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

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

Post by Steve »

Julia arrived in the main shuttle bay in time to see the last of the cargo shuttles take off. The bay was now almost entirely empty, with only the runabouts Warri and St. Johns visible. A team was working on the former, switching out its modular components to configure it for combat operations. The storage spaces were being converted to carry the runabout's combat loadout: a small-scale naqia reactor to power the plasma pulse cannon being mounted on the chin of the runabout and the extra shield generators to provide the ship some protection from enemy fire. The last of the space went toward a small magazine of solar torpedoes that would directly feed into the launcher mounted on top of the hull. The refit would turn the Warri into a small torpedo boat with some anti-ship punch to her main weapons. She would, at least, pose a respectable threat to Nazi destroyers.

But the Warri's refit wasn't why Julia was present. The incoming craft were. Now that the main shuttle bay was mostly empty, other craft were visible on approach. Julia took the door and stairway up to shuttle bay's flight control center, built into the space above the entranceway. Here Chief Petty Officer Dragan Omapa, an older Dorei male with grizzled, whitening teal hair and dark purple skin with blue spotting and eyes, oversaw the shuttle bay's landing operations, working in tandem with the flight command center directing the starfighters. It was an unwelcome redundancy to be sure, a consequence of the later decision to add the starfighter capacity to the Aurora after the Facility was destroyed. Omapa and his superior, Senior Chief Tahrana Farshaz, closely networked their respective flight control centers to compensate for this unexpected flaw.

Omapa noticed her and stood at attention. "Captain in the control center," he informed the assembled.

"At ease," she said immediately. She nodded to Omapa. "Excellent job clearing the bay."

"Thank you, Captain," the older Dorei replied.

As they watched, the first assault lander entered the bay. The ships were slightly bigger than standard runabouts. Each had a visible cannon on a turret on the top of the ship as well as smaller double-barrelled anti-personnel pulse cannons built into the side and at the top of the ship's rear section. The first ship to land began to disgorge Marines in light power armor.

After three more landed, each bearing a company's worth, another lander came in with a bulkier rear section. This was a vehicle-carrier variant, which likely had a pair of armored vehicles in the back.

"Jamak take their damned souls," cursed Omapa. "They were supposed to land on the landing deck." He turned away and went to his controls.

Only one more of the vehicle-carrying landers came in, with two more non-vehicle variants, these dismounting platoons of heavy armored Marines. The last wave of assault landers landed behind them, bearing another battalion of Marines.

Or so Julia thought until they opened up and she saw the sight of Stellar Navy field uniforms. Curious, Julia left the control center. As she got to the bottom of the stairs and approached the shuttle bay entrance, the doors parted. Robert walked in. He noticed the new arrivals as well.

Specifically, he noticed the figure that emerged from among them.

Zack approached, in field uniform like the other new arrivals. "Captains," he said amiably, a faint smile on his face.

"Aren't you supposed to be on the Citadel?" asked Julia. "Liaising with C-Sec?"

"I'll be back there in a week or so, once C-Sec has the Citadel in order," Zack answered. "Admiral Maran offered me a temporary assignment. I'm commanding your backup for the attack."

"Backup?" Robert nodded toward the others. "Them?"

"Yeah. They're the 5th Naval Infantry Company," Zack replied. "Maran called for volunteers from the survivors of lost ships or ships laid up in drydock. Anyone capable of carrying a pulse rifle and field ops kit can sign up. We're going to help make up for casualties. Well, the other companies mostly. We're assigned to be your primary combat support, Rob."

Robert nodded. He could sense Julia's worry over the situation and knew it matched his own. "Are you alright with this? Really?"

"I figure that if we're so desperate we're throwing half-fixed ships back into the fight, this is too important to be left behind," Zack replied. "It's clear something nasty's going down with the Nazis."

Knowing that Maran was keeping the reason for the attack secret, Robert nodded. "It is."

"I'm not dumb, Rob," Zack remarked. "I know Maran's probably sworn you to secrecy on why we're rushing this, but it's not hard to figure out. Most of the crewmen in my unit are already guessing they've developed the IU drive. It's the only thing that makes sense."

"A reasonable guess." Quietly, Robert nodded once and sent a small thought with his powers. They've almost completed the work.

"I thought so." Zack's expression turned grim. "Then the war has to end, now, or they're going to kill billions of our people before the fighting is over." He looked back to the others. One of the other naval volunteers, a senior Lieutenant, approached, a woman of mostly East Asian appearance. "This is Lieutenant Ginchiyo Tachibana, one of my platoon commanders. She's security branch and has done field combat before while serving on the FedStar battlecruiser Tiger."

"Lieutenant," Julia said amiably.

"Captain." The newcomer looked to Zack. "Commander, the landers check out." Her accent sounded more English than Japanese.

"Good." Zack looked Julia's way next. "In case we can't beam down, we'll have assault landers for the job." He glanced toward the naval personnel gathering on the deck. "It might still be a few hours before the fleet's on its way, I'd like to give everyone some rest time while they've got it."

"Well, we're carrying a little extra crew from the Excalibur, so we're already hard for space," Julia noted. "But I think Holodeck 3 should be available, and Hargert's cooking sausage stew by the tub in the Lookout."

"I'll send people to get some." He smiled at her. "And if we've got time…"

They were interrupted by a tone from Julia's omnitool. A blue light appeared over the back of her left hand, indicating an incoming comm. This was confirmed a moment later when Locarno's voice came over the omnitool's hardlight-formed speakers. "Bridge to Andreys."

She tapped the light. "Andreys here."

"We just got confirmation from the Kentan. The fleet is due to go to warp within the hour."

"Right. Begin offloading the New Prussia engineers immediately and ready the ship for departure. I'm on my way to the bridge. Andreys out." She eyed Zack sadly. "You'd better get that stew soon. At fleet cruise speed we'll be at Earth in about six hours."

"Yeah. I'll see to it."

WIth nothing left to say, Julia departed the shuttle bay for the bridge. Zack watched her go before looking to Robert. "So, ready to end the war?"

"Been ready," Robert replied. "I just wish we didn't have to throw everything into a big gamble like this."

"Yeah, I hear you," was Zack's response.

After checking up on the rest of the ship as best as she could, Julia made it to the bridge with five minutes to spare before departure. The secondary watch officers were mostly on duty - al-Rashad at Sensors, Luneri at Tactical, Neyzi at Operations - with one of Locarno's new officers, Ensign Rawlins, at the helm. Meridina and Locarno were both standing in the middle of the bridge. "Captain," Locarno said. "I think we're as ready as we'll ever be."

"Given we don't have a choice… well, I know our crew can do it." Julia took her seat. Locarno, for the moment, sat in the observer seat to Julia's left while Meridina took her usual seat. "And everyone else?"

"They are off-duty for the moment, but on standby," Meridina replied. "I believed that the best status to grant them a measure of rest before our arrival."

"The same goes for both of you," Julia noted. "Especially since you're going planetside with Robert, Meridina."

"I will depart for a rest as soon as we are underway," Meridina promised.

"I'll go catch a nap too, I suppose," said Locarno. "I'll get Takawira up here so you can catch some rest too."

"See about getting some cots in the conference lounge," Julia said. "This invasion could last for days, and we'll be under constant alert status until its over."

"I will make arrangements," Meridina promised.

At that moment there was a tone from the Ops station. "Captain, interuniversal jump point forming. We have a ship coming in."

"On screen," said Julia. Given the timing, she suspected this was what Maran was waiting for before they set off for Earth.

She could see why the moment she recognized the vessel that came through.

It was a new ship, known only to Julia for the fleet reports on its progression. It bore some slight resemblance to the Aurora, but in size and power it was far greater, with design elements similar to the much smaller Predator-class destroyer and the Igasana-class heavy cruiser as well. Like those two ships, the primary hull and drive hull were together at the bow, with the navigational deflector a great golden eye with a blue iris built into the "chin" below the foremost bow. The front of the ship resembled a shovel with the way the bow widened and then gently tapered backward. Along the rear drive section, four warp nacelles were built directly into the frame, like on one of the attackers like the Koenig. The shape of the rear section of the drive gave them just enough clearance of obstacles to generate a proper warp field.

It was also about a mile long, over half a kilometer wide at its widest point, and had numerous plasma emitters like those now installed on the Aurora.

"Is that…" began Locarno, stunned.

"It is," Julia said, staring in surprise at the new arrival. "It's the Unity. The first Alliance-built dreadnought starship with integrated Darglan technology."

"She is quite a sight," Neyzi murmured.

"She's the only one of her kind too," Julia noted. "At least so far."

"The Concord and the Liberty are still being built," Locarno added. "Although aren't they planning an even larger design?"

"That's the rumor."

Several seconds after Julia's remark, Neyzi looked up from her station. "Captain, the Unity's identifier just changed. She's signalling flagship status now."

"Oh? Who's the commanding admiral?"

"Admiral Relini."

"So the Unity's going to be with us in orbit," Locarno said. "I'm sure the Nazis will find that a rude surprise if anyone gets past Maran's fleet."

"I'd rather that not happen," Julia remarked, even if she was already certain it would. The Reich's leadership would be well aware of the importance of the coming battle. They would likely throw everything at the invading force and be dedicated to removing the orbiting support fleet.

"The Kentan is signalling the fleet," said Neyzi. "Admiral Maran wants to be put on general address to every ship in the fleet."

"Do so."

The holo-viewer changed to show Maran on his flag bridge on the Kentan. The image would be on every bridge and on many a holo-viewer or flatscreen display across the fleet, as well as on audio over the ship intercom systems. "Brave soldiers and crews of the Coalition, this is Admiral Maran of the United Alliance of Systems. By now, you are aware of our purpose. You may not be sure why we are embarking on this mission." Maran allowed a moment for the comment to sink in before continuing. "While I am aware that duty and honor are held highly by all and no explanation is necessary for your best service, I will not have you strive in ignorance of the stakes. And they are higher than ever. We are bound for the Earth of this universe, the heart of the Greater German Reich. The Nazi regime that has slaughtered countless billions over the last five hundred years must be put down to secure the peace of the Multiverse, and it must be put down now. To delay is to invite the Nazis to complete work on an interuniversal drive, work we know to be advanced to near-completion."

Again Maran paused, allowing that news to sink in for those who weren't aware of it. For every being in the fleet to understand the incredible stakes of the coming fight, and why their lives would be at risk. When a few seconds passed he resumed. "For the good of our peoples, for the safety of our worlds, for the posterity of the Multiverse as we know it, this must not come to pass. I trust every one of you to fulfill your duties, and with your courage and sacrifice we will prevail. The Reich will fall."

Julia thought it over, but Maran ended with one last remark. "May the Light of Life stand with us against the darkness of our enemies."

At that, Maran ended the call.

"Kentan is signaling course and speed data," Neyzi confirmed.

"I have it," replied Rawlins. The African-American woman spoke with what Julia thought was a Cajun accent, or at least influenced by Cajun. "Course laid in, speed readied. Ready to initiate warp upon command."

"Keep us in formation, Ensign, and engage," Julia said.

The Aurora, in tandem with the other ships of the Alliance fleet and the other Coalition contingents, made the jump to warp.
”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 »

As a further note, the writers of the Origins spinoff contributed expansions and elaboration of many of the combat scenes, dialogue for characters, and some of the scenes.

Tomyris found this image to provide inspiration for some of the environment Our Heroes will be dealing with...


And if you want some mood music:

”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 barely an hour left before the fleet would arrive, Zack stepped into the Lookout. He couldn't stay long, but he didn't need to. He immediately walked to the bar. Within a minute Hargert stepped up. "Zachary," he said, smiling softly. His German accent was pronounced, but not so thick as to make him difficult to understand. "It is good to see you again."

"Good to see you again too," Zack replied, matching the smile. "The people in my company enjoyed the stew. They wanted to say thank you."

"I accept humbly. The important thing is that you and your comrades got a good meal before the fighting begins." Hargert eased into a seat. Zack could tell that Hargert was weary. It was unsurprising given the flurry of activity he'd brought on himself. "You seem more settled, Zachary."

"I guess I am. Well, I am about to go risk my life, I suppose that keeps me from dwelling on things." Zack sighed. "I know I made a real mess of things before. I… I just couldn't bear bringing my problems to anyone…"

"We all have our pride, my young friend. It can lead us astray easily, but few can endure life without some." Hargert's expression changed to show worry. "So many of you are going to risk your lives destroying this evil. I wish I could do more than cook for you."

"You've done enough," Zack insisted. "Honestly you look like you'll fall over with a stiff breeze."

To that Hargert chuckled lowly. "I suppose I might," he admitted. He turned his head slightly. "Thomas."

Zack turned in time to see Barnes step up and sit beside him. "Hey Tom," he said, smiling at his friend. He clapped Barnes on the shoulder, pulling him close for a quick hug. "Good to see you."

"You too, man. You too." Barnes clapped Zack's back as well. While he looked somewhat rested, it was clear he was still a little tired. "Man, it's good to have you back. I mean, you're coming back, right?'

"I've got to finish my tour on the Citadel first," Zack replied. "But yeah, I think I'm coming back."

"Awesome, man. With you and Rob back, everything will be great."

"What can I get for you, Thomas?" Hargert asked.

"Nothin'. I mean, I'm due in Engineering in about twenty minutes, no time for anything."

"Not even for a celebratory drink with Zachary?" Hargert asked, his eyes glinting with humor.

"Given what I'm about to get into, coffee is all I'm interested in."

"Same here," said Tom. "What's that stuff Ana's always asking for?"

"Ana Poniatowska? She delights in my Milchkaffee."

"Alright then, let's go with that."

It didn't take Hargert long to mix three cups of the aforementioned substance. "To renewed friendships, my young friends," he said upon handing two of those cups to Zack and Barnes. Each took them with their right hands, as Hargert did his own. The three men raised their drinks and clacked the ceramic cups together.

"To renewed friendships," Zack agreed.

"Abso-fraking-lutely," Barnes added.

Given the size of the incoming fleet, Julia felt little surprise at the lack of enemy resistance in orbit when the vanguard of the main fleet started dropping from warp. "No welcoming committee," she observed quietly. Around her the others were at their stations: Angel at tactical, Cat at science, Jarod at Ops. Violeta was at the helm and one of the junior ops officers, a male Avalonian ensign named Tristan Mallory, was manning the Engineering station. Locarno was taking up First Officer duties beside her, already verifying the fighter launches as the Aurora, and the other ships in the fleet with fighter wings, began deploying their fighters in a defensive screen.

"They're bastards, but not stupid," Angel said from Tactical. "I'm betting they pulled out when they saw us coming. Probably to link up with whatever main fleet they've got coming in."

"Either way… what's the status of our beam-downs?"

"We're already deploying the first battalion of Marines," Jarod said. "They're going to a Dorei unit in the southeast front around the city that's taking heavy fire.

"Do we know where we're sending Robert and the others yet?" asked Locarno.

Caterina looked up from sensors. "I'm detecting trace elements of neutrinos that could be from test activations of a drive. I can tell you that whatever they've done, they're not consistent with the signature of a proper jump point."

"So we're not too late," Julia said.

"I'd say not." Cat frowned. "But I can't give you an exact area. Just somewhere in the center of the city. There's so much interference from the fighting that we'll have to wait until the ground team can help me triangulate a more exact location."

A tone came over the ship's speakers. "Dale to Bridge. Do you have a location for us yet?"

"I'm figuring that now," Cat said. "There's heavy fighting all around the city. I'm trying to find what looks like the most likely location for their research facility. But the best I can do is tell you it's somewhere in the heart of the city."

"Understood. We'll pick a beamdown point and relay it to you."

Although the plan was to beam down, Robert nevertheless gathered everyone in one of the assault landers. While most of the vehicle was devoted to cargo space for moving troops, a section between the cargo area and the cockpit had a small data center. It was hardly an optimum command post, but it let Robert and the others - King, Meridina, Zack, and Anders at the moment - look over the situation on the ground. An open comm channel to the Normandy allowed Shepard to participate as well. "This is the fiercest land battle of the war," King noted grimly. "Even as we speak, our side alone must be taking hundreds of casualties across the front."

"Likely. But right now I want a good landing zone."

"What about over here?" Zack indicated a point in the southeast corner of the city. Markers indicating the presence of Alliance troops were placed.

"There are avenues there to lead us into the heart of the city," King said. "But I wouldn't recommend it." She tapped the map. "There's a heavy enemy element in this sector, and these are residential blocks. We could end up being bogged down by militia forces as well as Reich troops."

"King's right," Shepard said. "That place is a maze, and every building could be a fortress. We'll get stuck in there forever."

"Schildow," Anders suggested. "The 1st and 3rd Davion Guards and the Oriente Fusiliers' 4th Brigade are hitting the enemy hard there. We can use that to slip through."

At first glance Robert liked Anders suggestion. But as seconds passed he didn't feel right about it.

"Progress along the northern sector has been the slowest," Meridina noted, looking over the relevant reports. "The greatest concentration of enemy armored forces are in the northern and northeastern approaches."

"Because they're busy fighting the FedComs and Leaguers," Anders pointed out. "They'll be more concerned holding the line against the Inner Sphere's walking tanks than stopping a fast-moving column of powered infantry."

"And if they don't, you get us surrounded and trapped," Lucy observed. "Look, Prince Victor and the other ground commanders have left a gap in the lines along the western edge of the city. Why don't we land near Wustermark and slip our way in from there?"

"For the same reason the northern front is a bad choice. Little chance of backup," King noted.

"Potsdam," Robert said. When they all looked to him, he indicated the area in question, southwest of the heart of the city. "Here, near Potsdam and Wannsee. Clan Wolf and the Turians have secured a position at Potsdam, the Dilgar are right behind us, and the Aururians are coming up on the Teltow Canal." He tapped a key and highlighted a road in the area with a press of his finger to the holo-display. "They call this the Horst Wesselstrasse, and it leads right up to the Volkshalle at the edge of the city center. The area is mostly industrial and commercial, so no thick residential blocks to fight through, and the allied units in the area will be on hand to help if we absolutely need it."

"Given the enemy positions, even if we land in Wannsee the direct path isn't viable," King observed. "And the water route is inadvisable. We'll have to force the canal close to Teltow."

"The Aururians will probably be there soon after we land." Now Zack was focusing on the recommended spot.

"I've never worked with them," said Shepard. "They're that all-female Amazon society you made contact with a few months ago, right?"

"I'm not sure 'Amazon' fits entirely, but yes," Lucy replied. "And they're fairly militaristic. And more than a little aristocratic."

"If you think they can force the Canal on time, then I'll back that choice."

"Same here." Zack blinked at the data. "I'm surprised the Dilgar have enough troops that they're fielding an independent force. Where did they get this many troops?"

"My mother practiced the same total mobilisation for this war that we had in the old Imperium days," Tra'dur replied with some justified pride. "Twenty-five divisions on the ground, thirty-five ships in the stars, all from forty-five millions."

"Even in victory, that may cause them some pain in the post-war drawdown," King pointed out.

"We are quite aware of that, Captain," Tra'dur answered. A fierce look came to the Dilgar woman's face. "But we are willing to pay that price. We have a lot to prove to the Multiverse, you might say."

"I see." King nodded at Robert. "Captain, I know it's your final call, but I highly recommend the Potsdam point. Wannsee is too far ahead for our safety, and we'll need to backtrack to link up with the Aururians anyway."

Robert considered the request for a minute before nodding. "Potsdam it is."

Shepard nodded. "The Normandy doesn't have a transporter, so we'll coordinate with your transporter operators to bring my team down to your coordinates. I'll see you planetside, Robert. Normandy out."

Once Shepard's image disappeared Robert tapped his omnitool's comm key. "Dale to Bridge. We have a beam-down point for you. What's our deployment status?"

"The last of the Marine replacements just went down," Jarod answered. "Give us your beam-down coordinate and we'll get you down there ASAP."

"We're relaying coordinates now," Robert replied. "Shepard will be contacting you for bringing her team down from the Normandy. Awaiting beamout."

The beamdowns were commencing as planned and there was no sign of an enemy attack. On the Aurora bridge Julia was left with the frustration of waiting for something to happen while dreading that it would.

When she couldn't bear the silence any longer, she glanced toward Locarno. "Status on the beaming?"

"We're beaming down the strike team from the Normandy now," Locarno noted. "The Naval Infantry unit will go afterward and we'll be done." He glanced over more data. "The fleet as a whole reports sixty percent completion of the transport operations."

"All of this to capture one city," Angel murmured.

"It's a big city," Jarod noted. "And the Nazis are throwing every soldier they can find into holding it."

"Sixty-five percent completion," Locarno noted.

Julia turned to the port side stations and Cat's station there, where she was still examining sensor returns from the surface. "Anything on sensors?"

"I still can't determine the exact location of the particle traces," Cat said. "I've got my people using Lab 2 to help, but there's just too much…" She stopped and let out a harsh breath. "Captain, long range sensors are lighting up. I've got a massive reading in subspace."

"What is it?"

Cat checked her readings carefully. "Disturbance consistent with warp drives. A lot of them. I've never seen so many… there must be four thousand ships out there."

"Let me see?" Jarod waited for Cat to relay the scan results to him. Julia couldn't see his face, but she could tell from the way he straightened in his chair that he was surprised at what he was seeing. "I'm running the readings through the computer now. I'd say at least thirty-five hundred ships." A light appeared on his console. "Message from the Kentan."

"On screen."

The holo-viewer activated to show Maran's face. "Support fleet, maintain position," he said. "The main fleet will finish our beamdowns and intercept the incoming ships by the time they approach the outer planets of the system. Leave the fight to us."

"Understood, Admiral," replied Shai'juhr from her flagship, the Magaratha. "We will hold."

Squadron by squadron, Maran's fleet began to break from nearby space. Within a few minutes the last of them were pulling from orbit and moving away at high sublight. A check of the tactical holo-display beside her told Julia how small the invasion armada had become… if one could call a fleet of over three hundred combat starships "small".

"Beaming down the last unit now," Jarod confirmed.

The team's beamdown point was at the edge of the Sansouci gardens, not far from the palace of the same name. The skyline bore no trace of the idyllic setting that had once made the area the preferred home of the Prussian royalty and their court. Towering edifices along the Havel River turned Potsdam into a small island of quaint palaces, parks, and summer homes amidst a sea of what the Nazis undoubtedly considered urban splendor.

In the distance, the immense spires of City-center Berlin shimmered under a haze of smoke. Thunder roared from every direction on the horizon. It was not natural, and neither was the smoke which obscured the skyline.

Robert thought it was a big damn eyesore, and the sight of Hakenkreuzen everywhere was a visible reminder of just what this place was. It wasn't the only reminder. Robert could feel the cold darkness in the Flow of Life around him, as if the entire region was steeped in it.

"This is an evil place," Meridina murmured beside him. "So much hate and fear and… how can beings live like this?"

"This place makes me feel filthy." Ensign Talara, Lucy's student in the arts Meridina had taught them, seemed to shudder. Robert still didn't know much about the young Falaen woman. He'd heard that her people were once known as Alteans before nearly being exterminated by another species over ten thousand years ago, but he'd yet to look up further details on that.

"You look like I did on my last trip back to Mindoir," Shepard noted, looking at Robert. "Been here before?"

"C1P2," Robert said. "Just a week or so before the Dalek attack on the Facility. We were trying to smooth over relations with the Prussians and other Earth governments, and Leo was treating their king for a stroke." He remembered the brief period of lucidity from King Frederick William IV during that visit. He'd always sensed that the old romantic had something of a love-hate sentiment toward Robert and the other "Sternvolk" who were causing such a fuss among the governments and societies of that 1850s-era Earth. "In the long run it didn't matter. The Avenger left Berlin and Potsdam a burning ruin, and Frederick William died in the bombing."

There was an explosion near enough to shake the buildings, a reminder of how close to the fighting they were. A few soldiers took cover. Nearby Zack materialized with Lieutenant Tachibana and some of the other officers of his company of provisional naval infantry. More and more of his unit were appearing in bursts of white light every few seconds, creating a constant buzz in the air. "Didn't we come to this place on that 19th Century Earth?" Zack asked.

"I was just telling them that," Robert answered. He consulted his omnitool, using it to tap into the Coalition's tactical comms. The display showed the local forces. A moment later the face of an older woman wearing a Clan-made neurohelmet appeared. A few strands of red hair were visible through the helmet's faceplate. "Khan Kerensky?" Robert asked.

"Hardhead," replied the notorious Black Widow of the Wolves. She smirked. "Maran said he'd be sending you. But I figured you'd land over with General Threek south of the Seelow Heights."

"We don't want to get bogged down in the residential blocks," Robert answered. "My force is going to work its way over toward the Teltow Canal. It looks like the best route to the heart of the city."

"A good choice. I'll make sure Alpha Galaxy keeps the Nazis busy. General Victus might be able to slip a regiment your way to watch your flank, but it'll depend on when the Turians manage to secure Wannsee."


"I'll let General Kylarjha know you're on your way. She's gathering to make a push over the Canal within a few hours, so you'd better hurry your asses up. Aururians don’t wait around."

"We will. Thank you, Khan, and good luck."

"I'm the Black Widow, Captain Dale." Natasha Kerensky grinned wickedly. "I don't need luck." With that the communication ended.

"The infamous Black Widow," Shepard noted. "Why did she call you 'Hardhead'?"

"Because I got punched by Lincoln Osis and managed to get back up," Robert remarked, trying to not remember how hard that particular punch had hurt. He looked to Zack, who was conversing with his officers. "Everyone down?"

"Just about," Zack answered. "We'll be ready to move out in a minute."

"Good." Robert looked toward the east-south-east. More explosions could be heard, along with distant retorts of weapons fire. "We've got work to do."

While the battle raged below them, the Aurora crew were in a state of "hurry up and wait" readiness. Everyone was at battlestations, the vessel's weapons were energized and ready, the defenses primed. But yet there was nothing to do. All they could do was sit, wait, and hear for any news about fire support being needed orr incoming enemy forces to deal with.

For all that combat could be terrifying, Julia still found it preferable to this state of tense uncertainty. She knew from training with Maran and her own experience that you couldn't keep people in a state of nervous readiness forever. Eventually attention would drift. It couldn't be helped.

Cat interrupted those thoughts. "Multiple contacts, enemy fighters," she called out. "They're coming up from locations all over the planet."

"They were waiting for our main fleet to withdraw."

Julia nodded in agreement with Locarno's assessment. "I don't want Laurent getting swamped. Tell him to stay in range of our weapons."

"All vessels, assume close formation," Shai'jhur ordered over the comms. "Let our defensive batteries attend to them. Fighters, engage stragglers."

"All squadrons are launching," Locarno noted. "We'll have everyone out in a minute or so."

Julia nodded and said nothing, watching silently as the enemy fighters rose to face the fleet.

The bridge of the Magaratha resembled what she ought to have in times of old. Busy Dilgar officers moved about with folios and data and holograms projected and re-projected. Shai'jhur watched her eldest daughter keep the staff well under control. A final count of some 300 ships stood in orbit of Terra. Only an eighth of them were her’s, but her rank counted as equal to a Nazi Grossadmiral and technically ranked anyone in the Alliance, so she was in command of the Earth operation, but as a courtesy and acknowledgment of the limited military power of the Union, Maran’s subordinate. A niggling part of her brain reminded her that the last time she had actually commanded this many ships in one place at one time was the retreat from Third Balos.

Sparkling below her, the Warmaster thought the planet pretty. Murderous though they were, the Nazis seemed good stewards of the environment. The realisation that there were twenty-five divisions of Dilgar amongst the troops assaulting Welthauptstadt Germania below them felt almost weird after decades of weakness. Her officers were exultant.

“I’m shifting the fighters to start making runs by wing, so that they will draw the enemy fighters back into the atmosphere, Warmaster,” Tia’jhur reported from the forward command position. Magaratha had been modified to incorporate staffwork on her bridge, just one of many lessons for the Independent Fleet from the Dilgar War. And though she had not wanted to risk it before, if her daughter was to be a Warmaster someday and her successor, she had to be blooded in the greatest battle the Dilgar had fought in thirty years. Period.

“Understood. Are we using adaptive spacing in the anti-fighter box?”

“Yes, Warmaster, distance between ships is being determined based on weapons fit for the anti-fighter role. We’re doing the calculations and forcing them out by tactical datalink with the Enterprise, Aurora and the Unity sending us back error correction.

“Right.” Shai’jhur thumbed her open channel selector. “Battlemaster Zhen’var, take note that you’re on forward point for the fleet if we’re attacked from the inner system. I want your pentacon to concentrate those Alliance sensors and ripple scan inbound, but if you can keep the box intact while holding position, use passive optical as well.”

“Yes, Warmaster!” That faintly too-eager voice came back.

Shai’jhur smiled. Her instincts about her adopted daughter had not been wrong so far. But of course Kaveri would not ruin a kit. Not in the end. She steepled her hands and leaned forward, hunched in her command chair, staring intently. The fleet was protecting them in the outer system, the battle was occurring around Neptune. It was inboard that mattered. Then the fighters began the first of their close-atmospheric runs by wing and she highlighted the atmosphere of that blue orb, hanging over Welthauptstadt Germania.

“Tia, have the last of the Army resupply transports withdrawn from the system?” She asked her daughter after a moment. The ship’s interceptor grid had just automatically come up, filling space around them with lines of explosions as the Nazi fighters attacked their section of the defensive box.

“Yes, Warmaster!” Her daughter stared for a moment, unused to the informality in combat. But they were about to be sorely tried and Shai’jhur was her mother. “It is just the fleets, now. The armies have enough supplies for another week, come fang and blood.”

“That will do… That will do. They are learning everything about us with this formation, daughter. The adaptive box makes up for our disparate technology, but also showcases them in harmony.”

“But we will keep the scans up. They are testing us and a fleet will be coming soon to exploit that. From in-system, I believe.”

“Yes, Young Mistress,” Shai’jhur answered, using the epithet for a youth of brilliance. The significance, the true significance passed between them in a flash, and her daughter flared with pride. “That separates the true objective from the Neptune battle as much as possible. Have us ready.”

“Yes, Warmaster.” Tia’jhur turned back to the holotank.

Shai’jhur followed her gaze, but with the spot for Fei’nur at the side of her command chair empty, the risk her other daughter was taking flickered to her mind. She banished it. Shai’jhur had survived watching billions die, now was not the time to count her family above that.

The Nazi fighters filling the orbital space were mostly those that Patrice Laurent had faced already in the war. He kept his grip on the controls of his Mongoose starfighter and kept his aim on a Nazi fighter that was attempting to acquire one of the Aururian fighters. At the press of his finger trigger the pulse phasers on the Mongoose came to life, spitting amber energy over the enemy fighter. Its shields held long enough for the Nazi pilot to break and evade. The maneuver brought the fighter free from Laurent's attack, a respite he was determined to cut short. He twisted and pulled over the front of the fighter to reacquire his target. As soon as his reticle turned red his finger tensed. This time the bursts of amber light played over the enemy fighter's shields until they collapsed. Flame and debris erupted from the main body of the dagger-shaped Nazi craft until the entire craft disintegrated, overwhelmed by the stress on its damaged structure.

In this environment there were no shortage of targets. But that wasn't Laurent's worry. He was worried that in the thick of this fight, his people would focus too much on combat and let themselves be outmaneuvered. "Alpha, Charlie, Fox, form up on me," he said. "Break away and prepare to re-engage."

"Roger that, Commander," and variations thereof were the replies to his order. Laurent moved his fighter's nose toward the North Pole and put his engines to full. The Mongoose, always a nimble fighter, shot away from the fight. Almost half of the Aurora's fighters followed.

Laurent's intention had been to come about and re-engage in formation. That plan changed when his radio came alive. "This is the SSV Normandy, we could use some fighter cover. I repeat…"

His reply was immediate. "Normandy, we are moving to engage." Using his systems he tracked where the Systems Alliance frigate was currently evading the two dozen Nazi fighters chasing it. Their disruptors blasted at the Normandy and struck its protective fields. It took the hits well, but Laurent wondered how many hits they could take if the Nazis went fire free with torpedoes.

Not that he was going to find out.

"All fighters, engage, keep them off of the Normandy." He gave the order even as he selected a target for his weapons. The data readouts gave him a solid target lock and he opened up with an anti-fighter missile before engaging with phasers.

The initial strike did as expected. Over ten enemy fighters died to that first volley, with another twelve damaged to varying degrees. The Nazis broke off their chase of the Normandy and turned toward Laurent's fighters. The warning tones of active target locks filled Laurent's ears. He repressed the instinct to break off wildly and controlled his evasive maneuver, changing the heading of his fighter and hitting the Mongoose fighter's boosted engine trigger. The maneuver was good for evasives, but it also had the effect of straining the inertial dampeners enough to generate punishing G-forces.

The Nazi fighters missed thanks to this maneuver. Their pilots were skilled enough to not entirely lose track, however, and Laurent found that they were keeping the superior angle of attack, forcing him and his squadrons to remain on the defensive. His fighter twisted and shifted to evade the incoming disruptor fire. One of the other fighters in Fox Squadron wasn't so lucky, taking enough fire to pierce the deflectors. The fighter was torn apart from the attack.

Before the Nazis could claim more, light mass effect fire struck them. The Normandy maneuvered into their rear, her weapons blazing, and four enemy fighters blew apart before they realized the frigate was attacking them, forcing them to break off. Laurent happily shifted to offense, finding a target and striking it with several shots before moving on. "Thank you, Normandy," he said into the radio.

"You scratch my back, I scratch yours," replied the pilot on the other end. "Unless you've got one of those really hairy backs, I draw the line at that."

Laurent chuckled. "Well put." With that exchange over Laurent turned his attention back to the fight at hand.

They almost made it to Teltow before facing enemy units. Robert had even been entertaining the possibility they wouldn't have to fight anyone before linking up with the Aururians. That thought went away the moment he felt the sense of danger. He stopped and glanced toward Lucy and Meridina. Both nodded and ignited their lightsabers just as he did his.

That was when the snipers started firing. Robert sensed where the shots were coming from and where they were going. He intercepted the shot aimed at his head with a quick motion of his blade, its buzz filling the air as it sizzled through the air before him. Shots aimed at Zack and one of his officers were stopped by the other two.

"Garrus, Tali, Ashley, right side," Shepard barked. "Wrex, Kaidan, with me!" She went to the building to the left as the others went to the right. Both structures had a commercial look to them, as did those around and before them, giving them an innocuous look that had to be ignored in the nightmare of an urban combat. The normal response to the incoming fire was, in fact, to call in artillery to level the place.

Shepard's team ran ahead, and they weren't going alone. Anders sent his Marines into action, detailing squads to follow them. Around them Zack and unit sought what cover they could manage. "Platoons Bravo and Charlie are confirming no sniper fire on their roads," Tachibana said. "They're moving ahead…"

Shepard's team had only just entered the structures when more visible enemies moved into sight further ahead. Robert sensed and deflected another sniper shot before turning his attention to the incoming threat; a platoon of four panzers and accompanying infantry, including a squad of Panzergrenadier armored infantry.

"Anti-armor rounds!" shouted Anders. The power-armored Marines with him obeyed, triggering their armors to switch to said weapons. Disruptor fire converged on them and on the naval infantry and was quickly responded to by suppressive counter-fire. Missed shots tore holes into the ground around their targets and started fires.

The firefight made things more difficult for Robert, Meridina, and Lucy, as they couldn't focus on the attack so long as they had to deal with both the incoming fire and the sniper fire from the buildings. They were in a stalemate at the moment, but only for a moment. Robert and Lucy had to leap away from the others to evade a shot from one of the tanks. The other enemies fired as well and they heard cries and screams from behind, those of comrades mangled or slain by the blasts. Any time Shepard! was Robert's thought, after which another sniper shot came within a second of blasting through his shoulder. He deflected at the last minute.

One of the enemy tanks blew up, the victim of a missile from the Marines. Said Marine unit had to return to cover to avoid another round from the tanks. The fire blasted away at the first floor and foundation of the building instead.

Just as it seemed the tanks were a volley away from overwhelming the three, there was a sharp cry and an explosion from a nearby building. A soldier went flying from a window. "Sniper down," reported Ashley.

Robert sensed a surge of fear joined by resignation, and then a distant feeling of void filling in where there hadn't been one. "Coleman here," said one of Anders' Marines. "Sniper down."

Lucy didn't wait for the confirmation of the last sniper being defeated before dashing ahead, lightsaber swishing through the air to block incoming fire. Robert and Meridina sighed in resignation before taking off after her. Robert waited for an opening after another sniper shot before focusing on one of the tanks ahead. He reached through the Flow of Life and felt its power, so chilled by death and hatred on this world, but still vibrant enough to respond to as he needed. Much to the surprise of the vehicle's driver, the vehicle was knocked into the air as if something had exploded under it. It flipped in mid-air and came crashing down on its turret.

A moment later there was a crash from above. The last sniper came flying out of the building, Shepard above him wreathed in biotic power. She shot the sniper in the torso on the way down, a hit to the heart that was immediately fatal. She landed and rolled, avoiding incoming fire from the Panzergrenadiers.

Freed from sniper attack Robert and the others could focus on offensive means. Robert brought his hand up and gripped a large chunk of debris with his power, sending it flying into a Panzergrenadier to stun him long enough for Meridina to close the distance and begin slicing through the armor with her weapon. He turned to aid Lucy and found she needed none. She leapt over one of the Panzergrenadiers, landed behind him, and drove her lightsaber into the armored suit's power core on the back, the blade impaling the pilot and his suit so that the blue blade was sticking a little out of the front as well. She pulled her blade out immediately and went for one of the two remaining tanks. The tank crew tried to depress their gun low enough to target her, but Lucy acted first, forcing the muzzle high enough that the shot flew off over her head. She reached the tank in the next few seconds and sliced its main gun in half with her lightsaber. The coaxial disruptor targeted her. Robert ripped it free while she went to work on cutting into the turret. An enemy soldier popped out of the turret with a sidearm coming up. Lucy raised her hand and invisible force ripped the gun from his grip. The man had a moment to be absolutely stunned before the same free hand turned into a fist and struck him in the jaw. He fell over and back down into his vehicle. Lucy finished cutting a hole in the turret and dropped down into the confined space. Robert heard cries of surprise in German, sensed a moment of pain and disbelief, and then the fighting stopped with further cries of surrender.

That left one tank. Meridina dealt with this one by forcing the vehicle to flip and then mentally commanding those inside to go to sleep.

Some of the attached infantry was already retreating. The armored infantry lacked the speed to, especially given Shepard and Lucy, who used their abilities to quickly get in range, at which point their respective weapons - shotgun and lightsaber - came to play. Robert and Meridina left them to finish the fight and approached Zack, now coming up from behind. He was shaking his head. "Goddamn," he muttered. "Every time I think I know how badass those powers make you…"

"What's our status?" Robert asked.

"Bravo and Charlie platoons ran into infantry, but they're retreating now. As for Alpha?" Zack shook his head. "Two dead, four wounded."

Robert sighed at that. "I'm sorry," he said. "A hell of a thing. They signed up to serve on starships, not fight on the ground."

"Don't worry about that. They knew it'd be bad coming in," Zack said. "They're all volunteers who want to see the Nazis beat down. Anyway, I've got my corpsmen prepping the wounded to be carried. The Aururians aren't far from here, right?"

"Probably not. But we'd better hurry. The Nazis know we're here and if we get identified, they might figure out what we're here for."

"Right. We're still behind you."

Robert nodded once and showed his friend a grateful smile before they continued on.

The Nazi fighter attack was on the ebb. Shai'jhur's tactic of a formation to maximize the anti-fighter weaponry of the fleet and the skill of the allied pilots was grinding down the enemy fighters, such that the attack was visibly petering out.

Through it all, Cat kept her eyes on the sensors. They were already showing the distant energy discharges of the main fleet battle as well as those of the battle with the fighters. No other ships were showing on the long range bands, although she couldn't rule out cloaked ships.

She was just about to return her attention to other bands when she noticed something of interest. A faint reading was coming from deeper within the solar system, in close proximity to Sol itself. Her first thought was that it was just the sensor detecting a natural signature from the star. But the more she looked at it, the more she wasn't certain. "Captain, I've got something on sensors." She prided herself that calling Julia by rank while on duty was virtually second nature to her now.

"What are you seeing?" asked Julia.

"I'm not sure. I think it might be an energy source near the sun. Which would be what the fleet warning was about."

"And it would be pretty hard to see from here," Jarod noted.

"See if any of the other ships are picking it up?"

"I'm asking now…" Jarod worked his console to send the message. After a moment he nodded. "The Enterprise is seeing it too. Data thinks it might be multiple ships."

"Oh, right," said Cat. "It would explain why we're seeing it. So…" Something caught her attention. "The signature's shifting… I think they might be moving."

"Standby. Jarod, alert the Magaratha…"

"Warp signatures detected!" Cat called out, noticing the change in her readings. "They're…"

There was no point in finishing the warning. On both the tactical display and the holo-viewer, incoming ships zipped into existence, having just decelerated from warp. Julia recognized the various lean, predatory shapes of Reich warships, the smaller ones resembling daggers and the larger having a slanted shape. She also recognized the coloring scheme and the twin lightning bolt insignia visible on the vessels.

"Evasive maneuvers, now!" Julia called out. Violeta obeyed and sent the Aurora into an corkscrew turn. A moment later, disruptor beams sliced through the space they would have been occupying.

“Fleet orders, assume formation Lepanto-3,” Jarod called even the very moment they had finished evading.

Heavy ships straight in to disrupt the enemy formation. This will be unpleasant. “Helm, come about four-one-one mark seven, full ahead!”

The first contact with the Aururian troops occurred to the west of Teltow. The area showed the signs of bitter, fierce fighting, with bodies and burned out vehicles littered amongst the piles of rubble barely recognizable as having once been human-made structures. The troops were mostly Ralsan in this immediate sector, the silvery-complexioned humanoids with pointed ears, tails, and brown hair nearly thick enough to be fur. The same was true for General Kylarjha when they arrived at her command headquarters, nestled in what had been a former bank at the edge of a residential sector, the vault being one of the few structures to survive the hellacious bombardment that had pounded the area. Members of various species could be found in the HQ, although Humans and Ralsan in Aururian uniforms were by far the most prominent.

"Captain, Commanders." Kylarjha nodded to them. "You have arrived with unintentional punctuality for our attempt to seize a bridgehead over the canal."

"We'll help with it in any way that we can," Robert assured her.

"I am aware of your talents, as well as the capabilities of your allies.." Kylarjha looked briefly to Shepard. "I intend you to remain in reserve for the initial attack. Your mission is of high importance and I shall not see it risked needlessly."

It was a good point. Robert felt an instinctive dislike at remaining on the sideline, though. "We'll hold back until your forces secure our route over the canal," he said, "and then we'll help secure your bridgehead. We're going to need your support to get to the Volkshalle."

"Is that where you believe the research center is?"

"We're not certain of the location yet," answered Shepard. "But it's somewhere in that area."

Kylarjha respponded with a single, stoic nod. "Very well. I shall provide an escort for you toward the front."
”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 Teltow Canal predated the Nazi Regime by a generation, built in the first decade of the 20th Century to link the rivers Havel and Dahme and allow river traffic to move south of Berlin's busy center. The Nazis' initial rebuilding of Berlin after their victorious war left the canal intact, as had the centuries of urban expansion since. Some trees and parks continued to flank the waterway while middle and upper class residences and commercial parks were to be found beyond, offering a place for rowing practice and swimming in the city.

That was in peacetime at least. Now that the capital was a battlefield, every structure in sight showing some kind of damage, with many no more than piles of rubble, no matter the effort the Nazis had put in for their buildings to become graceful ruins. The north end of the Canal was not lined by trees any longer, but by enemy infantry and heavy guns, including enemy tanks. Only occasional trees had not been knocked over or shattered by artillery fire, and of the buildings, they showed the effects of the titanic concentration of heavy artillery that had been brought forward to attempt to secure a lodgement on the far shore.

While the naval infantry and Marines cooled their heels for the moment, Robert and many of the others gathered at a divisional-level observation post - assembled in a captured business - to observe the river crossing. The Aururian general in charge was Native American, a Quechua-speaker from the Andean region of South America. She spoke that language with aides, all from the same region by Aururian custom of geographic recruitment and unit groupings, and switched to English and Aururian when issuing commands to her subordinates or receiving the same from Kylarjha.

The attack began with an artillery barrage on the other end of the canal. The enemy defenses had force shield protection, but against the fury of a full-fledged bombardment these shield systems degraded and finally collapsed. Explosions threw up chunks of debris from their impact points, occasionally joined by bodies… or at least pieces of them. One shell landed squarely on a gun emplacement, slaughtering the crew servicing it and blasting the gun to pieces.

As the barrage developed, the precision munitions were hitting so frequently that the opposite bank turned into nothing but a wall of smoke and flame. There was no longer any ability to tell the explosions apart, only an ongoing assault of sound, explosion following explosion, blending together into an eardrum shattering crescendo. The disruptor beams and bursts that came sizzling from the far side slowed, then ceased, as those foolish enough to give their positions away served only to provide the forward observers points of aim.

As the bombardment continued its steady steel rain, the Aururians went into action. Their armoured vehicles moved up into jumping-off positions. Rows of tanks hid behind buildings as small compressed air lines were rolled up right to the bank by advancing infantry. These were attached to smoke generators and misters loaded with chemicals which would aerosolize and block sensors. Quickly the entire bank was obscured and the visage of the Nazi positions under attack on the opposite bank could no longer be discerned, nor could the final preparations for the jumping-off points be observed or targeted by the Nazi troops.

The Aururian General in command of the post had been quite busy, and ignoring them for a sustained period of time, before, after a brief exchange with some of her staff, she stepped back over to the group, a Ralsan officer saluting and leaving the post as she did.

“Alright. Captain Dale, please go forward to point X-ray Vectrus,” she said mildly. “Once we get the bridging gear across the Fourth of the Twelfth Wirrawunga’s commanding Colonel has been instructed to take you forward. Good luck, Captain.”

“Thank you, General. And the same to you.” Robert rose.

“Oh, save it for my girls,” she said simply, her voice pitched to carry through the roar.

“Then I will.” With a tight grin that was really his teeth gritting, he waved his hand. “All right, team. Let’s go!” They started off down the streets of the burning and shattered capital, straight into the bare hell of a massed urban attack.

As they reached the point marked by a blazon of spraypaint across a ruined building, small groups of troops could be seen, dashing along the streets under the cover of smoke and smog. They had compact, conformal air tanks and special armour, the women under it slipping on facemasks and fitting fin attachments to their boots. Robert could hear a call through the dim murk, lit by the continuous roar of explosions across the front.

“See you on the other side, Maria! All right, girls, let’s go. Strength and Guile!” They disappeared down the bank.

The barrage continued. Talara shook. It was impossible to think, impossible to feel, impossible to anything, there was just a continuous whooshing, crashing, freight-train rumble, the sharp whine of energy weapons as direct fire weapons were now engaged through the cover. Now the barrage was for suppressive purposes. “How is it possible for anyone to survive that!?” She shouted at the top of her lungs.

Lucy barely heard her. One of the Aururians passing by was closer, a Major bringing forward scan-gear with a small team of techs. “Oh, they’ll be alive.” She shook her head grimly. “They’ll be alive. But courage! We’ll slosh ‘em up enough to get across.” Then she and her team vanished again into the impenetrable fog.

The SBS teams went into the massive storm-drains which debouched into the Teltow on the opposite side. They used micro-drones to scout ahead and disable Reich reconnaissance sensors intended to prevent them from doing -- exactly what they were going to do. Passing through and up into manholes behind the forward Reich positions, where the smoke and smog drifting across had now obscured the far bank as well.

Their weapons were knives and compressed air guns with tritanium cylinders and barely subsonic, poison-tipped flechettes, fought at ten paces or hand to hand. Once they cleared their positions, they marked sensor tracers for the remaining Reich strongpoints, working around their own suppressive barrage.

On the opposite bank, the minutes passed with an unimaginable fury. Twenty minutes, twenty-five… How long could it last? From the ammunition the Aururians were expending, freshly resupplied by the freighters Shai’jhur had escorted in and out, it seemed forever. They saw the end of their campaign ahead, and they spared no shell in making the crossing.

Meridina joined Lucy at Talara’s side, putting a hand on her shoulder. Robert stayed low. He could see his Grandpa right now. The breakout from Normandy had been like this. Little else in the American experience...

Then the opposite bank erupted. Moments later the scream from overhead signalled that it had been caused by air support, carefully timed for the final support for the operation. Precision guided fires from both artillery and aircraft converged on targets designated by the SBS. As they did, they finally squawked, using their suit radios to confirm target destruction. In the headquarters, a tactical plot for the assault crossing was updated with each report, showing cleared lanes for the assault, questionable, and dangerous.

Combat engineers were moving forward to the bank, the snorting and clanking of their massive ‘funny’ special purpose tanks buried under the sound of the ongoing barrage. The complexity required for the operation meant there were actually MPs directing traffic behind the buildings to get the right equipment in the right places. It was almost incongruous to see women in white gloves and crimson helmets waving batons with perfectly crisp gestures.

The MP’s redirected traffic on the fly to account for Nazi strongholds that hadn’t been knocked out by the final precision air assault. The SBS girls did their best, but it was equally important for them to accurately observe where the air assault had not worked. Final selection of the crossing lanes was done at the last second and then uploaded across the tactical datalinks, the MPs receiving the last set of directions for the tank columns.

Abruptly the barrage surged to an enormously intense tempo. The multiple rocket launchers were salvoing--all of them. The artillery was firing as fast as it could. The tanks began to roar and whine, and then to move. They would go across first, alone, as a breakthrough element. As the lead of the columns arrived on the far shore, the SBS would take positions to support and warn of infantry ambushes and once resistance requiring heavy armour to break had been met, close support would be rushed up as the bridging crews worked.

Unseen to the observer on the banks, more SBS teams were operating down the canal itself, clearing mines, traps and encumbrances. As they worked, special burrowing drones they had set were drilling into the concrete a few feet below the water, trailing line charges as they did. Once through the concrete and a set amount of soil, they kept going to protect themselves and dropped the line charge, leaving it embedded through the concrete.

It was time. The Micklick detonations provided the final signal. Massive high-end chemical explosive charges eleven times the power of TNT erupted inside of the concrete, blasting massive gouges across the banks of the canal and collapsing the bank. The charges had been specially placed and calibrated as planned demolitions: They created the ramps that the tanks would egress from the canal on.

The heavy tanks moved directly into the canal as charges buried into the bank on their side provided a similar effect at the very last moment. Plunging down ramps of mud and rubble into the canal, the tanks disappeared entirely. It took Robert’s breath away for a moment, for he remembered the need for tanks to breathe back home. But that was the 21st century and this was the Aururian Army. They were quite capable of operating fully submerged for bridging operations, and churned the water brown as they roared across.

In a final act of support, the phosphorous and smoke rounds crashed down to augment the fog and aerosol cloud in blinding and disorienting the Nazi defenders, a final salvo as the assault was already underway. Abruptly, the silence in the wake of that barrage was almost as unnerving as the thunder before it, and to call it silence simultaneously true and a black joke, for the intensity of the direct fire with charged energy weapons that now commenced. The Aururians advanced according to a tightly coordinated plan where part of each tank formation provided fire support as the other part dashed across.

For a long moment, it seemed like there was an absence of response on the part of the Nazi defenders. Perhaps, contrary to the pessimistic and anonymous Major, they had in fact been blasted into total annihilation. Certainly the SBS professionals had marked and seen to the destruction of every direct fire strongpoint or position for anti-tank weapon teams that they could identify, and it showed. The initial phase of the assault was proceeding flawlessly, the tanks charging up the destroyed banks of the canal, engines again screaming in air as they shook off the muddy brown water and ground through ruined concrete and rebar.

The life force users could feel the anxiousness of the ranks around them, huddled behind what-ever cover was to hand - the engineers would be next, to float their spans to provide for the follow-on waves. The heavily armoured engineering vehicles went underway next, while rockets sent lines across the canal.

On the far bank, the Nazi defenders were not in an utterly hopeless position. Small groups of survivors rallied. Taking local initiative, Unteroffiziers moved into position with radios. Where heavy weapons had been knocked out, they used comms. Working through the jamming with automatic frequency shifts, they began to call down high-angle missile fire from launchers centrally located in the city.

This fire was detected long before anyone along the bank could see it. Tanks waiting their turn to cross spun their turrets skyward, the dedicated anti-air and artillery SP pom-pom platforms swinging their barrels in accordance with direction from central control. The first counter they could see were the massive salvoes of anti-air missiles from the rear areas screaming over their heads. A rippling mass of explosions swept the sky, and the agonising roar of battle was back on around them.

These missiles followed power-trajectories which brought them plunging straight down toward the canal. They were guided, making final course corrections before slamming into the bottom. Tremendous masses of water erupted where they did, tanks and engineering vehicles that were crossing skewing to the sides to dodge their own lines of advance and then converge on the ramps on the far side. Few got through, most missed. A couple did not.

As the artificial smoke and smog cleared from around the river, the tremendous hammers of the explosions shattered one of the engineering vehicles. The instantaneous deaths of the crew could be clearly felt in the direct line of sight, amongst the exploding rubble blown upwards in a mix of muddy water were the fragments of what had once been living women. Talara stopped in her tracks again, transfixed, the moment of clarity bringing home the continuous killing all around.

Lucy put her hand on Talara's shoulder. "It's not easy," she said. "It should never be. And hopefully you'll never get used to it… not like I have."

"All of this death," Talara murmured. "It's wrong. This entire city, this place, it's…" She stopped, unable to find the words to continue. Through it all she sensed dark fascination and noticed Tra'dur watching the battle as well.

The Dilgar woman looked to her and swallowed convulsively. “Now I understand Battlemaster Fei’nur very well. She spent years like this, and then she raised us when her entire family was dead. Before now… I didn’t understand. Not even the fights at the tidal barrage could tell me that.”

Most of the engineers got across. Extending bridges across the canal using the guide wires started immediately. Secured to bridging equipment on each end, the lightweight composite structures unfolded while anchors were driven by explosive charges into both banks. They were still under intermittent fire, but the tanks were pushing ahead and light hover-vehicles were now racing forward to deposit large numbers of troops to finish clearing the bank.

Threats to the tanks had all but been eliminated, but crew-served weapons were still positioned and manned in several nests throughout the remaining buildings and ruins. Two of them converged fire onto one of the hover-transports as it crossed. A few others were engaged, but quickly fired counter-missiles at the attacking positions. This one was not so lucky; struck in one of the manoeuvring thrusters, it spun violently in circles until crashing into the canal.

Unlike the tanks and engineer vehicles caught under-water, most of the squad aboard was very much still alive. Robert could feel their fear and desperation in the Flow of Life, and he acted without thinking, lunging forward out of their partial cover, back from the bank, and charging toward it.

Lucy reached for her lightsaber. “Now’s our time!” She dashed forward, and Talara and Meridina followed. After a shrug, Shepard followed them as well, dashing straight up to the bank.

Throwing himself down on his belly at the concrete retaining wall, Robert reached out with his strength. The energy that flowed through him joined in the life of a planet still very much full of it, for all of the darkness and evil that it had known. He slipped one of the heavily weighed down and drowning women into the air and then onto the bank, and then another.

Above his head, Lucy and Meridina’s lightsabers hummed, quickly hard pressed by a few Nazi positions still held with small arms. As they covered them, Shepard rolled out of her own cover and delivered a biotic attack straight across the canal at the position.

Talara dropped to her belly at Robert’s side and lent her strength into the effort, her full concentration burying her psyche into the exertion of her own powers, barely trained. Slowly another rose from the water.

Fire slapped around him, and Robert ignored it, bringing another person to shore. Suddenly, it was gone, and his concentration threatened to leave him as he felt the flash of a large group of men abruptly die. The searing heat of a flamethrower device on one of the engineer vehicles ripped across the Nazi positions that were taking them under fire, superheated uncontained plasma much safer than the gelled gasoline of old and even more effective at incinerating and catching light to everything in its path.

Robert won the battle against his own demons, forcing him to think calmly of the aspirations and desires of a woman who wanted to go on living. He slowly pulled her free and then quickly swung her in the air to safety. As he did, Talara did the same, and they exchanged a silent, quick smile, words lost in the roar of hell all around.

Robert was bringing another pair of half-drowned people to the shore when he sensed Zack approach, a Ralsan woman at his side. Nearby he heard mechanical whirring and turned. Another of the bridges was going up right next to them.

Zack's naval infantry and Aururian troops waited for it to finish. Much further down another bridge was already stretched across the canal, allowing Aururian tanks covered in infantry to cross. "It's time to go," Zack said. "The Nazis are pulling back toward the Horst Wesselstrasse. And your ride’s here. Colonel Teroli," he introduced the woman.

"Where they'll make another fight of it," Robert answered with a sigh, and then reached out his hand for the Colonel.

She shook it, her tail flexing behind her. “Captain Dale. I believe you got a bit ahead of yourselves, but fortunately close enough to find you. We’ll be pushing on ahead in the same direction long enough for you to hop a ride, if you don’t mind being tankniki for a bit. I certainly would, but I expect you can handle it better than most.”

He looked out on the canal; with enemy fire non-existent in this section, the bridge had been rapidly completed at their side, and with their efforts completed at life-saving, he felt a wave of fatigue. “Sorry, Colonel…” He swayed in place, blinking in exhaustion.

Zack reached out and steadied him with a hand on his shoulder. "It’s all right, Rob," he said, and then reached into a pouch on his belt and removed a ration bar. "Here, get some energy back. Follow us when you're ready. Colonel, say they can fall in with D Squadron at the rear and then my troops will come up right behind your Wirrawungas?”

“That’ll do, Commander,” she answered, and turned away, whistling a cheery tune. For the warrior Ralsan, the occasion was one of grandeur and pride.

Zack shook his head, and handed out similar bars to the others before heading off to join his unit and form them up for the crossing. Robert stood silently, watching Zack go.

Lucy was already tearing into the bar Zack handed her. "He'll be fine," she said to Robert, trying to assure him.

"I'm not sure any of us will be," Robert admitted. The thunder of distant explosions punctuated his words. "Let's push onward. I want to be there in case the unit needs us."

"Yes," agreed Meridina.

And together they approached the bridge. As promised, an Aururian tank stopped long enough for them to hitch a ride on the back, after which they joined their friends and allies in the push toward the heart of Welthauptstadt Germania.
”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 »

A wave of Nazi Z-2500 destroyers, one of several dozen in the enemy fleet, began an attack run ordered by the SS commander on the cream of the Alliance fleet: the Aurora, her Enterprise-class cousins, and the Unity herself. The attack ordered by Shai’jhur meant they converged at a high closing rate, the attack having been thrown together in response to Shai’jhur’s own manoeuvre. The ships raced in at high acceleration, straining their engines to maintain the maneuvers to keep their ships alive long enough to finish their attacks.

The first target of the attack was a Dorei starcruiser which had already been damaged in the fighter action. They formed up smartly and delivered their torpedo salvoes into her flanks as they turned in toward the port of Shai’jhur’s formation. Weakened shields were overwhelmed and the starcruiser erupted in sheets of flame from venting oxygen down her flank. As they moved beyond the burning Dorei starcruiser, the luck of their attack had already run out.

Amber energy lashed out in pulses that pummeled at one of the enemy ships. A solar torpedo went through its weakened shields and slammed into the engineering section, the "handle" of the Nazi destroyer's dagger shape, resulting in the vessel disappearing in a white fireball brought on by antimatter containment loss. The Attackers had arrived, nimbly shifting through the regular order of the formation to plug gaps and respond to contingencies.

Having finished off one of its prey, the Starship Koenig directed its attentions to the rest. The attack ship directed its fury at another enemy destroyer. This one didn't die like the last, with their shields holding just enough to take the follow-up torpedo hit. The destroyer captain maneuvered sharply to evade the Koenig's fire while trying to stay on his attack run.

Creighton Apley, the Koenig's XO and piloting officer, kept his nimble ship on target, allowing April Sherlily, the tactical officer, to savage the enemy ship with another phaser burst. The destroyer broke apart under the attack. There was no time to celebrate before emerald pulses slammed into Koenig's shields. "Shields down to seventy percent," Magda Navaez warned as the ship shook. "Two enemy attack ships to stern, A-2000 class."

In the command chair, Will Atreiad remembered the designation, a newer Nazi attack ship built to counter the Alliance's Trigger-class, which were based on the Koenig. They were handier ships, in principle, with their wings and manoeuvring vanes, but they had a few weaknesses. "Evasive Pattern Delta," Will ordered.

"Aye sir."

Apley sent the Koenig into a tight series of maneuvers. Under that evasive plan, the ship used her more compact mass to take advantage of shorter impulse times for initiating violent, jerky manoeuvres that the sweeping turns of the magnetic vanes on the A-2000s couldn’t match even if they could turn inside of Koenig. The two enemy ships, dagger-shaped like the destroyers but a little smaller and far more agile, kept on the Koenig, though most of their fire was evaded successfully in the violent snap-rolls and turns.

Just before Will could order an attempted shift to the offensive, weapons fire struck one of the attack ships. Disruptor torpedoes from the Normandy blasted through the ship's shields and crushed the Nazi vessel's armor, inflicting internal damage. The Systems Alliance frigate twisted hard to avoid an incoming disruptor bolt.

"Attack Pattern Echo, execute!"

Apley maneuvered the ship once again, this time spinning the ship about her centre of mass to bring her forward guns to bear as the thrusters fired in a complex sequence to place her en echelon to her pursuers, able to deliver fire to both in overlapping coverage on the same heading. Under fire from another angle, the pursuing attack ships failed to fully match his maneuver. The first ship targeted was already damaged. Amber phaser bursts slammed into its degraded shields until the side of the ship was exposed. A single torpedo followed and blew it to hell.

"Another one down," Sherlily crowed.

Nobody had time to respond to her boast, not with more enemy vessels in the fight.

A Reich Sedan-class cruiser drew alongside the Aurora and struck at her deflectors with repeated beams of emerald energy. As the cruiser's disruptors cycled, a second and newer cruiser, identified as the Tannenburg-class, joined in with pulse cannon disruptors that battered away at the Aurora's shields.

As the bridge shook under her, Julia readied to give an order to return fire, but it proved unnecessary. The starboard plasma cannons and emitters lit up, their sapphire light burning into the red hue of the Reich ships' shields. Continued hits on the Tannenburg finally blew through the ship's shields, creating plumes of flame and gas wherever the Aurora's weapons sliced into the ship. Violeta turned the Aurora to port on Julia's command. Not only did this evade fire from one of the big dreadnoughts looming ahead, it presented the aft cannons toward the enemy cruiser. Angel was quick to acquire a target lock and fire. Thick pulses of blue energy slammed into the damaged ship, setting off further explosions that gutted the cruiser. More blue beams played over the Tannenburg-class cruiser's shields, which flickered and weakened when solar torpedoes from the aft launchers slammed into them.

The thick pulses of plasma that finished the cruiser off didn't come from the Aurora, however, but from the Thunder Child, side batteries receiving maximum energy for a brief burst of fire which ripped the nacelles to shreds and tore through her victims armour in a hundred places. The heavy cruiser spun off, power dead and escape pods loosing from her sides.

The Enterprise-class ship veered in across their field of vision with a moment’s warning for Violeta through the taclinks, a quick coordinating message based on standard patterns. In this case, Thunder Child bravely stood in, absorbing fire meant for the Aurora and focusing on an enemy battlecruiser. Another of the same class, the Olamte'se, joined the Thunder Child in hitting the Nazi Lützow-class warship hard. The converging fire of the two big cruisers overwhelmed her shields and wrecked the starboard flank batteries of the battlecruiser and she fell back into the protection of her compatriots.

Given the amount of attention the enemy fleet was applying to the Aurora, it could be hard to forget she was hardly the focal point of the battle, nor the most capable of the ships. Over a hundred thousand kilometers away, on the other end of the formation, the Challenger and the ASV Enterprise were exchanging fire with a Reich dreadnought. A spread of white-lit quantum torpedoes announced the intervention of the USS Enterprise into that fight. Under Picard's command the Enterprise laid into the port side of the dreadnought, absorbing a couple of powerful disruptor hits to her shields as she did. The Akira-class Sitting Bull joined that fight with an even larger spread of quantum torpedoes that blew large chunks from the side of the dreadnought. The Challenger's plasma banks and cannons laid into the bow of the dreadnought. A return shot from the spinal mount disruptor barely missed the smaller cruiser.

One thing Julia was picking up from the fight was that Shai'jhur's tactic was, for the most part, working. The heavier enemy fleet's formation was breaking up from the allied fleet's charge into close-quarters combat. As the Aurora shuddered again, with Jarod informing her that shields were down to fifty percent, Julia wondered if it would be enough in the end.

The wide boulevard known as the Horst Wesselstrasse was one of the major arteries leading into the center of Welthauptstadt Germania. Flanked to either side by parks and smaller buildings - a commercial area for the capital - the road was well-maintained and the sight of a number of memorial statues. It was also vast, six lanes in each direction with electric trams on the outside and wide sidewalks, with pedestrian overpasses to access the immense linear park in the middle subtly integrated with the vast number of distributory flyovers that were anchored on buildings and decorated in the standard Reich architectural pattern, the Volkshalle rising above them in the near distance.

Much of the area was already a ruin. The molten, wrecked remains of a statue to Heinrich Himmler provided some cover for Robert, King, and Tra'diur. They were the closest to the road in question while the others were further behind and toward the eastern flank of the advance. The debris of urban warfare filled the streets, including the bodies of the slain. Burnt, wrecked frames of vehicles abounded. Shattered and violently rearranged roadblocks and gun positions marred the sidewalks and storefronts.

There was little time to take in the sheer devastation. Across the road Nazi panzers were still in hull-down defensive positions, covering the lateral road from Teltow they'd taken. A pair of burning Aururian vehicles nearby spoke of their effectiveness. Above them an emerald beam streaked, melting a little more from the statue. "I wonder if they'll get in trouble for destroying the statue?" Robert mused idly. The sheer intensity of the battle had deadened his nerves to the point that even the splash of some droplets of molten bronze on his coat didn’t make him flinch or try to take further cover.

That won him something of a glare from King. "This is hardly the time to consider that, Captain."

She was right, of course, but it still stuck in Robert's head. He chuckled mirthlessly. "I guess it'd suck to survive all of this and then get executed for wrecking one of the Nazi statues." Sensing King's increased aggravation, he shook his head and forced the thought away. "Dale to Carrey," he said into his omnitool. "We're pinned down here. What's your status?"

There were distant sounds of battle over the comm line, indistinguishable from the sounds they heard directly. "The going's hard. Shepard and her team cleared one of the buildings sniping the Aururian tanks and Lucy, Meridina, and Talara cleared another. But we've taken more casualties and the Nazis aren't giving any ground. How did the flank attack go?"

"Poorly," Robert replied. "They had a detachment holding the intersection. Our vehicles are down and we've got a lot of dead and wounded."

"I'll let General Kylarjha know. We'll get to you when we can, Carrey out."

Another heavy disruptor beam sizzled nearby. More importantly, Robert sensed approaching troops. He glanced toward their direction just enough to see figures in feldgrau entering the street. If they kept coming that way, they'd certainly flank the three of them. "We're sitting ducks if we stay here," Robert said to the others." He glanced around and noticed that one of the Aururian vehicles was still mostly intact, if disabled. "There."

"Fifty meters, about," King noted. Resolve showed on her face. "It's our best shot."

"You two go, I'll cover you before I join you."

"Captain, are you sure…?"

Robert nodded at Tra'dur. "Go!"

The two jumped from cover as Robert's lightsaber ignited in his hand. When he stepped out of cover a moment later his blade intercepted a disruptor beam of the same color, sending it back to the shooter. The shooter collapsed with a cry of pain and surprise.

This drew more fire, of course, and Robert focused himself on stopping that fire. His arms seemed to move of their own accord, blocking shot after lethal shot sent his way. After several deflections he felt an opening to counter-attack. He reached out with his power and gripped a chunk of the Himmler statue, throwing it toward the oncoming enemy. Three of them were unable to get out of the way in time and were thus crushed under the ruin.

As they ran, Tra’dur and King both took turns diving to the ground and firing with rifles to provide further cover for the other. It was too far to cover in one go. As they withdrew, however, Robert attracted the true effort of the advancing Wehrmacht troops. Even an Unteroffizier knew where to find the schwerpunkt and concentrate against it; it was obvious that the lightsabre-wielding man was critical to the enemy advance in this sector.

Robert sensed danger a moment later and reacted with instinct. He pushed out with the force of his life energy, concentrating it into a hammer of invisible power that forced the turret gun of one of the tanks upward. A shot that would have landed on him instead struck the building behind them, blowing off pieces of debris and partially collapsing at floor.

This created a shower of debris that rained down upon Tra'dur and King, just as they neared the ruined tank. Most of the pieces missed…

...and then one landed on King's head. She collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut.

Tra'dur reacted immediately, bending over to collect the unconscious woman, while Robert kept his attention firmly on the enemy tank. He gathered the warm energy inside of him and pressed it below the tank, feeling his control shudder as he did. The tank suddenly popped up into the air, rising by at least six meters before it twisted and fell on its own turret.

That didn't stop the infantry fire from coming his way. It was everything Robert could do to reflect it with his weapon. He managed to send one bolt into an enemy infantryman. This was hardly enough to stop the barrage of fire that was pinning him in place and keeping him from counter-attacking.

Relief came from the pulse fire that struck the Reich troops from their flank. A streak of blue energy proved to be Shepard, who slammed into one of the soldiers and sent him flying. Her shotgun barked and a solid slug ripped through the heart of a second soldier.

The fire against Robert ended. He lowered his blade and brought his left hand up, using it as a focus for the energy he summoned. Invisible force struck several Reich soldiers, throwing them to the ground. Most were mowed down by weapons fire before they could stand. Confident that the reinforcements had turned the tide sufficiently Robert turned away and ran over to where Tra'dur was examining King. "How bad is it?"

"She is alive," Tra'dur said. Her omnitool was showing the results of a medical scan. It wasn't as detailed a scan as a medical-model omnitool would provide, but it provided the necessary basic information. "There is some head trauma consistent with a concussion."

"Let's get her to the others," Robert said.

By the time they lifted King up, Zack and Meridina were approaching them. Both were starting to show the wear of the day's fighting on their suits and in their tired expressions. Meridina immediately noted King's state. "I can help her," she said. "Allow me."

As Tra'dur did so, Robert turned his attention to Zack. "I didn't think you'd get here so fast."

"We had a little help," said Zack, indicating the sight behind him. Along the Horst Wesselstrasse troops were marching with vehicles rumbling beside them. Robert immediately noted that they were not all Aururian, in fact, instead of being tanks they were giant 10x10 IFVs with tank turrets. They were so completely piled with applique armour, slat armour, ERA blocks, extra plate welded on the front, you name it, as well as bedding and packs and what frankly had to be plunder from peoples’ houses, they sagged overweight on their tires.

"The Dilgar caught up to us and cleared the other side of the road,” Zack explained. “Look at ‘em, they’re fighting with total crap, too, but they don’t seem to care and they’ve got a lot of it.”

There was a very high ratio of IFVs to soldiers in the Dilgar units. "Even so, good timing," Robert replied. "Your troops are following up?"

"They're securing some prisoners first, but they'll be joining us soon."

