"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 »

With the day's diplomatic meetings ended and both sides awaiting further instructions, Julia returned to her quarters to bring the day to a close. After a quiet dinner she went through t'ai chi and mokbara forms a little longer than usual, working out the frustrations of the day. Then it was off to the shower and, afterward, a half hour of reading through the rest of the day's reports in her bathrobe before attending to her hair.

She'd just swapped into her silver nightgown when the door chime went off. Julia called out, "A moment" while reaching for her blue nightrobe. As soon as she finished pulling it on and tied it close, she went to the door and tapped the key to open it.

"Mind if I have a moment?" asked Jarod, standing in the corridor. He was still in duty uniform.

"Sure." She led him in and gestured toward the chairs. They weren't top of the line recliners, but they were rather comfortable replicated models, both green in coloring. "What can I do for you?"

"Since our briefing on the Huáscar, I've been thinking about what Elia - Commander Saumarez - said. About what would happen without Psi Corps."

"You mean that telepaths would be reduced to slaves for the megacorporations?" Julia asked.

"Exactly. You can guess why I'm thinking of it."

"Yeah, I can," Julia said. "It reminds you of what happened to you, doesn't it?"

Jarod replied with a nod. "It's why I've been thinking about this whole problem from another angle."

"Commander Saumarez isn't the most objective observer," Julia pointed out. "She's still loyal to the Corps. To what she thinks they are, not what they might actually be."

"And you think she's wrong?"

"I think…" Julia stopped there. She could see Jarod's intent look. "...I think she wants her family, or those she considers her family, to be what she imagines them to be. That anything bad they do has a good reason, or is something they're forced to do. She doesn't want to accept that the Psi Corps might be wrong."

"And you think they are?" Jarod asked.

"I don't know, I..." Julia sighed. "Jarod, they tried to carry Rob and Meridina away to turn them into lab experiments. They were going to do the same thing to Lucy, given what she reported from the encounter at Venir. They shot you. They would definitely have hurt Cat. And they were doing that to protect the people who shot down a White Star to cover up their activities. These people are not angels. Maybe they're the best thing telepaths have in the Earth Alliance, but that doesn't mean there isn't something better. All of these telepaths struggling to escape them, to get out of Earth space… there's a reason for it."

"Julia, I'm not saying the Corps is innocent of everything," Jarod said. "But I've… I took the time to Pretend to be a Psi Cop, in my head."

Julia folded her arms and nodded. She knew what he was meaning. "Since you're not a telepath, that's the best you can do, I'd think."

"It is. And what they go through… I think their behavior, their attitude, it's a psychological defense mechanism," he said. "They're required by Earth law to hunt their own kind, Julia. They have to hunt them, subdue them, and if they won't join the Corps, they throw them into camps or force them to take drugs that dull the world so badly many of them commit suicide to escape. And they do this for the protection of non-telepaths who still hate and fear them. On top of that, they protect their own people, as expected, and are seen as heroes for it. But there are so many inherent contradictions in those roles, especially being both a hunter and protector of telepaths, that the tension will tear down any psyche. Imagine having to chase people convinced you're out to hurt them, to enslave and destroy them, not wanting to hurt them when they're very likely to kill you if they get the chance." Jarod's face twisted into a grimace, showing he was imagining it. "These people are your kin. Your family. They're out there causing themselves and others harm, maybe not even intentionally, but just by running they provoke fear of telepaths. They could get themselves hurt or killed trying to run. So you're trying to save them by bringing them in, even while they're fighting you. And if you do end up hurting them, killing them… the people who force you to hunt them pat you on the back and congratulate you. They see you killing your own people as protecting them, they hate and fear you so much."

Julia nodded wordlessly.

"I looked at the statistics, what few Earth allows to be publicly published. Most Psi Cops burn out from their jobs. They don't make it past their 40s. Some commit suicide, or they transfer to teaching because there's nothing else they can do. They're not allowed to speak out against what Earth law forces them to do. The ones that don't quit, well… short of a solid, emotional anchor, the only way they can survive the strain is to shut down their emotions. Ignore the tension between their roles, or reconceive them to reduce that tension. Even if it actually turns you into a monster in the end." Jarod stopped for a moment, to consider what he was going to say. "For a long time I couldn't understand why they hunted their own people, and it's why I didn't think much of the Corps either. But the facts are there. They're not the villains that we thought they were. They're just… people trying to survive. Trying to survive in a society that hates and fears them, trying to protect themselves and those like them. And I don't want us to be culpable in destroying the only thing between telepath children and people like Raines."

As Jarod spoke his voice grew more heated, although not louder. She considered what he said, along with what Elia had said, and Travada, and Astrid Bergsen. Given how unjust Earth laws were, it all made sense. She couldn't just deny these arguments, dismiss them.

And yet she wanted to. At least a part of her did. A part that screamed in her head, They tried to take Robby! They tried to take him away from you! To hurt him! To hell with them!

The very thought brought some anger to her expression. Jarod noticed it. "It's instinctive, isn't it?" he asked.

"What is?"

"That feeling you have. About Bester hunting down Robert and Meridina last year," Jarod said. "If he'd just been after Lyta, and they'd been in the way, that's one thing. But he hunted them. To turn them into experiments."

"He did. Ms. Bergsen apologized for that, actually."

"But you don't trust it. You can't let yourself."

"Not with his safety."

"Which is part of the point here, really. You're worried about Robert. And now you're thinking about that, and it's affecting your judgement."

"Maybe it is. Maybe I'm the wrong one, and you and Saumarez and Zhen'var and Bergsen are all right," Julia said. "But I can't just turn those feelings off. You know how much Rob means to me."

"You love him. And he loves you."

"It's more than just love. We've been together for so long. We've been a part of one another's lives since the time we could remember. The thought of losing him…" Her nostrils flared. "If that son of a bitch Bester had actually taken Robert last year, Jarod, I would have happily burnt down the entire Psi Corps to get him back."

"I know. And you'll always be worried about him," Jarod said. "But you can't let that interfere with your judgement."

"No, I can't." Julia rubbed her forehead with her left hand. "Which is why I'll continue supporting this mission. Which is why I should be getting to bed for the talks in the morning so I don't commit a career-destroying, war-provoking faux pas."

"That's good enough reason for me," Jarod remarked jovially. He grinned and stood. "Thank you for hearing me out."

"Thank you for giving me the opportunity," she replied.

With the aid of a good night's rest and a good breakfast courtesy of Hargert, Julia managed to get through the whole session without destroying her career.

Not that she didn't want to bounce "Mr. Thomas"' head off the table a few times by the end of it.

To call the session unproductive would be inaccurate. It seemed more counter-productive than anything. Onaran offered numerous suggestions on compromises, everything from Minbari or Starfleet observers for the Free Colony to Alliance guarantees of aid in fighting Lyta's underground, backed by Travada's assurances of assistance. Even Earth Alliance representatives to some of the dig sites in Darglan space. Nothing was good enough. Lantze would seem to agree just to have Mr. Thomas or Bethany Taggart whisper in his ear, resulting in a term's rejection. Earth, for its part, never offered anything of a compromise. They insisted they would not be satisfied with anything less than the extradition of the Free Colony's leadership and all telepaths on a "security threats" list, the termination of the Colony's affiliate status and independence, and independent Earth access to dig sites in Darglan space.

By the end of it Julia didn't know who aggravated her more: Mr. Thomas and his crushing of all possible compromise, or Taggart and her blatant bigotry toward Astrid and Travada alike. Lantze's inability to control either also qualified him for her "list of people I want to punch right now", albeit at a lower priority.

When the meeting was finally, mercifully over, Julia was about to go to the door when Ivanova intercepted her. "Well, another wasted morning," Ivanova said. "I haven't had that much wasted time attempting diplomacy since the Drazi drew colored ribbons and started beating the crap out of one another."

"Didn't they start doing that just a few months ago?" asked Julia.

"Yeah, a couple of months before Tira. Which was the only reason they stopped for a while. They do it every five years. I had to deal with it the last time. I still have the Green Leader sash somewhere." They walked out of the conference room together. "Although they did finally get the rule change barring aliens through committee, so it's no use these days." Ivanova stopped, prompting Julia to turn and face her. "I'd like to offer you that dinner I talked about. How about tonight, at Earhart's? Around 20 hundred Earth Central?"

Julia did the mental conversion. That would be about 1700 Aurora time. "Alright," she said. "I'm up for it."

"Good. I'll meet you there. Ordinarily it's Earthforce only, but I'll let them know you're coming so there shouldn't be any problems. See you then."

Ivanova left, leaving Julia to rejoin Onaran and the others.

Onaran was in his quarters when Meridina and Elia arrived together. "Commanders, thank you for coming so quickly," he said. "We have little time before I am due back at the negotiation table."

“It does appear that the Earth Alliance is not, in strictest terms, negotiating in good faith, Mr. Secretary.” Elia didn’t think they ever actually would, but she kept her feelings of vindication with respect to simply conquering her former government to herself.

"No, I do not think it is. Regardless, the attempt must be made. We have had two months of peace and much remains to be settled. But there is another matter." He picked up an E5B1-model data crystal and held it out to Elia. "I have consulted with the Cabinet. They are still reviewing the finer details of the Corps' information, but based on our existing intelligence, we are ready to begin establishment of the communications channel. The Alliance Intelligence Service and the Foreign Office will cooperate on establishing our end of the channel through our consulate here on Babylon-5. The relevant information is in here. Additionally, any new intelligence we receive on the growing slaver threat will be shared with Psi Corps, as will information regarding Earth's policy toward the telepath population. Should we receive warning signs of an imminent genocide or other form of attack, we will share them with the Corps."

Elia considered that definite good news, but she kept herself from expressing it. It was a small step, and the reality was the United Alliance of Systems was still bothering to negotiate with the Earth Alliance, which meant they were still willing to offer concessions, even to someone they knew was not negotiating honestly and was trying to strong-arm them. “Thank you Mr. Secretary, I will get this to Ms. Bergsen as soon as possible.”

"I will arrange another meeting time with Ms. Bergsen at the next session," Meridina said.

"Please do." A distasteful look came to Onaran's face. "I must deal with Minister Lantze and his handlers." That expression made clear Onaran's own approximation of his opposite on the Earth government. "It would be preferable if we did not have to endure their inflexibility, but our people are weary of conflict and another is already brewing in S5T3."

"I am told that it is not uncommon in history for a smaller, more aggressive power to win concessions against a stronger foe with other concerns," Meridina noted. "There are those who categorize early relations between Gersal and the Coserian Emperor as such, before the Empire's decisive defeat at Ji'Doreia."

Elia knew a great deal of the evils that could result from a stronger power granting concessions to a weaker and more aggressive one due to war-weariness. The fate of Poland in the 1940s and subsequent catastrophic global war, holocaust, and the decimation of Russia served as a convenient object lesson. One that evidently wasn’t going to be heeded despite having fought a war with the space-conquering result in another universe. Instead of saying it though, she simply gave Secretary Onaron a look that carried with it the expression ‘you know better’.

Onaran met the look without saying anything. "I will see you at the Transporter Station, Commander Meridina," he said. "Please excuse me, I must finish my preparations."

Once they were out of the quarters, Meridina glanced toward Elia before mentally connecting to her. I can sense your disapproval of this course. You still advocate a military suppression of EarthGov and the imposition of telepath civil rights?

I do. In the long-run, it’s best for everyone that way. The Alliance, my own people, bluntly even the Earth Alliance itself. What’s going to happen now is that they’re going to extract technological concessions. Eventually, they’re going to push the Alliance into war, because they’re going to start a genocide. Would you rather fight them now when they are technologically inferior and not mobilized for war, or later when neither of those are true?
Elia replied.

A stark choice. I cannot argue against the possibility. At the same time, the Alliance itself was strained by the war. The bonds to forge it more closely were left half-completed, and while the war may have strengthened some, it has frayed others. I can understand the Secretary's position of making an agreement if it is feasible. Meridina's expression remained solid. We can still prevail in the end, and I have faith we will.

Commander, you’re a good person, and I can’t help but respect you. However, there is a human saying. God helps those who help themselves. Short of invading the Earth Alliance, the best course of action is to simply walk out and not reward their tactics.

Meridina nodded in acceptance of the point. Swenya once said that the Light acts through us, so we too must act if it is to prevail. She glyphed reassurance and understanding to Elia. I know you fear for your family. Whatever the differences, I sympathize with that, and I too wish we could simply walk away.

It is what it is
Elia thought, but she kept the fact that she didn’t really believe that behind her own mental barriers. We’ll find out in the fullness of time exactly how telepaths are going to be screwed in this fracas. Because that, I guarantee you, is going to happen.

Meridina nodded. She could sense Elia was holding thoughts from her, but said or thought nothing of that. She knew there was nothing she could say or think to alleviate Elia's worry.

The resumption of negotiations provided no reprieve from the deadlock. Earth would not budge. The Alliance would not either.

"You must think very little of us to assume we will just bend with no concessions," Onaran was stating.

"I admit I'm starting to," Taggart grumbled. "You bloody lot are ruining a hundred years of peace between normals and telepaths."

"I am afraid I cannot consider such to be peace," said Tanapa. "You treat your mindwalkers abysmally."

"I'd expect that from a society that lets them root around in people's heads," Taggart retorted. "We have a right to the privacy of our thoughts. Our laws are made to keep telepaths from violating those rights."

"Do you also force all of those with high intelligence into a similar institution, on pain of imprisonment or drugging?" Tapana asked calmly, but with a point to her voice. "Clearly the more intelligent might violate any number of rights for those less intelligent through trickery and deception."

"It's not the bloody same. An intelligent person can't tear your mind apart or steal your whole life just by looking at you!"

"Minister Lantze, we cannot continue to circle ourselves like this," said Onaran. "There is no room for compromise with your government's requirements, so I am unsure of how we can ever negotiate them. You have received no instruction or guidance from Earth on our positions?"

"I am afraid Earth's position on these matters is dictated by right and necessity, Mister Secretary," Lantze replied. "The Allied Systems' support of the rogue telepaths has destabilized our society. Your seizing of former Darglan space on our frontier seems nothing but a deliberate attempt to deny Earth natural expansion and to sustain your monopoly on Darglan technology."

"We have done no such thing. The protection of the Darglan Homeworld and adjoining space is to ensure that only responsible parties gain access to them," Karbarov retorted.

"Responsible parties you approve of," Deng Jiang noted. "Surely you can see our concerns."

"We are more than willing to allow Earth to join our expedition teams," said Onaran.

"You mean you'll accept a handful of picked specialists that you can control," Thomas retorted. "This is as Minister Lantze has stated. It is an act meant to sustain your monopoly on access to Darglan technology and to deny Earth the ability to keep pace with other species." He put a finger on the table. "Add your support of telepath renegades, and we can't help but wonder if the Allied Systems is trying to undermine Earth while we recover from the Civil War."

"I'm not sure I agree with you on that, Mister Thomas," Julia said. "Earth has plenty of other avenues of expansion, including habitable garden planets, outside of Darglan space."

"Those worlds are not as easy to access from our current hyperspace network, Captain. And they would be less secure from attack." Thomas crossed his arms. "Minister, I think it is clear that the Allied Systems believe Earth will fold before its greater size. They think they can push us around."

"Mister Thomas, please…" Lantze began.

"No, Minister. I would like to hear him out," said Onaran. "Please, continue."

"Earth requires, for its most basic security and peace, that the Alliance permit Earth access to former Darglan space," said Thomas. "Even more importantly, the Alliance must cease its support of terrorist telepaths."

"We do not support them."

"Mars says differently."

Does he know something we don't? Julia thought.

Meridina's reply came a moment later. His thoughts are shielded. And naturally Ms. Bergsen will intervene were I to attempt more.

Would I? A question for the ages...

Meridina glyphed a reply of bemusement, but with it the sentiment that if Thomas sensed her and Astrid did nothing to stop her, he would report her failure. In turn, Astrid sent back a mental image of herself nodding in agreement. It’s unlikely a mundane would notice, but not entirely outside possibility. Even if it were just on the level of noticing a significant glance. They like to report scans that didn’t happen so...

Meanwhile the conversation continued on. "We categorically deny any involvement in the attack on Mars," said Onaran.

"The Free Colony does as well," Travada insisted.

"I'm afraid Earth can't afford to take your assurances at face value, gentlemen," Thomas said. "We have to look to our own security. And we will. President Luchenko is prepared to deploy Earth's fleet into neutral space. They will be operating under her full authority to secure our borders. All Alliance vessels heading to or from Earthspace will be subject to immediate search. Any ship found carrying contraband, including rogue telepaths, will be seized and their crews arrested."

"Earth has no jurisdiction in that space," Karbarov retorted. "You have no authority!"

"Earth has every right to protect itself from terrorists!" Thomas shot back. "Our jurisdiction on that matter is universal. Much like your own when you seized Earth Alliance citizens from Mars!"

"You mean the slavers attempting to abduct children?" Julia asked.

"I mean Earth citizens who have not yet been given a fair trial in court," Thomas replied. He returned his attention to Onaran. "We came here hoping to convince the Alliance of the gravity of Earth's predicament, and to urge you to take steps to reassure Earth. If you will not, Earth will act on its own, if we must, in order to protect ourselves."

"And we must act to defend our rights," Onaran replied. "If Earth does act in this fashion, we will match Earth ship for ship, and any attempt to seize an Alliance vessel in neutral space will be resisted."

"Then we'll fight," Taggart declared.

"Gentlebeings, please," Lantze pleaded. "We came to make peace. This is really getting out of hand."

"Minister Lantze, I do believe you are sincere," said Onaran. "But we will not seek a peace based on surrender of our rights or our principles. The Allied Systems will not forsake the Free Colony nor its leadership, neither will we repudiate our stance on the issue of civil and sentient rights for telepaths being upheld. We are willing to negotiate Earth's access to Darglan space and, I again stress, make guarantees to your security regarding the telepath situation. Including providing you the means to verify the Free Colony is not providing aid to Lyta Alexander and her terrorists. If you cannot construct an agreement based on these lines, then I see no point in continuing this deliberation." Onaran stood. "I urge you, Minister Lantze, to prevail upon your government to determine if it is truly willing to gamble on escalation. The preservation of peace is in your hands. I will await your answer." He nodded to Tapana and then to Karbarov, who both stood. Travada did as well, as did the others.

As Meridina did so, she looked briefly to Astrid. Another meeting, in two hours' time, she glyphed to the Psi Corps woman. Your sister has news to share.

Excellent. There is a hedge maze not terribly far from the Zen Garden, any station map should permit you to locate it. I’ll meet Elia in the center in two hours. Astrid replied.

With this done, the Alliance team filed out of the room.

Given the direction of the negotiations, a part of Julia just wanted to return to the Aurora, finish her paperwork, and bring the day to an end. Ultimately, though, the chance to have a meal and a sit-down with Susan Ivanova, a legitimate war hero in the fight against the Shadows and President Clark, was too great a chance to pass on.

Earhart's was in Red Sector, the top floor of its own tower with a lift leading up. Julia went in uniform and took the lift leading to the entrance. She was immediately met by one of the staff, a man of Mediterranean complexion and appearance. "Ma'am, I'm afraid Earhart's is for Earthforce personnel only," he said. "I'm going to have…" He stopped himself and Julia watched his eyes go to the rank insignia on her collar. "Captain Andreys?"

"That would be me, yes," Julia replied amiably.

A bit of pink appeared in his cheeks. "My apologies, ma'am. I, well…" Now he seemed sheepish. "...I guess you looked a little younger than I imagined. You're here with Captain Ivanova, right?"

"She invited me, yes."

"Follow me, please."

The man, a busboy Julia guessed, escorted Julia to a window seat. Ivanova was sitting there by herself. She looked up and smiled amiably. "Captain, welcome to Earhart's."

Julia allowed her impromptu usher to pull a seat for her across from Ivanova before sitting down. "Thank you," she said to him while settling in her seat. "Earhart's? As in Amelia Earhart?"

"Exactly. Who else would it be?"

"Well, I wasn't sure," Julia admitted. "But since it's been over three hundred years since she was around, at least in your history, I imagined some other Earhart might have popped up."

"Not to my knowledge," Susan replied. "So, I promised you a Jovian sunspot, and it will be delivered soon. As for food, I really recommend the prime rib. They bring it in straight from Earth."

"That must be really expensive," Julia said. "I mean, given my experience with space stations, and how all of the food has to be imported. Unless you have replicators."

"I've heard good and bad about those. They never get food right."

"It depends on how well maintained they are, and who built them," Julia replied. "Although even the best ones are always a little off." She smiled. "Hargert only uses replicated materials in his meals as a last resort, and he always apologizes."

"Hargert?" asked Ivanova.

"He runs our crew lounge on the Aurora," Julia replied. "It's sort of like, well, Earhart's."

"But on the ship."

"Yes. They're standard on our star cruisers in the fleet," Julia explained. "Although they can vary by ship."

Ivanova chuckled, grinning as she did. "Wow. I never imagined anyone doing that. The best we can hope for on an Earthforce ship is that the galley cooks don't spit in the food. Do you even have a galley?"

"We do have mess halls on a lot of ships, but for the most part they use replicators," Julia explained.

"Great," said Ivanova, quite sardonically in tone. "I'm in the wrong fleet."

A server came up with a pair of glasses, each filled with an orange fluid that was reddish at the bottom. "Here we go." Ivanova accepted hers and waited for Julia to have her's in hand before saying, "I helped come up with this back when I was stationed on Io. I recommended the bartender add the vodka."

Given the way the day had gone, Julia didn't protest the idea of a drink. She took a modest one and considered the flavors before swallowing. "It's like a screwdriver, but…"

"Not just a screwdriver." Ivanova took a drink herself. "It also has cranberry-apple juice and cream of coconut."

"I'll have to share that with the others," Julia said.

The waiter came and took their orders at that point. Once they were given Ivanova took another drink and asked, "So, I've read some of the reports and heard the rumors. You're considered one of the Alliance founders, as in you actually, what, negotiated it?"

"I was involved, yes," Julia said. "Back in the Facility days, before they moved the venue for the negotiation to New Liberty. Which I also helped found. I hear you played a similar role for the ISA."

"Oh, maybe a teensy one," Ivanova replied. "That was mostly John, Delenn, and G'Kar. It was my job to make the diplomats prefer John and the others. Among other things. So, is that why you're out here? Working for this Alliance you've helped to build?"

"It is," Julia said. "The Alliance… it's something that can change the Multiverse. It already has, in fact. And for the better."

"You overthrew a space-faring Third Reich. I'd definitely call that an improvement."

Julia replied with a nod of agreement before she continued. "I'll admit that I like where I am, too. I always thought I could do more, be more. Take responsible positions and prove I could accomplish things with them."

"To prove you could be a good leader," suggested Ivanova.

"Yeah. And so here I am."

"Well, you've proven quite a lot. Tira and Germania. And when I was checking the records, you were the one who averted a war with those symbiote-infected Amazons in… what was it? Universe A6N2?"

"A2M6," Julia corrected. "And yes." After taking another drink she asked, "What about you?"

"Same here," Ivanova said. "I've been a career officer my whole life. Made Captain a little early, thanks to how things settled back home after Clark killed himself. I've never bothered much with family."

"I consider many of my friends and comrades to be my family," Julia said.

"They can be, in the right circumstances," Ivanova agreed. She looked to Julia. "Siblings? Parents?"

"They died years ago. Before Robert found the Facility. Back when we were just a circle of friends in flat, boring Kansas."

"I've never been there myself. The reputation reminds me of the Ukraine. We lived there once. For a little while."

Julia heard a bit of sadness in her voice and asked, "What about your family?"

"Gone. My father died a few years ago, not long after I was assigned to B5," Ivanova explained. "Ganya, my older brother, was killed flying against the Minbari. And my mother…" A distant, pained look came to Ivanova's face. "Well, what happened to her… that's relevant to what's going on now, I suppose."


"My mother was an unregistered telepath," Ivanova said. Seeing Julia's surprised look Ivanova nodded. "She wasn't very strong. Probably a P4, maybe a P3. Just powerful enough to ruin her life. She was able to hide her talents until my brother and I were born. The Psi Corps caught up to her when I was just a child."

"What happened?"

"She got the choice. Join the Corps, go to prison, or take sleepers. She chose the last." After taking another drink, Ivanova continued, "For ten years they came once a week to inject her. And all that time, we watched the light in her eyes go out bit by bit. Eventually she couldn't live with what the drugs were doing to her and she took her own life." Pain was joined by bitterness. "The Psi Corps killed my mother by centimeters."

"I'm… I'm sorry." Julia put her glass down. "I knew that Earth law forced telepaths to take drugs if they wouldn't join. And I've heard they do things to people…"

"Nobody knows the statistics for sure. They can't agree on them," Ivanova said. "And EarthGov would rather nobody did. They don't want to make the voters squeamish about it."

"They don't have to take it anyway. Nobody does except telepaths."

"Exactly. Not usually, anyway. The Telepath Resistance blew up a chemical factory producing them once. Many, many decades ago. They exposed most of Seattle to a dose." A bitter smile crossed Ivanova's lips. "I suppose there's some justice in that."

Julia nodded. "That's why you hate Psi Corps?"

"Among other reasons. Why?"

"I, well… whatever they are, this is still the fault of the Earth Alliance, from what I can see," Julia said. "They wrote the laws. Your people voted them into office to keep them in place. Does Psi Corps even have a choice?"

"I suppose not. But that doesn't stop them from doing it, and being very eager to do it," Ivanova said. "After all, they benefit from the sleepers. Some telepaths give up and join the Corps just to get off of them. And the Corps gains more tools for whatever their agenda is. Tools to use and throw away when it suits them."

There was something in the way Ivanova said that which made Julia think back to their first meeting. "You said you had a friend who was a telepath in the Corps. That they killed her?"

"Talia Winters. Yes. She was the Commercial telepath that Psi Corps assigned to B5. She grew up in the Corps. She loved the Corps." A fury built in Ivanova's voice. "And the Corps took her and implanted a sleeper personality in her brain to spy on the rest of us. Once the personality came out, it erased the Talia I knew. It basically killed her, even if the body was still alive."

Julia swallowed. Her own sympathy mingled with her lingering distrust of the Corps, intensifying it. "You and Talia, you were close?"

Ivanova nodded very stiffly. "Yes," she answered, in a way that told Julia that her acquaintance couldn't bring herself to talk about it any more. And yet she added, "We were very close near the end."

Julia thought she knew what Ivanova meant, although she couldn't be certain. The pain in Ivanova's voice made it hard to consider anything else. "I'd hate them too," she admitted. "I'd hate them to the end if they took someone like that from me." If they took Robert.

"I'm sure Miss Bergsen would insist otherwise, but the Corps isn't good for telepaths. Whatever they do for them, in the end the Corps is still just a cage." Ivanova leaned forward. "Which is why I'd like to talk to you about something." Her voice lowered a little, although not by much. She didn't need to speak too lowly given there weren't many people around them.

"Oh?" Julia tried not to lean in too, just in case it looked suspicious. "What?"

"The Alliance is the best hope for our telepaths to be free of the Corps," Ivanova said. "If we end up with Earthforce watching every ship leaving Earthspace, that hope goes away. But I think we can find a way to make these talks work. It won't be easy, but you'll be able to get more telepaths out of Earthspace than you ever have."

Julia set her glass down after taking a sip. "I'm listening," she said.

Meridina and Elia returned to Babylon-5 and again made their way through customs and into the station. As they moved along, Meridina felt nothing in terms of immediate danger, but she was not so certain none would be coming. There was a different feel around her now, as if there was a lingering presence. Not something following, but always on the periphery, waiting and curious. She glanced toward Elia and glyphed that feeling.

Elia reached out with her mind, questing, searching for the source of what Meridina felt, but when she didn’t get anything she shook her head.

With Elia's decision, Meridina followed her into the garden area. They worked their way through the plants until they arrived at the meeting area Astrid had specified, this time near the Zen garden in a line of short trees at the edge of the hedge maze. The entrance was nearby. As they approached the entrance Meridina stopped. I shall guard the approach to this place, she glyphed to Elia.

Alright. I’ll meet you back here when we’re done. Elia replied, and entered the hedge maze. It was lovely for breaking lines of sight, and Elia was impressed that Astrid had pegged onto it. She made her way through using the left-turn rule until she reached the center and found Astrid sitting at a fountain in the center.

“Fancy running into you again. What are the odds?” Astrid asked. I should warn you, I was tailed. I’m pretty sure I shook them in Brown Sector. Pretty sure they were telepaths. Not sure how strong.

“Not high I imagine, but the universe seems to exist on Small World rules.” Elia replied. Then we should be quick. I’m afraid the Alliance’s spine got a bit mushy fighting Nazis and they’re going to make concessions, but the United Alliance of Systems will be entering into intelligence sharing with the Corps. They’ll operate out of Babylon 5, it shouldn’t be too difficult to slip agents delivering and receiving intelligence in and out.

“Well, unfortunately I don’t have the time to chat at the moment, though I do enjoy your company. Work beckons, and all that.” Astrid said, standing up. That is… unfortunate, but not unexpected. The war with Nazis - Jesus Christ that’s a thing, I never thought I’d say that - bled them pretty dry. But thank you. Hopefully the next result is positive.

That’s when two other people stepped into the center of the hedge maze. One black man, the other a woman of vaguely mediterranean features. Neither of them had Psi Corps pins but they were both wearing black gloves and seemed surprised to see two people there instead of one.

Outside of the hedge maze, Meridina took on the air of admiring the local vegetation, which was not hard. The Zen Garden reminded her of home to a degree. If she could, she would return and spend time meditating here. She had much to meditate over. The stress of her current work was one thing, but the wider situation was another. The Alliance's peace was unlikely to last given the forces at play against it. Conflict against a common aggressor might further many bonds, but the strains of war could yet splinter them. Especially when aided by the existence of factions in the Alliance government.

Meridina did not let these considerations distract her too greatly, which was good. It meant she was ready for the attack when it came.

The attack was not physical. She sensed danger a moment before a presence slammed into the defenses she'd raised around her mind. The attack was powerful, indicating a telepath of her strength, and the way the attack came told her that her foe was capable of techniques she never sought to learn. He - she was sure the attacker was male - had attempted a single knock-out blow, an attack probe to shut her mind down. Now that her defenses had stopped it, he was adjusting. She sensed the slight desperation in him, coupled with a willingness to do anything.

Including rip her mind to pieces.
”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 »

Telepathic combat was something that non-telepaths could sometimes have trouble imagining. Terminology could be similar, thoughts of "flanking defenses" or "direct attacks", but in function, it was entirely different. It was a combat of imagery and concept. An idle thought could be a distraction meant to lure enemy attention, or could provide an attacker a way to slip into the mind if the defender was not careful.

Meridina learned mental defense from her mother. Drentiya of the Lumantala was one of the strongest telepaths on Gersal, and given her daughter's choice of occupation in life, she didn't let Meridina go to the Order without ensuring she could use her own considerable mental talents in defense. The imagery Meridina used now reflected her current life. She imagined her mind surrounded by powerful deflector shields guarding against an enemy assault, supported by her own ideology, one that didn’t value meeting force with force, but in turning an attack against an attacker, or at least redirecting it away from her mind. She felt her foe strike at this defense. He was strong, easily as powerful as her mentally, but his attacks were more than she'd ever experienced in her life. Denied the chance at defeating her with his first attack, he attempted a series of direct probes against her defenses. She deflected them away from herself, catching him with at least one that made her opponent's legs give out from under him.

The next series of attacks were more subtle. They were disguised as suggestions and idle thoughts. Curiosity about her attacker and his motives. Meridina recognized what they were and refused to let the thoughts distract her from her protection.

Before her opponent could strike again, Meridina attempted her own mental attack, imagining it as a plasma beam striking out at her attacker. It sloughed along the mental wall of his defenses as if it had been a mild probe. Meridina staggered slightly, but only slightly. She hadn't felt a mental defense that sophisticated since her last training session with her mother. Her attacker was not as powerful as Drentiya, but his defenses were well-crafted. She tried several more attacks, testing them, and found her efforts easily defeated.

A sense of warning filled her and she returned to her defensive focus, and just in time. Her opponent threw forward a series of attacks on her, direct and subtle, trying to seize advantage of her brief switch to offensive maneuvers. Meridina's forewarning allowed her to deflect these attacks as she had before. She sensed the growing frustration in her foe; he had not expected her to be this powerful, and through the Flow of Life, she felt his fear of what might happen if he failed. That fear drove his attack on relentlessly, heedless of his own health, desperate to overwhelm her. Yet he could not. Nor could she get through his defenses, leaving them trapped in a defensive combat.

Until the game changed. Two other minds appeared in the space between Meridina and her unnamed foe, or maybe it was one. It took a moment for Meridina to recognize the structure not of two separate minds, but of a telepathic gestalt. That combined-consciousness attacked, blind-siding Meridina’s attacker with a probe designed not to directly penetrate his defenses, but to wear down the very source of his fear. They attacked him with the knowledge that whatever thing drove him to attack, whatever it was he was afraid of, they would fix it. They would make it better. They clamped down on his defenses with that assurance like the teeth of a vice and slowly started ratcheting it tighter and tighter. He tried to strike out, to attack them in return with abstract concepts. In desperation he tried to confuse Astrid and Elia’s gestalted minds with the idea of the color blue being missing; but it was a simple thing for them to shrug off, constructing a barrier between themselves and the attack-probe out of their surety in an ordered universe.

It didn’t take long for his defenses to crack after that, and for Astrid’s mind to break off, sifting through his memories while Elia stopped. Her mind shifted back inside her own brain and mostly-receded from Meridina’s awareness behind her own habitual blocks.

With the mental siege lifted Meridina was able to turn. Her attacker was nearby, on his knees, a young man of brown coloration a shade darker than that of Cat or Angel's, wearing dark, plain clothing. His hands were covered by gloves. Blood was pouring from his nose and eyes from burst capillaries. Meridina felt a wetness on her face and realized she too was bleeding from the nose. She used the cuff of her uniform to dab it away, relying on the dark material to obscure the bloodstain from casual observation. She watched Astrid approach the man, still intent on him. He seemed young, younger even than Caterina. When she sensed Elia standing beside her she said, "It seems we did not go unnoticed as was hoped."

“We did. They were here to keep track of Astrid and maybe try to snatch Travada if the opportunity presented itself.. This one spotted you, he didn’t spot me.” Elia replied. “The two who tried to take Astrid were loyal to the Director. There’s always someone willing to sell out.” She spat those last two words. “This one… might not be.”

Meridina nodded. Before she said a word, there was the sound of a thud behind them. All three turned to see Jarod now present, dropping a second unconscious figure to the floor. One was a woman of mixed East Asian and African ancestry, the other was a male with tanned light skin and dark hair. Jarod, dressed in civilian clothes - a black leather jacket over a gray shirt and black trousers - took the PPG from his hand and wiped it before returning it, still held by the hand with the cloth, to the holster on the man's hip. "Your friends had a backup team," he said.

Astrid was still scanning the fallen telepath, but Elia replied “How did you know?”

Jarod grinned slightly. "I may have Pretended to be the Psi Corps Director," he admitted. "Not the most perfect I've ever done, but enough to tell me that if I'm the last Clarkist in EarthDome and my power relies on keeping the Psi Corps firmly in line, I'd better make sure that a telepath experienced in commercial espionage isn't branching out."

“Good job.” Elia offered him a very real but small smile. It did reach her eyes.

Meridina nodded in agreement. "Your particular gifts have served us well here, Jarod. I am surprised that Naval Intelligence has not, how is it put? Poached you?"

“That is the term, yes.” Elia clarified “And yeah, I’m surprised at that too, honestly.”

"Consider who runs Naval Intelligence," Jarod reminded them, his tone a little darker. "Or rather, who really runs it."

"The esteemed Admiral Davies," Meridina noted. Technically Naval Intelligence was supposed to be under Vice Admiral Carsters, but Carsters was from the same service as Davies, and had served with him in the pre-Interuniversal era.

"Although this is a bit much for a surveillance team," Jarod said. "Like I said, my Pretend wasn't the best. There's not a lot of material on Director York on the public nets."

“No, there isn’t. Former Earth Force, that’s about it.” Elia confirmed. “Lots of classified missions and the data on his life got put through the laundry a few times. They were also here to snatch Travada if they could.”

Jarod nodded. "Like I said, it wasn't perfect. If I'd known it was a potential snatch team, I would have invited Angel." He rubbed at the knuckles on his left hand, two of which were showing signs of bruising. "You know how she loves to punch things."

Meridina replied with a grin, knowing that Angel would indeed have enjoyed the opportunity to exercise her talents for personal combat.

“Close enough for corporate work.” Astrid replied to him, standing up. “This poor bastard…” she looked down at the unconscious form before her. “Mahmoud here has a twin sister, also in the Corps. The other two leveraged her safety for the help of a P10 for heavy backup. He doesn’t have much information on the organizational structure but the other two will once I get them scanned.”

"They are still in the maze?"

“Yes, hidden deep in a hedge and very comatose.” Elia said “Hence the delay, we felt you under attack and had to do something fast.”

"Thank you again for coming to my aid."

Jarod stepped up to the unconscious Mahmoud and frowned. "Given what I've experienced, York won't let this go unpunished. This kid's going to end up in trouble. His sister as well. York will make examples of them."

“No he won’t” Astrid replied. “Because this never happened. I’ll be giving them all new and entirely uninteresting memories. As well as medication for the headache. Then we’ll get him and his sister somewhere safe.”

Astrid's plan brought a small frown to Meridina's face. To change another being's memories… it was not unheard of among Gersallian telepaths, but usually only to help deal with trauma, by putting traumatic memories into memory vaults to aid in psychological recovery. To change another being's memories without their consent was entirely against the principles for mindwalkers laid out by the Farisa Genut, and it made her feel tremendously uncomfortable.

“This is a cold war, Commander. If they report back, two innocents die, I can’t go home, and those loyal to our people lose a valuable agent. If they don’t go back, two innocents die, I can’t go home… You get the picture. I could try to live among the Dilgar, but… no offense Elia, I’d rather not have to.”

“None taken.” Elia said, with a slight chuff of laughter.

Meridina nodded once, a bit stiffly. "I understand the necessity. Another sign of how things must change in this place, if the Light is to be strengthened."

"You'll probably need to explain a few bruises for their friends." Jarod motioned to the two people he'd subdued.

“Eh. This is Babylon-5. I’ll direct them to go to a casino and get fresh.” Astrid said with a grin “No one will know the difference. The telepaths will remember me shopping in the Zócalo and having a nice walk through a hedge maze, completely innocent and boring. Nothing to see. I’m just a good little lapdog commercial telepath.”

"And it will not be difficult for them to justify no attempts made on Minister Travada," said Meridina. "He has been most careful to avoid visiting the station on his own."

“I would be too in his position, and with his particular character failings.” Elia said dryly. “But he has been very careful. No opportunity is sufficient justification.”

Meridina switched to mental communication for what she had to say next. Have you concluded the business of your meeting? While there are none present at the moment, I suspect we will not go long without witnesses here.

We did. We’ve exchanged contact information. You go, I’ll clean up the mess. I’m an old hand at it by now.
Astrid replied mentally.

Understood. Meridina glanced to Jarod. "I think it is time we returned to the Aurora, Commander. I do not wish to explain to Station Security these events."

"I wouldn't either."

Elia, I just want to let you know something before you go. The results of this negotiation are not likely to be good. Earth’s childlike intransigence has seen to that. But we’ll mitigate whatever damage there is and get through it. Keep doing what you’re doing and know that we love and remember you. When it’s possible and if you want to come back, you’re welcome home. Never forget that. Astrid told Elia very privately, looking directly into her eyes to deliver it. The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father.

Elia nodded in appreciation.The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father, she replied.

At the window table in Earhart's, Julia listened to Ivanova. "Earth's never been happy with the way your people swooped in and claimed all of the old Darglan systems, including their old colonies. That's always been their major problem. Multiple factions all feel that Earth's been cheated, that you're boxing us in."

"And the telepath issue?"

"That's not so clear-cut," Ivanova said. "The Corps has supporters in the Senate and in business who don't want it undermined. Director York even managed to leverage that into not losing his position after Clark's regime was overthrown. But there are a lot of people taking a long hard look at Psi Corps now. A lot of people who had loved ones imprisoned by Nightwatch and repeatedly scanned by the Corps. We may be closer to seeing Earth finally reform or dissolve the Psi Corps. Preferably before they cause any more trouble."

"So you're saying Earth might relent on the telepath issue?" Julia asked. "If we give them access to former Darglan space."

"To a degree," said Ivanova. "Lyta's campaign is scaring people. The anti-telepath bigots, the Corps supporters, even the reformers. And nobody believes the Free Colony's pleas of innocence."

"How can we convince them? Your side seems pretty locked into the idea that we have to dissolve their colony."

"Luchenko is a pragmatic woman. She'll take a deal if she can show success on the expansion issue, whatever Thomas or Taggart say about emboldening telepaths to run."

Julia nodded. A thought came to her. "What if it was a Neutrality Commission of some kind? Empowered to observe the Free Colony and ensure they're not backing Lyta's forces."

Ivanova considered the idea for a moment before nodding. "That's a good idea. We'll have to pick the head of the Commission."

"So long as its charter doesn't undermine the Colony's autonomy," Julia said. "And if Earth heads the Commission, the Alliance gets a veto on who gets the top spot."

"Fair enough."

"And the Commission comes up for review yearly," Julia continued. "And once Lyta's campaign is over, it will be dissolved." When Ivanova nodded again, Julia continued. "Then that leaves emigration."

"The really tricky part," Ivanova said. "The problem is, EarthGov can't allow public, legal emigration. It'll anger too many interests."

"But without some kind of deal, I don't think we can go for it," Julia said. "Emigration has to be permitted in some way."

"I know, and that's the rub. The more telepaths flee, the fewer telepaths there are for companies to hire. And those companies control some of the Senate votes through the Senators they support."

Julia frowned at that. "Basically, they'll bribe Senators to reject any legalization of telepath emigration."

"Yes." Ivanova took a small drink of her dwindled glass, leaving only a small amount left. "I talked this over with Lantze earlier. While official emigration is out of the question, EarthGov's willing to allow unofficial emigration."

Julia considered that wording. "Unofficial? As in, what? You look the other way?"

"To a degree. Here's my idea." Ivanova put her hands together on the table. "Psi Corps doesn't have the ships to monitor all of the traffic in the Earth Alliance. So they rely on Earthforce and other agencies with ships to assist them. EarthGov can yank that assistance. Not entirely, of course, but orders can be sent forbidding any searches of Alliance-flagged freighters and ships along one of our trading routes to your space. Your people could smuggle out any telepath they wanted through that route and it doesn't matter how much Psi Corps screams, they won't get any help from EarthGov in stopping your ships." There was an earnestness in Ivanova's voice as she said, "Your people could get hundreds, thousands, of telepaths to freedom."

Julia considered the idea. Such a route would become the easiest one in the entire Railroad. It would be as if one of the actual railroad lines between the antebellum North and South was intentionally left unchecked for runaway slaves. An entire trade route along which Earth would leave alone Alliance vessels, eliminating all risk for anyone wanting to smuggle telepaths to the Alliance and freedom.

Eliminating all risk… A terrible thought came to Julia, a very terrible one indeed. "Or it could be used by slavers," Julia pointed out in a quiet voice. "I've read the reports. They're getting bolder. It wouldn't take much for them to fake Alliance registries, maybe even use legitimate registries. They could use the railroad to slip out abductees right along our refugees."

"Psi Corps makes those reports," Ivanova countered. "I don't trust them. It's just the kind of trick they'd pull to scare telepaths into staying in the Corps, into being enslaved to them instead."

"It's not all the Corps," Julia said. "Our people found the evidence on Mars."

"Evidence found by the crew of a Corps sympathizer," Ivanova said hotly.

Julia well remembered the looks she'd gotten on the Huascar at her own statements against the Corps. She knew that Captain Varma - Zhen'var, she corrected herself immediately - was indeed pro-Corps. But she was also the woman who risked her life to stop the genocide at Tira. She was a fellow Captain of the Alliance and she'd yet to give Julia any sign that she didn't deserve the trust that distinction demanded of a fellow Captain. Admiral Maran gave her the Huascar. Just as he gave us the Aurora, gave me the Aurora. Whatever I think of her views, of her attitude… With this in mind, Julia felt a frown come to her lips, and when she spoke, it was with an icy tone. "Captain Zhen'var may sympathize with Psi Corps, and I understand how you resent that, but she is also a Captain of the Alliance. She stood with me and my crew at Tira to resist genocide. She fought at our side over Germania. Unless you can prove she's lying, and I mean really prove it, I don't want to hear another word against her."

For a moment Julia wondered how Ivanova would react. She thought she saw a flare of anger in Ivanova's eyes. A little movement of her lips, as if Ivanova was preparing to fire a retort. The Titans' Captain's fist visibly clenched on the table. After several seconds, it relaxed. "I understand," Ivanova said finally. "My apologies. I was out of line."

Julia considered those words and decided to accept them with a nod. "Apology accepted, Captain."

"Alright." Ivanova took her last drink from her glass. "Back to business. I understand your concerns. But this is the best we can do. Earth will not go for a legitimate channel. We simply won't."

"What about special visas, on starliner flights straight to non-Earth territory?" Julia asked. "Maybe even let us issue the visas."

"An Alliance-issue visa isn't going to stop the Corps. And to allow Earth telepaths to get them, well, it would violate the spirit of the law at least."

"But maybe not the wording," said Julia. "So why not that instead? Let them come to us for entry visas. The Alliance consulates and Embassy verify they're telepaths and approve special visas on those grounds. Then we put them on starliners to Alliance space, through, say, Gamma Orionis and Reynar. Earth refuses to help Psi Corps board them."

"I can ask," Ivanova said. "I'm not sure they'll go for it."

"Sell it, however you can."

"And if I can't?"

Julia considered that question for several moments. "Well, in the end, I suppose it's not my call. We'll just have to see." The tone of her voice made it clear she still had doubts.

At that moment a waiter came up, bearing their dinners and a pair of new Jovian sunspots to consume. The two women turned their attention from the weighty matters they'd been discussing to their meals and the quality thereof.

Julia had little time to digest her meal when she returned to the Aurora. Secretary Onaran wished her presence immediately in Conference Room 2. When she arrived, she found Jarod, Meridina, Elia, and Travada present as well. "Captain, thank you for coming," said Onaran. "I am afraid we have much to discuss."

"It's alright," she said. "Captain Ivanova and I had something of a business dinner. I've got something to discuss too." She took her seat.

“...” Elia’s silence was pointed. Her gloves creaked, they were soft supple leather they were not supposed to creak, but they did. Travada looked over at her and looked like he might be getting ready to duck for cover, but he held his peace and his position. When Elia did speak, it was flat and expressionless.

“In the name of full disclosure, Meridina, Astrid, and myself were attacked by a trio of telepaths. Two loyal to the Directors office, one coerced into collaboration.” Her use of the term collaboration was deliberate. “We dealt with them, and their memories have been modified. The Corps will ensure that the one who was forced is safe and his sister secured from harm.”

"My thanks to you for performing your duty in such a trying circumstance," Onaran said to her.

"Commander Jarod assisted by knocking out their backup unit of non-telepaths," Meridina noted.

Onaran looked to Jarod, who nodded. "I started thinking like the Director of Psi Corps," he said. "It made certain things sound likely, so I checked up myself." He looked at Travada. "Among other things, your record made it likely York would send a team to snatch you, if it was feasible. Even if it disrupted our negotiations, well, the man is a Clarkist. I doubt he would lose any sleep for ruining the talks."

“There’s a reason I never left the ship except under heavy guard…” Travada noted. “That was always a risk.”

“That having been said, our communication channel has been established. The Corps will endeavor to get agents to Babylon-5 for information exchange, and set up secure communications channels.” Elia confirmed, her voice still completely free of inflection, staring at Julia across the table without any expression. Waiting.

"Excellent news. Well done, Commander, and thank you for your efforts." Onaran looked next to Julia. "Captain?"

Julia noted Elia's quiet look before turning her head to face Onaran. "Captain Ivanova and I discussed our current diplomatic impasse. We considered a solution that she thinks Luchenko might be able to get through the Senate." At a nod from Onaran she continued. "We would give them some access rights to Darglan space and they'll accept a Neutrality Commission that would monitor the Free Colony."

Travada gave her a look tinged with a hint of suspicion. "What is the extent of this proposed commission?"

"Observation only, and reporting on violations," Julia replied. "Earth would pick the Commission Chair and we would have a veto on it. The Commission would come up for review and renewal annually and will be dissolved when Lyta's campaign has ended."

"That could be years," Travada pointed out.

"True. And I know it might be onerous. But it won't impinge on your rights, Minister Travada. The Commission can observe and report only. Violations will be left up for the Free Colony to handle with input from our governments. Input, not dictation."

Travada took in a breath and thought a moment before nodding to Onaran. "It is the best that can be hoped for, I suppose. The Colony will accept."

Elia waited for the other shoe to drop. There was always a second shoe. The commission she could accept and she expected the Corps could accept it too. The reality was the Colony was a done deal, it would continue to exist and the Psi Corps knew it. All they could do was mitigate the damage and get through it, as Astrid had said.

Onaran calculated the issue for a moment. "I am not certain it will pass Senate scrutiny," he finally said. "Access to Darglan space for Earth, given its recent history, is a delicate matter. The emigration issue is key. If we can demonstrate a humanitarian goal…"

"That was what we debated the most," Julia said. "We each submitted a proposal."

And there it was. The shoe, not merely dropped, but thrown like in a heated Iraqi press conference. Elia moved her hands under the table so no one could see them clench, but no one would miss her entire body tense.

"Go on."

Julia couldn't help but notice Elia's body language. Meridina evinced clear concern for her, as did Jarod. Nevertheless, she answered Onaran. "Mine was that the Alliance will start issuing entry visas directly in Earthspace," Julia said. "Telepaths would be given special visas and sent on Alliance starliners servicing one of the major routes. I suggested the route that goes through Gamma Orionis to Reynar. Earth would leave our liners alone, even if the Corps requested assistance in intercepting and searching them."

"Promising," said Onaran.

"Ivanova's not certain EarthGov will accept it. That they'll judge it too close to official sanction for telepath emigration," Julia explained. "Her suggestion is to turn one of the major trade lanes between Earth and the Alliance into a hands-off zone, much as in my proposal. That along that lane, Earthforce and Earth's other agencies will refuse all requests from Psi Corps to intercept and search Alliance-registered vessels for telepaths. It would turn said lane into the safest line in the Underground Railroad."

Elia had enough. She was done. There were limits to what she could tolerate and she found them. “Permission to speak freely. It may be unpleasant.” she requested in clipped tones.

"You may, Commander," said Onaran, while the others looked to her, waiting for her words..

“Like hell it will. That route will be leaked to slavers, what’s worse you bloody well know it. It won’t be safe, it will be a god damn gauntlet your ships will have to run. The Psi Corps is already stretched thin trying to deal with slavers, and now all they have to do is get their grubby mits on Alliance-registered ships, and you can bet that isn’t all. Earthforce will use this as an excuse to not answer the Corps’ call on other vessels as well. If the Alliance accepts these terms, you, personally, will be consigning telepaths to slavery and death. The Earth Alliance knows this, they’re counting on the fact that the Psi Corps will not accept that. They’ll use Lyta’s attacks as leverage against the Corps and eventually use it’s ‘inability to deal with a security threat’ to dissolve the Corps. You’ve been briefed on what that would entail.” Through the entire tirade, she never raised her voice, it simply came through her lips as hard as steel, sharp in rebuke like a razor blade.

No one present had yet seen Elia express that much heat and anger. Julia listened to the tirade, directed at her more than Onaran, and kept a neutral look on her face. Inwardly she felt a seething irritation, a natural one for being the target of Elia's anger, especially when Elia was stating nothing that Julia herself hadn't pointed out to Ivanova.

But before she could even conceive of an angry retort, she felt Meridina's voice in her mind. It feels unfair, but she is terrified for family. Just as you are.

Julia briefly wetted her lips in thought, recognizing what Meridina was saying. She was afraid for Robert, true. But this wasn't about him. She should be more considerate. She should be more understanding.

Not about him? They almost took him! raged a part of her mind. Bester almost stole him away!

Julia pushed the thought away. She had other matters to dwell on, even if it still popped up in her mind, still haunted her with the possibility of what might have been, if Bester had successfully taken Robert away… She felt that struggle within her and finally let out a breath. "I said the same thing to Captain Ivanova, Commander," she finally said.

“I know, and yet it is something you’re willing to accept and bring before the Alliance government for consideration, all because you can’t get over what one person tried to do. For that you would condemn millions.” Came Elia’s retort in that same tempered rage. “The Psi Corps is two things. The government agency under the dictatorial control of York; and a people with their own customs, language, art, literature, and cultural beliefs. A nation. My family. Unilaterally dissolving the one inflicts diaspora on the other. If you want to free telepaths, you should be helping the Psi Corps do so on its own terms. Instead you’re discounting my views on the subject because of the gloves on my hands. Just like EarthGov does when they bring telepaths to a negotiation and don’t let them speak. Imposing your will like a colonizing power.”

Julia let Elia make her point. She thought about how the last few days had gone and reviewed her conduct. "Alright, I'll admit. I didn't come to you," Julia said. "I thought you were intentionally staying away from me and my officers, so I did the same. I didn't want to impose."

“I’ll admit, I’m not the most warm and open person in the multiverse, but that’s no excuse. You were looking at my gloves and ignoring me when I was in the room.” was Elia’s retort.

And it wasn't. "You're right." Julia nodded once at her, conceding the point. "After the meeting on the Huascar, well, if we're being candid, I didn't think you were entirely objective on the matter. The Corps is your family, and you love them, and you want them to be in the right even if they might not be. You're telling us how the Corps as an organization can be different from the Corps as a culture, a society. Fine. You should be at the table. I think it's wrong that you're not, that Ms. Bergsen is only there to keep Meridina and Travada out of their brains. But that doesn't mean the Corps gets a free pass on the people who've been harmed."

Elia forced herself to remember that Julia was only human, and not entirely objective either. She was also a mundane and had absolutely no idea what she was stepping into. “Of course I’m not objective, but it’s not due to wishful thinking, it’s because I’ve lived this my whole life. You’re forming opinions in abject ignorance and then projecting your motives onto me. I’ll give you a history lesson if you want. It doesn’t need to be now.”

"Alright. We can do that. You haven't been to the Lookout, have you?"

“I have not, no.”

"Then I'll meet you there," Julia offered. "And we'll finish this discussion."

“Good. Thank you. I do apologize for my outburst as well. I could have been more… polite.”

Julia considered waving it off, but dismissed that. It would sound patronizing, she feared. "Thank you. And I apologize as well that I didn't come to you. Whatever I felt about your objectivity, I should have given you a chance to speak to me about things." She looked to Onaran. "My apologies to you as well, Mister Secretary, for hijacking our meeting."

"Apologies accepted," the Secretary said. It was clear he was not entirely pleased, but he was diplomat enough to say nothing further. He glanced to Travada. "Minister, what is your opinion on the rival concepts of Captain Andreys and Captain Ivanova?"

“Speaking personally, Commander Saumarez is correct that Earth will use either proposal as leverage against the Psi Corps. We differ in that my government and myself believe that there isn’t a viable future for telepaths in Earth Alliance space, irrespective of what the efforts of the Corps are. It’s best to rip the bandaid off. I don’t think the Earth Alliance will accept the visa proposal, however.”

"Captain Ivanova said the same thing. But as Commander Saumarez said, her proposal is too easy for Earth to abuse."

"It is a solid argument." Onaran rubbed at one of his long, pointed ears, a frustrated tic Julia had noticed only a few times before. "I will inform President Morgan and the Cabinet on the idea. We will see what Minister Lantze and his team say about it in the morning."

"If they will only go for Ivanova's proposal, why don't we just drop it?" Jarod asked. "Just accept only the Neutrality Commission in exchange for, say, observed access to Darglan space?"

"Access will mandate observation anyway as a matter of course. We are not giving up control, simply sharing access," Onaran observed. "And as for that… it is remotely feasible, but unlikely. Earth's reputation in the field of xenoarchaeology is unsavory, and many Senators know that, or will be happily informed by their peers on the matter. And allowing Earth a Neutrality Commission to oversee a free affiliate will not seem a compromise so much as a lesser concession. Without some form of concession from Earth on a matter judged sufficiently important, it is unlikely any agreement will pass the Senate."

"Opening a door for slavers is hardly something I'd want to be responsible for," Julia murmured.

"Indeed not. But neither do we need a war with Earth, particularly with the risk that Earth might successfully bring the InterStellar Alliance against us," noted Onaran. He stood. "That is all for today. I must meet with the Cabinet shortly. I will ensure your efforts, Commander Saumarez, are recognized."

“Thank you, Mr. Secretary.” she breathed in deep, and exhaled slowly, shaking her head in dismay. I don’t know how the Corps going to clean this up, she thought privately.

Julia took the time to change into civilian clothes, a teal blouse and blue jeans. On her way to the Lookout she occasionally noticed bewildered looks from the crew she passed. It was rare that she went out of her quarters wearing civilian clothes. She'd always felt it looked better on her to be in uniform unless she was exercising. But given her purpose, looking more casual seemed the best.

She arrived in the Lookout via its port door. It was currently 2200 hours ship time, so Gamma Shift was just about to assume their first watch, Alpha Shift was heading to bed, and Beta Shift would be getting off duty for the rest of the day. The Lookout was thus full of Gamma Shift personnel having breakfast and those Beta Shift personnel off-watch grabbing dinner. There were open stools at the bar, however, which is where Elia was seated.

Elia was also in civilian clothes, but there wasn’t much difference between a uniform and civilian attire for her. The biggest difference was the lack of rank insignia. She had a cup of strong tea in front of her when Julia approached. "Enjoying yourself?" Julia asked amiably, taking a seat.

“That would depend on your definitions. I find the tea to be calming, at least.” Elia replied. “We’ll see how effective it is when the negotiations are done.”

At that point Albert stepped up. The young German man asked, "What would you like, Captain?"

"Just a drink. Nothing that will keep me awake," Julia replied.

"Of course." Albert went off to get such a drink, something with no caffeine.

"I thought about what you said," Julia remarked. "About just gathering the fleet and overrunning the Earth Alliance. Imposing telepath civil rights on them at the barrel of a gun." She shifted slightly on the stool to better balance herself. "There's a certain appeal to it, I admit. Just deal with the problem directly and forcefully."

“It’s going to have to happen one way or another, eventually. Might as well be now when they’re in a peace posture and still rebuilding. Weak. Giving them access to Darglan technology and time to rebuild is a mistake.”

"I suppose if we hadn't taken so many losses in the final push on Germania…" Julia let out a sigh. "I suppose it's too much to ask for Earth to settle its own problems internally, without causing another conflict. I've seen enough dying since I came out into space." Albert came up and offered her a drink, a glass of flavored water. Julia took a drink of it.

“It’s always too much to ask.” Elia replied bitterly. “Especially when the victims aren’t even allowed to ask. I promised you a history lesson, didn’t I?” Elia sipped her tea.


“Very well, this should prove enlightening for you. While Lee Crawford was the first director of the Psi Corps, he was assassinated by factors unknown early in his term, the underground was blamed but given who he was it may well have been the Corps itself. His long-time aid Kevin Vacit took over the reigns after that. He… might have been one of us. Maybe. We’re not sure. If he was he was higher than a P12 and tested negative for telepathy. What we do know is that within the bounds of the Law, he let us self-govern. Develop a culture of our own, select for ourselves who went into what position. He wasn’t perfect, not by any stretch; he was hesitant to crush the original rogue underground for a couple decades. We don’t know why. Overall though, his tenure as a director was good.” Elia took a sip of her tea. She wasn’t anywhere near old enough to remember those years, but she’d grown up raised by people who were.

“There was a Psi Cop in those days named Sandoval Bey. He was a Later, came into the Corps when he was sixteen and went native. He out Psi Corps’d the Psi Corps. He taught generations within Metapol to anchor themselves in their communities, to love even the rogues they hunted. Sometimes they died but they didn’t break or become brutes. They were able to bring in a lot of blips willingly so they could avoid the camps.” Elia could talk about the camps, at length, but that would be a massive tangent she didn’t want to indulge in.

“After Vacit disappeared in his nineties, Director Johnson took over and things… changed. Johnson had Dr. Bey killed for treason ten years later, or forced him to suicide to protect those he cared about. We still don’t know which.” Elia paused to permit Julia to ask any questions she might have.

"I suppose it would depend on what Johnson's goals were," Julia mused idly.

“His goal was the complete subjugation of telepaths. Over the course of several decades, he removed those telepaths who were in their positions because we wanted them there, and put in place his hand-picked creatures.”

"Even though they were telepaths themselves."

“Yes. You can always find people like that. People willing to sell out for personal gain, sociopaths. True believers too. The LGBTQ community has long known of those; men and women who hate themselves and work against their own interests due to religious or political conviction. Those people instituted a lot of black projects, as well as a reign of terror. The Psi Corps has been waging a cold war against itself ever since, hidden from most of its own people. The average commercial telepath doesn’t know, because if some of what’s happened came out in public the outrage would be so great that a revolution would self-trigger before the Corps is ready to win it. What do you think that ship we encountered near Mars was for?”

Julia finished swallowing another gulp as Elia finished speaking. "And which side is Mr. Bester on? He had a ship too, one I'm sure EarthGov doesn't know about."

“Bester is… interesting. I don’t know him personally Captain but he’s a bit legendary. He’s loyal to the Corps, the real one, but…” she trailed off, trying to figure out a way to word things. “His life-experiences have made him brutal. Scuttlebut is, Bey was the closest thing he had to a father and when he died Bester quietly lost it and never really trusted anyone again. Most of the people working toward the liberation of the Psi Corps are more like Astrid. Alfred Bester is a problem they’ll deal with once the threat to our existence is done. Right now, well… he’s too good at what he does to put out to pasture, and the Corps still holds out hope for him as a person.”

"I suppose I can understand that." Julia was being honest when she said it, even with the part of her smoldering over what happened. Jarod's right. I can't let it affect my judgement. "I can understand hoping that wayward family works out for the best." She sipped at the water after speaking.

“Yeah. When the Corps has a choice, Captain, it rejects what people have done, but will never reject them. The Corps will punish, but there is always forgiveness. Always. Even if it has to be post-mortem to protect everyone else.”

Julia nodded silently. "Forgiveness is good. It's something I was raised to believe in. It's never easy though. Having seen the anger in her, I don't know if Ivanova will ever forgive the Corps for her mother, or for her friend." More than friend, I think, Julia thought. "Honestly, I'm not sure I've seen that much anger since I had Hawk in the brig."

“Likely not. But her anger is also misplaced. I’ve known telepaths in Education division responsible for administering the sleepers. I don’t know of any who don’t find marginally legal ways to beg the people on them to get off. From what they tell me, people stay on sleepers because they’re afraid. They’re afraid of their lives changing, they’re afraid of losing everything, afraid of losing their privilege. I can’t speak for what happened to her friend.” Elia shrugged.

Julia nodded at that. "I admit that if I were in their place, I might prefer the sleepers too. If just to keep some degree of independence. And I'd jump at the chance to leave the Earth Alliance behind regardless." She looked to Elia. "I mean, I understand you see the Corps as family, but it's still a ghetto for telepaths. It's a cage and a trap. I can't see myself being happy living there. It might just be from how I grew up, the kind of society I was in, but I see those gloves you're wearing, and it looks like a symbol of restraint to me. Imprisonment. I'd want them off as soon as I could get them off."

“The symbols of oppression can be taken from the oppressors and used for something else Captain. They were meant as a symbol of isolation and restraint. A cage, just as you say. Now… “ She waggled her fingers. “Solidarity and adulthood. As well as an entirely different kind of restraint. One day, we’ll take them off. Metaphorically speaking. The physical gloves will likely stay.”

"The day you're free," Julia noted, holding her glass and the remaining contents a couple of centimeters off the bar. Elia did the same. "To freedom then?"

“On our terms.” Elia agreed.

Julia nodded in agreement as they clinked glasses.

When the second day of talks began, there was a marked change in the atmosphere. Lantze opened the door by proposing that the Alliance assemble a Neutrality Commission with Earth to enforce the Free Colony's separation from Lyta. He even offered the Alliance a veto on the Earth-appointed Commission Chair. Onaran graciously accepted, without a murmur of dissent from Taggart or Thomas. Deng Jiang seemed fairly pleased and exchanged a friendly look with Ivanova. So she's not alone in this, thought Julia.

Onaran made the next move by proposing more open terms for Earth in terms of Darglan space, including promoting the construction of jump gates that would let Earth expand into nearby neutral space if it so desired. It was not unfettered access, but it would give Earth a part in studying remaining ruins of the Darglan civilization and the possibility of finding Darglan technology in their own right.

"As for other matters…" Lantze was clearly enjoying the sudden breakthrough. "EarthGov is aware that the Alliance is interested in making it easier for Earth citizens to travel to the Alliance. A visa program of some kind?"

Onaran smiled amiably. "Yes," he said. "The Alliance would happily provide visas to Earth citizens through our consulates and aid with the relevant security checks. With the aid of Earth authorities, travel between our worlds can be made vastly easier."

"It is an idea worth considering, I believe," Lantze remarked. "I will gladly ask EarthGov…"

At that moment that Mr. Thomas leaned in and whispered something into Lantze's ear. Lantze's smile froze in place. "Pardon me, gentlemen and ladies," he said. "I must consult with Mr. Thomas."

Julia forced herself not to sigh as she joined the others of Onaran's team in filing out, leaving the Earth team to discuss matters. Moments later, Astrid emerged, having also been asked to leave them, and looking fairly irritated about it. She gave Julia a searching look, then the same to Meridina.

They're not going for it, Julia thought. Dammit…

When Ivanova asked them to return they filed back in. Lantze seemed almost apologetic and Deng Jiang was looking at nothing. Taggart, on the other hand, seemed more pleased. "I am afraid that on the question of visas, we must decline," Lantze said. "EarthGov fears that such an Alliance program might be abused by unregistered telepaths. As I have stated, Earth cannot accept telepath emigration. We are prepared to assist the Alliance in smoothing its recent difficulties with onerous inspections by Earth security agencies. We can instruct our inspectors to show more trust toward Alliance vessels, particularly those on main routes where our port security will already be providing sufficient guarantees against contraband."

Onaran kept what Julia saw as a poker face. She forced herself to do the same. They were going to insist on Ivanova's offer. "We will have to discuss particulars," Onaran remarked. "Clarify terms."

"Of course," Lantze reacted. "We are prepared, Mister Secretary, to do just that."

