donnell Udina of the Systems Alliance. They found the older male Dorei at his desk watching footage from the attack on Adrana. His skin was a pale blue, his spots pale teal, and whitening teal hair was pulled back into a formal ponytail. His face was marked with violet tattoos. He looked to them and nodded. "I am Atama Y'raa Teme, Allied Systems Ambassador to the Citadel," he said formally. His accent was stiff, not from formality but as if he needed to fully elucidate every syllable. "Captain Dale, Captain Andreys, welcome."

They stepped further into the office. "Thank you, Mister Ambassador," Julia said. The two noted the photographs on a table beside his desk. Some showed a man of the same pale blue skin, but with darker purple spots, others women of pale blue skin but with dark teal and pale teal spots as well. All had purple hair that was turning white. "Your family?"

"Yes. We are the Raa hekli." Atama smiled pleasantly. "My fellow heko and heku you see."

"A group marriage?" Robert asked.

"I believe that is your Human English term for it, yes," Atama said. The smile did not change. "It is the way of the people of Omatei."

Neither recognized the name of his nation, but given there were over two hundred identifiable nations among the Dorei, not counting the various nations recognized in their oldest colonies, this was not too surprising.

"I hope your hekli got to come with you," remarked Julia.

"They have. But we have other matters." Atama now frowned and looked back to the frozen image on his holo-viewer, a Geth firing a weapon toward the recorder. "A terrible day for my people. It is not enough that the Batarians seek to make slaves of us. Now these… these machines dare to strike at us."

"We gave what help we could," Julia said apologetically.

"Yes. May the Jani bless you for it." Atama stood. "Ambassador Udina has scheduled a meeting with the Council. Given the Geth attack against Adrana, I have secured our place in the audience to observe the Systems Alliance's evidence on the attacks. You will accompany me."

"Of course, Mister Ambassador," Robert replied.

"Await me in the lobby below, and we will travel together."

The two walked out of the office. As they emerged, they watched the door further down the way open. Both recognized Captain David Anderson as well as his First Officer, Commander Jennifer Shepard. The former was a deep-voiced man with a mocha-toned complexion and dark, military-cut hair. Shepard had the paled bronze complexion she'd had the last time they'd met, during her month aboard the Aurora during the lead-up to the Battle of New Austria and the Gamma Piratus operation. Her hair had the same vibrant, almost fiery color, with the same short-cut style she'd had before.

The real impression was that she was wearing her combat armor, not a uniform, and had her firearms with her. Robert felt a flash of vision in his mind for it was the same armor he had seen her wearing while confronting the cyborg Turian. He sensed Julia's surprise at Shepard being armed for battle here in the Presidium of the Citadel.

"Captain Dale, Captain Andreys." Anderson's deep voice boomed with warmth at speaking to them. He walked up and offered a hand. "It's good to see you. I heard about Adrana. I assume that's why you're here?"

"The Alliance wants to see your evidence about the Geth attack on Eden Prime," Robert said. "Given the timing, it probably involves the attack on Adrana as well."

"We have an eyewitness who identified the killer," Anderson said. "Udina's on his way to the Council now, we're going to join him."

"You go on ahead, Captain," said Shepard. "I'll come with them. I'd like to ask them something."

Anderson nodded. "Just remember, we need you there, Shepard. Your testimony is going to be crucial." He walked on, leaving the three where they were.

"How can we help you, Commander?" Julia asked.

"I'd like to talk to Meridina," said Shepard. "When we're done here. I need her help."

"In what way?" asked Robert.

"The Prothean beacon on New Eden, it did something to my head." Shepard grimaced. "It gave me visions. Machines slaughtering people. But I'm not sure what I was seeing, I was hoping she could help me."

"I'll speak to her on it," Julia said.

"Thank you." Shepard looked at Robert with bemusement. "So… what's with the staff officer uniform now? And the hair?"

Julia flashed Robert a grin. Robert chuckled. "I've had a change of occupation," he said. "And I decided I wanted to try something different for a while. Growing a beard and letting my hair grow out makes me a little harder to recognize."

"Not that much harder!" Julia laughed.

Shepard grinned. "You wouldn't happen to be one of the Alliance's new Paladins, would you?"

Robert nodded. "Guilty as charged."

"You should be careful. No rank insignia means you're not considered in proper military uniform. There are governments that would shoot you over that, the Turians included."

"Given how many Spectres the Turians have fielded? That's rich." Robert shook his head. "Anyway, we'd better get going. Atama will be coming along shortly so we can see what evidence you're showing us."

"I'll see you in the Council Chamber."

Shepard departed at that point, leaving Julia and Robert alone. She flashed a bemused grin his way. "I didn't say it," she reminded him.

"No, you didn't. An amazing show of self-control indeed for the captain of a starship," Robert guffawed.

"Well, Sir Robert, if that's how you're going to be…" Julia winked at him and walked on toward the Embassy lobby area.

Robert couldn't help but chuckle as he followed her. "Good to know being a captain hasn't entirely removed your sense of humor," he called out while following.




For the first time in nearly twenty months, Robert stepped off of the lift of the Citadel Tower and walked onto the level containing the Citadel Council's audience chamber and adjoining facilities, this time with Julia beside him. Ambassador Atama stepped ahead of both to take the lead as they walked their way through the chamber. They passed a male Turian in C-Sec garb at one point, a Systems Alliance admiral at another. A Keeper moved ahead and then around them just before they reached the stairs leading up to the audience platform. Anderson was already motioning to Shepard to follow him.

Atama beckoned the others to join him and followed as well. Udina was already speaking with the three members of the Citadel Council: Valern of the Salarians, Sparatus of the Turians, and Tevos of the Asari. Additionally a hologram was depicting another Turian, toned amber by the projectors.

As the Alliance group approached Udina, the Turian Councillor, Sparatus, directed his attention to them. "And what is the purpose of the Allied Systems in this matter?"

"Adrana has been attacked by Geth, the same as Eden Prime," Atama replied. "The Alliance Government requests to observe whatever evidence has been given by the Systems Alliance on the matter."

"Then your time has been wasted, Ambassador," said the holographic figure. Robert and Julia recognized him: Saren Arterius, the Spectre that escorted Matriarch Benezia to the failed talks with the Batarians. "Just as our time has been wasted by this baseless accusation by Captain Anderson."

"We have an eyewitness, Saren!" Anderson retorted.

"What you have is a single dockworker terrified out of his mind." Saren raised a hand. "But it gives you an excuse to deflect responsibility for the destruction of the beacon and the death of Nihlus Kryik, a personal friend and colleague of mine. It must sting, Anderson, to know that yet again you Humans have proven incapable of assuming the power you hunger for. I'm not surprised you're blaming your failures on me again."

"You arrogant…" Anderson clearly fought for control. Robert sensed old anger and shame, something that had clearly eaten away at the man for years now, decades. His frustration with Saren was palpable.

Saren turned to face the Council. "This is clearly an attempt by the Systems Alliance to excuse Shepard's failure. She has proven incapable as a Spectre candidate, just as I warned."

"I object!" raged Udina. "Saren does not have the authority to…"

At that point Robert lost track of the argument. His eyes were entirely on Saren now. He'd met the Turian once before and found him unsettling. But seeing him again, seeing him in this place that his visions kept bringing him back to… Saren's face.

The visions flashed again. The CItadel Council chamber on fire. Wrecked Geth, dead bodies… and the cyborged Turian. "This is the only way for us to survive," the Turian insisted. "We have to serve."

Robert's mouth went dry. The face… even with the unnatural glow of the blue eyes, the cybernetics grafted onto the skin… it was the same face.

Saren was the Turian from his dreams, his visions.

Robert's attention was jolted back to the meeting once Saren disappeared. "As the matter stands, there is insufficient evidence to your charge again Saren," Tevos was saying.

"Particularly when you consider his long career of protecting Council space from threats," Sparatus added. "I find the accusation being made to be contemptible. A poor attempt to salvage Shepard's status as a candidate for the Spectres."

Valern spoke next. "We will begin our own investigation into this sudden emergence of the Geth, and to their attacks on your colonies. Given the potential threat, we hope the Allied Systems will provide us with data on the attack on Adrana, it may give us more insight into Geth intentions."

"The Alliance is ready to cooperate on the matter," Atama informed them. "After all, our purpose in this galaxy is to assist the Council in maintaining law and order."

"And we are thankful for that," Tevos assured him. "Ambassadors, have a pleasant day."




The moment they were clear of the audience platform, Udina turned to Anderson. "It was a mistake having you present, Captain. Your history with Saren undermines your credibility and taints the evidence."

"That much was clear," said Atama. "Although their outright dismissal of your witness seems immature."

"Saren's one of their best," Udina said. "Of course the Council won't turn on them. Sparatus even agrees with most of his anti-Human attitudes."

"Either way, Saren is a threat to the entire Human race," Anderson insisted. "There's no telling how much damage he'll do with the Geth."

"Maybe there are sources here on the Citadel we can use," Shepard said. "I overheard a C-Sec officer complaining about Saren on the way in."

"If you can find evidence against him, Commander, I will present it to the Council." Udina frowned at Anderson. "But Anderson can't be anywhere near it."

"In the meantime, Ambassador, I would like to discuss a mutual response to the Geth threat," said Atama.

"Of course. This way, Ambassador…"

The two diplomats walked away, leaving the four officers behind. They were quickly joined by two more Systems Alliance personnel, wearing combat armor like Shepard's. "Captains, these are the other members of the team that fought the Geth on New Eden," said Anderson. "Lieutenant Kaiden Alenko and Gunnery Sergeant Ashley Williams."

"Lieutenant. Sergeant, a pleasure." Julia took the lead in greeting them, shaking hands with them in order of rank. Kaidan had a light complexion, partly from space life, with close-cut dark hair and brown eyes. In contrast Ashley's Caucasian complexion had the slight tanning of someone frequently in sunlight, and her eyes were even darker than Kaidan's.