"Right." Robert took one more look at the Dilgar troops. Mostly very young and a mix of the smaller ones from Rohric--a few coughing blood right on the battlefield--and healthier Dilgar from Tira. He could sense their fear,their equipment was all forty-year old designs from the Dilgar war that had sat in depots in Rohrican caves for decades, they knew it was inadequate, but they had a lot of it so there were always replacements and always another IFV for a unit. But you couldn’t replace a life and they were taking much higher casualties than most of the other units in the offensive. He could feel the numbness in their minds, mixed with grim determination, a natural instinct to duty, which carried them on through countless dead comrades. They were almost entirely conscripts, and that fact made his soul ache.

Feeling sick again, he glanced toward Meridina and King. He could feel Meridina's power reaching into King's head, soothing the bruises and healing tissue, concentrating on her and using that concentration to acknowledge, but not dwell on, the feelings of those around. She wasn't a fully trained healer, so King would still be feeling the blow, but it would help King recover quickly. "Let's rejoin them, then."

They continued on through the wreckage, as much of lives as of the city.

In orbit the fight between the fleets continued in all of its fury. Another round of shaking through the ship pressed Julia against her harness. The tactical display beside her showed the source of the attack; the remaining SS-crewed dreadnought, even now coming about to bring its spinal-mount super-disruptors to bear on the Aurora. Violeta kept the Aurora maneuvering to prevent this.

The Aurora's own weapons continued to blaze away, filling space around them with sapphire beams of plasma and the more powerful bursts from the plasma pulse cannons set into the bow and stern of the ship. Much of this fire was directed at the dreadnought, causing red energy to sparkle into existence around the impact points. Again and again the Aurora's weapons lashed out at the enemy ship as its weapons lashed out at her.

Julia noticed the threat from the other side just as Angel did. From their starboard another of the Reich battlecruisers was locking on, its own spinal mount weapons coming to bear. "Evasive Pattern Echo," Julia ordered, mentally tracing the movement against the tactical map. The maneuver would, if successful, keep them clear of both capital ships' spinal mounts.

The Aurora made a twist and something of a turn, shifting away from the oncoming battlecruiser. When its weapons fired they achieved only glancing shots.

"Shields still at thirty percent," Jarod said.

"Focus on that battlecruiser," Julia ordered.

Angel responded with as great a barrage of fire as she could manage from the ship's current angle. This attack intensified as they completed a turn and brought the bow guns to bear on the battlecruiser. Its shields flashed red under the sapphire onslaught, holding with increasing difficulty. Fire from other Alliance ships in the vicinity joined theirs in ripping into the shields of the ship. The battlecruiser's shields began failing.

The enemy dreadnought fired on them again, as if to aid its comrade. The heavy disruptor mounts tracking them struck the Aurora's shields, which crackled and weakened. At Engineering Lieutenant Mallory noticed the result of the hit immediately. "Primary Shield Generator 4 is down," he said. "All secondaries and tertiaries are engaged."

The latter report did little to assuage Julia's concern at the initial one. The primary generators were primary for a reason, and with one down the shields' regenerative cycle, and capacity for deflecting or absorbing incoming fire, would be diminished.

It was therefore no surprise that after several more hits Jarod's response was, "Shields now at twenty percent."

In the meantime the enemy battlecruiser was no longer a problem. Fire from the Aurora and other ships reduced the ship to a flaming wreck. The dreadnought retaliated with another barrage on the Aurora. "Shields down to fifteen percent, stress damage on Secondaries 2, 5, and 6."

"Maintain evasive maneuvers!"

Violeta did so, to the best of her ability and that of the ship's. Of course, a kilometer-long starship couldn't shift course on the fly. The evasive maneuvers did not evade every hit, and in their situation even a single hit was now potentially dangerous.

This hit was delivered rather soon after the previous. "Shields are at ten percent, cohesion is failing," Jarod warned. "Hull breaches on decks 7, 9, 10, and 15, multiple sections."

"Armor self-repair systems are operational," Mallory assured them.

"Do something about that dreadnought, Tactical!"

"Trying now, Captain." Angel didn't look up from her console while replying to Julia. With her systems showing a firm target lock Angel triggered the weapons on the port side of the Aurora. Repeated beams of sapphire light continued to meet the red of a deflector shield over the dreadnought. The Aurora twisted slightly, a maneuver to throw off another heavy shot from the dreadnought. Even then, its smaller mounts continued to lash the Aurora's faltering shields, some of the emerald beams persisting long enough to scour the azure hull. An SS cruiser delivered several more hits to starboard, exploiting the weakening of Aurora's shields.

Said cruiser didn't get a second shot. Energy fire overwhelmed its weakened deflectors, with spinal-mount scale grav lasers ripping into the vessel until it was left a gutted ruin. The Dilgar battlecruiser Wrath ignored her victim and focused her next barrage on the enemy dreadnought, striking from a new angle, firing the two Hyach spinal lasers again and again on continuous beam. She maintained the heavy assault until the enemy ship began to divert some of its shield energy to face the Wrath.

Angel was quick to take advantage, with help from Violeta. Violeta turned the Aurora until her bow weapons could bear on the dreadnought. Angel quickly confirmed a target lock and opened fire with the bow mounts. Ten pulse plasma cannons erupted with sapphire fury, their bolts tearing through the dreadnought's shields and impacting on hull. Torpedoes followed up just as the plasma fire died down, allowing them to crash into the enemy ship without shields to stop them. Flame flowered from the dreadnought's hull, accompanied by gas and debris.

Wounded, the dreadnought retorted with her weapons yet again. The spinal-mount disruptor fired, missing the Aurora and instead impaling an Alliance vessel beyond her. The other shots repeatedly stabbed at the Aurora with emerald light, many of them hitting. The Aurora's shields likewise faltered, below the ten percent level that maintained cohesion, and the armored hull took most of the blow.

For all the damage caused by the hits, they didn't do anything to degrade the effectiveness of the Aurora's weapons. The bow cannons blasted chunks of hull and armor from the enemy ship. The port side of the dreadnought received another barrage from the Wrath that destroyed some of the weapon emplacements on that quarter of the ship as her unshielded status meant that the Wrath was able to use guided missiles with naqia-enriched thermonuclear warheads for pinpoint fire, wrecking entire sectors and directly targeting and blasting through even heavily armoured weapons mounts.

Burning and dying, the dreadnought began to maneuver away. Angel wasn't letting it go that easily and quickly put another spread of solar torpedoes into the SS ship. The blue-white sparks savaged the bow area as it continued its turn away. Blue beams lashed into the damaged area, followed by the pulses of the Aurora's main battery.

A sudden brilliant flash erupted from the forward end of the dreadnought. One of the shots from the Aurora had struck the main capacitor for its powerful spinal mounts. Now that energy was violently released with an explosion that blew the bow off of the Reich warship. The Wrath, seeing the weakness, immediately poured more fire into the dreadnought. The Koenig and Normandy led an attack run of fighters that sent a volley of torpedoes and energy fire into the wrecked bow while the Aurora continued her own withering barrage.

Further explosions came from the interior of the dreadnought until a final, terrific series culminated in a flash of white light that engulfed the vessel, signifying the loss of its antimatter fuel. The SS dreadnought was now nothing but a field of molten debris.

The dreadnought's loss was not the start of the retreat, but it certainly contributed. Even before it blew, a number of the most damaged Reich ships made the emergency jump to warp. That number escalated in the minute after the dreadnought died until every intact ship of the Reich had successfully fled, leaving only their broken comrades.

"No new contacts on sensors," Cat confirmed. "They're running!"

"For now anyway," Locarno said. "I'm sure they'll be back."

"Maybe, but it gives us the chance to get some damage control done." Julia released the harness from her chair. She looked Cat's way. "And a location for that research facility would be nice."

"This fighting made it impossible to keep up the analysis, too much interference." Cat tapped several keys on her board. "But now that it's stopped I can resume the search." She looked over her screen. "The team's still not close enough for me to be certain, but I'm narrowing it down now."

"Relay any information to the planetside team. And then get some rest. Cots are in the conference lounge." Julia looked to Angel next. "The same to you. I want everyone taking rest periods when possible."

She received no complaints.

The daylight was long gone and night settled uneasily over the city. An orange hue covered the horizon on all sides. The continued sound of battle was a din in the background as the group assembled in a trade school's cafeteria. Nearby classrooms were being employed by their supporting naval troops as temporary barracks Outside the window Aururian and Dilgar troops and their vehicles continued to hold positions along the Horst Wesselstrasse, with very heavy fighting still raging in the distance.

"Why aren't we pushing on?" Lucy asked. Despite some enthusiasm in her voice it was clear she welcomed the respite.

"It's been a hard day, Lucero," Shepard answered. "Taking the time for chow and a nap will make the fighting to come easier to survive."

"She's got a good point," Robert said.

"Well, if you think that…" Lucy reached into the pack she was carrying. It was a standard issue one, meant for emergency supplies - rations, water, first aid - but Lucy had clearly added another pair of items, on the bulky side. Robert recognized them as a pair of insulated tubs. She sat the tubs on a nearby table and opened them up. The appealing scent soon wafted into every set of nostrils in the room.

Tra'dur's nose visibly twitched and a hungry look came to her eyes. "Sausage stew."

"Fresh from Hargert… when we left anyway," Lucy explained. She nodded to Tra'dur and then Shepard. "One of each type to fit your dietary laws."

"Dietary laws?" asked Garrus.

"Some religions restrict the kinds of food you can have," Robert explained. "Lieutenant Tra'dur follows Hindu dietary law, so no beef. Nothing from the Earth cow, I mean."

"And the other has no pork." Lucy smiled and nodded at Shepard.

Seeing the looks from some of the others, Shepard shrugged. "I've never been a particularly observant Jew, but we don't eat pork. Or anything non-kosher."

Lucy went digging into her pack. "Now we just need some bowls. I thought I packed something…"

Zack jumped up from the seat he took and went to the side of the room. "We're in a school cafeteria, so… yep!" He pulled up a tray with utensils and plain white ceramic bowls and grabbed some spoons from another receptacle. "These should work."

Lucy gave Garrus and Tali an apologetic look. "I'm afraid Hargert didn't have any dextro-compatible food. I did replicate some…" She provided them insulated containers.

"Very thoughtful of you, Lieutenant," Garrus said, accepting one. Tali took the other.

"You've been carrying around that extra weight all day?" asked Kaidan.

Lucy nodded. She gave Meridina a knowing look before saying, "I'm used to dealing with weight."

Meridina returned the look with a small smile. Talara sighed, familiar with the exercises Lucy was referring to.

Robert chuckled, also aware of what she meant, but not saying so. Taking the bowl Zack had given him, he accepted his portion of the stew, selecting the beef sausage variant.

While the bowls were put to use to give out portions, Ashley looked at Tra'dur with some interest. "So your people converted to a Human religion? Why?"

“It's complicated,” Tra'dur observed, “but my mother-Shai preached a dharmic interpretation of our Gods from the copy of the Gita that mother-Kaveri left with her, at the time of our greatest hopelessness after Omelos, when the suicide rate was brutally high. It isn’t that we converted so much as human religion offered a new philosophy of explaining how we were utterly defeated and most of us died at Omelos, and how we might have a path forward from that.”

"To repair your people's broken spirits, your mother embraced a spiritual solution," Meridina remarked.

"There were many more that might have been lost otherwise." Tra'dur gave Lucy a look full of gratitude as she spoke, freely mixing her speech with mouthfuls of the stew. Even inside a building some of the party had difficulty hearing her over the continuous roar of the shelling in the background.

The roar briefly gave way to a particularly loud blast from nearby. For a moment everyone was silent. Robert spoke first, saying, "That was pretty close."

"I'd say we should have found somewhere safer, but there's nowhere in the city that's 'safe' at the moment," Zack said. He looked toward Robert. "I remember your granddad saying a few things about what it was like for him."

"A few, yeah," Robert said. "Grandpa Allen didn't like to relive some of the things he went through, though, so most of his history I only found out after he passed away."

"Your grandfather fought in a war?" asked Ashley.

"Yeah. Our world's World War II, to be precise. He fought in the European Theater against the Nazis." Robert chuckled lightly at that. "So he and I have that in common now."

"That war must have been very different from this one," Tali observed. "I mean, your technology wasn't nearly as advanced."

"No, but it was still vicious." Robert dug a spoon into the stew. "No smart munitions, but they still had lots of artillery, armored vehicles, bomber aircraft. The war killed millions." He glanced toward the window and the distant carnage raging outside. "I was always a little disappointed in how some of his stories didn't have actual fighting in them. Now I suppose I can understand why. He didn't want to relive this part."

"Not many do," Shepard noted. "War is hell."

"I was just a child when my father went to assist with one of the Interdependency's wars with the Coserians," Meridina noted. "He never spoke much of what it was like. It was the one activity in the Order he did not share freely with me."

"Is there anyone who thinks war is something other than bad?" Zack asked rhetorically. "Besides Klingons, I think."

Nobody answered immediately. Slowly, a rumbling chuckle was gaining everyone's attention. Shepard looked to the source and asked, "Something to add, Wrex?"

The Krogan Battlemaster snorted with amusement. "I find it funny that all of you people talk so much about not liking war, but you're always ready to fight them. And people say we're the violent species."

Tra’dur glanced up. “To be honest, I’m not sure if Dilgar are more inclined to like war than humans, or that was just the propaganda of the Old Imperium days and we still live in its shadow.”

"War is often driven by the darkness inside of living beings," Meridina noted. "Fear, anger, hatred. Whether driven by darkness itself or an imbalance in life, it can drive any people into war. And as war fuels such darkness, it spreads to others touched by it, creating a terrible cycle that fuels itself on the darkness war brings to all."

"That's certainly more poignant than 'War is an extension of politics by other means.'" Everyone turned to see King walk into the room. Despite her usual bearing, it was clear she was still a little uncertain on her feet, and her head was wrapped in a white bandage.

"How are you?" Robert asked her.

"The corpsman confirmed the concussion and provided means to reduce the swelling and coax the cells to heal," King replied. "He also made it clear I'm to avoid serious combat if I can. I consider it an act of great forbearance on my part that I did not point out the folly of that restriction in our current situation."

"I suppose you can't blame him for trying," Shepard said.

"It's your pick, Captain," said Lucy. "Sausage stew without pork or without beef?"

"I'll take either," she answered while taking a seat. Zack offered her a bowl. Shortly after he handed it to her the building rattled from another stray shell going off nearby. "I see we are still close to the fighting. Any updates?"

"The Dilgar and Aururians are going to keep pushing down the Horst Wesselstrasse," Robert replied. "To give us as close a jumping off point as they can give us. And some Alliance troops have broken through the Seelow Heights area and are entering the eastern part of the city. We might still hook up with them in the heart of the city, if they manage to keep up the momentum."

"Well, that is excellent news," King remarked. She took a bite of her food and was plainly impressed. "I had forgotten what an excellent cook Mister Hargert is. Thank you kindly for the reminder."

"You're welcome," Lucy said.

In the heart of the Aurora's drive hull, Main Engineering was a hub of continued activity. Scotty kept his place at the control table near the master systems display for the ship, noting all of the yellow and red showing damaged and offline systems.

Barnes approached him, looking tired and frustrated. "Just as I thought," he said. "Primary 4 is down. It's going to require a complete rebuild to get our shields back to full strength."

"Aye. That's what I was expectin' tae hear," answered the older man. "Anythin' else affectin' the shields?"

"Primary 2 is offline for repair, I've got a team that should have it finished in an hour. Section G on Decks 10 through 14 is still on backup power, the power conduit feeding the area needs replacement."

"Did ye make sure th' medbay has full power?"

Barnes nodded. "I did. Secondary lines are up and running. Even if all of Deck 12 loses power, the medbay will still have its lights on."

"Good lad." Scotty sighed and tapped at the table. "We cannae have th' doctors losin' our crew from no power."

"Yeah." Barnes looked over the display. "Anything more about those microfractures in the cooling system?"

"Nae problems so far. I've put a team on settin' up a bypass around th' fracture zone."

"Best we can do until we're in dock," Barnes agreed. He looked over his mentor and noticed the obvious. "It's been a long day, and Thama set up some cots in Section Storage. Why don't you get some rest?"

That got him an irritated glare. "Dinnae ye baby me, Tom." The rebuke was heated, especially since it was clear Scotty knew he needed the rest too.

"I'm not Ju-... the Captain," Barnes countered, correcting himself as he did. "But I figure the Ratzis are gonna be back, and it might be better if we're ready for the long haul, y'know?"

"Aye, I do, an' I'll get a wee bit o' shuteye soon, but I need to brief th' Captain on our progress."

"Why don't you let me do that?" Barnes asked.

For a moment a refusal formed in Scotty's voice, but he stopped himself. "Alright, lad, I'll leave it t' ye. Let me show ye a few things before I head off."

A look at the sensor screen showed Cat she was starting to get close. The instruments Tra'dur had taken with her gave Cat's systems a better look at the specific particle emissions she was seeking. The zone of possibility was shrinking appropriately, becoming a smaller circle in the middle of the capital.

"The results are promising, Cat'Delgado," Tra'dur said in a near-whisper over a commline. Cat could barely hear her over background explosions. "Once we fight into the city center we should be certain."

"And the closer you get, the smaller I can make the circle," Cat said. "I may have an exact coordinate for you by the time you're approaching the middle of the city." After a moment's consideration, she asked, "So, how is everyone?"

"Quite tired. Many of them are asleep or nearly so. Even I may be dozing off soon."

"Yeah. I know the feeling." Cat checked the time and stifled a sudden yawn. She wanted to get to sleep soon, even if it would only be a cot in the lounge and not her bed. "It's really bad, isn't it? The fighting, I mean, and the people dying…"

"It is. Today has been a lesson." There was brief silence on the other end. "I used to wonder what made Fei'nur the way she is. To know she endured this for years, I can hardly imagine staying sane."

"I can't at all," Cat admitted. She remembered Fei'nur, the big bodyguard cyborg for Shai'jhur, undoubtedly over on the Magaratha at the moment. "You know, I thought it was funny to see the way she reacted to replicators, but knowing she had to survive for so long… it's not really funny now."

"Between Balos and the decades on Rohric with the poor food, I am not surprised at all that she is enamored with replicators. Most of my people are. And for those who remember Omelos, who remember food not tainted by spores, real filling meat… Gods, it makes me ravenous just talking about it. And my family runs a meat canning factory to begin with."

Cat giggled quietly. "I'm sorry to make you ravenous," she said. "If I could, I'd send you something."

"Lieutenant Lucero was kind enough to carry Mister Hargert's stew for all of us."

"That's Lucy for you. She always likes to make people feel better. It's part of her 'Life Force Knight' thing or whatever it's called." Cat's eyes examined the long range sensors next. There was no sign of any further ships coming in, although the sensors showed the main fleets still out by Neptune. The battle there was now more of a skirmish, but likely just to give the Nazis time to get reinforcements in. At any time the fleets would likely re-engage. "I should let you get some sleep."

"I appreciate the conversation, but yes, I think…"

Over the line, Cat heard sudden shouting and the distant whine of disruptors. "Tra'dur?" she asked, confused for the moment. "What's going on?"

After several seconds of nothing, Tra'dur's reply came with haste. "I must go, we're under attack!"

In seconds the sound of nearby disruptor fire roused everyone who had actually managed to fall asleep. Hands went to weapons and Robert and Lucy quickly unfolded their robes - they'd been using them as makeshift pillows - and pulled them on over the armor. Garrus' voice came through their short-range commlink. "They're coming from the north. Vehicles, infantry, and mechs."

"Panzergrenadiers, probably," Shepard remarked, putting her shotgun back on its small-of-back mount on her armor. She scooped up the assault rifle last. "How close?"

Everyone heard the shot from Garrus' rifle. "Close enough."

Zack's voice came through next. "My unit's ready."

"Have them take up defensive positions." Robert ran toward the door with Lucy and Meridina trailing, the others behind them. The exit to the north was nearby. Between the energy he was calling upon and the adrenaline rush, any remnant sleepiness was fading. He triggered another comm. "This is Dale to Union command post, status?"

A Dilgar voice responded, "An enemy counterattack has broken through our northern flank. They are closing in on your location."

"We spotted that. Anything else?"

"We have sent troops to support your position. Hold until relieved."

"They won't, then." Robert looked to the others. "We'll stop them." He re-opened the channel to Zack. "Get your unit ready. We're going to give the Nazis a surprise."

The approaching enemy were crossing the wide boulevard of the Horst Wesselstrasse when the naval infantry's return fire reached it's peak. The entire unit was now engaged, using the windows and doorways of the school to fire from cover. Anders and his Marines focused their efforts on the enemy armored forces, power armor infantry and tanks, using the heavier munitions they were equipped with to deal damage to those foes. In turn their return fire struck at the structures of the school, blasting through walls and ruining entire rooms.

Not every shot like this hit as expected, however. One of the tank gunners was surprised to see his shot thrown back to explode in the street, as if it had been deflected.

Having performed that deflection, Robert drew in a breath and felt the life energy within him swell in readiness. When he called upon it again it was to reach out and grasp the offending tank. He caused it to fly upward into the air and twist, after which it landed on another tank, smashing the turrets of both. He repeated the process with another, although this time the tank landed in such a way as to not crush the other tank's turret, simply its main gun.

His senses warned him of the incoming attack. He jumped from the window and hit the ground below with a shockwave of dust, the result of his effort to cushion his landing. Above him several shots from the enemy tanks all struck, blasting much of the upper floor. "Is everyone clear?" he asked into his comm.

"Affirmative," Shepard answered. "Although you gave Garrus a scare. Either way, we're ready."

"Good," Robert replied. "Let's go. Zack?"

"We're ready when you give the signal."

"Consider it given." Having said that, Robert ignited his lightsaber and ran ahead.

From the east side of the school came the rest of the team, weapons blazing, Lucy and Meridina in the lead deflecting incoming fire.

At Robert's signal, the rest of Zack's unit sallied from the damaged school, following Anders' Marines. Their training in field operations, rushed as it had been, taught them enough that with the Marines in the lead, they provided the necessary numbers to the counter-attack to give it a chance.

In the years of the Facility, Zack had seen some terrible things. He'd seen what was left of Human beings starved in work camps and prisons, beaten, tormented, ruined, among other horrors. And there had been fights, true. He'd even once gotten his jaw broken in a tough fight to rescue kids being used as slave labor. Such things had always seemed truly hellish to him.

But that hadn't been this. This kind of fighting, with energy weapons and shellfire everywhere, freaking tanks shooting at you along with heavy weapons on big armored infantry… it was an entirely different kind of Hell. Any moment he could be blown apart or hit by a shot that could overpower his personal forcefield and kill him. The same had been true to an extent while commanding the Koenig, but combat between starships lacked the visceral (sometimes literally so) nature of the battle.

Zack hit the deck as fire swept nearby, narrowly avoiding a disruptor shot. While prone he lifted his pulse rifle and fired it toward the source of the beam. In the night he couldn't see if he hit anyone, but even if he hadn't hopefully his fire was forcing someone to hit the ground or otherwise hold their fire. After squeezing off several more shots while prone he got to his feet and, accompanied by Lieutenant Tachibana and several of the others, kept moving ahead. Their running carried them into the street and to a damaged, abandoned Nazi tank that they used for cover.

Whatever he was accomplishing with his pulse rifle and shouted commands to the other platoons over his commlink, Zack knew it was very little compared to some of the others. Over the other sounds of battle he could hear the booms and thundering from Shepard's biotic attacks and her shotgun. He also thought he heard the occasional high-pitched buzzing of the lightsabers in action. Robert, Lucy, and Meridina were doing more than their share of damage with their powers and their weapons. And Anders and the armored Marines in his unit were doing more damage with their heavier weapons by far.

The enemy noticed this too, and that meant the team heavies were drawing disproportionate attention from the Nazis. "All platoons, keep going," he said, readying himself to go back out. "We've got to keep them off-balance so they don't regroup!" Affirmations from the platoon commanders came over the commlink. He nodded to Tachibana, who smiled thinly and nodded back. "You didn't sign up for this either, did you?"

"Not particularly," she admitted, her voice accented with Oxford English despite her name. An amused glint in her brown eyes made Zack grin. "But I did sign up to stop the Nazis. It's why I'm here and not with my ship."

"Right. Well, here goes!" With that Zack emerged from cover, trying to stay low while spraying pulse fire where he could. He caught one infantry soldier trying to get a bead on him and Tachibana shot the soldier before he could fire. With the rest of the unit they were almost to the other side of the Horst Wesselstrasse and the enemy seemed completely surprised by the attack.

Zack looked to one of the enemy tanks in the road rotating its cannon around to fire on the others. The same rotation turned the turret away from his position with Tachibana. "Cover me," he ordered. She nodded just as he turned away. Zack jumped from cover and pulled a demolition charge from his field uniform's belt. It took only seconds to get close enough to place the charge up on the turret ring, after which he turned and sprinted back toward cover.

Before he could get back, the charge detonated. Spalling from the torn metal tore into the crew space, ripping them apart in the second before the destruction hit the ammo storage. A massive shockwave slammed into Zack, throwing him into the air. He tumbled and landed hard, knocking the air out of his lungs. He sucked in several breaths trying to get over the shock of the hit, wondering briefly if he was more severely wounded.

He was just about certain he wasn't and started to get up when a boot kicked him in the side of the head. Even through his protective helmet Zack felt an impact that might have caused a concussion without said helmet. The world spun in terrible colors as he fell over on his side and looked up at his attacker, a frowning, angry-looking enemy soldier. Strands of blond hair showed around his enemy's face, with hate-filled blue eyes glaring at him, and a pair of SS thunderbolts prominently displayed on his collar beside rank insignia. Wordlessly the soldier brought his disruptor rifle up to shoot Zack, who was still recovering his equilibrium.

There was a powerful impact that splintered the SS trooper's helmet. Blood erupted from the other side of the helmet, joined with some gray matter, and the enemy trooper dropped with a hole in his head. Given the nature of the wound, and the fact there was no flash of pulse fire, Zack guessed at his savior and croaked into the comm line, "Thanks, Vakarian."

"You're welcome," Garrus replied.

Zack got back to his feet and had a moment to take in the battle now that it was on the north side of the boulevard. The counter-attack was working; the SS unit was disintegrating. To the west Dilgar infantry were riding up on mechanized vehicles, joining the counter-attack.

"Are you alright?"

Zack turned his head. Robert was approaching, his lightsaber now off and hanging from his waist again. In his blue armor and those brown robes he was a unique sight compared to the uniformed soldiers and naval troopers around them, including Zack's own field uniform. Sweat coated his forehead, much as it did Zack's own. "Are you alright?" Robert repeated.

"Got my bell rung. Twice." Zack rubbed at his head. "But nothing serious."

"Good." The sounds of battle were moving further away. "The Dilgar got their reinforcements to us. The SS battalion's in full retreat. I'm betting they didn't realize how ferocious your unit could be."

"Or that you were with us," Zack said. "I doubt they planned for three life force whatever users, and certainly not for Commander Shepard."

"Seeing her in action as I have, I don't think anyone can plan for Shepard. Not unless it counts surrendering immediately upon encountering her." Robert chuckled. "So, think you can get back to sleep?"

Zack's reply to that was a harsh laugh. "No. Not happening now."

"Thought so." Robert gestured toward the road leading to the center of the city. "I guess we should press on, then."

"I guess," Zack agreed. "The sooner we get to the center of the city, the sooner this ends."

"Then get your people ready, and I'll alert the others," Robert said. He turned and looked down the road, as did Zack, toward the silhouettes of the city's massive structures in the far distance, barely illuminated by the brief flashes of artillery strikes. "It's time to make our push."
”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 »

Angel slept soundly in the lounge with some of the others, finding the cot to not be too uncomfortable. It was a unique experience. Even during the weeks after the ambush at Krellan Nebula and the start of the war, they'd never resorted to an arrangement like this, keeping everyone at or near duty stations with no one cleared to return to their quarters.

When she woke up, it was to find the table covered with pitchers of coffee and tea and a number of pastries and finger foods. She grabbed a breakfast wrap that proved to have chicken and cheese with lettuce and wolfed it down with a cup of well-brewed raktajino. It was on the bitter side, but she didn't get why the others thought it was so terrible. And it certainly woke you up.

Looking around Angel noticed that she was one of the first of the main crew to be up. Jarod and Violeta and Locarno were all snoozing away and Mallory was half-awake. She frowned when she saw that the last empty cot, meant for Cat, was not only empty, but had clearly not been used. After retrieving her uniform jacket and fitting it on properly, Angel went out to the bridge. Lieutenant Takawira had the backup watch on duty: Crane at Tactical, Neyzi at Ops, Rawlins at the helm, and Tagas at Science…

Or rather, it should have been Ensign Tagas, but the Dorei man wasn't present at all. Cat was still at her post, a free hand on a cup of what Angel guessed was coffee, her eyes focused on a sensor screen showing this universe's Berlin and shifting color in the city center. She went up to the station and looked down. "Have you gotten any sleep at all?"

"I've been busy," said Cat. "They're getting close enough that I'm starting to get a fix on the research facility."

"I'm sure Tagas could have done this," Angel said. "You should let him relieve you. Or Al-Rashad."

"She's on a rest cycle," Cat said. "I had her running the search from Lab 2. And Tagas… I mean, he could've done this, but I…" Cat looked at her sister with weary eyes. Bags were already formed under them. "I felt it was something I had to do. To make sure."

"Silly nerd," Angel sighed. "You need your sleep, Cat."

"I'll get some as soon as I'm done. Besides…" Cat frowned. "It's not like Rob and Zack and Lucy and Meridina are getting to sleep."

"Yeah." Angel nodded. "They aren't. But that doesn't mean you have to stay up too."

"I have to find that facility. Then they can hit it and complete this mission and come home and the war can finally be over so we can get out of here." As Cat continued speaking her frustration was clearly growing. "But that can't happen because these Nazi jerks are hiding it too well!" Cat ended her remark with a frustrated smack to her table.

"This is all the more reason you need some sleep," Angel insisted. "Now, call up Tagas and get to that cot. Sleep as much as you can before the Nazis send another fleet at us."

Cat sighed and nearly did so. Just as she did so, her screen showed new readings. A particle trace, one of many given the technology used in the fighting, but still…. "Wait," she said. "Look."


"That neutrino signature. It's a little off but…" Cat tapped at her omnitool. "Delgado to Ground Team."

"Yes, Cat?" The reply was from Robert.

"I think I've found them!" Cat informed him. "Tra'dur, are you there?"

"I am."

"I'm relaying a particle reading to you, it just came up. What do you think?"

There was silence initially. After several moments Tra'dur's voice came back. "The wavelength is a little off, but it does look like a drive signature."

"I think we've found their research facility," Cat said.

"I would concur. They must be testing a model, even now."

"Good job, Cat," said Robert. "Now go get some sleep."

"What? Why are you…"

"Because you've been up all night trying to find this place," he replied. "And there's no telling when another fleet's going to show up, so you need your rest."

"Oh." Knowing she couldn't argue, Cat sighed… and it promptly turned into a yawn. "Okay. And Rob…"

"We'll be careful," was the response. "Good night, Cat."

When the call ended, Angel was already alerting Tagas to return to the bridge. He arrived and nodded to Cat, who relinquished the science/sensor station to him. She went to the lounge where, after removing her uniform jacket, she slid her cot over to Violeta's and laid down in it. She fluffed the pillow laid her head on it and was asleep within seconds.

With the flank attack beaten off, the team worked their way down the Horst Wesselstrasse. Statues adorned both sides of the wide road, accompanied by an increasing number of state ministry offices among the other institutions like banks and stores. The industrial sector was clearly long behind them. Ahead, as sunlight crept over the horizon, they could see the massive structures of the city center, the most prominent being the massive Volkshalle built near the Tiergarten along the Spree.

The disgust that the team felt toward the Nazi imagery was in some small apart ameliorated by the fact that much of it was on fire.

Even now the artillery was raining down on the area. Much of it was Coalition, although the Nazis had some remaining that they were using with abandon. Their World Capital was the work of centuries of Nazi architecture and labor, but they clearly showed no hesitation in wrecking it in the course of a day.

"The facilities are located in the Friedrich-Wilhelm University grounds," King was saying, observing the data Cat sent. "According to their files, this section is named the Werner Von Braun Academy of Advanced Physics."

"The university is east of Brandenburg Gate," Robert noted. "And that's not far from the Führerhaus, where intel says the Führerbunker is."

"You think Sauckel's in there?" Zack asked.

"I'd bet on it. Withdrawing their leader would be seen as an admission of defeat by the SS and the OKW." Robert smiled grimly. "So if we can manage it, I say we go pick up Herr Sauckel after dealing with the Von Braun Academy."

"A workable plan," King said in agreement.

Ahead of them, the sound of weapons fire was growing. Aururian troops were to their right, moving to flank the Reich's defenders on the road and secure routes to Tempelhof and the southern entrance into the Reich's capital district. Dilgar troops would shift to the left but were going to be their primary backup heading in.

Robert reached for his lightsaber and unlatched it from his belt. "We've made it to the heart of their precious 'World Capital'." He flashed the others a wicked grin. "Let's go wreck it."

"Let's," agreed Lucy.

Leo awoke from a nap in his office and departed a minute later, a near-finished mug of coffee in his hand and his uniform and lab coat on. He ventured into the arrival ward, now bearing overflow from the Normal Care Ward. Some of the wounded were crew assigned to the Aurora, but a few were from other starships. He noted a Tellarite in a damaged Starfleet uniform, likely from one of the Starfleet ships lost in the fleet battle, and a Dilgar male being tended to by an Alakin nurse. Doctor Hreept was inspecting these wounded. "Doctor, you are rested?" the Alakin physician asked.

"I am, about as well as could be expected," replied Leo. "Anything new?"

"Several more wounded that are overflow from the army surgical hospitals. Doctor Walker is treating them."


"In the Critical Care Ward, still."

"I'll relieve her then," Leo said, moving on to do so. As he passed through, he felt relief that his friends on the surface weren't present. While they would likely be treated planetside if the worst happened… well, no they wouldn't, because the worst happening would preclude treatment…

Stop worrying, Leo. Focus. You've got patients.

He arrived in the Critical Care Ward to find the worst of the cases on the ship. Most were from hull breaches suffered late in the fight. There were again some wounded from other ships and from planetside.

Worst of all, four of the occupants were entirely covered by sheets.

From the central station near the entrance of the ward, Doctor Singh looked up. Amita Singh was a woman of strong features, New Punjabi by birth with ancestors from that same region of the Earth in Universe L2M1. She appraised him with weary eyes. "We lost four more," she said quietly. "Their injuries were too severe."

"So I see." Leo swallowed. "I'm sorry."

"There was nothing that could be done. The surgeons did their best, as did we. I've already filed the reports." She stood. "Your office?"

"Or the lab," Leo said. "Some of the nurses are setting up there."

"I prefer the office, and thank you for allowing it." With visible relief Singh went for the door. Leo finished recording the change in watch doctor and settled into the seat. So far the critical cases were stable, or at least not in need of any immediate help. But that would change, and that was assuming no immediate cases arrived in the medbay.

"I just want this damned war over with," Leo grumbled aloud, after which he breathed a prayer for the friends and colleagues who were, even now, risking their lives to bring about his request.

The center of Germania was a great maze of towering structures that housed the immense bureaucracy that worked in the various government ministries of the Reich. Shops could be found on the lower floors of the buildings; some structures were entirely given over to commercial or other enterprises. Law firms, trading corporations, everything one might find in an urban area. To supplement the roads at ground level, the Reich had added elevated roads that moved from building to building on bridges several stories in the air. Some buildings even had open floors to accommodate these roads, spanned on massive reinforced concrete arches.

These immense flyovers removed cross-traffic and distributed vehicles directly into the massive parking garages which held the commuters. The bridges themselves were a box truss, carrying transit lines inside of them, neatly concealed from view in favour of the Reich’s ornate architecture. At the heart of the city the Volkshalle now loomed above everything, the dome a truly immense presence, large enough to fit the Great Pyramid at Giza comfortably inside.

The ruins of one such bridge now blocked the way down the Horst Wesselstrasse. Positioned along the ruins were a full company of Lowe or “Lion” heavy tanks and perhaps the better part of an improvised abteilung, part of the strong force guarding the core government buildings. Getting through them would require a major battle which might last hours, and even as he conducted recon now, Robert had to move quickly to avoid the harassing fire that the Nazi forward positions directed towards even a single man.

Robert considered one of the high rises as a detour and immediately discounted the idea. He sensed the danger there. Too many places they could be held in place by enemy troops, too much risk of one side or the other bringing the building down upon their heads. Instead they turned down the Kurfürstenstrasse and headed toward the Reich Ministries section of the Volkstrasse, the parade avenue of the government district in Tiergarten.

Robert felt the sense of danger with the others. Talara voiced it by shouting "Look out!", even though she didn't recognize where the attack was coming from. Everyone back to the advancing squads of Marines and naval infantry started moving toward cover.

The attack was heralded by scream of shellfire, rather than the whine of disruptor they'd grown used to . Scanning with their omitools Robert and the others quickly identified the threat. Nazi panzers were on the elevated road two blocks to the north, at the very edge of the high-rise dominated area along the Landwehr Canal. Their gun turrets were depressed as low as they could be, allowing them to fire on anyone trying to go down the Kurfürstenstrasse. Another shot boomed, forcing everyone to pull back toward Horst Wesselstrasse. "We've got tanks on the elevated road," Zack reported into the tactical comm. "North of our location. Think we can get some support?"

"Fire support is already tasked to other units," replied a controller for the Coalition command.

"This is Captain Robert Dale. I'm a Paladin on an urgent mission and I need priority," Robert insisted.

"Understood Captain. I just found some air units to assist."

Robert was giving his thanks when the attack began. Lucy intercepted a shot meant for him with a swing of her weapon. Meridina shielded Zack while Shepard and Kaidan cooperated on a biotic field that absorbed the other incoming attacks. The attackers were quickly identified as firing from the high rise to their south. Everyone scrambled for the only cover that was realistic; the shadow of the building. "Wait," Meridina urged as everyone went for the visible door into what looked like a fancy retail shop. She projected force into said door, throwing it open.

A massive plume of plasma and flame erupted from the door, accompanied by a shockwave that threw several Marines and infantry on their backs. Tali was knocked back into Wrex, who caught her. A massive concentration of fire from concealed positions inside of offices on upper levels of surrounding high-rises converged on them, disruptors scouring the ground. Zack’s entire unit hit the deck, rapidly throwing back suppressive fire as their scouts tried to pinpoint the positions of the enemy strongpoints in the upper stories and direct man-portable missiles into them.

One thing was clear: If they remained in position out in the open on the Kurfürstenstrasse, they were all going to die within minutes. Tra’dur growled through her teeth and pulled a Dilgar stick grenade off the bandolier she’d grabbed earlier. “Come on, it’s the doorway or we’re all dead, we’ve already triggered the trap, let’s go!” Slinging the grenade underhanded in a perfect throw through the doorway, she rose to charge. The explosion was perfectly timed, but the enemy behind cover waited for it and then, and only then, took their positions. The shout of “Stellungen!” saw all expression leave Tra’dur’s face. A moment later disruptor beams sizzled through the doorway.

Talara on instinct lunged and knocked her clear of the converging disruptor beams. As she did, it seemed that the position exploded again from a micro-missile or rifle grenade launched from somewhere, screaming through the entrance.

Tra’dur’s plan might have been a feat of reckless courage, but the realisation and the plan were both sound, the mysterious explosion a perfect opportunity, and the rest of the team followed up by impulse. Meridina and Lucy charged in, their lightsabers flashing blue streaks in the air that deflected the emerald beams coming at them. Ashley and Wrex followed with their rifles blazing, Zack behind them leading a squad with an automatic shotgun.

Robert was so intent on covering the rest of Zack’s troops trying to reach shelter alongside the base of the building that he almost missed the incoming air support. Craft streaked through the sky, too fast for him to notice. The release of weapons was perfectly silent,and for a moment it seemed like they had just flown overhead. Then the rippling explosions through the buildings told him they'd hit home, a cascade of steel, concrete and glass pounding to the pavement of the Kurfürstenstrasse as the PGMs detonated directly in the Reich positions which had been marked by ground-based targeting from Zack’s troops. "Ground team, you're clear," said a female voice that he thought he recognized.

A moment later he realized he did, in fact, recognize the voice. "Colonel Deering?" he asked.

"Captain Dale, it's good to hear from you," said Wilma Deering, a starfighter pilot and commander from Earth N2C5's United Earth Alliance "We cleared those vehicles from the upper road. And collapsed it, I have to add. From what I see, your way is clear."

"Thank you, and my best to Buck and the others if you see them after all of this," Robert replied. When the call ended he turned to Anders and Zack. "What's our status?"

"Snipers on several floors." Anders frowned. "It's going to take forever to clear the building."

"I don't have forever. Let's keep going."

"And leave these Nazis in our rear?"

Robert shook his head. "They won't be for long. Let's go." As they worked with Shepard to get everyone out of the shop, now secured, he used his omnitool to identify the building as a sniper's nest to the Coalition command, ensuring the Dilgar or Aururian units following them would work to secure the building.

Careful to keep themselves shielded by the structure as long as possible, they ventured on toward the Reich Ministries, taking them into the heart of the city, their destination now mere kilometers away.

In the ready office off the bridge Julia checked over reports of the damage control efforts currently underway. While their shields would not be at full strength with the loss of one of the primary generators, at least the armor and hull were fully patched, the self-repair systems' work reinforced by careful damage control repairs. It was one of the Aurora's great advantages, one shared with the Unity and the other Darglan-tech ships, that the self-repair systems let them fix with ease damage that usually required delicate EVA work or a full yard. Some of the other vessels in the fleet wouldn't be so lucky.

With reports on her ship done, Julia took the time to check the status of the fighting on the ground. The battle was going well, although with great cost. She noted with relief that none of her friends were listed as casualties, although a quick check confirmed that several of Zack's company were dead or badly wounded, as were a few of Anders' Marines.

She was considering requesting more information on their situation when the call came from the bridge. Locarno's voice was tense. "Code Red, all hands to battlestations. Enemy fleet inbound. Captain Andreys, please report to the bridge."

She jumped from her chair about as forcefully as she ever had and rushed to the bridge. Locarno swapped from the command chair to the first officer chair. He was somewhat rested, at least, although there was still a hint of visible discomfort at being in one of the central chairs. "Status on enemy fleet?"

"It might be the same one from before, but with reinforcements," Locarno indicated. "Maybe some ships pulled from their main fleet."

"What's the status of that battle?"

Locarno checked the report quickly. "Maran's fleet is fully engaged. It looks like the Reich fleet's throwing everything they can find at him. They must have a thousand ships more than he does now."

That wasn't good news, but Julia had faith that Maran could deal with the numerical disparity well enough to win.

There was no need, nor time, to give further orders. The enemy fleet dropped from warp in near-orbital space. Barely a second passed before disruptor and torpedo fire erupted from the enemy. The Coalition fleet immediately returned fire, creating a riot of lethal colors in the space over Germania. The Aurora lent its contribution to this display, her pulse plasma cannons raking a Reich cruiser with sapphire fury. The blue-white fields of solar torpedoes buried themselves into the hull of the enemy ship, eradicating the Hakenkreuz insignia on its side.

Multiple disruptor blasts played over the Aurora's weakened shields. A shield-disrupting torpedo from a Nazi destroyer nearly struck as well, only to be destroyed at the last minute by a timely shot from the Aurora's particle interceptor batteries.

"Shields already down to seventy percent," Jarod warned. "The starboard shields are degrading."

"It's the loss of Primary 4 Captain," Ensign Mallory added. "Shield capacity and regeneration rate are down and coverage on the starboard is compromised."

"And they know it too," Locarno warned

Julia saw immediately what he meant. Two enemy cruisers were already maneuvering to the starboard side, focusing their fire upon it, and a battlecruiser was joining them. Maneuvering to present their port side would disrupt the Alliance formation and put the enemy out of their primary arc.

The weapons kept firing at the approaching enemy, degrading their shields steadily. Another enemy barrage caused a similar loss on their side. "I'm wearing them down as best as I can," said Angel. "But I don't think… wait."

What Angel noticed was soon evident to everyone. Amber beams sliced into one of the Nazi Tannenburg-class cruisers until its shields began to falter. A pair of white sparks - quantum torpedoes - slammed into the ship, blasting gaping wounds into the Nazi cruiser's bow and port side. Within moments the fire that was steadily degrading the weakened starboard shields ceased making so many impacts as their fury was instead spent on the shields of the Enterprise-E, now off their starboard side.

"The Enterprise is covering us to starboard. Other Federation ships are moving up to meet the enemy," Jarod said.

"Ross is reinforcing our section of the fleet," Locarno said.

Julia nodded. "Let's return the favor and keep the enemy off their port. Maintain fire, cruisers are priority targets. Koenig and the fighters will take care of enemy destroyers."

"Transmitting orders now."

The ship shuddered under another hit, slightly straining Julia against her seat harness. She kept her focus on the tactical display as the battle continued around them.

The sleek Sovereign-class USS Enterprise entered her first fight as if she were spoiling for one. Phaser beams lashed out repeatedly at the Tannenburg-class Nazi cruiser to starboard. Red-hued shields kept crackling into view as the amber beams struck.

The Enterprise-E's bridge was rather different from the prior Enterprise. Gone was the wood-paneled horseshoe with the tactical station at the center, behind and above the Captain's Chair. Now tactical was on the starboard rear corner of the bridge. The helm and operations were likewise placed in close proximity to each other. At Operations was Data, as always, while the helm was manned by Lieutenant Hawk, a male Human officer. Lieutenant Padraig Daniels stood at Tactical.

"Enemy vessel's shields are degrading," Daniels reported. Return fire caused the deck to shudder beneath them.

Data added, "Our shields are down to eighty-nine percent. No further damage."

"Attack Pattern Beta, Mister Hawk, Mister Daniels," Picard ordered. At his right side Commander Riker kept his eye on his own station, allowing him to coordinate the ship's crew for the battle. "Remember to keep us to the Aurora's starboard."

Under the control of the two officers, the Enterprise maneuvered to bring her torpedoes to bear. Daniels fired a spread of the projectiles and Hawk promptly brought the Enterprise back over, ensuring that another disruptor bolt meant for the Alliance vessel's shields instead struck Enterprise's.

The quantum torpedoes fired from Enterprise followed her phaser strikes in, slamming against the cruiser's shields until they caused a localized shield disruption. Phaser beams played over the Nazi vessel's hull, splitting it open.

To make the cruiser's problems worse, other Starfleet vessels joined the attack. A Miranda-class ship pelted the wound with photon torpedoes. The shields regained cohesion in time to stop the follow-up phaser strikes, but the injury to the Tannenburg-class cruiser was already done.

This freed the Enterprise to face the Lützow-class battlecruiser just as its spinal-mount disruptors lashed out at them. This time the hit caused a severe rocking throughout the ship. "Direct hit," warned Data. "Shields are down to sixty percent."

"Return fire."

At Picard's order the Enterprise-E directed her firepower on the battlecruiser. Its shields proved to made of tougher stuff than those of the enemy cruiser, absorbing the phaser fire and torpedoes without effect.

Ten streams of thick sapphire bolts crashed into the enemy battlecruiser a moment later, followed by a flurry of beams of the same color. The Aurora was directing her own considerable firepower on the enemy ship. Daniels followed up with more shots of his own, this time causing clear loss to the enemy's beleaguered shields.

This didn't stop the enemy battlecruiser from firing again. Hawk maneuvered enough to evade the thick disruptor beams from the spine. One instead smashed into a Galaxy-class starship to their stern. Said vessel, the Venture, retorted with a barrage of rapid phaser strikes and a full spread of photon torpedoes. The Excelsior-class Lakota joined in the attack, firing quantum torpedoes into the growing wound in the battlecruiser's shields causing immense devastation across the Reich warship's hull.

The enemy ship attempted to break off, to find cover with allies, but the SS commander had provoked too many foes with his bold lunge at the Aurora. The Enterprise and the Starfleet vessels around her were relentless in their attacks on the battlecruiser, pounding it with phaser and torpedo fire until it finally blew apart.

Given how the SS viewed the Federation and its reputation, the attack was a fair reminder to them that for all Starfleet talked of peace and mutual understanding, it still had teeth and it knew how to use them.

There was no chance to reflect on this, however; there were more foes coming up, and the Enterprise was soon hotly engaged with them.

The team spent an hour fighting their way through the Ministries, a battle they'd still be tied up in if Dilgar troops blasting through the barricades at the southern terminus of the "Volkstrasse" hadn't linked up with them. Now they were in striking distance of the massive Volkshalle, a gigantic domed structure at the heart of the Reich capital. Even a kilometer away the building was imposing in its size and grandeur, and atop it was an emblem of the Reich, with an utterly massive winged eagle perched over a wreath around the swastika. It might in fact be the largest classical Dome in the multiverse--only geodesic hab domes were larger.

"I say we blow it up," Lucy said, looking toward the structure. "What do you think?"

"I think it can wait until we finish our mission," Robert answered, grinning.

"Business before pleasure. Right."

A green uniformed Dilgar approached them and gave a salute. "Battle Expert Ter'shar," he introduced himself. "My unit's been detached to assist yours." Beyond him more Dilgar infantry approached, male and female in worn combat uniform and gear mounted on more of the inevitable old but serviceable kit, IFVs and APCs that had gone through some ridiculous up-armouring kits.

"We need to get to the research facility on the University grounds nearby," Robert said, speaking to both Ter'shar and the others.

"There are enemy forces holding positions in an arc through the university gardens and residential blocs. They are in a fight with one of your units that approached from the east, but they have the reserves to block our advance," Ter'shar warned.

"They may not know where we're planning on attacking," King said. She looked to Robert. "Why don't you take Shepard's team, Commander Meridina, and Lieutenant Lucero with you? Feint toward the Führerbunker and draw them in. Our forces will round north toward the Brandenburg Gate and then swing to the east as soon as you have their attention."

"Sounds like a plan," Robert said. He glanced toward the others.

"I'm all for it," replied Shepard.

Meridina and Lucy nodded their approval as well. Lucy looked to Talara and said, "Keep Captain King and Lieutenant Tra'dur safe, Talara."

"Yes ma'am," the Falaen replied. The orders gave her renewed confidence. She’d already done that with Tra’dur. She drew on the feelings of hope from those around her and concentrated on the task ahead.

Zack gave Robert a worried look. Robert returned it with a nod and a small smile. "We'll be okay, Zack. And we'll link up with you when we can. Take that research facility. It's the reason we're here."

"We will, and you'd better damn well keep yourself alive while we do it," Zack answered.

"The same to you."

With this final goodbye, Robert and the others broke away from Zack's unit. They cut over to the east by a block to approach the bunker from the south. Outside of the parade lane of the Volkstrasse, the high rises were again surrounding them. But many of these were burning, broken wrecks and some were completely collapsed. Robert, Meridina, and Lucy sensed the dead and dying in the rubble. And some were not soldiers. Each sensed the others' sadness at this realization - at the very real fact that civilian life was being lost - and together they provided some measure of comfort to one another on this.

One thing all of the rubble and broken shells of vehicles allowed for was plenty of cover, which proved vital as sniper fire occasionally converged on them. The three intercepted the snipers' fire, deflecting their shots, and mentally noting their positions to the others. Garrus and Ashley provided counter-sniper fire with their rifles. These attacks slowed their advance at points, but they did not stop it.

A squad of Panzergrenadiers challenged them to the south of the "Führerplatz", where Sauckel's palatial residence and its adjoining square bordered Brandenburger Tor and the Kroll Opera House. By this point it was clear that the cohesion of the defence was breaking down. Nazi reserve units were moving in disorder and encountering the enemy randomly as command and control was degraded by the continuous artillery and aerial assault which still filled the sky with an unending screaming and roaring and shook their bones as it had, unrelentingly, for more than forty hours straight.

Robert responded to their presence with a wave of force that sent one flying backward and forced the others to brace themselves. Meridina and Lucy rushed ahead. Their lightsabers scythed through the air in blue flashes, cutting through the suits' armor. As they went to work dismembering and disabling two of the suits Shepard shot forward and slammed into the third that was still standing. Her shotgun thundered, a point-blank shot that penetrated the machine's armor partially. The pilot inside stepped back and tried to aim one of his arm weapons at her, but Shepard was already in motion. Biotic power erupted under the armor and knocked its legs out from under the pilot. Shepard stepped up to the chest and discharged her weapon again, this time at the faceplate. The slug smashed through the armor and killed the pilot within.

With another sniper firing at them, Robert was busy deflecting that foe's shots and directing Ashley and Garrus toward him, leaving Wrex, Tali, and Kaidan to deal with the suit he'd toppled. The Panzergrenadier got back to his feet just to be thrown off them again by Wrex, who slammed into the armor at a full charge. While Wrex's shotgun boomed, wrecking one of the legs, Kaidan's biotics flared to life and tore the left arm off as it trained to aim at Wrex. Tali came up to the right side and used her omnitool to fire a cryoburst in the right arm, flash-freezing it in place. With his foe helpless, Wrex finished him off with three more shotgun blasts that overwhelmed his armor.

This proved the most intense of their battles on their way toward the grounds of the Führerhaus, itself part of a complex of buildings housing military command offices. Around them, the sun was starting to fall, helped by the choking clouds of smoke from the endless fires in the city. The light turned a sickening red-orange through the boiling, roiling clouds and cast unnatural shadows across the ground. Ahead of them, the architecture had a grandiose, Gothic feel to it; like much of the city it was built to transcend prior forms of similar structures. The effect was especially unnerving in the fading, smoke-choked light.

The group expected heavy resistance. More Panzergrenadiers, actual tanks, infantry in prepared defensive positions. What they found seemed more like stragglers, as if a more vital place was being defended. Individual squads of infantry who quickly fell to the powers and skills of the team. Approaching the building, Robert could sense something cold and dark ahead. He noticed Meridina and Lucy did as well, but none of them reacted.

"Might I suggest we split into teams to take different entrances?" Meridina asked. "I do not sense numerous foes in the structure."

"We can go through the front," Robert said. "Shepard, can you have your team sweep the north entrance? Depending on what we find, we'll break off and rejoin the others."

Shepard gave him a searching look. When he didn't blink she finally nodded. "Alright. Good luck, and keep in touch. Let's go everyone!" She led her team away to the side of the building.

Robert exchanged looks, and feelings, with Lucy and Meridina. They agreed that this might be safer for Shepard and her team. While I do not doubt Commander Shepard's combat abilities, nor her talent against those with swevyra, the rest of her team may not fare as well.

I was thinking more that Shepard can hit them from behind if we need her help,
Robert responded mentally. "Let's go," he said aloud. "We need to find out what this darkness we're feeling is."

"Yeah." Lucy reached a hand up and pulled the ornate front doors off with a gesture. They entered.

The opening hall was much like any foyer to any office building, complete with directories and a desk for building security or information. That it was adorned with Nazi imagery was substantially less appealing.

Ahead of them there was movement. Six figures in what looked like specialized SS field uniforms were assembled by a lift. A look of angry familiarity crossed Lucy's face as the SS-garbed men turned to face the team.

At the rear stood one particular man, genetically-engineered to have the blond hair and blue eyes of the Nazi ideal, who gave them a contemptuous look.

"Fassbinder!" Robert called out.

A small, contempt-filled smile crossed the Nazi's face, after which he stepped into the open lift. "Deal with them," he ordered.

"Jawohl, mein Oberführer," one of the other men said. Like Fassbinder, like them all, he had blue eyes and blond hair, although his hair was a shade closer to gold than the others.

The door to the lift closed.

As the remaining five SS turned toward the trio Robert connected to Shepard with his omnitool. "We've got hostiles on this end, we'll hold them."

"Roger. Let us know if you need backup."

"Right." Robert lowered his omnitool. His right hand was already reaching for his weapon. Lucy and Meridina re-ignited their lightsabers a second before he did.

In a smooth coordinated motion, the five SS pulled objects from their belt. Robert didn't recognize the style, but he had a sudden horrible realization of what they were using, a realization that proved true when five blades of crimson light flashed to life with a harsh electronic snap and prolonged hiss.

The five charged toward the trio. Lucy and Meridina moved ahead to meet them. Robert, not the duelist either of them were, stood his ground to receive his initial attacker, or more accurately, to project force that stopped the SS in his tracks. Two hate-filled blue eyes started to turn yellow as the SS man met his power with the same, but colder, darker.

Lucy found herself dealing with two opponents. She kept her movements defensive, letting her blue blade intercept repeated strikes from the red blades of her opponents. Training with Julia and her own personal training came through for her here, as Lucy kept her movements short and quick, causing her trained but untried foes to waste energy trying to strike her. She weaved, ducked, and spun, her lightsaber flashing in the air to repeatedly meet her foes' attacks, even as they tried to flank her.

Meridina tried to engage two herself, and successfully locked blades with one. But the other continued on, coming to the aid of his comrade trying to attack Robert. She twirled, evaded a blow from her foe, and sent a bolt of force into the SS trooper's back that sent him flying before he could hit Robert from the side.

Robert, sensing the threat he might still face, chose to give ground as needed. He stepped back, letting his opponent move forward, and felt out for the other intended attacker. He felt the SS man stand, his heart full of fury, and felt dark power surge from that raw anger, that raw rage. He forced his focus to split long enough to generate a strong field of force that grabbed and threw his second opponent toward his first. He hadn't intended the result, but seeing them collide and fall in a tangle of limbs gave him a moment of amusement. Just a moment, however, as one of them quickly sat up and opened his hands toward Robert. As his eyes' gold color intensified Robert felt darkness well within the man. He was surprised when purplish electricity surged from the gloved hands of his foe. He barely got his lightsaber in the way in time. The lightning crackled angrily at the green energy of his blade, as if trying to arc around it.

Meridina's opponent was proving a skilled duelist, and Meridina sensed the scars on his face were part of that background. His style was unlike any Meridina had seen, with a lakesh or a lightsaber, consisting of quick one-handed movements while the free hand kept balance or acted as a focus for attacks with his darkness-tainted life force energy. She responded to the style with careful, defensive maneuvers, waiting to find her opening.

Robert's second foe stood. Like the other, dark power welled up within him and lightning crackled from his fingertips. Robert shifted his weapon until he was catching both attacks with it. He grunted with effort, supplementing the lightsaber's deflective properties with his own power, allowing him to weather the attack of his two foes.

With growing frustration and rage they escalated the power surging at him. Robert matched it with determination, continuing what was, for the moment, a stalemate.
”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 »

Acting in concert Zack's infantry, the Marines, and the Dilgar under Ter'shar followed the Volkstrasse north toward the Brandenburg Gate. They broke to the east before reaching the parks of the Tiergarten. The enemy response to their advance was sporadic given the multiple Coalition thrusts toward the heart of the city and the strained resources of the divisions responsible for defending the capital.

The Dilgar troops had attacked with headlong aggression again and again, trying to get into the operational decision loop of the enemy. To a certain extent it had worked, because each time they had broken through. The casualties of Ter’shar’s battalion had been enormous, though. Combat car after combat car had gone up, their armour inadequate against the firepower of the Nazi defenders.

The result had been dead Dilgar, burned, minced, blasted to pieces, or dying in unusual composure from shockwaves. There were at least a hundred burned corpses in view of his position at the moment, and seventeen burned out Dilgar vehicles. Survivors threw up on the street as their NCOs screamed at them or, especially in the heat of the moment for silver furred old veterans of the Imperium’s military, beat or kicked them until they re-assumed their positions.

Zack found himself hunkered down with a young Dilgar corporal, or something like that anyway, who was attaching the guidance package to a new disposable anti-tank missile tube and checking the bullet count on her magazines. She was shaking, but looked intently at her weapons, focused on her job and forcing fingers through the motions.

She looked too damned young. “How old are you?” He asked, feeling as sick as he’d ever felt.

She looked up through wide, blue, catlike eyes and blinked hard. “Fifteen, human officer, Sir,” she answered in broken English, rising as she finished her checks.

“My God, why the hell are you here?”

“Because Dilgar are not beggars. We will show we equal. Sir.” She snapped the lock off her rifle, took one last look, and dashed to join another unit forming up.

“Jesus Christ.” The night was stealing his sight as he leaned back against the cold concrete, and he reached for his night-vision goggles. Zack could see pretty clearly the moral dimension. The Union espoused the values of democracy but Shai’jhur couldn’t change things in a day, or a generation. Their Army still ran on brutality and conscription. She needed the experienced people used to that. And she craved respect for her people. Redemption.

And they’d been too desperate for help in the war they’d started to say no. So they got fifteen year old conscripts. Zack remembered seeing them, was it minutes, was it hours, ago--probably shooting Nazi troops who had surrendered. Looking at the piles of charred corpses and burned out vehicles and that girl seared in his mind, he decided he hadn’t actually seen that and there was no need to bring it up.

One of his NCOs, Tucker Johansen, came trotting up with a report. Zack turned to greet him and shake the memory from his head when an abrupt explosion in the middle of the street sent a shockwave and shrapnel across their position. He watched as Tucker was literally shredded before his eyes, ripped by the shockwave and destroyed by shrapnel in so much of a heartbeat from the blast. A heartbeat later it sent him flying through a window into a shop. A meter to the right and he’d have been flung into the granite facing of the building instead.

The building like as not saved his life as the rest of the multiple rocket salvo slammed into the street in front of him in a continuous rippling detonation of impacts. The flashes were damped by filters in the night-vision goggles he was wearing, and as the roar of the impacts passed, he pulled himself to his feet and dashed back out into the street. The explosions had shredded the dead and the living alike, and this time his own soldiers were among the wounded. Forcing himself to overcome the impulse to stand and stagger insensately from the shock, he screamed at the top of his lungs. “CORPSMEN, CORPSMEN, GET CORPSMEN FORWARD NOW!!”

As they came forward, Zack could heard heavy fighting, direct-fire disruptors and cannon, on the right. The latest Dilgar push was at hammer and tongs with the enemy and the rockets must have been fire support from a surviving Nazi battery which had overshot its intended target, landing on his unit instead of the Dilgar. Or since they were all part of the same attack it didn’t matter and they’d simply targeted what they could. As the corpsmen came forward, Zack dashed for the wounded himself to help with first aid. At the moment it was all he could do.

Zack was busy checking up on one of his wounded, a young Irishman nearly disintegrated by the plasma warhead on one of the rockets, when the last two Dilgar combat cars still intact finished flanking the main enemy position on the lateral road just south of Brandenburger Tor. "Commander, we've got an open route," said Anders over the taclink. "My Marines have scouted the approach, no more opponents. It looks like they're pulling back to the University grounds. Bring your men forward."

"We're on our way," Zack said.

Can you meet with me to plan out our attack as your unit moves up?

“Yes, what’s the position of concentration?

Designated Alpha Sierra X-ray on the taclink.”

” Zack switched to general tactical orders. “All troops, this is Commander Carrey. Converge on tactical point Alpha Sierra X-ray!

With stretcher-bearers starting to take the wounded back to the nearest battalion aid station he felt confident with moving forward. After shaking the injured man's hand one last time Zack jumped on a passing Dilgar vehicle--the markings suggested it was reinforcements from a second battalion now coming up the road--and joined the infantry sitting on it in a ride toward the front. Around them the detritus of the city's smashed towers and structures filled the streets, as did the bodies of the dead. Zack was familiar with the later, he’d seen more in the last few hours than he could stand, he was more familiar than he'd ever imagined he'd be before the Facility was discovered, but the sheer wreckage of the city was something new. It reminded him more of alien invasion movies he'd seen back in the pre-Facility days of his life, but they didn't do justice to the sheer destructiveness of the battle. Oh yeah, there were pictures of this very city being wrecked by the Soviets in 1945, but they were after the fact, still images in black and white. This was seared in living color into his brain, right as it happened. A ringside seat to the devil’s show.

One of the Dilgar soldiers, a female, gave him a curious look. One of her companions growled something too lowly for his Universal Translator to bother translate, winning a hot look from the female. "Is something the matter?" he asked.

"Nothing of importance, Commander." The Dilgar spoke with something of an Anglo-Indian accent, although the sounds were off from normal given the Dilgar language's influence on her pronunciation. "Just a stupid young soldier making a crass remark." She reached into her pack and offered Zack a foil-covered strip. "Are you hungry? The meat strips are very good… Humans are omnivores, yes? You eat meat?"

"Unless we choose not to." Zack accepted the strip. He did feel rather hungry. He blinked at the taste. "Turkey jerky?"

The Dilgar answered with a nod.

"What's your name?"

“Master Kia’mur,” she answered, her rank indicating she was an NCO. “Sir.”

"Commander Zack Carrey," he answered.

The conversation ended as the vehicle pulled up to the southwestern border of the campus. There was a distant sound of pulse fire and the whine of disruptors. Zack dismounted and, after checking his pulse pistol's charge level, moved toward the sound of the fighting. He entered through a gate into the grounds.

The Friedrich-Wilhelm University was one of the premier institutions of learning in the Reich, and the regime had built it to match the rest of the capital. A wide courtyard filled with trees - most destroyed now - was surrounded by classically-designed structures, each bearing the name of a beloved Nazi scientist. Zack could see the Marines from the Aurora and his naval unit moving to occupy a corner of the courtyard, returning fire as they could. The Dilgar were assuming their own positions, reinforcements for Ter’shar’s battered command coming up fast. And to the south was another force, men in light and heavy power armor with a combination of pulse rifles and coilgun weaponry Zack wasn't immediately familiar with. He met Anders and King on their way to meet with the others, with Tra'dur and Talara following.

They were behind cover when a blast nearly lifted them off their feet. "That damn gun," Anders grumbled. In his armor he took the hit better than the others. "The Ratzis have a heavy cannon in an anti-fighter flak tower that can depress enough to sweep this entire arc. Not one of their usual disruptor models, this one's firing plasma. Superheated tungsten rounds. With their defences around it including at least twenty Lowes, taking this place is going to be bloody."

"Do we not have armored vehicles that can fight it?" asked Talara.

"The gun is huge, I don't think any tank without full deflectors for its size can take a direct hit from it," Anders said, "and they've got it behind protective fields on the tower, which is probably tritanium reinforced concrete. We called in air support, but the fighters are busy dealing with a fresh commitment of enemy air power. They're holding back missions until the flyboys and flygirls regain air superiority."

This conversation carried them into range of the armored infantry. One of them saw them coming and saluted in the British style. "Sir, Corporal Donald Hamilton, Black Watch 1st Battalion." His accent had a strong Scots burr.

"Who's in charge here?" asked King.

"That'd be Major Trewen, ma'am, I…"

Before he could finish there was a loud blast. This time the hit wasn't close enough to cause them any trouble, but the screams and cries of the affected made it clear the Nazis had fired for effect.

"Private!" Hamilton called one of his soldiers over. "Bring them to Major Trewen!"

As it turned out, Trewen was nearby, near the front with his troops and like Anders in combat armor. He saluted the new arrivals. His faceplate's transparency showed a man of slightly tanned complexion with brown eyes and what looked like a lock of brownish-red hair near his left eye. "Major Reginald Trewen, Commander of the Black Watch 1st Battalion." While his Scots accent was evident, the pronunciation was less pronounced.

"Commander Zachary Carrey, 5th Naval Infantry, and Major Gabriel Anders, Commander of Troops on the Starship Aurora," Zack answered. "And Captain Elizabeth King, nominally commander of the Starship Excalibur, on intelligence assignment."

"Major, the Union Division made it through?" King asked.

Trewen smiled slightly and nodded. "Aye, Captain. It was a right hard battle getting through the Heights, and some of the other units are still tied down there, but we got through with a couple of Dorei divisions. And I hear the FedStars' East Asia Division is coming in from the northeast. They should be here by tonight."

"We need to get in there immediately, Major," King said. "This facility is the entire reason for the invasion."

"I’ve heard rumours about that. Bloody Nazis with IU drives, talk about a nightmare." Trewen seemed distracted for a moment. "Captain, I hear you… I understand about the gun, but we've got supporting forces now, I want that position taken…" After the unheard Captain presumably made further remarks, Trewen sighed and said, "Standby, I'll see what I can do." Seeing the look of the others, Trewen said, "My lads and lasses have been in combat for days. We've already lost good people, and morale's cracking. But we'll get the job done."

"I'll comm Ter'shar, we'll launch a coordinated attack with you," Zack said, though he cringed at the idea of ordering the Dilgar battalion forward again with how many casualties it had already taken. Even as he said this, the enemy gun thundered again. This time the cries were further away, and Zack had the sick feeling his people had taken the hit. Taking that position without removing the gun is going to be messy. I'm going to get a lot of our people killed. If we could take out the gun…

He blinked and looked toward Talara, who was looking at him intently. "Commander, I may be able to help…" she began.

Will Atreiad, when faced with the renewal of the enemy's attack on the fleet, immediately breathed a prayer to the Lords to give him strength. The Koenig crew was ready as always, but he knew that sooner or later they'd hit their limit. It was always a human weakness; people get tired.

Sherlily was directing accurate fire into an enemy A-2000 that was currently shooting up a Dilgar-crewed Trigger-class ship. Said vessel pulled away, shields nearly depleted and several scorch marks on its hull, a warp nacelle inactive from battle damage. The Koenig came about to face another enemy destroyer squadron, this one coming in for an attack run on the Unity. Dilgar and Aururian fighters joined them in hitting the destroyers hard. Three exploded from direct hits before the others broke off, firing their torpedoes defiantly. The Unity's defenses engaged the torpedoes, shooting down three before the rest struck and disrupted the big dreadnought's shields. But the disruption did little to aid the Nazi battlecruiser the Unity was in the process of wrecking.

The Aurora was still in the thick of the fight, Will noticed, and she was paying the price for it. "Bring us back around. The Aurora's starboard shields are still weak."

"Already flying us that way," Apley confirmed. As always the ship's long-time XO kept a cool head in the crisis, flying the ship with skill and ease around incoming enemy fire. A super-disruptor beam meant for another ship slashed across the bow.

"Glancing hit. Shields down to thirty-eight percent," said Magda. "And we've got destroyers inbound for the Aurora."

"Take them out," ordered Will.

Again the Koenig crew executed an attack run, this one from the side of the attacking enemy division. A full torpedo spread and rapid phaser fire lashed out. The phasers battered away at one of the destroyers until it exploded; torpedoes damaged two more enemies. Sherlily's second barrage finished one of those off.

The ship shuddered violently. "Shields now at thirty percent," Magda said. "Enemy A-2000s approaching bearing one-six-six mark two-zero-nine."

Will considered breaking off, but he wanted to remove the destroyers hitting the Aurora on her weak side. "Maintain attack run." The ship shook again, another enemy hit despite Apley's efforts to keep the attack run up. Sherlily killed another of the enemy destroyers. Without needing the order she fired another torpedo spread. The blue-white drive fields of the projectiles sparkled in space before crashing into their victims. One more destroyer died, leaving four.

The Koenig rocked again. "Shields now at twenty-seven percent."

Sherlily kept up fire. As soon as she registered a reload, torpedoes fired once more. She fired aft torpedoes as well at their pursuers, registering a hit. Her forward fire eliminated another enemy destroyer and damaged one.

The enemy squadron fired in sequence. Four torpedoes per ship, meaning sixteen came at the Aurora on the weak side. "April!" Atreiad called out.

"On it!" She started firing phasers on the torpedoes. The Aurora's point defense particle interceptors joined in, filling space with blue bolts. Some of the torpedoes exploded as they were shot down. Then more.