During a break in the negotiations, Julia decided to check out the Zócalo. She found herself at a place called the Eclipse Cafe, where she ordered a small lunch and a non-alcoholic drink. She was partway through when she noticed the shadow move nearby. Ivanova sat beside her. "I tried," she said. "Thomas and Taggart shot it down."

"Why did they even send Lantze if he has no authority?" Julia asked.

"Appearances' sake. Luchenko gave him his post because he promotes peace and rejected Clark's declaration of martial law. Which was about the only time he's shown the merest hint of a spine."

"I'm not sure we can take this agreement in the end," Julia said. "There's too much potential for it to be used by the wrong people. These slavers are aggressive enough they might even attack our ships in the hopes of catching telepaths."

"It's the best you're going to get," Ivanova said.

Julia went to reply, but she noticed Ivanova was watching a nearby vidscreen. She did too. ISN was on, airing a segment labeled "Telepath Terrorist Crisis". It flipped away from images of a bombing to a scene of crystal structures Julia recognized as Minbar. Since she couldn't easily hear it from where she was, Julia activated her omnitool and used it to load the feed, replicating the larger image on the hardlight viewer her omnitool projected. It showed footage of a press conference with a handful of ISA race representatives led by a Drazi. "...stated support for Earth in the ongoing telepath crisis," stated the ISN reporter.

"The Drazi people have been allied to Earth for many cycles," stated the Drazi representative on the screen. "We will not leave them alone to face a greater power. We believe the United Systems should carefully reconsider its behavior toward Earth in these talks…"

"There we go," Ivanova sighed. "Now they're being opportunists. They fought on our side in the Shadow War, and I'll always give them that. But the Drazi have a way of disappointing you again and again."

"...Alliance should remember that Darglan space is in this galaxy, and the species of this galaxy have the strongest claim…"

Julia switched the feed off, disgusted and resigned. She paid for her meal, unfinished, and left for the lift to return to the others.

Everyone was back at the table. "I have received news from EarthDome," said Lantze. "The Cabinet is ready to accept the general terms we have laid out."

Onaran nodded. Beside him, Travada sat stone-faced. "President Morgan has informed me that our Cabinet has also concurred. We believe these terms have the best chance of passing ratification."

"Then let us begin to discuss the particulars…"

Word reached the Aurora quickly. When Julia and Meridina returned from the talks, they were met in the Transporter Station by Jarod. "We all saw the ISN broadcast," he said.

"About the Drazi?"

"Not just that." Jarod used his omnitool to cue ISN. A Caucasian anchorwoman was seated at the desk. "...sources say that after difficult negotiations, Foreign Minister Frederick Lantze and Allied Systems Foreign Secretary Lentiro Onaran have achieved a breakthrough in the talks on Babylon-5. EarthDome officials refuse to comment on any terms, but one source states the arrangement will see to Earth's security concerns and strengthen trade relations between Earth and the Allied Systems. We have yet to receive any comment from authorities in the Allied Systems…" Jarod shut down the feed. "I knew you'd have to agree as soon as the reports from Tuzanor came."

"It was either that or let the crisis escalate, I suppose," Julia said, frowning.

"There are ways to deal with this," Jarod said. "We could shut down the Railroad until we can better secure it, for one thing."

"I have forwarded what I am permitted to my mother," Meridina said. "They may choose such an avenue. But when it becomes clear Earth is ignoring ships in this new zone, the slavers will take advantage. Shutting down our lines will not stop it. It will simply eliminate an actual route to safety."

Julia felt tears of frustration well in her eyes. "I should have ignored it," she said. "I shouldn't have passed on Ivanova's idea."

"You were performing your duty," Meridina pointed out.

"If you hadn't, they would have found another way to introduce it," Jarod added.

"Maybe. But then it wouldn't have been me." With fists clenched and her mind wondering how many people would be hurt by what just happened, Julia left the Transporter Station in a hurry, determined to not let her crew see her doubt.

Astrid didn’t have proper quarters on the EAS Titans. She’d come separately and as a result was staying in some of Babylon-5’s guest quarters in Red Sector. The little studio apartment wasn’t a squalid hole in the wall like the ones in Brown Sector, but they weren’t exactly luxurious either. Single room, no partition except for a bathroom, a kitchen barely worth the word. But the bed was reasonably comfortable and the room was clean, no cockroaches or rodent infestations. Also no bugs, she’d made sure of that. Astrid was lying in bed, curled up with a brand new copy of The Demolished Man, the author of which a certain Psi Cop was named after.

“Fucking hell, Lee Crawford really loved his science fiction, didn’t he?” She muttered to herself, thinking about the parallels between the Psi Corps and the Esper Guild, when the door chimed. Instantly, a PPG she kept under her pillow came out, and she was looking at the camera display that showed her who was on the other side. Astrid saw a familiar face. A white guy in his late thirties with brown hair and blue eyes, dressed in a nice button up shirt and sweater vest; the badge and gloves of the Psi Corps openly displayed. Astrid opened the door and yanked him inside.

“Rob, what the hell are you doing here? Were you followed?” Astrid practically hissed. Robert Irvine was only a P7, he was somewhat more vulnerable than she was and didn’t normally do fieldcraft. Most of his actual work was a lot more passive.

“Officially, I’m here for a mining contract negotiation and no, I wasn’t… do they have people watching you?” Rob asked in his Australian accent.

“They did, but not anymore. What are you unofficially here for?”

“To see how you’re doing, and to pass on some news…” he trailed off, and Astrid didn’t need to be a telepath to know something was seriously bothering him.

“Well, things are going… about as can be expected. It’s going to be a process to get the Alliance on our side, but it’s going, their agreement with the Earth Alliance notwithstanding I think we can find a way to mitigate it. We’re establishing a line of communication through this station. Clandestine of course.”

“Good to hear, but…” Rob trailed off trying to think of how to say what he was going to say, and Astrid immediately got very worried. “You might want to sit down.” Astrid felt like her heart was in her throat trying to escape. Whatever it was she could feel Rob’s anxiety and knew it was bad. She walked the few steps and sat down on her bed. He sat down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders.

“What is it?” she asked, probing gently at his blocks, but he kept her out.

“There was an attack on Tau Atrea. The PCS Sinbad is on site but they haven’t reported back any news yet.”

No no no… Astrid sobbed, shaking in place.
”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 »


Personal Log: Robert Dale; 22 September 2643 AST. The Aurora has returned from the Tanatis Frontier Sector in Universe A7R6, having completed a four week survey of several star systems. While I did not personally have any official duties involving this exploration mission, I am happy to have aided in our first contact efforts with the Dynielil and the Trenap while devoting the rest of the time to training myself.

All in all, given the year we've had, it was a welcome change to engage in a peaceful mission instead of dealing with another violent situation.

I am also happy to report that upon our arrival at Fleet Base Skret Tel, the Alakin had my personal operations vessel waiting for me, freshly delivered from the factory. I look forward to seeing the Paladin Special Operations Vessel in person.

The Aurora had two shuttle bays for its small flotilla of shuttlecraft and runabouts. The main shuttle bay was located at the rear of the ship's primary hull, about halfway down the ship's length from the bow. Just below was the dock for the support ship - in this case the ASV Koenig - and below there, on the top deck of the drive hull, were the flight and launch decks for the ship's wing of Mongoose starfighters.

The secondary shuttle bay sat by itself, on Deck 34 near the bottom of the ship toward the stern. The craft here were less numerous but included the specialized shuttles and runabout for the ship's Marine contingent.

And, now, one other vessel.

The ship was a re-purposed Dorei design of the Henjan-Kimati Shipbuilding company. Robert recognized it as resembling the armed courier Keyeri co-owned by the Minbari ex-Ranger Lennier and Druni Jestani, a Dorei formerly from one of their metaphysical orders. He'd traveled on their vessel for several weeks earlier in the year, after he departed Gersal. Now he had one of his own.

For one thing, the ship had to be in the secondary shuttle bay. There wasn't enough space for it in any of the other locations, and the air boss NCOs had with much grumbling re-assigned two of the shuttles to ensure this bay had the room for his new ship. It was larger than a runabout with a length of forty meters and a maximum wingspan of eighteen, shaped like a bird with its wings swept back in dark gray coloring. Darglan-tech pulse plasma cannons were built into the forward wings and warp nacelles were at the tips of said downswept wings; ball turrets with pulse guns were built into the top and bottom of the ship as well, four in total, in pairs arranged side by side. Its armament would let it pose at least some threat to larger ships like corvettes.

Beside him, Lucy Lucero was looking over the ship. Like Robert she was in a field uniform of the Alliance Stellar Navy, black with the intelligence branch color of silver for the trim, and a single aiguillette to mark her a staff officer. In this her uniform mirrored Robert's.

But neither was a staff officer. In truth Robert was one of twelve Paladins of the Alliance, a special operative given missions directly from President Morgan and his immediate subordinate Admiral Maran, the chairman of the Defense Command Staff. Lucy was the first member of his operations team. "They even fit a cloaking device on her," Lucy remarked. "A new topline model too. And a sensor suite better than any of our runabouts have. I'd almost call it starship grade."

"And the engine is badass." That remark came from the third figure with them. Lieutenant Thomas Barnes wore the beige branch color of engineering/operations and served as the ship's Assistant Chief Engineer under the Starfleet veteran Montgomery Scott, his mentor. "Warp 6. She can't sprint like a full-sized starship, but she'll get you places nice and fast. And the impulsors are the best I've seen in this weight class. You won't out-maneuver a starfighter, but just about everything else."

"I'm not surprised you couldn't resist giving my ship the once-over, Tom," Robert replied. He felt a bit of happiness to see Tom holding his right hand up to touch the surface of the nacelle. If anything it meant the replacement for his lost right arm was working, bringing his friend back to normal after losing his arm in the battle over Welthauptstadt Germania.

"Maybe I need to become a Paladin, man," Tom said. "This is a sexy, sexy beast of a ship."

"She's meant to be a quiet beast," noted Robert. "To get me into places people would rather I not be."

"Yeah, yeah…"

They approached the front of the ship and the cockpit area on what would be the "head" of the bird. "They spared no expense," Lucy said. "This thing has the best equipment the Alliance has developed in virtually every regard. Hell, I'm surprised they didn't try to jam an interuniversal drive in her."

"Given the places she might go, that would have been unwise," said Robert. "Anyway, now that…"

His voice trailed off as they rounded the cockpit and approached the starboard side of the ship. Robert's eyes followed the contours of the dark hull… until they were broken up by light paint. On the side of his new infiltrator, someone had painted, in bright and bold blue Gothic lettering with white outlines, the words "Noble Steed". A small decal of a white-armored knight on a similarly-armored charger was placed beside the name.

The others saw it a moment later. Lucy broke out giggling, but Robert felt the surprise that told him she knew nothing of it. As it turned out, he didn't need his life force - the "swevyra" he possessed, as the Gersallians called it - to know the culprit. The way Tom's burst of chortling quickly escalated to almost maniacal laughter was more than enough of a giveaway.

There was something infectious about the laughter, too, such that even Robert had to start chuckling at the prank. "Very funny, Tom, very cute," he said, grinning. He faced his friend, who was still laughing hard. "You got me."

"Ye-eah, yeah I did… Sir Robert!" Tom managed that before continuing to laugh.

"This is for all of the damage my training did to Holodeck 3, isn't it?" Robert felt a brief suspicion and looked up and around. "Okay, I'm sure someone's watching and enjoying this tease at the expense of my sense of right and wrong."

The shuttlebay intercom chirped to life. "Nope," said Commander Zachary Carrey, another friend and commander of the Koenig. "Not at all."

"Not us!" added an enthusiastic feminine, almost soprano voice. Robert could tell Caterina Delgado, a Lieutenant Commander and the ship's science officer, was fighting a fit of giggling in order to say those words.

"We're just figments of your imagination, noble Paladin," added her sister Angela, the ship's tactical officer, ranked a Lieutenant.

"But you have to admit it is fitting," added Doctor Leonard Gillam, the Aurora's Chief Medical Officer.

Robert leveled a look at Tom. "Just who else is in on this?"

He stopped laughing long enough to answer, "Nick, Jarod, Nasri, your cousin…"

Robert blinked. "What does Beth have to do with this?"

"Zack told her about it, we promised to get her video," Tom laughed.

"But you didn't tell me?" Lucy asked, sounding almost offended.

"You've got that same life force woo woo stuff," Tom pointed out. "He might have picked it up."

"Ha, he could try," Lucy declared, grinning wryly at Robert.

Robert sighed, but he was still smiling. "Alright everyone, yeah, the joke's on me," he said. "But I will need to give this ship a proper…"

His omnitool activated with the tone of an incoming comm. He hit the glowing blue button that lit up over the back of his left hand to answer. "Dale here."

"We have an incoming message from Admiral Maran," answered Julia, undoubtedly up in her ready office off of the main bridge. "I'm afraid you'll need to stop admiring your noble steed, Admiral Maran is on comms for us."

While her voice was all business, Robert thought there was a hint of amusement in Julia's tone. "You knew?" he asked.

"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."

Tom and Lucy started laughing again. Robert let out a chuckle and departed.

After his trip across the Aurora, Robert stepped into the conference lounge from the bridge and approached the table. Julia was in Meridina's usual seat, to the right hand side of her usual seat at the head of the table. Robert took Jarod's on the left hand side and both faced the viewscreen built into the wall. On the screen Admiral Maran appeared. While always reserved and stoical, Robert was certain that the Gersallian man was happier than he'd been in years, relieved of the burden from fighting the Reich. To someone without a scanner Maran looked completely Human, like the rest of his people. His dark hair, including the beard and mustache, were fringed with gray, reflecting his age.

"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. Robert thought she looked brighter as well. She'd enjoyed their peaceful exploration cruise as much as anyone. "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. "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 and was pleased to assist in the first contacts." He thought about those first contacts. The Trenap had been the trickier one; they were a species of what were essentially molluscoids with an entirely different oral structure, and as such tremendous effort had been required to even begin to translate their language into something understandable. In contrast the Dynielil were humanoids, of varying blue or reddish coloration (although one national group had a lighter, Human-like complexion), and on average taller and bulkier than Humans and other similar species.

"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. He sensed Julia tense a little. Clearly Maran was intending something less peaceful than another exploration cruise. "Terrorism was suspected."

"And confirmed. Unfortunately, the culprits may be laid on our doorstep, given the evidence."

"What do you mean, Admiral?" asked Julia.

"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. "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…"

Robert listened as Maran laid out the Aurora's mission. The idea of negotiating the problem was good, but he wondered how it would turn out for them.

"Understood, Admiral," Julia said, nodding. "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."

That part didn't make sense to Robert, given the astrographical layout of the galaxy and the political boundaries. She'teyal, the Darglan Homeworld, was Rimward of Earth, but B5 was in the Epsilon Eridani system, which was more Coreward. "Isn't that in the opposite direction from B5? Or is the Secretary not on Earth?"

Maran nodded. "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?"

"They were, but circumstances intervened. They were there 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. Robert listened as he explained the Alliance government's hope to persuade Earth to relax its laws regarding telepaths, including the laws that established the Psi Corps as responsible for all telepaths, with membership mandated in its ranks.

"If there's no Psi Corps to chase rogues, then the Underground 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. "I understand, Admiral. I'll order a jump to E5B1 immediately. Permission to be dismissed?"


Julia nodded in understanding to Robert and left the lounge. After she was gone Robert called out, "Computer, initiate secure lockdown of conference lounge in accordance with Paladin security protocols, authorization code Dale Gamma-Tau-Epsilon-40."

A moment later the systems beeped in acknowledgement. "Lockdown and containment protocols confirmed. Security measures in place." By this the computer confirmed that the lift entrance and the door entrance to the lounge were locked down to prevent entry. An electronic field and a matching sonic isolation field to prevent any listening devices or other spy equipment from functioning was also enabled. Robert doubted the measures necessary, but it was part and parcel of his new job. Leaks could get him killed. "We're secure, Admiral," Robert confirmed.

"I'm initiating signal encryption now." After a momentary flicker, representing the Aurora's computers adjusting to the encryption, the image stabilized. "Confirm?"

Robert used the conference table controls for a moment. "Encryption in place." He looked to Maran again. "I'm listening, Admiral."

"We need you to take your new infiltrator and launch a covert investigation of a possibly-hostile facility," Maran said. With no further prompting he launched into an explanation. "Long range scans at the edge of Alliance space in E5B1 recently detected what might have been a hyperspace jump point near an uninhabited garden world in neutral space, in the Tau Atrea System. Apparently it was once an Earth Alliance colony site, but it was abandoned during the Minbari War and never re-settled afterward. Our own settlement plans have been on hold to avoid provoking trouble with Earth."

"And now someone's re-settled it?" Robert asked.

Maran replied with a slight nod. "When we confirmed the reading we sent observation probes. After days of careful scanning we didn't detect any electronic signals, nor any signs of life forms. When our probes were about to enter the inner system, their proximity alarms went off and kept them in the outer system. Observe."

With a press of a key Maran dispatched a video file to the Aurora conference lounge. Robert directed it to the holo-projector built into the conference table and activated it. The video showed a far shot of a pleasant-looking garden planet.

The empty orbital space was suddenly not so empty, as a blink of blue light expanded into a blue vortex. A large vessel emerged, an E5B1 Human-designed spaceliner from the looks of it. "Asimov-type passenger liner," Robert noted aloud. "But are those weapons arrays?"

Maran didn't answered. The video zoomed in, to get a better look at the vessel's detail. Robert could make out definite signs of modification, turning a civilian ship into what was at least an armed transport. But he soon realized the most important detail was on the spinning drum that provided gravity.

On said drum was a shield insignia, black in color, over which was laid a silver symbol. He easily recognized the Greek letter.


"Psi Corps," he said. "On a world on the edge of Alliance space. What are they doing there?"

"That, Captain, is precisely what we want you to find out," said Maran.

Undiscovered Frontier
"A Certain Point of View"

The inside of the infiltrator had that kind of factory-fresh "newness" that many species could recognize. There were no indications of prior habitation, no smells or marks or anything to indicate past use. The inside of the ship had a pleasant blue color to it, contrasting with the dark gray exterior. Robert recognized that the internal design borrowed heavily from the armed couriers like the Keyeri. The cockpit was in the front in the "head" of the main body, with the pilot seat at the very front of the cockpit while the operations and weapons stations were behind and to the sides of the piloting station. Behind the cockpit was the ship's main access corridor. To either side of it were the personal living quarters, four rooms in total, each one fairly small but just roomy enough to include a small bathroom with a commode and shower.

Beyond the main quarters was the port-side access airlock to the ship. Further astern was the starboard access to the small kitchen and dining area with a table, chairs, a replicator, a two burner stove, and a pantry. To port of the kitchen was the entry to the cargo area and the ship's transporter, all at the lower half-deck level below the ship's main deck.

At the far end of the main access corridor was the ship's engineering space, where the bank of twin naqia reactors powered the ship. Access hatches led to the half-deck below that could be used to access the nacelle plasma feed lines, the plasma reservoir, the heat exchanger, and other vital systems.

The cargo area had a cargo bay ramp exit, and it was through this that Robert entered with Lucy. The cargo area was, at least on a Paladin's ship, the armory and outfitting station. A small industrial replicator allowed for part fabrication, and the wall mounts, bins, and racks had several firearms spread among them along with other equipment ranging from climbing gear to extreme environment suits to personal cloaking devices. "It's like they weren't sure what to do with all of the space, so they just gave you a bit of everything," she noted while closing the ramp door. It made a thunking noise as it shut and sealed. "This must be a hint to assemble your own squad of badasses."

"There's no telling what kind of missions I may need to do," Robert pointed out. "It's no wonder they gave me this much hardware."

"Speaking of missions, just what does Maran have you doing now?" asked Lucy.

"Psi Corps may be establishing a base on the frontier of Alliance space," Robert explained. "I need to investigate."

Lucy gave him a concerned look. "Are your mental defenses ready?"

"I've spent months refining them," Robert said. "It'll have to be enough."

"I'd think a telepath Paladin would've been chosen," Lucy said.

"There are only two, and they're both on long-term operations right now." Robert shook his head. "This is on me. Anyway…"

The two went up the steps to the main access corridor and ventured into the engineering space. "I half-expected Tom to mark his territory," Robert joked.

"Now now, he knows better than to mess with your Noble Steed," Lucy teased.

"You do know I'm not calling it that, right?"

"Yeah, I figured." She gave Robert a look that warned of further teasing to come. "If you're looking for a name, you could always go for Rocinante."

Robert blinked. "And that means?"

"Oh, nothing," Lucy said, although her grin said otherwise. She walked over to where the twin naqia reactors were located. Both were on standby, ready to energize and provide the ship with the bulk of its power. "Well, let me get the system checks started. I'll get your baby, whatever you want to call it, ready for her maiden voyage."

"There's something else I want to ask," said Robert. "What do you feel about Talara coming along?"

For a moment Lucy thought on it, hard. "Bringing her with us to Germania… she saved lives, and I'm proud of her, but she wasn't ready for sensing that kind of darkness. And all of the violence. Noveria and the Citadel were bad enough…"

"I understand," said Robert. "So you want to leave her behind?"

"No, I'm more concerned with having to do that sometimes," Lucy said. "Right now I'm focusing her training on her connection to the Flow of Life, not combat. I'd rather be around to make sure she continues to heal."

"Well, this time at least, go ahead and bring her," Robert said. "I'll clear it with Julia."

"Thank you," said Lucy. "I still have a lot to show her."

"I know," he answered. "And it'll be something for you to do while waiting with the ship."

"You're not taking me with you?"

He shook his head. "This is just a brief stealth recon run. The fewer we are, the least likely we are to get detected. And if things go south I'll want you on the transporter controls to bring me back."

Lucy nodded. "I've got you. Now…" She leaned over one console. "Let's bring this baby to life."

After completing a full inventory of his infiltrator's gear and getting some of his things transferred to one of the small rooms on the ship, Robert made his way up to the bridge deck. The Aurora was under way for B5 now, having completed her rendezvous. Word was that they'd brought aboard one of the Huáscar's officers for the assignment. But given his own mission, he knew not to pry.

He stepped onto the bridge and gave it a glance. He was used to not being the captain of the Aurora, so there was no instinctive reaction to head to the center chair or ask for reports. He noted Cat happily scanning away at things from her station while Angel was undoubtedly running tactical simulations of some kind. Jarod and Locarno were at their stations as well, their jobs quite important while the ship was at warp.

"So, how's your noble steed?" Locarno asked aloud.

"I'm not calling it that," Robert said immediately.

"Well, there's always Rocinante," Jarod remarked.

"Just what does that mean anyway?" Robert asked. "Lucy used it too."

At that Cat giggled and Angel joined in with an amused snort. When he shot them playful glares, it was Angel who looked up at him with a wide grin to reply, "It's the name of Don Quixote's horse."

"Oh. So you're saying I'm like Don Quixote."

"Yes and no," Jarod remarked. "After all, windmills don't really fight back. Your targets do."

"But there is something to the comparison," said Locarno.

In the command chair Meridina was listening in without commenting. Now, however, she finally asked, "Who is this 'Don Quixote', and why should Robert name his infiltrator for Quixote's horse?"

"I'll explain it later," Jarod promised. He glanced toward Robert as he approached the front of the bridge. "The Captain is in her ready office if you need to speak with her."

"Thank you," Robert said. He headed to the door and touched the chime key beside it, ignoring Cat's continued giggling from her station as he was admitted.

He found Julia at her office desk. As always, she was doing the paperwork, and with greater relish than Robert had ever felt for the same work. "Ready to go?" Julia 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. Robert could see she was upset at failing to hide her irritation with the situation, she knew it would just make him feel worse. "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." This is what I signed up for, after all.

"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 said in reply. "And I was with Shepard and a team. Now it's just me and Lucy and, if you don't disapprove, Talara." He let the request stand on its own.

"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."

Robert shook his head. "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." He said that knowing he would probably not be that lucky, but hopeful nevertheless.

"Hopefully so," she said. Julia got up from her chair and rounded her desk so that she could pull him close for a hug. Robert felt her concern and happily accepted the embrace. "Just be careful out there, okay?"

"Yes, mom." That won him a 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.

His lips had barely brushed her skin 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 and leaving the ready office. He enjoyed the warm feeling their teasing was causing within him and her as well. What they shared… he sometimes wondered if "love" was sufficient to describe it. All he knew for certain was that he would fight through Hell itself to come back rather than leave her behind.

Just a reconnaissance, he reassured himself.

Robert stepped into the cockpit of his unnamed Infiltrator - the "Noble Steed" lettering and icon had been removed, at least - and found Lucy and Talara waiting for him. Lucy was at the operations station and Talara at weapons. "I figured you'd like to do the honors," Lucy said to him, grinning. "Even if we both know I'll be flying this thing if things get dicey."

"I happen to be a perfectly good pilot, thank you," Robert said while easing into the piloting seat. Unlike the Keyeri, the helm controls were Stellar Navy standard. He brought his fingers up to begin the pre-launch systems checks. One by one the ship's onboard computer verified all flight systems. "Pre-launch checks are fine. Now, what's this button do…"


Mentally he transmitted to Lucy an image of his tongue sticking out at her, which was her usual gesture when someone commented on her own mischief whenever it came up. Talara picked it up and giggled slightly. She'd been around Humans long enough to pick up the connotations of "giving the raspberry". Aloud Robert said, "Preparing to trigger thrusters."

"Paladin vessel, this is the Bridge," said Meridina. "Your launch readiness is confirmed. We are decelerating from warp for launch. Standby."

A few moments later the Aurora dropped from warp. As soon as he confirmed this, Robert triggered the thrusters. The Infiltrator lifted from the shuttle bay deck and, with a key press, moved to the open bay door. The atmospheric forcefield yielded before it, allowing the ship to depart in a cloud of blue light. Once it was in the void the shuttle bay door began to close. Robert flew their vessel away from the Aurora, triggering his ship's impulsors and gradually swinging them around. He did just in time to bring up the view of the Aurora's stern. A moment later her four warp nacelles surged with light and she zipped away in a flash, returning to warp velocity. "Alright," he said. "Engage cloaking device."

"Engaging," Lucy said. She checked her screens. "Cloak is engaged and all systems still functioning as intended."

"Alright then," he said, tapping his fingers across the astrogation system. "Setting course for Tau Atrea."

Moments later, they too made the jump to warp speed.

The warp speed chart was logarithmic, not linear, which meant that as numbers got higher, the speed difference grew between a set series. As a result, while Warp 6 was fairly faster than Warp 3, Warp 9 was even faster by comparison to Warp 6.

During the following trip, it occurred to all concerned that they were spoiled by the Aurora's powerful, fast drives. Getting to Tau Atrea would have been far quicker had the Aurora come this way. But it hadn't, and with Warp 6 as their best speed and the cruise speed being closer to Warp 5.8, it took days to make the trip. It was September 24th before they arrived at their destination, giving the three plenty of time for training Robert's mental defenses further and cataloguing all of the gear.

Tau Atrea was a G sequence star, a G4 to be precise, sharing a similar but not identical color and luminosity to Sol. The system had just five planets but two asteroid belts, indicating two potential planets had been lost in the system's primordial formation.

"There may also be a gravitational influence with the outer belt's formation," Talara was explaining as the infiltrator approached Tau Atrea 3, the one garden planet in the system.

"I'm sure Cat will be happy to discuss it when we get back," Robert said. He continued to look over the surface of the planet with the ship's sensors. There were still no life signs, no electronic emissions, but Robert was certain this was from electronic jamming of some sort. He could feel sentient life on the surface. He couldn't make out individual minds, not from here, but he knew there were people down there, at the old colony site.

"We should make as shallow a re-entry angle as possible," Lucy said. "To minimize friction. At our mass I'm not sure even the cloak will hide reentry friction completely. If we do it over the horizon, they'll only pick us up if they've got a wide sensor net, and I'm not seeing signs of that."

Talara nodded. "Do we fly to the settlement then?"

"No," Robert said. "That's too direct. I'll take the camping gear and you can drop me off a safe distance away." He brought up a map of the area and indicated a an area over the horizon from the colony. "I'll hike the rest of the available daylight and get there tomorrow."

"Really roughing it, huh?" Lucy asked.

"Oh, I'll hate it," Robert admitted. "Looking at the local environment it's pretty cool at that latitude and season. But taking us any closer risks putting the ship in line of sight. They might sense us. Especially us, given our talents." He shook his head. "No, I'll go in on foot."

"Your blisters," Lucy said. "And we'll be…?"

"Take the ship further in-system and monitor for incoming ships or communications activity," Robert replied. "I'll signal if I need pick up. And if you see something wrong…"

"Come pick you up," Lucy finished for him.


"Huh." She gave him a wicked smile. "I dunno. With a sweet ride like this, I could just go off and become a pirate queen."

When that got her a bemused look from Robert, she stuck her tongue out.

The day of hiking and a night in a heated sleeping bag reminded Robert that when all was said and done, he very much preferred living with at least the option of some climate control… and preferably on windswept prairies, not alpine forest.

The planet's colors were mostly like Earth's, save a bit of a bluish tint to some of the leaves and the undergrowth and grass around him. At night the temperature had hovered at about four or five degrees Celsius, and as daylight broke on the morning after his arrival Robert enjoyed the warmth of the system's star where it managed to poke through the canopy of the forest. He packed up his camp, pulled his pack up on his back, and re-donned his traveling robe before he continued onward. He still sensed life, sentient thinking life, but did not reach for it should it give him away. It was still a distance away.

And then… it wasn't.

Robert kept walking. Under the folds of his robe he quietly removed his lightsaber from his belt. He didn't activate it yet, waiting to see what would happen.

When the attack came, it was not physical but mental. He felt a presence stab at his mind. Without the warning he'd sensed he would have likely gone down right there, put asleep by a strong command to his brain. Instead the presence struck at his mental blocks, reinforced by his life energy, the psionic blow skittering off of them.

Robert sensed the presence of his attacker through that blow and sent a wave of invisible force in that direction. There was a thump of impact against a tree nearby. Leaves scattered on the ground.

"I can sense you," Robert said. "There's no point in hiding…" He narrowed his eyes as frustration and a little reflexive anger washed over him. His finger found his weapon's activation key. The snap-hiss filled the air and his blade flashed to life with green light.

He brought it up in time for unseen weapons to slam into it. He responded by generating another wave of force that threw his attacker back. This time there was no thud against a tree, only against the ground.

While the first presence was still there, recovering, he felt another one move up between them. It vibrated with anger, an anger far more prevalent than in his attacker. It also felt familiar, if not immediately so.

A voice came from the apparent empty space ahead of him, and it kindled memory as well. "Damn metaphysical bullcrap." A human form appeared in front of him, wearing a dark-colored combat suit and protective helmet. Angry brown eyes stared through the faceplate at Robert.

Robert let out a breath. "Hawk," he said.
”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 note, ComradeTortoise is a co-author of this fic, although his bits don't start until Act 2.
”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 »

ComradeTortoise being my other screen name, over on Spacebattles and AO3
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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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by U.P. Cinnabar »

Alyrium Denryle wrote: 2018-10-26 11:08am ComradeTortoise being my other screen name, over on Spacebattles and AO3
Because you taught us.
"Beware the Beast, Man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone amongst God's primates, he kills for sport, for lust, for greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of Death.."
—29th Scroll, 6th Verse of Ape Law
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Alyrium Denryle »

U.P. Cinnabar wrote: 2018-10-26 01:37pm
Alyrium Denryle wrote: 2018-10-26 11:08am ComradeTortoise being my other screen name, over on Spacebattles and AO3
Because you taught us.
About what, the Corps? Yes.
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.

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

Post by Steve »

Alyrium Denryle wrote: 2018-10-26 11:08am ComradeTortoise being my other screen name, over on Spacebattles and AO3
Huh, I thought I wrote you as Alyrium here.
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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

Post by Steve »

Distant avians native to Tau Atrea 3 were the only sound that could be heard above the breathing of the two men. Robert held his lightsaber in a defensive position and focused on his foe, using his free arm to unlatch his pack and let it drop, lightening his weight. Roiling, undirected anger filled his opponent, unsurprising given his reputation.

James Hawk was, like Robert, 21st Century North American. His appearance was primarily Caucasian, with a hint of the Pacific Northwest native tribes in some of his facial structure. His helmet covered what Robert knew to be a head of brown hair shades lighter than his own. They had similar height and fairly similar build.

But any being that could peek into their minds, their beings, could never think them alike. Robert was keeping his calm at the sight of the interuniversal renegade, who like Robert was a beneficiary of the Darglans' remaining legacy, despite Hawk's bloody record as it was currently known in the Alliance. Hawk, on the other hand, seemed ready to burst with angry energy. A scowl crossed his face under the helmet. Silvery metal flowed down from the back of each wrist, hardening into metal blades with a quick shriek. Robert sensed Hawk's wariness, and more importantly, the possibility he might strike just to end the standoff.

Behind him, another form shimmered into view, a Human-looking woman in her mid to late 20s. Her skin was a darkened olive complexion, the kind of tan you found in people from the Middle East. Brown eyes focused on Robert and Hawk. Her dark hair, cut short, was disheveled. She was a little on the short side and had a build that made Robert think of Lucy. Twin blades, the same as Hawk's, were jutting from her wrists. She didn't match any of the profiles of Hawk's known crew. Robert sensed the instinctive anger from before fade, replaced by quiet, and the sense that came from a telepath of fair ability. She wasn't at Meridina's power, but she did have some.

"What are you doing on an uninhabited world at the edge of Alliance space?" Robert asked.

"Same thing you are, I imagine," Hawk answered.

Robert knew from the reports Hawk's mind had newfound defenses against telepathy, but that was against "physical" telepathy. Through his life energy and the Flow of Life, Robert could sense something of Hawk's thoughts and his emotions. Anger rumbled around Hawk's being, making it difficult to sense anything else… but Robert could feel his intentions through that shell of anger. "Let's put our cards on the table," he said. "I'm here to investigate a suspected Psi Corps site."

"It's not suspected," Hawk said. "I know they're here."

"And how would you know that?" Robert asked.

Hawk smiled. "While your Alliance is off playing footsies with eugenicist warlords and feudal tyrants, my people are dealing with the bastards of the Multiverse. That includes Psi Corps and those damned telepath camps they operate."

Robert blinked. "You hit one of the Earth Alliance's re-education camps?!" he couldn't help but demand. Christ, if they think the Avenger was one of our ships…

"Don't get your panties in a twist, Dale," Hawk laughed. "Our ship wasn't involved. They've got plenty of suspects."

Robert had to admit he had few qualms about freeing telepath prisoners who were only held for refusing to join the Corps or go on sense-deadening drugs. But he didn't consider Hawk and his people the best forces for that kind of work. "And now you're here… doing what?"

"Reconnaissance," Hawk said. "I like to get my hands dirty sometimes."

And bloody, Robert thought, suspecting the telepath heard him given her look at him sharpened a little.

"Besides, it's a good training mission for one of my new agents needing evaluation." He gestured back to the woman. "This is Rebekah bat Gurion. She's from an Earth your Alliance hasn't encountered yet. And as you can tell, she's a telepath, and a pretty good one."

Robert nodded to her. "Is there a reason you attacked me?"

"I didn't intend to kill you," she replied. There was some Hebrew in her accent, but she sounded more English than Israeli. "I wanted to see why you were here. I was going to put you to sleep and probe your mind."

"And it's good practice to test you metaphysicals out," Hawk added.

"Thank you for not planning to murder me," Robert said drolly. While Hawk seemed the same simmering bundle of rage as before, he found Hawk's partner in this mission more interesting. She lacked the clear mental issues most of his other operatives had evinced. On the other hand, he felt a deep pain within her. Pain and guilt.

Of course, there was the reason they were present on Tau Atrea. "So you're telling me you came alone, just two of you, to a planet with telepaths that might attack you mentally? I doubt your defenses are that strong. And if they have even one Psi Cop, or something close, your friend here wouldn't be enough to stop them. At best the Corps will kill you with a stroke. At worst…" At worst they send you back to your group as infiltrators mentally-reprogrammed to give them access to Darglan technology. Including the IU drive.

Hawk grinned at that. "They won't live long if they do."


"We've set our nanites' systems to a neural deadman's switch of sort," Hawk explained. "If either of our bodies are compromised in any way by telepathic attack, the nanites will engage combat mode, take control of the host's nervous system, and start killing any target within a two mile radius before working outward. They'll only stop if the affected brain is restored."

Robert frowned. "And God help anyone innocent in the area?"

"I'm not saying I want it to happen, Dale," Hawk replied. "But I do what I have to. These people don't play around. And if the Corps wants to play dirty with the telepathy, I'll do the same with my nanites. If they don't want to die, they can leave my mind alone. The same with Becca's"

Robert considered his point. I'd say he's insane, but it is a… not completely unreasonable failsafe, from his point of view. I suppose.

"So, give me a reason not to kill you," Hawk said suddenly, his voice angry. Rebekah - or "Becca" as he'd called her - gave Hawk a worried look.

Robert sensed the threat wasn't much of a threat. Hawk's intentions weren't immediately violent, not yet anyway, and his ally seemed completely taken aback by the threat. So he responded with a quizzical look. "Well, for starters, you've repeatedly claimed you only kill bad guys," Robert said. "And even by your standards, I'm not one of those 'bastards of the Multiverse'. So why would you want me dead?"

"Easy. Your people killed some of mine," Hawk snarled. "At Tira. We lost a lot of good people. And you and your precious crew are Goddamned responsible."

Although he hadn't been there, Robert was fully familiar with the Tira Crisis. "You mean you lost good people after you tried to support an attempted genocide," he pointed out. "Your people attacked mine, remember? So you're talking about killing me out of, what, petty revenge? I mean, I wasn't even at Tira. But I've read a lot about it." Robert frowned at him. "You tried to kill a foreign leader struggling to save her people from genocide based on a single report accusing her of rape, then your crew openly joined the group plotting that genocide and used a diplomatic meeting as a cover to launch an attack on our people. You nearly got my friends killed. So maybe I should be the one asking why I shouldn't try to take you in right now."

Hawk answered with a scowl, Becca with a frown that didn't seem aimed at anyone in particular. Robert sensed he'd scored a point and a tender one at that. He also sensed lingering pain. Hawk had lost people he considered allies, friends, when the Avenger was nearly destroyed over Tira. And there was perhaps a little guilt in there, as the Avenger crew had exposed their ship in rescuing Hawk and his girlfriend/partner Helen from the Aurora's brig, leading to much of the damage they'd suffered.

"Tira was our mistake, yeah." It was an admission that didn't come easily, Robert could see. "I thought I could get the Drazi to back off if we helped the Brakiri take over Tira," Hawk confessed. "And the Brakiri weren't talking about genocide, just securing war criminals still at large and replacing the Tiran government. And after we were captured, Tina and the others… they only cared about getting me and Helen out. Tarinak and Tabir insisted the only way was to attack." A bitter look came to his face. "I'll admit we were in the wrong. They lied to us about the situation with Tira and manipulated my friends' loyalty to us. My friends didn't want to see me and Helen in an Alliance prison cell for the rest of our lives."

No matter how richly you deserve it. Robert sensed no deception in Hawk's words regardless. From what he'd read, the Drazi and Brakiri commanders Hawk mentioned were quite capable of what Hawk accused them of.

He felt a thought not his own enter his mind, a voice. James is not the evil man you believe him to be. He has sacrificed much to help people. Robert's eyes briefly glimpsed Rebekah, who was looking intently at him. Please, we are here for a good purpose, do not stop us. We only want to help the telepaths held here.

"We're burning daylight here, and the more time we waste, the more likely those Corps bastards spot us," Hawk remarked. "So how do you want to handle this? Your Alliance wants my head, and you're a big time agent for them now, I hear."

Robert thought on the matter. Hawk was right about the Alliance wanting his head. The Dilgar wanted Hawk's head too, and Robert had the feeling that Warmaster Shai'jhur didn't much care if his neck was still attached to it. By all rights, he should be trying to take Hawk down. Earth C1P2 deserved justice.

But there was the matter of his mission. Given the problems in Earthspace, the Psi Corps putting anything near Alliance space was a potential problem that needed to be seen to. And while Robert had little desire to work with Hawk, and suspected it could be argued a violation of all sorts of laws, he knew he couldn't easily subdue both Hawk and Rebekah and still fulfill his mission. They wouldn't go down quietly and any fight was bound to get noticed, especially with Becca's telepathic abilities being employed. Nor could he let them go about on their merry way. There was no telling what Hawk would do, and how it might complicate Robert's mission.

Whatever his personal desires, Robert knew how he'd have to handle this, while earnestly wishing he'd brought Lucy after all.

"How about this?" Robert began. "Let's have a truce between us. Neither side will attack, subdue, or otherwise do any harm to the other, through action or inaction, until we have both departed this star system. And you will make a promise."

Hawk narrowed his eyes. "Go on."

"You and your friend don't kill anyone outside of legitimate self-defense," Robert insisted. "I'm not going to be responsible for you killing people simply because you have anger management problems."

"Ah. So much for that license to kill, Agent Double-Oh-Pansyass," Hawk remarked. "I suppose you're going to tuck the Psi Corps prison guards into bed too? Give them a sweet good night's kiss on their foreheads so they don't have nightmares about all of the people suffering in their camp?"

Robert ignored the mockery. "Take it or leave it, Hawk."

"Fine, Dale," Hawk answered. "I promise not to kill anyone unless I'm defending myself, Becca, or you." He smiled. "Although knowing the Corps, they'll give us plenty of reasons for self-defense. And that leads to my term." When Robert nodded, Hawk's smile slid away and he said, "If this is a prison camp or an experimentation center, it gets put down. No 'if's, 'and's, or 'but's. We kill everyone involved, get any captives out, and salt the earth on the way out. If you're too squeamish about the killing, I'll let you get the captives while we put down the bastards running the place."

It was an understandable term, at least in terms of shutting down a black site prison or experimentation lab, but Robert didn't trust Hawk's judgement on the killing part. "I'll agree, if that killing doesn't include people who had nothing to do with it. I'm not going to let you murder the janitors or the filing clerks because you feel like it." Robert said, scowling as he did. "And we only deal with the place if we can feasibly do so on our own. I've got a mission, and it doesn't involve suicide." Sensing Hawk's imminent protest, Robert added, "If it is something like a prison camp or experimentation black site, I'll call and the Alliance will send the Marines in."

Hawk spent several seconds weighing that reservation before nodding. His blades returned to semi-liquid state and flowed back into his wrists. Becca followed suit "Fine." Hawk walked up and offered his hand. "Alright Dale, it's a truce then."

"I'll hold you to it," Robert said. He raised his hand and tried to hold back revulsion at taking Hawk's. There was a lot of blood on that hand.

"The sentiment is mutual," Hawk replied, shaking hands with him. "Now, let's see what the Corps is up to."

In the as-yet-unnamed infiltrator's equipment and cargo bay, Lucy and Talara sat across from each other, wearing nearly-sleeveless cream-white vests under sleeveless brown tunics with loose, cream-white trousers. Their eyes were closed and each was in a state of meditation, allowing their minds to settle and the life energies within them to connect to the Flow of Life. Lucy sensed Robert a distance away and could tell he was irritated beyond words. She refrained from trying to reach him, just in case something of such a connection might be detectable to telepaths.

Of more importance was Talara. Her energy still felt off-balance. Lucy could feel remnant anguish in her. The sounds from the battle for Germania echoed in Talara's mind. Lucy reached for that anguish and did what she could to soothe it. That is the past, Talara, she thought gently. You can let it go.

There was so much death, her student replied. So much suffering. And that place had so much darkness…

I know.
Lucy felt a pang of guilt. I am sorry, Talara. Whatever reasons or justifications I might have for having brought you with us, I caused you injury. I can feel the wound on your mind, the shadow of the stress of that place.

Talara's reply was not in words, thoughts or spoken, but in the longing within her. She wished for the peace of Fala again. The gentle sound of the birds in the Royal Gardens of the Regent's Palace, the laughing children in the great parks of Kelana, the capital of the planet. The soothing roar of the Coran Falls...

Lucy had to agree that the Falls were lovely. That they were named after the fussy man working for Princess Allura? The juxtaposition was hilarious.

I have a duty. Those words filled Talara's mind, trying to push away that longing.

Including to yourself, Talara, Lucy responded. To master these arts and be the Knight you wish to be, you must understand your own needs. Including the need to be at peace within yourself.

My teacher, that is odd for you to say. You never seem to be at peace

Lucy smiled at that, her eyes still closed. Peace is different for all of us. Right now I am quite at peace. She projected that idea to Talara. Peace is a state of being. For you, it can be found enjoying the beauty of living things. For me, it can be from the satisfaction in a technical problem solved. And I know you enjoy alleviating the suffering of others as much as I do. Quietly Lucy projected to Talara the sentiment she'd felt the last day of fighting on Germania, when Talara had tried to use her nascent abilities to aid the wounded. Lucy had to admit Talara had more of a gift for healing with the Flow of Life than she did. And it was clear she enjoyed it. We both get peace from this.

The recalled sentiment did settle Talara somewhat. I believe I understand. A moment passed. Lucy, our training lately… you have only rarely trained me with the blade for several weeks. Is this because you do not think me capable of learning to use a lightsaber?

On the contrary, Talara. You show potential
. A wry smile came to Lucy's face. More than Robert, in fact. But I wanted to ground your training in ways to make you heal from the scars to your spirit. You're pretty sensitive to the feelings of others, and Germania left wounds that weren't the least bit physical. Your healing is the priority, so meditation and sensing the Flow of Life is our focus for now.

From Talara came understanding. They both went silent afterwards, allowing them to focus entirely on the serenity they sensed within the Flow of Life.

The truce held through the crucial initial hour as the group continued on through the forest, moving around trees and other obstacles as needed. The air was still cool but growing warmer. It wouldn't be beach weather, certainly, but it would be comfortable.

Robert thought on the differences between his two erstwhile allies. He sensed the brimming, endless anger around Hawk with ease. That anger seemed to behave as a shield, keeping Robert from easily determining other emotions or feelings buried within.

His compatriot… was not so. He did feel some remnant anger from her, but it wasn't hard to guess the origin of it. Not with the pain he felt as well. As they walked along he finally turned his head and asked, "So, what kind of Earth are you from? Space-faring?"

"Interplanetary only," she replied. "22nd Century."

"Hrm. No superluminal drives yet?"

She shook her head.

"I'm guessing you're Israeli?" When she said nothing he remarked, "You look that way, I mean. And your name is classic Hebrew. 'Rebekah, daughter of Gurion'."

Again, there was no response. Robert detected no frustration at his questions, simply a decision to not speak.

"Leave her alone, Dale," Hawk said. "She's been through enough crap in her life, she doesn't need you bugging her."

"I'm just trying to make conversation. I could ask the same of you, really," Robert pointed out. "Our analysis indicated you're from a late 20th or early 21st Century Earth, the same as I am."

"It doesn't matter," Hawk insisted. "I'm not interested in conversation or getting to know you, Dale. Let's stick to the job and get it done."

Robert considered a few witty or amusing things to say, but he didn't. They did have work to do, after all, and angering his erstwhile allies wouldn't accomplish anything toward that.

As the three approached the compound, they activated their respective personal cloaks, shimmering from view. Even if an unseen camera were to point toward them, nothing would be visible to any watcher.

At least, in theory.

A distance away, in a monitor room, two bored individuals were staring at fiber optic camera feeds of the nearby forest. It was the easiest job in the compound, but also the hardest; no physical labor, just the need to constantly watch nothing and make sure that said nothing did not become a something.

The catch was that the two watchers were telepaths, and their idea of watching was not quite the same as a non-telepath.

"Don't you feel that Samara?" asked one.

"Jordan, you're just being jumpy."

"I'm telling you, there are minds there. Shielded."

An exasperated sigh was the instinctive response, but given the genuine nature of the first speaker's feelings, the second glanced toward the monitor too. After a moment of concentration she nodded, she was the stronger of the two and now that she knew what to look for... "Damn, you're right. There are people out there, including one of ours." A hand went to a comm link. "Doctor, we need you. There's someone in sector three."

Approaching under cloak was something Marines and security teams trained hard at, since visual gear that allowed for seeing cloaked allies might be rendered unavailable. The necessity was obvious: if you couldn't see your ally, you might walk or run into them, trip them, or some other thing that would complicate your ability to function. In this case, the lack of training together was off-set by the trios' special talents. Robert knew where Hawk and Becca were from his expanded senses while Becca seemed to be at least somewhat aware of Robert's position and provided it telepathically to Hawk as they moved along through the alpine forest.

The compound itself was in a large, wide clearing, easily large enough to accommodate a town of thousands in the middle of a wide river valley. One of the large secondary rivers of said valley ran along the eastern edge of the compound, providing a source of natural water. They approached from the western edge. Some logging equipment was around, indicating a minor operation that probably only cut down a few trees a day. The gravel footpath linking it to the compound provided them an avenue right up to the gate.

Robert surveyed the wall itself with his omnitool. It was made of a gray-surfaced metallic material, a specialized alloy according to his sensors, consistent with materials used in Earth Alliance construction. But it was immediately evident this was not a prison camp wall. There were no guard towers, no weapon emplacements. It seemed to be more of a colonial fort, the walls meant for protecting the settlement within from wildlife.

"This doesn't look like a prison," he said in a whisper. At the mention of the word he felt a shudder of revulsion and pain in Rebekah, enough to tell him what he would likely find in her personal history.

He sensed trepidation and a hint of uncertainty from Hawk. "Yeah," came the whispered reply. "It's nothing like that camp we hit." He started to move. "Let's go see what we're dealing with."

Robert considered the idea for a moment. Could he get what he needed without risking an entry? The answer quickly came to him: no, no he could not. They needed to see what was inside. And he was still not certain he could trust the renegade to keep his temper in check, nor that Hawk's ally would be able to do it, so he needed to follow if just to make sure Hawk didn't harm anyone.

As he walked forward toward the gate, he had a small sense within himself, as if he were being watched. He stopped long enough to assure himself there was no danger present before continuing on.

Gene Hendriks removed himself from the eyepiece of a fiberoptic periscope and grimaced. “They have a mutual-defense pact. Or more of an armed truce. Almost worse, he brought a telepath with him and she’s been… enhanced.” Gene was most displeased. The arrival of James Hawk had seriously complicated matters.

“What do you mean by enhanced?” Colin Meier asked. “Like, Vorlon enhanced, or cybernetic limbs enhanced?”

“Like Hawk is; combat nanites. Captain Dale is one thing, he’ll listen to reason, but Hawk is a fucking maniac. He could go off the rails at any time. I think Becca or Rebekah is the telepath’s name, and she seems like...well I don’t know what she’s doing with him but she seems like a kind person at heart. Don’t know how long that will last inside Hawk’s crew though.”

The other Psi Cop gave Gene a wry smirk and spoke. “Is that your professional opinion?”

“Yeah yeah I know. You wrote the white papers on both of them.” Gene replied in a long-suffering tone that didn’t have any actual resentment in it. Colin didn’t earn his PhD by doing underwater basket-weaving.

“And you were reading through my eyes as I did it. Hawk is a maniac, but he’s a madman with a purpose. He can be reasoned with, or at least it’s worth trying. Besides, if we kill him, the adults in the room might become somewhat problematic, and in either case their allies would investigate and wouldn’t give us the benefit of the doubt. Hawk’s allies in particular are…” Colin paused to find a word and chose two. “...volatile and unhinged. We’d have to leave, and quickly.”

“Alright, you still want Max along for this one?” Gene asked, uncertainty on his voice and upon his mind.

“Yes. It’s about the only way we can guarantee getting through to Mr. Hawk. I’ll go get him and meet you at the blast door.” Colin replied, before reaching out to take both of Gene’s black-gloved hands in his. “We’ll get through this. We always have before and if Hawk attacks without provocation, I’m pretty sure Captain Dale would help us deal with him on principal.” Gene managed a chuckle.

“Yeah. He’d definitely rather be slapping Hawk in irons and hauling him back to Alliance space for trial right now.”

The trio approached the compound gate carefully. There were still no life signs. Robert didn't sense anyone nearby, but he could feel life here. Human life. "You're good with electronics, as I recall," he said to Hawk.

Although Robert couldn't actually see it, a bemused look crossed the other man's face. "Maybe," he said, "but it's not my training mission. Becca, this is all yours."

She walked up and brought her gloved hand up to nearly touch it. Silvery, almost liquid material flowed from the small gap between Rebekah's glove and her suit, composed of the nanites that filled her body. Becca's nanites covered the control beside the hand scanner on the panel, seeping inside and taking control mechanically. Visually, given her cloaking device was active, the control panel simply seemed to become covered in silver material. Through her neural link she directly accessed the functions of the gate. Overriding the security systems took her time, more than she'd intended, but finally she finished her work and the gate opened. The silvery material flowed back into Becca's suit and body.

On the inside was the old colonial compound. It showed signs of abandonment and being left to the elements, but only some; it was clear that efforts were being made to restore it. Rust had been cleared, paint refreshed. There was a feeling of rejuvenation about the place.

Robert consulted his omnitool. "Still no life signs. There is an underground element to the complex, near the center."

"Underground prison?" Hawk speculated.

"It doesn't seem big enough," Robert answered.

"Unless it's for just a few prisoners."

"Then why refurbish the whole colony? This place… it's got too much life to be a black site prison for just a few high profile captives." Robert breathed in and considered the spirit here. He did feel anxiety, some fear, but also a sentiment of… perhaps not hope, but determination. "It feels like something else is going on here."

"Let's find the entrance then."

The three started walking toward the center of the complex along a paved footpath, flanked by buildings in various stages of construction or refurbishment. To the naked eye nothing was there given their cloaks were engaged. There was, however, nobody to see them, it seemed. No life signs, no…

Robert stopped as they approached the central structure. It was only one storey high and, unlike the other structures, made of metal and not quite at the center of the settlement. He could feel them now. Minds, on the other end of the blast door ahead. Hawk glanced his way. "Trouble?"

"I don't think so," he said. "No hostility. Worry, though. And..." He felt it, like a great mental exhaling. A choice, resignation to its outcome, readiness for the worst.

They have made a choice, Rebekah stated to everyone else

Just as Robert said, "Here they come," the door slid open. The space inside was well-lit, backlighting three figures as they emerged, two side-by-side in unison, another slightly behind and seemingly being shielded by the other two. As they stepped out from under the shelter of the entryway, three men came into easy view. The one on the left was slightly shorter, with an athletic build and black hair. The other was slightly taller, slightly larger, with a close-crop of something that could be a sandy blonde. The individual in the back was older with hair the color of steel partially covered by a kippah. All three of them wore black, with black gloves and the silver-on-copper badges of the Psi Corps, though the two in front wore the unmistakable uniforms of Metapol. They were Psi Cops, both carrying side-arms, but with hands clearly visible and pointedly away from their weapons.

Robert heard the metallic shriek of Hawk's nanite blades and held an arm up. "No," he insisted in a whisper. "They have no hostile intent."

Hawk gave him a skeptical look. He is correct, Becca assured him mentally behind her shields. With her support Hawk relented. His blades slid back into the back of his wrists.

“Captain Dale is correct. We really would rather not fight you. But if you make us, we won’t shrink from it. I’m Dr. Colin Meier, a forensic psychologist with Metapol. We can all sense your minds, we could fight you hand to hand if we had to even cloaked. You might as well be visible.” Colin spoke in an accent that was vaguely european, hints of German, French, and something Slavic touched various syllables. As if to prove his point, he changed position, closing off a possible avenue of approach to the older gentleman behind him. His diction was clipped, he was trying very hard to remain calm.

Robert considered the greeting. He reached a hand to his belt and disengaged his personal cloak, wavering into view. "Doctor Meier," he said politely, after which he glanced to the empty space where he knew Hawk was standing. "He's right, you know."

A moment later Hawk wavered into view. Becca did as well.

“Thank you. I would first like to assure you that this place is not a prison camp or an experimental facility. It is something else entirely, and not a threat to your Alliance or, I hope, it’s interests.”

"Then what are you hiding in a place like this?" Hawk demanded.

“A refugee camp.”

The cool mid-morning air was broken by the sound of laughter. Robert glanced back to Hawk with a look of some confusion, while Hawk smiled and continued laughing for a moment. Finally it ended with him asking, "You came out here, all the way to the edge of Alliance space, and brought all of this stuff just to build a refugee camp?" Incredulousness was thick in his voice and words.

Robert took a moment to consider what he felt before insisting, "There's no deception from them. He's telling the truth, or at least what he thinks is the truth."

Hawk turned to Becca. "They're stronger than me," she said, "but their blocks aren't hiding intent. Captain Dale is correct."

"Hmph," was the only reply Hawk would give.

“Clearly, one is supposed to build a refugee camp in the middle of hostile territory where non-combatants will be under threat from the the enemy, and with no provisions for long-term habitation whatsoever.” Colin replied, dripping with derisive sarcasm.

“Besides, if this were really a black-ops site, we would have already fragged your minds,” the other one said on Colin’s heels in an accent that sounded like it was from the Northwest or Pacific Northwestern United States.

Robert felt the anger spike at the apparent threat. Hawk's wrist blades came back out in silvery streaks. "Try it," he said, voice heated and in clear challenge. "Touch my brain and everybody in this compound dies."

Robert felt the thoughts surge to the top of Hawk's being, the thought of the "failsafe" setting of his nanites. Those were thoughts that the Psi Corps members couldn't help but pick up on.

Colin looked at his partner with an affectionate version of a ‘not helping’ expression. The other man returned it with a sheepish look. Sorry. I really don’t like him.

I know… but right now I’d rather not risk the capability of that failsafe…

Robert whirled on Hawk. "Stand down," he demanded, his expression determined and his eyes glaring at his "partner". "This isn't self-defense, and I don't have to remind you of our terms."

Hawk returned the glare before the blades once again became silvery fluid that seeped back into his wrists.

Neither telepath moved through the entire exchange, but their eyes narrowed on Hawk, and Robert could feel something, like a hammer poised to strike. He turned his attention back to them. He eschewed his physical senses for the senses gained from his connection to the Flow of Life. He felt the presences of the telepaths there, especially that of the two Psi Cops. They flowed about and around each other, thoroughly intertwined. Robert nodded once. "Would you mind introducing your spouse, Doctor Meier?" he asked.

Hawk raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

“Ah, yes! My apologies. That was rude of me. This is my partner Gene Hendriks, yes, both senses of the term.”

“Hello. I didn’t actually intend to make you feel threatened Mr. Hawk, I meant that comment literally. We’ve been using optical means to observe you for a while. We could have killed you with no risk of your failsafe.” Gene followed up, but he still had a psionic Sword of Damocles ready in case Hawk suddenly snapped.

Which is why I felt like I was being watched, Robert thought. "I thought someone was watching, but you've done very well to hide your presence," he said. And with no hostile intent, so it didn't make me feel like I was in danger he added mentally, not particularly worried about hiding the thought from them.

Of course not. Though I admit we seriously considered killing Mr. Hawk. But that would have caused problems so, here we are. Colin said into Robert’s mind. He might still make us. We’ll find out.

"The Corps allows gay men to marry?" Hawk asked, sounding bewildered. "What about that eugenics program you people have going on? Breeding more powerful telepaths for the glory of the Corps?"

“Those laws are inflicted on us by mundanes.” Colin answered with particular loathing. “We had to internalize it somehow in a century and a half. As for us, the law specifies that any pregnancies must have a substantial likelihood of producing children of at least the rating of the strongest parent.”

“We’re a loophole. No pregnancy, no problem.” Gene finished for Colin “Though we do both contribute to the next generation through sperm donation.”

"Given how paranoid the Earthers of this universe are about telepaths, I'm surprised they want stronger ones," Robert remarked. He looked past them to the older gentleman in the kippah. "Shabbat shalom," he said to him. Becca, for her part, merely said, "Shalom."

Shabbat shalom” the older man replied. “I’m Max Cohen, Psi Corps Legal Division, attached to Metapol. You’re in luck, it actually is a Friday here. Otherwise I’d have to correct you and that would be awkward."

"Rabbi Soloveitchik always warned me to be careful about that," Robert said amiably. "Any correction would have been gladly accepted."

“I imagine it gets difficult to keep track of with so many universes. Holidays must be completely mishegas.” Max rejoined cheerfully.

Robert chuckled in reply to that. "It's something we've all been getting used to. It's not easy to have 19th Century people living on a planet at the start of the 21st, then everyone swaps over to the 27th for the official Alliance calendar."

"So much for the lunisolar calendar...To answer your question, it isn’t so much that they want stronger telepaths as we’re just too useful to have otherwise. The Earth Alliance was born in a global war, it doesn’t forget its roots.” Max supplied, and nobody could miss Becca's instinctive revulsion of the term "global war". “Plus, we found our own reasons.” Robert felt a deeper passion in what Max was saying, a zeal for his mission and cause.

Robert glared toward Hawk a moment before Hawk could say what he was thinking, a thought about the rogues who didn't want to be compelled into a breeding program. "I understand the thought, but have you ever heard of diplomacy?"

"Get out of my head, Dale," Hawk said. "And diplomacy, isn't that where you sell a bunch of worlds down river to eugenicist warlords? Maybe now you want to have tea with your new Psi Corps buddies instead of working."

A look of resignation crossed Robert's face. He looked back to Max and the others. "As you can imagine, I've been sent to find out the nature of this place," he said to them. "Mister Hawk here is apparently doing the same."

"We know.” Colin said. “Come on in, we’ll show you around. We don’t have anything to hide here.”
”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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

Post by Steve »

The three men led Robert, Hawk, and Becca through the blast door. The top level of wherever this was seemed to be a combination of an office area and a control room for their protective surveillance center. A Psi Corps sigil was on a couple of the walls and etched onto one of the larger chairs, but other than that it seemed like a fairly normal work area.

A trip down a side corridor led them to a reinforced alloy blast door of even greater thickness. Beyond this were a set of stairs that led to an armored hatch that reminded Robert of images of nuclear bunkers. He sensed the recognition flicker through Becca at the sight of the hatch. Colin triggered the hatch to open, revealing metal stairs beneath.

By this time Robert could feel the lives below. The senses he'd felt before, anxiety, a little fear, determination, all were present, as was some curiosity. As they descended the stairs he felt Hawk tense. He was still considering this a likely trap, though there wasn't one.

The stairs led to a clearing room. Beyond was an obvious mess hall, with tables and plastic chairs and the lunch line. Robert spied replicators built into the wall opposite the lunch line.

“Ferengi.” All three telepaths said in synchrony before Robert could say it.

"And they wonder why we won't sell them the IU drive plans," Robert said.

“We don’t. Our agent who dealt with Quark happens to be a woman. I’m told the rest of his species is… worse.” Colin remarked.

So much Male Gaze. Gene thought, rolling his eyes in disgust. Our agent took shameless advantage of it of course, but I’m told she burned the dress afterward.

Robert blinked at the name. The bartender from DS9? I wonder how he got mixed up with extrauniversal trading.

“His cousin is a weapons dealer. Owns his own moon.” Gene said. In addition to the replicators, posters lined the walls. Some of them were distinctly martial or patriotic. One of them had a man, an older gentleman with Turkic features in a black suit wearing the badge and gloves of the Corps. He was pointing leftward. In the background was another man this time more stylized and in partial silhouette holding a torch against a background of stars. It read “The Future is Our Liberation!” Another poster was almost large enough in length to be a mural and had many people of all colors and a kaleidoscope of modes of dress, all holding hands on a background of a flags with the greek letter Psi. Its text read “We Are Stronger Together!” in a multitude of languages. A third depicted a telepath cowering before the raised fists of a mundane, with another telepath interposed herself, a shining pulse of light rising from her head. “What Hurts One Hurts All. You Are Your Brother’s Keeper.”

The posters over by the lunch line were far more prosaic. One of them showed a young telepath resolutely turning aside an offered extra serving of cake in favor of brussels sprouts “A Healthy Body Keeps a Strong Mind!”. A second encouraged telepaths to exercise through a pleasant montage of fun activities painted in vivid but slightly abstract watercolors.

"No room for the 'Big Brother is Watching' posters?" Hawk asked pointedly.

"They're at least more interesting than the kind of posters I saw in public school," Robert said. "Although they do look familiar." He also got the impression that they were far more important to the three telepaths than their mere meaning. Just looking at them made all three both happy and sad, like a bittersweet memory.

The artist was a friend. Was all Colin said. But friend didn’t exactly convey the full meaning. The look on Becca's face was particularly pained. She knew full well what drove those bittersweet feelings, and it brought up memories of loss for herself.

“There’s no need for those.” Gene replied to Hawk in irritated tones. “The art style is flagrantly stolen from the former Warsaw Pact nations. We’re commonly thought of as fascists,” he practically spat the word like it left a vile taste in his mouth, “but we’re actually syndicalists in practice. The posters are part social messaging, part century-old in-joke, and at this point they’re something of a cultural thing. It’s just what we do.”

“You should see the sculpture…” Colin remarked “It’s magical. We prefer bronze or copper, obviously.”

"Communists instead of Fascists. I feel so much better already," Hawk muttered sarcastically.

“Syndicalists, different thing.” Max corrected him “The Corps is basically one giant cradle-to-grave union. We modeled ourselves off Israeli Kibbutzim.”

The three Corps telepaths felt the rush of thought and memory from Becca at the term, glimpses of a happy place and childhood memories. Robert felt loss and pain ripple through her being, even if facially she was keeping a neutral expression.

They moved past the mess hall into the rest of the bunker. Robert could make out rooms with desks, although not many, that made him think of classrooms. Another area had beds and medical equipment - an infirmary - and there were storage rooms as well.

The big double doors ahead opened as Colin stepped up to them. Beyond the doors was an upper level, a balcony floor overlooking a large, fully lit chamber.

Inquisitiveness, curiosity, anxiety, fear, it all hit Robert as he approached the railing where Colin was standing. He looked below to see neat lines of bunk beds, three high, of plastic frames with dark comforters and white sheets. Across the chamber, groups of people were gathered, in great or small concentrations, with children milling about with frustrated energy. All the colors possible to Humanity were represented in the crowd below. Heads turned toward them, some looking at the new arrivals continually while others eventually returned to whatever business they were doing. Robert felt their emotions just as he felt Hawk's surprise. This is… not what I expected.

It’s alright. You’re safe. Colin said to the lot of them non-verbally.

Captain Dale, if you let Hawk make a liar out of my husband, I will kill you just after Hawk. Gene said.

Robert glanced to Gene at that and nodded. If I let him hurt these people without dying first, I'd deserve it.

You do not need to worry
, Rebekah responded. James will not harm civilians.