"Captain Andreys. Captain Dale." Alenko's hello was warm and friendly. He spoke English with an accent Robert thought of as Canadian.

"Ma'am, sir." Ashley accepted the handshake. "I take it the Council is letting Saren get away with it?"

"They require more proof, and that's exactly what you're going to get," Anderson said. "But it's best if I'm not around for the investigation."

Shepard noted the frown on her superior's face. "Just what happened between you and Saren?"

"Over twenty years ago, I was Humanity's first candidate for admission to the Spectres," Anderson admitted. "I was assigned to Saren to be evaluated. We ended up on an operation where Saren deliberately went off-mission and caused the deaths of innocent civilians. But he blamed me, insisting that I caused the mission to go bad. The Council believed him." A hard look came to Anderson's face. "That's why I know how much a threat the man is. Saren will do anything to complete his goals. Anything. No matter the bloodshed. Even among the Spectres he's the most ruthless."

Hearing Anderson describe Saren reminded Robert of what President Morgan had said about the Paladins. How they had to not simply protect the Alliance, but to do so without violating what it believed in. Saren seemed the prime candidate for showing why Morgan thought the distinction had to be hammered home.

But more importantly, his visions convinced him Anderson was right.

"I'm going to begin my own investigation," he said.

"Did you get orders?" asked Julia.

"No. But I don't need them. As a Paladin I'm authorized to act independently if the Alliance's security and safety is at stake. And… with Saren, I'm convinced it is."

"What makes you say that?" Alenko asked.

"I have my reasons."

"Those powers you started to use on Gamma Piratus?' Shepard inquired.

"Yes." Robert nodded. "Since my coma, my abilities have intensified." Seeing the confusion in Shepard's comrades, he added, "I've been trained by someone who served in the Gersallian Order of Swenya."

"I've heard weird stuff about them," Ashley said. "Wasn't sure it was true though."

"It is," said Shepard. "I've fought beside one of their Knights before. They're the real deal. But that's for later. I want to go track that C-Sec officer down."

"I'll see if there are any other avenues to take," Robert remarked. "If I can't find anything, I'll be in contact."

"Same here." Shepard extended a hand to him. "Good luck, Captain Dale."

"Good luck, Commander Shepard," he answered back.

The four personnel from the Normandy went on to the lift, leaving Robert and Julia. "Just how are you going to investigate a black ops legend like Saren?" Julia asked. Memories of the time they'd had Saren aboard the Aurora entered her mind. "Thinking back, we were so busy watching the Batarians that Saren could have been the one to plant that Geth device without being noticed. I would have brought it up if I thought it would do any good."

"Right. The Citadel Council's not going to turn on their best operative unless we have concrete proof against him. Something really incriminating." Robert lowered his head in thought.

"Maybe Intelligence has something on Saren?" Julia asked.

"Maybe, maybe not. If Jarod's not busy, ask him if he can find anything in the database." Robert's thoughts gave way to his feelings, specifically the Flow of Life and the energy linking them. He knew there was more to it, that it was itself alive in some ways… and now he knew that in this galaxy, it was somehow tainted, or wounded, by mass death. He could sense it here, just a little whisper…

"What are you going to do in the meantime?" asked Julia.

Robert didn't answer right away. He felt the energy around him and the pull within it. Realization came to him; he knew where he had to go. "I'm going to meet someone who might know who I should talk to," he said. "Ask Lucy if she can be ready to meet me when I call."

"You haven't talked to her yet, have you? About a reassignment?"

"No. I will, but for now this is an ad hoc assignment. Just in case Shepard's C-Sec contact doesn't pan out, I'd like options." Robert checked his omnitool. "I'll stay in touch."

"You'd better," Julia said. "You just got back."

"I know." He accepted a brief hug from her. "I'll be careful."

"Good." Julia ended the hug and tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora, one to beam up." After a few seconds she flashed away.

Once she was gone, Robert walked on toward the destination he had in mind.




Cat couldn't help herself. Seeing Tra'dur's wide-eyed, boggled expression at the Presidium made her giggle. "Incredible, isn't it?" she asked.

"Beyond words," Tra'dur insisted. "This is a true marvel of the Multiverse. We have missed so much in our forced exile…"

They walked along a footbridge linking the two sides of the Presidium, taking them over the waterway that spanned the section. With just point three Gs of gravity moving along was easy, but they were too busy enjoying the sights to hurry through them.

"Seven million beings live on the station," Caterina continued. "Mostly in the wards. I only visited the Presidium last time though."

"You lacked the time to do otherwise?" Tra'dur asked.

"Yeah. And I was shyer back then. I mean, I'm still a little shy, but not as bad…"

"You've come a long way, my sweet Cat," said Violeta with a smile tinged with sadness. She reached out and took Cat's hand, pulling her close enough to cuddle a little. Caterina accepted it without protest, simply a little sigh knowing she wouldn't be enjoying this for long.

They might have walked together in this fashion if not for a growl of "Can't you Humans show any public decency?!" A Turian approached. "I should report you to C-Sec!"

"For what?!" demanded Violeta.

"Like you have to ask," he retorted. "You Humans always behave like everything in the galaxy belongs to you. No respect for others." Without offering more remarks, he continued on, nodding politely to Tra'dur.

"What a jerk," Cat muttered.

Continuing on, they found that most people were looking toward them if just to look at Tra'dur. Finally the Dilgar woman asked, "It is odd, but I get the feeling they value my presence more than yours."

"Humans aren't always liked in this universe," Violeta explained. "Humanity fought a war with the Turians at the establishment of contact."

"More like the Turians attacked a Human colony because Humanity re-activated a mass relay that Council law said shouldn't have been turned on. Or something." Cat shrugged. "I mean, I think the local Humans are being a bit pushy too or something, so it makes the other species jealous of Humans getting so much prominence so quickly."

"Having the Alliance around doesn't help. Since we have a Human plurality in population, I mean."

"Yeah. But I can understand that." Cat shrugged. "I mean, Humanity being the most common species in the Multiverse is weird and a little unsettling for most species. The Citadel species are probably worried that we're going to take over or something… and ooh, here's the Krogan Memorial." She looked up at the statue of a Krogan. "They built it to thank the Krogan for destroying the Rachni."

"This was the conflict that the Krogan were uplifted to fight, correct?" Tra'dur inquired.

"From what I read, yes."

After answering Tra'dur, Cat turned her head and saw Violeta walking over to the railing overlooking the lake. Once glance toward Tra'dur was enough to signal to the Dilgar that they wanted a moment. While Tra'dur stayed back, Cat walked over to join Violeta. "So, this is probably our last shore leave together," Cat said.

"It's been almost a year," Violeta murmured quietly. "I mean, for me anyway."

Cat nodded. Her time with the Doctor had thrown her calendar out of sync with the others, so to speak, and things like anniversaries were something she had to re-adjust to keep them straight. She put the numbers together in her head. "Two days," she said. "Two days until our first anniversary. Well, if you consider Paris as the start…"

Violeta smiled sadly at that. "The first time we made love. I think that works as an anniversary."

Cat blushed slightly. She set her hands on the rail in front of them. "It was a magical night."

"Yes." Violeta took Cat's hand with her own. Tears were forming in her purple eyes. "Cat… oh Cat, I'm sorry."

Caterina turned her head slightly. The tears in Violeta's eyes were a surprise. "You don't have anything to be sorry for," she insisted. "I mean… I think we both knew this wasn't going to last forever?" Despite her intent, Cat could not put conviction in her words. "It hurts. I just… I guess this is life?" She put her other hand on Violeta's shoulder. "I mean, I'm not the first girlfriend you'll have to leave, right?"

"The others made it easy," Violeta said. "We weren't compatible in the end. And… and maybe you and I wouldn't have lasted either, but this isn't the same thing."

"You'd have to give up the career you want if you stayed on the Aurora."

"Yeah." Violeta sniffled and smiled bitterly. "I… I want to rise in the ranks. I want to prove I can do this, the same as you do. Oh God, I can say that even now. When it would be so easy to just…" She drew in a sigh. "In the end I'd probably be moved on anyway, you know. Even if I say no now, they'll eventually want to bring in someone who shows promise while finding another ship that could use me, even if I don't have promotions. Or if I'm not needed."

"I know some Human militaries act like that, but the Alliance isn't just Humans. I'm sure you could…" Cat stopped herself and shook her head. The little flicker of hope she'd felt went away. "I'm sorry. You're not going to."

"No." Violeta shook her head. "I've… this is my chance, really. And I thought long and hard about it…"

"Yeah." Cat sighed. "If we could make it work anyway…"

"Maybe we will? I don't know." Violeta shook her head. "But either way…" She let the sentence hang unanswered. Cat, for her part, did the same. They kept looking out at the water together.

Nearby, just out of easy earshot, Tra'dur turned away from them. She knew what they would be discussing and felt somewhat awkward to even be nearby.

Her eyes focused on one of the insectoid Keepers that maintained the Citadel. She watched the creature shuffle by wordlessly. A Salarian coming from the opposite direction distinctly ran his active omnitool over the Keeper, which seemed to ignore the movement. Tra'dur was somewhat new to the devices herself, but she was pretty sure the Salarian had just done something and stepped to the side to intercept him. "Excuse me," she said. "What were you just doing?"

"What? Oh, nothing," the Salarian insisted. "Just moving on, doing my business."

"It looked like you were trying to scan one of those things," said Tra'dur. "Isn't that illegal?"

"As long as we don't interfere with them, it isn't," the Salarian replied. "I'm just getting some harmless scans. Say, you're one of the species in the Alliance, right? The Multiversal Allied Systems?"

"I am a Dilgar, and we are potential members, yes," said Tra'dur. "Why do you ask?"

"My name's Chorban. And I could use your help on my research project."

"I am Lieutenant Tra'dur of the Alliance Starship Aurora," she answered. "And… I am listening."