In the end, six crashed into the Aurora's faltering shields, in sequence. Had they hit together it would have been bad enough, their shield-disrupting effects leading to immediate shield loss on that quarter. But hitting sequentially meant localized shield loss. Localized loss that, in the end, permitted two torpedoes to come through to crash into the Aurora's hull. One slammed against the upper starboard nacelle's pylon, blasting a hole through it and damaging the plasma feed leading into the nacelle. The other struck the drive hull, exploding against the armored hull. Despite that armor, damage spilled in to the ship's internal sections, albeit only along the hull, and the armor repair systems and forcefields quickly dealt with the hull breach.

That wasn't the only problem, though.

In Main Engineering Barnes noticed the problem first. "God dammit," he growled.

Scott looked over from where he was working and noticed the same; a red light on the ship's reactor coolant system. He quickly opened a comm. "Engineerin' tae Jakala, what's yer status?"

"Coolant rupture is confirmed," the Alakin answered. "The conduit to the primary heat exchanger is completely ruptured, Deck 24 Section P. We're suited up and well, but we're trapped until we can get the coolant line fixed."

"Dinnae bother with that, man! Check th' shunts an' shut down th' main line!"

"Acknowledged. We'll need a team in Section O while the bulkhead's sealed."

Scott furrowed his brow at that. With all of the damage occurring on the starboard side, his damage control teams were stretched thin. He'd have to divert one…

"Let me put one together," said Barnes. "I'll take Lopez, Aung, and Hataram, we'll get the work done."

"Good choices, lad. Get to it, an' remember tae wear th' environmental suit. Just in case."

"I don't wanna get flash-fried to a skeleton by plasma, so count on it." Barnes turned away. "Lopez! Aung! Hataram! Front and center! We've got work to do!"

The individuals in question - an Argentinian woman, a Burmese man, and a Gersallian male - looked up from their stations before responding. They fell in with Barnes as he left through the aft entrance to Main Engineering. Scott watched him go with confidence before returning his attention to the ship's faltering shield systems. The Aurora shook from another impact against the hull, the starboard shields degraded enough to allow bleedthrough. He went to work shifting the shields to adjust to this problem.

With the devastation in the courtyard of the Friedrich-Wilhelm University, cover was nearly impossible to find. The trees and bushes were charred husks and the beds for some of the plants lining the walkways were broken by repeated fire. Cover was more often provided by force shields deployed by the Alliance or Reich forces, and those could be overwhelmed by sufficient firepower. This was proven by the large plasma cannon that dominated the defensive position of the Nazi troops holding the other side of the University. It thundered once more, a white flash searing into unprotected retinas as it streaked across the darkness of the sky and toward the ground, a bolt of tungsten superheated into plasma that exploded against the shield and broke it immediately with enough leftover power to injure and kill the Dilgar troops using it for cover. Heavy fire fell on their position, causing more casualties before the survivors could get back out of the line of fire.

From one of the few spots behind cover, Zack was consulting with Ter'shar, the Dilgar commander. "Our flank attack to the north is being held back by an enemy column supported by armored vehicles," he said. "We will not be able to catch the enemy position in its flank. We’ve already taken four hundred casualties in this push, nearly half the battalion, and Battle Expert Fia’tur’s battalion as taken a hundred since it came up."

"Then we’ll try our plan instead, Battle Expert. Standby." Zack turned his attention to Talara, who was kneeling beside him. "Are you sure you can do this?" he asked.

Talara's initial thought was no, she wasn't. All she could do was try. But she thought of Lucy's lessons. That she had to be certain of her intent, that there was no such thing as trying, simply doing. There was no room for doubt. So she pushed it away. Her eyes, shining like blue crystal despite everything around them, met Zack's with determination. "I will," she said.

"No time like the present then," Zack said.

Talara nodded and turned her attention to the Nazis. She sensed them through the Flow of Life, sensed those who genuinely were ready to die for Hitler's Thousand Year Reich, and those who had no choice but to be here. She felt sorry for those souls born in this place of evil and forced to fight for that same evil. Such people might yet contribute to a better world, a better Multiverse, if they survived this battle.

Which meant she needed to act, to do her part to end the fighting, to save what lives she could.

Talara reached within for the energy there, the power of her life and its connection to the wider Flow of Life. She felt the golden warmth within and, as always, felt awed by its presence. She took that energy and reached out with it for the distant gun. She couldn't see it from the cover they were using but she didn't need to. She sensed the dark satisfaction of the gunners, firing with impunity behind the protective defenses of the massive flak tower to kill and maim their foes, well supported by comrades who would protect them, fighting for the defence of their homes. She coalesced her will around the weapon itself. It was not an easy thing and Talara nearly lost the grip several times, just managing to hold on.

Without warning the others Talara got to her feet. She needed to see what she was feeling for this final act, requiring her to expose herself to danger in the process. She felt the weapons turning toward her. She had seconds to act.

Talara's hand came up in a gesture, a focus for the invisible energies she was wielding. The power forced the Nazi-crewed cannon to point downward, its next shot striking its own allies and temporarily disturbing the enemy defense.

At Trewen's order the Black Watch launched an immediate attack on the defending positions. Again weapons fire blazed through the courtyard. The cannon's gun crew tried desperately to re-align their gun, but Talara kept it pointed too low to be used against the attackers, forcing the enemy to leave the gun unused. The flak tower commander quickly ordered his men to take up small arms and fire from the parapets and firing slits, but that was nothing in comparison to the big gun drawing power directly from the research reactor on the campus.

Soon the entire courtyard was alive with weapons fire, as the other units - including Zack's - joined the attack. Even without the cannon being in action, it was clear the Reich forces had a strong enough position that the attack might not make it Multiple troops fell to the emerald disruptor beams and anti-armor coilguns of the Reich troops. These enemy troops had the further advantage of being relatively fresh compared to the troops of the Alliance and Dilgar, worn down by the prior days of fighting.

Then mortars opened fire and swept the advance. The flashes of plasma dug craters into the ground and the hammering of shrapnel bombs going off in a carpet above the heads of the attackers ripped through the formation. Several heavy crew-served weapons opened up from the flanks, taking the attack in enfilade. The Highlanders peeled off groups of power armour to attack those, but it was clear that the better part of the force was now pinned down, going to ground as the field was churned and burned.

Even with cover, they were still taking casualties from the mortar bombs. The attack was already coming apart. Troops found themselves unable to attack or to retreat as the tanks fired shots over their heads, engaging with the Alliance tank company in support of Trewen’s men and checking them just as effectively as the infantry.

Zack watched the attack falter and then looked to the straining Talara. If she tired and that cannon came back into action, the entire force would be wiped out in minutes.

The battle in the foyer of the Führerhaus raged without end. Robert, Lucy, and Meridina had the superior talent and experience, their five SS foes the benefit of numbers and the surprise of what proficiency they did have, far beyond what had been expected. Lucy and Robert each continued to fight a pair of foes while Meridina fought a talented duelist alone. At a glance Robert thought Meridina's opponent's one-handed style seemed like fencing. She was adjusting to it, parrying the thrusts of his blade as they came. Nearby Lucy continued to spar with two foes. She alternated between them, her weapon at the ready, deflecting their attacks with skill. Occasionally she mixed in an attack. A couple were slashes that nearly struck home, but now it was a high kick that struck the chin of one of her foes, knocking him to the ground. This let her focus for a moment on her other foe. She drove him back several steps and delivered a swipe that came within an inch of a lethal blow.

Robert's foes had him on the defensive as well. He sensed their hostility, their hate, toward him, and their determination to kill him. Their tactics were to divide his attention; one would try to overwhelm him with darkness-infused lightning while the other went at his weak side with lightsaber attacks. Robert responded by giving ground where he could, circling around the foyer in the process and keeping either from attacking from behind. His lightsaber came up and parried a blow. He followed up the parry with a burst of invisible force that threw his foe backward and gave him space, but only for the moment before more of the lightning crackled through the air.

And so the dangerous dance went on.

From her place at the south entrance to the university grounds, Tra'dur could see that the attack was in danger of failing. The allied forces were tired and their morale ebbing while the enemy fought like a cornered beast. She felt for her gun but knew there was little she could do to turn the battle. Her last attempt to turn a situation around by motivating the assault on the skyscraper had ‘worked’ only in the sense that she had nearly been killed and had just prompted the Knights to attack.

She bitterly wondered how Fei'nur would take it, seeing her cowering here, her allies faltering as she did nothing. This was the kind of thing Fei'nur endured for years without complaint. She… Was a member of the clan of Dur. Dilgar were not cowards, and especially not her’s. She had seen so many dead Dilgar, laying scattered all around the streets in shocking, ghastly windrows of burnt and shattered corpses. The entire day had been a trek through dead Dilgar. They, who were so few, less than forty-five million where once there had been twelve billion, a fraction of a percent of their original population, were dying out of all proportion to all the other races and nations involved. At the will and design of your own Mother-Shai. That’s what killed them, don’t pretend it’s anything else. In all of our wars, your mothers have been giving the orders that got those kids killed.

Tra'dur spied one of the wounded being pulled through the entrance to safety in the street. Corpsmen responded immediately. The figure was one of the smaller ones among the Human regiment. Drawing close and watching the corpsmen remove the mask, Tra'dur saw it was a woman, of brown hair with her eyes closed and her face paling. A savage disruptor burn showed through a melted, exposed piece of her armor. On the pack fixed to her armor was gear… and one thing else that none of the others had.

Tra'dur was beside them when the corpsman removed the item to better handle the wounded. "Clear out!" one demanded of Tra'dur, working as he was on saving the life of the wounded. Tra'dur took a step back, but only a step, as her eyes remain fixed intently on the set of bagpipes removed from the wounded.

A sudden thought came to Tra'dur, one that brought with it a moment of fear, fear she forced away. That thought grew to a determination to action that led her to pick the discarded instrument up. With the practice of years, heightened by her off-duty sessions with Commander Scott, Tra'dur slung the instrument into place. A breath to prepare herself came and she re-entered the battleground. The ones who fought your mother’s troops all died you know, and you will die too. You know your mother’s troops brought her that set as a trophy of the body of a dead man. And in another five minutes, you’re going to be just as dead.

“But even my mother called them heroes,” Tra’dur answered aloud the voice in her head. And then she rolled out of cover.

The sight would always come back to the many soldiers fighting for the university commons. A lone figure, in a dirtied Alliance Stellar Navy field uniform, charging back into the firing zone, a set of bagpipes wailing. Tra'dur remembered the song among the many that Commander Scott had taught her, the quick march tune of the Black Watch, and so over the sounds of battle "All the Blue Bonnets are O'er the Border" could be heard.

Tra'dur had every right to expect she was about to die. Playing required her to be out in the open. A disruptor beam, fired from cover, sizzled just a meter away from her. That she survived the coming minutes could be attributed to the effect of her arrival on the battlefield. For as the song reached the ears of the soldiers around her, the weary men and women of the Black Watch felt a sudden surge of pride. The sight of this alien woman, a navy officer, playing their regimental march in clear sight of the enemy, galvanized that pride, or pushed with shame, it didn’t matter, not in that place, not at that time. With growing, fierce determination the Black Watch rallied. Soldier by soldier, squad by squad, they got to their feet and charged forward with a loud roar.

A figure appeared beside Tra'dur, though she didn't turn to face him for how focused she was on maintaining the Blue Bonnets at the quickened pace Scotty had taught her. "Keep playin' lass!" urged Major Trewen. His rifle barked fire, hitting a distant Reich soldier about to fire at them. "For God's sake, keep playing!"

She did. Somehow, by luck, by Gods, or just perhaps, by the respect that even the Nazi in their ranks felt for such a display of clean martial courage, she was not taken under fire and not hit.

The sudden charge of the Black Watch was joined by another. From the western edge of the courtyard the Dilgar soldiers, their own pride stimulated by the sight of Tra'dur and the Human soldiers she'd rallied, charged as well. The yowled cry was instantly translated by the comm systems of the adjoining Alliance Marines and Naval Infantry - "Harm's Way is the Valiant Way!" - who watched the Dilgar rush forward.

"Take that damn cannon!" Anders roared, bringing the Aurora's Marines into the attack.

"You heard the man!" Zack shouted into his unit's comms. "Everyone, go!" He glanced toward Talara, still concentrating and clearly near the edge of her endurance. As nobody was firing at them for the moment, he lifted his rifle and moved ahead, joining the growing charge for the enemy position.

Losses were taken by the Coalition in the charge. How many, perhaps hundreds. By that time, exact positions of casualty counts and where people fell, at what moment in what place, were becoming difficult to track. The tanks came forward. The Reich panzers, fighting hull-down, had an inestimable advantage and the Alliance tanks started to explode and burn as the Panzertruppen did their job.

In doing it, however, they were distracted. They were fighting their like, their equals. The coax guns were not sweeping across the field. They were not tracking to deliver main cannon fires to the infantry.

Even now, it was not a true charge in the classic sense. Everyone was too disciplined was for that. They advanced by squad, dashing crisply ahead, the Highlanders with bayonets fixed. Half of a platoon at a time would advance and the other half cover with crew-served weapons.

The delay, too, had given time for the Dilgar and Alliance troops to bring up heavy mortars which now engaged in earnest. Laying down a continuous suppressing fire as fast as the big 120’s could be worked, they forced the gunners on the crew-served disruptors and plasma guns in the defensive line to cover and killed more than a few.

Historians would probably debate in the future which component made a difference: The tank attack at close quarters, the mortar support, or -- the piping. But the men and women of the Black Watch had no doubt.

The attackers soon crashed into those defensive lines. It was a battle to the knife, with bayonet and pistol as much as rifle. The outlying defensive positions fell before the charge, which carried on into the next group and into the next. As they did, the tanks exchanged fire at twenty paces. At this distance it was like few armoured battles that had ever been witnessed, and was a bloody carnage where the explosions of tanks wounded, maimed and killed soldiers on both sides.

Glacis to glacis, they fired on each other. It was over in minutes, it seemed like every single one of the tanks was on fire, but two of the Alliance ones kept moving, grinding over the rude entrenchments. As they did, they crushed the piled dirt of the berms back into the positions, burying Reich soldiers alive as they crossed and swung their turrets rapidly to deliver enfilading fire down the line to support the attack.

Tra'dur witnessed the battle while continuing to play. Now the enemy was hard-pressed. Agan and again the tanks fired, ripping through entire long sections of the trench and clearing them away for the infantry to press on and over. The danger to her seemed to have faded, the enemy infantry having more pressing foes to shoot at, and incredibly she considered for a moment that she might survive.

Her attention was drawn to a soft moan nearby. She turned, still playing, and watched Talara drop to her knees. The Falaen woman was pale from exertion and exhaustion.

At that moment, the enemy cannon righted itself… and pointed right at Tra'dur.
”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 combat in orbit was taking on a desperate air as the numbers of SS fleet pressed down on the support fleet. The Aurora and the Enterprise remained in close formation to support one another while Koenig continued its difficult struggle to thwart destroyer attacks on the two ships.

The Enterprise was currently busy fighting off an enemy battlecruiser while the Aurora exchanged fire with another. The Lützow-class ship was an equal adversary even under the best conditions, and the damage to both maintained that equality. Disruptor beams and plasma beams lashed back and forth, degrading shields, while missiles and torpedoes strove to batter through weakened shields to damage hull.

After another of the exchanges with the enemy battlecruiser Jarod read off the shield status. "Fifteen percent."

"All available generators are engaged," Mallory added "That's all we can give."

Julia nodded in understanding. Given the current situation there wasn't much in the way of maneuvering they could do, not without exposing their weak starboard side. Although soon that wouldn't matter, as below ten percent the shields would start losing cohesion completely. She kept an eye on the tactical display beside her and Locarno. After considering it she said, "Helm, change heading, zero nine one mark zero zero six. Relay that change to the Enterprise and ask them to follow. Tactical, all weapons on the Enterprise's target."

"Locking on," Angel confirmed.

"The Enterprise is acknowledging and joining us," Locarno added.

The maneuver turned the Aurora to present her port side to her foe. It also cleared the way for her powerful bow armaments to unleash their full power on the Enterprise's foe. Said enemy recognized the change and attempted to maneuver as well, but the realization came too late to prevent both ships from unloading a full torpedo and energy weapon barrage. Amber and sapphire beams carved into the SS battlecruiser, joined by the sapphire pulses of the Aurora's pulse plasma cannons. Quantum and solar torpedoes followed up to exploit the increased strain on the enemy battlecruiser's shields. Some made it through, striking hull and inflicting significant damage.

As another exchange of fire occurred, Jarod's attention was drawn to a system alert. "I'm detecting a power loss."

"Where?" Julia asked.

"It's the naqia reactors, Captain," Mallory remarked. "Commander Scott has to take them offline due to the damage to the coolant system."

Julia didn't like the sound of that. While the ship's fusion reactors could power most of the basic systems - lighting, life support, gravity - the more power intensive systems like the shields and weapons required the energy provided by the naqia reactors. She pressed the intercom key on her chair and said, "Bridge to Engineering. Mister Scott, I need those reactors."

"I've got a couple online for ye, Captain, an' th' rest shud be back on soon. But we cannae run th' reactors on full with th' coolant system leak. They'll melt themselves down an' wreck th' ship."

Julia bit back a remark about Nazi weapons doing the same to the Aurora. "Understood. We'll do what we can. Bridge out." As she spoke the ship shook from a super-disruptor hit, a violent shaking that made Julia sure their hull had taken it. "Status?"

"Shields are at five percent, cohesion is failing," Jarod said. "Damage on Decks 18 and 19, Section J."

"Auto-repair systems are fully engaged," added Mallory.

Julia checked the tactical display again. She'd maneuvered away from their initial opponent to help the Enterprise face theirs with a certain expectation. Had she been wrong…?

No, she hadn't been.

The battlecruiser now to their port almost fired again when two powerful graviton bursts smashed against the ship. The nature of the weapon rendered the shields helpless to stop their effect, a violent shaking that caused the SS crew no shortage of problems. Further weapons fire struck at the shields, missiles and energy fire. From "above", the Aururian battlecruiser Maya-Mayi seemed to dive into the fray, her massed batteries of plasma cannon firing as the turrets stayed fixed through her manoeuvre, taking advantage of the disorder induced by the graviton cannon to bracket the Nazi with plasma fire.

Aururian destroyers positioned on her port flank broke for the opposite side of the Battlecruiser and dashed in on attack runs, their own smaller graviton weapons adding to the debilitation of the enemy battlecruiser, ‘ringing her bell’ from stem to stern as they prepared their torpedo attacks. The characteristic orange glow of the gas-pumped shields obscured both ship and the battlefield beyond.

The distraction allowed the Aurora to focus on her other foe. With the Enterprise contributing repeated phaser fire, the enemy battlecruiser was unable to resist the incoming salvo. It returned fire with desperation as it was carved up by the two ships.

The foe to port wasn't quite done, however. Being battered by the Aururians as she was, the SS battlecruiser kept some of her firepower on the Aurora, including her spinal-mount disruptor cannon. This again flashed to life, forming an emerald spear that pierced the Aurora's non-existent shields and slashed into her hull. The beam was powerful enough that the armor failed at the point of impact, allowing the beam to carve a wound deep into the Aurora's stern sections.

Including Section O.

The stern sections of the ship were mostly machinery spaces. Instead of the smooth corridor walls and ceilings of the rest of the ship, it more closely resembled submarines with the confined spaces and the tubing and other machinery parts that the engineers were tasked with directly accessing. Surfaces were more gray than blue and warning markings were on several surfaces, especially those that channeled the hyperconductive plasma used to draw heat from the naqia reactors and fusion reactors. They were more prevalent in this area of the ship, the guts of the vessel's primary heat exchanger.

The shunt that would re-direct plasma coolant around the break was nearly in place when everything went to hell. Barnes felt the ship shudder beneath his feet in the second before everything went sideways. The damage wrecked a portion of the plasma line, creating another breach through which super-hot plasma seeped through, filling the machinery space with a green mist that could virtually vaporize even bone with its sheer heat. The only reason Barnes and the others survived the following seconds was that their suits were designed to survive prolonged periods in these kinds of environments.

The problem was that the rupture was an explosive one. The heat and force of the plasma sheared through the structural bulkhead above their heads. Recognizing that the section was no longer safe, Barnes yelled, "Move on! I've got this!" to the rest of his team. They acknowledged and went to work on the rest of the shunt, leaving him to deal with the damaged section. He reached into the pack the team brought with them and drew out a sheet of specialized alloy material, made to resist the heat of the conductive plasma and a vital component in the plasma system. Using both hands he carefully set it over the breach in the shunt line, stopping the plasma from flowing out. He pulled a plasma welder from the suit tool belt and, with one hand on the sheet, welded the sheet into place.

The entire job took maybe a minute. Barnes was confident it would hold. Spying another break from the damage, he picked up another sheet and went over to fix the breach.

"Scott tae Barnes. What's th' status of th' coolant system?"

"I'm repairing the shunt now," Barnes replied. "This section's full of plasma too. The others may have gotten out, but I'm sure I'm sealed in."

"Do what ye can. Th' secondary heat exchangers took a direct hit an' we've lost them. Th' reactors are…"

Barnes didn't hear Scotty complete that line. Another thunderous roar filled the ship, likely from a torpedo or missile impact, with an explosion that sent a tremor through the hull.

Under ordinary circumstances this would not have been a problem. But with the prior damage from both the weapon impacts and the plasma leak, the entire section wasn't up to taking more of a pounding. The hits were the final straw, wrecking the decks above, breaking them up…

...and bringing them down on Barnes' head.

The Aururians finished off the enemy battlecruiser with a rippling destroyer salvo of close-range heavy torpedoes. The ship erupted across her beam, huge sections of plate blowing out cross the hull, the warp nacelle to port erupting in an explosion. The battlecruiser tumbled away, electric arcs from severed mains rippling across a ruined hull venting air and power. It had not been fast enough to stop her from loosing one last volley of missiles that now flew out from the stricken battlecruiser toward the Aurora.

Given their situation Violeta did what she could to evade them, but with a kilometer long vessel it wasn't possible to do so, not without a warp jump that was itself suicide in the great mass of ships, and bluntly, against orders. They had to stay and fight, for the sake of their friends on the surface. So she did her best, and hung on like hell. The particle interceptors did their work in attritioning the strike, but in the end three missiles still struck home. One slammed into the lower port warp nacelle and caused an explosion that tore the rear quarter off. The second and third both hit near the stern, exacerbating the prior damage.

On the bridge Jarod quickly confirmed the damage. "We've lost a warp nacelle, warp drive is offline. Major damage to Decks 23 through 27, Sections M through Q. The secondary heat exchanger's been destroyed."

Julia immediately realized how bad the situation was for them. "What about the primary?"

"The main coolant lines into the primary exchanger are still down," Jarod said. "The tertiary exchanger is running, but it's not designed to handle the amount of heat our reactors produce at full combat power."

"Head buildup has already begun," Mallory confirmed. "Engineering recommends a reduction of 40% to power output."

"In this fight?!" Locaron's incredulous outburst was punctuated by another hit to the ship. "We'll lose maneuverability and weapons power."

"And we'll lose the ship if the reactors melt down," Julia pointed out.

"Orders, sir?"

It was one of those tough decisions that could mean life or death for her ship, her crew, and herself… not to mention the friends she had aboard. Julia pondered the issue over the course of the following seconds before making her decision.

"We keep fighting," she said. "Give me everything you can, and hope the battle ends before we melt our reactors down."

The SS detachment, a reinforced squad from the Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler, was tasked with a special mission from Oberführer Fassbinder; hold the entrance to the backup stairway for the Führerbunker, buried below the similarly-named Führerhaus. Said structure, regardless of the name, was not entirely a residence for whomever was considered the leader of the Greater German Reich, rather it was an adjunct to the nearby Reichkanzli, where the ruler kept his offices. The Führerhaus was partly for social receptions, partly for housing the Führer's guests if any were in the capital. The actual leader rarely lived regularly in the structure, but it was still maintained over the centuries for the presence of the bunker complex beneath the building, a relic of the 20th and 21st Centuries when the Reich might still expect attack from foreign powers. This assured the bunker's reactivation as the Coalition forces drew closer and closer to Earth.

With a rapid fire disruptor pulse cannon, crew-served, watching the only approach to their position, the SS felt confident in repulsing any would-be assassins or attackers.

But for all of their confidence, the SS had one problem.

They didn't know anything about Krogan.

When Wrex came bursting through the wall beside them, their shock was complete. The gunner for the disruptor cannon barely had a moment to react before Wrex shot him in the face with his Claymore shotgun, making for a messy result. Behind Wrex Ashley and Kaidan poured through the hole in the wall, the latter throwing a biotic shockwave that knocked two more members of the squad down while Ashley gunned down another. The SS soldier nearest the disruptor cannon turned to go for the weapon. This allowed Shepard to blindside him with a biotic charge. After she slammed into him and sent him flying into the wall nearby, Shepard shot him with her Crusader shotgun, blowing a hole in the man's chest.

Not to be outdone, Garrus got the last with a pinpoint shot from his assault rifle, and Tali shot the two soldiers Kaidan had knocked down in quick succession.

A couple more shots for the remaining members of the detachment were necessary, but it was all over in ten seconds. "Looks like we found the entrance," Shepard said. She triggered her commlink. "Shepard here. We found a backdoor into the bunker."

"Still busy," was Robert's reply. "Good luck."

After the call was over, a bewildered Ashley asked, "Was that lightning I heard in the background?"

"Sounded like it to me." Garrus checked his rifle. "Probably some arcing power conduit. So, I've always wanted to capture a genocidal dictator."

"Just in case, I'd like some backup," Shepard said. She used her omnitool to tap into the Coalition military comms. "This is Commander Shepard of the Systems Alliance. My team has secured an entranceway into the Führerbunker."

Several moments later a reply came. "General Kylarjha here. I have troops on the north end of the Führerhaus that I can divert to your support. They will arrive shortly."

"Thank you, General. We'll hold until they arrive. Shepard out." Shepard looked to her team, who all responded by assuming defensive positions.

I wonder how the university assault is going Shepard thought to herself.

The assault cannon swung Tra'dur's way as she continued playing, and she knew there was no chance of getting away. She had already survived several minutes longer than she should have after Talara’s collapse thanks to the need of the Nazi commander to recall his gunners from small arms positions in the flak tower. The blast from its superheated plasma striking the ground would claim her even if she stopped playing and jumped. In that one crucial moment, she felt the supreme fear of imminent death that probably any mammal had, certainly her sister Nah would have said so, and yet she pushed it away. So, mother, she thought, and it was not about Shai’jhur, will we meet? Why were you … She shook away the vision and tried to think chants to the Gods at the same time she played.

The gun never fired.

There was a spurt of blood from control room. The gunner tried to scream, but it was little more than a gurgle through his opened throat accompanied by a brief bubbling of the blood now flowing freely into his lungs. The other gun crew sought out their comrade's killer, scrambling for their sidearms, but saw none. Not even as blades pierced their chests and throats did their killer appear before them.

In five seconds it was over. The gun crew lay slain upon the concrete decking around their dormant weapon, and the wraithlike figure descended, killing and killing again, sweeping through the tower from top to bottom.

Tra'dur played on. From the distance she couldn't see the fate of the gun crew, only that someone had gotten to them before they could fire on her. She celebrated her survival by playing the Blue Bonnets ever more enthusiastically, as if to spur on the weary soldiers of the Black Watch in this final assault.

In the end, it certainly worked. It was a squad of Black Watch soldiers who reached the flak tower first and another that secured the entrance to the Von Braun Academy. When they entered the flak tower, they found its defenders already dead. Few people in combat that fierce spend much time worrying about good fortune. Instead, they pushed on to fully clear the tower while a Lieutenant who had survived and spoke German raced to the top. The Nazis had been slain too quickly to lock down the controls, and he was successful in spinning the gun around to turn on its former owners. Now they would be the ones conducting a massacre.

The Dilgar went to work gathering surviving foes for captivity--when their officers could actually force them with shouting and punching to obey the laws of war--and the Marines and Naval Infantry flowed into the Von Braun Academy, rushing toward the labs that were their target. Tra'dur ceased playing when the firing stopped. She turned toward Major Trewen to thank him for his confidence.

She found Talara kneeling beside Trewen. A massive burn mark covered his failed armor over the heart. Tra'dur felt a rush of sadness for the brave man that died at her side, unnoticed in the heart of the fighting.

“He was exactly the same mettle as the Canadians at Balos,” she murmured, and dropped down at Talara’s side. Wresting his helmet from his armour, she closed his eyes and then used her combat knife to cut off some of his hair, thinking his family might want it as a Dilgar’s would if he were not recovered from the field.

“The Canadians at Balos?” Talara looked up.

“Yes, the Canadian Black Watch. They played their pipes as they died, covering the retreat of the rest of the human army into the tunnels during the old Imperium’s war. They fought like each of them was worth twenty Dilgar. I can barely believe I did the same.”

“I can barely believe this! How do you Dilgar survive it? How do humans survive it? Was this what my ancestors knew…” She looked down to Trewen’s face and started to cry.

Tra’dur reached out and hugged her, impulsively. “You fought as bravely as any other, and saved my life once already this night.”

Talara pushed away. “And that’s not enough, Tra’dur. There are people dying. Now.” She shook herself, and spun away to find the wounded and try to help.

Tra’dur stood there and watched her go. Then she swept her gaze across the battlefield. The big gun was firing now at the Nazis instead of her side, driving them further back from the University. The tanks were burned out by the dozen along the line of the entrenchments. There were medics working everywhere, but just as many dead bodies simply abandoned.

She turned to head into the university when an invisible fist knocked her into the dirt. “You stupid, stupid kit.

“Mrroff...” She rolled on the dirt, blinking her eyes and realising her vision was obscured because her night-vision goggles were covered in dirt. She pulled them off, blinking hard.

Fei’nur was standing above her, glaring. “How could I survive the Supreme Warmaster’s wrath if you were killed that stupidly, fighting a war for glory and not survival? How could I live with myself if one of the girls I raised since before they could speak were dead? How could I survive the quiet sadness in the Warmaster’s eyes when I returned?”

“She’s not alive, she’s not coming back… And my mother-Shai sent these girls off to die, the least..”

Fei’nur kicked her. “Do not do such things. By rights, you should not have survived. The enemy spared you because they thought you were mad, because they had not faced such a lunatic in so long that they did not realise until too late the moral effect you had on your human troops. Learn your lesson, girl!”

Tra’dur groaned. “I’ll never do it again,” she whispered softly.

Good. The death of many is not solved by the death of one. It just means you’re dead.” She reached down and hauled Tra’dur up by the scruff of her neck, the girl collapsing into a mass of relaxed muscles under the enormous strength of the Spectre.

And then Fei’nur hugged her tightly and kissed her cheeks. “You scared me so much, girl. Now, don’t forget this lesson.”

“I won’t… Thank you, Fei’nur.”

“You’re welcome,” the old commando snorted softly, and gestured on to the university. “Now, come on, I’ll help you catch up with what you were actually supposed to be doing down here.”

The battle in the Führerhaus foyer showed little sign of abating. Lucy continued her careful dueling between two adversaries, anticipating their attacks enough to eliminate their numerical advantage. Her blade stayed in near constant motion, parrying and deflecting strikes. Her concentration was absolute; her defensive stance unyielding.

Meridina had little time to note this, although she still did. Her opponent's unique style and talent with the blade forced careful attention from her. She attempted another mental attack just for the SS duelist's mental defenses to block it. While he was not a telepath, his darkened swevyra gave him some protection. Enough that she could not focus her mental gifts enough to break it without leaving herself open to attack.

There was a common concern for both; Robert. He remained in the fight as well, but his relative lack of skill with a lightsaber required him to fall back on the raw power he now wielded. He used his blade for defense only, deflecting lightning and lightsaber strikes from his foes while giving ground as necessary. He was not above an attack with his powers either. One of his foes leapt at him with a raised lightsaber, looking to catch Robert on his weak side. With a flick of his wrist and a greater surge of focus, Robert sent a table in the foyer flying into the man. He caught his foe in mid-air with the table and sent both flying to the ground. He immediately shifted his attention back to his other foe. Lightning, hued purple and full of cold, deadly hate, crackled at Robert. He caught it with his green lightsaber blade, deflecting the lightning into the ceiling.

Meridina sensed the growing frustration of her opponent. He was used to winning more swiftly than this, and he found her dueling style simplistic but difficult to overcome. This frustration was to his detriment and her aid, turning his movements into aggressive but ill-thought strikes she easily parried. She watched her footwork carefully until the moment to strike came. Her enemy misstepped in a strike at her, allowing Meridina to evade said strike and get a clean attack of her own. Her lightsaber plunged into his chest, striking the lung. A surprised look came to the scarred man's face. He choked something before collapsing.

Meridina readied to go to Lucy's aid. She turned toward her former student to find Lucy being attacked from both sides. Her foes had maneuvered themselves so that one could get a clean strike at her back.

Which was exactly what Lucy wanted.

She sensed the lunge coming and ducked down, spinning as she did. Her foe's blade nearly struck her despite the maneuver, landing a glancing blow her armor absorbed. She swung her lightsaber in an upward cut that passed cleanly through her foe's forearms. The SS man cried out in shock and pain at his sudden dismemberment. Lucy kicked him hard enough to send him to the ground.

The kicking motion continued, letting her spin and catch her other foe as his weapon came for her. Her lightsaber parried that blow, then the next. Her foe's frustration turned to anger. The dark power within him intensified, but Lucy gave him no time to bring it into play. She parried the third blow and followed up with a swipe of her own that grazed the shoulder of the SS fighter. He reached instinctively for the wound before returning his attention to the fight. Lucy attacked again, then yet again, and it was soon clear she had her opponent on the backfoot.

Meridina turned her attention instead to Robert, still holding off two opponents with his abilities if not his blade work. She rushed forward and used her weapon to parry a blow from his second opponent, who backed away at facing a new foe.

Robert's other opponent responded by generating as much dark lightning as he could. Robert met it with his blade, shielding Meridina from the attack to let her focus on her new adversary. As soon as the lightning weakened he pushed his free hand forward. A bolt of force slammed into his enemy, throwing him back into a portrait of what looked like Goering. The SS trooper nearly got back to his feet when Robert gripped him with life energy and sent him flying into the far wall, then into the ceiling.

While Robert kept his lone remaining foe in the air, slamming into the walls and ceiling of the foyer, Meridina found her new opponent an inferior duelist. She easily parried his frustrated blows with his crimson-bladed lightsaber. In a flash of blue light her own weapon slashed across his left arm, wounding and distracting him. Her next strike was barely deflected in time, but it left her opponent open to a powerful push with Meridina's swevyra that threw him into the wall. Meridina followed that by using the same power to grip his weapon and pull it from his weakened grasp. Disarmed and wounded, he was now susceptible to fall to mental attacks. Meridina forced a sleep command into his mind.

Lucy's remaining foe made one desperate attempt to regain control of the duel, throwing a series of wild strikes toward Lucy's head. Lucy deflected them easily, one two three, and on the fourth maneuvered into place. Again her lightsaber flashed and again a pair of severed limbs struck the floor. She whipped her lightsaber around in a brief flourish before pointing it toward the SS trooper's hate-filled face, triumph showing on her own.

Sensing the others were finished, Robert slammed his opponent into the ground. All of the impacts left the SS man so dazed he didn't resist Robert reaching out with his life energy to pull the lightsaber from his foe's weak grip.

His opponent glared hate at him, as did the others still conscious. Then, one by one, each bit down on something. There was a small cracking noise before they started to convulse.

"Suicide pills." Robert frowned.

Meridina went over to the only one of their foes who was in no shape to commit suicide, the enemy she'd rendered unconscious with her telepathy. "I will attempt to find and remove the suicide capsule from this man."

"Sounds good to me." Robert looked toward the lift Fassbinder had gone down in. After sensing Lucy's readiness to join him, he pressed a key on his omnitool. "Dale to Shepard. We're done here."

"We're going in. You're free to join us."

"We're on our way," was his immediate response.

More weapons fire played across the hull of the Aurora, preventing her weakened shields from regaining the coherence needed to repel fire. They left scorch marks across the azure skin of the vessel, marks slowly disappearing with the operation of the armor self-repair system.

On the Aurora bridge Julia watched Angel return fire against the responsible foe, a Nazi cruiser. The vessel, a slant-hulled design, suffered immediately from the pulse plasma cannons on the Aurora's bow. With its shields failed, the cruiser couldn't endure the strikes to its unshielded hull. Its own weapons blew apart under the fury of the Aurora's firepower.

"Heat levels in the reactor systems are approaching the redline, Captain," Mallory reported. "We need to power down most of the reactors."

Before either Julia or Locarno could disagree, their case against this was provided by the approach of another Reich dreadnought. Once, the presence of a single one had been attended with terror, but in this battle they had fought, and destroyed, more than Julia could even remember at the moment, a fact that drove home the intensity of the fighting, and her own grueling exhaustion.

The ship completed a sharp turn to contact, and the spinal-mounted "super-disruptor" assembly opened fire immediately. Only by a tight maneuver, one impossible with the desired shutdowns, did Violeta evade enough that only of the three beams struck the ship. That blow was severe enough, carving a deep gash through the primary hull and destroying one of the pulse plasma cannons.

Julia re-opened a channel to Engineering. "Mister Scott, we're still under heavy fire, we need those reactors running!"

"I cannae do much more, Captain," was his response. "Th' stern's taken tae many hits, we dinnae have th' time t' cut through th' wreckage an' make repairs!"

"What if we shut down power to weapons?" Locarno asked. "We focus entirely on evasive maneuvers until the coolant system is repaired or we can break free of the battle?"

Julia considered that. The Aurora was taking heavy fire and suffering from it with her lost shields. Trying to pull back in the formation to make quick repairs made sense.

The problem was there was nowhere to pull back. While Maran was engaging the bulk of the enemy fleet out past Neptune, the SS fleet was numerically larger than the support fleet. Every ship was needed at its place in the line. The slightest loss of offensive capability could turn the battle against the fleet. Until the battle was decided, she needed to keep the ship firing as long as possible.

"No. We keep weapons and engines going." Julia re-opened the channel to Engineering. "Mister Scott, shut down all non-essential systems and dial down the reactors as much as you can to keep us flying and fighting."

"It willnae be nearly enough…"

"I know, but the fleet needs our guns in the fight." As Julia spoke the Aurora's weapons battered away at the damaged enemy dreadnought. An Aururian dreadnought--the Silver Sea--was alongside the SS ship, pouring fire into it as well, and on the holo-viewer she watched the Enterprise execute an attack run with the Koenig while the Maya-Mayi and the Thunder Child directed heavy fire into the beam opposite the Silver Sea. Given the defenses of the SS vessel, these ships still needed the Aurora's guns and torpedoes in the fight. "Do what you can, Mister Scott. But keep us fighting. Bridge out."

"Primary Reactors 1 and 4 are at maximum safety threshold for heat. 2 and 3 are at 95% and still climbing," Mallory warned.

Julia said nothing in reply to that. She'd already said everything she needed to.

The same data was showing on the boards of Main Engineering. The chamber itself was heating up as well. Sweat dripped down Scotty's face while he looked over the board. "Ensign Aung, have ye got th' new shunt line through yet?"

"Negative, sir," Aung answered. "We can't get through the wreckage to Section P and the heat exchanger hook up."

"I sent ye a team…"

"They're trying to cut through, but there's so much damage…"

"Do what ye can, lad, or we're losin' th' ship!" Scott turned away and noted one of his teams spraying a reactor down with liquid helium, trying to cool it. It was itself a dangerous method, and it might even require extensive repairs to the reactor, but if it saved the ship Scott considered it worthwhile.

He eyed the damaged sections in the stern again before keying the comms. "Scott tae Barnes. C'mon lad, are ye there? I'm showin' a life sign…"

"....lad, are ye there? I'm showin' a life sign, Tom, I know ye're alive in there…"

His mentor's voice helped coax Barnes back to consciousness. He tried to move his right hand, but couldn't. Pain shot through the arm, terrible pain. He ended up reaching with his left hand until he was able to get a grip on the shattered plating over his head and move it.

His legs moved more easily. He wasn't completely buried under the wreckage of the deck that had fallen upon him. Barnes used his legs to begin pushing himself free, whimpering as he did at the savage pain shooting up his right arm. Only as he got himself free did he look toward said arm to confirm his suspicions.

For one thing, the arm was broken in at least two places, courtesy of the heavy structural member that landed on it. His hand hung limply from the pieces his arm was sandwiched between.

But on top of that, there was the sharp piece of broken, blood-stained metal showing through his bicep and thrusting into the debris below. His arm wasn't just stuck, it was pinned in place.

"Frak me this Goddamned hurts!" he shouted.


Scotty's voice helped him gain focus. He nearly bit his tongue from the intensity of the pain. "My arm… it's pinned. Frak me it hurts!"

"Tom, ye're th' only one who can save th' ship now."

That remark drew Barnes' attention through the pain. "What?" he croaked.

"I cannae get any teams in t' restore th' shunt. Th' last break is right there by ye. If ye dinnae fix it, th' reactors are goin' tae overheat. We'll lose th' ship."

Barnes immediate recommendation was to just shut reactors down until the cooling systems could handle the load. But he immediately knew that wouldn't work. The Aurora needed power for its weapons, its engines, its sensors. Maybe not as much power as it needed to open IU jump points or power the warp drive, but enough that the some of the reactors were still needed and, in turn, needed to be cooled. And if the secondary heat exchangers were down…

He swallowed. Heat wouldn't destabilize naqia by itself, rendering it delicate and unstable, but it would still wreck the reactors and they, in turn, would ruin the drive section with the resulting meltdown. The Aurora wouldn't survive that in the middle of a battle.

A distant hull breach had sucked all of the plasma out of the compartment, at least, so he could see clearly. He looked up to the breach in the plasma line he'd been about to fix when it all came crashing on top of him. It was still open. "Scotty, just the one breach, right?"


Nearby his plasma welder and the plate to cover the breach were still intact. He reached with his left arm and pulled the plate over, then the welder. His attempt to stand up quickly showed he couldn't. His right arm was still locked in place by the wreckage. He pressed his body against it, but nothing would yield. He was stuck and it hurt.

"Lad, we dinnae have much time left! All o' th' reactors are overheatin'!"

Tears of pain were starting to obscure his vision. He didn't dare remove the helmet to wipe them away. He glanced from the damaged shunt line, out of reach from here, and back to his pinned arm.

And he knew there was only one way this was going to work.

"Frak me," Barnes grumbled, picking up the welder again. "Frak me frak me frak me…"

In orbit over the burning Reich capital, the fight between the support fleet for the invasion and SS naval forces raged in all of its fury. The Aurora, despite her increasing damage, remained in the thick of the fight. On her bridge Julia could do nothing to relieve the tension of waiting to see if the reactors would finally melt down. Both the tactical viewer and the main holo-viewer showed the ferocity of the battle raging around them. The Aururians were now taking the brunt of the fight and giving as good as they got. She watched a burning SS dreadnought, one of the long-dreaded Aryan-class ships, skewer the Maya-Mayi right before their eyes at close-range, with a solid hit from its spinal-mount disruptors while the Aururian battlecruiser was evading the same weapons mounted on a Reich battlecruiser.

The shot tore through the primary armour and straight through half the hull before coming to a stop. A moment later a massive explosion from one of the reactors vented straight out the hole the disruptor had just created. Half of the dreadnought-sized battlecruiser’s engine banks immediately went dark. “Shit,” Violeta muttered from her station. Julia was for a moment expecting the worst, but the massively armoured internal subdivision of the ship held. When she realised it would, she sighed in relief.

The Aururian ship was only wounded, not dead, and given the reputation of her captain, the famed Margrethe von Lohringhoven, she retaliated with a tremendous fusillade from her missile batteries, turreted plasma cannon, and point-blank heavy torpedoes. The enemy ship's shields were degraded enough that they couldn't stop every missile, causing explosions to flower along the ship's dark surface. Without orders Angel assisted, scourging the enemy dreadnought with the Aurora's remaining plasma cannon emitters on the port side. The double lightning bolt insignia of the SS was erased by the sapphire beams ripping along her hull.

The bombardment allowed the Koenig and a pair of Trigger-class attack ships to make a successful attack run. Solar torpedoes blew apart the spinal mounts that had just damaged Iron Margrethe's vessel. Pulse phaser cannons ripped up hull and further damaged the dreadnought. The Aurora's weapons thundered again, blasting chunks of hull and material away from the stricken bow.

The battlecruiser the Maya-Mayi was facing opened fire on the beleaguered ships as well. But while its disruptor beams played along the damaged hull of the Aurora, the heavier bombardment it loosed did not strike the Maya-Mayi as intended. A Traynari-class emergency-construction cruiser in Dilgar colors, the Ghatarn, soared in to take the blow on partially-intact shields, giving the overwhelmed gravitic shielding of the Maya-Mayi an important reprieve. Julia smiled tightly. She knew that was Zhengli Varma over there, fighting as courageously as she had at Tira.

Of course, for all that, none of it could save them as long as they stayed in action at full power. Like an old waterborne dreadnought damaged by a torpedo and electing to strain her bulkheads by staying at full power to keep in the line of battle, Julia’s command was literally killing herself to keep fighting. Dreading the answer to the question before she’d asked it, Julia looked to Mallory. "Reactor status, Mister Mallory?"

"All reactors are overheating," he said. "If we don't power down now I estimate… wait."

"Ensign?" Julia asked pointedly, not particularly patient on the survival of her ship.

"Heat levels are decreasing." Mallory checked his readouts. "The primary heat exchanger is dumping heat again. The coolant flow has been restored to 80% capacity."

Julia's initial thought was that Scotty really was a miracle worker. Her second was that she had to keep the ship alive long enough to thank him for being one.

The Wernher von Braun Academy was several stories tall, not counting the subbasement. Through it's halls the 5th Naval Infantry Company and the Aurora Marines moved on. Each hallway corner, each room, was a potential strongpoint for the defenders, as scattered and disorganized as they where.e the space the

Zack and Anders led their forces cautiously as a result. Every room was carefully screened. The slightest resistance resulted in grenades or heavy fire from the remaining power-armored Marines. As each section of the building was secured, the Alliance and Dilgar troops behind them moved in to hold these areas.

Zack sent Tachibana and one platoon to begin securing upper floors. He and Anders headed down. Lifts were avoided - they were too easily booby-trapped - and the stairs utilized. Locked doors were quickly blasted open. Zack kept glancing back toward his omnitool, following the particle trace Caterina had found.

This led them to the third subbasement, which was where they found their heaviest resistance in the structure. Rapid disruptor fire, from disruptor pulse cannons, filled the hall leading to what the signs' translations indicated was a lab. Zack kept to cover with Anders, who motioned for his Marines to double around. "Sonic imaging of the floor indicates a side approach," Anders said to him.

"They probably have that covered too."

"But by how many weapons? If that's their only heavy weapon, they can't easily cover both approaches."

The answer soon came: it was the only weapon. With that knowledge in mind Anders quickly formulated a plan. "Coleman, have your squad link shields. It'll buy time for us to take them out."


Moments later Coleman's squad came from the closer approach. Four power armored Marines with their armor's protective fields linking together. The heavy weapon's shots dissipated against the shields. They wouldn't for long, though, so Anders and Zack had to act immediately.

They did, moving up behind the armored Marines and tossing grenades over them. The one-way shields allowed the grenades to pass and land near the enemy. There were surprised cries in the moments before the blasts thumped through the hall. The Marines' shields held back the blast, but the enemy light infantry had nothing to do the same with.

The unit moved onward into the lab, spreading out to take control. Men in white lab coats surrendered the moment guns came up. The fear in their faces made Zack wonder if they expected summary execution or something of the like.

King was soon behind him. She looked as ragged as everyone else, a look enhanced by the bandage wrapped around her head. "The trace is strongest here," she said.

Looking at the center of the lab, Zack nodded. "Yeah, and it's pretty clear why," he noted.

In the middle of the lab, covered in wiring and cabling, was the familiar sight of an interuniversal jump drive.

For centuries the Liebstandarte SS Adolf Hitler remained named for the First Führer, proudly serving as the bodyguard unit (and occasionally Praetorian Guard) for the rulers of the Reich. Nominally an infantry regiment it was occasionally raised to the level of division depending on the whims of the Führer or, now, in a war with a vast Multiverse of species and nations who stood in agreement that the Reich should be destroyed.

Now some of the best soldiers in that regiment, members of the bodyguard company of their Führer, were holding defensive positions in the war room of the Fürherbunker. The holographic displays told everything about the Reich's dire situation, with half of the Reich's territorial space lost to the enemy or to revolt, the fleets scattered and broken, and Welthauptstadt Germania herself ablaze over their heads. For these desperate men, this was nothing less than the Gotterdammerung. But each was ready to drag a hundred enemies of their Reich and Volk with them into the Abyss.

When the far door blew open, each man opened fire with their disruptor rifles, spraying the entranceway with deadly green light. Only after several seconds of firing was it clear no foe was entering.

When the attack came, it came from above. The ceiling above them was blown downward by an incredible force, the debris smashing the central holotank of the chamber. Through the hole dropped two foes, both hated untermensch females of bronze coloring.

Lucy and Shepard landed back to back, Lucy's lightsaber flashing to life in the seconds before she landed, and immediately went to work. The sapphire blade of Lucy's weapon cleaved through the air and sliced a disruptor rifle in half, after which an invisible shockwave of force threw four of the SS soldiers back. Shepard's arm shot forward and a wide ripple of biotic explosions raced across the floor, wrecking more of the war room displays and throwing SS soldiers backward and sideways. Biotic energy formed around Shepard and she shot forward, the dark matter thick enough to distort a disruptor beam that stabbed at her shoulder. The shooter was blown into the far wall with enough force that he blacked out. One of his comrades was a half-second from firing when Shepard's shotgun barked, blasting a hole through the soldier's armor.

Through the door the assault now came. Robert rushed in first, the green of his weapon flashing through the air and deflecting the disruptor beams of his foes. Behind him Ashley and Garrus entered, assault rifles blazing, with Wrex and Tali behind them and a squad, then a whole platoon, of Aururian soldiers joining the fight. Kaidan dropped down through the hole in the ceiling in the company of an Aururian soldier. Both fired as they landed and began moving, clearing the way for more Aururians that jumped down through the hole.

The SS men were caught by surprise and never really regained their footing. The room was overrun too quickly for them to do so, and in less than a minute from the initial breach they were utterly defeated.

In their resistance they did manage some return fire. One disruptor bolt clipped Tali. Shepard and Robert immediately went to her where she collapsed, seemingly more stunned than in pain, but Robert sensed a surge of fear before she confirmed, "My suit is breached. I need help," Tali insisted with a voice on the verge of panic.

Robert knelt beside her and focused his hands toward the breached suit. It took a lot of focus to generate invisible, airtight force around the break, such that Shepard had to nudge him when an Aururian corpswoman was ready to slap a wound sealant on the breach. He let her do so.

"My suit's been breached," Tali said again.

"Her species has a non-existent immune system," Shepard said to the Aururian. "Any infection is dangerous. If you can arrange for the SSV Normandy to land and pick her up, Doctor Chakwas is equipped to care for her."

"I understand, Commander," the woman replied with a thick Russian accent.

"You're in good hands, Tali," Shepard assured her.

"We'll be right back," Robert added.

"Get the bosh'tet," Tali demanded.

They walked on to join the others. Lucy and Ashley were in the lead, Lucy's lightsaber already melting through the armored door to Führer Sauckel's inner office and living quarters. "The room's shielded, so sensors can't tell if there's anyone on the other side," Ashley informed them.

Shepard glanced toward Robert, but it was Lucy who said, "I don't sense anyone alive on the other end." She finished a circular cut that left a glowing box in the middle of the door. Robert did the honors of smashing the door in, sending the cut portion flying in with enough force to ruin the day of anyone inside. Once the gap in the door existed, Shepard rushed in, shotgun at the ready, with Lucy and Ashley behind.

Within seconds the entire team was inside, the Aururians close behind. The moment was surreal to Robert: here he was, in the inner sanctum of the leader of the Nazi Reich, and ready to face that same leader. He knew from captured images and propaganda broadcasts that Führer Ludwig-Friedrich Sauckel was hardly the image of Aryan perfection. He was a slight, balding middle-aged man of dark hair and brown eyes, unmarried, a life-long Party bureaucrat who was elevated to his position as a compromise following an indecisive internal struggle between the various factions of the government. Half of the reason he was picked was apparently due to his ancestry as a descendant of Fritz Sauckel, one of the first generation of Nazi officials, and the propaganda benefits of this familial link.

Now Robert might finally get to meet this man, the embodiment of the evil that had shed so much blood over the last five centuries of the S4W8 universe.

He was still wondering how Sauckel would react to capture when he stepped with Shepard into the bedroom. It was barely furnished, with a hard cot. The only sign of habitation was a desk with miniature starship models laying upon it, some only half-painted, and a painting set to one side. A figure was slumped over on the table.

Disappointment welled up within Robert. He said nothing as Shepard went up and examined the figure. "He's dead," Shepard said. She seemed disappointed as well.

Robert stepped up and pulled the body back. There were no marks on it. No disruptor burns. Just a look of pain and resignation on the face of the German Führer, testament to his final moments. He quickly keyed his omnitool. "This is Captain Robert Dale to all Coalition commands. We have captured the Führerbunker. Sauckel is dead. I repeat, the Nazi leader is dead."

"Damn," Garrus mumbled. "I guess that one's going back on the… what did Doctor Chakwas call it again?" He looked to Kaidan. "The pail list?"

"Bucket," Kaidan answered numbly. "Bucket list."

"All of this way and the bastard suicided," Ashley grumbled. "Goddamned Nazi coward."

"I'm not sure he suicided," Lucy said.

"Why do you say that?" asked Shepard.

"There's no disruptor burns," she replied. "And he didn't hang himself. I don't sense poison, and his lips aren't blue. I guess there are poisons that wouldn't show themselves, but I… no, I don't think it's poison. Plus, there's another problem." She gave Robert a worried look.

"Oh?" asked Wrex.

"Fassbinder came down here," Robert said. "So where the hell is he?"

While word quickly spread through Germania that the Reich's Führer was dead, the battle in orbit continued between fleets that seemed locked into place by their own desperation. Both sides were fighting until their ships died or simply quit from excessive damage. The Aurora was one ship still in the fight while clearly at the edge of her endurance. Her azure hull was marked with battle damage that her overtaxed self-repair systems had yet to patch. Multiple weapon emplacements were down. The ship's stern section was a mess from extensive battle damage with two nacelles mutilated by attack.

Yet despite her damage, the Aurora remained at her place in the battle, continuing to fight alongside the rest of her comrades and allies.

An enemy cruiser, Sedan-class, was coming up on the starboard side. Ordinarily the Aurora was more than a match for a vessel of that design, but in her damaged state a Sedan was a dangerous foe and demanded attention. Julia considered the tactical map as another series of disruptor beams cut into the Aurora's hull. "Damage on multiple decks, multiple sections, primary hull," Jarod said, his way of informing her the actual list of decks and sections would take too long to mention aloud. “And the armour self-repair mechanisms on the primary hull have also failed.”

"I just lost two starboard plasma emplacements," added Angel.

"Helm, one six two mark three four four, on my mark," Julia said.

"Aye ma'am."

Julia waited another moment, just to be sure, before affirming the order. 'Mark!"

The Aurora turned to starboard and raised her bow, a maneuver meant to bring heavier weapons to bear on the cruiser. The cruiser commander, aware of the threat posed, maneuvered to keep his ship to the Aurora's starboard.

As Julia had hoped, this maneuver doomed the SS cruiser.

The SS commander was so focused on the Aurora he didn't notice the other threats taking an interest in his command. Not until it was too late. The Sedan-class ship was suddenly struck on two arcs by the Ghatarn and the Wrath. The two Dilgar ships--one a rebuilt relic from the terrible glory days of the Imperium, the other a brand new ship provided to the new Dilgar state by the Alliance they sought to join--worked together admirably to slice the Reich ship to pieces, delivering blow after blow. When the Hyach lasers on the Wrath fired, they stuttered down the length of the cruiser and tore completely through the hull. The dying blast left the ship annihilated, just blazing sparks disappearing into space to mark the deaths of her crew and steel alike.

Angel was already directing fire on another target when it all ended. The SS ships suddenly broke away from orbit. After a final exchange of fire with the battered support fleet, the vessels all jumped to warp speed.

For a moment there was no reaction on the Aurora bridge. Finally Angel asked, "Is that it? Did they all leave?"

Cat nodded. "The space around us is clear. The SS fleet… they just warped out."

Despite the intense curiosity Julia felt at that announcement, she knew she had other things to deal with. "Stand down from combat alert. I want every repair team we can spare getting the ship ready for another fight, if it comes." She pressed the key on her chair to open the ship intercom. "Bridge to Engineering, we're secure from combat for the moment. You can commence shutdown of all overheating reactors."

"Aye Captain."

"Great job with the cooling systems, Mister Scott." Julia permitted herself a relieved smile.

"Th' credit goes tae Tom, Captain. He did th' work."

"I'll thank him now, then, and let you get back to work Mister Scott. Bridge out." Julia promptly tapped the key again. "Andreys to Barnes." After a moment with no answer she said, "Andreys to Barnes. Is everything okay? Mister Scott says we have you to thank that the reactors didn't melt down."

"Yeah, I suppose."

Julia felt worry fill her at the sound in Barnes' voice. "Are you alright?" she asked.

"I could use some medical attention, actually… frak this hurts."

Given the clear anguish in his voice, Julia didn't even pay attention to his use of obscenities in an open comm call. "We'll get you a medical team immediately."

At seeing her worried look, Jarod confirmed the order. After he was done Jarod said, "Incoming call from the Magaratha. On the fleet channel."

"Put the Warmaster on."

It was clear from the image that Shai'jhur was as exhausted as they. But the small Dilgar woman, still clad in the red blood slash that would hide the blood should the spores of her homeworld bring another round of bloody coughing, projected nothing but confidence, strength, and triumph. "My people and comrades in arms, I bear good tidings to you all. We have received confirmation from our soldiers. The German Führer is dead. Our forces hold the heart of the city and the flags of the Union and the Alliance fly proudly from the Volkshalle! Germania is ours!"

The news was good, and Julia allowed her friends and crew their cheers and applause. For her, it wouldn't be a victory until Rob and Zack and the others came home.
”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 »

By the time Robert stepped out of the Führerhaus with Lucy, Shepard, and the others, exhaustion had set in. It felt like real effort was required to walk the rest of the way to the waiting command vehicle sent by General Kylarjha to bring him and the others to rejoin Zack at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University. A second vehicle, a requisitioned ambulance, was present to bring Tali with them. She was holding up well although already showing signs of a potential infection. Due to the city's damage, the University common was the closest spot that the Normandy could land to pick her up.

The trip was a quick one. Some debris on the roads had to be avoided, as did the burning remnants of a German Lion tank, but the street was mostly clear. The same couldn't be said for the city at large, of course. The burning remnants of the city's massive high rises belched smoke into the sky. Together with the flames, it gave the city a crimson look that matched the blood shed upon its ground. In the distance the colossal Volkshalle still stood, albeit with a hole in its great dome. The flag of the Allied Systems fluttered in place beside that of the Union of Tira and Rohric, both placed by the Dilgar troops that swept the Nazi structure of its defenders.

For a moment Robert's exhausted mind considered just how destructive the fighting had been. How many families had been wrecked or killed by the fighting? How many more would suffer the same if the struggle continued? He didn't speak of these thoughts to the others. And they did not speak on their own. Everyone was too exhausted to do otherwise.

They arrived at the university just as the Normandy swooped in for a landing. The Aururian medics brought Tali to the cargo door while the others went for the entrance to the Von Braun Academy. Nearby Robert noticed an Alakin sky-hopper, an anti-grav short-range aircraft that was likely that of General Threek's. There were also a couple of towering BattleMechs with light blue camo patterns and the likeness of a ghost painted on them and a third painted black with a red hourglass symbol.

An Alakin soldier led Robert, Meridina, Lucy, and Shepard deeper into the academy, down into its subbasement levels. They stepped into a large lab area where Robert found he was in exalted company. General Kylarjha was joined by the other general-ranked officers of the Coalition forces. Threek and General Victus were also in uniform, as was a Free Worlds League army commander. Natasha Kerensky and Prince Victor were in MechWarrior BDUs, new full cooling suits developed for F1S1 'Mech pilots with the aid of Multiversal technology. The Dilgar ranking General, Gar'nak, stood with them. As a Paladin agent Robert was relieved of most usual niceties, but for diplomacy's sake he stood at attention. He sensed the commanders were nearly as fatigued as he was, especially Victor and - though she'd deny it fervently - Natasha. "Prince, Khan, Generals."

"Captain." Victor nodded. He was officially the commander of the invasion army, so the other generals deferred to him despite being older in most cases. "We've heard the news. It's already spreading through both armies."

"Sauckel is dead. I wonder if that will really change anything," Robert said.

"Time will tell."

"We've already secured most of the city center, including all of the bridges over the Spree," Victus remarked. "There are some holdouts in the middle of the park of the Tiergarten and a concentration of forces at the northern edge of the Volkstrasse. We believe the remaining enemy commanders are using the Rathaus as a command post."

"They won't be for long, my Wolf Spiders are already in position to smash the whole thing," Natasha boasted.

"It might be best if they be given the chance to surrender," Threek said. "It may end the fighting more quickly."

"It would be preferable." Victor looked toward the center of the lab. "I am more interested in what our people have found here."

Robert followed his eyes and noticed what he was looking at. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of the long, cigar-shaped metal object laying on a table, colored dark blue with cabling and wiring covering it. It was at least fifteen meters long, which was to be expected for an interuniversal jump drive.

The assembled commanders, with Robert and the others, approached the work area. Robert noticed Lieutenant Tra'dur was working at one of the stations in the company of a much larger Dilgar. Meridina and Lucy both recognized her and mentally informed him of her name: Fei'nur, the cyborg Dilgar bodyguard of Tra'dur's mother, Warmaster Shai'jhur. Nearby King was consulting with an engineer in an Stellar Navy field uniform, a blue-skinned teal-spotted Dorei with Lieutenant Commander rank insignia. When she noticed the assembled senior commanders she stood at attention. "Highness, Khan. Generals."

"Were we too late?" Victor asked.

King looked back to Tra'dur and the Dorei. The Dorei shook his head. "I do not think so," he said.

"Everyone, this is Lieutenant Commander Tauram Sjitas, Chief Engineer of the Starship Thunder Child," King said. "With the battle above over I asked for a naval engineer to come and confirm some of our findings." She noticed the look of constrained fear on Robert's face. To his surprise, a mental thought clearly meant for him surfaced in her thoughts, free of the usual shields she kept her mind under when in the presence of potential mind-readers. The Aurora is intact, Captain Dale, but Commander Scott is busy with repairs, and I am informed Lieutenant Barnes was wounded and is not fit for further duty.

Thank you, he thought back, feeling a tinge of warmth in his heart. King was notorious for opposition to anyone reading her thoughts with telepathy, regardless of the kind of telepathy. An unshielded thought to relieve his worries privately was a huge gesture on her part.

"Commander, what have you found?" asked Victor.

"I have not finished my examination entirely, Highness, but I am at least able to confirm that this unit is not yet ready for operation," Sjitas said. His purple eyes showed palpable relief. "The projectors are not capable of creating an interuniversal jump point."

"Then we were not too late," said Kylarjha.

"We were not," Sjitas agreed. "Nearly so, I believe. They were getting close. Going by the testing rate and results I've seen, I believe that in a week or so they may have found the appropriate mechanism to form a jump point."

Robert felt a cold shudder at that. Not just from how close they'd cut it, but from thinking about what happened at Earth W8R4, when the Daleks had also played around with the jump drive… and what they'd nearly awoken. They might very well have prevented the Nazis from awaking the Darkness as the Daleks nearly had...

"Then the attack came at just the right time," Shepard said, not knowing what Robert was thinking. "Any later and they'd have a working drive."

"Yes. One that they could have easily manufactured off-world."

"And undoubtedly they already had arrangements to commence such manufacturing," King noted. "Even the fall of Earth would have done nothing to stop them."

"Then the sacrifices were not in vain," said Victus.

Robert sighed in relief. "No, they weren't."

"I will want to debrief the scientists here before finalizing my report to Admiral Maran and to yourselves," King said. "But I am in concurrence."

"Thank you, Captain King," said Victor.

"Highness." With that King stepped away to get back to work.

As King stepped away with Sjitas, a Turian soldier stepped up and saluted Victus. "General, we just received word from Captain Hadran. An enemy officer has approached the allied line near the town hall. He came under a flag of truce and wishes to speak to a representative of Coalition Command."

A short time later Robert walked out to the University commons and approached the enemy officer, flanked by Turian infantry. He wore the gray uniform of a German Army officer with the rank insignia of an Oberst, a Colonel. His brown eyes were full of pain, pain and shame that Robert felt radiate off of the man. Graying hair of dark blond color was visible under his officer's cover, marked with a German eagle. Upon looking Robert over there was visible recognition from the man. He snapped a salute. "Kapitän Robert Dale?"

Robert nodded. "Ja. Ich bin Kapitän Dale."

There was a flicker of surprise on the officer's face. Whatever he knew of Robert, apparently Robert's fluency with German hadn't been part of that. There was instinctive relief from the man as he continued, in German, "I am Oberst Karl Baumann. I come representing General Wolfgang Kleist, commander of the Germania Armeegruppe. He has sent me to request terms from the Alliance."

"Terms of surrender?"

"Ja." Again the pained look. "For all German army forces in Germania and the European continent."

"But not for the whole planet? Or the Reich?"

"He lacks the authority. Planetary command was transferred out of the capital."

Robert nodded. It had indeed been too much to hope for a wider surrender, not yet. But at least a local surrender would end the killing around the capital. He nodded to the officer. "Follow me then, and you can see what terms Prince Victor and the other commanders are willing to give."
”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 images had already gone out to the Multiverse. Shai’jhur would have accepted nothing else. Billions of beings watched them through thousands of media sources in awe, happiness, amazement. The triumph of the allied forces and a new Liberation Navy was at hand. And she had helped engineer it.

One entire brigade had been devoted to the task of assaulting the Volkshalle. They had stormed through the lower levels and into the great hall itself. Then with the help of their engineers, the Dilgar had climbed the maintenance scaffolding high into the dome. Intermittent fighting with the remaining Nazi defenders was filmed by the correspondents as they stormed forward through the offices of the Nazi Party itself.

Leaning into ropes and clambering up steep access stairways, they reached the top. A few dispersed Nazi troops in detachments offer resistance. They are quickly killed. The cameras carefully avoid showing a few of the wounded sliding, falling off the sides of the dome, disappearing into the sky.

They reach the top, and look at the shattered damage to the dome, at the shattered city beyond it. A combat engineering team reaches the cupola at the top of the dome. A minute’s application of plasma cutters is all that is required, and a group of thirty Dilgar troopers roaring and cheering as they push.

The great bronze bird totters, and then it topples into the side of the dome. The dome holds, and it tumbles down the side, scouring the rock facing, down, down, until it reaches the lip of the dome and bounces off, crushing itself in the great carved and fit marble of the plaza. As it falls, a flagpole is hoisted in its stead, a Dilgar flag. The other flags will come later. The camera focuses on it, waving over the Volkshalle.

In two weeks of fighting, the Dilgar have taken 62,000 killed on Earth, ten percent of their forces engaged. It was the highest of any of the allied armies in proportion to those committed to action. But they don’t talk about that. They cheer, and celebrate wildly, for on this day, finally, they have buried ghosts and won a triumph.

Shai’jhur watched the broadcast on her screen. She quietly ignored the cheers of her bridge-crew around her. Her eyes dimly follow each detail of the screen, committing them to her memory. They cannot deny me now. Gods, but it has to have been enough. It must have been enough!

Lines of weary soldiers formed along the Volkstrasse. Around the Rathaus, the capital's city hall, men in feldgrau were standing at attention. For Robert there was again the onslaught of shame and broken pride from enemies who had presumed themselves the pinnacle of Humanity and the superior of all other forms of life; enemies who were now vanquished.

To the south and north of the Rathaus, Coalition troops stood as well. Exhausted, but eager. They were hurting from wounds and lost comrades and ready to see the bloody business terminated. Among their number were various vehicles and war machines of the victorious powers, from Alakin urban combat cars to towering BattleMechs.

As the leader of the ground forces, Prince Victor took the lead in approaching the Rathaus. Robert joined the other commanders in following him. Halfway to the lines, General Kleist and his subordinate commanders met them. The surrender went off without a hitch, without any sign of resistance from the vanquished Reich troops. Kleist and his officers surrendered their weapons personally and their soldiers formed lines to do the same. Enemy troops scattered around the city and the entire continent were receiving orders to do the same.

Once the formalities were observed and the captive Germans led off to confinement, the commanding generals dispersed. Victor turned and looked up at the damaged dome of the Volkshalle. In the fading daylight the flags of the Coalition powers fluttered together. The Union flag of the Dilgar seemed to flutter the most proudly. "I wonder what the Drazi will have to say about that," Robert murmured. "The Dilgar just guaranteed that the Multiverse will never tolerate another genocide attempt against them."

"They earned it," Victor replied. There was a tired look on his face. "Proportionally they took the worst casualties of all of our forces."

"They have something to prove to the rest of us."

"During the Tira Crisis I was briefed on the history. It is fitting that a people who once rivaled the Nazis in atrocities shed so much of their blood in the cause of stopping more. Maybe the Germans of this universe will find inspiration in their example." Victor glanced Robert's way. "So you are an operative now?"

"Something to that effect."

"You once spoke to me of right making might. Many would say your current job is intrinsically opposed to such views."

"I'm sure they would," Robert replied. "And maybe they have a point. But President Morgan wants to keep us honest. We're not going to be Spectres or anything like that. Our purpose is to protect the Alliance while upholding its values."

"It will not be easy," Victor said. "I am familiar with how statecraft and ideals can conflict."

"If anything, the Harris Station Charter situation has reminded me of that," Robert said darkly. "We signed that charter to protect worlds from exploitation, not to promote a carving up of the Reich's empire."

"The moment this became a coalition war effort, such a carving up was inevitable," Victor remarked. "But the important thing is that we've laid the Reich low. It won't pose a threat to our existences any longer."

"We have that at least," Robert agreed.

Generalfeldmarschall Konrad von Schoenburg sat in the reserve command centre of the Planetary defences at Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The city had a proud old civic tradition and had been enormously pleased to receive this installation a century ago, and had since developed a strong connection to the Luftraumwaffe. It had been German majority even when it was ruled by the "Jewish cabal" of the United States and in no small part served as the cultural capital of German North America.

Once upon a time, of course, it had also had a large African population, but unlike the primitive tribes of Africa, it had no anthropological value and had been removed centuries ago. Only Aryans lived in Milwaukee now. Not for much longer. Konrad considered himself a cultured man, and he was not overcome with fury or despair. Confirmation had come through that the entirety of OKW was dead, the primary Ministers were dead, the SS leadership was missing. As second in command of the planetary defences, the weight of the Reich had settled on von Schoenburg’s shoulders.

He could see the situation clearly enough. They were going to be forced to surrender in total. The surrender of Europe already made the situation on the surface untenable. They retained considerable industrial resources on interior colonies, but the fleet had been destroyed. The SS had fled without orders and without explanation, removing his only chance to continue to defend Earth while Admiral von Platen’s fleet was concentrated.

In theory, he could order the concentration and transfer command of the Reich over to Von Platen. He would not escape the surface, but that would not matter. Von Platen could contact the remaining commanders of the SS and they would acknowledge him as the Führer--or not. But regardless, they could concentrate maybe fifteen hundred ships to defend the whole rest of the Reich.