It took a bit of will for Robert to not remind her of what happened to the civilians on Earth C1P2, but he bit back the remark. The awkward expression that came to her face told him she'd still sensed the remark as a thought.

“We had to evacuate the entire population of Omega VII, plus a few high-risk individuals from other worlds. We did a bit too well making Omega VII a decent place to live after the Civil War.” Colin said. “Dealt with a serial killer, a slavery ring. Started rebuilding schools that got expropriated after we got kicked off planet. We found every blip who needed help and got them food, training… safety. Every child. I mean every child off Sleepers. Then rogue telepaths started hitting us. We could stop them at first but… with EarthGov actively hindering intelligence gathering it was impossible to stop them forever and we had to leave our home.”

Robert nodded. Damn you Lyta, he thought. Why couldn't you have just gone to the Free Colony and lived in peace like I asked?

Because she’s fucking insane. To use a professional term.
Colin thought back. The really sad part is that when I knew her, she was always so kind… A mental image flashed into Robert's mind of a small child around the age of six or seven being pushed on a swing by an older girl with fiery red hair.

"I'll be damned," Hawk muttered.

Robert refrained from echoing a sentiment that the likelihood was good Hawk already was damned. "You clearly didn't want anyone to find you," he said. "That's the only reason I'm down here, isn't it? Better me than a military force coming down."

“Basically. You we can reason with, but the two of us can’t stay here forever. We’re here to get the defenses set up, and get everyone trained in community defense. Then...” Gene paused, considering. “Your Alliance already knows about the fleet so fuck it. We’re joining up with our ground forces. Most of our old support staff is already with the fleet in some capacity.”

Robert felt a certain feeling in Colin as he spoke, echoed in Gene, a common concern inside of them. The reference to ground forces made him look to Colin. "This place… it's big enough for a larger population than this," he noted. "The compound too. You can house over three times the telepaths you have now if you needed to. If you've got replicators, you could even expand the compound. These aren't the only people who are coming, are they?"

“No. It’s not. We're getting more ourselves. And there are others, but that information is compartmentalized. I don’t know where they all are. None of us do. That way, if one is compromised, we don’t lose everyone.”

"A system of redoubts," Hawk said. "Fortresses for your civilians. Over a few bombings? I didn't think you Corps types scared so easy."

Robert knew he had a point, but he let their hosts answer.

“No,” Max replied angrily. “The bombings we could handle even if the recent one on Mars killed twenty thousand innocent people. We haven’t seen an organized terrorist underground like this since 2189, but we know how to deal with it. What we’re moving our civilians for is worse

Robert felt sick as he picked up the thought coming from Max. The word in it. The related imagery, which felt exceptionally strong in Max's mind as if he'd lived it himself. "That's what this is all for, isn't it?" he asked. "What you're facing now."

“Genocide, yes.” Max replied. “Again.

Becca paled at the word. Robert sensed guilt and fear inside of her.

For a moment Robert gave no reaction to Max confirming his thoughts. The instinctive one was a mental denial that it would be permitted to happen. The Alliance won't stand for it. Sheridan won't either. We'll move in, we'll stop it…

...unless Sheridan allows his distrust of the Corps to hold him back too long. Unless Pensley screams about military radicals provoking wars of intervention and Davies and Hawthorne howl about Earth's populace "defending itself" from telepathic tyrants, and they delay our efforts… and any delay could kill millions...

Another's voice came into Robert's mind. We have no faith in Sheridan, he’s a bigot and a god-damned war-criminal. Metapol fought with him in the Shadow War, he helped us rescue a hundred telepaths who were rigged into a mind-machine interface to become CPUs in Shadow ships. During the Civil War, they smuggled thirty those same telepaths - medical patients - onto Loyalist ships over Mars. They disrupted ship systems, allowing Sheridan to bypass that fleet. Every last innocent telepath died. Colin mindcast back at Robert.

Lyta said about the same thing, but she didn't mention that, Robert thought. Did they consent, could he…

was the only response he got back, replete with disgust. And Lyra collaborated.

Robert thought about Lyta's comment to him, how Sheridan had used her and thrown her away. The comparison of Sheridan to Maran he'd held in his head cracked slightly. Maran would never do something like this. Never.

Telepaths as weapons…
A cold anger came from Becca, an anger that had to come from personal experience.

Hawk gave her an intent look although, unlike her, he was not privy to this telepathic conversation. There was clear sympathy in it. Next he looked at Max with utter bewilderment. "What in the hell are you talking about?" Hawk demanded. "Are you telling me you believe Earth's actually going to genocide its telepath population?"

“They have before. What the hell do you think these badges are?” Max replied dryly.

"A marker to say you're a good little Psi Corps drone," Hawk replied immediately and quite sarcastically. A little too immediately, Robert felt, as if he wanted to avoid the question. Or as if he already knew the answer.

All three telepaths stared at Hawk, dumbfounded. Colin glyphed a mental image to Robert of a man dodging bullets labeled ‘the point’ by bending over backwards underneath their arcs in slow-motion.

"You know what he's saying, James," Becca said in a hollow voice.

"They're yellow stars," Robert said, beating Max to the punch. "Yellow Stars of David, just like the Nazis forced Jews to wear." He gave a cautious look to the still-pale Becca. "So that the group you're persecuting 'can't hide'. To Otherize them, make them easier to hate." And then the Nazis exterminated them. Almost completely in one universe. Robert had the random thought about how Arik Shaham would respond to this when they next spoke to each other.

There was a moment when Hawk nearly argued about it. But beneath the roiling anger that seemed to permeate his being, Robert felt his mind process those facts and come to the same conclusion. His expression turned dour. "Great, more evil bastards to kill," he muttered.

Max sighed. “Look, our relationship with mundanes has always been… very bad. However, when the director of the Psi Corps endorsed Clark in the 2258 election, in our name, it broke the charter. Our social contract with mundanes that secured our existence after the last paroxysm of mass killing.”

Robert nodded. "They started seeing the Corps as part of a fascist government, reinforcing stereotypes."

"Well, the Corps endorsed Clark," Hawk remarked. "Given what he did, I can see why people are pissed off about it."

“No” Colin fired back. “First of all, by that point they were already voting in a fascist vice president for a second term. It was the mere perception of our engagement in politics that did it. Under the charter, we must be politically neutral. No political speech, we can’t even vote.”

Just like… Robert sensed Becca cut off the thought before she could complete it.

“The director isn’t a telepath. He’s a mundane. York was appointed for life by the Senate and he’s a dictator in his own right. He can have any one of us killed without due process of any kind.” Max added. “He endorsed Clark in our name, without consultation, knowing what that meant.”

"You're a ghetto as much as an institution," Robert said. "And he's the SS officer assigned to watch over you."

Not an exact analogy. Every incarnation of fascism has its own national flavor, but it’s close enough for corporate work. Max replied in Robert’s mind.

Hawk said nothing, but Robert felt remaining skepticism. He could, to a degree, understand it. Hawk had seen Psi Corps as its worst, and at its most powerful, the operators of what was essentially a part-concentration camp, part-re-education camp for telepaths who resisted the laws, who refused to join the Corps. To think that the same people operating said camps were themselves the targets of an imminent genocide?

“We’ve been planning a revolution for a while, Mr. Hawk. In secret, even from most of us, ever since the charter was signed. It’s one of the reasons we’ve accepted the eugenics program. The price for our lives has been every right of sapient beings. We just haven’t been ready. We still aren’t. I can show you what happened last time, if you’ll let me.”

Robert nodded in consent, feeling the honesty in Max. Hawk was clearly mulling the offer over for a moment before nodded quietly. There was a confidence in him; if anything, he was certain the Psi Cops wouldn't risk the lives of their charges by trying to attack him mentally. Not with Becca ready to protect him and the failsafe a threat. When Max looked to her, she shook her head, as if she already knew something of what he would show her.

Max closed his eyes, and projected memories into both of their minds, memories that were every bit as real to him as his own. In one, a six year old girl was shot in the abdomen and thrown into a shallow pit after p’hearing the mindscreams of her own mother and brother’s deaths, the nauseating open-and-shut sensation of souls departing the mortal coil. Somehow, she managed to dig herself out and crawl to the shelter of a nearby Catholic church where the priest dragged her inside.

In another memory, a mother watched and experienced-by-proxy her own children being torn apart by dogs.

In yet another, a young man who’d managed to escape watched from a treeline as telepaths held at gunpoint were tied together and thrown into the the Danube River weighed down by a concrete slab. He felt their minds in panic, then slowly, one by one, he felt them subside; punctuated by that mindscream and open-shut sensation.

Memory after memory, over and over again. There were dozens of them, every last one of them telepaths and almost all of them Jews. But there was one more he added at the end. One Colin had transferred to him. A pair of Hyperion-class heavy cruisers in Psi Corps colors; the PCS Fenrir and its sister ship the PCS Sleipnir. He showed them the associated memories too, of Psi Corps ships seizing a slaver vessel, rescuing those inside, and throwing the perpetrators out airlocks. Of those same ships crippling and boarding a Narn G’Quan-class heavy cruiser to interrogate and then execute the crew and find where those same telepaths were to be taken. Then, finally, finding the experimental station and liberating every telepath from Omega VII who was still alive when they got there. The collective grief of two Psi Cops and forty marines, mourning the ones they couldn’t save, whose souls they could still feel traces of in the lab equipment and box of human ashes they retrieved for burial. None of the victims had even been twenty years old.

Memory by memory, and they added to those Robert already had of evil and depravity. The concentration camps in Nazi space, the mass graves, all of the horrors he'd seen during those early years in the Facility. They were, if anything, a reminder of why he'd taken up this life, why he'd agreed to this duty and all of its dangers. He could even understand the fury that led to the spacing of the slavers, though he likely would not have done it himself.

"You're a repository," he said to Max, his green eyes shining with tears. "You chose to carry these memories as if they were your own."

“Yes. It’s something particular to the Jewish community within the Corps, though I know of a few others who’ve done it along family lines and I suspect other despised ethnic groups have as well. We volunteer for it, even though it gives us PTSD. We don’t all do it, not even most… but we make sure that there are enough that it can’t ever be forgotten. I added those last ones because… well, we have been planning that revolution for a long time.”

“After a hundred and fifty years of hatred, oppression, and death; we’re better prepared than we’ve ever been but we’re still outnumbered a thousand to one.” Colin followed up, and reached down to grip Gene’s hand.

“We’re not dying on our knees. Not this time.” Gene’s voice was as hard as steel.

Robert nodded in understanding, fully comprehending the scope of Max's sacrifice to be a living witness to past horrors. Beside him, Becca's eyes were focused on Max with admiration.

Robert's attention to Max was drawn away by a sudden feeling he felt nearby. A powerful, overwhelming source of raw empathy for suffering. Robert turned his head and faced Hawk. He stared in astonishment.

Hawk… was weeping.

He wasn't sobbing or crying. No sounds came from his throat. But his tears streamed steadily down his face, following the curvature of his cheeks and the ends of his mouth before disappearing from view where his faceplate ended just above his chin. From within the constant din of anger that Robert always felt around Hawk, empathy and sorrow were flowing out, as if the memories Max shared with them had broken open an emotional dam around the man's soul. It was astonishing to think of a man who seemed half-mad with rage, constantly ready and eager for violence, suddenly moved to quiet tears from seeing the suffering of others.

But it was there. It was genuine. Whatever his crimes, whatever his behavior… Hawk cared. He cared about the pain of others, and he wanted to stop it, any way that he could.

Just like Robert felt.

It was astonishing to think they had that in common.

The irony is Colin remarked mentally, As much as Mr. Hawk makes us nervous, we can sympathize with that rage. We’ve had to stop each other from indulging it more than once. But Friedrich Nietzsche had some things to say about that… Hawk… he needs to turn away from the abyss. Right now.

Colin took a small communication device out of one of his pockets, tapped it awake and entered a code; then slid a touch-screen slider from a deep blue up the visible spectrum to orange. “I’ve reduced our alert level. Now our little settlement can come to life again.”

Around the bunker people began to move as the change in the alert level was announced by designated members of the community broadcasting a telepathic all-clear. Some made their way to the doors leading out of the bunker sleeping area. Others remained, either still in conversation or waiting for the others to go first, and some of the children still seemed more interested in whatever games they were playing than leaving.

“If you want, stay for a while; get to know us, all of us. I understand that Bester was the first Psi Cop you met, right?” Colin asked.

"He is," Robert answered. "And you might say he left an… impression."

Colin winced and rubbed the back of his neck in an uncomfortable gesture. “Yeah, I could give you a detailed breakdown of his psychology but suffice to say, he isn’t the best man for ‘first impressions’.”

Understatement of the year… Gene remarked.

Feeling Gene's sentiment as well as hearing Colin's remark, Robert laughed.

Life was returning to normal for the new residents of the formerly-abandoned Earth compound. Many went to work on the refurbishment project, restoring the buildings abandoned two decades before by the failed colonists, or to working on the settlement's farm plots along the river.

Watching the latter was Becca, seated on one of the rest benches provided for those doing the work of sowing. The view of people working together to plow and sow brought back memories of her childhood in the telepath kibbutz. Those had been happy memories.

Unfortunately, not all of those memories were happy. The kibbutz was gone. She remembered the day the end came. The alarms, the children rushed to evacuation hoppers, the view from the windows as flames consumed all that she'd loved in her childhood….

She heard footsteps behind her, not approaching with any stealth, if anything they were overly loud precisely so as not to startle her. The mind behind the footsteps wasn’t shielding itself as much as it could have either and she recognized it as Colin Meier, who sat down next to her.

“This brings back memories, for you, doesn’t it?” he asked.

She nodded quietly. "Yes," she said. "On my homeworld, the telepaths in Israel had their own kibbutz, not far from the coast. That was where I grew up."

“Our Jewish telepaths have some of their own, mostly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Max was raised in one. I take it things didn’t turn out well?”

"United Earth collapsed. Israel was on the side of the Reformists. Some of our neighbors were not. They attacked first. My people fought to the bitter end to ensure the children of Israel could escape to Europe and America."

Colin winced and she could feel his genuine grief for her and her people, who he considered his own. “I’m sorry. God, I’m so sorry. The Earth Alliance made first contact with the Centauri just before it collapsed in the same way. We were unspeakably lucky.” he considered something then spoke after a brief pause. “Is that how you ended up with Mr. Hawk?”

Becca laughed bitterly and shook her head. "No. Not exactly. That came many years later. I was just a child when I saw the kibbutz for the last time. Burning." Becca kept some of her mental blocks up, she had to, but it was not as easy as she thought it would be. Whatever that camp had been like, this place reminded her so much of her childhood that she found herself longing to just lower everything and let all of these minds in. "Everything seems to burn with me around, honestly."

“That isn’t your fault Becca, none of it was. You didn’t start the war. You were a child, and whatever happened later, it wasn’t as if you were the one giving the orders to commit mass murder, was it?”

"Everyone says that. The rabbis, the counselors, my foster parents. The army therapists when I was conscripted into the United Earth army." Becca breathed out. "They were all very kind. Even the army people, to whom I was a useful weapon more than I was a person."

“They all say it because they’re right, I know strictly speaking that’s a logical fallacy, but in this case it happens to also be true. What could you have done, Becca? Is there anything you could have done that would have stopped it?”

"Undoubtedly nothing, unless I am cursed. Then not being born would have helped." She laughed bitterly. "It is the humor of the Almighty, I suppose, that your world's telepaths have fared better as legal recording devices than my own. On my world telepaths were either deviant threats to be killed, weapons to be used, and for some, human beings. But only some. Israel was but one of a few nations to pass telepath civil rights legislation before the War. There are those who said they only did it so we would be fully eligible for conscription, but that is unkind. If still possibly true."

“It may be.” Colin replied. “I don’t know how history differed between our respective Earths. In ours, Israel and Germany, New Zealand, and a few other nations resisted the laws that oppress us. At least for a while. The governments also tried to suppress the killings. That said, I don’t believe for a second that you’re cursed and… if you want, you’re welcome to stay. I won’t force you, but we consider all telepaths to be family. That includes you.”

"If you knew more about my life, you might reconsider," Becca replied.

“No. I wouldn’t. No matter what your life has been, no matter what you’ve had to do. I, and we, might reject the things you’ve done but we’ll never reject you. Not any telepath.” Colin dropped his mental defenses to nothing but the bare minimum to let her know his thoughts; and Becca knew he was being absolutely sincere.

It had been so long since Becca had a peaceful connection to another telepath that she was tempted, sorely tempted, to open her mind as well, as a cold fugitive in a snowstorm might be drawn to a cabin emanating a warm glow. But in the end she denied herself that comfort. She knew things about the Avenger's operations that she couldn't risk being exposed, even with Colin being sincere. And if the nanites registered his mental presence as a trigger for the failsafe...

Colin caught the hesitation and nodded. “It’s alright. I won’t press. I’ll admit, I’m professionally curious, but I’m not here to gather intelligence. If you don’t feel comfortable I’ll respect those boundaries. I just wanted to let you know the option was there, and it stands.”

"Thank you for your offer. But aside from everything else… I have obligations."

“I can understand those.” Colin agreed “I have a large number myself. Still, try not to let them consume you. From what I’ve seen of one James Hawk, that is a...concern.”

"Earth C1P2 was… not planned," Becca said. "I was not there, but I know this. Because of it, nobody understands what he is. The good that he's done. They call him a war criminal without knowing the many he's saved."

“I can empathize with that, really. I mean, I do live inside a community that is similarly reviled, and undeservedly. But I’m not talking about that. Not what he’s done. I’m talking about him. He’s...well without going into the anatomical details, he’s burning himself at both ends and it’s damaging him. Badly.”

"You don't say," said Hawk. He approached them from the wall of the compound. His eyes went from a hard look at Colin to a softer one for Becca. Still, both telepaths could feel the simmering anger that permeated his mind. "He's not bothering you, is he?"

"He is not, James," she replied softly. "He is trying to be kind."

"Yeah. He's the kind type, I'll grant him that." Hawk turned his attention back to Colin. "So, you're sharing something with the class?"

“I feel like I should, yes. Mr. Hawk, I should preface this. My specialty is analyzing brain damage to determine the effects of that damage on the mind of a victim and then to determine why the person who caused the damage chose that particular line of attack.” Colin said. “Would you care to sit?” He scooted over on the seat enough to let Hawk sit down if he wanted.

"I think I'll stand," Hawk answered.

"He's not going to hurt you, James," Becca said. "I can tell that much."

Hawk seemed to consider that for several seconds before sighing and taking the accepted seat. He crossed his arms in mock expectation. "I'm guessing you're about to tell me I have brain damage." He said the latter term in what seemed an attempt at comedic pronunciation, invoking Cosby.

Colin ignored his flippancy. “So you’ve been told before… Mr. Hawk, you have headaches, all the time. Sometimes a dull ache, sometimes full cluster-headaches. You also experience extremes of emotion that swing rapidly sometimes within minutes or even seconds, triggered even by relatively slight emotional stimuli.”

Becca said nothing. She didn't need to. The sorrow in her brown eyes turned to worry as she looked to Hawk.

The symptoms couldn't be denied honestly. "The doctor on the Aurora showed me a light show of my brain once. He said similar things," Hawk admitted.

While Hawk didn't say anything further, Becca was already thinking of the same thing. The brainwave infusion technology the Darglan had developed as a teaching tool. It was clear said tech was only meant to quickly teach basic information, allowing training to focus on advanced use of the concepts imparted, but Becca was well aware that Hawk and the others used it for more. And fairly often. She'd had two herself.

“As well he should have.” Colin replied, concern evident in his voice. “If he hadn’t tried, I would be making a formal complaint to the Alliance’s medical licensing board. Mr. Hawk, will projecting an image into your mind trigger the nanites?”

"No," Becca answered, following several moments of silence.

“With your permission?” Colin asked, at this point he was treating James Hawk like a patient and not as a potentially hostile maniac. “I can show you perhaps a bit better than a ship’s medical officer.”

It was clear Hawk's initial reaction was refusal. But Becca prodded him mentally and he exchanged a look with her. Finally he rolled his eyes and nodded. "Fine. You can project images safely. Just don't try to override my visual senses, that might set off the failsafe."

“I won’t. It’ll be an overlay on your visual field, a bit like augmented reality. Additional stimuli, not a takeover.” Colin said, and Hawk saw something that looked a lot like a hologram. Not of his brain, but as a diagram of his emotional regulation processes. Boxes were labeled as parts of his brain like ‘prefrontal cortex’, ‘hypothalamus’, and ‘amygdala’. Each one had bands that crisscrossed back and forth between them. The part labeled as the prefrontal cortex looked like it was beaten to hell, and the outgoing ribbons looked frayed.

“This is the system that regulates your emotions. Emotions like fear and sadness are generated in the amygdala.” The amygdala box flashed. “Rage in the hypothalamus. Other emotions are generated by both, and happiness…” Another little box labeled the precuneus flashed. “All of those are fine. The problem is, while they are generated there, the prefrontal cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex regulate them, and those… those are being damaged, as are their outgoing projections into the rest of the brain. Without them functioning properly, your emotions run unchecked. The rest of your brain doesn’t get the signal to calm down, to not be afraid, to not be angry, to let you function through sadness.”

"And what does that have to do with a machine downloading information into my brain?" asked Hawk.

“If I had to guess, that machine is the cause. I’m no expert in Darglan tech, but presumably the Aurora’s doctor is.” Colin shrugged. “I would defer to their judgement. What I can tell you is that whatever it is, this is progressive. It’s not so bad that telepathic psychosurgery can’t help. We can reroute around the damage and restore some function. But if you wait too long, the damage won’t be reversible. I’m not saying it has to be me or anyone here if you don’t trust me; but you should find a telepath you trust and who is skilled in those techniques. Soon.”

"Huh." He glanced toward Becca.

"I'm not strong enough," she said. "I'm just a strong Tier 6. You'd need a Tier 9, probably a 10." For Colin's benefit she mentally glyphed a comparison of the Psi scale her world had used to his own. She was, to him, a strong P7 nearly to P8. T10s were P12 equivalent, 9s were P10 and P11, 8s were P9s and 7s P8s.

“Becca is right.” Colin agreed. “It’s delicate work that requires a lot of control and fine-scale resolution only particularly powerful telepaths can manage. You might be able to get away with a particularly skilled P9, on our scale. No one else will risk it if they have any professional and ethical judgement.”

Hawk was silent. Instead of responding, he stood up. It was clear to both that he didn't want to hear this. That he was, in fact, terrified that they were right, as even now a severe headache was hammering away at him.

"James, he's not wrong," she said. "I can see enough. Every time you've used that machine…"

"We need to," he said. "You know why." With no further words, he walked away.

Colin was horrified. He’d just laid out how Hawk was slowly not just killing himself, but erasing his own ability to be a person, and Hawk had just...dismissed it like it didn’t matter. Colin was ready to die for what he believed in, for the people he cared about, for twelve million others; but he wasn’t willing to put who he was on a sacrificial altar. It was madness.

"He heard you," Becca said quietly. "And he is afraid you are right. But he doesn't want you to be. He…" She drew in a breath. "The Multiverse is full of injustice. He and the others fight to stop it. They want to avenge those harmed by the unjust. The infusions… they help us keep an edge over some of the more powerful forces we've been fighting."

“Becca, you’re not going to help anyone if you destroy yourselves trying. Dying is one thing, but that… it’s actively counterproductive. He’s going to go off half-cocked like he did at Tira because he physically won’t be able to do fact checking before flying off the handle. It’s already started. He’ll cause more injustice than he solves. If you’re doing those infusions as well, you need to stop. Please. For your own sake if nothing else.” Colin was completely earnest and visibly worried not just for the people of the multiverse, but Becca personally. It was written all over his face and his thoughts he wasn’t bothering to shield.

She felt those thoughts and smiled sadly. Slowly tears formed in her eyes. "It is kind of you to worry about me. But I do not believe I deserve it." While keeping her mental blocks over the vital things, memories came to the surface. Memories of brutal battles, of shredding minds in self-defense, of telepaths she'd been forced to kill… and that horrible feeling that she didn't deserve to survive where so many of those she grew up with didn't.

P’seeing those memories, it was Colin’s turn to weep. She’d been through what no living telepath had, except in transferred memories. How Max kept going with those he’d never know. He’d gotten Zara treated for things for survivors guilt, but that was still in the early stages before everything set in for her. There was one thing he did know with absolute certainty: Becca did deserve to live. Every telepath did.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of in living Becca. As I recall, it’s the first unwritten commandment of Judaism. Live.”

Her reply was a simple nod before she stood. She said nothing, glyphed nothing, but her intent was clear; to see more of this place, and to have a chance to think on what he'd said. Colin watched her go. He only hoped she’d take things under advisement.

Think she’ll be okay? Gene asked from somewhere unseen.

I hope so. I’m afraid Mr. Hawk might just have doomed himself though. Colin replied.

The population of the re-colonized compound returned to their daily business as if they'd barely been interrupted. Robert walked along the footpaths of the compound and observed as they went about their work for the day. Some were busy refurbishing and restoring the old colonial buildings from the initial colony, others were putting up new structures using a combination of Earth and extrauniversal materials and practice. Since he was not an actual telepath Robert sensed their emotions, their feelings, more than their thoughts. Some were upset, some were simply getting on with things, and some… were actually enjoying themselves. He noticed one Indian woman in a Psi Corps suit with a sari who seemed rather happy with whatever duty was leading her to move along the footpath perpendicular to his. She noticed his attention and he nodded to her amiably. She nodded back with the same intent.

He continued on and nearly ran into a familiar-looking orb rushing through the air before turning a corner. It took him a moment to recognize it as similar to the one Lucy gave him for practicing deflection with his lightsaber. Moments later children ran up, giggling, in hot pursuit of the floating orb. As they passed, however, they all directed their attention to him, as if his presence was more interesting than their pursuit. He felt their curiosity acutely, and he certainly didn't need abilities to notice their eyes starting to focus on his belt and the lightsaber hilt dangling there. He felt a thought ripple through them and they ran on, eager to resume searching for their mechanical quarry. It was almost like a game of hide and seek mixed with tag, if one had a toy to do the hiding part.

Telepaths playing hide and seek… it must be completely different from how things worked back home. Of course, living on a farm meant most games of hide and seek devolved to hiding in the barn or the house, maybe under a car. He thought of the time Susanna hid under the combine and freaked their parents out. A small, sad smile came to his face.

And then… he felt something peculiar. His head turned in time to see a jet-black bird that looked like it might be a common crow, and definitely not native fauna, perched on the roof of a house still under construction. The creature was staring at him intently. He focused ever so slightly and sensed a presence through the Flow of Life, intermeshed with the bird. Not like Colin's and Gene's essences had been, but rather as if someone were gently directing the bird remotely through a connection.

Of course, now that he'd sensed this control, it was easy to follow it back to the controller. He turned and walked down a different footpath, finding himself approaching one of the refurbished structures. It had a Psi Corps emblem on it marked with the words Cadre Administration and Classroom Support. Inside a man was looking over a digital reader, a lesson planner.

He turned from that building and approached the corner of the next, another house, feeling the essence of his watcher even as, yes, the bird was in flight and following him. He smiled and said, aloud, "I know you're there."

“Drat. Markus, you’re not living up to your namesake… We need to work on your field-craft.” came the high-pitched voice of a little girl as she stepped out from around the corner. She looked up at the crow who had since landed on a windowsill. “In fairness to you, Markus Wolf has big shoes to fill.”

Her apparent age was hard to gauge, but she wasn’t yet a teenager. Robert guessed at somewhere between ten and twelve, of Southeast Asian extraction with fine black hair and brown eyes. She was wearing a black turtleneck and a functional dress of black denim, but unlike many of the other children her age, wore black gloves in addition to the badge.

“Hi!” She greeted Robert cheerfully. “I’m Zara, you must be Captain Robert Dale, you seem saner than the other one.”

"Well, I don't have a severe anger management problem, for one, although I am often told I have an unhealthy fixation on heroism," Robert answered, smiling. "So do you spy on people with crows for fun or…?"

“Yes and no. I mean, I do spy on people with crows for fun, but this time it’s business. They didn’t ask, but I figured my dads might want someone to keep an eye on you and make sure you didn’t get into or cause any trouble.”

"Ah. So you're an adopted daughter of Dr. Meier and Mr. Hendriks."

“Yep!” She confirmed “Last year they cleaned out a slaver ring on Omega VII. They found me. My biological parents…” she trailed off, leaving that part unspoken but Robert could feel the hurt and sense of betrayal even though she kept her actual thoughts locked behind mental barriers. “It took a few weeks for the Corps to arrange transport to Geneva and by then, well… I had new better parents.”

Both them, and the Corps. Objectively I came out ahead on that score...

Robert got down on one knee, given their height difference. His eyes lowered. "I've seen that sort of thing enough in my life," he confessed, remembering every time he and his friends had found children held as slaves or captives for one reason or another.. "I'm sorry you went through that, and happy that you found something better. That's all I've ever really tried to do. Help people find something better."

“It’s alright. It sucked then, and I mean really sucked, I was in therapy for a long time but in the end analysis I’m better off than I ever would have been otherwise. Well, except for the whole ‘mundanes have engineered a telepath-killing virus to enslave us with dependence on the treatment’ thing. That got put down with extreme prejudice, again, late last year.” Zara’s tone was that of a child, but underneath that, she was a kid but most emphatically not a child. It wasn’t her intellect, which Robert could tell from her behavior and through the Flow of Life was razor sharp, but from life experiences that no one went through with their innocence intact.

Robert's brow furrowed at that. "Now that I didn't hear about."

“You wouldn’t have. If that got spread widely the revolution would have kicked off last year. Every month of delay increases our readiness state and improves our odds.”

"You know an awful lot about this for someone your age," Robert noted. "But I can see why." Did Meier and Hendriks tell her this? Someone else? No… no, I think she figured it out for herself at first. At least, that was what his senses were telling him. She hasn't had a proper childhood at all. Not that I blame her Dads. Christ, things here are messed up.

“Your instincts are… accurate. My dads don’t believe in withholding information from someone old enough to ask the question. Not unless their safety or that of others is at stake. Neither does my uncle. I… kinda forced my uncle’s hand while I was still in Geneva. Figured out the broad strokes on my own.”

Robert chuckled at that. "You are a bright girl. Although you can probably tell how much it disturbs me that you're not getting to enjoy anything like a normal childhood."

“Yeah…” She confirmed regretfully “It’s funny, because I am still a kid. I still make-believe and do all the normal things. Granted the bedtime stories are a little bit different for me because I read at a collegiate level. But then, well...” She actually transitioned her facial expression into a thousand-yard stare intentionally “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate…”

"Blade Runner," Robert said. "My friend Tom's favorite movie growing up." He smiled wryly. "Mostly, I think, because of the girl with the snake."

“I prefer Scanners for fun, but Blade Runner speaks to me and has better quotes. Though the sequel... it’s almost too close to reality on an emotional level.” Zara replied with a wan smile.

"I never saw the sequel. Actually, I don't even remember one coming out," Robert replied. "But it might not have happened on my Earth yet. It might never, now that the Multiverse is around…"

A bell started ringing nearby, drawing their attention. The direction was clearly from the school.

“Looks like Mrs. Saunders is ready for classes to start up again. Nothing cancels classes. Nothing.” Zara declared, and she definitely approved of the dedication to education shown by the Education division. “I’ll get you a copy of the Blade Runner sequel, but before I go… Please don’t let Earth find out about this place. EarthGov is corrupt enough that even if they don’t come in force, someone will.”

Robert couldn't help but feel the fear in that statement, and it was an earned one. He tried to give her reassurance with a small smile. "We're not exactly on the best of terms with EarthGov ourselves these days. Partly for the same reason the Corps' not happy with us, I admit. But you don't have to worry. I'll make sure of it."

“Thanks!” and there, the tone was definitely that of a happy kid. Zara turned to leave but as she did, she glanced back at Robert.

The Psi Corps isn’t mad at the Alliance just… disappointed. We know your intentions are good you just... didn't get the full picture. Zara paused inside her head. I might have peaked at a white paper or four.

He gave a slight nod and watched her go. As she stepped into the classroom with other children, he quietly thought to himself. There was more to this telepath issue than we thought… Bester, is this what drove you to be such a cold bastard? The weight of this? Or is it an excuse for you and those like you?

Uncertain of the answer, Robert started walking again. Whatever the issue with the telepaths, he had another matter to deal with.

”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 »

Not far from the entry gate of the Tau Atrea civilian compound, Hawk was sitting up on the wall and watching the compound return to normal. His helmet, formed by the nanites in his body, was gone. Those same nanites enhanced his eyesight and, at a command, formed augmented contact lenses over his eyes that let him see as if through a scope or a set of binoculars.

Everything about this place seemed legit. There wasn't even a jail from what he could tell. On deeper consideration that wasn't too surprising, since with two Psi Cops and everyone else a telepath, they could likely mentally program a criminal to stay put. Or do something else to one…

That was the one thing that creeped out Hawk the most about the entire concept of telepaths. The very idea of telepathy, the ability to enter minds, to take control of them, acted against the basic concept of individuality. Who could be an individual when your thoughts could be read and your mind altered against your will?

Not that it was fair to blame telepaths for this. They didn't ask to be born that way, and from what Hawk had seen so far, you couldn't exactly turn telepathy off. Not without screwing someone up. And that wasn't right. But, of course, that's precisely what the Earth's government - and populace - did.

The fact that the governments on Becca's home Earth were still mostly worse… well, they'd have to do something about this Earth too, he supposed.

Why is this universe so full of bastards? The Feddies over in S5T3 might be naive idiots about a lot of things, and complete cowards with that precious Prime Directive of theirs, but at least they're mostly good people.

Granted, he'd thought the same thing about the Alliance, up until the Allied Systems started getting friendly with states like the Draconis Combine and the Clans. When we're done here, we're really due for a visit to Clan space. He amused himself with the thought of using their precious genetic material repositories as urinal cakes.

But that amusement faded. The anger came back. It always came back, as did those damn headaches. And then he got more angry as he thought about what Dr. Meier had said, and what it meant for himself and the people he cared for. For the entire cause they'd taken up.

While the anger simmered, he heard laughter and looked down. Children came running by, laughing and squealing, then briefly stopping to look up at him. The laughter stopped. They said nothing as they looked up at him in bewilderment.

"Why are you so angry?" a boy asked. Some of the other children gave him bewildered looks, as if he'd just broken a playground rule.

"Why the hell are you peeking in my head, kid?" Hawk retorted in challenge.

"I'm not peeking," the boy replied, his tone defensive. "We all feel it. You're just… angry. So angry our mental shields can't keep it out."

Hawk made a "hmph" at that. At least the kid's probably not messing with my head… and if you hear this kids, don't even think about it. You'll just make things bad for everyone. Aloud, he gave them an answer. "Because the world, the whole damned Multiverse, makes me angry."

"But you're a mundane," one of the other children, a girl, said. "What do you have to be angry about? You get to make the rules."

"Yeah, and most of the rules we 'mundanes' make are bullsh… are bad." Hawk forced himself to bite back the curse word. "So I make my own. I kill bad guys and help the people they hurt."


Hawk and the kids turned their heads to see the new arrival. Hawk sighed in resignation at the sight of his other "partner" on this mission. Robert walked up, looking like some ridiculous hermit out of a kung fu movie, with his long hair and bearded face and that ridiculous robe around armor that at least looked functional. He focused his attention on the kids. "A Mrs. Saunders is starting class. You might not want to be caught playing hooky."

The children acknowledged him and after a moment of mental coordination, they headed off to class.

Watching them go, Hawk smirked. "Let me guess. You were always that law-abiding Boy Scout who volunteered to be hall monitor and ensure everyone's being a good little boy or girl."

Robert looked up toward Hawk. Again his essence seemed permeated with anger. "I was never a Scout, actually," Robert said. "I preferred the farm."

"Ha. Farmboy." Hawk jumped down from the wall to face him.

The two men, from the moment they encountered each other, suspected this conversation was going to come. Now that it had, each was pondering what to say and how to say it.

"I was surprised," Robert admitted aloud, finally breaking the silence.

"At what?"

"You." Robert met Hawk's curious look with a contemplative one. "When Max shared those memories with us, I didn't expect that reaction from you. Real, genuine empathy for the suffering of others, from a man who seems devoted to violence and killing."

The anger in Hawk kicked up a notch. "I kill people who deserve it," he insisted.

"Warmaster Shai'jhur shows otherwise," Robert replied. "You would have killed her right then and there if she hadn't been wearing an anti-disruptor mesh. And she didn't do anything to deserve that. You admit that yourself."

"Maybe if her girlfriend hadn't lied about what happened between them, I wouldn't have tried," Hawk retorted. "Kaveri Varma let everyone in Earthforce think Shai'jhur raped her, just to protect her career. And it nearly got her girlfriend killed."

"That excuse makes it feel easier, doesn't it?" Robert asked, his tone searching. His eyes locked onto Hawk's. "It makes it feel easier to deal with the fact you nearly killed an innocent woman, one trying to save her people from genocide, because of your haste."

Unsurprisingly for someone with Hawk's passions, he responded to an attack with an attack. "And what kind of excuses do you use to make it easier, Dale? To excuse what you've become?"

"What I've become?" Robert asked. "Enlighten me."

"I guess that answers my question," Hawk said, sneering. "You and I apparently started out the same, but we're different. I'm still out there fighting to stop atrocities while you've become a Goddamned sell out."

Robert laughed at that. "A sell out? That's what you think of me?"

"Yeah. That's what I think," Hawk growled. "You're a damn sellout. You decided to become a part of the system. A good little soldier boy obeying the orders of politicians and bureaucrats instead of fighting the people who need to be fought. Hell, how many bad people get away with it because it's in your bosses' interest to let them off?"

"The Alliance isn't like that."

"Tell that to all of the worlds in the Clan Occupation Zone," Hawk hissed. "Tell that to the people on Turtle Bay who had their entire city vaped. Or all of the Rasalhaguans who had their country smashed into a pitiful little remnant by the Clans. You shouldn't have negotiated with the Clans, you should have crushed them. The Draconis Combine too! But instead you let them join your war and gave them more planets to conquer!"

"What were we supposed to do, go to war with them too?"

"You could have saved them for later!"

"What you're talking about is unending war," Robert said. "Nobody can just keep fighting like that. Nobody sane anyway." The emphasis made clear just how little sanity Robert attributed Hawk with. "And I didn't see you fighting the Nazis, Hawk, so who are you to judge us for what we had to do in the war?"

"Goringwelt," replied Hawk, his tone harsh. "New Saxony. New Baden. Hesperus. Concentration and labor camps on all of them, and we hit them. We hit them hard."

Robert narrowed his eyes at that. He could recall reports from intelligence about attacks on those worlds, but he'd always imagined they were covert operations, either Alliance ops or from the Citadel Council races. That it was Hawk and his crew… "You're telling me you plunged into the heart of Reich space on your own? You idiot." He felt Hawk's anger grow at that and didn't care. "After New Austria the Reich kept fleet units near all of its critical systems. You idiots could've easily gotten yourselves overrun! You could have given them the IU drive, your tech…!"

"We're not idiots, Dale, we know what the hell we're doing!" Hawk pressed a finger to Robert's chest. "And at least we're doing it! We're dealing with the scum of the Multiverse. You? You're dealing with petty crap when you should be out there hunting the bad guys! Dealing with the pirates and the slavers and the war criminals!"

To Hawk's anger and surprise, the response of Robert was literally to laugh in his face. "What's so damn funny?!" he demanded as Robert continued to laugh.

"You are… Abe would call it chutzpah," Robert said, managing to get his laughter under control. "You of all people are going to lecture me to start devoting all of my time to pursuing war criminals?"

"Someone should!"

"Fine!" Robert got up in his face and the smile disappeared. "Then I should start with you."

Hawk's nostrils flared at that.

"You heard me," Robert said, his face now contorted into an angry look. "If you're right, and I'm not doing enough to stop the, what did you call them, the 'bastards of the Multiverse', then I should start with the Butcher of Earth C1P2, James Hawk himself!" Robert felt his own anger increase, as he thought of that burning world, its wrecked cities, all of those plasma-burnt people in the Aurora medbay. "James Hawk," he repeated. "The so-called commander of the vessel responsible for the killings of millions of innocent civilians! Who scoured entire cities with plasma fire from orbit, incinerating men, women, and children! The man responsible for the dozens of wars since, wars that have killed thousands, maybe millions more on that poor planet!" Robert's voice picked up in volume as he spoke. "James Hawk, the war criminal with the blood of millions on his hands, still at large in the Multiverse, still causing unknown amounts of havoc! Yes, maybe I should begin my rampage across the Multiverse by bringing him to justice, or simply striking him down as another 'bastard of the Multiverse' who needs killing!"

As Robert's tirade continued, he felt Hawk's anger grow even as he vented his own, and this was not surprising.

What did surprise him was where that anger, formerly defiant fury, was flowing. He'd expected to be the source and target of that anger, given he was throwing Hawk's bloody sins in his self-righteous face.

But Hawk wasn't angry at Robert. He was angry at himself.

Indeed, as furious as that anger was flowing now, Robert felt he sensed the source of it, more clearly than ever before, and it wasn't some old wound that could never be healed, not a sense of being wronged that demanded to be righted. Not even the selfish need to justify his violent urges. What Robert felt instead… was guilt.

Deep, immeasurable guilt.

In that moment, the contradiction Robert had felt before was gone. There was no contradiction between Hawk's empathy and his violent rage. His empathy helped to fuel it, by presenting him with wrongs that needed to be righted, and which made him furious when they were not.

Including his own wrongs. His own perceived failures to prevent them. To prevent the deaths at Earth C1P2. To prevent the deaths that had left Rebekah bat Gurion so emotionally devastated. Wrongs that he could only repay by devoting himself to stopping other wrongs, at all costs.

While he was not a telepath that could sense the memories of others as a physical sense, through the Flow of Life Robert could sometimes feel the memories of others, if they were powerful enough, focal enough, to that being, or if he were connected to them in some way. At this moment, his understanding of Hawk provided that necessary connection.

He could see Hawk rising from his bed, confusion turning to horror as he looked out the window of his quarters… and beheld the sapphire fury of the Avenger's weapons scouring the Earth. He could feel the desperation that fueled Hawk's race through the halls of his ship and to the lift. His arrival in the secondary bridge, deep in the Avenger's heart, the locked door that required precious minutes to hack through with his nanites. The sight of another man his age, someone he considered a friend, a member of his family, hunched over the tactical console, face full of hideous rage as his fingers triggered the targeting systems and firing mechanism again and again. He could feel the impact of Hawk's fist on Andy's face, knocking him away from the controls, ending the killing, the words they shared...

"What the Hell, Andy?! What have you done?!"

"They were never going to listen! They were mocking us! And now they're dead! Every one of those imperialist, racist, bigoted bastards is dead!"

"Christ, Andy, how many people did you just kill?!"

There was no answer to that, just Andy's wide, contented smile at a job he considered well done. Defiant at even his friend's horror for his actions.

"Get out of my head," Hawk demanded, his voice lacking the heat from before. Now he just sounded… tired.

Robert returned his focus to the here and now. He took in a breath, stunned by what he'd just seen. Hawk knew he'd seen it too. "It wasn't you," Robert said softly. "You… you weren't responsible."

"I was," Hawk answered hoarsely. "My ship. My friends. My cause."

"Andy Luttrell is the man responsible," Robert said in disagreement. He recalled the man's face from the Tira Crisis materials. Andy had been the member of the Avenger crew sent to the Minbari Warcruiser Orsala for the fake negotiations. According to the notes he'd behaved like a fanatic more than a talker. "Why…"

"We gave an ultimatum to the governments of that Earth," Hawk said. "No more slavery. No more empires. No more autocracies. No more bigotry over racial or gender or sexual differences."

"They'd never go for it," Robert said. "You were demanding they dismantle their entire world, to change the very way they thought. Even the people we rescued from that world took months, sometimes years, to accept our way of thinking, especially toward LGBT people. I think some still haven't."

"They could change the laws. It'd be a start." Hawk's eyes grew distant. "Although I wish we'd never gone to that planet."

"Why did he…?"

"He was impatient. And they were dragging their feet. One of them got a little mocking, insulting. Andy lost it."

"He's the one." Robert shook his head. "My God, Hawk, he… what did you do about it?"

"What I could. I made sure he'll never do it again. He's banned from tactical control. The weapons won't work for him anymore."

Robert almost laughed in sheer incomprehension. "For that… Hawk, he butchered millions of people. You're telling me his punishment for that is to lose his job?!"

"What else was I supposed to do?!" Hawk demanded.

"Turn him in!" Robert answered. "Surrender him to the Alliance along with the records proving his actions! Give testimony!"

"So you can throw him in a prison cell?!"

"So he can stand trial! So justice can be done!"

"I'm responsible!" Hawk roared. Robert saw tears of frustration glisten in his eyes. "I brought him along! Andy, he… he didn't even want to hold a gun when we started. He didn't have a violent bone in his body! I pushed him into it, insisted it had to happen, and… and then…" Hawk stopped and, for a moment, a sob escaped from him before he could hold it back. "I ruined him," Hawk confessed, tears streaming down his eyes. "He shouldn't be punished for what I turned him into."

"Someone has to answer," Robert insisted. "Someone has to answer for what happened."

Just as he finished speaking, Robert felt the shift inside Hawk. Perhaps he'd pushed Hawk far enough, or perhaps it was Hawk's way to escape the feelings of guilt within him. Either way his anger built back up, and this time it turned external. He glared his eyes toward Robert and demanded, "And when are you going to answer, Dale?"


"Well, for starters, your bungling started a war with the Nazis before your Alliance was ready," Hawk said accusingly. "Yeah, I know about 33LA. That was on your head. How many people died because the Alliance wasn't ready to fight the Reich?"

The honest answer was that Robert didn't know. He couldn't. There was, even now, uncertainty about whether 33LA provoked the Nazis to strike at Krellan Nebula when they did. If they'd planned something longer-term, even a month would have meant more Alliance ships ready to fight. Thousands of civilians and ship crew would still be alive.

"Right. I thought so," said Hawk. "And are you going to always use the Nazis as an excuse for why you're hooking up with people like the Goddamned Clans. The people behind the bombardment of Edo on Turtle Bay, who consider civilians and prisoners-of-war as, what do they call it again? Bondsmen, right. But let's face it, the proper word is slave." Hawk's eyes flared angrily. "How can you justify working with people like that?! They're little better than Nazis themselves!"

"The Nazis were the greater threat," Robert said. "As it was, we barely defeated them in time to keep them from acquiring the IU drive!"

"Maybe they wouldn't have gotten so close if you hadn't bungled everything from the start! And I'm sure that's a real Goddamned comfort to the civilians having those damn bondcords wrapped around their wrists! You should be telling the Clans hands off! Hell, don't tell them crap, put the eugenicist bastards down!"

"So that's what you want? Another war?!"

"I'd rather fight than be a Goddamned appeaser! You don't compromise with people like that! You kill them!"

"And where do you draw the line, Hawk?!"

"Anyone who turns people into slaves! Anyone who harms others!" Hawk raged. Robert felt the full force of Hawk's anger, his need to lash out against those he judged evil, and felt a horror at how unbalanced it was. "You should be going after them. You've got the fleet to wreck the Clans completely, do it! Pulverize their ships and wreck their walking tanks from orbit. Liberate the people of Tamar and Rasalhague, of all the worlds that they've put the boot on!"

"And I suppose you think we should attack the Cardassians too, and the Dominion?!" Robert yelled back. "And NEUROM and the Bragulans and the Draconians…!"

"Yes, dammit! Gather your allies and go after the states that abuse and enslave!"

"You're talking about a Multiverse constantly at war!" Robert retorted. "Constant bloodshed! Never-ending, never-ceasing! You can't fight wars that long, not without corrupting everything else! You're a lunatic if you think you can keep fighting forever!"

"And you're a hypocritical Goddamned coward," Hawk shot back. "Playing hero, but it's just playacting. You won't go out and devote yourself to the fight against evil. Because that's what you should be doing! Find evil and stop it! Find the people causing massacres and slavery and misery, and put them down. That's the only thing you should be worried about!"

"There's more to existence than violence and killing, dammit!" Robert felt his head hurt and tried to contain the anger he felt building inside of him. Whether it was some kind of sympathetic reaction to Hawk's anger and pain or simply his frustrations with the man, Robert wasn't sure. "When will you understand that? Look at what you did with the Darglans' legacy, Hawk! They created that technology to explore the wonders of the Multiverse! They acted to guide species, to protect them, they even transplanted them to other worlds to give them a chance to survive! They didn't destroy, they built." He waved his arm around the compound. "This is what you should be doing! Build homes for people to have better lives! Build communities! That's what I learned from my Facility, and look at what we've accomplished. New Liberty has a population of over four hundred thousand beings now, and it's just five years old! The Alliance is one of the most powerful governments in the Multiverse, respected for standing for the rights of sentient beings everywhere, and it's even younger than that!" Before Hawk could protest the needs of politics, Robert added, "Yes, it's not perfect. People disagree. And sometimes compromise means we have to pick our fights and deal with people we'd rather not, but just by existing, we can show people a better path. Including our enemies."

"And yet people are still suffering," Hawk spat back. "While you build your Alliance, entire worlds are being enslaved. People are being slaughtered. Even as we're speaking here, somewhere in the Multiverse someone is being abused, someone is suffering, someone is dying, and they've got nobody to stand up for them! Nobody to save them. Except me!"

A part of Robert wanted to laugh at the irony. "Hawk, I used to think that way," he said. "That I couldn't stop, couldn't rest, because someone somewhere was suffering and I had to save them. I spent the first months with the Facility running non-stop, trying to save everyone. All it got me were the deaths of good people and a ship in need of repair. You have to accept that we're just human, Hawk. Mortal human beings. For our own sanity, we have to stop sometime, we have to care for ourselves, or we'll go mad, and then we'll help nobody."

Hawk simply frowned at him, but he didn't seem to have words. He'd spoken everything he intended to.

"And whatever else, Hawk, your methods are counter-productive to your aims. You're not going to make things better by just rushing in and killing things, it's not that easy! And you won't help anyone becoming this… this brain-damaged rage monster you've become!"

"Brain damaged? More of that?" Hawk guffawed, though Robert sensed that was more bravado than conviction.

"Yes, more of that, because it's the damned truth!" Robert insisted. "You and your friends are overusing the infusers. You're downloading too much information into your mind too frequently! You're killing yourselves, Hawk! For God's sake, man, stop and think! Stop pushing your crusade at the expense of everything else!"

There was a silence from Hawk, a change from the usual instinctive retorts fueled by his anger. Robert realized he was coming to accept the warnings. But yet… he sensed no intent to cease. "I can't stop," Hawk insisted. "We can't."

"You have to," Robert pleaded. "If you keep going this way, whatever good you've done, it'll be for nothing."

Robert knew immediately that the plea hadn't worked. He felt Hawk's mind shift back toward anger, not quite as strongly as before. "Ah, to hell with it." Hawk made a frustrated gesture by lifting his arms and dropping them. "I'm going to find Becca, then we're out of here. And don't worry about me leaking this place, Dale," Hawk added. "I don't work with EarthGov. As far as I'm concerned, EarthDome will make good target practice if they push it. I won't betray the compound so long as they don't start storing prisoners here." He glanced back briefly. "Truce is still on, by the way. I'll leave you alone until we're both out of the system, but afterward, if you get in my way, all bets are off."

Robert felt him go. A part of him wondered still if he shouldn't have agreed to such a truce. How much more damage would Hawk do in the name of killing "bad guys"? By not stopping him here, had Robert guaranteed another Earth C1P2?

The whole thing made him feel unsettled.

Worse, it gave him a Goddamn headache.

The 5 and 6 year-olds were released from their classes for playtime. They retrieved the anti-grav orb from where it was left by the older kids and activated it. The children were so enthralled by the resulting chase that they paid little heed to Becca watching them from the distance, smiling despite the ache she felt. Such a toy hadn't existed when she was a child, not on her Earth, but there had been similar games among the children of the kibbutz. They'd continued playing them even after their relocation to northern England. Until she was sent to the military school...

Thinking of her lost childhood was painful. Of those she had lost, that was a pain she endured every day.

Becca heard another set of footsteps, these somewhat more tentative than Colin’s sure strides, older. Then an older voice spoke in an accent that was almost German-cast Hebrew and when he spoke, it was in that language.

“Let their memory be a blessing.” Max said in consoling tones.

She looked to the older man. "Shabbat shalom," she said in respect, recalling how Max had earlier greeted Captain Dale. Genuine respect filled her voice at this gentleman, who had taken such a terrible burden upon himself. "An interesting choice of words, Mister Cohen. You and I both know memories that are far from blessings."

Max chuckled a bit at that. “It depends on your perspective I think. Carrying their lives with me allows me to… I don’t know how to describe it… “ He paused thinking about it. “So long as their memories live in me, are they really that dead? Can I not show them the beginnings of a better future, and that their suffering ultimately had meaning? It may be a bit different for you, but I’ve carried them almost forty years. I get maudlin about it in my dotage.”

The idea of living that long with her memories was bitter for Becca. So many of those she loved growing up didn't have that choice. So many…

“What happened?” Max asked “You don’t have to share, but it seems like something you might need to talk about.”

Becca sighed and sat on the nearby bench. She didn't want to talk about it, but since the memories were there anyway, she let them through her blocks. Her Earth had seen a terrible Third World War. The response, in the end, was the formation of United Earth, an attempt to "get right" what the prior World Wars had failed. But United Earth was a struggling concept. The discovery of telepaths helped destroy it from the inability of the government to deal with the panic caused.

The world fell into three camps. The side who were the most anti-telepath were the Dissolutionists, opponents of the entire idea of the global government. Their hostility to telepaths was palpable, to the extent that the leadership were openly supportive of telepath extermination. The other side of the war, Restorationists, were willing to grant some civil rights… but coupled with conscription, and the broad attitude that telepaths were weapons of the state.

Israel, a Reformist state with telepath civil rights, was invaded by the Dissolutionists. Her parents and two-thirds of Israel's telepaths were outright slaughtered by the enemy. Her last memory of the telepath kibbutz was of sitting in the evac hopper, watching the burning fields and homes after the bombers hit. From there it was England and a refugee camp, then English telepaths as foster parents. And then at age 11, it was off to the Continent for military training camp…

Sensing an instinctive revulsion from Max at the idea, Becca glyphed agreement, coupled with a thought. To the global government, we were weapons foremost. We would fight and die and they would not allow us to be subjected to hate crimes.

To Max, that attitude among mundanes was all too familiar, because the Earth Alliance was largely similar. The only difference was the existence of the Psi Corps that let telepaths form their own community, and the use of most telepaths in commercial applications. The Earth Alliance had still conscripted telepaths to fight in their wars, without any civil rights guarantees or protections. And when the Minbari War happened, being left off the evacuation lottery. Mercifully, the Minbari ceased their attack before orbital bombardment.

It…could have been worse. He thought. Not about her world, but his own.

Having felt his thoughts, Becca agreed. I was made a psi-hunter at 14. I was a strong T6 and they were needed. The Dissolutionists… they exploited the refugees to slip suicide psi-bombers into other countries. In Dissolutionist-held territory, the only way to avoid execution for a telepath and their family was to become one. To go into another nation and slaughter people in a public terrorist attack using their minds. If they didn't die of a stroke first from the drugs to enhance their powers for the attack.

Just thinking about that caused Max pain, deep in his soul. It was an offense against everything he believed in, everything he was, everything his God commanded and all that was good in the world. It was an abomination, and the idea that his branch of their people could have suffered that same fate without contact with the Centauri shook him to the core.

I was fifteen years old when I killed my first psi-bomber, Becca confided. Memories flooded through her blocks. The girl had been a Taureg two years younger than her, a T5 telepath taught to kill to save her family. Max saw more faces, some generic, barely remembered, others with crystal clarity, twenty in all.

Then came the army and combat service. Automated drones raining rockets down, tanks roaring across fields, chemical and electromagnetic firearms spitting their lethal bits of metal with enough force and speed to mutilate and demolish a human body. The dying minds crying out for their mothers, begging to live, the continuous mindscreams all around her, telepath and non-telepath alike.

Max shuddered. He had plenty of memories of combat, some of them brutal, but none of it was modern or even modern-approaching warfare. The mental screams of the wounded and dying would wreak havoc for a telepath.

There was some happiness to be found. At twenty-two she'd been a founding member of an all-telepath regiment. Telepaths from across Europe and Russia and parts of North America, plus refugees from the other parts of the world. Many of the surviving members of her kibbutz were in her platoon: childhood friends like Avital and Moshe and Haim and Sara. They combined infantry tactics with telepathic capabilities, and won many victories, although all were painful from those lost in the fighting. At least she had the bonds from outside of combat, when the unit was alone in the barracks or field camps, and all of their blocks came down.

That happiness ended in the ruins of the Turkish city of Zonguldak. Their own side used them as a distraction, knowing how much the enemy wanted them destroyed. They fought for weeks, cut off, isolated, scrounging for supplies on the ruined Black Sea coast. Hoppers and boats got only a few out; for the rest it was death or captivity when they were inevitably overrun without any help from high command. They were sacrificed to enable a successful offensive elsewhere. They were, after all, weapons in the cause of restoring United Earth. A few hundred dead and captured telepaths was a small price to pay to crush thousands of enemy soldiers elsewhere.

She remembered the savage beatings. The petty acts of torture. And the drugs. The drugs.

They took away the world. Everything became flat and colorless. Food tasted like ash. It was like living death. It was enough to make someone wish to just die, but your body could barely move. She remembered endless days on the hard concrete slab of her confined cell, unable to move, unable to think. She could barely remember seeing the others taken. Moshe, then Haim, Avital, Deborah...

That clinched it for Max. He’d been wondering exactly how there were human telepaths in a universe without the Vorlons, but somehow someone had gotten their hands on the genes necessary and created telepaths elsewhere, it wasn’t something independent. If the Sleepers worked, the physiology was the same; and he knew what Sleepers were like, he had his own memories of them, especially the early-versions that didn’t even let a telepath kill themselves to escape because they were literally too sick to do so. He shook, in grief and anger vibrating in place. He wanted to take the fleet and lead it across the gulf of space and time and liberate his people - and he did consider her people to be his - from that nightmare. But he couldn’t.

Thank you was her response to that sentiment. And then the images continued. One by one, her comrades were being taken. Their guards occasionally laughed about it. It was an open secret that they were being taken to be subjects for researchers looking for the "cure", a way to permanently shut down the unique brain structures in a telepath. The enemy wouldn't care if it left the telepath alive or dead, they simply wanted telepaths eliminated, as a threat to the minds of the "normal" humans. Those sent to the labs never returned.

There was a change. A young man half her age was assigned to inject the drugs weekly. His name was Abdullah, a Palestinian boy conscripted for camp duty. For the first month he obeyed, watched by an overseer. Then the day came when he entered alone and triggered the injector before sticking the needle in. He carefully sopped up the hated drugs with a napkin which he flushed down her commode. The days passed and her senses improved, her health as well, but she made sure to continue to act sick. To not let the enemy suspect.

The next week he returned. Again he injected the poison on her arm instead of in it. She'd regained enough strength to ask "Why?" To her surprise, his reply was a glyph. Solidarity. Sympathy. Abdullah was a telepath hiding his talents to avoid being sent as a psi-bomber.

The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father was the only thing Max could think of to say, it meant largely the same thing and he made sure that Becca grasped it’s full meaning. Then he thought of something else because he had an idea what was coming. Let his memory be a blessing.

She swallowed in reply. The tears already flowing were joined by a sniffle and a low sob as the thought of what Max meant filled her. She thought back to the camp. Mimicking sickness, which was not hard as she distantly felt her fellows suffering under the drugs. She was the only telepath he could spare; the camera angle for her cell was the only one that let him do so. For two weeks she yearned for the day he came to pretend to inject her, if only to connect to Abdullah's mind, to share his memories, his love for his parents and smaller siblings, two of whom were also manifesting telepathy. He was scared for them. It was why he didn't dare risk sparing the others. And she, selfishly, still wanted him to come by, even if it meant the continued suffering of her comrades.

Then he came two days early, in a panic. Enemy forces were rumored near. The camp leadership was evacuating and there were rumors that the camp would be destroyed and the prisoners slaughtered. Abdullah opened her cell and bade her to run while he distracted the guards. She didn't want to. The others were still there… but they had the drugs in their bodies. They wouldn't be able to move. Abdullah swore he would protect them as much as he could, that he knew where to get the counter-agent that had to be used in the experiments. He glyphed his desire to save at least one fellow telepath, so he could face divine judgement without flinching.

And so Becca ran. In the chaos of the camp and with her abilities her escape went undetected. She ran for the nearby hills, rushing up and up, her body straining, her stomach growling in hunger, muscles protesting, trying to get away, praying Abdullah and the others made it.

It was as she topped a hill over the camp that she heard the roar. She looked up in time to see the drone ships. She watched the bombs fall. Incendiaries, which smothered the camp in burning chemicals. Even from the distance she could feel Abdullah's mind, his screams of agony as the fires claimed everything and everyone in the camp, friend and enemy alike. She felt them all burn, burn alive, and heard their mindscreams as they were consumed. And that horrible door again, open and shut and open and shut over and over again. Finally she screamed

And Becca did scream. The pain of the memory was too much. She wailed at it, drawing the attention of passing residents.

Max couldn’t stop himself even if he wanted to, as he cried with her he wrapped her in a comforting hug and wept with her, projecting love and warmth into her mind, and everyone in line of sight did the same. They didn’t need to know why, only that she was in pain and deserved nothing less.

Becca's blocks melted away. It had been so long since she felt such warmth from other minds. Not since the days before Zonguldak, the last time the regiment was together in peace. Now she couldn't resist it. She let that unconditional love and warmth fill her, let it begin to push away the horrible memories, to suppress the pain…

...and then, in a panic, she pushed it all away, as she felt the nanites begin to trigger. The failsafe! Silver material flowed from her wrists and ankles for a second, nearly enveloping her limbs before stopping at her assertion of self-control.

Max and the others broke off mental contact immediately, not wanting to risk themselves to that, but also not wanting Becca to have to live with the consequences of that failsafe triggering by accident. But Max didn’t let her go either. “Save one life, and you save an entire world… I never thought it would be so literal Becca. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but He saved you for a reason. I don’t know what, but it wasn’t random.” He couldn’t help but think about what the name Abdullah meant in Arabic, literally ‘servant of God’. It smacked him in the face. Colin and Gene both would say it was a coincidence and that it’s a common name, but he didn’t buy that.

She heard his words. She understood what he was saying. But it didn't work. She knew in her heart she should have died that day. She had the blood of fellow telepaths on her hands, and she'd killed so many, telepath and non-telepath, even banals (Mundanes was the definition for Max)… why should she get to live? Why didn't Abdullah live? Or sweet Avital?

There was the sound of running footsteps. Becca and Max turned to see Hawk running toward them. She noticed he was tense, felt readiness in his anger, and jumped up from the bench. "It's fine!" she insisted, loudly.

"I got a warning," he said. "Your failsafe activated. Did they…?!"

She shook her head. "They were… they were trying to make me feel better, James, that's all. They were filling my mind with affection and love and suppressing my emotional pain. The nanites registered it as an attempt to alter my brain and triggered. But it's fine, everything is fine."

There was a suspicious look in Hawk's face as he glared toward Max for a moment. But he stopped. "I think it's time to go," he said to her. "The mission is accomplished."

“You don’t have to go Becca, you know that. You’ve seen enough death, you deserve to have a life.” Max said.

The sad look Becca gave him was enough to tell Max she didn't agree. Even if she longed for that kind of contact again, she didn't believe him on deserving it.

"A lot of people deserve to have a life," said Hawk. There was a challenging tone to his voice. "Including the people in all of those re-education camps your Corps runs. But you didn't seem so worried about whether the telepaths kept on Sirius Major were happy or had good lives."

“We don’t run them.” Max said in a hard tone. “We’re just held at population-scale gunpoint and forced to provide security. Remember that the next time you start slaughtering people. Not all of them are in your path by choice. Sometimes their families are held hostage. Are you going to start going after our ships and marine corps because the mundanes feed you a line of bull like the Drazi did at Tira as well?”

"James, please…"

Hawk was frowning, and he clenched his jaw. Max had indeed scored a point by referencing Tira, and on a sore spot. He had no argument on that. But she could tell he was still suspicious of the Corps, of whether it would lead to telepath liberation, or continue to force all telepaths to toe the line. "We'll see how this little revolution of yours goes," he said. "You people stay righteous, you give telepaths a choice, and you won't have problems from me." His eyes met Becca's again. "Let's go, Becca. We have work elsewhere." He started to walk away. Becca moved to follow.

I have to ask Becca, why are you working with him of all people? Max asked.

Becca stopped and turned back to Max. She gave him a sad look. And then she showed him the memories, painful as they were. Of her after the fire-bombing, so damaged by the stress of experiencing the horrific deaths below that she nearly shut down. She stumbled away.

Then pain shot through her leg from the slug that ripped through her femur, shattering the bone. She screamed and fell. Enemy soldiers approached, vicious, hateful. One kicked her in the face, shrieking "Witch!" Another kicked her in the stomach. They debated on what to do to her, to kill or drag her away to another camp, more drugs, experimentation, and considered what they might do to her either way. The filthy, terrible fantasies a few had regarding her, the desire to violate and degrade.

And then one vanished in a cloud of blue. The others turned as more bolts came from nothingness, vaporizing the patrol one soldier at a time. The leader turned toward her and leveled his gun, intent on killing her. She saw the hate in his eyes, the barrel of his gun pointed toward her forehead, closed her eyes and waited for the merciful end… and then the sound of flesh being ripped, a shriek of pain, and hot blood on her face. When she opened her eyes her would-be killer stood over her with a silver spike sticking through his throat, thrown by the unseen attacker. The enemy collapsed, dead, joined by the last of his comrades in the following seconds. A presence approached, a man rippled into view before her...

"Are you okay?" asked (and thought) James Hawk. Anger and guilt from his mind echoed in hers. She knew he'd come to save the camp, but had come too late. He blamed himself just as she blamed herself.

He took her away then. To his ship, to the medical technology beyond anything she could imagine, the medical nanites that rebuilt her shattered bone, the replicators that seemed to make nourishing food and drink from thin air. Some other telepaths were there, freed from the camps and eager to go home. They did.

But Becca didn't. She stayed on the Avenger and watched as Hawk ended that brutal war in a night, as the Dissolutionist armies and navies and air forces fell to the weapons of the Darglan-built battlecruiser, as the war criminals who had each butchered hundreds, thousands of innocent people - including telepaths - met their deaths at the hands of Hawk and his friends. All of those she lost, avenged by the man who saved her life.