Robert walked with purpose across the bridge spanning the width of the Presidium. Whatever route Shepard was taking for her investigation, he could sense the best place to start his own.

Twenty months before, during the Aurora's first visit to the Citadel, Caterina had passed on to him a crucial message from one of the most respected figures on the station: an Asari named Sha'ira, known as "the Consort". Looking back at his encounter with her, he now understood just where she got her ability to win the confidence of so many people; she, too, had a connection to the Flow of Life, to the force within it, that guided her. Before it led her to give him an object that turned out to be a Darglan command disc, one that allowed him to ensure the destruction of the Facility on Gamma Piratus before Nazi forces could claim it. He hoped that she might be able to help again.

He arrived at the entrance to the Consort's offices. An Asari maiden was at the entrance, wearing the almost-risque banded suits that showed skin while providing sufficient cover for all of those bits that society expected to keep covered. "Nelyna, right?" he asked.

"Yes." She looked him over. "I'm afraid I… oh, wait, I do remember you. You are Captain Robert Dale of the Aurora."

"I was," he answered. "And I still have that rank, though I have no ship now."

"Well, if you wish to talk to the Consort about it, I might be able to squeeze you into her schedule in a week or so…" Nelyna looked over the listing. "You look like you have had quite the change to your life, sir."

"You could say that," he said. Given the grown out facial hair and the neck-length hair he continued to sport, Robert wasn't surprised at the observation. "But I have other matters I think the Consort can help me with, and I really need to see her without delay."

"I understand that, Captain, I really do," said Nelyna, who was rather obviously reading from a script in her head for such insistence. "But many have need for the Consort's time, and she must be fair…"

From within the structure Robert could feel a shift of energy. He knew it was Sha'ira, and he was just as certain Sha'ira felt him. It was no surprise when her voice called out from within. "Let Captain Dale in, Nelyna. His cause is urgent."

"Right away ma'am." Nelyna nodded to him. "The Consort awaits you, Captain."

"Thank you," he answered politely. "I'm sorry if my request causes you any trouble."

Nelyna smiled gently at him. "It is no trouble, but I thank you for the consideration."

Robert walked on. Inside the Consort's subordinates, young Human and Asari in similar suits to Nelyna's, were comforting various clientele of all species. One Human woman, with a rich mocha complexion, was quietly reassuring a Hanar who was suffering a crisis of faith. A lavender-colored Asari was tending to another Asari of blue coloring who was grieving for a Human wife who just died. Robert couldn't help but know their problems, for here there were no barriers to prevent his senses from picking up on the raw emotions.

Past these sights was the room where Sha'ira received her guests. She was standing, waiting for him to enter, and beckoned him to a seat. "It has been quite a while, Captain," she observed. "I see you have changed in the last twenty of your months."

"A lot has changed," Robert answered. "Including me, yes."

"Before, the power I sensed within you slumbered still. Now it is beyond anything it might have been before." Sha'ira put her hands together. "But I sense there is pain in the story of how it came to be for you. There is a loss in your heart." Once he was seated Sha'ira touched his arm gently. "I am sorry about your child."

Robert forced a breath down. For months he had adjusted to the non-existence of the son he'd had in the Flow of Life's dreamworld. "You're very astute," he observed.

"And you grow moreso as well," Sha'ira answered. "But I sense your purpose is not to seek my help with your loss. You are here because of the attacks."

"A Turian named Saren Arterius is behind them," Robert insisted. "I've seen it. Through my abilities, the visions of possibilities I get from them. You know what I'm talking about, don't you?"

The Consort nodded. "Yes. As I once told you, Captain, I too am a dreamer, and I sometimes dream of terrible things."

"I can understand why." He frowned. "I feel… an old sense of death here. Not just here on the Citadel, but in this entire galaxy. And you feel it as well?"

"I do."

"I think Saren is connected to something bigger," Robert said. "Udina and Anderson see this as an anti-Human campaign. But the attack on Adrana… it didn't accomplish anything that would help with something like that. There's another agenda here."

"I am familiar with Saren Arterius," the Consort said. "He is a ruthless man. Be cautious with him."

"I intend to be. But I need evidence against him."

Sha'ira nodded. "I may be of some help there." She quietly tapped at an omnitool. "While I wait for a reply, I would like to discuss your plight."

"My plight?"

"Yes. I can sense the unease in you. The power you wield… it is almost too much for you."

Robert didn't react at first. Finally he nodded. "I struggle with it. Especially with fine control. Too much is riding on me to do otherwise."

"That is true. But you are still disappointed in yourself, even though you should not be. Have you not aided your friend?"

"A little, I guess."

"More than a little, I think. And now you have come back to your vessel, though you no longer command it."

"It's Julia's ship now," Robert said. "And… I don't want to make her feel like I'm trying to take it back."

"I see." Sha'ira reached over and took his hand. "You love her very much."

To that Robert nodded. "I always have."

"And you do not want to hurt her. But you also want to be home." Sha'ira shook her head. "These things are not in conflict, though you feel they are."

"I commanded the ship before, and I'm still officially a Captain," Robert said. "Two Captains on a ship, it's… it can be confusing. I don't want people to start looking to me when they should still be looking to her."

"Yes."

"I didn't think about that when I made the choice," he continued. "I just wanted to be back where I belonged. With the others. For years, we've had each others' backs. We've been looking out for each other. I wanted to go back to that."

"And you wished to be with those you love," Sha'ira pointed out. "Even now, Captain Dale, I can feel the loss inside of you. Those whom you have loved who no longer live. That pain could overwhelm if you did not have the others."

There was no denying the truth in that. "Yep," he admitted.

"I do not say this to cause you pain. Merely to show you that you have reason for the choice you made. And I believe you were right to return to your ship, whatever issues that return may have caused." Sha'ira checked something on her omnitool. "Indeed, I believe remaining with your loved ones may be the most important choice you may ever make."

"Does your sense of what is to come tell you that?" Robert asked. "I mean, the visions you have with your gift?"

"Somewhat, yes. But I would believe so anyway." Sha'ira smiled gently at him. "I have learned many lessons in my time, Captain. And one of them is that we are always made stronger by remaining true to those whom we love and cherish." She seemed to check her omnitool again. "As for your other concern, I have contacted an associate who has confirmed a possible avenue for your investigation into these attackers."

Pleased to have the business at hand brought back into the conversation, Robert nodded once. "Thank you for your help. What can you tell me?"

"I can tell you very little," Sha'ira replied. "But Barla Von will be of much greater assistance. You will find him in his office in the Financial District further down the Presidium. I will relay the exact coordinates."

"Barla Von?"

"He is a volus trader working for the Shadow Broker. He is thus quite dangerous, but also quite reasonable." Sha'ira stood, prompting Robert to do the same. "He should be able to help you, Captain. And he is expecting you."

"I see." Robert considered that. He felt a vague sense of imminent danger already and resolved to make a stop first. "I'll go see him after changing into something a little more appropriate for the situation, then."

"Please do," Sha'ira said. "I look forward to your next visit."

"I do too," he answered, with some genuine belief behind the politeness of returning such a pleasant sentiment. "Take care, ma'am." Robert activated his omnitool. "Dale to Aurora, one to beam up."

The transporter whisked him away a moment later.
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-16 11:01pm

Lucy was already preparing to go to the Citadel when she got the call to armor up and meet Robert in Transporter Station 2. A Human man was on duty when she arrived, in blue robe and purple armor with her lightsaber affixed to the belt.

Robert entered several moments later. He was clad in a similar set of armor, but colored blue, and the brown robes were not a usual color among the Gersallians. A pulse pistol was holstered on his hip. Lucy imagined he might have a backup holstered at the small of his back as well. "It's a set of traveling robes Mastrash Ledosh gave to me before I left Gersal," he said to her. "I'm sorry if I interrupted anything."

"I was going to check up on a Quarian sanctuary Meridina and I visited the last time we were here," Lucy admitted.

"I wouldn't have called you if I didn't need the backup. But there's no telling the danger we could run into, even on the Citadel," Robert remarked. "Saren's been an active Spectre for decades. If he realizes we're hunting for dirt on him, he might have agents that could attack us."

"Right." Lucy sighed. "Well, at least it's not security duty. I'm still waiting to see if Richmond convinces Julia to transfer me." Immediately she sensed Robert's thoughts shift. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

"I will, when we have time. For now, let's go meet this Barla Von."




They beamed as close to the Financial District as possible, given the Citadel's new transporter-inhibitor fields. Barla Von wasn't hard to locate. Officially he worked as a data manager for a Volus-chartered bank on the Citadel, providing the necessary information on galactic conditions for the bankers and managers to make decisions on bank business.

Unofficially, according to both Sha'ira and a report from Alliance Intelligence, Barla Von worked for the Shadow Broker.

Nobody knew who or what the Shadow Broker was, or if they did, they said nothing about it. Generally speaking the Broker was referred to in the masculine, reportedly because the Broker addressed others with what most species considered a male voice, electronically altered to be unrecognizable. From wherever the Broker lived, the Broker managed an intelligence network that spanned the entire M4P2 galaxy and, perhaps, beyond it now. Alliance Intelligence warned against dealings with the Broker without authorization from the Defense Staff.

Of course, as a Paladin, such authorization came pre-approved for Robert.

Barla Von looked up from his desk the moment Robert and Lucy entered. "Ah. Captain Dale, Lieutenant Lucero." Von sucked in air after each sentence, an audible sound. "I have been expecting you."

Lucy gave him a look. "I'm assuming Sha'ira called ahead?" Robert asked.

"She did, as a courtesy," confirmed the Volus. "But it merely confirmed what I already expected. You are here to investigate Saren Arterius' connection to the Geth, and the attacks upon Adrana and Eden Prime."

"Did she share that with you too?"

"No. I am already aware of the accusation. The Broker has been keeping an eye on Saren for some time." Barla Von put his hands together. "He is aware that Saren is no longer working for the Citadel Council."

