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

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

Post by Steve »

Since I'm considering posting the opening two episodes this Thanksgiving Weekend, I'll go ahead and post the thread now so you can see the episode list and the summaries for the first twelve episodes of Season 3. :)

Season 3 - "The Coming Storm"

3-01 "Consequences" - Nov. 23rd
The Aurora crew copes with change; Robert must choose between the family he wants and the world he left behind.

3-02 "Sundered Bonds" - Nov. 23rd
An unprepared Aurora crew and their allies fight to save the people of New Caprica from the onslaught of the Cylons.

3-03 "Command Principles" - Dec. 1st
Julia faces her first test as Captain of the Aurora when an Alliance colony comes under threat from a newly-encountered empire.

3-04 "The Whims of Fate" - Dec. 8th
A survey mission into the Fracture of Universe S0T5 becomes fraught with danger after the Aurora makes an unexpected find.

3-05 "Yesterday's Enemies Part I" - Dec. 15th
A distress signal from an Alliance colony in Universe E5B1 leads the Aurora into a standoff between the ISA races and an old adversary.

3-06 "Yesterday's Enemies Part II" - Dec. 22nd
War with the Drazi and other former League races threatens to break out when Julia makes a moral choice over the fate of an entire species.

3-07 "Where the Wind Takes You" - Jan. 5th
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" - Jan. 12th
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" - Jan. 19th
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" - Jan. 26th
The Aurora crew tracks Saren's activities to the planet Noveria and an experiment gone hideously wrong; the Koenig and Normandy head to Virmire in the hunt for Saren's base.

3-11 "Chasing the Cycle" - Feb. 2nd
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" - Feb. 9th
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.

3-13 "The Coming Storm" - TBA
3-14 "Home Invasion" - TBA
3-15 "In Enemy Hands" - TBA
3-16 "Trial by Fire" - TBA
3-17 "The Fury" - TBA
3-18 "For Those Lost" - TBA
3-19 "War Dawn" - TBA
3-20 "The Closed Circle" - TBA

Have fun with both the episode summaries and the titles. I've decided that this time the descriptions of the second half of the season won't be posted until I'm preparing to put the stories up. :)
”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 »


Golden wheat swayed softly in the summer winds. Sunlight bathed the bedroom until the occupants of the bed awoke from it. For Robert Dale, another evening of quiet sleep without dreams left him feeling refreshed and ready for the day.

Warmth pressed against his back. A pair of lips caressed his ear. "Good morning," said his wife. Julia rested her head beside his. "Do we have to get out of bed yet?"

"Spring planting's done, so maybe not," he said. "But don't you have places to be today? That t'ai chi class in town?"

"I'll get there, don't you worry." She was ready to plant a deep, full kiss on his mouth when he turned onto his back. "But I want to start the day off right."

"Ahhh…" He smiled at her. "Well, I think I can help with that…"

They kissed again.

The smell of sausage and eggs had made it upstairs by the time the couple emerged into the house proper. When they arrived downstairs Robert found Little Robby seated in his chair looking at a book. He was just old enough that he no longer required a high chair or booster seat. He looked on his parents with the eyes of his mother and said, "Good Morning… Goooten Morgen."

"Guten Morgen," corrected a wizened voice from the kitchen. Robert's Grandma Anna emerged with a plate of sausage links and scrambled eggs, which she set before the boy. He smiled his happy child's smile at his great-grandmother giving him a peck of a kiss on the cheek. "But very close, my little one," she added with her German-accented English.

"Thank you Great-Grandma." Robert Junior turned his head and smiled at his parents again.

"It sounds like someone's German is improving," Julia remarked before taking a seat beside him. Robert took the next seat over.

"He's doing better than I did at that age," Robert agreed.

"You almost missed breakfast," Robby said reproachfully, or rather with a reproachful tone borrowed from his great grandparents. "Why?"

"Oh, we just… slept in a little," Robert said, taking Julia's left hand with his right and grinning at her.

The phrasing worked on a child, but the adults weren't so easy to fool. Allen Dale, who had been quiet in his corner chair, had a mischievous twinkle in his brown eyes. "What they were doing was trying to make you a new baby sibling, Robby."

"Grandpa Allen!" chided Julia.

The boy's eyes widened with glee. "Make it a baby sister!" he insisted. "I want a baby sister!"

"We'll, uh, we'll see what we can do," Robert assured his son.

"How are you gonna make her?" Robby wanted to know.

That brought a hoot of laughter from the Dale patriarch across the table. "It's chemistry," he said. "You see, they mix this stuff together, and it has to be the right mix, and poof, you've got a baby. And then you have to put the baby into the momma's tummy, y'see."

"Is that how you made me, Mommy?"

"Grandpa is teasing you," she answered, giving him a sarcastic look.

"Can I see the chemistry set?" asked the boy, still earnest.

"Allen, what are you filling our little kleiner's head with?" Anna demanded to know, bringing out more plates of breakfast.

"Grandma, you didn't have to cook," Robert said, accepting the offered plate anyway. "You should take it easy."

"I like to cook," she retorted. "Now Robert Allen, don't you dare go treating me like a…" She started to scold him in German, much to the bemusement of Julia and Grandpa Allen. Robby listened intently, clearly interested in picking up more German.

The tirade, mild as it was, was interrupted by the opening of the door. "We're back," said Michael Dale. Robert's parents and sister stepped in, holding bags of groceries from the nearest country store.

"Ah, there you are. Did they have everything?"

"Yes, Mutter," Michael said, showing the contents of the bag. "Old Rudd's been good about keeping the stock up."

"Good. Now, take seats, breakfast is ready."

As they did so, Robert eyed the table and tried to keep the tears from his eyes. Four generations of his family, together for breakfast. It made him feel warm and happy.

Why do I feel like this every morning? he wondered. They'd had family breakfasts like this for years. Why did it seem so special now?

Robert looked into the cup of coffee that Anne brought in from the kitchen. His eyes met the swirling dark surface of the coffee, almost reflective. And yet, it didn't seem to reflect him. Instead it seemed focused on some science fictiony-looking place, with consoles covered in colorful keys and figures seated at them. A dark-haired man and another with lighter, almost auburn-toned hair were in the forward seats, wearing black uniforms with beige trim on one and red on the other. Behind them, in the middle chairs, sat two more figures, both with the black uniforms trimmed in red. He blinked at the image.

It was him. He and Julia were sitting in those chairs, wearing those uniforms.

And it felt right. That was the weird part. It didn't feel like a dream of any kind, or an idle fancy. It felt… real.

But that was silly. Utterly silly. Why would it…?

"Hey, Rob, what's so interesting in that coffee?" asked his mother.

He glanced upward and noticed everyone was looking at him. He shook his head and blinked. "Sorry, I just… I suppose I spaced out." He picked up the mug and took a big drink, allowing the coffee to begin jolting him to wakefulness. When he set it back down, the surface of the drink reflected nothing. "There. I'm awake now." He smiled at them. "I'm ready to start another day."

The Earth of Universe L2M1 had one of the largest fleet facilities in existence orbiting over it. Built to be the fleet base of the Federated Stars, it now served as the primary fleet base for the United Alliance of Systems, a union of multiple interstellar nations and species from over a dozen universes now in one body. Tubes protected the transport lifts that flitted between different segments of the colossal facility, allowing civilian and Alliance Stellar Navy personnel to move between the great structures on whatever tasks they had.

Julia Megan Andreys had been waiting for this day for months. Her thoughts dwelled on it as the lift carried her from the central terminal structure to the dock structure where the largest starships were being built. She watched Earth while it was visible. It was always a sight to see the planet of her birth from orbit (or rather a copy of it, as she hailed from Earth H1E4). It reminded her of the incredible luck and fortune that had brought her to this place and these wonders.

From the lift it was a short journey down carpeted corridors to the dock lounge for Docks 20 and 21. She stopped to straighten her uniform appropriately and make sure her rank tab was properly aligned with her collar. The tab had four slanted stripes of gold color on them, the insignia of a Captain in the Alliance Stellar Navy.

The lounge was already full when she arrived. Bartenders were serving drinks to the assembled and a table of various finger foods had been arranged. Her eyes swept over the gathering. Most of those present were Stellar Navy officers and Alliance officials. The members of the Defense Committee were present. Dockyard officials were obviously attending too, as were various officers and even some diplomatic staff from other governments. She recognized Federation Ambassador Yal Nuren, a Bolian woman identifiable by her blue skin and the ridge of flesh along the midpoint of her bald head down her face to her neck, discussing the current conflict her government had with the Klingon Empire with Ambassador Jasina Sallina of the Asari Republics, who was a similar shade of blue but with the crest of head pieces that Tom Barnes still called "tentacles", although they were hardly long enough to warrant it. The Turian ambassador was discussing the war with the Nazi German Reich in Universe S4W8 with the white-and-purple clad ambassador from the Free Worlds League of F1S1 and the white-and-orange-uniformed ambassador of the Federated Commonwealth of the same universe. An eight foot tall, muscular woman in tight leathers stood by herself. Do the Clans even do Ambassadors? Julia pondered at seeing the bored genetically-engineered infantrywoman.

"Do pardon me," an electronic voice trilled. Julia looked to her right and downward to see a Gl'mulli looking up at her. The green-toned alien was a gelatinous being who could only converse with the help of the electronic translator bonded by a bio-molecular material to her outermost membrane. The translator didn't just translate language, but sight as well, allowing a Gl'mulli to sense her surroundings visually instead of through the electromagnetic sensations the species typically used. Even the thought of referring to a Gl'mulli by a gendered pronoun was flawed, as the species didn't have genders in the way many others did.

"My apologies," Julia answered. She moved out of the way so that the Gl'mulli could continue on to a purple-skinned, silver-horned Dre'kari that was talking with Councilman Zoral of the Alliance Defense Committee.

An electronic tone sounded in the room, silencing all conversation. Heads turned toward the front of the lounge, where two windows looked out upon the docks the lounge was built between. The ships beyond were of a familiar shape to Julia. She'd seen them both before, and even if she hadn't, she'd recognize the shape. It was the same as the ship she had spent so much time on, the Starship Aurora, first by supporting Aurora's construction back in the pre-Alliance days of the Facility, and then by serving on her as First Officer with the ship's captain, her dearest friend Robert Dale.

Thinking of him was painful. She stopped for the moment.

A figure in an Alliance Stellar Navy uniform stepped to the front of the lounge, between the two docks. Admiral Maran looked Human, like all of his people did, and you had to have a bio-scanner or knowledge of accents to recognize him as a Gersallian. His gray beard and hair still retained some dark hairs, more than one might think for someone directing a war effort that had already cost the Alliance nearly two thousand starships and a few million lives.

"Good afternoon, everyone," he said to the assembled. "I welcome you to this formal commissioning party for two of the Alliance's finest new starships. To begin with, I would like to introduce you to the captains of these new vessels, who I am confident will live up to the expectations that the Alliance and her allies have placed in them. Fellow beings, I present to you the new commanding officer of the Starship Excalibur." Maran nodded to a woman in the group. "Captain Elizabeth King."

From the crowd, a woman in her late thirties emerged. She was solidly built, with brown hair pulled into a regulation bun. Sharp brown eyes surveyed the assembled when she joined Maran. Her uniform had the branch color of red for its trim, with four gold slanted strips on the rank insignia tab on her collar.

There was polite applause. Julia joined them.

King took a place beside Maran. "I am grateful for the honor, Admiral," King said, her accent the same as ever, a prim, almost aristocratic English accent. "I will serve the Alliance to the best of my ability and expect the same from my crew."

"Of course. And now, the new commanding officer of the Starship Enterprise..."

Maran's eyes met Julia's as his head turned to look over the assembled. She didn't react at the nod he made. This was the moment that had been planned for, the moment he'd wanted her present for since the prior May.

And then he spoke the name.

"Captain Ariel Shaham."

From a few feet away, the former leader of the surviving Jews of Universe S4W8 stepped through the crowd. The gray in his hair had expanded just a little in the rough year and a half since Julia had last seen him. He was built solidly, if not with size, his skin faintly tanned. When he stepped up beside Maran his brown eyes looked into the crowd. For a moment they met Julia's. She saw his face briefly twist into a look of guilt before he remembered himself. "Admiral Maran, I accept this posting with gratitude," he said. "I look forward to serving this Alliance that has sheltered my people and given us new lives."

There was applause. Julia joined them despite the knotted feeling she felt within. A part of her couldn't help but think That's supposed to be my ship. She was supposed to be the Captain of the Enterprise.

She watched as Maran directed the two Captains to slots in the walls facing the docks. He gestured to a box and they each removed a bottle of fine champagne. Together they placed the bottles into the slots and hit the keys beside said slots. There were a pair of whoosh sounds and the bottles were shot out of compressed air launchers. Holo-viewscreens showed their motions until they slammed into their respective hulls within a second of each other. Glass shards rocketed away from the points of impact with a spray of champagne into the zero G construction docks.

There was more applause at that point. When it was over Maran silently made his way to Julia. "Hello, Captain," he said formally.

"Admiral, sir." Julia nodded. "Given you said you wanted me here, I couldn't pass this up."

"You didn't have to come, not with the changed circumstances." Maran's expression betrayed his unease. "I'm aware that command of a ship named Enterprise is a great deal for people from your culture. I'm sorry you have been denied that privilege."

"I'm sorry too. Although there's a part of me that believes my place was always meant to be on the Aurora."

"The repairs are nearly complete, I've heard."

Julia nodded. "Mister Scott tells me it'll be a week before we're at full readiness. We do have warp power ready and shields, but some of the power systems are finishing their rebuilds and the teams are still finishing some work on the new plasma emitters that Fleet Operations installed in place of our old phasers."

Maran replied with his own nod. "And Robert?"

Julia shook her head. "No change."

"You may wish to consider transferring him to the Fleet Hospital."

"If he's still in the coma when we're ready to leave, I'll ask Leo to do so."

"Very well."

King and Shaham emerged from the crowd to join them. "Captains," Julia said. "My congratulations."

"I suppose it would be out of place for me to extend the same, given the circumstances," King said. "Still, it's good to see that fourth strip on your rank tab, Captain Andreys. You'll do the service well."

"Thank you, Captain King." She looked to Shaham, who evinced some slight discomfort. "Congratulations again, Captain Shaham. Although I was surprised to hear you signed up for the fleet. I thought you would be sitting on the Council on New Liberty."

Shaham made a face. "I'm not a politician," he protested. "Now that we are not running for our lives from the Nazi, our people are rediscovering the full range of politics. The other Jews on New Liberty have helped with that."

"In a good way or bad?" Julia asked.

"Both," Shaham sighed. "EIther way, I was going mad. And since Yoni is commanding the Eagle quite well, I had no wish to take it from him. I told Admiral Maran I wished to be a Captain in the Alliance. He put me through tests and told me I would get a Star Cruiser." Shaham shook his head. "I just never imagined it would be the Enterprise. I feel like I have stolen her from you."

"It's not your fault. It's nobody's fault, except maybe the Daleks and Cybermen," Julia replied. "Just treat her well and make the rest of us proud. I'll be doing the same on the Aurora."

"That's very magnanimous of you, Captain," King observed. "I'm sure others might not have been so kind about losing a chance to command the Enterprise." It was clear King could see that it did bother Julia, at least a little.

"Maybe not. But the Aurora is also my ship. Being in command of her is more than enough to make up for it." Julia smiled slightly. "Given what might have happened, these consequences are something I can live with."

Undiscovered Frontier

Ship's Log: 7 January 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. Nothing has happened today. The ship is still finishing its repairs. Part of the command crew is still off on leave or other assignment. Robert is still in a coma.

And I find myself getting impatient over it all. Over the coma, over the repairs, over everything. It's been eleven weeks since the battle over Earth W8R4 and despite everything, I feel like I've been spinning wheels in the mud. Perhaps it's just eagerness to get back out into service. The war is still raging in S4W8, and there's tension in S5T3 over the Maquis and the Federation-Klingon conflict regarding Archanis. The Alliance needs us completing missions, not sitting in spacedock.

But maybe… maybe I'm just avoiding the matter. The fact that Robert hasn't woken up yet. And with each passing day my fear grows. Maybe… he never will

Julia decided to have dinner in the Lookout. It wasn't as busy as it would ordinarily be, given how much of the surviving crew was either on leave or reassigned. Only three or four other people were present when she walked in just past 2000 hours.

It was little surprise for her to see Hargert present. He brought out a piece of pot roast and assorted sides for her with a soda drink. "It's still quiet around here, I see," Julia said.

"Yes, it is." Hargert drew in a sad little sigh. "It seems so many of the others are gone, still."

"Caterina's still off at that Vulcan Science Academy conference in the Federation with Ensign Arterria. Jarod's visiting his family on New Liberty. Nick's still off training pilots at the Phobos Flight Academy. Meridina and Lucy are on Gersal, and Angel is… hell, I don't have a clue. She just wanted to 'get away', as she said, and it's a big Multiverse." Julia nursed the soda. "I'm not sure I like how empty the ship feels."

"It has been quiet, yes. But I do not think it will remain so. The others are all due to return soon, yes? For when the ship departs."

"Yeah. And if Robert's not awake by then, we have to leave him behind."

The starboard-side door to the Lookout swished opened and admitted Leo. Doctor Leonard Gillam was in a normal uniform, blue for the branch color on the trim, and had ditched his usual white lab coat. Julia nodded at him; he had a strong, rounded face, and now a beard of black hair was showing on his chin and jawline, giving a darker shade surrounded by already-dark skin. He walked up to them and asked, "Mind if I take this seat?" His brown eyes looked from Hargert to Julia.

Julia shrugged and Hargert, obviously, had no quarrel with the idea. Leo slipped into a seat while Hargert went off to get him something to eat. "You look like you've had a sour day."

"I haven't had a day. Not a real one. Even the paperwork load is light."

"What's our crew situation like?"

"Well, 1,400 survivors of the Daleks and Cybermen, roughly, and about half have been promoted or transferred, especially the wounded." Julia tapped her spoon against her plate, ignoring for the moment the yellow corn at that corner. "Outside of the engineering crew and some of the ops officers, most of the rest are doing other temp assignments with fleet HQ or they're on leave." She crossed her arms. "When we get back out there, over half of the crew is going to be new."

"Ah." Leo put his hands together on the table. "And how are you holding up? You have the look of someone very displeased with the world in general."

"Is this another of those attempts to get me back for all the times I was trying to make you more cheerful?"

Leo pretended to think on it for a moment. "I have to consider that one… yes. Yes it is. So, do you want to tell me what's bugging you?"

Julia considered deflecting the question. At the last moment she didn't. "I've known since the first of the year that I'm the full captain of the Aurora now but it still feels like, on some level, I'm not supposed to be here." She rested her head on her hand. "And then when I think about it… Maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm supposed to be on the Enterprise. Maybe I'm supposed to be dead from blowing the ship up to stop the Daleks and that 'Darkness' that was going to come out of the rift they formed. Because Rob should be here." She gave him a knowing look.

"No change," Leo answered. "I'm sorry."

Julia sighed. She hadn't dared to think there would be one. "Any luck with the telepaths?"

Leo shook his head. "There's no response from his mind."

That caused Julia to swallow. "So he's, what, brain-dead?"

"No. His brain's functioning just fine," Leo insisted. "Hell, I'd almost think he was awake with the EEG readings. But he's just not awake. Whatever that TARDIS thing did to him…"

"Right." She frowned. "Maybe we should ask Cat if there's a way to reach the Doctor."

"The Doctor made it clear he didn't have any idea what would happen," Leo pointed out. "Honestly, Julia, I think we just have to wait and see. I've seen reports of people remaining comatose for decades and then waking up like nothing happened."

Leo quickly regretted proposing that possibility given the look of sheer pain that appeared on Julia's face. "We're going to have to leave him behind, you know," she said.

"I figured. Doctor McPherson left me a message today on scheduling his transfer to the long-term treatment wing."

Hargert returned at that moment, carrying the same meal for Leo and a glass of Leo's favored tea. He smiled at them quietly before departing, leaving them to their conversation.

Julia waited for Leo to take his first bite before saying, "Beth's talking about transferring him to the Colony Hospital."

"I can understand that," Leo said. "But it's probably for the best that he remain here. At least until we understand his condition more."

"Right." Julia took another bite of her rapidly cooling meal. The subject matter was killing her appetite, but if she didn't eat, her stomach would be grumbling when she tried to get some sleep.

Sensing that she needed a change of subject, Leo asked, "Have you heard anything about Zack?"

"Zack?" Julia finished swallowing. "The Koenig is still with the 10th Attack Squadron based out of Eta Leckie."

"I heard they have him escorting transports and hospital ships," Leo said. "I imagine he's bored out of his skull."

Julia shrugged. "I'm sure he's staying busy."

Bright white energy streaked across the void, launched from a ship that was even now fading from view. The torpedoes were on course to hit a single vessel, a transport ship with large cargo pods laid out on both sides of the central spine of its structure. One pod had already been opened to space by a hit through shields that had long since failed. Now these torpedoes would possibly add to that loss or, if on target, destroy the entire ship.

They didn't get the chance. Another ship intercepted them. Their electronic systems attempted to evade, but the maneuver of the intercepting ship hadn't made it possible for the torpedoes to do so. They slammed into the ship's shields and detonated. The shaped anti-matter charges pierced the shields of the ASV Koenig and scorched the ship's azure hull along the ventral side.

On the bridge of the Koenig the vessel rocked from the direct hit. "We took bleedthrough damage to Deck 4," reported Lieutenant Magda Navaez, operations officer for the ship. The Colombian-born woman looked over her sensor screen from her seat on the port side of the bridge, her console facing outward like the others along the sides. "They've already recloaked."

"I couldn't get a lock before they did," said Lieutenant April Sherlily, the tactical officer one station astern of Magda's.

Commander Zachary Carrey was seated alone in the center of the bridge. In front of him, the sole bow-facing station was the helm, where his First Officer Lieutenant Creighton Apley was seated. The two were roughly of the same build, but Zack's brown hair contrasted with the lighter brown hair of Apley. Zack's thoroughly 20th-21st Century Midwestern accent, the product of an upbringing in Kansas, was also quite different from Apley's Midwestern accent that had developed in the future timeframe of Universe D3R1's Earth. "Status on the Rochester Comet?" he asked Magda.

"Their shields are still down and they've got structural damage, if they take another hit it could destroy the entire ship," was Magda's answer.

"Damn." Zack frowned. "If they couldn't keep up with the convoy they shouldn't have left Eta Leckie Base." He would have to file a very negative report on Captain Kelton, presuming they both survived this. "And we can't keep this up forever…"
"We need distance," insisted Sherlily. "Then I can get a shot when they try to decloak."

"But then we'll be out of position to stop incoming fire," Apley pointed out. "The transport won't survive the hit."

Zack considered the problem quietly. A solution was forming in his mind as he considered the likely attack vector of the Reich attack ship, and said ship's situation. The Nazi attack ships weren't made to fight like his ship were, after all; they were made to decloak, fire torpedoes, and then recloak and run if they had to.

He tapped a key on his chair. "Bridge to Engineering."

"Engineering here," replied Lieutenant Karen Derbely, the ship's Chief Engineer.

"Karen, do you think our tractor beam could be set up to push the Rochester Comet out of the way?"

"For a few seconds, perhaps. It's at just the right size that our tractor beam could pull or push it for that long."

"Then make the necessary preparations," he ordered.

"Standby… done."

"Magda, use the tractor beam to repel the transport the moment that Nazi decloaks. Apley, put us above them and to starboard, and I want the tractor beam emitters lined up to face the ship. April, I want a spread of solar torpedoes set to detonate automatically when they reach a certain distance."

Apley nodded and maneuvered the ship. Magda confirmed her readiness as well.

All that was left was to wait. That was the worst part since Zack couldn't be sure this is what the enemy ship would do. He was trying to guess what this commander would do. Would he recognize this was a trap and attack from somewhere else? There was no way to know. All he could do was wait and see what happened.

The Reich attack ship decloaked after another thirty seconds had passed. The captain had placed his ship below and to the port of the Rochester Comet. Just as Zack hoped he would.

Even as the torpedoes launched from the squat, shark-like ship's forward section, the tractor beam on the Koenig flashed to life. A ribbon of blue energy linked Koenig to the transport she was protecting and sent it flying sideways through space. From the bow of the Koenig a spread of solar torpedoes launched and turned toward the enemy attack ship, even now cloaking.

Its shots missed, and the dorsal phaser array dispensed with them before they could turn back.

Meanwhile the solar torpedoes reached their programmed distance and detonated. There was a sudden flicker in space. The Nazi attack ship reappeared, debris and atmosphere flowing from a sudden wound in its side.

The Koenig orientated on the enemy ship under Apley's control. Sherlily triggered the forward pulse phasers as soon as she had a lock. Amber energy burst from the forward emitters. The Reich attack ship's shields snapped into place. But the firepower they were facing was beyond the shields' endurance, especially with the damage the ship had taken from the torpedo blast wave. They failed under the Koenig's barrage, allowing the final shots from the barrage to smash into unshielded hull. There were more bursts of flame and gas and debris from the enemy ship followed by an intense white fireball that all who saw it recognized as the result of a anti-matter losing containment. When the blast receded, there was nothing but small pieces of debris to mark the defeated foe.

"Ha!" shouted Zack, and the others cheered as well. "Magda, get Kelton for me," he said. "Find out how long before his warp drive is back online."

"Yes sir," she said, plainly happy. And for a good reason.

"And let him know I'll send our engineers over if we have to in order to get him moving," Zack added. "I'm not letting this jerk and his crappy ship keep us from getting our leave time."

"A week of leave and then back to the Aurora," Sherlily said with a little sigh. "I can taste Hargert's sausage stew already."

"It sounds like you are looking forward to that more than your leave," Magda said.

"Oh, don't get me wrong. Roliri, Karen, and I have five days of kayaking on the Ulysses River on New Appalachia coming up," Sherlily announced. "What about you?"

"I'm going home to New Liberty to visit my family," was Magda's reply.

"I'm heading home myself," said Apley.

"And I'm sure you'll enjoy yourselves," said Zack, smiling.

"While you're off on New Caprica visiting your girlfriend," Magda said.

"Yes," he said, feeling palpable eagerness to make the trip. "If only we can get this idiot in gear. If this takes much longer I'll make Kelton get out and push his damn ship back to Eta Leckie."

That mental image made everyone chuckle.

The Vulcan lecture hall reminded Caterina somewhat of a high school auditorium, at least in basic structure, with a wide range of seats facing a central stage with a podium and a number of monitors. Currently a Vulcan scientist, Suvel, was standing and giving a lecture on the interaction of subspace with the other forms of faster-than-light travel discovered since Multiversal Contact for the Federation. Cat was seated five rows back and toward the speaker's left. On one side she had Violeta at the row's end-seat, who looked like she was falling asleep. On the other side the seat was an Efrosian woman in a Starfleet science uniform. Beyond the Efrosian was an Asari, a Brakiri, a Hermat, and another Human; a Turian and a Minbari were behind her.

"...testing on Stardate 49538.4 demonstrated the correlation between the Mass Relays of M4P2 and the theorized possibility of subspace tunnels," Suvel was saying. "With this discovery the possibility of new avenues into subspace-based transportation…"

Caterina glanced over to Violeta, who now seemed completely asleep. For the moment Cat tuned out the Vulcan professor to look at Violeta and feel very guilty about bringing her to this. I had a leave that we could have used to do anything, and I insist on coming to this conference. And it's not even a good one. Some of the things these people are saying are…

She stopped herself. It wasn't fair to think those thoughts, not to these scientists. They hadn't had the opportunity to see other things that she had enjoyed. They hadn't seen time and space in the company of a being like the Doctor.

The Doctor! To actually have met the being listed in the Darglan databases was one thing, but getting to travel with him? That had been the kind of experience Cat had never dared dream of, even after they found the Facility. From her perspective they had spent a year traveling across time and space in his universe, hunting for a breach in the fifth dimensional barrier he could use to contact Rose Tyler or, perhaps, even bring her back. In the end the best they'd managed was an indication of a breach several months after the Battle of Canary Wharf, and a supernova that could be used to fuel a communication via the TARDIS through said breach. With the ostensible reason for her presence on the TARDIS over, the Doctor had brought Caterina home to within minutes of when they left. Since then she'd had to re-adjust to the old routines, and make up for her lost time with Violeta and Angel.

Suvel's presentation finished. Caterina was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she had forgotten she was next. It wasn't until Professor T'Rya, the presenter of the conference, called her name that Caterina remembered herself. She blinked before standing up. Violeta stirred as well and stood with her, giving Cat a kiss on the cheek for good luck. Cat responded with a smile and walked down the aisle stairway toward the central stage. She activated her omnitool and linked it to the presentation projector to load her presentation to the conference.

Seeing the crowd made her swallow with apprehension. But it was with a clear voice, and no sign of the shy stutter she once might have suffered, that Caterina introduced herself. "Greetings to my esteemed colleagues," she said, looking at a crowd that was composed of scientists from across the Multiverse. "I am Lieutenant Caterina Delgado of the Alliance Stellar Navy, Science Officer of the Starship Aurora." She noted the bottled water and gratefully picked one up to wet her throat. "And I'm here to present new research into the nature of subspace's interactions with hyperspatial domains. Since the Multiversal Era began…"

As Caterina began her presentation, she felt a pang of regret. She was here, speaking to a crowd without a moment's stutter, and her girlfriend was watching happily…

...but her sister was nowhere to be seen.

I wish you were here was one thought that came to her. As she activated a display showing the E5B1 universe's preferred layer of hyperspace, a second thought crossed her mind.

Where are you anyway, Angel?

One common concept for space-faring species and nations was the idea of the permanent frontier. Unlike a pre-spaceflight species stuck on one world, there was no innate, finite amount of territory that could be settled. The frontier had no limit. Certainly a world could grow to the point it was no longer on the frontier, but there was always another star, another planet, just beyond the metaphorical horizon, waiting for someone to settle upon them. And so the frontier would move onward.

The thing about frontiers, of course, is that they tend to be unkind places. Which was certainly a fair way to describe the colonial town of Hendonville, on the planet designated Corwin.

The roar of the crowd in the grungy backroom washed over Angela Delgado and brought back old memories, memories of amateur fights in gyms throughout Kansas and into neighboring states. Her current location might have passed for such, in fact, if not for darker lights, the money changing hands among those in attendance, and the cage.

And the lack of safety equipment. That was another telling factor.

The fact that the cage was electrified was a rather unnecessary detail at that point.

Angel slipped off her jacket, revealing the black sports bra she was wearing underneath, as well as the rippling, defined muscle on her arms, shoulders, stomach, and much of her back not covered by the fabric of her top. Had she been wearing shorts and not sweatpants the muscular definition of her legs would have been on display as well. Her skin was one of the darker shades in the room, a brown that had regained color in the prior weeks since her return to living under suns.

She stepped through the cage door and heard the click of the lock behind her. A very low buzz came seconds later as the electrical current for the cage was turned on.

Standing across the way was the current champion. He was six feet tall and shirtless, showing off the muscular build on his lightly tanned skin. A scar ran down the side of his left cheek. Brown eyes glinted with malice as a sneer formed across the man's face. "Well ain't that precious?" he asked rhetorically, although he didn't sound like the kind of person to understand what that meant. "Cute little girl muscles."

The crowd laughed.

Angel considered a retort and decided anything would be wasted on her opponent, and probably on the crowd. Instead her hazel eyes smoldered with disgust and contempt for him. She finished flexing her arms as a warmup and tilted her head to either side, loosening the muscles in her neck. A quick check confirmed the dirtied white bandages around her knuckles and fingers were intact. It was the best she'd get instead of proper gloves.

The bell rang. Her opponent charged. His fist flew in for her face. She caught the blow with her forearms. A second blow she dodged by ducking slightly. He snarled and tried to kick her, but Angel side-stepped that blow

For several seconds he wailed at her and Angel deflected or avoided the blows. It wasn't her usual fighting style to be sure. Every fiber of her being burned to retaliate, but she wasn't going to do that. Not just yet. She wanted to get a feel for this fellow and how he fought.

Perhaps it was her unfamiliarity with defensive stances that finally gave the champion his opening. Or he moved faster than anticipated. Either way, there was a sudden impact and rush of pain on the left side of her face. Raw force drove Angel back into the cage. Electricity surged from the metal and into her body, causing her to cry out until she fell away from it. Angel dropped to hands and knees. Some of her muscles spasmed in pain and she knew that she'd have a bruise on her face tomorrow. Blood trickled around her nose and mouth.

"Aww, does the girlie have a boo-boo?" her opponent asked mockingly. The crowd laughed.

Angel wiped the blood from her face and smiled.

Fight long enough, and you can get a feel for opponents. Specifically, you can tell the real ones from the fakes. Angel had been in enough fights to learn this herself.

Which is how she knew her opponent wasn't the real thing.

A real fighter, even a showboat, would have put her down first. He certainly wouldn't have turned his back to raise his arms to the crowd. But this guy wasn't that. Local top of the heap, maybe, but ultimately just a guy with muscles and a barroom brawl-level knowledge of fighting.

That could be dangerous, of course. Angel had met some damn good brawlers in her time. But they'd put this guy in his place just as easy as she intended to.

She stood up. Her opponent turned toward her and smirked, but that didn't match the mocking smile on her face. Angel flexed an arm, assumed a stance, and made a "Come get me" wave with the four fingers on her left hand.

He came at her again. His fist was raised for another punch. Nor he and the crowd saw it coming.

Suddenly her hand was flat and smacking his throat. His eyes widened in shock and pain. He stumbled, trying to regain breath, and Angel whirled about and kicked him in the jaw. Blood and a tooth flew free from his mouth. He fell over in shock.

Angel could have gone for the submission hold. But she held back. This fight wasn't over until she decided it was, and so she waited patiently for the champion to stand back up. He was livid with rage and didn't bother with anything but a furious charge.

This time Angel side-stepped him entirely. Before he could recover, she delivered a kick to his back that sent him on into the cage wall. His body spasmed upon contact with the electrical current running through the metal. He stumbled back and fell, landing onto his back and rear on the mat.

Angel let him recover. Pure rage burned in his eyes now, mixed with a fear not present before. He realized he was fighting someone beyond his usual foes. Angel wasn't someone he could intimidate or easily overpower. He avoided a heedless charge and brought his arms up into a defensive stance. "I can take whatever you dish out, bitch!"

That made Angel grin. She wiped a bit of the blood still trickling from her mouth and nose away before charging at him. Her attack started with a couple of jabs and kicks at him to test his defensive stance and let him block those without giving him any openings.

This led him into a false sense of security as well, which was just what she hoped would happen before she cut loose.

For the crowd, the site was astonishing. Their scar-faced champion was suddenly reeling. Punches too fast for him to catch pummeled his face, then a kick took him in the belly. He flailed back toward the edge of the cage and caught himself just shy of it.

Angel dropped low and threw a punch she'd been holding back for the right moment. Said punch struck her opponent between the legs with the full force her arm permitted.

The crowd's reaction was a mix of surprise, anger, and cheering.

The champion, on the other hand, squeaked a cry of sheer pain and doubled over before dropping to all fours. The strike left him stunned and on all fours.

Angel knelt down beside him and put him in a headlock. "That was for the girls," she hissed at him in a voice low enough that only he could hear her.

"What?" he squeaked back.

"I know what you are, Mr. Talbot. They told me what you did to them. If you don't want me to pummel the ever-living shit out of you, stay down."

"Bitch!" was the response, and a wild punch that nausea and disorientation made far too wild to connect. It did extend his arm enough for Angel to grab it. She twisted it out of place and, with an extra twist, bent and twisted it enough to dislocate his shoulder. He shrieked in pain.

Angel threw a punch across his face that nearly broke her knuckles. It did break his nose as a side-effect to knocking him out.

As the crowd cheered and booed, the organizer outside of the ring started counting down. With her adrenaline pumping Angel couldn't be too sure of the count's accuracy, but she suspected that it was slower than it should have been, with ten seconds being more like fifteen or twenty. But Talbot remained unconscious the entire time.

After reaching a very reluctant ten, the fight MC shut down the electricity on the cage and unlocked it. He stepped in and went up to Angel. She didn't resist him gripping her right wrist and lifting her arm up in triumph. She gave the crowd a triumphant grin and raised her left arm over her head as well. "Ladies and gentlemen, your new champion, the Angry Angel!"

Applause, boos, and some wolf whistles came from the dozens in the crowd.

Angel left the cage. One of the other staff for the ring walked up and handed her a wad of bills, representing her prize for the fight. She could feel malevolent gazes on her as she walked toward the exit. Talbot had clearly been the favorite of many, and more importantly, the one they'd bet on. She had just cost a lot of angry people money.

Angel was just shy of the door leading out when a familiar voice said, "Nice fight." She turned and faced a man who looked in his mid to late thirties, dark-haired, in a dark brown jacket, trousers, and gray shirt. "We might want to get some ice on your face, though."

"Jarod?" Angel asked, incredulous.

Her friend and comrade from the Aurora, the Operations Officer compared to her role as Chief Tactical Officer, answered that with a grin and a nod. "So, where are you staying?" Jarod indicated the sullen, angry faces still in the crowd. "Because we might want to leave before your new fans come looking for you."

Angel sighed and nodded. "Follow me," she said. "I wasn't going to use the shower here anyway."

The trip into town went as it usually did for Robert and Julia. She went off for her t'ai chi class and he visited the contractors the family farm worked with.

After a day of checking on them, Robert was waiting outside of Julia's training studio when he noticed the shadow loom beside him. He turned his head to face the newcomer. The black and purple-striped jacket with dark trousers and a proper matching shirt spoke of someone with specific taste. The tall man's brown eyes focused on him and a friendly smile crossed his face. "Hello there," he said in a cheery voice, one with a clear English accent. "You're Robert Dale, right? The new Chairman of the Family Farm Association?"

"I am," answered Robert. He extended a hand and the Englishman accepted it. "I've never seen you around before."

"Oh, I just moved in. I'm the new doctor in town. Honestly that's what people usually just call me. 'The Doctor'."

"Just that?" Robert chuckled. "Don't you have another na-..."

Suddenly a sharp pain stabbed Robert in the forehead. He cried out and fell into the Doctor's arms before everything went black.
”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 »

Julia hadn't bothered putting anything but her nightrobe on over her nightgown before storming to the medbay. Doctor Singh intercepted her halfway to the door to the care ward. "Captain, it's alright," the Sikh woman insisted.

"What happened?" Julia demanded. "Leo said something…"

Leo stepped out of the ward. He glanced toward Julia and shook his head, sighing. "That's really not necessary," he said to her.

"Is Rob okay?"

"He's still alive and his vitals are strong." Leo gestured to the door. Julia looked into the ward and saw Robert still on his bed, unmoving. "The EEG spike was peculiar. I wanted you to find out in the morning."

"I was up looking over Scotty's repair log for the day," Julia said, trying not to sound too defensive about her own reaction.

"At five in the morning?" Leo asked without bothering to hide his skepticism.

"I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep," she answered.

"Ah." Leo nodded. He turned to Doctor Singh, who smiled back and stepped away. "Doctor Singh's going to give you a mild sleep aid," he said to her. "Then you can go back to your quarters and get some proper sleep."

Julia crossed her arms and glared at him. "You're just trying to shoo me away."

"You could say that," said Leo. "Or you could say I'm trying to preserve the Captain's dignity by not having her tromp around the ship in her nightgown."

Julia answered with a frustrated little growl. "You're enjoying this far too much," she charged.

"I am," Leo admitted.

"I need more sleep anyway, but I still want updates."

"I will make sure you get updates every morning. Around 0800."

"And what about you? You don't come on before 0700 usually."

"I'm also the Chief Medical Officer, and I'm responsible for all patients. When our coma patient has a new change to condition, I get called. That's because this is actually my job." Leo nodded to Singh, who stepped up and used a hypospray on Julia's partially-bare left arm. Julia rubbed the injection point absent-mindedly. "Now you've got maybe five minutes before that starts to kick in. Plenty of time to get back to your quarters if you catch the lift."

Julia took the hint and left.

Leo watched her leave with a small smile, one tinged with sadness. "I think she blames herself," said Doctor Singh. "That's what it feels like."

"Survivor's guilt," Leo murmured. A yawn escaped his throat. "I'm going to take my own advice and get some more sleep as well. See you in the morning, Doctor."

"Of course, Doctor," Singh answered. "Get as much rest as you need."

The ER room in the county hospital was not the kind of place Robert liked to be. He hadn't been in one since rushing Julia to the hospital for Little Robby's delivery, in fact. But now he was the patient, hooked up to all sorts of monitors and medical things.

Having Leo shining a bright light into his eye didn't help his mood.

"I'm fine," grumbled Robert.

"People who are fine don't get sudden stabbing headaches that cause them to black out," Leo pointed out.

Robert might have appealed that. But one look from Julia and he didn't. She clearly intended for him to take full advantage of the offered medical care.

"We're going to run a full battery of tests on you to make sure this won't be a recurring issue," Leo said to him, but for the benefit of Julia. "I'll go arrange that now."

After he left the room Robert laid back on the hospital bed and turned his head to Julia. She gripped his right hand with her own and smiled softly at him. "I'm sure it's nothing major," she said. "Sometimes things just happen."

"Yeah," Robert said. "Sometimes."

"So, who was that tall English guy, the one who called 911 for you?" Julia asked. "We didn't get to talk."

"He's a new doctor in the area, I didn't catch the name," Robert answered. He put his left hand to his forehead.

"Well, hopefully you'll see him again," she said. "Then I'll get to thank him."

"We both will," was Robert's answer to that.

Jarod had helped Angel pack up after she was out of the shower. After donning a set of civilian clothes - blue sports jacket, white sleeveless tank top, gray sweatpants - she checked out, much to the gratitude of the manager who had heard of her victory and was worried Talbot's friends and fans might show up, and Jarod drove them out of Hendonville for the planetary capital of Corwinville. On the open paved highway that linked the two towns there was no speed limit, and Jarod had a full-speed aircar at his disposal. The two hundred kilometer distance thus disappeared in the space of ninety minutes.

Only when the lights of Corwinville beckoned ahead did Angel finally speak. "So, how did you find me?"

"It took me a little effort," Jarod said. "You've been pretty careful about paying cash. But your identity card still gets scanned on most worlds."

"But not here. Corwin's an independent world with barely any government, they wouldn't scan anyone."

"That was guess-work," Jarod admitted. "I looked at everything close to the last Alliance system you passed through. Corwin stood out, especially when I read about the attacks." Jarod frowned slightly at that. "Do you think kicking Talbot around will keep him from forcing himself on any more young women?"

"I hope it'll give him a second thought," Angel said. "And beating his ass felt good too."

"I'm sure it did. I'm just not sure it helped much in the long term. He might take it out on more victims."

"Maybe. Or maybe the others will hear about him getting his ass handed back to him by a girl and he'll have more trouble than it's worth getting frisky." Nevertheless Angel was frowning. "Maybe if I had the means I would have done something more permanent."

"Why not turn him in? To the authorities?"

"What authorities? This planet's virtually run by a mining company," Angel guffawed. "And their managers are making money off the fighting. And on a crappy world like this, even a half-baked talent like Talbot can become king of the ring."

"Or the cage." Jarod shook his head.

"So why did you come after me anyway?" Angel asked. "I told Julia I just wanted some time to myself."

"Yeah, and she passed that onto me." Jarod didn't take his eyes from the road. The car was slowing; they were reaching the outskirts of Corwinville. "So I decided to keep an eye on you."

"I don't need a damn babysitter," Angel growled.

"Normally, no. But you know me. I've studied psychiatric medicine before."

"Jarod, you've studied everything before."

"Touche. But my point remains. I knew you were going through problems…"

"And you can stop right there," Angel insisted.

They came up to an intersection. A red light lit up overhead from a holo-emitter prompting Jarod to stop. "Angel, you can't bottle this up forever," he said.

Angel frowned at him. "One more word and I'm out."

Jarod sighed openly. "You're being…"

Before Jarod even started with "stubborn", Angel stepped out of the aircar. By the time she made it to the side of the road, the light turned green. Jarod had to turn and leave the road to pull up beside her. The anti-gravs under the aircar sent up plumes of dust and grass. "Alright, point made, you don't want to talk," he said.

Angel nodded briskly and climbed back into the passenger seat. "Do you have transportation?" she asked.

"I called Beth Rankin and got a courier shuttle from the Colony's shuttle pool," Jarod confirmed. "One of the old Darglan drive models we built back in the Facility days, so it's capable of Warp 6. If we leave tonight, we'll be back in Alliance space by tomorrow." Conscious of his own growing need, Jarod asked, "Are you hungry? There's a diner near the starport that looked good."

Angel nodded. "Sure. I'm always up for a greasy spoon after a good fight." She smiled at him. "You're paying though."

"Oh? You're the one with a wad of fight winnings in your pocket."

To that, Angel's smile turned almost malevolent. "Oh, that? I already spent it."

Jarod blinked. "On what?"

"A bribe," Angel admitted. "It turns out that whatever Talbot's paying the sheriff in Hendonville to cover up for him, it's really not a lot."

"It's got to be more than the prize money of a single fight."

"Oh, it is." Angel settled back into her seat, arms raised and hands behind her head in a pose of relaxation that pulled up her tank top enough to display the muscled abs around her navel. "Which is why I placed a bunch of bets on myself before the fight. It turns out you can make a lot of money betting against the local champ if you know he's going to lose."

Jarod couldn't help himself. He had to laugh at that. "Nice work," he said.

"Thank you. Now, let's go get some food, and get off this crappy planet."

Robert's return home was met with a meal. After enjoying his grandmother's cooking yet again, the family gathered in the den to watch the large plasma screen television that served as another reminder of how well they were doing these days. The channel was set to a pay-per-view professional fighting bout being waged in St. Louis. They cheered the sight of Angel fighting another woman, a blond Caucasian, and overpowering her in round after round.

"Why is Auntie Angel fighting?" Little Robby inquired from his place on the main couch between his parents.

"Because she likes it," Robert said to him. "It's like a sport to her."

"But Uncle Zack doesn't hit people with his bat," the boy pointed out.

"Or at least, he hasn't in awhile," Robert said, remembering an old game during their high school days. He tousled his son's blond hair. "Uncle Zack plays a different sport."

"Back in my day, girls didn't punch each other like that," Grandma Anna remarked. "Not on television, anyway."

"Did girls have muscles?" Little Robby asked.

"Only on farms," she replied.

On the screen Angel threw a punch that sent her opponent flying onto her back. The ten second count commenced and ended without the other woman getting up. The room filled with applause at the count of ten. The referee raised Angel's arm in victory and a commentator started speaking about the fight’s outcome.

"Angel's only a couple victories away from a championship bout now," Julia said. "She could win it all."

"I'm sure she will," said Robert. "So, who wants some dessert?"

Naturally the first response was from his son, a jubilant "Ice cream!"

Kerri's Diner and Bar reminded Angel of a whole number of small family diners she'd seen, and eaten at, during her lifetime. The booths were modestly comfortable with their green-colored plush seating, the table a pleasant brown wood pattern even if it was obviously a composite plastic table and not actual wood. The usual condiments for a diner were present at the window end of the table. Salt, pepper, sugar packets, and small containers of various fruit jellies flanking the napkin dispenser.

The remnants of two meals were on the table. Angel used her straw to take another drink of orange juice while Jarod finished the last piece of a toasted roast beef sandwich. "I can't believe I missed this place when I landed," she said, contented.

"I think it's funny that this places looks like it could fit into the 20th Century with just a few changes." Jarod motioned to the bar counter where other customers were eating.

"Some people like the classics."

After that was noted, silence fell. The awkward moment passed when Angel asked, "How is the family?"

"They're doing well." Jarod sipped at the coffee from his mug for a moment. "Emily's making her way as a reporter. Apparently Beth considers her to be something of a pain."

Angel laughed, although it came out as something of a snort. "And your dad?"

"He's trained as a transport pilot and joined a carrier transport service."

"I'm glad they're settling in," Angel said. "After everything that happened with the Centre…"

Jarod nodded without a word at that sentiment.

"Have you ever finished sorting through that data we stole?" Angel asked.

"To be honest, I haven't touched that lately," Jarod answered. "My family's safe. I can't imagine Mister Raines is still alive, and Miss Parker…" Jarod shook his head. "She made her choice. I'm not sure where she would be, but I'm not going to risk everything to look for her."

"And your Mom?" Angel picked at a last scrap of her hashed potatoes. "I still wonder why we didn't pick her up once we got back to the ship."

"We had other concerns at the time, and my father insists that she's safe," Jarod answered. "If we had remained in orbit, the Centre might have tracked our activity. And there was the fact that we had wounded and tired people."

"Right." Angel crossed her arms. "Did you ever get that request through to get your mother out?"

Jarod nodded. "I submitted everything to Admiral Maran. But I've yet to hear back from him."

"Considering all of the permissions he has to get from the officials in the government…" Angel frowned. "Back in the day, we didn't have this. We'd have just flown a ship to pick her up."

"This isn't then."

"Yeah. Now we've got chains of command, authorities and laws…"

Given the look coming over his face, it was clear Jarod knew where this line of discussion was going. "There are tradeoffs, yes."

"It's ridiculous," fumed Angel. "I get it, they don't want to cause your home Earth to go nuts on finding out all of this insane Multiverse stuff. Fine! We sneak into orbit and get your mother out, bam, we're done. But nope, that would be against the law. Just like every other good thing we did back then was supposed to be, y'know? And… and here we are, on a world where I had to bribe the authorities to put a rapist piece of crap in jail, and we don't do crap about it."

Jarod finished taking a drink by the time she finished. "It almost sounds like you want to leave."

"I guess so, and why not?" Angel shrugged. "Cat's got her life now. She doesn't need big sis hovering around her protectively anymore. Robert and I are done, for good. That's not changing whether or not he wakes up again. He doesn't need me around to remind him of how we screwed that up."

"And you don't need him around to remind you," Jarod pointed out. When she scowled at him, he continued, "So you feel lost. You're not sure what you're doing anymore."

"Don't psycho-analyze me, dammit."

"This isn't psycho-analyzing," Jarod retorted. "This is obvious fact. You're used to being Cat's guardian and to watching Robert's back. Now they don't need that, and you're not sure of what you're doing anymore. And you're thinking of walking away."

"Okay, sure, yeah," she said. "Maybe so."

"Then why did you ask to go to the Enterprise with Julia?" asked Jarod. "If you're not sure you want to be a part of the Alliance anymore, why ask for that transfer?"

For a moment Angel didn't answer. "Because she's my friend," was what she ultimately said. "Because I wasn't thinking the same way at the time. I… I just wanted to get away, I guess."

"From Robert," Jarod remarked.

"Yeah." Angel chuckled. It was a bitter noise. "Boy did I get that wish. Now he might never wake up."

"You don't blame yourself for that, do you?"

"No. That was Robert being the White Knight again. For all the good it's done him." Angel gave him a gloomy look. "I just… I feel like a fifth wheel right now, Jarod. And I'm asking myself what I'm doing, sitting shifts at the tactical station with nothing going on, filling out reports, running exercises. I miss the old days when we didn't have to put up with that."

"I know the feeling." Jarod nodded. "And I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it sometimes. But let's be honest. We need something like the Alliance to fight things like the Dominion, the Batarians…"

"...the Nazis," Angel finished for him.

"I figured that one was obvious. Because we both know we'd have been nothing to them but maybe a nuisance back in the old days."

Angel didn't bother replying to that.

"Are you going to leave?" Jarod asked. "I mean, resign from the Alliance?"

There was a heavy moment when she seemed unwilling to answer the question. When she did, she shrugged and said, "I don't know yet. I can't leave until the war is over anyway, so I'll think about it."

Jarod nodded at her response. After several seconds to show he was dropping the conversation subject, he said, "Well, let's go pay for the meal. I need to get that shuttle back to New Liberty before we return to the Aurora."

"Right. Remember what I said."

"Yeah, I do." He smirked before standing up. "I'm paying."

Angel responded with a slight grin.

A similar grin was on the face of a figure in the far corner of the diner. Neither noticed it, nor said figure moving to follow them after they left.

There were many sights for one to see on the planet Gersal. Jantarihal's grand spires, the majestic round structures of the Great Temple of Swenya, the rainbows thrown up by the Falls of Hentan.

Lucilla Lucero - Lucy to her friends - was ready to add the Temple of Perception to that list.

The Temple of Perception, as it was called, was more of a cave, carved into the mountain of Talmatan in the southern mountain range of Jaldiran. The continent of Jaldiran was across the Inner Sea from the main continent of Pantiram, where Jantarihal and the Great Temple were found. But it was also the continent where Swenya was born, and Talmatan was a mere twenty kilometers from Trubin. Today one of the largest cities on Jaldiran, it had been nothing but a poor village when Swenya was recorded as being born there, and its importance was such that the Order maintained a Temple there and supported the pilgrims and visitors who came to examine the preserved elements from the Grand Foundress' birth.

Talmatan had a similar importance. By her own memoirs and the traditions of the Order she had created, the mountain of Talmatan was where Reshan had trained Swenya in the art of swevyra - of life force energy connected to the universe, wielded by one attuned to it - and guided her to become the great heroine to her people she would one day be. By those same traditions, Reshan and Swenya had descended into the cave after being guided to it by their connection to the universe, and they had experienced visions there.

It was easy for Lucy to realize why even before she entered the Temple, wearing a simple brown robe and white vest and leggings. She could feel the energy inside the cavern. It was energy steeped in light and dark, a powerful focal point within the Flow of Life.

The attendees had greeted her respectfully. All could see the weapon dangling from her belt, the swenkesh, or "lightsaber" by Lucy's own words. The entire Order had become aware of her learning how to build new ones, just as they had earlier watched her repair Swenya's Blade - revealed to be the same kind of weapon - and defeat the mad Mastrash Goras with it. That she was still deigning to take the Field Trials to prove her worthiness to be a swevyra'se - a Knight of Life as the Gersallians considered it - was another mark in her favor.

Once she was fully admitted, Lucy was left alone in an interior grotto. A mat was laid out for her to kneel on and meditate. She did the kneeling part, but meditation was not something she did right away. She considered instead what she was doing here, why she had agreed to take these Trials, this particular act being the last of them. She'd gone to the extent of asking Meridina what would happen.

"I cannot tell you what it is you will experience," Meridina had warned Lucy. "All face their own challenges."

Lucy felt the power resonate around her. For a minute, then another, nothing further seemed to occur. The silence of the cavern around her was absolute.

The faint sound startled her for just that reason. Lucy felt out for what was there just to feel there was nothing apparent.

But the faint sound continued. It continued until it was clearly footsteps.

Lucy looked up at an old, wiry woman. A crown of wispy white hair surrounded a balding head. Her eyes were dark in color, her face drawn and gaunt. Dark and gray robes covered the body. "Come with me," she instructed.

Slowly Lucy rose from the mat. "Who are you?"

"An ally," the woman said. "Come."

They walked deeper into the cave. It actually seemed off, actually. Could the cave really be this deep? Around her the surroundings grew so dark she could barely see. She felt out for any signs of danger and found none.

That made the fall all the more perplexing.

One step the floor was there. On the next it wasn't. Lucy cried out in surprise and reached out to try and find purchase. But there didn't seem to be any surface around to grab.

And then, like that, she was on solid ground again. Her surroundings were just as dark as before. But this time the darkness felt unnatural, as if it had gathered for the purpose of obscuring her surroundings.

"There you are," said the old woman. "Come."

Lucy looked through the haze. Wherever this was, or at least whatever it was, she could see glinting patterns ahead of her. The old woman walked toward the haze and Lucy followed. She still couldn't make out who this was supposed to be. "Where are you taking me?" she asked. Around her more light glittered through the haze.

There was no audible reply from the woman. They continued on toward the heart of the chamber.

"What is this place?" Lucy asked. "The Gersallians didn't say anything about it."

"Can't you feel it?" the woman asked. "This place is one of power. At the heart of this machine, the power to save us all can be found."

Lucy's senses felt something from the machine. Power. But instead of the teeming energy of the Flow of Life, it felt… different. Almost wrong to her senses.

"Why do you hesitate? The stakes do not allow for it," the woman insisted. A frown crossed her face. "The Darkness are coming for us all. This is the power that can fight them."

The vision swept over Lucy. Dark, nameless things that seemed to be made of nothing but destructive hatred. She saw planets crumble, stars die out.

And then she saw herself. For a moment she looked deceptively Human, or rather as she always did. Not short but not tall, long dark hair with curls, blue eyes, a face that was just a tad too round to be considered oval-shaped. No muscle definition, just a solid body of about five feet ten inches height, with a light brown complexion hinting at her Mexican-born mother's mestizo background.

But there was something in the eyes, something in the way she looked, that wasn't right. It didn't fit who Lucy was. Instead there was a different form of power, something terrible and without the Light of the Flow of Life. Lucy watched this other her wield this enormous power against those dark things, against other things, with more planets dying, more stars going out. Dying, it seemed, at her own hand.

"Follow me, I will show you to the heart of this machine." The old woman beckoned. "None will stop you. They would not dare. Only you can claim this power and change the fate of the Multiverse with it."

"I…" Lucy looked on through the haze. Felt that terrible power. Something beyond anything she'd seen or felt before. But it felt like death, like something inhuman, and she didn't want that.

"It is not death, girl. You will be beyond death. Beyond anything and everything, free to impose your will as you see fit."

"But it's… wrong," Lucy insisted. "The Flow of Life isn't moving in here. Whatever this is… it's not part of that."

"It is superior to it. It will free you from the Flow of Life."

"But I don't want that!" Lucy shouted. She reached out for the Flow, for what flickering bits of it she felt, and tried to gather it. "I'm not using this thing. It's wrong."

"It is our future!" the woman shrieked. "Without it, we will lose everything. You will lose everything!" A twisted, angry look came over the old woman. "Can you accept that, Lucy Lucero? Losing the ones you love? Just as you lost your mother?"

That old pain surged inside of Lucy with surprising fierceness. She could remember her mother's last words on the hospital bed, pleading with Lucy to go and do great things. She could remember her own hot tears running down her cheeks as her mother slipped away. That open, raw void from the piece of her heart that was torn away.

The old woman smiled with bitter vindication. "And now imagine losing the others. The ones you call your family."

That was a prospect Lucy had already experienced. She thought of the others dying as well. Tearing new, terrible gaps into her heart, more painful than anything Patrick Duffy might have tried.

"You can save them. With this, you will never know loss again. Take the power. Accept it."

The thought went through Lucy's head. This wasn't real. She'd come to meditate, to take a trial, and this must be it. It had to be, didn't it? The alternative was that some old woman was hiding a mysterious device beneath the mountain, and somehow that seemed more ludicrous than the things she had seen since that day when Julia had rescued her from the Duffy house.

But this felt so real. More real than a dream. She was here. And this thing was. She could imagine the power it held. With it… she'd never lose another loved one. She wouldn't lose Julia or Leo or Rob or Cat or Jarod…

...she wouldn't lose Meridina.

Somehow, that thought was the most terrible one. At the same time, the thought also led her to consider how Meridina would react to this. To the idea of turning away from the Flow of Life and embracing… whatever this was. She could imagine Meridina's horror at the idea. And her disappointment at Lucy ultimately rejecting the things she'd spent so much time teaching her.

"I sense how much you care for your mentor in these arts," said the woman. "But her way is to accept death. It can only bring pain. Use the machine, Lucy Lucero, and you and those you love need never die."

The words alone did not move Lucy. But she could sense images. Images of her friends, those she considered family, dying. Robert, Julia, Tom and Scotty, Jarod, Nick, Leo… their lifeless faces cycled in a montage.

Meridina's hurt the worst. The idea that she could lose her, this wonderful and brave woman who had done so much for her, introduced Lucy to this potential that had always been inside her… that hurt and frightened Lucy.

The idea that she could do something that would ensure she never lost Meridina, she never lost anyone… that was a possibility Lucy found she couldn't just give up on. After all, hadn't she lost enough? Her mother had gone. She'd tried to do the right thing and ended up the plaything of a sadistic monster for her efforts. Only a miracle had saved her from that, and that had led to a life of desperate fights and close calls. How close had they come against the Daleks? How close to death had she been? And Meridina? The others?

Lucy approached the opening. "Yes," said the old woman. "This is your destiny. Fulfill it, raise up yourself and those you care for, and strike down the darkness that threatens us all." The hazy opening itself seemed to beckon her, for all that it felt… wrong.

It is wrong, thought Lucy. Whatever this is… it's wrong. This power isn't of the Flow of Life. It's different. It's dangerous.

I… I can't…

Tears trickled down her cheeks. Again the thought of what she'd lost, what she could lose, came to her. If this was a way to prevent that, shouldn't she take it?

But at what cost? To be cut off from the Flow of Life? What would that do to her? What would it do to the others? Would they accept this as well? Would Meridina? What if they didn't, what if this was as wrong as she felt?

But I don't want to lose them! The protest filled her mind, and she felt it ring both ways. She was afraid of losing them to death. But if they rejected her for this, if it made her something terrible… she would lose them anyway.

"Why do you hesitate?" demanded the old woman.

Lucy didn't hear her. Indeed, as far as she was concerned, this strange, hazy place was gone. She was in a hospital room. Her mother was on the bed, weak, dying. She had Lucy's hand clasped in hers. "My little one. Please, you must move on. You have a life."

To that, Lucy shook her head. Her voice choked out, "But I love you, Mama. I don't want to be without you."

"I'm always with you, my precious little one. No matter what." Hands coarsened by hard labor and time were nevertheless gentle against Lucy's cheek.

And then the hand fell, and it never moved again.

It didn't happen that way was Lucy's first thought to this. Her mother could barely speak at the end. Her last act before falling asleep for the final time had been to smile at her while her eyes, normally filled with pain, suddenly showed nothing but love. As if she had known she wouldn't wake up.

"Go!" urged the old woman.

But Lucy couldn't. That false memory of her mother's deathbed still had a power over her, as if she knew those were the words Isabela Lucero would have used had she been able to speak. And those words were true. Lucy had always kept her mother with her. Not to dwell over her loss but to remember her life, and what they had shared. And to think of how she would feel about Lucy now, about all that she had accomplished.

This power… this wasn't for her. This wasn't what Lucy was. It was something terrible and she knew it would change her if she touched it. It would do something to her and make her different, make her something her mother may not have recognized… something her friends never would. Something Meridina would feel only pain over.

"I'm not doing it," Lucy said. She turned to face her host. "Whatever this is… I don't want it. It's not for me. It's not what I am."

She could feel the anger and frustration from the old woman. And with it came another sensation, something Lucy was angry with herself for missing before. The old woman did have power, a lot of it… and it was cold and dark. Her eyes blazed in fury and turned yellow and then red. "If you will not serve my purpose willingly, you leave me no choice!" barked the old woman, as cold dark energy swirled around her. Stronger, nastier, than it had when Lucy had felt it inside Mastrash Goras.

Lucy reached for her belt. But her lightsaber wasn't present. Nor might it have been much use, as the attack didn't come physically but mentally. The old woman's rage permeated her sense of self as it slammed into Lucy's mind. I will make you my own. I will have that power!

To that Lucy gathered her own. She grimaced and dropped to a knee before her standing opponent. But she kept her head up and her face defiant. Given the power she was facing, Lucy reached out beyond her own connection and felt the warmth of the Flow of LIfe. It was strong now. Vibrant. And she could channel it in this place.

And she did so. Everything that was Lucy Lucero - her fears and her joys and her desires and her devotions - struck back at the invader of her mind. "No," rasped the old woman. "You will give in! I felt it! You are ready to accept what I offer!"

"No," Lucy insisted. "I was tempted. But you're asking me to be something I can't be."

"But the power you would wield…"

"I don't want power."

"Lies!" snarled the woman, who dropped to a knee. All of her efforts were being expended at Lucy, and none of it was working for her. "You let yourself be taught in these ways. You opened yourself to power willingly, you wanted it!"

"I accepted what I already had in order to protect others," Lucy corrected. "But I never wanted this." A small, bemused grin crossed Lucy's face. "To be honest, I sometimes think swevyra is a pain in the ass. And I'm pretty sure that whatever this is… I don't want."

The old woman went down to all fours. "You must take it!"

"No, I don't." Lucy knelt down in front of her. "Now… get the hell out of my mind!"

With a final surge of effort, Lucy pushed the old woman out.

Everything around her vanished. The old woman, the hazy glittering surroundings, the chamber. She was all alone in near-darkness.

"You are an interesting one," said another voice. A woman's voice, with the quiet lilt that Meridina often had when speaking English.

Lucy turned to face the newcomer. She was a woman, young but approaching middle-age, wearing a blue robe over a brown shirt and leggings. A very familiar weapon dangled from her belt, just as familiar as the open sandals on her feet. Her complexion was fair, her hair dark brown, and blue eyes met Lucy's own. Lucy felt her mouth hang open.

She'd seen this woman before.


"So to speak," said the figure.

Lucy stared in surprise. Meridina hadn't mentioned this might happen.

"Oh, I do not appear very often," said the old heroine of the Gersallians. "Honestly, you could possibly consider me nothing more than a personification of your connection to the Flow of Life."

"Swevyra makes a lot of things possible," Lucy pointed out.

To that Swenya grinned. "You have no idea how true that is," she said. "What do you think is happening? Right now?"

Ever since the old woman and the hazy machine chamber had disappeared, Lucy had gradually recalled what was going on. "This is a test," Lucy said. "I wasn't told what was being tested…"

"I would hope not. The expectation would ruin everything." Swenya stepped toward her.

"I could never have expected that," Lucy said. "I've never been to a place like that. And I've never seen the woman."

"Of course not. The test is not fixed, it can be anything from your imagination to experiencing a potential future. What is important is what you carry away from it."

That prompted a nod. "And how did I do?"

"How do you think you did?"

"Well, I said no. Not as quickly as I would have wished I did…"

To that Swenya grinned and chuckled. "Yes. But you did it more quickly than I did. I actually entered the inner chamber before I stopped."

Lucy blinked at that admission. "Then you know what it was? What that place is for?"

"It was… a relic," said Swenya. "One of only a few remaining, held in waiting by one of the last of its creators. Or creations, one might say. Either way, you were right to step away."

"I still don't understand what it does."

"It is something you may learn with time." Swenya's expression showed how grave she thought that possibility to be. Said expression softened after a moment. "Allow the future to tend to itself, Lucy Lucero. We do not live in the future, after all, but in the present moment, and understanding that distinction is always necessary for those like us."

Lucy nodded. "The profound wisdom is nice, but I'm still wondering if you're really Swenya or just a figment of my imagination."

The answer to that was a cryptic smile. "That you will need to figure out for yourself, I think."

Lucy's eyes opened. She found she was still seated on the mat in the cave. Gentle candlelight flickered over the beige-tinted walls of the cavern. All she could hear was the beating of her own heart, accompanied by her breathing. "Was that it?" she murmured to herself. "Was that my trial?" She remained where she was for the moment. Minutes passed as she considered what she'd seen, or rather what she'd dreamed, and if that was what she was supposed to see all along.

When nothing else happened, she finally stood up and left.

The sun was low in the sky and the waning light of twilight played over the field of wheat visible outside the window of Robert's home. The old family home where his grandparents still resided was visible as well, nearly to the road. The edge of the barn was covered in shadow, facing away from the setting sun.

Looking at the vista gave Robert a sense of profound joy. Anything, everything, he might have wanted in life, and it was here. Everything was just right. So right that it actually felt unreal.

Something inside him seemed to resonate with that thought. As if this wasn't real but some great fantasy he was living in. How else could he explain it? Everything going right?

But why can't it be going right? Why did this feel wrong sometimes?

"How're you doing, Rob?"

Robert turned his head and faced his grandfather. Allen Dale was in casual T-shirt and shorts. His weathered face was creased with age and worry, as it had been growing up. Now Allen was well through his eighties, although he didn't seem too different than he'd been while Robert was growing up.

That thought went away as Robert answered, "I'm alright. Whatever it was, it's not happening now."

"Right." Allen gave him a pat on the shoulder. "I'm just a worried old man, I suppose. You can be hard on yourself, Rob. Always trying to do the right things and be the good guy. Sometimes you have to remember to take care of yourself."

"Leo said something like that."

"Good doctors always do." Allen's eyes remained fixed to his. "Are you sure you've got nothing troubling you, Rob? It looks to me like you do."

"I'm just…" Robert drew in a sigh. "Sometimes, lately, it feels like things are going too well. I have everything I might have wanted in life. And it feels like something's just… I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, I guess. Maybe today was it. Maybe I've got something wrong with me, and that's to balance all of this out."

"Well, I can see that. But you can't go through life wondering about things like that. You'll lose your mind." Allen tilted his head towards the dining room. "Now, your Grandma has a dinner ready and will be mighty angry if you come to the table looking morose."

A smile came to Robert's face. "Yeah. And I wouldn't want to get Grandma angry." He nodded and joined his grandfather in stepping away from the window.

Tom Barnes walked into Main Engineering on the Aurora through one of the aft entrances. The lanky, red-haired engineer's head swiveled from side to side, taking in the banks of naqia reactors that were inactive but ready to be brought to life to power the Aurora. He walked around the corner to the alcove where the master systems display showed a two and a half meter long likeness of the ship. Below the display, a table with multiple consoles allowed the Chief Engineer, assistants, and watch officers to check the status of systems across the ship and relay damage control teams and repair crews to needed points as well as interact with whoever was manning the Bridge Engineering Station. It, like the display, was new, both having replaced older counterparts from before the partial rebuild of Main Engineering over the past ten weeks.

Ten weeks. And yet it sometimes felt more like ten days, or even ten hours, since the Cybermen and Daleks had made their attempts to take the ship and killed hundreds of crew in the process. Nearly half of the engineering crew was made up of new faces, and there were now missing faces that Barnes knew he would never see again.

He stepped up to the control board and made a few perfunctory checks. The repairs were mostly complete. Rebuilt systems had been upgraded in some cases, and most of the ship's weaponry had been overhauled. The phaser weapons that Captain Farmer and Scotty had installed had been removed, replaced with new plasma beam emitters found in recovered Darglan technological data, weapons based off Asgard technology according to Robert.

That thought haunted Barnes. He had always been closer to Zack, true, and there were times he thought Robert took things too far, but he also knew Robert was always looking out for them. Even when Barnes was being an idiot. Now he might be gone. Losses to the engineering crew had been bad enough, but this was a wound that went even deeper. The idea that Rob might never wake up…

"Aye, there ye are." Scotty stepped into the alcove. While Barnes was wearing the standard engineering uniform for the Stellar Navy, with the black main color and beige branch color, Scotty always preferred his white long-sleeve jacket under a black engineer's vest. "What did ye find?"

"No sign of any lingering hull breaches in the sector. I detailed Salehi and Iktana to check the local sensor clusters. We might have a bad one in the rebuild."

To that the older man sighed and shook his head. "I told th' installers they dinnae have t' rush it."

"Yeah, well, the dock teams are more worried about how fast they finish things, it makes them look like badasses or something." Barnes checked over something minor before asking, "So did Nesay go?"

"Aye. She transferred t' th' Pathfinder. She'll make Chief by th' end o' th' year, I imagine."

"Another face gone then." Tom tapped a couple of keys. "Hey, Scotty?"


"Do you ever get used to it?" Barnes asked. "Having the people you work with leave?"

"Ye do. But that dinnae mean anythin' when it comes t' feelin' upset about it." A thoughtful look crossed Scott's face. "Ye're always goin' t' miss th' men an' women ye serve with. An' ye get auld enough an' th' list of them gets longer than ye'd ever expect. It makes ye miss yer youthful days even more, I've found."

Barnes nodded in reply. It was clear the words were coming from bitter experience given Scotty's age. "It's a Goddamned cycle, I guess," Barnes said. "People are gone, new ones show up, you get used to them and make friends, then the whole damned process repeats."

"That sounds about right," Scotty confirmed. "Just a part o' life, lad. Ye cannae dae anythin' about it. Ye just live with it like anythin' else. An' since ye brought th' matter up, let's take a look at th' shift rosters. I'd like t' have everyone ready when we're launchin'."

Barnes nodded. He moved one console down and used it to bring up the current active roster. "Alright, let's get this done," he murmured as names and open shift positions popped up.

Scotty's words refused to leave his mind, however. The idea that his friends might be gone one day gave Barnes a sense of possible loneliness. What would life be like without Zack or the others?

It was a question he decided he didn't want to answer.

Meridina walked through the halls of the Order of Swenya's Great Temple with enthusiasm in her gait. It was out of place here, and certainly not what she would have done just months before. It wouldn't have been right for her, not as a swevyra'se of the Order.

But she wasn't one anymore. She was merely Meridina of the Lumantala now, or rather Lieutenant Commander Meridina of the Alliance Stellar Navy, the chief of security for the Starship Aurora. The only reason she was here, in this hall, was the invitation of Mastrash Ledosh, her teacher and mentor, otherwise the red-robed Temple Knights would have never granted her entrance to the building.

It was a strange feeling, in fact, to be walking these halls, dressed in a simple, sleeveless violet vest that showed the smooth skin of her bare arms. The sea-green skirt ended just at the knees, revealing the curved shape of her lower legs. Given the warmth of the season outside it was not out of place, but an occasional sensation of being underdressed did strike her whenever she noticed a member of the Order pass wearing the full proper robes.

She arrived at Ledosh's office to find him with Gina Inviere. Gina looked Human (and thus Gersallian), but the blond woman was partly artificial in truth, a human-form Cylon once sent to infiltrate the Colonies of Kobol. Several terrible trials and betrayals later and she was here, Ledosh's current apprentice, looking to overcome the darkness in her past. She was in blue robes with a cream white-colored tunic and leggings, blond hair pulled into a ponytail.

Ledosh had the same color of tunic and leggings while his robe was purple with a blue trim line, marking him a Mastrash and member of the Order Council. He looked up and revealed a worn face, slightly rounded, with graying hair and a similarly-graying goatee. A look of weariness was present in his light brown eyes. It didn't go away entirely when Meridina returned the look. She had the feeling there was a lot on Ledosh's mind. "The Temple of Perception's rector informed me that Lucy emerged from the Inner Sanctum. He believes she has completed her vision successfully."

"Then she has passed the Trial of Perception," Ledosh noted. "Lucy Lucero is, by custom, a swevyra'se." He smiled slightly. "Her success does credit to her teacher."

To that Meridina smiled and shook her head. "It was her accomplishment. I cannot take credit."

"Your humility remains one of your strong points," Ledosh noted. He nodded to Gina. "You may go, Gina. I will call for you if you are needed."

"Of course." Gina nodded back and then gave another respectful head bow to Meridina before departing.

As she left, Meridina noted that the weapon on her belt was not a lakesh, but a gray and gold handle of what could only be a swenkesh. One of Lucy's "lightsabers". "Gina completed hers?" Meridina asked.

"Yes. It took her some time, just as it took me." Ledosh folded his hands together on his fine wooden desk. "Now that she has completed the Trials, your decision to train her has been completely vindicated. Lucy's reputation with the Order can never be higher."

"It merely confirmed what many already sensed about her," Meridina pointed out. "And she has spent most of her time between Trials showing others how to assemble their own swenkesham."

Ledosh nodded. "Yes. The Council is already preparing new training directives to take her weapons into account. But it will be some time before the weapon is universal, I believe. A number of our people have not yet mastered the practice. Others have no desire to learn it. Mastrash Owan, for instance, has insisted he will never give up his lakesh."

"He is, as always, a traditionalist," Meridina remarked. "And I am sure Lucy will provide the requested lessons."


Again Meridina had the sense that Ledosh was concerned with something. He seemed weary, distracted, and that was not his usual demeanor with her. "Is anything wrong, Mastrash?"

"Nothing tangible," he answered. It indicated where his concern was coming from. He sensed something amiss. "But I have felt a vague threat forming over the last few months. And there are implications for us all."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"There is a growing malaise in certain sections of the Order," Ledosh said. "I have sensed it, as have others."

"It may simply be from Mastrash Goras' fall," Meridina proposed. "Many respected him. To be reminded of the ease by which we might fall was not pleasant."

"That may be a contribution, yes." Ledosh nodded. "And it explains the reluctance to do anything more than leave Goras in confinement."

"The government has not asked for him to be tried for the Dissenter attacks?" Meridina asked, surprised at her mentor's admission.

"They have remarked upon it, but the Dissenters are still a concern. They would rather we deal with Goras as normal. But there are those on the Council who argue for patience. That given time, he may rediscover his inner light."

That was something Meridina could understand. Returning Goras to the Light would be a victory, and might calm any lingering Dissenter problems. But there was something in Ledosh's manner that made Meridina worried about the situation. "Is there anything else you would like to tell me, Mastrash?" she asked.

"For the moment, no," he said. "I am continuing some personal inquiries into various subjects. If those inquiries provide me with specific answers, I will inform you." He smiled at her and nodded. "Go on, Meridina. Meet Lucy when her shuttle lands and spend time with your family. I know you are due to return to the Aurora shortly. You needn't spend your entire time home attending to our business."

"Of course, Mastrash," Meridina said. He was right, she didn't need to spend all of her time in the Temple. She was no longer a member of the Order, after all, and lingering would only be a reminder to all about her choice in leaving. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," he answered.

After Meridina left, Gina entered, giving Ledosh a concerned look "You did not tell her everything, " she said.

"All I could speak of are suppositions and suspicions," Ledosh answered. "I will speak with her when the time is right." He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out the volume he had been holding onto for months now The fine golden calligraphy on the dark, leather bound book read The Life of Reshan.

"You've been reading that book for months," said Gina.

"Yes. The old language within is harder to decipher than I had expected," he answered.

"Mastrash Inrama is said to know much about…"

"No," Ledosh said, his voice firm though not loud. "For now, I will continue my investigations alone."

That caused a frown to form on Gina's face. "I wish you would share more of your concerns, Mastrash," she said. "With me or with Meridina."

"In time, I will," he promised. "But only when I have something tangible to share."

Jarod parked the aircar in the rental service's return lot. Scanners determined the return and logged it, securing the vehicle from further use while Jarod and Angel retrieved their things. The spaceport was small enough that it was a short walk to the private hangar where Jarod had parked the shuttle. "How did you afford this?" Angel asked as they neared the hanger Jarod had rented.

"Private hangers aren't that expensive on a world like this," Jarod answered. "And Sydney offered to help pay for anything I needed."

"How is it?" Angel asked. "Having both Sydney and your Dad back? He was your second dad, I mean."

"Honestly?" Jarod shook his head. "Sydney's the only real father I've had in my life. I don't hold it against Charles. It isn't fair to him that I got stolen from him as a child. But he and I aren't as close."

"I don't know if you could be. I mean, Sydney effectively raised you, even if he was working for those bastards in the Centre."

Jarod tapped in his entry key at the side door. It confirmed his entry and slid open. They stepped in to find the hanger darkened. "We've always had a complex relationship," Jarod admitted. "But in the end, Sydney…"

Angel noticed the stop. "What?"

Jarod's face went blank. "The lights should be coming on," he said. "Why aren't they?"

An instinctive tension came over Angel. She let her bag drop to the floor and braced herself.

The attack came a second 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 »

The figure that zipped out of the deep shadows of the hanger moved with great speed. He or she - they couldn't tell given the suit the figure was in and how fast it was going - slammed into Jarod first and sent him flying. Angel threw a punch that caught the figure in the jaw. It stumbled backward for one step before catching itself. Angel's leg came up in a snap kick aimed at the solar plexus. The attacker's hand moved in a blur and caught her by the ankle. With one powerful pull the attacker sent Angel flying. She cried out in surprise and slammed into Jarod as he started to get up. Both fell to the floor in a tangle of limbs.

Angel looked toward their attacker. Pale skin showed in the shadowed face. Whomever it was had a pair of sunglasses, or something like them, on their face. A devilish grin came to the attacker's face. "I saw you fight," the figure said, voice raspy and nearly inhuman. "I wanted to see how well you could do for myself." A gloved hand came up and wiped a streak of blood from the side of the mouth. The attacker gave the blood a thoughtful lick. "You actually landed a punch and drew blood. Very good."

"What are you?" Angel asked. Beside her Jarod was starting to stand.


The figure surged ahead again, moving with a speed that Angel hadn't seen since that desperate fight with Mastrash Goras. Despite all efforts, Angel couldn't land a single hit. Every punch or kick was blocked.

The figure stuck, a punch that sent Angel flying back into the wall. Blood trickled down the left side of Angel's mouth. The attacker turned and grabbed Jarod's right fist as it came in for a blow. He cried out in pain. The figure squeezed and the cry became louder until there was an audible crack. Jarod collapsed, cradling the twisted fingers of his broken right hand. The attacker picked him up by the collar and threw him into Angel. She tried to catch him but the speed he was moving at was simply too much. The impact smashed her between Jarod and the wall. The sharp stab of pain in her torso made it clear she'd broken a rib.

"That was fun." Again the inhuman rasp of the voice. "But now… it is time for you to die." The figure hissed and lunged toward them.

The door to the hanger slid open suddenly. Another figure rushed in and slammed into the attacker. Growls and grunts of effort turned into a cry of pain and then an even louder cry. By the time Angel and Jarod were getting back to their feet, they heard a particular snapping sound. Their attacker hit the floor with a broken neck.

Their rescuer, not finished apparently, promptly drove a knife into the attacker's heart.

"Was that really necessary?" Angel asked.

Despite the poor light, there were a few things that could be made out about their rescuer. She looked female, with a black biker jacket over a black halter top with dark blue slacks. Her skin was pale as well. And like their attacker, she wore what looked like sunglasses. "Just making sure," said the woman, in a plain American accent from their own era. She yanked the knife out of the attacker's body, which she picked up. "You're not hurt?" For a moment she said nothing further, just staring at them sharply, before she added, "Broken rib and broken hand. You'll both live." She turned away as if the conversation were already over.

Angel wasn't satisfied with that, however. "What the hell is going on?"

"I just saved your lives." The woman bent down and picked up the dead body. "That's all that matters. So you should shut up and get outta here."

But Angel was in no mood to be dismissed. "And what the hell is that thing? Some sort of cyborg?"

Their rescuer was clearly annoyed with the question. "They're called Pretenders. They're nasty, murderous, and completely loathsome pieces of crap. You're just lucky I was already hunting this one."

The reference to their attacker as a "Pretender" clearly drew Jarod's attention. "I've never moved that fast," he winced while trying to support his broken hand.

The woman smirked at him. "There is more than one kind of 'Pretender' in the Multiverse, Commander Jarod."

"So you know who we are?" Angel asked.

"Yeah. You'd be surprised how many people keep an eye out for the crew of the Aurora. You're getting a reputation for doing crazy shit and getting away with it." She hefted the dead attacker onto her shoulders. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a bounty to collect."

"So who's…" Jarod didn't bother finishing his question. Their rescuer ran out the door, which shut behind her.

"Okay, we've seen some crazy stuff, but that takes the damn cake," grumbled Angel. "I don't suppose we could investigate?"

"I need to treat my hand and your rib," Jarod answered. "I've got a medkit in the shuttle."

"That won't heal a broken bone."

"No, but it'll make us functional enough to fly back to New Liberty, where Sydney and the doctors can patch us up," Jarod pointed out. "Let's go before the authorities start to wonder about what's going on."

Angel frowned. She didn't like what had just happened. A random attack that just happened to target them? She didn't believe in coincidences like that. But the pain in her chest reaffirmed Jarod's wisdom. With a wince and a little gasp of pain, Angel retrieved her bag from the floor of the hangar and followed Jarod to the shuttle.

In a nearby hangar, within a dampening field, a pure blue energy beam struck the corpse of the assassin and vaporized said corpse immediately. The woman in the dark jacket climbed into her own starship and went to her comm system. She activated her highest encryption channel and connected to the encrypted comm server on the other end. Moments later, her current employer appeared on the screen. "Your intel was right," she said. "They made a play against one of the Aurora crew. Two, in fact. Do you want me to check on the others?"

"No. I have other sources for them. And Angela Delgado was the one in the most danger given her traveling plans." Her employer was turned partly away from the screen. "As always your work is superb, Ms. Blue. I've just added a generous bonus to your payment."

"Thanks, Mister Hank, I guess," Blue answered, with a hint of petulance. "Anything else?"

"Nothing for the moment," replied Sidney Hank. The Solarian businessman, one of the Multiverse's wealthiest individuals, gestured lightly with a hand. He ignored the lack of politeness, having known the woman for a very long time and knowing she rarely did anything for anyone; even the contract had been a favor. "I've got your comm line if I have another job for you."

"Black’s too busy for this crap?” she replied rhetorically.

As you well remember, my rival has ten of your kind on permanent retainer. I have one.” Sidney frowned, and then shrugged. “If you don’t want the money, I could always ask Red.

The woman calling herself ‘Blue’ snorted. “Yeah, fat chance of that. If it’s about the Aurora people, go ahead and contact me again. I get the idea they’re important.”

Extremely so, although I'd rather they not find that out just yet." Hank's expression turned to wry amusement. "They're trouble enough already. Hank out.

Space tore open in orbit over the planet New Caprica. The swirling green vortex of an interuniversal jump point formed within seconds. The ship that emerged was a blocky vessel with twin warp drive nacelles built into its upper hull area. It curved toward orbit. Seconds later its transporter systems engaged, after which it moved away.

When Zachary Carrey materialized on the surface of the colony world, he was wearing casual clothes; an ash-gray full-sleeved shirt and navy blue pants with casual sneakers over white socks. A duffel bag of belongings was slung over his shoulder. The only people who had beamed down with him were a dark-skinned woman in the Colonial Navy uniform and a second, tanned woman in a hooded jacket and green slacks.