If she truly deserved to live, this was how she would prove it. She would fight at his side. She would serve his cause however he asked. She would tear through the minds of slavers and pirates and war criminals to learn their secrets. She would volunteer to have the information she needed to serve downloaded into her brain, whatever headaches it might cause. She would, in the end, agree to become one of his agents, to have her body augmented with the Darglan combat nanites.

It was the least she could do for the man who saved her life and stopped that horrible war.

Max sighed and lowered his head, shaking it. He understood, even if he thought she didn’t need to prove she deserved life. Alright. I get it. But...if it ever gets to be too much, if your conscience can’t bear it anymore. You’ll always have a home to come back to, provided we survive the next couple of years.

Becca's reply was a glyph of hope that they did survive, and gratitude for the offer. But there was no sense it was one she intended to take up. With a nod of her head, Becca turned and followed Hawk down the footpath and out of sight.
”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 his headache and the general frustration caused by Hawk's inability to see past his own anger, Robert needed a quiet place to re-center himself. He found it at the far corner of the courtyard in what looked like the storage room for the nearby machine shop. After setting his backpack down near the door he found a space in the side of the room and sat down, crossing his legs and setting his hands on his knees, his robe settled behind him so that he could stand easily if he needed to. Once he was in position, he closed his eyes and settled his thoughts. He pushed away his own anger and irritation at the encounter and focused on the warm energy inside of him. The energy of his swevyra, his life, and of the Flow of Life he could feel through it.

The life of this place was not like that of a city, it lacked the numbers, but it was no worse than being on a ship. The Flow moved freely here and its golden warmth soothed the frustration he felt from the encounter with Hawk. It was invigorating to simply immerse his thoughts into it and enjoy the warm feelings in this place.

He lost track of the time in this state. So he wasn't sure how long he'd been meditating when he felt presences around him. Curious, eager thoughts and feelings. It wasn't hard to figure them out, especially when one of the presences was newly familiar. Without opening his eyes he said, "I can sense you, you know." He opened his eyes a moment later.

“He’s friendly, I promise.” Zara said encouragingly to three other younger kids, one girl and two younger boys. Robert recognized them from the group he'd seen playing hide and seek earlier in the day. One of them, a little brown-haired blue-eyed boy of around eight years old had a question he couldn’t contain anymore.

“What are you? You’re not a mundane, but… you’re not a telepath either?” he said

"There's no word in any Human language I know that fits with the term typically used for what I am," Robert replied. "The closest would probably be 'life force user'. My name is Robert. Your's?" His voice remained gentle. He sensed a slight trace of anxiety, save in Zara, but it was the kind many kids would feel toward a stranger.

“Lucas. Lucas Dixon.”

Another one of them, the little girl who was a little younger and of middle eastern stock piped up. “Husn Mira.”

“And I’m Maina Botha.” said the last one who was of African descent.

Robert nodded. Lucas, Husn, Maina, he thought back, knowing the children would p'hear him.

“Huh. So you’re a wizard?” Lucas asked, while the others looked over at him like he’d said something insane but they weren’t sure the question was totally off-base.

Robert chuckled at that. "I saw it like that myself when I first witnessed it being used. I suppose there's some justice in the title, but no, we generally don't use it. The Gersallians would use the word swevyra'se." Years of practice had made the pronunciation as close to the proper term as he'd ever get.

“Swev-ee-ra-say…” Husn sounded it out.

"If you don't want to go around tongue-twisting yourselves trying to pronounce Gersallian, their choice for translating swevyra'se once they knew of English is 'Knight of Life'."

“It’s pretty easy compared to Arabic... So, how does it work?” Husn followed up on the explanation.

Or French Lucas mentally added.

Ich spreche auch Deutsch, Robert responded. After that he turned his attention to Husn's question. "There are individuals across the Multiverse who have a… special connection to the universe or cosmos, whichever you prefer," Robert explained. "The Gersallians refer to this as having swevyra, or rather a connected swevyra. It means one's life energies are linked to the world and universe around them. We can sense the Flow of Life that moves through all things, binding all life together."

“That almost sounds like something the Minbari might say.” Maina remarked “They believe that the universe itself is almost conscious and that life is the universe trying to know itself.”

"That's entirely possible." Robert thought back, briefly, to his time in the coma, and the world the Flow of Life had constructed around his mind to save him from the Time Vortex's maddening effects.

“You’ve been through... a lot of weird, haven’t you?” Maina asked.

“He travels between universes. One is weird enough. Imagine lots.” Lucas replied.

"I have seen quite a few weird things, yes," Robert said. "And being a space traveler was something I never imagined growing up. My Earth is only in the first decades of the 21st Century. When I was growing up just making orbit was a feat, and it was a big deal that a small space station was being put into orbit. Interuniversal jump drives, warp drive, hyperspace engines… that was all something for science fiction." I'm basically living a science fiction series now.

“Are you are least Genre Savvy?” Zara asked with a wry grin.

"Well, I know better than to challenge the harmless looking old man if I meet one, at least," Robert replied, smiling.

Everyone but Zara giggled, she belly-laughed. They’d all seen those, though mostly in fantasy stories.

“So, you don’t carry a gun? Not even the Psi Cops go anywhere without a backup weapon.” Maina asked Robert.

"I used to carry guns, but with my abilities, this is more useful," Robert explained, taking his lightsaber from its place on his belt. "It's based on an old Gersallian weapon from thousands of years ago, during the last interuniversal era when the Darglan were exploring. The method to build them was rediscovered by my friend Lucy. She calls it a lightsaber."

“Is that like, some kind of laser-sword?” Lucas asked “Or is it plasma?”

“Does it go on forever when activated?” Maina added

“How do you not dry-roast yourself?” Husn brought up the rear of the inquisitiveness train.

"It's… basically a light beam with an inflection point," Robert replied. "Or so Lucy said when I asked. But she's more technically minded than I am, so I'm not sure why I don't dry-roast myself."

The math describing the physics has got to be interesting… Zara thought.

“Coooool” was the collective response. All of them were happy that there were still mysteries in the universe, because he had a laser that curved in on itself and that shouldn’t be possible but apparently was. Lucas was about to ask him to activate it but Husn had another question and beat him to it.

“Are the armor and robes some sort of uniform? I know we have armored uniforms now.”

"They're not a conventional Alliance uniform," he answered, returning his weapon to its place. "The armor is based on the armor used by the Order of Swenya's Knights, and the robes were a gift to me from Mastrash Kilaba, the abbess of one of their monasteries."

Robert felt the children instinctively recoil from the Order's name. “The Order of Swenya? We’ve heard of them. They take telepaths out of Earth Alliance space. You’re not here to take us, are you?” Lucas asked, eyeing Robert but carefully suspending judgement.

Ah, here we go. And here I thought I'd be having this conversation with Zara's dads. Robert felt the caution in Lucas and went for a reassuring look. "Do you want me to?" he asked calmly.

“NO!” NO! From all of them.

There was real ferocity in that response. Robert refrained from matching it, instead only shaking his head. "Then I won't." He gave them each a gentle look and made sure they understood his sincerity. "What I want, and what the Order wants, is to make sure all telepaths get to have a choice. If you choose the Corps, that's fine. We just think it should be your choice, not anyone else's."

“Why would we want to leave our Mother and Father? That doesn’t make any sense.” Husn asked, gobstruck by the notion.

"Well, they should have the choice too," Robert answered. The three younger children raised eyebrows at him like he’d just said that circles had right angles.

“I think you’re confused.” Lucas said in a voice that almost sounded patronizing. “The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father.”

Robert blinked at that. "Is that how you see it? That's…" He considered his thoughts on it. There was something… almost cultish about the use of the term. Authoritarian. The kind of thing you'd use to alienate new members, especially children, from their families. Thoughts of David Koresh and the like came to mind through word and idea association. He couldn't keep the discomfort at these thoughts from his head, so he knew it was obvious to them. "As you can sense, I find it too much like cults I've heard and read about during my life. But maybe I'm just not understanding something about it at the moment."

“Yeah. You’re confused.” Lucas replied, nodding sagely, but he was having a hard time putting it into words and looked up at Zara for help.

“Mother and Father, Mom and Dad, they don’t mean the same thing like they do to mundanes.” Zara said. “The Psi Corps teaches us, feeds us, and protects us. Like parents are supposed to do.” That last part was bitter again. “Mom and Dad, or in my case Dads, when we have them because sometimes we don’t, do the supportive nurturing things.” Lucas, Husn, and Maina nodded in agreement.

"I see." Robert nodded. A shielded thought considered how much was Column A and how much was Column B, between Zara's view and what he'd thought. It probably depends on the internal issues… or Earth. I'm sure Clark was fine with Column B.

“Yeah. My mundane family is Mormon, well, not so mundane anymore. I have six brothers and sisters and four of them are telepaths. I thought that was big. Now I have twelve million.”

There’s more to it than the literal meaning. Zara informed him. It’s also a promise but they’re a bit too...young, to understand it yet. Zara left it at that. After a brief pause while he considered how to ask, Lucas spoke up again. “Do you have a family Captain?”

Robert considered the meaning the question and nodded.

“I don’t think mundanes can have a family like we do Lucas.” Maina said aloud. It was blunt, but he was only seven. He had yet to learn tact.

Robert smiled thinly at that. "Oh, we can have family in that way. I do. It isn't as big, though."

“What does that mean for you?” Maina asked “I was born in the Corps, I don’t know what that looks like.”

Robert considered how he could answer. What kind of words he should use. From the life energy within him came an answer that was quite obvious. No words were needed. "How about this? I can show you," he said. "You can see my memories of family and how they make me feel, and then understand what I'm talking about."

“That could work but, we’re kinda new at that. Mrs. Sanders says it can be dangerous because we’re not trained yet.” Maina replied timorously, but Zara stepped in.

“I have been. I can guide you and keep Captain Dale safe.”

Robert nodded to her. "It'll be okay," he said to the kids. And with that, he breathed in and prepared his thoughts for them, using the training he'd received to isolate certain thoughts young children should probably not know.

“Okay, take each other’s hands, and one of you take mine.” Zara suggested and the kids did it. She reached her free hand, still in it’s glove, over to Robert. “You too.”

He nodded and reached over, taking Zara's hand in his own.

With that, she knit the minds of the other kids together with her own, guiding them toward a single common thought that would permit a meeting of minds. A powerful emotion they all shared: hope for a future. Robert felt their minds become something greater than the mere sum of their parts, but also that Zara was the one in control of the gestalt consciousness. They were no longer strictly speaking multiple individuals but they weren’t entirely a single mind either. They reached out with their thoughts and brushed against Robert’s mind, Zara carefully holding them back so they didn’t accidentally initiate a deep scan that could hurt him.

With the mental contact made, Robert brought the memories to the fore of his mind. It wasn't hard; the youth he sensed in the children made the association easy. The thoughts formed a progression, starting with one of his earliest memories, somewhat incomplete given his age, when he was just about three years old. He remembered his mother introducing him to the Andreys family. Most of that was a blur of some kind, but one memory stood out: a little girl with a little ponytail of golden blond hair, her aquamarine eyes glittering like tiny stars, who was eager to have a playmate. And that was how he met Julia.

The memories became more solid as their ages progressed, a collage of birthday parties and playgrounds at school, as well as playing on the farm. Eventually another boy appeared, and his name was easily detected by the children in their collective mind: Zack. More memories passed, memories of happy times with those that went from friends to close family.

Robert let the progression continue, smiling in happy recollection as he did, as the trio expanded over their adolescence. Shy, nerdy, and ever so lonely Tom, picked on at school until Zack stepped in. The loneliness and shyness went away, leaving the group hellion, always the first to try out new curse words or get in trouble. Then came the Hispanic girl in Julia's martial arts class, built tough, but with a warm heart: Angela.

The association there was tricky. Robert's more personal memories of Angel threatened to come up, enough that at least one element of the gestalt reached for it out of curiosity. Robert quietly nudged the memory away with the thought "for grownups". He thought he felt Zara help the nudging.

With Angel came her "crazy little sister", Caterina. Always small for her age, always reading books, and with a curiosity that was insatiable. She asked questions all the time, on top of being utterly devoted to her big sister, just as Angel was completely devoted to Cat's welfare.

Last but certainly not least, Leo arrived, the lonely black child in an area that was majority white. Briefly the memory of the death of Zack's mother came with it; Leo's mother, a psychiatrist at the hospital that acted as a grief counselor, introduced her son to the bereaved Zack.

The memories continued through teenage years into adulthood. Sports glory for Julia and Zack, academic for Tom and for Leo, everything else for the others. Fun parties, nights roaming the Kansas prairies looking for things to do, even that brawl that once got them all arrested… they were virtually inseparable. Losing even one - such as Leo going off to medical school - made the others feel somehow less whole.

That was what he meant by family.

Of course, that was just the oldest segment of the family. Robert's discovery of the old Darglan-made Facility came, and with it new members. Lucy Lucero, once just a girl they knew in school, became a part of it. Gabriel - Gabe - who helped them with their Spanish and supported them in their humanitarian goals, even if it meant violence or danger. And then Jarod, and Nick, and Scotty, and Meridina… Robert felt his connections to them warmly, connections shared among them all that made them into something more than friends, more than fellow officers…

What came next wasn't intended, but it was unavoidable. The fact was, simply considering the Facility also required considering what led to that day above all days, when Robert's discovery changed everything. That discovery hadn't just been an accident of circumstance; it was brought about by deep grief and loss. Just as much, the memories Robert was sharing with the children couldn't be excised of the other people he loved that were part of those memories. All of those years of playing on the farm with Julia and Zack… many of those memories had his little sister Susanna playing along with them. His grandmother's cooking had fed them. His grandfather had entertained them with folk tales and family legends stretching back to the Dale boys who settled in the area and became Jayhawkers in the days of Bleeding Kansas. His parents had given rides to those same friends. Later in life they attended sports games, supported him when he needed it, encouraged him often…

Thinking about those family members made the pain of their loss impossible for Robert to avoid. He simply tried to push it away. He might have, if not for the link.

Initially, Zara saw memories of a happy biological family and Robert could feel her mental grimace, the pain of knowing that it could be conditional, or a lie. That pain and sense of loss looped back in on Robert, making him feel the pain of his own loss more acutely. The painful memories breached the protective wall he kept them in, echoing in his mind and through the connection. Memories of sight and sound filled him and the link.

Robert as an eight year old boy beside a deathbed, the first he'd ever known, pleading to his Grandma Anna. "Oma! Oma, wach auf! Oma, wach auf bitte! Oma!"

Years later, Grandpa Allen in a hospital gown, eyes closed, face contorted with pain, every breath one of agony until finally they stopped...

And then, a decade later… the phone call. The sheriff's deputies, the quiet ride through the Kansas night to the county ME's office. Those sterile halls, bright with fluorescent light, the chemical smell of cleaners. The window into the room of metal slabs. An old man with an emotionless face pulls back the sheets, revealing beloved parents and dear little sister, mangled and broken. Eyes dull with death.

Another thought came. I had them again. Had them and let them go! The image of his family together again, in defiance of death, joined that of a little boy with his face and Julia's eyes and hair, pleading "Daddy, please don't go!" The son he never knew he'd wanted until then, joined by the family his heart yearned to see again. And they were all gone now, a dream that had popped like a bubble when he returned to the real world.

From all of this the wound in his heart, his very being, reopened. The pain came on fresh, as if it had just happened, and Robert couldn't fight it. He let out a low, agonized sob as tears poured down his cheeks.

The three younger children rejected that emotional pain entirely. They worked with Zara to find the memory associations cascading through Robert’s brain and like a finger plugging a hole they stopped it, and poured unconditional love and acceptance into Robert’s mind.

Then Zara transitioned to sharing a few of her own happier memories. Waking up with Gene wrapped around her like a protective blanket and Colin’s cooking. She shared the surprise visit in Teeptown from her dads, when she learned how to walk like a panther and fly Kites - the raptor not the toy - by Lake Geneva. Gene conspired with her to propose to Colin by an oak tree in front of her cadre house; the same house that had also been Colin’s. Then their wedding, with everyone from their home, and a lot of other places besides crammed into a Jewish community center. Lucas shared the happiest moment of his life, when he could feel anything again; when Mrs. Saunders, the same Mrs. Saunders who ran the schools of the camp, came to his house and convinced his parents to take him off Sleepers and administer the counter-agent. It was like waking up from a living death. Maina shared other memories, he was too young to have anything profound or particularly resonant, but he did have Birthday in his old Cadre. Husn had another, of her parents coming to visit on Omega VII on Sundays and taking her to the Mosque, hearing the Adhan and all the thoughts and emotions that accompanied the worship of Allah.

Robert felt those thoughts and the warm associations with them. His sobbing receded and, smothered in love and acceptance, a smile came to him. It occurred to him that this was why so many telepaths remained loyal to the Psi Corps, regardless of any dark side it had or the promise of greater personal freedom elsewhere. A childhood of knowing that love and acceptance awaited anyone suffering, of this kind of feeling… who needed brainwashing and mental reprogramming to enforce loyalty when they had this to offer? This was something real, something special.

So he would have to return the favor and show them something just as special. Something that they would never get to experience otherwise.

Thanks to the children Robert's emotions were re-balanced, though his face was still wet with shed tears. He used that balance to reach for the energy within himself. He felt for his swevyra, the life energy-fueled connection within him, with the children along for the ride, and from there opened himself to the Flow of Life. Not just as he felt it here, but through memory association he shared it as he had felt it in so many other places: New Avalon, the Citadel, Solaris, Portland, New Liberty.

Golden warmth filled him and, through him, them. It was not the thermal meaning of warmth, but rather a warmth of the spirit, of the soul. It was the warmth of joining one's friends for a cup of warm cocoa after working on a cold day. The warmth of a family cuddling together on a couch to watch a favored program. The warmth of watching children playing happily without a care in the world. It was this, but magnified, deeper, soothing and serene. It was the Light of Life, the positive feelings of living beings everywhere, bound together through the Flow of Life.

It was so big and inconceivable that Lucas and Maina could only respond with awestruck wonder. They could feel the minds in a room, but the Life of the cosmos, not just their universal everywhere but everywhere that was everywhere was almost too much for their minds to take in, to even begin to comprehend. Zara tried, she attempted to analyze it and examine it, but couldn’t. Truly knowing it was beyond her and it kept slipping from her grasp. Husn however could reach out, touch it, make little ripples in it, and felt like she was touching what God might actually be.

Husn's reaction wasn't lost on Robert. He opened his eyes and looked at the girl, recognizing immediately what she was doing. Just like Meridina, he thought, recognizing Husn as both telepath and sensitive. One by one the children opened their eyes as well.

“Woah.” Lucas intoned, and Zara perked her head up, noticing the others. Colin, Gene, Max, Mrs. Saunders, Indiri, Doctors Petrovich and Hegebe, several others. They’d approached to a respectful distance and stopped.

“I see you’ve been keeping Captain Dale out of trouble…” Colin said with an affectionate grin as he walked up, only to kneel down and kiss her on the forehead. Gene came in close behind and gave her a hug. Not for any real reason, he just wanted to.

“What was that?” Gene asked.

“Apparently swevyra,” Zara replied and let Robert actually explain things as she enthusiastically returned the hug.

“That’s what that was?” Husn asked, still trying to wrap her head around it.

"I was showing the children the Flow of Life," Robert explained. He shifted a leg to begin the process of standing up. "I'm sorry if we caused any problems. It wouldn't be the first time I've accidentally amplified a telepathic connection like that. Although last time it was… less desirable." His mind flashed back to the attempt, well over two years ago, to help Meridina cope with her remote telepathic sensing of two Maquis being tortured by Cardassians. Despite the fact that he had not yet begun to imagine he had such powers, the resulting interaction had not only intensified their experiencing of the torture, it had caused about every psionically-sensitive being within a ten kilometer radius to feel it, including Counselor Troi on the Federation Starship Enterprise.

“I’m pretty sure everyone felt that…much better subject this time, thankfully.” Colin remarked “And that range is tremendous. You don’t need line of sight or even a semblance of it?”

"Not with my abilities," Robert said. "I mean, line of sight can be useful, yes, it gives us something to focus on. But with time and practice we can influence things without having to see them." He looked to the children, most especially to Husn. "I suppose that's the reason the interaction can travel so far."

“Yeah.” Zara agreed. “We can cheat sometimes, but unless we can see something it’s hard to sort things out from the background.”

Husn knew she felt something the others didn’t and looked at Robert, projecting a pointed question mark into his mind like she was pointing at herself with it.

Robert looked to her and nodded. At that moment a tone filled the room. The back of Robert's left hand lit up with blue light, forming a circle, or rather, an obvious button. Robert pressed it. "I'm here."

"Do your hosts know about the ship approaching the system in hyperspace? And not the local band either. Going by the sensors, they're using an S0T5-style hyperdrive."

Robert glanced toward Colin and Gene. He sensed immediate concern and uncertainty and knew what it meant: as far as either knew, the Corps had no ships with that kind of drive system.

"Lucy, would you be of the opinion that such a hyperdrive is the perfect FTL system to use in this universe if you're looking to sneak up on unsuspecting colonies and settlements?" he asked cautiously.

"Given how local scanning systems work? Yeah, I'd say so. The only reason we see it is because this ship has Darglan sensor technology. Even most subspace scanners would have trouble finding it."

As she spoke Robert felt a terrible little feeling in his gut. He gave the assembled telepaths a worried look.

“Pirates or slavers, and they’re not here at random. Someone leaked this location.” Gene concluded, while Colin pulled out his own comm device, tapped a code into its touch screen and slid the little slider from yellow all the way over past the visual spectrum to X-ray for Pogrom/Slave Raid. Every communications device in the entire compound blared out a warning klaxon specifically coded for that particular alarm, and Robert felt a surge of both fear and determination as everyone retreated in as orderly a fashion as they could toward the bunker. Psionic pings called out everyone’s location beyond vocal range or line of sight as everyone was accounted for. Not one telepath would be left behind.
”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 neat, careful lines, the telepaths of the Tau Atrea settlement were re-entering the bunker they had vacated mere hours ago. Robert sensed apprehension and fear mixed with grim determination to resist. This was true even with the children, as he watched Husn and Maina guide even smaller and very scared children toward the door, quietly nudging their younger charges with love and affection, keeping them calm.

He turned back as Colin and Gene monitored the mobilization from their command center. "What kind of defenses do you have?" he asked.

“Not much. We have a ship carrying supplies and our primary defensive systems and it’s due in a few hours. All we have right now are some small arms, an anti-beaming field generator, and a deflector shield for the bunker....We also have a telescope attached to a tracking system.” Colin said, contemplating a large closet at the back of the room while pulling a pair of heavy assault rifles from the weapons locker by the control panel, handing one to Gene.

You thinking what I’m thinking? Gene asked his husband. Not that he needed to.

I did it before in ‘48. I see no reason why it can’t work a second time. Colin confirmed.

Robert nodded and re-opened his commlink to Lucy. "Lucy, what's the status of that ship?"

"Still on approach."

"Can you tell us what kind of ship it is? Profile? Mass?"

"It's probably at least cruiser sized, going by the wake of its hyperspace signature, although I can't tell you anything more. It could be an actual cruiser, a carrier, a really big armed transport…"

"Can you get me the nearest Alliance ship?"

"The Earth Confederacy cruiser Shiloh. But she's at least eight hours away at her best warp speed."

"Summon them anyway. Use my command codes if they resist. And keep me informed. I want to know what it is the moment that ship arrives." Robert lowered his arm.

Talara responded as soon as the text showed on her screen. "The Shiloh is responding. ETA is 8 hours, thirty-five minutes." As Talara spoke Lucy felt her discomfort. "They won't be here nearly fast enough. With everything they've put on this ship, why didn't it get equipped with a jump anchor?"

"That kind of tech can't be risked on missions like ours," said Lucy. "Not regularly anyway." She triple-checked her course and speed information. "We won't make orbit until that ship does. Think you can handle the weapon controls too?"

"I can try."

Lucy turned the chair and reached over to take Talara's arm. "It'll be okay," she assured her student.

"Will it? There is something dark coming," Talara said. "I can feel it. Suffering and terror."

"I do too." Lucy felt Talara's worry and projected her own confidence. "And we can face it together. Remember your training."

"I… I do. It's just…" Talara shook her head. "I'm worried I'll let you down, Lucy. That I'm too weak. I failed on Germania. I couldn't hold that cannon long enough. Tra'dur had to be saved by another."

Lucy responded with a reassuring smile. "Honestly, Talara, back when I'd only been in training for a month, I'm not sure I could have held that gun so long either. Don't let what happened undermine your confidence. You can do this. In your heart, in your swevyra, you know this."

Talara closed her eyes. Her face slowly changed to show determination. "I can do this," she said. "I can do this." Her uncertainty faded, pushed away. "I can do this."

"That's the spirit," Lucy assured her.

The evacuation into the bunker was complete. The outer blast door was ready to be sealed and locked with the press of a key, turning the entire bunker into an isolated atmosphere. Robert looked to Colin. "And when is your ship scheduled to arrive?"

“Four hours too late. We need it here in minutes.” He flipped a switch on the control panel and opened up a channel to every comm device in the bunker. “I need every adult with a rating of P8 or greater to meet just outside this bunker. We’re going to play an old trick.”

“Dad, let me help!” came Zara’s voice both over the comms and from just out of sight down the short corridor to the inner blast door. Colin mentally cursed himself for not feeling her, but she knew how to mask herself and he had other things on his mind. She was already pitter-pattering down the hall and Gene intercepted her.

“Zara, I can’t let you outside.” Gene told her in no uncertain terms. “If anything happens to us, we need a mindshredder inside to protect everyone else. That means you.”

“But!” she protested but Colin cut her off by wrapping his arms around her. In this, she was just like any other kid. She was terrified of losing the people she loved and wanted to make sure it didn’t happen. They were terrified of losing her, of risking her being consigned to slavery again if they couldn’t fight off whatever was coming.

“I know. I love you too. More than anything in any world. But we have to keep you safe, and these guys could be bad. We don’t know what they have with them.” Tears were running down both their cheeks and Gene had joined them in a family hug. Adults were already coming up the stairs from deeper inside. All of them armed.

“Get downstairs. We’ll move heaven and earth to get back. We’ll become telekinetic gods if we have to. Go.” With one final kiss from both of them Zara reluctantly, painfully, retreated deeper inside the bunker.

As this discussion finished, Lucy's voice came over the comm. "Robert, what are your orders?"

"Be ready to engage if at all feasible, if not standby and wait for the Shiloh or a chance to intervene. There are civilians down here, if the worst comes to it, you evacuate as many as you can. Dale out."

Everyone's attention turned to the sensor data that Lucy was relaying to them. Robert felt a sentiment from Gene, a suspicious consideration that these were Hawk's people. Robert shook his head at that. No, I don't think so. Although I am always prepared to be disappointed…

Two things happened in quick succession. One, the sensor data showed the ship emerge from hyperspace. Then, almost immediately, the signal from Lucy cut. Robert consulted his omnitool. "They're jamming us. Complete comm blackout on about every channel."

“Of course they are.” Colin croaked, still holding Gene’s hand as they let their minds intermingle and calm the other’s fear and despair.

A light activated on one of the stations. Gene reached over and pressed a key. On one of the screens the image shifted to show a Human male. His hair was perfectly dark and immaculately kept. Fine dark garments were visible on his shoulders. His skin was nearly marble in its white tone. His eyes were not normal Human coloration. They glittered like twin carnelian stones, part of the haughty look on the being's face. The voice spoke English in an unfamiliar accent. "To the psions dwelling on Tau Atrea 3. I have a proposition to make to you."

“We’re listening.” Colin replied, his voice had turned hard, not showing an iota of fear.

The figure smiled. "I am not an unreasonable man. I make you this offer. Give to me one third of your adults and children, and I will allow the rest of you to live in peace. I am certain they will prove quite sufficient profit to justify my expenses for the journey."

Slavers don’t work that way. They’ll keep coming back again, and again. Like fucking bed bugs, or Herpes. Not one. Not one single solitary soul. It wasn’t Colin, or Gene, but both in consensus.

“I’ll make you a counter-offer. Leave orbit now, or I’ll plant a nightmare inside your mind so terrible and so deep that the only way you’ll ever find peace is by clawing out your own fucking eyes before castrating yourself with your teeth.”

The figure sighed. "Oh well. I tried to be reasonable. I will take you all, then. And you, psion, I think I will keep you for my personal use. I look forward to breaking you."

"I'm Robert Dale, a Paladin of the Alliance," Robert spoke up. "You heard them. Get out of here or face the Alliance fleet when they get here."

The figure's red eyes glistened with interest. "The Alliance founder. I have heard of you." His lips curled into a smile. "An interesting bluff, but I am quite aware of your fleet's deployments. We will have our cargo and be gone before your ships arrive." The smile grew. "And I do wonder how much you will fetch on the markets. We have contacts who would pay handsomely..."

At that point, Gene cut the line in disgust.

The sensors for the compound shifted. Robert looked at the display and noted, "It looks like they're launching landing craft. Dropships of some kind. Company's on its way."

The two Psi Cops minds were in sync as they rushed toward a closet. Colin opened it and they both started maneuvering an object through its door. A large telescope, top-of-the-line civilian grade. Robert was no expert, but he figured it could spot ships in lunar orbit.

“You’d be right!” Colin replied with forced cheer. “Materials are upgraded, but with enough telepaths…”

“We’ll have a ground-to-orbit battery.” Gene finished for him.

Given what he'd just experienced with the minds of four telepath children, it wasn't hard for Robert to guess what the plan was. But the idea of it, that seemed ambitious. Yet he sensed confidence in Colin, the confidence of someone who was repeating a prior accomplishment.

“Battle of the Line.” Colin informed him as he and Gene reached the door. “My brother, myself, and fifty other telepaths took out a Minbari ship from TeepTown with a ‘scope just like this one. We weren’t the only ones. Military division and Metapol seized control of several observatories.”

Robert followed them, as did a line of telepaths led by Max. They stepped out into the cooling air of the early evening.

“Alright everyone, we’ve drilled for this.” Gene told the assembled crowd of telepaths that included Max, two doctors still in scrubs, a very worried looking teacher backslash social worker Robert knew as Mrs. Saunders, and twenty other adults. They all linked hands while Colin connected to the tracking system on the telescope to the bunker’s sensor array. When he was done, he took position at the eyepiece with his hands on the controls. Gene formed the bridge between the rest of the assembled telepaths and his husband, and their minds snapped together like clickbricks forming a Great Gestalt.

Robert could feel their minds coalescing. There was a ripple through the Flow of Life, like a stone thrown into a river sending ripples across the surface of the water. The psionic power they were gathering was incredible and quite terrifying. He actually swallowed with the recognition that if the place had been hostile, they would have easily shredded his mind or given his brain a massive stroke while he was still in a distant orbit had he gone in uncloaked.

The telescope adjusted position to point directly at the cruiser, and the collective consciousness found a point between serenity and incandescent rage. Gazing through the telescope’s optics with a singular will they reached outward, past the atmosphere and through the Van Allen Belt into the void of space like a grasping hand.

They found their target on the cruiser-mothership, all they had to do was find a wellspring of godlike arrogance, pride, and sadism. Merely touching that mind hurt and they all collectively recoiled from it in pain and surprise. This was not an undefended mind, but one not entirely unlike their own; and powerful. They noticed something else, their discomfort and pain caused him immense sexual pleasure and gratification. Robert felt their collective exclamation mark as they all realized what he might have planned; whatever transcendent joy they had in their mental joining disappeared in favor of wrath and they redoubled their assault.

The slaver didn’t fight back, he couldn’t fight back, but he could and did try to keep them out. He threw up barrier after barrier in a multilayered defense that was difficult but not terribly time consuming to breach. Robert saw telepaths bleeding from their nose and the small capillaries in their eyes as they strained to breach his defenses, their own stress and pain fed back into the intense pleasure their enemy felt so much that it distracted him from defending himself just enough that they could break through. It took about thirty seconds and his third orgasm to scan him but when they did they knew what he was, where he was from, what he planned to do, what he had done before. Also who gave him the location.

In that moment, all two dozen telepaths understood the meaning of the word “Jihad”, and waged holy war upon his very being, against the concept of his existence.

The first thing they did was burn out the pleasure centers of his brain, hyperstimulating them until the neurons died. Then they slowed his subjective perception of time so that seconds would feel like weeks, and seized control of his motor cortex and forced it to contract every skeletal muscle in his body at full force. Muscles tore, tendons snapped, ligaments gave way. Bones subjected to shearing stresses shattered at their growth plates, his diaphragm contracted so hard it broke ribs. It wasn’t enough. Not for a lifetime of pleasuring himself by torturing telepaths. Colin directed them toward every part of his brain responsible for the processing and perception of pain, and they stimulated those neurons to the edge of cell-death, and kept them there. Then, it was enough. Only then did someone in the Gestalt suggest they could possibly go too far, and the other others listened. They ended it through the quick and simple expedient of ripping his consciousness to pieces like a school of piranha, then pulled out just before the door opened. From the time they breached his defenses to his death only ten seconds had elapsed.

Colin’s fingers retrained the telescope again, and found another target in the pilot of one of dropships, but their scan hit null-space. It was as if his mind was largely void, with parts missing. Yet, clearly the mind was conscious and sapient, capable of moving and thinking of its own will, albeit perhaps a heavily straightjacketed will. It took them time to find a route in to do what they needed to do, precious time. When they did it was with a spastic motion to the left that sent the dropship careening into another. Shields already strained by atmospheric entry were taxed beyond their capacity and the hulls touched, stresses beyond safe limits tore both apart and they exploded in the upper atmosphere.

Colin's efforts to locate another with the telescope proved unnecessary. The dropships were becoming visible to the naked eye. They were blocky craft, made for hovering in atmosphere and relying on power to achieve flight in the same. Each was a dull brown color and had a worn appearance, one even being dented along the side.

While the gestalt attempted to find another way to attack the brains of their operators, Robert focused his own powers on the lead dropship. There was crew aboard and he felt the presence of life, but it was a dull presence. The life was barely a candle compared to the usual light from a sapient being. Robert shuddered at the last time he'd felt such a thing, the sensation leading to memories of the Cybermen tromping about Canary Wharf.

With just enough time to take down one, Robert quieted his emotions and focused his power around him. Recalling Druni's example and explanation for her technique, he clenched his fists and then extended his middle and index fingers forward, as if making a miniature gun gesture in each hand. His will reached into the air and began separating the latent electrical charge around him, splitting the positive from the negative charges. Crackling lightning formed around his hands as he circled them around, splitting more and more positive and negative energy.

As the dropship came over the horizon, Robert felt an instinctive pull that guided his right hand in the moment before he finally released his will. The two separated charges crashed together under his guidance. A bolt of cerulean lightning erupted from the fingertips he was pointing skyward. It crackled across the distance and savaged one of the dropships, easily overwhelming its anti-small arms shields and destroying the things aboard it. The burning craft crashed to the ground outside of the compound.

And like that the dropships were over the compound. One approached from each cardinal direction. They had no external armament, presumably to more easily pass as cargo haulers. Even before they switched to hovering, the doors along the sides were opening. Forms dropped from them, falling thirty, even forty meters to the ground without the aid of a zip line. Robert pulled his lightsaber from his belt and ignited it, the green blade shining in readiness at his foes.

Which he recognized. The gestalt could feel that recognition, and his small sliver of brief uncertainty before discipline and necessity drove that doubt away.

The figures were not felinoid, like a Dilgar or Rr'timm or Caitian, but they looked like they could be feline, with slender, muscled bodies that promised speed and agility. Their skin made one think of Turians with its scaly look and the ash gray color of it. Eyes that were blue and yellow in coloration stared dully ahead, save where they were covered by visors or replaced by ocular implants, with their heads leaner than the heads of Humans and similar species. The tops of their heads were covered in metal, not simply helmets but plates grafted onto their skulls. They had armored suits of black and dark blue, some still marked with a beige four-fingered claw much like the ones on the ends of their two arms. Some had clawed prosthetics, others had entire arms replaced. The same was true of their legs.

Robert knew what they were… because they were made to counter people like him, in the name of their Emperor, whether they wanted to or not.

Coserian cybertroopers, he thought, for the benefit of the telepaths behind him. Combat cyborgs made by the Coserian Empire to fight the metaphysically-gifted. He brought his knowledge to the forefront of his thoughts, of a decadent, authoritarian empire that expanded, conquering and enslaving species until it was finally held back by the Gersallian Interdependency and their allies, the Dorei, brought low and driven back from their conquests decade by decade until they arrived at the point they were now, an Empire divided by civil conflict and factionalism.

The cyborgs raised their weapons toward them as they took positions to surround and contain the group. One of the dropships hovered ominously over the bunker entrance building, its troops landing to cut off their retreat.

At that point, chaos erupted.

Brilliant sapphire energy struck the dropship, pulses that chewed into the craft and opened it up, destroying some of the cybertroopers within. Moments later an azure-sheened shuttle slammed into the same dropship. Both vessels went flying into the far perimeter wall, which they destroyed upon impact.

Three of the cybertroopers had already landed in front of the bunker, blocking their retreat. But just as the shuttle started its attack run, one of the troopers let out a loud screech as fluid seeped from a sudden, violent wound in its chest. The other two reacted with superhuman speed, just for another to have an unseen force cleave through its arms, dismembering it. The last fired blindly as a voice reached into their minds. Get to the bunker!

The gestalt was breaking up as the command came from Becca. Telepaths, again independent, took cover and began pouring fire into the cybertroopers with a variety of weapons, all of them throwing hard slugs; everything from newer H&K assault rifles to Gene’s M-96 Mattock and Colin’s M-15 Vindicator. The Psi Cops, slipped in and out of a combined state without even needing physical contact, and with such close proximity a pair of P12s didn’t need to target a mind or use a weapon to kill a cyborg. They switched between firing and reinforcing each other’s minds to blow out ocular implants or disable delicate circuitry in cognitive processors. The others put their own bodies between the medical telepaths and harm, and began a disciplined withdrawal toward their own bunker.

At the same moment they engaged the nearest cybertroopers, Robert turned to his left. He couldn't deflect fire from each and every enemy, so he went on the attack. With little time to prepare himself he threw as large a wave of invisible force as he could manage without harming the others. The lack of preparation meant there was no focusing it, no controlling what it hit and what it didn't, save keeping it from spreading beyond the arc he'd already chosen, roughly 170 degrees or so ahead of him and thus away from the telepaths. The wave of raw force generated from the Flow of Life slammed into the troopers, sending them flying meters away, and kept going. Some of the un-repaired or unfinished structures collapsed like they'd been struck by a blast wave, and even those structurally sound still took visible damage. This was, needless to say, not his intention, but the attack had been wild and in the time he had that couldn't be helped.

Even as his wave of force did its work, a solid bolt of blue light slammed into the ground among the remaining cybertroopers to Robert's right. It detonated with the force of a grenade. It killed the cybertrooper it detonated under; others around it were thrown off their feet, damaged or partly disabled. A second later another shot of the same kind landed among the enemy, destroying or damaging more of their number. Robert felt that now-familiar anger: Hawk was nearby.

All of this happened in the space of maybe five seconds, a rapid series of actions that bought valuable space for the defenders. The cybertroopers not damaged or destroyed by the sudden attack were returning fire in earnest now. Robert's lightsaber became a green blur, catching incoming bolts of blue light. But he could deflect only so many and some of the fire struck the telepaths around him. It did not kill, however, but immobilized; Robert and the others immediately realized the enemy was out to capture, not kill.

The telepaths continued to return fire, the medical telepaths working to aid comrades back to their feet. From his perch on a nearby building, Hawk opened fire again, this time with his weapon set to rifle fire. Streams of blue pulses rained down on the cybertroopers. Robert already knew where Hawk was firing from - the top of what was going to be the community center - and turned his attention to the cybertroopers directing their focus that way.

Behind him, the telepaths formed a cordon around the bunker, assuming a defensive position and keeping up fire while the medical telepaths brought the stunned and wounded through the blast door. Robert moved to his right, putting himself in a position to intercept fire from the thickest remaining group of cybertroopers.

The sudden attack by Hawk and Becca may have saved them from being encircled and taken down immediately, but even then they didn't have a lot of time. The cybertroopers were recovering. Their combat systems were re-calculating threat assessment and their repair systems were bringing damaged portions of their bodies back online. Those he had blasted away with the wave were recovering and moving back toward the bunker. That was the entire purpose of their design: superhuman resilience and speed, not to mention accuracy.

Robert's lightsaber spun in the air, intercepting incoming fire that was starting to become overwhelming. He sent one of the plasma bolts right back to the shooter, damaging its weapon and arm. A wave of force, far less powerful this time, briefly knocked over others. He backed up until he could deflect the incoming fire, at least from the right side of the blast door. The left side was another matter.

Hawk's fire stopped just as enemy fire seemed to converge on his location. Moments later a cybertrooper at the base of the building fell back, as if knocked down by something landing on it, blood and fluid pouring from wounds thanks to Hawk's nanite blades. A nearby cybertrooper lost an arm, a third one a leg. Their fire started to converge around them, drawing away shots that were threatening to overwhelm the retreating telepaths. But there was no indication they hit him.

Behind Robert, he felt a sudden instinctive panic from a familiar mind. A curse in Yiddish went through his mind, telling him Max had been hit. Two more telepaths went down in the following second, stunned, with fire increasing to their left.

Becca materialized beside Robert, a pulse pistol in one hand while the other had silver material flowing out from her wrist, forming a tower shield that was blocking incoming fire. This enabled her to protect the telepaths behind them. Her pistol barked again and again, hitting some cybertroopers but missing others as they swiftly shifted their positions to evade.

The medical telepaths emerged from the bunker, rushing to the aid of Max and the remaining fallen. Robert and Becca were joined by Hawk, who materialized between the two and generated an even larger shield with the nanites streaming from both arms. "Get your asses going, people!" he shouted. "There's more coming!"

And indeed there was. Robert could feel them, more of those flickering candles of minimal life. The slavers had launched more dropships and they were almost to the compound.

The encouragement proved unnecessary. The final stunned telepath was brought in, leaving just those three and the Psi Cops. Get in! Colin urged them mentally.

One by one they fell back toward the door. As they slipped in, Colin and Gene provided the cover fire. Gene aimed and fired in short three round bursts from just inside the door, taking one cybertrooper in the throat and face with hypervelocity projectiles. Colin was a bit less practiced with a gun, and managed to hit center mass of one, knocking it over but he wasn’t sure if he killed it.

Becca went through first, at Hawk's urging. Hawk fell back second, continuing to spray fire with the Psi Cops. Robert's lightsaber continued to intercept the incoming fire until he was at the door.

Before he could step back into it, a bolt of plasma struck him in the right foot. This was not a stun shot - evidently the troopers firing on him hadn't bothered - and the hit sent pain rippling through the extremity of his limb. The pain and shock of the hit caused him to trip backwards into the bunker, but his lower legs and feet were still on the outside.

Hawk turned and opened fire with his rifle right inside the doorway, providing the necessary cover fire for Colin to reach down to grab Robert.

A bolt of plasma smashed into Hawk's shoulder, sending him falling back with a pained cry. The shot was full-powered and fried the entire joint. It also meant the door, aside from Colin, was now open, and several cybertroopers rushed toward it with inhuman speed.

Becca stepped up into the portal, pistol firing rapidly. Cybertrooper after cybertrooper went down from damage, their shots hitting her tower shield. Her act gave the necessary time for one of the telepaths in the bunker to engage the structure's deflector shield.

Colin got Robert past the threshold of the blast door as the leading cybertrooper leaped forward, a blade emerging from its forearm as it did, clearing the deflector just before it snapped into place. Becca shot it in the head.

But physics were physics. It still flew onward until the blade struck home, smashing through the nanite shield and impaling Becca at the edge of a lung. She made a little gasp as pain shot through her body. The blade exited her back, spewing blood into the bunker receiving area. The momentum of the impacting trooper knocked her back until both fell within the bunker, the cybertrooper's feet at the edge.

Now fully inside, Robert made a motion with his hand, pulling the remains of the attacker inside so that Gene could slam the blast door shut. With the day saved Robert grimaced and looked down at his foot. The armored boot had absorbed much of the damage, but a small hole showed where enough of the energy from the bolt had drilled through to damage the area just forward of his ankle. As wounds went, it was hardly life-threatening, but it was still mildly painful and, for the moment, debilitating.

Both Becca and Hawk were a different story. Hawk’s shoulder would likely need surgery but it wasn’t immediately life-threatening, Becca’s stab wound was. Judging from its position it had nicked her lung, and he internally debated what to do about the cybertrooper still on top of her.

“I’ll get Mr. Hawk wrapped up, you’re better with medicine than I am.” Gene told his husband as he got the medical kits out and passed one to Colin. His only real concern was to prevent infection.

Before Gene could approach Hawk held a hand up. "No need." As he spoke, the burn on his skin seemed to recede, replaced by pinkish flesh. He rotated the arm once before kneeling down beside Becca. She coughed up blood and started pushing at the dead cyborg on top of her. Hawk grabbed it and helped pull it off. Becca screamed as the blade in her chest was pulled free, ripping through her as it did.

“The hell!?” Colin protested, removing the blade was the worst thing you could do until you were in a surgical theater. He was going to cut the hand off at the wrist and leave it in, and put in a one-way valve for the pneumothorax.

"Getting the blade out immediately is what we needed," Hawk insisted, and it was clear why. The blood flow was already receding from the wounds. "Now the nanites can seal the injuries. Still, we need to get her patched up. With that much damage it's going to take them a bit to completely heal her."

“Alright then…” Colin agreed, adapting. “Her lung is the biggest concern, with the external wounds closing, the lungs will leak air into the pleural cavity…”

She coughed. There was more blood, but she seemed slightly stronger. After a moment's consideration she concentrated and winced. Silver material punched through her flesh near the lung and formed a hollow tube. "There," she said hoarsely.

Gene looked over at the nanite chest tube while Colin picked his jaw up off the floor. “Well that’s just handy…”

"It's Darglan tech for you," Robert said, familiar with how well their nanites worked. He looked down at his injured foot. "And it's better than what we found back in the day. Makes me wish we had them."

Hawk smiled wolfishly at him. "I bet you do, Alliance man."

Gene turned his attention to Robert. “Ouch. Plasma burn. I know all about those.” Robert got the impression he knew them too well. “Those guns aren’t too dissimilar to our PPGs,” Gene remarked. "Colin is cross-trained in medical… our surgeons are working on our wounded, but we should be able to do something about the hit to mobility.” He closed his eyes and sent a telepathic message.

"There are worse places to be shot," Robert said, smiling despite the need to hobble over to a chair helpfully provided by another of the telepaths. Nearby Max was starting to move again, gingerly. As he sat in it, he said, "It's better than being shot in the ass."

“How the hell did you even manage to deflect those shots? We can sense electromagnetic fields, that thing doesn’t emit them.” Colin asked while he took off Roberts boot. An EMT who looked like he was of Japanese extraction came up from the lower levels to assist.

"That's a good thing. If I'd had a Gersallian lakesh or similar weapon, which does use an EM field, I'd have never been able to deflect their fire," Robert said. "Their bolts explode when subjected to EM fields. But they didn't expect something like the lightsaber. Lightsaber deflection works differently." The thought made him think of Lucy, since she'd know more on how to explain it. He checked his omnitool while Colin and the EMT finished getting to his wounded foot. "Still being jammed," he said. "But they can't jam me." He focused inwardly for the Flow of Life, and through it sought out the familiar sense of Lucy's presence in it.

There you are, he sensed Lucy reply. Whoever these people are, they're employing jamming even the Aurora would be hard-pressed to deal with.

Yeah. We're all fine here. Everyone's in the bunker and the deflector shield is up. All we have to do is wait until their reinforcements show up.

He felt a tinge of worry from Lucy. And they're okay with you…?

They are.

You feel hurt

Plasma bolt to the foot. Coserian cybertroopers.

Crap. Lucy's sentiment was loud and clear on that. Better than a plasma bolt to the ass, I guess. What do you want me to do?

Stay in orbit and monitor the situation. That ship could outgun the infiltrator, so I'd rather not risk it. But do what you think is right
, Robert answered her.

Roger that. Keep in touch.

Robert let the connection go.

“I would like to take this moment to thank you all.” Colin said.

“Yeah. Mr. Hawk, I’m afraid I owe you an apology as well. I’ve thought some uncharitable things, but you came back when it counted and I think we’d have a lot more dead siblings if you hadn’t.” Gene followed up soberly.

Hawk glanced up from where he was looking over his rifle and grunted an acknowledgement. His shoulder was still healing, but it looked almost completely restored. Robert recognized Hawk's weapon as the same model of rifle they'd recovered from his campsite at Earth C1P2 during their first encounter.

Don’t get us wrong, there’s a good chance we’ll have to kill him. Just not today. Gene ‘cast over to Robert, and it was clear ‘we’ was the Psi Corps.

You’re right about the brain damage and it’s worse than you think. At the rate he’s going, he’ll stop being a person long before he dies. Long before he can’t use technology anymore. At that point, even we won’t be able to reconstruct him and justice won’t be relevant anymore. The only ethical thing will be… At that, Colin glyphed a mental image of a labrador retriever and a shed.

If it does come to that, and you can’t do it… we will. We owe him that, at this point. Gene concluded, not meaning the Psi Corps, but himself and Colin personally.

Robert nodded quietly at that. He sensed a slight presence at the edge of his mind and looked toward Becca. She was frowning at him, and then toward them as well. Robert could tell she'd realized what they proposed, and the prospect was making her upset.

You were there for that conversation Becca. Colin told her.

She glyphed back acknowledgement. Unhappy acknowledgement.

"I thought you were leaving," Robert said, looking at Hawk after the quick telepathic exchange.

"That was my plan," Hawk said. "We'd just gotten back to the shuttle and were preparing to launch when I picked up that incoming ship. So we stuck around. Glad we did, and just as glad that asshole in orbit made it so easy to listen in on your conversation." His eyes flashed with anger, but there was a sly grin on his face. "Killing slavers is like killing Nazis. It never gets old. And I'm personally going to ram my blades into that red-eyed bastard's guts and slice him in half."

“That’ll be a little difficult. He’s very very dead.” Gene replied with a satisfied grin.

Hawk raised an eyebrow. "What, you mind-scragged him from here?"

“Catch that telescope outside? That’s why there were so many of us out there. We can extend our range and don’t strictly need line of sight that way. Came in handy when the Minbari were going to bombard Earth into oblivion, figured we’d give it a second shot.” Colin explained.

Robert didn't need telepathy or his own talents to notice the brief wince on Hawk's face. He'd perhaps heard things about this ability, but Robert suspected he was just now realizing that Gene's earlier observation that they would have received lobotomies if this place were a black site was no idle boast.

“In fairness, you need at least one person who’s trained very well in attack probes to get the best work out of it, and a sensor system...or a sky full of enemy ships so thick they could block out the sun.”

Hawk grunted. "Thanks for sharing," he said. He gave another look at his rifle's display. "Fifty percent. I told Ken we needed to improve the charge cell," he grumbled.

Becca smiled slightly. "And he told you that the Darglan already pushed the technology to its limit." To that, she was answered with a "harumph".

"How do the deflectors look?" Robert asked. Gene got up and looked at the display of their shielding system.

“They haven’t been bombarded yet. Don’t know how long they’ll last if I don’t know the energy yield of their weapons though, and a bombardment carries other issues.”

"I doubt they'll hit us with anything that might kill us all on accident," Hawk observed acidly. "They want slaves, not Kentucky fried telepaths."

“No, but they could take the shield down and cut through the blast door. I wouldn’t want to fight those things in close quarters. We’re both fencers, we have monomolecular rapiers, but against cyborgs...” he paused and realized what he’d just said. “Christ, I’m living in a science fiction now.” Gene grumbled.

"In close quarters those things are monsters," Robert said. He remembered how Druni described her fight with just one, albeit one of the "officer" cybertroopers. In the end she only survived by splitting the energy in the air to create lightning, the same technique that got her thrown out of the Order of the Silver Moon. The same technique he had just used to shoot down a dropship.

“They threw her out of her order for that?” Colin asked, wrapping up Roberts foot.

"This is what you get for remembering crap around telepaths, Dale," Hawk pointed out, chuckling.

“Our house…” Gene grinned.

Robert gave Hawk a brief look of irritation before nodding. "It has to do with the religious view many Dorei cultures have of these powers. Lightning is traditionally associated with darkness, with using the power in anger to harm or destroy. Lightning has also been used by those fallen into darkness as a means of torture." Robert showed them memories of the fight with the SS at the Führerhaus, the lightning his foes channeled at him that his own power and lightsaber reflected. "Granted, that kind of lightning isn't what we use. It's channeled from the Flow of Life bent to negative, destructive intent. All I did was split positive and negative charges in the environment and cause them to come back together in a way that generates a lightning bolt."

“I approve of the religious loophole,” Max butted in with a wry smile. “But there is a definite metaphysical distinction there. I take it the Dorei don’t see that as relevant?”

"The Silver Moon's leadership thought it a bad sign anyway and insisted she refrain from using it. Instead Druni left the order and went out on her own. Although she's still defiantly loyal to them. Don't ever bring up some of the fiction about the Order's practices around her, or she will give you a punch to the arm."

“Speaking as someone whose own family is subject to various fictions, I’ll just consider them irrelevant.” Colin replied. “You’re all done, by the way. Bet you didn’t feel the skin graft…”

Robert shook his head. "I didn't. And thank you again."

“My pleasure. But I just did the patching up, Hikaru did all the actual work…” Colin motioned toward the EMT who’d emerged earlier but hadn’t actually touched him.

"Thank you, Hikaru," Robert said to the Corps EMT.

“My specialty is pain management” Hikaru said, taking distinct pride in his work. “The pleasure is mine.”

"So, they're out there, we're in here. And that's not going to last forever," Hawk pointed out. "They've probably got several more dropships worth of cyborgs at least, and we took those things by surprise." He grinned. "So any plans on dealing with the problem?"

“We have a ship four hours away with enough firepower to vaporize their cruiser and a full complement of marines.” Gene replied. “So unless they have something that can get through our shield, best course of action is to wait it out.”

"I thought you'd say that," Hawk said.

His tone made it clear he didn't like that idea, and Robert sensed his desire to go on the offensive. "These things aren't a game, Hawk," Robert said. "You caught them by surprise, but they're fast and tough and the officers are usually trained to handle enemies with special abilities in one-on-one fights. They're more than a match for either of us in a normal fight." Unless I'm willing to just give up controlling my power, and then this compound may not survive.

But if they have minds that need to be trained… they might be more vulnerable to us.
Was the dual-thought of the Psi Cops.

You are T10s. I would say so as well, added Becca. She was still in some pain, it seemed, but she was paying attention.

There was a brief thought that flitted through Hawk, more of a feeling, that they knew nothing of what he or Becca could do, neither his current allies nor the cybertroopers outside. That feeling was quickly pushed away as if it were a dangerous one beyond considering. "Well, I'm on board for waiting," Hawk said, although he didn't seem happy about it.

“And we should have an action plan in case they can breach the shield. We have armor and kinetic barriers in our armory, should be good against their weapons. I’ll go break them out.” Gene said and headed downstairs only to find his daughter there waiting just inside the inner door. Before Gene could even react, Zara pounced, throwing herself bodily into his chest. Had he not managed to spin around and drop down to one knee with her in his arms the impact probably would have knocked him over.


“OOF!” was all he could get out as the wind was knocked out of him. Colin caught the commotion and got up to join them, creating a telepath sandwich with his daughter as the non-bread ingredients.

“Hey! Glad to see us alive, huh?” Colin asked the question he already knew the answer to. She didn’t cry that time, she was too happy to cry.

“Clearly.” she managed to actually say “I...felt you break that guy. Just about everyone did. You okay Dad?” Robert could tell she meant both of them. Somehow, they always knew who she was referring to but this time it was both.

“We think so?” Gene speculated.

“What the hell was he?” Zara asked.

“A monster. No, really. I don’t have a word other than that for what he was. For what his people are. They enslave telepaths and feed on torturing them...” Colin shuddered.


“Yeah. Just touching his mind hurt. All of us. Strong defenses too. I can’t really say much more it was all kind of a blur and I need to sort myself out.” Colin replied to her unspoken disbelieving query.

Robert felt the anxiety coming from beneath their feet. "Is everyone alright?" he asked. "Nobody is panicking?"

“No, no panic.” Zara replied. “They’re just worried.”

“A lot of the people here were kids on Earth during the Battle of the Line. They’ve got some memories of being stuck in a hole awaiting bombardment from orbit.” Gene said to clarify. “But they’ve also been through it before. I suspect a good number will suicide before they’re taken though…”

"Right." Robert frowned. "Well, we're in for the long haul. That's what sucks about being the besieged side. They act, we react. Although maybe you can thin their numbers through your cameras."

“I was just thinking that, yeah. We have the breathing room needed to assess individual weaknesses in here.” Colin replied and kissed Zara on the top of the head. “Alright sweetheart, we need to get geared up properly. Body armor and barriers.” He let her go with a final burst of affection that Robert could feel across the room, and Gene did the same.

“Okay dad, I’ll let you go get badass. Can I stay up here for a while?”

“Might as well… unless they start burning through the door or take the shields down. Then you book it down into the bunker, got it?” Gene agreed after a brief mental back and forth with Colin. She let them both go downstairs and looked at Becca, Robert, and Hawk. Robert she knew and grinned at, but Hawk got the brunt of her penetrating gaze.

Hawk met it and then glanced at Robert. "Dale, she's all yours. I'm not a damn babysitter."

Becca gave him a bemused look. Robert sensed the reply in her mind. Liar. Ken and Janice told me otherwise. Realizing he'd sensed her thought, she looked to him and mind-cast, James babysat his younger cousins for years while growing up. From what everyone else says, he was a big softie.

And now look at him, Robert lamented.

“How many kids do you know who can kill with their mind?” she asked dryly with that same affected thousand-yard stare. She glyphed Becca a cheeky grin overlying that stare to let he know that she’d never actually done that.

Hi! Good to meet you! You know, I don’t think I’ve ever appreciated until just now how useful being able to have two conversations at once can be. Zara mind-cast at the other telepath.

The result was a small bemused chuckle from Becca. She glyphed a reply showing the full nature of her amusement.

While he was not privy to the conversation between his trainee and the little girl, Hawk could tell something was being exchanged. As soon as a bewildered expression appeared on his face, Robert started laughing.

Lucy eased back on the drives as they approached orbital space of Tau Atrea 3. Ahead of them the slaver ship was keeping a geostationary orbit. Lucy tapped a key to zoom in the display of the targeted ship. It definitely looked like a custom job. Four hundred meters long and a hundred and sixty wide, the engine drives were from an S0T5 civilization - Cevaucian, Lucy thought - while the ship bore a passing resemblance to Coserian armed cargo ships. On top of the S0T5 and N2S7 pieces, the deflector shields were Arcturan knockoffs from D3R1.

But the weapons were Coserian, that was certain, and Lucy looked over the data on them. It told her what she already suspected; the infiltrator would pose no threat to the cruiser in a fight. She would have to run if they were spotted.

On the screen another group of dropships departed the cruiser's port side bays, bound for the planet. Talara gave her a bewildered look. "Shouldn't we engage?"

"Not yet," she said. "They're still under a deflector shield. More cybertroopers won't do anything about that."

"Then we will do…"

Both went quiet as they felt it. A mental cry from the ship, a being - likely a telepath - in extreme pain. Another cry joined it. Talara swallowed. "Someone's being hurt over there."

"Yeah." Lucy drew in a breath and focused herself inward. She couldn't stand by and allow that suffering to continue. But neither could she risk herself needlessly.

A small smile came to her face. "I know what we're going to do. Hold on."

Talara nodded, continuing to mind her station as Lucy triggered the impulsors again. The ship quickly closed the distance.

Zara was torn. Nanites weren’t unknown, she knew that Shadows used them as armor on their ships and she knew about nanotechnology generally, but these Darglan nanites could form chest tubes spontaneously. On the other hand, the Flow of Life was just… she was still trying to wrap her head around the concept.

“Captain Dale” She started. “How does sensitivity to the Flow of Life spread? I mean, we haven’t had that in this entire universe until interuniversal contact. Not that I know of anyway.”

"There's no known way to spread it intentionally," Robert confided. "Even heredity isn't a guarantee of sensitivity, although there seems to be fairly even odds of being sensitive if a parent or other relative is." He shrugged. "Every group I've heard of has their own theories. Most of the Dorei orders, and the Miqo'te, believe those with sensitivity are divinely chosen. Among the Zigonians of S0T5 the belief is that Creation itself is alive and chooses who has these powers. The Gersallians believe it's simply something innate that can't be guessed. The lowest born or highest, any can have it. Swenya herself was born to itinerant travelers in a poor village."

“Hmm.” She considered “Interesting but not what I meant. I mean that it’s new here. In this universe, as far as I know. So, would a cosmic force that crosses barriers between universes not, you know, be absent for the eons before we made contact with other realms of existence?”

"You're assuming that the Flow of Life didn't exist in this universe before we arrived," he said. "That's not how it works. The Flow of Life is generated by life, especially sapient life. It's been here all along. But even those sensitive to it often never learn how to fully use it, not unless the potential is shown to them. If I'd never met Meridina, I would likely have never begun to tap it myself. At most, I'd have had a few dreams of possible futures, maybe a few instinctive insights here and there."

"Sounds like mumbo jumbo to me," Hawk opined, running a check on his rifle.

"Given you were able to access Darglan tech, Hawk, even you might be sensitive." The reply Robert received for that observation was a snort of derision.

“I’m an empiricist.” Zara replied to Hawk in a tone that made it clear she questioned who the adults in the room were. “Clearly someone who can throw lightning around and connect others to the life-force of the cosmos is doing something interesting.”

“She’s wicked smart.” Colin remarked from the periscope with an affectionate thought in his daughter’s direction. “Also sassy.”

"A kid after my own heart," Hawk replied. "But whatever this stuff is, it's not for me."

"He's not the most spiritual," Becca remarked from where she was sitting nearby.

“Speaking of lightning actually, how did you do that? Moving things with your mind I can grasp, we have telekinetics even if most of them are insane but that goes a bit beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

"I split the positive and negative charges in the environment around me," he answered. "Then I directed the result. It's not easy, but I've practiced on the holodeck enough to get the basics." And dealt with Tom griping about the damage to the chamber...

Robert could sense an exclamation mark in Zara’s head as she grasped an implication of that. Atomic nuclei were not heavy at all. “Hey Dad?”

“Yeah little monkey?” Colin looked back at her.

“I’ve had an idea. Most telekinetics are limited by the Newtons they can exert, right?” She asked. Colin could sense where she was going with it.

“I see where you’re going, good idea but I’m not sure they’ll have the focus and mental discipline to do it. We can look into it though, might be worth trying. Isidora might be able to manage becoming a tesla coil though…”

"It can be dangerous," Robert warned. "If the charges aren't precisely controlled, the resulting lightning could go anywhere. Even into yourself."

“I’ll write her a message. Let her know to try it with static shocks and go from there.” Zara said, nodding sagely in response to the danger warning. “She might be a little off, but she knows her limits.”

Colin chuckled warmly, letting Gene take over on the periscope, with their minds still joined it didn’t matter whose eyes they used. Colin did pause though, concentrating on something outside.

"Still frying cyborgs?" Hawk asked.

“HA! Got you, you bastard!” Gene shouted exuberantly.

Colin laughed along with him before replying. “Yes.”

“Yeah, I wanted to help them out but no. They said my childhood was messed up enough without me attacking things that used to be people.” Zara grumbled.

I agree, was Robert's immediate mental reaction.

“Hey, we taught you how so you could if you ever got into trouble without us there to protect you. You’re not in trouble yet, and we’re right here.” Gene admonished her.

We can compartmentalize and not suffer moral injury. She would, even if they’re not really sapient anymore. Colin informed Robert and Becca. They still have a face.

“Anyway, one more question before I start in on nanites… how do you handle the telekinesis? Ours, well, our friend Isidora is pretty sane, but it takes a toll. She can sense and affect inertia and momentum but the human brain doesn’t handle it well.”

"I told you how my life force is connected to the universe through the Flow of Life," Robert explained. "It responds to my will. For example…" Robert held up a hand toward her. For Zara, there was a sensation of the floor not quite being as solid as it had been. She looked down to see she was being lifted from the ground, her feet currently five centimeters above the floor. At ten centimeters the ascent stopped.

“This is so cool!” was the only thing she could think to say, but then floating there, she got a wicked grin on her face. “So basically, you’re not the one doing the...heavy lifting…” Gene laughed and kissed her on the head from across the room. Colin groaned.

"No. And a good thing. I have it on good authority from Cat that the reaction force of what I can do would probably crush my brain." Robert seemed to be quietly focusing to maintain the effect. He just as gently let her down. "To be honest, two months ago I wouldn't have tried that. I didn't have enough faith in my fine control. Not everyone with sensitivity could."

“Well you’re doing just fine now, and splitting charged particles takes a lot of finesse…” she encouraged him. “So… are those nanites networked? Can they be hacked?”

The question was obviously directed at Hawk. He grunted, "No."

Becca glyphed that a successful hacking of the nanites was unlikely, but that they are networked.

“Huh. Because they’re smart enough to do complex things and that requires programming and communications. Earth Alliance nanites can only do the one job. But anything that communicates and has code can be compromised.”

"Well, it's not like Hawk's going to admit it, is it?" Robert asked playfully.

Hawk's response was to lift his left hand, the back outward, and send a single sliver of silver material up between his inner knuckles.

“Hey! There are children present! Think of The Children!” and everyone could hear the trademark symbol in Zara’s voice.

Robert chuckled at that. There was a light-hearted giggle of amusement from Becca as well. A sound that he suspected she rarely made.

“So they’re smart nanites, they can be programmed, probably hacked even if you don’t know how, and you don’t understand the technology. This seems like a Grey Goo scenario waiting to happen, why would you agree to that? The risk seems pretty high. Useful, but… risky.” Zara both asked, and commented.

"They're too useful not to use," was Hawk's reply. "The Darglan thought so too."

Robert narrowed his eyes at that. Given the more advanced nature of said nanites and Hawk's weapon, not to mention the Avenger being built for war, he had a strong suspicion just what that Facility Hawk found had been used for. The Darglan would have been desperate enough to try anything to fight the Darkness...

"Besides, that's why we use their brainwave infusions," Hawk said. "It lets us understand the tech. My cousins have made damn sure these things won't go haywire on us."

“No, they just go haywire on other people and harm you indirectly.” Max finally spoke up. “Programming is, ultimately, only as good as the programmer. Hassan taught me that much before he shipped out.”