"I'm guessing he doesn't care to inform the Citadel, then?"

"The Broker is not loyal to the Citadel Council, obviously, and they would not heed him anyway. All he would accomplish was jeopardizing his contacts within Saren's organization." Barla Von gestured toward Robert. "But that is for another time. You may be running short of such time if you want to prove Saren's guilt." Yet again Barla Von stopped to suck in air.

"What do you know?" asked Robert. "And how much will this cost me?"

"I know something you need, and it will cost you nothing," said Von. "Saren's actions are against the interests of the Broker. I have been instructed to assist in discrediting Saren in the eyes of the Council. Sending one of the Alliance's new Paladin agents to deal with this problem will meet the Broker's desires quite nicely."

Robert crossed his arms. "Given his reputation, I'm surprised he wouldn't want to insist on a quid pro quo, especially given the amount of information a Paladin can access."

Barla Von waved his hand dismissively. "The Shadow Broker has enough agents in the Alliance, there is no information you would give us that we don't know already."

Robert felt Lucy's incredulity at the claim, a mirror of his own. But there was nothing but certainty in Barla Von on the matter. "I'm in no hurry to sell Alliance secrets, even in exchange for information I need on this, so I'll take your word for it."

"Understandable. You would not want to give Admiral Davies and Minister Hawthorne further cause to push for your removal. They have already insisted President Morgan revoke your membership in the Paladins as it is."

Again there was that damnable certainty. Robert felt a prick of cold nervousness on his spine. While there was to be transparency and oversight of the Paladins at the high levels of government, much about their organization remained classified. How would the Broker know for certain about such debates?

Because if he knows anything about how those men feel about me, about people with mental powers and metaphysical abilities, it would be obvious, argued a part of his mind. Stop being paranoid. And yet… yet…

"Either way, the Broker does not seek compensation from you, Captain," Barla Von continued.

"Oh?" Lucy spoke up. "He's going to help out of the kindness of his heart? Or hearts?"

"Hardly. Rather, he has an interest in this matter. Treachery that must be punished. Saren has bought away one of our people. A man named Fist, currently the owner of a club in the Wards. Chora's Den."

"I think it was listed on the 'enter on your own risk' list of the businesses," Robert observed.

"Yes. Fist's clientele can be dangerous, as he can be as well. Especially now that he has betrayed the Broker. And he knows the Broker is aware of his treachery. Be careful, he will be heavily guarded."

"And we'll find evidence linking him to Saren and Saren to the Geth?"

"No. Fist won't have that," said Barla Von. "But he knows someone who can connect Saren to the attacks. A Quarian approached him with the evidence, believing him to still be in the Broker's employ. Undoubtedly he will betray this Quarian to Saren's agents without your intervention. Regardless of your gifts, getting to Fist won't be easy. However, I know of a way for you to get assistance."

"Oh?" Robert asked.

"The Broker has already hired a bounty hunter to deal with Fist for his treachery. C-Sec is holding him currently, but I have already ensured he will not be arrested. If you go now, you should arrive at the C-Sec station closest to Chora's Den as the bounty hunter is being released. I recommend you work together to get Fist."

"I'm not going to assassinate someone," Robert answered. "And I'm not going to willingly enable it either."

"I leave that for you to settle with our man," Barla Von replied. "I, for one, care little whether Fist actually dies or is simply ruined. Either outcome will serve as the object lesson desired by my employer. Now, Captain, I suggest you hurry. Whatever else you may feel about the Broker, Saren is our common enemy, and he must be stopped."

"I'll agree with you on that," Robert replied. He nodded. "Thank you for your help."

"Of course." Barla Von placed his hands together again, as if in thought. He spoke again as Robert turned away."And should you ever need information, keep the Broker in mind. He will certainly be easier to repay than a man like Sidney Hank."

Lucy gave Robert a curious look. Robert frowned at the remark. "I'll keep that in mind, Mister Von," Robert answered coldly, after which he went straight for the door.




The message came while Julia was filing her report on the evidence Captain Anderson presented to the Council on Saren. Meridina arrived a few minutes later, stepping out of the bridge and into Julia's bridge office. "Captain, you wanted to see me?"

"I've received an invitation for both of us that I'm inclined to accept," Julia explained. "But I figured I would get your input before I signaled our acceptance."

"I see." Meridina nodded. "This invitation is?" she then asked in her usual lilting accent.

"It's from Matriarch Lidanya, the commanding officer of the Destiny Ascension," Julia explained. "We're being invited for a tour later today."

"Ah? Quite the honor, I imagine."

"Given we're talking about the Asari flagship, one of the Multiverse's most advanced and powerful dreadnoughts?" Julia grinned. "That's what I figured too."

"I will be pleased to join you," Meridina said. "I look forward to comparing the Destiny Ascension to the Kentan."

Julia nodded. She'd been aboard the Kentan a couple of times herself; the dreadnought-carrier was the largest ship in the Alliance, the flagship of the Gersallian Interdependency and Admiral Maran's usual choice for his personal flagship. Even before its refit with Darglan technology, it was one of the most advanced starships in the entire Multiverse and a direct competitor with the Destiny Ascension.

Julia mentally brushed those musings aside and typed a quick response to Lidanya's invitation, signaling her grateful acceptance. Moments later she received a confirmation, including an authorization code for the shuttle flight and a recommended time. Julia quickly signaled an affirmative. "Jarod or Neyzi can watch the bridge while we're done. Not that I expect any problems here. Between us, the Ascension, and the Turian squadrons covering the Citadel, even the Geth would have to think twice about attacking."

"And that discounts the ability of the various Citadel species to rapidly shift reinforcements through the mass relay network." Meridina frowned slightly. "Although given their fleet commitments to S4W8 and to other security needs in this galaxy, the ability of the Council species to react immediately to attack has been reduced."

"Good point." Julia crossed her arms in her seat. "My big worry isn't an attack on the Citadel. Or even the war. It's what's coming after we beat the Nazis."

"You are concerned about our post-war standing with the Citadel?"

"I'm sure I'm not the only one," Julia said. "It was clear early on that they don't quite know what to do with us. We're as much a threat as we are an ally, and we're way too large and powerful to simply be folded into the Council. Given how long they've effectively ruled the Milky Way, they can't like that."

"I suspect not," Meridina agreed. "And there will be the question of territorial disagreements in the former Reich worlds. The Turian wish to annex worlds they take is one that will be opposed by other parts of the Coalition."

"It's a shame to think that we could end up with tensions," Julia said. "We've worked together well since they got into the war. Maybe it was an alliance of convenience, but even then, we have too much to loose by falling into conflict."

"Hopefully our superiors and the Council will agree with you." Meridina slipped into a seat. "If I may bring up a delicate topic…?"

"Go ahead."

"When Robert returned to us at New Liberty, everyone seemed quite pleased, you included. But it is clear that there is some… discomfort on his presence."

A small, sad sigh was Julia's initial response. "I suppose you could say that, yes." Julia glanced over to one of her photos, showing her and Robert at the county fair when they were preteens. "It's awkward for him. I mean, for two years he was the captain of the ship, and I was his second-in-command. Now I'm in charge and he's… well, two years of habit can be hard to break. I think he's torn between contributing and feeling like he's undermining me if he takes the lead."

"I can understand the concern," Meridina said. She smiled slightly. "You have also evinced a certain… inclination to behaving as you did while you were First Officer, even though those responsibilities are mine."

"That's just Tom being frustrated that I'm still 'mother hen'ing him and the others," Julia said in a droll tone. "I can't help that part, I suppose."

"Just as Robert cannot help his inclination to want to lead," Meridina noted.

"Even though he's not as comfortable as a leader," Julia said.

"Not in the same fashion you are, yes," Meridina agreed. "But there is more than one type of leadership. You are more comfortable with the kind expected of a starship captain. Robert is better suited for a less formal organization."

"You mean these Paladins."

"Yes. They are more… flexible, it seems. They fit his approach the best."

"I probably teased him a little too much about the job title." Julia smiled thinly. "It does fit his 'White Knight' complex pretty well, doesn't it?"

"I admit, I am still somewhat uncertain about Human terms. I understand the term 'Knight' serves as the preferred translation for a swevyra'se, for instance, but at the same time your own history files show that medieval knights were little more than armed feudal nobility who sustained their readiness for war through legal control of land and attached work forces. No swevyra'se would ever conceive of such a thing."

"Historical reality and mythology, fairy tales, don't always add up," Julia noted. "Ask most people what they think a Knight is, and they'll think up King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, or a character from a fairy tale. Fairy tale knights, the good ones or 'white knights', are supposed to be brave champions of justice who fight to protect the innocent."

"Much as Swenya's Code requires," Meridina noted. "And an apt description for your purpose in the years before the Alliance."

"Yeah. And Paladins are… well, I think there were historical ones too, but it's also another term for what a white knight is." Julia chuckled. "I wonder if that's why President Morgan picked the name. I can't see him wanting to just emulate the Spectres, they've got too much freedom to do horrible things. But making people into 'Paladins' to encourage them to do good things and not just the necessary…"

"Such names and titles can have power, yes. Although when you speak of Robert having a 'complex'..."

"Rob has the most irritating compulsion to be the good guy that it makes me want to swat him on the head," Julia said. "When it doesn't make me love him to death."

"It is an admirable quality."

"Not when he's starving himself and not getting enough sleep because he wants to rescue more people," Julia said. "You weren't there for our early days operating the Facility. We had to scrub down his office because he started to personally reek."

Meridina gave her a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"He wasn't being hygienic," Julia clarified. "As in he wasn't bathing or showering. He wasn't eating. He wasn't sleeping. He was in full 'good guy complex' mode and all he cared about was finding more people to help. I had to force him to take time off in the end. And that was only after the Kelley had to be put into the dock for three days of necessary maintenance work." She chuckled. "He got better over time, at least."