At that point, the war would grind on for another six months. The enemy would redouble their production, the innumerable allies they had found across many universes would do the same. The destruction would spread to countless additional German worlds. A few more billion Germans would die without result.

Konrad, personally, had been in the Luftraumwaffe his entire life and had been in command of planetary defence networks for most of that time. He was confident he could win acquittal in any serious trial, and if the enemy wanted to shoot him, the outcome was preordained. His own survival was immaterial, though. He was a German patriot, by definition.

Quite logically, he decided to surrender the entire Reich. Highly placed enough to see documents on the other universes, he knew they had defeated the Reich centuries before, in places where it had even existed. They had crushed the German soul and spirit up before it had a chance to spread. But here there were hundreds of billions of Germans. Scandinavians, the Low Countries -- Milwaukee -- and all of their children in the stars had collectively come to see themselves as German. These victorious allies could crush the Reich, but they could not change the fact that in this universe, unlike other universes, there were a hundred billion Aryans in a compact mass of settled planets, possessed of shared culture and language.

The more intact the Reich was, he felt, the harder it would be for the allies to destroy what it meant to be German. It was time to end the pointless resistance. He would endure the unendurable, and someday a Fourth Reich would rise from the ashes, in some new form better capable of surviving the Multiverse.

“Major von Kechler?” He was a good lad, a smart man of a noble family originally from Holland, capable and brave with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross around his neck. He would have to do for the one thing that actually truly mattered at the moment.

“Sir!” The young fighter pilot, assigned to the ground duty while recuperating from wounds suffered in the war, stepped forward. His handsome face was still marred by pink scar tissue.

“My daughter Mathilda lives at 1171 Seeuferstrasse.” He pulled something out of his pocket. “Remove your uniform, take these keys, and go there immediately. You are to take her into the Multiverse. Anywhere! I don’t care! Find a way and get her to safety.”

Sir!?” The man paled, as silence slowly began to spread in a cone around him in the command centre.

“You have your order, and that is a direct order from the ranking surviving officer in the Reich, Major. Take my daughter, and get to another universe. That is all.”

Why another universe, Sir?”

Konrad tugged on his own collar and turned toward the banks of comms. “Because in another fifteen minutes every single surviving SS man will want to kill her in revenge for what her father did. I believe we have no choice but to begin negotiations for the surrender of the Reich. She’s quite the handful, Major. She’ll want to stay and fight in some kind of resistance even though she’s a woman. Get started, you’ll need some time to get clear. Go hide up in the North woods until an opportunity presents itself.”


With the combat over, paperwork was now the order of the day. Combat reports had to be filed, damage reports collected and signed off on, requisitions for repair material made. Given the extensive damage list Jarod and Scotty provided, Julia was certain they were due for weeks of yard work to get the Aurora back in shape. Given the ferocity of the previous few days, it was no surprise.

But before touching the paperwork, Julia had something else to do first.

As expected, the medbay was full of combat casualties. With all of the hull breaches it was not surprising. The ship was also taking overflow from more damaged vessels. Thankfully Julia didn't have to hunt for help. Nasri found her immediately and brought her through to the Standard Care Ward of the medbay.

She found Barnes in a corner bed, laying with his eyes closed. She couldn't keep the gasp from forming. His right arm ended a few inches below the armpit, the stub covered in bandaging. "Tom?"

"Hey." Barnes opened his eyes. His voice sounded weary. "So it's all over?"

"Yeah," Julia said. "It is. The German Army in Europe surrendered an hour ago. Shai'jhur and the other admirals are already discussing terms with the remaining planetary command officers. They're holed up in Milwaukee of all places…"

"Huh. I guess they like the cheese," Barnes joked.

"My God Tom, how did that…"

"Plasma welder," he said. "My arm was pinned, and I had to fix that coolant shunt."

"Christ," Julia swore. "You… you cut off…"

"Yup. Hurt like all fraking hell too," he said. "But it was lose my arm or lose the ship. Couldn't do that. The Aurora is my girl too, y'know."


Barnes sighed and then let out a small moan. "I feel like I could sleep for a year."

"I think we all do." Julia smiled softly at him. "Thank you, Tom. You… you're the reason we're still here. And I'm sure Leo can save your arm."

"Maybe. He says the welder damaged the nerves and I'll need nerve regeneration therapy before I can think of anything else." Barnes shrugged. "Maybe a robot arm would be cool? I could have it fit with engineering tools or something."

Julia giggled at the mental image, but she couldn't keep the sadness out of it. On top of everything else the war had cost them, in time and lives and blood and terror and pain, it had added to it by forcing Barnes to mutilate himself. "I'm sure you'll think of something."

He nodded mutely in reply. When he spoke, it was a subject change. "Did Zack and Rob…?"

"They did," Julia assured him. "They're alive. Okay."

"Good. They're coming home then."

"Eventually, for Zack. He'll probably be back on the Citadel within a week. He's got duties there."

"Make sure he gets the Koenig back, dammit," Barnes insisted. "It's his ship. Atreiad's cool, don't get me wrong, but Koenig is Zack's ship."

"It is," Julia agreed. She started thinking of something else to say when her omnitool made an electronic tone. She tapped the blue light that appeared over the back of her left hand. "Andreys here."

"Good news," said Jarod, and his voice, weary as it was, sounded like it. "The fleet just got back. Maran won. His fleet wrecked the Reich's battle fleet. Their survivors are already in full retreat or have surrendered."

"That's great news," Julia agreed.

"He's already in talks with the Wehrmacht's planetary command bunker in Milwaukee," Jarod continued. "Warmaster Shai'jhur's confirmed they're asking for surrender terms."

"For Earth?"

"No," Jarod replied. "For the entire Reich."

Ship's Log: ASV Aurora; 16 July 2643. Captain Julia Andreys recording.

It's over. I almost can't believe it.

We've been at war with the Nazis for two years. Since it started we've faced fight after fight with them. Even when we were off on other missions the war was always there in the background. Always there to remind us that at any time we might get pulled back in.

And now it's all over. Earth is ours. The remaining leadership is preparing to surrender the entire empre to the Coalition. All of the sights from the fall of Germania - the Dilgar on top of the
Volkshalle, the Alliance and Aururian troops meeting at the Alexanderplatz, the Federated Commonwealth BattleMechs stomping through the park in Tiergarten - they're all being broadcast across S4W8 as we speak. We're already getting reports of worlds rising up in revolt. Of Gauleiters begging Coalition commanders to take over to protect German minorities on some of the planets. After all of this fighting… it's like we finally hit them hard enough that the entire Reich is just… falling apart.

It's come at a cost. The
Aurora has suffered severe damage to several systems. We nearly lost the ship. We survived only because Tom sacrificed his arm to save the ship. And between the battle at the Citadel and the battle for Earth, we've taken over a hundred casualties to the crew and the fighter wing. Everyone is worn down to the point that the entire crew feels like it's about to collapse in place.

But I can't complain. It could be so worse for us. So much worse.

Julia waited quietly at the transporter station for the return of the others. Meridina, Lucy, and Talara were the only ones to materialize. Julia was immediately struck not just by their exhaustion, but by the looks they had. Talara especially seemed worn down to a nub emotionally.

She went to ask about the others, but Meridina sensed her questions and preempted her. "Robert is remaining to coordinate the surrender negotiations with Admiral Maran and Prince Victor. Zachary is seeing to his unit. Tra'dur is remaining to assist King in examination of the technical intelligence we recovered."

"Oh." Julia couldn't keep the disappointment from her face. "I…"

"It's fine," Lucy said. She smiled weakly. "You wanted to see us all come back at once. It'll make us surviving it real."

"You got me," Julia confessed. She focused her attention on Talara. "Ensign Talara, are you okay?"

"No, Captain, I am not," Talara said, her voice quivering. "So much death and pain and loss… so much of it, I can't…"

"It's okay." Lucy put a hand on her student's shoulder. "Come on, you need some rest."

Julia sighed and shook her head. "Some of the junior officer quartering took damage from enemy fire. We've had to seal off some of the sections."

"She can stay in my quarters if she needs to," Lucy said. "Do you need anything else?"

"No. You're dismissed."

Lucy nodded at that. With Talara present, and the transporter operator, Julia would want to maintain at least some formality. She quietly guided her suffering protègè out.

"It was very hard on her," Meridina said. "She is quite sensitive."

"It was bad, then?"

"That city was already a place of great darkness. The deaths suffered there only make it worse." Meridina visibly shivered. "I can feel it even now…"

"Do you need some time off?" Julia asked. "I'll understand if you do…"

"We all do, Captain," Meridina said. "For now, I will seek out Commander Locarno and learn from him what must be done."

"And I need to talk to Zack." Julia clearly wasn't enjoying that thought. "There's something I have to tell him."

Meridina sensed what it was. "Swenya's Light, he actually…?"

Julia nodded. "And he saved the ship."

"Yes, it is best if you inform Zachary. So it is not a terrible surprise."

The Enterprise was better off than the Aurora, Robert could see. Her shields had nearly fallen during the thick of the fighting, but she came out with little in the way of hull and system damage, and things were already returning to normal on the ship.

The invitation to come aboard brought him up to the bridge and on to the ready room. There he found Picard sitting at his desk, a cup of Earl Grey in his hand, with Admiral Ross on the monitor. "I feel fortunate that we never signed the Harris Station Charter," Ross was saying. "The territorial disputes are already beginning."

"That's to be expected when you have a large coalition of states that include empires," Picard observed drolly. He noticed Robert's presence and nodded. Robert remained quiet to let the conversation continue. "I can't imagine a man of Admiral Maran's reputation is enjoying the experience."

"He isn't. And there's little he can do about the issue, this is a matter for the diplomats. But the need to put the occupation plans into practice is forcing him to deal with the complaints on top of getting ready for the final surrender ceremony." Robert couldn't see Ross from the angle of the screen, but he imagined Ross looked way momentarily. "They're ready to resume another meeting. I'll inform you if anything important develops. Ross out."

Once Ross was gone, Picard looked up. "Welcome aboard, Robert," he said. "Have a seat."

"Thank you, Jean-Luc." Robert took one of them. He looked around the room. Gone were the fish that Picard once kept on the last Enterprise, but several of his mementoes were visible. "I guess we shouldn't be surprised that this may turn into a carving contest."

"History shows that disparate coalitions rarely survive the wars they were formed to fight," observed Picard. "Once the threat of a common enemy is gone it is easy for the victors to turn their energies against one another."

"It's been a subject that's come up before. That we had to amend the Harris Station Charter at all…" Robert shook his head. "Before I came up General Lenarov and General Victus were already arguing about one planet on the Turian list. Drachenfeldt apparently has a significant Bulgarian population that wasn't reported, so the Slavic Union is insisting that the planet be re-assigned to them. Victus doesn't have authority to negotiate the matter so they just yelled at each other for a bit before Victor asked them to stop."

Picard sighed at the news. "They will race toward the world, I suspect."

"It's in the Anti-Spinward, so maybe. Or maybe the diplomats will make a deal." Robert shook his head. "I never liked that the Charter was amended. We're supposed to be liberating these people. The Turians are more interested in expanding their territory. And they're not the only ones…"

"The important part will be to keep all of the partners from deciding that rearmament of the German population is favorable. That would inevitably escalate the situation."

"Nobody's talking about that right now, but I suppose it might one day happen." Robert's voice made it clear he wasn't happy with the thought.

Picard took another sip of tea. "Well, it seems things have rather changed for both of us."

"You have a new Enterprise," Robert noted. "And I'm not a captain anymore."

"How do you feel about that?"

"I… don't know," Robert admitted. "I've mostly gotten used to it now, but there are still times I catch myself thinking about taking command." He shifted in the chair. "So much for my potential, I suppose."

"They won't give you another vessel?"

"No. Maran's made it clear that the Admiralty won't let me captain another ship," Robert said. He shook his head. "The damned thing is… I'm not sure I feel angry about it."

That drew Picard's attention immediately. "Oh? I admit I would be rather unhappy should Starfleet forbid me another command."

"I don't doubt it. And Julia would probably resign right there." Robert rested his elbow on the desk. "But I… I don't feel that way. I think I understand why they've done it, and it's entirely on my end. The fact I've often left my ship to accomplish other missions. Julia even warned me about taking to the field too often."

"That was her role, among many."

"And I still went. Every time. Because I felt it necessary."

"I imagine this has to do with this… metaphysical power you've discovered within yourself?" Picard asked.

"Oh, I'd say so." Robert thought again to that moment in the TARDIS. "'Your life will end.'"


"It's what it said to me. The Doctor's TARDIS. It said my life would end if I did what I did to save the Aurora," Robert explained. "I thought it meant I was going to die. But that wasn't it."

"You believe it meant your life as a starship captain," Picard observed.

"I do. And that's how things have gone for me," said Robert.

"And now you're… something of a secret operative?"

"Not so secret. The Paladins aren't black ops agents, we're… I suppose we're the troubleshooters," said Robert. "I suppose you can say we're a cross between the Citadel Council's Spectres and the Aururian Empress' Imperial Marshals."

"That will not be easy," Picard warned. "The kinds of operations you might be called upon to complete…"

"...they might not be on behalf of very good people, I know," Robert said. "That's why Morgan asked me and some of the others. He wants people who won't decide the job lets them solve every problem with a gun. I'll happily avoid such myself." Robert glanced toward Picard. "Are you disappointed?"


"You once told me that good starship captains were rare enough that they had to be encouraged. Now, after everything, I'm walking away from it."

"Perhaps in name, you are, but I suspect that as a Paladin, you will find yourself in situations not dissimilar to what you would experience as a starship captain," Picard observed. "Diplomacy, problem-solving, critical thinking, tactics… the stakes will be just as high as well."

"They already have been," Robert said, thinking of the campaign against Saren and Sovereign.

"Then in the end, I do not consider my efforts to encourage you wasted, Robert. Whether or not you are in the captain's chair or not." Picard set his cup down. "Now, since it has been some time, I would like to extend an open invitation to you and your comrades. Since Mister Worf's assignment to Deep Space Nine and the general disinterest of his successors, I'm afraid the weekly poker game has never been the same."

To that Robert laughed. "I'll extend the offer as soon as I get back."

Admiral Heinrich Rudolf von Platen was commander of the 4th Antispinward Grenzland Fleet, responsible for patrolling the inner frontiers of the Reich. He heard the orders from headquarters to stand down and commence a cease-fire in preparation for surrender. He heard the reports of the fall of Earth.

“Admiral, the fleet transmission is live,” Kapitan-zur-Raum Mattias Erlaucher approached and tossed the more relaxed salute of the space-forces.

“Thank you, Kapitan.” Heinrich sank back into the command chair of his flagbridge. Truth be told, thinking about his family on Earth, he couldn’t really compose himself enough to appear in a visual before the fleet.

But he could compose himself will enough to say what he was going to next. First, though, there were a few formalities. “Mattias, have we dealt with the Gestapo men?”

“Yes, Sir. It’s been arranged. The Naval Infantry are with us, and we’ve secured their quarters.”

“That will be enough, then.” Admiral von Platen had been competent, but he had also seen the bravery of countless aliens on the frontier. His commands had not been marked by any particular atrocities, though the very nature of the Reich meant that, certainly, the allies could find something to try him on, simply because near the borders there were always unpleasant tasks.

But he was not, and never had, been motivated by any love for the Party and the SS. Indeed, he believed he blamed them quite justly for the way they had lost the war. He could clearly see how both also motivated their enemies to incredible feats against them. And knowing what he did about the strategic situation, he had the smallest bit of hope that this story had not yet reached its final chapter.

He seized that hope, formed it together, held onto it, and began to speak. “Comrades, sailors, Germans. You doubtless have heard the reports from the capital of the Reich, our Earth, and I must, bluntly, confirm them. Earth has fallen to the enemy. The Reich has fallen to the enemy.”

“This is due to no fault of yourselves, comrades. You had the best fleet, a fleet much better than theirs, stronger and more capable in every respect. It is however a maxim of the study of warfare that those with strategic mobility have the true advantage. Interuniversal drive protected the centres of power of the enemy, while allowing them to attack us at will from many unexpected directions and deep behind our own lines.”

“With the surrender of the Reich, the hatred of our enemies will necessarily fade. They will be at each other’s throats within two years, mark my words now, men! They are a hundred races and nations, combined only because of ancient legends and propaganda written by those who in other universes defeated the great German nation, ground us down and destroyed our spirit!”

“Today, I offer you something plain and simple: Hope. The hope that comes only by choosing the hard course, by enduring the unendurable. I ask you to stay loyal to me, comrades. No more Reich, no more NSDAP. No more Führer! No more women and precious little wine! Just comrades, and the strong decks still under our feet!”

“I will never again fight for a Reich, I will never again obey the orders of the SS men, the NSDAP men! The party is dead, wasted, it has failed the German nation. What I promise you is the black flag of the freikorps! They will call us pirates and hang us if they catch us, but comrades, while we fight, our nation will know hope like it did in the dark days when Napoleon occupied all of our lands, or when the communist traitors fought to seize the Reich! Give me swords around a black flag, comrades! We have eight hundred ships, and if they are mostly light, that means they are handy. We will head coreward, and hide in broken and distorted regions of space.”

“When our enemies have turned on themselves to fight over the spoils, we will return and liberate our nation and our families, comrades! The German nation will not perish as long as it has a fleet in the stars. All ships prepare for warp trajectories. We will set our course beyond the frontiers of the Reich, and pray to Njoror for fortune in our travels. No surrender, though it makes us pirates. Comrades, long live the Free German Nation! Come with me to fight another day under a black freikorps banner!”

Among the ships that prevailed in the Sol System, the Starship Thunder Child proved the most fit for her current mission: command a squadron of ships for a reconnaissance-in-force of Himmlerwelt, the garden planet gifted centuries before to the SS and the seat of their power off of Earth. He was to either secure their surrender now that the Reich was collapsing or report on the extent of their defenses for a later assault, all while ensuring the safety of his still-damaged starship.

Seated in his command chair at the center of the bridge, Captain Phillip Wallace listened patiently as his Navigation Officer, Lieutenant Harold Wells, counted down to their arrival in orbit. His first officer was an Alakin female, Commander Taham Tolu, a bronze-feathered blue-skinned member of one of the minority nationalities of the Alakin species.

At the science station sat a young woman, Lieutenant Emilia Alessandria, with a porcelain complexion and raven-dark hair. She spoke with a pronounced Italian accent. "Still nothing new on sensors in the system, Captain. All we are reading is the space station and the lunar orbit shipyard."

His reply came in a faint Scots burr. "The damage to the sensors, could it be affecting your scans?"

"No sir," she replied. "The starbird Yatan and the Starship Aguinaldo both confirm our readings."

Both ships - a Layama-class Dorei starbird and a Nehru-class star cruiser - had been reinforcements to Earth after the battle so there was no prospect of combat damage to undermine their readings.

"Bringing us out of warp in three, two, one…"

With a flash of Cherenkov radiation and wayward tachyons, the Thunder Child dropped her warp field and decelerated to Newtonian Law-regulated sublight speeds, as did the ships accompanying her. Ahead of them Himmerwelt glistened in the light of her life-giving star. A toroidal space station hung in nearby orbit. Cities were visible as gray circles on the planet's surface.

"Put me on," Wallace instructed his Ops officer, Lieutenant Commander Mikhail Kirov. Upon receiving confirmation that the channel was open, he began speaking. "This is Captain Phillip Wallace of the United Alliance of Systems, commanding the Alliance Starship Thunder Child, to the planetary authorities of the planet called Himmler's World. On behalf of the Alliance and its allies, we call upon you to accept the surrender of your government and end…"

Before he could finish, a bright light flashed on the bridge holo-viewer. As the light died, more lights flashed, and soon it became apparent that the space station in orbit had been detonated, and in such a way as to drive the fragments to slam into the planet.

He had no time to request his officers report on this when there were sudden visible flashes on the planet's surface. "My God," murmured Lieutenant Alessandria. "They're… they're setting off atomic devices all across the planet! I'm picking up high levels of radioactive elements being thrown into the atmosphere by the detonations! Life signs across the planet are falling!"

"By the Maker," Commander Tolu gasped.

"Bloody bastards," Wallace said, his expression grim. "Bloody narcissist Nazis. They're killing themselves and making sure nobody else can use their planet when they're gone." He looked to Operations. "Raise the Kentan. Admiral Maran needs to know about this."

High above the ruined capital of the fallen Nazi state her handful of surviving leaders prepared to signal her defeat to a galaxy that, just two years prior, believed the Reich unstoppable. It had been, they might flatter themselves to believe, right up until the moment many universes had converged upon them with technology they had not foreseen to smash their fleets from a dozen directions at once, with waves of reinforcements as yet more powers joined the fight against them. But flattery did not and would not change the end.

The surrender would be received by the Reich's conquerors aboard one of the many star-faring vessels they brought to the task. The initial expectation had been that the Gersallian flagship Kentan would host the ceremony, or the Allied Systems' newest dreadnought, the Unity.

Admiral Maran had another candidate in mind, as it turned out. A candidate he considered the most fitting given her history.

Battle damage had been cleared in the hours before the assembled personages arrived on the hanger deck of the Starship Aurora. Dress uniforms dominated among the assembled, some more ostentatious than others depending upon the traditions and regulations governing the wearer. A great table was set into the middle of the hanger with the articles of surrender laid upon it.

Not far from the table, forward and to port from its location, the command crew of the Aurora stood in a group, all in the dress whites of the Alliance Stellar Navy save Major Anders, who wore the dress blues of the Alliance Marines. Commander Shepard and her team from the Normandy, as well as Joker, Pressley, and Chakwas, stood to one side of the Aurora crew, wearing formal uniforms in the case of those in the Systems Alliance military and formal suits (or something of the like) for those who were technically civilians. On the other side stood the command crew of the Federation Starship Enterprise; the command officers of the Alliance vessel of the same name were nearby as well. Warmaster Shai'jhur's officers stood almost opposite of them astern.

Shai'jhur herself stood among the seniormost officers of the Coalition. They remained assembled at the port side of the table, facing the surviving Nazi commanders to the starboard side. Generalfeldmarschall von Schoenburg was joined by other officers of the Luftraumwaffe, the Reich's aerospace fightercraft service, and a surviving deputy minister from the cultural and education ministry. They were all that remained of the central government. Teams had already found the bodies of the former OKW and the Reich Ministers, scattered about their offices and command posts in the center of Germania. Like Sauckel, they'd died without obvious use of poison or physical damage, leading to many presuming suicide.

Many, that was, except Robert and some of the others, who had a more viable suspect in mind.

The Coalition leadership was assembled around Admiral Maran. General Threek stood nearby, but the figures flanking Maran were Prince Victor, Khan Natasha Kerensky, and Warmaster Shai'jhur, as the highest ranking leaders. As Heads of State and Commanders-in-Chief (or near-equivalent to such in Natasha's case) they technically outranked Maran, but as he was personally representing President Morgan and had been the architect of the victory, they did not object.

One officer gave them a head's up to let them know that the comm systems were live, broadcasting them across the Multiverse. A great hush filled the room. Maran and the representatives of the Coalition states stepped forward, as did the Reich officers representing what was left of their central government.

Maran quietly invited the Nazis to examine the articles of surrender. They did so perfunctorily, fighting to restrain their emotions, save for von Schoenburg who seemed to have taken everything in stride. A few visibly failed. Robert, Meridina, Lucy, and Talara could all sense the shame and guilt these men shared, a feeling of despair and hopelessness, that they had failed their nation and that their lives were over. Many knew full well they would be bound for the dock to stand trial for the many atrocities and war crimes committed by the Reich. These men were convinced they were destined for a one way trip to an airlock or gallows, with a hope that maybe the Coalition would be merciful and send them to the firing squad instead. A few were convinced they had done nothing the Alliance would find illegal, but most of those still felt they would be executed anyway, believing what the Alliance said about fair trials was to be nothing more than a charlatan’s propaganda to cover victor's vengeance (much as the Nazis themselves had often employed).

More than that, everything they believed in was being swept away. A foe they could not have imagined a few short years ago had crushed the nation they'd been raised to serve. All of their certainties were gone. They had been evil certainties, yes, and all of the peoples who had suffered or might have suffered from them were rightfully glad to see them destroyed. But that meant little to the doomed men signing away everything they ever believed in, and their emotions were just as real as the happiness in those that might have become their victims. Robert didn't know if he could, much less should, feel sympathy for their broken spirits.

Once the Nazi generals and officials had signed the articles of surrender, the Coalition representatives took their turn. One by one the officers stopped and signed: Admiral Ross, Warmaster Shai'jhur, Prince Victor, General Marrisa Morgan of the Free Worlds League, Mandrissa Huang of the Capellan Confederation, Fleet-Master Dartanrilam of the Gy'toran Interstellar Forces, Fleet Commander Telnarro of the Phosako, General Lenarov of the Slavic Union, General Franklin of Earthforce…

Maran waited until all of the allied commanders had signed before stepping forward and signing for the Alliance. Once he had affixed his signature in the flowing calligraphy of High Gersallian, he placed the pen squarely on the paper and took a step back. Again silence reigned across the hanger deck, an anticipatory silence. There was a weariness in Maran's spirit that Robert and some of the others could sense. While Gersallian physiology might not have lent itself to graying his dark hair from stress, it was clear there had been a price to pay for his burdens in the war.

Despite that weariness, he began to speak, his Gersallian lilt subdued and his words clear. "The war is over. The Nazi Regime is no more. For the first time in centuries, this galaxy, this universe, may know peace."

"It has been a long and bloody struggle to bring us to this point. Over the last five centuries many brave beings have lain down their lives to end the darkness planted centuries ago by the madness of Hitler and his followers. Some did so gratified by the thought their deaths would bring victory. For many others, there was no such hope, only a refusal to submit to that darkness."

Julia couldn't help but notice the pained look on the face of Ariel Shaham. So many of his people had died over the centuries in just that manner, in a cause that seemed hopeless. He and the last survivors of S4W8's Jews had nearly joined them.

"It would be a simple thing to believe that with the destruction of the Nazi State the darkness will be expunged," Maran continued. "If only it were so. The darkness, for all the destruction and pain the Nazis wrought from it, is not unique to them. Any beings, any people, can succumb to darkness, through pain or fear or anger. None of us are immune from this. And nothing can bring a being to darkness like the experience of war."

Maran gave everyone a moment to consider his words. Robert felt he may be considering his own as well, picking carefully what he said to bring his point home. "In war, we were resolute," he finally said, his voice strong and clear. "When defeated, we stood defiant. Now that we have achieved victory, we must show magnanimity. If we are to keep the peace, we must sustain goodwill. Otherwise, our own darkness may claim us in turn."

Again he went silent. Robert knew Maran had no gifts, no telepathy or life force powers, to tell him what others were thinking of his remarks. But he seemed to recognize that the reactions were varied. Some were in agreement, some seemed bored, and there were those who inwardly seethed in irritation, even fury, at what they saw as a moralistic lecturing.

Regardless Maran continued. "Today, our weapons may be silent, but our struggle is not over. It has only changed. The long years of darkness have tainted the worlds that our peoples are now responsible for. Nations that have long known the boot of oppression upon their necks must remember what it means to be free. The lies the Nazis used to control them must be visibly stripped away from their eyes, lest the hatreds the enemy spread among them bring further suffering. Just as well, the German nation itself must be reformed, it must be cleansed of the toxin the Nazi State poisoned it with, so that the German people of this universe will join with us in the Light."

"That is the charge we all face. And no matter our differences, we must never let our own anger and fear turn us from that charge. For our beloved dead, we must hold true to the cause of the Light of Life, and with justice and fairness, we can banish the Nazi darkness from this galaxy for good." After one final moment of consideration, Maran nodded once. "Thank you, that is all."

From that point the ceremony continued to its conclusion. The Nazi officials would be taken to their confinement on the Unity until a secure location elsewhere could be arranged. The rest of the assembled eventually dispersed. Some would return to their ships or to the planet below, and some would take up Julia's offer for a reception in Conference Room 2 being catered by Hargert.

The broadcast of the surrender went out on all bands, subspace and interuniversal and on specialized tachyon transmissions, ensuring that within the next few days every corner of the Reich would be aware of it. And while some Nazi leaders in the other worlds might momentarily resist, or try to negotiate further, it was clear to all that there was no turning back.

The war was over. The Nazis had lost. The Humanity of S4W8 was free.

Just as the surrender was transmitted across S4W8 to a stunned galaxy, it was also transmitted across a jubilant Multiverse.

The result was joyous celebration. They could be found everywhere. The majestic cities of Thessia reacted with the same enthusiasm as the new colonial settlements of the Systems Alliance; New Liberty Colony's celebration was as enthusiastic as the one in the Alliance capital of Portland, Earth L2M1. From the great cities of Gersal to the crystal cities of Minbar, each people of the Multiverse commemorated the end to a bloody interstellar war in their own fashion.

The fireworks and holo-light displays set off in celebration by the Gersallian Interdependency's government over their capital of Jantarihal could easily be seen up in the mountains outside the city, where the Great Temple of Swenya stood as it had for millennia. In the Temple itself there was a feeling and sense of great joy at the vanquishing of a foe more terrible than the most bloodthirsty Coserian Emperor or the most avaricious Jeaxian warlord.

Mastrash Ledosh watched the surrender with quiet joy, noting the presence of his greatest student and her proteges among the victors. And then he returned just as quietly to his work.

Below one hand was a guide written centuries before by a Gersallian linguistics scholar, Gartanam of the Teshmatal. It displeased Ledosh that it took him so long to find a volume of Gartanam's work, and not even in his own Order's vast library, but in the vaults of the Interdependency's Linguistics Academy.

His need for the book was under the other hand: the Life of Reshan. There, the Order's only copy of the ancient tome was open, its archaic Gersallian defying all previous attempts to translate it. The language itself predated Swenya, and the evolution of the Gersallian languages since her time had rendered much of it incomprehensible. Gartanam's work into ancient Gersallian texts made translation of this critical work a possibility.

As he read onward, Ledosh felt a chill in his being. It was one that recurred for months. A feeling that something was wrong. They were under threat. But he could never sense a specific threat, simply that uncomfortable feeling of lingering menace. He knew some of the others on the Council sensed it as well, and many elsewhere, and it was clear the Order was in a growing malaise

The traditionalists charged that it was from continued change brought on by the Multiverse, the same traditionalists who defiantly clung to their lakesh blades instead of training in the new lightsabers that Lucy Lucero taught many to make.

But Ledosh was certain it was something else. A dark force was stirring. Connected, perhaps, to the Prophecy of the Dawn.

And the key to this might yet be found in the Life of Reshan.

Thus Ledosh was not joining in the celebration of the defeat of the Nazis, but rather continuing his work. Because despite the nebulousness of the darkness he sensed, there was one thing he knew for certain. He was running out of time, and everything he cherished might be lost if he did not ensure this work was complete before the dark forces made their move.

Conference Room 2 was smaller than Room 1, sometimes called the Main Conference Room, but battle damage made the larger room unavailable. Hargert made good with what space was available, however. A feast worthy of the victory was ready for the attendees. The Aurora's officers and crew came and went - the business of running a starship continued regardless of other matters - and were joined by numerous officers of the other Coalition states.

Robert, Julia, and Zack stood in a corner together. They had the offered non-alcoholic drinks, for Zack's benefit, and watched the mingling quietly. Finally Julia lifted her glass and smiled. "To a half decade of insanity."

"It's only been five years?" Zack asked. "I feel like it's been twice that."

Robert chuckled at that. "Sometimes I feel the same way. It seems like it's been so long since I walked up to the mound that day." He took a sip. "It's something to think about, isn't it?"

"What?" Zack asked.

"It all came down to me dropping to my knees at the exact right spot," Robert said. "If I'd moved an inch to the left or right, or if I'd taken another step before I let it get to me… I'd have never triggered the Darglan transporter. We never would have found the Facility. There'd be no New Liberty, no Alliance, and the Nazi Reich would still be going strong."

"Sobering to think about." Julia's look was thoughtful. "It makes you wonder how much history can revolve around something as simple as putting your knee at the right spot."

"Yeah. Instead of trying to make a life in boring old Kansas, we're out here flying spaceships and fighting wars."

Robert sensed the pain in Zack. Images came with it. Robert had seen similar with his own eyes. "It's been a regular circus of horrors for us, ever since we entered our first North Korean labor camp," he muttered.

"Or finding Lucy in Patrick Duffy's own personal torture dungeon," Julia pointed out. "We've all seen a lot of terrible things out here."

"But at least we've done something about them…" Robert's attention was drawn to the door. "Well. Leo let him come after all."

The Conference Room 2 door swished open and admitted a hoverchair. A weary-looking Tom Barnes was seated in it, head leaning on his left arm. His dress uniform's empty right sleeve was folded and clipped into place. Nasri was pushing the chair in and Leo followed. The three walked up to join them. "It's nice that you let him come," Julia said to Leo.

"I think he might have driven the other patients in medbay crazy otherwise," Leo said, sighing as he did. He got a baleful look from Barnes at that. "As long as he doesn't exert himself, everything should be fine."

"Does eating the biggest damn slice of Hargert's cake count as exertion?" Barnes asked irritably. "Because if so, I'm fraking exerting myself."

"Tom, language," Julia scolded playfully. "There are general officers present."

"Right. Muckety-mucks." Barnes clasped his left arm over his chest, as if to fold his arms. He remembered himself after a couple of seconds. His expression became resigned.

"You'll get used to it," Leo said. "And in no time, we'll have another arm for you."

"And you'll be back to helping Scotty run Engineering," Zack promised him.

"You'd better be back too," Barnes said to him. "No more walling yourself off, Zack."

"Not going to happen," Zack promised. "Sydney's been hammering that home to me in therapy."

"Well, maybe things will return to normal around here then," Robert said, knowing full well they wouldn't.

Before the conversation could continue further, a knot of officers in blue and gray full dress uniforms approached. It was Shai’jhur, Kaveri Varma, and her eldest daughter Tia’jhur. “Captains, Commanders, Lieutenant,” Shai’jhur started. “I have some business with the lot of you,” she added, a smile touching her lips.

"Warmaster Shai'jhur." Robert nodded to her. "It's good to finally speak with you outside of work."

"It is a pleasure to meet the remarkable man who made this all possible--with a lot of help from a talented cadre of friends,” Shai’jhur answered. “However, I am here for a bit of business. Lieutenant Thomas James Barnes?”

"That's me," Barnes piped up. "Well, most of me now."

“About that, Lieutenant. Battlemaster?”

Kaveri stepped up and presented a small box, the older Indian woman grinning down to Barnes. Then she snapped the box open.

“Lieutenant Thomas James Barnes, on special permission of President Morgan and my personal insistence as commander of the First Support Fleet, I present your formal citation: ‘Lieutenant Thomas James Barnes, Assistant Chief Engineer of the ASV Aurora. Whilst gravely wounded, trapped by debris and almost the only survivor after the explosion of enemy missiles penetrating throughout sections P and O of the primary engineering spaces, with great presence of mind and devotion to duty, took decisive action to repair a critical loss of reactor cooling, extricating himself by severing his own right arm with a plasma cutter, and being right-handed, successfully effected repairs on the heat exchangers with his left arm while in such a profoundly crippled condition, thereby saving the ship. For this meritorious conduct Lieutenant Barnes is hereby awarded by declaration of the President and the Select Defence Committee of the Senate for Personnel, the Alliance Order of Valour.’” With that, she picked the ribbon and medal up from the box Kaveri was holding, and settled it around Tom’s neck.

During the whole recitation Barnes remained quiet, with increasing indication that he was stunned by what was happening. Once Shai'jhur settled the medal over his neck he looked down at it, utterly quiet. His friends assembled around him began applauding. When he finally found his voice, his reply was almost whispered. "I never thought I'd get something like this," was the candid admission.

"But you did," Zack pointed out. He put a hand on his close friend's shoulder. "You saved the Aurora. Not for the first time…" Zack thought back to the Facility, and how the Aurora would have never gotten out had Barnes not risked damage to himself inside the impulse engine housing.

Barnes looked up to Shai'jhur. "Thank you," he said.

“Oh, it’s quite all right. Warmaster Jha’dur used to personally decorate such brave conduct in her crews, on the spot. If I can’t behave at least as well as she did, then what the bloody hell kind of person am I? You have earned it, young man, and you will certainly go on to great things as an Engineer. You are the epitome of your profession, in what matters most. But don’t let it go to your head, either, we do this so that if someone hesitates in your place in the future they have a little bit of motivation to do what’s right. There can be deeds that are both the epitome of true courage and something I should like to think any engineer would do to save his ship. I don’t believe one being true makes the other any less true, and so you are precisely the kind of person who should receive this reward.”

It was the praise of Barnes as an engineer that brought a proud look to his face, of no surprise to his friends. Recognition of his talent as an engineer was far more important than being a hero.

"The part about it getting to your head is the important thing," Leo teased gently.

Finally the small hint of a grin came to Barnes' face. "Well, I'm sure you'll be happy to deflate my Goddamned ego if it becomes too big, Leo."

Julia couldn't stop the giggle that formed in her throat. "Now that sounds like the Tom Barnes we all know and love."

"I'm one of a kind," he answered. "And if I get one of those robot arms, it'd better be one of the cool ones. With tools built into it."

"We'll discuss that once your treatment's farther along," Leo assured him. Beside him, Zack laughed. "Now, you said something about cake? I'm normally worried about your sugar intake, but today's an exception."

"Thanks again, Warmaster," Barnes said to Shai'jhur, after which Nasri and Leo moved him onward.

A forlorn look appeared on Zack's face. Robert sensed his bittersweet feelings. "Christ, I can't stop thinking about all of those people that died down there." He looked to Shai'jhur and a thought came to him. "There were kids down there. Teenagers."

“The age limit was two years higher than it was at Third Balos,” Shai’jhur replied softly. “And this time, they died so that men could be free. I remember the thirteen year olds in the crews of my Ochlavitas in those dark days very well, if I did forget them I would deserve hell I think. Some of them died doing things as heroic as Lieutenant Barnes did. Our population is very young, and so the conscription classes had to be prepared appropriately.”

Kaveri reached out and put a hand on Shai’jhur’s shoulder, but said nothing.

Julia and Robert gave their friend concerned looks. It was clear that a part of Zack wanted to be angry at her. Just as much, Robert sensed the very real pain in the older Dilgar. A crushing responsibility, more acute than he'd felt in Prince Victor or President Morgan, and a quiet fortitude to bear it.

Ultimately Zack's voice showed he had his anger under control. "I'm just tired of the death," he said. "We came out here to help people, to stop all of the dying. I want it over."

"It is over," Julia assured him.

For a moment, Zack felt it. The need. The want. Stronger than it'd been in months. He could see Robert knew what he was feeling, and that gave him the strength to say no to the desire.

“Well, I hope that with our acceptance of Alliance membership, I can end conscription in the Union except for the planetary defence militias that won’t be deployed off our homeworlds. I understand, Commander Carrey, that things were very bad on the surface. But it is over. And, I leave you to celebrate that with your friends.” She nodded quietly to Kaveri and Tia’jhur, and the group stepped away.

After a moment Robert said, "They needed this, in more ways than one." He set each hand on his friends' shoulders. "And honestly, I think we all need some time to just unwind. It's been a terrible week."

"A terrible year, in some ways," Julia said quietly. "But you're right. Whatever work we have to deal with tomorrow, today it's time to enjoy the celebration."

"Count me in," said Zack, grinning at his oldest friends.

And they did just that.
”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 »


After five days in orbit over S4W8 Earth, the Starship Aurora made her jump home, accompanied by the Koenig and the Normandy.

The intense fighting in the recent weeks meant that every drydock space in the Fleet Base was being used for repairs. The Aurora slipped into the only remaining dock for her size and the Normandy into another. Even the Koenig, though not as badly hurt, would have to content herself with repairs in her own dock on the Aurora due to the lack of space.

Shortly after arrival, the time came for goodbyes. Everyone was gathered at the airlock into the station to meet the departures. Shepard and her team were joined by King and by Zack. Julia spoke to King as she walked up. "I heard the Excalibur beat us here," she said.

"Yes. Commander Stirling was able to effect sufficient repairs to allow a mass relay transit," King said. Her head was no longer covered in a wrapping. "Due to my injury and Doctor Gillam's excessive caution, Commander Granville will be directing repairs for another few days while I undergo enforced recuperation."

Leo responded to the polite barb with an equally polite, "I'm used to my patients overestimating their recuperative abilities, Captain. So I try not to take chances."

"And that is why you are a marvelous physician, if rather frustrating to deal with," King replied jovially. "Although even recuperation has to wait. General Hatcher is awaiting my arrival."

"The intelligence from the Von Braun Academy?" asked Robert.

"Exactly," King said. "The Nazis were working on several projects there. Our analysts will have months of work ahead to go through this data." She nodded to Shepard, now arriving with her team. "Commander, a pleasure to work with you again." She extended a hand.

Shepard took it. "Same here. Watch your head."

"I shall." With that King departed.

The Normandy and Aurora crew exchanged looks and started to shake hands. "It's been quite the ride, hasn't it?" Shepard said to Julia and Robert.

"It has," Robert agreed.

"You got everything off of the Normandy?" Shepard asked.

"I did back at New Prussia," Robert confirmed. "And as much as I enjoyed the company of your crew, it's good to be home."

Shepard barked a teasing laugh at that. "You mean it's good to be back on this luxury cruise liner of a starship you've got. No more sleeping pods."

"I confess, I do miss a normal bed," Robert conceded.

"You Systemer types are spoiled," Ashley complained. "Completely spoiled."

"You're just jealous you don't have Hargert cooking your meals," Jarod retorted playfully.

Kaidan grinned. "I'm in the wrong service."

"Tell me about it," Garrus said.

Nearby Tali was leaning over the hoverchair Barnes was sitting in. "I'm so sorry, Tom," she said. "They're going to make you a new arm, right? Humans can have those?"

"One way or the other, eventually," Barnes answered. "I guess the immune system thing means Quarians can't have prosthetics?"

"It's… very difficult," Tali said. "Very expensive too. Sometimes we just attach mech limbs to our suits and use VIs to control them. But for a Quarian to do what you did? I think the Admiralty Board would agree to pay for a proper prosthetic."

"He may end up with an organic limb, actually," said Leo. "Our technology allows for cloned or replicated limbs. It just takes time. We can give this technology to the Quarians."

"If you don't already have it," added Locarno. "Relations with the Migrant Fleet are pretty good these days."

"Perhaps. I hope I never have to find out." Tali patted Barnes on the shoulder. "Keelah selai, Tom. I hope you get your new arm soon."

"I do too," he replied.

As the Normandy crew filed out, Shepard made sure to extend a hand to Robert, having saved him for last. "Good luck out there, Robert," she said.

"The same to you, Jen."

And then Robert surprised even himself by turning the handshake into a small, friendly embrace. Shepard accepted it, even if she was clearly surprised as well by the gesture.

Once she was walking through the airlock, Julia asked, "What was that about?"

"I… I'm not sure," Robert admitted. The feeling that drove him to the small hug was already faded. It wasn't that he was upset with himself for doing it. Shepard wasn't just an ally, she'd proven a good friend and a brilliant leader, and her advice on the matter of his abilities was something that he felt would always guide him. She'd earned it. He just couldn't think of why he felt the need to give it. It was like he was never going to see her again…

Zack stepped up next. "Do I get a hug?" he asked with amusement.

"Always," Julia said. She and Robert were the first; everyone else lined up to give one. "A week of mandatory leave sounds about right after everything that we've gone through."

"It does," Zack agreed. "I've got some trips to make. People I need to talk to."

"Clara's parents?" Robert asked quietly.

To that Zack nodded. "Yeah. And what about you?"

"I've got no standing missions," said Robert. He gave Julia a look. "I was thinking that I'd keep an eye on the Aurora's repairs so that Miss Responsibility could go have some fun. Before Leo sedates her and leaves her on a Pacific island paradise for an enforced vacation."

"Now that sounds like a good plan…" Leo said thoughtfully.

Julia shot him a playful glare. "I've got plans," she said.

"The Battlestar Pegasus is in drydock for repair at Fleet Base Alexandria, I hear," Zack remarked. "And Alexandria's got a really nice selection of romantic getaways."

The glare was now directed to Zack. "Don't you start."

"I surrender," he said, holding his hands up. "Anyway, once I'm done with leave and my tour on the Citadel is over, I look forward to coming back. It's about time we got the gang back together."

"It is," Jarod agreed.

At that final farewells were given and Zack departed. As the others walked away, Lucy stepped up beside Robert. "Speaking of leaves and assignments…" she began. When she had his attention she said, "The answer is yes."

Robert sensed her meaning and nodded. "Welcome to the team," he replied.

Lucy chuckled. "A team of you and me, right now. Or are you going to take Shepard's route and put together a team of badass fighters?"

"Who knows? Maybe. Right now, though, I just want to enjoy some peace and quiet. You?"

"Same here. But I also need to be there for Talara. She…" A guilty look came to Lucy's face. "I may have hurt her more than I realized by bringing her down there with us, Robert. She wasn't ready to sense that much pain and death."

"You'll be there for her," Robert said. "I know you."

"Yeah. We're taking the leave to go to Fala, actually. She wants to see her parents. And I think she needs to go home for a little, to feel peace." Lucy felt a thought come to mind. "Have they confirmed what really happened to those dead Nazi leaders?"

"The autopsies are done," said Robert. "They were all asphyxiated. There's signs of trauma in their windpipes, like something clamped down on them."


"That's what I'm thinking."

"Just what is the SS up to?" Lucy asked. "They nuked their main world, they killed off the Reich's leadership, and they turned tail at Earth. And Fassbinder went missing. You don't suppose…"

"...that Fassbinder was beamed up to the fleet during the fight and got away with them? That sounds like what happened to me."

"And how did he and his lackeys get that well-trained in barely a year?" Lucy asked. "When we fought on New Brittany, he was pathetic."

"I'm more worried about what the SS is up to," said Robert.

"Whatever it is, I'm sure it's going to be trouble."

"As if it'd be anything else," he sighed. "But whatever they're up to, we'll stop them."

Lucy grinned at that. "Damn right."

Far from the now-dead world of Himmlerwelt, Oberführer Erik Fassbinder stepped off of the transporter pad of the SS dreadnought Heinrich Himmler and raised his arm in a salute. "Heil Hitler!" he cried.

Oberst-Gruppenführer Hans Kranefuss responded. "Heil Hitler!" The elder SS leader was the highest ranking officer of the Schutzstaffel still alive. "Report, Oberführer. Your team is lost?"

"They died so that I could accomplish my mission," Fassbinder replied.

"Then the reports about the death of the Führer…?"

"He would not come." Fassbinder showed contempt. "Our defeats poisoned his mind. He did not accept my arguments. I spared him the indignities of capture."

"Excellent." Kranefuss led him from the transporter room to the corridors of the Himmler. "And the Oberkommando and the Reich Ministers…?"

The contempt was joined with glee. "I removed them as instructed. Generalfeldmarschall von Schoenburg was the only one we could not kill. He relocated to the secondary command facility in Milwaukee before the enemy resumed the attack."

"A pity, as von Schoenburg has surrendered the Reich," Kranefuss spat. "They signed it upon the Aurora. The Alliance has been transmitting the image since. While we expected as much…" Disgust showed on the older man's face. "The surrender is being acknowledged by Gauleiters and commanders across the Reich, frightened of the untermensch laborers on some of our worlds. There may be some that hold out, but they are scattered. Von Platen at least refused to surrender but he has declared his fleet a freikorps and disappeared from known space."

"This is why the SS should have seized control long ago," Fassbinder grumbled. "We would have purged the damned 'von's and strengthened the Reich under orthodox Party leadership."

"We compromised to preserve the order of the Reich. But now that we are all that is left of Hitler's Thousand Year Reich, never again shall we compromise," Kranefuss declared. "We will endure!"

Their trip brought them to the bridge of the Himmler. SS men were at all stations. The Donner Nebula crackled with plasma energies on the main viewer. More SS starships were gathered here. Some were transports, some armed auxiliaries, and many were combat starships of varying type. And the Himmler was their beating heart.

Fassbinder felt two other presences before he saw them. He turned to his allies, the only two females on the bridge, clad in dark jumpsuits and bearing the same energy blade weapon he had on his belt. One was, despite a lighter skin texture, a dead ringer for one of the Aurora officers, Lucilla Lucero; the other was a gorgeous woman with wavy blond hair down to her neck. Fassbinder might have felt an interest in her if he wasn't aware of her true nature.

For they were not fully Human, but machines in Human bodies. Machines known now to Fassbinder as the Cylons.

"It is a shame you wasted some of the best students, Oberführer," remarked the blonde, "Six". "They were not ready to face our foes."

"It was required," he said. Fassbinder sensed Kranefuss' unease. It reminded him of the delicate balancing act he had to play; he could not alienate his allies, but if Kranefuss lost confidence in him, it would destroy this alliance before it could bear fruit. "There are others to train."

"There are," agreed the Lucero clone known as "Twelve".

Nearby Kranefuss accepted the salute of the Oberführer in charge of the Himmler. "Are we ready?"

"Jawohl, Oberst-Gruppenführer."

"Then put me on with the fleet." Kranefuss waited until this was done before he began speaking. "Loyal Germans of the Schutzstaffel, this is your new Führer. I am Hans Kranefuss. You know my lineage. My family has served proudly since the days of Hitler. And we serve still!"

"Our Reich has been betrayed, comrades! Betrayed by the spineless cowards in the OKW and the weakling spoil-seekers of the Ministries! Our old Führer Sauckel was forced to take his own life to avoid capture by the horde of untermenschen that even now tear down our glories from the heart of Welthauptstadt Germania! Our fleets lie broken and Germans everywhere are losing heart to despair."

"But not us! We are the beating heart of Hitler's vision! We are the raging fist of his Party! We are Schutzstaffel, the purest among the Aryan Race, and we still stand! We go now to rebuild our strength and ensure that one day those who have brought the Reich low will die at our hands! The order is now given!" Kranefuss clenched a triumphant fist from where he was standing. "Activate the drives!"

Fassbinder's heart was swelling with pride even before the viewer showed space splitting open ahead. One by one, swirling green vortices formed in the space of the SS fleet. The deck plates below his boots thrummed as the impulse drives of the Himmler powered up to send their vessel through the one ahead.

Finally it was too much. Fassbinder jubilantly lifted his right hand and kept it at the firm angle over his head demanded of his perfection, hand perfectly flat. "Heil Hitler! Heil Kranefuss! SIEG HEIL!"

One by one the other officers on the bridge stood and joined his salute, hailinging the names of the first and the newest of the great Nazi leaders before beginning the chant of "Sieg Heil!"

And this they did until their vessels slipped through the interuniversal jump points, freed from the overrun home universe they were all determined to reconquer.

When Robert told her that President Morgan wished to see both of them, Julia felt some surprise. She'd met the President before, of course, during the negotiations that led to the Alliance. But since then her contact had been entirely with Admiral Maran. That Morgan summoned her as well as Robert made her wonder just what was going on.

The security escort was as humorless as Julia figured they'd be when they ushered her and Robert into the presence of the President of the Allied Systems. Foreign Secretary Onaran and Defense Minister Hawthorne were in the room as well, as was Admiral Maran. Hawthorne gave them a level look. Julia didn't need Robert's abilities to know his dislike for the two of them and everyone they called friend. He was the leader of the anti-metaphysical talents camp of the Alliance government, with his in-service ally being Vice CNO Admiral Davies, who was even more bigoted than he when it came to "mind-readers" and metaphysically-capable individuals.

Morgan nodded to them. "Captains," he said. "My thanks to you and to your crew, Captain Andreys, for their bravery over Germania. It's fitting that the Aurora has yet again played an instrumental role in bringing the war to a satisfactory conclusion."

Hawthorne's eyes narrowed slightly. It was clear he didn't agree with that assessment.

"Thank you, Mister President," Julia replied. "I just wish the cost of winning hadn't been so high."

"You and me both," said Morgan.

At that point Robert felt the weariness in Morgan was not just from the war. He could tell Morgan was upset with something, something new since the surrender. Had there been severe trouble over the division of the Reich into occupation zones?

"My intention when I called you was simply to give personal thanks to you both," said Morgan. "You are both being named for commendations, for service at Germania and prior operations. But there has been a new development that, I fear, may bring us on the path to another war."

"With the war's aftermath, or something else?' Robert asked.

Morgan reached to a control and looked toward the holo-viewer on the wall. "This message just went out on subspace all across Universe S5T3."

A moment later the holo-viewer came alive. On the screen was a Cardassian, one neither of them had met. But Robert recognized him from an intel briefing on the ongoing problems in S5T3. "That's Gul Dukat," he said. "And is that Cardassia? Did he come back from exile?"

"You could say that," Morgan said, after which he triggered the message to play.

"You might ask, 'Should we fear joining the Dominion?'" Dukat said. "And I answer you, not in the least. We should embrace the opportunity."

Robert felt his stomach begin to turn, realizing just what Morgan had met by Dukat's return.

"The Dominion recognizes us for what we are. The true leaders of the Alpha Quadrant. And now that we are joined together, the only people with anything to fear will be our enemies…"

President Morgan shut off the image of Gul Dukat before turning to Robert and Julia. "Now you see what we have to deal with," he said. "The Dominion has a foothold on our side of the S5T3 Milky Way. Our worlds, and those of our allies, are in danger."

For Caterina and Violeta, it was to be their last night together aboard the Aurora. Violeta's transfer to her new ship would be official following their leaves, requiring her to being the process of traveling to the Huàscar for her new post. They spent the time enjoying a meal before settling onto the couch in Cat's quarters, the same piece of furniture they'd first cuddled together on. It was only fitting that they cuddle again.

"You don't have to go to Sirius if you don't want to, Cat," Violeta assured her. "There's nothing else you want to do?"

"I cost you the last chance. It's only fair that I go through with it this time," Cat answered. She pressed herself against Violeta, enjoying the sensation immensely. "I guess it'll be awkward with your parents…"

"A little."

"...but still, I… I want to do it. Meet them, see the places you grew up. If we end up moving on, I want to at least have the memories."

Violeta responded by playfully toussling Cat's dark hair. "We already have a lot of good ones. But I'll be glad to make some more with you."

Tears formed silently in their eyes, both aware of how likely it was that after Sirius their relationship would end due to distance and time. Whatever happened, neither wanted it to become a bitter outcome. A sad one, but not bitter.

Quietly, both fell asleep in each others' arms.

Cat woke up to empty quarters. At first she thought Violeta had left for some reason, but quickly it was clear something was wrong. The ship seemed too dark.

No. Not this again. No no no no

But it was. The same dream of a dead, dark ship. The bridge filled with the bodies of dead friends. Even her own body.

And then, when she stepped back from her corpse, she backed into someone. She turned in confusion and only remembered what came next when the hands pressed against her temples, unyielding, refusing to move. Pain filled her head. She screamed "Stop!" while trying to escape and failing, feeling herself begin to fall.

A voice spoke. And her eyes widened in recognition at hearing the words spoken.

"I'm sorry, Cat. I'm so sorry."

And then she fell, fell into darkness, into nothingness...

...and awoke still on the couch, cuddled up beside Violeta. Her girlfriend remained fast asleep.

Cat sat up and rubbed her face with her hands. It was the dream again. Why was she having it?

And why was he the one hurting her?

"Why?" she whispered to herself. "Why?"

And for the moment, the answer did not come to her.
”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: ASV Aurora; 10 August 2643 AST. Captain Julia Andreys recording. After weeks of repair work, I am pleased to report that the Aurora is only a couple days away from returning to active duty. Our battle damage from the battles against Sovereign and over the Reich capital has been completely repaired. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're all eager to get back out there.

The medbay of the Starship Aurora took up a sizable portion of Deck 12, providing the ship the medical facilities necessary to care for its own crew and assist with humanitarian efforts. Today it was quiet and mostly inactive, with much of the crew beginning to filter back aboard as the ship neared the day it returned to full service.

Ordinarily the repair work to bring her back into service would have been directed in some part by Lieutenant Thomas Barnes, the ship's Assistant Chief Engineer. Under the guidance of his mentor, the legendary engineer Montgomery Scott, Tom knew every system on the Aurora like the back of his hand.

This time, however, he would not be joining the repair work. To save the ship in orbit over Germania Tom had mutilated himself, cutting off his right arm, broken and crushed and pinned in by debris as it was. He was still having dreams about it. The debris that buried him, the pain in the arm after enduring the punishment of broken bones and a metal spike through the bicep…

...the white-hot glare of the plasma welder as it sliced through flesh and bone, removing his arm in seconds.

The mutilation had been necessary. The Aurora's cooling systems were damaged. The ship faced a meltdown without the systems back up and running.

And so he'd saved the ship, his ship, at the price of his arm.

The empty sleeve of Tom' medical gown was rolled entirely up, revealing the stub of his arm. Doctor Leonard Gillam examined the stub with a medical recorder.

"So?" asked Tom.

Leo took another minute before nodding. "The nerve regeneration treatments are working as intended. You should be ready for the next stage in a week or so. That means you have a choice to make."

"The organic or prosthetic thing?"

Leo nodded. "It doesn't take long to actually make an organic arm, and the surgery to attach it is quick. But then you'll have weeks of therapy ahead to gain full functionality in the arm."

"While a prosthetic starts working almost right away."

"Yes," Leo said.

Tom nodded. Now came the important question. "Which will let me get back to work sooner?"

"The prosthetic," Leo said. "I can't clear you for standard duty until your arm's functional enough. The prosthetic will only take a day or two."

"But I could get an arm made later, right?" asked Tom. "Like, at any time?"

"Well, yes. It means going back into surgery, of course, and you'll still have to do the therapy," Leo said. "If you ask me, if you really want your arm to be organic, you should just get that over with now."

"Even though I won't be able to get back to work for a while."

"You could do some light duty," Leo suggested.

Tom gave him a look. "To run engineering, I really need two hands. And all ten fingers. Otherwise all I can do is run around and give orders, I can't actually operate stations as well."

"Do me a favor and give it a thought," said Leo. "Maybe consult Dr. Tusana."

Tom didn't recognize the name. "Who?"

"She's our new psychiatrist," Leo said.

"What happened to Ewing?"

"He's transferred away," said Leo.

"Oh." Tom sighed. "So you think I need a shrink?"

"I think you need some therapy," Leo said. "A little mental self-care. People who've lost limbs often do. People who had to maim themselves? Definitely." Seeing Tom's skepticism Leo sighed and silently cursed the toxic mentality toward mental illness that they'd all grown up with. "If my mom asked you about your missing arm, would you talk to her?"

Tom remembered the late Dr. Coretta Gillam and nodded. "Your mom was cool. Yeah."

"Well, Doctor Tusana is no different than my Mom. So how about I schedule a session for you before the time comes for you to make your decision?"

Knowing full well Leo wasn't going to take "No" as an answer, Tom answered, "Alright, fine. I'll go see the shrink."

"Psychiatrist," Leo corrected.

"Yeah, that."

For Caterina Delgado, the excitement of the Aurora being days away from heading back out into space was undermined by the pain of loneliness she was feeling. Violeta Arterria, her girlfriend for over a year, was gone, promoted and re-assigned to the Starship Huáscar as its Navigation Officer. Now she sat alone on a couch they formerly cuddled on and thought of Vee, of those brilliant purple eyes and matching purple hair, created by the cosmetic genes that the Sirians were so known for. Cat wondered if this was how Angel always felt whenever her relationship with Robert entered its "breakup" phase.

Sniffling to herself, Cat walked into her sleeping quarters. The closet door was closed, keeping her from seeing the costume she wore for the Ultimate Worlds of Fantasy holodeck game Vee had gotten her into. Now it was just another painful reminder.

Laying on her bed, Cat closed her eyes and, even as early as it was, she felt herself nod off to sleep.

That's when the dream started again.

The ship was dark, silent, dead. She made her way to the bridge and found everyone in the same state. Locarno sprawled out on the floor between the First Officer's seat and navigation, another body nearby that she didn't make out. Jarod was slumped over Operations, Angel over tactical. Julia lay back in her command chair, her skin ashen gray; she'd been dead for a long time.

And there, at Science, was Cat herself. Also dead.

Cat backed away from the sight. As always, she brushed up against someone and turned to face them. Hands grabbed her head, fingers clawing at her temples, and something started to press upon her mind. She felt like she was falling into a dark void. "Stop!" she screamed.

At that, a familiar voice replied, "I'm sorry, Cat. I'm so sorry."

Her eyes snapped open in recognition of the voice. The shadows parted from her vision enough for her to see the face of her attacker.

And then she fell into the void.

Cat awoke on her bed with a start, crying the name of her attacker in confusion.


Undiscovered Frontier
"The Coming Storm"

After collecting her thoughts, Cat got back out of bed. The dream was getting stronger as the days and weeks passed. And now, she didn't have Vee to hold her and assure her everything was fine. She was alone and all she could think of was those images in the dream. Of her and the others dead. Just the thought of it… it seemed so crazy. The dreams felt more like visions of a sort, but she wasn't a clairvoyant.

Was she?

More than anything, Cat wanted to talk to someone about this. She had to. She felt like she was going mad. She tapped her omnitool, brought it to life, and made the call.

Angel arrived in Cat's quarters wearing a white tank top with a faded design on it and high-cut jean shorts. The two might be sisters, but aside from hazel eyes and black hair they were very dissimilar. Angel's choice in clothing showed off the thick fighting muscle of her body, a contrast to Cat's thin limbs and build. Angel was several inches taller than her younger sister and had wider shoulders, looking every inch like a star MMA fighter. Which, had life taken them down a different path, she might have turned out to be.

Cat blinked at her sister's appearance. "I thought you'd be training," she said.

Angel flashed her a small grin. "I was on a date, actually." She sat down with Cat on the couch.

"Really?" Cat's eyes widened. "That's… I'm… that's wonderful, I'm so happy for…" She stopped with a horrible realization. "Oh no. You didn't end the date over me, did you?"

Angel laughed. "It's sweet of you to worry about me, Cat, but no. We finished our meal and he went back to work. We'll meet up later, and it'll be fine." She ran her hand through Cat's hair playfully. "And even if you did… you are my crazy little sister, and I'm used to it."

Cat smiled thinly at that. "I'm sorry when I do."

"I know. Anyway, what's the matter?"

"It's these dreams," Cat confessed. "I… I dream that I'm on the ship, and there's no power, and everyone's dead, even me. And then someone puts their hands on my head and it's like I'm falling…" She sighed. "I know it sounds weird, but it doesn't feel like a normal nightmare. It keeps happening the same way each time. And now… well… now in the dream, I see and hear the person attacking me… and it's the Doctor."

Angel's brow furrowed. "Okay, so what… it's some nightmare of him turning on us?"

"No. Not that, I don't think. It doesn't feel like that. He apologizes to me. Says he's sorry. Like attacking my mind is something he has to do." Cat shook her head. "It's not just a normal nightmare, though. I'm having it more often now. And it's getting more clear each time."

Angel waited for Cat to finish her answer before putting an affectionate hand on her little sister's shoulder. "It may just be a nightmare. Whatever it is, it sounds like it's bothering you a lot."

"It is."

"Then you should probably see Doctor Tusana," said Angel.

"The new psychiatrist?"

"Yeah. Leo's been getting on us all to meet her and have a session. 'Mental self-care'. The man's as bad a mother hen as Julia, I swear to God." Angel smirked. "I told him I didn't need some shrink rummaging around in my brain."

"It's actually not a bad idea," Cat said. "I mean, mental illness is more widespread than people realize, and even people without it sometimes need to, y'know, talk about things. Secrets and stuff."

"If I need to let things out, I've got a punching bag in the gym and a new boyfriend," Angel reminded her. "I'll be fine."

Cat sighed at that. She knew there was no arguing with Angel on the matter. "Alright. I won't push. And I'll call and ask when I can see her."

"Good." Angel leaned over and kissed her sister on the forehead. "And you can talk to me whenever you need. You know that."

"I do."

"Then I'll see you later. I want to get some time in the gym tonight." Angel hugged Cat and left the quarters, leaving Cat to sit on the couch before working her omnitool to set up the appointment she'd agreed to take.

A universe and half a galaxy away from the Earth of Universe L2M1, the current location of the Starship Aurora, was the massive space station known as the Citadel. With great arms forty kilometers in length, the Citadel was home to millions of sapient beings and stood as the heart of organized galactic government in Universe M4P2's Milky Way galaxy.

It had, regrettably, seen better days. Barely a month before, a great battle raged in nearby space. The Geth, a machine race built by the Quarians centuries before, laid siege to the station in the name of their "deity", the ancient Reaper machine known as Sovereign, in an attempt to call the Reapers back to the galaxy to begin another cyclical purge of organic life. The subsequent Geth invasion of the Citadel, and the attacks on communications that resulted, led to widespread chaos and violence. Thousands were wounded or killed during the attack and nearby space was choked with debris from the ships lost on both sides. Even now some of that debris remained, not yet cleaned away, and the damage to the Wards was still being repaired.

And that didn't account for the sentiments of the Citadel's residents. From them one thing was clear to Robert Dale, Captain in the Alliance Stellar Navy and one of the twelve Paladin agents of the Allied Systems: nothing on the CItadel would ever be the same.

The lab space was in Aroch Ward, a vacated warehouse claimed from its owners by the Citadel government to be used for the purpose of the investigation into the debris from the attacking force. While most of it had been catalogued, some had yet to be collected and stored, and much still had to be analyzed. The Citadel, and the Alliance, were putting great emphasis on this process to ensure greater understanding of the Geth as they'd progressed in the centuries since the Morning War.

On the tables and scanner assemblies around him, Robert watched some of his friends and comrades at work. Lieutenant Commander Jarod, the Operations Officer of the Aurora, was leading the Aurora officers assigned the task. Currently he was examining the remnants of a Geth platform with the aid of one of his officers, Lieutenant Tra'dur, a Dilgar woman.

Nearby Lucy Lucero, formally a Lieutenant in the service and now a member of Robert's team as a Paladin operative, was checking a shard of blue-tinged material from the wreckage of Sovereign. An emissions field surrounded the piece as a precaution. Newly-promoted Lieutenant Talara, nominally a member of the Aurora's bridge crew and a student of Lucy in the metaphysical powers they shared (as did Robert), stood by waiting to provide another piece for Lucy to examine. She was a Falaen woman, a species of Universe A7R6, with a brown complexion and blue hair and eyes with blue half-moons between her cheeks and eyes. Her ears were elfin in shape, with pointed ends, although not as long as the ears of a Dorei.

The third table was taken up by two other experts present and newly arrived: Lieutenant Commanders Data and Geordi La Forge of the United Federation of Planets' Starfleet. The Operations Officer and Chief Engineer of the Federation Starship Enterprise, they were on loan from Starfleet to assist in the analysis efforts while the Enterprise assisted in the recovery efforts around the Citadel itself. Data, constructed decades before by Dr. Noonien Soong, looked mostly Human save for his pale gold skin and eyes. Geordi La Forge was of African ancestry, with a moderate build and height. Where he had once worn a special visor to replace the sight he was born lacking, now ocular implants provided said sight, giving the appearance of blue eyes that showed clear circuitry when viewed closely enough.

In Robert's company stood a close friend. Commander Zachary Carrey and Robert had known each other since Zack was about six years old. They'd grown up together as one another's closest male friends. As grown men, this bond hadn't wavered, although it had certainly been tested over the years, especially since Robert's discovery of the Darglan Facility that changed their lives. Robert sensed his friend's quiet boredom. Zack was not a technical expert and this was hardly something he considered a valuable use of his time. His presence was from his current position, soon to end, as liaison officer between the Alliance and C-Sec.

"Intriguing," said Data. "This debris is giving off a weak electromagnetic field."

"How is that even possible?" asked Geordi. "We don't have it connected to any power source. Does this material generate its own power?"

"The other samples I've seen do," Jarod said, looking up from the Geth debris. He prompted Tra'dur to move it. "Although I'll be damned if I know how."

"The material is a unique composite structure outside of known science," Data said. "We will need further examination to determine the source of the power for the field."

"I'm more interested in what the field does."

Robert and Lucy exchanged uncomfortable looks at Geordi's remark. "It might be the method used for indoctrination," Robert answered.

Geordi looked toward him. "Indoctrination?"

"It's an effect that came from being in proximity to Sovereign," Robert explained. "Over time, those exposed to Sovereign gradually lost control of their minds. From what Saren's experiments revealed, the highest exposures frequently left beings as mindless husks or drones. Or they would go mad from imagining whispers and orders. It's how Sovereign converted followers."

Geordi winced. "Well, it's a good thing we're keeping all of these samples in containment fields."

"Even then, I'd be careful about being around them for too long," Lucy said. "There's still so much we don't know about the effect. It's possible that even the fields don't entirely contain it."

"Sensors show that the EM fields are contained, Lieutenant, I do not believe there is much need for worry," Data assured her. "Although given the scope of the problem, I do understand your caution."

Tra'dur brought another piece of Geth technology over to examine with Jarod. "There's no sign of a similar field with pieces from the Geth," she said. "And the atomic materials scans are clear on the component elements."

"That is to be expected," said Data. His gold eyes returned to the readouts for the shard of Sovereign on the table before him. "From the pieces I have already examined, it is clear that the Geth and Sovereign were not of the same technological base. There are clear, unmistakable differences."

"Make sure that goes in the report, please," said Robert. He gave Zack an uneasy look. "Sources close to the Council have already claimed otherwise on the extranet."

Jarod frowned at that. "We're not even close to done with this work. It's not possible for them to judge either way."

"It's not about scientific truth, Jarod," Zack sighed. "It's about politics. The Council's probably afraid of the results if they confirm what Sovereign was. Anderson's the only one voting for complete disclosure, from what I've heard."

Robert smiled at that. "How did Anderson get tapped for M4P2 Humanity's seat on the Council, anyway?"

"The Council asked Shepard's advice, Shepard picked Anderson," replied Zack. He grinned. "Although they probably didn't want Udina either. He's always a pain in the ass. Anderson's not a diplomat, but he gets stuff done, and he's still less annoying than Udina."

"I'm sure Ambassador Udina isn't happy," Lucy remarked.

"No he is not," said Zack. "And personally, I don't give a damn."

Robert chuckled. "I bet Shepard doesn't either."

"Have you heard from her lately?" asked Lucy. "Or the Koenig?"

"They're still out in the Attican Traverse," Robert said. "Investigating those missing ships. The Normandy and the Koenig will be back in port in a few days." He glanced toward Zack with a wide grin. "Just in time for Zack to get his ship back."

Given the twinkle in Zack's eye, it was clear he was eagerly awaiting that day.

Alone in the middle of interstellar space, the Starship Koenig moved along at superluminal velocity within the warp field her drives generated for the purpose. The ship was flying openly, cloaking device unengaged, her sensors actively scanning her environment.

Koenig was a special ship. While she shared many similarities in capability and design with the Alliance Trigger-class attack ship, she was a unique design, created by Carlton Farmer and Montgomery Scott for the use of the Universe H1E4 Facility crew in the year before the Alliance was founded. The Koenig's purpose was to supplement the Darglan-designed scouts by being a pure combat vessel, sacrificing living space and independent operation capability for combat power. This was why the ship was rarely out on her own for longer than a week, maybe two, before returning to her home base, normally the Starship Aurora. She made up for this sacrifice in independence by having the firepower to threaten ships two, even three times her mass and size.