Robert wondered what he meant, but he had an idea of that when he noticed the forlorn look on Becca's face. Please tell me you're being careful, he thought. Those things shouldn't be used more than once every six months.

I have had two
, she admitted. Five months apart.

He cringed in reply. At least it was just two, but he didn't know how soon damage would set in. Then don't have another one for a while. Make sure.

I will avoid it if at all possible she assured him. Although it was not the assurance he wanted.

The screens in the control area showed another series of dropships landing. The ones so far had only deployed more cybertroopers, making up for damaged or destroyed ones. But these dropships had something else being unloaded. Robert stood up, feeling confident with his injured foot, and strolled over to get a better look at the feed. They had with them a cylinder of sorts, containing the guts of what looked like a projector. Robert looked it over and a sudden, horrible realization came to him.

The other telepaths felt it. 'What's wrong?" asked Becca.

Sensing the curiosity of the others, Robert let his mind compare what he was seeing to imagery from a recording on New Caprica. While the housing was different, they were clearly the same thing. "Reich weapons," he said. "Torpedo energy projectors. Specifically the kind used in Reich shield-disrupting torpedoes."

“Great. Nazis, the gift that keeps on giving.” Gene said.

Before anything further could be said, the first of the devices was set on a stable platform and activated. A beam of light connected it to the bunker's protective field, which began to flicker and distort at the impact point. Inside the building their screens showed them what was happening. Steadily the bunker's protective deflectors were losing coherency. They had maybe ten minutes before the shield fell.

Perhaps even less, as even more of the weapons came online, weakening the shield further.

"Well, I think we're going to need a new plan," Robert said, watching one of the screens show the deflector's increasing loss of strength.
”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 »

Various forms of deflector shielding existed in the Multiverse. Some could be tuned to allow things out without lowering shields, and such was true for the D3R1 deflectors. But virtually all required shields to be lowered, at least sectionally, to allow things back in.

As the infiltrator approached the slaver cruiser, Lucy spotted what she hoped to find, what she knew she would find. A line of dropships were flying in to return to the cruiser. "Hold on," she instructed Talara, kicking the infiltrator into a high-energy maneuver that brought it toward the line of dropships.

Not just toward, but within. Talara watched with silent apprehension as Lucy nudged the ship right into the line, ensuring they would get through the small hole formed in the deflectors. There was barely a meter of clearance on either end. This was a feat no pilot could pull off with complete confidence.

No pilot, that is, save Lucy. She could feel the energy within her guiding her movements, allowing her to remain in place all the way in. At the bay the line split up, relieving them of the risk from behind, each dropship landing. A line of cybertroopers was present at each bay, awaiting embarkation. The infiltrator remained just outside of the open bay, unable to fit with the dropship ahead in place. Lucy fired lateral thrusters gently and lined them up with the middle section of the bay, facing the door directly.

"Talara, the pulse guns. Set them to automatic targeting, all dropships and cybertroopers."

"Doing so now." Talara relayed weapons control to her station and programmed the targeting systems to attack the targets Lucy listed. "Ready."

Lucy, meanwhile, used a free hand to relay plasma cannon control to her station. She targeted the dropship ahead. "Decloak and open fire… now."

With a stab of her finger Talara disengaged the cloaking device. Power surged into the weapons' capacitors. Half a second later every weapon fired.

The sapphire pulses from the plasma cannons utterly wrecked the dropship ahead, turning it into a fireball. The shockwave struck the cybertroopers and knocked them away. The lighter pulses from the pulse guns ripped into the other dropships, destroying their engines, before the turrets on the bottom of the ship started tracking and shooting the cybertroopers still standing.

Lucy triggered the forward plasma cannons again, vaporizing much of the carcass of the dropship ahead. This gave her room to land the infiltrator. By the time she did alarms were going off on the cruiser. She activated the ship's sentry mode and tied it to both of their omnitools before releasing her harness. Talara was already loose and running toward the rear of the ship. They went through the cargo bay, Talara grabbing a pulse rifle and grenade bandolier as they did. She pulled it on as they charged from the cargo bay. The pulse guns and the prior havoc of the infiltrator's main guns had already removed most of the cybertroopers. Talara shot one down with her rifle while Lucy threw two more out into space through the open bay door. Once they had a moment, she used her omnitool. The infiltrator cargo ramp closed behind them. "The ship is sealed," she said. "And the pulse guns should make short work of anything that threatens the ship."

"Giving us time to save any prisoners?"

"Exactly." Lucy pulled her lightsaber from her belt and ignited it. Talara admired the way her teacher looked, like a heroine of old in her purple armor, blue robe, and the blue light of her lightsaber burning bright. Her dark curly hair was left free to fall to her shoulders. If the armor was only slightly different I could imagine she was a Paladin of Voltron, like in the legends, Talara thought, although having actually met a Paladin of Voltron, she knew the legends and art her people made of them were not quite accurate.

The cargo bay door was sealed by whatever alarm went off. Talara expected Lucy to cut it open with her lightsaber, but instead Lucy held her omnitool up to the controls. "Hacking app, courtesy of the Paladin Special Operations Office," she said to Talara. A moment later the door opened. They entered a hall and immediately came under fire, fire that Lucy's lightsaber began batting back at the source. Talara followed her, firing down the other end of the corridor to suppress enemies there. "This way!" Lucy shouted.
”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 »

They didn't have time to do much else. "I'll go out," Robert said. "I can start removing this torpedoes while remaining in the shield."

"And we'll get defenses set up should the shield fail," Colin answered.

Gene went with Robert to the door and opened it for him. Robert stepped outside, alone. There was just enough space within the shield dome for him to take several steps toward the perimeter. The enemy troopers raised weapons but did not fire.

Robert noticed one approach who was not Coserian. A human male with cybernetic enhancements, with olive-toned skin, he spoke with an unrecognizable accent. "Have you come to negotiate terms?"

Robert replied by cutting his hand through the air in front of him. The gesture made focusing his will easier, and focus it he did, causing a blade of force to slice through the air and smash the nearest torpedo, breaking it to pieces. Robert turned his attention to the next and repeated the process again and again, knowing that each torpedo broken bought them more time.

But they had more than he'd imagined. Even as some beams died, others started to fire up elsewhere, in an arc surrounding the structure. Undaunted, Robert continued to smash them.

The deflector shield strength was decreasing every moment that preparations were made for the necessary sally from the bunker. As the two Psi Cops got the teams ready with the planned equipment, Hawk leaned over where Becca was sitting. "How's the wound?"

For a moment Becca said nothing, consulting the nanites through her neural controls for them. They helpfully provided an overlay in her vision, no different than the kind Colin had used telepathically to explain Hawk's brain, that reflected the damage in question. "Internal injuries are healed," she said. "They're sealing the epidermal injuries."

"And your lung cavity?"

"Clear of air. Everything's fine."

"Still, I want you to stay in here," Hawk said. He handed her a bar from his ration pack. "Get your energy back up and finish healing."

"You're going to need everyone you can get…"

"And we'll have it," he insisted. "These Corps types are well-armed, relatively anyway." He stood and picked up his rifle. "Get your energy back up and heal up. If we need you, you'll know."

Becca watched him join the others. The bunker door slid open and the Corps telepaths went out. They'd trained for this kind of activity, and under the guidance of the two Psi Cops they set up portable energy barriers to take cover behind, creating a defensive line outside of the bunker. Hawk leveled his rifle. Most of the enemy cybertroopers were taking cover to avoid fire they couldn't retaliate to, but he picked a couple off before they could get out of sight.

As they set up Robert moved to the other side of the building, where more shield disruptors were being employed. Again and again he smashed them, even as the shield dome visibly lost strength. This is going to be close...

Coserian cybertroopers in close quarters were incredibly dangerous to any foe, given their speed and resilience, and Lucy was careful in dealing with the ones ahead. Their EM-shielded blades, made of metal not dissimilar to that of Gersallian lakeshes, gave them some immediate resilience against lightsabers.

But only some.

After four parries Lucy successfully cleaved through one of the blades, splitting it in half before maneuvering her weapon to slice through its wielder's neck, destroying vital circuitry and effectively killing the creature. Its partner swiped again, blade already glowing from prior contact with her weapon. Lucy dodged the swipe and retaliated with her own. The last thing the Coserian cybertrooper saw was blue light coming toward its head.

There was a sharp impact behind Lucy. Talara, fatigued but determined, threw another attacker against the far bulkhead. These were not cybertroopers but regular crew, armed but not able to resist being stunned by the impacts from Talara's efforts. She fired a stun shot that put the man down. "There are human crew too."

"Right." Lucy stepped over the two slain cybertroopers. They were basic ones, arguably already dead and nothing more than combat drones installed into mindless bodies. If she were still using a lakesh the fight might've taken half an hour, if she won at all. If the Coserians ever figure out new countermeasures against our weapons, these things will be pains in the ass, Lucy thought as she tried to access the door. She sensed fear on the other end of the door, fear and despair, with some smattering of hope.

This time the hacking app wasn't coming through. The security on the cargo door was enhanced to the degree that Lucy had to shut down her omnitool to keep counter-attack software from causing any damage. It was as if a dedicated AI had control of the confinement system. "Alright, the direct way," she said. She thrust her lightsaber into the heavy metal portal. The metal around her blade turned white hot and started melting, giving off heat that would have baked her hands if she weren't in her combat armor. She slowly ran the lightsaber up the door, melting away more of it. Behind her Talara fired another burst from her rifle, forcing a crewmember of the slaver ship back into cover. Both felt increasing hope from the other side of the door.

Lucy's cut went up to the level of her head and past, then over. She started a downward cut and brought it back down to about the level of her waist. "That ought to do it," she said aloud, pulling her lightsaber out. She focused her will and pushed her hand against the door, exerting force with her life energy as she did. The door, weakened by her cut, blew open.

Through the door, in a darkened chamber, were a series of cages. In each were manacled Human figures chained together, so many per cage. Some of them had clothes partly ripped away, partially baring their chests and backs and revealing wounds ranging from bruises and welts to long scarred ribbons that reminded Lucy of the old days of raiding slave plantations on Earth C1P2. Some of the imprisoned were children, quite a few were adolescents and teenagers, and there were maybe fifteen, twenty adults. Among the adults were three figures still wearing dark gloves with brass Psi pins on their chests, with one of the teenagers similarly-clad.

Talara entered behind Lucy, who stared in shock for a moment at the sight before grimly lifting her lightsaber. One by one she cut away the bars of the cages, opening gaping holes in them. Her will crushed and split the chains holding the manacles together, freeing the imprisoned. She sensed the minds of the assembled. "You're all telepaths?"

"Yes," answered one of the adults, a man who looked to be from the Indian subcontinent, one of those with a Psi Corps badge. "They captured us separately, or bought us."

"We're here to get you out," said Lucy. "We have a ship, we'll lead you back to it. Are any of you good with a rifle?"

The same man volunteered, as did a woman in another of the cages. Since the Indian man was already free, he took up the rifle. Another of the telepaths stood nearby, using her mental powers to attack the enemy crew outside in conjunction with the Psi Corps telepath. Talara, freed from being a door guard, helped Lucy free the other prisoners. In all there were fifty-three telepaths, Lucy counted. They'll all fit in the ship at least she thought.

Even before Lucy cut free the woman who volunteered for rifle duty, she was speaking into Lucy's mind. I am Antonia di Giuseppe. There are two young telepaths not with us. Fraternal twins. They were taken earlier to be… used by these monsters.

Lucy frowned. Antonia herself certainly looked worked over. What was once a fashionable dark jacket and comfortable blue blouse had seemingly been ripped from her at some point, along with her bra, so that she was an errant wind gust away from the common perception of indecency. A bronze Psi pin glinted on the intact strip of fabric over her heart. Her visible skin, fair with a tanned tint of Mediterranean color, was marked with welts and cuts. Lucy sensed the remnant mark of horrible pain in the woman's being. She had been tortured extensively, beyond the visible injuries.

They feed off our pain, another telepath thought, sensing Lucy's bewilderment over their condition. It gives them pleasure to feel it. A male stepped up beside her, or rather a teenager Lucy thought, without a Psi Corps marking. He too had been worked over. They took them…

Lucy nodded and focused. She felt the swelling hope of liberation around her, though still marked by fear. There was also fear in the crew. Fear of capture, of failure. Frustration. Hate at the "mindfreaks" that put them in this position. And not too far away, she felt pain. Pain and fear and, with it… immense gratification and satisfaction at the same, such that Lucy's stomach twisted from how sick it felt to confirm what she was being told. "I'll get them, I promise," Lucy pledged.

"I can show you were," Antonia offered. Her English was good, but quite Italian.

"You've suffered enough." Lucy gestured to Talara, who was freeing the very last prisoner at that moment. "Everyone, go with Talara, she'll take you to our ship!"

"You will need me," Antonia insisted. "I can bring you to them. I know the way to where they were taken."

Lucy almost said no, but she sensed the desperate need in Antonia. Everything she'd gone through to this point, everything she'd suffered, was to save those two teenagers. Lucy relented with a nod. "Stay behind me," she instructed. To Talara she added, "I won't be long."

"I will secure the others," Talara affirmed.

With that Lucy departed first, her erstwhile ally behind her, deflecting shots from the crew outside until they went down, put to sleep by mental command. They moved onward through the ship.

Talara watched them go and drew in a breath. She felt unsettled here, with all of the pain and despair. But she knew she had to persevere. All of these people were counting on her. "This way," she said to the Human telepaths. With the telepath carrying her rifle beside her, Talara led them back toward the infiltrator.

With a crash the last of the torpedo assemblies fell apart, the electronics smashed beyond repair. The last beam disrupting the deflector field around the bunker fell away. Robert completed his circuit around the building to where the sole entrance was being carefully guarded. Deflector status?

Fifteen percent
was Colin's mental reply. Robert didn't see him looking at any displays, so he imagined Zara or Becca relayed the information. Cohesion is almost gone.

Still, the shields will regenerate now, and they don't

Before he could complete the thought fire started to strike the shield. The cybertroopers, most still in cover, were letting loose. Blue plasma bolts dissipated against the deflector shield, which seemed to be exerting minimal effort to repel the fire. Hawk retaliated with his rifle on its grenade blast mode, firing big blue bolts that exploded like plasma grenades, further damaging the nearby buildings and the rubble of those already destroyed. Some of the shots dissipated against deflector barriers set up by the cybertroopers, providing them cover as well.

The dropships swooped in next. They opened up with their weapons, spraying the deflector field with rockets and plasma fire as well, and all over their heads. They're focusing their fire to break down the shield! Robert raised a hand and used his will to throw one dropship into another, sending both to crash. As the others continued to fire he repeated this.

Thirteen percent! he heard a mind shout. Zara's mind. Twelve!

Go back into the inner bunker!
Colin ordered.

Robert half-expected her to disobey, to protest, but she didn't. He sensed terror from the girl, terror at losing her dads, but she obeyed their command. She would seal the inner blast doors behind her, buying more time for the telepaths in the lower levels to get help.

There was still the matter at hand. With his power Robert smashed another dropship into the ground. But its side-mounted rocket launchers still fired its final salvos, spraying the shield in front of them with repeated blasts. The field clearly continued to degrade…

The cybertroopers rushed forward from cover, still firing, and the telepaths returned fire immediately while some of their number were packing up the portable deflectors. For the moment they had the advantage, with the deflector absorbing all return fire, allowing only them the benefit of effective fire. To add to their effectiveness Colin and Gene led the other telepaths of sufficient strength in attacking the cyborgs' cybernetic parts.

Robert brought down the second-to-last dropship with a lighting bolt, turning it into a flaming ruin. The last one's rocket launchers reloaded from internal bays and fired another salvo. He felt instinctive danger and projected force ahead of them, backing up the field, and felt the strain of the rockets striking his field.

The deflector field hadn't stopped the rockets. Its cohesion was gone. It was collapsing.

Robert felt the morale drop in the others. Their gambit to preserve the field had failed. He took the moment for a quick and dirty push against the last dropship, smashing it to the ground and crushing several cybertroopers beneath, including one of those dangerous Human ones. There was no time for further intense attacks as enemy fire was now dangerous to them. His lightsaber flashed to life in time to deflect the first shot that might have touched him. His arms moved instinctively to put the weapon wherever a bolt might have otherwise struck him.

On the opposite flank Hawk projected a shield with his nanites, making one that fit around his rifle so he could continue to fire.

From behind their cover the telepaths were returning fire as well as they could, trying to cover those retreating into the bunker. But they were still normal Humans physically, save for the parts of their brains that allowed telepathy. They had little hope of accurate fire. All they could do was lay down such a continuing barrage that being struck was certain for the enemy, buying time for their fellows to retreat back into the bunker.

The other side knew that. The Human cyborgs, and the officer Coserian ones, let the more-controlled, less-capable grunt cybertroopers take the front and the brunt of the punishment while they focused fire on an individual section of the defensive perimeter. Hiding behind their own troops wouldn’t protect the Coserian commandos, and coordinated telepathic attacks decimated their ranks. Nonetheless heavy coordinated fire descended upon one of the generators, on Robert's side of the line. The field held momentarily, but as the fire on it increased it continued to degrade.

On the opposite end Hawk grunted as his rifle's charge ran out. With enemy fire chipping away at his shield almost as fast as Hawk's nanites could make repairs there would be no lowering it. He transferred his rifle to his left hand and used his right to pull another charge clip from his belt. Gripping it against his palm with his thumb, his fingers worked the slide to expose and eject the drained clip. He placed the new one in, closed the clip chamber, and restored the small port for the rifle's barrel to continue returning fire. He growled in frustration; this wasn't how he preferred to fight. He'd rather get in close and work with his blades, match these things speed for speed. But if he moved, it would expose the flank and get these people killed.

Here I am, holding the line for the people I thought I was coming to kill. Goddamned irony.

One of the other telepaths casted a response back. And here we are, trusting our lives to a homicidal maniac. How do you think we feel?

Hawk's reply was a sharp, rich laugh. He swapped the rifle back to grenade mode and fired a burst that sent two cybertroopers flying.

On the left end of the line, a besieged section of deflector finally gave out from repeated shots. The telepaths were exposed. Single shots of deadly accuracy struck one after another in rapid succession, killing three outright. The fourth kept firing. A big woman of Middle Eastern or Central Asian extraction, she refused to flinch, firing an automatic shotgun that eviscerated a cybertrooper as it came over the disabled field generator's base. She swiveled the weapon to shoot another foe doing the same, but the cybertrooper was too fast. It thrust with its arm and drove a lengthening blade into her chest, bisecting heart and lung. She died in seconds. Though Robert didn't feel it, he knew the mindscream would impact the others just the same.

Hold the line! echoed the minds of Gene and Colin desperately, a moment after they broke the brain of one of the Human cyborgs, and drew monomolecular blades. Already the other telepaths on that side were re-directing their fields to take up the gap. Max avenged the fallen telepaths by rapid fire shots into the heads of the troopers that got through, but not before one of them stabbed another telepath through the side of the neck, severing the spine. Another mindscream rippled through the others, and Robert felt them despair.

"We're losing one over here!" Hawk roared, and all knew he meant another section of the field. "Get back to the bunker!"

The moment we fall back, those things will overrun us, Robert thought, deflecting a shot into the head of a rushing foe. Another cybertrooper got close enough to lash at him with its blade. He moved enough that the strike only clipped armor at his side, causing no damage, and drove his lightsaber through the creature's neck, killing it instantly. A plasma bolt seared his left arm and he grimaced before deflecting the next shot.

And then another section of the line failed. More lives winked out before the other generators compensated, pushing them to the brink. Hawk had to backpedal and swivel to avoid getting shot as their line contracted. Robert felt the surge in fear and frustration in him, fueling his anger. He knew he might die here, and had a natural fear of that; more than that, he was angry that he was losing to beings he hated. He wanted nothing less but to rip them all apart.

Robert knew that kind of frustration. The cybertroopers were too quick for the telepaths once it came to melee; Gene and Colin were holding their own through a combination of footwork and seamless mental coordination, but they couldn’t go on the offensive. They were hard-pressed just to stay alive against one or two cybertroopers. Despite their efforts the enemy's strategy of burning out one section at a time was working. There was no winning this. Hearing a mental call for help and a cry of pain Robert visualized what was behind him: a cybertrooper loose behind the line, its blade stuck in Max's side, the trooper about to kill. He nearly acted, but didn't need to. Hawk turned and, while his left arm kept the decaying nanite shield up, his right arm whipped out. A forged blade of nanite metal slammed into the back of the cybertrooper's head, killing it before it could kill Max.

But more troopers were coming, and another section of the shield was on the verge of failure, and it all seemed so hopeless...

And that was when he felt a mental cry of desperation echo from within the bunker.

As the battle raged outside Becca could feel the desperate courage of the telepaths start to become despair. She knew what that was like. She'd felt it before, in Zonguldak, as they were picked off platoon by platoon, squad by squad. Death or a terrible fate the only outcomes available.

And then the mindscreams began. She felt the door open and shut. Again and again, as more telepaths died. She heard Gene's demand to hold the line, the feeling from the others that it wouldn't matter. She heard James' mind, frustrated, enraged, helpless. She could hear Robert's mind flash with desperate thoughts, on whether he could save the situation by cutting loose, or if it'd just make things worse. She felt his mental cry from being wounded.

And Max. Just as desperate. Just as determined to protect.

Stop it. Stop it. Oh G-d LET IT STOP. Becca's eyes filled with hot tears. James, Max, Captain Dale, those two Psi Cops, they were all going to die out there. While she was in here. Doing nothing. Surviving yet again.

"NO!" she screamed aloud, and in her mind, in desperation. Despite the lingering pain in her side Becca stood to her feet. Her mind rang with determination as she gave the order through her neural link.


Every mind in the compound heard those three words. Robert felt Hawk's disbelief and horror at them. What is she doing?! Becca, NO!

A fierce, desperate reply rang from her mind. NOT AGAIN!!!

The blast door swung open. Becca emerged through the door covered in the silver nanite material. As she took her first step out the material shifted. It started to form armor plates and material, flexible machined joints, and a new helmet. The coloring shifted to be primarily blue, with some of the joints and parts remaining silver, as did the face. Eyepieces formed on the face of the helmet, lighting up as the material completed its transformation.

Robert could see her through the eyes of Max, wounded and lying against the bunker wall. It looked like she was wearing a light power armor suit. The helmet and facemask of it even reminded him a little bit of comic book-style armor that Tom had been so enamored with growing up.

There was a roar in the air as Becca fired thrusters built into the back of the suit. She launched herself toward the nearest enemy, a cybertrooper that was about to cleave a telepath's head in two with its blade. Her blades shot through the wrists of her suit and plunged into the creature. Both flew over a disabled projector base and outside of the defensive perimeter. She jumped off her foe as they hit the ground, raising her arms in the same motion. From each palm a lance of sapphire light erupted, spearing two cybertroopers and one going on to slice through the head of a third. She cried in challenge and rushed forward, faster than ever before, to drive her blades into one of the commanding Human cyborgs while he was aiming elsewhere.

Some of Becca's desperation and defiance rubbed off on Robert, intentionally or not. He forgot caution and summoned all of his focus. When he sent out another wave, he managed to keep it focused enough to do what it needed to do. The broad blast of invisible force threw every cybertrooper ahead of him flying backward at such speeds that they took damage as they broke through the structures and rubble beyond. Freed from fighting for his life for the second, Robert turned to take in the battle. Or rather, Becca. She was busy finishing off one of the Human cyborgs when two of the normal ones shot her in the side. The impacts didn't seem to enter her armor, although she still recoiled. Her head turned toward them and her right arm raised; in rapid shots she took out both with whatever weapon was in her palm.

But there was something wrong, Robert thought. With the tenor of her desperation, the ferocity of her attacks despite her injuries, and with Hawk's horror at what she was doing. He focused on her for another moment, felt the ebbing in her being.

"Stand down!" Hawk shouted over the din of the battle. "Dammit Becca, that's an order!"

I will not be the last one again! was the desperate reply.

She's killing herself. That horrified thought came from Colin. When Robert had momentary confusion at it, Colin mindcast the information into his head. The two Psi Cops could sense her body's energy decreasing. As if the electrical energy in the body was being steadily drained away.

And then Robert understood what he was feeling. "Combat Mode" required her body's natural bioelectricity to operate, somehow. And the longer she was in it, the more would be used up.

If she didn't shut down the nanites' combat mode soon, Becca would die.

The internal corridors of the ship changed the moment after Lucy stepped out of the manual access ladder tube and onto the higher deck. Instead of the used dark beige walls with tubing for internal systems showing sometimes in the white ceiling and ladders, there was an opulent, well-kept wall of brilliant blue. The floor wasn't basic insulated covering of dull gray, but a fine carpet of red and white. In total she felt like she'd stepped out into a luxury hotel, the kind that cost a year of her salary to stay in for a night.

Antonia stepped off the ladder behind her. She clutched a pistol taken from one of the fallen crew. This way she mindcast to Lucy, who nodded and followed down the hall, igniting her lightsaber should she need it. Its hum filled the corridor, which was brightly-lit enough that the blade didn't shine off the walls as much as it had on the decks below.

They passed by a dining room with a luxurious cast to it, fine plushed dining chairs and a large wooden table with what looked like a silken table cloth over it. Lucy frowned at the thought of how much human misery had funded this elegance. She sensed agreement from Antonia, and bitter recollection.

They rounded one hall, passed by an entrance to what looked like a specialized kitchen, and approached another corridor. As Antonia stepped up to the corner Lucy felt danger and reached out. She grabbed Antonia by the arm and yanked her back.

A blast of energy slammed into the wall, passing through the space the battered woman had nearly stepped into.

"I'll handle this," Lucy said confidently. She stepped around the corner, weapon ready, and deflected the first shot fired at her into the arm of the shooter.

The members of the crew ahead were definitely not the same as those below. Each was dressed in rich clothing, uniforms of green and blue and white, and they had rifles with them, although one was clearly favoring a wounded arm. Two of the half-dozen uniformed people had eyes of reddish-brown coloring, one with tanned skin and the other with light. Among them was a towering woman of dark brown coloring, like someone from the Indian subcontinent, who had a medal arm and other clear cyborg enhancement. She cried out something in an alien language Lucy's translator didn't immediately identify and the servants opened fire.

One thing was clear; they were bad at it. Lucy only had to bat a couple of shots, the rest missing. She retaliated with a wave of force that knocked all but the cyborg woman off their feet. Behind her Antonia moved up and started firing her gun. Even as she did a couple started wailing in surprise; she was seizing control of their optical nerves and shutting off the input, blinding them. They writhed on the ground in a panic.

The cyborg lifted a big damn rifle. Lucy didn't even want to consider what it would do to her and forced it upward. It fired into the ceiling, creating a blast wave that threw the cyborg back into the others, knocking down those among the uniform-clad guards who had started to stand. While Antonia continued to fire with some slight accuracy, Lucy charged ahead. The cyborg got back to its feet and rushed ahead as well, drawing a short sword that looked as lethal as it did ornamental. Lucy realized it was a monomolecular blade a moment before parrying her attacker. The cyborg was fast, just as fast as she was, and they exchanged several swings. "We're here for the kids," Lucy growled, more out of habit than any thought of communication.

"You are here to steal my masters' property," the cyborg replied, her accent unfamiliar. "For this you will die." The tone was rigid, emotionless, very matter-of-fact.

"People aren't property!" Lucy shouted as she parried another blow. The blade was getting red. A few more strikes and it would be broken.

Her opponent seemed to notice that as well. Lucy was stunned at how quickly the sidearm came up. Without time to get her lightsaber into position Lucy instinctively stepped to the side. The resulting shot tore through the side of her belly, ripping through armor and grazing her skin before going out through her robe. The flicker of pain this caused proved no distraction, and it certainly didn't keep Lucy from exploiting their new positioning. She swung the lightsaber down toward the blade, this time bringing it through the wrist of the hand holding it. The hand fell in a small shower of sparks.

The cyborg, undeterred, tracked with the gun, intent to fire again, but Lucy spun away too quickly for her. Her lightsaber came back up and made a lateral cut through the air, straight through the cyborg's neck. Head and body fell away.

Lucy turned her attention to the others, but she needn't have bothered. Each was dead or unconscious. Only some had been shot. Antonia walked up behind her, gun clutched in her hand. Given the condition of her clothes it gave her an almost feral look. "The others will wake up," she said, answering the question forming in Lucy's head. "Eventually."

"Right." Lucy turned her attention to the door ahead. It was sealed shut, and the external panel was offline. Not wanting to risk her omnitool against whatever countermeasure had nearly gotten it before, Lucy brought up her lightsaber and plunged it into the door. This door wasn't quite as thick, so she took only a few seconds to cut a hole through it. Her will knocked the cut out part inward, sending it falling to the ground, where the melted, still-hot ends scorched the fine carpet at their feet.

Standing in the middle of the room was a woman wearing what looked like a silver negligee, revealing a solid, if not athletically fit, body. Her eyes glinted red, her dark hair wild and loose, and her skin marble white in coloring. Lucy sensed Antonia react to her presence with disgust and pain.

The woman's arm was wrapped around a thin, wiry teenage girl, about sixteen or seventeen, with olive-toned skin similar to Lucy's and Antonia's, brown hair, and gray eyes. The girl was half-naked, or more accurately, nine-tenths naked with a bottom that would barely count as a bikini bottom. Her bare chest was obscured by the left arm of the red-eyed woman, her shoulders confined in place by the right arm. Against the girl's neck was a knife clasped in the woman's right hand, already drawing a steady drip of blood from the skin, which went with the remaining cuts visible on her body from a vicious whipping. Nearby, sprawled out on the floor, a young man with similar colorations save having brown eyes was looking up with terror. He too was mostly unclothed, having only something that barely passed for a speedo, and his body was covered in wounds.

Aside from the hostage situation, what was in the room was enough to make Lucy sick. The bedroom was opulent, with a big bed and fine cabinets, designed in a way that was unfamiliar to her, to a different aesthetic than those she was used to. But on the far wall were manacles hanging from dedicated fittings. A variety of whips and striking canes were near the sets of manacles. She sensed Antonia desire to rub at her wrists at the sight of them.

Those red eyes glared with haughty anger. "You will leave, Alliancer," she demanded, her voice having a similar accent to the one the dead cyborg had used.

"Not without them," Lucy said, holding her lightsaber steady.

"They are mine. As is that one." The red eyes shifted enough to tell Lucy she meant Antonia. "Leave now or this one dies."

It took only a moment for Lucy to know she meant it. The girl was a disposable toy, to be thrown away when the red-eyed woman so desired. Her foe believed herself above all others save her own kind. Everyone, even Lucy, was only fit to be a slave. A treasured one, if competent, but property of their natural superiors. It was as if this woman and those like her were made to embody everything Lucy and her family on the Aurora opposed.

Since any sudden movement could lead to the hostage's death, Lucy didn't move. She didn't need to. She focused her will, reached out with her life energy, and willed the knife to fly out of the woman's hand. It did so immediately, ripped from her grasp by a force the slaver hadn't seen or felt coming. It clinked against the wall beside the bed and hit the floor. With her hand suddenly empty the slaver's eyes widened. Her jaw dropped and her grip on her prisoner weakened, allowing Lucy to pull the girl free with a simple gesture.

Antonia brought the gun up. It barked once. There was a flash of energy and the back of the red-eyed woman's head exploded, spraying blood and brain over the floor and far wall. Her body collapsed to the floor.

The teenage boy went to his sister's side, holding her closely as she began to weep.

Antonia was weeping too. Not from having killed the red-eyed woman, although Lucy could tell she wasn't used to violence, but in literal sympathy with the twins. She knew what they'd suffered, she had as well. Lucy felt their minds touch. Antonia dropped to her knees and they went to her, throwing arms around her. There was intense guilt in the younger telepaths that Antonia tried to soothe. After eying the dead woman again, Lucy went over to the tools of pain on the wall and sliced them in half with her lightsaber. As she did, tears welled in her blue eyes, and old wounds flared again on her skin, which had long been healed.

She'd seen these kinds of things before, after all. In that damned room that the Duffys had locked her in. Phil Duffy had enjoyed using them on her too. She balled her fist and closed her eyes, trying to control the upswell of emotion from the memories of pain and fear and anguish, and his devilish grin as she cried out from the pain…

Not the time. Not when I'm on a slaver ship, she made herself think. After slicing the manacles from the wall she turned to the three telepaths consoling each other. "We need to go," she said to them. "Before they trap us in here."

"Agreed," Antonia said. She stood and the twins did as well. The girl kept her arms self-consciously tight over her chest.

"Back to the ladder tube, then." Lucy moved ahead of them to lead the way back to the ship and to freedom.

The fight outside the bunker had lost its desperate tinge from before. Becca's ferocious counterattack completely disrupted the cybertroopers' assault. She continued in that attack, fighting her way toward the last of the Human cyborgs still on the field, ignoring every strike against her armor, even as it started to show the effects of damage.

The reprieve Becca provided gave the defenders an opportunity to get their wounded back into the bunker. Robert refused the medical telepath who offered him the same. Instead he tapped at his omnitool and triggered his armor's built-in medigel dispenser, dispensing the substance to his wounded arm to restore full functionality.

Fall back to the bunker! Becca urged them. They felt her pain when several cyborgs focused fire enough to knock her back. She got back up and retaliated with more blasts from the emitters in her hands.

Over the din of the continued battle, Hawk's voice roared. "Stop it Becca! For God's sake, you're going to kill yourself!"

I know was her only reply.

Colin and Gene weren’t about to let her do that, not on her own. With a mental command their compatriots pushed the deflector generators in front of them slightly outward, giving them a brief opening to rush out past the defenses. They relied on their kinetic barriers and body armor to protect themselves from incoming fire and surged forward; they’d worked out a way to fight cybertroopers in close-quarters. One of them would disrupt electronics and slow them down, the other would attack with his blade. They rotated who took each position, occasionally joining their minds to fry the implants of one at longer range.

They weren't alone. Still on the flank of the deflector line, Robert dashed ahead, lightsaber swishing in the air, throwing waves of force every which way to disrupt the enemy and keep them from overwhelming Gene and Colin. He felt Becca's body ready to fail and was surprised to see her find the strength to move on.

For the second time that night, a desperate mind thought ENGAGE COMBAT MODE. Now it was Hawk's body that became enveloped in the silvery fluid of nanite material. It hardened around him as it had Becca, forming a similar set of blue and silver armor. Hawk dashed forward, the thrusters on the back flaring with white-blue light, and his blades rang out as he drove them into any foe that dared get in the way.

While the four surged to her rescue, Becca was pulling the last of the officer cybertroopers off her blade, allowing her to confront the final of the Human cyborgs. He moved even faster than the best of the Coserian ones, dodging her blade strikes and punching her hard enough to send her flying. Becca righted herself in mid-air with bursts from the thruster assembly on the back of the armor, allowing her to land on her feet. She raised her hands and fired, twin blasts that struck a forcefield around the cyborg. He raised his weapon and fired in reply, peppering her with shots that sparked at the armor, chipping away at it. Even as her body became too weak to stand, sending her to her knees, she fired the palm weapons on continuous beam mode.

Becca, you have to stop! Robert urged her, even as his will batted away a trio of cybertroopers turning to engage her from behind. His lightsaber flashed in the air and halfway severed the head of another. Please!

She didn't stop. But the beams were growing visibly weaker. All present could feel her body shutting down. The cyborg was already more interested in firing at Gene and Colin, then swapping attention to Robert as he seemed to draw closer. Robert's lightsaber intercepted the shot and sent it back to crash into his attacker's shields.

As they got closer, the cyborg switched fire toward them. He had surface thoughts they could detect and to some extent they could get themselves out of firing arcs in time, but they still took hits on their kinetic barriers, what plasma leaked through was absorbed harmlessly by their armor.

The fire on them let up as Hawk charged forward. He took a few hits from a cybertrooper before skewering it, then got the attention of the commanding cyborg with beams from his palms. Its weapon barked and struck him, damaging the armor repeatedly with each shot.

The beams from Becca went out. She collapsed onto the ground, utterly spent.

Gene and Colin gestalted again without touching, not just their minds but their souls themselves merging into a single will. A rapid succession of attack probes from both of them assailed his mind until they found a pathway that wasn’t blocked off by cybernetic void: his motor cortex wasn’t enhanced, only the outgoing projections to the rest of his body. They seized control and shut his body down in tonic paralysis; he stiffened like a board.

As the Human cyborg went rigid, Hawk grunted in effort and the energy from his hands intensified. The telepaths present, and Robert, could sense that it was his life now draining away. The twin sapphire beams rippled over the yellow protective field until it visibly weakened, distorted and focused entirely on Hawk.

That left it open on the other side. Robert dashed in, his legs moving with speed normal Humans couldn't match. His lightsaber buzzed in the air as he brought it up into a position parallel to the ground. There was no force shield to stop it as he brought the emerald blade down on the cyborg's arms and chest, severing the former and slashing deep into the latter. Fatally deep. The cyborg Human collapsed, its life fading away.

The defeat of the leader didn't immediately turn the battle, but as there were no remaining officers, the assault lost all cohesion. Individual units started acting independently as their threat assessment programming demanded, costing the attack the coordination that had allowed the earlier success. The telepaths still behind the deflectors were keeping up their fire, sometimes managing hits, but certainly forcing the cyborg forces to keep moving and preventing them from coalescing on the five beings now outside of the defenses.

Those that did notice them tried to attack. Robert felt them coming, deflecting those firing at him and mentally warning the others about the incoming fire. Gene, Colin, and Hawk all reacted, dodging where possible and the two Psi Cops returning fire.

Hawk didn't return fire but instead dashed straight for Becca's prone form. Robert could see the armor around her losing shape, returning to the silvery fluid of before. But now the nanite material seemed to lose its fluidity. Much of it went rigid, in a brittle way, and then started to disintegrate. Only a portion of it returned to inside her body through her wrists and ankles. Robert sensed Hawk's worry at that, uncertain as he was about what he was seeing. But there was no denying that Becca was near death's door as she was.

"Cover me!" Hawk urged, picking Becca up in a fireman's carry. He took off in a run, rushing through the remaining enemy, Robert and the others following and giving cover fire. The telepaths still behind the intact defenses provided what aid they could. One made to lower the deflector in front of her, but this proved unnecessary as Hawk jumped high enough to vault it, slipping just past the inward-curving top of the portable deflector. He rushed to the open bunker door.

It took the others a longer period of time to get back, longer being measured by about ten seconds. Robert kept his weapon in a constant motion while throwing offensive strikes with his will whenever he could. This had the effect of keeping the flanks relatively clear, even if it required him to whirl like a dervish to cover three sides as needed. By the time they got back to the line the remaining defenders recreated the hole Gene and Colin had used to get out. Robert kept the incoming fire, ever-decreasing, from hitting any of them, until he himself backed up to the gap. By this point the defense line had contracted further, the outermost generators folded inward to cover the flanks Robert and Hawk had charged from.

At a mental command from Gene, it started retracting further. In groups the telepaths withdrew into the bunker, carrying the portable generators with them, while Robert used a combination of lightsaber deflections and force waves to keep the attacking forces off-balance so they couldn't take advantage. Gene and Colin aided him, mostly with their guns as the remaining cyborgs were the mindless drone variety, making telepathic attacks more time-consuming than gunfire.

Finally the last deflector was inside, the telepaths with it. Gene and Colin backed into the blast door next as the cybertroopers, by base programming more than anything, started to swarm the opening. They kept up their fire until Robert was completely in their way. At that point he forced his will into as strong a wave as he could throw, as broadly as possible from the opening. The invisible force threw the swarm back, knocking most down in the process. These vital seconds let him finish retreating through the blast door, which Gene promptly slammed shut.

At that point, virtually every combatant collapsed, Robert included. It was only after he set his rear end on the floor by the entrance that he turned to notice Hikaru and the other medical telepaths fussing over Becca. Her skin was pale and her lips turning blue. Her life was virtually spent.

"Massive organ failure," confirmed a short-statured black man named Dr. Hegebe, with a scanner. "But I don't see any accompanying damage."

"You wouldn't." Fatigued as well, Hawk had his hands over Becca's right hand. After a moment Robert realized he wasn't just holding her hand. Two tendrils of silver material linked his wrists to her wrists. "She's lost most of her nanites. It's killing her."

"Just what the hell was that?" asked Colin.

"Combat mode," Hawk replied. "The combat nanites form a power armor. Really badass stuff."

"And it kills you?" asked Robert. "That's why you've never used it before?"

Hawk shook his head weakly. "We just learned about it. After Tira." He drew in a deep breath, as if steeling himself. "It's… the nanites are partly made of that metal stuff the Darglan use for power generation, okay?"


"Yeah, that," he answered, his voice hoarse. He was visibly weakening too. "That stuff has got a lot of weird properties. One is that it soaks up energy like a sponge. The nanites, they… they store excess energy from our bodies. Makes our metabolism go sky-high. When used normally, we rarely burn through the reserves. But the power armor mode, the thrusters and the palm particle emitters and that crap… it sucks those reserves dry. So the nanites get power where they can."

"Including your bio-electric field," Gene observed.

Hawk nodded. His face was growing pale. Robert felt he was growing weaker. "And if they run out of juice, then their internal failsafe activates. The nanites dissolve so they can't be recovered. Problem is, we… we…"

“Mr. Hawk,” Dr. Hegebe interjected. “Your heart rate is dangerously low. I don’t want to lose both of you.” He wasn’t using a heart rate monitor.

The nod in reply was barely such. "...we need our nanites," he continued. "Our bodies… need them… not enough… our functions, they…"

He stopped speaking. A moment later the silvery tendrils linking him to Becca dissipated and he pitched over onto her. Hegebe took him and rolled him onto his back.

"They're still alive," Robert said. "And she's… stronger now."

“They are alive, but… very weak. I don’t know if there is much we can do but… maybe if we provided energy to replenish the reserves?” Dr. Hegebe suggested.

Robert nodded in agreement. "Run some IVs, I suppose. I've no idea how the nanites might reproduce themselves, especially without raw materials. And I'll see what I can do." He moved over, not quite standing up. His left arm was starting to hurt despite the medigel infusion, but it didn't keep him from holding his hands over them and trying to will energy into their faltering bodies. "If we keep them alive long enough, well… maybe I can get them help."

“There is still the fundamental problem of energy reserves. They’re running low.” Dr. Hegebe said, rigging up a pair of IVs full of lactated ringer's solution and glucose. “Glucose will take time but…” He had an idea “We could rig batteries into a circuit. Give the nanites the energy they need.”

"I'm not sure this will work, so give it a try," Robert said, closing his eyes and focusing on his efforts.

Gene helpfully provided the power cells from another storage cupboard as well as the electrical connectors, including resistors to keep from electrocuting anyone, and started connecting everything. He clipped the positive terminal to Hawk’s right index finger, and then the negative terminal to his left. He repeated the process with Becca.

“The juice is flowing.” Gene informed everyone, and waited.

An errant thought touched every mind in the room. Why aren't they trying to burn through yet?

Colin looked at the external cameras. There were more dropships landing, but instead of disgorging more troops, they were picking up survivors. Retreating. “I think… we might have won? Maybe?”

I hope so, Robert thought, even as he struggled to help keep the two fallen figures alive.

There was a dearth of opposition on the way back to the bay. Lucy realized why as they approached and nearly ran into arriving troops. They hadn't expected her to show up, Antonia and the twins trailing, and she removed them rapidly by throwing them against the walls, not needing to apply her lightsaber.

At the door to the landing bay there was another group firing in, and taking fire in turn. Lucy closed the distance and started disarming them with lightsaber strikes, in two cases literally. As the dismembered cried out along with the less-literally disarmed, she led the others into the cargo bay.

"We have to hurry," said Antonia. "They're recalling their cyborgs to subdue us."

"I wonder if that's good news or bad," Lucy muttered as the approached the infiltrator, her thought on what was below telling Antonia what she meant. Talara and some of the other telepaths were behind cover, using the landing gears, weapons drawn. Most of Talara's grenades were gone. "Let's go!" she shouted to Talara.

"Everyone else is already in the ship," she said, running toward the rear first. Once there she triggered the cargo bay door to open, allowing the others, plus Antonia and the twins, to board with her.

Lucy went for the port side airlock instead. At a touch of her omnitool the door opened. A jump augmented by her abilities got her high enough to land inside. As the outer airlock closed she heard the pulse guns start opening up. She opened the inner airlock and arrived in the main corridor just ahead of Talara, coming up from the armory. They both ran for the cockpit. "Dropships are landing in the bay," Talara confirmed.

"Let 'em." Lucy wasted no time in triggering the thrusters. "Fire pulse cannons as we leave, I want to inflict as much damage as we can."

As the ship lifted off the forward weapons opened up. Sapphire bolts ripped through the bulkhead ahead, and the sections inward, chewing away at the internals of the ship. As they backed out and began to turn their craft around. Only after they were out of the bay did the infiltrator stop firing, now pointing forward. Its final barrage had blown through several chunks of the cruiser's interior.

Lucy waited as long as she had to before triggering the impulsors to full, bringing the ship into a twist and turn that allowed it to evade the fire that started to come in the moment it was clear of the bay. "Enemy ship is trying to lock on," Talara confirmed. "And their dropships are engaging."

"I noticed." With her life force guiding her, Lucy kept the infiltrator moving, evading fire from both sources while hugging the cruiser. "We need to go for their main weapons. If they're abandoning the attack they might destroy the compound out of spite." While she spoke and acted the pulse guns, set to auto-target, continued to engage dropships whenever they could. One took a stream of pulses from two guns and blew apart in flame.

There were steps from behind. Antonia slid into the third chair. "How can I help?" she asked.

"Do you know how to operate the ship's weapons?" Talara asked.

"No. But I did score very high in the Starfury gunner simulator games in the arcades," she replied enthusiastically.

I could use the help. Lucy responded by letting her memories of the controls surface, allowing Antonia to sense them and operate the forward weapons. She didn't have any particular skill with them, but with Lucy's help she was at least competent. Their talents, in conjunction, allowed them to stay just within the cruiser's deflector while strafing the cruiser's weapons emplacements. One by one the largest plasma cannon projectors were taking debilitating damage, also further damaging the cruiser. Flashes of fire from the smaller, anti-fighter emplacements ripped through the space around them. Lucy put the infiltrator to the test with her rapid maneuvering.

Despite the fact she was still very much in pain, Lucy felt Antonia's spirit soaring as they eliminated the cruiser's main weapons, heedless of the deadly fire around them. She seemed quite happy with the situation; better to be shot down out here than be a slave tortured for the kicks of a sadistic captor. While turning her head slightly to look at a monitor, Lucy could see Antonia through the corner of her eye. Antonia was still wearing her shredded clothing. But she had a pair of black gloves on now, the standard issue ones for the combat suits in the armory. "You were more worried about gloves than an intact shirt?" Lucy asked, incredulous.

"I was tired of being naked, it was so indecent," Antonia answered.

"But you're still somewhat…" Before Talara could finish that thought her attention was drawn to something. "I'm picking up an energy surge… It looks like they're charging their hyperdrives."

Lucy nodded. "With most of their weapons disabled, they must have decided to cut and run." She evaded more fire and started to put more distance between them and the cruiser.

"Their dropships are all returning to the bay now."

Good riddance, thought Lucy. "Once they're in hyperspace, relay the course to the Shiloh under Robert's command code. Tell them to head that way and see if they find the ship coming out of hyperspace." She said this confident that Robert would approve.

"Doing so now…"

Lucy, meanwhile, relayed sensor information to her station. On the screen the compound was mostly dark, as night time had fallen on that part of the world. From what the systems were saying, several buildings were damaged or destroyed, and there were broken cyborgs scattered around the central structure. With comms open again Lucy triggered them. "Lucero to Dale. Status?"

There were a few tense seconds before she heard Robert's voice, much to her relief. "Dale here. We're secure."

"So are we. And we've got fifty-three people who probably want some warm food and…" Lucy glanced back at Antonia. "...medical care."
”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 lighting of the compound was just coming back online when the infiltrator rippled into view. It landed in the compound commons, to the south of the bunker. Aside from the ruins of a dropship and the broken torpedo casings Robert had destroyed, the commons showed none of the sights of battle from before. The infiltrator's lights engaged, illuminating the area further. The cargo bay ramp opened with the ship pointed south, allowing those coming from the bunker to see the door open.

Antonia led out the half-dozen Psi Corps captives, plus the twins who were staying with her. All three were wearing replicated jackets acquired from the infiltrator systems before they landed. Lucy followed, still in her armor. From the bunker Robert approached, his wounded arm now bandaged by Doctor Hegebe, joined by Colin, Gene, and some of the others.

When the ramp opened and dozens of telepaths came into view, the space between minds was filled with a mix of happiness and deep familial concern. A moment later, informed by a telepathic telephone-game relay other telepaths emerged carrying clothes, blankets, and as much food as they could get out of the replicators on short notice.

Colin stepped forward to greet everyone.

“I am so happy you’re all alive and safe.” he said, speaking what everyone else was thinking, before turning to Lucy and Talara. “Thank you.”

Lucy nodded in respect to him. "Thank you for keeping the valiant Sir Robert alive," she said, grinning slightly. "He always does have to play the hero." When Robert gave her a sardonic look, she responded, as always, by sticking out her tongue.

"You got them all?" Robert asked her, if only for form's sake.

"Every last one," she said, her voice fierce. "What they were doing to them up there…" Her mind went back to that bedroom. The red-eyed woman, the instruments of torture, and how they matched the wounds on Antonia, the teenagers flanking her, and some of the others.

"I know," Robert said. "The important thing is they won't be hurt anymore." He focused on Antonia. "Ma'am, I'm Captain Robert Dale, a Paladin of the Alliance. I'm glad to see you're all okay."

"Thank you, Captain," she replied. She reached out for the others and glyphed her relief to be among her adopted siblings again, along with her name and position as a final year medical student out of Genoa. The things they did to us...

No one will ever touch any of you again.
Gene said to every assembled telepath. You’re as safe as we can make you, even if we have to evacuate this site. He mentally introduced himself and Colin as well.

Hmm. Some of them haven’t come out yet… Colin remarked.

They should all get looked at. Dr. Hegebe suggested There’s no telling what kind of damage that kind of torture can do, and not just physically. Dr. Petrovich is going to be a busy man...

Lucy could sense what was on their minds, if not the actual exchange. "We'll show you to our medical supplies. Let me show you aboard," she said.

“Thank you. Our own supplies are starting to run low after…” Dr. Hegebe looked at the bodies, neatly covered in black cloth “That.”

Lucy nodded somberly and led Hegebe into the ship.

A couple of hours passed and the cleanup was barely beginning. The medical telepaths were hard at work on the injured and the recovered Psi Corps captives were busy being comforted by their compatriots.

Near Robert's infiltrator, benches allowed Antonia and the twins to sit. Robert, Colin, and Gene sat at the bench across from them. Zara was on Gene’s lap, refusing to leave either sight or physical contact.

“What happened?” Colin asked “We got your note but…”

Antonia responded by patting gloved hands on the twins' heads. They, too, now wore gloves, and like Antonia were clad in basic suits with Psi Corps pins. "Meet Giulio and Maria Toghatti," she said, her accent emphasizing the Italian names. Like Colin, she was speaking for Robert's benefit. "They're street orphans left homeless after their parents were killed by Nightwatch. They are both P8s by my estimation. But very untrained."

"How did you meet them?" Robert asked.

"While I am attending the University of Genoa School of Medicine, I volunteer my time to a free clinic," she answered. "The twins here often came by for help when they were hurt. Street children can lead a violent life. It was in the clinic that they had mindbursts, one after the other." She gave them a knowing look. "I showed them how to raise walls and called Education. But because of Clark and their parents… they were afraid of the Corps. They ran from the clinic. I pursued. They went to the spaceport."

The children spoke no English, Robert sensed, but they sensed what Antonia was explaining and were open in sharing an elaboration. They knew of a human trafficker who offered discreet passage to the outer colonies. They wanted to run.

"The trafficker had other plans. And when I arrived, trying to speak to them, his people overwhelmed me," Antonia revealed. "I put a few asleep, but it seemed like his whole crew were there…"

“It’s not your fault.” Zara piped up. “If you’d waited, Psi Cops wouldn’t have made it in time to try.”

“What she said.” Gene confirmed.

"I know." Antonia sighed. "I… tried to shield them as best as I could. The slavers took an early interest in me. But they were a married couple and decided fraternal twins made a more interesting matched set."

Colin, Gene, and Zara shuddered in sympathy and all three of them projected warmth and affection at Antonia, Gulio, and Maria.

"I'm sorry for what you suffered," Robert said. "Whomever these red-eyed people are, the Alliance is going to find out, and we'll make it clear to them that they won't be tolerated."

“Fuck that, we’re going to exterminate them.” Gene blurted out before he could stop himself. “I don’t normally condone wiping out whole groups of people but those… Aristos… they can’t be permitted to exist. One way or the other, we’ll find a way. They enslave trillions like that.”

"When you write up your report, if you can share anything I can give to my superiors…" Robert's left hand lit up with blue light. He tapped the light. "Dale here."

"Sir, sensors are picking up a gravitational distortion," Talara replied, still aboard the infiltrator. "It looks like an IU jump point is forming…"

Robert blinked. The odds of a blind jump arriving in Tau Atrea were infinitesimal. Unless… "Crap. Where's Hawk?!"

"Right here."

Hawk approached from the bunker, Becca beside him. Each seemed to be supporting the other and both looked terribly weak.

"The ship's through… sir! It's…"

"The Avenger," Robert finished for her.

A moment later there were several bursts of light around them. Dark-clad figures coalesced from said light, the results of Darglan transporter technology. Most were armed, with weapons lowered. Robert noticed one with ridges on the temple of his head and pointed, ridged ears, matching the description of the enhanced strength alien that had caused such havoc on the Aurora over Tira.

"We're secure," Hawk said to them. "No need for a fight, people."

Two more pillars of light appeared ahead, coalescing into two figures. Thanks to the restored lights of the compound Robert immediately recognized one as Helen Fubuki, Hawk's second and, apparently, his girlfriend.

The other he recognized too, but it took him a moment to let it sink in. Even as it did, he felt the other telepaths' sudden realization and a defensive reaction.

"Hello, Captain Dale," said Lyta Alexander. "I didn't expect to see you here."

Gene got Zara out of there as fast as he could, picking her up and getting her to the rest of the group that was already starting to form a defensive Gestalt. Colin joined them at a remove and took over the collective consciousness, putting himself between Lyta and everyone else.

"That won't be necessary, Colin," Lyta said, before turning her attention to Hawk and Becca. "You two don't look so well."

"What the hell happened?!" Helen shouted, her anger not much different from Hawk's. "This was supposed to be a simple recon!"

"Slavers happened," Hawk said.

Robert briefly wondered if it would be so easy for this to end peacefully. He could sense the Psi Corps telepaths ready for a fight. Hawk's people - including more telepaths, he thought - were itching for an excuse, some already raising weapons. He held his hands up. "We have a truce!" he said, mostly to them. "Weapons down!"

"To hell with you, Alliance bastard," Helen snarled. "After Tira we've…"

"Weapons down now!" Hawk shouted, as loudly as he could manage. Becca weakly broadcasted the same to the other telepaths. "Dale's not lying! We've got a truce!"

Helen's nostrils flared, but she let her fists relax. Her posture eased.

"I told you I could handle it," Lyta admonished her. She directed her attention back to Robert and Colin. "We received intel at Sirius Major that there was a top secret Psi Corps operation here. We assumed it was a black site prison or experiment center. I can see we're wrong."

Colin couldn’t stop himself, he’d written yet another white paper on Lyta Alexander but she was right there and he needed to know, needed to hear it from her own lips.

“Lyta, why?” he asked. “Your attack on Mars…It killed twenty thousand people, over a thousand telepaths. Psi Cops I can get but you slaughtered hundreds of innocent people and released disabled children into the tunnels, butchered their teachers. It was a damned research hospital to treat telekinetic children! What… what happened to the kind and gentle girl who I used to look up to like a big sister?”

For a moment Robert felt a surge of melancholy come from Lyta. It was pushed aside. "It's not your fault, Colin," she said. "It's really not. But the Corps… that's what happened. The Director happened, Bester happened, the Vorlons happened." As she spoke her voice grew in heat and intensity. "Sheridan happened, and then… and then I watched Bester and his Bloodhounds hunt down innocent telepaths who just wanted to live in peace. The Corps… you want it to be ours. You want to blame all of the camps and the bad things on the mundanes. But in the end, even if they started it, we've let it define us. They made our prison, and instead of wanting to escape and start something new, all the Corps wants to do is drag us back right back into the crab bucket."

“I’m sorry that happened Lyta. I truly am. You deserve better than all of that.” He said those words and he meant them, from the terrified depths of his soul as he stared down the telepathic demigod who used to be one of the nicest people he knew. “But we can’t change the past, and we can’t fix our problems as a people by killing each other and setting the only home we have on fire. What we can do is build a better future, together, on our own terms. The only way to do that is to free the Corps from EarthGov, and by God Lyta I think we can win if we play our cards right.” He believed that too. Maybe it was pure optimism or a desperate need for hope, but he did. “All you’ll ever accomplish is make that harder or even impossible; do you honestly think that if you win that the Mundanes will ever let telepaths have any self-determination ever again?”

Lyta gave him an intent look. "Oh, Colin. Sweet Colin. I wish I could believe what you're saying. That your revolution will bring a better world for telepaths. But we both know it's going to be Bester and his kind who rule the Corps when this ends. And I'm not going to allow that."

“Appearances for mundanes aside Lyta, Metapol answers to me, Gene, and Marcel Szewczyk. The entire self-government of the Psi Corps is with us. That was over Bester’s objections and I fully expect him to try something at some point, but we know where and who his assets are. Come back to us Lyta. We still love you, I still love you. There is still room for forgiveness, reconciliation. There always is.”

"I'm aware of how that usually goes, Colin. Quite a few of us in the Underground are," she replied. And yet, while it was a rejection, Robert sensed that there was thought in her. She seemed genuinely surprised at hearing of Colin's rank. Robert had to admit he was.

After several seconds of silence, and a glance toward Hawk, Lyta spoke up. "What do you intend to do about the camps?" she asked. "Or any telepath who wants to go their own way?"

“If the choice is between dosing people on sleepers or providing security ourselves, I choose the third option: divert as many people away from them as we can, and when the time is right, evacuate every telepath before nuking the site from orbit. As for those who want to leave…” Confronted with the choice, Colin had to search through his soul. He’d been ignoring that question but he couldn’t anymore. Not with Lyta right there asking him. On the one hand, he wasn’t ever comfortable using coercion and he’d never really hunted people who committed no other crime. On the other hand, it was wrong to abandon your family the way rogues did, even if he could understand why they did it. He came down on the side of just being a good person and leaving the rest for history. “Sometimes, when you love someone you have to let them go. So long as it’s an informed choice. My only concern is their safety and the safety of those still in the Corps. I’m willing to work out a solution.”

From behind them Lucy was stepping out of the infiltrator. She looked to Robert and he looked back, his posture telling her everything was still stable. This let him return his attention to Lyta, who seemed thoughtful. He could sense the conflicting feelings inside of her. On the one hand, her hatred of Bester and the Psi Corps as he represented it was palpable, overpowering. But on the other… she had a genuine warmth for Colin, tinged with melancholy. As if he represented a simpler, sweeter time for her.

She glanced back toward Hawk. "We're partners now," she said. "What do you think?"

"I think the camps have to go," Hawk said. "People should be free. But this guy… yeah, it seems legit to me. He certainly fights like hell for his people."

She answered him with a nod. "And your newest agent?"

"I believe in Doctor Meier," Becca said simply.

"I thought so." Lyta looked back to Colin and Robert and gave a nod. "You might lead Metapol for now, but I know Bester. He has his ways to get what he wants, and what he wants is domination and control. So I'll give you a year, Colin, to prove the Corps can change. We'll probably still go after the camps because I'm not leaving telepaths to those, but we'll be gentle with your people. If they let us." She glanced toward Hawk, who nodded in reply, before returning to look at Colin. "I've been let down by those I thought were good men before, Colin. Don't let history repeat itself."

“I’ll instruct them to let you. And I’ll do my best not to.” Colin replied, he knew she was talking about Sheridan, and his hatred for the man was thick enough one could cut it with a knife.

"Fine. Then we'll call off any further operations."

"Can you?" Robert asked. "With an organization like yours…"

"She can, Alliance stooge," Helen retorted. "And while we're at it, why doesn't your high and mighty Alliance do something about the bastards in EarthDome instead of making kissy-face with them?"

Robert furrowed his brow at that. He had no chance to reply before Lyta said, "If anything happens, it's not us, and I'll deal with any problems personally." She gave Colin a final look. "And congratulations, Colin. It was about time you found room for something other than duty in your life."

“There always was, I just had to find the right people....” Colin replied.

"Let's get you back," Helen said to Hawk and Becca, clearly impatient with the situation.

"Hawk, remember what I said," Robert said, urgency in his voice. "There are better ways to do this. Stop hurting yourselves."

Hawk gave him a measured look. "I've got work to do, Dale." There was something like a hollowness in his voice. "And a lot of injustice to avenge. I'll do what I have to."

"Dammit, think of your friends! Even if you're determined to destroy yourself…!"

Hawk gave him a quiet look, but said nothing else.

“Becca,” Max, bandaged and on his feet through sheer force of will, stepped out of the Gestalt “We owe you our lives, and… if you keep going down the path you are there’s a good chance you’ll lose yours. If it ever gets to be too much, you’ll always have a home to come to, for as long as we can keep it standing.”

In reply Becca gave him a look that betrayed the ache inside of her. But more powerful than that ache was the guilt. Again telepaths had died, again she'd survived. It was evident to all that she was not going to stay.

Without a further word, Lyta brought her arm up. An amber-toned omnitool snapped into view around her forearm. With a tap of a key, she vanished in a burst of white light. Helen repeated the action. One by one the crew of the Avenger disappeared in similar bursts. The broken remnant of Hawk's shuttle joined them.

Becca and Hawk were the last ones to go. In the final second before she disappeared, Becca's mind opened and broadcast a simple message to the others. Robert thought he heard it, but it sounded like it was in Hebrew, and he didn't nearly know enough of it to understand.

What he did understand were the four characters Becca planted in his mind, in searing, pleading clarity.

And then they were gone.

With the threat past and Becca gone, Colin mentally collapsed. The stress of losing people, almost losing everyone, Becca leaving, and then his conversation with Lyta who in some other lifetime had been like a big sister to him...it was too much and he sank to the ground in tears.

Gene couldn’t leave his husband crying there and Zara couldn’t stand to watch him in pain like that. Zara clambered up on his shoulders and hugged him around the neck, while Gene got down on his knees in front of Colin, wrapped his arms around them both, and put their foreheads together.

“It’s okay babe. We’re still alive, shit, Lyta might even leave us alone… I don’t know how you pulled that off, but you did it.”

“Yeah Dad, Dad is right. We made it and you did the best you could. That’s what matters.”

Robert looked down at them and nodded, smiling slightly. "From the moment I met her, I didn't think anything could deflect her anger at Psi Corps like that. You should be proud."

Gene looked up “He is but… “ Gene looked around pointedly “It’s never really enough, is it? Hell, I’ll break later.” Even then, Robert could feel Colin’s mind in Gene’s acting like a brace keeping his husband from having the same breakdown.

“This is normal.” Zara said “Only one of them at once.”

Robert nodded in understanding, in more ways than one. At the moment, he personally wanted to go to his quarters on the infiltrator and collapse.

Which, ultimately, he would get to do.

Seconds after they all stepped off of the transporter pad on the Avenger, Helen whirled about and confronted Lyta. "What the hell was that?!" she demanded. "All of the trouble we've gone to and you're going to call off the campaign just because some guy you knew as a kid says so?!"

Lyta gave Helen a look that spoke mostly of contempt. "You don't really have a clue what's going on here, do you Helen? All you care about is getting someone to stab."

"What I care about is putting down these fascist pigs!"

"Communist, apparently," Hawk corrected weakly. He and Becca continued to balance each other.

"Syndicalist," Becca corrected in turn. "Neither. They're a big kibbutz." She leveled a look at Helen. "And what they have is better than why my people had on my world."

"Bullcrap," Helen growled. "Did the failsafes actually work? Maybe they pulled the whammy on your mind…"

"They didn't," Lyta said. "I'd know."

"The question is if you'd care."

The glare Lyta gave her was withering. "Why do you think I got involved in fighting the Corps in the first place, Helen?" Lyta asked coldly. "Yes, I damn well care, and that's why I'm giving Colin his year."

"A year for them to recover and be even more ready for us!"

"As usual, you're not thinking strategically," Lyta scolded her. "There are three ways I see this playing out." She raised her hand and three fingers, pulling one back as she listed off the outcomes in mind. "One, Colin's revolution fails, and Psi Corps is dissolved by Earth. We'll need to be ready if that happens because we'll be the only thing between telepaths and a genocide. Two, Colin's revolution succeeds, Bester takes over. The Underground will swell as a result, Earth will resist, and Sheridan will be more than happy to help bring Bester down. Then we make our move. And then the least-likely outcome, Colin wins and keeps Bester out. I don't put a lot of stock into that, but if it does happen then all we have to do is worry about finding Bester." Lyta leaned in to match glare for glare. "And in all three cases, more time means more time for us to train recruits. Gather allies and resources. We'll be even stronger in a year's time."

"Funny this is your plan now," Helen said. "I'd almost think you let that Psi Cop worm his way into your brain."

"Helen, dammit, please." Hawk gave her a pleading look. "There's more to this situation than we thought, alright? And with these slaver bastards around, the last thing we need is to make things easier for them."

Helen looked at him and some of her frustration seemed to fade, replaced by concern. "Let's get to the infirmary," she said.

"Let's get home," Hawk corrected. "We both need nanites. And we have to consider our next step."

"Agreed," said Lyta, an angry look on her face. "Someone is making slaves of telepaths. Let's make that our priority for now."

"These people are tough too. Becca and I only got an edge by going combat mode."

Helen's expression showed deep concern for the first time. "You're… you what?"

"Yeah. Why else do you think we're so wasted?"

"Then… we'll need a fresh round of infusions," Helen asserted. "To learn more about making it work."

"No, none of that," Hawk said. "New rules. Infusions every six months."

That made Helen glower again. "What?! Come on, don't tell me you bought that brain damage malarky!" The look on Hawk's face told her that yes, he did indeed, and that he wasn't going to be questioned. Helen's impatience was palpable. "It's going to set back all of our timetables! All of the replacements for the people we lost at Tira!"

"I know. We'll make do with on-the-job training."