"I see." Meridina recognized what Julia meant, and how it could have been frustrating to her. She recalled the training in her Order including insistence on self-care and the realization that no swevyra'se could "save everything".

"Either way, I'd better verify my report got filed." Julia put her hands back on her desk and activated her control. "I'll see you in the main shuttle bay in forty-five minutes?"

"Agreed. I shall reserve our shuttle now. Permission to be dismissed, Captain?"

"Permission granted," replied Julia.




A trip back to the Embassy led Robert and Lucy to the lift to the C-Sec offices. They stepped into the lift and Robert activated it with a press of his hand to the plate. As the lift began moving through the tube, an automated system began playing a newscaster reporting on the Geth attacks.

"You have something on your mind other than this case," Lucy said to him. "And it involves me. You might as well talk to me, Rob."

"Alright. I suppose this lift ride will be long enough." Robert looked to her. "I hear you're being considered for transfer to security."

"Richmond wants it. I don't." Lucy shook her head. "I don't mind working with her, but the job doesn't interest me. I think it's too limiting."

"But you're not satisfied with operations anymore, either?"

"I can't say I ever was, but it fit my skills the best so I just went with it. But now…" Lucy shrugged. "Well, I suppose it still fits the best. But what are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking that I want to offer you a place under my command," Robert replied.

Lucy gave him a look. "What?"

"The Paladins are allowed to bring in a few people to be in their command," Robert explained. "And as potential recruits for being Paladins in their own right."

"And you want me?"

"It would probably fit you better than what you've got now," Robert pointed out. "I mean, your piloting and engineering expertise will come in handy when they finish building our new personal craft. And your personal combat skills are better than mine, especially if we run into enemies with life force powers and the weapons to compliment them."

"I don't want to become a secret agent, Robert," Lucy said, and in a harsh tone. "That's not what we're supposed to be. We're supposed to be open with what we are, we're supposed to inspire people to be better. What you're talking about is the kind of crap that Saren and his ilk do."

"I know, and I agree," Robert replied. "But we're not… we're not supposed to be Spectres, Lucy. President Morgan was clear on that. We need to stick to a moral code. And I think you'll help me do that."

"Oh?"

"Yeah." He shook his head. "I'm not blind to the risks of this kind of work. It's easy to make terrible choices, do terrible things, and justify it as 'necessary'. Maybe some of the other Paladins will fall into that trap. I don't want to be one of them, though. Why else do you think I came back to the Aurora when I had to pick my base of operations?" He focused his eyes, and his thoughts, on her, allowing her to easily sense what he was feeling.

Lucy responded by crossing her arms and looking thoughtful. "I'll have to think about it," she said. "Later."

"Fair enough."

By this time the lift's transparent window was displaying the sight of the center of a C-Sec facility. Another lift linked to the various docks for visiting starships. Figures in C-Sec blue were everywhere, moving to and fro while they were on business.

Near the entrance to the officers area, three C-Sec guards were facing a Krogan in red armor. "I don't want to hear about you coming near Fist again," the lead C-Sec man stated to the Krogan. "Or you go right back into a cell, and I don't care how many friends you have calling, you won't be coming out for a good long while."

"Here's our guy," Robert murmured while the Krogan exchanged barbs with the departing officers. "I'm not sure I like the thought of working with him. Not if he's going to assassinate Fist." Robert approached and waited for the C-Sec members to move on. The moment the Krogan turned, his red eyes swept over them.

Robert expected many possible reactions, good and bad. He didn't expect the feeling of recollection from the Krogan, however. Nor did he from Lucy, who smiled wryly and said, "Hey there, Wrex. Getting into trouble again?"

A low cackle came from the Krogan. "Lucero. I didn't expect to see you again so soon." He looked at Robert. "Here with your boyfriend?"

Lucy laughed out loud at that. "He's not my type," she said, extending her hand. "Robert, this is Urdnot Wrex. Wrex, Captain Robert Dale, formerly Captain of the Aurora, and now…"

"A special agent working for the Alliance," Robert finished for her. He offered a hand and half-expected to have it crushed, but Wrex kept his grip just shy of such pressure.

"Wrex was on Tira," Lucy explained. "He helped us stop the Brakiri and the others from committing genocide against the Dilgar."

"Thank you for helping my friends, Mister Urdnot," Robert said.

Wrex snorted. "None of that 'Mister Urdnot' crap. 'Battlemaster' if you have to be formal."

"Your choice, Battlemaster."

"Once you get to know him, Robert drops the formality," Lucy said. "So, you're after Fist too?"

"I am. What do you want with him?" asked Wrex.

"He can lead us to evidence about the real culprit behind the recent Geth attacks," Robert said. "But we need to know more about what's protecting him."

"More than a dozen armed mercenaries and thugs," said Wrex. "I could blast through them, but it takes time. He'll run before I get to him."

"Well, you'll have us to cut through to him," said Lucy. "He won't have time."

"But don't kill him," Robert said. "We need him to find the Quarian with the evidence we need."

"I'll let him live long enough to answer," said Wrex. "But I've got a job to do."

"I'm not in this to assassinate someone," Robert insisted. "This is something bigger than one crook betraying another."

Wrex rumbled with what sounded like a chuckle. "Be careful what you say about the Broker. He destroys people when they annoy him."

Robert crossed his arms.

"Let's just get to Fist first," Lucy said. "Alright?" Sensing Robert was still unhappy, she looked to Wrex and asked, "A moment?"

"Sure. But we'd better hurry, Fist may already be planning to run."

"Just a moment." Lucy took Robert by the arm and led him away. "You're being a hardass about this," she grumbled at him once they were out of earshot.

Robert gave her a bemused look. "This, from the woman who was griping at me about becoming no better than Saren? He's talking about killing Fist in cold blood, Lucy. And he's going to. I can sense it."

"Yeah, me too. But…"

"But what?" Robert frowned at her. "You can't tell me you're on board for something like that. Even if Fist is scum, just killing him…"

"I don't want to just kill him, Robert. But given our situation, working with Wrex may be our only way to make sure we get him," Lucy insisted. "And I'm willing to give Wrex a pass on this."

"Because of Tira?"

"Yeah." The bronze complexion of her face paled at the memory. "Tira. He… they were butchering babies, Rob. You didn't see it. I… I did, and so did he, and we both reacted the same way. He turned on the Brakiri to stop their mercs from killing more of those babies. He risked his life to help us save Tira. And maybe I'm not comfortable with him just killing Fist, but I guess I'm willing to give him a pass on it because of that. And we could use his help."

Robert hadn't seen Tira, true. But he could see the image in his head now, courtesy of Lucy's memories of that reconnaissance-turned-raid, and his face paled as well. "I'm sorry," he said to her. "We've all seen a lot of horrible things, but that…" He drew in a sigh. "Alright. Let him know he can go with us. I'm going to call Shepard and see what she's found."

Lucy nodded and walked back into C-Sec. Robert watched her round the corner and hoped he wouldn't regret it. There was something to say for Wrex's honesty, at least; he wasn't pretending he wouldn't kill Fist if given the chance.

Still… I am not going to become an assassin, or help it along. That's not what we're supposed to be doing. If I open that door even a little…

Robert let the thought go and activated his omnitool. After several moments Shepard's face appeared on it. The image behind her included something like a biobed. "Shepard here. Go ahead."

"Dale here. I've found that there's a Quarian on the Citadel somewhere with evidence against Saren. But they trusted the wrong person and are getting sold out to Saren."

"I've heard the same. Some guy named Fist who runs Chora's Den. Officer Vakarian and I are going to go have a discussion with him. Interested?"

"Definitely, but from what I've found out, you'd better be ready for a fight. The Shadow Broker sent a bounty hunter after Fist for turning on him. So he's got at least a dozen guns protecting him."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, and we've got the hunter on our side. A Krogan Battlemaster named Urdnot Wrex."

A small smile crossed Shepard's face. "And he's going to be joining us too? It almost makes me feel sorry for Fist and his people. We'll meet you near the Den."

"We'll be there as quickly as we can," Robert said. "Dale out." He lowered his arm and turned his head, allowing him to see Lucy round the corner with Wrex. "Shepard and some friends will be waiting for us near the Den," he said. "Let's get going."



There was a guilty look on Cat's face when they stepped off of the lift that brought the three down to Tayseri Ward. A fun tour of the Citadel was now a work project, and one that could get them in trouble. But the chance to learn more about the Keepers was too much to pass up for Cat. As always, Violeta seemed to be taking it in stride, and they were still holding hands when they walked out into the concourse. The lifts from the Presidium came together here, with a C-Sec security station and some shops before one got to the streets and pathways of the Ward proper. Beyond the window ahead they could see the massive Destiny Ascension loitering near the Citadel. Nearby the Aurora was in her station-keeping position, angled so they saw her belly angled to port.

Swiftly their attention was elsewhere. A Keeper walked by quietly and Cat swiftly scanned it. The initial results were interesting. The Keepers had a low-level data stream connecting them to systems on the Citadel, and additionally seemed to be more like biological drones than independent creatures, complete with heavy cyberization. There was still more to analyze, however…

"Hey!"

Cat turned her head to face the voice calling out to her. An older Human man with graying, buzz-cut hair and blue eyes walked up. He was in the blue uniform of C-Sec. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded.

Cat almost asked what he meant, but she stopped. She followed his eyes and noted he was directing his gaze on Tra'dur, who's hand and omnitool were hovering over another Keeper walking by.

"Pardon, sir?" Tra'dur asked.

"That's against Citadel laws," he said. "You don't mess with the Keepers."

"Oh?" Tra'dur blinked. "I apologize, then. I was only scanning, I had no idea…"

The man sighed. "Didn't you read the visitors' booklet? It's listed near the top of the list of 'things you shouldn't do'."

"Wait." Tra'dur briefly glimpsed toward Cat and Violeta before returning her gaze to the C-Sec officer. "Those were laws?"

"What made you think they were anything but?"