In command of the vessel was Commander Will Atreiad, who sat in the office on the bridge deck, sipping at coffee and reading reports from the crew. They were doing their utmost to make this, his final mission on the Koenig, as smooth as possible. Once they were back he would be relinquishing command to Zachary Carrey, ending what now felt like a short caretaker command by returning the ship to one of her original officers and moving on to his new post as First Officer of the Starship Huáscar. While command of the Koenig had been intimidating to him in the beginning - the ship had a legendary status among Will's people, the survivors of the Colonies of Kobol from Universe N2S7 - the Huáscar presented its own intimidating nature. He would be responsible for a ship of two thousand ship and crew, half of them Dilgar, with all of the potential for trouble that entailed.

It will be like the early days of the Colonial Confederacy, when the Navy started integrating crews from multiple Colonies, he thought.

"Bridge to Atreiad," said Lieutenant Jean Hajar, one of the watch officers of the ship, with piloting and engineering as her specialties. Hajar was, like Atreiad, a former member of another service from the Alliance, having come over from the Federation's Starfleet. "Commander, I have Commander Shepard on subspace for you."

"Put her through." Will sat up in his chair and looked to the flatscreen monitor panel on his desk. The image shifted to show Commander Jen Shepard of the Systems Alliance, commander of the SSV Normandy and the first (and only) Human Spectre of the Citadel Council. She was a bright, passionate woman with a brown complexion. Her red hair was cut short on her head. There was an almost bored look in her green eyes. "Commander, anything on your side of the cluster?"

"That's a negative," she replied. "There's no sign of these ships or their attacker. Or attackers. What about you?"

"Nothing here either," he said. "Definitely nothing confirming Geth involvement."

"I suspected as much. I suppose we can't be too surprised. The Batarians have already gotten their hands on some extraversal technology, and there's no telling what the groups in the Terminus Systems have access to by now. They could have a couple dozen warships cloaked nearby and we'd never see them until they attacked."


"Any further news?" Shepard asked.

Certain as to what she was asking about, he replied, "The latest dispatches from S4W8 are that the Turians and Slavic Union are still disputing Drachenfeldt. Defense Command's assigned a brigade of British Stellar Union troops to garrison the planet until the situation can be negotiated. The Capellans and the Star Adder Clan nearly started shooting on New Lotharingia over the Hassenfeld Valley, but they've accepted Minbari arbitration in lieu of a Clan Trial of Possession. The Minbari are also arbitrating the Turian and Federated Commonwealth dispute over the Delta Serpentis System…"

Shepard's expression betrayed displeasure. "Damn. Udina was right. I hate it when that smug bastard is right."

"If it makes you feel better, Captain Dale made the same prediction."

"He doesn't count. He's got that life force clairvoyance thing," she replied.

Will laughed at that. "The priests are still trying to figure out how to explain that stuff," he chuckled.

Shepard grinned, but the grin turned brittle. "And the Cardassian situation?"

"Nothing new as of late. The Dominion sent another convoy through the wormhole two days ago. But ever since they kicked the Klingons out of Cardassian territory, the only thing they've been doing is clearing the Maquis out of Cardassian-claimed worlds in what used to be the De-Militarized Zone. Or 'Re-Militarized Zone' as Apley put it in our last status briefing."

"We finish one war and another one is already brewing." Shepard looked away for a moment. "Well, I've got a watch coming up. Keep me informed."

"The same to you, Commander. Koenig out."

Shepard nodded once before her image was replaced by the stylized symbol of the Systems Alliance.

Will slid back in his chair and sighed deeply. Lords, I know the reward for hard work is more work, but couldn't we get something of a break? he thought ruefully, after which he resumed his work for the day.

Cat stepped into Dr. Tusana's office on Deck 12 wearing off-duty clothing, specifically a knee-length purple skirt and a pastel pink T-shirt with a stylized rearing unicorn carrying a lab coat-clad figure on its back with a Greek-style laurel on the figure's head. The text below read "Princess of the Geeks" in purple lettering.

Dr. Tusana was a Gersallian woman of dark skin tone, wearing a loose fitting robe of brilliant green color over a cream white tunic. Amber-toned eyes looked over Caterina with great patience, and her chestnut-colored hair was pulled back into a looped braid, a hairstyle Cat hadn't seen before. She sat comfortably in her chair in the middle of the office.

The office was remarkably well-organized for a newly-arrived occupant, with mementos already placed and displays and items that, one suspected, were to help people relax. There was an earthy, sweet smell to the room, and Cat realized it was from the burning incense on Tusana's table.

Tusana noticed her interest and smiled gently. "It is hrata," she explained. "An incense that quiets the mind and helps focus thoughts."

''It does smell good," Cat said. She took the offered seat on the chaise lounge. "You're civilian?"

"I am, yes," she replied. Her accent had the same melodic lilt that Meridina's had, although the tone was slightly different, in the manner that Cat's Midwestern accent was different from Angel's, which sounded more Spanish than Cat's. "Does this trouble you?"

"Oh, no. I was just wondering. Doctor Ewing was commissioned, I was wondering if they did the same thing."

"They did not," replied Tusana. "I am pleased you came to see me. Doctor Gillam informs me that your culture has a negative view of mental therapy?"

"Well… I'm not sure it's all negative. It's…" Cat shrugged. "People from our area of Earth associate psychiatrists with mental illness, and being mentally ill… it's a shame thing, really. Everyone assumes being mentally ill means you're insane or a psychopath or something."

"I see. An unfortunate perception certainly. Another cultural difference between us, it seems. Now…" Tusana sat up in her chair. "What is it you wish to see me about, Commander Delgado?"

"You can call me 'Cat', Doctor," Caterina insisted.

"Very well, Cat." Tusana said nothing more, letting Caterina reply on her own time.

Cat took in a breath. "Well, it's these dreams I've been having. They… they don't feel like dreams, and they're getting worse, and there's more details as I have them…"

Tusana nodded. She leaned forward in her chair. "Would you object to allowing me to see your dreams?"

At first Caterina was taken aback, but then she remembered a fact she'd briefly forgotten. "Oh, right, you're a telepath. Okay, sure. How does this work?"

Tusana gave her an intrigued look. "You are the first patient I've had to react so openly to the idea. Aside from my people and Dorei, most have initial discomfort until reassurances are given, and a few have refused consent even afterward."

"Well, I guess it's scary having someone in your head. They might find out your deepest, darkest secret or something. But I told everyone my deepest darkest secret over a year ago, and they hugged me for it," Cat replied. Tusana easily picked up her warm thoughts for the day eighteen months before when she, still recovering from Morinth's attack on her, revealed to the others she was a lesbian, to clapping and hugs and a big Hargert-made cake. (Although this being Hargert, he'd have made a cake anyway.) "Anyway, yeah, it can be scary I guess to have someone who can mess with your mind. But I think it's pretty cool. And I've always wondered about the limitations of telepathy. Like, how many minds can be accessed at once, or how far apart minds can touch. Anyway, I'm just rambling, so let's start?"

Tusana's patient smile didn't waver. "Of course. When you feel me enter your mind, allow the memories of the dream to come up."

"Okay…" Cat closed her eyes and relaxed. Moments passed and she felt it. A little pinprick at the edge of her mind, like a small needle pressing against her skin. She fought off the instinct to push back and let the needle enter. Someone's in my mind! This is so cool! was her sentiment, and she felt amusement that wasn't her own. Knowing that the psychiatrist was in her mind now, Cat allowed the dream imagery to come up. It was a horrible sight and she couldn't keep herself from feeling that way about it, even if she knew it wasn't real.

She let the images continue, until the Doctor grabbed her head, and the pain started and darkness came.

Something shifted in the alien thoughts in her mind. The needle was gone, replaced by a series of what she could only think of as probes that moved through her mind. What is it? she thought.

I am using your dream to search your memories, to see if there are matching memories. I believe I…

What came next was not so much pain as a sense of pressure. The probes began to coalesce, becoming a solid sense in Caterina's mind again. The pressure increased as the solid needle pushed on. Again and again it seemed to move and press, and every time the pressure held it, becoming uncomfortable as it did.

And then, like that, the alien thoughts in her mind were gone. Cat opened her eyes and was stunned to see that Tusana seemed worn down. As if she'd just had to sprint across the ship. Sweat glistened on Tusana's forehead. Her expression was full of bewilderment. "I have never felt a mental block that powerful," Tusana confessed.

"A block?" asked Cat.

"Yes. I felt an echo in your memory from the imagery of the dream. But when I reached for it, I was blocked."

"It felt like… a kind of pressure."

"Yes. Which means the block was not meant to harm," she said. "A cruel telepath would make blocks that could harm both the target of the block and any other telepath that tried to access it. But this was made to be gentle in its refusal to break." Tusana ran a hand over her forehead. "And it is powerful beyond imagining. I have trained extensively to deal with mental blocks and repressed memories, and I have felt nothing so strong in my life."

Cat frowned. "So you can't remove the block?"


"Well, maybe if Meridina…"

"No, not even with her. It would take many of us to even hope to, and the process of that many minds exerting themselves inside your mind would inflict incalculable harm upon you, Cat." Tusana shook her head. "I am at a loss to figure out how to fix this. The telepath who placed the block has power beyond anything I have heard of."

Caterina's brow furrowed. Hearing that, it was becoming clear to her what she had to do, if she was to learn what was going on in her mind.

Tusana sensed that thought from Cat. "Which doctor are you referring to?" she asked. "It's not one of the ship's doctors, is it?"

"No," said Cat. "The Doctor isn't a member of the crew." She stood up. "I need to go see Captain Andreys, Doctor. Thank you for your help."

"I wish I could have done more," Tusana said. "Please, do come back. I wish to have a normal session with you."

"I promise, I will," Cat pledged, after which she left the room.

After the day's work, Zack returned to his office at C-Sec headquarters to finish his day's paperwork… and the last day's paperwork as well. With his departure just a few days away he wanted to ensure his successor had nothing to complain about.

On the screen now was paperwork for a disputed invoice between C-Sec and a company from the Colonial Confederation that won the bid for installing updated software defenses for C-Sec's internal communications, a response to the way Saren sabotaged the same during his attack on the Citadel. C-Sec was disputing some of the charges and Zack was stuck firmly in the middle, the company expecting his office to threaten C-Sec into a settlement and C-Sec expecting him to report their negative findings to his government. I think I'd rather be shot at by Nazis again, he muttered to himself.

He was drawn from this scintillating subject by a call over his comm unit. It took ten seconds or so for the call to finish finalizing through the linked networks of the M4P2 galaxy and the Alliance interuniversal communications system. When it was done, his screen blipped to show the face of Tom Barnes. "Hey Tom," he said. "How's it going? Feeling better?"

"Starting to," he replied. "So… it's decision time, man."

"Oh?" Zack considered what he was saying before figuring it out. "Your arm?"

"Yeah. Leo says he needs to know in a couple of days. So now I've gotta figure out how I'm gonna do this Goddamned thing. The prosthetic is quicker and will get me back into service faster, but… I dunno, I don't know if I want a fake arm."

"Is it reversible?" Zack asked. "I mean, if you get the prosthetic, are you stuck with it?"

"Apparently the answer is no, but it means having to go through this again next time. And I'm tired of living with one Goddamned arm, man."

"I'd be too," Zack admitted. "Well, I guess you could go with the prosthetic then? I mean, it's not permanent, if you don't like it…"

A weary sigh came from the other end. "Yeah, it makes sense. I just want to get this over with."

"Well, if that's the case, I'd say go for organic. I mean, it's all up to you, man. What's more important, coming back early? Having an organic arm and not a metal one? Getting it over with?" As he laid out his questions, Zack could see Tom was not entirely happy to have these reactions. Finally he asked, "This isn't what you want to hear, is it?"

"I guess I was hoping you'd just advise me to do one thing."

"Well, you were talking about cool tools in your prosthetic arm."

Tom chuckled. "Yeah, but apparently those kinds of custom jobs aren't covered by the Stellar Navy's treatment. I'd have to spend a fortune to get a specialized arm attached."

"I suppose you could always go to Solaris," Zack pointed out.

To that Tom laughed. "Yeah, no. Those people are nuts, man. I'm not going into surgery and waking up with a fraking tail or some other weird crap."

"Fair enough. Still, I don't know what else to say, man. It's your call."

"Yeah, and I'll make it. I'm probably overthinking it. I just… I've had nightmares, man. Waking up with my arm pinned again, the ship blowing apart around me…"

Zack nodded. He'd had his own nightmares, of fifteen year old Dilgar kids blowing up around him. Of all of those wounded and dead from his provisional naval infantry unit. "The battle left its mark on us," he said quietly.

"Yeah, and now I've got Leo busting my balls to visit that new Gersallian chick shrink we've got. Because what I need is someone to hold my hand and ask me what I Goddamned feel. A waste of time."

"Not really, Tom," Zack answered quietly. "I might still be drinking if not for Jarod's mentor." Not that he hadn't been tempted, especially after the fighting in the Nazi capital. "It's not just touchy, feely-hand stuff."

Tom clearly wasn't sold, but he stopped groaning about it. "Well, maybe I'll consider it, then. Anyway, I'd better go. Leo let me volunteer to do some of the Engineering paperwork so Scotty and the others can focus on the actual work. I've got a frakload of Goddamned requisition reports and repair orders to read through."

"Take care, Tom, I look forward to seeing you when I get back."

"About damn time, man. I'll see you then." His image disappeared.

Zack leaned back in his chair for a moment. He couldn't help but turn to look out his window. Below and outside, one of the Presidium's open-air establishments had a visible, very nice-looking bar. It looked classy and they were said to serve great drinks there. And he'd heard so many good things about Serrice Ice Brandy, that it was like drinking pure, soothing cool…

No Zack. Bad Zack. One would be too many! With that thought he returned his attention to his paperwork.

Again his comms went off. Since he was in his office, the call was relayed to his computer unit in his desk instead of his omnitool. He tapped a key to accept the call. "Commander Carrey here."

"Commander." The voice was familiar. Armando-Owen Bailey, now a Captain in the C-Sec service, had fought at Zack's side during Saren's attack on the Citadel. They'd nearly died fighting the Geth. "We've got a problem."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"Something tripped an alarm at the debris repository," Bailey explained. "We just responded and, well… we've had a break-in."

That was not a good thing to hear. Zack frowned. "What did they steal?"

"A big damn pile of our uncatalogued Sovereign debris, Commander."

Zack let out a groan. "Of course," he signed, thinking again how nice just a single drink would be. One would be too much. One would be too much...

With the ship's departure from drydock approaching, Julia found she was yet again dealing with something close to a proper paperwork load. There were systems reports to read, requisitions, promotions and personnel transfers to approve, everything necessary to get the Aurora ready to return to active service after the beating she took in the victory over Welthauptstadt Germania.

After taking the time to visit the restroom attached to her ready office, Julia returned to her desk. She was picked her digital pad up to resume reading when the door chimed. "Come in," she said.

Caterina entered. She was in the "Princess of the Geeks" shirt that Tom had given her for her birthday earlier in the year and a matching skirt. Since the ship was still in drydock Julia decided to let the lack of a uniform while on the bridge slide. "What can I do for you?" she asked Cat.

"I need… I need to go do something," Cat said, her voice restrained.

Julia folded her hands on the table. "Alright. What is it?"

"I need to go to Earth, Universe W8R4," Cat said. "And I need to find the Doctor."

For a moment Julia said nothing. She let the request work its way through her mind. The obvious complications related to it. "Earth W8R4 is under a special contact limitation," she reminded Cat. "No contact is permitted with local population, only a few specially designated officers of the UNIT organization."

"I know," Cat said. "I studied the order first, just to make sure. But Sarah Jane has a link to UNIT. And since she already knows about us, the limitation doesn't really apply."

"I'm not sure the Admiralty will agree with that reading of the regulation," Julia remarked. "Why do you need to see Miss Smith?"

"Because she can help me find the Doctor, and I need to speak to him. He… I think…" Cat swallowed. She could tell she wasn't winning Julia over to the request. "Julia, I know it's bad timing and I know it could cause trouble…"

"Yeah, it is and it could," Julia said, although she immediately regretted it. She hadn't meant to sound that hostile.

She was impressed with Cat, however. While Cat might have once let the firm opposition cause her to yield, just to avoid the confrontation, now she held firm. She wasn't looking for a fight, but she had a good reason for something and she was going to push for it. "Doctor Tusana found a block in my mind, Julia," she said.

Julia frowned at that. "A block? As in…"

"As in my memories have been blocked," Cat said. "She says it's the strongest block she's ever seen. And she's sure it's beyond anything a normal telepath could make. But I know one that can."

"The Doctor," Julia realized.

"Yeah. He… I don't know what's behind the block, but it's related to my nightmares over the last few months, and I need to find out. The nightmares, they won't stop, and I don't know how much more of it I can take," Cat insisted. "If the Doctor put it there, he can lift it, or at least tell me why. If he didn't, maybe he can remove it. Either way, I really need to see him!"

There was clear heat in Cat's voice by the time she finished laying out her reasoning. Julia found it a sound argument. And she didn't want Cat suffering. If this was some leaking memory blocked away from Cat's conscious mind, Julia had no idea how much it would damage Cat mentally over time.

And yet, the regulations were clear.

Julia tapped away at the hard-light keyboard projected on her desk until she brought up the relevant contact orders. She was surprised to see that she, Cat, and Angel were all listed as authorized contact points for relations with UNIT, presumably due to their experiences in that universe. She gave the rules a quick read and finally nodded. "I'll sign off for you to use a shuttle craft, and I'll see about getting you a jump to W8R4."

Cat smiled at her and nodded. "I could hug you for this one."

"Ah, your thanks are fine," Julia said. She allowed herself a warm grin for Cat's benefit. "Go find out what's wrong, Cat. And then get your butt home, we'll have things to scan."

"Aye Captain!" Cat declared enthusiastically, giving a well-meaning, playful, and entirely unnecessary salute. "Uh, I'm doing it right, right?" she added with uncertainty.

Julia now allowed herself a small giggle. "I'm not sure, but since salutes aren't in the regs yet, don't worry about it."

"Okay. Let me go pack then. And I'll be back before you know it!" With that Cat rushed from the room. Julia watched the door slide close behind her before returning to the paperwork that still demanded Julia's attention.
”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 »

Cat was getting the last of her things together - since she didn't expect to be gone long, she was only taking a small bag of clothes and personal necessities - when there was a chime at her door. She sighed, knowing full well who it was even before she called out "Come in!"

Angel came in, wearing her usual exercise combination of brown sports bra and shorts with her hair pulled back in a bun. Muscle rippled under her visible skin, still glistening with sweat from whatever exercises she'd abandoned to come argue with her "crazy little sister". "Are you crazy?!" she demanded. "You're actually going back to that damn Earth?!"

"Well, just for a bit," Cat replied.

"Considering what happened the last time we went there? Or the time before that?!"

Cat sighed. W8R4's Earth had proven dangerous twice so far, the first time with that alien with the bio-absorption cane, the second seeing them nearly killed due to the Cybermen and the Daleks. And the time before that, visiting had led to the Dalek invasion of the Facility…

...and that was just from Angel's point-of-view. During the year she spent with the Doctor - a year from her perspective alone, anyway - Cat had faced quite a number of dangers on that Earth, albeit in entirely different periods of time.

Okay, so W8R4 is crazy dangerous. In any era. Of course Angel's going to freak out that I'm going back there. With that in mind, Cat avoided getting frustrated with her protective big sister. "I know how it looks to you, but I need to do it," Cat assured her. "The Doctor may be the only being in the Multiverse who can remove the block in my mind."

"You're telling me Meridina can't? If not, why not get Rob and Lucy to help, they've got that metaphysical life energy stuff…"

"It's not the same as telepathy," Cat insisted. "And no, it won't help. Whatever happened… the Doctor's the only one who can help. He can remove the block, or explain why it's there and can't be taken out. So I need to find him."

"And you're going alone?"

Cat shrugged. "Well, yeah. I'm just taking a shuttle."

"Dammit, Cat, that entire universe is a death trap!" Angel shouted. "And shuttles don't have IU drives! You won't be able to jump home if something goes wrong!"

"There's an observation post in the Jovian orbit that can help me get home," Cat said. "They're equipped with an IU drive to send ships back since there are so few visiting ships to the universe."

"But that assumes they don't get blown up first!"

Caterina let out an exasperated sigh and walked up to her sister. She set her hands on Angel's bare arms as if to brace Angel from falling. "Listen to me, Angel. I'm going to be fine! I know you're worried about me, you always are, but I have to do this. These nightmares are getting worse and they're going to drive me crazy! Please, trust me!"

"I trust you, Cat, it's that damned universe I don't trust," Angel responded. Now it was her turn to sigh, as she could see the determination in her sister's hazel eyes and knew Cat wasn't going to be swayed. "Okay, you're going. I get it. Let me go with you."

"Don't you have a date tomorrow? Or tonight or whenever?"

"You're more important."

Cat frowned. In between her failed attempts to romance Robert, Angel had occasionally tried other guys, and most of them walked away once they realized they had to compete with Cat for Angel's attentions. And now Angel was yet again putting Cat ahead of her own romantic relationships.

But she knew there was no point arguing. Angel couldn't dissuade her from going to W8R4, but that same Delgado stubbornness would keep Cat from getting Angel to let her go alone.

"Julia set aside one of the new shuttles, the Moffat," Cat informed her. "She's in the Main Shuttle Bay, I'll meet you there after you shower?"

It seemed that only now did Angel realize she'd stormed up six decks in her exercise wear. She sighed and nodded. "I'll go shower and change now."

"Cool. See you there!"

When booking living quarters for their stay on the Citadel, Robert ended up picking Tulara Tower, a residence in Aroch Ward about three kilometers from Zack's rented apartment at Laranis Complex. While they'd only been around for a few days, they'd found that among the alien restaurants and cafes in the districts of Aroch between their residences, there was a single Human restaurant called A Taste of Home, a family-owned business that boasted being the first Human restaurant on the Citadel. The menu was diverse, with the cooks capable of cooking everything from classic North American diner fare to the spiciest Thai concoction (as Talara had learned to some humorous result).

The two were enjoying a meal there now, Robert eating a classic diner-style patty melt sandwich and Lucy indulging in a decent plate of chicken enchiladas. After taking a bite Robert looked around and sighed. "You can feel it too?" he asked.

"Fear. Anger. Disbelief." Lucy nodded and sighed. "I can. But we can't be surprised. Nobody here ever imagined the Citadel could be attacked like that."

"Nothing in this galaxy will be the same again. No matter how much the Council or Udina wish otherwise."

"Are they really trying to cover up Sovereign's origin?" Lucy asked.

"I think they're undecided," said Robert. "They're trying to keep their options open. The longer they delay in confirming the truth publicly, the more time to let the population's fears settle, or for new evidence that will let them avoid the uncomfortable parts of the truth."

"You mean that Sovereign was just one of what might be thousands of genocidal squid robots that want to exterminate us all?" Lucy asked drolly.

"Yeah, that." Robert shrugged. "I suppose I can see some of their concerns."


"Well, think about it. Do you really think the Batarians or the Terminus Systems are just going to nod and agree to the Citadel suddenly implementing the kind of armament scheme needed to face something like the Reapers?"

Lucy shook her head and set her fork down, a half-eaten chunk of enchilada still on it. "No. They'll arm too."

"Yeah. And while that might be useful, since everyone will be better off in fighting the Reapers… that's not true if one side decides to attack the other due to a miscommunication or some Machiavellian calculation," Robert pointed out. "I'm sure there are going to be Turian and Systems Alliance generals advocating using a temporary advantage in power to impose Citadel authority in Terminus, or to put down the Batarians' border defenses to hinder their piracy campaigns. Hell, maybe even our own side might suggest something like that. And the more people in this galaxy fight each other…"

"...the weaker they'll be when the Reapers get here," Lucy finished for him.

"Yeah. So I guess I can see why the Council may want to be more careful…"

"Rob! Lucy!"

Hearing their names being shouted was enough to redirect Robert and Lucy's attention to the speaker: Zack. He came up in his field uniform. Robert frowned. "What's wrong?"

"We need to get to the debris repository," he said. "There's been a theft."

"And just as I was on my last one," sighed Lucy, setting her fork down again. She turned toward a nearby Asari waitress. "Check please! And a to-go box!"

The repository thieves had been careful in their entry, not damaging any major systems and causing alarms to go off. It was clear to the assembled officers that they were dealing with something more than a lone thief.

"This was a team job," noted Garrus Vakarian. The gray-skinned Turian was a former member of Commander Shepard's personal team and again serving with Citadel Security. He was in the Turian model of the blue C-Sec duty uniform. An Alliance-made pulse pistol was on his hip, the result of new C-Sec guidelines mandating use of personal firearms capable of non-lethal settings. Now he looked over the empty bins of what had previously contained suspected pieces of Sovereign. "There wasn't enough time for one person to carry all of this out."

"I concur with your assessment," said Data. He and Geordi were now examining the computer panels that controlled access to the bins. "Additionally, the method used to overcome the computer lock was quite sophisticated. I would theorize that the thieves used an invasive algorithm that insinuated itself into the running parameters of the security system, causing a general fault."

"You would be right," Geordi said. Unlike Lucy and the other Alliance officers, he still held a Starfleet-model tricorder. "Whatever it is just tried to hack into my tricorder."

"Purging the system's going to require a complete wipe, then," said Lucy.

"I'm more worried about where this stuff has gone," Robert said. "Between our examinations and Saren's research it's clear that it poses a threat to anyone in proximity."

"Beyond that, what I want to know is 'who'," Garrus said.

"Presumably the thieves believe the debris is of great value on the Citadel black market," noted Data.

Garrus shook his head. "My colleagues in the Organized Crime department have reported the opposite."

"I'd think crooks would be quick to grab anything that might be valuable," remarked Lucy. "And why wouldn't this stuff be?"

"That's what has us confused. All sorts of groups should be paying top credit. But it's like the entire criminal underworld is uninterested."

Hearing that, Bailey gave Garrus a look. "I've got some contacts, a CI or two, that might be able to sniff something out on that angle."

That prompted confusion in Talara. "If the criminals are uninterested, would that not be a waste of effort?"

"No," said Lucy, shaking her head. "If they're not interested when it seems like they should be, it means there's a reason why. That reason might tell us more about the situation, it could even give leads to whom is responsible."

"I see."

"Continue cataloguing everything that's missing and find out everything you can," Robert said to Lucy. "Keep Talara and Tra'dur with you. Commander Data, Commander La Forge?"

"We shall assist," Data confirmed.

"Thank you," Robert replied. He nodded next to Garrus, Bailey, and Zack. "And the rest of us will see what we can find out. I have an idea on someone who might know something."

The shuttle Moffat was about four meters longer than the usual shuttle, allowing for a larger living space in the back for long-range trips. The shuttle glided into far Earth orbit with all systems set to hide it from early 21st Century radio detection methods, making the Moffat visible only to the advanced, alien tech-derived sensors of UNIT, Torchwood, and other government agencies with access to said technology. Theoretically a satellite or spacecraft with short-range cameras might have seen the shuttle, but only if it came close enough.

At the altitude she set on the piloting console, Cat ensured that planet-based weapons would not be able to launch an attack on the Moffat, at least not one that the shuttle couldn't evade. With this safety precaution taken Cat immediately commenced scans. Almost immediately she spotted what she was looking for. "There it is," she said. "The TARDIS is in London."

"Lucky timing," Angel replied. "So what now?"

"I'm sending a signal to the TARDIS to get the Doctor's attention. Of course, if he's not in it, then this could be a while." Cat finished this process before glancing awkwardly toward Angel. "So, this boyfriend of yours…"

"If you must know, he's one of the new security officers," Angel remarked. "Tony Zah. Richmond has him in charge of Gamma Shift."

"So that means that your dinner is his breakfast and vice versa," Cat noted. "But doesn't that make things… difficult?"

"Well, we don't actually sleep together, if you catch my drift." Angel smiled at that.

Out of sheer curiosity Cat asked if that meant the relationship had gotten to home base yet, but she stopped herself. The slight reddening of her cheeks gave her unspoken question away, however, and Angel chortled with amusement. "It's not the kind of action you're interested in anyway, Cat."

"True." She shook her head. "At least one of us is getting laid, I guess."

"Well, I'm sure that if this long-range thing with Violeta really doesn't pan out, you'll find another sweet girl. And she'd better be sweet right back to you, or…"

"...or you'll punch her, yes," Cat sighed, a sad little grin forming on her face. As much as it could be annoying, letting Angel have her way sometimes kept her happy. And Cat liked her sister happy. "I'd like to meet him. Tony, I mean."

"I'll see about it," Angel promised. "So, anything yet?"

"Nothing. But let's give the Doctor some more time…"

The mess hall of the Koenig was the attack ship's social center. It was the only recreational space large enough for the fifty to sixty officers and crew to meet in a large number due to the combat-oriented design of the warship. Its replicators were maintained as well as could be managed, at least under the oversight of the ship's Chief Engineer, Karen Derbely.

Given the way the ship's watches were arranged, it was off-time for the ship's Second Officer and Operations Officer, Lieutenant Magda Navaez. Magda was a woman of solid build. Like many of the people from her nation, she was mestizo - of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry - with brown-toned skin and dark hair down to her shoulders. She was seated at a table enjoying a plate of replicated aborrajados and rich coffee from Colombia, the nation she once called home. The nation she'd called home, in fact, until the day she and her surviving family were plucked from the FARC hostage camp by a bunch of well-intentioned but sometimes naive-sounding Americans with an alien base buried far beneath the plains of Kansas. Those Americans - now the Aurora crew - had in turn inspired her to join them (and to identify and target some of the violent paramilitary groups that were not so well known to Americans), and now Magda considered her home to be the New Liberty Colony with most of her family dwelling there.

Sitting across from her, with a plate of Gersallian liyume that she was curiously trying out, was Lieutenant Ana Poniatowska. She was a woman of slight build with honey-colored blond hair and windswept gray eyes. She made a tentative try at the meal and nodded in acceptance. "Quite good."

Magda smiled thinly. "I've heard some of the others insist the replicator became the best in the fleet after Tali fixed it up."

Ana nodded in agreement. Her face shifted to show a hint of concern. "How is she? I heard she was wounded in the final assault on the Führerbunker."

"Well, she was at the surrender ceremony. I believe Doctor Chakwas got the infection under control." Magda sighed. "Since I met her, I've felt nothing but sorrow and pity for the Quarians. To live their entire lives in those suits, never getting to know the joy of a sun's warmth or a cool breeze…"

"I hold out hope that we might find a way to help them," Ana said. "I've spent some time lately reading up on the Quarians."


"Well, I will be working closely with one. The Huáscar is going to have a Quarian science officer."

"Good for them," Magda declared.

Ana nodded. She finished chewing on a piece of her food before continuing to speak. "How is your family?"

There was something in Ana's voice that made Magda feel this wasn't small talk. Regardless she replied, "They are well. Uncle Cristobal is still deciding whether he will run for election next year. Aunt Luz just returned from Colombia with a new load of immigrants. The Aid Society is doing well."

Ana nodded and smiled. "We may not raid labor camps and prisons any longer, but it is good to know we are still bringing in those looking for a better life."

There was something in the smile, and in Ana's voice, that made Magda realize the sadness within the statement. She quickly realized what was going on. "You couldn't find any of your family?"

"No," Ana said. "My cousins were in France, mostly in Paris, and those butchers from the Avenger destroyed the city when they ravaged my home Earth. I must face the possibility that I may be the last of the Poniatowcsy left. At least, from my Earth."

Magda went silent. She'd lost her parents to guerrilla violence, just as she nearly lost her life. But Ana's entire world had suffered far more grievously. The fate of Earth C1P2 put in perspective how fortunate everyone was that Robert and Julia and the others had the personalities and ideals they did. For all that the governments of our world have said about us, we never wrecked a planet. We never blew up cities. And we did everything we could to avoid killing. "I wish we had caught them at Tira," Magda grumbled. "If the damn Drazi hadn't nearly overwhelmed us with Sunhawks, maybe we could have disabled the Avenger and kept her from escaping…"

"There will be justice for my planet one day," Ana vowed. "And for every other life taken by Hawk and his crew. And for the suffering that has never ended." Seeing Magda's look, she further explained, "My world is being ripped apart in wars. The Alliance could put an end to the fighting. It could save more lives." She frowned. "It could save Poland from the Regime of National Salvation."

"And now that we're not fighting the Nazis anymore, we have the ships and troops to do it," Magda agreed. "Hopefully someone in Portland is already planning it."

Ana nodded in final agreement before focusing on her meal.

The theft from the debris repository required an exhaustive inventory to make certain of what had or hadn't been taken. With Data directing that effort, Tra'dur was seeing to the debris already catalogued. Talara aided her, bringing her pieces for checking against the database.

They'd worked for some time before it became clear to Tra'dur that Talara's subdued mood stemmed from intense discomfort of some kind. "Are you alright, Lieutenant?" she asked quietly.

Talara looked up from where she was lifting one of the larger pieces of debris with a drone, a safety precaution to maintain the emissions containment field around the piece. Her blue eyes passed over Tra'dur before looking away. "I am simply… uneasy. I almost feel Sovereign's malevolence even in these lifeless pieces."

"The containment field is intact, I assure you." Tra'dur glanced at her readings to reassure herself as well. The readings did just that. "Perhaps your feelings are from something else? I am aware that the battle for Germania was quite difficult for you."

It had, truthfully, been difficult for everyone. For all of the triumph of the fall of the Reich capital, the city itself was a nightmare of death and violence beyond anything either of them had experienced before. Talara's growing abilities with her life force - the Gersallian concept of swevyra - had made her particularly susceptible to sensing the mass death from the fighting, layered on the inherent darkness from what the Reich stood for. Two weeks on her homeworld of Fala to spend time with her parents and younger siblings had, to some degree, alleviated this problem. But it had not banished it.

Talara sensed Tra'dur had her own harsh memories of the battle. "You are still surprised you lived," said Talara.

The Dilgar woman nodded. "I am. In hindsight it was quite reckless of me to do what I did."

"Yet you turned the tide. I sensed the Human soldiers you inspired."

"Perhaps I did, but it doesn't change the fact that I was needlessly reckless." The memory of Fei'nur's angry strike that knocked her down came to Tra'dur. So too did the reaction of her mother, who was as happy to dress her down as she was to commend her bravery. "What of you? By controlling the enemy cannon for as long as you did, you ensured our victory. You deserve commendation as much as I."

"I've been rewarded well enough." Talara shook her head. "But I do not think I will ever feel the same again. The killing and dying was all so much."

"It was sadly necessary." Tra'dur examined another scan. "Alright. Another confirmed."

Talara nodded and sent an order to the drone to retrieve another piece. "Lucy assures me that time will heal the wound on my soul. I hope it is true."

"My mother tells me it will heal with a scar. Which seems the right and proper thing. Those of us who still live must carry the burden of living on when our comrades did not."

"Your people suffered more greatly than any other in the attack," Talara noted.

"Yes. It was our place to do so."

Talara frowned at that. She was aware of the sentiment, that due to the terrible crimes of the Dilgar Imperium a sacrifice was necessary, but it struck her as unjust. Most of the Dilgar who died in Germania had not yet been born when their parents or grandparents were slaughtering their way through the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. To make them suffer for the crimes of others…

...and there Talara caught herself. If it had been the Galra instead of the Dilgar, would she feel the same way? Or would she suspect them of duplicity, of continued intent to genocide her people, until they made a similar sacrifice?

Her realization there was that Meridina was correct. It became a vicious cycle, bloodshed inviting more bloodshed, and that she was sworn to oppose with every fiber of her body.

Talara heard an audible cough. It brought her from her thoughts to a quietly impatient Tra'dur. Talara remembered herself and resumed providing samples for Tra'dur to check against their list. They still had quite a lot of work ahead of them.

Zack was curious where Robert was heading when they exited a lift and entered the Presidium's Financial District. "You really think you'll find a criminal gang here? Maybe their financial advisors…"

"I'm looking for something bigger," Robert remarked. Together they went into one of the structures. A sign above flickered from Turian script to Human English, showing the name of a financial broker. Robert nodded at it and walked in, Zack following and still confused.

Inside was a small waiting area. At a desk stood a Volus, inside an environmental suit that kept the ammonia breather alive in an atmosphere lethal to his physiology. The Volus looked up at them. ""Ah, Captain Dale," he said, after which he wheezed. "And Commander Zachary Carrey. I wish you the best of luck at returning to your command."

"Uh, thanks," said Zack.

"Commander, this is Barla Von," Robert said. "On top of whatever other services he provides, he happens to be the local man for the Shadow Broker."

Zack gave Robert a surprised look. Part of his temporary position on the Citadel included reading required intelligence files, including that on the elusive Shadow Broker, the M4P2 galaxy's most powerful broker of information. He was a private spymaster said to know everything there was to know in the known galaxy. Just being in the same room with one of his agents could lead to Zack facing an exhaustive investigation from Alliance Intelligence.

Robert glanced his way and shook his head. Zack felt a thought, a sense, that wasn't his. I won't be investigated for this, it's covered.

"What can I do for you today, Captain?" asked Barla Von. "Is it information you seek, or financial services?"

"I suppose you could say both, and either," Robert answered. "You may have heard what my mission is right now?" Without waiting for Barla Von to confirm, Robert continued. "I'm sure you have. Well, you may have also heard about a theft that just took place. Someone is so interested in pieces of Sovereign they went after the government repository for the debris."

"So I have heard," was the reply. "And you wish assistance in tracking the thieves? The suspects in the CItadel's criminal underworld are quite numerous."

"So they are, save that they've been doing nothing about the debris," Robert remarked. "Despite whatever value it might have on the interstellar or Multiversal markets, the criminals here are staying away. Now why is that?"

There was a moment of quiet from Barla Von. "The most reasonable answer is a combination of bribery and intimidation. Another organization is removing them from contention in recovering the pieces." A moment's pause later and the Volus added, "I can assure you, the Shadow Broker has nothing to do with this."

Zack glanced toward Robert. "You believe him?"

"I do," said Robert. "To an extent. While the Broker may not be behind it, I wonder if the Broker's facilitated this unknown organization's efforts."

"The Broker has not," said Barla Von.

Robert felt no immediate deception, but he knew that didn't mean it was absent. "You're quick to volunteer that," he said. "I would imagine the Broker would prefer to be paid for the information."

Had he caught Barla Von in a slip, Robert would have felt something, he was sure. And it might have even provoked a reaction. But it didn't. The Volus shook his head. "In this case, we have greater concerns. Whomever has made these maneuvers displays a great deal of knowledge and influence. For such a force to exist without the Shadow Broker knowing of them indicates an extrauniversal origin. Such competition for influence in the dark economy of our galaxy is unwelcome to the Broker. Should you eliminate them this would benefit the Broker."

"Sounds reasonable, I guess," Zack remarked.

"But it would require you to know something," Robert added.

"Precious little, I'm afraid," replied Barla Von. "Our contacts with the criminal gangs of the Citadel have remarked upon their associates' lack of interest in the debris. It extends to threats against any member who might act independently."

"So whatever's influencing them, they want the gangs out of the way completely." Robert crossed his arms. "Which makes me wonder who is working for them."

"Of that I can say little. The one lead I do have are rumors among the Citadel's poorer communities of great cash rewards for Sovereign debris, if it is genuine."

"If you're not having the criminals work for you…" Zack began.

"Yes. The attack has not been easy on the less fortunate," replied Barla Von. "And some of them have become quite desperate. No amount of threats from criminal gangs will restrain the starving. I suspect that the repository is not an isolated case."

Robert frowned deeply at that. It was bad enough that people could starve even in this era, but someone using that against them? And exposing their minds to indoctrination in the process…

"Thank you for your assistance, Mister Von," Robert said. "Your insights have been useful."

"Of course, Captain," was the reply. "I hope this cooperation will be remembered in the future."

"It will," he answered. Although you should be careful how you try to cash in on it, he thought as they walked away.

Once a few hours passed with no response from the Doctor, Cat decided to investigate herself. She put on contemporary clothes and checked her omnitool before stepping toward the shuttle transporter. Angel took the controls. "Are you sure?"

"I just want to check real quick," said Cat. "Then I'll be back."

It was clear Angel was opposed to the idea. "And if he's facing space monsters or whatever?"

"Then I help him?" There was an unspoken "Duh" there.

Angel shook her head. "Crazy little sister," she murmured while operating the transporter controls. Cat provided her coordinates in London A buzz and a flash of light later, she was gone.

Angel returned to the co-pilot seat and waited patiently for Cat to resume communication. When she didn't, Angel tapped the comm key on the panel. "Cat?"

A few moments later her sister responded. "Sorry, I was in public. At a police station."

"Find anything yet?"

"Something. If my sensors are right, the TARDIS is in this parking garage below the station. It's kinda weird, though. There's some kind of exotic energy signature in the environment… woh, it just spiked massively. It looks like it's not far from the TARDIS."

"Be careful," Angel insisted.

"I am… I am…"

A minute passed before a response came. "Huh. It's right here, in the open." Cat went quiet for a moment. "There's nobody else here though."

"Well, he's probably somewhere else right now," said Angel. "I'll beam you back up."

"Give it a moment, I'm curious about these energy signatures. One's right… huh."

Angel felt increasing aggravation with her sister. "What?" she asked.

"It's… a statue. Kind of a weird place to put one, really. I mean, in a parking garage? What kind of benefit..."

"Cat, you're babbling."

"Sorry. I'm just flummoxed. They've got a statue down here. Some cement angel. One of those fancy types, I guess it's from a cemetary. Anyway…"

Cat's voice trailed off. At least, that's what it sounded like at first. But after a moment Angel noticed that the line was no longer open. Her worry about Caterina intensified. She glanced toward the sensors to see where she'd gone.

Nothing. That's what the sensors showed. Cat was gone.

"I think I'll…"

Cat stopped speaking as the vertigo hit, causing her to fall to the ground. She was in the open air of a night sky, now at ground level. In the distance she heard cars running down the street, but here it was dark, with deep shadows. It took several minutes for the vertigo to go away.

Cat looked down at her omnitool. Scan results showed a powerful energy signature around her. Something had been done to her. As she pondered that, the life sign reading she'd been looking for showed, approaching her steadily. With a sense of urgency looked up in that direction, in time to see two figures come from the shadows. One was a woman of African ancestry, the other…

"Doctor?" she called out.

The tall Gallifreyan Time Lord looked down at her, wearing a long brown coat over his usual business jacket. In his hand was an object with bright lights on it. His eyes, usually so gentle, now showed bewilderment. "Cat? What are you doing here?" he asked.
”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 »

Caterina and the Doctor exchanged bewildered looks. "Well, what is here?" Cat asked. "Everything looks different."

"We're in 1969 London," said the woman beside the Doctor. Her accent was what Cat thought of as English, much like the one the Doctor himself used. "How do you know the Doctor?"

"Well, it's a bit of a story…"

"That it is." The Doctor helped Cat to his feet with his spare hand. "Ah, Caterina Delgado, meet Doctor Martha Jones. Martha, this is Cat."

Martha offered her hand and Cat accepted a handshake. "What are you a doctor of?" Cat asked.

"Medicine," was the reply.

"Cool." Cat returned her attention to the Doctor. "So, this is the past? What… how did I end up here?"

"The same way we did, I expect," the Doctor said. "The Weeping Angels."

"The what?"

"The kindest predators in the universe, well, this one anyway," the Doctor replied. "They feed off of the temporal displacement of sending members of other species back in time. So they don't have to kill you. They just take away the life you knew."

"Oh. That's…" Cat swallowed. The statue in the garage had been a threat without her realizing it. Most likely it and those of its kind were the source of the anomalous readings she picked up. How many people had they done this to so far?

And then another consideration came. "Oh God, Angel. She's going to be freaking out. I've got to find a way to get a message to her, to the Alliance, to tell them where we are and they can send a ship to do a slingshot or something…"

"No, don't worry about it, Cat," the Doctor insisted. "I've been making arrangements."


The Doctor reached into his jacket pocket and took out a thick folder and packet with a notebook and other things. "Let's just say I came forewarned, and I knew how to handle this. All we have to do is sit tight and let history take its course." He handed it to Martha before facing Cat. "So, Cat, you clearly came looking for me. What can I do for you?"

With investigative work done, to a degree, everyone met again at the repository. "All catalogued pieces of debris have been accounted for," Data noted.

"That's good news," sighed Robert. "Any leads on the criminal element?"

"They're scared," Garrus said. "Someone's warned them off the hunt for Sovereign salvage. Someone with enough power to make them listen."

"Well, isn't that ominous?" Lucy asked with a flippant, almost-joking tone.

"I'm not sure this situation is proving very humorous," Robert answered. "Intimidating criminal gangs on the Citadel means we're dealing with real heavy hitters."

"Especially considering the Asari gangs, since they're all biotics," Bailey noted.

"There are Asari crime gangs?" Lucy asked.

"As much as the other Asari wish there weren't… yeah," Garrus said. "So the thieves are people who can intimidate them. Or bribe them into keeping their hands off. Neither sounds very good if you ask me." He looked at Robert. "Did you find anything?"

"Possibly. For one thing, I'm 90% convinced the Shadow Broker isn't involved in this," he said.

"You've spoken to Barla Von, then," said Bailey.

"Yeah. He says the Broker isn't involved. More to the point, the Broker isn't happy with the apparent competition from someone capable of this much pull with the gangs."

"And he suggested our thieves might be working with the poor residents of the Citadel instead of the criminals," Zack added.

"In other words, taking advantage of them in the aftermath of the attack," Lucy noted darkly.

"Exactly. But we have an advantage there," Robert said. "They're far less likely to be loyal to their employer than a professional crook."

"Assuming their employer hasn't intimidated them," Bailey added.

"True. But the important thing is that we talk to them. And since they're being offered cash rewards for turning in Sovereign debris..."

"Oh. I get where this is going," said Geordi. "You want to build a trap."

Robert replied to him with a knowing grin.

The final requisitions reports and requests were piling on Julia's desk throughout the day, representing the ship's departments preparing the Aurora to return to service. She was reading through them when the hail came in.

Angel's face appeared on the monitor and immediately Julia knew something was wrong. There was a wild, terrified look there. "She's gone! Something happened and… and she's gone!"

"Cat?" Julia felt a little twist in her gut. "Where? What happened?"

"She… ugh, I can't stand how stupid she gets about this sometimes," Angel continued. "She beamed down and found the TARDIS, but nobody was there and then there was a power surge and now she's gone and there's no trace of her, just some sciency readings and I don't know what they mean! I need help here, Julia, I need Jarod and the other science whizzes to get to WR84 and help me!"

"They're still at the Citadel," Julia noted. Sensing this was not the reply Angel wanted, she added, "I'll get the crews to configure the Warri for scientific examination and send it to you. But it could be several hours."

"I'll be here waiting to see if Cat reappears," Angel said. She killed the line without saying anything else.

Julia felt sick to her stomach. There was no telling what might have happened to Cat. Maybe she was just being hidden in a stealth field. Or maybe she'd been instantly vaporized by something.

Either way, Julia knew what it meant for Angel as well. Angel would be driving herself mad with fear and guilt before long. And if something had happened, even if there was nothing she could have done… Angel would always blame herself, would hate herself, for Cat dying.

So Julia got to work immediately to get Angel that help. Then she sent a message to UNIT asking for their input as well. They might at least confirm whether or not Cat could still be alive.

Nearly a half century in the past, Cat was sitting in a small flat the Doctor and Martha were using for housing without the TARDIS around. She waited for everyone to get situated before she started explaining what the problem was. "These dreams have been getting worse for months," she said. "I mean, it was just a thing once and awhile, and I'd be alone on a dark ship. But now it seems like I have it every week and it's me on the wreck of the Aurora with everyone dead and… and me being attacked. And now I'm seeing your face… and the telepathic psychiatrist is saying there's a block more powerful than anything she's seen in my mind."

As she spoke the Doctor's expression became more dour. A frown formed on his lips. It was Martha who replied, "You think he…" She glanced at the Doctor. "Did you?"

Cat didn't need a reply from the Doctor to know. She saw it in his face. "You… blocked my mind," she said.

"I did," he admitted.


"I had no choice. You saw something… terrible," the Doctor said. "I had to block it from your mind to make you functional again."

"I hope you're not doing that to me," Martha said, frowning. "Doesn't that strike you as wrong, Doctor? To just go into someone's mind and take their memories?"

"It's not something I did lightly," he replied. "At the time I had no choice. What you saw, Cat… it crippled you mentally. You were so overcome I had to block it."

Cat nodded slowly. "Okay. I understand, really. We were still trying to find a way to reach Rose in Pete's World." Seeing Martha's curious look she added, "An alternate 5th dimensional location to this one. I'm from a 6th dimensional alternate Earth."

Martha seemed bewildered by that. "It's a complicated thing," the Doctor said to her. "5th Dimensional difference means the same time. 6th Dimensional is a different cluster formed by a different pulse of what you call the Big Bang. Different timeframe there. It’s more complicated than that really, but only Cat would be interested in the full explanation."

"Right. Well, it wouldn't be the first complicated thing I've seen while journeying with you, Doctor," Martha remarked. She sipped at a cup of tea she'd made for herself in the small kitchen at the side of the living area.

Cat giggled. "It's always like that, I guess. He showed me some insane things I never thought could exist. And I was used to discovering new things, I mean, ever since my sister's sometimes-boyfriend found an alien base under his Kansas family farm."

"Now that sounds like a story," Martha said.

"It is. Maybe we can talk about it later." Cat turned her attention back to the Doctor. "The psychiatrist on the Aurora said she can't remove the block. Can you?" she asked.

His reply was immediate and unwavering. "No," said the Doctor. "No I will not."

With another change in the watch, Karen Derbely was released from her duty as Chief Engineer of the Koenig. After finishing the change of watch by briefing Ana on everything she needed to know, Derbely headed to the mess hall and replicated a personal favorite she'd installed in the system: a big greasy Latian hamburger, made from the meat of a bovine-like quadruped native to the planet Lata, one of the member worlds of the Colonial Confederation of Universe D3R1. Her home, the space habitat and asteroid mining center Littlefield Station, was in the same government. Now a member of the United Alliance of System, the "Colonials" - as they were proud to call themselves - had long run a free market-orientated, private interest economy based off of North American libertarianism.

It was not always an easy system to live in, especially for those with jobs that didn't pay as well, but Derbely grew up enjoying her life on Littlefield Station with her father Jack, the pilot of an ore hauler. Eating Latian-made hamburgers reminded her of her childhood of joining Jack Derbely in his long haul trips to Jury Station and its ore refineries. Every trip there, he'd take her to the same greasy spoon diner in the habitat sector and spend the per diem of his unloading day buying the both of them the biggest, juiciest (and greasiest) burgers on the station, loaded with toppings and joined by French-cut seasoned potato fries…

"Your mind is back on Jury Station, isn't it?"

Derbely looked up from her half-eaten hamburger to face Lieutenant Commander Creighton Apley. The ship's Executive Officer and Navigation Officer - on a ship this size, the XO would always have a second role in the command crew - was a handsome man from the North American Midwest. His brown hair was a few shades darker than hers and cut to professional perfection. Apley had a plate of waffle-cut fries and a grilled chicken sandwich fresh from the replicator. "So it was," Derbely replied.

He nodded. "I still remember the sector blowout they had there in… what was it?"

She frowned. "2455," she answered, referring to D3R1's calendar. Their home universe was not quite two centuries "younger" than the L2M1 universe that was used for the Alliance Standard Calendar, given the UAS capital was located on its Earth. "Dad and I had just left a day before the incident. I was thirteen. I remembered a lot of whispering about how the place was an accident waiting to happen."

"Insufficient safety inspections by the new managers of the station," Apley remarked. "Back home a lot of people saw it as another sign of how badly off people were in your Confederation."

"I'm sure they did." Derbely smiled thinly. In D3R1 the Earth and surrounding star systems were under the Sol System Republic, an interstellar state with democratic-socialist economics that were at odds with the Confederation's philosophy. And they too were members of the Allied Systems; unsurprising since neither could stomach the thought of the other with an apparent advantage. "But we handled it our way."

"The residents of Jury Station voted to remove the station operating contract from the people responsible for the safety violations," Apley recalled. "And the replacement contractor made Jury Station the safest place in D3R1."

"That's how the system works. You screw up, people stop working with you."

"Not unless you have something they need, then you can force them to stomach it," Apley remarked. "And given our safety laws, the blowout never would've happened on a Sol station. Not like that."

Derbely finished chewing a bite of hamburger and smiled. "Because the wise, all-knowing Sol government never, ever had someone screw up."

Apley didn't answer that, since he knew the answer was no. He merely grinned and ate a fry.

"I'm up for another round of arguing about economic systems if you really want," Derbely said, "but I get the feeling you were just baiting me for fun."

"I suppose it was for old time's sake," Apley admitted. "A last chance to tweak your sensibilities."

Derbely looked at him curiously. "What are you saying?"

"I just got the word from Personnel," Apley said. "I'm being promoted." When Derbely replied with surprise but nothing further, he continued, "They're giving me command of a new Flight III Trigger-class attacker, the Reichert. After we get back, I'm off to report for her shakedown cruise."

"Wow," Derbely said. "That's… good news. Taking anyone with you?"

"U'ruhn's earned a shot at being Ops," Apley replied. "And if Ana wasn't getting that shiny new Enterprise-class ship I might've asked her to come along."

"U'ruhn has earned it, yeah." Derbely considered one of her last fries. "So… congratulations on your new command."

"Thanks. I don't know where we'll end up for our first assignment, whether we get assigned to a cruiser or a fleet unit, or an attack squadron. Either way…" Apley smiled sadly. "I'm going to miss you. All of you." He chuckled. "I think I'll miss being called 'Ap', and Commander Carrey used to make me grimace whenever he called me that on duty."

"You always were the straight-laced officer type," Derbely noted. "I guess it's a bit of a surprise that you came around to Carrey's command style in the end."

"He proved himself over time. So did his friends." Apley let out a little sigh. "I think I'm going to miss it all. Being on the Aurora, always getting pulled in whatever crisis they wound up in the middle of…"

"Hargert's cooking," Derbely pointed out.

"Oh yeah. I'll definitely miss that. Hopefully there are other good cooks out there working with the service."

They chuckled at that. It let Derbely hide the small sense of hurt she felt. Just as it seemed we were getting everyone back together, things are still going to be different, she thought before returning to her meal.

In the months since she accepted the position of First Officer, Meridina had long adjusted to the paperwork load her new position required. The needs of her position were, if anything, a fresh challenge compared to what she was used to before, a challenge that she did not so much relish meeting as consider a worthy obstacle to overcome. There was, perhaps, a faint bit of amusement at the fact she had never considered she might be doing something like this while she was training hard to become a swevyra'se of the Order of Swenya.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the computer terminal in her office bringing up an incoming communication over the interuniversal comm network. Meridina tapped a key and put in her passcode to accept the call. To her interest, the face that appeared was that of Gina Inviere. The blond-haired woman was biologically near-Human, created as one of a number of infiltrator models for the Cylons. They'd first met when Gina was preparing to kill herself to destroy the Colonial Refugee ship Cloud 9. Meridina successfully convinced her to relent and offered her asylum on Gersal due to her suffering at the hands of some of the Colonials. Gina's decision to join the Order had been a pleasant surprise.

"Meridina, how are you?" Gina asked. There was a clear concern in her voice.

"I am well. But you seem not to be," Meridina observed.

"It is… I am worried. About Mastrash Ledosh."

Meridina nodded once. Ledosh was Gina's mentor and teacher in the Order, just as he had been for Meridina. "What is wrong?" she asked.

"He's… I don't know. He's been spending so much time with that book…"

Meridina blinked. "What book?"

"The Life of Reshan," Gina said. "He's been translating it over the last several months. And it's like that's all that matters to him now. He is becoming distant. Distracted. He often leaves the Great Temple for the family cottage in the foothills to study and meditate. He speaks with no one outside of Council meetings and barely observes my training. Many on the Council are starting to voice concerns about him."

As Gina explained what was going on, Meridina thought on the book she mentioned. She knew Ledosh was trying to learn more about the Darkness and the Prophecy of the Dawn. The book clearly held some importance to his research. Once Gina mentioned the Council Meridina started to openly frown. "Have you spoken to him about his concerns for the Council?"

"I have. He assures me that it is fine and he is explaining matters to them frequently. But I am still worried for him, Meridina. It's clear that there is something weighing down his mind and swevyra. He's not the only one to feel there is something wrong around here. It's setting people on edge."

"I see." Meridina drew in a little sigh. Her visit home after the fall of the Reich had included a visit with Ledosh, but he seemed no more than a little perturbed, and she already knew him to be. Especially around her, as deep down he blamed himself for not persuading the Council against the order for her to leave the Aurora, the order that led to her departing the Order of Swenya instead.

The wound of leaving behind everything she believed in was mostly healed by this point, but recalling it did bring a small ache to Meridina's heart. She pushed it aside to consider the problem. Why hadn't she realized how bad things were for Ledosh? Had he hidden his concerns from her?

Yes. It was quite possible he had.

"Thank you for speaking to me, Gina," Meridina said. "I will contact Mastrash Ledosh as soon as I am able. Hopefully he will speak of his worries with me."

"Thank you, Meridina," said Gina. "Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," Meridina replied, after which she ended the call. She found herself in quiet contemplation for the moment. Ledosh, what is wrong? Why will you not confide in your students? she thought quietly, until she finally resolved to ask him that directly.

Even if it meant going to Gersal herself.

The silence in the flat was a stubborn one, replete with tension. Cat kept glancing at the Doctor with a combination of frustration and disbelief. Sitting to the side in a ragged chair, Martha looked to them both with her own growing irritation.

"It's my mind," Cat finally said. "Doesn't that give me the right to decide?"

"If your sister wanted to plunge her head into an active plasma stream, would you let her?" the Doctor asked pointedly. "Or would you stop her?"

"That's not the same thing."

"It is," he insisted. "You're asking me to risk your sanity, Caterina. I sealed those memories away for a reason."

"Your seal isn't perfect though," Cat replied. "I'm getting nightmares from whatever happened! Over and over! And now that I know they're repressed memories, it makes it even worse!"

"I could reinforce the block," the Doctor offered. "Clear your memories of the nightmares."

"Right," Cat scoffed. "Repeat the same thing you did before. And it's not like Doctor Tusana isn't going to notice I suddenly forgot about them!"

"You could tell her it was your choice."

"But it isn't! And don't you dare say you can make me think it was, because we both know that's no better than just compelling me to agree with you!"

"I don't want to compel you to do anything, but I don't want you going mad either!" the Doctor shouted back. "What happened was... " A frustrated look crossed his face. "I should have said no. I should have told you no, that I could handle finding Rose myself, and sent you on your way with your friends."

"Really?!" demanded Cat. "After everything we accomplished together, you can say that?"

It was clear he made the remark without truly meaning it. More to the point, Cat noticed the discomfort on his face. The hollow look forming in his eyes. A thought came to her. "You were hurt by what we saw too," she said.

He gave her a level look. Though he tried, the Doctor couldn't hide the pain in his eyes. Martha noticed it as well.

"I get it," Cat said. "You… you want to protect me. You don't want me to hurt. I understand. But it's my mind, Doctor. My memories. And whatever you want, something in my head is fighting through the block. Even if you rebuilt it, you'd really just be delaying the inevitable. Whatever this memory is, it's refusing to stay in the block."

"You have no idea what you're asking for, Caterina," the Doctor warned. "You'll wish I'd left the block in place."

"Maybe she will," Martha said, joining the conversation. Her eyes met the Doctor's. "But it's her mind. Her choice. Not your's, Doctor. Never your's."

The Doctor gave Martha a quick look before returning his eyes to meet Cat's. She met the hardness of his look with her own. If he was going to be stubborn, so was she.

"Please don't do this, Cat," he pleaded. "You're asking me to hurt you."

"Maybe," Cat said. "But I won't have any peace until I know."

Again silence filled the flat. It stretched on and on while the Doctor and Cat kept their eyes locked, an unspoken battle of will between them.

Martha sat back, again locked out of the conversation, and wondered who would win in the end.
”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 general, the further down one went through the Citadel wards, the further one got from the brighter, glitzier sections. While nothing on the Citadel quite resembled an urban ghetto, there were areas that were clearly less well-off than the others. Not every area could have the glamorous look and feel of the Silversun Strip.

These were also the areas that had suffered the most from the destruction of Sovereign. The Reaper vessel exploded directly overhead of them, at a time when the Citadel's arms were closed to bring them even closer to the point of destruction. The result was a rain of debris on all five Wards that wrecked buildings and tore up streets. The death toll was highest in this area, even accounting for the Geth attacks closer to the Presidium, as Sovereign's debris broke open the residential towers and exposed some of the apartments there to vacuum. The damage was extensive enough that simple surveying of it was just now coming to completion, with full repairs expected to take months. Years, perhaps, unless further (and likely extrauniversal) assistance was received for the reconstruction, and such remained to be seen.

It was in the far sections of Aroch Ward that Robert's trap was laid. A sizable piece of Sovereign was signed out from the repository, albeit with some grumbling from C-Sec and the Council, and slipped into rubble from a warehouse just now being cleaned up. Robert and Lucy spent an hour maneuvering chunks of debris about to make it look like the piece had truly just been excavated before they joined Garrus and Bailey for the stakeout. They rented a second level apartment from an adjoining tower, giving them a sight line on the warehouse ruins in question. The inside of the apartment was cramped but otherwise looked well. Robert imagined that the owner of the tower would appreciate the "confidentiality" bonus he'd paid to ensure nothing was said of their presence.

Garrus finished setting up the scope. Nearby his sniper rifle was in position. "It's been a while since I had a stakeout," he said. "Twelve hours of boredom at a time, punctuated only by frustration and irritation with your partner." He let out a long sigh. "Good times, right Bailey?"

Bailey shot him a bemused look. "Oh, wouldn't miss them for the world," he remarked sarcastically.

Lucy, for her part, finished setting up the bank of holo-displays and turned them on. Three showed images of the debris they'd left. The fourth showed Zack and Data, still at the repository. "Are you certain you do not wish my assistance?" Data asked.

"Commander Data, you would stick out like a sore thumb," Garrus said. "There aren't many gold-skinned Humans in the galaxy."

"True. However, I am quite capable of donning a disguise, including an application to approximate a more normative skin pigment."

"Maybe so, Data, but we still have cataloguing to do," Robert noted. "And by cross-checking where the pieces are coming from, and comparing them to the survey lists…"

"...we can maybe figure out if there's a pattern to whomever's taking them," Zack said. "Makes sense to me."

"True," Data conceded.

"Although I don't envy you," Zack said. "Stakeouts are boring as hell."

"A good thing we can't have the publicly known Alliance liaison to C-Sec around, isn't it?" Robert teased.

"Yeah. Although having one of the Alliance founders around would probably draw attention too." Zack smirked. "Or do you seriously think a beard and mustache and long hair makes people not recognize you?"

Lucy giggled at that. "People always diss the hair," Robert sighed.

"I think Julia and Angel are plotting to drag you to a barber soon if you don't handle it yourself," Zack remarked playfully. "That whole 'I'm a hermit' look is really…"


Garrus' voice drew their attention. He was looking through his scope. "Well, will you look at that," he said. "So much for a long stakeout."

Robert almost asked what he meant, but one of the monitors in the room showed shadows approaching the debris in question. With the exception of Garrus, everyone's eyes turned to observe the monitors. In moments every one of the monitors was showing the newcomers. "Well, I'll be," Robert muttered.

Lucy frowned at the image of the would-be thieves and felt a pang of sadness… and fury. "They're using Quarians," she grumbled. "The bastards are using the Quarians."

The Quarians never had a chance to fight back or run. Lucy and Garrus, combining their technical know-how, arranged a particularly solid trap for whomever came to pilfer the debris. It was Bailey who was left to spring the trap the moment the other three arrived at the door. "Look out!" a female among the half-dozen shrieked, and a moment later projectors emerged from the rubble and created a force dome around them. One went for the dome anyway and was gently repelled.

"We don't want to hurt you," Lucy said aloud. "Please…"

They didn't listen. Two of them triggered omnitools and attempted to use neural shock defense apps against the field, to no effect. Two more, being more technically knowledgeable of the technology, used their omnitools to attempt to disrupt the field, only to find that Lucy was adjusting the field on the fly to counter them. One simply fell to his knees whimpering, terrified of what they were going to face.

The last pulled a gun, a Klingon disruptor undoubtedly found in the black market. Sensing the danger this posed to the wielder and his friends, Robert immediately reacted. He gestured with his hand and, with the power within him, ripped the gun from the Quarian's hand before he could fire. The Quarian stared at the disarmed hand, startled by the unseen force that had taken away his weapon.

"Calm down, all of you!" Garrus shouted. Seeing him in his C-Sec uniform had something of that effect, although it was more terror at what punishment they would face for getting caught. "Okay, that's better. We have questions to ask. Specifically, who hired you?"

"We don't know," one of the girls volunteered immediately. "It was from an anonymous extranet address."

As honest as she tried to sound, Garrus could tell she was saying something rehearsed. He glanced toward Robert and Lucy, who shook their heads, sensing the falsehood. "Lying to a C-Sec officer isn't going to help your case," Garrus said. "Now, let's try this again. Who hired you?"

This time there was no reply. They all went silent. "Well, since the Council announced ownership of all pieces of debris from the dreadnought," Garrus began, "that makes you six guilty of attempted theft of Council property. That's a minimum of three years in prison. And that's assuming I can't find other charges to stick on you."

Lucy frowned at Garrus' attempt at intimidation. The fear coming from the Quarians was troubling and not easy at all to feel for either her or Robert. But the fear wasn't just about imprisonment…

"You're from the Pilgrim's Shelter? In Zakera Ward?" Lucy asked them.

One, a male, nodded. "We are."

"Is Oresta still running it?" Lucy thought back to the female Turian who ran the shelter, relying on help from her friends from C-Sec days and from sympathetic merchants to keep the shelter going.

Mentioning the name of Oresta won their attention. A cautious reply of "Yes" came.

Lucy considered asking them what Oresta would think of their behavior, but she decided on another tack. "How's that replicator I left doing? Still holding out?"

"Wait, that was yours…?" a second girl asked.

"It was," Lucy confirmed. "I'm a friend. If you know Viya or Lan, they know me." She let that news sink in before speaking. "I can feel your fear. You're not just afraid of going to jail, are you? You're afraid someone will hurt Oresta and the others at the shelter."

There were uneasy looks.

"Whoever is behind this, we're going to shut them down. We won't let them hurt you or the others. I can have Knights of Swenya come and protect you if we must."

Robert glanced toward Lucy. Do you really think the Order will approve that?

Whether their Council approves or not doesn't matter. I know who to ask
was Lucy's mental reply. Aloud she said, "Please. This debris is dangerous. It can damage beings mentally, turn them into mindless drones. We have to stop the people stealing the pieces."

There were several seconds when it wasn't clear if Lucy successfully go through to them. Robert sensed what was coming a moment before one of the male Quarians sighed. "There is a Human man. Ashford. He's paying a lot of credits for debris from Sovereign. We're supposed to deliver this piece to his warehouse in Zakera Ward."

"What do you know about him?"

"Little," one of the girls said. "I mean, he sounds like any other Human. But the word is he has a lot of connections off of the Citadel."

"He's working for someone. A Human named Yellow," another of the male Quarians added. "There are rumors on the street that she's killed several gang leaders that tried to take debris from the Geth dreadnought."

"I've never heard of this 'Yellow," said Garrus. "But we'll look into it. Give us the location of the warehouse and get back to the Shelter."

There was a nervousness among them that couldn't be missed. A fear that they'd just caused trouble for their fellows. Robert tried to allay it by saying, "It'll be okay, we promise. If it'll make you feel better, we can put you somewhere else for the night, get you off the street."

Garrus eyed him. Lucy looked his way too, but smiled. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" she asked.

"That I've got a budget with some leeway? Yeah," Robert replied. "So let's use it. That hotel across from Zack's place is really nice."

Garrus chuckled. "You realize half of the local residents will be double-checking their security systems when they see this?"

"If specieist bigots want to make their lives harder, who am I to stop it?" Robert asked playfully. He nodded to Lucy, who dropped the field. "Let's get you somewhere safe," he said to the Quarians. "Then we're going to go have a chat with Mister Ashford."

As the silence in the flat continued, Cat pondered the sheer ridiculousness of her situation. She was here, nearly half a century in the past, trying to get a millennia-old face-changing alien to remove a block he'd planted in her mind telepathically while they'd spent a subjective year, from her point of view, traveling across time and space in his home universe.

To think that six years ago, my biggest concern was finishing school with high enough grades to get a scholarship, she thought.

The distracting thought didn't deter her from her purpose. Cat refused to pull her eyes from the Doctor. She wouldn't let him intimidate her or cajole her into giving up. The block in her head had to come out, before the nightmares it was causing her became too much to bear emotionally.

For his part, the Doctor was impressed. When he'd first met Cat, she'd been tremendously curious, but also rather less willful. Between their journey together and her time since with her sister and friends on the Aurora, it was clear Cat was becoming rather more willful.

Perhaps… perhaps she was ready.

A small grin crossed his face. "You've become rather more stubborn over… however long it's been for you," he noted. "It must be your sister."

"She says I've always been stubborn," Cat answered.

"Right." The Doctor folded his hands together in front of him. "Are you certain, Cat? Truly certain?"

"I am."

"You're aware that I might not be able to easily reform the block if you decide you preferred it," he pointed out. "Not without leaving it even weaker than it's become. Your mind is already resisting it, it seems."

"That's fine," said Cat. "I need to know."

The Doctor studied her hazel eyes for a moment before clapping his hands together. "Alright. Fair enough. Let's get this started." He knelt forward, reaching across the short distance between their chairs to come close. He brought his hands up to her face, touching his fingers to her head at the temples. "Quiet your mind. I'm going to open the block slowly, letting you remember everything one bit at a time…"

Cat felt her mind quiet. As she did, another presence came through. Stronger, older, than Tusana's had been, and it immediately made her feel the same pressure she'd felt with Tusana. She drew in a breath and felt the pressure shift a little, changing shape and intensity…

The memory came back as the Doctor said it would. Cat recalled it as coming in the later half of their time together, shortly after a technovore had nearly destroyed her omnitool. The TARDIS came closer to home again, a solar system in the Milky Way galaxy. They stepped out off the TARDIS onto a street similar to a macadamized road on Earth, the Doctor in his usual suit and Cat in a sea-green blouse and blue pants. The structures were tall and spindly, with bars along the exterior.

The reason why came up a moment later. The world was home to a species of octolimbed creatures with dark, scaled bodies. "Tash'shash'tishish," the Doctor said, pronouncing the word despite its tongue-twisting sounds for an English speaker.

"Tash'shash'tishish," Cat repeated, managing to make the sound come out right.

"Ah, look at you," the Doctor said, beaming. "That's a tongue-twister, isn't it?"

"Yeah, but I'm used to it by now," she replied. "So, that disturbance…?"

"It should be visible from here," the Doctor said. "Now…"

About this time it was clear to both that the Tash'shash'tishish were not in the most hospitable mood. In fact, most were clearly in a state of some panic, gathering belongings into carts. Cat looked to one and asked, "What's wrong?"

The reptilian looked at her with four eyes. A snake-like tongue flickered from the alien's mouth. "We must evacuate." The Gift of the TARDIS translated what would otherwise have been nearly unintelligible speech. "Space debris is going to strike our world!"

The Doctor overheard that as well. He looked up into the twilight sky above them. Cat did as well, but with her omnitool still mostly non-functioning she had to rely on her eyes, and she wasn't sure she noticed anything.