"It's the right thing," Becca agreed. "It's healthier for all of us."

Helen gave her a dark look. "No one asked you, newbie. We were doing just fine before you showed up." With that she turned and stomped off.

"I need to lay down," Hawk said, rubbing at his head. Another headache was already forming.

After he left, Becca and Lyta remained alone. Thank you, Becca mindcast to her. For not forcing us to fight.

Don't thank me yet, Ms. bat Gurion
, Lyta cast back. One way or another, there's going to be fighting. Her expression softened. Poor Colin. He really thinks he can make things better with the Corps. He doesn't understand that you can't fix a broken house when it's on a bad foundation. With that parting remark, Lyta walked off.

For her part, Becca returned to her quarters on Deck 6. They were one of the larger quarters available, a boon for being a nanite-augmented agent. It was an external apartment too, so she was able to look out a transteel window at Tau Atrea 3 below. She put her hand against the window while enjoying the view. It was such a beautiful world. It would be so nice to live there. To have a community again. To be at peace.

But she didn't deserve it. Not that kind of peace. Maybe her world would enjoy it, if Captain Dale followed through on what she sent to him.

Distortions appeared, telling her the ship was going to warp. Right as the planet disappeared she whispered aloud the Hebrew words she'd cast at the others before beaming away.

"Goodbye, brothers and sisters."

Personal Log: Robert Dale; 26 September 2643 AST. The Tau Atrea settlement has been fully secured. A Psi Corps vessel provided the promised reinforcements and the necessary defenses to ensure that another raid like yesterday's can never happen again. They also transported several hundred more civilians who are joining in the cleanup effort.

The experience of the last 24 hours has been eye-opening. It is clear that the Alliance will need to carefully consider its policies in E5B1 on the issue of telepaths. We'll also need to step up patrols and expand our sensor nets to deal with these 'Aristos' and other slave traders. Dr. Meier has been gracious enough to offer me a copy of his report on what he and the others gleaned from the slaver's mind.

I still wonder if my truce with Hawk was the right choice. I have to hope he might listen to us this time. That he is not directly responsible for the bombing of Earth C1P2 does not change much in the long run. He is still legally a war criminal for failing to appropriately punish the man responsible, and his guilt for the attack only seems to further fuel this crusade he is on. And as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved by good intentions.

We will be departing today to rendezvous with the
Aurora. But there are a couple of matters to settle before we depart.

The morning daylight shined down upon the teams of telepaths clearing away rubble from the area most affected by the fight. The bodies of the destroyed cyborgs were already gone, taken outside the compound and buried in a common grave. Other groups of telepaths were at work with daily chores or giving orientation to the newly-arriving settlers. Another shuttle from the Sinbad, a Psi Corps transport, was already descending to land at the runway at the northwest corner of the compound.

Robert's infiltrator remained in the common, its dark gray hull reflecting sunlight from Tau Atrea. Zara and many of the children were milling around it, gaping in admiration and interest at the sleek, bird-like vessel. Near the back of the ship, a small plastic table had been set up. A number of parts were on it, all from the anti-grav orb toy the children had played with the day before. It was left behind during the evacuation to the bunker and damaged in the fighting.

Robert observed them while standing near the table. He was no longer in armor. He kept the brown robes, battle-damage still showing on them, and wore a plain blue shirt and navy blue trousers with it. After completing a circuit around the ship Zara approached.

“Hi!” Zara said as cheerfully as she could. They were still arranging funerals for those who didn’t make it, and while she could compartmentalize with the best of them, she was still in mourning.

"Good morning," he replied. While she was doing well in holding it, he sensed her grief for the telepaths killed in the battle.

“I’ve been thinking. Shocking, I know.” She gave the ship a pensive look. “Your family history, Jayhawkers in ‘Bleeding Kansas’. I don’t know much American history but I know they fought slavers. You fight slavers, that ship freed over fifty. Seems like a good name to me.”

The recommendation brought a gentle smile to Robert's face. It was a good point. "Two of five brothers died fighting the border ruffians, the proslavery men from Missouri," he revealed. "My ancestor was the eldest surviving brother. He marched through Georgia with Sherman's army." He thought back to childhood visits to the county historical center and pictures of that first generation of Dales in Kansas. Over the decades the Dale family had often given family items and photos to the center, given how long they'd dwelled in the region. "I suppose it is a good name."

“Ah, now there’s a song Dad” meaning Gene “made sure I knew. So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea. While we were marching through Georgia!” she giggled. It was so anachronistic but yet so perfect. “Glad I could help!”

When Lucy emerged from the armory it drew the attention of the kids. Like Robert she was out of armor now, wearing her blue robes over a Gersallian-style cool weather tunic of brown color and dark black trousers. She held a piece in her hand. By the time she arrived at the table the children were gathering around her. "So you can fix it?!" one of the children asked. Her concern was understandable; they were unlikely to find replacement parts for the device out here.

"Give me a moment…" She used a soldering iron to put the new part in its place. When she was done she set the tool down and held up a hand. The children gaped in wonder as each piece started levitating in the air. They moved together, assembling steadily, as if the parts could assemble themselves without Human involvement. The final bits formed together, creating the gray orb of before, bright lights on the exterior. Lucy levitated the orb toward a wide-eyed Maina, who plucked it from mid-air. "There, give it a try."

He pressed a bright blue button. The orb lifted from his hand. "Greetings, everyone! Are you ready for another game of Find The Orb?"

"Yes!" most of the children chorused.

"Your last time was twenty-six minutes twenty seconds! Work together and see if you can improve! Remember, you are each the keeper of your brothers and sisters." With that final line the orb zipped away. Maina and the other children started to give chase, but Husn remained behind with a curious look on her face.

Robert grinned at Lucy. "Show off."

Lucy replied with a playful grin. A thoughtful look followed. "When I bought one of those to convert into a training device, the rules called it 'Orb Hunter'. And it didn't say anything about working together. The kid who catches it the most in ten tries wins."

“We don’t work that way.” Husn explained. “We compete, sure, everyone likes to win. But we also work together and make sure that competition never harms. Losing a game isn’t supposed to hurt, it’s supposed to teach.”

"Huh." Lucy gave Robert a meaningful look. "I might have enjoyed kickball in elementary school if we'd had that mentality."

He responded with a chuckle. "I still remember when you kicked the ball into Peter Smith's face. It seemed too random to be unintentional. I guess we know better now, don't we?"

To that she laughed. "Maybe so." She turned her attention to Husn. While the girl's telepathy was easy to sense, there was more to it with her.

Robert nodded.

“So… what was that I felt before? Do I have powers like yours?” She asked Robert directly. She was used to honest questions getting honest answers from adults, except when they couldn’t answer.

Robert nodded. He gave his reply mentally. I felt it. You do have what is called a connected swevyra. It'll be up to you to decide if you want to explore it or not. But you might as well enjoy your childhood first, Husn. This power can be an even greater burden than telepathy. It can be spiritually corrupting if used wrong. Robert briefly gave her impressions from his fight with the SS in the foyer of the Führerhaus and of the earlier battle with Mastrash Goras as he became corrupted with darkness. How negative emotions like fear, anger, and hatred could corrupt one's life force. He remembered the cold energy of that darkness, powerful and intoxicating, but spiritually corrosive. To fall to it would mean personal destruction.

Husn thought about it and recoiled from those negative emotions. I don’t want to end up like that. But I’m not going to refuse a gift from Allah. That would be wrong. She looked over toward the two Psi Cops, busily working on coordinating repairs and cleanup, and Robert felt that she was outright projecting her thoughts at both of them to make sure they knew. It got both of their attention, and after a brief conference between both of them that Robert couldn’t actually pick up, just detect from body language, Colin replied.

This is something we’ll have to discuss I think… As far as I know Husn, you’re the first one in the Corps to have these abilities. He didn’t leave Zara out either, but she knew enough to know it was beyond her pay grade.

I can try and see if anyone is willing to come here and show her the ropes. I don't think having her leave to receive training on Gersal or elsewhere will be good for Husn. Robert gave her an understanding look.

Yeah, I don’t want to leave. Everyone I love is here and the younger ones need me. Husn replied.

"There are some teachers in the Order of Swenya, and some of the Dorei orders, who travel looking for the sensitive," Lucy said aloud, understanding what was being discussed. "And there's always other sources. If Kasszas is being nomadic again, he might be interested. Assuming he believes that is where he is being called, I mean." For the benefit of the others, Lucy drew memories of Kasszas S'szrishin to the surface of her thoughts, showing them a blind Zigonian with a walking stick who once helped Julia, Angel, and Meridina rescue Jarod. There were, by her knowledge, no reptilian species like Zigonians known in this universe at present.

“Woah, that’s something you don’t see every day!” Zara remarked. “And you’re right, we don’t have any reptiloids so far in this universe. At least not like that. Some people are scaly but not so… Saurian.”

Husn thought about things, she thought about them hard. She didn’t think adopting the beliefs of a group of people from another universe would work. She had her own. She had her own God, her own values. She didn’t want to be in a position where she’d have to pay lip-service to something she didn’t believe in or get trapped by rules she had no hand in making that were thousands of years old.

They both sensed those thoughts. "That wouldn't necessarily happen, Husn," Robert said gently. "Although I understand why you're concerned. The important thing is that if you want to use these abilities, you learn about them. In time, maybe you'll figure out your own way to view them."

Husn nodded. Both Psi Cops took a mental step back to watch. “That makes sense. And it might not just be me, I won’t be the only one. I’m just the first. I might be the person other telepaths, or even mundanes, come to. So I have to do a good job.”

"You've got time," Lucy assured her. "We'll see what we can do. In the meantime, enjoy being a kid."

“Oh that’s going to happen either way! I mean, come on! Moving things with my mind? Zara won’t be the only one inventing new games!”

Lucy gave Robert a slightly worried look. He responded with a small smile and a shake of the head. She'll be better than you think. The others will make sure she doesn't give in to any dark feelings.

Still, we'd better find someone to train her, just to be on the safe side. Someone flexible

Colin approached, not wanting to interrupt, he waited until they were done before saying anything. “So… Robert, there are about twenty telepaths who haven’t left your ship. I meant what I said to Lyta, I won’t go in and round them up. On the other hand, a lot of them have been propagandized their entire lives to hate and fear their own people. With your permission, I’d like to go in and see if I can convince any of them to stay. You’re welcome to observe if you want.”

Robert replied immediately with a nod. "Follow me then."

Twenty telepaths sat on the floor and stairs of the armory, the only section of Robert's ship big enough for all of them. Sleeping bags and blankets were still laid out from where they'd slept. They represented the holdouts, unwilling to join the Corps like the other twenty or so that Antonia and the others had convinced before and after their rescue. At least one group was a cohesive nuclear family of unregistered telepaths from somewhere in Latin America - father, mother, and three children ages ten to three - and there was a group of adolescents and teenagers, cousins and siblings, of North American background. There was no disguising the fear most of them felt at the sight of Colin, but Lucy's assurances that their wishes would be respected quieted most.

“Hello. My name is Dr. Colin Meier, and it’s… it’s wonderful to see you still alive. But I’d like to first apologize from the bottom of my heart, for everything you’ve been through. You all deserve better and in so many ways we’ve failed you.”

This drew attention, wary attention, from the assembled. Distrust was painfully evident in most, but Robert sensed a few were considering Colin's sincerity. They might not dismiss him out of hand as he'd considered likely.

Colin dropped his defenses, if they wanted his mind was open to them to examine his surface thoughts and assess his sincerity for themselves. “Psi Cops have two jobs. The first is to protect telepaths, but the other job is to enforce the mundane’s laws. Those two are in conflict, and for the last sixty years, it’s broken many of us. Between that and the Sleepers, the camps, you have no reason to trust me. I understand that. What I can say is this. We’re done. We’re resolving the conflict by telling the mundanes to get bent. I won’t lie to you, that’s going to lead to a war, and I understand if you want no part of that.”

There was continued silence from the others, but Colin felt several feeling around at the edges of his mind, those trained enough to do so. Gauging his intent. There was curiosity in several of those minds.

“If we win, we can decide what it is we want, as a people, for the first time in our history; but the only guarantee for the future I can make for you is that we’re going to fight for our and your dignity as sapient beings. We will not abandon you, nor will we abandon our children being born inside the Earth Alliance and under its laws. Those of you who want to, go outside, talk to people. See what the Psi Corps really is. Then make your decision. You won’t be forced, and after you leave, no Psi Cops will hunt you. From now on, we’re only going to look for people to make sure they’re safe.” With that, Colin turned around and walked out, letting them talk among themselves and make up their own minds.

The family didn't move. Neither did a few of the others. Their minds were made up. The one coherent group of adolescent and teenage kids, six in all, did go, as did several more, taking up Colin's offer to investigate..

While Robert and Lucy remained, seeing to the ship and making sure everything was ready, business continued in the compound. As the hours passed some of the others returned. Robert could sense their thoughts; this wasn't for them. For one reason or another they didn't feel comfortable with the people here.

When Lucy returned from checking on all of the vital systems, she counted the returnees. Eleven in all, including the teenagers from the group of kids. Another adult, an African woman, returned through the open cargo bay door a moment later. Robert sensed that she'd made up her mind after some soul-searching; like the others, this wasn't for her, although she now lacked the distrust that had been evident before. She leveled a look at Robert and said, "I am the last. The others are staying."

"Why?" asked the mother in the family, her English thickly accented. "Why would they give up their freedom after all of this?!"

"Some believe the Corps isn't what it seemed before," replied the woman. "A couple believe in the revolution Dr. Meier spoke of more than the Corps, and they want to serve in it."

"Understandable reasons," Robert noted. Sensing Colin was approaching, he walked up to the cargo ramp door.

“Eight. Better than I expected, not as good as I’d hoped but… it’s understandable.” Colin remarked to Robert. It made him sad, that much was evident on his face, but sometimes things just didn’t work out the way one hoped, and he knew that the Psi Corps would be strange to an outsider. Culture shock alone would keep some people from joining. It was common enough with Laters, having difficulty adjusting.

"The Vulcans believe in the principle of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," Robert said. "One of the things about diversity is that you're always going to find people who don't fit in to what you expect. It's why choice is so important, and why Earth's laws on telepaths must be overthrown."

“One of many many reasons. I think the list is actually longer than Martin Luther’s little church flier.”

Robert grinned at that. "It would be one way to kick everything off. Pin the list to EarthGov's door."

“Actually… we’re almost literally going to do that. A broadcast and public data-dump but close enough.” Colin replied with a wry grin before he got serious. “Take care of them. They’re still my family. Wherever they go, they deserve to be safe and happy.”

"Of course," Robert said. As he spoke he thought of the past of his family. Of being a young teen, hurt by his older cousin's departure from the family farm. From Kansas, off to a distant place. That hurt was much the same as Colin was feeling, tinged as it had been with the painful realization that this was the best for the departed. A chance for them to be safe and happy. There wasn't much love in the county for Beth after she was outed, after all. Moving to Portland gave her a chance to be herself. With that in mind Robert offered his hand to Colin.

Colin took the offered hand and shook it. Believe it or not, I was in the closet too, for almost twenty years. For reasons that are really stupid now that I look back on them.

Robert nodded in agreement. I think I understand. And don't worry about your family, we'll take care of them. Aloud he said, "Well, I should be going. I need to report back. But just to set your mind at ease, I've already had Tau Atrea added to our border patrol routes. You've been marked as a telepath refugee camp due to the attacks in Earthspace. Our ships will monitor the area more closely than before. With your new defenses, you should be able to hold out more than long enough for an Alliance starship to respond to any distress call."

Colin breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you. When Gene said we were going to have to leave and join our ground forces, he meant to command our ground forces. It’s good to know our people are safe and in good hands.”

Robert nodded. "I know you're putting a lot into this plan of yours, but it won't hurt if you've got someone at your back," he said. "There's so much the Multiverse doesn't understand about the Corps. For the most part, you're seen as a government agency tasked with controlling and hunting telepaths. This…" He waved an arm at the compound. "...this community, nobody really knows about it. Have you given any thought about trying to change that? Because I have an idea."

“Well getting on ISN isn’t really an option, but I have considered it. You should have seen the look on the Director’s face when Erika Flores argued a case in your court. We have considered similarly ‘bending’ the rules, but there hasn’t been a good opportunity.”

"There's one coming up," Robert replied. "With the end of the Reich War, my cousin's called a summit of current and former repressed peoples to meet on New Liberty, to arrange common diplomatic and economic action and promote endangered nations' needs to the rest of the Multiverse. Along with representatives from these peoples, there's going to be representatives from several major interstellar governments, including the Alliance and the United Federation of Planets, attending the summit. Maybe you should come too."

Colin froze for a moment, considering that. Then he started to giggle. “EarthGov would have kittens! As in live birth, actual kittens! Live, on ISN! Oh God it would be hilarious…” but he sobered after a moment. “Going openly as representatives of the Psi Corps might cause them to kick things off a bit early.” He paused, and tried to think of a way to play Solomon and cut the baby in half without the infanticide.

Robert recognized the dilemma. He took a moment to think about it. An insight came to him. "I may have a way," he said. "And it plays right into the telepath-fearing attitudes that you're worried about."

“Oh I bet I’m going to like this…”

"It's going to depend on Max, actually," Robert confided. "He practices from what I see. How does his rabbi feel about the Corps?"

“He officiated at my wedding and gave us access to his synagogue’s community center for plays and special events.” Colin replied, definitely liking where this was going.

"Do you think he'd be interested in meeting with other universes' Jews to discuss theological matters and how their histories have influenced differences in rites and laws?"

“Given how excited he was when interuniversal contact was made, considering his absolute love of Maimonides? I think Isaac would be interested.”

Robert grinned at that. "I think Rabbi Soloveitchik will be glad to meet him then. The Rabbinical Council on New Liberty's been putting a lot of effort into examining interuniversal Judaism. They're always happy to invite rabbis and scholars from other universes for meetings."

“Excellent. So, where does Max fit into this delightfully subversive scheme you have running through your head?” He could look into Robert’s head for it, but he didn’t. He thought he could see where it was going, but sometimes it was nice to hear someone say it.

"Well, you know how dangerous it is for people to visit to the Alliance," Robert remarked. "Where telepaths go around unmarked and unregistered, and law doesn't recognize surface thoughts as inviolable privacy. Clearly your rabbi friend will need a properly trained member of the Psi Corps along to protect his thoughts from intrusion. Of course, the risk of that Psi Corps member defecting to the Alliance, well… I was born at the end of the 20th Century on my Earth, Colin, so as a kid I watched a lot of old shows about desperate Eastern Europeans trying to defect from the Soviet Bloc, and there was always some kind of secret police agent assigned to watch them and make sure they didn't flee. Clearly Earth will understand if a Psi Cop is sent to ensure this telepath doesn't take the chance to defect to the Alliance."

“Clearly…” Colin replied, snickering. “And neither of those telepaths would ever dream of violating the Psi Corps Charter inside a closed meeting or private conversation with potentially high-level foreign officials while there by discussing the forbidden subject of politics. Obviously, the loyal Psi Cop would prevent that. Now where o’ where could we find such an upstanding member of MetaPol, with an unassailable track-record, I wonder?”

"A man of your reputation, Dr. Meier, might work perfectly well," Robert observed. "Hypothetically speaking, of course. As an operative of the Allied Systems, it would be unconscionable for me to interfere in the affairs of Earth."

“Oh, I would never dream of it. Nor would I ever ask any of my official superiors to officially order me to attend such an event. Such a thing would be a perfidious subornation of the lawful authority of the Earth Alliance!” Colin feigned mortification, clutching the wedding band on a chain around his neck like it was a string of pearls.

"I'm glad we understand each other on that matter, then," Robert said, smiling.

“Indeed we do, Rabbi Isaac Liebgott of the Temple Beth Zion on Omega VII will absolutely be needing a telepath bodyguard if he is to venture beyond the pale of settlement into Alliance Space.”

"I feel sorry for any rogue telepaths in the Alliance that think they can make him another victim under our inadequate laws," Robert proclaimed melodramatically.

They departed to well-wishes and heartfelt goodbyes. Zara sat on Gene's shoulders while the other children were in a group with their educator Mrs. Saunders. Max, Hegebe, Antonia, and many others joined them as the infiltrator lifted off.

Once they were in orbit, Robert checked the sensors. "No ships nearby. Engaging cloaking device."

"The Aurora's still at B5," noted Lucy. "Want me to set a course?"

"Yes. Parabolic, around Earth space. Engage when ready."

"Doing so now." After she completed the work and they were at warp speed, Lucy said, "You know, Meridina and Dr. Tusana are going to spend hours rooting through our brains to make sure the Corps didn't mind-whammy us."

"Yep," he said. "I already had that happen back on Solaris."

"Just so you know. So, Dr. Meier and Mr. Hendriks. I don't often see two people that intertwined. With their presence in the Flow of Life, I mean."

"I've never seen it before. Not to that extent," Robert noted. "Like their souls are completely bonded."

"I've seen it before," Lucy said. "Never thought I'd see another example of it."

Robert blinked and looked toward her. "Really? Where did you see it before?"

Despite the fact she was piloting the ship, Lucy turned her chair to face him. A small grin was on her face. "You and Julia," she replied.

Robert blinked at that. He didn't know how to react to her saying so. "Really?"

"Yeah, really," said Lucy. "Not the same way, I mean… but whatever the two of you have, it's the kind of closeness most of us can envy. It's very special."

He had nothing to say about that. But he did feel the truth of what she said. And it made so much sense to him. "It is," he agreed.

Lucy nodded wordlessly and returned her attention to the piloting controls.

Two days passed and they were nearing the edge of Earth territory when Talara identified the Aurora on long range sensors. After getting their attention and informing them of their approach, it took a few hours to make the rendezvous. They landed at the rear of the Aurora in the secondary shuttle bay. Lucy performed the landing with customary grace, allowing Robert to lead the twelve telepaths still aboard out.

Leo, Dr. Walker, and medical teams were waiting to process the telepaths. Julia and Meridina were present as well and their relief filled him. Unable to stop herself, Julia rushed up to him and gave him a tight hug. He winced a little at the intensity of it, even if it warmed his heart. "Woh, watch the ribs," he pleaded.

As soon as the hug finished Julia asked, "What is this? What happened to a simple recon mission?"

Robert smiled at her. Given what he'd pledged before leaving, he felt sheepish as he admitted, "Well, that's a long story…"
”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 »


It was well into the evening when Robert was finished having Meridina and Dr. Tusana thoroughly examine his mind. The Gamma Shift first watch was coming on duty when he walked through the bridge and to the ready office. He found Julia looking over the day's last reports. "Well, good news," he said. "Meridina and Doctor Tusana have finished spelunking through my brain. They're pronounced me free and clear." He made a little face. "They also know about that time you and I glued Ms. Hinds' pens together."

Julia giggled in response to that act of childhood mischief. "It's between over twenty years and I still think she deserved it," Julia proclaimed. "The way she treated Zack was terrible. I'm glad his mom got him into another class, even if it meant he wasn't with us."

"Right." He took a seat at her desk, anticipating what was next.

"I haven't had a chance to read any of your preliminary reports yet," Julia said. "Assuming I get access to them. What happened? Leo's said something about a Psi Corps civilian refuge and red-eyed slavers."

"It's a very long story, and I'll show you my report," Robert promised. "I think everyone should see it. I've had to rethink some things. Like Hawk."

Julia's jaw dropped slightly. "Hawk? He was there?!"

Robert nodded. "Turns out he was running the same mission while training a new recruit. We worked together. With the Psi Corps." He set his hands on his lap. "Honestly, I actually feel sorry for him now."

He could sense Julia's incredulity at the comment. "Feel sorry for him? For Hawk?" After struggling to find a word, Julia settled for "Why?!"

"Being near him let me connect a little," Robert answered. "Through shouting at him, admittedly. But I was able to sense his memories with my abilities. He wasn't directly responsible for Earth C1P2. It was a rogue subordinate. The one you met on the Orsala, actually." When Julia didn't react to that verbally he continued. "Despite his violent behavior, he wants to do the right thing. He wants to end suffering. He's… well, he's very empathetic. The guilt of what happened to Earth C1P2 is crushing him. It's making his drive to fight even stronger."

"This doesn't change that they've done some terrible things," Julia remarked. "By shielding the real killer, Hawk's making himself a war criminal. They're all going to have to face justice."

"I know," Robert said. "And that's the damned waste of it all. He's taken this cause so far… and there's no telling who he's going to drag down with him before it's over." He mostly thought of Becca when he said that. That her survivor's guilt drove her to remaining with him was saddening. He could only hope she didn't end up a victim of Hawk's cause. That also brought him to the other issue. "And now that they're working with Lyta Alexander, they're even more dangerous."

"Christ. Really?" Julia rubbed at her head. "Things are bad enough as it is."

"When you count these red-eyed slavers, yeah, it's bad."

"And I made it worse," she said quietly. Seeing he didn't know what she meant, Julia said, "The negotiations. Our deal with Earth, it's going to have a secret clause. One that Captain Ivanova introduced to me when we were trying to find a way to keep the talks from failing. Earth is going to suspend searches of Alliance-flagged ships along one of our major trading routes. That way we can smuggle unregistered telepaths to Alliance space without our ships getting searched."

Robert frowned at that. "Or so they think," he said. "The fact is, Psi Corps has its own fleet. And it's bigger than I think people realize. They'll do raids and searches on their own. But at the same time, if the slavers realize what's going on…"

"They'll fake Alliance IDs to take advantage. Maybe even buy Alliance ships. Psi Corps can't catch them all, and we may not have the ships to either. If they even bother coming to our space." Julia's self-recrimination was hard for Robert to take. "God, what have I done?"

"Your job. Your duty," Robert said quietly. "You were required to bring that information to Onaran if you had it."

"No," she said fervently. "I should have listened to my gut. I shouldn't have brought it to him." Shame showed in her aquamarine eyes. "You saved telepaths from slavery, but I may have condemned even more to it."

"Maybe, maybe not. There might be ways we can salvage this," Robert said. "Julia, if this treaty with Earth didn't go through, it'd be even worse. Earth would tighten security, but they'd do it against us. They'd escalate the crisis, force us to focus on them and not the slavers. And they might have even upset Dr. Meier's plans."

"Doctor Meier?"

"He'll be in my report," Robert said. "He's one of the unofficial heads of the Psi Corps. Or rather, the forces preparing for revolution against Earth."

"Elia - Commander Saumarez - mentioned something along those lines," Julia answered. "And I always thought the rumors about Psi Corps taking over were conspiracy theories."

"That's not what he wants," Robert said. "It's more… Reformation. Or something like the Warsaw Uprising. They want to force Earth to end the oppression of telepaths."

At first Robert expected Julia to disbelieve him. But she seemed more accepting than he'd imagined she'd be. "If so, I hope they win," she finally said.

"I expected you to be a little more disbelieving," he admitted.

"I do. Somewhat," she admitted. "But I've come to realize that there's more to the Psi Corps issue than I realized."

"Same here. It helps to be shown different points of view." Robert nodded quietly. "They're not like us. And some of it… I still have trouble understanding why they're like the way they are. This collectivist mindset they have. This whole thing about 'The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father' still sounds cultish to my ears."

"Same here," Julia said. "And they were founded to be a ghetto for telepaths. Why they'd be loyal to it…" She thought back to what Elia said in the Lookout. "Elia is right on that, I guess. The oppressed can take the symbols of that oppression and make them something else."

"They can," he agreed. "And if we're to be fair toward them, we have to try to understand them, and hope they reciprocate."

"That's why he let you take those telepaths with you?" she asked. "Dr. Meier, I mean. To show he understood your point of view?"

"In part," Robert said. "But I think that he also resents taking away their choices. It hurts him that most of what they know about the Corps is propaganda, either from EarthGov or the Underground. But he understands that if things are to change, the Corps has to accept that not every telepath will join. So long as they're safe and happy, he'll live with it."

"Well, that's all we can ask for when it comes to family, isn't it?"

"Exactly. Colin adores his family, every member of them. Especially his husband and adopted daughter."

Julia made a bewildered face. "Wait, husband? What about that eugenics program they have?"

"Not very popular either," Robert confided. "Now, if you'll excuse me... " He stood up. "I need to go call Rabbi Soloveitchik to arrange a visitor from one of his counterparts from this universe." He chuckled at Julia's confused look. "I'll explain later," he promised.

"I hope so…" Julia put her hands together on the desk. "By the way, have you considered a name for your infiltrator ship? It'll make the manifest and the requisitions easier to deal with."

"A clever little girl suggested something," he said. "How about Jayhawk? Let's go with that."

Julia chuckled. "Well, it's better than Noble Steed, I'll grant. And so very Kansan of you."

"Well, you know my family history," Robert said, smiling. "We Dales have always been Jayhawkers."

Her response was a laugh.

Just as Robert approached the door, he turned and looked at her again. "Julie?"

"Yes?" She looked up at him.

"I'm home," he said. "I'm safe. It's okay."

With that he left, leaving Julia to sigh in relief.

The next day the Aurora was nearly to She'teyal and its second rendezvous with the Huáscar in the span of a week. Robert left his quarters, content with the report he'd filed with Admiral Maran, destined for the eyes of the President. He held a copy of that same report in his hand as he made his way through Deck 6 to his destination: Elia Saumarez's guest quarters. When he arrived he tapped the chime. "Commander, this is Captain Dale. If you've got the time, I've got something I'd like you to see before you beam back to your ship."

“Please come in, Sir,” the proper voice on the other side said, and a moment later the door lock cycled. By the time Robert got in, she was already back in uniform with her gloves.

Upon entering Robert got a look at Elia for the first time. She was a middling-tall woman with an appearance more Mediterranean than English, dark hair and brown eyes, lithe in build. She looked born to wear a uniform, as if it was the most natural thing she could be in. The two gold and one black strips of Lieutenant Commander rank were visible on her collar, and the trim of her black uniform was Operations beige, just like Jarod and Tom, compared to the silver of Robert's and lacking the staff aiguillette. "It's good to meet you, Commander," he said. He extended his hand to offer the data pad in it. "I've brought you something. I admit I haven't cleared it yet with Admiral Maran, but given your crew provided us the first inkling that these people existed… I'm practicing Paladin's prerogative in sharing it with you and the Huáscar's staff." He was open with his thought that this was information that every Alliance crew should be aware of, to make it easier to know what they were facing.

“It’s good to meet you too Captain Dale.” But it didn’t admit any cheer or particular enthusiasm. Elia was obviously drained emotionally and wanted nothing more than to get back to her own ship. Still, she was curious “I would ask where you got this, but I suspect you can’t tell me.” Elia replied, taking the datapad and staring at it’s contents. Her eyes went wide. “Forget where. How? This is extremely detailed.”

"I had help," he admitted. "Doctor Colin Meier of Metapol provided me with information he pulled from the mind of one of the slavers. While he and about twenty other telepaths tore the man's mind to kindling." Robert frowned. "Some also came from a Corps medical student named Antonia di Giuseppe. She experienced what these people do first hand. It's all in there, as disgusting as it is."

“I know that name…” Elia muttered, and looked it over, slowly at first, just taking it in. Then with rising horror at what these people were, faster and faster, as rapidly as she could read and digest the pages. Then she remembered where she’d heard that name. Elia had been out of the loop of the Corps for several years and the Corps hadn’t passed along the internal org-chart. Then she remembered. He was Metapol’s only active forensic psychologist. She also knew of him from somewhere else though, something to do with that Bloodhound from Mars, but she couldn’t place it. “Thank you for bringing this to my attention Captain. I… this is horrifying. Do you know how the Corps is going to deal with them? Given the recent… agreement.” There was a cast on the last word, she stifled snarling it.

"They'll definitely take more interest in trying to cut off trafficking," Robert said. "But I'm not sure to what extent. Dr. Meier has other concerns, after all, regarding the situation with Earth." He wasn't sure how much Elia knew of the internal plans, not being privy to her purpose in the talks. "As for the agreement, Captain Andreys filled me in. And we'll find a way to deal with the problematic elements of this agreement with Earth. Hopefully at the upcoming New Liberty Endangered Nations' Summit."

Elia raised an eyebrow. “Please tell me the Corps isn’t openly sending delegates…” she hoped, but also inwardly chuckled at the thought.

"Oh, that would be unthinkable, it'd violate the Charter," Robert answered. "From what I've read of it. From what I understand, a Psi Corps telepath is being hired by a rabbi to escort him to New Liberty for theological discussions with the New Liberty Rabbinical Council. To protect him from all of the unregistered telepaths in the Alliance. And a Psi Cop will be along to make sure the telepath doesn't decide to defect. I can't tell you which, of course." He smiled thinly. "From what I hear, the invitation will bring them around during the Summit. It's the earliest date in their busy schedule the rabbis can manage, I mean."

Elia tried and failed to suppress laughter. It was just damned cheeky. It was so very thin, and yet, it might actually work provided no one blatantly took a podium. When she was done, she smiled warmly for the first time in days. “I needed that. Thank you.”

Robert nodded. He'd sensed her mood and knew she needed something to make her feel better, to give her hope. "We've gotten some things wrong," he confessed. "I don't deny that. But we've got a chance to make up for that, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we take it. After what I saw on Tau Atrea, what I experienced, I can't do anything less."

Elia nodded, keeping herself disciplined again. “We’ll see how well you do Captain.” She sighed “You and I both know the Alliance is sick of fighting and has another war on the horizon. This is going to be another one before too long.”

"Maybe. But if things fall the right way, if we do the right things, it might not be so bloody, or so long," he replied. "The Corps was made as a prison, and your people turned it into a society. We may not always understand it, but it shouldn't keep us from realizing you have a right to decide for yourselves what your future will be. And giving you that opportunity." As he spoke he thought back to what Tau Atrea and the settlement were like. The way the children played. The way everyone acted around each other. Thought around each other. He thought about Colin and Gene and Zara, and Husn and Lucas and Maina. He thought about Max and the burden of memories he willingly carried. He thought about Antonia and what she endured for the sake of two scared teenagers. It wasn't life or community as he'd known it. Or even as he'd seen it before. But whatever it was, it wasn't a prison either. Or if it was, it was only because outsiders made it one. And the "inmates" were not going to tolerate that for any longer.

Elia picked up that thought and smiled a little. “Captain I think you’re the first person outside the Union who actually gets it, even a little. Thanks for going in with an open mind, that could have gone a lot worse.” She wasn’t even talking about the slavers. Had he gone in hostile there wasn’t a Psi Cop alive who would have hesitated to end him and then simply evacuate elsewhere. She knew it, and she figured he did too, but it was worth saying.

"After seeing Dr. Meier and twenty telepaths use a telescope to tear apart that Aristo's mind while he was still in orbit, I'm well aware of how things could have gone," Robert observed wryly. "I'm grateful it didn't come to that.

Elia snapped her fingers at the mention of a telescope, it was something of a feat with the gloves. “That’s where I remember him from!”

"He mentioned he'd done it before."

There was a tone in the air and Elia's omnitool lit up along the back of her left hand. She tapped at it. "Commander Saumarez here."

Jarod was on the other end. "Commander, just giving you a heads up. We're about to drop out of warp at She'teyal. The Huascar is waiting to receive you. Captain Zhen'var mentioned something about tea waiting for you."

“Thank you Commander. Please inform Captain Zhen’var that I will be transporting over shortly, and I would love to take tea.” Elia replied.


Elia turned her attention back to Robert and replied “Sorry about that. But yeah, he has. Him and the Bloodhound we met at Mars, but they were teenagers at the time, fifty or so others, and the target was the entire crew of a Minbari Warcruiser.” Robert could feel that there was more, a certain sort of pride radiated from her even though she was blocking her own thoughts.

"I heard something about that." After that reply Robert considered things for a moment before saying, "Well, I don't want to keep you. This mission has disrupted enough of your life as it is and I'm sure you're looking forward to getting back to your ship. Please, show all of that to Captain Zhen'var and the others. Along with the information on the slaver threat, it includes data on some new, dangerous capabilities in Hawk's organization."

“Thank you Captain. I can’t wait to take a look at my backlog.” She gave him a wry grin. “I will pass this around our command staff, it’s going to prove invaluable. It has been a pleasure meeting you, and I hope we cross paths again under better circumstances.” This time, there was real warmth, even if the report made her shudder internally.

"I hope so as well," Robert replied. "Take care, Commander, and bon voyage." With that he left her to finish getting ready for her departure.

When he returned to his quarters, Robert took a seat at the desk and noticed he had a response to a query he'd sent into the Alliance Defense Command databanks, concerning the names Colin gave him for the slavers. Since he was due to see the others that evening to share his report with the entire Aurora and Koenig command staffs, he decided this information would be useful to share and opened the file.

His eyes scanned the data. Information via the Allied Systems' diplomatic mission to an Earth government encountered earlier in the year, the Allied Worlds of Earth, Universe Designation A5R0, concerning neighboring states the Allied Systems had yet to establish diplomatic relations with. They listed a political entity of A5R0, the Eubian Concord, an oligarchical monarchy ruled by a genetically-modified class of Humanity.

Namely… the Aristos.

With it was a preliminary report from the Strategic Threat Assessment Staff of Defense Command, using public data provided from Earth sources to determine potential danger. Their findings were listed as "Undetermined", with an explanation that more intelligence was desired to confirm fleet strengths before a final assessment was issued. The only other item of note was that the Eubians were not the only major power in their home universe, but were locked into a long-term cold war with a political entity called the Skolian Imperialate.

But even though there was nothing further on either group, Robert felt discomfort thinking about them. A sense within him that the Aristos were not just another group of slavers, and that they were a greater threat than anyone yet imagined.

But that wasn't the only matter at hand. He found a second message waiting. Admiral Maran's staff confirmed their receipt of the universe coordinate designation he'd sent them. A preliminary survey and contact mission was being ordered.

That made Robert smile. Wherever you are, Rebekah bat Gurion, don't worry about your world. We'll do what we can for them too. And maybe… maybe you can come home one day.

With that thought in mind, Robert shut down his systems and left for the Lookout. The others were waiting to celebrate his return from another mission. He didn't want to keep them waiting.

It was the least he could do for family.
”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: 14 October 2643 AST; ASV Aurora. Captain Julia Andreys recording. The Aurora is completing its final day in orbit over the planet Coromadir, the capital world of the Aurigan Coalition. We are finalizing trade negotiations with the Aurigan government that will provide for economic improvement in this region of the Periphery of Universe F1S1. In the long term it is hoped that an Alliance presence in this potentially-volatile region will maintain regional stability and contribute to the peace of F1S1.

Everyone aboard is eagerly awaiting the completion of these talks. We are due to return to New Liberty to observe the Endangered Nations' Summit and the crew is eager to see how the Colony has fared. It seems to grow faster every time we visit. I wonder what it will be like the day the entire planet is settled.

As Captain of the Aurora Julia took the job of giving the Aurigan ruler a tour of her ship. Kamea Arano, High Lady of the Aurigan Coalition, was following Julia through Deck 20, along with her entourage. She was wearing a rich white gown fringed with red. A fine gold circlet sat her brow, the equivalent of a crown. A fringe of gray was showing through her locks of black hair and there were some lines on her face, especially around her brown eyes, to mark her as middle-aged. Given the data on the politics of the region Julia wondered if the gray also came from the delicate statecraft High Lady Kamea had been forced to practice over the last three decades. Her small nation was in a strategic position in the Near Periphery, on the Rimward border of the Capellan Confederation and Anti-Spinward frontier of the Taurian Concordat. The Federated Suns half of the Commonwealth was a few jumps away using Kearny-Fuchida space-fold drives. That combination was volatile enough, but the Rimward Frontier area of the Near Periphery was also of interest to the Free Worlds League and the Magistracy of Canopus. The Aurigans were thus at a balance point among mutually-conflicting powers, and such positions were inherently stressful for even interstellar nations, especially when they were comparatively less-advanced and developed than neighbors. This made the Foreign Office's interest in improving Alliance relations with them obvious.

That information aside, Julia found herself enjoying the company of High Lady Kamea, who showed genuine wonder and interest in the Aurora. There was a quiet strength to her, an idealism tempered by political reality, but not broken. "I remember well the media broadcast of your vessel's first journey through our universe, Captain," Kamea noted. "I'm quite pleased to get a chance to see it firsthand."

"I'm glad to give you that opportunity, Your Highness," Julia replied.

"The stories I've heard about your ship, about you…" Kamea's eyes turned distant. "I am familiar with what it means to become a legend."

"I did read up on your people before we arrived," Julia said. "I admire what you did when you were young, Highness. You saved your people from a brutal dictator, at repeated extreme risk to your own life."

"Yes. Though that had not been my intention at first, I am sorry to say. I launched the War of Restoration to restore my birthright. I had to have my eyes opened by my uncle's brutality before I realized what I should be fighting for." Painful old memories showed on Kamea's face.

"I know what you mean."

"Do you, Captain?" There was no challenge in the question, just an honest interest in determining the matter.

"I've seen my share of forced labor camps and gulags. Outright concentration camps," Julia admitted. She stopped walking, prompting Kamea and her guards and entourage to do the same. "I've seen pogroms in process. I've seen slavery at its worst. Even before the Reich."

Kamea's eyes met Julia's. "I see," the Aurigan ruler said. "It never quite leaves you, does it? That kind of brutality leaves a mark even when you've never suffered it yourself."

"You find out just what people can do to each other. Whether it's hate or ideology or just greed that drives them," Julia replied. "It's why this summit is important. There are so many nations, Human and non-Human, that have suffered. We can do something for many of them."

"Though I am aware of the peoples that suffered under the Reich, I am afraid there is little I can effectively due," Kamea said. "If my people were wealthier, we could contribute. But we are not a wealthy people, not by the standards of interstellar giants such as your Alliance. We strain ourselves just to implement the terraforming technology your Multiverse has provided for our marginally-habitable worlds."

"Given your reputation, your voice alone would help," Julia pointed out. "Sometimes a strong voice can be more important than a deep bank account."

"On rare occasion." Kamea's response to the idea was bemusement. "Although my experience has shown that the bank account is often more useful."

"I'm sure you had to deal with that issue when you were freeing your people," Julia observed.

"I had help," Kamea admitted, frankly. "I suspect you and yours had a similar motivation when you approached the nations that formed the Alliance."

Julia didn't have to affirm that yes, having wealthy and powerful interstellar states backing you up didn't hurt at all. Without the nations that formed the Alliance, the loss of the Facility would have ruined them. Instead the Alliance provided them the means to do even more to help the peoples of the Multiverse, even if it sometimes required political games and restraint.

"The world always balances on the scales of ideals and reality," Kamea continued. "I suppose I am fortunate enough that I have not lost sight of the ideal, despite my position."

"Ideals are important," Julia replied. "They give us something to work toward. Let us imagine making things better."

Kamea laughed lightly. "Yes, you would be the idealist, wouldn't you Captain? If only everything worked that way."

"It doesn't, I know. I've seen it." Julia let Kamea start walking before she did the same, signaling the others to follow. "Even the Alliance has member states that signed up for their own interests, not the greater ideals. I just hope they come to accept those ideals too. Just because idealism doesn't always win out doesn't mean we give it up. From what I've heard, you didn't."

A small smile crossed the face of the older woman. "There were times I wondered. When the war was still fresh in my mind, and all of the choices I had to make. The hard choices."

"Such as?"

"Guldra," she said simply. "Leaving my closest advisor, my friend, to captivity at the hands of my cousin. All so I could gain the information I needed to divide my uncle and his regime from his allies. I had to harden my heart." Again old pain flashed through those striking brown eyes. "It was the hardest decision I made in the war."

Julia nodded in understanding. A conversation two years in the past came to her mind, on the eve of the Nazi War, when she and Robert had argued about the possible necessity of leaving someone behind to save the ship. She'd argued in favor of the need to prepare for it, emotionally. Even if it meant she was the one left behind. It wasn't an easy thing to consider, and it was clear Lady Kamea once made that choice and still had a scar on her heart due to it.

"I sometimes wonder if it makes me so much different from Santiago and Victoria," Kamea mused. "Everything they did, every hard choice, every sacrifice, was because they felt it necessary for our people. How different am I when I made such a choice?"

"But you were, you are." Julia recalled the notes she read on the Aurigan Civil War, and the four year rule of the Aurigan Directorate. Santiago Espinosa and his daughter Victoria had been monsters, and the renegade Commodore Ostergaard's obsession with vengeance had crossed the line repeatedly. "You don't run gulags, Highness. You respect the civil rights of your people. You give them a voice in their government. You're in a completely different league from the Directorate, a better one. No matter what their motivation was."

"That is kind of you to say, Captain. Very kind." The smile grew, a knowing look shining in her brown eyes. "History chooses heroes. I never expected it would choose me, and I still wonder if I deserve it. It pleases me to meet those who do deserve it, unquestionably."

"I didn't start this to become a hero."

"That is the fun part, Captain," said Kamea. "We never do." When Julia let out a small laugh, Kamea looked at her curiously. "This amuses you?"

"I'm just thinking of what you've said," Julia answered. "And the fact that at least one of us always tries to be the hero. Honestly I think he's the reason President Morgan named his operatives 'Paladins'."

"You are speaking of Captain Dale," Kamea remarked. "I was led to believe he lives on the Aurora. He is away?"

"He is," Julia said. "No doubt trying to be the hero, as always."

A universe and a galaxy away, the planet Alignon continued its quiet orbit around its star. The planet was not the most hospitable, even with its atmosphere being marginally breathable by the standards of oxygen-breathing species. A molten, rapidly-rotating core gave the planet a powerful EM field, shielding those who chose to stay on it from easy detection. Only a handful of very sophisticated communication technologies could pierce the interference of said field. Thus the planet was the place to go to hide or deal clandestinely with others.

It was more than enough to explain the presence of the Shadow Broker's base on the planet.

Gunfire filled the loading bay of said base. The security teams were made up of several local species - Turian, Batarian, Human - and armed with the mass effect firearms unique to the M4P2 Universe's Milky Way. They maintained fire at the group seemingly pinned in at the side of the bay.

But only seemingly. With a moment of focus and a rush of metaphysical power bound to the life force of the universe, Robert Dale willed them to go flying back out of the bay. All did, thrown off their feet by a force they couldn't see. Using the momentary slack in the incoming fire, Robert tapped at his omnitool. "North bay, Talara!"

"On it!" replied the Falaen woman.

Behind him, Dr. Liara T'Soni lunged forward and planted a biotic punch to the face of a Collector entity, driving it away from a cryogenic preservation pod. The Asari xenoarchaeologist's attack forced the creature back. Nearby her ally, a Drell named Feron, wrestled with an enraged Salarian, both seemingly intent on killing the other.

The Shadow Brokers' guards were returning, but Robert's purpose in knocking them to the floor hadn't just been to stop their shooting. It'd been to buy time for the last of their group to get in position. The guards found this out to their detriment as Lucy Lucero dropped from the ceiling, creating a shockwave that sent them flying back again. Those who tried to stand their ground had their weapons cleaved into pieces by the shining blue lightsaber in Lucy's hands. A couple of them lost hands and forearms as well.

Robert was free to act. He did by first sabotaging the Collector's ship, a standard model craft the being had undoubtedly procured to look like normal traffic to the rest of the galaxy. His lightsaber flashed to life with green light and he rushed aboard, running it through machinery and then jamming it into the controls. When he left he came to Liara's aid, sending projected force against her Collector foe that not only forcefully threw it away from her, but sent it flying into Feron's foe in the process. As the red-skinned Salarian fell in a heap with the Collector, Liara rushed back to the cryopod. "Where's our ride?" she asked.

Robert answered by looking up as the bay doors opened. The Jayhawk descended, its shape making it look like a great dark-gray bird swooping down toward them. Under Talara's control the ship turned to present its rear cargo bay ramp door to them. It was already in the process of opening before the ship landed.

"Get aboard!" Robert cried out. "It's time to go!" At that Lucy backed away from the fallen guards and the handful still standing, lightsaber scything through the air to deflect incoming fire. Liara pushed the pod up to the ramp door and through it.

"Your defiance will not avail you," the Collector hissed as it got back up, the red-skinned Salarian doing the same. The latter pointed a weapon at them. "You cannot stop what is coming."

In lieu of a more badass kind of reply, Robert replied with a confident "We'll see about that" while helping Feron up. Liara stepped to the edge of the ramp with a pistol raised, her shots barking as she gave cover fire to the others. Lucy turned and ran, crossing the distance with speed beyond that of normal Humans. She got to the ramp as Robert did with Feron.

The Collector charged at them. Robert turned and gripped the creature with invisible force. "They are coming," it said. "And there is nothing you can do to stop them."

Before he could reply Liara's gun came up and fired once. The round slammed between the Collector's four yellow eyes, blasting through the brains of the being and killing it instantly. "We're done here," she said to Robert.

He nodded and followed her into the armory. What guards still had weapons and intact limbs did their best to fire at the ship, but the deflectors easily caught their fire. The pulse guns on the wings blazed away, auto-tracking the Broker's men and forcing them to stay in some cover to avoid getting blasted. This ongoing fire disappeared from view when the cargo bay door came up and closed. The Jayhawk's inertial dampeners kept them from feeling more than a slight sense of gravitational force as the ship lifted off and shot up through the atmosphere. "We're entering orbit now. Engaging cloak," said Talara.

"Well, that was fun," Lucy sighed. "I'm starting to get used to being shot at so often, Rob. I'm not sure I like it."

"Tell me about it," he replied. Robert walked up to the pod, but he couldn't bring himself to look inside. "Is it…?"

Liara finished a scan and nodded. "It is. It's her."

"Shepard." Emotion suddenly threatened to choke Robert. It was one thing to be told Jen Shepard was dead. To feel it in the depth of his being when the moment came. But to actually have her body, to confirm it… He wiped at the tears forming on his face. "At least Hannah Shepard will have something to bury," he said.

There was a… sense from Liara in response to that. As if she suddenly felt guilty about this whole arrangement. Which, to be fair, he could understand, since they'd nearly gotten killed fighting the Shadow Broker's personal troops, and had undoubtedly made enemies of the Broker himself.

"Thank you for your assistance, Captain," Feron said suddenly. His voice had the unusual timbre Robert knew to come from Drell. "I'm not sure we would have made it off Alignon if you had not come to assist."

"With everything I owe Shepard, you don't have to worry about apologies. And you're probably going to need to lie low. Going after me and Lucy is one thing; we're Alliance operatives, and the Broker may not want to declare war on the Allied Systems just yet. But you and Liara…"

"I have contacts in other universes I will pursue," said Feron. "But thank you for the concern."

"Sir, are we returning to Omega?" Talara asked over the comms.

"Yes, and I'm on my way to relieve you, Talara," Robert said. "Excellent flying."

"Thank you," she answered.

As Robert climbed the steps to head to the main deck and the cockpit, Lucy finished hanging her robes up. She sensed Liara's discomfort, her uncertainty, and turned to see her looking over the pod holding Shepard's remains. "Are you okay?" she asked Liara.

"I am… no, I am not." Liara put a hand on the pod. "Although I did not travel with Shepard, we touched minds twice. I felt a link to her, a bond. It hurts to have it severed. And to know she died so terribly and so alone."

"I get that," Lucy said. She walked over and set a hand on Liara's shoulder. "But you did the right thing going after her. These people, who knows what they planned to do with her body?"

"Yes, I agree with you there." Liara sighed. "I suppose I will have to go to another universe as well. If that is enough to stop the Shadow Broker from pursuing me."

"You talked about signing up for the Alliance before," Lucy said. "Why not now? With the war over, the fleet's shifting its way back to emphasizing scientific missions and exploration. A xenoarchaeologist would easily get a berth on a star cruiser. Especially one who knows how to defend herself."

"It is an idea, and I will consider it. But right now I just want to get back to Omega. My contact will take responsibility for returning Shepard's remains and I can move on."

Lucy wondered why they didn't just head to the Citadel and hand the remains over there, but then again, they'd arrived later. Liara's own arrangements were already in place. Less hassle, and it'd get them back home more quickly than putting up with Systems Alliance bureaucracy.

"I am tired," Liara admitted. "I need some rest." She went to the stairs and added, "Please inform me when we arrive at Omega."

"Of course," Lucy replied.

It was the new day on the Alliance calendar before the Jayhawk departed Omega. The massive space base and habitat, built into an eezo asteroid, was a center of commerce for the lawless Terminus Systems. Thus it was an open port, provided you paid the docking fees, or had someone to do it for you. Robert's operational budget was enough, but Liara directed him to a dock that was already paid for by her contacts. Given the time crunch they were under if they were to get back for his next job, Robert and his team opted not to explore the notorious station. They didn't even leave the Jayhawk, merely seeing Liara and Feron off with Shepard's remains.

Omega's star system was peculiar as having not one but two Mass Relays. The Omega Relay was one of the most notorious in M4P2. No other ship that went through ever came back. Lucy put them on a course for the proper relay. "It'll take a few transits to get back to our space," she observed. "But we should make it to the Aurora soon. Just in time for us to join Meridina in visiting Gersal."

"Enjoy," he said. "And take the Rio. Just in case something comes up and I need you back immediately."

"Since you say so," Lucy replied. "You?"

"I'll be monitoring the Endangered Nations' Summit. Under orders from Morgan," Robert said. "A 'just in case' measure."

"Have fun with the diplomats," Lucy said, smiling as she brought the Jayhawk up toward the main relay. Lightning crackled from the relay's eezo core and within seconds the Jayhawk was thousands of light years across the galaxy.

The United Alliance of Systems was the dream of trillions of people. The promise of a Multiverse united against terrible threats. Because of the peculiar nature of Humanity across the universes, many Earths were included in its membership rolls. And Humans, while just averaging a few centuries of interstellar travel among the various universes, were a plurality of the population. One of those Earths, of L2M1, was where the Alliance was based. Other Human nations provided influence to the body; the humanitarian interventionism of the British Stellar Union of Universe C502 (among other states with similar views), the ability to include different economic systems and concepts through the memberships of the Sol System Republic and the Colonial Confederation from D3R1, the emphasis on personal rights and tolerance for voluntary modification of one's body from the Sirian League of L2M1.

But the world that many considered to have the strongest influence on the young Alliance, the world with the strongest economy, the most advanced society, and the greatest population, was not one of the Earths at all. It was in a universe where Earth was a shattered, radioactive mess.

That distinction belonged to Gersal.

The irony was that the Gersallians themselves classified as near-Human. Externally they completely resembled Humanity. Internally, the differences in physiology were obvious, but yet not significant, such that many theories abounded, ranging from parallel evolution from similar environmental factors to the idea that some ancient species might have seeded modified Human genetic material on primordial Gersal.

One of the things that made Gersal, and the Gersallians, a unique part of the Alliance was the Order of Swenya. Founded three millennia in the past by a great heroine who influenced all of Gersallian society, the Order stood as guardians of peace and justice and defenders of the innocent. The Code Swenya passed onto them, the metaphysical beliefs she taught, informed their actions, telling them to make the universe, the Multiverse, a better place by the alleviation of suffering. The Knights of Swenya - known as swevyra'se in their tongue - would always be the first to raise their blades in defense of the helpless. Each and everyone would give their lives in the name of protection, believing their actions made the Multiverse a better place.

But even such good intentions were not always enough. Now there was a growing ill feeling in the halls of the Order. Even as the Alliance spread its influence, aiding many other societies and crushing the Nazi Reich of S4W8, one of the most horrific hegemons to ever be known, the Order itself was becoming uncertain. Many felt a darkness growing in the world, a sickness of the spirit. And it could not be decided what had brought it about.

Mastrash Ledosh knew this, and knew it keenly. That knowledge pressed him onward in his work, the difficult work of translating an ancient tome: the Life of Reshan. Its secrets held the key to what was wrong, he was certain, and as he read more and more translated text, the more convinced he was of it.

His apprentice entered his office. Gina Inviere was not Gersallian. Nor was she entirely Human, or baseline Human anyway. She was a Cylon - a manufactured infiltrator model of the machine civilization notorious for having committed genocide against the Humans who built them. Gina herself had suffered horrifically at the hands of the Humans she infiltrated. She would have ended her own existence, and possibly that of many thousands of Humans, had it not been for the intervention of Ledosh's former apprentice Meridina, who showed her compassion and mercy when she'd long given up on both sentiments. Now, she followed the footsteps of her benefactor, seeking to use the energies her own being connected her to in order to make the Multiverse a better place, even in opposition to the others of her kind.

There was no hiding that Gina was concerned with Ledosh. For the past several months he was becoming more and more secretive. He performed only the minimum tasks necessary to his position in the Order, then retreated to his office or his cottage to continue studying the Life of Reshan. Sensing that concern coming up again, Ledosh closed the books together and looked to her. "Is everything alright?"

"No, it is not, Mastrash," Gina said. "Everyone can feel it."

"As can I. We are becoming an uncertain people, it seems."

"Is it Goras?"

"He was a symptom, not the source," Ledosh asserted. Below them, the fallen Mastrash brooded in his cell. By all rights he should have been slain as a swevyra'kse - a wielder of the Flow of Life turned to darkness by giving in to his most negative emotions - but every time the motion came up the Order Council shied away from the choice. Ledosh suspected none wanted to admit Goras even existed now. He was a shame to the Order's record, having attempted to seize control of both the Order and the Gersallian Interdependency itself, until defeated in combat by Lucy Lucero. Ordering his death would mean admitting that shame. And after such a long existence without such issues plaguing it, the Order and its leadership were divided on how to proceed.

"Through all of this, you devote yourself to the book," Gina said, her voice betraying the confusion she felt at this. "As if it is more important than the Order."

"That is not the issue, Gina," Ledosh replied. "Far from it. This book and the information within may be our only hope of salvation."

There was no hiding the skepticism Gina felt at that thought. But after consideration she realized her own being felt the same thing. At a deep fundamental level, at the part of her connected to the Flow of Life, Gina realized he may be right.

"Time is short," Ledosh said. "I should resume."

"Meridina is coming," Gina said. "To speak with you. Lucy Lucero and her student are coming as well."

"I look forward to meeting them," Ledosh remarked quietly. "Until then, I must continue my work. Everything depends upon it."

Like many worlds, Gersal had a traffic control authority to oversee ship traffic in orbit, especially craft going or from the surface.

But none of its observers could see the vessel that descended through the atmosphere. Unseen, unheard, it flew toward the mountains outside of the planetary capital before coming in for a landing on the side of one of the mountains. Aboard, the single occupant brought up a viewer that showed the Great Temple of Swenya. Individuals milled about, small as ants, and that was how she thought of them. A brief snarl formed on her face, reflexive of her thoughts toward such beings, followed by a bemused smirk at their total ignorance of her presence.

Her communications controls chirped and the woman turned, her ashen gray features focusing on the holographic projector built into the console. With a press of a button the projector came alive, creating a blue-tinted projection of another woman. A projection of her master.

"Master, I have arrived," said the ship's pilot. "Undetected."

"Good," her master replied. "Keep only to your objectives. The Circle must be kept whole, Tisiphone. Do nothing that might break it."

"I am aware of the stakes, Master. I will not fail you." There was, perhaps, a hint of frustration in the woman's voice. As if she didn't need her master's reminder of the stakes at hand when it came to the Circle. That was the entire point, after all.

The transmission ended. The Tisiphone made sure her ship was still hidden before departing it. She looked down on the Great Temple of Swenya and grinned inwardly. She could sense the darkness even now. Fools, she thought contemptuously. You have no idea what is coming...

Undiscovered Frontier
"Home Invasion"
”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 orbital space around New Liberty was busier than the Aurora crew had ever seen it. Ships from across the Multiverse were present, bearing representatives of many governments to the summit being held below. This was certainly going to be the most attention that the Colony had ever received in years.

Finding a geosynchronous position not far from a Federation Excelsior-class vessel, the Charleston, with the Battlestar Pegasus to her starboard, the Aurora took her place among the plethora of vessels currently present. Asari, Turian, Narn, Bajoran… all were among the present vessels. A new Federated Commonwealth Alexander Davion-class battlecruiser, the Melissa Steiner, kept a further orbit, representing the F1S1 universe's continuing adoption of Multiversal technologies.

Aboard the Aurora, Angela Delgado walked through azure-sheened corridors that mirrored the coloring of the ship's external hull. She passed some crew on the way, unavoidable on a ship of over two thousand personnel, before entering Science Lab 2. Her younger sister Caterina sat at one of the work stations, examining what looked like a simulation of a star. Cat was so completely fixed on the sim that she was visibly startled when Angel loudly asked, "Staring at stars again, Cat?"

After recovering from her startlement, Cat turned in her seat to face her sister. While the family resemblance was clear, the two were definitely not twins - indeed, Angel had half a decade on her sister - and they were very different physically. Angel was solid and muscular, with slight curves, her body honed by daily fight training that she'd followed with little deviation since she was an adolescent. Cat, on the other hand, was short and thin, being particularly conscious of the latter. She could run, but she'd never throw a punch capable of flooring a two hundred and fifty pound man.

"The Maimonides just finished a few weeks in the Fracture," she explained. "They found two more T'Vral Distortions, and Philippe sent me the logs so I could compare them to the one I found. This is really interesting stuff. It's giving us a better idea of how space is messed up in the Fracture.

"Philippe? As in Philippe Duwala?"


"I thought he was science officer on the Challenger?"

Cat shook her head. "No, he's been promoted. He's first officer on the Maimonides now."

"And that's a… what, another star cruiser?"

"It's one of the first of the new Juvap Ky-class science cruisers, actually," Cat corrected matter-of-factly. She quickly accessed the Alliance database and displayed the ship in question. It looked smaller than the Discovery-class, with a flatter primary hull and drive hull with no neck between them, and two warp nacelles elevated slightly above both hulls. Between the nacelles, a large rollbar structure was fixed to the top of the primary hull where the shuttle bay normally went on Alliance designs; that was instead built into the top of the drive hull. "Nasira was promoted to command the ship, so she brought Philippe along to be her First Officer."

"A science cruiser?" Angel asked, sounding almost incredulous. "We could end up at war with the Dominion any day and they're building these things?"

"Well, science missions are still important," Cat replied defensively. "They started building them during the war so they could handle that stuff. That's what the pod is for. It's got the best sensor equipment in the Alliance fleet in there."

"Well, I guess it's fair the nerds get a ship. In the meantime, want to get a meal tonight at Carranza's?"

"Oh, uh, I was just going to have dinner in the Lookout," Cat said. "Or maybe just from my quarters' replicator unit. I've got some papers to look over. They're supposed to reschedule that symposium that I was going to present the T'Vral Distortion readings to and I've got to keep up on things."

Angel gave her a look. "You're not going down? You always like to visit Carranza's."

"Senora Carranza is good, yeah, and she cooks it like Mama did… but I've got things to do, Angel."

Angel wasn't fooled. With Violeta gone, Cat was becoming more insular, more withdrawn, as if all of her interest in socialization came through her girlfriend and without her, there was just the science. But Angel was tired of letting Cat remain a recluse and wasn't about to take no for an answer. "I was hoping to introduce you to Tony," she said. "And maybe we can go shopping through the old Market, afterward? You always did have fun with that."

"Angel, I just… I don't really intend to go down this time. I've got things to do up here."

"But Caaaat…"

A bewildered look crossed Cat's face. She turned and watched Angel put on the Pout and continue, "I miss you so much, sister, I want to spend some time with you. Pleeaaase?"

"You're… you're using the Pout." Cat blinked. "You're wheedling me and using the Pout."

Angel nodded. The Pout stayed on her face. It looked almost comical on her, since Cat always saw her big sister's face fitting anger and determination more.

"That's… that's my thing," Cat said. "You're using my thing on me. I'm supposed to be the one doing this to you!"

"Pleeeeeease?" Angel put her hands together in a pleading gesture.

"This is so not fair," Cat protested, but a little giggle came from her. "You're not playing fair at all."

"When it comes to family, I do what I have to," Angel said. She kept the pleading hands and the Pout up.

"Okay, okay, dinner at Carranza's," Cat said in defeat. "We'll beam down in what, two hours? Around 1700?"

"Sounds great." Angel wrapped her muscled arms around her sister, a tight hug just shy of rib-crushing. "I'll see you there!"

Julia, as was her custom for this time of the standard day, was in her ready office going over paperwork. A glowing report from Consul Hreep, the Alakin diplomat assigned to Coromadir, brought a small grin to her face. The Aurigans' Parliament had already ratified the new trade treaty with the Allied Systems and negotiations were underway for a military assistance treaty to provide them with ships for fighting pirates. That was going to be a trickier thing, Julia imagined: the Taurians and Canopians would likely not feel too threatened, but the Capellans were already suspicious of the Alliance's expansion in influence on its Periphery border. Any further agreement would have to be delicate to avoid Capellan hostility.

She was moving on to a report from Chief Talaverda on crew readiness when Robert arrived. She gave him a sardonic look; after all of these months away, he still hadn't shaved that damn beard or cut his hair back to normal length. "You know, your Grandpa would've thought you were a hippy looking at you now," she pointed out. "And Dad would've agreed."

Robert chuckled and sat down across from her. "I'm sure they'd say that about this too." He playfully levitated a reader from the surface of her desk. "I'll probably cut it eventually."

"The sooner the better," she insisted. She grinned only a moment before asking, "How is Doctor T'Soni?"

"Grieving, like the rest of us," Robert replied. "Something's going on with her, but I didn't want to pry given how raw her feelings were."

"She did the right thing. Finding Shepard's remains. Now Captain Shepard can bury her daughter."

"That's what I thought." Robert put his hands together on his knee. "I am a little concerned about the Shadow Broker. He's not going to take what happened well. I'm a little worried he'll retaliate against Alliance interests."

"He might, or he might stick with his reputation of business being business," Julia pointed out. "The last thing he needs is to get an entire interstellar government after him."

"He usually manipulates those. At least the people inside of them," Robert noted. "I offered Feron and Liara asylum in the Alliance. But they turned me down. Feron's going off to who knows where and Liara, well, I'm not sure what she'll do after making the arrangements for Shepard's remains. Lucy recommended she sign on with the Stellar Navy as a civilian science specialist."

"That's one thing she could do," Julia agreed. "So, the summit."

"It's important to a lot of people," Robert said. "I'll be helping to provide security."

"And to help Dr. Meier network," Julia added, grinning. "When's he arriving?"

"Within the hour, on a Gersallian transport. I'm going to meet them at the terminal." Robert gestured toward the window and the view of the planet below. "Are you going down at all? Besides Beth's pre-summit dinner, I mean."

"Oh, I'll be spending some time with Lee," Julia admitted. "The Pegasus is here escorting Vice President Zarek to attend the summit on behalf of New Caprica."

"Ah." Robert nodded once at that and gave her a reassuring grin. "I'm happy you're enjoying… well, I'm not sure what it is?"