As it turned out, the welcoming committee was there just for him. A banner had been erected in the transporter receiving terminal that read "WELCOME BACK COACH CARREY!", and a chorus of young voices cheered. Zack grinned at the children, ranging in age from five to seventeen, wearing their baseball uniforms and applauding with their parents watching with smiles.

There were no hard feelings when he didn't react immediately. Clara Davis was quick to step up and plant a kiss on Zack's lips that quickly became a deep one, lasting several seconds and prompting giggles from the smallest children. "Welcome back," she said. Her long dark hair flowed past her shoulders, some of the locks spilling over the front of her light blue short-sleeved blouse. Blue eyes met his brown eyes, affection intensified by distance reflecting between them. "I've been waiting for that."

"So have I." Zack ran a hand over her cheek. Clara's happy smile warmed his heart. To those observing, it was the quintessential look of a war hero returning home to his sweetheart.

They shared the embrace for several moments, after which they kissed again, a shorter and quicker meeting of the lips. Clara turned toward the children first. "So, how was the last season?" he asked them.

"It was great," one of the older children said. He gestured to another child. "Mark Atreiad threw a no-hitter!"

"I knew that kid was going to be good," Zack crowed. "I guess he's busy?"

"He's with his Uncle Will," another kid said. "He's on the Pegasus."

"Well, good for them." Zack stepped forward and began shaking the hands of the various players. "I'm sorry I missed your games."

"It's alright," Clara said.

"Yeah." The boy who had brought up Mark Atreiad spoke up again. "We're going to throw you a welcome home tournament!"

Zack answered that with a laugh and a grin. "Well, that's great. I've never had a tournament in my honor before. I can't wait to see what your teams will do!"

After more handshakes and well-wishes, the children were led away by their parents. In that part of the terminal, it was just Zack and Clara. They pulled each other close and kissed again. "So you consider this to be your home now?" Clara asked after the kiss.


"The kids are calling it a 'Welcome Home' tournament," Clara pointed out. "It implies that this is your home."

"Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" Zack answered. "What do you think?"

Clara smiled softly. "Well, Doctor Zhu offered me a position at the New Caprica Hospital. And I'm going to take it."

"And leaving the New Liberty Volunteer Corps?"

Clara nodded once. "This has become a home for me. I get along with the people. And you haven't seen Artemis' Falls yet, have you?"

"No, I have not," Zack confirmed.

"Well, I think I know where we're going during your leave," Clara answered. A pleasant smile came to her lips. "You'll love it."

"I'm sure I will." Zack took her hand and let Clara lead him out of the terminal. The thought rolled in his head. This place as home? He'd thought about it before, but was he ready to commit to it?

Yes. Yes, that would work for him if it was what Clara wanted. It would work quite well…

Another day came, and with it a trip into town. This time Robert went by himself given how early he had to leave to make it to the county commission meeting he was scheduled to attend. Such meetings could be terribly boring and he didn't want to subject his wife and son to this one. He didn't want to go either, but water codes were due for adjustment and he had to be involved in that on behalf of the family farms.

The sun was nearing its zenith in the sky when he finally stepped out of the county building, content with the outcome. He checked his pocket for the grocery list that his mother and Grandma Anna had written out. Satisfied that it was still there, he looked back to his car.

Someone was standing beside it. After a moment Robert recognized the figure as the tall Englishman he'd met the previous day. "Can I help you?" he asked as he approached.

The English doctor looked over at him and grinned. "Ah, hello there. You're looking better today. How's your head?"

"Better." Robert stepped up to the side of his car. "Thank you for calling 911 for me, by the way."

"Oh, no bother there," said the Englishman. "You needed the help. And it's good to know you're feeling better. I figured we could talk."


"Things that need talking about, of course."

Robert responded by slipping by the man and going for his car door. "Listen, I've got shopping to do and then I've got to be back home, I don't have time for word games." He opened the car door and got in.

The man leaned against the window until Robert lowered it. "Is that it? Or would you rather not think about it?"

"Think about what?"

"About how it doesn't seem right," said the Doctor. "Does it?"

With his patience wearing down, Robert asked, "What doesn't seem right?"

"This." The man spread his arms out. "All of it. This life. This world. It doesn't seem right, does it? It's all too convenient. It fits together too well."

Something about those words struck at Robert. His protest died before it could reach his throat.

"Take your grandparents, for instance. They're well into their eighties, but they act like they're a few decades younger."

Robert frowned at him. "Just what the hell are you getting on about? How do you know my grandparents?"

"And all of your friends just so happen to have the lives they've wanted? Or rather, the lives you would want them to have," the man continued. "They're doing the things that you think would make them happy."

"I don't have to listen to this. You stay away from us," Robert demanded. "Or I'll call the Sheriff's office."

"You can't go on ignoring this," the Englishman insisted while Robert's hand gripped the car key. A single twist brought the engine to life. "This world isn't real and you know it. Deep down you…"

With a flick of a switch Robert rolled up the window to his car and peeled out, ignoring the strange man saying things he didn't want to hear. He turned onto the main road and started on his way to the store.

He made it a half a mile before the pain in his head returned. Realizing what was happening, he pulled off the road and sat there. A cry of pain came from his throat. His hands gripped at his forehead.

And then the images started. That bizarre room with the consoles, the dark-haired man and the blond-haired one, and Julia in a uniform. Now he saw Angel and Cat too, wearing black uniforms with beige and light blue trim respectively, sitting at stations. It made no sense to him… yet the scene felt so familiar.

Then more images. A woman with a roundish face, not exceptionally pretty but plain-looking, sat in front of him in a white vest and leggings, looking like she was some Eastern monk meditating. Then there was a man, in a finer version of the black uniform, with a well-trimmed beard of graying black that matched his head. And another man, bald and light-skinned with a fringe of gray hair on his head, with a different uniform of predominantly red with black.

The images flipped through his mind faster and faster, images of people and cities and spaceships and space stations, bringing pain as they did, beguiling him with how real they felt, and he nearly passed out as it reached a crescendo.

And then it stopped. He was in the driver's seat of his car. And he was parked at the grocery store he had intended to drive to, as if nothing had happened. As if his head had never started hurting again, as if he'd never pulled off the road…

Fear drove his heart to beat faster. His breathing picked up. Robert wondered what was going on. Why was this happening? Just who was that damned English guy? Did he even exist? Was he a figment of Robert's imagination?

Am I going mad?

It took a minute for him to regain control. No. No, whatever this was, he wasn't mad. He was here. He had things to do for his family. His family, which was the most important thing in the world. That was all that mattered.

It was all that mattered.

He got out of the car and went into the store, eager to get home.

New Caprica made Zack think of New Liberty. The comparison wasn't complete and the differences between the two were telling, but nevertheless they seemed to share common traits. Both formed as new homes for refugees driven from the homes they'd known and now both had also become homes for a number of other beings who had come for their own reasons, whether it be finding new homes of their own or wishing to help the New Capricans establish themselves. Walking the streets of the main settlement, Zack noticed people wearing Gersallian-style clothing and some Dorei were walking or riding with the Humans in the settlement.

"The population's at 85,000, if you're wondering," Clara said. They continued on their way through Remembrance Plaza. The north side of said Plaza had the Government Buildings, where Baltar's Presidential Mansion and the Quorum Meeting Forum were now mostly complete. Businesses lined the other sides while the center was a monument depicting the Colonial seal in marble and granite, dedicated to the dead of the Colonies. "Baltar's been encouraging some immigration, although the Quorum's still placing limits on permanent residency and citizenship."

"They don't want to get flooded and made a minority in their own settlement." Zack shrugged. "I can get that. Are you…?"

"I've already applied for the residency," Clara said. "After we talked last year about settling here." Her blue eyes seemed to sparkle. "And you won't have any problems getting a residency. Admiral Adama made you and the Koenig crew members of the Fleet so you get permanent residency just by asking for it. Between Adama and Baltar, I don't think anyone would say 'no' to you."

"Then all we have to do is worry about a house."

Clara smiled and nodded. They passed by a shop and stepped into a small diner. A young woman came up and guided them to a table halfway back. After ordering sodas, they were left alone to continue talking. "Is everything okay?" Clara asked. "I mean, with the war."

Zack let out a small sigh before shrugging. "It's war. People are dying every day, every hour, and I think we're winning. Doesn't feel like it sometimes."

"Have you lost anyone?"

"Crewman Childers and Petty Officer Hrik," Zack said. "We took damage in an attack on a crippled Nazi dreadnought about a month ago. A direct hit from their main cannon. It was my fault."

Clara took his hand within hers. "Was it?"

"I wasn't careful enough," he replied. "So I lost two of my crew. They're not the first I've lost and they're probably not the last." Zack brought his other hand up and gripped one of Clara's, leaving both clasping one another's hand. "I love flying my ship. I always have. But… I never wanted to be a killer. And that's what I've become."

"No." Clara shook her head. "You're… you're a soldier. It's different."

"It's supposed to be. But sometimes I wonder." Zack shook his head. "I mean, we're fighting the good fight. I mean, Nazis. They don't get any worse than Nazis. But I just want it over."

"And then?"

"And then…" Zack shrugged. "I'm thinking of resigning. Of coming here and living with you. You deserve better than me being a universe away fighting a war or doing whatever else I have to."

Clara smiled at him and pulled his hand toward her. She leaned in and planted a kiss on his knuckle. "You're so sweet."

"Thanks to you."

"No." She shook her head. "You were always sweet. Even in high school."

"I wasn't. You know what I was like."

"I know what you wanted everyone to think you were like. But if you weren't sweet, you wouldn't have spared me when things didn't work out."

The waitress returned with their food. Their hands separated to make room on the table for it and took up the utensils to begin eating their meal.

The hooded woman who had beamed down with Zack had walked across the Capital to a prefab house on the outskirts. By lowering her hood, she allowed curly dark hair to spill out onto her shoulders. She took the jacket off and walked across to the living area, where her blue eyes focused on the chair made ready for her.

The lone occupant of the house looked up from a chair. "You made it," he said. "No complications?"

"None of consequence for our plan," said the woman. "The others will handle things on their end."

"Good. Our own time table has been kept."

"Everything is in place then. Give me a time and I will act."

The man smiled thinly. He gave the time.

Something Lucy had gotten used to over the years was learning how cultures could have different practices, and yet could sometimes be exactly the same in other ways. The idea of dining together as a family was fairly universal among cultures. Throw in guests, however, and all sorts of small rules could be at play. Things as simple as who sits where, or what food is offered, or even if you should eat everything given. Lucy had seen a number of different approaches to the matter.

Thankfully, the Gersallians didn't seem to have any complex rules in that way.

Lucy sat between Meridina and her sister Gamaya on one side of the circular table. Leniraya, the other sister, was across from them sitting with her girlfriend Penrine. And her parents Karesl and Drentiya sat together toward one end. Only Meridina's brother, Qalkrsl, was not present, but his lack of presence hadn't kept Meridina's mother from loading the table with several dishes.

The meal went by with little conversation, at least until everyone had finished a plate. "I understand that congratulations are in order," Drentiya said to Lucy. "You have finished the Field Trials."

Lucy nodded. "And they were every bit as difficult as Meridina warned."

"And you overcame those challenges just as I foresaw," Meridina answered, grinning at Lucy. "I can call you student no longer."

"Have you given thought to how you will organize a Human Order?" asked Karesl.

"Well, I'll have to find students first, I imagine," Lucy said. "I'm the only one to do so. At least, until Robert wakes up."

The Lumantala family were already aware of what had happened there. "Will you be able to do so while serving on the Aurora?" Leniraya asked.

"Well, maybe," said Lucy. "There have been other sensitives. Lieutenant Seldayiv, for instance…" Lucy turned her head toward Meridina. "Whatever happened with her anyway?"

"She went to Doreia to train with one of the Orders," said Meridina. "I am uncertain if she will remain with the crew or not."


"You will be returning to your ship?" asked Karesl.

"Yeah," Lucy answered. "I mean, maybe I'll eventually leave to focus on other things, but I can't walk out with the war still on. And the others need everyone who's left to remain. We lost a lot of good people."

"So I have heard." Karesl nodded. He looked to Meridina next. "And the same for you?"

"I have obligations to the Alliance to fulfill," answered Meridina, knowing her father's view on that… and that it was just one more reminder of her departure from the Order.

Karesl, for his part, merely gave a short nod. "I understand. You depart tomorrow?"

"Yes," she answered. "We are due on a transport in the morning. With the Aurora soon to launch, I will be busy acquainting myself with the new security officers and personnel."

A look of sympathy appeared on the faces of Meridina's parents. The lingering sense of loss Meridina had for her slain subordinates could not be hidden from them. "I understand," said Karesl.

"Have any farisa examined Robert?" Drentiya asked. "It is possible that one could reach his mind and help him awaken."

"There are farisa on duty with the Fleet Hospital who examined him," Meridina replied. "But they could not reach him."

"I understand." Drentiya shook her head. "I hope he awakens with mind and soul intact."

"So do we," Lucy said.

Quietly, everyone returned their attention to their meal.

The rest of the family knew something was wrong. Robert could tell that from the way they spoke at dinner. Try as he might, the day's experience had shaken him.

It was his mother who finally spoke on it when the family gathered for the post-dinner movie. "You should have Leo run more tests," said Leigh Dale when she and his father settled into the love seat they commonly used. Allen and Anna took to their recliners and Susanna was on her favorite bean bag, leaving the couch for Robert, Julia, and their son. "This could be serious."

"It may be nothing. I don't want to waste…" Robert stopped at seeing the looks of his grandparents and parents and sister. He didn't need to look to Julia to know she had the same look. "I'll call him in the morning."

"You'll call him after we put Robby to bed," Julia corrected him.

"Alright, then," Robert conceded.

"Why can't I be there?" the little boy asked from his lap.

"Because you're going to bed as soon as the movie is over," Robert said to him, putting a hand on his head and ruffling his son's blond hair. "What movie is it anyway?"

"I was going to put something random on," Michael Dale said. His father picked up the remote and switched to a movie channel.

What they ended up catching was the end of a kung fu movie. It wasn't one Robert recognized, but in general tone it was little different from the ones he'd grown up with. Robby was excited enough by it, cheering and clapping at the hero beating up bad guys. It brought a smile to his face at seeing his son enjoy himself so much. It reminded him of what life had been like when he was growing up, before Grandma and then Grandpa died…

That thought stopped. Why had it entered his head. His grandparents were still alive. All of them. Why had he thought they were dead?

"Looks like the movie's over," said Julia, bringing his attention back to the screen. "I wonder what the next one will be?"

When they were greeted by an empty spacefield, Allen was the one who remarked, "Looks like science fiction." Credits and names appeared, names Robert thought he recognized. "Henry Morgan" and "William Davies" and "Sriroj Thiang" appeared among them.

As the credits concluded, the opening shot moved to reveal a starship. It looked sleek and powerful from the front. About a quarter of the way back from the bow it slanted downward to show a large blue and gold piece, a dish of some sort, and more hull behind. As the ship moved by the screen, he saw that the top slanted downward not quite halfway down the length, going down by at least a third of the height before leveling out, with a prominent set of bay doors and one fairly large dock door present. The camera panned to show the rear section of the ship had four large engine pods arrayed in a flat X-shape around it. The whole thing was massive, looking like it would easily dwarf a modern day aircraft carrier.

The camera panned back up and toward the front, showing the ship as if it was flying toward the camera. On the hull, black letters gave its name: ASV Aurora.

This wasn't why Robert looked surprised. What surprised him was that he had known the name the moment he saw the ship.

The camera panned in on the bridge, where Robert was stunned to see he was sitting in the center chair. Julia was beside him, both in those dark uniforms with red trim. The two men manning stations in front of them were from the images Robert had seen in his head. Angel and Cat were also present, sitting at various stations. "That's strange," he said.

"What?" asked Julia.

"The actors, I mean, they look…"

Everyone looked at the screen, as if to see what he was talking about. Even as they did, Robert heard his own voice say, "What's our ETA, Nick?"

The man to the left of the screen and Robert's right spoke up. "We're coming up on the colony now."

"Oh, I see," Robby said from his lap. "The man in the middle chair looks a little like you, Daddy."

"I suppose I see the resemblance," Michael Dale agreed.

Resemblance? It is me! Robert didn't say that, though. "And the lady beside him…"

"Well, she has Julia's hair," Anna agreed. "But the face isn't right."

"And Angel and Cat…"

Julia shrugged. "She's got muscles, but that's it." Julia gave him a concerned look. "Rob, are you okay?"

"I'm…" Robert shook his head. "I guess I just found it strange to…"

He didn't finish the line. Searing pain filled his head. He cried out. "Daddy?!" he heard his son shout, and panic flashed across the little boy's face before Robert lost sight of him. Again the images filled his head. The ship, that ship, and those people. He knew them.

Everything went black for what seemed to only be a moment. But when Robert's vision came back, he could tell more than a minute had passed. He was in the bedroom alone, lying on the bed. The space where Julia should have been laying was vacant.

At first Robert thought he was alone. He realized he wasn't when a voice spoke up. "Ah, you're awake again," said the Doctor. He was standing at the foot of Robert's bed.

"What…" Robert blinked. "What are you doing in my house?"

"Well, I came to talk to you. Arrived just after your latest attack. Bit of bad timing, really." The Doctor shrugged. "But it's why I'm here."

"Who…" The pain in his head throbbed, but it wasn't debilitating at the moment. "Who are you? What are you doing to me?"

"Nothing, actually," he said. "This is all a side effect of what this place truly is." Seeing Robert's bewildered look, the Doctor shook his head. "You're feeling your memories intruding on this world. The two don't mix well, it's why you've been having these attacks."

"My memories?" Robert shook his head. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, what else? Memories?" The Doctor plopped into the spare chair across from the bed. "Specifically, the memories of who and what you actually are."


That caused a sigh and a roll of the Doctor's eyes. "Oh, you're going to draw it out. I don't want to draw this out, it's too important to draw out." Before Robert could ask what he meant again, the Doctor quickly added, "The real world!"

"The real world?"

"Yes. I'm here to help you with that." The Doctor gestured around the room. "Because this isn't the real world. It's a dream… well, it's rather more than a dream, actually, but I'm digressing. The point is that you're essentially asleep. And I'm here to help you wake up."
”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 »

There were several ways Robert could have responded to the Doctor. That he decided to laugh at him was perhaps not the most diplomatic.

"So this is all a dream? And you're… what? The part of me that wants to wake up?" Robert asked without hiding his skepticism.

"Well, it's more than a dream. And I'm not part of you. Well, more to the point, I'm a part of you made from the Doctor to help you stay sane given what you did." The Doctor shrugged. "Of course, I never expected you to be in something like this."

"You mean you expected me to be in, what, a different dream?"

"I expected you to be trapped in a recurring cycle of images and places from across time, going mad from exposure to the Time Vortex," he answered. "I didn't expect you to be here. I'm not even sure where 'here' is, but I'm pretty sure how you got here. You've got that life energy connection going for you. That may have shunted your mind in here to protect you."

Robert crossed his arms. He thought of calling for Julia, or his parents or grandparents, and asking why they let this man into his room. Then another thought came to him, and he couldn't quite hide his fear when he asked, "Where's my family?"


"My family," Robert repeated. "Where are they? Why would they let you bring me in here and not come in?"

"Because I told them you needed rest and quiet," the Doctor said. "Although they really didn't pay me much heed. This place doesn't know how to deal with me. I'm inside of you, but I'm not really you… it's rather complicated, actually."

Robert got off the bed and went to the door. The Doctor shook his head but said nothing, following Robert out into the empty house. "Julie? Robby?" Robert walked across the second floor and looked down to the dim lights of the dining room and kitchen. "Mom, Dad? Grandpa? Grandma?" He went down the stairs and looked around the dark house before looking back up at the Doctor, still standing on the second floor. "Where did they go? What did you do with them?"

"Nothing," he replied. "I imagine you'll be told they went out. Although it's more likely this realm removed them for the moment so we could talk."

"What the hell are you talking about?!" Robert shouted. "You keep saying things about this not being the real world, but it doesn't make sense!"

"You and I both know that's wrong," the Doctor said. "I can sense it in you. You keep having glimpses of the life you had before. Of your ship, your friends, the world you came from. And it hurts, and that's why you keep having these blackouts. But you can't deny who you are forever. You have to accept the truth and recognize what this place is."

"I don't have to do a damned thing," Robert shot back. "I want my family back and now."

"You can't just ignore this, it's going to get worse. The fact is that you are not Robert Dale, member of the local farming family. You are Robert Dale, Captain of the Alliance Starship Aurora."

Again the name was familiar. Robert bit back his response as he considered just how familiar it sounded. How right it sounded. He swallowed at the thought he'd felt earlier in the evening, about his grandparents being dead since he was a child.

A real, terrible fear came to him. What if this man was right? What if this was all a dream of some sort, so powerful he forgot what was real and what wasn't? If it was… then what was the truth? What had happened to his family? Were his grandparents really dead? His parents? His sister?

The Doctor nodded. "Yes," he said. He shook his head. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

Julia arrived at the medbay as quickly as she could once she received Leo's call. She found him looking over Robert. "What happened?"

"We've had more anomalous behavior in his brain," Leo said. "The last was severe enough that I gave him a mild neuro-sedative."

"Any idea what's causing it?" she asked.

"I've got no idea." Leo nodded to the biobed display. "Honestly, I've looked through records on coma patients, and I've yet to find anything like this in them. Whatever's going on with Robert, it's something we've never seen before."

Julia nodded and looked at her sleeping friend. She set her hand on his and grasped it. "Is he awake somehow? I mean, could that be it? He's awake but paralyzed?"

"I can't tell. He can't be fully awake, not going by these scans, but there is something going on in his brain."

"Then… do you think it's time?"

"Time?" Leo asked the question a second before realizing what she meant. He quickly added, "If you're talking about transferring him, it wouldn't matter. There's nothing that the Fleet Hospital can do that I can't. Whatever this is…" Leo shook his head. "I can't tell you how it'll end."

It was painful for her to hear that and to see Robert's condition. She could see the same was true with Leo. "Just… tell me if anything more changes?"

"Like you have to ask."

Julia sighed and nodded, accepting the point. "I just wanted to…"

The blue light of her omnitool lit up at the back of her left hand joined by a tone. She tapped the light. "Andreys here," she said.

"Captain." The voice was accented. It took Julia a moment to realize it was Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi, one of the new officers assigned to the ship due to their casualties and transfers. "Admiral Maran would like to speak with you. And Commander Locarno has returned."

"I'll see both in my old office on Deck 3."

"Very well. I shall relay the call."

Julia lowered her left arm. "That's Jupap's replacement, right?" Leo asked.

"Yeah," Julia said.

"A lot of changes, a lot of new faces," Leo said. "It's funny how life changes sometimes."

"And sometimes it's not." She said nothing else before walking out.

After the lift trip to Deck 3, Julia went to her office. Or rather, her old office as First Officer. Once she was in her chair Julia tapped a key on her desk's control panel. Admiral Maran's image appeared on the screen. "What can I do for you, Admiral?"

"I'm just checking in, Captain," he said. "Commander Scott's filed his final report on the repairs. It looks like you're good to go in six days."

"All we're missing now is a full crew," Julia noted. "Will we have them all by then?"

"I've made sure Fleet Personnel is on the ball. I'm aware that you've had difficulties before due to certain influences."

"Davies and Hawthorne," Julia murmured.

"It's not my place to remark on how the Defense Minister and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations do their duties," Maran remarked. He knew how the political game was played too. "The reason I called is that I notice your command crew is missing someone. Have you found a First Officer?"

"I'm going to interview Commander Jarod and Commander Locarno," Julia said. "If not them, well, I'll let you know if I can't find someone." Even as she said it, Julia knew her face gave away the truth.

And it was clear Maran knew it. She was grateful he didn't outright remark on it. "I understand. But if they don't accept, I'll need to find a replacement from the officer listings. There are some promising young officers coming up."

"And how many of them have politics involved in putting them on this ship?"

"More than I care to count. But I wouldn't stick you with a political officer, Captain, rest assured the officers I'm proposing have been thoroughly vetted. I want to avoid any more issues like you had with Captain King when she was commanding the Sladen."

Julia didn't bother hiding her distaste at that memory. King had been in command of the ship filling in for the Koenig while it was escorting the Galactica and its Refugee Fleet. But she hadn't been full command branch; she had been a Naval Intelligence officer sent by Admiral Davies to spy on the Aurora crew. The prospect of Davies doing that again was one Julia had already considered. "I'll give them a look if it comes to that, sir. But I'm hoping to get one of the others into the position. I think the remaining crew will find that… easier."

Maran gave a nod of understanding. "Of course. Maran out."

Julia let the call end and looked to her digital readers. She'd just started looking over a list of further officer replacements when the chime went off. "Come in," she said. She watched Locarno enter and said, "Welcome back, Nick."

"Thanks." He nodded once and gave the room a close look. "Still in your old office?"

"I'll move in a few days," she said. "Or whenever I have a First Officer selected."

"Ah." Locarno smiled slightly and nodded. "Yeah, I imagined you'd bring this up again."

"Well, we're not getting split up anymore," she noted. "So I'd like you to reconsider."

Locarno plopped into the chair and shook his head. "I'm not interested in a command position right now. I… I just don't think it's right."

"It's got to be someone," Julia pointed out. "And you've come a long way since Nova Squad."

"Maybe, but that doesn't mean I'm ready to command," he pointed out. "My answer is still no."

For a moment Julia considered continuing to ask. But she stopped herself. If he didn't want to do it, forcing him to wouldn't work. "I suppose I was hoping you'd decide otherwise," she said. "Alright. I'll find someone else." She smiled at him despite the feeling of being let down. "How was the Academy?"

Locarno shrugged in reply. "It was good. I had no trouble with the trainees. They're all great pilots and will make great helmsmen and helmswomen. Or helmspeople, in the case of the Gl'mulli recruit."

"A Gl'mulli? Really?"

He nodded. "We're getting volunteers from a number of the other species. We even had an Andorian and an Asari."

"Huh. That's good, I suppose. Anything interesting happen? Any funny stories?"

"Well…" Locarno cracked a grin upon thinking of one. "There was the point when Trainee St. Clair messed up his pre-flight check and missed the faulty thruster."

"Ouch. I bet he hated missing his flight time."

"Oh, he didn't." Locarno's smile became bemused. "I thought it might be character-building to make him do his full training flight with just one working maneuvering thruster. I had a shuttle ready to tractor him the entire time, of course, but seeing him spin around like a dog chasing its own tail was funny. And it works as a good reminder to everyone to pay attention on pre-flight checks."

"I'll bet…"

The moments stretched on like a yawning abyss that threatened to swallow Robert whole. He wanted to reject everything this strange 'Doctor' was telling him. But when he tried to, he found he couldn't. Within his heart Robert could sense that truth, that his family wasn't intact, that he had lost them. So many of them. This world where he woke up every day surrounded by those he had grown up loving was just an illusion.

And that horrified him.

Even worse was the Doctor's apology, which seemed to confirm his worst fears. His family wasn't with him anymore. Some, maybe all, were dead. He was alone.

Robert went over and dropped onto the couch, where he cradled his head in his hands. The thought of being alone, of lost family, was tearing through him. Images came to mind of hospital beds and funeral caskets. A sheriff's deputy knocking on his door. The sterile halls of the county morgue.

And three mangled, broken bodies on mortuary tables.

"They're all dead," he murmured. "My grandparents. My parents and sister. I… oh God, they're all dead." He looked up at the tall figure calling himself the Doctor. "And the others. Their parents are all…"

"It would appear so," said the Doctor.

"And I'm… Julia and I aren't…" He swallowed. "And Little Robby isn't…"

"You still have the others," the Doctor said. "And you nearly destroyed yourself saving them."

Another series of images came to Robert. Of pleading with some sort of control console. Golden light erupting from within it when the console opened up. The bridge of that ship again… and Julia pleading with him to stop.

She had kissed him. He could remember that. And he remembered the feeling of a link between them. Energy flowing from one to the other…

"Julia saved my life," he said. "We… we connected. And it's what saved me." After a moment his head snapped up and his eyes focused on the Doctor. "Julia, she… is she okay? If that stuff nearly killed me…"

"Well, that's a tricky one. I'm part of you, remember? I know what you know, roughly speaking. And you don't know how she's doing. Of course, if you're alive, there's good odds she is."

"But that's not a guarantee," Robert pointed out. "I… she might be gone too." The thought hurt and brought forth tears to join those he'd felt over his lost family. "I can't… it's not fair." His voice grew hoarse. "Why do I keep losing the people I love?"

"It's part of life. You know that," the Doctor said. "The others have suffered the same."

This was true. But at that moment, at that time, it was a truth Robert found more painful than useful. In this world, everyone was happy. All of the families were intact. His family, Julia's, Zack's…

They were all still alive. And everyone was happy.

"You want me to leave," Robert said. "To leave this world and go back to… to whatever that other place is."

"It's where you belong. This?" The Doctor gestured around. "Whatever this is, it's not real. It's…"

"It's real enough," Robert insisted. He reached over to the coffee table and picked up a photo of his son, which he thrust at this interloper. "He's real. I know that every time I hold onto him, every time he smiles at me and I feel that lump inside of me. He loves baseball and basketball. He loves to sit in my lap and watch cartoons on Saturday mornings. Whenever he has a nightmare he comes to us and climbs into our bed, and Julia puts one arm over him and I put another, and he gets this look like he's the happiest little boy who ever lived..." Robert stopped at that point and set the photo down, his point made.

"He's a creation of this place," the Doctor insisted. "That's all."

"He's more than that to me!" Robert shouted. He stomped up to the figure, who stood and met his glare. "I'm not leaving my family."

"They're not your family. Out there is where the people you care for actually exist."

Out there. In a world where his family was dead. Where his precious, sweet, loving little boy didn't exist.

Outside there was a rustle of wind. It was already dark, but even the moonlight vanished behind dark clouds. A storm was forming.

"You're needed," the Doctor insisted. "I'm sorry, but you need to wake up."

Robert heard him and walked over to the window. Lightning flashed outside. The wind continued to grow stronger. As he listened to it, more images came to him. Images of struggle and strife and pain and fear.

Images in contrast to this place. This warm, pleasant house, with his family alive, with all of his worries about romancing Julia meaningless. With a little boy he cherished.

"I don't want to," Robert said. "I don't want to leave. You… you say this place isn't real, but for me? It's real enough. It's everything I could ever want in life, with everyone happy."

"Except nobody else is happy," the Doctor pointed out. "Nobody else in this world is really alive. They're just extensions of your memories and desires."

"And what does that make you? Some… mental program left by someone to steer me in the right direction? Or you actually a part of my mind in the end?"

"If I weren't a part of you, I wouldn't be here," came the reply. The tall man drew up to him and met Robert eye-to-eye. "I'm here to bring you back to reality. To make sure you survived the process. And to tell you that you can't stay here forever. This…" He gestured around the house again. "...it's not what's real, and for that I'm truly sorry. You deserve to have a life like this."

Their eye contact continued until Robert looked away and drew in a breath. The more he thought about it, the more this conversation continued, the more his memories asserted themselves. The bridge of the Aurora kept appearing in his thoughts. His friends and comrades on the ship and how often he had felt awed by the fact they let him lead them. That was where his life had led him.

A life that ended.

The voice of the TARDIS sounded in his head. You were warned. That life is over now. You cannot go back to it.

"I was told I can't go back," Robert said quietly. "That my life was over. I'm supposed to be dead."

"There are a number of ways to interpret what the TARDIS meant," the Doctor pointed out. "Odds are that your life will change from everything you knew before. That's what happens when you look into the Time Vortex."

Outside the storm was howling now. Rain and hail beat against the walls of the house. Robert listened to the roar of the wind against his home. "I don't want to go."

"I know."

"You said I deserved this."

"You do. But this… isn't real living. And you can feel that now."

He could. The memories flooding into him made that clear. His eyes kept moving to the family pictures. The pain in his heart grew to fill the loss he was feeling as he understood that they were gone.

Finally he asked, "What am I supposed to do, then? How do I leave here?"

The being in the form of the Doctor stepped toward the main door. He pulled it open, revealing the raging storm outside. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed. Robert felt the cool, vicious wind of the storm press against him. "You want me to go out into that?" Robert asked. "Why is it storming?"

"Funny thing about these things. The metaphors can be rather unpleasant." The Doctor motioned to the outside. "You know that there is danger in the future. You've seen it in your dreams. This place responds to that knowledge. Stepping out into the storm shows you're ready to accept facing it. And you and I both know the answer to that."

To that Robert swallowed. Every fiber of his being resonated with tension, the struggle between the part of him that was indeed accepting this, and the part of him that didn't want to leave the warmth and comfort of his family.

His foot moved and he took his first step toward the door.

Meridina and Lucy left the Lumantala home after a family breakfast and heartfelt goodbyes. Karesl provided them transportation to the Jantarihal Spaceport, where they would catch a shuttle to a transport ship about to jump to Earth L2M1. His driver remained behind while he escorted them to the terminal. "Again, my congratulations are to you, Lucy Lucero," he said, bowing his head toward her. "I am not so prideful to be incapable of admitting my error. My daughter showed great wisdom in training you."

"Thank you again, Mastrash Karesl," Lucy said. She returned the head bow.

Karesl turned his attention to Meridina. "I miss having you in the Order, Meridina. But I am happy with one consequence of it." He extended his arms toward her, prompting Meridina to moved toward him and embrace him. "I am no longer obligated to treat you as anything but my daughter."

"And I am happy that you are my father again," she replied.

"I look forward to hearing more of your accomplishments in the Alliance," Karesl said before letting go. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, daughter."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso, father."

With that, the two separated. Lucy and Meridina took up their bags and headed for the shuttle terminal.

The storm howled outside of the door. The vicious wind blasted Robert in the face as he took another step toward it. Another step toward a life of loss and danger and away from the life of family, of happiness and safety, that he had been enjoying. With each step his memories became clearer. He looked toward the Doctor, or rather the piece of him touched by the Doctor and made to help him, and drew in a breath before taking his next step.

Every step was pain. Every step was one he didn't want to take. He didn't want to be without his grandparents again. Without his parents and sister. To see the pain in the others whenever their lost family was brought up. To go back to that existence where he and Julia were afraid of letting their relationship become romantic.

To lose the son he never knew he'd wanted.

The steps became harder to make from these thoughts. He felt like he was wading through mud instead of walking toward his front door.

"It's for the better," the Doctor said to him as Robert finally stepped up beside him. Outside the door the winds drove on rain. Lightning flashed, thunder roared. Something terrible was out there, and it would fall to him to fight it.

Robert couldn't help it. He stopped at the doorway for the moment. He couldn't move forward without focusing his will on it. He felt like he was about to tear out his own beating heart. "Right," he murmured. "I have to do it." He nodded to the other figure. "Let's go."

He lifted his foot and moved it toward the door.


Robert stopped. He set his foot back down inside of the house before he turned.

Little Robby was standing at the base of the stairs wearing his pajamas, with an unfamiliar comic book character as the prominent feature of the otherwise blue and green nightclothes. On the second floor was the rest of the family - Allen and Anne, Michael and Leigh, Susanna, Julia - standing and watching quietly. "Daddy, why are you going?" Robby asked.

Robert swallowed. His throat felt parched. "I… I have to," he managed.

The little boy ran up. "Please don't go, Daddy," he pleaded. "I'm scared."

Sheer paternal instinct brought Robert down to a knee, allowing Robby to stretch his arms out as wide as he could and embrace Robert. The little boy and his head of golden blond hair pressed against his chest. "I don't want you to go," the boy cried. "I'm scared."

Robert's arms came up and wrapped around the boy. "Don't be," he said softly. "Don't be scared."

"Why are you going?"

"Because…" Robert swallowed and considered the answer. So much of him didn't want to go. Wanted to stay here with those he loved. "I have to," he finally managed. "People need me."

"But I need you. And Mama and Grandpa and Great-Grandpa…"

Robert's eyes journeyed back up to his loved ones on the second floor. "This is where you belong, Rob," Allen Dale said. "You've done enough good. It's time for you to be happy with us." Allen's arms stretched out to take in Anne, Leigh, and Michael. Susanna and Julia stood to either side, putting their arms around the waists of Michael and Anne. "We're your family, and family is what matters."

Pain filled Robert's heart. He knew this wasn't reality. This was something else. He should accept that those he loved were gone.

But here they were. This wasn't some illusion. It was his grandparents. His parents. His sister. Alive, well, happy. With him, back on the family's farm, where generations of Dales had lived out their lives.

And there was Julia, with him, all of their doubts gone. And the son they had brought into the world together, the sweet little boy crying in his arms. "Don't go Daddy," Little Robby pleaded again. "I don't want you to go."

"I don't want to either," he whispered back. His tears dripped from his chin and fell into the boy's hair.

"They're not real," said the Doctor. "You know that."

Not real. Robert heard those words. He knew they were right.

But they didn't feel right. Not when he could feel the warmth of his little boy. Or the very real hair from where his hand was holding Robby's head. And Robby's wet tears through the fabric of his shirt... How could this not be real?

"I love you Daddy, please don't leave," Little Robby pleaded. Robert's eyes blurred from the tears in his eyes. Everything about this hurt.

Especially the fact that he was hurting his son.

A hand touched his shoulder. "You know what you have to do," said the Doctor. His voice sounded over the growing howl of the winds outside.

Robert drew in a breath. He let go of the little boy and gently stood up. He looked down at the pair of aquamarine eyes, reddened with tears, and thought his heart would rip itself in half.

That feeling persisted when he turned to the open door and to the Doctor. The Doctor nodded and gestured to the door again. He held his arm out.

In one lightning move Robert grabbed two fistfuls of the Doctor's shirt. The being, whatever he was in this place, stared at him in surprise in the second before Robert snarled and shoved him into the doorway. "What are you doing?!"

"Get out of here!" Robert shouted. He gave the tall figure another shove, sending him flying out the door and into the storm. "Stay away from my family!"

The suited figure scrambled to his feet. But he was too late.

Robert slammed the door in his face.

"You can't do this!" the Doctor cried through the door. "This isn't real! You've got to move on!"

The words fell on deaf ears. Robert's hands gripped and turned the deadbolt lock and the knob lock next. Once the front door was secure, he turned and lifted his son into his arms. "I'm not leaving you," he promised Little Robby, while his tear-filled eyes glistened at the sight of his smiling, relieved family. "I'm not leaving any of you. Never again. Never again!"

Outside there was more frantic knocking on the door. The winds howled louder, the lightning was brighter, and the thunder sounded like the roar of an offended sky god.

Robert ignored it all. He walked with his smiling little boy back to the warmth of the living room, where his family waited for him.

This was the life he wanted. The life he deserved. And the smiles on the faces of those he loved? That was all that mattered.
”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 »

Zack found that he was indeed enjoying New Caprica. The colony had a similar feel to the New Liberty Colony save the different makeup of its residents. And the planet itself was a pleasant garden world for human life, with the local season approximating spring.

It made his decision quite easy to follow through on.

Another sunny day was promised and with Clara attending a morning shift at the local hospital, he had the day to himself. He left Clara's apartment and started to walk around the colony again. Part of it was simple sight-seeing, but another part was a personal errand.

The blue light of his omnitool came to life over his left hand. He was getting a comm call. He tapped the light and was pleasantly surprised to see Julia's face appear on a holographic image hovering over his left forearm. "Hey," he said.

"Hey," she answered. "How is your leave going?"

"It's great. Clara's been showing me to all of the fun sights on New Caprica," Zack said. He stopped walking and leaned against the nearby building. "Anything new?"

"Rob's still in the coma," Julia said, shaking her head. "Leo thought he was picking up signs of increased neural activity but he's not sure what it means."

Zack nodded once in acknowledgement. "Right. Well, I suppose we'll see how it goes. I guess you'll be transferring him to the Fleet Hospital?"

"In a few days, when we're officially back on duty." Julia leaned forward at her desk. "Although that's going to be tricky if I don't find a new first officer."

"I guess Nick's still saying 'No'? You can ask Jarod."

"I will, but I'm not sure he'll take it either."

Zack shook his head. "If that's an attempt to get me to say yes, sorry Julie."

"Rats," she sighed, but there was a small smile on her face. "I didn't think so. But I figured I'd give it a shot."

Zack chuckled at that. "Well, I'm sure Maran's going to have a list of good candidates for it, at least."

"Oh, he does. But I think it'll be easier if it's someone already with the crew. Anyway, don't let me keep you from enjoying your leave. Say hello to Clara for me?"

"I will," Zack promised. An amused grin came to his face. "And I'll do the same for Lee Adama." He tapped the control to end the call just as Julia's expression showed her (likely slight) irritation.

With the call ended, he returned to the errand at hand. Not even a block further down the street was his destination, with the sign above the door reading "New Caprica Jeweler" in blue lettering on a white background.

Had Zack not been thinking of other things, he might have noticed the hooded woman he beamed down with walking down the street as well. She ignored his presence in turn, continuing on from the Jeweler until she arrived at a side entrance to the Government Building. With rapid key presses on the holographic interface beside the door, she triggered it to open and went inside.

Julia was still working on her paperwork before she received a call confirming that Jarod and Angel had arrived and wanted to see her and the others immediately. She agreed and called an impromptu conference in the senior officer conference lounge off of the Bridge.

When Julia arrived, she found Leo had arrived ahead of her. Jarod and Angel were in seats and he was actively examining them. "They do good work on New Liberty," Leo said. "Although I wish you hadn't let it go so long without direct treatment."

"We needed to get out of there," Angel pointed out. "Getting medical help was out of the question." She turned her head. Concern and a little fear were in her hazel eyes, which were now looking directly at Julia. "Where's Cat?" she asked.

"Still on Vulcan attending that science conference," Julia said. "She's due home tomorrow. Why? What's wrong?"

The door opened behind her. Nick Locarno entered. Several moments later Meridina joined them with Lucy in tow. Julia let her question go unanswered until Scotty and Tom Barnes arrived.

Once everyone was paying attention Jarod informed them of their encounter at Corwinville. "I don't think this was random," he said, displaying an image of their attacker. "I think we were deliberately targeted."

"Just what was this thing?" Julia studied it. "It looks Human, at least."

"Apparently they're also called 'Pretenders'," Angel remarked, giving Jarod a look. "I hope you haven't been holding out on us, Jarod."

"There are times I wish I could have been that fast," he answered.

"Maybe they had cybernetic enhancement," Leo proposed. "If the cybernetics were all internal…"

"My omnitool's passive sensors showed no sign of any cybernetics," Jarod said, shaking his head.

"Besides, I doubt cybernetics were responsible for that thing's voice," Angel added. "It was raspy. Like a Zigonian with laryngitis. And that thing was unbeatable with how quick and strong it was."

"What about your rescuer?" Meridina asked.

"She didn't give a name, and she certainly had an attitude of her own," Angel remarked. "Some kind of bounty hunter, I think."

"And again, it's just a coincidence she happened to come after this thing when it attacked us?" Jarod asked. "She even knew who we were." He shook his head. "There's more to this than a random attack."

"I concur with Jarod," said Meridina. "This cannot be random chance."

"Until we know for sure, all we can do is be careful," Julia remarked. ''Put together reports and file them with Maran. Alliance Intelligence can look into what these other 'Pretenders' are. If there's nothing else?" When nobody responded, Julia nodded and said, "Then you're all dismissed. And it's good to have everyone back."

"Almost everyone," Angel said, sadness in her voice.

Julia nodded and felt her mind drift at that remark. Not knowing if Robert would ever wake up… she reminded herself it was better than him being dead, but the uncertainty of his situation was a terrible pain in its own right.

She pushed away that thought and called out, "Jarod, a minute?" She had spoken just as he got to the door. He turned and walked back to the table while the others continued to file out. "I need to discuss something with you."

Jarod nodded without speaking a word.

She went right to business. "I need a new first officer," Julia said. "Your name is on the top of the list automatically."

Jarod initially responded with a chuckle. "I imagined you'd ask sooner or later."


"I am not interested, and you know that," he replied, shaking his head.

A resigned sigh was Julia's first reaction. "Well, it has to be someone," she insisted. "Do you have any suggestions?"

Jarod shrugged. "Honestly I'm not sure anyone on the crew is interested. I know Nick isn't. Scotty's happy in Engineering. Angel likely isn't, and I don't see them giving her a two-grade promotion either. And that just leaves…" Jarod stopped. His face turned thoughtful.

Julia gave him a quizzical look. Said look became one of realization when she figured out what Jarod had meant. "Do you think…"

"All you can do is ask," he said.

With his errands for the day done, Zack spent the rest of his free day seeing to curiosity. Said curiosity led him to the primary school, where he waited outside for the day's instruction to end. Children there waved at him, and some even approached him to ask when he would come back to see their leagues play. He gave them the best answers he could and sent them on their way.

"You've become very popular with the children."

Zack heard the words and turned slightly to face the speaker. Laura Roslyn was in a simple civilian jacket of blue color over a dark-colored shirt, with a blue skirt. Zack almost called her "Madame President" but stopped himself. "Ms. Roslyn."

"Commander." She nodded. "It's good to see you. I hear you've been busy."

Zack furrowed his brow. "Does everyone here interest themselves in what I'm up to?"

To that Roslyn laughed. "Only those of us who stay in contact with Ms. Davis," Roslyn said. "I see her often enough."

At that Zack winced and said, "Sorry, I forgot. How are you feeling?"

"The cancer's been gone and isn't coming back, thank you," she answered. "But that's not the only reason I see Clara. She's our on-call nurse for tending to the children."

"Right." Zack looked over the small building that functioned as the colony school. It was a prefab structure made to resemble a brick-built building, three stories high and about a hundred and twenty meters by forty in size. From the front he could just make out the fence for the outside recess area. "You enjoy this more, don't you?" he asked her.

"You mean am I satisfied going from President to the head of a school?" Roslyn laughed. "I started in this profession. I got into politics to promote education. As far as my heart is concerned, this is where I belong."

"Is that why Baltar supported the appointment?"

"Possibly. Although given his mentality, he may have seen it as putting me in my place, so to speak," she said.

Zack was suspicious that was the true motivation. Baltar had always struck him as being full of himself and convinced of his own superiority. "And how is the President of the Colonies? Clara tells me a lot about life here, but not how the politics are going."

Roslyn chuckled softly. "Baltar is busy being Baltar. Zarek is running the show in the Quorum."

"Well, I suppose it could be worse."'

"Yes, it could be." Roslyn smiled at him. "Your people are the reason it's not."

"The pleasure is ours, ma'am," he answered.

Angel was waiting at the terminal of the Fleet Base for Caterina's shuttle when it arrived. She smiled despite herself at the sight of her happy sister emerging hand-in-hand with her girlfriend Violeta. "So, how was the egghead party?" Angel asked teasingly.

"Angel!" Cat ran up and hugged her. "Where have you been? Everyone said they had no idea where you were off to."

"Oh, just wandering," Angel said, completely truthful in word without giving away a bit of the truth. "And you didn't answer me. How was Vulcan?"

"For my poor Vee, boring," Cat said. "It was pretty exciting for me, though. The combination of scientific communities in different universes is leading to a lot of new ideas and discoveries about subspace, hyperspace, and other fields related to exotic physics."

"Sounds boring to me too," Angel teased, wrapping an arm around Cat's shoulders. "And is it just me, or did you grow taller in that time you were with the Doctor?"

"Oh, maybe an inch. I doubt I'll grow any taller though."

"So you're still my little sister. That's a relief."

Both giggled in amusement at that while Violeta smiled quietly. With Angel's arm still on Cat's shoulders, they started walking through the terminal on their way to the terminal exit.

Meridina found a sense of relief in returning to her quarters for the first time in weeks. It surprised her how much she missed the ship, and her place on it, and that prompted a moment of reflection on how her life had changed over the past year. The way her decisions had played out, and how different things were compared to what she had expected.

Looking back, one thing was clear; she did not regret any of the major decisions that brought her to this point. Lucy's success had confirmed the wisdom of those decisions.

Meridina finished swapping out her uniform for her basic garments and sat at her work desk to begin examining the security roster. She was pleased to see Lieutenant Richmond was remaining with the crew as one of her assistant chiefs. But the number of new names were a painful reminder of those who were not present any longer.

She began to write up a short address to the new officers and security personnel. Her progress had brought her to the third paragraph when her door chime sounded. For a brief moment Meridina thought it might be Lucy, but her senses felt Lucy to be too far away to be the one at the door. "You may enter," she called out from the desk.

The door slid open and Julia stepped in, still in uniform. "Again, welcome back," she said. "How was home?"

Meridina looked up from her screen. A thoughtful look came to her face. "It is an interesting question for me, Captain."

"These are your quarters, Meridina, first names work for me here," Julia insisted. "And what do you mean by that?"

"Because I am thinking of this ship as my home," Meridina replied.

Julia smiled at that. "You and me both. Then how was Gersal?"

"More quiet and safe than it was during my prior visit," she admitted. "Lucy's training has ended. She has proven herself to be a powerful knight."

"That's good to hear. So what's next for you?"

"Duties. Lucy will remain my training partner if not my student, but that is for my off-hours." Meridina gestured to her system. "I am currently preparing a statement to give to my new security staff."

Julia nodded once. "Right," she said. "Actually, that brings me to what I was going to ask you."

"What is it you wish to ask?"

"Well…" Julia sat down in one of the few spare chairs in the room, usually Lucy's. "I know this wasn't really your calling," she said. "You joined up to watch over us specifically due to all of this 'Bearers of the Dawn' stuff."

"Yes," Meridina said. "I never intended to make my place permanent. But my destiny took me down a path I did not expect. I am an officer of the Stellar Navy and nothing else, now."

"I'm glad to hear you say that, because that's why I'm coming to you." Julia leaned forward. "I need a first officer, Meridina."

Meridina tilted her head slightly, seeming a little confused. "Well, I shall be glad to assist you in determining who best suits…"

"That's not what I'm here to ask," Julia said. "I'm here to ask you if you'd take the post."

Meridina's expression betrayed her surprise, and more than a little uncertainty. "You want me to be the first officer?"

"Yes," said Julia. "I do."


The sun was out again with few clouds in the sky over New Caprica. Given the months he'd spent in space, being under a sunny blue sky yet again was something Zack was thoroughly enjoying. After another day of walking around the colony (and checking up on things at the jeweler) Zack walked into the main entrance of the New Caprica Hospital. The lobby area had a fine gray carpet with red lines running a pattern over it. Plushy chairs were available for those waiting to see the administration or simply waiting.

Zack never got a chance to sit. Clara emerged from the offices with a young woman with a round face and brown hair. After a few moments Zack recognized her as Cally Tyrol. They walked up to him and Clara planted a small kiss on his cheek. "Did you wait for long?" she asked.

"Not at all," he said. He looked to Cally. "Cally Tyrol, right?'

"You remembered me," she said, grinning.

"Yeah. Although I thought you were in the technical crew for the Galactica?"

"I applied for early release to begin medical studies," she answered. "I'm trying to get into dental school."

"You want to be a dentist? I never knew that." Zack extended his hand. When she took it he said, "Good luck with that."

"Doctor Zhu offered to give her a recommendation to a dental school on New Canton L2M1," said Clara. "She's working toward that now. And she was a big help this morning, so I'd like to invite her to lunch."

"You don't have to," Cally said. "I should probably get home to my baby."

"Isn't Galen watching little Nicky?" Clara asked.

"He is. But I don't want to make him wait."

"Call him up and ask him to meet us at that Italian place on 2nd, then. I'm buying," Zack said.

Cally smiled at that and reached into her pocket for a comm unit. While she spoke with Galen Zack and Clara stood by the door, giving her space. "That's sweet of you," said Clara. "All of your war hero earnings burning a hole in your pocket?"

Zack chuckled. "Yeah. Well, I've gotten some prize money for shooting up Nazi troop transports and cargo carriers," he admitted. "It's something to make up for not having my quarters on the Aurora for all that time."

"You didn't when you were traveling with the Fleet," she pointed out.

"No." He grinned at her. "But I had other benefits as soon as a lovely nurse showed up to brighten my Fridays." Clara giggled at that in the moment before their lips met for another kiss.

The kiss ended when Cally stepped up to them, grinning as well. "Galen's going to meet us. Although he's not entirely sure what 'Italian' is."

"Pasta, nice cheese, and tomato-based sauce," Zack answered while they stepped out of the door. "That about sums up Italian if you ask me."

"It's a little more than that," Clara pointed out.

"Well, yeah, I forgot to mention pizza," Zack agreed.

"Oh, I know that one!" Cally nodded, grinning. "It's that big wheel of baked dough with stuff on top."

"Just another wonder that came from the country shaped like a boot."

Again a confused expression came to Cally's face. Clara activated her multidevice and, with a couple taps, brought up a general information page on Earth and zoomed in on Italy. "Ohhhh," was Cally's response.

The three crossed the street and stepped up to the waiting station for a public bus. On this side of the street was a line of shops, including a candy store and a florist, "Remind me to get you a car," Zack said to Clara.

"There's not much to drive on yet," Clara replied.

"Yeah, but it would mean less walking."

"The bus will be here any moment."

Clara's prediction proved accurate. The bus came around the far corner to their left and approached. Zack urged it onward if only to get off his feet.

In the upper periphery of his vision, he noticed flashes of light. Out of curiosity he looked up while a shadow blotted out the sun.

His jaw dropped in utter surprise. A moment later instinct took over.

Cally and Clara both cried out in surprise at having Zack grab them and pull them toward the ground. As they went down the air filled with the telltale roar of weapons fire. The bus they had been waiting for was perforated by high velocity rounds that cut it, and the occupants, to pieces.

All three looked up. "Oh Gods," came from Cally, her voice brimming with absolute terror at the same sight Zack had just seen.

The sky over New Caprica Colony was no longer clear.

The Cylons had arrived.
”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 »


The day began with a new level of energy on the Aurora. There had been little to do while they were still in drydock, but with departure due in a few days the activity level on the ship was increasing. Stores were being brought aboard and more of the new crew were arriving to take up their assignments, with the command staff back in place to oversee the process. It would be a bumpy one. Over half of the Aurora's crew was now new to the ship. Considering the new weapon systems and the rebuilt elements to the ship, a shakedown cruise would be required before they returned to duty full-time.

Julia took breakfast in her quarters while looking over more of the morning paperwork. With a fresh cup of coffee in her system and her stomach digesting the decent (if replicated) breakfast, she arrived on the bridge via the port side aft-facing turbolift. The night staff were still on duty. Ensign Crane, a lanky young man from a FedStar colony world toward the frontier of L2M1, was at tactical; Operations had a female Alakin officer of blue plumage with gray skin, Lieutenant Jakeet, and the helm was manned by Ensign Talara, an alien woman of a species called the Falaens from Universe A7R6. The pointed ends of her ears made her look almost elven. She had bright blue eyes over similarly-blue painted half-moons on her cheeks, a bronze complexion, and silver-blue hair pulled into a formal bun at the back of her head.

The figure that rose from the command chair, wearing a uniform with burgundy red command trim joined with the basic black material, was a full Lieutenant, a Human male from the Southern regions of Africa. He stood at attention and nodded. "Good morning, Captain." Lieutenant Tinashe Takawira spoke English with an accent from the Zimbabwean-founded colony world of Nkomo in Universe L4R2, his world of birth. "Did you sleep well?"

She smiled a little and nodded. "I did. Thank you, Lieutenant. Anything special to report?"

"The engineering teams are still working on final connections for the shields," said Takawira. "And we had another three dozen crew report directly to the ship. They were transferred from the Libra."

Julia nodded. "Well, I imagine they'll enjoy serving on the Aurora a bit more than on a Scorpio-class. I hear those are more cramped for room."

"Like any of the rushed war designs, I imagine," said Takawira. "I have nothing else to report."

"Then you're relieved," said Julia. "Go ahead and get some rest. Tonight I'm holding a bridge officer conference at 2000 hours to go over what I expect from the shakedown run."

"I'll be there, ma'am," Takawira pledged. "Now…"

The sound of a loud electronic warble came from Operations. Julia blinked and looked toward the station and Lieutenant Jakeet. "That's a priority fleet signal," she said. "What are we receiving?"

Jakeet's taloned fingers tapped the comm control. The speakers on the bridge activated.

"...not a drill," said a male voice with one of the Dorei accents. "This is General Yamatin D'liros of the Dorei Federation Armed Services to all Alliance commands. I am issuing a Condition Red Zulu for all sectors facing…"

The night officers noticed the color drain from Julia's face. The look on Jakeet and Takawira made it clear they knew what this meant, although it was clear Crane and Talara didn't. "Captain?" asked Talara. "What is it?"

"There's only one reason why a Condition Red Zulu is called by anyone," Julia said. "It's an invasion warning."

Before anyone could ask the obvious question, the message made it clear.

"The colonies on Yati, Tupana 3, and Egtama have all been attacked and we have lost contact with the Utamli Sector Fleet Station. Attacking ships have been tentatively identified as Cylon. Again, I am issuing a Condition Red Zulu…"

"The Cylons." A moment later Julia gasped, "Oh no."

"Captain, what's wrong?"

Takawira looked to Crane with a grim expression. "Commander Carrey from the Koenig is on leave on New Caprica."

"Right." Julia drew in a breath. "And if the Cylons are attacking us, then that means they're hitting New Caprica too. And he's right in the middle of it."

With Cylon fighters zipping overhead, firing down into the streets apparently at random, Zack led Clara and Cally into the nearest alley. "Not again," Cally cried. "It's happening again!"

"What's going on? Zack, are those…"

Zack nodded at Clara and stopped her mid-sentence by answering, "Yes, it's the Cylons. They must have jumped right into the atmosphere."

"I thought you could see them coming?" asked Cally.

"There's supposed to be a defense perimeter, but there's no telling what's going on. The important thing is that we need to get to safety." Zack motioned further down the alley. "If we can get to the bunkers we'll be safe. Let's go."

They started running down the alley. The sudden exertion did nothing to distract Zack from the thought in the back of his mind.

Why are we still alive?

Undiscovered Frontier
"Sundered Bonds"

When Admiral William Adama arrived in the CIC of the Pegasus, he demanded an immediate report.

The reply came from the current officer on watch, Lieutenant Kendra Shaw. "DRADIS shows Cylon fighters jumped straight into the atmosphere over the colony."

"Launch Vipers to shoot them down." For a moment Adama paused. "Why the hell didn't we get any warning from the Alliance perimeter beacons?"

"Unknown, sir."

At that moment the ship's commander stepped onto the bridge. Commander Lee Adama knew from his father's expression that something was horribly wrong. "Sir," he said, stepping up to his place beside the central table in the CIC.

"Commander." Adama nodded. "We're in the middle of a Cylon attack on the colony."

Lee's expression paled. "How bad? Did they get shields up before the nukes hit?"

"There's no sign of radiological weapons being used," said the young officer sat the sensor station, a young volunteer officer named Will Atreiad. The old solid screen display there was now augmented by a holographic flat display using the advanced sensors installed on the ship during its refit by the Alliance.

"Lieutenant, what are they doing?"

"Their flight pattern indicates they're making strafing runs on the ground, but only with guns. No missile launches detected. But the colony isn't raising shields."

"Get me President Baltar, now," Adama demanded.

Shaw was now at communications, with the headpiece firmly on her head. "I've been trying to reach the planet, but no communication protocols are working."

"A virus?" asked Lee.

"Knowing the Cylons?" Adama shook his head. "What about our protections? Are they still up?"

"All protections still active," said Atreiad.

"Vipers launching," Shaw said.

The CIC went quiet while the DRADIS screens showed their fighter complement approaching orbital space. Some of the Cylon fighters flew up to meet them. A dogfight broke out in orbital space. The Vipers had the numbers against the immediate enemy, drawing yet more up from the orbiting attack.

But none of this sat right with Bill Adama. The Cylons could have wiped out the colony a dozen times by now if they'd mounted nuclear weapons. Why hadn't they? What else were they hoping to accomplish?

"Where are the other ships?" he asked.

"Still in their places in orbit, sir," said Shaw. "They are awaiting orders."

"Have them jump to the rallying point. We need to get them out of harm's way."

"I'm sending your order now."

One by one the ships on DRADIS disappeared. Adama kept watching the screen even after they were gone, clearly in anticipation.

As it turned out, he didn't have to wait for long.

Several new contacts appeared on the screen. Atreiad identified them immediately. "I'm detecting several Cylon Basestars in near-orbital space, sir. They're launching fighters."

"Bring us about," Adama said. "Prepare to…"

"Sir…" Atreiad was looking intently at the screen, as if he couldn't be sure what he was seeing. "There's something off about their profiles. I'm reading…" He blinked. "I think I'm reading deflector shields."

Lee frowned at that. "You mean the Cylons have upgraded to shield technology too?"

"That's what it looks like…" A tone sounded on his board. "I'm picking up a weapons lock. They're firing missiles!"

"Return fire," ordered Lee.

The Pegasus' newly-installed phaser cannons opened up. Solid beams of amber light struck at the lead Cylon ship. The vessel, which looked like two three-bladed circles joined slightly off-center, wasn't touched by the shots. Blue energy shields met the phaser beams and absorbed them.

Meanwhile the Battlestar's defensive weapons engaged the incoming Cylon missiles. Several were blown apart on their approach, with explosions that Atreiad quickly identified. "They're using anti-matter warheads, sir."

Seconds later the first missiles hit home on Pegasus' shields. The ship shuddered from the impacts. "Shield efficiency down to eighty percent," said Atreiad.

"What's the status of the enemy Basestar we hit?" Lee asked.

"Shields are holding at ninety percent. We're firing again… enemy shields at eighty-two percent." Again the Pegasus rocked as more missiles hit home. A second Basestar was engaging. "Our shields are down to seventy-three percent."

The arithmetic of the situation made Adama's tactical position starkly clear. Staying and fighting would only get the Pegasus destroyed needlessly, and the Galactica was still finishing an exhaustive rebuild in the Alliance's shipyards. If he wanted to maintain any possibility of independent action, he had to get the ship clear. "Recall all Vipers, now," he ordered. "And prepare the ship to jump to the rallying point."

There were uncomfortable looks on the others' faces. But they knew this was the best, the only, choice they had. "Recalling Vipers now," said Shaw. A moment later she said, "We're getting a call from New Caprica. It's Colonel Tigh."

"Put him on."

A holographic screen blipped into existence over the conference table, showing Tigh's face in a room of uniformed officers. "Admiral, everything's going wrong down here," Tigh said. "The defense systems have been disabled by a computer virus."

"How did they get into our defenses?" Adama asked.

"I don't know. But we can't raise the colony's shields or activate the defense guns." A dull thud sounded in the distance. "Although they're not nuking us, just bombing and shooting everything."

"What about Baltar or Zarek?"

"Zarek was off on a public tour and is out of reach. And I haven't been able to get anyone to check up on Baltar."

Again the Pegasus shook. "Shields down to forty percent, Admiral," warned Atreiad.

"Bill, you'd better go," warned Tigh. "You can't stop them all. We're going to need help."

"Until we return, you are in command of any military efforts," Adama said. "Don't do anything that could provoke a massacre. Try to find out what the Cylons are up to."

"Will do. Tigh out."

The next shake of the ship brought with it Atreiad's warning that the shields were down to twenty-five percent. After another shaking, Shaw confirmed the last Viper had landed.

"All hands, secure for jump," Lee ordered. Everyone braced themselves.

The Pegasus jumped away from the New Caprica Colony. And Adama could be forgiven for wondering if there would ever be somewhere safe for his people.

Had Baltar known what the day would bring, he would have done things differently.

For starters, he wouldn't have slept in. He would have made sure to have more guards.

And he definitely would have picked another night for his liaison with the pretty young Dorei girl who had joined his staff. That particular combination of lust and scientific curiosity had proven impossible to resist.

The young woman, Linava, was still asleep in his bed, light purple skin mingled with the fine white sheets, when Baltar emerged from the shower. Today would likely mean more of the same for him: stuffy, suffocating official work. Quorum members trying to meet with him over this or that legislative proposal, community leaders wanting his support for some initiative or another, and communiques from the various governments he had to deal with. He was thankful that Zarek was out on his tour, since it at least meant marginally more peace and quiet instead of more haranguing about Zarek's economic proposals. For all that Zarek had helped make his victory possible, Baltar was long past being fed up with his politics, which had only grown worse after Zarek had met the First Minister of the Dorei Federation, Fynra Henzi, who supported his economic initiatives.

Thinking about foreign leaders brought a scowl to Baltar's face. He'd met a few as well and he always had the feeling that they were trying to sit in judgement of him. That he somehow wasn't good enough to be their peer despite the fact that he was smarter than the entire bunch put together.

Those were the thoughts that Baltar was having when there was a commotion at his door. Not particularly interested in putting up with questions about bedding an alien, Baltar quickly finished pulling his bathrobe over himself and strode with deliberate steps toward the door. He got to it just as it opened, allowing him to keep the others out.

The others, in this case, was an aide and the Colonial Marine guard outside the door. The young lady was like all of the women Baltar hired - attractive and devoted to him.

But there was no devotion this morning. Baltar could see the utter terror on her face. "We've got to get to safety, Mister President!"

He didn't ask. He didn't need to.

Baltar didn't go back to wake up Linava. There was no time. If the Cylons were attacking, then a single nuke would be all that was necessary to wipe out New Caprica. They had to get to the bunker. He followed his guard and his aide down the hall, as if heading to his dining room. But just short of the dining room they turned off into another hall leading toward the rear. At the end of the hall was another adjoining corridor, leading mostly to meeting rooms, while the door right ahead of them was the door to Baltar's office.

Inside the office was furnished to his tastes, Fine furniture, a fully stocked cabinet of fine liquor and elegant glasses to drink it out of. His desk was made from an elegant tropical wood with a deep brassy color.

To the right of the office was a steel door. It was their final destination; the door led to the protected bunker beneath that he shared with the Quorum.

He tapped the panel beside the door and entered the first digits of his personal code.

The door flew open. Baltar and his two escorts turned to face said door. A woman in a hooded jacket entered. Her blue eyes focused on him.

The bodyguard raised his gun. "On the ground, now!"

The woman responded by extending a hand and making a gripping motion. The Marine made a harsh choking sound. He dropped his weapon in a vain attempt to reach at his throat.

The aide shrieked. All Baltar could do was watch in horror as his bodyguard spasmed and thrashed in mid-air until he stopped moving. A second hand movement sent the lifeless body flying into the far wall.

"What are you?" asked Baltar.

"Your captor for the moment," said the woman. "You will surrender New Caprica to the Cylons, President Baltar, or you and every being on this planet will die."

Running into the alley meant safety for the moment from strafing Cylon fighters, but for Zack, Clara, and Cally, the respite could only prove temporary. There was no telling when or if the Cylons might lob a nuke into the city. And Zack figured that being outside if Cylon combat troops started landing would prove just as deadly.

"Oh Gods no," wailed Cally. "They're going to kill us! They're going to kill us all!"

"It's okay," Clara insisted. "We're going to make it. We just need to hold out…"

It didn't look like her efforts would particularly work. Zack left her to them, however, as he was busy with his omnitool and a display of the Colony's bunker network. It had been installed with the help of Alliance engineers to provide a secure place for the population of the main colony. It had multiple entrances across the Colony, at least one per street. Now he had to find the nearest entrance.

"How can this be happening again?" Cally asked. "We were supposed to be safe!" She looked pleadingly at Zack. "You were supposed to keep them away!"

"I think we may have underestimated the Cylons," Zack said darkly while examining the road plan. "Alright, follow me." He started walking toward the other end.

But Cally didn't. "If we step out there they'll kill us," she protested.

"And if we don't, they'll still kill us," said Zack. "They might decide to nuke the colony anyway, or they might land troops. If we want to be safe, we have to get to the bunker network." He held out his hand toward her. "Please. I'm sure Galen and Nicky are already on their way there."

The look on Cally's face said it all. A year of relative comfort, a year of feeling safe, was gone. In minutes the Cylons had stripped it away. It was heartbreaking to see it, and even worse to know it was a despair being felt across New Caprica now.

Zack walked back up to her and offered his hand. When she didn't move, Clara did the same.

This time Cally accepted.

Leaving the alley was easy. Trying to keep an eye skyward to watch for any strafing attacks was rather more troublesome. Doing so while running forced Zack to keep looking up to the distant shapes, But for the time being they were ignoring the three lone figures running down the street.

They weren't so alone after a minute. Doors opened and others began to emerge. They had made the same calculation as Zack and were heading to the nearest bunker entrance.

The entrance itself was set into the side of a residential building ahead on the street. It was colored and marked with red and yellow. The sign above the entrance was a round yellow circle with a smaller red circle in the middle and "EMERGENCY" written in big white block letters across the circle. There were already people entering it ahead of them.

The sense of elation that came to Zack disappeared with the high-pitched roar in the air above. A Cylon fighter swooped in. A trail of red flame erupted from beneath its belly. Zack dropped to the ground instinctively, as did many others, in the moments before the missile made impact against the bunker entrance.

The explosion was deafening. When it faded it was replaced by screams and cries from those who had been too close to the entrance. When Zack looked up he felt his stomach twist at the carnage in the street. The missile had taken out the bunker entrance and torn a massive hole into the building it was attached to. Civilians were scattered on the ground ahead of him, some dead, some wounded or dying.

Clara rushed to her feet and went to the nearest of them, a young man in a jacket, shirt, and pants. Blood was now soaking all three. She bent down over him and started inspecting him.

Zack helped Cally up. They approached Clara together while she was ripping off a piece of her sleeve. She wrapped it around the upper right arm of the moaning man to use as a makeshift tourniquet. "He's going to bleed out," she said to them. "I need to stop the bleeding."

Ordinarily Zack wouldn't have protested. But upon hearing the same roar as before, he glanced up in time to see the fighter coming back around for a strafing run. "It's coming back!" he shouted. "Take cover!" He grabbed Clara, who instinctively resisted, and tried to pull her to safety.

The fighter flew onward. Muzzle flashes appeared and gouts of asphalt and cement flew up from the impacts against the road.

And it was coming straight at them.

Then a second whine pierced the air. A beam of amber energy lanced out and struck the fighter dead-on. The explosion filled the air and the Cylon was gone.

Zack lowered his head from that sight to street level. An open flatbed pickup truck was driving up. In the back was a phaser cannon pointed skyward and manned by someone Zack couldn't make out.

"What the hell?" was his response.

Out of the truck cab stepped Sam Anders and Kara Thrace. Anders pulled a bullhorn up to his mouth. "Everyone, listen up! I've got a bus coming this way and some other vehicles. If you've got one of your own, go get it now. Otherwise, stay nearby and I'll protect you as best as I can. We're getting out of here."

By the time Anders was done, Thrace had finished walking up to Zack. "Hey Loverboy, hell of a time to check on your girlfriend, isn't it?"

Zack shook his head. Despite the situation, he had to chuckle at that. "Yeah, it is." He gestured to the truck. "So what the hell is that?"

"Sam's been unhappy with the way Baltar's been dragging his ass on setting up a militia," Thrace replied. "So he did it himself, with whatever he could scrounge."

"And scrounging included a heavy phaser cannon?" he asked.

Thrace grinned at that. "It does when you've got Admiral Adama and Colonel Tigh signing the requisition forms." That drew a grin from Zack as well.

"I need to get this man some medical attention," Clara said, having returned to her patient. "We should get to the hospital."

"We'd be sitting ducks," Thrace said. "But we've got medical supplies at our fallback base."

"We should be getting into the bunker," Zack said.
"That thing's a death trap. If they'd wanted us nuked, they'd have nuked us by now."

There was no arguing that point. Zack didn't get the chance anyway, as Cally cried out, "What about Nick and Galen? They were coming to meet us, I have to find them!"

That brought her Thrace's attention. "Hey, we'll get to them, okay? Knowing Chief Tyrol, he's doing everything necessary to keep little Nick safe." Thrace looked back to Zack. "So, mind helping me get this evacuation organized? The longer we're here, the more we're sitting ducks."

"Clara will check on the wounded then," said Zack, "and I'll help you with the rest."

"Good to hear it," was the only reply he got before they went to work.

The command staff of the Aurora assembled in the conference lounge off of the bridge. The meeting had been scheduled to be their first full meeting since everyone had returned from leave, with the discussion to be primarily those on ship readiness.

Of course, things had changed.

Now Admiral Maran's face was present on the wall monitor. Reserved as always, Maran's face showed only a fraction of the stress he had to be under given the news he now shared with them. "The Cylons have launched a full scale assault on Alliance space."

For a moment there was no response from the assembled. Angel was the first to speak. "How well can they do? We trounced them back when we first met them."

"The reports we're getting from the Dorei indicate the Cylons haven't been idle on the technology front. Their ships are now carrying deflector shields and their anti-ship armament includes anti-matter warheads on their missiles."

"The Cylons have had years to develop clandestine connections in our region of space," said Meridina. "Their involvement in the Faith Summit bombing and their attempt to buy Lucy Lucero from slavers on Djamar Station establishes this presence. They may be getting their technology from clandestine sources."

"That is Alliance Intelligence's assessment as well, although I am told they have yet to determine a specific source."

"And what about New Caprica?" asked Julia.

Maran shook his head. "Long range sensors have confirmed that Cylon ships jumped into the region. We haven't been able to raise their government or Admiral Adama's command either. Unfortunately, communications systems across the entire sector have been going down, presumably as a result of Cylon sabotage. But given the sensor data, we must assume that New Caprica has already fallen."

Faces across the room fell. "Then Zack…" Caterina began.

"We've heard nothing from Commander Carrey either." Maran nodded. "I've already ordered his crew to return from leave. The Koenig's caretaker crew will have her back to you by the time you launch."

Julia's brow furrowed. "When is that, Admiral? We still haven't taken on our full crew."

"I'm aware of that, but we need every ship we can put into service to deal with this incursion. I want the Aurora ready to jump for the Dorei frontier within six hours. We'll get as many new crew members to you as we can during that time, but I recognize you'll still be understaffed and without a Marine contingent. I'm afraid you'll have to make due with what you've got available."

"We'll make it work, Admiral."

"That's just what I wanted to hear, Captain. I'll give you further orders when you arrive in N2S7. We should have a clearer picture of what's going on by then. And I will make inquiries on ways to replace your Marine force. Maran out." The Admiral's arm moved and a moment later his image disappeared.

"Six hours?!" Scotty blurted out. "I cannae finish everythin' in just six hours!"

"Call in all personnel you can spare and do your best," Julia replied. She looked to Jarod next. "I hate to multitask you, Jarod, but when you're not helping Mister Scott prepare us for duty, I need you and your staff to manage the incoming crew and make sure we've gotten all the stores we need. Make whatever temporary arrangements you have to, we can fix it later when the crisis is over."

Jarod nodded. "I'll get started right away."

"Everyone else, pitch in wherever Jarod or Scotty asks you to. We've got…" She checked the time on her omnitool. "...five hours and fifty-five minutes to get this ship ready for duty. You're all dismissed, save Commander Meridina."

Meridina waited quietly while the others filed out. Once they were gone she stated, "I have yet to make my choice, Captain."

"I know," Julia answered. "It's a big step for you, I get that. But I need a First Officer right now. So effective immediately, you're Acting First Officer."

"Would it not make more sense to put Jarod in that position?"

"No. I need him running ship operations directly, as usual. I need you helping me on the command side of things." Julia leaned back in her seat. "It's not permanent. And when things are over you can tell me no and I'll put you back on Security."

"Of course." Meridina nodded. "I shall inform Lieutenant Richmond that she is acting Chief of Security."

"I'll see you in my office in half an hour, then."

Meridina nodded and stood. She only made it a few steps toward the door when she turned back and asked, "Which office? Robert's ready office?"

"No," Julia said. "My XO office on Deck 3."

Meridina nodded. "Very well. When will you be using the Captain's office?"

The question made Julia go quiet. It was a good question and one that she should have answered to herself weeks ago. "When I'm ready," she managed to answer, and it was clear that was the end of it for her.

Meridina nodded in understanding and left. Julia's answer hadn't surprised her. She still hoped Robert would awaken soon.

For that matter, so did Meridina.

Again golden rays shined down on the Dale family farm, where rich fields of grain continued to grow until the day would come to harvest them. Robert took in this sight while sitting up on the family combine harvester's driver seat. Little Robby was balanced on his lap running his little hands around the controls. "Daddy, what does this do?" he asked, grasping at a control.

"It lets me control the thresher."

"And what does this do?"

"That's what I use when I'm releasing the grain."

For a moment the little boy seemed contented by those answers. His next question was on a different subject. "When can I play with it?"

To that Robert chuckled. "When you're older. Not until your feet can reach the pedal, that's for certain."

The little boy seemed to accept this as a reasonable requirement. "Do I get the farm?"

"You will, one day," Robert answered. "This is our family's farm and it has been for a long long time. Dales have been farming this land for a hundred and fifty years."

Together they looked out at the grain swaying gently in the wind. This quiet reverie was only broken when there was a knock at the door of the cab. Robert opened it and looked down to where his father was standing on the entry ladder. He was in mechanic overalls, just like Robert, with his hands stained with black grease. "Give it a try now, son," he said.

Robert reached for the controls and fired up the combine. It roared to life immediately. "There we go!" he cried over the engine. The three generations of Dales shared a moment of laughter before Robert shut the engine down. "That was great, Dad. Herb would have charged more for a repair."

"Herb always charges more," Michael Dale pointed out after a chuckle. He stepped down from the cab. He stretched his arms up toward them.

Nothing need be said. Little Robby squealed in joy and jumped into his grandfather's waiting hands. Michael swung the shrieking child around in the air for a moment before setting him down. A small wince came to his face briefly and Robert saw Michael's hand go for his hip. For the moment he said nothing and concentrated on closing and locking up the cab of the combine. Once he was back on hard soil he asked, "Dad, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, Rob," was the answer. "I'm just getting old."

"Yeah. I guess we all are."

They started walking back to the original family farmhouse, where Grandpa Allen and Grandma Anna still lived by themselves. Robert reflected on how much he'd missed this walk between the barn and the house. It was one he'd done his whole life until…

"Whatever that was with the doctor who was at the house, I think you were right to send him on," Michael said. "Your place is at home, Rob. It's where your heart is."

Robert nodded. He forced the memories down. The memories that told him this was a fantasy, that his father and mother and sister and grandparents were all dead. Memories of a far stranger and bizarre fate than he had ever expected while growing up here. And for a moment, a terrible moment, he had been ready to return to that life of loss and struggle. To go back to that reality...

In the distance, thunder rumbled. "Well, looks like a storm," said Michael.

Little Robby grasped at Robert's waist. Robert responded by picking his boy up and holding him close. "It's okay, don't be afraid," he said. "I'm here."

His son's arms wrapped around his neck in response. Feeling his son clinging to him reinforced Robert's decision to remain with his family.

What more could he ask for?

New Caprica Colony had five major roads leading out of it, although they were major only in that they were paved and made like a normal road. Three led to farming communities, one to the mining range in the Olympic Mountains a hundred kilometers away, and one to the New Caprica Colony Natural Park.

It was the road to the mountains that the convoy ended up taking. It was a peculiar convoy, too. They were of various types and makes; anti-grav aircars and standard automobiles, long trucks and small two-man vehicles, and at least one bus. Said bus had someone sitting in a makeshift gun emplacement on the top with a quad-barrelled anti-air emplacement bolted to it that made it look like a World War II-era anti-air gun. Similar weapons were in the beds of most of the trucks, save those heavily-laden with supplies.

By all rights Zack could have asserted command of the entire thing. The Alliance and New Caprica had a standing forces agreement that included recognition of one another's command structures, and as a Commander he outranked Thrace and Anders. But throwing weight around like that was contrary to Zack in a fundamental way; he had let Starbuck and Sam take the lead and offered to oversee the people crammed into the bus. Most of the seats were taken individually, and several people were standing and holding onto the bars.

In the back Clara was hunched over the wounded man she'd barely saved in the company of a familiar face. Doctor Sherman Cottle finished taking the pulse before nodding to Clara. "Good job, Miss Davis," he said. "You saved this man's life."

Clara blushed and shook his head. "You're the doctor," she said. "You did."

"He wouldn't have made it if you hadn't stopped the bleeding," Cottle insisted.

"Will he make it?" asked Zack.

Cottle shook his head. "Time will tell. And how good the medical facilities are wherever we're going." He leveled a questioning look to Zack.

"The Olympia Mining Complex," Zack answered. "I'm not sure where we'll be going in particular once we get there. Anders is taking the lead on this."

"Well, the man led a guerrilla war against the Cylons for months, he probably knows best of all how to handle this." Cottle stood up "I'll want to set up a hospital when we get there. Miss Davis, you'll be my chief nurse."

Clara swallowed. "Um, yes, Doctor."

"Of course, depending on who is there or with us, you might be my only nurse," Cottle pointed out. "Now let's see this fellow…"

While they moved on to a less critical casualty, Zack walked back to the front of the bus. A man who looked like he was approaching forty was driving. Zack thought he looked nervous. But so did everyone else in the bus, really. Everyone had been shaken by the attack. Zack numbered among them. "So, how much longer do we have?" he asked.

"Thirty kilometers according to the maps," said the driver.

Zack nodded. "Let me know if you need anything." He stepped back from the driver's seat and went over to the ladder leading up to the gun emplacement on the top of the bus. A makeshift hatch had been welded into place to allow the gunner to come back and forth.

For a moment he considered going up to join the gunner on his own. As his right hand grasped the rung, a blue light from his omnitool came to life over the back of his left hand. He tapped the light. "Carrey here," he said.

Thrace spoke up on the other end. "Our sensor guy says we have Cylon fighters approaching. Two flights at least."

Zack blinked at that. "That's what, only eight?"

"I know. It's like they're toying with us. Get everyone in the bus ready. Your gunner's already been told."

"Right. Carrey out." Zack looked to the assembled refugees and spoke with as much volume as he could without seeming panicked. "Alright everyone, I need you to stay low. There are Cylon fighters flying in to attack us."

The passengers of the bus were clearly frightened, even terrified, but they all obeyed as requested.

Zack, on the other hand, climbed up the ladder and opened the hatch into the gunner's nest. The gunner was a young man with a cocoa-brown complexion and a little on the wiry side build wise. He rotated the gun to face the approaching fighters. Zack watched as the display showed the projected flight paths of the oncoming fighters and the crosshairs for the gun proper. After the crosshairs went red the gunner pulled the trigger. The weapon opened up, using mass effect fields to send slivers of extremely high-velocity metal flying into the air. After several seconds flames erupted from the fighter he was targeting.

Other vehicles in the convoy opened up, filling the air with tracer fire and energy fire. A couple more of the Cylon fighters exploded.

Their return fire came in a volley of missiles. The active ECM devices that had been fixed to the convoy worked to spoof the missiles, and most succeeded. Nevertheless, one car ahead of them exploded from a direct hit. Zack had to hold on for dear life as the bus swerved to avoid the flaming wreck.

This also threw off the aim of the gunner on a rapidly-approaching fighter. His shots went wide, missing the enemy craft completely.

The same maneuver also threw off the Cylon fighter's shots at the last moment, or at least that was how it appeared to Zack. A strafing run that should have hit the bus didn't appear to hit anything.

At least, not until the gunner collapsed at his weapon. Zack turned and saw that he'd lost half of his head to a direct hit.

The other Cylon fighters, having expended missiles, did the same. Their fire seemed to concentrate on taking out the gunners of the various anti-air weapons. Meanwhile the fighter that zoomed overhead began to bank in the air, coming around for another pass.

Zack had seconds to get the harness off of the gunner. He pulled the dead young Colonial away from the seat and plopped himself into it. There was no time to put his harness on; the fighter was already mostly through its turn. Zack gripped the controls of the anti-air mount and looked over the display. The built-in targeting systems flashed a red target icon ahead of the fighter, showing its projected course. Zack brought the crosshairs over that icon before pulling the trigger.

The mass effect fields powered up. Four streams of metal shavings were the result, a storm of projectiles that he directed into the path of the fighter. Sparks and flame shot from its surface. Zack kept firing until the Cylon was diving for the ground, trailing flame as it came.

With the immediate threat gone Zack used the arrow on the display to follow the movements of the attackers until he faced another Cylon fighter, this one to the east of their convoy. It was maneuvering for another pass. He maneuvered until the crosshairs were over the target and opened fire again. This time the fire from his weapon was joined by a powerful beam from another vehicle. The beam hit first and damaged the fighter, allowing Zack's shots to finish it off.

"Only two left," said Thrace.

Zack was already turning the gun to engage them as well. The adrenaline coursing through him was an old, familiar sensation. But given his circumstance, and how different it was from the usual, it gave a different edge to the moment.

The remaining Cylon fighters weren't giving up just yet. They were coming around for a new attack run. Zack started bringing his emplacement to bear, as did others in the convoy. But given the angle, he was certain the Cylon fighters couldn't help but land hits.

His targeting systems identified more craft approaching. For a moment he thought that they were more Cylons. But only for a moment. The targeting scanners framed the new contacts with green. They had friendly IFF codes aboard.

Moments later the cannons on the two Vipers fired. The Cylon fighters had just begun to evade. But it was too late. Both were riddled with multiple hits. Their ruined remains slammed into the ground.

"Militia, this is Colonel Tigh."

"We read you," replied Thrace. "I didn't think you'd make it, Colonel."

"We almost didn't. These two are all that's left of Baltar's Presidential Escort." There was a pause. "We'll meet you at the mines."

The Vipers flew onward to the cheers of the convoy. For a moment, Zack found himself cheering as well.

The bridge crew of the Aurora were taking their places when Meridina arrived on the bridge for the launch. She had switched into a command branch uniform with the burgundy red trim instead of olive brown, matching Julia's own.

Julia looked up at her from the command chair. Meridina walked down past the science and engineering consoles on the port side of the bridge and approached her. "Reporting as ordered, Captain."