The Doctor was already retreating back into the TARDIS. Cat turned and followed him, finding him bringing over one of his monitors. He quickly operated the controls. "There it is," he said. "Coming in from the system zenith, wide parabolic, looks like it'll impact in about a day." He frowned. "And at that speed… oh dear, that's not good."

Cat went up and glanced at the monitor. The object was not close up, looking like a blue-silvery streak, and figures were displayed below it. Her eyes widened at the numbers. "That could be an extinction-level impact," she said. "Can we stop it?"

"We'll certainly try," the Doctor said, now at the TARDIS' flight controls. He started twisting dials and sliding levers. The TARDIS shifted below them. "Allons-y!"

Cat didn't need to look outside to know that the TARDIS had just shot off the ground like a rocket. The technology of Gallifrey brought to mind the Clarke quote about sufficiently advanced technology being like magic. Time Lord technology certainly seemed like it, often enough. Even the advanced science of the Darglan seemed insufficient to match them, indeed the best the Darglan ever managed was to emulate Time Lord dimensionally-transcendental technology, and they could only implement it for stations, not vessels.

The TARDIS approached the unknown debris at a rapid clip. As it drew closer, the external camera gradually enhanced the image, making the space debris more and more detailed. The relative dimensions and the shape soon made it clear the debris was a ship, presumably dead and adrift, having achieved sufficient velocity to be a deadly threat to the world of the Tash'shash'tishish should it make impact.

Cat watched as the profile of the vessel soon became obvious. Width was about a third of length at the widest point, and height was yet indeterminable. At first it seemed a single hull shape, but as more of the profile became visible it seemed to be a ship with a dual hull…

And then her eyes widened in realization. "That… that's an Alliance ship," she said. "It's a star cruiser."

"So it appears to be," the Doctor concurred.

Please don't have four nacelles please please no no NO NO NO! Cat's horror became evident to the Doctor as the vessel's rear section came into view enough to show the flat X of warp nacelle pylons there. Only three nacelles were present, the lower port nacelle missing with about half of its pylon, and the upper port had been sheared in half from just behind the pylon.

Was it one of the new Enterprise or Excalibur-class? Or maybe an even newer one, if this was from the Alliance's future? Cat wondered as they closed in, waiting and hoping to see a name other than…

A.S.V. Aurora.

The others joined Robert and Lucy in Zakera Ward. Bailey was gone, to join C-Sec's assault teams, leaving Garrus with the Federation and Alliance officers. They were seated on the second floor of a vacant residential building facing the suspect warehouse, technically off-limits while engineers ensured the damage from the battle hadn't made the building unsound. Lucy and Data had taken a moment to assure everyone with scans that, for the eight of them at least, it was safe.

Geordi was examining the building with his ocular implants. "I'm definitely reading the debris' emissions from the building," he said to the others. "We've found our place."

"What is it you need us to do, Captain Dale?" asked Tra'dur. She set a hand on her pulse pistol.

"You'll be responsible for cataloguing any debris we find after we clear the building," Robert said. "You're not here to fight. Frankly, if you're in this fight, we screwed up."

"The same with me?" asked Talara.

Lucy gave Robert an uncomfortable look. Talara was still recovering emotionally from the Battle of Germania, but at the same time leaving her sidelined might impact her confidence. Robert sensed the young Falaen woman's uncertainty and said, "I won't order you into a fight you're not ready for, but if you can do it, we could use your help."

Picking up on Robert's intent, Lucy added, "It's your decision, Talara. Are you ready for this? There's no shame if you're not."

"I see." Talara drew in a breath. "I am… I am ready. Yes." They felt her will assert itself. "I am ready to assist you in a fight against this Ashford man, the threatener of innocent beings."

Lucy smiled at her and nodded. "Then you're with us."

Garrus looked up from where he was talking with Bailey. "They're still twenty minutes out," he said. "We should be ready to go in at about the thirty, thirty-five minute mark."

"Right," Robert said. "Then we'll…"

"Uh… Rob?"

Lucy's remark prompted him to look to the warehouse. Data and the others did as well. There was activity inside, a lot of it. Robert brought up a pair of binoculars. They zoomed in to show armed beings, mostly Asari and Salarian, putting crates into cargo vehicles. He narrowed his eyes at the black insignia on their combat armor. "Eclipse mercenaries," he murmured.

"Eclipse. A mercenary outfit known for technological and biotic combat capability," said Data. "They will be quite difficult opponents in a tactical encounter."

"That's not the real problem here," Robert noted. "They're pulling out."

"Damn." Garrus frowned. "They must have someone in C-Sec. Or one of those Quarians decided to hedge bets and warned Ashford."

"We can figure it out later." Robert nodded. He felt inward for a moment, to decide if they had time to wait for C-Sec or not.

The response from within, almost instinctive in how it came, was that no, they did not. If they didn't act now, Ashford would get away with all of that Sovereign debris.

Robert pulled his weapon from his belt. "Change of plans. We go now." He turned to face Garrus. "Garrus, can you give us cover fire?"

Garrus reached down and picked up his Mantis-model sniper rifle. "I've got you covered. Commander La Forge, would you mind staying to be my spotter?"

Geordi and Data exchanged a brief look before the Starfleet engineer nodded. "You've got me."

Robert nodded and led the others out. They rushed down the stairs and out into the street. The door of the warehouse ahead was closed but not guarded, not from the outside anyway. Thanks to his superior speed Data was the first to the door. He immediately went to work on the panel. As they approached he said, "There is a locking mechanism, but it is not very sophisticated. Standby."

Data went back to work on the lock. As he did Robert focused his senses around him. He tried to detect the alarm that would come from the enemy realizing they'd come. For the moment he felt nothing, and when the door started to open he was ready to go in.

The sense of imminent threat kept him from doing so. Lucy hissed, "Get clear!" to the others, and they moved out of sight of the door.

Which was a good thing, as the moment it finished opening a missile came streaking out. It struck the street behind them and exploded, just far enough away that it didn't catch them in the explosive shockwave.

Lucy's lightsaber ignited and she rushed in, Robert behind her. A seven foot tall combat robot, or "mech", in Eclipse colors was swinging its gun arm toward them. They dashed in opposite directions, prompting the machine to pick a target. It chose Lucy, who swung her lightsaber as rapidly as she could to deflect incoming fire.

Robert, unengaged for the moment, reached out with his life force. A solid, invisible wall of force slammed into the combat walker's feet, unbalancing it. Its firing at Lucy went wide. Its head, with dual red eyes to provide proper depth perception, turned toward him. It had reevaluated him as a target and judged him the more tactically dangerous foe.

Robert smiled at that. The robot had no idea how wrong it was.

And it barely got the chance. No longer being fired upon, Lucy dashed into range. The machine was just tracking its gun arms into place to fire on Robert when she zipped by, her lightsaber slashing in the air in a sapphire blur. The gun arms fell away from the machine. Its VI was busy trying to process this loss of its main firepower. As the shoulder-mounted missile launcher revealed itself, an amber phaser beam sliced into its head, vaporizing half of the matter and burning the rest.

Data entered, his phaser up and ready to fire again, and the others came in with guns raised.

This was advantageous, as moments later the first Eclipse mercs appeared on the upper floor nearby. "Intruders!" a Salarian female shouted. "Open fire!"

Everyone went for cover as mass effect firearms, mostly assault rifles, began raining projectiles on the lower level. One by one everyone returned fire, Talara's fire being the most accurate thanks to her gifts. Jarod, taking cover with Data, allowed himself a bemused grin while readying his pulse pistol. "So much for a peaceful cataloguing mission," he said.

"Indeed," Data agreed.

The two operations officers slipped out of cover long enough to return fire; with their respective gifts - Jarod's super-savant nature and training and Data's android control - allowing them to make shots close enough that the more heavily-armed enemies had to take cover regardless.

Robert and Lucy moved ahead, finding their own pathways to the upper floor. As they went Robert opened his tac comm line. "Garrus, anything new?"

"Well, you've… hang on…" Garrus' rifle fired. "There. As I was saying, you've certainly got the mercs attention. I'm making sure they don't take off with those cargo trucks. Bailey's ETA is now ten minutes."

"Glad to hear he cut it in half," Robert said. As he did, he had to raise his weapon to deflect shots from a semi-automatic mass effect gun in the hands of an Asari. She started to generate biotic energy in her hand, but before she could throw it he reached out with his life force and twisted her hand down, causing her to throw it at her feet. The singularity she generated crackled on the ground and yanked her off her feet. "Keep me informed," he added before racing on.

There was a whimper from Caterina as the memory of finding the Aurora hurtling toward the world of the Tash'shash'tishish returned to her. Martha glanced from her to the Doctor. "What is it?" she asked. "Her breathing's picking up…"

"She's remembering something unpleasant," he said, not turning his head. "Please, let me concentrate, I have to be careful."

Martha nodded and sat back down, watching with worry as the Doctor continued to unravel the block he'd placed on Caterina's mind.

The memory of finding the Aurora was the space debris they'd come to stop nearly jolted Caterina out of the mind link. The Doctor held onto her and kept her mind on track, allowing the memories to return carefully as he'd planned.

The memories continued on from that horrible realization. Caterina examined the reading on the TARDIS repeatedly. As they drew closer the grievous damage to the ship was more and more visible. The bow was gone, blasted away, as was the front of the drive hull. Entire sections of the ship were gone or open to vacuum. There was no trace of life present.

"What… how?" Caterina stuttered. "H-how is th-this…"

"I don't know," he said. "Let's find out."

The Doctor flew the TARDIS toward the ruined vessel. While Caterina struggled to deal with what she was seeing, his expression betrayed his own somber feelings. He liked the Aurora crew and what they'd done with the legacy of the Darglan. And the ship was beautiful, as many Darglan vessels were, elegant in design and brilliantly engineered. He'd seen enough of those lovely Darglan ships reduced to wrecks...

It wasn't hard to find a hole leading into the heart of the ship. It was slightly harder to find one leading directly to the interior of the primary hull. He managed this anyway and flew them until there was nowhere else to go but into the turbolifts. Before stepping out of the TARDIS he affixed a device to his belt and gave another one to Cat. "Here. From the 119th Century of your Common Era, well, of what you call W8R4's anyway. It'll generate an atmosphere around you and give you a couple hours of breathable air. Plus it produces its own localized light so we can see what we're doing. Nifty, isn't it?"

Cat accepted the device quietly and latched it to her waist. A blue light showed it was coming online and ready to generate the atmosphere needed.

They stepped out of the TARDIS and into dark halls. There was no gravity operational, but Cat noticed she felt, if not weight, a general pull that held her feet to the ground. "The atmosphere things provide gravity too?"

"Not so much gravity as a general pull toward your feet… so yes, I suppose it's gravity. And..."

The Doctor quieted, and Cat immediately saw why when she followed his saddened eyes. Nearby was a body hovering lifelessly in the zero gravity environment around them, illuminated by the light being emanated around their atmospheric fields. The body looked female with an Alliance uniform, a species that Cat thought might be Falaen, but the ears were a little too long for it, the grayish skin a bit too light, as if it had been pearl-white before the crewwoman died. As they continued they came upon another pair of remains, one Dorei and the other either Human or Gersallian. Cat didn't recognize any of them, but that was small comfort for her.

"This place… something is… not normal," the Doctor remarked.

Cat gave him a flat look. "What else isn't normal about my home dead in space, about to crash into an innocent planet?"

"The space we're in, it's all… off," the Doctor insisted. "But it's still real enough to ruin the Tash'shash'tishish if we don't stop it."'

The lifts themselves were out, but the main shaft leading to the bridge was intact. "Tricky bit here. Watch that first step," the Doctor said just before taking the same. Cat squeaked out a cry of "Doctor!" before looking down into the dark shaft and seeing the Doctor standing on the side of the shaft as if nothing was wrong. He moved out of the way and smiled at her. "Come on, then. It's a tricky first step, but it's all about keeping your feet down."

Cat drew in a breath and stepped out into the open air. As she fully expected, her foot found nothing and she tipped out into the shaft. She "fell" until her foot, now level of the side of the lift shaft, pressed against the wall and stayed. Her sense of gravity effectively turned ninety degrees on her in the process. Tentatively she set her other foot down. It took her several seconds to accept the new orientation of gravity, after which she giggled despite everything.

"This way then," said the Doctor, starting to walk "up" the shaft. "I need to access the sensors and find out what's going on here…"

The Eclipse mercs proved every bit as potent as Data had forewarned. More than potent for a few officers with pulse pistols.

Robert and Lucy were another matter.

Enough time had passed since first contact for such groups to become aware of the existence of the Order of Swenya and similar organizations. But such knowledge alone didn't suffice to prepare fighters to face their abilities or understand the power that was at their fingertips. The Eclipse fighters treated Robert and Lucy like powerful biotics and used tactics suited for fighting such beings.

But they weren't biotics. Biotics didn't move as fast as they could. They couldn't rip weapons from hands or send someone flying with barely a gesture. They didn't wield blades of light that could intercept gunfire and send it flying back to the shooter.

The two thus advanced the most quickly against the mercenaries. Data and Talara followed behind, Jarod and Tra'dur further behind them, exchanging fire where they could with the mercs.

They were all in the upper floor of the warehouse now, at the loading bays. The vehicles loaded with pieces of Sovereign hadn't moved. More crates, with that same cargo, remain stacked and ready for transport to those transport vehicles, but no such transport was taking place. Garrus had cut off that avenue of retreat.

That left the Eclipse mercs with no remaining options save to fight and hope they won. So they did so, with the ferocity of the desperate, still trying to concentrate fire on Robert and Lucy, still using their omnitools' specialized apps to fling bolts of flame and cryo energy, still flinging biotics of their own. One bolt of biotic power rushed as a shockwave along the ground, simply to be dispelled by Robert. Lucy zipped ahead and her lightsaber swept in a quick, blue slash. The Asari who sent the bolt cried out in shock and rage as her right arm, her gun still clasped in the hand, flew away from her body. A nearby Salarian raised an assault rifle to shoot at Lucy before being shot himself by Talara.

And then, in a moment, the battle went lopsided. C-Sec vehicles soared down to cover the loading bays. Heavily armed officers, the C-Sec equivalent of SWAT, jumped free from the vehicles and stormed into the warehouse. "Citadel Security! Stand down!"

The Eclipse mercs did not, and they paid for that. Robert found it incredulous that they continued to fight even when it was clearly hopeless, but they did just that, and C-Sec's officers responded with precise, careful tactics, throwing flashbangs and stun grenades while advancing.

One flashbang landed close enough to Robert he had to turn away, doing so just as it went off. As the afterimage blur started to fade he noticed a figure on the uppermost level, an office area overlooking the warehouse floor. Even with the distance the figure looked Human, likely male, wearing the kind of jumpsuit common to M4P2 Humanity, this one of dark blue color. He was carrying a duffel bag. Robert focused on him. He felt fear and panic, also irritation, some rage… and an intent to escape. He glanced toward Lucy next. Lucy, Ashford's escaping. He's on the upper level and heading for a carpark.

Got him
, thought Lucy back. She took off for the stairway to the offices. Robert followed. He felt Talara give chase.

Even with their speed, and Lucy making a superhuman jump onto the upper floor once she was in range, Ashford had the advantage of a head start aided by knowing where he was going. He was also quite swift on his feet. By the time they rushed through the offices and stepped out into the car park area, he was already strapped in and gunning it. The red aircar shot from the carpark at a speed that might have cost Ashford his life had he less space outside to maneuver.

Lucy had been a half second from throwing her lightsaber to disable the craft when it vanished. "Dammit," she hissed.

Robert triggered the tac comm. "This is Dale. Ashford's running, I repeat, he's left the building in an aircar, red coloring."

"I see him, Commander La Forge is tracking," Garrus said. "Bailey, where's the cover on that exit?"

"That car park doesn't exist on the Citadel Archive schematics for this building," Bailey groused. "I don't have anyone in position to…"

Another aircar pulled up to the three from the outside. It opened, revealing seating for four. Data was at the controls. "I have commandeered transportation," he stated. "We should hurry."

"Shotgun!" Lucy cried out, grinning, before plopping herself down beside Data. Robert and Talara sat in the rear. It was somewhat tight seating, but comfortable.

"Please fasten safety harnesses, this craft's inertial dampening systems will be insufficient," Data said. Before he finished the statement he was already hitting the throttle, throwing the three back into their seats as the commandeered aircar shot out of the building as well.

"We're in pursuit," Robert said into the tac comm.

The Aurora turbolift shaft came to its end on the bridge deck. The door to enter the bridge was beneath the Doctor's feet as Cat stepped up. He knelt down beside it and hovered his sonic screwdriver over it. Its blue diode blinked repeatedly as he examined the door. "Atmospheric seal," he said. "The systems are dead, so…" With a grunt of effort the Doctor forced the door open enough to slip through. Again it looked like he'd intentionally stepped into thin air, just to set his feet on the floor of the bridge. Cat did the same.

Like the rest of the ship the bridge was dark. Only one console seemed to be flickering in and out of life, over at ship operations. The light of the console was dim, so dim that Cat could only just make out a figure slumped over the inward side of the L-shaped console. A horrible thought came to her and she rushed to the other side of the bridge, the rear starboard, where the tactical station was. A figure was slumped lifelessly over the control station. She grabbed the shoulders of the body and pushed it back…

...and stared into her sister's dead eyes.

Cat shrieked and fell back onto the floor. Her letting go allowed Angela Delgado's body to tip backward into her chair. The Doctor walked up, his face locked into a thoughtful, grim expression, while Cat stared in mute horror at her sister's corpse. Angel's face was locked into an expression of grim resolve. Her brown skin had paled considerably in death. It was the same uniform as always, save a strap over the left shoulder that seemed to latch the front of the uniform into place, the strap and latch colored the same orange as the uniform's undershirt and the visible collar above the uniform jacket. The section of the strap above the latch had something attached, two horizontal bars of gold and a black one above it.

"New uniform," the Doctor murmured. "Lieutenant Commander rank, I believe. Your sister was only a Lieutenant, right?"

Cat didn't reply. She kept staring into Angel's lifeless eyes. Tears started rolling down her cheeks.

The Doctor moved ahead of her and swept his hand over Angel's face. His fingers forced her eyes closed. This seemed to slightly jolt Cat from her mute stupor. She stood back up carefully and continued looking around, as if desperate to keep her eyes away from the sight of her dead sister. While the Doctor watched with concern, Cat walked toward the front of the bridge. She was dazed enough to nearly trip over a body. She glanced down and gasped "Nick" at the sight of Locarno's remains. He was on his belly, his head turned to the side enough to see it was him. Another form was nearby, laid out near the helm.

Cat kept on to Ops. She'd seen the figure before, thanks to the slight illumination from the flickering console, and drew close enough to verify that it was Jarod, staring lifelessly toward his control board.

The Doctor stepped up behind her and looked down. "Clever," he murmured. "He rerouted battery power to keep the console running…"

Cat didn't really hear what he said. Physically she did, at least, but it didn't process mentally. Her mind, as bright as it was, was still reeling from what she was looking at. She turned toward the command chair, if just to verify what she knew she'd see.

Julia was laid back and to the side in the chair. Her light skin had turned nearly gray, as had her blond hair. She looked a little older from the stress lines that had formed on her face..

"Julia," Cat murmured, stifling a sob. "Jarod. Nick…" She couldn't bring herself to look to her dead sister again. She turned tentatively toward the port side of the bridge. She didn't recognize the figure at Engineering and so immediately continued on to the station beside it. The Science station… her station.

A figure was hunched over it, in the same different uniform as the others. Cat stepped up carefully and put a hand onto a shoulder on someone who was quite short, and quite slim, maybe a little filled out now...

She pulled back and the body fell back into Cat's chair.

And even without looking, Cat already knew it was herself.

This Cat looked a few years older. Her hair was slightly longer. Like Angel, a Lieutenant Commander's bars were on the strip over the left shoulder, and yellow color had replaced the dark blue Cat's uniform currently used.

And like Angel, there was nothing but death in her hazel eyes.

Cat stumbled back one step… then another. Her breath picked up, her heart hammered. The enormity of what was around them…

Was this how it was going to end? All of their good deeds, all of their hard work… and this would be it? Dead on their broken vessel, their broken home, as it flew toward a helpless world to destroy countless lives?

This was how their lives would end?!

That realization… it was just… it wasn't fair! They deserved more! They deserved better!

"Cat." The Doctor's voice was gentle as he stepped toward her. "Cat, look at me."

"This… this is how…" Tears flowed freely down Cat's face, glinting in the ethereal light her atmospheric field gave off. "This is how we end? We… we just die? Our ship becomes a graveyard? How… how can… this isn't fair!"

"Cat, please listen!"

"Oh God this isn't fair! This can't be how…!"

And that was the last coherent word from her. At that point, Cat collapsed to her knees and screamed wordlessly at the unkind fate facing her and everyone she loved.
”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 flat Martha watched Cat cry out and gave the Doctor a worried look. "Doctor, she's…"

"I know," was all he said, struggling to keep his grip while Cat whimpered.

Cat's scream echoed in the dark bridge. It was followed by her clenching her fists and smacking the floor with them. No coherent words came from her throat. Her mind could find no words for the feeling inside of her, the deep despair at what awaited her and those she cared for.

"Cat, please!" The Doctor knelt beside her and grabbed her shoulders, compelling her to face him. She blubbered a deep sob. The light of their atmospheric fields glinted off the tears flowing freely down her face. "Cat, this isn't what it looks like!"

Her reply was another wordless sob. The Doctor sensed the despair overwhelming her. The thought that everyone she loved was going to die here, on the ship she called home, was crushing Cat. She couldn't think, she couldn't feel…

He pressed a hand to her temple. The raw despair, the fear, flowed into his mind from hers. Even a Time Lord might have been stunned by it, but the Doctor, sadly, was no stranger to either emotion. He knew fear, he knew despair, and he let it pass. He felt the raging, chaotic turmoil that Cat's mind had become and forced thought into it. Cat, this is just a possibility! That's what that odd feeling was, those odd readings we saw! This is a… What he sent wasn't a term so much as a concept, into the center of her mind. The concept of a possibility given form due to an exotic interaction between space-time and dimensional instability. This is a might-be, not a will-be! he continued, switching back to words.

If she'd been calmer, perhaps Cat would have understood. She was brilliant. The Doctor didn't often have Human companions who could grasp some of the exotic physics he dealt with on a regular basis. But in this state there was no response to him. She was emotionally shattered by the prospect that this might-be of the Aurora's future had presented her. Cat was convinced, utterly convinced, she was seeing the future, and it was too much.

So the Doctor sighed. There was one thing he could do. Something to let him deal with the situation and maybe, just maybe, keep Cat's mind intact.

And so he did what he felt had to be done.

The Doctor let go of Cat's head and sat back. He didn't look exhausted, but he did look worn, emotionally raw, as Martha knew he could be.

Cat's tan brown skin had paled during the course of the telepathic interaction. Tears were flowing down her eyes and her expression betrayed her horror. "I… I remember…"


The despair flowed back into her. That she and her sister and Julia and all of the others would die, their ship would be wrecked, would crash… crash?! That thought was a lifeline she seized to focus her mind on something before the restored memory overwhelmed. "What… what happened? To the Thash'shash'kishtish?"

"Tash'shash'tishish," the Doctor corrected gently.

"Yeah. Them." She rubbed at her forehead.

"Their world is fine," he said. "I removed the Aurora before it could hit the planet."

"Removed?" She blinked.

"Like I tried to tell you before, the Aurora and everyone aboard her… that was all a might-be, not a will-be," the Doctor explained. "A shadow of possibility, you might say."

"A shadow with mass?" asked Cat. "Of actual matter?"

"They can have it, yes," he replied. "Think of the shadow being in a bubble…" He made a face. "Actually, that analogy's better. Forget the shadow." He gathered his hands to form a sphere with his fingers. "Think of what we saw as a bubble of possibility. Once I knew what I was dealing with, it was a simple thing to use the TARDIS to…"

"...pop the bubble," Cat finished for him. A little color showed on her face again. "You reimposed normal space-time over the distorted space-time and the might-be disappeared."

The Doctor flashed a grin. "Oh, there we are. The same brilliant Cat who always used to make squeaky little shrieks when I introduced her to something new. You don't know how many times I enjoyed seeing you figure things out. Always ready for new ideas. Come to think of it, I should have realized a mind like yours would defeat my block."

"Everyone else calls them 'squees'," Cat replied, grinning slightly. "The shrieks, I mean." Her eyes focused on him. She seemed more and more in control with each second. "So that was it? You put me to sleep, slapped a memory block on me so I'd forget the Tash'shash'tishish…"

"Pretty much," the Doctor replied. "There was no need to fiddle with your omnitool given the number that technovore did on it. I just let you sleep naturally and we went on our merry way."

"So… that's it, then?" Cat swallowed. "It's not… we're not going to…"

"I won't lie, Cat. That bubble, that was a possibility," the Doctor said. "It could happen."

"Yeah." She swallowed. The memory was back in her mind in all its ugliness. The thought that all of their adventures might come to an end like that… "And since it's only a possibility, we might still get killed by something else."

"Right. So be careful out there," said the Doctor.

"Assuming I get back out there," Cat said. "I'm going to be a senior citizen if I get back to that day the long way."

"Ah, don't worry about it," the Doctor said. "I've got a plan for the TARDIS. Although until it shows up, well… I do hate to ask…"

"Ask what?"

It was Martha who sighed. "We have an opening at the shop I work at," she said. "Although the American accent will lead to quite a few questions."

"Well, I could try to use an English accent. Like thes, roit?"

Cat's attempt at the accent made Martha wince. The Doctor chuckled and said, "Yeah, I don't think that's going to pass. But we'll figure something out…"

Around the buildings of Zakera Ward the hovercar dipped and weaved and twisted. Other vehicles zipped by in their wake, some transmitting protesting alarm buzzers to the hovercar under Data's terrifyingly-precise control. In the back seat Robert felt like he was on the world's deadliest theme park ride.

"Almost there," Lucy said. "He should be… there."

Ahead of them a red aircar shot from their left to right, heading toward the tip of Zakera Ward. Data twisted the wheel of the aircar and brought it up behind Ashford's. "How can we force him down?" asked Talara. "This vehicle is unarmed. And a collision at this speed…"

"...would be inadvisable," Data replied, forgoing any further details. "I am transmitting our coordinates to C-Sec. They should have pursuit craft capable of…"

"Wait, he's going down," Lucy observed.

Ashford did indeed begin to dive. Data followed him, utterly relentless in his pursuit, even as Ashford made a series of crazed maneuvers that nearly got him (and then them) killed.

"We appear to be entering the industrial docks," Data observed.

Robert concurred. While passenger traffic and much commercial traffic went to the docking facilities at the base of the Wards, where they connected to the Presidium, the industrial areas at the far ends of the Wards had their own loading facilities. The materials needed for the Citadel's own manufacturing capability were brought in and finished goods, less regularly, shipped out. Some commercial traffic found its way here as well, usually bulk goods being imported for the Citadel population.

Ashford flew his aircar into one of the smaller docks. The dock itself was a hanger, so they did not see the vessel in question. Sensing danger, Lucy and Robert gripped their weapons while Data swung the car to present its passenger side, allowing the two to get out first.

Ashford was already out of his vehicle, still carrying a case. He rushed toward the door and a couple of armed guards there, Humans in dark-colored combat armor. "Stop them!" he shrieked.

One of the guards generated a hardlight combat shield and a hefty-looking machine gun, the other pulled a mass effect model assault rifle.

"I'll get Ashford!" Robert shouted, racing ahead with every bit of energy he could gather. He generated a blast of force with his will, throwing the guards away from the door so he could enter.

Lucy got to them before they could recover. She side-stepped and twirled, seeming to barely avoid a barrage of fire before she brought her lightsaber down on the armored man's weak side. The strike sliced his weapon in half. She brought up her hand and sent him flying into his compatriot. The other guard began to recover before Talara put him down with a stun shot.

Lucy went to pursue Robert, but more foes appeared from another door, presumably to a guard post, and she was forced to swing her weapon to face them.

The layout of the loading area put the docking collar close to the car park entrance. The nearness of the docking collar was the only reason Ashford got to it first. A figure was standing at the entrance, a very short hooded woman in a brown robe which at first glance looked like a barnous. Robert could make out nothing of her face as he moved ahead, her head mostly shrouded by a broad, loose headscarf, but he sensed something strange in the woman. Not just the darkness in her, darkness that told him she had abilities like him, but a sense of a greater presence in the Flow of Life. A presence that seemed not entirely in tune with it.

Ashford spoke with an accent that sounded almost Australian. "It's all gone tits up and you still owe me! Get me out of here!"

"Ashford, you're under arrest!" Robert shouted. He raised his lightsaber, its emerald light filling the chamber as he approached the collar. The woman seemed oblivious to him and his approach even so.

"What are you bleedin' waiting for?!" Ashford shouted at the woman.

This,” she rasped. There was a sudden, familiar electronic snap in the air. Red light flickered across green, coming from her midsection, and Ashford screamed and toppled to the ground, the blade completing its course. The lightsabre hummed and glowed, with a blade brighter, redder, more intense, even a bit longer, than any the Nazis had possessed. It was the same tenor as Swenya’s in every respect, except for the piercing, ominous red that shadowed his own green. The woman’s head was downcast and she said nothing else.

Robert felt Ashford's life fade within seconds of the weapon cleaving through his body. His eyes fixed on the lightsaber glowing in the woman's hand. He brought his weapon to a ready position and in stunned outrage demanded, "Why did you kill him?!"

She looked up at the question, as though it shook her from a reverie. He could see then that her eyes were solid white, like those of someone who was profoundly blind, but she had no difficulty in detecting his presence. The lightsabre was simple chrome, resting in black gloved hands of a utility suit under her barnous. “He had already started to walk the road of indoctrination,” she said in words that were not English, but which he knew anyway. “That is a one way road, once it begins you are lost.”

Robert's eyes widened. His mysterious foe was speaking High Gersallian, and with only a little of an accent compared to actual Gersallian speakers. "Who are you?!" he demanded in the same language, speaking it as clearly as he could manage.

“A servant. I will be leaving now, Captain Dale. Destroy the remains of the Old Machine.” She turned on heel.

"Stop! You're under arrest!" With Lucy coming up behind him, Robert rushed forward, gathering his power defensively, ready to meet any attack.

Or so he thought.

“You understand nothing of the true power of so-called swen’kse, Dawn-bearer,” she said dismissively, taking no attempt at a fighting stance. At the moment that Robert was upon her, she just spun back toward him, and raised her hand, palm open.

The strength she showed was incredible. It battered aside his defences like so much of a freight train coming at him. One moment he was confident in himself, rushing forward to face her. The next, he was flying through the air backwards into the dock at a lethally high rate of speed, his lightsaber toppling away.

Lucy caught him with her power, slowing him enough so that he hit the ground at a substantially safer speed. With Robert safe she turned to face his attacker, her blue eyes focused on the crimson blade still shining in the dim light of the dock receiving area. She could feel much the same thing Robert had. Darkness, cold and powerful, and a unique feeling to the woman's energy, one that Lucy thought she might have felt once before. She didn't bother to verbalize a challenge to Robert's attacker, bracing herself instead, doing everything she could to be ready to absorb an attack like the one that sent Robert flying.

Instead, the woman stared directly at her with those white eyes. I was, and am, here to help. DESTROY THE FRAGMENTS OF THE OLD MACHINE. There is no shielding that is perfectly effective, only swev’a and farisa are safe, reach out with your power and know this is true! Her soul was an ancient melancholy bitterness, like regret itself given sapient form. But the telepathic contact conveyed utter certainty.

The contact gave Lucy a moment of pause. Despite the darkness, despite the dead body of Ashford, she sensed that she was not facing anything like swevyra'kse. She didn't feel the kind of malevolence, the malice, that Mastrash Goras or Fassbinder and his SS had given off.

The woman deactivated her blade and turned. The bag Ashford had been carrying, filled with debris from Sovereign, flew through the docking collar with a gesture from the hand which held the cylinder. A moment later, a black gloved hand pressed a control inside the ship, and the hatch closed with the speed of a guillotine.

Robert scrambled to his feet and touched his omnitool. "This is Captain Dale to C-Sec. A suspect in the debris theft is getting away from the Zakera Ward industrial docking area. Unknown vessel and configuration."

"Acknowledged," came a reply.

In the space beyond the wards, the Federation Starship Enterprise was in position with the Citadel's much-reduced defense fleet. The Citadel had been a remarkable opportunity for the crew of the Enterprise, and many regretted the circumstances under which they had had the opportunity to visit this remarkable structure.

The alert came with little warning, but the information from C-Sec was enough to identify the vessel coming out of the Zakera Ward. At 70-metres long it was smaller than most freighters but almost the size of the smallest marks of Klingon Birds of Prey. It somewhat resembled them, too, with sharply slanting downward wings, except they carried up almost to an A-frame above the main hull, which was configured to like a preying insect ready to pounce, with seven massive swiveling thruster blocks of three engines each and huge armoured shields which manoeuvred around the hull, sliding back to cover the aft arc as the craft, despite its size, accelerated and turned with the speed and manoeuvrability of a fighter.

As the vessel flew past, the Enterprise began to turn as well. As she came about, the big Sovereign-class starship locked onto the ship with a tractor beam, a ribbon of blue light that held the fleeing craft in place.

On her bridge, Captain Jean-Luc Picard exited his ready room and approached the center of the bridge. Commander William Riker stood from the command chair. "What's the situation, Number One?"

"Citadel Security asked us to intercept a vessel fleeing Zakera Ward," Riker explained. "It's believed to be carrying stolen debris from Sovereign. We've already raised shields as a precaution."

"The tractor beam is holding, sir," Lieutenant Kadohata reported from Ops. Of mostly East Asian descent, Miranda Kadohata was one of Data's subordinates in the ship's operations branch.

Picard turned to face the viewscreen and take in the appearance of the ship. "Is this design on record?" he asked.

"It does not appear to be, sir," Kadohata said.

"I wonder what capabilities…"

Before he could finish the sentence the Enterprise tactical officer, Lieutenant Padraig Daniels, spoke up. "They're firing!"

A projectile erupted from the vessel. Picard braced for impact against the shields.

But there was none. The projectile went off in the middle of the Enterprise's tractor beam. When it did, an abrupt burst of rapidly spreading debris was sucked into the tractor beam, which obligingly pulled them at high speed back toward the Enterprise as the computer mass balancing loop was thrown off. The resulting disruption to the tractor beam freed the vessel, which shot ahead of the Enterprise. Kadohata blinked at her screens. "Sir, they're not on course for the mass relay."

"Intercept course. Put a tractor beam on them as soon as you can, Lieutenant," Picard ordered.

"Re-establishing tractor lock… I'm detecting an energy surge in the vessel. It appears to be…"

In an instant the unknown vessel seemed to just zip away. Picard could almost swear it vanished, only barely noticing the blip of movement before it was gone, like a video of a ship jumping to warp in fast playback.

Kadohata was staring at her screens. "I've never seen a drive signature like that, Captain. It bears a resemblance to S0T5 hyperdrive technology, but the profile is all wrong."

"So you say." Picard frowned slightly. "Quite a mystery vessel. I want a recording of this encounter dispatched to Starfleet immediately. Lieutenant, get me Citadel Security."

"Maybe Data and Geordi can make something of it?" Riker suggested.

"Maybe, or maybe not. Either way… we are clearly dealing with an unseen power," Picard said. "And they seem to have us at a disadvantage."

With the ship departed and the mercs protecting the dock and hanger subdued or retreating, Data and Talara joined Robert and Lucy in examining the abandoned structure. Unlike Ashford's warehouse, there was no sign of Sovereign debris anywhere.

But that wasn't what was bothering Robert and Lucy. Talara sensed they had other concerns on their mind, and they did. When the examination was complete they walked off into a corner to speak privately. "You hesitated," Robert said to Lucy. "I don't blame you," he added to reassure her. "I've never felt that much power before. I think even Goras would have been knocked on his ass."

"That's scary as hell, yeah," Lucy agreed. "But that's not why. I… there's something familiar about that woman, Robert. I've sensed that kind of thing before."

"Oh? Where?"

"I'm not sure. It's faint. I think it was a subconscious thing." Lucy shook her head.

"Did you hear her?" Robert asked.

"No. She connected to me mentally. She called Sovereign ‘The Old Machine’. I think she was trying to warn me, to warn us, about the debris. That no defense could stop the indoctrination effect." Lucy swallowed. "And I believe her."

"Yeah." Robert had his own worries about whether the fields being used could really stop the effect. "She told me that's why she killed Ashford. That he was already indoctrinated."

"Did you sense it in him?"

"No." Robert shook his head. "But it took me effort to sense it in Saren, and he was an egregious case, even if subtle. Maybe given time and more indoctrination victims I could figure my limits, but…" He shuddered at that. He didn't want that opportunity. "I didn't sense any falsehood in her either. And that's not the only thing."


"She also warned me to destroy the debris. And called Sovereign 'the Old Machine'." Robert met Lucy's eyes. "And she did it in High Gersallian."

Lucy's jaw dropped partly. "Then she's Gersallian?"

"No. I mean, maybe, but I'm pretty sure she was Human." Robert shrugged. "You know how it is."

"Yeah." The vague sense that their swevyra - their life force bound to the Flow of Life - could give on a matter's truth was occasionally vexing with how immaterial it could feel. "Did she have an accent?"

"Barely," he said. "It wasn't a Gersallian accent I've heard before. But not like our accents either when we try it."

Lucy frowned. "And no name?"

"None. Only that she was 'a servant'. But given what we know, I'm betting she was the one that the reports referred to as 'Yellow'."

"Well, since Yellow supposedly killed a bunch of badass crooks here on the Citadel… yeah." Lucy drew in a breath. "I don't like this, Robert. I feel something… elusive about this."

"Same here. We'll talk to Meridina about it when we get back to the Aurora. Until then… let's get back to work. I don't want to leave any Sovereign debris here, in case we just haven't found it yet."

"God no…"

With that, they got back to work with the others.

In orbit over the Earth of W8R4, Angela Delgado thought she'd go insane. There was no sign of the Warri yet, no sign of anyone that could help her find her little sister. As far as everything looked, Cat was just gone.

The first thing to get her attention was that the Moffat's sensors suddenly recorded some kind of spatial disturbance. She wasn't sure what it meant so she ran it through the library systems, requiring a comm link to the Alliance Stellar Navy's database. Yet more impatient minutes passed during which Angel really wished she had someone to punch. Preferably a slaver. Slavers always made her feel better when she punched them (and kicked them and elbowed them and just beating their slaving jerk faces in…!)

Then the result came back. The disturbance had been detected before. By the Aurora, in fact.

It was the Doctor's TARDIS.

Angel was just starting to wonder what that meant when the sensors lit up with another disturbance. Just as the computer identified it as the same, she heard a kind of whooshing sound from the back of the shuttle. She reached into the emergency armory cabinet and pulled out a pulse pistol, turned…

...and faced the TARDIS, now fully materialized in her rear.

The door opened and the Doctor stepped out. He faced Angel and made a hmph sound. "You always did seem the type to be ready to fight," he noted.

"Where is my…?!"

Before Angel could finish her demand, Cat ran from the TARDIS and grabbed her into a hug. "Angel! It's so good to see you!"

Surprised, Angel dropped the pulse pistol and returned the hug, embracing her little sister tightly. "You crazy, reckless, infuriating little nerd, you've had me worried sick. Why…?!" She put her hand to Cat's head and suddenly shifted the intended question. "Why is your hair longer?"

"Oh, I've been letting it grow a bit again. I'm probably going to cut it back down now," she said.

Angel blinked and then sighed. "You… were time traveling again?"

"Well, not by choice. A Weeping Angel sent me back to 1969 London where the Doctor and Martha were… oh!" Cat turned back as Martha stepped up to the threshold of the TARDIS. "This is Doctor Martha Jones, she's from this Earth and is traveling with the Doctor now."

"Oh, uh, hi," Angel said, waving quietly.

"Hi," Martha replied. She looked around at the interior of the Moffat. "So… this is a spaceship?"

"It's a shuttlecraft," Cat replied. "We live on a much bigger spaceship called the Aurora."

"Give Robert my best," said the Doctor. "And if he doesn't mind it, let him know I'd love to talk with him about what he experienced during his coma."

"How do you know he experienced anything?" asked Angel.

The Doctor gave her a look that just screamed, "You really have to ask?" Aloud he simply said, "Oh, it's just a little guess of mine, that's all. Now, I've promised Martha a trip somewhere sunny and warm and very relaxing, so I'm off. You be careful out there!"

"Bye," Martha said. "And Cat, be careful for a few more days, that pull might get aggravated if you aren't." After she spoke the Doctor closed the TARDIS door. Moments later it started to dematerialize.

Cat sat gingerly in one of the piloting chairs. Angel noticed the little wince on her face. "What happened to you?"

"Oh, just a little muscle pull," she said. A frown crossed her face. "I'm never going in a retail shop again. Never."

"Just how long were you with them?"

"Oh… three weeks? Four? No more than five," Cat insisted. "The Doctor's calculations for summoning the TARDIS were a bit off so we had to live in London for a while. That meant getting a job so we had enough food. I hated every moment of it. Ugh, so boring… well, except for…"

"For what?"

Cat grinned sheepishly. "Well, Martha is really cute…"

Angel chuckled and took a seat. There was no hiding the relief showing on her face and in her eyes. Cat felt a warm, fuzzy feeling at her sister being so happy. The unwanted image of her sister's dead face on that dark bridge popped up and she forced it away. She'd been learning to do that an awful lot these past few weeks.

After tapping in keys to put them on a course back to the Jupiter Observation Post Angel returned her focus to Cat. "So, did you get what you needed? Or what you wanted?" She was immediately concerned to see the uncertain, frightened look on Cat's face. "What's wrong?"

"It's… it's nothing important. Not right now," Cat said. "Just something I have to think about."

Angel knew there was more to it than that, but she let it go. If Cat didn't want to discuss it, that was her choice. She was just glad to have her sister home and safe.

With the timing of their watches, the command crew of the Koenig were all at stations as they continued their patrol of the Traverse. Their location wasn't far from Virmire now, which meant they were very close to the Terminus Systems, requiring the ship to remain at Code Blue standby alert instead of the relaxed Code Green of normal running.

Seated in the command chair, Will Atreiad was observing operations quietly. He wondered how it would be on the Huáscar and how that crew would fit together. He already knew that Captain Zhen'var was rather more formal than Julia was. Her Earthforce experience would likely lead to an entirely different command concept being shown on the ship, and as her XO it would be Will who had to support it. From fifty crew to two thousand. At least I won't be entirely responsible for them.

He was considering what to write home to his sister and nephew when Magda looked up at her station. "We're getting a distress signal, Citadel standard," Magda said.

"Looks like we're finally going to learn more about those disappearing ships," he said. "Identify?"

"ID code… Mother of God." Magda's face showed her shock when she looked toward him again. "Commander, it's the Normandy."

Will forced a neutral expression on his face. "Ap, set course, maximum warp."

"Doing so now." As Apley keyed in the course, relaying on Magda's data, he said, "They're well on the other side of the cluster, sir. Even at our best sustainable warp, it'll be at least an hour before we arrive…"

"Then give me more," demanded Will. He tapped the intercom key. "Engineering, I need the best warp speed you can give. The Normandy is in trouble."

Derbely wasted no time in replying, "Yes Commander, we'll give you everything we can get. I'll see if I can get us past Warp 9.89."

Will knew that was considered the maximum warp speed the Koenig's engines were capable of, and even then they'd be burning the drives down in the attempt. But every second counted. "Let's set a record for the Koenig," he said. "Ap, engage!"

The Koenig's course through interstellar space shifted and her warp drive began accelerating, as fast as her crew could push her, in the hopes of rescuing a valued ally and friend.

When Robert and the others returned to Ashford's warehouse, having relinquished the dock to a C-Sec CSI team, they found Zack, Geordi, and Tra'dur standing around the main storage area.

The empty storage area.

"Did C-Sec get all the debris out that quickly?" Lucy asked Tra'dur.

"No, Lieutenant," the Dilgar woman replied. "We were busy securing the offices when there was a sudden power surge. Everything in the storage area was vaporized by an intense disintegration field."

"It was like nothing I've seen," Geordi added. "I found no traces of nadions, so it wasn't based on phaser or disruptor technology."

"Yellow," Robert said.

"You refer to the woman that killed Ashford?" Data asked.

"That's what we think, given the reports C-Sec gave us," Lucy said. "She escaped with a ship using an FTL system we've never seen. She didn't even bother going to the mass relay."

"Well, where is she going to go then?" Zack asked.

"She might be laying low on some of the other settled worlds in the systems around the Serpent Nebula," Talara said. "Perhaps Bekenstein?"

"Well, that'd confirm her wealth, if anything," Robert said. As he spoke, he didn't feel right about that guess. He glanced to Lucy, who was operating her omnitool. "What is it?"

"Establishing a communication line," she said. "I want to speak to Meridina about that woman."

A few moments later Meridina appeared, wearing her uniform and at her office desk. "Lucy, Robert. What is wrong?"

They explained, in brief, what they encountered, which doubled as filling in the others and the now-arriving Garrus. When they were finished explaining Meridina's expression showed concern. "You are certain her Gersallian sounded native?"

"It sounded better than Lucy's, and definitely better than mine," Robert said. "And she had a lightsaber of her own, but it wasn't like the SS ones we found, or that Cylon lightsaber Lucy's Cylon clone was using."

"It looked… well, I hate to say it, but better," said Lucy. "The blade at least. I can't imagine a crystal managing that kind of hue and brightness."

"Rather disturbing. Did you see her face?"

"Not well, she was wearing something like a headscarf," Robert said. "Her eyes were the weird part. They were entirely white, like her pupils and iris never developed. Like she was blind. But she saw us coming, and in a way that didn't feel like it was reliant on sensitivity."

"And there was one term she used in her mental communication," Lucy said. "When she was warning me about Sovereign's remains. She said that only farisa and what she called swev'a were safe from indoctrination."

Meridina blinked. "I am unfamiliar with that word, but it does sound like she was referring to one with swevyra. Curious. I shall ask Mastrash Ledosh. Perhaps he will shed some insight on this 'Yellow' and what she might be."

"Thanks," said Lucy. "We'll see you when we get home."

"And we await that eagerly, Lucy. Mi rake sa swevyra iso." Meridina ended the call at that point.

"So that's what happened at the dock," said Garrus.

"Yeah." Robert nodded. "Anything from the investigators?"

"Nothing useful. It looks like Yellow, if that was her, hired a group of Human mercenaries called CAT6 to protect the dock. They're a bunch of thugs, dishonorably discharged from the Systems Alliance military."

"Explains the name," Robert muttered. Seeing the unknowing looks on the others, he said, "Dishonorable discharges from the Systems Alliance military are known as Category 6 discharges."

"They sound very unpleasant," Tra'dur remarked drolly.

"Well, we've got these men in custody for aiding theft of Citadel property. So they'll be spending time in jail." Garrus looked back toward the empty bin. "Too bad the evidence itself is gone."

"We have recordings of it, if your courts need it," Geordi said. "What I'd like to know is how."

"Well, we can guess why," said Lucy. "She says these pieces are dangerous, even inside of protective fields. That no protective field can stop them."

"How does she know?" asked Zack. "I mean, did you find evidence she was studying them as much as we were?"

"No, but then again, we didn't get her ship." Robert glanced toward the bin again. "I can't help but think she did us a favor. I still think…"

Before he could continue, Robert suddenly doubled over and went down on a knee. A stunned, pained look crossed his face. Lucy and Zack went to help him. "What is it?" Lucy asked. "What are you feeling?"

"I… I'm not sure," he said. "I feel like I've… lost something. Something's gone, it's been taken."


He shook his head. "I… I'm not sure." He drew in a breath. "I just need a minute. We should probably let C-Sec handle the rest of this."

"Well, we still have more work to do at the repository," Geordi said.

"And I will investigate whether or not this individual may have had an insight we lack on the danger of the debris," Data added.

"Yeah, thank you," said Robert. "Let me know what you find."

Meridina was surprised that it took her an hour after she first called to get a response from Ledosh. She was more surprised by the worn look on her mentor's face. He was in his office, it seemed, which made her wonder if the time had been for him to get back from the cottage. She said nothing of this consideration, simply saying, "Good day, Mastrash."

"Meridina. It is good to see you." While she knew he meant it, it was also clear he was mentally distracted. "I'm afraid I've been rather busy as of late. You are due congratulations for defeating the Reich and its evil."

"You are aware of the swevyra'kse we faced?"

"Robert informed the Council, yes." Ledosh's expression was grave. "How they acquired the lightsaber weapons as well… I feel great concern."

"I am afraid I must add to this, Mastrash," Meridina lamented. "Robert and Lucy encountered a swevyra'kse of incredible power on the Citadel, overseeing an operation to steal debris from the Reaper machine Sovereign. She too had a lightsaber..."

"Swenya's Light…"

"...and she may have been Gersallian," Meridina added.

Ledosh's expression betrayed the grim thoughts in his head. "Did they capture her?"

"No. They are not sure of the woman's species, but they say she spoke High Gersallian with something close to a proper accent. As if it were her first language. Or one she was long practiced in. And there is more… She said a word to them." Meridina watched her mentor's expression grow more grim and wished she didn't have to speak of these things. Whatever was going on, Ledosh was under strain. "'Swev'a."

Ledosh's eyes widened. "They are certain?"

"It was transmitted mentally into Lucy by this swevyra'kse." Meridina sighed. "I can see you recognize this word, Mastrash, and that you are under great pressure. I am sorry to add to it."

"No. It is important that you tell me these things."

"Why are you so upset, Mastrash? You seem under great strain."

"It is simply… a discomfort. Goras still lingers in our dungeons. We have never allowed a swevyra'kse to live this long. I fear that his fall has brought a malaise upon our Order that even Lucy's discovery of the swenkesh has not lifted. There is a darkness here, a darkness I feel in our future."

"And the Council…"

A bitter look came to Ledosh's face. "Frightened. That is what they are. Save a few such as your father, they wish to ignore all signs and portents. I find myself missing your father's opposition to my views. He at least showed feeling toward them. All the Council does is move to table discussion and go on to other things. As if I cannot feel their fear."

"Surely they know we must…"

"They know only that there is something wrong, but they have no idea what to do about it. The Multiverse's many injustices weigh upon them, as does the continued low-level Dissenter activity. I suspect many now wish Robert had never found that Darglan Facility." Ledosh shook his head. "We do what we can. Your Father and I, whatever our differences, will work to keep the Council from going too far. I trust everything else to you and the others, Meridina. Now, I am afraid I must go. I have much work yet to do. Mi rake sa swevyra iso."

"Mi rake sa swevyra iso," she replied, and barely had a moment before Ledosh disappeared. A terrible feeling came to her stomach. What is wrong on Gersal? she wondered.

Ledosh returned to his cottage in haste. Only there did he feel safe in continuing his work. Upon transporting in he went to his desk and unlocked the storage box below. From it he drew his translation guide. The work of the long-deceased Gartanam made his efforts to translate the outdated Gersallian of the Life of Reshan easier. He was learning so much in these days. Knowledge that, in the wrong hands, could be dangerous.

Before resuming his work, however, he went back through the book, flipping through the text, reading the raw ancient Gersallian and wondering whether it would be better if he was right or wrong…

And there it was.

"Swev'a," he murmured, reading the text. The context soon told him what it meant, a term for one with active swevyra. Such an interesting term, displaying how much had changed in Gersallian thinking since that era. The idea of such a word existing… Just to double-check his translations he went back to Gartanam's guide.

Yes, there it was. Swev'a. The possession of sensitivity to the Flow of Life, but with a word that divorced such sensitivity from any connection to the Light, or even darkness for that matter.

And this mysterious woman had spoken it. What did that mean? What kind of omen was that?

Ledosh shook his head. He could consider that mystery at another time. He still had so much translation work ahead of him…

It wasn't long after their return to the repository that Lucy felt Geordi's immense displeasure at finding something from the debris. "Well, I'll be," he muttered. "Maybe that thief was right."

From their place at another set of scanners, Lucy and Tra'dur turned their attention to Geordi. So did Garrus, who was double-checking the inventory for C-Sec. "What did you find?" asked Garrus.

"This debris… it's not just giving off that EM field," said Geordi. "I've been testing some of my ocular implants' wavelength functions. They're also giving off a light photonic pulse and emissions in several other bands and wavelengths. It's not as powerful as the EM field, but that might be intentional. It's certainly harder to detect."

"And how many of those can interfere with sentient brains?" asked Tra'dur.

"We will have to consult with Doctor Crusher to give a definite answer," replied Data. "But most of these emissions are theoretically capable of affecting or interfering with neuro-electrical patterns in many species. I would theorize that this effect was intended to maximize the possibility of such an interaction with numerous forms of brain patterns."

"So it could indoctrinate anything the Reaper encountered," Lucy remarked grimly.

Garrus' question was more to the point. "And can we block them?"

"Maybe if we could build an isolation field capable of blocking every kind of emission," said Geordi. "But that would include blocking light, so we wouldn't be able to see anything. And a field like that… well, I'm not sure we have something that can do it. At least not practically."

"Then that lady was right about what we need to do," Lucy said. "We should destroy them."

"I'm afraid it's not that simple," Garrus lamented. "The Council will have to make that call. And they're not going to make it quickly. Valern still wants to study the debris, for starters, and Sparatus seems to have decided Saren and the Geth made this all up."

"He's an idiot," Tra'dur hissed.

"He's also the Turian member of the Council, and so represents the Council's military power," Garrus said. "Between him and Valern, don't expect any decision on this quickly."

"And in the meantime, this stuff is just sitting here, slowly exposing everyone to the indoctrination effect," Lucy said. "We've had enough exposure ourselves lately. We should probably leave."

"Now that we know this much, I have to agree," said Geordi.

"That's your call. I'll inform C-Sec of what you've found. From outside."

With everyone in agreement they all went for the exit. After they stepped out into the streets of the Ward, Garrus' omnitool came to life. He tapped at it and a screen showing Bailey popped up. "Have the repository sealed, Bailey, and inform the Council we've found evidence that these things aren't going to be contained by the fields we're using, or any field."

"Roger that," was the response.

After everything that happened over the course of the day, Robert appreciated the quiet meal he was enjoying with Zack in Zack's apartment. It was a cozy place to live, he decided, although pricey given what Zack quoted as the monthly rent.

The place would have looked more cozy if it wasn't in the state it was in. Zack's bags were mostly packed. The next day they would all be departing on the Enterprise, which would rendezvous with the Koenig before jumping for S5T3. The Koenig would in turn take them home just in time for the Aurora's return to active service.

Finishing that packing would be their chore after dinner. For now, though, they were enjoying a good meal, an expensive one. "It's my last per diem, so why not splurge?" Zack chuckled as he cut loose another piece of steak.

Robert finished chewing on his. "Why not indeed. Although I'd hate to know how much this cost?"

"Well, ignoring relative costs and such… this is basically about thirty bucks a pound out here. Basically."

Robert shook his head. "Damn."

"Well, it's grass-fed. From Earth. Argentinian I think. Some of the colonies have cheaper beef. But I've heard stories that letting the cattle eat non-Earth grass makes the taste funny, so what the hell?" Zack drank from a glass of orange juice, authentic, another luxury.

Robert did the same, although his drink was a soda. "Looking forward to returning to the Koenig?"

"I can taste Hargert's cooking already," Zack answered. He grinned. "Well, not literally…"

Robert chuckled at the joke. "With you coming back… that's everyone. We'll all be back together for the first time since…"

"...since we saw you off to Gersal," said Zack. "Or since we left Ys'talla to drop you and Meridina off at Minbar."

"It's been, what, ten months?"

"Just about." Zack sighed. "It'll be nice to have everyone back together, but let's face it… it's still not back to what we used to call normal."

Robert nodded in agreement. "Yeah. Julia's captaining now, Meridina's XO, I'm a special operative answering to the President and Lucy's on my team…"

"...and I'm losing Ap," said Zack. "He's getting his own ship."

"Good for him," said Robert. "But he'll be missed."

"Yeah, he will." Zack scooped his spoon into a pile of mashed potatoes. "I guess things always change."

"That's life," Robert murmured. "Things always change."

They quietly finished their meal. When the were done Robert eyed what was left to pack up and sighed. "We might as well finish it now," he said. "Then we can just sit and relax."

"Are you crashing here tonight?" Zack asked.

"Nah. Still have a night available over at Tulara Tower, and I might as well use it," replied Robert. "As soon as I leave here I'm heading back there to get some sleep. I didn't bring much, so there's not much to pack."

"Lucky you." Zack smirked in amusement. "Anyway…"

He stopped speaking when he noticed Robert look to the door with an intent look. Moments later the buzzer sounded. Robert stepped forward to open the door. When it slid open, Garrus walked in. His time on the Citadel gave Zack just enough exposure to Turians that he knew something was wrong.

Garrus eyed Robert. "I… thought you should hear this from me. We just received word from the Traverse. The Koenig picked up a distress call and…"

"She's dead," Robert murmured hoarsely.

Garrus gave him a knowing look.

Robert swallowed as his face continued to pale. "That's… that's what I felt. That was the loss…"

"What?" Zack was clearly confused. "What loss? Who's dead?"

"Jen," Robert said with a pained voice. "Commander Shepard. She's dead."

Lucy got the news from Robert just before she left Tulara Tower, her features hidden by the hood of her cloak. It at least gave her an excuse to be away. Shepard had been a comrade and even a friend. Maybe not as much as she was with Robert, given his time on the Normandy, but still…

Her thoughts wandered to Shepard's stay on the Aurora. Those training missions and simulations, all the times Shepard and Worf caused her to "die" in the sims by throwing curveballs at the teams. The meal they'd had in the Lookout on the trip to Babylon-5. The desperate fighting on Gamma Piratus. And then there was Germania. To survive all of that and die out there…

Her thoughts kept going until Lucy arrived at her destination. The debris repository was quiet. Whatever the Council was deciding, at least C-Sec was honoring the stay away order. For now…

Lucy's hand went to the pack she was keeping under her cloak. This wouldn't be as clean as what Yellow or whomever she was did to Ashford's stash. Undoubtedly C-Sec or Geordi or Data would find the leftover nadion particles when her jury-rigged phasers went off and vaporized the debris. Let them. That technology was fairly wide spread after all. The important thing was that the damn debris would be gone. It wouldn't destroy anyone else.

It wouldn't take another mother away from her daughter, as Sovereign had done to Benezia and Liara.

She was almost to the door when bright light flashed within the building. Lucy stepped back, sensing danger, and her omnitool confirmed it a moment later. Nadion emissions.

Someone had beaten her to the punch.

She was about to turn around when she sensed someone approaching her. She whirled about, her hand on her lightsaber and an instant from pulling it free.

"This probably isn't the best place," Garrus said. "Follow me."

Quietly Lucy did just that. She followed Garrus into what came off as a dive bar. A holo-screen showed what looked to be a biotic sport being played. Garrus led her away from that to a corner table where Bailey was sitting. "Did it work?" asked Bailey.

"Like a charm," said Garrus. Lucy could sense his grim satisfaction. But it didn't hide the hurt he felt inside.

"I'm sorry about Shepard," Lucy said. "She was… well, I'm going to miss her."

"We all will," Garrus answered in a low voice. "But we did right by her today. Sovereign's gone for good. No more indoctrination. Not from him anyway."

"You think there's other Reaper tech out there?" Lucy asked.

"I don't doubt it. If the damn things return every fifty thousand years, well… they'll have left something behind," Garrus remarked. "And there's always reports about expedition teams going out of contact around strange alien ruins."

"Probably just tall tales," Bailey noted. "Either way though, that crap was too dangerous. With Yellow gone and Ashford dead, you know damn well the crooks on this station would eventually start going after it."

"Did we get it all?" Lucy asked.

"Well, there may be a few pieces still here or there, but we haven't had a new report in days," Bailey said. "Whatever else they were, Yellow and Ashford may have finished our job for us."

"And good riddance to that crap," Garrus said. An Asari waitress walked up and handed them all drinks, even though Lucy hadn't ordered one. "It's on us," he said. "Nothing heavy."

Lucy looked at it and decided that even if alcoholic, it wouldn't hurt.

"To Shepard," Garrus said, holding his container of liquor up. "This is how you Humans do it, right?" he asked Bailey.

"It is," he said, lifting his own. "To Shepard."

"To Shepard," Lucy agreed, finishing the toast.

On another Earth, in a place hidden from the majority of said Earth's citizens, a lone figure walked into a lab. A Human male of mixed Caucasian and East Asian ancestry, he was clad mostly in black with gold trim, and an elongated vertical hexagon insignia on his shoulders. His eyes were covered by a visor. Said visor scanned the room and all of the scientists present. Some he had personally delivered here. Others were personnel from indigenous allies. All were working on the object in the middle of the room, a piece of a machine, gray-colored with blue lighting.

A tone drew his attention to a nearby holo-projector. Two figures appeared on it. "The piece is secure?" asked one of them, a man with mechanical blue eyes and a cigarette held in two of his fingers, still burning.

"Yes sir," Kai Leng replied, nodding to the Illusive Man. "We are beginning our analysis."

"The Triumvirate wishes to know more," asked the other man in a hoarse, raspy voice. He was bald and decrepit, a corpse stuck in a wheelchair, but there was no denying the intelligent glint in his eyes.

"Of course, Mister Raines," the Illusive Man replied. "Your Centre is going to help Cerberus understand the peculiar nature of this alien technology. And we will be more than happy to share the results. It will require sacrifice, of course, but with it we will gain information needed to protect Humanity."

"We have plenty of test subjects," said Raines. "And we can always acquire more."

"I have no doubt about that."

"I'm ready to return to the Citadel and acquire more debris," said Kai.

"I'm afraid that is no longer a possibility. An unknown player has intervened. All of the remaining debris from the dead Reaper has been destroyed. Secure the project and prepare to report back to Headquarters," the Illusive Man ordered. "I have other assignments for you."

"Yes sir…"
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Steve »


Ship's Log: 13 August 2643; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. It relieves me to say that despite what happened on the Citadel, not to mention Lieutenant Commander Caterina Delgado's situation, everyone has returned safe and sound to the Aurora. Tomorrow the Aurora returns to active service and everyone on the crew is ready to face what's coming.

It is not as happy an occasion as was planned, however. Everyone knows what happened in the Attican Traverse. The loss of the
Normandy, which fought by our side at the Citadel and over Germania, was terrible enough, especially with the casualties to her crew. That one of those casualties was Commander Shepard… I, and everyone else, owe the Commander for what she's done as our ally, as our friend. That she's gone is… it's hard to accept. Hard to grasp.

But that's what we have to do. We still have a job to do, and Shepard would want us to do it. It's the least we can do for her memory.

Some final pieces of paperwork needed completion and filing before the launch, and Julia was hard at work on them when the door chime to her ready office went off. "Come in," she said.

Robert walked in. He was wearing his usual uniform when aboard ship, with the silver branch trim of intelligence and a staff aiguillette. Julia wondered if it was Robert's choice to wear such a uniform. It seemed like a joke given that Paladins were far from being intelligence staff officers. "Hey," she said. "I heard things on the Citadel got crazy."

"I got thrown like a rag doll by possibly the most powerful life force user I've ever met," Robert said. "I never imagined anyone could be that powerful. And that focused."

"Aren't you carrying a lot of power yourself now?" Julia asked.

"Maybe, but I wasn't ready for what Yellow hit me with," Robert admitted. "Raw power often loses to channeled power. Unless the gap is really damn big, and it wasn't."

"Right. Well, I know little about metaphysics. Running starships is my thing." Julia lifted her digital reader.


"So. Shepard."

"Yeah." Robert shook his head. "They still don't know just what did it. The Koenig only found escape pods with the Normandy's surviving crew aboard."

"Who made it?" Julia asked.

"Adams. Chakwas. Ashley and Kaidan. Joker." Robert shook his head. "Pressley's dead. So were a bunch of the normal crewers. They… they never saw it coming, from what I've read."

"And Shepard?"

"She got Joker into the escape pod, but weapons fire cut her off. The last Joker saw of her was an explosion throwing her away from his pod." Robert still felt the grief in his heart. "I don't know how many times she saved my life. Our lives."

"A lot," Julia said. "Back at Gamma Piratus." After a moment of silence she asked, "Are we going to do anything about this? I mean, it's got to be connected to those missing ships. And I can't help but think the Reapers might be involved…"

"I don't know. President Morgan turned me down when I asked for permission to investigate personally. Things are too sensitive for the Alliance right now. The territorial squabbles in S4W8, all of the ships we have hunting down von Platen and his so-called 'Freikorps', the Dominion taking over Cardassia, a reported increase in Multiversal slaver activity…" Robert shook his head. "There's even been reports of the Cylons jumping around on the Gersallian frontier, so we've got ships out there to make sure they don't attack again. And with everything going on, Morgan and Maran say we can't afford to trigger anything with the Terminus Systems."

Julia nodded. She was familiar with these facts herself, but she let Robert repeat them since it was clearly part of him venting frustration with the situation. "I can't fault them. But I can't help but feel that Shepard deserves better."

"She deserves far better," Robert agreed. Having said all he wanted to on the subject, Robert asked, "So what's this I hear about Cat going to see the Doctor?"

"Something about her nightmares. Doctor Tusana said she had a telepathic block on her head," said Julia. "So I let her go to W8R4 to see if she could meet the Doctor again. Since it had to do with her trip with him."

"And she came back with longer hair?"

"And a pulled back muscle from working in a shop in 1969 London," Julia noted drolly. "Apparently she spent over a month living in the past until the Doctor got his TARDIS back or something. And something about how if anyone in that universe sees a statue of a winged angel weeping, they should stare at it until they can beam it into the heart of a star."

"I won't ask."

"Apparently the Doctor's curious to see you," Julia added. "Cat told him how you woke up."

"If we ever see him again, I'll be glad to share," Robert said. "And to thank him. And now, I should probably go finish filing my final draft report on what happened on the Citadel. I want to make sure everything's in the clear if the Citadel Council decides to try and blame us for all of that Sovereign debris being destroyed."

"Have fun," Julia remarked. "I'll be here doing paperwork as always."

In the privacy of her quarters, Cat sat at her desk. An icon on her computer display there showed it was ready to accept dictation, a video message. The recipient field was labeled "Lt. Violeta Arterria, Navigation Officer, ASV Huáscar".

Cat wasn't quite sure what she was going to say. For the second time in, well, a year, she had to re-adjust herself to living on the Aurora. It wouldn't be as hard this time, given she was only gone for a month instead of nearly a year, but this time she didn't have Violeta. Sure, she had the others, but that was… different from having someone like Violeta. Even Angel's tightest hug didn't have quite the same reassurance Cat felt at Vee's embrace.

"Hey Vee," she said. "Uh… I know you're busy getting ready for the launch, so I don't expect a reply to this for a while. I just… I need to get something off my chest."

"Those nightmares… I found out about them, Vee. They were repressed memories from my time with the Doctor. While we were traveling, we… we found the Aurora. At least, what was left of it, what was left of us. It… it was from somewhere in the future, and our uniforms were different and everything, but…" Cat tried and failed to stop the tears. "I saw everyone dead, Vee. Jarod. Nick. Julia. My sister. Even me. We'd been killed. The Aurora was a wrecked derelict on course to crash into an inhabited planet. I'm not sure how it happened, I just… I…" She swallowed. "...maybe I should've just asked the Doctor to seal away those memories again, tighter, so they wouldn't come back. I've had a few weeks to get used to the memories but… it's just so weird coming back and seeing everyone and knowing, I mean, actually seeing how we could die out here."

"The Doctor says it's not fated or anything. It was a 'bubble of possibility', a 'might-be' caused by some kind of exotic dimensional effect, probably involving a failed interuniversal jump or something. So this doesn't have to be how we end up. But it was so real to see it. And it reminds me of how dangerous it is out here, for both of us."

With warm tears still flowing down her eyes, the memory of her dead sister slumped over the tactical station in her mind, Cat swallowed and drummed her fingers on the desk briefly. "I haven't told any of them about it. Not even Angel. How could I? How could I explain what I've seen? And… and what good would it do, Vee? I'd just make them worry too, and it's not like we don't already know we could die. We almost died over Germania, and at the Citadel. We could've died over Tira, or when those automated Shadow ships attacked us last year… what's the point of telling anyone something that we already know?" As she spoke, Cat let the argument play out in her head. The outcome was the same as before: there was no point in telling them.

"I miss you. I… I want you back already, even if I know this is better for you. And… there's always going to be a part of me that loves you, I think. Maybe, maybe if things go certain ways, maybe we'll be together again anyway. I don't know… I just want you to know how I feel, in case that might-be happens, or something else like it. Goodbye, Vee, and good luck on the Huáscar." Caterina drew in a breath and, with it, a sniffle. "End message."

The computer verified it was no longer recording. The text showed it was ready to transmit it to Violate, a universe away right now, getting ready for her new assignment. Off to start a new chapter in her life, with a new crew, different adventures… maybe even someone else for her to care for, to be with, now that she was away from Cat.

Whatever happened, Cat hoped that Violeta would be happy. After everything they'd shared, she couldn't help but feel that way.

Which was why she said, "Computer, delete that entire message."

It obeyed. The prompt to record a new one came up. Cat tapped a key to do so.

"Vee, I know you're busy with the launch…" This time she said nothing about the repressed memory, only repeating how she felt about Vee, and ending, again, with "Goodbye, Vee, and good luck, to you and the other crew of the Huáscar."

This time, she hit the key to transmit.

With that done, Cat finished undressing and went to bed. She had work to do tomorrow.

With Martha enjoying a relaxing sleep in an opulent resort's finest suite, the Doctor returned to the TARDIS. Without delay he went into the heart of his machine, past the shard of the Eye of Harmony that fueled the ship, and into his engine room.

In one part of the engine room was a non-functional piece. A part that hadn't been attached for, to his perspective, centuries.

Despite that, re-attaching it was quite easy, and the checks to make sure it worked? Even easier. He returned to his control room and started the flight mode. The TARDIS rocketed into space. Only there, once he was a safe distance away, did the Doctor initialize his engines.

For the first time in a long time, a monitor display showed flowing data showed up on his displays. And when it was over…

The Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS and into an office. It was opulent in a way that oozed arrogant power, but alleviated by the touch of personal photos along the walls. He glanced toward one showing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Another had Mt. Kilimanjaro. Once he'd taken in the sight he looked toward the office desk in front of him and the figure sitting there, sitting back in repose with a glass of amber-colored fluid - likely alcoholic - in his hand. "Well," said the man with sky-blue eyes, his dark hair well-combed, and a nice suit. "It's been a long time since I heard that." Those sky blue eyes were directed right at the Doctor's own eyes.

"So I imagine." The Doctor smiled thinly. "You're looking awfully good for a man of your age, Sidney."

Sidney Hank smiled and shrugged. "Healthy living, Doctor. Nice new face. I see you're not going for scarves and curly hair anymore?"

"Ah, grew out of that look a few regenerations ago," the Doctor replied flippantly.

"Do you still offer candy to people?"

"Not since I had that face."

"Ah." Sidney set the glass down. "A shame. Swenya always loved those jellybabies you'd offer."

"That she did."

"So. You're here now." Sidney laid his hands on the desk. "Traveling to other universes again. What are your people going to say to that?"

"Nothing." The Doctor's expression blanked out, save for the distant pain in his eyes. "They're gone."

Sidney blinked. "What?"

"The Time Lords are extinct," the Doctor said. "Wiped out. All except for me."