Julia matched the look. "Beyond really good sex with a handsome man who understands what this all means…" She gestured toward her desk and all of the report-laden digital readers on it. "...it's really not much. I'm not exactly in love with Lee, Rob. He's just…"

"Someone who understands you," Robert offered. "What you are, what you do. You can find companionship with him." Almost as an afterthought he added, "And enjoy sex."

"Well, I've not exactly had a lot of luck in that department," Julia remarked drolly. "Before Lee, and outside of you and the others, the only guy I spent any time around turned out to be a clinical sadist and racist who tortured one of my friends because she was going to get him and his dad convicted of abusing immigrants."

The reference to Phil Duffy was not a welcome one. Robert remembered the detestable jerk and his vicious father. He thought back to the night that Duffy Senior had held the gun on him, the same day that Robert had discovered the Darglan Facility. "I try not to think of the Duffys," Robert admitted. "Or what they did to Lucy." What Phil might have done to you, if he had the chance.

Whether or not Julia actually knew what he was thinking, it was clear that came to mind too, the way she shivered for a moment. "He was an evil piece of crap, and after I broke up with him… well, if he wasn't also a coward, I bet I might have ended up in that room," she admitted. "His dad wouldn't have stopped him. At best, he would have killed me to protect Phil."

"I'm glad it didn't come to that." Robert shuddered at the idea of it. "As for you and Lee, whatever it is, I hope it works for you. You always focus so much on work, Julie, that I worry about you. You deserve happiness beyond fitness reports and requisitions."

"Thank you," she said. "I wish you had something like that." A small, wry grin formed on her face. "Although the way Zack talks, I'd almost think you and Druni had a thing." The moment Robert blushed she clapped her hands and laughed. "A ha! You did, didn't you?!"

"We became friends," Robert replied.

"Did you count her spots?"


"Well, did you?" Clearly enjoying herself, Julia added, "And I hear things about those Silver Moon types. They get a little freaky, I mean. Some real BDSM stuff."

"No, not anything like that," Robert sighed. "Tom and his damn porn…"

Julia's reply was another giggle of amusement. "Cultural appropriation is what they call it, I think?"

"Something like that."

"So you didn't tie Druni up while counting her spots." The giggle and matching grin turned lecherous.

"I'm… dammit, I'm going to wring Zack's neck, I swear."

"Good luck, the Koenig is at DS9 doing the joint fleet exercises with Starfleet," Julia said, still grinning in a way that spoke of how much she enjoyed teasing him. "And here I always thought Zack would be the first of us to have sex with an alien."

As the blush on Robert's face deepened, Julia's laugh filled the room.

The Rio Grande dropped out of warp at the edge of Gersal's Orbital Traffic Control Zone. It took only seconds for the computer systems to verify a safe landing course for the small ship. As Ledosh's apprentice, Gina had given them an access code to the Great Temple's small spaceport annex, located on the far end of the Temple complex. While Lucy brought them in for a landing, Talara was given a chance to admire the Temple's great structures, the rounded buildings being unlike the Human buildings she'd yet seen or her own species' favored methods.

Gina was waiting for them when they landed. "Now is not the best time for a tour," she said quietly, nodding to Talara in particular. "The Council is in session again."

Meridina was frowning. "I sense a… darkness here. Is this truly what the Order has fallen into?"

"It is, I am afraid. All efforts to bring the others out of their uncertainty have failed so far." Gina gestured to a nearby skycar. "I've already made the arrangements. I would go with you, but I must remain here to help Mastrash Ledosh."

"Of course. Mi rake sa swevyra iso, Gina Inviere."

Gina returned the blessing and left them to the Gersallian-make skycar. It was of a dark blue coloring, an utilitarian look that seemed to put function over elegance. Lucy was aware of how Gersallians designed somethings. Certain things, like their buildings, got elegant-looking appearances, while others were function over form designs.

Lucy took control of the craft so that Meridina could helpfully point out the sights to Talara. The gleaming spires of Jantarihal glinted in the sunlight as they flew down from the mountains into the valley where the city center was placed. "This reminds me of the Royal City," Talara said, thinking of the capital city of Fala. Jantarihal clearly impressed.

"When you're the capital city for an interstellar civilization for a few millennia, you tend to get impressive," said Lucy, admiring the view herself while flying them through the approved traffic lanes toward the residential areas. An arcology at the edge of said area was their destination. It was a sky-rise in appearance. A parking garage for skycars was built into the twentieth floor, which is where she flew them. Meridina's personal code opened the garage for them, allowing Lucy to quickly park the craft.

They found the Lumantala gathered as a unit. Meridina's family greeted all warmly. Gamaya led the way in giving Talara a close look. "You're the first Falaen I've personally met," the young woman replied cheerfully. "And you're a swevyra'se too! By the Light, that is fascinating!"

"This is Lucy's first student, then?" asked Mastrash Karesl, Meridina's father, sizing up Talara as well.

"She is, Mastrash," Lucy said politely.

"The first student can be the most important. They shape the teacher as much as the teacher shapes them," Karesl noted. Beside him, in the two-seated chair, his wife Drentiya remained quiet and content.

This was the first time Talara was meeting Meridina's family. She recalled Lucy's explanation of the relationships. Meridina was the eldest of the four children and the only one to be like their father, someone with a life force sensitive to the Flow of Life. In order from her came her brother Qalkrsl, sister Gamaya, and sister Leniraya. Qalkrsl's wife Utiriluma sat beside him. Her belly was swelling, doing much to explain the contentment in Karesl and Drentiya, as they prepared to become grandparents. Like Qalkrsl and Drentiya, Utiriluma was a telepath, although the two had decided to become farmers.

In addition, Penrine, Leniraya's enthusiastic girlfriend and former partner in all sorts of childhood mischief, was snuggling next to the youngest of the Lumantala, making their physical relationship no secret. Leni was a telepath as well, although Penrine was not. Gamaya, the third of the children, was the only one without life energy talents or telepathy. She was a budding scientist that Meridina and Lucy likened to Caterina.

"I hope I do well, then," said Talara. "Lucy has taught me much already."

Lucy said nothing, but the others could sense her bittersweet feelings. She viewed herself harshly for bringing Talara down to Germania, causing her student emotional and mental anguish beyond the strain of combat.

"I do so enjoy seeing your world," Talara continued, sensing her teacher's feelings and wishing to change the subject. "It is every bit as beautiful as Fala. It makes me eager to see Fala join the Alliance."

Immediately Talara sensed she might have touched on something of a nerve, but Karesl gently replied, "If that is the wish of your people, I hope they do as well, and that they help make the Alliance stronger."

Mastrash Karesl is opposed to Gersallian membership in the Alliance, Lucy quietly informed Talara mentally.

Oh. Talara couldn't stop herself from blushing in embarrassment.

Karesl smiled gently at her. "Do not concern yourself, Talara. My political views do not preclude my belief that the Alliance is a good thing. It can be, and your people would make it stronger and closer to the Light."

"Ah, yes, I believe so as well, Mastrash," Talara said respectfully.

The gathering started to move to the dining area. Meridina remained behind, sensing her father's interest in speaking. "There is much wrong with the Order," Meridina said. "The darkness there… it has been many months since I last visited, but I can hardly imagine it would come to this."

"Goras' fall damaged us in ways we could not foresee," said Karesl. "If Maklir were alive we might have come through it. He had sufficient respect to overcome the uncertainty. But Tinaran is not Maklir. He is content to give it time, and continues to hope for Goras to overcome his feelings."

"He will not. A rage and hate that strong…"

"I know. He was one of my closest friends, but he always stood closer to darkness than the rest of us. He felt very strongly about everything." Karesl's face fell. "I have lost all those I called friend."

Meridina immediately knew what he was saying. "I have heard Mastrash Ledosh has been preoccupied."

"Obsessed, some are saying. He spends all of his time in 'private research'. The Council is beginning to grumble about his failure to perform all expected duties of his position," Karesl confided. "If you have a chance, Meridina, please go to him. Find out why he is keeping us out. Keeping me out. I know we've had our disagreements, but I still consider him a friend."

Meridina nodded. "I will try." As she spoke, she wondered just what was causing such behavior in her old master. Why had his work with that book taken over his life?

She decided she was going to find out, even if she had to camp out in Ledosh's office to do it.

The New Liberty spaceport was busier than ever, given the number of people coming to petition the Endangered Nations' Summit or to otherwise follow it. Robert couldn't remember ever seeing so many people around it. He suspected, given the number of people, that every hotel and inn in the Colony was fully reserved. At least the spaceport seemed capable of coping with the increased flow, but that was little surprise. New Liberty's status as a thriving colony of cultural and social significance to the Allied Systems meant it had the largest spaceport for a colony of its size. It reminded Robert of the airport in Kansas City he'd seen as a child when taking family trips to see his mother's family in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

He stood out among the crowd, if only due to his uniform. His Stellar Navy uniform used the silver branch color for those in intelligence. A aiguillette chain from the left shoulder to the middle of his chest was meant to mark staff officer status, although that was mostly a blind. Sometimes he thought of simply ditching the chain since Paladins, like Citadel Council Spectres, were not operating under cover. His status as a Paladin was not hidden, even if some of his operations could be considered classified.

His presence was due to one of those operations, as was the man he was accompanying. Chaim Soloveitchik was a senior member of the New Liberty Rabbinical Council. He came dressed officially in that role with all of the adornments of a rabbi from what was once the Russian Empire of an 1850s Earth. He was an older man, with a graying beard and hair, and a face that could easily pull of everything from a stern look of disapproval to the warm, polite look he had now.

The display gave official notice that the transport liner Halraca was disembarking at Gate 3. The two men arrived as the first people disembarked. Not many did, as the Halraca had other stops on its route. Taking up the rear of those exiting were three men. Two Robert recognized, the third he did not, but he could guess at the man's identity given those he was expecting.

Colin stepped out of the gate first. He cut a somewhat imposing figure despite his medium height, he was on the athletic side of a medium build but that wasn’t what created the visage. It was the way he moved, the way he looked at his surroundings. He wasn’t relaxed like he was around other telepaths and his husband in particular, he was on edge; like he felt vulnerable. Immediately behind him was Max, who was in his late fifties and looked it. His hair was steel grey under his kippah and his face was care-worn. He was talking animatedly with a third man who had to be Rabbi Isaac Liebgott in a cheery-sounding Yiddish. He looked like he could be anywhere between fifty and his early eighties depending on how well-preserved he was and the well-manicured beard disguised any wrinkles on half his face. He wore a nice suit and Kippah, mostly because his function here was secular.

Colin spotted Robert and cracked a smile. “Guten Tag, oder ist es Abend?”

"Guten tag," was Robert's response, returning the smile. Outside it was only starting to get into the afternoon of the planet. New Liberty had something like a 24.5 hour day, so it was close enough to Earth to not be too disruptive on the Circadian rhythm. Switching to English, Robert said, "Everyone, this is Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of the New Liberty Rabbinical Council."

"Shalom. It is good to see you, Isaac." Chaim extended a hand and nodded his head in greeting. His English was thickly accented with what generally sounded Slavic, reflecting his family's origins in Lithuania. "Thank you for coming to see us. We are quite interested in discussions with the Jews of the E5B1 universe."

Shalom!” Isaac replied and shook hands. “It’s a pleasure, believe me. On our Earth we have lengthy medieval discussions in our Mishnah about what multiple universes would mean for Judaism. Now I live to see those discussions realized.”

"Rabbi Lipsky of the C5O2 universe's Rabbinical Council of Israel and Palestine is with us as well, so the discussions should become quite involved."

They are part of the British Stellar Union, Robert thought openly. In the C5O2 timeline the British Empire adopted inclusionary practices and became the Union over time, so it didn't fall like in our timelines. Their capital is in New Delhi now, and the Royal Family is primarily Indian.

Max relayed that information to Isaac who lit up like the sun. “Oh this should be fascinating. On our Earth, it took World War Three for the Palestine issue to be resolved. That said, I would like to introduce you to my associates. This is Max Cohen, nominally here to protect me from unregistered telepaths, but really he’s a friend and can speak about the experiences of Jewish telepaths in our universe. And then there’s his minder, Dr. Colin Meier, he’s a goy and mostly German but we don’t hold that against him.” Isaac winked.

"Germans are fine. Russians, well, another story. Especially Cossacks." Chaim happily accepted handshakes with them both.

Robert kept the smile, given Chaim was clearly going for humor with the exchange. But there was an old pain there, one Robert easily came to from the reference. Memories of a violent pogrom he and the others intervened in briefly came to mind before he banished it.

Meanwhile Chaim turned his attention to Max. "Please, Mister Cohen, feel free to join in the discussions when they begin. The point of view of a Jew who can see into our minds and hearts… I can only imagine what it means for you to have that ability. A blessing and a burden, I suppose."

“Mostly a blessing,” Max remarked “Were it not for external considerations… but I’d be more than happy to.”

"Yes, Robert has spoken to me of these things." Chaim's expression took on gravity. "There have been misconceptions that must be cleared. I am grateful to serve the truth by helping to do so."

"It's good to meet you in person, Rabbi Liebgott," Robert said amiably, offering his hand as well. "Welcome to New Liberty."

“Good to meet you too Captain. My congregation was close with the telepath community on Omega, thank you for helping them.” He enthusiastically shook Robert's hand. He might be old but he was far from frail and managed a firm handshake.

Meanwhile, Colin had yet to actually speak beyond his initial greeting, he seemed lost in thought or worry of some sort, but then he finally did. “It’s good to meet you Rabbi Soloveitchik, and thank you for your hospitality. We are… somewhat unaccustomed to being welcomed so well.” He’d known what to expect intellectually, but he’d been so used to fear and suspicion walking into a room or exiting a spacecraft that it was strange when it wasn’t a thing.

"I understand. I spent most of my life under Tsar Nicholas's rule. I am told the word that future Humans use for him is 'anti-Semite'." Chaim raised a hand toward him that Colin accepted, while using the left to gesture to Robert. "But my young friend here and his comrades, they gave us a world where we would be welcome. Where all would be welcomed. It has not always been easy, politics is completely mishegas I will say… but it is better than the Cossacks and their knouts!"

Colin and Max laughed and Isaac greeted that knowledge with a wry smirk. “I can imagine… Probably a bit like the League of Non-Aligned Worlds that way, and the name says everything you need to know about how that body used to function.” Colin replied.

Before the conversation continued, a woman's voice called out, "Robert Allen Dale, just where do you come off not coming by to say hello?"

Robert chuckled and turned in time to see his cousin, Beth Rankin, approach, wearing a formal suit. Her secretary, an African man, and a bronze-skinned woman followed, both similarly attired. "I'm already invited to the dinner tonight," he reminded her.

"So I've heard." The grin told him she was directly responsible for that.

"Gentlemen, my cousin, Elizabeth Rankin, Governor of New Liberty," Robert said, now looking at them.

"My aide, Yasmin Ghali, and my secretary, Ndedi Kiessou," Beth said, introducing the woman and man in that order.

Isaac stepped into his role immediately, with just a touch of humor. “A pleasure to meet you Governor. I’m Rabbi Isaac Liebgott and this my ‘mental bodyguard’ Max Cohen. Also his co-conspirator and ‘minder’ Dr. Colin Meier.”

“If you’re cut from the same cloth as your cousin I suspect we’ll get along well.” Colin followed up with a grin.

"I hope so, Doctor," Beth replied, grinning.

"I take it you're here to welcome Senator Sriroj?" Robert asked.

"I am. Her ship is due soon," Beth revealed. "As is Princess Syrina's." Her thoughts, and Robert's, made it easy for the telepaths to pick up the respective identities: Sriroj Thiang was a Thai woman and Senator from the Sol System Republic and the Alliance Senate President, and Princess Syrina, ruler of the Principality of Daynuro on the Dorei-colonized planet Astranai, was the current President-General of the Dorei Federation, the Head of State of the central Dorei government, a slightly ceremonial position that was elected annually by the assembled Heads of State of the component Dorei governments.

"Director Anjilo is here too, isn't he?" Robert asked, knowing full well the answer was yes given the materials he'd read. Having the Alliance Senate President and two Heads of State of Alliance member governments was of prime importance to a Paladin assigned to observe the meetings.

"He is." Beth nodded. "My staff is going insane. We haven't had this many leaders on planet since the Alliance Constitution was signed." She turned her attention back to the others. "Rabbi Liebgott, you and your entourage are welcome to attend the pre-summit dinner tonight. As my personal guests."

“Excellent! Thank you. Formal dress code or can my associates relax a little bit?”

“Isaac, you know what happened the last time I wore a turtleneck in public…” Colin faux-scolded him.

"It is an unofficial function," Beth said. "Although many of those here for the summit will attend, so I'm afraid it's not a case of Casual Fridays."

“Oh casual friday for us is still somewhere between business casual and business semi-formal…” Max nodded. “But Colin doesn’t need to wear dress-blacks or anything?”

"I wouldn't think so," Beth said. Colin visibly relaxed. The peacoat was far too stuffy and restricted movement far too much.

Miss Ghali looked up from her active omnitool. Unlike Robert's, it was greenish in color. "Madame Governor, Traffic Control just informed us that the Tratan finished landing. They'll be at the terminal in five minutes."

"Princess Syrina's personal yacht," Beth said. "I'd better get going. I look forward to seeing you this evening, everyone. I'm sure we'll have a lot to discuss."

The way she said that sounded innocent, but Robert could sense she had something more in mind, and he suspected the others did too. He said nothing as she walked away with her staff members, not quite rushing to the private gate at the end of the terminal where Princess Syrina would be disembarking.

She’s scheming something. Max thought to Colin. It would be rude to pry so I didn’t…what do you think? Good, bad, unrelated?

We’ll find out…
Colin replied, but he felt uneasy. Robert gave him a concerned look, but it wasn't hard for him to guess why.

You okay? Max asked.

No, but it’s not related to this. Since we got into this universe…

Oh. I guess there are limits to that after all.
Max replied patted Colin on the back. You’ll be back home soon enough.

While Robert wasn't privy to the actual context of their thoughts, he sensed something of them. He was curious as to what Beth was planning as well. My big cousin the politician, he thought. And when this began, she was struggling to keep a crafts supply store from closing down

After dinner, Meridina excused herself from the family home and left the arcology. She flew the skycar back to the Temple. Again, she felt a darkness permeating the area, a malaise of the spirit that she knew unsettled the others as much as it did her. Not only did she ache at the sensation, a small part of her burned with a single worry.

Is this my fault?

The Temple Knights gave her no problem in entering the office area. They could tell what she was coming to do, to say, and she thought they actually appreciated that. This did not bode well to her, not at all, and she entered Ledosh's office determined. The inner door was locked, so she set off the door chime. "Mastrash, it is Meridina," she called out. "I wish to speak with you." When no answer came she insisted, "I am here and we must speak, Mastrash. We are all concerned for you. You have changed so much. You ignore those who are concerned with you. You ignore your own student! This is not the Ledosh who trained me to be a swevyra'se."

Several moments of silence passed before the door slid open. Meridina entered and found Ledosh at his desk, two books open and his hand in motion on a blank piece of paper. An ink pen was in his hand, writing in plain, flowing Gersallian. It was not the beautiful lines he normally drew when writing, but it was clear Ledosh was more concerned with rapidly writing information, not making it look impressive. Indeed, even now he clearly placed more importance in writing than her presence. She watched him closely examine one book, the older looking one, before turning to the other and rifling through pages until he found an entry that satisfied him. "Meridina, my apologies," he finally said. "I am simply very occupied."

"So I have heard," she said. "And it concerns many who care about you."

Ledosh nodded. "I was certain Gina was speaking to you. I would have explained, but the Council… they would not understand. They would take the book from me."

"I am told the Council is starting to become concerned as it is." Meridina slipped into a seat. "Mastrash, this research is consuming you. I can feel the burden of it on your swevyra. Please, speak to me."

"The darkness grows," he said. "We all sense it now. But nobody seems to understand what it means."

"It is a darkness of fear. Uncertainty."

"No. Not just that." Ledosh looked up from the books at her. His eyes pleaded for understanding. "Our time is running short, Meridina. A great darkness stirs in our future. The Order itself is threatened."

"You refer to the Darkness? The ancient threat that Swenya helped to fight?"

"Perhaps it is them. Perhaps not. What I do know is that I feel it growing stronger with each passing day. We are running out of time, my student." He tapped the book. "The Life of Reshan. So many secrets, but we never thought to look for them. The answers were right there the entire time."

"The answers to what?"

"To everything we lost when Kohbal rose up against the Order and the Interdependency," he replied. He tapped the book. "This changes everything, my student. It reveals the truth of what is happening. It is why we must be ready."

"For what?" Meridina leaned in. "What must we be ready for?"

She sensed Ledosh's worry and it frightened her. The knowledge he was carrying, that he was learning, it was dangerous. She felt that keenly. It would challenge the very core of what their people knew. To spread the word might divide them. Make them even more susceptible to the forces of darkness.

Just as it seemed he might confide in her, a tone came from the comm system. A voice, speaking in Gersallian, stated, "Mastrash Tinaran has called for a Council meeting. All Mastrasham of the Council, please assemble."

Ledosh let out a sigh. He thumped both books closed. "They are agitated enough with me, so I must not keep them waiting," he said. His eyes fixed on Meridina. "I will explain all in time. For now…" Keep yourself and Lucy safe, and be ready for anything. There are dark forces at work, and the Order is not ready to face them.

Meridina wanted to know what he meant, but his defenses went up. He waited patiently for her at the door, signifying his desire that she depart with him. She was of a mind to insist on taking the books with her, to get to understand what he was working on, but he didn't need to point out that wouldn't work. The Order kept security trackers on all copies of its most venerable and old texts. If she removed it, it would be detected, and only those on the Council could do so. The Temple Knights would quickly apprehend her if she tried.

"Go now. Tomorrow, return with Lucy and the others. I will explain everything I have learned."

Let me take your notes, she urged. We can…

No. No, this must not leave the Temple. Now go, I cannot make them suspicious

Meridina wondered what he meant by that, but she could not bring herself to distrust his judgement. Ledosh knew what he was doing. She could sense that much, at least. If he said there was a threat, there was one. She carefully constructed her mental defenses as she left. He followed her out and they went their separate ways,.

Caterina opted for civilian clothes for the visit to New Liberty. A white skirt that went to just below her knees, with pink lace fringing, and a pink and purple sleeveless blouse were her picks for the trip. She arrived at the Transporter Station to find Angel ready for her, wearing a sleeveless tank top over a visible sports bra that bared her muscular belly as well as her arms. The jean shorts were higher than Cat's skirt, revealing her legs.

The reason why her sister was wearing that kind of clothing was the figure beside her. Cat had yet to meet Lieutenant Anthony Zah, a security officer assigned to the Aurora after the Battle of Germania. He was a handsome man, bronze-skinned, with his dark hair long and kept in what Cat couldn't help but think of as Native American fashion even though she knew that the tribes could have differing styles. Brilliant gray eyes glistened with a sort of amusement, but were warm and welcoming. He was in a plain white muscle shirt and jean shorts that, like Angel's, stopped at the knees, but darker in color than her's. Like Angel he wasn't just fit but muscular, built like a professional fighter.

Cat wondered if she'd be jealous if she were straight. But she doubted it, since she didn't really go for muscle-ly girls. At least, not for how Tony would look if he were a girl and not a guy, but then again, if Tony was Toni instead, "she" would look a bit like Angel, and that was just eww to think about and Cat abruptly cut off the entire chain of thought, blaming it on the fact that she'd been separated from Violeta for nearly three months now.

"Hey Cat, you made it," Angel said, grinning. "So this is Tony, my new sparring partner and boyfriend."

"Sparring partner seems to be the more important part for her," Tony teased, grinning. He didn't speak with as much of an accent as either. "So, it's been a few years since I've been down to New Liberty."

"Oh?" Cat asked. "You came from our Earth, right?"

"Yeah," he said. "I came to the Alliance through New Liberty, but that was just a few months after the Alliance was founded. New Liberty wasn't as big then. And I didn't get a chance to find out about Carranza's. Thought it was Italian food, honestly, going by the name."

"Ha!" Angel matched his grin, looking very happy. "Let's go correct that."

Carranza's was one of the first eateries to open in the Colony, founded by one of the first wave settlers plucked from a bunch of "coyotes" by the Facility crew early on. Among those so-plucked was Julio Carranza, who had identified his older unmarried sister Beatriz and his mother Luisa as family that would be endangered by what happened, resulting in Robert and the others picking them up from Ciudad Obregon before the coyotes' friends could come after them. Luisa and Beatriz, it turned out, were great cooks, and as the Colony's economy developed they opened the restaurant to cater to the laborers planting the first fields and building the first non-prefab housing. Replicated food products were eventually replaced with "proper" food as interplanetary and interuniversal trade opened up and locally-grown food was made available. The Carranzas now had a successful restaurant in the heart of the Colony, one recognized by all residents as a place to enjoy good food and good times.

Julio, who ran the tables and the busboys while Beatriz and Luisa ran the kitchen, quickly responded personally to the arrival of the Delgado sisters. He brought them to a favored table and personally set about taking Tony's order. "It is good to see you with someone who makes you smile, Angela," he said to Angel, who made her relationship with Tony clear by the way they held each other. "What will you have?"

Tony inquired into the available drinks and ordered a beer. Cat made a small face. "Beer? Ew, not for me."

"That's because you were used to your prim and well-cultured Sirian gamer girl," Angel retorted playfully. "You two had wine. We go for beer."

They finished ordering and settled into their place at the table. Angel and Tony kept their behavior just proper enough for being in public, but Cat had the feeling her sister was eager to get her boyfriend back to her quarters. She banished that mental image with the thought of Ick!

"Your sister tells me you're the smartest person on the ship," Tony said. "Everything people say seems to back that up."

"Jarod's the smartest, really."

"Yeah, but Jarod's got some kind of mutant brain or something, he cheats," Angel said. "If you had that kind of brain you'd be even better at 'Pretending' or whatever it is than he is."

"If I had that kind of brain, I wonder if some corporation would have come along and kidnapped me too," Cat wondered aloud. "Then I'd have grown up a prisoner."

"Only until I found you," Angel swore. "Then I'd punch a lot of people and get you out."

Cat knew she'd try, but given what the Centre was capable of, she knew that a similar organization wouldn't be so easily dealt with. "I'm just glad something like that didn't happen." She turned her attention to Tony. "So you're… Navajo, right?"

"Mostly. One quarter Mexican. Or more like one eighth Mexican and one eighth Tohono O'odham, or Papago as some people call them."

"Tohono O'odham works," Cat said. "Doctor Walker is one too. Although I'm not sure your tribes got along?"

"They mostly don't like Apaches. We're cousins of the Apache, don't always get along with them either. And as always the whites loved to take advantage of that," Tony noted.

"Then they turn around and growl at us to 'go back where we came from'," Angel groused. "Like they've always owned the land."

"Rob and his family weren't like that," Cat said quietly, remembering a lifetime of getting picked on by at least some of the kids. Usually it wasn't so bad, if only because the bullies knew that Angel would find out, either from Cat or from Susannah Dale, who was in the same grade. But that didn't always work. Some bullies were smart despite the fact they were bullies, and Cat was always a small girl for her age and class.

It could've been worse, of course. Cat spent years terrified of what they'd do if they found out she was into girls instead of boys. The habits that resulted certainly helped keep her in the closet even after the Facility was found.

"It's all different now anyway," Cat said. "We've got the Multiverse. Actual aliens. Making fun of other Humans is silly. Not that I want people to start being bigoted toward aliens, of course…"

"There are always bigots," Tony remarked. "Always."

"They're just not as common here," Angel noted. "So, Cat, have you had any messages from Vee lately?"

"A couple," Cat confided. "Her ship might still be at Gersal. They were repairing after some big fight they had in one of the new universes being explored. But things have been crazy for the Huáscar since their shakedown ended so she's been real busy." Cat made a face. "And misses having a Captain who lets crew book holodeck time for recreation."

"It's not that uncommon. Captains only allowing holodecks for training and such," said Tony. "Captain Kreeptk had the same rules back on the Talsham."

"Captain Creep-k? Some of those Alakin names are really…"

Angel stopped speaking when she noticed a woman walk by the table. A hand with dark skin briefly passed over their table and a piece of paper fell out, as if absentmindedly dropped. Angel kept her eye on the woman, convinced from the momentary glance that she'd seen her before.

This allowed Cat to be the one to snatch the paper. She read it and frowned.

"What is it? A secret admirer?" Tony asked. "Or some stalker?"

"It's not for me," Cat said, looking to Angel before reading it aloud. "'Need to see you Angry Angel. Now. Problem for Colony. Corelo.'" The look on her face betrayed her desire for an explanation.

The bewildered look on Angel's face indicated she wasn't going to get one.
”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's reaction was to push against Tony. After a moment he moved the way she was nudging, eventually slipping out of the booth. Angel followed him and stood up. "What is it, Angel?" he asked her.

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out," Angel insisted. "Cat?" She held out her hand. When Cat didn't react immediately she insisted, "Now. I need to find out what's going on."

"We can come with you," Tony offered. "Back you up."

"No," Angel said. "Hernan's people will get suspicious if I show up with anyone, even my boyfriend and sister. They'll accept me."

"Why just you?" asked Cat, wondering what was going on. "And Hernan… you mean Hernan Corelo? That Cuban guy we rescued who turned out to be an actual crook?"


"Why are you hanging out with him?" Cat asked, her voice just shy of making it a demand.

"I don't hang out with him!" Angel barked. "I keep an eye on him, and he lets me know if something's up. Now give me the message, Cat. I need to find out what's going on."

It was with hesitation that Cat complied.

"I'll be back soon. Let Julio know he can hold my dinner for a bit. You can eat yourselves if you like." With that Angel turned and went for the door.

They watched her go. "Your sister is a stubborn lady," Tony sighed, sitting back down.

"Really stubborn," Cat agreed.

"It's why I like her, though. She sticks things out."

"And because you think she's hot," Cat noted wryly.

To that Tony smiled and nodded. "Yeah. Strong woman. Love that. Knew she was something special the moment she threw me to the ground. In the gym." The final bit was clearly added to clarify the context of what he was saying.

"So you're from our Earth, then?" Cat asked. "I mean, I know some people come out to join the Alliance."

"Some? Ha. During the Nazi War the Alliance had a lot of people signing up, from what I saw. Everyone wanted in on shooting Nazis." Tony smirked. "And who wouldn't want to come out here? Replicators mean cheap food. There are so many colonies and planets that finding a home, finding work, it's a lot easier than back home. People live longer. Go to the right place and racism is almost non-existent. My aunt's telling me the tribal elders might start begging people to stay, so many of them want to go. It's even worse in places like Mexico."

"It is pretty cool out here," Cat agreed. "I got to come out of the closet without being run out of my home." Noticing that Julio was about to get their food, Cat leaned in toward Tony. "Don't break her heart, please."

Tony silently nodded. "I don't plan on it."

"She's… it was hard enough closing the door on Robert last year. Just, be good to her, please?"

Tony answered with a nod. Quietly, a slow teasing smile came to his face. "I'd probably better. Given how smart you are, you could probably come up with some ways to melt my insides with science and nobody would be the wiser."

At that Cat giggled. "The threats are Angel's thing, not mine!" she protested. "Science is for good!"

"And blowing up Nazis?"

"Blowing up Nazis is good!"

"Ah. Well, don't worry about it then. I don't know where this is going, but I will make sure not to break your sister's heart. I just hope she doesn't break my ribs given how…"

"No! No no, no details!" Cat insisted. "I'm into girls, and she's my sister besides. I don't want to hear about the bedroom stuff!"

"Actually, I was talking about the fight training," Tony replied, smiling. "But it does apply there too."

"Ugh," Cat groaned, after which dinner was served.

The Market Square of the Colony was bustling with activity even on normal days. WIth all of the visitors for the summit, it was even more active, with locals offering everything from locally-produced snacks and drinks to hand-crafted jewelry. At one end of the square, a band played upbeat Makossa music in the Prince Eyango style.

Julia stood in the middle of the square and allowed herself a little smile. That she'd contributed so much to this place… it could be as humbling as it was fulfilling. She was in standard uniform, since she would be attending the Governor's dinner party soon, and so stood out a bit in the crowd. Some of those passing by called her happily by name. She didn't immediately recognize all, but she knew enough of them, even if the comparative number dwindled. The day when virtually every colonist had met her personally during the Facility ops was long gone.

"Hey." Lee walked up to her, in Colonial Navy uniform.

"Hi." She took his offered hand and planted a small kiss on his mouth. Lee Adama was quite handsome, and she enjoyed his company, regardless of anything else. "Welcome back to the Colony."

"It's gotten bigger," he noted.

"Yeah. It always does." Julia looked around. "After New Caprica, the first New Caprica, I actually wondered why you didn't just move here. There's plenty of land."

"True. But my people still want their own world."

"So you don't feel like you're going to get assimilated." Julia nodded. "I understand. I mean, I do."

"We're still happy to be friendly with New Liberty, just as we are with the Alliance," Lee assured her. "People like Clara make it impossible for us to feel otherwise."

The memory of Clara Davis, a smiling young woman full of compassion, came to Julia. Circumstances meant she'd only met her that one time in the last few years, during the Founding Day celebrations the prior year when Lee and Kara Thrace let her accompany them. Clara's death at the hands of the Cylons was one of many tragedies from their attack on New Caprica, and it had nearly broken poor Zack as well.

"How is Zack?" Lee asked.

"Doing better. He has his command again," replied Julia. "He's off the alcohol."

"And he's not here?"

"No. With the Dominion such a threat now, the fleet's holding joint exercises with Starfleet, and he was sent to join them," Julia explained. "We might be too once the summit is over. Maybe you too."

At that Lee shook his head. "No, I'll be spending the rest of the year - on your calendar I mean - in S4W8. The Pegasus is being assigned to aid operations in the Anti-Spinward sectors."

"So you'll be chasing von Platen's ships."

"Among other things," Lee said. "Mostly it'll be humanitarian missions, I'm told. The Reich stripped those colonies bare to fund their war effort. Most of them are barely functioning, quite a few are being abandoned. The local Remnant groups are among the more militant, and are known to raid former Reich colonies even if they're not German. Von Platen's just making the whole thing worse."

"So, before we go off to be feted by the Governor, would you like to take a tour?"

"I was thinking of renting one of those propeller aircraft," Lee confided. "Take a flight to see the Colony from above. What do you think?"

"That sounds great," Julia said, already imagining seeing their community from such a vantage point. "Let's go."

As Angel had expected, the African woman who left the note was waiting for her outside of Carranza's. She was led to a motorcycle with a backup seat. With it, her driver weaved through the inner-Colony traffic and to the major roads leading to the outskirts.

At one time the Cut Throat had been at the fringe of the Colony. Its expansion meant it was no longer on said fringe, but more the midway point, near the warehouse district. Angel stepped in and was not out of place for the grungy dive. Attendees looked to her and there was at least one wolf whistle, which silenced when she shot a glare at the offender. She kept a ready stance and stalked to the bar with the kind of walk she usually reserved for the fighting ring.

The Cut Throat's owner and proprietor was a man named Hernan de Corelo, a Cuban black marketeer that had been picked up by the Facility crew in a liberation of a Cuban prison. Angel noted he was still heavy set, just shy of being outright fat. His dark hair was slick and combed, his light brown eyes locked onto her. But there was no welcoming smile this time. She could almost smell the fear on him. The worry. Without a word he gestured toward the rear door. A stout man in a dark suit opened the door for her while Corelo went through the door behind his bar.

The back room was mostly empty. An X-shaped wooden cross with empty manacles was still on the stage, undoubtedly a prop for the more risque entertainments that the Cut Throat provided for select clientele. A spot of blood on the corner spoke of the other kind of entertainment that might be provided in this room, involving fisticuffs instead of just cuffs.

Or maybe they were from the same. Angel didn't know if she wanted to know.

She slipped up to the bar and took a seat at a stool as Corelo poured himself a shotglass of highly illegal Romulan ale. "Alright, why is my dinner with my sister and boyfriend being delayed?" Angel asked pointedly.

"You know me, Angry Angel," Corelo answered, his accent even thicker than Angel's. "I wouldn't bother you if something bad wasn't going down."


"Word's getting out," he said in a low, hurried voice. "A lot of the offworld gangs are pulling out. Been doing so for a few weeks."

"Why? It's competition or something?"

"That's what I'd think normally, but nobody's moving in to take up the market space," Corelo explained. "I can't explain. Neither can most of my contacts. 'cept one."

"That being?"

"Got a friend with the Miqo'te organization," Corelo said. "A couple days ago, he tells me these Aristo pendejos from A5R0, they're real mad at the Alliance for busting up some attack and killing two of theirs. Might be payback is in the works. That's not good for us." A dark look crossed Corelo's face. "But not for them either. Nobody attacks my home."

Angel fiercely approved of Corelo's sentiment. With the Facility long gone, she and the others had two homes: the Aurora, and New Liberty Colony. As far as she was concerned, anyone who tried to hurt either was going to feel her fists. "So do you have anything for me? Anything I can take to Almerda?"

"Already sent him warnings. But Colony Security, they're overstretched with this summit thing. They're not looking hard. Most are just happy the other gangs are leaving, thinking they've made it not worth their while." Corelo gave his head a shake. "I've got a bad feeling, amiga. This summit thing, if someone's looking to send a message, the summit's the place to do it."

"Yeah." Angel frowned and thought about it. "Hell, I'm on shore leave anyway… do you have anything for me? Anything your contacts have told you?"

She was answered with a nod. "Some loads came in through Ys'talla. Supposed to be for transshipment. Lots of folks like New Liberty for that."


"They still haven't moved," Corelo continued. "It's a Miqo'te operation. Mostly legit, but not always. Now they've got a shipment that's not going anywhere."

"Have you sent anyone in?" asked Angel.

"Can't. Not without giving up my source," Corelo replied. "Bad for business, Angry Angel. Nobody'll talk to me if I get my sources spaced."

Angel couldn't argue that. "Give me the address," she said. "I'll check it out."

"I need guarantees."

Angel gave him a look. "Okay. My ex-boyfriend, the guy who hauled your ass out of that Cuban prison, is a regular Goddamned Paladin of the Alliance. He can stick his nose in anywhere he wants, and he's got mumbo jumbo powers stuff to explain how he figures things out. As for the rest of us? We're backup to him. Nobody'll know otherwise."

Hernan seemed to consider what she said before nodding. He took a scrap of paper and scribbled a series of numbers followed by the name of a road. "This is the warehouse. My people say security is tighter than it looks. You'll want to check things yourself before going in."

"I plan on it," Angel said, taking the paper. "Keep in touch.'

"You know I will, Angry Angel," Corelo said as she left.

Cat and Tony were already finished with their meals when Angel got back to Carranza's. They could tell something was wrong by the way she got back into her seat and didn't immediately slide up to Tony. She looked back down to a scrap of paper in her hand and read it again, barely registering when Julio brought her enchilada platter to her.

"Angel, you okay?" Tony asked.

"No," she said. "I'm not." She glanced to him and then Cat. "You two finish your dinner?"

"They already had them finished, so… well, yeah." Cat was apologetic as she spoke.

"It's fine. Let me finish mine, then we'll head to the park." She gave Tony an intent look. "I may need your help with something. Something potentially dangerous."

"I'm here for you, Angel, thick and thin. You know that."

"Same here," Cat pledged.

It was clear Angel didn't want Cat mixed up in it, but she knew better than to coddle her sister. Cat would end up involved if she chose to be, whether or not Angel wanted. "Alright. Let me get started then." She began to eat her dinner while the other to watched in silence, exchanging worried looks.

Julia and Lee arrived at the two story-tall Governor's Mansion together. Located a block from the Government Building, the Mansion was a humble affair as the abodes of heads of state went, although it had just enough room for the assemblage of guests inside. A Middle Eastern woman with a headshawl that matched the color of her dark blue Colonial Security uniform checked them against the guest list and waved them in. The Mansion didn't have a foyer or greeting hall so much as it had a small guest living room. Julia noted the presence of an Indian man in a Japanese kimono and a male Bajoran vedek of dark coloration, speaking amiably in a corner.

"Ah, Commander Adama, Captain Andreys." Zarek, the Vice President of the Colonial Confederacy, approached in the company of Sonek Pran, a diplomat from the United Federation of Planets Julia had met several times before. Pran was a unique individual, not just a hybrid of two species but four; each grandparent was from a different S5T3 species, making him partly Bajoran, Betazoid, Vulcan, and Human. He reminded her somewhat of Woody Guthrie with his appearance and demeanor. "I've heard you've met Ambassador Pran?" he asked Julia.

"I have. Ambassador."

"Captain. My congratulations on your promotion," said Sonek. "And on your part in ending the war."

"Thank you," she replied. She didn't remark on how they might have another one soon, given the Dominion.

"Commander, I'd like to introduce you to…"

With that Zarek pulled Lee away, leaving Julia to walk further into the house. She found Robert in the dining room, still in uniform and talking with Annabelle, Beth's wife. Annabelle was biracial, with a brown skin tone, the daughter of a slave and her owner from Earth C1P2. As Julia recalled, she'd been forced into a similar relationship before the Facility crew raided the plantation and rescued its slaves. Now she was wearing an elegant blue and green evening dress, full-sleeved, and looked every inch the elegant hostess, even if the function was effectively an unofficial dinner. "Robert. Annabelle."

"Julia, it's so good to see you," Annabelle declared. Her voice was gentle and smooth, with a slight hint of a Southern drawl to it. She offered Julia a quick hug, her light blue eyes glinting with happy satisfaction. This was the first major function for Beth since the two got married. "You've been busy since the wedding."

"Exploring, negotiating, everything," agreed Julia. "I'm so happy for you both."

"I know, dear." She gave Robert a knowing look, which he let pass. "So when are you going to get some grooming done, Robert? You look like one of the rednecks from back on the old world."

Julia snorted a laugh before catching herself, leaving Robert to sigh and say, "I'll cut it when I'm ready. It just felt like the right thing given everything happening in my life."

"You mean that all of the life force stuff makes you feel like some kind of monk or hermit," Julia teased.

Annabelle laughed at that. "Beth has shown me those ridiculous movies. That's the sort of entertainment you had as children?"

"Among other things."

"I shudder to think of what the old masters, may they rot, would have done with television. Or holonet programming now." Annabelle checked the time. "Well, I'd better see how Deborah's doing in the kitchen. She's making a special set of dishes for the Turian delegate. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to find good dextro food. Y'all enjoy yourselves tonight."

They watched her walk off. For a moment she was intercepted by two other figures in the dining room, recognized quickly as Princess Yvonne Steiner-Davion and Isis Marik, respectively the youngest sister and the daughter of the rulers of the Federated Commonwealth and Free Worlds League of F1S1. "I see we've got Inner Sphere royalty present," Julia observed. "That's surprising. I didn't think this was the kind of summit they'd go for?"

"Well, it's the first big diplomatic gathering since the end of the war," Robert noted. "And while it's mostly humanitarian, some of the things being discussed here might have an effect on actual politics in various powers. I've heard the Vietnamese from S4W8 are already accusing the Capellans of forced Sinization on their population. And the delegate from the Turkish population on New Anatolia is complaining that FedCom authorities are engaging in economic sabotage."

"The Harris Station Charter's supposed to prevent these things," Julia grumbled.

"Yeah, well, the wording left some cracks," Robert lamented, thinking of how things had gone. The way the Reich operated, even a small Germanized minority on a planet made such a world a full part of the Reich, so under the Charter those worlds were considered German worlds that Coalition powers were allowed to claim in the post-war settlement. "Some of those worlds are coming up with deals like the Bulgarians and Japanese on Drachenfeldt made with the Turians, but that's not working everywhere."

"I read the reports from the Huáscar," Julia said. "They made the difference there."

Colin, who had been in the kitchen perked his ears up at the thoughts related to his favorite ship in the entire Alliance and sauntered in with a small plate of cheese. “Given the ship’s Captain and Operations Officer I’d expect nothing less.”

They turned to face him. "I was wondering where you were," Robert said. "Julia, this is Doctor Colin Meier, Metapol. Colin, Captain Julia Andreys of the Aurora, and my closest friend in the whole wide world."

Julia flashed him a small grin before extending a hand. "I've read the report on Tau Atrea," she said. "A pleasure to meet you."

“It’s a pleasure to meet you as well.” Colin replied and shook her hand. Nothing showed on his face or in his body language, but upon taking her hand he did send Robert a telepathic message. Closest friend huh? Robert, you love her as much as I love Gene and it’s mutual. What are you two doing?

We're being what we always have been. We decided years ago that adding a romantic element might just ruin it
, Robert replied. As he said so he remembered when they'd agreed on that. After the escape from the Facility, .the roll down the collapsing mound. The thrill of survival and the warm kiss that followed. And then that little worry, that to take it to that level might undermine what they already had… It works for us, he added, a little too intently.

I don’t believe that and neither do you, but it’s your life…

Not privy to this conversation, Julia finished the handshake and remarked, "I hope you're enjoying your visit to our Colony."

“Very much so! Though I’ll admit the others are doing more diplomacy and networking than I am. I’ll confess I’m not actually… at my best at the moment. Distracted.”

Julia needed only a moment to realize why. "I suppose you miss Mr. Hendriks? For telepaths being that close would be different than for us."

“In our home universe - or I should say galaxy because we haven’t gotten beyond the rim yet - we’re never actually apart. I haven’t been without him for over a year. Thirty thousand light years and I can still p’hear his thoughts, p’see through his eyes. Not now. Now I reach for him and it’s just...void.”

"It must be like losing a limb, almost? Or a piece of your heart." Julia had an idea what that was like. The months earlier in the year, when Robert was off learning to control his expanded power and Zack had left due to his collapse from Clara's death… those had been the loneliest months of her life. She never wanted them gone like that ever again.

“It’s a bit like that, yeah.” Colin replied. It was more, but it was the closest approximation a mundane could conceive of.

Colin was the first to notice the nearby mental presence. Robert did a moment later, although he sensed it more as a burst of feeling suppressed by will. Feeling that was part fear, part anger, and all distrust. Julia first noticed the short, almost dwarfishly-so, man who approached. He was dressed well, in a formal suit of navy blue and black. Curly dark hair topped a yellowish face, with dark eyes and a thin face. The man was not an attractive one, but there was a sense of power to him, and his eyes scanned everything as if looking for danger.

For Robert, the identifying mark was the crest on the pin over the man's heart. It was a phoenix of red and orange color, wings spread widely, over a pair of shattered gray manacles. The insignia and crest of the Byron Free Colony.

Julia noticed the smaller man too. And the pin. It made it impossible for Colin to not know, although it was rather clear he did. She approached the man first. "Governor Kuhln, correct?"

"Golmar Kuhln," the telepath replied. "Captain Andreys. Captain Dale." Golmar looked to Colin. There was no hostility in his voice, nor even his face, simply a wariness that was clearly instinctive. "And Doctor Colin Meier of Metapol, I believe? I'm surprised to see a Psi Cop present in these events."

“Well nominally I’m here to keep an eye on Mr. Cohen.” Colin winked. You have nothing to fear from me or mine Golmar. Not here, or anywhere else. Even if I weren’t inclined toward better relations with, well...relations… I have a slaver and imminent genocide problem to deal with.

You are no doubt here to present the Corps' case to the summit
, Golmar cast back. Aloud he nodded to Robert as well. "Captain Dale. An honor. I'm afraid we haven't met, but I know how much our Colony owes to you for its existence." Dangerous, Dr. Meier. I am no fan of the Corps, but I don't want to see innocent telepaths butchered because EarthGov finds out you're trying to win foreign allies.

Call that admission an olive branch. But no. Not at the summit. We’re here to talk about Judaism.

Robert nodded and accepted Golmar's hand. He could tell the two were in telepathic conversation and gave Julia a look to make sure she knew too. Aloud he said, "People should have a choice, and it's wrong that Earth denies it to the telepaths of her population. I hope the Summit recognizes the situation for Earth's telepath population and provides help in the matter." Both of you will need it, I think. And there are other matters to be worried about.

Golmar acknowledged Robert with a nod. A good cover. I recall the reports from Omega VII on your closeness to the Jewish community there. A solemn look came to Golmar's face as he looked to Colin. Aloud he said, "I am aware that an attack was made on your enclave some time ago by the militants of the Underground. You have my condolences. Too many people have let their bitterness blind them to the possibilities of the Multiverse. The Free Colony disavows such behavior and will assist in bringing terrorists to justice." It was evident that this was an audible olive branch to match the one Colin had mindcast. It also backed up the public statements of Golmar's government at the B5 negotiations.

“Thank you Golmar, and we know you do. You’ve always been a man of conscience, we know that.” Colin paused briefly wondering how to continue. “We disagree on a great deal, but terrorism, slavery, and mass murder are something we can all agree are wrong, and I’m thankful that the multiverse is full of like-minded people.”

Robert noticed Beth at the edge of the room. She gave him and Colin a meaningful look and Robert realized what she wanted. "Doctor Meier, I'd like to introduce you to someone," he said politely while Beth slipped through the door. "If you'll follow me?"

“Of course.” If you can spare a few moments later Golmar? There are some things you should probably be made aware of. They concern all of us. Colin followed Robert out.

Night came to Jantarihal. Meridina returned before her father did, given the length of the Council meeting, as she anticipated Ledosh would be too tired and would need rest. As she retired to her room, tired given the day, Meridina wondered if she was making the right decision.

There was more to it than that. Try as she might, Meridina could not rest. There was an energy in the air, a dark sense of foreboding that even here filled her with dread. Whatever was driving Mastrash Ledosh to devote all of his timing studying… she was feeling it. A gnawing uncertainty tore at Meridina, leaving her unable to rest.

And she was not alone. She felt it in Lucy as well. And Talara could sense it in both, robbing her of rest. Finally Meridina got up and left her room. Lucy and Talara met her in the hall and all were in quiet agreement.

Most of the family were retired to individual rooms as well, so they disturbed none on their way out of the home and into the garden on that floor of the arcology. There the three sat on the ground and began to meditate. Together they tried to find peace in this place. To feel the warmth of the Flow of Life so that it would settle their spirits.

Flashes came to them, images. Ships burning. Cities aflame. Rubble.

Talara was the first to break the quiet. "What does this mean?" she asked. "Will there be another war?"

"Possibly," Lucy answered, worry clouding her blue eyes. "But this… there's more to it than that, I think. I feel something elusive. It's like just being here is clouding everything."

"A veil of darkness on my thoughts," Talara described. "That's what it is."

"Yes." Meridina opened her eyes and rubbed her forehead. "I feel it too. It is no wonder the Order feels such a spiritual sickness as it does. There is something stirring that we cannot yet see."

"Do you think this is why Ledosh is acting so weird?" Lucy asked.

"I believe so, yes," she said. "He warned of a darkness around us. That we are running out of time."

"Then we should get to the bottom of it," Talara said. "Let's speak to him."

"Yeah. We should." Lucy nodded. "And we won't take no for an answer."

"Agreed." With that, their path was clear. But none could escape the fear that it might be too late.

While the dinner continued on in other rooms, Beth led Robert and Colin to an upstairs room, a study from the look of it. Once they were inside she locked it and hit a key. "Security sweeps the Mansion daily," she explained. "Just in case. But to make absolutely sure, this room has an electronic privacy field. One of the best. Paid for by the Alliance, in fact." She gestured to comfortable recliners of red and blue color, taking a dark blue one for herself that matched her formal gown. "As you might guess given New Liberty's reputation, we've got strong connections to the Telepath Underground Railroad, Doctor Meier," she said. "At least, to those cells willing to play by our rules. So I'm completely aware of the secret terms of the recent treaty between EarthGov and the Alliance. And I think I know a way to turn those terms to our advantage."

Robert sensed Colin's interest in that announcement. There was good reason for him to be so interested. The secret term, on the face of it, was a good thing for dissenting telepaths in the Earth Alliance. It established that Earth authorities would not subject Alliance vessels along the Earth-to-Gamma 12 trade route to searches, allowing unregistered telepaths to flee Earthspace aboard Alliance ships with minimal risk.

But while that looked good on paper, in actuality, the virtual Aristo takeover of the telepath trafficking market made it a terrible deal. Ships trafficking telepaths to Aristo slavers could easily exploit the line in question, especially with bribery of Earthforce and other Earth authorities. With the ships they had, they might even raid legitimate Underground ships to steal away telepaths for slavery. Given just why the Aristos wanted telepath slaves, letting them claim just one telepath was too much.

“I’m listening. Our fleet isn’t large enough to patrol that much space, and we certainly can’t legally or even openly inspect ships. The only way we can do much of anything is if we suspect a specific ship of slave trafficking and then...it’s rather all or nothing, if you understand my meaning. Get the wrong ship, and… our survival depends on secrecy.” Colin really did not like having to kill innocent people, and had thus far not ordered a ship taken unless the intelligence was particularly good, but eventually he’d be wrong.

Beth knew perfectly well what he meant. "And providing you the names of our ships will not go over well with the cells for obvious reasons. But there is a solution. Have you heard of Teyan Station?"

“The name is not familiar, no."

"I remember the name from somewhere," Robert offered.

"It's the new customs clearing station for our trade routes out of Gamma 12," Beth revealed. "Just inside of the Alliance's zone around the colony, and it oversees the only active jumpgate currently in our space." She shifted in her seat slightly. "It is the natural clearing station for the Railroad once it reaches Alliance space."

“I think I see what you’re getting at. Would it be possible for the Corps to establish a presence on the station? We’d be doing the Free Colony a favor by screening for actual criminals, as well as preventing the Colony from being used as a…” he struggled to find an appropriate term “unwilling accomplice in kidnapping. In exchange, we recover kidnapped children, and are able to make positive contact with those fleeing the Corps and try to convince them to stay.”

Beth set her elbows just above her knee, her hands clasped together. "I can't dictate to the Railroad, but I believe I can sell them on those terms, with qualifications," she said. "I'm aware your Corps practices communal child-rearing. Even if the parents in question would prefer a nuclear family. It is a matter of Earth law, from what I've heard. As you may be aware, some of those who flee are telepaths who never truly wanted to be in the Corps. And they have born children who were put into the communal creches. If a child has a parent who has left the Corps and is on the Colony or elsewhere in the Alliance, I can tell you the Railroad will insist that the parent get a shot at assuming custody. The same will likely apply toward close relations like siblings. I can sell the Railroad a policy on returning children only if you can agree to allowing a neutral arbiter to decide such cases."

“That is reasonable. Best Interests of the Child applies, and the child gets a voice in the hearings if they’re over the age of eight. Preferably a Gersellian telepath should arbitrate to insure against any sort of coercion.”

"Agreed," Beth said. Robert noted she was writing no notes, but Beth had a good memory and could remember such details. Notes, even secure ones, could be dangerous anyway. "This will work then. And given the slaver threat, I believe I can convince the involved captains and other cell leaders to accept the Psi Corps knowing their ships if the Corps guarantees to not infringe on their passage. This will let you determine our actual ships from those that are only pretending to be Railroad vessels. That way your all-or-nothing response is directed at the right people." Beth smiled slightly. She was a kind woman, very gentle, but she knew something of the way slavers operated, and even the gentlest person could feel satisfaction in ensuring they faced severe retribution for treating people like property. "We'll even give you the identities of suspected slavers based on our own investigations."

“Thank you. That will aid us considerably.” Colin replied and he meant every word, sending the relief he felt very gently into her mind as well as through his voice.

"I can add something of my own," Robert said. "As a Paladin I have access to Alliance Intelligence's reports and other materials. I've been actively searching for information relating to these slavers, including individuals and connected ships, financial reports, shell companies. Even whoever in EarthGov and other agencies might be working with or against them. I'll make arrangements for this information to get to both of you." By doing this Robert was stretching his authority greatly, at least in the letter of the law. In the spirit it was a different matter, and he felt certain Morgan and Maran and Sriroj would agree. "I'm also told by Julia that certain Earthforce captains are not happy with the growing slaver threat and that no matter how they feel about the Corps, they'll be open to helping deal with said slavers regardless of what EarthGov or their superiors might want. Julia might be able to make suitable arrangements that will allow some coordination. I'm told her Earthforce contact is already experienced with having to bypass the brass, and EarthGov itself, to do the right thing." He gave Colin a quiet look, certain he would be aware of just which Earthforce officer was being discussed given his knowledge of events, and showing understanding of reluctance for that channel should it come.

“I know who it is, and that’s fine.” He actually smirked a little. “She’s family, after all. Distant to the point of estranged, but family.”

"Then it seems we have a deal," Beth said. Clear satisfaction showed on her face. Robert matched it, knowing how Beth loved this kind of thing. "I'm sure Earth didn't intend this when they proposed the safe lane."

"Maybe they'll end up wishing they'd taken Julia's idea of visas," Robert mused. "Instead of stabbing their own people in the back while threatening us."

“We’re not their people.” Colin gently corrected. “Never have been… well, unless you consider it in a certain way.” He sent a glyph to Robert and Beth of the Crawford Memorial House, or as he and many others called it, the Massah House.

"You should be their people," Beth snarled, noticing the reference. Both men could feel the surge of reflexive anger and the related memories, of holding Annabelle close in their bed as her lover wept from the dreams caused by memory, the memories of the pain and violations she'd endured in a building all-too-similar to the one Earth Senator Lee Crawford had once gloried in owning. Without further comment she stood. "I'm glad we sorted this out, Doctor. Now, if you'll pardon me, as the hostess I really must be getting back to my party. I hope you enjoy the rest of the evening."

They followed Beth out and back downstairs, taking their time so as to not return with her. After getting to the bottom of the wood-paneled stairway Robert thought of how much he wanted to tell Julia about this. She felt so bad about what happened at B5, but they were going to use the agreement in a way she would feel better about. I'll have to talk to her later, in secure surroundings. He looked back up to see Colin glancing around at the home. "Crawford was a piece of work," he said. "I wonder how much of it was his desire for the influence to continue his space program work?"

“He really was a piece of work. No matter your motivations you don’t use people like that…Beth, she’s the one who had to leave, wasn’t she?” And to travel to a whole other planet, that was really leaving. “How…Special is the Earth you’re from?”

"It is, from what I know, a relatively normal early 21st Century Earth," Robert noted. "Which can be a bit of a culture shock for Humans from other universes of a more advanced timeframe. Back home there are people who still think it's horrible to allow homosexuals to marry, or to teach Darwin's evolution theory in school as science. I still remember people insisting the Holocaust never happened, that it was a lie by Jews or Communists or some other ridiculous thing. I'm betting they still say the same even with an actual universe where Nazis won the war existing. They were not common, the Holocaust-deniers anyway, but they were there." Robert forced that thought away. "Beth had to go thousands of miles away to Portland, Oregon, to find any happiness. And I think she only really became happy when she ended up here. When all of her management talents had a chance to blossom."

Colin nodded. “I spent twenty years in - god such an antiquated term - the closet. When the Corps was founded, it was institutionally accepting of the whole gender and sexuality spectrum. We were all one people, so accepted all. Then Vacit disappeared and Johnson took over. Our social attitudes never changed, but what the adults could tell the children did. Combine that with a breeding program, and you can guess the result.”

"Since you were undoubtedly encouraged to see the breeding program as something to contribute to in order to show loyalty…" Robert nodded. Beth hadn't quite gotten the same treatment, but neighbors had always dropped broad hints that she should really find a nice boy to settle down with. Some of the same - though only some, thankfully - had often asked Robert what he saw in that "violent Mexican girl" and openly encouraged him to find another (white, "normal") girl.

“Not exactly. I saw it as a lack of solidarity. I knew legally that I had a loophole, but what right did I have to use it?”

"I see. It didn't seem fair for you to benefit and not the others." Robert checked the time. "Well, to keep appearances, we'd better get back to everything. After all…" He grinned. "You wouldn't want Mr. Cohen to become so enamored with life here that he decides to slip away, would you?" There was a slight teasing quality in his voice, and the open thought that Max would never do so. But there were appearances to keep.

“Oh, yes. He secretly yearns to leave the Corps, rip off his gloves and run around nude with the anarchists, mentally violating every mundane he comes across.” Colin grinned.

The rented aircar passed through the warehouse district in silence. Behind the wheel, Cat glanced nervously around while on the passenger side of the vehicle Angel and Tony continued to look at the warehouse in question.

The markings outside referred to it as a holding of the M'nhra Clan Trading Company. As warehouses went it was one of the smaller ones in capacity in the entire district, accessible from both the lateral K Street and Farmer Parkway, the largest road leading from the heart of the Colony to its outermost districts.

"I'm not detecting anything unusual. A passive security system, I'm guessing," Tony remarked. "No active attack software for electronic probing, just a standard firewall against external wireless connections. I could probably put together a penetration app in an hour or two."

"Smart and strong, it's why you're so sexy," Angel said playfully, although not in her most playful tone. Cat could tell that her sister was worried. The tease was more of an attempt to not worry than it was actual flirting. "No hidden approaches to the doors," she added as Cat turned a corner. In keeping with their plan she was turning away from the warehouse and toward a nearby residential area, to make it look as if they were just passing through. Angel lowered her arm. "We have a composite scan of the place so we can plan an infiltration."

"I'm not sure we should, babe," Tony said.

"Don't 'babe' me, Tony, not in the mood."

He sighed. This was clearly not the night he'd been planning, Cat figured. "So what next?" she asked.

"I go to Colony Security," Angel said.

"Will they work with you?"

"Chief Almerda will." She gave Tony a reassuring look. "I'm not security branch, yeah, but back in those months between the Facility being destroyed and the Alliance being founded? I spent a lot of time working with Almerda's people. It's how I found Corelo in the first place. If I tell Almerda I'm worried about something, the least he'll do is give me access to records and a tech analyst. Hopefully Broots, he's great at this."

"Maybe you should ask Robert for help?" Cat suggested. "He's got that Paladin authority now."

Angel clearly considered the idea. "I'll give him a head's up," she said. "Once we get to Colony Security. But he's got the summit to watch, and Lucy's off playing tourist on Gersal. So we'll probably be doing this on our own."

Meridina was barely asleep when her omnitool let off a tone. She reached over to the nightstand, slipping her fingers past her lightsaber and to the frame of the device. A tap brought up the screen and a message.

Bring Lucilla and Talara in the morning. I will explain what I can.

At the bottom, the message ID showed it was from Ledosh.

Meridina felt surprise at how much it eased the tension within her, to know her teacher was going to explain what was going in. She found that, despite everything, returning to sleep was quite easy.
”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 morning routine on the Aurora deviated from normal only in who was doing which job. With Julia off on leave mandated by Leo, Meridina on Gersal, and Zack at DS9, Jarod and Locarno found themselves in charge of all of the usual morning activities, including relieving Gamma Shift, seeing to Alpha Shift's watch schedule, and reviewing reports from the previous evening. They did this from the Lookout, enjoying breakfast in the process.

With the war over the fleet channels were fairly quiet, at least compared to the daily list of damaged and lost ships through much of the war. Locarno looked over the reports flagged for fleet-wide notification while Jarod signed off on Lieutenant Takawira's activity log for the shift. "Some unexpected Romulan activity in the Triangle, another ship disappeared in the Attican Traverse. The Olamte'se reported Jem'Hadar ships testing the Alliance frontier at Horizon. The Klingons had a skirmish with them just inside Federation space near Bajor." Locarno shook his head at the list. "Not as quiet as I'd hoped."

"It's a big Multiverse, there's always going to be trouble somewhere." Jarod set the planner down and went to finish the last of his scrambled eggs.

Locarno cut away at a breakfast ham steak. "Well, we've had one war. We may not have fought every battle in it, but we fought enough of them." He glanced to the Memorial Wall, where every member of the Aurora crew killed on duty was listed. Between Germania, 452TD, and Gamma Piratus there were over two hundred names. The Canary Wharf Incident more than doubled that, though it hadn't been part of the war. "I'd like to get back to how things were before the war."

"That's not happening and you know it," Jarod noted. "For better or worse, the war changed the Alliance. Made us stronger in some ways, maybe weaker in others." After finishing his last bite Jarod stood. "Well, I'll see you later. My family's waiting."

"Right, your personal day," Locarno said. "I'll leave the command chair warm for you. How much longer is this supposed to last?"

"Leo insisted Julia take at least two full days of no duty," Jarod said. "And Meridina's not due back from Gersal for another couple of days."

"Right. So until then, it's up to you and me to keep things going."

"And Scotty," Jarod reminded him with a grin.

"Scotty's not working a bridge shift," Locarno pointed out. "He refused to, as I recall."

"'I dinnae plan on sittin' in that chair ever again'," Jarod said, mimicking Scotty's accent. "I'll be back by 1600."

"You'd better," Locarno insisted. He watched Jarod go and returned to his breakfast, noting he only had half an hour to get to the bridge and commence his watch.

At Beth's insistence, Robert spent the night in one of her guest rooms, enjoying a comfortable bed and the use of the bathroom attached to it when he woke in the morning. He was surprised to find that once he was done with the routine, there was a message waiting for him from Angel, insisting he come straight to Colony Security.

It was there that he found Angel, Cat, and Tony Zah in one of the Security HQ's computer labs. A balding man sat in front of them - Broots, Robert remembered, one of the people from Jarod's Earth. On the screen was a building schematic and side windows showing what looked like financial statements and money traces. Robert noted the sisters and Tony Zah looked quite tired. Angel was holding Tony tightly, making clear their relationship to those who hadn't known of it.

Robert had, of course. Everyone on the Aurora knew. He was happy for her.

On Angel's other side, Cat had fallen asleep, her head resting against Angel's right arm.

"You look like you've been up all night," he said.

Cat stirred as Angel and Tony looked up at him. Broots turned as well. "Well, I've been up much of the night," he confided. "Granted, I'm the night shift data analyst now," he added.

"What's going on?" Robert asked. "Your message said something about a threat to the summit?"

"I thought you'd get here last night," Angel murmured.

Robert shook his head. It occurred to him that if the message had come while he was in the electronically-shielded room with Beth and Colin, it wouldn't have come to his immediate attention. Nor would his omnitool have alerted him afterward given he'd set his systems to only openly alert him to messages of the highest priority, that is, from Morgan or Maran. I shouldn't have had that last glass of champagne Beth insisted on, he thought. "Sorry, everything was set to quiet mode for the dinner," he said apologetically. "What's going on?"

"I got a note yesterday from Corelo, he wanted to meet," Angel said. "He says there may be a threat to the Colony from his end of things."

"Oh?" Robert remembered Hernan de Corelo. His type weren't why the Facility went after prisons in dictatorships, but then again, they'd been less careful in their early forays. "Get people out" had been the overriding concern, not vetting them to separate crooks from dissidents or the like. "What makes him say that?"