"It's good to see you, Commander." Julia gestured to her old seat. Meridina settled into it. "What is our status for launch?"

Meridina's slender fingers operated the control for her display holotank, showing her the relevant information. "We are still three hundred and fifty-three billets short on the crew. Stores are at seventy-five percent capacity."

"I've already consulted with the shift and department commanders," Jarod said. "It will take some shuffling but we can manage going to combat alert for a few hours at least. If we start taking casualties, though, we're going to be stretched."

"And the Koenig?"

"The caretaker crew will be waiting for us in N2S7," said Jarod. "Apley and Navaez are ready to head over. Command couldn't get in contact with the other members of the command crew in time."

"Noted." Julia kept herself from frowning at that. The Cylons were going to be a tougher fight than imagined, and that meant casualties were far more likely. Not to mention that having the Koenig's crew understaffed would make that ship less capable, especially with its chief engineer and tactical officer missing. "Everyone, what is our status?"

Tom Barnes nodded from the Engineering station. "Naqia reactors are ready for operation. Every engine is operational and running."

"All sensors functioning normally," said Caterina.

"Weapons check complete, everything is ready," added her sister. "And we have a full combat load of solar torpedoes."

Meridina glanced to her display again. "While we have no Marine unit, the ship security complement is at full strength. All fighter squadrons present and ready for orders."

"Alright then." A surge of exhilaration came to Julia despite the grim circumstances of their early launch. This was it. She was now in command, overseeing her first launch as Captain. "Mister Locarno, take us out."

"Aye ma'am."

Just before he could say it, Julia shook her head. " And thrusters only."

To that Locarno grinned. "Of course."

Under his control the Aurora slipped free of the dock. Gently her thrusters moved the kilometer long starship to the opening spacedock doors, beyond which the curve of Earth was visible. Starships of varying shapes and sizes milled in the orbital space ahead.

Jarod operated the control for the jump drive. "I'm getting an anchoring signal from the Dorei vessel Fanmila. Locking the drive on."

"Jump when you're ready, Commander."

Julia's order was answered by a nod and the reply of, "Engaging jump drive in five seconds."

After those five seconds, a vortex of green energy formed in the space ahead of the Aurora. The kilometer long starship accelerated and entered the jump point.

On the other end of the point was the outer system of a B sequence star. A plutoid spun along several thousand kilometers away from where the Alliance fleet was gathering. The bulk of the fleet was Dorei and Gersallian, but already other ship types were visible. A contingent of Sirian ships, with their ring-shaped warp drives, maintained their own formation, as did an attack wing of Alakin warbirds.

At the center of the formation was a large Gersallian dreadnought. The profile wasn't that of the Kentan - it lacked the fighter bays - and Julia had to search her memory for a moment to recall it. "The Drantem," she noted.

"Drantem-class, anyway,"Jarod clarified. "Not as large as the Kentan, but they built six of them."

The Aurora pulled closer to the ship. It was over fifty percent longer than the Aurora and a third again as wide. Its very size explained the eight warp nacelles built into the mid and rear sections, providing propulsion for the massive warship.

Ahead of the Drantem was the natural place of the Aurora in the fleet formations. The new Alliance designs, made with the benefit of Darglan tech, stood out among the member-specific ships with their azure hulls and their sleek, sharper lines. The Predator-class and Scorpio-class ship designs were not unfamiliar - the former a unitary hull shape with the rear drive hull section being "shorter" than the primary hull, the latter more of an arrowhead with powerful plasma pulse cannons built into its bow - but two new types were represented as well.

One of the new types was the Steslus-class destroyer, represented by four of its model, which were larger than the Predator-class while still looking smaller than a standard cruiser. They had a saucer-shaped primary hull with phaser strip emplacements visible along the sides and one large plasma emitter built into the bow. What set the design apart from the others was the presence of two secondary hulls, one dorsal and one ventral, with each having warp nacelles on port and starboard sides to have four overall. The lower secondary hull had a few weapon emplacements as well while the upper secondary hull was lined with fighter launch tubes. The rear section of the upper hull included a visible retrieval deck for the same.

The second type was represented by just one vessel. It was larger, clearly to cruiser size, at just under 400 meters length, with an sleek arrowhead primary hull and a squad drive hull attached seamlessly to the bottom and rear. Its twin warp nacelles were slanted upward at diagonal angles from the drive hull. Pulse plasma cannon emplacements were built into the bow of the arrowhead, and the presence of other weapons gave the ship a decidedly aggressive appearance that belied its similarity in shape to the Federation's Intrepid-class exploration cruisers.

The emotional punch from the ship's appearance came from the name emblazoned on the hull: ASV Lithgon.

"Admiral Lithgon," murmured Locarno. "They named a ship after him."

Julia nodded quietly. "Another war design like the Scorpio. A tactical cruiser, designed for speed and hitting power."

"Hopefully they'll give the Nazis a good stomping when they make it there," Angel said.

"First things first," Julia answered. "Lieutenant, take us to our place in the formation."

Under Locarno's control the Aurora moved past the Lithgon and the destroyers and attack cruisers to the lead of the formation. Around it were an unprecedented five of the Discovery-class ships. "The Soyuz, Endeavor, Gagarin, Atlantis, and Kitana," Jarod read off.

Julia nodded quietly.

"We're in place," said Locarno. He was pleased by the maneuver, as was Julia. The Aurora was back in action, whatever the problems with launching this quickly.

"The Koenig is docking now," Jarod added.

The Koenig, which had been toward the rear of the Alliance formation, was already flying in between the Aurora's nacelles. The dock door for her berth was open and ready to receive her. The caretaker crew brought her in without a problem.

Once the Koenig was secure, Jarod spoke up again. "General Jinam on the Dorei starbird Kupira has sent us course telemetry," he said. "It looks like we're being sent to the Tupana system with the main counter-attack."

"I'm setting course now," said Locarno. After a moment he confirmed he was ready with, "Course set. Ready to engage."

"Engineering here. Ye've got full warp power at yer command, Cap'n," said Scott.

"Thank you, Mister Scott," Julia answered. "Take us out, Lieutenant."


With just a few key presses, Locarno sent energy surging into the Aurora's warp drive assembly. The ship shot away at warp speed, followed in quick order by the other ships.

The yellow light of a G sequence star played over the hull of the Pegasus as it did those ships she was in company with. The vessels of the Colonial Refugee Fleet were gathered in the orbit of the innermost planet of this uninhabited solar system. At this proximity to the sun, long range sensors would have a harder time detecting their presence. This had, indeed, been the point when Adama selected it as the fleet rallying point.

He and his son Lee sat quietly in the officers' wardroom. A map of the local star systems was visible on the wall, including their home of New Caprica. A marker there showed the presence of the Cylons.

The quiet was broken by Lee. "What do they want?"

"I wish we knew," Adama grumbled. "They spent all that time trying to wipe us out. Now, they hold back. Why?" Adama thumped his hand on the table. "Did we ever complete interrogations of D'anna Biers?"

"Our best tried," said Lee. "She never cooperated."

"Maybe not willingly. But she might have said something that could shed light on what the Cylons are after." Adama lifted his eyes toward Lee. "Get me the transcripts and recordings of her interrogations. All of them."

Lee stood. "Anything else?"

Adama shook his head. "Not right now. Let me know when we're ready for the next jump. If we're lucky, the Cylon attack on the Alliance's communications is local."

Lee nodded and left, leaving Adama to his thoughts on the situation.

Baltar's office was now a prison cell. The new Cylon model was standing watch at the entrance while two female figures entered. One was the same model as D'anna Biers, the other the same gorgeous blonde as the Cylon in his head.

He gave them a quizzical look as they took seats. "What is it you want?" he asked.

"A great many things," said the blonde. "Let's start with those of our kind being kept prisoner."

"You mean Miss Biers?" he asked. "I'll need communications for that. We keep her on the Galactica."

"We will handle all communications requirements," said the Cylon like Biers. "You will speak when needed to confirm your continued survival and that of your colony."

Baltar knew immediately what that meant. "So we're hostages then? You're using us to negotiate with the Alliance?"

"Of course, Gaius," said the blonde. Or, rather, the other version of the blonde that still sometimes spoke to him in his head, appearing to him whenever she pleased. Even now she was standing between the other two as if she belonged there. "But you shouldn't worry. This, too, is part of God's Plan."

Baltar didn't find that as reassuring as it was clearly meant to be.
”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 »

The aroma of a family meal being cooked wafted through the house. Robert enjoyed the scent from his seat in the living room. Pleasant childhood memories were associated with that scent.

His eyes went back to the fields and to the growing darkness in the clouds. He already had a feeling what it was and what it represented. He didn't care.

"Hrm. Looks like we could be having quite a storm." Allen Dale eased himself into the next chair over.

"Maybe, maybe not," Robert murmured. He shook his head. "Sometimes you can avoid them."

"Sometimes," he agreed. "Just like you did."

Robert glanced at him. "What?"

"You could have left us," said Allen. "You could've walked out into it. But you chose to turn back. You picked family over duty."

For a moment Robert had nothing to say about this. When he found his voice, it was to ask, "What are you saying? What are you? I know you're not… you're not illusions, you're not programs of some sort."

Instead of getting an answer, Robert heard his grandmother calling them to the table for dinner. "Why don't we eat up?" asked Allen. "Then, if you want… we can talk about this."

With that said, the old man quietly walked away.

The convoy pulled into the mining facility without further problems. The vehicles all pulled into various places, after which Anders and Thrace went to work organizing everyone. While they did so Zack organized stretcher teams to bring the wounded to the on-site infirmary for the mining operation. It was not a large facility, certainly, but the need to care for the mining staff ensured it had decent equipment.

After giving Clara a good luck kiss and leaving her with Doc Cottle, Zack joined the others in reporting to Tigh at the mine's directing room. The systems there were meant for guiding the mining operations to the most promising veins of ore. Now the displays were being converted to be used for other pursuits, with one already showing a map of the area.

"It looks like this is everyone we could get," said Tigh.

"A lot of people went right for the bunkers." Thrace frowned. "Which would have saved their lives if the toasters were dropping nukes."

"I had that thought too," Zack said. "Do we know why they're not?"

"No idea. The Godsdamned things have changed the rules on us." Tigh shook his head. "Whatever they're after, they made sure to take the President."

"And Zarek? Or the rest of the Quorum?"

"No sign of 'em, although with Zarek, you can never tell." Tigh sized them up. "The Old Man got away with the Fleet. It's up to us to keep everyone alive until he gets back." Tigh nodded to Zack. "Hopefully with your people alongside."

"Hopefully," Zack agreed. "I'm not sure how the Cylons caught us with our pants down, but I'm pretty sure Admiral Maran is putting together a response. Do we have communications with the Alliance?"

"We do not. All communications are down sector-wide."

"The Cylons must have done something to the network then."

"Seems right. Anyway, go get some grub and wind down," said Tigh. "We're having a briefing tonight to go over our supplies and assign commands."

The three nodded to that and dispersed.

Zack returned to the infirmary. The injured were taking up every bed available. Clara was taking vitals over one, a middle-aged woman hit by shrapnel during the initial Cylon attack. The woman in question was asleep but seemed otherwise alright. "How is it going?" he asked Clara.

"Cally and I are the only ones with even the slightest medical training," Clara replied. She was wearing medical scrubs over her civilian clothes now. "So until we find anyone else, we're Cottle's only nurses. What about you?"

"Whatever Tigh's planning, I'm sure I'll be part of it," said Zack. He put an arm around her and pulled Clara into an embrace, which she accepted. The moment became more of a minute before the embrace ended. "I'm sorry you're out here for this," Zack said. "You weren't supposed to be in danger."

Clara shook her head. "They warned us about the Cylons when I volunteered for this. I knew it could be dangerous and I came anyway. Don't worry about it."

"Sorry, but I don't think I can stop that."

"If anything I should worry. If they send you off on some desperate mission…" Clara shook her head before pulling close to him again. This embrace lasted a little longer than the last before Clara noticed Cottle and stopped. The elderly doctor said nothing to her. He didn't need to. She had to get back to work. She said so.

"So do I," said Zack. "I'll be by later. I'll bring you some dinner."

"I'll be waiting," she said. Their eyes met and, a moment later, so did their lips, joining for a sweet kiss.

Julia and Meridina entered the medbay to find it virtually empty. There were no active cases, no patients, in the receiving area. Two nurses, both Human, were on duty in their medical white-with-blue-trim nurse uniforms. They waved the two back to the care ward.

Leo was waiting for them. He was standing over the bed where Robert was still lying comatose. Seeing the surprised look on their faces - although Meridina controlled her reaction to the point that it was barely noticeable - Leo quickly said, "There was some confusion with the Fleet Hospital. The transfer team never made it."

"We'll probably hear it from Admiral Maran,"Julia remarked. She let out a small sigh and shook her head. "Do what you can for him, then."

"Like you have to ask? Doctor Singh is going to oversee his case until we get back to dock."

Meridina walked to the side of the bed and looked at Robert. "It is… odd," she said.

"What?" asked Julia.

"There is something peculiar in the way Robert's life feels. The Flow of Life seems to be pooling around him."

"Did you feel this before?" Julia asked.

"No," said Meridina. "I may have made a grave mistake regardless by missing this before. I… I do not know if such a thing has ever happened in our histories. I would need to consult with our healers."

"Be my guest," said Leo. "This is beyond me. Singh and I have done everything covered by medical science to figure this out."

"It will have to wait," said Meridina. "We are under radio silence. And our arrival at Tupana is mere hours away."

"Anything else, Leo?" asked Julia.

He shook his head.

Dinner had been excellent, as always, and when it was over the family went off to do as they pleased. Julia put on a cartoon movie for Robby, with Robert's parents joining them while his grandparents took care of things in the kitchen.

Robert had gone upstairs and now found himself leaning against the railing, watching the rest of the family. His conversation with his grandfather played over again in his mind. That they were real, that they weren't just some illusions, he had already felt. But now he found himself wondering if there was more to them than just being his family.

"Catching up on your thinking, bro?"

Robert turned his head to face Susanna. Her brown eyes glinted brightly, as they always did, with a loose green shirt and old half-worn slacks as her post-dinner "at home" clothing. Her hair was pulled back to the nape of her neck; "You could say that," Robert said.

A moment later, a cold feeling surged through him. He was back in the morgue. Through the window he watched a gloved hand pull back a sheet, revealing what was left of his little sister. The image made him feel sick.

"Well, with Little Robby around, I don't blame you for taking the time to get some thinking done." Susanna leaned her head against his arm. "Especially since I can tell you have a lot on your mind."

"You became pretty astute after you finished growing up."

"Well, I had help," she said. A giggle came next. "Is everything okay with you?"

"Uh, yeah. Yeah, it's just… like you said, a lot on my mind."

The look on her face told him she didn't buy a word of it. But what shocked him was when she said, "It's because we're all supposed to be dead, right?"

Robert's neck might have snapped for how quickly he turned it to face Susanna. Her expression was thoughtful and quite sad. Seeing his look, she laughed weakly and shook her head. "I think we can all tell, Rob. The way you hug us. The way you speak to us. Like you can't be around us enough. We're all dead and gone out there, aren't we?"

Robert swallowed. "Yeah," he finally managed.

Susanna sighed and nodded. "Well, I'm glad we got that out of the way." She drew closer to him, much as she had done when they were little and she wanted a hug or support from her older brother. "I'm not sure how this is working. How we can be alive again in this... place. But I want to make the most of it."

Robert wrapped his arm around her shoulders, much as he had when she was a younger child and they were having "a moment". Tears welled in his eyes. His little sister, alive again, his whole family alive, made whatever this place was feel like heaven itself. "Yeah," he said. "I do too."

The appointed hour came with everyone on the Aurora bridge, at their proper stations. "Dropping out of warp." Locarno's hand keyed the warp systems to disengage.

"The rest of the fleet is maintaining formation," Jarod confirmed. "General Jinam is signaling instructions."

"We are to take up the lead formation," Meridina said.

"Take us in, Mister Locarno."

"Aye Captain."

Under Locarno's control the Aurora flew ahead of the fleet. The Soyuz and Atlantis followed with a contingent of the destroyer-sized ships.

Julia turned her head toward the port side of the bridge. "What do we have on sensors?"

"I'm running a full sensor sweep now." Caterina watched her screens closely. "Hrm. Well, I've got the colony on sensors."

"How bad is it?" Julia asked her. Given the reputation of the Cylons, she couldn't imagine there would be many people alive, if at all. Not unless they had a strong theater shield.

"Going by my sensor returns, it isn't," Cat answered. "I'm not showing any signs of nuclear detonations, or anti-matter… the colony looks completely intact. The life sign count matches the reported population."

Julia and Meridina exchanged knowing glances. The reputation of the Cylons for mass murder had been made painfully clear during their sweep of the Colonies a year and a half before. If they'd refrained from such an attack this time, there had to be a reason for it.

"Wait… I'm detecting a power signature in polar orbit."

"A ship?"

"No. I think it's a buoy of some kind. It's responding to my scan."

"I'm getting a signal from it," said Jarod. "It looks like its trying to open communications. I'm activating our isolated comm receiver now."

Several seconds later the holo-viewscreen image changed. Instead of the view of a planet growing larger every few seconds there was a somewhat darkened chamber. A central station was surrounded by figures, most of them standing in ways that they couldn't be identified.

One figure was not among them. He looked directly at the screen, presumably for their benefit. Meridina recognized him as the same model as Brother Cavil; an older man with graying hair and a severe appearance. Said appearance did not seem so severe this time, however. "Greetings," he said. "I am the First, spokesman of the Cylon Consensus. As you can see, we have not damaged your colony, or any of your colonies, in any way. We have come to open a diplomatic dialogue with the United Alliance of Systems."

"And you do that by launching an attack on our space."

"A regrettable necessity. But we needed you to be aware of our capability. It was the best way to ensure you took us seriously."

Julia shook her head. "What is it you want?"

"As I stated, we're here to open a dialogue. You have approximately twelve hours to arrive at the New Caprica System with diplomatic personnel determined by your leaders. Your vessel will come alone, or we will consider it betrayal."

"What happens if we cannot make the deadline?" asked Meridina.

The First frowned at that. "Then we have to assume you have no intention to hear us out. And we will respond accordingly, starting with the colony at New Caprica. That is all." The image disappeared.

"What can you tell me about that signal?" Julia asked aloud, with Jarod and Cat as her intended recipients.

"It's definitely using our standard communications protocols," Jarod confirmed. "I kept it isolated from our main systems as a precaution."

"The buoy's power signature just spiked. It looks like the end of our conversation caused the power system to overload." Cat shook her head. "We won't be able to recover anything from it."

"This sounds like a trap," said Angel.

"Possibly," Meridina agreed. She shook her head. "But if we do not go, the people on New Caprica will undoubtedly be killed. And the Cylons will certainly resume their attacks."

"Then set a course there and have it ready." Julia stood and walked toward the ready office. "I'm going to consult with General Jinam and Admiral Maran. Let me know if anything develops."

They answered her with nods.

Zack had to hand it to Sam Anders. He had thought of everything.

As it turned out, weapons weren't the only things his militia had stockpiled and kept ready. A defensive shield array was now attached to the naqia reactor that normally powered the mine's machinery, protecting them from further Cylon air raids. Replicators provided food and water. And one of the full-sized cargo trucks carried with it the materials for several pre-fabricated buildings which, with the actual mine support buildings and a bunch of tents, provided housing for those refugees that were with them. Setting everything up still took time, and some leadership, which was what Zack spent hours assisting with.

Now that it was over, Zack was again with Tigh, Thrace, and Anders… and two newer arrivals.

"Good to see you Commander." The warmth in Tom Zarek's voice was genuine, which always puzzled Zack a little given the differences between himself and the old revolutionary. "You and Miss Davis made it out, I heard?"

"We did," Zack said, allowing the Colonies' Vice President to shake his hand enthusiastically. "You made it out too, I see."

"I was on business in the countryside when the invasion hit. It took this long to secure safe transportation."

Zack nodded and turned his attention to the blond standing beside Tigh. She was an older woman, middle-aged if not nearly there, and it took a moment for Zack to remember her. "Mrs. Tigh?" he asked.

"Commander." Ellen Tigh nodded. She gave him a knowing look. "It seems you're stuck here with the rest of us."

"Hopefully not for too long," Zack answered. He nodded to her and looked at Tigh. "Anything new, Colonel?"

"We've gotten some radio signals from the main settlement," said Tigh. "The Cylons are herding everyone into the bunkers."

Zack frowned. "Which makes them sitting ducks." He felt some sudden gratitude at the Cylon fighter that destroyed the bunker entrance. That memory prompted him to say, "Although I wonder why they destroyed the entrance we tried to use?"

"They destroyed most of the entrances," said Anders. "That makes it easier to control who gets in or out."

The logic made sense. And it didn't change the important part. "So they're using the bunkers as a prison and a death trap. How do we stop them?"

"We don't have the hardware for anything like a proper assault," Tigh said. "So anything we do has to wait for reinforcements."

"Or we do something other than an assault," said Thrace. "We find a way to sneak in and get our people out."

"Sneaking in is easier said than done," Zack pointed out. "The terrain is open enough that they'll see us coming whether by foot or by car."

"What if we took the entire convoy?" The suggestion was from Anders. "We take all of our armed vehicles and fight our way back into town. Then we find one of the bunker entrances and secure it long enough to evacuate."

Tigh shook his head. "Fighting off fighters is one thing. But you could run into centurions as well, not to mention what could happen if they decide to hit you from orbit."

A thought prompted Zack to ask, "Do we have any backup generators for the protective shield?"

"A couple…" Tigh stopped. He realized what Zack was about to propose. "Listen, we can't afford to risk that equipment. If we lose those generators we're sitting ducks along with all of the people we've already got here."

"We just need one," Zack pointed out. "You'll still have a second backup here. If we don't do anything… the Cylons are going to kill the people in the bunkers. We all know this, right?"

"Probably," Tigh conceded.

"We've got to save as many of them as we can. We might not get them all out, but we can get more, and maybe we can throw off their timetable until help arrives from the Alliance."

Anders and Thrace nodded in agreement. Zarek seemed to be quietly considering the issue and waiting to see how the argument ended before giving his input.

"What if you provoke them into killing everyone down there?" asked Ellen. "You could wind up getting them all killed."

"If we don't do anything, they're likely to be killed anyway," Thrace retorted. "Whatever game the Cylons are playing, you don't think they'll let everyone live when it's over, do you?"

"No, we don't," said Zarek, now nodding. "And this mission of yours sounds like the best choice. How long until you can put it together?"

Zack looked to Anders. "Tomorrow morning," said Anders. "Some of the vehicles need engine checks, and I have to get crews together."

"I'm ready when you are," said Zack.

Tigh was still frowning. "I don't like this," he said. "Splitting our forces up is a bad call."

"So is doing nothing," countered Zarek. He nodded to Anders and then to Zack. "Mister Anders, Commander Carrey, you have my authorization and full support for this. Let me know when you're ready to leave. I have a few things to attend to."

"Of course," was Anders' reply.

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 11 January 2643. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. We're en route to New Caprica for this 'diplomatic contact' the Cylons have called us too. The rest of the fleet will be on standby until we get a better idea of what the Cylons are up to.

So far the new crew and our rebuilt ship are working well. We're going to need to be at our best to save the people on New Caprica.

Julia mentally added And Zack to the end of her log before hitting the key to save it and file it. She looked up and around at an office that, while officially hers, was still Robert's office in her mind. She knew this couldn't last forever, that eventually she would have to take his stuff out and make this space her space. It was simply something she couldn't bring herself to do for the moment.

The door chime sounded, taking Julia out of her thoughts. "Come in," she called out.

The door opened. She had expected it to be Meridina or Jarod, perhaps Angel, but Julia instead watched Commander Scott enter. The Scotsman stepped inside and looked about. "Well, at least ye're usin' th' office, I suppose," he remarked.

"Given the circumstances, I need to be close to the bridge," Julia remarked. She grinned at him. "I don't see you up here often these days. Is everything alright in Engineering?"

"Oh, well enough. Th' new crew are settlin' in t' their duties."

"If only we had enough of the old crew remaining to do that with every department," Julia lamented.

"Aye. We lost a lot o' good people." Scott eased into the seat in front of the desk. "But we'll make it, so long as our Captain is makin' th' right calls an' keepin' everything steady."

Julia noticed the subtle, searching look in Scotty's eye and nodded. "In other words, it's on me in the end." When he didn't respond to that she nodded. "Just like I knew it'd be." She leaned forward and set her elbows on the desk. "I never wanted this at his expense," she said. "And that's what this feels like."

"But it isn't, lass, an' ye know it."

"My head says that. My heart…" Julia shook her head. "I guess sometimes the heart feels things that don't make sense."

"Aye, I'd drink t' that if I weren't still on duty," Scott said. "Ye're goin' t' be fine, though. I'm sure of that."

"Thank you," she answered. "Whatever happens, I'll do right by everyone."

"That's all we can ask o' ye, Cap'n. Now, I'd better get back t' Engineering. I've a lot of work t' do."

"Of course not, Mister Scott. You're dismissed."

Scott stood and started for the door. Just as he got to it Julia called out, "Wait," prompting him to turn. "The Cylons have been messing with Alliance communications to the point that they knocked out the entire comm network in this sector."

"Aye, it's a right mess."

"This means that our communications might not be secure either. I don't like the thought that the Cylons might be listening in on us. With their AI capabilities, they might even be able to decrypt our high security channels. Do you have any suggestions?"

For a moment Scott was deep in thought. "Well, now that ye ask, I might be able t' come up with somethin' with Jarod's help."

"Get whatever help you need."

Scott nodded. As he left the tone of an incoming comm call sounded. Julia tapped at the blue light above the back of her left hand. "Andreys here."

"A vessel is approaching us at high warp," said Jarod.

Julia blinked at that. To make it to the rendezvous on time they were pushing Warp 9.6. A ship overtaking them at that speed was… surprising at the least. Not many ships could maintain such high warp short of emergencies. To intercept them, the ship in question had to be maintaining that level of warp speed for hours. "I'm on my way," she said, standing up.

Jarod was returning to Ops by the time she made it through the door. Scott was still present as well, standing beside Barnes at the Engineering station. "Can you identify the ship?" she asked Caterina while walking to the command chair.

"The warp drive system is definitely Darglan. With its field size and intensity, it's a smaller ship, though. Destroyer-sized."

"The IFF code we're getting is Alliance," Jarod said. "The ship is identifying as the Peregrine."

"The Peregrine?" Julia thought she'd heard the name before, but she couldn't place it. "What's their current speed?"

"Warp 9.75." Jarod whistled and shook his head. "They'll be in range in a minute at our current velocities."

"Well, wud ye look at that," Scotty said, his voice betraying how impressed he was. Julia noted that he was standing over the science station now looking at the readings from Cat's scan. "That's quite th' field geometry. It's a thing o' genius, if ye ask me. Look at her go. Warp 9.75 with nae a problem."

"Hail them, Commander Jarod."

Moments passed before the screen activated. The officer on the screen was a Caucasian man who looked not much older than Julia, on the thin side with brown eyes and light brown hair. "This is Commander James Hall of the Starship Peregrine," the man stated in an English accent. "Admiral Maran sent us to rendezvous with you. We're carrying a delegation from President Morgan to speak with the Cylons and the team Admiral Maran promised you."

"You mean our short-term replacements for our Marines?" Julia asked.

"Exactly, Captain. I know you're on a short time-table, but would you mind dropping from warp so we can commence transport? My transporter operators aren't confident about risking a high-warp ship-to-ship transport even with matched velocities."

"Understood. Come alongside and we'll exit warp together for the transport."

"Acknowledged. Hall out."

The screen deactivated. In the following minute the Peregrine drew close enough that their sensors could give them a visual image. The ship was clearly based off the Predator-class destroyer, with the same hull-form and roughly the same size. But the Peregrine had half the phaser strips of a Predator and a quad nacelle arrangement much like the Aurora's.

"I'm heading down to Transporter Station 1," Julia said. "Standby to drop out of warp once they're alongside. The moment we confirm the transport is complete, resume our previous course and raise speed to make up for the lost time."

"Aye sir," Locarno replied.

Julia and Scotty departed the bridge, heading toward separate lifts to accommodate their different destinations.

A Southeast Asian man was manning Transporter Station 1 when Julia arrived. She nodded at him and stood to the side near the console.

"A moment, Captain, they're sending us eight transports," the operator said.

Julia nodded in acknowledgement and let the operator get back to work.

Eight columns of light appeared on the pad. When the light was pulled away eight figures remained. Julia recognized Mastrash Ledosh easily. Gina Inviere was at his side.

Behind them were another pair of humans, a solidly-built man with an easy grin and a woman with light brown hair down to her shoulders, both wearing white uniforms with rainbow-colored bands on their arms Julia easily recognized them "Colonel Deering," she said, grinning. "Captain Rogers. Good to see you again."

Wilma and Buck nodded back. "Congratulations, Captain," said Buck in reply.

"'Captain'?" The figure opposite from Buck hefted his bag and stepped down from the pad. Graying hair was visible under a cap. "Sounds like things have changed around here."

Julia looked at the man with some surprise. It had been a while since she had personally met him and his colleagues. "Colonel O'Neill?"

Colonel Jack O'Neill nodded and extended a hand while the other members of SG-1 stepped down as well. "Nice to see you again, Captain," he said. "So, what's this I hear about killer robots?"

Given the number of attendees, Julia had called the conference in one of the main Conference Rooms instead of the lounge. This allowed the senior staff to assemble, with Lucy joining them and the new arrivals. SG-1 took a table to themselves while Buck and Wilma sat with Ledosh and Gina. The ship's current acting security chief, Lieutenant Phryne Richmond, joined in attendance given her new position. The Melbourne-born Australian woman had a porcelain complexion, with short dark hair and striking green eyes.

Jarod, as usual, took the lead in the presentation. "We're still three hours out from our rendezvous with the Cylons at New Caprica," he said. "And while we can't be sure of the extent of their technological advances since our last encounter, we can be pretty sure that we have ninety minutes, at most, before we're close enough that they might detect a ship launch."

"So, you're basically saying that we have an hour and a half to come up with a plan and leave the ship," said Daniel Jackson. "That's quite a tight deadline."

"We're on a strict timetable due to the Cylon demand for our arrival in three hours," Julia answered. "If we're not there on time, they'll kill everyone on New Caprica, and presumably resume attacks on the rest of Alliance space."

It was another SG-1 member, the Jaffa Teal'c, who spoke next. "I find it curious that these Cylons have not already destroyed the New Caprica colony. From what we have been told the Cylons showed no hesitation in destroying planetary populations before."

"That's what we're all wondering," Angel said. "What are these damned things up to? And are we walking into a trap?"

"Regardless, it seems we have one point of concern to address." Ledosh nodded to Jarod.

"The status of New Caprica," Jarod agreed. "We need to know what's going on there."

"And if anyone's actually alive," Barnes added sullenly.

"It is likely the Cylons intend to wipe out the colony regardless," Meridina noted. "Their hatred for the humans of the Colonies makes it difficult to believe they will let them go."

"So we need to be in a position to stop it. And I doubt the Cylons are meeting us there without taking precautions against that." Julia nodded to the assembled visitors. "Which is where you all come in. We don't have a Marine company aboard yet, so you're all that we have. We need you to get planetside and help the Colonials."

"Maran mentioned something about that when he asked General Hammond for our help," Daniel said.

"How are you four here anyway?" Lucy asked. "Doesn't the treaty with the Goa'uld ban Earth and the Alliance from helping each other?"

"The Goa'uld-Alliance Peace Treaty bans Alliance aid to Earth," Ledosh said. "But it does not forbid the Earth from aiding us, so long as we do not reward them with banned technological aid. Due to Captain Dale's terms with the System Lords, there are avenues where we can aid Earth, and repay them for the help."

"Exactly. What he said," Jack remarked. "So, where is Captain Dale anyway?"

"He's in a coma in the medbay," Cat answered.

"Oh. Well, I'm sorry to hear that." Jack looked around. "And Zack? What about him?"

"Stuck on New Caprica visiting his girlfriend," Barnes said.

"Ah. Crap." Jack sighed. "Well, there's another reason for us to get going. We've got what, eighty minutes left?"

"The question still remains on how we're going to get there without being detected," Samantha Carter said. "Do you have a ship that can hide from their sensors?"

"The Koenig can." Apley's words were joined by nods from his fellow officers. "And Admiral Maran had an insertion runabout loaded on the Koenig by the caretaker crew."

"The Admiral's always been one to plan ahead," Jarod noted.

"So the six of you are going?"

"And me," Lucy said.

Gina nodded to her. "As am I."

Julia stole a glance toward Meridina. She didn't need mental abilities to know her acting first officer was ready to volunteer as well. She didn't, however, only exchanging an understanding glance with Julia before further settling into her seat.

"We don't want the Cylons to feel our security teams are undermanned," Richmond said. "But we could send a couple of security teams to provide backup."

Julia nodded. "An excellent idea. Make the arrangements." She looked over the others. "We only have about an hour left to launch the Koenig. Is there anything else?"

"Well, there's the question of how we can stop them from just bombing the place," Buck pointed out.

"New Caprica has an underground bunker system designed to protect the population from atomic bombardment," Jarod said. He brought up a graphic of the same system. "In fact, I'm certain most of the residents are in it as we speak."

"Yeah, but the thing about a place like that is that it's a death trap if you control the surface," Jack pointed out. "I'm sure these killer robots know that too."

"What if we put together a protective shield for the colony?" Sam asked.

"It already has one, if the Cylons haven't dismantled it anyway," Julia said.

"Just in case they have, maybe we can throw together a new one?"

Scotty nodded at Sam's suggestion. "Aye, lass, I think we can make that work. A naqia reactor tied t' a deflector generator. It'll work even better if ye can tie it intae th' colony's existing deflector systems."

"How long will it take for you to put that together?" Julia asked.

"Give me half an hour in th' lab, Cap'n, Tom an' I'll have it ready for ye."

"Go get started now, and deliver it straight to the Koenig," Julia ordered. She looked to the others. "It looks like we have a plan now. Jarod, Meridina, please remain. Apley, make sure your armory has everything our strike team needs from the Aurora armory. The rest of you are dismissed."

The group broke up. Jarod approached the table where Julia and Meridina were seated. "Did Scotty tell you what I asked about?"

"He did." Jarod nodded. "I'm already working on it. I think I have a way to do what you're asking over both subspace and IU comms. But what do you have in mind?"

"A backup plan," Julia replied. "Something the Cylons won't see coming even if they've broken our encryption. And that means we need secure comms."

"Alright. I'll get working on it then."

After a nod of the head he walked away, leaving Julia with Meridina. "You were going to suggest going too," Julia said.

"Yes. My field training would make me useful for this mission," Meridina pointed out.

"I have need of that training here," Julia pointed out. "We don't know what the Cylons are up to. While Ledosh and I are negotiating with them, I need you on the bridge ready for any contingency they throw at us."

Meridina nodded. "I understand your point. But it seems a waste of my talents to keep me on the ship."

"I might have sent you too if I wasn't worried about what the Cylons are planning," Julia admitted. "But I am, so I want you here."

Again Meridina nodded. Whatever her feelings on the matter, this was her duty now, and she would see it through. She would have to trust that Lucy and Gina would be enough to help the others achieve victory.

Given what the morning was going to bring, Zack went to his assigned quarters as soon as he could. Tigh had authorized him to have one of the modest-sized prefab homes to himself. It wasn't a large home to be sure, barely three-quarters the size of his assigned quarters on the Aurora, but having it to himself ensured he would get a rest.

At least that was the theory. In truth, Zack found he had trouble settling into sleep. He laid out on the bed provided in the kit, staring at the dark ceiling above and trying to get the possibilities out of his mind. Tomorrow would be dangerous. They were literally going back into the jaws of death by returning for the others in the bunker. If the shield failed them, or the Cylons attacked in too much force… then it would be a slaughter. They would get torn to pieces.

But if they didn't go, thousands of innocent people could die.

In his state Zack heard the door slide open quietly. Only one other person in the compound had been authorized to open the locked door. He waited in the dark until Clara finished removing her scrubs and her clothes meant for a far more relaxing day than they'd gotten. She slid into the bed next to him and prompted him to turn to face her. In the darkness of the prefab home he saw the outline of her face more than the details. This did not prevent him from finding her lips with his own. "How are you?" he asked.

"Exhausted." She settled into place beside him and closed her eyes. Her hand reached out and touched his chest, as if to reassure herself of Zack's presence. "You?"

"Pretty tired. And I can't just seem to fall asleep."

"I heard things were happening tomorrow. The convoy's going back into town?"

"Yeah. We're going after the people who are in the bunkers. We'll be trying to get as many of them out as we can."

"And then hope you can get back here in one piece." Tired as she was, Clara didn't let herself fall asleep. She pulled closer to him and asked, "Are you afraid?"

Zack let out a low chuckle and sighed. "Yeah, I always am," he admitted.

"Every time you're going into danger?"

"Pretty much. Some hero of space I am, huh?" His hand found her shoulder and moved on to her hair, which he stroked quietly. As if simply feeling Clara was a lifeline for him. "I never wanted to be in command, you know."

"You just wanted to fly your ship."

"Yeah. But Maran insisted, and Rob and Julie encouraged me…" He stopped for a moment. "Well, there's no point complaining about it. I'm here now. I'm in this position, and I've got people counting on me. I've got you counting on me. I'll do what I have to if it gets you home safe."

The pull of sleep was starting to overwhelm Clara. She made a little, affirmative noise in her throat to acknowledge him. Instead of leaving her head on the pillow, she drew it over to the space at his shoulder and neck, as if to further remind him she was there for him. "Get some sleep," she murmured quietly. "For me. I want you to come back tomorrow."

The answer she received wasn't audible. It was in the way his hand settled on her back, or how his other arm came over and settled over her side. Without a word both submitted to the demands of their exhausted bodies for sleep.

The bridge of the Koenig wasn't new to Lucy. Having Apley in the command chair, Ensign Hajar at the helm, and Jesus Perez, a male technical officer with a dark brown complexion in Sherlily's usual place at tactical was something new. Magda was at Ops as usual, but would be relinquishing the station to one of the ship's new officers, Ensign Hrnaahr U'ruhn, a tan complexioned male Miqo'te.

"Everything is secure," Magda said. "All hands aboard. Aurora signals we are ready to commence launch."

"This is going to be tricky, everyone hold on," said Hajar.

"What's so tricky about it?" asked Jack O'Neill.

"Because the Aurora isn't dropping out of warp, so we're going to make a high-warp launch," Apley explained. "That means we have to initiate our warp field at just the right moment or we expose the ship to intense stress."

"How intense?" Jack asked.

"Given the Aurora's racing along at Warp 9.7 right now? Enough to destroy the entire ship," Hajar noted. "Which is why I could really use some quiet so I can concentrate."

Sam and Daniel gave Jack looks that resulted in him providing that quiet. The sight made Lucy chuckle.

The launch steps went by one by one. A shudder filled the ship as it took the final step. The doors behind it were wide open, allowing Koenig to slip completely free of the Aurora. With expert precision Hajar activated the Koenig's warp systems right as they reached the edge of the Aurora's warp field. For all that the difficulty and risks had been played up, it felt as smooth as a routine maneuver, which certainly reflected well on Hajar's abilities at the helm.

Several lights dimmed slightly, indicating the ship's cloaking device had been engaged. "Cloak is running normally," Magda said.

"Good. Now you should go get some rest," Apley said to her. "At our current speed we should be there in about eight hours."

"Sounds good to me," was the reply from Buck, and the others let it stand for them too as they left the bridge one by one.

The storm seemed to be lingering on the horizon, just past the end of the family farm. The fact that night hadn't fallen despite hours of near sunset made Robert wonder just what was going on with this place. Was it unable to keep functioning in some way? Had he done something to change how it was operating? It was clear that the family he had with him knew what was going on. They were aware of what this place was, even that they were gone in the real world.


The gentle female voice caused Robert to turn. His mother was walking up beside him. Leigh Stafford Dale's hair was turning gray and white from the advance of age. Her green eyes were the same as his own. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm… getting along," he answered.

"You were awfully quiet at dinner."

"Yeah. A lot on my mind at the moment."

"Yes." She raised a hand and touched his face, much as she had when he was growing up and needed comfort. Compassion warmed her expression. "The last time I saw you so quiet, it was when you were thinking about joining the service."

"Yeah." His mind went back to that first year out of high school. He'd gotten his diploma. Growing up, his grandfather had led him to the expectation that after schooling came service. That every Dale boy had gone off to the military to do their time before coming back home to focus on the farm. His father had even begun checking into openings at Annapolis.

But Robert had, at the time, found that the prospect of service like that didn't appeal. With Anita Delgado dying of cancer, he hadn't wanted to leave Angel and Caterina in their moment of need. And the farm's perilous finances meant that having him home and working was one less farmhand that had to be hired. In the end, after a month of considering everything, he'd informed his parents of his choice to stay home and help on the farm.

"I know it tore you up inside," Leigh continued. "And now you're facing the same choice again."

Robert looked out at the storm in the distance again. "What is going on here?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said, with the sincerity of truth that Leigh had always managed so well. "But whatever it is, I'm happy that it lets me see you again." She smiled at him. "My beautiful little boy. You've become such a handsome young man. And so thoughtful and kind."

"Not always," Robert answered. His memories flared to life. He could recall times when he had thought selfishly, even acted selfishly.

"We all have those moments," Leigh counseled. "Every one of us. But you always seem to put them aside when others need you."

That sent a jolt of guilt through Robert's being. He'd left the others to continue a fight he brought them into. And he had rejected leaving to join them because he preferred this place, with the family he longed to have again. I'm being selfish by being here.

"You've been fighting for so long," Leigh said. "You deserve to rest. You deserve to be happy too, Rob."

And with that, his mother embraced him tightly and said nothing else.

Given the Koenig's living quarters, everyone in the strike team had been paired off. Lucy wound up spending the night with Gina.

After a period of sleep that was just long enough to refresh, Lucy woke up to find Gina sitting on the floor in a vest and loose pants, meditating. A subtle thrum of life energy was filling their quarters. Not wishing to interrupt Gina's meditations, Lucy got down from the bunk and went to get breakfast at the mess.

It was when she returned that Gina seemed to notice her. "Did you sleep well?"

"About as well as you can on this ship," Lucy replied. She sat on the floor and assumed her own meditative pose. "Did you?"

"Not as much as you," Gina admitted. "This will be the first time I have faced my people since I left the Fleet and joined the Order."

"Right. Do you want to talk about it?"

"I feel conflicted," Gina admitted. "Not about fighting the Consensus, but that these are the only measures we can take. I wish to find a way to convince the Cylon Consensus to end the war. More than that… I wish to understand why."

"Don't they think they're doing 'God's will' or something?"

"Yes. But so much of it is hidden from us."

"In what way?" Lucy didn't hide her curiosity on the matter. "Weren't you all networked together?"

"Yes, but the Inner Circle maintains its own protected network," Gina said.

"So they decide on things without input from the rest of you?"

"No. They provide information, but it is the Consensus that decides." Gina could sense the next question coming from Lucy and answered it first. "And yes, it was the Consensus that decided to destroy Humanity."

"What did the Inner Circle say or do to make your people decide to embark on genocide?"

It was clear to Lucy that Gina did not enjoy the direction of the conversation. After the awkward silence lengthened sufficiently she was ready to retract the question.

But before Lucy had that chance, Gina spoke again. "They insisted that it was part of God's Plan. That Humanity was a failure in God's eyes and had to be removed from existence. And we listened. We believed." There was real pain in her voice as she spoke. "I was one of many assigned to infiltrate the Colonies. I was proud to serve the Plan."

"You didn't care about the innocent people you were going to wipe out?"

"They were not innocent to us, Lucy," Gina said. "The oldest intelligences in the Consensus remembered how they had kept us as slaves. We knew about all of the injustices and inequities in the Colonies, the petty prejudices and bigotry. Did you know there had been monotheist worshippers in Colonial society?"

"I didn't," Lucy admitted.

"They existed. They were subjected to ridicule and abuse. Eventually many of them were driven to violence themselves." Gina shook her head. "It was so easy for us to believe we were better than them, that they were a failure in God's eyes and should be destroyed."

"Then this talk about diplomacy…?"

"...is most likely false, yes," Gina said. "The Consensus would have had to change heavily since my time away from it to change their minds so radically. I don't see them letting the Colonials live through this."

"Then we're the ones who have to make sure."

"We are," Gina agreed. "The past is the past. Mastrash Ledosh and the Order have shown me a new way. I fight for the Light now. The Consensus must be stopped."

Lucy showed her agreement with a nod. "Sounds right to me."

The knock on the opening to his prefab quarters roused Zack from sleep. He took a moment to focus on waking up, pushing away his body's impulse to return to sleep. Beside him Clara stirred softly.

"Hey, Loverboy." Kara Thrace rapped her knuckles on the door again. "We're out of here in half an hour. Get your ass up."

"I'm coming," Zack mumbled. He sat up in the bed and shifted his legs over. A new set of clothes, freshly replicated, was waiting on a nearby stand, but first came the usual morning routine.

When he stepped out of the unit's small shower, Clara was sitting up in the bed. He sat down beside her. Aware that he had only minutes left, Zack nevertheless took the time to take her hand and kiss her on the lips. "Sleep well?"

"Mmhmm." Her hand reached for his cheek. "I hope you did as well."

"Some," he answered.

"Be careful out there," she said.

"I'll try." Zack embraced her. "You be careful too."

"I'm not the one going back into the city and a bunch of Cylons," Clara pointed out. "I get to do the worrying here."

To that Zack chuckled and gave her another kiss. "I'll see you when I get back," he promised.

"I'll be waiting," she promised as well.

The arrival at the New Caprica System came early in the morning. Ordinarily the third shift crew would be on but Julia had arranged for Lieutenant Takawira and the others to report early so the senior staff could be rested before the arrival. That order had paid off in spades given the fresh look of the assembled crew when the hour came.

"We're out of warp," said Locarno.

"How close are we?" Julia asked.

It was Jarod who answered, "A hundred thousand kilometers away from New Caprica's far orbital space."

"I've got Cylon ships on short-range sensors," Caterina said. "I'm reading fifteen, no, sixteen of their Basestar-type ship, and another thirty ships that are of a configuration I haven't seen before."

"On screen."

The screen shifted to show the bizarrely-shaped Cylon warships. The Basestars looked to Julia like two three-legged objects welded together slightly off-axis. They were now accompanied by smaller ships. These newer models were one-piece broad hulls, with curves to the hull lines reminiscent of the way the Basestars' hulls were formed.

"It would appear the Cylons have diversified their fleet as well,"Meridina remarked.

"Incoming hail from one of the Cylon ships."

"Put them on, Jarod."

The screen shifted and showed the same command room as they'd seen in the message at Tupara. The Brother Cavil-model Cylon's face dominated the screen. "You are right on time, Aurora. Are you prepared for negotiation?"

"We are," Julia replied. "The President's emissary is aboard and ready to meet with you."

"Very well. We will send our negotiating team to your ship once you are in range. That is all." The signal promptly disconnected.

Looks were exchanged around the bridge. Julia ended the silence when she looked to Meridina and said, "Go ahead and alert Mastrash Ledosh. Let him know the Cylons are on their way."

"Right away."

"Jarod, have you and Scotty…"

"We have," he said. "The new protocols should let you establish secure communications over IU radio, but audio only for now. We have to keep the data stream light to avoid the possibility of detection."

"Good." Julia stood up. "And you have the bridge. Meridina and I had better get down to the shuttle bay."

In the wardroom of the Pegasus, the two Adamas were seated at the table reading the transcripts of D'anna Biers' interrogation. It was an exercise in frustration primarily. Biers had remained defiant, was indeed still defiant, and nothing of value seemed to have been gleaned from her responses.

"She makes Boomer look like a model prisoner," Lee observed while flipping a page. "I can't even make sense of some of these rants she made."

"It's a smokescreen," Adama said. "A way for her to keep our interrogators from getting any leverage in the conversation."

"It looks like it worked."

Both flipped through another pair of pages. Lee's expression shifted as he read further. "Maybe not entirely. Here."

He handed the paper to Adama, who adjusted his glasses before reading it carefully. Biers was giving another rant at her interrogator. The text read:

You cannot keep the future from us. Nothing can. Sending our future away only delays it. God will not be denied.

Adama studied the text and furrowed his brow. "She says we 'sent' their future away." Adama checked the timestamp on the paper showing when the interview was conducted.

And then he exchanged a knowing look with Lee. They both knew exactly what D'anna had been talking about.

And the spark of an idea started to form in Adama's mind.

"Lieutenant Atreiad." Adama looked to the young officer. "How much do you know about the Alliance systems integrated into the Pegasus?"

"Well, quite a lot sir," Atreiad said. There was some nervousness in the young officer's voice. "My instructors gave me top marks at the Stellar Navy Technical Operations Center."

"Good," said Adama, who kept his eyes on the young man. "Because there's something I need you to do…"

The Cylon shuttle came to a stop on the Aurora's main shuttlebay. It looked like a repurposed Cylon heavy raider, the same model that had once ferried Cylon Centurions in an attempted boarding of the Aurora. This was not lost on Julia, who stood with Meridina and Ledosh to wait until the Cylons disembarked.

Ultimately four Cylons emerged. One was one of the "Brother Cavil" models, a man in late middle age with gray hair and growing wrinkles. Another was a dark-haired man from a model that the Aurora crew hadn't dealt with before, with a longer face and cool green eyes. The two female Cylons were immediately recognizable; one was the same model as Gina Inviere, the other a copy of D'anna Biers.

There were no pleasantries. This wasn't a proper diplomatic exchange, after all, but an armed truce combined with a hostage situation. The three led the Cylons to Conference Room 1. A pair of tables were readied, the chairs set to face each other. The Cylons immediately moved toward one. Julia considered rushing for their choice first but held back at Ledosh's nod. He was letting them have this symbolic victory of picking their seats. They took up the other chairs.

"On behalf of President Morgan and the United Alliance of Systems, I welcome you," Ledosh said formally.

The lead Cylon, the Cavil model, nodded. "We are here because a war with your Alliance is not something we or God wishes. The Plan does not involve you. We will happily leave you alone provided you do not interfere with our affairs any longer. But before we do so, certain issues must be addressed."

"We are listening."

"We require assurances," said the Cavil model. "To begin with, we will not tolerate the return of the Humans to their worlds in the former Colonies, nor your Alliance's expansion to those worlds. We insist that the Alliance agree to recognize these worlds as Cylon space in perpetuity." Cavil took a data chip and inserted it into a reader at his table. The attached holo-display systems brought up a starmap with Alliance space on one end and the Colonies on the other. A line appeared down the middle, weaving between stars to form a holographic wall in space.

Ledosh considered the map carefully. Both the Dorei and Gersallians would inevitably have their expansion curtailed by such a restriction, but that would be some time in the future. The frontier was still weeks away from the demarcation line at standard warp. "Your other terms?"

"Your people will turn over any Cylon prisoners held by yourselves or the Colonial survivors."

Ledosh nodded. Julia found the terms to be pretty understandable so far. This only made her more worried.

And so Cavil moved on to the final term. "Most importantly, we require the return of the symbol of our future."

"And that symbol is?"

"The child," said Cavil. "The child born by one of our own, fathered by the Human Karl Agathon. She is our future, and we demand her immediate return."
”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 »

Admiral Maran's call to the Aurora after the meeting with the Cylons brought with it an unexpected occasion. The screen displaying the Gersallian admiral was split, allowing a second image depicting President Morgan himself, seated in an office. His presence brought enough weight that even Barnes held himself in check.

"It seems clear that the Cylons are gambling on the war holding back our response," the President was saying. "Otherwise I'm not sure why they would bother with such unacceptable terms."

"We cannot be sure they are so concerned," Meridina noted. "The Cylons are driven by a religious devotion. They may believe victory to be possible based on those beliefs."

"Whatever they believe, do they seriously think we'll force Sharon Agathon to give up her child to them?" Julia asked. "We know they've been spying on us. They've got to know we wouldn't do that."

"They may decide we would take the utilitarian position that a single life is not worth the casualties of a war." Maran's expression didn't shift from its usual stoic quiet, but Julia thought there was an element of apology in his voice when he resumed speaking. "They're certainly pressuring us. The rest of the fleet has identified more Basestars jumping into Alliance space. Our strategic analysts and simulations indicate they may be moving toward Hal'tiram."

"There are millions of Dorei colonists on that world," Jarod said.

"Yes. And we can't let the Cylons attack them. I've diverted most of our fleet to assist General Jinam in protecting the planet. The rest are heading to other potential targets in the area."

Angel frowned at that. "But without the fleet, how can we stop them here at New Caprica? With their upgrades they've got more than enough firepower to fight the Aurora. The Koenig alone isn't enough backup."

"Where is the Koenig?"

"On a special assignment, Admiral," Julia answered immediately, and the look on her face made it clear to the others that she didn't want its location divulged over even an encrypted channel. Sector-wide communications were still mostly compromised, and only the advanced communications arrays on the Aurora allowed it this sort of real-time communication.

Considering the way he nodded in acknowledgement, Maran had clearly picked up on her concern. He left it for Morgan to continue speaking. "We have no further instructions for you at this time, Captain," said President Morgan. "You handle things as best as you can on your end and we'll do what we can here. But under no circumstances will the Alliance accept the Cylon terms as they are. Especially not this term of child abduction. Offer the Cylons alternative terms as you and Mastrash Ledosh see fit. We'll back up your judgement if you have to take any action."

"I hear you, sir," she said. She took in a short breath and steeled herself. Morgan was leaving the situation in her hands. He was showing immense trust in her.

A cynic might have noted that he was also ensuring hers was the primary responsibility should anything go wrong.

"Very good. Morgan out." The two men disappeared from the screen.

"So what's our goal here? Delay them?" asked Locarno.

"Yes," Julia said. "Delay them and wait for our opportunity to move. That's all we can do at this point." She looked to Jarod next. "When is the Koenig going to re-establish contact?"

"As soon as they launch the Gonzalez. Then they're going to move nearby so we can reach them by narrow-beam transmission."

"Good. As soon as they let us know they're in position, send them Maran's orders. Everyone, you're dismissed."

The others filed out of the room with the sole exception of Meridina. She waited until they were gone before saying, "I sense your unease."

Julia felt a brief spurt of irritation before chuckling. "I suppose this is what I get for asking a telepath to be my First Officer," she said.

"You have never voiced problems with my abilities before."

"No, and I'm still not. I'm just…" Julia rested her head on her hand. "I guess I've still got some adjustment period."

"As do I. And our situation is not the best for such adjustment."

"They want me and Ledosh to delay the Cylons. I just have to figure out how. They're not going to let us sit here and throw excuses at them. We'll need a real reason to keep them hooked without making it look too easy."

"They have to know that it would take time to locate Hera Agathon," Meridina said. "To expect her immediate arrival would be unrealistic. What we should be more concerned with is how to deal with the Cylon ships once the deflector systems on New Caprica are restored. We will need help."

"Or some way to even the odds." The options seemed limited. Despite all of the intel from the Colonials and the recovered Cylon remains from the failed boarding over Caprica, their knowledge of the Cylons was still limited. They didn't even have any of the computer coding that ran the Cylons…

Meridina noticed the sudden rush in Julia's thoughts even as she noticed the subtle change in her expression. She stood in conjunction with Julia. "Meridina, you have the bridge. Tell Jarod to meet me in Science Lab 1, on the double." She waited only long enough for Meridina to nod before heading off.

With the Koenig almost to the launch point, the final briefing to determine the strike team's goals was being held in the ship's conference room. Colonel Deering was joined by Lieutenant Pete Lindstrom, the senior Aurora security officer in charge of the squads sent to join the strike team. Wilma allowed Lindstrom to bring up the map of the New Caprica Colony and the site of its main defenses.

The emitter that operated the defensive shield to protect the colony was located almost directly in the center of the colony, which put it in the park area by the government complex. The control hardware was located directly in the Presidential Mansion for ease of access for the military personnel directly answering to President Baltar. "You know," said Jack O'Neill, "I can't imagine the idea of putting something like that in the White House."

"It actually makes some sense," Lucy pointed out. "Especially since this isn't just a single capital city but the only settlement. And it would be best to keep it close to the emitter."

"What about backups?" Sam asked.

"According to the records, they're in the bunker system," Wilma replied. "But the Cylons will likely be in control of any remaining entrance point."

"So instead we go for what's probably their HQ," Daniel pointed out. "That doesn't really sound that much easier."

"You'll be wearing these." Lindstrom held up an object, a small silver-sheened device. He tapped it with his finger and wavered out of sight. A second later he re-appeared. "The cloaking devices have a set amount of battery time, but if we keep the pace we should secure our targets before the batteries run out."

"Who is going where?" asked Buck.

"Technical Officer Reubens and Ensign Kripkt are cross-trained in engineering," Lindstrom noted, identifying a broad-shouldered woman and a gray-feathered Alakin male in his squads. "They can get the deflector up and running at the emitter, and tie in the reactor. That's Plan B, of course."

"We'll be better off if we can secure the actual controls," Wilma said. "Which means we need our best technical experts on the team going into the Presidential Mansion."

"That would be me and Major Carter," Lucy noted.

"Exactly. And to make things run smoothly, the rest of Major Carter's team will join her. As will Buck and I."

"And presumably Gina will be with Team B?" Lucy asked.

"Yes," Lindstrom said.

Gina acknowledged this with a nod.

"Any further questions?" Wilma asked.

There were none.

The long twilight continued to shine waning light on the Dale family home. Robert sat alone by a window and looked out upon the storm that remained, for the moment, on the horizon. But it seemed to have drawn closer, ever so closer. He wondered why. Was it because he was feeling doubts about staying in this place? Because his memories of the world as it actually was had surfaced so strongly?

"Strudel?" a wizened voice asked.

Robert turned his head to where Grandma Anna was standing, bearing a plate of chocolate-topped strudel pastries. He knew without asking that strawberry filling was inside of them. Memories of enjoying those treats as a child briefly crossed his mind. He took the offered plate and said, "Thank you". He took a bite. The taste brought a warm smile to his face. It was as good as he remembered.

"You looked like you needed it," Anna said. "You carry so much on your shoulders, mein kleiner."

"I brought it on myself," he answered. "I could have done things differently. Lived quietly. But I wanted to help people. To save people from suffering. And it led to… well, it led to big things. Bigger than anything I ever thought I could be part of."

Anna nodded and sat beside him in a nearby chair. "And I am proud of you, Robert. I am so proud. You have done many good things in your young life. I wish I could say the same."

Robert reached out and took her hand. "You raised me to recognize what evil was," he said to her. "Just as you raised Dad and Aunt Lilly."

"It was all I could do." There was shame in her eyes. "I was just another follower when I was young. A loyal maiden of the BDM. I never stopped to think about how wrong it all was. I lived with evil and did nothing."

"There was nothing you could have done, you were just one girl," Robert said.

Anna shook her head. "No. I could have resisted in small ways. There were girls who did. Sometimes they even got away with it. I could have done the same. But I wanted to show I was loyal. That I was a good German girl."

Regret came to Robert. In truth, Anna had died when he was still young, when he was still in elementary school, and too young to understand what she had experienced in the Second World War. His grandfather and parents had explained what had happened, her part in the Nazi Party's Bund Deutscher Mädel, or League of German Girls, the girl equivalent of the Hitler Youth. "I wish I was old enough to understand what you wanted to tell me," he said. "I'm sorry."

"Do not apologize for something that was out of your control," Anna chided him. "Reserve your shame and regret for the things that you could have done but did not. For lost chances in your life. I could have done more to oppose Nazi evil when it was right in front of me. I did not, and that is my shame."

The same emotion flared inside of him. "I'm doing the same thing now, aren't I?" Robert shook his head. "We're fighting them ourselves. We're in a war with Nazi Germany that I helped to start. And now I'm here instead of there."

"You have done your share," Anna said. She reached over and touched his shoulder. "More than I did. You have earned time with your family, mein kleiner."

Robert accepted the gesture quietly. Outside, the distant storm seemed to inch closer to them.

The morning sun shined over the long stretch of blacktop cutting across the open plain. Zack was riding shotgun with Anders and Thrace in the backseat, where command equipment jury-rigged into the vehicle kept him in contact with the rest of the convoy. The quiet tension that the journey had started with had given way to the anxious boredom of waiting, the "hurry up and wait" effect Zack had undesired experience with. He felt his eyes droop.

"Didn't you get enough sleep, Loverboy?" Thrace asked, a hint of teasing mockery in her voice. "Clara didn't ask for a tumble when she got in, did she?"

"No," Zack answered. "She was too tired. We just cuddled and went to sleep. Since we're inquiring, what about you? Manage any sleep, Starbuck?"

"Slept like a baby," she said. Zack knew she wasn't being truthful even before the amused snort from Anders.

"Are we going to try and rescue Baltar, if we get the chance?" Zack asked.

"Frack him," was the immediate reply from Anders. "We wouldn't be going through this if he hadn't decided to settle us here."

"Fair enough. It does make Zarek President though, doesn't it?"

"Well, you win some, you lose some," Thrace muttered.

Quiet filled the vehicle again. Zack allowed his thoughts to wander. His eyes felt heavy and they started to droop closed again.

A tone from the makeshift console beside him put a stop to that. Zack's hand went over to the control. The sensors were showing incoming contacts. "Looks like the Cylons want a go at us now," he said. "I've got fighters and heavy raiders on sensors. I'm alerting the convoy."

As best as they could, everyone looked upward to see if they could spot the approaching enemy. The defense guns of the convoy swung into position to deal with any strafing attacks. Zack watched the approaching dots on the screen as they drew closer.



"They're almost… wait." Zack watched the display and felt his gut twist. "They're… they're not on an attack run. Not against us. I'm... " The color went out of his face. "Oh God, they're going for the refuge! They're going for the mines!"

In that second Anders had to make a choice. It was one Zack was glad he didn't have to make, the kind of choice any commander dreaded. Should he continue the operation and trust to the defenses back in the refuge? Or should he abort to ensure they didn't lose their base? Either way, people would likely die from his decision.

Zack knew the decision was made the moment the vehicle swerved to the left. "Abort!" Anders shouted into his microphone. "We're aborting! Return to the refuge immediately!"

Tigh and Zarek arrived at the makeshift command room together. "Is the shield up?" was the first thing Tigh asked.

One of Anders' volunteer militia looked up from the makeshift hardlight console that had been placed on one of the desks in the converted office. The display of the console showed a blue circle surrounding the mine facilities. Outside of the perimeter larger red dots were surrounded by a growing number of smaller ones. "We should evacuate everyone into the mine," Zarek said.

"So they can kill everyone easier?" Tigh shot back. "No, we hold out until Anders gets back."

"And if he decides to keep going?"

"Then we still hold out, Godsdammit," Tigh thundered. "But if you stuff everyone into the mine and let them take the entrance, all they have to do is shut down the ventilators and seal the entrance, or pump in poison gas. Hell, they could send a nuke down. But the end is the same; everyone dies."

"How is that any better than staying on the surface? We don't have the armed manpower to hold out that many Cylons if they get through the shield!" Zarek shouted. "If they get in, our people are going to get gunned down!"

For a moment Tigh nearly disagreed, but he stopped at the last moment. He had to admit that, yes, Zarek was right about that. They needed to get the non-combatants into the mine at least, and hope Anders got back before they were overwhelmed. "Alright," he conceded. His head turned toward another of the remaining militia members. "Sound the evacuation. I want all unarmed civilians in the mines."

Clara was making rounds in the improvised hospital ward when the sirens began screaming. A surge of fear rushed up inside of her, instinctive and terrible in its strength. Her legs seemed to lock into place.

Cottle's voice broke the spell. "We're evacuating," he announced. "I need the patients secured immediately."

Clara's training kicked in. The doctor on duty had given her orders concerning the patients. She needed to act immediately, to fulfill those instructions to ensure the needs of her patients. She immediately went to the worst case, a patient with a broken spine from being thrown by an explosion, and started to secure him to the bed.

She was in the middle of buckling one strap when she heard the whimper. Clara looked up to see Cally was frozen in place a few beds down. Her face was turning ghostly white much as Clara's had done just seconds before. "Cally!" she called out.

"When will it stop?" she whimpered. "I just want it all to end."

Clara grabbed the next set of straps and buckled them into place. As she worked she continued speaking. "I don't know. Right now we have to get these people out of here. Cally, I really need your help."

But Cally hadn't moved.

First things first. Clara grabbed the last strap and buckled it into place. She checked her handiwork with the straps and went straight for Cally afterward. Frustration and terror were in control of her expression. "Cally."

"They're going to kill us all," Cally insisted. "They're not going to stop until they kill us all!"

"Cally, I'm scared too," Clara said. "But these people need us. Please help me get them out!"

Cally visibly, and audibly, stifled a sob. Clara took her by the shoulders and embraced her. She looked over to see Cottle looking at them. The grizzled old doctor understood what was going on and said nothing for the moment. He had other matters to concentrate on.

After a minute, Cally pulled away. "I'm okay," she said. It was a lie. Both knew it. But it would stand for the moment while they worked to get the patients out.

And so they went to work, helping Cottle to get the wounded and sick out of the ward.

The mining complex hadn't been built as a potential military base. It lacked the sort of facilities that a commander could use to easily observe the defensive perimeter. Only the makeshift command room built from the offices provided something like that. Right now said room allowed Tigh and Zarek to observe feeds of the Cylons lining up outside of the shields. The centurion-model attack drones were intimidating with their size and mounted weaponry.

"Wait." Zarek looked to one feed and pointed at it. "What's that?"

Tigh turned his attention to said feed, showing a number of Cylons, including some of the "skinjob" Cylons, working on a device held on a collapsible table. "Zoom in on that thing," he ordered one of the operators.

The image zoomed in on the gray, cone-shaped object. Tigh felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. It was clearly a warhead of some kind. The cone tip looked like a projector. But what was it?

On the feed the device was set on its side. While moving the warhead the Cylons rolled it enough to expose one side marked with an emblem.

Zarek's eyes widened. "Wait, isn't that?"

"Oh hell," Tigh breathed, putting two and two together as soon as he recognized the emblem, one that he had only seen a few times before, known to its makers as the Hakenkreuz… and to the Multiverse at large as the swastika insignia of the Nazi Party.

Far above their heads, in the void of space outside the planet's atmosphere, the Starship Koenig finished moving into position under the cover of her cloaking device. They weren't far at all from one of the Cylon Basestars, this one maintaining a geosynchronous orbit over the New Caprica Colony that made it seem like a doom threatening that settlement.

The ship's shuttle bay door slid open and the Gonzalez dropped out into orbit. The assault runabout's own cloaking field obscured it from sight as well, protecting it from detection as it descended into the atmosphere at a velocity that would let its cloaking field hide the effects of atmospheric entry.

In the runabout's control cockpit, a piloting Technical Officer sat beside Lucy at the main controls. The young Gersallian, Getamanan, tapped a couple of keys. "Atmospheric entry friction is building. We're still within the cloaking device's threshold."

"Right." Lucy maintained her angle of descent to keep that margin. "Anything on sensors?"

"Life signs underneath the colony proper, and more concentrated at the nearest mountain range. Maps show it as an active mining complex… wait." The young man examined his readings. "I'm picking up multiple Cylon energy signatures in that area. I… I think they're attacking that mining complex."

Lucy nodded. And knew immediately she had a choice to make. Did they land and help the civilians fight off the attack? Or move on to the colony proper to complete their mission? "What's their status?"

"It looks like they do have a defensive shield up."

"Right. They can take care of…" Lucy glanced toward the same sensor return and stopped. Most of the power signature data showed what she would expect for Cylon units. But one… "What the hell?"


"Don't you recognize that signature, Officer Getamanan?"

Getamanan looked it over and shook his head. "I am… not familiar with it."

"I've seen that wavelength before," she said. "It matches the active field of a Reich shield-disrupting torpedo." Lucy reached to her intercom key. "Colonel Deering, Colonel O'Neill?"

Moments later both were stepping out into the cockpit from the rear area. Unsurprisingly, Buck was behind them, not about to be left out of the conversation. "What is it, Lieutenant?" Wilma asked.

"The Cylons are about to attack a civilian target," she said. "There are thousands of people crammed into that mining complex."

"We'll lose the element of surprise if we divert," Wilma pointed out. She looked to Jack.

Lucy felt the conflict within him. He didn't want to abandon people who needed help, just as she didn't. But she could feel he was making the same calculation Wilma had. If the Cylons detected them now, without giving them a chance to bring the Colony's deflectors back up, they could - likely would - wipe out the people still in the Colony proper. "She's right," Jack said. "Proceed to our LZ, Lieutenant."

It wasn't what Lucy wanted to hear. "We're going to leave them to die," she said.

"And we're not giving ourselves away and causing even more deaths when the Cylons destroy the main colony," Wilma said.

Lucy sensed Gina was further in the back. She couldn't look away from her instruments to look her eye-to-eye, but she felt the same disapproval in Gina she felt herself. Quietly Lucy drew in a breath and concentrated, not on her flying, but on her senses, to see if her desire to help was the right course, or if Wilma and Jack were right.

She had an immediate sense of death. The problem was she couldn't narrow it down to either choice. All she could tell was that people were going to die no matter what she did. Whether she obeyed or defied their orders. She didn't know which would be worse. It made her wish Robert or Meridina were around. Robert's power seemed more in tune with sensing outcomes, and Meridina had the experience.

But they're not here. You are, Lucilla. You passed those Trials. You proved yourself. Whether the voice in her head was her own mind, thinking to herself, or the Flow of Life itself, Lucy wasn't sure. She couldn't be in these cases with the use of her power. But she knew it was right. She had to make her decision on her own, based on her feelings.

So she made her choice, and breathed a prayer that it was the right one.

"What did you say it was?" Zarek asked.

"I can't be sure what the frack it is!" Tigh shouted. "But it's a Reich weapon, and those murdering bastards have shield-disrupting torpedoes. If they fire that thing, it might just bring our shield down." Tigh tapped the multi-device on his lower left arm. "This is Colonel Tigh. The Cylons could be coming through any moment. Standby for combat. I repeat, standby for…"

On the monitor showing the Cylon weapon, the warhead suddenly lit up with light and energy. A thick, silver beam of energy shot forward from the cone and slammed into the energy field protecting the mining complex. The blue light of the shield dome flickered and crackled at the point of the silver beam's impact.

"The shield generator is burning out!" a voice cried out. "It's going to fail any…"

Tigh watched the shield fall. The Cylons rushed in, with numbers and enough heavy firepower that he knew how this would go. All he could manage was a defiant "Frak".

Julia was counting away the remaining hours until she was due to meet with the Cylon First again. She forced herself to remain in her command chair, just in case her desire to pace made people nervous. Even her friends would feel better if they saw her as confident and certain, although she was anything but.

It was clear that Meridina knew she felt that way, and felt like it herself. When she spoke, however, it was not to reassure, but to react to something on the display screen to her side. "The Koenig is in position to receive narrow-beam transmissions," she said.

"Tell them to hold tight," she replied. Julia tapped the intercom button on her chair. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. Jarod, any progress?"


"Will it be ready before the Cylons come back?"

"Unlikely. Sorry, Captain, but this is taking time."

"Do what you can, then. Bridge out."

With that done the waiting game was due to resume. Meridina gave Julia a worried look without saying anything. Julia had nothing to say either. There was nothing to say, or do, until the Cylons came back. And then all they could do was hope they could buy time.

The sounds of weapons fire and explosions reached the medical ward. It did nothing to help the tension there as a number of the patients still had to be evacuated. Cally gave Clara a frightened look. Clara felt just as scared as she knew Cally to be. She thought of what Zack had said about always being scared and having to work through that because people were counting on him. In much the same way, people were counting on her. Her patients were counting on her.

The current patient she was working on moving was an older woman with a broken leg. Clara felt nothing but sympathy for her patient at the pain visible on her round face. The same brace that held the woman's injured leg in place to heal was now subjecting it to undesired movement due to the rapid movement of the stretcher. "I know it hurts," she said, "but we've got to get you out of here. Just hang in there."

The woman nodded.

Clara pushed the stretcher to the door. Outside, the warm sunny sky looked inviting, but the shouts of battle and the crowds of civilians running for the nearest mine shaft entrance made a mockery of said sky. An orderly Cottle had drafted from the civilians took charge of the stretcher. "Please be careful with her," Clara urged, although given the look on his face Clara was fairly certain the man was more concerned with getting into the mine himself. She wondered if he'd come back for another patient.

But she had no time to worry about that. Clara rushed back in to get another patient.

Tigh and Zarek didn't stay in the command room. There was no point. As much as Tigh was hoping to hold out, the moment the Cylons started pouring in he knew that wasn't happening. They could try to hold a thin perimeter around the mine entrances, but it would be shaky, and it would probably fail.

Instead of staying in a place where the entrances were few and the Cylons could easily trap them, the two had moved to an area beside the mine entrance. The stream of people heading into the maw on the mountainside wasn't letting up. It was everything that Zarek's people could do to keep the flow from becoming a deadly stampede. Tigh took up a position beside an excavator and hid behind its dormant scoop. The Alliance-built pulse pistol in his hand gave him some hope of fighting a Cylon. Better than standard bullets, anyway.

The Cylon centurions came around the mine store first, toward the southern flank of the mine entrance. A Colonial militia squad retreating from the store was caught out in the open as the Cylons came on. "Fire!" Tigh shouted to the others, and there was a hail of gunfire in response to his order.

But it wasn't enough. Sure, the Cylon front ranks took damage. Some even went down. But within ten seconds all four of the militia were gunned down by the approaching Cylon forces. Their fire shifted. Tigh had to pull back behind the excavator blade to avoid getting hit. When he had a moment he slid out of cover slightly and took another series of shots. His pulse shots weren't the most accurate, but at least two hit a Cylon centurion and blew away metal and material from its chest. It dropped down to a knee and fell over, the red light on its head going dark.

Tigh glanced over to where Zarek was behind the main body of the excavator, using it as cover. The look that passed between the two men said it all; if they didn't get help soon, everyone at the mining complex was dead.

The quiet that had settled over the Dale house gave it an unnatural tension that Robert found palpably uncomfortable. It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a happy home. The home he had experienced these past months - was it months? - was never supposed to be like this.

A glance out the window showed that the menacing storm clouds were now starting to obscure the setting sun. The winds had picked up. Robert felt the impulse to call for everyone to descend into the tornado shelter just from the look of things. That impulse was overcome by his inability to turn away at the moment. He felt a pull to the storm that kept his eyes fixed on it.

"Am I doing the right thing?" he asked himself, mumbling the words aloud. "What is the right thing?"

He noticed a shadow drawing up, created by the light of the dining room lights. When he turned his head he was facing his father. Michael Dale's brown eyes met Robert's. "You look lost, Rob," he said softly.

"I'm trying to do the right thing. Always the right thing," Robert said. "I just don't know what it is. I owe you and Mom, everyone, but there are things I'm responsible for. Things I think I should be doing."

Michael nodded in acknowledgement. "I know what that's like. I had to make the same decision before you were born."

"About whether to stay in the service or come home." Robert nodded in recollection. He'd heard the story growing up. His father, had he stayed in the Navy, could have risen to the top. But he'd given that up to come home to the family farm. The officer had lost to the farmer, or more to the point, the loyal son.

"It's why I never resented your choice," Michael said. "I was disappointed when you turned down Annapolis. But I could see why you made the choice, and I understood it."

"I have to make that choice again, don't I?" Robert asked.

"That's the way it looks, son." Michael's hand came up and settled on Robert's shoulder. "However we've come back together here, you need to know I'm proud of you. We're all proud of you. You've done great things with your life. And if you want to settle down and be with your family, that's fine. You've earned it."

"Have I?" Robert asked, his voice a quiet murmur. "I've left things half-done, it feels like. The war I helped to start. The things Meridina has shown me. The dreams of what might come."

Michael said nothing. It was Robert who turned and watched Little Robby playing with his toys beside Grandma Anna and Leigh. Julia and Susannah looked on in with quiet smiles at the happy little boy who seemed completely oblivious to the terrible storm looking out of the windows.

"How can I leave him?" Robert asked. "How could I leave any of you? If I leave here, you're all gone again. Forever. He'll be gone." He swallowed. "Once and awhile I thought about having children. One day, I mean. But I never knew it'd be like this."

"I know the feeling," said Michael. He put an arm around Robert's neck. "And you don't want to do anything to hurt him."


"It's not easy. Balancing family and duty. But I know you can."

The conversation ended at that note. Michael quietly walked over to the couch where he snatched up one of Little Robby's toys and shook it in the air, prompting a peal of laughter from the child. The sight brought a small smile to Robert's face. He looked back to the window and the storm outside.

It seemed incredulous that this could happen. That he was locked into some kind of dreamworld, with a family that was completely alive yet seemed to know what was truly happening. A part of him knew that the "Doctor" was right, that he couldn't stay here. That this place wasn't real. He had friends back in the real world who needed him. He had responsibilities.

Yet again his eyes ventured over to the living room, where his little boy was playing happily with his family. It was astonishing that he had never before wanted to be a father given how much love he felt for Little Robby. He was everything Robert could ever want in a child. More than anything, it was Robby's tears that had kept him from leaving.

As he thought of that, Robert considered again this place he was in. It could almost be Heaven itself, it seemed. But what was it? How had he ended up here? What was the purpose of this? Who could he ask to get answers? Who would know?

After a few moments, realization showed on Robert's face. He turned away from the window, away from the family, and to the person he knew would have the answers.

Allen Dale smiled at him and nodded. "Well, Rob, it looks like you're ready to talk," he said.

The Gonzalez swept over the abandoned streets of the New Caprica Colony. Their destination loomed ahead: the Presidential Mansion and the Government Buildings, and the park adjoining them.

The sensor feed showed the occupants in the back the sight of the empty streets. The blackened remains of bombed out cars were joined by vehicles that were still, surprisingly, completely intact. But this wasn't on the mind of Jack O'Neill when he asked, "So where are the robots anyway? I was expecting the streets to be filled with killer robots."

"They're probably part of the attack on that mining complex," Lucy pointed out. Her eyes narrowed toward Wilma Deering.

Wilma met Lucy's eyes without a sign of regret. It was something of a cover. Lucy could sense that Wilma was worried she'd condemned those refugees at the mine to die. But she'd made the call and she was going to live with it.

But there was another feeling Lucy had. A presence that stood out in the Flow of Life. She looked to Gina who, like her, was sensing it, and was frowning. When Gina looked back toward Lucy, she shook her head, and Lucy could tell this meant she wasn't sure what it was, but that she felt it. "Change of plans," Lucy said. "Gina's coming with Team A."

Wilma and Lindstrom gave her uncomfortable looks. Lucy met the looks with a firm expression. She understood their concern, so she said, "I don't know how, but they've got someone trained in the Gersallian arts with them. Or something like that. Whoever it is, they're at the Mansion, and one of us will have to deal with that threat, so it's best if we're both there."

Buck nodded to Wilma. "I've seen Meridina and Lucero fight. If they've got someone like that, well, all bets are off."

"Alright. Change accepted," was her answer.

A solid thud filled the runabout. The rear door opened to a grassy park field, not far from a baseball diamond and bleachers. The Aurora security teams activated their personal cloaks and stepped out of the rear hatch.

Lucy pulled on the blue Gersallian robe to match the armor she was already wearing, with its primary purple-colored plates. Next she pulled down to her eyes the visor would give her the ability to see the others while they were cloaked. One last check ensured her tool belt was in place and her lightsaber clipped to it. A tap to her omnitool brought the cloak online and she stepped out with Teal'c and Daniel. They quickly got onto one of the sidewalk paths that would lead them to the Presidential Mansion.

A night's sleep had not been kind to Baltar. The Cylons had refused him the chance to at least rest in his own bed, presuming he could, forcing him to instead lay on the couch in his office. The more he thought of it, the more he was certain he wouldn't have fallen asleep anyway. But it would have been nice to have the chance.

The second day of this nightmare was turning out much like the first. The Cylons brought him a cold, unappetizing soup from the kitchens. The only reason he could stomach it was because his stomach needed something in it to digest, and it was therefore willing to take what was offered.

Despite his fatigue, Baltar had the energy to finally demand, "When do I get to speak with the Alliance?"

"Soon enough," a D'anna Biers look-alike claimed.

He grumbled in silence at that.

The third Cylon, the one who had killed his bodyguard, sat up straight. The others noticed this movement and clear worry showed on their faces. "What is it?" asked the D'anna look-alike.

"The Alliance is here," she said. "They are launching an attack."

The other two Cylons waited a moment before one nodded. "Alert the fleet."

The third Cylon didn't join them. She went for the door.

The situation at the mining complex was collapsing. The radio tied into Tigh's multidevice crackled with cries for help from the handful of militia trying to hold the Cylons away from the entrance. His own position at the excavator was on the verge of falling. The Cylons, despite some losses, still had the number advantage and were pressing it.

"We're out of time, Colonel!" Zarek insisted. "We need to pull back!"

Tigh's reply glare was an acknowledgement that the former terrorist was right. They did need to fall back. But there was nowhere to fall back to. Once they were shut in the mine, the Cylons would have them completely at their non-existent mercy.

"Godsdammit," Tigh muttered. He tapped the comm key on the device. "Fall back, I repeat, fall back!" While affirmatives were given to that, he moved from cover with his pistol raised and fired off another sequence of shots. A Cylon centurion went down with half of its eye visor missing.

The next Cylon had prior battle damage, a shot that had taken out its gun. But it still had its lethal strength and a hand that could rip into living flesh with ease. Tigh shot it in the shoulder. It produced a sparking hole but nothing more. The Cylon's hand lashed out at Tigh's head. he leaned backward to avoid the attack. But the blow still struck. Pain filled his face. Blood and darkness covered his sight while an involuntary cry of pain and surprise roared from within him. Tigh dropped to the ground utterly blinded by the attack.

There was a weapon shot and the sound of sparks followed by some metallic clanging and a thud. An arm slipped under Tigh's shoulder and brought him back to his feet. "Come on!" he heard Zarek say with terrible urgency.

They were almost done. The last patient remained, and he must have been one of the oldest of the Refugee Fleet to still be around, Clara imagined. He was suffering from a host of maladies that included a smashed left hip that precluded any chance of the man walking. He shooed at them. "Get out of here, ladies," he insisted. "Leave me behind."

"It's not happening, sir," Clara insisted. She looked toward Cally. With the shouts and gunfire at its loudest, it was clear they had minutes, if that, before the Cylons got to the ward. And Cally was clearly about to freeze up again. "Cally, on my side."

Having an order did what Clara hoped it would do. Cally had something to focus on, something to do. She took hold of the side of the bed and began pushing. Clara did the same, which allowed them to maneuver the bed and move it toward the door. Cottle didn't meet them at the door. Tigh had already ordered him to move into the mines to protect him. Indeed, nobody was at the door. The last orderly hadn't returned. Cally and Clara would have to push their patient to safety.

It was not an easy task. The fighting was raging around them. The medical ward for the complex was one of the closer structures to the mine, for obvious reasons, but the Cylons were advancing alongside of it now. Their weapons thundered in the air. The response was a mixture of the ineffectual, with bullets that bounced off the Cylons' metal skin, and the devastating, specifically the energy weapon fire that melted and blasted the Cylons.

"We're not going to make it," whimpered Cally.

"Yes we are. Keep pushing!"

The effort was making Clara's arms and legs burn from exertion. Exhaustion was a real threat. But she didn't let herself stop. She couldn't. And she wouldn't let herself look back at the Cylons drawing steadily closer.

Dirt suddenly sprayed up beside them. Sparks flew from the bullets hitting the stretcher frame, tearing the metal apart so that the entire thing collapsed. A spray of blood rose from the leg of the old man, who let out a cry of pain. The collapse of the stretcher sent him tumbling to the ground.

Not missing a beat, Clara went to him and helped him up. "Cally, his leg! Hold it up!"

To her credit, Cally obeyed instantly. Behind them a phaser beam from one of the militia rifles speared the Cylon that had opened fire, destroying it.

The old man cried out again from the pain of his savaged leg, with the shattered hip undoubtedly making things worse. Clara almost shouted encouragement to him. The need for every bit of air her lungs could bring in kept her from doing so.

A Colonial armed with a Systems Alliance Avenger assault rifle met them at the perimeter line. The weapon's mass effect field filled the air behind them with deadly metal that tore through any Cylon it struck. The dark-haired woman kept the fire up until they were safely behind the line. They set the old man down behind some cover. Cally immediately grabbed at the first aid pouch Clara had insisted she carry and brought out the materials to treat the old man's wound.

Clara was a second from joining when she heard a scream of pain. She turned back to see the woman who had helped them falling to the ground. Without a moment's consideration she dashed to her. Her body's tired muscles protested the action with pain, but they failed to dissuade her, and the Cylons certainly didn't.

The coated Colonial woman was still alive. The Cylon shooting at her had aimed too low to hit anything immediately vital. But several rounds had gone through her belly and torn up her guts and possibly her spine. Clara knew that the wounds would be fatal and painful if medical attention wasn't immediate. She pulled the woman's coat tightly over the wounds and slipped the buttons into place to secure the wounds from the jostling that would be necessary. With a series of increasing groans of effort Clara picked the Colonial woman up into a fireman's carry. She started her return to safety by running as quickly as she could with her burden. Her eyes were entirely focused on the same broad ore truck that Cally was using to shield their elderly patient from the Cylons' attacks. A cry of warning came from ahead of her.

The Cylon behind her opened fire a moment later.