"Well, the wording… perhaps it was a translation error, but I thought it was merely a list of things it was suggested not to do? I had no idea it was an item of law. I do apologize, Officer…"

"Bailey," the man replied. "Now, run that by me again."

"Well…"

Tra'dur had the C-Sec man's full attention, allowing Cat to slip beside him and approach the Keeper Tra'dur tried to scan. She glanced back toward Officer Bailey just to have her eyes run over Violeta. She nodded and put a finger over her (to Cat, very kissable) lips, signaling Cat to remain quiet and keep going. Cat followed the Keeper until it rounded a corner and approached a control console of some sort, which it used all four limbs to operate. Cat activated her omnitool and began scanning.

After several seconds Violeta got her attention by stroking Cat's neck and hair with her hand. Cat enjoyed the touch of Violeta's skin on her own, even something light like this, and glanced to see her shaking her head now. Cat immediately pulled her arm away from the Keeper. Her omnitool disappeared from sight.

Tra'dur stepped around the corner, joined by Bailey. "Do me and yourselves a favor," he said to them. "Help your friend go over the visitor booklet and make sure she recognizes what she's not supposed to do, alright?"

"Uh, yessir," Cat pledged. "We'll do that."

"Good. Don't want you ladies to get into trouble over these damn bugs. Some of the others will actually haul you in over this, just to make the point." And with his point made, Bailey stepped away.

Once he was out of earshot, Tra'dur asked, "Did you get the scan?"

"I did," Cat replied.

"We might want to stop," Violeta remarked. She gave Cat a concerned look. "I believe him when he says some of the others might arrest us."

"I shall do the scans, then," said Tra'dur. "It was I who made the deal with Chorban. I never realized how serious they took the matter… but there are only a few scans left and it would seem like a waste of time…"

"It would be," Cat agreed. She took Violeta's hand again and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you, Vee, for the help, and don't worry. Just a couple more scans and we're done, then… then we can go to lunch or something. Enjoy some of the local cooking. Maybe rent a skycar and fly it to a good view…"

"Very good ideas." Violeta grinned at her. "But you're paying. It's the least you can do given this."

"Oh, of course."

With the arrangement made, they continued on into Tayseri Ward.




The Citadel, being a metropolis in space, had more restaurants, bars, and eateries than a visitor could ever see. Tom Barnes, Leo, Locarno, and Angel opted for an open-air bistro in the Presidium, about a quarter of the ring down from the Embassy. Their meals, in various stages of completion, were arrayed around the table, as were the steins or glasses of drink they had. Angel took a small drink of what the bartender called Serrice Ice Brandy and decided she liked the taste. "I guess the Asari make good booze too," she said. "Not as good as the wine I had last time I was here."

"You mean when you and Rob tried to have a date here on the Citadel?" asked Barnes. "The one J-man interrupted?"

"I'd think that was a punching offense," Leo joked.

Angel shot him a playful glare. "He didn't seem to know, and I believed that. And it was important." She sighed. "Besides, we got to finish the meal at least."

"That's good to hear," said Locarno. He looked around. "I didn't get to see much of the Citadel last time."

"Oh?"

"Too much paperwork to do," said Locarno. "And I've been Earth Spacedock before, and a few other Starbases in the Federation. I didn't think the Citadel would be that special."

"But it is, right?" asked Barnes.

"It's certainly unique," Locarno agreed.

Leo watched Angel as she looked away from them. Her eyes gazed into the distance as she quietly took another drink. "Now that Robert's not the Captain, maybe the two of you…"

"No," she said.

The others looked at her. "Oh?" asked Barnes. "Because usually…"

"I know what I usually do. And I'm stopping it." Angel considered her glass. "Robert and I… we don't work."

"Given how often the two of you get back together…"

"That's why I know it won't work." Angel turned back to them and set the glass on the table. "Trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result… that's a definition for insanity."

"Agreed," said Leo.

"So I'm done. I mean, I'll still be friends with Rob. He's a good man, as annoying as his hero complex makes him at times." The others smiled and Barnes outright laughed. Angel grinned as well. "And I'll remember that it was fun at times. But I'm tired of replaying the past. So I'm going to do something new."

"I understand. And good luck with that. Finding a boyfriend willing to accept that you can beat him up can be hard," Leo joked.

Angel shot him another playful glare. "Keep it up, Leo. I can still punch you."

"But then who would treat your wounds the next time you lose to the Captain in the ring?" Leo asked drolly.

"You have subordinates," Angel retorted. "Besides, I win three out of five of those."

"Not by my count.."

"Either way…"

"Whatever your choice about romance, that's not what I'm worried about." Leo folded his hands on the table. "You've been restless lately, Angel."

"I know," she admitted. "It's just… with my decision on Robert made, and with Cat spreading her wings, a part of me wonders why I'm here…"

"I always thought it was because you enjoyed blowing crap up," Barnes remarked.

"A perk," Angel admitted. "Especially when it's Nazis. But…" She looked to her glass again. "I wonder if it's enough. When I was on my own a few months ago, while the Aurora was in drydock, it was… it was interesting. I saw more of the Multiverse. And it needs people like us back out there, doing good. Not just staying on our fancy-pants starship surveying planets and playing nice with corrupt jerks and their lackeys."

"I'm not sure that works as well as this," Leo said. "Even if you had a ship like the scouts to use…"

"It's just a thought," Angel said dismissively. "And I already know you're going to bring up Hawk and his merry band of brain-damaged assholes."

"I didn't think it necessary."

"And it's off anyway," Barnes protested. "We were never that bad."

"You could have ended up that way." Locarno shook his head. "They didn't have anyone to tell them not to overuse the brain infusers."

"It's not just the infusers, though," Barnes insisted. "Hawk and his people were already fraking assholes. Their Facility just makes them worse."

"You don't know that," said Angel. "It's possible they meant well."

"I'm sure they meant real damn well when they bombed the crap out of Earth C1P2," Barnes guffawed. "Did you know there's still a crapload of wars going on there? Anna was telling us about it when she got back from her leave."

"Not a surprise." Leo looked at the miserable expression on Angel's face. "We're here for you, though. No matter what you decide."

"Yeah," Angel murmured. "I know."




Shepard and Kaidan were waiting when Robert approached with Lucy and Wrex. In their company was a Turian in a blue C-Sec field uniform. "Glad you made it," Shepard said. "We're going to need the help."

Robert nodded. He sensed the ready tension ahead. The door to Chora's Den wasn't far, up a walkway over one of the empty spaces in the Ward, and there were armed men there waiting. "A direct assault could get dicey."

"I'll get you to the door," Wrex said.

Robert nodded before noticing Shepard's team was short one. "Where's Sergeant Williams?"

"Back at a clinic watching a friend of Vakarian's." Shepard nodded at the Turian. "This is Garrus Vakarian of C-Sec. He's been investigating Saren."

"With little luck, I'm afraid," said Garrus. "I'm hoping to find a breakthrough in the case through Fist."

"We all are," said Robert. He reached into his robe and pulled out his pulse pistol. "Commander, Battlemaster, if you want to do the honors?"

"I'll go with them," Lucy said. "You three watch our backs."

The six went for the door, the first three with shotguns out - or lightsaber, in Lucy's case - while the latter three had pistols ready. Shepard held up a hand with all five digits extended out. She pulled in her thumb first as she counted down, clenching her hand into a fist as she did. Robert drew in a breath and focused on the energies around him. The familiar sense of imminent danger sharpened his senses. Adrenaline began to work its way into his body.

Once Shepard's hand formed a fist, she hit the door switch. The door to Chora's Den opened, a dim crimson light spilling out from the inside.

The gunfire began a moment later.
”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: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve » 2018-06-17 09:33am

The roar of gunfire filled the dark spaces and hot pink neon highlighting of Chora's Den. Armed figures at the bar and elsewhere poured fire into the space of the opened door.

Robert imagined Shepard would step back and let Lucy do the honors of getting in. Instead he watched, and felt, the energy gather around Shepard. In a flash of biotic power Shepard rocketed forward to slam into the bartender. The Human male's gun fell loose from the impact. Shepard brought the butt of her shotgun and slapped it into his face. The bartender screamed in tandem with the cracking sound of his nose being broken.

Lucy and Wrex went in next. Wrex's shotgun came out and barked. A merc went down. Lucy's blade of shining sapphire light came alive with an electronic snap and hiss. The lightsaber became a blur from the speed at which she was moving it, intercepting shots. Robert came up behind her and opened fire. Pulse shots struck a Turian merc several times in the chest, sending her down. Robert's next shot hit another Human male while Lucy, ready to use any opening she found, threw a bolt of invisible force that sent an enemy gunner flying into a wall.

A gunman came up from their left. A blast of blood and brain matter put an end to him. Robert felt a bit of appreciation at Garrus for his aim, even if he regretted the death. Kaidan fired a series of shots as well, sending another of the mercs back to cover.

Shepard was finished with the bartender. Next was a gunman standing on the platform above the bar area, on what looked to be a dancer stage. Shepard's arm flung out and biotic energy flew out. It struck the gunman directly. Instead of causing him to fall back, however, the force pulled him off the stage. He hit the ground in front of Shepard, who kicked him in the face and knocked him unconscious.

Again Wrex's shotgun roared, and again a merc fell. Kaidan and Garrus fired repeated pistol shots from the cover of one of the tables. Their suppressive fire forced another pair of the mercs into cover. Robert's shot, with his aim aided directly by his abilities and training, struck one of them, putting him down.

There was another burst of biotic power and light. Shepard was charging again, this time clearing the bar and slamming into one of the mercs moving out of cover. The impact threw her foe into the wall with enough force to knock him out. She pivoted on one foot and fired a shotgun blast point-blank into a second opponent, killing him instantly.