"The gangs have been pulling out," said Angel. "Without someone coming in to replace them. When he looked into it, he heard rumors that those red-eyed bastards from A5R0 want payback over some of theirs that died."

"The Aristos." Robert wondered about that. The Alliance government was still investigating just what capabilities they had, although they were clearly a powerful civilization. "From what we know they don't have IU tech of their own. They rely on shipping things through the Earth government of A5R0. If they're going to attack it's likely a terrorist attack of some kind."

"Like, say, a summit," suggested Tony.

"Good idea, but they'll be disappointed if they think New Liberty is easy to deal with," Robert said. "The best security tech in the Alliance is here. Either way, they'd have to have pre-positioned resources given their lack of IU tech."

"That's the other part of Corelo's info. A warehouse down at K and Farmer."

"Currently rented by the M'nhra Clan Trading Company of Ys'talla," Broots noted. "I've got all of the relevant paperwork. Standard-sized warehouse, consumer goods passing through."

"Nothing too suspicious," Robert noted. "The Miqo'te have been expanding their trade networks since signing their defense treaty with the Alliance." Even as he said that, Robert felt something within him make him want to cringe. There was something here, something elusive. Something…

For a moment he was elsewhere. Standing in the Market Square, watching as buildings around him were ablaze.

As quickly as it came, it ended. It was clear to all that he was disturbed by what he saw. "Consider me a believer," he said quietly. "What can you tell us about this warehouse, Broots?"

"Well, we don't normally track cargos once they pass customs," he noted. "Not unless they're flagged, and M'nhra Trading isn't… woh."

Angel and Tony sat up straight. Cat, still seeming very tired, didn't. "What is it?" Angel asked.

"I'm getting a flag on the company now," Broots said. "From the Dorei Federation Security Service. They've got M'nhra flagged as suspected of criminal ties to a Jeaxian warlord. Uharas avam Tithsa?"

"Tithsa," Robert groaned. Seeing the looks on the others, he explained, "Uharas Tithsa isn't just a Jeaxian warlord. He's a slaver, one of the most powerful still in operation in the statelets, with political and economic connections inside the Coserian Empire."

"How high?" asked Tony.

"High enough to hire an entire company, hell, a battalion of cybertroopers, among other things," Robert said, glowering and thinking of Tau Atrea. "Odds are the Aristos would sign up someone just like him to do dirty work."

"Would he go terrorist though?" Angel asked. "Slavers are usually more interested in taking slaves, I mean. Terrorism doesn't help."

"He may not be involved in the actual attack, just acting as a transport middle man," Tony said.

Robert nodded in agreement. "Exactly." He drew in a breath. "I need to see this warehouse. If there's a threat we may need to call off the summit."

"What about us?" Cat asked.

"You'll need backup, sir," Tony said. "Colony Security's stretched pretty thin."

"I wouldn't want them along," Robert remarked. "Too much noise, they might trigger whatever they're planning. Mister Broots?" He looked to the analyst.

"Yes sir?"

"Inform Chief Almerda of what's going on. Lieutenant Zah, let Commander Richmond know. I know she's got a team helping with the summit security, but we'll need more ready if things go bad."

Tony nodded. He didn't look dressed for business - neither did Angel or Cat - but he made up for it with his serious look. "Yes sir."

"What about us?" Cat asked.

"Broots, we need an ops vehicle," Robert said. "Just one. Cat, you and Jarod are our ops control, you stay in the vehicle. Lieutenant, Angel, you'll be with me." Robert reached for his omnitool. "I'll be right back." He finished typing a sequence in and vanished in a burst of light.

When he returned two minutes later, he was wearing combat armor, and he had two cases with him. He handed one of each to Angel and Tony. "Go suit up," he instructed. "We've got an infiltration mission." He smiled slightly at Angel. "Just like old times."

"Old times," she agreed. "What about Julia? Should she know?"

"I've already alerted Locarno and Jarod," he said. "They'll let her know. Jarod's on his way to join us. We'd better get busy."

It was well past dawn when Julia stirred. The presence of daylight through curtains laid over the window was a novel experience, showing how used she was to living aboard a starship. Equally novel was the warmth of another body pressed up against hers, and not even under the sheets.

After a moment of waking up, she realized she hadn't stirred from any arrangement of an internal clock, but from the repetitive electronic tone coming from the nearby nightstand. She looked over to see a blue light showing over the frame of her omnitool. She blinked, if just to get the haze of sleep out of her eyes, before reaching over to tap the omnitool. "I'm here," she said.

"Sorry to disturb your rest," said Locarno. "I'm just calling to give you a warning. There might be trouble at the summit."


"Robert called it in," he continued. "A possible terrorist threat. He's investigating with Angel."

Behind her, Lee began stirring as well. Julia stifled a little yawn. "Does he need me for anything? I can come back up to the ship."

"That won't be necessary. I've got things handled up here and security's ready to send more personnel to help out," Locarno replied. "If Robert needs anything more, he'll call."

"Still, if there's a threat…" Julia felt Lee's arm move across her belly. He said nothing for the moment. "Keep me informed, and be ready to transport me back to the ship the moment something happens."

"We'll keep a lock on you. Locarno out."

"Work?" asked Lee.

"Maybe. You might want to call Shaw or Hoshi and give them forewarning. There might be a terrorist attack of some kind." Julia turned and laid flat on her back on the bed. Lee laid on his side beside her, his arm still draped over her belly.

"We'll be ready to provide assistance," he promised. "I'll give them a call if you want to use the shower first."

"That sounds nice." Julia gave him a peck of a kiss on the cheek in thanks before sliding out of the bed. Her uniform was laid out over a chair. Everything under it had been thoughtlessly left on the floor. Julia might have blamed the wine from the dinner at Beth's if not for the fact that it had more to do with impatience than inebriation.

When she got out of the shower Lee was waiting with a towel. "The Pegasus is on standby," he informed her. "We're ready to help."

"I just hope it's a false alarm," she said. "I'll call Richmond and see how preparations are going while you shower. Then we can go enjoy a late breakfast?"

"That works for me," he said.

A short time later they were in the Visitors' Lodge's cafe. A host of breakfast meals from various cultures were available. Julia opted for plain cereal with eggs while Lee gave the kimchi a try, along with a bowl of fish stew. Given the situation both were in uniform. "Any plans for the day?" Lee asked.

"Well, I had been considering taking you on a hike to the Carrey River Falls," Julia remarked. "They're gorgeous."

Lee noted the name, but instead asked, "Where is that, again?"

"About a hundred kilometers to the northeast, along the Carrey River. The falls are at the edge of the mountain range."

Lee noted the name. "You named a river for Zachary?"

Julia responded with a bemused laugh. "It's an old joke from the surveys after we founded the Colony. He fell into it. And since he was the first to touch the river in any way, we decided to name it for him."

Lee chuckled at that. "So the name of the water falls derives from a pun?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes."

Another chuckle came from Lee. "I suppose it's not surprising that things here would be named after you and the others. You founded this place, settled it with the people you helped…"

"Yeah. Although we've asked them to refrain from naming anything in our honor. At least until we're passed on," Julia said. "The river was an exception that was too funny to pass up."

"That works for me," Lee said, grinning. After he took another bite of his food he folded his hands on the table. "So… I've been meaning to ask…"

Julia finished swallowing a piece of fluffy egg and looked up. "Hrm?"

For a moment Lee hesitated, as if he wasn't sure what he was going to say or how he would. Finally he drew in a breath and asked, "So, I'm trying to get a handle on things. On us."

Julia pursed her lips and set her fork down. "Yeah, I imagined we'd get to this eventually."

"I've never been the best at relationships," Lee admitted. "And I'm not sure where this one is going."

Julie folded her hands on the table. "Lee, to be honest, I… I don't see this being a long term thing. For me, it's about having a peer who understands what I go through. Being able to… to find an outlet for a part of me that I've always kept bottled up."

Lee nodded slowly. "So… you want to spend time with me for the sex?"

That prompted a sigh. "Not entirely," Julia answered. "I suppose there's a 'peer with benefits' angle to it…"

"'Peer with benefits'?" asked Lee, confused.

"There's a term, 'friends with benefits'. It means people who are friends and have casual sex without a romantic attachment," Julia explained. "That's… not quite how I see us."

"But it is, a bit?"

That drew another exasperated sigh. "I see you as someone I can spend time with for whatever reason. Someone who knows the pressures I live with," Julia explained. "Who understands what it's like to do this job. And you're kind and you're trying to do the right thing. I appreciate that." She leaned forward slightly. "Is that enough for you, Lee?"

Lee's expression made it clear he had to search his thoughts. "Well, like I said, I've been bad at relationships," he admitted. "They always go wrong. I suppose I was hoping that I'll finally find one that works."

"I hope you do. But I'm not going to commit to a long term relationship, Lee. I don't think it'll work. If this means you want to put an end to it…"

"I'm not saying that," he said, a little too quickly. "I'm just… I'm tired, Julia. Tired of my relationships blowing up in my face. Of things going wrong."

"I understand that. I just want things clear between us. No unintended expectations." Even as she spoke Julia could see Lee's eyes fall a little. Damn. "I'm sorry if I let you think I felt differently."

"It's not that," he said. "It's… Gods, listen to me. You're being up front and honest. I'm the one making this complicated."

"You wanted more."

"Yeah, I guess I was hoping for it," Lee admitted. "But I think I'm okay with this. Maybe it's what I need. No expectations beyond, well…"

"Hanging out and really good sex," Julia offered, smiling.

The response was a chuckle. "Yeah."

Julia wasn't sure he entirely meant it. Robert has it so much easier, being able to sense feelings. She scraped the last bits of egg onto her fork and ate it. After enjoying the taste for a few seconds and swallowing she said, "Well, given the situation, my plan for a nature walk is out. I don't want to be a hundred kilometers away if something happens. Is there anything you'd like to do?"

Lee seemed to think on it for a moment. "Well, that sport you play, the one like pyramid…?"


"Yeah. I wouldn't mind giving that a try."

"I'm a little rusty these days," she admitted. "But sure. We'll use the courts here at the Lodge."

"Sounds fun to me."

Meridina, Lucy, and Talara awoke early for their planned trip to the Temple. When they left their rooms they quietly accepted a breakfast made by Drentiya. Meridina's mother was a strong telepath and sensed their emotional states. It is still early, why not rest more? she urged.

No. We have something to do at the Temple, Meridina insisted. We will be leaving shortly.

Your father has already left
, Drentiya cast back, her concern plain on her face and in her thoughts. Whatever is wrong… please be careful.

We'll try, Drentiya, Lucy promised.

Once they finished their meals, they departed.

For safety's sake Cat parked the operations van Security provided a block away, putting another warehouse between her and the M'nhra Trading warehouse. She went to the back where Jarod, in civilian wear but with a pulse pistol in a belt-mounted hip holster, activated holo-monitors, tying the van's onboard systems into the omnitools of the others and accessing the Colony's database, including the schematics of the warehouse.

By the time they were ready, the others were in position. Angel and Tony were in dark suits, each armed with a pulse rifle and pulse pistol, and like Robert they had personal cloaking devices. These were active as they crossed an open lot and arrived at the side door of the warehouse. "I'm opening the door now," Jarod said over their secure comms.

Moments later the electronic lock on the door released, allowing them entry. The side door didn't leave to the warehouse proper but to adjacent offices and restrooms. They passed through there to the storage area, where crates were stacked. Some were on the floor, others on anti-grav pallets. Robert walked up to one and noted it was empty.

"They're all empty," Tony noted, looking in another one.

Robert ran a scan. He found something he'd been hoping not to find. "Residue from explosives," he confirmed. A bad feeling came to his gut. "They've already unloaded whatever they're using. Their plan must be in play."

Lucy flew the aircar through the assigned lanes over Jantarihal with some urgency. Today there was no sightseeing from Talara, only deep concern at the chilling, foreboding feeling all sensed. "Something is going to happen, isn't it?" she asked. "This feeling in my being. This coldness."

"I wish I could assure you otherwise, Talara," Meridina said. Below were some of the commercial areas of Jantarihal. They were coming up to the roadway that led up to the Temple, used primarily by anti-grav and wheeled vehicles. Lucy gently pulled the craft up. "Mastrash Ledosh undoubtedly believes he protects us by not speaking on the matter. But we must prevail on him to trust us."

"We'll persuade him," Lucy promised.

While a river and the road beside it wound below them, the aircar rose to the mountain plateau where the Temple stood. In the dawnlit sky the Temple looked impressive indeed, as it always did. Lucy kept them on course. Something on the display beside her made her blink. "That's odd."


"The traffic control net just went down," Lucy said.

Meridina activated her omnitool. "I will…" She blinked and her face began to pale. "The commnet is down."

Lucy did not want to hear that. "Nothing?"

"Nothing. I am attempting to raise the orbital stations on Stellar Navy channels…" Meridina shook her head. "It appears the entire planetary comm network is out."

Talara was double-checking while Lucy tried to keep the feeling in her gut from becoming nausea. "Try connecting to the Rio Grande," Lucy urged. "It's got an IU…"

That was when the first explosion flowered from the Great Temple.

In the Security ops van, Caterina looked over the chemical composition from the readings Robert and the others were sending. "A plastic explosive derivative," she noted. "If you kept it properly separated, it wouldn't show up on customs scans. At least not as obvious explosives."

"So there is a terrorist threat," noted Jarod. He tapped a button on his board. "I'm raising Colony Sec… wait."


"The comm network is down," Jarod said. "I can't get through." Jarod tapped at a key. "Robert, Angel, can you read me?"

"Loud and clear," came Robert's response. "We're just…"

"...checking everything." Robert moved to another empty crate. This one didn't have explosive residue. "Another empty, no explosives," he called out to the others.

"Same here!" Tony shouted.

"And here!" added Angel.

"What's wrong, Jarod?" Robert asked. Inside he felt a growing sense of wrongness, a chilling feeling of dread.

"Planetary comms are down. Since we can talk, whatever it is isn't jamming."

"Can you raise the Aurora?"

"Trying now not through the ops van. Let me tie in through our omnitools."

"Good. I've got a bad feeling about all of this."

"Hey, we've got a non-empty over here!" shouted Tony.

Robert and Angel converged on Tony. He was in the corner, facing a single crate. It wasn't a large one, two meters long, still on an anti-grav pallet. As they approached Tony generated a hardlight blade from his omnitool and used it to pry the lid open. Blinking lights played over his face. "Is that what I think it is?"

Robert and Angel arrived at the same time to spot an object that, yes, looked fairly familiar. It was not exactly what they were familiar with, granted, but it was clearly based on the same thing.

A green light lit up on one end.

Robert slapped at his arm, bringing his omnitool up. "Dale to Aurora, raise the shields now!"

On the Aurora bridge Locarno heard the priority call from Robert. As surprised as he was by it, training kicked in. "Raise shields, set ship to Code Yellow," he ordered, after which he added, "This is Locarno on the Aurora, just what is going on?"

"There's a jump anchor down here," Robert replied, his voice tense with worry. "And it's been activated."

At Ops, Lieutenant Tra'dur spoke, in an accent that bordered on Anglo-Indian, "Sir, the Pegasus and Charleston are both inquiring as to why we are raising shields."

"Relay what Captain Dale just told us," Locarno said.

"Yes sir." After several moments Tra'dur noted, "Several vessels are raising shields as well."

"Multiple IU jump points opening!" cried Lieutenant Amira al-Rashad, currently at the Science station.

Locarno was not used to the idea of such a thing being a sign of danger. IU jump points usually meant help. It meant friendlies. But with everything going on, he knew it likely didn't mean the same now. Even as his mind wondered just who would have the technology and become hostile - One of the Citadel Council races? The Clans? - he barked, "Code Red! Put them onscreen!"

Tra’dur flipped the shipwide intercom. “Battlestations, Battlestations, All Hands to Battlestations, On the Double! This is not a drill…”

The holo-viewer activated to show open space just beyond the orbital space of New Liberty. Green vortices were forming, at least half a dozen. Ships zoomed out from within them. Locarno's eyes widened as he took in the vessels, of designs he'd seen before, black hulls, sharp angular shapes, and nacelles with blue ramscoops and blood-red plasma chambers.

And on each one was a black-on-white field swastika and the double lightning bolt rune of the Schutzstaffel.

Even as the ramifications jolted through Locarno like lightning, a stunned al-Rashad read off the identification. "Multiple Reich warships of varying classes! Their shields are up and weapons are online! They're firing…!"

As one, the SS vessels opened fire, the emerald energy of their disruptors striking at the Aurora, the ships around it, and New Liberty below.

Lucy hit the accelerator on the aircar's engines as soon as the explosions flowered from the Great Temple.

The act saved their lives.

As the seconds passed, multiple lights burst into existence in the air over the Temple. The brief flashes resulted in the presence of Cylon raiders, fighter craft that immediately commenced attacks on the temple itself, strafing its structures and its denizens. One fighter, having noticed them upon jumping, immediately bore down on them and fired. Without accelerating the aircar would have been destroyed.

It might still have suffered that fate, but Lucy's piloting kept them from taking hits. She flew onward to the Temple, seeking to land where she could, as it was only a matter of time before the Cylons overwhelmed them in the air. Her concern was proven a few moments later when a flurry of fire blew out the engine just as they neared the Temple proper. "A little help!" Lucy cried out, trying to keep the aircar from hitting too hard with the emergency anti-gravs set to full.

Meridina and Talara came to her aid, concentrating. Together they slowed the vehicle enough that it merely jostled them violently when Lucy planted it in the middle of the courtyard garden. After a moment to gather their bearings they pulled off their safety belts and got out of the car. Around them robed figures were in constant motion, running for cover or, in some cases, not. Several purple-robed figures, as well as some of the red and blue-robed ones, were already reaching skyward or at least looking skyward. One by one, the Cylon fighters started to go out of control, slamming into each other or into the ground.

But that wasn't all. Beyond the clouds, against the dawn sky, lights streaked far above.

The Gersallians were no strangers to threats. On several occasions the Coserians had sent raids into their space deeply enough to nearly reach Gersal, and so the planet was well-defended.

The issue was that, like many defenses, it took time to fully bring them into operation. Ships had to be sortied. Theater and deflector shields raised. And the system had been geared to expect early warning from long-range sensors.

The arrival of the Cylon fleet in orbit gave no warning. One moment there was nothing, the next, the twisted shapes of Cylon Basestars flashed into existence. Fighters poured from their hangers and the Basestars opened fire with missiles and powerful energy weapons.

The ships in orbit had little time to react before the Cylon fire started ripping through them. Those that managed to raise shields survived the longest, but just as many did not, or had no shields; they were the first to die.

But they were not the last, as the Cylon ships started raining fire down on the surface of Gersal itself.

Talara was the first to watch the emerald streaks descend from the sky and strike Jantarihal. Beam after beam lashed at the shining capital city of the Gersallians. To her horror, one of the gleaming spires started to collapse after a hit cleaved it in two.

"Swenya's Light," gasped Meridina, now observing the scene. Other members of the Order showed similar shock and horror at the sight of Jantarihal's scourging. Overhead the last of the Cylon fighters was gone, destroyed or escaped. The attack seemed to be over.

Gina approached them. "I need your help," she said, panting. She looked haggard and worn. "The offices, they were bombed… Mastrash Ledosh is still there!"

Before Lucy or Meridina could react to this news, a roar filled the air. Heads turned to witness the pods rain down from the sky. All sensed the presence of dark, cold energy as the pods slammed into the ground, one by one. One pod smashed into the rubble that had once been the Temple Knight barracks, another near the Temple Hall and the Council's meeting place.

Many of those present drew their weapons. Some ignited or activated them, the snap-hiss of lightsabers joined by the metallic shriek of lakesh blades taking form. Lucy, Meridina, and Gina joined them.

The pods opened. From each came a dozen occupants. And they were the same for each pod. Flashes of recognition came from many as they recognized, among these numbers, copies of Gina herself… and of Lucy.


But that wasn't why gasps of horrified familiarity came from some of the Order, or Meridina herself.

The familiarity wasn't from the copies of Gina and Lucy, but rather their garb. For each was clad in a black hooded robe, the hoods lowered, over dark suits of armor with gray belts. Each Cylon had a headband on their brow, black as well, with a red insignia upon it. The insignia was a hexagon divided into twelve parts - two per side - with a sword bisecting the whole.

There was something Lucy found familiar with the garb. As if she'd seen it, or something like it, before…

"It's them," Meridina gasped. "After all this time…"

One of the older models, the "Brother Cavil" one, spoke aloud. "At long last, our time has come." He pulled from his belt a dark-enameled hilt. A blood-red energy blade flashed to life with a snap and hiss. "Death to the enemies of our Lord!" he roared. "Death to the followers of Swenya!"

The courtyard echoed with the snap-hiss of dozens of blood-red lightsabers igniting. "Death to the memory of Swenya!" roared the other Cylons.

And then the battle began.
”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 battle that erupted in the Temple courtyard filled that space with the buzz of lightsabers and the hum of lakesh blades, though mostly the former. The Cylons set upon the present members of the Order with a savage glee, as if years, decades of patience were finally paying off.

Lucy's first foe was a Caucasian-colored male Cylon, one of the models she wasn't familiar with. He moved with a fury and speed that she struggled to match. Beside her Gina was locking blades with one of the D'anna Biers-looking Cylons and Meridina was facing one of the Cavils. Talara, unarmed, had no choice but to keep moving, focusing on avoiding the lethal blade of one of the Sharon Valerii models.

While they held their ground as best as they could, the rest of the Order wasn't doing quite as well. The Mastrasham and the handful of Temple Knights present were also holding their own, but some of the Knights were struggling with the sheer ferocity and power of their foes. Each of the Cylons was gifted with dark power, and they used those powers happily, mixing lightsaber strikes with attempts to choke or bind their foes, or to channel purple-tinged lightning into them.

In ordinary circumstances this may not have been enough. But such circumstances didn't exist. The Order's recent malaise, its clear demoralization, were exacerbated by the sudden shock of the attack. One by one, some of the Knights - especially those not as experienced - fell to the attacks of their foes, while the Cylons suffered fewer losses at the hands of the Order.

Lucy herself was in the fight for her life. The SS men she'd fought in the Fuhrerhaus had been neophytes compared to the Cylon she was fighting. The last time she'd dueled someone this powerful had been Goras himself, and that was when she was far less experienced in the art. She remained on the defensive, using maneuver and short blocking strikes to defy her foe repeatedly. Talara needs me, I can't let this go on…

Then her opponent, perhaps sensing her desperation to aid Talara, got overconfident. His attacks were stronger, but less agile, more exposing. After the third such attack, aimed at her head, Lucy twisted in one direction and struck out with her armored boot. It slammed into the knee of her opponent from the side with enough strength to dislocate the entire joint. The Cylon's leg came out from under him. As he cried out, Lucy completed her maneuver with a horizontal slice of her weapon, cleanly taking the head off the Cylon.

A quick check of the battlefield told her the Order was struggling. Meridina and Gina were still in combat and Talara was running out of room to run. Lucy ran to her aid, just to be intercepted by the lightsaber of one of the bald, dark-skinned Cylons. Immediately she was forced on the defensive.

Talara gathered what strength she had left and pushed out with her power, trying to knock her armed foe away. The Cylon absorbed the strike with her own power. Her hand came up and purple-tinged lightning erupted. Talara tried to resist it, but she wasn't experienced enough to do so. It blasted through her attempted defense and seared her body. She spasmed and fell, screaming from the shock. Her foe, grinning, advanced with blade raised to end Talara's life.

And then unseen force slammed into the Valerii-model, into Lucy's foe, into Gina's, into Meridina's. All four Cylons went flying as if struck by a speeding air car. Two collided with such force that their heads smashed together and inflicted fatal head trauma. The four could feel a sense of confident, strong light amongst them, someone openly defying the darkness sapping at them and the rest of the Order. They turned to see the robed figure, his purple robe lined with blue to mark a Council member.

Mastrash Karesl held out a hand clutching the lightsaber that Lucy had personally taught him how to make. It ignited in a flash of green light. But it wasn't the weapon he used. They all felt raw power gather around them and release, an invisible plow blade that ripped through several approaching Cylons and sent them flying.

It occurred to Lucy that she'd never seen Karesl fight. She always knew he was powerful, very much so. But to see him use that power… it was like how Robert now fought, but refined. Controlled. Completely confident, not restrained.

The sight of Mastrash Karesl joining the battle gave heart to the beleaguered Knights of Swenya, who fought all the more fiercely to protect their temple.

Karesl turned to them. "Ledosh was in his office. See to him!"

"But you'll need…"

Before Lucy could finish, Karesl thundered "Go!" in a voice that brimmed with stern command. She felt the sheer strength in him vibrate in harmony with the command. Here and now he was in charge, and his orders were not to be questioned. Too much was at stake.

"Come, Lucy, Gina," Meridina said, accepting her father's command without protest. "We must hurry." Be safe, Father, Meridina urged mentally as the quartet departed.

The same to you, Meri. Karesl plunged into the fray after sending the thought.

Amidst the rubble that had once been part of the Order's organization offices, Mastrash Ledosh gave a final surge of effort. Broken masonry and stone flew away from the protective bubble he'd pulled around himself the moment he sensed danger. Sunlight poured into the ruins around him. Only his desk and the books, with their notes, were preserved.

He could feel the dark power near. A battle raged nearby. His fellows in the Order were struggling against a foe. And in the distance, fire rained down on Jantarihal and other places. His worst fears were realized. I was too late!

For a moment despair took him. But only for a moment. He could feel Meridina, Gina, Lucy, all alive. All here. There was still hope. He would not let the darkness drive him to despair, not now.

He grabbed the protective container he used to move the books around from its place by his desk. It snapped open and he quickly stashed both the books and his notes into it, after which he snapped the container shut and slung it over his shoulder.

And then he set off to find Meridina and the others.

Onboard the Pegasus, now a storied and infamous survivor of thirty or more engagements thanks to the Reich War, Major Hoshi had taken the report of Aurora’s shields going up and alerted Colonel Shaw, who had (like usual) refused leave and remained onboard to drill new arrivals and oversee inspections and repairs. Then he’d asked the Aurora what was going on.

He’d barely finished when Kendra Shaw arrived at a dead run. The short woman was in her uniform trousers and boots and a sports bra, wet from head to toe with the shower she’d been taking and with her uniform jacket draped around her shoulders and flapping open from where it was half tugged on during her run to the bridge.

“Mister Rawlin,” she ordered the engineering lieutenant on the bridge without even asking any details, “Spool the jump drive!”


“That’s an order. Mister Hoshi, Report?”

Aurora has raised her shields and there’s an unknown jump beacon active on the planet.”

Kendra Shaw’s damp brown skin paled. “Shields, now!”

Hoshi had been dealing with Kendra for long enough to know better. The survivor of the Scorpion shipyard had gotten steadily more functional over that period, but she was utterly inflexible in this kind of situation, and..

“Sir, jump-points forming!”

Kendra gazed at Hoshi for a moment like she was going to berate him for not having already raised the shields, but then she just pulled a handset off the wall next to the red toggle switch which she firmly depressed, the alarms immediately sounding around them.

“All hands, this is Colonel Shaw. General Quarters, Set Condition One throughout the ship.” She released the toggle on the handset. “DRADIS, what do we have?”

As she asked the question, the Pegasus rocked, but not severely.

“Shields holding, Colonel!”

“Colonel, multiple significant contacts. Schutzstaffel warships emerging from interuniversal jump points. We are taking fire from at least four heavy cruisers.”

For a moment, Kendra Shaw’s face was fixed and chiseled in place, expressionless. The entire thing was brutally like Scorpion. Hoshi had been unconscious the entire time and the event remained at a remove for him. With her free hand she reached into the pocket of her still hanging uniform jacket and gripped hard at the closed metal form of Cain’s razor. Then she spoke with confidence and decisiveness. “Prepare for emergency jump!”

“Sir… Preparing for emergency jump.” Rawlin turned back to his console and Kendra watched him, remembering herself in the same position only a few years before. The ship rocked under her again.

“Nazi dreadnought is bearing on us with its spinal mount, Sir!”

“Jump the ship.”

For the first time in the Colony's history, the space around New Liberty was filled with the violent spectacle of starship combat. The disruptors of the arriving SS vessels lashed out at the unprepared ships in orbit, joined by the visible tailfire of their missiles and torpedoes. The vessels in orbit over New Liberty barely had a chance to begin maneuvering before the emerald beams began to carve through them. One of the vessels, a Narn cruiser, took several hits against bare hull before a terrible explosion blew the vessel in half. A Bajoran ship managed to evade much of the incoming fire due to its small size and maneuverability, until it took a direct hit from a heavy disruptor that blasted through its shields and speared its engine section, destroying the vessel in a white fireball.

Where weapons fire struck the Aurora, it encountered fully-engaged shields. On the bridge, Nicholas Locarno found himself in command of the ship. "Send out a fleet alert," Locarno ordered. "And open a tac comm link."

"Doing so now," said Tra'dur. "The Pegasus just jumped out."

Locarno frowned at that. Not that it didn't make sense - it did, tactically, since Battlestars were primarily carriers and the ship's fighters would need time to be launched - but that it made the job of protecting the Colony even harder. Perhaps impossible.

"Targeting enemy vessels now!" called out Lieutenant Syrandi Luneri, the Dorei woman at Tactical.

As disruptors played over her shields, the Starship Aurora turned to face the enemy. Her weapons began to blaze. One by one, the other ships around her joined in the battle, the cerulean fury of the Melissa Davion's naval PPCs joined by the amber strikes of the Charleston's phasers. Both ships contributed missiles and photon torpedoes to the barrage.

Unfortunately, most of the ships were not so lucky. With every passing second more of those vessels in orbit died, many of them civilian ships. Locarno gripped the command chair arms tightly at the thought that there was nothing he could do for those poor people. It would be hard enough keeping his own ships alive given the number of enemy contacts showing up on the holo-display. A destroyer squadron, several cruisers of varying classes, all centered around an Aryan-class dreadnought with SS colors and markings.

Even as they engaged the SS task force, some of those black ships were not responding to the challenge from the orbiting defenders. They were too busy pouring fire into the Colony.

Cat and Jarod were the first to hear the boom of explosions from inside the ops van. Jarod scrambled to the front of the van in time to see an emerald disruptor beam stab down from the sky and blow apart a nearby structure. Beyond more explosions flowered, some without aid from the sky. "We're under attack!" Jarod shouted into the omnitool before getting behind the wheel. He brought the van's motor to life and sent the vehicle into gear, pulling out on the road to bring them back to the warehouse the others were in.

Behind him, Cat was looking at the van's instruments in utter shock. "The… this is all… we're under attack." Her voice squeaked the repetition of Jarod's remark. "But I can't get anyone on comms!"

"Sabotage," Jarod said grimly. He tapped at his omnitool as he turned the wheel. "Jarod to Aurora, what's going on up there?!"

"SS ships just jumped in. They were using IU drives," Locarno answered. "We're trying to fight them off now, but the comm network is acting up. We aren't getting replies from Defense Command."

"New Liberty's comms are down too, try to patch in to Julia and as many others as you can."

"We're a bit busy, but we'll do what we can."

They pulled into the parking lot of the warehouse as Robert, Angel, and Tony emerged from the door. They ran toward the van.

As they did so, another pair of vehicles pulled in behind the van, moving to block its exit. From the vehicles several men in civilian clothing emerged, but given the uniform shades of blond hair it wasn't too hard to guess their affiliation.

At a barked command in stern German, the group opened fire.

The initial explosions sent the Colony into chaos. They could be heard in every corner as pre-set bombs destroyed or damaged buildings across the city. Some of the targets seemed random, simply to add to the chaos, but with one bomb nearly gutting Colony Security HQ and another damaging the Government Building, it was clear that there was a purpose beyond mere chaos. Only later was it realized that the bombings were well-placed to disrupt the city's power grid, preventing the raising of the protective theater shield.

Moments after the bombs went off, emerald beams struck at the Colony with deadly precision. Entire buildings were demolished with a moment's contact with them. People were vaporized where they stood.

The explosions disrupted the opening session of the Summit, meeting in the Legislative Chamber of the New Liberty Government Building. The entire building shook violently from the blast, although the chamber itself was not directly affected. From her place at the Presiding Table Beth Rankin rose and looked toward the sergeant-at-arms, Sergeant Bomayako. The African woman drew her pulse pistol and spoke into her omnitool. Beth knew something was wrong the moment confusion showed on Bomayako's face. "Communications are down," she said. "Madame Governor, we should evacuate."

"Agreed." Beth looked to the assembled delegates. With the exception of the Narn and Bajoran members, not to mention Governor Kuhln, they all showed various levels of uncertainty or fright. "There is a protective bunker here. Please follow me."

Trying hard to keep her own rising fear and worry at bay, Beth stepped away from the table toward a side door. She opened it… and immediately closed it at noticing the armed man down the hall, firing a Reich-made disruptor rifle into another room. "Armed intruder," she said to Bomayako.

"The other door, quickly!" the other woman hissed, moving to take cover in sight of both doors. "I will buy you what time I can."

Beth didn't argue. She knew better, just as much as she knew Bomayako was sacrificing herself to protect the summit delegates. Beth rushed across the room to another door. She activated her omnitool and found a basic life sign scanner app loaded into it, part of the base firmware of the model. The scanner told her there was nobody ahead, so she opened the door. The corridor ahead led toward various offices for the Council members and their staff, and from there she knew the way to the entrance to the bunker. She motioned for the others to follow and walked out into the hall.

Bomayako watched them go, breathed a silent prayer, and had her gun leveled and ready when the first intruder came through the door.

The first boom interrupted Julia and Lee in their game. Julia stopped dribbling the basketball and let it bounce away on the court. "What the hell…?"

"It sounds like a…"

More booms could be heard. Going from confusion to worry, Julia went for her omnitool.

Before she could activate it, Lee grabbed her and pulled her toward the west door. Julia nearly stumbled and just managed to keep her footing. "What is…"

Before she could finish, she heard a voice snarl in German. This prompted Julia to glance back at the far door, where an armed man in basic civilian garb was entering, disruptor rifle readied, and more followed. He scanned the room and noticed them just as they got to the door. A moment after Lee pulled Julia through a disruptor beam sizzled through the door, barely missing her.

"Did you bring your sidearm?!" Julia demanded, forcing down the questions racing through her mind. Was it just a coincidence, or was she actually facing some kind of remnant forces of the Reich? Released POWs turned mercenary?

"No," Lee answered, looking ready to kick himself.

"Don't feel bad, I didn't either." They kept running, going past the shower area and toward the front of the lodge. Behind them the armed men burst through the door. Julia, remembering the Lodge layout, pulled Lee with her into a room to their side. It was full of tables and chairs, recognizable as one of the Lodge's rentable meeting rooms. They continued on through the door on the opposite side. "Jeong might, though."

"The owner?"

"Yeah," she said. She activated her omnitool as they came to the end of the recreational area. "Andreys to Aurora, I'm under fire!"

"So are we," Locarno replied. "SS warships have jumped into orbit. We're under heavy fire, most of the orbiting ships are already heavily damaged or destroyed."

Julia felt a sick feeling in her gut. "They jumped, as in…"

"They have the IU drive," Locarno confirmed.

The horrible ramifications of that fact bubbled to the surface of her mind. If they had the drive, the SS could attack anywhere. They could hit any target in Alliance space.

But there were more pressing matters to worry about. "Do what you can to keep the Colony and ship safe!" she ordered. "We'll hold out as best as we can."

"Planetary comms are down, but we'll do what we can to keep comms going through our systems. Stay in touch."

"I'll try," Julia answered.

In the warehouse parking lot, Tony and Angel raised their rifles and opened fire just as the incoming attackers did, nailing one and sending the others to protective cover. Both had to hit the ground before fire converged on them.

Robert's lightsaber flashed to life. Its green nearly matched the green of the disruptor beams fired at him, beams his blade deflected. He moved to guard Angel and Tony and keep any fire from converging on them. They remained prone, firing from the ground.

Several shots hit the van as well, even as Jarod kept it moving. It stayed moving thanks to its construction, being made to potentially end up in a firefight, but it wouldn't take many hits before succumbing.

Thanks to intense practice Robert knew how to multi-task with his abilities. How to maintain his defensive posture while preparing to go on the attack. He carefully divided his will, keeping up his defensive posture while gripping with his will the vehicles the attackers were blocking the van with. His will was that the vehicles would spin outward, both opening the way and slamming into most of the shooters.

The shooters had no time to react when their aircars spun in place, slamming them with the hood areas with enough force to knock most over. The ones not knocked over were momentarily confused by the sudden lack of supporting fire. Robert effortlessly deflected their shots back into them, taking both out.

The van pulled up as Angel and Tony moved ahead to secure the shooters. Both pulled out the zip cuffs they'd brought along in case of prisoners. While they restrained the shooters, Robert took in the sight of disruptor beams lashing down from the skies, slicing through buildings and bridges. The bombardment was indiscriminate, and fires were breaking out across the city.

New Liberty in flames. Just as he'd dreamed for years. Just as he'd dreamed that night before the fateful operation at 33LA, when the fear from those dreams drove him to bad choices. Choices that helped precipitate the war with the Reich.

For a brief moment, the thought This is my fault crossed his mind. He was broken from it by Angel, who called out, "Oh crap."

She was standing over one of the prisoners, having patted him down for more weapons. With his shirt pulled up to his arm, a tattoo under his armpit was revealed. A pair of lighting bolt runes. "What the hell is an SS guy…"

"They're here," Jarod said, now hanging out of the van. "They've got ships in orbit, the Aurora and the others are fighting them now."

Angel almost asked how, but she immediately realized what that meant. "They've got the drive. Holy sh…"

"The summit," Robert said. "They're here to disrupt the summit."

"Makes sense, a lot of the attending nations are their old victims," noted Jarod. "So we need to get to the Government Building."

"And Colony Security," Angel said. "Maybe we can get comms going."

"So we need to get back into the city center," Robert said. He eyed the captives. "We don't have room for them. Take their weapons and leave them. We'll…"

A sudden cool feeling came to him. A dark presence, not nearby but somewhere in the Colony. "Let's go, now," he urged, going over to grab some of the SS shooters' guns. Tony and Angel got the others and threw them into the van, piling in with Robert. Jarod got back in the driver's seat and drove between the two dormant aircars.

The orbital space over Gersal was filled with the chaos of battle as individual Alliance ships started arriving. Most were Gersallian vessels approaching from the Ring Station around Gersal's moon, others jumped or warped in to respond to the litany of distress calls from ships that were now broken hulks, some already drifting into the atmosphere.

The Cylons greeted the arriving ships with the same fire, taking fire in turn. Some still fired missiles or weapons into the planet's cities. Jantarihal and some targets were facing energy fire from disruptor cannons mounted on the Basestars; other Gersallian cities suffered far worse from the nuclear warheads deployed against them. Across the planet and further out those with sensitivity gasped in horror at sensing the thousands of lives being snuffed out of existence.

The fire against the planet only stopped as, one by one, the civil defense theater shields started coming online. Delayed by sabotage, and some still non-functional due to the same, these deflector shields absorbed the incoming fire with little effort, protecting damaged and intact cities across the planet.

The Cylons reacted by turning their attention to the incoming ships. Their numbers were not great, but until a full fleet response could descend upon them, their cohesion gave them the advantage against an Alliance still reeling from the sudden attack.

Below the engaging ships, another battle still raged in the Great Temple of the Order. Under Karesl the surviving Knights were rallying and holding their own in the Temple courtyard.

And yet, as they ran across the complex, Lucy and the others knew something else was going on. They could feel it in their very being, and in the facts of the attack. The explosions that preceded the Cylon arrival, taking out the Temple Knight barracks and the Council offices. There is more to this than the Cylons, Lucy insisted mentally. She gave Gina a curious look. None of the other Cylons ever used swevyra before. None except my clone on New Caprica.

They are Inner Circle
, Gina revealed. It is the only explanation that makes sense.

Inner Circle
? inquired Talara.

I was with the Consensus, the majority of organic and non-organic Cylon models. The Inner Circle directs and advises the Consensus.

They were the ones responsible for the genocide of the Colonies. That note, not a question, was from Meridina.

Yes was the simple response from Gina. They were the ones who told us it was God's Plan.

They found an intact hall connecting to the Offices. As they went down the length of it they came upon a prone figure in purple robes. Meridina was the first to note the blue trim of the robes and went up to roll the figure over. "Mastrash Tinaran," she gasped, and not just from the sight of the senior member of the Order dead before them.

Sticking in Tinaran's chest, right through his heart, was a dagger. Blood was pooled around the blade and the fabric surrounding it, having run in rivulets to the ground beside him. Meridina and Lucy examined the dagger closely, noting that the hilt guard was marked by a hexagon insignia, the same as the ones worn by the Cylon Inner Circle. Lucy pulled the blade out and looked over the bloodied weapon. It was made of common steel, not memory metal, with a sharp tip for stabbing as well as slashing. "He didn't even defend himself," Lucy said, noting Tinaran's lakesh hilt was still on his hip.

"Treachery," Meridina said. "We must hurry."

Far below them, in the dungeons of the Temple, two of the Temple Knights remained on guard over the cells. The two men wore the armor and red robes of their station and quietly meditated, even as they felt the death and violence raging above them.

The attack came without warning. In a split second they sensed the dark energy nearly on top of them, but before either could even pull their blades, blood-red energy blades cut them down despite their armor. The Knights' bodies fell in a thump to the floor.

Nearby the fallen Mastrash Goras sat in quiet meditation, reveling in the fear and death he sensed above. He opened his eyes. Their unnatural gold color betrayed the extent of his corruption. He smiled at the approach of his former "apprentice". "Sister Intalarai," he said. He held up his arms, as if to gesture toward her. But he could not actually gesture for the lack of hands.

"Brother Goras." Intalarai's own gold eyes took in her former master's appearance. Her hair was growing back, coal-black in color, given she no longer needed to keep up the appearance of being his pupil. "Your time has come." She set a case down and, with a gesture, opened his cell.

Goras was still chained, so he summoned the case to him with his power. It slid across the stone floor, rattling as it did, until it was before him. It opened. Inside was a hilt, the same kind that dangled from Intalarai's waist, placed over a set of dark robes the same as hers.

And beside them were two metal hands.

Beth's heart pounded in her chest and her body burned from the unexpected exertion of flight from danger. With a line of panicking, worried dignitaries behind her, she turned the corner in the maintenance wing of the Government Building. The entrance to the bunker below the Government Building was now ahead, in a supply room.

The bunker was not originally planned for New Liberty. It wasn't like there were any known enemies in the H1E4 Universe, after all. But starting a couple of years before Robert had insisted on creating them, for reasons she was still not sure of, and with openings in the budget New Liberty had done so.

The bunker door itself was reinforced starship-grade alloy, tied to an isolated computer system. Beth placed a hand on the panel beside the door. The armored door popped open, revealing a flight of metal stairs leading to the underground emergency living area that would keep a population of hundreds alive for at least a month, with an isolated naqia reactor and attached replicators with stocks, as well as living quarters. "Go!" she urged.

The delegates, Human and non-Human alike, surged by her, moving nearly at a panic. Yvonne Steiner-Davion stood beside the door to help guide them in. The redheaded Inner Sphere princess was joined by her older counterpart Isis Marik, both seeming relatively calm and collected despite the situation.

Beth was joined by Sonek Pran. "I didn't see Governor Kuhln," the multi-species Federation delegate said. "I've no idea where he is."

"He's a powerful telepath, so he's probably safe wherever he is." Safer than us.

Beth turned toward the hall further down. In their haste nobody in the rear of the line closed the door to the storage room, so she could see the armed man step into the hall. Just as he turned toward them she rushed up and shut the door. Given the situation it was no surprise that she slammed it, certainly giving away their position. "Go go go," she urged the remaining delegates, following them up to the bunker door. Isis took Sonek's offered hand and stepped in with him.

By this time the door behind them was being pounded. Just as Sonek and Isis crossed the threshold, leaving just Beth and Yvonne, the distinctive sound of a disruptor firing came through it, and the door exploded.

Beth acted instinctively. She shoved Yvonne through the door. The younger woman shrieked in surprise as she fell through the portal to safety. With no time left Beth forced the door closed and slammed the emergency lock key on the control panel, putting the bunker door on internal lockdown. Only those inside could open it.

When the attacker stepped through the door, gun raised, Beth was convinced she was about to die. Instead the gunman stomped across the room and slammed the butt of his rifle against her belly. Beth doubled over in pain. A steel-toed boot slammed into her ribs, cracking one, and she fell over moaning.

Fear and pain gripped her while the gunman tried, in vain, to open the bunker door. She heard him speak in German. "Brigadeführer, the door is locked from the inside."

Another voice replied coldly, "It is of no consequence. When the Colony burns, they will burn as well. We have what we came for."

A moment later another foot viciously kicked Beth, this time in the side. She rolled with the impact and looked up to see another man standing over her. To her shock and horror, he was in a dark SS uniform, complete with a red swastika armband. Blond hair, well-combed, was visible under his officer's cover.

But instead of blue eyes, his eyes were an unnatural, vicious gold color.

"Elizabeth Rankin, elected Governor of New Liberty, and the cousin and only living blood relative of Captain Robert Dale," the man said. His expression betrayed hate and disgust. "And a degenerate who entered a sham marriage with a mongrelized half-African whore."

Beth hissed in anger, "Don't you dare call Annabelle anything like that, you…"

Before she could continue, the SS officer's boot crashed into Beth's cheek. She felt two of her teeth break, one popping out. Blood welled in her mouth as she toppled over.

"Shall I execute her, Brigadeführer?" asked the gunman who'd caught her.

"No," said the yellow-eyed SS man. "She is the perfect bait for my prey. Bring her!"


Beth was still reeling from the blows, so she couldn't fight back as she was forcibly lifted to her feet and dragged away.

The Offices for the Council were barely intact, and half the building was a wreck. As Lucy and the others approached they found another fallen figure in a Councillor's robe, this one a tanned woman with gray hair. "Mastrash Hadisina," Meridina noted as they approached, seeing her face and the look of stunned shock that she'd died with. Another of the hexagon-emblazoned daggers was stuck in her body, this through her back and into her heart.

"She was betrayed," Talara said, her expression betraying her own pain. They could feel the deaths that still came from the courtyard, both of their foes and of the Temple's defenders. "The Cylons, how could they have allies inside the Order?"

Meridina frowned. As shocking as it was, in retrospect she didn't feel surprise. Goras' followers had been more than willing to slay Maklir, after all. And there was the matter of Dralan Olati, who received training but without any record of his existence in the Order, or even the Gersalllian government. "They still exist," she murmured.

"Who?" asked Talara.

"The Brotherhood of Kohbal," said Lucy. "That's what you're saying, isn't it?"

"They were supposed to have been wiped out… but we cannot ignore the facts before us."


The new speaker drew their attention. From the direction of the demolished section of the building, a dusty and haggard Ledosh approached, bearing a case slung on his shoulder. His free hand gripped his lightsaber. "It is good to see you," he said. "We haven't much time."

"What is it, Mastrash?" Gina asked. "What do you mean."

"This is a plot nearly three thousand years in the making," Ledosh said. "The Brotherhood bided its time well. If we are to survive, we must keep them from their goal."

"Their goal being?" asked Lucy.

"These." He offered the case to them. Gina took it. "Inside is the Life of Reshan and Gartanam's translation guide to the written language of Swenya's era, along with my notes. The knowledge you need is in these books. Continue my work. Get the books to safety, and do not let them fall into the hands of the Brotherhood."

"Mastrash Karesl has rallied many in the Temple in the courtyard, they're fighting off the Cylons now," Lucy said. "If you join him you might defeat them."

"The Cylons…? They… yes…" Ledosh nodded. "The lightsaber you found on New Caprica. The connection makes sense now. But the Cylons are not the only threat, we…" Suddenly he became alerted. "You must go. Now. Go and retrieve Swenya's Blade, and leave this place." At their confusion, Ledosh added, "It is the key to Reshan's knowledge! You must…"

The others felt it too now, a dark presence, a familiar one. They turned toward an open hole in the damaged wall, facing the other side of the Temple.

Dark-robed figures were entering said hole. Meridina and Lucy felt a shiver of recognition at the bald head of the leader of the group, clad in black robes, a lightsaber grasped in his metal hands.

"Ledosh," purred Goras. "Meridina. And Lucero. It is good that you are here." A sinister smile crossed the fallen master's face as he ignited his lightsaber. Its blood red beam was joined by those in the group around him, one of which Meridina and Lucy recognized as Intalarai. "You took my hands, Lucero. I will take much more from you before I let you die."

"Gina, Talara, get the blade! Go!" Meridina shouted in the moment before Goras, Intalarai, and their allies charged the group. Ledosh's lightsaber blade ignited and intercepted Goras', leaving Intalarai to attack Lucy and the other robed figures to go after Meridina and Gina. Gina's lightsaber flashed to life as well, but Meridina intercepted the three opponents and forced them back with her will. "We will hold them. GO."

"Both of you, go now!" Ledosh added, his lightsaber and Goras' locked together.

Gina nodded. She handed the case to Talara, gripped the Falaen woman's free hand, and pulled her away from the battle.

The SS group didn't see the attack coming.

They entered the lobby of the Lodge with guns drawn and moved to clear the room. A pulse blast from near the area of the main desk put the lead man down. His fellows turned their weapons to the desk and opened fire, damaging it and the displays and key shelf behind.

They were so focused on the shooter hidden there that they didn't see Julia and Lee strike until it was too late. They came from the nearby restrooms and rushed across the distance before the gunmen could bring their weapons to bear. Lee immediately punched one and sent the Nazi to the floor. As he went for the man's gun, Julia swept away the rising rifle of the other and struck him in the throat with a chop. While the Nazi gagged for breath, she grabbed his head and smashed his nose into her rising knee, breaking the cartilage and tissue. The blow sent a spurt of hot red blood onto her skin.

The fourth member of the team brought his rifle to bear on her. Another pulse shot rang out and the side of the Nazi's head turned into a blackened mess. He fell over, dead.

Julia reached down and grabbed her opponent in a headlock while Lee struggled with the other for the disruptor rifle between them. Julia's foe was not the largest she'd ever seen, but he was on the larger side, and genetic engineering made him stronger than he looked. Even as her arms cut off blood flow and air through his throat, desperate strength brought him to his feet, lifting even the six foot tall Julia off hers, allowing him to start slamming her against the wall. Despite the pain she held on.

Lee took a punch from his foe that rivaled anything Kara had ever thrown, but held on to the rifle regardless. He replied by headbutting the Nazi in the face, smashing the blonde man's nose with a sickening crunch. The surprise of the blow, and the pain, loosened the man's grip on the rifle enough for Lee to wrench it from his hands. One of those hands balled into a fist and slammed Lee in the jaw. As he stumbled backward, the Nazi followed up with a vicious kick aimed at Lee's knee. The steel in his boot smashed the kneecap, drawing a cry of agony from Lee as he tumbled over.

The Nazi went to reclaim his rifle. He took a shot to the chest before he managed it.

By this point Julia's foe was losing consciousness from her headlock. He smashed her against the wall again for good measure, but before he could try one last time he stumbled forward. Within moments he went down completely. Julia let him drop and winced in pain from the repeated impacts. She noticed Lee writhing on the floor and went over. His smashed left knee was turning purple, as was his left cheek. Blood seeped from a split lip. He looked worse than she did.

Lee noticed her concerned look and forced a grin to his face. "It's fine," he gasped.

"It's a shattered kneecap," she pointed out, helping him up. She brought him over to the desk where Jeong Jin-Taek, the owner and operator of the Colony Visitors' Lodge, rose from behind his desk. The Korean man was middle-aged, with salt and pepper hair, wearing a nice buttoned down dark red shirt and black slacks. He was one of the few Koreans in the Colony who was not rescued from North Korea but had, years before the Facility started liberating North Korean camps, escaped on his own. Family that the crew had gotten from the camps led to Robert and the others contacting him in America, where he quickly agreed to move to New Liberty and help get his family members settled in their new lives. In his arms was a Darglan-model pulse rifle. "Do you have a first aid kit?" she asked.

Jeong nodded. "Over here." His English was thickly accented. He reached down and pulled the kit out.

Julia brought Lee behind the desk. Jeong applied a bandage to the injured knee, with a wrap. "You'll need a medtech," he said to Lee. "I cannot heal with this."

"It's fine," Lee said. "I'll…"

His attention, and Julia's, was taken up from the sight through the glass doors at the end of the lobby. Two air cars pulled up. From them stepped more blond-haired, blue-eyed men cradling Reich-model disruptor rifles. They motioned to each other, one of them clearly giving orders.

"That's not good," Julia said. "But why here?" While Jeong attended to Lee she went over and inspected one of the defeated Nazis. The most prominent object was a hypo-syringe dangling on his belt. From what German she knew, she recognized words for combat and for improvement, showing it was a combat drug of some sort. In the pocket beside the syringe was a datapad. When she activated it, it showed images with the German for "target" on top of the screen. She noticed her face immediately, and Robert's, Jarod's…

"They're after us," she said. "They're after the Aurora command crew. Why?"

"And they don't want you dead." Lee held up the disruptor rifle he'd worked so hard to keep. "This is set to stun."

"They want to capture us, then." The thought sent a shiver down Julia's spine. "They're after me, that's why they're here." She returned to the desk. "There's too many out there. If they attack…"

"You saved my sisters and my father from the camp," Jeong said firmly. "I will gladly fight to protect you, Captain."

"I know, but with Lee in his condition, you won't be able to retreat from here. They'll outflank you…" As she spoke, Julia knew exactly what she needed to do to protect both.

Lee noticed the look in her eye and nodded. "I'm sorry," he said. "If I wasn't…"

"It's fine. Help Jeong hold out. I'll draw them away."

"Don't be a hero. Get away from them," Lee admonished.

"That's my plan. I've seen what they do to prisoners," Julia replied.

Jeong stepped into the office behind his desk and came out with a second rifle. "My backup," he said. "Charge clip is old, but we can…"

She took the second rifle instead of his main one. "I'll make do. You're the one facing a siege situation." She slung it over her shoulder. It occurred to her that given she was in clothing meant for playing basketball - white tank top, burgundy red sports bra and shorts that ended above the knee - she looked like she was from some action movie more than anything. Tom would make some kind of smartass comment about that right about now.

She and Lee might have exchanged more words, but the sound of the door opening ended all of that. Jeong opened fire from behind his desk. Lee brought up the disruptor rifle he'd taken to do the same. Julia, no options left, dashed for the door they'd entered from. She sprayed the door with fire with another disruptor beam sizzling by her head, an inch or so away from her shoulder. Jeong shot down the shooter.

After Julia went through the door she heard a distant voice barking in German. Figuring they were circling to take the direct exits around the lobby, she ran the way they came, looking to exit out the back. As she did she keyed her omnitool. "Locarno, I'm being pursued by SS, they're after us, as in everyone from the Aurora! Warn the others and see if you can find anyone to come help Jeong and Lee, they're in the Visitors Lodge lobby!"

Thanks to the Aurora, this transmission was immediately heard in the van. Robert felt a lump in his throat. Julia was apparently on her own and being chased, and the other SS attackers would undoubtedly pursue them as well.

"I guess we know what was going on with that warehouse," Tony noted grimly. "They weren't just smuggling in explosives, they were bringing in SS men too. And weapons."

"Cat, Jarod, can you track where Julia is?" Robert asked. "We can go help her."

"We can, but Colony Security HQ should be our priority," Jarod reminded him. "Not to mention securing the summit reps."

He was right, of course, but the idea that Julia was in trouble… he needed to get to her, to help her, and then together they could deal with the situation.

"Do it anyway, we'll do what we have to," he said. As they went to work Robert tried to quiet the surge of emotion he felt. The idea that the SS were after them, as in the crew of the Aurora in particular.

Not that I should be surprised. If he's behind this attack then…

"There's a general transmission coming from the Government Building," Cat said. "Video and audio."

Robert turned to face the ops van screens. "Put it on."

The image showed the shattered foyer of the Government Building. Beside the broken reception desk stood Erik Fassbinder, in an SS uniform, with the three branch rank tab of a Brigadeführer on his collar. "I know you are out there, Herr Dale. We have unfinished business from Germania, indeed, from the day we met."

"That bastard just doesn't know when to die, does he?" Angel grumbled.

"Allow me to make it clear. Come to me at your Government Building, and I may indulge in mercy for your colony of pathetic untermensch and leave in peace. Refuse and I will kill everyone. Starting with the ruler of this pathetic place." Fassbinder turned and the video recorder followed his eyes. Beth was on her knees between two armed SS fighters, bruised and beaten. A third SS trooper smashed the side of her face with a baton, sending a spray of blood from her nose and mouth. Robert felt a surge of horror and blind anger at his cousin being abused. "Her life is in your hands, Kapitan. Don't keep me waiting."

When the call ended, Angel immediately said, "Trap."

"Trap," Jarod agreed.

"Trap," said Cat.

"Obviously," added Tony.

Robert nodded grimly. Even as he did, he knew that he had a choice to make. Go to help his cousin, or to help Julia.

It was a choice he never imagined he'd have to make and one he didn't think he could make.

And yet, he'd have to. And do so decisively, with the others watching.

Robert breathed in to steady himself, and then made his choice, praying it was the right one.

Near the broken remains of the Order offices, Lucy and Meridina fought with all they had to help Ledosh, who stood alone against Goras. The fallen former Mastrash seemed even more powerful, and even more corrupt, than the day he'd tried to kill Meridina. He wielded the lightsaber in his prosthetic hands with deadly power and skill. Ledosh was clearly not his equal, but had the raw power to stymie Goras' attacks.

Lucy recognized her opponent from the attack on the Alliance Senate. But her hair was growing back now, coal-black in color, and her eyes now had the unnatural yellow of someone given over to darkness. Lucy had the feeling Intalarai had been holding back that day in the Senate; despite her own increase in skill since then, she was struggling even more to hold off Intalarai's strikes. Intalarai kept Lucy on her back foot, her red lightsaber flashing through the air with a speed even Goras never managed, and it was everything Lucy could do to parry the blows.

The three other robed figures were teaming up on Meridina, each eager to kill her. Despite her skill, their training was sufficient to overwhelm her if anything else, and she too was being driven back. But Meridina had an edge they did not. She revealed this when, after buying a moment with another quick retreat, she focused her mind in an attack on her lead opponent. Telepathically she slammed through his mental defenses, altering his perception of reality. Convinced suddenly that gravity had shifted around him, he lost his balance in trying to compensate for what did not actually exist. As he fell over Meridina struck, slicing his arm off at the shoulder. He howled as he hit the ground.

"Goras, what have you become?" Ledosh asked. "I feel it in you. You embrace this madness."

"I have had the scales lifted from my eyes." Goras' blade came within a centimeter of slicing through Ledosh's shoulder before he successfully parried. "I know the truth!"

Ledosh said nothing in reply. Mentally he insisted, You must go! Get the Blade and leave!

You will be overwhelmed!
protested Meridina.

That does not matter! The books and the Blade must be taken from this place, taken somewhere safe! They are the key to everything! If Goras and the Brotherhood acquire them, they can break the Circle!

What circle?!
Lucy demanded, jumping to the side and barely avoiding a strike from Intalarai. She parried the follow-up cut.

The book will explain! Now go! With that Ledosh turned away from Goras long enough to focus his power on the other combatants. Intalarai and her compatriots all went flying. Go! he urged, turning back and barely stopping a strike from Goras.

Lucy and Meridina might have stayed anyway, but they sensed the danger to Gina and Talara. More than that, they sensed that Ledosh was right. Though it hurt, especially for Meridina, they broke out into a power-augmented run to catch up to the others.

Intalarai recovered. With a snarl on her face, she took off after them. Her compatriots were slower to recover, but they followed.

The Council Chamber was more intact than other parts of the Temple. One of the bomb blasts left the entire north side a pile of rubble, but the pit where the Council met and where Swenya's relics were kept was untouched. Gina and Talara rushed in and went to the pit and the ceremonial stands there. Swenya's robes and sandals were still in their cases.

Her blade was gone.

"Where is the blade?!" a male voice demanded. The two turned and faced three of the Cylons. One was a doppelganger of Gina, accompanied by one of the Cavils and one of the Valeriis.

And all had their lightsabers active.

(Note: Duchess of Zeon wrote the scene from the POV of Kendra Shaw and the Pegasus).
”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 Formless »

*sigh* I'm sorry, Steve, and please know that what I'm about to say comes from someone who is genuinely interested in this story and has been reading for over a year now. But this episode... just doesn't work for me. Or at least the half of it happening on New Liberty. The problem is the bombs, and the villains.

First of all, I'm pretty sure modern bomb tech can actually sniff out plastic explosives, to say nothing of Federation tricorders. But before the scale of the attack was revealed I was willing to let that slide. I'm not entirely sure of what modern chemical sniffers can detect, and I understand that a story needs tension somewhere. But after... well...

I know why the sabotage stuff is happening, but the problem is that its inconsistent with how military defenses work, or even civil defenses for that matter. And it is for all the reasons the story provides, too. At the point when the characters realized that the bombs are meant to disrupt the power grid and make it impossible to bring the colony defenses online I just couldn't anymore. The military never relies on the civilian power grid precisely because its vulnerable to sabotage and natural disasters. So if, for instance, the colony had a theater shield, that shield would have its own naqia reactors and no civilian would be allowed within a hundred meters of them. Likewise the military has its own communications grid separate from the civilian network, and the whole point of DARPA's internet research was to make a grid that would rout around damage. That way you can't easily take it down even with nukes. Even if you try electronic sabotage, they encrypt the hell out of that shit and have the best security the nation can buy. Heck, there are certain radio bands that are reserved specifically for law enforcement and emergency services in real life so that their communications won't be disrupted either. I just can't see any reason the Alliance would allow an important summit to take place on a planet that wasn't sufficiently prepared in case someone like the Clans decided to attack. Just as an example.

And its not like this plot hinges on the bombs. The Alliance had no reason to even look for an unregistered jump-anchor because they didn't know the SS had the technology. Same goes for the disguised SS soldiers. But that just brings me to my other issue, and I am perhaps alone in this opinion, but again, I am actually invested in this story so hear me out.

Ultimately, I was kinda hoping the Battle of Germania would be the end of the whole Reich war plot. Bringing them back in is an unpleasant surprise, but not in a good way. I'm sorry, but Nazis aren't inherently interesting villains; indeed, they are kind of silly, as demonstrated by Fassbinder. Literally the only reason they haven't just nuked the colony by now is that Fassbinder has a personal vendetta against Robert. But what about the rest of the SS? I can't imagine that they all share that obsession. Moreover, the obsession itself is silly, and only works insofar as Fassbinder is a proto-Sith, and Sith are petty like that. But he doesn't have that aura of menace that the true Sith have, or even the Cylon-Sith do in this story. I am kinda hoping beyond hope he dies here, I'm sorry to say. When I thought we would learn more about the Aristos (who come from a series I am unfamiliar with) I was interested in the New Liberty plot, but now I'm only reading for the Gersal plot. Fortunately these problems don't apply there, because we know what the Cylons are capable of, from the reader's perspective this has been a long time in the making, and even the Cylon-Sith (who you established a while back) keep things from getting too predictable. So again, I am interested in where this is going, but only that half of it.

Man, this post was a bit longer than I hoped it would be.... oh well, I guess it can't be helped.
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Re: "The Coming Storm" - "Undiscovered Frontier" Season 3 (Multiverse Space Opera Crossover)

Post by Steve »

I probably could have had the initial strike and comm blackout simply knock the chain of command out enough to prevent the shield coming up, correct. As for the failure to catch the incoming explosives, the explosives weren't shipped intact, but as individual, non-suspicious chemicals in different shipments so that no one shipment would raise alarms (the weapons and strike teams were smuggled in with the shielded containers).

As for the SS lingering as an enemy... I can see why they're not going to be a popular villain with everyone. Once this three episode arc is over (this is the first part of said arc), we won't see them again until Season 4. And if you want more with the Aristos, they'll be making some appearances in 3-17, along with the introduction of another new setting to the UF Multiverse.

You might be underselling Fassbinder's obsession and animus with the protagonists a tad, though. For someone of his background and upbringing... these are the people responsible for the destruction of everything he believed in. For the humiliation of the Reich's defeat against genetic inferiors and aliens. The desire for revenge against them, hell, even without becoming a practitioner of the Dark Side, Fassbinder is the kind of person who would hold one hell of a grudge.
”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 Formless »

Steve wrote:As for the failure to catch the incoming explosives, the explosives weren't shipped intact, but as individual, non-suspicious chemicals in different shipments so that no one shipment would raise alarms (the weapons and strike teams were smuggled in with the shielded containers).
Oh, right, I forgot that detail. Although I also don't think the chemicals would have been that inconspicuous. Unless it was something like ANFO then we're talking strong acids and nitrogenous chemicals here in addition to the plasticizer. And detonators too. When Robert and company performed the search they made it seemed like they were looking for actual bombs, not bomb making equipment. The site sounds a bit small for the whole conspiracy to happen here. The SS would need bomb techs all around the place to make this work. By the time of the dinner it would have already been too late.

Incidentally, this is why I felt the need to point out those other criticisms, because once the power grid stuff occurred I just couldn't stop thinking about the other details that didn't add up and, well, before you know it the entire illusion broke down for me. :|
You might be underselling Fassbinder's obsession and animus with the protagonists a tad, though. For someone of his background and upbringing... these are the people responsible for the destruction of everything he believed in. For the humiliation of the Reich's defeat against genetic inferiors and aliens. The desire for revenge against them, hell, even without becoming a practitioner of the Dark Side, Fassbinder is the kind of person who would hold one hell of a grudge.
I know, but.... that's actually what I find so silly. And predictable; he is every Nazi stereotype rolled into a ball of hate and Sith powers. Because yeah, Robert started the war that ended the Reich, and he was there at the end too with his ship. But that doesn't make the Aurora and her crew strategic targets, unless Fassbinder knows something about the Prophecy of the Dawn that I don't. Its just a symbolic thing otherwise; for most of the war the Aurora was out in other universes doing diplomacy, fighting Reaper agents, or being murdered by Who-verse villains. Fassbinder's plans are intricate, which should make him seem menacing, but his goals are as shortsighted as Hawk's. And Fassbinder doesn't have brain damage, nor are Dark Side users inherently short sighted. Indeed, the best Sith are the ones who take a long view of things and are very, very patient. It all makes me wonder why his more rational underlings haven't tried booting him out of an airlock yet for all the good his attempts at petty revenge have done for the Party. So yeah, I understand what you are going for, but this is all just a case for why I don't like Nazis as villains. They inherently lack nuance or depth. They are Nazis. I'm glad to see them take back burner for a while. Take that for what its worth. :wink:
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"
The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.
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