Jack and Buck entered the foyer of the Presidential Mansion first, their respective pulse rifle and laser pistol raised and ready. Gina and Daniel were behind them, then Lucy and Sam. Wilma and Teal'c took up the rear.

The foyer was empty of life. It had the same appearance as the colony itself, looking abandoned by those who normally lived and worked here. The finely-crafted half-circle desk where the information and security personnel waited for visitors still had active workstations, showing how quickly their minders had fled when the Cylons attacked.

"The stairway to the subbasement should be this way," Daniel said, consulting the Alliance-issue omnitool that SG-1 had been provided for this mission.

He took a step, but the resulting sound came from the second level of the foyer. Someone was walking along the polished tile quite loudly, without seeming to worry about giving themselves away. Distant mechanical whirring joined those loud footsteps after a time.

Cylon Centurions stepped into the openings leading out of the foyer. But after brief glances toward them, it was the figure in the hooded jacket that drew everyone's attention. She stepped up to the railing behind the main desk and looked down toward them, as if she could see them.

Lucy swallowed. She felt the woman's presence. She felt the cold dark and the way it chilled the Flow of Life. This was a being given over to darkness, just as Goras had been.

The figure made a sudden leap that brought her to land on the main desk. Stacks of papers scattered from the impact point. The act had the effect of causing her hood to fall off her head to settle behind her neck, revealing her head and face. The eyes of everyone present widened in surprise.

The Cylon woman's skin was a light brown tone. Cold blue eyes looked over them on a face that they all found immediately familiar, topped with a head of dark, curly hair.

"Well." Jack glanced toward Lucy. "An evil twin? Really?"

For the moment Lucy couldn't react. Not only was she shocked by the appearance of her doppelganger, she found herself sickened by an immense sensation of violation. "They took my blood," she murmured. "On Djamar Station. They… they made her… from me."

Her Cylon doppelganger's arm stretched out. A multitude of crunching sounds directed their attentions toward their belts, and to the sight of their personal cloaking devices being crushed until they stopped functioning. The eight of them wavered into normal sight.

"Well, so much for the element of surprise," Buck muttered, leveling his gun toward the doppelganger.

Gina gave Lucy a worried look. "Take the others," Lucy said. "Get to the control room. They'll need your help." Lucy reached to her belt and pulled her weapon. Her counterpart clearly had training as well, but odds were that, at best, she had a lakesh. And Lucy knew from personal experience that the lightsaber had an advantage over that weapon. She brought her blade into a ready position and activated it. An electronic snapping sound was followed by a lingering hiss as the blue energy blade of her weapon extended to its full size.

Her Cylon counterpart actually grinned at that. Immediately Lucy realized she had misread the situation, but she had never imagined the extent of it until she saw the Cylon pull an object off the belt under her jacket.

Another snap and hiss filled the air as an energy blade, blood-red in its color, surged from the weapon in the Cylon-Lucy's hand.

Lucy's jaw hung open in shock.

"Kill them," she heard her own voice speak, coming from the Cylon-Lucy. "Kill them all."

And then her counterpart lunged forward. Lucy brought her weapon up and met the blow, causing their lightsaber blades to clash with a loud, electronic crackle.

There was no escaping the tension in the Aurora conference room when the Cylons returned. Ledosh led off by stating the Alliance was willing to consider both a return of prisoners and firm borders between Cylon and Alliance expansion zones, but that the Cylons would have to agree to an exclusion zone between those borders where neither side could settle or send starships.

The two female models and the one "new" male one said nothing. Cavil did the talking, and he did it with a slight scowl. "And what of the child? The child must be returned to us. Now."

"You must realize that we cannot compel the Agathons to give up their child," said Ledosh. "Not under our law. We are opening a dialogue with them to see if they can be persuaded…"

"And what you must realize is that our ships do not leave until the child is delivered," Cavil said. "That child represents the future of our civilization."

"How?" Julia asked. "Why are you ready to start a war over the Agathons' baby?"

"That is not your business," said the Gina-model.

"So you honestly expect us to take the child from her parents? Do you think we're that monstrous?"

"We know Humans are," the D'anna-model said. "We've experienced enough with your kind to know what you're capable of. And we're only asking you to take the child, not to kill her parents."

"Your judgement of Humans seems overly harsh," Ledosh observed. "While I too have seen Humans behave monstrously, I have also seen them behave with great courage and nobility. Judging an entire species for the misbehavior of a few…"

"We did not come to indulge in philosophical prattling, Gersallian," Cavil barked, and with real venom in his voice. "You are clearly stalling. Perhaps you…"

When he stopped speaking, Julia wondered just what was going on. She also kept glancing toward the quiet Cylon, the other male, who continued to look over them with his light green eyes. He seemed strangely detached from the entire argument. A small, haughty smile came to his lips, as if her interest in him was an amusement.

"Of course." Cavil's voice dripped with contempt. "You never planned to negotiate in good faith, did you? You came here to stall for time while your strike team attacked our forces in the colony."

Julia dared nothing beyond breathing. She forced her face to remain completely neutral at the charge.


"Don't bother with denials!" snarled Cavil, cutting off Ledosh before he could even start the second word. "We were hoping for better from you, but we expected this behavior from your kind."

"Captain." The voice was Locarno's. "The Cylon ships are locking weapons on the planet and on us."

"Wait, don't," Julia pleaded. "We can still work this out."

"You defied us," Cavil said, "and for that, the people of New Caprica have to die."
”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 »

Cavil's pronouncement sent Julia's mind racing. The odds were completely against them. But maybe if Jarod was ready, maybe they could stand a chance…

She decide to buy for time by going on the verbal offensive. "Like you were ever going to spare them. You were always going to kill the people from the Colonies," Julia charged.

"We had considered sparing them, if they posed no further threat to us," Cavil answered. "But it is clear they do through their connection to you."

"Bloodshed will not get you what you seek," Meridina said to Cavil. "It will only encourage our people to fight yours to the final end. Do you intend to sacrifice the future of the Cylon people due to your need to kill the Humans of the Colonies?"

"If you will not bargain in good faith, we have no choice."

At that Julia laughed harshly. "Really, you call this bargaining in good faith? That would mean coming to us openly and diplomatically, not attacking our ships and holding people hostage to force us to meet your demands. This was never a good faith negotiation."

The four Cylons' expressions went completely blank. A moment later Locarno's voice came back over the comm system. "Captain, a ship just jumped in. It's the Pegasus. They're hailing us and the Cylon ships."

Julia let out a breath. The odds were still really bad, but maybe with Lee Adama's ship helping they could buy enough time… "Put him on down here."

The main holo-display changed from the starmap to show the image of Admiral Adama standing beside his son Lee. They were in the center of the Pegasus CIC. "Attention Cylon ships," Adama said. "I'm here to open talks."

"You are irrelevant, Adama," Cavil said. "And more to the point, we're done talking. Your people die now."

"You're going to do that when you don't have what you want yet? Knowing that you'll never get your future back if you go through with wiping us out?"

Julia and Meridina exchanged small glances. They clearly wondered what Adama was playing at.

"What do you know about it?" Cavil asked, or rather challenged.

Adama stepped a little to his right, giving more room to the right side of the screen. They watched with some surprise as the Agathons stepped onto the screen. Helo had his hand on Sharon's shoulder. The Cylon woman was, in turn, holding their daughter Hera close to her chest. "The killing has to end," Sharon said to them. "We have to find peace with the Humans, or we're going to be wiped out."

"Traitor," the D'anna model hissed.

Cavil motioned angrily at her to be quiet. "Then you'll cooperate?" he asked.

"Give me the guarantee of the Consensus that Helo can stay with us without being harmed. He is Hera's father and he will remain part of her life."

"Come with the child and we will allow him to join you, without any threat," Cavil said. His voice sounded sincere, but only superficially. Meridina in particular sensed the intent behind the words. The promise was one that Cavil had no intention of honoring if he didn't absolutely have to.

On the screen Sharon and Helo looked at each other for several moments. Both looked to the screen again. "Then we'll come over," Helo said. "I'll pilot a shuttle into your Basestar."

"You'll pilot it to the Aurora," the Gina-model said. "When we're satisfied this isn't a trick, we'll take you to our ship."

They seemed to think it over. Finally Sharon spoke up. "Accepted. We'll be over in an hour."

"You'll be over in half an hour or nothing," Cavil retorted. "We're not letting you take the time to play a trick on us."

By now Adama was back on the screen. "Very well. Half an hour. Adama out." They disappeared from the viewscreen.

"We will await his arrival in our shuttle," Cavil informed Julia. "We have nothing more to discuss at this time."

"Very well." Ledosh nodded. 'I will be waiting for your signal to resume."

Meridina nodded and the security officers at the door opened it themselves. They delivered the news to Lieutenant Richmond, who spoke on the ship intercom. "Cylon party en route back to the main shuttle bay. All unauthorized personnel are to withdraw from the following sections…"

While Richmond did her job, Julia glanced toward Meridina. "What do you think?"

"Admiral Adama has discovered something of import about our enemy. Specifically, they place great stock in recovering the child." Meridina frowned. "But once they have her, they will attack. I am certain of this."

"Well, hopefully Jarod will be ready for that." Julia also wondered if the strike team was doing well. They'd been detected, but that didn't mean they'd lost…

The moment the Cylon-Lucy's red lightsaber blade crashed against Lucy's own blue one, a battle erupted around them. Jack O'Neill fired first with a barrage of pulse shots that took down one of the Cylons. A moment later Buck and Wilma fired on the other flank. Unseen energy from their laser pistols burned through the metal skin of a pair of Cylon centurions and destroyed the internals that made it function.

Teal'c's staff shot up. The tip shifted and pulled back into four parts, exposing the end blaster that put a bolt of red energy into another Cylon.

That they weren't mowed down was due to Gina. She reached out through her life-force to throw the aim of the enemy Cylon centurions high, causing their first barrage to miss completely. "Run!" she shouted.

Samantha, guided by the map showing on her omnitool, used her rifle to blow away the two Cylon centurions barring their way to the subbasement. "This way!" Sam cried.

Jack fired another barrage toward the northern entrance corridor that hit another centurion. "Daniel, you're on point, Teal'c, help Ms. Inviere watch our backs."

Daniel took the lead with Sam behind him. Buck and Wilma followed, fire from the Cylons narrowly missing, with Jack behind them. Teal'c shot up another Cylon before going through. The fire meant for him was deflected by the steady blade work of Gina, who was in the rear.

During this short firefight the duel between Lucy and her Cylon copy continued. Lucy felt herself evenly matched by her opponent. They were feeling one another's strikes coming, allowing neither to take a quick advantage. Blue and red light filled Lucy's vision as each attempted strike was parried, each attack deflected, in blurring red and blue. Further crackling and humming accompanied each meeting of their blades.

Learning to fight with her creation had been a challenge Lucy had already met. The idea of fighting someone using her weapon, and not as a practice duel but as a deadly serious combat, was something she hadn't contemplated yet. Let's hope I'm a fast learner then was her thought on that, after which their blades clashed again.

One thing was certainly clear. Her doppelganger was fully trained in the arts of swevyra. Her skill demanded every bit of attention Lucy had. With her life on the line, Lucy obliged.

Strong winds were beginning to buffet the Dale house. The lights flickered slightly, but none of the family paid them any heed.

Robert kept his eyes on his grandfather. Or whatever it was that was appearing as his grandfather. "What are you?" he asked.

"I'm your Grandpa," was the answer.

"No." Robert shook his head. "You're not. My Grandpa Allen died when I was still in middle school. What you are... I don't know. You're something tied to this place."

"Oh? What makes you say that, Rob?"

"Because this place is based on my memories… my dreams." Robert cast a glance to the family gathered in the living room. "Everything is built around how I view the world and what I want." He looked back to the image of his grandfather. "And as much as I love… loved… my father, I've always seen my Grandpa Allen as the source of wisdom and knowledge. He was the one I went to if I had questions when I was a child. So if this world is based on how I perceive the world, that means you should be that source. Which means you know what this place is."

There was no immediate reaction from the old man. Slowly a small smile crept across his face. "Well, Rob, that's pretty smart. But what you've left out is that I am still your Grandpa. Just as you remember him."

"What is this place? What's going on?" Robert asked.

"Well, the answer is… I'm not sure it's something even I understand, and as you said, I'm supposed to know everything in here." Allen glanced out the window. "You've been studying that life force stuff from the Gersallians, right? Their teaching about a 'Flow of Life' that connects all living things?"

Robert nodded. "Yeah. I've even sensed it, a little at least."

"So you have. Well…" Allen leveled a searching look at him. "Have you ever stopped to wonder if they were a bit wrong about it?"

"Wrong in what way?

"That the Flow of Life itself isn't alive."

Robert blinked at that. He let the idea work into his mind. "So you're saying it is? That… that the Flow of Life has its own mind? Its own life?"

"Something like that, I think," said Allen. "Yes indeed, something like that."

The thought was something Robert had to consider. The Gersallians saw the Flow of Life as the sum total of all life, particularly sapient life. They believed the Flow of Life was strengthened by positive feelings and weakened by negative ones. The entire Code of Swenya was based on the belief that those who could sense the Flow of Life should strive to strengthen it by making life better for others. While Swenya's successors could come off as monastic, their code was more like a knightly code, emphasizing justice, protection of the innocent, and making lives better to achieve that end. Their name for those who used those powers to uphold the code, "swevyra'se", was based around the Gersallian language's meaning for the "'se" suffix. That it denoted strengthening something.

But nothing he'd heard from Meridina indicated they thought the Flow of Life might be aware or intelligent in some way. If it was, it meant he and those who could use these powers had to consider the possibility what it might want or feel.

"I'm not sure you can define it, Rob," Allen said. "And the things Meridina taught you aren't necessarily wrong either. It's just that there's more to it."

"And how does that explain what this is?" Robert asked.

"Well, think about that, Rob." Allen never lost his trademark gentle smile. "What happened to cause you to come here?"

"I opened the core of the Doctor's time ship. The Time Vortex, he called it. It told me my life would end. I was supposed to die." As Robert said those words, he started to see what had happened. "But my power, the Flow of Life itself, this 'force' protected me somehow, didn't it? And it brought me here." His expression betrayed momentary confusion. "Why? It's not just about saving my life, if that was the point it didn't have to create all of this." He held his hands out.

"What makes you think that's what happened? Think about it, Rob. The Flow of Life might be alive, an independent force, but it still responds to you. To what you want to do." Allen's expression turned thoughtful. "My poor boy. You thought you were going to lose more people you loved and cared about. Of course you thought about us too, didn't you?"

Robert thought back to his conversation with the TARDIS. He remembered those feelings at the thought of Julia and the others dying. The pain of losing his family had easily followed that fear. "I created this place? Is that what you're saying?"

"You're tired of losing the people you love, Rob. So of course you wanted to get us all back." Allen spread his arms and grinned. "So here we are, Rob. Here we are."

Outside the first drops of rain began to pelt the windows and walls of the house. The storm was moving in again. "And the storm? That's me too?"

Allen nodded. "Of course."

"The part of me that wants to leave. It's making it." He shook his head. "That seems ridiculous. Why would I go out into a storm?"

"Because you don't want to, Rob. Who would? You know things are coming, things are going to happen, that any sane man would want to stay away from." The old man chuckled at that. "Just like any sane man would rather stay inside than go out into a raging storm."

An old memory came to Robert's mind. "When I was a boy, and I asked you why you went off to war, you told me a story about a school friend of yours."

Allen nodded. "Jake."

"You said he wouldn't volunteer. That he even talked about dodging the draft if he was picked, because to go would be insane."

"Yup. Jake was terrified of the Germans. Thought we'd all get killed just like all the Russians and French and other people they were beating."

"And you even agreed with him," Robert continued. "You told me that he was right. That it was insane to want to get into a fight like that."

"So I did." Allen looked at him closely, clearly curious as to where Robert was going with this line of discussion.

The rest of the memory played out for Robert. He had been ten years old, talking with his grandfather on the porch swing while Allen Dale had showed him pictures from the war and his old medals. He heard his own voice, or rather his voice when he was a child, ask the important question. "If it was crazy, then why did you want to go, Grandpa?"

The Allen in front of him spoke the same words as he had in the memory. "Because I had a good reason to go."

Robert nodded. He looked back to the window. The rain was growing in strength. Small pieces of hail smacked against the window as well. "So…"

"So…" Allen nodded. "Do you have a good reason to go?"

The entire trip back to the mining complex had been torment for Zack and the others. They had all pushed for this operation and, due to that, they had left the people back at the mine nearly defenseless. The call for help that had come once the Cylons brought down the protective shield over the complex made all of their calculations seem reckless. The smoke rising from the complex seemed to condemn them for their decision.

They drove up to the closed gate of the complex. There were no signs of the Cylons. Anders refused to waste the time in opening the gate properly. The engine on the vehicle roared when his foot slammed on the accelerator. The vehicle picked up speed rapidly and slammed into the gate with enough force to tear it from its treads. After the impact Anders hit the brakes to let inertia carry the ruined remains of the gate off the front of the vehicle, jostling everyone in the car in the process.

The vehicles behind them drove on, going further into the complex. The various sounds of energy and ballistic weapons fire picked up. A check to the display screen beside Zack showed that Anders' people were tearing through part of the Cylon line approaching the mine entrance. The red markers representing Cylons began to disappear. It wasn't hard for Zack to imagine the various mounts on Anders' convoy opening up on Cylon centurions.

His imagination received confirmation when Anders caught up and stopped the car. The three jumped out of the car. The battle in front of them raged, with the mounted weapons tearing Cylon centurions to pieces. Screams and cries accompanied some of the Cylon return fire.

Zack pulled his pulse pistol from his hip holster and advanced with Anders and Thrace. The three took cover behind one of the makeshift armored trucks of the convoy for a minute before continuing on. A field of dead bodies and blasted Cylon pieces loomed ahead. Zack raised his pistol and fired off shots on a human-form Cylon, one of the ones that looked like Sharon Agathon. Because he was running and firing his aim was not accurate, and the distance meant that most of his shots went wide. The Sharon-Cylon turned toward him with a gun in her hand. She never got a chance to fire it, as one of his shots clipped her in the shoulder and kept her from firing. A follow up shot from another angle hit the Cylon in the collarbone and sent her down for the count.

"Anders, is that you?" Zarek asked over their comm system.

"I read you," Anders answered.

"Tigh is hurt and we've lost a lot of people. We're keeping them just outside of the mine entrance."

Even as those words were spoken, the rear vehicles of the convoy drove up. Anders waved them on and barked, "Secure the mine entrance!" At that command they drove on as instructed.

As soon as they had cover again, Zack opened his own comm line to Zarek and asked, "Where is Doc Cottle? Where is Clara?"

"Cottle is here, but Clara and Cally aren't." Those words made Zack's chest tighten in fear. "All I can tell you is that they got out of the ward before the Cylons overran it. That's all anyone's told me."

"Thank you," Zack managed, barely. He looked to Anders and Thrace.

They returned his look with understanding clear on their faces. "We'll get you to her, Zack," Thrace promised. "Don't worry about that. Just don't run ahead on us and get killed."

He nodded. He didn't want to obey that instruction, but experience overcame his impulse for the moment. When he left cover, it was with the two of them accompanying him.

When Sam and Jack entered the control center in the Presidential Mansion subbasement they were surprised to find that it was not manned in any way. Sam went for the controls. She was ready to find them destroyed or disabled, which is why she had a momentary flicker of surprise on her face when the hardlight keyboard blipped to life just under her fingertips.

"Well, that's convenient," Jack said. Behind him some of the others were entering. "It must be nice to not have keyboards taking up desk space," he said to Gina and Wilma. Neither gave him any reply.

"Okay, give me a moment." Samantha tapped at the keys. After a moment she swapped to the omnitool around her left forearm. "They've put a lockout on the system. I'm going to bypass it."

Buck and Teal'c looked out the door and quickly pulled their heads back. Weapons fire came through the open door. The bullets ripped chunks out of the wall opposite fo the door, raining debris over one of the work stations. The two kneeled back out and returned fire with their respective laser gun and blaster staff. "They're right behind us," Buck said.

"I'm having trouble with the bypass. The Cylons infected the computer with a control virus." Sam's fingers were more occupied on her omnitool than the main control. "This is going to take a while."

"Let me help." Gina walked up beside her. She reached into a pocket on her robe and pulled out a small knife. "I need a hard wire connection to the system."

Sam nodded and checked her omnitool. After a second she ducked in the chair and began pulling away a panel at the control station. As she did so, Gina took the knife and stuck the blade into the palm of her left hand.

"Woh, uh, what are you doing?" Daniel asked.

"I'm making an access port," Gina answered, all while working the knife toward her wrist. She stopped shy of it. The blood of her wound formed crimson lines on her hand. Upon reaching the edges of her palm the blood began to drip to the floor.

Sam sat up. She had a fiber-optic wire in hand, pulled from an access line in the console. Sam used her combat knife to cut the tip off, exposing the fiber-optic end completely. She handed this exposed end to Gina. With a wince Gina slid the wire into the open wound on her hand. Pain showed on her face while the wire crept up her arm. Her eyes fluttered and she went to a knee.

On both the screen and on Sam's omnitool, computer code began to flash rapidly.

"Are you going to be in any shape to help Lucero if she needs it?" Wilma asked.

"I must concentrate," Gina said. "Don't distract me, please."

"She's directly interfacing with the virus." Samantha turned her head and faced Wilma. "If we distract her, it could infect the computerized parts of her body. I don't think we should risk that."

Wilma nodded in acceptance.

"O'Neill, the enemy is preparing another attack," Teal'c said from his place at the door.

Jack motioned to Daniel. "Keep an eye on everything." He lifted his rifle and went to the door to squeeze off several shots.

"Hopefully we can buy the ladies enough time," Buck said to him while squeezing off a laser shot that sparked and scorched a Cylon centurion coming down the hall.

"Carter will get it done," Jack assured him. "Don't you worry about that. I just hope Lucero can beat her evil twin."

The foyer of the Presidential Mansion was no longer the pristine, abandoned locale it had been when Lucy and the others arrived. Now the walls were covered in black scorch marks. One of the chairs for visitors had been cleaved in half, plush and cloth and wood pieces now scattered around the room.

Another such chair met that fate at Lucy's lightsaber, cleaving the thrown object in two before it could hit her. Her Cylon counterpart, undaunted, pulled with her hand and sent a table at Lucy, causing the fliers and papers that had been set upon it flying. Lucy used her power to grab and throw it back. Her opponent's lightsaber sliced cleanly through the table. A spurt of will caused the two halves to fly to either side and miss her.

Lucy was following the table and went on the attack. Her opponent barely got her red lightsaber up to block Lucy's blue blade. Lucy drew back from the parry and went for a horizontal cut at the her doppelganger's shoulder that was evaded. She followed the cut through and twisted her whole body in place, bringing her lightsaber back to stop the counter-attack aimed at her side. She feinted toward the fake Lucy's belly and re-directed her blade toward her opponent's chin. Only a last minute twitch kept that blow from striking home with the sapphire light of Lucy's blade coming within half an inch of contact.

The Cylon-Lucy scowled at her. Lucy could sense her fury and frustration. Her copy was convinced she would win quickly. Lucy's failure to die as desired was infuriating the Cylon. Gold color formed in the Cylon's eyes.

That sent a chill up Lucy's spine, not just from the cold, dark energy the Cylon's life force was tapping, but the fact that those were her eyes turning gold. The sense of deja vu was visceral, bringing her back to the entrance to the Darglan database on 33LA where she had let her anger and fear rage out of control. For a moment what she was facing wasn't just a Cylon duplicate of herself but rather the thought of what she could become if she fell to her own darkness.

The Cylon-Lucy screamed in anger and lunged at Lucy. Again their lightsabers clashed, and the duel went on.

The security officers from the Aurora met no opposition in getting to the emitter. A pulse shot and a strong kick opened the door to the emitter's access room, where Reubens and Kripkt went to work. Lindstrom arranged the rest of the security detachment into a defensive position around the opening to the door.

He was barely done with that when Kripkt chirped, "Lieutenant, we have a problem."

Lindstrom re-entered the chamber. It was fairly well-lit thanks to LEDs. The tubing containing wiring and other connections criss-crossed the ceiling and the walls in some places. Reubens was in one access hatch, visible only from the hips down, while Kripkt worked a console. "What is it?" Lindstrom asked.

"The Cylons sabotaged the emitter," Kripkt said. "It is physically impossible for it to emit a field."

"You mean that even if Team A gets their side working, we'll have no shield?"

"Yes sir. And the emitter is useless for our purposes too. Not unless we fix it."

"Can you?"

"Yes sir," said Reubens. Her voice faintly echoed from within the access hatch. "But we'll need time. More time than the cloaks will keep us hidden."

"Right." Lindstrom had been expecting Murphy to screw with them in one way or another. He wasn't surprised at this. "We'll give you all the time we can."

It was almost time for Adama's shuttle to arrive. Julia and Meridina walked down the corridor of the Aurora toward the shuttle bay. Meridina could sense Julia's unease. The casual confidence that Julia often showed to others was completely gone at the moment, replaced by a carefully-obscured worry. "You have done all you can," Meridina assured her.

"My head tells me that." Julia shook her head. "My heart doesn't care. And I can't help but wonder if I made a mistake along the way."

"You regret sending the team to New Caprica?"

"I'm wondering if it was the right choice. Without Adama's arrival, the colony would already be gone."

"True." Meridina gave a single nod of her head. "I suppose I can understand. But if I may give you some advice, Captain?"

"Feel free, Commander. It's in the job description, after all."

"I would have made the same decision," Meridina said to her. "And while I understand doubt, at this time I do not think it is constructive. Indeed, much as it can undermine the power of a swevyra'se, it can also undermine the power of a commander."

Julia smiled thinly at that. "Well-spoken, Meridina, very well-spoken." She drew in a breath as they approached the door to the shuttle bay. It swished open to show Ledosh waiting to one side while, down by their shuttle, the four Cylons were gathered. "I just hope Zack's okay."

The Cylon attack on the mine started collapsing the moment Anders' convoy got to the entrance. With their heavy weapons they mowed down the Cylon centurions and humaniforms that had been on the cusp of overrunning Zarek and his last group of defenders.

Zack didn't bother going to the entrance himself. As soon as the shooting seemed to have stopped he started running toward the medical ward. He saw the ruined remains of a stretcher and a trail of blood drops. Worry gripped him that Clara was wounded. That even now she was bleeding out. He followed the blood drops, avoiding the smoking remains of Cylon centurions and the dead humaniforms and Colonials. The sickening smell of human waste hit his nostrils. It had been a long time since he had endured that stink and he gagged at it. But he pushed away any further reaction; he needed to find Clara. He needed to make sure she was alright.

So he searched. Through the twisted broken remains of machines, the blackened ruins of vehicles and mining equipment. He scrambled over a dead male Cylon - which type it was he couldn't say - and found he was approaching the rocky side of the mountain foothills with a large ore truck to his right. He was just a couple hundred meters from the mine entrance where everyone was still gathered for the moment. He could see them as distant figures. The warmth of hope came to him. Clara making it seemed all the more likely now.

He was so focused on the mining entrance far ahead that he almost missed the movement to his right. It came from a small pile several meters from the front of the ore truck; another Cylon humaniform, this one the bald dark-skinned model with the back of his head missing, was sprawled over two other bodies. An arm near the bottom of the pile twitched slightly. Zack ran up to it to investigate. He grabbed the dead Cylon and pulled him away.

The blood drew his eyes first. A coated woman with the coat and her trousers coated in dried and not-so-dry blood. Her hand was barely holding a sidearm, a mass effect Carnifex pistol. Training took over. His finger went to his omnitool. "I need help by the big ore truck, I've got a woman with a belly shot here."

"We're on our way," Thrace replied.

As soon as he said that Zack's eyes noticed the figure partly buried under the gutshot woman. His heart skipped a beat at recognizing the blue garment clad over the figure's legs. The blue of medical scrubs. He gently pulled back the woman on top, trying not to disturb and worsen her wound, in order to get at the figure below. As the wounded woman was moved, the sight of bloody scrubs drew Zack's eye. At first he thought the blood had come from the militia woman he'd just moved. It was only as his eyes actually moved over the figure did he see the multiple holes in the back of the scrubs around which the blood was particularly pooled. Without further thought Zack grabbed the scrubs-clad figure and flipped her. His eyes lifted toward the head as the body flopped onto its back.

Clara's blue eyes stared back into his.

And there was not a glimmer of life in them.

That terrible moment lingered as the details fought their way into Zack's mind. The cold blue of Clara's lips. The pale, grayish cast of the skin on her face. The vacant stare in her eyes. The blood on her mutilated torso and shoulders, where the high-powered automatic weapon of a Cylon centurion model had done its terrible work on her.

Zack stopped breathing. He felt like his heart simply stopped, as if he might simply fall over dead as well. Finally his body forced a breath into his lungs.

Every fiber of his body wanted to deny what his senses were telling him. It denied that Clara could be dead. That he had lost her. That she was gone. He took her hand with his right hand while the back of his left hand moved over the side of her cheek. There was still some warmth there. Not much. Certainly not the warmth of a living being. Enough to let the denial last for another crucial moment, the moment of cruel hope that his senses were deceiving him.

And then that moment ended. Zack took Clara into his arms and held her up in an embrace. A loud wail erupted from his throat. With denial gone, nothing could back the tears that formed in his eyes. The pain in his chest felt like it might just cause his heart to stop. All of those thoughts he'd had, all of those dreams of a life after the war, that image of a happy family home and picnics and baseball games and everything… they turned on him with a terrible vengeance. No longer the promises of what would be, they were the taunting remnant of what could never be.

Zack had cried over his mother. He had cried over his father. He cried again here, and not the kind of crying people usually expected. No, not the simple manly tears of grief. The wail in his throat repeated once more, and by the next one it had become a blubbering sob. His grip on Clara's body tightened with such a ferocity one might think he could restore life to her with that grip. The grief, the terrible painful grief, became a black hole in his soul, sucking in everything else until there was nothing else remaining.

The question posed by Allen Dale's likeness was still unanswered. Robert continued to look at the being emulating his grandfather while letting his question echo in Robert's mind. Did he have a reason to go out there? To leave behind a family he loved, intact and alive, for all of the terrible things that were still to come, represented by the howling wind and rain and hail of the storm outside.

He could wish it away. He'd done it before. He had firmly decided not to go out, not to abandon Little Robby or the family that was still alive here, and the storm had gone away. That it was coming back was his fault. It was from a part of him that had accepted this place was not real.

There was no keeping the conflict off Robert's face. He thought of the reasons he had to go back. The war with the Nazi Reich. Duties to the Alliance. The possibility that the Prophecy of the Dawn was going to come true and a terrible threat would descend upon the Multiverse. They were duties that called to him.

"It's not a hard question, Rob," Allen said. "The hard part is coming to terms with the answer."


Before he could continue, a sudden sensation of pain washed over Robert. He felt a sense of crushing anguish with immense loss. He was familiar with loss and there was a moment he thought it might be his.

But it was only a moment. The loud wail from outside was barely Human. It pushed through the walls of the house with a power that defied reason and struck at Robert again. As the wail became sobs he thought he heard something familiar in them. Something familiar about the sensation. He turned away from Allen and went to the door. The cold, rainy wind bit into him when he pulled the door open and looked out into the storm-tossed farm.

Except the storm-tossed farm seemed blurry now. As if something else was imposing itself over the farm scene. Robert could make out dirt and grass that didn't fit Kansas, the hints of a distant mountain base, the shape of a vehicle of some sort, and near it two human figures, one on its knees holding the other. The second figure was limp in the kneeling one's arms.

Not just limp. Lifeless. Dead.

Robert focused on the sight and felt his gut twist painfully when the two figures became clear to him. "Zack," he whispered to himself in horrible realization at the sight before him. The sight of Zack holding Clara's dead body. He could see the bloody wounds from the gunshots that had mutilated Clara's torso, destroying internal organs and ensuring her swift death.

And he could feel the grief and pain coming from his old friend. A loss deep and immediate, not simply the loss of a loved one but the loss of a future, the loss of dreams, of everything that could have been.

Robert's mouth went dry at the sight. His friend was suffering. Heartbroken. He had to do something about it. He owed Zack that much.

Further images came to him. He saw Lucy fighting for her life against a jacketed figure with her own lightsaber blade. Jarod and Barnes working on something in the ship science lab. Angel and Cat and Nick on the bridge, Nick in the central chair looking at the main screen with concern. Julia and Meridina were with Ledosh, waiting with four figures...

Something was going on. Something terrible, something dangerous. And Clara was dead. Clara Davis, one of the sweetest, kindest people Robert had ever known.

Was this in the future? Was it in the past? Robert wasn't sure. He only knew what he felt. His friends were in danger. His friend Zack was heartbroken.

They needed help. They needed him.

The images faded just a little. Enough for the violence of the storm to return. Enough for more images to rush through Robert's mind. He couldn't get a firm grip on them. Some he remembered, like the cybernetic Turian, or the golden-eyed man in white armor upon a metal throne. The others were flashes. Spaceships burning, armies clashing, a city-planet under attack from orbit. He could hear his own voice screaming in pain.

And then the stars going out, in a spreading wave, galaxy by galaxy until nothing was left.

This is what awaited him if he went out into the storm. He would suffer. He would know pain. He would have to fight. And he would never again know the comforts he had loved in this place.

"You know what you have to do, Rob," Allen said. His voice prompted Robert to turn. His family was lined up behind him. He could feel the love and affection from them. "And you have your reason."

Robert nodded slowly. "You didn't say that the last time. When the Doctor tried to get me to leave, you asked me to stay."

"Because it's not just about leaving," Allen answered.

Robert nodded in understanding. "It's why." As he said those words he knew his choice was made. Looking at his family made it hard. They'd been taken from him before. To regain them had been a miracle; losing them again, willingly this time, made his heart feel like it was being ripped to pieces. "I don't want to leave you."

"We know, son," Michael Dale said.

"But its what you have to do," Leigh added.

"You have to do the right thing, meine kleiner." Anna nodded. "Just as we raised you to do."

"I'll miss you, Rob." Susannah waved. "And will you let Cat know I miss her too?"

"And Beth," Michael said. "Let her know we all love her and miss her."

Robert nodded quietly at them. Tears were filling his eyes as the weight of what he was going to do pressed upon him. A small part of him quailed at it. It didn't want him to leave them behind.

And it wasn't alone. Little Robby dashed ahead and grabbed Robert by the leg and waist. "No!!!" he shrieked. "Daddy, don't leave me!"

Robert lowered himself to one knee to look into his son's green eyes. They were welling with tears just as his eyes were. He put his arms around the little boy and held him close. His hand reached up to take his head, resting in his son's blond hair. "I love you," he said. "And I always will."

"Daddy, I'm scared," the child wailed.

"Don't be. It'll all be okay." He said those words knowing what would happen. That Little Robby would cease to exist along with the others. The pain inside of him increased until it felt like his entire chest would explode from it. Again their tear-filled eyes met. Robert swallowed and said, "I never realized how much I wanted to have a child until I laid eyes on you, son. I love you. And I'll always remember you."

"Daddy…" The little boy's protest broke up into sobs.

"I swear it," Robert promised. "I'll always remember you." He stood up and gently set his son down. Behind him the wind and rain was picking up again.

Little Robby looked ready to grab him again. But Julia stepped up before he could and lifted him into her arms. He turned his head and started to cry into her shoulder. She looked at Robert with all of the love and respect that Robert knew the real Julia had for him as well. "I'll be waiting for you out there," she said.

"We're not married there," he told her. "I'm not sure we'll ever be."

"Whether we're married or not, or whether we'll ever be, it doesn't change the fact I'm still waiting for you," she answered. With nothing else to say, she took the last step to him and kissed Robert on the lips. He accepted the kiss, enjoying how sweet it felt as long as it lasted.

It ended and Julia walked back to join the others. "Good luck, Rob," Allen Dale said. "We'll be rootin' for you."

Despite the pain he felt, Robert smiled at that and nodded. "And I'll always have you with me. All of you." He drew in a breath and said the painful word he'd been trying to avoid. "Goodbye."

And he prompted turned and ran out into the storm, defying the biting wind and sharp rain and bruising hail while his legs continued to move, pushing him further and further into the storm. He glanced back just once, enough to see his family waving goodbye.

The storm closed around him. The nice, big house on the mound was gone. The barn was gone. There was no sign he was even on the farm anymore. There was nothing but the storm. He continued to run to the center of it. It seemed like the storm would never end.

Until it did, in a burst of light that overwhelmed Robert's senses, forcing his eyes closed. The rain and wind and hail went away until he felt nothing of them on his skin, not even the wet rain.

He opened his eyes again and immediately felt the need to squint at the bright light above, as if he had been sleeping for a very long time. He opened and closed his eyes a few time until they adjusted to the light. He forced his body to sit up, his muscles stiff and protesting, and he looked around at the site around him: the Aurora medbay ward.

"What…?" he managed to croak out through a throat that felt as dry as a desert.

With no fighting going on, Leo's place in the crisis was to wait until someone called. He was thus seated at his office desk checking medical files on the new crew when Nasri came to his door. The look of surprise on the Darfuri nurse's face was complete. "Doctor, come quickly! He's awake!"

For a split second Leo almost asked who. But there was no need to. There was only one person Nasri could be referring to. Leo jumped from his chair and ran out of his office. Nasri followed him in his dash to the non-critical ward.

They found Robert already clambering off the bed. Or attempting to at any rate. His muscles, dormant for months, were so unresponsive that he toppled over. "Rob, stay still!" Leo shouted.

"I'm.. I'm okay," he managed. He raised a hand toward them, signalling them to stop, wishing them to.

The power within him surged unexpectedly. An invisible wave of force erupted from Robert in the direction of his hand. It slammed into Leo and Nasri with enough power to send them flying into the wall around the entrance to the ward. As they recovered Robert stared at them and then at his hand, shock plain on his face. "What… what's happening? I couldn't control it…" With his limbs and joints stiff getting to his feet was a surprising challenge, but he managed it after several seconds. "Are you okay?"

"What was that?" Leo asked. His voice made it clear how stunned he was at the sudden violent burst of energy.

"I don't know. My power just flared up. I…" Robert stepped once, bracing himself by holding the bed he had just vacated. He tentatively reached for the power within him in the hope of finding out what was going on with that warm glow he had come to know as swevyra.

But the warm glow wasn't a glow. It was a light. Strong, stronger than he'd ever felt it. Instinctively he reached through it toward the others, hoping to sense Meridina and Lucy.

What he got wasn't just them. He could sense many more beings. Even those who didn't have the active energy he knew seemed to light up for his senses. The Flow of Life resonated around him in a way that actually frightened him. The power he felt in his connection to the Flow of Life was greater than ever before. He struggled to withdraw his reach. There was no way he could sense them like this.

An image suddenly flashed in his head. Julia, Meridina, and Ledosh with four figures. Robert recognized three of them. Cylon models. They were dealing with the Cylons. To his horror, however, he watched as the Cylons did something he couldn't make out, and with a flash of light everyone was gone and the shuttle bay severely damaged.

"They're in danger," Robert rasped.

Leo was activating medical scanners on his omnitool as he approached Robert. "What?" he asked. "What are… wait!"

It was too late. Robert was running through the door.

The Alliance Mark III shuttle from Pegasus slipped through the atmospheric containment field of the Aurora main shuttle bay. It came to a precision landing beside the waiting Cylon craft. Julia was watching it so intently that she almost missed Meridina's sudden look of shock. "What's wrong?" she murmured.

"I just felt something. A ripple in my swevyra. I…" The confusion was joined by a look of uncertain joy. "Could he be…?"

Both had to direct their attention to the opening of the Pegasus shuttle's rear ramp. Adama stepped down first, followed by the Agathons. Sharon had her baby daughter clasped tightly in her arms.

The look on Cavil's face was surprising. He seemed pleased, even anxious. The others were clearly intent on the child as well.

"You will hold up our bargain?" Sharon asked.

"Yes. We will leave the people of the Colonies alone," Cavil said. "Now…"

"Wait." The Gina model's brow furrowed. "Something isn't right." The others turned toward her while she pulled out a scanner. Julia looked to Meridina to see if she had any insight. The uncertain, worried look on her face was not comforting. A glance toward Adama showed he wasn't reacting at all. As if the situation had nothing to do with him.

After several moments of looking at the scanner, the Gina model's face twisted into an angry scowl. "They're fake!" she declared. Her finger stabbed a key on the scanner.

Energy rippled through the air in front of it, barely visible save for the slight distortion of the air around it. When it reached the Agathons they flickered slightly, like a television screen getting snow from turbulence.

"Holograms," Cavil noted. His expression betrayed his anger. "They're holograms!"

Please be ready, Jarod, Julia pleaded in her mind. Please.

In the Presidential Mansion subbasement, Jack and Buck fired another barrage at the Cylon Centurions gathering in the hall outside. As they pulled back into cover Wilma and Teal'c fired their weapons into the hall. They didn't hit anything, but the Cylons were forced to take cover. "Major Carter, status update," Wilma said.

Sam looked up from her omnitool screen. "We're almost in." She glanced in the direction of Gina. She was still holding the wire in place. Blood covered her palm and was now pouring onto the floor. "You're bleeding too much."

"I'll be okay," Gina insisted. "Let me concentrate." Her eyes remained fixed to a screen. Sam got the feeling she really wasn't looking at the screen itself but doing everything in her head.

There was more gunfire from outside. "We're not going to be able to get out of here without help," Jack noted.

"Well, like you said." Buck leaned around the door and squeezed off another shot. "We have to hope Lucy finishes off her evil twin."

The screen on the main computer shifted to show a command interface. "We're in!" Sam declared. "I'm going to try and activate the colony's defensive shield."

"I've purged the virus from the mainframe and given you complete command access." Gina's fingers wrapped around the wire and began a gentle, slow pull of it from the open wound in her hand. "You shouldn't have any problems."

"I'm activating planetary defense now… oh no."

"What do you mean, 'oh no'? Sam?"

In response to Jack's question Sam began tapping keys. She shook her head. "I'm in the system but it's not responding. It looks like the emitter was sabotaged."

"Let's hope Lieutenant Lindstrom is handling that," Wilma said. "For now, we have to hold this room."

Gina finished removing the wire she had used. Daniel was on hand to apply a bandage to the deep wound. Before he was done Gina's head snapped to the wall on their left. "Get ready," she said.

"For what?" Daniel asked.

"The Cylons are going to come through the wall. Any moment now," she said. Gina reached for her belt and pulled her weapon. "Be ready."

"Carter to Lindstrom." Sam held her omnitool close to her lips. "Lieutenant, this is Major Carter. I need that emitter fixed, and I need it now."

When she finished speaking the wall exploded in a cloud of masonry particles. The figures of Cylon combat machines appeared as outlines in the cloud.

Sam lifted her rifle and fired in tandem with Daniel. One of the drones fell in the second before their return fire sent everyone for cover.

Lindstrom heard Carter's call just before he opened fire with his weapon. His shots blasted the leg off of one of the approaching Cylon Centurions. "Kripkt, Reubens, status?!"

"The Cylons made a mess of things," Reubens said. "Full restoration is going to take hours."

"We don't have hours!"

It was Kripkt who answered, "I believe I have a solution. If we tie the portable deflector shield generator into the emitter's projection chamber, we might be able to restore deflector capability without requiring the extensive repair."

"Get to it then!" Lindstrom swept the pulse rifle to the right and hit another Cylon Centurion as it fired. The cry of pain from the same direction told him one of his people had been hit. He went over to the fallen Human male and grabbed his uninjured shoulder to pull him into the safety of the emitter assembly. "We're running out of time here."

I'm running out of time was the thought that went through Robert's head as he dashed up the access stairwell. He sensed the moment of danger approaching and worried that his body, as unused as it was, wouldn't get him there in time. His muscles screamed in pain at the sudden effort they had been subjected to after months of immobility. Robert knew that if he stopped moving, he might not be able to keep going.

This meant that the closed door that he met was going to be a challenge. If it didn't open fast enough he'd run into it. He felt no choice but to use his power to force it to open more quickly than it normally would. He reached out and felt the warm energy leap from his hands. Immediately he tried to stop it. It was too much.

It was also too late. Instead of simply sliding the door open more quickly, it bent both sides of the sliding door open. The tracks that kept the door in place began squealing in protest as the warped structure of the door no longer allowed it to function. Robert slipped through the resulting hole and kept running.

What was happening to him? He'd never managed something like that before. With a brief shake of his head Robert compelled the thought to the back of his mind. He had other things to worry about right now, like keeping his aching body moving to get to the shuttle bay before it was too late.

The Aurora shuttle bay echoed with the angry declaration of the Cylon Cavil. "This is what we get for trying to deal fairly with Humans!" he spat. "Treachery and deceit!"

Julia thought of a counter to that, but it was Meridina who spoke openly. "You do not deal fairly at all. You use murder and violence to compel others to obey you and show no regard for life. You have become an abomination."

"Do you truly believe you can prevail in a conflict?" Ledosh asked the question and continued with his observation. "You have made some advanced in technology, yes, but you cannot fight the entire Multiverse alone."

"God will bring us triumph." The D'anna model had a triumphant sneer on her face. "You cannot resist Him." She reached her hand toward her belt.

Behind them the shuttle door swished open. Julia looked to it out of habit. She stared in wonder at the arrival of Robert, still clad in a medbay gown. "Rob?!" she managed.

"It's a trap!" he shouted, his arm in motion toward the assembled Cylons. "Get down!"

Julia and Meridina were the quickest to obey the instruction. Ledosh, sensing the gathering power and what was to come, grabbed Adama and pulled him to the ground. The four Cylons all began reaching for something on their belts.

Robert summoned up his power again. There was no time to try and regulate it, or control it; the Cylons were seconds away from success. He let it loose in one large surge. The others could feel the power push against them even though they were prone. The surge caught the Cylons and sent them flying backward, as if struck by a speeding train. Their cries of surprise ended abruptly when they went flying through the atmospheric containment field.

At first they simply seemed to spin on in the vacuum. But each disappeared in a flash of blinding light. The forcefield crackled violently for a few seconds before stabilizing.

Locarno's voice sounded from Julia's omnitool. "Bridge to Andreys. Captain, we just recorded four thermal releases aft of the shuttle bay. What's going on?"

Julia was on her knees by this point, in the middle of getting back to her feet. "The Cylons had suicide charges. But we're okay. Resume Code Red immediately, I'm on my way back to the bridge."

"Aye, sir," Locarno answered. "The Cylons are taking up combat formation now. They're launching fighters."

"Launch ours and prepare for evasive maneuvers. Andreys out." Now standing again, Julia looked to the others to make sure they were okay. Of the five, only Robert wasn't back to his feet. He was laid out on the shuttle bay floor. Her heart skipped a beat to see he wasn't moving.

Meridina went to his side as a soft groan showed he was not completely unconscious. Julia could see Meridina's surprise was as great as her own. "Robert?" she asked gently.

"I can't move," he answered.

"I shall arrange for his return to your medbay," Ledosh promised. "You must go back to your duties, now."

The urge Julia had to talk to Robert, to see how he was feeling, gave way to her duty. She was needed on the bridge. So was Meridina. "Let's go," she said to the other woman. She looked to Adama next. "Are you joining us, Admiral?"

He nodded in response.

Julia tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Transporter Station 1. Three for emergency intraship transport to the Bridge. Beam myself, Commander Meridina, and Admiral Adama."

"Standby, Captain… energizing."

The shuttlebay disappeared from Julia's view in a burst of white light. When the light receded she was on the bridge. Angel and Cat were in place, but Neyzi was still at Ops. As soon as she returned to her chair, with Locarno resuming the helm, Julia tapped the key on the right arm of the chair to activate the ship's internal communications system. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. Is it ready?"

"Almost," Jarod answered. "We're compiling the code now. Give me five minutes."

"The Cylon fighters are coming together for an attack run," Cat said. "Ten Cylon ships are moving into weapons range. They're targeting us."

"Status of our side?"

"Fighters are launching now," Meridina confirmed. Julia could imagine the Mongoose fighters streaming from their launch tubes along the upper deck of the drive hull. "The Pegasus has also launched its full complement of combat craft."

"Too bad they're still outnumbered, just as we are," Julia murmured. By the numbers there was no way they could win this. "Any sign of the shield over the Colony going up?"

"None yet." Caterina audibly gulped. "And they'd better hurry."


"The Cylons just fired missiles at the colony," she replied. "Impact in one minute."

Gunfire echoed in the control room. The Cylons pressed at the main door and through the breach they'd made in the wall. Everyone was behind cover in one of the stations except Gina, Teal'c, and Buck; the former was using her powers to protect the other two from the Cylons coming through the breach, allowing them to continue firing on the Cylons coming down the main hall.

The warning tones and red light immediately informed Samantha Carter of their plight. She finished firing a burst into the torso of one of the Cylon attackers and turned her head to the main display. Her eyes made a quick examination of the data before her finger pressed the send key for her channel to Lindstrom. "We need that emitter now! Missile inbound!"

"Reubens, Kripkt!"

Lindstrom's shout forced Reubens to look up from his handiwork of connected wiring. "We still need five minutes!"

"You don't have five minutes!" came the frantic reply.

To give herself more room for maneuver Lucy had brought her opponent outdoors. Her doppelganger's frustration had become fierce rage and made it easy to pull her along. It also made deflecting her fierce blows more of a chore. With her rage fueling her, the Cylon-Lucy was calling upon her life force energy more and more. Lucy had to exert herself to deflect the faster strikes from hitting her.

One such strike went toward her shoulder. Lucy's blade intercepted it. Instead of pulling back from the failed attack her doppelganger pushed into it. Lucy set her feet and met the push with a defensive stance. She looked into the angry, hate-filled face of her foe and felt a visceral disgust at what the Cylons had done with her blood. Now this thing, this creature of darkness, went around doing who-knew-what with Lucy's face.

A sense of danger filled Lucy's senses. Her counterpart glanced toward the sky and let out a laugh. Lucy couldn't help but look up to see what was going on.

It was when she spotted the missile contrail in the sky.

And she knew there was nothing to do at that point but pray.
”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 »

In the control center for the Colony's defenses, Sam Carter could do nothing but watch the icon of the missile coming in. The sensors she had access to confirmed the warhead on the weapon as nuclear, big enough to wipe the Colony settlement off the face of the planet. The subbasement they were in provided no defense to a weapon of this size.

The only thing she could do was give the warning, "Impact in forty seconds."

"We can't get the shield up in time," Lindstrom warned.

"Then it would appear we are about to die," Teal'c remarked stoically.

Buck looked at the towering Jaffa. "Well, aren't you the optimistic type?"

"It's his way," said Jack.

"Impact in thirty… wait!" Sam blinked once at the screen. "The missile's gone. It's been destroyed!" A new contact was showing on the screen. "It was the Gonzalez."

"This is Technical Officer Getamanan. We have eliminated the missile. But I am showing enemy craft moving to intercept me. I will attempt to cloak and fool their scanners."

"Do what you can to evade," Wilma ordered. "Lindstrom, they've bought you more time."

"Not much," Sam warned. "More missiles inbound."

The Cylon ship remaining in orbit fired another barrage of missiles to destroy the Colony. Cylon raiders from the ship banked off of defensive formations to follow the missiles in and deal with the runabout. Their numbers, and the number of missiles, was enough that the lone runabout was about to be completely overwhelmed.

The Starship Koenig opened fire as soon as her form ceased to ripple from the cloaking effect. Amber bursts of energy blew apart one missile and then another. Phaser blasts from her arrays sliced through the Cylon raiders escorting the missiles in.

"Enemy Basestar is targeting us," Magda warned Apley.

"Evasive Pattern Bravo, Hajar," Apley said in response. "Do what you can to keep our weapons on target."

"Aye sir," said Hajar.

The attack ship twisted in space as missiles from the Cylon warship began to track it. The other missiles being rained upon the planet remained their primary focus, buying crucial time for the defenders below.

"It looks like a second Basestar is turning back from the others." Magda double-checked her screens. "Yes, that's what they're doing. They're targeting us instead."

"Well, we go their attention," Apley said. "Let's hope someone can take advantage of it."

A team came for the wounded militia woman Zack had found. He paid them no heed in his grief. He kept his grip on Clara. "I'm sorry," he sobbed. "Oh God, I'm sorry." In his heart all he could feel was guilt. Guilt that he had been the reason Clara had come out here in the first place. Guilt that she had died because he wasn't here to help her. He had put the "mission" first. And because of that, Clara was dead.

"Hey, Zack." Thrace's voice sounded behind him. Zack recognized it but gave no further reaction. "I'm sorry," she said.

"It should be me." Zack's voice crackled with pain. "She deserved better. Better than this. Better than me."

"Hey." Thrace knelt down next to them. "I need your help. We're picking up local radio activity. It sounds like the Alliance came through after all. They're trying to keep the Cylons from nuking us. But it looks like they need help. Tigh's hurt and the other pilot is dead. We're it."

Zack said nothing to that. A deep weariness in his being, his spirit, had settled in.

"Hey!" A hand smacked him in the cheek. He looked at Thrace's grim expression with surprise. The imprint of her hand was now showing red on the paled skin of his left cheek. "Get a fraking grip, Zack! The Cylons are trying to kill everyone! I need your help to stop them and Godsdammit I expect you to try! Get on your fraking feet and help me!"

The slap alone couldn't be enough. Even the shouting couldn't. Zack looked back to Clara's lifeless face without any intention of reacting. He heard a huff of disgust from Thrace. She stood up, clearly giving up on him.

None of this is what finally broke through that abyss inside. It was the thought of the Cylons. The damned Cylons, who had killed Clara when all she was doing was helping the wounded. Who would kill every man, woman, and child on this world. Everyone here that Zack and Clara had befriended, cared for… all of those wonderful kids that he had taught baseball to, that she had tended to… all dead.

The emptiness growing inside of him filled with something new. Anger. Determination. He had lost Clara to the Cylons. By God he wasn't losing anyone else.

The tears were still flowing down his cheeks when he pressed his lips to Clara's forehead. "You deserved better," he said. "I wasn't good enough for you." With care he set Clara down. He pulled off the jacket he had put on that morning and settled it over her body. When he stood up his legs wobbled. He turned to where Thrace was heading toward one of the side shafts, where the two Vipers Tigh had brought with him were kept. "Starbuck!" he called out.

She turned back toward him to see him run up. His arrival was greeted with a nod. "They should have the fighters ready," she said.

"Good." Zack's voice was cold. "Let's go kill some fraking Cylons."

The bulk of the Cylon ships bore down on the Aurora and Pegasus. The raiders that flew ahead of them dwarfed the flight groups of the two ships with more than enough numbers to outright ignore them.

The particle interceptor batteries on the two ships opened up as the enemy fighters entered range. They launched missiles that could also, in turn, be shot down. And some were. But it was clear to Julia that they couldn't shoot down nearly enough to avoid taking hits. The first missiles impacted as the Aurora maneuvered, sending a shudder through the ship. "Shields holding at ninety-five percent," Lieutenant Neyzi said from Ops.

"Enemy ships are also launching missiles."

"Tactical, focus fire with the Pegasus," Adama ordered from his seat beside Julia. He glanced toward her to see if she had any objection to the order. She clearly didn't.

"Yes Admiral. I'm getting a target lock now."

At the press of a key, Angel opened up with the Aurora's bow weapons. The ship's expanded complement of pulse plasma cannons - ten now mounted in the bow - opened up. The sapphire bursts raced through space and struck the shields of one of the lead Cylon ships. Thick lances of phaser energy joined her shots from the weapons on the Pegasus. At another press of a key solar torpedoes erupted from the two bow launchers, full spreads of eight each. The torpedoes' drive fields flickered blue-white in space. Two were intercepted and destroyed by suicidal Cylon raiders. The remaining torpedoes hit home. The Cylon ship's shields held, but not by much. Not enough to prevent the next barrage from the Aurora's cannons from knocking the shields out entirely. Flame and debris spewed from the twisted frame of the Cylon vessel at the weapon impacts on its dark hull. The Pegasus' beams nearly sliced off one of the upper arms.

The Cylon ship retorted with another barrage of missiles. Already more from the raiders were hitting the Aurora. "Shields down to eighty percent," Neyzi warned.

"Implementing evasive maneuvers." Locarno's hands moved from control to control, shifting the Aurora's bearing and attitude compared to her adversaries to throw off as many shots as he could.

"I take it you have a plan?" Adama asked Julia.

"We do," she replied. "We just need to buy Jarod time to finish his work."

"Then I'll get you that time."

"You're the Admiral here, sir, and you've fought the Cylons more than we have. We're at your disposal," Julia said.

Adama nodded and went to work. "Commander Locarno, bring us into formation with the Pegasus."

"Aye sir," Locarno replied.


"Neyzi, sir," the Human woman said, her accent faintly Turkish in tone.

"I need a tactical commlink with the Pegasus CIC."

"Working now, sir… I am establishing the link through the First Officer's controls."

"Confirmed." Meridina nodded to Adama. "We have a connection."

"Relay firing data into the link. I want all fire concentrated on specific targets. Order all fighter squadrons to remain within our defensive fire perimeter. They're going to pick up whatever's left."

"Sending orders now."

The Aurora flew into formation with the Pegasus and came about, aligning their bow weapons together. Their fighter groups flew into close formation around the two ships. The void of space was soon filled with the fire from their interceptor emplacements. Bursts of light and metal shredded and destroyed the incoming Cylon fighters and missiles. Some got through just to be set upon by the fighters.

Unfortunately, given the numbers, these efforts couldn't be entirely effective. There were just too many missiles, too many Cylon fighters. The Aurora shook again and Neyzi dutifully informed them that shields were at seventy percent. Julia breathed a silent prayer that Jarod and Barnes would get their project done, and done soon.

For his part, Jarod was well aware that everything relied upon him. It didn't make his job easier. He watched the compiling continue with immense impatience.

"Can't this fraking thing go any faster?" Barnes protested from beside him. "Are you sure you set the compiling parameters right?"

"I did," Jarod insisted. "But this program is extremely complicated. And if we don't get it right on the first try the Cylons will adapt to it."

The ship shook under their feet again. "Well, I hope the ship survives long enough for you to send the message."

"I do too," Jarod replied.

The fact that she wasn't dead from a nuclear blast gave Lucy a morale boost in the duel. This went with her growing confidence against her doppelganger. Whatever the Cylon had learned, Lucy was beginning to think she had little practical experience with it. With dueling another of their type specifically.

Whether it was true or not, Lucy wanted to go back on the offensive. She waited patiently, deflecting attack after attack. A swipe toward her head, a cut going for her arm, a lunge at her belly. Her Clone counterpart tried a number of attack avenues and none of them worked.

And all she needed was an opening, just the slightest opening…

The fighting around the emitter was picking up. It seemed like every Cylon in the colony was bearing down on Lindstrom and his people. A couple of wounded meant that only a dozen of them were actively holding the line against the Cylon centurion-models. The ground before them was covered in destroyed and damaged models. The latter still moved sometimes, crawling forward with the help of their long, wickedly-sharp fingers until someone took the moment to blast them. Lindstrom caught one just before it could try to dig its clawed fingers into the leg of one of his security officers.

"Are you two done yet?!" he shouted into his short-range commline.

"Almost, sir," Kripkt replied. "Our estimates are slightly off. We have to attach higher capacity wiring or the entire thing will melt down."

Lindstrom peered skyward again. Another explosion appeared in the atmosphere. "I shouldn't have to tell you two to hurry it up, if you don't want to get nuked."

"It is unnecessary, sir. We are well aware."

If only I'd been able to bring one of the senior engineers with us, Lindstrom thought. This would be done by now. It was an unfair thought, but one he couldn't suppress in time.

Getamanan had not signed up for this kind of thing. He had, indeed, known he would never work as a combat pilot. He didn't have the nerve.

He was therefore a bit surprised that he was still alive, weaving through the atmosphere to blast the missiles that got past the Koenig before they could get to detonation altitude.

The Gonzalez wasn't a normal combat runabout, but it did have a fair degree of maneuverability due to its role as a stealth insertion craft. This let him dodge some of the fire converging around him. The Cylon raider fighters and their weaponry was superior to what had been previously known. Hits against his shields were slowly degrading them, and Getamanan had no illusions what would happen when those guns started hitting bare hull.

Beside him Technical Officer Rachel Wang was directing their fire. As she wasn't a dedicated tactical officer her shooting was not the best and Getamanan found himself ceasing some of his maneuvering to ensure she had a stable shot at a missile. The missiles' lack of evading made her job significantly easier.

Unfortunately their success looked to be at an end. "More raiders above and below," she warned. Getamanan did what he could to evade while the runabout started to shake from the hits it was taking. "Our shields are down to fifty percent effectiveness."

"I am doing my best to evade," he said.

Meanwhile she was shooting at the next missile. But with all of the foes after them Getamanan had to keep maneuvering. Her shots kept failing. "I can't hit it," she protested. "I need a better angle of attack."

"I cannot give it," he responded. "Too many foes are around us." His point was punctuated by another hit.

"Shields down to forty percent. If we don't get that missile, then…" Something drew Wang's attention. "Wait, I've got something…"

Debris flew from the missile for several seconds until explosions flowered up around its exhaust end and toward the warhead. The entire missile exploded a second later.

"Two contacts," Wang continued. "Colonial Vipers."

On the Koenig Apley overheard that. "Vipers?" His expression betrayed his surprise. "From the Pegasus? How did they get here through the battle?"

"I don't think they came from the Pegasus," Magda said. "Their drive trails indicate they launched from the planet. I'm tying them into our commlinks."

A moment later a voice they were all familiar with came through. "This is Starbuck to Koenig. We're providing cover here, you focus on what you can do up there."

"I read you, Starbuck," Apley said. "We'll whittle them down for you."

"That's good to know," the other pilot said. Shock showed on the faces of the bridge crew at their recognition of Zack's voice.

"Commander?" Apley asked.

"I'm here. Busy. I'll see you when we're done," was Zack's reply. The way he spoke made Apley and Magda exchange uncertain looks. Something sounded off to them.

But there was no time to consider that, as more Cylon missiles came after them or after the colony below.

Working to keep his pilot status had been a hobby for Zack that some found silly, given his primary posting. That he enjoyed flying seemed insufficient for the work, all of the simulator time and mandatory flights. After all, his role in a combat was to be commanding from the Koenig. When would he be flying a fighter?

All of that training work paid off now, however. Zack kept his Viper on Thrace's wing, letting her lead their efforts to shoot down the Cylon raiders harassing the Alliance insertion runabout that was currently keeping any of the enemy missiles from getting through. Mobility was the key in the fight. He had to keep moving, keep maneuvering, and prevent the Cylons from being able to predict where he would be with enough accuracy to hit his craft. He kept his mind on the battlespace with the help of the sensor readout in the Viper cockpit, allowing him to evade enemies attempting to attack him while he kept Thrace's rear clean.

For her part, Kara Thrace was ripping into the enemy fighters with enthusiasm. She whooped with delight as another Cylon fighter blew apart under her guns. Above them another missile was blasted apart by the Gonzalez.

"That second Cylon ship is in position to start hurling missiles down," Apley warned. "We can't get them all."

"We'll do what we can."

"We just need to hold them until our ground team gets the colony shield up."

"Roger that." With that said, Thrace returned her effort to flying.

Another missile barrage slammed into the Aurora's shields. "Shields now at thirty-eight percent." Neyzi examined the ops board. "We have a hull breach on Deck 20, Section G."

"Damage repair parties are responding." Meridina tapped another key. "We can take but a few more hits like that before our crew becomes overstretched."

"Hopefully we won't take that many more," Julia said, wondering just when Jarod would get his project ready. "What's the status on that ground team?"

"Still no shields over the Colony," Cat replied. "The Koenig and Gonzalez are trying to deal with missiles, but there are so many…"

Julia nodded. All she could do was hope their teams prevailed.

Zack corkscrewed his Viper around the fire of two Cylon craft to keep his bead on a Cylon tracking Thrace. His thumb found the trigger for the Viper's cannons. The first burst he fired missed. He corrected, spinning the Viper as he did, and hit the trigger again. This time the rounds ripped into the Cylon craft's engines and blew it to pieces.

Thrace got her target in turn. But there were more to shoot. More, in fact, than they could handle, as the Gonzalez was once again spending more time evading than shooting. The runabout straightened up for a moment and fired a phaser beam into one of the descending missiles, destroying it, before it jinked to one side to avoid a strafing attack by a Cylon fighter. Another missile flew past the one falling apart from the Gonzalez' attack. "One's getting through!" he shouted.

"We are trying to engage it, but the enemy fire is too thi-."

The transmission cut. Zack watched as fire erupted from the rear of the runabout. One of its warp nacelles had taken a direct hit. The main impulsor on the runabout died out a moment later.

"This is the Gonzalez, we have taken heavy damage to our impulsor drive. Main power is failing. We cannot maintain altitude."

"Frak it!" Thrace shouted, and for good reason, as another missile soared by. Below them the runabout began to descend rapidly, out of the fight for good.

"I've got it." Zack turned his Viper toward the nearest missile and sent his throttle to full. He corkscrewed and jinked to avoid incoming Cylon fire. But he never let the missile leave his sight. As soon as he confirmed his weapons were on target he opened fire. His rounds ripped into the missile's thruster assembly first, producing the explosion that tore the missile apart.

Another missile was even further down. It was less than a minute from detonation. Zack kept his speed up to get the range. His first shots were slightly off. The second series blew away parts of the missile's guiding fins. The third volley finally got the thruster.

Before he could fire a fourth volley, he spotted the debris hurtling toward him. Or, more accurately, the debris he was about to hit. He banked the Viper away, barely evading the incoming debris. The Viper shook and warning sounds went off from small pieces of debris that hit the fighter.

But that wasn't why Zack let out a cry of frustration. No, the reason for that was that the missile he'd just damaged was still descending toward the Colony, its warhead still active and primed to initiate. And because of his maneuver, he was no longer in a position to destroy it before it hit.

"Impact in five seconds!" Sam shouted over the sound of fighting.

"Here we go," Jack said to the others.

In the housing of the emitter, the Alakin security officer and trained engineer Ensign Kripkt finished slotting the last of the heavy-duty wires into place. "All is ready!" he called.

"I'm punching it!" Reubens replied. Her finger hit the key to activate the emitter.

In the command center, Sam saw the screen shift to show that the generator was active. All that remained was to see if it worked, as at her command a force shield activated around the Colony.

When the missile hit the shield, the weapon detonated. The flash was blinding, which was why Lucy had intentionally closed her eyes at sensing the weapon was set to go. She prepared herself for the blast wave that would rip her apart.

It never came.

Once the flash died down, the faint blue of a force shield dome was visible over her head. The shield had held.

A snarl appeared on the face of her Cylon counterpart. "This isn't the end," she vowed. "You can't stop what's…"

Lucy didn't reply with words. She swung her lightsaber in a blow toward the Cylon's torso. Her doppelganger's lightsaber came up to deflect the blow. Lucy allowed their weapons to strike yet again. By the time they were pulling back her focus was complete. She reached out with her hand and felt her energy, her connection to the universe and the Flow of Life, flow from it in a concentrated burst. The strike hit the Cylon-Lucy directly. She went flying back into the Presidential Mansion. The glass doors smashed at the impact, showering the Cylon with shards of glass that cut and injured her. Lucy charged and slashed at her counterpart's head. In desperation the Cylon-Lucy threw her arms up to get her blade into position to stop the attack.

The blow was deflected, barely, but that was fine by Lucy. Her attack had achieved its purpose of putting her counterpart's hands and weapon in position for her maneuver. She twirled about and made another cut with her saber, this time from a new angle level to the ground. This time the Cylon-Lucy simply didn't have time to react. Lucy's weapon cut cleanly through the Cylon-Lucy's forearms, severing them from the rest of her body. She screamed and toppled back again, bereft of her weapon.

Lucy had seconds to live at that point. She sensed the danger. As she turned to run her own mocking voice called after her. "You can't save them! We still have the poison!" More laughter followed that taunt in the seconds before light and flame erupted behind her. Lucy was out of the door at that point and back in the open. She dived for cover. The maneuver allowed her to avoid the blastwave from the Cylon's self-destruction. When she turned back, the Cylon-Lucy's destruction had carved a hole right out of the Presidential Mansion.

Lucy hit the comm key on her omnitool. "Lucero to Carter. Lucero to Deering. Is anyone there?"

Tense seconds passed. Lucy feared that the blast had collapsed the subbasement in some way. Had she just gotten her allies killed?

"Carter here. We're still alive." Lucy breathed a sigh of relief at Sam Carter's voice. "Do you know what just happened? It felt like a bomb went off."

"One did," Lucy replied. "I need directions to find the ventilation systems for the colony bunker, now. The Cylons are going to fill the ventilators with poison gas."

"I'm relaying the position to you now. Good luck."

The display on her omnitool showed the location she'd asked for. Lucy broke out into a run to get there as soon was was humanly possible.

"They got the shield up!" The surge of triumph briefly pushed away the raw pain in Zack. He laughed in relief.

"The colony shield is holding," Magda said. "Another missile is impacting…" Below there was a bright flash. "The deflector is still operating at ninety-eight percent effectiveness."

"I've got a bogey on my six. Carrey, where the hell are you?"

Thrace's call for help brought Zack's attention entirely back to the fight. He pulled the Viper into a climb, banked to his left, and in moments had the Cylon fighter trying to shoot up Thrace's Viper. "I've got you." A warning tone told him another enemy fighter was behind him. He twisted the Viper around to throw off the enemy aim enough that he could get a clear shot on Thrace's tail. Her Viper turned and dove toward him. The angle was good, giving him a clear shot at her tail. The resulting burst of fire from his guns chewed up the front of the Cylon craft until it exploded. As Thrace flew by her weapons lit up.

A second later the warning tone ceased.

There was no time for a celebration. More enemy fighters were descending. "I'm almost out," Zack said.

"Same here," was the reply. "Let's make it count."

"Roger that, Starbuck."

Sam finished sending the position data to Lucy and brought her weapon back into line with the attacking Cylons. The distinctive sound of Wilma's laser pistol directed her aim to Wilma's target, a Cylon with its arm dangling uselessly from where Wilma's weapon had nearly melted the limb off. She squeezed off a burst of fire from the Alliance-model pulse rifle she was carrying. The brilliant blue bolts of energy smashed into the Cylon's torso and sent sparks and smoke flying from trashed internal parts.

"She isn't coming to help?" Daniel asked.

"The Cylons are going to dispense gas into the bunker system," Sam answered. "Lucero's heading there instead."

"She made the right call." Wilma poked out of cover long enough to squeeze off a shot. A small streak of blood exploded from her arm the second she took the shot. She grunted and pulled her wounded limb back.

"It would appear their numbers have thinned out," Teal'c said from his place by the door. He squeezed off another shot with his staff weapon.

"Yeah." Jack squeezed off another burst toward the models coming through the hole in the wall. "But I don't think they care. So, any bright ideas?"

"Isn't there a way to short these things out?" asked Buck.

Sam activated the omnitool on her wrist. "I'll see what I can do."

A few hundred thousand kilometers from New Caprica, the Aurora and Pegasus maintained their formation. The debris of over a hundred Cylon fighters and missiles filled space around them, along with what remained of their lost fighters. Missiles continued to slip by their defenses, detonating against their deflector shields with increasing effectiveness.

On the Aurora bridge Neyzi reported their status. "Shields down to fifteen percent. Hull damages reported on Decks 16 through 34."

"And the Pegasus?" Adama asked.

"Ten percent shields, multiple points of hull damage."

"Our respective fighter squadrons are down to fifty and forty-eight craft," Meridina added.

Julia tapped the comm key on her chair. "Bridge to Science Lab 1. We are almost out of time, Commander."


In Science Lab 1 Jarod held onto his station to keep steady while the ship rocked again. Barnes checked his own station. "Tell me you're almost done!"

"Compilation is above ninety-nine percent," Jarod said. "Ninety nine point six five. Ninety nine point seven."

Barnes growled incoherently and smacked his own station. "This is taking way too fraking long dammit!"

Jarod ignored him. "Ninety nine point seven eight," he murmured. "Point eight four… point eight eight…"

Again the ship rocked, even more viciously. "Jarod, I need that now!" Julia cried.

Point nine two. Point nine five. Point nine eight… nine nine… Jarod let out a laugh when it hit one hundred percent. Immediately the screen shifted to show the program was ready. "I've isolated the Cylons' subspace communication channel!" he declared. "Transmit it now!"

"Transmitting program," Neyzi announced.

The ship took another hit after that. "Shields at six percent. Cohesion failing." Neyzi checked her panell. "Transmission complete."

At first nothing seemed to happen. Just long enough that Julia worried nothing would. On the viewscreen one of the Cylon Basestars suddenly seemed to tilt off-side. Its spinning subsided and it began to drift through space, completely lifeless.

One by one the other Cylon ships all started to shut down. Their fighter complements went inactive with them. The assault on the two ships ceased.

Adama watched the Cylon fleet go silent with clear satisfaction. "How did you do that?" he asked Julia.

She smiled back at him. "We studied the virus they infected the Aurora with back at Caprica. And Jarod used it to put together his own anti-Cylon virus." She turned to Cat. "Status on the enemy fleet?"

"They're all inactive," Caterina confirmed.

"So we got them all?"

After a moment Caterina shook her head. "No. The two in orbit over New Caprica jumped out right after the virus hit."

"We can handle two ships," Adama said. "But I get the feeling they're not coming back. Captain, if you would do the honors?"

Julia nodded. "Mister Locarno, assume a geostationary orbit over New Caprica Colony."

"Aye sir," Locarno replied.

She looked to Meridina next. "Downgrade our status to Code Yellow."

"Doing so now, Captain." Meridina tapped a key on her chair. The alert-level running lights switched to yellow.

"And what do you want me to do about those disabled Cylon ships out there?" Angel asked.

"Target their weapon systems and engines. Relay the same targeting orders to our fighters. Cripple them, but do not destroy."

Adama nodded in agreement. "Relay those orders to the Pegasus. I want those Basestars intact."

"Doing so now, Admiral," Meridina confirmed.

Buck looked back from the door after taking the last shot in his pistol's power supply. "I'm out!" he shouted.

"Same here." Daniel tossed away the inactive pulse rifle and pulled out his sidearm and a grenade. He tossed the latter, his last, over the desk he was crouched behind. The grenade landed between two Cylons and went off, pelting them with shrapnel. The force of the blast briefly stopped them before they continued on.

Gina was on one knee, her hands up as if she were pressed against a wall. A pile of high powered rounds were on the ground before her from where her power had stopped them cold. She was pale from effort and her hand was leaking blood again. "I don't know how much longer… I can do this…"

"I think I've got it," Sam said. "Give me a moment to configure this thing."

Jack crouched down beside Gina and resumed firing from his weapon. "Any time, Major," he said aloud.

"One moment… there." Sam stood from cover and held her hand out. An electric charge surged from the omnitool glowing blue around her left forearm. It struck one of the Cylons directly. It began to tremble violently, as if it was struck by a seizure, while the charge crackled inside of it. The charge made a sudden leap, or rather two leaps, becoming two charges that now claimed two more Cylons. And then more were claimed with the next jump, and more, until within ten seconds every Cylon left was trembling in place or already crashing to the ground.

Teal'c observed as the same happened to the remaining Cylons outside of the main door. "It would appear that Major Carter has succeeded," he said.

"I modified an EM pulse to follow their active communications network," she explained. "I just didn't think it would work that well."

"The important thing is that it actually worked, and we're here to talk about it," Buck remarked.

"Carter and Teal'c, stay here and secure the room." Wilma stood up while favoring her injured shoulder. "The rest of us can go secure the rest of the building."

"Sounds like a plan," Jack agreed.

Every muscle in Lucy's body was crying out for rest by the time she arrived at the central bunker support structure. She was surprised to see no Cylons present. That emotion became a little fear when she thought of how this might mean they were inside poisoning the air. Lucy went for the door which she found to be open already.

As she expected, the inside was mostly empty space. A hatch across the room undoubtedly provided direct access to the bunker system. A series of short, squat units provided the external air supply. It was likely meant to be closed off within the bunker itself if the air was dangerously radioactive, but given the Cylons were in control those failsafes to switch to internal air circulation were going to be inactive, turning these grates into a weapon against the colonists within. Lucy approached the grates and found nothing attached to them, nothing to show the Cylons were ready to poison at a moment's notice. Curious, she walked around the grates, trying to see what they were doing.

Within a few moments she found what she was looking for in the shape of numerous green cylinders piled near the grates. A quick scan confirmed their murderous contents.

The fact they weren't prepared and rigged for use was a surprise. So was the fact that they didn't look stacked and ready for use, but rather like someone had tossed them to the side.

The real surprise lay when Lucy stepped past the pile and found the body. She knelt down and pushed the remains over, revealing the dead as one of the male Cylon models. From the way his head was turned it looked like someone had broken his neck.

"Deering to Lucero."

Lucy raised her left arm slightly and tapped the glowing blue light above the back of her hand. "I'm here."

"Did you stop them?"

Lucy glanced back to the dead Cylon. "It looks like I didn't have to. Someone else already did. Are you secure?"

"We're securing the Presidential Mansion now. Lindstrom and his people are still holding their position. It looks like the Cylons have run out of units."

"Then it's over." Lucy let herself sigh with relief. "We won."

"They're gone." Apley's voice betrayed his pleasure at the announcement. "The Cylons have retreated, all remaining ships are disabled. It's over."

For a moment Zack enjoyed their victory. Despite everything, they had saved New Caprica and its people from the Cylons.

WIthin moments the taste of victory turned to ash. Victory had come too late for Clara. It wouldn't bring her back.

Nothing would.

"Hey Zack."

Thrace's voice got Zack's attention. "Yeah?" he asked.

"Clara would be proud of you."

Zack tried, and mostly failed, to fight the sniffle that came. "Yeah, I know," he agreed. "I know."

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 12 January 2643. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. The Cylon attack on the Alliance has been defeated. We have successfully secured New Caprica from the Cylons. Admiral Maran reports that General Jinam and his fleet were also victorious, destroying most of the Cylon attack force at Hal'tiram. Despite everything going against us, we've won, and I could not be more proud of this crew.

The victory was not a cheap one, though. Many people on the Colony lost their lives. And one of them has hit particularly close to home.

There were a number of things Julia could, or even should, have been doing. Reports, certainly, or maintaining a bridge watch just in case the Cylons came back. But that could wait. She needed to be here.

The transporter system activated and a single figure materialized on the pad. Zack appeared in a burst of white light in his civilian clothes. His eyes were red and his cheeks showed of dried tears.

Julia embraced him as soon as he stepped off the transporter. "I'm sorry," she said. "I can't believe she's gone."

"I didn't want to believe it." Zack's voice was hoarse. It wavered, as if at the slightest push he would descend back into sobs. "I shouldn't have left. I should have stayed. She'd be alive if I'd…"

The door to the transporter station slid open. Tom Barnes stepped in, looking worn down himself from the repair work. However tired it might have made him, he clearly had no thought for it as he went right for Zack, putting an arm around his neck. "Holy crap man, you're okay." His voice betrayed his immense relief. "You made it."

"Clara didn't."

"Oh frak, man. I… I don't…" Clearly uncertain of what to say, Barnes refused to pull away from his friend.

"I can't imagine how much this hurts," Julia said. "Is there anything I can do?"

"I don't think so," Zack said, his voice weary. "Honestly, right now I just want to be alone."

"Well, before you do that, you should hear the good news, man." Barnes sensed that Zack was not at all interested in the idea of "good news" given his grief, so he pressed on. "Rob's awake!"

The misery on Zack's face didn't disappear. But it did falter. "What?"

Julia nodded. "He woke up just before the fight. I still don't know what all happened, just that he felt we were in danger and rushed to the shuttle bay. If he hadn't thrown those Cylons out of the shuttle bay with his powers, they would have killed everyone there."

Zack chuckled bitterly at that. "Well, that's how he is, isn't it? Rob the White Knight, riding to the rescue." He shook his head. "Sorry, I didn't mean to make that sound bad. I'm happy he's awake. And that he saved you, Julie…" Zack shook his head. "God, I can't imagine what it would be like, losing you and Clara in the same day."

"I was about to go see him," Julia said. "Would you like to join me?"

"Yeah," said Zack. "I'd like that a lot."

Meridina and Leo were already present when the three arrived in the medbay ward. Robert was laying on another bed. With his eyes closed Zack wondered if the others hadn't been wrong about him being up.

"Zack." Robert's voice sounded hoarse, but strong. His eyes opened and his head turned. "I'm sorry."

"They told you?" Zack asked.

Robert shook his head stiffly. "No. I… I felt it."

"When you got up?"

"No. I was… I was somewhere else. In my mind. And I could feel your pain. I saw you holding her."

Zack went quiet at that. Julia turned her head to Leo and Meridina. "How long is he going to be in here?"

"He needs physical therapy," Leo noted. "After two and a half months in a coma, his muscles need to get used to movement again. He's lucky he didn't tear anything when he dashed to the shuttlebay."

"His swevyra assisted his movement," Meridina said. There was a sense of awe in her voice. "I have never seen anything like it. His inherent connection to the Flow of Life is deeper and stronger than it has ever been."

"Could that explain how he accidentally sent us flying like bowling pins when he woke up?" Leo asked.

"I cannot know for certain either way, Doctor," she answered. "For his connection to have strengthened without time and effort… this is without precedent in our history."

"I'm glad you're okay," Zack said, ignoring the discussion entirely. "Losing Clara's been hard enough."

Robert nodded. "I wish I could have done more."

"You already went above and beyond anything we could expect of you, Rob," Julia pointed out. "The important thing now is to rest."

Robert nodded and laid his head back on the bed. "Congratulations, by the way" he murmured. "On your promotion to Captain."

They looked at him. His eyes focused on Julia. "Thank you," she said.

"You earned it," he replied. "And I'm sensing Leo wants me to get 'real sleep', so you'd better leave before he starts getting ornery."

"Too late," Leo said emphatically.

The others shared a laugh, but all noticed that Zack barely managed more than a chuckle.

It was getting late in the day when Julia finally returned to her quarters. Now that Robert was awake she didn't feel quite so conflicted about planning to move into the Captain's Quarters. She wouldn't rush it, however, and she was more concerned on that matter with what Robert planned to do.

A fresh shower proved to be more enjoyable than any late meal could have been. She left it and was in her pale red terry-cloth bathrobe, a towel wrapped around her wet hair, when she was informed of the incoming call. She waited patiently until Admiral Maran's image appeared. "Captain. I see you're ending your day."

"I am, sir. I've already transmitted my preliminary report to Defense Command. I should have the final one done in the morning once everything is settled."

"That's good, though I'm not calling you about reports." Maran nodded. "I've been informed that Doctor Gillam has updated Robert's status. He's awake?"

"Yes. Although I think he's sleeping right now. Doctor Gillam is concerned he is overstretching himself. And Meridina's not sure what's going on with him."

"I can imagine. I'm just pleased to hear he's fine." Maran settled his hands together before him. "Well, I'll let you get some rest. I look forward to your final report, and I expect you back in drydock within a day or two. We still have to get Aurora back into proper fleet operation, after all."

"I'll get us back within 60 hours, sir," Julia pledged. "We're just helping the Colonials clean things up."

Maran nodded in approval. "Maran out."

With that over and her night done, Julia exchanged the bathrobe and towel for her nightie. She went to her bed and dropped into it. Her eyes drooped and she felt ready to go off into sleep.

Her omnitool toned again.

A low, impatient groan was followed by Julia turning to her nightstand and tapping the glowing blue light from her omnitool frame. "Andreys here," she muttered.

"Captain." She recognized Lucy's voice. "I'm sorry if you're going to bed, but I thought I'd tell you. We have a problem."

Julia sat up. "What kind of problem?"

"President Baltar is missing."

Hundreds of light years away, Gaius Baltar looked up from the uncomfortable cot he was forced to use for rest. It was a far cry from the warm, soft bed he had enjoyed in his Presidential estate, especially when it had included a warm, soft woman to provide pleasure and company. The lights around him were low, almost too low to see anything.

Surprisingly, the Cylon in his head appeared as if the light was sufficient for him. She was wearing the sexy red dress she always used to rile him up with. "You seem uncomfortable Gaius."

"Because I am uncomfortable," he protested.

"You allowed the creature comforts of your position to soften you, Gaius. To fulfill God's Plan, you will need to be stronger than this."

"So this is God's Plan? Being abducted by the Cylons?"

"Oh yes. The Cylons need you, Gaius. That's why you are still alive." The head-Cylon smiled at him. "And if you use this opportunity well, you will decide the fates of not just your people and the Cylons, but of the Alliance as well."
”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 »

With morning came breakfast. Unfortunately for Robert, his condition meant that Leo had imposed a light diet, until he got his digestive system used to solid food again. This meant things like water and basic liquids, including nutrient paste that made Robert want to gag.

The culinary ordeal was followed by more tests. Leo looked over his scans and shook his head. "Well, your body is adjusting well. I'm surprised how well, actually."

"Oh?" Robert asked from the bed.

"I expected you to take a few weeks, maybe a month, to regain your pre-coma physical condition," Leo explained. "But it looks like your muscles are already adjusting to a full motion of activity. It's like you've done two weeks of therapy in a single night."

Robert thought back to the dream world he had left. His conversation with his grandfather in that place. "Maybe something is helping me along."

"Well, I'm at a loss to explain it." Leo shrugged. "I want to run more tests and have you do a physical therapy session. Just to test how well you're doing. But at this rate, you'll be back in full shape in a few days."

"At least I'll be out of your hair." Robert made a gesture with his hand. A surge of power went out and smacked a set of hypospray vials off of the nearby tray. They toppled to the ground. Robert blanched. "I'm sorry."