This bold attack might have exposed Shepard to too much danger, so far ahead of allies, but Lucy was quick to come to her aid. Her lightsaber cut right through the rifle of her first foe, then lopped the arms off a second to disarm them. Robert fired a shot that hit a remaining merc in the forehead. Lucy, freed from attack in that corner, turned and sent a wave of invisible force at the mercs still behind cover and exchanging shots with Garrus and Kaidan. They cried out in the second before they slammed into the wall. Robert tracked their movement and fired a couple of stun bolts that took them out of the fight as well.

For a moment it seemed the last merc was down. But now the door behind them opened again, and more armed men appeared. Everyone took cover from the resulting gunfire. "Fist must have called in every favor he has," Garrus called out. "He's going to run!"

Robert and Shepard shared a look. "Lucy, can you stay and help Alenko and Vakarian?" he asked her.

Lucy nodded. "Yeah. We'll keep them off your back."

"Good," said Shepard. She nodded to Wrex. "Let's go introduce ourselves to Fist."




The Destiny Ascension was a beautiful ship, Julia thought. The coloring reminded her a little of the Orsala, the religious caste-crewed Minbari War Cruiser she had visited briefly during the Tira crisis. But there was a utilitarian element to the Destiny Ascension's internal design that the religious Minbari lacked, a case of form with function instead of just one or the other that the Asari had worked to perfect in their designs.

Matriarch Lidanya's tour was not over-long. Her ship was much larger than the Aurora, and Julia knew from experience that a day-long tour wouldn't be enough to see everything of potential interest on her ship. The same applied here. Yet the lavender-complexioned Asari, with her face markings of brilliant pinkish-red, clearly had pride in her command. Given her ship was one of the largest and most advanced starships in the Multiverse, this pride was understandable. Indeed, the tour ran long enough that Julia and Meridina would be having another pilot fly their shuttle back while they beamed directly to the Presidium for necessary meetings involving Ambassador Atama.

"I hope you have enjoyed your tour, Captain, Commander," said Lidanya.

"It has been quite the experience, Matriarch," Meridina assured her. "We are grateful for the chance."

"If you have the opportunity, Matriarch, I would love to reciprocate," Julia added.

"I will get back to you on that." There was a warmth in the Asari's voice that made her sound closer to Julia's age, surprising since she was, from Julia's perspective and that of Julia's Earth, old enough that she could have traveled with Christopher Columbus or even Marco Polo. "In these past two years, my people have been blessed by the opportunities your Alliance has given us. Our maidens who once had only a galaxy to explore now range the Multiverse, and alien species we might not have imagined are now visiting Thessia."

"I would like to visit one day myself," said Julia. "Your homeworld has a reputation in the Alliance for beauty."

"We have worked hard to keep Thessia a garden for the benefit of the galaxy." Lidanya led them onto the control bridge, where other Asari officers in uniform were conducting standard operations. "Personally, I would love to visit Gersal and Doreia and Alakis. Or one of your Earths that has not been turned into a planet of mega-cities."

"Ah." Julia nodded. She'd seen images of M4P2 Earth, and how so much of the planet's surface was now marred by megacities to support a massive population not yet dispersing to the colonies. "A diplomatic tour of the Ascension would work wonders for relations, I would think."

"It is an idea," Lidanya agreed. She looked at them carefully. "My people have many varied opinions on matters, Captain, Commander. But for the most part, we always value diplomacy and good relations with other species. It is my personal fear that once the war with the Reich ends, the Allied Systems' relations with the Citadel will start to decline."

"I've worried about the same," Julia admitted.

"It is natural, I suppose," Lidanya lamented. "Your Alliance is too powerful to be admitted as an equal to the Council or to be held strictly to its decisions. Even more than the Terminus Systems or the Batarians, you are a potential threat to the Citadel's system of interstellar law and order. And that might make some people treat you as an actual threat when they shouldn't."

"The Alliance has enough space to expand to in other universes, so there is little prospect of tensions over regions of influence," opined Meridina. "But it would be foolish to overlook the simple fear that can arise from old certainties being swept away. This I can say from harsh experience."

Lidanya nodded. "The attack on your Senate last year. Yes."

"Matriarch, whatever the Council feels about the Alliance, what do your people feel about us?" Julia asked. "The Council was founded in part by the Asari, after all, and it embodies Asari principles of negotiation and collective security. I can see your people being afraid that the Alliance will undermine your creation."

"There are those who agree with the anti-Alliance faction among the Turians," Lidanya said. "But from the debates on the extranet, and the votes, I think it's clear most Asari are willing to give the Allied Systems the benefit of the doubt for right now. You've signed the Treaty of Farixen, after all, and worked with the Council on many issues."

"Hopefully that view will prevail among the Salarians and Turians as well."

After Meridina's remark Julia checked the time on her omnitool. "We'd better get over to the Presidium," she said. "Ambassador Atama is expecting us."

"The transporter room is this way," said Lidanya. "We adapted it from a secondary meeting room on this deck…"




The pair of mercs guarding the entrance to the rear storage areas were ready when Robert, Shepard, and Wrex came. It just didn't do them any good.

The three of them moved like a single mind even without the aid of Robert's ability to connect their minds. Wrex drew their fire and Shepard knocked them down with a biotic shockwave. Robert got both with shots from his pulse pistol before they could get back up.

They approached the door. Robert already sensed what was on the other side. "Don't shoot," he urged as soon as the door opened.

Wrex and Shepard still had their shotguns up, although they heeded his request.

There were armed beings on the other side. But they weren't fighters, not with the terror and fear Robert felt within them. They were the dancers, the waitresses, the workers. All had mass effect sidearms of some kind or another and, he suspected, most had little idea how to point them right. Only a few actually tried.

"Stop! Stop or we'll shoot!"

Robert felt hesitation in Wrex, but just hesitation. He'd pull the trigger soon if the guns didn't go down. It was Shepard who actually lowered her gun slightly. "We're not here to hurt you," she said. "We're here for Fist."

"Mister Fist is our boss, he gave us jobs we needed," a Human man answered. "We're not going to just let you hurt him."

"We're here to get questions answered, not hurt him," Shepard insisted. Robert sensed the skepticism in the others and was certain Shepard knew about it too. "Fist is just using you. He's willing to let you die if he can get away."

For a moment it seemed like one would protest, but he didn't. Robert could sense they were turning it over in their minds. Sure, he'd given some of them jobs, even let them earn extra on the side. But he wasn't out here, was he? He was in his office, putting stuff together to run.

That same consideration was on Robert's mind. They had to act now to catch him. He wondered about pressing his will against their will, mental manipulation as Meridina often did. He'd tried it a few times, even if he disliked the idea of violating minds…

"Listen, there's a firefight going on behind us," Shepard said. "So just stay here and stay down, I don't want any of you getting hurt."

"Wh-why should we trust you?" another asked.

"Because if we wanted to hurt you, you'd be dead already," Wrex remarked.

All eyes turned to the Krogan. Given the flicker of fear Robert felt, there was no doubt about how right he was. A moment later the weapons were all lowered.

"Thank you." With that simple response, Shepard moved through the parting workers. None dared to stop her. They didn't try Wrex either. Robert went through them with no issues, not even a hint of hostility. Relief seemed to be their primary emotion. Relief… and realization that Fist had intended for them to be his human shields.

They found the far door labeled "Office". A quick scan verified the life form within. He nodded to the others, who did a countdown before opening the door. They walked in without problems. Across the way from them was another door, still unopen, leading to rear access ways. To the left was the main office, with a section of wall hiding them for the moment from sight.

Normal sight, anyway.

Within moments all three were ready to turn the corner. Wrex started and immediately pulled back.

The gun turrets opened up a few moments later.



Julia entered Ambassador Atama's office, where Udina and Anderson were already seated at a table near Atama's desk. "Ambassadors. Captain."

"Come in, Captain," said the Dorei man. He gestured to another seat. "I am pleased you have made it. This way the report on our discussion will be more readily provided to the President."

"Oh?" Julia accepted the seat. "What is it?"

"The Geth attack and the prospect of a rogue Spectre directing them has ramifications for our security," Udina replied. "For starters, it is unlikely the Systems Alliance can provide the agreed upon units for your military's push on Earth in the S4W8 universe."

Julia didn't allow a frown to form on her face, but she knew her look was at least pensive. "That's going to require a lot of changes to our plans, I'm sure. While I'm not familiar with the particulars, Admiral Maran's made it clear we'll need every unit we can get if we want to take Earth before the Reich can recover."

"That's understandable, Captain, and we're not making this decision lightly, I assure you," said Udina. "But we have to care for our colonies too."

"There's no telling where Saren will attack next," Anderson said. "Or how. Millions of lives could be lost if the Geth hit a big colony like Elysium. Or even Earth itself…"

"Would the Geth have a fleet large enough to manage such an attack?" Even as Julia asked that question she realized the answer; nobody knew. The Geth were, to everyone else, one big unknown. Even the Quarians only had slight inklings of their capabilities. Given the centuries since the Morning War, the Geth could have built up quite the fleet with the resources of the solar systems beyond the Perseus Veil.

And since they don't require food or atmosphere or any kind of amenity that our ships have, even our most spartan ones… any ships they do have will be enormously capable.

That somber calculation was still in Julia's mind when the tones came over the omnitools of the two Ambassadors. Each excused themselves and walked away.

"I wish I could have been there," Anderson said.

"Hrm?"

"At Epsilon Indi. Or any of the other battles that supported Maran's main effort," said Anderson. "I heard Sixth Fleet was involved…"

"Yes. At Epsilon Eridani, fighting alongside our Eighth Fleet and the League of Democratic Worlds' Second Fleet. It was one of the larger flank battles, from what Arik - Captain Shaham on the Enterprise - said. Your ships helped them hold the system."

"And now we'll have to pull them out to deal with Saren." Anderson smacked his fist on the table. "Damn. And when we're so close to taking Earth."

Julia had no reply to that, given how right he was. Saren's timing was horrendous, not that he cared she was sure. "He struck me as reflexively anti-Human during his brief visit to the Aurora last year," she noted.