For a moment Sidney became very quiet. He finally leaned forward in his seat. "My condolences," he said, and both men knew every syllable was sincere.

"Thank you." The Doctor took a step closer. "But that's not why I'm here."

"You've met the Aurora crew," Sidney said. When the Doctor nodded once Sidney sighed. "We knew this day was coming. They warned us it would come."

"Have you given it to them?" the Doctor asked pointedly.

Sidney pursed his lips for a moment before shaking his head. "Not yet," he admitted.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm not sure it's time yet," Sidney said. "Besides, I have other opinions to consider beside your's. If I hand it over and she thinks it's too early, she's going to cause trouble."

"Oh?" The Doctor narrowed his eyes. "You mean…"

"The Neanderthal," Sidney said, chortling a little at the pet nickname. "She's at it again, you know. Got her own damn empire. So to speak. If not for the Bragulans it'd be our universe's most absolute totalitarian state."

"You didn't stop her?" asked the Doctor, with a tone that was mildly accusing.

Sidney leveled a look at him. "As much as I prefer my so-called rivals to believe otherwise, Doctor, I am very much a Human being. A very long-lived one, yes, and with extensive modifications, but still technically mortal. How am I supposed to stop a thing like her from doing anything she likes? Not to mention all of the Pretenders at her beck and call and that damned Sith assassin. I've only got one Pretender on my payroll."

The Doctor frowned. "And what about…"

"She's gone," Sidney said. There was a touch of grief in his voice. "Ascended or whatever you want to call it. It's a long story that I don't want to get into. Why else do you think I came out all this way?"

At that news the Doctor gained a distant look. "She was your universe's best hope for something better."

"Now there's, well…" Sidney let the sentence trail off. "So you came all of this way to harangue me about that damned relic?"

"You and I both know the stakes," said the Doctor. "This has to be done right or the damage…"

"...will be incalculable, I know," Sidney growled. "I'm damn well aware of the consequences if the Circle is broken, Doctor. That's why I'm being careful about this. If I give it to them before I'm supposed to…" With frustration Sidney smacked his hand on the table.

"Don't wait too long. You may not have it," the Doctor warned.

Sidney narrowed his eyes. "What are you saying?"

"I've seen what their future might hold," the Doctor remarked. "I've seen them fail against the Darkness, Sidney. I don't know the details of how, but I know it might happen, and it won't be too long from now. And we both know the consequences if that possibility comes true."

"Yeah, we do." Sidney picked up his brandy glass and drank from it again. When he was done he looked at the Doctor again. "Thanks for stopping by. And I have to say, I like the look. You look better when you're taller."

"And your new body looks rather good. Really going for the cultured, powerful tycoon look now, are you?"

"If the shoe fits…"

"Right." The Doctor turned back to the TARDIS and stepped in. Just before closing the door he looked back. "We already had one close call, Sidney. Don't wait too long."

His only reply was a mute nod. The Doctor closed the TARDIS door.

Sidney was pouring another glass of brandy as the TARDIS dematerialized. After it was gone he took another long drink from it. His body's modifications, and long practice, allowed him to endure the sensation. When the drink was done he considered his level of inebriation and sent the mental command to the gland in his brain to secrete the right amount of de-toxicant to bring him to just the right point of sobriety for what came next.

"Things are progressing, I see," said a computerized male voice, speaking from one of the many speaker modules hidden in the office and, indeed, across the Villa Straylight. "The Doctor himself comes to visit. I suppose we should be happy he didn't scold you for that Xel'Naga artifact on the mantle." When Sidney didn't respond with a smile at the attempted humor Dionysus, his corporation-running CI (computational intelligence) and the electronic repository of millennia of Sidney's memories continued to speak. "It has been a long while since you were this inebriated. I believe the last time was when President Sinclair betrayed you on the Senate reform bill."

"I've got more important things on my mind than Vicki's two-faced bitchiness and hunger for power," Sidney grumbled. "Bring the hyperwave transceiver online."

"Really, why would… oh. You're going to…"

"Yeah. I have a call to make." Sidney refilled his brandy yet again. "It's time for me and the Neanderthal to have a talk…"

The mess hall of the Koenig was standing room only, as the only space in the ship big enough for everyone on the crew to attend the ceremony. Officers from the Aurora attended as well, standing among the Koenig officers. Everyone was in normal duty uniform save two figures; Will Atreiad and Zachary Carrey, who for the occasion were in the dress uniforms and stood out due to the white color among black uniforms. They were standing at a makeshift podium at the far wall of the mess near the replicator bank. Around the two conversation was quiet as various attendees spoke.

Creighton Apley's voice spoke up. "Attention to orders." The order gave everyone the signal to cease speaking and focus their attention on the podium.

Once everyone's attention was given, Will lifted a digital reader and read from it. "'To Commander William Atreiad, Commanding Officer ASV Koenig, 13 August 2643 Alliance Standard Time. You are hereby requested and required to relinquish command of your vessel to Commander Zachary Carrey as of this date. Signed Admiral Tashan Tiyari, Alliance Stellar Navy Personnel Command.'" Will lowered the reader and looked over everyone. "As my final words as your Commanding Officer, I wish everyone the best. The Koenig and her crew have proven to me time and time again how deserved your reputation is among the fleet. May the Lords bless and aid you wherever you go." He swallowed. "Computer, this is Commander Atreiad. Transfer all command functions to Commander Zachary Carrey, authorization code Atreiad Delta-Nine-Two-Tango."

"Code confirmed. ASV Koenig is now under the command of Commander Zachary Carrey," the computer's feminine voice replied.

Zack smiled at hearing those words, as did many of those he called friends and comrades. He extended his hand to Will. "Thank you for taking care of my people and their ship, Commander," he said warmly. "I think I speak for everyone when I say we wish you the best on the Huáscar."

Applause was the response, an affirmation of Zack's remark.

"Thank you, Commander," Will said in reply. He accepted Zack's hand in a hand shake of mutual respect. "You turned this crew into one of the best attacker crews in the Alliance. I'm grateful of the opportunity I was given to lead them."

With the mutual compliments done, Zack returned to the script. "I relieve you, sir."

"I stand relieved."

Once Will stepped away, Zack stepped up to the podium and looked to his crew. "Hello everyone. It's good to be back." There was applause at that. Zack waited for them to die down. "A lot's happened since I relinquished my command of the Koenig. I'm grateful that you came through your trials since then under the superb leadership of Commander Apley and Commander Atreiad, whom I again give my best wishes for their new postings. And I extend to same to Lieutenant Poniatowska, whose last name I am finally using properly."

There were titters of laughter at that, not the least from Ana herself, for the prior mistake of referring to her by the masculine "Poniatowski".

"Things are always changing, it seems," Zack said. "For our ship and for the Aurora. Nothing's like it was. Some of our friends, our comrades, are going on to new and bigger things. Others have had to deal with what our jobs have thrown their way." At that he looked briefly to Tom. His friend nodded in reply. "I've had to adjust to things too. To loss. To things I've learned about myself. About my flaws. I never said this before I left, so I'm saying it now: I apologize for my behavior earlier this year. I put this ship, this crew, at risk because I was too wrapped up in my own pain. I humbly ask for your forgiveness." A number of nods and other appreciative gestures indicated it was given. "And I thank you for giving me renewed trust. Together, we're going to continue to make the Koenig the best damn attacker in the Stellar Navy."

The reply to that was cheers.

"Again, thank you, everyone," Zack said, to conclude his remarks. "You are all dismissed."

Some departed at that moment. Others began to have conversations with each other. Zack was intercepted by Tom first, who gave him a one-armed hug. Julia's hug came next, and Cat's, until everyone had given at least a partial embrace and, from Scotty, a hearty, "Welcome back, lad. It's good t' have ye home."

"Thank you, Scotty," Zack answered.

"Some things have changed," Robert noted, smiling. "But at least we're back together."

"Right. And we're staying that way," Tom declared. He looked to Leo. "Give me the techie arm, Leo. I'm not leaving everyone for the therapy."

"It's your choice," Leo replied. "I'll get the preliminary exam scheduled. Tomorrow evening, probably."

"I'll be there."

"So Tom's going to have a robot arm?" asked Cat. "Maybe one of those cool ones with tool attachments?"

"There aren't many that do," said Leo, grinning at her. "Odds are I'll only be allowed to give Tom a basic prosthetic."

"It won't be basic when I'm through with it," Tom announced, smirking.

Leo sighed. "Somehow I feel like I'm going to be seeing an awful lot of you in the medbay now…"

To that, everyone laughed.

The next day everyone did their routines up until the 1200 hour mark. At that time the Aurora crew was assembled on the bridge. Leo and Scotty, Zack and the remaining Koenig command officers, the ship's fighter commander Patrice Laurent, the security chief Lieutenant Commander Phryne Richmond and the Marine Commander of Troops Major Gabriel Anders, Robert and Lucy… all found a spot to sit or stand. Tra'dur and Talara found a corner as well, near Robert and Lucy.

Julia came from her ready office at 1200 exactly and went to her command chair. Meridina met her while Julia gave everyone a knowing look and smile. "All departments report ready, Captain," said Meridina. "All personnel are aboard, all provisions and equipment loaded."

"Very good, Commander." Julia didn't set just yet. She turned in a slow circle, taking in the sight of everyone. Jarod and Locarno were turned in their seats to face her at the center of the bridge. All eyes were indeed on her. "Well, everyone, it's been a crazy year so far, and it might get crazier. But I think we're ready for it. After all of this time, we're back together. Maybe doing different jobs now…" She glanced to Robert and Lucy, who nodded. "...but I think you'll agree that doesn't matter. The important part is that we're all here again and whatever the Multiverse has in store for us, we'll face it together. Right?"

"Right!" Cat shouted, prompting others to do the same.

"Then let's get out there." Julia took her command seat. "Mister Scott?"

"My wee bairns are ready an' waitin', Captain," Scotty assured her. "Give th' order an' we'll give ye th' power ye need."

"Well then, that's good to hear." Julia smiled and faced Locarno next. "Mister Locarno, prepare thrusters. Mister Jarod…"

"...we're on with Fleet Base Traffic Control.," he said.

"Traffic Control, this is the Aurora," Julia said happily. "We're ready to depart."

A moment later an Alakin voice replied, "We are opening dock doors now, Aurora."

"Thrusters, Mister Locarno," Julia said.

Locarno's fingers keyed said system. The thrusters accelerated the kilometer-long starship gently, pushing her at a steady pace toward the opening double door. The lights of the dock illuminated the azure hull of the Aurora. From several ports her crew watched their ship, repaired and restored, depart, all enjoying the view.

Once the Aurora was clear Locarno keyed the impulsor drives. The ship's acceleration rate rose sharply. Her inertial dampening fields powered up fully, protecting the crew from the high G-forces of the impulse acceleration as she flew into Earth orbit and then departed the same. Around her were more vessels, representing species and nations from across the Multiverse, going about their business over the Earth of Universe L2M1.

In no time at all they achieved the required distance for Julia's next order. "Let's check on the repair teams' handiwork," Julia said. "Mister Locarno, pick a course. Time for our ship to stretch her legs."

"Aye ma'am."

As he put in the course, Julia let her smile grow. While the Multiverse could be dangerous, the war was over. The Alliance had peace again. And best of all, her friends, her family, were back together after nearly a year apart.

So let the Multiverse throw what it could at them. It always had. And they'd always come through it, sometimes bloodied, sometimes battered… but always alive and triumphant.

And she had faith - faith in herself, faith in those she loved, in those she commanded - that this would not change.

"Course laid in, Captain," said Locarno.

Her reply was short and to the point.


With a flash of her four great nacelles, the Starship Aurora jumped to warp speed and made her return to the Undiscovered Frontier.
”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: 22 September 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The Aurora has returned to Fleet Base Skret Tel after four weeks exploring the Tanatis Frontier Sector in Universe A7R6. We are currently transferring samples taken during the expedition for further testing in Alakin and Falaen facilities.

During the expedition the
Aurora made first contact with two species capable of system-wide interplanetary flight and observed a third conducting orbital space missions. We also made preliminary studies of four potentially habitable planets for possible colonization and discovered rich sources of Cameronite and naqia on a lunar body.

While this work usually lacks the sort of excitement we've been experiencing since I took command of the
Aurora, it was a pleasure to be able to conduct a peaceful exploration mission for a change. No desperate battles, no threats to the Multiverse, just a reach of unexplored space.

On another note, a special package was waiting for our ship's resident Paladin operative when we arrived.

Set beside the Aurora bridge itself, the "ready room" or "ready office" was Julia's preferred spot to do the office work of her position when she was not on watch on the bridge. Like all Captains she'd furnished hers with some personal touches, with photos of family on one of the stands inside of which she kept some of her secured digital readers for classified information. Additionally she kept a backup uniform hanging near the walk-in bathroom for use in emergencies. Along the wall beside the door to the bridge was a couch, a hold over from Robert's time as captain that she'd slept on a couple of times over the years.

Currently she was at her desk reading monthly performance reviews with Meridina and Jarod. "It looks like the Gamma shift crew is exceeding standards," Julia noted. "At this rate, we're going to lose Lieutenant Takawira to a new command. Is he up for promotion?"

"I have already written the recommendation to the board," Meridina informed her.

"Good." Julia looked over another section and frowned. "Science section's looking a little less polished than usual. Cat's always been a little too lenient with her subordinates, but I've never seen productivity go down before." She sighed. "This isn't just over Violeta's transfer, is it?"

"Some, I think," Meridina answered. "But I think she has other concerns on her mind."

"It doesn't help that she was doing a lot of extra work during the surveying," Jarod added. "Those metrics don't account for that, and won't until we finalize the exploration reports. Don't be surprised if it goes up."

Julia nodded. "I suppose I'm not used to dealing with the aftermath of peaceful survey missions that stay peaceful."

"Well, we've only had what, two survey missions since you became Captain?" Jarod pointed out, grinning. "Come to think of it, I don't think we've had a peaceful survey mission that stayed peaceful since before the war started."

"And now the war's over," Julia said. "So let's enjoy it before there's another one, huh?"

"That is quite pessimistic of you, Julia," Meridina noted, using personal names given the privacy of the meeting.

"Well, the reports don't lie," Julia replied. "Increased Jem'Hadar activity on the Cardassian border. They've finished wiping out the Maquis. They attacked a Federation ship at the edge of the old DMZ three days ago. And Dukat gave another speech about reclaiming 'all of Cardassia's lost territory'."

"Meaning Bajor," Jarod observed.

"Yeah," Julia said. "We may have a war breaking out in the Alpha Quadrant soon if this keeps getting worse. And that's not the only problem. More ship disappearances in the Attican Traverse of M4P2. Von Platen's freikorps hit a relief convoy headed to one of the Anti-Spinward colonies in the old Reich territories. And there's the attack on Mars in E5B1 from ten days ago." She let out a sigh. "And there's always the Cylons to worry about. The war with the Reich might be over, but I have a feeling things are still really dangerous out there."

The other two didn't need telepathy or super-smarts to know what was really bothering her. "Robert's new ship is in, correct?" asked Meridina.

"It's down in the secondary cargo bay," Julia confirmed. "Fresh from the factory, I'm told. Based on the same armed courier that Lennier and Druni own."

"The Keyeri is quite an impressive craft in of itself," Meridina recalled. "But it still worries you."

"Worries me? That Robert's doing this secret agent stuff once and awhile? That he's going to be heading into incredibly dangerous situations as a regular job?" Julia lowered her eyes for a moment to push away the upset feeling she had. "And that he won't have us as backup because he'll be traveling into hostile systems on a ship little bigger than a standard runabout?"

"It's a bit bigger than that, I think," Jarod said. "It's almost forty meters long. Even with the spare space we've got in the secondary bay, they had to move two shuttles out to give it sufficient space of its own. And given the specs, it's perfect for the job." Jarod noticed her growing frown and promptly added, "But that's not what you want to hear. You'd rather he stay."

"I know he can't," Julia admitted. "But I wish, well… I wish he could. After we came so close to losing him last year…"

Meridina gave her a sympathetic look. "I understand your fears. But it is his choice. Robert feels he has much to still offer the Alliance, even if he no longer commands a ship."

"Besides, you know how he is. I think Morgan named the entire group with him in mind," Jarod said, smiling. "And now that he's got his noble steed…"

Julia let out a laugh. "So Tom told you about that too, huh?"

"I've already set up the shuttle bay systems to record the reaction. Zack promised Beth she could see it. Given how much worry he causes her, she deserves it."

A blue light appeared on the back of Julia's left hand. It was being generated by her omnitool frame, indicating she had an incoming communication. She tapped the light to accept the comm. "Andreys here," she said.

"Captain, we are receiving a transmission over the IU network." The voice was that of Lieutenant Tra'dur, the ship's lone Dilgar officer. The operations officer, with a subspecialty in science, spoke English with an accent that sounded close to Indian. "Admiral Maran wishes to speak to you and Captain Dale."

"Alright. Let him know we'll see him shortly." Julia tapped at her omnitool control, the blue hardlight display currently over her left forearm. "Andreys to Dale."

After a moment a reply came. "Dale here."

"We have an incoming message from Admiral Maran," answered Julia. She grinned, betraying her amusement to the others while her voice remained mostly business. "I'm afraid you'll need to stop admiring your noble steed, Admiral Maran is on comms for both of us."

"You knew?" he asked, his tone almost accusatory.

Jarod chuckled lowly, too low for Robert to hear.

"I'm the Captain," Julia replied. "Of course I knew. Now get your butt going, Sir Robert. Thy noble lord is awaiting thee to give thee a quest, O Paladin." The grin on her face grew.

There was laughter on the other end. All present recognized Tom's laughter, and Meridina was certain the other voice was Lucy's. "On my way," came Robert's droll response.

The bridge deck of the Starship Aurora was the usual nerve center of the ship, by design of the ship's Starfleet-trained builders, Carlton Farmer and Montgomery Scott. Whatever layout the Darglan had intended, the two engineers from Universe S5T3 filled in the hull of the Aurora with a layout they deemed the most efficient, with the bridge being at the top of the primary hull. The bridge was not by itself the only element of the deck, as there were facilities for the officers, particularly the Captain's ready room and the conference lounge. While the ship had much larger conference rooms in the facility and living decks of the primary hull, the conference lounge allowed the command crew to hold meetings while remaining close at hand to the bridge. In a pinch it also permitted further use, such as using it for emergency sleeping quarters during prolonged crises (as happened during the battle for Germania).

Julia arrived long before Robert. Since it was only the two of them, she took Meridina's usual seat to the right of the head of the table, which was - fittingly - Julia's usual seat. Once Robert arrived he sat across from her in Jarod's place. Julia tapped a key to direct the channel into the conference lounge.

Together they faced the viewscreen built into the wall and faced Admiral Maran. Maran was well into middle age for a Gersallian and by appearance looked the same to a Human, given his species' external resemblance to their own. That leading the military of the Alliance in two years of bloody, sometimes desperate interstellar war hadn't turned more of his dark hair gray could be chalked up to Gersallian physiology more than anything.

"Captain, I have reviewed some of your reports from the Tanatis Frontier. You've done well. High Minister Brepk and Regent Nalena have been quite fulsome in their thanks for your part in the expedition. We have high hopes for our future relations with the Trenap and the Dynielil. Both show promise as prospective Alliance partners, perhaps even members."

"Commander Delgado is really eager to visit Agynnielil," Julia said, grinning in appreciation of Maran's praise for their efforts. "The Dynielil we met during the first contact have indicated their species isn't native to the planet and are likely transplants. Given the timing alluded to in their written histories, it may indicate the Darglan transplanted them to Agynnielil."

"Perhaps we should introduce them to the Miqo'te," Maran noted. "Captain Dale, I trust you've been keeping busy?"

"Yes sir," Robert answered promptly. "While assisting the Aurora crew with their scientific and diplomatic endeavors isn't the kind of duty most people expect from Paladins, I actually enjoyed the chance for a peaceful exploration cruise."

It's also the kind of duty I wish you were doing, Julia thought to herself.

"I'm glad to hear it. But I'm afraid that cruise is now over." Maran's expression, while always stoic, shifted to show the weight of the situation. "Are you aware of the attack on Mars in E5B1 ten days ago?"

"I noticed a report on something to the effect," Robert said, beating Julia to the punch. "Terrorism was suspected."

"And confirmed. Unfortunately, the culprits may be laid on our doorstep, given the evidence."

"What do you mean, Admiral?" asked Julia. A sudden bad feeling came to her. There was only one way that might be true...

"Investigations have confirmed that the primary target was a Psi Corps facility on Mars," Maran said. "And the attack the responsibility of the Telepath Underground."

Robert and Julia exchanged concerned looks. "Lyta Alexander," Robert sighed.

"Yes. And you can imagine how EarthGov is spinning this."

"The Free Colony," Julia said, referring to Lyta's "Byron Free Colony", the planned homeworld of free telepaths that had escaped Psi Corps and the Earth Alliance, named in honor of a fallen leader of non-Corps telepaths. It had been Lyta's price to help Robert and Meridina with their hunt for potentially-dangerous Darglan technology. Since she'd led them to a former Darglan scientific complex on one of the dead race's old colony worlds, the Alliance couldn't say they got nothing for the exchange. But it was one of those deals Julia always wandered about, in terms of how it might come back to haunt them. Aloud she asked, "They're using its existence to accuse us of being involved, or allowing it to happen?"

"That is a common view in Earthspace, yes. And it has led to violent incidents against Alliance citizens. The Foreign Office is already advising against travel to the Earth Alliance until the situation is resolved. And that's where you come in. Because of the tense situation, President Luchenko has agreed to cabinet-level talks between the Allied Systems and the Earth Alliance. They're to be held on Babylon-5. And you will be bringing Secretary Onaran and his team to the station."

"Understood, Admiral," Julia said, nodding. Another visit to B5, nearly two years after their first? She was up for that. And diplomacy trumped shooting. "Let me know where the rendezvous is and I'll get the ship underway."

"They'll be traveling aboard the Shenzhou. You'll be meeting them at the Darglan Homeworld."

Robert blinked. "Isn't that in the opposite direction from B5? Or is the Secretary not on Earth?"

"He departed this morning, actually, but the stop at She'teyal is important. The Aurora and the Shenzhou will rendezvous with the Huáscar there. Captain Zhen'var and members of her staff will be personally briefing you and Secretary Onaran's team on what happened at Mars."

To that Julia asked, "I thought the Huáscar was still on her working up cruise?"

"True, but they were at Mars for the post-attack cleanup and investigation and they have critical information on the attack that may be relevant to the talks." Maran leaned in slightly. "After you've picked up Secretary Onaran and his team, head to B5 to begin the negotiations." He put his hands together on the desk before him. "I shouldn't have to say how critical this situation could be. The Drazi and Brakiri are not entirely reconciled to the Rohric Peace Treaty yet, so Earth has potential allies in the event of hostilities. We have enough trouble without dealing with Earth becoming aggressive on this matter or that of their attempts to lay claim to former Darglan space. But more importantly, we're hoping to convince Earth to see this terrorism problem as an opportunity. Their laws against their own telepaths are to blame for this situation. If the negotiation team can persuade them to relax those restrictions as part of a general agreement, we can defuse this situation before it grows any more dangerous."

"If there's no Psi Corps to chase rogues, then the rogues won't feel a need to lash out?" Robert suggested.

Maran nodded once. "That is one way of putting it. And that brings me to the other issue at hand…" The way his eyes moved indicated he was looking to Julia. "Captain, I must now discuss Paladin business with Captain Dale. Given you will soon be in personal contact with representatives of EarthGov, including a member of Psi Corps, I'm afraid I must insist on secrecy."

Robert glanced apologetically to Julia, but she nodded once and stood. A part of her rankled that she wasn't being told, but it wasn't hard to figure out why, if Psi Corps would be at the talks. "I understand, Admiral," she said. "I'll order our departure from Skret Tel right now. Permission to be dismissed?"


Julia nodded to him and to Robert before heading to the bridge. Tra'dur was at Ops now and Meridina in the command chair. Lieutenant Talara, a Falaen woman who'd joined the crew as the Gamma Shift helmswoman at the beginning of the year, was at that station. "Lieutenant Tra'dur, set the jump drive for the She'teyal anchor."

"I am doing so now," Tra'dur answered, tapping away at the keys. "We are off of the spatial aspect by several light years."

"I figured," replied Julia. "We'll proceed at warp until we're in the proper spatial aspect range. Recall all personnel from Skret Tel."

"I am doing so now," said Meridina, tapping away at the console beside her seat. "We have fifty-nine crew aboard the Fleet Base currently. Unless you wish to employ transporter recovery, I estimate ten minutes before they are aboard."

"Ten minutes is satisfactory. It should give time for Operations to confirm all critical replacement stores have been brought aboard." Julia gave an expectant look at Tra'dur.

"Right away, Captain," the young Dilgar replied.

As she went to work, Meridina asked, "Where is Robert?"

"Getting his own mission," Julia said. "While we're heading back to Babylon-5."

Undiscovered Frontier
"Values Judgement"
”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 »

An emerald vortex split space open, forming a bridge between universes. From it the Aurora emerged, cutting her impulsor drive power down and beginning to decelerate as she emerged. Below her the planet She'teyal continued her quiet orbit, the graveyard for one of the few civilizations to achieve the miracle of interuniversal travel.

Aurora found herself in the company of two vessels. The Huáscar was a little larger than her, like all of the Aurora's Enterprise- and Excalibur-class siblings. A patrol of Mongoose starfighters from the vessel continued a circuit around them. Between and behind the two was their smaller cousin, the Shenzhou. The Discovery-class ships were designed to be the smaller counterparts of the Aurora, with similar hull lines scaled down to their smaller size, and only two warp nacelles instead of the four sported by Aurora and Huáscar.

The moment they took formation, Secretary Onaran signaled, requesting a meeting on the Huáscar with Julia, Meridina, and Jarod in attendance from the Aurora. This is why, barely twenty minutes after their ship's arrival, the three found themselves materializing in a burst of light in a transporter room of the Huáscar. A Dilgar crewmember was operating the transporter station and their escort was awaiting them.

Will Atreiad was there to greet them. He came to attention. “Captain Andreys, Commanders. Welcome aboard the ASV Huáscar. Captain Zhen’var is waiting in the No.2 Conference Suite.”

"It's good to see you, Commander," Julia said, taking the lead in stepping off of the transporter pad. "I've heard the maiden cruise hasn't gone as planned."

“We had to respond to the situation at Mars,” Will responded. “We called about six alerts in four days, all of them multi-hour.”

Julia winced at that. "And with a crew still getting settled."

The description won a sympathetic look from Meridina as well. "A difficult challenge, certainly." She considered the scope of what Will was saying. Putting an entire crew on alert for long term periods always strained the crew's energies and often their morale. Having to repeatedly go on such alerts? That could sometimes be worse than simply remaining on alert. "Quite a trial for your new crew. But I sense you have come out of it well enough?"

“No choice in the situation,” Will answered as they walked and then took the lift. “Yes, it was a good bonding experience,” he chuckled. “I’m getting to know the secondary command bridge intimately.”

"You personally man the secondary bridge during combat alerts?" asked Jarod.

“Yes. Zhen’var expects a seamless operational transition. If the Heermann is aboard and I’m on the bridge when the alert is called she occasionally has Commander Imra take the position instead, though.” They arrived at the conference suite and the doors breezed open. Captain Zhen’var, Commander Imra and Surgeon-Commander Nah’dur were waiting.

“Captain Andreys, welcome,” Zhen’var offered. “We have some light refreshment for the briefing,” she added, gesturing to satay and some garlic bread on the table with water, coffee and tea. “Thank you for bringing them down, Will.”

The three took from the offered refreshments. By the time they were finished, Secretary Onaran arrived. "I was seeing to my staff's transfer to the Aurora," he said. "My apologies for the delay. We have much to discuss."

"Our people already have quarters ready," Julia assured him. "Lieutenant Tra'dur is seeing to the arrangements."

"So she is." Onaran nodded next to Zhen'var. "Captain, my thanks and the thanks of President Morgan to you for your handling of the Mars situation. It was a difficult situation and you did well in resolving it despite those difficulties."

“The situation was resolved by little more than patience, as well as some excellent effort by Commander Imra at diplomacy,” Zhen’var nodded to the woman at her side, as inscrutable as ever.

“The Captain is being excessively kind. I merely offered security to Psi Corps until the repatriation could be arranged. Once the children from the facility were safely aboard the Huáscar the rest was a matter of patience only, and with the telepaths removed from Mars, the situation there immediately calmed.”

"Patience and security often go hand in hand with diplomacy," Onaran observed. "And that you left Martian space when ordered has not gone unnoticed. We believe certain factions of the Martian government, whatever their criticisms involving the telepath situation, were impressed by your respect for their space and are willing to re-open talks for closer ties to the Allied Systems. Although that is a matter for another time."

Julia listened without saying anything. Given the reports she'd read, the Huáscar crew had done as well as anyone could given the explosive situation. Although the fate of the recovered children puzzled her. She couldn't imagine that the Free Colony wouldn't have taken them in. Returning them to Psi Corps, given its reputation, puzzled her.

"To elaborate on my presence, as you might have guessed, Captain Zhen'var, the Earth Alliance is accusing us of responsibility in the Mars attack, although they have stopped short of declaring complicity. While President Luchenko herself has refrained from comment, ISN's news reports have been quite unkind and there have been violent acts against our citizens in Earthspace. We are now commencing direct negotiations with the Earth Alliance on Babylon-5 to deal with this situation before it worsens. Before I go to meet with my opposite from EarthGov, I wish to ask questions about the report you filed. To begin with, may I ask to have Commander Saumarez attend?"

“Secretary, Commander Saumarez has the watch,” Zhen’var answered. “Is it a requirement that she be here? I was intending to have Commander Atreiad deliver the brief.”

"I intend no disrespect for Commander Atreiad. I have read her report on the Mars situation, particularly the ramifications of the Martian government's actions, and I would very much like to discuss this matter with her attending. I may have made a presumption that she would be attending, and I apologize for not making my needs clear upon arrival."

The officers from the Huáscar exchanged a glance. Zhen’var tapped her omnitool. “Commander Poniatowska, please report to the bridge and assume the watch from Commander Saumarez.”

“Understood, Captain,” the Polish woman answered.

Julia and Meridina exchanged looks. What can Saumarez provide in the briefs that… She stopped herself before finishing, remembering that Elia Saumarez was a telepath herself. Suddenly Onaran's interest became obvious.

“Commander Saumarez, Commander Poniatowska will be relieving you momentarily, please report to Conference Suite 2 as soon as she does,” Zhen’var continued on a second line. The faint French accent of British upper crust speech that answered sounded to a certain extent like a female version of Jean-Luc Picard’s. “Of course, Captain.”

“It will be a few minutes, of course, Secretary. Please forgive me. Is there anything you would like to get started on first?” Zhen’var asked.

"You may as well have Commander Atreiad begin the brief, Captain," said Onaran. "Questions can come afterward."

Will got up and activated the holoprojector. Or tried to. It flashed briefly and then turned off. He frowned, and rebooted it, and then the image came up on the screen. “Starting with the important information we’ve learned…” The briefing passed quickly. “In summary, we think the relationship between Mars and Psi-Corps is permanently lost and the development that Psi-Corps has a sizable force of warships, in the context of an aggressive terrorist campaign against them, suggests the Earth Alliance is critically destabilized. Furthermore, we have strong circumstantial evidence that elements of the Earth Alliance government may be preparing to purge Psi-Corps.”

Julia, Meridina, and Jarod took in the news with some surprise. They'd learned about the Mars situation from the reports, and the Aurora had itself encountered a Psi Corps-crewed warship 11 months prior at F41-001-V, but the idea that EarthGov itself might be preparing to turn on the Corps?

Will sat back down, and Elia breezed in, coming to attention. “Secretary, Captains. Commander Elia Saumarez, reporting as ordered.”

"Commander, thank you for coming. We have much to discuss." Onaran smiled and nodded at her before returning his attention to Will. "Commander, thank you for the brief. It is quite enlightening. And it concurs with certain other pieces of information that we have been discovering for some time. Now, I suspect Captain Andreys and her officers may have a question?"

Onaran had read them well. Julia nodded. "This idea of a purge of Psi Corps, what are we talking about? Arrests? Dissolving the Corps? Revoking the anti-telepath laws? I mean, that's what we'd like to happen, I'd think. If telepaths in the Earth Alliance get their civil rights restored, Psi Corps wouldn't have a purpose anymore, and any crimes they've committed can be brought to trial. And it would certainly take the wind out of Lyta Alexander's sails."

Immediately she had the idea that she might have said something wrong. Nobody on the Huáscar crew said anything, but it was in their looks, making Julia feel like she was back in High School and had just said something really dumb as the answer to a question.

"That is a good question, Captain," Onaran said. "As for your point about telepath rights, it is true that this problem would be settled quite handily if the Earth Alliance repealed the Crawford-Tokash Acts. But recent events and new information indicate that the situation with the Psi Corps may be a more… complex matter than previously assumed." Onaran turned his attention to Elia. "Which is why I have asked for you, Commander Saumarez. Now, I have read your report on the Mars situation and Commander Atreiad's brief was an excellent summary. To clarify, however… if EarthGov is truly turning against Psi Corps, what do you imagine the result will be?"

Elia was rigidly silent, poised like a Greek statue and with her skin having turned a chill white where it was visible from her neck to her face. “Sir.” She said after a moment. “Of course, the reality is that if the Psi-Corps is disbanded, there will be no organisation to protect telepaths from the popular fury of the mundanes. While gentlemen like Francis O’Leary belong broadly to an idealist faction of the government that is ironically centred around the Intelligence agencies, the rest of the government is dominated in a close relationship with the major Earth corporations. These corporations rely on telepaths as the engine of commerce, since they eliminate risk from all business transactions. The overriding objective of the corporations would be to tightly subordinate telepaths, reduce their wages, and eliminate risk. They will use the popular fury and pogroms to justify a new, harsher regime which completely eliminates Telepath involvement from their own governance. Sir.”

"Mister Secretary?" After Onaran nodded to Julia, she looked to Elia and asked, "So you're saying that Psi Corps is necessary for the protection of telepaths?"

“Who else would protect telepaths, Captain?” Elia answered.

"So EarthGov would just standby and let the telepath population get attacked, get murdered, without the Corps around?"

“Did the Tsarist government protect the Jews from the Black Hundreds? Did the Ottoman government protect the Armenians from the Bashi-bazouks, Captain? Democracy is no inoculation, either; elected politicians are most apt to follow the will of their voters when it costs them nothing, better yet, buys them something. If telepaths sell themselves into virtual slavery to the mega-corporations that the Senators really report to for the sake of their personal survival, and the voters are satisfied by the bloody circus of a pogrom, who loses?”

Julia and Jarod forced themselves not to look toward Meridina. Meridina quietly messaged them mentally. She is not deceiving, nor does she consider herself exaggerating. These are honest answers.

Julia's return thought was rather vehement. Yet she makes them sound like, well, a group that wouldn't have been hunting you and Robert down to make you into laboratory experiments! A moment after that thought zipped through her head, Julia realized that Elia had to have heard it too.

I recall Agent Bester's threat quite vividly myself, and I admit to my own trepidations about the organization he represented, Meridina replied mentally. And if I may… an organization in such straits may very well make very cruel decisions if they believe survival is at stake.

Or they can use that belief to justify whatever they want
, Jarod observed. Although I can still see why they'd think that way.

These thoughts only took seconds to go through their minds, far faster than the words would be. But there was no hiding the three were in telepathic conversation. Julia gave a nod to Elia. "Alright. Then may I ask why the Corps seems so hellbent on blocking telepaths from getting to the Alliance? I understand they have to enforce the Earth Alliance laws against telepaths, but there doesn't seem to be any dissent from them on enforcing those laws. The way you're making it sound, especially with these new developments, Psi Corps should be coming to us, asking us to help them get telepaths out of Earthspace before the hammer comes down."

“Telepaths are not born cowards waiting in their ghetto to die and looking for ways to abandon their unborn children to the mob!” Elia snapped back in a burst of heated emotion. She gripped her hands together and flushed. Her eyes flashed to look at Imra for a moment, and then she turned her face downwards. “Forgive me, Secretary. That was inappropriate and unbecoming of an officer. I do not have any perspective on this issue and I request my dismissal from this meeting. Captain Zhen’var knows everything you need for your mission.”

The ferocity of Elia's response made Julia lower her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to make it sound that way."

"Your question, Captain, is why Commander Saumarez is here, and why I cannot grant her request just yet." Onaran looked to Elia. "Commander, your report has reached the eyes of many in Portland who have been considering this problem of Human telepaths in E5B1 for two years now. Between that report and those made by Captain Zhen'var, it is clear to us that the situation in Earthspace is becoming critical, and that we may have a humanitarian crisis on our hands. Possibly even a genocide." Onaran's expression was stern at using that word. "We need more options in our dealings with the factions in Earthspace. That is why I am asking you to take up a special assignment."

“You ask me to take an assignment without telling me what it is, Sir. I am needed to complete the operational standup of the Huáscar,” Elia answered tightly.

"Before you say no, Commander, please hear me out." Onaran met her eyes with his own. "EarthGov and the Alliance have already shared the names of our negotiators. We know that among them is a Psi Corps representative, sent should the Alliance have telepaths at the meeting." Onaran folded his hands before him, leaving them partly open. "Commander, I'd like you to come with us and meet with this telepath. It is time we open a channel of communication between the Alliance and the Psi Corps."

Zhen’var frowned even as she bleakly wanted to laugh at the absurdity of Elia being ordered to do what she had already done. This is why they are taking away my best officer? This!? To act in an untrained capacity to do something she already has? Our Gods are so unkind. “Why is Commander Saumarez required for this mission? The Union Government can certainly arrange contacts with Psi-Corps upon request. The Mha’dorn is best suited to handle this situation, and there are many who would volunteer.” Zhen’var leaned in. “Furthermore, Mister Secretary, I must protest as the Captain of the Huáscar, for Elia is my Operations Officer during working up and this will unduly impact our working up to have her gone for a week or more.”

The revelation that the Dilgar could contact Psi Corps clandestinely was as much a surprise to Onaran as it was to Julia and Jarod, although Meridina seemed less surprised. "I was unaware of this," Onaran admitted. "Although this makes Commander Saumarez's participation even more vital. As a member of the Mha'dorn, the Corps representative will be more trustful. The establishment of a direct line of communication between the Corps and the Alliance government could save many lives should the worst come to pass."

Sensing Zhen'var was going to continue her line of argument, Elia raised a gloved hand. “Thank you, Captain. However, if this is the desire of the Alliance Government, I will execute the order. Please assign my replacement aboard the Huáscar as soon as possible to guarantee her working-up is not unduly interrupted.” You know I must do this, Captain, she thought to herself.

"I understand I ask much of you, Commander," said Onaran. "You are one of the few who can make this succeed."

Zhen’var looked tiredly around the table, and reached out to take Elia’s gloved hand. “We will be sorry to lose you, Commander, but I understand that you must do this.”

It was Commander Imra who settled it. “Of course, I can maintain the Heermann at operational readiness and stand in as operations officer. I’ll just work two shifts a day until Commander Saumarez returns. It’s only fair.”

With that, Zhen'var rose. “With your permission, Secretary? I don’t want to unduly delay an operation of this importance.” Her voice was very carefully modulated.

Onaran nodded in assent, well aware he had tried Zhen'var's patience. He stood. "Then this meeting is concluded. And thank you, Captain, for your cooperation. I understand this is quite disruptive. We will try to get Commander Saumarez back to you as quickly as we can."

"We'll arrange your quarters aboard the Aurora immediately," Julia said. At that, Jarod immediately began to send a message back to the ship with his omnitool.

By the time Elia had fallen in with Julia and her officers, a rigid mask of iron had settled over her face. Jarod, meanwhile, had a thoughtful look on his face, while Meridina gave Elia a worried glance.

The Aurora and Shenzhou departed She'teyal at virtually the same moment. Julia was in her ready office considering the tricky diplomatic situation. On the viewscreen of her desk monitor, Li Ming-Chung, the Captain of the Shenzhou, was seated at her own ready office. They were of similar age, although their backgrounds were quite different, especially given Li's more tragic background. Her unorthodox name was self-picked, combining the personal name her adopted mothers had given her with their family names in intentional defiance of traditional Chinese culture. Her dark hair was cut shorter than usual, barely reaching shoulder length. "We're due for the frontier with Earth ourselves, near the Gamma 12 Colony," noted Li. "The Martian refugees are beginning to return now that the damage to their domes is no longer critical."

"Given Zhen'var's reports, Earthforce may attempt to harass the returning ships," Julia noted.

"And if they do, we'll be ready," Li replied. "The hard part will be if Mars requests assistance with further repairs and we're sent in. Earthforce was very hostile toward the Huáscar when she went in."

"A good thing you can cloak," Julia pointed out.

"Somehow I do not imagine suddenly appearing at the edge of Mars' orbital space will make our presence any more acceptable," Li answered with a smile. "Plus we have received indications that EarthGov has begun deploying a tachyon detection grid around all key systems."

"Well, that's one edge we've lost," Julia sighed. "Anything else?"

"Nothing on the mission. Although I have heard from Madeleine. Do you remember Nasira?"

The image of a defiant Egyptian girl of the Coptic faith came to Julia's mind. "Of course," Julia said. "Nasira Fanous. She's been Maddie's XO since the Challenger launched."

"She's been re-assigned," said Li. "They are giving her command of the Maimonides."

"One of those new science cruisers, right?" Julia shook her head. "She's put in enough command time to justify a command of her own, but I suppose Maran doesn't think he can justify giving her anything else."

"A lot has changed since the war started. Officers with a stronger military bent have been winning promotions, including joining the Promotion Board and Personnel's assignment offices, and Maran has to consider their positions. But it's still a command for Nasira," Li pointed out, smiling. "It's always good to learn when one of our people goes up in the ranks. We're so few in this sea of peoples from the space-faring cultures…"

"I know what you mean." Julia heard a chime at the door. "I've got some work to do on my end, so I'll let you go, Li. Take care."

"The same to you, my friend."

"Come in," Julia said aloud as Li's image disappeared from the monitor. The door opened and Robert entered. "Ready to go?" she asked.

"I am," he said. A little frown formed on his face. "I know you're upset that I can't tell you where, though."

"I understand it's part of the job," Julia replied. She felt a pang of irritation at herself for not hiding the sentiment more carefully. "I just… well, Rob, I'm worried. For this to be top secret…"

"...it could be dangerous, yeah," Robert conceded. "And it probably won't be the last."

"It's not even the first," Julia pointed out. "But I know what you mean. Honestly I suppose I should be used to it. You spent nearly two months on the Normandy…"

"But at least you could talk to me when I was there," Robert pointed out. "And I was with Shepard and a team. Now it's just me and Lucy and, if you don't disapprove, Talara."

"I'll let Locarno know to circulate someone else into the helm watches. Do you want more support?" asked Julia. "Your ship has room for more."

"It won't be necessary with this mission. Really, it's just a quick reconnaissance," Robert assured her. "I may even link up with you at B5 if I get done quickly."

"Hopefully so," she said. Julia got up from her chair and rounded her desk so that she could pull him close for a hug. "Just be careful out there, okay?"

"Yes, mom." Julia responded to that with a playful sarcastic glare. He smiled and replied, "Turnabout's fair play, you know."

"I suppose it is," she said. "Now get thee to thy noble steed, Paladin."

"Right away, my noble lady." Grinning, Robert took her hand and pulled it to his mouth, looking to kiss the knuckles in knightly fashion.

Julia couldn't help but make a face at the sensation of his facial hair bristling against her skin. His lips had barely brushed her finger before she yanked the hand from his grasp. "No kissing of the hand unless you shave," Julia insisted.

"Well, I suppose I do have an incentive to shave after all," Robert jokingly said before turning away. Julia watched him leave the office with a smile, enjoying the teasing, and yet… still utterly worried for his safety.

It was perhaps unfair to her crew for her to feel this way. She was responsible for two thousand lives; worrying that much about one was certainly bias showing. But yet… it wasn't just another person in her life. It was Robert, her Robby, her playmate and companion since she was three years old. What she held for him was… did the word "love" even begin to cover it? He was a part of her life like no one else, not Zack or Angel or even her parents, had ever been. What they had was so precious…

Just a reconnaissance, she reassured herself before she returned to her seat. He's just going for a little reconnaissance mission.

The medbay of the Aurora was not particularly busy. Leo thus considered himself as having time to deal with one of his more annoying patients.

Tom sat in an examination chair, his prosthetic arm detached from the stub that ended just below his shoulder. The arm was on the table beside him. Leo leaned over it, examining the internals and frowning. A heavy sigh came next. "You've barely had this thing a month, Tom, just what were you trying to do with it?"

"I was seeing if I could add a power source for a plasma welder attachment," he said. "That's it."

"Tom, so help me…" Leo sighed. "This part, this is the sensitive part, you know that right?"

"Well, yeah, the schematics…"

"And so you know that if you damage this part, the arm will literally go out of control?" Leo continued. "It'll mess up how the machine interprets the signals your nerves send to it."

"What, like I might try to give someone the finger and instead I give them a thumb's up?"

"Or you try to move your arm one way and it goes the other, leading to you hitting someone on accident," replied Leo. "And really, a plasma welder?"

"Well, it saves me from having to carry one around," Tom replied. "Although I suppose I could go for an autospanner attachment instead, that might be more useful."

"How about you use the tools like you always have and not try to fuss with the delicate machinery in your prosthetic arm?" Leo proposed.

Tom let out a harsh laugh. "I'm a freakin' engineer," he said. "You don't think I can handle it? What, will I void the warranty or something?"

Leo closed his eyes. "Lord Almighty, grant me patience."

"What if I just built my own? This stuff can't be too hard to figure out."

"Be my guest." Leo closed the access on the arm. "Just don't touch this one."

"I will build my own, y'know," Tom insisted.

"And I'll happily put it on you if it works," Leo remarked, his skepticism evident. "But I'm not holding my breath."

"I'm interpreting that as a challenge."

"Of course." Leo fitted the arm back onto its attachment point.

"You're daring me here, Leo."

"Uh huh…"

The Aurora was at the edge of Earth space the next morning and still half a day out from B5. But rather than attend to their usual routines for Alpha Shift, Julia and Meridina left Jarod and Locarno to take their places in those duties, freeing them up to respond to Secretary Onaran's summons.

Conference Room Two was the pick Onaran made for introducing the full negotiation team. It would be a working breakfast, the meal provided by Hargert with a mix off cuisines reflecting all four of the Alliance's species and some of the varied dishes from their nations. Bowls of steaming threek - a soup-like concoction popular for Alakins from their northern continent - and plates of talna steaks and seemai strips from Dorei cuisine joined Gersallian papam and Human cornbread.

Onaran sat at the head of the table. Everyone had a digital reader with them, since they were easier to use if one was trying to eat. He had Julia, Meridina, and Elia to his left. On his right was a Human man of light complexion and a round face: Onaran's lead aide, Ilya Karbarov. Beside him was a Gersallian woman of what, for a Human, would be East Asian facial structure. Her name was Tanapa. Around the room, four more individuals, one a dark-skinned Gersallian in the uniform of the Alliance Army, were gathering food before sitting further down the table.

The last figure to arrive sat across from Elia. He was a man of bronze complexion and Latin features.

Elia knew from the moment the man arrived he was another telepath, and had been intentionally seated across from her to get them to talk to each other, for amusement or intelligence purposes. Uninterested in talking to someone from the Free Colony, she had wandered over to the replicator, ignoring what was already prepared, and instead gotten herself a good hearty Guernsey cream tea. To her body, operating in sync to a different schedule from the First Watch that was set to the legal workday in Portland on Alliance ships, it still felt like afternoon and some comfort food was in order, anyway. She made a show of remaining utterly focused on the ceremonial act of splitting the scone and topping it with jam, followed by a heavy ladle of clotted cream, and also of pouring milk into the tea she’d replicated as dark black as a working navvy’s and stirling idly until it was a brownish-blonde. The familiar ritual kept her mind empty and quiet.

Onaran seemed to be distracted for a moment, looking through the contents of a datapad. When he was done he gestured to the newest arrival. "Captain, Commanders, this is Emilio Travada, the head of the Free Colony's Diplomatic Service."

Meridina glanced uneasily toward Julia and Onaran. The seating arrangements are inappropriate, she mentally flashed to Julia.

I didn't make them, was the return thought. I think Onaran is testing both of them. It's the only explanation that makes sense.

"It is good to meet you all," Travada said, his English accented moderately by Portuguese. Glancing to Elia, he said, "Especially you, Commander Saumarez." His greeting was polite, but his eyes fixed momentarily on her gloves; realization dawned on him and he reinforced the defenses around his mind.

“Chief Travada,” Elia answered, her eyes never quite leaving the scone. Her Mother and Father had taught her to be polite. Life frequently depended on it.

Only Meridina sensed Travada's response. It was a sentiment of understanding as another exile of conscience; but he maintained a guarded posture. Necessity had forced her out, but she was still loyal to the Corps and he knew it. Aloud he said, "I heard what you did at Tira, Commander. I am sorry it forced you to leave your Mother and Father."

A flash of white-hot anger never left her mental shields. “As a Naval Officer of the Alliance I am sworn to uphold universal principles of sapient rights. As a Huáscareno I do it out of habit.” Onaran’s speech was frankly a merciful interruption by that point.

"Now that we are all here, it is time that I share facts of the greatest secrecy with all present. To begin with, our negotiating position is a simple one. Earth's laws against telepaths are reprehensible, driven by base fear, and that the best method for them to employ against the terrorists is to remove the basis for the conflict between the Underground and the Corps. The Crawford-Tokash Acts must be repealed and the civil rights of telepaths restored, and we will offer assistance to Earth should it agree to such." Onaran shook his head. "But of greater importance is the discovery made by the Huáscar's officers during the investigation into the attack on Mars." Onaran tapped his digital reader, sharing a file to all of the others in the room. "Further analysis has confirmed their findings. The attack on Mars was made using Darglan technology."

Julia and Meridina were jolted by the news, as were Onaran's other subordinates. Travada's eyes widened and his mouth started to open and then close. Tanapa gasped and muttered, "Swenya's Light, how?"

"We are still investigating how the Underground obtained access to such technology," Onaran stated.

"Has my government been informed?" Travada asked. He was clearly shaken by the news.

"Do they need to be, Chief Travada? Here where it costs us nothing, I will be blunt, Sir, there is only one known source of Darglan technology in the multiverse,” Elia replied, her voice again sharply controlled.

"I know what you are getting at, Commander, but we had nothing to do with this," Travada insisted. "We're too busy building our world to indulge in madness like that."

"To answer your question, Minister Travada, we have consulted with Governor Kuhln on the issue, and he has issued the same assurances. Unfortunately, as Commander Saumarez has reminded us just now, the sources for Darglan technology are limited. The Alliance is the only major source. If the investigators from EarthGov have determined this for themselves, and they likely will at some point, Earth's suspicions about the Alliance and Free Colony will seem verified."

"What kind of Darglan technology was used?" Julia asked. "Transporter traces? Weapons? Were there any recovered items?"

“Both,” Elia answered. “But primarily weapons on the flyers which were used. They had been modified into fighters, probably at a custom workshop. There were no recovered items because the attack focused on total destruction--there were twenty thousand killed, confirmed. The only ground operation was the one which intentionally scattered the children from the XI research facility into the tunnels so their abilities would cause panic in the Martians. That’s a classic tactic of the so-called Telepath Resistance, which after all started using child suicide bombers to hit targets like schools a hundred and fifty years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. They were too disciplined to abandon any weaponry.”

Twenty thousand… Travada thought out loud in shock through his own defenses before turning his thoughts inward to consider his stance and approach.

Julia felt a wave of revulsion at the idea of using children like that. As she was considering the scope of the attack, Meridina spoke up. "I imagine an investigation has been launched?"

"It has, and it is still ongoing," Onaran answered. "But it is unlikely to be completed soon. There is much to inventory among various weapon manufacturers. We will have to wait and see if EarthGov has come to its conclusion yet, and if they have, how they will react during the negotiations."

"They might break the talks off completely, or make non-negotiable demands," Julia said. "We probably need to consider that this is going to create a permanent rift between the Alliance and EarthGov."

“Conquer them like we did the Reich,” Elia answered. “Force universal human rights. As long as we’re talking freely, and for interests of how you want to use me in this role Secretary, that is my professional opinion. Ghettos and kleptocracy--so what if they haven’t reached the final stage of genocide, the system has been optimized to let them turn the dial up or down. I know this isn’t my choice and I will obey orders, but speaking from my perspective on the laws governing the Alliance Stellar Navy and our duty to proactively defend against atrocities, why do we negotiate with people who enable and encourage pogroms and compromise with totalitarians? We are mobilised and they are not.”

As much as I have sickened of war, there is justice in her words, Meridina said to Julia. The Earth Alliance has much to answer for.

Onaran, for his part, nodded. "Your point is one I have heard in Portland, Commander, and there is justice in it. But while we are still built up from our defeat of the Reich, we must face the possibility that Earth would not stand alone should we move to impose civil rights for telepaths upon them. There are species in the InterStellar Alliance that would side with Earth over us out of self-interest or remnant hostility from the Tira Crisis, enough that Earth might successfully compel the ISA to intervene on their behalf against us. And given the other threats the Alliance must consider, especially that brought about by Gul Dukat, the Alliance Government is attempting to avoid conflict where it can should our strength be needed elsewhere." Onaran frowned. "And I need not mention Senator Pensley's faction."

"Or Hawthorne's," Julia added. "I can already imagine how he and Davies would react to a war."

"Indeed." Onaran gave Elia a meaningful look. "If we are to reform the Earth Alliance, it may require internal processes instead of external imposition."

“Then all of those internal processes necessarily run through the consensus of Psi-Corps, Secretary, Sirs. Without the org which represents the consensus of ninety-five percent of the oppressed people at the table, you cannot say you have acted in their interest.”

Before the flash of skepticism could fully develop in Julia's mind, Meridina nodded. "The Commander raises an eloquent point, Mister Secretary. Whatever concerns we may have of the Psi Corps' actions in some circumstances, they do number the majority of Human farisa in this universe. Imposing any agreement upon them without even the slightest consultation will be, among other concerns, quite counterproductive."

"Of that I am in agreement," Onaran said, while it seemed clear his subordinates were not so certain. Nor was Julia. And that was all he said for the moment on that particular matter, although his surface thoughts made clear that he considered that point to be the reason for Elia's mission. "The Telepaths, all of them, should be involved in discussing their fate."

"I must admit my skepticism of our opening terms, then, Mister Secretary," said Karbarov. "Given what we have read and heard, do you truly believe the Earth Alliance will agree to open emigration of any telepath who does not wish to join the Corps or go on these… 'sleeper' drugs?"

Onaran did not respond immediately, but he did seem to sense - or rather, guess - that Elia had thoughts on the matter. "Commander, I have already discussed the emigration issue with Minister Travada. I am also interested in your thoughts on the matter."

Emillio took the pause between Onaran’s question and the Commander’s response to speak and try to reassert some authority on what he perceived to be his bailiwick. His tone was clipped but polite, and he betrayed nothing of his surface thoughts “I honestly don’t see how we can do anything else but be absolutely firm on that position. The Earth Alliance will never accept telepath civil rights, but emigration is something we can get out of them with sufficient considerations.”

Elia’s rigid expression admitted no emotion. “What about the unborn telepaths? How do you justify denuding them of a community to welcome and protect them? The rate is one in a thousand of mundane births. That's my opinion. And of course two of three on any ratline will die or be enslaved before reaching Alliance space. That's just a matter of objective fact, not emotional influence.”

“Some is better than none, Commander. We can’t very well impose our will on fifteen billion people and expect it to last. If we want anything of our culture to survive, withdrawal is the only sensible option. It’s better that than for all of us to be ground out as dust beneath an Earthforce boot.” Travada replied, also admitting no emotion. But he wasn’t as well-trained as Elia was, and whiffs of fear leaked through his defenses. Fear not only of what could happen to him, but of what he might be forced to do. They weren’t his kids, the Corps might delude itself into thinking that they were, but he always found that notion ridiculous.

“Be that as it may,” Elia answered very quietly, “The Secretary has been given my professional opinion as directed. Sir.” She could feel Travada, could have spoken to him, didn’t want to. Occupying the tenuous borderland between the mundane-imposed P9 and P10 ratings and trained in military tactics, she could have done a lot more than talk to him, for that matter. Those temptations, she also kept well buried. The gnawing feeling of helplessness, of being unable to have any material impact on the fate of her people--that was very familiar, indeed. She remembered the lyrics to a song, ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’, and silently finished eating her scone.

Onaran nodded. Karbarov was skeptical the legal emigration concept would go anywhere and Elia was clearly opposed to it due to the likely fates of any new telepaths born to the Human population. But he couldn't simply abandon it, not without the talks commencing. That invited EarthGov to misjudge the Alliance and sent a bad signal to the telepath population regardless. "I see. Then we should move on to considering the issue of EarthGov's likely demands over their claims on former Darglan space…"

Once everyone was gone, Julia and Meridina remained alone for a moment. "Darglan technology," Julia murmured. "But why would it be in their hands?"

"The agreement with Lyta called for her people to have some means for their own defense," Meridina pointed out. "It is possible those weapons were used. Maybe stripped from attack craft."

"And now Earth has an excuse to demand things from us," Julia noted grimly. "By themselves, well, they can't outbuild us, they're smaller than some of our individual members, and our technology is better. But as the others pointed out, they won't be alone."

"Indeed. Therefore diplomacy will be paramount."

"And there's the Secretary's other mission."

"I sensed your discomfort," Meridina noted.

"They tried to take you and Rob and turn you into guinea pigs," Julia said, almost hissing. "They hunt their own people. She wants me to believe that they're the real victims here?"

"They are," Meridina noted. "It does not excuse their own dark acts, but they too suffer under a government that treats them abominably. Given what they labor under, some will easily fall into darkness."

"It's why I think Zhen'var was wrong," Julia said. "Those children would have had happier lives in the Alliance. They would be free."

"I do not dispute the truth of that statement. They would be free. But when you consider what they suffered, and the bonds that you would be snapping? I fear such a choice would have inflicted great harm to them, regardless of your good intent."

As always, Meridina was good at debating Julia on such things. She could see Meridina's point. The entire situation with telepaths in this universe, Human ones anyway, was infuriating. "Do you think… if we manage to talk Earth into being kinder to them, do you think Psi Corps might become better people? Could they repudiate people like Bester?"

"I suspect they may be too used to their current situation to do so easily," said Meridina. "But I believe, whether or not they were to turn on Bester and those like him, they have hope to become something better for themselves. But neither of us can dictate that. Commander Saumarez is correct about that. The telepaths will decide their fate for themselves. We can only help them win the opportunity to do so and strengthen the Light." Meridina stood. "I shall return to the bridge immediately."

"And I have paperwork to do before I join you," she said, standing as well.

Meridina turned as she approached the door. "Whatever the circumstances, I admit I am looking forward to visiting Babylon-5 again."

Julia nodded and grinned. "So am I."

Julia arrived on the bridge in time for the arrival. Given the nature of the meeting she was wearing the dress uniform, which replaced the black of the normal uniform with white and added golden epaulettes and shoulder-boards to the shoulders. Several commendations were attached as medals to the right breast of her uniform jacket, with the Alliance Senate Order of Merit, the Star of Valor, and the United Federation of Planets' Peace Medal the most prominent of them.

Jarod looked up from the command chair. Tra'dur was at Ops in his place, otherwise the bridge command crew were all at their stations. "I thought you'd be waiting in the Transporter Station?" he asked.

"I'll head down as soon as we're on approach," Julia said. "But I want a look at what Earth has waiting for us."

Caterina looked up from her station. "There's definitely a ship near the station. A big one."

Julia didn't replace Jarod in the command chair, simply standing behind Cat's station and waiting patiently for the moment to arrive. It came within a minute. "Dropping from warp," said Locarno.

The ship decelerated from warp in the space of a second. "Put B5 on screen," Julia ordered.

"Aye Captain," answered Tra'dur.

The bridge holo-viewer came to life. Set against the pale beige of Epsilon 3, the space station Babylon-5 continued to spin in place, much as it had the last time Julia had been to the station. It's been almost two years, she thought to herself.

But now it wasn't alone. Near it's five mile long body was a ship almost twice the length of the Aurora herself. Its design aesthetic was quite different from her ship, long and blocky, visible weapons ports on the bow and sides with a large engine in the rear. Julia had seen the design only a couple of times before.

"They have a Warlock-class dreadnought alongside the station," Cat remarked. "IFF code identifies her as the EAS Titans."

"Titans." Julia recalled the name. "That was the ship that took control of the EAS Huáscar at Rohric. Susan Ivanova's ship."

"They knew we were bringing Onaran," noted Jarod. "So this is a message."

"Either they're trying to intimidate us, sending a dreadnought when we sent a star cruiser…"

"...or we've become famous enough that they decided nothing less than John Sheridan's old XO was suitable," Jarod finished for her.

"It would be nice to know which," Julia said. She turned back to the lift. "I'm on my way to Transporter Station 1. Signal for transport as soon as we're cleared."

"You've got it," said Jarod.
”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 »

Also, to note, Alyrium, Duchess of Zeon, and VVoyager all contributed bits to this episode.
”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 negotiation team was beamed into the reception area connected to the VIP docks, Julia and Meridina joining them. They were met by their counterparts on the Earth team. In the lead was an older man, middle-aged going on elderly, with graying hair, mustache, and beard, and a demeanor that seemed pleasantly warm. Behind him were a number of other Humans of varying dress, equaling Onaran's team. One, a woman approaching middle-age, was in a black-and-gray suit with the brass Psi pin of a Psi Corps member prominent on the suit.

To his side were two women in Earthforce dress uniform. Julia recognized Captain Elizabeth Lochley, an older woman of dusky complexion and light brown, almost reddish hair. She was the commander of the station. Beside her was a woman, Caucasian, with brown hair and blue eyes that scanned them carefully. Julia found it easy to guess it was Ivanova, whom she hadn't met at Rohric during the Titans' brief time there.

The bearded man nodded to them and smiled warmly. "Secretary Onaran, it is my pleasure to meet you."

"And it is mine as well in meeting you face to face, Minister Lantze," Onaran replied. "My thanks to Earth for providing us this opportunity to settle matters between our governments."

"We are quite hopeful that we can make progress," Lantze said. Julia wondered if that was genuine or an act, given the difficulties they were facing.

One of Lantze's people stepped up and whispered in his ear. Lantze's expression briefly froze, becoming quite brittle in appearance before he recovered himself. "Mister Secretary," he began, "I am afraid there is an issue that must be addressed before we begin."

Onaran inclined his head slightly. ''Please, inform us of this issue."

Lantze did not seem particularly enthused by the request, but it was clearly part of the EarthGov position. He sighed and said, "I am afraid that the presence of Mister Travada is not acceptable to Earth. He is a rogue telepath, representing an illegal settlement of rogues. We cannot accept him in the negotiations."

Onaran narrowed his eyes. "Minister Travada is the diplomatic representative appointed by an Alliance affiliate state for talks in which that state has a clear and defined interest. He is the voice of his people, and it must be heard."

Julia noticed the hard look on the face of the Psi Corps woman, but even that paled in comparison to the open disgust from a couple of the other Earth people. As one of them sidled up to Lantze and drew his attention, Julia felt Meridina make telepathic contact with her mind. She shared not words but impressions; the Psi Corps woman was displeased, but the thoughts coming from some of the others was worse, open contempt for the Allied Systems mixed with raw hate for Travada. Most felt offended by the very idea of a telepath being the "Minister" of any kind of government. The only exception, which Meridina pointed out, was a Chinese man in a formal suit.

After a moment of discussion, a displeased, resigned Lantze turned back to Onaran. "I am afraid Earth must insist on the exclusion of Mister Travada from any discussions. We do not recognize his government as a legitimate one nor his right to participate."

Onaran nodded once and immediately looked to Julia. "Captain Andreys, please arrange for our immediate return to the Aurora. It appears we have come out all of this way for nothing."

Lantze sucked in breath. Some surprise showed on a few of the Earth members. Ivanova, however, smiled thinly, as if impressed. Julia thought she saw approval on the Chinese man's face as well.

"Mister Secretary, please…" pleaded Lantze.

Onaran's eyes bored into Lantze and then those with him, twin amethysts glittering with distaste. "I will give EarthGov ten hours to reconsider before the Aurora departs," he said.

Without consultation from those with him, Lantze insistently declared, "There is no need. In the interests of peace, we will concede and permit Mister Travada to join our talks, so long as you accept the presence of our advisor from Psi Corps."

Onaran nodded. "Then there is no issue. I believe you wished to hold a friendly reception meal before we begin business?"

"Yes. Captain?"

Lochley, who had remained silent the whole time, suddenly spoke as if she had never been out of the conversation. "Mister Secretary, Captain, if you will all follow me?" She turned and the two teams, as a group, departed the receiving area.

I wonder how the Psi Corps' 'advisor' feels about that distinction, Julia thought, knowing Meridina - and like Travada - would overhear, not to mention the advisor herself. We're demanding the telepath minority be given a seat at the table, Earth only has a telepath present to stop our telepaths from picking at their brains. And the Corps is still the majority of them.

I suspect she is used to it
, Meridina lamented.

The holodecks could be used for many different kinds of activity, such as training or scientific examination. On some ships in the Alliance fleet, captains tightly regulated them as for training only, or for training and scientific purposes. Other captains saw them as a means to improve crew morale, as the most desired use of the holodeck for many wasn't for training or science, but for entertainment and fun (although for Cat, science was fun). Tom Barnes in particular had noticed its potential in one field almost immediately.

Holodecks allowed for the best video games ever.

Tom had his hands on the flight stick of a P-51 Mustang fighter. He pulled and moved the stick to keep the German aircraft in his crosshairs, pulling the finger trigger often and watching bright tracer fire play over the German fighter. Flame spewed from where his guns were ripping into the simulated aluminum (aluminium according to Scotty) skin of the Nazi craft. Damage caused the other craft's maneuvering to cease, allowing Tom the easy kill with his next barrage. His aircraft went barrelling by the enemy plane as it fell apart.

There was a stream of tracer fire in front of him, coming from below. Tom banked hard to evade. Some bullets still struck, but nothing vital was hit. He turned and climbed, putting the engine to full, and then dived to make use of this gain in altitude. All the while tracer bullets would appear, his foe reminding him that he was being hunted. So long as he kept this foe from doing to him the same he'd done to his opponent's buddy…

His radio crackled to life. "I've got him." With that, Zack's fighter dove in from the direction of the sun, catching Tom's foe by surprise. A burst of fire turned their last remaining opponent into a fireball that broke apart in the blue skies, sending them to the French farmland below. Zack pulled his Mustang up beside Tom's and flashed him a thumb's up sign through the cockpit.

"Alright lads, fighter sweep complete," an English male voice said. "Best run yet. Would you like to try again?"

"Nope," Tom said, knowing Zack was saying the same.

"Ready for landing?"

"Skip landing sequence."

Their surroundings changed immediately to an airfield in southern England. Their once mobile planes were now parked and shut down. They opened the cockpits themselves and climbed out. "Computer, end program." The holodeck shut down, leaving them in an empty room of blue walls. "Well, that was fun," Zack said. "I didn't think we'd beat our old score." He raised his fist and Tom bumped it, knuckle-to-knuckle. "It's good to see I haven't lost all of my piloting touch."

As he spoke they stepped out of the holodeck and into the ship's corridors. Given they were on a starship, being dressed up as World War II-era fighter pilots made them look particularly out of place. "You're still on flight status, right?" asked Tom.

"No. I'm inactive until I complete the requalification course," Zack answered. "Between the time I was gone and my time on psychiatric leave, I didn't get enough qualifying flight hours to keep my wings."

"Well, when are you going to take the course?"

"Probably never," Zack answered.

"But you love flying, man," Tom said, looking worried. "Why would you give it up?"

Zack returned the look with a small smile. "Yeah, I do love flying fighters. But I've got duties as CO of the Koenig. I let my crew down, Tom, so I have to work twice as hard to get their trust back. I don't have the time for the re-qualification tests or the mandatory flight time to keep my wings."

"Huh. Yeah, that makes sense. Kinda sucks though. You know they've got a new model of the Mongoose now, right?"

"I saw," he affirmed. "And they're awesome. But my place is on Koenig." They arrived at a lift that would take them back to their quarters. "Deck 4," said Zack. He gave Tom his own worried look now. "How's the arm?"

"Ah, it's fine," Tom said. "Although Leo's cramping my style, saying I shouldn't alter it."

"Leo will always be Leo," Zack pointed out. "I'm just glad the arm seems to be doing good."

"Yeah, it is. I'm getting so used to it I sometimes forget it's not my original arm," Tom admitted, holding his right hand up to look at it. The pseudoskin matched the hue of the rest of his body just right, but there was a certain feel to it that was off whenever he touched it. "I sometimes get nightmares," he confessed. "That I'm pinned in that wreckage again, but the plasma welder is just out of reach, no matter how far I stretch. And the entire place just keeps getting hotter and hotter, and Julia and Scotty are screaming over the line that the reactors are melting down one by one, and I just can't reach the damn thing. Like I'm completely helpless."

Zack set his hand on Tom's shoulder. "I know the feeling, buddy."

Tom looked at him. "Let me guess. Clara?"

"Sometimes," Zack said. He didn't say that sometimes it was Julia that the Cylons shot dead. "And since Germania, I keep seeing that teenage Dilgar girl in my dreams. And no matter what I try, she always gets blown to bits. People scream for me to help and then there's a big boom and… well…"

"Damn man," Tom said, shaking his head. "Y'know, when we got out here, it was like this really cool adventure. Now it's…"

"Now it's serious," Zack finished for him. "And it's our lives, and more, on the line."

"I never thought I'd be hacking my own fraking arm off, man. And they had you charging tanks and crap, watching people get blown up. That stuff messes you up." Barnes shook his head.

"Yeah," Zack said quietly. He could still see those Dilgar being blown to pieces. "That's the price we paid to come home, really. Thousands had to pay with their lives to stop the Nazis."

"Yeah, yeah, I know."

The lift opened. "Same time tomorrow?" Tom asked.

"Sure," replied Zack.

As it turned out, EarthGov spared no expense, funding the reception lavishly with fresh food shipped directly from Earth and prepared by the kitchen staff of the station's most respected restaurant. Introductions were shared among the two negotiating teams.

"Everyone, please, a toast," Lantze requested, holding aloft a glass of wine. Those present quieted and did the same. "To the peace that brave men and women such as Captain Andreys and Commander Meridina won," and here he nodded toward Julia and Meridina, "by defeating the horror of the Reich, and to the hope that here we will preserve that peace and overcome the unfortunate issues that have divided our peoples. To peace!"

"To peace," echoed in the conference room, not spoken by all with the same enthusiasm as Lantze clearly had. After the toast, with individual members of the two groups splitting up to privately discuss matters, Julia took the time to note how they were reacting to Travada's presence. It was clear that most of Lantze's team were hostile to his presence, shunning his approach openly. Only one of the Earth team approached him, the Chinese man, who identified himself as Deng Jiang, who shook hands with Travada. As if not to be outdone, Captain Ivanova did the same.

It was easy to notice the same could be said for Astrid Bergsen, introduced as the Psi Corps "advisor" to the Earth team. Her own team gave her a wide berth. And they kept their distance from Meridina as well, as if she could download their memories with a glance. Julia noticed Meridina look toward Bergsen, but she was locked in conversation with her fellow Gersallian, the diplomat Tanapa, and did not approach.