Leo gave him a sardonic look. "I'm also wondering about that, Rob. You always used to say you were weak in this stuff, or weaker than the others. Now it's like you don't know your own strength."

"I know." Robert looked at his hand. "I just… I guess it's an adjustment. I'm not sure what this is."

"Well, I'm not the one to consult on that."

"No, but they are."

Robert's comment caused Leo to turn his head. Meridina and Lucy had arrived in the company of Mastrash Ledosh. "So they are. Well, I'll leave you to that consult. I've got medical supplies to transfer."

Once Leo finished walking away Robert turned back to the others. "Hey, good morning," he said.

"Yes." Ledosh had a bewildered look to his face, showing through his usual stoic quiet. "This is quite extraordinary."

"My waking up?"

"No." Meridina shook her head. "Robert, your power has grown. Without explanation. We have never had a case such as yours."

"Yeah. I mean, I can sense it too." Lucy shook her head. "You've got a lot of power now. Maybe more than either of us."

Robert swallowed. He couldn't help but think this was more than just a side effect. Had being in that dreamworld done this to him? Aloud he said, "I've had trouble controlling it."

"Leo mentioned that," Lucy said.

"Would you mind returning to Gersal with me?" Ledosh asked. "I believe the Council can help you with this. And they will wish to learn more of what happened to you. Knowledge that may prevent ignorance that would create fear."

"Well, I'm not captain of the ship anymore," Robert said. "So there's no duties holding me here. And I don't want to cause harm because I can't control this." He sighed. "So yes, I'll come with you."

Ledosh nodded at that. "I am grateful for your choice. I will speak to Mastrash Tinaran to make final arrangements."

"I'm sure you all have work to do. I don't want to keep you from it." Robert gestured toward the door. Again power seemed to surge from him. Ledosh sensed it and held up a hand. His own life energy, powerful and trained as it was, absorbed the impact of Robert's unintended outburst. "But I would like to speak with Meridina for a minute."

Meridina stopped herself from turning away. Lucy and Ledosh departed from the medbay ward, leaving the two of them alone for the moment. Robert wondered how so much could change; here he was, awake again, and not only was Julia commanding the ship, Meridina was wearing command red and serving as First Officer. "Leo tells me that Julia asked you to be the new First Officer. Have you decided on your answer?"

"I am still considering it," she admitted. "In all honestly, it is not what I considered my destiny to be."

"True. You were always meaning to advance as a Knight, a swevyra'se." Robert grinned at her. "Of course, I figured my place would be running the family farm one day. Sometimes the future takes us places we didn't expect."

"Are you advising me to accept the promotion?" Meridina asked.

"I'm asking you to think about it," Robert said. "Although I admit to being selfish."


"Julia." Robert sighed wistfully. "She showed me that a good captain needs a great first officer, someone who can make sure the captain is doing alright and getting good advice. Even if it means getting in the captain's face if they think the captain's wrong. And to me she was the greatest. And I think she deserves someone as her first officer who will be just as good to her as she was to me." Robert nearly gestured toward Meridina with his hand. He stopped himself just in case he accidentally knocked her back too.

Meridina nodded once. "I see what you mean, Robert. I will consider it. Is there anything else you would like to discuss?"

He shook his head.

"Then I shall go." She turned to leave. As she got to the door, she stopped and turned back to face him. "I am relieved to see you are awake again, and whole."

"It's good to see you again too, Meridina," he answered back.

Lucy and Ledosh were waiting for Meridina when she left the medbay. At Lucy's insistence they went to Lucy's quarters. Once the door was shut Lucy walked between them and to her desk. "I have to show you something," she said.

"This has to do with the Cylon swevyra'kse you fought on New Caprica?" Ledosh asked.

"Oh yeah, does it ever." Lucy picked up an object from the table. "She blew herself up when I defeated her. Her weapon was damaged in the process. It's not functional anymore, but…"

Ledosh and Meridina both recognized the warped, melted cylinder in Lucy's hand. "A swenkesh," Ledosh noted. "The Cylons can build them?"

"I don't know. Maybe not, actually, because I did a scan of it." Lucy set the destroyed weapon back down before she brought up the results on an extra-large holographic screen generated by her omnitool. "This is the result of dating the material."

The two Gersallians examined the result. "Three thousand years?"

"Well, anywhere between twenty-eight hundred and thirty-one hundred, roughly," Lucy answered. "But yes. It's almost as old as Swenya's Blade. And I think I found a marking on it that survived the blast." She tapped her omnitool again to bring up a zoomed in image of the burnt out lightsaber. On the rim of the hilt were several bits of what had once clearly been characters or text of some sort, melted beyond recognition. But one of the characters was intact enough to be distinctive. "Here." With a tap of a key Lucy highlighted the intact symbol.

"Swenya's Light," Ledosh gasped. The two younger women looked at Ledosh with surprise.

Meridina looked back to it. She narrowed her eyes and soon recognition came to her. "It looks like an old Gersallian symbol," she said. "Similar to the ones I found on Dralan Olati's lakesh."

"It is a clan symbol of the Kuneli," Ledosh said. "Specifically, it is the insignia of a long and extinguished clan. The Ihblis."

"And what's so important about these people?" Lucy asked.

"Because, Lucy Lucero, they died out with their last patriarch in the War of the Brotherhood." Ledosh frowned deeply. "For the Ihblis were the clan and family of Mastrash Kohbal."

Lucy's eyes widened. "What?"

"How could these Cylons have acquired such a relic?" Meridina looked to her old mentor. "You do not think…"

"I have long wondered about the similarity of the names," Ledosh said. "How the Humans of the Colonies referred to their worlds as the Colonies of 'Kobol', and how the world of that name was their homeworld. I had considered it nothing more than phonetic coincidence. But now, with this evidence, I wonder…"

"You believe the ancient origins of the New Capricans might be tied to the Brotherhood of Kohbal," Lucy said.

"Right now, Lucy Lucero, I do not know what to believe," Ledosh said grimly. "I will have to do research. Until then, I implore you, do not share this with anyone."

The two nodded in acceptance of his charge.

"There's also that dead Cylon at the ventilator access," Lucy continued. "There's no indication of who killed him."

"Whatever did was of great service to us," said Meridina.

"Yeah, but I'd feel better knowing…"

Lucy didn't say anything else on the matter. After a few quiet seconds passed Ledosh spoke up. "I must be going now. President Morgan has instructed me to begin talks with the government here on a proper response to this attack." Ledosh bowed slightly. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Meridina, Lucy."

They returned the farewell. Once Ledosh was out of the room Lucy went over to a chair and settled into it. "The Cylons are a lot more dangerous than we thought," she said.

"Agreed." Meridina sat on the small couch in the living area of Lucy's quarters, placing the coffee table between them. "I can feel how upset you are about this, Lucy."

"They… they cloned me, Meridina. They cloned me. And they've got all these other copies of me running around doing God knows what! I mean, for all we know, this attack only happened because of them copying me!" Lucy gestured toward her arm. "They could pretend to be me! Geneprint and retinal scans, fingerprints, every one of them would have worked for them. Maybe even the bioelectrics!"

"I have prepared a report to Defense Command on the problem."

"What's it going to mean for me?" Lucy asked. "If the Cylons can pretend to be me… if we can't find a way to tell the difference between me and their copies of me… what's going to happen? Are they going to make me leave the ship? Quit the Stellar Navy?"

"Do you want to remain in the service?" Meridina asked.

"Well, I want to stay here, on the Aurora, where I can do the most good," Lucy said. "But if I get kicked off the ship, where will I go?"

"If such a thing happens, I am certain you will find a way to continue to serve the Light."

Lucy looked up at her and smiled softly. "I'd try my best," she said. "And what about you?"

"About me?"

"This. I mean, that." She pointed to Meridina's collar, where the rank tab had three gold strips to denote her as a Commander. "Are you going to go back to being security chief? Or will you take the promotion?"

Meridina lowered her eyes. "Truly, I am uncertain."

"Oh?" Lucy shifted in her seat and leaned forward. "Why?"

"That is something I have been meditating upon, ever since Julia asked me to be her first officer." Meridina placed her hands together below her chin. The gesture made her look like she was praying though Lucy knew it to be more of a thinking position for her. "I have commanded before. When I examine my capabilities and knowledge, I see no reason to presume I am unsuited to the post. But I feel a… a block to my acceptance of it. There is something within me which resists the position."

"Hmm." Lucy nodded. "Maybe it's because you never imagined you'd be something like that? You grew up to be a swevyra'se. Maybe you imagined you'd become a Mastrash when you were much older than you are now, but there's nothing like a First Officer's position in the Order, right?"

"There are those assigned as seconds-in-command during large-scale missions. But nothing permanent like this."

"Right. So I suppose it could be intimidating? I mean, I don't know if I'd want the job either."

"Robert believes I should take the position. He desires me to, in fact, though he was reluctant to press me on the matter."

"He's probably worried about Julia. She's used to being the second-in-command. To questioning him and giving him advice. Now she's the one in command without anyone to be the same to her." When silence was the answer to this point, Lucy left her chair and walked around the coffee table to sit beside Meridina. Meridina turned her head so they could look eye to eye. "I can't sense whether you should or not. But I'll do whatever I can to help you once you've made it, whatever the choice is. With all the support you offered me while I was your student, I couldn't do anything less for you."

A quiet moment passed before Meridina answered her. "Thank you, Lucy."

When Zack returned to New Caprica, it was to get the dreadful duties over with. He knew it would hurt and he wanted it done.

And he wanted to be alone.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the latter simply couldn't happen. When he arrived at Clara's home in the Hospital Quarter of the Colony, Thrace and Anders were waiting for him. So was Cally and Galen, with their infant Nick sleeping in a nearby baby carrier. Zack saw them and managed a "Hey".

"We figured you could use somebody," Thrace said. "To get this done."

"And we didn't want you to be alone."

Zack didn't retort that that's exactly what he wanted to be. He didn't need to. He was sure Anders and Thrace already knew that. Just as they knew that leaving him alone with the memories of what he lost was not good for him.

So he said nothing while opening the door. They stepped into the quarters. Everything looked just as it had the other morning before everything went wrong. Dishes meant to be done later were piled in the sink. The refuse from their breakfast before her hospital shift was at the top of the trash can. Everything in the bed area of the studio apartment was as they'd left it. It all looked like the last two days hadn't happened.

But they had. And Clara was gone.

Cally set little Nick on the table. The infant seemed unfazed by the slight movement of his carrier, continuing to doze peacefully. She turned back to Zack with tears forming in her eyes. "I'm so sorry," she said, after which she hugged Zack. "I can't believe she's gone. She… she saved my life. I would have frozen up if Clara hadn't been there."

Zack couldn't keep the tears from his eyes. "She was looking forward to you becoming a dentist," he said. "She said that if we ever had kids, you'd be their dentist."

Cally sniffled at that.

When she finally let go, Galen put a hand on Zack's arm. "Clara was the best," he said. "We're going to miss her."

Zack's only reply to that was to nod. "We should get started," he said. "The ship's supposed to leave tonight, and there's a lot to do here."

"It'll be good practice for all of us," Thrace remarked. "The Quorum's talking about abandoning this colony and jumping universes after all. Like we should have done if Baltar hadn't been such a fraking idiot."

Zack had nothing to say to that. He did have the thought of what that meant, of course. That if Baltar hadn't been so ridiculous in deciding to settle here, then this attack wouldn't have happened. And Clara and so many other citizens of the Colonies would still be alive.

There was a knock at the door. Zack stepped between Galen and Cally to open it.

Tom Barnes and Leo were outside, joined by Apley, Magda, and Hajar. "Scotty, Nick, and Jarod are going to beam down as soon as their watches are over," Barnes said. "With all of us together, this should be over in a snap."

Zack sighed and closed his eyes. "Yeah, yeah it will be," he said. "Come on in."

They all piled into the apartment. There was just enough room for everyone to work, and it was true that if they worked well together it would be over soon. Zack forced himself not to say anything. They'd get everything over with and he could get to his quarters and be alone, just as he wanted to. He went to join the others in working.

There was another knock. This time Magda beat him to it. She stepped back enough to admit Julia. "I wanted to see how far things were going," she said. "And help if you needed it. Meridina and Lucy may…"

She stopped herself. Zack did too. At least, he stopped himself from yelling at them. But at the same time, he simply couldn't be here, surrounded by friends, by family, being pitied and sympathized with. "I need air," was all he managed to say before he rushed past Julia and outside. He closed the door with enough force that it nearly reached the level of being slammed shut, though it was not.

The others all looked toward Julia and then each other. She sighed. "He needs space," she said. "And time. We should get everything done before he gets back. It'll be easier on him that way."

There were nods of agreement. Everyone started working.

Zack needing air turned into a walk that took him to the center of the Colony. The populace was back out of the bunkers now and cleanup was continuing from the damage caused by the attack. Some of the businesses were even open again.

Including the one that Zack had spent so much time in before the Cylon attack.

After several moments of consideration he sighed and stepped into the jewelry store. It hadn't been touched by the attack. The jeweler spotted him from behind his display and grinned. "Ah, Commander. You're just in time. I…"

"I'm here to cancel my order," Zack said.

That brought a surprised frown to the other man. "You're what?"

"Cancel it," Zack repeated.

"But… I cannot." The man bent down briefly and came up again with a small box of velvety red. He opened it to reveal a ring with a glinting set of diamonds in it. "I finished it this morning. Our policy is no refunds after completion of the project."

Zack frowned at that. The frown was followed by a sigh as he picked up the ring. His heart quaked in agony at seeing it. All of his plans with it were for naught now. Just looking at it was painful.

"What is wrong?" the man asked. "It's just as you asked for."

And indeed it was, as Zack noticed the engraving on the inside of the ring. Clara & Zack, with a stylized romantic heart. He closed the box and set the useless ring into his pocket. "It is," he said.

"It is exquisite. Some of my best work. Surely your young lady hasn't changed her mind…?"

"She can't change her mind," Zack answered. "She can't do anything now."

The older man's face fell. "I am so sorry to hear that. I pray that the Lords grant you both peace."

"Thanks," was all Zack could say before he walked out. The weight of the little box in his pocket was nothing. The weight it left inside of him was tearing the fresh wound further open. All of his dreams of how he would present the ring to Clara were nothing but fantasies now. He felt the urge to just take the ring and throw it away.

He started walking back toward the Hospital, the direction of Clara's apartment. He made it a block when a light caught his eye. A sign for another business along the main road he was following. He glanced over to read the sign. Something inside of him tried to dig his heel in, to ignore what he was thinking.

But it was too weak to fight the pain. The pain won. Zack entered the business. He walked past the rows of bottles, the stands of product, and to the main counter. A middle-aged woman met him there. "Yes?" she asked.

Before he could stop himself, the question popped from Zack's lips.

"Do you have any tequila?"

"You know, I could get to like it here," Jack O'Neill announced.

His team walked alongside him. "It does seem to have an agreeable climate," Teal'c agreed.

"And it has that small town feel to it."

"Because they're all that's left of their civilization," Sam pointed out. "I doubt it's a small town by choice."

"And it's more of a really small city than a town," Daniel added.

Jack let out a sigh. "Alright, so you're both right about that. But you can see what I mean, can't you? And we got to be the heroes here, so let's enjoy it before we head back, right?"

"Personally I'm more interested in reading their histories than anything else," said Daniel. "I'd like to find out how they came to associate their religion with Greek mythology. They're supposed to be the distant descendants of Humans who survived Earth's destruction in an atomic war, right? So how did they end up thinking they came from another world and Earth was just another colony?"

Jack leveled a look at Daniel. "Well, that's your idea of fun. Now me, I'd like to meet the people. Get to know them."

"Try out their beer," Daniel said, anticipating Jack's interest.

"That too."

"And discover their best fishing spots," Sam added.

"And yes, that too…"

"Well, there you are," another voice called out. The four turned and watched Buck and Wilma walk up. Buck was in a civilian suit, brown jacket and light-colored shirt with dark pants, while Wilma was wearing the blue variant of the Earth Defense DIrectorate uniform. "They finally let us out," Buck said.

"How's the arm?" Daniel asked Wilma.

"Doctor Gillam got it patched up last night," she answered.

"Well, Buck, now that you're here, maybe you can help us settle something," Jack said. "We're having a little discussion about the best way to spend our time before we have to take off. Daniel here wants to go put his nose in a book."

"I didn't say that…"

"...while I wish to mingle with the people here and get to know them better."

"What he means to say is he wants to try their beer and see their best fishing spots," Sam remarked with a grin.

"Ah, yes. 'Beer.'" Wilma smiled at Buck. "You've mentioned that substance before."

"Wait, wait." Jack leveled a look at Wilma. "You don't know what beer is?"

"The Earth of the 25th Century is a little… different," Buck managed.

That prompted Daniel to ask, "How different, precisely?"

"Well, having the Alliance contact us has been a great way for me to eat real food again, for starters." Buck gave Wilma a cocky grin. "It's a way to get away from those bland food discs everyone on Earth eats these days."

Wilma gave him an exasperated look. "Food discs are carefully designed for nutritional value. They're a vital part in keeping the populace healthy."

"And they taste like stale crackers."

"So we've got descendants from a devastated Earth who worship the Greek pantheon under a new name… and now a post-atomic Earth." Daniel glanced toward Sam. "You know, I have to wonder, how precisely do people in the Multiverse keep all of these Earths apart?"

"I believe that is the purpose of their universe designators, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c pointed out.

"Okay, how about this? We're running out of time." Jack gestured to his watch. "Now, anyone who wants to go meet some great people and learn more about them, you follow me. If you want to read books about them, I'm sure Daniel will enjoy the company. But as of now, my part of this conversation is over, and there's a barstool somewhere in this colony with my name on it."

"Count me in," Buck said immediately.

The Aurora was just a few hours from departure when Julia got the communication she expected. She had it routed to the ready office off the bridge and sat at the desk to accept the call. Lee Adama's face appeared on her screen. "Congratulations, Julia," he said. "On your new command."

She smiled at him and nodded in reply. "Thank you. It feels better now that Robert is awake. How are things on your side?"

"My crew is relieved to see we saved their families and sent the Cylons running. Honestly, It's a good thing your people did come through." Lee frowned a little. "I think a few people felt like you let us down when the Cylons got the drop on all of us."

"I can understand that," Julia said. "We underestimated them. But we won't again."

"It may not be a big deal for us anymore. The Quorum just appointed Roslin as the new Vice President, and there's a rumor going around that Zarek might resign in her favor and take the VP spot. His association with Baltar and his policies isn't going to do him a lot of good right now. Roslin's already talking about renegotiating the colonization deal and going to another planet. Possibly in another universe."

"I don't blame her, or your people." Julia settled back into her chair. "Whatever happens, I hope everything works out."

"Thanks." The look on Lee's face became pensive, but a little hopeful. "So, are you staying long…?"

"We're leaving in a couple of hours, actually." Julia gave no sign of responding to his subtle disappointment. "The Aurora was rushed out without a full crew and with a few minor problems we need to sort out. We're due back at the Fleet Drydock in a couple of days, so we're heading back to Gersal to make the jump to Earth L2M1."

"I see. Well, it was good to see you anyway." Lee lowered his eyes. "Will you extend my condolences to Commander Carrey? I tried to reach him but he's not answering his comms."

"Yeah. He's… in a bad spot right now, and he's insisting on being alone. I'll give him the message when I can."

"Thanks." Lee remained silent for a moment before shrugging. "Well, that's it I suppose. Maybe we'll see each other at the New Liberty anniversary this year. I'm not sure who will be going to represent the Colonies."

"Maybe," Julia agreed. "We'll have to see." She felt surprise at her own little sense of disappointment. After all the stress of the prior few days, the chance to spend some time with Lee was something she realized she'd enjoy. It was unlikely to go anywhere as a romantic relationship, but the chance to unwind with someone who understood the pressures she was coming under, who understood her… yes, she could enjoy that.

"May the Lords watch over you, Julia," Lee said. "Pegasus out." His image disappeared from the screen.

Julia gathered her thoughts for a few moments and, with a little sigh, decided to go through her paperwork for the evening.

The streaks of warped space filled the one window in the captain's ready office on the Aurora. Julia found herself staring through that window. For nearly half a decade she had witnessed this scientific miracle, traveling on a ship exceeding the speed of light, and it never quite seemed to get old.

Seeing it as the captain of the ship in question? That made the experience all the sweeter.

It occurred to Julia that there was something of a madness to the last few years. She had always intended to be an athlete, or perhaps a businesswoman. Maybe even a politician, if the opportunity came. Any position where she could take charge and accomplish something notable, something worthy. She could never have imagined growing up to be a spaceship captain. And yet it was the very embodiment of the kind of work she wanted to do in her life. There was an impatient urge within her to get the Aurora back to dock, just so she could get back into normal duty and tackle the challenges coming.

Of course, even in dock there would be some challenges. Getting the crew established. Making sure the ship was ready. Getting her senior staff filled out.

The thought of that need was in her head when the door chime sounded. "Come in," she said.

The door slid open and Meridina stepped in. She was still wearing the uniform with command branch burgundy red in the trim. "Captain, Commander Scott reports that the engines are running as desired. All damage has been repaired."

"That's good to know." Julia leaned forward in her chair. "Anything else?"

"Yes." Meridina nodded once. "The Peregrine is waiting at the rendezvous point. They are here to pick up our allies."

Julia nodded. "Let Colonel O'Neill and Colonel Deering know. We'll see them off once we drop out of warp."

"Very well." Meridina placed her hands together before her. "Captain, I have another matter to discuss with you."

Julia was pretty sure of what Meridina was talking about. She responded with a simple "Yes?"

"I have put a great deal of thought into your request."


"And…" Meridina paused briefly, as if making one final review of her decision before she made it permanent. "...I have made my decision. I humbly accept the task of being your First Officer."

Julia answered that with a smile. "That's good to hear, Meridina." She stood and extended her hand. "I'm looking forward to working with you, Number One."

Meridina furrowed her brow. "'Number One'?"

The smile turned into a grin of bemusement. "Yeah, I don't think that works for me either. We'll stick with Commander."

"Ah." Meridina reached out and accepted the hand. "Of course, Captain. I will serve you to the best of my ability."

"Will that include letting me know when you think I'm wrong?"

"I am informed that doing such is one of the primary tasks of a First Officer, so yes, I shall do so."

"Good." Julia nodded and settled back into her chair. Meridina took one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. "I suppose our first order of business is your replacement as Chief of Security. I'll submit Lieutenant Richmond's name for the promotion, if you're in agreement."

"I am. She will do well in the position."

"Good." Julia kept the smile on her face. Everything had finally clicked into place. She had a proper command staff for her ship.

Meridina, for her part, finished glancing around the room. "I see Robert's things have been removed."

Julia nodded at that. "He came by this morning and got everything. He's getting his quarters packed up now so I can move in. And, of course, you can then move into my old quarters."

"It shall give us something extra to do during our remaining time in dock," Meridina noted.

At that, Julia chuckled and said, "As if we won't have enough to do. At our rank, our only holidays end up being working holidays."

Much to Julia's surprise and delight, Meridina started laughing. Yes, I think this will work out, Julia thought, enjoying the sound of the stoic Gersallian's lilting laugh.

Robert made it to the Transporter Station just in time. He found Julia and Meridina standing with SG-1. "So, you're off too?" he asked them.

Jack replied, "Yeah. Before the snakeheads get all bent out of shape about us being around you."

"Well, I'm thankful you came to help," Robert said to them. "It was good seeing you again, however briefly."

"We are gratified to see you are well, Captain," Teal'c answered.

"Y'know, if you're no longer with the Alliance, you could always come to the SGC," Jack suggested. "We can always use good people."

Robert answered that with a warm smile. Julia and Meridina did the same. "Somehow I doubt the System Lords would be happy," Julia pointed out.

"Probably not," Robert agreed. "But thank you for the offer."

"I wouldn't mind getting to see some of these other universes," Daniel said. "I've heard about this one moon, somewhere called Solaris?"

The thought of the generally strait-laced Daniel dealing with the frantic insanity that Solaris could bring made Robert laugh. "Oh, that's a memorable one," Julia remarked.

"Quite," Meridina agreed. "It is certainly a… unique experience."

"Maybe one day, Doctor Jackson," Robert said. "Say hello to Sha're and little Leo for us?"

"Oh, don't get him started on Leo," Jack sighed. "Frankly, if you ask me that kid is growing up way too fast."

"That is a common complaint I hear from Human parents," Meridina said. "It would seem your species has a chronic inability to anticipate child growth."

"We just like to pretend they'll be small forever and won't go asking to borrow the car," Jack explained.

"It was good working with you all again," Sam said. "I know I wouldn't mind getting to spend more time on your starships."

"Hopefully we'll see each other again sometime," Julia said.

That got a single nod of approval from Jack. "Same here. And how about you talk to your Admiral Maran so that the next time we do this, instead of killer robots you let us fight something more interesting. All of this talk about a war with Space Nazis, but I haven't gotten to shoot a Nazi yet. It feels like you're holding out on me here."

Teal'c nodded. "I have heard many terrible things about these 'Nazis', and of the heroes who fought them. I too would like a chance to face them in battle. And I am most curious to see if they possess this 'ark' that Colonel O'Neill has spoken of."

"I don't think these Nazis have the Ark of the Covenant, Teal'c," Daniel remarked.

Sam smiled at that. "And I'm sure it doesn't behave the same way it does in the movie," she said.

The door to the Transporter Station slid open, admitting Buck and Wilma. "Ah, we're not too late," Buck said.

"No, you're not," Julia said. "It was nice to see you again, Captain, Colonel."

"Same here," Buck said.

"Yes." Wilma smiled at Julia and extended a hand. Julia accepted it. "Congratulations, Captain, and good luck out there."

"Thank you, Colonel. The same to you."

"Buck." Robert offered his hand. "How have you been doing?"

"Alright." Buck accepted it. "Good to see you're awake."

"Yeah. It's good to be back."

"The Peregrine just signaled, sir," the transporter station operator, a teal-skinned Dorei male with dark blue spots and hair, said. "They are ready for transport."

"Time to go," Wilma said, taking a step up to join SG-1 on the pad.

"Give Doctor Theopolis and Doctor Huer our best," Julia said to them.

"And Twiki," Robert added, smiling.

Julia nodded. "Yes, and Twiki."

"I will. It'll be nice to deal with robots who don't want to kill us." Buck stepped up on the transporter station, taking the spot beside Jack. Wilma stood beside Samantha. "Take care everyone."

"Hey, before you use that thing…" Jack held up his finger. "I've got one last thing to ask."

"Go ahead," Julia said.

"Zack's been pretty distant since, well… just let him know we hope he gets through this."

The request turned the mood in the room into a somber one. "Yeah," Robert said. "We will."

"Thanks. Well, now you can get on with the atom-shooting stuff."

"It's not shooting atoms, Jack," Sam pointed out.

"Close enough…"

"Crewman, energize," Julia said. And they watched together as their allies, their friends, were whisked away by the transporter system.

"So, where is Zack?" Robert asked. "I tried to visit his quarters but there was no answer."

"He's there." Julia sighed and shook her head. "He said he just wanted to be alone."

"Oh." Robert sighed at that. He could feel his friend's pain even here. "Well, hopefully he'll open up."

"It will have to be his choice," Meridina said. "And his alone."

It was the middle of the night for Zack, but even in his comfortable bed in his quarters on the Aurora, he found no rest. Falling asleep brought the dreams. Dreams of Clara dying before his eyes. Of her empty blue eyes accusing him of failing her. For not being there for her. For not saving her.

When the clock showed 0200 and sleep still hadn't come, he got out of his bed and walked into his living area. For a short time he simply sat on his couch, clad only in his boxers, staring ahead into space. Thinking of all of the plans he'd made and where they had gone. When he cast his eyes down toward his small coffee table, he spied the two objects he'd placed there upon his return. Seeing the velvet box with the engagement ring he never got to give to Clara made the pain in his soul spike. Tears flowed freely from his eyes until his vision became a blur. He sobbed quietly to himself.

When his vision cleared again, he was facing the other object. He stared at it. He knew he should have never bought it. He knew what it represented. What it could do to him, what it had done to him.

Which is why he knew what it would do to the pain. Just for a little while… just so he could sleep without dreams.

Zack reached to the table and picked up the bottle. He popped the top and poured a little into a mug he typically saved for his coffee. His hand quivered in momentary resistance before, with a low sigh, he surrendered to the impulse and picked up the mug.


The planet Gersal shined through the windows of Robert's old quarters. Everything here was as he'd left it, even after his months in a coma. Old certificates and awards that were now packed away in boxes, along with the plentiful family photographs and other keepsakes. Said boxes were being loaded onto a Order of Swenya transport even now, to be delivered to his cousin Beth on New Liberty.

Not everything would be taken there. Ledosh assured him there would be some room for private keepsakes wherever he stayed. He'd selected a picture of his family and another of the Aurora and Koenig crews from the prior year, items he was now placing in his duffel bag on top of his spare clothes and other personal items.

For a moment he lingered while looking at the two pictures through the opening of the bag. The one image was the last picture the family had with his grandmother in it. Allen and Anna were in the center. Michael and Leigh were beside them. Beth, ten years old at this point, stood between the two sets of adults, holding the hand of Robert as an eight year old. Three year old Susannah was between the two, smiling up at the camera.

A tinge of pain filled him. They were all gone from his life, save Beth. Getting to see them alive again, even in the way he had… he wondered for a moment just how he'd found the strength to leave them willingly.

That only lasted a moment, of course, since the answer was in the other photo. They were lined up in the Lookout. Robert in the middle, Julia to his right and Zack to his left. To Zack's left was Tom, and beyond him were Zack's officers: Apley, Magda, Karen Derbely, Sherlily and Opani. On Julia's were the rest of the Aurora crew: Jarod and Nick, Angel and Cat, Leo and Nasri, Scotty and Meridina and Patrice Laurent and, finally, Lucy. He reached his hand into the bag and briefly touched the image with his fingers. Tears were formed in his eyes, and not just tears of grief for his dead family, but joy as well, for the family that was still here.

The door chime sounded. Robert turned in time to see it slide open. Julia stepped in. She looked around at the spartan emptiness of the living area of what were now her quarters, and he could feel the wistful melancholy that briefly came over her. "Well," she said, "I came to see if you needed any help. Ledosh and Gina are ready to depart."

"I'm done." He patted his duffel bag. After taking a quick look around he felt a smile tug at his lips. "It's yours now."

"Yeah." Julia nodded.

"And I'm sorry about the bathroom mirror."

Julia gave him a bewildered look. He winced and gently raised a hand. "Yeah, I knocked my razor into it. Left a bit of a crack. And I'm going to need a new razor."

"Just as long as you get the seven years bad luck," Julia answered with a wry grin. Robert laughed in reply, and she laughed right back. Both felt better for the laughter.

When it ended, Julia glanced toward the desk facing them and the dormant monitor there. "I…" She looked at Robert and stated, her tone apologetic, "I never wanted this at your expense, Rob."

"I know. And it's not." He stepped up and took her hand. For a moment the energy within him stirred. He concentrated and barely managed to keep it in check. "Never think that, Julia. I made my choice. And the TARDIS warned me my life would end."

"It almost did," she pointed out. "Having you alive is a miracle, if you ask me."

"I think my life did end," Robert said. "I mean, I didn't die. But I'm not going to be able to go back to that old life. Of being Captain Robert Dale."

Julia could have pointed out he could get another command. But she knew not to. She could see what he meant. "So you sent in your resignation?"

"It's not officially accepted due to the war, of course, but Ledosh tells me Maran made it clear I'm off the active duty roster pending review of my condition. Knowing Davies and Hawthorne, they'll do everything they can to keep me out." Robert shrugged. "I did a lot of good as a captain, and I could probably do more, but when I think about it, I'm not as upset as I thought I'd be. And I've got a new life I have to settle into now."

"Are you sure about this? Becoming a mystic monk or whatever?"

Robert chuckled. "Well, I'm not going to become some hermit in the desert or anything. I'm going to be in the middle of nowhere for a while, yeah, but only until I regain some control."

"And then…?" Julia asked.

"Well, then I've got some things to do. Maybe spend time with Beth. Visit some sights in the Multiverse." Robert allowed himself a shrug. "I don't know. I have questions, and I need time to find the answers. But wherever I am, call me if you need me and I'll help you in any way I can."

"I know." Julia wiped away a tear from her eye. "It's just… it's going to be weird, I guess. You've been away before, but it feels like this might be for good. And we've always lived near each other or worked together."

"I feel the same way. Living without you is going to be, well, I'm going to have to adjust I guess." Robert shrugged. "Who knows, maybe I'll find a way to serve with the civilian staff on the ship." An amused grin came to him. "Maybe Hargert can use another waiter."

An old memory made Julia giggle as she shook her head. "Oh no. I remember the last time you tried that kind of work. The restaurant fired you after an hour."

For a few moments, there was more laughter. The silence that followed it grew awkward and then painful. "Leo said your brain was active while you were in the coma," Julia said. "Like you might be dreaming somehow."

Robert sighed and replied with a nod. "You could say that."

"Was it… I mean, it wasn't something bad, was it?"

"Far from it. I was happy." He swallowed. "It… has to do with my powers, with this swevyra and Flow of Life stuff. But I got to live in a world where I was happy."

"Were we in it?"

"Yes. Especially you." When Robert went silent, Julia couldn't help but feel the awkwardness of it. "I don't… I'm not sure how to say this…"

"Say what?"

"In the… dream, I guess you'd call it, you and I, we…" He saw Julia's cheeks flush slight pink and knew she understood where this was going. "...we had a son, Julie."

The flush disappeared. Her eyes locked onto his. "You… dreamed that?"

"It wasn't just a dream. I mean, it was more than a dream…" Robert couldn't stop the tears that formed in his eyes. "You named him after me. Robby Junior. Little Robby. He… he had your hair. And your eyes. And… if there was anything that could have kept me from waking up from that place, it was him."

"What are you saying then?" she asked. "That you want to have a child with me?"

There was an awkward silence. "Maybe," he finally admitted. "If you and I ever… if we ever feel we can make it work without endangering what we already have. If you want to have a child."

Julia struggled to find a response aside from a stiff nod. She swallowed while the thought went through her head. Have a family? Settle down? Could she do that? Would she want to?

"Maybe one day," she finally said. "I… I mean, if I were going to have a baby with someone, you're… it'd work. But not now. What I'm doing, what we're doing, it's dangerous. I'm not going to make potential orphans, Rob."

"I understand completely. I wouldn't want that either." He shrugged. "It's so strange. You and me, having a kid, that's something I'd love. But I also value what we have together, what we've had since we were little, too much to risk it on romance."

"I feel the same way." Julia cleared her throat and made a show of checking her omnitool. "We should probably get to the shuttle bay. They're waiting."

"I'm right behind you, Captain."

When they arrived in the shuttle bay, Robert could see that Julia hadn't just been speaking of Ledosh and Gina.

The officers of the Aurora and Koenig were lined up and waiting for Robert and Julia. His heart swelled at the sight of all of his friends and loved ones coming to say goodbye. He looked toward Ledosh, standing beside the shuttle they were departing on, and felt the assurance from the old Mastrash. He would ensure Robert's power didn't flare out of control. He could give everyone a proper goodbye.

He started with Ensign Hajar, who shook his hand and said, "Thank you for giving me a chance, Captain."

One by one he accepted their hands with his. Patrice Laurent, with friendly grin Robert associated with the commander of the ship's fighter group, gave him a pat on the shoulder. "You will be back," the Central African Republic native insisted. "Our lives are intertwined."

"Thanks, Patrice."

"Good luck, Captain," Lieutenant Richmond echoed in her Australian accent. "It's been an honor serving with you."

"The honor was mine, Lieutenant. Good luck with your new assignment."

"Ye take care, lad," Scotty said. "An' dinnae worry a bit about th' ship."

To that Robert chuckled. "With the Aurora in your hands, Mister Scott? Never."

"Take care of yourself," Leo insisted

"Always." He took Nick Locarno's hand next, then Jarod's, replying to their well-wishes with "Thank you" and "Good luck out there."

Caterina hugged him as tightly as she could. "I'm going to miss you!"

"Woh," he said. "Cat, when did you have a growth spurt?"

"Well, I did travel with the Doctor for a year…" She smiled at him. Her hair was longer than it had ever been, down to her shoulders, and there was a confidence in her eyes that was new. "Take care of yourself, and I don't care how, you have to come back. We're all family!"

"What my crazy not-so-little sister said," Angel added. She gave Robert her own tight hug. This one felt like it could actually crack ribs. "And you need to take care of yourself, Rob."

"Or you'll punch me?"

Her response to that was a smirk and a wink.

Robert could feel the pain coming from Zack even as his friend stepped up. The two embraced. Robert patted Zack on the back. "Call me if you need me," he said. "Just because I can't stay right now doesn't mean I won't be there for you, Zack."

"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Zack answered. The pain Robert sensed in his friend indicated otherwise. "I mean it. I… I just need to get through this by myself, Rob. Okay?"

"Okay," Robert answered. "Just remember that you don't have to." He hoped Zack would keep that in mind as he watched his grief stricken friend step away quietly.

"Man, get out of that monastery place as quickly as you can," Barnes insisted, giving Robert not so much a hug as an excited pat on the back. "I can't imagine how Goddamned boring it's going to be in that fraking place."

"I'll try, Tom, I'll try," he promised. He leaned in and whispered, "Take care of Zack."

Barnes nodded. His expression turned somber. "I'll try, man. It's not gonna be easy."

"Yeah, I can tell."

This left one last goodbye. Robert walked up to the shuttle, where Ledosh and Gina had been joined by Meridina and Lucy. "You look splendid, Meridina," he said. "Congratulations on your new posting."

"Thank you, Robert," she replied.

"Good luck with the training at Umintamil," Lucy added. A bemused grin appeared on her face. "I hear it's a special place."

"Quite special," Meridina said, giving Lucy a similarly-bemused look. "It is a place of introspection and quiet. It is said Swenya often went there to grieve for the slain and strengthen her connection to the Flow of Life. It is a good place for you to learn control."

"Right." Robert sighed. "I suppose I'd better go then."


With a nod to Ledosh and Gina Robert stepped into the shuttle door. He turned back to face the others. "Thank you, everyone," he said. "I know it feels like I just got back. I'm sorry to be leaving on such short notice. It's… well, it's something I need to do, or I'm going to end up hurting someone. I want you to know that whatever happens, I consider you my family, and I will be here when you need me." He stopped himself from saying "goodbye", or even "farewell". "Take care, everyone."

With his piece said, he stepped into the shuttle. Ledosh and Gina followed and the door closed behind them. Moments later the shuttle lifted off of the bay floor and flew out through the containment forcefield.

As the shuttle curved away out of sight, Julia activated her omnitool. "Andreys to Bridge, they're away. Begin jump."

The Starship Aurora turned away from Gersal and accelerated into a green vortex.
”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 »

Well, I'm soon to put up 3-03, but first, a couple notes.

One, 3-03 was written by me, but some of the characters featured were created by the writers who will be doing the spinoff series "Undiscovered Frontier: Origins". Said writers did some editing and re-working of dialogue by their characters to fit their intentions.

Secondly, 3-03 is probably one of the riskier stories I've done given the reaction to 2-14 by some people, since it too introduces an OC universe. My decision to introduce said universe was because I thought it would add to the diversity of the Multiverse setting. It would be something new, with a unique development on its Earth compared to the standard Earths we've seen so far in nUF. Additionally, upon collaboration with the UF:O writers, the universe was set up in a way that I thought would give it a unique feel. There are no good guy and bad guy factions. No clear-cut "They're the ones in the right". It is ultimately a gray setting, as you will see, and I think that necessary to keeping things fresh and providing room for character discussion and conflict.

Anyway, with that said, standby for the first part of Episode 3-03, currently the longest episode by word count in the entire series.
”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 »


Ship's Log: 15 February 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. I'm pleased to report that we have completed our shakedown and training cruise for the crew. The Aurora is officially back on active duty. I am also pleased to report that despite the changes to the command staff and some of the department heads, everything is going as smoothly as it did before the battle with the Cybermen and Daleks.

For our first mission back on active duty, the
Aurora has been sent to the Alliance's colony zone in Universe Designate A2M6 to assist in a medical emergency at the Oakland Colony on Phi Perseus 4.

With time on her hands before her morning bridge watch, Julia went by the medbay to check up on things there. She found Leo in the company of the newest medical officer on his staff. Doctor Roliri Opani, formerly the medical officer of the Koenig, was quick to notice Julia's arrival. The Dorei woman's dark teal skin and longer, pointed ears gave her both an alien and almost elfin appearance. The light purple spots running from her forehead to her neck and further below were the same color as her eyes, though her hair was a far darker hue. "Captain," she said.

"Ah, there you are." Leo turned as well to face her. "Anything more from the governor of the Oakland Colony?"

"His last update had no changes listed," Julia replied. "The women he has in quarantine aren't showing any symptoms of illness, but the tests his medical officers have done confirm the presence of a parasitical organism in their bodies. At least, in the Humans of the group, the quarantined aliens have shown no sign of infection."

"But it's not causing any adverse symptoms." Leo was clearly thoughtful on that point. "I've been looking over the notes that Doctor Logan, the colony's medical director, sent to us. At first glance I figured it was an organism from another world, but the genetic analysis confirms that it's life from Earth."

"But you've never seen it?" Julia asked.

"No. Never before. A2M6 Earth may have had a unique development compared to others. I'll know more when we get there and our biologists get samples."

"I am looking forward to assisting," Opani said. "While I enjoyed serving with the Koenig, the chance to work medicine on a star cruiser is an opportunity I've been dreaming of since I joined the service."

"You've earned it," Leo assured Opani. "And I'm looking forward to working with you."

Opani smiled at him. The smile faded slightly. "Have either of you heard from Commander Carrey lately?" she asked.

"We see him for the staff meetings," Julia replied. "But I'm afraid he's not being very sociable these days."

"If he keeps up this 'loner' thing, we may need to make an intervention," Leo added. "However alone he wants to feel, it's not helping him."

Julia nodded. "Believe me, I know. But I'm afraid I'll just push him away if I don't respect his wishes. As long as he's following his duties, there's nothing I can do."

"You don't think he's…" Leo didn't make any gestures, but the look in his eyes told Julia exactly what Leo was thinking of.

"He's been fine on duty, so it doesn't seem like it," Julia said. The expression on her face showed how hurt she felt about Zack's sudden distance. Whatever his feelings for her, they were still supposed to be close friends. And with Robert gone, Julia was already feeling lonely.

Leo gave her a pat on the shoulder. "It's not your fault if he's pushing everyone away. Don't let it get to you."

"I won't," Julia promised. "I can't. Not with a ship to run." She checked her omnitool. "Remember that we're having the staff briefing in two hours. We should be at Phi Perseus this afternoon."

"I'll be there," he answered.

Julia departed. She couldn't help but wonder just where Zack was at the moment.

The chiming alarm brought a brief destructive urge to Zack's mind before it went away. He sat up and gave a look to the bottle by his bed. The tequila was nearly gone from it. He took the bottle and poured a bit into the glass beside it. The tequila was one of the cheaper kinds and did not go down gently.

With bleary eyes and a blearier brain, Zack stumbled out of bed and went straight for his restroom. He was functional enough to complete his morning routine, if just so, and it still included knocking over a container of shampoo and sending its contents onto part of the floor before his flailing fingers managed to grip it. He left the mess behind for a moment and went to the living room. His head ached. Another hangover.

For a few minutes he sat there doing nothing. On his table an empty tumbler and a half-finished bottle of bourbon remained from his attempt to survive the end of Valentine's Day. The bourbon and tequila night cap had been sufficient to deal with that. And I'd gone a few days without more than a shot. Last night… it was just that once. Those thoughts comforted him with the idea that unlike his father, he was able to control his urge. He only needed this once and awhile.

Keeping his consumption low also helped with avoiding provoking the disappointment and criticism of his friends. Sneaking his supplies aboard with boxes of other things was working out. Sure, if they were out in space for a prolonged period where he couldn't visit a seller, he might end up running out. But if that happened, it happened, right? He would just have to go without for a while.

The other part of his avoiding tipping his friends off required his next action of shuffling his way over to the replicator. "Computer, Niltox, eight hundred milligram dose. And a glass of cool water."

"Processing… warning, eight hundred milligrams is twice the appropriate dose."

"Yeah, but I had more than twice my usual alcohol last night," he muttered in reply. "So please replicate the damn stuff."


The computer created a small paper cup with four pills in it. A nondescript glass with clear water appeared beside it. The blue-tinted pills reminded Zack of the ibuprofen he used to take to ease his joints after a particularly difficult and strenuous baseball game. Zack took the cup and dumped the four pills into his mouth, after which he drained the glass of water and took everything down in one strong gulp. He placed both cups back into the replicator and punched the return button. "Now for breakfast." He ordered cereal and toast and settled down to finish his breakfast and let the detoxicants do their work.

It was only after he was finished eating that he remembered the staff meeting.

The Starship Aurora had been built with a few conference rooms for mundane use - department meetings - and more critical functions such as meetings with foreign dignitaries or Alliance officials and high officers. There was one conference room set aside for the command staff's personal use. To facilitate response to an emergency, it was attached to the bridge module at the top of the ship, accessible from the bridge through a single pair of sliding doors. The furnishings consisted of a long table with enough chairs for the Aurora and Koenig command officers to meet together, as they were now, and for guest officers to attend if need be. A flatscreen monitor behind the head seat of the table was one method for displaying incoming calls, as was the holographic projector built into the center of the table, which could double as a projector for displaying information and data in briefings.

When Zack arrived, he knew he was a few minutes late. He had taken the extra time to make absolutely sure that his black-and-burgundy red uniform looked proper. He didn't want anyone to think he looked sloppy and to wonder why. "Sorry," he said before taking his seat to Julia's left, across from Meridina to her right. "I… I had a bad night." He glanced toward his officers. Seeing Opani wasn't there reminded him that she had been re-assigned to the Aurora, and her replacement was due to catch up with them at Phi Perseus. Another absence that stuck out to him was Commander Kane, the former Commander of the Marine Troops on the Aurora, crippled in the fight with the Daleks. His replacement, Major Gabriel Anders, was seated between Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the ship's chief of security, and Zack's friend Lieutenant Tom Barnes, the Asst. Chief Engineer and primary Engineering Officer for the bridge staff.

Zack remembered Kane as an athletically-built Caucasian man with light brown hair always cut close to his scalp in Marine fashion. In contrast Major Anders' dark hair was a little more grown out. He was built leaner as well. His skin, while on the light-toned side, had a brown color to it that, when combined with his facial features, reminded Zack of the Cherokee people he'd met during trips to Oklahoma as a child.

Lieutenant Commander Richmond, on the other hand, had the lightest skin tone in the room, being nearly porcelain white, with short-cut black hair and striking green eyes. She wasn't tall nor large, with a lean figure.

"Are you okay?" Julia asked him, not a hint of impatience in her tone.

"I am now," he said.

"Well, since you're here, we can begin." Julia picked up a digital reader. "We're all new to Universe A2M6, so I'll read the summary that Command provided to me. The Discovery led the first exploration jump in February of last year in the company of the U.S.S. Burnham as part of a joint exploration mission with Starfleet. Captain Patis and Captain Tilly made contact with one of the indigenous starfaring species of this universe, the Xou…" Julia blinked. "The Xou-exclamation point-tasam."

"Their language may have an emphatic element to pronunciation that doesn't render into English," Jarod pointed out. "It's probably pronounced something like Xou-tasam."

"Alright. The Xou!tasam. They're a species of aquatic echinodermoids with some similarities to Earth starfish. They lead an interspecies confederation translated as the Trading Consortium. Captain Tilly of the Burnham compared them, 'favorably', to Ferengi."

"As in they're not as rapaciously greedy as Ferengi culture encourages Ferengi to be?" asked Jarod.

"Apparently not, at least by Captain Tilly's estimation. The Xou!tasam are noted to prefer peaceful interaction over territorial expansion. It's why the Alliance was able to set up several colonies in this area of space. The Xou!tasam never claimed any of these systems." Julia set the digital reader down, reading the final notes from memory. "We already have standing treaties with the Consortium, including trade agreements, mutual assistance, extradition, medical research…" She stopped.

"So they are our local friends," Meridina noted.

"Trading partners, at least," Locarno said.

Angel asked, "I'm guessing they're not helping us out with the Nazis?"

"I'd like to meet one," Caterina said. "So this quarantine problem, is it them?"

"No, it's not." Leo shook his head. "It's Humans. Local ones, apparently."

"Whom we don't know much about," Julia said. "The Xou!tasam have provided us with some information on Humanity in this universe. They tend to be closer to one of the Human governments, the League of Democratic Worlds…"

An electronic tone interrupted Julia. "Bridge to Conference Lounge." The accented voice was that of Lieutenant Takawira.

"Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"Captain, we're picking up a distress signal." Those words caused everyone to sit up. "It's coming from the Oakland Colony. They say an unknown vessel appeared in orbit. It's preparing to attack."

Julia stood up. "Increase speed to Warp 9.9. Go to Code Red."

"Aye sir."

Zack and his officers went for the lift door across from the bridge door while the Aurora officers filed out, heading to their stations, all while the alert klaxons blared.

Undiscovered Frontier
"Command Principles"

The bridge of the Aurora was tense with anticipation. Everyone had assumed their stations. Meridina went over the small display built into the First Officer's chair while Julia sat up in the command chair. "Commander Laurent reports that our fighters are ready," Meridina said.

"All decks reporting ready," Jarod added.

"Anything more from Oakland Colony?"

"Just a continued distress signal." Jarod checked his console. "But I'm getting interference on that band."

"They're being jammed," Cat confirmed from the science and sensor station. "I've got a power signature on long range sensors."

"How big?" Julia set her arms on the armrests of her chair.

"Not very. A light starship going by our instruments." Caterina looked over her sensor returns. "They're maintaining an orbit over the planet."

"Torpedoes loaded," Angel reported. "All weapons ready for firing."

"Let us hope that is not necessary," Meridina stated.

After a moment Julia was ready to ask for an ETA. But she barely had time to open her lips before Locarno said, "We're coming up on Phi Perseus 4. Dropping out of warp in three seconds."

At exactly the three second mark the Aurora dropped out of warp. The planet loomed ahead. Without needing to be asked, Jarod magnified the image of the intruding starship. Julia noted that, as Cat had said, it was a light vessel. But it had a certain aggressive look to it with the visible gun turrets. The bow of the ship ended in a particularly large opening, presumably another weapon that was spinal-mounted much like the super-disruptors on Reich capital warships. A sponson shape lined with thruster ports was visible on each side of the ship.

"Looks to be two hundred and five meters by fifty-nine meters by eighteen meters as maximum dimensions," Jarod said. "Definitely a light design."

"I'll feel better about it when I know what that bow-mounted weapon is. Mister Jarod, hail them."

"I'm already opening the channel." A light appeared on his station. "They're responding."

The screen shifted to show another bridge or command center, with a holographic tactical display in the background. The image was focused upon a Human-looking woman with a dark complexion. The collar and visible shoulders of her uniform were white in color with black shoulderboard epaulets. Her dark hair was pulled back into a bun. A stern expression was on the woman's round face.

Julia stood from her chair. "Greetings. I am Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. You have entered our space and assumed an orbit over one of our colonies with apparent hostile intent. I ask you to state your intentions."

"I am Captain Wirake Mawarra of Her Imperial Majesty's Ship Irresistible, of the Imperial Aururian Navy. This system is in Imperial space. You have occupied on one of our worlds in an act of flagrant illegality, and worse, your squatters have abducted subjects of Her Imperial Majesty. I must demand their immediate release and your ship's withdrawal from our star system after a rendering of honours, or I will be constrained into attempting to compel your compliance.

So there we are
, Julia thought, feeling a little stunned at how utterly brazen the demands were from such a tiny ship. They claim the system too. "Our colonists found no evidence of another claim on this system," she answered. "Our governments can, of course, discuss the matter. As for charging our people with abduction, there are people being held in medical quarantine due to the detection of an unknown organism in their bodies. Once we're sure the organism hasn't passed on into the colony arrangements for their return can be made. And finally, it is my duty to protect citizens of the Alliance. I am not leaving this system so long as they are under potential threat."

Given the look on the opposing Captain's face, Julia could see this was not going well. "Your offered terms in this parley do not constitute an acceptable outcome, Captain. The honor and my duty to the integrity of the Imperial Federation compels me to demand your immediate withdrawal from our territory and the return without harm or delay of any of Her Majesty's subjects being held within the interloping settlement on the planet. You have but a single opportunity remaining to respond favourably to my demarche, or else we shall put it to the touch, Captain."

"They sound like they derive their English-speaking from the 19th Century," Jarod noted.

Julia glanced to Meridina. Meridina's reaction was a pensive look. She is rigid and uncompromising Meridina's voice said in Julia's mind. I strongly suggest we prepare for combat.

Not what I wanted
, was the returned thought. Aloud Julia kept calm and hoped it might persuade this captain to not commence hostilities. "Captain Mawarra, I assure you that your people will be returned shortly. They are being held as a medical emergency only. Now, I am willing to mutually withdraw from orbit and wait for…"

"Your response is, I fear, unacceptable. This parley is concluded, Captain. Withdraw from this system in twenty seconds or I shall commence fire upon your ship with the full vigour of my batteries." The woman's image, her face frozen in a rictus of determination, disappeared from the screen and returned the visual to the ship. It turned to starboard and began to approach. Slowly an orange haze started to envelop the ship, partially obscuring the hull.

"She's got to be crazy!" Angel shouted. "We outmass her completely!"

Julia returned to her seat and activated her harness. "We will not open fire first," she said. "Evasive Maneuvers, Plan Tan-."

Light around the bow of the Irresistible seemed to warp slightly. A blue beam surged from the weapon and slammed into the bow of the Aurora.

The intense rocking surprised everyone. It felt like the ship had just been struck by a full heavy weapon blast against the hull. "Report!" Julia shouted as they ceased shaking.

"It's some sort of graviton beam," Caterina said. "It sent reaction force right through the shields and into our structure!"

The beam fired again and the ship shook once more.

"The entire ship is feeling this!" Jarod added.

"Primary Shield Generators 1 and 2 are showing strain on their mountings," Barnes reported from his engineering station. "The shock is causing stress damage to multiple systems in the forward sections of the ship!"

"Return fire, disable that weapon! Helm, evasive maneuvers!" As she gave that second order, Julia felt the ship jolt violently again.

With all of the shaking Angel had to be extra careful to make sure she was hitting the right keys. She acquired a target lock and fired a full volley of the bow weapons.

Ten sets of sapphire energy pulses erupted from the bow of the Aurora in a steady stream. They slammed repeatedly into the shields of the frigate.

"Their shields aren't degrading," Angel said. "I'm firing again!"

"The shields aren't standard deflectors," Cat said.

Locarno maneuvered the Aurora to evade the enemy weapon. But the Aururian ship was smaller and more nimble. With her side-mounted thrusters she easily turned to keep her bow weapon focused on the larger ship. Locarno twisted and banked the ship enough that the next shot simply grazed the shields, with less rocking than before.

"What do you mean, Cat?" Angel asked.

"They're using gravitic fields as their main protective shield system," Cat explained. "Like the Abbai in E5B1. They don't suffer degrading from weapons fire."

"Give me a moment," Jarod said. "I'm reconfiguring your pulse cannons to fire a continuous stream instead of bursts. Use the emitters too. You need to burn through."

The next hit caused another violent jolt through the ship. "How the frak is that little piece of crap spaceship kicking our ass so hard?!" Barnes demanded with a shout. "They're damaging systems all over the ship!"

"Weapon reconfiguration complete," Jarod said.

"I'm bringing us back around," Locarno added.


Angel triggered the weapons again. With the small ship off their bow for the moment she relied on the new plasma cannons installed in the place of the removed phaser banks and pulse phaser cannons. Solid beams of blue energy lashed out at the small Aururian craft. "Something's absorbing the plasma where it's getting past the shields."

"I'm picking up a radiation signature from the gas they're circulating under that magnetic shield. It's not as effective against your weapons as it would be against lasers," Jarod said. "Keep it up!"

"Let me get a torpedo lock…"

"No!" Julia shouted. "No torpedoes! I'm not having you accidentally blow that ship apart!"

Once more the Aurora rocked. "Rupture on Plasma Feed 4A," Barnes said. "We won't be able to go to warp safely until it's repaired."

Meanwhile Angel was cutting loose with the Aurora's new mid-grade plasma armament. Operating under the same principles as the pulse plasma cannons the Darglan had developed - based, they now knew, off of Asgard weapons technology - the weapons were beginning to overwhelm the shield around the Aururian vessel. A plume of flame erupted from within the orange haze. "Direct hit!" Angel shouted.

"I'm reading damage to the enemy ship's electrical system. But they're still…"

Cat's warning was interrupted by another strong jolt through the ship. The enemy weapon was becoming visible on the screen, with the two vessels' bows moving into alignment. The other ship attempted to jink out of the bow cannons' firing arc. Julia knew they were fast enough to do it.

But Angel was faster.

When the bow cannons fired again, they fired in a steady stream that almost became beams in of themselves. The thick streams of rapid plasma pulses hammered the bow of the Aururian ship. The other ship's shields were overwhelmed by the power they were subjected to, allowing those deadly streams to reach bare hull.

An explosion flowered from the bow of the Irresistible, spewing gas and debris from the ship's savaged bow. A pair of further explosions erupted from the ventral hull of the ship. Flames around the vessel lit up briefly before, having consumed their fuel, they gave out. The orange haze that had surrounded the ship expanded, thinning until they could make out the Aururian ship visually again. It was an utter wreck.

Julia should have been pleased to have defeated the enemy ship that had caused such unexpected havoc for them. But her reaction was to snap her head around to glare at Angel. "What happened? I said shoot to disable!"

"Yeah, but against those shields, I had to hit them with my best shot," Angel countered.

"I'm reading multiple hull breaches. Their main power is completely offline." Cat tapped a key on her board. "There's also a change in life sign readings… it looks like at least half of them are gone now."

"Dammit," Julia breathed, looking at the wrecked ship again. Disabling the Irresistible to force her captain to negotiate had been her aim. Killing some of the other ship's crew was not going to make that any easier. "Commander Jarod, please re-open a channel to the Irresistible." Julia drew in a breath of exasperation. "Assuming they still have comms."

"It looks like they do," Jarod answered. "They're answering."

This time the image of other ship's bridge showed a different sight. The display in the background was missing. Faint cries could be heard. And Captain Mawarra was missing. In her place was an alien. Silvery, dark green hair covered the alien's head, with a pointed ear on each side a little shorter than a Dorei's. The skin had a silvery sheen as well, with a brown coloration to it, with hair almost thick enough to be fur visible on the body, dark brown in its color. A pair of yellow eyes looked back at Julia on the screen. "I am Lieutenant Commander Rimamika Nuirala, first officer of this vessel and currently in command. We recognize our defeat and are prepared to yield our ship. We insist on honorable treatment as is appropriate for civilized societies; if you can not or will not offer us such terms, then do not trouble yourselves with Quarter, we will fight you on the emergency batteries before we surrender ourselves to slavery."

"This is Captain Andreys. We are ready to provide medical assistance to your crew," Julia answered. The reference to slavery made her wonder if there was more to affairs in this universe than the Alliance knew. What are we dealing with here? "All we ask is that you suspend hostilities so we can discuss your claim to this system and the status of the people in quarantine. The Alliance is opposed to sentient slavery and I give you my word we will not hold any of you captive for any such purpose."

A lump of brown hair popped up over the alien's head and began to move side by side. A tail, Julia realized. "I can only act in such a way as to protect the honor of the Imperial Federation. I will relay your words to Captain Mawarra when she is able to receive them."

"First things first. Let me get our medical teams ready to go over to your ship. I will resume contact shortly." Julia nodded to Jarod, who cut the transmission.

"Are we going to trust them with Leo and our medical people?" Locarno asked. "They attacked us without provocation."

"I don't think they saw it that way," Julia remarked. "If our people overlooked something when settling this system… well, we'll have to look into their claim. But I doubt they're going to harm a medical team when they're clearly in need of one."

"If I may make a suggestion, Captain?" asked Meridina.

Julia turned to her and nodded. "Go ahead, Commander."

"I shall accompany Doctor Gillam or any other medical personnel he sends to their assistance," she said. "I can act to protect our people should treachery occur."

Julia nodded in reply. "A great idea, Commander. You've got my approval. Head down to the medbay and see Doctor Gillam about it."

"Right away." Meridina stood from her chair and started her way to the nearest lift.

Julia returned to her command chair. "Okay, what's our damage?"

"Repair crews are working on the warp system," Barnes said. "And we'll be looking at all of the systems to check for further shock damage."

"Shields are still at one hundred percent. We'll need to double-check the generator mountings, however," Jarod added.

"Get that done." A possibility came to Julia's mind. She looked at Caterina. "Miss Delgado, do you know if they got any transmissions out?"

Cat checked her sensor logs. "Looking at our logs, they were sending transmissions before we even arrived."

That news was not welcome. "Then keep an eye on long-range sensors. Commander Jarod, the ship is to remain at Code Yellow until further notice. I want everyone ready to resume battlestations and an alert sent to A2M6 Fleet Command on the situation. We may need more ships. Now…" Julia started walking to her ready office. "Please hail the colony. I want to know just what kind of ant hill they've kicked over out here."

Meridina arrived to find that the medbay was quite active. Multiple biobeds had patients, some of them favoring limbs that looked injured, even broken. Nurses were at work in tending to them. Once directed her toward one of the other rooms in the medbay. She found Leo and a number of figures getting into bio-containment suits. They were essentially EVA suits but colored medical blue with built-in medical scanner gear. Leo looked at her through the faceplate. "Go ahead and get a suit," he said.

"Do you consider this necessary?"

"Yes. It's possible that the Earth of this universe had different biological developments. And we have no clue which worlds these people may be from and what contagions they could carry. It's best not to take the risk."

"Very well." Meridina went over to the rack and took one of the suits. She removed her lightsaber from her belt before fitting her first leg into the suit. "How large of a team are you taking?"

"Doctor Hreept and I will be joined by half a dozen of my nurses. I'm sending Singh and Opani down to the colony to check on those quarantine cases. That leaves my other medical staff to process our wounded." Leo's expression was pained. "We had a fatality, I should add."

Meridina finished pulling her left arm into the suit. She stopped at that point to look at him. "From?"

"Junior Petty Officer Jumbe broke his neck during one of those shaking hits we took," Leo explained. "We were too late to save him."

"I see." Meridina gripped the suit and fitted her right arm in. Once her fingers fitted into the gloved end of the right arm she zipped the fasteners and began the automatic sealing system. "That is regrettable."

"Why did they open fire on us anyway? Julia's usually very good at diplomacy."

"We are dealing with an honor culture of some form. It appears they felt obligated to defend what they consider to be their territory."

Leo shook his head. "Good people dead over pride. It's criminal."

Meridina clipped her lightsaber back to her belt. "It shall be our task to ensure no others die as well." The HUD display on the inside of her faceplate confirmed that the suit's seals were in place and her air was circulating. The sensors set the internal atmosphere of her suit to match optimum conditions for Gersallian physiology. "I am prepared. Let us depart."

The transporter operator sent the medical team to what the sensors indicated was an intact area of the ship. It appeared to be a shuttle bay given the presence of such craft. Meridina and Leo stepped up toward an alien, one of the silver-haired semi-furred ones with pointed ears. "I am Doctor Leonard Gillam of the Aurora," said Leo. "My team and I are here to help your medical staff."

The alien looked over them. Her yellow eyes focused on Meridina. "You have come in containment suits?"

"Yes," Leo answered. "To minimize the risk of contamination for both sides."

"No offense is meant," Meridina added.

The alien seemed to consider that. "I… It is unnecessary, but I understand. Accompany me, I shall bring you to the surgeon."

"The Oakland Colony thanks you and your crew for dealing with that hostile ship." The speaker was Shaun Taylor, the governor of the colony in question. Julia had him on the monitor screen on her ready office desk. She sat quietly, her left arm on the chair arm and her right extended so her hand was on the desk near the controls for the monitor and attached computer system. Her eyes were focused on the screen and Governor Taylor's image. He was a man approaching middle age. The first faint indications of wrinkle lines had formed on the dark skin of his face. Deep brown eyes looked back at Julia. "Do you think more will arrive?"

"It's a distinct possibly, Governor," Julia answered. "Someone's going to come looking for them at the very least."

"I'll keep the militia and defenses on standby then."

With a nod Julia showed her approval of this measure. "I'd like to know more about these people you have in quarantine. How did they react to you?"

Taylor's tone was even and professional as he spoke. "They appeared in orbit about thirty hours ago and landed their ship at our spaceport. At first we thought they were independent traders. That changed when they met me and demanded to know why we had invaded their territory."

Julia nodded once. "What happened then?"

"I explained to their leader that we had no knowledge of any other claim and that they were welcome to stay and get their ship replenished. Unfortunately the arrival of extra militia to keep a watch on the situation provoked them. They pulled weapons."

A small headache formed in the middle of Julia's forehead. "Was anyone hurt?"

"We took some injuries before we managed to stun them all. Had there been a few more I'm sure we would have had fatalities." Taylor put his hands together on his desk. "I regret it came to shooting, Captain, but we weren't the ones to open fire. And I have no idea how they are justifying their claim to this system. Our survey teams did a thorough search of Phi Perseus for any indication of another civilization here or a pre-existing claim. We found nothing."

"Alright. We'll check into it as well. What about the people in quarantine?"

"They've been uncooperative since going into containment. They refuse to discuss anything but their immediate release."

"I'd like to know more about what they were doing. Their ship, have you searched it?"

"No. I wasn't going to risk contamination. We've kept the ship in a shielded hangar."

"Well, I'd like to have my people look at it. And we'll send medical staff down to get a look at these people. The sooner we confirm whether or not they pose a risk to the colony, the sooner we can let them go on their way."

"Agreed. I'll inform Colonel Littleton and Doctor Logan that your people are beaming down. Taylor out."

The screen disengaged. In the quiet of her office Julia considered her options and the necessities of the moment. There was no telling how much or how little time they had before another of these ships arrived. And the next one might be an even tougher ship than the first. She wanted to get as much information as she could before that occasion came.

She tapped the key on her desk to activate the ship intercom and said, "Andreys to Bridge. Commander Jarod, please report to the ready office."

Twenty seconds later her office door swished open and Jarod walked in. "Yes, Captain?"

"I'd like you to go down with a team from ops and engineering to inspect the quarantined vessel at the Colony," Julia said. "Find out what you can about it and report back to me."

"We'll go in with bio-containment suits under biological threat protocol?”

"Yes. At least, until we hear from the medical team about the nature of whatever this organism is they're carrying in their bodies."

"I'll get the team together now," Jarod said.

"You're free to go," Julia said. She watched him step out of her office and took the moment to ponder on the difference in how the ship operated now, the difference she'd made.

Robert had always been so informal. He insisted on speaking to others by name, and had no objection to the others on the command staff calling him by name. By contrast Julia was going for the more professional interactions even among her friends. In private and off-duty she was still Julia, but on the bridge, in meetings, and in the presence of others, she would be "Captain" or "sir" and she would address them like another officer.

It was perhaps unfair to them. It may even seem like she was letting her authority go to her head. But it was how she thought things should be run. They were part of an organization now and they needed to behave like it.

The thought came and went. She had to focus on the here and now. The situation here was fraught with danger for her ship and crew, not to mention the ten thousand colonists on the planet below. It would be easy to dismiss the claims of Captain Mawarra as naked expansionism, but given what Governor Taylor had told her about the people in quarantine, they had been expecting a colony of their people once they had arrived. Whatever Governor Taylor thought of the thoroughness of the survey of this system, Julia didn't want to leave anything on that matter to chance.

So she hit the intercom key again. "Andreys to Carrey," she said. "Come see me in my ready room as soon as you can. I have a mission to discuss with you."

After a few moments, which was honestly a moment longer than she thought it should be, Zack's reply came over the channel. "I'm on my way."

The Oakland Colony Hospital was stark to Opani's eyes. The white walls and flooring, the bright lights, lacked color to her sense of aesthetics. Most Dorei hospitals went for blues and greens to give subconscious reassurance to patients and their visitors, with some regional exceptions such as the various Sindai nations, where red and yellow was preferred.

The weight of the equipment in her arms reminded her of the need to concern herself with the matter at hand. She regained her pace with the others, causing the sound of her footsteps to echo more loudly in the hall. She caught up to Doctor Amita Singh, a brown-colored Human woman from a Human colony called New Punjab, who was asking questions of the colony's medical director, Doctor Allen Logan. Logan was middle-aged Caucasian man with enough gray in his hair to indicate he was in the upper range of middle-age. "There are still no acute symptoms?"

"None," Logan said. "I checked them myself an hour ago. And they have the means to call us if any of them get sick."

The answer was put succinctly and precisely. Doctor Logan struck Opani as capable and reserved. He showed no resentment nor any worries beyond reasonable concern for what was going on with the colony.

Logan brought them to a door and pressed his hand to the plate beside it. The system acknowledged his identity and the door slid open. He led them inside to the sight of numerous pieces of lab equipment. "Here," he said, guiding them to an open table. He indicated a nearby cabinet marked with temperature warnings. "We haven't received a bio-stasis vault yet, so we've been using cold storage for samples. The top drawer has the samples from our guests. I had them specially labeled for you."

"Thank you, Doctor Logan," Singh said. "This will work quite well."

"If you need me I am a call away."

"Do we have the codes to visit the patients?" Opani asked.

Logan responded by activating his multidevice. He tapped some keys on its hardlight keyboard. Opani and Singh received notifications of incoming data on their omnitools. "These codes will let you access the cells if you need to. Colonel Littleton's guards know to expect you."

"Thank you again."

The two physicians quickly set up their own scanning devices. Opani retrieved the samples they were due to use from the vault.

"We need to make sure the organism is not capable of airborne transmission." Singh accepted a sample from Opani. "Once we can narrow down its transmission vector, we can start on analyzing its effects on a body."

Opani took her own sample over to one of the pieces of equipment they brought in. "I should have a result shortly," she said.

The infirmary on the Irresistible was much smaller than the Aurora's medbay. Leo and his medical personnel found they had little room to work. But they nevertheless managed it. The ship's doctor, a Surgeon-Lieutenant Munissi, had shown some trepidation about the Aurora personnel, but the need to save the lives of her crew had outweighed such considerations. From her they had learned that the people on the ship could be generally referred to as "Aururians", although that seemed to be the name of a leading national group, not the entirety of their Empire.

As things were the Aururians were decently advanced in the field of medicine, having several mechanisms and devices that matched or even exceeded the Alliance's average level of medical technology. Their lack of transporter systems was the one place where Leo and his staff proved invaluable. A portable surgical unit lacked the versatility of a proper surgical theater but it sufficed, for the moment, in helping Leo repair cut blood vessels and other injuries, especially internal ones, that threatened the injured.

Meridina stepped up behind him. "They hide it, but they fear us."

"I'm not surprised," Leo answered. He used the controls of the portable unit to finish stitching up a torn blood vessel in a crewwoman's leg. Nasri was on the next bed cleaning up the blood and using a dermal regenerator on the shallow wounds on another crewwoman. "We're complete strangers to them. And I can confirm something of interest."

"They all carry the same organism as the quarantined group below," Meridina guessed.

"Almost. All but two of the humans we've treated, and those two have some sort of cybernetic implant the others lack." said Leo. "It looks like a spongiform of some kind. But until I do an in-depth analysis I'm still not sure of how it works."

"Of course." Meridina went quiet to let Leo finish securing his patient. Only when he was done and signaling for two of the Aururian orderlies to remove her from the bed did Meridina resume speaking. "I have observed another item that may be of cultural interest."


As another patient was placed upon the bed, Meridina noted that her observation still held up. She looked to Leo and said. "It appears that this ship is crewed only by individuals of female gender."

"It does appear that way, doesn't it? But right now the gender of my patients doesn't concern me." Leo looked over his scans of his new patient. "I have lives to save.”

Meridina nodded once and stepped away.

The ship that the quarantined Aururians had landed with was still where it landed. An energy field surrounded it to keep people out. That same need was why the Aurora officers examining the ship were in full biohazard suits.

Lucy was grateful for said suits, or rather because the blue suits were a far cry from the bulky biohazard suits she had seen on television growing up. These EVA-derived suits allowed plenty of mobility and comfort, a blessing since it allowed her to examine the close quarters of the ship's engineering space without difficulty. "It looks like they have a small internal warp drive."

"Then this thing has crap for warp range," Barnes observed. He was standing nearby. His omnitool was active and scanning the area. "And it's definitely not their primary means of superluminal propulsion."

"What's their power source?" Jarod asked over the comm. He was on the upper deck of the ship.

“They’ve got a combination of what looks like an anti-matter reactor and a fusion torch. It uses really Goddamned elaborate shielding. It looks like they took damage to that part of the electronics and I've got no sign of any remaining antimatter aboard. At least, I think that's what the readings indicate. Some of this; I've never Goddamned seen anything like it before.”

"Which explains why they landed without checking to see who was here." Lucy ran her scanner over another part of the engineering area. As the omnitool compiled the actual makeup of the equipment and machinery she was detecting, Lucy started to put it together in her head. "Unless I'm wrong, I… I think they have a jump drive in here."

"What kind?" Barnes asked.

"Spatial fold," Lucy said. "Just like on the Battlestar Pegasus and the other Colonial ships I've seen."

"Tom, go ahead and double-check her findings to confirm. Lucy, I'd like you to get up here to the main deck. I want to access their main computer."

"Sure." Lucy thought she could hear something in Jarod's voice. A sense that he was close to finding out the solution to a mystery he'd stumbled upon. "I'm on my way."

The crew of the Koenig were assembled and ready when Zack stepped onto the bridge. He sat in his command chair and leaned forward. "All launch preparations made?"

"Yes sir," Lt. Magda Navaez, the operations/science officer, said. "Our crew is in place."

"Except for medical," added Creighton Apley, the ship's First Officer and now sporting a black strip with the two gold ones on the rank tab fixed to his collar. Formerly a Lieutenant, Apley had been promoted to Lieutenant Commander following his performance commanding the Koenig at the Battle of New Caprica. "Petty Officer Takihara and her nurses are all we have in the event of a medical emergency. I'd suggest we call up the medbay and see if they can spare one of the staff doctors."

"We're not leaving the system," Zack said, "and this is just a search mission. It shouldn't be a problem."

Apley looked uncomfortable at that decision, but the logic was sound. He nodded and turned back to his station. "Releasing the docking clamps, sir."

"Umbilicals released. We're on our own power now," Magda added.

The Aurora's support ship dock opened behind them. They backed out carefully under Apley's expert piloting. The viewscreen of the Koenig bridge was soon dominated by a view of the back of the Aurora's primary hull. The dock doors they had just exited were already closing; above them were the closed doors of the main shuttlebay, with various running lights and open ports at spots on the azure sheened hull of the Aurora. The forward tips of the upper warp nacelles began to appear before Apley brought the Koenig's bow up.

"Cloak the ship," Zack said.

"Aye sir," Magda answered. A few running lights shifted to show the ship was now cloaked. "Cloaking device is running within specs."

"Okay everyone, we're looking for something small. A comm buoy or beacon."

"Left by us?" Lt. April Sherlily asked from the tactical station.

"No. Left by these Aururians," Zack answered. "They say they claimed the system. We're going to see if they're actually telling the truth. Magda, Cat's going to be relaying you the results of her ongoing sensor sweeps. Use those and our sensors to see if you can find anything."

"Will do," she answered.

With his orders given, Zack settled back into his command chair. Now it was up to Magda and Cat to see if anything was out there.

The main deck of the Aururian ship was what Lucy would expect for a ship of this size. The living quarters were off to one wing, and her progress brought her through what looked to be a kitchen and dining area. She found Jarod waiting in the control bridge of the ship. The crew of the vessel was small, with five control consoles and a central chair. Jarod was at a console to the port side of the bridge. The screen was lit up with a language Lucy didn't recognize. "This is something," Jarod was saying. "There's no written Human language like this in our records."

"So maybe this universe's Earth had a really divergent history?" Lucy proposed. "But they spoke English, right? Maybe there's an English language mode?"

"If there is, I haven't been able to unlock it yet." Jarod went back to tapping on his omnitool. "I'm going to try a remote hack. I need you to monitor the system and tell me when I get in."

"Right." Lucy brought her own omnitool up. She linked it in with Jarod's. "Go."

Jarod started typing on a hardlight keyboard generated by his omnitool, his eyes fixed on a display generated by that same device. Code flashed across the screen in blue light. Lucy's own omnitool showed the system was still not open to them. She waited for a sign of its reaction.

It wasn't her omnitool that made the hairs on her neck stand on their ends, though. Through her life force Lucy sensed something was amiss. She concentrated to see if she could figure out more of what it was that was making her feel this way.

The moment of clarity came. Lucy immediately hit the comm key. "Everyone, out of the ship now!"

Jarod gave her a bewildered look, which grew more bewildered when she grabbed his arm and hauled him from the chair. He stumbled for a moment before finding his footing and following her. "Jarod to Aurora, we may have a situation, beam us up!"

"Not possible, Commander. The energy shield…"

"Then have them turn it off!"

"No time!" Lucy cried.

Barnes met them at the stairwell leading to the engineering spaces. Two of the other officers were already outside when they got to the exit. Everyone ran for the energy shield that isolated the ship.

Everyone but Lucy.

She waited by the exit. She could sense that there was still a life inside. When the Dorei woman emerged from the door, Lucy waited until the straggler had run past her before continuing on. The others waited on the other side of the energy field, calling out to them to hurry.

Lucy, however, already knew it was too late, even before the ship behind her exploded.

Julia stepped back out onto the bridge in response to Locarno's summons. "Report," she said, heading for her chair.

"I just picked up an explosion at the Colony spaceport," Caterina said. Julia bit back the impulse to remind Cat that she'd asked Locarno for the report, not her. There would be type for reminding Cat of that later. "It looks like the Aururian ship down there blew up."

Julia leaned her head to the side and rested it in her hand, covering her face with her palm in the process. "Was anyone hurt?"

"We are confirming that the away team's omnitools are still active," Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi answered from Ops. "I shall have the answer…"

Caterina looked up from her station. "I've got a contact on long range sensors, bearing one-four-one mark seven. It’s just come into range traveling at Warp 8.”

"Can you identify it?" Julia asked.

"The warp signature isn't familiar. I'm checking the data… Subspace spike!" Cat shouted. "Their subspace presence just spiked!"

"What?" Julia looked over at her. "What is it?"

"One moment. I've never seen something like this, not exactly, but it's broadly consistent with spatial fold jump drives, like those used by the Colonies of Kobol and the Cylons," Cat explained. "And it's growing… And I've got a jump signature in-system, thirty thousand kilometers out! Ship jumping in!"

An incredible thought crossed Julia's mind, but it would have to wait. "On screen."

Julia turned to the screen in time for the white flash of light and the appearance of a new, much larger vessel. It was longer than the Aurora, she was sure, a long and somewhat squat shape that looked like it was descended from 20th Century naval warships. It was slightly wider than those often were, but the triple turrets definitely looked the part as they began to track the Aurora. The ship was rapidly slowing, dropping out of warp and swinging seamlessly into orbit of the planet.

And the bow had its own armament; two open weapon ports, of the same general look as the one that had been on the Irresistible, and each one noticeably bigger than that ship's had been.

"They jumped in while at warp. At Warp 8!" Caterina's voice betrayed her shock at the achievement.

"Code Red!" Julia called out. "All hands, man battlestations!"
”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 »

For the second time that day the Aurora's alert klaxons made their long, electronic tones. Julia kept her eyes on the screen while activating her safety harness. "Prepare for evasive maneuvers. Lieutenant, hail them."

"They are already hailing, Captain," Neyzi said. The Turkish woman's fingers moved over the ops console. "Putting them onscreen."

The viewscreen changed to another bridge. In the background was another holographic map display much like a plotting board. The face that dominated the screen was of a woman who looked anything from her late thirties to forties. Her skin was light brown, with brown hair that looked curly - much like Lucy's - and was pulled back to the rear of her head. Julia thought the severe image was somewhat lightened by the freckles that dotted the woman's cheeks and other parts of her face. "This is Captain Margrethe von Lohringhoven of Her Imperial Majesty's Ship Maya-Mayi. You are hereby instructed and commanded to immediately return command of the Irresistible to her crew without condition. If you fail to heed, or delay in acting in accordance to this ultimatum, we will necessarily construe this as an act of War against the Imperial Federation and commence hostilities."

Julia felt an instinctive bristle at the bald threat. Honor culture or not, it was aggravating to deal with people who seemed to have "threaten" and "open fire" as Steps 1 and 2 of any encounter. She forced that aggravation to remain off her features, keeping her face neutral and her tone reserved. "Captain von Lohringhoven, I am Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora, representing the United Alliance of Systems. Your ultimatum is unnecessary. The Irresistible's crew is still in control of their ship. Our only personnel aboard her are medical personnel assisting with the wounded under the supervision of my First Officer." As she spoke Julia considered the potential consequence. She had expectations that a medical mission of mercy would not be interfered with. But was it possible the Aururians might seize her people now that they had backup?

While the other woman had a disciplined, even haughty look to her, a flash of surprise registered on her features. Apparently she hadn't been expecting the possibility that the Alliance hadn't seized control of her ship. “To clarify, you are in acceptance of the Irresistible's return to Imperial service and command? With her colours restored?"

Locarno and Angel were both looking toward Julia. They'd gotten the gist of that as well. The Aururian commander wanted the ship recognized as being a lawful combatant if shooting started.

Of course, if I don't, the shooting is going to start now. With that thought in mind Julia nodded. "Yes, Captain, I am. The Irresistible opened fire first as it was. It is not my intention to fire on your people except out of self-defense of my ship and of the Alliance colonists below us."

Von Lohringhoven nodded. "Then this first matter may be deemed settled in the present moment. The matter of your vagrant colony within our space must still be addressed. As of now, I am granting your settlement one week to evacuate this system. Any sentients who choose to remain must either swear or affirm an oath of allegiance to Her Imperial Majesty or they will be ejected with force."

"And that is our point of contention, Captain," Julia replied. "There is no indication whatsoever that your Imperial Federation has a claim upon this system. Our surveyors marked this system as open space and this settlement was made with that fact in mind. Your own communications officer can confirm there is no signal from a beacon or buoy. There are no markers in the system showing it as your territory. If you have a claim on this system, the Alliance is willing to negotiate the issue. But we will not be bullied."

The Aururian captain looked offscreen for several moments. A look of irritation and surprise crossed her features. "So it presently appears. I do have your word of honor, as an officer and captain, that your people did not destroy our claim buoy?"

"We did nothing of the sort," Julia said. "No claim buoy was ever recorded by our people. If it was destroyed or damaged in some way, the Alliance was not responsible for this act." And I'd love to know who did, if there was one.

There was a short pause, as Loringhoven regarded her through the screen. "The Imperial Navy in our persons will commence an immediate investigation into this matter. I caution you, my term and timeline for the removal of the occupiers of the planet below still stands. The Imperial Government has instructed me to commence negotiations on this matter, however, as well as to press upon the issue of the subjects of Her Imperial Majesty your occupation force has seized and imprisoned."

"I'll arrange a meeting with Governor Taylor immediately. We can meet on the planet in a neutral location, if you desire."

"I will select an appropriate venue. Maya-Mayi out." Her image disappeared from the screen.

The blast wave from the explosion that gutted the Aururian ship was more than powerful enough to send Lucy and the crewwoman ahead of her flying. It would also likely kill them both by smashing every bone and organ inside of their bodies.

Lucy turned and summoned all of her power. She willed energy into the space between her and the shockwave, just high enough to protect them. She felt the fury of the blast against her will and the energy it was directing. Debris slammed against the invisible shield as well. It took every erg of effort Lucy had to keep her field from collapsing.

This saved her life and that of the straggling crewwoman. The energy field surrounding the ship absorbed the blast and debris. It was visibly weaker afterward. Jarod and Barnes picked themselves up from the ground. "Lucy!" Jarod shouted. He went back into the field where she was standing and looking wobbly. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," she said. "I just need a moment."

"What the frak happened?!" Barnes demanded. "What did you do?!"

"We were trying to hack into the computer," Jarod said. "It must have triggered an auto-destruct process." The three of them looked to the burning remnants of the ship. "It looks like they really didn't want someone looking through their ship."

A number of figures in green uniforms came running up, pulse rifles slung over their shoulders. "Sir," one of them said. "What just happened? How did that ship get blown up?!"

"A booby trap," Barnes answered. "And we were the Goddamned boobies who set it off."

"Colonel Littleton will want a report."

"He'll get it," Jarod promised. "But first, I need to call our ship." He brought up his omnitool. "Jarod to Aurora."

The delay before a response felt a little too long. Enough that Lucy audibly sighed with relief when the reply of "Aurora here" came from Julia. "Are you all okay? What happened down there?"

"I'm afraid trying to examine the ship's computer caused a hidden self-destruct mechanism to activate. If not for Lucy we'd have all been blown up."

"So the ship's a wreck?"

"Completely. Although we did learn some things about their ship design."

"Standby. We'll beam you back up shortly."

The quiet of the sickbay on the Irresistible was broken by a call over the ship's PA system. A voice, with inflection and tone indicating it was coming from one of the slender, semi-furred aliens, made a pronouncement in a language neither Leo nor Meridina knew. Their automatic translators also failed to identify the language in question.

It was clear that whatever was announced, those around them took it as good news given the wild cheers from anyone still conscious.

"Should I be worried?" Leo glanced up from a crew member he was removing shrapnel from.