"He despises us," Anderson said. "He's always been upset that the Council stepped in and restrained the Turian military after Shanxi. He thinks we should have been reduced to a protectorate of the Hierarchy."

Julia considered asking about Shanxi, the site of the First Contact War between Humanity and the Turian Hierarchy, but she was prevented by the return of the Ambassadors. "I suppose we each got the same message?" Udina asked Atama.

Atama frowned and nodded. "Yes. This will be quite difficult for our efforts."

"What?"

Udina looked to her and Anderson. "Captain Dale and Commander Shepard have been identified as part of a firefight currently happening in the Wards, at a bar called Chora's Den. Now we have to run interference with C-Sec until we find out what's going on."

"I'm certain the Commander has good reason for whatever she's doing."

"If she and Robert are both involved, this may be linked to the Saren investigation," Julia pointed out.

"And for their sakes, I hope it is," Udina said. "And I hope they get us the smoking gun we need. Otherwise they may be the ones who end up in a cell instead of Saren."




The turret fire was quickly joined by a barking gun. Robert was able to glance just long enough to see the man huddled at the desk behind cover. He pulled back before one of the turrets opened up again. Sparks flew from where the sand grain-sized rounds, propelled by mass effect fields to deadly velocities, were striking and slowly decaying the material.

"Do you think your abilities can handle the turrets for us?" asked Shepard.

"I can try," he offered. "Give me a moment." When he saw Shepard nod, Robert lowered himself to one knee and concentrated. He reached within himself and felt out for the turrets. He could sense them, bits of metal and ceramics, and worked on getting them to turn.

Using these powers was, as always, reliant on a tricky frame of mind. He had to think of it happening, imagine it, but not force it in his mind. His will, connected to the universe, was causing it, but not so much from active thought and willpower as it was a general sense that this is what is happening. The turrets were twisting. There was no doubt that this is what they should be doing, there could be no doubt, for doubting it was happening meant it would not. The connection required certainty.

The weapons fire changed direction as the turrets turned away from the entranceway to the office. A cry of frustration and surprise came from the desk. Fist was frantically trying to take control of his guns back.

Shepard and Wrex sprung into action. Wrex went for the turrets. His shotgun boomed repeatedly from his shots, each a direct hit on the guns until they broke down from the damage. Shepard, meanwhile, threw a bolt of biotic force that blew Fist into the air and toward them. He let out a curse as he hit the ground. Shepard and Wrex covered him with their firearms immediately. Shepard kicked his gun away from his hand. "Alright, Fist," she said, "start talking."

"I got nothin' to say to you," he insisted.

Robert followed them into the office. It was furnished, certainly, but dark and very impersonal. "Where's the Quarian?" he asked. "The one you're betraying to Saren?"

"I pay good protection," the man protested. "When C-Sec gets here…"

"When C-Sec gets here, they'll find a fellow officer pinned down and under fire," Sheppard finished for him. "So I wouldn't count on whoever you've been bribing to help. Especially when everyone's finding out you turned on the Shadow Broker."

"Let me kill him," said Wrex. "He's not going to cooperate anyway."

Fist's face went white. Robert sensed his terror and said, "Cooperate and you live."

For a moment Fist was weighing his options. Robert sensed the calculation of whether or not he could evade any reprisal by Saren, the need to run, losing everything he'd built in his years on the Citadel, versus the certainty of the very big shotgun in Wrex's hands. Finally he sighed. "She wanted a personal meeting with the Shadow Broker."

"That doesn't happen," Wrex said. "The Broker doesn't do personal meetings."

"She doesn't know that. I told her I'd set it up. But Saren's men will be the ones she runs into." Fist activated his omnitool and tapped several keys. "Here. These are the coordinates. The meet's going down in a few minutes."

Robert and Shepard received the coordinates from Fist through their omnitools. "That's not far from here," Shepard said. "It's the back alley connecting to the lift to the Presidium. If we hurry we can make it."

"Is he telling the truth?" asked Wrex.

Robert nodded. "He is. I can sense it."

"Good."

The moment Wrex said that word Robert sensed his intent and cursed himself for not paying more attention to the Krogan. He raised a hand toward Wrex to intervene, but before he could act Wrex's shotgun thundered. Fist's head exploded in a mess of blood and gray matter that splattered the back wall.

Robert's other hand shot up. His pulse pistol now pointed at Wrex's head. Wrex, in turn, swiveled toward him with his shotgun ready. "I told you I'd kill him," said the Krogan.

"That was unnecessary!" Robert shouted. "You didn't have to!"

"The galaxy's a better place without him." Wrex's red eyes met Robert's without flinching. "I fulfill my contracts, Human."

"You didn't on Tira," Robert retorted.

"The Shadow Broker didn't ask me to stand back and watch infants being murdered. He's not that stupid."

"Both of you, stand down!" Shepard shouted, standing between them. It was her eyes, blazing emeralds that seemed to come straight from Robert's visions, that now locked on his own. "Captain, we don't have time for this. That Quarian's going to get killed if we don't move."

There was no arguing the point. Robert knew she was right. He lowered his weapon, but the frown didn't leave his face. "Right," he agreed. "I'm following your lead, Commander."

"Still with you, Commander," Wrex said. "I'm seeing this through to the end."

Shepard led them out of the office and back to the bar. The sound of gunfire had them ready for a fight. This proved premature when it ended just as they emerged. Lucy's lightsaber buzzed in the air from where she was holding it on a merc clutching the stump of his lost arm with his surviving hand. Nearby Garrus and Kaidan were standing from cover. "How did it go?" Kaidan asked.

"The Quarian's in danger," said Shepard. "We've got to keep going."

"Go on ahead, all of you," said Garrus. "C-Sec should be here soon. I'll handle them."

He was answered with a nod. The five ran on into the Ward.




The sight of the Citadel's great wards dominated the dock terminal window. The officers of the Koenig command crew stared out at the sight, the glistening jewels of lights from the high rise structures of the Wards and the large ships. The Aurora was plainly visible, as was the Destiny Ascension, both representing differing, but elegant, starship aesthetics. Will marveled at the difference from the more utilitarian designs of the Colonies of Kobol.

"I'm glad we got to visit this time," said Apley. "It's quite a sight."

"Yeah." Magda leaned against the railing. Beyond was open space between the deck and the window, with more docking terminals below. The edge of a Turian transport docked to the Citadel was visible just outside and below them. "A good way to make up for the leave time we lost. I can't believe we missed the parade this year."

"I wish I could have seen it," said Will. The Koenig had been detached from the Aurora the night before the New Liberty Colony's 5th Anniversary Parade, her presence needed with the allied fleet in the attack on the Reich colony Gottschee-of-the-Stars, a preliminary to Maran's main attack at Epsilon Indi and the various supporting actions.

"They were using a Koenig float this year," remarked Lt. Karen Derbely, the Chief Engineer. "And we didn't even get to sit on it. So unfair."

"Well, there's always next year," Apley pointed out.

Will nodded. He wondered if he would even be on the Koenig the following year. If Commander Carrey ever returned to active duty, Admiral Maran would probably be predisposed to returning him to his command. And Will, honestly, could not fault him for wanting to be back, as much as he enjoyed the honor of sitting in Carrey's chair.

"Gottschee was quite a fight," Apley said. He looked to Will. "And for your first in command, pretty epic."

"Yes it was," Will agreed. "I thank the Lords we came through it okay. What would they have said about me if the Koenig was lost in my first combat mission as her CO?" He smiled thinly. "'Over-his-head Colonial officer gets original Facility ship destroyed in first battle'."

"There wasn't a chance of that, Will," Magda insisted. "I know Zack left big shoes to fill, but he was a rookie starting out too."

"Actually, as blasphemous as it is to say it, you're better than he was starting out," Apley remarked.

"True," Sherlily added.

"Blasphemy!" Magda shrieked playfully. "I can't believe you're saying that!" Even as she spoke, Will's cheeks turned red.

"Sad but true," Derbely agreed. "Of course, you Facility types don't want to hear it, but you were pretty rough starting out. Why else do you think Command assigned us to the Koenig?"

Magda glowered toward her, still playful in her look… but perhaps not quite as much as before. "Hopefully I'll improve just as Commander Carrey did," Will said, recognizing that some old delicate feelings were being prodded. "Whatever his skills starting out, he's become a legend in the attacker community for a reason."

"Well, unless you're one of the really hardass types," Sherlily noted. "Some of them still see him as an amateur. You hear instead about Imra on the Heerman, Tasker on the Upholder…"

"To hell with those elitist jerks," grumbled Derbely. "We can outfly them all!"

"That we can," Will agreed, smiling, and thankful yet again for the opportunity this command provided him. He thought briefly on what might come in his future, if there would be other commands, bigger ones. If he might one day command a Battlestar or an equivalent in the Alliance fleet.

One day, perhaps. But for now, he was commanding the Koenig, and that was more than enough for him.




The five ran as quickly as they could through the dim halls of the internal sections of the Ward. The light around them turned red as they approached the back alley Fist had identified. Robert sensed the life forms ahead. Fist hadn't betrayed them. It made Urdnot Wrex's execution of the man all the more galling.

But that was for later concerns. Right now, they had to save the Quarian. Robert recognized the style of environmental suit as he and Shepard finished ascending a walkway, giving them a direct view of several figures in combat suits watching the Quarian. One approached her.

"Where's the Shadow Broker?" the Quarian asked, her voice possessing an electronic timbre from her suit. Despite said timbre, or perhaps because of it, Robert found he recognized the voice.

"Where's the data?" asked the assassin.

Before the Quarian could reply, Robert called out to her by the name he remembered. "Tali'Zorah, look out! It's a trap!" It was an instinctive reaction, a need to warn her before Saren's men could get closer to her.

Of course, this led to guns being pulled. Lucy and Shepard leveled looks of some irritation at Robert.

It was the only reaction they had time to give before the blast filled the alley.
”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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