Julia's attention was diverted when Lantze stepped up to Onaran and her. "My apologies, Mister Secretary, for that display," Lantze said. "I had to obey my instructions on the matter of Minister Travada."

"Oh?" The Dorei man showed not a hint of recrimination.

"Earth believed it to be impolitic to acknowledge or recognize, in any way, the Free Colony," Lantze explained. "The belief in EarthDome is that such recognition would inspire more telepaths to turn rogue and flee, complicating our relationship with the Psi Corps. I was only permitted to accept their presence as a concession."

The language made Julia suspicious that this had become a negotiating tactic: "We've given something up for you, now give us something", done before they even reached the table. Onaran, whether he believed it or not, nodded. "I understand the difficulties that a diplomat can operate under when instructions are strict," he said soothingly. "Hopefully we may use this to find a common ground."

Lantze was clearly pleased with that remark. He and Onaran stepped away, Lantze beginning to discuss something involving a grandchild.

Julia considered following but stopped when she noticed Captain Ivanova's approach. Ivanova came to a stop in front of her and nodded. "Captain Andreys," she said, her accent mostly American. "Your reputation precedes you."

"Yours as well, Captain Ivanova," Julia replied. "And it's more impressive."

"At the rate you're going, it won't be for much longer," Ivanova replied. "It's a shame I missed out on the push to Germania. I have twice the reason to want to blow up Nazis."

"Russian and…?"

"Jewish," Ivanova said. "Not very observant, true, but that wouldn't have mattered to those bastards."

"I understand," Julia said, nodding quietly.

"Your record against the Reich is one thing. What you did at Tira… it impressed the hell out of a lot of us in Earthforce. The Drazi and Brakiri went completely over the line."

Visions of smashed incubation tubes and the broken remains of Dilgar babies briefly entered Julia's mind. "They left the line over the horizon if you ask me." She returned her attention to Ivanova. "I'm sorry I didn't get to meet you at Rohric."

"It's no trouble. We didn't linger," said Ivanova. "Earthforce only sent us because someone had to bring the Huáscar back."

"You also carried Governor Ari'shan, though."

"They would have put him on an EAI ship if I hadn't been available for that mission," said Ivanova.

Julia took a sip of her drink, a fine wine that had a rich taste. Almost too rich for her preference, but enduring such things was the cost of doing diplomacy. "Earthforce felt that embarrassed about Tira?"

"Well, the ones who stayed with Clark back during the Civil War were upset that Captain Varma got involved in saving the Dilgar in the first place. And all of the officers who fought Clark were furious when EarthGov gave Foster support for mutinying against Varma. Then, depending on who you talk to, either Varma legitimately reclaimed her ship with loyal officers or staged a mutiny against the Earth-supported commander, making us look weak before aliens." Ivanova gave a frustrated sigh. "The entire thing was a screwup that Earthforce is happy to forget happened."

"A funny way to describe an officer seizing their ship to openly support genocide," Julia remarked.

"True. Good old EarthGov. Avoid the hard decisions until someone has a PPG to your head, then pick the wrong one." Ivanova rolled her eyes.

"If you ask me, Captain Varma should have been given your highest commendation and returned to her ship."

There was a flicker in Ivanova's eyes. It was joined by an uncertain silence. "Yes, I agree," said Ivanova. "It's good to hear she finally came around to doing the right thing."

That won Julia's attention immediately. "What do you mean?"

"How close are you to Captain Varma?" Ivanova asked. "I've heard she's accepted an Alliance commission now."

"Personally? Not very," Julia admitted. "I did just meet her again on her new command. But we're, well, I think pretty frigid right now. Professional courtesy and that's it."

Ivanova nodded. "She's always been an odd one. And she has a very rigid code of honor. It's why she fought on Clark's side in the Civil War after leaving B5."

Julia blinked at that. "She did?"

"Oh, she talked it up as remaining loyal to her oath to Earth," Ivanova said. "And she wasn't helping Nightwatch, I'll give her that. But when we asked her to support us after B5 became independent, she refused to sign up. All she'd do, she said, was protect the station. Given the stakes we weren't about to risk a secret Clark loyalist remaining on staff, so we shipped her back to Earth." Ivanova frowned at the recollection. "I hear Clark's people didn't care much for her either, she was too friendly to aliens for their tastes, but they didn't want to act against someone who fought on the Line."

"So if both sides hated her, how did she end up in command?"

"General Lefcourt supported her, gave her postings," Ivanova said. "She gets rewarded for making the wrong choice, then loses it when she makes the right choice. God's sense of humor, I suppose." A curious look came to the older woman's face. "So, I'm guessing she has some strong opinions on this current crisis?"

"Some, I think," said Julia. "I'm still confused on why she let Psi Corps reclaim the telepath children her crew recovered on Mars."

"She's always been a sympathizer for the Psi Corps." There was real heat in Ivanova's voice. "Maybe we shouldn't be surprised she sided with Clark…"

“The answer is fairly simple Captain, Captain Zhen’var repatriated them after their house-parents were brutally murdered, because they’re our children. We raise them communally. Oh, and we won in court with our own lawyer.” The Psi Corps representative interjected politely in a happy-sounding Swedish accent, that last part was spoken with particular pride. She stepped up to form a conversational tripod from a position where she could see every other mundane in the room.

“Astrid Bergsen, Psi Corps Commercial division, rating P9. A pleasure to meet you Captain Andreys.” she turned again, not missing a beat. “And need I remind you Captain Ivanova that the Psi Corps is bound by our charter to political neutrality.”

"Which is why you endorsed Clark, and why so many members of Psi Corps helped the Nightwatch mind-rape innocent people?" Ivanova retorted.

“Did we endorse him?” She asked. “I seem to recall that Director York is a non-telepath appointed by the Earth Alliance Senate. A quandary for the history books I suppose!” Astrid replied cheerfully. “Though I’m afraid that same charter also prohibits me from commenting on any aspect of what the Psi Corps may or may not have have done during the Civil War. However, I can discuss a hypothetical, will you permit me Captains?”

A look of impatience was showing on Ivanova's face. Julia preempted any refusal by stating, "Alright. I'll hear you out."
“Thank you for your forbearance. Say you have a population that is without any civil rights, including the vote and due process, shackled to the will of the state. Say that entire population makes up, oh, less than half a percent of a country’s population, and they know they might be subject to pogroms like they were in the past if they refused to do what they were told by the state; would you expect those people to openly disobey the orders of said state?”

The word "pogroms" brought back dark memories for Julia, of a little town in Eastern Europe with rampaging Cossack cavalrymen sweeping through the streets, setting fire to homes and running people down. She remembered the surge of anger vividly, the grip on her pulse rifle before Robert and Angel rushed in, all to buy time for Tom and the other transporter operators on the Kelley to evacuate the residents.

"My people know something of pogroms themselves," Ivanova said. "It doesn't change what the Corps has become. Or what it's done." There was a quiet fury in Ivanova's voice as she said that.

“Here I am speaking in hypotheticals, and you’re discussing the Psi Corps… You know I cannot necessarily answer your charges. However, let us assume there are excesses. Surely you know that there are always going to be quislings in the ranks of such a people that must be continually rooted out and destroyed. Surely you also know that this must be done quietly.”

Before Ivanova could respond, Julia looked to Astrid and asked, "You keep bringing up the Psi Corps charter as forbidding you from discussing anything. You're telling me the charter forbids you from discussing anything about the telepath issue?"

“I am permitted to discuss the facts of history and law as an intellectual exercise, and am freer to speak in private, Captain. However, in a public forum I cannot discuss the merits of EarthGov policy or weigh in on controversial topics, that issue included. Nor am I permitted to vote, hold public office, or act as a journalist in any capacity other than perhaps to be interviewed on a matter of public information concern. A Psi Cop might get on ISN and provide information about an ongoing criminal investigation that impacts the public, for instance.” Astrid answered in as cheerful a way as possible, but the smile never reached her eyes, instead her eyes gleamed with quiet anger.

Julia glanced briefly to Ivanova, who remained stolidly quiet, before she looked back to Astrid. She thought she could see far more to say behind those quiet, angry eyes, things Astrid didn't dare say in any kind of public venue. What she said tracked with what Julia already knew about the Earth Alliance and she felt a pang of sympathy for the idea of having to live like that.

A little part of her rebelled at that sympathy. These are the same people who hunted Rob and Meridina to turn them into lab rats!

I have been cleared to tell you this: We are sorry about that. Partially a misunderstanding, partially Bester, partly standing orders from EarthGov.

Given the silence that passed between them a suspicious look came to Ivanova. Before she could say anything Julia clamped down her anger and said, "I'm sorry you have to live like that. People should be free."

“I thank you for that.” Astrid said gently. “It is… tiring. There are those who, under different conditions, might defenestrate me for being as forward as I have been.” She glanced over at Ivanova.

Ivanova crossed her arms and gave Astrid a hard look. "I've gotten along perfectly fine with a telepath being forward with me. And she was loyal to the Corps too. The Corps repaid her by turning her into a spy and erasing her personality." As she spoke, Julia watched Ivanova's expression change, restrained anger giving way to painful loss.

Astrid actually looked at her with real sympathy, like she knew exactly how Ivanova felt. “Remember what I said about quislings that need to be rooted out and destroyed? It isn’t always possible to bring the victims back, but speaking hypothetically of course, it is possible to settle the account.”

Ivanova looked skeptical but said nothing. Julia couldn't tell if she had nothing left to say, or if she couldn't think of what to say, but her silence continued on for seconds until Julia, remembering Onaran's other mission, said, "Have you met my first officer, Ms. Bergsen? She is a Gersallian telepath trained in the Order of Swenya."

“I’m afraid I have not had the pleasure. I’ll go introduce myself and let you two get back to your conversation.” Astrid replied and dismissed herself, giving Ivanova one more look that was equal parts anger and sadness before she left.

Julia watched her approach Meridina, who now stood by herself, before looking back to Ivanova. "The telepath you mentioned. The one with the…"

"I'd rather not talk about it," Ivanova said, her expression rigidly stoic. "Sometimes I am reminded why we Russians are the people who understand the universe the most."

Julia blinked. "I imagined you were Russian-descended. You speak English with an American accent."

"I've had too many assignments with North Americans," she explained. "I lost my accent years ago." Ivanova offered her hand and Julia accepted it for a handshake. "It was nice to speak with you, Captain. Before the negotiations are over, I'd like to buy you a drink. It's been too long since I've been by Earhart's here on the station. They make a great Jovian sunspot."

Julia nodded. "I think I'd like that."

Meridina was beginning to worry that she might have to be more direct - too direct to not go unnoticed - when Astrid approached her. Meridina gave the Psi Corps woman a quiet look and seemed to wait for her to exchange pleasantries. Mentally she projected a thought toward Astrid, a desire to converse privately.

“Astrid Bergsen, Psi Corps Commercial division, rating P9.” Astrid said verbally Your charmingly… ill-informed shipmate suggested I speak to you. I’m going to assume it has something to do with my actual reason for being here.

"I am Commander Meridina, First Officer of the Starship Aurora. I myself am a telepath. We do not rate quite the same way your people do, but I believe I would be considered a P10 in telepathic capability." Yes. I am here to facilitate a private meeting between you and an Alliance officer and member of the Mha'dorn.

“Ah, a pleasure to make your acquaintance then. Your reputation precedes you.” Excellent, a Dilgar would stand out, I wouldn’t suppose it’s my prodigal sister?

Meridina gave a nod at the verbal remark, although it had a double meaning. "I have not dealt with the commercial side of Psi Corps before," Meridina admitted aloud. "I am told your work is the same as some of the professional telepaths in the Farisa Genut." Commander Elia Saumarez, yes. You can understand why she could not come herself. I believe she is still officially wanted as a rogue in Earth space?

Absolutely yes. By the mundanes, not by us. Speaking of wanted people Commander, I would like to extend the apologies of the Psi Corps for… well...Bester. Black Sheep would be a good term to use for him.
“It is similar for most, yes. My specialty is somewhat different. Corporate counterintelligence, which puts me on the front lines when some mega-corp or another decides to use unregistered” usually enslaved “telepaths for corporate espionage.”

Meridina frowned over the verbal remark and the telepathic data added by Astrid. "Gersal does not have these 'megacorps' you speak of, but I have heard of them. That their activities require them to employ intelligence operatives is quite… disconcerting." Bester did not harm us in the end, although he did provide rather an annoyance to our mission.

“I sense an opportunity for cultural exchange. I can get you a copy of the works of a 20th century author by the name of Ayn Rand. Her writings on ‘ethics’ are taken to heart by many capitalists within the Earth Alliance. They steal each other’s work, try to illegally influence negotiations, whole nine yards.” The fact that he tried matters. It wasn’t acceptable. But he’s family. I don’t know if you have racist uncles on Gersal but it’s a similar dynamic; complete with the rest of us having to clean up the mess.

"That sort of behavior in Humanity is despairing," Meridina sighed. "It led to the fate of Humanity in my home universe. We are very grateful the legacy of the Darglan was found by worthier Humans." Leonard once remarked on such beings. Older relatives with socially awkward beliefs and habits.

It’s just like that, albeit they usually don’t have a power base or the ability to rip out someone’s personality.
Astrid’s mental expression was somewhat sheepish, even if it didn’t show on her face. “So are we, bluntly.” Speaking for the Corps, not humanity in general in this universe.

Meridina considered both remarks. My people do not believe in using our telepathic talents in that fashion. It is… Meridina glyphed the rest of the information, using personal memory association with all of the lessons her mother Drentiya had taught her growing up, plus the way that Gersallians viewed the universe. To destroy another's mind or forcibly rewrite their personality was an act of darkness, a violation of another being's self. It was one thing to use her swevyra - the concept of such was integral to the glyph - to temporarily assert will over another being to convince them to do something small, like ignore her presence or lower a weapon, but that sort of permanent alteration… it was entirely outside of acceptable behavior. Even entering the mind of another was frowned upon.

Astrid contemplated that, and nodded in understanding. It's a grim necessity for us. Many of us will go our whole lives without having to do it, but… For us, telepathy is an active sense like touch. It can be used to create or destroy. In the name of better relations I’ll be honest with you. We’ve been fighting for our survival as a people for a hundred and fifty years. We’ve had to get our hands dirty. Some can do it and remain decent people. Some can’t.

Meridina mentally nodded at that. Such an act can be corruptive. It leads into darkness, in the understanding of my people. She noticed that they were getting some attention, and that at any moment someone might interrupt. The gardens of the station are quite expansive and easy to hide in, from what I recall of Babylon-5. Will they suffice as a meeting place for you?

Thank God you didn’t ask about Down Below… a mundane probably would have. I’ve been here before on business; they are lovely gardens and I know of a good spot.
Astrid glyphed a location in an out of the way place near the interface between Green and Red Sector.

The negotiation meeting will come first, but I will bring Elia aboard - in disguise - two hours after we adjourn.

I’ll be there. Be careful about being tailed. There’s no guarantee this meeting is entirely on the level, and the negotiators might not know.

Meridina smiled at that. I was trained as a swevyra'se, what your people might call a Knight of Life. I know when I am being followed.

Hmm. From what I’ve heard Wizard might be better than Knight in some respects... But I trust your judgement.

This was the final exchange they had before Meridina separated from Astrid, moving toward Julia and Lantze. "Minister, this is my First Officer Commander Meridina," Julia said.

"Minister, a pleasure," Meridina said, bowing her head politely. Contact has been made, Meridina directed into Julia's mind.


With Julia and Meridina on the station, Jarod was left in command on the bridge for the rest of the watch period. He spent the quiet watch thinking on matters. Thoughts that had been in his head these past two days.

As soon as Locarno arrived to relieve him, Jarod went to the lift. "Deck 4," he said initially. As the lift arrived at the halfway point he suddenly revised the order. "Deck 6." The lift immediately changed to its new destination. "Computer, is there a location on Commander Saumarez?"

"Commander Saumarez is in her assigned quarters," answered the computer. It normally would not have shared such, but as the Aurora Operations Officer Jarod was one of a few command officers with authorization for such location requests.

Jarod quickly consulted his omnitool for the room Tra'dur assigned Elia. Finding it, he walked down the corridors of Deck 6 until he arrived at the appropriate guest quarters.

When the door chimed, Elia pulled herself up. She refastened her uniform jacket, tightened it, adjusted the rank tabs and Mha’dorn pin, pulled her gloves on, quickly drew her hair back with a couple of clips, and presented herself at the door. “Commander Saumarez…” She said as the door swished open, only one minute after the chime sounded the first time, and shortly after the second. The end result of the small delay was her perfect presentation, as if she had been in a conference rather than private. “...Commander Jarod, greetings. What do you need?”

"If you don't mind, I'd like to talk with you," he replied. His surface thoughts were still considering the similarities he was dwelling on, but he spoke them aloud regardless. "About some of the things you said during the conference on the Huáscar."

“Come in and have a seat,” she answered after a moment, her eyes admitting her hesitation, but only for a moment.

"Thank you," he said, following her in only after she was out of the doorway. Her quarters on the Aurora were one of the nicer ones available, although Onaran had his team had taken up the best rooms already. Like all guest quarters they gave the sense of a hotel room; cozy, but the furnishings lacked the individual touch of a permanent resident. "I…" He stopped and sighed. "Well, even after the years I've spent with Julia and the others, I'm afraid my social skills are still occasionally lacking." In his thoughts he was clearly trying to think of a way to speak with her that wouldn't come across as patronizing her for Elia's obvious unease with the situation, both being pulled from her ship as it was still getting organized and feelings about her mission. For all of the related occupations he'd filled over his life since leaving the Centre…

And then he figured out the best way to approach it. He put himself into Elia's shoes, aided by the time he'd spent living with Meridina, to communicate in a way a telepath might feel more at ease with. With no words that might work, he simply bared his thoughts as openly, yet as gently, as he could.

“You don’t need to worry. I could understand your intent. But thank you for making it plain, Jarod.” Unlike Meridina, she abstained from answering telepathically. “On my Earth, you know, telepaths never communicate with mundanes telepathically. It’s a trap to be accused of violating their rights. It would be a very hard barrier for me to do so with a mundane--something I’ve only overcome with the closest of my friends.” She looked wryly at him, and reached up to undo her hair with a sigh. “This Centre you’re thinking of. Why’d it do that to you?”

"For money, power," Jarod replied. "They used my mind to invent new technologies or methods. To figure out secrets that they could use to blackmail or manipulate with. They didn't care about the morality of any of it either. I'm not sure how many lives they destroyed with the things I thought up while under their control." An old pain showed on his face. While he never doubted that serving on the Aurora, with the Alliance, was helping to make up for the evil the Centre did with his gifts in ways beyond what he'd done while a fugitive, he sometimes found himself wondering if he could ever get away from the feeling of it never being enough. "They did this for thirty years. I've only been free for seven, eight years now. And when you described how the telepaths would get used without the Corps, well, I've spent the time since thinking about the Centre."

“I can understand why. It’s essentially the same thing,” Elia answered. “You do have the right of it. The Corps is like a medieval guild; it’s a home, a way of life--and also a collective bargaining mechanism. And, of course, it’s a monopoly that can get persnickety about its turf. But it does that because the alternative is the Centre. I’ve read what one of the Senators have proposed in place of Crawford-Tokash. Irregular, random, involuntary deep scans by anonymous enforcement personnel to make sure you haven’t committed any crimes with your abilities.”

Jarod shook his head at that. It wasn't hard to imagine how that system might get abused. "It's wrong," he agreed. "I'll admit I didn't see the Corps in the best light when I first learned about them. The reputation of your Psi Cops and Bloodhounds reminded me of…" He let the sentence trail off with thoughts. Of all of his close calls over the years with Miss Parker and her team of hunters, tracking him across the continent to drag him back to the Centre. "That seems to be our problem," he admitted. "The Corps has to protect telepaths while hunting the ones who run. It'd be easier if Earth had their own security agencies responsible for it."

“Self-enforcement grew out of Crawford’s antebellum ideology. Psi-Cops are the Overseer slaves on the plantation in his mind. To us, they’re heroes. They have the life expectancy of a medieval peasant, you know, Jarod. They burn themselves out trying to manage the contradictions. Bester’s the only old Psi-Cop I can even think of.”

Bester's name carried a weight that Elia could easily see. He'd tried to carry off Robert and Meridina. Jarod said nothing more about that, since there was no point. Instead his mind quickly worked to consider the perspective of a Psi Cop. Without being made a telepath he could never actually pull a Pretend as a Psi Cop, but he could do so mentally. His mind took in the facts of their job, position, and circumstances just as he had many other occupations.

It was not a pleasant one.

The Psi Cops - "Metasensory Police" or MetaPol in actuality - were caught in the tension created when Earth turned them into the enforcement of the draconian laws against telepaths. He considered the cause of that tension. Forced to hunt your own people by the masters oppressing you both, holding back as much as possible so you don't kill them when they're fighting to do the same to you. Becoming a symbol of oppression and fear because of the laws your masters imposed, dealing with the same master class and having to put up with their own hate and fear of what you could do…

Quickly Jarod understood how easy it was to fall into that trap. To become the mask and make it what you were; cold, ruthless, and relentless, not caring about whom you hurt so long as you caught your prey and enforced the law. Even if you still hated that law.

Did that explain Bester? He'd survived this long for a reason, and the more Jarod let himself slip into the Pretend, the more he felt it the only way he could survive that long mentally. Become the mask. Lose your soul to it. Internalize all of the jealousy and fear of the mundanes who oppressed you and decide they were right to fear you, because you are superior to them. You are the true next stop on the evolutionary road, and are destined to leave them behind. Nothing done to promote that end is wrong. Everything, everything, is permissible as long as it advances the Cause.

The things that sense of superiority could lead one to do, not just to the master class but to those of your own people who fail to measure up to their superiority…

“I wouldn't recommend going further down that road, Jarod. It will do unpleasant things to your psyche even to contemplate. I am also sitting here mildly amazed, wondering if you actually could Pretend a Psi-Cop by taking Dust. I don't recommend trying, but your own abilities might give you the control most Dust users lack.” She was quiet for a Moment as her words pulled Jarod out of his mental Pretend. “There's another aspect, too. Most work Psi-Cops do is sincerely to protect people. They're the only telepaths who can fight back against Mundanes. They protect us from Mundanes--that's why they're heroes. Imagine the peril of being both saviour and enforcer. It makes the complex worse.”

A shiver went through Jarod at the thought. That much tension between roles? He felt worried that she was right, that if he delved back into the Pretend with that idea, it would be damaging. "It wouldn't be the first time my psyche's been through the wringer from a bad Pretend," he confessed. "And every P12 is expected to become a Psi Cop?"

“To try. You can wash out into something else,” Elia answered. “I should have been a bloodhound myself--such an ineffably demeaning term, I’m not a dog, my biological family bred dogs, but not me--but the rating assessment fell more or less right on the boundary between P9/P10. To try and minimise the stigma of the classifications, the slash and the second rating get put in your personnel file when you’re a case like that. Our society has become hierarchal in ways we try to avoid from cementing into a caste system. But the mundanes would like it if we developed a caste system. At any rate, I was sent to Military, instead. My classmates sent me their sympathy, but I stiffened up my gut and resolved to be the best I could. Anything else would let the family down, you know. I wasn’t afraid of war, I read Aubrey-Maturin and Hornblower growing up.”

A thin smile touched her lips. “My biological family, by the way, did things the very tidy English way. When they found out I had the telepath genes and was showing signs of a young childhood manifest, they tidily went to court, had legal custody formally transferred to Psi-Corps, had the driver and the family huntsman--he said to the Psi-Corps nurse who took custody that the nursemaid had refused to be near me when she found out, so being a family man he volunteered--take me to Geneva. Very few new telepaths arrive in a Bentley in a cradle. The transfer of custody included a twenty million pound investment account under a very quiet old London firm--Telepaths can’t own stocks, but a Trust for a telepath can--with instructions that I was to be disbursed after age twenty-one up to a million pounds a year on the sole condition I never contact my birth family for any reason whatsoever. And they didn’t try to take my family name from me, so I’m a Saumarez. The rest was really rather boring until Tira, except for all the cricket championship trophies. I am an extremely lucky woman.”

Jarod had knowledge of how the English upper classes worked. Undoubtedly her family considered that the best way to balance their status with the needs of one of their own, though for him it struck a nerve. "Your biological family gave you up," he said. "I was stolen from mine. The difference between us, if I understand the culture correctly, is that you found a replacement family. I…" He almost said he didn't, but he stopped. It wasn't quite true. For most of his life Sydney was his only family, or at least the closest he had to family, to a father. Even if Sydney was only meant to be Jarod's handler for the Centre, had indeed tried to stop Jarod from seeing him as a father, a bond had formed between them that still existed. And there had been Kyle, his brother, though they hadn't learned that until they were adults, long after the Centre separated them. "...well, I made do as best as I could," he finally admitted.

“I’m sorry. You were treated basely, you lacked that connection, because you … Were denied any association with others like yourself. Psi-Corps became more than a government agency precisely because it was that association. It was the only association. It’s not that Captain Andreys is wrong … Originally, in what Crawford intended. It’s that we were not powerless to change our own destinies, and we have been altering them ever since. Surely you understand? I think you do.”

To that Jarod nodded. "I do. And I'm not sure you might have done any better in the circumstances. It's the matter of choice that's been at issue between the Corps and the Alliance. Given time and a chance to understand the situation, well, I suppose that's a might-have-been now." He sighed. "I can see that from the reports. So I'm going to try to help you with the others. They understand what I went through. They gave me a home when I never thought I'd have one. I'm sure I can get them to understand." Left unsaid was Jarod's sentiment, one Elia could see. That even if it had limited his choices as much as her's had been limited, even if it meant being a second class citizen…

...well, he loved Sydney as a father figure, and he didn't regret a moment of his time with Julia and Robert and the others, but from the eyes of the boy he'd been, the boy taken from his family and made into a corporate tool... why wouldn't he have wanted a family of people just as intelligent as he was? Brothers and sisters like Kyle, but without a diabolical Mr. Raines to split them up and break Kyle as a person? People that could have protected him from the Centre.

“I’m glad you’ve finally found a family, Jarod,” Elia said very softly. “And thank you for trying to understand mine. Here, with my career, my civil rights, by loyalty to Dilgar and Union and the Alliance principles, what’s left in Psi-Corps for me is simple: It’s my family.”

Jarod nodded in understanding. "And you do what you have to when it comes to protecting family."

After the reception, everyone moved on to one of the station's conference lounges. The table was long enough to accommodate both teams, one per side. Onaran and Lantze sat in the middle chairs facing each other. Julia and Ivanova were two seats to the right of their respective team leads, although this meant neither faced the other. Meridina and Astrid were on the far ends of the table, allowing either to act to protect their people from telepathic attack while giving them an open view of all participants. Meridina, upon taking her seat, felt annoyance at the unrelenting paranoia coming from most of Lantze's subordinates over the presence of three telepaths.

"Now that we are set to begin, I will state the Alliance's goals for these talks, Minister Lantze," Onaran said pleasantly. The Dorei man set his hands, the skin on them the same rich ocean blue as his face, on the table. "It is the position of the United Alliance of Systems that the issue at hand is a result of the Earth Alliance's repressive laws against your telepath minority. These laws inspire telepaths to turn to violent means to resist them and that has led to these unfortunate incidents. While we recognize that insisting on the repeal of said laws would be interpreted as an attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the Earth Alliance, we do urge you to consider that course. At the very least, a repeal of the statutes banning legal emigration of telepaths to other jurisdictions should be considered, and the Alliance is willing to provide assistance and concessions to create such a legal avenue for the dissenting members of the telepath population. This would reduce dependence upon sleepers and eliminate a major source of strife in the telepath community."

Julia noticed that with the exception of Deng Jiang, identified as the Earth team's intelligence advisor, the response was quite negative. Lantze seemed not so much negative as resigned. She wondered if he held similar views, or at least believed it a reasonable idea, but was forced by his government to dismiss the idea.

"And these are the totality of your views, Mister Secretary?" Lantze asked. "What of the Free Colony itself?"

"The Free Colony concurs with the views of the Allied Systems on the matter of emigration, and the root of the problem involving terrorists." Travada ignored the woman across from him - an Earth Alliance Security vice-director named Bethany Taggart - rolling her eyes at him. Just as he ignored the surface thought of Why did I have to sit across from the mindfreak?

"You misunderstand me, sir," Lantze said. "I was not speaking of your position, Minister Travada. I was requesting the Alliance's position on the Free Colony."

Onaran folded his hands on the table. "The Free Colony is considered a free, affiliated state of the Allied Systems, regardless of their current small size. We also consider them a legitimate expression of national aspiration for the E5B1 Human Telepath population."

Meridina marveled at the raw, seething anger that rippled on the other side, save in Minister Lantze himself, Captain Ivanova, and Deng Jiang. She glanced toward Astrid whose outward expression didn’t change, but Meridina felt her take notice of the use of “a” instead of “the”.

"I see," said Lantze. "Very well. And the matter of Darglan space?"

"It was what law regards as spatium nullius when the Alliance arrived in this universe," Onaran stated. "We laid claim to it in a fashion consistent with known practices of interstellar law, including that of your own universe."

Lantze jotted a note down and nodded. "I see. Thank you, Mister Secretary."

"And you, Mister Lantze?" Onaran kept his eyes on the Earth official. "What is Earth's positions on these matters?"

Julia could tell this was not going to go well when Lantze drew in a breath and glanced again to the rest of his team. "For one thing, we do concur on the matter of our laws. The Earth Alliance will not and cannot tolerate any power attempting to intervene in our domestic institutions, including the Crawford-Tokash Act and all related laws regulating telepaths. On that subject there will be no negotiation. The laws will not be changed on the word of an alien power."

Ivanova breathed out a little sigh. Deng Jiang's expression twitched slightly, showing displeasure. Astrid remained tightly controlled and absolutely stone-faced, but Julia thought she caught a twitch from her right thumb like she was suppressing an angry fist.

"And there is no chance of negotiation to persuade you?"

"I am afraid not, Mister Secretary," Lantze said. "EarthGov's instructions are quite clear. There will be no negotiation on our internal affairs." After Onaran merely nodded in understanding of the point, Lantze continued. "It is the position of the Earth Alliance that the United Alliance of Systems must bear at least a share of responsibility for the terrorist violence against Earth agencies. especially the Psi Corps. Your reckless support of a colony of rogue telepaths provides expectation of assistance in their radical agenda, whatever protests you issue to the contrary, and the Free Colony itself is suspected of providing aid to the Underground in these attacks. We insist and indeed expect that the Allied Systems immediately revoke its agreements with the Colony, dissolve its independent charter, and begin extradition to Earth of its leadership and all individuals listed by Earth security agencies as known terrorist sympathizers." Given the looks from the others, it was obvious that included Travada. Lantze kept attention as he pressed on. "Indeed, it is Earth's sincerest hope that the Allied Systems will do the responsible thing to restore peace to our society by immediately repatriating to Earth all telepaths born in the Earth Alliance or to parents from the Earth Alliance. By such an action you would prove your strong friendship to Earth and deal a blow to the outlandish desires of the Underground."

As he spoke those words, Julia found them lacking. Not just in reasonability but in passion. They were not being delivered by a man who believed in them. It was not just that Lantze did not believe this term attainable; it was that he personally had no desire to even ask it. He was speaking with the voice or voices of others, not his own.

"And you have no leeway for negotiation on this matter either?" asked Onaran calmly. Beside him Travada remained calm, but it hid great apprehension, Meridina felt.

"There is some," Lantze admitted. "But I must be blunt on these matters, Mister Secretary. EarthGov cannot and will not permit the repeal of any of the laws regarding telepaths, nor can we tolerate attempts to undermine them. They are for the safety and security of the non-telepath majority and for all of Earth."

Julia forced herself not to snort. Because if you give them the chance, you're worried all of the telepaths will run for somewhere they won't be treated like crap, and then how would you deal with those scary alien telepaths?

They’re also concerned we might run with any political or personal freedoms we attain and use them to take over their government, and avenge ourselves upon them for a century and a half of oppression and death.
Astrid sent to Meridina. Feel free to share that with Captain Andreys.
She isn’t wrong.
Travada concurred.

Meridina glyphed an acknowledgement, but did not pass the information on just yet. Lantze was resuming.

"As a consequence of this, neither can we accept the continued existence of the Free Colony. Especially not as it is currently constituted," said Lantze. "I can negotiate particulars and specific details, but the Free Colony's ability to rally support against EarthGov and its policies must be removed."

"We are a free and independent people," Travada insisted. "And we will not be chased from our new homes or ethnically cleansed from territory that isn’t even yours."

"You're a bunch of terrorists and rogues and the fact you're allowed to sit here is a sick joke," Taggart retorted in a Scots brogue. Travada would have responded but Onaran cut him off before he could.

"If your subordinate cannot behave with proper respect toward the representative of one of our affiliates, then she has no place at this table," Onaran said to Lantze.

Lantze gave Taggart a hard look. She said nothing. Finally he sighed and said, "On behalf of my subordinate and EarthGov, I apologize for the outburst. It was unbecoming."

The fact Lantze couldn't compel his lieutenant to apologize herself spoke volumes to Julia. He's not really in control. The way it looks, Earth's not even really interested in an agreement. They're here to posture.

"As for the issue of Darglan space, Earth renews her protest at the Allied Systems' unilateral annexation of such a large area of space so near to Earth's frontiers," Lantze said. "Particularly the refusal of the Allied Systems to permit innocent xenoarchaeological expeditions onto former Darglan worlds."

Translation: We won't let IPX loot the Darglan worlds bare, Julia thought at Meridina. Meridina flashed a small smile her way in reply.

"We have reasons for restricting such activity," Tanapa remarked. "Among them being that some of those involved in it once shot down a Ranger vessel over their so-called 'archaeological' efforts."

"Anyone might have performed that deed," said Mr. Thomas, the man between Deng Jiang and Lantze. The same who, earlier, had compelled Lantze to attempt to bar Travada from the table. "Just as anyone might have been behind the attack on an IPX ship two years ago. The Pedicarus was raided in the Venir star system. People died."

Julia said nothing but thought, Given Bester knew, what's his game?

"So Earth will continue to demand access to Darglan space?" Onaran asked.

"We must, yes," Lantze replied.

Onaran seemed to consider that for a moment. "I am sorry, Minister Lantze, but this does not feel like a negotiation," he finally said. "You appear to have nothing but demands. I came here to find middle ground, not permit posturing for Earth's media. I am willing to negotiate a number of points, including providing security relating to the Telepath Underground attempting to use Alliance space as a base. But under no conditions will we betray the Free Colony."

Lantze sighed and nodded. "I understand, Mister Secretary. Perhaps if we were to discuss further the needs of our governments, a solution will reveal itself."

Julia's only mental response to that was her growing skepticism that they would get anything done. Which makes the meeting you're setting up all the more important, Meridina.

Noted, was the wry mental reply.
”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 »

By the time the first round of talks ended in utter stalemate, Elia was ready, with dyed hair and false contacts to change her visible eye color. She would be masquerading as another Alliance officer, complete with an authentic ID attached to her fake name - courtesy of Jarod - to get through station customs.

More importantly, at least to her sensibilities, was the need to leave her hands bare.

Meridina picked up on that when they met in Transporter Station Two. She had swapped out her dress uniform for a standard one, which was far less likely to draw attention. To avoid issues with the station's regulations on personal weapons Meridina had tucked her lightsaber into her uniform jacket where it was unlikely to trigger the sensors. Wordlessly the two women stepped onto the pad and allowed the Alakin transporter operator to send them over.

The transporter deposited them in the section of the customs entry area. While the station had not been built with the technology in mind, the growing use of it ensured that station operations adjusted, with areas set aside for incoming transports while the rest of the station was protected by an anti-beaming field to prevent unauthorized transporting.

Without a word Meridina and the disguised Elia joined the line of new arrivals to pass through station customs. To the normal passerby they seemed like naval officers taking a shore leave who just happened to disembark together. Elia went first through security. A female Narn processed her real-yet-fake ID and made the usual queries. Within twenty seconds she was through.

Meridina followed through the line behind her, repeating the process. By the time she was through, Elia was already entering the station proper. Meridina followed from a slight distance, casting her glance around to take in the varied species milling about the station. A Gl'mulli slipped around her. To the side, a visiting Turian was disputing something with an Alakin, forcing a party of visiting Yolu to walk around them.

A group of Pak'ma'ra briefly obscured Meridina's sight of Elia. Meridina let the visual contact be broken; she still sensed Elia's presence through the Flow of Life, and she used that to follow Elia into the heart of the space station.
”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 gardens in Babylon 5’s central shaft were absolutely vast and easy to get lost in, but they were also safe and it was relatively easy to find a quiet bench out of the way and out of line of sight of any recording equipment or human eyes. Elia found Astrid in one of those gardens next to a grove of coffee trees that had to be illicit given their water requirements, sitting on a bench, still wearing her badge and gloves.

Astrid looked toward the apparent stranger looking a bit startled “Hello! I’m sorry, I came here to get away from everything. So many minds on this station, they’re hard to block out. I can find somewhere else to sit if you like.” she said, sounding a bit sheepish.

The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father. Commander Saumarez…Sister. It’s good to see you doing so well. Sit, please. We have a great deal to discuss, I suspect.

“It’s fine. I can trust you to be quiet, and I like the sound of silence myself,” Elia answered after a moment. <Dye job, fake ID that isn’t fake because a real Alliance ID machine made it, a little misdirection at the port of entry, and the absolutely revolting feeling of wandering around naked, but I’m here.>

“Excellent” Astrid replied “This spot really does have a lovely view. It’s surprising, but I suppose it shouldn’t be. This garden is vast enough to generate weather. The station uses it for water reclamation” <I know the feeling. I’ve had to do those ops before. The only reason I didn’t this time is that my cover requires my being known to be on the station. Of course, I’m only nominally with Commercial division these days.>

“It’s quite amazing,” Elia agreed pleasantly. But even her full response to that, she kept to a more comfortable mode of communication. <I’ve heard there are universes like the one with the Symbiotic Amazons that actually went and built full-sized O’Neil cylinders, which is just amazing. Babylon 5 is close enough for EarthGov work, though, let’s be honest. And yes, I understand.>

“Not sure who these coffee plants belong to though. They’re not tagged…” Astrid did actually indicate for the benefit of anyone watching that this particular set of plants was indeed illegal. <Transport division Intelligence. Ever since Omega VII was evacuated.>

“Someone has a really nice stash of coffee, then. Of course, we have replicators on Alliance ships, but many people insist it isn’t the same thing.” <Transport division intelligence. So you’re working for the fleet we encountered. Got it. All right, you’re going to love this. They sent me here to contact you.>

“Oh yeah, someone’s taken good care of them too. They’re so lovingly trimmed.”<Oh God, it’s an espionage comedy.> Astrid grinned inside her head <I take it the Union kept Mha’dorn contact with the Corps compartmentalized for opsec purposes? In fairness, we only recently found out about that ourselves. Metapol plays things close to the chest. They have to. Loose neurons and all that, and they’re being observed.>

<I admit, I always preferred the capers to the outright comedies. Someday there will be a movie night and I will break out my copy of
Night Train to Munich. But yes, the Union understands very precisely that sometimes our political objectives and the Alliance’s are not in lockstep. Sync, yes, but not lockstep.>

Astrid got a disquieted look on her face and in her mind at Elia’s use of the concept ‘our’. <Elia, no matter what, you’re still our sister. As far as we’re concerned, you’ve never left the Corps. I’ve been authorized to pass information on the current sociopolitical situation to the Alliance, but I can pass along military information to the Mha’dorn.> by which she meant Elia <From there, we trust the Mha’dorn to put it in the right hands at the right time.>

<Then any military matters we discuss are for War Captain Era’jhi’s mind only.> She had caught the look, the feel from Astrid. <Astrid, I’ve gestalted with Dilgar without going insane. When I say Our, I really mean the Mha’dorn.>

Astrid smiled faintly, and shook her head, not in denial, but the strangeness of everything. “The lengths people will go to for a good light roast I suppose, especially when their other options are probably institutional swill. If you ask me, our brave men and women in Earth Force deserve better.” <That is agreeable. And I assumed such was the case, it’s just odd to p’hear you speak that way. There’s nothing for it, though. The damned charter saw to that. Transport is slightly annoyed that the Mha’dorn poached you, by the way. Not that we hold it against or blame them, given the circumstances. That they’ve done right by you speaks volumes.>

“Considering military life flows straight out of coffee, I’m surprised there aren’t mutinies.” A cheery, but soft laugh. <When I break a mundane rule, I like to turn it into confetti. In all seriousness, thank you. The Mha’dorn connection was … Unexpected, but not unwelcome. They’re probably the closest alien telepath org to us that exists.>

“Shh! Don’t say the word! This station has already declared independence once, one more time and underwriters will start putting Babylon 5 exclusions into insurance policies.” Astrid laughed both internally and externally. One for show at her own joke, the other genuinely regarding confetti. <You’re welcome. I imagine the whole thing was rather unexpected. Some might disagree with me, but I’m glad to have the Dilgar around again. No species should be consigned to oblivion like that. And they were always… more like humans than most would be comfortable admitting. It makes sense that their telepaths would be similar.>

<And they are. And Jha’dur of all people arranged evacuation transports to favour Mha’dorn, so they’re an order of magnitude more common in Dilgar than we are in humans.> She paused for a moment. <That’ll probably scare some Mundanes later, but they scare easy.>

<Hmm, then it’s just a matter of what scares the mundanes more. Dilgar telepaths, or human telepaths crewing the
PCS Sandoval Bey> Astrid glyphed Elia an image of a nearly-completed Warlock-class Dreadnought being built in a reclaimed Markab shipyard.

<...I’m going with the Sandoval Bey. I think the only Dilgar trump card is a redhead with a rap sheet longer than an Administration accident report form.>

Astrid’s mind went from ‘Mother of God’ at Administration’s accident report forms to a mental exclamation mark when she put two and two together and came up with five because She was supposed to be very dead.<You don’t mean…?>

<Look how effective that is. I mean you could have directly seen that I was just making a joke in admitting the
Sandoval Bey is scary awesome. But the psychosocial history of Jha’dur is like no other. She’s dead. They’re not hiding her. Shai’jhur’s too sincere about democracy. She has at least six living relatives, though, and I think they’re closer relations than anyone lets on. Probably for the best to keep that one quiet, though.>

Astrid kept her external expression completely passive as she visibly contemplated the artificial clouds being sucked through a negative pressure system at both ends of the garden, kilometers away. Inwardly, she laughed. <You had me pretty good there, I should have gotten that. I figure she just cheated death and retired to private life or something, I don’t think the Varm-the Clan of Var would be… a thing, if she was the secret head of state or if Shai’jhur were insincere. Also, that little secret is safe with me. Jha’dur was completely mad, but her relatives don’t deserve the fallout from that.>

<I appreciate that. But we should probably get to business, under different circumstances I wouldn’t mind just spending the day with you but the longer we stay here the longer we risk being discovered. What have you got?>
Elia asked.

Astrid sighed, externally it was more of a wistful relaxed thing. Internally it was frustrated and sad; even angry. Not at Elia, but at the situation in Earth Alliance space. <In this datacrystal, you’ll find what I can share with the Alliance. As for the rest, drop your blocks and touch my wrist.> Astrid told her, and changed the position of her arm just enough to expose a strip of skin that wasn’t covered by clothing.

Elia took the datacrystal, but hesitated. She felt naked and vulnerable enough without her gloves, let alone touching someone else with naked hands, even if just a finger. On the other hand, skin-to-skin contact was also secure from interception and eavesdropping. She did it, reluctantly, but she did it. Information swam into her mind, some direct experiential memories, some in the form of reports of operational readiness figures she could recall and reproduce, contacts within the Transport fleet, even strategic contingency scenarios.

<That,> Elia remarked <is a lot of trust.>

<We’re family. Plus our best profiler cleared it, we’re not running on rainbows and hope here.>
Astrid remarked with a twitch of a smirk and a shrug glyphed into Elia’s mind. <The blunt reality is, we have to trust someone or we’re fucked. Our entire strategy for the last century has been playing the long game to overcome the numerical disadvantage. The Earth-Minbari War proved we needed to pick up the pace, but the aftermath of both recent wars and whatever the hell the Vorlons did to Lyta is going to force our hand before we’re really ready. Without help, it’s going to be a bloodbath.>

Elia took that in soberly, and maintaining her composure and wishing she had a cup of tea. She tried not to dwell on the quiet desperation her family must be feeling but she could see it in her mind. Telepaths getting up and doing their jobs every day despite not knowing if that would be the day their world imploded, House-Parents in the cadres doing their level best to make sure their charges didn’t know that the evacuation drill might be more than a drill the next time. <Alright, I’ll make sure this gets to the right people, and I’ll keep in touch.>

<Thank you.>
Astrid replied, and without changing her outward expression in the slightest gently knocked on the door of Elia’s mind. Elia knew Astrid was asking if she needed a hug. In answer, all she did was drop her blocks and let Astrid in, filling her mind with warmth and stimulating her nervous system so she could feel the other woman’s embrace without ever needing to physically touch. For just a moment her frustration and anger vanished, replaced by a filial love that was unconditional and hers, just for the asking. Elia sensed that Astrid had to hold her tongue dealing with Captain Ivanova earlier that day. If Zhen’var’s experiences with her were any indication, it must have been immensely frustrating; so Elia took that affection and reflected it back, feeling the tension and weariness in Astrid’s own mind and soul slacken and ease.

When it was over, Astrid stood up and spoke verbally. “It’s been nice sharing a bench with you, but I have work to get back to. Be well.” Then she disappeared into Babylon 5’s sprawling gardens.

Not very far from where they were, beside the Zen garden of B5, a simple structure rose the equivalent of four stories. At the top one could look out at the station and take in the view of its expansive interior. With a five mile length, the inside allowed for numerous structures, not to mention the garden around them, and even some farmland to give the station some capacity to grow its own food.

Julia looked over the sight and drew in a little sigh. She wanted to enjoy the view, as she had two years before. But she found she couldn't. For one thing, the negotiations were not looking good. It was clear Earth had no intention of amicable compromise. They were calculating that the Alliance, war-weary and facing the Dominion threat, would bend to their demands to keep the peace in E5B1.

It was more than that, though. The last time she was here, she'd been with someone, a comrade and a friend. Someone who'd saved the lives of the people she loved and would do so again and again. Even now Julia could imagine Jen Shepard standing beside her, in the uniform of the Systems Alliance, red hair brushed into place and green eyes staring out at the station. It was a memory, and that was all she'd have of the woman who became the M4P2 galaxy's first Human Spectre operative and saved them all from the Reapers.

Julia felt tears go down her cheeks as she thought about the loss of Shepard in the Traverse the prior month. Shepard had died as she lived, saving the people who were trusting her with their lives. There'd been no sign of the unknown attackers when the Koenig arrived, responding to the Normandy's distress signal. Just the remains of the ship plunging into the atmosphere of the planet below and a collection of escape pods with the survivors of the Normandy crew aboard. Even Shepard herself was gone, her body reportedly drifting into re-entry.

I swear, if we ever find out who attacked the Normandy, we'll…


Julia turned toward the staircase, where Captain Lochley was now standing in Earthforce uniform. An older woman, with brown hair and a dusky complexion, Lochley kept the look of a model officer. She was entering the final quarter of her third year as B5's commanding officer. "Captain," she replied.

"Congratulations on the promotion. Although I know I'm long overdue." Lochley approached her with even steps. Julia knew Lochley had to notice the tears flowing down her face, but Lochley said nothing on them. "How are the negotiations going?"

"Terribly," Julia replied. "Your government and ours… we don't see eye to eye, you might say."

Lochley sighed and nodded. "I was afraid of that. Given the attack on Mars and the other attacks Lyta's people have launched, people are angry. They won't let Luchenko come to an agreement easily."

"We just finished one war, we don't want another. But EarthGov could end up pushing us into one," Julia said. "Their terms are completely unacceptable."

"Just between you and me? I agree. Someone is playing politics back at EarthDome." Lochley peered out at the interior of the station she commanded. "The Free Colony is a done deal and your people will never remove it. And I don't think you should. The telepath situation would be a lot more peaceful if they had somewhere to go."

"You dealt with Byron, didn't you?" Julia asked.

Lochley frowned at the name. "More like I had to clean up after him. He was… well, if you ask me, it's a little insulting that the Free Colony is named for him. He doesn't deserve it. He was little better than a cult leader. He played the pacifist martyr well enough, though. We still get people leaving flowers at the blast site. Sometimes more than flowers."

Julia shook her head. "He's a symbol, I suppose. For telepaths who don't want to be in the Corps." After a moment's pause she asked, "What do you think about them?"

"Who? The Psi Corps?"


Lochley considered the question. "I think they've got a raw deal, but I would be lying if I claimed they didn't scare the hell out of me sometimes. Normals put them in the Corps, but they've made it something we didn't expect. Given what telepaths can do, it can be frightening to think about it."

"That they might want revenge?"

Lochley nodded. "And maybe they deserve it. In the end, the best thing might be to give them a homeworld of their own outside of Earthspace. Let them build their own society."

"But telepaths are still being born in your population, right? What would happen to the newborn telepaths if your current population left?'

Lochley had no answer to that. And she said so. "I'm not sure. Maybe we would start over again. Find a different way to balance the rights of telepaths with the rights of normals."

"Or maybe you'd treat them even worse."

"Maybe. I just know we need to find a solution. The Multiverse made it impossible to keep the status quo." Lochley's eyes focused on Julia's face. "Thinking of Shepard?"

Julia nodded. "The last time I was up here, she came too."

"And I gave you both a tour of the station," Lochley said. She nodded. "Commander Shepard was an impressive woman, a real hero. They don't make many like her. She'll be missed."

"We still don't know who attacked her ship," Julia said. "If we ever find out, I hope the Aurora is there to put them down."

"If I were in your place, Captain, I'd feel the same way," Lochley admitted. "And…"

Before she could finish her link - placed on the back of her right hand - beeped. She tapped the device. "Lochley here."

"Captain, Ms. Connolly just called. That meeting with the Dockworkers' Guild needs to be moved up and she'd like to see you immediately."

Julia watched Lochley breathe out a sigh. "Tell her I'll be there shortly." After lowering her hand Lochley showed a moment of exasperation. "Running this place can be a pain sometimes," she admitted to Julia.

"But it's worth it?"

Lochley looked back toward the sight around them. A twinkle formed in her eyes. "Yeah, it is," she admitted. "I'll see you around, Captain."

"See you around, Captain," Julia replied.

Given his rank, it was no surprise Secretary Onaran had the largest guest suite on Deck 6. It was an interior suite without any viewing windows and was the largest individual suite on the ship - even Julia's quarters were about twenty square meters smaller. Intended for diplomatic visitors as well as for people of Onaran's rank, the suite was as luxurious as it could get on a starship that was not a dedicated starliner or yacht. Elia could imagine Earthforce officers burning with envy at the thought of it on an Earthforce ship (and then defensively scoffing at the Alliance wasting the valuable volume).

Seated at the work desk of the suite, Onaran himself was out of his formal suit and in more casual business wear, a full-sleeved vest and shirt of green and cyan with leggings of dark red. His teal hair, pale in color, was still in its formal braid. A glass of fine Daxai brandy - made of fermented seemai - was to his side, as well as a digital reader. He looked slightly worn and even with what both considered an alien mind, Elia and Meridina sensed his frustration and his concerns. "The meeting went well?"

“It did.” Elia replied neutrally. “Is this room secure?” She asked. She knew Alliance security protocols, but it was a due-diligence matter that she didn’t think should ever be overlooked, particularly with high-stakes.

"Commander Richmond was quite thorough," Meridina assured Elia. "And since we cannot dock to Babylon-5, there is much a reduced risk of an intruder being aboard."

“Good.” Elia replied tightly. “My contact provided me with a data crystal. I’ve had some time to digest the contents and I can give you an executive summary if you wish.” Elia set the crystal down on Onaran’s desk.

Onaran took it and considered the crystal. It was not unlike some of the data storage mediums used in Dorei space, and he had an adapter to plug the crystal into his secured workstation was it was. He did so and nodded to Elia. "Please, do so, Commander."

“To be blunt Mr. Secretary, the sociopolitical situation the Psi Corps finds itself in is getting desperate. Many colonies are using the rights they won at the end of the Civil War to eject the Corps, and many are not bothering to put an alternative system in place while maintaining Crawford-Tokash. The net result are telepaths cast out from their families or expelled from school with nowhere to go. They’re not being trained and inevitably are either perceived to or accidentally do scan mundanes, leading to increased anti-telepath violence. They also become incredibly vulnerable to slavers.”

Elia managed to keep her tone neutral, betraying nothing of the white-hot anger building inside her just speaking about it. “There is also an unknown group taking over that slave trade. They seem to have an insatiable demand and the prices are commensurate. It’s gotten to the point that even Psi Corps membership is no defense, and telepaths in the Corps are being kidnapped off the streets in some of the less-secure colonies. Extensive collaboration with the local governments and even Earth Force is suspected in either case.” Elia waited a moment for questions and to let that sink in. She had to clasp her hands behind her back to stop them from shaking.

Onaran listened quietly, but there was a clear hardening to his expression as Elia went on. Especially on the issue of a slave trade. When she was done he quietly took a drink and held up a glass. "Would you like some, Commander?" he asked simply.

“Just a small one Mr. Secretary.” It would be rude to refuse such hospitality, and she did desperately need one. If not tea, then a small amount of alcohol.

Onaran nodded and poured a small amount into the second glass before presenting it to her. As Elia took the glass he asked, in a low voice, "How much do you know about the history of my species, Commander?"

“There are a great many species, Mr. Secretary, I’ve spent most of my time acquainting myself with the Dilgar.”

Onaran nodded. "You can look up the finer details later. To put it bluntly, my people were once as divided as most Earths have been. When we formed our first planetary government, it was a century after our first contact with an alien species. The Gersallians were good neighbors. The Jeaxians… were not." His purple eyes glistened. "In those days the Coserian Empire was at its height, and the Jeaxians were loyal followers. They saw our people as slaves to be acquired and often raided our first colonies. Even Doreia itself. They were the ones who made the vicious old autocrats of the Sindai continent willing to plunge our world into war to shatter our global federation, all so they could weaken us and turn more of our people into slaves. The Gersallians stood with us, however, and ultimately the power of those terrible old monarchs was broken, our people unified, and the Jeaxians and their masters pushed back. Today the Coserians are a declining empire, more interested in fighting over what they have left than trying to expand. And the Jeaxians… well, they still raid for slaves, but they attack weaker species only. As for my people?" The hard look intensified. "Many believe we only joined the Allied Systems because the Gersallians did. This has some justice. But we saw something in the Alliance proposal, and in the character of those making it. Even the most profit-seeking merchant of Daxai hates slavery to the core of their soul, Commander. The Alliance is built to stand against that evil. So let me assure you, whatever difficulties may arise with Earth or the Psi Corps, these slavers will not be tolerated. We will do whatever is in our power to smash them and bring them to justice."

“Thank you for that, Mr. Secretary.” Elia replied. She did believe him, he hated slavery with a passion and so did the rest of the Alliance. “There is, I am afraid, more. Concerning the Earth Alliance itself. I suspect it will be somewhat telling to you.”

"There is little I expect from EarthDome. Nothing truly constructive, as it is." Onaran frowned. With a tap of a key at his workstation he activated the crystal's contents. "I will relay this information to the President. Much will have to be decided." Seeing that Elia was finished, Onaran stated, "I have nothing further to ask of you right now, Commander. I have a meeting with Minister Travada and Captain Andreys in three hours. I would like to see you there."

“I will be Mr. Secretary. In the interim, I think I’ll get some rack-time. Or perhaps some tea. The day has been… trying, and promises to continue as such.”

Meridina departed with Elia. Her own quarters were on the same deck, in the next section over, a walk of several moments. As they turned into a cross-section corridor that curved through the deck, Meridina gently glyphed her recognition of Elia's deepening sense of despair.

Elia tried to keep it hidden, away, but she needed to talk to someone, even for just a moment. Everything about this mission was wrong, that the Alliance was even considering some sort of agreement with EarthGov was ridiculous to her. They’re my family, Commander. All twelve million. She glyphed Meridina a flash of growing up communally in a cadre, children playing under the watchful eyes of a kindly older woman.

Meridina considered what she saw. It was not entirely unlike Gersallian child-raising. My parents secured an arcology home in Jantarihal when my mother was carrying me. While I lived with my biological family there, child care was a communal duty for all residents of the arcology, and we often spent time in the arcology's child care section. Meridina glyphed memories of such, first as a young child, then as she grew older becoming more responsible for her younger neighbors and siblings, all until the day she left to become an initiate at the Great Temple and develop her talents.

Communal child-care is where the similarity ends. EarthGov mandated that the state by way of the Psi Corps have legal and physical custody of our children. We made it ours. For us, the whole Corps is family. Literally.

Meridina nodded in understanding. I can sense that in your feelings. The way that farisa are treated in the Humanity of this Earth is depraved. With you, I can see why our efforts to persuade telepaths to come to Gersal have not been as successful as we believed they would be. Your bonds to one another, the strength of your community despite the oppressive elements, we had little idea of such. Some of it is undoubtedly my people allowing our certainty as to our ways to become arrogance. I am… unhappily familiar with how our people can be led astray by that certainty. Meridina smiled thinly. I admit I myself wanted to try and convince you to join us at Tira. It was not to be, and that is a good thing.

You’ve seen what Nazis do to ‘
untermenschen’, yes? Not in the Reich, but in their early history?

Meridina nodded. I am familiar with such. After our first contact with the Reich, Robert and the others familiarized me with the darkness of the movement.

Then I might recommend some reading for you. Think of them as companion pieces.
The History of the Psi Corps by J. Gregory Keyes, and Gregory Stanton’s Eight Stages of Genocide. In the Earth Alliance, pay special attention to how telepaths get blamed for our own persecution, and how we are forced to enforce oppressive laws against our own people. I suspect you will notice some similarities.

That there could be such similarities sent revulsion through Meridina that Elia could sense. Your Earth has such darkness clouding it.

You can sense that more acutely than I can. From what I remember, your spiritual beliefs? Philosophy? They stipulate that the Flow of Life is put in balance by positive emotions, yes?

Yes, that is one way to put it. The Flow of Life is strengthened by positive feelings and emotion. There will always be negative sentiments, of course. But Life instinctively seeks the better ones. Love, compassion, joy, the 'feel-good stuff' as Lieutenant Barnes once said. Those things that warm the soul and provide contentment, they are the Light of Life. Some negative sentiment does not overwhelm the Light. But suffering, despair, fear, hatred, if such feelings become widespread, they restrict the Flow of Life. The Light is dimmed, Darkness intensifies, a cold in the being that fuels further dark feelings. It can be powerful in its own right, especially for beings like myself that can reach into the Flow of Life, but it is an intoxicating influence, corruptive of the spirit. To succumb to darkness is a terrible fate.
Meridina felt a small shiver of remembrance for her own brushes with darkness, first from her body being hijacked by the Goa'uld Amaunet and then her own inability to deal with the anger and pain that possession had caused her.

You’ll forgive me Commander, but it is difficult to not feel despair when there’s a good chance I’m going to watch my entire family snuff it, and that the Alliance might well, in ignorance or for lack of political will, help it happen.

Meridina nodded. There was no mistaking her concern. That is why Swenya formed the Order. To teach us to be swevyra'se, to strengthen the Flow of Life, by protecting those such as your people even if it meant our own deaths. We will not stand idly by and watch such a culling, even if the Alliance does nothing. A bitter sense came to her. This is why we have worked to help telepaths flee to the Free Colony. Now, having met you and Astrid Bergsen, I cannot help but wonder if we have been in error on the source of darkness in the Earth Alliance.

You have been. Commander, the Psi Corps considers sleepers to be abominations that we’re forced at gunpoint to administer. The same for the camps. If the Corps had it’s way the formula for that poison would be erased from history and the camps would be evacuated and glassed from orbit.

Then we must work for that day.
They stepped up to the door of Elia's assigned quarters. Whenever you are ready to arrange another meeting with Ms. Bergsen, please inform me, I will forward the request at the negotiation sessions. Please rest well.

I will. “Thank you for the company Commander.” Elia said verbally, and entered her quarters.

With the Aurora not at warp or in a combat situation, Engineering was in a state of quiet activity. Personnel were observing the naqia reactors on standby mode, waiting to be brought back online to provide the necessary power for an interuniversal jump or the activation of the warp drive. The large Master Systems Display was showing a ship that was running as smoothly as she ever had, much to the satisfaction of the man responsible for ensuring that.

Montgomery Scott often eschewed the normal duty uniforms for an engineer's vest and white turtleneck, just as he had now. His gray hair and mustache set him apart from his younger staff. "Well, now. Wid ye look at that?" he asked aloud.

Tom, also on engineering watch, looking up from a digital reader and reports on systems checks for the ship's sensors. He noticed Scott looking over the warp nacelle readings. While they were not in operation, it was standard practice to keep them ready for use whenever the ship was not in dock, necessitating teams to be assigned to maintain the nacelles' readiness. Tom noted the readouts from all four and nodded. "Ninety nine point eight percent on the field harmonics," he noted. "Damn good."

"Aye lad, that it is." The old Starfleet engineer beamed with pride. "We've put together an excellent engineerin' team on this ship. I cudnae be prouder." He clapped Tom on the shoulder. "An' ye deserve some of that credit, Tom."

"Eh, I had an excellent teacher."

"So, th' new arm's workin' well?"

"Yeah." He scratched at his forearm. "At least I can deal with the phantom limb stuff now." He held the arm up. "Although there's a lot more that can be done with this thing, if you ask me. From what Rob's said, Kane actually got arms with freaking pulse guns built into them."

Scott chortled at that. "Did he now? An' what did ye have in mind?"

"Well, I figured I can build something. Maybe a built-in plasma torch. Or an autospanner. An extendable one for all of those hard-to-reach parts." Tom shrugged. "Something to make things faster, I guess. I mean, we came pretty close to losing the ship over Germania."

"Lad, dinnae worry yourself about it," Scott said softly. "Ye did well enough. Ye dinnae need t' prove somethin' by buildin' some special arm."

"I was just thinking it'd be cool…" Tom stopped and sighed. "Yeah. It would be a waste of time, I guess."

"What's really botherin' ye, Tom?"

"I just…" He shrugged. "It's not so much that I almost died, it's that… what if I hadn't been able to free myself? We'd have lost the ship. And what if it happens again?"

For a moment Scott remained quiet. "Ah lad. I know how easy it is t' worry about such things. I've had more close calls in my life than even I can remember, an' ye always wonder if th' next one will be th' one that gets ye." He put a hand on Tom's shoulder and prompted his protege to face him. "Tom, ye've come a long way from th' day I met ye. Ye've learned a lot. But one thing we all have trouble with is learnin' t' accept when we dinnae have control over somethin'. Dinnae worry yerself about that or think ye need t' make some fancy arm for yeself."

Tom processed the advice for several seconds. "Alright," he said. A small smile came to his face. "But I still think a plasma welder arm would be cool."

To that, Scott chuckled.

The conference lounge was selected for the private briefing to the others on Elia's contact with Psi Corps. Onaran only brought Travada while Julia, Meridina, and Jarod attended as well. An evening repast was provided by the Lookout staff, mostly finger foods given the late time, should anyone want something to supplement dinner (or lack thereof).

At Onaran's request, Elia provided the information in brief. Repeating the information about the Earth colonies ejecting Psi Corps and the rise in the slave trade, Elia moved on to other material.

“What is worse, in a political sense at least, has been EarthGov’s response. Instead of increasing intelligence-sharing and providing additional patrols, they’ve actually curtailed both. At the same time, EarthDome has been demanding that Metapol ‘do more’ about Lyta’s attacks, They’ve threatened to cut the Psi Corps budget over that particular issue. With their ships at best hesitant to answer calls for assistance and the mundane intelligence services being unwilling to share information, they’re hampering the efforts of the Corps in that respect as well. You all saw the results on Mars, and the aftermath. An aftermath that is entirely predictable and would have been easily foreseen by EarthGov."

“At the same time, ISN, which is an arm of the state in all but name belonging to the Anti-Clarkist faction this year, has been perfectly happy to take every opportunity possible opportunity to attack the Psi Corps, up to and including distorting and in some cases outright fabricating facts. It got to the point on Omega VII last year that they were openly slandering the local Psi Cops. The Corps managed to effectively declare them factio non grata on that planet and commercial telepaths refused to contract with them or any of their business partners, but the same cannot be said everywhere, EarthGov didn’t let that stand for long either.”

Julia listened quietly and said nothing, considering what was being said. She'd seen little of ISN herself. She glanced toward Jarod, whom she knew researched such things.

"ISN makes pretenses to being an independent news channel, but they get preferential treatment on the interstellar communications network and tax breaks," Jarod revealed. "Generally speaking, the owners seem to give editorial freedom except on some issues considered vital to whichever faction of Earth's government they're in alignment with."

"And the charge of stealing children?" asked Julia.

Jarod shook his head. "I researched it myself. They were teenagers freed from literal slavery. They'd bonded mentally to the point that taking even one away would have been of immense psychological harm." He frowned. "Unfortunately, one set of parents, the ones who went to ISN, were anti-telepath bigots who wanted to put their son on sleepers. They were the ones who screamed kidnapping when he refused to consent."

"It is clear that the situation in Earthspace is worsening," Onaran stated. "And we cannot discount the possibility that they will refuse reasonable terms. Given the survival of Clarkist elements, President Luchenko cannot afford to seem too accommodating."

“Hating telepaths and the Psi Corps is a bipartisan consensus, Mr. Secretary.” Elia replied.

"Throw in the people who are pro-telepath but anti-Corps, and it's a mess," Jarod added.

“Wait, hold on. I’ve been out of the Earth Alliance for some time, but I was in the Corps during the Clarkist regime. They always seemed more than happy with the Psi Corps. What changed? The slavers have always been a problem, a large number of ships we expected to arrive at the Free Colony have failed to show up and we’ve fear the worst there, but seriously?” Travada said.

“You can hate telepaths and the Psi Corps and still use them.” Elia replied in clipped tones “Just look at the Earth-Minbari War. What does one do with a tool that is no longer of use?”

Jarod nodded. "Another factor is that with Clark out of power and his abuses publicly revealed, those now in power may see the Psi Corps as more of a threat. York is the one known committed Clarkist to have kept his position."

"Which only contributes to this problem. It is a severe enough difficulty that the Underground attacks are stepping up in a period of increased anti-telepath sentiments," Meridina said. "That this is occurring while an unknown party is creating a great demand for telepaths in the slave trade makes our difficulties all the greater. Slavers such as these thrive on political instability as much as they do upon corruption."

"There's not much we can do to stop it inside of Earth space," Julia noted. "And even in neutral space, there would be holes. The Alliance fleet doesn't operate in hyperspace, and it would take months to refit enough ships to create a working hyperspace-capable patrol fleet given the spaces we'd have to cover."

"There is the White Star fleet," Meridina proposed. "And G'Kar would contribute ships as well."

“No.” Elia said in flat tones that could only be a suppressed snarl before she calmed herself down with her own iron-discipline. “Sheridan uses and discards telepaths like toilet paper. I will also relay what Captain Zhen’var told me: when he was stationed on Io, he covered up the fact that then-lieutenant Ivanova defenestrated a commercial telepath. Three stories up, head first. It didn’t matter that there was a pool, he’s confined to a wheelchair now. Sheridan is not to be considered reliable.”

Julia felt an instinctive need to defend Sheridan, who always struck her as a good man who'd personally suffered to stop a cruel regime. Meridina spoke into her mind before Julia could voice it, carefully shielding the thought to keep it private. Lyta Alexander voiced a similar sentiment when we met her last year. Although she did not confine it to telepaths.

Elia p’heard Julia’s thoughts, despite her habitual blocks, it was so strong and reflexive that she couldn’t help but pick it up, and yet there it was. “I will note, Captain, that the man who wrote the American Declaration of Independence was himself a slave-owner. He did not manumit the mother of his children.”

There was a small frown on Julia's face at that, not from what Elia said but the facts behind it. She didn't want to be wrong about someone she'd looked up to. She could still remember Sheridan shaking her hand after the talks at Rohric, congratulating her for her handling of the Tira Crisis and her stand against the genocide of the Dilgar survivors there. The recognition from someone of that reputation was treasured by her. To hear him being slandered...

“My government largely concurs with Commander Saumarez. President Sheridan stands up for the rights of every sapient being in the the galaxy, except for the ones he’s been raised his entire life to unconsciously think of as tools.” Travada replied “During the Shadow War, he put out the call to rogue telepaths the Underground Railroad got out of Earth Alliance space with the promise of paying work. They found themselves on Minbari ships as jamming devices. Some knew what was being asked of them, some didn’t. They got cut loose when the war ended without so much as a by your leave. And I need not point out his betrayal of both Byron Gordon and Lyta Alexander. Byron was a cult leader, I’ll admit that here; but the reason Lyta was susceptible was because Sheridan and almost his entire staff treated her like useful garbage for years.”

Julia said nothing. It was one thing for the involuntarily exiled Elia to say these things. She wore her continued loyalty to Psi Corps on her hands. Travada, she knew to lack the same. If even he was bitter toward Sheridan…

"Great beings are never perfect ones," Meridina said. "And while I understand your distrust, even if Sheridan has no sympathies for telepaths, his InterStellar Alliance cannot afford to seem incapable of stopping such conduct. And I am quite confident that G'Kar will be just as willing to see these forces stopped. We cannot rule out some aid from that quarter."

“G’Kar is generally reliable, yes. If nothing else he can browbeat Sheridan into doing the right thing.” Elia replied.

Having listened quietly to the conversation and the back-and-forth, Onaran returned to the discussion by saying, "Whatever the prejudices of Sheridan and the other leaders are, the Alliance is founded on opposition to sapient slavery, and we will make clear our insistence on the ISA's cooperation against slaver forces." He looked to Elia. "I am consulting with Portland on some of the issues raised in this communique from the Corps. Do you have another meeting planned with Miss Bergsen?"

“I do.”

"I need only arrange a time with Miss Bergsen, preferably during a negotiation session," added Meridina.

"Then I will endeavor to have a reply to send with you," said Onaran. "I can already give this guarantee: the United Alliance of Systems will accept the aid of any group seeking to put down slavery and the slave trade. If Psi Corps is fighting slavers, they will have our support, and we request theirs in kind on the matter. Other matters we will negotiate over."

“That is something that the Psi Corps will doubtlessly appreciate, Mr. Secretary.” Elia said, a certain tension visibly lifting from her shoulders.

"Then our business for the day is concluded. Please rest well, Commander." Onaran stood and nodded once to her respectfully. "We will know more tomorrow."
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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

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

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

Post by Alyrium Denryle »

By the way, Astrid is one of mine and the Astrid/Elia scene was written by myself and Dutchess of Zeon. Some of the events mentioned are taken from my own fic Psi Corps: Liberation
GALE Force Biological Agent/
BOTM/Great Dolphin Conspiracy/
Entomology and Evolutionary Biology Subdirector:SD.net Dept. of Biological Sciences

There is Grandeur in the View of Life; it fills me with a Deep Wonder, and Intense Cynicism.

Factio republicanum delenda est
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Joined: 2002-07-03 01:09pm
Location: Florida USA

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

Post by Steve »

Heh, sorry, forgot to post that info 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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