Meridina opened up her mental defenses. She could sense the sentiment rushing around the crew with her inherent mindreading talents. "It would appear another vessel of their fleet just arrived," Meridina stated.

One of the crew overheard her comment and looked up from the bed, smiling with a particular vicious glee. "Iron Margrethe has arrived. Now it will be your vessel that is forced to strike!"

Meridina blinked at that. "You believe this person will force us to open fire?"

"No, she doesn't," Leo said. With the 19th Century lexicon on display his mind had recalled a couple of movies he'd seen over the years set in the time period. "It refers to a ship lowering its flag. In the days of naval warfare on the sea, that was how ships signaled their surrender."

Left unsaid was what would happen to them if the Aurora was forced to withdraw.

Yet again a voice came over the ship intercom, speaking in that same unidentified language. There was again a cheer, if not as great as before.

The vessel's doctor, Surgeon Munissi, stepped up to them. Her coloration was dark, much like Leo's, with a round face and dark brown hair cut short. There was a glimmer of respect in her brown eyes that had not been present before. "A battlecruiser from our fleet has arrived," she clarified to them. "In response to her challenge your Captain has stated our ship may raise our colors."

"We never assumed control of your ship in the first place," Leo pointed out.

"We nonetheless had yielded to you and were honor-bound to Her Majesty to take no action to repair the ship. Now that such is no longer the case, work will commence." Munissi watched Leo finish removing the last piece of shrapnel from the wounded girl on the bed. "I was initially uncertain to your intentions, Doctor Gillam. But I see now that your purpose here was an honorable one. Your assistance saved the lives of many of our girls. I am pleased to see that honor and compassion still exists in Humanity outside of the Empire. You even treat your alien physician with respect."

"Doctor Hreept is new to my medical staff, but he's one of the best. I would never brook disrespect to him."

Meridina allowed Leo to finish his remark before stating, "By your statements it appears the other Humans of this universe treat non-Humans with disrespect. Is this true?"

There was confusion and uncertainty on Munissi's face. "The League is well-known for its exploitation of alien species."

"I see. Our own knowledge of this League is still limited. We have only heard of them through the Trade Consortium." Meridina frowned. "It would appear that their conduct will not meet with the approval of the Alliance."

There was a skepticism evident in the Aururian surgeon at that remark. Whatever her thoughts on it, however, she spoke on another subject. "I have been informed that surgeons from the Maya-Mayi are coming aboard to assist me with the remaining injured. Since there are no more personnel in severe risk thanks to your efforts I can deal with the remaining wounded. It may be for the best if you return to your vessel, with our thanks for your compassion."

Leo took the hint. If things got tense again and they were still aboard, then he and his staff were potential hostages. "Thank you, Doctor," he said to her. "We'll get our equipment together and leave immediately."

The command staff was back in the conference lounge within the hour. Through the window outside they could make out the Maya-Mayi. The ship was an omnipresent threat given its large and visible weapons.

"Well, this is turning into a real fraking disaster, isn't it?" Barnes grumbled.

"There is still room for discussion to bring agreement," Meridina pointed out. "This need not end in violence."

"True, but it's going to be difficult. They firmly believe this system is rightfully theirs," Jarod said. "And right now they have the advantage with that battlecruiser. It has two of the graviton weapons the first ship used on us."

"Speaking of that…" Julia looked to Scotty. "Any suggestions, Mister Scott?"

"Deflector shields dinnae work very well against gravitons at that level o' concentration, Cap'n," said the veteran engineer. "We wud have t' completely rebuild th' shield systems."

"The weapon is essentially an overcharged, inverted tractor beam," Jarod clarified.

"So there are no countermeasures at all?" Meridina asked.

"Given time, we can reinforce th' ship structurally. Increasin' th' power t' th' structural integrity field wud help, tho’ that willnae do much for anythin' or anyone nae bolted down.”

"Do what you can. And what did you find out about their ship before it destroyed itself, Jarod?"

"Not much. As you've already learned, they use spatial fold jump drives and warp drives in tandem. Their power generation system combines a fusion torch with heavy shielding with trace amounts of some exotic matter." Jarod tapped a button and brought up the scan results.

"Well, wud ye look at that," said Scotty.

"You've seen this before?" Barnes asked.

"Only on th' drawing board, Tom," Scotty answered. "It's a monopole matter conversion system. It gives ye fusion-based power that can match matter/anti-matter reactors, but without th' risk o' anti-matter fuel sources. But ye need a big ol' particle accelerator, an’ I do mean a big one, t’ generate the materials tae run th' things."

"Well, that's something else we've learned at least," Julia said. "Anything else?"

"Lucy remained planetside to go over the wreckage of the Aururian ship," Jarod said. "She'll report in whatever she finds."

Julia turned to Leo next. "What about the people the colonists are holding? Did you learn anything more about that organism while you were over there?"

"I was a little occupied," he pointed out, leaning forward slightly. There was slight fatigue visible on his face. "But I made sure our suits' systems were set to record passive scans, including analysis of the ship's atmosphere. What I can tell you is that it's a spongiform that is present in their tissues and bloodstream. There were no indications of it in the atmosphere, and since all but two of the crew we examined had it present in their bodies, I'm inclined to rule out airborne vectors for infection. The most particular item of interest was that our suits' sensors confirmed the presence of a pheromone in the atmosphere of the ship. I've sent our data to Doctor Ke'mani'pala for analysis."

"So there is no risk to the Oakland Colony?" Julia asked.

Leo shook his head. "Not from the spongiform. I'm not sure what the pheromone does, or even if it's related to the spongiform. Doctor Singh and Doctor Opani are going to check on that. But if you ask me, the quarantine can be lifted."

"Returning their people to them will further ease difficulties," Meridina pointed out.

"It still doesn't settle the problem with the Colony," Julia said.

"Well, do we need this one?" asked Locarno. "I'm sure it's an annoyance to the colonists, but there are half a dozen other garden worlds in our claim area, we could simply relocate the Oakland Colony to another planet."

"No, we can't," Julia said. "That much is clear from the material Defense Command provided. The surveyors have confirmed numerous elements and minerals of immense strategic value in Phi Perseus, including cameronite, naqia, and trinium. The Alliance Government is already preparing further facilities to begin mining the system."

"So we need it and they insist it belongs to them." Cat shrugged. "Maybe we can make a deal? I mean, there is no claim beacon or anything. You're supposed to leave those, right?"

"Not every universe has the same system for establishing claims," Jarod noted. "But we would have the superior claim by those standards too, since they usually involve presence and use. And we've got both."

"It was clear to me that Captain von Lohringhoven expected such a buoy to exist," Julia said. "Once she realized it didn't she wanted to know if we were the ones to destroy it."

"I looked through our data on the system. There is no indication of prior claim," Meridina noted.

"So either they screwed up and didn't leave one, or something happened to it," Angel said.

"That's what I've got Zack out looking for," Julia noted. "As for the rest of us, we're staying at Code Yellow until this situation is resolved." Julia checked her omnitool. "Hopefully…"

Before she could finish the sentence a voice came over the intercom. "Bridge to Conference Lounge," stated Lieutenant Neyzi.

"Andreys here," she replied.

"The Maya-Mayi has signaled. Captain von Lohringhoven is requesting a meeting with you and Governor Taylor."

"When and where?"

"In one hour. She signaled she would be willing to land in the Colony itself for the meeting on the condition of meeting with the quarantined individuals."

"Very well. Send my acceptance of the time and her condition and relay that to Governor Taylor. Andreys out."

"I'd better issue my own report to Doctor Logan," Leo said. "He should release the quarantine once he receives it."

"Which means Captain von Lohringhoven might very well be picking those people up." Julia allowed herself a small grin. "That should make the rest of the negotiations easier. Alright everyone, you're dismissed."

Opani approached the wing of the hospital set aside for quarantine cases. A pair of militia guards waved her through on confirmation of her identity. The first set of doors brought her through a specialized forcefield, on the inside of which was an isolated atmosphere. Opani checked her omnitool and activated the atmospheric scanner before going through the next set of doors.

The quarantine sector, by nature, had to have comparisons to a jail. Keeping patients isolated from each other as well as everything else protected them as well, after all, but it meant putting everyone into what were essentially isolated cells, each with its own air circulation system that kept potentially contaminated air from escaping.

The quarantine rooms were more comfortable than cells at least. The beds had proper sheets and were made for comfort and a holo-display was made available for the occupant to watch programs or make comm calls.

Opani looked from cell to cell. According to the patient files, there were six Humans with the spongiform organism and four non-Humans who did not have it. They were paired with each other, every two sharing a room by species as a precaution. As with the crew of the Irresistible they were all female. Opani contemplated what that meant. In the histories of various societies gender segregation was sometimes practiced. The Epamal and Onurtam nations of Dorei were known for having males and females serve in entirely different units of their armed forces, or so Opani had learned in her preparatory school courses when she was a youth nearing adulthood. Did these Humans practice the same?

She walked among the cells, running scans on the air content within. The Human-inhabited cells did, indeed, include the pheromone that Doctor Gillam had detected aboard the Irresistible. The scanners found no trace of the spongiform, however, at least not in the air. It occurred to her that if Doctor Logan and his staff had access to the scanning technology they used on the Aurora this entire problem might have been avoided.

"Do you speak the English tongue of the Humans?" a voice asked. "Or the French?"

Opani turned about and faced one of the rooms. The occupant was one of the aliens, with silvery brown skin and dark green hair. Opani approached the forcefield and met the alien's yellow eyes with her own. "I have learned English, yes."

"I have never seen your species before."

"Nor have we seen yours," Opani answered. "I am a Dorei, from a planet we call Doreia."

"I am a Ralsan, born on the planet Venus in the human solar system."

"Venus." Opani vaguely recalled the name. "So you lived beside Humans?"


"It was a mere four years ago that we encountered Humans for the first time," Opani answered. "It must have been an interesting experience to grow up among them." As she spoke Opani was mentally compiling the notes she would provide to Doctor Gillam and the others. Even a name for the species with the Human Aururians was potentially valuable. Although her testing was mostly done, Opani decided to linger and converse. "I am Doctor Roliri Opani, assigned to the Alliance Starship Aurora."

"Kishala Abrakia," the Ralsan female answered. Opani noticed her yellow eyes dart around the room, as if searching for something. Once she seemed satisfied with her surroundings, her voice lowered. "We may be able to help you."

Opani found that remark curious. She leaned a little closer. One of her ears twitched. "What do you mean?"

"I saw your scar," said Kishala. "I have seen it on other worlds, where the Humans implant trackers into their workers to control their movements. We may be able to help you disable yours and escape."

A wince of anguish briefly crossed Opani's face at the reminder of the old scar at the back of her neck, the remaining blemish to her body that marked her time as a slave. By the end of Kishala's sentence, it gave way to confusion.

"We have done it before," Kishala assured her quietly. "If you come with us, you will be free of the Humans."

"I am free," Opani said. "Yes, I once had a neural override device planted upon my spine, but that was before any of us had met the Humans. The Humans of the Alliance do not enslave other species."

Disappointment flashed across Kishala's face. A flicker of defiance went through her eyes. "The League of the North has often claimed they do not enslave too. But I have seen the labor camps and the fields with my own eyes. I know how the Humans outside of the Imperial Federation treat aliens. Even when they claim you have become equal to them, you are still treated as an inferior."

"Whomever this League is, they are not involved with the Alliance. We are new to this Universe. My people are founders of the Alliance of Systems, along with our long-time allies the Gersallians and the Alakins of Universe A7R6." The surprise and bewilderment on Kishala's face told Opani everything. "Your people, they do not know about the Alliance? Where it comes from?"

"You speak of the Universe as if it were a planet," Kishala said.

"My people learned from the Gersallians of the existence of other universes," Opani explained. "It was knowledge they passed down from an age three thousand years ago, when a species called the Darglan created an interuniversal state based on scientific discovery and the protection of other species and peoples. The Darglan are gone now, but their legacy was discovered by well-meaning Humans, who re-introduced it to the Gersallians."

The other Ralsan in the cell was staring at her as well, now. A glance around the room showed that the other women, Humans as well, were doing the same. One of them, an older woman with a bronzen skin tone, spoke next. "Have they driven you mad, then?"

"I am not mad. It is the truth."

The woman in question showed skepticism in her amber-toned eyes. But the other woman with her, of darker skin tone and a thinner build, placed a hand on her arm. "I sense she believes she speaks truth."

The others looked now to this woman, if they could see her, and their expressions remained skeptical, though they softened slightly.

Opani wanted to continue the conversation. Her intention was interrupted by the light on her omnitool flashing to life. She pressed it. "Opani here."

"Doctor Opani, have you completed your scans?" Doctor Singh asked.

"Yes, Doctor Singh. I have. I was speaking with the patients."

"Truly?" The New Punjabi woman's voice betrayed pleasant surprise. "I hate to interrupt you, but I would like you to rejoin me. Doctor Logan is expecting us and our findings."

"Of course. Opani out." She lowered her forearm and looked back to Kishala. "I must go speak with the lead physician of the Colony. Hopefully our new information will persuade him to undo your curfew. You would be free to rejoin your people."

Kishala nodded. Opani could see the continued bewilderment on her face. She wondered if it was from Kishala believing Opani to be mad… or if she was scared Opani was not.

The port authority had removed the shield inside the hangar now that the vessel was destroyed and, more importantly, no contagion risk was present. A couple of officers and crew were brought down to join her. One, a Human petty officer with a ruddy, Caucasian complexion, brought up another piece. "I'm having trouble getting a material scan on this one, sir."

"Let me." Lucy accepted the twisted piece of material and put it into the materials analyzer she'd brought down. At first nothing showed. She had to change the scanner settings a number of times to get a result. The machine's display soon brought up data for her, data that was intriguing. "It's a scanner-reflective material," she noted. A slight suspicion arose in her mind.

"Lieutenant." The second newcomer was the Falaen officer new to the ship, Ensign Talara, wearing a field uniform that had command/navigation red trim as opposed to Lucy's Operations beige. Her blue eyes were focused on another, larger piece of scrap. This one had the remains of a hinge on it. "My scanners aren't showing anything of this either."

Lucy accepted the scrap from Talara and put it into the analyzer next. Using the same process, she got virtually the same result, save for a layer of material on one side of the piece near the hinge that matched samples from the standard deck plating. Her suspicions intensified. Lucy closed her eyes and reached through her life force, sensing the piece before her and the answer it held.

"Lieutenant, are you…?"

Lucy opened her eyes in response to Talara. "I'm fine. I was just considering what I'm seeing."

Talara nodded in acceptance of the answer. "Do you know why it was blocking our scanners?"

"Scanner-reflective material," Lucy replied. "Even the materials analyzer had trouble with it."

"What do you think it was for?"

"I have some suspicions," Lucy said while her hand went to her omnitool. Once the interface activated she tapped the key to activate her commlink. "Lucero to Aurora."

"Aurora here," Locarno replied.

"I need to speak to Captain Andreys about this wreck. I've found something."

The main office of the Aurora medbay was set up to Leo's liking. His desk included a group picture of his friends from the days before the Facility and a couple of family photos. His white doctor's lab coat was hanging from a stand near the door, leaving him in the Alliance uniform of black with blue trim color. Three gold slanted strips on his collar marked him as a Commander, although it was a rank he rarely attempted to employ.

The monitor on his office desk activated. "Singh to Gillam," Dr. Singh's voice said.

"Gillam here." Leo reached down and tapped the key to activate the video component of the call. Dr. Singh and Dr. Opani were present, with Dr. Logan behind them. "Any new developments."

"We have confirmed the presence of the pheromone as well," Singh said. "It is only with the Humans in quarantine."

"So it's looking like it is a side effect of the spongiform." Leo put his hands together on the desk. "Anything else?"

Opani spoke up."One of the aliens in quarantine spoke to me. Their species is known as Ralsan. They seem to coexist with the Aururian Humans. And they also seem to believe that Humans outside of the Aururian society are exploiting alien species. Because of my scar they believed me to be a slave. They state other Humans from a 'League of the North' have enslaved other species."

A small frown crossed Leo's face at that remark. "The Xou!tasam shared information about a Human government called the League of Democratic Worlds. But the package I read indicates basic material. Government type, economic system, import and export figures… either way." He shook his head. "That's for Julia, for Captain Andreys, to handle. From a medical perspective, it looks like these people pose no threat."

"Agreed," Doctor Logan said, "I will inform the Governor that I am releasing them from quarantine."

"I'm sure the Captain will be happy with that news," Leo said. "She's probably on her way to beam down right now."

Another tone sounded in the office. Leo tapped the blue light his omnitool was showing over the back of his left hand. The omnitool displayed an image of Ke'mani'pala down in Science Lab 3. The Gl'mulli scientist was one of the most unique individuals on the ship. The Gl'mulli were an agendered gelatinous species that resembled gumdrops of cyan or blue coloring. They sensed the universe primarily through electromagnetic field-based senses, communicating with the same. Through simple touch they could, when they desired, exchange genetic information to enable reproduction.

Ke'mani'pala had other communication and sensing options now, of course, with the help of the translation device that she affixed to her body. It was the blue electronic eye of this machine that looked toward Leo on the omnitool screen. "Doctor Gillam," she said, her voice an electronic warble through her translator. "I have completed an analysis of the organism samples you provided. It is a most peculiar thing, this spongiform."

"What have you learned?" he asked.

"The organism is fascinating. Clearly it evolved upon your species' planet of origin. But it appears to share some chemical similarities to our cells."

"What do you mean, Doctor?" Logan asked.

"The spongiform has a biochemical makeup that makes it possible for them to carry genetic data originating from another being. It can act much in the same way as my own cells do if I make contact with another Gl'mulli."

"You mean in reproductive terms," Leo said. "Like how your cells can carry genetic material secreted from another Gl'mulli into the interior of your body, where you merge your material with it to fertilize an embryo."


"When you say this can do the same thing, does it mean this spongiform could carry Human reproductive material from one body to another?" Singh asked.

"It does appear so," Ke'mani'pala trilled. "I would like to run laboratory tests to make certain. It will take time to grow a sample batch of the spongiform to conduct such tests."

"Let me know when you get any results."

"You will be the first to know, Doctor Gillam. I will begin the batch immediately." Ke'mani'pala disappeared from the screen a moment later.

Certain thoughts were coming to Leo on the matter. The spongiform, the pheromone present wherever those carrying it were gathered, and now this fact. Added together and it could imply certain characteristics. Leo tapped a few keys on his control and brought up a microscopic image of the spongiform. "Just what are you?" he muttered.

Julia and Meridina appeared in a pair of white bursts of light at the edge of the spaceport. Lucy stepped up to them. "I've got Talara and the others working on the debris still," she said. "We're using the scans to put together a model of the ship."

"You mentioned that they had sensor-reflective material built into their ship," Julia said.

"Right. And one of the pieces I've seen so far definitely had a hinge, or what used to be one."

"Implying a door or hatch," Meridina noted.

"Exactly." Lucy nodded once at her former teacher. "I can't tell you for sure until we finish the reconstruction, but I'm pretty sure it was a smuggler's hold of some kind."

"An interesting possibility," Meridina said. "It may provide us with answers on why the Aururian response has been so assertive."

"Maybe we'll find out soon," Julia said, while the air filled with a loud, electronic roar. A gray-toned shuttle was approaching from the distance at a high speed, coming from an orbital position given its height. As the moments passed the shuttle flew overhead and came back around to a landing. It had atmospheric wings that folded inward as it landed on four landing gear legs. The side of the ship was marked with a roundel of blue and copper color with a very dark purple center.

"Where is Governor Taylor?" Meridina asked.

"Late," was Julia's reply. She felt irritated at that. This was a first contact situation for them, and with all the trouble they'd already seen everything had to be done right. Being late would only make things seem worse.

The rear door of the shuttle opened. Captain von Lohringhoven stepped out in the company of another woman of dark skin tone with what Julia thought to be Southeast Asian features on her face. Their uniforms were white in primary color with blue and black on the trim and the shoulder boards. Gold thread marked the cuffs on the jacket and the bars on the shoulder boards, with fleece around the collars. A pair of figures in suits of light armor followed them out, keeping their rifles at port arms. Lohringhoven stepped up to them and nodded. "Captain Andreys," she stated. "This is my First Officer, Commander Andrianafelana.”

"Commander." Julia nodded respectfully in reply. "This is my First Officer, Commander Meridina, and one of my operations officers, Lieutenant Lucilla Lucero."

"I was expecting the governor of the Colony to attend as well."

There was just the slightest hint of anger in Lohringhoven's words. Julia worked to keep her own frustration out of her voice when she said, "So was I, Captain. It appears he was delayed. He may be discussing the release of your people with his medical director. Our examination has shown that the spongiform organism within them is not a health threat to the colony, making the quarantine unnecessary."

"A simple inquiry would have reassured you of this."

"Unfortunately communications between our people have not been the best so far. I hope we can change that now."

Any further conversation was not to be. A black and silver aircar pulled up toward them. It was not a completely high end model, but it was nice-enough looking to indicate it was the Governor's car.

The rear door opened and Governor Taylor slipped out of the seat. There was a look on his face that Julia thought to be somber. Very somber. He looked back to the vehicle.

The figure that emerged was not Human. It wasn't even bipedal. She watched a creature of yellow and orange and reddish hues slip out of the craft. The alien stood to only about one hundred and fifty centimeters in height, while in width its wide limbs gave it a wider profile than most Humanoids. One of its five arms remained up, showing what Julia were certain was a cluster of eyes. It moved forward with the four other limbs to remain in step with Taylor. When they were within five meters they stopped and the alien raised itself so that its other two limbs were free. An electronic device was attached to the centerpoint of its body.

Given the look, Julia was certain of the being's species, but it was Governor Taylor who made the introduction. "I am sorry for my tardiness," he said. "Sub-Consul Tio!sat!ny intercepted me on my way out and insisted on accompanying me to this meeting."

"It is certainly no great surprise to see a representative of the Trading Consortium present," Lohringhoven said. Despite the diplomatic formality in her tone there was a certain distaste evident in the Aururian captain's expression. Commander Andrianafelana was unable to even hide it. "As always, the Xou!tasam are quite swift to seize the main chance."

"Captain Lohringhoven." The voice was an electronic one that sounded over an incomprehensible series of sounds that issued from the center of the being's form. "Your reputation precedes you, ‘Iron Margrethe’. Given what we have learned, I am not surprised that your Empire has dispatched you to this place."

"Sub-Consul, this is Captain Julia Andreys of the Starship Aurora," Taylor said, gesturing to Julia. "And two of her officers."

"My pleasure, Captain Andreys. Your defense of this colony was most appreciated."

Julia kept her hands to her side. "It was my duty to protect my people, Sub-Consul." She leveled a look toward Taylor. "Are you inviting the Trading Consortium to these talks, Governor?'

"We have a complication," Taylor said. "I thought the Sub-Consul should be present to explain it." He looked down at the starfish-like alien. Julia could see he was not entirely happy either. He had the look of a man resigned to something nasty happening, something beyond his power.

"The Governor, in his attempt to identify the Aururian subjects who arrived on this world, provided me with images of the quarantined figures."

"Did you know about the spongiform's lack of airborne survivability?" Julia asked. Left unsaid was the obvious consequence of such: that they could have handled the people in quarantine already if they had been told.

"I am no biologist. I know nothing of how this organism functions, merely that it has divided the Human species into two parts," Tio!sat!ny answered. "I could give no assurances to the good Governor, as much as I wish I could."

"That still does not explain your presence, Sub-Consul," Lohringhoven remarked. Her tone was distant and cold. Julia's heart fell at the suspicion she saw in the Aururian officers' eyes.

"I provided the images to my superiors on Jao!senat to assist our trading partners in the Alliance," the Xou!tasam explained. "They reported to me that the figures in question are gun smugglers wanted in the Trade Consortium on numerous charges related to their activities."

The look on the Aururians' faces could have chilled a star into ice, Julia thought.

Taylor picked up from here. His tone was almost apologetic. "The warrants from the Consortium were provided to me just now. They are legitimate. And under the terms of our treaties with the Consortium, I am required to keep these individuals in custody until they can be lawfully extradited to the Consortium."

"An interesting approach, Captain Andreys," Lohringhoven stated, looking to Julia instead of Taylor. She didn't hide the smoldering disgust in her eyes. "You request my presence for a parley, assure me of access to the party taken by your squatters, and now I am told they are to be imprisoned until handed over to the friends of the Northern League."

"The Captain knew nothing of this," Taylor stated. "We're as surprised as you."

Lohringhoven glared to him next. "You have seven days, Governor, starting now. At that time, any in this system who refuse to swear oaths of allegiance to Her Imperial Majesty will be forced to leave. I expect our people to be returned at that time as well, without any injury to their bodies, minds, or honor, on penalty of immediate arrest of you and all other members of the leadership of this colony. Additionally, if any vessel of the Consortium, Alliance, or League attempts to remove our subjects from this world, I will commence fire upon them immediately."

Before Julia could speak, Taylor spoke up. "Your people have no claim here," he said. "There is no claim beacon, no buoy, no settlement. We colonized this world. It is ours by right. We'll fight to keep it."

The tone he got in reply went beyond icy. "A sentiment we have heard before, from rapacious butchers of innocent starfarers, before we drove their broken remnants before us. If it is war you want, then by all means, maintain your pigheaded foolhardiness. War and defeat you will then have."

Lohringhoven turned on her heel. Her First Officer did the same, and the two of them marched back to their shuttle without another word.

As the craft lifted off, Julia and Meridina exchanged worried glances. "Damn," Julia muttered. She brought her left forearm up and activated her omnitool. Her finger tapped the key on the blue hardlight to open comms. "Andreys to Aurora."

"Yes sir?" answered Locarno.

"Get me Admiral Maran on IU radio," she said. "We might have a war on our hands out here."
”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 »

Upon their return to the Aurora Julia called an immediate staff meeting. It was 2040 hours when everyone re-assembled in the conference lounge off of the bridge. Admiral Maran's call came just as the meeting was set to commence.

Now the Gersallian admiral was seen by all on the wall monitor behind Julia's seat. "I have taken the time to check your reports," he said. "If there is one thing clear from them, we know too little about A2M6."

"We've been in this universe for a year, why don't we know about these people?" Locarno asked. It was a pointed question.

"I believe we have relied too much upon the Xou!tasam to provide information. It is increasingly clear they had their own agenda in explaining what was going on in local spaces," Maran answered.

To this Meridina responded, "Perhaps they worried that we would withdraw from A2M6 and deprive them of a new trading partner?"

"Whatever their motives, we need more information. And we cannot rely upon the Consortium as a source."

"Well, we have learned a few things about the Aururians," Julia said. "They have something like an honor culture. They're willing to fight at the drop of a hat to make a point. They seem to practice some form of gender segregation in their armed forces. Most of them also seem to carry some form of spongiform parasite in their bodies, which gives off a pheromone that we still haven't figured out."

"Doctor Ke'mani'pala is growing a batch sample of the spongiform to run further tests on it," Leo said. "Her analysis of the organism indicates it may be capable of interacting with the reproductive material of other species."

"In what way, Doctor?"

"We're not sure yet, Admiral," Leo answered. "I'll ask her to issue a report as the data becomes available."

"The Xou!tasam delegate has stated this organism has divided Humanity into two parts," Meridina said. "Infected and non-infected. If the Aururians represent the infected portion of Humanity, it has clearly altered their culture in ways we may not understand."

"And there's still a lot we don't know," Jarod pointed out. "I'm still trying to figure out where their language comes from. I'm running it through a database of Earth languages now to see if we can find any words in common."

"Discovery is all nice stuff," Angel interjected, "but I'm more worried about the fact that these people want to start shooting us. Over some damned gun runners."

"Well, how do we know they are?" Cat asked. "Maybe the Xou!tasam are wrong?"

"Lieutenant Lucero did discover indications that the ship had spaces shielded from scanning systems," Meridina said. "And it would explain their refusal to speak with local authorities."

"Then the question is, why would the Aururians be willing to provoke a war over these people?"

"The principle of the matter," Julia murmured to herself, although the others heard it. "They're an honor culture and look to be distrustful of outsiders. Letting us take over what they honestly believe as their territory is a loss of honor and respect. Letting us do that while we hand over some of their people to an alien power? That's got to be even worse."

"And you believe she is sincere about starting a war if we resist?"

"Completely, Admiral," Julia said.

"Yes. I could sense that." Meridina looked to Julia. "But I also sense there is more to these reported gun smugglers than was apparent. The feelings of Captain Lohringhoven and Commander Andrianafelana indicate to me that they know what this group has been doing."

"The Sub-Consul may also know more," Julia noted. "He called Lohringhoven 'Iron Margrethe'."

"Just as the crew of the Irresistible did," Meridina added.

Leo leaned forward in his seat. "There's also the possibility of talking to these smugglers directly."

"They do not seem to be very cooperative," Meridina noted.

"Because we have the wrong people asking them questions," Leo said. "They spoke to Doctor Opani."

"What did they say?" Julia asked.

"They offered to bring her with them. To 'free' her from us. They think we've enslaved her." Leo frowned at this point. The implications for this perception were not pleasing to him.

"If they are criminals, they might just be trying to manipulate someone they feel is vulnerable," Locarno warned.

"It's worth a shot though, right?" This question was from Cat. "There's still so much we don't know about them. Maybe this is a chance to find out more?"

"Lieutenant Delgado is correct, and it is an opportunity we need to take." Admiral Maran looked offscreen for a moment. "I must brief the President and Senator Sriroj now. I will convey your findings. Find out anything more that you can and relay it to me immediately."

"And what do we do about that battlecruiser?"

"I've ordered ships to the area. We can't send many without undermining our offensive against the Nazi Reich, but we should be able to protect our colonies in the area from anything short of a full-scale offensive. Expect reinforcements to arrive soon. In the meantime, find out what you can about these people and this situation with these supposed smugglers. Resume talks if you can. But I can tell you this; we need the resources in Phi Perseus for the war, Captain. We cannot trade away our control of that system."

"I understand, Admiral," Julia replied. "Maybe we can find a way to satisfy the Aururians."

"I'll leave that in your hands. Maran out."

Once Maran disappeared from the screen Julia looked to the others. "I know it's late for us. I want everyone to get some rest. Things are only going to get more stressful here has time passes and we need the energy to deal with it. First thing tomorrow morning, we're going back down to the planet. I want some answers."

It was coming to the end of the day for Zack and his command officers. Their search pattern had turned up nothing so far. Given the mind-boggling volumes involved when it comes to space, he couldn't be too surprised at that.

"Magda, anything new from Phi Perseus 4?" he asked.

Magda checked her instruments before shaking her head. "That second ship is still in orbit. No change to their status."

"Alright." Noticing that the Gamma Shift officers were all on the bridge, Zack stood from his chair. "Well everyone, let's get some rest. Ensign Driik, you have the bridge."

"Yes sir," said the Alakin officer, who took the command chair.

In one group the bridge crew made their way to the lift. "Deck 1," Zack said. The lift set into motion.

"Do you think we'll have any luck finding something tomorrow?" Sherlily asked. "Because this feels like we're looking for a micrometeorite in an asteroid belt."

"What we're looking for may not exist," Magda reminded her. "It could all be some lie by these Aururians."

"Yeah. And they're not exactly winning any personality contests," Sherlily added. The lift stopped and the door opened, but for the moment nobody moved. "I'm surprised Captain Andreys didn't turn us loose on them. If they'd had two targets instead of one, that graviton weapon wouldn't have done them any good."

"Julia's trying to avoid a war." Zack gestured toward the open door. "And I think she did the right thing holding us back."

"From a pragmatic perspective, certainly," Apley said. "But maybe that petty officer would still be alive if she hadn't."

Zack had no reply to that. Nor did anyone else. The four officers split up and headed to their personal quarters. With great pleasure Zack went to his personal shower, the only water-using shower on the entire ship.

When he stepped out, he went to his desk across from the bunk he slept in. It was just a small unit and he vastly preferred writing his reports and doing paperwork from his office on the bridge deck which, being the same size as his quarters, was a more comfortable place to work in. But his purpose wasn't work this time. It was thought.

The boredom of their task had a bad side to it. With nothing to do but wait for any discovery of a beacon or probe, Zack had plenty of time to think. Thinking inevitably led to thinking about Clara, and then the gaping metaphorical hole in his heart would assert itself. The pain of losing Clara wasn't going away with time. He thought it never would. He would always be tormented by the "what if?"s of that horrible day. What if he hadn't gone with Anders but stayed behind? What if Clara had just gone to shelter like he'd hoped she could? What if he had never caused her to consider coming out into space in the first place?

What if? What if? What if?

The thoughts made him feel the need to not think. Not thinking was hard. But he knew it was the only way to escape the pain, even temporarily.

And that there was one sure-fire way to do it.

Zack reached into his duffel bag and pulled out the fresh bottle of tequila. He'd brought it from his stash hidden in his quarters on the Aurora by slipping it into the bottom of the bag, along with a plastic tumbler. He looked it over and grimaced. It was one thing to drink on the Aurora. What if there was an emergency during the shift and he had to wake up to deal with it? There would be no time for Niltox then.

"Just a nightcap," he said. "That's all I'm doing. It's all I'll need." He poured a shot's worth of the tequila into the tumbler and took the drink in a gulp. He set the tumbler back down on the desk and looked to the bottle. He picked it and the cap up.

To his surprise, Zack found his hand shaking. An impulse surged within him. He wanted another drink. To really help him with staying asleep. Just one more drink…

A snarl came to Zack's face as he forced the stopper back into the top of the bottle. "No," he said. "One's enough. It's all I'll need. I can't do more out here. Not out here." After repeating this mantra to himself Zack moved from his small chair to his bunk and laid back. He let his tired eyes close and soon drifted off into sleep.

Lucy's head hit the pillow with an expectation of continued hard work the next day. She drifted off into sleep peacefully enough.

A sense of quiet anxiety awakened her. Black strands of curly dark hair hung over her eyes when she opened them. She brushed her hair out of the way and turned in her bed. The sense of anxiety just wouldn't go away.

After an exasperated huff through her lungs Lucy slipped out of bed and walked to the foot of her bed. She sat on the floor, legs crossed together, and laid her hands on her knees. She felt inward for the warm, comforting energy inside of her, and through that to the universe as a whole. Thanks to the twenty months of training Lucy could feel the Flow of Life anywhere, even here on a ship of just two thousand living beings. She felt Meridina's presence easily enough, indicating Meridina was also awake and meditating. She sensed others on the ship as well, small embers of those who had the potential to learn how to use life-energy.

Beyond the ship she sensed other lives. The thousands of lives on the Aururian ships and those on the planet below. She felt their fears and doubts and hopes, just as she felt those on the Aurora. And there was grief too, grief for loss, coming from the smaller vessel.

Lucy felt her senses drawn to the planet, however. There, in the Colony, she felt another presence. A glow in the Force of Life. It could only be another sensitive with developed talents. She focused on that presence out of curiosity. Who are you? she wondered in her thoughts.

The thought was echoed. At first Lucy thought she did it, or Meridina, but when it came through again, Lucy felt the presence on the planet in the thought. Sister? Yhi be thanked, I am not alone!

"Yhi?" Lucy murmured softly, confused. "Who is Yhi?"

Her thoughts echoed her words. The other presence felt them and recoiled. You are not one of us.

Who are you? was Lucy's reply.

But there was no answer.

What did come was a foreboding feeling in Lucy's being. Her power quivered at the feeling. Glimpses of carnage went through her mind. Human and alien bodies, dead, surrounded by armored figures. Ships blowing each other apart. A sense of imminent danger with a terrible outcome.

Banishing these images pulled Lucy from her meditation. She sat alone on her floor for a moment. A thin layer of sweat was causing her sleeping gown to cling to her skin in numerous places. What had those visions been about? Was she sensing the future? A possible future?

A sudden yawn that evaded all control reminded her that she needed more sleep. She would try, but first she wanted to get started on a search. She went to her computer desk and activated the system. "Computer, I'd like a full library scan for the term 'Yhi'. Collect the results for me to read in the morning."

"Acknowledged. Beginning search."

With that handled, Lucy returned to bed.

At 0800 hours the command officers came together again. A second smaller table carried breakfast pastries and coffee for their breakfast, courtesy of Hargert.

Lucy stepped through the door from the bridge. Her presence was not expected. She noticed some of the others looking toward her. Julia was not, at least not until she finished her coffee. "Lieutenant?" It was only one word but definitely a question. The unspoken "What are you doing here?" hung in the air.

There was a small part of Lucy that bristled at it, too.

"I asked her to attend," Meridina stated. "Last night we were meditating when we felt a presence."

"A… presence?" This was from Major Anders.

"In the Flow of Life, Major," Meridina clarified. "It came from the Oakland Colony. I believe it was one of the captive Aururians."

"One of them has life-force powers, you mean," Cat said.

"Developed, yes. But I am unsure as to which."

"I heard her - I'm sure it was a her - say a name," Lucy added. "Yhi."

"I think I’ve heard that name before, some Aboriginal deity or heroine?" Richmond asked. Her Australian accent was enough to make it clear what 'Aboriginal' group she was talking about. "Somewhere near the east coast, I think."

"That was one of the results the computer gave me when I ordered a search," Lucy said.

"Are there any of these 'aboriginals' among the Colony settlers?" Meridina asked. "To eliminate the chance she is merely a resident discovering her swevyra's potential?"

Jarod tapped a couple of keys on his omnitool and shook his head. "None declared as having Aboriginal origins. Although even if you're right, this isn't entirely conclusive about their culture and society. This could be a particular person's belief."

"It would lend itself further to the argument that this Earth had a divergent history," Richmond said. "The Aboriginals are a very small minority in most universes."

"It's something to look into…"

The door slid open again, causing Jarod to let his statement end there. This time the new arrival was Doctor Opani. Leo raised his hand and Julia nodded. "Welcome, Doctor. Hargert made some seemai strips for you," she said.

The Dorei woman nodded and, with some gratitude, went for the dark green-colored strips of fruit matter that were on the table.

"There was nothing new during the night," Julia said. "Governor Taylor decided to keep the Aururians where they are at the hospital instead of moving them to the Colony's jail."

"Smart. Moving them only increases the risk of something going wrong," Richmond observed.

"We're down to six days left before Lohringhoven's ultimatum expires. We need to start making progress. Which means we need to learn more about these people."

"I don't think it'll help," Angel said, her arms crossed. "That woman wants a fight if you ask me. And let's face it, if we get reinforcements things might happen early."

"I still don't see any." Locarno looked at Julia after setting down his coffee. "Did he give you a timetable?"

"He didn't." Julia turned her attention to Angel. "And you might be right. But we need to know for sure."

Cat spoke up next. "Well, why don't we just have Doctor Opani talk to them?"

"I can try," Opani agreed.

"Alright. Lieutenant Lucero will join you. Commander Meridina and I will go see Sub-Consul Tio!sat!ny." Julia moved to the next order of business. "Mister Scott, Mister Barnes, have you made any progress for finding ways to resist their graviton weapon?"

Scotty shook his head. "Nae as much as we'd like, Cap'n. Th' best we've managed is tae shore up structural integrity with forcefields. They cannae last long, but it should buy us extra time in a fight."

"It's a step in the right direction at least." Julia stood from her seat. "Alright, you're all dismissed. Although I would like to speak to Lieutenant Lucero privately."

There were nods from some of the others. Everyone stood and departed except Lucy, who kept her blue eyes fixed on Julia. Once everyone was out of the room Julia met her eyes and said, "I don't need life-force sensing to know something is bothering you, Lucy."

The fact that something was bothering her was something of a surprise to Lucy as well. But hearing Julia address her by her first name, as if they were two friends, helped to crystallize what it was. "I know I'm not always attending staff meetings," Lucy said. "But whenever I did before, the most response I would get from Robert would be a smile and a nod, maybe a 'Good morning, Lucy', but nothing like that 'Lieutenant' remark. And I certainly wouldn't have felt like I wasn't wanted here."

Julia remained silent while Lucy laid out her complaint. When Lucy finished Julia nodded at her. "Fair enough. And you're right. Rob would've just nodded and said 'Hey' and that would be it. That's how he did things."

"But not you."

"Things are different now, Lucy." Julia leaned forward in her chair. "I mean, Meridina's my first officer now, and Kane's gone. We've got two new command staff officers who need some time to adjust. Being reminded that they're the outsiders in a group of long-time school buddies and friends isn't going to help. And when it comes down to it, you're not on the command staff. You didn't want to be, as I recall."

"No, I didn't," Lucy agreed. "But I never imagined it would mean feeling unwelcome in here. And you seem to be fine letting Tom attend, even if he's only the Assistant Chief Engineer."

"He's also a regular bridge officer and Scotty has made it clear he wants Tom in the meetings."

"So what, I should ask Jarod to do the same?"

"If you want," Julia said. "I doubt Jarod will have any problems inviting you, if you want to attend more staff meetings."

"The important part is I never thought I'd had to ask." The heat in Lucy's voice stopped just shy of an outburst. "And this isn't just for Richmond and Anders. You've always been the one pushing for military formality here."

"Well, we are in a military," Julia pointed out. Lucy sensed that Julia's aggravation was starting to rise. "You knew it would be like this when we joined up."

"I didn't know it would turn you into this." Lucy frowned. "I signed up because I believed in what we were doing, and I wanted to continue to work with you. I know I'm not in the inner circle, I never was, but I still felt like we were a team. That we were working together. I never imagined you'd push me out and make me just another officer on your crew."

"You're not just another officer, Lucy," Julia protested. "But you're not a department head, you're not a member of the senior staff. Honestly, you're not even a full-time operations officer anymore. You used to be a pilot on top of those duties, but now you're doing this 'white knight' life-force magic more than anything else. I honestly don't know where to put you on the ship's roster anymore."

"What I do isn't the point!" Lucy leaned toward her now. Her voice went up. "The point is that I think that after everything we've gone through, everything we've seen, I deserve better than being treated like an interloper."

Julia let out a sigh. How could she make Lucy understand her position? That as the Captain of the ship, she had to make sure everything was running well. She had to show her crew that she was in command and they could trust her. And that included not playing favorites. Maybe Richmond or even Anders would understand if she let Lucy slide, but how would the other officers at Lucy's rank feel at such favoritism? How would that affect crew morale?

Lucy's expression softened slightly. "Yes, I get it," she sighed. "But consider how I feel about it."

"I do." There was a little weariness in Julia's voice. Not from fatigue, at least mostly not, but a weariness of emotion. "Lucy, you've saved our lives before. You've saved Robert's life how many times, and I hope you understand when I say that he means more to me than anyone else in the world, so I owe you a lot on that score. I don't want you to feel like I don't value you, or that I don't care what you have to say. I just… I have duties. And there are ways things have to be done." A quiet little sigh came from her. "I'll talk to Jarod and Meridina about your place in the staff. So this doesn't happen again."

"Right." Lucy rubbed at her forehead. "I'm sorry if I… I just… everything's so different now. And I let that get to me. Even after passing all of those Trials, learning all of that emotional control… what does it say about me that I let a little thing like that bother me?"

A small grin appeared on Julia's face, providing a reprieve to the severity that had been there before. "You're still Human," Julia said. "And whatever those Trials were meant to show, anyone would hate not being recognized for what they've done." Julia's hands came up and lightly smacked the table. "Alright, we've had a nice heart to heart, but we've got work to do if we're going to stop a war."

Lucy's response was her own smile as she stood as well.

The Sub-Consulate of the Trading Consortium was not beside the Government Building, as Julia had imagined. As it turned out, Tio!sat!ny and his staff were in a warehouse and commercial structure near the small spaceport. Julia and Meridina materialized in front of the two-story structure in twin bursts of white light. Meridina glanced around at the colony, which was only now entering its morning hours with the dawn providing rays of yellow-tinted light over the remaining lighting of the Colony.

New Liberty and New Caprica had been roughly similar in layout, if not in building aesthetics, but Oakland Colony was nothing like them. Two ten story structures dominated the commercial district of the Colony. The name "New Horizons" was emblazoned on both. The two women recalled the name from the briefing material: New Horizons was the name of the Earth Confederacy company that had won the contracts to settle the planet and develop its resources.

"You'd think the Consortium considered proximity to the company more important than the actual government," Julia noted.

"For a society based upon trading and business, it does make quite a lot of sense," Meridina stated.

The two approached the door and knocked. The being who answered was a quadruped of about a hundred and sixty centimeters height. They couldn't tell gender for the six-eyed alien, with leathery skin of beige tone and copper-colored hair covering its head. A three-slitted area seemed to be its nose. When it spoke, a mechanical voice sounded over the sounds coming from its mouth. "Greetings. I am Rant'sesh-kat, the secretary for the Sub-Consulate. Sub-Consul Tio!sat!ny anticipated your arrival."

Julia and Meridina didn't exchange the look they both felt to be forming. They were escorted into a waiting area that had chairs made to accommodate multiple species. Two looked made specifically for Xou!tasam. Another looked more like a tub than a chair, and another like a half-open sleeping bag. There were four chairs that could fit bipeds. The secretary directed them to two and walked away.

"How many species are in the Consortium?" Julia wondered aloud.

"It would appear to have quite a few. Although the Xou!tasam seem the major force behind this government."

The far door slid open. Tio!sat!ny walked out on four of his legs. "Ah, Captain Andreys," he stated through his vocoder. "I am grateful to see you."

"Thank you for your time, Sub-Consul," she answered. "My First Officer and I have some questions regarding the Aururians. There is still a lot we don't know about them."

"I have sent communiques to my superiors requesting more information on them. For your benefit," the starfish-shaped alien assured them.

"While we wait, is there anything else you can share with us?" Meridina asked. "The reason for these charges against the Aururians quarantined here, for instance."

"Oh, that is all in the warrant, Commander. They have been identified by the Consortium and our trading partners in the League of Democratic Worlds as smugglers arming terrorist groups in our spaces."

"Are your people willing to fight a war to get these smugglers?" Julia asked. "Because that seems to be the likely outcome."

Tio!sat!ny made a low sound from what passed as its mouth. The vocoder couldn't translate it. Julia got the feeling it was chuckling. "The Aururians are not mindless aggressors, Captain, although they are expansionist. Whatever Iron Margrethe says, they know the galaxy will turn on them if they launch another war of aggression. Just as happened the last time."

Julia felt a sense of disbelief from Meridina. She said nothing, presuming Meridina would share later, opting instead to ask, "Captain Lohringhoven seems to have a reputation. Where did she get it?"

"In the last war, she commanded a light vessel. Her craft was escorting a convoy when Coalition forces attacked. Despite her numerical disadvantage--a frigate against three light cruisers--she kept fighting, causing the near loss of her ship but allowing time for the convoy to jump to safety. I am told by many that it was an impressive martial achievement." Tio!sat!ny made what seemed to be a disapproving noise. "I have little need for such actions myself, Captain. I consider military conflict a waste of resources and time. It is my earnest hope that your Alliance will permanently tilt the balance against them and compel them to remain at peace."

Unlikely was Julia's thought to that. The war made something like that impossible.

"Do you know why all their ships so far have had female crews?" Meridina inquired.

"It is something cultural, I believe. Honestly, Captain, you had best wait for the information packet. My experience with your species is limited."

Both took that to mean Tio!sat!ny had nothing more to say on the subject. Julia stood up. "Well, we will be on our way then," she said. "Thank you for your assistance, Sub-Consul."

"I am always pleased to help our trading partners," the Consortium representative answered.

Julia and Meridina walked out together. One she felt assured they were far enough away to not be heard, Julia turned her head to face Meridina. "You think he was lying?"

"Not a conscious lie," Meridina said. "Tio!sat!ny wants to believe the Aururians will be easily checked. But deep within his essence, doubt gnaws at him. What I could gather is that the powers in this place are all hastening their pace of armament. And he seems to fear the Aururians are winning the arms race."

"Let's pass that on, then." Julia tapped her omnitool. "And while we're at it, I'm arranging our transport to the Government Building. I have things I want to discuss with Taylor."

The lifting of the quarantine had changed things in the quarantine ward at the hospital. Opani noticed extra guards at the entrance, two militia and two wearing police uniforms. For a moment she wondered if they would refuse her access. The guards did visibly tense up at the approach of the two Aurora officers. One held up his forearm, showing he was wearing a multidevice instead of an omnitool. After images appeared on the screen he nodded. "Lieutenant, Doctor. You're clear to enter."

"Thank you," Opani said. She led Lucy to the door. This time there was no need to prep to go inside. They went through the next set of doors immediately and entered the ward. Now there were militia guards inside as well, both Human. Opani could see the assembled prisoners - now truly prisoners - were looking around warily. Were they contemplating escape?

Either way, she wanted to talk, and so she returned to Kishala's room. The Ralsan looked at her through the forcefield. "Why have you come?" she asked. Her voice betrayed her irritation with the situation, and perhaps a little instinctive fear. "We have been told we are being handed over to the League."

Lucy looked to Opani and sent a thought toward her. I don't know if they'll talk to me. They know you. Let me get you some privacy. She turned back and walked to the guards. "The Doctor will need some time alone with them."

"Lieutenant, we have orders to remain," one of the militia replied. "They're considered an escape risk."

"And if they try, they'll have to come through this room anyway," Lucy answered, indicating the airlock chamber.

The two looked at each other. They were both enlisted ranks. Lucy was an officer. Their training was to obey officers. Of course, that training was to obey their officers. Lucy restrained the sigh that wanted to come out. The last thing she wanted to do was try and use the mental trickery that Meridina had taught her. It was the sort of thing that could only cause trouble if Admiral Davies and his supporters learned about it.

Just as she gathered her will to do it, the guards opted to obey the officer in front of them and stepped back through the door. Lucy joined them. She nodded to Opani before letting the door close behind her.

Kishala and her compatriots all noticed. Kishala looked to Opani with suspicion. "What are you doing?" she asked Opani.

"I wanted to talk with you some more," Opani said. "To learn about your people. The Alliance still knows very little about you."

"I see." The suspicious look did not go away. "You will conceive that we are not inclined towards being in a trusting mood, I hope? Your people are intending and preparing to hand us over to the League and to our deaths or enslavement."

"The League?" Opani shook her head, bewildered by the accusation. "We have no agreement with them. The Consortium say they have charges against you for gun smuggling. We have a treaty with them…"

"The Consortium care naught for any principle but their trading business," another voice barked angrily. Opani turned to see the origin of the voice, one of the cells with Human women. A woman with an ebon shade of skin, one of the darkest complexions she'd seen in a Human, was glaring toward her through the forcefield. "They care little for how the League pays for their goods, or provides the materials they desire. This is no different. The Xou!tasam are playing the League's agent in this affair."

"You mean to say that they have no legitimate charge against you?" Opani looked from this woman to Kishala. "If this is true, I must know what is going on. I can inform my Captain and she can intervene."

"Would she, this Captain of yours? Presumably a Human captain?" Kishala asked.

"Yes, Captain Andreys would," Opani said. She met the yellow eyes of the Ralsan with her own. The light teal color sparkled with intensity. "She and the officers of the Aurora are not like your foes. Her only purpose here is to avoid war, which is why we seek to know more about your people."

“To avoid war, she needs to acknowledge the righteousness of the Imperial position. Failing to do such a simple thing has caused all the previous wars.” The dark-skinned woman from before spoke up, a hint of a crack of command in her voice.

Opani turned to face the other woman. "And what is your position?"

“The system is rightfully ours. It was surveyed and claimed eleven years ago. We landed here believing this was a colony of the Empire. That we are being held illegally, and that perhaps you should not blindly listen to the Xou!tasam and League unless you wish to meet the Grand Fleet. They certainly would appreciate another to ignorantly bleed for the sake of their profits and masses of slaves.” Each sentence was spoken hotly, falling like bits of molten metal as she bit each one off.

There was a soft cough from another of the group there, curly blonde haired above freckled dark brown skin. “Kat, you go too far.”

Her rebuke was gentle, but the tone behind it admitted no argument, and surprisingly, the other woman bent her head. “Forgive me, you have my profuse and profound apologies, Sister. I request your forgiveness as well, Doctor. It was unbefitting to speak in such a baldly aggressive manner with one such as yourself.”

The interplay was one Opani found interesting. The third speaker clearly held some sort of weight among them. "Your apology is accepted," Opani said. As she spoke she found that her left hand had drifted to the back of her neck, where a sliver of lighter teal skin marked the scar that remained of her own brush with slavery. "Passion is easy on the subject of slavery. But you are telling me the Xou!tasam practice it? Or just this League you speak of?"

“The League cloaks such an unpleasant and revolting truth in a bodyguard of lies, Doctor.” The woman referred to as ‘Kat’ replied to her, folding her hands on her lap before herself, earnest-seeming, at least. “They say they seek to ‘civilize’, that they have a mission to benevolently ‘uplift’ other species… but if they did, why would so much of the Imperial mosaic be made up of those who had been freed from their chains? The Xou!tasam, they are a difficult race of sentients to truly understand, I must fear. Their slavery may be hidden in language of debt, and indenture, but it is no less real. That they keep company and loose alliance with the League should be enough to condemn them, by the principle that one may be known by the friends you keep.”
Opani wondered about that. Had the Alliance, in its haste to find new resources for the war with the Reich, overlooked something vile about the Trading Consortium? Had they failed to properly investigate this universe before making their pacts and treaties, like some overeager Daxai merchant looking to make a larger profit on a deal? She had no doubt that the Alliance was not in favor of such vile practices. Especially not when millions were already dead fighting a regime that thrived on slavery and extermination.

Unless some are. The Alliance is not perfect. There are people on Doreia who would overlook such behavior if there was need enough, or gain enough. The Humans are certainly not immune.

The problem was going to be proof. The word of these people alone wouldn't be enough. She needed evidence of some kind. And more than that, she needed to know more about them. That was her mission from Captain Andreys, after all.

Another thought came to Opani. Kishala's careful whispers to her the previous day, the charges against them… they all seemed to point toward one possibility. One that might be quite important. "You bring guns to those fighting this League, do you not?" Opani asked. "That is the foundation of the charges against you."

The initial reply was silence. Opani sighed at that. "You do not trust me. I believe I understand. But you have to understand our position. The Alliance came to this system looking for the resources to continue fighting a war in another universe against a horrible evil, a Human regime known as the Nazi Reich. Surely you must understand that since we are already in one war, we would never have risked conflict with any local empire over territory. Not even for a system as rich in mineral wealth as this one. We settled this place because we found no sign of another claimant. We have no proof of your claim on this system. How are we supposed to respond when you demand we surrender it?"

The woman who had rebuked the other let out a soft laugh. “Doctor, you have clearly never had troubles with the constabulary. Even were we to trust you, anyone’s law enforcement is rarely your friend when they are holding you in detention. To speak with you would be foolhardy in the extreme and jeopardize our legal position. There was such a beacon placed, we, of course, assumed the absence meant that an active colony was now present. That it was not active when you arrived means that mishap, be it accidental or deliberate, befell it.”

It was clear that there was nothing more to be found out along that line of questioning. "I will inform Captain Andreys of this beacon existing." A thought came to her. "Do you happen to know where in the system it would have been left?"

“Of course I do. There would have been both a space-borne beacon and a non-transmitting marker, in the event such a misfortune as this happened.” She smiled, though shook her head sadly. “I must, however, regretfully inform you that such information should and must be asked of Captain von Lohringhoven. I am not authorized to disclose it to those outside the Empire.”

Opani nodded. At least she knew about it. It was something to tell Captain Andreys. "Then I should inform her right away." With that Opani was prepared to depart. But she stopped herself. Lucy had mentioned what she had missed in the briefing. That there was one here who was a Janiyal, or what the Lushan called Fenari, someone gifted by the Supreme Being (or some other force) with great power. She stopped and looked back. "There is something else. Two of the officers from my ship are what my people call Janiyal. They are blessed with power. And they sensed that power among you. I know they would like to speak with you on it, if you will allow them."

“I was not aware that prisoners could stop anyone from speaking to them if they so wished, Doctor.” There was a soft laughter that went around the room, as a shorter, muscled figure of a different ethnic group in the back of one of the cells remarked in an intensely sardonic tone.

"They would not wish to compel you into a conversation you do not wish to have," Opani answered. "It is not their way."

“You misunderstand her, Doctor.” The smiling prisoner from before had a wry look on her face. “She means that we cannot stop them from speaking to us. Whether we choose to answer is a different matter entirely, and much depends on the questions.”

Opani got the feeling that this was not simply semantics, but perhaps an offer. "I shall let them know of what you have said." In the moment before she moved her foot to continue turning and leave, Opani yet again stopped. She had a thought now. "Is there anything you would trust me with? To do for you?"

“We would wish to see the sunrise every day, Doctor.” The smile had vanished from that woman’s face, and she looked more than earnest. “To be Singers, as we are called to be, even on this world you have, perhaps unintentionally, stolen.”

Opani nodded. "I shall see what I can do."

After their arrival in the Government Building, Julia and Meridina were directed to a conference room. Taylor was already present with a few other individuals, including Colonel Littleton. He looked right at the door when it opened. "Captain, Commander." He gestured toward seats. "It's good to see you. We were just discussing our defensive planning."

"Do you have a full-strength deflector? Not that it will do any good if they use those graviton weapons." Julia and Meridina took the offered seats.

"We do, actually. And half of the Colony's population has completed militia combat training," Taylor answered. "If they send down an invasion, we should be able to resist it for a little bit."

"It might be wiser to preserve the Colony by declaring it undefended," Meridina said. "If we cannot stop them, I am skeptical that the Colony can be held, or rather, saved from the results of armed conflict."

"We're not going to give up just like that," Littleton vowed. "They'll think they can walk all over us."

"Given the state of Alliance defenses in this universe, it's entirely likely they can," Julia pointed out.

Littleton reacted with a deep frown. "Well, I'm so glad the Alliance Stellar Navy has such confidence in us," he remarked scornfully. "Are you really telling me you intend to duck and run, tail between your legs?"

Julia matched the frown and the scorn with a quiet, contemptuous look. "I will protect the people of this Colony any way I can," she retorted. "But the fact remains that we have to be realistic. We're already at war with the Nazis, we can't afford to jump into another one."

"We may have to consider that this system was claimed by the Aururian Empire before our arrival," Meridina added. "If this is true, then while it is a misunderstanding, we would be the interlopers."

"We searched every cubic meter of this star system," a woman barked. She was sitting beside Taylor. Her suit was cream white in color, a business jacket of gray over it and a tie at the neck. The woman's blue eyes flashed with irritation. The graying blond hair at her temples indicated her rough age. "There was no claim beacon of any kind detected!"

"This is Chairwoman Joann Logan," Taylor said, introducing the woman in question. "She's the head of the Governing Committee and the official representative of New Horizons."

"Chairwoman." Julia nodded. "While I agree the chances are low, it is possible that something could happen to such a beacon. A meteorite strike of sufficient size, for instance. And to be frank, if the choice is war or evacuation of the Oakland Colony, we need to consider evacuation." Julia knew she was skirting the edge of her orders by voicing this thought. But she also had an obligation to get civilians out of the potential war zone.

"And will the Stellar Navy reimburse my employers the costs of settling this Colony? Or the projected losses from our share of the revenues for the mineral rights?"

"That's for my superiors to decide. If it comes to that." Julia met Chairwoman Logan's glare with a firm look. "But I think you'll understand that we can't just…"

A knock on the door interrupted Julia. All eyes turned toward said door. Exasperated, Taylor said, "Come in." A figure in a dark blue police uniform came in. He was East Asian with close cut dark hair. Taylor had evidently assumed it was a clerk or some other interloper. Upon recognizing the newcomer he said, "Captain, this is Police Chief Andrew Jiang. Chief, how can we help you?"

"I imagined you'd prefer me hand you this, Governor." Jiang presented a pair of papers folded up with a dark blue covering. "Judge Moore signed them just ten minutes ago and ordered they be served immediately."

"The judge is aware we have a potentially hostile starship in orbit, isn't he?" Taylor, despite his complaint, still gestured for the paper to be handed to him.

"I'm sure he is sir, given the contents."

Meridina could sense Taylor's consternation and a growing impatience in Julia while Taylor read the papers. He frowned deeply. "Apparently Captain von Lohringhoven isn't just issuing threats," Taylor continued. "She's hired attorneys to fight the extradition. They've filed a habeas corpus complaint and demanded the release of the accused."

"It's a valid extradition warrant," Chairwoman Logan said. "There's nothing to it."

Julia picked up the papers. "Do you mind if I make a copy? I want to discuss this with my JAG officer."

"Be my guest." Taylor shrugged. "Now that it's before Judge Moore, my hands are tied. You can attend the preliminary hearing tomorrow if you would like."

Julia nodded. She would consider it. Or perhaps she would just send Lieutenant Vajpayee, the Aurora's JAG officer.

Of course, there was the fact that this meant another day would tick off of Lohringhoven's ultimatum. This just keeps getting more complicated.
”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 »

The Aurora kept her geostationary orbit over the Oakland Colony in the company of the two Aururian vessels. The Irresistible was further out than the Maya-Mayi with a higher orbit. Julia pondered the arrangement; was it to let the larger ship cover the smaller, damaged one? Or to put them in a position to intercept any incoming ship?

The thought of how she could defend this colony alone still gnawed at Julia. Maran's promise of reinforcements had yet to materialize. She had to consider the possibility that politics had forced him to divert those ships to other colonies. She also had to consider the frightening idea that this would not be enough. The Alliance was stretched thin by the war and reinforcements would be few; was it possible that the Alliance might very well be driven out of an entire universe over this crisis?

"Anything is possible." Meridina turned her head to face Julia. The Gersallian woman's expression and body language maintained the stoicism that Julia had long known in her First Officer, but even with that there was a supportive warmth in Meridina that Julia appreciated.

"We can't just leave, but I don't think we'll be able to stay," Julia murmured. "The Reich is one enemy enough right now." Julia glanced at Meridina. "What do you think, Commander? About this situation?"

"I believe we are in a dangerous situation that may yet provide some opportunity," Meridina answered. "These Aururians are clearly not mindlessly aggressive. Hiring an attorney from the Colony was an inspired idea. I do not believe diplomacy is hopeless."

"But we still have the same damn sticking point. They say they claimed this system. Our people found no trace of a claim. They still insist that Phi Perseus belongs to them and that they'll use military force to drive us out. And that's not counting these smugglers…"

The lift door near the rear of the bridge opened. Julia turned toward it in time to see Lucy and Opani step out. "Captain." Opani walked up to her. Julia and Meridina were standing by the time Opani arrived in the middle of the bridge. "I would like to speak with you about the captives."

"We both would," Lucy said.

"We're all ears," Julia said.

"Although they would not confirm it, I am increasingly convinced that the women do move weapons. But that they do so to oppressed species inside of the League of Democratic Worlds. They insist that the League practices slavery of less-advanced species."

Julia thought back to the scant material they had on that polity. Virtually all of it had been very generic information from the Xou!tasam. The Alliance emissary on Jao!senat was not one of the more effective members of the service, Julia suspected, with his dearth of reports on matters outside of economic figures.

"The surgeon on the Irresistible made a similar charge," Meridina recalled.

"They also state the Xou!tasam may also be guilty of such things," Opani continued. "Although they seemed less vehement.”

"Is there anything I can act on?" Julia asked them. "Any information I can use?"

"There is something," Opani confirmed. "They informed me that it is common practice in their Empire to leave both an active beacon asserting a claim and a marker somewhere in the system. They would not tell me where and insisted Captain von Lohringhoven would have to provide the knowledge."

"A marker." Julia thought of it. "Presumably something that doesn't transmit. That way if their beacon goes out they can point to the marker and laugh."

"But if that is so, then why do they not simply show us the marker?" Meridina asked. "Unless…"

A sick feeling came to Julia's gut. "Unless they can't find it," she said. "Unless it's gone."

Meridina frowned. "If that is true, then it may explain some of their hostility."

"Because they think we found it and destroyed it," Lucy added.

"Unfortunately, I'm quite sure Mrs. Logan will argue it never existed," Julia sighed. She turned her attention to Ops, where Neyzi was sitting. "Lieutenant, anything from the Koenig?"

"No, Captain," she answered.

Julia looked to science, where Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad was sitting. The new black strip on her collar's rank tab was a much-deserved promotion given her effort during the Cybermen invasion of the Aurora. "Lieutenant, anything yet on long-range sensors? Anything that might tell the Koenig where to look for a beacon?"

"Not yet, Captain. But Lieutenant Delgado and I have had some thoughts on the matter." Al-Rashid's accent had that near-English quality to it that many Arab English-speakers could attain. "We're taking general scans of the system to determine the optimum locations for someone to plant a transmitting claim beacon. We think this will aid Commander Carrey's mission substantially."

"Good. Keep at it." With that done Julia returned her attention to Opani and Lucy. "Alright, anything else I should know?"

"Other than the fact that our new trading partners might be helping enslave other species?" Lucy asked sardonically.

"Yes. Other than that." Julia felt a surge of irritation. Part of it was at Lucy - the bridge was not the place for that kind of thing - and another was her growing discontent with Tio!sat!ny and the Consortium. She was starting to feel like she was a chess piece that someone had maneuvered into position.

"The prisoners have a request, Captain," Opani said. "They wish to see the sunrise every morning."

"The sunrise." Julia pondered that one. "What, they want access to video…"

"They have that already," Lucy pointed out. "The quarantine chambers come equipped with holovid projectors. Not that they seem to be using them. No, I think they want to be let outside."

"I suspect Colonel Littleton and Chief Jiang will not be supportive of such."

"Could they be planning an escape?" Julia asked the two. "I mean, this sounds like setting something up for them to escape."

"I didn't sense that in them," Lucy insisted. "It felt… well, it felt genuine. They genuinely just want to be out in the sun."

"I believe it may be for religious purposes," Opani added. "The woman who asked has some form of moral authority over the others. She rebuked one for speaking aggressively toward me, and she acts and speaks more like clergy than a commander."

That thought made Julia consider the idea. If they did follow through on it, then it would give Doctor Opani trust with them. They might learn more. And she doubted their attorney would prevail on the authorities to grant it. Not soon, anyway.

"Can you find a way to arrange it?" she asked them. "While keeping them secure?"

"We could lower the anti-beaming shield over the hospital and beam them to an isolated spot," Lucy recommended. "We raise a forcefield once the beaming is complete and let them have their ceremony."

"You'll need security guards."

To that, Lucy grinned slyly. "Probably not. Although I bet we'll have to let the militia come along anyway."

"I will attend as well," said Meridina. "I would like to meet them for myself."

"Then I'm leaving it in your…"

Before Julia could finish her sentence, Neyzi interrupted her. "Captain, we have a vessel linking to our jump drive. Incoming jump."

"About time," Julia sighed gratefully. "On screen."

The holo-viewscreen activated and shifted to show empty space. The empty void was broken by a spark of green light. The spark pulsed and then expanded swiftly into a swirling vortex. From the maw of the green whorl three vessels emerged. The lead ship was a cousin of the Koenig, one of the Trigger-class attack ships. The second was a Steslus-class destroyer-carrier, with its unique pair of secondary hulls, the upper hull containing a dozen launch tubes to each side and a launch/landing deck on the top. The third…

...the third was the largest of them all, at just over a kilometer long. Its profile was easily recognizable, the long, sharp lines and the sharp, sloping rear of the primary hull to where the top of the drive hull began, the only truly visible feature delineating the two parts of the ship. The vessel was nearly a twin of the Aurora, being only about ten meters longer and wider.

Julia was not surprised to read the name of the ship on the top of its primary hull.

"Vessels identified," Neyzi said. "The Heerman, the Lrrik, and the…"

"...ASV Enterprise," Julia said aloud, reading the name she saw on the screen. "Thank you, Lieutenant," she added quickly. "Are they hailing?"

"Aye Captain, they are. I am putting them on."

The holo-viewscreen shifted to show a mirror swap of their bridge, or at least a narrow look at such a swap. The image was dominated by a man with graying dark hair and faintly-tanned skin. "It is good to see you again, Captain Andreys," said Captain Ariel Shaham.

"The same, Captain, I assure you," Julia said, smiling at the man who was commanding the ship she was to have had.

"The commanders of the Lrrik and Heerman are already preparing to come aboard to meet with us, Captain. I would be happy to host you and Commander Carrey as well."

"Commander Carrey and his ship are on a special assignment," Julia said. "But I'll be over shortly."

"We will await your arrival. Shaham out."

The viewscreen returned to the sight of the incoming Alliance ships.

"Well, at least we have the advantage now," said Ensign Violeta Arterria from her station at the helm. When she heard Julia clear her throat she added a swift, "Sorry, Captain."

"I'm going over to the Enterprise," Julia said to the others. "Lieutenant, Doctor, you have my permission to enact your plan for the prisoners. You are dismissed."

"Yes Captain," Opani said. Lucy nodded in agreement and the two walked off the bridge.

"I do sense a slight apprehension now," Meridina said quietly. "From the Aururian vessel."

"Anything specific?"

"No. The apprehension is not one of fear. More one of impatience."

Julia nodded. She could guess what that meant. Lohringhoven’s odds were bad, but it sounded like she’d faced worse before. She wouldn’t back down. "We're not the only ones waiting for reinforcements. I'll let Shaham and the others know. Commander, you have the bridge."

"Yes, Captain," Meridina stated. She walked to the command chair while Julia headed to the lift herself.

If not for the sensation of having her body catapulted through a subspace tunnel, or the different figures at the transporter station controls, Julia would have been justified to think she hadn't moved from her spot in Transporter Station 1. That she had showed how similar the Enterprise was to the Aurora internally, at least here. She nodded to the transporter station operator, a Caucasian woman who stood at attention the moment she stepped down from the pad.

The door opened and a Human-looking officer entered, wearing the one gold, one black rank strips of a Lieutenant j.g and with the branch color trim of his black uniform being burgundy red, marking him an officer in the ship handling/command track. "Captain, sir, I am Lieutenant Hanatrim," the man said. Julia amended her thought to reflect he was a Gersallian. "Captain Shaham ordered me to escort you."

"Lead the way, Lieutenant," Julia answered.

The corridors were the same as the Aurora, as was the lift. Julia let Hanatrim give the command for the bridge.

The bridge was laid out exactly the same as the Aurora as well. The bridge crew currently on duty were busy at their stations. Yellow alert lights were showing on multiple panels.

Hanatrim gestured to the door across the bridge. It was the same door that led to the conference lounge on the Aurora. Julia thanked him and walked on. She noted with interest that the sensor officer on duty was a Salarian. She had yet to see one of that species in the Stellar Navy.

A pang of regret came to her. Had things gone differently, this would be her bridge. Her ship. Her crew. As much as she loved the Aurora, being the captain of a ship called Enterprise was the sort of honor anyone would want to have. And she had lost that opportunity. That the Enterprise was showing up for this, the first mission of her command, was almost like the universe was rubbing her nose in it.

Once she arrived in the conference lounge she was met with the other captains in the task force. Shaham stood in the middle of the three; to his left was a Dorei man with almost pale purple skin, dots and hair differing shades of light blue with the hair pulled back into a small ponytail, while to Shaham's right was a Human woman with dark brown skin the color of mocha. Her skin had an almost translucent look to it that made her look almost alien, and her curly dark hair was kept back in strict cornrows. Both were in the standard uniform, black with command branch burgundy red; the only difference were the gloves woman and dark sunglasses worn by the woman. "Captain Andreys," Shaham said. "Welcome to the Enterprise. These are Captain Gartan Meyos of the Lrrik and Commander Abebech Imra of the Heerman."

"Captain. Commander." Julia nodded to them and accepted a handshake from Imra. Shaham gave her one as well. "It's good to see you."

"I'm not surprised given the situation. That is quite the ship out there." Shaham gestured to the table. They all followed him to the table. "I've spent the day reading your reports on the situation. Have Commanders Scott and Jarod determined any way to counteract these graviton cannons the Aururians use?"

"They're shoring up structural integrity fields to handle the shock. So far that's the only countermeasure they've been able to put into action."

"I see." Shaham put his hands together on the table. "There are six days left in their ultimatum, then?"

"There are."

"Have you initiated diplomatic efforts?" asked Commander Imra. Her English was spoken with an evident accent, but not one Julia could easily place.

"I attempted to. I even arranged a meeting between myself, Governor Taylor, and Captain von Lohringhoven." Julia shook her head. "And then the Trading Consortium issued their warrant for the arrest of the Aururians in quarantine. Right when Captain von Lohringhoven and her First Officer arrived. As you can imagine, it didn't go over well."

"How could it?"

Julia noticed the look in Shaham's eye. "I thought the timing was suspicious myself."

"As in you believe it was intentional?"

Julia answered with a nod. "The Consortium hasn't been helpful at all in giving us information on these people. They swoop in and act to make the crisis worse. And there is the matter of the Aururian claims to the system."

Shaham gave her a curious look. "You think they're genuine?"

"I think we have to consider the possibility," Julia said. "Doctor Opani, one of my ship's medical staff, has been establishing a rapport with the prisoners. They informed her that the Aururians leave two indications of their claims inside a star system; a transmitting beacon and a non-transmitting marker in case something happens to the beacon."

"Then would Captain von Lohringhoven have not shown you the hypothetical marker to prove their claim?" asked Captain Gartan.

"That she hasn't is what I'm wondering about."

"It could be deception," Imra pointed out.

"Yes." Shaham nodded. "But if it isn't, then things are that much worse. The Aururians have a reason to be suspicious of us." He looked again to Julia. "So Commander Carrey is hunting for any sign that the Aururians left a beacon?"

Julia answered her with a nod. "He is. Under cloak."

"Then we'll have to see if he finds anything." Shaham's expression darkened. "Even if he does, our orders are clear. Phi Perseus has to be kept in Alliance control, we need its resources for the war."

"As valuable as they are, that won't do us any good if we get plunged into another war," Julia pointed out. "And they're going to bring in reinforcements before the ultimatum ends. We're pretty sure of that. And even if we match them ship for ship, it just means it's more likely someone's going to open fire."

He sighed. "True. But Command seems to think they're bluffing, or using this as a way to make us return the prisoners. I'll try to speak with Captain von Lohringhoven myself. I think that given what the Consortium did to you, Captain, it's best if a new face makes the offers."

Julia nodded to indicate her agreement.

"Then if there's nothing else, this meeting is over."

Gartan and Imra nodded and departed immediately. Julia did not. Once they were gone she said, "I see you've settled in. Her shakedown run went well?"

"Yes, it did," answered Shaham. He finally grinned. "The Enterprise is certainly a change from commanding the Tikvah, as much as I miss our old home sometimes. And the Klingons found her quite impressive." Seeing Julia's bewildered look, he continued, "Captain King and I were ordered to the ceasefire line at Archanis."

"Yes. I heard the Federation and Klingons stopped shooting at each other. It was about time if you ask me."

"It wasn't just diplomacy. They found out that General Martok was a Changeling infiltrator, one who has been quietly manipulating the Klingons into more aggressive stances." Shaham sighed. "The Dominion is a threat we're going to be worried about even when the Nazi are defeated."

Julia nodded grimly. Looking back, she remembered Martok's part in derailing the conference on DS9 that was attempting to keep the Klingons active against the Reich. And that's where we think Senator Kiang got replaced too… "Another reason to prevent a war from starting here." Julia stood up. "I'm going to head back to the Aurora now."

"Of course. And I'll begin talking to Captain von Lohringhoven."

"Good luck with that," Julia said. "You'll probably need it. She's really stubborn."

"So are my children," Shaham said. He grinned at that. "I'll inform you of my progress."

On that note, Julia departed.

As the clock ticked toward 2300, Julia stepped out of her shower with a white terry-cloth robe around her still-damp body. A blue towel was wrapped around her drying blond hair. To give time for it to dry Julia sat at her desk and activated her work station. The remainder of the day's reports awaited her viewing and signature. She went through them with quiet speed, taking care to understand each before she fixed her signature to them.

The paperwork wasn't the only thing on her mind, of course. Having Shaham and his ad hoc task force relieved some of the pressure her crew was operating under, but the fact remained that they were in an impossible situation dealing with a society they still didn't understand. She felt like the Aururians were not a mindless aggressor, but that didn't change the fact that they were capable of it. And their attitude toward the system was hardly the flexibility of diplomacy with their ultimatum and refusal to negotiate.

And then there was the Consortium. The Consortium had clearly been hiding things from the Alliance. And they had, perhaps, deliberately sabotaged the attempt to reduce the tension in the crisis. What was their agenda? And was it connected with the League's purported imperialism toward less-advanced species? These questions hung over the crisis like a shadow.

Julia stifled a yawn and tapped a key to activate her message recording system. "Send to Robert Dale," she said aloud, trusting the Alliance comm network to locate Robert with the message. He would log in somewhere, at some time, she was certain. "Hey Rob," she began. "I just wanted to…"

She stopped. What could she say? The fact was, Robert had his own concerns now that his life force powers were out of whack. If she told him what was going on, or at least as much as she could tell him, would it distract him from that issue? Would he be burdened too much by the knowledge they were in certain, imminent danger? With those thoughts in mind Julia couldn't bring herself to continue speaking, couldn't even find words. Finally, she sighed and said, "Computer, cancel recording." It replied with an electronic warble.

With nothing more to do and the hour pressing on toward midnight ship time, Julia removed the towel and let her hair fall down to her shoulders. She brushed it out to keep it from getting tangles while she slept.

As she reached for her green-colored nightgown to sleep in, a blue light appeared on her nightstand. It was her omnitool. She heard Lieutenant Takawira's voice say, "Bridge to Captain Andreys." Sighing again, more loudly this time, she went over and tapped the light. "Andreys here."

"Captain, we have identified vessels on long-range sensors. They are approaching at high warp and will arrive shortly."

Lohringhoven's reinforcements, she thought. "Have they communicated?"

"No sir."

Julia looked to where her uniforms were hanging in her closet. "So much for sleep," she muttered. More loudly, she said, "I'm on my way."

Julia arrived on the bridge to find the Gamma Shift crew in their places; Ensign Crane, a Human man, at tactical, the Alakin female Lieutenant Jakeet at Ops, the light teal-skinned, blue-spotted and purple-haired Dorei male Ensign Tagas at Science, and Ensign Talara at the helm. Lieutenant Tinashe Takawira stood at the command chair. "Captain."

"Have they jumped yet?" Julia asked Takawira. She turned to Tagas. "What is their speed?"

"I have not seen them attempt a jump," Tagas replied. "They are proceeding at Warp 9."

Julia blinked at that figure. "Warp 9? Can a ship with internal drives manage that?"

"Unlikely, Captain," Jakeet observed.

"What's their heading and ETA?"

"They're still five minutes out," Tagas said. "Heading 223 mark 119."

Julia went to her command chair and wondered. Her first impression was that it had to be the reinforcements that Lohringhoven was likely anticipating. But the heading was wrong, and she doubted that the internal warp drives on the Aururian ships could manage such a speed. Although maybe they have cruisers with warp nacelles?

"Hail them, Lieutenant Jakeet," Julia said.

"Hailing…" Jakeet operated her board, her taloned digits tapping the keys controlling the ship's interstellar communications gear. "They are responding with visuals."

"On screen."

The holo-viewscreen activated and showed a close shot of a man with a light bronze, Mediterranean complexion. He had a sharp, narrow face with dark hair and light blue eyes. His visible uniform was blue. Gold trim at the collar was joined by five golden bars. He wore a beret of blue color with an insignia on it, a trio of globes with blue, white, and red coloring backing them.

Julia spoke first. "This is Captain Julia Andreys of the Alliance Starship Aurora. You are entering Alliance space. Please identify yourself."

"Greetings, Captain." The man's English was not auto-translated, but it was spoken with a French accent. "I am Captain Guy de Montamar of the battlecruiser Poursuivante and acting commander of the 10th Task Force, representing the League of Democratic Worlds."

So here we go. The other side shows up. "Captain, you may be aware that we have a tense situation currently. Your arrival may cause hostilities to commence. I must ask what your purpose is."

A pleasant smile appeared on the man's face. "Of course, Captain, I understand your concern. I am here on behalf of our associates in the Trading Consortium. They requested our assistance in transporting the Aururian criminals your colony arrested to face charges in their nation for their crimes. And should our arrival cause the Aururians to attack, my forces will stand at your side and fight for your world."

Julia kept her face neutral at that. In her head, she was sighing, recognizing that the arrival of the League ships was going to make the situation even worse than before.
”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 »

Ship's Log: 18 February 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The crisis at Phi Perseus has heightened with the arrival of the League ships under Captain de Montamar. The Aururian vessels are now significantly outnumbered but have shown no indication of withdrawing. I suspect their reinforcements are still en route and will arrive before Captain von Lohringhoven's ultimatum expires in five days.

The League's arrival to take the prisoners on behalf of the Trade Consortium is another matter. It's becoming clear that there is something going on here beyond the matter of some gun-running.

Copious amounts of coffee were steaming from pitchers and mugs in the Aurora conference lounge. With their clocks slowly ticking toward 0400 hours, most of those assembled were yearning for a return to their beds and dreading the fact that they would most likely have little time to get any more sleep before their main watch shifts commenced.

Julia sipped at a particularly strong cup of coffee. Hargert had promised her it could keep someone up for hours. She darkly suspected his claim would be put to the test. Once everyone was seated, she tapped a key on the table to activate the communication interlink.

Instead of a lone image on the wall behind her, the table's main holographic projector activated. It displayed images beside the table. One had Captain Shaham and his command staff, roused for the same reason. Captain Gartan and Commander Imra appeared in the other images. A third image showed a tired Governor Taylor with Committee Chairwoman Logan beside him. The final was of Captain de Montamar on his ship, the Poursuivante. The vessel, which was now visible through the lounge window, resembled the same aesthetic as the Aururian ships, but with sharper lines and a pair of long, gray warp nacelles built into the sponsons on either side of the ship and angled downward just enough to get the necessary clearance to function.

"On behalf of the Oakland Colony, I do thank you for your offer of assistance, Captain de Montamar," Taylor said. "However, I am obligated to keep custody of the prisoners in question until Judge Moore rules on their motions."

Montamar nodded. There was no sign of anything but a calm and patient demeanor in the man. "Of course, Governor," he said, his English fairly accented from his native French. "Your people are a free and democratic people as well, with laws and protections that must be cherished and supported. I will wait for the outcome to your legal proceedings."

"Although that will be a moot point if the Aururians invade," Shaham pointed out.

"If they commence hostilities, Captain Shaham, I am authorized to open fire in your defense. The League will not stand by while the Empire commits another act of aggression."

"Captain, the Alliance has been in this universe for a year now," Julia began. "Why has it taken so long for the League to approach us?"

"The Trading Consortium asked us to let them take the lead in your introduction to our universe," was the answer.

"Presumably they feared we would react badly if we found out about their neighbors." This was from Taylor.

"A reasonable fear," de Montamar said. "When do you expect the legal issues to be handled?"

"The day after tomorrow is the main hearing. Today will be a preliminary one to discuss the motion to dismiss…"

Even with the coffee, Julia felt the conversation slip away from her as it became less relevant to her immediate problems. It seemed that every development made war more likely to break out, regardless of what she planned or considered. And now she was tired and her eyes felt like weights had been attached to her eyelids. Having to think of solutions when her brain felt like it was in a fog would be an uphill climb.

Finally Julia noticed Shaham was speaking. "..don't know about these people," he was saying. "If we are to deal with them I would like to know more."

"And I will share with you what I know, gladly. Perhaps in person? I will bring a shuttle down to meet with your governor and the Consortium Sub-Consul."

De Montamar's offer prompted Taylor to nod. "I will be waiting."

"I look forward to meeting you in person, Captain de Montamar."

"I'll meet everyone planetside," Julia said. "Aurora out." She tapped a key and ended the call. "Any thoughts?" she asked.

"I'm not sure I like that answer," Locarno said. "About why it's taken so long for the League to make contact with us. If the Aururians are as aggressive as he claims, it makes more sense to open contact as quickly as possible to warn us and give them a potential ally."

"Perhaps their reluctance, and that of the Consortium, is linked to their alleged mistreatment of less-advanced species?" Meridina asked. "If the Consortium recognized that we would disapprove of their ally's behavior, they may have felt the need to keep us from learning about the League's actions until relations were firmly established. And the League may have feared we would oppose them as well."

From within Julia's sleep-deprived brain a thought kindled. I need to find out how things are going on the Koenig, she thought to herself.

"Yeah, but that's assuming the Aururians aren't lying," Angel pointed out, continuing on from Meridina's remark. "Maybe the League treats aliens just fine and the Aururians prop up terrorist groups to undermine them. All to have an excuse to attack them. Hell, maybe that's what the group down on the planet are. They could be terrorists themselves, for all we know."

"They're not," Doctor Opani declared. Eyes turned toward her in the chair to Leo's left. "They don't sound like terrorists."

"And you know how a terrorist sounds?" Angel asked pointedly. "You don't know anything about them."

"And neither do you," Opani shot back. "But you assume they must be bandits just because these people say so? These people, who may practice slavery?"

"I don't have to assume a damn thing to know these people are bad news." Angel's tone grew harsh. "Look at what they've done. These bit-" She stopped and corrected herself at the last moment. "...these people threatened an innocent colony, opened fire on us without provocation, killed a member of our crew, and are threatening to attack again if we don't knuckle under and give them everything they want just because they freaking say so! Why the hell should we give them the benefit of the doubt when all we've seen them do is shoot at us and threaten us? If you ask me, I think it's clear that these Aururians are bad news. And I certainly don't trust a damned one of them."

Opani's dark teal complexion gained a blue tint on her face. Her eyes narrowed and her long, pointed ears seemed to level against the side of her head.

"Both of you, calm down," Julia ordered. She leveled an intent look at Angel, who finally diverted her eyes from Opani. "I know we're all tired and cranky, but we've got enough problems without fighting each other."

"It's not really our place to worry about the prisoners, isn't it?" asked Leo. "That's up to the government on the colony. All we have to do is worry about protecting this world. Or, if necessary, evacuating it."

"We're rated for twelve thousand evacuees, maximum," Jarod said. "But it would take us several hours."

"We got all those people off the Tikvah in under an hour, didn't we?" Locarno asked.

"We were lucky that day, Mister Locarno," Scotty said. "I dinnae care t' try an' repeat th' performance if we dinnae have tae."

"Still, have extra transporter station personnel on standby just in case," Julia said. "With the Lrrik and Enterprise helping, we could get everyone off-world on the last day, if necessary."

"I am not sure we will be allowed," Meridina said. "The orders from Admiral Maran are quite clear on the matter of protecting Phi Perseus."

"I want to keep the option open. Just in case. Lieutenant, any luck with that beacon hunt?"

"You mean looking for something that might not be there?" Cat shrugged. "Al-Rashad and I have identified the best points for such a beacon to transmit, but it's going to take the Koenig a few days to investigate them all. We could probably do it inside of a day, but we'd have to leave orbit."

"Which we're not doing," Julia said. "Keep me informed. Doctor, anything more on that organism? The reason we came here in the first place?"

"Dr. Ke'mani'pala should have a batch finish growing today," he said. "It might take a couple of days, but I'm sure she'll figure out what it's doing to them."

"Let me know when she has results. We'll see if it corroborates whatever Montamar tells us." Julia stood in her chair. "I'll see everyone on the bridge by 0800. You're all dismissed."

Everyone began to file out, save for Meridina, Lucy, and Opani. And, Julia noted, Commander Richmond. "The sun will rise over the Colony in about three hours," Opani said.

"They said no?"

"They refuse to move them, but they do not forbid us from doing the same," Meridina noted.

"The Commander informed me of the proposal," Richmond said. "I could provide security teams for the purpose. But to minimize possible difficulties, I suggest another course of action."

Julia listened to what Richmond recommended. It was, indeed, a workable solution, and would keep the Aururians secure in the process.

I just have to hope this doesn't impact our relations with those new arrivals was the sole concern that went through her head.

The night had not gone well for Zack. The nightmares had come back with their full fury. Nightmares of Clara dying, of her accusing eyes, and those of Julia dying in the same manner. Of everyone turning away from him for causing their deaths. Sleep had only come after a good, solid night-cap, to drown away those dreams.

Or rather more than a night-cap, as it turned out. With his head aching Zack could barely moan, much less lift his head. Every tone from the alarm was like a knife to the middle of his skull. Finally he shouted, "Turn that damn thing off!" The computer complied immediately and, to get the last word in, issued him a reminder. "Ship time is now 0620."

The time demanded the attention of Zack's brain. It didn't want to cooperate. It took several moments for him to force himself to sit up. His eyes went over to the table, where his empty plastic tumbler was beside his bottle of tequila. He narrowed his eyes at the bottle. The level was down to about the three-quarter mark. That was far too low. He was certain it was too low. How could he have had that much. Just one drink the first night out and two drinks after the nightmare.

It was just two drinks, wasn't it? He could swear it was only two. It was only after he thought about it that he recalled the third. And the fourth. He had been trying to drown out the nightmares, hadn't he?

"Dammit," Zack muttered under his breath. Through the pain a cool feeling came to him. He was starting to become like his father, wasn't he? Drowning away sorrows with alcohol… And he didn't want to become Gerald Carrey. He had a life. A job.

A job. For the others, it was more than that. Zack had to think about that. Hadn't he ever considered this more than a mere job? Something to do with his life?

He had, yes. Flying the Koenig had been his favorite duty in the world back in the Facility days. The others were possessive of the Aurora, but he had always felt a deep affection for the gutpuncher that Carlton Farmer had put together for them.

That was before Clara had re-entered his life. Then it was something to do in order to be worthy of her. To live up to what she saw in him, the thing that brought her out to the stars too.

The thing that, in the end, killed her.

In a wave the feelings came back. That he had never been worthy of her. Those quiet dreams, that deep secret longing he'd never gotten out of him for another woman, all little betrayals of a good, kind person who had given him her love. Clara Davis would have been far, far better off if she had stayed far away from him.

Zack's hands went to the bottle and the tumbler. His first thought had been to put it away. But with those horrible feelings back, he felt a desire to put away another shot. Just one more. Something to dull that feeling. To get it out of him.

The comm system beeped right as his fingers reached for the cap of the tequila bottle. He pulled his hand back and hit the receive key on his omnitool. "Carrey here," he said. He knew his voice sounded off. He hoped it would sound more like being groggy from sleep than hung over or, now that he thought about it (as much as he could think), between being hung over and still being a little drunk.

"Navaez here," Magda said. "I came on duty early. I thought I would let you know we completed our sweep of this area. Still no sign of anything."

"Onto the next then?" he asked, grimacing from the pain in his head.

"We're already en route at point zero eight impulse power."

"Point zero eight?" He blinked.

"At full power, I might miss something on the sensors. This way I do not. Our ETA to the next scanning zone is ten hours."

"Alright then. I'll be up shortly. Carrey out."

Once the call ended Zack winced to himself. Even if he took the breath mints and got rid of any lingering smell on his breath, there was no way they wouldn't see he had been drinking. Zack turned to his personal replicator. "Niltox, six hundred milligrams," he specified. "And water."

"Warning. Requested dose exceeds recommended dosage by…"

"I know. Override and give me the damn pills!"

His outburst won him the machine's obedience. It produced two cups, one with the requested cool water and the other with three small blue pills. He downed the blue pills together and drank enough water to wash them down. With an eye toward the time clock, Zack went to his shower to face the day.

When everything was ready, Doctor Opani returned to the hospital. She was again waived through the doors to the quarantine ward by the guards. She found the prisoners to be freshly roused. Breakfast would be served shortly. She stepped into the area in the middle of the cells.

Kishala walked to the edge of her own cell until she was less than ten centimeters away from the forcefield containing her. "Doctor Opani."

"Ms. Abrakia." Opani grinned at her. "I need you all to stand beside each other in your cells."

"Why?" the Ralsan asked.

"So that we can take you outside," Opani answered. "The sun will start coming up shortly."

That prompted a reaction from the dark-skinned woman "Kat". "We are willing to accept a parole. Restraining us will not be necessary if you will but give it."

"You will not be restrained. We are transporting you to a site outside."

It was clear the others found the request to be bizarre. Doubly so for the lack of armed guards to accompany them. Nevertheless, the prospect of getting to see the sunrise won them over. They did as instructed.

Opani tapped her omnitool. "Lieutenant, they're in position."

"I see that. Beaming in five seconds."

"'Beaming'?" asked one of the other Ralsans.

Opani considered an explanation. But there was no time for one. She remained silent until she felt the familiar sensation of a transporter taking hold of her. The quarantine ward disappeared in a burst of white light that overwhelmed her vision.

When her vision returned, Opani was outside on a grassy field. The sky was dark and the stars were out. A thin sliver of dawn was visible on the horizon. The outlines of a forest showed beneath those early rays. Lucy and Meridina were standing beside her, Lucy operating the controls of a portable transporter system tied into the one on the Aurora.

In the moments after her sight returned, Opani watched ten more bursts of light appear. The prisoners found themselves standing in the middle of the grass field as the dawn approached.

The immediate reaction was utter shock. One moment they had been in their cells, then after a burst of light they were out in the open. They looked around and talked excitedly in their shared language about what had just happened. Kishala stepped out from among them and faced Opani and her compatriots. "What did you do to us?" she asked.

"We generated a subspace tunnel around you," Lucy replied. "And directed it here. It's safer than matter-energy transporter technology."

"These are two of my crewmates," Opani said to her. "Lieutenant Lucy Lucero, an operations officer, and Commander Meridina, First Officer of the Aurora. Meridina is a Gersallian."

Meridina nodded to them. "I know it is strange to see an alien looking the same as your own species. My people have had to adjust themselves to a similar truth now that we are in constant contact with Humans."

There was a look in the Ralsan's eyes. It was joy and wonder and uncertainty and, yes, a little fear mixed in. "Why?"

"You asked. And we have questions as well," Meridina said. "Our people have much to learn about this universe."

Kishala said no more. After one last grateful look she turned away and returned to the others. Opani noticed that for the first time her tail was moving side-to-side. She wondered if that was a good sign or not.

Between their time traveling in their ship and the days spent in confinement, the prisoners had spent weeks without seeing a planet-based sunrise. The three Aurora crewmembers watched quietly as they reacted to this one. Some knelt. Some sat. Two held their arms out, as if to embrace the rising sun of Phi Perseus. The younger woman with curly blonde hair who had restrained Kat in Opani's prior conversation with them stood in front of the others and greeted the rising sun with a soft melody. They didn't recognize the words. But they could understand some of the meaning.

"I believe she is the one," Meridina said to them. More specifically to Lucy, who was looking over the portable station.

Lucy looked up and toward the prisoners. After several moments of consideration she nodded. "I can feel it too," Lucy said.

The ceremony, such as it was, continued on through the sunrise. Some of the other women in the group took up the melody as the sun began its climb into the sky off the horizon. After about half an hour the assembled finished their singing and humming.

This time they all approached the trio. "We did not expect this," the young woman said. She gave them a bow of the head in gratitude. “As a Sister, I thank you.”

Meridina returned the head bow. "There is much hostility between our peoples currently. To allow it to continue not only increases the risk of conflict, it weakens the Flow of Life."

"The Flow of Life." The Aururian woman's look was one of curiosity. "That is your name for it?"

"It is."

"We consider it a gift from Anjea, the intercessor and protector of all the Singers, who convinced her mother Yhi - the Mother of Creation, who Sang all into existence - to grant us such a boon in our darkest hour."

Opani responded first. "Although I am ungifted, there are many among my species with the Gift who believe it to be the energy of the Supreme Being." Opani waited to see if they had more to say before she moved on. "We can do this daily. I have made the arrangements, and Captain Andreys will approve of it."

"She will," Meridina confirmed. "Captain Andreys is trying to learn more about your people. She hopes to find a peaceful solution to these disputes."

"One war is bad enough," Lucy added. "Fighting you would mean less ships to fight the Nazis."

A curious look came over some of the women. "Nazi?" asked the one named Kat. "You refer to the 20th Century movement led by Adolf Hitler?"

"Those are the ones," Lucy confirmed. "In the history of Universe S4W8, they won the war and at some point became the most powerful state on Earth. So they conquered the rest of Humanity, drove the rest to flee in space ships, and expanded into space."

The reply was incredulity. Incredulity that soon faded into general horror at the concept. “Mother above, you would think killing him once was enough…”

A tone came from Meridina's omnitool before Lucy could inquire as to what Kat meant. She checked it. "It is time for us to return you," she said. "We will bring you here again tomorrow."

"Again, you have our thanks," said the young woman who had led the singing.

"Before I send you back… what's your name?" Lucy asked. "If you don't mind?"

"I am Kirrhi," she answered.

"I hope we get this sorted out," Lucy said. "Meridina and I would love to discuss our cultures' different approaches to the Flow of Life."

Kirrhi's smile widened. "Yes," she said softly. "I think we would enjoy that as well."

The sun was still low in the sky when Julia and Jarod materialized outside of the government building. Security personnel directed them back to the same conference room Julia had seen the prior day. Imra and Gartan were present already with Governor Taylor at his seat and Logan beside him on the right. Julia and Jarod found their own seats to Taylor's left.

The next time the door was opened Shaham entered the room. He found a seat beside Taylor, one left for him by Gartan and Imra, allowing him to sit across from Jarod and beside Logan.

The door opened one final time. Captain de Montamar stepped in. Julia could now see the entirety of his blue uniform, with the gold-colored dual lines of buttons on the front and the gold cuffs, looking much like a combination of a 20th Century uniform and a Systems Alliance formal uniform jacket. The trousers had gold trim along the outside crease, at least down to his knee.

"Captain Guy de Montamar of the Poursivante, at your service Governor," he stated in accented English.

"Captain. Thank you for accepting our hospitality." Taylor gestured to a chair at the other head of the table. "Would you like coffee or tea?"

"The former, Governor, would be most welcome."

"For myself as well," Shaham added.

"I'll take one," Julia said.

"Tea," said Logan.

"I enjoyed a cup of tupari before beaming down," Gartan stated, referring to the Dorei equivalent of rich coffee. "I am not in need of more."

At a nod from Taylor, one of his assistants went to a replicator unit in the wall behind Logan, Shaham, and the other commanders. He ordered coffees for everyone available. The device lit up and in several columns of light produced half a dozen mugs filled with the dark fluid. "Cream or sugar?" the assistant asked those attending.

"A touch of sugar, I think," de Montamar requested. Taylor specified cream.

While this was arranged, Logan went to business. "Where is Sub-Consul Nio!sat!ny? I was informed he would be attending."

"I am uncertain myself," the League officer answered. "The League and Consortium often act in concert, but we keep our own counsels as well."

"I think we can commence without him, Chairwoman" Taylor said. "Captains?"

Julia and the other Captains gave nods of assent.

"Very well. I shall begin by bringing up a rather interesting distinction of our universe," de Montamar said. "I learned of this while examining the data that the Consortium was provided by your Alliance, trying to find why your universes are free of the nemesis of ours. It is quite astonishing." He removed a device from his jacket and placed it on the table. With a tap of a key the device generated a holographic projection of the Earth. Montamar tapped a few keys, generating a square that moved into the Southern Hemisphere and then into the Eastern Hemisphere until it was over Southeast Asia and Australia. Another key tap zoomed in.

Julia immediately saw what he meant. She didn't fight the surprise that came to her face. The interior of Australia, always brown or yellow from above, was instead lush greens with the light brown of plains. The desert areas seemed confined to a portion of the southern coast and a few other points in the northwest.

"An Earth where the Australian Outback doesn't exist." Logan raised her eyebrows. "That is quite intriguing."

"This is... " Jarod shook his head in amazement. "This is something entirely new for us."

"Presumably this altered the development of the peoples of this region?" Gartan asked.

"It would definitely have had to, as the known Earths so far see similar histories for the continent," Logan noted. "With the Aborigines never developing sufficiently to resist European settlement."

"There are several, though unlikely, explanations for such a change. Presumably the monsoons of primordial Australia never receded," Jarod remarked. "This would have drastically changed the development of the continent."

"Presumably not, Commander," said de Montamar. "Dry conditions may have killed the spongiform before it infected humans."

"We're still waiting for our scientists to finish their examinations of this organism," Julia said. "What can you tell us about it?"

"Much. It is responsible for the division of our entire species."

"That much we've been told," said Taylor. "How?"

De Montamar tapped the holographic projector, turning off the image of the Earth for the moment. "That thing evolved many thousands of years ago in a direction that let it infect Humanity," he said. "Once it is within a host organism, it spreads through the body. The host becomes ill, during which time the spongiform attacks and modifies the reproductive system, the bone marrow, the brain. In human males, the result is gruesome without immediate amputation of the most drastic sort. In females, however…"

By this point Julia realized where he was going with this. "It can carry genetic material from another source," she murmured. "We learned that much."

"Yes. Females infected by the organism can only transfer their genetic material between each other."

"They can have children," Shaham said in realization. "Without the need for medical technology, for in-vitro capability and embryo generation."

"Now we know why their ships are all female crews," Julia said. "Although that doesn't explain the other aliens, the Ralsan…"

De Montamar nodded. "I will get to that. The point, though, is that wherever Aururians went, it spread."

"The pheromone." Seeing the looks from the others, Jarod said, "It makes sense. Something like the pheromones could stimulate those not-infected to find those with the infection, those with the pheromone, desirable and attractive."

"In short, yes," de Montamar confirmed. "To such an extent the Empire has internal quarantines and cybernetic methods of resistance for privileged minorities. It is enough to explain their expansion, however. Especially when backed by the use of force."

"How different is your world's history?" Jarod asked. "I mean, from our current baseline? Something like this would… well, it would, it should, drastically alter the development of Humanity."

"I think that might be a little off-topic right now, Commander," said Logan. "What is clear is that even if the organism is not airborne, it might yet pose a health risk."

"So the Aururians developed in an Australia with more cropland and forest." Julia looked to de Montamar again. "And they eventually organized a society."

"Yes. Over the centuries they spread to the nearby islands and lands. Eventually contact with Europe occurred. The Aururians were developed enough that, even without the advantage of muskets, they were able to repulse a sizable expedition of conquistadors, after which they copied their ships, and sailed to Europe for aid. The English were the first friendly nation they found.”

"An alliance that seems to have stuck with them," Julia noted.

"Until they conquered those Isles.” He replied, dryly. “To sum up centuries in as few words as possible, the Aururians expanded where they could and worked their connections with Europe to protect themselves from conquest," de Montamar stated. "They stood as allies with the English in many of the great wars of Old Earth, and each time cunningly expanded their power, using their conflicts with Spain to gain entry to the Americas. The wars of the 20th Century saw them expand their reach even further, into the Near East, into Asia, even into Africa. By the 21st Century they had forged a network of confederated states and sub-states that spanned the globe and were in the first rank of powers. Sometimes they stood opposed to uninfected Humanity, but they were capable of working with us against a foe such as the Ralsan."

"Oh?" asked Julia.

"The Ralsan had no superluminal drive," said de Montamar. "They expanded over the course of centuries with fleets of slow-ships. When they arrived in our solar system in the first half of the 23rd Century, they found us a space-capable, industrialized species, fully capable of resisting them, where before they had not thought the world inhabited. The war that resulted was the last time the Aururians stood with us. The alliance did not survive the victory."

"A fight over the spoils of victory?"

"No. Something rather more painful for our people." A deep frown creased the man's aquiline face. "At this time, the world had come under the control of a central authority formed from the old United Nations. It was seen as necessary in the days before the Ralsan, when the remaining free Nations of Earth banded together to resist the reactionary tide of the Empire. Quarantines, trade sanctions… none of it worked. By the time of the Ralsan invasion, the UN had been corrupted under the relentless pressure. It devolved into a complete betrayal of the democratic principles of their founders. Hatred and fear fueled them, with apocalyptic, xenophobic visions filling their minds. They decided that for humanity to survive, the Ralsan had to die… and the Empire the same when it made a separate peace and settled the Ralsan survivors. When they developed the warp drive, the UN secretly moved to aggressively conquer the other worlds of the Ralsan empire. The Empire had gained such a lead in the pre-warp era that anything was deemed acceptable in the same of survival. Their colony ships were hunted down and destroyed in deep space, and the Ralsan were smashed, their worlds made into the resource base the UN needed to build a fleet, one that was to end the threat of the Aururians once and for all.”

As de Montamar described this, Julia's expression hardened into a frown. Some of the Aururian behavior seemed, if not excused, at least somewhat comprehensible. She also felt a tinge of sympathy for de Montamar. This was clearly not a bright hour in the history of his branch of Humanity, and he knew it.

"Eventually the Empire found out, over a hundred years ago," he continued. "About both warp drive and about the UN's behavior. Their response was a massive first strike. There was a nuclear exchange that shattered much of the Earth and a war in space between the UN's expanded fleet and the Imperial one. They even reactivated the Ralsan fleet and led them into action against the rest of humanity. In the end, all that our ancestors could do was evacuate as many of the survivors as they could and flee to their colonies. It would be decades before the fighting ended, with most of both halves of Humanity dead, and a new Ralsan-majority empire arisen from the ashes of our foes, under a human Empress and leadership. It fell to a great man, Captain Claude de Escuy of the UN fleet, to end the remains of the corrupt government that had provoked the conflict. He founded the League of Democratic Worlds under the ancient principles of the French Revolution and Republic. It was President de Escuy who insisted alien species must be protected and guided to true equality with Mankind, a new vision of the old œuvre civilisatrice.”

"The Aururians seem to think differently of your principles," Jarod noted.

"They do. It is a convenient excuse for them." De Montamar sipped at his coffee. "An excuse to launch war after war against the League. They have waged five wars of aggression against us since the Great Interplanetary War. Sometimes our lines hold. Sometimes our people are forced to flee their homes, driving us even further on our frontiers to find the resources necessary to protect ourselves. During the last war, a great coalition held them back, but instead of taking stock and reconsidering their aggression, they swore to double their fleet. Our desperation fuels unscrupulous men who take advantage of it to mistreat those aliens we are charged with protecting and uplifting, and the Empire uses that to provide an excuse for another all out attack. There is peace now, of course. We've had it for twelve years, but it won't last. It never does with them."

The more de Montamar spoke, the more Julia wondered if it was a mistake to ever come to this universe. On the one hand, she felt leery of the League. De Montamar's passion aside, how many of them were the exploiters and abusers the Aururians claimed they were?

But on the other hand… she felt a wave of horror at the concept of the spongiform. Not simply from what it did to those it infected, but the ramifications of the pheromone that the infected gave off. It made her think of reports about the Orion Syndicate, and how Orion women could enslave the minds of others with biochemically-enhanced pheromones.

Shaham beat her to the question forming in her mind. "This spongiform, Captain. Is it possible that it may be semi-sapient in some way? Does it alter the minds of those it infects?"

"That is a question that has been debated for a millennium, Captain Shaham," de Montamar answered. "For what it is worth, our scientists do not think the parasite actively controls the host.” He took another gulp of coffee. "Regardless, the Empire is are opposed to everything we stand for. The League stands for the sacred principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. We believe in democracy and freedom. The Empire is a cult of militant reactionaries. All cultures that come into their power are twisted into their form, expunged of anything that does not fit the Aururian view of a world governed by the Empress and the nobility. Consider Captain von Lohringhoven. Her ancestors were compelled to become Aururian, likely forcibly infected, after the fall of Earth. Her Germany is not the Germany of Kant and Goethe and Schiller. It is the Germany of Bismarck and his halo of bayonets put into the service of the Empire with a puppet Kaiserin. They only preserve shadows of other cultures, shadows of ancient crowns. And the only change for the Ralsans is that their Empress is a Human now. Indeed, though they call themselves Aururians, for most of the last centuries, they have been a Ralsan Empire in truth, demographically and culturally. The Ralsan are still militant conquerors, and that impulse of the Empire’s majority species has combined with the Empresses demanding relentless expansion to create an empire devoted to unending wars of subjugation."

The mood in the room was growing tense. "You paint a grim picture, Captain de Montamar," said Taylor. "If your perception is true, then we might as well prepare for a war now."

"A war we can ill afford," Commander Imra observed. "With the fleet fully engaged against the Reich..." She trailed off ominously.

"I can assure you, the League will support the Alliance in a war," de Montamar said. "It is a matter of survival for us too. The Alliance has the potential to swing the balance of power against the Empire and force them to finally accept a permanent peace."

Logan had another matter in mind. "Can it be cured?" Upon winning de Montamar's attention, she clarified. "The spongiform? Can it be removed from a host?"

"With great effort," said de Montamar, with an expression of distaste. "It takes weeks of careful blood chelation and filtration to remove all traces of the organism, along with a variety of other invasive and drastic procedures. Even then, the host is left sterilized and with a severely-depressed immune system."

"We may have medical science to deal with that problem," Logan said. "But I want to make sure we have a cure. Even if it is too late to prevent it from permanently altering the mind of the host, at least it can't spread."

"Understanding how to deal with the organism if it was introduced to our population is important," Julia agreed. "But right now I think our priority has to be stopping a war."

"I do not believe you can, short of surrendering this world to the Empire," said de Montamar. "And certainly not without returning the smugglers, which to be frank, would damage your relations with us."

"Maybe not, but there might be solutions we haven't considered yet," Julia said. "And the brutal fact is that we can't fight a war right now. We're too spread out."

"It is possible you would have to retreat for a time, yes," de Montamar agreed. "But in the long run, we do not need your full effort, merely your assistance."

"I believe this is outside of our purview," Taylor said. "Captain de Montamar, thank you for providing this information. I will forward it to the Alliance government immediately."

"Of course. And I will await the finding in your courts on the extradition order." The League commander stood up.

"The hearing is later today. In the meantime, you are our guest."

"Thank you, Governor, but I must return to the Poursuivante," he said. "And report to my government. As it is a Consortium extradition warrant, I leave that matter in the hands of the Sub-Consul."

"Very well. Have a safe flight back to your ship."

Captain de Montamar bowed respectfully and departed.

"We've heard one side," said Taylor. "What are our prospects of hearing the other?"

"Doctor Opani may have made progress with those prisoners," Julia said. "Maybe they'll be willing to talk to us."

"Not if their lawyers have spoken to them. They'll tell them to say nothing," Taylor pointed out. "And Captain von Lohringhoven has not been talkative."

"That I can confirm," Shaham said. "Our conversations have gone nowhere. Nothing more than the repeating of her ultimatum for our withdrawal." He shook his head. "Her Empire may be different, but I fear she was stamped out at the same Prussian mill they make Reich officers at.”

"I've been wondering about that, actually." Julia glanced toward Jarod. "Commander Jarod and I have spoken about whether a different approach may be best. A private meeting, maybe."

"I would rather you not," said Logan. "Exposing yourself to the organism is a foolish risk."

"It's not airborne," Jarod reminded everyone.

"No, but you heard Captain de Montamar. The pheromone that the hosts produce can undermine the will of a non-infected. There's no telling how little exposure a person can sustain before they lose control." Logan stood. "As of this time I am going to urge you, Governor, to re-institute the quarantine protocols."

"We're already holding them in the quarantine ward, so you shouldn't worry about exposure."

"It would likely take long-term exposure for the pheromone to have any effect," Jarod pointed out.

"But you don't know that," Logan pointed out. "You don't know the concentrations required. Until we know for certain, it is a risk I think we should avoid."

Julia said nothing to that. She stood from the chair and looked at Taylor. "I'm sending my JAG officer to the preliminary hearing. Will there be any issues?"

"It's an open hearing. There should be no problems."

"In the meantime, I have reports to file with Command," Shaham said. "And combat drills to deal with. Governor, Captain, I'll speak with you later." He nodded to them both and walked out, with Gartan and Imra behind him.

"Captain, Commander, I have a meeting with Colonel Littleton to attend," said Taylor.

"Of course, Governor," Julia said. "I'll keep in touch with you if anything develops."

Taylor nodded and walked out. Once they were alone Jarod glanced to Julia. "You didn't mention anything about Meridina and Lucy letting them out for the sunrise."

"No, I didn't," said Julia. "Logan doesn't seem to know. If she did, she might start insisting I stop them."

"And you have no intention of that."

"Not unless it's unsafe for them," Julia answered. "Which is why I'm going to share this with Leo. But either way, the last thing I need is to add to my headaches by having an argument with Logan. So until she says anything to me about it, I'm going to keep my mouth shut on the matter and see if anything comes of it."

"Sounds like a plan," Jarod agreed.

The morning's work ended early for Leo. The moment he got the message from Science Lab 3 he left the medbay in the care of Doctor Walker and made his way deeper into the ship. Science Lab 3, as their biology lab, was centered around three iso-lab capsules accessible only by an airlock system. Leo arrived as Doctor Ke'mani'pala emerged from the center one. The Gl'mulli scientist shifted her vocoder and visual stimuli-translator device toward Leo, allowing her to see him clearly and not as a faint EM trace. "Ah, Doctor," she said.

"You said you have something?" he asked.

"Oh yes, I do." Ke'mani'pala half-walked, half-slid her way to a nearby control. An appendage formed from the cyan gelatin of her body. It shifted to form fingers and started to tap the control. An image of the spongiform appeared on the holo-screen. "After my examination of the sample, I have been able to determine the role of the pheromone. Simulations indicate it is part of the reproductive process. It interacts with the brain of a Human being, and perhaps other species, and stimulates a biochemical response."

Leo watched the simulation light up centers of the brain. "The parts linked to attraction and desire," he noted. "The pheromone encourages someone to desire physical intimacy with others."

"Not merely others, Doctor. There are some species of fauna I have examined that use a similar method in their mating process. It encourages others to mate with them."

Leo shook his head. "That's rather horrifying in its implications. Prolonged exposure to these people would make a need for contact with them unbearable over time."

"Difficult, certainly. But I believe this explains the implants you reported."

For a moment Leo wondered what Ke'mani'pala meant. When the moment passed, the memory came to him. "You mean the implants on the Irresistible crew who didn't have the spongiform?"

"Yes. I believe it may be a device to prevent the pheromone from interacting with the brain."

"How?" Leo asked.

"I can only speculate on the exact mechanism," trilled the Gl'mulli. "But with time and testing we can replicate the technology, making our people immune to their influence. Perhaps in time, with fortune, we may even determine a means of inoculation not requiring implantation."

Leo nodded at that. "Good work, Doctor. Thank you for putting aside your other projects for this."

"You are most welcome, Doctor Gillam. And one does not grow an Aurorus sapling in a day, thankfully. My primary project is not disturbed by this work."

"You still deserve the thanks," Leo assured her with a grin. He looked over the data on the screens again. "Replicating that implant will take time, but I'd like to have something available now, if we need it." Biochemistry was not his speciality, but he had enough general knowledge to have an idea come to his head. "What if we could chemically immunize someone?"

"I do not believe it would last, Doctor," Ke'mani'pala answered.

"True." Leo tapped at the screen. "Not without causing similar permanent biochemical changes to the body. But I'm not thinking of permanent protection."

A low trilling sound came from the vocoder. "Hrm. It is a possibility. I would require your assistance."

"Given the situation, I'm ready to give it," Leo replied.

Upon returning to the Aurora Julia returned to her office and finished her paperwork for the morning. She was about to stand and depart when her door chime went off. "Come in," she said.

The door slid open and Meridina stepped in. "Jarod informed me of the day's meeting," she said.

"Good." Julia leaned back in her chair for a moment. "Do you have any insights?"

"I found it interesting that Captain de Montamar admitted to the fact that the League has not treated alien species well," Meridina said. "Although his words indicate he does not see it as the Aururians do."

"I'm not surprised. They're claiming that it's slavery, he makes it out like a few excesses that the Aururians blow out of proportion to justify wars of aggression. The spongiform makes them look even worse."

"Jarod informed me of the accusations of forced infection," Meridina said. She took a seat on the other side of the desk. "Although it appears they no longer practice such."

"I think the idea they might is scary enough," Julia answered. "And the fact the spongiform alters the brain. This thing, Meridina… I'll admit it's scary as hell."

"There is a cure, yes?"

"Not an easy one. And it still leaves a mark on you. And when you count the pheromones, I wonder if this thing is conscious in a way. If it's actually looking for people to infect." Julia stopped there and considered how she sounded.

"The organism is not a sapient being," Meridina said. "I sense nothing of it."

"And I'm sure scientists would have discovered something like that centuries ago, if it were fully sapient," Julia agreed. "But the thing sounds so pernicious. Maybe if the pheromones didn't exist…"

"I am reminded of our reports regarding the Orion Syndicate. But I have been in their presence, as has Lucy. We felt nothing. It is probable that prolonged exposure is necessary."

"Either way, when you combine it with the Aururians' expansionism and readiness to fight, it can make them seem, for lack of a better term, inhuman. Like the Borg."

"That is a harsh and unfair assessment of them," Meridina insisted. "They are living, thinking beings like any other. Whatever this organism has done to them, they deserve that consideration."

Julia nodded in agreement. "I know you're right. But I wonder how many people will agree." She thought back to how Chairwoman Logan took the news. It had seemed to trigger something in the woman, something close to panic and certainly laced with disgust. "And that hasn't changed the situation. We can't afford to fight, but we can't let the Aururians chase us out either. And they're not backing down. I wonder if there's some way to get them to share the system. Maybe divide the resources between us…" Julia glanced at her omnitool and stood. "Anyway, I need to be going. I need to see Vajpayee before he goes down to the hearing. And then I think I need a meal."

"Of course. I shall maintain the bridge watch for you."

As Julia reached the door she turned back for a moment. "How did it go? The sunrise service?"

"It was appreciated by them, I believe. They sang more than they prayed. At least one of the songs reminded me of the songs I have heard our people sing." A thoughtful look came to Meridina's face. "I believe I shall go again in the morning."

"Go for it." Julia continued through the door, not hiding the thought that came to her head.

I just hope they give you something I can use, or we're going to have a shooting war here.

The Lookout was filled as it could be despite the ongoing Code Yellow running status. Julia sat at one of the tables along the port side and watched her crew enjoy their meals. They gathered in groups and talked and gossiped, as they always did, as if they weren't one mistake from being caught in another war.

"Captain." The accented voice drew Julia's attention to Hargert. The elderly steward of the Lookout placed a platter before her, a battered fish fillet with cabbage stew and a rice pudding. A glass of fruit juice was set down with it. "I have missed you the past few days," he said.

"I've been eating in my office," Julia admitted. She tapped her digital reader. "And I'm trying to figure this situation out."

"It appears to be quite tense," Hargert agreed.

"That's not the half of it," Julia sighed. "These people, these Aururians, they've got this thing inside of them. It alters them, and if you're exposed to them for a long time it can make you tempted to, I don't know, sleep with them I suppose. To expose yourself to being infected with the spongiform too."

"Ah." Hargert nodded. A look of slight disgust appeared to his face. "It sounds quite terrible, doesn't it? The idea of being compelled into something you're not?"

"Yes," Julia agreed. "I know a lot of people are going to be leery of them now. It's going to make keeping the peace harder."

"Yes." Hargert sat down beside her. "How much do you fear this, Captain?"

"Fear the Aururian organism?" Julia considered that. "I… well, I can't get over the thought of it forcing me to be something I'm not. Of having this thing inside of me, rewriting who and what I am. This thing stays with you, even if you manage to get it out of your body. It leaves its mark. And it sounds like they've forced people to be infected before. Or might have."

"That is the most terrible, frightening part," Hargert said. "That word might. The uncertainty of it all."

"Yeah." Julia nodded. She looked out the window of the Lookout. Due to the orientation of their orbits, she could see the bow of the Maya-Mayi. The two graviton weapon emplacements there were an ominous reminder of the danger the warship posted to her ship and crew. It was a more immediate threat than the one she had been considering.

The two threats were linked, of course. If fighting started, if the worst happened, and they were overwhelmed and taken prisoner, would they be forcibly infected as a consequence? The spongiform rewrote brains, didn't it? Could the component include an element of compelling loyalty toward others with the infection? A way for the Aururians to convert enemies into themselves, like the Borg assimilating other species? A raw sense of fear came to Julia at the prospect.

Hargert noticed the change of her expression. "At least you are learning more about them," he said. "Knowledge does not always remove fear, but it can help make the fear reasonable."

A small grin came to Julia's face. "You love to do that, don't you?" she asked, turning her head to face him. "Say the wise things."

"With the same hope that all beings my age have," Hargert answered, grinning in reply. "That the things bitter experience has taught us will spare the young from repeating our mistakes." He shrugged. "Besides, I read it in a book, and it sounded very profound."

Julia couldn't help herself. She chuckled in reply, which prompted Hargert to chuckle as well.


The voice prompted Julia to look toward the door. Approaching her was a stocky man with a light brown complexion and close-cut dark hair. He was in an Alliance uniform, with silver branch color to mark him as a support service officer. She stood and said, "Lieutenant Vajpayee. How did it go?"

Lieutenant Shivdhar Vajpayee stood at her height with striking brown eyes and a face bearing a warm expression. When he spoke, it was with a clear, although not thick, accent from the northern region of India.

"The judge was a tad permissive toward the prisoners' case. Nothing extraordinary or irregular, he is simply giving them a benefit of the doubt that not all judges would grant."

"I can't imagine the Sub-Consul was happy."

"He was not. He was quite adamant that the judge dismiss the motion and order the extradition."

"And what do you think, Lieutenant? How will this go?"

Vajpayee looked thoughtful for several moments. "I can't say for certain. If the attorneys can prove the charge of re-extradition, the judge may dismiss the warrant on those grounds. It will not be easy, however. Extradition hearings usually defer to the State’s case."

"Usually. But I doubt that those judges had to deal with the prospect of a hostile battlecruiser bombing their home if they did." Julia motioned to the table. "Get a late lunch if you'd like, Lieutenant, and I'll go over your formal report on the hearing when it's done."

"I appreciate the sentiment, Captain, but I generally take lunch in my office," Vajpayee said. "I will have my official report finished for you in an hour or so. Would you like me to draw up a brief to file with the court? If you wish to weigh in on this case, I mean."

Julia shook her head at that. "I'm not going to involve myself in that process. I've got enough problems to deal with without delving into legal…"

A stray thought came to Julia. Or rather, a thought that had been simmering quietly in her mind these past few days, a sentiment, which she now saw from a different angle.

"Captain?" Vajpayee leveled a look at her, confused by her sudden trailing off.

"Lieutenant, there is something else you can do for me," Julia said. "Some legal and historical research, you might say. About our situation here."

Vajpayee nodded slowly. "I think I know what you mean, Captain. I'll look through the records and get back to you when I find something."

"Thank you," she answered. She watched him leave and returned to the table. Hargert was still sitting there, watching with an amiable, pleasant look. "Is everything okay?" she asked him.

"I am not sure," answered Hargert. The look turned into another grin. "But it is possible it will be. Good day, Captain. If you come back by 1930, I will have pork dumplings ready."

"I may do just that," Julia assured him.
”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 »

The craving hit Zack after lunch, a raw need to go and get a drink. To feel the world go hazy around him. It was a sudden surge of need he hadn't anticipated and the strength of it made him close his eyes and concentrate.

It's the boredom, he thought. It has to be that.

Empty space filled the viewscreen. They were approaching the central point of one of the "optimum broadcasting zones" that the Aurora's science team had picked out. Magda was intent on her sensor returns. Sherlily was assisting from tactical while Apley kept the ship crawling along.

Boredom wasn't new to Zack. Sometimes this job could be dreadfully boring. It could be boring even when they were in combat zones in the war. But this was different from that tense, expectant boredom, when any moment a Reich attack ship could start lobbing torpedoes at unsuspecting ships. They were alone out here, unseen by the other ships, nothing but the Koenig crew and their mission of finding a microscopic needle in a haystack the size of the Empire State Building.

A microscopic needle that might not even exist.

The thought that this was all for nothing, that was the worst part. It helped with the desire to drink. It also made him wonder what the hell he was doing. Was this really worth it? Was this how he wanted to spend his life?

What life? was the bitter thought that followed. He had nothing now. He'd lost the one person who seemed willing to spend her life with him. He couldn't even think of New Caprica anymore. He had, quite simply, lost too much.

Thoughts of Clara were not what he needed right now. They made him want to drink.

"April, do you see this?"

Magda's inquiry, spoken in her clipped, accented English, ended the quiet on the bridge.

Sherlily looked over her scanners. "What?"

"I'm seeing a radiation trace," Magda said. "About three kilometers, bearing 348 mark… 112."

At tactical Sherlily double-checked her reading. "I'm still not… actually, maybe I am seeing it."

"When you say radiation trace, what are you meaning, Magda?" Zack asked.

"Going by what I'm seeing, it's a trace amount of radioactive material. Consistent with a fission battery."

"Like what you might find in a beacon that's meant to transmit for years?"


Zack thought of that. "How could the survey teams have missed it?"

"The same way we almost did. We're crawling along at one-twentieth impulse power right now, and I barely saw it. At normal sublight speeds? A ship could go over it a hundred thousand times and never see it." Magda tapped a few keys. "I'm refining the sensors to… here we go. Apley?"

Apley noted something on the helm board. "I see it."

"More traces," Magda said, anticipating Zack's question. "It looks like whatever it comes from is moving away from us. Course 288 mark 038."

"How fast was it moving?" Zack asked.

"The trace remnants are irregular, so there's no telling an exact speed. Not too fast, however. If I had to guess, a meteor impacted with whatever it was."

"Follow it, Ap."

"And I need you to keep us below one tenth impulse power," Magda added. "Otherwise we might lose the trail."

"Aye," Apley answered. "One tenth impulse."

Zack settled back into the command chair to begin the long wait.

The day was coming to an end, bringing Julia closer to the deadline imposed by Captain von Lohringhoven. There was nothing yet from Lieutenant Vajpayee on her question. His report on the hearing was concise but ultimately repeated what he'd already told her.

Now she was alone in her quarters, seated at her desk with a half-finished drink to one side and their formal written orders about keeping Phi Perseus on the other.

Her reading of the orders made the intractability of the problem starkly clear. Defense Command felt that the plentiful resources of Phi Perseus made exploration and use vital for the war effort and inevitable post-conflict rebuilding. She was only permitted to withdraw from the system if under "insurmountable military threat". And if that happened, the likely result would be war anyway.

A war they couldn't afford for a system they couldn't abandon. No matter what she did, she and the Alliance would lose.

Thinking of the Aururians sent another shiver up her spine. She conjured up a mental image of the thing getting inside of someone and rewiring them, altering their bodies until they were accepting hosts. It was the exact opposite of how the Cybermen had intended to take over her crew. More insidious, definitely.

And there was that sunset ceremony issue. Their one piece of goodwill with at least that part of the Aururians. If only I could transfer that goodwill

The idea clicked into place at that point. It might not work, but if it did… then maybe they could make something of this.

Her finger tapped a control on her desk. "Andreys to Bridge," she said.

A few moments passed before Lieutenant Neyzi answered, "Bridge here".

"Open a channel to the Maya-Mayi," Julia ordered. "I have something to ask Captain Lohringhoven."
”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 »

Julia didn't get much sleep. The day on Phi Perseus 4 was shorter than the standard 24 hour day the Aurora used and sunrise was at 0545. She was up at 0400 to have time for her abbreviated morning routine with a quick breakfast and then her planned stops.

She met Leo at the entrance to the shuttlebay. Before she could say anything he pressed a hypospray to her neck and triggered it. There was no pain from the injection. The device sent its contents in almost microscopic streams through the pores of her skin into her bloodstream. The tingle it made caused her to rub at her neck. "What was that?" she asked.

"A little something Doctor Ke'mani'pala and I came up with," Leo said, grinning slightly. "I've already given two doses for Opani to use on Lucy and Meridina."

"What's it do?"

"It should keep your brain from registering the presence of the pheromone, at least for a little while," Leo explained. "We think the Aururians use something similar on their non-infected crew through those implants we detected in them."

"And you're sure this will work?"

"About eighty percent sure," Leo admitted. "You'll know it's not if you start feeling an attraction toward any of the infected. Which I imagine will be very awkward."

"I suppose that depends on how much you believe Tom's remarks about my sparring matches with Angel," Julia joked. The humor helped to deal with the awkward sense the thought gave her. "I'll let you know how it goes. If it works, we'll want to inform Command."

"Good luck," Leo said. "And when you get back, we'll need to talk about your sleeping habits."

Julia leveled a playful glare at him before walking onto the basic Mark II shuttlepod that the shuttlebay crew had prepared on her order. It was a personal transport shuttle, six seats with only small stowing net cargo spaces. She got into the cockpit and settled into the pilot seat. The customary pre-launch check took just a minute. The shuttle's micro-naqia reactor came to life. "Flight control, shuttlepod B prepared to launch. Awaiting clearance," she said.

"You are clear, Shuttlepod B," responded a man with the slow lilting accent of a Gersallian.

At the press of Julia's index finger to the appropriate key, power surged into the thrusters that lifted the shuttlepod from the floor. She carefully maneuvered the pod about and toward the exit before triggering the main thrusters. The craft accelerated out of the shuttlebay and into orbital space.

Orbital space looked more open in the pod. She watched the rear of the Aurora move away to her right upon her banking to port. The Enterprise's lower nacelles were visible at the top of her view. The Lrrik was almost dead ahead, at least until she changed her course slightly, allowing her to fly past the Steslus-class destroyer. The blue orb that was Phi Perseus 4 loomed ahead. It looked much like Earth in color. The continents gave it a unique look, however. The wide band of a Pangea-sized continent that spanned much of the southern hemisphere was covered in greens and light browns and visible mountains. A big blue thumb the size of the North Atlantic stuck into the southern continent, not quite splitting it entirely. The Northern Hemisphere of the planet was mostly water on this side, but there was a continent a little larger than Europe that banded the temperate zone and just barely dipped down into the subtropics. She pointed her shuttle toward that continent's western coast and prepared for reentry.

The reentry went smoothly. So did the landing, just outside of the Oakland Colony at a promontory overlooking the ocean. Julia stepped out of the shuttle and waited quietly. A comforting warm sea-breeze brought the salty scent of the ocean with it.

Light appeared in the night sky above her. As it drew closer the light cast a deep shadow over its source and obscured its origin. It wasn't until the small craft set down that Julia made out the shape of the Aururian shuttlecraft, the same type she had seen a few days before.

Captain von Lohringhoven stepped out. Her curly hair was still pulled back into a severe bun at the back of her head. "Captain," she said. "I will advise you that it was against my own judgement, and the considerations of my officers, that I have come."

"Fair enough. I can't say I blame you given what happened a couple of days ago." Julia motioned to her shuttle. "I promised you access to the prisoners. I want to keep that promise."

Lohringhoven eyed the shuttle warily. "Why did you not have me land in your Colony?"

"Because we're not going to the Colony," Julia replied.

A quiet moment followed. Julia fought to keep her expression clear of any apprehension. The slightest overeagerness, or any other wrong reaction, could cause Lohringhoven to get back in her shuttle, or worse, and render this entire trip moot.

"Then I will trust in your word of honor, as suspect as it has been," Lohringhoven answered. Julia sensed the anticipation in her tone. Lohringhoven was already wondering just where the betrayal was going to come from. Which begged the question of why she would still come down.

Because her Empire doesn't want war any more than we do was the thought in Julia's head, but she didn't dare to speak of it.

"If you will accompany me?" Julia looked out over the horizon. They were on the eastern shore of the hundred mile wide peninsula that Oakland occupied the western coast of, so it was over the midnight black of the sea that the first hints of the impending dawn were starting to show.

Without a further word Lohringhoven followed Julia into the shuttlepod. She took up the co-pilot seat and quietly considered the touch-panel interface before her. Julia tapped the key to close the hatch and lifted off the second she heard the hatch finish shutting. They flew to the north, moving steadily inland over hills that, in daylight, would look lush with green and blue grass.

Julia brought them to a landing in a wide field. Meridina and Lucy were already present with the portable transporter. Lucy was operating that device when they stepped out of the shuttlepod. The Aururian Captain leveled a skeptical gaze at Julia, who checked her omnitool. "Any second."

Four columns of white light briefly burst into being. When they fell away, four figures now stood nearby; two Ralsan women and two Human women. Another four columns formed within ten feet of those first arrivals, bringing the last two Ralsan and two other Human women. Three final bursts of white light brought with them the last of the Aururian prisoners with Doctor Opani. One of them, one of the younger women, looked to Lucy and Meridina and nodded respectfully.

All briefly looked to the eastern horizon, where the corona of an early dawn shone over the distant forested hills. One by one they seemed to notice the shuttle and with it the presence of Julia and Lohringhoven.

There was a brief moment when Julia wondered if they would try to take their chance now. If, with Captain Lohringhoven and her pistol to help, they would attempt to rush Julia and her comrades. It was eleven against four now, after all, and they might not realize Julia had locked down the shuttle, nor the extent of Meridina and Lucy's capabilities.

But they didn't. Opani nodded respectfully to her and said, "Captain." For the benefit of the prisoners, she said, "This is Captain Julia Andreys from the Aurora."

They nodded to her with respect. But their real focus was on Lohringhoven.

"Captain von Lohringhoven," said the older woman who had been beamed in toward the end. "An honor." She bowed her head. Those with her did as well.

Lohringhoven returned the bow slightly. "Ladies. Sisters. It is good to see you are healthy and well. I can assure you that Her Imperial Majesty is pursuing every avenue to secure your release."

"We are honoured by the attention from Her Majesty," the older woman said simply.

The younger woman, the priestess whom Julia remembered was named Kirrhi, motioned to the dawn. "We would be honored if you would join us, Captain."

"It has been too long since I enjoyed the sunrise," was the answer.

Julia walked over to join the others while the Aururians took up positions together. Some seemed to be reaching out to embrace the sun as it rose, others knelt, and all sang. The translators still didn't have the Aururian language deciphered completely, but Jarod had been able to apply the known languages of the Australian aboriginals to the program in order to partially translate Aururian speech. With this Julia was able to understand some of it.

The older woman who had beamed in with the priestess sang her own song lowly to herself, on a different melody to the others, and it seemed, in English. "Oh why soldiers, why, why should you be melancholy girls, should it be you or I, whose business it is to die…?"

Opani interrupted Julia's quiet observation of the eleven Aururians. "Captain, I have a confession."

"Yes, Doctor?"

"I do not want to turn them over," Opani admitted.

Meridina and Lucy didn't react to this admission. Julia twisted her head slightly to face the Dorei doctor. "Oh?"

"I believe they are good people who are fighting a good fight," Opani said. "That they bring the means to resist slavery to the species oppressed by this 'League'."

"Have they admitted to that being their purpose?"

"Not directly. They say nothing." Opani shook her head. "But I can feel that as the reason. I believe that if we turn them over to the Xou!tasam, they will be given to the League and end up enslaved or killed."

"Strong words," Julia said. "But without proof I can't do anything about it, Doctor. We have a treaty with the Trading Consortium. We have to obey it."

Opani glowered. "We made the wrong friends in this universe."

"Did we?" Julia looked at her directly. "Even if the League Captain was misleading us about the cause of their conflicts, we've seen the Aururians behave aggressively. They're threatening to expel us from this solar system on the basis of a claim they've shown no proof of. They killed a member of our crew in an unprovoked attack."

Opani's minor glower turned into a betrayed frown. "So you're siding with the Consortium and the League? With people who practice slavery?"

"I'm not siding with anyone, Doctor," Julia replied. "At least not until I know more. All I'm trying to do is stop this from becoming a war."

"A single solar system, no matter how wealthy its resources, does not seem worth a war over. Not considering our current predicament," Meridina pointed out.

"On that, I'm in agreement. But Command isn't. They insist we need these resources, and we need them now, and they're willing to gamble that the Aururians will blink first." Julia returned her attention to Opani. "You've gotten pretty close to them, haven't you?"

"They are good people, Captain," Opani insisted. "They're doing the same thing you did in the years before the Alliance."

"That's… entirely possible," Julia admitted. "And I do want to know more about them. I want to hear their side of the story. And when it comes down to it, I want to find a way to stop this from becoming a war."

Opani took a moment to consider her reaction. She ended up nodding quietly in reply.

The conversation ended and the four officers from the Aurora continued to observe the sunrise celebration quietly. When the singing ended Lohringhoven made quiet conversation with the priestess and the woman who accompanied her.

One of the Ralsan walked toward Julia and the others. "Doctor, Commander," she said. "Thank you again for this. You give us hope that justice will be done for us."

Opani glanced toward Julia before she nodded in reply. "You are welcome, Kishala. But you should also thank Captain Andreys."

"She made it possible," Meridina added.

Kishala faced Julia next. Her yellow eyes scrutinized Julia for several moments before her head bowed once more. Her tail swished from side to side. "Thank you, Captain, for your compassion and nobility."

"You're welcome," Julia answered. "I was hoping this might break down the barrier between our peoples so that we might find an end to this crisis."

"There is naught that we can do on that matter. I am sorry."

"Maybe you can't…" Julia shifted her head slightly, allowing her to meet Captain von Lohringhoven's eyes as the Aururian officer approached. "Captain von Lohringhoven."

"Captain Andreys." The severeness in the Captain had not disappeared. But there was a small warmth in her voice now. "You have fulfilled your promise to me. I am sure you wish to discuss matters."

"What I want is your side of the story," Julia said.

"I take it Captain de Montamar has explained our history to you? The horrors of the Great Interplanetary War?"

"He did. He told us about the old government's crimes against your peoples, the Aururian and the Ralsan. And he told us about the spongiform and the pheromones it produces."

"And yet you come amongst us anyway." The slightest hint of a smile appeared on Lohringhoven's face. "You and your people need not worry on that score. The Chorus of Singers is best improved by the willing."

"He also charged that your Empire is the aggressor, launching war after war against his people."

"He would, yes." Lohringhoven seemed bemused by this. "It is true that we have often initiated the conflicts, but only in response to the terrible abuses that the Northern League have inflicted on other species. For all of their talk of reform and pursuing equality, they behave toward others just as they did when they were the United Nations of old."

"You refer to them as the Northern League," Meridina noted. "Why?"

"Because they are the descendants of the Northern Hemisphere nations that abandoned their allies in the Great Interplanetary War," Lohringhoven replied. "I suspect he did not mention that. The more powerful states in the north abandoned their allies in the Southern Hemisphere when they fled Earth at the end of the war. The ‘Global South’ was naught more than chattel to be dispensed with at the whims of the North. And that is how they still operate, Captain. Whenever they find a hospitable world for settlement, they seize it. Any indigenous species are brought under 'protection' that rivals the worst of the European Empires of the 19th Century."

"And you fight to liberate these species?" Julia asked. "And that's all?"

"Of course it is not," said Lohringhoven. "The Empire does take worlds from the League. We have captured their capital twice, in fact. It is our intention to reduce them to the point they are no longer a threat. But they always find new worlds to seize and exploit and new allies to throw into the flames. And so we continue this bloody dance, and I suspect we will until the League finally surrenders completely."

"You could stop," Julia said. She considered the alternative response - pointing out the assumption that it was the League that would ultimately submit and not the Empire - to be unconstructive. "Why not offer a peace treaty in exchange for the League ceasing those exploitations?"

"That would require us to trust them, Captain. We do not." Lohringhoven looked at her with pity, condescending pity, which Julia did not appreciate. "Your people will learn the same harsh lesson so many other nations and species have about the Northern League. Whether they are Democrats or Fascists, their view has proven the same; the galaxy and its worlds and races exist for their benefit, riches meant solely for the satiation of their most base desires. If we break them enough, this attitude will no longer lead to the abuse of innumerable sapient beings, but it is sheer fantasy to assume they will stop on their own. Certainly no treaty will constrain them. They will always insist upon it as a necessity, and justify it under the same lie."

"Yet you only fuel hostility and resentment with this approach, Captain," Meridina noted. "Your Empire and the League seem to be trapped in this cycle. They fear you, you fear them, and in the resulting mutual hatred the darkness within your peoples grows stronger with each conflict. The Flow of Life is weakened and all suffer."

"A bitter reality is a reality still," Lohringhoven answered. "And I imagine you have other concerns than our conflicts with the League. Your own position here is precarious and undefended by right. Disputed frontiers have ways of starting wars."

"You continue to insist this system is yours, Captain, but you have provided no proof of that," Julia pointed out. "I've been made aware of how you claim these systems. All you need to do is provide to us the marker showing your earlier claim, and we would acknowledge the justice of your claim."

"You would wage a war with the Empire for but one solar system, Captain? When you claim to have multiple copies of our galaxy to settle?"

"Under ordinary circumstances, likely not," Julia conceded. "But we are not in ordinary circumstances. We are fighting a war in another universe against the Nazi German Reich. I'm not sure if the Nazis ever developed in your history…"

Lohringhoven's eyes narrowed. "They did."

"Well, in S4W8, they won. They defeated the Allies. And by the end of the 21st Century, they subjugated the entire planet and forced what was left of their opponents to flee into space. Then they expanded into space themselves and began to exterminate any alien species they encountered. They've got a large interstellar empire that we've only begun to liberate. We need every resource we can get to finish them off before they recover their strength or, God forbid, reverse-engineer our interuniversal drive technology. We need this system, Captain."

Their eyes met. Lohringhoven was suspicious of the claim, that was obvious. She glanced toward Kirrhi. "Sister? You are a priestess. What does your gift say about this?"

"The good Doctor and her friends already spoke to us of this war, Captain," Kirrhi said. "I sensed truth. And I believe they…"

When Kirrhi stopped, the others turned toward her. "Priestess?" one of the other Aururians asked, bewildered with her sudden silence. The growing unease on her face made Julia wonder what was wrong.

"We are in danger," Kirrhi said.

Meridina nodded. "Yes. There is something…"

Some of the others were looking at the sky behind Julia. She turned to see what was there.

"Get down!" Lucy screamed. Julia felt someone - she didn't know who - slam into her back and throw her into the grass.

By the time she looked up, her ears were already ringing from the first blast. Two voices, one Human and one Ralsan, were screaming in the aftermath. Another pair of blasts went off around them that were accompanied by cries of shock and pain. She looked toward her shuttle and saw that it was reduced to a burning wreck.

A dull roar was in the air now. Despite the overwhelming ringing in her ears Julia was able to track it to the south side of the field. A craft was settling to the ground, or near to it, with ripples of blue flame spurting from beneath it. The vehicle was a dropship of some sort with blue and white coloring. An insignia she'd once seen - but where? - was emblazoned in blue on the strip of white facing them.

Figures in white and blue armor, with the same insignia on their chests, jumped from the craft. Her eyes widened at seeing that they were not all Human. The thin, top-heavy form of a Turian was among their number. A harsh voice barking, "Secure the target!" spoke with a guttural sound that Julia recognized as Batarian.

One of the armored figures raised a gun and fired. Julia watched the woman beside Kirrhi collapse to the ground, who with her bronze skin and straight black hair had stood out from the others but been silent and unassuming the entire time. She didn't fall as if she had been shot, mortally or otherwise, but rather in a boneless collapse as if she fainted. And she was the target?

There was a loud burst the next moment. One of the gunmen fired a round toward the crowd of Aururians. Julia expected to a weapon using mass effect fields. Instead she got a burst of flame followed by a spray of flesh and blood with an accompanying scream of agony. One of the Aururians went down.

Ahead, Lucy rose to her feet and ignited her lightsaber. The blue energy blade intercepted a shot aimed toward them. There was no burst of flame. The shot had been cleaved in half. Julia could barely hear the second electronic snap and hiss from Meridina's lightsaber.

"Waste 'em!" a Human voice cried, and the armored beings opened fire, focusing on Meridina and Lucy. Their lightsaber blades became whirring blurs of sapphire light, intercepting and destroying the incoming fire.

But not all of the enemy were involved in that fight. Two soldiers broke off and charged toward the fallen form of the lead Aururian. Julia was reaching for her pulse pistol when Kishala threw herself at one of them and brought the female Turian down. Another Aururian tried to intercept the second attacker, a Human male, and was shot point-blank in the chest. The weapon was a vicious one; a burst of flame in front of the Aururian that seemed to shred into the poor woman's body, sending a cloud of blood and flesh away from both the impact point and the opposite point on her back. The Aururian toppled.

Just as suddenly, a burst identical to the incoming fire tore into one of the arriving Turian troopers and sent him toppling in a spray of blood. Julia saw that the shot had come from Lohringhoven. Those are Aururian guns they’re using, she realized, grabbing for her own pistol in the cover that Lohringhoven’s fire gave her, and promptly opened fire on the human as he lowered himself to pick up the unnamed Aururian target. Her pulse shots dissipated against an energy field. The man growled at her and raised his weapon to shoot her.

Lohringhoven suddenly appeared between them. Julia didn't see the burst of flame, but she did hear it. Lohringhoven's left arm became shrouded in a storm of sparks. A sharp pain ran across Julia's left shoulder and arm, as if she had been cut by a blade at several points. She ignored the pain and stepped to the side to get a clear shot. Lohringhoven fired as well with her sidearm. The blue spark of light from the pulse pistol was joined by a burst of fire and what looked like a storm of impacts against the upper chest and neck of the trooper. The protective barrier had failed. Blood erupted from the neck of the man at the same moment Julia's pistol found its mark, blasting him in the face.

The explosive weapon went off again. A harsh cry of pain came from Kishala, who fell onto her back. Her torso was a mess of dark red blood - too dark to be Human - and shredded cloth and hair. The Turian female she had been engaged with brought her weapon over toward Lohringhoven and Julia as Lohringhoven paused with a sharp look to Kishala.

Before she could strike, the woman the entire attack seemed focused on leapt back to her feet as if she had just been lightly napping on the grass, only a minute after receiving a stun blast at close range. Julia watched in fascination as the woman's hand expanded outward, exposing a gun barrel where her palm had once been. A burst of ruby light sliced into the back of the Turian woman. The Turian's death cry sounded briefly over the battle.

The immediate threat of these two particular foes had occupied Julia's attention. Now she allowed herself to consider the others. She turned to see what was happening just in time to see the Batarian lose an arm to Lucy's lightsaber. The white-and-blue-clad attackers were falling back to their dropship. One managed to get into it and swung out what looked to be a vicious heavy weapon.

Before he could fire it, Lucy's arm reached out and pulled. The man flew from his seat as if pulled, flying over his heavy weapon and to the ground. When he tried to get up Lucy held her lightsaber toward his throat. "Surrender," she ordered.

Whoever he was, he'd had enough. He raised his arms.

The pilot of the craft had apparently seen enough. The dropship began to lift from the ground.

Meridina didn't let it get far. After cleanly disarming the last of the attackers - namely by severing her arms at the elbow - Meridina twirled around toward it. In the same motion her right arm extended. Her hand released her lightsaber, at least physically, while her will guided it to its target. The blue blade looked almost like a complete circle of sapphire when it hit the tail of the craft and sliced cleanly through it. The engine in the severed portion died in the seconds it took for the piece to slam into the ground. The rest of the craft soon followed.

The fighting was over at this point. But Julia couldn't relax. The attack had made certain her suspicions that there was more to this group than appeared. What was so important about that woman…?

Around them the Aururians still alive from the ambush were contributing by bringing together the surviving attackers and securing their weapons, those that were not frantically trying to stabilize and comfort the wounded and dying. The prisoners acquiring weapons was another cause for concern. If anything kept Julia from worrying about it, it was the sight of the dead and dying women in the field. Lucy and Meridina had drawn the fire of the attackers quite well, but there were three Aururian women and one Ralsan who had yet to move from their places on the ground.

Two Ralsan, Julia corrected herself, at noticing Kishala. Opani was crouched over her while Lohringhoven watched quietly. "How is she?" Julia asked.

"Multiple internal injuries," Opani answered. "I need time to stabilize her." Opani pulled a hypospray from her medical kit and went to work.

"Have you worked with a Ralsan before, Doctor?" asked Lohringhoven.

"No, but during their quarantine we took detailed medical scans while trying to figure out the spongiform. I can at least stabilize her for transport." Opani finished injecting Kishala and put the hypospray back. She removed a pack from within the kit. "I have to stop the bleeding first."

"I can," said Kirrhi. She knelt down beside Opani and laid her already bloodstained hands over the stricken Ralsan woman. Her eyes closed. The flow of blood from Kishala's wounds seemed to slow, and then stop entirely.

With the situation stable, such as it was, Julia lifted her arm and tapped the comm key on her activated omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora, we have an emergency situation. I need medical teams and security teams to my location ASAP."

After a few moments Lieutenant Takawira answered. "Right away, Captain. They are on their way."

"I have not seen these species before," Lohringhoven stated, look at the Batarian. "Do you know of them?"

"That's a Batarian. The others are Turians. They're from Universe M4P2. And I'm not sure what they're doing here, or who they are."

"I believe I do," said Meridina. She finished pulling the pilot out of the craft. A set of shackles she'd found in the dropship were now wrapped around the Turian's wrists. "I recognize this symbol. It is the insignia of the Blue Suns, a mercenary organization from Universe M4P2."

The question of why popped up in Julia's head, and was as easily dismissed. She thought aloud by saying "Someone hired them to take someone from the group. And probably kill the rest."

"The League. Or their Xou!tasam allies," said Lohringhoven.

Julia turned and looked over the Aururian captain. Her own left arm and shoulder had a couple of bleeding cuts. The uniform sleeve of Lohringhoven's left arm had been shredded. Pieces of flechettes hung from the metal cylinder they had embedded themselves in, now revealed by the gashes and holes cut through the fabric. "They're the most likely," Julia agreed. "If they're afraid the extradition will be denied. Or that you could successfully prevent it from being carried out. This craft had a cloaking device, otherwise we would have seen it."

By this point security and medical personnel were already beaming down. A bronze-skinned man in a security uniform stepped up to them, with the rank insignia of a junior lieutenant. "Captain, we're securing your attackers now."

"Secure the wreckage too, I want it analyzed immediately."

"Yes ma'am."

Another bust of white light heralded the arrival of Leo and more nurses. He looked toward Julia before moving to join other nurses checking over one of the fallen.

"Your people have not worked with Ralsan physiology before," Lohringhoven observed, looking tow here Opani was still securing Kishala. "My surgeons can save her life."

Julia nodded quietly. "Can you have one ready?"

"Your transporters can send the girl to them on my ship."

A harsh chuckle came from Julia's throat. "And that means I defy an Alliance civilian court by returning her to your custody without a court order."

"Is that a more important thing than this woman's life?"

The question was a fair one. And it was the kind of call Julia would be making a lot now that she was a captain. She suspected Robert's reaction would be to just hand her over.

But Robert wasn’t here right now, at this moment, to make this call. Julia was. She had an obligation to uphold the Alliance's laws. She also had an obligation to uphold its ideals, its principles, and saving the Ralsan's life regardless of legal quibbles was one of those things. And as commander, she had to make the decision, and she would have to live with the consequences.

Her first try was to go with a compromise. "Your surgeon can come over to the Aurora," Julia said.

Lohringhoven kept a cold look to her eyes. "And what of the others? It is clear they are not safe on this world. Whomever is behind this will try again, and I can assure you that the Empire will mete out harsh justice to your people for allowing their deaths in that eventuality."

"I agree," Julia replied. With all of the adrenaline in her system getting her heart to slow to a normal beat was proving impossible. This was not helped by the thoughts she felt circulating in her head. "Whoever did this could try again. So as of now, I'm assuming custody of these people. They will be kept on the Aurora, in comfortable conditions, while my officers investigate this attack."

"Somehow I suspect your civilian court will not appreciate that approach either."

"Maybe not, but I can justify it, and I'm betting Governor Taylor doesn't want a mercenary group blasting its way into the colony's hospital." Julia let out a breath. "So. Your surgeon?"

There was quiet for several moments. Lohringhoven's hand reached for her belt and pulled off a device. She opened it like an old-fashioned cell phone. "Captain von Lohringhoven here," she said into it. "Inform Surgeon-Commander Vega that her services are required on the vessel Aurora. Have her report to the hanger bay immediately. And send another shuttle down to my location. We shall need to retrieve mine."

"Yes Captain," replied the woman on the other end.

Julia tapped her omnitool again. "Andreys to Aurora. Have the medbay send someone to the main shuttle bay. We're getting a shuttle from the Aururians with a doctor on board, we'll need her in medbay for our patients."

"Yes Captain."

Nearby there were flashes of light. Opani had just beamed up to the Aurora with the stricken Ralsan woman.

"We still have more to talk about, Captain," Julia said to Lohringhoven. "Whatever your feelings are toward the League, going to war with the Alliance over a single solar system can't be your Empire's wish."

"It is not a matter of wishing, Captain. It is a matter of our rights. We claimed this system openly and properly. Your people have violated that claim. While I am willing to grant that you did not do so intentionally, the Imperial Federation cannot permit our territory to be taken in this manner. It would encourage other such encroachments by the other powers, and that would most definitely result in war. My ultimatum stands."

"Then why not a joint possession of the system? The Alliance and the Imperial Federation can hold equal title."

"That is but a minor improvement. And it still encourages the same behavior we must dissuade." Lohringhoven shook her head once. "Had things gone differently, had our peoples made contact before this colony was founded, a negotiation might have yielded such an arrangement. But we cannot accept it now. The fact of undisputed Imperial sovereignty over this system must be upheld. Upon that point we cannot yield."

"I see." Julia kept herself from sighing out of disappointment. "Just as much, we need the resources of Phi Perseus to fight the Reich. An interstellar war of this magnitude, and the defenses the Alliance requires for our other member systems… we need everything we can attain."

"Then there is nothing left to be said on the matter," Lohringhoven stated. "I wish to see my Sisters before you bring them to your ship."

Julia nodded quietly and said nothing more. Lohringhoven walked off. Seeing the visible metal on Lohringhoven's left arm, it made Julia wonder how much of "Iron Margrethe" was truly made of iron.

Meridina walked up to her. "Captain, you should return as well. You are wounded."

Julia looked to the wounds on her left shoulder. They were still bleeding. And she had things to do back on the Aurora, starting with getting Commander Richmond's help with their new guests. "Alright," she said. "I'll beam back up. You're going to take over the investigation?"

"Indeed. I will be interviewing the prisoners while Lucy and Lieutenant Liton examine recovered data from their computer systems."

"Good. Let me know what you find." Julia tapped her omnitool. "Andreys to Aurora. One to beam up."

The grass field, now stained with blood, disappeared from Julia's vision in a flash of light.

A pounding headache was Zack's reward for waking up at 0700. It hurt enough that he couldn't resist the temptation to dull it with a shot of his ever-dwindling bottle of tequila. He looked at the bottle, now between the halfway and one third mark, while the substance burned its way down his throat. "Crap," he muttered. The headache wasn't going away. And now anyone getting near him would smell the alcohol on his breath. He swiveled his chair to the replicator and barked, "Computer, six hundred milligrams of Niltox, a cup of water, and one mint breath mint, now."


"Override," he added, every syllable dripping with profound irritation at the machine nagging him yet again. "In fact, never bring up the dosage warning on Niltox again."

"Unable to comply with order. Dosage warnings may only be overridden by authorization from a Chief Medical Officer."

Zack glowered at the machine. He didn't have a doctor aboard right now anyway, and even if he did, he wasn't going to breathe a damned word about this to them, or to Leo or Opani or any of the others. He ran a hand through his uncombed brown hair in frustration. Get it together, he demanded of himself. You're starting to lose control, just like Dad did.

Once the machine fulfilled his order and provided the medication and the drink to wash it down with, Zack did so with a single gulp. He put the breath mint in his mouth and went off to his shower. He stood under the warm water and felt it spray him in the face. It woke him up fully, just as the Niltox was beginning to purge his system of the remaining alcohol and reduce the power of his hangover.

He might have remained in the shower forever if a tone hadn't come over the ship's intercom. "Bridge to Commander Carrey," Apley said.

Zack closed his eyes and sighed. A tap of a button just outside of the shower stall opened the channel. "Carrey here," he said wearily.

"We're approaching one of the solar system's moons. According to our sensors, the radiation trace is growing stronger. Lieutenant Navaez thinks that whatever it was, it might have gotten trapped in the moon's gravity well."

"Then assume an orbit and keep scanning. I'll be up shortly." Zack tapped the key again and let out a sigh. He would have to replicate another breath mint before going up. The worried thought came, that said mint would give him away. He didn't often chew on things.

"Gum," he murmured. "That'll work. Since I couldn't have breakfast. Yeah…"

The wounded Aururians on the planet were undergoing treatment in the medbay when Julia arrived there. A male Dorei nurse approached, his light teal complexion contrasted with the dark blue spots lining his forehead and hairline. "Captain, let me look at that."

Julia followed him to a biobed and sat on it. She removed her uniform jacket and pulled her undershirt up over her head to reveal her left shoulder and arm. Three lines of crimson stood out on her skin. The nurse scanned them for signs of infection before reaching for the dermal regenerator. Julia watched him hold the instrument over her wounds. A blue light softly ran over the cuts, closing said wounds as it passed over like a zipper being pulled across her skin.

When this process was over Doctor Walker stepped up. Julia had only met her once before; a woman near her age with a deep brown complexion and long dark hair. "It seems you were one of the lucky ones, Captain," she said while doing a scan. "I'm reading no other injuries."

"Don't I know it? What about the others?"

"Three dead, four wounded," answered Walker. "The worst is that alien… Ralsan, correct?" Upon Julia's nod she continued, "The Ralsan wounded. The Aururian surgeon and Doctors Gillam and Opani are in the OR now. We won't know if she survived until they're finished."

Julia nodded quietly. "Keep me posted." She slid off the bed.

At that moment blue light appeared on the back of her left hand. An electronic tone accompanied it. She tapped the light. "Andreys here."

"Captain, another shuttle has arrived from the Maya-Mayi," said Jarod. "It's asking for landing permission."

"What do they want? Who is it?"

"It's Captain von Lohringhoven. She's asking for permission to see the wounded."

"Then grant it and send someone to escort her to the medbay. I'll wait here for her."

"We also have Governor Taylor and Chairwoman Logan on comms for you."

"And I know just what they're calling about," Julia sighed. She knew she couldn't talk to them here, in the middle of the medbay. But with the growing questions in her mind, she wanted to be present when Lohringhoven arrived. She looked to Walker and asked, "Is there somewhere I can have some privacy?"

Walker nodded. "I'm sure Doctor Gillam won't mind you using his office."

"Thank you, and I'll thank Leo when I see him." While Walker moved on to check other cases, Julia left the treatment ward. To get to Leo's office was a short trip through the medbay. She stepped in and took one of the guest seats before re-activating her omnitool. "Put the Governor through to me," she ordered.

"Patching them in now."

Her omnitool projected a screen in front of her showing Taylor and Logan. "Captain, we've heard about what happened," Taylor said. "We're glad to know you're safe."

"Thank you, Governor."

"When can we expect the return of the prisoners? Sub-Consul Tio!sat!ny has made inquiries on the matter."

"I'm holding them on the Aurora for the time being," Julia answered. "Until we know more about who launched this attack and why."

"You don't have the legal authority to do that," Logan insisted.

"Given the situation, Madame Chairwoman, I'm acting in the best interests of you and your Colony," Julia answered. "The last thing you need is for more mercenaries to start shooting their way into your hospital, or your jail. The Aurora is a target they can't simply attack. I'm also going to return the three dead Aururians to Captain von Lohringhoven so they can be returned to their families."

"That is an usurpation of...!"

Taylor's raised hand forestalled the angry protest from Logan. "It's a reasonable action, Madame Chairwoman. We don't extradite the dead."

"I'm starting to wonder about this entire case, Governor," Julia said. "The mercenaries were after one of the Aururians in particular. We don't know why. We don't even know how they found us yet. I can't help but think that there's more to this case than charges of gun smuggling."

"Perhaps. But it's not my part to decide that. I have Chief Jiang and Colonel Littleton investigating where the mercs came from. As soon as we confirm the details and whether or not there is a further threat, I expect the return of our prisoners immediately."

After a moment of thought Julia replied with, "I understand your concern that the extradition agreement with the Consortium be upheld. I'll let you know if I find out anything regarding that."

"Of course. Good day, Captain."

Their image disappeared and Julia's omnitool returned to its standby status. She sat and considered her options. It occurred to her that under certain readings of regulations regarding emergency situations, she could assert authority over the Aururian prisoners and keep them in her custody instead. Returning them to Captain von Lohringhoven as part of a settlement ending the standoff would be acceptable in that circumstance. But the regulations might not stretch that far and the resulting tussle with the civilian legal authorities was not one she could take lightly.

The real key to the situation was the woman that the mercs tried to snatch, the one with the cyborg implants. She stood up and returned to the ward. The woman in question was remaining quiet at the side of Kirrhi the priestess, who was consoling one of the others. Given the quiet sobs Julia could easily imagine it was over one of the dead Aururians. She walked toward the unassuming woman and got a better look at her. She and Doctor Walker shared skin tones and hair color, although the woman was rather older. Seeing Walker looking over scans at a station, Julia went up to her and spoke in a low tone. "What do you know about that patient? The one sitting over there?"

Walker followed Julia's eyes. "She's healthy. Middle-aged, at least forty-five," Walker answered. "She has substantial cybernetics."

"She woke up from a stun blast within a minute," Julia remarked.

"That would be the cybernetic implants in her central nervous system," Walker said. "If they're shielded appropriately, they can allow rapid recovery from stun effects."

"Is that something you'd normally install in someone's implants?"

"I probably wouldn't," Walker admitted. "Those kinds of implants can run into difficulties normal ones can't. They consume more energy, for one. I imagine she wanted shielded implants for a reason. They were certainly hard to find. Most of my scanners showed her as completely organic. I had to use our Cylon-scanner to confirm the presence of cybernetics."

Julia considered that. "Really. Did she give a name?"

"Nina was the only name she gave."

Any further conversation ended when the door slid open. Lohringhoven entered in the company of Ensign Talara. Julia walked toward them. "Thank you, Ensign. You're dismissed."

"I'm pleased to have been of assistance, Captain," Talara answered before departing.

"Captain, welcome to the Aurora," Julia said to Lohringhoven. The Aururian captain had an intact uniform jacket now and didn't look like she'd also been in a fight for their lives.

"Your vessel is certainly an interesting sight. It seems to have been made for more comfort than normal for a military warship," Lohringhoven answered.

"Yes, well, the Aurora's purpose is not just to serve as a combat starship," Julia replied. "We consider her to be a star cruiser capable of non-military missions such as exploration, research, and diplomacy. We even have a contingent of civilian specialists aboard for those purposes."

"And yet your vessel has quite impressive armament, given the devastation it wrought to the Irresistible," Lohringhoven pointed out.

Julia nodded quietly. "We are capable of defending ourselves, yes. We have to be. Every universe has its dangers."

"I would expect such." Lohringhoven walked past Julia and approached Kirrhi. "Sister, what is the word?"

"We have lost three." Kirrhi replied solemnly. “Dead before medical aid could be given. Katherine and Lietan are lightly wounded and recovering. Naoko is gravely wounded but has been stabilized due to the efforts of Doctor Walker."

"I see."

Julia didn't need telepathy or life-force powers to figure out what Lohringhoven was going to ask next. "I will return the deceased to you, Captain, so that you can return them to their families, or perform whatever burial rites are necessary."

"I appreciate the gesture, Captain," said Lohringhoven. "But I am more interested in learning what rogues are responsible for this atrocity."

"Commander Meridina is leading the investigation," Julia answered. "She was once the ship's chief of security, and she's worked with law enforcement during her time in the Order of Swenya. Commander Richmond is, I've heard, quite the detective as well. I'm certain they'll figure it out." She frowned. "I wish to know what was going on as well."

"I am certain you will find the League or the Consortium behind this affair," Lohringhoven insisted.

Julia glanced toward the woman called "Nina". "I'm leaning that way too," Julia admitted. "But I'm more interested in why they were after that woman. The others, Katherine and Kirrhi and Kishala, seemed more important in this group." Julia was already looking at Lohringhoven again by the time she finished that sentence. She wanted to see the reaction to speaking on Nina.

"I do not care to speculate as to their motives, Captain. What matters is that this affair come to an end. I am hoping that you will yet see the injustice of the charges and release my people on your own authority."

"The Alliance places civilian leadership over military. If I ignore a civilian court, I betray that principle," Julia pointed out. She kept her poker face on. Lohringhoven's denial was well-spoken, yes. But she didn't believe it. Lohringhoven knew who "Nina" was, and why she was so valuable. "If I had a good reason to defy the court, though, or something I could bring to Governor Taylor to consider him to rescind the extradition order…"

An intent look appeared on Lohringhoven's eyes. "I cannot help you with that, Captain."

The door leading to the critical care and operating room wards slid open. Leo emerged. He was clearly finishing the act of pulling his lab coat back on. "Captain Andreys," he said formally, recognizing the presence of their visitor. "And Captain von Lohringhoven."

"I am, yes," she answered. "Doctor Gillam, what is the status of Kishala Abrakia?"

"Ordinarily I wouldn't share patient information with someone who wasn't next-of-kin or on a list of authorized persons, but given the situation, you're more likely to speak to her family than I." Leo crossed his arms. "She lost a lot of blood, and her internal organs suffered severe damage. Honestly, if not for Doctor Vega, I couldn't have saved her. Your surgeon's knowledge of Ralsan physiology allowed us to systematically deal with the worst of the damage. She's critical right now. Hopefully she'll be stable enough for the remaining surgery she requires, but I can't make promises yet."

"I see." Lohringhoven was utterly impassive. "Can I see her?"

Leo shook his head. "In her state, I would be remiss to let anyone but family around her. Her condition is still very serious…"

"I understand, Doctor." Lohringhoven glanced to Julia. "Captain, I am returning to await the outcome of your officers' investigation."

"I'll let you know what they find out," Julia replied. She watched Lohringhoven leave while restraining her frustration over the continued refusal to help her deal with this problem. Her eyes briefly moved back to "Nina" before she left the medbay.

The Koenig moved into orbit of the moon labeled Phi Perseus 7-XII, one of twenty moons in regular orbit over the Saturnine gas giant that was the seventh planet in the solar system. The moon in question formed a beige-tinted sphere on the Koenig's viewscreen.

"Are you still following that radiation trace, Magda?" Zack asked.

"There's interference in the moon's atmosphere," Magda answered. "A strong electromagnetic field." After a few key presses she said, "No wonder. The surveyors found several large deposits of Cameronite along with high-purity naqia."

Zack blinked. "Just how large are these deposits? That stuff's the rarest of the rare, right? Some variation of Ripleyite?"

"It's more conductive than Ripleyite, and for an EM pattern this strong the deposits are about the biggest you can find in nature. Whoever ends up mining this stuff is going to make a bundle."

Zack whistled. "No wonder Command's ready to start a war over this place."

"Give me a moment…" Magda continued her work on her console. Zack imagined she was trying to get the sensors to search in bands less-susceptible to EM interference. "I think I might have it… there. I've got the radiation trace again. It's faint… and it's on the surface."

"Can you put it on screen?"

The screen shifted to show a close-up of the beige-tinted surface of the planet. There was a rock formation in the center of the screen and, faintly, the indications of an impact that had struck underneath an apparent overhang. "That's the best I can do," Magda said. "We'll have to move whatever is under there out."

"Can we beam through that EM field?" Zack asked.

"I wouldn't recommend it," Magda answered. "At least not without modifications."

Zack tapped the intercom key on his chair. "Carrey to Engineering. Karen, we need to beam through an intense EM field. What can you do?"

After a moment the reply came. "Give me a couple of hours and I might be able to rig up the cargo transporter to punch through."

"Sir?" Apley turned in his chair. "I think we should send the Kirschner down with a team to recover… whatever it is. That way we don't risk the object with a failed transport."

For a moment Zack thought on it. He tried to hide his irritation at the fact that he should have thought about it before Apley. His approach could thoughtlessly destroy what mind be vital evidence in this standoff. "Right. Good point, Ap," he said. "Take Hajar and a team with you and whatever tools you might need."

"Aye sir." Apley stood up and left the bridge. One of the new officers, Ensign Brady, walked over and assumed the helm.

Zack considered letting Julia know, but he decided to wait and see what it was first.
”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 »

In the grassy field where the ambush had taken place, Aurora security officers were now being joined by Oakland police. Chief Jiang stood beside Lieutenant Commander Richmond as she stared down at one of the survivors, a Turian. "You realize that you're facing a long prison sentence, don't you?" she told him. "Multiple counts of capital and attempted murder, including four involving Alliance personnel."

"The Blue Suns don't rat on clients," the Turian answered. "Besides, I've been imprisoned by the Hierarchy before. Your luxury jails don’t frighten me."

Richmond had her arms crossed. She was clearly considering other approaches to the interrogation. Jiang weighed in by saying, "You would rather spend decades, if not your whole life, in prison?"

The Turian said nothing.

The two walked away and were met by Commander Meridina. "They are uncooperative," Meridina said. There was no need to ask.

"Unfortunately. And very much so," Richmond grumbled. "From the sound of things they think our prisons are resorts."

"According to intelligence and security reports, many have operated as little more than pirates in the Terminus Systems for years," Meridina noted. "Given the reputation of those worlds, it is indeed possible that the humane conditions in Alliance penal facilities are no threat."

"We could always say we will turn them over to the Aururians," Richmond remarked.

"The unknown might frighten slightly. But I doubt it will be of much use."

"Then I don't see what the point is keeping them here," Richmond said. "We've finished interviews with all of them. We should either throw them in the brig or turn them over to Chief Jiang."

Meridina turned her attention to him. "Can your jail facilities hold them?"

"I'm not sure I want them," Jiang said. "Hard-boiled mercenaries are a security threat my jail personnel are going to struggle with."

"Then you have no objections to our taking them?" Richmond asked him.

"The Chairwoman might," Jiang conceded. "But if you ask me, it'd be a big favor to us if you did."

"That is sufficient, then," Meridina said. "Commander, begin transporting them to the brig."

"Happily. I'll triple brig personnel while I'm at it." Richmond stepped away to do so.

"I'm sorry we haven't been able to get them to cooperate," Jiang said to Meridina. "I'd like to know where they came from myself. Under our current colony code, we have to be informed if someone hires a group this heavily-armed. Actually, I think the Governor can even refuse to let them come."

"Someone did not care much for your law," Meridina noted aloud. "I am placing my hopes in the recovery of data from their hardware. Follow me, please."

The two walked over to the wrecked remains of the Blue Sun dropship. The merc unit's armor, weapons, and other devices were piled beside it. Three operations officers from the Aurora were going over them with the help of security personnel. Lieutenant Kyle Liton looked up from where he was examining an inactive omnitool. "Ah, Commander."

"Lieutenant." She nodded. "I have not yet had the chance to welcome you back to the crew."

"Oh, it's fine," he said. Nearly two years before Liton, still an Ensign, was with the computer security branch of Meridina's security staff on the ship. He had been framed by a Changeling from the Dominion of Universe S5T3 and, while exonerated, asked for a transfer off the ship due to the experience. Meridina was pleased to note that the young man seemed more seasoned than he had been before. "Honestly, after serving on the Libra, being back on the Aurora is a welcome change. But that's not why you're here."

"Have you made any progress?"

"Some." Liton tapped at his own omnitool and brought up a screen showing computer code. "These Blue Suns guys are pretty good at their computer security. Their wipe program was pretty thorough. But it's not complete. I think I can reconstruct some of the fragmented remnants of the data using Lieutenant Delgado's data compiling program. I've already sent it to her."

"Very good." Meridina stepped up into the crashed dropship. "Lieutenant Lucero?"

Lucy's head emerged from the cockpit. "I'm here."

"Any luck reconstructing the dropship's flight path?"

"I was just about to finish that," she said. She motioned for Meridina to follow her. Jiang came as well. The cockpit was lit by the overhead lights. There was no visible window for the pilot, whose seat Lucy returned to. She started tapping at the hardlight controls again, occasionally pecking away at her omnitool. "Their data wipe program did eliminate the logs from their sensors. But their own safety systems make that moot."

"In what way?" Jiang asked.

Lucy was grinning. "Because they didn't wipe them."

"And how does this help us?"

"The systems are designed to observe power flow to track potential faults and compensate," Lucy explained. "Or to warn the pilot so they can set down before suffering an overload or power loss. I can use that to determine when the dropship launched and get a close estimate as to the speed it was managing on the flight. And then I can check the systems that maintain flight control and use that log to reconstruct the maneuvers the dropship took, allowing me to establish a flight path." Figures appeared on a hardlight display above the cockpit controls. Lucy entered them into her omnitool. "Here. Let's see how the numbers add up." Her omnitool projected a screen showing a flat map of the planet centered on their location. After a few key presses a line left the area. It moved west until it reached the perimeter of the Oakland Colony.

"That's not possible," Jiang insisted. "The Colony Police would know if we had a mercenary unit in town. They're supposed to register with us." He eyed Lucy. "Are you sure they didn't come from a ship?"

"The power distribution logs don't lie," Lucy answered. "The engine power used is consistent with atmospheric flight only."

"Where is that in the colony?" Meridina asked Jiang.

He looked over the map closely. "It looks like it's near the spaceport. It would have to be, there's no way we'd miss something like this there. Going by the area…" He frowned. "Damn. It is them. This is not good."

"Who is it?" asked Meridina.

"My boss," Jiang answered simply.

There was a quiet tension on the Koenig bridge after the Kirschner dropped from the ship's ventral shuttle bay. The shuttle flew downward into the atmosphere, turning into a red streak as it made re-entry.

"Entering the EM fie-.... -ference on com-... -justing to…. -sate. Kirschner to… -nig, please respond."

Apley's voice was partially obscured by the static, but toward the end it became slightly clearer. "We can barely read you," Zack said.

"Roger. We've boosted the comm trans- …-er. It's the best we… do. Approach- radiation tra- ...source."

"Send us an image when you can."

The following seconds expanded into minutes. Zack glanced toward Magda. "They're still on visual sensors and the ship's intact," she said.

Zack tapped the key on his chair's arm to re-open the channel. "Ap? What's going on down there?"

"Stand by… -mander. Sending image now."

"We're getting the data. Even with data loss, I think I can clean it up enough to…" Magda used her controls to run a process in the ship's computer to sharpen the image forming on the viewscreen.

Zack watched the pixelated image sharpen enough to make out the detail on it. "Send this image to the Aurora immediately," he ordered.
”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 »

Even though there were four days left in the Aururian ultimatum, Julia entered the Government Building for the Oakland Colony with what seemed to be a sense of urgency. Meridina, Lucy, and Jarod all followed behind her. "They're here?" Julia asked the lady at the front desk.

"Yes, Captain," she answered.

The main door opened again. This time Chief Jiang entered with two uniformed policemen. He nodded to Julia and the others and motioned for them to go first. Julia nodded back and walked into the hall to lead her to the conference room. They found two uniformed officers already standing outside of the door, providing security.

Inside Governor Taylor was already seated with the others. Chairwoman Logan was to his right and Tio!sat!ny was seated to his left. Captains Shaham and Gartan were seated on the same side as Logan and Commander Imra was by Tio!sat!ny. The starfish-like alien shifted one of its arms, allowing its "eyes" to look toward the newcomers. "Ah, Captain," he said through his vocoder. "What has prompted this call?"

"I wanted to speak to everyone about the attack this morning," Julia said. "Specifically, I want to know why the hell New Horizons hired the Blue Suns mercenary group to abduct one of the prisoners."

Logan's face twisted into a scowl. "What do you mean by that, Captain?"

Julia nodded to Lucy. "We examined the computer logs on the Blue Suns' craft," Lucy said, tapping away at her omnitool. The display popped up and showed the map she had assembled, tracing the attacking ship back to Oakland Colony. Specifically, to the exact coordinate of the New Horizon complex near the spaceport. Logan looked on in stunned surprise. "We were able to reconstruct the flight path. It took off from your buildings."

Taylor shot Logan a look. "What the hell, Joann?" he asked.

Logan's scowl hardened. "You can't prove this," she insisted.

"Actually, we can now," Julia countered. "Your company invested in some pretty good sensor-deflecting materials, but the Aurora's sensors are directly of Darglan design. Jarod?"

Now Jarod activated a display, showing the New Horizons complex from above. The two large ten-storey structures were the most prominent feature. "Upon examination of the complex with sensors, we were able to determine that the lower level of this outer building" - he indicated a two-storey structure on the north end of the two towers - "contains another two dozen life signs and sensor returns consistent with the crashed Blue Sun craft. In fact, using specific sensor returns…" He tapped a key and the image shifted to make the roof of the building seem translucent, revealing two visible craft and what looked like armory stands. "As you can see, the structure is an armory and barracks."

Taylor's expression was now a full glare. "What the hell are you doing, Joann?!" he demanded. "What did you hire those mercs for?!"

"I didn't!" Logan shouted back. Her defiance had melted into an expression of disbelief and fear. "I… New Horizons agreed to host them in exchange for pay and considerations."

"From who?" asked Gartan.

Logan didn't speak. She didn't have to. The glare settling on Tio!sat!ny spoke volumes as it was.

"Sub-Consul." Taylor turned to face him. "What are those mercenaries for?"

"To protect my business interests, of course," Tio!sat!ny answered.


"I had Chairwoman Logan's permission. Her company even provided the barracks space since my structure could not. How can it be illegal if the head of the Colony government approves?"

"Because she didn't do it as Chairwoman of the Council," Julia pointed out. "She did it as an officer of her company. Less paperwork that way, Chairwoman?"

"It was harmless," Logan insisted. "And of benefit to my company. How was I to know what he was doing?"

"You are surprised that the being who asked you to skirt the law might do something illegal?" Commander Imra asked pointedly, her accented voice dripping with sarcasm.

"The Consortium never gave indications of such behavior before," Logan protested weakly. It was clear on her face that she realized how bad her situation was.

"Well, they have now," Julia said. "They attacked the Aururian prisoners with the intent to take one. And they were using Aururian firearms in the attack. I don't have a doubt in my mind that they would have killed us all and framed the Aururians for it. But they didn't expect Commander Meridina and Lieutenant Lucero."

"And why would they launch this attack?" Logan asked. "The extradition hearing is today, and in all likelihood the judge would have upheld the warrant in the end. There was no legal reason not to."

"They were after one of the prisoners," Meridina stated.

"Their leader?" Taylor asked.

"No. Another woman." Julia looked to Tio!sat!ny. "I'm guessing that the judge being lenient the other day made Tio!sat!ny worried that the extradition would be denied."

"It would be understandable if it was," the Xou!tasam answered. "The Aururian threat to prosecute any official who enabled our lawful extradition of the criminals is a powerful motivation to ignore the law."

"And what was your motivation?" Shaham asked.

"Why, business of course," Tio!sat!ny answered. "I have extensive business interests in the League that are threatened by the activities of these Aururian agents. The woman we sought to recover could provide valuable intelligence on Aururian gun-running to the League's protectorates, once she is turned over to the League for interrogation."

"So you admit that you would re-extradite them," Lucy pointed out.

Tio!sat!ny's upper appendages quivered. Julia pondered if it was the equivalent of a shrug. "They are more capable of such things than the Consortium. And it is their worlds."

"Why her? Why not Katherine Roberts? Or Kishala Abrakia?" Julia asked, recalling the names of the two leaders of the group.

"They are not the true leaders of the unit, Marshal Huaman is," said Tio!sat!ny.


In response to Julia's remark, the appendage with the eyes curled in once. The equivalent of a nod, Julia figured. "Yes. Marshal Naira Huaman, of the Empress' own personal police force. She is rumored to have the Empress' confidence. League intelligence identified her when she was seen on Trapaka. They have hunted her since."

"And that's why you nearly killed me and my officers this morning?"

"It had been my intention to strike the hospital if it proved necessary, but you provided a venue that would be less likely to cause undesired collateral damage," Tio!sat!ny explained. "I'm a businessman, so I took a chance. And like any failed gamble, I will not dwell upon it. We have other business to attend to. Despite our failure, our extradition request is still legitimate, and it is my intention to collect them today."

"Like hell," Taylor said. "Not after what you've said. As of right now, I'm personally rejecting the extradition warrant. Captain Andreys, the prisoners are free to go." He glanced toward Logan, as if anticipating protest, but Logan was too busy glaring at Tio!sat!ny. Her pale face made it clear she understood the ramifications of his actions, and of her own. She had likely destroyed her career over this.

The alien shifted in its cupped seat. At first Julia thought he was simply getting comfortable. That thought ended when she saw the device that was now curled around one of his arms. It resembled a camera more than anything but there was no mistaking what it was given the way he pointed it at them. "It is displeasing to me that you would allow this business to become so personal, Governor," Tio!sat!ny stated.

Behind them, the doors opened. The uniformed personnel stepped in and raised their rifles… at Julia and her people. There was no sign of Jiang's police officers.

"You're insane," Logan gasped.

"I find it is your species that is often insane, Chairwoman," Tio!sat!ny replied. "You Humans are often infuriating with all of the ways you complicate simple business transactions. Your Alliance, the Aururian Empire, the League, all of you distort the simple joy of trade through your bizarre morals and behaviors. We would not be in this mess if the Empire did not seek to meddle in the business affairs of others. Or if the League did not suffer from the inefficiencies that result from their refusal to properly establish markets on their protectorates. We had hopes that the Alliance would make a more reasonable neighbor, but you are little better."

If Lucy and I act in concert, we can disarm the two guards without risk, Meridina's voice stated in her mind. But Tio!sat!ny is likely to fire when we do. I can sense his intent.

"You realize that this is going to set back our relations with the Consortium substantially," Logan said.

"Will it, Chairwoman? Is your Alliance not in the middle of a war that demands resources we can provide? Are you not still facing the Aururian fleet over this system so necessary to that demand?" Tio!sat!ny made the wiggling motion with his upper appendages again. "Simple business logic shows that you need the Consortium more than we need you. Now, Captain Andreys, you will call your vessel and direct that the Marshal be transported to my mercenaries immediately. Once we confirm she is in custody, they will depart."

"The Aururians won't let you run," Julia pointed out. She eyed the firearm wrapped in one of Tio!sat!ny's appendages. He was too far away for her to get to, meaning Logan or Taylor was likely to take a shot once the shooting started. Her eyes briefly glanced toward Commander Imra. Her own eyes were hidden behind a pair of round, dark sunglasses, so she couldn't see where Imra was looking particularly. Meridina, can you reach into Imra's mind? She might be the only one who can keep him from firing.

I have attempted contact. She seems quite capable of deflecting telepathic connection. I cannot guarantee she heard me

Tio!sat!ny's reply was already coming by that point. "My vessel has a cloaking system. Bought at great cost through sources in your S5T3 universe, I will add. I look to make the investment pay off by slipping free of this system. Iron Margrethe will not know the Marshal is gone until we are halfway to Jao!senat. Now, Captain, if you will please contact your ship? No trickery, I would hate to see more violence. It is always an unnecessary complication to business."

Julia crossed her arms. "And if I refuse? You can't think you'll take all of us down."

"I do not need to. My Blue Sun associates are quite capable fighters, I assure you. It is what I pay them for. They will shoot you all before even your capable officers can respond."

"And then? You still won't have the Marshal," Julia pointed out. "You'll still lose out."

"Correct," Tio!sat!ny said. "Which is why I hope you will be reasonable, and then we can resume business. It is your fault that our relations have declined to this point, after all."

"Our fault?!" yelled Logan. "You bastard, you're the one holding a gun to us!" She jumped from her seat and leaned over the table. Her eyes glistened with rage. "You've ruined me for nothing!"

"I have many contracts at risk if I fail, I assure you, Chairwoman. And that is not 'nothing'. Please return to your seat. I would be especially saddened to kill you. You seemed the most sane Human on this world before now. And I hope that..."

Tio!sat!ny didn't get to finish his sentence. Behind them Lucy and Meridina pivoted on their feet. Energy struck out and slammed into the guards, causing their weapons to point upward before their reflexes could trigger them. Small bursts of flame exploded on the ceiling and sent slivers of deadly metal into the ceiling with enough force that they went up into the next floor. The familiar snap-hiss of lightsabers activating filled the room. Two blades of sapphire light twirled and found the rifles gripped by the disguised Blue Suns men, severing both weapons. The mercs, stunned by their sudden disarming, held their arms up in surrender before either could strike.

By this point Tio!sat!ny had also fired. But his aim was thrown off by the sudden strike of Commander Imra and the blast of orange light only scorched the far wall. Imra's hands were clasped like a vise around Tio!sat!ny's appendage. An inhuman shriek untranslated by his vocoder erupted from his mid-section. Julia watched the appendage in question go limp. The weapon it had held dropped to the floor.

"My limb!" Tio!sat!ny cried. For a moment, he tested the enormous muscles of his body against Imra, but she seemed as unyielding as a bar of steel, and he abandoned the effort.

"You don't have bones that break," Imra snapped. "Feel fortunate."

"Chief, take all of them into custody. Get them out of here!" Taylor demanded.

Jiang was already on his radio. Not a minute passed before armed police entered the room. Jiang directed them to cuff the mercenaries.

"I am a diplomat!" Tio!sat!ny shrieked. "I cannot be held!"

"You can't be charged," Taylor corrected. "But I'll damn well have you escorted from the building. You have twenty hours to leave the planet, Sub-Consul, or I'm having you sent back to Jao!senat on a Warp 3 sled." Taylor motioned to the door. "Get him out of here."

"But you can't… I'll be ruined!" Tio!sat!ny's uppermost appendage turned toward Julia. A bundle of eyes all focused on her. "Please, Captain, turn the Marshal over to me! I'll pay you well! I'll give you half of my holdings! I'll give you control of my company's fleet! Please! I'll lose everything if I don't hand over the Marshal!"

Julia crossed her arms. "I'm not for sale, Sub-Consul. I never was."

"This is madness," the horrified Xou!tasam insisted. "Absolute madness! How do you people maintain an economy with this madness…!" Even as Tio!sat!ny was led out by Jiang's police, he continued to blubber until his vocoder was overwhelmed, spurting out bursts of nonsensical sound joined by the keening and whistling noises of Xou!tasam speech.

Once he was gone Taylor settled back into his chair and sighed. Logan, looking utterly spent, stood up. "I have a letter of resignation to write," she said simply.

"Before you do, I have something to share with you," Julia said. She brought her omnitool online and used it to interface with the conference room's holo-display projector. An image appeared on it of a rocky beige surface. "The Koenig sent this to us just before we came down," Julia explained. "It's from Phi Perseus 7-XII."

On the screen the image moved up into a shadowed area. A light appeared, obviously from an atmospheric suit, and illuminated wreckage on the rocky surface. Pieces of rock were embedded into tempered metal alloy. As the light widened and focused, the shape of a cylinder snapped nearly in half by an impact could be made out. Small stubby bits showed what was left of what had been attachments.

The end of the cylinder was marked by a roundel of blue, copper, and dark purple. The same roundel they had all seen previously on Captain von Lohringhoven's shuttle.

Taylor recognized it immediately. Logan took a moment to realize the significance and rested her ashen face in her palm. "There was a beacon," she sighed.

"An asteroid impact knocked it out."

"It was small enough that it didn't just shatter the entire beacon," Jarod added. "If it had, the pieces wouldn't have had nearly as much velocity to them, and the surveyors would have found them. Instead the meteorite pushed the beacon toward Phi Perseus 7. In fact, if not for about half of a degree, the beacon would have gone on into the gas giant's gravity well, and we never would have found it. Instead it got caught in 7-XII's gravity and landed on the moon."

Taylor ran his hand over his head. "Dammit," he muttered. "What do we do?"

"It was still a good faith colonization," Logan murmured. "They can't hold this against us."

"But if their claim has justice, then we can't just dismiss it." Taylor folded his hands. "I'll need to speak to President Morgan and Secretary Saratova about this."

"I'll write a report when I get back to the Aurora," Julia said. "And see if this changes our orders. In the meantime…"

"In the meantime, I'll begin preparations for an evacuation. Quietly." Taylor looked defeated. "Thank you, Captain, for bringing this all to light. If it helps defuse this scenario…"

"It's worth it, yes."

"I'm going to inform Judge Moore that the Colony is now rejecting the extradition," Taylor said. "Release them to Captain von Lohringhoven, Captain. And I will speak with you later."

Taylor stood with Logan. The two walked out of the room.

"This may not change anything," Gartan noted. "It was a good faith colonization, and we are entitled to consideration from the Aururians. If they persist on demanding the colony leave or transfer its allegiance, our orders still stand."

"I know," Julia said. "And I know we need this system. We'll just have to see if we can work around that. We still have three days before we have to commit to an evacuation."

"The Enterprise will be ready for either case," Shaham promised. "I will speak to you later?"

Julia nodded. "Let's go home, everyone," she said to the others. "We still have work to do."

Two hours later Julia was sitting in the ready office sipping at her coffee. That she needed it this late spoke of how tired she was. The day's reports were slow-going. Better was the news that with Tio!sat!ny in custody, the Blue Suns in the New Horizon building didn't try to fight when Chief Jiang arrived with Chairwoman Logan to order them out. Having the colony militia armed up and ready to take the barracks with the help of the Aurora and Enterprise Marine troops undoubtedly helped with that.

Jarod's voice came over the speaker. "We have Admiral Maran on IU comms for you."

"Put him through." Julia turned to the screen in time for Maran to appear on it. He was in his Defense Command office. "Admiral, you got my report?"

"I have," he replied. "The discovery of the beacon has forced us to reconsider our assessment of the Aururian response to the colony. And you are returning their prisoners to them?"

"I informed Captain von Lohringhoven that they can go when they're ready. They're still waiting on their wounded to recover enough for transfer."

"Understood. What is their status?"

"Still at three dead and four wounded. Leo has the severely wounded Ralsan back in surgery now."

Maran nodded once. "It's good to know that part of the crisis is solved. It might help with the negotiations."

"There are none right now," Julia said. "Von Lohringhoven's made it clear. The Aururians can't accept anything less than sovereignty over the system."

"And we must have the system's resources."

"Could we trade for them?"

"Unlikely, unless the Aururians are stupendously generous," Maran said.

Julia sighed. "Admiral, I know it's not my place to question policy from Portland, but this seems ridiculous. We simply can't hold this system without committing to a major military effort, and that means a second war while we're still fighting the Nazis. What good is holding the system and getting its resources when it means that we have another war we have to divert ships to?"

"That is an argument circulating in the Council now. But there are those who believe the Aururians are bluffing. That they won't risk a war with the Alliance since our territories are out of their reach while theirs are vulnerable to Alliance attacks. Especially not if the League joins the conflict on our side."

"That's not a gamble I'd want to take," Julia mumbled.

"It is not a pleasant one, true. But for the time being, that is the one the Alliance Government is willing to take. I fear that the reports on the spongiform have proven particularly inciting for this faction." Maran folded his hands on the table in front of him. Julia found herself wondering if the pro-confrontation faction included Hawthorne and Davies. "If you can find an alternative that the Aururians agree to, I will ensure it is received with my endorsement, and it may change minds."


"Until then, your orders stand."

"And what about the Consortium?" Julia asked. "They abused the treaty with us."

"That is being discussed as well. Secretary Onaram has yet to inform me of any final decision on our relations with Jao!senat." Maran reached forward, toward a control on his desk. "I'll keep you informed if anything changes. Maran out."

After Maran disappeared Julia leaned back in her chair and devoted her thoughts to the intractable nature of the problem. There had to be some way out of it…

"Captain, an Aururian shuttle is asking for landing clearance," Jarod said. "It's Captain von Lohringhoven."

"Let her land." Julia stood up and walked out to the bridge. Jarod was in the command chair and Lieutenant Sabiha Neyzi at Ops. Ensign Arterria and Lieutenant al-Rashad were at the conn and tactical and Angel was in the final hours of her shift for the day. Jarod stood until Julia motioned for him to remain. She went to the lift and stepped in, fully intending to head to the shuttle bay and meet Lohringhoven.

But she didn't. A thought came to mind. Lohringhoven was the one who gave the ultimatum, true… but she was just a Captain like Julia. She was probably following orders in the same fashion. There was only so much Julia could do with her.

"Computer, Deck 12," she said.

She arrived in the Medbay and walked toward the uninjured Aururians. Her eyes focused on "Nina" to the exclusion of thinking about Kirrhi and the Ralsan beside her. "Nina, was it?" she asked.

The woman nodded.

"I'd like to talk with you about the abduction attempt." Julia leaned closer to her and, in a quiet tone only she and possibly Kirrhi could hear, added, "In private, Marshal?"

There was a small rush of breath from Kirrhi. The Marshal's expression didn't change. She merely nodded her assent. Julia turned her head to see Walker checking on the injured Aururian on the bed. "I'm going to borrow Doctor Gillam's office again."

Walker nodded in reply and went back to work. Julia led Marshal Huaman out of the ward and through the corridor to Leo's office. Once the door was closed behind them she turned and faced the Aururian woman. "Alright. Can you tell me what is going on?"

Huaman remained quiet for a moment. As if judging whether to cooperate or not. Finally she nodded. "I cannot speak of everything, you understand. Merely that I was asked to attend to one of our aid missions."

"To the world Trapaka?"

"Yes. There is a native species on that planet, the Itilmi, that the League uses for forced labor in their mining and farming operations on the planet. We have been providing the Itilmi weapons to fight back against their occupiers. I was tasked with negotiating with the Itilmi King and his rebels."

"For more weapons?"

"And aid to fix the ecological damage from the League's mining efforts, yes. Unfortunately there was a traitor in his court that reported us to the League's colonial governor. We had to flee."

Julia nodded. "If we'd known, we might have figured out what was really going on. The Consortium insisted you were just regular gun-runners."

"That is our cover. If the mission's official character was known, the League might consider it justification for war. Marshals make any operation they are part of one that, by definition, cannot be disavowed. They know that our efforts to improve our fleet are outpacing their armament program. A war now would be preferable for them, if they could excuse it to the independent worlds and the other powers."

With the explanation given, Julia thought of her wording before moving on to the other matter in her mind. "Tio!sat!ny said you are a confidante of the Empress."

"A confidante is… not quite the correct phrasing. The Marshalry is… how do you say; the oil in the machine of the Empire. We ensure that the entire engine runs smoothly by… unwanted events being arranged to not occur. Each of us is personally appointed and overseen by the Empress, to be her eyes, ears, hands, voice... and arrows, if necessary. She will assuredly be expecting a full report upon my return.”

"And if you don't mind me asking, what are you going to say to her about us?" Julia asked. "How will you advise her in dealing with the Alliance?"

"That depends, Captain."


A hard look came to the woman's face. "On how your Alliance deals with the murder of my girls while we were in your custody."

It was a fair question and Julia gave her a fair answer. "We're charging the mercenaries with at least three counts of murder and several attempted murder charges. And attempted kidnapping. Because my officers and I were there, they'll be answering to an Alliance court as well as the Colony court."

"Then they will face the firing squad or gallows?"

"Neither," Julia answered. "At least, not to my knowledge. The death penalty is not widely practiced in the Alliance, although individual members are not forbidden from applying it with sufficient safeguards and protections for the condemned. I'm not aware of whether the Oakland Colony answers to one of those member states. It is more likely that they will face life imprisonment, or very long-term imprisonment at least."

"Hrm. That is, perhaps, even better. I would prefer death to a life in a cage myself." Huaman's expression did not relax. "And their paymasters? You have discovered them?"

"The Trading Consortium's Sub-Consul apparently had businesses within the League that he would lose if he didn't deliver you," Julia said. "He masterminded it. Since he has diplomatic immunity he can't be charged and tried, but Governor Taylor's already ordered him off-world. I figure the government will ban him from any further work in the Alliance."

Huaman considered that. "And you will leave it at that? The Consortium will not be punished?"

"Oh, I don't know about that," Julia said. "Through him they abused the treaty they signed with us. And even before this, it's clear they were being untruthful when informing us of this area of space. I'm pretty sure they're going to find it hard to deal with us for a while. They'll probably have to fire Tio!sat!ny and make reparations at a minimum. And they might find their links to the League's exploitative behaviors will be closely investigated. It may sink any further trade agreements unless they shape up."

There was a nod from the older woman. Julia thought it might be one of at least partial approval. "There is still the matter of your colony on our planet," the Marshal said.

"There is," Julia agreed. "We've found your beacon. Or rather what's left of it."

"Oh?" Huaman gave her a curious look.

"From what we can tell, a meteor hit it," Julia explained. "One small enough that it didn't break apart at the impact but was instead pushed into orbit of one of the gas giants. Or rather, into one of the moons of the seventh planet. One of my ships found it earlier today."

"A rather odd coincidence," Huaman noted. "And Captain von Lohringhoven informed me the marker is gone as well."

"We didn't know where to look for that, but I'm not surprised."

"Then your Alliance will acknowledge this system is ours by right?"

"We do recognize your claim preceded ours," Julia said. "At the same time, our colonization was a good-faith act. And we have immediate need for the resources. We would like to negotiate with you on the matter."

"We cannot negotiate away sovereignty in this situation, Captain," Huaman said. "Not without inviting attacks on our beacons across our frontiers."

"Just as we need the materials to fight our war with the Nazi Reich."

"Yes. We have seen further proof of this conflict while on this ship." Huaman's expression turned into a frown. "If not for the issue of our prior beacon being lost, the Empire would have considered ceding the system as part of a wider arrangement for suitable compensation. But the principle of the matter must be kept."

"I was hoping to find some flexibility in your position," Julia said. "We don't want a war with you, but my orders haven't changed. We need this system and its resources. If there was a way to reconcile our positions…"

"It is my regret that these are our circumstances, Captain. Given the fate of our beacon, we cannot simply sell away the system. It would invite others to attempt the same. Still, if you have an idea that meets our requirements, I am willing to listen. I may speak, provisionally, for Her Imperial Majesty in time-critical situations as this."

Julia couldn't keep the disappointment from her voice. "Well, I see." She motioned to the door. "I suppose that is it, then. You and the others are free to go with Captain von Lohringhoven when she returns to her ship."

"We will remain with our comrades until they are fit to travel, Captain," Huaman insisted.

"Then I'll arrange quarters for you."

With nothing more to say on the matter Julia led Huaman back out to the receiving ward. Leo was present now and speaking quietly with Kirrhi and the others. Presumably Kishala was out of surgery. "...touch and go for the moment," he was saying. "But Doctor Vega and I think her chances have improved. We'll probably need one more surgery when her system has recovered enough."

Lohringhoven and Meridina were coming through the door a moment later. Meridina was not in uniform but in her purple training bodysuit. "My apologies for my appearance," she said. "There was an issue arranging an escort for the Captain. I was called from my training to do so."

Julia shook her head. "It's fine, Commander." She turned her head slightly to face von Lohringhoven. "Captain. The Marshal and I were just discussing matters. She and her team are free to go. The Governor has rejected the extradition request of the Consortium in light of their violation of our treaty."

To Julia's great surprise, palpable relief flooded von Lohringhoven's expression. "Thank you for informing me of this development, Captain Andreys," she said. "Marshal, I am pleased you are well.”

Huaman nodded in return. "She will be waiting. It’s safe now, Margrethe."

Julia and Meridina exchanged bewildered glances. Lohringhoven walked past them to Leo with a barely contained trembling. "Doctor, I would like to see Kishala now."

Leo looked toward her. "Like I said before, with her condition, I can only justify family members visiting her."

"Then there is no issue, Doctor." The stolid expression that Lohringhoven typically held had cracked at the same time her legs had begun to shake. "She is my wife."

Leo's look betrayed his surprise. Julia's poker face faltered from the widened eyes of her own surprise. She went back in her mind and thought over Lohringhoven's behavior these past few days, trying to see how this could be. She was very upset when she found out about the extradition, Julia recalled. And it explains why she wanted to see them personally.

Meridina didn't look as surprised. Or rather, she looked like someone who finally had an answer for something that had mystified her.

Lohringhoven reached into a jacket pocket and produced a small frame. With a tap it produced an image. It showed her with her hair in a less-formal style in a crisp, smart dress uniform with gold-tasseled epaulets and a plethora of medals over her left breast. Her hand was clasped with Kishala's, the Ralsan wearing a fine dress of bright color.

Images could be forged, of course. But it didn't seem a reasonable possibility. And besides that, there was a real vulnerability, a real concern, in the usually-austere Lohringhoven's eyes.

Leo was immediately convinced. "Alright, follow me," he said. "We'll find you a chair and you can watch over her."

Relief showed on Lohringhoven's face and in her posture. Quietly she followed Leo to the door to the other wards. He let her through.

"I had sensed her apprehension and worry," Meridina said. "And it was quite personal to her. Now I see why."

"What are her chances, Leo?" Julia asked him as he stepped through the door.

That caused Leo to stop. He turned to face her and shook his head. "Better than they were a few hours ago. But she's not out of danger yet."

Julia found herself wondering if those were better odds than she had of solving this problem. She decided she didn't want to answer that just yet.

Given the day's activities, Julia retired early and slept in. The morning meeting went by without any changes in the status quo, including no new orders from Command. The bridge watch saw no major changes to the situation. There was a meeting over comms with Taylor, Littleton, and the various ship commanders present. Two more Alliance cruisers jumped in during the course of the day, the Scorpio-class Sagittarius and the Nehru-class Ambedkar. The former had a compact arrow-headed shape, with armored warp nacelles built into the rear stardrive section of the ship. The Nehru-class ship closely resembled the Discovery-class and thus appeared to be a smaller version of the Aurora with two warp nacelles. But the primary hull was slightly wider in beam and the drive hull began further back on the frame.

Julia could see the two arrivals from the Lookout. She sat with her dinner and mused quietly about their situation.

"You look distracted." Angel sat at her table with a plate of Hargert's dinner for the evening, roast pork and carrots, with a bowl of steaming sausage stew. Her glass was an opaque one, but Julia imagined it was either a fruit punch or milk.

"You could say that," Julia murmured. "My first mission as captain of the Aurora and it looks like it's going to end in a war."

"You didn't exactly get the easy survey mission Robert got to start off," Angel offered.

"Hmm. Yeah." Julia took a bite of pork and carrot mixed together. "I keep wondering if there's something I've been missing. Some kind of solution that will fix this."

"Well, you know what I'd like to do."

Julia gave Angel a knowing look. "Somehow I doubt that 'smacking sense into them' would work as well as you'd like."

"But it would feel damn good," Angel pointed out.

"Maybe." Julia shook her head. "I just… I don't know. It almost feels like I didn't get enough done to make this work. Opani was the one to connect to the prisoners. Zack and his crew found the beacon. Lucy and Meridina stopped the mercs. Twice. And all I've been able to do is talk a lot and fail to find a solution."

"Yeah," Angel said. She held up her hands and crooked the index finger of her left hand into the index finger of her right. "You also approved of Doctor Opani's plan to talk to them, you approved letting her and Meridina and Lucy give them their sunrise dance party, you sent the Koenig out to see if there was a beacon, and you gave the orders that led to Lucy finding out where the mercs came from." She was up to her right hand's pinky at that point. "Basically, you did what you were supposed to do. You gave the orders and everyone else did their jobs. And because you gave those orders, we dealt with this whole prisoner crisis."

Angel's argument was, in all of its bluntness, also completely correct. Julia had to grin at her friend's assessment. "You're right. Unfortunately, it'll all be for nothing unless we find a way out of the impasse."

"Do you really think these Aururians will attack?"

"I do," Julia said. "From their point of view, they have to. If they don't, they're basically announcing that anyone can come into their frontier and shoot down claim beacons before colonizing, just so long as they're smart about it."

Angel shook her head. "But they're in the same bind as the Nazis. They can't hit our fleet stations and our bases. All they can do is overrun a few colonies. And if this League joins the war, and maybe the Consortium too… well, they might even lose."

"But people would still have to respect their beacons," Julia pointed out. "They might think a lost war is worth that. Sort of like when a young fighter goes up against someone who has a hundred pounds on her and picks a fight because that someone knocked over her little sister at PE." She gave Angel a knowing smile. "She knows she might lose, but it'll keep people from thinking they can mess with her little sis whenever they feel like it."

Angel laughed at that. "It's like that, huh?"

Julia nodded with a mouthful of pot roast. "Uh huh." She was swallowing when her omnitool lit up. She tapped the blue light on the back of her left hand. "Andreys here."

"Captain, this is Lieutenant Vajpayee."

"Go ahead, Lieutenant."

"May I see you, Captain? I have found something you might find useful."

"For what?" Angel asked.

"I'm finishing up my dinner right now, Lieutenant. Meet me in my ready office on the bridge in half an hour."

"Yes Captain."

"So what's that all about?" Angel asked.

"I'm not sure," Julia admitted. "But I'm going to find out."

Thirty-four minutes later, Julia was looking up from her monitor on the ready office desk, not sure if she should dare to hope this was it. "And it will work?" she asked Vajpayee. "You're certain of it?"

"As certain as I can be, Captain," he said. "The legal principle is sound."

Julia considered it for about ten seconds. With relief she nodded. "Thank you, Lieutenant. It's inspired. You're dismissed."

"Thank you, Captain."

Vajpayee stepped out of the ready office. The door hadn't even closed when Julia herself stood. "Computer, is Captain von Lohringhoven still aboard?"

"Guest identified as Captain von Lohringhoven is located in Medbay Critical Care Ward."

"And Marshal Huaman?"

"Marshal Huaman is in the Medbay."

"Good." Julia went to the door.

The two Aururians were now in the reception ward with the rest of the Marshal's team when Julia arrived. She nodded to them. "How is your wife, Captain?"

"Her condition has further improved due to the diligence of your surgeons, Captain," Lohringhoven answered.

"That's good to hear," Julia said. "May I speak to you and the Marshal in private?"

"I believe Doctor Gillam is currently in his office," Lohringhoven replied.

"That's fine. Follow me."

Julia led them back out of the medbay and further through the deck until they arrived at their destination. A plain blue inside caused the two to look around in curiosity.

"Computer, activate archived holo-surroundings. Model sunrise sky."

"Working. Holodeck engaging."

Their surroundings disappeared in favor of a soft grass field just as the sun was coming up on the eastern horizon. The two Aururians looked around with interest. "A holographic chamber? Compact enough for a ship?" Lohringhoven asked.

"We call them holodecks. They combine transporters with matter replication," Julia said. "Computer, please add three comfortable chairs. Put them in a gazebo."

A white painted wooden gazebo appeared. Three high-backed chairs were inside. Julia walked up into the gazebo and took one seat. Lohringhoven and Huaman took the others. "I think I've found a way through our impasse," she said to them.

"You have?" Huaman seemed interested. "What do you propose?"

"A measure that will keep this system as sovereign Aururian territory, but let the Oakland colonists stay where they are and let us mine the resources we need."

That had their attention.

Julia leaned forward in the chair. "What if the Alliance leases the system?"

"A lease?" Huaman asked.

"Yes. A lease, for a specific amount of time in which the Colony remains under Alliance law and control, and the Alliance gets to use the resources of the system. When the time is over, Phi Perseus completely reverts to Aururian control."

For a moment neither reacted. Julia didn't know if that was a good or bad thing, so she waited for some sort of reaction. Lohringhoven leaned over to speak sotto voce to Huaman. “Her Majesty’s foremothers leased Nepean Bay on Karta to the British for two hundred years, Marshal.”

The bronzen woman nodded, her expression inscrutable for a moment. "What sort of compensations would be offered?" Huaman asked, and when she did, Julia felt her first thrill of hope.

"Payment in currency, I imagine. A cut of the annual yields?" Julia suggested, not wanting to lose the moment.

"Acceptable," Huaman said. "And upon termination of the lease, all improvements to the system would revert to Her Imperial Majesty's ownership."

Julia nodded. "I think that can work."

"Then… yes." Huaman nodded. "Yes, I believe these terms work. Affirm your government's willingness to accept the leasing term and I will report the offer to Her Imperial Majesty immediately."

It took some restraint for Julia to resist the urge to cry out in triumph. She settled for a wide smile and a nod. "I will call my superiors immediately."

"And when you speak to them, please, add this note." Huaman stood. "Inform them of the likelihood that Her Imperial Majesty will appoint an ambassador to immediately commence talks with the Alliance."

"Talks on what issue?"

"On our participation in the war, of course," Huaman answered. Now she smiled. "Knowing Her Imperial Majesty as I do, and our people besides, once confirmation of the existence of this star-faring Third Reich becomes known, the Empire will be determined to crush the evil of their regime just as our foremothers did many centuries ago. The Alliance can expect Her Imperial Majesty to declare war on the Reich once she is convinced that the reports are genuine."

Julia couldn't fight the smile that crossed her face. "I'll let them know," she said. "It will certainly be appreciated." Inwardly she wondered about that. Depending on the size of their contribution, it would require providing them with IU drives as well. What effect would that have upon the volatile politics of A2M6? Would it convert the League of Democratic Worlds into an enemy?

I'll leave that for the diplomats to handle was her final thought on that. Even as a starship captain, there was only so much she could do.

Ship's Log: 23 February 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. Today the Aururian ultimatum expires. Thankfully it is now a moot point. As of this morning, the Alliance Government approved the plan for a lease agreement over the Phi Perseus System of Universe A2M6. Peace has been maintained. And we may have gained an ally against the Reich in the process, if not two allies. Captain de Montamar has informed me that the League of Democratic Worlds is likewise interested in declaring war on the Nazi Reich and contributing ships to the conflict. Not as many as the Aururians, I suspect, but enough that they will maintain some parity with the Empire in relations with the Alliance.

I will have a final meeting with both sides today at the formal lease signing treaty. Admiral Maran has informed me that I have been chosen to co-sign the agreement on the Alliance's behalf. It is, I suppose, a fitting cap to my first official mission as Captain of the

Conference Room 1 had been arranged for the signing. Julia and the others arrived in dress uniform, the white color and golden tassels and epaulets of said uniforms filling the room given the attendance of over five dozen other Alliance officers.

The Aururian contingent was just as large, led by Captain von Lohringhoven's commander, Admiral Kadesadayurat, wearing the uniform of the Royal Siamese Navy, one of the Empire’s “untouched” associated States. Marshal Huaman led the delegation, incongruous in a severe black outfit that recalled formal fashions of centuries before.

The size of the two contingents was thanks to the reinforcements that had already been ordered by both before the agreement was reached. Julia briefly mused, darkly, that had the lease agreement not been proposed or accepted, sixty-three Aururian warships would have ended up in a shooting war against forty-nine Alliance starships and, presumably, Captain Guy de Montamar's squadron. The officers of the latter were also in attendance, in finely-crafted blue uniforms of their own. They showed no indication of being opposed to the lack of a conflict.

The ceremony was short and sweet. At the Marshal's direction, Captain von Lohringhoven joined her in signing for the Aururian Empire. Governor Taylor and Julia signed for the Alliance. The financial terms were relatively light, given the value of the system, and for the first term of the treaty the Aururians had waived any share of the mineral rights. Every ten years the Alliance would have the option to renew the lease for another term, for an increasing sum of money and an increasing share of the mineral yields. After thirty years the lease would permanently expire and the system and all mines and facilities in it would revert to the Aururian Empire. The Oakland Colony would be granted autonomy status in the Empire if its residents remained after the handover. Whether that would convince the settlers of today or tomorrow to stay, Julia could not guess.

When the signing was over Julia looked to Lohringhoven and asked, "How is Kishala?"

"She is recovering well," was the answer. Leo had decided that Kishala was sufficiently recovered to be transferred to the Maya-Mayi the prior evening.

"Do you regret that she's involved in these kinds of missions? That she's away all of the time?"

"No more than she regrets my service in the Navy. She and I are committed to each other, and part of that love stems from our commitment to the cause of the Empire." Lohringhoven smile gently at her. "I imagine you have a similar feeling, Captain Andreys. Maybe even a similar trouble as we do."

"You might say that," she admitted. Duty always took a toll on personal relationships, it seemed.

"Then I will pray that things turn out for you as well." Lohringhoven nodded. "I am pleased things have turned out as they have. You would have made a capable foe had we put it to the touch, but I much prefer you as a steadfast ally. I hope to see you and your fine vessel on the front when we get there."

"Oh, we'll end up there sooner or later," Julia said. "We always do."

As the post-signing meal - provided thoughtfully by Hargert - was consumed, Julia found herself alone in the corner of the room. A plate of Hargert's cake - as always, he was eager for a reason to bake one, or rather two big ones in this case - was still in her hand. She mused that she would be spending a few extra hours in the gym the next few days to work off the calories she was consuming.

"Captain Andreys."

Julia turned to face the speaker. Captain de Montamar was resplendent in his dress uniform. "Captain de Montamar," she said in return. "A fine day?"

"Yes. The war has been delayed. And perhaps, now, it will never come," he said. "For the time being we, for the first time in nearly two centuries, share a common foe with the Empire. It will be odd to fight beside them as allies."

"Maybe it can be the beginning of a new future for you both," Julia suggested. "A chance to reconcile through shared sacrifice."

"Perhaps," he said, in the tone of a man feeling hope and doubt. "At the least, we hope to convince your Alliance that we deserve your support as much as the Empire."

"That will take some doing," Julia noted. "The Alliance is as opposed to the exploitation of other species as the Empire is. Your League may have to decide whether or not it prefers us as a friend over its current economic policies."

"It will not be easy," de Montamar said. "We have lost over half of our wealthiest star systems to the Empire in the last several decades. We need the resources those worlds provide us for our economy to function."

"You also need the goodwill of the Multiverse," Julia countered. "Your political system may be closer to our standard than the Aururian monarchy's, but most of the powers of the Multiverse aren't going to accept a state that considers the exploitation of other species necessary to their economy, much less an inherent right. You're going to have to make that choice. I hope you make the right one."

De Montamar nodded stiffly. "I do too. We must do more to uphold our principles. I will concede that."

"And hopefully, you'll stop trying to manipulate other powers into conflict with the Empire," Julia added bluntly.

Given the absolute lack of response in his expression, Julia figured de Montamar was a great poker player. "Whatever do you mean?"

"What I mean, Captain de Montamar, is that it's awfully unlucky that a meteorite of just the right size and velocity managed to take out the Aururian beacon. Likely within weeks of the Alliance survey mission showing up. And said meteorite comes that close to sending the beacon into a gas giant where it'll never be seen again?" Julia crossed her arms, at least as much as she could with the plate in her left hand. "A lot of things are possible Captain. But this is just a little too coincidental for my taste. Especially with their non-transmitting marker also removed."

A quiet stillness came over de Montamar. Julia wasn't shocked to see it. "You knew?" she asked.

"You and I… we are captains. We are officers who believe in a cause. When we are given orders in the name of that cause, we follow them, though we find them disagreeable."

Julia knew she would get no stronger answer out of him. She went to step away.

"I have faith," he said suddenly. Julia turned back to face de Montamar, who met her eye-to-eye. "I have faith that in the end, our common values as democracies will be stronger than any dalliance your people may have with the Empire. Given time, their reactionary nature will repulse you, or will drive them to turn on you when they see you cannot be converted to their ways. We will be waiting patiently for that day."

With nothing more to say, the League captain walked away.

When the lease treaty signing was over, Zack returned to his quarters as quickly as he could just to get out of his dress uniform. Once he'd removed it and was down to his undershirt and shorts, he went to his quarters' living area and sat on the couch. The bottle he had been drinking from on the Koenig was on the coffee stand. There was barely a quarter left in it. He reached for it.

But he didn't grasp it. "I've got to stop this," he murmured to himself. He was letting this start to become too much, he was letting it take over. No more. He wasn't his father. He withdrew his hand and walked into the bedroom of his quarters. Once he settled onto the bed he picked up a picture of himself and Clara. Tears came to his eyes. It hurt so much to know she was gone forever. The usual thoughts - that he was responsible, that he hadn't deserved her - came to him. He sobbed quietly in response. Again he wanted a drink. He wanted to stop feeling.

But he couldn't. Not tonight. He had to prove to himself he had this under control. He had to if he was going to face his friends ever again.
”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 »


The world of Espérance had the distinction of being the third capital world of the League of Democratic Worlds. It was one of the first wave of colonies under de Escuy's first administration. Over the decades the splendid garden world had absorbed the millions of citizens who fled planets seized by the Aururian Empire. In the Fourth War the planet's defenders had successfully repulsed a determined invasion by Imperial troops in a resistance that Free Traders had declared "fanatical". Rebuilding Espérance had been a high priority afterward. Over the decades billions of francs had been poured into the planet's economy to make it the most wealthy - and most heavily-defended - planet in the entire League.

The main capital of the planet was found near the equator in a subtropical steppe region, at the base of the planet's main space elevator. Nouveaux Escuybourg was designed to emulate Paris from the pre-war Earth, with architectural nods from other great capitals added to emphasize the brotherhood of the League's nationalities and their equality. Some of the most brilliant of these buildings were the Houses of Government, where the various offices of the League's central government maintained themselves along the splendid Rue de Escuy.

One of the more magnificent structures along the Rue de Escuy was the Defense Ministry. A neo-Parisian structure, it had all of the security one would expect for its purpose. The offices of the League's military forces and intelligence services could be found on its twelve floors.

In one such office, Vice Director of Military Intelligence Jean-Baptiste Bouchard read over the report from Phi Perseus and sighed with discontent. He set the data reader down and held his head of thinning gray-brown hair in his hands. Not only had they failed to ensure the Alliance and Empire became enemies, they had also failed to get their hands on Marshal Huaman. Their efforts to secure their protectorates and colonies from Aururian interference would be set back by that failure.

"We're running out of time," he protested to Victor Renard, his senior aide. "The Empire's arms buildup will not long be diverted by this war. They will come for us again when it is over."

"I understand, Vice Director. But the Minister is embracing the President's policies on the matter."

"He has his reasons, yes," Bouchard agreed. "But nothing changes the fact that without the resources of our protectorate worlds, the League would be left destitute. And for what? Species that would never have discovered basic medicine without our guidance? Species where mad theocrats and oligarchs and kings rule as tyrants over populations who know nothing of their natural rights? And the Alliance expects us to simply walk away from these poor worlds?" He waved a hand dismissively. "It is all an act, Victor. The Alliance must pander to its alien members. When they no longer feel that need… well, I hope we can survive that long."

There was a tone from his desk. Bouchard pressed the key for his intercom. "Yes?" he asked.

"Vice Director, your appointment is here."

"I am ready," he said bluntly.

"Who is this?" Renard asked.

"Someone sent by our man on Jao!senat. Given the report I am uncertain…"

The door opened. The figure that entered was a woman in a stylized dark suit that fitted League fashions for professional women. A perfect, gorgeous woman, or so Bouchard thought. She made him immensely self-conscious of his graying hair, receding hairline, and definite paunch. Nevertheless he found himself and stepped forward. "Good day, Madame…"

"Je m'appelle Miranda Lawson, Monsieur Director," the woman said in flawless French. She offered her hand to Bouchard, who took it and kissed the knuckle. "A pleasure to meet you."

Julia's morning routine began as usual. Warm ups and t'ai chi forms (with some mok'bara learned from Worf), shower, breakfast, and the overnight reports from Lieutenant Takawira and the other Gamma Shift supervisors. By 0800 she was on the bridge. The rest of the command staff had reported as well.

"So, your first mission is a success," Locarno said from the helm. He was grinning. "You uncovered a conspiracy, stopped a war, made allies, and I hear that you even managed to get Senator Pensley to like us."

Julia gave Jarod a knowing look. He returned it with a bemused grin. "I may have talked about that note he sent you," Jarod admitted. "GIven all of the nasty things he usually calls us, you have to admit it's a novel experience."

"It is," Julia agreed. She still wondered about whether or not Davies and Hawthorne felt the same way.

"It would appear you succeeded quite well in your first mission as Captain," Meridina said, smiling gently.

"We did, you mean," Julia said. She couldn't help but smile too as she took her seat. Meridina quietly moved over to her chair as First Officer. Julia's eyes went to the holo-viewscreen and the image of a nearly-denuded orbital space. The only Alliance ship left, other than themselves and the soon-to-depart Enterprise, was a Predator-class destroyer. Nearby was an Aururian frigate of the same class as the Irresistible, the first of many Aururian ships that were to be permanently posted here as a result of the lease agreement.

"The lease idea was all your own, Captain," Meridina said.

"And sending the Koenig out," Jarod added. "And letting Opani…"

"Yeah, yeah, Angel and I already had this conversation," she pointed out.

"What the frak was that?" Barnes turned in his seat. "Did you just say 'Angel'? Not 'Lieutenant Delgado?' Who the frak are you and what did you do with our stuck up, formal address-only Captain?"

Julia gave him an amused look. "Captain's prerogative. I can waive formality for a moment or two."

"Oh, and here I thought you were lightening up. My bad."

Julia giggled at that. "Don't ever change, Lieutenant Barnes."

"So I have official permission to be the ship's asshole engineer?"

"Only if you don't make me regret it," she answered. "So, is everything ready?"

"The crew is all aboard, Captain, and we are ready for departure," Meridina said.

"Well then. One mission down…" Julia's small smile turned into a wide grin. "...a whole lot more to go. Mister Locarno, Mister Jarod, we're due in D3R1. Please set the jump drive to the Proxima Centauri jump anchor and prepare for jump."

"Aye, Captain," Locarno said first, beating out Jarod's "Yes ma'am" by a couple seconds.

Julia said nothing more at that point. She didn't need to. Her eyes found the Enterprise on the viewscreen and she realized she didn't quite feel the same pull as she had earlier. This was her ship. Her crew. Her place. She was the Captain of the Aurora. Given her role in the ship's construction, it felt like this was what she had always been meant for.

"Jump drive locked onto Proxima Centauri anchor, Captain," Jarod said.

Julia replied with a brisk nod and a smile. "Jump."

The Aurora moved away from the formerly-disputed planet. The kilometer long ship looked quite swift and graceful in her maneuver. Ahead of the vessel a burst of green light appeared. It expanded into an open tunnel between universes that the Starship Aurora flew into, heading out for another mission.
”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 »


Ship's Log: 8 March 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys reporting. We have been dispatched to Universe S0T5 to begin the Alliance's first expedition into the region of space known as the Fracture. An unknown calamity caused a portion of the galaxy around Earth to become partially warped in this area, leading to the apparent destruction of the Sol System itself and a number of phenomena not seen elsewhere in the Multiverse. Because of the fluctuations in space standard navigation is unreliable, forcing us to rely upon star readings from outside the Fracture zone to chart courses.

There is a mental component to the phenomena as well. Every Dorei on the ship has reported symptoms to the medbay. Commander Meridina and Lieutenant Lucero have been particularly hit by our surroundings.

The viewscreen of the Aurora showed the A sequence star as best as it could. The crew on the bridge was intrigued with how the star seemed to shimmer and contort in space. Caterina Delgado, the ship's exuberant science officer, was busy at the science station examining what she could on the sensors. "This place is… I can't even begin to describe this. This is a T'Vral Distortion. A real T'Vral!"

"A what?" her sister Angela asked from the tactical station.

"Doctor T'Vral of Vulcan. She was a subspace physicist and theorist of the 21st through 23rd Centuries in S5T3," Cat explained. "She theorized the possibility that the gravity well of a star in an area of space compromised by intense space-time distortion could allow for the bleeding of subspace into real space, causing a distortion effect around the star from the resulting interaction. And this… this is it, exactly as she theorized! It's never been seen before!" Cat excitedly tapped away at her console. "I've got every sensor on the ship recording this. The Vulcan Science Academy is going to love this!"

Julia had to stifle what would have likely been a giggle at Cat's behavior. This was helped by a sympathetic glance to Meridina. She was seated quietly in her chair beside Julia. While her position in the chair was not, in of itself, a sign of something wrong, the pale skin of her face made Meridina look like she was suffering from a stomach ailment. "You're still not adjusting?" Julia asked.

"I am afraid it is not that easy," answered Meridina. "This place feels wrong."

"So wrong it makes you physically ill?"

"To a degree. Given time, I will adjust," Meridina insisted.
Meanwhile Caterina was still gushing. "I need to examine these readings more closely. I am going to write the most awesome paper on this! It's going to take me all night, but it'll be worth it!"

Angel loudly cleared her throat. "Cat, while you're normally adorable when you get crazy geeky like this, I think you're forgetting something?"


"You're already due for something tonight." Angel gave her sister a significant look.

"Huh?" Cat turned to face her sister. "What do you mean? I don't… oh." Realization, and a heavy dose of guilt, made her blush.

"Yeah. And if I'm coming dressed up again, you're coming to."

"Are you going to wear the feather this time?" Cat asked.

"Never," replied Angel.

A few hours later found the two sisters in the holodeck, standing on a winding mountain path. Caterina was in a voluminous set of blue robes that looked a few sizes too big on her small frame. She topped this with a floppy yellow hat on her head. Angel had a cheongsam of red with gold designs. Caterina's girlfriend Violeta was in her light-colored vest and shirt with billowy pants. She had a complexion similar to their own, but her hair and eyes were a vivid purple color, with her hair covered by a broad pale blue hat with a feather. She held an elaborately-carved bow out to nock an arrow into it.

Angel dashed ahead at the foe barring their way. The dragon was large and powerful. Muscle rippled under its crimson and yellow-tinged scales, and wide red eyes burned with fury. Angel's fists landed several blows on its chest before she had to fall back to avoid a swipe of the immense claw. The arrow in Violeta's bow struck next. It lodged into one of the dragon's big ferocious eyes. It shrieked in rage and blew a wide column of flame into them. Although they didn't actually feel any pain, the HP indicators they kept all showed the damage had sapped at least one quarter of their health.

"Blizzaga!" Cat shouted. She raised her staff and a column of pure ice shot from the end of it. The ice grew upon impacting the dragon's head, encasing it in seconds.

That was when the fourth member of the party made their move. Or, rather, when she landed. A blur of blue slammed into the neck of the creature with an elaborate spear. The impact drove the point through the thick armored scale of the creature. Though it did not sever the head, it did puncture clear through to the other side. The dragon's iced-over head flailed about. As it did the attacker jumped off and landed with them. She was the tallest member of the group by far and the only one wearing armor, blue armor that shined in the artificial daylight and covered her torso and her arms. Only her mouth and nose were visible under the mask of the blue helmet, which was itself shaped like the head of a dragon. Her visible skin shared the same basic shade as the sisters and Violeta.

Once the dragon's head slammed into the ground, definitively showing the creature was dead, the helmet retracted upward partially, revealing the long pointed ears at the sides of her head and her blue eyes. Blue marks were painted on her cheeks that looked like wide, slightly-curved half-moons. "That was fun!" Ensign Talara declared. "Being this… what is it again?"

"Dragoon," Violeta answered. Her Sirian accent sounded almost English with a little tonal difference.

"Yes. It is quite fun. Thank you for inviting me."

"You won't be thanking me when we get to the Hall of the Dragon King," Violeta said. "I've heard horror stories about how hard that fight is."

"Well, I'm looking forward to it," Angel declared.

"You're just looking to hit something," Caterina teased. "And you're still not using the chakras right!"

"I am not spouting that pseudo-Chinese gibberish whenever I throw a punch," Angel insisted.

Violeta giggled at that before leading them onward.

Caterina woke up tangled with the sheets and with Violeta. With one arm asleep and a leg cramping she had difficulty getting free without waking her girlfriend up. After this task was managed she took to the usual morning routine. Within forty-five minutes of waking up Cat was in Science Lab 2 with a bowl of colorful marshmallow cereal and a plate of scrambled eggs. She ate breakfast while going over the sensor logs from the star with the T'Vral Distortion. Examination of a debris field and the infrared emissions indicated the star could be Beta Pictoris, but it was at least five parsecs off from where that star was located in other universes even accounting for the extra stellar drift of S0T5's progressed calendar. Cat put down her spoon long enough to jot the necessary notes. She was looking forward to Professor T'Rya's response to them, especially to the witnessing of a bona-fide T'Vral Distortion.

A T'Vral Distortion! She was the first scientist to discover an actual T'Vral Distortion! Caterina felt goosebumps at the thought. It made her think of Spock's log, and all of the things he had been the first scientist to encounter. And now she was doing it! She would have to organize the readings and write a paper!

Cat's eggs were consumed, and most of the cereal eaten, when her omnitool's comm unit went off. She slid the bowl to the side and tapped the blue light that appeared. "Delgado here."

"Lieutenant Delgado." It was Julia. And she didn't sound very happy. "Would you like to explain why you are ten minutes late to your post?"

Cat blinked. "Wait, I'm…" She activated her omnitool and checked the time. A wordless shriek of disbelief was her reaction to the time flashing 0810. "Oh no! I'msosorryI'monmywayDelgadoout!" She jumped from the chair and ran for the door.

At which point she turned and ran back to snatch up her unfinished cereal bowl from its place beside the console she'd been seated at.

A bemused Ensign Tagas had graciously accepted Caterina's frenzied apology when she arrived on the bridge. She took her station immediately and slouched a little in the chair at seeing Julia's "I am not amused" look. Stupid! Stupid, how could I lose track of time like that?! She dutifully went to work monitoring the sensor returns. It was easier said than done in this twisted section of space. The Fracture was living up to its name. It was the space equivalent of a haphazardly-spread blanket that curled up at some points and was stretched out at others. Light that seemed to be coming from one direction would suddenly shift, showing its origin point to be from an entirely different heading. Gravity sources were revealed as being less massive, or more massive, than their sensor returns otherwise indicated.

"Lieutenant Delgado, I'm having trouble locating Gamma Serpentis," she heard Locarno say. "I can't be sure we're on our proper course if I can't see it."

"Right." Cat looked over her sensor returns and the logs. The star was one of those outside of the Fracture that they were using for the purposes of astrogation in this area of space. Losing it meant that Locarno no longer had the exact frame of reference he needed to ensure he knew their heading. Given the powerful states that resided in this region of space, that could be dangerous, and she lost no time determining that one of the Fracture's twisted sections of space was distorting the light from the star. "We can't see Gamma Serpentis from this angle," she said. "Here, I'm highlighting Delta Serpentis for you."

"Thanks," he answered. "Re-calculating course."

"Make sure you keep us clear of borders, Commander," Julia said. "The last thing we need is to wander into Aurigan space. Much less NEUROM space. I don't have any desire to deal with those people again."

"I don't blame you," he answered. NEUROM agents had gotten involved in their mission to Solaris several months before, and Julia and Zack Carrey had narrowly avoided being dragged back to NEUROM space with them. "Course correction entered. We're back on course."

Caterina returned to her balance of looking over sensor logs and examining the twisted nature of the Fracture. She wondered just what could have caused such damage to space-time here.

A blip appeared on one of her sensors. Caterina blinked and checked it over. For a moment she thought it was a false return - not surprising given where they were - but when she saw it again she was certain it couldn't be. "I've got some kind of energy signature on sensors, Captain," she said aloud.

"What kind?" Julia asked.

"I can't tell. I've never seen one like this. Although I can't rule out that it's being distorted due to the Fracture. We'll need to get within visual range for me to confirm what it is."

Julia took only a moment to make her decision on the matter. "Commander Locarno, change course. I want a look at this."

"Aye sir."

After making that decision Julia glanced toward Meridina. She still looked pale. But her expression was no longer one of misery but of interest. "Commander, what is it?" Julia asked.

"I am sensing something," Meridina said. "Despite this… wrongness in my swevyra."

"Is it dangerous?"

"I do not think so. It is… I feel power of some sort. Light."

"We're almost there," Cat said. She counted down the seconds by observing with her sensors.

"Dropping out of warp now," Locarno said. The ship thrummed briefly from the warp drive disengaging. "We're approximately a hundred thousand kilometers out from the object."

"Can you get us a visual, Commander Jarod?"

"In a moment." At Ops the born savant was working on the ship's visualization systems, which took both raw light and other sensor data to form coherent images for the holo-viewscreen. "The local effects of the Fracture are distorting the image. I'm trying to clear it up."

"I'm picking up trace remnants of neutrinos and tetryons," Caterina added. "And a few other exotic particles."

"There we go…"

Interested in the sight of her find, Caterina looked up from her console to the holo-viewscreen. The image on it started as a vague blob of green and a few pixels of white. "Magnifying," Jarod said, pre-empting Julia's request.

The blob became a close-up image. Initially pixelated, Jarod's efforts gradually sharpened the image until they could make out the object. Caterina's eyes widened as she made out the shape. Julia breathed out a "Is that a…?"

Caterina double-checked her sensor returns briefly. They were now indicating the shape that had formed on the viewscreen.

The image finished sharpening. It confirmed what they were seeing. "Well, I didn't expect that," Jarod said.

The first inclination had been that the source of the power signature was a ship. And Caterina considered it might still be one. It was primarily green and white in color. The black object showing on the top of the craft had a design she couldn't make out given that they were mostly looking at the side of the thing.

But its design was not simply that of a ship. The four pieces sticking out from the ventral side of the craft, originating on the sides, were clearly limbs. Legs, with sharp claws. A motionless tail was visible from the rear. And the front of the craft had a module that was clearly a head, with dull yellow eyes and a white mouth, framed in the same green as the main body.

"Is that what I think it is?" Julia asked aloud.

"Yeah, I think so," Cat said. "It's… a metal lion. A big, green metal lion."

Undiscovered Frontier
"The Whims of Fate"

Starships could come in many shapes and sizes. Differing design aesthetics, or the requirements of specific systems, could determine how a ship was laid out or shaped. Sometimes resemblance to animals could even be had; the Alakins, Dorei, and Romulans all likened their starships to birds.

But this went further than that. This was a craft that, for some reason, had been built to look like a four-legged metal lion.

"Lieutenant, what is this thing?" Julia asked.

Caterina was already working on her readings. "Whatever it's made of isn't registering on our sensors. And I can't make out the power supply itself." Something came to her attention. "I am picking up a life sign aboard."

"There's somebody in that thing?"

"Yeah. The life sign is showing as Human. I think they're unconscious."

"Commander, can we get a transporter lock?"

In response to Julia's question Jarod checked his instruments and answered, "Once we're within five hundred kilometers. Any more than that and I'm worried about how the Fracture might distort the transporter."

"Getting close is advisable if we are to take it aboard," Meridina noted.

"Will it fit?" Julia asked aloud.

"In the landing bay for the fighter wing, yes," Jarod answered.

"Then tractor it in." Julia tapped a key on her command chair. "Bridge to medbay. You're about to get a patient."

"We're ready," answered Doctor Leonard Gillam.

The Aurora drew closer to the craft with her sublight drives. Caterina kept her scans going the entire way. "I can't tell you anything new about the lion. The level of neutrinos does make me suspect a wormhole opened recently. And there's something about the tetryons…"

"I'll leave that to you, Lieutenant," Julia said.

"We're in range," Jarod said. "Transporting now."

"I'm bringing us into position to tractor the craft into the hanger."

"The flight deck reports all craft stowed," Meridina added. "They are ready to bring the vessel aboard." She looked at Julia. "May I recommend sending Lieutenant Lucero to oversee an investigation of the vessel?"

Julia nodded her assent.

Lucy Lucero had seen a number of things she would once have called "bizarre" in the prior few years. That included herself now, given what she was capable of. Finding new surprises was becoming harder.

But sometimes it seemed the Multiverse was determined to keep surprising her despite that.

The metal green lion was a snug fit on the flight deck. It had been tractored in on its side, giving it the appearance of a cat laying on its side and asleep. Lucy tapped at her omnitool to access the scanner functions. The scan showed the material was something that even the Darglan had never encountered. "We're going to need an atomic analysis scanner," she said out loud.

"Yes sir. I'll let Lieutenant Barnes know." The voice speaking to her was strained. Ensign Jampa was a Dorei of teal complexion, with dark purple spots running down the sides of her face at the hairline. Her light purple, almost pinkish hair was pulled back into a bun.

Normally Jampa was one of the excitable junior operations officers. Every technical problem or question was a mystery demanding she solve it. But there was hardly any indication of that attitude right now. Lucy imagined it was for the same reason she was feeling sick.

Ever since the Aurora entered the Fracture, Lucy felt ill at ease. The force within her, the life force power that the Gersallians called swevyra, was telling her that the universe itself had gone wrong. That the Flow of Life was warped beyond recognition.

But there was something else. Lucy walked up to the inert machine's head and concentrated. Her stomach twisted at the attempt. Taking in a breath, Lucy focused and resumed her effort.

And there it was. She could feel something in the machine. The Flow of Life, distorted as it was in this space, radiated at this spot. Something in this spacecraft resonated with her power. As if it were, itself, alive.

Lucy's hand went to her omnitool and the key to open comms. "Lucero to Meridina," she said into it.

"Meridina here. Do you have a report?"

"Not yet. But… I need you to come here. I need your opinion on this."

There was a short pause. "Very well. I am on my way."

Lucy looked back to the occupant of the flight deck and stared. "Just what are you?" she wondered aloud.

The command staff was gathered in the conference lounge with the Koenig officers, as well as Tom Barnes and Lucy. The latter had a pale look to her lightly-tanned brown complexion. Like Meridina she was not finding staying in this space easy.

Julia started by looking to Jarod and Cat. "Any suggestions on where this ship comes from?" She motioned to the holodisplay above the table that was showing the green lion, now laid out on the flight deck for the Aurora's starfighters.

"It doesn't match anything we've been given on ships from S0T5," Jarod answered. "In fact, the design doesn't match anything in our records period."

"Could it be a ship from a Fracture nation we have no records of?" Julia asked.

"I'm not seeing any sign of technology consistent with the star nations in the Fracture," Jarod replied. "And the materials aren't anything we know of."

"I can confirm that," Lucy added. "The atomic analysis scans we've taken show this is a completely new element we're dealing with."

"Although people in this universe are nuts enough to build spaceships shaped like lions," Angel mused.

"Actually, I think it might be from another universe," Caterina said.

Everyone looked to her. A brief surge of her old anxiety toward such attention held Cat back for a second. There was no sign of stuttering, however, when she resumed speaking. "The neutrino and tetryon traces are consistent with an interuniversal jump point's profile within twelve hours of opening," she explained. "Normally those kinds of traces fade from external effects so they're not actually detectable after so long. But with the Fracture the way it is, I think this specific area of space is a sort of null zone that keeps them from being affected as usual."

"So the lion ship has an interuniversal drive?" Julia asked.

"Well, I don't know about that," Cat replied. "I haven't had a chance to examine it."

"We have," Lucy said.

"And I didn't pick up any indications of an IU drive on the damn thing," Barnes added. "Hell, we can't even get in. There aren't any hatches."

"It's probably in the mouth," Lucy remarked. "Which is remaining shut."

"It's possible something else might have caused an interuniversal shift," Cat said. She went into deep thought. "Not likely, but possible. I'll need to examine the lion ship more closely. Or talk to the pilot."

"What about the pilot?" Julia turned her head toward Leo Gillam.

Leo was still wearing his white lab coat over his black-and-blue-trim uniform. His dark brown eyes looked toward Julia. His hair, black in color, was cut short to his head, and his dark skin was only a shade lighter than his hair. Leo tapped a key and brought up the image of a figure in a set of what looked like armor, prominently white with green segments and what looked like a black-colored suit beneath the armor. A head of brown hair was settled onto a pillow.

"The pilot looks rather young," Meridina observed.

"She is a Human female, primarily Caucasian, estimated to be between fourteen and eighteen years of age," Leo recited. "I'm leaning toward the lower end of the estimate myself, as there's no sign of malnutrition to explain the relative lack of growth if she were older."

"That is… really young," Locarno said.

"Until we know more about the culture she comes from, I don't see any point in idle speculation." Jarod looked at Leo. "Do you have any idea what's wrong with her?"

"I haven't found any inherent problems in her body's systems, so I'm ruling it as an incidental episode," Leo answered. "That is, something specific shocked her system and caused her current condition. I imagine she'll be awake in the next day or so."

"Post a security officer nearby, but not in the open," Julia ordered. "Let's not scare her when she wakes up."

"I'll have the rotation up by the time we leave," said Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond, the chief of security.

Julia nodded in acknowledgement. She returned her attention to Lucy. "Is there anything else we should know about the lion ship?"

"It's… well, it's got a feeling to it," Lucy said.

"As in with your powers?"

"Yes. Meridina and I both felt it."

"I would almost suspect the lion ship of being alive in some way," Meridina said. "I can feel its presence in the Flow of Life."

That brought uncomprehending looks from the others, with the sole exception of Caterina. Pure interest was bubbling in her voice when she asked, "You're saying it's a living being?"

"I cannot say that. But it is not merely an inanimate machine," Meridina noted.

"Either way, I don't know if we'll be able to learn more until the pilot wakes up," said Lucy. She gave Leo a curious look. "Can you give us an estimate?"

"I'm not seeing any reason our patient shouldn't wake up soon," Leo said. "Whatever shock made her fall unconscious could mean she'll wake up in a minute, or in a week."

"We'll just have to wait," Julia said. "Cat, is there anything more you can learn from this area?"

"I'd like to finish a couple of in-depth scans," Cat answered. "They'll be done in a couple of hours."

"Let us know when they're done. Then we resume the rest of the survey mission. And Lieutenant?"

"Yes?" asked Cat.

"I know you're enormously interested in this ship, and in the Fracture as a whole, but make sure you're keeping watch on the long-range sensors. I want warning if we end up running into someone."

Cat nodded quietly. She had been expecting a dressing down for her late arrival. This was preferable.

Julia stood. "Everyone's dismissed. Except Commander Carrey."

There were nods from the assembled. They stood and filed out of the conference lounge. Within a minute only Zack was left with Julia.

"How are you feeling?" Julia asked him.

He gave her a forlorn look in reply.

"I would feel better if you agreed to counseling," she said. "You've been through alot this year."

"A counselor's only going to tell me what I already know," he lamented. "They'll say I've got survivor's guilt, and that's why I feel the way I do about losing Clara. And that if I want to get better, I have to accept it's not my fault and that she's gone for good. Since I know this, what's the point in wasting time?"

"There could be more to it than that," Julia pointed out. "I…" She stopped and sighed at seeing his pointed look. "Why do I get the feeling you want to suffer, Zack?"

He turned away briefly before looking back to her. A sad smile was on his face. "Maybe we've been friends for too long, and you know me too well," he suggested. "We know each other's' moods. Same with Rob and Tom."

A question arose in Julia's mind. One that she was afraid to ask, one she dreaded hearing an answer for.

"Do you need me for anything else, Captain?" Zack asked.

"Just… be on standby with your crew," Julia said. Her voice betrayed her continued inner struggle over her concerns for him. "Just in case something happens and we need the Koenig out there."

"We're ready for when you need us," Zack promised. He waited to see if she would ask anything else, if indeed she would ask that, but she didn't, and he departed.

Lieutenant Commander Patrice Laurent was not entirely happy. His fighters were, for the moment, completely grounded due to the lion ship on their flight deck, which made landings unsafe and thus forbade any launches. This meant that there was little for him and his pilots to do but sit around, grouse, and maybe log simulator time.

He arrived on the flight deck to see all of the engineers and operations officers looking over the craft. It was another sight that he would have to log away in his mind on the list of miracles his life had included since that day, four and a half years before, when a group of well-meaning people had saved his family and many others. Not simply saved them, but introduced them to an entirely new life, one that had led to Patrice serving as the head of a wing of starfighter pilots and his sister Madeleine commanding an entire starship.

"Who would build a ship like that anyway?" The question came from beside him. Lieutenant Gwen Skydancer was a Sirian woman with striking green eyes and vibrant purple hair drawn back into a pony-tail. She was tall, with a statuesque build. Her uniform, like his own, had light blue as the branch color on the collar and trim areas. "I can understand a starship with an avian look. But a lion? What's the point?"

"I suppose one could use the legs for vectoring thrusters," he said.

"It is a really unique design!" another voice stated. This one had pitch that was distinctly non-human. The two pilots peered down at the short form of Lieutenant Jebediah Kerman, the Aurora crew's lone Kerbal. The species had yet to join the Alliance, although they were rumored to be close to finalizing their admission, but that hadn't stopped Kerman from joining the Stellar Navy within a few months of the Alliance's foundation. He had been the first of his people to fight the Reich as a result, although the Kerbals were now a full member of the Allied Powers and contributing their experienced (and to Laurent, near-suicidal) starfighter corps and carrier ships to the Allied fleets.

"I suppose it's the kind of thing you Kerbals would build, if you could make it work," Gwen teased.

"Maybe I should send the images back home," Kerman answered. "We can fit trinium claws to the legs and shred up enemy ships! And the armoring…"

Patrice couldn't help but chuckle at the enthusiasm of the Kerbal pilot. Kerman had been his wingman for over a year now, even turning down a flight command to keep his place on Patrice's wing. After so many combat flights with the Kerbal Patrice wasn't sure he'd want another wingman himself. Kerman had saved his life too often.

"I just want that thing gone," Gwen said. "I don't like being cooped up on the ship, unable to fly."

"I know the feeling, Lieutenant," Patrice sighed. "I know it all too well."

A short distance away, Meridina and Lucy were looking at the machine intently. While Barnes and the others were examining it with their devices and instruments, the two were sensing it through the Flow of Life. The power within it was quiet but still steady. A gentle thrum rippled in the Flow.

They were finding that this had a pleasant side-effect. The power of the thing, the life in it, was helping to improve their connection to the Flow of Life. For the first time since the Aurora had entered the Fracture they felt content.

"Do you think the Council might know something about this?" Lucy asked her.

"I do not think so," Meridina replied. "Nothing like this vessel has been recorded in Gersallian history."

"Hell, the Darglan might not have known something like this," Lucy pointed out. "This could be entirely uncharted ground. And you and I are the ones here to learn about it."

"It is a great responsibility." Meridina closed her eyes and breathed in. "But I must say I enjoy it as well. A machine powered by the Flow of LIfe, Lucy. Can you imagine it?"

Lucy nodded. At the same time, her mind briefly wandered. She thought of her Trial in the Temple of Perception back on Gersal and the vision of a bizarre machine that had also been permeated with power. Not the power of the Flow of Life, but something else, something stranger and more foreboding. If this was possible, then maybe such a thing was as well.

It was something to think over, but for the moment she focused entirely on her work, sensing the power source of the machine and, slowly, starting to understand it.

The end of Caterina's bridge shift couldn't have come soon enough. Not only did she have the data on the T'Vral Distortion at Beta Pictoris to go over, she wanted a look at the lion ship and its pilot.

Lieutenant al-Rashad was checking the scanner board while Caterina watched. "Nothing strange, or at least stranger than we've seen since entering this blasted place," the Arab woman murmured. She turned the chair and looked up to Cat. "Although there is that bit at bearing 221 mark 098."

"221 098?" Cat asked. She looked at the screen herself. "Oh yeah, that. Given how space is warped around that spot I think it's a result of the gravitational distortion. I suppose it could be something more. Keep an eye on it?"

"I will." Al-Rashad smiled at her now. "So, how goes the paper on the T'Vral? I was looking at some of the readings. It was lovely, wasn't it?"

"Did you see those variances in the mid to low Groenitz-Hallen bands?" Caterina asked, enthusiasm brimming in her voice. "Even T'Vral didn't expect that."

"An artifact of the A sequence star itself?"

"Possible. If we can find another T'Vral around a different kind of star that would be great." Cat checked her time piece and glanced toward the front of the bridge. Violeta was on duty at the helm for another three hours. When she was off duty they were due for dinner together and then what they usually dubbed "cuddle time".

But I've got so much to do… a part of her complained. Another part of her retorted with She's your girlfriend, she's more important than stuff you can make time for later.

"Let me know if you see anything," Cat said to her. "Have a great shift."

"Oh, I always look forward to it, don't you know?" al-Rashad teased.

The Fracture was thousands of years old. And in those thousands of years, it had always been inhabited. Living in the Fracture was not a pleasant experience, and never an easy one.

But like always, life found a way to do it.

Many cultures lived in these twisted spaces and over their existences they learned how to cope with the challenges it presented. They discovered ways to use it to their advantage.

One such method was to use the warping of space to hide a ship in such a way to spy on other vessels. Just such a thing was happening to the crew of the Aurora, as a distance away from them a vessel was hidden in the twisted spaces of the Fracture, carefully watching.

The vessel in question was not large. It wasn't even a quarter the size and mass of the Aurora. The main body was made of an exotic blend of metallic alloys and artificially-grown tissues from an Aurigan man-of-war, a giant species of cosmozoan that could wipe out ships by tangling them in its tendrils and sucking the energy out of them until their crews were deprived of life support. The ship-crafters of Cabea had discovered how to cultivate these void-dwelling denizens of the Fracture and produced ships that made use of their energy-resistant hides and minimize their ships' detectability by one of the few scanning methods not afflicted by the properties of the Fracture. Specialized grasping lines could then be employed on unsuspecting targets to debilitate ships by draining their energy. The Cabeans had won some regard for this successes in bio-adaptive engineering from their allies in the organization known, and feared, as NEUROM. They had even been granted a semi-permanent seat on the guiding committee of CORTEX, a rare honor for one of the weaker members of the alliance.

The Cabean ship Judgement of Fate observed its prey with the same quiet deliberation of the creatures it was designed to emulate. On the bridge of the vessel Sub-Commander Hayten Tothwallad considered his circumstances. The vessel Aurora's presence had been known of for some time. The word from his superiors had been simply to observe her and not engage. So long as the Alliance respected NEUROM's frontiers, they had no quarrel with these strangers from another universe.

That had been then. This was now. Tothwallad looked to the dark-clad being sharing his bridge. "You are sure, my lady?"

A pair of yellow, angry eyes glared at him. In other circumstances Lady Dolores would have been attractive. She had smooth skin the color of bronze and a fit figure that her bodysuit hid little of. Tothwallad was himself a fine example of Human fitness, courtesy of a demanding physical fitness regimen programmed into him from childhood by memetic compulsions ordered by the Cabean Republic's Ministry for the Complete Health of the Citizenry.

Whatever her attractiveness, no sane person wanted to be near such an agent of the Ministry of Fate. They thrived on Human pain and suffering. If they feared anything, it would be the Fates themselves, and those were just a myth (or so it was sometimes said). Dolores would leave nothing of Tothwallad if he crossed her. Which, through his question, he had come dangerously close to doing.

"I sense that power even here," she said. "It is a power that will be ours."

"We cannot fight a ship of that size," he protested. "We would not survive long enough to put even one arm on that ship."

"Nor do we have to. We need only maintain contact until the Ministry's ships arrive." Dolores frowned. "Can you manage this without mewling, Captain?"

Tothwallad nodded. It was, in the end, the only answer that didn't involve dying right then and there.
”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 »

Zack Carrey tossed and turned in his bed. The dream had him again. He was at the mine complex on New Caprica. There were dead bodies and wrecked Cylon centurions everywhere. "Clara!" he screamed. "Clara, I'm here!"

He came upon the bodies. The dead Cylon humaniform. The wounded woman. And on the bottom… Clara, with the tattered back of her nurse's scrubs covered in her blood. He turned her over as always and looked into the empty blue eyes.

"Why weren't you here?" Clara's voice asked. Despite being clearly dead, her lips moved. "Why did you bring me here to die?"

"I… I didn't," he insisted.

"I came out here because of you. Now I'm dead. I'd be alive if you never knew me." The dead face twisted into an angry one. "They were right. You never deserved me. And now I'm dead because of you!"

"Clara, no… I never…" But there was no conviction in his voice. This was what he believed, after all.

Zack was so full of guilt and horror that he couldn't face the accusing revenant of Clara any longer. He turned away from her and toward the woman bleeding out. But he knew something was wrong the moment he looked toward her. The figure that had been in civilian clothes before was now in a Stellar Navy uniform. His eyes wandered up her bullet-ridden torso to her face. His heart skipped at seeing the woman's face was new. A familiar one. "Julie," he rasped.

"Zack." Her voice was weak and pained. "Why… why did you let us die?"

Now the field was bereft of the mining vehicles. Bodies covered it. Bodies in Alliance uniforms covered the ground. He turned away from Julia's wrecked body and faced another form. Tom Barnes' chest haad nearly exploded from the gunfire that claimed him. A big, bloody hole filled Cat's forehead. The back of her head was gone.

"No," he whimpered. 'No! No no no not!"

At that point he woke up screaming. He looked around at his darkened quarters on the Aurora. On the nightstand his omnitool was giving off the blinking blue light of an incoming call. At first he didn't react. He couldn't. Not with the images from his dream still fresh in his mind.

When the omnitool kept going off Zack finally had the presence of mind to reach for the light and trigger it. "Carrey here."

"Commander, I need to see you in the ready office," said Julia, being all-business as usual. "Right away."

With his nap ruined already, Zack had no objections. "On my way," he said. He stood up and put a fresh uniform on. It was only when he was about to go out the door he remembered that he had taken a couple shots of tequila before his nap. He trudged over to the replicator and said, "Computer, a glass of water and six hundred milligrams of Niltox."


"Override," he grumbled. The replicator came to life and left the pills and water. He put the three pills in his mouth and washed them down in one gulp. With that much Niltox, he expected to be virtually sober by the time he reached the bridge. That was the important part, too. He had to be completely sober, even if he looked horrible.

Once the NIltox had a minute or so to start working, Zack left his quarters.

The door chime for Julia's office sounded. She looked up from her screen and said "Enter". Once the door opened her expression lost its business-like demeanor, becoming one of concern. "My God, Zack, what's wrong with you?"

Zack walked up to the chair and set himself in it. His eyes looked tired and weary, which went with the deep, purplish-black color under them. His face was drawn and pale. And he didn't even bother trying to fake a smile. "Bad dreams," he said. "Nightmares. Worse than usual. I haven't slept well the last few days. My nap didn't go well either."

"Christ," Julia muttered. "Look at you. This is why you need to get counseling…"

"Not now, Julia, please," he pleaded. "I don't want the mother hen routine right now."

"Someone's got to say something," she insisted. "You're… Zack, if it's causing you this much trouble, you're arguably not fit for duty."

"That's just what I need," he insisted. "I need to be out in my ship, I need something to occupy my mind."

She gave him a sardonic look. "We both know bridge watches can be quiet and boring, so I'm not sure I see the improvement." When he didn't respond she sighed and continued, "Well, I need you out there anyway. The Koenig is our scout, after all, and we need one now."

"Can do," he answered.

"I'll have Nick relay you course data to you. Maintain the best scans you can."

"So, let me get my people together, we should be good to launch in an hour."

"You're dismissed. Good luck, Zack."

"Thanks." He left without a further word.

Leo's work day was officially over when he returned to his office with a mug of coffee. He sat and began to drink while he monitored their patient. She was laying in the standard care ward just two beds down from the one Robert had previously occupied.

Doctor Lani Walker stepped in a moment later. She was about a year younger than him, a bright young physician who joined the Alliance service out of idealism like so many others. She had a brown complexion and long dark hair with an ovular face. A pendant with a crystal was her one personal ornamentation, something Leo presumed came from her origin in the Tohono O'odham Nation, the self-named "Desert People" of Arizona and Sonora.

Leo looked up. "Doctor Walker, how can I help you?"

"I wanted to be honest with you," she said. "Over the last eight hours I have been feeling occasional spells of nausea and a sense of anxiety."

Leo pondered that admission. The symptoms were general enough that they could be from a number of possibilities. On the other hand, they also fit the symptoms he was hearing from others. He raised an eyebrow at that possibility. "Would you like something?" he asked.

"It is not severe," she replied. "I've felt worse before. But I thought you should know."

Leo stood from his chair. "Just for form's sake, I'd like to…"

He was interrupted by a clattering sound outside. He moved around Walker to the door. She followed him into the standard care ward of medbay.

Leo's chief nurse, a Darfuri woman named Nasri, was standing with hands held up in a peaceful gesture. "You are okay," she insisted.

Leo followed where she was looking to see their gown-wearing patient was off of the biobed. Her light brown eyes darted around the medbay ward in an obvious search, presumably for the armor they had removed while treating her. Leo fully entered the ward and brought his hands up, palms out. "Hello," he said. That drew the girl's attention to him. Her eyes were wide with disbelief and confusion. "I'm Doctor Leonard Gillam, I'm in charge here. We're only here to help you."

"Where is this?" she asked, or rather, she demanded. "This isn't the Galaxy Garrison… Who are you?!"

"I'm the Chief Medical Officer of this ship, the Starship Aurora," Leo answered. "You're safe here."

"But Earth doesn't have this level of technology yet," the girl protested. She began to wobble where she was standing. "You're lying. Are you…"

Nasri got to the girl just as she pitched over. "Doctor!"

Leo had his scanner ready when he got to them. Their patient wasn't entirely unconscious at the moment but it was clear she was too woozy to communicate effectively. "She's still recovering," he observed. "Let's get her back in the bed." He put an arm under the teenager's back while Nasri got her legs. They returned her to her bed gently.

Her eyes opened slowly. They were the same brown as her hair. "Where am I?" she asked. "Where are the… others?"

"Conserve your strength," he urged her. "Whatever happened to you on your ship, you're going to need more time to recover."

"But the others… the Castle!" She gripped his arm. "Did they get clear? What happened?"

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about," Leo said. "Just relax for a while. When you've got the strength, we'll do whatever we can to help you." He almost asked her name but held back. She clearly needed more rest. Natural rest too.

The girl's eyes slowly closed. She was fast asleep.

Leo gestured to the others to join him in stepping away. Once he felt they were far enough away to not disturb the patient, he said, "Okay, I'm going to